2016 in Books 

Happy New Year, everyone!

It may very well be that I only started this blog so I could write annual book wrap-up posts.  I love them.

2016 was an intense reading year for me.  I wrestled with a lot, challenged some long-held beliefs and assumptions and refined my understanding of what it means to be a human being created in God’s image.  Here are some of the highlights (asterisks refer to the number of times I’ve read something, if it was a re-read):

Favorite Family Read-Aloud

A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne   51srx2kzbjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

A dreamy combination of New England country living and vivid Greek mythology, this book is an AO Free Read, but I think it has fostered some of the most discussion, connections and spontaneous narrations of anything we read this past fall.  I relished the imagery and several passages made it into my commonplace.

Most Spiritually Impactful Read

the-broken-way-ann-voskampThe Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

I knew I definitely wanted to read this book when I got around to it, but one day in November I felt an almost overwhelming need to find a copy right away.  I was in a terrible mood, so it’s hard to say confidently that it was the Holy Spirit, who knows, but from the first page, it was an almost instant correction, call to repentance, call to something more, and the truths it preaches have gotten me through a very difficult holiday season.  I don’t usually ask my husband to read my favorite books, because we have very different tastes, but I’ve been begging him to read this one.

I’m also thinking this will become an annual read for me, a ritual I’ve never practiced before but often admired.

Biggest Reading Challenge

Norms and Nobility by David V. Hicks

This book 6b9b5b4270c1d2a6fc8d19ccff9a5b2ajust required such slow, careful, researched reading, but it was worth the time and effort.  The chapter on Christian paideia cleared up some significant questions I’ve had for the last three years about the Christian classical education movement.

Honorable Mention: America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis (this one I labeled a challenge because it addresses some very painful issues in our country that are much easier not to acknowledge, but I found it a very helpful, clarifying read when I pushed through the discomfort).

Most Pleasurable Re-Read

wind-in-the-willows-kenneth-grahame-ernest-h-shepardThe Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame***

This book came alive for me in a big way the third time through, and I absolutely loved reading along with the Close Reads podcast and discussing further on Facebook–one of my comments even got mentioned in an episode!  I developed a new admiration and affection for Mole this time.

  • Honorable Mention: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis** (I read this immediately after finishing a year-long study of Revelation with BSF…a perfect conclusion)

Favorite Fiction

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson**housekeeping

I’m SUCH a Marilynne Robinson groupie and am moving on to her essays in 2017.  This is her first novel, published way back in 1980, long before she breathed life into the inhabitants of Gilead, Iowa (aka, my family…I think they will be in heaven…just kidding, but possibly?).  Anyway, Housekeeping is difficult (I read it twice in a row) and haunting, and it speaks deep truths about the homelessness all humans feel in this life on earth.

  • Honorable Mention: Lila by Marilynne Robinson (the third of the Gilead novels, also about home, homelessness and transience)

The Rest of the Books of 2016

Novels: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows, Doc and Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell, Possession by A.S. Byatt, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen***, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Short Stories: “Fidelity” by Wendell Berry, “Revelation,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Parker’s Back” by Flannery O’Connor, “The Chief Mourner of Marne” by G.K. Chesterton

Epic Poetry: Dante’s Inferno

Nonfiction: Generous Justice by Tim Keller, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie, Minds More Awake by Anne White, Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins

AO Years 1/2 (with Ellary): Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, Tree In the Trail by Holling C. Holling, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling**, The Door In the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, Pocahontas, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Buffalo Bill and George Washington by the d’Aulaires

AO Year 11 (for my own education): Ezekiel, II Corinthians, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff,  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (on audio). 


Coming Soon…my reading plans for 2017!


The Mind at Work

You know that one book…It starts with Norms and ends with Nobility?  Its author’s last name rhymes with sticks?

(Anyone who happens to read this blog and is not into classical education is rolling their eyes right now, cause they’re like “No, I do not know that book.”  Sorry.  I do think you should read it though.)

Yeah, that book.  It’s a very fine book.  Here’s a quote about the concept of dialectic that I am in love with, because it is doing me so much good.

(Sidenote: you could compare “dialectic” to the words “dialogue” or “debate”.  Other large-and-in-charge words ahead; slow and steady wins the race when it comes to reading and comprehending N&N.)

Socrates identified dialectic as the form of the activity of thinking–the mind’s habit of challenging the thoughts and observations originating in itself or in other minds and of engaging in a desultory [unfocused] dialogue with itself until the issues are resolved. […] By making his students conscious of their dialectical thinking processes, Socrates hoped to assign them parts in a dramatic dialogue that otherwise occurs unconsciously and haphazardly in the thinking mind.  Once the conversation between Socrates and his students took on the dialectical form of mental activity, learning became possible.  Man could now visualize and oversee his own mind at work.  The very form of these conversations provided Socrates’ students with a model for how their minds ought to work.  Whereas dialectical thinking may occur at an unconscious level in all men, education makes man conscious of how his mind works when engaged in an activity of thinking.

–David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, p. 67


So to narrate this a bit, we learn two main things from this section:

1. My mind is probably always engaging in some amount of dialectic/dialogue with itself, even if I don’t notice it.

In fact, without education to establish in us the habit of noticing our mind at work, it will be an unconscious and haphazard process.  This was a light bulb moment for me.  The last year of my life has been extremely dialectical, as I have wrestled with belief, theology, orthodoxy and practice in my own life and in the life of my church.  Most of that experience felt haphazard at best, utterly anxiety-ridden at worst.  My heart, mind and spirit were up to something (under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, of course), but I didn’t have enough perspective to know what it was.  It felt as if my most deeply held beliefs were under attack, and I wanted to protect myself.  I could not “visualize and oversee [my] own mind at work.”

2. My mind ought to work in a certain way when faced with a conflicting belief or viewpoint.

This is comforting.  Cunning old Socrates gifted us with his method of dialogue (which I still don’t really get) as a way to educate the student in overseeing her own mind at work.  This can only instill confidence and peace, because a process that works is at work.

I ought to learn more about Socratic dialogue.  Everyone in a church with a lot of milennials could probably use to learn and then teach how to oversee the mind at work.  I think I’m technically Generation Y, but I do not feel at all confident in my ability to think for myself.

Here are some resources I’m planning on perusing in order to help myself out, if you’re interested:

Forms of Instruction Park III: Socratic Instruction {Expanding Wisdom}

Andrew Kern on Socratic Teaching {Circe Podcast Network}

Parents’ Review Articles on Socrates {Ambleside Online}

All of chapter 6, called “On the Necessity of Dogma,” communicates truths that challenge and comfort me.  It illuminates the need for that persistent discomfort that comes with real learning.  We would never feel the need to learn anything, if we never felt that dissonance which alerts us to contradiction; we would never explore that contradiction, nor come to a deeper understanding of truth.

All this to say, if I sense my mind gnawing on something, trying to figure out a way to digest it, I don’t need to be anxious.  This is good and right!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which passes understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:6-7

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