The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge: I CANNOT say enough about this book and Pilgrim’s Inn which will be down a couple on this list. It has everything I love in a book. The beauty of the English countryside, love and all the turmoil that comes with it, the thoughts of children (and even a couple of beloved dogs), and it is set in another time period (although more recent for me than usual–the 1940’s). Goudge creates memorable characters that will implant themselves in your heart, while growing in you a greater sense of value for home and family and the importance of unity therein.
American Pastoral by Philip Roth: Quite frankly, I hated this book. We got a little crazy in our book club and invited a guest speaker to recommend a book and then come and “teach” us. Everyone felt like having the guest was a nice change-up, but the book he recommended… It is the story of THE All-American man, who himself grew-up in “the War years,” but who raises his family during the sixties. The message I got from it was, “No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you succeed, your life can still turn out like utter crap, because in the end, you just are not in control. In fact, for the simple reason that you do try to be good, your life may turn out extra crappy.” It got great reviews, and I am sure it is a good piece of literature, but it was most definitely not my cup of tea. (I will also add that there is a healthy dose of lude and bad language, and since I was listening to it on CD it was extra hard to swallow).
Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Jeremiah and I read these short stories out loud to each other, sitting by the fire or curled in bed at night, and made some wonderful memories. We enjoyed it so much we even named our dog after the book 🙂 Tales of intrigue, solved by superb deduction skills, and set in, where else?, England. It was fun to stop throughout the stories and ask what the other predicted would happen, and they are just the right length for reading out loud. We even read a couple with Jeremiah’s whole family while we were home over Christmas. Truly great, and I am still wishing I could give Watson a big fat hug!
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards: This is the story of a family in the sixties, who has twins, one of which is born with Down’s Syndrome. The father gives the Downs baby away and tells the mother that the little girl died. (I am not really giving anything away because that all happens in the first couple of chapters.) The rest of the book is the back-lash of his decision. The storyline is appalling, and you will want to find out what happens, but the writing… At first I thought, “Wow, this lady is creating some good imagery and I can see she’s going to use a lot of symbolism.” Oh but then, she used the exact same imagery in the next chapter and the next… And then she felt like we weren’t smart enough to catch her “deep” symbollic meaning, so she would EXPLAIN the symbol, right there in the middle of her story, and it cheapened it so much. Anyway, this is just another example of a decent book that is ruined because it was written in the last fifty years 🙂
Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–I LOVE THIS BOOK! It’s the second in the Eliot family series, and it will warm your heart and make you smile–I PROMISE. It’s hard to tell what these stories are about without giving them away. So, you’ll just have to trust me 🙂 I have posted this quote before, but in case you missed it a couple of years ago:
They had both been married and borne children. Lucilla knew always, and Nadine knew in her more domesticated moments, that it was homemaking that mattered. Every home was a brick in the great wall of decent living that men erected over and over again as a bulwark against the perpetual flooding in of evil. But women made the bricks, and the durableness of each civilization depended upon their quality, and it was no good weakening oneself for the brick-making by thinking too much about the flood.
That quote right there partially explains why I hate books like American Pastoral so much. I feel like I am always fighting the flooding in of evil–into my own heart, my children’s hearts, and my home in general. Why do I want to read a book that weakens me more–that drives home the knowledge of the evil that’s seeping under my door? I know it’s there, I feel it, but I chose not to dwell on it. What good does that do? Ok, off my soap box.
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland: My friend Lauren gave me this book, and it affected me profoundly. It is not just about writing, it’s about (as the subtitle says) art, independence and spirit. Any person who has an inkling towards any artistic endeavour could benefit from reading this book. I think it is best described by my two favorite quotes:
For what we write today slipped into our souls some other day when we were alone and doing nothing…It is on another day that your ideas and visions are slowly built up, so that when you take your pencil there is something to say that is not just superficial and automatic,…,but it is true and has been tested inwardly and is based on something.
[And the note I wrote at the bottom of this page in my book. I will also add that I’ve been doing some other writing besides the blog. It will probably never amount to anything, but I have been working on a couple of things.] I have felt so guilty about how slowly I seem to perform tasks–simple things like cleaning the kitchen, making the bed, or taking a shower–knowing that a lot of the cause of my slowness is that my mind is always forming thoughts, trying to wrap itself around ideas. But this quote is so true. It’s these “idle,” slow times when my writing, the hard part at least, is done. I should NOT always be telling myself to save that thinking and mulling for my “writing time.”
In fact that is why the lives of most women are so vaguely unsatisfactory. They are always doing secondary and menial things (that do not require all of their gifts and ability) for others and never anything for themselves. Society and husbands praise them for it (when they get too miserable or have nervous breakdowns) though always a little perplexedly and half-heartedly and just to be consoling. The poor wives are reminded that that is just why women are so splendid–because they are so unselfish and self-sacrificing and that is the wonderful thing about them!…
So, if you want your children to be musicians, then work at music yourself, seriously and with all your intelligence. If you want them to be scholars, study hard yourself. If you want them to be honest, be honest yourself. And so it goes.
And that is why I say to the worn and hectored mothers in the class who longed to write and could not find a minute for it:
“If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say:’Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you. They would probably all become playwrights.”
They look at me wistfully and know it is true. But after all of these centuries of belief that women should be only encouragers and fosterers of talent in others, and have none of their own (as though you can effectively foster or encourage other people’s talent unless you have a great deal of your own!) it is hard to do, I know that. But if women once learn to be something themselves, that the only way to teach is to be fine and shining examples, we will have in one generation the most remarkable and glorious children.
I would like to highlight one point that she sort of skims over. I fully believe it is important, as women, to cultivate those parts of our lives that give us joy and meaning OUTSIDE of our children. However, she does say to close the door for an hour, not all day 🙂 and I am fully aware that you can’t very well close the door on LITTLE children,…but they do nap (most days :))
East of Eden by John Steinbeck: My Dad gave me this book for Christmas. He RARELY reads fiction, but a friend of mine suggested he try this one out, and he could not put it down…I couldn’t either. It is the story of Cain and Able, played out merry-go-round fashion in the lives of a family in, where else, but Salinas Valley California. Your insides will writhe at the competition between the sets of brothers and you will be dying to know how Steinbeck will make it work out in the end.
One thing of note is that Steinbeck creates a flat character that is the epitome of evil. I was amazed by his ability to give her NO redeeming qualities-conscience, kind acts, reasons from childhood to be mean, nothin‘–but still make her believable and keep her out of the annoyingly archetypal realm.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: But Mom, everybody’s doing it! That is the phrase that comes to mind when I admit to you that I read this book. It is a page-turner. The story line is captivating and creepy and sensual, all rolled into one. So I see why everybody is doing it, BUT the writing is such crap, I was rolling my eyes and yelling at the CD player (I listened to it after renting it from Cracker Barrel on one of my many recent road trips), “You have got to be kidding me?! If you describe, one more time, in the exact same words as 2 minutes ago, how perfectly beautiful that guy is, I am going to come in there and smack you in the face!” It drove me nuts. The same exaggerated adjectives over and over and over about the same cheesy boy-vampire. Anyway, I haven’t read any more of the series, because I refuse to waste brain cells on it. BUT, I am not saying if I walked into a Cracker Barrel and saw book 2 on CD, that I wouldn’t immediately snatch it off the shelf to find out what happens.
One more thing and I will gladly leave this one, but a sweet friend of mine (who has read all however many books in the series), quietly defended these to me the other night by saying they were meant “for high schoolers.” I am sorry friend, but after some deliberation I’ve decided that that is no excuse. The Secret Garden, Heidi, The Chronicles of Narnia…all of these books are for adolescents and yet they are still BEAUTIFULLY well written. Just because it is meant for young adults, doesn’t mean it is allowed to be crap.
Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun: I did not actually read all of this one, only read parts of it aloud to Jeremiah, and heard the rest of the story through updates from him. I wanted to list it because it is so different from anything I have ever read, but it was still very good. It is the story of a man, who steps into life with no other plan except to work hard and live off the land. He heads into the Norwegian wilderness all alone, to do just that, but of course life keeps coming along to try and complicate matters. Jeremiah loved the story-line, I liked it but am not sure I would have been as enthralled as he was (are you surprised :)?) BUT, the thing that captivated me was the simplicity of the writing, and how a lot of it was still so beautiful that it sounded like poetry. Hamsun uses no extra verbage, in fact, he leaves much to be inferred by the reader as to his character’s true personality and motivation. I think Jeremiah put it best when he said (after finishing), “I feel like I just sat down in a dark whole of a pub, and had a beer with a salt-of-the earth kind of guy, who told me the life story of his best friend. He didn’t glorify it or dance around any of it, just told it straight and let me make up my own mind. But, now that it’s over, I feel like I’ve made a life-long friend.”
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: If you’ve never read this classic, you are missing out. If you have read it back in high school (and eighth grade, like I did) and you think you should check it off your list, then don’t. I got SO MUCH more out of this book as an adult, and married woman, than I did back in the day. I understood the deep love and humor and sacrifice, in a deeper way than I could before, and it is always nice to re-visit an old friend.
If you don’t know, it is the story of a poor, abused orphan girl and her road to happiness. It is a bumpy road, and the book is very Gothic–with screams coming from the attic and eery, surprising twists. It is GOOD.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin: Here is another example of a children’s book that is still of superb quality. It’s a quick read, but you will love Rebecca, with all of her spunk and mistakes and well-meaning heart. There is not really a love story, but the one in there, I must admit, is a little disturbing for our day and age. This would be a great book to read out loud to a little girl (she just needs to be a bit older than either of mine). I actually bought this book randomly at an antique store because I remembered Mom telling me it was one of her favorites as a child. I’ll leave you (FINALLY!) with a quote from this book that rings very true in our house:
Her love of books she inherited chiefly from her mother, who found it hard to sweep or cook or sew when there was a novel in the house. Fortunately books were scarce, or the children might sometimes have gone ragged and hungry.
Maybe I need to buy a few less books 🙂