Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sunday Afternoon Tea - A Life in Books

These past few weeks, coinciding with what appears to be an unexpected Midwestern monsoon season, I've been spending my free reading time submerged in the England of post WW1 to post WW2, in the midst of the Eliot family.  I've lived at Damerosehay, The Herb of Grace, and the drafty old Vicarage... and I'm the better person for it.

You have heard the old adage that "you are what you eat", well I believe just as true is the statement, "you are what you read".  Especially the kind of books you feed on the earliest and the most over the years.  I am convinced my love of detective and murder mysteries has nothing to do with a dark side of my personality (although some may wonder) but instead that the first book love I can remember were the Nancy Drew books I read over and over until each plot was memorized.

I understood this even as a young mother and when most educators were telling me that it didn't matter what my child read... as long as they were reading... I didn't agree at all.  While not a helicopter mother in reality (much), I was when it came to the books my children read.  I understood how they formed your thinking when young so what came into our home to be read had to have my approval... with the child having more freedom to choose their own books as they grew older.

This proved a challenge with my very prolific reading daughter who, like her mother, thought an hour in a bookstore or the library to be just the best of time spent.  However, I was happy to keep my literary ear to the ground, always in search of the best of books for her. She introduced me to the Anne books.

It was easier with my son who, as a young boy, preferred nonfiction books with lots of pictures of machines, animals, and tornadoes (no, really... he went through a weather stage).  They instilled a love of books as much as my daughter's chapter books she read.  When he was older, he came to love great French literature that I had only heard of when I saw the movies.

The books my children read and we enjoyed as a family became part of our vocabulary and I think even our heritage.  For instance, Dad will always be known as Puddleglum (by his own admission) and if we say "Aslan is on the move", we all know the meaning.

My daughter and I searched for Pooh sticks when living in Holland, Michigan. We want our hospitality to be equal to Mole or Mrs. Beaver.  I think my husband can still recite the entire book of Good Night Moon from memory, as I could (at one time) I Am A Bunny.  Baby books.  Children's books.  Classics read at bedtime.  Memories of an entire lifetime.

I didn't read carefully in my twenties.  Oh, I'm not talking about smutty books for I didn't read them.  But I did belong to the Harlequin Book Club where I received a box of paperbacks each month.  They were just silly romances that I could go through like potato chips but I began to feel God's tugging that they were not the best books for me to read.  I don't know how they are now but in the 70s, they were the equivalent of literary junk food.

I wasn't raised in a home of readers so I didn't have much information growing up about great literature.  I remember hearing of Jane Austen the first time in my Junior year of high school, taking an English Lit class.  We read Pride & Prejudice and it was definitely love at first read.

I noticed what my Christian mentors were reading... both in real life and in their books... and began reading what they did. Some theology books may have been beyond my grasp but I read what I could and learned what Bible teachers I could understand.  I also devoured books about books by authors whose taste I could trust. 

I'm thankful that there were very good books that came my way in my teens such as The Robe and The Silver Chalice from which popular movies had been made.  They helped give me a mental picture of Bible days in the way Exodus by Leon Uris helped me understand the relationship between the Holocaust and the founding of Israel just a few years later.

Good books make us feel like we are actually living in the pages.

As a working mother, most of the reading was nonfiction books by my favorite authors such as Edith Schaeffer, Emily Barnes, and Anne Ortlund.  I also loved books about corporations and corporate life.  Loved them!  So when I stood in Muir Woods one Saturday afternoon on a business trip to San Francisco and I knew God was telling me it was time to leave my job... it had to be a God thing to do it (albeit it took a year and a change of circumstances in my corporation).

I say that as a reminder that we can often tell our passion, our gifting so to speak, by what we are drawn to read.  On my book shelves already were books about homemaking, decorating, early childhood development, cooking (that may be considered an obsession rather than an interest), and being a godly woman in the current society.  However, I held on to my books about corporations for a good ten years.  Especially my favorites.  For the way organizations worked was an interest even if I didn't get paid for it, anymore.

Then there were the years when we chose to homeschool our son.  Any bibliophile homeschooler (and most are by default) will tell you that while you value your child's education, it is also a really good excuse to buy books.  Some of my all time favorite books were written by other homeschooling mothers and fathers and the books we read for learning were interesting.  That was when I first read many childhood classics.

I eventually developed more of an affection for good fiction.  From the James Herriot books to the Jan Karon Mitford books to the Miss Read books to Elizabeth Goudge and D. E. Stevenson.  All authors recommended by bookish friends.  A lesson learned over the years is if I find one book by an author I thoroughly enjoyed, then I'll read more by the same author.

Some of the fiction books are classics while others are light fiction, meant to take me away to a more innocent place or time.  Some are old friends that have been read many times while others are sitting on the shelf just waiting for their turn to be enjoyed.

For I have found over the years that quite often I am drawn to a book and when I have the opportunity to purchase it, I do so and then give it a home on my bookshelves.  Then... quite often... there comes a time when I'm looking through my books and there it is... at just the exact time I need that particular book.

I needed to reread The Bird in the Tree, Pilgrim's Inn (titled The Herb of Grace in England), and The Heart of the Family these past few weeks.  Finally reading them in the order they were published, not only did I enjoy spending time again with the Eliot family but the lessons they were learning were much what I needed in the 21st Century.

That is what great books do you know.  They invite us in and then while we are enjoying their story, we are learning about character and integrity and courage and patience and often how to live life with faith.  That is why I am careful about the authors I choose to read for their worldview comes through their stories and when well done... they tell a tale that makes me a better person for reading their work.

Image: Time For Reading by Judy Gibson


Susan Humeston said...

The final paragraph sums it up for me. The books I read have to be uplifting. Many times they are books written long ago rather than books by current authors. I love history, so any book that takes me back in time is good. One of my favorites was a "travel" book written as if you were going to visit London in the Middle Ages, pointing out various sights and sounds and smells. It was fascinating. Books have made me come to conclusions about subjects and helped me to make up my mind. For instance, the people associated with Henry VIII made me realize that power always draws sycophants and the most phony self serving people surround those with power. It is an old story and a truism that holds whether you are reading about Ancient Babylon or the seats of power and money today. I officially love books and have way.too.many. Especially for someone who is moving in 2 months.......

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

I've gone through years of reading mostly books on homeschooling, raising a family etc. I am back now to mostly reading fiction again. I just finished 'A Bird In The Tree,' and thoroughly enjoyed it. I love books that we can learn lessons from, while enjoying a story.

I also enjoyed Emilie Barnes, Elisabeth Elliott, Edith Schaeffer, Sally Clarkson, Karen Andreola. I really learned so much from them. One of my favorite books by Emilie is, "Things Happen When Women Care."

I love talking books with you.

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

I'm sure you know I'm already one who believes this! Reading lets us meet with people who might have lived far from us in time or space, but can be wonderful mentors. I am very happy that my grown up children like many of the same books and authors that I do...

In D.E. Stevenson's The Four Graces one character says to another, with some surprise, "Oh, you like people" and suggests that other people like books but, "Books arepeople," smiled Miss Marks. "In every book worth reading the
author is there to meet you, to establish contact with you. He takes you into
his confidence and reveals his thoughts to you."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing wise words, once again! I found a 1948 library edition of Pilgrim's Inn and purchased it to save for reading later. I love old books and love to collect them. My hubby things I'm nuts, but I even love the smell of them! But so does my daughter! She took off reading in second grade and has devoured books ever since! I didn't really grow up reading that much, so I feel like I'm still catching up! Found an old copy of Polyana at a library sale! What Fun! Love your Sunday afternoon tea posts!
Laura C.(WA)

Vee said...

I started with the Bobbsey Twins and moved on to Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton. I still can get that little thrill for reading the mysteries with a flashlight under the covers so I'd not be caught after bedtime's lights out. Thank you for chatting about your favorite books and authors. I gained two more favorites from your recommendations. It's time to left a familiar volume from the shelf...perhaps Herriot this time. Maybe E.B. White whom I adore, though he does not approach his world from a point of faith. More's the pity. (Sometimes I think that I can find some in there.)

rebecca said...

I just finished The Heart of the Family (for the first time)! Currently I'm reading a book (which I left upstairs and don't have the title in front of me) about Gene Stratton Porter written by her granddaughter. SO interesting & inspiring...

Our reading histories run rather parallel(except for the corporation books). I HAVE read some uncomplicated ones by Tom Peters, etc.

I couldn't agree more about the role and influence of one's reading choices!

Anonymous said...

"In my experience, when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to, and they go on because they must. Yes. They find it widens life. We're all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can't give us all that we hunger for; the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books, we all experience all life vicariously."

(Grandfather, A City of Bells, Elizabeth Goudge)


Lori in Missouri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Morning's Minion said...

I first read 'Pilgrim's Inn' as a teenager when my mother acquired a copy at a library sale. It was a few years before I found the other two titles in the trilogy.
I've always read voraciously [I try to slow down so that a good book will last longer!] and not always wisely. It is so true that less than inspiring words and plots can stick in the mind.
Several moves have meant editing my book shelves. The works of Elizabeth Goudge, Gladys Hasty Carroll, Dorothy Evelyn Smith, Rosamunde Pilcher--these and others remain as my 'comfort' reading--old friends, well known and loved, brought out when I am tired and in need of retreat.

Karla said...

We seem to be kindred spirits where books are concerned. Many/most of your favorites are also my favorites. I still have my Anne Ortlund and Emilie Barnes books. They are cherished friends.

Karla said...

We seem to be kindred spirits where books are concerned. Many/most of your favorites are also my favorites. I still have my copies of my Anne Ortlund and Emilie Barnes books. They are cherished friends.