09 December 2014

Until the Very End



     The year is almost over and I have to read eighteen books to reach my goal of one hundred fifty books. Up until the dead end of November my goal for 2014 had been two hundred books. (It takes me a very long time to give up, but eventually reality kicked in) I think that shouldn’t be a problem, but just for kicks I’m going to list the eighteen, plus one (for my online book club) that I’m going to attempt to finish before the end of the year.
     Also, my sister challenged me to a reading contest for the month of December so this post is also partially for them to size up the competition.


  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – I’ve historically really appreciated everything I’ve read by Kingsolver despite some issues I have with her works. So, I’m looking forward to this one.
  • The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate – It’s the biography of Henry Ward Beecher that I’ve been working on for what seems like YEARS
  • I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley – Book four in a series about a precocious little girl who is a brilliant chemist AND a crime solver. So great. So. Great.
  • Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith – Book two in a series about a woman detective in Botswana. The stories are much more about the personality of the detective and her neighbors than the mysteries themselves. I really enjoy them
  • A Godward Life by John Piper – A collection of little talks from John Piper is the best way I can describe this. I haven’t gotten very far in it yet.
  • Tuck by Stephen Lawhead – Book number three in a series about Robin Hood. Recommended by my friend, Libby.
  • Rule Britannia by Daphne DuMaurier – I haven’t started it, but it’s DuMaurier so…yay!
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – Raise your hand if you are a reader who hasn’t always secretly wanted to be a writer…thought so!
  • The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace – Love it or hate it many people have a very strong opinion on this book. I’m excited to read it.
  • Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O’Neill – A play I haven’t read. I’m trying to read more plays
  • On Reading the Grapes of Wrath by Susan Shillinglaw – I got this book for free at a history conference. I loved Grapes of Wrath so I’m excited to be told about how important historically the book is.
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – I actually saw a talk by this guy. Sadly at the time I didn’t have the book so I couldn’t ask him to sign it, but I’m excited to read it now because it’s one of those books you always hear about.
  • The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Does this NEED any explanation?
  • The New American Poetry edited by Donald Allen – I haven’t been reading enough poetry. It’s pretty sad.
  • The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan – I like the cover of this book. That’s the only reason I got it from the library
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry – After reading Number theStars I wanted to read more of this author.

Well, that’s it. December. I hope I meet my goals.

04 December 2014

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry



     Joy of joys! I may have found a book club. I sort of weaseled my way into the group on Monday night and I think I’m going to be a member. I can barely contain my excitement. Anyway, they are reading Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry and I read it as quickly as I could to catch up. Let’s revisit that “quickly as I could” bit. I warn everyone even considering reading it that this book is a tear jerker, but not in that over the top emotionally manipulative way, in like the quiet sadness that is super beautiful kind of way. I actually had to put it down a few times and read something else because it was too emotional.
     Despite all that I loved it! It was a novel written by a poet which is entirely different than a poem written by a novelist, by the way. There were quite a few chunks of the novel that I felt could be extracted and still be a great poem. There were sentences you had to read over again not necessarily because it took another go to understand (though there was that too), but just to taste the beauty of words and feel the emotions again.
     The novel itself reads much the same as Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.  Hannah Coulter is a now eighty year old woman looking back on her life. The story is somewhat told to her nephew who apparently is considered the most like Wendell Berry himself, but is mainly her own reminiscences to herself now that her husband is gone.
     Hannah Coulter is a story of loss. This loss could come from death but also comes from eras changing, from children growing up, from people moving away, and from war. The beauty of it is that throughout this story of loss there is, in Hannah’s words, “gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.” These gold threads of light in the darkness of loss are love and thankfulness. “Love is what carries you,” Hannah says, “for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark.” As Hannah recalls how full of loss her life is she doesn’t grumble or complain. She somehow tells a heartbreaking story and manages to concentrate on the blessings and the love that she has had.
     What I particularly loved were the amazing Christian themes in the book evoked by blatant biblical phrasing. Hannah and her husband refer to their community as “the membership.” And the Coulter’s neighbors truly embraced the spirit of unity. The way Hannah described it sounds similar to the way the church ought to be.  The concept of Love in the book seemed very Christian as well. As Christians we know the real Love that is always there, even in the dark. We know it is God’s love. And we know that God supplies us with things to be happy about. They maybe aren’t the things we think we want, but they are other kindnesses and we should thank him for those. In almost the middle of the book there is an account of one of the members of Hannah’s “membership” playing the hymn “Abide With Me” (my actual favorite hymn) which is basically about God being with us whatever is happening around us.
     The book is so moving. I cannot say enough times how wonderful it was. Wendell Berry actually wrote a couple of books and a few short stories about this community from the perspectives of different members. I want to read them all now. I think this might go down as one of the best books I read in 2014.