What do Writers Read? Pursuing Adventure — Summer 2017

One would expect writers to be on the cutting edge of the book scene, devouring best-sellers one after another. After all, reading got us into this mess. Not just reading, but reading good books. I sometimes wonder, would I be enamored with writing today if I’d tried to read James Joyce’s “Ulysses” or William Faulkner’s “As I lay Dying” while I was still a tweenager instead of reading everything ever written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Douglass Adams? I suspect not.

That isn’t to say those aren’t perfectly fine books. I confess, however, I’ve never managed to make it through either, which is a personal frustration as I’ve been told Ulysses is the greatest book ever written. How is it I cannot get past the first chapter then?

But I digress.

Over the past four years, or since I started writing for a living, I find I’m reading less and less. This is not good, as I was reminded last week repeatedly at a writers’ conference in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We need to read, to keep our imaginations lit, to stay abreast of changes in style and analyze what works and what doesn’t so our own writing stays fresh, and for myriad other reasons that would bore you to tears if I listed them. For this reason, I’ve established a summer/fall reading list to make sure I’m hip. Or whatever it is I’m supposed to be these days.

I share this list with you with a caveat, one that also attempts to answer the question posed earlier. You won’t recognize many of these authors, but give ’em a shot. Writers don’t always read the latest and greatest best sellers. I’m learning that writers, by the nature of their networking and community, read books by friends who are writers. We help each other out, which is, more often than not, a good deal despite the time invested. However, not all writers should be, if you know what I mean, so sometimes I have to wade through some heartbreaking time-suckers. I will not recommend those books, as a service to you.

On the other hand, we also get to read some phenomenal books by lesser-known authors, some of whom are self-published but should be moved to the front of the line. I will announce those gems as I find them.

Without further ado: A Writer’s 2017 Summer Reading List
(Assuming you’ve already read Caged Sparrow, From the Remnants, and Breaking the Chains, of course)

NOVELS

toscaTosca Lee’s “Demon: A Memoir” – Okay, this was going to be on the list but the moment I started it I had to push through, so now it’s just a recommendation. I read this book in three days, it’s so good. For my Christian reader friends, DO NOT JUDGE this book by its gruesome cover. As a writer, I cannot load my brain with dark imagery and would normally have given it a wide berth. However, I’m so incredibly glad someone recommended this because it’s fantastic. I cannot say enough about the way this book has changed my thinking about good and evil. I’ve never considered what fallen angels might think about having no possibility of receiving forgiveness while watching us blind and foolish humans receive chance after chance. Tosca Lee’s descriptions are fantastic and quite believable, and will stay with me for quite some time. The ending felt a bit repetitious at first, but I get it now: We still don’t get it. Because of this book, I will add everything Tosca Lee has ever written to my reading list.

Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” – A small-town reporter and the local pastor notice some strange goings-on in their neighborhood.  Recommended by a friend and endorsed by Jerry Jenkins. That’s enough for me.

Connie Mann’s “Hidden Threat” – Just out and looking like a book I can get lost in. Connie is a boat captain from Florida I met at a conference a few years ago. I’ve read most of her books and can easily recommend them, especially last year’s “Tangled Lies.”

Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See” – The story of a blind French girl and a German boy who meet in occupied France during WWII. Although not really into romance, I’m a sucker for a well-told behind-the-scenes war story.

annieMEMOIRS — Hey, I write ‘em, I gotta read ‘em, and frankly, I think memoirs are among the best reading out there—because truth is indeed stranger and much more interesting than fiction.

Paul Kalamithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” – the story of a young neurosurgeon facing terminal cancer. Recommended by a writer friend. I’ll keep you posted.

Annie B. Garman’s “Unexpected Grace: When Your Child is Born with Half a Heart” – I haven’t even started reading it and my tears are getting ready to flow. This was a finalist in the 2017 Selah Awards so I know it will change me.

MYSTERY AND HUMOR – may as well get those in one package when you can, don’cha know?

Chelsea Field’s “Eat, Pray, Die mystery series. – I was just about to give up on humor and re-read an old favorite (Douglas Adams’ “Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul – highly recommended) when I stumbled across these. The second book in the series is called “The Hunger Pains,” which screams “READ ME!” So I shall.

OTHER

There are many other books on my Round-to-it list, primarily writing books (apparently, I should read one a month so I’ll start with Steven James’ Troubleshooting Your Novel); Christian inspiration (Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and classics  (“Les Misérables” – I know, I know, but I haven’t yet). I won’t list them all because I don’t want to overwhelm my mind . . . just tease it a bit. I promise to let you know if I find any of these time-investment worthy.

How about you? What’s on the top of your stack? I’m always ready to read something new.

Except “Ulysses.” I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that.

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My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. — Psalm 45:1

Honoring Mothers, Even My Own

I usually don’t write about my mother.  As a “Daddy’s Girl,” I’ve dedicated three or four blogs over the years to my father, flawed as he was, but I steer clear of Mom. Perhaps I do this because some aspects of our relationship still need healing, yet they never will heal completely because she’s been gone for nearly 10 years.

Most of my more recent memories of my mother involve whiskey and tears. My mom raised nine children (well, the youngest four pretty much raised each other, but that’s another story) and she carried two girls to full-term, losing them in childbirth. I cannot deny she led a tough life, but a part of me still resents that she turned to the bottle for solace.

The most poignant words I ever heard her utter were, “I’ve been pregnant 99 months of my life and all I have to show for it are varicose veins and a mountain of laundry.”

On some levels that’s a bit funny, however, because she believed it, those words pierce my heart to this day. If she could see us now, and I think she can—certainly more clearly than she could here on Earth—I know she’d be proud of her children. We’re not wealthy doctors and lawyers, but we’re all good-hearted people who work hard, and who believe in doing right and helping others. Among us you’ll find a teacher, a fisherman, a carpenter, a deacon, a store manager, a truck driver, and three very-small-business owners.

You’ll also find varying degrees of anger and resentment toward Mom. The variation comes with differences in birth order, proximity to the problem over the years, and depth of understanding regarding our Dad’s role in her demise. (Yes, there’s a book here—working on it!)

My personal struggle is with wondering how much of my childhood experiences were necessary to make me who I am today? How much of that gave my oldest brother such a compassionate heart that he relentlessly collects food and money for regular relief trips to an impoverished area of West Virginia? How much of that imbued my youngest sister with the stubbornness to pursue her college degree, one and two classes at a time over many years, after the world told her she would never be a teacher? (Today, she’s pretty much Teacher of the Year every year in my book—take THAT world!) How much of what we went through as children drives each of us to pursue dreams instead of merely money?

And mostly, I wonder how much of what we went through is Mom’s fault? She did what she thought she had to do. She made good and bad decisions, like all of us. She became trapped by some of those decisions, and it affected us. To an extent, it defines us today, but it does not define our futures. We each have a say in how much we will allow our childhoods to drive our adulthoods.

Why do I bring this up now? Lately, it’s become trendy for people who don’t celebrate Mothers’ Day, for varied and quite appropriate reasons, to assert those reasons into the conversation as if to lessen the joy of the day. In some circles, people are becoming cautious about wishing each other Happy Mother’s Day for fear of offending. I’ll admit, although I have two wonderful boys, Mother’s Day always brings a twinge of sadness for me. And I cannot imagine what the day is like for someone who has lost a child. Whoever you are, please know that my heart aches for you, not just this Sunday, but every day. For you, and for me, this is just not our day.

Taking offense is a decision, however, and I choose not to.

Because Mothers’ Day IS a sweet and special day for others. I’ve learned to appreciate a beautiful story about a wonderful mother and not feel envy, but gratefulness, because that mother created a fantastic person. I celebrate with you, mothers everywhere, for the job you’re doing. I honor you, whether you’re making good decisions or fumbling the ball right now, whether your house is spotless or a cluttered disaster, whether your kids eat Pop-Tarts or home-baked bread for breakfast. My prayer for each of you is that your children absorb your good examples with sponge-like efficiency, and learn from (but see past) your failures and short-comings. I want to encourage you to keep trying, to push forward, and to be awed and inspired by this task you’ve been given—to influence young minds and create good adults.

young mom

“And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
 That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.”

(Emily Dickenson, Hope is the thing with feathers)

Happy Mothers’ Day. May each of us find something about mothers to take joy in this Sunday.

And to my own mom, I honor you as well, for all it cost you to be my mother, our mother. I’m glad you’re no longer suffering. I want you to know we didn’t break. I’ll never understand, this side of Heaven, what that was all about, but I kinda’ like how we all turned out. We’re a tough, stubborn, witty, resilient people. Thank you for my life and for each of my siblings.

I miss you.

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Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice. – Proverbs 23:25