Monday, September 5, 2016

The Labor of Reading

Most seven-year-olds would agree that reading is work. Those among them who love reading, having had many pleasurable hours in company with books, nevertheless, tackle the task with gusto. Few pleasures in life come to us without some effort—even experiencing nature takes deliberate preparation, time, and attention to be fully enjoyed. Still, with reading, I note two common attitudes: it is either a necessary task to achieve some educational goal, or, it is considered an optional indulgence of mindless relaxation.

This Labor Day, I subject you again to the list of the books I finished in the previous month and acknowledge that to pursue knowledge, I read; to enjoy life in another’s world, I read; and, truthfully, in the pressures of work and family and deadlines and projects, to fit reading into my daily routine does take work. The energy and effort required to make time to read is supremely rewarding in every aspect—obtaining knowledge, pleasure, and zest for life.

1. The Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron.

I have never read anything by this author, but as he is a favorite of some of my favorite authors, I picked this one up and was transported to the other side of the globe as he traveled from China to Europe via the ancient silk trade route. Thubron is an author worth reading as his use of language is skillful in depicting scenes with vividness, describing personalities and incidents with humor and poignancy, and, in this book at least, he seamlessly weaves dozens of cultural histories with modern life as smoothly as the silk spinners produced their wares. His adventures in the 1990’s along this road were no less full of unexpected dangers, difficulties and delights as any of the thousands of others who wound their way over that road throughout the previous thousands of years. I’m not sure he found the spiritual answers he was seeking, but perhaps that lack of definitive result was an answer in itself.

2. The Wonderful Winter by Marchette Chute.

What boy hasn’t been provoked, or at least tempted, to run away with his dog when the injustices of the adults in his life oppressed him? But, few could have the fortune to wind up on the stage of Mr. William Shakespeare himself. This is a fun adventure to bring the person and times of William Shakespeare to life for children of grades 1-8 by one of the great children’s authors.

3. Letters of E. B. White.

I am now firmly convinced of a few things since reading this book: that E. B. White is one of the funniest people I’ve ever had the privilege of reading, that the art of letter writing being virtually extinct is a tremendous loss to the human race, and that, such a letter trail from the life of any person, if preserved, is the most revealing and insightful means of getting to know that person. It took me months to read this collection of correspondence, but the author of beloved Charlotte’s Web is now among my most well-known acquaintances. I not only howled with laughter over his witty interactions with family and colleagues—for days afterwards—but, gleaned wisdom for dealing with life and people that is immeasurable.

4. The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter.

I know, she’s a little over-the-top in romantic language and portrayal of life, but I cannot deny that under all the turn-of-the-twentieth century idealism, lies profound truths that give plenty of food for thinking in the twenty-first. This is a story of unbelievable dreams, hardships, and the assurance that long work and toil to make those dreams come true is what life is all about. In this scientific and clinical world, the story of this simple herb-harvester and his passion to heal the body and the spirit of his fellow man is refreshing and inspiring.

5. Ember Falls by S. D. Smith.

All I can say is, “Wow!” I read the first in this series and was pleasantly surprised. This one is, it seems to me, for older children, partly because Heather and Picket are older and wiser themselves. My 8-year-old grandson is enjoying it. I was caught up in the tension and intrigue and was left breath holding to see what happens next. There must be another in the series to satisfy the appetite for resolve in the coming book. The author is definitely hitting his stride, communicating action and emotion with strengthening development of the characters as the story deepens and intensifies. Who do we trust, how do we endure, why do we hope are some of the thought-provoking questions communicated this tension-packed tale.

6. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather.

This was my book club’s choice for this summer. The story was compelling enough for all to finish the tale. It is the story of an unusual, gifted child, born into an upstanding and typical western pastor’s family. It is primarily the story of an unusual girl, her friends, her ambitions, and where those people and motivations took her.

7. Walden, or, Life in the Woods and the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau.

I have had his book on my list for years and finally opened it and began. It was eye opening. Naturally, with years of reading Wendell Berry and Charlotte Mason, I was fascinated by his experience with nature and community. I was also surprised to discover the economic and political conclusions these experiences led him to. This book was interesting on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that I have heard it quoted and referenced for my entire life and it was best read firsthand. It would be an excellent high school essays choice and the launching for many family discussions. I am still trying to decide whether he was courageous or egotistical, Christian or pagan, a true naturalist or just a rebel.

8. The Cross by Sigrid Undset.

I have spent this year reading this trilogy and reached the end on the evening of the last day of August. I agree with George Grant, who first brought Undset to my attention, that she is an outstanding novelist. Her portrayal of medieval life in Scandanavia was fascinating, her depiction of the motivations and subsequent actions of characters penetrating, and I found myself entering into the life of Christians hundreds of years ago and thousands of miles away in a way I cannot imagine any other author could have managed. This series is not just informative about the life and times of Norwegian citizens of the fourteenth century, their particular perils and propensities, but was powerful in showing the struggles of human relationships and grappling with faith that parallels ours as we seek our own way in God’s will in the twenty-first century.

For the joy of Reading,



  1. I look forward to these posts, Liz! I enjoy getting new ideas for books. This has been a year of good reading for me thus far and it's fun to share that with others. Until next time!

    1. Kelly,

      I enjoy even making that brief narration of the books I am reading, and hearing how your reading year is going also.


  2. I love reading your reviews here! It's inspiring and I've wanted to read that Chute title to my children for a LONG time. SOON. :)

    1. I have also wanted to read it for a long time and the time finally came.


  3. Thank you for your posts, Liz. They are an inspiration to me as a homeschool mom who is trying to feed herself, as well as her children. Thank you for reading AND sharing!