Tag: madeleine l’engle (page 1 of 1)

The Best Books I Read in 2015

For a while there, our house felt like my favorite bookstore. The shelves lining our living room and small hallway were full; the tops of the shelves were full; the floor to either side of them were full of books. I like that atmosphere in a used bookstore, but in a home I’m tasked with keeping clean, it’s less charming: stacks of books on the floor turn into trails of paperbacks throughout the house, ending wherever the two-year-old was seen last.

And so my husband and a good friend built a set of bookshelves to house our wayward paperbacks. They hang above the couch and give our house a different sort of feel, a well-organized library vs. used bookstore sort of feel, and I love it. It’s a treat to look at one shelf and see (almost) all of our books cozied up together. (And it’s a treat, only picking picture books up off the floor at the end of the day.)

Bookshelves | Little Book, Big Story
Complete with toddler-blur!

This year was a year for savoring books. Compared to my list of favorite finds from last year, these books are longer, deeper, and called for more underlining. I read more during nap time, less while nursing, and took the time to read (or reread) a few of those books I’d been meaning to tackle for a while. I read fiction, yes, and nonfiction, too. I read books that called for deep thoughts and others that kept me laughing. With the exception of the books that have been appearing on this blog all year long, here are my ten favorites from 2015:

Of all the books I read in 2015, I liked these 10 the best | Little Book, Big Story

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset | Little Book, Big Story

I was deeply smitten with this book the first time I read it. And when I combed our shelves for a book to take with us on an overnight trip (without kids!), I found myself wanting to read it again, this time with the ending in mind. Undset’s masterpiece of historical fiction is beautifully written, rich with details about life in medieval Norway and characters that still make my heart ache when I remember them, but when people ask me what it’s about, I find that a single word comes to mind: sin.

Kristin’s story would be a hugely popular love story if it ended with her wedding (young girl defies parents and society’s expectations and marries her lover! The end), but Undset follows Kristin for the rest of her life, chronicling the effects her sin on her marriage, her children, her years as an old woman. That may sound depressing, but it isn’t: this is a gorgeous and redemptive book, worth reading and rereading despite its length.

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset | Little Book, Big Story

Note: Not all translations of this book are created equal! If you’re not completely submerged in the story and deeply in love with Undset’s language, then you’re probably not reading Tiina Nunnally’s translation (pictured). You should fix that. Hers is the best.

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson

My new favorite series: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

You’ve heard about this one already. But it has joined the ranks of my very favorite books, so a list of the best books I read this year just wouldn’t be complete without a tip of the hat to The Wingfeather Saga.

Desiring Godby John Piper

Desiring God, by John Piper | Little Book, Big Story

I tried reading this book years ago but lost steam in the first chapters. When I picked it up this time, it was like sitting down to a feast: Piper packs so much material into each page that I cannot read it without a pen handy for underlining, and every chapter gives me much to consider. This wasn’t a case of me not liking the book, as I originally thought, but of my reading it at the wrong time. This was the right time in my life for Desiring God. I’m savoring it slowly, still reading it paragraph by paragraph.

The Family Cooks, by Laurie David & Kirstin Uhrenholdt

The Family Cooks (Cookbook), by Laurie David | Little Book, Big Story

I reviewed David and Uhrenholdt’s first book, The Family Dinner, for the blog this year, and when researching that post discovered that they had a new book out, which I promptly purchased. David is even more fiercely opinionated about food in this book, it’s true, but I love the recipes in The Family Cooks. Their strength is in their simplicity: through them, I’ve finally come to appreciate salad, have reincorporated vegetables into our diet (they had slipped out of it somehow), and have learned at last how to roast a simple, flavorful chicken breast. My daughters love helping me cook from this book, too, so it’s taken up semi-permanent residence on my cookbook stand.

Openness Unhindered, by Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield is a timely writer: before coming to Christ, she was a lesbian and queer theory professor, and her perspective on some of the most controversial topics facing Christians today is not divisive, but saturated with grace. Though this books tackles issues like homosexuality and sexual identity, I found that the most compelling chapters covered struggles faced by all Christians, regardless of the particular shape of our temptations: How should we confront sin? How do we accept grace? How can we truly love our neighbors?

Butterfield writes like a woman who knows how to read a text and how to articulate her thoughts (like an excellent professor, I suppose). This is one that I’ll return to over the years, I’m sure, and it’s one that I bullied a few friends into buying because it is just that good. In fact, my copy is currently loaned out, so I wasn’t able to photograph it for this post.

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger | Little Book, Big Story

This book is a beautiful blend of fiction and theology, recommended to me by many friends who said, “You like Gilead and Hannah Coulter? [I most certainly do.] Then you’ll love Peace Like a River.” They were right, my friends. So right.

The Things of Earth, by Joe Rigney

The Things of Earth, by Joe Rigney | Little Book, Big Story

I loved everything about this book. I loved Rigney’s examination of how we can glorify God through enjoying his gifts, and I loved his writing style. I found myself wishing that more authors wrote about theology with the obvious joy and delight of Joe Rigney and was sorry to see this book end.

Caught Up in a Story, by Sarah Clarkson

Caught Up in a Story, by Sarah Clarkson | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah Clarkson looks at childhood as a story, with an exposition, rising action, crisis, falling action and denouement.  This is a skinny book, but it gave me much to think about—and many books to buy. Each chapter closes with a list of books suited to that particular stage of childhood, so I can thank Clarkson for introducing me to some lovely new books and to renewing my interest in Hannah Coulter and The Wind in the Willows.

Our Mutual Friendby Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up, only that it was by Dickens and I was in the mood for Dickens. But oh, my goodness! The twists in this plot, the subtle shades of the characters, the way Dickens gives us only the details we need when we need them—the man was such a master that even his lesser known books are incredible feats of storytelling. I won’t tell you more: I don’t want to rob you of the pleasure of discovering the story for yourself. But I will warn you not to watch the mini-series or even glance at its summary until you have finished Our Mutual Friend. There are some aspects of the plot that cannot be translated onto the screen.

Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

I re-read Walking on Water every few years. L’Engle’s “Reflections on Faith and Art” are lovely—loosely organized and sure to reignite certain fires in me that need periodic feeding. Her words on children’s literature and on her life as a writer have shaped the way I view the call and craft of writing. This is a beautiful book, and because I read it when I was young, I sit here now, writing passionately for you about children’s books.

A Wrinkle in Time (and More!)

In the past, I’ve been pretty bossy about reading series in their entirety. I came down pretty hard on you about The Chronicles of Narnia (all of them), Anne of Green Gables and the Little House books, but you’ll be relieved to know that I’m not sending you away from this post with your reading list eight or nine titles longer than it was when you arrived.

But then, this is no ordinary series. In fact, it’s less of a series of sequential books than it is a loosely gathered group of stories that dip into the same family of characters, overlap occasionally and share a few common themes. In that way, it’s a bit like The Chronicles of Narnia, but the stories diverge even further from each other than the Narnian chronicles, to the point that I don’t think there’s even an official title for the entire group—at least, I couldn’t find anything snappier than “Books about the Murry-O’Keefes”—so I suppose I’d better begin by outlining to which books, specifically, I am referring.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

The Newbery-award-winning classic, A Wrinkle in Time, starts us off with an unforgettable bang. The next two books, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, follow the original protagonists, Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, on further adventures while the fourth book, Many Waters, centers around a more peripheral pair of characters (and is, for the record, one of my favorites in the series, though you should definitely pre-read it before handing it to your child. Some of the themes are a bit mature, though not inappropriately so). It’s different in tone, topic and tactic than the first three.

Thus ends what was once officially considered “The Time Quartet,” though the quartet has recently been expanded to a quintet, with the addition of An Acceptable Time. I get why the books were rearranged, but—I’ll be honest—I don’t like it. An Acceptable Time does deal with time travel, like the original quartet, but chronologically,  An Acceptable Time happens last in the series. It was also the last of the books to be written, so it differs in tone and content from the others. Also (and now we come to the truth), I just didn’t care for it all that much.

The next two books—The Arm of the Starfish and Dragons in the Water—leave the realm of science fiction behind (though they tip the old hat to it every now and then), and deal more with what L’Engle refers to as Chronos—ordinary, linear time. They follow Meg and Calvin’s daughter, Polly O’Keefe, through an international incident and a murder mystery, before moving on to A House Like a Lotus, which is more of a coming-of-age story (this one is geared more toward older teens, by the way, so it contains more mature content than Many Waters).

These last three are less recognized, probably because they depart from the fantastic themes of the first four books, but if you’ve fallen for the Murry-O’Keefe clan and/or can’t bear to leave an invented world unexplored (like me), they are still worth reading.

So, why should you read any or all of these books?

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

To be honest, I’m suffering from L’Engle Fatigue right now—a rare condition that occurs when one reads fourteen consecutive books by the same author and, due to the presence of recurring themes and characters, has trouble remembering which book is which or what exactly I set out to tell you about them. But I’m pretty sure my thesis here is Read the Time Quartet.

You can take or leave all of the rest of the books, but you must read The Time Quartet. Madeleine L’Engle’s vision for the universe reminds me, in part, of that of C. S. Lewis’s Science Fiction Trilogy, in that it contains life in the unlikeliest places. She was able to challenge the way we imagine things—cherubim or unicorns, for instance—and recast those things in a serious, believable way, while involving them with clearly flawed but lovable characters who grow in leaps and bounds from book to book.

A Wrinkle in Time is a classic for good reason, and I would be remiss if I didn’t strongly urge you to read at least that. But if you find yourself smitten with the Murry family and with L’Engle’s unique exploration of the worlds around us (I bet you will), then read on, at least to the end of the quartet. Where you go from there is up to you.

The Time Quartet
Madeliene L’Engle (1962, 1973, 1978, 1983)