Tag: writing (page 1 of 3)

Best Books of 2017

This was a year of learning. Good portions of it were given to reading curriculum samples, blog posts, and books about homeschooling. But I also learned to tend flowers, to keep a nature journal, and I took to writing fiction.

Here is what you should know about me and writing fiction: in college, I played it safe and studied poetry and creative nonfiction*. I am glad I did, because creative nonfiction is what I do these days, both for this blog and for Deeply Rooted. Nonfiction seemed civilized: one could draw on one’s own life, one’s own actual experiences. Fiction seemed too much like the Wild West to me: people went there and died of starvation, or in a bar fight. There was too little structure, I thought, too few rules. No civilized folk to protest, “But it didn’t happen like that!” No sheriff.

But my last quarter of college, I needed to pad my schedule with a few extra classes, so along with Martial Arts 101, I took a fiction writing class. It was wild and a little terrifying at times. But I loved it. The air was clear and invigorating, the grueling travel to a story’s end worth the work.

And then I graduated.

Of all the books I read in 2017, I liked these 10 the best (book list) | Little Book, Big Story

Fifteen years later, I am trying out fiction again. I thought, maybe there’s no sheriff, but there are certainly good, established neighbors around who can teach me a thing or two about survival. I met a few of them this year through some essays on writing, and I read some stunning novels, truly beautiful books. I am now at work drafting some of those mediocre stories you have to write before you get to (here’s hoping) the good ones.

What I am getting at here is: I read a lot of fiction this year and a lot of books about writing it. I read a lot about the other things I’m learning to do, too. And in doing so I found some incredible books, at least fifty-percent of which I’ll read again (at least once). What a year!

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2017 | Little Book, Big Story

* I’m sure some could argue that there’s nothing particularly safe about either poetry or creative nonfiction, or that writing about your own life is infinitely more alarming that inventing lives to write about, but at nineteen, I preferred the known to the unknown. I knew my own life tolerably well, and I had written a lot of middling poetry and song lyrics. And so those genres seemed safest to me.

 

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Middlemarch, by George Eliot | Little Book, Big Story

I started this book when Josie was small. I wanted a big novel, so I got a big novel, and I began to read. But—alas!—I grew painfully bored after a few chapters and, being sleep-deprived, found myself dozing off during passages that were probably important. I shelved Middlemarch with a sigh and thought, Not right now. But this summer I picked it up again, grew bored in the early chapters, dozed off during some important passages, and found myself wanting to quit around the same spot where I had dropped off before, but I pressed on, and I am so glad.

This book is beautiful, stunning, breathtaking—any number of adjectives apply to its slow development of character, perfect pacing, and fitting conclusion. A few chapters from the end I began to realize that Middlemarch would join the ranks of my favorite novels. By the end I wondered if it hadn’t topped the list.

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

I took Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl with me on vacation last summer and proceeded to underline and dog ear it heavily—every other passage, it seems, is brilliant and brightly written. Wilson’s thoughts on this world, the wildness of it, were just right for reading on a cabin’s front porch overlooking a lake.

The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey

 The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey | Little Book, Big Story

We had a neighbor who kept the best-curated Little Free Library around. After a summer of supplying me with Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor and more (and I, in turn, kept it stocked PG Wodehouse, EB White and more), they moved and I mourned. Now it houses the usual department store crime novels and cast-off magazines (alas!).

But before they moved, I found this gem: I knew nothing about the author, only that it was about writing novels, and so I grabbed it. Margot Livesey looks at how writers learn from great writers by reading their stories; she discusses Shakespeare and Flaubert in glorious detail. This is one of my best free library finds to date.

No Little women, by Aimee Byrd

No Little Women, by Aimee Byrd | Little Book, Big Story

Aimee Byrd’s vision of women in the church is a challenging and uncomfortably convicting one. She both points church leaders to Scripture passages that press us to revisit some of the habits we’ve settled into within the church, and she encourages women to be knowledgeable about Scripture and quick to spot false doctrine.

One of my favorite features of the book was a chapter in which Byrd quotes passages from well-known books marketed toward Christian women and trains readers to ask pointed questions of the text. I’m sure she’ll offend every reader at least once, but in a good way, a way that means she’s prodding at something that needs examination. It is worth noting, though, that she doesn’t do this just to rile people up: her arguments are firmly rooted in Scripture, and her concern is loving, if direct. This book gave me much to ponder.

The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge

 The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

I read and adored Goudge’s Eliot Family Trilogy last year, but this book was even better. Imagine an LM Montgomery novel set in the English countryside, with an protagonist not in the dawn of life but in its twilight, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s to love about The Scent of Water. I already look forward to rereading it.

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson | Little Book, Big Story

In this graceful little book about humility, Hannah Anderson explores why it matters that we know our place as branches to Christ’s vine. She draws on stories from her community in rural Appalachia, and writes of plants and the rhythm of the garden in a way that reminds me of Lilias Trotter’s Parables from the Cross. I loved the way she framed the wisdom of this book within stories and linked it to the outside world.

The Laws Guide to Nature Journaling and Drawing, by John Muir Laws

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, by John Muir Laws | Little Book, Big Story

When I realized that I wanted to teach the girls to keep nature journals, I also realized that I needed to keep one myself—the habit wouldn’t take if I didn’t. So I made myself a little bag of supplies, dug a tiny sketchbook out of my desk, and checked this book out from the library. In it, John Muir Laws explains the concepts behind keeping a nature journal, but he also discusses drawing and painting techniques, explores a number of different mediums, and quietly cracks jokes as he goes.

This quickly became a favorite book, not just because I was new to nature journaling and it was helpful, but because Laws describes  certain concepts so clearly that my art skills leveled up more in the few months I spent with this book than they had in the previous ten years. He’s a master at explaining complex techniques in a few short sentences, and the step-by-step drawings throughout this book are worth their weight in gold.

Mystery & Manners, by Flannery O’Connor

Mystery & Manners, Essays by Flannery O'Connor | Little Book, Big Story

Flannery O’Connor is adept at describing her own work and the work of a writer in a way that cuts to the heart of things. This won’t surprise you, if you’re familiar with her stories. She does cut right to the heart of things. But for a writer trying to write stories that aren’t entirely aimless or bland, O’Connor is a sharp-tongued, discerning, articulate teacher. I am still reading these essays and have been reading them slowly for months, but I feel confident ranking them here because I’ve yet to find one that didn’t send me to my notebook with some new thought to ponder.

Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier

Du Maurier’s eerie novel about a young wife haunted by her husband’s deceased first wife is perfect from start to finish. Du Maurier’s eye for detail brings a scene to life with the mention of one fallen moth, one forgotten corkscrew. And the twists and turns of the plot! Egad! This book, too, has joined my list of frequently revisited favorites. (I wasn’t able to photograph this one because I promptly pressed it upon a friend.)

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein | Little Book, Big Story

This book is the reason we skipped squash this summer and planted row upon row of flowers. Benzakein runs Floret Farm, a small flower farm not far from where we live, where she grows and arranges gorgeous blooms. In this book, she gives tips on planting, tending, and harvesting her favorites, as well as some ideas for arranging the harvested flowers. Cut Flower Garden was a glorious spring read.

What about you? Which books did you discover this year?

Deeply Rooted Magazine | Issue 12: The Calling

Deeply Rooted, Issue 12: The Calling is out! This issue is every bit as beautiful as its predecessors and features a wealth of rich theological articles, as well as beautifully written, practical pieces. Hunter Beless writes about inductive Bible study; Ann Swindell writes about balancing motherhood and creativity. My friend Jennifer Harris shares a biographical piece about Lilias Trotter, accompanied by gorgeous reproductions of Trotter’s work.

Deeply Rooted, Issue 12: Calling | Little Book, Big Story

I contributed a piece titled “Our Children Are Immortal,” about why we parent differently when we remember that our work doesn’t end when the last child moves out of the house, but when we enter our eternal home together. This piece took a long time to write and the subject is dear to me, not least because I share the story of how we ended up having not three children, but four:

When our third child was a still a baby, my husband and I thought we mightjust maybebe through having kids. Three daughters made a nice set, we decided. They fit comfortably around our kitchen table, comfortably in our 900 square foot house. Everyone had a place when we read aloud—one under each arm and one on my lap.

We began to think fond thoughts of leaving our baby-raising years behind. . . .

As always, the magazine is beautiful, rich, and challenging. Where else can you find a recipe for a fruit galette in the same volume as an article on election?


Issue 12: Calling
Deeply Rooted Magazine

Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 11: Wisdom

The newest issue of Deeply Rooted arrived at my house last week, and since then I’ve loved flipping through its pages, sampling articles and admiring artwork. I’m anticipating a nap time some day in the near future, when I may sit out on the front porch and read with my feet on the porch railing and a cat in my lap.

But that probably won’t happen. I’ll probably read this issue in the pick-up line at school or in bits and pieces throughout the day.

And that’s okay. Deeply Rooted is a magazine meant for women who want deep refreshment in small bites and for women who are able to linger over the articles, savoring them like a feast.

Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 11: Wisdom | Little Book, Big Story

My article for this issue, titled “The Good Gift of Feeling Left Out,” was a hard one to write:

Being a member of a church is not unlike being married. The first few years for me were like something from the end of a story, where the heroine decides that at last, after everything she’s been through, all is well. I was glad to be there with my husband, making friends and singing my heart out to old hymns and understanding new things about God with the suddenness of a light switched on in a dark room. All was well.

But a membership covenant is no more an end to things than a wedding is. Five or six years into life at our church, I found myself wondering uncomfortably if those early years were not an epilogue but a prelude to something much bigger, something I had not fully understood when I signed up.

We have been a part of our church for twelve years now (that’s much of my adult life, most of my married life, and all of my time as a mom), and in those years we have experienced a lot of joy in deep fellowship. We have also suffered some deep, deep wounds. Writing this article hurt, and I think that’s a good thing. Submitting it brought a measure of relief, and seeing it in print felt even better.

Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 11: Wisdom | Little Book, Big Story

But that piece is only one in a curated collection of works. Lexy Sauvé wrote a beautiful piece titled “Thoughts From a Recovering Minimalist.” Dianne Jago assembled a playlist of music by Christian artists for people who aren’t overly fond of the usual Christian music (sound familiar?). And my dear friend Jennifer Harris contributed her first piece, a rich and satisfying look at how we can sow seeds of wisdom in our children. (You can order a copy of this issue here.)

Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 11: Wisdom | Little Book, Big Story

Whether you read it in a leisurely manner or in bits and pieces, I hope this issue of Deeply Rooted is a blessing to you, too!


Issue 11: Wisdom
Deeply Rooted Magazine

Through the Waters | Deeply Rooted Blog

I had read books about childbirth, books that described contractions as “waves”—manageable ones, if you had the right attitude—and birth as a warm, glowy experience best concluded with champagne.

But when I went into labor with my first daughter, I felt no glow of incoming life, just the repeated beating of city-high waves that, from the beginning, thundered over me without a break between them. My tiny boat of coping techniques promptly capsized; I couldn’t think or breathe. After ten hours of pummeling, the doctor handed me some papers, said something to my husband who tried to translate it for me (but I was underwater and couldn’t hear him) and then: the OR. An unexpected c-section. Lots of light, but not the kind mentioned in the books. Our baby’s face as a nurse on her way to the NICU held her up for me to see.

Birth stopped being something I did, and became a thing that happened to me. It required, in the end, not strength but surrender.

And so, I would learn every day afterward, does motherhood.

My first daughter was born on Mother’s Day. This week, as we celebrate her ninth birthday, I got to celebrate my entrance to motherhood by writing a piece for Deeply Rooted on becoming a mother and being one.

You can read the full article here.

The Savior and the Saved | Deeply Rooted Blog

On Easter Sunday when I was 17, one thought appeared unbidden and would not be chased away: Maybe I’ll pray this morning. I attended church only by parental decree. I wore knee-high Doc Martens and crimson hair in protest and sat through the pastor’s prayers with my eyes boldly open, head unbowed. I did not pray. But:

Maybe I’ll pray this morning.

There is nothing dramatic in my story—no brutal addiction, no “rock bottom,” no conversion in the backseat of a police cruiser—unless you consider the fact that the Creator of the universe unlocked some hidden chamber in the heart of a hurting girl and sowed there one thought, Maybe I’ll pray this morning, and from that seed sprung the sapling that buckled the sidewalk, shattered the concrete, and is still growing.

There was an altar call at the strip mall church that morning, and at the front of the sanctuary I knelt, with damp mascara and a half dozen others, and I prayed: God forgive me. The Lord lifted the glass dome off what I thought was the world and in rushed the dizzying winds of heaven. In rushed a new thought: God exists and he is not cruel or indifferent, but he loves me. I held that thought tenderly, the way one might hold a bird.

Seventeen years ago tomorrow, I came to faith. Mine was not a flashy conversion, but one that left me reeling, as though I’d skeptically tapped the back of a wardrobe only to find that it led to Narnia. I got to share that story alongside the story of Easter in a post for the Deeply Rooted blog.

You can read the full post here.

Happy Easter, dear ones!

Whatever is Pure and Lovely | Story Warren

So. I spent a year writing two different articles—two very different articles. I spent a year tinkering with one of them, altering this sentence and then that one, cutting passages and pasting them elsewhere or—in a burst of spontaneity—deleting them altogether.

The other arrived half-complete: in a single morning, I wrote a promising opening, but no ending. Nothing for months, no matter how many times I opened my draft, stared at the blinking cursor and thought my thoughts.

And then I grew a baby, which meant I spent a lot of time sleeping. I had the baby, which meant I spent a lot of time not sleeping but not writing either.

But a few months ago, I opened the one article, dusted it off, cut or rearranged a few more lines.

I opened the other and, in a sudden gust, wrote the missing last half. In a single morning, they were both done. I sent them off, washing my hands of them in two clicks of the Send button, and did not see them again until this week, when they appeared on separate sites within days of each other.

Of course that makes me happy. It always does, when the words I shuffle around each morning go off into the world to connect with readers. But this piece, the second article, is especially dear to me. It’s a quirky one, a story that seemed just right. I don’t entirely understand it myself and there’s something about that that seems fitting. I hope you enjoy it too:

At 9:30, my daughter comes downstairs—she can’t sleep. She’ll be seven next month and the world is expanding around her, I can see it. She’s more aware of other people now, more aware of adult conversation, more aware, in this instance, of volcanoes.

“Volcanoes?” I repeat, settling down next to her on the couch. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I’m just worried about them. I read about them in class today and I . . . “. I know that she sees it clearly, whatever she read that day, as real to her as I am. A definite fear shapes the set of her mouth and she gives into it for a moment before drawing away and finishing lamely, “I’m just worried about them.”

I want to offer her comfort—immediate, tangible comfort—in the shape of a promise. They’re far away. We don’t have to worry about that here. Things like that don’t happen anymore. Or the great silence-killing assurance, “It’s okay.”

But I can’t say any of that.

You can read the rest of the article here.


Whatever is Pure and Lovely
Théa Rosenburg, Story Warren