Books: The Other Words of the Year

Not long ago, a friend told me that her students had complained that reading masterpieces made them feel stupid. But I’ve always found that the better the book I’m reading, the smarter I feel, or, at least, the more able I am to imagine that I might, someday, become smarter. I’ve also heard fellow writers say that they cannot read while working on a book of their own for fear that Tolstoy or Shakespeare might influence them. I’ve always hoped they would influence me, and I wonder if I would have taken so happily to being a writer if it had meant that I couldn’t read for the years it might take to complete a novel.

-Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer

I agree with Francine Prose that “the better the book I’m reading, the smarter I feel.” I remember when those feelings began, reading Anne Lamott. In 2005, I said of her: “Anne Lamott is one of the few people – perhaps the only person – who makes me think of things to write while I’m reading her. Reading Lamott is a highly productive exercise.”

Not that I’d put her in the masterpiece category, along with Tolstoy or Shakespeare, but she was the beginning of a turn in my life, when I started to read the work of people who both challenged and pleasured me.

This year, I intend to press more words out of these keys than in any previous year, and it would be a futile exercise to try to write — to scrape art and wisdom from my soul — without leaving even more space for inspiration. Unapologetically, I am leaving space for reading books. Planning for reading space is like planning for growth and retreat, both balled up together.  I am not in the habit of giving myself space, but it is a habit of health, I believe, that will unbar the gateway to my own words in a way that merely writing never could.

This is the starting list from which I’ll be reading. Some may get pushed aside, of course, and then there will be other welcome surprises.


To introduce myself to the writers at the Festival of Faith and Writing:

Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life, by Bret Lott

Jewel, a novel by Bret Lott

The Fields of Praise, by Marilyn Nelson (Nelson is a poet with many layers, who often writes from imagination and history, melded together. She’s not afraid to try new poetic techniques; I can’t wait to learn from her.)

Alif the Unseen, a novel by G. Willow Wilson

A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans (I love this woman’s sheer guts. I’m already on the last chapter.)

Things That Are, essays by Amy Leach

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, by Richard Foster

The Seed Underground: The Growing Revolution to Save Food, by Janisse Ray

Granted, poems by Mary Szybist (I loved Szybist’s poetry book Incarnadine so much that she’s the number one person I want to hear from at FFW in April.)

The Rural Life, a nature journal by Verlyn Klinkenborg


To participate in the SheLoves community Red Couch book discussions:

Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey

God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, by Desmond Tutu

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo


For my delight:

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron (I’ve been eyeing this on my shelf for too long. My artist friend Amanda and I are going to walk through it together.)

The Red Tentby Anita Diamant (This I’m reading for its close look at a society of women, and themes of midwifery and birth)

I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz, by Daniel Ladinsky (simple poetry that stretches my understanding of the relatability and mystery of God)

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, by Shauna Niequist (Isn’t that subtitle the best? I hope this is a natural follow-up to my year of hospitality in 2013.)

Dignity is a Renewable Resource… and Courage Takes Balls, by Shanna Goodman (This is written by my local friend, whose fortitude in writing and publishing gives me courage.)

The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris

Divergent, by Veronica Roth (I can’t wait to get a feel for what’s popular in dystopian literature!)

Gilead: a Novel, by Marilynne Robinson

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery (I’ve long wanted to reignite my childhood appreciation of L.M. Montgomery. This novel and the next are ones I’ve never read. Since The Blue Castle makes Sarah’s Bessey’s list of 10 favorites to read on a cozy evening, I’m wanting to track down a copy to warm me during this cold snap.)

Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery (Did you see how this is only 99 cents on Kindle?)

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Stephen Pressfield

The Authentic Swing: Notes from the Writing of a First Novel, by Stephen Pressfield (These last two entered our house through the creative hunger of my husband, Kyle. They are quick ones to snatch up, and, I hope, will initiate inspiring dialogue between us.)


To explore birth and Ethiopian culture and herbalism (my learning areas for the year):

The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope, by Catherine Hamlin (This is the widely stretching story of the woman who started a fistula hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I hope this gives me a glimpse into the birth culture in Ethiopia.)

A History of Ethiopia, by Harold G. Marcus

Emergency Childbirth: A Handbook, by Gregory J. White

Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, by Rosemary Gladstar

Herbal Healing for Women, by Rosemary Gladstar

Understanding Holistic Health, by Frank Vilaasa

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual, by James Green

The Handbook of Vintage Remedies, by Jessie Hawkins

The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread, by Jessie Hawkins

The Vintage Remedies Guide to Real Food, by Jessie Hawkins

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