One of the great joys of being a writer is that I can indulge my favourite pastime of reading and call it educational! My husband may label it more of an addiction than an interest and, at times I’m sure, rather regrets introducing me to Kindle – it may have reduced clutter in our house and weight in our holiday suitcases but it has also extended my book buying habits to 24/7!
Seriously though, I do believe that reading does my own writing good, whether by osmosis, inspiration, or direct learning of technique. A piece of description that transports me so that I am lost in another time or place, precise words that speak specifically to me in my situation and give me graspable hope, a story that challenges me to rethink how I see the world: these give me something to aspire to, to reach for in my own small way, as I gradually find my voice and path as a writer.
Wendy Jones in the Association of Christian Writers Facebook group passed on a Reading Challenge for 2019 (see the end of this post if you’d like to join in), which I’m going to try as a way of expanding my reading repertoire and keeping it fresh. But it also made me consider the books I’ve read over the past year and search for patterns and highlights.
Looking back, there have been works that, once hooked by one novel, I have devoured en masse. I have returned to and enjoyed the, sometimes harrowing but always engrossing, social issues stories of Jodi Picoult. Influenced by my increasing time there, I have discovered the light hearted Cornwall Mysteries by Janie Bolitho. And I was engrossed by the honesty of what can be an ignored or over simplified subject in Christian fiction – that of unfaithfulness – in Paula Wiseman’s Covenant of Trust series.
There have been disappointments too: books I bought and haven’t made or found the right time to read (some I have to be in a certain state of mind for); a book that just wasn’t what I expected and gave up on (perhaps I’ll try it again in 2019); another from an author I’ve long admired but felt the subject matter just wasn’t as universally interesting as it clearly was to them personally; and one book I really wish I hadn’t bothered with (which I kept reading because it was a local author and in the hopes that it would improve – it didn’t).
However, there have been exciting new authors I’ve been glad to discover – Kate Humble (Thinking On My Feet), Robert Macfarlane (Landmarks), Mike Gayle (The Man I Think I Know), Sally Magnusson (The Sealwoman’s Gift) – and old favourites to return to, either in a familiar and much loved book or something new – Corrie Ten Boom (The Hiding Place), Wendy Jones (Antiques and Alibis), Cynthia Ruchti (Miles Form Where We Started), Robert Galbraith (Lethal White).
I love my fiction but I’ve also found fascinating biographies to read (AN Wilson’s CS Lewis: A Biography), new and old poets to relish (Lem Sissay’s Gold from the Stone, Seamus Heaney’s New Selected Poems), and inspirational Christian teaching to learn from (The Practise of the Presence of God in Modern English by Brother Lawrence, Marshall Davis).
Looking through my list (another advantage of Amazon Kindle!), three books stand out from this year for me, books that will stay with me, that have held me transfixed, deepened my faith, and that will stay with me as I continue to work out their impact in my life:
1. The Overstory by Richard Powers
I picked this, using the Man Booker shortlist as a source for quality writing whilst also searching for books that would stretch me, that didn’t fit my usual criteria to read. I am so glad I read this one. It begins as a series of short stories (not a usual genre for me), each varied but complete in itself, joined only by an underlying theme of trees. But then, it gradually builds up speed and takes off. I don’t want to tell you too much because I want you to read this book and to enjoy where it takes you unexpectedly as much as I did. For me, this was a fantastic example of how well you can learn astonishing facts from a work of fiction. The array of characters, the thread(s) of the story(ies) pulling me on – it was one of those books I stayed up late to see what happened next and yet didn’t want to end. I will admit that reading it on holiday, staying in a lodge in a forest, probably made it even more real (and that’s another thought to explore: how the setting in which we read may influence our experience) but this book has left me with so many new amazing ideas and facts about nature that I am having to rethink how I see and interact with creation, a process that is still ongoing months after finishing the book.
2. Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame by Vicky Beeching
This is another book whose effects I am still ruminating on. A brave autobiography of the Christian singer songwriter struggling and coming to terms with being gay, in a world that sees her faith and sexuality as contradictory. It’s a shocking story of prejudice and intolerance, of the damaging and devastating impact of sincerely held beliefs and teaching on individuals, however well meant. But it’s also a story of hope and understanding. It is not a story of experience over theology for Vicky, an Oxford theology graduate, is a woman of integrity and describes her detailed Biblical and Church history studies that contribute to the integration of one with the other. So why did this book resonate with me so much this year? Because this is also the year one of my sons came out as bisexual. I have become increasingly more aware of what science is learning about gender and sexuality, I want to understand his world better, and it is time that I re-examine in detail and with an open mind the Biblical teaching on this and its overriding principle of love. One reviewer of this book described it as ‘a must read whatever your theology’ – I’d agree.
3. God Among the Ruins: trust and transformation in difficult times by Mags Duggan
If I had to pick one book as the most impactful for me this year, it would be this one. Why? Because this book was an absolute lifeline throughout one of the most difficult times I’ve ever had. I wrote out whole passages of it in my prayer journal to think over (and over again), to return to when waves of despair overwhelmed me. It is full of beauty and wisdom, written from real experience of doubt and darkness, but it held out the long rope of hope and, hand over hand, pulled me back into the strong arms of the One who never lets go. It was a book to read slowly and savour bit by bit, to ponder the words and carry out the end of chapter exercises over time. It’s rich stuff and needs to be taken morsel by morsel. I bought the book after hearing Mags talk at a Woman Alive conference, little knowing how much I would need her words so soon after. She writes as she speaks – with lyricism, deep personal knowledge, honesty, and love. If you are going through a tough time and need a companion who knows how it feels, who can gently but firmly help you up and shine a torch to help you onward, try this book. I thoroughly recommend it.
So that’s my reflections on the books I’ve read in 2018. It doesn’t include the blogs I follow, to name a few:
You can find more lists of 2018 books here: http://katemotaung.com/2018/12/17/books-i-read-in-2018-book-recommendations/ or I’d really love to hear what you’d recommend for the coming year in the Comments (especially if they meet any of the criteria for the 2019 Reading Challenge!).
Happy New Year and happy reading!
2019 Reading Challenge:
Read a book…
1. A friend or family member recommended
2. Based on a true story
3. That has won an award
4. Set in your home state or province
5. With a blue cover
6. With a one word title
7. Written by a male author
8. Originally published in a different language
9. With a number in the title
10. That is an author’s debut novel
11. That has at least 500 pages
12. Written by a new-to-you author
13. Independently or self-published
14. Chosen strictly due to the appeal of the cover
15. Set during WWII
16. Written by an author with the same initials as you (middle initial not included)
17. That you can finish in a day
18. With a protagonist with the same occupation as you (if you never worked, choose an occupation that you would have liked to have had, or wish to have)
19. Outside of your comfort zone
20. That has been made into, or is in the process of becoming, a movie
21. With a coming of age story
22. With either, north, south, east, or west in the title
23. Published this year
24. Set in the mountains or wilderness
25. That is humorous