Time for my inaugural post on the family blog! Since Jer posted on computer stuff, it makes sense that I would post on literary things, since usually if he is on his computer I am somewhere in the house reading and/or cooking.
I have a habit of reading multiple books at once. It might seem like a form of literary ADD, but really it is because I have varying tastes, and different types of books need to be read differently, with accommodations made for their genre. A good work of contemporary fiction needs to be devoured in large chunks over a short period of time, preferably no more than a week, in order to stay in the story. A classic can also be read in this manner, but usually needs a bit more time to savor, or work through the language barrier. A collection of essays can be taken piecemeal, picked up one day and then forgotten, only to be happily rediscovered under the pile of junk mail two weeks later. A deep introspective theology work needs to be read daily in small doses as one chews over the challenging statements and researches Scripture passages with which to disprove the author’s conclusions. So while working slowly through one work, I might find myself supplementing with additional books as the mood or opportunity strikes.
While I will read all these types of books and more, there are two genres that top my list of preferences. My absolute favorite in recent years has been the memoir. I love the simple reality of a person’s life, and how time and a little exaggeration dress up everyday events into moments of introspective brilliance. Close behind the memoir is the short story, and its cousin, the personal essay. A well-written short story always astounds me with the writer’s ability to capture the depth of a plot or character in a single moment. Short stories are to novels what photographs are to movies.
My current read, A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg, is a memoir told in a series of short vignettes, so it is the perfect book for me. Reading each one is like studying facets of a precious stone-you see an image, and then turn the page to find a new perspective. The best thing about this book though is that since Molly is a food writer (check out her blog Orangette), each story resolves with a recipe for whatever food was featured in that chapter. Whether it is something as simple as encouraging you to make pain au chocolat by stuffing a chunk of fresh bread with a piece of dark chocolate or a more ambitious recipe like Fresh Ginger Cake with Caramelized Pears her stories are poignant and her recipes are delicious. I recently made her Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake for Christmas with the in-laws and both my husband and his father were quite pleased.
Underneath this on my bedside table is a marriage book, Sacred Sex: A Spiritual Celebration of Oneness in Marriage. Jer actually ordered this one right before the wedding but somehow on the honeymoon it ended up in my stack. It’s one for slow, thoughtful reading; as the title suggests, the author doesn’t waste time with sex tips but instead looks at what it means to be truly one with your spouse, on both a physical and spiritual level, and the ways marriage reflects the relationship of Christ and the church. I definitely recommend it (at least so far!)
Recently placed on the finished pile is Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach. This is another entry in the memoir genre, but a bit lighter, as it is a tale of her travels in Europe during a year-long sabbatical. The “woman-finding-herself-by-traveling” is a popular book theme these days, especially with another favorite of mine, eat, pray, love, which has garnered quite a bit of success and an upcoming movie. I don’t easily tire of the genre, and Steinbach’s book is quite enjoyable, although it didn’t have the spiritual significance for me that Gilbert’s book did. Both authors have sequels, however, which I am looking forward to digging in to.
Steinbach mentions several authors and books in her work, and so I recently raided the library for some old gems, including a collection of E.B. White’s writings from The New Yorker. Most people know E.B. White as the author of children’s books like Charlotte’s Web, but he was a prolific essayist and co-writer of The Elements of Style, which used to be required reading for any student of writing. I picked up White’s Here Is New York a few years back and I am again enjoying his wit.
I’ve got a stack of books to dive into, so my only question is, what next? Perhaps a bit of novel action? I’ve got The Time Traveler’s Wife and Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning sitting on my shelf staring at me accusatorily. Or maybe I should continue on my memoir kick and read Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty (if you haven’t read Bel Canto, you haven’t lived.) But hey, with my reading habit, I’m sure I will get to them all eventually!