Last year, I set some specific goals when it came to reading. I challenged myself, not just to read more than I had in recent years, but also to read a variety of books to educate myself on different topics. I wanted to continue that challenge of reading various types of books this year, but I must confess that my reading rate has slowed down from last year.
One friend recently laughingly asked, “What does your ‘reading less’ look like? Reading as many books as I normally do?” I know some people think I read too fast and too much, but I know when I’m challenging myself and when I’m not. And I’ve taken a bit of the easier route this year. However, while I do need to make more time for reading than watching TV shows, I’m okay with not meeting a certain “quota” every month. What gets finished, gets finished, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it.
That being said, I’ve read some stellar books so far this year, and if you’re in the mood for some recommendations, here they are.
- Discrimination and Disparities by Thomas Sowell [Current Events Book]
I do love starting the year off with a home run book, and this book was it. It was on my list all last year, but I finally got it for Christmas and was stoked to read it right away. I had so many questions in the summer of 2020 about the narrative of systemic racism and that disparities between black and white people prove discrimination. Thankfully, Thomas Sowell brilliantly addresses that very question in this book.
He uses a variety of facts and arguments to show the many causes of disparities in a society beyond racism. He also addresses reconsidering disparities in light of our assumptions of different people groups as well as their various goals which may not line up with everybody else’s. Case in point: both my father and I chose lower-paying jobs because we felt a call to a certain type of ministry that doesn’t pay as much as other jobs—and we feel fulfilled in those jobs.
He ends with this quote, which I so appreciate:
“What can it mean for A to apologize for what B did, even among contemporaries, much less across the vast chasm between the living and the dead? The only times over which we have any degree of influence at all are the present and the future—both of which can be made worse by attempts at symbolic restitution among the living for what happened among the dead, who are far beyond our power to help or punish or avenge. Galling as these restrictive facts may be, that does not stop them from being facts beyond our control. Pretending to have powers that we do not in fact have risks creating needless evils in the present, while claiming to deal with the evils of the past” (223).
- Torn by Margaret Peterson Haddix – The Missing: Book 4 [YA Book]
I’ve read a couple other books in this science fiction/historical fiction mash-up series and greatly enjoyed them. This author also wrote the science fiction series called The Shadow Children, which is a great favorite amongst my seventh-graders.
The premise of this series is that various children throughout history were kidnapped by time travelers and brought to the present time. “The good guys” are trying to return them to their correct time in history, so each book explores each child’s attempted return. Haddix actually explores mysterious disappearances from history in these stories (such as the Roanoke mystery) and colors them in with her imagination, while also giving historical facts at the end.
This particular book was not my favorite. To be honest, I can’t remember all the details of the plot, except that it took place on a ship that was exploring to North America in 1609, commandeered by Henry Hudson, for whom Hudson Bay was named. Some of the details of the time traveling were confusing to me, and I didn’t always follow the actual events with those changed by the time travelers. Maybe smarter minds would have been able to understand it better!
- Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey [Current Events Book]
By far, the best book I’ve read so far this year. Nancy Pearcey is arguing back against many of the ideas perpetuated in secular worldviews, including transgenderism, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and the casual “hook-up culture” of so-called sex-without-strings. As the back of the books says, she is “arguing that a holistic Christian view sustains the dignity of the body and biology.”
She makes logical arguments in each chapter and includes questions at the end to help you process and articulate them in your own words. In each of these arguments, she weaves in the idea that many people are trying to separate the body from the choices they’re making and saying it doesn’t matter what you do with your body. On the contrary, Pearcey argues—God made the body; therefore it is good and it has a purpose. When we make choices that harm our bodies or go against their natural purpose and intention, we will suffer consequences, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
This is a beautiful quote from the end of the first chapter that summarizes Pearcey’s heart for this book: “As we face the social ills of our own day, we must move beyond denunciations that can sound harsh, angry, or judgmental and instead work to show that the biblical ethic is based on a positive view of the body as part of the image of God. The goal is not to win a culture war or to impose our views on others but to love our neighbor, which means working for our neighbor’s good” (46).
- Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker [Adult Fiction]
In February, I attended the Inklings Conference in Lancaster, PA, at which I had the privilege of attending a writing workshop taught by this author. At the end, he gave everyone in attendance a copy of one of his books, and this is the one I chose. It was a compelling story about a man wrestling with guilt over his relationship with his father who is dying (as well as some mystery about whether or not he actually tried to kill him). There was, however, a fantasy element about him being chased by a monster as a child revealed through flashbacks which was a bit confusing. I believe in the end, it was revealed that the monster was merely symbolic of his own fears and traumas as a kid, but nonetheless it left me with some questions.
- Good Posture by Tom Becker [Current Events Book]
This was my one purchase from the book tables at the Inklings Conference (oh to have endless wealth to have bought so many more books!). The author also made an appearance at the conference, and I love his goal of “engaging current culture with ancient faith.”
He describes in the book how he holds forums in Lancaster through The Row House to “encourage civil discussion, value live experiences, showcase local presenters, and create memorable settings.” In the book, he goes into detail about the four-part approach they take in cultural engagement to help others do the same – which are civility, hospitality, personality, and creativity. His writing was compelling, his ideas captivating, and his approach inviting. I hope to grow in these areas myself as I continue to engage students, friends, and neighbors in the cultural issues of our day.
- The Fog Diver by Joel Ross [YA Book]
March was a tough month for me when it came to reading. I was involved with our school show for half the month and the other half trying to finish out the third quarter of school. So my reading was holding on by a thread.
I did finally read this book that’s been in my classroom library for several years now and on my to-read list even longer. It’s a science fiction book about a futuristic world that lives high atop a mountain to try to escape the toxic fog that has enshrouded the earth below. A group of kids takes out their air raft to send out a diver to earth to find treasures. Eventually they are on the run from the evil ruler, and they narrowly escape him in the nick of time. I thoroughly enjoyed the imaginativeness of this book as well as the relationships built up in it. I would definitely recommend it for kids ages 10-14.
- Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot [Spiritual Book]
Sometimes when life is overwhelming, you need to return to a favorite that gives you truths from Scripture to rely on. And Elisabeth Elliot’s books are always like that for me. I love this one which is a collection of devotionals she wrote for various publications over the years on a variety of topics. They all encouraged my heart on days when I needed to hear those specific words.
Just one example – “Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands […] Nothing touched Him without His Father’s permission. Nothing touches me without my Father’s permission. Can I not then wait patiently? He will show the way” (135).
- L’Abri by Edith Schaeffer [Spiritual Book]
This one has been the most impactful book on my heart this year and upon finishing it, a vision was sparked in my mind for the future. Edith and her husband Francis (a brilliant apologist) went to do ministry in Switzerland in the 1960s. Eventually, God led them to open L’Abri, which was a retreat and study center in the Swiss Alps. Over the years, they hosted hundreds and hundreds of people, most all of them seeking truth. Edith and Francis never charged for people to stay, as they wanted them to experience the hospitality of a home, and they had thousands of conversations answering questions from all types of skeptics and religions (especially in the intellectual upheaval of the 60s and 70s). This book details their journey in forming L’Abri and gives great testimonies of the ways God provided for them and did his work through them.
Both Nancy Pearcey and Tom Becker mentioned going to a L’Abri place themselves (there are several of them in Europe now) and since my parents had long had this book on their shelves, I figured it was time to read it. And I was completely captivated by their ministry. I love the idea of hosting people in your home to talk through the hard topics together—from those who are truly seeking truth, not just wanting an argument. And I began to pray about how God might use me and my house in a similar ministry in the future. The answer isn’t perfectly clear yet, but I trust he’ll develop that spark in his due time.
- Mama Bear Apologetics: Guide to Sexuality by Hillary Morgan Ferrer [Current Events Book]
I heard about this one through an episode of Relatable by my favorite Allie Beth Stuckey and wanted to get it in preps for some curriculum development for school. I didn’t always love her writing style, but she was both extremely practical and solidly biblical in her approach to teaching kids the truth about biblical sexuality and God’s design.
In each chapter, she addresses a different topic, gives background, facts, and details about it, and then has a section called “ROAR Like a Mother!” She starts with “Recognize the Message” where she helps you see what message culture is sending about the topic. Then she goes into “Offer Discernment” where she addresses specific lies about the topic. After that, she has “Argue for a Healthier Approach” where she answers those lies with truth, and then she finishes with “Reinforce through Discussion, Discipleship, and Prayer.”
At the end, she has an afterword filled with “Things to Repeat to Your Kids Until They Want to Gag,” because as she says, “the human brain has difficulty distinguishing between truth and familiarity. There’s power in good maxims to reinforce a biblical worldview, and we’re not ashamed of using them! Our kids need good, bite-sized pieces of wisdom to combat the colorfully glittered bad philosophy that parades across their Instagram feeds” (15).
- Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman [Current Events Book]
Also a book on my parents’ bookshelf over the years that I recently decided was a must-read, and wow. I can’t believe this book was written in 1985 because it sounded like it could have been written today. In fact, the epidemic of amusing ourselves to death has only skyrocketed in the last 20-30 years, which makes Postman’s words all the more urgent.
The most chilling words came right away in the Foreword:
“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance” (vii).
He goes on to describe different eras of reading and literate people in America’s past (can you believe that people came to listen to the Lincoln-Douglas debates for SEVEN hours straight [with a dinner break in the middle]?) and what has contributed to the decline of that in more recent years. Not surprisingly, it was the rise of the television that led to everything needing to fit into a “show business” category—from politics to religion to teaching.
His solution in the end points to education and the schools to help undo this mess, which, as a teacher, I can appreciate. Unfortunately, teachers only have control over the six or seven hours students are with us, so we’re going to need a bigger buy-in from parents who have control over the screens and books their kids are consuming at home. And parents, you better realize that that ratio of screen to book time is going to have a radical impact on your child’s development.
- Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer [Current Events/Spiritual Book]
I’ve got a big stack of books by Francis Schaeffer on an end table from my mom and grandpa. I figured if I’m going to one-day engage in a L’Abri-type ministry, I’d better start educating myself on philosophy and reasoning. So I started with this one, since it was pretty short, and it was every bit the challenge that I expected.
The philosophy actually lined up a lot with what I saw in Nancy Pearcey’s book, which makes sense, since she was so influenced by him. I think I appreciated it more in Pearcey’s book because it was directly applied to current events. However, it was still good to read the origins of where this philosophy came from in Schaeffer’s book. And that’s as much of a summary as I can give you right now since I read it in a bit of a blur at the beginning of May.
12-14. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The decision was made in April to add an Honors English program to our Junior High, and that I would be creating it/teaching it next year. So I immediately needed to pick the books for next year, which meant I needed to do some reading of those I was considering.
The final consensus from these books:
Treasure Island (which I’d never read before) ended up being a no. It felt a little too slow and dry in some parts to me.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – I’d read as a child and mostly forgotten the story, but now as an adult, hurt my heart, but was a necessary read. This was a yes. I know it will lead to some valuable conversations and analysis in our classroom.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – Also one I’ve never read before but was a quick read. A definite yes. It’s a Gothic thriller with deep spiritual implications, and I can’t wait to hear the discussions that will come out of this next year!
- Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End by David Gibson [Spiritual Book]
My brother has been encouraging me to read this book for awhile, and I’m so glad I finally did. I’ve always loved Ecclesiastes, especially when we studied it in college group a few years ago. But this book beautifully brought out new truths that I needed to hear.
A few favorite quotes:
“Death dons a preacher’s robe to teach us that life is finite and we must use it well. It leans down from a pulpit to impress on us that those whom we love are finite, that we love them more deeply than we realize, and that we must love them well. The sermon death preaches—if we choose our sermons wisely—can tell us more about the way we love and the way we live than we ever realize is actually going on while we love and live” (100).
“Those without Christ often abandon themselves to eating and drinking because sometimes it looks as if that’s all there is to do before we die. But those who love Christ cherish eating and drinking because it looks a little like what we will do after we die. The gifts are from the real country. They smell and taste and feel like home” (117).
- The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy [Classic]
Another book I needed to re-read to see if my 8th-grade Honors students could handle it next year. I decided they could because I simply love this book so much. It may be my favorite classic of all time. The characters, the plot, and the irony are so rich that we will have much to draw from it next year. Re-reading it was such a delight, and I can’t wait to teach it.
That’s as far as I’ve gotten this year. If I keep it up for the rest of the year, I may hit 30 books this year. And I’m okay with that. If I’ve spent time on quality books, it doesn’t matter how few or many of them I read in a year. Ideas are meant to be savored and digested well, not shoveled in to be quickly forgotten. So if that means you richly savor two or three books this year, I hope they were well worth it (but while we’re at it, we should all be watching less TV and reading more. You’re welcome for the reminder).