Tasting, Swallowing, Chewing, and Digesting (Books, that is)

A girl doing what it takes to get a few minutes with a book

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. - Francis Bacon

Don't you love that quote from Francis Bacon? All books aren't the same, and we can have different involvement and expectations from each one.

This year I'm working on reading more intentionally. I started with several lists (fiction; non-fiction) which I keep altering with additions and subtractions. I really hate the feeling of finishing a book only to regret the time spent, so sometimes I'll drop a book even after investing several hours with it. I'd rather cut my losses once I realize a book is sub-par. But other times, I'll continue plodding through something that isn't exactly riveting because it is teaching something important or something I need to hear. Anyway, that's how I'm approaching my reading selections this year.

Do you struggle with finding time to read? Here's a great article about how one busy mom fits reading into her life.  Like the author of this piece, Liz, I also find it possible to squeeze reading into little snatches of time. I make a few pages progress during lunch, while drying my hair, waiting for a piano lesson to finish, or pretty much any spare moment.

Reading so often brings refreshment to a weary soul. In another recent post, Liz wrote about Reading Under Stress, and she said this:

It is easy in stressful times to think we don’t have time to read—and sometimes we don’t have much—but when we are drained and depleted, besides sleep, and prayer, reading is a source of strength—because our minds need rest, energy, refreshment, nutrition as much as our bodies do, and they feed on ideas. The thoughts and ideas received from books supply, sustain.

Having a reading companion to discuss with as you read deepens the reading experience. A book club can be a great way to explore ideas and themes in literature as you bounce ideas off one another. But even if you can't leave home for a book club, you can virtually take part in one by listening to the Bookenings podcast. Created by several young men from my church, the Bookenings takes on one classic per month, giving readers and listeners much to consider as they address themes of family relationships, the nature of evil, and much more. You'll hear literary background, listen to discussions about the strengths and failures of various characters, and think more deeply about each book. I've thoroughly enjoyed the podcasts I've listened to, though occasionally I've been frustrated with the one-way communication. (OK - I just don't agree with these men's interpretation of the motives and actions of Charlotte from Pride and Prejudice. Here, I think they were sadly lacking a woman's perspective.) But all in all, I love the Bookenings.

Anyway, here's what I've been reading the past couple of months. Some have been tasted, others swallowed, and a few chewed and digested.


East of Eden  (John Steinbeck)   *****
It's hard to capture in a few words the impact of this sweeping family saga which retells the story of Cain and Abel (twice over.) The only Steinbeck I'd read before were The Red Pony and The Pearl, way back in high school, and I didn't care much for either. This is different. Or maybe I am. As I read the 600 page volume, I kept reserving judgment. Sure it was a spell-binder, and Steinbeck is a master storyteller who weaves in all kinds of wonderful social commentary and human insights. At times, though, it is incredibly painful to read as Steinbeck doesn't gloss over sin and its effects. It wasn't until I closed the book that I finally came to the conclusion that this one is a keeper. Steinbeck deals with fathers and sons, mothers, siblings, good vs. evil, stereotypes, and so much more. His own family plays a large part in the tale, and Steinbeck's grandfather Samuel is one of those unforgeable characters in literature. Best of all, you can follow the discussions on The Bookenings to help as you process this weighty tale.

The Good Earth (Pearl Buck) ***1/2
What can I say? Reading this as a 55 year old was quite a different experience than reading it as a 12 year old. My younger self fell in love with China and read every Buck book I could get my hands on. My adult self, now a grandmother, found this classic much more troubling this go-round. And not one I'd recommend for 12 year olds. But Pearl Buck, who spent much of the first half of her life in China, is able to capture the people and times of which she writes.

Kinfolk (Pearl Buck) ****
Published in 1948 this tells the tale of a Chinese family living in NYC. The four grown children end up returning to a China in upheaval, and how each one deals with their past and the future makes for interesting reading, especially as a snapshot of China on the brink of revolution.

Carrying Albert Home (Homer Hickam) **
I found this book a disappointment. I mean, the idea is pretty swell: a semi-true story about the author's parents driving from the coalfields to West Virginia to Florida to return a pet alligator to his native land. Along the way they have adventure after adventure, but most of all discover that in fact, they do love each other. But it's so over-the-top and just not as funny as it might be. Plus Homer's mom comes off as such a shallow, selfish woman, it's hard to care if his dad convinces her to go back to Coalwood, WV or not. If I had a  "Regret Scale," this one would get a 5 star. Just skip it.


Rescue the Captors (Russell Stendal)  ****
The tells the exciting, true story of a young missionary who was captured by the guerrilla fighters in Colombia in the early 1980s. Amazingly, Stendall began to write his life story, reading each day's chapter to his captors at night. His book became began to work a revolution among the revolutionaries who somehow found a typewriter to speed his story along. This collection includes that book written from his jungle captivity plus some other selections from his life and teachings. Uneven writing quality.

The Trapp Family Singers (Maria Augusta Trapp) ** 1/2
The true story behind The Sound of Music family. The first part follows fairly closely the well-known musical. Maria, a young novitiate, comes to the Von Trapps as a teacher. Captain Von Trapp does indeed propose to her, and they marry, though at least on her part it was due to love for the children, not the captain. The family does begin to sing together, and then they perform publically to the consternation of Captain Von Trapp. And, yes, they make an exciting escape from the Nazis, though no nuns sabotage any Nazi vehicles in their aid. That part of the book is mostly delightful.
The rest of the book tells of the Trapp family in the U.S., how they begin to tour, start a farm in Vermont, and create a summer music camp. Unfortunately, Maria, the author, sees herself as the heroine of the story time and again, and her overweening pride wears thin. When the captain dies, the family begins to deteriorate. I happened to watch a documentary on the family after finishing this, and it was quite eye-opening. Let's just say that Maria paints the story with quite rose-colored glasses.


Power Through Prayer (E. M. Bounds) ***
I wanted to love this, but I just didn't. Which makes me feel bad, because, who doesn't love a book on prayer, and this one's a classic. But Bounds is addressing pastors, and it becomes all too easy to not pay attention or find the content as pertinent as it ought to be. Lots of good content, though, such as this:
"Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned well how to talk to God for men" (Ch. 4).

How I Know God Answers Prayer (Rosalind Goforth) *****
This little book, on the other hand, I loved! It is completely relevant for women. (And for men, too, I suppose. My husband remembers finding it very helpful when he read it some time ago.)
Rosalind Goforth was a missionary wife in China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a mother of eleven children (five of whom died), many of Rosalind's concerns revolve around the welfare of her sons and daughters. She has anxiety about their health, welfare, schooling, clothing, and more, all things that any mother struggles with. Rosalind tells of concrete, specific examples of God's intervention in answer to prayer again and again. Her description of the family's escape during the Boxer Rebellion is both harrowing and faith-building. Her trust in God, through all kinds of situations - victories and defeats, struggles with her own anger, provision and loss - serves as a beautiful example to readers still. Here's a version on Gutenberg. Highly recommended!!!

Books about Writing and Literature

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy (Leonard Marcus): ***1/2
Fairly interesting interviews with 13 fantasy authors including Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Brian Jacques, and Madeleine L'Engle. (Those are the ones I'd read. The others were completely unknown to me.) If you enjoy reading Lifehacker's "This is How I Work" segments, you might enjoy this book even if you, like me, are not a fantasy literature fan. I liked reading how some authors write drafts by hand and others compose at the computer, how most carved out a routine, and how almost every one took inspiration from Tolkien. Most surprising, though, was learning how most (not quite all) of the authors were agnostics or atheists. Maybe that explains why so much fantasy literature is dark. Certainly many of these authors are ones I want my children (and myself) to steer far away from.

Favorite description: Ursula K. LeGuin remembers reading Tolkien's trilogy in three days, but she thinks maybe that couldn't be possible, "even for a careless galloping reader like me."


The World of Captain John Smith (Genevieve Foster) ***
I read this aloud to Ben over a period of many weeks. I do enjoy the style Genevieve Foster uses in her "The World of..." series which takes a look at history around the world at a given time. So first you learn what was going on when John Smith was a boy (  )

Quilting (Tasted)

Savor Each Stitch (Carolyn Friedlander): As a former architect, Carolyn Friedlander brings a special set of skills to her fabric and quilt designs. I'm pretty keen on her minimalist modern style. And I'm a huge fan of her fabric lines.

The Half-Square Triangle (Jeni Baker): Another fun modern quilt book. Shows how color theory, scale, and other factors impact quilt design. Some really nice quilts here along with helpful reference material on making HSTs.

Currently Reading:
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Steve DeWitt)
Walking From East to West: God in the Shadows (Ravi Zacharias)
Darkness at Noon (Arthur Koestler)


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