Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Book Survey and 2013 Reading Resolutions

Year's end is a great time to take stock of the past calendar year and make some new-year resolutions.

Faith at "Strewing"answered a series of book-related questions about the books she read this year, and that inspired me to come up with a quick list of questions related to books and invite you to share your favorites, too.

I want to clarify that I do always recommend all of the books that I review, and you can find them all in the book review tab up at the top of the blog.  (Note:  I need to add the last few months, but I promise to do so as a year's end housekeeping).

So here is my 2012 Book Survey and Reading Resolutions for 2013.  Please share your answers on your own blog, or here in the comments if you are so inclined. Happy reading!

What was the most important/best book that you read this year?

I've got two here, and I reviewed them both in my July columnAdam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution by Mary Eberstadt and My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints by Dawn Eden.  Must reads.

What book was most spiritually fruitful for you this year?

God Will Provide by Patricia Treece is a tremendous book.

What was the most enjoyable read this year?

Two memoirs come to mind.  Amy Welborn's Wish You Were Here and Colleen Carroll Campbell's My Sisters the Saints were both great reads.

Actually, I really enjoyed and found lots to ponder from all the memoirs I read this year, from Alberto Salazar's 14 Minutes to Chris Haw's From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart.  

What was the favorite book you read (or re-read) this year?

Re-reading (and reading out loud to my children) Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy has been a highlight.

What are your reading resolutions for the new year?

I have three:

Get more organized.  First, just in the last few weeks, I've started a list for review books that I add to each time books come in with the title, author and publisher.  If I get a chance to glance through it or even read it, I give it a grade and a couple of notes about the book.

I also hope to get up to speed on GoodReads or one of the other websites to help organize reading with everything I am reading, including with the kids, and books I want to share with my husband.  For many months, I kept a book log on my phone of all the books I read--usually a dozen or more a month, yay me!-- but I've gotten out of that habit and I need to do so again.  I find it so satisfying to look back at the list of all that I have read.

Get more opinions.  I really enjoy getting to host other bloggers or other people reviewing books, and I want to make that a bigger part of Reading Catholic next year.  I really hope to tap into the local Catholic community for this, and have more voices chime in on all the great books out there.

Share more in real life.  I am determined to start an in-real-life book group again, and this one will not be about Catholic books--there, I said it!  I am definitely up for the fun I had several years back with a now-defunct Jane Austen book group.  I need that kind of talk and enjoyment with fellow readers.

What about you?  What are your favorite reads from 2012, and are you making any reading resolutions for 2013?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

10 Great Free or Nearly Free E-Books for Kids

This post was inspired by two of my (four) sisters.

One sister has a daughter with a Kindle and is always looking for something new to read.

The other sister has two girls who received a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and was looking for ideas of good free or nearly free books for the device.

I wanted to put out a quick list of good reads that would keep a younger reader (I'm thinking middle-grade level on up) busy for a long time.  I've chosen books that are classics and ones our family has returned to again and again.

There are so many great books in the public domain that free or nearly free reads are plentiful.  I think there are also some series and books worth spending out for, and having them in your Kindle library for reading anytime.

I can picture that my sisters, and some others, might complain, "oh, my kids have read that," but honestly, having favorite books around to read "just because" can be a really good thing.  Who said one must not re-read a great book?  Not me!

I'm only providing the Amazon links to this, since Kindle and Kindle Apps are what we use for e-reading.  If you use a Nook or read in iBooks or GoogleBooks, what is your experience with free or near-free books on those platforms?  Please share away with your experiences, and your favorites.

These are in no particular order, by the way:

1. Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  I'm pretty sure I got this as a free book several years back, but I can't find a free edition.   This is 99 cents and well worthwhile

2. The Anne of Green Gables series (11 book set), $1.99 by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  This has all of the Anne books in the public domain, plus a few other LMM titles.  I think it's well worthwhile, or if you just wanted to go with the 99 cents Anne of Green Gables, you could, but why stop there?

Certain LMM titles are free on the Kindle--I think the first one we got was Rilla of Ingleside, but it shouldn't be legal to read that one first since it is very last in the series.  So go spend the $1.99 and read through the series and enjoy.

3. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter.  Finally, a truly free one!  The story itself is beautiful, and after finishing you can watch one of the two really nice movie versions of this old classic, one starring Hayley Mills as Pollyanna, and one newer one that was on PBS some years back.

4. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Free.

5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Free.  I like this one best of all of Burnett's books.

6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Free.  Also several good movie versions if you read through this one.

7. Betsy-Tacy Treasury (first 4 books of Betsy-Tacy editions) is $9.78.  This is really worthwhile because it is the first 4 books in the Betsy-Tacy series, at less than $2.50 each.

8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  It is $6.38 on Kindle, not a bad price.

9. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in One Volume by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Only $9, or $3 a book.  A great value.

10.  For splurging:  The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.  I was shocked that the Narnia series cannot be purchased as a set, and need to be purchased inidividually at about $6.50 each.  Not bad but it does add up.

However, I see that in April Harper Collins will be releasing a complete Kindle "set" of the seven Narnia books for $50 (FIFTY DOLLARS!).  I must confess that my first reaction is WOW, that is steep!!!!!!  I hope there is a lot of great content to justify that kind of purchase, since you can purchase the entire set separately for about $45.

We only have one of the Narnia books on Kindle; when we first got our Kindle one of the kids accidentally purchased Prince Caspian, and since I didn't realize you can return a book you bought by mistake, we kept it.  We have at least three full "real book" copies of the series (just like with LOTR), and so  we don't "have to have" the Kindle version.

If a Kindle owner purchased all the books listed above (excluding the pricey Narnia series), you would spend less than $30 for a great collection of classics to enjoy again and again.  Even if you bought the nearly free ones, you would spend $3 to get a ton of classics.

I know I will be adding more books to this list, and I can think of a few right now. Which ones did I leave out?  What are some of your favorites?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kids Books for Christmas: Focus on Trusted Authors

Did you know that some families have a tradition of giving books on Epiphany instead of Christmas?

I sincerely hope families still have this tradition, because otherwise I fear this post on great Christmas books will be a little late for giving on Christmas Day itself.  Remember, though, Christmas season goes for much longer, so consider giving books after Christmas for great reading.

My general principle this year: focus on TrustedAuthorsTM.

What is a TrustedAuthorTM? I'm joking (mostly), when I make the phrase a TM. There are some writers, whether Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who can be trusted for their entire canon.  Certain authors can be relied on to write from a certain worldview that is compatible with a Catholic ethic.  I feel like I wanted to add a Trusted AuthorTM after the author's name when I write about writers like C.S. Lewis.  You can basically trust everything they have written.

Not surprisingly, most of these are not living authors, but there are a few that are go-to authors at our house, and we anxiously await each new book.  So who are some of our other TrustedAuthorsTM?  John Flanagan (for children; we discovered about a year ago that he has written some grown-up thrillers, but there’s a little too much violence in them for kids), and his  Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series; Regina Doman, who writes excellent and compelling fairy-tale retellings; and of course many more.  Most of these are known as Catholic or Christian authors, or we suspect as much because their work is entertaining and is in line with a Catholic worldview.  And of course Catholic authors writing on Catholic themes (such as saint books) also would be in this category.

Other authors we put in a “good, but be careful” category.  A good example of such an author (and there are plenty, I'm just picking one at random) is Wendy Mass.  She’s written a slew of popular middle-grade novels, most with some great themes about being yourself.  But there are some cautions about her books, and annoying things like having someone “thanking the universe” instead of God.  Since I’ve read a few of her books, I’ve been able to have some discussions with my younger readers about her style and what I don’t like about her style.

Some authors we don’t even consider--Philip Pullman, for example. We just won’t even start a book by this kind of author.

What I want for my own children is for them to love and enjoy TrustedAuthorsTM best of all, but be able to read and enjoy stories by “careful” authors with discernment.

Here are just a few good book gift suggestions that would be for Christmas, Epiphany or any other nearby giving opportunity. Consider them pre-screened for your family as wholesome, enjoyable books:

*Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by TrustedAuthorTM Ben Hatke.  My kids devoured this second in the series about Zita.  Graphic novels can be fun reading, but sometimes the illustrations can be less than appealing.  Not so Ben Hatke's works--they are delightful to read and enjoy.

*Habemus Papem: Pope Benedict XVI.  Another graphic novel, this one by Trusted AuthorTM Regina Doman, portrays the life of Joseph Ratzinger before he became pope, from his earliest days.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of manga, I really love the books by Manga Hero (Should I make a TrustedPublisherTM?).  We own and love all the Manga Hero titles.  Here’s one small thing we didn’t like about Habemus Papem (that's new from the prior Manga Hero titles): it’s written in the traditional manga fashion, so you read it from the back to the front.  This takes some getting used to, and I definitely prefer normal way.  It's still a great story and shouldn't deter people from reading it.

*The Prairie Thief by TrustedAuthorTM Melissa Wiley. Wiley writes the lovely blog “Bonny Glen” and she’s definitely a kindred spirit when it comes to reading. She loves and blogs about Betsy-Tacy, the Anne of Green Gables books, and many other TrustedAuthorsTM.  She has six children, she’s a homeschooling mom, and in all her free time she writes books, most notably the "Little House" Martha and Charlotte books.  The Prairie Thief is her latest middle-grade novel, and it's a little silly, a little sweet and all great read about prairie and family life.  Here's a wonderful review that captures what's so terrific about this book.

*Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  I can't say whether or not Palacio is a TrustedAuthorTM, because this is her first book, but what a great beginning.  Palacio writes about Auggie Pullman, who has a facial deformity that prevents him from going to school--until now.  Auggie's experience of belonging and rejection is beautifully crafted. I must admit that when I started it, I thought it might be depressing or otherwise too realistic and gritty, as these kinds of modern novels for kids can be. But instead, it is a gently realistic and hopeful story.

Here are a few really excellent saint books for younger readers:

My Soul Magnifies the Greatness of the Lord: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha by Bernadette Nippert and Brenda & George Nippert.  This book was very sweet!  I especially liked this for being multifaceted and having a pro-environmental theme that's not done for PC reasons but just naturally in the story and Kateri's life.  Best to order this book from Hillside Education (A TrustedVendorTM ? Are you getting annoyed with me yet?)

Juan Diego:  Mary’s Humble Messenger by Barbara Yoffie and also Kateri Tekakwitha: Model of Bravery by the same author.  These are nice little volumes with the saint stories for little ones.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Minor Revisions" for the Advent-Stressed

For the love of Christmas, I just cannot seem to keep up with Advent and Christmas.  Am I the only one?  I feel completely behind on everything this year.

Blog-wise, I will spare you just how many half-started posts I have in progress right now.  Here are just a few:  1. gift books for Christmas for adults, 2. gift books for children, 3. Christmas-themed books we love at our house, and many, many more.  It's December 20 and there are just a few days left for those posts to have any meaning, so I fervently hope to get at least a few of them finished.

What have I been doing with my online time since I was able to sit down here about half an hour ago?  Watching Episode 1 of "Minor Revisions,"  the online reality show about atheist to Catholic convert Jen Fulwiler.  Local readers will remember that Jen spoke at Behold 2011, the Catholic women's conference, and she also was a featured blogger at Behold 2012.  This was thanks to Bonnie Engstrom of A Knotted Life (who is doing such an excellent Advent series on her blog) reminding me about the second episode online tonight.

I was traveling last Thursday night, so unfortunately, I wasn't able to watch the first episode, only available online live.  Fortunately, there was such a demand for watching it online that the producers posted it on YouTube for a short time.  So I'm taking the opportunity to watch it now.  It is super well-done and enjoyable.  Here it is, in case you haven't seen it.

I can't tell you how eager I am to read Jen's memoir when it is released, and I trust it will be just as great as reading her blog and seeing her on "Minor Revisions."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Worth a Listen: Mac Daddy by TobyMac

Sharing great songs that are inspiring, uplifting and/or are otherwise "worth a listen".  Explanation (of a kind) here.

We really enjoy this song from TobyMac's newest album.  Cute!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Meet a Reader: Amy Dyke

This month on "Meet a Reader" I'm happy to feature someone I've known for many years.  Amy Dyke has a new role as the NFP Coordinator for the Diocese of Peoria.  Thanks, Amy, for being willing to share your love of books with Reading Catholic!

How you know me:  I am happily married to Craig Dyke, the proud mother of five daughters and have recently begun working as the NFP Coordinator for the Diocese of Peoria.  I happen to also be one of five girls and am originally from the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We have settled here in Peoria, quite content to be rooted in the heart of the Midwest.  St. Jude is our home parish, where we are blessed with an incredibly warm, faithful and loving community.

Why I love reading:  My spiritual director told me years ago, "the minute one stops moving forward in their spiritual journey, they're actually moving backward."  I find this to be especially true in regards to literature and spiritual reading.  I love to immerse myself in books that challenge my heart and mind, and bring me to a greater love, knowledge and understanding of Christ.  I also love reading because it's a great way for me to grow closer and connect with my husband.  In addition to books we read on our own, we love to cozy up and read to each other before going to bed.  It's a standing joke between us of who can be more animated so the other doesn't doze off to sleep.

What I'm reading now:  Saint Gianna Molla:  Wife, Mother, Doctor by Peitro Molla.  St. Gianna shines brightly for the women/wives/mothers of our day in a powerful way.  Written by Gianna's very own husband, Pietro describes Gianna's many virtues, in particular he mentions her prudence, how Gianna truly wanted to do only what the Lord wanted from her, and she did it whole-heartedly.  Gianna's simple witness speaks volumes, especially in today's fast-paced, self-centered culture.

Her devotion to God first, followed by a devoted relationship with her husband and children, allowed her to live her life in a way that was selfless, sensitive, complete.  St. Gianna wrote that "our task is to live holy the present moment," which was abundantly evident in her interior life, her family life, in her public role as a doctor.  In a culture where our children are desperately needing parents to be 'present'  (and vice-versa!), we see that the mission of the family has perhaps gotten side-tracked with an unhealthy fascination of instead being 'present' on social network sites, etc.

Technology is literally in the palm of many of our hands, and begs the question: could these fun and exciting novelties be causing families to be distracted from our mission, and lose sight of the amazing privilege and gift of authentic love to be lived out more fully within our home, within our vocation?  St. Gianna says, "our earthly and eternal happiness depends on following our vocation very carefully."  Such simplicity.  Incredibly revealing to spouses/parents in our sincere pursuit of a happy family, showing that we must take heed to nurture and protect the precious relationships within our family, under our very roofs, at all costs- recognizing that each day is a gift from God to grow closer to Him and closer to the family with which He has blessed us.

I'm also reading George Weigel's The Cube and the Cathedral.  Craig and I recently polished off Weigel's fascinating look at the de-Christianization of Europe and the role that secularism and government have played in seeking to wipe out their deep-rooted Christian heritage.  Weigel points out that the state of Europe should give the attentive reader pause, as we Americans can see the seeds of secularism boldly taking root in the United States today.  Drawing on Blessed John Paul II's rich understanding of God's rightful place within society, Weigel shows the stark difference of the people of the "cube" and the people of the "cathedral," and that in the end, atheistic humanism places society on a path to destruction, whereas authentic human enlightenment comes from God's illuminating presence in the world.  Written in 2005, we found Weigel's book and insights to be incredibly prophetic, especially in light of the government's recent HHS healthcare mandate being forced upon Catholic institutions throughout the U.S.  

Pope Benedict XVI: The Infancy Narratives:  Jesus of Nazareth.  We just received our Holy Father's newest book, and are excited to keep each other awake (!) and prepare well as a couple to enter into Advent more fully.  We appreciate the pointedness and direct style that our Holy Father uses in his writing, constantly seeking to bring Jesus more alive to those that are sincerely longing for truth, for Christ.

My favorite books:

G.K. Chesterton:  Orthodoxy.
Karol Wojtyla (JPII): Love and Responsibility.
St. Teresa of Avila:  Interior Castle.
St. John of the Cross:  Dark Night of the Soul.
Thomas a Kempis:  The Imitation of Christ.
Fulton Sheen: Life of Christ and Three to Get Married.
St. Francis de Sales:  Introduction to the Devout Life.
Louisa May Alcott: Little Women.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Memoirs Help Give "A Reason for Hope"

Here is my December column that appears in this weekend’s print The Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Pop quiz:  why are you Catholic?

Could you tell your story in a way that makes your friend want to be Catholic, or your children glad that they are Catholic?

It’s harder than it appears at first thought, isn’t it?

And yet as St. Peter tells us, we should “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”  Personal stories, more than statistics or arguments, are one of the best ways to transmit faith, whether ourselves or those closest to us.

You might be strong in your Catholic faith, or looking for a booster shot for a faith grown anemic.  Or you might be looking for a gift for someone wavering in his or her faith.  Consider one of the compelling and enjoyable newer memoirs, where others share what gives them hope.

 Here are two very different choices among recent offerings:

*My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell recounts Campbell’s spiritual journey from nominal Catholic college student through young adulthood as she struggles with faith, work, dating, a parent’s decline, and infertility.

What keeps her moving closer to, instead of away from, her Catholic faith, are a series of women saints whose lives point the way for her to experience life fully--and fully Catholic.

Many know Campbell as a gifted author--she wrote the 2002 book The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy.  I enjoyed that book, and found it well-done, but My Sisters the Saints is far richer and more compelling, because it is Campbell’s own story, shared honesty and sensitively.

I confess that I shed a few cathartic tears at Campbell’s own story, since I’ve been through similar struggles.  Her account of losing a parent over time, in particular, is handled with grace and candor.  Campbell writes warmly and well, and her book should be widely read.

*A very, very different memoir, but equally compelling, is Chris Haw’s From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism.

I have much more in common with Campbell, as I’m a cradle Catholic who never left the Church.  Chris Haw, while raised Catholic through young childhood, began his faith life as an “non-denominational” Christian, basically anti-Catholic, at the mega-church Willow Creek in the Chicago area.  But Haw’s book is hard to put down.

Learning of worship and faith life in mega-churches is interesting.  And yet, it is Haw’s journey from evangelical and anti-liturgical/anti-denominational zealot to--of all things--a faithful, liturgical Catholic that makes this book fascinating.

For a non-theologian like me, some of the middle chapters of From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart are a little too theology-rich (or theology-laden, depending on your tolerance for straight theology).  I wish there had been a bit extra “personal story” in those middle chapters. The story of how Haw and his young family live their faith radically in a poverty-stricken area of Camden, New Jersey, is remarkable, and I wish there were more about how they live it out, day to day.

Still, I read each chapter with interest and attention.  Haw’s voice challenges one to “think different” about the meaning of Catholicism.  His perspective is radically unique, like a kind of Dorothy Day for the millennial generation (and even those of us just  a bit older than that).  Most of us are not called to live or worship the way Haw does, but reading about it prompts questions and challenges about how we do live out our Catholic faith.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My St. Nicholas Day Present--Radiate by Colleen Swaim

I was so grateful when Bonnie Engstrom of "A Knotted Life" (as part of her Advent series) asked me to write about Advent traditions in our family.  I must have been feeling a little discouraged when I wrote about not being well-prepared for Advent, because it was very encouraging for me to have the   chance to articulate what we do well this time of year.

I write about "go with your strengths" and our family's strength, of course, is using books to celebrate Advent and Christmastime.  The one book I featured was The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan and beautifully illustrated by Judith Brown.  We finally read our copy of The Miracle of St. Nicholas  until after dinner, but it was a nice quiet after-dinner time.  There was a lot of chocolate eaten today (including by me!)

But my St. Nicholas Day present (a surprise, and welcome surprise!) came in the mail this afternoon--when I picked up the mail and saw a copy of Radiate: More Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim.

I am a huge Colleen Swaim fan since I read her first book Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints.  It's a book intended for teen readers, but I loved and all my kids (8-13 at the time) loved it.  I've given it as a gift multiple times, and everyone I've given it to or recommended it to has loved it, without exception.  I reviewed Ablaze here (calling it a "gem") and interviewed Colleen here.  I hope to have another Q&A with Colleen again soon, since she is willing. Look for that here soon!

I've been anxiously awaiting this book's release ever since I saw it had a November 1 release date, and actually planned to review it for my November print column in The Catholic Post.  The publisher told me it was a little delayed, so I held off so I could review it for my December gift books column.  Unfortunately, I wanted to be absolutely sure it was officially available, so that prevented me from reviewing it for my December column, which appears in this weekend's Post.

But I was really, truly excited to see in the mail this afternoon a hot-off-the-presses copy of Radiate.  Now do you believe me that I am really into books? :-)

This isn't actually a review of the book, since one of the kids has run off with it.  From my first look at it, it looks just as handsome and well-produced as Ablaze, with both new and well-loved saints.  Review soon!  In the meantime, if you need a book suggestion for a tween or teen reader, Radiate is your book.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Worth a Listen: O Come, O Come Emmanuel by Sixpence None the Richer

(Sharing great songs that are inspiring, uplifting and/or are otherwise "worth a listen").  Explanation (of a kind) here.

We are well into the first week of Advent, and I hope to share some good Advent (not Christmas yet!) songs to help keep us in the Advent frame of mind.

I've enjoyed Sixpence None the Richer since my husband introduced the band to me in the 90s, and other than Leigh Nash's voice, I like best the way they got their name.

What are you doing to mark Advent this year?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Catholic App Spotlight: My Year of Faith

I have been a bad Twitter user in recent weeks (For those of you on Twitter, I'm @ReadingCatholic and I'd love to connect with you there).

I've been on Twitter very rarely lately, even with the excellent TweetDeck desktop. Officially, Twitter can be a time-waster, but when I am there I invariably learn some great things from the links people share.  Lately, I've been feeling too "busy" and harried with my to-do list, both online and off, to be able to spend any time on Twitter, or figuring out Pinterest, or any of the other social media goals I have.

But last Friday, I was procrastinating/trying to get my writing juices flowing, in the hopes of finishing a post on Advent books, when I decided to spend a few minutes on Twitter, just checking in and tweeting a few things.  I retweeted some great articles shared, and also an article from the last issue of The Catholic Post about my friend Amy Dyke, the new NFP coordinator.

One of the articles I saw tweeted was "Who Is Your St. Andrew?"  It's well worth a quick read if you have a minute.

The article was posted on a site called "My Year of Faith," and in exploring that I discovered that it is actually an App called "My Year of Faith" produced by Little iApps.  I've written about Confession, one of the first Apps produced by Little iApps, as well as one of their Novena apps here.   I really do use these Apps to aid in my own prayer life, as well as that of my kids.  I'd have to say that  the Universalis App on my iPhone is my most-used App, but I do use fairly often the various Little iApps that I have.

I've just downloaded My Year of Faith (a bargain at 99 cents) so I can't give a review yet, but I like what I see in the iTunes description and since I have found apps by Little iApps to be useful, well-designed and edifying.

Do you know of any other Apps for The Year of Faith? How are you using your phone or tablet to help you live out the Year of Faith?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

First, What Are You Reading? Volume 28

Here are the questions I ask and answer on the first of each month.  The questions, as always, are:

first, what are you reading?
what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what's next on your list to read?

As always, I hope you'll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?

Thornton Wilder:  A Life by Penelope Niven, a brand-new biography of the playwright and author.  Niven had unprecedented access to Wilder family letters and papers in writing the book.

I'm slowly making my way through reading aloud  The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with the younger kids.  We are almost finished with The Fellowship of the Ring.

What do you like best about it?

I picked up Thornton Wilder at the new book shelf of the library after a book I'm highlighting as a good kids book features his play Our Town.  Our Town was a favorite of and oft-quoted by my late father.  He was fond of saying with a wry smile to one of us daughters at various times, "You're pretty enough for all ordinary purposes."  This was emphatically not a put-down, as it's a famous line from the play.  My dad also loved The Bridge at San Luis Rey, probably Wilder's most famous novel, as do I.

I very much enjoyed reading how Wilder's family spent part of his childhood in China, as well as the time he spent at boarding school in China away from his family. (He was required to write long letters to his family every Sunday, which gives me ideas).  There must be something about spending part of one's childhood in a foreign country that makes for great writers.  I can think off the top of my head of Rumer Godden and Jean Fritz, and I'm sure there are many others.

What do you like least about it?

I'm sure I won't finish Thornton Wilder--I'm about halfway through-- but what I have read has been great.

I both love and don't love reading The Fellowship of the Ring aloud.  Reading aloud is the best and most connected way to share a book in a family, but it is hard work.

I have so far resisted getting an audiobook version so we could all listen together, or let my nine-year-old read it to himself.  He has mentioned reading it to himself a few times, and he certainly could.  But there truly is nothing to having a book read aloud, and by reading it aloud myself I am learning much more from Tolkein's excellent writing, as well as highlighting quotes.

The reason I resist having us just read the books individually is that we are all really fast readers.

Case in point:  this week, when my nine-year-old was looking for a good book, I gave him my childhood copy of The 21 Balloons by William Pene Dubois, a Newberry winner from the mid-20th century.  He had not read it before, and when he looked a little dubious, I challenged him to give it 30 minutes and if he didn't like it, he  could put it aside.

Forty-five minutes later, I called the kids for lunch.  He came walking in reading it (breaking our family rule, "no reading & walking" as I tell kids on the walk home from the library, trying to train them for not texting & driving).  He was already nearly halfway through the book.  Total time for him to finish the book?  Less than two hours.

I know this is technically a "good problem to have" but I find it super annoying, in a sort of funny way, and I told him so.  I already have enough trouble keeping older kids in books that are well-written and good!    More importantly, I have been concerned in the past that kids are not comprehending anything they read, getting through books so quickly, but I have found that comprehension is not a problem.  For instance, I asked him to tell me about The 21 Balloons, and he talked intelligently about the book for five minutes until I had to answer the phone.

Even though he was able to relate the plot and interesting vignettes from the book, I still feel we all miss out by reading too quickly.  Sometimes I try to slow myself down by taking notes of a book.  Reading aloud, especially with a classic like The Lord of the Rings, is completely worthwhile.

What's next on your list?

Finishing The Lord of the Rings.

So many review books have come in lately I feel a bit overwhelmed, so I'm sure I will be taking some time in the next month to organize what I've got and try to map out the next few months.

What are you reading this month?