A friend told me that she and her family read Laura Ingalls Wilder books aloud to each other this Christmas. They started with The Long Winter on a blustery day with frigid temperatures.
My own introduction to Laura Ingalls Wilder came when my Mom read The Long Winter aloud as I lay on the couch with the chicken pox. She also read Henry’s Red Sea by Barbara Smucker aloud, which made me cry. Would Henry’s family ever stop being refugees and find a new home? Would the Mennonite refugees be able to cross the Russian Zone in Germany without their train being stopped? It was so suspenseful!
As adults, Sam and I received a gift of a book to read aloud on an upcoming trip to Pennsylvania. Cleveland Amory’s gentle tale, The Cat who Came for Christmas, features the writer and his cat, Polar Bear. The two can never agree about when the author’s meal is finished – that is to say, when it’s OK for the cat to jump up on the table and help himself to the leftovers. It was a fun book to read aloud on a long journey.
Books have been a comfort to me as I’ve heard them read by people I love. I’m grateful, though, that I live in an era and a part of the world where most people learn to read for themselves. I wouldn’t want to have to access Bible stories only via stained glass windows, Bible illuminations, and pastors’ homilies. And I do cherish the opportunity to read a book people are talking about for myself and come to my own conclusions, then share my ideas in a book club or in informal conversation with others.
And yes, I’m old fashioned. Holding a physical book in my hand is part of the pleasure of reading. Reading from a screen is a different and much less satisfying experience for me.
Here are eight books in three categories I wouldn’t have wanted to miss reading this past year:
- Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese. (Douglas and McIntyre, 2016). Wagamese is an indigenous Canadian novelist who writes beautifully, with a clear spiritual sense. I treasure this book of photos and one-paragraph meditations, especially given his untimely death in 2017.
- Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics by Christine Valters Paintner. (Sorin Books, 2016). Our women’s group enjoyed exploring 12 inner archetypes (the healer, the fool, the mother, the pilgrim, etc.), learning more about people like Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and Hildegard of Bingen who embodied the archetypes, and making connections for our own lives.
- Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. (Harper One, 2014). Taylor is a favorite spiritual writer of mine. I reread this one over Christmas, and found the topic of embracing darkness not nearly as scary as when I first encountered the book!
- The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby. (Harper Perennial, 2011). A gentle humorous novel about characters thrown together in a city girl’s attempt to make a small farm in decrepit condition profitable. It shouldn’t work, but it does. The novel and its unusual characters are fun!
- Glass Houses by Louise Penny. (Minotaur Books, 2017). I got hooked on Louise Penny when she set one of her murder mysteries in a remote monastery in Canada. Alas, most are set in the small fictional tourist town of Three Pines in Quebec. I love the quirky characters who reside in the town, as well as Penny’s ability to weave complex plots.
- The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider. (Baker Academic, 2016). One year on sabbatical, I loved listening to Kreider talk about the growth of the early church by unexpected means in a January course. Now he’s systematically presented his research in an easy to read academic book, highlighting the virtue of patience.
- Recollections of a Sectarian Realist: A Mennonite Life in the Twentieth Century by J. Lawrence Burkholder. (AMBS, Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2016). Drawn mostly from interviews with J. Lawrence, this book offers a fascinating look at the life and viewpoints of this relief administrator, teacher, college president, and churchman. I was especially taken by the low pay/poverty of church leaders struggling to get an education after World War II, by the interplay of Mennonite perspectives on theological trends, and – always – by the ethical challenges Burkholder faced in administering aid in China.
- (Re)union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners by Bruxy Cavey. (Herald Press, 2017). I’m always interested in new ways of expressing Christian faith. This year I listened to Bruxy preach on the site of his home church – The Meeting House, an evangelical Anabaptist megachurch near Toronto. I love his humour, his fresh use of metaphor, and the gentle way he leads people towards experiential Christian faith. I don’t agree with everything in this book, but it was certainly worth reading and discussing with others.
Questions for Reflection
- Have you enjoyed reading books aloud to one another as a family or as friends? If so, what has made it enjoyable?
- What would be on your list of eight recent books you wouldn’t have wanted to miss reading?
Next week: The Comfort of Old Friends