What To Read Quicklist (Pre-K)

One of my favorite children’s picture book authors is Valeri Gorbachev (here’s a charming interview with the Brooklyn-based author/illustrator). If you see his name on the book, chances are it’s a sweet story about anthropomorphized- could I possibly have spelled that right the first time?- animals.  Here are my top 5:

  1. Catty Jane Who Hated the Rain My middle boy called this his favorite book FOR. YEARS. It was one of those books we checked out from the library every time.
  2. That’s What Friends Are For Everyone needs these guys to teach a class on what it means to be a friend.
  3. Shhh! A sweet book for a house with a new baby.
  4. Turtle’s Penguin Day A great book for school awareness.
  5. Christopher Counting A sweet tale for young counters everywhere!

Hannah Coulter (Review)

coulterHere’s the sad thing: 90% of me loved Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry for 166 out of 186 pages.  Sure, I had my persnickety criticisms and misgivings. The author- a man- was less than credible as the main voice- a woman- in the book. This is actually the #1 criticism  I heard from friends in response to my overwhelming praise, and I totally agree.

Secondly, there are certain lovely passages that could benefit from a lighter touch as far as feelings and themes are concerned. Sometimes I wanted to say, “We get it. Love is a room and they’re entering into it together by grace. We don’t actually need to hear this over and over again.” See, I told you. It’s a persnickety criticism.

But on page 166 I reached the chapter, “Okinawa”. This chapter was a hard-hitting and thought-provoking essay from Wendell Berry on the nature of war. I would have been happy to read it, but it needed to die on the cutting room floor of this novel and make its way  to a non-fiction collection. To cram it into Hannah Coulter was sort of a literary tragedy.

All these things aside, I still wholeheartedly recommend this book. It has more to say about the nature of community, tradition, and grief than any other book I’ve read. Hannah Coulter, in its best moments, makes me question my ideas of parenting, marriage, and membership in all the loveliest ways. It makes me want to dig deeply into the heartfelt sorrows and joys that this life has to give, and to leave “openhanded, with only the ancient blessing, ‘Good-bye. My love to you all.'”

If the Okinawa chapter were cut as it should’ve been, I could see granting this book 4/5 stars. As is, as of course it must be taken, I give 3.5/5 stars. Grab some friends to read this book together and talk about what it means to stay in one place, raise a family, live a full and good life. You’ll probably also want to start a garden.


** I don’t get paid to write reviews, but if you purchase the books via these Amazon links it will contribute a few pennies to fund my book habit.

What to Read Quicklist (Fiction)

  1. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson. If you know us at all, then we’ve probably recommended this book, and not only this book but its two sequels as well. It’s an epistolary novel with an aging father and pastor (Ames) at the core. If you don’t love him and wish he belonged to you in some capacity by the end of the novel, then something is missing in your heart.
  2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This book is darkness and light painted on a sweeping human canvas. If you can perservere through the hundred pages of French civil war in the middle, then this book has the power to change you. Classics are often lauded for a reason.
  3. The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel. This book has been on my favorites list for so long that I almost don’t remember what I loved about it. When I try to remember the story I come up with words like redemption, grace, and compassion. This book is about hard lives handled with gentleness, and I really just loved it.
  4. Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy. Short stories are a beautiful thing! Tolstoy is going to gather all his Russian thoughtfulness and pack it into little novellas that will make you rethink marriage, family, and the good life in 100 pages or less.
  5. The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett. I’ve read every novel Ann Patchett has published because of this book. This book overwhelmed me, on completing the last page, with the feeling that this was a new story and one that I’d never heard before. Some writers are language craftspeople and some are storytellers. Ann Patchett is the latter. [She has a new novel called Commonwealth coming out in September. I may have squealed with joy when adding it to my wishlist.]