Last week The Striped Pineapple completed this bookish questionnaire created by The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots, and I thought it was pretty on-brand for Shasta’s Fog, so I thought I’d join in on the fun. Here goes!
What’s the last book that made you cry?
Educated by Tara Westover.
What’s the last book that made you laugh out loud in public?
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss’s hilarious, guffaw-inducing manifesto about how crucially easy it is to learn where apostrophes go. Minneapolis airport. 2015. I was wheezing out loud on a white-ish leather chair, my back to the glass of a moving sidewalk, when I read:
“Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter than you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, ‘Good food at it’s best,’ you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.”
I don’t need to tell you that I snorted a scone through my nose.
What’s a book that people make fun of but you secretly love?
The Scarlet Pimpernel. Before I was 16 years old, I read virtually no classics. Some old souls (well-read girls at church who had read all the classics and were just beginning Mein Kampf) attempted to rectify that by suggesting this classic-lite, and I still think of The Scarlet Pimpernel as my first classic novel. (Though it’s a bit saccharine to be called that.) Dashing men, damsels, and daring seaside escapes?
“Yes, please!” – 16 year olds
What’s the longest book you’ve ever read?
Tolstoy’s War & Peace, specifically Anthony Briggs’s 2005 translation (a particularity that makes all the difference in the world. I have nerded out about War & Peace translations here.)
What’s a genre that you love so much that you’ll read even sub-par books so long as they’re in that genre?
Running memoirs. I absolutely love a good running tale. From even poorly written books can be gleaned great advice.
What’s the last book you purchased?
Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, recommended to me by three different Friends Who Think. Man, anyone else growing in their notion of what Sabbath means? Here are some great thoughts by Peter Scazzero about rhythms of rest in the Christian life: “Before I routinely observed the Sabbath, I often returned from vacation or days off feeling somehow further from God… …We’re not taking time off from God; we are drawing closer to God… It does not mean we necessarily spend the entire day in prayer or studying Scripture, though those activities may be part of a Sabbath day… On Sabbath, we intentionally look for grandeur in everything from people, food, and art to babies, sports, hobbies, and music… we are intentional about looking for the evidence of God’s love in all the things he has given us to enjoy” (The Emotionally Healthy Leader, 148).
What was your favorite book as a pre-teen?
The Jennie McGrady mysteries, a series about a 16-year-old super sleuth who solves crimes for local law enforcement (lol) and occasionally the FBI. Bonus: her dad died eight years ago but SPOILER ALERT he was actually working undercover in the FBI the whole time (we do not find this out until book 8!!)
What was your favorite book in your late teens/early 20s?
I enjoyed The Horse and His Boy from The Chronicles of Narnia so much that I named this blog after one of its characters! (More about that in my disintegrating About page.)
But nothing will compare to devouring Jane Eyre for the very first time. I was a sophomore in college, and never before had I been so hungry to read, analyze, and devour a novel OF MY CHOICE. With a year and a half of literary analysis under my belt, I was offered the whole of the British canon from which to choose a novel to study for my final Brit Lit research paper. Every day before dissections in Biology, I sat in the glass atrium of the Richard E. Smith Science Center holding a banana, a string cheese, and my beloved Jane Eyre. I underlined the novel copiously and self-righteously aligned myself with Jane’s character in all things (hmm hmm, a little of Brontë also features in my About page.)
P.S. Charlotte Brontë’s birthday is today. (What are the chances?!) Happy Birthday, dahling!
What’s your current favorite book?
What?! The Ohio State University just asked me the same thing! The English Department is posting lists of social-distancing book recommendations, and alumni were invited to share their top ten favorite books. I knew I wouldn’t be able to list ten novels because I am such a non-fiction girl (and poet, for that matter!), but I submitted a list anyway, after deliberating nearly an hour whether the Bible belongs on a list like that. In the end, it does, and it did, for I decided to make a list of my ten *current* favorite books, with the list slipping toward the category of “formative.”
- The Bible
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
- War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
- Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
- Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith
- A Capella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry (anthology)
- Sounding the Seasons: 70 Sonnets for the Christian Year by Malcolm Guite
Have you ever read a book so many times that you ruined your copy of it?
To be clear, I do get a lot of jam on books I read. I also cover them in notes, using a pencil. I’ve never had to replace a book, but there are books I wouldn’t lend to people because of the amount of writing that’s in them.
Tell a story about something interesting that happened to you in a bookstore.
I was twelve years old, armed with a stack of cash to spend at Good Steward Books, a dusty little Christian book warehouse two towns over from us. I was buying the last seven books of the Jennie McGrady mysteries, plus two devotionals. With my wallet balanced on top of my loot, I approached the cashier window, and a big man whose dad ran the warehouse rang up my total: “That’ll be $16. …But… you’re a kid, and you must like to read a lot, and that’s a really good thing to do, so I’m gonna take 50% off. Total is $8.00.”
Okay, $16 is like $80 in kid money, so getting eight bucks wiped off your bill was THE BARGAIN OF THE CENTURY.
Interestingly, I showed back up to Good Steward Books when I was 15, taking my first job shelving stacks and stacks of Christian romance.
If you could forget the entire plot of one book, just so you’d have the chance to read it for the first time again, which book would you choose?
War & Peace. I remember this wave washing over me upon finishing it, thinking: oh my goodness, I have so many classics to read that I shall never finish all my days. And, I probably have no business re-reading books if that is the case. Shall I never read this whole novel, this War & Peace, again? I wept, thinking about how I had just read it for the first and probably the last time. (My 20s were a very dramatic time.)
Have you ever read a book all the way through, thinking you loved it, but the ending just destroyed it for you?
Okay, when Pip finds out that his anonymous donor is not Miss Havisham, that he is not entitled to marry beautiful Estella, and when he loses Estella in a marriage to his mortal enemy, and he lopes home to make up his proud, haughty behavior to father-figure Joe, and seeks to marry (what’s left of) his boring friend-from-home, Biddy… it is a LITTLE DISAPPOINTING TO FIND OUT THAT JOE AND BIDDY MARRIED EACH OTHER. #deniedexpectations
Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?
Nonfiction, because truth is stranger than fiction.
What book has given you advice that still sticks with you?
Douglas Wilson’s Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life was a helpful little book that I read at just the right time. As a freshly graduated teacher (who was cultivating a rambunctious little toddler blog), I was looking for advice about “making it” as a writer. Wilson pointed out the importance of being a reader, if one intends to be a writer. He wrote: “The aspiring writer would like to graduate from college at twenty-two, marry at twenty-three, and land a major book deal at twenty-four. While the right kind of ambition is good, it rarely works like that. And even if you did have a major book deal at twenty-four, you would hardly have a vast reservoir of experiences to draw from. There was that time when you went sledding with your college buddies and broke your finger. Anything else?”
This helped me realize that there is a certain lifestyle which accompanies great writing. I was working on the “experience” bit, throwing myself into a zany teaching schedule of teaching SEVEN COURSES A DAY, WITH NO PREPS. Teaching by day, ticking off the occasional classic by night.
Which fictional man would you most like to marry?
Wow, okay. Hmmm. Maybe Pierre Bezukhov.
Which fictional woman would you most like to be friends with?
Anne of Green Gables, but then she’d always get all the attention. So maybe Jean Louise Finch in Go Set a Watchman.
Which fictional house would you most like to live in?
That boat from A Severe Mercy (yes, I know it’s not fiction) where the Vanauken lovers spend a whole summer sailing, sun-tanned, and living off the sea.
Has anyone ever read a book over your shoulder on public transportation?
Yes, I was trying to stuff my copy of Finding God Beyond Harvard surreptitiously into my bag, for the title was SO LARGE, and I didn’t want to be that person, evangelizing to everyone as I waited to deplane at JFK. It was May 2013, and I was the freshest graduate of The Ohio State University, and I was unbelievably excited to have the crushing weight of four years of undergrad under my belt. NO. MORE. ASSIGNMENTS. No more pressure. Unbelievable freedom, and I was traveling to New York for four solid days of touristing with Camille the local. The jet descended toward Queens, just as the sun was coming up and casting golden shadows on the Manhattan skyline.
The seatbelt light came off, and the young soldier next to me, a Pacific Islander, asked, “What are you reading?”
I knew we would have this conversation; he had been eyeing my tome out of the corner of his eye the whole flight, and I was desperately trying to avoid a religious conversation.
“Ah, um, it’s called Finding God Beyond Harvard. It’s a book about the origin of the American university, and how if we look at early university mottos, crests, and architecture, we can see that American universities were intended for the pursuit of truth, or veritas, and these artifacts show that these institutions believed that truth was found in the person of Jesus. The author suggests that removing Jesus as the central focus of university has resulted in a lot of the problems that we see on college campuses today.”
“You must really like it. You are making A LOT of notes.”
“I can’t help but think that she’s right. I think that a belief in Jesus provides a lot of answers for university students, on the far side of complexity.”
I was hoping to end the conversation quickly. Maybe it was because I was so weary of those kinds of conversations. Maybe it was because the few times I tried to seek out those kinds of conversations in college, they went so badly. (I was a self-righteous little thing, desperate for everyone to agree with me.) That day on the plane was the first time where felt like I didn’t care if he agreed with me or not.
But he smiled. And said, “Yeah, I think you may be right.” And he very, very carefully helped me with all my bags.
I wonder if that was the first time I spoke about my faith in a remotely gracious way.
What book(s) are you currently reading?
There are about seven unfinished books on my bookshelf. The one I’m actively penciling right now is the second in James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies series – Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. It’s halfway between inspirational and academic, and I’m learning so much.
All right, friends! You’re invited to complete the questionnaire, or, if you’re not a blogger, to choose a single question and answer it in the comments below!