What i read in 2017

i read a ton of books this year, thank goodness.

See that big pile of green books to the left of November? Those are all the Jubilations i bound to fulfill orders this year. 🙂 (The streaks are where the colored pencil and white-out misbehaved together.) Also, i had extra space on the July shelf, a mischievous cat, and two readings of Buckdancer’s Choice to explain. Thus the cat is behaving according to her nature.

i say “thank goodness” because i’ve come to realize that i need to be reading, and the busier i am the more i need it. i hit on this sort of accidentally, although it should’ve been obvious from day one. But at the beginning of my worst ever semester, something inside me said “you need fiction to make it through this.” i was right, and had no idea how right i was. Even suspecting that and making provision for it didn’t prevent me from learning it the hard way. i am a fictional character and i need fiction the way i need oxygen.

Ironically, perhaps, i learned this in part from the author who gave me my fictional name. i have always been fictional, but being named by a fiction-author and given a place in his world grounded me to one particular fictional identity in which all my fictionality can rest and from which i can reach out into the world (both primary and secondary). That author is, of course, Andrew Peterson. Andrew is far busier and more productive than me. i have no clue when he sleeps, or if he’s slept this year. But through him i’ve heard (mostly second-hand) the phrase focal practices. (Caveat: i suspect this concept was from a Hutchmoot session i missed, and i don’t know whether i’m even doing this right, but the phrase was a catalyst for me as i began to think this stuff out.) What i’ve observed from watching Andrew over the last couple of years is that his focal practices are a good indicator of his health and restedness. He needs to be outside. i suspect going outside would benefit me also, but i’m not quite there yet (i know this is stupid). i asked myself, if there is a practice i need to maintain, one which is a canary for my health the way Andrew’s beekeeping and outdoor-wandering are for him, what would that be? And the immediate answer was fiction. (Andrew is also a reader. Again, i don’t know when he sleeps.)

That one bad semester, the one where i knew i’d need fiction to survive? That was the semester that Andrew bought me Calvin & Hobbes. i was overwhelmed before classes even started and wasn’t sure how i’d manage a full novel, but i knew i needed something, and so Andrew generously and unexpectedly sent me the entire boxed set. i read a little every night before bed. By the end of that semester i was counting how many strips were left and how many days, rationing it so i didn’t finish before finals; i was sure i wouldn’t make it if i did. And i did make it, but just barely. i’m convinced that Andrew saved my life. Fiction is oxygen.

The last few years i’ve been tracking my reading on Goodreads (see the widget on the right), and the uptick this year is astounding. i read 28 books in 2015 and 23 in 2016, but this year i am thunderstruck to say that i’ve read 76 books. i attribute this to mixing in a lot of poetry and picture books and a few textbooks my professors were kind enough to assign cover-to-cover, but even so, that number includes a good dozen which were 400+ pages (one was over 600, two over 700, and one just a few pages shy of a thousand). So the picture books and legit tomes balanced each other out pretty well.

HOW, of course, is the obvious question. i am still working this out, and the how will probably change semester to semester, but here’s what worked this year.

Picture books.

This works according to the same principle as Calvin & Hobbes. A long book not only is long but feels long, and sometimes when you’re busy you just have enough time for a little infusion. (This is also why Andrew intentionally made the chapters so short in his Wingfeather Saga.) What’s easier—reading for 45 minutes or reading three 15-minute books or chapters? It’s almost a trick question, but it isn’t. If all you’ve got is 15 minutes, you’ll never read that third of a chapter. Find something short. And if you’ve got a few more minutes, read a bit more.

Poetry.

This often works the same way as picture books, and because poetry is so rich i find i don’t want nearly as much of it in one sitting anyway. i can read one or two poems before bed or in between things, and feel nourished. One downside, however, is that in a collection of poems there might be a lot of one-page poems broken up by the odd ten- or twenty-page poem, and when i hit one of those i’m not always ready for it and then the book sits there for a week. (Dickey has definitely done this to me more than once.) But i am really learning to appreciate this art form. Even when i don’t fully grasp what the poet is doing, it’s helpful.

Assignments.

This isn’t so much a how do you read this much? as a how do you find these things?, but if you have a wise and kind person who will let you climb up on their shoulders and train your eyes to know good literature, hallelujah. i was a little nervous the first time i asked Pete for a Patronus assignment, but i’m so grateful i did and grateful he keeps saying yes. And a lot (although not all) of the picture books on this list were recommended by my friend Ken, a stop-motion animator who’s well-versed in this field. i’d never have found all those on my own. i find that i can accomplish nearly anything if i have an assignment (or a deadline), so getting these assignments is motivating. (Plus: Patronus.)

i do think it is crucial that a book-assigner be someone chosen and trusted. A lot of people would like to add to my TBR list. i can’t read all of it and i don’t necessarily want to. But i’ll read anything Pete or Ken give me because i know what they give me is good for me. (And if you do have academic assignments, count them. Even if they aren’t fiction or poetry or anything particularly soul-strengthening, acknowledge that time and work. It feels good to look back on it later and see in full color what you managed to do.)

Priority.

Over the summer, since i had a lot more flexibility, i decided i’d spend one entire day every week at a coffee shop, reading. That meant as early as i could manage in the morning (although often that wasn’t really until 10 or 11), and as late as i could stay in the afternoon (right up until dinner). i found that when the semester started up again in August i couldn’t bear to lose that incredibly healing practice, and while i couldn’t continue a once-a-week fiction day during the semester it did propel me toward more reading while in school than i would probably have done otherwise. Lay the groundwork while you can and then you have a habit to lean on.

This wisdom is offered for free, as it has not been peer-reviewed. Ha. (And if you got to the end of this post, you can probably count it toward your reading goal.)

Here’s the full list of what i read this year. i’m hoping to come back and annotate this list in a few posts to come—just a line or two about where i found each book and what i thought of it.

The Last Archer: A Green Ember Story
Idiot Psalms: New Poems
Muffin Mouse's New House
What Is a Princess?
Where Are Custard and Pupcake?
The Three Snow Bears
Cat Nights
The Fairy Dog
On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea
Yesh Lanu Llama
The Flight of Dragons
Every Moment Holy
Buckdancer's Choice: Poems
With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God
Called to Be Church: The Book of Acts for a New Day
The Battle of Franklin: A Tale of a House Divided
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
In the Year of Jubilation
Ready Player One
Synopsis of the Four Gospels
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Death, and the Day's Light: Poems
Wildwood
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
War in Heaven
Confronting the Legacy of Racism: The Challenge to Christian Faith
Du Iz Tak?
Home
The High King
The Liszts
Taran Wanderer
The Strength of Fields
The Way Home in the Night
The Castle of Llyr
The Black Cauldron
The Book of Three
Billy's Booger
Tuck Everlasting
Notre-Dame de Paris
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Hopkins: Poems
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Nightlights
Pawn of Prophecy
James Dickey: The Selected Poems
Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies
The Trespasser
Fruits Basket, Vol. 1
Buckdancer's Choice: Poems
Les Misérables
The Twin Arrows
Rabbit's Search for a Little House
The Emperor's Soul
Pandora
Pug Man's 3 Wishes
Three Men in a Boat
Chicken Story Time
Redeeming Love
Selected Poems of William Butler Yeats
Winter's Tale
The Wishes of the Fish King
A Circle of Quiet
The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog
The Storyteller
A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology
The Library
A Grammar of Akkadian
The Jubilee: Poems
Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship
Henry and the Chalk Dragon
Watership Down
The Bronze Bow
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

A readaloud, a plea, and an inarticulate squeal

If you’ve been around my blog for very long, you’ll know that i love The Wingfeather Saga. If you’ve been around only for the last month or so, you’ll know that there’s a Kickstarter happening to fund a pilot for what we hope is a full-length animated series. What you may not know is what these books are about, or why i love them, or when this Kickstarter ends, so i’d like to clear all that up for you right now—because, last/first things first, the Kickstarter ends TONIGHT, and i’d love to see you there.

This series is a whimsical, woeful, wonderful epic about three young siblings who find themselves in the middle of secrets and armies, history and destiny. Their world has fallen to an occupying force of lizardfolk called the Fangs of Dang. These Fangs are venomous and cruel, and they serve an evil lord named Gnag the Nameless. If that were not enough, the Black Carriage roves the land, taking children in the night for some fell and unknown purpose.

But amidst these horrors, there is great beauty and hope in this world. There is danger within and without, but there are also singing sea dragons and love like a warm hearth on a chilly evening. Aerwiar, the world in these books, is wild and weird and more beautiful than i can tell you. The characters grapple with hard truths about their own hearts, and they become something more than they could have guessed. i haven’t wept over any books the way i’ve wept over these. i beg you to read them.

To get you started, here’s a FREE six-chapter preview, and below i’ll read you one of my favorite chapters from the series.

And as i said, the Kickstarter ends TONIGHT—Monday, April 4, 2016—at 9:00 pm Central. This Kickstarter funds a pilot episode, and there are a host of great rewards already funded, from stickers to t-shirts to short stories to a comic book. And since the next step is to find a studio to turn this pilot into a full series, every backer counts. If the sound of this story is compelling to you, now is the time; there is no other. If you can’t afford more than a dollar, that dollar still tells the studios that there is an audience for this series. If you don’t have even a dollar, you can still help by following The Wingfeather Saga on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram, and this is a huge help, because again, the studios are looking at those numbers.

Either way, i hope you enjoy this chapter and go on to read the books. (You can buy them here.) And now i’ll turn things over to Madame Sidler of Ban Rona. She loves the books just as much as i do. 😉

::squeeee::

A bit of nerdy commentary

Now then, dear readers, yesterday i promised you some commentary on a few of the nerdier aspects of Yaunsi episode nine. Since that time my boy Andrew’s Kickstarter has defied the laws of physics and has exsplatterated the brains of every third backer, and rendered the remainder unconscious. i alone am left to describe to you this scene of horrific and inevitable magnificence, and this is only due to my latent Pan* heredity; i slupped out of there as quick as i could when i saw the tidal wave of psychic gravitational forces heave toward me. (“Heave not!” i said during that moment’s long squirting, but they heeded not.)

*Yes, it is true that i was born and raised in the Green Hollows, but my family is largely of Pan-Weem descent. It is a scandal of which we do not speak broadly. You cannot imagine the dramatics and contretemps (i mean that literally) around holiday dinner tables.

So to calm my mind as the incomprehensible forces of Andrew’s Kickstarter continue to be unfeld, i shall regale you with the following nerdy bits of heresy-writing. If you also would like your sanity shattered by the ravenous glories of a fully-funded pilot for the Wingfeather Saga Animated Series, i encourage you to click over to his Kickstarter and see the many-splendored devastation for yourself. Meanwhile, on to the heresy.


Yesterday’s episode contained a pun, the likes of which i could not have conceived but was gloriously conceived in me during a moment of mad scribbling right before Hebrew class last week. “Oh my word. i love my heresy!” i whisper-shrieked to myself there in my seminary classroom. Then things got a little awkward.

The word in question is בֶּגֶד (beged). It’s a common enough word (it occurs in the vocabulary list in chapter 11 of our textbook), and in every biblical occurrence but two, that word is correctly translated “clothing” or “garments.” The exceptions are in Isaiah 24:16 and Jeremiah 12:1 where it is instead rendered “treachery.” Consider what we know of Yaunsi the Pan—what little clothing he wears. Consider that he and Cheresh are fellow Pans (Panim, in Hebrew). Consider the horror such a word would certainly convey to these Pans of grand descent. Fie on those treacherous cake-turners!

Now while we’re talking about the Pan tradition of going scantily-clad (our family has left that tradition behind; worry yourselves not), Cheresh’s word choice when describing Yaunsi’s potential shame is quite strategic. You may recall that in episode one of my heresy, our narrator (is that me or not? you decide) said that Yaunsi did not cover himself with much clothing. The same word, “cover” (כסה, kasa), Cheresh uses here. Is this another reference to the Pannic feelings of repellence toward clothing? Hrrmm.

Oh, one more thing. In Hebrew, pronouns and verbs always agree in both gender and number with the nouns they represent. When i have referred to the Budge-Nuzzard in the past, i have thusly used a masculine singular pronoun and verb conjugation (third person, in Hebrew, is used for he/she as well as it. You may recall some consternation regarding this in episode eight). This time, however, Cheresh refers to “The Budge and its Nuzzard.” Which pronoun, which number, does he use? Plural, yes? Nope. Still singular. ::shudder:: (i had a very bad moment a couple of weeks ago while rereading the original Budge-Nuzzard episode “Gloaning.” But what horrors i saw in those words will have to wait for a later commentary. You are not yet ready to hear my brain’s ravings on this matter.)

Now then, let us all go forth with greater insight, fear, and glee. And while you go, do consider giving yourself up to the inexorable resplendence of Andrew’s Kickstarter.

See you next week. (Unless Andrew’s Kickstarter swallows the sun.)

Something beautiful

i am going to cry my way through this post, i promise you.

A little over two years ago, Andrew Peterson launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish the last book in his YA fantasy series, The Wingfeather Saga. i loved Andrew already as a singer/songwriter and author, and since that Kickstarter i’ve come to love him as a brother and friend as well. i’m grateful beyond words for his trust as he has welcomed me into his books’ story.

And now that story which i love so much has taken a huge leap forward. This morning, Andrew launched the Kickstarter campaign to create a pilot episode for an animated series. This has been in the works for months, and now within the first six hours of the campaign, over six hundred backers have joined forces to raise more than 40% of the initial fundraising goal. That number climbs every second. Andrew and his story are easy to to love, and are well-loved. i knew this. But what a thing to watch unfold.

This morning i learned all over again what a gift it is to love and to serve and to be trusted. i learned what a holy thing it is to be undone by the overwhelming support of one’s community. i learned that librarian shoes are running shoes. And we are running. Run with us. 🙂

In the words of Andrew Peterson:
Rabbit Room
Wingfeather Website
Kickstarter

wingfeatherPoster_4_3_FINAL

High Noon in the Valley of the Shadow

The air shimmers with heat as the camera pans, taking in the dusty red desert and the windswept blue sky. It settles on a man wearing long leather chaps, gun belt slung low on his hips. There’s a soft jingle of spurs as the focus shifts to a outlaw, all dressed in black, facing him twenty paces away. The outlaw shifts his balance and his fingers twitch above his holster. The look on his face—is it murder, or is it fear? The focus shifts back to the gunslinger standing with shoulders relaxed, unperturbed, humor in his eyes. He tips his hat.

The acrid taste of gunpowder stains the air, and before the smoke fades the outlaw’s on his black horse, riding it hard out of town. The camera spins past faces in the storefront windows to a freckled young boy yelling victoriously, hurling rock after rock after this beaten man—“Go on! Don’t you come back again!” Newsboy cap, dirty white shirt under suspenders, pants too short,  dusty black leather shoes. He’s been playing at Gunslinger for years already. His pistol’s fake, but he knows how to use it. And he knows he doesn’t need it. All he needs are these rocks, the triumph in his heart, and the victor behind him. He shouts insults, daring the outlaw to come back and fight like a man. He knows his town’s protected and he’s got nothing to fear.

Crank it up. Close your eyes. When you hear the boy shout, take up your rocks and shout with him.

He is risen. Death’s been defeated.
The stories are true.


In celebration of Easter, Andrew is giving away a free download of this song on his Facebook page.

The Gunslinger

This is unfinished, but i’m really pleased with it so far. It’s equal parts Sunny Sundown and Andrew Peterson’s High Noon.


The dust blew; it blew all over the town
The sun’s rays lit it up as he rode in at sundown
And shouted his charge by his silence,
His long flapping coat and unflappable presence.
And what would the gunslinger do?
He too was an outlaw, and everyone knew.

He whistled in church
And made maidens blush
He grazed in the gardens
And drank like a lush
He swore and he spat and he gambled and such
And surely he’d killed a man dead
The last time the deacons had called for his head
But he was our only defense.
Now what would the gunslinger do?

The dust blew; it blew all over the town
The black-coated man swung from his horse to the ground
He spread his feet and fingered his gun
And sneered like he already knew he had won.
And what would the gunslinger do?
We needed an outlaw; that much was true.

End-of-semester gratitude

My first semester’s finals were yesterday. Oh, i am tired—and so, so grateful.

All last week i had reminders written all over my hands. Not reminders of things i’d need for the tests, but reminders that i would survive the process. Around my thumb and forefinger i wrote, “i have turned my back on my turning back.” Last night after my Hebrew final i collapsed into a chair and curled my fingers and saw how the words made a circle, turning back, then turning back again. And i had been telling myself over and over that i must not turn back, that as weary as i was i would reap a harvest if i did not give up. At that moment the words became true. i had turned my back on my turning back. It was accomplished. i knew that i had come far and could begin to gloan upon it. As we drove home afterwards, i could feel the semester receding behind me as if time was a place.

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i am grateful for:

  • Jonathan. Oh, Jonathan. He was on call all last week, and had finals and papers of his own (he has one final yet), but he took care of all our dinners (and the dishes) all week long so that i could study. He planned our Geek family night, too. Every time i cried that i could not, could not, could not, he told me i could. He prayed for me and pastored me and served me, my priest. Every day, he preaches to me the way of Christ to the church.
  • My beautiful Hebrew family, my classroom table-mates. Asher and i had an uproarious time studying together yesterday afternoon (we were both sleep-deprived and deliriously hilarious). Atarah brought us chocolate and little hand-written cards of appreciation last night. Gadi lets me mother him. i could not have asked for a better group of people. i never expected them. They are a gift of grace.
  • Dr. Dallaire, my Hebrew professor, has been an endless source of encouragement all semester long. Last night she gave me a hug i could live in and told me i’d better write to her in Hebrew while she’s on sabbatical. 🙂 She graded our finals before leaving last night and i had an email waiting for me when i got home. For the midterm and the final both she brought us food. And one of the questions was, “True or False? Dr. Dallaire loves chocolate!” 🙂 Again, i could never have expected her. i’m so grateful for her. Just knowing her (not to mention learning from her!) this semester was the best way to begin seminary i could imagine. She taught me that seminary is not scary, but an exhilarating, encouraging, enlarging adventure. i am keeping her forever.
  • Dr. Hess, my Pentateuch and Wisdom Lit professor. i learned so much in his class, and much of it was about myself. His style of teaching and grading stretched me, and is stretching me, and i am better for it, and i will be better yet. He was an instrument of sanctification in G-d’s hands. Again, it was grace that placed me in his class this first semester.
  • My darling amanuensis Rachel. i texted her crying so many times this last week. She prayed for me and brought me ice cream and ginger soda and hugs the night before finals. She wrote me haikus to keep me going. She shares my heart.
  • Andrew Peterson‘s song “Day By Day,” and Josh Garrels‘ “White Owl,” both of which tethered my heart and my mind as i studied. i played them for hours. Hours.
  • Pete Peterson and the Budge-Nuzzard. Pete’s witness that faith does not always end in despair gave me the courage to begin seminary. The Budge-Nuzzard, in ways known only to Divine Grace, became my own story as i struggled to finish my first semester well. The fact that the story is yet unfinished may itself have been a grace, as i was able to see myself in it without the distraction of pressure or fear regarding where the story was going. The first time i read Hind’s Feet on High Places, i was too afraid of resolution to finish. In the Budge-Nuzzard, uncertainty came alongside my uncertainty and helped me along. i know that a story this weird (but i am so weird!) is an unlikely candidate for spiritual direction and courage. But—
  • My merciful Abba loves me so well. He’s close to me when i struggle. He hides me in His heart. He rejoices over me with singing. He stoops down to make me great. i so often seek life everywhere but in Him. He is gracious, and He grows me in grace. He’s teaching me to rest in Him. And He knows that i am made to respond to stories; He made me that way. So when i cry out for stories to help me along, He never shames me for needing them but instead He provides grace upon grace, and gives me stories to enlarge my heart.

This sounds like an Oscars speech. But seriously—i am so deeply grateful.

My list of things to do today includes “read a poem,” “take a walk,” and “blat at someone.” i am eager to dive back into fiction-reading (and writing). i might take a nap. i need to buy groceries. Facebook will wait until tomorrow. Short-story-writing will wait until Friday or even next week (yeah, i never did any writing in November, and i am not really sorry). For today, the theme is gratitude and peace.

The term is over. The holidays have begun. (Yes, that’s a Lewis reference, although this semester break is only a foretaste.)

Baruch atah, Adonai.

Feathers and Talons

About a week and a half ago, i submitted an essay to the Rabbit Room. i was grateful to have had the opportunity to write that essay, and wanted to share it with the author of the books that inspired it. If he chose to share it with his community, i would be thrilled, but i had no expectations. Meanwhile, i knew that i was sending the essay to them at the very last minute if i wanted it to be read, much less published, before Kickstarter backers began reading the fourth book. i had gotten the public release date mixed up with the Kickstarter release, and so instead of sending them that essay a month or more before readers had a chance to begin finishing the series, i sent it to them in the middle of pallets and pallets of books arriving at their office. This week Andrew is signing multiple thousands of books, which are being sent to over two thousand readers. There’s no reason to expect them even to check their email during all this, although of course i must assume that they have. Whenever Andrew sees it, i hope he is blessed by my interactions with his story—whether the essay is deemed appropriate for the Rabbit Room or not. And whatever happens, i am grateful.

Today AP posted that their friendly neighborhood mailman was off with the second truckload of Kickstarter shipments, so regardless of the status of that submission, it’s time to release my essay into the wild.

Continue reading “Feathers and Talons”

Artham must die

::SPOILER WARNING:: If you’ve not read the first three Wingfeather Saga books, please ignore this post. Instead, go buy the books!

Andrew Peterson’s fourth and final Wingfeather book is due out on July 22, and for Kickstarter supporters, the delivery date is even sooner—perhaps next week! While i’ve been busy working on a more serious look at themes of brokenness and New Creation innocence in Peet the Sock Man’s character arc, that work is now finished and submitted, allowing me time before the book is released to make a few predictions and speculations about what might happen in the last installment of this beautiful YA fantasy series.

Continue reading “Artham must die”