In the quest to connect readers i love with books i love, i’ve set up a new affiliate shop where you can browse and purchase all the chapter books we’ve read aloud together over the last year and a half. i’m updating the shop as we keep reading, and the books are currently organized into not one but TEN lists. The Chapter Book Readalouds, pictured above, include every book we’ve read start to finish (sans a couple out of print or unpublished titles not available via Bookshop). There is also a list of picture books, one for poetry (currently mostly James Dickey—i need to do more poetry pouncings!), one for excerpted readalouds (books from which i’ve read 1-3 chapters and left you to discover the rest on your own), etc. There’s a list for Juneteenth reads, and a list celebrating our Asian-American neighbors. There’s one for Old Testament studies, one for theology, one for Inklings and friends, and one for Rabbit Room authors. SO MANY BOOKS.
The Bookshop affiliate system (because this is an affiliate shop) allows me to curate these excellent collections, and then anything you buy from one of those lists earns me 10% commission at no additional cost to you. What will i do with that, you wonder? Oh, i have ideas. Mainly book-flinging ideas. This might be giveaways, or it might involve some form of book-sharing, but whatever shape it takes, those little pennies will help me purchase excellent books which will then find their way out into the world, and perhaps even into your own hands. They will find their way into real hands, one way or another, of that you may be certain.
That affiliate link will also allow you to start in my shop and then browse around until you find just the right thing (or things! buy two!). If you want a hardcover copy and i’ve linked a paperback, or you discover an author you love and want to buy more of their books, or you remember you suddenly need a new cookbook or a gift for a baby shower, all of that works. Bookshop will keep track of my affiliate link for 48 hours after you’ve clicked it, so you can participate in my future book-flinging even if you already have a copy of everything i’ve listed. 😉 And in the case of public-domain books, which can be so tricky to find in quality editions, you can be sure that i’ve already looked into every edition i’ve linked. If the edition linked isn’t the exact edition i own, it’s at least one i know is reputable. No cheap blights in that shop, i promise.
So go on. Have a look. It was so much fun creating these lists! They are for you. 🙂
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.Evensuspecting 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Since announcing the upcoming release of In the Year of Jubilation i’ve been caught up in a flurry of learning, coordinating, stitching, binding. Now the first orders have been shipped and i can gratefully say that Jubilations is officially back in print. 🙂 Thanks to a thrilling number of preorders and the usual vagaries of handbinding, they’re not all in the mail yet, but the next few days will see me back at the post office repeatedly and they’ll all be out by the end of the week. 🙂
Here’s a view into the last month’s work, and a poem to tease you into purchasing, and a link to Goodreads (which is how you really know it’s official!).
Two years ago during Lent i discovered a poem cycle that has carved itself into my bones.
It appeared in the Rabbit Room’s first installation of their annual literary journal, the Molehill. i had been reading along, a piece here and a piece there—fiction, essay, recipe, poetry—and when i came to this particular work i could read no further. It was called “In the Year of Jubilation,” and was comprised of an introduction and fourteen poems. Somewhere in the reading of these poems i started crying. i had no idea why.
The next night i picked up the Molehill again, intending to read the next piece, but i couldn’t. i reread the Jubilations, and again i wept through them. i read those poems every night for a week. Every night the tears started at a different place, but they always started. Over the last two and a half years they have broken and healed me countless times. They inform my prayers. And i still cannot express what they mean to me or why i am crying.
This year at Hutchmoot i brought (and within a half-hour had sold) a little stack of paperback Budge-Nuzzards. i have been selling these for a couple of years now, at first by accident and now on purpose. But nustled within my sidebag i also packed a little handbound hardback of the Jubilations for the Mootmaster and Jubilations-poet, Pete. (Is it any wonder that he is my Patronus?) He marveled over it, called his wife over to see it, and then asked the question i had been hopefully and nervously wondering if he would ask: “Are you going to bind and sell these?” i fumbled through turning the question back to him. They’re his. The Budge-Nuzzard is freely available online, but the Jubilations are out of print. i wouldn’t think to sell them without his consent—but the world needs these poems. i need them. i will be needing them for a long, long while yet. And he gave me permission.
These perfect little flickers, these candle-flames, will not be lost. i am so grateful.
Coming in November from Weem Adrift Publishing
In the Year of Jubilation (from the Book of Found Verse) by A.S. “Pete” Peterson
The language of the Budge-Nuzzard never ceases to amaze and delight (and sometimes choke) me, but there is one passage in particular which causes me to go into raptures every single time.
So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket within the Sha-Una’s cavernous pouch, and yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb to drive my hunger back from whence it sprung. Fear took me. Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.
Glorious. Ack. i’m just going to lie here for a bit until the room stops spinning.
Okay. i think i can sit upright again. Let’s walk through a bit of the poetry.
So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket…
Here are two sets of alliteration: CC, PP.
So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket within the Sha-Una’s cavernous pouch…
And then we continue reading and find a phrase which echoes that alliteration: CC, PP, CP.
…yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb…
And here we have chiastic alliteration: CBBC. Mind. Blown.
…yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb to drive my hunger back from whence it sprung.
In the same line, there is a very nice bit of assonance. When reading aloud, the emphasis naturally falls on these two highlighted words, which heightens the effect of the assonance.
Fear took me.
Dread is so simple. Amidst the complexity of this passage, this three-word sentence rises up to grip the reader. Because of the length of the previous sentence, it’s natural to pause before this one. And each word here is weighty, yet most of the weight hangs on that first word. i find this appropriate.
Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.
And this near-rhyme echoes the assonance above. Again, to strengthen the rhythm as well as the near-rhyme, the major emphasis is on the last syllable of each sentence. But the rhythm here is not as simple as the assonant line above.
Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.
The march of the first half of this line is inexorable, mirroring the inevitability the narrator conceives. Then the rhythm pauses on that first instance of the word “slay.” The sentence hangs on that word until the fall of the very last syllable.
Now read the whole thing again, aloud, and let the language do its work.
Note: A.S. Peterson, the author responsible for the Budge-Nuzzard, has also written a set of historical novels, several literary short stories, a blog post that literally changed my life, and a poem cycle which has undone me again and again. He writes good sentences soaked through with sehnsucht and absurdity. i want to be just like him when i grow up. Go forth and read.
i have no idea how to edit poetry. It feels like nonsense. Isn’t poetry a matter of my heart springing up? Can such a thing be edited? Well, yes, and i am going to attempt it. In this post, i will transcribe a poem i have just written, a first draft. i know there’s something wrong with it. In particular, i don’t care for the third strophe. So i will come back to it over and over until i am satisfied with it, and i will post that process here so that i don’t get distracted and forget that i mean to work on this.
i wake in the waking of the world.
The darkness flees the coming of the voice of the L-RD.
i yawn. i stretch my arms.
i watch the light come.
He calls it sun.
We dance, this world and i, to watch Him work.
We spin again, and the shoots leap up.
All is golden, all is green.
The darkness comes again and again,
But it is not fearful now.
It is restful, peaceful, safe,
and morning comes again
to say that all is well.
All is joy.
We spin again, this world and i,
and wonders rise and fill the earth.
i leap for wonder, laugh with pleasure.
And when we spin again,
a new thing yawns.
He stretches his arms.
So like the L-RD in countenance,
so unlike in form; his glory is reflected.
And i love him.
Astute readers may find allusions to two Petersons in this poem. It sort of just happens. We’ll see if those bits survive the editing process. Can i make this poem fully mine? Is there any such thing as “mine” without the voices of the poets i have known? (Look, i did it again.) i have more to say on that subject, but it can wait.
Bonus points to anyone who can identify the speaker.
Lilting, rumbling, clattering, murmuring.
We are alive here,
little vessels of glory,
moving past and around and through
Windows into Your majesty,
even in our fumbling,
our bandaged oozing,
Make us new.
Make us alive.
You alone bear life in Your veins,
and You pour it forth.
It flows over, and fills in
our emptiness, covers over
our wicked places,
And You sing.
The lilting is Your voice,
Written while studying in my “office” cafe, music in the background, surrounded by little, broken, beautiful images of G-d. Strangers to me. People He loves.
A thin mist is rolling in the parking lot, scudding along the ground. This has been going on for hours. When i went out to my car earlier i discovered this mist curling around my ankles, sliding past me to grace the underbellies of the vehicles, and it made me jump and dance.
The gossamer gauze moves slowly over the ground.
Rolling, running, like a silent steady sigh.
The breath of some winter wyrm lying low, belly pressed against the pavement.
Ominous monarchial mist, mysterious exhalation.
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.