Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How-To Tuesday: How to Pick Your Next Good Book

This is the perfect time of year to dive into a new book.  While the weather is keeping you cooped up, exploring other people's adventures is a great way to avoid cabin fever.  I don't claim to be especially widely read, but I do really enjoy reading when I get the chance.  A book is not only a time commitment but an emotional commitment also.  So I have a few guiding tactics I follow when deciding on what to read next to make sure that I enjoy the journey and the destination.  (Disclaimer: I give you full permission to skip through this post and read only about the books that catch your eye.  I have issues with conciseness.)

1.  Make It a Double Feature
More often than not, my motivation for reading a book is that there is a movie adaptation coming out. Maybe that makes me somewhat superficial, but I like to be rewarded at the end of a book with a movie.  It lets me hold onto the characters that much longer.  And it gives me a sense of elitism. Because really, there's nothing better than watching a movie and smugly thinking, "That's not how it was in the book.  What really happened was..."  Here are a few of my favorite books with a movie pay-off:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
This is my all-time favorite movie.  My sisters and I probably watched it at least once a week growing up, and we can quote the entire thing, start to finish, including the musical interludes, which were a little wobbly from the poor sound quality of our VHS, which was copied from a beta tape.  It took me a little while to track down the book because I was convinced (because the movie says so) that it was written by S. Morgenstern.  That is a lie.  But it doesn't matter because as good as the movie is, the book is even better.  The characters are infinitely more interesting and hilarious.  You learn why Humperdink hates Guilder.  You get Fezzik's back story.  The Pit of Despair is way more epic.  It's just a fantastic read.  Highly recommended.  And when you're done, you get to watch an outstanding movie.  Win-win.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
I admit that I have never been able to make it through The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It is a whole lot of walking and battling and hopelessness, which just doesn't keep my interest.  But The Hobbit is Tolkien for the rest of us.  It is way easier to follow, way lighter in tone, and you don't have to do too much trudging between action sequences.  I reread The Hobbit in preparation for seeing the first movie installment, which was excellent.  In order to turn it into 3 movies and thicken the connections to LOTR, Jackson included a bunch of material from Tolkien's supplementary material, which annoyed some Hobbit purists.  But I'll allow it.  You're welcome, Peter Jackson.

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
I am a big HP nerd.  I got on the bandwagon a little late, but I made up for it.  My friends and I even had a Harry Potter book club where we reread all of the books in preparation for the release of HP7. And we were hardcore.  We had a sorting ceremony; we ate HP-themed food and drank butterbeer; we made wands; we had a triwizard tournament and an end of year feast; we played Quidditch (during which one of our number even broke a few ribs).  Like I said...hardcore.  Week to week, we would have dramatic readings where we'd each take a character and read through a chapter complete with voices and British accents.  When we came to the end of a book, we would watch the movie.  I use the word "watch" loosely because the viewings mainly consisted of us discussing how the movies departed from the perfection of the books.  It was so satisfyingly elitist.  Anyway, this series is extremely well-written for a middle reader series, but the books are still fast reads.  So even though 7 books seems like a huge commitment, you will not regret a moment..except maybe some excessive adolescent angst in books 4 and 5.  But let's be honest...most of the world has already read these books, so really, this is a recommendation to read them again.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
I have not seen the new movie yet because it's tough to pay for a movie plus over 3 hours of baby-sitting.  But I have seen the musical multiple times, and having read the book deeply enriches the experience.  Although the musical sticks fairly close to the book, reading gets you a lot of hidden insights into the characters and a fuller sense of the plot.  I admit, I have only read the abridged version.  My husband is trudging through the unabridged version at the moment, and gauging from what he's told me, I absolve you from having to read the full version.  My recommendation is to start with the abridged version, and if you really love it, you can try your hand at the bigger commitment.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Once again, a confession: I have not read the full compilation.  However, what I have read of Sherlock Holmes, I have loved.  There is a reason that no matter what adaptation of Sherlock you watch, it is witty and highly entertaining.  It's because the source material is extremely well-written and engaging.  And the nice thing about Sherlock Holmes is that it is a collection of short stories. You can pick and choose without having to commit to the entire anthology.  And you can go back to it after a long absence without missing a beat.  Although they don't follow the stories exactly, I do enjoy the Robert Downey Jr./ Jude Law movies.  They have excellent chemistry.  Jason and I have also been watching the 1954 series.  They are short, 20ish minute episodes that stick very close to the original stories.  But my favorite adaptation is BBC's Sherlock.  If you haven't seen it yet, you should.  There are currently 2 seasons with three 90ish minute episodes a piece, and they are so, so good!

2.  Consider the Classics
The classics are classics for a reason.  When reading more modern books, I generally have to read a few different authors to get everything I'm craving.  But the classics often have it all in one book. They immortalize days gone by with intrigue, romance, and adventure.  And if you have a kindle, you can get most of them for free on Amazon.  Win-win.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas
Be forewarned: this book is long, and it is not for the faint of heart.  It is definitely a commitment.  But it is also a true adventure with compelling characters and a story that keeps you guessing.  It has everything--love, mystery, suspense, traces of history.  I've yet to read the sequels, but I have read a few other works by Dumas that I have also thoroughly enjoyed (The Queen's Necklace and Camille). They are a good deal shorter that Three Musketeers, so they are a good place to start if you're wary of a longer read.  And the good news is that Dumas has written about a thousand books, so if you like him, you will never run out of things to read.

Everything by Jane Austen
The cynic would say that once you're read one of Austen's novels, you've read them all.  And it's kind of true--there are characters who make reappearances: the vain sister, the stuffy gentleman, the silly neighbor who talks to much.  And you can tell from the beginning who the heroine will end up with.  But there is something so charming and entertaining in Austen's writing and characterizations that just keeps me coming back for more.  My favorite is probably Mansfield Park, but it's possible that it tops my list because I didn't see the movie first.  If there are any Austens that you haven't yet had the pleasure of reading, I highly recommend diving in.

The Comedies by William Shakespeare
Again, I confess myself vastly under-read in the realm of Shakespeare, but I've read a number of his comedies, and I have loved them all.  Once you get into the rhythm of reading plays written in lines of iambic pentameter, they are fast reads.  And again, there are so many that if you so desire, they can keep you reading for quite a while.  My favorite is probably Much Ado about Nothing, but I attribute that to the brilliant and hilarious Kenneth Branaugh adaptation.  His Henry V is also quite good, although I admit I haven't read that play yet.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
This is another one that I read abridged.  This book is well-known for its extensive dialogue between two of the Karamazov brothers discussing the problem of evil.  The abridged version cuts a good portion of that out.  However, I was so caught up with the plot and character development of this book that I'm pretty sure I would gain much more from that section read apart from the rest of the book anyway.  I just couldn't wait to see what happened!  This book kept me flying all the way through in a race to the end.  Each character is so beautifully and interestingly portrayed in his flaws, vices, and motivations.  It is absolutely captivating.

3.  Revisit Childhood Friends
Sometimes there is just something so refreshing about reading something intended for children.  In a world of so much chaos, it's nice to be immersed in a world that is black and white: the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and everyone gets more or less what they deserve in the end.

Grimm's Fairy Tales
These timeless stories never fail to ignite my imagination.  Some of the best songs I've written were based on Grimm's fairy tales.  No matter what your craft, there is something in a fairy tale to inspire you.  Just try it: read a fairy tale and then write a poem, draw a picture, design a quilt... it will take you places you couldn't have reached on your own.  And the best thing about fairy tales is...they're short.  So even stay-at-home-moms have time for them....while their son may or may not be tugging at their leg to get him a drink of water in a different color cup while they're trying to write an overdue blog post...

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
I am indignant that I never got an invitation to attend Hogwarts.  But I am downright heart-broken that I haven't been able to find a portal to Narnia.  It is not from a lack of seeking, let me assure you.  The magic in the world of Narnia, the gentle strength and accessibility of Aslan, the talking animals, and the triumph of good over evil...my soul longs for it all.  And I believe that's the point.  We were made for a more wonderful world than the one in which we live.  Narnia reminds me of that and keeps me going back to Aslan and learning to know Him by another name in this world.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
It's a little strange to put this directly after The Chronicles of Narnia.  Lewis and Pullman have just about opposite worldviews.  While Lewis writes to draw people into relationship with a God who is just and kind and loving, Pullman writes from an overtly anti-God and anti-church perspective.  Still, I think that The Golden Compass warrants mentioning because it is an extremely interesting book. There is nothing black and white about it.  Everyone is flawed, and things just don't turn out the way you think they should.  But throughout the entire book, it had me asking questions about good and evil, sovereignty and free will, innocence and knowledge...big paradoxes to tackle in a book intended for children.  But that's what made it so captivating.  It challenged me.  And every now and then, I need that.  (Note: I much prefer TGC to the two sequels, in which Pullman blatantly abandons good story-telling in order to push his anti-God agenda.  It made me very sad, not only for Pullman but for the sake of the story.)

Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Sometimes you just need a bit of silliness.  You need to indulge your inner sulkiness.  You need to threaten to pack up and run away from it all.  Alexander is good for that.  It's just a few minutes of your day to remind you that some days are like that, even in Australia.

4.  Learn Something New
Let's move to the world on Non-Fiction, shall we?  There aren't many non-fiction genres that I read. Generally, when I read a book, it is for the purpose of escape from "the real world."  But non-fiction does have its place, and it is especially helpful in the world of crafting.  Here are my favorite crafting books from the many crafting genres in which I dabble:

Knitting:  Stitch 'N Bitch by Debbie Stroller
Forgive the crude title.  This is by far the best introduction to knitting that I have found.  (Actually, Amy found it.)  It has clear instructions, easy-to-read diagrams, and simple projects that even a beginner can tackle with confidence.

Crochet:  Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs by Edie Eckman
Debbie Stroller does have a crochet book that is incredibly helpful (The Happy Hooker).  But once that book helped me tackle the basics, it was Beyond the Square that made me fall in love with crochet.  It offers 144 circles, hexagons, triangles, squares, and other unexpected shaped that you can create once you learn the magic of reading a crochet chart.  It's the sort of thing that a creative, mathematical mind like mine just eats up.  The book also offers suggestions of how to piece the shapes together to complete larger projects.

Quilting:  The Quilt in a Day series by Eleanor Burns
All of the Giberson girls are huge fans of Eleanor Burns' quilt in a day books.  I believe we've all made quilts from her patterns.  Her pictures and diagrams are clear enough to transform a beginner into a quilter in 24 hours.  Seriously.  If you want to get into quilting, her book on the Log Cabin pattern (linked above) is my hearty recommendation.

Making Clothes:  One-Piece Wearables by Sheila Brennan
If making clothes is more your style, I recommend this book.  It has 25 patterns for clothing made from one piece of fabric.  It is entirely undaunting, and it includes full pattern pieces so you don't have the extra step of taking the book to Staples to have the patterns enlarged and reprinted, which I always have very good intentions of doing but never actually do.

Other Sewing: Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross
In addition to over 40 projects ranging from bags to slippers to baby blankets, this book is also laced with recipes, music playlists, home studio ideas, and tips for incorporating sewing into your life. Ross's patterns all include charming drawn diagrams and easy-to-follow instructions.  It has lots of great ideas, and even apart from the patterns, it is a pleasure to read.

Needleworks:  Anna Maria's Needlework Notebook by Anna Maria Horner
Anna Maria Horner is by far my favorite designer.  I would love to live in the midst of her color palettes.  I also read her blog, and her world seems to be a glorious flurry of creativity, family, and tradition.  Her newest book is all about different kinds of needlework including cross-stitch, needlepoint, embroidery, and crewel.  In addition to teaching the basics of each form and the materials you need to get started, she offers patterns and tips for expanding the forms into projects. And it is all beautiful.

Embroidery:  Mary Thomas's Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches by Mary Thomas and Jan Eaton
If you really want to hone in on embroidery, then this is the book for you.  It lays out over 400 different embroidery stitches.  Each stitch has written instructions, illustrated diagrams, and a photograph of what the stitch looks like in real life.  It is an incredibly helpful and informative resource for any hand-stitcher to own.

5.  Nourish Your Soul
My final category of books is the spiritual formation genre.  When I want to supplement my Bible-reading with some insight from wiser believers than myself, these are the sorts of books that I turn to:

The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith
I'm currently reading this book with my small group at church.  Each chapter is devoted to an aspect of God's character (His goodness, His generosity, His holiness, etc.).  The author talks about debunking the lies and "false narratives" we believe about God by learning more about the God that Jesus reveals. At the end of each chapter, he offers "soul training exercises" to help you internalize the truths discussed in the chapter.  I'm only a few chapters in at this point, but I find myself resonating with a lot of what he's saying, both in the truths and the lies I believe about God.  I really look forward to reading the rest of it, and I highly recommend it as a good devotional read, no matter where you find yourself in your faith journey, from seeker to seasoned believer.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
This is a lovely little devotional book that all of the Giberson girls are reading this year.  Each day, there is a short reading written from Jesus' perspective with accompanying Scripture passages.  It offers a nugget of truth to carry with you throughout the day and an invitation to deeper trust in Him.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
Parker Palmer is one of my all-time favorite spiritual formation writers.  I have to physically stop myself from underlining every word he writes.  I first discovered him in college as part of my curriculum as a Christian Education major.  Another of his books (To Know as We Are Known) was incredibly formative to the way I think about...just about everything.  But I think Let Your Life Speak is a better introduction to him as an author.  It's a great book for anyone who wants to discern God's purpose and calling for his or her life.  And really, isn't that what we're all looking for?

Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
If you find yourself longing to delve into the writings of the Medieval mystics, I recommend Julian of Norwich.  By far the most accessible of the mystics I have read, Julian shares her visions of an infinitely loving and sacrificial God.  Her devotion to Him and His love for her pour out of every page and inspire me to deeper devotion.

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This is another book that has been instrumental in my spiritual development.  It's a tiny book, but be warned that the writing is a little thick.  Nevertheless, it offers so much wisdom as to what the Christian life can and should look like when lived in community.  Get it; read it; chew on it; live it.  It is so good.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This is by far the best children's Bible I have ever encountered.  The tag-line of the book is "Every Story Whispers His Name."  It was written to show children how every story in the Bible alludes to the culmination of the Gospel: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Whether the story illustrates our deep need for a Savior or God's everlasting faithfulness in rescuing His people, everything points to Jesus.  For that reason, it's an equally valuable resource for adults.  I highly recommend adding this book to your devotional reading.  It is just so good.

Read-Aloud Bible Stories by Ella K. Lindvall
Another great resource for teaching your kids about the Bible is this four volume set.  Each book has 5 Bible stories written to accommodate even a toddler's attention span.  The illustrations and the language are simple.  But each story offers great Scriptural truths, and at the end of each story it asks, "What did you learn?" and offers a few take-away points.  I love these books because they are simple without being "fluffy" and watered down, and they make the message of the Gospel extremely accessible.

A Good Journal by You!
Lastly, one of the books that has most shaped my spiritual life is a journal.  I prefer mine to be unlined and spiral bound...and they have to have just the right feel to them.  I'm extremely particular (as I am with most things, I guess).  But a journal is my place of prayer.  I write letters to God.  It keeps me focused and helps me to keep a record of what He's doing and where He's taken me. Also, there's something about writing words down that makes them more intentional, honest, and sincere, at least for me.  It's a practice I've done since junior high, and it is inseparable from my relationship with God.  I highly recommend it!

I think that about does it for me...mostly because this post is already several hours late in its posting, and it has me really wanting to stop writing so I can go read something.  So...what are YOUR recommendations?  Any great book/movie pairings?  How about classics that are glaringly missing from my list?  Childrens' books or other fiction?  Books that inspire craftiness or feed your soul? Please share your favorites in the comments!!

Also, if you are part of the mug swap, please don't forget to send out your mug by Friday if you can!


  1. Good night, Robin! I love this post....totally worth the wait! :) Your suggestions are great! You know, I've never read anything by Jane Austen! I'll have to remedy that soon. I'm surprised you didn't include the Common Book of Prayer. Someone gave me a copy in college, and I just rediscovered it a bit ago. It's absolutely beautiful. I'm sure you've read it too! LOVE YOU!!!

  2. You know I love me some liturgy. I was going to include Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours," which is a little more user-friendly than the BCP. She has a hefty one for each season or a smaller pocket version for the whole year. I was just so done writing by the time I got to the last section. :o/

    1. Thanks, I'll have to check that one out! Love you!!