Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Back to Books

Southern Utah is our favorite getaway. Especially when it's the end of May and still snowing in those steep backyard mountains. (Pretty sure Mother Nature never got my memo.)

Flying to a sunny destination with five car seats in tow wasn't possible. Can you see us? A pair of uptight parents carrying two car seats each, pushing a double stroller with a booster seat wedged underneath, and trying to take off shoes for every one of our five kids at security? Nightmare. So we chose a place we could get to easily and hunkered down.

We stayed in St. George an entire week and then some. It was splendid. So relaxing. And warm. By Thursday evening we were having so much fun we postponed our packing an extra day and played until we absolutely had to leave.

More about our "adventures" in a later post.


For now, let's chat about books. Because during those treasured superfluous minutes when no one needed me...

I read.


One night while walking the golf course (a favorite evening outing), I happened upon this perfect reading chair. Rocking listless on the western side of a gorgeous new home.


The house had a large, serene patio that overlooked the course, perfectly manicured gardens, and this little bell hanging over the doorstep. I wanted to ring it just to ask if they were taking out of town guests. I peeked in all the floor-to-ceiling windows (it looked like no one was home - can you imagine if they were?) and the kitchen was amazing.

How would you like to see this from your kitchen sink?


Or this?


(As soon as we rounded the corner, the kids were off.)

But it was that little side patio that beckoned me most. Wouldn't you like to sit here and watch the sun set over the desert? With a favorite book in your lap?


I dream...

Okay. Down to business.

First let me tell you how Walden is going.


Honestly? Mr. Thoreau had me in a huff after the first few pages. I could hardly choke him down. He was so pretentious and self-important - yakking away as if he knew every hard-earned secret to life. What he had to say was so... so... arrogant, I put him down. Seriously. My jaw was on the floor sometimes. In the first ten pages he manages to offend every shopkeeper, business owner, and homemaker. Just like that. So I turned to a separate essay of his, (thank you Anne-Marie for the recommendation) hoping for a better experience. I read Walking. But it began with the same tenor. Boastful, superior, all-knowing. I was writing notes in the margin like, "Who does he think he is?" and "Yeah. If you spend your whole life as a bachelor maybe." And on and on...

But then I waded into sentences of halting, transcendent prose - as if they slipped out of someone else's mouth.

Who is this guy? I wondered.

Thankfully, a much smarter friend enlightened me. "He's doing it on purpose" she said. "He's a brute and he knows it! He wants to aggravate you, stir you, shake the foundation of what you know." And I could see exactly what she was saying. That's how he works. It's his way of taking what you believe - that paradigm in which you are most comfortable - and pulling it right out from under you. If you can endure the ridiculous shake-down, he backs off, his approach softens, and his philosophizing pulls you in. Suddenly, a more humble Thoreau moves forward and what he has to say makes sense. His points are truthful, witty, and worth pondering.

So I decided... I have to finish. I'm plowing through Walden. Slowly. But I'm processing things differently. Like how we view all the stuff we "need" - or think we "need." He's got me questioning some of my assumptions.

Have you read much of Thoreau? If so, I want to know your thoughts.

Just before we left town I finished listening to The Help. Audio version.


The characters, with their southern accents, were magnificent. I listened while peeling wallpaper and folding laundry. It was a wonderful diversion. This is the movie tie-in cover.

I finished Matched by Ally Condie.


An excellent YA novel. It's the first of a will-be trilogy and I liked it better than Hunger Games. Same kind of story but less violent, more thoughtful. Definitely a fun read.

I finished Segullah's Spring/Summer journal - Tetherings. Excellent. I especially loved the poetry and the artwork. The cover piece is titled "Fresh Start" by Angela Bentley Fife. Like it? I can almost feel her breathing.


I began reading Writing Down the Bones.


A gift from my friend Brodi whose YA novel, Everneath, debuts in January 2012 with HarperCollins. Don't miss it! (And if this is your genre, you really ought to check out her blog. I guarantee you'll laugh.) Writing Down the Bones was one of the first bible-books on writing. Natalie Goldberg is practical and so insightful. I love this quote from her:

"I don't think everyone wants to create the great American novel, but we all have a dream of telling our stories - of realizing what we think, feel, and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate... Writing is a uniquely human activity. It might even be built into our DNA. It should be put forward in the Declaration of Independence. 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - and writing'" (4).

And last, but far from least, I started One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.


Sigh... What can I say? I adore Ann. If you haven't found her blog, you should. I can't think of anyone anywhere (who loves words and God), who wouldn't devour her book. Her prose is water for the parched soul, her knowledge of the hardness and joy of life resonates deep-down, and I am completely enamored with her provincial life. One of you said it best: I don't want this one to end.

Also on the nightstand for summer:


Mystery and Manners by Flannery O' Connor

and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

What are you reading this summer?


  1. now I have got to finish the 3 books I'm currently reading and get to this wonderful list you've just given us! You're such a smarty pants. Thanks for your post and recommendations!

  2. Cath, Utah looks so beautiful especially after such a rainy spring. Those mountains are just gorgeous. So glad you got to get away and be with your sweet ones.

    One Thousand Gifts...yes, I waited weeks before finally reading the last chapter. I was so sad to wrap it up. It will definitely be one of my lifetime re-reads. A few of my very favorite lines:

    "For a moment, longer, I hold son-and life-and I hold it mindfully, attentively, thankfully. Life at its fullest is this sensitive, detonating sphere, and it can be carried only in the hands of the unhurried and reverential-a bubble held in awe."

    "Isn't it here? The wonder? Why do I spend so much of my living hours struggling to see it? Do we truly stumble so blind that we must be affronted with blinding magnificence for our blurry soul-sight to recognize grandeur? The very same surging magnificence that cascades over our every day here. Who has time or eyes to notice?"

    "Thanks is what multiplies the joy and makes any life large, and I hunger for it."

    Sorry to make this comment so long! It would be much better to just have an evening together to sit and chat about the book. It has seriously been changing my life. Nothing looks the same to me anymore. I can't tell you how often I stand in my kitchen and feel blown away by the miracle of my life in all its messiness. I am finally understanding just a piece of what King Benjamin talks about...being indebted to God for anything and everything. (Yes, I still get grumpy and tired, but I am experiencing much more gratitude and rapture in my everyday life and my life feels so much fuller.)

    Matched has been on my holds list at the library for weeks. You've got me even more excited about reading it now.

    I definitely need to re-visit Mr. Henry David. I really like what your friend had to say about him.

    I am also waiting at the library for the third book in The Penderwicks series. The Penderwicks (not sure if you've read it before) is a dear, sweet book for older children and up.

    I've been reading some books by Georgette Heyer (a Regency romance writer). They're light, fun reads (which is what I've been needing around here with my husband's recent work schedule).

    Hahaha...laughing about the image created by your description of what your family would look like at the airport.

    Hope you get some nice warm weather soon. I'll try to blow some north up to y'all.

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. I love hearing your recommendations for books. Now signing off from the longest comment ever!

    Anne Marie

  3. I enjoyed your long comment Anne Marie

  4. Kristen - what are you reading right now?

    Anne Marie - ditto Kristen. Loved every word of your long post! I know what you are saying about Ann's book changing your life. How you see the messiness, your children, the way everything is a gift. It's a new perspective. And yes, sitting down real-time to chat would be so much easier! Haven't read the Penderwick series. What age would you recommend starting?

    And what about the rest of you out there? I know you're reading something! What do you have your nose in?

  5. Catherine! I'm so glad you posted a link to this on facebook; it's so wonderful to read about your family. You write beautifully, but that's no surprise. :)

    I love to read, and have taken to doing it on my kindle when I'm working out at the gym. I am in a Classics phase. Just finished "The Brothers Karamozov" and am now reading "Madam Bovary." I plan to read "The Good Earth" next, because I remember loving it as a teenager, but it's so hard to reread something when there are so many books I haven't yet experienced! Thanks for your recommendations; I'll check them out for sure!

    Love you!

  6. Cath, Do you check out books like the library? Maybe I will come over and borrow a few. Angela Bentley grew up in our ward. Have you seen her painting titled "Family Portrait"? This is one of my favorites. Thanks for inspiring me with your writing.

  7. I've read Matched, and agree that it's better than Hunger Games. I always love the Segullah journal.

    Now that uni is over for the term I've got a stack of books I'm trying to devour. The Lonely Polygamist is there (living the Segullah retreat vicariously!), as is the backlog of Irreantums I have. One Day by David Nicholls, Angel Time by Anne Rice, and Until Thursday by Louis Montalvan, The Arrival by Shaun Tan is due for another reading (I vehemently argue that its lack of words does not mean it can't be read) and I'm deciding between Pride and Prejudice or Romeo and Juliet.

    All too soon my next uni term will be upon me, and reduce my 'fun' reading time. I'm glad I found your suggestions and reviews!

  8. The Penderwicks is kind of like a shorter, modern Little Women...maybe age 7 or 8 and up...I think it could be enjoyed by someone even younger too. The main characters are aged 4 through 12. As a sidenote, it was a National Book Award recipient (which at least means that a few other people liked it too:).

    My husband read your Segullah post and came to me raving about your writing talent (and he is not one who praises idly). I am really in awe of your gift with words. And, you have such a good, sweet heart.

    Wishing you a blessed week, dear friend!

  9. Hi Cath! Your trip sounded and looked wonderful...just beautiful. And Walden is on my "to read" list this summer. In fact, I was thinking of reading it to the older children and then we are planning a trip to Walden pond when we finish. I wish you could join us!
    Loved The Help, and One thousand Gifts.
    Right now I'm reading Simplicity Parenting and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

    I love seeing what others are reading. I might have to check out that poetry book! xoxo

  10. Rachel - my goodness! I am so thrilled to find your blog! You are amazing crafty and as beautiful as always. Loved The Good Earth, started Madame Bovary but never finished. How's the Kindle? Are you sold completely?

    Leslie - I check out books for the kids about once a month. But for myself, I usually buy. Especially if they are ones I know I'm going to mark up. Fiction I sometimes borrow. You are more than welcome to anything in my stash! And how fun that you know Angela. You ought to pick up a copy of the journal. Her work is on every few pages of this issue. Very talented. No, I hadn't seen "Family Portrait" but I googled it. Says so much without faces. Loved it. Thank you!

    Kellie - Glad you felt the same about Matched. The Arrival of Shaun Tan sounds fascinating. I need to add that one to my queue. Big choice. Austen or Shakespeare? It's been ages since I read Romeo and Juliet. Happy ending or Tragedy? I'd like to hear what you choose.

    Anne Marie - So glad you recommended the Penderwicks. We're reading (me to the girls) the Little House on the Prairie series right now, but I think they would love The Penderwicks. I read Little Women with Eliza during the first half of the year. So we'll start Penderwicks after Little House. Thank you! Blessed week to you too sweet friend!

    Pam - Oh! I would love to join you! We made it to the vicinity of Walden Pond on one of our Boston trips a few years ago. But didn't spend much time. Must get there again. Bill Bryson's book looks great. Have you read others of his? And let me know how it goes with Walden. Especially if you read excerpts to your kids! (And you must read Housden's poetry collection. Life-changing.) Love hearing from you!

  11. Catherine,

    Once again I give silent thanks that Erin introduced me to you while you were in Virginia. I love your writing.

    Reading your comments about Thoreau took me back decades, to my first classroom at Murray High School, where one day I pushed the desks against the walls and had my Junior English students sit in a circle for a Thoreau "Read-in." (These were the days when college student sit-ins were making headlines.)

    I think--naive first-year teacher that I was--that I even lit a candle and set it in the middle of the circle, with a glass of water nearby on my desk, should the candle become too rowdy. (Or maybe I was smart enough to use a small lamp. It was a long time ago.)

    Then I handed out a two-page collection of quotes from Thoreau's writings and asked students to look them over and, when they found one they liked, to read it out loud and tell why they liked it.

    They shared for at least 20 minutes or more.

    And that was the introduction to a unit I entitled "Know Thyself"--full of poetry, song, self-analysis, etc. One of the optional projects was to read Walden--the whole thing.

    Three students started. One finished. In her book report interview with me afterwards, she noted the profound effect that reading the book had on her. When I finished asking her questions, she asked me some.

    I couldn't answer most of them.

    Unfortunately, I had never actually read the whole book, just the assigned bits and pieces for my literature class in college.

    Thank you for the reminder that Walden is still one of the unfinished items on my "To-do list for when I am a stay-at-home mom." (However, now that the children are all raised, even though I am again teaching, perhaps I need to re-examine the un-completed items on that list...)

  12. Clynn'sKathy - Adored your story of teaching Thoreau to your Murray HS students. Candle in the middle. I'm loving it. I have a good friend who teaches HS English and she finds Thoreau as enlightening as scripture. I hope I can get there. I've been mired more than once, but still reading and marking like crazy. Wish I'd had you for a HS English teacher. You would have been awesome! And I'm so glad Erin tuned you in here. You have great comments!


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