A few months ago, my husband was in hospital, which is the worst sort of place for a person who is not very good at being still. Hospitals are places of hurry-up and wait so he spent his days arcing between thinking the worst and being bored, with a capital ‘B’. Feeling more than helpless I administered to him the antidote I would’ve wanted – I brought him books. Not a random collection of books cast aside and gathering dust, waiting to be remembered and read some day. No, I brought him my very favourite books! I felt like I was introducing him to all my best friends and I really, really wanted him to like them. This month I am recommending you such a book. This is one of my very, very favourites and I hope you too will become great friends.
The dance and joy of reading
In author Sarah Clarkson’s own words, “Book Girl – A journey through the treasures and transforming power of a reading life” is about the dance and joy of women reading, an invitation to that wise laughter, to the grace known by all the book girls of the world who live by the delighted conviction that reading is a vital ingredient in a women’s full engagement with her faith, her creativity, and her capacity to grow in knowledge and love throughout each season of her life.” Book Girl is not a ‘how to’ read book, but a ‘why to’ read book.
Sarah holds reading great books as one of the defining, formative and sustaining habits of her life. Sarah has written two other books about reading. Read for the Heart is a guide to children’s literature and Caught Up in a Story discusses the formative power of story (neither of which I have read… yet). Book Girl is a memoir. It is not a book about books, but rather the power of books to shape a life. Through reading we are able to enter into lives, times, places and experiences, and confront ways of thinking we would not otherwise encounter. In the chapters of this book the author unpacks, and illustrates from her own life, the power of words and story to broaden your world, stir you to action, cultivate imagination, foster community, to open your eyes to wonder, deepen your soul and impart hope. As a wonderful bonus Sarah has created more than 20 annotated book lists to share the books that have had the greatest impact on her, and has invited friends and family to share their favourites too.
The writing style is charming and earnest, which makes this book very easy to read. The winsome tone of this book is so inviting. It is an invitation to more than to enjoy the book itself, but to enjoy a full and rich reading life. Clarkson’s passionate call to enjoy a rich and varied reading life is not an invitation to run away and escape from the world, but rather, through books and story, to be equipped with knowledge of truth, with goodness and beauty to stand firm in suffering and against evil; with a sense of our own ability to take responsibility for learning, creating and giving, and to face the world and to live more fully.
Read well, live well
To be clear, this book is written for Christian women but it does not only recommend ‘Christian books’. There is a wonderfully helpful chapter on discernment. In it Sarah does not prescribe what one should and should not read, rather she gives tools and principles to help each reader evaluate for themselves the merits of a book or an author. “Our standard for what makes something an acceptable book for a Christian reader must be one that looks to the truth the book is telling about the human condition, the possibility of redemption, and the reality of grace…”
I’ve come to understand that good books contain truth; they teach me something of the world, of the story of the world and my place in it. They draw me out and equip me to live better in this world. Book Girl has helped me understand how this happens. Some books speak louder. Some are like an ongoing conversation with a friend and must be read again and again. They walk with you and become great friends. I speak with Juliet Ashton who said in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows) when I say, ‘Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.’
You will perhaps not love this book as much as I do, just as I do not love all the books Sarah does. But I do hope this book will inspire you to read widely and deeply, not to just to read well, but to live well!