Redeeming Words

I get roughly two hours a day to myself. One hundred and twenty obligation-free minutes that must be spent well. There are times when I do opt to watch a movie or a couple of episodes of a television show, but more often than not, I spend that precious time with a book (usually with a baseball game on in the background).

Everyone knows that reading is certainly better than binge watching or losing endless hours in front of a video game console, but not all reading material is created equal. And, in this day and age, how we read matters just as much as what. I’m not against popular fiction mind you; my bookshelves and my library card will attest to the fact that I’ve consumed my fair share. However, I read it for an altogether different reason than I do a solid piece of non-fiction or a “classic” work.

When I was an English major, I read with an attention to detail that would impress a ship-in-a-bottle enthusiast. Pen, highlighter, and page flags at the ready, I attacked a work of literature or critical theory ruthlessly. I highlighted passages, wrote reference notes in the margins and on the blank pages at the back. Basically, I did what Billy Collins said all students do, I beat it “with a hose / to find out what it really means.”

I have neither the time nor the inclination to read in such a way these days. I want to experience the books I select and enjoy them for what they are, but I also don’t want to lose the ability to read critically and with attention to detail. I want to investigate language and understand how words work together.

Apparently, I’m in the minority.

According to this article by Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at UCLA, “skim reading” rather than “deep reading” is the new normal. In her research, she’s discovered that, “Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts. We should be less concerned with students’ ‘cognitive impatience,’ however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.”

I’ve noticed this cognitive decay happening with people I love. Those who once read books now spend all their free time staring at and swiping on iPads and phones, and over the years, their ability to concentrate has been whittled away. I don’t know if they’re even aware it’s happening, and, sadder still, I’m not sure they care.

Hundreds of studies have been done about the impact of technology, and most of the research isn’t good. According to doctors and researchers, we’re miserable and lonely. Our kids are pretty much wrecked and suffer from anxiety and depression because they’re always connected. We bemoan the lack of civility in our culture and the fact that thoughtful debate seems to have gone the way of the Dodo, yet we won’t put down the things that make us reactionary rather than thoughtful citizens.

When it comes to books, however, the research is all positive. Reading—especially fiction—allows us to take Atticus Finch’s advice and “climb inside [another person’s] skin and walk around in it.” Through reading, we gain empathy. Immersing ourselves in good books makes us smarter. It keeps our minds sharper and helps us be more relaxed.

For this reason, I read at least fifty books per year (both in hard copy and audiobook form when I’m driving), and ten of them must be classics. In addition to a dozen works of non-fiction, some poetry, and a couple of graphic novels, I’ve read Invisible Man, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, A Raisin in the Sun, Candide, A Moveable Feast, and, most recently, Crime and Punishment.

I have thoroughly enjoyed each of these books, and I’m looking forward to finishing a few more before year’s end. However, good as Dostoyevsky’s novel was, I could feel my mind wandering in parts of Crime and Punishment. I tuned out during a few long descriptive passages, and my eyes glazed over more than once when the story seemed to rewind and repeat itself. Twenty-five-year-old me wouldn’t have done that. That version of Jamie would have read it with laser precision (though with less joy, I think) and analyzed everything about the diction and syntax. She would have marked any instance of symbolism and every allegorical reference (of which there were many). Don’t take that to mean forty-year-old Jamie is a slouch though. Whenever I caught my eyeballs getting loose, I stopped. I re-read and re-focused. I kept a pen in my hand to underline sentences I enjoyed and make observations and predictions.

All the other moms at taekwondo practice (and their kids) may have spent 45 minutes on electronics, but I spent that time in St. Petersburg, Russia wrestling with some thorny moral questions. I’m not judging, believe me. I’ve spent many an hour scrolling social media, but I’ve made the decision to severely curtail my use of those platforms in order to make room for other things. Better things. More filling and rewarding things.

Reading Crime and Punishment expanded my knowledge of Russian history and geography. I even gained a little linguistical wisdom. Take the protagonist’s name for instance. Rodion comes from Rhodes, a Greek island, and Raskolnikov derives from the Russian raskolnik meaning “schismatic.” He is worthy of such a name, for he spends much of the story isolated and of broken because he is of two minds.

Spending time with characters like Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov is well worth the time and effort it takes to read their stories. Being inside his head as he wrestled with an ethical dilemma allowed me to experience it up close and personal too. I had to ask myself some hard questions about the value of human life and where I stand on punishment and redemption. I was forced to re-examine my thoughts on morality and the power of God’s grace.

And beyond that, there are the soaring phrases that I will keep with me always:

  • “Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”
  • “To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.”
  • “The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
  • “We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”
  • “It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”
  • “There is nothing in the world more difficult than candor, and nothing easier than flattery. If there is a hundredth of a fraction of a false note to candor, it immediately produces dissonance, and as a result, exposure. But in flattery, even if everything is false down to the last note, it is still pleasant, and people will listen not without pleasure; with coarse pleasure, perhaps, but pleasure nevertheless.”

Spending an hour on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram seems so paltry, so insufficient when there are words like that out there to feast on. And yet, many of us choose technology instead. We use it to escape reality, to numb our brains to the world around us (especially when it’s unpleasant and we “can’t even”), but what we really need to do is lean in.

In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, John the Savage (so named because he’s grown up outside of the World State’s influence) says of mosquitos and flies, “You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. [You] neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy….What you need…is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”

Like John, I want to know the world in all its beauty and savagery. I want to pay the cost required to live well, to know true pain as well as joy.

Near the end of her article, Maryanne Wolf states, “The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended ‘collateral damage’ of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.”

The last sentence makes it obvious why deep reading essential (and why our culture is the way it is today). I’ve studied far too many dystopian works to claim ignorance. They’ve shown me what a world without thought looks like, and it is a terrifying prospect. I don’t know if the predictions of Orwell, Huxley, Lewis, Atwood, Dick, Burgess, or Bradley will ever come true. I cannot tell if our world will one day resemble the ones they created as a warning. What I do know is that our minds cannot be spent frivolously. They are precious gifts we must defend at all costs against a world eager to consume them.

 

 

To Be Worthy of Our Words

When I was working on my article for the September issue of In Touch Magazine, I stumbled across a lovely tome called Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior. Part memoir, part theological treatise, and part literary criticism–it is a marvelous explanation of why books should matter, especially to people of faith. So far, I agree with her. Rather than ban books, we should read every one we can get our hands on because it is one way we can do as the apostle Paul advises—“Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). She agrees with John Milton’s assertion that books should be “promiscuously read.” This has nothing to do with the sexual connotation we apply to the word today, but instead means that we should engage in, as she puts it, “indiscriminate, disorderly reading. And lots of it.”

I haven’t finished the book yet. In fact, I’m only three chapters in, but I’m loving her mix of memory, story, and application. If you’re a person of faith who loves to read everything you can get your hands on and books have helped shape you into the person you are today, I suggest picking this one up. You might not agree with everything she says, but like the pear on the cover, it’s juicy food…for thought.

One passage in particular caused me to stop, to re-read (at least five times), and to ponder. It reads:

“All words are names, for all words signify something. The power of naming is a subset of the power of all language. God spoke the universe into existence and, in giving us the gift of language, He gave us a lesser, but still magnificent, creative power in the ability to name: the power to communicate, to make order out of chaos, to tell stories, and to shape our own lives and the lives of others.

The Book of Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of words. To choose a good word, to assign the right name, to arrange proper words in the best order: these are no easy tasks. Such work requires the creative power, the brooding, the birth pangs of a mother. Names, words, and language: they shape and create our souls the way a mother’s body shapes and creates our bodies. We describe the country of our origin as our fatherland, but our language we call our mother tongue. Indeed the words that often wield the greatest power in and over our lives are those spoken by our mothers, from our names, to words of encouragement, to words that define and shape our characters, words of truth spoken in love. This power of words is akin to the creative nurturing role a mother plays in our lives.”

There are three separate yet equally important ideas here.

1. God values words. It’s how He made the world, and we can create using them, too. Words are an amazing gift from a God who loves us.

2. Writing is hard. It should be hard because it’s important. And that is a good thing.

3. Names are important.

**A fourth point I took away from it is that if/when I become a mother, I’d better be careful about what I say, but that’s fodder for another blog.**

My brother and his wife are having a baby girl later this year, so there has been much discussion of names in our family. Some have been quickly discarded, others have fallen in and out of favor, and a few–like bathing suits–have survived the horrendous “three way mirror examination.” Currently, the front-runner is Olivia, which was my suggestion. I have firm plans to call her Olive, buy her love with Disney Princess dolls, and school her in the ways of sarcasm.

Some of these look like good ones. Others….not so much.

After reading this passage, I sat back for a minute and thought about my name. For many years, I wasn’t fond of it, especially my first name. Jamie. It’s really a boy’s name, and I was often referred to as “Mr.” on the first day of classes when the roll was called. (Never a good thing when you’re the tall/fat/awkward girl.) However, the name itself has some meaning in my family. My great grandfather was named James, as was his eldest son, my great uncle. I was named for my great grandfather because he died just a few months before I was born. My mother said he was very excited to meet me, so much so he used to talk to me through her stomach. She attended his funeral while pregnant with me, and it was then that she decided to change my name to honor him. (Until then, she had planned to name me Allison.) I’ve always thought that the choice was rather cool on my mom’s part.

Uncle James, who died last year, was a pastor and served as the minister for my parents, my aunt and uncle, and Wayne and me. He was the spiritual rock of our family for many years, and I’m proud to share a name with him. He taught me what it meant to be a man after God’s heart, to be good and honest and loving. When we attended his funeral, I realized that I’m the last James. And the thought made me more than a little melancholy.

James signing his name to our wedding license.

My middle name, Anita, is one I share with my maternal aunt. However, she was not the first to have the moniker. That honor belongs to my great grandmother’s sister, so both of my names actually go back two generations. “Anita” means “graceful,” which is a term I don’t apply to myself. But I do so like the thought. It was the name I asked my teacher to call me in Spanish class because I liked the way it sounded when she said it– “Ah-knee-tah.” It was soft and round in the mouth. Much better than Jamie, which came out “Jai-may.”

Both names are of Hebrew origin, which is another plus in my book, and when I think about where they come from, I realize that each holds something of my family’s history. My mother’s side. The one I resemble both physically and with regards to attitude. I have my great great grandmother’s spunk. A great aunt’s long fingers. A distant second cousin’s sense of humor. And when I think about this, I can’t help but marvel about how talented God is—how He wove together a family and made us alike both in bone and brain, tendency as well as tendon. Each one of us is indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a master Artisan (Ps. 139:14).

Names matter. Words matter. And I’d love to hear yours. Tell me about your name in the comments section below. Do you like your name or hate it? Does your name tell a story? Please share it! Do you feel differently about names because of Ms. Swallow Prior’s quote?

At Story’s End

As hard as it is to believe, April is almost upon us. That means the new and improved In Touch Magazine has hit homes! We have new departments, a new layout, look, and feel, and have gained eight pages in length. That means there is more room for Bible studies, articles, and photos! If you don’t already receive a free copy from us via mail each month, I encourage you to visit our website and register. If you prefer the electronic version, you can visit our homepage.

This one, I’m not going to lie to you, was downright painful to write. It went through several substantial revisions before arriving in the form you see before you. However, I can say that it was worth all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I had to go through because the version that came out ended up being much better than the first one I submitted. This proves two things to me that I’ve long believed but need to be reminded of time and time again. One, God is in control. It’s His talent I’m using on borrowed time, and if I ever begin to think it’s mine, He reminds me with a challenging piece like this. And two, as wonderful and rewarding as the writing process is, it will always be hard. But then again, if it were easy, I might not love it so much.

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One Bookworm’s “Rotten Apples”

Okay, it’s been forever since I did a book blog, but I swear I have a good excuse. I’m working to fill two roles at work (Content/Copy Editor and Managing Editor of the magazine), buying a house, and joining The Southern Order of Storytellers. Add health concerns and family issues into the mix, and I’ve been one heckabusy gal!

However, this one sounded like a fun (and comparatively short) book blog, so here we go. The lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish want to know our shameful little secrets, our private penchants, and our otherwise bizarre bibliophilic behaviors. So, ladies and gents, I give you my Top Ten Bookish Confessions!

1. I sometimes fall asleep while reading in the bathtub and drop my book in the water—This has happened more times than I care to admit (though never with my Kindle thank goodness!) The most memorable victims were my first copy of Dracula, a friend’s copy of Black Beauty (which I replaced), and Moby Dick (which I found deliciously ironic.)

2. Until the fourth book, I scoffed at the Harry Potter series—However, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, I was in college studying to be an English teacher. I was taking a class in middle school literature and recognized I would have to know something about what my future students were reading. So I checked out the first book from the library and fell promptly in love. So much so, in fact, that I picked up my copy of book seven at midnight wearing my house colors! Ravenclaw rocks!!!

3. I sometimes skip words when I’m reading really exciting scenes just to see what happens—Granted, I always force myself to go back once I recognize that I’m doing it, but it’s still sad to find yourself skimming glorious words. I remember gliding over a certain chapter in The Scarlet Pimpernel just to see if Marguerite would make it to Sir Percy Blakeney in time.

4. I’ve always wanted to name a kid “Atticus”—No lie! I’ve admire the noble protagonist of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird so much that I’ve almost thought about about adopting a boy just to name him Nathaniel Atticus Hughes. The first name, naturally, is borrowed from another great love of my life, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

5. I utterly loathe James Joyce’s Ulysses—I can’t remember if I’ve ever admitted this before, but it’s true. I’m a confirmed connoussuer of literature who loves obscure books and chose to read Anna Karenina at the beach one summer, but I’m at a loss when it comes to why this book qualified as “The Best Book of All Time” in some circles.

6. I sometimes judge books by their covers—At times, when I don’t have a particular book in mind to read (which is rare), I actually roam the hallways of a bookstore just looking at covers. If it looks interesting or does something novel (HA! Pun!), I read the back matter. If that’s worth the cost, I usually buy and read it. That’s how I discovered books like Knick Knack Paddy Whack by Ardal O’Hanlon and Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat by John Welter.

7. I get high on “old book smell”—When I travel home to Jacksonville, I try my darndest to stop in and shop at Chamblin Book Mine. The place is a gloriously messy place, a group of buildings and rooms cobbled together and stuffed to the rafters with used, new, and rare books. It’s a beautiful fire hazard I’d take pride in going up in like some nerdy Viking. I’ve gone in there and lost hours at a time as I search through stacks looking for books to fill the shopping bags I just traded in. Seriously, if I had just a little less dignity, I’d roll on the floor like a dog does when he finds something he likes.

8. I buy books I know I will likely never read—There’s something about empty bookshelves that unnerves me. I want them filled with colorful spines galore, titles that just beg people to take them off the shelves and give them a go. Also, I like it when people come into the house and remark about how many books I have. I guess it’s the same way a hunter feels about putting the heads of his kills on the wall over the mantelpiece.

9. I firmly believe the movie is NEVER better than the book—Let me put it to you this way, I was the ONLY person who walked out of the Jim Caviezel version, for lack of a better term, spittin’ mad. Everyone else loved it, and all I could think about was how the ending ruined the overall theme of revenge and made it too “neat.”

10. I once tricked my students into turning on one another like rabid dogs to get them to read literatureNothing was off limits when I was in the classroom. If it would get “non-readers” to open the book, I was game. To get them interested in The Crucible, I set up a scenario where one half of the class was going to get in trouble for something the other half did. They flipped on each other like mid-level mobsters. I also once filled a cauldron with hot water and dry ice and impersonated a witch to teach Macbeth and made my students write papers entirely in Newspeak to prove that language matters. It was doubleplusgood.

A Monk, A Little Person, and a Crazed Fan Walk Into a Bar…

This week’s Top Ten List from The Broke and the Bookish didn’t sound hard at first glance, but every time I started to pick one, I remembered I’d already used the character in a previous “best of” post. (Many of them were “literary crushes“.) For this one, I tried going to books I loved and selecting the second bananas, the third wheels, and those often overlooked in favor of the leading men and their ladies. However, sometimes I failed and went for one of the more obvious choices because they were too good to pass up!

Top Ten Favorite Characters

1. Tom Bombadil (The Lord of the Rings)Though he only appears in three chapters and is briefly mentioned by characters in a few others, I’ve always had a soft spot for the old “moss gatherer.” After all, he speaks in stress-timed seven beat lines, refers to himself in third person, and can sing trees to sleep. So old he claims to have seen “the first raindrop and the first acorn,” he is one of those characters like the Entwives who is destined for obscurity. As Tolkien put it, “Even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).”
 

2. Bast (The Kingkiller Chronicle)—I still don’t know exactly how I feel about Bast. I know that he honors Kvothe and that he wants him to come back to himself. It’s the “why” question that’s bugging me. He’s Fae, after all, and he might have something up his magical sleeve. Still, he’s beautiful, mysterious, fiercely protective, and impish in a way that is utterly irresistible. If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, for the love of pete, get started!

3. Pearl (The Scarlet Letter)—How can you not love a character who is, until the last few chapters, a symbol rather than a real person? Yes, until Dimmesdale claims her as his child and dies on the scaffold where he should have been when the novel opened, she is the living embodiment of the scarlet letter Hester wears on her breast. Mercurial, merciless, and (at times) creepy, she never leaves a reader wanting for action.

4. Prior Phillip (Pillars of the Earth)—I know he’s not a “minor” character in this work, but compared to Jack Jackson, Aliena, and Tom Builder, he has a lot less screen time. Phillip is such a moral character that he sometimes frustrates what should be simple, but his motive of restoring Kingsbridge is so laudable, I sometimes found myself less frustrated with him than I might have been otherwise. Even when he did something I didn’t agree with, I knew it was never done out of malice. That’s hard to pull off in a character….especially in a work this dense and complicated. Industrious, clever, and not above a political play when it helps the people he loves, Phillip is quite the engaging monk.
 
5. Tyrion Lannister (The Song of Ice and Fire)—If you’re watching the TV series on HBO or are currently reading the series, kindly skip over this one as there will be some spoilers. Go on, shoo……. Okay, folks. He’s a little person in a world that is built on and run by strength, yet he survives and somehow manages to be near the seat of power at all times! Seriously, he shot his own father in the stomach with a crossbow while he was on the toilet!! How’s that for cutthroat!? As the books have gone on, he has become one of the most dynamic characters, sliding from creepy evil to almost neutral bordering on good. I have a feeling that he’ll still be on the board when this epic series comes to an end in two more books.
 
6. Marvin the Paranoid Android (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)—Chronically depressed and bored because he has “a brain the size of a planet,” Marvin is one of the characters in Douglas Adams’ universe that isn’t always in the center of the action. However, we’d miss him if he weren’t there. I’ve only read the first book in the series, but I adored him in it. How can you not love something that so intelligent that even the most complex task is no match for him and everyone who tries to access his brain ends up suicidal!?  
 
7. The Wife of Bath (The Canterbury Tales)—Chaucer’s lady was way ahead of her time. Running her own fabric weaving business and on the hunt for husband number five on this famous pilgrimage to Beckett’s shrine, the lovely Wife of Bath knows how to tell a good tale and flirt up a storm with any and all available men on the journey with her. She’s one of the reasons I’m sad Chaucer never got the chance to finish this masterwork; we only get one of her stories and no hint as to which man she might have bagged before they returned to London.
 
8. Frau Totenkinder (Fables)—Again, if you haven’t read this series, break open your piggie banks and go get as many of the trade paperbacks as you can! In this series, fairy tale characters are real and have been pushed out of the Homelands by the Adversary. Snow White, Rose Red, and every other character you can think of call New York City (and a small farm in rural New York) home. It’s clever, creative, and amazing because Bill Willingham and his team of writers and artists manage to take stories you know and turn them on their ear. For instance, Prince Charming is the same guy from all three fairy tales (he has married Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella), and don’t get me started on Jack (the amalgamation of all “Jack” stories like Jack and Jill, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack Frost, etc. He’s a totally awesome trickster figure.) But on to the sinister Frau Totenkinder. She’s the leader of the magicians in Fabletown and, like Jack, is an amalgamated character who represents many of the unnamed witches in the tales and legends. She looks like an old lady, frail and weak, but the truth is she is one of if not the most powerful characters to escape from the Homelands. She’s not all sunshine and Gummy Bears though; you can’t always trust her!
 
9. Colonel Christopher Brandon (Sense and Sensibility)—This awesome character is the epitome of both words in the book’s title. He is practical, good at solving problems, and tactful, but his heart is sensitive to the needs of others. (Though I wouldn’t cast him as a member of the cult of sensibility that Marianne belongs to). Unlike the cad John Willoughby or the daffy Edward Ferrars, he’s a force for good and an altogether perfect gentleman of means and substance. It’s always so lovely to see him get what he wants in the end…though why he would want Marianne has always been beyond me. 
 
10. Annie Wilkes (Misery)—Again, not a ancillary character by any means, but when her name popped up, I had to go with her. I mean, really, who hasn’t wanted to grab an author and cut off his foot for killing off a favorite character? Seriously! There’s something so marvelously wacky about Annie Wilkes–she’s prim and proper and hates all the “cockadoodie” words in Sheldon’s new novel, but she has no trouble whatsoever in running a state trooper over with a lawnmower. That’s a real dichotomy to have in one character. Evil and weird is always such a winning combination!
 
***I will gladly pay anyone who can tell me why some of my blog posts go all single spaced and italicized without me telling them to. It really gets on my last nerve….that and the fact I STILL haven’t won a Freshly Pressed Award!***

Books I’d Fake the Plague to Read

For this Tuesday’s Top Ten List, The Broke & The Bookish folks are asking us to be unproductive citizens by listing our “Spring Fever Book Lists” otherwise known as the “Top Ten Books I’d Play Hooky With.” Like Skyline Chili, I decided to go three different ways with this one! After all, why indulge in literary “what ifs” if you can’t glut yourself every portion of the fantasy!? So, without further ado, here are the books I’d be willing to pull a Ferris Bueller for in order to have more time to read.

Books Due Out This Spring

Insurgent by Veronica Roth—I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed Divergent, the first book in this series. It’s a lot like The Hunger Games, another dystopian teen novel, but for some reason, those always serve as nice time fillers for me. Easy reads that are purely escapist romps for me, I usually don’t turn one down—especially if it involves a trilogy and possible film deals.

Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore—Another teen book I’m embarrassed to say I’m looking forward to. The other two in this series, Graceling and Fire, were actually very well written. They were a little too mature for teen readers in my opinion, but good nonetheless. This one goes back to the original story in Graceling to complete the tale of the young princess Bitterblue and her gifted companions.

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King—If you want to know how excited I am about this book, I’d rate it somewhere between “I’m about to pee my pants” and “Shia LeBouf is tied up in the soundproof room. Here’s your crowbar.” Seriously, I’ve been longing for a new Dark Tower book for some time, but I never thought he’d actually go back and revisit the universe, much less go for material in Roland’s past like he did with my favorite book, Wizard and Glass. I can’t wait to spend a day reading this one cover to cover.

Popular Books I’ve Been Wanting to Read But Haven’t

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness—This is one of those books everyone talked about but I never went in on for some reason. I don’t have a good reason as to why. Scholarship, magic, intrigue, vampires, and all that—you think I would have been instantly sold. But no, I held back. I should make up for this egregious oversight before the second book comes out.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett—I know it makes me a nerd sicko, but I love it when I see a book is so large it could double as a doorstop at Fort Knox. This book is one of those. Granted, most of Mr. Follett’s books are large enough to serve as blunt force weapons, but this one is extra beefy. Even in the paperback form, it’s cumbersome and contains a daunting grand total of five interconnected story lines. Books or boys–if it’s complicated, I’m in. 🙂 This one should make due for a long car ride or vacation book….if I ever get a vacation that is.

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell—I need something to fill in the gap now that the long wait for new books by Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin has begun. This is the first of three beautiful, five-hundred-page novels I can use to scratch my itch for sword fights, epic drama, and world building. Plus, it’s about King Arthur. Bonus!

Classic Works I’ve Never Read

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway—I watched the Bogey and Bacall film version of this last week (and I’ve started to feel that I want to be Lauren Bacall when I grow up. So amazing…) I bought this book when I was at the Hemingway House in Key West a few years ago, put it on the shelf, and forgot all about it. I think a little “spring cleaning” is in order to get books like this one read.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins—I loved The Woman in White, and this one is another popular detective piece from an author who spins a good yarn. If you like murder mysteries centered on a a giant diamond and all other manner of cloak and dagger goodness, I’m thinking this one might fit the bill.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez—For some reason, I could never bring myself to read this. I know it’s a great book; I’ve heard it from more than one reader I trust. For some reason, however, I just don’t know if I can stand 200 pages of lovers separated by time and custom. I suppose I should just wait until we get a nice spring downpour, curl up with it and some Goobers, and just be done with it.

Completely Random Pick

Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid by Simon Pegg—Of all the genres I frequent, biographies and autobiographies are the least popular. When I do read them, I’m  the “egghead” type and normally choose presidents, random moments in history, or other books that might help me win at a game of Trivial Pursuit. I rarely read them books about celebrities who are still alive…much less so if they were written by the celebrity him or herself. However, I really like Simon Pegg; I have since Shaun of the Dead. And I was thrilled to see him getting bigger and better parts in films like Star Trek and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. This is his “life story” as it were, focused mainly on how a “funny kid” used what he loved to become who he is today. I’m thinking this might be a fun pick in a category I don’t often visit.

Insert Mood Music Here

Another gauntlet has been hurled by the staff at The Broke and the Bookish! I decided to pick it up and answer the challenge. Therefore, I give you my list of “The Top Ten Books I’d Give A Theme Song To and Why…”

1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby—“My Body is a Cage” (Peter Gabriel’s Cover). It is a heartbreaking book, but one that is rich and rewarding all the same. It forces you to sit down and truly contemplate not only what is said but how arduous the saying was. Gabriel’s version of Arcade Fire’s hit song is a perfect match.

2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare—“Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim. Hamlet’s always waffling between options in this play, and his indecision leads to his downfall and that of several of the other characters. For a protagonist who ponders the choice between “To be, or not to be,” the greatest weapon is choice. Plus, I love this song and awesome video!

3. Anthem by Ayn Rand—“That’s Not My Name” by The Ting Tings. Granted, it’s a little too peppy for the content of the novel, but the main characters are named “Equality 7-2521” and “Liberty 5-3000” but choose new monikers for themselves–“Prometheus” and “Gaea” respectively. Since they search for identities not defined by a collectivist society, this little ditty just seemed to fit.

4. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James—“Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies. Ah, the delightful madness that is The Turn of the Screw. Specters that may or may not be there, an empty house, and a half-cracked governess who’s convinced her pupils are more than they seem.

5. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas—“Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones. What better song for a man who’s so broken and controlled by a burning need for revenge? “I see a red door, and I want to paint it black” is the perfect summation of how Edmond Dantés feels about his love for Mercédès Mondego.

6. Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier—“Cold” by Annie Lennox. For some reason, I adored this book. Perhaps it’s the bristling sexual tension caused the forbidden love between people who share the same vision of the world but not the same social rank in it…or perhaps it’s because Colin Firth played the male lead in the movie version. Maybe both. 🙂 The same tension is in Annie Lennox’s ballad, and it includes many references to color and sensations.

7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding—“Goodbye Blue Skies” by Pink Floyd. Whether it is war or two tribes of boys on a desert island, we’re always far too willing and ready to tear one another apart, aren’t we? I thought something from The Wall was a fitting choice considering the schoolboy elements of the movie, “Another Brick in the Wall” being the most obvious musical connection.

8. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer—“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John. I can think of no better song for this piece of literary tripe than this vapid little ballad. And to quote Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

9. Cane by Jean Toomer—“Strange Fruit” by Billie Holliday. There’s a lot to this book for sure. Half of the stories are set in the South, half in the North. The final story, “Kabnis,” combines the two by bringing a black northerner face to face with his Southern heritage in, of all things, a root cellar. Beautifully structured and far ahead of its time–we’re just now beginning to understand this short but powerful work. It pairs well with Holliday’s pained voice singing of lynchings and the “Strange Fruit” that Southern trees grew at the time.

10. The Collector by John Fowles—“To Wish Impossible Things” by The Cure. For those of you expecting something like The French Lieutenant’s Woman, look elsewhere. This book is a far departure from this author’s more well-known work. A young college student is kidnapped by an obsessive would-be lover and kept much like a butterfly pinned to a board–forever on display in a prison she can neither see out of nor escape. It’s a amazingly tense read, one it’s easy to put yourself in the middle of and experience what it would be like to be completely at the mercy of another. I think this song from The Cure would work well—for what she could have been had he never “collected” her and what he could have been had he never given into his darker urges.