Reading, Even When Words Leak Out of My Ears

“How can you read more after reading all day for your project?” he asks, standing in the doorway of the bedroom. I’m in bed, under the covers, a glass of red wine and a plastic bowl of Cheez-Its on the nightstand, a book propped open on my lap.
Brad’s right. I am reading constantly these days, three or four or more books every week, titles like The Eagle and the Dove, A Study in Contrasts: St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux and Birgitta of Sweden: Life and Selected Revelations – research for the 50 Women project.

I can’t ease up, even for a day. When I signed the book contract, the first thing I did was grab the calendar and plot out exactly how many profiles I needed to write each week to meet my June 1 deadline. It came out to 1.5 –  but realistically it’s two, 2,000-word profiles each week if I want to allow time for proper editing at the end, and if I want to take that family vacation in December and not haul my laptop and eight library books to the beach with me. 

Suffice to say, I am reading. A lot. Skimming, really. I don’t have the time to read three or four books cover-to-cover per woman. So I skim. The words feel like they're piling up in my head and spilling out my ears.

One would think, in light of all this reading, that the last thing I’d want to do before bed is read some more. But reading has always been my favorite pastime, my escape, the way my brain relaxes. Some people watch TV or play computer games or bake cookies from scratch. I read.

As a kid I took The Secret Garden and The Island of the Blue Dolphins into the apple tree in my backyard. I settled in a gnarled crook between two lumpy limbs with a book in one hand and a half-dozen Keebler chocolate-covered grahams in the other, the sweet scent of apple blossoms hanging like a veil around me. I read constantly as a kid. I was never without a book.

And so now, even though I’m up to my eyebrows in research reading, I still read a few pages (or chapters) for pleasure before bed every night. That said, I am pretty choosy about what I’m reading for fun. It can’t be too intellectually taxing (The Brothers Karamazov, for example, is not an option...probably ever -- this, by the way, is one of Brad's favorite books, along with Moby Dick. Enough said.), yet the books also need to be well-written, because I am, and always will be, a book snob.
I’m gravitating toward memoir (shocking, I know) and personal essay. I just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which I loved, and I re-read Katrina Kenison’s The Gift of an Ordinary Day, a beautiful, lyrical memoir about transition, motherhood and learning to live toward quiet.

Now I’m reading one of Katrina’s favorite writers, Dani Shapiro – I picked up her memoir Devotion from the library, and I’m hooked. I’m also reading Cold Tangerines, by Shauna Niequest, who is a beautiful writer with an authentic voice and a gift for description. And then there's the book of poems by Wendell Berry in the stack, but I haven't cracked it open yet. I don't typically read poetry. I'm a little scared (yes, I do have two degrees in English, and I'm still scared of poetry). And I've been visiting this blog, because it relaxes me (you'll see what I mean).

Reading quiet, deliberate, thoughtful prose gives me a place to rest in beauty and peace, even after – or maybe I should say especially after – a day soaked in words.

So tell me, what's on your nightstand right now? Got any good recommendations?
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Nancy Franson  – (November 2, 2012 at 8:08 AM)  

And here I thought I was afraid of poetry because I didn't have a degree in English.

I'm going to go download that Gift of an Ordinary Day now. Sounds like I'll probably need a glass of red wine to get through it. Or two.

DawnatDawnings –   – (November 2, 2012 at 8:09 AM)  

I am savoring every word, rationing chapters because I don't want to gobble my way to the end: And, it's memoir:

The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe

Happy writing project, deadlines, and writing research to you, Michelle!

Gayle  – (November 2, 2012 at 8:11 AM)  

I'm reading An Alter in the World: A Geography of Faith by Taylor I think you may have "pinned" it and I am simply loving it!! I just finished Seven Sacred Pauses Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day. This one will be one I will keep by my bedside. And I'm reading Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a world that can't stop talking. OH MY...this is a must read for every teacher, corporate executive and person who is or loves someone quiet.

KimberlyCoyle –   – (November 2, 2012 at 8:22 AM)  

I was the same as a kid, never without a book:) Unfortunately, I've been giving far too much of my reading energy to the internet these days. I need to get back to more pages and spines! I recently finished The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse by Michael Gungor, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

lauralynnbrown –   – (November 2, 2012 at 8:43 AM)  

Mom used to tease me about not having finished Moby Dick. The Brothers Karamazov is on my winter reading list. But then, so was it last year.

Currently: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry; I Could Tell You Stories by Patricia Hampl, in preparation for taking a writing workshop with her next spring; rereading Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, which is in many ways about the same things (the compulsions and perils writing about people); The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans; and 2 Kings, in my snail-slow reading through my mother's Bible this year.

What is it about poetry? Some of it is scary, but some of it is as friendly as a puppy. Berry's A Timbered Choir has been a good friend.

Jake Meador –   – (November 2, 2012 at 8:57 AM)  

Give that Wendell Berry book a chance, he's lovely. One of my favorite writers, actually.

You might also consider reading his book Hannah Coulter. It's written from the perspective of a widow living in rural Kentucky in the 2000s shortly after her husband's death. They were small family farmers and now she's living out the last of her days on the land, uncertain of what will come next. The writing in it is sparkling, the story is lovely, and Berry's portrayal of characters is delightful. Highly recommended.

Sarah Caldwell –   – (November 2, 2012 at 9:19 AM)  

Oh how I love this post! (I think posts about reading and books may just be my favorite :) You're reading such good books! I really enjoyed "Cold Tangerines" as well, I have her 2nd book "Bittersweet" in my pile to read. I just finished "7" by Jen Hatmaker, which I dreaded reading at the start, and I ADORED IT! (Easily one of my fave books of the year - her writing is soo good!) If you haven't read it yet, I think you should because you would love it :) I'm also still finishing "Surprised By Oxford" (because I read too many books at once :) What else is in the pile? "Perfectly Unique" by Annie Downs, "If You Want To Write" by Brenda Ueland, "Seven Sacred Pauses" by Macrina Wiederkehr (inspired by the last chapter in 7, but I have loved Macrina's books since college). I'm reading "The Creative Habit" by Twyla Tharp verrry slowly - it'll probably take a year or so, and just getting into "Evolving In Monkeytown" by Rachel Held Evans, because I'm still waiting for Amazon to send me "The Year of "Biblical Womanhood". Whew-that's alot! I think I take book nerd to a whole new level. I too also want to read "An Altar in the World - it keeps calling to me :) Can I just say I am excited to attend the Jumping Tandem conference next April, and hear you speak and meet you in real life? Allume was a surreal experience in that way for me this past week. Blessings to you as you continue writing (and reading!) I'm inspired by your work ethic and dedication! As always, love your blog! :) (geez, sorry for the novella-comment today!)

Martha Orlando –   – (November 2, 2012 at 9:56 AM)  

Like you, I was never without a book as a child. :) Two great reads I recommend are Cosette's Tribe by Leah Griffith and Dancing Priest by Glynn Young. Excellent!
Blessings to you!

Tonya  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:10 AM)  

It's all that I can do to keep myself from adding these books to my ever-growing reading list. I have so many on there now that I would probably have enough to keep me entertained for the next five years or so.

As much as I enjoy reading, I am a slow reader. I usually read anywhere from 15-30 minutes in bed at night before I can't keep my eyes open anymore.

I'm also usually reading 3 or 4 books at a time, switching around depending on my mood. I usually have a complete fluff book for those days where I don't want to think much. I always have a devotional book with something short to read every day. Most of the times I have another inspirational book, as well as some deep story or mystery.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:34 AM)  

I actually wish I was a slow reader -- I am a skimmer, which means about 2 weeks after i finish a book, I can't remember a thing about it.
I often read a devotional in the early morning, too -- the one I use is "Jesus Calling," which I like a lot.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:35 AM)  

I read "Dancing Priest" and really enjoyed it -- did you know Glynn as a sequel coming out?!
Thanks for recommending "Cosette's Tribe" -- i have not heard of that one.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:39 AM)  

I love posts on reading, too, Sarah -- I think I could write a whole blog just on that! I'm SO glad you reminded me of "Surprised by Oxford" -- Diana Trautwein was talking about how good that book is at the Laity Lodge writers' retreat, and I completely forgot about it till you just mentioned it here. I've also been wanting to read "7" by Jenn Hatmaker. Thank you for SO many enticing recommendations. {my husband used to have a t-shirt that said "So many books, so little time" -- I totally feel that way!}
By the way, I LOVED "An Altar in the World" - a definite must-read.
I'm really looking forward to meeting you in person in April, too, Sarah!!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:40 AM)  

Hi Jake, I'm happy to see you here! I just saw on Facebook that someone else recommended "Hannah Coulter," so I'd say it's a sign that I should pick that one up, too. I'll give Wendell a try (you were the one who inspired me to pick up the book from the library, you know!).

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:43 AM)  

Thank you for the recommendations - it seems everyone has read Wendell Berry but me!
I, too, am reading the Bible at a snail's pace (making my way through it for the first time -- it's taking me FOR. EVER. But I just finished Galatians this morning, so I am getting there!).
Good luck with The Brothers. I actually did read Moby Dick...but only because I had to as an English major. That whale anatomy chapter was PAINFUL.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:44 AM)  

Never heard of Michael Gungor -- will have to check him out. Thanks, Kimberly!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:46 AM)  

LOVE "An Altar in the World" -- a really good read. Another reader here commented that she is reading "Seven Sacred Pauses" too - I think I need to check that out. I should read "Quiet" too -- Brad and Noah are definitely introverts. Rowan...not so much!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:46 AM)  

Thanks for the memoir recommendation, Dawn - you know I can never get enough!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 10:47 AM)  

I think you will love that book, I do. Definitely read it with wine though - that will take the edge off! ;)
That said, my mom did not like that book after I raved and raved about it, so you never know...

lauralynnbrown –   – (November 2, 2012 at 11:05 AM)  

Oh, I bet there are millions who have never read Wendell Berry. Or even heard of him.

A gentle way to expose oneself to poetry is the daily email from the Writer's Almanac. And speaking of, look who was featured there yesterday!

Jillie –   – (November 2, 2012 at 11:45 AM)  

Hi Michelle...I just finished reading Alison Pick's 'Far to Go', about one family's life experience during the early Nazi occupation. I found the first chapters to be a little slow, and confusing, but it was worth it to persevere. I really got caught up in it and enjoyed the read, despite the sad content.

I also just finished 'The Virgin Cure' by Ami MacKay. She's raw, but an excellent story teller. Both of these authors are Canadian. Yay! Some Christians might not touch her books, but she writes historical-fiction, which I so enjoy.

One of my all-time favourites is 'The Kitchen House' by Kathleen Grissom, (Canadian-born). And 'The Book of Negroes' by Lawrence Hill, also Canadian. Excellent!

Keeping you in prayer as you research and prepare for your first book! Can't wait to read it!

dukeslee  – (November 2, 2012 at 1:52 PM)  

Your deadlines sound intense, Michelle! I can't imagine it, really. Are you feeling good about progress so far? Praying for you, you know?

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 3:01 PM)  

Have to say, the deadlines are seriously intense. I just finished up Catherine of Siena today, so that concludes the mystics/saints. Kinda happy about that -- amazing women, those mystics...but a little intense!
Thank YOU for prayers -- much, much needed. LOVE you!!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 3:02 PM)  

I haven't heard of ANY of those books, so thank you for so many recommendations. This will keep me happy through the winter!
And Jillie? Thank you for the prayers and encouragement, too - it really means the world to me right now.

Sandra Heska King  – (November 2, 2012 at 4:07 PM)  

How did you stop with just six Keebler chocolate covered grahams? And I'm kind of weirded out by people who eat things like popcorn and Cheez-Its in bed. Like...I'd fall asleep with my face in the bowl and never get my teeth brushed!

I'm a book jumper--several going at once and struggle to finish one before another catches my eye. On my stand right now are A Monk in High Heels by my friend, Brenda Keller, The Sacrament of the Present Moment by De Caussade, Abba's Child by Manning, and A Praying Life by Miller. But there's also a stack on the dining room table and several piles on my office floor.

sgilberttweets –   – (November 2, 2012 at 6:55 PM)  

Red wine and Cheez-its? Finally someone gets it! That is my favorite snack! :D

I've been working on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for a while now. I'm also reading Brennan Manning's Memoir. There's a few biographies on my Kindle that I go to every few days. And of course, my blog reader always has a lot of good reads. :)

Amy Young  – (November 2, 2012 at 7:29 PM)  

Also loved Altars in the World! Enjoyed an hour of reading in bed this Saturday morning -- "Growing up Amish" by Ira Wagner. A cup of tea on the nightstand.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 7:57 PM)  

Oh yes, a cup of tea - that sounds lovely.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 2, 2012 at 7:58 PM)  

Cheez-Its are the BEST! I could eat the whole box.

Dawn Paoletta –   – (November 2, 2012 at 9:33 PM)  

My books truly outweigh my eyelids capacity for remaining in the open position when I hit the pillow. I am supposed to be reading Everything by Mary Demuth right daughter is in bed waiting with candy. I love the read choices shared. I feel like I want to lose myself in something different lately. I am a memoir kinda girl, myself. I will check out your stack. Even though these eyes grow heavy lately. Deadlines. Yeesh. Hang in there!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 3, 2012 at 9:08 AM)  

Thank you, Dawn, for reminding me about Mary's book. You know, I've never read anything by her...but I keep meaning to - I think now is the time!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 3, 2012 at 9:09 AM)  

I know, it's kind of gross to snack in bed...I won't let my kids do it...but I break the rules for myself!

Mary Bonner  – (November 3, 2012 at 9:17 AM)  

I am a little behind on reading your blog, but I just took the time to catch up. I got dizzy reading about all the books YOU are reading! Whew! It makes me tired. I have a slew of books from Allume and I am going to start with Everything by Mary DeMuth.

Your post about God wanting me to get uncomfortable...well, I am uncomfortable and I don't really want to write or talk about it. BUT...I am going there next week on my blog.

And your letter to Rachel, what a beautiful letter to a friend.

You, Michelle, minister to me in ways you cannot imagine. Your tweet to me last weekend was such a gift. I was so touched that YOU thought of ME during Allume. thank you!!

You are a gifted writer, my friend. Thank you for sharing that gift with us via your blog. By the way, where are you going in December??

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 3, 2012 at 12:57 PM)  

Mary, I just love you! I am looking forward to reading what you write next week. The hard stuff helps us grow, you know? I will pray for you as you venture into the uncomfortable.
We are heading to Florida in December -- meeting my parents down in the keys for Christmas. I want to be able to enjoy that time without worrying about the writing deadlines, so hopefully I will be ahead enough to be able to do that.
Thank you, lovely lady, for your kind, kind words -- you made me smile today.

Megan Willome  – (November 3, 2012 at 3:16 PM)  

I love to read, too, but the book I just started is too taxing while I finish my big project. A friend just gave me the latest Rick Riordan, and I'm thinking of going to the library to catch up on the Heroes of Olympus series (read Percy Jackson a while back). I need something engrossing and not too taxing.

Judith –   – (November 4, 2012 at 5:50 PM)  

On my nightstand are several books by Rosalind Goforth, missionary to China back around the 1930s. I love her books and her sweet humble spirit.

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