Posted in literature

2017 Literary Highlights!

I read 78 books in 2017, and it was wonderful. Time to read has been the greatest surprise of post-college life, because reading is important to me as a person and it’s obviously important to humanity. And so, here are, in the order I read them, my literary highlights from the year!


A Girl From Yamhill – Beverly Cleary

The autobiography of the author of the Ramona books! This is actually only the first installment of autobiographies by Ms. Cleary (I think there is at least one more, maybe two), but this one reflects on her childhood and adolescence. Her life, as she tells it, is very different from what I would have imagined from the woman who created Ramona and Beezus, Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse, etc. She writes in a very matter-of-fact way; it isn’t very flowery and could even be called pessimistic. She uses this very matter-of-fact writing style to illustrate her simple, unaffectionate childhood. This book wasn’t strikingly life-changing, nor was the writing remarkable, but the story wasn’t what I would have expected and I loved learning about this author’s early life and inner thoughts.


This is Awkward: How Life’s Uncomfortable Moments Open the Door to Intimacy and Connection – Sammy Rhodes

It’s no big deal, he goes to my church (just kidding, it’s kind of a big deal. I’m a huge fan). Sammy Rhodes is the RUF campus minister at USC (Perhaps the only good thing about USC??). He is a hardcore introvert and a very real writer. He writes about how awkwardness is essential to relationships in humanity. The content can be hard and heavy, but he lightens it well with some humor and realism. His writing style makes him seem personable and relatable, which is funny because he also talks about how he often dreads social events. He uses the hardness from his life to help and share with others. I underlined like half of the book because it was all great.


Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets – Sudhir Venkatesh

This was recommended by a professor in college and I finally read it like two years later. The author is, obviously, a sociologist, but he writes in a way that is easily understandable by normal people (like not sociologists). He studied a specific gang in Chicago over several years and describes and observes well the changes that occurred in gang life over all this time. He was very close with a member who was high up on the totem pole, who let him be in charge for a day (hence the title). It was clear from reading this book how much he loved these people he worked to study, from whom he was so different. Gang life is something I know very little about, and this book was so fun to read. I felt like I could travel to Chicago and go be best friends with these gang members because I had seen them in their real-life moments – not true, but it was amazing to learn about gang members as people and what gang life is like day-to-day.


High Fidelity – Nick Hornby

There’s also a movie for this book, but I’ve only read the book and it was amazing. The main character is a classic clumsy middle-aged British man who makes a fool of himself often, always putting his foot in his mouth, yet he desires a real and deep relationship. It was hilarious and relatable and heartfelt (and also the love interest’s name was Laura so that’s not a bad thing). I just got another book by Nick Hornby and my expectations are very high because of how much I loved this one.


Heartburn – Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron may be one of my favorite humans to have ever existed. She wrote When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie and Julia, and some others…but she also wrote this book. From what I know, it’s somewhat autobiographical. Nora Ephron has this amazing way of not taking herself too seriously and using humor to get through life. She is talented at pinpointing very specific yet relatable feelings. My favorite quotes from the book: “The nurse gave me one of those withering looks that are meant to make you feel as if your thoroughly understandable rage is only female hysteria.” and “And the only thing that might have made it even more satisfyingly melodramatic and masochistic would have been to be lying in the bathtub; nothing like crying in the tub for real self-pity; nothing like the moment when every last bit of you is wet, and wiping the tears from your eyes only means making your face even wetter.” I love Nora and I love this book. It is a pleasant surprise every time I read it.


The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

One of my favorite things to do with fiction is to open a book and start reading it without knowing what it’s about. This book came on good recommendation (although I don’t remember from where – it was just on my list and I decided to read it) and after reading the first page, I knew it was going to be good.

It’s about a girl who has grown up in the foster care system, and it starts on the day she turns 18 and is on her own. It’s a little dark, but in a good way. The character made a lot of choices that made me cringe but I was rooting for her the whole time. The author did a wonderful job with her characterization – she seems (to me) pretty accurately portrayed for a person who has grown up without a steady caretaker or the love of a family. She has some social deficits and naivete about some things and knows too much about others. She loves plants and flowers and gets a job working with a florist, who teaches her the Victorian meanings of flowers (hence the title). Every time I had to put it down I wished I could keep reading it. After finishing the book, I just sat and thought and said, “wow.” It was well-written, suspenseful, heart-wrenching at times, and lovely.


Kids Like Us – Hilary Reyl

This book is a young adult fiction book about a boy with autism spending the summer in France. I have some quite mixed feelings about the way people with disabilities are represented in TV, movies, books, etc., but Martin is characterized well. Reyl gives him some traits of someone with autism but makes it clear that Martin is one person with autism, not the entire population of the spectrum. In the story, Martin goes to a “gen-ed” school and develops relationships with his same-age peers, all typically developing (his friends at home are all from his school and have special needs/social deficits to some extent). He experiences many classic teenager situations, and his narration is charming. It was not a difficult read but very thought-provoking.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Object Lessons – Anna Quindlen: sentimental, down-to-earth, coming-of-age
  • Gilead – Marilynne Robinson: steady, wise, hopeful
  • The Dud Avocado – Elaine Dundy: story was funky – I just like this title
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein: lovable, creative, sad
  • Many Things Have Happened Since He Died – Elizabeth Dewberry Vaughn: thought-provoking, haunting, elegiac



Hooray for 2018 and for reading new books!



Posted in literature, nostalgia


“Reading is not walking on words, but grasping the souls of them.” – Paulo Friere

The summer between my kindergarten and first grade year, my mom made me read a book every single day. I whined and complained and dragged on about it, but I did it anyway. Then, in first grade, I was the best reader in my class. Thanks, Mom!

Now I’m attached to books. If reading was a magnet, I’d be all the metal in the world, spending my existence reaching for books. If literacy was the ocean, I’d grow gills so I could live surrounded on all sides by and soaking in it. If books were coffee, I’d be the most jittery and awakened person alive.

Books to me are like a security item. If they’re too far from me, I kind of feel like I don’t know what to do with my hands. I don’t go anywhere without a book in my purse (even to bars! It makes me feel spunky! But also, I don’t go to all that many bars).

I like to lend books to people because it’s nice to share what I love, and I like to think that I know people well enough to prescribe what they will enjoy reading. I love to talk about what I’ve read with others. Reading is a solitary sport but it can be social, too.

One time I let a friend who didn’t know what to read (she was having what you might call “reader’s block”) borrow several of my favorite books. After she had finished them, she returned them to me on a summer day in a plastic Walmart bag. I pulled them out of the bag unceremoniously but then my heart was unveiled: this was us being reunited! This was a joyous occasion! My books were warm coming out of that bag because they had missed me. Their fluttery hearts were beating and so was mine. We were so mutually thrilled to be back together. That is dedication.

A good book is like a good burger. You can’t put it down until it’s been consumed, because you know that if you do, the whole world will fall apart.

This picture is from Google. My arms are not quite that hairy.

People say things like, “reading takes you to new places!” and it’s true! It does! But these phrases are overused, and then they don’t sound very inspirational anymore. Really, they sound like they’re trying to sell something. I am not trying to sell anything. I’m just trying to communicate this very exciting thing!

Because literacy! It’s no joke!

I love reading. I. LOVE. IT. It’s nothing short of amazing to me that I can empathize with someone who’s been dead for many moons, or be in places that don’t even exist, just by looking from left to right, left to right, line by line, on a funky rectangle made out of dead tree.

It’s incredible, really, just like how sugar and flour and eggs all stirred up together with chocolate chips creates magic (chocolate chip cookies), letters and spaces all stirred up together with pieces of punctuation creates stories and ideas and communication and prose and poetry! It’s truly amazing. It’s like alchemy, but it’s real, and it’s definitely a good thing.

The invention of the wheel was revolutionary for humanity, and so was sliced bread (“that’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!”). And while both of these things are important and worth recognition, I think the written word and the printing press are undercelebrated. They have brought us so far, given us so much, allowed such progress! Where would humanity be without writing and reading?

If you think about it, reading a book is kind of like a small miracle. So much goes into it: an author putting in their whole soul, the editing and publishing process, and then a book ending up in my own hands! It’s nothing short of predestination, for the book and for me.

I want to find joy in the life that’s around me, and here is some! It’s in my hands, and my nose is buried in it.

It’s glory, and it’s all around.



Posted in college, literature

Love at First Bite

Bildungsroman is a literary term for a coming-of-age story.

My first trip to Philadelphia was a sort of bildungsroman. It was spring break of 2014. I was a sophomore among seniors. It was a trip free of parents or grown-ups (actually, we were the grown-ups – which is the same as saying there were no grown-ups) – just a bunch of college kids borrowing a mom’s van and getting up at the crack of dawn to go north. We ate good food and had deep life talks and listened to trendy music and explored historical sights.

But the the most enlightening and memorable moment of that trip was the part where I tried goat cheese for the first time. We went to a pub for lunch after church on Sunday. I ordered from the cheaper end of the menu and ended up with a sheep salad, which seemed fairly non-life-changing. I read that goat cheese came on it and I thought nothing of it.

 And then my salad was in front of me. It was richly green with white dairy chunks on it. I said to someone near me, “what’s this?” and they said, “probably feta.” So no big deal. I took a bold bite.

Let me just say, this was no feta.

The best way I know how to describe the first taste of goat cheese is this: it was beautiful. It was a beautiful taste. I was awestruck. I was not prepared for it. It was creamy. It was lovely. It was magical – not like in a sparks-flying kind of way, but in a steady and calm “wow” kind of way. With every bite I wanted to close my eyes and say, “mmmmmm.” It was love at first bite.

Because I had ordered a small, cheap sheep salad, it was gone pretty quickly. My stomach was still hungry, but that seemed irrelevant, because I was so blown away by goat cheese. It sounds like the silliest thing, but it was such a happy, unexpected surprise that I just wanted to laugh and say, “thank you.”

I was so surprised by goat cheese. (CS Lewis wrote a book called Surprised by Joy – maybe mine would be Surprised by Goat Cheese. Haha.) I was a little perplexed – how could this have existed for longer than I had, yet I had never heard of or experience it? I had spent my whole life up until this one day eating cheddars and slices of American and Swisses and occasionally, when I was feeling a little zesty, some feta. But this changed the whole game. I was at a loss for words.

I felt thankful to this food for existing and I felt thankful to Philadelphia for introducing me (even though goat cheese does exist in Clemson, too, Philly is where I found it. Philly helped to culture me).

At the end of Anne of Green Gables (also a bildungsroman), Anne says, “I’m not a bit changed – not really. I’m only just pruned down and branched out. The real me – back here – is just the same. It won’t make a bit of difference where I go or how much I change outwardly; at heart I shall always be your little Anne, who will love you and Matthew and dear Green Gables more and better every day of her life.”

However, the Anne saying this is a changed Anne. She is a lady. She’s not the same twelve-year-old who smacked a slate across Gilbert’s head. Her hair has turned from orange to auburn – an outward sign of her maturity.

Walking out of the pub on that chilly Sunday in Philly, I felt like Anne at the end of the first book. I felt like maybe my hair had turned from orange to auburn. I felt dignified. I felt grown-up.

There’s probably a bit of blasphemy in proclaiming my own story as a bildungsroman (especially a story about cheese), but that’s what I’m doing. I came out of the experience thinking of life in terms of before and after.

Like a good cheese, I left the experience just a little bit more matured.




Posted in literature

(Anti)social Skills

Once upon a time, one of my friends told me that I cannot love books because they can’t love me back. I have been contesting that statement ever since.

Because, first of all, love does not have to be mutual to exist. A lot of heartache and a lot of good literature would never have been made possible if love had to be requited to take place.

As a “young professional” (I prefer to call myself a “baby teacher” – it’s much more fitting to where I am in life), I’ve found that I have free time in the evenings. At first I didn’t know what to do with this – I was so used to studying and living amongst college friends, and that, combined with going to class, took up my time. Finding myself now with a few precious hours of my own was a post-grad surprise.

With this time, I’ve been reunited with my old love, reading: my baby love, my high school sweetheart, the love of my life, all rolled into one. I feel as if fate has had it in store for us my whole life. I was made to ingest words. There has been no honeymoon phase because reading brings me straight goodness and happiness, all the time, forever, amen.

As a result of this jump from so little free time/reading time, to now: lots of it, I’ve been stimulated to thinking about the difference reading has made in my life. One night recently I couldn’t sleep, and I laid in bed considering the multitude of things being a reader has taught me about people and relationships.

There is a difference between reading books and being a reader. Anyone can read books. But a reader pursues books, is always reading something, and maybe even takes books to bars (I do!). Not everyone is a reader, and that is okay, in the same way that not everyone understands calculus. Also okay.

Here is what I have learned about people from being a reader:

  • New and best are not the same thing. New is great, but it doesn’t mean “best.” It mostly means that it takes longer to find familiarity. And, if I spill food on a new book, I get more frustrated than I would if the same had happened with an older, more broken-in book. It’s also true for friends: I’m much more careful not to spill food on a new friend than an old one.
  • It’s normal to want to own every book I’ve ever read or loved, but it isn’t practical (or financially responsible) to do it. However, I don’t need to have every book close to me in order for it to have an impact on my life. Sometimes a story is just passing through.
  • Sometimes, someone I love wants me to love a book. In that situation, I love the book not because I independently love it, but because I love the person. I am committed to those I love: both the people and the books.
  • The books I’ve had the longest and love the most are the ones I treat the least carefully. Their spines are cracked and they have spent quality time on the bottom of my purse and I’ve written random notes on their inside covers. I relish them, but instead of expressing it often, I treat them casually. I expect them to stick around, so I treat them as if they will. However, in spite of the familiarity and sometimes flippancy with which I tend to refer to or handle them, they’re my favorites. They’re the ones I love the most. They’re the books I am sure to own and invest in so that they can always be near me.
  • “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is sound advice. Some books don’t even have covers. The presentation and/or presence of a cover is not indicative of the value of the words inside the book.
  • All books are worthy of respect, on the principle that they are books and that they exist. However, that doesn’t mean every book needs to be my favorite. I don’t have to read every book just because it’s a book (also that’s not possible). Limits exist, and that’s reasonable, but being biased or judgmental isn’t.
  • Some people read books a lot faster than others. Some people understand books a lot better than others. Some people value books more readily than others.
  • Some people read deeply when what was written should be taken at face value, and some people take words at face value when they should be taken deeply.
  • If I read only one genre, I’ll only know about one genre. I’ll be a much more diverse, well-spoken, and educated person if I read lots of different books about lots of different things.
  • Books are written with a target audience, but the reader gets to choose what age-level books he or she reads. I can read children’s books or teen books or grown-up books (or no books at all). I’m not mandated to read the books corresponding to the age that I am.

I like this quote by Maud Casey where she says, “I was born with a reading list I will never finish.” I think that this applies both to my life in literature, and to my life with people. I want to always be on the market for new friends. As a baby teacher and a baby grown-up and a new person in a big town, I need to remind myself of this often: make lots of new friends and love the ones you have and always welcome more.

If you think about it, reading is an (anti)social skill. “Anti” because reading is done alone, and social because what a reader learns through reading enhances socialization. What fun irony!

Who knew when we were learning our letter sounds that this skill would affect more than our academic careers? Who could have predicted that reading would increase not only our IQs, but also our relational abilities and our abilities to love those around us?


Posted in Jesus, literature

So This is Love

After careful examination, I’ve come to realize that I resent Cinderella. I find her so easy to frown at. She’s a saint and she’s never sassy. That’s not like me and I hate her for it.

She doesn’t do anything wrong. You can’t be mad at her. It’s infuriating, and it’s ironic. She has the hardest life of anybody, and she’s the most humble of anybody. She doesn’t pout, and she doesn’t roll her eyes, and she doesn’t sweat. She is responsible and kind. She looks lovely always, even covered in soot.  She’s submissive and an awesome cook, like a good wife is supposed to be. Other girls feel inadequate when compared to her, because no one can live up to her peace and simplicity.

Her prince is perfect, too; he’s not into potty humor and he doesn’t play FIFA. He’s actually not a real dude.

Eventually in her story, Cinderella receives justice for the wrong done to her. She’s an underdog. (We like to think we’re underdogs). She’s the chosen one, like Harry Potter and King Arthur: they all have a humble and abusive beginning, and greatness thrust upon them that they then thrive in ever so diplomatically.

We want to that – we want to be Cinderella. We want to overcome any disadvantage our childhood may leave us with and become the most successful, the most beautiful, the most wise.

So we work really hard. We don’t take breaks. We always say yes, because saying no is unhelpful and it’s selfish. We turn ourselves into martryrs (It used to be that a martyr was a person who sacrificed self for faith to the glory of God, but now it’s someone who sacrifices general health and well-being for being seen as a hard worker to the glory of pride). We are blind followers of good feelings and we bottle up our frustrations because that’s what Cinderella did and things turned out really swell for her.

We feel unnoticed and sorry for ourselves and convince ourselves that we deserve grandeur, and we strategize ways for other people to observe this about us, too.

We get frustrated by life, because life isn’t fair. We look for reasons for the hard parts of life, and we convince ourselves that we are the victims here, even though we know that’s wrong. Life is hard because of sin, and we are sinners. It’s the truth, and the truth hurts.

Cinderella is just like Jesus (only not real). She’s patient and kind, she endures all things, she’s impossibly perfect, and she ascends to the throne after the climax of the story.

Jesus is real and Cinderella is not. Why do we try to emulate Cinderella more than we try to emulate Jesus? No one told us to try to be Cinderella, and we are told countless times in the Bible to be like Jesus. Cinderella can do nothing but disappoint us as we try and fail to become her. We were never supposed to be like her.

Cinderella is a character. Characters don’t sin. They don’t have sin patterns and they don’t have to repent of anything. We can’t be Cinderella because we sin. Cinderella is a pauper turned princess, and we are (still) sinners. We were and are and will be.

Cinderella can’t do anything for us, and Jesus already did. He came to save us from this silly striving. Here we are, trying to turn ourselves from actual humans with personalities and vices into flat fairy tale characters. He saves us from that. He changes our hearts from wanting to be our own creation to being transformed into His own perfect and pure and complete likeness and creation.

Cinderella isn’t real (Harry Potter isn’t real. King Arthur isn’t real). Perfect princes aren’t real. But love is real and Jesus is real.

So this is love: royalty would voluntarily sacrifice grandeur for fools (that’s us). And that’s how we know real life is better than fairy tales.


Posted in literature

Home is Where My Literature Is

Even though I don’t have time to read nearly as much as I used to, I like to think that people can tell from the swirly air around me that I’m a reader. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but that’s how I think of myself, because words make the most sense to me and stories are such a source of joy to me. I readSarah, Plain and Tall last night when I couldn’t sleep. When I was feeling dramatic but none of my roommates were home one day, I turned to a random page in Gone with the Wind. And when I am very sad, I read A Wrinkle in Time until I feel better. I must keep these books (and others) with me in case the feelings (any feelings) hit me.

And then there are libraries. I could talk about libraries for a long time. When I am in a library, I feel comforted to be embedded in so much knowledge – it’s like nothing could go wrong because everything in the world is right here.

The reasons I keep books around: nostalgia, wanting to look cool and up-to-date, pure and honest need and passion and admiration for all that they contain.

People say that home is where the heart is. My sign language professor, when teaching my class the sign for the word “home,” said, “home is where you eat, where you sleep, where you are loved.” Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros say, “home is wherever I’m with you.” My friend Allison says, “home is where your bed is.” But I’ve decided that, for me, home is where my books are. For reasons previously stated.

And it’s not that the place where my family lives isn’t my home, or the place where I sleep isn’t my home, or that I’m alone in the world but for books, because that’s not true. But as I grow into being an adult, I have to find my places and my things. And books, under the greater realm of words, are my place and my thing.

And so I like to keep all of my most favorite books with me always. There isn’t enough room in my apartment for all of my most favorites, so some of them live with me and some of them live at home. My home can’t be complete until all of my books live in the same place that I do, and that won’t happen again until I finish college and live somewhere as a real-life grown-up. That is very daunting to realize.

But this is what I have to look forward to: living with all of my books under the same roof. We will sit around together after dinner and I will try to choose just one to read and I won’t be able to, in the best way. And we will be at home.


Posted in literature


I don’t like endings. It scares me for anything to stop and never come back – because what if I wasn’t done with it yet? What if I didn’t learn everything possible from it? What if this was the best and I didn’t know it but now it’s gone?

I know that there are far better things ahead than any we could leave behind (C. S. Lewis’s words, not mine), and I know that that refers more to Heaven than it does to next week, and I know that I should be comforted by knowing that Heaven is in my future, but I am scared by any change or even chance of change in life. I don’t like for things to go away. I am attached to right now, even though I know it’s not the greatest that life could be – it’s also not the worst, so I just want it to stay in case this is the best moment I’ll ever have. I am afraid of forgetting and I am afraid of the future not being as full as the past. It’s the most un-logical thing, and I can’t let go of it.

Last Thanksgiving, I re-read Anne of Avonlea, the sequel to Anne of Green Gables, and the last line hit me in an emotional way. I read it and I cried serene tears. It said, “And over the river in purple durance, the echoes bided their time.” So now this line is written on a notecard and taped to the mirror in my room.

This line is real. I like it so much because it’s the end of a book, but not the end of a story. Stories don’t stop. They are fluid and they change, but slowly, and over time. Stories keep going because life keeps going.

I often realize myself to be frustrated with my life because it isn’t a story. It’s choppy, haphazard, colliding, lumpy, and sporadic. The plot isn’t clear, and it doesn’t have a visible beginning, middle, climax, and end, like a proper story should. In literature, only one thing happens at a time, but in my life, so many things are happening always that I can’t keep track of any of them. The events in my life are almost never concluded peacefully.

This book ends, but the story keeps going. It gives me hope that part of life ending does not mean that all of life is over. It’s comforting.

The line describes the way I imagine bliss to be: somewhere, over a river, in purple durance, existing. It is a mellow patience. It has faith in knowing that Christ is coming back to bring all things to glory, to make everything okay once and for all. Durance is a pastel purple, and it smells a little bit like cucumber-melon lotion. The echoes bide their time, not in a way that leaves them sitting around waiting for something better to come, but in a way that gives them an air of quiet contentment. They float through their days and they take time to think about things.

This line tells me that it’s going to be okay. It’s twelve little words, but together they build an idea, and that idea is a good one and a comforting one. It makes endings a little bit more okay.