The Reading Pile..


We do a lot of reading.

We read aloud to the kids at breakfast during schooling-times, at lunch throughout the year, at tea whenever we sit down to it (about 3 times a week on average), and at bedtime. We also pepper the day with shorter read-alouds and Yarrow is now confident enough in her reading that she can sit and read to Ilya as well. Which is amazing. I deep-cleaned the house today while Yarrow read her brother book after book in the sunlight.


Right now, the lunch and tea book is The Hobbit, for the billionth time; but after tomorrow, we’ll be picking something new. I’m hoping to pick out something truly new (never before read!) from the library…but if not, Yarrow is angling to hear the Tales of King Arthur again. Ilya just wants to hear Gyo Fujikawa’s Baby Animals book over and over and over again, which is fun too.

But despite the excitement I do feel for hobbits, knights, and tiny mouse babies..sometimes I do want to read something else. Something more grown-up and challenging..or grown up and purely indulgent. I used to have huge piles of books going all the time, I used to get lost in them and forget to do things like dress myself or eat lunch – I don’t have that luxury anymore, it’s been replaced by other, more tender luxuries, like watching my daughter read aloud to her brother and feeling the love between them grow. So I don’t miss my days devoted to Kierkegaard too much..instead, I take a cue from Charlotte Mason and pick just three at a time: one indulgently easy, one moderately thought-provoking, and one deeply challenging book.

The system works out well! I can indulge in easy entertainment while Ilya pretends I’m a ‘horse-y’ or read something exciting while Seth and I are sitting out under the moon, and at naptime, or late at night – when all is quiet and my brain is fully awake, I can remind it how to think deeply and give it meaty bones of wisdom to gnaw upon.


This month I’m revisiting old friends: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of my favorite books. It is everything I want in a novel: interesting, magical, well-written, clever, funny, and slightly unnerving. I adore it. I’ve read it before years ago, and actually kept it to read again, which is rare for me and novels-not-written-by-Russians. It’s my easy book this month because it is so easy, you just fall right into a fantastic versions of early 19th century England and stay there.

Untamed Hospitality is a book I began years ago, enjoyed, and then misplaced for a few years while I forgot about it and went about having babies and building a few extra gardens. It is a very good book. I like it especially because it responds to, and rejects the modern ‘myths of hospitality’ – primary in my experience being the sentimentalism, lying sort of hospitality that demands to feel welcomed at the expense of an honest meeting of persons.  The author defines true hospitality as an extension of our interactions with God and builds up a holistic sense of welcoming within the book. It’s lovely, challenging in that it reminds me of my failures to be truly (and not merely conventionally) hospitable, and comfortable because she is an easy author to read and understand – and because she uses so many familiar examples (Flannery O Connor for one!).

Meditations on the Tarot will be my ‘Challenging’ book for years to come, I think. I’ve read it, and begun it again. The book is not in any way a how to manual on Tarot-reading. It is, very much as described, “a journey into Christian Hermeticism.” The book examines the cards of the Tarot’s Major Arcana and meditates on the symbolism of the cards from a Catholic perspective. It is a beautiful, reflective book. A book that, far from luring one into the occult, makes the cards it studies so intimately linked to a Catholic worldview that (for myself anyway) it is no longer even temptation to view the tarot as a divination tool. I adore this book. The ‘Unknown Friend’ is truly a friend, who thinks in beautiful (and sometimes erroneous) ways. It’s a joy to read. But it does require focus and reflection. A lot of focus and reflection. This is not a book to read with small children bouncing on your back saying “neigh! neigh!”


Tonight, while Yarrow and Ilya are falling asleep, Seth will read aloud from the Bible (we’re in Revelation right now) and from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Series (The Castle of Llyr). While he does I’ll nurse Ilya and read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to myself, or just listen, because both God and Lloyd Alexander are enjoyable authors; and after that, who knows where the night will take me – to my Unknown Friend discussing the hanged man card, to Christ the Stranger, or to a different version of the hanged man in Mr. Norrell. It’s exciting not knowing, having all sorts of variety, and still having just enough structure around it all to keep balanced.

What are you reading these days, friends?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sara B. says:

    Okay, I can’t NOT comment on a post about books! Our current family reading is “Five Children and It” by E. Nesbit; we just finished “Half Magic” by Edward Eager, and before that we completed the “Little House on the Prairie” series. I’m saving the Narnia books for this fall and winter…..
    Lately I’ve really been feeling the need to implement a system like you have for choosing the books that I read. At the moment, I have 71 books checked out from the library (granted, some of them are children’s books, and some of them are cookbooks, but still – !), and seeing those piles sitting on the floor next to my bed are starting to make me a little crazy, not to mention guilty. Sometimes one of the hardest things about a life which revolves around meeting the needs of young children – and it’s a happy life, overall – is the adjustments that are necessary to still be the person whom one is while doing the work of teaching, training, feeding, etc. It’s easy to lose oneself in the routine.

    Anyway, I love your current choices! Actually, one of the books in my library pile(s) is ‘Jonathan Strange’, which is a book that has intrigued me since it was first published, but which I’ve never actually read, for some reason. Now I might bump it up to the top of the list! I will have to try to find the others as well. The tarot book is very interesting to me. I only have a superficial knowledge of the subject, so I hope I don’t sound too ignorant if I ask: if the tarot is not being used for divination, then what is its purpose? Or is that something that I should read the book to find out? Although at this point, I might find the Catholic symbolism just as mysterious! 🙂

    The books that have been elevated to my nightstand at the moment are “Before Lunch” by Angela Thirkell (some fun, clever, well-bred England-between-the-wars snarkiness), “An Everlasting Meal” by Tamar Adler (which is potentially going to revolutionize the way I cook, plus it is beautiful prose), and “Herbal Goddess” by Amy Jirsa.

    I’m so sorry about the lengthy reply – I love books and I love talking about them, so it was hard for me to keep it toned down! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. masha says:

    Ooh… I think I need to hunt down some of those books for the kids!!

    The tarot was originally just a game, though the cards are very symbolic. So are playing cards, which can also be used for divination..tarot became popular for divination primarily because it is such a large deck with so many symbols to work with. But in this book, the symbolic cards are used as sort of a meditative jumping off point for spiritual reflections. The author’s meditations are completely unrelated to how a tarot reader would use the least, very different than I used to interpret the’s been such a enriching experience to come to the tarot imagery in a holy way!

    I hope that makes sense? 🙂


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