Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life

Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496425805
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 39,819
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Sarah Clarkson loves good books, beauty, and imagination, and thinks everyone else should too. She explores the intersection of literature, faith, and wonder at SarahClarkson.com and is at very slow work on a novel. She currently hails from Oxford, where she keeps good company with the ghosts of Tolkien and Lewis and also studies theology.


Sally Clarkson is the mother of four grown children who walk with God. She is the author of many books, including Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe and The Mission of Motherhood. She is a speaker, writes a personal blog ITakeJoy.com, and is the director of Mom Heart Ministry, an initiative to inspire, encourage, and restore mothers' hearts to God's heart for motherhood.


Erica Sullivan is a professional actress of both stage and screen and holds her MFA from the Yale School of Drama. Currently a company member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, she has performed in New York and regionally with such companies as the Lincoln Center, Soho Repertory Theatre, and New Dramatists. She makes her home in Ashland, OR, with her family.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

On the Crafting of BOOK LISTS

How to Set a Course of Reading through the Ocean of Endless Books

Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? ANNIE DILLARD, THE WRITING LIFE

"Of making many books there is no end," says the rather jaded writer of Ecclesiastes. Nor of the making of book lists, says this slightly wild-eyed but altogether idealistic writer. I still remember when a teenage friend and I were hosted overnight by a family in Boston during a history field trip. The mother asked me to jot down a few of my favorite children's books, so I curled on the couch and set to it as the adults packed picnics and snacks. The house grew curiously quiet (considering the combined presence of twelve children), but I was immersed, culling my best-loved stories from memory until I felt a tap on my arm.

"Sarah," said my bosom friend, Katrina, "it's time to go, and —" she peered over my shoulder before looking at me with a huge roll of her eyes — "thirty-five titles is more than enough. Good grief."

We both should have known my future would involve book lists.

The fact is, I can't keep quiet about a book I love. I want people to understand why this novel or that bit of theology can change the whole way they see life. I spent ten years reading classic literature and children's stories before I ever got around to starting a degree in theology (I like to say I took at least a dozen gap years), but once I did, I couldn't stop seeing connections between fairy tales and biblical narrative, doctrine and Victorian novels. I dragged my favorite works of fiction into every theological essay I could. I think I have become known as a bit of a Wendell Berry fanatic here in Oxford, because I've quoted him in essays on the Incarnation, argued against his being an anarchist with my college principal, and made my college small group read his poetry aloud. One of the best bookish compliments I've ever received came when a priest who has been mentor, theological teacher, and marriage counselor to Thomas and me asked for a list of novels to take on a spiritual retreat. We showed up at his door with ten possibilities because I couldn't choose just a few.

The thing about my book lists is that they are driven by love — for the story or kernel of truth that lies hidden in the heart of what is written and for the person in whose hands I can't wait to place the book because I honestly believe it will widen and enrich their life. And that's the first thing I want you to know as we open this discussion on the crafting of book lists. The book lists here are formed by love.

The problem, though, is that there really is no end to the number of book lists I could make, the number of absolute favorite titles I want to review in detail, the books I haven't yet had time to read, and the ones I've heard are wondrous. During the months of writing this book, I frantically read as many new books as I could, afraid to miss that one great title or be "behind" on a contemporary classic. I finally had to take a deep breath and remind myself that I have to begin exactly where I am, with the riches I've culled as a reader up to this point in my life.

So before you dive into the lists ahead, a few brief thoughts. First, on selection. It's pretty straightforward: I list what I love. Then, organization: in other words, how I've arranged these potentially unwieldy lists of beloved titles so that you will know exactly where to go, depending on what kind of book you want to read. Finally, content, in which I will briefly discuss the difficult and nuanced practice of discernment and its role in helping me to evaluate the literary quality and worldview of the books I've chosen.

Selection

I can't say it often enough: this book is not meant to be a be-all, end-all list of every modern book you should read or the classics you should cover before death. This is not a comprehensive guide to literature. (For that, take a look at the highly ambitious recommended reading list compiled by Mortimer Adler and thank your lucky stars I'll never be as well read as he is. And at least I'm not insisting you read Thucydides.)

Rather, my collective book list is one you could consider a story — a history by book recommendation; a living, delighted record of the books that have most kindled me to life in heart, mind, and soul. The selection process for the lists that follow is pretty basic: every one is a book I have loved. These are the books I press into the hands of my nearest and dearest, the titles I carefully select when those I love are in need of encouragement or freshened vision or comfort.

But I am only one reader who has happened upon a certain stream of books in the great ocean of the written word. The book lists that follow are thus highly individual, even eccentric at points. Of course, I've tried to read widely, dip into the classics, tour contemporary stories, taste some poetry, explore the paths of theology. I honestly think that if you read every title in this book, you'd have a rich exposure to some of the best writers around. But I know I have missed a lot as well. I know some of what I love will resonate with you and some just won't.

My goal in sharing the following lists is to simply open the reading life a little wider to you, set you on your feet, and launch you on your own journey of exploration. "Way leads on to way," wrote the poet Robert Frost, and I hope that you'll discover that book leads on to book and that the titles in these lists will lead you beyond, into the book lists of other writers and the best beloveds of other friends.

Organization

Each chapter is themed around a gift or grace that comes to a book girl through the reading life. The lists that follow are crafted to follow that theme, introducing you to the books that embody and continue the qualities discussed in the chapter. This book is structured specifically to address the different seasons of reading and experiences in the life of a book girl, organized in such a way that you can dip into this chapter or that list and find the resources you need in that particular phase. The lists are shaped to address different needs, varied amounts of time or attention, and different seasons of learning and growth. If you're a mother of toddlers, I'm guessing your reading needs might run toward a restorative novel, while if you're a student in a season of discovery, you'll find the tougher theological titles or cultural commentary to be the meat you need. The lists and chapters are individual, meant to meet you in these varied seasons.

These selections reflect my own reading experience, my deep sense of books as companions that come alongside me to help me to be faithful wherever they find me. During my twenties, during many long, lonely hours, I discovered classic writers on prayer and spiritual formation and spent hours in their brisk and convicting company. At the moment, as I sit here pregnant and overwhelmed by daily life, I doubt I could read one of them without feeling frustrated. Instead, it's a novel I crave, one that helps me to reconnect to ordinary life as a gift and a wonder.

In theming the chapters and lists that follow, I've tried to create the resources and stories I would want to discover in my own various stages of life. My hope for you as a reader is that you will encounter this book as an adaptable companion and resource through many seasons.

Content

Literary Quality

The easiest way to understand what makes a book excellent is simply to read good books. Read a short story by Wendell Berry, dip into George Eliot's Silas Marner, throw in a snippet of Narnia and a William Wordsworth poem, and you will be well on your way to discerning, even intuitively, what makes writing good. Along with C. S. Lewis, I am not particularly interested in the "chronological snobbery" that prizes writing according to what is popular in a particular age. And like Lewis, I think children's books, mysteries, classics, and contemporary fiction can be excellent, but all of them should share a few basic qualities, ideas for you to consider in forming your own idea of what makes for literary quality:

- High quality of language. A good book wields language with skill and insight, using words that broaden your experience of the world; that help you to see in a fresh way; that bring a person, a landscape, or a history to life. Good writers also have a certain degree of particularity in the words they choose. As Mark Twain said, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning."

- Showing, not telling. It's probably the first thing you'll be told to do in a beginning creative writing class, but it's vital, the thing great writers do without even thinking about it. An author who shows sets you as a reader in the scene, immersing you in the scents and sights, feelings and emotions of the setting. To tell is simply to relate facts; to show is to place a reader in a world.

- Concision. With all this praise for good words and evocative descriptions, you might think good novels have to be hundreds of pages. In fact, some of the best novels are brief. To Kill a Mockingbird is a fairly short story that manages to communicate the profound racial tension and moral dilemmas dividing a small Southern town, but all of it is told through the eyes and vocabulary of a child (though Scout is probably a wordier little girl than most!). Good writing is taut. It doesn't waste words; it puts them to swift, disciplined work.

- Humanity (the particular and the universal). By which I mean the capacity of a book to realistically describe the human experience on the level of the individual — whether Potok's depiction of a Hasidic Jewish boy or Eliot's depiction of a lonely English woman in the Victorian era who is caught in a difficult marriage — and through that depiction to say something universally true about what it means to be human, to suffer, to hope, to love, to work. A good book should ring true to human experience, regardless of character or setting.

Or, in C. S. Lewis's loving description: "Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. ... In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."

Worldview

The first real doctrine essay I wrote at Oxford was on the Incarnation. I was asked to outline why Christ's human life was as important as his death. Intuitively, I understood that it was pretty radical that God took flesh at a certain point in space and time, but I struggled to get the abstract theological points straight in my head until I remembered a particular character from a Wendell Berry novel. It all came clear when I revisited Berry's tale of Nathan Coulter, a Kentucky farmer and war veteran. His experiences left him horrified at the way people and land became nameless, depersonalized, and lost in the face of violence, good only for destruction. Berry's novel recounts the way Nathan came home determined to live a life rooted in love, one opposite to war, in which he would care for the named and known people in his place on earth, tending his farm, committed to his marriage and community, faithful in the smallest, local particulars of everyday existence. As his wife, Hannah, puts it, "It is by the place we've got, and our love for it and our keeping of it, that this world is joined to Heaven."

In Nathan's story I recognized an incarnational, Christ-shaped love. He helped me to understand that the Incarnation means that God himself came into a particular corner of the war-torn universe to embody a life that is the opposite of war and death; to name, know, and love each human being into redemption. The Word who spoke everything into being became flesh in the squirming, little baby Jesus, asleep in the musty hay of a Bethlehem manger. Before Jesus died, he lived, and in doing so, he started the story of humanity afresh as his perfect, faithful, loving life became the ground of renewal for the whole world.

I wrote the rest of that paper in a blaze of inspiration, delighted by the way a story I loved made theology clearer to me. But that was only the first of many such instances. The more I studied doctrine, the more I realized that the great books I'd been reading all my life had already been teaching me to think about the ultimate questions at the heart of theological study. In The Lord of the Rings, I had already learned to consider what it means to be an agent responsible for my actions. Middlemarch taught me about what real compassion might mean. A Wrinkle in Time challenged me to consider what love really is ... and isn't.

The great stories I have read have impacted my spiritual and moral development more than almost anything else. Next to Scripture and the influence of my parents, great books have formed my worldview, developed my moral imagination, and shaped my idea of virtue. But I think this is true of most human lives, whether we get our stories from great books, from other people, or from TV sitcoms. Stories shape our existence because we recognize in a deep part of ourselves that life itself is a story. The tale of the world opens with a sort of divine "once upon a time," or "in the beginning." Much of Scripture is narrative, and the Gospels are crammed full of the parables Jesus told to announce and explain the coming of his Kingdom. The gospel itself comes to us in narrative form, and one of its great tenets is that we have the chance to join the story of the Kingdom come in this world, to be agents in the ongoing story of redemption, what Rowan Williams calls the "freedom of a sort of authorship."

To read a story is to be shaped in the very depths of one's soul. Because of this power, this grace given by great books, I've often had to ask the question "What makes a book acceptable for a Christian reader?" Because stories engage my imagination and heart on a deep level, I am aware of the fact that what I encounter on their pages will teach me how to see the world, and this is why I've had to learn to practice discernment. As you explore the vast realm of books available today, you might have to ask, as I have, where we draw the line on the inclusion of sex or violence or "bad language" in a story. How deeply should we delve into worldviews that run contrary to what we believe? What does it mean to read faithfully?

First, let's briefly consider the cultivation of discernment, the means by which we nourish our inner capacity to love what is good and hate what is evil, to know when evil is presented to us in whatever form. The temptation here would be to create a list of rules by which each piece of reading could be evaluated, but I think this is both unhelpful and, in the long term, destructive. Discernment has far less to do with creating an outward legalism than it does with cultivating our innermost hearts. Real discernment, I believe, springs from a heart so nourished by the true, the good, and the beautiful that what is evil simply cannot find room to root.

In my earlier book on children's literature, Caught Up in a Story, I explore the difficult question concerning the age at which children can safely be exposed to evil, suffering, or darkness in the world of literature. While I agree with Chesterton that "fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already," I think the question we really should be asking is not so much "When do I expose my children to darkness?" as "Have I exposed them to light?" My contention is that in order for children to cope with evil, they need a bone-deep knowledge of what is good. Like the heroes and heroines in fairy tales, they need stories that begin in a powerful picture of joy. They need minds stocked with the imagery of love, beauty, laughter, and song before they can have the necessary hope to shield them in their battle against sin and evil.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Book Girl"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Sarah Clarkson.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword viii

Introduction Becoming a Book Girl xi

1 On the Crafting of Book Lists How to Set a Course of Reading through the Ocean of Endless Books 1

2 Begin at the Beginning Creating Habits, Rhythms, and Space for the Reading Life 15

3 Books Can Broaden Your World Expanding Your Mind, One Title at a Time 33

The Beloved Dozen: The Novels That Taught Me How to Live 44

Books That Talk Back: My Favorite Books about Books 61

4 Books Can Shape Your Story What If You Were the Sum of the Characters You've Read? 65

Girlhood Classics: The Books That Began It All for Me 71

Biographies: The Real-Life Epics That Shaped My Dreams 77

The Nightstand List: Classics You Should Eventually Read 84

5 Books Can Stir You to Action Becoming a Heroine in Your Own Story 91

Girl Power: My Favorite Novels about Brave and Faithful Women 98

"Courage, Dear Heart": The Spiritual Classics That Made My Heart Strong 107

"What to Do with the Time We've Been Given": Books That Helped Me Navigate Contemporary Culture 121

6 Books Can Cultivate the Imagination Believing the Truth That Beauty Tells 129

Novels of Eucatastrophc: The Fantastical Stories That Taught Me Hope 137

Books about Imagination: Why You're Never Too Old for Narnia 144

7 Books Can Foster Community Forming Friendships through the Pages of Good Literature 151

The Books We Shared: My Family's Favorite Read-Alouds 161

"What! You Too?": The Firsthand Accounts That Remind Me I'm Not Alone 170

8 Books Can Open Your Eyes to Wonder Unlocking the Beauty All around Us 175

"A Little Poetry Every Day": The Poems That Opened My Eyes to Wonder 183

Startled Awake: Novels That Kindled My Delight in Existence 187

Beauty Speaks Truth: Books about the Arts 194

9 Books Can Deepen Your Soul The Gift of Pondering 199

The Holy Way: Books That Taught Me to Pray 207

The Gift of Sacred Time: Books for the Church Year 215

10 Books Can Impart Hope The Final Word Belongs to Love 221

Not Escapism: Novels That Helped Me Cope with a Broken World 229

God Is Big Enough: Spiritual Books That Helped Me through Seasons of Struggle 236

Epilogue Books Are Meant to Be Passed Along The Ongoing Legacy of the Reading Life 245

Acknowledgments 255

Notes 257

Discussion Questions 261

About the Author 263

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Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 22 days ago
"To be a book girl is to take up membership in the ranks of women who read and, by their reading, live to the brave and courageous full." I wanted to love this book. I wanted this book to be about the celebration of books and the love of books that we share. But what it felt like, for me, was mostly convincing me that I should love books. (Even though I think only a true book girl would pick up a book entitled "Book Girl.") And even more, convincing me what books I should love. I don't know that the author intended it to feel that way, though, because many times she offered the idea that we should love what we read and read what we love. However, she then contradicted that thought by saying we should be "intelligent readers." And spent quite a few chapters explaining what "intelligent reading" is and is not. Basically, I am a very unintelligent reader. (Or at least by her terms I am.) Once that was established (because I don't pick books to read the author believes I should), then it felt a bit condescending. No, I am not an Oxford person and she is, but I don't believe that because I pick less "difficult" or "arduous" books to read that it means that I'm an unintelligent reader. Yes, I believe in being a discerning reader, but to me that means I should read all different view points while holding strong to my values and belief system. I believe in challenging myself, but not to the point of hating what I'm reading or THAT I'm reading. And in all honesty, if I subjected myself to some of the books that she so highly recommends (I'm looking at you Dante), then I could truly come to begrudge reading. The majority of the chapters in the book read like Pinterest pins or blog posts of book lists that fit a certain category. Nothing wrong with them, but I only connected with about 10% of the books in the lists. (But I do love the Anne books and the Lord of the Rings trilogy just as much as the author does!) All that to be said, I ultimately just don't think the book was for me. The author and I have very different reading tastes. I, however, do not believe that either one is right or wrong. I do think a LOT of readers will find a kindred spirit here, just not me.
Mandy Elliott 3 months ago
AN ENLIGHTENING AND INVALUABLE RESOURCE FOR ANY AVID READER OR BOOK LOVER. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts below are my own. When I first chose to read Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson, I immediately identified with her because I too grew up loving to read and explore books. As a child, and even still as an adult, my time spent reading was, and is, a time I treasure and crave. As a new mother, I want to cultivate that desire and passion for reading in my daughter’s life so I felt Book Girl might provide me with the tools I needed to do that. To me, this book did just that and more… A truly invaluable resource that I know I will find myself returning to over and over again; a book I want to rave about to all my friends! Author Sarah Clarkson does an excellent job of creating a dialogue that draws you in, creating a unique kinship with you as a fellow reader. It feels as if she’s in the room, sitting and talking to her reader in person. There’s a warm friendship and strong connection that flows throughout this book. She shares of her own personal experiences and takes the time to explain her thoughts and book recommendations well. In addition, she discusses the direct link between reading and how it can deepen and strengthen your life, your faith and your education. While reading through these sections of the book, I realized that I’d never really considered how the books I’ve read have impacted my life - my worldview, the decisions I’ve made, the desires I have for my daughter and her reading life… It was an exceptional time spent in these pages, reminiscing over the books I’ve loved and making my own lists of books I’d still like to read, or even better, the ones I’d like to read with my daughter. Book Girl is an excellent resource for any reader, but geared mostly towards women. I highly recommend it to fellow mothers but also any young woman or woman who desires to deepen her reading experiences. This is not just a book to be read and shelved; it is a resource and a guide. A book to return to, to study and to cherish.
Sprinkle23 8 months ago
In the introduction of Book Girl, Sarah Clarkson states that this book “celebrates not just the gifts of the reading life, but also the rich life of the reading woman (pg. xv).” It's a broad statement that covers the next 200+ pages and it delivers on the promise. Repeatedly, Sarah shows through her personal story as well as research and careful observations, what a gift that reading is. There's a strong emphasis on reading to children and passing on the joy of reading. Book Girl has ten chapters, most of which have two or three sections. Each section pertains to a general idea or topic and often begins with an introduction including personal examples or research. The reading lists cover many topics including: books about reading, biographies, girlhood classics, spiritual classics, poetry, books about the arts, and much more. There are over twenty reading lists. Each book title listed includes at least a brief description of the book, and often, considerably more, but no spoilers. As soon as I saw Book Girl, I was immediately interested. The cover is as classy as the content inside. This book was pure joy for me to read because I love books and I love being introduced to new books. Sarah's writing style was lovely, likely influenced by the amazing writers she has been reading all her life! Sarah shared much of her personal life and it felt like she was a friend by the time I was a few chapters in. I have read only a handful of the books on her lists, but I felt that I could trust her judgment to point me in the right direction of a good book. In the first chapter of Book Girl, Sarah states that she lists what she loves (pg 3). She unabashedly proclaims her love of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Wendell Berry, and the Anne of Green Gables series. While her lists are written from a mindset of “this is what I love” instead of “this is what might interest my audience”, I found her book descriptions helpful and it was easy to determine if a book she recommended might be a good fit for me. To that end, I've already purchased two books that she recommended when I happened upon them at my local used book store. I loved Book Girl and I recommend it to all women, especially Christians. There is a definite Christian worldview. I am not sure if the book would be enjoyable to non-Christians as Sarah discusses her faith frequently. However, the topics cover a wide range of books, many of which are classic books that are not expressly Christian, but from which a Christian may derive a spiritual truth. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Teadrinker 9 months ago
Like many book bloggers, reading is one of my biggest hobbies. Talking about my latest read or your favorite book is one of my favorite pastimes. Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson is all about her love of books and reading. In Book Girl, Sarah Clarkson starts about by sharing how she got her love of reading and books. She then shares how books have shaped her life and how she created book lists. She then shares some of her book list categories: books that broaden your world, books can shape your story, books can stir you to action, books can cultivate imagination, books can foster community, books can open your eyes to wonder, books can deepen your soul, and books can impart hope. In each of these sections, Clarkson shares books that can affect readers in ways related to each section. She shares about the books that she has found to be helpful in each of these areas and why she recommends them. She closes Book Girl with the importance of passing books and the love of reading to those coming behind us and to those around us. Clarkson's passion for books comes through in Book Girl. As someone who shares her love of reading and books, I enjoyed this book. It is a keeper for me and one I will refer to again. I found some new titles to add to my reading list and I appreciated the fact that some of my favorites were also some of her favorites. It was like getting together with another bookish friend and gushing over books together. I would recommend this book to all other book lover girls out there. I received this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.