(This is a summer installment in my occasional series of book recommendations. The following post contains affiliate links. You can find previous recommendations right here.)
I adore summer, but I was not made for summer.
I was made for curling up with a book on snowy days. I was made for the slow, careful glide across ice. I was made for the silence of the whole world hushed by snow.
But I love summer. I love raised beds for vegetables and 3 chickens fighting for one worm. I love sun-warmed tomatoes with cracked pepper and babies sticky with a first popsicle. I love that one white lily picked from my flowerbed fills nearly the entire house with its scent.
Summer is sensory overload.
Which means I am having a hard time reading. A novel, especially, is a whole new world of sights and sounds and emotions and ideas. But my small world is full to bursting with those things. At least in summer. And I can’t handle any more.
I tried reading The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone. Someone recommended it to me, though I’ve forgotten who. It seems clever and thrilling. Hip and suspenseful. I only managed a chapter (maybe half?) before I set it aside. It’s summer, and I have no room in myself for cleverness or hipness. I’ve taken to rereading my favorite essays in Amy Leach’s wonderful Things That Are, instead. Somehow, they are clever in a way that moves me deeper into what is right in front of me, like sunflowers grown taller than my husband and a woodchuck who nibbles my daylilies despite the cat stalking him from behind the baby plum tree.
Jonathan and I watch the cat/woodchuck drama while we rinse and load the dinner dishes. Then we go and watch British television shows on YouTube. Comfort-food television like Restoration Home and Great British Garden Revival.
My nightly reading with the kids is also a serving of comfort and nostalgia. Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn is a new book, but it reads like an old favorite. This is an English countryhouse novel for kids, and even my boys love it. The firstborn and I dream of genteel mice making a kind of summer home in a child’s dollhouse, and the boys cheer on General Marchmouse as he advances against the cartoonishly evil Aunt Ivy.
The baby and I are reading Adventures with Barefoot Critters by Teagan White. The illustrations and typography are lovely in this just-released picture book. With its adorable animals in adorable clothes doing adorably fun things, you might call it Tumtum & Nutmeg for the toddler set.
And when everyone is in bed? No, they aren’t asleep. It is summer, after all. But as long as they are in their rooms, and the door is muffling all the not-so-subtle sounds of a sibling “sleep-over,” then you will find me curled up with Empress of the Garden by G. Michael Shoup (an enormous coffee-table book of antique roses) or Private Edens: Beautiful Country Gardens by Jack Staub (another coffee-table-sized treasury of garden inspiration), or maybe The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage by David Culp (this one weighs a little less and is as practical as it is inspiring).
In other words, in summer, you will either find me in the garden or reading about gardens.
Because there are three other seasons for smart novels and broadening your horizons and ticking items off of must-read lists.
Happy summer, friends.
Let’s all spread a blanket on some fresh spring grass and read a book, shall we?
Not sure what to read? Let’s see if I can help you with that. Not only am I recommending a few of my favorite recent reads (books with this season very much in mind), but I am GIVING AWAY FREE BOOKS.
Do I have your attention? Read to the end for all the details. And, as always, remember that I use affiliate links in each new edition of These Farmhouse Bookshelves. You can find more information about that right here.
Recently, my sister Kelli sent us this first book as a gift (yes, the same sister of photography fame). It’s a picture book, but it was pretty much my lifeline during those last few horribly brown pre-spring days. The kids love it, too.
And Then It’s Spring (Booklist Editor’s Choice. Books for Youth (Awards)) by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin Stead is a gorgeous, award-winning, treasure of a book. I recommend it for kids and for any big people in your life who love spring or gardening or quietly humorous storytelling.
This is a far cry from captain-underpants and diary-of-a-wimpy-kid humor, but it had my own kids howling. And then breathing very quietly and asking questions about the seasons and how plants grow. So, pretty much a winner.
… it is still brown, but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown … – Julie Fogliano
I discovered this next writer, and her debut book, at the recent Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. This book may have been the very best thing about that festival (though I hesitate to quantify an experience that was full to overflowing with Very Good Things).
Things That Are by Amy Leach is not like anything you have ever read. I promise you that.
First, it is a beautiful book. Lovely to hold and with elegant, whimsical illustrations. A book-lover’s book.
Second, the writing is startling. Every single word is surprising and unanticipated. Hilarious and wise. Leach makes me laugh out loud and reminds me of the power words have to stab me straight through the heart. This book is a marvel.
What is it, exactly? It’s like a cross between a PBS nature documentary and Lewis Carroll. Except, so much better. So much wiser. Leach writes about nature – everything from panda bears and sea cucumbers to caterpillars and pea vines. She isn’t writing about people, except that she is. This is a book about the beautiful strangeness of our world and how much we can learn by taking a very close look at the creatures all around us.
Things That Are stretches the English language to its most delightful limits. This is nature writing as poetry, and each essay deserves to be read out loud.
Haywire personalities like peas, wobbly personalities with loose ends, iffy ends, result not from having no aim, no object in life, but from having an extrasensory object. What they want is beyond their powers of apprehension – until they hold it in their acute green wisps- so their manner is vagabond. The personality that longs only for perceptible things is down-to-earth, like a dung eater. But the teetery-pea kind send out aerial filaments to hound the yonder, tending every which way, guessing themselves into arabesques, for they are fixed on the imperceptible. – Amy Leach
Amy Leach sat right next to Fred Bahnson for one of my favorite panel presentations of the festival. I am also recommending his book Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith. If you enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life then I’m sure you will appreciate Bahnson’s own memoir which explores the spiritual dimensions of the same subject (and if you haven’t read Kingsolver’s book please do go and rectify that).
In Bahnson’s words, this book is written from the perspective of a “pilgrim” and an “immersion journalist.” He tells his own stories, but he tells the stories of many others around the world who have discovered the sacredness of the dirt under our feet. This is a diverse bunch. There are mushroom-cultivating monks, metal-head, ex-con coffee roasters, maiz-growers in Mexico and Honduras, Pentecostal farmers, and Jewish growers of organic vegetables.
Gardeners and foodies will automatically appreciate this book, but I think it deserves a much wider audience. This book is also for all those interested in peacemaking and justice.
Beyond even that, this is a book about our spiritual origins. As Bahnson describes so eloquently, one of humanity’s oldest stories tells us something about ourselves that remains vitally important: we are the Adam who was created from the adamah. We are humans made of humus. Our spiritual and physical lives depend on the soil too many of us find it easy to ignore and abuse.
Our ecological problems are a result of having forgotten who we are – soil people, inspired by the breath of God. – Fred Bahnson
Now, on to the details you’ve been waiting for … free books.
The first giveaway is straight from me to you. I want to say thank you for reading these book recommendation posts, for sharing your own recommendations with me, and for clicking on those amazon affiliate links!
Also, I love Amy Leach’s book so much I want to share it with one of you. Leave a comment on this post, and you are automatically entered to win a copy. It will be very professional and unbiased and probably involve names in a hat.
The second giveaway is courtesy of Moody Publishers and my fellow writer Hannah Anderson. I’ve appreciated Hannah’s contributions at Pick Your Portion (we are both regular contributors there), and she has just written an eloquent and important book.
Conversations about women, the church, and identity tend to focus on roles or categories or accomplishments. I happen to think that those are very important topics of debate, and I love the books that shine new light on old conversations. But Anderson sets up camp somewhere else entirely, and we need that too. Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image explores a woman’s identity as first a person and an image bearer of a glorious God.
This is an inspiring, encouraging, beautifully written book. Again, leave a comment on this post, and I’ll stick your name in the hat for a chance to win your own copy.
I’ll leave comments open for a week. Leave your comment before Friday, May 9 at 11:59 pm.
Good luck and happy reading!