These Farmhouse Bookshelves

It has turned suddenly cold and windy. Cold enough that we considered firing up the woodstove in our kitchen this morning.

It has also turned dark. Thanks to a nor’easter, we’ve had rain and clouds for days. The sun rises noticeably later. It sets before any of us are at all ready.

It feels like October. Which is right on schedule, I suppose. Isn’t it comforting when nature’s patterns prove reliable?

Pumpkins at the Farm Market

This week I went to one of our local farm markets and filled my cart with pie pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash, and Concord grapes. Now what I really need to do is stock up my nightstand with fresh books for autumn. Dark nights were made for books.

If you’d like to do the same, here are a few I’ve picked up recently.

Earth Works: Selected Essays by Scott Russell Sanders is an excellent collection of thoughtful essays by one of the best writers working in that genre. For the price of one book, these thirty essays could keep you company all winter. Like most of the best things in life, they should be appreciated slowly (however, I’m sure you will be tempted to gulp them down. But don’t! They are too wise, too lovely for that).

Sanders writes about houses and marriages. About the stars and beauty. He writes to discover, and the thing he wants to find, the question he seems most compelled to ask, is some variation on what it means to live well. How can we live in harmony with ourselves, with one another, and with this beautiful, astonishing planet that is our home?

All of us ponder our lives. … Essayists choose to do such reflecting, remembering, and imagining in public, on the page. – Scott Russell Sanders

Here is my new favorite book for little people: A Party for Pepper: A Hazelwood Forest Counting Book by Sarah Hartsig.

I discovered Hartsig, the artist behind the world of Hazelwood Forest, on Instagram, and I love her subject and style. If you enjoy Tasha Tudor and Beatrix Potter, you will love Hazelwood Forest, too.

I think we adults should buy picture books (and support talented artists) for ourselves, but I am fortunate to still have a small book-loving person in my life, so the choice, for me, was easy. I gave A Party for Pepper to Elsa on her third birthday in September, and I can honestly tell you it was one of her favorite gifts. Numbers are her thing right now, so while I enjoyed the depictions of sweet animals taking tea, Elsa counted and counted the gorgeous watercolor numbers.

I am already eager to see what Hartsig creates next.

Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World by Suzanne Woods Fisher was sent to me by a friend who read my recent blog posts on simplicity. She thought I’d like this book, and she was right. I haven’t finished it yet (this, too, is a book best absorbed slowly), but I can already recommend it.

Here are stories from Amish lives and reflections on Amish belief and practice for the rest of us. The tone is respectful but not fawning, and the author, though not Amish herself, has family roots and ongoing relationships within a plain community. In other words, she is not a voyeur, nor does she think we should all be Amish. Rather, she knows these communities well, her own life has been enriched by their wisdom, and she is interested in sharing that wisdom with us.

The book is organized for small group discussions. At first, I skimmed the discussion questions that come at the end of each brief chapter, but it finally dawned on me how much I would love to read this book with a group. I know there are some aspects of my complicated life and world I take entirely for granted or view as entirely fixed.

Reading this with a group, I wonder if we might discover just how much  we are not required to live the lives of overly busy consumers that our world demands?

We non-Amish types might object to having a church choose our house paint. The Ordnung seems confining and restrictive, invasive, even. It’s true that the Amish are not free to do some things. However, they are free from many others. – Suzanne Woods Fisher

On this same theme, I shared a story at the Art of Simple this week about slowing down to the pace of a horse-drawn buggy. It’s a story about slow travel and sacred places. It’s a story about placemaking. It surprised me as I wrote, and I am still pondering the ideas that emerged. I hope you’ll read it and ponder with me.

Happy Saturday, friends.

These Farmhouse Bookshelves

The very best writers are also readers.

No wonder there are so many good books about books (and bookstores and libraries). Here are three: a novel for grownups, a picture book for the littles, and a read-aloud for both.


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I finished the new novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan just last week, and I could hardly wait to tell you about it.

In some ways this pick is an obvious one for me: a cozy, creepy bookstore and a bookish mystery wrapped up in a sweet story of friendship and community.

In other ways, my appreciation for this book doesn’t make much sense at all: a fanatical Google employee, geeky computer-talk, and characters who are adorably cartoonish rather than fully human.

But I loved it. This is why: optimism and joy.

This is a novel to make us love the old ways and the new (dusty books and the latest e-readers). This is a story to fill us with admiration for quirky, independent bookstores and the corporate giants who rule the internet.

Sloan reminds us that printed books  were once the very latest in technological innovation. Remembering that helps me to feel so much more at ease in a world that often seems to be leaving books behind.

… this is exactly the kind of store that makes you want to buy a book about a teenage wizard. This is the kind of store that makes you want to be a teenage wizard.

This next pick is the kind of old-fashioned picture book I love. Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes is lovely to see and lovely to hear. This is one you won’t mind reading again and again (which is really the only kind of picture book worth having at all). It makes me long for the familiar shelves of my own childhood library.

I’m afraid that in our zeal to see our children develop into readers we move them too quickly from picture books to easy chapter books. The very best picture books are works of art. They are as important for adults and older children as they are for the preschool set.

Not only that, but the ideas and the language of most picture books (remember those “soporific” lettuces in the Beatrix Potter tale?) are far more challenging than anything you’ll find in a beginning reader.

Spend a few dollars and support a great artist. Buy a picture book.

One day, a lion came to the library.

I’m sure you’ve all read this last title. Matilda by Roald Dahl is a classic. I wasn’t going to mention it at all, but this hardcover edition is so pretty, and … well … what if some of you haven’t read it?? I can’t be held responsible for that, now can I?

Matilda just might be my favorite little reader. Her parents are horrible, her home life is tragically comedic, but Matilda finds the strength and love she requires in books. Good books turn Matilda into a heroine, and the book which bears her name is very, very good.

‘I’m wondering what to read next.’ Matilda said. ‘I’ve finished all the children’s books.’


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