These Farmhouse Bookshelves

These Farmhouse Bookshelves

Crochet coasters and book


It has been too windy and cold since Easter for much gardening. Asparagus crowns, strawberry plants, and a net sack of seed potatoes are all waiting, more patiently than I am, to be planted out. If April showers bring May flowers, then I am hoping April hail and snow really do the trick.

While the storms rage, I read up a storm indoors.


You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit is a new release by James K. A. Smith. I don’t tend to pick up books on Christian discipleship and spiritual formation, or, if I do, my attention wanders well before I’ve turned the final page.  Though I haven’t quite finished this one, I’ve begun deliberately slowing my pace. I’m already certain I’ll be reading this a second time and passing it on.

Smith’s argument is at once self-evident and astonishing. It brings into sharp focus so many of the dynamics of my own spiritual journey.

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” but most of us know, intuitively, that isn’t so. What we think touches only a small, small part of our lives. Love, desire, and worship are much more powerful forces in our lives, and we will never be transformed if we limit Christian discipleship to what we think about doctrine or articles of faith.

The difficult but ultimately beautiful truth explored in this book is that we do not always love who and what we think we love.


I read the first installment in the Duncan Kinkaid/ Gemma James mystery series, A Share in Death, a long time ago and promptly forgot about it. I enjoyed the story, but I forgot that what I appreciate most in a mystery series is the slow and subtle revelation of the central characters. This means that if I think a series has potential, I should read them in order and read at least the first two or three. I am so glad I recently picked up book two All Shall Be Well.

I don’t like the look of mass market paperbacks (perhaps because they all look the same to me?), but, despite appearances, this is a great series for fans of Louise Penny. Scotland Yard detective Duncan Kinkaid interviews suspects in a London of stewed tea and curry takeaways while Inspector Gamache enjoys tender baguettes in a quaint Quebec village, but I think they have a lot in common. These books are a great way to pass the time until Penny’s newest book comes out in August.


Next week I’ll be participating in the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Michigan. I’ll be speaking on a panel with Preston Yancey (I’ve heard his latest book Out of the House of Bread is wonderful, and I’ll be reading it myself soon), Addie Zierman (I told you how much I enjoyed her latest memoir, Night Driving), and another wonderful writer Sarah Bessey (her latest is Out of Sorts: Making Peace With An Evolving Faith).

I’m looking forward to hearing from some of my favorite writers, including Christian Wiman, Leslie Leyland Fields, Luci Shaw, and George Saunders.

I met blogger Anne Bogel at the last Festival of Faith and Writing. If you are looking for a new book to read, I highly recommend her podcast What Should I Read Next? In each episode, Anne talks with a thoughtful reader about three books they love and one book they hate. Based on those titles, she recommends three books to try. I almost always learn about some new-to-me title, and it was a conversation on this podcast that reminded me I’d abandoned the Duncan Kinkaid/Gemma James series too quickly.


After a brief hiatus, the Roots and Sky book club is back. Laura Brown asks such thoughtful questions. I hope you’ll check it out, either by offering your own comment or “listening” in. As a bonus, you’ll find several audio recordings of me reading from the book.

I recently shared a Roots and Sky-themed installment of “These Farmhouse Bookshelves” on writer Rachel McMillan’s website.

I have a new piece called “Comfort Food For Those Who Mourn” at Grace Table. It includes a recipe for my family’s favorite dessert.


Do you have a favorite comfort food?


These Farmhouse Bookshelves (and a Giveaway!)

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!


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