First of all, my summer reading list may totally not be your taste. I have a strong preference for Victorian romances, particularly those set in England, with a witty protagonist who overcomes tragic life circumstances. My point in sharing this isn’t to tell you what to read. Rather, I wanted to highlight areas of reading you may consider. I have 3 categories – books to feed my imagination, books to feed my mind, and books to feed my soul. These three categories offer me a variety and allow me to choose the book I’m in the mood for at a particular moment. I wouldn’t choose to read something weighty while lounging at the pool for instance. I don’t like to read non-fiction right before bed as I find I retain little. What might those categories look like for you?
The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, ‘I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!’ That is the secret; always have something ‘going’ to grow by. If we mothers were all ‘growing’ there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.”
(All quotes taken from Miss Mason’s PNEU article entitled MOTHER CULTURE)
Books to feed my imagination:
1. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Why I chose it:
A modern twist on Jane Eyre, my favorite book of all time? Why yes, of course I need to read it. I have a thing for classic Victorian romances. They are full of wit and class, plenty of romantic tension, and none of the sex of modern novels. I have a bent towards the gothic romances of the Bronte sisters. They are full of the harsh realities of life and that darkness makes the beautiful glimmer even more brightly. I like novels where I sympathize with the main female character and see her grow in confidence and maturity throughout the story. It somehow reminds me that there is always hope, no matter how bleak one’s circumstances may appear.
“Reader, I murdered him.”
A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: Can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?
A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.”
2. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Why I chose it:
So I keep hearing from people that I need to read this book, so I finally gave in. It’s not my typical choice…as in not a Victorian romance – Ha! I do love historical fiction as well and I do prefer novels set around the WWII period. Farm life in Kentucky doesn’t usually appeal to me, but after so many positive reviews, I feel I would be remiss to not give this book a go.
For the first 40 pages or so, Berry’s latest novel about the Kentucky farming community called, by its inhabitants as well as the author, the Port William membership, seems more of same. A good same, for few write American English more limpidly than Berry, and he has realized his characters as thoroughly as Faulkner did any of the people of Yoknapatawpha County. But as this telling of a farm woman’s life in her voice continues–and voice it seems more than writing, so spontaneously speechlike are its cadences and the simple accuracy of its diction–it feels ever more poetic. Not gnomic and surrealist, like prose poetry, but flowing and long breathed, like epic poetry. Of course, the story it tells is epical, that of a heroine who expresses, in her living and doing, the essence of her people. Its character is domestic rather than martial; though, since its time span includes World War II, its trials include the MIA disappearance of Hannah’s first husband and the ghastly combat experience of her second, Nathan Coulter, which Hannah learns of with any precision only after his death a half-century later. If its domesticity is more often happy and fulfilling, though, the cultural movement–the short, precipitate, ill-informed, poorly considered demise of the American family farm–over which Hannah’s beautiful and heartbreaking story arches is as tragic as any war. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
3. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
I’ve heard positive reviews about Ann Patchet, specifically from one of my favorite bookish bloggers, Modern Mrs. Darcy. The obvious choice would be to start with the New York Times bestseller, Bel Canto, but I found State of Wonder at a thrift store for $.50 and sometimes book budgets trump preferences. From the reviews I’ve read, State of Wonder holds its own to Bel Canto. This book is supposedly a page turner, perfect for reading at the pool!
In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned gynecologist who has spent years looking at the reproductive habits of a local tribe where women can conceive well into their middle ages and beyond. Eccentric and notoriously tough, Swenson is paid to find the key to this longstanding childbearing ability by the same company for which Dr. Singh works. Yet that isn’t their only connection: both have an overlapping professional past that Dr. Singh has long tried to forget. In finding her former mentor, Dr. Singh must face her own disappointments and regrets, along with the jungle’s unforgiving humidity and insects, making State of Wonder a multi-layered atmospheric novel that is hard to put down. Indeed, Patchett solidifies her well-deserved place as one of today’s master storytellers. Emotional, vivid, and a work of literature that will surely resonate with readers in the weeks and months to come, State of Wonder truly is a thing of beauty and mystery, much like the Amazon jungle itself. –Jessica Schein
Why I chose it:
British romance set in pre-WWI? I think that is an easy choice if you know my literary preferences. I read that this is a must read from Downtown Abby fans, so that pretty much sealed the deal in my mind. Enough said!
The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I that reaches far beyond the small English town in which it is set.
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.
When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing. But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.
5. The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Why I chose it:
So basically this book is about a distant relative of the Bronte Sisters who ends up finding clues, through their books, to find a family fortune. If you couldn’t guess all ready, I am a huge fan of the Brontes. This sounds absolutely intriguing. Another page turner for the pool here.
From Publisher’s Weekly:
“American Samantha Whipple’s hopes for an uneventful university career at Oxford are soon dashed when she realizes that everyone already knows her family story: she’s the last surviving twig of the Brontë family tree. What’s more, someone is frightening Samantha by surreptitiously planting her late father’s copies of Brontë novels in Samantha’s dorm room. Samantha had thought these were destroyed in the fire that killed her father several years earlier, but they may be cryptic clues to the mysterious Brontë estate Samantha stands to inherit. Samantha’s maddeningly demanding (and handsome) tutor, James Orville, is no help—he flat-out refuses to discuss the Brontës. Lowell’s debut novel offers some intriguing speculation about Brontë family dynamics, particularly with regard to the life and work of lesser-known sister Anne; the repeated discussions of authorial intent, however, will likely be glossed over by all but the most dedicated English majors. Even without its attraction for Brontë-philes, however, this is an enjoyable academic romp that successfully combines romance and intrigue, one that benefits from never taking itself too seriously.”
On long car trips I like to listen to classics on audiobook using the free Librivox app. The readers are superb and the books truly come to life in my mind as I drive for endless hours on the highway.
1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I remember really liking this book in high school, but I don’t really remember much about it. Of course it is written in Victorian England and it has a main character with a tragic beginning, so I can see why I have such fond memories.
2. A Room With a View by E. M. Forster
I’ve never read this book, but I’m just a sucker for English Victorian romances. This summary, “Written in 1908, A Room with a View is a social comedy set in Florence, Italy, and Surrey, England. Its heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, struggling against straitlaced Victorian attitudes of arrogance, narrow-mindedness and snobbery, falls in love-while on holiday in Italy-with the socially unsuitable George Emerson,” makes it seem like a book I will truly enjoy listening to.
Books to feed my mind:
Both of my “mind food” books are written by Charlotte Mason, a British educator and educational philospher from the early 20th century. Her ground breaking writings were based on the newest brain research and on her observations of children. She condemed the unitarian educational system of the time and proposed living ideas approach to learning where education is a “discipline, an atmosphere and a life.” I’ve been reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on about her methods for the last 6 months and feel that I am ready to tackle her thoughts in her own words. However, her writing style is not for the faint of heart.
1. Home Education
“Home Education consists of six lectures by Charlotte Mason about the raising and educating of young children (up to the age of nine), for parents and teachers. She encourages us to spend a lot of time outdoors, immersed in nature and handling natural objects and collecting experiences on which to base the rest of their education. She discusses the use of training in good habits such as attention, thinking, imagining, remembering, performing tasks with perfect execution, obedience, and truthfulness, to replace undesirable tendencies in children (and the adults that they grow into). She details how lessons in various school subjects can be done using her approach. She concludes with remarks about the Will, the Conscience, and the Divine Life in the Child. Charlotte Mason was a late nineteenth-century British educator whose ideas were far ahead of her time. She believed that children are born persons worthy of respect, rather than blank slates, and that it was better to feed their growing minds with living literature and vital ideas and knowledge, rather than dry facts and knowledge filtered and pre-digested by the teacher. Her method of education, still used by some private schools and many homeschooling families, is gentle and flexible, especially with younger children, and includes first-hand exposure to great and noble ideas through books in each school subject, conveying wonder and arousing curiosity, and through reflection upon great art, music, and poetry; nature observation as the primary means of early science teaching; use of manipulatives and real-life application to understand mathematical concepts and learning to reason, rather than rote memorization and working endless sums; and an emphasis on character and on cultivating and maintaining good personal habits. Schooling is teacher-directed, not child-led, but school time should be short enough to allow students free time to play and to pursue their own worthy interests such as handicrafts.”- Amazon
2. A Philosophy of Education
“Towards a Philosophy of Education is Charlotte Mason’s final book in her Homeschooling Series, written after years of seeing her approach in action. This volume gives the best overview of her philosophy, and includes the final version of her 20 Principles. This book is particularly directed to parents of older children, about ages 12 and up, but is a valuable overview for parents of younger children as well. Part I develops and discusses her 20 principles; Part II discusses the practical application of her theories.” – Amazon
Books to feed my soul:
1. Fervent by Priscilla Shirer
Why I chose it:
Prayer is certainly an area I’ve always struggled in. I like plans, so this book sounds like a must read! I’ve also had this book highly recommended to me by trusted friends.
“You have an enemy . . . and he’s dead set on destroying all you hold dear and keeping you from experiencing abundant life in Christ. What’s more, his approach to disrupting your life and discrediting your faith isn’t general or generic, not a one-size-fits-all. It’s specific. Personalized. Targeted.
So this book is your chance to strike back. With prayer. With a weapon that really works. Each chapter will guide you in crafting prayer strategies that hit the enemy where it hurts, letting him know you’re on to him and that you won’t back down. Because with every new strategy you build, you’re turning the fiercest battles of life into precise strikes against him and his handiwork, each one infused with the power of God’s Spirit.”
Why I chose it:
I have had SO many people tell me to read this. When I saw it at a garage sale, I snagged it immediatly.
“Many believers feel stunted in their Christian growth. We beat ourselves up over our failures and, in the process, pull away from God because we subconsciously believe He tallies our defects and hangs His head in disappointment. In this newly repackaged edition—now with full appendix, study questions, and the author’s own epilogue, ‘Ragamuffin Fifteen Years Later,’ Brennan Manning reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth. The Father beckons us to Himself with a ‘furious love’ that burns brightly and constantly. Only when we truly embrace God’s grace can we bask in the joy of a gospel that enfolds the most needy of His flock—the ‘ragamuffins.’
Most of us believe in God’s grace—in theory. But somehow we can’t seem to apply it in our daily lives. We continue to see Him as a small-minded bookkeeper, tallying our failures and successes on a score sheet.
Yet God gives us His grace, willingly, no matter what we’ve done. We come to Him as ragamuffins—dirty, bedraggled, and beat-up. And when we sit at His feet, He smiles upon us, the chosen objects of His ‘furious love’.”
So that’s my list. I would love to hear if you have read any of these books or what you are planning to read this summer!!!
If you would like to read my reviews, I’ll be sharing those on Instagram.