It's 43 degrees in Central Florida today, a fitting reminder of thirty-three years ago when it was below freezing and we chose to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger from our front window instead of from the front yard. Heather, who was in first grade at the time, watched from outside, with her classmates.
"It exploded, like when you pop a balloon," she later reported.
She had no idea then that she would later graduate from Carnegie Mellon University, alma mater of Judith Resnik, one of the seven astronauts who died in that explosion. At CMU she found others who understood her emotional response. The loss of Challenger before our eyes left an indelible mark on Central Floridians. For us, it was similar to that left on the rest of the country two decades earlier by the assassination of President Kennedy, and two decades later by the destruction of the Twin Towers.
We still remember.
I also remember this poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., quoted at the time to great effect by President Reagan:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
One key to holding on to our sanity is realizing that it is in the interest of so many others to keep us in a state of fear. Fearful people stay riveted to news programs, they buy lots of stuff they don't need, they indulge in expensive and unhealthful habits to dull the pain, they give up their vital freedoms and basic rights in the name of security, and their anxiety is all too easily turned to anger and hatred. Fearful people are sheep, easily manipulated and ready prey for the politician, the salesman, the agitator, the televangelist, the gang leader.
Another key is to understand that as horrific as are the events we hear about on the news, they are much more rare than we are led to believe by those who profit from our fears. From school shootings to vaccine reactions, from raw cookie dough illnesses to child kidnappings by strangers, we are given the impression that statistically infinitesimal risks are looming over us daily. They're not.
Generally, crime rates in America are much lower now than they were when my own children were young, but it's today's parents who are afraid to let their kids walk to school—or even play in the back yard without an adult present—and won't leave 11-year-olds alone at home for a few hours. (Twenty years ago, 11-year-olds were considered responsible babysitters.) When one is bombarded daily, and repeatedly, with stories of crime, and crimes against humanity, it's hard not to think that our world is worse than it is. More concerning still, studies show that fictitious violence (movies, television, video games) has the same effect on our gut as real news stories.
In any case, here's the very important paradox: No matter how bad we may think the world is, the way to raise healthy, well-adjusted children—the kind who will contribute to making the world better—is to avoid passing on our anxieties. Children need to know that the world is, generally, a safe place, beginning with their own families, and that where it is not, it can be faced with courage and hope. Growing up fearful is not conducive to good mental health.
How to resolve this? For one thing, we should help our children to become as competent as possible in basic life skills, so that they have—and know that they have—the tools to face the world as it comes to them. I also recommend the Fred Rogers quote about the importance of looking to the helpers in any bad situation. And stories. Lots of good stories, from biographies of heroes to heroic fairy tales, where evil is defeated by goodness and strength and courage. As C. S. Lewis said, "Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage."
Maybe that can work for adults as well. It's worth a try.
I need to read Flannery O'Connor. I've been more than intimidated by the 617-page copy of The Habit of Being that is sitting on my shelves. But I just came upon the following quotation and am inspired to tackle this writer who so obviously understands why I write.
I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.
We did it. We took the title away from Harrison County, Mississippi. Our very own Seminole County was the #1 spot for lightning strikes in 2018, with 17.3 strikes per square kilometer. Nearby Orange County came in second, with 15.6. In fact, Florida counties claimed the top 13 places.
Overall, Florida was second in the country for total number of strikes, with 1.4 million. Texas—four times our size—took top honors with 2.5 million.
I'd say the President and the Speaker of the House are acting like two-year-olds, but I have more respect for two-year-olds than that. That said, in their recent spat—in which the Speaker told the President that in light of the partial government shutdown he should postpone his State of the Union Speech or submit it in writing, and the President told the Speaker that in light of the same she couldn't use a military jet for her planned foreign travel but was welcome to fly a commercial airline—each made an excellent point.
The subject, "As Go the People, so Go the Leaders" has two meanings. One, that while we should be able to expect our leaders to be better in every way than the rest of us, that never happens, and can not realistically be expected in a democracy. For the record, I believe democracy to be the best form of government, and do not believe that our political system is broken, as so many are fond of saying. What is broken is our culture, especially our culture as seen through our media—and all too often we deserve what we get.
The second meaning is more to the point here. I'll give the Executive their Air Force One. But the Legislative Branch? The branch that is supposed to be made up of representatives of the American people? I'm sick of Congress exempting itself from the rules it imposes on the rest of the country, and the practices that further divide our representatives from the reality of American life. Let them fly the way the rest of us do. Preferably coach class.
And having a written State of the Union speech instead of a political grandstanding media circus? Sounds great to me!
Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization by John J. Ratey and Richard manning (Little, Brown and Company, 2014)
I've neither the time nor the inclination for a full review of Go Wild, which I borrowed from the library while waiting for them to acquire Spark, another book by John Ratey, which was highly recommended by a friend. Fortunately, the friend said about Go Wild that she found it good but not worth paying for, so I'm still looking forward to Spark. I found Go Wild too annoying to call "good," but I am glad I read it, as there's a reasonable amount of inspiring information in it.
To begin with, the author pushes several wrong buttons for me, from the trivial to the overwhelming. As an example of the former, there's this (emphasis mine):
Even the child's song knows that the leg bone is connected to the thigh bone; we mean to press this idea a lot further to provide some appreciation of the enormous complexity and interconnectedness of the various elements of human life.
I'm sure he's referring to the spiritual, Dem Bones, which is not a child's song, even if it might end up in a collection of songs intended for children. And I know there are different versions, as there always are with songs of the people, but all the versions I've found acknowledge that the thigh bone is connected to the knee and the hip, not the "leg bone" (or "shin bone" as I know it). Yes, it's trivial—but to me it points to carelessness on the part of the author, which doesn't increase my confidence in what he says. (Or maybe I should blame his proofreaders.) There are other occasions where I get the same feeling.
Then there's this, which to me undercuts all his arguments: I'm fine with evolution as a scientific theory of origins and change. I'd go so far as to say it does an excellent job of explaining much of the available data. But I am not okay with evolution personified and deified, which is what happens in this book. All over, everywhere: "Evolution endowed," "evolution created," "evolution designed." Not only is evolution the basis for all the book's arguments, but the language makes evolution seem like a living, sentient, personal entity—though not, the authors are careful to point out, a loving one.
I was late in coming to the appreciation of religion, but I've always loved science. The religion of science horrifies me, however, and with that this book abounds. Add to that a significant dose of Eastern spirituality, and the feeling that the authors have been, perhaps, a little too selective in the studies they choose to believe—well, I wasn't too happy with the book.
It's also hard to take too seriously someone who—although he loves the outdoors and runs ultramarathons, will also drive 45 minutes to find a gym in the middle of nowhere.
That said, it's almost amazing that I found much of value here, but I did.
The authors cover a lot of ground. Here's a brief summary, although it doesn't come close to doing the ideas justice.
- Do what works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all. Take the first step in any of the areas they recommend changing, and you will find yourself gradually taking on more and more.
- Don't eat sugar in any form.
- Eat no wheat, rice, oats, or any other grain, not even in whole-grain form. No high-carb vegetables like sweet potatoes. No manufactured fats, no processed food, no fast food.
- Eat eggs, grass-finished beef, cold-water fish, nuts, simple fresh fruits and vegetables—but no fruit juices.
- Variety is important—as long as you avoid the long list of don'ts.
- Find a form of exercise you like, and do it.
- Exercise that invovles a variety of movements, the whole body, and lots of variation is best.
- Exercise is better out in nature.
- Exercise is better with other people.
- Get more sleep. If you live in 21st century America, it's guaranteed you're not getting enough sleep.
- Sleeping in the same room with the rest of your family is more healthful. (And we thought better sleep at the Maggie P. was due to the salt air.)
- Don't make your babies sleep alone.
- Soothing sounds, such as a crackling fire, or trusted adults moving around and talking quietly, lead to more satisfying sleep.
- Sleep doesn't have to happen all at once. Naps are fine. If you find yourself lying awake in the middle of the night, don't fight it, but get up and do something. Go back to bed later.
- The authors clearly admire Eastern spirituality, and thus promote the practice of meditation. But what they are trying to replicate is the relaxed hyper-awareness common among hunter-gatherer peoples, an ability to calm the brain of distractions while being alert—even more alert than otherwise. This turns out to be good for both brain and body health.
- Being out in nature is enormously healthful. Even an indoor potted plant helps.
- We need other people. We need our own "tribe."
- I wish he had dealt with the differences between introverts and extroverts in this section. We all need people, but they way we need each other is very different for the different personality types, and the authors appear to consider only the extrovert point of view.
As usual, this started out as the place to record a few interesting quotations, and ended up being a long review after all, though my summary did peter out at the end. There's a lot to think about here. I steadfastly reject the authors' extremes: for example, when it comes to food I am an omnivore by inclination but even more by principle, and I would no more adopt this no-carb regimen than I would go vegetarian. At the same time, it's good to eat a lot of vegetables, and it's also good to reduce our intake of carbohydrates, at least of the empty variety. I won't become a marathon runner, much less tackle an ultramarathon—but the book's thesis on the importance of movement is not only convincing, but provides inspiration to do things I've known for a long time that I should be doing.
Here are the random quotes:
Cows evolved to eat grass, but mostly we no longer feed them grass; we feed them the corn and soybeans that are the prime products of our industrial agriculture system. The practice of fattening beef in feedlots and the preponderance of factory beef in the fast-food system passes this omega-3 shortage into our bodies. ... [T]his is also why eating red meat itself has gotten a bad rap, with endless strings of studies linking it to heart disease and a variety of other issues. The beef that is the basis of these conclusions is factory beef, and no wonder.
Although I agree with the authors' complaint that the studies were made with the wrong kind of beef, they provide no evidence that beef from grass-fed cows does not have the same bad effects. I suspect that to be the case, but a citation of some evidence would have been nice.
[W]e begin to understand why social sleeping seems to be a nearly universal characteristic of cultures.... While we are sleeping, we continue to monitor our surroundings for cues of safety: relaxed conversation, relaxed movement of others, popping fire. Those cues, subtle sounds signaling safely, tell us we can retreat to our deepest sleep.
Many cultures are, in fact, conscious of all of this and the importance of these arrangements, and no place is the importance more pronounced than in the case of infants. ... All of this helps explain ... an almost universal perplexed response among most other cultures upon hearing of the Western practice of making babies sleep alone. "They think of this as child abuse. They literally do."
A very recent paper correlates an increase in the incidence of autism with receiving Pitocin during delivery. [Neurobiologist Sue Carter] says that Pitocin is routinely administered to delivering mothers in, she estimates, 90 percent of cases, although there are some signs that this practice is waning.
Why does aggression persist beyond reasons for it? Why are we so riven with senseless killing and warfare?
I picked up on that last one just because it highlights the central problem for people who have no sense of the reality of sin, only of its consequences.
The vagus nerve links up all the tools we need to respond to an existential threat, and so the vagal brake is a signal sent through the system for everything to stand down and engage—at ease. ... There is a simple measure of this. It can be read in the tension or lack of tension in facial muscles, heard in voice timbre and edge, and counted in rate of respiration. ... There is such a thing as vagal tone, completely analogous to muscle tone—and the tone shows how clear and distinct a given individual's ability to apply the brake is.
The vagal brake can be driven by breath, a clear connection readable as blips on a chart. You are in control of your breath, to some degree. Thus, this is not simply a point for measuring or sensing arousal; it is a point for controlling arousal and, downstream, the health problems that stem from lack of control.
If you force yourself to smile, the specific spots in the brain that register depression suddenly say your depression is better. ... It turns out that a halfway, forced smile won't do the trick, because it won't light up the neurons of increased happiness in your brain. But if that forced smile goes so far as to engage the little muscles in the corners of your eyes—that is, if you do what socially adept people understand instinctively—these neurons do indeed light up. And the muscles at the corners of your eyes are within the reach of the vagus nerve.
[The breath] exerts control through the alarm system that is the autonomic nervous system. [Researcher Stephen Porges] says he realized a long time ago—because he is a musician, specifically a horn player—that the act of controlling the breath to control the rhythm of music and at the same time engaging the brain to execute the mechanics of music works like a mental therapy. To his mind, it has all the elements of pranayama yoga, a form of yoga that stresses breath control.
The act of controlling the breath has a parallel brain response of calming our instincts for fear and danger. It's easy enough to see this in deliberate practices like yoga, but the same idea applies in many more time-honored practices: choral singing, Gregorian chants, even social music like bluegrass or blues derived from the chants and work songs that African slaves developed to help them tolerate oppression.
Music or evidence of music appeared fifty thousand years ago in that sudden flourish of evidence of cultural evolution that defined humans as humans—and ever since, music has loomed as a cultural universal. All known cultures and people make music. Yet all of this also suggests that we lose something when the crane's leg bone gets replaced by an iPod. We lose the benefits of sitting in a circle of fellow humans and driving the breath and beat that drives the music. [Emphasis mine]
As my friend said, Go Wild is worth reading—but not worth buying. If what I can only describe as bizarre spirituality—bizarre for a book that claims to be scientific—doesn't bother you, and if you can overlook the extremities, which are at their worst in the section on food, there are a number of interesting and worthwhile points.
I laughed, I cried, I groaned, I was on the edge of my seat till the very end!
A romance novel? An thriller? Murder mystery? Action-packed drama?
Well, no. The most recent blog post from The Occasional CEO, entitled, "25 Rules for Writing a Book." This actually showed up in my feed reader at the same time as the announcement of a new book by another friend, who writes as Blair Bancroft.
Eric Schultz writes completely different books from Blair Bancroft, though I wouldn't be surprised if Blair recognizes herself in some of Eric's points. I'm pretty sure that in this post he's writing about a book I've been waiting years for, ever since he dropped a hint in another post. If you read his 25 rules, you'll understand why I say I hope it's still the book I've been looking forward to.
- Don't throw anything away! No experience is ever really wasted, but becomes fodder for something in the future. You never know when you might find it useful. (That attitude is why I have trouble decluttering my house, my photos, and especially my computer.)
- When I accidentally deleted and had to rewrite a very long blog post, you assured me that the re-written post was guaranteed to be better. Based on this, I predict that when the new book is finally published, it will be your best ever.
- I'm an Oxford comma person. But I also like semicolons.
- Finish the hat???
- Love the snowy owl!
- I'm still looking forward to reading it, even if it is now more of a business book than a history book.
To everyone else: read it. Even if you don't consider yourself a writer. It's not just about writing; it's about life. Mothers especially can relate.
The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis (Simon & Schuster, 1986; originally published 1940)
This is not a review, but a collection to replace the sticky notes I had affixed to this book as I re-read it recently. With some comments. The emphasis is my own.
Chapter Three: Divine Goodness
The association of ... man and dog is primarily for the man's sake: he tames the dog primarily that he may love it, not that it may love him, and that it may serve him, not that he may serve it. Yet at the same time, the dog's interests are not sacrificed to the man's. The one end (that he may love it) cannot be fully attained unless it also, in its fashion, loves him, nor can it serve him unless he, in a different fashion, serves it. Now just because the dog is by human standards one of the "best" of irrational creatures, and a proper object for a man to love—of course with that degree and kind of love which is proper to such an object, and not with silly anthropomorphic exaggerations—man interferes with the dog and makes it more lovable than it was in mere nature. In its state of nature it has a smell, and habits, which frustrate man's love: he washes it, house-trains it, teaches it not to steal, and is so enabled to love it completely. To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts on the "goodness" of man: but the full-grown and full-trained dog, larger, healthier, and longer-lived than the wild dog, and admitted, as it were by Grace, to a whole world of affections, loyalties, interests, and comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny, would have no such doubts.
The man (I am speaking throughout of the good man) takes all these pains with the dog, and give all these pains to the dog, only because it is an animal high in the scale—because it is so nearly lovable that it is worth his while to make it fully lovable. He does not house-train the earwig or give baths to centipedes. We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses—that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but ... we are asking not for more Love, but for less.
Chapter Four: Human Wickedness
This chapter will have been misunderstood if anyone describes it as a reinstatement of the doctrine of Total Depravity. I disbelieve that doctrine, partly on the logical ground that if our depravity were total we should not know ourselves to be depraved, and party because experience shows us much goodness in human nature. Nor am I recommending universal gloom. The emotion of shame has been valued not as an emotion but because of the insight to which it leads. I think that insight should be permanent in each man's mind: but whether the painful emotions that attend it should also be encouraged, is a technical problem of spiritual direction on which, as a layman, I have little call to speak. My own idea, for what it is worth, is that all sadness which is not either arising from the repentance of a concrete sin and hastening towards concrete amendment or restitution, or else arising from pity and hastening to active assistance, is simply bad; and I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to "rejoice" as much as by anything else. Humility, after the first shock, is a cheerful virtue: it is the high-minded unbeliever, desperately trying in the teeth of repeated disillusions to retain his "faith in human nature" who is really sad.
It's important to realize that when Lewis talks about sadness as being bad, he's not referring to the kind of sorrow, for example, that we feel when someone we love dies. The chapter is about sin and human wickedness.
Chapter Seven: Human Pain, continued
We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk, about the "unimaginable sum of human misery." Suppose that I have a toothache of intensity x: and suppose that you, who are seated beside me, also begin to have a toothache of intensity x. You may, if you choose, say that the total amount of pain in the room is now 2x. But you must remember that no one is suffering 2x: search all time and all space and you will not find that composite pain in anyone's consciousness. There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When we have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain.
I'm not sure I buy this argument completely. I'm quite certain God knows (and feels) the fullness of that "composite pain"—though if there's a human limit, Jesus as man could not have experienced more than that. Lewis is speaking of human suffering so maybe what Omniscience knows doesn't count. And I do believe that to some extent pain is additive (or multiplicative): If I am sufferning x, and my child is suffering x, if we remain ignorant of each other's suffering, then we are indeed each only experiencing x. But if we know, if we can see, if we can hear each other's agony, then our own pain becomes greater: 1.5x, 2x, 10x, whatever—but definitely greater. This is why the media's fascination with reporting tragedies in all their gory details, over and over, is a problem. The graphic portrayal of even false suffering (think movies, TV shows, and video games) affects us badly. It might be worthwhile if it resulted in an outpouring of effective efforts to address the needs represented, but I believe the net effect is actually an increase in the natural responses to viewing suffering we cannot alleviate: depression and callousness.
Chapter 10: Heaven
Each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all the blessed creatures for one another, the communion of the saints. If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note. Aristotle has told us that a city is a unity of unlikes, and St. Paul that a body is a unity of different members. Heaven is a city, and a Body, because the blessed remain eternally different: a society, because each has something to tell all the others—fresh and ever fresh news of the "My God" whom each finds in Him whom all praise as "Our God."
Union exists only between distincts; and, perhaps, from this point of view, we catch a momentary glimpse of the meaning of all things. Pantheism is a creed not so much false as hopelessly behind the times. Once, before creation, it would have been true to say that everything was God. But God created: He caused things to be other than Himself that, being distinct, they might learn to love Him, and achieve union instead of mere sameness. ... Even within the Holy One Himself, it is not sufficient that the Word should be God, it must also be with God. The Father eternally begets the Son and the Holy Ghost proceeds: deity introduces distinction within itself so that the union of reciprocal loves may transcend mere arithmetical unity.
[The preacher] began to discover one peculiar advantage belonging to the little open chamber of the pulpit—open not only or especially to heaven above, but to so many of the secret chambers of the souls of the congregation. For what a man dares not, could not if he dared, and dared not if he could, say to another, even at the time and in the place fittest of all, he can say thence, open-faced before the whole congregation; and the person in need thereof may hear it without umbrage, or the choking husk of individual application, irritating to the rejection of what truth may lie in it for him.
This passage from George MacDonald's Thomas Wingfold, Curate (chapter 7) applies not only to the pulpit, but also to the blog. The trouble with opinions, complaints, suggestions, and exhortations spoken in person (or e-mail, or text—anything addressed to an individual or a distinctive group) is that the hearer often takes the words personally, as directed towards himself, even when they are not. A blog post, on the other hand, is an offering, one of many in a smorgasbord, presented to the world so that one might take, and another reject the offering, in whole or in part, without offense to either the giver or the recipient.
My brother used to tell me that drinking orange juice was no better than drinking Coke, as it was no better than sweetened water.
Being a Floridian, that has rankled ever since.
It was brought to mind recently in a discussion with my nephew, the medical student, in which I heard him say that the recommendation for drinking juice was no more than two or three times a week. I may have heard the details wrong, because I don't see that when I look online for official recommendations, which are a bit more generous. Or it may be the newest medical-school thinking that hasn't yet been set in stone. But the upshot of the discussion was that whole fruits are good for you and should be encouraged, while fruit juice is bad for you, with no real benefits, and should be severely restricted. This opinion piece in the New York Times is an example of the bad rap juice is getting.
The doctors have good intentions, but I wouldn't be surprised if the real impetus behind this negative attitude towards juice comes from those who want to push soda consumption. After all, if orange juice isn't any better than Coke, why not drink Coke for breakfast, as the granddaughter of an acquaintance used to do?
The real question is: Why is juice so radically different from the whole fruit from which it is (supposedly) made, that the recommendations for consumption are polar opposites?
My answer is that what is called juice these days may have started as fruit, but has been so processed—strained, filtered, heated, added to and subtracted from, torn apart and put (somewhat) back together—that its source is no longer recognizable. Consider the following products:
- Oranges, freshly-picked from the tree, and reamed to extract the juice and much of the flesh
- Fresh orange juice that has not been pasteurized (I can buy this at local specialty stores, and also at Costco!)
- "Not from Concentrate" orange juice from the grocery store, which has been processed and pasteurized but at least looks like orange juice because it includes pulp
- #3 but without any pulp
- #3 or #4 with calcium added
- Orange juice from concentrate (John McPhee's book, Oranges, has a graphic description of what happens in that process)
- Orange juice drink, orange drink, orange-flavored drink, and other designations of something that may or may not have some real orange juice in it
- Tang and other pseudo-orange beverage mixes
The legal definitions are fuzzy—it's amazing what you can do to a product and still call it "orange juice"—and doctors rightly draw a line between #6 and #7, but say "orange juice" to the general public, and you could evoke thoughts of any of the above.
As far as I'm concerned, the list is in decreasing order of flavor. I suspect it is also in decreasing order of nutrition. But this definition of "juice" is so broad, even if you exclude #7 and #8, that it's useless. What do the doctors mean when they say "fruit is good, juice is bad"? Are they even considering how slippery the definition is?
This is orange juice.
It is juice I squeezed from oranges Porter picked from our own Page orange tree. Technically, the above statement is incorrect, because the Page orange is not a true orange, but a hybrid developed in Orlando in the 1940's that is 3/4 tangerine and 1/4 grapefruit. I should have said, This is citrus juice. I have no idea what the Food and Drug Administration would call it. I call it delicious.
Drinking this juice is not the same thing as eating the fruit, I'll grant. Some of the membranes are left behind in the juicing process. But a lot gets through, as you can see in this picture of the juice before I shook the bottle.
I'd say the experience is pretty close to eating the fruit. I acknowledge that the experience of drinking processed, grocery-store juice is radically different from that of eating fruit. However, the problem is not in the juice. The problem is in the processing, and the labelling.
Don't fight to eliminate juice. Fight to bring back real food!
The year of 2018 may stand as the one in which I read the most books ever. Records were made to be broken, of course, but this year's effort was helped considerably by the completion of my project of reading my entire collection of books by Miss Read, which tend to be under 300 pages and easy reading. When I realized that I had tied my previous record before the end of September (73, set in 2015), the thought crossed my mind, "Wouldn't it be cool to reach 100 by the end of the year?" "Impossible," I told myself. Well, you know how I feel when someone says, "impossible," even it's myself to myself. So I set a goal of reaching a full century, without resorting to padding the list with books chosen merely for their brevity. I confess that the goal did change my reading habits somewhat, since after making that decision I put off any particularly lengthy books—such as my grandson's favorite Wheel of Time series with its 900 or so page average—until 2019.
The month with the fewest books read was January, no surprise since we were overseas part of the month, and that's when I read the first of the Wheel of Time books. I read the most books (14) in October. Once again I'm pleased with the mixture, though as I said it was pretty heavily weighted towards Miss Read. I enjoy these projects of binge-reading a particular author; I've also done Shakespeare, George MacDonald, and J. R. R. Tolkien. My current project is C. S. Lewis, which will weigh in very heavily next year, given that our home library alone contains 50 books by or about him.
Here's the alphabetical list; links are to reviews. Titles in bold I found particularly worthwhile. This chronological list has ratings and warnings as well.
- Affairs at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen
- At Home in Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
- Battles at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- The Bible (ESV - English Standard Version)
- The Big Burn by Timothy Egan
- The Birth of the United States: 1763 - 1816 by Isaac Asimov
- The Black Star of Kingston by S. D. Smith
- By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- C. S. Lewis: A Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper
- C. S. Lewis: Images of His World by Douglas Gilbert and Clyde S. Kilby
- Celebrations at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Changes at Fairacre by Miss Read
- The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read
- Country Bunch by Miss Read
- Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
- The Dark Tower and Other Stories by C. S. Lewis
- Ember Falls by S. D. Smith
- Ember Rising by S. D. Smith
- Emily Davis by Miss Read
- The Excellence Habit by Vlad Zachary
- The Fairacre Festival by Miss Read
- Farewell to Fairacre by Miss Read
- Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Farther Afield by Miss Read
- The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Force 10 from Navarone by Alistair MacLean
- Foster's War by Carolyn Reeder
- Fresh from the Country by Miss Read
- Friends at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- From a Northern Window by Ronald MacDonald
- George MacDonald: 365 Readings by C. S. Lewis
- George MacDonald's Fiction: A Twentieth-Century View by Richard Reis
- The Golden Door: The United States from 1865 to 1918 by Isaac Asimov
- Gossip from Thrush Green by Miss Read
- The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
- The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald by Rolland Hein
- Heidi by Johanna Spyri
- Highest Duty by "Sully" Sullenberger
- The Howards of Caxley by Miss Read
- Invitation to Number Theory by Oystein Ore
- Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
- The Last Archer by S. D. Smith
- Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan
- The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter
- Life Essential: The Hope of the Gospel by George MacDonald, edited by Rolland Hein
- The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
- Lincoln's Last Days by Bill O'Reilly and Dwight Jon Zimmerman
- Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Lost Empress by Steve Robinson
- The Man Who Counted by Malba Tahan
- The Market Square by Miss Read
- Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
- The Mindverse Chronicles by Anaya Roma (Diana Villafaña)
- Momo by Michael Ende
- Moonshiner's Son by Carolyn Reeder
- The Pilgrim's Regress by C. S. Lewis
- Mrs. Pringle of Fairacre by Miss Read
- Proving the Unseen by George MacDonald
- New Worlds to Conquer by Richard Halliburton
- News from Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Night Without End by Alistair MacLean
- No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read
- Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield
- On Stage, Please by Veronica Tennant
- On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane
- One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler
- Our Federal Union: The United States from 1816 to 1865 by Isaac Asimov
- Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis
- Outlaws of Time #1: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N. D. Wilson
- Outlaws of Time #2: The Song of Glory and Ghost by N. D. Wilson
- Outlaws of Time #3: The Last of the Lost Boys by N. D. Wilson
- A Peaceful Retirement by Miss Read
- Planet Narnia by Michael Ward
- The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
- R & M (beta version) by MB
- Return to Thrush Green by Miss Read
- The School at Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder
- The Shaping of North America: From Earliest Times to 1763 by Isaac Asimov
- Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey
- Spirits in Bondage by C. S. Lewis
- Summer in Fairacre by Miss Read
- Theatre Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
- These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Thrush Green by Miss Read
- Time Remembered by Miss Read
- Toby Tyler; or, Ten Weeks with a Circus by James Otis
- Tyler's Row by Miss Read
- Village Affairs by Miss Read
- Village Centenary by Miss Read
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Wheel of Time Book 1: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
- White Fang by Jack London
- The White People by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- The White Robin by Miss Read
- The Wind from the Stars by George MacDonald, edited by Gordon Reid
- Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read
- The World Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler
- The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
- The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner by S. D. Smith
- The Year at Thrush Green by Miss Read