On My Nightstand: January 2013

I read a lot this month. More than my normal. January was an exceptionally busy and somewhat stressful month for our family and I guess I got through it by reading! One benefit of having a husband in Seminary is that all those nights that he has to study, I can be with him by sitting in the same room reading. It’s not a bad tradeoff really.

Housekeeping: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson was an interesting read. I started off loving it. Her writing is beautiful. I often thought, “I wish I could write just one sentence like that, let alone an entire book.” But by the end of the book I felt suffocated. The story of two little girls who end up getting cared for by their grandmother, some great aunts, and then finally an aunt was one of troubling detached care. If you have a history of lack of attachment, I wouldn’t recommend it. I kept waiting for a breather. A bright spot. It never came. Her character descriptions are so vivid, though, that I felt like I was right there feeling the detachment along with the children. And that is perhaps why I kept waiting for a breath of fresh air. I guess that’s good writing. I’m not expecting all stories to end with a happy ending, but I felt left hanging completely. Most of the time nothing ever horrible really happened. But it was that forever detached atmosphere that was literally suffocating. I wonder how many people live like that. Probably a lot. If you have read this did you feel the same way? I was literally holding my breath a couple of times thinking, please, let somebody come into their lives to love them. I did enjoy Robinson’s writing enough to read more, though. I have heard great things about both Home and Gilead which I have heard are not nearly as dark, so I am going to try those.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough was a revolutionary book that came out this past year. In many ways, it follows many Christian principles. Character, working hard, and discipline are often at the core of Christian philosophy. Whether or not we actually practice that is another matter, because I have seen some of the most lazy people sitting in church. But that’s another discussion. This book explores how it isn’t IQ or innate “smartness” that will make a child successful. It is other characteristics. And the good news is that these things can actually be taught. You can teach someone to be curious, you can teach someone to work hard, to be diligent, to have grit. IQ can’t be changed, but character can.

Following children from both a private school with highly affluent students and an underprivileged school, Tough shows that both sides need this character to actually do anything. On the affluent side, they have parents jumping at teachers (because, after all they pay the teacher’s salary) for giving their children poor grades. These kids are not allowed to learn through failure, and therefore, while highly privileged and often with high IQ, they struggle to gain footing in real life. Everybody knows the problems with the underprivileged side. But it really is all the same issue. They both need that grit to make something of themselves. And that comes from failing and learning from those failures, self-discipline, and, well, good character. I was inspired by how many students were able to turn around often with the influence of only one teacher in their life. Teachers, if you want to be inspired to invest in a student, read this. Parents, remember it’s not all about smartness. Character has a huge part in what your children will become. As a Christian this is a no-brainer. And yet I’ve seen more Christian homes emphasize academics and then shelter their children from any type of failure to the point that they don’t end up with that grit needed to succeed in life.

What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend by Laura Vanderkam is a very short, but inspirational ebook about using our weekends effectively. It isn’t about filling up our weekends to the point of exhaustion, but rather the idea that often doing something is more reward and relaxing than doing nothing. You may come home from work Friday night ready to just veg all weekend, but is that really relaxing, or does that exhaust you even more? I was also taken aback by the numbers. She reminds readers that most parents only have about 900 weekends with their children. Planning a couple of anchor events in a weekend, can actually make the weekend more relaxing than just doing nothing all weekend.


Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn was very inspiring! I came into January very uninspired to cook. This totally made me want to get in the kitchen and cook! Flinn took 9 home cooks with a ranging of kitchen experience. This ranged from never having done anything but open a box to microwave, to ones that could read recipes, cooked at home, but never felt comfortable in the kitchen. I couldn’t believe how much I learned. There were a couple of chapters where it dragged on a bit, but overall it was really fun to read. I also came away with some really helpful cooking tips that I implemented right away. (Brian told me I should read more cooking books. Ahem… I’m not even kidding).

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. I’m not sure where I’ve been my whole life, but I didn’t even know about this book until recently. It is completely different the Anne of Green Gables but she still has those punchy characters that either make you laugh out loud, or cry. It was just a fun read. A bit “happily ever after-ish,” but fun.




Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder by Mariah Bruehl has a wealth of ideas. This would be great as a book to reference for ideas as your children learn and grow. She writes it for parents who have kids in school as a way to supplement your child’s learning, but some of it is quite involved so it would take a lot of time and commitment. One word of caution, at the beginning she details the space your children learn in. She has a lot of great ideas, but I’m guessing most of my readers here are in my situation where either you don’t have the space or the resources to pull off such amazing learning spaces. Don’t let that discourage you. There are lots of ideas that you can adapt and use in a variety of ways. I also like how she including children’s books and reference books for each of the activities if the child has further interest. I’ll be referencing this one a lot to supplement areas of learning.


Smooth and Easy Days Sonya Shafer was a great reminder about the importance of habit-training. I didn’t feel like it was all that revolutionary, but that is likely because I have read a lot of Charlotte Mason’s original works on the subject. It’s a free ebook, so I would definitely recommend it. It was a good refresher on a subject that I have thought a lot about and feel is important in our parenting.



Happier at Home:Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life by Gretchen Rubin is a follow up to her book The Happiness Project. I liked this book, but think I slightly prefer her first one. That remains to be seen, though, as even after the first one I didn’t realize until several months later how much I had taken away from it. So this one may very well be the same thing. Rubin sets out on a 9 month “Happier at Home” project. She chose one aspect of home or family life each month to dig deeper and find ways to make her life happier. Some of the things she does seem rather obvious, others were surprising, and definitely made me go, “aha!” that’s a great idea. Sometimes the most helpful thing is watching someone else systematically go through their lives and see what obvious (or not-so-obvious) things can be changed or adjusted to make life better. You probably won’t do the same things at all, but it definitely makes you think about what changes you could make.

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller was a convicting and comforting read. That is the Gospel, isn’t it? Both convicting and comforting. I really learned so much from reading this exposition on the well-known parable. His emphasis on both the younger brother and the elder brother being in an equally lost status was so good. I was convicted and it was also very helpful to read in terms of parenting. We all have tendencies toward either being the younger rebellious brother or the elder pious brother. But Jesus condemns both as equally lost.



That was my January reading. Have you read anything good lately?

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  1. I felt the same way about Housekeeping (http://aspiritedmind.com/2010/06/unhousekeeping-week-in-books-25/) and frankly couldn’t finish Gilead, although I know people who liked it. Robinson is on the extreme language side of the literary field (in the sense that some literary writers are all about diction and others are all about character, with many falling somewhere in the middle) and while I appreciate beautifully turned phrases, I find it gets oppressive when each and every phrase seems like it was crafted over the course of weeks. I actually think writing is better when it’s “aired out” a bit and the reader is given a chance to breathe. Robinson doesn’t really have that sense of pacing and creating space in her work. Which isn’t to say she isn’t enormously talented, just that I prefer other writers.

    • Thanks for the heads up. I think I do want to read it, but maybe I’ll take it slow so as not to get too bogged down in it.

  2. Wow, you have been doing a lot of reading. How Children Succeed sounds really interesting. I’m currently reading The Story by Max Lucado. It’s no substitute for the bible, but it’s easier to read in a crowded lunch room.

  3. You DID read a lot last month. I’m impressed. I’ve never read Housekeeping, but I’m a HUGE Gilead fan. It’s truly one of the most beautiful books I have ever read (Home is good, too, but Gilead is better). I do understand what Catherine says above, that writing needs to breathe a little, and I agree with her. I’m glad Marilynne Robinson has only written a handful of books. She is not for everyone, and she’s definitely not light reading.

    I will be adding several of these reads to my Amazon Wish List. Thanks!

    • I am planning on reading Gilead next. Friends that have read all of her books have said that this one is definitely the darkest.

  4. I agree about The Prodigal God. And I’m putting Kitchen Counter Cooking School on my list :)

  5. I love The Blue Castle! It’s been too long since I read that one. And thanks for the review of Housekeeping. I loved Gilead and have been curious about her other works, but this review definitely doesn’t make me want to dive in anytime soon.

    • If you ever do decide to give it a try, I would read it in a summer month. There is a lot of dark, snow, flooding, water, more dark, etc, with very little sunshine. Reading it in January probably didn’t help my perception of the darkness of it.

  6. Glad you found The Blue Castle. :) That was one of my favorites from LMM.

    • It was such a good read!

    • Very interesting video and difrnfeet as the doctor didnt do any packing but did cauterizing the wound. I loved the soundtrack to this video, its a hell of a lot better than elevator music or that acidrock/heavy metal serial killer music! Good job on the post!

  7. I love reading about what you’ve read :) I’m currently going through “How Children Succeed” on Audible. I’ve never heard of “The Blue Castle”, I may check that out on Kindle.

  8. I have to check out The Blue Castle. I love LM Montgomery. I still have her books from childhood on the shelf. I’m intrigued by your review and the other of Marilynne Robinson. I may have to check out one of her books. I have to recommend one of the books I read this month as it was incredible. Maybe you’ve already read it? A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations and a Little Girl named Penny by Amy Julia Becker. It was amazing! She gave me a whole new perspective on….well, I don’t want to give it away but it’s well worth the read!

    • Thanks for the recommendation, I had seen that title before but forgotten about it. Just put it on my to-read list!

  9. I really slowed down for my reading for the month of January. One great read I recommend is Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion (hoping to finish writing my review soon). I have several of these on my to-read list, and am going to add several of the others. :)

  10. Love your “On My Nightstand” posts!! I enjoyed reading your reviews and looking forward to reading them myself–definitely going to add some of these to my Goodreads “to-read” shelf! 😉

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