I have a bit of a book problem. So far we haven’t gotten to the point where I need an intervention — although my husband has said a few times in our 11-year marriage, “Let’s stop buying so many books for a while, okay, babe?” — but I do have to keep forcing myself to finish a stack before I get another, either from the library, book sales, or online. It’s a bit of a problem, and I do recognize it’s sometimes gluttonous.
I like to keep a lot of books going partly because I’m greedy and partly because exactly what kind of thing I want to read differs wildly by how I’m feeling at the moment. Some books are restful, some are work, and some are frightening. I can’t read the scary or hard-work books right before bed, for example, or they will keep me awake.
Anywho, many people have a bit extra time over the summer to read, so here’s what I have on the docket at the moment in case something here strikes your fancy too.
“The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady,” by Edith Holden (Rizzoli). I got a beautiful 2018 cloth-bound edition of this young British woman’s 1906 nature diary for Christmas and have been reading along with it this year month by month. So, I read the January entries in January, the February entries in February, and so forth. It is gloriously illustrated by the author’s own hand and is full of poetry and other seasonal observations of the natural world in Holden’s native Warwickshire. This is definitely a bedtime book for me.
“East of Eden,” by John Steinbeck (various). My book club is reading this and even though I suggested we read it I hate it. It has taken the encouragement of several friends to keep me going. It’s billed as an “American epic novel” that recreates the events of the biblical book of Genesis, but I find it as sexually and bloodthirstily terrifying as “Game of Thrones.”
Your mileage may vary; people whose taste I think is very good have told me it’s worth continuing to assault my psyche with this monstrosity. I’m doing my best, but it’s very hard. This I cannot read at bedtime. The evil woman figure is deeply terrifying to me.
Yes, I was an English major, and yes, I have thus long hated lots of the American novelists especially. Or maybe it’s just the modern authors. Still, even James Joyce is better than this. Bring me Jane Austen and Shakespeare every day and twice on Sunday! I might have to console myself with Austen again after I finally finish this horrible, horrible book.
“In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity,” by Josef Pieper (Harcourt). This is another brief read, but also a slow read. It is not hard to read the prose but the subject matter is so deep that I like and need to read it slowly. This book has been on my reading list for a long time and I finally picked it up. I have been doing a lot of thinking about how to get my family life in tune with the seasons, not just of the natural world but also of the church year. Reading about what it means to celebrate, from a good and strangely readable philosopher, is part of that thinking.
Political and Cultural
“Crisis of the Two Constitutions,” by Charles R. Kesler (Encounter). This is also a book I can’t read before bed but that’s because to understand it I need all my wits. I’m only about a third of the way through and it’s slow going because I have to stop and think about what the author is saying every two or three pages, if that, then often go back and reread.
But I enjoy the work, which is reminding me how books can be like talking with a person across time and space. Kesler has a beautifully strong and rich understanding of the American Founders’ minds and works, and for me reading this book is an opportunity to grow deeper in my understanding of those things I love and respect.
As a synopsis, the book’s cover offers this, in part, which is really what has enticed me into doing the work: “the volume appraises American conservatives’ efforts, so far unavailing despite many famous victories, to restore the founders’ Constitution and moral common sense.” It’s a purpose I share but often feel I’m floundering in my attempts to help achieve it.
“The Respondent: A True Story,” by Greg Ellis, forward by Alec Baldwin and introduction by Johnny Depp (Koehler). This relatively brief book by a Hollywood voice actor tells of his personal experience with the horrible underbelly of divorce law. Those who have blessedly had little encounter with U.S. divorce law may be shocked at what is possible in America’s “justice” system, but those of us whose friends and family have been chewed up by what Ellis describes as “the cartel of family law” already have our own stories. Ellis’s is one of the wilder divorce stories I’ve heard, and I dare you to read it without compassion and outrage.
“Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America,” by Charles Murray (Encounter). This is the latest work from the great American sociologist who has steadfastly refused to back down from his work on race and IQ despite decades of leftist attempts to cancel him and smear him as a racist. Murray says he was motivated to write this relatively brief work in horror at 2020’s surge in racially agitated riots. This book succinctly summarizes the unequivocal data showing the dominant corporate narrative about race and crime in America is just flat-out false.
“Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism,” by F. Carolyn Graglia (Spence). This is a 1998 book that I learned about in the footnotes for some other book that I can’t recall now, but I’m glad I did, because it’s amazing. It’s a full-frontal, comprehensive attack on feminism as an ideology and as a culture transformation. For women saturated in our careerist culture and therefore unsure of our value and identity as women specifically, this book offers a bracing defense and affirmation.
I find her use of the “awakened Brunnhilde” metaphor to be a bit weird until it’s explained some two-thirds through, but set that aside. For those interested in this kind of thing, let me note that she includes some pretty straightforward discussions of various kinds of sex and uses them as metaphors for other relations between the sexes. Must-read for anyone interested in feminism’s battle against both femininity and masculinity.
Home and Personal
“One-Hour Cheese,” by Claudia Lucero (Workman). Because our family watches very little screen-based entertainment even though I’m very busy with six kids and a job, I like to relax by creating instead of consuming. I grew up on a small family farm, so I already knew how to make butter and bread and all kinds of things.
Last summer I incorporated fermenting into our diets (sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir — all the basic granola mom stuff). So recently I tried out cheese making to learn some new skills. I read many books about it in my effort to learn, but this one was my favorite, as it fits where I am right now in terms of available time for hobbies, and the results are still very tasty.
“The Power of Habit,” by Charles Duhigg (Random House). I wasn’t really sure how to classify this one. I’m technically reading it as part of research for the book I’m working on, “How to Control Screens So They Don’t Control You.” The idea is to give practical advice for how people can reorient their lives away from screens, and explain why they should.
As I read this book for that purpose, however, I’m also finding useful information for things like training my children and myself, as well as thought-provoking insights about moral formation. It’s a New York Times bestseller business/self-help book, but as those things go, there are definitely some good things here. I’d say it’s better than…
“Tiny Habits,” by B.J. Fogg (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), primarily because this latter book seems to pander to people and underestimate them a bit much. He seriously recommends celebrating if you floss one tooth. I mean, okay, but that seems degrading. I guess some people’s moral development really could be so bad that they might need to legitimately celebrate flossing one tooth, but wow. This book also has some helpful insights but you have to put up with being talked down to on your way to getting them.