For the Love of Books

Sometimes I think that my love of books and reading can be a way to avoid writing. It’s so much easier to pick up a book and disappear into another world than it is to pick up my pen and create another world.

Every Sunday, The New York Times Book Review publishes a feature entitled “By the Book” where notable authors and other important people are asked several questions about their current reading. I enjoy the wide variety of answers to questions like “What books are on your nightstand right now?” and “What’s the last great book you read?” Sometimes I wonder how these authors find the time to read so widely and keep up their amazing writing lives at the same time. Maybe they don’t belong to three book groups!

I have to thank these book groups and my writer friends for inspiring me to read books I might not otherwise have chosen. There are also the books for upcoming trips (Hemingway’s A Movable Feast) and books by writers whose workshops I’ll be attending (Kate Moses’s Wintering), not to mention books written by friends (Marge Barrett’s Called: The Making and Unmaking of a Nun). I can hardly keep up.

The books stacked beside me today have given me so much pleasure this summer. As much I love each of them, I’m going to try to put them back on the shelf and concentrate on writing—as soon as I return from my next trip, that is!IMG_0623


A sampling of my favorites from this summer’s reading:

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan

Wonderful exploration of four plants (tulip, apple, marijuana, potato) chosen by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum garden book group led by Toni McNaron, one of my favorite teachers.


We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This novel led to one of the liveliest discussions about a book I’ve had in long time. Tears and cheers for chimps!

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Oh, the wonders of reading Jane Austen! This novel gave me so many ideas for the work I need to do on the novel that I’m taking out of the drawer. “Yes, I am going to do that,” she says to herself.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Somewhere along the line I missed reading this classic, which took my breath away. An amazing work of art.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Fun to see what a writer like Anne Tyler does with the original “vinegar girl,” Katherina, in Shakespeare’s The Taming of Shrew.

Called: The Making and Unmaking of a Nun by Marge Barrett

Hats off to my friend, Marge Barrett, for her lovely memoir! So proud of you, my friend. You inspire me to sit down and write!


In the I-love-to-hear-from-you department: How does your reading affect your writing life? What are you reading this summer?

If (like me) your writing has suffered this summer for whatever reason, try writing three pages a day for the next week in your writer’s notebook. Record your day, your doings, the way the moonlight looks on a July night, your garden as it becomes robust or not, the storm that left you without power for two days, your trip (real or imaginary) to Paris. Three pages and stop. That is enough.

In these stressful times, I hope each of you finds a few hours each week to nurture a rich, creative life—as you seek solace and joy in both your reading and your writing.


For a taste of Stegner’s profoundly moving prose, here is his narrator Lyman Ward at the end of Angle of Repose:

” ‘What do you mean, ‘Angle of Repose?’ she [Lyman’s estranged wife] asked me [Lyman Ward] when I dreamed we were talking about Grandmother’s life, and I said it was the angle at which a man or woman finally lies down. I suppose it is; and yet it was not that I hoped to find when I began to pry around in Grandmother’s life. I thought when I began, and still think, that there was another angle in all those years when she was growing old and older and very old, and Grandfather was matching her year for year, a separate line that did not intersect with hers. They were vertical people, they lived by pride, and it is only by the ocular illusion of perspective that they can be said to have met. But he had not been dead two months when she lay down and died too, and that may indicate that at that absolute vanishing point they did intersect. They had intersected for years, for more than he himself would ever admit.”


Also the words on my cup (in the photo):

“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”    (unknown)






10 thoughts on “For the Love of Books

  1. I’m grateful for gifts that introduce me to books/authors I would never have read. The current standout is Ivan Doig’s “Dancing at the Rascal Fair,” 2d in his Montana trilogy. Mark Forsyth’s “The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language” was a fun gift from a friend; then when I organized my file of book-reviews-to-buy-or-gift, I discovered that I’d had the same book on my list of possible gifts to her.

    A lot of what I read is writing-related. I’m now working my way, via the library, through the long list of memoirs in the back of Natalie Goldberg’s “Old Friend from Far Away” because I’m on my 3d draft of either a memoir or an autobiographical novel. 4 books about creativity and about the brain because I’m collaborating on workshops and a book about creativity. And then there is the big pile of literary journals that arrive in front of my door because I submitted a piece to them (a piece that was rejected).

    • Hi, Carol, and thanks for the book suggestions. Natalie Goldberg is one of of my favorites. I worked with her years ago when Writing Down the Bones was still in the first galleys. I’m looking forward to staying updated as you work on your memoir/novel and the creativity book. Inspiring!

  2. Vicky, what a lovely blog! Thank you for including my memoir, Called: The Making and Unmaking of a Nun in “For the Love of Books.” I’m glad it inspires you to write. I look forward to reading your creations.

    Thanks, too, for your suggested books—some I know and love, others I will now get and read.

    And finally, especially this summer, I treasure the words on your cup: “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

    Thank you, dear friend.

    • Thanks, Marge. My apologies for not getting the complete title in the original posting. I’ve corrected it on the website.
      Yes, it is a tough summer. I hope to see you again soon; I always enjoy our times together.

  3. Hi Vicky, I have never read Jane Austen but would like to try one of her books. What do you suggest? My book club is reading, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Have you ever read this book? It is a WWII novel. I really like it. Thanks for the advice. Sounds like you are enjoying your summer.
    Ruth Robertson

    • Hi, Ruth. Thanks for checking out the blog. As for Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice is certainly her most well-known. So maybe you want to start there. There’s also the fairly recent movie with Kiera Knightley that you can watch in conjunction with the book. The novel and film, Bridget Jones’ Diary, was based on the book. Jo Baker’s recent novel, Longbourn, is told from the point of the servants in the novel.
      All the Light We Cannot See is one of my favorites. Have a great summer!

  4. I’m taking a break from reading to bolster my writing and reading just because like I used to.
    Just finished The Moor’s Account and wrote a review on my site. I enjoyed it immensely.

    • Thanks for stopping by the blog, Janet.
      I’ve been traveling and just figured out that I can access the proper page from my phone so that I can comment. I will check out your review of The Moor’s Account.
      While here in Ireland, I found Geoff Dyer’s Experiences from the Outside World at a little bookstore in Dalkey. I love what he does with travel!

  5. Vicky,
    Love that NYT book feature as well.
    Always wonder how they have so much on their night stands!
    On mine as of now:
    Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
    When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    Two weeks’ of Sunday NYT magazines
    That’s enough!

    • Hi Jen,
      So true. My real nightstand is rather small too!
      But thanks to my Kindle, it can hold more books than I can ever read!
      When Breath Becomes Air holds a special place in my heart.

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