Christmas Suggestions

What I think my study area looks like:

Something closer to reality:

With Christmas coming, it is time to start making suggestions to all of you as to what book selections you need to get for the readers in your life.  If, by the way, you have no readers in your life, I can only grant you pity.  Please note that this is not MY CHRISTMAS LIST.  This are books and authors I am recommending to others.  In most cases, I have and have read from the books and authors mentioned.

I will begin today by mentioning 5 authors whose works I have enjoyed.  And though their works have not made me a penny richer, they brought me joy and delight, which are the two prime attributes of reading.

1.  Rick Bragg.  All Over But the Shoutin’ is the best place to begin.  It is also Bragg’s first book dealing with his family, and it is about his mother.  The next book was about his grandfather and is titled Ava’s Man.  The third book is darker, more painful, but still incredibly moving.  It is The Prince of Frogtown.  A more recent book is The Most They Ever Had.  This short book is an account of the poor Southerners who sacrficed their lives and health working in cotton mills.  Bragg’s books are about the hardships of life in the South.  The South has been a land of faith and suffering.  These books are a chronicle of that world.  You may have discovered Rick Bragg in your Southern Living magazine where he contributes a great column about his experiences in Southern living.

2.  Bret Lott.  I have been singing the praises of Bret Lott’s books for several years now.  He is one of the best novelists in the country today.  Novels by Lott that I would recommend include Jewell, Ancient Highway, The Hunt Club (scary!), and A Song I Knew By Heart.  His two books on writing Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of a Writer’s Life and Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian are great reads.  As noted, Lott is a Christian.  He also writes very realistic fiction.  He is not in the vein of sweet, sentimental, gushy Christian authors whose characters come to Jesus in the last chapter.  But there are strong chords of the faith in his books.  He writes far more like Flannery O’Connor than like the author of the Elsie Densmore series.  Reader beware:  God’s grace is for a fallen world.

3.  Jesse Stuart.  I have only like Jesse Stuart’s books since I was a ninth grader in 1970.  The Thread That Runs So True is the about the most influential book I have ever read regarding teaching school.  Hie to the Hunters is one of my favorite books to teach junior high students.  This past year I read Stuart’s first major collection of poetry, titled Man With a Bull-Tongue Plow.  These 750 rough sonnets chronicle life in Kentucky, filled with both the beauties of farm life and the harsh realities of life.  Stuart wrote a number of novels, many short stories, an incredible number of poems, and several autobiographical accounts of his life.  I am always thankful for the on-going work of the Jesse Stuart Foundation in keeping his books and legacy alive.

I still lack an autographed copy of a Jesse Stuart book.

4.  Jan Karon.  I read the Mitford novels some years ago and really enjoyed them.  I read them slowly and only at those times, to quote Robert Frost, “when I’m weary of considerations, And life is too much like a pathless wood….”  Father Tim and the community of Mitford, both church and neighbors, offered a glimpse of the real struggles and challenges of life.  I always feel inadequate as a pastor when I compare myself to my Episcopal fictional colleague Father Tim.  My wife first read this series and was constantly laughing uncontrollably and telling me that Father Tim reminded her of me.  So, initially, I hated the books, but finally began reading them out of spite and grew to love them.  These books are a picture of how the church is to, or ought to, exist in community.

5.  James Herriot.  It was about or possibly even over 30 years ago that I began purchasing paperback copies of James Herriot’s wonderful books about his life as a veterinarian in Yorkshire, which is the northern farm country of England.  His four main books took their titles from a great English hymn.  The books are All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, and The Lord God Made Them All.  These stories will make you laugh; they will make you cry; and sometimes you will do both. I read these books slowly, very slowly.  I only allowed myself to read James Herriot when I was either exhausted or defeated by some events in life.  Back in the 1980s, the day-by-day battles were different, but the books were good medicine.  Many of Herriot’s works have been reprinted and repackaged in picture books, children’s editions, and other formats.  I feel like I need to start the whole series over.


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