prelude to a winter bookshelf.

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We’re full in the throes of January, and, like many of you, this is a time of year when I have to fight a little harder to be happy.

Overnight it seems that the well-lit warmth of the Christmas season gives way to a succession of cold, gray days when the very walls of this brick house seem to close in on us, and active kids cooped up too many hours wear a whole family’s stir-crazy frustration on their faces.

This results in more bickering all around (Mom and Dad included), punctuated with exasperated cries of “What were you thinking!?” (my part) and sullen blank stares (my kids’ part). Just last week the four-year-old that I thought had learned a modicum of common sense slunk into the kitchen, found a clean white washcloth in the drawer, and proceed to color the entire thing with markers. Just because.

What we all really need is to go outside. And we try to, as often as possible, whether it’s a backyard Daily Burn workout, an icy-cold walk through the neighborhood to Burger King on last Saturday’s snow day, or the 4-mile hike in the Harbison State Forest yesterday.

The thing I love about South Carolina is the handful of unseasonably warm days that plopped themselves out of nowhere into our week. We’ve thrown open the windows and pulled on t’shirts and flip flops, and curl ourselves up in patches of sunlight on the back porch and yard like cats, and the kids jump on the trampoline ’til dinner.

For these few days, all is right in the world and they remind me: cold is just a season. It will end.

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Though the days are often gray and tempers prone to flare and my depression breathes heavy over my shoulder in the winter, there’s something a tiny bit joyous about living in this dark — if I stop complaining long enough to see it — because I get to anticipate the light that I know is coming, just around the corner.

And so I burrow into it. I find things to relish, like a steaming cup of coffee that warms cold hands, the cozy moccasin slippers I found at TJ Maxx, and early-dark evenings that make my little boys fall fast asleep by 7:30.

Of course, the other thing to love about winter is books. Lots and lots of them.

Next week, a little winter bookshelf list for you; today, a quick recap of last year:

I read 91 books in 2016.

Yes, it’s true. I even surprised myself with that number. It wasn’t any sort of goal, it just kind of happened.

If you’re curious, my hands-down-favorite fictional book of the year was A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.

My favorite, and most-recommended, work of non-fiction was Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. If you decide to read it, it helped me tremendously to start with the Afterword, where Desmond explains how he researched and wrote the book. It changed the whole feel of the book for me. I also needed to take a break to read light fiction right before falling asleep at night, because that book is very heavy. Important, but heavy.

My favorite reading memory of the year was experiencing the full Harry Potter series alongside my nine-year-old, as he read them for the first time. If you’re wondering whether I’m happy with my decision to let him go ahead and read the full series at this age, I am!

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And finally, even after my resolution to get back to the classics, I read just one measly classic, Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. Though it’s a story most of us know, it’s one of my least favorite of his books. Too dark and sad.

And so I turn the corner into 2017 with a resolution to read a bit fewer books this year, and instead to read some more challenging books.

If I read one classic last year, surely I can read at least two this year, right?

I will start with Little Dorrit, by Dickens, which I began several years ago but never finished.

Aside from season 5 of Call the Midwife, a few episodes of This Is Us, and some harrowing documentaries David talked me into, I watched almost zero television last year. This of course made lots of time for reading, but I decided to begin 2017 with a change of pace, to find a couple of series to get me through these winter evenings.

Who resolves to read fewer books and watch more TV?

I’m strange, I know.

I re-watched the BBC miniseries, Bleak House (available on Netflix), which is both my favorite show and favorite Dickens novel. Contrary to my usual recommendation, you should watch the series first, then read the book. My mother-in-law told me to do this, and it kept the characters straight and made the novel that much more enjoyable for me. Now, do you think I ought to do the same with the Little Dorrit film?

Currently I’m happily immersed in a recently-discovered series, Lark Rise to Candleford (available on Amazon Prime). Has anyone else watched this? Very reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell in my opinion, especially Cranford. I’m just reaching the end of Season One, and it’s fun!

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My mom and I recently introduced Judah and Amelie to the movie Little Women (the Winona Ryder version), and they loved it Judah was initially very skeptical, but he said, “That was a great movie, Mom! I think I want to become a writer, like Jo.” Up next: Anne of Green Gables.

Okay, back to book goals.

I think I’ll read a bit more non-fiction this year, and thanks to some Christmas gifts and an Amazon gift card, I’m off to a good start. More about that coming on my winter bookshelf post.

I have a running To-Read list in my bullet journal, and I like putting it down on paper, because just by glancing at it I can try to keep some diversity in my reading habits. Too many newer novels in a row? Add something old, or something non-fiction.

I want to read Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis.

I also plan to read the Wingfeather Saga series by Andrew Peterson, which Judah got for Christmas and is currently enjoying.

My friend Betsy recommended the memoir Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, by Christie Purifoy, which is on my list.

So that means I need you guys to give me a classic and/or non-fiction recommendation (of course fiction is always appreciated too!). Any ideas?

I hope you’re enjoying some sunshine this Sunday! Hugs!

2 thoughts on “prelude to a winter bookshelf.

  1. Hi Julie! I read Evicted after I saw it on your blog last month and loved it. I think we like mostly the same things, so here are some of my favorites. (I knew your in laws in Lancaster)

    Classics: Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, Middlemarch, How Green was my Valley.

    Non fiction/Memoir: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain, Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire, Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society by R.R. Reno,

    Fiction: Winter’s Tale (Mark Helprin), Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri), My Brilliant Friend, Mariette in Ecstasy

    Poetry: What it is is Beautiful (Sarah Dunning Park), Pity the Beautiful (Gioia), The Unfortunates (William Baer), Olives (A.E. Stallings),

    1. I’m so glad you liked Evicted! Wow, thank you so much for this great list of recommendations. I really enjoyed Quiet and Unaccustomed Earth. I can’t wait to check these other titles out, and I’m so glad you included poetry! That’s one of my reading goals for this year too.

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