I met Rachel in high school. She was whip-smart, funny and feisty. I remember feeling lucky to be friends with her and to be one of the beneficiaries of her teenage wisdom. And I’m not implying she was full of wisdom for a teenager. If I were able to time travel back and listen to our conversations, I know I would still benefit from her insights. I had never felt so grown up, never had such deep discussions as I did with her and our other friends. No topic was off limits. We talked about trivial things; we talked about Big Life Questions. I realize now those kind of charged, everyone-talking-fast-because-there’s-just-so-much-to-say-type conversations don’t happen consistently throughout your life. I don’t remember everything we talked about, but I remember how it felt.
Rae is still whip-smart, funny and feisty. She’s also a voracious reader, which is why I did this Q&A on all things bookish with her:
Q. If I’m not mistaken, you were reading Jane Austen just on the other side of your pre-teen years. I didn’t get to Pride and Prejudice until my 20s. What got you reading at that level so early?
A: I remember reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in my early-ish teen years. I would say my adolescent gravitation towards books was a combination of a few things: homeschool, a lack of electronics in our home (we had one television that barely worked, and never had cable), and a big imagination that always had a major, geeky proclivity towards anything romantic or of a historic nature. In many ways, the lack of all the other forms of entertainment created the necessity for me to read if I wanted an adventure. The options were fairly simple: read or go outside and play. Our family culture was also built around reading, particularly with my Dad. My most frequent memory is one of him reading constantly. He read while he ate, he read every evening, he read before he fell asleep, he read before and after church on Sundays. Our house was always inundated with books.
Q. You recently wrote about your bias toward non-fiction. Also, you said there were exceptions. What are your favorite non-fiction books, and what are the exceptions?
A: My favorites tend to change over time because I’m always discovering new works I appreciate! But so far, I would say my favorite non-fiction books currently are:
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics & Religion by Jonathan Haidt
This is a book I think every human being should read.
- Women and The American Experience by Nancy Woloch
An incredible, utterly fascinating book that takes you from the beginning of America through today.
- Any book by Dinesh D’Souza
- The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I read these books as a kid and still find so much joy in them today. I read them out loud weekly to my girls for sheer pleasure. The prose is perfectly descriptive and easily pulls them back in time. The focus on a hard-working family’s simple yet beautiful story gives them perspective. It gives me perspective!
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This one was hauntingly wonderful. First of all, just finishing it will make you a better reader, because it isn’t a soft, junk-food-for-the-brain kind of novel. It’s one of the finest examples of the written English word coupled with a story that is totally captivating. It’s easy to understand why it’s a classic when you read.
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
I’m rarely impressed by modern fiction. Although this is a memoir based on a true story so I’m not entirely sure it should count as fiction? I remember being surprised and thoroughly delighted by his style and story. His writing, in my opinion, showcases the best ways that modern authors bend the rules and shake up more standard literature with their style.
- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
He’s another author who totally delights me when I read. He scratches my itch for satire, sarcasm, and brilliantly cutting wit. I always finish his book and feel like my smart-ass skills have suddenly increased exponentially.
Q. Your lovely, cozy home was recently featured on Design Mom. Where do books fit in? Do you organize your bookshelves like a true book nerd, and if so, how? (I organize by genre…)
A: I actually am terrible at organizing my books! For awhile I organized according to color. But that didn’t end up looking as good as I wanted. Now I stack them vertically and separate them into four stacks per shelf with a little space in between each stack. I keep them on the very bottom of my library shelves, below many other shelves of staged art and collectibles. But that is mainly because most of them are in paperback form, and not pretty enough for me to want to showcase. The designer in me and the book lover are at serious odds over here. I like very tidy, well-staged bookcases. If a book has the wrong font or sleeve color I don’t even know what to do with it, even if it’s a favorite. Ha!
Since buying this particular house, with a library with these massive built-in bookcases (which I’m in love with), I’ve begun investing in antique books and hardcover books I really want to collect. Before I would often buy the cheapest book, or just keep books stored on my kindle. Now, if I love a certain book I make sure to order a hardcover copy. This year’s splurges were for a first edition antique set of Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and a first edition copy of The Secret Garden (both found in Portobello Market in London – still pinching myself over these!). I’m hoping for my birthday to splurge on a hardcover set of the Little House on the Prairie series. My girls have the paperback collection but I want a special one, just for me, for display in the library. And maybe, if I get really lucky, I want to return to London and get a massive, old lectern Bible. Portobello had ones that dated back to the 17th century! These massive, gorgeous, hardcover Bibles that were used in old churches. I would die to have one in my library. I’d feel like such a Bad-A cracking that beast open to read to our children on a Sunday. Haha!!!
Q. Favorite bookstore/library?
A: Oh for sure my favorite is Redland’s A.K. Smiley Library. It was built in the 1890’s, has stained glass windows, old creaky wood floors, and Norman Rockwell artwork. It’s also just a few blocks from our house and has two attached, quiet sitting gardens to read in. It’s basically my local library dream come true.
Q. You are headed toward the Pride and Prejudice dream (slash beautiful craziness) of having five daughters. Mrs. Bennet could not have had much time to read with all of that social climbing…How do you find the time? (I’m not comparing you to Mrs. Bennet!)
A: Oh my gosh I hadn’t even considered that! Before, with four daughters, I always teased that we were The Little Women spin-off. I feel like this is an even more amazing upgrade! I cannot wait to take my five daughters to Jane Austen’s home someday; it will be the pinnacle of my mothering experience for sure.
I don’t have as much time as I wish to read. And I’m afraid to admit even when I do have the time I’m as prone to wasting it as anyone else. I consume way too much social media and television in my spare time. I’ve found that these forms of entertainment and information have the worst ways of draining me. I feel worse the more I consume. It’s like devouring a box of donuts; it’s too easy and so tempting even when I know it will make me more miserable. Books have the total opposite effect.
I’ve really found that carrying my Kindle with me and making a concerted effort to reach for that instead of my phone has made a huge difference. I try to read for at least 15 minutes before I fall asleep nightly. This helps relax me and puts me to sleep better than anything anyways. So even if I’m watching TV shows before bed I will still reserve the last 15 minutes for reading. I also take a book with me to the park. I let the kids roam and I catch up on reading then.
Q. What’s on your 2017 TBR list?
A: I keep a running list on my phone. I hear of certain titles frequently, ones that I would like to check out but then totally forget about 10 minutes later. Now, I make it a point to immediately put titles into my notes section on my phone so I can remember later.
Currently, I’m reading:
- I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler
- Waking Up by Sam Harris
- The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad
- Imperial Requiem: Four Royal Women and the Fall of the Age of Empires by Justin Vovk
I alternate 2-4 books depending on my moods, but my rule is I have to finish one of these before I can add another into the rotation. Next on my list are:
- The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain by James Fallon
- The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb
- The MindBody Code by Dr. Mario Martinez
Q. You’re a beautiful writer. Most recently, I loved your metaphor about a tree being like a marriage. What do you love about writing? Do you ever think about writing a book, or turning your blog into a book?
A: First off, thank you so much for saying that. I don’t really consider myself “a writer”. Writing was more of a tool I discovered within myself. I’ve found that it’s easier for me to communicate my thoughts through writing than any other mode of communication. But even in the written form, I can still often sense a lacking in the totality of my thoughts or feelings. There are times when words are not adequate, or my brain doesn’t have enough access to the vocabulary needed to express what the story is or what I’m trying to communicate. So writing isn’t necessarily the total package for me, but it definitely is the closest approximation I have to emptying out what is constantly rattling around in my brain. It’s cathartic in many ways. It can also be enormously strenuous and challenging. I wish I had more time to work on it.
I’m open to the internal pull, or calling, of writing something worth really publishing. To be honest I’m still waiting, wondering, sifting through ideas of what would merit my real dedication and effort. Maybe someday!
Do yourself a favor and check out Rachel’s blog.