Whole Parenting Family

Am I still literate?

our library

Our amazing 100 year old house has a library with built-in shelves. Yes, ample reading space & material (and yes, took this pic before the winter whereas now the windows are covered in sheets of ice. On the inside). But I end up always reading these:

kids books

I was an English major. You know the kind in college. The annoying kind of wanted to talk about reading and what she was reading and what other people were reading and where the AWP conference was going to be held this year, and which writers groups she was a part of, and how she loved poetry! Oh gawsh, don’t you want to read my thesis that’s a creative writing manuscript??

Then I realized I either had to give up horses (oh no!) and work at being a poet, or I could explore law school (yuck!) and then realistically afford my very expensive habit. With many tears shed, I reluctantly took the LSAT (read Rilke during the break and ate a banana), chose between the law schools I got in to (2 out of 2 applied to–whoopie!), and cried the whole 12 hour drive to Michigan. I didn’t know a soul in the state and didn’t want to be a lawyer. I thought I could hold my breath for three years and still be a little poet at heart.

Then I fell in love. With the school. With my friends. With the community. And didn’t just survive with bated breath, but thrived! Trouble is, being a lawyer totally re-wires your thinking and writing skills. For the betterment of the legal community and judges nationwide, but for the worse of your poet mind and literary critic. Let’s just say I haven’t read anything creative and literary in a long time. I mean, anything beyond child-rearing and the Constitution–which are, indeed, intellectual.

Thanks to facebook friends, I’ve got a hefty list of recommendations on where to get my literary & creative writing brain wet again. Some I’ve read, many I read when I was too young (19 years old? Who can understand Proust at that age?) to really get as much as I could from them. Read the list and get inspired, too:

Malcolm Gladwell books. I’ve read most of them. Outliers and Blink would be interesting for your list. They include short stories with a common theme.

On the subject of Gladwell, I just read a couple of interesting ones: How Children Succeed (by Tough) and The Smartest Kids in the World (Ripley). The first talks more about character traits and the second explores why certain countries beat us on standardized exams. Reading them after Gladwell makes it all work out nicely since they have similar ideas and give parents some ideas. I want to find a good Montessori book, but I haven’t had time to get to one yet. Big thing is both of these books are neither Leftist nor Rightist and homeschoolers can get stuff out of them, too. To be truly subversive, put Gatto in there. Everyone should read John Taylor Gatto and watch the Ted video (yes, it’s not a book) on the Hole in the Wall experiment by Sugata Mitra:http://www.ted.com/…/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach… Doing ALL that you are armed to pick the right school or homeschool. Gladwell teaches you the 10,000 hours and all these people show you what to DO with all those 10,000 hours and why it matters.

The favorites that always pop to mind for me water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen and One True Thing by Anna Quindlen. If you like sci fi I love Octavia Butler and she is probably considered classical.

“Hardy “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” Woolf “To the Lighthouse.” Atwood “Handmaid’s Tale.” Annie Proulx “Shipping News.” E.M.Forster “Room with a View.” Massie “Catherine the Great.”

The Thirteenth tale is a spooky, can’t put it down book that I read a few years ago. So.good.

The top YA of all time (old school) to me which everyone MUST read are Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry (Taylor), The Westing Game (Raskin), and A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle). A recent powerful book is One Crazy Summer (Willams-Garcia). All would be fine for fourth or fifth-grade up, but they become more powerful the older you get (okay, Westing Game isn’t so much “powerful” but a well-done mystery with phenomenal characters)

Man’s Search for Meaning, A General Theory of Love, Being Wrong, any essays by John Berger, anything by Albert Camus, and of course got to throw some Tolkien in there.

I like anything by Bill Bryson, A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, any Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez… I’ve got a lot more but they’re kind of all across the board.

I really need to get back into reading novels. I think I burned out after getting the English major, and then there was law school, and now it seems I only read nonfiction… I think poetry might be easier to pick up for reading in short time increments with a two-year old, any thoughts on that?  That being said, I love me some Jeanette Winterson (postmodern) and have been wanting to re-read some of the classics of which I’m sure you are already quite familiar (Fitzgerald, Austen, etc.)

I forgot How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk (Faber and Mazlish)…stuck with me for over 14 years.

One I’d add to this excellent list is East of Eden (Steinbeck) my #1 all time favorite.

Goodnight, Mister Tom. And then there is also Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The End of the Affair, House of Mirth, Kristen Lavransdatter, the Diary of a Country Priest, Joan of Arc (Mark Twain), Wind Sand and Stars, With God and Russia, A collection of Short Stories by Oscar Wilde.

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

John McPhee’s geological essays, Margaret Drabble “The Peppered Moth”, Tolstoy “Anna Karenina”, Aravind Adiga “White Tiger”, Ellison “The Invisible Man”, Tom Spanbauer “Now is the Hour”, Cunningham “The Hours”, Atkinson “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”, Trollope “Barchester Towers”, Iris Murdoch “The Good Apprentice”, Muriel Spark “Memento Mori”, Amy Waldman “The Submission”, Alan Bennett “Diaries” and “Talking Heads”, Penelope Lively “Moon Tiger”, Ian McKewan “Atonement”, Waugh “Brideshead Revisited”, Maya Angelou “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, Gabriel Garcia Marquez “Chronicles of a Death Foretold”, Francisco Goldman ” Say Her Name”, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki “In Praise of Shadows”.

A Soldier of the Great War, Middlemarch, Memoir from Antproof Case, The Space Trilogy (CS Lewis)

Julius Caesar
Henry IV
The Tempest
Merchant of Venice

The Prince, The First Discourse, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Critique of Pure Reason, The Communist Manifesto, The Republic, Nicomachean Ethics, The Federalist Papers, Democracy in America, The Law (Bastiat)

anything by Antonya Nelson, anything by Jon McGregor, anything by AM Homes.

Iris Murdoch’s “The Black Prince” (so good, apparently, my copy was thieved from a sun lounger on Miami Beach); Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South”; Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”; William Maxwell’s “Time Will Darken It”; Doris Lessing’s “African Stories”; Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway” (explains my reluctance to give dinner parties); George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London”; Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop”.

Mrs. Dalloway/To The Lighthouse, Song of Solomon/Beloved, Crossing to Safety/Angle of Repose, Howard’s End, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Undaunted Courage, My Antonia/O Pioneers, Love Medicine, Middlemarch, Little Women, Pride and Prejudice/Sense and Sensibility, Cold Mountain.


So in 2014, this is where you’ll find me, reading this litany of the canon of literature. Thanks, friends. Maybe we need to start an e-book club?



  1. Laura @ Mothering Spirit on January 7, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Love this list – thank you! I never thought I would like e-books since I love the old-school reading experience, but getting a Kindle has literally transformed my reading as a mom. It’s so easy to read with one hand with it while nursing (when you have tons of time to kill, especially in the early months), and you can get so many great reads (classics and contemporary) for free from the library. I have honestly read more books in the 2 years that I’ve had it than I think I did in many of the years before I had kids! I went in dragging my feet but that Kindle has changed my life & reading habits for the better.

    • Kate on January 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Yes! I read 30 books while I was on maternity leave. All on my Kindle, mostly while nursing.

      • Natural Mama Nell on January 7, 2014 at 8:10 pm

        WOW! I’m extra inspired now.

  2. Helen on January 7, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    Can I just say: I LOVE your library!

    • Natural Mama Nell on January 7, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      I can take NO credit–the house is just amazing. They don’t make them like this anymore!