Those who have known me for very long know that I love to read (and I’m happy that our daughters seem to have inherited that trait from both of us). Lately, though, I’ve not been seen so often with a book in hand. Why? Part of it is simply logistics. Larger books are more cumbersome and hard to control, and with my tendency of “stacking” most everything, having a number of books simply adds to life’s clutter… which adds a possible tripping hazard for yours truly.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve balked at the mere idea of an ereader (an electronic reader) for quite some time. The exception here is my Bible, for after seeing a friend in Bible study use hers with such finesse, I decided to simplify things there. I would be able to use a small, handheld reader (a palm pilot at the time), and the palm-sized device could hold my notes, not to mention three versions of the Bible to help when I wished to find clarification. Nice.

Other books are less bulky than my favorite Bible, but they’re all such friends that the idea of replacing those with a techie toy just grated on my sensibilities. The Bible was difficult (emotionally, not technically), though I enjoyed the smaller size and the search capabilities… but for everyday reading?? I think not. I had heard about Amazon’s Kindle, about the “epaper” display, so there wouldn’t be glare or eye strain like reading from a computer screen. Unlike my palm pilot, the battery was supposed to last weeks without a new charge. …I still didn’t know, but then I got to interact with one a bit when my husband purchased one last October. I was pleasantly surprised when I held it and read from it for a while… and I decided that I was going to step over to the dark side. After saving birthday and Christmas funds, I did indeed purchase my own Kindle ereader. When people talk to me about this technology and ask for my thoughts, I’m thrilled to answer, as several things that come to mind. Here are a few:

1. I can carry over 100 books with me wherever I go, and they weigh less than the book I checked out from the library. With my own balance and mobility issues, this is particularly helpful.

2. Along those lines, when I’m in a doctor’s waiting room (like when a daughter breaks a bone and we sit for more than a half hour before going back), I can open a word puzzle game that we both play together.

3. Of the 100+ books on my device we’ve only had to pay for a few. The NIV Study Bible was one, and the other is a trilogy T.R. purchased about hobbits and a ring and a place called Middle Earth. You might have heard of it before. But where did the others come from? Well, anything published before 1924 is “public domain,” meaning the texts are available free of charge; many have been released in Kindle format, so they can be downloaded and read. (I downloaded 18 books for Rachel when she did a report about Louisa May Alcott. Our library is good, but they only had a few LMA-related volumes.)

4. Besides “public domain” items, Amazon has free Kindle items from time to time. My first two books to read were by two authors I enjoy, Randy Alcorn and Janette Oke. Another I just downloaded that I’m excited to read is a work by author/poet Wendall Berry… our town library doesn’t carry any of his, so I may even purchase a few of his books in the future… but this will get me started.

5. Here’s a reason that may seem unusual, but this technology been an unforeseen blessing. You see, I have an infusion once per month for my MS medication, Tysabri. I get to spend an hour with a needle in one arm, then an hour after that in the same room, making sure that there are no reactions to the meds. What does this have to do with reading? Well, during that hour+, it’s hard to read a book, as it’s tough to hold a book AND turn pages with only one hand available, as the other arm is elevated, and moving it can give the IV problems. But with the Kindle, one can read and turn pages by pressing a button on the left or right side. So you don’t need to worry about losing your page number, turning the page, or moving an arm that is to stay still. Hooray!

6. Due to the simplicity with which I can now have a book available to read, I am finding another unforeseen benefit: I read more. I really do plan to purchase some non-free volumes from Amazon in the near future, but even so, the simplicity and accessibility factors are helping reawaken the reader inside. (I suppose you could call that “rekindling.”)

I remember thinking – and perhaps saying – that I love books, but an ebook just wouldn’t be the same. Well, it may not be the same, but I’m finding that a little electronic reader can help enhance my reading experience in ways I hadn’t foreseen. My six points leave out a few of the advantages of an ebook, but this isn’t meant to be a term paper. Just a blog post: a blog post celebrating the fact that a small piece of technology could rekindle a love I’d almost forgotten I had.

of generals and butterflies

I’ve mentioned before how much I love children’s literature and the truth seen in its simplicity.  I first read The Little Prince in 1988, and this beautiful story of the young boy, traveling among the stars in search for meaning apart from his friend, the beautiful but conceited flower that resided on his planet.  As the boy stopped at resident planets, one character he met was a king, a king who said he ruled the entire universe. 

The perspective of the “king” may have been a bit stinted, but he did have some real wisdom, seen in an exchange he had with the little prince: “If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?” the king demanded.  “The general, or myself?”
“You,” said the little prince firmly.
“Exactly.  One must require from each one the duty which each one can perform.”
(p. 38)

The king may have been egotistical, but he knew that he could only command the sun to set when the time was right (though the prince would have liked to see more sunsets), just like he couldn’t command a general to fly.  I think this is a good lesson for us: expectations need to be realistic, at least within the realm of possibility. 

On the other hand, there is a danger of underestimating possibilities, particularly when you have struggles in life and don’t see yourself surmounting them.  This makes me think of something written by Henry David Thoreau over 150 years ago: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

I have another thought from The Little Prince, one shared by his flower friend before the prince left on his journey: “Well, I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” (p. 34)  Though the flower and king never came in contact with one another, they both shared good lessons: a general cannot be commanded to become a butterfly, but seeing the beautiful butterflies of life can require dealing with pesky caterpillars.  I remember watching as the foundation of our house was built – it wasn’t simple, but it was thorough and strong.  And necessary.

After rereading The Little Prince, I find myself wondering, am I wishing for sunsets at the wrong time of day?  (Am I expecting a general to pollinate my flowers?)  Or as Thoreau writes, do I have castles that need acknowledged and rooted on a foundation? 

This makes me think of a friend who recently shared the story of his MS diagnosis seven years ago.  He had closed himself in his apartment, pulled down the blinds and planned to stay there, depressed and convinced that life was finished, there was no hope for his future.  And a nurse (and valuable friend) lifted the blinds, informing my friend that she would pull the blinds off the wall if he’d insist on blocking light from his life.  Today, my friend is halfway through his college work, working toward a Bachelor’s degree he never had.  And despite physical limitations, my friend has determined that he will not just complete his degree, but find a way he can use this education… and he is still building those foundations.

My friend isn’t planning to enter the Olympics or win an Emmy, as he’s not an athlete or actor, but he has goals that are within the realm of possibility.  Those “caterpillars” did indeed enter his life in the form of multiple sclerosis, but I look forward to seeing the butterfly when my friend graduates from college in less than two years.

As you can see, it’s dangerous to give me a children’s book… I find too many lessons in them.  I love these lessons, though, and continue to look for ways that life and literature can teach us in simple, profound, childlike ways.   If you have a favorite lesson from a treasured book, please share – I’d love to hear about it!

Truth in fiction

One of my favorite types of literature is “juvenile literature,” that which is intended for older children.  I read some of my favorite books as a child, and Madeleine L’Engle still remains on my favorite list, not just because I enjoy fantasy, but because of the truth and beauty that can be found between those pages.  Why?  I think L’Engle explained this well in her autobiographical A Circle of Quiet: “lf it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children.  If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grownup, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books.  And words.”

In July, my older brother introduced me to a new author to add to my “favorite” list.  I am glad that I hadn’t read Andrew Peterson’s work before July, as the first book of The Wingfeather Saga left me wanting more, and I have been able to experience book two, North! Or Be Eaten less than two months after the first.  Though these are considered juvenile literature, I found beautiful truth and imagery within.  And one truth within was a truth that is missing from too many of the books that crowd our shelves: our Maker has a plan for our lives.  On page 143 of this work, a bookseller states this well.  “Whether crushed or sheltered by the Maker’s hand, ‘tis beneath it we go, from breath to death.”  (warning: if you have not yet read these books, the review below does contain spoilers of the first one.  Not the second, though… how fair would that be?  It would be like a certain older brother of mine who used to give away the ending of a book as I was starting it.  Not nice.)

Lest this story sound simple, allow me to explain.  Here is a little synopsis of the book:

Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby thought they were normal children with normal lives and a normal past. But now they know they’re really the Lost Jewels of Anniera, heirs to a legendary kingdom across the sea, and suddenly everyone wants to kill them.

Their escape brings readers to the very brink of Fingap Falls, over the Stony Mountains, and across the Ice Prairies, while villains galore try to stop the Igibys permanently. Fearsome toothy cows and horned hounds return, along with new dangers: a mad man running a fork factory, a den of rockroaches, and majestic talking sea dragons.

Finding they’re royalty, as wonderful as this may sound, did bring on responsibility, not all of it welcome.  12-year-old Janner, the oldest of the Igiby children, faced this question as they started their escape.  “Is it worth it? he asked himself.  Was it worth his losing his own life in order to learn the truth about who he was and who he was becoming?  Yes.” (p 79)  Among other things, this book was the story of Janner and his very unusual coming of age.

In the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the Igiby children were told their roles, intended since birth.  Janner, the throne warden, was not to be king – that was his younger brother Tink.  No, Janner’s role was to act as protector of the king, to keep him safe. Reading how Janner acted as caregiver to an unwilling brother and how the weakest of the three children, their young sister who needed a crutch to walk, overcame the largest of their physical obstacles … these aspects spoke to me personally, falling into the “Invisible Issues” theme of this blog.  And yes, I needed a few tissues along the way.

Andrew Peterson’s storytelling was gripping, his style engaging, and his characters memorable.  The story is one of love, redemption, family, responsibility, honor, and so much more.  And you know what?  I think Madeleine L’Engle would have liked it.