In Which I Reveal What’s On My Nightstand – Week 22

by | Jun 7, 2013 | Uncategorized


I’m hungry to learn and grow in the craft of writing so I read books with a great deal of tenacity.

A few days ago, I pulled my paperback copy of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls off my bookshelf in the family room to re-read it. Sometimes when I’m writing, I study books like my kids study their notes for tests. The Glass Castle is a memoir and I happen to be writing my own. When an agent told me recently that my writing reminds him of Walls, I decided to open it back up again.

I’ve noticed that some of the books I’m re-visiting have old boarding passes in them that I used for bookmarks. This one happened to have an itinerary for my last trip to Rwanda stuck between the pages. Seeing it brought back cherished memories.

For me, books are like boarding passes to sacred portals of the heart waiting for my undivided attention. I know that I won’t be the same after giving myself over to the pages. I’ll be better. And because of that, I want to share them with you, my friends.

Here are a few titles currently laying on my nightstand, strewn about the coffee table and couch, and stacked on my desk beside the computer. I’ll carry one of these to the beach this weekend, if the rain stops.

Books I just finished and loved:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye by Rachel Joyce – It’s charming and English and Joyce’s first novel. And for those who know me, you know I could have stopped at the word English, right?

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – I couldn’t put this one down, it’s so well written. And it’s her first novel. Mix the coastline of Australia, a handsome lighthouse keeper, romance and mystery with the fact that the author lives in London . . . need I say more?

Books I’m currently reading and really like so far:

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – the sub-title sums up the content: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I’m savoring it. It’s revolutionizing my thinking. I’m also enjoying an on-line discussion about the content. If you are interested in joining us, let me know in the comments.

The Right to Write by Julia Cameron – love, love, love this book. My friend and faithful follower, Lynn Morrisey gifted this book to me while at the Jumping Tandem Retreat, right after Michelle DeRusha mentioned it in her workshop. She brought it from home and didn’t know Michelle was going to recommend the book. I’d call that divine providence, wouldn’t you? I think this book would be a great resource for a writer’s small group. It has writing exercises at the end of each short chapter.

Books I Can’t Wait to Crack Open:

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin – It’s her debut novel (I’m seeing a pattern here) based in the Pacific Northwest and it’s already haling Best Book of the Year from notables. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t tell you that I might have picked it for the beautiful cover art and deckle-edge pages. It’s just not the same on a Kindle, sorry.

The Priory by Dorothy Whipple – Picked this up at my favorite bookstore, Persephone, on my trip to England last month. I read her Someone at a Distance and became an instant fan. And yes, the setting for the book is in England (I’m seeing a pattern here too, are you surprised?)

Books on Sabbath:

As I wander into Sabbath, I’m in a constant state of re-reading The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. Probably why I’ve given two copies away this week. If you missed his guest post on the blog Wednesday, do yourself a favor and go over there right now. I’m also reading a new one, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time.

Okay, all this writing and linking is wearing me out. I’m ready for Sabbath aren’t you?

So tell me, what’s on your nightstand that you’ll want to put in your carry-on this summer? I’d love to know. There’s always room for one more.

May you savor the gift of rest, like losing yourself in the pages of a good book. Allow yourself to sink in to the story that’s already been written for this day without needing your edits. And remember that the best part of a story, your story, is not knowing how it will end, but in the journey toward Home.

Happy Sabbath Friends!



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  1. Janel A

    after so many recommendations I’m reading ‘Telling Secrets’ by Frederick Buechner. I’m also intrigued by the writing of Rebekah Lyons ‘Freefall to Fly’

    • Shelly Miller

      I haven’t read anything by Buechner but I love all the quotes Kelli Woodford puts on Facebook so she has me intrigued. I have Freefall to Fly on my Kindle, one third of the way in. It’s really good so far, I’ forgot to add that one. I’m reading too many at once. eek.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        You’ll like him, I think. 🙂

  2. Christie Purifoy

    Ooh, these sound good. Thanks!
    I’ve never read The Glass Castle (adding it to my must-read list right now), but when I was memoir writing I devoured the genre. Those books felt like fuel.

    • Shelly Miller

      Christie, any of those memoirs you want to recommend? I’m all ears. I’ve read a few, but always looking for more. I would love to know what resources spurred the fuel.

  3. Ann Kroeker

    I recommended The Glass Castle to a conservative friend of mine, forgetting to include the disclaimer about the father’s swearing. I saw her the week after she started the book, and she hesitantly brought it up. I could see something disturbed her about it, and then I slapped both of my hands over my mouth, pulled them away briefly to gasp, “The swearing!”

    “I figured you forgot to warn me. I just…I was just…well, let’s just say I’m learning some new words.”

    We were in a small group of women discussing books in general, and I turned to explain, “The father in this memoir swears like a sailor. It’s creative swearing, but it’s pretty much nonstop.” She didn’t say much after that. I wrote her a note later apologizing yet again.

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh Ann, that reminds me of a time when H and I recommended a movie while his grandmother was visiting and completely forgot about a scene where there was horrible language. She left the room and went to bed. We were horrified. I actually forgot there was any language in The Glass Castle. Just shows you what an impact it makes on me.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        THis is a tricky subject. Swearing is simply part of some peoples’ lives. My mother’s aunt swore like a sailor, she tells me, and had a heart of gold. She worked laboriously in a pickle factory in St. Louis and it was just the way they talked. I don’t like vulgar books; but we have to be careful to close our minds to things that teach us about life and have beautiful qualities, yet might include uglier realities in life, like swearing (as an example). And before God in gray areas, each person needs to make her own decision. I think what you are doing here is wise, simply informing people, and letting them choose. Thank you!!

  4. DeanneMoore

    Ok, I only have two of the books on your nightstand on mine. 🙂 I keep The Right to Write out all the time. I am re-reading Daring Greatly because I devoured it the first time–you knew that. I love Walls and I took Half-Broke Horses to Mexico on vacation and my friends thought I was taking some online class because I was marking it up like I was going to have test over it! Also, I love first time novels– if they are good they have a certain something about them (get that?) so I have been eyeing The Light Between the Oceans. And, of course, I love bookmarks as boarding passes especially while reading on a plane (sighing….) Next novel–Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Christian Living – Life of the Body, by Valerie Hess and I am about to finish Sacred Rhythms by Ruth H. Barton (been reading it very deliberately and will probably will start it again when I finish).

    • Shelly Miller

      I loved Half Broke Horses too. You know she has her first novel coming out next month? I have an article that was just written about her on my sidebar if your interested. I still can’t figure out the relationship she has with her mother. It’s weird. I’ve always wanted to read Sacred Rhythms, I may have it. You’ve got me looking through my stacks.Thanks for sharing. And I love that we’ve read some of the same ones. What about Insights from the Right to Write. Have you heard anything about that one? It’s a follow up.

      • DeanneMoore

        I was intrigued that she wrote Half Broke horses in first person! Amazing job of bringing her grandmother’s story to life. I was reading it considering writing someone else’s memoir from first person (but you know chick, I am not ready for that! Ha!) I use Right to Write as inspiration, open it to a chapter and read then write— because you know that I am a better writer when I bounce off what other’s write or say…Sometime you need to watch Chimamand Ngozi Adichie on TED if you haven’t seen it. Jeff has already read the book and I am saving it for the beach. Need to warn Ann Kroeker about language in Daring Greatly—I love reading it alongside Sacred Rhythms–they do a waltz/disco (ode to Dedria) as their truths grab hold of each other and take over the floor. (Now everyone who read this comment thinks I am crazy—a title I have earned!!)

  5. Kris Camealy

    Awesome list, Shelly! I loved the Glass Castle, and I’m very curious about The Right to Write…. Love this sneak peek at your bedside table 😉

    • Lynn Morrissey

      Kris, this is a wonderful book. Cameron is incredibly creative and she really shows you how to write in the immediacy of the moment, observing life teeming all around you. She’s not a Christian writer, but I like and recommend her, and what I might disagree w/, I simply leave behind. Same is true for Natalie Goldberg, and if you’ve never read Writing Down the Bones, I’d highly recommend it w/ the same caveat I made for Cameron (who also wrote the famous book on creativity called The Artist’s Way and numeous other books.). Enjoy!
      Lynn Morrissey

    • Shelly Miller

      I hadn’t ever heard of The Right to Write until the retreat. I do love it. I’m dog earring pages and it is encouraging my writing. Think you would enjoy it.

  6. Jillie

    Hi Shelly. Always enjoy these posts of what’s on your night stand…and coffee table…and any horizontal surface in your home. I did read ‘Glass Castle’ and LOVED
    it! Recently, I’ve read ‘The Warmth of Other Suns’ (about the black migration from south to north during the 60’s)–was excellent! And ‘She’, written by an identical twin who lost her sister to a drug overdose. Very stirring. (Language and situation warning)
    Thank you for tuning me in to Mark Buchanan. I’m now following his blog. He is one of a kind, and Canadian, eh? Gotta love that! I’ve also jotted down 4 titles you give here which have piqued my interest for reading this summer in Porta-backa-yarda!

    • Lynn Morrissey

      Jillie, you’ll love Mark! Be sure to read Your God Is Too Safe and Things Unseen by Mark. You’ll love his depth and lyricism!

    • Shelly Miller

      I can’t believe you had never heard of Mark Buchanan and he’s a Canadian! Think you would really love his books Jillie. I’ve read every one of them but I think my favorite other than the Rest of God is Your God is Too Safe. Love that Porta-backa-yarda, so cute.

  7. Lyli Dunbar

    I just started reading Bread and Wine this week. Love, love, love it so far!

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m waiting for the copy I won at Emily Wierenga’s to come to my mailbox, I hear good things about that one.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        Oh, and Shelly, I want to read this too. It is amazingly serendipitous that I should have discovered this book on a google search for a topic about which I am writing a journaling class. Now I suddenly discover so many I know reading it; so, yes, too, that is a providential “sign” from God for me to add this to my food pantry! 🙂

  8. Lynn Morrissey

    Well, Miss Shelly, you’ve brought me out of my hiding on a sick bed. Can’t resist taking some time to comment, amd then I promise to rest. Pneumonia is soooo envervating! I always love to read about what others are reading, and I’m comforted to know (finally!) that there are actually people like me (Michael doesn’t get this, but puts up w/ it!), who dip into a number of books simultaneously (probably not finishing one straight through, because the variety is maddening, and I find it hard just to drink from one at a time–though eventually I *do* finish!), and I love to know those who, as Jillie says, cover every horizontal place in their house with all manner of books. Actually, I’m probably worse, because I have whole shelves in our food pantry (for heaven’s sake!!!!) FILLED with books, books, books!!! (Is that nuts, or what?!) Anyway, I love being among my people, and, Shelly, you are *my* people and a most precious lady and friend. First, I am sooooooo happy that Cameron resonates with you and I love that you love the book and are recommending it. (Yes, it was providential that Michelle should so highly recommend what I was just about to give you as a gift at JT!). And I’m thrilled to learn of some of these English novels you are reading. As well you know, Lord willing and I am healed, I’m headed to the British Isles with my beloved husband, daughter, and dear friend Jo at the end of June. My plan is to take my NOOK (canNOT believe I am admitting to using one because I thrive on the heft and feel of a good book in my hands), but in the end I want to travel as lightly as possible. I am staggered by all I can fit on a NOOK, including an entire ESV Bible! I’m also loading it w/ books British–classics like Jane Eyre (my favorite novel), Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca (more contemporary) to put me into an English mindset. But I appreciate knowing about these more recent offerings, and I’ll choose one for the trip–like when (other than the plane) and I realistically going to have time to read?! =] Currenlty, I’m reading Eric Maisel’s A Writer’s Paris (which I might take w/ me, b/c it’s small–love the glossy pages and b & w illustrations–do NOT buy paperback version), and maybe we can even take an under-the-Channel train to Paris for a day, which would inspire this writer. I’m reading Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul on meditative Prayer, Matthew Anderson’s Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith (fun to learn he is a St. Louisan like me), Emilie Griffin’s Clinging: The Experience of Prayer, Carolyn Custis James’s When Life and Beliefs Collide, Madeleine L”Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art, revisiting an all-time favorite on writing/creativity Ken Gire’s Windows of the Soul (a lovely, lyrical writer), Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses: The Quest for LIfe at Its Best about Jeremiah, Living on Purpose by Christine & Tom Sine (excellent on discovering your life purpose from a Biblical perspective), Coming Up for Air by singer Margaret Becker (excellent memoir on discovering your purpose and airing out to re-evaluate life), and Heaven by Randy Alcorn (b/c I’m going to spend a lot of time there and really miss my dad). Also picked up a book called How to Blog a Book by Nina Amir, which might interest you bloggers out there. Obviously, there are not novels here, other than those I’ll NOOK-tote to England. I’m not sure why I don’t read novels much, b/c there is so much truth in story. I think I need to think about that and amend it. Love you Shelly and thank you encouraging us to remember that writers are readers. How I LONG to add *your* memoir to my nightstand, kitchen table, or kitchen pantry as the case may be! Ok…….I’m bushed. Need to go lie down and READ!!!!!……oh, almost forgot: I think you writers out there would appreciate The Spiritual Formation Bible by Zondervan. Includes writing prompts, etc. You might have to get it used. They don’t publish it any longer.

    • Shelly Miller

      I had a season of my life when I only read Christian writing and then I realized what a huge world I was missing out on in the brevity of wordsmiths that write novels and fiction. I cannot imagine my world without them now, they have enriched my life in ways I cannot express and they’ve made me want to write more and better. I actually find God in them often. I bought another book today. 🙂

      • Lynn Morrissey

        I concur with what you are saying. THe novels I cited aren’t Christian, but tend to be “classics”–older literature. I’ve been thinking about why I don’t read novels much (though as I said there is truth in story–and that you would find God in non-Christian works makes sense, b/c God created all writers, and all truth is God’s truth). I think a reason I haven’t read much contemporary fiction is, frankly,that I have not found a lot of well-written. A lot of it seems trite and fluffy to me without much literary quality. So maybe I need to look into those books that you personally recommend. And I hope to get to Persephones, though Mike can’t understand why I would go to England to go to a bookstore! 🙂 What’s wrong with him anyway?!

        • Shelly Miller

          I forgot to mention that Ken Gire’s Windows of the Soul is one of my all time favorite books. I actually forgot about it and was so excited you mentioned it. Has he written anything else in a while?

  9. HopefulLeigh

    Adding a few of these to my To Read list, Shelly! You know I love a good book recommendation. I read 5 books while I was in Africa and my favorites were 2 food memoirs: Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone and Marcus Samuelsson’s Yes, Chef. Also enjoyed All Roads Lead to Austen, a memoir about a professor who traveled through South America to see how and in what ways Jane Austen translates across time and culture. I couldn’t put down Jonathan Martin’s Prototype, which I read on the plane. I’m going to need to read it again before I can formulate my thoughts. On my nightstand is Eat With Joy and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Now that I’m back in town, I need to add a few more books to the nightstand!

    • Shelly Miller

      I cannot believe you read five books while in Africa. You have to be a fast reader Leigh. I wish I could read that fast and retain the content. Alas, I’m a slow processor. But the more I read, the faster I become. Thanks for sharing what you are reading, there are some jewels in that list.

  10. kw

    Great stuff!
    I LOVED the Glass Castle (I thought it was fiction right to the very end and then found out it was a memoir – what an “oof” that was!).
    The Gifts of Imperfection – would love to join any discussion. I’m re-reading for the 4th time with our small ladies group. Awesome stuff.

    Fiction books I recommend: if you like mysteries, both Louise Penny and Peggy Blair are AWESOME writers, and Canadians to boot. Blair’s first book, the Beggar’s Opera is based in Cuba, and wonderfully written. Penny has 8 books now, I’d start with the first. The “Map of Lost Memories” by Kim Fay is a lovely read that surprised me by keeping my attention.
    Non-fiction: Anne Lamott is my new favourite, but for those who are uncomfortable with swearing these books will not be a good fit. She does however, proclaim God’s grace amazingly and repeatedly.

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