a new year of books

Jan 7, 2014

It is a new year which means more books on my nightstand to read, write, and discuss with my family, students, and book discussion group. I am swooning over all of these books and can’t wait to read them and gain all sorts of new insights into myself, human nature, courage, and how this world works.

Colloquia Books


I wanted to spend the month of December contemplating the life of the Savior and his role in my life so I selected The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for our first discussion of the year. My soul is hungry for the Savior and I want to spend this entire year (and the rest of my life!) drawing closer to Him. I especially love this music video because it demonstrates the real life changes that can occur when we follow the teachings of Jesus.


I am teaching a class for youth at iFamily and we will be reading, writing, and growing at breakneck speeds. We are reading nine books for Wake Up and Be AWESOME! and I decided to make my life easier by doing some of my WUBA books for my adult discussion group as well. A Place to Stand: The Word of God in the Life of Martin Luther by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. is one of those doubled-up books. I am thoroughly excited to learn more about this man who stood so boldly against the strongest organization on earth in his time.


Resolved: 13 Resolutions For LIFE by Orrin Woodward looks FANTASTIC! It is a personal manifesto to change, keep your word, do hard things, and make a difference in the world. I can’t wait till my copy comes so I can devour it! I need all the help I can get to make even the smallest changes in my life.


I am a huge Ender fan and have read both the Ender series and the Shadow series in the past. Our youth are reading Ender’s Shadow for WUBA and now the adults will read it as well. I am not a huge sci-fi reader, but some authors in that genre really tickle my fancy and Orson Scott Card is one of them. I also want to read Pastwatch, but it will have to wait for another year (or be read in all my spare time, haha!). If you do decide to buy Ender’s Shadow, you might want to check out the Shadow and Ender’s Game box sets because I don’t think you will be able to stop with just the first book in the series!


We are studying William Wilberforce in WUBA, so this is another double-up month. Statesman and Saint: The Principled Politics of William Wilberforce is full of inspiration to tenaciously hold on to our ideals and do whatever it takes to implement them in our lives. The last time I studied Wilberforce was when I was pregnant with Annesley and I fell so head over heels in love with him I wanted to name our child after him. Instead, I named her Annesley after Susannah Annesley Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley, another one of my heroes. Wilberforce’s passionate fight for the ending of the British slave trade gives me hope for humanity.


One of the statesman we are studying in WUBA is C.S. Lewis, my favorite author of all time. His words have deeply impacted my life and have helped guide me as a disciple of Christ. We are going to read “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” in my youth class and read the entire Weight of Glory with the adults.


When I read an interview with Muhammed Awal Momen about his conversion to Christianity, I couldn’t wait to learn more about him. We are reading his book My Name Used To Be Muhammed with the hope of learning more about both Islam and Christianity and most importantly, the courage it takes to live according to the dictates of one’s conscience.


A few years ago we read Rolf and the Viking Bow and it was a huge hit with our adult readers and many of their children. Our family loved, loved, loved it and waited eagerly every night for family read-aloud time. This year we are reading another book by Allen French, The Red Keep, and I hope families will take the summer to savor a bit of history and adventure together.


My friend Becky told me about A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman (not the same Emily Freeman who wrote Written On Our Hearts) and it looks so delicious! It goes right along with my several years long theme to discover how I am a creator and become a purposeful creator who blesses the lives of others.


Becky also tipped me off to this gem of a book, Boys In The Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. This review convinced me we needed to read it and learn the lessons of courage, teamwork, and inner reserve these men have to teach us.

I have never rowed. I have never read a rowing book that I can remember. If all stories about rowing were written like Daniel Brown’s fabulous multi-level biography, I would read every one of them. This is a wonderful account, told with such detail and precision that I sometimes felt as if I were in this tale. Mr. Brown totally sucked me into his adventure. These young men who rowed for the USA in the 1936 Olympics faced huge obstacles. It was the Depression. Many were dirt-poor. They came from a small (then) and nondescript town of Seattle. They could not have had more difficult problems thrown their way. But by taking every sliver of hope, and mixing in superb craftsmanship (from George Pocock), excellent coaching (Al Ulbrickson), and these nine perfectly attuned young men learning together……..the result was perfection. This is a true Team sport. I learned that. It is nice to learn something you never knew, but is common knowledge to an entire set of other people. If you want to read a great, true story of success, this will fit the bill in spades…..and you will understand rowing to boot.

The research is mostly based on primary resources, including interviews with some members who were still living as the book was pulled together. Family members did supply additional information to make this undertaking feel solid and well thought out.

Concepts from Daniel Brown to consider that are mixed into the story to teach all of us: 1) One of the fundamental challenges in rowing is that when any one member of a crew goes into a slump the entire crew goes with him. 2) There are certain laws of physics by which all crew coaches live and die. The speed of a racing shell is determined primarily by two factors: the power produced by the combined strokes of the oars, and the stroke rate, the number of strokes the crew takes each minute. 3) To defeat an adversary who was your equal, maybe even your superior, it wasn’t necessarily enough just to give your all from start to finish. You had to master your opponent mentally. When the critical moment in a close race was upon you, you had to know something he did not – that down in your core you still had something in reserve, something you had not yet shown. 4) The things that held them together–trust in one another, mutual respect, humility, fair play, watching out for one another–those were also part of what America meant to all of them. There are other great ideas to ponder in this epic almost 400 page, could-not-put-down story.

I am not giving away anything by telling you that they DO win Gold at the 1936 Olympics. It is HOW they did it that is so darn exciting. Even knowing the end result does not diminish this bigger than life adventure. This is a must read, period.

By Wayne Crenwelge VINE VOICE on May 5, 2013


How to Argue and Win Every Time by Gerry Spence has been on my to-read list for a long time. Growing up in Wyoming, I often heard tales of Gerry Spence’s effective courtroom tactics and have been curious as to how he has been so successful in presenting his arguments. This book breaks down the art and science of communication into small skill sets that if implemented will help each of us learn to communicate more clearly, with less offense and more influence.


Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a new book to me…another one of Becky’s recommendations. It is about a disfigured boy and how he learns to interact with the world and the world with him. On a more global level, it is about how each of us choose to interact with one another, how we choose to connect or disconnect with those who are different from ourselves. I can’t wait to take these lessons into my heart and become a more giving, loving, connected person.

Don’t those seem fun and inspiring! Over the past many months of injury and exhaustion I have often considered if I should give up my colloquia group, but after much pondering throughout the month of December I decided I need the intellectual stimulation these books provide and the subsequent discussions feed my soul in immeasurable ways. The relationships I have with the books we have read in the past eleven years are precious to me and have shaped and formed me in ways that I will always be grateful for. Just as precious are the dear friendships that have developed between members as we have discussed, debated, and grown together.


My Wake Up and Be AWESOME class is also studying Patrick Henry, Abigail Adams, and John Brown. We are reading Give Me Liberty: The Uncompromising Statesmanship of Patrick Henry by David J. Vaughan and studying his famous speech at the Virginia Convention in 1775. I wanted to read My Dearest Friend: The Letters of Abigail and John, but we decided it was too long for our youth to read when they already have so much on their plate and I decided I couldn’t squeeze any more reading time into my life to do it for the adult group, so we are going to read Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie Bober. Maybe next year I will get their letters read. Our John Brown book is Fiery Vision: The Life and Death of John Brown. I studied his Harper’s Ferry raid in detail in my AP History class 20+ years ago, but I never learned about his life as a father or community leader and I am excited to delve into those aspects of his life and how his abolitionist viewpoints developed into the guiding force of his life.

Our C.S. Lewis biograpy is from the same Leaders In Action series as the Luther, Henry, and Wilberforce books. Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis by Terry W. Glaspey will give us a broad overview of Lewis’ life and impact. We will finish out our semester with the Chaim Potok favorite, The Chosen. I am silly excited to tackle these books with some of my favorite youth!

Personal Reads

Our scripture study this year at church is the Old Testament and I am reading several books to go along with it. Written On Our Hearts by Emily Freeman is so, so good. I am savoring it and reading little bits of it each night before bed. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

“People often ask me why I love the Old Testament so fiercely. I always respond with the same answer. There will come a moment in your life when you or someone you love will struggle with a challenge so great you will wonder how you will make it through. In that moment you will long to better understand the Savior’s role as the Deliverer, and to do that you must go to the book of scripture that describes that role the best – the Old Testament…We live in a world that pleads for deliverance. We may not be called upon to cross the Red Sea, find ourselves thrown into a pit and left for dead, or face armies whose strength is far greater than ours. We may not be led into captivity, be compassed on every side by the enemy, or be called upon to testify knowing it might lead to our death. However, there will be days when we face danger, oppression, and injustice. There will be great obstacles in our way and times when we feel surrounded by those who are intent on destroying us. We will face evil, overwhelming health challenges or perhaps the captivity of sin. In these moments we must remember that, just as The Lord delivered the children of Israel, He has the power to deliver us from any trouble we must overcome in our life. He is, after all, the Great Deliverer.”

Doesn’t that make you want to read not only this book, but the Old Testament as well? Oh, how I love the lessons from Old Testament. They have connected all the dots for me in God’s great plan and have been a foundation of hope for me throughout my life. The stories of Enoch, Isaac, Gideon, Abigail, Jacob, Joseph, the Children of Israel, Jericho, David, and many others have taught me deep down in my soul that the God I believe in is more powerful than any other force and that with God all things, ALL THINGS are possible.

I am also reading 400 Questions and Answers about the Old Testament by Susan Easton Black and so far it is quite interesting. I love stocking my mind full of information, but right now my mind is full with my focus on healing. I knew I wasn’t up to doing a deep, detailed verse-by-verse study of the Old Testament right now and this book is the perfect way to fill my need for information without overwhelming me with hours and hours of study. Once again, by reading little tidbits once or twice a day and by the end of the year I will have learned quite a bit more about the ancient world.

I believe pretty firmly in reading the actual words of scripture to my children and we usually do, but I didn’t feel right about reading the Old Testament to Fisher and Annes. The thought of it overwhelmed me and I knew I wouldn’t last more than a few days in the effort. I wanted to bring the stories of the Old Testament alive for them and to help them love it as much as I do. So, instead of reading the OT to them, we are reading Illustrated Bible Stories for Latter-day Saints and the kids are eating it up. I promised them we would read two stories each morning, but inevitably we end up reading more – we are already past Noah & the Ark and we only started yesterday!

Fisher and Annesley were given Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims for Christmas from their grandparents and we are thoroughly enjoying it! I had never heard of this book as I don’t often (ever?) listen to Rush Limbaugh and I wasn’t quite sure what to think about reading a book from him to my children, but it is fabulous. Fisher and Annes beg for it every day and we are having wonderful discussions about the Church of England, having the courage to follow your own beliefs, leaving all you know to go to a new place, and what price is freedom worth. The time-travel aspect is super fun is bringing this time period alive for my little ones. Snuggling up with my boy with his head on my shoulder is the best part.

I hope some of these book pique your interest and you read them and share your thoughts with me! Also, what books are on your nightstand? What are you excited to read/study this year?

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  1. Jenny

    Wow!! What a list! I am excited to read some of these titles. You are so inspiring – thank you for sharing some of your gifts with your readers!

    • tracy

      Thanks Jenny…I think books might be my love language! Ha ha! What are you going to read from the list?