Betsy Strauss: By the Books

I recently ran across this interview with Wendell Berry, an author I thoroughly respect, and while I’m not a well-published author, these questions are just the kind that I like to know about people. His answers surprised and challenged me, and I thought it would be fun to share my answers to these questions with you. 

We recently moved our home library into a new room to allow that space to be used for my incredibly crafty daughters. I’ll be sharing the finished results soon, but after moving every book I own, seeing all of my books again renewed my love of literature and collecting beautiful stories. I just want to read and talk about books all the time!

So thank you for indulging my desire to share my thoughts on my bookish life!

What books are currently on your nightstand?

First of all, I don’t read in bed. I have back troubles that make sitting in bed with a book open nearly impossible. But that doesn’t mean I don’t ever read before bed. 

Currently, I’m working my way through Jane Austen’s novels. Pride and Prejudice remains one of my favorite reads with my kids as we explore British Literature. Now that I’m not reading as much off of a curriculum list, I’m working through her novels with a little help from Peter Leitheart’s Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen. His insights give me just the boost I need to feel like I can tackle these great works of literature. 

A friend recommended Austen Years, which is a memoir about a young mother whose father dies just after the birth of her first child. She finds refuge from her grief by reading Austen novels. Since I could relate to the struggle, I thought it might be a good read, and while I've started it, I feel compelled to continue reading Austen to gain further insight into her story.

But I always have multiple books going at once. I’m also reading Secrets of the Secret Place, which has inspired me to shake up my Bible reading plan. 

A friend gave me Learning the Good Life for Christmas, and I've enjoyed gaining insight into the good life through authors from history. It's a fascinating collection of thoughts and ideas that point readers to wisdom.

My family is also reading Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication, and Boundaries by Danny Silk. It is really challenging my thoughts on relationships!

What was the last great book you read?

This question sparks another: what is a great book? For my answer, I’m going to say that the last great book I read pulled me out of my reading slump. I had been reading only what I was assigned to read and not books that I chose to read. A friend gave me The Secret Life of Bees to borrow as a book that she really loved. 

I think it was the recommendation and sweetness of the suggestion that encouraged me to crack open its pages and read, and I couldn’t put it down! The author drew me into the life of this sweet young girl who just wants to know the truth about her mother. I don’t know if it will ever be considered a classic, but it reacquainted me with the joy of a good story.  

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? 

I enjoy reading Middle-Grade Books because I appreciate stories from a child’s perspective. Some books that captured my imagination are:

I could go on for days on this list. Most of the ones I loved were read alouds with my family

What kind of reader were you as a child? What childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I just loved books in general as a kid. My sister and I would play library with our books and take turns being the librarian. My mom signed us up for the Sesame Street Book Club, and we’d get two books every month in the mail. I still have those, and I enjoyed them with my kids when they were little. 

As I got older, I loved the Nancy Drew series, The Baby Sitter’s Club, and Sweet Valley High books. It’s interesting, though, because these aren’t the books I encouraged my girls to read.

My dad encouraged me to read other kinds of books, and those stuck with me. Here are my favorites:

What book read for school had the most significant impact on you?

I think my first experience in reading a higher-level book and admiring literary genius was The Great Gatsby. I loved the imagery and how the author drew you into the complexity of making wise decisions when desire invades. 

After that, Russian authors grabbed my attention, and two of my favorites were:

I would love to read more Russian literature in the future!

Do you prefer ebooks, printed books, or audiobooks most of the time?

It depends on how my aging body cooperates. I love printed books. I love holding them, smelling them, and knowing the geography of where a favorite line sat on a page. 

When reading aloud to my kids, I loved bringing the stories to life with fun accents, but it was difficult if I ever had a sore throat or a cough. In those times, I started utilizing more audiobooks, and we fell in love with specific readers. These were also great resources for car rides. 

When my eyes get tired, I enjoy ebooks where I can make the font bigger and not work so hard to read. I love that there are so many options for reading these days!

What book are you looking forward to reading next?

The book I’m most looking forward to reading next is currently being written. I love that my kids enjoy books as much as I do, and my son, Andy, is writing a middle-grade novel for his senior thesis in college. 

He’s invited me into this journey with him as a reader and brainstormer. His imagination and ability to draw others into the world he’s built is incredible. Above all, he desires to write a good story—one that is true, good, and beautiful. 

I look forward to sharing that book with you all when it is ready!

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