A Book Lover’s Guide to Minimalism

I’m a bit of a minimalist. (I say ‘a bit’ because some minimalists don’t believe in owning a second pair of pants. I’m not that kind). I donate huge bags of stuff I cull from the house at least twice a year. My teenagers know the drill.

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Me: It’s time.

Teens: We’ve already gone through our drawers.

Me: What about your shelves?

Teens: You brought these things back from Africa.

Me: Okay, not those. Do you have anything you haven’t used in a year?

Teens: No.

Me: Six months?

Teens: No.

Me: Two weeks? One day?

Teens: Can we talk to Dad?

But you know what I wish I had more of–always, no matter what?

Books. Not ebooks, physical books. I like giving them as gifts, and I love receiving them.

Ebooks aren’t going anywhere, I realize. They’re convenient to purchase. They don’t take up space. They’re dirt cheap, and I have a billion of them on my eReader at the moment.

But real books are different. They’re permanent. They don’t glow. They take on the shape you give them as you work your way through their pages. They feel and smell like memories (or promises, if they’re brand new). They can be shared, hand-to-hand. They can be stared at as you let your mind drift. They help you read better.

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If you’re a minimalist like me, and the thought of extra items around the house makes you itch, consider this: shoes, old kitchen appliances, sports gear, electronics, sweaters, picture frames, toys, and pants take up more space than a 300 page book. If you must (and I, for one, must), purge your house of all those items. But, please, make room for some books this Christmas.

Authors everywhere will thank you.



The Forgotten Art of Longform Reading

Sometimes you stumble across an article that smacks you in the face because it articulates something you knew was true but hadn’t allowed yourself to think about.

That was this article for me. (Merry Christmas, Anne Bogel, for hurting me with the truth).

The author of the article says people aren’t reading deeply and patiently anymore. But he knows that isn’t news. Researchers have been noting it for a while. What surprises him (and me) is that this isn’t just true for digital natives, but for those of us who mostly grew up without the internet.

It gets real when he admits that he can’t read a chapter of a good novel anymore without fighting the urge to check his phone after two paragraphs. Even when he tells himself he will not check his phone, the internet, or his email, he is thinking about those things, not the sentences on the page. He wants to cry or rip up a phonebook (remember those?) because, as a writer, words are his life. And lots of them strung together don’t hold his attention anymore.

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If he can’t read, we are all in big trouble.

He says we are. Some of us won’t admit our boredom and distractibility because of pride, of course, but we’re all forgetting how to read well.

I, for one, am admitting it. I find it increasingly difficult to sustain the discipline of longform reading, and I’m worried. As a Christian, I need to be able to read Scripture deeply. I need to be able to sit patiently in prayer. I need to ruminate.

On the less existential side, I need to read well to write well.

And it’s getting harder.

Don’t even get me started on my digital native kids. We’ve always homeschooled, and I swear they’ve read more books in their short lives than I ever did at their age. But even they admit it’s starting to feel more like a chore to read for pleasure now that they have phones, take online classes, and play Fortnite with friends.

Thousands of words over 300 pages aren’t looking so good these days.

Someone come up with a 5-step plan to fix this, stat, because I don’t want my brain to change in this way. I would go off Twitter (after having been on for approximately 45 seconds) if I thought that would help.

But somehow I doubt it will.


Facing Silence

Last night I turned the last page of a book I’d been putting off finishing. I told myself I wasn’t making progress on it because I’m too busy, but the truth is that I was nervous it was going to wreck me. I’d heard a lot about Shusaku Endo’s Silence. My sister had read it. So had two of my kids.

Everyone I talked to said, “Just be in a good place when you read it.”


I’m not in a particularly good place right now, but I felt this urge (sense of duty?) to finish it, for some reason. Maybe because my motto for my 40’s is: Don’t wait until you feel like doing [insert difficult, worthwhile thing] because you might not ever feel like it, and then what have you got?

I could edit this, but I won’t.

Now I’m on the other side of Silence, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Was it painful to read? Yes. Do I have a lump in my throat that I cannot currently swallow, even after three cups of coffee? Yes. Am I glad I pressed into the discomfort and questions and scenes of torture to get to the beauty? Emphatically, yes.


I feel like this is a lesson–that it means something on a grander scale–but it’s too soon to tell. For now, I suspect it’s just one more example of how it’s better to face things than to avoid them. Even if what you’re avoiding is a heavy book.

The Care and Feeding of Art

I have a full life, like most everyone else. There’s plenty to do in a given hour, stuff that doesn’t feel particularly interesting or thought-provoking but has to get done. Well and good, but I need to feed my mind in order to create my best work, even when I don’t have time to “indulge” in things that aren’t making money or managing my family’s lives.

One way I keep my head full of stories is to listen to podcasts on subjects I’m interested in. I can usually do this while I’m running or unloading the dishwasher, so it feels like multitasking. It’s fertilizer for my thought life and doesn’t cost me extra time (or money).

Another way is to read a few pages of a novel before bed (and when I say a few pages, it’s sometimes two before I sink into oblivion). I’m always working through someone else’s book, even when I’m writing my own. I used to wonder if reading while writing would cause me to plagiarise another author’s ideas. As far as I can tell, that’s a groundless fear. If anything, reading someone else’s work reminds me to use my own voice and stay true to my vision.


Yet another way to stoke my thought life is to notice the artwork on the walls of a favorite coffee shop. I imagine what an artist was thinking as she sketched half of a face in charcoal. Before I know it, I have the vaguest glimmer of a scene in the back of my mind. Maybe I won’t use it right away, but it’ll be there waiting for me if I need it.

Feeding my mind is something I used to believe would happen in my spare time. Now I know I have to work it into my day in order to stay creative.

What about you? How do you feed your mind and stay inspired?


Thoughts on Marketing

I sort-of watch my teenagers play video games together. They talk trash while making little square-headed men jump up and down. The ceiling fan goes ninety miles an hour over my head, drying my eyes out as it always does, because our T.V. puts off heat.

As I listen to the kids argue about which avatar is the lamest, I think about the uncomfortable position writers are in now. Gone are the days when an author wrote a book and let a publishing house handle the marketing. Now they’re expected to “promote themselves.”

Promote: to cheerlead for a team made up of oneself.

It turns out, I really don’t want to do it, along with lots of other creative types.

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A book launch guy, a big name who knows what he’s talking about, tried to convince me I should think of marketing as being “relentlessly helpful” instead of salesperson-y.

Thing is, I don’t know how to be relentlessly helpful–to anyone, not even myself.

No matter how you slice it, marketing is saying, “You should pay attention to this thing over here that I made that you should buy.” To a crowded room.

And when everyone is saying the same thing about different things, the room gets loud.

And annoying.

And I don’t want to say any of it.

If it were enough, what I’d say is, I write books I care deeply about and labor over. I want to share them with you.

But I’m not sure that’ll cut it.

These are the things I think through as I watch my kids grow up in our living room.