On the long treks across the ocean, there are few things that bring relief like the steaming hot washcloths that Korean Air hands out. It might be that they wait until about 11 hours into the flight and at that point you’ve forgotten your wonderful bibimbap meal with seaweed soup and complimentary wine. But when I see the flight attendants walking around, handing out the washcloths with their special tongs, I seriously want to cry. I carefully unfold the washcloth and press the warmth into my face.
I savor the clean smell, as I try to wipe away the exhaustion that comes from these trips. This is not a baby wipe. This is a legitimate white washcloth that makes you feel like you’re cleaning your face with Egyptian cotton (or maybe my extreme tiredness just makes it feel that way). Traveling with three young kids, it’s a sign that I’m still sane.
For me, reading has always been my version of the steaming hot washcloth. Books have been my retreat and comfort since I was young. When things are swirling around me, I can sit with a good book and be reminded that the world is much bigger than just my own story. And yes, I have been known to just take in the smell of old, familiar books.
In a time when we have instant access to so much information via Facebook, Instagram, news sites, and blogs, we can quickly become overwhelmed. When our only reading is done in short snippets with low word counts, our brains lose their ability to process deeper and larger chunks of information. We don’t let the information truly sink in, as we move on to the next thing in rapid succession.
Now, I love Facebook and Velvet Ashes is a great example of the wonderful content that can be found on the Internet. There are many other things, though, that act as baby wipes instead of washcloths. I like to read quick, entertaining news, but the more I fill myself with those things, the less room (and time) I have in my brain.
I had three children within three years and honestly, I didn’t have much capacity for anything extra. I also lived overseas, which took up even more brain power. I remember how it felt to try to talk to regular people and not be able to get any coherent words or thoughts out. I was an English major! I loved words but I couldn’t remember basic English vocabulary. It was extremely humbling and at times horrifying, to say the least.
Fast forward a few years and my youngest is now three years old. I have re-discovered the joy of reading and I can literally feel my brain cells re-wiring. A recent Discovery News segment showed that reading good literary fiction (versus most pop fiction available today), gives you grounded cognition, which results in lasting brain function. They proved that reading a novel for just one day increased every test subject’s language and motor skills for five days afterwards! We are wired for story. We remember stories much better than plain facts. Not to mention that reading fiction has been shown to help with the development of empathy. Reading is not a waste of your time!
I don’t believe it’s only fiction that is beneficial. As you will see in the list I’ve made below, there is a mix of non-fiction and fiction. These are books that I have read or re-read in the past year, so they are the ones most recent in my memory. So picture me with a tray full of these books, handing them out to you during a long journey. Breathe them in deeply and enjoy.
by Katherine and Jay Wolf
If I had to recommend just one book this summer, this would be it. Hope Heals is the story of a woman who suffered a massive brain stem stroke, but most importantly, it’s a story about “a hope that heals the most broken place, our souls.”
by Anthony Doerr
This is one of the best fiction books I’ve read this year. It’s about “a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.”
by Matt Bays
This is a brutally, honest reflection of one man’s journey through enormous childhood pain and the present reality of his sister’s cancer. At times the details are disturbing, but this book is a thought-provoking and moving response to the deep ruins of life.
by Wilkie Collins
I first came upon this book in a used bookstore in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had heard great things about it, but had never read it. “Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.” And it’s free on Kindle!
5. Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Bronte
Another freebie on Kindle, this is my favorite novel of all time. The first time I read it in eleventh grade, I was blown away by the plot and the magnificent writing. If you have not read this book yet, run, do not walk to get it.
by Kate McCord
This is a must read for anyone who lives in dangerous places or sends anyone to these places. It is about “what is lost and what is gained when we follow God at any cost.” I recommended this book to so many people after I read it because it’s that powerful.
by Kristin Hannah
Yes, another World War II novel, but it’s also really good! “The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.”
by P.G. Wodehouse
I have to admit, that when Amy Young said this was going to be a part of book club, I was leery. But I was delightfully surprised. So, if you were like me, and didn’t snatch it up, do so now! It’s a laugh-out-loud kind of story, with a ton of great vocabulary.
by Richard Adams
When I lived in Mongolia, I was pretty much desperate to read anything on those long, winter nights. This was a book my teammate had on her bookshelf and I decided, “Why not?” Wow. Yes, it’s about rabbits, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a classic for a very good reason.
10. Ender’s Game
by Orson Scott Card
This was another book on my teammate’s bookshelf that I wasn’t certain I’d enjoy, but she convinced me to give it a try. I loved it. If you’re judging it by the recent movie, please don’t. As always, the book is so much better!
These books have been warm washcloth for my brain (and soul). Which have you read? How did they feed you? Which can be your next washcloth?
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