Wednesday, September 7, 2022

An Open Book: August 2022 Reads

August was a pretty exciting month for me, and one of the ways I found some peace and quiet relaxation was through reading. For the most part, August's books fit into two categories: nonfiction about the Amish and classic children's novels. I'm linking up with An Open Book to talk about them. Let's dive in! 

We came, we saw, we left: A family gap year, by Charles Wheelan

In this memoir, Wheelan relates the tale of how he and his wife decided to take their three teenagers on a nine-month trip across the globe. He chronicles the high and low points and some of the lessons they learned. I didn't care for some crude sexual discussions, and the family dynamics described in here were a bit different from what I'm used to. However, parts of the book were funny, parts were very cringy, and parts were delightful. Overall, it was a fun, quick read, but not one that I'm likely to pick up again.  

Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels, by Valerie Weaver-Zercher

In this utterly fascinating nonfiction book, Weaver-Zercher explores the topic of Amish romance novels. Why do people like them so much? What is the history of Amish romance novels? Are they accurate portrayals of the Amish people? The author brought lots of research together and keeps everythign pretty open to a variety of viewpoints. So, this book didn't necessarily seem to endorse or disdain Amish romance novels altogether; it instead presented multiple considerations that any reader of Amish fiction could/should take into account. I really enjoyed the thoughtful topics especially pertaining to cultural appropriation and the ways in which some evangelical authors have created certain fictions about the Amish (man-swaps to widen gene pools, for example). I really enjoyed this book! 

Home Grown, by Ben Hewitt

In this series of short reflections, Hewitt reflects on his negative experiences of education as a child and the alternate path that he and his wife are taking with their two sons: they live on a small farm in Vermont, where they "unschool" their children. Since I've read a number of education-focused books from female perspectives, I enjoyed reading a book from the perspective of a husband and a father. I found it really touching to read his thoughts on building his own house and witnessing his wife birth their sons there, and how he hopes that he will be able to peacefully die there someday. The subtitle of this book mentions "unschooling," which is why I originally picked it up, but it's not really about unschooling. This book feels a lot more like Wendell Berry-ish reflections on man's relationship with the land, with a small dose of thoughts on education thrown in the mix. It was a quick, lovely read, and I enjoyed it! (it also was nice to read a book about a family who, like our family, very intentionally strives for a slow pace of life with few extra-curricular activities)

Plain Faith, by Ora Jay and Irene Eash

This was a fascinating story into Ora Jay and Irene's life as practicing Amish and their discovery of having an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Their story mainly centers around the tragic death of their daughters after a truck hit their buggy, and they describe different ways that God worked in and through that tragedy to lead them deeper into a relationship of prayer and devotion. Parts did move a little slowly for me, mainly when they included full letters that they had written to various friends or family members, and I didn't share all of their theological conclusions, but this was really interesting and I enjoyed it overall! 

Pray for Us, by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

In this book, the author focuses on particular struggles that a variety of Catholic saints (including those declared "blessed" or "venerable") faced in their lives. Hunter-Kilmer makes the saints come alive, portraying them as a diverse group of real people, who faced real hardships, and sometimes made good choices, other times made bad choices. I already knew of a number of these saints, but I had never heard of some of them! This book seems geared towards teenagers, but I really benefited from it, and I imagine plenty of other adults would, as well 

Twenty and Ten, by Claire Bishop

This short children's novel is about a group of twenty schoolkids who, along with their teacher (a religious sister) are asked to shelter 10 Jewish children from the Nazis. When the teacher goes to town one day and Nazis come knocking on the door, the children discover that they need to work together to keep the Jewish kids safe. This was a precious, beautiful story, and one that I'm excited to share with my kids someday :) 

Growing up Amish, by Ira Wagler

In this memoir, Wagler shares about his childhood in the Amish community and how, as a teenager, he left in the middle of the night to move to a new area. He later returned home, but over the course of several years, he left and returned again. As Wagler relates his story, he reflects on his search for God and the conflicting tug of his steady upbringing and his desire to break out of the confines of his culture. This memoir was vulnerable, honest, and fascinating, and I enjoyed reading it. 

Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis

In this memoir, Lewis meanders through memories of his upbringing to recount the winding path he took to God. While I found his discussion of religious inclinations interesting, I was particularly fascinated by his reflections on his early childhood and his education (studying few subjects, spending lots of time absorbed in fairy tales, that kind of thing). But, his spiritual journey was beautiful to learn about too. This book made me want to read more nonfiction by C. S. Lewis! 

Betsy-Tacy, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Published in 1940, this delightful children's novel recounts the fateful meeting of Betsy and Tacy, two five-year-old girls who become very best friends. These girls have lots of adventures playing and spending life together. This was a short novel and a simple story of friendship and community, and it was lovely. I really enjoyed it! 

Betsy-Tacy and Tibby Maud Hart Lovelace

Following the events of the first novel, this book includes Tib, another young girl who moved in close to Betsy and Tacy. Although the adults in the town thought the introduction of a third girl would cause strife, Tib naturally falls in with Betsy and Tacy as they play, explore, and learn about the world. It was another sweet story of girlhood and old-fashioned life. 

Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hillby Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy, Tacy, and Tib all turn 10 years old, and decide that they are in love with the young, new King of Spain. They also decide that they want to crown a Queen of Summer, and are distressed to learn that their older sisters are planning to do the same thing. The girls have a huge argument, and as a result, they decide to survey the townspeople to get votes on who should be queen. As they try to get more votes, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib go to Little Syria, and end up befriending the people there and learning about another culture.

Betsy and Tacy go Downtownby Maud Hart Lovelace

Now 12 years old, Betsy, Tacy and Tib continue to expand their horizons as they get locked in the library, see a horseless carriage for the first time, and enter the world of acting! (parental guidance note: at one point, the characters attend a stage production and mention actors in blackface) This was a very fun continuation of the Betsy-Tacy stories, and I really like seeing the girls grow older as the books go on. I definitely want to read more of the series!

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge

Written in 19th century, this classic children's novel follows twelve-year-old Katy Carr and her five siblings, widowed father, and their strict Aunt Izzie (who came to live with them when Mrs. Carr died). Katy is fun and adventurous and wants to do something grand and exciting in life, but her plans come tumbling down when she winds up bedridden for an extended period of time. The whole "invalid girl" plot point felt a little bit Pollyanna (though I think this one was written first), but the story still felt different overall. I really thought all of the wisdom in here about living in the "School of Pain" was beautiful (though it'd probably be too moralizing for some peoples' tastes) and a huge plus to this book were all of the interactions between Katy and her siblings. They were such fun characters! I really enjoyed this, and I'll be checking out more in the series at some point. 

Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell

Jumping off of the tragedy of Sandra Bland's arrest and subsequent death in Texas, Gladwell ties together tons of stories to discuss miscommunication in America. Parts of the book had me cringing and rather hesitant to accept his conclusions (I'm not sure that you can chalk the Sandra Bland tragedy up to "poor communication," though of course that plays a role), and it seemed like he made some sweeping generalizations. But, I did find that he made some good points-talking about how we naturally "default to truth" (so we won't necessarily pick up when people are lying) and about how crime can be "coupled" to certain locations. I also found his discussion of alcohol culture on college campuses pretty interesting. Overall, this book made some good points, some questionable points, and was just okay (I did really like the section on the CIA's involvement with Cuba-I didn't know much about that and thought it was fascinating), but I was also disappointed that the author didn't seem to do much in showing how we can overcome miscommunication problems in America. So, I don't entirely recommend this one. 

Thanks for joining me this month! If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the commentss! 


  1. Thank you for sharing! As a fan of Amish romance, "Thrill of the Chaste" sounds fascinating!

    1. I always look forward to An Open Book each month to see what everyone is reading, and I love sharing my recent reads with others! If you are a fan of Amish romance, I definitely recommend "Thrill of the Chaste"!

  2. Thrill of the Chaste looks interesting to me too. I've read a handful of Amish romances. Some good, some okay, but they are always a curiosity to me since I live in Amish country. I have trouble romanticizing the culture when I see Amish women in Sam's Club. LOL The Betsy Tacy series is a beloved one, and I tried it when my oldest was young, but it didn't grab me. Not sure why. I feel like I must've missed something. Thanks for linking to An Open Book!

    1. Haha! That's really funny about Sam's Club. Reading about the Amish was really eye-opening for me in many ways-I never knew that there was such a huge range of practices among the Amish (so many different "types" of Amish).

  3. Wow, I love how much you read, and especially about the Amish! Thrill of the Chaste looks like a must read for me. I was swept up in the Amish romances in high school haha. I’m embarrassed now.