My 2021 Picks & Why, 22 Years Later, We Still Read Good Books Together

Book Girl and On Reading Well books

Good books are a very great mercy to the world.

Richard Baxter

I finished the list—the 23rd list. Compiling the Piquant Page-Turner ladies’ book club annual book list is both one of my favorite and one of the most difficult things in all the world.

Partly because I feel a sacred trust. Selecting in which friends will invest their precious time is a burden. I don’t want them to waste their time. But it’s excruciating for another reason: I see how many good books I cannot introduce to my friends.

After 22 years of reading a book a month together—250 or so books, I think—we have barely touched the top shelf.

Good Ladies Behind Good Books

This year two books helped me pick good books. Not surprisingly, both books were gifts from book club friends. Before I tell you about the books, let me tell you about the friends.

My friend Jen gave me the book on the left, Karen Swallow Prior’s, On Reading Well. Jen joined the book club over a decade ago, but her health seldom allows her to leave the house. But still Jen reads. She reads and reviews and helps launch books. Jen has been behind some of our best books and arranged the most fascinating author interviews.

My friend Karen gave me the other book about good books, Sarah Clarkson’s, Book Girl. Karen came to the very first book club meeting I hosted as a 22 year-old, married 1-year, grad-school student who loved reading and talking about books. She’s 30 years older than me and Mom’s friend—Mom comes too—but age is no barrier to when you love to read.

I wish I could tell you about my other book club friends—friends like Lisa and Kathy and Joyce and Jen.

Why Read Good Books?

Reason number one: because my imagination and attitudes and behavior need tune-ups. Reading helps me set my mind on what is good and pure and lovely. But it’s not enough to read widely. As Karen Swallow Prior notes, One must also read well…Reading well entails discerning which visions of life are false and which are good and true.

And, as Mark Edmundson explains in his book Why Read?, The ultimate test of a book, is the difference it would make in the conduct of life. So why take the time to find and read good books? Because reading good books makes us more virtuous people.

Prior quotes Thomas Jefferson to explain this further,

Everything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue. When any original Act of Charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves to do charitable and grateful acts also. On the contrary, when we see or read of any atrocious deed, we are disgusted with its deformity, and conceive and importance of Vice. Now every emotion of this kind is an exercise of our virtuous dispositions, and dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body acquire strength by exercise. But exercise produces habit, and…the exercise of the moral feelings produces a habit of thinking and acting virtuously. 

We read good books works our virtue muscles, if you will.

Why Keep Reading Good Books?

Build An Excellence Habit

In a word: habit. To have your imagination bathed in virtue you must continue at it. Don’t just dip your hand. Just as water, over a long period of time, reshapes the land through which it runs, Karen Swallow Prior explains, so too we are formed by the habit of reading good books well.

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; “these virtues are formed in Man by his doing the actions”; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: “the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life…For as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or short time that makes a man blessed and happy.”

Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, quoting Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics 

We keep setting good books before our eyes because goodness is formed in us over time. We become what we behold, someone said. And what we keep beholding.

Build Empathy Too

Why else should you keep reading good books? Because continual reading of good books gives us more empathy. Empathy enables kindness, and God knows we need more kind and tender-hearted among us.

Reading allows us to place ourselves in another’s shoes, seeing the world through another’s eyes, empathizing with views different from our own… Just as thinking about walking can actually stimulate your brain and muscles to remember the feeling of walking, reading a book stimulated the brains of readers in such a way as to suggest they were imaginatively “feeling” the story as something real. Imagine the power that gives us to feel the pain of another, to understand someone else’s struggle, stubbornness, or need. The kind of compassionate insight offered by a perceptive story is one that drives us toward connection. We are given the insight both to understand and to reach across the barriers…

Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life 

We need each others’ presence. And we need—and crave for ourselves—empathy in their presence. That’s why we keep reading good books.

Why Keep Reading Good Books Together?

I won’t lie. It’s a drain. I’ve greeted my book club friends with dinner-stained sweatpants and tear-stained eyes some Monday nights. It takes time to read and effort to get together and the family still needs feeding. So we eat and I and race to the couch to finish the last 20 pages which more often than not make me cry. Then I answer the door and we book girls talk about books together.

In these more “socially-distant” days, we need friendship. Reading books together builds friendship. As Irving Stone noted, There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same books.

Clarkson explains how this connection happens.

[A] woman who reads is a woman who relates. A book girl knows that a shared book is a ground of mutual discovery, a space in which the soul and thought of another may open to her in a wondrous way…When people inhabit a realm of imagination or theology or poetry together, their own realms of soul and spirit are revealed to the others who sojourn with them to that place. Reading, when shared, begins a conversation that breaks down the barriers of isolation and connects us, one to another, as we exclaim, in C.S. Lewis’s description of friendship in his book, The Four Loves, “What! You too?”

Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life

Reading good books together connects us.

Will You Be a Book Girl (or Guy)?

That’s it. Now I’ll share the book list. And I hope with me you’ll resolve to keep reading good books in 2021, and maybe to read some together. (You’re always welcome to join the Piquant Page-Turners. If you can tolerate sweats and tear-stained eyes.)

I’ll close with this. It’s a vision of the generous Book Girls I’m blessed to know (you know who you are), and, by grace, I want to be.

The reading life is, I’m convinced, a form of love, a way of encountering the world and its splendor and drama. The reading life comes to us as a gift and, as it fills us, drives us to fresh generosity. As you read and imagine, learn and grow in the company of great books, I hope you, too, will find that joyous urge that comes of a heart grown rich to hand out books to the children in your life, to pass on novels to your best friends, to press a good story into the hands of a struggling teen. 

Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life 

I hope you’ll enjoy these books and I hope you’ll use these books—to learn and grow, to gain hope, to battle well.

Love, be changed: read good books together.

2021 Piquant Page-Turner Picks

January 11- Perfectly Human: Nine Months With Cerian, Sarah Williams 

February 8- Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High, Melba Pattillo Beals

March 8- The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

April 12- The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim

May 10- True Grit, Charles Portis 

June 15- The Death of Ivan Illych, Leo Tolstoy

July 12- Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher

August 9- A Gentleman From Moscow, Amor Towles 

September 13- The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt 

October 11- Health Is Membership, an essay by Wendell Berry

November 8- Pilgrim’s Inn, Elizabeth Goudge

December 13- Two From Galilee, Marjorie Holmes

The Piquant Page-Turners typically meet at 7 PM on the second Monday of the month. Please note that dates and times are subject to change based on the fancy and whim of its members.

Contact Abigail at joyfullypressingon@gmail.com if you’d like to get monthly updates, Zoom invites, and related links via group email. 

Drift

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1-3a

Mom, didn’t you hear me?  I asked you three times. Why are you ignoring me?

Just posting a picture; I’ll be quick, I assure.

Just wading. Two outraged sons and two burnt pizzas later, I’m wet to the waist. I drifted.

What are you doing, Hon? You’ve been at the computer awhile. Is the pizza done yet?

Just floating along, up to my neck. Checking email and reading Julia’s post and scanning who liked Jeri’s post and finding out why Jordan’s feeling amused and Gena’s feeling annoyed, popping from from site to site, post to post, pin to pin without much thought; mindless, heedless. And now it’s forty minutes since I waded in and I’m downstream drenched. I drifted.

Drifting is dangerous. It could be deadly, depending on where the river’s headed.

Life is more river than lake. It keeps flowing, but not toward heaven. 


Google isn’t vested in your godliness and Facebook couldn’t care less about your faithfulness. In fact, websites want distracted drifters. They collect more “crumbs” when we float from site to site. Our drifting is better for their business. Therefore we must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

Drift- pararrhyéō in Greek-means float by, to flow away. Drift is what a leaf or a dead fish or a raft does in the river—it floats along. Inner-tubes crowd lazy rivers. No life, no power or strength are needed to float by.

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it, Chesterton quipped. Just wade in, with or without a raft. Simply log in and scroll down. The news feed will take you gently down the stream. No paddles needed. Go with the flow. Drift.

The tendency to drift is not new. Dropping our guard, giving way to the lust of the eyes is old news. Since Eden, alluring sights and sounds have drawn us away from what we’ve heard. 

Moses warned Israel over and over to be careful. Joshua continued, Be very careful to love the LORD your God and walk in all his ways and keep his commands and cling to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul (Joshua 22:5). Ezekiel promised that the coming Spirit in us and Shepherd over us would cause us to walk in his ways, careful to obey (Ezekiel 36:27, 37:24). And Paul urged Be careful how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15)

Careless drift is not new. What is new is the nearness of the stream. It’s so close now; it flows right through our homes. We can wade in and float off from the couch or the countertop. Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we’ve heard, lest we drift away.

What is it we’ve heard? What message do we heed to keep from drifting?


Hebrews chapter one is what we’ve heard: In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son. Jesus is most majestic message that we’ve heard-that we’ll ever hear. He upholds the universe with the word of his power, is far above angels; the radiant glory of God. And when he had made purification for sins, he sat down at God’s right hand. 

This is the message to which we must pay much closer attention, lest we drift away. 

In light of that message, we dare not drift, dare not neglect this great salvation. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?  (Hebrews 2:2-3a)

We grow in the grace and knowledge of God by hearing, reading and meditating on his Word. These require intentional, mindful attention. They’re not passive. We can’t know God when our minds drift. We won’t drift toward him. Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we’ve heard. 

In an article titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Nicholos Carr describes the effect of the internet on his own reading habits:

Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text…And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in swiftly moving streams of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski

Since the internet is actually designed to encourage us to browse information, not to read it slowly and digest it, we’d best be careful. Facebook status updates, new Tweets, random emails chop our attention into disconnected fragments. It affects how we read-and hear- the most crucial of all books.

That’s the rub. More time online makes me a less careful Scripture reader, a less heedful hearer and less wise walker. I multi-task what should be unitasked.

Author and blogger Tony Reinke explains:

We multitask everything, trying to think in two directions at the same time, trying to be in two places at the same time, trying to live in physical space and virtual space simultaneously. 

In reality, Scripture calls us to a life of single-minded self-reflection that often gets thwarted by the hum of multitasking. If it’s important, it’s worth being unitasked. Which means there must be priorities that trump our iPhone push notifications. 

Aside from neglected sons and blackened pizza, that is why I’m wary of Facebook. My attention–even to the greatest message I’ll ever hear and the most resplendent, glorious One I’ll ever see–wanes as I drift from stream to stream, post to post, pin to pin. I’m not loving the Lord with all my heart.


Matthew Henry’s commentary on Hebrews 2 bolsters the case for careful: What great loss we shall sustain if we do not pay careful attention. The [truths] will leak and run out of our heads, lips and lives. We shall be great losers by our neglect. Our minds and memories are like a leaky vessel; without much care they do not retain what is poured in them…Do not let gospel truths slip out of mind. Don’t drift.

The more time I spend on the internet, the more gospel truths slip out of my mind, the less attentive I am to the flow of real life around me; kids who need time with Mom and  dinner for a hungry husband. And the less I heed what I’ve heard.

That is why I’m more careful with Facebook feeds; more wary of cyber streams. Not hostile, just wary. Some of you wouldn’t be reading this without Facebook. Last week Facebook pushed me to greet three birthday girls, congratulate two new parents and send sympathy to a grieving co-worker. Facebook can be a force for good. It can prompt refreshing, life-giving works of faith and labors of love. Controlled, river current can be transformed to power.


But we live in the river of a fallen world. A river that flows to destruction. Not straining upstream inevitably means drifting dangerously downstream. We won’t transform it, but be conformed by it. We can’t stand still in this river.

If we do not listen earnestly, diligently, daily to Jesus- if we neglect so great a salvation- we will drift.

Maybe some of you readers are drifting. Maybe on Facebook feeds or maybe the rut or rush of work and family. You have no urgency. You need to pay more careful attention to what you’ve heard. You need to set your eyes on Jesus and the great salvation he offers. Your soul needs an anchor. 

Look to Jesus. Go deep, hope in His Word. Pray with Moses and me that God will satisfy us in the morning with his unfailing love that we sing for joy, glad all our days (Psalm 90:14).

Set the anchor. Don’t drift. 

We have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.
Hebrews 6:19-20a