On Bookstores: A Love Story

We recently packed up all our earthly belongings and moved from Alaska to North Carolina. While the Army did a lot of the moving for us, we drove from Fairbanks to North Carolina, which was no small feat.

Driving across the country (with the assistance of a ferry for four days from Alaska to Washington) was as difficult, wonderful, and beautiful as it sounds. I’m a person who likes having roots, so it was hard to slowly peel my Alaska roots out of the ground and hold them, preparing to slowly settle somewhere else.

One of the many things Alaska taught me was how to become grounded, and I found  reading to be one of the most helpful tools to do so. I’ve always loved books, but Alaska helped me re-love them in a new way.

As we traveled across the US, mile by mile going farther and farther from our first home that we loved so much (how does one say goodbye to a place as magnificent and difficult as the Forty-Ninth state? Ask me in a few years, and maybe I’ll start to have an answer) I found myself wanting to be as grounded as possible on our trip. And so, with every possible stop, we made it our goal to go to bookstores we found along the drive. Derek’s enthusiasm and wholeheartedness for my idea was a reminder that I am indeed married to the most wonderful human I know.

In Haines, Alaska, where the ferry departed from, I found The Babbling Book, a charming bookstore that had a dog. As rain pelted from every angle we sprinted in to the bookstore to find calm, quiet, and a few dog pets. Haines, like the bookstore, was charming and delightful, and as we prepared to move on in this massive adventure and undertaking, running my fingers over the spines of some books and shopping local made me feel calm. I bought a book by a local author, If You Lived Here I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende, and devoured it on the ferry. (Heartily recommend, by the way.) We also visited the Haines Library, which was absolutely delightful.

A week later we found ourselves in Seattle, and I felt like a newborn baby thrust suddenly into a urban world. The crowds, noise, and bustle were overwhelming. After spending fifteen minutes at Pike’s Market, I looked at Derek and said, “let’s go to the bookstore.” He nodded, and we found ourselves at Elliott Bay Book Company. The loudness of urbanity was stilled as we wandered and perused the huge, beautiful bookstore. I bought a book on poets and a card game about Shakespeare’s tragedies.

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Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Washington

In Rapid City, South Dakota, we took a slight deviation from books and instead headed to a used record store, which held similar delight. As I fingered through old records and tried to find an Eric Clapton record, (I did) Derek was hastily thumbing in the nineties section trying to find Ten by Pearl Jam (he didn’t.) Right as we were leaving I saw the soundtrack to The Sound of Music for $1 lying forgotten in a corner, snatched it up, and imagined how good it would feel to listen to the sounds of my childhood in wherever our new home was.

I suppose this is to say: life will always be moving along, and will always feel a bit unsettled. But I also think that it’s good to find the things that make you feel at home no matter where you are, and hold on to them. For me that’s a good bookstore (or record store) with stories I’ve read or heard and also stories and songs I haven’t known yet, reminding me that possibility and lessons are always right around the corner.

Top Books of 2018

Thomas Jefferson famously once said, “I cannot live without books,” and while the phrase is obviously somewhat hyperbolic, I have to agree. Books are like an anchor to me, bringing me back to my favorite places and teaching me new things. Military life is transient and unpredictable, and books help center me when our lifestyle becomes hectic and unknown.

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A sampling of the books I read in 2018!

This year I was able to read significantly more than years prior, in part because I went down to part-time work this fall. I also tried to make it more of a habit. Reading is something that I love, but I have to carve out time to read and be habitual about it. So I try to bring a book everywhere I go, and when I have a few minutes here and there I am reading a book instead of reading tweets or emails. I also try to read at the same time every day, even if it is only a page.

Another thing to note: read anything. Be discerning, of course, but if you want to read a teen novel, read it. Some seasons of life I read a lot of heavy Christian nonfiction and some I read none at all, and simply feel like reading Harry Potter. It really depends. I hear a lot of people get discouraged because they can’t seem to finish a long, heavy book. That’s okay. Just read.

Since I read a lot more this year it was hard to pick a top list. But without further ado and a little help from Goodreads, here goes:

  1. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This is a charming and delightful novel that was also really moving. The main character, Eleanor, is one of the more quirky protagonists I’ve read in a while, and I loved her.
  2. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Set in Alaska, which I’m partial to, and the writing was just brilliant. I loved The Nightingale also by Hannah, and her epic writing style did not disappoint. This one is difficult to put down — I read it in one flight to Seattle.
  3. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I’ll be honest — I picked this because I loved the cover. The book was incredible. It was a popular novel that read like classic literature to me and examined the complicated nuances of family beautifully.
  4. Becoming by Michelle Obama. Obama’s writing style is fantastic and detailed. She writes about her life in Chicago and her life with Barack Obama in an engaging and informative way. I hadn’t realized until I read this how much she advocated for military spouses during President Obama’s presidency, and I was so moved to see how much she cared and fought for the military spouse community.
  5. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Late to the party with this one. I’ve not read many sports nonfiction books, but this was more than a historical retelling. Anyone who has ever competed in a sport would enjoy this story of justice and hard work.
  6. Educated by Tara Westover. I read this one very quickly — I couldn’t put it down. Westover’s writing style is incredible and it flows flawlessly. Her story of growing up in an extremist household completely separate from the world was very powerful. She also writes about the power of education, which as a teacher I really  enjoyed.
  7. Remember God by Annie F. Downs. This book was a powerful reminder to recall God’s faithfulness and kindness to us in all seasons.
  8. The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, and it was so good. Keller writes in a pragmatic but not unfeeling way, and this book was a great encouragement.
  9. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Yes YA lit. Yes the Netflix movie was incredible. Yes to a bright, funny female protagonist who is also just lovable.
  10. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. This was my favorite of 2018. I’d been meaning to read this for a long time. Peterson’s writing is simple but profound. He walks his readers through the Psalms of Ascent, and it felt like a balm on a windy day. Highly, highly recommend.

Honorable mentions: When Trouble Comes by Phil Ryken, In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen, and Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.

There were also a few I didn’t like or that were underwhelming. There are so many more books I wish I could tell you about, but I don’t want to make this a small book in itself. So now, let me know what you read and recommend! I want to know.

To The Stars

It is getting dark again. I was gone in Chicago for a few days at the beginning of the month and I came back and it seemed all the daylight had fled in those few short days. Some days it is hard to wake up knowing that daylight is fleeting, and even harder when you know each day you lose a few precious seconds.

I took Latin in high school. I was not very good at it, but I loved that the ancient language felt like unlocking a mystery. Each new word I learned had somehow evolved and changed until it became a word we use today. For example, “video” means “I see.”

My senior year of high school I somehow stumbled upon a phrase that is also the state motto of Kansas, “ad astra per aspera.” Aside from being beautifully alliterative and poetic in sound, the meaning is even richer: to the stars, through difficulty.


Seeing the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) was never a huge bucket list item of mine. They were a bit of an afterthought to me, until one morning during our first winter when I was headed out to school I looked up and saw a purple and green line slowly moving through the sky in a dream-like trance. A few more sightings of the elusive lights drew me more and more to them. I liked that they were unpredictable and showed up on their own terms. More accurately, they were always there, but their visibility was a matter uncontrollable to man. The Aurora is only visible in darkness, and the darkness increases your chances of seeing it.

Darkness and difficulty are fickle friends who often don’t feel like friends at all. But they also bring us to the stars. If I weren’t willing to bundle up and stand on my porch in -30 F temperatures I’d never know the living poem of the Aurora lighting up the sky.

Through difficulty, yes — but, to the stars. To the stars.