Reading for Your Life

By Rachel Sircy

Well, this post will be interesting, I hope. It’s a combination of two posts: the first part touches on the physical ailments caused by chronic stress and the second part is a summer reading list. Sounds pretty far out, eh? The part about stress was my idea and my husband (who, as I’ve mentioned before, is an English teacher) recommended that I do a post offering a summer reading list. As it turns out, reading can alleviate the physical effects of stress according to a 2009 study done by the University of Sussex, so the two subjects would seem to fit together nicely.

Firstly, stress. According to the American Institute of Stress (yes, oddly enough there is such an institution) between 75 and 90% of all visits to American healthcare providers are the results of stress related disorders. Chronic stress (that is the persistent feeling that you cannot cope with all of the demands on your time and energy) can lead to increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections, ulcers, heart attacks, depression, anxiety, autoimmune disorders (remember if you have celiac disease, this is an autoimmune disorder!), ulcerative colitis, etc. And stress will worsen the symptoms and damage to your body from any other illness (whether acute, like a cold or chronic like diabetes). You can read more about the effects of stress at the American Institute of Stress’s website: https://www.stress.org/stress-effects/.

So, the major point here is that we want to avoid stress as much as possible. According to Dr. Mimi Guarneri of The Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, deep breathing is the best way to stop an acute stress response in its tracks. She recommends breathing in for a count of 5 seconds and out for a count of 5 seconds. These deep breaths will force your heartrate to slow and will cause many of the other automatic stress responses in the body to stop suddenly. Reading, too, can counteract the immediate physiological effects of stress according to that study I mentioned above conducted by the University of Sussex. According to their study, people who were exposed to rigorous physical activity to increase their muscle tension and heartrate experienced a 68% decrease in heartrate and muscle tension (these are two of the main physical effects that a person who is stressed will experience) after just 6 minutes of reading. Other relaxing activities such as taking a walk and listening to music did not produce the same kind of dramatic decrease in stress levels.

adult-1835799_1920

See the article: http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/4245076.Reading_can_help_reduce_stress__according_to_University_of_Sussex_research/

Dr. Guarneri believes that spiritual health is crucial to both physical and mental health, and I completely agree with her. I can’t think of a better way to cut back on our chronic stress levels than to connect ourselves with Truth and know that all of our efforts really do count for something. I have shared my Christianity in the past and written blog posts about how both our body and soul are connected in God’s eyes. God sees us as whole people who need to care for both our spiritual and physical selves. So, my summer reading list is going to be a very short list of 3 books that I have felt both entertaining and spiritually challenging and/or uplifting. Keep in mind that these books may not be lining the bookshelves of Lifeway, but they have managed to engage me and challenge me spiritually.

  1. The Lord of the Rings Series: I think we all know that these are great fantasy adventures and that they are also inspiring stories. Despite not having any direct religious references, Tolkein’s deep Christian faith shines through every part of these novels.
  2. The Screwtape Letters: This imaginative novel written in a series of letters from an older, wiser demon to a younger, inexperienced demon on how to tempt a human soul is a great read. It is also a challenge for any Christian as C.S. Lewis picks apart “acceptable” sins that Christians sometimes wink at such as gluttony and selfishness.
  3. Girl Meets God: This memoir by Duke Divinity professor and Episcopal priest, Lauren Winner, is one of the best spiritual memoirs on the market today, in my opinion. It’s the story of Winner’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity, told with a deep love for both faiths and with a great deal of personal honesty. If you prefer non-fiction to fiction, I would recommend this book.

There are, of course, plenty of good reads out there, just waiting for you to put your hands on them. Frankly, I was pretty self-conscious about putting together a reading list. I’m not as avid a reader as I should be, and I’m definitely no critic, so I kept my book reviews to a minimum. I hope that this little list will be helpful for anyone looking to lower their stress level by escaping into the world of a good book!

Happy Reading!

Again…and again

By Stacy Thompson

So it’s more than 120 days until college football season…and watching pro baseball is mind-numbing, to say the least.  College basketball (men’s and women’s) is over as well…we do have the NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs to get excited about, but nonetheless, it’s a dead time around here for the most part.  I have no fantasy football roster to prepare, no tailgate food to organize and ready, and my next trip with Mom is several weeks away, so what’s a girl to do??? Well, I could binge-watch Friends yet again for the nine-hundreth time, could binge-watch another of the ‘critically acclaimed’ or ‘audience favorite’ series on cable TV or online….or, I could just re-read some of my favorite books.

Re-reading a book, to me, is akin to channel-surfing on a lazy Saturday and stumbling upon a John Hughes classic film (think Ferris Bueller’s Day off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, etc. etc.)—you’re going to experience a plot-line you know by heart and words that you either quote incessantly or live by daily, but you’re going to enjoy it nonetheless.  The list below is eclectic, mainstream, classic and personal, all rolled into one – when I read for pleasure (which isn’t often enough) I lean toward books and series that I can simply let wash over me—nothing too serious or too deep that I can’t pick it up and put it down but rarely want to do the latter.  For the most part I want a book that will entertain me while at the same time allowing me a chance to turn my mind off—but something that will make me laugh or cry without being a total bummer. Like many readers, I have several that I go back to time and time again – for the familiarity, the comfort and the pure joy of a well-written story.

So here are my choices for Books You Can Read Again and Again…and Again

  • To Kill ATo Kill A Mockingbird – yes, you probably had to read it in high school, but give this gem another chance and appreciate the message behind the story – I think Atticus Finch impacted my decision to go to law school more than any advisor ever could and his code of ethics are the barometer we should all strive to meet daily
  • The Stand – take the time to wade through Stephen King’s uncut version of this opus – it’s not a quick read, but extremely worthwhile, with characters on all sides of the ethical spectrum dealing with life-altering dilemmas – this book is, by far, one of King’s least horror-leaning books.  I’d also recommend two other King books, Mr. Mercedes (more recent) and Different Seasons (four short stories, one of which was made into the classic film Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me)
  • Gone With The Wind – I was ten years old when my fifth-grade teacher gave me her copy of this book and challenged me to read it – it’s a history lesson, guidebook on the old South, human-interest illustration and love story all rolled into one
  • The Harry Potter Series – I got into these late (why all the fuss? I asked at the time)harry potter – hadn’t read any until the fourth one was coming out, and then cursed JK Rowling for not getting the remaining volumes out quickly enough – yes, it’s a meant to be a tween novel series, but adults are sure to enjoy every page
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott manages to give every character a different character while weaving a most cohesive story
  • Little House on the Prairie – Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert may have brought these characters to life on the TV screen, but after reading the books, I wanted nothing more than to make maple syrup popsicle sticks in the snow and to churn my own butter
  • Hunger Games trilogy – once again a tween-read, but an entertaining read to the very end—we all would want any young girl in our life to have the strength of Katniss
  • The Great Gatsby – I’ll admit that I had to force-read this in school, but reading it again as an adult proved this timeless classic should be given a second chance…and a third chance…and (you get the picture)eat pray love
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed – if you’ve read my previous blogs, you know I love a good hike…what this woman did was above and beyond that, and her story is worth repeating
  • James Elliott – All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful…etc.
    After reading these books I was convinced I need to become a veterinarian –I settled instead on being a lawyer who takes in any and all furry creatures that cross my path
  • Eat, Pray, Love – see “Wild” above, but with much better food and more showers…for sure

Everyone has their go-to book, the one you would have to take with you on a desert island – I, of course, would skirt the desert island one-book minimum by insisting on a Kindle to house several dozen books!  Happy Reading everyone and enjoy this down time until football and tailgate season!!

Read to your Kids

By Jeanne Reynolds

I had to hear it a couple of times for it to sink in. When it did, I could hardly believe it.

“Here’s a great hack for your home virtual assistant device,” the radio announcer enthused. (For those like my husband who think a hack is a terrible golfer or someone who sneaks into your computer system, “hack” is current slang for a quick fix, trick or work-around.)

“You can get (name of device) to read your child a bedtime story!” she continued. “Just say, (name of device), read Billy a bedtime story. Then you both can sit back and listen until one of you falls asleep.”

This may be the single worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard. I mean, it ranks right up there with, “Here, eat this sausage dog right before you get on the roller coaster” and “Don’t worry, these bungee cords almost never break.”

Seriously? Take a beloved childhood ritual – one of the most important things you can do to help your child develop a love of reading that will reap untold lifelong benefits – and ask a machine to do it for you?

Now, I totally get how exhausted, frazzled and pulled in 7 directions parents of young children are at the end of the day, especially if they’re also holding down jobs outside the home. And reading a story may seem like another chore there’s just not enough time for. The digital voice is better than nothing, right?

No. It’s not.

Because that’s no more “reading” than is watching a movie version of a book. Both are entertaining, but very different. And just getting Billy to shut up and go to sleep is not what a bedtime story is all about. bedtime-story

Reading – seeing the words and pictures, turning the pages – is essential to a child’s future. Children who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. And two-thirds who are still struggling by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

And it’s not just being able to read, but loving to read. A third of high school graduates never read a book after high school. Living in a house overflowing with books, and remembering trips to the public library as a highlight of the week as a child, this is harder for me to understand than black hole theory. And incredibly sad.

It’s one reason I’ve been volunteering for the past school year with Midlands Reading Consortium. Even though my pre-K student can’t read a lick (yet!), I’m trying to model the joy of reading and help him develop not just a skill but an avocation he’ll enjoy the rest of his life.

No batteries required.

The Twilight Wife: Book Review

By: Ashley Whisonant

twilight wife.jpg

I recently went on a weekend beach trip with my little guys and parents. I wanted to find a book I could fit in reading during nap times or quiet mornings drinking coffee. All moms know, a day at the beach with toddlers leaves NO time to read. My other book criteria was it must keep me on my toes! I didn’t want the typical romance or chick flick style book.

Finding the book The Twilight Wife was absolutely perfect! It had the right mix of mystery, suspense, and a hint of love!

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty, shall we?

The book opens up with our main character, Kyra, who is a Marine Biologist suffering from a diving accident leaving her memories lacking. The past four years are a complete blur. She is nurtured back to health by her devoted husband, Jacob. Since they are living on a remote island with few friends and no family, Jacob is the only key to her past memories. Kyra begins to have flashes of memories and starts to question everything Jacob has told her.

The end of the book made me gasp—such a shocking finale to Kyra’s story. Check this one out—it is a page turner!

Raising Readers

By: Crissie Kirby

Let’s face it . . . we ALL have one or two (or more) guilty pleasures in which we indulge.  Some of these might not be good for us (smoking, excessive alcohol intake, overeating, etc.), but some might not be terrible (working out, writing, crafting, etc.). For me, my number one guilty pleasure is reading . . . few things excite me as much as beginning a new book and delving in to the world created by the author. I don’t know when my obsession with books began, though I do vividly remember reading issue after issue of Reader’s Digest as a child and any other book that even remotely piqued my curiosity.  Reading isn’t a terrible habit to have, other than I could easily while away any number of hours in a land where dirty laundry and dirty dishes and messy floors don’t exist. I fully believe that being a voracious reader has allowed me to become a semi-decent writer.  When I had children, I just KNEW that I would have children who would LOVE books as much I did, so to ensure that, I bought a small library of children’s books. We had Goodnight Moon and Rainbow Fish and lots of Dr. Seuss and many other not so famous children’s books.  Then the unthinkable happened . . .

I had two very busy little boys.

Little boys who wouldn’t sit still for books.  Little boys who exhausted me to the point that I could often not finish a book we started before bedtime because I would, myself, fall asleep before they even blinked one tiny eyelid. I was failing as a reading parent.

As the boys got older, I would try to tempt them by buying books that I (again) just KNEW they would love. Captain Underpants and The Magic Treehouse and other not so famous short chapter books adorned the bookshelves above the aforementioned little kids books that were ever so subtly gathering dust from years of not being touched, much less read.

Unfortunately, most of these books, too, met with the same dust-encrusted fate as the earlier ones.

I was crushed. I was heartbroken. The one habit I had that I had literally waited years to share with my offspring was falling quickly by the wayside. In many ways, I resigned myself that my children were going to be like so many other boys who just didn’t like to read.

But, I kept on reading when I could. Vacations. Late nights. When I should have been folding laundry. I read. I read because it was my one little guilty pleasure that I couldn’t give up. Sometimes it would be with actual paper in my hands; other times it might be with my Kindle or on the Kindle app on my phone, but read I did. I continued encouraging the boys to read. I accompanied them to book fairs where I bought books that I silently prayed wouldn’t just become more dust magnets in our house.

Then, the tide began to shift. As surely as the sun rises slowly each morning, I would catch the boys reading books or magazines (mostly the Lego magazine, but, hey, whatever works, right?) when they weren’t required to by school. For my eldest, the reading bug sort of hit him after watching Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief and he began to read one of the Heroes of Olympus books. I was dumbfounded. I had tried buying the short little chapter books in an effort to ease them into reading and he picks up a 500+ page book and starts reading it willingly? His recreational reading has taken an even more dramatic turn in the last few weeks and he has been quickly devouring more than more than one book at a time. At bedtime, he reads. On the way to and from school, he reads.  The other night, I found him reading at 1 a.m. How could I fuss at him? As my mom replied when I relayed the story to her, it sounded like something I probably did as a child too. My previously devastated reading heart swells each time I look around and notice my son with a book in his hands sitting in the car or sprawled on the couch or nestled under his covers.

Study after study has shown that reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge and helps teach patience.  As with learning to walk and talk, developing a love of reading, it would appear, is just something that develops when the time and conditions are right.  And I’m so grateful to finally be sharing my guilty pleasure with my sons.

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

By: Ashley Whisonant

book recommendation_Every Woman Blog

Looking for a great book? I recently enjoyed reading “The Dry” by Jane Harper. Here’s a quick synopsis:

Aaron Falk has not returned to his hometown in Australia for over twenty years. After being run out of town as a teenager, Falk vowed to not return to the small farming community. Only after receiving a note in the mail did he find out that his childhood friend, Luke, was murdered.

Word spreads quickly through town of his arrival. From that moment on, incident after incident happens while he works to investigate who killed Luke, his wife, and young son. As you meet characters from all over town, it is hard to pin down exactly who killed the Hadler family. Could there be a connection to a death of young Ellie so many years ago? Ellie was part of a close group of friends that included both Luke and Aaron.

This page turner will keep you guessing! One second you think you have it figured out and then a curve ball gets thrown.

What are your favorite recent reads?

Fall Book Recommendations

By: Ashley Whisonant

fall-book-recommendations-2

It’s getting chilly enough in South Carolina to begin thinking about hibernating. The thought of fuzzy socks, a warm fire, soup in the crockpot, and a great page turner make me ready for the cold. Here are two book recommendations to enjoy this Fall: 

 “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn

If you have read Gone Girl, this suspense novel follows a similarly twisted plot. The main character, Libby Day, is one of the only survivors after her mother and two sisters are murdered in their home. As a young girl, Libby is convinced that her brother committed the crimes. Many years later, Libby revisits that dark night to assure herself that her brother is the monster she believes him to be. With so many turns in the story, you question if you have the right killer named yourself. Once the truth is revealed at the end, even a close reader would be shocked.

“Results May Vary” by Bethany Chase

Caroline had the perfect life. An adoring husband and an amazing job as a museum curator – until she got a shocking revelation at an art show. After being together since their high school years, Caroline thought she knew every part of her husband. After his betrayal, she must come to terms with being an “I” instead of a “we.” Her sister, Ruby, and best friend, Jonathan, work to show Caroline that it is not too late to discover herself. Such a beautifully written debut novel for Bethany Chase. At the end we find out, is it too late for a happy ending?

What are are your favorite recent reads?