Hiding books from rabbits, the Shelf of Guilt, and more. {Other People’s Bookshelves}

other peoples bookshelves

Today we’re continuing our Other People’s Bookshelves series. View the previous posts here. For a reminder on how this series got started, head here

Today we’re snooping the shelves of Ed Cyzewski, Christian author, blogger, and freelance writer. I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with Ed at Story Chicago and the Festival of Faith and Writing, and wish for your sakes you could all have a chance to do the same.

Ed’s gracious, smart, and a real pro. If you ever need someone to help you with your book proposal, he’s your guy.

When Ed recommends a book, I add it to my list. Period.


1. Tell us a little bit about your shelves.

Most of our books are upstairs in our bedroom since my wife’s graduate school research takes up our two main bookshelves downstairs and the rest of our home is devoted to trains, bouncers, a play kitchen, and stuffed animal rabbits for our kids.

The location of our books was be a big deal for me since I used to hide my theology books. After I graduated from seminary, I was completely burned out on church, and I didn’t want any Christians I met to know that I had a seminary degree, lest they start hassling me to attend meetings on weekday evenings.

I’m over that now. We go to church. A few people know I have a seminary degree. They also know we have two kids, my wife’s in graduate school, and I don’t have much free time.

house rabbits Ed

Keeping our books upstairs also protects them from our house rabbits who have torn some of our books to shreds. In fact, the spines on the shelf of fiction and nonfiction books have been nibbled quite a bit. The spine of Operating Instructions is the one with the white, diagonal tear. It’s still one of my wife’s favorite books of all time.


2. How are your books organized?

We have one shelf with fiction and fun nonfiction. Of course there’s David Sedaris and Jasper Fforde, as well as our absolute favorite books: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Cold Comfort Farm. Cold Comfort Farm is a parody of English literature, and it’s such a perfect book that it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking it.

Another shelf has a bunch of Bible study and theology books up top and then a series of shelves with Christian living and spirituality books. Shane Claiborne, Henri Nouwen, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have been the most life-changing reads, while Lauren Winner and Anne Lamott write books I return to over and over again.

I keep a few of the most important books downstairs on my desk:


3. Do you have a favorite shelf?

The little shelf on my desk holds the books that have been personally significant to me and remind me of who I am and what I believe. G.E. Ladd’s Theology of the New Testament (Helloooooooo Vineyard!) and N.T. Wright’s books about the New Testament and Jesus opened my eyes to read scripture quite differently than I had been, and they generally sum up (in about 2000 collective pages) what I believe.

There’s also the spirituality stuff with The Divine Hours, Fred Buechner, Mystically Wired, and an Ignatian Spirituality book. Buechner is one of the few theologians who really tells it like it is but in a way that is breathtakingly poetic—a gift I do not have!

I also just received copies of Our Great Big American God and Speak, both of which I enthusiastically endorsed. They are not on the Shelf of Guilt to the left (outside of the picture), which is full of books from my friends that I have yet to read, review, or endorse.


4. Any special titles you’d like to point out?

Well, since you asked, these pictures show random piles of my books, including The Good News of Revelation and Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus. I don’t really have a good place for them, so I just pile them in front of my existing books (Can anyone find the book that’s been translated into Korean?). Such is the glory of an author’s life!

My latest book, A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth, is piled up on my desk next to my favorite books as a reminder to keep telling people about it and to keep mailing free copies to youth pastors and college ministers who may be able to use it for their ministries. It has been a labor of love for the past four years, and it is by far the most gratifying book project I’ve put together so far because I finally let myself ask all of the hard questions I’ve wanted to ask about my faith. This book shares what I learned.

*****     *****     *****

Thanks so much to Ed for sharing his shelves with us!

If you’re new to Ed’s work, I recommend taking a look at his blog or his latest book. (It’s the book I wish I’d had in college, and that I wish my church youth leaders had read, too.) If you’re a writer, definitely check out Ed’s free guide A Path to Publishing.

Ed is also responsible for the Examine app (free) that now lives on my phone, and The Divine Hours, which now lives on my bookshelf. If you’re a meditative sort, or would like to be, I highly recommend giving both a look.

“Crazy” Mary Todd, and other historical myths.


I gave you a short review of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in the August twitterature post, but I’ve been circling back to some of its themes since I read the last page and wanted to dive a little deeper today.

Specifically, I’d like to talk about Mary Todd Lincoln.

Honestly, all I knew about Mary Todd prior to reading this book was that she came from a slave-holding family, was institutionalized at some point, and that historians speculate whether Lincoln’s unhappy home life fueled his ambition. More than one history teacher called her “crazy Mary Todd.”

In Team of Rivals, Ms. Goodwin presents a much richer and more complicated picture of the first lady.

Mary Todd had an unhappy childhood: her mother died at an early age, her relationship with her stepmother was tense, at best. But when she met Abraham Lincoln in Springfield in 1838, she was high-spirited, intelligent, and widely read, with a downright unladylike fascination with politics.

She was undoubtedly high-strung and temperamental, and her propensity to fits of temper was well known. But she wasn’t crazy.

Indeed, it wasn’t until the Lincolns’ second son, three-year-old Eddie, died from pulmonary tuberculosis in 1850 that she even began to resemble the Mary Todd that lives on in popular imagination. Ms. Goodwin writes that Eddie’s death “left an indelible scar on her psyche—deepening her mood swings, magnifying her weaknesses, and increasing her fears.” Having lost her son to illness (after a long line of losing other close family members to the same) she became increasingly paranoid about sickness.

As someone who has struggled with anxiety, my heart goes out to her.

Lincoln was elected president in 1860. Mary was the first “first lady” who was known as such, and the first to figure prominently in the public eye. She was roundly criticized—before she even arrived in the capital—for being “awfully western, loud and unrefined.” The North hated her for being raised in a slave-holding family; the South viewed her as a traitor. The poor woman couldn’t win.

Though Mary Todd relished her role as first lady, its burdens did nothing to assuage her uneasiness. Rumors of an assassination plot against the president elect forced Lincoln—and his family, who was traveling with him—to change his route as he traveled to Washington, D.C. in preparation for his inauguration. I can only imagine how horrifying that must have been for Mary.

Things didn’t get any easier once Lincoln took office on March 4: the opening shots of the Civil War were fired scarcely a month later. Even then, military forces began to gather in the capital. The city became a staging area for the Manassas Campaign; shots could be heard from the White House. Washington soon served as a hospital for the wounded, who spilled into the streets, along with dead bodies awaiting burial.

I can’t imagine living with the horrors of war crowding into my own backyard.

Two of the Lincolns’ sons, Willie and Tad, contracted typhoid fever in 1862, which was likely caused by Washington’s unsanitary wartime conditions. Tad eventually recovered, but Willie’s death was Mary’s undoing. She sunk into a deep depression, overcome by guilt and grief, unable to cope with daily life.

And then, after two more years of war, her husband was shot dead by an assassin. While seated next to her. At the theater, of all places.

Mary Todd Lincoln did not fare well after Lincoln’s death, but the details surprised me. She was institutionalized—that much I knew—but only for several months, and historians debate whether the insanity trial her son initiated was trumped up so he could get control of her finances.

History hasn’t treated Mary Todd Lincoln well. But after reading her story, I have so much empathy for her, which wasn’t the reaction I expected. It’s not hard for me to imagine how easy it would be to follow her path, even today, after enduring that kind of grief, and loss, and soul-crushing stress: losing a child, enduring a presidential election, living backyard of a civil war, losing a son to wartime illness and a husband to an assassin’s bullet.

We tend to see (or are taught outright) historical figures as caricatures. Add the stigma of (possible) mental illness to that propensity, and it’s no wonder it’s hard to see a real person when we look back at Mary Todd Lincoln.

That’s bad history, of course. But we lose much more than historical accuracy when we opt for the cartoon instead of the real woman.

P.S. Talk to your man like Abigail Adams, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s best blogging tips.

What to read when you’re stuck in an Austen circle.

What to read after you finish Jane Austen's novels. Again. | Modern Mrs Darcy

The details on this ongoing project, and the factors I’m taking to heart.

Readers told me 3 books they loved, 1 book they hated, and what they’re reading right now. In turn, I’m recommending 3 books for each reader. (Or more, if I can’t help myself.)

This week we’re choosing books for Emmy Cecilia, whose books are:

Love: Anything Jane Austen (though I’m meh on Mansfield Park), Anne of Green Gables series, His Good Opinion by Nancy Kelley (still Austen-related)
Hate: Angels in America, which is technically a play. Forced to read it in college and I hated it. Or anything heavy like Anna Karenina.
Last read: Pride and Prejudice; currently reading: Emma. As you can see, I’m stuck in an Austen circle and am looking for new things to read. 

Emmy Cecilia says she’s stuck in an Austen circle—an experience many MMD readers are familiar with. (Although if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice, you’ve got plenty of company. But seriously, what are you waiting for?)

Emmy Cecilia’s love for Jane Austen is the strongest factor in these picks—noting that she loves a good Austen spin-off—but I’m also taking her love for Anne-with-an-e into consideration.

I’m giving more options than usual, because I think the likelihood of her having already read some of these is high.

My picks: 

Classics: Middlemarch, An Ideal Husband, Elizabeth Gaskell, Dorothy Sayers
And more classics: the Shoe books, Louisa May Alcott, Betsy-Tacy
Contemporary Fiction: The Grand SophyNone But You
More by L. M. Montgomery: The Emily series, The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill
Nonfiction: What Matters in Jane Austen, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew

Let’s start with a few classics that any Jane Austen fan should think about reading next: I chose MiddlemarchAn Ideal Husband, and Dorothy Sayers (of which Gaudy Night is my favorite) for their wisdom and wit, and we’ve already established that Gaskell is an obvious next step for the Janeite who ran out of Austen novels. Louisa May Alcott’s books also have the bright feel of Austen’s novels.

The Shoe books and the Betsy-Tacy series are good choices for Anne fans, but before you move on to those, make sure you’ve explored some of Montgomery’s other works: the Emily seriesThe Blue Castle, and Jane of Lantern Hill are my personal favorites.

Emmy Cecilia’s professed love for His Good Opinion helped me choose two contemporary novels for her: Georgette Heyer writes smart and funny Regency romances; The Grand Sophy is one of her best. None But You does for Persuasion what His Good Opinion does for Pride and Prejudice: it’s a retelling of Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s perspective. A warning: fans who love these love them. But there are fans who will never forgive Kaye for a few of her imagined plot points.

And if you haven’t yet, indulge in a little Jane Austen nerdery and pick up What Matters in Jane AustenWhat Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew for a very readable look at the era.

Please share YOUR recommendations for Jane Austen fans in comments. Thank you!

View all the literary matchmaking posts here.

When reading is rude.

(Not) in my ears | Modern Mrs Darcy

As the owner of a to-be-read list that will keep me busy until 2034 or so, I’m always up for suggestions on how to squeeze in more reading time without impinging on normal life (or my precious alone time).

I’ve had great success with a few strategies to read more, like embracing five-minute intervals, keeping several books going at once, and adding more audiobooks to the mix. 

I’ve been listening to more audiobooks this year, and I’ve crossed a dozen or so books off my list that I enjoyed while doing dishes, making dinner, or folding laundry.

I even surprised myself by giving up my peppy music in favor of audiobooks (or podcasts) for my morning run. Listening to the spoken word never sounded appealing to me—until I realized that if I listened to books while running, I could read more books.

Recently, I’ve heard several fellow book-lovers gush about how much “reading” they’re able to get done while they’re grocery shopping.  

I was a little surprised. And more than a little jealous.

I hate grocery shopping. (Unless it’s at Trader Joe’s. I’ve made my peace with Trader Joe’s.)

When I’m at the grocery—or more poignantly, Costco—I envy those who have their earbuds in, redeeming the time. I always imagine they’re listening to something amazing.

But I can’t help but wonder what my grandmother would think. I heard her rail about how the Walkman was an assault on civility back in 1988, and I apparently never got over it, because I’m still not comfortable wearing headphones in that kind of public setting.

I’m in my thirties, in the Upper South, in a Top 20 city often described as a “big small town.” All are significant factors. 

In a bona fide big city like NYC or LA, I wouldn’t think twice about popping my earbuds in to shop. But if I was in a bona fide small town, I wouldn’t dream of attempting it.

I doubt I’d hesitate to multi-task if I was 17, instead of occupying the strange middle ground between Gen X and Gen Y. I expect most Boomers deem the earbuds impolite, and my grandmother—of the Greatest Generation—would say your earbuds signal your obvious (and obviously hostile) desire to shut out your fellow human beings/grocery shoppers.

I’d love to listen to audiobooks at Costco. But I don’t want to anger/disillusion/alienate my grandmother’s generation, either.

Until I can figure out a way to avoid the grocery store, I’ll be pondering my options.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear what this looks like for you in your life, from your age, and in your specific town.