She Reads & Writes

Women • Fiction • Life

iPhone showing the audiobook for Tracy Chevalier's novel Remarkable Creatures placed on a piece of artwork with fossil imprints

“I am comfortable with reading the Bible figuratively rather than literally. For instance, I think the six days in Genesis are not literal days, but different periods of creation, so that it took many thousands – or hundreds of thousands of years – to create. It does not demean God; it simply gives Him more time to build this extraordinary world.” – Elizabeth in Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Popular author Tracy Chevalier has gifted us with a fictionalized telling of the real-life, fossil-hunter Mary Anning. In the novel Remarkable Creatures, we learn that Mary and her friend Elizabeth Philpot were pioneering fossil collectors who regularly combed the beaches of Lyme Regis in Southwest England.

Mary, in particular, and her fossils had an enormous influence on paleontology and our current understanding of evolution. This is especially impressive when we consider that she was finding fossils in the early 19th century, when scientists were still trying to figure out what fossils were and before Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species.

Mary Anning and her fossils had an enormous influence on paleontology and our current understanding of evolution.

Such discoveries and discussions were exciting for the early 19th century British characters, but also incredibly challenging to their strongly held Christian beliefs. Three things really struck me while listening to this audiobook:

  1. Wow – the idea of fossils and evolution would be scary when it was a brand new thought and contrary to what your religious leaders were telling you.
  2. Wow – here we are in 2019 with much, much more evidence, but many people still experience the same fears.
  3. Wow – Chevalier did an amazing job of handling a hard topic with grace.

Such discoveries and discussions were exciting for the early 19th century British characters, but also incredibly challenging to their strongly held Christian beliefs.

As a Christian myself, I’ve never felt my faith or the validity of the Bible was called into question by the world taking more than six literal 24 hour days to be created and evolve. Maybe because I understand the power of metaphor to deliver a truth? Maybe because I’m comfortable with the gray, when many people just want black and white? Maybe it’s because I see the world constantly changing around me? I’m honestly not sure.

“[Fossils] are creatures from long, long ago. They remind us that the world is changing. Of course it is. I can see it change when there are landslips at Lyme that alter the shoreline. It changes when there are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and floods. And why shouldn’t it?”  – Elizabeth in Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Yes, I have to also wonder, why shouldn’t it?


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The books Five Quarters of the Orange and Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
The first and most recent reads of the Dinner and a Book Club.

This month the book club I’m in celebrated meeting every month for 15 years! 15 YEARS!

My mother started the Dinner and a Book Club in July 2004. The club has 12 members and meets monthly. This works out to each woman in the club hosting the meeting at her home once a year. Hosting entails choosing the book, making the dinner, and leading the discussion. Then, for the other 11 months of the year, you get to simply enjoying attending the meetings.

I have a distinct memory of my mother asking if I thought anyone would be interested in joining a book club. I’m so glad she was brave enough to just start the club and see what happened!

I’m so glad my mom was brave enough to just start the club and see what happened!

Over the years, some members have left and some new ones have joined, but it’s largely the same group. And as you can imagine, this community has gone through a lot together: Moves, marriages, divorces, births, deaths, career changes, and so on. It really is special that this community of women was built around a mutual love of books.

It really is special that this community of women was built around a mutual love of books.

So what do we read?

I thought it would be fun to quick note our first read, most recent read, and a few of my favorites in between.

You can also see a more complete list of all of the books I’ve read for the club by connecting with me on GoodReads and visiting my Book Club List.

I definitely haven’t read all of the club’s books over the past 15 years, but it’s still a pretty long list!

Are you in a book club? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!


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The book Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho on a wooden ledge with flowers

“…the soothing hour, when the last tints of light die away; when the stars, one by one, tremble through æther, and are reflected on the dark mirror of the waters; that hour, which, of all others, inspires the mind with pensive tenderness, and often elevates it to sublime contemplation.” ― Ann Radcliff, The Mysteries of Udolpho

Ann Radcliffe was an English author who published novels in the late 1700s. She was a pioneer of what is called the gothic novel, a genre full of mystery, horror, and medieval-like settings. It was a very popular genre in the 18th and early 19th centuries and the success of her novels provided the funds for her and her husband to travel.

I was introduced to Radcliffe when The Mysteries of Udolpho was assigned to me in an English Literature graduate course in 2014. The novel is long, coming in at 600+ pages in paperback, but has had a lasting hold on my imagination and literary musings.

One of many, many thought-provoking aspects of this novel is how Radcliffe thinks highly of sensibility, of the capability to respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences. In The Mysteries of Udolpho, she intentionally uses the novel to reveal her own sensibility toward nature, art, architecture, language, and music.

“In The Mysteries of Udolpho, Radcliffe intentionally uses the novel to reveal her own sensibility toward nature, art, architecture, language, and music.”

Radcliffe does this in 4 beautiful ways:

  1. The painterly quality of her writing reveals her sensibility toward nature and art; a quality that places a vision of the sublime European landscape before the reader’s eye.
  2. Her descriptions of aging castles and winding hallways, presented as both beautiful and haunting in their grandeur and decay, reveals her sensibility toward architecture.
  3. Her inclusion of poems throughout the novel and the dreamy, flowing nature of her prose reveals her sensibility toward language.
  4. Music’s active presence throughout her tale, haunting the main character, Emily, as it weaves in and out of the novel’s plot reveals her sensibility toward music.

The Mysteries of Udolpho is no July beach read, but that’s okay. In fact, that’s why I felt compelled to write about it over the summer. In our world of short blog posts and even shorter tweets, Radcliffe’s work provides a possible antidote to our ever-diminishing attention spans. It provides the opportunity to think on complex emotional or aesthetic influences; to be reminded that there is beauty in the world all around us that’s just waiting to be appreciated and felt, deeply.

In our world of short blog posts and even shorter tweets, Radcliffe’s work provides a possible antidote to our ever-diminishing attention spans.

Intrigued, but zero time for such a long, flowing novel? I understand! There’s no need to set a time limit on the reading experience or to take graduate level notes. Just buy a copy and read, one page at a time, even if it takes a year to get through. Or, my current go-to tool for reading, buy the audiobook. Life is busy, so why not make your commute or dishes or laundry more pleasant with a good story!

Have you read any of Radcliffe’s works? Any other long novels that were totally worth the time to get through? I’d love to read your comments!


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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens audiobook on iPhone laying in green grass

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.” ― Kya / Marsh Girl in Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I first became aware of Where the Crawdad’s Sing when it became the September 2018 pick of Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club. I purchased the audiobook that fall, but didn’t get around to listening to it until recently.

I’m in a book club that meets once a month and I was hosting June’s meeting. Since Where the Crawdad’s Sing had remained on best seller lists for months and months, I thought it was a good one to pick for the group and it didn’t disappoint. It was a crowd pleaser.

The book is a coming-of-age story about a young Kya Clark in the 1950s and ’60s, raised more by nature than humanity. Abandoned by her family at a young age, Kya learns to survive in her family’s shack in the marshes of North Carolina with very little human interaction.

The book is a coming-of-age story about a young Kya Clark in the 1950s and ’60s, raised more by nature than humanity.

The nature writing in the novel is extraordinary and the interweaving of poetry to develop the plot is fun. Issues connected to race, environment, education, sex, and community are all touched upon in the novel and could be explored in great depth.

But for the sake of this blog, I’d like to point out the beautiful testament the novel makes to the power of words. Kya does not formally attend school, but, thankfully, is befriended by a young local boy named Tate and taught to read.

I’d like to point out the beautiful testament the novel makes to the power of words.

The ability to read, something many of us regularly take for granted, opened up the world, and even her own emotions, for Kya: “I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”

Because she learned to read, Kya could read the science books Tate brought to her, teaching her about the natural world around her that she loved so much, and even leading to financial freedom later in life when she could publish her own studies.

Because she learned to read, Kya could connect with her mother in the only way possible, by reading the novels and poetry her mother left behind in the shack.

Because she learned to read, Kya was able to process her feelings and attempt to make a loose connection with the world by writing and mailing poetry using a pseudonym.

Because she learned to read, Kya’s life was much, much more full.

Because she learned to read, Kya’s life was much, much more full.

So what is your “because?” Because you learned to read, you ___? How is your life more full because of reading?


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book, mobile phone, notebooks, and pink and white roses

Here at She Reads & Writes the tagline is “Women • Fiction • Life.” I truly hope that through my literary musings, I am able to honor and inspire women readers and writers of fiction.

Why? Because as Kate Winslet said when playing Iris in the movie The Holiday, “You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life.” To read about strong women, and to write about strong women, leads to being strong women. You can’t be what you can’t see.

To read about strong women, and to write about strong women, leads to being strong women.

Examples of strong women abound outside of fiction, of course, but fiction has always brought so much meaning and joy into my life. It has repeatedly entertained, provided at-times-needed escapism, and served as a marker of different milestones throughout my life.

Fiction has also stretched my worldview, helped me feel connected to humankind throughout history, and made some hard truths palatable. Sometimes a harsh reality or important lesson to be learned is easier to digest when dressed in a good story. That is the power of fiction. That a lie can be true.

That is the power of fiction. That a lie can be true.

A story can make you see something, feel something, a news report never could. “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all,” wrote Neil Gaiman in The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction.

Yet, even as someone passionate about fiction, as my responsibilities have increased, the time and thought I have for fiction has decreased. Whether pursuing a full-time career, attending school, raising children, keeping house, or all of the above, it is easy to let the immediate demands of the day prevent reading fiction. And I know I’m not the only woman who feels this way.

And so, I’ve had to alter the way I read fiction. The once regular hour or two of uninterrupted reading on my back deck is a luxury that hasn’t happened since my son was born 19 months ago. The 15 minute reading sessions before bedtime and the audio books listened to on my daily commute are more in tune to the season I’m in. I adapted. You can, too.

I adapted. You can, too.

I’m so excited to start my blog journey with anyone who will follow along! Thank you, thank you for joining me on this adventure.

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Books, a cup of coffee, and flowers in a vase

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

This is the first post on my new blog. Stay tuned for more and please join my email list to get notified when I post new updates!

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