Reading nonfiction, self-help, and Christian trade books can be wonderful for helping you love your ordinary. That’s why I shared five of them in May. However, I find that fiction books can also help you develop skills for your ordinary life. While most fiction is exciting, dramatic, and generally helps us escape the normal humdrum life, there are many quiet books that celebrate an ordinary life. I love good page-turning mystery, a sci-fi adventure, and the hefty literary works in the library, but the books I want to own are the quiet ones. There will be long passages that I want to mark. They are the books I want to reread. These are books that make you feel at home because the characters feel at home within themselves.
An author who celebrates Ordinary Life
One of the best writers on ordinary life is Wendell Berry, and one of my favorites from his Port William series is Hannah Coulter. Written as a rambling reflection of life through the 20th century, Hannah meditates on the joys and sorrows of her life.
Life on the farm and the household was still undoubted in those days. It went on as it always had and as it needed to do, war or no war, and I did my part. The Feltners were hospitable people in the old way. There was always company, a lot of coming and going, even when we weren’t feeding hands. There was plenty of work to be done, lots of housekeeping, lots of cooking and canning and preserving, butter-making, soap making……Hannah Coulter, pg 43
The world has always seen heartbreak and heroes. The front lines of wars and pandemics tell the mettle many are made of. Yet the ability to simply live life well is also a test. To go through the hardship and still have hope. Hannah casts hope for her home when she is gone.
Sometimes I imagine another young couple, strong and full of desire, coming quietly into this old house that will be empty again of all that is any use, and will be stale and silent and dingy with dust. They will see it shining before them as Nathan and I saw it fifty-two years ago. And I will say, “Welcome! Love each other. Love this place and use it well. Bless your hearts.”Hannah Coulter, page 82
Discovering an Ordinary life
Hallmark movies have overdone the trope of big-city executives discovering the joy of simple small-town life. In the pages of a book, it can be accomplished with far more nuanced than the scope of a 90-minute made for tv movie. One such book is The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartim Fenollera. While there is a slight utopian element to the village, the concept that Miss Prim awakens to is the celebration of ordinary life.
Walking without having to rush, a pleasure as simple as taking a stroll, wandering, ambling, even idling – when had anything so ordinary, so humble, become a luxury?The Awakening of Miss Prim, page 257
When Prudencia Prim takes a new job it leads to conversations with people who she first dismisses as ordinary. Over time she learns just what a beautiful thing it can be to be ordinary. Doing simple things with great joy gives purpose to the humdrum, and meaning beyond grief.
Renewed to life
A brush with death will change many people. For some the changes are drastic, for others, it is more like waking up to the wonderful life they have. The story of Virgil Wander is exactly this kind of waking up. Leif Enger writes his characters with so much love, and when they become aware that they are loved it is healing for the character and the reader.
“She kept looking away then back to me, as though at a nice surprise. This was maybe best of all. I never once expected to be someone’s nice surprise.”
“I wanted to hear about many small things, the smaller the better. I wanted to tell her small things in return.”Virgil Wander
A Pulitzer Winner
Marilynne Robinson is winning prizes for the simple stories, stories with deeply reflective qualities, as well as flawed and complex characters. The novel, Gilead, seems like a memoir, but isn’t. Plus the thoughts within give a richer theology than many theological or Christian trade books could accomplish. The goal of ordinary life is to live your faith, not be overly philosophical about it.
“Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life.”
Two or three of the ladies had pronounced views on points of doctrine, particularly sin and damnation, which they never learned from me. I blame the radio for sowing a good deal of confusion where theology is concerned. And television is worse. You can spend forty years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and then some fellow with no more theological sense than a jackrabbit gets himself a radio ministry and all your work is forgotten. I do wonder where it will end.Gilead
Using Reverse Psychology
The last book I will recommend may seem like the outlier here, but trust me, it is definitely a book to celebrate ordinary life. Anxious People by Fredrick Backman is about a bank robber, and what drives ordinary people to terrible things. Backman is able to give humor and wit and deep insight into what causes heartbreak and healing.
Sometimes it hurts, it really hurts, for no other reason than the fact that our skin doesn’t feel like ours. Sometimes we panic, beause bills need paying and we have to be grown-up and we don’t know how, because it’s so horribly, desperately easy to fail at being grown-up.Anxious People
To celebrate an ordinary life is to forgive mistakes and keep trying your best. The happiest endings are with people who continue to move forward and live their ordinary lives well.