In the past three years or so, I’ve revitalized and reorganized my reading life. I like to make reading goals and keep track of what I’m reading, and I’ve become pretty good at finding the hidden pockets of time in the day that allow me to get more reading done. All of this has made me realize how book nerdy I am, and because I’m realizing how REALLY book nerdy I am, I thought I’d share an update on where I am with my 2018 reading! This update will include really nerdy details like how many books I’ve read so far, what formats I’ve used to read, favorites so far, and a few other tidbits. Hopefully this will inspire you in some way with a new book recommendation, a new idea for keeping track of your reading, or a nudge to try a new reading format you haven’t before. 

2018 reading goal: Read 50 books (They must be new to me. Re-reads do not count!)

Number of books read so far: 37 – 74% there!

Currently reading: The Miller’s Dance (Poldark series #9) by Winston Graham, Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard, Sing! by Keith and Kristyn Getty

Standouts so far: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (this one is likely to end up a lifetime favorite)

Book format breakdown so far: 
  • I read the physical book: 21/37 (~58%) 
  • I listened to the audiobook version: 11/37 (~30%) 
  • I read the Kindle e-book version: 5/37 (~13.5%)
I was honestly surprised at what a chunk of my reading has consisted of audiobooks. I’ve loved having audiobooks as a supplement for a few years now, but the idea that I’ve read 30% more books this year so far because of them was a very pleasant surprise! They do make a difference, y’all! 

How I’m tracking my books: 
I became a bullet journaler last year and it’s been a blast. I thought for a long time that I wasn’t cool enough for it, but the beauty of bullet journaling is that it’s completely customizable for your life and your needs. For me, it’s been a lifesaver for scheduling purposes and list purposes. I sure love to make me some lists, and having one notebook for all of them simplifies life exponentially. The majority of my lists have to do with books, of course. Here are the big ones.

  • Books to Read: this is for pretty much any title that catches my interest and makes me feel a desire to remember it. I probably used to be too liberal with what I’d write down, so I’ve gotten a little better about writing down ones that I think I’ll legitimately read. I’ll write down the title and author on this list with a bullet point next to it. If I read the book, I’ll then put an X through the bullet point. If I abandon the book or come back to the list and decide I’m not as interested as I thought, I’ll put a little sideways caret through bullet point: > 
  • Books Read in [Year]: I have 2017 and 2018 lists for this! It’s so fun to see the list growing throughout the year and then to go back at the end and remember all that I’ve read. These are simply formatted: they’re numbered lists with the title and author of each book included, and if I’ve read a book in a format other than a hard copy, I’ll note that in parentheses.
  • Books Re-Read in [Year]: These are formatted the same way as the full annual lists. I love a good re-read and generally get a few in each year. I’m pretty nostalgic so I like to remember these too. 

And in other news, my Kindle and my Audible app are both stocked for my second-in-my-life trip to ENGLAND very soon! Yes, I’m determined to bring ZERO physical books on this trip. That may sound unrealistic to the people who know me, and it even does to me at moments, but I just keep reminding myself that I’m going to the land where all the good books were written. First stop is Cambridge, then it’ll be on to Surrey, London, and hopefully the surrounding areas. I’m excited to see some places I didn’t see on my last trip and also to see dear friends who live in England. Check back later for lots of pictures! :)

Just a few more days till I get to roam through more rolling green hills and 1000-year-old churches. Bring it on! 
In many works of fiction, a proposal marks a climactic moment in the story that the audience has been waiting for, so we want it to be exciting and memorable. As I began thinking about good literary proposals, I realized that while wonderful love stories are ever multiplying, really fabulous proposal scenes are fewer. In many of my favorite books, the proposal is simply “understood” through the author’s narration or the characters’ personal reflections in their minds. And among the good proposal scenes I enjoy, the phrase “will you marry me?” or something similar is even more rare! I was honestly surprised to realize these interesting tidbits as I started narrowing down my favorites. So, while there’s no shortage of tried-and-true romance among old classics and newer fiction, I think these five literary proposals are my top favorites. And I know some of the book excerpts are long, but bear with me… they’re just SO good. Also, this probably goes without saying, but I am about to spoil the endings of these books for you :) You've been forewarned.

Persuasion by Jane Austen 

-Captain Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliot- 

People (myself included) may swoon forevermore over Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, but Captain Wentworth is far more sure of himself in the “ability to romance a woman” category than Darcy. Wentworth and Anne are the older, more seasoned couple out of Austen’s leading pairs, and by the time they get engaged, they’ve learned a few things about heartbreak and second chances. And even though Captain Wentworth proposes by letter, it’ll probably be the most romantic thing you read all day (my own love for handwritten letters also probably has something to do with my feelings about it). He writes it as he listens to Anne discussing with another male friend how men and women approach romance; her words give Captain Wentworth hope and he pours out his heart on the page. Here it is in all its glory. 

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
F. W. 
I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never. 

Now to scoop up the melted puddle of me off the floor. 

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows 

-Dawsey Adams and Juliet Ashton- 

This is the more unconventional favorite on this list since the woman does the proposing, but this was definitely a situation where the man needed a little help. With the prodding of her publisher and friend, Sidney Stark, Juliet finally accepts near the end of the book that she’s madly in love with Dawsey Adams, a poetic pig farmer with a quiet exterior and a big heart. Everything started for them when he found a secondhand book with her address in it and wrote her a letter. Later on, they discover they share a love of books, nature, community, and a little girl named Kit who needs a family. However, when Juliet admits to herself that she loves Dawsey, there’s another woman named Remy who unfortunately seems to have his attention. But one day, she realizes during a conversation with her unknowingly helpful friend Isola Pribby that maybe she’s mistaken there, so she takes a chance. 

[Excerpt taken from a section of the book containing Isola Pribby’s “detective notes,” so Isola is the narrator] 

Dawsey said, “Hello Juliet.” He was on top of the big stepladder. I found that out later when he made so much noise coming down it. 
Juliet said she would like a word with Dawsey, if the gentlemen could give her a minute. 
They said certainly, and left the room. Dawsey said, “Is something wrong, Juliet? Is Kit alright?” 
“Kit’s fine. It’s me – I want to ask you something.” 
Oh, I thought, she’s going to tell him not to be a sissy. Tell him he must stir himself up and go propose to Remy at once. 
But she didn’t. What she said was, “Would you like to marry me?” 
I liked to die where I stood. 
There was quiet – complete quiet. Nothing! And on and on it went, not a word, not a sound. 
But, Juliet went on undisturbed. Her voice steady – and me, I could not get so much as a breath of air into my chest. “I’m in love with you, so I thought I’d ask.” 
And then, Dawsey, dear Dawsey, swore. He took the Lord’s name in vain. “My God, yes,” he cried, and clattered down that stepladder, only his heels hit the rungs, which is how he sprained his ankle. 

Awesome. Just awesome. And even though Isola did the right thing by not spying further, we readers have a pretty good idea of what happens once Dawsey’s down the ladder. 

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley 

-Hugh MacPherson and Mary Dundas- 

I’ve been working through Susanna Kearsley’s entire backlist this year, and A Desperate Fortune has been one of my favorites from her. Like many of her books, the historical plot focuses on Scotland’s Jacobite revolutionaries, and a faulty plan to protect a Jacobite exile brings our heroine, Mary Dundas, across France and eventually to Rome. From the beginning of her adventure, a hardened Scottish Highlander named Hugh MacPherson acts as guide and protector. Mary is terrified of him at first, but almost without realizing it, she finds herself slowly warming to this enigma of a man. He has many secrets and says very little, but his courage, dependability, quiet watchfulness, and constant nearness endear him to Mary overtime. 

The two of them slowly find a tender connection over fairytales, for Mary has a gift for creating stories based on old legends, and she tells many of them during the journey. When their course ends in Rome and Hugh must continue to Spain alone, Mary realizes that she now dearly wishes she could create a different story for herself like she does for imaginary characters. But one night on a quiet bridge in the middle of Rome, Hugh lets her do just that with this heart-stopping proposal that’s wrapped in a fairytale they both know from earlier in their adventure. 

As she told the tale over again to him, Mary could not keep from noticing all the small points of connection to how things had happened with them in real life – from the earliest part where the hero had gazed upon his lady and followed her without her ever noticing him in return, to their first meeting when the hero's lady had dropped her scarf and he'd returned it, to the time when he had kissed her and her world had been forever changed, until Fate cast a pall upon their happiness and forced him to decide between remaining with his lady or returning to the battlefield.
She stopped the story there, because she found it struck too close to home
“You do not like the ending,” she reminded him. “You told me so yourself.” 
He turned his head towards her then, his face so far in shadow now she scarce could see his eyes. “Then write a different one.” 
Mary was not sure at first that she understood what he was asking. 
Until quietly he told her, “Write a better one.”
…Hope – a tiny twisted knot of it – began to loosen and expand within her. She remembered what she’d written in her journal so despondently that morning: If it were my choice to make I would lay all my heart before him and refuse to leave his side. And he was making it her choice…… 
… “Then he told her,” Mary said, “that he must leave, for he could not neglect his duty nor his honor. And his lady sighed with sadness, but she understood, and said to him, ‘Your honor and your duty are so very much a part of you I could not ever ask you to abandon them, but neither do I think I can endure it, sir, if you abandon me. So what to do?’” She could not hold Hugh’s gaze although she could not truly see it, so she looked away again, repeating, “What to do?” 
A night bird in the trees along the river’s edge began to trill, and Mary drew her strength from it. 
“And so it happened," she went on, “a fairy of the nearby forest heard the lady’s mournful speech, and being deeply moved by it, the fairy turned the lady to a falcon that could ride into the battle on her true love’s hand, and so they rode away together and had many fine adventures, and he carried her forever with him and she spent her life content, for she had wings to spread and fly with and the man she loved to hold and keep her safe.” 
There was no sound or movement for long moments but the rushing of the river and the night bird calling. 
And then Hugh asked, “What adventures did they have?” 
She found it difficult, with all of the emotions of her speech to make a calm reply. “I do not know.” 
He thought this over. “Then ye’d better come to Spain,” he said, “and live them for yourself.” 
She turned to look at him, and saw that he was straightening to stand at his full height before her in the semidarkness, and the faint light from the windows of the little island at her back showed her his steady gaze was serious. 
Her heart became a trembling thing within her as she straightened too and faced him, and the night air grew alive between them, though she could no more have guessed his thoughts than she had done when they’d first faced each other in the Paris street. Except his eyes now were not cold, she thought. Not cold at all, and no longer impenetrable. 
“Marry me,” he said. 
She had to smile at his tone, for it could not be helped. “That’s not a question.” 
“No,” he said, and bent his head towards her. “It is not.” 
And then her smile was covered by his kiss and Mary, wrapped within the warmth of it, could care for nothing else. 
Let currents flow and kingdoms fall and time move onward, Mary thought – this moment was for them. Those people of an age to come who stood upon this bridge would never know how long she’d stood tonight in Hugh’s strong arms, or what he’d said to her, the quiet simple words that had been spoken from his heart and were for her alone; nor would they know what she had answered back, and how he’d smiled and gently tipped her chin up with his hand to kiss her longer and more deeply; nor how he had finally held his hand to her outstretched and she had taken it with happiness and followed him. 

I can’t remember how long I sat still and processed this one while grinning like an imbecile, but I know it was a while. At the beginning of A Desperate Fortune, I never would have thought Hugh capable of the gentleness, emotional intelligence, or deep care he displays in these closing moments of the story. He develops so gradually that it’s nearly imperceptible, but oh, what hidden depths lie beneath his sheer physical strength and war-roughened persona. Fortunately for hopelessly romantic readers like me, he let Mary into those depths by the end. 

Poldark #7: The Angry Tide by Winston Graham 

-Drake Carne and Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth-

These two have my heart. What a long and difficult road it’s been for them when we finally reach this gorgeous proposal, but gorgeous it is, and it’s made so much sweeter because of the trials Drake and Morwenna have endured. By this point in the story, Drake and Morwenna have been kept apart for years by seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Morwenna was forced into a “suitable” marriage with the socially respectable, but privately monstrous, Reverend Osborne Whitworth. His incessant abuse nearly destroys Morwenna emotionally, so after Osborne’s sudden death, she pushes Drake away, saying she is now tainted and damaged. But oh, dear, dear Drake. I don’t think there’s a more gentle or sensitive soul in the whole Poldark series. His tender persistence and love become lifelines for Morwenna, and we have a precious glimpse of how he will love her back to life in this beautiful exchange below.

But first, here's a nice Drake and Morwenna appreciation picture from Series 4 of the BBC Poldark adaptation. Harry Richardson and Ellise Chappell are gems in the roles. Photo edit credit to my pal @drorwenna on Instagram ;) 

[From The Angry Tide]

“But now… Will you not marry me, Morwenna?” 
She shook her head, not looking at him. “I can’t, Drake……There’s so little I can give you.” 
“You can give me yourself. That’s all I want.” 
“That’s just what I can’t do.” 
“Why not, my love?” 
“Drake, you haven’t understood. Because I am still – contaminated – in my mind. I can’t look on – on love – on what marriage means – without revulsion. If you were to kiss me now I might not shiver, for other people have kissed me. It could be just – a salute. But if you were to touch my body I would shrink away because instantly, across my mind would come the thought of his hands…” 
… “He stood up, but not over her, keeping his distance. ‘Morwenna, I must tell you that just before he – Mr. Whitworth – died I had engaged to marry a girl in Sawle called Rosina Hoblyn. I’d thought that you were lost to me for ever. Kind friends thought my life was being wasted, lost. So twas. So I engaged to marry Rosina. But when I heard he was dead, I went to see Rosina and asked her to set me free… …But when you turned me away I didn’t go back to Rosina – even if she’d have had me. I resolved never to marry ‘tall. I told my sister – she was here, today – I told her only today that I should never marry ‘tall. And that is the honest truth, without a word of a lie! So… …Would it not be better to marry me than to see me have no wife – all my days?” 
She put her free hand to her mouth. “Drake, you still don’t understand.” 
“Oh, yes, I reckon I do.” He moved to sit on his haunches in front of her, but checked himself in time. He crouched some way away. ‘Be my wife in name – marry me – in church proper – that’s all I ask. Love – what you call love – carnal love – if it d’come some day it come. If not, not. I shall not press. Twill be for you always to say.” 
She released her mouth long enough to say: “I couldn’t ask it. It wouldn’t be fair on you. You love me! I know that. So how could you – how could you keep a promise it wouldn’t be fair to ask you to make?” 
“When I make a promise I make it. Don’t you love me enough to believe that?” 
She shook her head. 
“Look,” he said, “why have you come here today?” 
She stared at him. 
He said patiently, “Was it not because ye wanted to see me?” 
She nodded. 
He said: “There’s more to life than carnal love, isn’t there?” 
“Yes…oh, yes, but –” 
“Be honest. Do you not really want to be with me? With me more than anyone else in the world?” 
She hesitated a long moment, then nodded again. 
“But –” 
“Then be that not the most important thing of all? Being together. Working together. Talking together. Walking together. There’s so much to love – even if it be not the love you mean. The sunrise, and the rain and the wind and the cloud, and the roaring of the sea and the cry of birds and the – the lowing of cows and the glow of corn and the smells of spring. And food and fresh water. New-laid eggs, warm milk, fresh-dug potatoes, home-made jams. Wood smoke, a baby robin, bluebells, a warm fire…I could go on and on and on. But if you enjoy them wi’ the one you love, then it is enjoyment fourfold! D’you not think I would not give all my life to see ye sitting in that chair? What is life if you live it alone?” 

Drake Carne – hardworking blacksmith, free spirit, eloquent speech-making extraordinaire, and the most patient and pure and tenderhearted man of the Poldark saga. Be still my heart. 

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

-Gilbert Blythe and Anne Shirley- 

Oh, Anne and Gil. This famous, slow-burning romance of classic literature takes readers through a whole range of emotions for the first three books of the Anne series. It’s at the end of the third volume that they’re finally engaged, to everyone’s endless relief and PURE JOY. Gilbert had been head over heels for Anne since they were kids, but he had to wait and wait and wait for her to come to her senses. He served her, encouraged her, laughed with her, advised her, studied with her, and much more throughout their teen and college years. It took a few more years, a first proposal from him that Anne foolishly rejected, some heartbreak for Anne, and a bout of scarlet fever for Gilbert for Anne to finally admit the truth to herself. She had always loved Gilbert. But would he try again with her after so long? Happily for her and for all of us readers, yes, he would. 

“I think,” said Anne softly, “that ‘the land where dreams come true’ is in the blue haze yonder, over that little valley.” 
“Have you any unfulfilled dreams, Anne?” asked Gilbert. 
Something in his tone – something she had not heard since that miserable evening in the orchard at Patty’s Place – made Anne’s heart beat wildly. But she made answer lightly. 
“Of course. Everybody has. It wouldn’t do for us to have all our dreams fulfilled. We would be as good as dead if we had nothing left to dream about. What a delicious aroma that low-descending sun is extracting from the asters and ferns. I wish we could see perfumes as well as smell them. I’m sure they would be very beautiful.” 
Gilbert was not to be thus sidetracked. 
“I have a dream,” he said slowly. “I persist in dreaming it, although it has often seemed to me that it could never come true. I dream of a home with a hearth-fire in it, a cat and dog, the footsteps of friends – and you!” 
Anne wanted to speak but she could find no words. Happiness was breaking over her like a wave. It almost frightened her. 
“I asked you a question over two years ago, Anne. If I ask it again today will you give me a different answer?” 
Still Anne could not speak. But she lifted her eyes, shining with all the love-rapture of countless generations, and looked into his for a moment. He wanted no other answer. 
They lingered in the old garden until twilight……There was so much to talk over and recall – things said and done and heard and thought and felt and misunderstood. 
“I thought you loved Christine Stuart,” Anne told him, as reproachfully as if she had not given him every reason to suppose she loved Roy Gardner. 
Gilbert laughed boyishly. 
“Christine was engaged to somebody in her home town. I knew it and she knew I knew it. When her brother graduated he told me his sister was coming to Kingsport the next winter to take music, and asked me if I would look after her a bit, as she knew no one and would be very lonely. So I did……I knew college gossip credited us with being in love with each other. I didn’t care. Nothing mattered much to me for a time there, after you told me you could never love me, Anne. There was nobody else – there never could be anybody else for me but you. I’ve loved you ever since that day you broke your slate over my head in school.” 
“I don’t see how you could keep on loving me when I was such a little fool,” said Anne. 
“Well, I tried to stop,” said Gilbert frankly, “not because I thought you what you call yourself, but because I felt sure there was no chance for me after Gardner came on the scene. But I couldn’t – and I can’t tell you, either, what it’s meant to me these two years to believe you were going to marry him……I believed it until one blessed day when I was sitting up after the fever. I got a letter from Phil Gordon – Phil Blake, rather – in which she told me there was really nothing between you and Roy, and advised me to ‘try again.’ Well, the doctor was amazed at my rapid recovery after that.
Anne laughed – then shivered. 
“I can never forget the night I thought you were dying, Gilbert. Oh, I knew – I knew then – and I thought it was too late.” 
“But it wasn’t, sweetheart. Oh, Anne, this makes up for everything, doesn’t it? Let’s resolve to keep this day sacred to perfect beauty all our lives for the gift it has given us……But I’ll have to ask you to wait a long time, Anne,” said Gilbert sadly. “It will be three years before I’ll finish my medical course. And even then there will be no diamond sunbursts or marble halls.” 
Anne laughed. 
“I don’t want sunbursts and marble halls. I just want you.” 

I think we all know that these two couldn’t be any happier together if they had all the diamond sunbursts and marble halls that even Anne could dream up. 

And there we are. Those are my favorite proposals from literature, at least for today. What are yours? I’d love to hear in comments!

Summer is wrapping up and I hope yours has been full of all the vacations you wanted and lots of good books. If you’re looking for a few more to get through your summer goals, I have a few memoirs to share today. A memoir is a typically reflective work in which the author recounts significant personal life events and shares how they’ve grown. In the process of reading these particular memoirs, I’ve benefited and changed too. I hope you’ll let these authors’ life-changing stories change you too! :) 

The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer 
I just finished this one and was astounded. Edith was an Austrian Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust by marrying a respected Nazi. She worked as a slave on a farm and then a factory, but then defied and hid from the Gestapo by assuming a false identity with the help of a brave few. Her husband’s interest and eventual proposal completely surprised her and she resisted at first, but even after she told him of her Jewish heritage, he pressed his suit and swore to keep her secret. Overnight, Edith became part of the most protected group in Europe – German housewives who would carry on the “pure” German race. She lived in a web of constant lies and fear of discovery, and her survival is a true testimony to the resilience of the human spirit and the difference that small moments of risky kindness can make. 

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber 
This was my favorite read of 2016 and remains one of my all-time favorite books. Carolyn Weber was a cynical, hardened agnostic when she went to Oxford to study Romantic Literature. Once there, she encountered friends, professors, mentors, and books that would be used by God to bring her to faith in Him. Carolyn is an English professor, so her love of literature spoke to me on a personal level, and her account of her journey to faith moved me deeply. She paints beautiful word pictures in this book of how she wrestled with the Bible and difficult questions about God’s character. But God was relentless in His pursuit of her, as she makes clear, and I was encouraged and touched to be reminded that He does indeed pursue His children patiently. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 
Life, death, purpose, literature, medicine, and family are just a few of the topics that Paul Kalanithi faced in this memoir after he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He was at the starting point of a successful career in neurosurgery when the diagnosis came, and he struggled with suddenly becoming a patient when he had so long been the doctor. In the space of a few days, he was facing his own mortality and this memoir is the result of how he processed it. He recounts his longtime fascination with human purpose, literature, and the brain. This unusual combination of interests merged into undergraduate studies in English, then medical school, and eventual focus on neurosurgery and a deep desire to guide others through trauma to this most vital organ, the brain. Kalanithi looked death in the face with poignant courage and dignity, as did his wife, who stood by him at every stage and finished the book with her own epilogue after his passing. I could not put this book down and had rivulets of tears pouring down my face by the end. 

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield 
A 2017 favorite, this book recounts another faith journey that riveted and humbled me. Rosaria shares that in the 1990s, she had it all according to appearances – a thriving career in academia, a gorgeous house, a loving community, and active philanthropic memberships. In 1999, she lost it all when Jesus Christ called her to Himself. She describes her conversion as a “train wreck” in which she lost “everything but the dog.” But every page shouts that it was worth it. Modern Christian culture often waters down the gravity of the gospel’s call and makes light of its demands. Rosaria dispels that with humble yet firm clarity. For her, following Jesus meant loss of community, respect, career, and much more. But the gains have more than outweighed the losses, as she joyfully declares in this memoir. I appreciated that wake-up call and am grateful for her story.

What memoirs have you read recently that really impacted you? I'd love to hear!
The Nazi Officer's Wife is not pictured as I read it on my Kindle. Have to have those multiple formats!
As often happens, I was late to the party on seeing a popular movie. In that vein, about two weeks ago I finally watched The Greatest Showman. The stunning visuals, colorful design and production, and vibrant music captivated me instantly. And let’s be real – Hugh Jackman is always a show-stealer.

But amid all the color and dancing of The Greatest Showman lie age-old questions about identity and purpose. P.T. Barnum lives with constant shame from his low-class ancestry and is determined to prove his worth to his wealthy socialite peers of late 19th century New York. The performers he recruits for his circus have each been deemed societal oddities and outcasts for various reasons. The songs, dialogue, conflicts, and almost everything else about the story continually pose the same questions: 

-What proves a person’s worth? 

-Is dignity earned or inherent? 

-Do you need to prove your own worth to others, and if so, what will have finally proved that? 
Photo Credit: Best HQ Wallpapers

Barnum works obsessively to create the most unique and exciting forms of entertainment for New York in hopes of becoming the wealthiest and most respected show master. He’s also hungry for his wife and daughters to earn the respect of their peers. But in the process, he slowly forgets to be the husband and father they need and doesn’t know how to stop chasing the next best thing in the entertainment business. 

On the other side are Barnum’s performers. Each of them has a unique quirk or socially unacceptable aspect, whether it be facial hair on a female face, an unusual skin color, an odd height, or something else. Barnum gives them an incredible gift in one another and in the outlet of performing to show their talents. But in his constant chase for more, he forgets to see them correctly too and treats them as means to an end. 

It isn’t until Barnum loses everything in dramatic fashion that he comes to grips with his failings towards his fellow man. And perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s when he reorients his attitude towards the people he loves and works with that he does indeed produce the greatest show. The final note of this musical mostly answers each question – it says that dignity and worth is innate in each person simply because of personhood, and that trying to prove yourself will only exhaust and hurt both you and others. 

I was refreshed by these messages, but also grateful for the even clearer answers I have for these questions as a Christ-follower. My worth was decided and proved before time because Almighty God set His affection on me and stamped me with His image. And the Christian believes that each person is not only a person, but a fellow-image bearer of that God. That proves innate worth more than anything else could and utterly dwarfs any attempt to do so on our part. That kind of worth is immune to the opinions of others and gives lasting peace, something that no job, talent, or great show could ever offer.
I’m a devoted audiobook listener, but also fairly picky about what books I’ll listen to instead of reading visually. And I’m sure most audiobook fans would agree that perhaps the most important component of a good audiobook is the narrator. Even if it’s a great book, a bad narrator can ruin the experience. So, what’s needed in a narrator to make a good book become a really fabulous audiobook? Here are a few ideas I’ve settled on. What are yours? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments! 

Knowing and Enjoying the Text 
It’s easy to tell if a narrator isn’t enjoying or immersed in the story they’re reading. The voice will often be flat, monotone, or just feel detached from the story. The person reading to you is a large part of what will pull you in and help you really sink into a story, so if they’re not totally into it, there’s a good chance you won’t be either. Knowledge of the text is also important for an audiobook narrator. With a thorough understanding of the story and characters, a narrator will more accurately represent each character’s personality, the author’s intent, and any other subtleties that are important for a reader to notice. 

Not Distracting from the Story 
The best audiobook narrators know how to make the reader forget they’re present, because they make the story that engaging. Voice nuance is vital for a narrator, but some can really overdo it. Nothing’s worse than feeling like I’m being yelled at or not being able to decipher what the narrator’s actual voice sounds like because they sound too formal the whole time. 

Character Voices 
I’d imagine this has to be the trickiest and most demanding part of audio narration, as some books have so many characters to voice. But giving each character a distinct voice is a vitally important part of making the listening experience fun and memorable. The best audiobooks I’ve listened to have nailed this aspect perfectly. The voice variations for each character are usually different enough to give them all a personality and to make it easy to determine who is speaking, but they’re also slight enough so that the narrator doesn’t sound too artificial or forced. It has to be exhausting. And I just have to say that Jim Dale, narrator of all seven Harry Potter books, wins the all-time prize for this. He gave every single character in that series a unique voice and never slipped up once. There had to be 700 or more voices total. It’s incredible. 

Tone Matching the Story 
This is an important part of conveying the mood of the story and the direction of the drama. It may seem obvious, but if something scary happens, the narrator needs to let the listener hear fear in his voice. If a serious or disturbing situation arises, the narrator should adopt a grave tone. There’s a very fine line between this and becoming that distraction mentioned above, but tone is everything when it comes to showing where the story is going.

So what do you look for in audiobook narration? I'd love to hear your thoughts! To conclude, I'll leave a few of my favorite narrators for you:

  • As already mentioned, Jim Dale's narration of the Harry Potter series
  • Dan Stevens, particularly his narration of Murder on the Orient Express
  • Oliver J. Hembrough's narration of the Poldark series
What are your favorites?