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The Vicarious Reading Experience

“The books I loved growing up were about regular kids — awkward kids, funny kids, kids with embarrassing or screwed-up families — who I could relate to and, more importantly, see myself in. When I read about Anastasia or Margaret, I could ruminate on my own life and not feel like my parents were the most horrible in the world, or like I was the only one who ever had a friend lie to her or humiliated herself in front of her entire school. Or whatever. The point is: kids — everyone, really — need literature that’s a mirror. A true mirror.”

(Source: The Real World World and the YA Novel, Meredith Zeitlin)

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately whenever I’ve read a book I really loved. While this quote references young adult literature, I’m thinking of the adult novels I read as well. When I read, I need to see myself in the main character. I need to identify with her situation or her family or her friends or… something. Mostly I need to identify with her feelings. However you get me to that place is up to you, the writer. The main character may not live where I live, be married like I am, or be a mother like I am. She may not be American. She may not even be a she.

The main character just needs to be someone I connect with on an emotional level.

Why? Because during the time I am reading that book, I am that main character. I walk through her challenges, leap over her hurdles, navigate her complicated situations, and rejoice in her victories. I put myself squarely in her shoes. Reading, at its best, becomes a vicarious experience.

This made me think about Jesus and His parables. He knew that we responded best to stories, so He often told them. He knew that when He talked about the man who buries the talents, we  are that man waiting to hear what he’s won. And we experience the depth of disappointment in realizing our brilliant plan… isn’t so brilliant. We become both the Prodigal Son and the Older Brother. We  are in that room reveling in our second chance, our unexpected restoration. But we  are also standing on that porch, deciding if we can go in and join the party. We are that lost little lamb, found and held close, knowing what it means to be valued, to be pursued, to be loved that much.

The Master Storyteller sure knew how to tell ’em. And that’s why I think stories have  the supernatural attached to them. Something stirs our souls when we read a well-written story. It transports us just as it grounds us. It holds up a mirror even as it hands us a telescope. I need to see myself in a main character because I need to know more about who I am. I need to see myself in a new situation, as a new person, against an unexpected obstacle.

For when I do, then I am changed.


Marybeth Whalen  serves as co-director of She Reads, where she does her part to share fantastic fiction with other women who love a great story. She is the author of  The Mailbox,    She Makes It Look Easy, andThe Guest Book  due out in July 2012.

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A Room of Her Own – The Writing Space(s) of Nicole Baart


“As a busy mom of three young sons, I take my writing opportunities whenever, and  wherever  they crop up. Although I try to set aside two mornings a week to do nothing but focus on my writing career, my schedule rarely cooperates. Sick kids, my husband’s busy travel schedule, and other issues often intrude and keep me from my writing. So I end up scribbling down a few lines here, a scene or two there. I sometimes write in church (is that a sin?), and late at night when an idea grabs me and the house is blissfully silent. When I do manage to keep my scheduled writing times, my favorite place to write is at home. My favorite chair has seen me through many a chapter, but I have a hard time sitting still for long. I used to write a lot standing by the kitchen counter, but I’m too tall to do that comfortably. One of my favorite recent purchases is a computer caddy for my treadmill. I love walking (slowly) while I type. It keeps me engaged and on-task, and I don’t have to deal with sore-butt syndrome from sitting for hours on end.” – Nicole Baart

When I saw Nicole’s pictures I had two thoughts: 1.) I wish I had her living room, and 2.) I’m glad I’m not the only author who cozies up in an over-stuffed chair to write! I will have an office one day. I will! And the treadmill caddy is genius, I might add. I wonder if that would work on an elliptical machine?

We’ll be drawing the winner for this month’s giveaway in three days, so if you haven’t entered now’s the time!

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Art Imitating . . . Art – A Novel Matters Guest Post

I’ve waited a long time for this day. The Hunger Games is finally in theaters. The women in my book club and our husbands have had our tickets for days, and tonight we’ll see the movie. My granddaughter read The Hunger Games for her high school English class. So my daughter read it too, then eagerly brought it to our book club. Honestly, I didn’t expect to like it, but it drew me in from the very beginning, and I loved it! So did every woman in our club. We span in age from early 30s to 70s, but we were in complete agreement on this one. So much so that we read the other two books in the trilogy. I’m on my third reading of the series—something I seldom do. Once we learned the book was being made into a movie, which of course was a no-brainer, there were times we’d spend our book club meetings casting the movie. Our personal favorite was Robert Downey, Jr. as Haymitch, but somehow, the producer didn’t get the memo. We’ll see how Woody Harrelson does. Judging by looks, Jennifer Lawrence will make a perfect Katniss. I love that Suzanne Collins, the author, has had such major input into the casting and making of the movie. My number one hope is that it stays true to the novel. With her influence I’m sure it will.

The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, it was 1969, and I was a junior in high school. As I read that amazing novel, so rich in character development, I remember thinking, “If they ever make this into a movie, Gregory Peck has to play Atticus Finch. ” It’s as if the character was written with Peck as the model. Imagine my surprise to learn that a movie had already been made . . . starring Gregory Peck. The movie was very true to the book, which is as it should be. Other movies that have stayed true to the books they were made from are the phenomenal Lord of the Rings trilogy, the classic Lonesome Dove miniseries, and most recently, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.

Often, reading a book will entice me to see the movie, but there have been instances where the movie has enticed me to read the book. One True Thing by Anna Quindlen, is one example. I love the movie—starring the quintessential Meryl Streep, how could I not? So I went in search of the novel. The same was true of Fried Green Tomatoes, one of my all-time favorites; as well as The Godfather by Mario Puzo, way back when . . . Saw the movie, had to read the book.

When it comes to books and movies I’m really bugged when screen adaptors mess with the ending of the book they’re adapting their movie from. To me it’s a form of perversion. If they want a different story, let them write it, but leave the author’s intent intact. Just my personal opinion.

Is there a movie that sent you in search of a novel? Have you been disappointed with a movie that didn’t stay true to the book? Any Hunger Games fans out there??

Sharon K. Souza is the author of Lying on Sunday and Every Good and Perfect Gift. Look for her newest release, Unraveled, coming in April. Visit her website for more information

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Nicole Baart – Interviewed

Join The Club!

Welcome back to She Reads, friends! Grab a cup of coffee, find a comfy chair and settle in to enjoy our little chat with Nicole Baart, author of this month’s book club selection, FAR FROM HERE.

Nicole, you’ve written several novels. What number novel is FAR FROM HERE for?

I guess it depends on how you count! I’ve written four books for Tyndale House Publishing, collaborated on one book for Threshold Editions with Glenn Beck, and just released  Far from Here  with Simon & Schuster/Howard. So I guess this is my fifth or sixth book.

How is this book different from the others you’ve written?

Far from Here  marks my transition from the CBA market to the ABA. There is some mild sensuality and mild profanity, but I certainly didn’t set out to write shocking things. Instead, I wanted to honor my characters and the journey they were on. To tell their story with honesty and integrity, I needed to step a bit outside of my comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that I’m not still a Christian fiction author, or that I’m not proud of the books that I’ve already written (they’re my babies!). It also doesn’t mean that I’ve abandoned my faith or anything silly like that. This transition is just another step on my own personal journey.

In my career as an author, I have both embraced and chafed at the “Christian fiction ” label. Apparently, so have my readers. I’ve been told that my books are “too preachy ” and I have also been chastised for “watering down the gospel. ” In truth, I have never approached a single one of my books with the intent to preach about or hide my beliefs. My goal in writing is to write beautiful, hope-filled stories that resound with truth and resonate deep in the hearts of my readers. If God is beauty and truth and love (and I believe He is), then my books overflow with Him—even if His name is never mentioned.

March Book Club Pick

I don’t think  Far from Here  is all that different from my other books. No matter what market I’m writing for, I strive to write literary, hope-filled stories about everyday people who face extraordinary circumstances. Tragedy is a part of life, and finding hope amid the ruins of an unforeseen disaster—whether personal or communal—is what compels me to write. I believe that life is a fine balance of both devastation and beauty, and I am passionate about pointing out the light that still glimmers from the ashes of a seemingly unredeemable wreckage. It’s all about rising from the ruins, finding hope where none seems possible.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

Far from Here  is very loosely based on one of my own family stories. Over thirty years ago, my dad’s best friend disappeared off of the coast of Alaska. He was a bush pilot, and he simply vanished into thin air. No trace was ever found of him or his plane. I grew up with this piece of family history, but it wasn’t until I was a woman with a husband of my own that I began to grasp the depth of loss that everyone who loved this man must have felt at his disappearance. Far from Here explores that sort of loss, but it’s definitely a novel that hinges on hope, even if that hope is a tenuous, ever-changing thing.

Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

Although I love my protagonist, Danica, my favorite character in  Far from Here  would have to be Dani’s older sister, Katrina. Kat is a messy, quirky, somewhat unlovable character who is surprisingly endearing. She’s self-destructive and selfish, but she also deeply loves her sister. Kat’s bumbling attempts to connect with and care for Dani are incredibly sweet, and I think they betray a depth of emotion in Kat that is not immediately apparent. Kat is definitely a handful, and she is the character who was the most challenging for me to write. But I love her honesty and the way her tough exterior hides a tender, searching woman.

We know you’re a mom to several young boys. Can you share a bit about what your home life is like?

My days are sundry and varied! My husband is the Dean of Chapel at a liberal arts college in the Midwest, so his job alone keeps us hopping. We also have an eight-year-old son who is in second  grade, a five-year-old son who’s in kindergarten, and an eighteen-month-old son at home. My big boys play hockey in the fall and winter, and soccer in the spring and summer, so between school, practice, games, and everything else that comes with having little boys in the house, I have a full-time job. Of course, the baby is into everything, and I like to keep my house neat and my family well fed, so I spend a lot of time cleaning, shopping, cooking,and doing mountains of laundry. But  I do manage to find time to  write, mostly because I go a little crazy if I’m not writing. I try to carve out two mornings a week, plus some nights after the kids are in bed. My favorite thing to do at the end of a busy, noisy, often dirty day is to sit down in the peace and quiet of my living room with my husband, a glass of wine, and a pad of paper.

Aaron and I are also the cofounders of a nonprofit organization that works alongside a church and orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia, called One Body One Hope. Our board recently returned from a trip to West Africa with what we believe is a God-given mandate to expand our ministry fivefold! We’re thrilled and scared and eager all at once. Our home overflows with pictures of our Liberian brothers and sisters, and our telephone rings weekly with news and updates about the kids we love as dearly as our own. It’s all incredibly humbling and exciting.

Nicole Baart

When you’re not writing, what kinds of books do you like to read?

I was blessed to have some of my favorite authors endorse  Far from Here! I feel like all you have to do is read my blurbs to get a feel for the kind of books I love. I’m a huge fan of Joshilyn Jackson, Sandra Dallas, Jacquelyn Mitchard, and Ann Patchett. Some other authors I admire are Marisa de los Santos, Kate Morton, Tana French, and Sarah Addison Allen. I tend to enjoy character-based dramas with a literary slant. And I’m also a sucker for anything set in the Midwest. Leif Enger and Kent Meyers write some of my favorite modern-day Westerns.

How can readers benefit from sharing the books they love?

I believe with all of my heart that although writing may seem like a solitary endeavor, it is actually a multilayered, multifaceted conversation with a huge community of diverse people. And reading a book is just the beginning of that dialogue. It’s a way for us to engage the world around us, walk a few steps in another person’s shoes, or experience something from a different perspective. Sharing books is a way to reach out and say, “I loved this. It touched me and changed me somehow, and I hope it stirs something inside of you, too. ”

I’m a huge fan of book clubs because I believe they allow readers to take the conversation to an even deeper level. Book clubs should be where people find points of connection with one another and with the book. Allowing ourselves to interact with the characters and the emotions they produce is just one small way we can try to make sense of our lives and experiences.

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Literary First Love – Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen

I still remember discovering Lee Smith as a sophomore in high school. Her writing was about people I knew. People like me. Southerners, not New Yorkers. I was amazed that that was allowed. I dove into her books and didn’t come up until I’d read them all. I swam to the surface with hope that someday I’d write stories like that– stories about people I knew.

Later on in high school I discovered Brett Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. These weren’t about southerners but they were about young people. I knew them too. I still remember the first line of Less Than Zero: “People are afraid to merge.” The main character is talking about driving, but it’s true about life too. I fell in love with words that could mean more than one thing.

It was also in high school that I discovered Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald. I wanted to sit with them in French cafes and discuss the downfall of American society. I wanted to meet Catherine from A Farewell To Arms. I thought about naming my daughter Jordan after the spunky character from Gatsby. These people– who lived long before me and weren’t real– felt as near and as real as my classmates. And perhaps more in touch.

Still later I discovered Alice Hoffman, whose writing was positively  lyrical. Her books were a feast and I devoured them all.

More recently it’s been Jodi Picoult, whose talent for metaphors is envy enducing. And Sarah Addison Allen, whose writing takes me to a place that is not rooted in  any reality I know, even if her books are set in the mountains of my state. I love disappearing into her world, a true escape from my own.

I guess I don’t just have one literary first love. It is my love of reading that sparked this site, this community of other women who have first loves of the literary variety. What were your first loves? And does the sight of them still make your heart beat just a little faster? Welcome to the club.


Marybeth’s lates novel, SHE MAKES IT LOOK EASY hit bookstore shelves last summer. You know what’s especially fun about this novel? She named the main character after me! And I didn’t even have to pay her. 🙂
Ariel Baxter has just moved into the neighborhood of her dreams. The chaos of domestic life and the loneliness of motherhood, however, moved with her. Then she meets her neighbor, Justine Miller. Justine ushers Ariel into a world of clutter-free houses, fresh-baked bread, homemade crafts, neighborhood playdates, and organization techniques designed to make marriage better and parenting manageable.
Soon Ariel realizes there  is  hope for peace, friendship, and clean kitchen counters. But when rumors start to circulate about Justine’s real home life, Ariel must choose whether to believe the best about the friend she admires or consider the possibility that “perfection ” isn’t always what it seems to be.
A novel for every woman who has looked at another woman’s life and said, “I want what she has, ”  She Makes It Look Easy  reminds us of the danger of pedestals and the beauty of authentic friendship.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links. ” This means if you click on the link and purchase the book, She Reads will receive an affiliate commission. These commissions help us pay for the site and the services we offer. Regardless, we only recommend books that we have read and loved.

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The Inspiration Behind FAR FROM HERE

Nicole Baart

There are certain stories that we grow up with, personal histories, fables, and fairytales that almost always have their roots deeply grounded in truth — even if our imaginations tend to embellish over the years. My grandfather was a cavalryman in World War II, and the tales of his years fighting on European soil have shaped my understanding of the horrors of war. My mother broke her neck when she was thirteen, and though she experienced a full recovery, I could almost convince myself that I know what it feels like to be paralyzed from the neck down. One particular tale from my personal narrative has fascinated me for years, and out of the truth of that horrible loss, my latest novel, FAR FROM HERE, grew.

When I was less than two months old, my dad’s best friend took off in a bush plane from Kotzebue, Alaska. It was his first ever solo flight, and before he could make his scheduled drop, he disappeared without a trace. He was never found. Twenty years later, pieces of a wrecked plane washed up on shore hundreds of miles down the coast of Alaska, and his family was told that it might be his plane. Maybe. But there was no way to tell, and no guarantees.

It’s hard for me to imagine living with that level of fear and uncertainty. Did he die? Crash into a mountain? Slip over the Bering Strait into a new world… and a new life? What is worse? Death or the unknown?

In FAR FROM HERE, Danica wrestles with some of those same questions after her husband, Etsell, goes missing in a bush plane. And as she puts the pieces of her life back together, she faces the truth about her marriage, her life, and what it means when the hope you hold so dear slowly begins to change. How long do you hold onto hope?

Thanks for reading,


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Literary First Love – Nicole Baart

Continuing in our Literary First Love series, this month’s featured author, Nicole Baart, shares about the character that first stole her heart and the power of books to whisk us away into other worlds:

Nicole Baart

Although I’ve had dozens of literary first loves, and could wax poetic about classics like the Little House on the Prairie series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Over Sea, Under Stone, and every single one of the Ramona Quimby books, I have to admit that the first book I truly, deeply loved was one about Tweety Bird.

When I was three years old I was diagnosed with a potentially serious kidney condition that required regular monitoring. From the age of three until I turned thirteen, I was forced to undergo a same-day surgical procedure at least twice a year. To say that I hated it would be an understatement. I quickly learned what it meant when my parents strapped me in the car and made the one-hour trek to the nearest major hospital — and I would fight like a wild cat through everything from check-in to the insertion of the IV. It once took three nurses and both of my parents to hold me down while they took blood.

The hospital had a children’s ward with a big, blue mascot painted on the walls, televisions, and lots of toys. Other kids seemed to like playing in the cheerful space, but from the time I entered the hospital until it was time to go home, the only thing I wanted to do was cuddle in the comfort of my daddy’s lap and make him read books to me. There was one book in particular, a dog-eared children’s story about Tweety Bird thwarting the evil plans of the villainous Sylvester, that I practically considered my own. My dad once admitted to me that he had read that book so many times he could probably still recite it from memory.

March Book Club Selection

I’m sure I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I think my experience with the Tweety Bird book was when I started to realize that books have the power to transport you. As long as my dad was reading to me, I wasn’t trapped in a terrifying, sterile hospital. I was somewhere else far, far away. That’s still my favorite part about any good book — the ability to whisk me away into another world.

Nicole Baart’s latest novel, FAR FROM HERE, is this month’s book club selection. We’re giving away signed copies of her book and gift cards to Sephora and Harry and David so make sure you toss your name in the hat (if you haven’t already).

Can you remember the first book you fell in love with? Do share!

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The Novel In It’s Natural Habitat

After announcing this month’s book club selection, FAR FROM HERE by Nicole Baart, we were delighted to see this picture of her novel on display at a COSTCO store in California (along with some of the bestselling titles in today’s fiction world):

And it got us thinking about how fun it would be to see more of these pictures come in. If you’ve ordered a copy of the novel, or if you see it in the wild, would you e-mail us a picture? We’ll post them here throughout the month and enter each name in an extra giveaway for a signed copy of FAR FROM HERE.

Send all entries to

Also, there is still plenty of time to enter this month’s giveaway (if you haven’t done so already). Up for grabs are signed copies of FAR FROM HERE, a Skype chat with Nicole Baart, and gift certificates to Sephora and Harry and David!

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