Cloud Castles

Land of Enchantment, Norman Rockwell

The Land of Enchantment, Norman Rockwell

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Henry David Thoreau

I have always been a dreamer. When I was a child in school I was constantly being called down in class for staring out of the window, chin in hand. When I would read a book, I lived in it–I literally walked with Anne Shirley through all her chagrin over red hair and geometry and Gilbert, and I nestled in the dim, light-filtered shadows of Marmee’s attic while Jo March spun her fantastic tales. When I was in junior high I was the one at the back of the room industriously scribbling out stories in the back of my algebra notebook and doubtless leaving my teachers mystified as to how so conscientious a student could perform so poorly on math tests.

And when I was given the life-changing opportunity of an idyllic (and I really do mean idyllic, thanks be to God) home education experience, something wild and sweet and joyous suddenly broke free within me and my fledgling soul soared skyward without the least inhibition or impediment, darting blissfully from one literary feast to another and back again in a glad spree of abundance. I could scarcely alight for long in those early days–the banquet was too rich and varied and my freedom too fresh not to soar and hover and settle and flit again as my fancy took me. In time I sobered down a bit, much to my mother’s relief, no doubt. But never, as long as I live, will I ever forget those ‘first, fine, careless raptures’, or the bright ideals and dreams that sprang from them. They have left their permanent mark upon my soul, one of the outward evidences of which is the stacks of books I find myself surrounded with to this very day. Creeping in at my desk on both sides, toppling my three-legged bedside table, accompanying me from room to room (and from continent to continent, as the case may be, to which the outlandish temporary ‘library’ I set up in England last fall will attest!).

I am deeply grateful to God for the wise friends that He has blessed me with in the way of books. Their dreams have validated mine again and again–dreams once thought so secret and solitary–and have given me a substance upon which to build a few cloud castles of my own. Their truths have affirmed to me the value of pain, ever couched in the goodness of God. And their witness has ever been one of a beauty that yearns and lures and breaks the heart with a loving stab of eternal reality. Elizabeth Goudge, George Eliot, Sheldon Vanauken, Elizabeth Gaskell, J.R.R. Tolkien, Gerard Manley Hopkins–and so many other trusted ones!–have taken up the threads that Louisa May Alcott and Lucy Maud Montgomery began to weave so long ago, fitting their silken strands into the tapestry of my life and helping me to write my own story. There are times that I know a certain book or poem or line has been divinely chosen for me, hand-picked and illumined by God for a particular challenge or season of life, and few things compare to the sense exhilaration that accompanies. There are books that my husband and I have read together and have fallen more in love with God and life over. And there are others through which I have traveled with surprising  joy at the recommendation or in the company of true kindred spirits. All dear–all gifts from Him who gives without stint and without ceasing.

I find as I grow older that I have more dreams–not less. And the end towards which all this rambling leads is that I have dreams for this humble little corner of the web. With all my heart I wish it to be a place of peace and beauty, “simplicity and contentment in a greedy and tired culture”, a haven from complaints and complaining. I want fellow dreamers to find themselves in good company, no matter how huge and howling the world may seem at times. I want the precious battered ones whose dreams have taken a beating to know that there is hope unimaginable in the blessed Person of Jesus Christ. I want to encourage the artist that lives within each one of us to take up the call to which we have been uniquely designed and to rejoice as children in the glory of God that results.

And I long to share the joys of a truly beautiful book–inside and out–and to make introductions between those readers and writers who just ought to be friends. (And I’m dreaming, somehow, of actually getting them into your hands, as the opportunity arises.) That is what I want to do here–that is what this site is about. And if you’re kind enough to be reading, I just thought you should know.

Speaking of your kindness, I would like to close with a profound thank you for all the lovely and generous comments that have been left over the past few months on my ‘return’ to Lanier’s Books. I really cannot tell you how you have inspired and blessed me with your encouragement. Madeleine L’Engle said, profoundly, that “art is communication”, and it just heartens me beyond words to know that I am not writing into a void. (Not that comments are required by any means or that my vanity needs stroking! ;) But I was rather loathe to publish over those months that my comment form was broken, simply because I felt like I was talking to myself! ;) ) At any rate, thank you for reading and for taking the time to tell me. It has meant so much.

For this I bless you most: You give much and know not that you give at all.

Kahlil Gibran

Land of Enchantment, Norman Rockwell, 1934

Land of Enchantment, Norman Rockwell, 1934

33 Responses to “Cloud Castles”

  1. Gwen says:

    Bless you Lanier! There is nothing that puts a sparkle in my day so much as a new post at ‘Lanier’s Books’. Rest assured that every word you write has a bright and brilliant impact on people far and near.

    -Gwen

  2. Laura says:

    Beautiful and inspiring, as always! Why don’t YOU write a book?? :-)

  3. C.Pilgrim says:

    Hi Lanier,

    Love your website and also nurtured a love of books as a girl. I am curious, as a Christian reader, how do you feel about reading authors that don’t share your Christian faith? For example, you list George Eliot and Louisa May Alcott who were both outspoken atheists. Do you think that their public disavowal of Christianity takes away from your ability to appreciate their work? I have not been able to read much Eliot or Hardy, for example, once I learned how far their values diverge from my own. It is not that I do not appreciate their artistry, or even that I feel they have nothing to teach me, just that I can’t get excited about their work anymore. Ideas?

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      “Do you think that their public disavowal of Christianity takes away from your ability to appreciate their work?”

      Not in the least! In my mind, we all have much we can learn from one another, and just because someone does not profess the faith that is dearer than all to me does not mean that there is no insight to be gained from their wise and and intent observations on being human. There are fragments of Truth scattered all over this old world, bits and gleams and radiant flashes of glory, created by people that have been created in the image of a Creator, whether they acknowledge it or not. I don’t have the least problem gathering up those fragments and cherishing them, particularly as they underscore what my Christian faith has already unyieldingly affirmed. I love Chopin, though I have no real clue as to what his spiritual values were–I only know that I hear the beauty of the Creator-God in his music. In like manner, the works of Corot and Turner speak to my soul on a deep level, ‘unspiritual’ works in the plainest sense.

      I know that Alcott was a thoughtful transcendentalist, but nothing in her books has ever lured me from what I believe. And Eliot has always been a case that touches my heart, as certain influences in her life certainly turned her away from Christ, and I find that very sad on a personal level. But few writers have spoken so eloquently of real, passionate Christ-like living as she does of Dinah in “Adam Bede”. I was profoundly challenged.

      Of course, we must use wisdom and discretion. I have very high standards for my reading material–particularly what I would recommend to others–and I feel that it is important as a Christian to steep myself in the truths of the Word of God first and foremost. And I don’t see that it’s wise to open myself blindly without limitation to *any* writer, Christian or not.

      For further thoughts you can refer to my post, The Two Trees.

      Blessings! :)

  4. I just love your blog. As Gwen said in her comment when I check my Google Reader and find that there is a new post from you I get so excited!

    I am not as widely read as you but you inspire me to want to expand my horizons a bit.

    Although my most favorite posts are the ones about your simple and beautiful life at your ‘Farm in the City’. Who knew sheep, goats and chickens were so cute, not to mention the beautiful dogs an adorable kitties. (o:

    I also wanted to add that I think C. Pilgrim raises an interesting question. Recently I read some very disturbing things about Lucy Maude Montgomery and it made me question whether or not I should allow someone with values and spiritual beliefs so polar-opposite of my own to influence me. I’d love to know your thoughts about that.

    Blessings,
    ~Michele

  5. Of course, you know I am thrilled you are “back”. :)

    I can enjoy reading a book written by someone who is not a Christian (which is also not defiling with terrible language or inappropriate behavior). For instance, I had people tell me for years I should read Atlas Shrugged because they thought I would agree with its’ message even if I didn’t agree with Ayn Rand’s “theology”. I found it to be completely true and in seeing how an author looks at the very same truth I am but coming from a different direction… it can be eye opening.

    I have read L. M. Montgomery had very real problems with depression. As one who is married to a man who has been bipolar (aka: manic depressive) our entire thirty-five years of marriage, it makes me appreciate even more what Montgomery was able to create through her world of fiction. How much a world which she desired to live in it must have been. She created that world for us to enjoy.

  6. Jodi says:

    Dear Lanier,

    I found your blog about 2 years ago I think, and I feel very blessed to have done so. I’ve introduced my youngest daughter Bronwyn–also known as “partner in crafty crime” on my blog–to Lanier’s Books and she loves it. Please keep writing; we’re reading.

    -Jodi

    Hi Lanier,

    My mom told me about your blog, so I took a read and I really love it. Like you, I also write story ideas in notebooks which I should only be using for schoolwork, my room is full of books, and I’m a dreamer–sometimes too much so. Your blog is very inspiring and I can’t wait to read more.

    ~Bronwyn

  7. Hello Lanier,

    I join the chorus of those who enjoy reading your rambles of life and literature and all manner of kindred loves. I was especially delighted to read that you welcome comments. I had no idea your comment button was broken, but rather (after several unsuccessful attempt to leave a word of greeting) assumed this was a “private” discussion. I have been reading your posts for quite some time, but have always remained silent yet appreciative. How delighted I am to find that the doors have been thrown wide open and I can offer a cheery “Hello!” and “Thank You” for the delicious array of musings. Yours is one of the very few blogs that I have actually read start to finish (over time, of course), enjoying every post.

    I look forward to many, many more thoughtful “chats” with you. I usually read while sitting in my favorite chair, steaming teacup in hand. It’s a wonderful way to visit. : D

    Thank you, sweet kindred, for opening your heart and synchronizing your keyboard for sharing.

  8. Amanda says:

    As always dearheart you are an inspiration!

    As a fellow “kindred spirit” and sister in Christ… we have been thru more than one wonderful adventure as we “came to life” as free spirited homeschoolers! :-) You will always be so precious to me!

    I agree with all you stand for and your view on some of the comments. We as Christians can take the wisdom and beauty out of the worldly…without compromise!! Gods amazing blessings, beauty and lessons are all around us. We are to only open our eyes and be lead by our heart and spirit. He can show us amazing things in the cruelest of situations. His grace and power can easily move thru the world and the unsaved. Nothing is beyond His reach.

    Well I am SO excited about your new adventure! A wonderful bookstore that has handpicked treasures by one the best treasure hunters I know!

    Blessings dearest!

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      Well…the ‘wonderful bookstore’ is still in the air castle stages, hehe, dearest of girls…but I will keep you posted, of course. ;)

      And I thought you might like to know that I wrote an article for YLCF in which I most audaciously mentioned you by name: What I Would Tell Myself at 12

      Love,

      Princess Lavender ;)

  9. C. Pilgrim says:

    Lanier,
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. I was worried that you might take my question as an insult, or be surprised that a stranger would ask such a forward question, so I am thankful that you gave me such a wonderful response. I am a new Christian and am just learning all of this one thing at a time! I happened to come to Christ, incidentally, during my graduate studies in English so this subject is one that is very close to my heart.

    Best,
    C. Pilgrim

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      Hello, C.–

      Just one more thought: In a completely opposite direction, but important for balance, I believe, is the fact that a faith that has never been challenged–and proved–against opposing mindsets is not fully developed. I am certainly not saying that we should fill our minds with trash, or that we should study the counterfeit to prove the genuine. ;) We all need to be steeped in the truths of God’s Word more than anything. But where wisdom, maturity and discretion all converge, there can be real opportunity for growth in the face of beliefs and worldviews that are contrary to our own. Faith gets a chance to flex its muscles and we can become more convinced in ourselves–and better able to articulate–what we believe.

      This, of course, is not at all what I am talking about in this post. But I just thought I’d qualify it with the flip-side of the equation. :)

      :) ,

      Lanier

  10. Thank you Lanier for you gracious and thoughtful response. (o:

    ~Michele

  11. Joanna says:

    Let us also remember that many writers of the past, though they may not have been confessing Christians, were working within Christian societies, and they adhered to and/or promoted a moral code that came directly from orthodox Christianity. Alcott is a good example of that. Things get dicier when we get past World War I, and the West, already losing faith bit by bit, abandons Christianity entirely. When the zeitgeist became godless self-indulgence, art followed suit. I am far more apprehensive about reading contemporary non-Christian writers, for there is a good chance that what they promote is truly immoral. The sense of the sacred is gone.

    By the way, good & interesting comments by everyone!

  12. Joanna says:

    A small amendment to my first comment–

    Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the zeitgeist of godless self-indulgence was shaped by art, not that the spirit of the age changed with art following afterwards.

  13. holly says:

    Lanier –

    I check you every day that I’m in the States.

    You are, quite simply, an inspiration — and you write so well. I heartily second the earlier post from Laura: “Why don’t YOU write a book?”

  14. mary kathryn says:

    Lanier, the first paragraph of this post could have been written by me. A dreamer — I used to call myself “professional day-dreamer.” My day-dreaming was so constant that I think sometimes I was more THERE than I was HERE. Unlike you, my parents did not remove me from miserable years at school; I daydreamed to escape. When I read, I found even better escape. Finally I had to put a damper on this tendency, so that I could live life.

    I’m sure you have, but have you read Sarah Orne Jewett? And right now I’m reading Elspeth Huxley’s books. I finished “The Flame Trees of Thika,” and am now on “The Mottled Lizard.” Wonderful, leisurely tales from the mind of a woman-remembering-the-child.

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      Sarah Orne Jewett accompanied me to Maine a few years ago, by way of ‘The Country of the Pointed Firs’. It absolutely made my trip to have to the beauties around me described with such a loving insight. But, no, I haven’t read any Elspeth Huxley…I’ll have to put her on my list. :)

  15. Amy says:

    Hi Lanier,

    Although I’ve read your blog for about a year, this is the first time I’ve ever commented. I have often wondered what draws me to your blog, and I feel like your post today illuminated the situation. I am a dreamer too, but my days are currently filled with physics equations and chemistry reactions as I am currently pursuing medical school. Additionally, I often feel distant from a sense of Christian sisterhood as I am currently geographically separated from the women whose friendship hold those deep bonds. While I believe that God has called me on this path and feel blessed to be apart of His work in this way, I often crave the simplicity, contentment and relationships you describe in this post. Finally, I grew up on a farm so I love the posts about your little farm too!

    As I read your post today and laughed with the memories of living with Anne and Jo in exactly the way you describe, I realized that in some distant way, your blog fills a little part of that sisterhood hole in my heart.

    Thank you for the sense of beauty and awe that you share in this blog. Your posts are often bright spots in my day!

    Amy

  16. Meredith says:

    Hi Lanier,
    I was introduced to your blog by one of the sweetest, godly friends God has given me the privilege to have. She thought I would love your blog. And I do! So do be encouraged to keep writing because it is a joy and a delight to visit here.
    Meredith

  17. Mary E. says:

    Hi Lanier,

    I came across your site a couple years ago via your stay-at-home wife essay. I think I’d googled “stay-at-home wife” & “Christian.” At the time, I was a newlywed with a stressful job in a deadline-driven field. My husband gently noted how burned out I seemed and said we could make it on his income if I wanted to quit and do freelance/part-time work. You’d think I would have jumped at the opportunity that second, but due to various influences over the years, part of me couldn’t mentally “allow” myself the idea of being a stay-at-home wife without children. (I didn’t get married until I was 40 and I’m 42 now, so there’s a strong chance we won’t be blessed with children, though one never knows.)

    Your stay-at-home wife essay was one of the few articles I found that specifically addressed being a stay-at-home wife even if one doesn’t have children. Long story short, after much prayer as well as research that included your essay, I did eventually leave my job. It was one of the best decisions I ever made for my marriage, my faith and my sanity. Now that this blog is active again, I just wanted to let you know how much your essay helped me–and how glad I am to see new entries here as well!

    While I live in a townhouse, not a farmhouse, your writing makes me feel like I am walking through the gardens and the barns. And I do share your love of books, which is something a person can enjoy no matter where she lives. Hope you keep writing, if time allows! My future comments will be shorter, but I wanted to let you know my story and how I ended up here.

  18. Michele says:

    I had to comment one more time to second what Mary E. said in her comment about your SAHW essay. My husband and I have been married for 18 years and we have no children and due to our ages and health issues probably never will. That essay you wrote started me on the road to feeling that being a SAHW was a worthwhile endeavor. In fact for quite some time this part of your essay was the description in my blog header:

    “I am not a homemaker because I had too little ambition or education to make anything else of myself.

    No~~I am a homemaker because God has given me the infinite honor of being a wife,
    and I delight in employing every ability that He has equipped me with, in this glad career.”

    I’ve seen this quote in many a sidebar in Blogdom. You’ve inspired more ladies than you’ll ever know. Your writing does that.

    I’ve always wanted to thank you so now I will.

    *Thank You*. (o:

  19. Martina says:

    Your website truly is a place of peace and beauty. Visiting you is like having an inspiring, delightful vacation. I am glad I found such a lovely place on the web!
    Thank you also for all the wonderful music over christmas time. I listened to it quite a lot and really got in a christmas bliss. For next year, I got me the Oxford Book of Carols…
    Thank you for all the time and work you put in this place!

  20. Emily says:

    Lanier,

    Your blog truly is a haven on the internet, a place I love to turn to when I’m feeling overwhelmed and out of sorts. Your posts are so beautiful and well-thought-out, and you’ve been such an inspiration to me since the day I discovered Lanier’s Books. Not least because I now have a reading list several miles long! God has used your words to speak to me many times, and I’m grateful to Him for you.

    Sincerely,
    Emily

  21. Deb says:

    Lanier,

    I am grateful beyond words for your shining light in Blogdom. You minister to me more than you can ever know.

    I would love to say that we are kindred spirits. But, as my literary knowledge and writing abilities are sorely lacking, it’s more accurate to say that I would like to be like you when I grow up. And this is just a wee bit difficult, for I am older than you!

    May God graciously protect and strengthen you for whatever tasks He has planned for you.

  22. Josh says:

    Hi Lanier,

    I have to admit a bit reluctance to speak up, being the only gentleman among so many ladies, but I wanted to let you know what a blessing your site has been to me, too. In a world that no longer seems to value goodness and beauty and tradition and faith, it’s wonderful to find a place like this where those things are still honoured.

    Like so many others have already said, I too must thank you for some brilliant book recommendations. I think chiefly of Gene Stratton-Porter, who I first discovered in your review of “Freckles”, and who is now ranked among my most beloved authors.

    So thank you, Lanier. I’m so glad you’re back online, and hope you’ll continue to write for a long, long time.

    Best Regards,

    Josh

  23. Meredith says:

    I was going to say too (I wrote my other comment in a bit of a rush) that I especially loved your material about Christmas. I used to find Christmas, as much as I love Christ, very overwhelming. And in recent years I have prayed hard, starting round about September, that I would be filled with joy at Christmas time. And God has graciously answered those prayers because the last couple of years have been wonderful. Christmas just gone was especially enhanced by your reflections. Especially sweet as my southern hemisphere experience of Christmas is notable snow-free! Thank you.

    I enjoyed your references to the Twelve Days of Christmas. I am aware of Epiphany and Christmas day of course, but don’t know much about the other ten. Can you recommend a reliable place to read up on the other ten days?

    Thank you for the sweet balm of your blog. God bless you richly.

  24. hopeinbrazil says:

    Lovely post. I especially enjoyed the idea of introducing books to people as “friend to friend”.
    Blessings, Hope

  25. Jeanne says:

    Yay!!! It is so good to see you back here, writing and posting, and dreaming and planning. ;) Thank you for putting in the effort to share with all of us. I am blessed by it.

  26. Judith says:

    A little late (but better late than never, right?), I love Lanier’s Books and I’m so happy you’re writing again and allowing comments a.k.a. conversations! You inspire me to write and remind me to dream. I enjoy reading each and every one of your posts – thank you so much for the beauty and wonder you share through your words!

  27. Abby Maddox says:

    Isn’t it one of the highest joys life offers? Not only to dream, but to find that we’re not alone in our dreams. This post made me cry, Lanier.

  28. [...] It’s been a vision I’ve cherished: not only to make the proper introductions between certain books and those I know would love them, but to provide the volumes themselves to any who might want to give them a home on their shelves. To offer beautiful, hand-selected old books for a good value and with the personal element of thoughtful reviews. [...]

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