Episode 8: Rachel Roller | reading from Dostoyevsky to Dragons

On this week's dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, we talk with the host's younger sister, Rachel who is a chemistry grad student and avid reader. She has wide reading tastes (from Dostoyevsky to fantasy books about dragons) and also enjoys writing. 
This week's book list (affiliate link)
The book Rachel co-authored about C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, originally titled Warnings from Outer Space, now being traditionally published! 
Updated to add: the book will be published under the title A Compass For Deep Heaven: Navigating the C.S. Lewis Trilogy through Square Halo Books. It’s release date is set for August 3, 2021 and is available to order now. 

I am an Amazon and Bookshop.org affiliate and may earn from qualifying purchases from links shared on my blog! 

Laura (left) and Rachel (right) at a local little free library.

I had such a delightful time creating this podcast episode! Because we are sisters, Rachel and I are perfectly capable of chatting at length, which made this interview easy. However what delighted me is how articulate she is and the wide range of deep and interesting topics that came up along the way.  I am not surprised, Rachel is an enneagram type 5, which means she quietly observes the world around her and is intellectually deep. It was so fun to tap into some of that on this episode though!

Our Mom and Rachel at Notre Dame's campus with their iconic gold dome

Rachel at Notre Dame, where she is pursuing a doctorate in analytical chemistry

Rachel is currently in grad school at Notre Dame in Indiana. She just finished her first year and is thriving! Because of that, one of the things we talked about is whether she likes science fiction. It turns out that she does, especially if there is some dragons or fantasy woven in, as in the case of the Dragonriders of Pern.  She also loves the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.

We also discussed that she and I both read Harry Potter in our early twenties and both really enjoyed it. We think it is funny because we weren't allowed to read it as children because of the ambiguity of some of the good vs. evil and because of the witchcraft. We agree that it was a good decision on our parents part because we were both sensitive readers and grew up conservatively Christian. But we both were absolutely delighted with the world of Hogwarts as well, and found that as adults the good vs. evil dilemmas in the book were surprisingly true to real life. That sometimes you don't know who the "bad guys" or the "good guys" are, and that bad people can do good things, or good people can fail you.  I also absolutely loved it when Rachel confessed that she related to Snape's character because "he's a potions master, and we chemists have to stick together!"

Rachel's bookshelf! It used to be a china cabinet. You can see her wide range of books including the Lord of the Rings, Plato, I'd Rather Be Reading, and several series of fantasy/dragon books.\

Before she was at Notre Dame, Rachel did her undergraduate studies at Azusa Pacific University. She was part of a wonderful great books honors program there, and that program cemented a love of intellectually stimulating works such as Aquinas, Augustin, Dante, Dostoyevsky, and Homer. You can see from her bookshelf (pictured above) that she still as many of these works on her shelves. For example, she mentioned during our talk that she is currently reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Her college program also ended up with her having the opportunity to go to Oxford for a month two summers ago. She had an absolutely marvelous experience there. She's become quite the C.S. Lewis scholar and aficionado. This was not hurt by visiting his home--The Kilns--and taking a course on his work while in Oxford.  When she came back, her senior project for her honors colloquy ended up being to write a scholarly publication on a work of literature, and her group chose C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) and Proceeded to write a book called Warnings from Outer Space: Backdrops and Building Blocks of C. S. Lewis's Science Fiction Trilogy, which you can find out more about here

Rachel with her senior colloquy group and her professor, Dr. Glyer at their final presentation of their book.

Because of her appreciation for C.S. Lewis and Oxford, several of the books we talked about were influenced by that experience: 
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: Rachel credits this series as being one of her all time favorites! We read it aloud as a family, but also she read it once a year for several years running and will undoubtedly read it again. 
  • Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry: a historical fiction telling of the life of the woman who married C.S. Lewis. Rachel enjoyed this for many reasons, including its focus on Oxford and Lewis. Me and my mom also read and enjoyed it--so you don't have to be a C.S. Lewis scholar to appreciate it! 
  • A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C.S. Lewis and Other Poems by Joy Davidman: Rachel hasn't read this one yet (and I recommend that she does in next week's episode!) but these are the poems that Joy wrote for C.S. Lewis and they are some of the source material for Becoming Mrs. Lewis, so they deserve a mention here! 
  • The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss: A romance where one of the main characters spend time in Oxford, which is why Rachel picked it up. 

Rachel also loves The Lord of the Rings trilogy. She first heard it as a little tyke when dad read it aloud to the family. She has since read and re-read it, and really loves it. She is also currently working her way through the Silmarillion on audiobook, just several minutes here and there.

 When I asked Rachel what she looked for when she picked books, she said she looks for a few things: books that make her think, books that make her feel, and books that evoke wonder. She loves it even more when these overlap! I think that is one of the many reasons Rachel also loves to read fantasy and books with dragons in them. If you haven't yet listened to the podcast, you need to because her enthusiasm whenever she talks about these stories is absolutely contagious!

I remember dad reading to us the DragonKeeper Chronicles by Donita K. Paul when I was young and being absolutely mesmerized by the story. Rachel said its one of her favorites and that she especially liked the world-building and characters. I still remember those characters like they are my friends and have vivid mental imagery of many of the events in the story. There are 5 books in that series. (Dragonspell, Dragonquest, Dragonknight, Dragonfire, Dragonlight)

Speaking of reading aloud, we discussed again how important reading aloud has been to our family's development. It has kept us emotionally connected through many moves across the country and the vicissitudes of life. It also led to a huge vocabulary and love of reading in both my sister and I. We both can't say enough how much this has meant to us over time. Between reading aloud and the weekly visits to the local library, we are book people for life now. Rachel credits all that time at the library for nurturing her curiosity and teaching her how to become a researcher, both of which are serving her well in her chosen field of academics and chemistry.

If you're looking for advice and a place to start on reading aloud to your own children, the absolute best place I know to send you is The Read-Aloud Revival blog and podcast, and Sarah's book The Read Aloud Family.  My parents knew some of the research about reading to children and some of the value, but I don't think any of us really realized the lasting impact this pastime was having at the time. However, we are all deeply grateful for it!

Dad, reading aloud. A nightly tradition in our home growing up. 

Rachel was kind enough to share a photo of her reading journal for this year. She's very proud of the illustrated bookshelf design and is enjoying tracking her reading life here. In addition to Crime and Punishment, she is also currently reading Tuesdays At The Castle, which is a young adult book that I saw being recommended by Anne Bogel, and then recommended to Rachel a few weeks ago.

Rachel's reading journal for 2020. 

In addition to being a reader, Rachel is also a budding writer. She's written many scholarly essays and articles, some of which have been published. But she is also working on at least three works of fantasy in her spare time. Several of these stories were conceived of when she was around eleven years old, and one just was inspired last year by life events of choosing grad schools, moving across the country, and getting mistaken for an under-12-year-old by a TSA agent at the Kansas City airport. I would love to see her get these books finished and published...maybe someday! 

She gives credit for getting her books as far as they are to the writing group some of her fellow APU alumni have formed. Her advice for writing stems from that experience: 

“My advice for any possible blooming writers out there is find people to read what you’ve written, read what other people write, and give each other feedback. Because people always picture writing as the author sitting alone in a tiny garret with a crackling fire and a mug of tea and then submitting it to a publisher. And yes, a lot of writing happens alone, but where books become real is when you let other people into them. Readers make writers happen.”

I can't wait for you to hear next week's episode where we swap book recommendations with each other. It's delightful as well. 

Until then, with lots of literary love from my library to yours, have a wonderful day! 


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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