Thursday, March 26, 2020

What I Read and Watched in March

At the advice of Brazil's minister of health, we've been home-bound, but we have plenty to eat and plenty of books to read (and time to read them). Unfortunately, being in hibernation mode makes me want to spend all day in the kitchen making comfort food. Ha!

I'm reading some theology books for a class I'm teaching in the fall. Grace, Faith and Holiness is a chunkster, but by pacing myself at 30 minutes a day, I've reached page 200 (of 600). I've also been pondering the thoughts of John Wesley in his 52 Sermons (15 minutes per day) and I'm halfway through.

For fun I read Storm in the Village (#3 in the Fairacre series) and Over the Gate (#5) by Miss Read. I took advantage of  one of's free audiobooks (as long as schools are closed) and listened to My Ántonia by Willa Cather. I'm still processing it and hope to write a review for my next post. 

Twice a week, we've been watching some of our favorite DVDs of Perry Mason and Murder She Wrote. We watched the second Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers. I also rented Snipped in the Bud, a Hallmark mystery when I needed some quiet and alone time. (My husband and son stay miles away when there's a Hallmark movie on!)

Are you reading anything good lately? I hope you are all safe and well.


Friday, March 13, 2020

On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior

Many reviewers gave On Reading Well a lower rating because “Prior did not convince them to read any of the books.” But they missed the point. Prior was making the case for the Great Books as teachers of virtue and she does a fine job. The introductory chapter is worth the price of the book.

It is not enough to read widely. One must also read well. One must read virtuously. The word virtue has various shades of meaning, but in general, virtue can most simply be understood as excellence.

Reading virtuously means, first, reading closely, being faithful to both text and context, interpreting accurately and insightfully. Indeed, there is something in the very form of reading – the shape of the action itself – that tends toward virtue. The attentiveness necessary for deep reading (the kind we practice in reading literary works as opposed to skimming news stories or reading instructions) requires patience. The skills of interpretation and evaluation require prudence. Even the simple decision to set aside time to read in a world rife with so many other choices competing for our attention requires a kind of temperance.

Therefore, even as you seek books that you will enjoy reading, demand ones that make demands on you: books with sentences so exquisitely crafted that they must be reread, familiar words used in fresh ways, new words so evocative that you are compelled to look them up, and images and ideas so arresting that they return to you unbidden for days to come.

After the intro, Prior presents ten chapters, each one linking a specific virtue with a famous classic. Some novels teach by showing the protagonist making good choices (Christian demonstrating diligence in Pilgrim’s Progress). Others show the necessity of a particular virtue by showing characters who make bad choices (Jay Gatsby's lack of temperance). My favorite was the discussion of chastity based on Ethan Frome. When I read the book years ago, I was oblivious to many of the important themes that Prior brings out in her analysis.

I did not understand Silence by Shusako Endo any better after reading Prior’s chapter on faith, but I thoroughly enjoyed her insights into Anne Elliott’s patience and Huck Finn’s courage. And I gained a much greater appreciation for several books and authors that I had dismissed as “not my style,” especially Flannery O’Connor.


Friday, March 6, 2020

What I Read and Watched in February

I promised myself I wouldn't rush through books this year, but greed took over when I signed up for the Kindle Unlimited trial. I ended up gorging on seven D.E. Stevenson novels: The Empty World, The Tall Stranger, Peter West, Five Windows, Amberwell (re-read), Summerhills, and Still Glides the Stream. I disliked Peter West, but Five Windows was a new favorite (reviewed here).

Also on my KU stack was On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior, Evangelism as Exiles: Live on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land by Elliot Clark and Kidnapped (audio book) by R.L. Stevenson. Kidnapped was the hardest to finish because I was unfamiliar with the current events of that time which were frequently mentioned.

The only physical book I read (apart from my Bible) was A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie, which I hope to re-read often. (reviewed here)

On the movie front, I watched a guy movie for my husband's birthday, Ford vs. Ferrari, which was surprisingly interesting and not as profane as I expected. A few days later we hooked up our Brazilian cable TV and could find nothing to watch (surprise!); we ended up watching the DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring, which is always a pleasure.


Friday, February 28, 2020

A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie

I do not come from a tradition of written prayers, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this devotional classic. A Diary of Private Prayer, written by Scottish theologian John Baillie (1886-1960), contains a month of heartfelt prayers, one for each morning and evening. Frankly, the humble, submissive attitude of these prayers was a welcome change from much of modern Christian literature.

An example from Day Four: Do not let me embark on anything today that is not in line with your will for my life, nor shirk from any sacrifice that your will demands.

Mingled with the prayers of surrender to God's will are praises for His goodness and power. On Day Twenty-Two, he writes, O Lord, my God, I kneel before you in humble adoration as I set out to face the tasks and interests of another day. Thank you for the blessed assurance that I shall not be called upon to face them alone or in my own strength, but that at all times I will be accompanied by your presence and strengthened by your grace.

One final favorite prayer: O Holy Spirit, visit my soul and stay within me all day. Inspire all my thoughts. Pervade all my imagination. Suggest all my decisions. Make your home in the most secret place of my will and inspire all my actions. Be with me in my silence and in my speech, in my hurry and in my leisure, in company and in solitude, in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening; and give me grace at all times to rejoice in the comforting mystery of your companionship.

My only quibble is the occasional general prayer for "all the workers in the world," or "all who suffer." I have a hard time understanding how God is supposed to answer such non-specific petitions, but I may be underestimating His far-reaching grace.

It's hard to imagine that anyone could read this book every day and not be changed by it. My edition, with updated language by Susanna Wright, was very readable. The hard cover and ribbon bookmark guarantee its use for many years to come.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Five Windows by D.E. Stevenson

I've been plowing through D.E. Stevenson titles since taking advantage of the Kindle Unlimited deal that I got in December. The most famous books (Miss Buncle and Mrs. Tim) are not free through KU, but there are over a dozen lesser-known novels that I've been enjoying. Five Windows is one of my new favorites.

David Kirke, the only son of a vicar and his wife, grew up in a quiet country town in Scotland and moves to London to begin his career. Each of the windows in the title describes the view from his various places of residence. In each location he learns a valuable lesson. There are delightful characters such as Teddy (a girl), Barbie, the decorator, Mr. Coe, the book store owner, and Malcolm, the shepherd. There are despicable folks such as the residents of the boarding house. Because of his unfailing kindness and good manners, David gets mixed up with them, but through those relationships, he learns to be a better judge of human nature and to stand up for himself.

What I loved most about the book was watching David "make do" on very little money. Instead of complaining or borrowing, he made a game out of his poverty to stretch every penny. It is a hobby my own mother taught me and I was tickled to read of some of his tricks.

In addition to the delightful literary references sprinkled throughout (from Pilgrim's Progress, the Bible, Wordsworth, and Dickens), there were several very funny sequences. One described the literary efforts of David's friend, Miles Blackworth, who assumed that just because he had read a lot of thrillers, it would be easy to write one. Another humorous situation was when David's mother came to visit him in London and his office colleagues assumed he was making her up so as not to have to admit to having a girlfriend.

This is a book about second chances. For people and for houses. (If you know anything about Stevenson's books, the houses are almost human!) I thoroughly enjoyed this new-to-me book and look forward to re-reading it in the future.


Friday, February 7, 2020

Life as a Work of Art - quote from Sarah Clarkson

To be truly faithful isn't merely to endure; it is also to create. That kind of faithfulness comes with the choice to fix our eyes on the beauty promised (and already present in Christ), and to let that drive our actions rather than despair. To be faithful means taking the musty clay of ordinary days, and molding them it into hours of laughter, landmark feasts, and the making of music and memories. To be faithful is to love, yet again, in the face of rejection, to pour another cup of tea, or set another place at the table. Faithfulness is to live in such fidelity to our hope that what we hope becomes visible, enfleshed in the words and actions with which we meet the darkness. A life so formed becomes a piece of art that illumines the ordinary and transforms the mundane with its beauty. (p. 89 of Caught Up in a Story by Sarah Clarkson)

Sarah writes that all of her favorite heroines have this quality. Mine too!


Friday, January 31, 2020

What I Read in January

We left the U.S. on January the 12th. Until then I was too busy packing to read. But since we've arrived in Brazil and have not been able to move into our apartment or to be involved in our work, I've read ten books in 20 days. I never thought I could get tired of endless reading time, but now I'm wishing for a place to call home where I can be busy doing other things.

The Disappointments:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is one of the most popular books in the history of Brazilian literature. It was dumb, but now I know what people are talking about when they mention it (review here). Island of Sheep by John Buchan was the only book I started but did not finish. Too many villains to keep straight and an over-complicated plot. It always hurts when I read a Trollope novel that I don't love, but that was the case with Harry Heathcoate of Gangoil.  I listened to Alice in Wonderland because I love anything Ralph Cosham narrates, but I still didn't care for it very much. (It was my 5th try.)

The Good Stuff:
I read two page-turners: Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart (review here) and The Empty World  by D. E. Stevenson (review here). Trojan Mouse by Samuel Lively was a fascinating look at how Disney studios has changed through the years and how they have maintained their image as "family-friendly" when, in fact, they are teaching many dangerous ideas (reviewed here).

I read two autobiographies written by friends. One, Eu Sei que Deus se Importa Comigo, was by a ministry colleague, and The Colors of My Country was written by a college friend who grew up in Africa.

My very favorite read of the month was Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë, which I hope to review soon. Meanwhile I'll keep reading since the apartment is tied up in all kinds of red tape.