Friday, May 25, 2018

Ten Year Blogiversary

My tenth year of blogging came and went, and I finally have time to make note of it. I rarely read my stats because they are not what motivate me to blog, but on my fifth blogiversary I enjoyed a look at my most viewed posts. Five years later I see that the same titles (Code Name NimrodThe Horse and His Boy Aesop's Fables, Two Towers and Wednesday Wars) still lead the way.

But a few other posts have attracted attention. My Recommended Librivox Recordings has had several thousand views. My dabbling in Georgette Heyer's novels and my comments on Profanity in Books and Culture have evoked quite a few views and comments. And one of my next most popular posts was a review of a YouTube video: Why Beauty Matters.

I love how these titles show the spectrum of my tastes from children's lit, to literary classics, to WWII memoirs, to books about why faith should make a difference to culture. I am grateful to all who read my blog and who occasionally leave comments. Here's to another ten years of great reading and sharing!

Blessings,

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

When my blogging friend Carol formed the C.S. Lewis Reading Project, I jumped at the chance to finally re-read some of Lewis' apologetic works. Last month we read The Problem of Pain and I've struggled for weeks to try to write an overview. The book is too complex to capture in a few paragraphs since Lewis does much more than try to explain human suffering. In fact, my most important takeaways had to do with what it means to be human and how human flourishing is impossible without a right relationship to our Creator.

Just as the members of the Trinity live in perfect, mutual, self-giving love, so mankind can only find real joy when living in selfless unity with God. Rejection of God's sovereign authority over His creatures brought sin and suffering into the world - and ultimately, according to Lewis, results in Hell.

Some suffering comes as a result of rebellion: From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever. . . . What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor "ordinary life," but simply and solely Hell. . . . That fierce imprisonment in the self is but the obverse of the self-giving which is absolute reality. (152)

Some suffering comes as a way of refining us into holier people: To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God; because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labor to make us loveable. . . . What we would here call "happiness" is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy. (48)

Creatures are not separate from their Creator. The place for which He designs them in His scheme of things is the place they are made for. When they reach it their nature is fulfilled and their happiness is attained: a broken bone in the universe has been set, the anguish is over. God wills our good, and our good is to love Him; and to love Him we must know Him, and become more like Him. We are bidden to "put on Christ," to become like God. That is , whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. (52-53)

I loaned this to a friend who was struggling after several miscarriages, but it was too academic and she got lost in the introductory chapter discussion of the "Numinous." My pastor preached a wonderful (less technical) sermon on suffering in April; he quotes C.S. Lewis frequently. I would encourage you to read the book AND listen to his message.

Blessings,

Friday, May 11, 2018

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie

After reading a heavy C.S. Lewis title, I needed something light, yet not too fluffy. Listening to Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee was just the ticket. My husband and I have watched all of the David Suchet Poirot series so this story was not unfamiliar to me (but I can never remember the killer). In Christie's novels, however, knowing “whodunit” is only part of the fun. The rest of the pleasure comes from Poirot’s quirkiness, the gentle jabs at British snobbery, and the interesting chemistry between characters.

In this novel, a wealthy scientist is murdered and everyone in the house is a suspect. The ditzy Miss Avery, the ultra-modern Barbara, and the Italian houseguest are just a few of the possible culprits. I listened to John Moffatt’s narration and he was absolutely marvelous with all the voices; he captured the relationship between Poirot and Hastings especially well.

Because of my familiarity with the BBC series, it felt as if an old friend walked in when Inspector Japp finally makes his appearance near the end of the book. Several characters make reference to earlier cases concerning Lord Edgeware and the Affair at Styles, which are like inside jokes to Christie fans.

There is an interesting interchange between Barbara and Colonel Hastings (Poirot's sidekick) when she calls him a darling, old-fashioned thing for believing in decency and truth-telling. Hastings, clueless as always, can’t understand why she thinks that is worth commenting on. I enjoyed this sly way of showing that modern is not always better. Truth does matter. Particularly when it comes to finding the killer.

I listened to this for free on YouTube.  A pleasant, cozy mystery!

P.S. This novel was not written by Christie, but by Charles Osborne. Yet it was based on a play she had written, which frankly, made it an excellent audio book.

Blessings,

Friday, May 4, 2018

At Home in Thrush Green by Miss Read

The gardens of Thrush Green were bright with irises and peonies, and the air
was murmurous with the sound of lawnmowers. But not all was idyllic.
 
 
This 8th installment in the series takes the reader on another delightful visit to Thrush Green. Not only are the regular residents "at home," but the book recounts the arrival of several new couples who move in to the newly completed senior-living apartment complex.  Jane and her husband Bill are managers and caregivers of the facility and are discussing their concerns about how the residents will get along. Bill wisely replies, I expect they'll turn out like any other family, a good deal of affection spiced with bouts of in-fighting. Interestingly, they have a rough go of it until each of the residents finds a place in the community to use their gifts (i.e. to serve others).
 
The regular members of the neighborhood make an appearance in the novel too. I particularly enjoyed this reference to the three stingy Lovelock sisters: One Lovelock was intimidating enough, but in triplicate they were formidable. Nelly Piggot is a middle-aged woman, married to the town grouch. Most of the town folks hold her at arm's length because she left her husband for another man and then came back again. In this novel she finds a friend, finds her calling and comes into her own. So when the old boyfriend comes into town, she reacts in a way that the old Nelly could never have done. 

These small episodes of British country life may not be great literature. But I find the repeated acts of grace (especially to the undeserving) to be soul-nourishing. And the good writing kicks it up to another level as well:

The whole world was white. The moonlight reflected from the snowy fields was intensified. In the garden of the pub next door, the small cherry tree cast a circular tracery of shadows on the white lawn. It was a tree which gave Nelly joy all through the year, from its first tiny leaves, its dangling white flowers, its scarlet fruit so quickly ravished by the birds, and then its final blaze of gold in autumn which it dropped, like a bright skirt, to the ground in November.

Blessings,

Friday, April 27, 2018

On Poetry in General by William Hazlitt

Happy Poetry Month! Many Writers have tried to define that elusive something that we call poetry and writer and literary critic William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was no exception. To Hazlitt poems cannot merely describe an object or a feeling; their words have to heighten the imagination.

He laments the "advances" in civilization (scientific knowledge, modernization, etc.) that are unfavorable to poetry because they cause more indifference and less awe. Society, by degrees, is constructed into a machine that carries us safely and insipidly from one end of life to the other, in a very prose style. . . It is to overcome the flats and sharps of prose that poetry was invented.

Hazlitt says that poetry lifts the spirit above the earth and draws the soul out of itself with indescribable longings. Because of that definition he cites Pilgrim's Progress and Robinson Crusoe as great poetic works. The great poetry in the world, according to him, is found in Homer, the Bible, and Dante. (Beautiful language that elevates the mind is essential, but obviously to him, rhyming is not.)

 "On Poetry" was one of several essays gathered together by Jacob Zeitlin in 1913 and is fifteen pages long. I found a free online copy here. If you don't already love poetry, this article is probably too dry to change your mind, but I appreciated Hazlitt's insights.

Blessings,

Friday, April 20, 2018

British Author Birthday Week

Two of my favorite authors celebrated birthdays this week. Miss Read, author of light novels, was born on April 17, 1913. Her books about country villagers ("Fairacre" and "Thrush Green" series) are cozy reads. Her daughter answers questions about her legacy on her own website here.

Born almost 100 years before Miss Read, Charlotte Brontë celebrates a birthday on April 21st. Her book, Jane Eyre, has brought me deep pleasure at various times in the last four decades. This year I even began memorizing favorite passages from it, especially this one between Rochester and Jane:

I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you, especially when you are near me as now. It is as if I had a string somewhere under my left rib tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped. And then I have a nervous notion that I'd take to bleeding inwardly. As for you, - you'd forget me.

Blessings,

Friday, April 13, 2018

Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon

Of the twenty P.O.W. memoirs that I've read, Ernest Gordon's Miracle on the River Kwai is my favorite. Published in 1963 it recounts Gordon's three years in a Japanese concentration camp in Thailand.

I was drawn into the story by the splendid writing. Phrases like Age, sun and sea had made his face a thing of wrinkled splendor and Apathy and listlessness settled over Bapong Camp like a miasmic fog, made my heart sing. But I kept reading because of the mesmerizing stories of faith  being lived out in the harshest of circumstances. 

Gordon was a young Scotsman whose pre-war life included college studies and yacht racing. When WWII broke out, he became an officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Captured after the fall of Singapore, he is taken to work on the Thailand/Burma Railroad. Japanese engineers calculated that the railroad would take 5 to 6 years to complete because of difficult terrain. But when they received permission to use "disposable" workers, they pushed the timeline to 18 months. The Allied prisoners were worked so hard that they lost all consciousness of time. Was it Tuesday the fourth or Friday the seventeenth? Who could say? And who would care? One gray day succeeded another - with no color, no variety, no humanity. Misery, despair and death were our constant companions. As conditions steadily worsened, as starvation, exhaustion and disease took an ever-increasing toll, the atmosphere in which we lived became poisoned by selfishness, hate and fear.

It was every man for himself until a miracle of grace occurred. Gordon had suffered from a number of diseases (diphtheria, beriberi, etc.) and had lost the use of his legs. A friend built him a little shack and arranged for him to leave the Death House (the hospital hut where men went to die). Another man, a quiet young Methodist named Dusty Miller, came daily to bathe and feed him. Dusty also massaged his legs and squeezed out the pus-filled ulcers. As Gordon "came back to life," a general regeneration was going on in the camp. Several men gave their lives to save others. Stories of their self-sacrifice began to outweigh tales of Japanese cruelty.

Gordon's view of Christianity had been that it extracted the bubbles from the champagne of life, leaving it insipid, flat and tasteless. While still recovering from his illnesses, he was asked to lead a religion class. Is there meaning in life? Does faith in Christ make any difference? He did not have the answers but he had a New Testament, which he read and discussed with the men.

He goes on to describe how the atmosphere in the camp changed as the men began to serve one another. The filthiest job in the camp was to collect the used ulcer rags, scrape them clean of pus, boil them and return them for future use. After a man named Dodger came to faith, he took on the job with joy. The last portion of the novel shows the transforming power of God's love in mens' hearts. A very inspiring read. 

P.S. Gordon does not describe the torture and hardship in as much detail as other P.O.W. memoirs so this might be a good book for the squeamish. Also, because I loved the book so much I sat through the profanity-laden two hour movie version. (The book title was changed to To End All Wars to accommodate the 2001 film.)  It added lots of people and horrific situations that were not in the book, and isn't nearly as eloquent or satisfying.

Blessings,