Friday, February 9, 2024

Worthwhile Movie #21 - BBC's North and South

It’s been four years since I have recommended a movie, but a recent viewing of BBC’s 2004 production of North and South proved that good movies still exist if you are willing to look for them.  

Based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1854 novel, North and South tells the story of how Reverend Richard Hale moves his family from the (traditional) south of England to the (industrial) north after he loses his curacy due to “matters of conscience.” Living at reduced means with a sickly wife, Mr. Hale tutors young pupils and even gives lessons in Latin to John Thornton, overseer of a large cotton mill.  

One of the main story lines is how Hale’s genteel daughter, Margaret, adapts to this new reality. Members of Milton's upper class are suspicious of her father’s mysterious departure from the ministry and do not welcome her into their circle. She reaches out to several factory workers, but they misunderstand her overtures of friendship. It is delightful to watch her grow as she stumbles along (yet persists) in building relationships under these difficult circumstances. 

A secondary story, but a no less crucial one, is about the dynamics of power. Are all the factory owners villains who care only for money and not a bit for the laborers? Do the workers have a right to strike for better wages? In our present-day understanding (relying heavily on a “critical theory mood”), there are only two categories: the oppressed and the oppressor. No “master” can ever be right. And the oppressed can never be wrong. I was stunned by the deft, nuanced handling of these subjects in this film. It would have not been made in the same way today.

Third, is the love story, which, though central to the narrative, was understated, simmering just below the surface for the most part. I love a story of unrequited love (don’t ask me why!) so the fact that it took four hours for the romantic misunderstandings to be resolved was fine by me. I also appreciated that the lead characters were not over the top good-looking. He was a little too hawk-nosed and she a little too plump by Hollywood standards, yet they were perfection in their respective roles.

I am not sure where this can be streamed (maybe Brit Box?), but we found it on DVD and were so glad to have discovered it. Now I may have to go back and re-read the novel!


Friday, January 26, 2024

The Christmas Pig by J.K. Rowling

I never expected to be blindsided by The Christmas Pig. I hated the first bleak chapters, and only continued because many people from the Lit Life Podcast group raved over this book. I'm glad I did. 

Young Jack has gone through many painful family experiences, but through all of them, he has been comforted by a much-loved stuffed pig (DP). When his mean step-sister throws DP away, Jack is devastated. Just when you think you can't take anymore nastiness, Rowling turns the story completely around, doing some kind of literary magic that had me gaping throughout the rest of the story. I've never read anything by her before so I wasn't aware of her ability to create alternate worlds. I was stunned by her brilliance.

The rest of the narrative takes place on Christmas Eve when Jack is transported into the World of Lost Things to look for DP.  There he discovers that lost items belong to different categories. Items in the "mislaid" section are considered temporarily lost. The "disposable" section is a scarier place because if they land there, they are less likely to be searched for since they can be easily replaced. Other categories exist, but I don't want to give too many spoilers.

Rowling weaves together an amazing variety of lost things. Not only are there the requisite umbrellas, house keys, and socks, there are also lost feelings such as hope, ambition, and happiness. By giving human charcteristics to these misplaced items, Rowling weaves a powerful story of what is means to be valued. 

It had "Toy Story" vibes with traces of The Velveteen Rabbit (and even a smidgin of Pilgrim's Progress!) I am intrigued by the number of people who have seen Dante-esque themes in The Christmas Pig. I was not smart enough to pick up on those, but hope to re-read the book more carefully next time.

Because the the tone is dark overall, this would not be a good story for young children, but the book ends with lots of love and warmth. I'm very glad I read it.


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Reading Goals for 2024

My tentative goals for 2024 are these ten titles:

Since I read about 80 books a year, the rest will come from "grazing" on my Kindle, my Hoopla account, and my Audible library. 

I have several series that I need to finish: Ngaio Marsh mysteries (I'm up to book 9), Jan Karon's Mitford series (book 7), and Narnia (book 4). I may dip into some of the books being covered by the Literary Life Podcast. Looking forward to discovering a few new favorites along the way!

May your new year be replete with good food, good books, good company, and God's blessing.


Thursday, December 28, 2023

Reading Year in Review 2023

Some of my reading goals for 2023 were sidetracked by the unexpected rabbit trail of the Arthurian legends, but it was a happy detour. Of the five versions I read, Howard Pyle's The Story of King Arthur and His Knights was the one that most captured my heart, making it my favorite book of the year. Some of my other top picks were:

Best devotional book: My Utmost for His Highest. I dust off my copy every few years for a re-read. Chambers doesn't pull any punches about the cost of being a disciple. Very heart-strengthening.

Most difficult, but worth the effort: Norms and Nobility by Hicks. Although it is a book on education (the classical tradition), it is also a book on what it means to be fully human. Lots of food for thought. 

Non-fiction: Supper of the Lamb by R.F. Capon. I loved this cooking memoir for its "joie de vivre." Life is beautiful (and hard). Don't waste it.

YA books that were delightful: Miracles on Maple Hill by Sorenson and The King's Equal by Katherine Paterson

Biggest surprise and second favorite: The Bridge of San Luis Rey. (No one ever told me how wonderful this 1928 Pulitzer prize winner is. Review is forthcoming.) 

What about you? What were your favorites of the year?

All 84 books that I read this year are listed on my Goodreads page


Thursday, December 21, 2023

Satan's "Nothing" Strategy by Tony Reinke

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
In order to keep my earlier review of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You from being too long, I opted to put this lengthy quote in a separate post. In this passage, Reinke recounts scrolling through his newsfeed after a tiring day of work. 

On and on I flicked down a list of disconnected and fragmented items, most of them only barely important or interesting. I was not edified or served, only further fatigued because of missing a nap I should have had or a walk I could have taken.... What I am coming to understand is that this impulse to pull a lever of a random slot machine of viral content is the age-old tactic of Satan. C.S. Lewis called it his "nothing strategy" in Screwtape Letters. This nothing strategy is very strong, strong enough to steal away a man's best years - not in sweet sins, but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why in the gratifications of curiosity so feeble that the man is only half aware of them. A hamster wheel of what will never satisfy our souls. Lewis' warning was prophetic to our digital age. We are always busy, always distracted, diabolically lured away from what is truly essential and truly gratifying. In our digital idleness, we fail to enjoy God and we fail to love our neighbor. We give our time to not what is explicitly sinful, but also to what cannot give us joy or prepare us for self-sacrifice. Satan's nothing strategy aims at feeding us endlessly scrolling words, images and videos that dull our affections instead of invigoration our joy and preparing us to give ourselves in love

(This is the exact same thing that Francis de Sales addressed in my previous post on his advice to Philothea: It is a pity to sow the seed of vain and foolish tastes in the soil of your heart, taking up the place of better things, and hindering the soul from cultivating good habits.) 

Lots to think about!


Thursday, December 7, 2023

Reading as a Spiritual Discipline - Quote from Jessica Hooten Wilson

Reading is a spiritual discipline akin to fasting and prayer and one that trains you in virtues, encourages your sanctification, and elicits your love for those noble, admirable, and beautiful things of which St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians. We read because without books our world shrinks, our empathy thins, and our liberty wanes. We read for the same reason that people have read - and shared poems and stories - for thousands of years: because our eyes are not enough by which to see. The time and place in which we live blinds us to other perspectives and ways of being that are not our own experience. We read because we have been given the gift of imagination and intellect, and we exhibit our gratitude by using it.

(from p. 62 of Reading for the Love of God by Jessica Hooten Wilson)


Thursday, November 30, 2023

What I Read and Watched in November

When I'm overwhelmed, I do more movie viewing than book reading, so November was light on books. I finished the excellent Norms and Nobility by David Hicks, which is a marvelous book primarily about the fundamentals of classical education, but secondarily about what it takes to be a flourishing, virtuous society. (It's pricey so I'm glad my library had a copy.) Next came Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, which I really liked after getting past the feminist intro and reading the actual diaries (last 1/5 of the book);  then came Rose-Garden Husband (a fluffy vintage novel), which fit the reading mood I was in. Edith Schaeffer's Hidden Art was not difficult reading, but my brain couldn't quite take it in.  
I enjoyed all the films I watched this month. We like the older Hitchcock movies because they are less grizzly and have a good dose of humor in them. Dan and I watched Foreign Correspondent (1940) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) on YouTube. On another date night we enjoyed I am David (2003) for its good acting and filming. By myself I watched the classic holiday film, The Shop Around the Corner, with the wonderful Jimmy Stewart. I also chuckled through Signed, Sealed and Delivered for Christmas.

Ever have months when reading just seems impossible? With less deadlines in December, I'm hoping to improve!