Friday, January 18, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019

Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting this challenge again. The rules and sign-up are here. Participants are eligible for an Amazon gift card. Deadline is March 1, 2019. Below is my list of possible reads:

1. 19th Century Classic: Silas Marner by George Eliot
2. 20th Century Classic: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (1940)
3. Classic by a Woman Author: Gaskell's Mary Barton, Uncle Tom's Cabin or Brat Farrar by Tey
4. Classic in Translation: Introduction to a Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (1609, French)
5. Classic Comic Novel: Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
6. Classic Tragic Novel: Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
7. Very Long Classic (500 pages+): Bleak House by Dickens
8. Classic Novella (-250 pages): 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne or Epic of Gilgamesh
9. Classic From the Americas: ?
10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia): On the Beach or Pied Piper by Nevil Shute, Beau Geste by P.C. Wren, or Green Dolphin Street by Goudge
11. Classic From a Place You've Lived: O Guarani by José Alencar (Brazil)
12. Classic Play: Romeo and Juliet, or Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare

I'm shooting for at least 9 of these classics this year. I have at least 4 of these in audio versions and I look forward to listening to them.


Friday, January 11, 2019

Three Short Book Reviews

Due to Christmas festivities, I didn't have time to write detailed reviews of these December reads, so here are the condensed versions:

Farmer Boy: Another wonderful entry in the series. This is the story of Almanzo Wilder who would later marry Laura Ingalls. I imagine these stories were memories he shared with Laura as she wrote the novels. Most of the memories have to do with farm chores and the delicious food he ate.

Almanzo's father is quite different from Laura's "Pa." He is a prosperous farmer and his family lacks for nothing. But that doesn't mean his children are spoiled. Although he would be considered too strict by today's standards, I really appreciated it that he let Almanzo "suffer" his way through some sticky situations. Intermixed with all the firmness is a lot of love and wise counsel. It was a pleasure to "watch" this young boy grow up!

Merchant of Venice: This is one of the most accessible Shakespeare plays I've read because I could actually remember who was who. It has some of the most famous lines in all of literature and a happy ending too. After reading this, I greatly enjoyed watching the 1996 film version on YouTube. The actor who played Shylock did a wonderful job of expressing the nuances of his character.

Finding Father Christmas: I am so used to Christian fiction being substandard that I was actually stunned that Finding Father Christmas was well-written, had likable characters, and introduced subjects of faith without preachiness. It also dealt with a difficult subject in a discreet way. (The second novella, Engaging Father Christmas continued with good writing and characterization, but was a lot sappier.)


Friday, January 4, 2019

15 Christian Books I Plan to Read in 2019

For the past two years I've participated in the Intentional Christian Reading Challenge at Goodreads. It has been a great way to attack my TBR list, especially of books that have been on my Kindle for way too long. And it has helped me to include a lot more non-fiction in my literary diet. But by trying to fit titles into pre-arranged categories, I haven't always been able to prioritize the best books. So this year I'm just making a list of the 15 books I know I should read because they are solid and nourishing and NOT just because they are stuff I want to clean off my e-reader. Here are the titles I hope to savor in 2019:

*The Pursuit of God by Tozer's Pursuit of Man by Tozer

*What's Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield
**The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
The Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis
*Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray
The Christian Mind by Blamires
**Affliction by Edith Schaeffer
The Life-Giving Home by Sally Clarkson
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
The Radical Wesley by Howard Synder
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law (1686-1781)

One asterisk means it was free for Kindle at the time of this writing; two asterisks mean it's free for Kindle Unlimited users.

In addition I'll be doing Carol's "Christian Greats" challenge. (with some overlap from above)

1)  A Book on Early Church History (up to about 500 A.D) - still to be decided, 2)  A Book About a Prominent Christian - Radical Wesley, 3) A Christian Allegory - Princess and the Goblin by Gge McDonald, 4) A Book on Apologetics - The Reason for God by Keller, 5)  A Philosophical Book - What's Wrong with the World by Chesterton,  6)  A Missionary Biography - still to be decided,  7)  A Seasonal Book - to be decided, 8)  A Novel with a Christian Theme - The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge.  9) A Good Detective or Mystery Novel - Bret Farrar by Tey, or Father Brown by G.K., 10)  A Substitute - The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Do you have any Christian classics you want to read or re-read this year?


Friday, December 28, 2018

Reading Year in Review - 2018

Although I read over 100 books this year, only about a dozen had the "wow" factor.

Books that took the most careful reading, but that paid off the most in the end were: Problem of Pain, Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity and Abolition of Man. (A big thank you to Carol B. for hosting the C.S. Lewis Read-Along.)

Most effortless fun: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, Katherine Wentworth By D.E. Stevenson, five of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the entire Thrush Green series by Miss Read.

Best audio: News of the World

Best WWII: Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon (renamed To End All Wars to match the unpleasant 2013 movie version)

Best new-to-me author: Mervyn Peake (I read his poetry, but he is better known as a novelist and painter.)

I read 10 Christian fiction titles and was not surprised that I did not love any of them. Kathryn Springer's The Hearts We Mend and Melanie Dobson's Chateau of Secrets were the best of the lot. I completed 8 (of 12) titles from my Back to the Classics challenge and 23 (of 26) from my Christian Book Challenge - although 5 were DNFs.

With the exception of News of the World, all my favorites were books that have stood the test of time. I sometimes wonder why I waste my time on the other stuff.


Friday, December 21, 2018

The One Year Chronological Bible

If your yearly reading of the Bible has become too predictable, I would highly recommend the One Year Chronological Bible to shake things up a bit. Instead of the traditional sequence of the 66 books, the Chronological Bible places them in the order they were written. The book of Job appears right in the middle of the book of Genesis.

Seeing the familiar books "out of order" definitely kept me on my toes. And it was very helpful to read passages close together that explained each other. (For example: Amaziah's foolish behavior is not spelled out in the II Kings passage, but the corresponding passage in II Chronicles makes it very clear.)

Interspersed in the stories of the wicked kings of Israel and Judah are the prophetic warnings of God's judgment from Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. I loved having I and II Samuel, I and II Chronicles, and the Davidic psalms together. (It was unsettling to have the book of Psalms all chopped up, though.) Some psalms come after the Exile.

The Song of Solomon and Proverbs are inserted during the Bible passages on Solomon's reign. Later the Epistles are woven into the book of Acts. So you can see how this Bible can be disconcerting and wonderful at the same time. It made me sit up and pay attention.

I'm very much looking forward to returning to a slower, more careful reading of the Scriptures in 2019, but I appreciated this bird's-eye view of the Bible in chronological form.


Friday, December 14, 2018

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

If literary figures can help to shape character, the Ingalls family is high on my list of exceptional candidates. In By the Shores of Silver Lake Wilder tells a simple tale of perseverance, faith, and sacrificial love as she recounts another slice of her childhood in the 1870s. In this fifth book in the series, readers are taken from the banks of Plum Creek out to the sprawling Dakota Territory.

If you are familiar at all with the series, this is the book in which Mary becomes blind due to scarlet fever, which makes this one of the best books I've ever read for teaching empathy. Although everyone is sorry for Mary, no one ever treats her like a victim. Nor does she act like one. She is expected to participate in family chores as much as she is able. Although blind, she is still able to sew more careful stitches than Laura. She often holds the baby and tells it stories so that Ma can do her own chores. It is assumed that other family members will help Mary when needed, especially Laura who was instructed by Pa to "see out loud" for her by describing scenes around them.

As in previous books, Laura is no Elsie Dinsmore. She likes exploring the wild prairie more than learning lessons on lady-like behavior. She struggles with the family expectation that she will grow up to be a teacher. But she (like everyone else in the family) always submits her desires to what is best for all of them. She learns a hard life lesson early in the book when her beloved pet dies and Pa goes west ahead of them. Laura knew then that she was not a little girl anymore. Now she was alone; she must take care of herself. When you must do that, then you do it and you are grown up. Laura was not very big, but she was almost thirteen years old, and no one was there to depend on. Pa and Jack had gone, and Ma needed help to take care of Mary and the little girls, and somehow to get them all safely to the west on a train. (14)

Without a hint of preachiness, Wilder succeeds in writing a story in which people are cheerfully overcoming difficulties and loving each other unselfishly. (How refreshing to read a story with none of the self-absorbed angst of modern Christian fiction!) In each book Ma and Pa express their differences of opinion about life out West, but they make compromises out of love for each other. In this novel Pa would like to keep going out West, but does not because he knows Ma wants to settle down so the girls can go to school. Ma would rather spend the winter back East, but gives into Pa's wish to stay at Silver Lake. Though Pa is the head of the house, he doesn't do anything without thinking of Caroline's wishes and needs.

In addition to their love story, there is plenty of adventure with wolves, blizzards and claim jumpers. And the simple eloquence of Wilder's prose is lovely: The Sun sank. A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in clouds of crimson and silver. Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, then rose in heights on heights of darkness from which the stars swung low and bright. (67)

This edifying series is not just for kids!


Friday, December 7, 2018

C.S. Lewis Quotes on Romantic Love

The idea that "being in love" is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing. . . and, of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits one to being true even if I cease to be in love. A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry. . . .

Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called "being in love" usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending "They lived happily ever after" is taken to mean "They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married," then it says what probably never was nor ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. But of course, ceasing to be "in love" need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit. Being in love first moved them to promise fidelity; this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. (from Mere Christianity)