Friday, January 19, 2018

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens


'Tis a sad gift, that much applauded thing, a constant heart. - Ella Wheeler Wilcox

This was by far my biggest literary emotional ride in 2017. I agonized with Florence's unrequited love, chortled at Dickens' sly jabs at human nature, dreaded the villains, and rejoiced with the book's true-hearted characters.

The title is ironic since the book focuses on the lives of several women. Young Florence, the main character, is rejected by her father for not being a son. Beautiful Edith has been groomed by her mother to marry for wealth. Even Alice Marwood,  a beggar's daughter, has been wrongfully used by her mother for selfish gain. The powerful secondary male characters are the prideful Mr. Dombey, the odious Carker, the gallant Walter, the devoted Toots, and the well-meaning Captain Cuttle.

Chesterton wrote that Dickens could make inanimate objects come to life in his novels and never have I seen that more than I did in Dombey and Son. The statue of the midshipman plays a prominent part in the narrative. And the descriptions of Carker's teeth are fundamental to the reader's understanding of Carker's various moods.

Capt. Cuttle and the Midshipman

I tried to watch the movie version of this book and it was too depressing. Dickens is MUCH easier to enjoy through his novels because he injects joy and hope in places that the movies have difficulty replicating. Yes, Florence's plight is horrific, but her moments of despondency are interwoven with scenes of the loving Toodle family, the humorous Captain Cuttle, and the bumbling, but loveable Mr. Toots.

Dickens makes delightful jabs at Victorian scholastic methods: It was part of Mrs. Pipchin's system not to encourage a child's mind to develop and expand itself like a young flower, but to open it by force like an oyster; he refers to this type of education as the perpetual bruising of intellectual shins. Then there are all the private jokes between the author and the reader (impossible to convey on film) like frequent mentions of Mrs. Pipchin's husband and the Peruvian mines and Captain Cuttle's precious sugar tongs. I was also amused by an early example of the phrase, "If he doesn't like it, he can lump it."

Dombey and Son has its share of unhappy situations, but the ending is satisfying. I appreciated the fact that various characters experienced redemption, but the changes in them were true to the limits of their personalities. 

My listening pleasure was doubled by the fantastic (free) narration done by Mil Nicholson at Librivox. It was worth every minute of the 40 hours.

Blessings,

Friday, January 12, 2018

Poetry of Alexander Pope - Vol 1

Thackeray called Alexander Pope (1688-1744) the greatest literary artist that England had ever seen. When I heard Professor John Sutherland say  that, "Pope is the greatest poet of the 18th century from whom elegant language flowed as easily as conversation," I figured it was time for me to become better acquainted with him. 

I was familiar with a few of his famous lines such as Behold the child, by nature's kindly law, Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw, and A little learning is a dangerous thing, drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring, but had not read any of his complete works.

I was pleased to discover a depth and richness of his poetry. Even if you don't agree with everything he writes, he's worth the effort. Many of his poems are quite long and are sometimes hard to follow, but the beauty of language kept me going.

I loved the extensive "Essay on Man," but several passages stood out to me as worthy of reading and re-reading. In epistle three, he writes uniquely about sexuality and procreation:

Each sex desires alike, 'till two are one.
Nor ends the pleasure with the fierce embrace,
They love themselves, a third time, in their race!

Who knew you could write about this topic so succinctly and beautifully (and chastely)?

If you'd like a lengthy introduction to Pope's work, Volume one is available free for Kindle. The Essay on Man is available by itself. And a smaller book of poetry is here. I liked him so much that I ordered a hard cover copy of his poems to dip into again this coming year.

(Though well-known for his satire, this volume of poetry seemed more religious and philosophical in nature. I checked out Volume One from my library (digitally) and it has a different amount of pages from the Volume One at Amazon. So I'm not even sure it's the same book.)

Blessings,

Friday, January 5, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2018


When I finished the "50 Classics in 5 Years" challenge, I wondered if I would find any additional classics of interest. Silly me! There are more classics on my TBR list now than I could read in a lifetime. So I'm glad that Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting another Back to the Classics Challenge for 2018. All the details are here. These are my 12 (subject to change) choices:

1. 19th Century Classic - Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
2. 20th Century Classic (published before 1968) - Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
3. Classic by a Woman Author - O Pioneers by Willa Cather
4. A Classic Translated from Another Language - Illiad
5. Children's Classic - Little House in the Big Woods 1/12/18
6. Classic Crime Story - Brat Farrar or Daughter of Time by Tey
7. Classic Travel/Journey Story (fiction or non) - Journals of Lewis and Clark
8. Classic with Single Word Title - Lilith by George MacDonald
9. Classic with a Color in the Title - Red Badge of Courage
10. Classic by New-to-You Author - Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
11. Classic that Scares You - Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
12. Re-read a Favorite Classic - Secret Garden by F.H. Burnett

Looking forward to a great year of reading!

Blessings,

Monday, January 1, 2018

Intentional Christian Reading Challenge 2018

If you are like me, fiction is your default setting for relaxing reading. I have to push myself to read meatier fare, especially the Christian classics. That's why I'm glad Alina at Goodreads has decided to repeat the Intentional Christian Reading Challenge this year. (Last year I read 20 titles. I'm going for 26 books in 2018. My tentative choices, which have been on my Kindle forever, are in blue.)

Here is Alina's post: For 2018, we will have the same 52 topics as we had for 2017, however, you can modify the challenge to suit your Christian reading goals.

If you are more of a LIGHT reader and feel you can commit to reading 1 book every 4 weeks, then choose 13 of the categories you would like to read.

If you feel you can read 1 book every 2 weeks, then you are an AVID reader of this challenge. Choose 26 of the categories you would like to read.

If you are a faster reader or just have more time to devote to this challenge by reading 1 book every week, then you are the COMMITTED, reader of this challenge. Read a book from each of the 52 categories - 1 per week.

If you want to be SUPER CHALLENGED, then choose two different books for each category - 2 books per week.


The 2018 list:

1. A book about Prayer - Living a Prayerful Life by Andrew Murray
2. A book about Forgiveness
3. A book by a Christian conference speaker.
4. A book by or about a Pastor's wife - The Peaceful Wife by Cassidy
5. A Christian Novel - Grounded by Angela Correll
6. A Christian Non-Fiction book - Do No Work by Andrew Gilmore
7. A Memoir - Out of the Depths by Edgar Harrell
8. A book on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) Awards list.
9. A book by or about a missionary.
10. A book by C.S. Lewis - Selected Letters of C.S. Lewis
11. A book with the word "Gospel" in the title - Gospel Formed by J.A. Medders
12. A book about Christian Living - The Overcoming Life by D.L. Moody
13. A book someone tells you "Changed My Life".
14. A book by your Favorite Christian Author - Sometimes a Light Surprises by Jamie Langston Turner
15. A book on Marriage or Singleness - Courtship in Crisis by Thomas Umstattd Jr.
16. A book longer than 400 pages.
17. A book you own but have never read. - Weakness is the Way by J.I. Packer
18. A book about a current controversial issue - Because We are Called to be Counter Culture by Platt
19. A book with a one word title - Lilith by George MacDonald
20. A book more than 100 years old or takes place more than 100 years ago - Confessions of St. Augustine
21. A book published in 2017 or 2018 - The Story of Reality by Greg Koukl
23. A book recommended by a Christian Friend - Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
24. A book about Joy or Happiness - Health, Wealth, and Happiness by David Jones
25. A book whose title comes from a Bible Verse.
26. A book on Theology - Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body
27. A book by an Indie Christian Author.
28. A book on Christian Growth.
29. A book about Church or a specific Church - Jesus Killed my Church by Bohlender
30. A book with Heaven in the title.
31. A Christian Romance novel.
32. A book about Christian Persecution.
33. A book on Spiritual Warfare.
34. A Wilbur Award winning book.
35. A book about a Religious Cult.
36. A Christian Dystopian book.
37. A book about Biblical Prophecy.
38. A book by a Christian Author you've never read before - The Shock of Night by Patrick Carr
39. A book that was a Christy Award winner.
40. A book on any of the Goodreads Christian book lists.
41. A Christian science fiction/fantasy book.
42. A book on depression.
43. A Christian fiction book with a beautiful cover.
44. A book with 100 pages or less - Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
45. A historical Christian book - Stepping Heavenward
46. A Historical Christian Fiction book.
47. A book on Evangelism - Nudge by Leonard Sweet
48. A book about a faith different than yours.
49. A book with God in the title.
50. A book with Jesus or Christ in the title - Quiet Talks about Jesus by S.D. Gordon
51. A book of the Bible - Exodus
52. A book of your choice - Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald

Thank you, Alina for hosting this challenge!

Blessings,

Friday, December 29, 2017

Reading Year in Review - 2017

By November of this year I had read over 100 books and still hadn't found "the book of the year" that I love to rave about in my year-end blog post. Happily, that changed when I read four amazing books in one month! (The first four titles listed below) Here's a recap of the "best of" 2017.

Book that brought the most unalloyed pleasure: Beauty - a Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley

Best Classic: Dombey and Son (narrated by the amazing Mil Nicholson at Librivox, worth every minute of the 40 hours!)

Best devotional classic: The True Vine by Andrew Murray. PLEASE buy this beautiful, humbling explanation of each verse in John 15 for yourself for Christmas. The e-version is less than a dollar.

Best new authors: Poet Alexander Pope (He lived from 1688 to 1744 so he was new to me, but apparently not to the rest of the world. Wikipedia says he is the most quoted man in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations next to Shakespeare. Gorgeous language !) I also enjoyed CF Newbie Amanda G. Stevens.

Best audiobooks: Watership Down, Classics of British Literature (48 lectures by Professor John Sutherland)

Biggest Duds: Pax by Pennypacker (my review), Charity's Cross by Tyndall (my review, this is why I rarely read Christian fiction)

I chipped away at my classics challenge (only 8). Maybe that's why my year was only so-so as far as quality. For my Christian Books Challenge I read 20 titles, which was my goal. Sadly, only a handful of those were worth my time.

I also completed a two-year Bible reading plan that followed the liturgical year and included Old and New Testament readings each day. LOVED IT. It required me to read the New Testament 6 times, which helped me to become more familiar with many beloved passages.

Blessings,

Friday, December 22, 2017

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley

He cannot be so bad if he loves roses so much.
 
But he is a beast, said Father helplessly.
 
Cannot a beast be tamed? (p. 139)
 
Beauty was a perfect book to read after Tolkien's On Fairy Stories. So many of the elements of "the land of FaĆ«rie" are present: the good catastrophes, the secondary world that requires spiritual eyes for seeing, and the Joy of sudden grace.

Beauty was named as a baby but has grown into a gawky teenager. She's smart, but not pretty. Wikipedia describes McKinley's heroines as feminists, but I didn't sense that the heroine in this story was out to prove anything. Unless loving books and not being gorgeous make you a women's libber.

The novel is surprisingly literary: Our father, bless him, didn't seem to notice that there was an egregious, and deplorable difference between his first two daughters and his youngest. On the contrary, he used to smile at us over the dinner table and say how pleased he was that we were growing into such dissimilar individuals; that he always felt sorry for families who looked like petals from the same flower. (p. 15)

I picked up my skirts and ran upstairs to my room as if Charon himself had left his river to fetch me. (p. 293) And, I could see the morning star shining like hope from the bottom of Pandora's box. (p. 296)

Obviously, the author loves the classics since there are many references to great literature sprinkled throughout (with a dash of Jane Eyre and a little bit of the Ugly Duckling thrown in for good measure.) Beauty loves the Greek classics. The beast's library is so magical that it includes books that haven't even been printed yet. (How fun!) Beauty revels in the stories of Sherlock Holmes and the poetry of Robert Browning although she can't understand some of the realities of their time periods.

I was very world weary when reading this book which may explain why my tears came easily at the most poignant points of the story. It seems likely that those who wrote/filmed the 1991 Disney version must have read McKinley's book (published in 1978) because they had many of the same images. But the book was better.

Pure literary comfort food.

Blessings,

Friday, December 15, 2017

The True Vine by Andrew Murray

I read a lot of average books this year, but this book broke through my literary malaise and touched me in the deepest places of my heart. In this 31-day devotional guide Pastor/Writer Andrew Murray walks the reader through the first half of John 15, verse by verse, key word by key word. His thoughts are so profound that I recommend sticking by the limit of one reading per day. There's too much to ponder otherwise.

I have always loved this passage, but Murray brought many new insights about Christ being the vine from which all our spiritual nourishment comes:

Before we begin to think of fruit or branches, let us have our heart filled with the faith that as glorious as the Vine is the Husbandman. As high and holy as is our calling, so mighty and loving is the God who will work it all. As surely as the Husbandman made the Vine what it was to be, will He make each branch what it is to be. Our Father is our Husbandman, the surety for our growth and fruit. (Day 2)

And then there is the lesson of undoubting confidence. The branch has no care; the vine provides all; it has but to yield itself and receive. (Day 3, author's emphasis)

Only a branch! Let that be your watchword; it will lead in the path of continual surrender to Christ's working, of true obedience to His every command, of joyful expectancy of all His grace. (Day 11)

I could go on with many quotes. This book would be an encouragement to any Christian, but would be particularly helpful to anyone in ministry with a tendency to try to produce fruit in their own strength (something of which I am regularly guilty.) I'm giving The True Vine to all of my siblings for Christmas. (At 99 cents for the Kindle version, you can hardly keep from buying this for yourself!) Highly recommended.

Blessings,