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.


Friday, January 24, 2020

Like Sorrow or a Tune: Poems by Eleanor Farjeon

When my sons  were little, I often read them a poem or two before their bedtime stories. Eleanor Farjeon was one poet who always seemed to know how to please them with her gentle rhymes and playful wit. Though Farjeon (1881-1965) is known in England as a prolific writer of poems, stories and plays, she is most known in the U.S. for penning the words to the hymn, "Morning Has Broken." And although Goodreads lists 99 of her books, my Michigan library had access to just one of them.

Like Sorrow or a Tune is a compilation of her poems written for children and adults. It contains quite a bit of biographical information and a smattering of her lesser-known poetry.

Sometimes she reminds me of Emily Dickinson with her compact profundity: Words and the body have always been much pain to me, little fetters and drags on immensities.

But other rhymes are beautiful in their simplicity:

When the heat of the summer made drowsy the land,
A dragonfly came and sat on my hand,
With its blue jointed body and wings like spun glass, 
It lit on my fingers as though they were grass.

If you enjoy good children's poetry, I hope you can find Farjeon in your local library. I don't recommend this particular book as the best place to start because it seemed like an odd assortment, but it does give a bit of insight into her adult poetry.

The title of the book comes from one of her most famous poems for children:

The night will never stay,
The night will still go by, 
Though with a million stars
You pin it to the sky, 
Though you bind it to the blowing wind
And buckle it to the moon,
The night will slip away,
Like sorrow or a tune.


Friday, January 17, 2020

Two "Beautiful" Movies (Worthwhile Movies #19 and #20)

I saw my two favorite movies of 2019 back to back. Two weeks before Christmas my husband and I went to see "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" with Tom Hanks. We usually enjoy anything Hanks does, but I was nervous about how Mr. Rogers might be portrayed. Would they make him look like a total goofball? Would they try so hard to show that he had feet of clay that we would lose our respect for him?

Thankfully, none of those fears were realized. The story is just as much about the hard-nosed reporter sent to interview Rogers as it is about Rogers. The juxtaposition of their two lives gave a wonderful texture to the film. Never too harsh. Never too sweet. The filming was beautiful. Roger's faith was not ignored. Frankly, it's been years since I've felt that good coming out of a movie.

Then a week later, I watched This Beautiful Fantastic. (Amazon Prime). It's quirky beginning requires you to suspend disbelief from the get-go, and the result is a magical ride through the life of recluse Bella Brown (played wonderfully by Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton Abbey). Bella has anxiety issues and only leaves home to work in the library. But through a series of encounters with other unconventional people, she learns to live life more fully. It's a wonderful tale of the messiness of life and of relationships, and yet it celebrates it all. The music, the filming, and the dialogue are top-notch, and I can't wait to watch it again. (Beware of some swearing.)

What was your favorite film in 2019?


Friday, January 10, 2020

Reading Goals for 2020

My reading challenges for 2019 were a complete bust (too much time in transition) so I hesitate to make new lists, but I've decided on several light goals.

First of all, I want to slow down and re-read several favorite books. (Wind in the Willows, Persuasion, etc.) I don't do this enough because I'm always anxiously pursuing my next book. I don't want to ANXIOUSLY read anything this year.

Secondly, I want to continue the Fairacre series by Miss Read. (more unhurried reading)

Thirdly, I want to read 10 literary classics. Not too daunting considering that I have several of them in audio book form. These are books that feed my soul and I need to make them a priority. (Anna Karenina and Silas Marner are two titles I hope to read.)

Fourthly, I want to always have a Christian classic on hand to read for a few minutes after my daily Bible reading. (Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer, etc.)

What about you? Any goals for the year? How did you meet last year's goals?


Friday, January 3, 2020

Reading Year in Review - 2019

I was in transition for most of the year so I wasn't able to read as deeply as I usually do. But being in the U.S for eight months meant I had access to a greater variety of books. Out of the 90 books, these are the ten that made the biggest impression on me.

Hardest to read but worth the effort: Island of the World by Michael D. O'Brien. An achingly sad and beautiful book. I appreciate the ability of Catholic authors to include suffering in their fiction without facile answers. But I struggled at times to identify with the more mystical elements of Obrien’s book. Still, this is some of the best storytelling you will ever read.

Not my favorite, but the one the made the biggest difference in my thinking: The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield (reviewed here)

Another book that deeply affected my thinking: The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (reviewed here)

Favorite non-fiction: The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller (reviewed here)

Favorite vintage novel: Fair Harbor by Joseph Crosby Lincoln (reviewed here)

Favorite re-read: The Damerosehay Trilogy by Elizabeth Goudge. "Loving well is true artistry."

Biggest surprise: Poetry as Means of Grace by Charles Grosvenor Osgood. The poets, in this case, are Dante, Milton, Spenser, and Johnson. Osgood wrote to men preparing for ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1940, and he asserts that the writings of these four men will "illustrate, reinforce, verify, and illuminate" the Bible.

Absolute favorite of the year: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (reviewed here)

Honorable mention goes to the C.S. Lewis titles that I read along with blogging friend, Carol B: Miracles and The Great Divorce

What about you? What were your favorite books of the year?