Friday, June 16, 2017

Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read

After reading four dreadful books in a row, I was desperate for something light and uplifting. Winter in Thrush Green was just the ticket.

This is my third Miss Read novel and my favorite so far. It takes place in the fictional village of Thrush Green in the 1950s. It’s very British and cozy in that there is no huge plotline. It recounts the ups and downs of the townfolk and avoids sentimentality by showing people’s faults. The characters are summed up in a few eloquent phrases that enable the reader to picture them perfectly:

Winnie Bailey had watched her neighbors, grow from children to men and women, and followed their fortunes with an interest which was both shrewd and warm-hearted.

. . . The rector of Thrush Green bore a striking resemblance to the cherubs which decorated his church and his disposition was as child-like and innocent as theirs. He was a man blessed with true humility and warm with charity. From the top of his shining bald head to the tips of his small black shoes he radiated a happiness that disarmed all comers.

My only complaint is that the author highlights so many different characters that it's hard to feel like you "know" any one person. Maybe you need to read all the Thrush Green books for that.

Miss Read was the pseudonym for British writer Dora Saint (1913-2012). She wrote novels of English rural life in two villages, Fairacre and Thrush Green. They are still so popular that they run about ten dollars for Kindle, so I was happy to pick up this title when it was marked down to $2. Some of her titles are free if you have Kindle Unlimited.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Literary Fiction Deals in E-books for June

Most of Amazon's monthly deals are fluffy pop culture titles, so I was delighted to see some heftier titles for sale this month.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries Book 5)
This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry
A Place in Time by Wendell Berry (20 Port William Stories)
Poems by C.S. Lewis
3 James Herriot classics

Rumer Godden is a non-typical author whose books I enjoy, but I rarely see them available for Kindle. So I was intrigued to find The Battle of the Villa Fiorita for $1.99. I have not read this, but reviewers at Amazon write: "This is a thought-provoking novel that explores marriage, divorce, and family life with wit and sensitivity." And "It's well-written, witty and charming, but it's also heartbreakingly sensitive." I'll be giving it a try.

P.S. If your library has Hoopla digital services, you can read most of these titles for free.


Friday, June 9, 2017

On Stories by C.S. Lewis

I've read and appreciated The Chronicles of Narnia and half a dozen other C.S. Lewis titles, but one of my favorites is his lesser known An Experiment in Criticism (which I reviewed in 2009). On Stories is a book of essays that continues with the same theme of literary taste, what it means and how it is formed.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lewis' thoughts on fairy tales, Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers and children's lit because those are subjects dear to my heart. (This is the book with the famous quote, "A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story.") He makes a valiant effort to define good art vs. bad art in his essay, "Different Tastes in Literature." The other essays (on authors and topics that were unknown to me) required perseverance. This is a perfect book for reading in short spurts, giving yourself time to mull over and digest its ideas.

Lewis had a wide range of reading tastes and mentions many authors who were popular during his lifetime but who have since dropped off the scene. The third essay was a tribute to new-to-me author E.R. Eddison. The day after I read that chapter, I saw Eddison listed on Nick Senger's list of 50 classics. (It's #22 - The Worm Ouroboros.) I love making reading connections!

Other authors mentioned by Lewis that sent me scurrying for more information were Tobias Smollet, Mervyn Weakes, John Collier and Alfred Mee. Lewis compliments Henry Rider Haggard for the first lines of the book She and H.G. Wells for When The Sleeper Awakes. He has high praise for James Stephens' Deirdre (published in 1923) and calls David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus a "shattering, intolerable, and irresistible work."  His referral to Edwin Abbott's Flatland and George William Russell's poetry also added to my "books to investigate" list. Lewis admits that some of these authors have more imagination than writing skill, but that their stories are compelling nonetheless. Happily, most are free for Kindle so it won't be an expensive to explore them.


Monday, June 5, 2017

June Non-fiction E-book Deals at Amazon

There are so many good deals this month I'm breaking them into two posts. First, I'll highlight the non-fiction deals.

Cherish by Gary Smalley ($2.99)
The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler ($1.99)
Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb (one of my favorite marriage books, 99 cents)

Bible Study
These 21 commentaries by Warren Wiersbe are $1.99 (rather than the usual $10)

BEST DEAL: Commentaries on ALL of Paul's Letters (9 books for $2!)

Old Testament:
Genesis 1-11 (Be Basic), Judges (Be Available), Ruth & Esther (Be Committed), II Samuel & I Chronicles (Be Restored), Psalm 90-150 (Be Exultant), Proverbs (Be Skillful), Ezekiel (Be Reverent), Isaiah (Be Comforted), Minor Prophets - six books (Be Amazed) three others (Be Heroic)

New Testament:
John 13-21(Be Transformed), Romans (Be Right), I Corinthians (Be Wise), II Corinthians (Be Encouraged), Galatians (Be Free), Ephesians (Be Rich), James (Be Mature), 1 John (Be Real), I Peter (Be Hopeful), II Peter, II John, III John, Jude (Be Alert)

Other Topics
We Cannot be Silent: Speaking Truth to Our Culture by Albert Mohler Jr.
In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed by HonorĂ© (secular but helpful, I reviewed it here)

My next post will be on great deals in literary fiction.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Quotes from The Picture of Dorian Gray

Last week I reviewed The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I wrote earlier that I was flabbergasted by the subtle poisonous theories that Lord Henry teaches Dorian. They sound clever and funny but within the context of the novel, they are deeply disturbing. Here are just a few examples.

The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well-written, or badly written. That is all.

Conscience and cowardice are really the same things.

I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.

The people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people. What they call loyalty and fidelity, I call lack of imagination.

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it is forbidden to have.

Youth is the one thing worth having... Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing...

To be good is to be in harmony with one's self. Ones' own life - that is the important thing.

It is better to be beautiful than to be good.

The only horrible thing in the world is ennui. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness.

Most of Lord Henry's audience do not agree with these ideas, but he spouts them out with such offhand charm, that it's hard to argue against him. Gray swallows them unreservedly and it leads to his ruin. 


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Books I read in May

Here's a recap of the books I read this month. Again, I'm putting them in order of enjoyment: most pleasant to least pleasant. Sadly, I read an unusual amount of duds this month.

On Stories by C.S. Lewis (review forthcoming)
French Women Don't Get Fat (a joyful, sensible look at food and dieting)
Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read (a nice surprise after several disappointing books in a row, review forthcoming)
Take and Give by Amanda G. Stevens (book 3 in a heart-racing series)
Creed by Winfield Bevins (the basics of the Christian faith for a biblically illiterate generation)
Death by Living - Essays on life by N.D. Wilson (I liked this, but didn't love it)
Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (reviewed here)
Reservations for Two by Hillary Lodge (Foodie/Travel romance. The first in the series was better.)
By Still Waters - vintage poetry by George William Russell
Bookshop on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry (very modern love story, NOT the cozy read implied by the cover)
The Real Adventure by H.K. Webster (100 year old vintage novel that helped plant the seeds of radical feminism in our culture, reviewed here.)


Friday, May 26, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My knowledge of Oscar Wilde was limited to his epigrams, and his fairy tales (The Selfish Giant, The Happy Prince, etc.) I had a vague idea that he'd lived a profligate life, but that didn't keep me from wanting to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. Maybe it should have.

The novel opens with Gray being painted by artist Basil Hallward. He is in the bud of youth and serves as a muse for Hallward, causing him to paint his best portrait yet. Hallward's friend, Lord Henry Wotton, wanders into the studio one day and meets Gray, enchanted by this perfect specimen of unspoiled manhood. He wonders how easy it would be to mold his character and begins to plant all sorts of half truths and sordid thoughts into the young man's mind.

It was at this point that I had to switch from the audiobook to the print version. Wotton's silver tongue and the honeyed voice of the book's narrator were too overwhelmingly convincing. I was hearing so many outright (yet wonderfully agreeable) lies that I was having difficulty dividing truth from fiction.

You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully.  When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will discover that there are no triumphs left for you. . . . Don't squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are sickly aims, the false ideals of our age. (p. 17)

It was easy to see how the impressionable young Gray became intoxicated with Hallward's hedonistic philosophy and plunged into a pursuit of worldly pleasures. His downward spiral was rather horrifying. Near the end of the novel, a few Bible verses were thrown in about reaping what you sow, but it was too little too late. I'm glad I can cross this off my Back to the Classics Reading Challenge once and for all. Not sure if I would recommend it. Wilde's writing is very, very good, but I felt emotionally and spiritually depleted after reading this title.

Next week, I'll be highlighting specific quotes from the book.