Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Classics Club Challenge

Jillian is hosting a great book challenge : to read 50 classics within the next five years.  Since I try to get in a good dose of classics, ten per year sounds like a reachable goal.  Here are the books that I plan to read.  I own most of these (either on my book shelf or on my Kindle) so I like it that I'm attacking my TBR stacks. Some of the titles are obscure books by famous authors. Others are newer classics (Wendell Berry and Elizabeth Goudge).  A few are Christian classics.

The books I'm hoping to read are:

1. 1984 - Orwell 6/8/13 ****
2. Adam Bede - George Eliot 9/12/13 ****  
3.  Adventures of Huck Finn – Twain 8/4/14 ****
4. Adventures of Ulysses - Charles Lamb 5/12/14 *****
41. Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton 9/28/16 ***
5. Black Beauty - Sewell 2/15/13 ***
6. Cranford - Gaskell 6/22/16 ****
7. The Claverings - Trollope 5/6/13 ***
8. Cy Whittaker’s Place – J. C. Lincoln 7/7/13 ****
9. Cyrano de Bergerac – Edmond Rostand (re-read) 5/29/12 *****
10.  A Daughter of the Land – Gene Stratton Porter (switched to The Harvester  by same author)11/14/12 **
11. David Copperfield - Dickens 3/27/14 ****
12. Daniel Deronda – George Eliot 7/2/12 ***
13. Don Quixote – Cervantes 6/20/12 (read 328 pages, DNF) *
14.  Emma - Austen 6/7/13 ****
15. The Elusive Pimpernel – Orczy 12/22/16 **
16. Eugenics and other Evils – G. K. Chesterton 1/15/17 ***
17. Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald 5/12/16 ***
18. Gulliver's Travels - Swift 10/1/12 ** (DNF, listened to 5 of 9 hours)
19. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain  8/4/14 ****
20. Heart of the Family – Goudge (re-read)
2    21. The History of Mr. Polly by H.G. Wells 8/3/12 **
22. The Hobbit - Tolkien  12/5/12 *****
23.  Island Magic – Elizabeth Goudge 10/2/13 *****
24. Jane Eyre  - Charlotte Bronte (re-read) 3/8/17 *****
25. Jayber Crow – Wendell Berry 8/12/13 ****
26. Life Together – Bonhoeffer (re-read) 11/20/12 ****
27. Mansfield Park – Austen (re-read) 5/14/12 *****
28. Moby Dick - Melville 3/28/13 *****
29. Moonstone - Wilkie Collins 1/18/12
30. Midsummer Night's Dream - Shakespeare 8/18/14 **
31. North and South by Gaskell 5/21/16 ****
32.   Our Mutual Friend - 1/29/15 *****
33. Paradise Lost - John Milton - 4/21/15 *****
34. Pilgrim’s Inn – Goudge (re-read)
35. Pilgrim’s Progress – Bunyan (re-read) 4/22/16 ****
36. Pinocchio by Collodi - 4/15/15 * 
37. A Pair of Blue Eyes – Hardy 3/29/13 **
38. Return of the King – Tolkien 11/25/12 *****
39. Room with a View - E.M. Forster 9/13/12 ***
40. Ruth – Elizabeth Gaskell 5/9/13 **
42. Mill on the Floss – George Eliot 1/21/17 ***
43. Story of the Odyssey - Alfred J. Church 5/12/14 ****
44. Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë 10/12/13 ****
45. Tess of the Durbervilles - Thomas Hardy 5/28/14 ***
46. Two Gentleman of Verona by Shakespeare 4/20/14 **
47. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee 10/20/16 *****
48. Treasure Island by R.L.Stevenson 4/10/14 ****
49. Two Years Before the Mast - Dana 10/10/12 DNF**
50. Wind in the Willows (re-read) 10/3/12 *****

Alternate titles: Bleak House or Dombey and Son - Dickens, Godliness by Booth, East of Eden, Anna Karenina, Island of the World, The Trees by Conrad Richter, Man in the Iron Mask, House of Seven Gables, Picture of Dorian Gray, Scarlet Letter, Shakespeare...

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Dean's Watch by Elizabeth Goudge

Adam Ayscough’s miserable childhood led him to seek God.  Isaac Peabody’s wretched childhood made him reject Him.  The Dean's Watch recounts their slow and painful journey toward friendship and healing. 

Adam is the dean of a great cathedral in an unnamed English city.  His ugly appearance and natural shyness cause people to avoid him.  Yet he is a man with a capacity to love deeply.  He lavishes that love on his unresponsive wife and on the city (as he crusades for reforms).

One of his only friends is the lonely spinster, Miss Montague.  She challenges the Dean to “take a little joy” by risking to love people.  “The contemplation of sunsets and vegetable matter has its serene pleasure, and involves no personal exertion, but I think that is not what you want in your old age.” (220)  As he takes her advice, he finds that “Life had taken on a strange richness. . . .  Until now life for him had meant the aridity of earthly duty. . . .  Now he was aware of something else, a world that was neither earth nor heaven, a heartbreaking, fabulous, lovely world. (p. 193)

His new world is heartbreaking because in it he becomes acquainted with other people’s pain.  He himself pays a heavy price to alleviate their suffering.   The recurring theme in the book is the transforming power of sacrificial love.

Goudge’s writing is top-notch.  Here she describes the atheist clock maker:

It was there in the window, finished five days ago, the best clock that Isaac had ever made.  He had thought that he would not be able to put it in the window, so much did it seem to be a part of himself, yet suddenly he had put it there, in the center, the other clocks grouped about it like lesser stars about the moon.  He had put it there because it was Christmas.  To him it was only a fairy tale that love had leaped from heaven on fire for the manger and the cross, but tales are potent things and this one was in his blood, and so he had to do it; he had to give his best to the city. (247)

You start the book thinking the title is about a timepiece, but end it knowing it is about a man’s vigilant love for his city. Definitely one of my top ten favorite books of all time.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Elizabeth Goudge Books

One of my goals for the New Year was to read more Elizabeth Goudge.  A quick look at Amazon showed that most of the ones I wanted were more than $20 so I zipped over to AbeBooks and found that I could get four titles for the same amount: The Child from the Sea, Pilgrim's Inn, The Heart of the Family, and The Dean's Watch.  What a treasure trove!

Child From the Sea is the only book in the stack that I haven't read before.  I am very happily entrenched in The Dean's Watch and will be writing a review soon.

Friday, April 13, 2012

St. Paul's Cathedral in Wartime by W. R. Matthews

I know I’m strange.  Jeff Shaara’s WWII novel left me cold. But this obscure non-fiction book about middle-aged men who valiantly protected St. Paul’s during the war made my heart sing. 

I had always heard that Churchill insisted that St. Paul’s Cathedral be preserved at all costs.  Saint Paul's Cathedral in Wartime highlights how it was done.  The author was the dean of St. Paul’s at the time, and he and two hundred volunteers formed “The Watch” to vigilantly put out any fires that came near the church. 

On December 29, 1940 twenty-eight incendiary bombs fell on St. Paul’s.  Watchers from a nearby building thought the cathedral was doomed and news correspondent Edward R. Murrows announced on the air that the church has been destroyed.  But it hadn’t been.  In spite of lack of water from broken water mains, the watchers put out the fires before any permanent damage could result.  That night the most famous picture of the cathedral was taken, the one in which it is shrouded in smoke from the fire bombs.

The next morning almost every building around the cathedral was gone, but St. Paul’s towered over the wreckage as if representing the invincibility of the English against the German war machine.

Because this book was written in 1946, the stories seem fresh and give you a feel for what it was like to have been there.  I heartily enjoyed reading about the quiet heroism of these volunteers whose love for St. Paul’s caused them to risk their lives on a daily basis.   

Friday, April 6, 2012

G. K. Chesterton Quotes on Christianity

(Culled from  Kevin Morris’ anthology of the religious writings of Chesterton, The Truest Fairy Tale.)

Religion is exactly the thing that cannot be left out – because it includes everything. (Chapter 20)

Christianity rests on two or three paradoxes or mysteries which can easily be impugned in argument and as easily justified in life. One is the paradox of hope or faith – that the more hopeless is the situation the more hopeful must be the man. . . .   Another is the paradox of charity or chivalry that the weaker a thing is the more it should be respected, that the more indefensible a thing is the more it should appeal to us for a certain kind of defense.  (Chapter 9)

One of the very practical and working mysteries in the Christian tradition is the conception of the sinfulness of pride.  Pride is a weakness in the character; it dries up laughter, it dries up wonder, it dries up chivalry. (Chapter 9)

Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.  Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.  The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and eclipse.  For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment.  Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.  (Chapter 12)