Monday, December 30, 2013

Reading Goals for 2014

I'm a free spirit when it comes to reading and don't like to be hampered by "must read" lists. I have learned, however, that some goals are good. (The Classics Club Challenge has kept me reading the classics even when "I didn't feel like it.") Apart from my book-a-week goal, I have only two new goals this year: To read the Bible from cover to cover and to read four Shakespeare plays.

First, It seems odd to admit it that I have never read the Bible through in a year. I have always thought disparagingly of this method, which seemed to emphasize quantity over quality. But I've heard too many friends rave over how this type of reading gives them an overview of all the major biblical themes so I want to give it a try.

Second, Carol, finally convinced me that there is a way to read Shakespeare that works. She suggests reading through the plays in one sitting (seems too obvious, but I never really thought of it.) She has two helpful posts on the subject: here and here.

I will continue to chip away at my Classics Club list and to read books that are already on my Kindle.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Reading Year in Review 2013

This was a fun year. I reached my book-a-week goal in spite of a crazy schedule (thanks to my daily subway ride.) For lack of a good library close by I read 41 books (of the 60 I read) on my Kindle. I also listened to 5 audiobooks.

Favorite new authors: Josephine Tey (The Franchise Affair) and Carroll W. Rankin (Dandelion Cottage)

Favorite "new" novel by a known and loved author: Island Magic by Elizabeth Goudge

Most Charming - The Linnet's Tale by D. C. Willard and Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson

Most  pleasant surprises (classics that I began with low expectations): Moby Dick, Emma, Master of Ballantrae

Most disappointing: Victorian author, Margaret Oliphant. (In fact, several of the authors I read for my personal Victorian challenge were a disappointment. This is probably why these obscure authors have fallen off everybody's radar.)

Hands down the most amazingbook of the year: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

It looks like I did mostly light reading, but I managed to read twelve books from my Classics Club Challenge list too.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Carol by G. K. Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

(The poem set to music can be heard  here.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Miss Buncle Married by D. E. Stevenson

I already raved about Miss Buncle's Book in a previous post so I was happy when the sequel, Miss Buncle Married, went on sale for Kindle. In Book One Barbara Buncle is a successful author (much to everyone's surprise) who happens to end up marrying her publisher (much to her own surprise). In Book Two the Abbotts move to a new city to begin their new life together and Barbara is thrown in with a whole new set of odd and delightful neighbors.

Over and over again Arthur Abbott is amazed at the perspicacity of his seemingly droll wife:

Arthur Abbott gazed at his wife in amazement, which gradually gave place to amusement - she was a priceless person, his Barbara. Life was so simple to her; she was so matter-of-fact, so absolutely and peerlessly sane. (p. 9)

The strangest thing about Barbara, Arthur reflected, the strangest thing about this strange woman who was now his lawful wedded wife, was that although she understood practically nothing, she yet understood everything. . . .  Without being conscious of it herself she was able to sum up a person or a situation in a few minutes. People's very bones were bare to her - and she had no idea of it. (p. 75)

Miss Buncle Married is a book about "friendly love" versus passion. Barbara and Arthur are supremely happy sitting in comfortable chairs, reading in the garden, just being together. Arthur's nephew falls in love with Jerry, a young penniless woman who makes a living running a horse-riding school. Here is a wonderful description of when he discovers he loves her:

Jerry took a large slice of wheaten bread, spread with golden butter, and bit into it with her small white teeth. It was a natural gesture - she was very hungry indeed - but to Sam, there was something symbolic about it. Jerry was like bread, he thought. She was like good wholesome wheaten bread, spread thickly with honest farm butter; and the thought crossed his mind that a man might eat bread forever and ever, and not tire of it, and that it would never clog his palate like sweet cakes or pastries or chocolate ├ęclairs. I do care for her, Sam thought. I do care for her - it's different. It's not so much that I'm in love with her as that I love her. I'll always care for her if she'll let me. (p. 126)

Another winner from D. E. Stevenson!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Recommendations for Lesser-Known Christmas Movies

We all know the classic Christmas films: It's a Wonderful Life (1946), A Christmas Story (1983), White Christmas (1954), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), etc. From quotes I've seen on facebook, Elf (2003) seems to be an up and coming contender too.

But I'm wondering about some of your favorites that might be less famous. . .

I enjoy the Christmas scenes in You've Got Mail and in While Your Were Sleeping. I also prefer the lesser-known Holiday Inn (1942) to it's successor, White Christmas. Another obscure film with a Christmas scene is Four Jills in a Jeep (1944) about WWII entertainers. Robert Mitchum is so romantic in Holiday Affair. (1949) Finally, The Nativity Story (2006) is a new favorite of ours.

What are some suggestions you have for films that put you in a holiday mood?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Baggy Pants by General W. E. Brougher

I was fascinated by Brougher’s WWII diary, South to Bataan, North to Mukden, when I read it in 2011.  This was a man who kept his sanity in a POW camp by reading books and writing poetry!  And the snippets of his poems were quite good.  So I was eager to get my hands on his other book, Baggy Pants and Other Stories, which was published in 1965. 

I have mixed feelings about the book.  Most of the stories are okay.  Where Brougher really shines is when he’s writing about his experiences in the war.  “Baggy Pants,” “I Was Liberated by the Russians,” and “Rook’s Nest” are exceptional.  “Gangway for the V.I.P” was a bit hokey, but still intriguing in its backhanded tribute to Skinny Wainwright.  Brougher described Wainwright’s defeat at Corregidor with poignancy:  Like Prometheus chained to the rock, the vultures pecking his vitals out, the Old Cavalryman found himself driven underground, Japanese bombers constantly overhead, pulverizing everything on the surface of the Island, and finally forcing his surrender. (p. 76)

While I didn’t love this book, I was very glad to add it to my repertoire of World War II books because of my great respect for General  Brougher’s talents and courage.  Now I’m on the lookout for his book of poetry, The Long Dark Road.

More on Brougher on this previous post.

(This post was originally published on my WWII blog 4/17/13.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lesser-Known WWII Films #3

1) Command Decision (1948) Normally, I like movies based on plays because the dialogue is superior.  This one had a bit of a slow start, but got better after the first half hour. Because it is based on a play, there are virtually no action scenes.  So tune into this one if you like to think about the war more than see it. 

Storyline:  Brigadier General Casey Dennis has lost too many pilots via bombing missions over Germany and there is a strong possibility that he will be replaced. Tension runs high between the men who oppose him and the men who support him.

Command Decision has an all star cast of veteran actors: Clark Gable, Walter Pidgeon and Van Johnson.  Unlike the pretty boy stars of Air Force (mentioned below), these guys are more weather-worn, and, frankly, they fit the part better than any fresh-faced actors would have done.

2) Air Force (1943) For many years my favorite WWII movies showcased women on the homefront holding their families together while their men were off fighting.  This film shows how far I’ve come in my WWII film journey.  The only female lead in this picture is Mary Ann, a B-17 bomber.  And it’s the story of how she and her crew flew into Pearl Harbor shortly after it was bombed.  The crew heads to Wake Island and then to the Philippines, all the while deflecting enemy bullets.  
I really enjoyed this film for the camaraderie and heroism portrayed. (I could have done without the hokey deathbed scene.) The movie was filmed soon after the war began when anti-Japanese sentiment was at an all-time high so be aware that it contains racial slurs.  

3) Confirm Or Deny (1941) - It's 1940 and London is being bombed to smithereens.  The question is not whether or not the Germans will invade, but when.  "Mitch" Mitchell is an American news correspondent who will do just about anything to get the first scoop on a story. Don Ameche is perfect as the fast-talking "get a story at any cost" reporter.

The movie has a good mixture of light and tense moments. It's a "B" movie with better than average writing and acting. A nice way to spend an evening.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I’ve been reading books about books for the last 30 years, so I thought I knew the storyline of most classics. But the surprises in Brave New World took my breath away.

Over and over again, I was stunned by Huxley’s perceptivity and prophetic power. How did he know that in the future “motherhood” would be a dirty word? How did he predict Viagra? And that promiscuity would be the new normal? Or that consumerism would be the driving force of future generations? He wrote this in 1931, for Pete’s sake!

In this new world all civilized men and women are sexually free, content in their social classes, and undisturbed by pain. The demise of conflict and suffering has brought on the demise of art and poetry because overcoming life’s obstacles is a primary source for the creation of greatness and beauty.

It’s a world devoid of pain partly because there is a pill one can pop to make it all go away.

And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now you can swallow two or three half-gram tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears-that’s what soma is. (from Chapter 17)

Into this world comes John, the Savage, who was raised away from civilization (where barbaric practices like marriage and chastity still exist). The only book he had as a child was a moth-eaten copy of Shakespeare’s plays, which enables him to counteract each astounding new discovery of the civilized world with a contrasting quote from Shakespeare. (These wonderful quotes will whet your appetite for more.)

I don’t want to spoil your reading pleasure by giving any more details. Be forewarned that this is not a “curl-up-by-the-fire-with-a-cup-of-tea” sort of book. It’s a frank look at the “perfection” of society at a terrible price: the destruction of family and freedom. Easily the most powerful book I read in 2013.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What Kind of Hero is Katniss Everdeen?

The GospelCoalition blog has an interesting post on Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games books. I read the series because there was so much debate about whether the theme of self-sacrifice outweighed the more negative themes. Here’s a brief quote:

Though she isn’t a substitutionary Christ figure, I think there’s another type to consider when looking at her story (especially in the first two installments): the suffering servant. Consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a parallel: The Hunger Games doesn’t give us an Aragorn, a warrior-king who rallies the forces of good. Instead, it gives us someone more complex and difficult, a girl who unwittingly becomes a symbol of national hope and rebellion, whose road is marked not by victory but by suffering. She’s not Aragorn; she’s Frodo. . . . .

A thought-provoking article.

Click on the titles to see my reviews of the books: Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay

Lesser-Known WWII Films #2

1) Decision Before Dawn (1951) is based on true events that happened near the end of WWII.  Allied forces, needing information on German troops, trained POWs to go back into Germany to get it.  The Americans needed the help of the spies, but at the same time despised them for being traitors. Oskar Werner plays “Happy,” a German P.O.W., who agrees to spy for the Americans when he sees his country crumbling to pieces.    Richard Basehart (Lt. Dick Rennick) plays the American who trains him and who learns to respect him. It was not my kind of movie because of the non-stop tension, but the acting was very good and Oskar Werner was convincing as the conflicted corporal.

The movie (nominated for two academy awards: Best Picture and Best Film Editing) was filmed in post-war Germany, which enhances its authentic feel.   Although replete with German "bad guys" it was one of the first post-war films to also show Germans in a sympathetic way.    

2) A Guy Named Joe (1943) I admit it, I'm a sucker for Van Johnson movies. Because I actually believe in heaven and an afterlife, I thought this movie was hokey in places, but it had an intriguing storyline and the acting was pretty good for the most part.  Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne are a couple in the first part of the movie, but he dies in battle and comes back as an angel.  Apparently he has to earn his heavenly wings by helping new pilots get their earthly ones.

Tracy is assigned to give guidance to Johnson who is on the make for Tracy’s old girlfriend.  Will she be faithful to his memory or get on with her life?  Will Tracy help or hinder?  Above average fluff.

3) The Proud And Profane (1956) is less of a war movie and more of a straight romance.  (I don’t mind romance in a war movie as long as it’s not the only focus.)  It was hard to watch William Holden being a first class jerk, but I like Deborah Kerr and decided to give the story a chance.

Holden is a tough, scrupleless  marine who sets out to compromise newly widowed Red Cross nurse Kerr.  He ends up making a huge mess of things and the “meat” of the movie comes in the last 20 minutes when various people must make decisions about whether or not to forgive those who have wronged them.  I liked the movie more because of those final minutes. If you are in the mood for a good war picture, this may disappoint you.  But if you want an interesting story with the war as a backdrop, you’ll enjoy watching these Hollywood pros in action.

4) A Walk in the Sun (1945), unlike many Hollywood pictures of the time, is not an action-packed war film.  It reminded me more of a book by Ernie Pyle, detailing the thoughts and actions of a handful of everyday soldiers.  Their platoon arrives on an Italian beach in the middle of the night and they work their way inland to capture a fortified farmhouse. This low-key drama is about the battles that go on in men’s minds and hearts as they prepare to go to war. It’s slow moving, reflective and well worth the two hour investment.