Friday, June 23, 2017

81 Famous Poems

I love poetry anthologies, but am often dismayed by the inclusion of modern stuff that can barely be called poetic. (See my review of The Poet's Corner, for one example.) What a treat to find this audio compilation via my library's digital services.

No fluff here. The poems are all bona fide classics ranging from Milton’s “On His Blindness” to Blake’s “Little Lamb Who Made Thee?” to Robert Burn’s “To a Mouse.” If you want an education on the best-of-the-best, you need go no further. Alexander Scourby, Nancy Wickwire, and Bramwell Fletcher are all exceptional narrators. (A sample of Scourby reading "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" is here.)

I remember needing my college professor to explain “My Last Duchess,” but if I had heard this audio version, I would have had NO DOUBT as to Browning’s subtle meanings. This is probably the most powerful poem in the bunch because of the outstanding narration.

My enjoyment of the readings was enhanced by the fact that I was already acquainted with most of them. (If you are not familiar with them, it would take several listens to get their gist.) A particular favorite is Tennyson’s “The Eagle:”

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Apparently there is no book form of this compilation. It’s a supplement to the larger Norton Anthology of Poetry, third edition. The version I listened to said it was put out by BBC audio, which may explain why it is so top-notch. If you already love good poetry, or would like to become more knowledgeable, this is a lovely opportunity to plunge in. Highly recommended.


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 Honoré (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.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson

Misleading Cover
I've written before that I enjoy D.E. Stevenson's novels for their good writing, friendly conversation and emphasis on comfortable romance (as opposed to goose bumps, sweaty palms and racing hearts). I picked up The Young Clementina because I was in need of a light-hearted diversion. The cover led me to believe it was written in the same vein as the Miss Buncle books, but I was quite mistaken.

The Young Clementina caught me off guard because 1) It is not light-hearted. Most of the characters have been broken by war, sin or loneliness. 2) The title is completely wrong. Young Clementina plays a part in the story, but is not its main focus. 3) It has a lot more drama than I'm used to in Stevenson's books.

Accurate Cover
The book opens with Charlotte Dean, a lonely spinster, who works in a stuffy London library. She is on the verge of making a huge life decision. Should she give up her quiet, orderly life and raise her motherless god child, Clementina? Since she has no one to talk to (all her friends and family are either dead or estranged,) she pours out her heart (in writing) to a stranger she met on a bus. She doesn't even know the stranger's name, but hopes that expressing her thoughts to a "friend" will help clarify her thinking. A pitiful scenario.

I dislike spoilers very much, so I will finish by saying that Miss Dean comes through her trials a stronger, better person. If I had known that this was Stevenson's attempt at a more serious novel, my expectations would have been different, and I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.


Friday, May 12, 2017

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Many classics can be read with delight, but The Scarlet Letter is not one of them. Yet even though it is not beautifully written, it is a compelling and powerful novel.

Most people are familiar with the story. Hester Prynne is punished for adultery by being forced to wear an embroidered letter "A" on her clothing, "to be a living sermon against sin." She refuses to divulge the name of her lover to the governing body of the Puritan community and alone suffers public humiliation and ostracization for her iniquity. The unrevealed lover suffers his own private agony because of unconfessed sin.

Even though I read it in college, I could not remember why it was considered the great American novel. So I was glad to find a study guide from my library to remind me. The guide helped a little, but emphasized the book's ambiguity more than anything.

What struck me most was that Hester calmly and coldly accepted her punishment, but never really seemed to repent. In fact, the book emphasizes that the more she withdrew from society, the more she "wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness." The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers - stern and wild ones - and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss. (111) This leaves the reader to wonder if it was Hester's fault or the community's. If they had embraced her instead of shunned her, could she have been redeemed?

Here comes the ambiguity. In all her shame and loneliness, Hester visits the sick and the poor. The scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on the nun's bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness... (p. 91) She is even compared to the Madonna and child as she stands with her baby outside the prison.

How I wished I could go back in time and listen to my professor at Asbury explain this book to me. Freedom vs. authority, the wages of sin, and the role of community in regulating morality are just a few of the themes which Hawthorne offers as fascinating fodder for thought.


Monday, May 8, 2017

May E-book Deals at Amazon - Cozy Mysteries

Not a whole lot to recommend on Amazon's e-book deals this month. There are quite a few cozy mysteries for $1.99. But beware. Sometimes they are so cozy, that they are silly. I've only read (and liked) one of these authors (Deering). I suggest downloading a free sample of the book before buying it. And be sure to check with your library. I saw that both Deering titles are now available as free digital downloads through Hoopla from my Michigan branch.

Tea with Milk and Murder by H.Y. Hanna
Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanna Fluke
Twisted Threads by Lea Wait
Moving is Murder by Sara Rosett
Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering
Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander
Dressed for Death by Julianna Deering
Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa (much grittier than the others on the list, but I read a good review of it in WORLD magazine)
Shipshewana Amish Mystery Collection by Vanetta Chapman
Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O'Connor

Ann Cleeves has six mystery titles on sale. She's British which is in her favor, but I don't know how clean she is.

Also, I've read mostly good reviews of The Secret of Humming Cake, which is only $1.99, but I'm put off by a couple of reviewers' comments such as, "it's an easy read" and "it had a few good life lessons." Is it typical Christian drivel?


Friday, May 5, 2017

Joel Belz on Words (from WORLD Radio 4/26/17)

Mark Twain once said the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. Tis the difference, he said, between the lightening bug and the lightening…

When God called on Adam to name all the animals, our Creator was putting on a dual demonstration. On the one hand he was showing off the penultimate aspect of his incredibly imaginative handiwork. But on the other hand, God was also apparently eager to show Adam the critical importance of language and words as tools for the stewardship of the new creation. To this day both are wonderful gifts from God – creation itself, and the words to describe, analyze, understand, develop and enhance it. Words are intended to make distinctions. That’s why you need so many of them. For Adam aardvark meant one thing, antelope another, ant still another, and ant eater meant something radically different.

It is key to the human experience to use words to make distinctions. By contrast think about the distinction between words and other art forms. Great paintings, concertos, ballet performances and even baseball games are typically powerful not because of the specificity of what they portray but precisely because of their ambiguity. “I see this in it,” says one observer. “But I see something totally different,” says another. Words, too, can be ambiguous, but in the end are meant to distinguish, sort out, to help us to say “this,” not “that.” It’s the reason after all that we run for the dictionary. It is also why we crave wordy critics after visiting the art museum, going to a concert, watching a ballet, or going to a baseball game. Words crystallize the blur of our experience.

(Thoughts from Joel Belz excerpted from WORLD's daily news podcast)


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Books I Read in April

This month I'm listing the books in a different order - not sequentially, but experientially. The first is the one I enjoyed the most and the last the least. Almost everything I read last month was disappointing, but there's always a new month and new books to explore. Onward! Titles in blue were free for Kindle at the time of this posting.

1) The Singing Sands by Tey (reviewed here)
2) Lady Rose's Daughter - Mrs. Humphry Ward (vintage fiction with substance, reviewed here)
3) Be Reverent by Wiersbe  (commentary on Ezekiel, reviewed here)
4) The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne (I did not love this, but appreciated its important themes, review forthcoming)
5) The Cross of Christ by Murray (Maybe I was just too distracted to get into this title. I usually love Murray)
6) The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson (one of the few Stevenson titles I have not loved, review forthcoming)
7) On the Way to the Cross - Oden (just okay)
8) At the Time Appointed - Anna Maynard (vintage fiction, I put this near the end because I can't even remember what it was about. Not a good sign of a great book. Here's my review at Goodreads)
9) Love by the Letter - Jagears (Ugh, typical Christian fiction, reviewed here)


Friday, April 28, 2017

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey

I was already an admirer of Josephine Tey because of  The Franchise Affair (reviewed here), but The Singing Sands knocked my fandom up to the next level.

Alan Grant works for Scotland Yard and is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. He catches a train, looking forward to a much needed vacation, only to discover a dead body in compartment B-7.

Who is the dead man? How and why did he die? Typical questions for a mystery novel. But the book diverges from the commonplace with it's atypical detective. The protagonist makes this novel twice as interesting as he struggles with his various demons. Conversations he has with his alter ego are laugh-out-loud funny. Even after the name of the dead man becomes known, in Grant's mind he is often referred to as "B-7." I loved how the mystery helped lead him to healing and wholeness.

All of the characters are wonderfully drawn. The writing is top-notch:

Grant had the island to himself, and for five days in the company of the whooping wind, he quartered his bleak kingdom. It was rather like walking a bad-mannered dog; a dog that rushes past you on narrow paths, leaps on you in ecstasy so that you are nearly knocked over, and drags you from the direction in which you want to go. (p. 86)

Charmingly British, The Singing Sands was Tey's last novel. Alas, no more Alan Grant! In spite of some off-color language, this is a splendid read.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper

Don't Waste Your Life is John Piper's call to modern-day believers to a more radical faith walk. In spite of the choppy, repetitive first half of the book, I appreciated his clear-sighted proclamation of a personal righteousness that affects EVERY area of our lives.

Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. (p. 71)

If Christ is an all-satisfying treasure and promises to provide all our needs, even through famine and nakedness, then to live as though we had all the same values as the world would betray him. (p. 107)

1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." Why don't people ask us about our hope? The answer is probably that we look as if we hope in the same things they do. I am wired by nature to love the same toys the world loves. I'm tempted to call earth "home" and to call luxuries "needs" and to use money the way that unbelievers do. (p. 109, 112)

My Calvinist friends emphasize God's sovereignty and glory. My non-Calvinist friends focus on His love and grace. But the Bible doesn't give us this either/or option. According to Piper, the sole motivation of the Christian life is to live for God's glory. I'm not against the theme of this book. My daily, hourly prayer is that my life will honor and glorify God. But it's because I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30) And because He loved me when I was completely unworthy of his love. (Rom 5:8) I was astounded at the pains Piper took to evade the word "love" in relationship to God. In fact, the only time he uses it is in the negative sense:

So here is the question to test whether you have been sucked into this world's distortion of love: Would you feel more loved by God if he made much of you, or if he liberated you from the bondage of self-regard, at great cost to himself, so that you enjoy making much of him forever? (p. 36) In other passages he talks of "treasuring" Christ rather than loving Him.

Yes, I agree that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. Yes, "His name and renown is the desire of my heart" (Is 26:8), but I am dumbfounded by statements Piper makes such as, There is no greater joy than joy in the greatness of God. What about His goodness? His steadfast love is the sustaining lifeblood of every Christian. Surely, those who understand His costly love (not the cheap grace that Piper must be referring to) are the most likely to spend and be spent for His glory. (2 Cor 12:15)

Any thoughts on this?


Friday, April 14, 2017

The Lilac Girl by Ralph Henry Barbour

Life was quiet, but far from humdrum. On the still, mirrored surface of a pool even the dip of an insect’s wings will cause commotion. So it was in Eden Village. On the placid surface of existence there the faintest zephyr became a gale that raised waves of excitement; the tiniest happening was an event. It is all a matter of proportion.

I’ve written before about my mixed feelings over vintage novels. Though clean and quaint, they are often overly sentimental. There are exceptions, of course, and I’m glad to say that Lilac Girl is one of them. At first I wasn't so sure. In the very first chapter an awkward phrase made the English major in me bristle up. Then there is a ridiculous instance of a man declaring his passion for a woman he has just met. But in subsequent chapters he sees his foolishness. My initial prejudice against the story was soon overcome by its charm.

Wade Herrick and his best friend Ed Craig are partners in a mining enterprise in Colorado. When Ed dies of typhoid, he wills his little house back East to Wade. Wade spends his summer there and learns to love the people of Eden Village, particularly his neighbor Evelyn Walton.

Ralph Henry Barbour (1870-1944) wrote sports novels for boys and occasionally forayed into romantic fiction. Could this be why the book isn’t overly sappy? In any case, I loved it that the protagonists were never coy or excessively insecure. Their conversations were friendly, open and honest – such a breath of fresh air after two recent books I read in which the opposite was true (The Elusive Miss Ellison and Vienna Prelude).

In spite of the ever present question in the mind of anxious readers (“Will he win her?”), an undercurrent of humor makes the book a delightful, light-hearted read. From the hymn-singing maid, to the poetry-quoting old doctor, to a calico cat named Alexander the Great, there are plenty of light moments to balance the heavier ones.


Monday, April 10, 2017

April E-book Deals at Amazon

I combed through this month's offerings at Amazon and found a few good titles:

Fiction: Old Yeller, Jacob I Have Loved by Paterson, and Melanie Dickerson's retellings of fairy tales. (The Fairest Beauty for 99 cents, Silent Songbird, Beautiful Pretender, and Huntress of Thornbeck Forest for $1.99)

Biography: Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story (99 cents), and Sully

Christian Interest: He Chose the Nails by Max Lucado, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, and Integrity by Henry Cloud


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Genius of Jane Eyre

As an INTJ I rarely gush, but I could jabber like a fool about Jane Eyre. I've read it so many times that I've lost count. I remember writing a paper about the book for my Freshman Composition class in college and having my professor scoff at my infantile gleanings. Whatever.

Thirty-five years later I may not be any more of a literary expert, but I am certainly much more familiar with its main characters and themes. I've read the Brontë family canon and various books about the siblings, but Jane Eyre still stands out to me as the brightest of the family gems.

It's stunning to think that a sheltered pastor's daughter in Victorian England was capable of such beautiful writing, witty repartee, and insights into human nature. This time through I saw dozens of metaphors. parallels, and incidents of foreshadowing that I never noticed before. If you've never read Jane Eyre, please read no farther because I'll be including spoilers.

I loved it that the previous owner of my copy of Jane Eyre
had marked one of my favorite passages.
My favorite discovery was looking up the meaning of Bridewell, one of Rochester and Blanche's charades in Chapter 18. Oh my word! Is it just a coincidence that Bridewell was the first English prison? Could the reference possibly refer to Rochester as a prisoner in a loveless marriage?

Several rich contrasts hit me for the first time in this reading: Jane visited her dying aunt in the room where she had been sent as a child to ask forgiveness for wrongs she had never done. Eight years later she gives her full and free forgiveness there. Then there were the two horrible Reed sisters vs. St. John's sisters. And both Rochester and Jane disdain the worth of their rivals so much as to not be capable of feeling any real jealousy (Miss Vale's lover and Blanche Ingram respectively.) Both St. John Rivers and Mr. Rochester exert a certain power over Jane. She gladly calls one of them her "master" and retains her own identity in his company, but she says of Rivers, "vivacity in me was distasteful to him. I did not enjoy my servitude."

I loved all these revelations because it shows high tightly-knit the story is. It's MUCH more than a  Victorian sensation novel. Someday I'd like to read the annotated version. I'm sure it would reveal even more of Brontë's genius.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Books I read in March

Thanks to the Intentional Christion Reading Challenge at Goodreads, I read three non-fiction books this month. My two favorite fiction titles were Around the World in 80 Days and The Lilac Girl. (both free for Kindle download) Here is a list of all the books...

The Language of Sparrows by Rachel Phifer - better than average Christian fiction
Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love by Homan and Pratt - reviewed here
Jane Eyre - audiobook, a delightful re-read (for the umpteenth time)
Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias - a thought-provoking book about living the faith we believe, reviewed here
The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller - okay
Around the World in 80 Days - audiobook, reviewed here
Vienna Prelude by the Thoenes - Christian historical fiction/WWII
The Lilac Girl by Barbour - better than average vintage fiction (review forthcoming)
Don't Waste Your Life by Piper (review forthcoming)



Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias

I was delighted with the premise of Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias. He writes, "I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. Apologetics is seen before it is heard."

The book address three components of discipleship: Giving an Answer (addressing the questions of non-believers), Internalizing the Questions and Answers (spiritual transformation), and Living out the Answers. I have to admit I was hoping for more emphasis on the third component since that is what the title implies, but much of the text is given over to apologetics and thus requires a slow, careful reading.

Beyond Opinion covers everything from the authority of scripture, atheism, Islam, the "science vs. faith" dilema, to the importance of understanding the Trinity in order to defend one's faith.

The lack of trinitarian thinking and preaching has exacerbated the prevailing individualism of our culture and has brought it right into our Christian life and practice. If we do not think of God as a relational being in himself, we cannot appreciate the point that we are made to reflect his image in our relationships with one another. (p. 246)

The most helpful chapters to me were on Islam (written by Sam Soloman, a Muslim scholar who later converted to Christianity), Buddhism and Hinduism. I was fascinated by Stuart McAlister's story of imprisonment (for handing out Bibles in a communist country) and his subsequent realization that his theology of suffering was completely inadequate. Chapter 13 (Idolatry, Denial and Self-Deception) was more psychological and didn't quite seem to fit with the others, but every chapter had important ideas to mull over. I even highlighted many of the footnotes.

Great quotes:

The task of the apologist is plainly and simply to remove the doubts and point people to the cross.

Tossing a verbal grenade down the chimney chute will not do.

This is the age of therapy, the domination of market values, where looking good and feeling good replace being good and doing good - and most people don't know the difference.

Our role is to win the person, not the argument.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting a Back to the Classics Challenge for 2017 (I was so late finding out about it that sign-ups are now closed, but I still plan to do it.) Because of the original challenge (50 Classics in 5 years ), I read 48 books on my list! I loved having the gentle pressure to keep chipping away at my goals. As I neared the end of the challenge, I looked around for a new one and found Karen's today. I have many classics I still want to read so I'm adapting some of them to her requirements.

1.  A 19th century classic - The Scarlet Letter (1850). 4/25/17
2.  A 20th century classic - The Heart of the Matter (1948) 
3.  A classic by a woman author. - Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery 6/20/17
4.  A classic originally published in another language.  - The Iliad
5.  A classic originally published before 1800. - Shakespeare play/Merchant of Venice
6.  A romance classic. by Trollope or Gaskell (Mary Barton?)

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. Picture of Dorian Gray 5/21/17
8.  Classic with a Number in the TitleAround the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne 3/16/17
9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  - Old Yeller
10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. (real or imaginary) - Secret Garden (re-read)
11. An award-winning classic - John Adams by David McCullough (Pulitzer)

12. A Russian classic. – Anna Karenina by Tolstoy

Other classics I hope to read in the next ten years:
13. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
14. Augustine's Confessions
15. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace
16. The Betrothed by Manzoni
17. Bleak House by Dickens
18, 19. Two Brazilian Classics (O Guarani? Jorge Amado or Machado de Assis)
20. Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky
21. Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
22. Chronicles of Wasted Time by Muggeridge
23. The Daughter of Time by Tey
24. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon
25. The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper
26. Divine Comedy by Dante
27. Dombey and Son by Dickens
28. East of Eden by Steinbeck
29. Everlasting Man by Chesterton
30. Far from the Madding Crowd by Hardy
31. Holy Living and Holy Dying by Jeremy Taylor
32. The Inferno by Dante
33. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
34. Journal of a Plague Year by Defoe
35. Journals of James Cook
36. Journals of Lewis and Clark
37. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
38. Kon-Tiki by Heyerdahl
39. Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
40. Lilith by George MacDonald
41. Jungle Book by Kipling
42. Lark Rise to Candleford
43. Madame Bovary by Flaubert
44. Man in the Iron Mask by Dumas
45. Martian Chronicles by Bradbury
46. Morte d'Arthur by Malory
47. O Pioneers! (or My Antonia) by Willa Cather
48. Phantastes by George MacDonald
49. Princess and Curdie (re-read)
50. Red Badge of Courage by Crane
51. Rise of Silas Lapham by Howells
52. The Story of my Life by Keller
53. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
54. (Something by Solzhenitsyn)
55. Things Fall Apart by Achebe
56. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
57. Walden by Thoreau
58. War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
59. The Way We Live Now by Trollope 
60. Water Babies by Kingsley (re-read)

Alternate titles: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Irving, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Pickwick Papers, Shakespeare, Origin of the Species by Darwin, Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost  by Porter (re-read), Father Brown stories, Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Scarlet Pimpernel (re-read), Pursuit of God by Tozer, Fahrenheit 451 (re-read), All Quiet on the Western Front, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Foundation by Asimov, William Law's The Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, House of Seven Gables, Augustine's City of God, Against Heresies by Irenaeus, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Silas Marner, Little Women, Watership Down, Where the Red Fern Grows, Poetry by Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost


Friday, March 24, 2017

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

I didn't enjoy Around the World in 80 Days the first time I tried to read it, but when my sister told me it was one of their family favorites, I decided to give it another try. It helped that the second time around I listened to the audible version, wonderfully narrated by Patrick Tull. Tull is British, but does a great job with Passepartout's French accent, and also with the gruff American voices.

Phileas Fogg leads a quiet life, living alone (except for his valet), frequenting his men's club and living by the clock. His previous valet was fired for bringing him shaving water at 84 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 86. All of that changes when he wagers that he can circumnavigate the world in eighty days. The story takes place in 1872 when most modes of transportation were extremely unreliable, so the men in the club are eager to bet against him. Although he encounters many obstacles on his journey, he remains delightfully unperturbed. Even when he's accused of a crime and hunted by a determined English detective.

The whole story pokes fun at British exactness (and later at American energy/ingenuity). It is a nice light-hearted read if you are looking for clean, escapist literature. There are damsels in distress (in India), gun fights with Indians (in America), kidnappings (on the high seas), and other hair-raising adventures. And a good dose of humor.

Is Fogg a criminal? Or just an eccentric? Will he fall in love with the lovely Aouda? Or is it true that he has no heart? Will Detective Fix be able to stop him? All these and other questions are answered nicely by the end of the book.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love

Radical Hospitality is not a book about recipes and table-setting techniques. Instead Father Homan defines hospitality as listening to and opening space for the strangers in our midst. He cuts to the chase by listing the most “dangerous” strangers that most of us can think of: the homeless, the AIDS patient, the Muslim.

Hospitality has two meanings for most people today. It either refers to hotels or cruise ships, or it is connected to entertaining friends and family in the warmth of candlelight with gleaming silver and ivory lace. One model makes it an industry, making it profitable. The other model relegates it to the domain of entertainment and housekeeping…Thus it has become safe and cozy, rather than revolutionary, risky and world-rattling. (p. 10)

The subtitle refers to the Rules of Saint Benedict (480 – 550 AD) which were guidelines for living in monastic community. When St. Benedict wrote of hospitality he stressed the importance of welcoming the outsider, the poor the pilgrim. Benedict understood that guests are crucial to the making of monk. Benedict was a realist; he knew there would always be people at the monastery door. It was a means of grace given to monks, a complicated reality that contributed to the making of their hearts. (p. viii)

The theme of the book is hospitality as a spiritual discipline: Listening is the core of hospitality, and while the people we listen to benefit, in the end we are the ones transformed. (p. 220)

This book challenged me to think in new ways. The only reason I'm not more enthusiastic about it is because of its average prose ("You like yourself better after you've reached out to someone.") its occasionally fluffy theology, and it's unnecessary length. The same truths could have been delineated in half the number of pages. My biggest gripe, though, is that it emphasized grace at the expense of truth. (The Rules themselves are very biblical, but this interpretation of them is less so.)

Oswald Chambers put it quite sternly when he wrote, If sympathy is all that human beings need, then the cross of Christ is an absurdity and there is absolutely no need for it. What the world needs is not “a little bit of love,” but major surgery. If you think you are helping lost people with your sympathy and understanding, you are a traitor to Jesus Christ. You must have a right-standing relationship with him yourself, and pour your life out in helping others in his way – not in a human way that ignores God. (from December 20th of My Utmost for His Highest)

Favorite quotes:
Gratitude is the center of a hospitable heart.

We greet the morning sun each day with our to-do lists, while the monk greets the sun with prayer and silence.
None of us likes or welcomes the sudden interruption or change that alters everything. But hospitality is not a planned event… It is the stance of the heart that is abandoned to Love.