Friday, December 29, 2017

Reading Year in Review - 2017

By November of this year I had read over 100 books and still hadn't found "the book of the year" that I love to rave about in my year-end blog post. Happily, that changed when I read four amazing books in one month! (The first four titles listed below) Here's a recap of the "best of" 2017.

Book that brought the most unalloyed pleasure: Beauty - a Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley

Best Classic: Dombey and Son (narrated by the amazing Mil Nicholson at Librivox, worth every minute of the 40 hours!)

Best devotional classic: The True Vine by Andrew Murray. PLEASE buy this beautiful, humbling explanation of each verse in John 15 for yourself for Christmas. The e-version is less than a dollar.

Best new authors: Poet Alexander Pope (He lived from 1688 to 1744 so he was new to me, but apparently not to the rest of the world. Wikipedia says he is the most quoted man in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations next to Shakespeare. Gorgeous language !) I also enjoyed CF Newbie Amanda G. Stevens.

Best audiobooks: Watership Down, Classics of British Literature (48 lectures by Professor John Sutherland)

Biggest Duds: Pax by Pennypacker (my review), Charity's Cross by Tyndall (my review, this is why I rarely read Christian fiction)

I chipped away at my classics challenge (only 8). Maybe that's why my year was only so-so as far as quality. For my Christian Books Challenge I read 20 titles, which was my goal. Sadly, only a handful of those were worth my time.

I also completed a two-year Bible reading plan that followed the liturgical year and included Old and New Testament readings each day. LOVED IT. It required me to read the New Testament 6 times, which helped me to become more familiar with many beloved passages.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley

He cannot be so bad if he loves roses so much.
But he is a beast, said Father helplessly.
Cannot a beast be tamed? (p. 139)
Beauty was a perfect book to read after Tolkien's On Fairy Stories. So many of the elements of "the land of Faërie" are present: the good catastrophes, the secondary world that requires spiritual eyes for seeing, and the Joy of sudden grace.

Beauty was named as a baby but has grown into a gawky teenager. She's smart, but not pretty. Wikipedia describes McKinley's heroines as feminists, but I didn't sense that the heroine in this story was out to prove anything. Unless loving books and not being gorgeous make you a women's libber.

The novel is surprisingly literary: Our father, bless him, didn't seem to notice that there was an egregious, and deplorable difference between his first two daughters and his youngest. On the contrary, he used to smile at us over the dinner table and say how pleased he was that we were growing into such dissimilar individuals; that he always felt sorry for families who looked like petals from the same flower. (p. 15)

I picked up my skirts and ran upstairs to my room as if Charon himself had left his river to fetch me. (p. 293) And, I could see the morning star shining like hope from the bottom of Pandora's box. (p. 296)

Obviously, the author loves the classics since there are many references to great literature sprinkled throughout (with a dash of Jane Eyre and a little bit of the Ugly Duckling thrown in for good measure.) Beauty loves the Greek classics. The beast's library is so magical that it includes books that haven't even been printed yet. (How fun!) Beauty revels in the stories of Sherlock Holmes and the poetry of Robert Browning although she can't understand some of the realities of their time periods.

I was very world weary when reading this book which may explain why my tears came easily at the most poignant points of the story. It seems likely that those who wrote/filmed the 1991 Disney version must have read McKinley's book (published in 1978) because they had many of the same images. But the book was better.

Pure literary comfort food.


Friday, December 15, 2017

The True Vine by Andrew Murray

I read a lot of average books this year, but this book broke through my literary malaise and touched me in the deepest places of my heart. In this 31-day devotional guide Pastor/Writer Andrew Murray walks the reader through the first half of John 15, verse by verse, key word by key word. His thoughts are so profound that I recommend sticking by the limit of one reading per day. There's too much to ponder otherwise.

I have always loved this passage, but Murray brought many new insights about Christ being the vine from which all our spiritual nourishment comes:

Before we begin to think of fruit or branches, let us have our heart filled with the faith that as glorious as the Vine is the Husbandman. As high and holy as is our calling, so mighty and loving is the God who will work it all. As surely as the Husbandman made the Vine what it was to be, will He make each branch what it is to be. Our Father is our Husbandman, the surety for our growth and fruit. (Day 2)

And then there is the lesson of undoubting confidence. The branch has no care; the vine provides all; it has but to yield itself and receive. (Day 3, author's emphasis)

Only a branch! Let that be your watchword; it will lead in the path of continual surrender to Christ's working, of true obedience to His every command, of joyful expectancy of all His grace. (Day 11)

I could go on with many quotes. This book would be an encouragement to any Christian, but would be particularly helpful to anyone in ministry with a tendency to try to produce fruit in their own strength (something of which I am regularly guilty.) I'm giving The True Vine to all of my siblings for Christmas. (At 99 cents for the Kindle version, you can hardly keep from buying this for yourself!) Highly recommended.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Cozy Christmas Reading Lists

I've been planning to make a list of suggested reading for the holidays, and it turns out that several of my favorite bloggers had the same idea. Here are our gathered ideas for holiday reading.

My two favorite ways to prepare for the season are the movie: The Nativity (reviewed here), and the (free) audiobook: A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Beautiful music is essential too. Last year I wrote a post about simpler Christmas music.

Brenda at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me has this lovely list of books. Heather at Blackberry Brambles has an almost completely different list here. (But they both have Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice, so my interest is piqued.)

Finally, Michelle from Living Our Days has a guest post at The Redbud Post highlighting books that focus specifically on advent.

Any suggestions for other cozy books or films?


Friday, December 1, 2017

Tolkien on Fairy-Stories - a review

It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of words, and the wonder of things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass, house and fire, bread and wine. (p. 69)

I have always been intrigued by G.K. Chesterton's passion for fairy tales as important precursors to a child's understanding of divine truths. C.S. Lewis echoed similar sentiments when he said, "Someday you will be old enough to read fairy tales again," implying that there is a hidden depth to these stories. Tolkien's lectures "On Fairy Stories" add to the conversation of the importance of these tales and why they continue to endure.

First, he defines a fairy story. It has much less to do with tiny, ethereal creatures than it does with the creation of a secondary world beyond the five senses. He coined a word for this place: the land of "faërie." Anyone can say "the green sun, but to make a secondary world inside which the green sun will be credible demands a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. (p. 140)

Just as humans are hard-wired for human language, so they are hard-wired to make stories out of that language, and to make a world out of their stories. Unfortunately fairy tales have been relegated to the nursery as shabby or old-fashioned furniture is relegated to the play room. (p. 43) But, writes Tolkien, fairy stories have more meaning for adults. Fairy stories offer in a peculiar degree or mode these things: Fantasy, Recovery, Consolation, all things which children, have, as a rule, less need of than older people. If fairy story is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults. They will, of course, put more in and get more out than children can. (p. 58)

Essentially, Lewis, Tolkien and Chesterton viewed fairy stories not as "untrue," but as stories within which the greatest truths are hidden.  (See this quote on fairy stories as vehicles of grace.) That is why Chesterton calls the gospel "The Truest Fairy Tale" and why Tolkien writes, The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. They contain many marvels - peculiarly artistic, beautiful and moving; 'mythical' in their perfect self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe [Christ's resurrection]. (p. 78)

This book is not light reading. Because Tolkien invents various words to describe his ideas, you are literally working your way through new language. But it's a worthy endeavor. The intro by editors Flieger and Anderson was very helpful.

One of my favorite quotes on fairy tales by Victorian author Juliana H. Ewing is here. I wrote two posts about them here and here.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Tolkien on Fairy Stories - a quote

My head is still reeling from the depth and richness of Tolkien's lectures on fairy stories. Until I cobble together a few thoughts for a future blog post, I'll leave you with this quote. The words in italics are words that Tolkien himself coined.

The consolation of fairy stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the "good catastrophe," (a eucatastrophe) the sudden joyous 'turn' (for there is no true end to any fairy tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist' nor 'fugitive.' In its other-world setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure; the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies (in the face of much evidence) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. (p. 75)


Friday, November 17, 2017

Best-Loved Poems by John Boyes

I'm always intrigued by any poetry compilation called "Best-loved." Best-loved by whom? Boyes writes that he made an effort in his book to choose poems which are best-known rather than his personal favorites. But I would beg to differ since I was unfamiliar with more than HALF of these poems.

Nevertheless, he has done an exceptional job of gathering together exceptionally beautiful poetry. I didn't enjoy all the selections equally, but there is a general elegance of language in his choices that makes the book a delight. (Walt Whitman's poems were a constant exception to this.)

Boyes separates the poems by category (Nature, Death, Love, Travel, Humor, etc.) My least favorite category was "Irreverence and Satire" precisely because its biting tone took away from potential loveliness. I was befuddled by the inclusion of George Herbert's The Pulley in this section since it is ironic, rather than satirical. I was pleasantly surprised by his section of poems about faith since they are often excluded from modern anthologies. Another treat was his inclusion of "Twas the Night before Christmas," which may not be great literature, but it certainly falls under the heading of "well-loved."

There is very little fluff here. Amidst classic sonnets by Shakespeare and family favorites like "From a Railway Carriage," you'll find many new poets to enjoy. At 600 pages, this is a book to read slowly, savoring a few poems a day.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

I enjoyed this wonderful, non-syrupy testimony of God’s transforming power. Butterfield writes, In the pages that follow, I share what happened in my private world through what Christians politely call conversion. The word conversion is simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreck that I experienced in coming face-to-face with the Living God.

At the time of her conversion, Butterfield was a tenured professor of English and Women’s Studies at Syracuse University. Her specialty was Queer Theory. She was living with her female partner, was faculty advisor to all of the gay, lesbian and feminist groups on campus, and was writing a book against the Christian Right.
Sadly, the only contact she had ever had with Christians had been hate mail. So when she received a letter from Pastor Ken Smith, inviting her to talk about some of her opinions, she was intrigued enough to accept. Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert recounts her growing friendship with Ken and his wife, and how reading the Bible turned her world upside down. 

Because of her secular, feminist leanings, she seethed through every sermon by her pastor. How dare he use male pronouns? But oddly enough she kept coming back for more. Was I a masochist? I wondered. Or was I learning to forbear? I came to believe that my job was not to critique a sermon, but to dig into it, to seize its power, to participate with its message, and to steal its fruit. I learned by sitting under Ken Smith’s preaching that the easily offended are missing the point. I was learning to examine my gender politics against the teachings of Scripture. And I was learning that it was safe to do this.
The first half of the book is about her conversion and the second half is about the subsequent years of ministry, marriage and child-rearing. Her “secret thoughts” are negative opinions about people who put Bible verses up on their lawns, Rick Warren’s (and all mega church's) ministry, and homogenous churches; she has positive opinions about church membership, a capella psalm singing, the authority of the Bible over all of life, and the beauty of the body of Christ when it’s functioning properly. I agree with many of the reviewers at Goodreads who say the second half is weaker than the first. Butterfield may have felt compelled to add the post-conversion info because (as she states early in the book) she doesn't want to be mainly seen as a "poster child for lesbian conversion."

This is a very unusual testimony and a very important book for Christians who want to learn how to break down barriers that hinder them from reaching non-believers.

I've had this on my Kindle for two years and I'm grateful to the 2017 Christian Books Challenge for finally nudging me to read it.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Classics of British Literature by John Sutherland

Political correctness has made the study of classic literature a scary proposition. Now that all white male authors are taboo, what exactly are we supposed to read? Knowing the propensity of modern scholasticism to disparage traditional classics,  I went into this series with some trepidation, but, happily, my fears were relieved.

Professor John Sutherland covers 600 years of British literature in witty, bite-sized chunks and he isn't afraid to give each author his due. It's true that he occasionally gives a nod to political correctness, but for the most part I found him to be even-handed. He doesn't ignore the Bible's impact on literature. Nor does he try to portray Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë as ardent feminists.

One reviewer said the lectures were superficial, but what would you expect with a half hour lecture on Milton? Or Dickens? Several authors merited two lectures (Shakespeare and Austen for example), but most were given a brief overview - just enough to whet your appetite for more. Sutherland is so apt at drawing out the positive traits of each author that he made me want to read every book he mentioned (even the ones I've hated in the past.)

Sutherland extols the beauty of specific novels and plays, while at the same time using precise and lovely language himself. I enjoyed his description of the "verbal technicolor" of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and of a non-Spenserian knight (i.e. one without a pure heart) as "just another brute on horseback."

Another delight was the way he cited opinions of authors about other authors. One example was that the members of the Bloomsbury group (no paragons of virtue) spoke of James Joyce's works as vulgar. E.M. Forster said, "He covers everything with mud." This brings me to another plus: Sutherland's discretion. He describes sexual tawdriness in books (and in the lives of their authors) without a hint of crudeness, which is no easy feat.

I picked up these 48 lectures when they were on sale at Audible. Little did I know what a bargain I was getting. I look forward to revisiting them in the future. A lovely overview of many wonderful classics.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Books I Read in October

This was another month of so-so reading. I'm longing for a really good book that I can get lost in without, at the same time, having to say good-bye to my brains. (I hear Jane Austen calling me...) From worst to best here's the list:

Where Wildflowers Bloom by Shorey (reviewed here)
A Matter of Honor by Herries (only read half, my thoughts)
Refuge on Crescent Hill by Dobson (reviewed here)
On the Art of Reading by Arthur Quiller-Couch (lectures delivered in 1920, reviewed here)
June Bug by Chris Fabry (my thoughts here)
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
Book Lover's Guide to Great Reading by Glaspey (Christian non-fiction reviewed here)
Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Christian non-fiction)
Classics of British Literature - 48 outstanding lectures by John Sutherland (from The Great Courses)

Books that are on sale this month: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is $3.99, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy is marked down to $2.99. The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin is $3.99


Friday, October 20, 2017

Book Lovers' Guide to Great Reading by Terry Glaspey

I thought I'd given up reading books about books since my TBR list is so long I'll need two lifetimes to complete it. And my tastes have matured enough that I no longer feel I have to read everything the "experts" tell me to read. But when this book lover's guide became available through PaperBackSwap, I couldn't resist. Glaspey shares my desire to be well-read and to be able to discern the important messages in both Christian and secular books.

There is nothing wrong with reading for entertainment. That is certainly one of its valid functions, and a noble one at that, because many of the very greatest books are extremely entertaining. But people who read only for entertainment are robbing themselves of one of the true pleasures of reading: that of expanding the mind, the heart, the soul, and the spirit. When we stop learning, we stop growing. (p. 198)

He begins the book with a list of Christian classics that everyone should read (Paradise Lost, Pilgrim's Progress, Augustine's Confessions, etc.) , and follows that with several chapters on secular books with "big ideas" that are important for Christians to read and evaluate. (John Locke, Machiavelli, and Voltaire are just a few suggested authors.) Glaspey calls the gaining of insights from godless men "plundering the Egyptians" (from Exodus 3:22) and challenges his readers to be unafraid to dialogue with these thinkers.

I found his suggestions of specific translations of several classics to be very helpful. He recommends John Ciardi's annotated translation of Dante's Divine Comedy and Peter Kreeft's condensed version of Aquinas' Summa Theologica, for example.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will resonate with this guide to non-fluffy literature. Glaspey convinced me to try a few of the Greek classics, and he also encouraged me to try a few books I had ignored in the past as "not for me." I'll be reviewing them in the months to come.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Literary Quotes on Simple Pleasures

There’s nothing like a fresh page of a new book, a first date, or a patch of turned-over earth in the garden. All the possibilities! – from Small Kindnesses by Satya Robyn

No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread. - from M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. - May Sarton

Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they are missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty scent of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven. - Barbara Kingsolver.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend

Can thoroughly evil men be redeemed? That was the key question for the administrators and lawyers connected with the trials of Nazi war criminals after WWII. Did they deserve spiritual help? Would they even want it?

Some wanted to exterminate them without a trial since their guilt was so obvious. But others felt a trial was important because it distinguished between revenge and punishment. Gordon Dean (press spokesperson for the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials) wrote, "The concept that guilt should be fairly ascertained is so embedded in the charters of civilized countries that we cannot afford to abandon it here simply because the guilt is great."

Based on the religious rights clause of the Geneva Convention, Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran pastor from St. Louis, was called to minister to the Germans on death row. He felt that God was the ultimate Judge and that the earthly guilt of his "congregation" was of no significance as far as he was concerned. His only duty was the care of souls. He asked God to preserve him from any prejudice against those who spiritual care had been committed to his charge.  Some wondered how he could comfort these Nazis who had caused the world so much heartache? How could he minister to the leaders of a movement that had taken millions of lives? He was even criticized for shaking their hands on their first encounter. But he was operating on the principle, "If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water."

What follows is a fascinating story of 22 men during their last weeks on earth. Thirteen of them attended Gerecke's daily services. Four attended Catholic mass and five refused all spiritual counsel. Some repented and some went to their deaths declaring themselves innocent of all wrong-doing.

Although the facts behind this book were gripping, the prose was often lacking.  (I have found this to be true with most WWII non-fiction.) Because the recorded spiritual conversations between Gerecke and the prisoners fill only about 6 percent of the book's 300 pages, Townsend had to put in A LOT of filler. He gives 150 pages of background (including the grades the chaplains got in college) before Gerecke actually meets his prison congregants. In Chapter 9 he meanders through his odd understanding of the Old Testament. In another chapter he writes extensively about the Lord's Supper.

Still, I'm glad I gave this book a chance. I was impressed that these men were given a fair trial in spite of the overwhelming proof of their guilt. I was touched by Gerecke's life and that he took the eternal destiny of these men seriously enough to dedicate himself to their care. Most of all I was amazed at the miracle that God did in the hearts of some of the men.

P.S. Exceptions to dry WWII non-fiction are Lauren Hillenbrand's Unbroken, Robert Edsel's The Monuments Men, Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow, and anything by Ernie Pyle.)


Friday, September 29, 2017

How Scout Learned to Read (from To Kill A Mockingbird)

To Kill a Mockingbird is in the top ten of my favorite novels. I especially enjoyed this quote on reading that comes early in the book. On Scout's first day in school the teacher asks her to read. Scout has been reading anything and everything as long as she can remember.

When she discovered I was literate, she looked at me with more than faint distaste. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading.

"Teach me?" I said in surprise. "He hasn't taught me anything, Miss Caroline. Atticus ain't got time to teach me anything," I added, when Miss Caroline smiled and shook her head. "Why he's so tired at night he just sits in the living room and reads."

"If he didn't teach you, who did?"  Miss Caroline asked good naturedly. "Somebody did. You weren't born reading The Mobile Register. . . Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage."

I mumbled that I was sorry and retired, meditating upon my crime. I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church - was it then I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me. . . I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. (p. 17-18)


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Books I Read in September

To be honest, I didn't really enjoy any of the books I read this month (except for the last two). Here's the list:

The Made From Scratch Life by Norris (introduction to homesteading with Bible verses thrown in)
I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy (part of the Scarlet Pimpernel series with, sadly, very little Sir Percy)
The American Heiress by Dorothy Eden (light fiction, reviewed here)
Murder at the Lighthouse by Frances Evesham (light mystery)
The Incomparable Christ by Sanders (I'm embarrassed that I didn't enjoy this classic; much of the excellent content was hidden amid syrupy poetry and suppositions about Christ's life.)
A Singular and Whimsical Problem by R. McMillan (A mystery that read like a teenage diary with one scripture verse thrown in for good measure.)
Mission at Nuremberg by Townsend (WWII non-fiction, the story of the American chaplain sent to minister to the Nazi war criminals, review forthcoming.)
The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for her Heart by Christine Hoover (a helpful re-read)

Last chance book deals this month:
Free audiobook from Christian Audio: Steven Curtis Chapman's Between Heaven and the Real World
Two vintage e-book mysteries: Lord Peter Views the Body (Lord Peter Wimsey #4) by Dorothy Sayers, and A Going Concern by Catherine Aird
Several Wiersbe commentaries: Be Counted (Numbers), Be Comforted (Isaiah) Be Responsible (1 Kings), Be Rich (Ephesians), and Be Complete (Colossians)
Two C.S. Lewis titles: The Great Divorce ($1.99) and The Discarded Image (99 cents)


Friday, September 22, 2017

A Bride Goes West by Nannie T. Alderson

The title of Nannie Alderson's biography sounds like a romance novel, but it's anything but romantic. A Bride Goes West is about her life as a Montana rancher's wife in the 1880s and 90s and although she's upbeat, she doesn't gloss over the hardships.

I went with romantic ideas of being a helpmeet to a man in a new country, but I was sadly ill-equipped when it came to carrying them out. Before I left West Virginia a dear old lady had taught me how to make hot rolls, but except for that one accomplishment I knew no more of cooking than I did of Greek. Hot rolls, plus a vague understanding that petticoats ought to be plain, were my whole equipment for conquering the West. (p. 19)

Since there were so few women nearby, Nannie learned to cook and keep house from the men who worked for her husband. She was amazed at how much they knew! At first it was all a big adventure, but as the years wore on (with the children arriving and with various financial failures), the glamour wore off.  The remoteness of their lives, the constant work and stresses made her worry more and more: I don't think I was naturally of a nervous disposition. I think I was overworked. I had four children to care for with practically no help; I had gotten up too soon and had done too much work after the last two of them were born; I was worn out, and once more took to feeling sorry for myself.

In spite of the difficulties and occasional bouts of self-pity, Nannie's perseverance and hopefulness shine throughout the book. My husband enjoyed the book as much as I did, pronouncing it a "nourishing" read. Nannie writes about the ups and downs of marriage. She tells of the elusiveness of riches and how they had to carve joy out of simple things. She never sugar-coats her life, but there is a sense of fierce determination to make things work out that is inspiring.

Elisabeth Grace Foley lists this book among 10 exceptional western memoirs here.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Surprisingly Short Classics

I recently downloaded Lady Susan by Jane Austen and was astounded to see it is only 82 pages long. The next day I began The Jungle Book and was surprised at its modest length. Naturally, I felt compelled to make a list of works by classic authors that are about 100 pages or less. I linked to Kindle Free titles whenever possible, so without further ado, here is the list. . . .

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (77 pages)
Aesop's Fables (this version is 104 pages)
The Call of the Wild by Jack London (68 pages)
The Dead by James Joyce (80)
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy (54)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (61)
Elements of Style by E.B. White (the only non-fiction title here, 93 pages)
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (94)
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (117)
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (89)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (74)
The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton (87)
Metamorphosis by Kafka (50)
Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck (73)
O Pioneers (101 pages)
Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (73)
Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving (25 pages)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (90)
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (103)

Also, each Shakespeare play can be read in 2 to 3 hours.

Abe Books has a similar list here.

Did I miss any? Please feel free to make suggestions in the comments.


Friday, September 8, 2017

The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney

How should Christians view the pleasures this world? Is it really true that “the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace?”  Not according to Joe Rigney. He sets out to prove that Christians, more than anyone else, experience joy in this life because they recognize each blessing as a gift from God.

Rigney spends the first eight chapters establishing a theological basis for understanding the goodness of God. Only then does he specifically address the topic of “Christian hedonism” (a phrase he borrows from John Piper) vs. biblical self-denial. I happen to like theology and stuck with Rigney till then, but I can see how many people could wish he’d just get to the point.  
He talks A LOT about the trinity in this book, which at first seems off-topic, but I eventually warmed up to the oft-repeated theme. Rigney describes the giggles of his young son while being tickled. This tickle fight is high theology – a parable of a glory that existed before the world did. Fatherly delight is at the heart of reality. (“This is my beloved Son.”) My one year old will forget it, but in a sense it’s the most spiritual thing I can do for him. My delight and pleasure in him can leave a mark on him that will outlive the sun.
Because the Father loves to give good gifts to His children, we are free to enjoy and relish His goodness. Pleasures become sinful when we go beyond delighting in them to putting our hope in them. In this way even good things like family, sex, vocation, etc. can become idols. Christians are world-affirming at the same time as they are world denying. They know that their ultimate hope is in Christ, but that does not keep them from savoring His goodness in this life. Christians celebrate creation because it was made by God, but they treat it lightly because it’s NOT God.

A very thought-provoking book.
P.S. While Piper defends his use of the term "Christian hedonism" here, I still struggle with its negative and self-centered connotations.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Books I Read In August

I had another good month of reading. I worked hard to finish up several long audiobooks, but it was worth it. From least favorite to best here are the titles:

Thrive by Arianna Huffington, self-help book, reviewed here
Blue Fairy Book by Lang (audio), children's lit, reviewed here
Lady Susan by Jane Austen, reviewed here
Island Refuge - better than average CF, reviewed here
Far and Near - suspenseful CF, book four in a series, reviewed here
The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, reviewed here
The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford, reviewed here
The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney (audio), non-fiction, review forthcoming
Climbing by Rosalind Goforth, missionary bio, reviewed here
The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story by R.L. Stevenson, reviewed here
Oxford Book of Christian Verse, classic poetry, reviewed here
The Religious Body by Catherine Aird, excellent cozy mystery, written in 1966
A Bride Goes West, fascinating memoir of Nannie Alderson in the 1890's, review forthcoming
Watership Down (audio) realistic fantasy by Richard Adams, reviewed here


Friday, August 25, 2017

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I can understand why Adams initially had a hard time finding a publisher for this book. The protagonists (rabbits) seem too infantile for grownups, but the subjects (war, totalitarianism, threat of extinction, etc.) are too heavy for children. But I'm glad he persisted.

I confess that I have tried to read Watership Down a number of times and have given up, but when I saw it available as an audiobook via my library, I decided to give it another try. Ralph Cosham's outstanding narration was what I needed to help me persevere.

Fiver is a gentle rabbit with a sixth sense. He warns the other rabbits of upcoming danger to the warren, but only a few believe him. He, his brother Hazel, and a few others make their escape before it's too late. The novel shows the many challenges they face in finding a new warren.

Intermixed with the drama is plenty of humor, gentle wisdom, small kindnesses and lovely writing. The cherry on the cake is that each chapter begins with an appropriate literary quote.

The rabbits have their own language (a tractor/car is a "rudado") and their own mythology (their world was created by a being called Frith.) The characters are well-drawn, especially Fiver who reminds me of Frodo as a reluctant hero. Big Wig is a large, tough rabbit who softens as the story goes along. He is the only rabbit who takes Frith's name in vain, which might offend some, but I found it hilarious.

And what's not to love about animals who enjoy a good story? The main character in their tales is El-ahrairah, a Robin Hood of sorts. These stories within a story were exceptionally entertaining.

P.S. As I was writing this review I popped over to Wikipedia to make sure I had all my names straight. I was flabbergasted to read that feminists hate this book because the female rabbits are basically breeding factories. It never entered my mind to be offended by this book. (In fact the females are so important to the future of the warren that all the males risk their lives for them.)


Friday, August 18, 2017

The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children by Stormie Omartian

Fifteen years ago, while raising four young sons, I read The Power of a Praying Parent. It challenged me to pray specifically for the Lord’s help to overcome their weaknesses and for the Lord to be glorified in their strengths. I adapted a few of Omartian’s prayers for each boy and have used them off and on through the years (in between extemporaneous prayers.)

Now that my children are grown, I was feeling the need to update those written prayers. So I was pleased to find The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children when I was on furlough. While I don’t agree with every bit of Omartian’s theology, I greatly appreciate her encouragement to keep praying and believing for God’s best for our kids.

She begins the book with a chapter on parental guilt as an impediment to faith-filled praying, which I really needed to hear. Assuming that you and I have done the best we knew how at the time we raised our children, and knowing that we were not perfect parents, we can trust that our children can still be taught by the Lord today and for the rest of their lives. They can learn the things we didn’t teach them – or didn’t teach them as well as we should have – and they can unlearn things we taught them that were wrong. . . . Whatever wasn’t perfect about the way we taught our children, God can redeem. But we need to pray for that to happen.

The following chapters deal with prayer concerns such as growth in wisdom, financial stability, sexual purity, health, marriage, and child-rearing. After this book had been out for several years, Omartian saw that many young people who had grown up in Christian homes had wandered from the faith without really seeing the danger. So she added a new chapter on prayers to help your adult children to see their need for God.

I guarantee that anyone who doesn’t recognize their need for the Lord is trying to fulfill their needs in some way that is empty. And they are becoming hooked on it and obsessed with it to the point of idolizing it to numb them to the voice of God speaking to their heart. They are missing all that God has for them. . . . One of the greatest gifts we can give our adult children is to pray they will have the understanding that they need God and that without Him they can do nothing great or lasting. . . . Being an intercessor for your adult children’s lives helps them to have a great ability to not only hear from God, but to respond to God as well. (pp. 231-233)

A good quote: Prayer is not telling God what to do. Prayer is partnering with God to see that His will is done. The confidence we have in approaching God is that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, then we know that we will have what we asked of Him. (1 Jn 5:14-15)

Omartian’s words encouraged me to be faithful and specific in my prayers. A very helpful book.


Friday, August 11, 2017

The Oxford Book of Christian Verse by Lord David Cecil

If I had two lives, I would have a separate blog highlighting classic poetry. (In 2013 I even had a contest to choose a name for a poetry section of this blog that never materialized.) The thing about good poetry books is that they take a long time to read and savor. So they don't lend themselves to my book-a-week book blog format. Maybe there is a poem-a-week in my imaginary future...

I've been reading the The Oxford Book of Christian Verse for over a year and have enjoyed the rich theology and beautiful language. My copy was printed in 1941 so it mercifully avoids any modern rubbish. (Not all modern poets are bad, but that's a subject for another post.) It starts with Chaucer, works through 600 years, and ends with T.S. Eliot.

I underlined many a delightful turn of phrase (George Herbert calling prayer "the soul in paraphrase" and John Milton calling the Magi "star-led wizards" for example). Andrew Marvell describes how affliction turns us back to God by writing that we are "shipwrecked into health again."

I loved the astounding economy of language used by Richard Crashaw as he described Christ's birth:

Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter. Day in night.
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one! whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav'n to earth.

Christian poetry tends to be sentimental and this anthology was collected with the distinct purpose of avoiding such fluff, which means that it must be read slowly and carefully. Occasionally I had to visit an online poetry site to clarify an author's meaning.

This is a lovely book, but it cannot be appreciated by those who want a "quick poetry fix." These devotional selections are meant to make you pause, think, and even pray. As such, they can't be read in a hurry.