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.