Friday, January 26, 2018

The English Air by D.E. Stevenson

I'm a huge fan of Stevenson's cozy, British fiction. Many of her books have no plot, but are enjoyed for their pleasant conversations, copious tea parties, and quiet wisdom. So The English Air caught me completely off guard.

It's spring of 1938 and the English are sure that Chamberlain can keep them from going to war. In Germany a Nazi official sends his adult son, Franz von Heiden, to England to learn how the English think. He is preparing him to be useful should war ensue, but he doesn't realize that his son's time in England might change his plans. The "air" of England has more to do with attitudes and beliefs than with actual climate, and Franz soon finds it a struggle to continue hating the people he's been taught to see as fools.

The novel has the usual tributes to country life, home life, and family love, but it also has much more adventure than a typical Stevenson novel. Franz is faced with the choice to be true to his German heritage or to leave it all for his new country. As war breaks out, he is caught in the middle and it makes for a rollicking adventure. I find it fascinating that the book was written in 1940 when no one knew what the outcome of the war would be. The questions in Franz's mind would have been the same as in everyone's: Can the German government and the German people be separated when it comes to guilt? Is there any such thing as a "true" German? What will Germany be like after the war? Will it be a Germany to be proud of?

As I said before, this was much more thrilling than Stevenson's usual fare, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

'Tis a sad gift, that much applauded thing, a constant heart. - Ella Wheeler Wilcox

This was by far my biggest literary emotional ride in 2017. I agonized with Florence's unrequited love, chortled at Dickens' sly jabs at human nature, dreaded the villains, and rejoiced with the book's true-hearted characters.

The title is ironic since the book focuses on the lives of several women. Young Florence, the main character, is rejected by her father for not being a son. Beautiful Edith has been groomed by her mother to marry for wealth. Even Alice Marwood,  a beggar's daughter, has been wrongfully used by her mother for selfish gain. The powerful secondary male characters are the prideful Mr. Dombey, the odious Carker, the gallant Walter, the devoted Toots, and the well-meaning Captain Cuttle.

Chesterton wrote that Dickens could make inanimate objects come to life in his novels and never have I seen that more than I did in Dombey and Son. The statue of the midshipman plays a prominent part in the narrative. And the descriptions of Carker's teeth are fundamental to the reader's understanding of Carker's various moods.

Capt. Cuttle and the Midshipman

I tried to watch the movie version of this book and it was too depressing. Dickens is MUCH easier to enjoy through his novels because he injects joy and hope in places that the movies have difficulty replicating. Yes, Florence's plight is horrific, but her moments of despondency are interwoven with scenes of the loving Toodle family, the humorous Captain Cuttle, and the bumbling, but loveable Mr. Toots.

Dickens makes delightful jabs at Victorian scholastic methods: It was part of Mrs. Pipchin's system not to encourage a child's mind to develop and expand itself like a young flower, but to open it by force like an oyster; he refers to this type of education as the perpetual bruising of intellectual shins. Then there are all the private jokes between the author and the reader (impossible to convey on film) like frequent mentions of Mrs. Pipchin's husband and the Peruvian mines and Captain Cuttle's precious sugar tongs. I was also amused by an early example of the phrase, "If he doesn't like it, he can lump it."

Dombey and Son has its share of unhappy situations, but the ending is satisfying. I appreciated the fact that various characters experienced redemption, but the changes in them were true to the limits of their personalities. 

My listening pleasure was doubled by the fantastic (free) narration done by Mil Nicholson at Librivox. It was worth every minute of the 40 hours.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Poetry of Alexander Pope - Vol 1

Thackeray called Alexander Pope (1688-1744) the greatest literary artist that England had ever seen. When I heard Professor John Sutherland say  that, "Pope is the greatest poet of the 18th century from whom elegant language flowed as easily as conversation," I figured it was time for me to become better acquainted with him. 

I was familiar with a few of his famous lines such as Behold the child, by nature's kindly law, Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw, and A little learning is a dangerous thing, drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring, but had not read any of his complete works.

I was pleased to discover a depth and richness of his poetry. Even if you don't agree with everything he writes, he's worth the effort. Many of his poems are quite long and are sometimes hard to follow, but the beauty of language kept me going.

I loved the extensive "Essay on Man," but several passages stood out to me as worthy of reading and re-reading. In epistle three, he writes uniquely about sexuality and procreation:

Each sex desires alike, 'till two are one.
Nor ends the pleasure with the fierce embrace,
They love themselves, a third time, in their race!

Who knew you could write about this topic so succinctly and beautifully (and chastely)?

If you'd like a lengthy introduction to Pope's work, Volume one is available free for Kindle. The Essay on Man is available by itself. And a smaller book of poetry is here. I liked him so much that I ordered a hard cover copy of his poems to dip into again this coming year.

(Though well-known for his satire, this volume of poetry seemed more religious and philosophical in nature. I checked out Volume One from my library (digitally) and it has a different amount of pages from the Volume One at Amazon. So I'm not even sure it's the same book.)


Friday, January 5, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2018

When I finished the "50 Classics in 5 Years" challenge, I wondered if I would find any additional classics of interest. Silly me! There are more classics on my TBR list now than I could read in a lifetime. So I'm glad that Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting another Back to the Classics Challenge for 2018. All the details are here. These are my 12 (subject to change) choices:

1. 19th Century Classic - Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens 11/18
2. 20th Century Classic (published before 1968) - Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson 6/18
3. Classic by a Woman Author - Little Women by Alcott 4/6/18
4. A Classic Translated from Another Language - Illiad
5. Children's Classic - Little House in the Big Woods 1/12/18
6. Classic Crime Story - Miss Pym Disposes by Tey 6/18
7. Classic Travel/Journey Story (fiction or non) - Journals of Lewis and Clark
8. Classic with Single Word Title - Lilith by George MacDonald 3/18
9. Classic with a Color in the Title - Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates 6/18
10. Classic by New-to-You Author - Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
11. Classic that Scares You - Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
12. Re-read a Favorite Classic - Secret Garden by F.H. Burnett 2/20/18

Looking forward to a great year of reading!


Monday, January 1, 2018

Intentional Christian Reading Challenge 2018

If you are like me, fiction is your default setting for relaxing reading. I have to push myself to read meatier fare, especially the Christian classics. That's why I'm glad Alina at Goodreads has decided to repeat the Intentional Christian Reading Challenge this year. (Last year I read 20 titles. I'm going for 26 books in 2018. My tentative choices, which have been on my Kindle forever, are in blue.)

The 2018 list:

1. A book about Prayer - Living a Prayerful Life by Andrew Murray
4. A book by or about a Pastor's wife - The Peaceful Wife by Cassidy DNF 10/18
5. A Christian Novel - Grounded by Angela Correll 1/18
6. A Christian Non-Fiction book - Do No Work by Andrew Gilmore 2/18
7. A Memoir - To End All Wars by Ernest Gordon 3/18
10. A book by C.S. Lewis - Problem of Pain 4/18
11. A book with the word "Gospel" in the title - Gospel Formed by J.A. Medders
12. A book about Christian Living - The Overcoming Life by D.L. Moody 2/18
14. A book by your Favorite Christian Author - Suncatchers by Jamie Langston Turner 6/18
15. A book on Marriage or Singleness - Courtship in Crisis by Thomas Umstattd Jr. 6/18
17. A book you own but have never read. - Weakness is the Way by J.I. Packer 7/18
18. A book about a current controversial issue - Because We are Called to be Counter Culture by Platt 7/18
19. A book with a one word title - Lilith by George MacDonald 3/18
20. A book more than 100 years old or takes place more than 100 years ago - Confessions of St. Augustine 12/18
21. A book published in 2017 or 2018 - The Story of Reality by Greg Koukl 11/18
23. A book recommended by a Christian Friend - Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton 10/18
24. A book about Joy or Happiness - Health, Wealth, and Happiness by David Jones 7/18
25. A book whose title comes from a Bible Verse - Earthen Vessels 3/18
26. A book on Theology - Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body
29. A book about Church or a specific Church - Jesus Killed my Church by Bohlender
38. A book by a Christian Author you've never read before -Shock of Night by Carr  DNF 3/18
44. A book with 100 pages or less - Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer 3/18
45. A historical Christian book - When the Holy Ghost is Come by S.L. Brengle 7/18
47. A book on Evangelism - Nudge by Leonard Sweet - DNF 3/18
50. A book with Jesus or Christ in the title - Quiet Talks about Jesus by S.D. Gordon DNF 10/18
51. A book of the Bible - Exodus 2/18
52. A book of your choice - Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald DNF 10/18

Thank you, Alina for hosting this challenge!