Monday, December 30, 2019

More Kindle Unlimited Titles for Thoughtful Readers (31-50)

Amazon had a half price deal for Kindle Unlimited until Dec 31st; if you happened to take advantage of it, here are some suggestions for better-than-average books.

Dorothy Sayers detective novels: Lord Peter Wimsey Vol. 2 (The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Strong Poison, Five Red Herrings and Have His Carcase) and Vol. 3 (Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors, Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon). Oddly, Vol. 1 is not available for KU.

Amberwell and Summerhills - D.E. Stevenson (2-part Ayrton Family series)

Home Cooking (a memoir as well as a cookbook) - Laurie Colwin
Caught Up in a Story - Sarah Clarkson
The Rainey List of Best Books for Children (Ages 0-12)

I have not read the Harry Potter books, but all 7 are free for Kindle Unlimited.

What about you? Have you made any discoveries with KU that you want to share?

Previous lists are here, here and here.


Friday, December 27, 2019

More Kindle Unlimited Titles for Thoughtful Readers (21-30)

Here are ten more better-than-average titles for Kindle Unlimited. (Two previous lists are posted here and here.)

Books I plan to Read:
I'll Watch the Moon by Anne Tatlock (reviewed here) There are many other free Tatlock titles.
The Tall Stranger - D.E. Stevenson
This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems - Wendell Berry
Hangman's Holiday by Dorothy Sayers (book #9 of 15)

A Cloud by Day, A Fire by Night: Finding and Following God's Will for Your Life - A. W. Tozer
The Unsettling of America - Wendell Berry
Time Management is Really Life Management by Roy King
Tech-Wise Family - Andy Crouch
The Trojan Mouse - An interesting title about Disney's effect on popular culture.

Books that others have enjoyed:
Green Ember by S.D. Smith


Monday, December 23, 2019

More Kindle Unlimited Titles for Thoughtful Readers (11-20)

As far as I know the Kindle Unlimited deal (1/2 price for 3 months) is good till the end of December. So here are some more suggestions for some of Amazon's better offerings. Enjoy!

1) Raising Your Spirited Child - Kurcinka (This book was very helpful to me with one of our boys!)
2) The Dangers of Shallow Faith - A. W. Tozer
3) The Crucified Life - Tozer
4) Weeknight Cooking for Two: 100 5-ingredient Suppers
5) Healthy Cookbook for Two
6) Healthy Slow Cooker for Two

7) Remembering - Wendell Berry
8) Son by Lois Lowry (book #4 in The Giver trilogy shows what happens to the people in book #1. It is not necessary to read books #2 and #3 to understand the last book in the series.
9,10) Katherine Wentworth and Katherine's Marriage by D.E. Stevenson's (reviewed here)

Stay tuned for two more upcoming lists.


Friday, December 20, 2019

Kindle Unlimited Titles for Thoughtful Readers (1-10)

Let's face it. Most titles for Kindle Unlimited are junk. You have to scroll through hundreds of trashy books to find the gems. Since I first tried it, in 2017, I've learned a trick or two. Now whenever I'm browsing for books, I make a separate list of the ones available through KU. My original plan was to join for a month and read as many of the free titles as possible during that month. But when Amazon offered three months of KU for half price, I decided to join sooner rather than later. (This deal is good till Dec 31st.) If you plan to take advantage of the discount, here are some suggestions for better quality books. (Amazon offers millions of fluffy romances, but I prefer the better writing and characterization of  vintage author D.E. Stevenson and Christian fiction writer, Lisa Wingate.)

Four books I have enjoyed:
The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill (beautiful non-fiction, reviewed here)
Bel Lamington and Fletcher's End by D.E. Stevenson (reviewed here)
Thrush Green by Miss Read (first in the series of over 20 lovely books)

Four books I plan to read:
On Reading Well by Karen Swallor Prior
Sandy's Seashell Shop Christmas by Lisa Wingate
To-Do List Formula by Zahariades
Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in our Own Land by Elliott Clark

Other ideas:
Drawing Book for Kids: 356 Daily Things to Draw, Step by Step (There are half a dozen other drawing books available.)
Christmas Jokes for Kids

Ten to get you started. More ideas next week!

If you have any recommendations, please let me know and I'll add them to my next lists.


Friday, December 13, 2019

Children of Heaven - Worthwhile Movie #18

I was a surprised to see that I haven't done any "worthwhile movie" posts since 2017. If you read my blog, you know that I enjoy films, but rarely do I come across anything that I highly recommend.

That changed last week when we watched the Iranian film, Children of Heaven, a heartwarming story of two children working together to overcome hardship. I purposely did not link to any trailer because it's best to go "blind" into this story. The clips I watched in order to give you a preview made the movie look silly.

Ali and his sister come from a poor family that can barely make ends meet. When he loses a pair of shoes, it creates a minor crisis. He spend the rest of the film trying to redeem himself, but since he chooses not to consult any adults about his problem, he makes some painful mistakes. These difficulties are what keep the movie from being too saccharine and also explain its PG rating.

I appreciated the movie for its lovely filming and for letting me peek into the daily life of an Iranian family (shopping, worship, school, etc). Because you can only understand it by reading the subtitles, be careful not to look away from the screen. My husband looked down for a second near the end and missed a crucial plot element, leaving him quite bewildered as to the final scene. 

This story of the triumph of a brother's love was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 1998. (It lost to Life is Beautiful, another excellent film.)


Friday, November 29, 2019

What I Read and Watched in November

We were crazy busy, but I found time for five films and five books. The movies were unusual.

1) First, was The Fencer (Amazon prime), a slow-moving, beautifully filmed movie about a young fencing instructor trying to build a life for himself in post-WWII Estonia. It was loosely based on a true story and won an Oscar for best foreign language film of 2016 (Finnish with subtitles).
2) Then we watched Harriet in the theater and loved it. I was glad to have been forewarned about the moments of intense violence and profanity. They did not predominate, but kept the movie grittier than my usual fare. The acting, singing (Negro spirituals) and filming were phenomenal. Surprisingly, Tubman's faith was shown in a realistic and respectful way.

I watched 3 Hallmark movies and I paid attention to the titles (for once!) because they were so unlike the typical Hallmark flicks.

3) I watched the cheesy, unrealistic Angel in the Family (2004) and was amazed that the family was dealing with REAL issues. And, unlike current Hallmark offerings, nobody was eye candy.
4) Then I watched The Christmas Card (2006), which was the movie that put Hallmark romances on the map. The acting was nothing to write home about, but I enjoyed the normality of the family's Christmas decorations. (The preponderance of lights, wreaths, and snow globes in the present productions borders on the ridiculous.) Who knew that Hallmark used to make movies about normal people?
5) I never meant to watch A Godwink Christmas: Meant for Love, but it came on after The Christmas Card and started playing before I got my hands on the remote. The whole idea of a "Godwink" nauseates me because it reduces God to a benevolent, jolly Father Christmas figure and ignores his majesty and authority. I'll get off my soap box long enough to say that this movie really surprised me because the protagonist didn't have a trivial problem like choosing between boyfriends or jobs. She had a serious illness and there were no easy, fluffy solutions. Based on a true story.

Finally, the books!

1) I detested Venetia by Georgette Heyer. I've enjoyed a few of her other books so you'll have to read my review at Goodreads to see why. Next was The Grace of Enough by Haley Stewart, the best book on minimalism I've read to date. Sing a Song of Seasons was a lovely, humongous poetry book with a nature poem for every day of the year. We Refused to Die by Gene Jacobsen was a POW memoir about life in a WWII prison camp that was okay. Lastly, I read Joseph Crosby Lincoln's Cap'n Dan's Daughter, which was, also, just okay. (All links lead to my reviews.)

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving week! Have you read or watched anything good lately?


Friday, November 22, 2019

The Grace of Enough by Haley Stewart

Who knew there was a book on minimalism from a Catholic point of view? And why was I surprised when it was much more meaningful than the Protestant books I’ve read on the subject?

Haley Stewart and her husband have an evangelical background (Baptist, I think), but gravitated toward Catholicism for various reasons. In this book she cites the Bible, several saints, and papal encyclicals. (And Wendell Berry and C.S. Lewis!) I found her arguments to be clearly reasoned and compelling.

How do you extricate yourself from throwaway culture and live out the Gospel values in your own home and family? I believe that the key to shifting our worldview, to pursuing less and living more, is to develop virtue by taking on practices that, little by little, transform us. This kind of growth won’t occur if we passively sit and wish for virtue to spring up spontaneously and effortlessly in our hearts. We can and must actively pursue virtue by taking up practices and habits that cultivate it.  (from intro)

Mere minimalism is an incomplete solution to our consumerism. If we ignore a deep generosity to share what we have with others, and if we are unwilling to accept help in return, we have not adopted a Gospel mind-set. The early Church viewed all its possessions as “ours.” (p. 29)

My journey toward generous love – the self-sacrificing love that accompanies motherhood – began with a 180-degree turn from a throwaway culture, which in the arena of sexuality elevates pleasure and convenience above every other consideration….The contraceptive mind-set (that removes fertility from its connection to sexuality) and its tragic sister, abortion, are facets of throwaway culture intended to eliminate the need to embrace this call to sacrificial love. Yet this is a journey we need to take, no matter what our vocation. Whether we’re called to married life or religious life, and whether or not there are children in our future, we are all called to lives of generous outpouring for others. (p. 125,127)

This is a wonderful book that gives a solid theological basis for its opposition to consumerism. Not for everybody, but I appreciated Stewart for stretching my thinking on several, important cultural issues.


Friday, November 8, 2019

Sing a Song of Seasons by Fiona Waters

Most modern poetry for children is twaddle, so I was delighted to find an exception in Fiona Water's collection, Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year. Not only has Waters chosen fine poems filled with rich language, she chose an illustrator who captured the whimsy and wonder of the natural world. (I am troubled by the garish, cartoony figures in most children's books.)

Sing a Song of Seasons offers 365 bite-sized poems that coincide nicely with each season of the year. Several well-known poets are included such as Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Cristina Rossetti, but most are more modern. The choices are child-friendly without being too silly which shows a surprising respect for young readers. I am very hard to please when it comes to poetry, yet there were very few poems in this collection that fell completely flat. Most had gentle alliteration, beautiful imagery, and rich vocabulary. The entry for February 18:

The round full moon, 
So clear and white, 
How brightly she shines
On a winter night! 
Slowly she rises, 
Higher and higher, 
With a cold clear light, 
Like ice on fire.

Some entries will cause the reader to wonder at their meaning, but in a positive way. Take the July 19th poem for example:

I wish I was 
a dragonfly
in sungleam.

This would be a lovely, painless way to introduce your children or grandchildren to beautiful language. The books ends appropriately with a non-nature poem that emphasizes the pleasure of having poetry swimming around in your brain: Keep a poem in your pocket and a picture in your head and you'll never feel lonely at night when you're in bed.

Highly recommended!


Friday, November 1, 2019

What I Read and Watched in October

Seven books and seven movies this month. (Husband out of town for ten days!)

First, the movies. 1) Shazam came highly recommended by our son who said it had Christian themes. It was pretty juvenile, but I appreciated one strong image of a demon devouring a man, a gruesome reminder of what sin does to us. 2) Downton Abbey was beautiful in its painstaking attention to details and there were several happy endings for beloved characters. But it was ruined for me by one of the sub stories. 3) Christopher Robin with Ewan McGregor was delightful. 4) The Bookshop was an understated British film about a woman who opens a book store in a little village. The movie is sad, yet somehow triumphant. 5) Tolkien was beautifully filmed, but showed only a slice of Tolkien's early life. 6) I watched a couple of Hallmark movies, but, frankly, I rarely remember their titles because they all run together in my mind.

I'm reading mostly non-fiction these days. 1) Matt Perman's rambling treatise on time management, How to Get Unstuck, 2) Rosaria Butterfield's third book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, 3) The Class Meeting by Kevin Watson, 4) As Long as They're Laughing, a look at a 1950's quiz show, and 5) Poetry as a Means of Grace by Charles G. Osgood (English professor at Princeton in the early 1900s.) 6) A Little Moonlight by Betty Neels was the only fiction title I read. Finally, I read The War Romance of the Salvation Army by Grace Livingston Hill, which took me completely by surprise because it was definitely not a romance.


Friday, October 25, 2019

The War Romance of the Salvation Army by Grace Livingston Hill and Evangeline Booth

I read Grace Livingston Hill books voraciously in high school, sometimes one per day. But as my reading tastes matured, I moved on to other authors and never looked back. So I was a little stunned when my sister-in-law gave me The War Romance of the Salvation Army. Who knew that Hill even wrote non-fiction? Her fans might be confused by the title since she was a popular writer of romance novels, but the word "romance" in the title refers to the old-fashioned definition (adventure and chivalry).

(The soldiers learned better
than to flirt with these
no-nonsense girls.)
Evangeline Booth, the commander of the Salvation Army in the U.S. (1904-1934) was too busy to write a book herself, so she gave hundreds of letters and documents to Hill. Hill strung them together into a fascinating, albeit overlong, array of anecdotes about the 40,000 Salvationists who offered physical and spiritual comfort to men in the trenches of France during WWI. Most stories were told in a straightforward manner, but a few bordered on sentimentality, which should be no surprise to those who are familiar with GLH novels.

(Modern Cover)
The "Sallies" did everything they could: from driving ambulances, to helping in hospitals, to frying thousands of doughnuts for war-weary soldiers. The Salvation Army hut had candy and toiletries for sale, free lemonade and coffee, and often a Victrola for playing records from home.The grateful men filled up the tent for the evening church services.

I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into the sacrificial service of the men and women of the Salvation Army during this horrific time in world history. It was serendipitous that I read this just after finishing The Gospel Comes with a House Key because, in a way, the Salvationists were showing hospitality by bringing the comforts of home to the fighting men.

Written in 1919, The War Romance of the Salvation Army gives a fascinating look at one denomination's outreach to soldiers during World War One. A short video about this is available here.


Friday, October 18, 2019

The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

There are, of course, other ways you can use your days, your time, your 
money, and your home. But opening your front door and greeting neighbors
 with soup, bread, and the words of Jesus are the most important. 

Not since Open Heart, Open Home (Karen Burton Mains 1973), has there been a better "anti-hospitality" book than Butterfield's latest title, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. It is "anti" in the sense that it eschews modern ideas of perfect homes and perfect menus as the requirement for receiving guests. Hospitality is a dying art since few have perfect homes and those who have them would rather protect them than welcome in folks who might "ruin" them. The household that loves things too much and loves people too little cannot honor God through the practice of radically ordinary hospitality... Sometimes Christians tell me that they don't practice hospitality because they don't have enough space, dishes, or food. They fear that they do not have enough to give. This is a false fear that no one should heed. Hospitality shares what there is; that's all.It's not entertainment. It's not supposed to be.

Butterfield contends that authentic hospitality is the strongest witness we Christians can have. Let's face it: we have become unwelcome guests in this post-Christian world. Conservative Christianity is dismissed as irrelevant, irrational, discriminatory, and dangerous. To a world that mistrusts us, we must be transparently hospitable.

The ultimate purpose of opening our homes is so that others may come to know Christ. She warns against the two extremes of building protective walls (condemning those outside) or accepting everyone while ignoring sinful behavior, reinventing Christianity that fits nicely on the "coexist" bumper sticker, avoiding the cross and bowing to the idols of our day: consumerism and sexual autonomy.... We are not extending grace to people when we encourage them to sin against God. Grace always leads to Christ's atoning blood. Grace leads to repentance and obedience. Grace fulfills the law of God, in both heart and conduct. When we try to be more merciful than God, we put a millstone around the neck of the person we wish to help.

I appreciated her reminder that when Christians open their home to non-Christians, they lose the right to protect their reputations. Her own example of befriending a neighbor who turned out to be a drug dealer highlights some of the dilemmas they willingly faced to extend the love of Christ to him. I also appreciated her sharing about how she, an introvert, manages to have a house constantly full of people.  Knowing your personality and your sensitivity does not excuse you from ministry. It means that you need to prepare for it differently than others might.

Lots of things in this book will make you uncomfortable. Because it's convicting. Because real hospitality is messy. And because sometimes it feels like Butterfield is tooting her own horn. (I honestly don't think she intends to, but I know from experience that it's hard to describe your ministry successes without sounding prideful).

I was greatly encouraged to worry less about impressing guests, and to simply share what we have with others.


Friday, October 4, 2019

Thoughts on Prayer by Oswald Chambers

Prayer develops and nourishes the life of God in us. We generally look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves, but the biblical idea of prayer is that God’s holiness, purpose, and wise order may be brought about. 

“Your Father knows the thing you have need of before you ask Him”(Matt 6:8). Then why ask? Very evidently our ideas about prayer and Jesus Christ’s are not the same. Prayer to Him is not a way to get things from God, but so that we may get to know God. Prayer is not to be used as the privilege of a spoiled child seeking ideal conditions to indulge his spiritual propensities. The purpose of prayer is to reveal the presence of God, equally present at all times and in every condition.

During a war many pray for the first time. It is not cowardly to pray when we are at our wits’ end. It is the only way to get in touch with reality. As long as we are self-sufficient and complacent, we don’t need to ask God for anything. We don’t want Him. It is only when we know we are powerless that we are prepared to listen to Jesus and to do what He says.

It is not so true that “prayer changes things” as that prayer changes us.

(All above quotes are from If You Will Ask: Reflections on Prayer by Oswald Chambers)


Friday, September 27, 2019

What I Read and Watched in September

We finally had enough down time to watch movies, and I'm surprised at how many we watched. We liked them all, but I'm ranking them in order from "okay" to "really good."

The Long Goodbye - a documentary on Netflix about Kara Tippet's battle with cancer. Good, but not fun to watch if you know what I mean.
Overcomer - newest Kendrick Brothers' pic at the theatre. We liked this, but the Christian clich├ęs were pretty thick by the end.
Maltese Falcon (1941) - saw this classic in the theatre, but didn't love it as much as I thought I would.
Good Sam (link leads to trailer) - Clean movie on Netflix. Fun, but too much like a Hallmark movie by the end.
Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (link leads to trailer) - on Netflix. What's not to love about a film that shows the transforming power of books? Plus three actors from Downton Abbey. Beautifully filmed.
The More the Merrier (1943) - A favorite screwball comedy with Jean Arthur
Ramen Shop (link leads to trailer) - on Netflix. Japanese foodie movie. Showed the importance of love and forgiveness without all the preachiness.

I read five books. Village Diary by Miss Read was a treat. So was the mystery Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart. I read a good missionary biography called An Irrepressible Passion and a disappointing cookbook called How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. I only made it halfway through James Russel Lowell's poetry book Heartsease and Rue because it was so unpleasant.


Friday, September 20, 2019

Village Diary by Miss Read

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single school teacher of a certain age, must be in want of a husband. And the folks of Fairacre are certain that the newest bachelor in town must be heaven-sent for their favorite spinster, Miss Read. She isn't interested in him in the least, but when he chooses another, the townspeople kindly express their regrets to her. Happily, she sees the bright side of their meddling:

Sitting alone, in that quiet classroom, with only the tick of the wall clock and the faint shouts of my approaching pupils to be heard, I felt perhaps more keenly than ever before, just what it means to be a villager - someone whose welfare is of interest (sometimes of unwelcome interest) to one's neighbors - but always to matter. It was a warming thought - to be part of a small, living community, members one of another, so closely linked by ties of kinship, work and the parish boundaries, that the supposed unhappiness of one elderly woman affected all.

Village Diary is book two in the series and includes all the same characters (over 30 of them) as book one, and adds Amy, Miss Read's well-heeled friend from London. Her busy, plush life is in stark contrast with the village school teacher's, but Miss Read would much rather live quietly. She writes:  I, finding myself remarkably uninteresting, am only too pleased to observe others and the natural objects around me. Thus I am spared the pangs of self-reproach, and, as my lot is cast in pleasant places, find endless cause for happiness and amusement.

These books are not Christian fiction (thank goodness!) but they frequently contain biblical references (like the highlighted phrase above) and contain Christian themes (community, grace, forgiveness, etc. ) Plus the writing is delightful: Outside the post office grow three fine lime trees, murmurous with bees on summer afternoons.

I'm still not sure I'll love Fairacre as much as Thrush Green, but I've enjoyed the first two novels.


Friday, September 13, 2019

Miracles by C. S. Lewis

I understood so little of  the first chapters of Miracles that I was tempted to give up. But when I saw that Chapter 14 was on the Grand Miracle (the incarnation), I knew I had to hang on. Everyone knows the famous quote, We believe the sun is in the sky at midday in summer not because we can clearly see the sun, but because we can see everything else. But its context is the incarnation. To Lewis, God's act of becoming man is the light that clarifies all other Christian doctrines.

In the first half of the book Lewis argues for the naturalness of miracles. Contrary to popular opinion, they do not go against natural laws, but confirm them. If the laws of Nature are necessary truths, no miracle can break them: but no miracle need break them. It is with them as with the laws of arithmetic. If I put six pennies in a drawer on Monday and six more on Tuesday, the laws decree that - other things being equal - I shall find twelve pennies on Wednesday. But if the drawer has been robbed, I may in fact only find two. Something will have been broken (the lock of the drawer or the laws of England) but the laws of arithmetic will not have been broken.... 

We are in the habit of talking as if the laws of Nature caused events to happen; but they never caused any event at all. The laws of motion do not set billiard balls moving: they analyze the motion after something else has provided it. They produce no events; they state the pattern to which every event must conform. Thus in one sense the laws of Nature cover the whole field of space and time; in another, what they leave out is precisely the whole, real universe - the incessant torrent of actual events which make up true history.... A miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without results, Its cause is the activity of God; its results follow according to Natural law.

On the necessity of the incarnation: In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.

On Christ's death: On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, ambivalent. It is Satan's greatest weapon and also God's great weapon; it is holy and unholy, our supreme disgrace and our only hope, the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

Lewis also addresses the important topics of prayer, free will vs. God's sovereignty (always a mind bender), death/rebirth and the spiritual vs. the material. I loved his quirky phrase for the idea that all reality is found in Christ: He is ultimate Fact-hood. This was a difficult but extremely worthwhile book for building mental and spiritual muscle.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Letters to An American Lady by C.S. Lewis

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Letters to an American Lady by C.S. Lewis. The intro warned me not to search for deep theological insights in these rapidly written missives so I was expecting it to be rather dry. Instead it was delightfully replete with simple details of Lewis' life that gave glimpses into his marriage, daily habits, likes and dislikes, fears, and his walk with God. A constant theme was the necessity of faith without feelings.

On August 21, 1958 he writes, Dear Mary, Remember what St. John says, If our heart condemns us, God is stronger than our heart. The feeling of being, or not being forgiven and loved, is not what matters. One must come down to brass tacks. If there is a particular sin on your conscience, repent and confess it. If there isn't tell the despondent devil not to be so silly. You can't help hearing his voice (the odious inner radio) but you must treat it merely like a buzzing in your ears or any other irrational nuisance.... You must always go back to the practical and definite. What the devil loves is that vague cloud of unspecified guilt feeling or unspecified virtue by which he lures us into despair or presumption.

On his morning routine: I'm a barbarously early riser and have usually got my breakfast and dealt with my letters before the rest of the house is astir. One result is that I often enjoy the only fine hours of the day - lovely, still, cool sunshine from 7 till 10, followed by rain from then on, is common. I love the empty, silent dewy, cobwebby hours.... (Sept 30, 1958)

I especially appreciated these thoughts on busyness: Don't be too easily convinced that God really wants you to do all sorts of work you needn't do. Each must do his duty in that state of life to which God has called him. Remember that a belief in the virtues of doing for doing's sake is characteristically feminine, characteristically American, and characteristically modern; so that three veils may divide you from the correct view! There can be intemperance in work just as in drink. What feels like zeal may be only fidgets or even the flattering of one's self-importance. And by doing what ones duties do not demand, may make one less fit for the duties that are demanded. Just you give Mary a little chance as well as Martha!

I found it fascinating that he hated letter writing but felt compelled to answer all letters. He even wrote little notes to Mary when he was in the throes of his wife's illness and death. Remarkable!

A fairly quick read, but a wonderful way to while away a few hours.


Friday, August 30, 2019

My Summer Reading - Four Short Reviews

My summer was too busy for blogging (plus I read very little that merited a thoughtfully written blog post.) So here is a quick overview of the fiction I read.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie: So engrossing, that for two straight days, I kept wishing that whatever activity I was involved in would finish so that I could get back to it. 

Village School by Miss Read: The first of the Fairacre series. I took careful notes of all the village residents (over 30!) so that I could keep everybody straight as I progress through the other 19 novels. So happy to have found 10 of them quite cheaply. (They are already tucked into my "take-back-to-Brazil" stash.) The rest I'll read through digital library loan.

Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: I nabbed this title at the thrift store because the movie was coming out and the previews looked promising. This is the YA version of The Art of Racing in the Rain. I was surprised at how depressing it was from start to finish - except for the impossible to believe "happy" ending. I regret every hour I spent in this book.

Island of the World by Michael D. O'Brien: An achingly sad and beautiful book. Sometimes Josip’s hardships were overwhelming and I had to put the book down for a few hours, but there was a redemptive thread throughout that kept them from being unbearable. I appreciate the ability of Catholic authors to include suffering in their fiction without facile answers. But I struggled at times to identify with the more mystical elements of Obrien’s book. Still, this is some of the best storytelling you will ever read. Worth every minute I spent in it.


Friday, August 23, 2019

What I Read and Watched this Summer

Since our return to the U.S. 3 months ago, we have been constantly on the move. Occasionally we stopped to watch an episode of Andy Griffith or Jeopardy. The only movies we watched were Toy Story 4 and Ant Man and the Wasp (not as good as the prequel). Toy Story was loads of fun in spite of the creepy puppets and the underlying message (ubiquitous to most films) that men are dolts who need powerful women to tell them what to do with their lives.

I've done mostly light reading since my brain couldn't handle much else: 4 Vintage novels (Bel Lamington and Fletcher's End by D.E. Stevenson, Village School by Miss Read and He Fell in Love with His Wife by E.P. Roe.) The latter was over the top in melodrama.

6 Non-fiction: Biography of missionary to China Geneva Sayre, Letters to an American Lady by C.S. Lewis,  a book on housecleaning called Sink Reflections, 3 Bible study books - Opening the Windows of Blessing (Zechariah) by Kay Arthur, Be Rich (Ephesians) and Be Joyful (Philippians) by Warren Wiersbe

Least favorite book: Racing in the Rain (YA version of The Art of Racing in the Rain) I wanted to read it because the movie was rated (gasp!) PG and I thought it might be worth watching. After reading the children's version, I can only imagine how depressing the adult version must be.

I'm halfway through Miracles by C.S. Lewis and 80% through Michael O Brien's Island of the World.

I'm looking forward to having more of a regular routine in the fall for reading and blogging.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Nicholas Carr on "Printed books vs. E-Books"

I know I said I wasn't going to address this subject anymore (post here), but this quote is too good not to share:

A page of online text viewed through a computer screen may seem similar to a page of printed text. But scrolling or clicking through a Web document involves physical actions and sensory stimuli very different from those involved in holding and turning the pages of a book or a magazine. Research has shown that the cognitive act of reading draws not just on our sense of sight but also on our sense of touch. It's tactile as well as visual. "All reading," writes Anne Mangen, a Norwegian literary studies professor, "is multi-sensory. There's a crucial link between the sensory-motor experience of materiality, of a written work and the cognitive processing of the text content." The shift from paper to screen doesn't just change the way we navigate a piece of writing. It also influences the degree of attention we devote to it and the depth of our immersion in it. (p. 90 of The Shallows)

I have loved the ease of acquiring books through my Kindle (saving space, time and money), but have noticed a downturn in my ability to read deeply. I'm not yet ready to give up my e-reader, but am trying to make better choices about how often to use it.


Friday, August 2, 2019

Village School by Miss Read

I thoroughly enjoyed Miss Read's Thrush Green series and have long looked forward to beginning her Fairacre series. As in the first Thrush Green book, I was introduced to a dizzying amount of characters, but I know that as the series develops, all of them will become as familiar to me as old friends.

The main character in Village School is the school mistress, Miss Read and the stories are based on the author's (her real name is Dora Jessie Saint) many years of teaching. If you are looking for a thrilling page-turner, please look elsewhere. These books describe commonplace activities with charm and gentle wit. The descriptions are lovely:

Behind the tractor wheeled and fluttered a flock of hungry rooks, scrutinizing the fresh-turned ribs of earth for food; their black shapes rose and scattered like flakes of burnt paper from a bonfire.

No English village story would be complete without a vicar and a chapel. While decorating the church for the Harvest Festival, Miss Read writes:

The troubles and vexations of the last twenty-four hours suddenly seemed less oppressive. It is difficult, I reflected, to take an exaggerated view of any personal upheaval when standing in a building that has witnessed the joys, the hopes, the griefs, and all the spiritual tremors of mortal man for centuries.... In the presence of this ancient, silent witness, it was right that personal cares should assume their own insignificant proportions. They were, after all, as ephemeral as the butterflies that hovered over the Michaelmas daisies on the graves outside.

As I said earlier, there isn't much of a storyline, but I very much look forward to getting to know Miss Read, her students, and neighbors in the coming months. Friends who have read both sets of novels say they prefer the Fairacre folks. I have a hard time imagining that I could love any group more than my Thrush Green family, so I'm interested in what my final verdict will be.