Friday, January 25, 2019

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

When my husband's jokes are particularly annoying, I know the problem is not Dan. It's me. I'm just too stressed or too tired to enjoy his quirky sense of humor. I've been noticing the same thing about books lately. Hardly anything I read in 2018 brought joy to my heart. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the books. It was me and my diminishing attention span. I long for the days when I could get lost in a good book.

So in 2019 I'm hoping to cut way back on screen/scrolling time and read more non-digital books. It is appropriate that the first physical book I read this year was The Shallow: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.

If I could sum up the book in a few sentences, it would be, "The distractions of the internet make deep reading next to impossible. Without deep reading there is no deep thinking." What Carr didn't say, but what kept coming to my mind, was "If no one is thinking deeply, what will happen to beautifully crafted sentences? What is the future, not just of reading, but of writing?" Kudos to me for not skipping the overly technical chapters (even when I wanted to.) There is a legitimate time and place for skimming, but since I was attempting to retrain my brain to pay attention, it was probably good that I started with a hard book. After struggling through the first 40 pages, I finally hit my stride.

Of the many quotes I marked,  most are too obvious to be enlightening so I'll post just a few.

The computer is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master. (p. 4)

The Net's interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment. (p. 117)

What determines what we remember and what we forget? The key to memory consolidation is attentiveness. Storing explicit memories and forming connections between them requires strong mental concentration, amplified by repetition or by intense intellectual or emotional engagement. The sharper the attention, the sharper the memory. (p. 193)

Carr maintains that most modern technologies are dividing our attention thereby causing a loss of concentration. I don't think anyone can argue with that. The issue is what are we going to do about it?  I, for one, plan to keep my brain in good working order by reading more carefully, spending less time on electronic devices, and memorizing chunks of poetry and scripture.

Any thoughts?


Friday, January 18, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019

Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting this challenge again. The rules and sign-up are here. Participants are eligible for an Amazon gift card. Deadline is March 1, 2019. Below is my list of possible reads:

1. 19th Century Classic: Silas Marner by George Eliot
2. 20th Century Classic: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (1940)
3. Classic by a Woman Author: Brat Farrar by Tey 1/19
4. Classic in Translation: Introduction to a Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (1609, French)
5. Classic Comic Novel: Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
6. Classic Tragic Novel: Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
7. Very Long Classic (500 pages+): Bleak House by Dickens
8. Classic Novella (-250 pages): 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne or Epic of Gilgamesh
9. Classic From the Americas: ?
10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia): On the Beach or Pied Piper by Nevil Shute, Beau Geste by P.C. Wren, or Green Dolphin Street by Goudge
11. Classic From a Place You've Lived: O Guarani by José Alencar (Brazil)
12. Classic Play: Romeo and Juliet, or Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare

I'm shooting for at least 9 of these classics this year. I have at least 4 of these in audio versions and I look forward to listening to them.


Friday, January 11, 2019

Three Short Book Reviews

Due to Christmas festivities, I didn't have time to write detailed reviews of these December reads, so here are the condensed versions:

Farmer Boy: Another wonderful entry in the series. This is the story of Almanzo Wilder who would later marry Laura Ingalls. I imagine these stories were memories he shared with Laura as she wrote the novels. Most of the memories have to do with farm chores and the delicious food he ate.

Almanzo's father is quite different from Laura's "Pa." He is a prosperous farmer and his family lacks for nothing. But that doesn't mean his children are spoiled. Although he would be considered too strict by today's standards, I really appreciated it that he let Almanzo "suffer" his way through some sticky situations. Intermixed with all the firmness is a lot of love and wise counsel. It was a pleasure to "watch" this young boy grow up!

Merchant of Venice: This is one of the most accessible Shakespeare plays I've read because I could actually remember who was who. It has some of the most famous lines in all of literature and a happy ending too. After reading this, I greatly enjoyed watching the 1996 film version on YouTube. The actor who played Shylock did a wonderful job of expressing the nuances of his character.

Finding Father Christmas: I am so used to Christian fiction being substandard that I was actually stunned that Finding Father Christmas was well-written, had likable characters, and introduced subjects of faith without preachiness. It also dealt with a difficult subject in a discreet way. (The second novella, Engaging Father Christmas continued with good writing and characterization, but was a lot sappier.)


Friday, January 4, 2019

15 Christian Books I Plan to Read in 2019

For the past two years I've participated in the Intentional Christian Reading Challenge at Goodreads. It has been a great way to attack my TBR list, especially of books that have been on my Kindle for way too long. And it has helped me to include a lot more non-fiction in my literary diet. But by trying to fit titles into pre-arranged categories, I haven't always been able to prioritize the best books. So this year I'm just making a list of the 15 books I know I should read because they are solid and nourishing and NOT just because they are stuff I want to clean off my e-reader. Here are the titles I hope to savor in 2019:

*The Pursuit of God by Tozer 3/23/19's Pursuit of Man by Tozer 2/5/19

*What's Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton 4/19
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller 5/19
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield
**The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis 6/19
The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
*Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray
The Christian Mind by Blamires
**Affliction by Edith Schaeffer
The Life-Giving Home by Sally Clarkson
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
The Radical Wesley by Howard Synder
A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law (1686-1781)

One asterisk means it was free for Kindle at the time of this writing; two asterisks mean it's free for Kindle Unlimited users.

In addition I'll be doing Carol's "Christian Greats" challenge. (with some overlap from above)

1)  A Book on Early Church History (up to about 500 A.D) - still to be decided, 2)  A Book About a Prominent Christian - Radical Wesley, 3) A Christian Allegory - Princess and the Goblin by Gge McDonald, 3/16/19 4) A Book on Apologetics - The Reason for God by Keller, 5)  A Philosophical Book - What's Wrong with the World by Chesterton4/16 6)  A Missionary Biography - still to be decided,  7)  A Seasonal Book - to be decided, 8)  A Novel with a Christian Theme - The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge.  1/19 9) A Good Detective or Mystery Novel - Bret Farrar by Tey 1/19 10)  A Substitute - The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis 6/19

Do you have any Christian classics you want to read or re-read this year?