Friday, March 29, 2019

What I Read and Watched in March

I waffled on my New Year's resolution of reading 20 physical books before reading any fiction on my Kindle. After only 13 "real" books, I caved in and read a D.E. Stevenson novel, The House on the Cliff. I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt it was worth falling off the wagon for.

The longest novel I read this month was Shogun by James Clavell. It was not my kind of book and it left me feeling emotionally depleted. (My review is is here.) Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill by Maud Hart Lovelace (reviewed here), The Mind of Christ by Kinlaw (reviewed here), and The Return of Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (reviewed here) were much more enjoyable.

On my Kindle was the terrific The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (free at the time of this posting), Be Encouraged by Warren Wiersbe, and The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Bond (reviewed here.) On audio I thoroughly enjoyed George MacDonald's classic, The Princess and the Goblin.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that my viewing tastes are pretty tame. Rather than feel violated by shocking and violent images, we opt for older television programs on DVD - about two nights a week. We watched the second movie in the Hollow Crown series and were disappointed. There are reasons why Henry IV is not one of Shakespeare's better known plays. The dialogue isn't very memorable. The acting wasn't as good as the first film. And it was bawdier. We also watched a couple of Columbo movies from Season 4 and Perry Mason, Season 3. We finished up Season Three of Larkrise to Candleford (second time through); episode 12 is the best thing I've ever seen on television about the different kinds of love that it takes to make a marriage.

What about you? Did you read or watch anything worthwhile in March?


Friday, March 22, 2019

Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge

At the root of all art is giving. You can’t hoard the beauty you’ve drawn into you; you have to pour it out again for the hungry, however feebly, however stupidly. You’ve just got to.

One of the themes of Pilgrim's Inn is true beauty. Several members of the Eliot family are extolled for their physical appearance and artistic talent, but Goudge expertly shows that loving deeply and unselfishly is its own kind of art. By this definition, the plainest of the Eliots  (Margaret and Hilary) are artists of extraordinary talent. Some people express loveliness just by loving. Goudge does not sentimentalize love, but instead shows its high cost. 

The title of the book refers to the old inn that Nadine and George buy as their country home. It used to house devout believers who made their pilgrimages to the nearby abbey. Now it has become a refuge not only for Nadine's family, but for other wanderers. Slowly the residents discover the house's  hidden surprises and its ability to bring them healing. The book was written after WWII and several of the characters have lost their hope in humanity and see no point in bringing children into such a world. Goudge deftly proposes that it is BECAUSE of children that the world can improve. While there were children, men and women would not abandon the struggle to make safe homes to put them in, and while they struggled there was hope.

To Goudge, home-building is world-building. Every family unit is a piece of the armor needed to keep mankind safe and sane. Lucilla, the family matriarch feels this strongly:

She tried to pay attention to what the others were saying. But they were talking about the deplorable state of the world, about that terrible bomb, about famine and inflation and chaos and death, and her mind shied away from their talk like a terrified horse. She couldn’t do anything about it now, at eighty-six, except pray, and in between her prayers, now that the war was over, she wished they would let her forget sometimes that things had not turned out as well as one had hoped, and enjoy the things that were left: the spring sunshine slanting into the quiet room and lighting up the flowers, the lively ripe corn color of Pooh-Bah’s coat, the hot tea, the log fire burning on the hearth, the feel of the dear old dog’s chin resting on her shoe, the sound of the sea coming in the pauses of their talk…Every home was a brick in the great wall of decent living that men erected over and over again as a bulwark against the perpetual flooding in of evil. But women made the bricks, and the durableness of each civilization depended on their quality, and it was no good weakening oneself for the brick-making by thinking too much about the flood.

A lovely installment to the trilogy!


Friday, March 15, 2019

The Confessions of St. Augustine (Modern English Version)

If you put off reading the classics because you are intimidated by their outdated language, this version of Augustine's Confessions is an excellent way to become acquainted with his most personal work. It is not a confession as we normally think of it, but is more a prayer of praise interspersed with personal anecdotes.

As Augustine looks back over his life, he perceives God's mercy at every turn. Even as he ran from God, God's presence surrounded him. In misery my soul cast about seeking sensual objects that could scratch where the pox itched. Yet there was no love to be found. None of these things had a soul, so they could not be objects of love. To love then, and to be loved was sweet to me. But when I found someone I loved, I wanted only to possess and enjoy the body of the person I loved. I found a spring of friendship and polluted it with lascivious filth. I veiled the brightness of real love with a hell of foul, unseemly lust. My God, my Mercy, how much bitter root did You sprinkle on that sweetness? You were gracious to do it. (p. 32)

Although not a heavy book (except for the last few chapters), it merits careful reading. I normally eschew paraphrases, but thought this one was well done. It retained the rich language while giving the sentences better flow. Here is one example:

Original: Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is ruinous; repair Thou it. Modern English Version: Narrow is the mansion of my soul. Enlarge it, so that You can enter. It lies in ruins. Repair it. (p. 19)

One drawback of the Modern English Version is that it skims over two very famous passages that are often mentioned in other books (the pear stealing and Augustine's astonishment at seeing Ambrose reading silently). Still, there is much to be gained by reading this version. I was greatly encouraged by the influence of Augustine's mother's prayers for his life, which spurred me to greater faithfulness in praying for my own grown children.

The band Gungor wrote a lovely song (Late Have I Loved You) based on several lines from Augustine's Confessions, which you can listen to on YouTube.


Friday, March 8, 2019

The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge

There are two kinds of romantic love. One is the passionate emotion that leads you to say, "I do." The other is the unemotional choice that enables you to keep your promise even when the feelings come and go. In The Bird in the Tree, Elizabeth Goudge explores both types.

Nadine and David are deeply in love. Their passion for each other is the "truest" thing they know. But Lucilla, the matriarch of the family, isn't so sure that their marriage is a good idea. And she does her best to persuade then that there might be something truer.

As part of my resolution to read more deeply, I'm reading only physical books for the first few months of 2019. I've already seen a difference in my attention span! And also an increase in my overall enjoyment. The Bird in the Tree by Goudge was splendid in every way: good writing, non-simplistic answers to life's problems, and believable characters (even the dogs are wonderfully "real").

Some delectable quotes:

In times of storm and tempest, of indecision and desolation, a book already known and loved makes better reading than something new and untried. The meeting with remembered and well-loved passages is like the continual greetings of old friends; nothing is so warming and companionable. (p. 266)

It was that declaration of Nadine's, that she wanted "to live her own life," that had exasperated Lucilla beyond anything else in the whole wretched business. It was a remark frequently on the lips of the modern generation, and it annoyed her. For whose lives, in the name of heaven, could they live except their own? Everyone must look after something in this world and why were they living their own lives if they looked after antique furniture, petrol pumps or parrots, and not when they looked after husbands, children or aged parents? (p. 83)

If you are familiar with Goudge, I don't need to extol her gifts, but if you aren't yet familiar with her novels, I suggest this trilogy (Bird in the Tree is Book One) or the stand-alone The Dean's Watch.


Friday, March 1, 2019

What I Read and Watched in February

I continue to stick to my New Year's resolution: NO FICTION on my Kindle until I finish 20 physical books. I miss my e-reader because that is where most of my light reading is stored. On the other hand, I am less distracted with my present reading style, so I'm pleased with that.

I finished Pilgrim's Inn and The Heart of the Family, the last two books in Elizabeth Goudge's Eliot Family trilogy. I also finished up The Little House series, wishing I had skipped the last book, The First Four Years, because it is dissonant in tone from the other books. The Long Winter and These Happy Golden Years were my favorites of the set.

I listened to The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher and although I didn't agree with everything, I greatly appreciated his deep thinking on several hard subjects. I also listened to 18 Holes with Bing, a biography by Nathaniel Crosby. I read Tozer's God's Pursuit of Man and Wiersbe's Be Wise (commentary on 1 Corinthians) on my Kindle.

I watched two old movies on YouTube, neither of which were uh-mazing. But I enjoyed the acting in the British melodrama Turn the Key Softly (1953). And I love Jean Arthur in anything, so I gladly put up with the silliness of Too Many Husbands (1940). (Though I prefer the 1963 remake with Doris Day and James Garner called Move Over Darling.)

What about you? Did you read or watch anything in February that you'd recommend?