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.