Thursday, August 13, 2020

A Quiet Heart - quote by Alexander MacLaren

The quiet heart will be able to fling its whole strength into its work. And that is what troubled hearts never can do, for half their energy is taken up in steadying or quieting themselves, or is dissipated in going after a hundred other things. But when we are wholly engaged in quiet fellowship with Jesus Christ, we have the whole of our energies at our command, and can fling ourselves wholly into our work for Him

(I found this lovely quote by Baptist preacher and expositor Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910) while reading his commentary on Ephesians 6.)


Friday, August 7, 2020

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

G.K. Chesterton called Nicholas Nickleby Dickens’ first real novel. The previous three publications had been Sketches by Boz (no hero), the PickwickPapers (older hero), and Oliver Twist (child hero). This was his first novel with a proper and dignified romantic hero; which means, of course, a somewhat chivalrous young donkey. Chesterton's description captures the personality of our young hero perfectly.

Nicholas is a young man who suddenly loses his father and must do his best to provide for his mother and sister. But in order to do so he must overcome the evil machinations of his uncle and his entourage of seedy companions. There were times when I almost despaired of a happy ending, but chapter 64 finally arrived and all was right with the world. I can’t be sure if the tears that pricked my eyes were from happiness or from relief that I finally finished this 731-page tome.

While I liked the book very much, I did not love any of the principal characters. The bad ones were far too bad and the good ones were far too good. Honest, simple John Browdie, a minor character, was my favorite (reminding me of Joe from Great Expectations). He is an uneducated man with an innate sense of right and wrong, but unlike Joe, he has an enormous sense of humor and self-confidence.

I’m working my way through the Dickens’ canon, and though this was not a favorite, I still relished the hilariously drawn lesser characters and the lovely writing. Take this description of Arthur Gride's house: Meagre old chairs and tables, of spare and bony make, and hard and cold as misers’ hearts, were ranged, in grim array, against the gloomy walls; [tall cupboards], grown lank and lantern-jawed in guarding the treasures they enclosed, and tottering, as though from constant fear and dread of thieves, shrunk up in dark corners, whence they cast no shadows on the ground, and seemed to hide and cower from observation. A tall grim clock upon the stairs, with long lean hands and famished face, ticked in cautious whispers… (p. 590)

I like Chesterton’s suggestion to read the novels in order of publication to watch the progression of Dickens' talent. If you read Nicholas Nickleby (or, better yet, listen to Mil Nicholson read it free at Librivox), follow it up with Chesterton’s witty commentary from Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens. (free for Kindle)   


Friday, July 31, 2020

What I Read and Watched in July

With my son and his wife visiting from the U.S., there hasn't been much time for reading, but we've watched half a dozen movies. Considering our different tastes, the votes were commonly cast for older family favorites such as the first Star Wars trilogy and the Lord of the Rings extended versions. Star Wars seemed a bit silly after LOTR, but it was still fun. I hadn't seen the Star Wars films for many years and had never seen them with the changes made by George Lucas in the remastered DVDs (released in 2004).

As far as reading goes, I'm halfway through four titles, but finished Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (review next week) and Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge.
The Dickens title was plain hard work, but listening to Mil Nicholson at Librivox helped a lot. Most of Linnets and Valerians was delightful, but the far-reaching effects of the black magic on several of the main characters robbed the book of some of its charm. If I had read it as a fairy tale rather than a middle grade adventure story, it might have been less disturbing.

I watched two Hallmark mysteries: Fixer Upper: Framed for Murder & Chronicle Mysteries: The Deep End. And I enjoyed this 45 minute YouTube video of James Clear summarizing his book Atomic Habits.

Anybody else still in a reading slump? Any good books or movies to recommend?


Friday, July 24, 2020

A Culture of Boredom

In a culture that craves the big, the entertaining, the dramatic, and the shocking, cultivating a life with space for silence and repetition is necessary for sustaining a life of faith. Once a student complained to his professor about having to read Augustine's Confessions. "It's boring," the student whined. "No, it's not," the professor responded. "You're boring." What he meant is that when we gaze at the richness of the gospel and the church and find them dull and uninteresting, it's actually we who have been hollowed out. We have lost our capacity to see wonders where true wonders lie.

(from Tish Harrison Warren's Liturgy of the Ordinary, p. 34)


Friday, July 10, 2020

The Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

Do your daily small tasks really matter in the whole scheme of things? In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Warren walks us through the rhythms of a typical day and highlights lessons that can be learned from each simple practice.

Christians are taught to look for a radical life, a life of conspicuous sacrifice and service - a life that seems obviously set apart for something more than the mundane and unimportant... We tend to want a Christian life with all the dull bits cut out. Yet God made us to spend our days in rest, work, and play, taking care of our bodies, our families, our neighborhoods, our homes. What if all these boring parts matter to God? What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us?

She emphasizes that it is in the dailiness of the Christian faith - the making of the bed, the doing of the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading of the Bible, the quiet, the small - that God's transformation takes root and grows. Evangelicals tend to focus on a "radical Christianity" full of excitement, passion and risk. Quoting Eugene Peterson, she writes, There is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for the long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.

In addition to a radical faith, we American Christians love a productive faith. The busier we are in God's work, the more spiritual we feel. But Tish gently reminds us that if we realize that ALL we do is for God's glory (even the mundane), it helps us to resist the idolatry of work and accomplishment. She reiterates this in her chapter on rest where she writes that sleep reminds us that ultimately it is God who does the work. When we lie down at the end of the day, it is a confession of our limits and a recognition of the holiness of rest and the blessedness of unproductivity. As we stop all our "doing," we joyfully acknowledge God's watchcare over our lives.

This is not a book that will bowl you over, but it is a perfect book to read during lockdown. I, as a missionary, appreciated this careful analysis of what a life of faithfulness looks like, especially when opportunities for [frantic] Christian service have been curtailed.


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

What I Read and Watched in June

One of my bookstagram friends wrote that she is re-reading old favorites because she doesn't have the cognitive energy to tackle anything new. I keep hearing about the lethargy caused by the Covid crisis and agree that my capacity to read deeply and then to write out my thoughts has been much harder in recent months. Blogging has taken a serious hit.

I managed to get through three novels in June: L.M. Montgomery's Emily Climbs, Mary Stewart's suspenseful Madam, Will You Talk? (during which I had to take in deep gulps of air at the end of each chapter because I had forgotten to breathe), and Dorothy Sayers' Murder Must Advertise. The non-fiction I completed was Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren, and Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology (for an upcoming class.) I also listened to the short book, Where is God in a Coronavirus World? by John C. Lennox.

I watched 3 episodes of PBS' The Great American Read and don't think I'll finish it. Harrison Ford's newest movie, The Call of the Wild, was okay, but I could never emotionally connect with the CGI animals. The murder mystery, A Bundle of Trouble was pleasant, but unremarkable - except for the fact that it was the first Hallmark movie I've seen with a transgender character.

My most surprising reading was from an online Catholic periodical called Crisis Magazine. I don't know who sent me my first free issue, but I was quickly hooked by the exceptional writing and politically conservative perspective. I am not Catholic so I skip the articles about Catholic doctrine and polity, but the other articles on culture and politics have helped to clarify my thinking. Two of my favorites were "And Then They Came for J.K. Rowling," and "Domesticity is Not Slavery."


Friday, June 12, 2020

Walking Faithfully with God by Kay Arthur

Do the kings and kingdoms of the Old Testament run together in your mind? If so, you are not alone. Sure, everybody know about David and Solomon, but after the kingdom was divided, forty more (mostly villainous) rulers reigned in Judah and Israel. How in the world do we keep them straight? The book Walking Faithfully with God is a great place to start.

The beauty of the inductive Bible study method is that it forces you to slow down and pay attention. This book requires you to patiently note down character traits of the major kings. It requires highlighting, reading, and re-reading. After studying a chapter in I or II Kings, you jump over to the corresponding chapter in II Chronicles to get a more complete picture of that king's life. It is VERY thorough.

Even though this was my fourth time through this book, I was still constantly amazed at the wickedness of the various kings. Though they are persistently sinful, God is persistently merciful in sending prophets to warn them to repent. After a series of discouragingly evil kings, suddenly there is a man who loves God with all his heart to remind you that God can raise up men of God under the most adverse circumstances.

The book is full of helpful maps and charts and at the end of each week there are insightful life lessons as well as discussion questions to help you dig deeper. I have been doing inductive Bible study for fifteen years, and this is far and away my favorite study. I'm always a little sad when I finish any inductive study because of the rich, fruitful hours I've spent in God's word. I hated to see this book come to an end.


Friday, June 5, 2020

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

Emily of New Moon was a lovely surprise in a month when I've been suffering from reading doldrums.

The book was written in 1923 and tells the story of newly-orphaned Emily Starr who must move in with unfriendly relatives. (The Murrays had rejected her mother when she eloped with Emily's father.) In book one of the trilogy, she learns to love her new home and to grow into a brave and thoughtful young woman.

Where do I start to sing her praises? Emily has a perfect mixture of pluck and insecurity that make her endearing. She pours out her heart in long, poignant letters to her deceased father that are mixed with honest questions about life's hardships and observations about the people around her. Some of her observations made me laugh out

Emily has the gift of wonder. It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside - but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond - only a glimpse - and heard a note of unearthly music..... And always, when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

The book is chock-full beautiful descriptions: Winter came with its beautiful bare-limbed trees, and soft pearl-grey skies that were slashed with rifts of gold in the afternoon, and cleared to a jewelled pageantry of stars over the wide white hills and valleys of New Moon. Or the description of the tin man, whose wagon is covered with pans that flash back the sunlight so dazzingly that Old Kelly seemed the beaming sun of a little planetary system all his own.

Add to that all the delicious literary references to the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, Wordworth, Dante and Thackeray. Throw in dear, odd cousin Jimmy, Father Cassidy and a cast of other unique, but special friends PLUS an long unsolved mystery, and you've got a full plate of bookish delights. Very highly recommended.


Thursday, May 28, 2020

What I Read and Watched in May

We started the month with a re-watch of Hidden Figures, which was just as good the second time around. In general I have very little patience for Hallmark movies, but I enjoy their mysteries when I get a chance. So I was happy to find Roux the Day and Three Bedrooms, One Corpse, which were good, clean (yet forgettable) fun. BUT Fixer-Upper Mystery: Concrete Evidence was the most suspenseful HM movie I've ever watched. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was delighted to see that hard-to-find author, O. Douglas, (who wrote Penny Plain, a vintage favorite) had more titles available for Kindle and immediately bought six of them. I re-read Penny Plain before tackling its sequel, Priorsford. Sadly, Priorsford did not meet my expectations.

My other reads for the month were theological: The Power of the Blood of Jesus by Andrew Murray (reviewed here) and Grace, Faith and Holiness, a theology textbook that I've been reading for months. (review here)

My absolute favorite of the month was L.M. Montgomery's  Emily of New Moon, which I'll be reviewing soon.

I discovered several free books this month: 365 Meditations from George McDonald's Fiction, Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law (Christian classic, 1729), and The Last Man by Mary Shelley (possibly the first post-apocalyptic novel, 1826) I can't vouch for any of these titles, but thought if you are reading this blog, you might have similar tastes in books.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Evangelism as Exiles by Elliot Clark

As biblical values crumble in our surrounding society, how should Christians respond? The natural reaction is fear, but Elliot Clark writes, Instead of whining and feeling sorry for ourselves because the culture is becoming unrecognizable, Christians should align their vision with that of first-century Christians. If opposition mounts to the place where it can be rightly called persecution, we are called to follow the apostles, who left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering for the disgrace of the name. (Acts 5:41)

In Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land, Clark walks the reader through the book of 1 Peter which teaches that suffering and social exclusion are actually the most normal thing in the world…. The Christian in exile is called to embrace the shame and social humiliation that come as a package deal with the cross. We’re to be first and foremost God-pleasers and not man-pleasers.

In Chapter Five he writes about an aspect of Christian living that is often ignored in modern circles – the need for holy lives. Holiness is not only the result of conversion, it’s also an embodied argument in support of the gospel’s veracity. Gospel declaration is linked to life transformation. But in America Christians think the gospel is more credible to others when they see us as most like them. We’ve come to believe that God is most glorified and people are most evangelized when the church is either hip and trendy or when it’s struggling, broken and weakNow is not the time for us to try to make the Christian message fit into the world’s mold. We should keep Christianity weird. And in so doing, we just might reach our neighbors. (!)

As hopes diminish and fears increase, as opponents rise to power and our cultural influence fades, as we become outcasts and even refugees – it’s then, at this very moment, that the church will have an incredible opportunity for the gospel. (This is also one of Rod Dreher's main points in The Benedict Option.) 

Clark offers a lot of food for thought in these pages. Most books about evangelism tend to say, “Do it this way and you’ll have success.” I appreciated Clark’s approach because his own experiences as a missionary in a Muslim country taught him there is no “one-size-fits-all” method. My only quibble is that he emphasizes witnessing out of fear (awe) of God and fear of the other’s eternal damnation. I prefer LOVE as motivation because it overcomes the other fears that Clark so eloquently describes in his book.


Friday, May 15, 2020

The Power of the Blood of Jesus by Andrew Murray

Of my top ten Christian classics, three titles are by Andrew Murray so I was prepared to enjoy The Power of the Blood of Jesus. Still, it was more theologically dense than some of his other books. 

One of Murray’s most helpful insights was on the holiness of God. We often think only of its negative aspect, i.e., that He hates sin. But Murray points out that the positive side of His holiness is that He is good, loves goodness and wants to make us good (holy). Holiness, as we wrongfully understand it, is the priggish keeping of rules. But to Murray Holiness is a disposition in entire agreement with that of God, which chooses in all things to will as God wills. It is nothing more than oneness with God, effected by intimacy with Him.   

Chapter 8 had a helpful explanation of Christ’s words in John 6:53 (“Drink my blood”). It’s hard enough to wrap our modern sensibilities around the idea of being “washed in the blood,” but the admonition to drink it is mind-boggling. Murray simplifies the idea by using water as an example. Water cleanses outwardly, but to be life-giving, it must be imbibed. Without drinking the blood of the Son of God – i.e., without hearty appropriation of it – eternal life cannot be obtained. Not only must the blood do something for us by placing us in a new relationship with God (forgiveness), but it must also do something in us (cleansing), entirely renewing us within.

He who “drinks” the blood of Jesus, receives Christ’s eternal, abundant life into himself. Only as we allow Him to fill us with Himself can we live the Christian life. This is the resounding theme of all of Murray’s books - the fruitfulness of a life completely surrendered to Christ.

If you are new to Murray, I would suggest either Humility (free for Kindle) or The True Vine to introduce you to these important ideas. But if you are ready for something a little meatier, The Power of the Blood of Jesus (free at the moment) will certainly stretch your thinking.  


Friday, May 1, 2020

What I Read and Watched in April

Though I'm still in a stress-induced brain fog, I managed to read several classics this month. I tried to listen to an audio version of Bambi, but disliked it so much that I gave it up halfway through (review here). My Antonia by Willa Cather, on the other hand, was an excellent audio book. Another book that was surprisingly good was The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis. I read a few poems a day and found consolation in their beauty. Persuasion by Jane Austen was a perfect comfort read.

My Christian non-fiction for the month was Affliction by Edith Schaeffer, which was a solid, sensible look at suffering. (reviewed here) There's never any fluff with Edith Schaeffer.

My biggest disappointment was Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley (reviewed here) because I loved her book, Beauty, so much.

As far as movies go, I watched Across the Pacific with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor because I had heard the banter was witty. It was filmed in 1942 and Japanese stereotypes are rampant, but the repartee between the protagonists was perfect. I also watched the 1971 BBC version of Persuasion after reading the book. The hairstyles and dress were dated, but I thought the actress who played Anne was lovely. She was beautiful but had lost the bloom of youth (just as Anne is described in the novel).

We watched the first season of VidAngel's series on the life of Christ called The Chosen. My husband and I are such biblical purists that we thought we'd hate it. But it was actually very well done and we enjoyed it. I liked the series, but I LOVED the pilot, The Shepherd, which is available on YouTube.

Did you have a favorite book or movie this month?


Friday, April 24, 2020

Twenty Vintage Classics that are Free for Kindle

Hundreds of vintage authors have not stood the test of time because they are overly sentimental or their writing lacks literary quality. You can read most of them for free on your Kindle, but which ones are worth your time? Here are twenty of my favorites titles.

General Titles
Penny Plain by O. Douglas is a charming domestic drama set in Scotland in the 1920's.
Fair Harbor by Joseph Crosby Lincoln. In the midst of gossiping busy-bodies, bickering lovers, and money-grabbing scoundrels, stands Captain Kendrick, a man of sterling character who is eager to do what is right even at the cost of his own happiness. 
Lilac Girl by Ralph Henry Barbour is a sweet, non-syrupy romance with some fun humor woven in.
The Rich Mrs. Burgoyne by Kathleen Thompson Norris is much more than a romance. It's a treatise on the value of motherhood.
Dandelion Cottage by Caroll Watson Rankin is a lovely story of 4 little girls, similar to the Betsy-Tacy books.
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (a few of her other titles are free)
Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
Three books in the Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott (some of her other titles are also free.)

Cozy Mysteries
Father Brown mysteries by G.K. Chesterton
The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Arsene Lupin by Maurice LeBlanc (French gentleman thief)
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Lady Audley's Secret by (A Victorian page turner)
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (the first of four spy novels)
The Woman in Black by E.C. Bentley

Unfortunately Amazon charges for the most popular vintage authors (Rumer Godden, Georgette Heyer, Elizabeth Goudge, D.E. Stevenson, Miss Read). Some, like Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, have only their less famous titles for free. Another of my favorite vintage story-tellers is James Hilton, but his cheapest (and most famous) book is 99 cents.

I hope you find a comforting book in these days of self-quarantine. The book of Psalms has been a source of solace for me, but I have enjoyed some escapist fiction as well.

 (All of these books were free at the time of this posting. Please let me know if you find a discrepancy.)


Friday, April 17, 2020

Persuasion by Jane Austen

It's been over thirty years since I read a print copy of Jane Austen's Persuasion. In fact, when I read it in 1988, I didn't like Anne who seemed like too much of a doormat; when I watched the 1995 film with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, I saw Anne in a completely different light. Since then I've listened to the audio version two or three times. Now thirty years later I revisited the actual book and loved it unequivocally. I laughed out loud at Mary's overgrown sense of importance. I relished each carefully crafted sentence. I agonized over Anne's losses. And I identified with her in a new way. She and I are both #2 on the Enneagram! Please beware of spoilers throughout this post.

The title of the book took on much more depth this time through. It not only refers to Anne who had been influenced to give up Wentworth as a young girl but also to Louisa Musgrove. Louisa declares she could never be persuaded to give up the man she loves, but later proves that implacability can be the same as pigheadedness. Even Wentworth admits that he was persuaded (by his own pride) to give up Anne too easily. The nuances of persuasion are noted in Anne's reflections after Louisa's accident. She is sitting next to Wentworth and wonders whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favor of happiness as a very resolute character. Later Austen writes of the necessity of distinguishing between steadfastness of principle and the obstinacy of self-will. In the end we find in Anne the perfect mingling of fortitude with gentleness.

Chapter 23 is pure literary comfort food as Anne and Harville debate over who is more faithful in unrequited love: men or women? And then there's THE LETTER from Wentworth to Anne. As Austen herself wrote, Such a letter was not soon to be recovered from.

If you haven't read this Austen title yet, please rush right out go online and get a copy. Preferably a hard copy that you can read, re-read and underline at your leisure.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Affliction by Edith Schaeffer

While searching for my daily dose of non-fiction, Edith Schaeffer's Affliction seemed like an appropriate choice. With the whole world in crisis mode, I knew her calm voice and clear thinking would strengthen and encourage my heart.

She begins abruptly by talking about the ugliness of death. It should not be taken as a normal, beautiful "release," but as an enemy which separates body from spirit and human beings from each other. This is the beauty of Schaeffer. She never softens the truth. But she wisely guides her readers into a deeper understanding of it. Her main argument is that there are two victories connected with suffering: victory FROM it and victory IN it. She gives many examples of those who have been delivered miraculously from pain and many other examples of those who demonstrated peace and faith even when their prayers were not answered. Scripture references are woven throughout.

She wrote, We have had individuals come to us who have been crushed and discouraged to an extreme because of being mistakenly taught that the criterion of being in the Lord's will is to have everything go well - with no shocks and disappointments. But the Bible teaches that affliction is an expected part of the lives of God's people.

Chapter Eleven, called "Aborting Affliction," packs a powerful punch as Schaeffer deals with the increasingly common idea that if we don't want to be troubled with something, we can just make it go away. This could be an unwanted baby, a disappointing spouse, or an aging relative. She concludes, If affliction and tribulation are to be aborted, then patience, steadfastness, experience and hope are also aborted.... When can love be patient and longsuffering if there aren't any concrete opportunities?

I must admit that although I liked this book very much, I found it difficult to finish. You'd think that the Covid-19 quarantine would be a book-loving introvert's dream come true, but the underlying stress of living in a world on pause has made it more difficult to concentrate. I save my sharpest mental moments - in the early morning - to pray, sing hymns and read scripture. During the rest of the day, I have to force myself sit down with a book. But this book made me glad I made the effort.


P.S. I noticed this was free for Kindle Unlimited if you (like me) keep a running list of books to read when a KU deal comes up (usually at the end of the year.)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Ten years ago I read Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather and was underwhelmed. Several readers encouraged me to try My Ántonia. They also encouraged me to change my expectations and treat Cather's books less like novels and more like gorgeous word pictures of the American West. Their advice helped to make my second Cather title a rich experience.

Jim Burden is a ten year old orphan who moves to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. He meets a a family of Czech immigrants and forms a lifelong friendship with their daughter, Ántonia. Cather weaves together stories about Jim and "Tony's" families, adding in anecdotes of other settlers. Although Jim loves Ántonia, it is a many-faceted attachment (rather than just romantic attraction). Even when she marries, Jim continues to care deeply about her.

In addition to her powerful story-telling, Cather has a gift for fresh, lyrical prose. Jim describes the enthusiasm of a girl he took to a play: Everything was wonderful to her, and everything was true. It was like going to revival meetings with someone who was always being converted.

Near the end of the book, he meets Ántonia and sees that she has been battered by life. I was thinking, as I watched her, how little it mattered. I know so many women who have kept all things that she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded. Whatever else was gone, Ántonia had not lost the fire of life. She could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning of common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crabtree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting.

And this description: The rains had made channels of the wheel-ruts and washed them so deep that the sod had never healed over them. They looked like gashes torn by a grizzly's claws.

No, this is not a typical novel with plot twists and happy endings, but it was very satisfying to visit the Old West, to catch a glimpse of some of its first settlers, and to savor their beautifully-told story.


P.S. I listened to this via Audible's free quarantine downloads, but I see that YouTube has quite a few audio versions of it. It's also available via Kindle Free.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

What I Read and Watched in March

At the advice of Brazil's minister of health, we've been home-bound, but we have plenty to eat and plenty of books to read (and time to read them). Unfortunately, being in hibernation mode makes me want to spend all day in the kitchen making comfort food. Ha!

I'm reading some theology books for a class I'm teaching in the fall. Grace, Faith and Holiness is a chunkster, but by pacing myself at 30 minutes a day, I've reached page 200 (of 600). I've also been pondering the thoughts of John Wesley in his 52 Sermons (15 minutes per day) and I'm halfway through.

For fun I read Storm in the Village (#3 in the Fairacre series) and Over the Gate (#5) by Miss Read. I took advantage of  one of's free audiobooks (as long as schools are closed) and listened to My Ántonia by Willa Cather. I'm still processing it and hope to write a review for my next post. 

Twice a week, we've been watching some of our favorite DVDs of Perry Mason and Murder She Wrote. We watched the second Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers. I also rented Snipped in the Bud, a Hallmark mystery when I needed some quiet and alone time. (My husband and son stay miles away when there's a Hallmark movie on!)

Are you reading anything good lately? I hope you are all safe and well.


Friday, March 13, 2020

On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior

Many reviewers gave On Reading Well a lower rating because “Prior did not convince them to read any of the books.” But they missed the point. Prior was making the case for the Great Books as teachers of virtue and she does a fine job. The introductory chapter is worth the price of the book.

It is not enough to read widely. One must also read well. One must read virtuously. The word virtue has various shades of meaning, but in general, virtue can most simply be understood as excellence.

Reading virtuously means, first, reading closely, being faithful to both text and context, interpreting accurately and insightfully. Indeed, there is something in the very form of reading – the shape of the action itself – that tends toward virtue. The attentiveness necessary for deep reading (the kind we practice in reading literary works as opposed to skimming news stories or reading instructions) requires patience. The skills of interpretation and evaluation require prudence. Even the simple decision to set aside time to read in a world rife with so many other choices competing for our attention requires a kind of temperance.

Therefore, even as you seek books that you will enjoy reading, demand ones that make demands on you: books with sentences so exquisitely crafted that they must be reread, familiar words used in fresh ways, new words so evocative that you are compelled to look them up, and images and ideas so arresting that they return to you unbidden for days to come.

After the intro, Prior presents ten chapters, each one linking a specific virtue with a famous classic. Some novels teach by showing the protagonist making good choices (Christian demonstrating diligence in Pilgrim’s Progress). Others show the necessity of a particular virtue by showing characters who make bad choices (Jay Gatsby's lack of temperance). My favorite was the discussion of chastity based on Ethan Frome. When I read the book years ago, I was oblivious to many of the important themes that Prior brings out in her analysis.

I did not understand Silence by Shusako Endo any better after reading Prior’s chapter on faith, but I thoroughly enjoyed her insights into Anne Elliott’s patience and Huck Finn’s courage. And I gained a much greater appreciation for several books and authors that I had dismissed as “not my style,” especially Flannery O’Connor.


Friday, March 6, 2020

What I Read and Watched in February

I promised myself I wouldn't rush through books this year, but greed took over when I signed up for the Kindle Unlimited trial. I ended up gorging on seven D.E. Stevenson novels: The Empty World, The Tall Stranger, Peter West, Five Windows, Amberwell (re-read), Summerhills, and Still Glides the Stream. I disliked Peter West, but Five Windows was a new favorite (reviewed here).

Also on my KU stack was On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior, Evangelism as Exiles: Live on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land by Elliot Clark and Kidnapped (audio book) by R.L. Stevenson. Kidnapped was the hardest to finish because I was unfamiliar with the current events of that time which were frequently mentioned.

The only physical book I read (apart from my Bible) was A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie, which I hope to re-read often. (reviewed here)

On the movie front, I watched a guy movie for my husband's birthday, Ford vs. Ferrari, which was surprisingly interesting and not as profane as I expected. A few days later we hooked up our Brazilian cable TV and could find nothing to watch (surprise!); we ended up watching the DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring, which is always a pleasure.


Friday, February 28, 2020

A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie

I do not come from a tradition of written prayers, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this devotional classic. A Diary of Private Prayer, written by Scottish theologian John Baillie (1886-1960), contains a month of heartfelt prayers, one for each morning and evening. Frankly, the humble, submissive attitude of these prayers was a welcome change from much of modern Christian literature.

An example from Day Four: Do not let me embark on anything today that is not in line with your will for my life, nor shirk from any sacrifice that your will demands.

Mingled with the prayers of surrender to God's will are praises for His goodness and power. On Day Twenty-Two, he writes, O Lord, my God, I kneel before you in humble adoration as I set out to face the tasks and interests of another day. Thank you for the blessed assurance that I shall not be called upon to face them alone or in my own strength, but that at all times I will be accompanied by your presence and strengthened by your grace.

One final favorite prayer: O Holy Spirit, visit my soul and stay within me all day. Inspire all my thoughts. Pervade all my imagination. Suggest all my decisions. Make your home in the most secret place of my will and inspire all my actions. Be with me in my silence and in my speech, in my hurry and in my leisure, in company and in solitude, in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening; and give me grace at all times to rejoice in the comforting mystery of your companionship.

My only quibble is the occasional general prayer for "all the workers in the world," or "all who suffer." I have a hard time understanding how God is supposed to answer such non-specific petitions, but I may be underestimating His far-reaching grace.

It's hard to imagine that anyone could read this book every day and not be changed by it. My edition, with updated language by Susanna Wright, was very readable. The hard cover and ribbon bookmark guarantee its use for many years to come.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Five Windows by D.E. Stevenson

I've been plowing through D.E. Stevenson titles since taking advantage of the Kindle Unlimited deal that I got in December. The most famous books (Miss Buncle and Mrs. Tim) are not free through KU, but there are over a dozen lesser-known novels that I've been enjoying. Five Windows is one of my new favorites.

David Kirke, the only son of a vicar and his wife, grew up in a quiet country town in Scotland and moves to London to begin his career. Each of the windows in the title describes the view from his various places of residence. In each location he learns a valuable lesson. There are delightful characters such as Teddy (a girl), Barbie, the decorator, Mr. Coe, the book store owner, and Malcolm, the shepherd. There are despicable folks such as the residents of the boarding house. Because of his unfailing kindness and good manners, David gets mixed up with them, but through those relationships, he learns to be a better judge of human nature and to stand up for himself.

What I loved most about the book was watching David "make do" on very little money. Instead of complaining or borrowing, he made a game out of his poverty to stretch every penny. It is a hobby my own mother taught me and I was tickled to read of some of his tricks.

In addition to the delightful literary references sprinkled throughout (from Pilgrim's Progress, the Bible, Wordsworth, and Dickens), there were several very funny sequences. One described the literary efforts of David's friend, Miles Blackworth, who assumed that just because he had read a lot of thrillers, it would be easy to write one. Another humorous situation was when David's mother came to visit him in London and his office colleagues assumed he was making her up so as not to have to admit to having a girlfriend.

This is a book about second chances. For people and for houses. (If you know anything about Stevenson's books, the houses are almost human!) I thoroughly enjoyed this new-to-me book and look forward to re-reading it in the future.


Friday, February 7, 2020

Life as a Work of Art - quote from Sarah Clarkson

To be truly faithful isn't merely to endure; it is also to create. That kind of faithfulness comes with the choice to fix our eyes on the beauty promised (and already present in Christ), and to let that drive our actions rather than despair. To be faithful means taking the musty clay of ordinary days, and molding them it into hours of laughter, landmark feasts, and the making of music and memories. To be faithful is to love, yet again, in the face of rejection, to pour another cup of tea, or set another place at the table. Faithfulness is to live in such fidelity to our hope that what we hope becomes visible, enfleshed in the words and actions with which we meet the darkness. A life so formed becomes a piece of art that illumines the ordinary and transforms the mundane with its beauty. (p. 89 of Caught Up in a Story by Sarah Clarkson)

Sarah writes that all of her favorite heroines have this quality. Mine too!