Friday, September 24, 2021

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute

John Howard is a 70 year old Englishman in need of a rest. He travels to a village in France, never dreaming that war would soon be arriving at his doorstep. As he seeks to return to England, he is asked by another couple in the inn to take their two children with him. He reluctantly agrees, knowing he is too old for the task, but not willing to leave the children where they will be in any danger. Like the Pied Piper of the original story, Howard accumulates other needy children along the way. 

How he gets them through Nazi-occupied France makes Pied Piper a hair-raising tale, but what struck me most about the story was the small graces that were extended to him and the children along the way. Along with incidents of sickness, hunger, and  stolen luggage, there are also moments when they were given a meal, a hayloft to sleep in, or a broken down pram in which to carry their few belongings. Just as the responsibility of caring for all these children of various ages and nationalities becomes overwhelming, Howard encounters a young woman who insists on coming with him to help. 

The story of his faithful, honorable, self-giving love for the children would have been a good enough story in itself, but the addition of Nicole, adds a beautiful element to the story. Not only does she help with the children, the two of them help each other grieve various losses. 

This is a lovely, lovely story that I look forward to revisiting in the future. My experience was greatly enhanced by the narrator of my audio book, David Rintoul, who not only spoke French beautifully, but also did a bang-up job with voices of the women and children.  

This is my first Nevile Shute novel and I'm a bit afraid to try another since his other books have very mixed reviews (except for A Town Like Alice, which appears to be a classic). Have you read him? Do you have a favorite?

P.S. I found two movie versions on YouTube but neither do the book justice. The 1942 version makes John out to be a buffoon (which he definitely is not), but the other actors were very good; the Peter O'Toole version was better, but not great. Read the book!


Friday, September 17, 2021

How to Get Started Reading Dante

When I heard about the 100 Days of Dante challenge, I knew it would give me the motivation to approach his daunting classic, The Divine Comedy. I read three books beforehand to provide background, but without having read the actual text, they were not as helpful as I had hoped. I still felt lost as I began reading The Inferno (book one of three). Since I pride myself in having developed literary muscle through the years, I was dismayed that it was still a struggle to understand what was happening. 

At first I listened to the short lectures given by Dante scholars from Baylor before reading each canto, but realized that I had no idea what they were talking about. I floundered a bit before deciding to read the assigned (short) canto before AND after listening to the teaching video. That meant that I had to spend 20 to 30 minutes on each canto (just three times a a week if you are following the 100 Days with Dante schedule). Searching and comparing translations, and finding one that worked for me, also made a huge difference. Listening while reading was also helpful. (There are many free audio versions on YouTube.)

I will not say that I am still understanding everything perfectly, but I'm glad for all the resources available that act as training wheels for the uninitiated like me. The passion that the Baylor profs have for Dante is contagious. 

Regarding translations... Because I live in Brazil, I could only do comparisons using Kindle samples. That eliminated some respected translations such as Dorothy Sayers' and Anthony Esolen's. The most readable classic translation was by poet John Ciardi, but I ended up discarding it because I thought it odd that he did not include the best line from Canto 1 (line 39 about God's Divine Love being the creative force of the universe). He left out that idea all together even though it is clearly there in the Italian. (I only know that because it is similar to Portuguese!)

The digital versions I liked the most (clear without dumbed-down language) were by Clive James, Robert Durling, and Gerald J. DavisHenry Wadsworth Longfellow has a version that's free, which isn't too difficult if you are used to King James' English.

Anyone else read Dante? Are you reading along with the 100 Days challenge? Any more tips?


Friday, September 3, 2021

What I Read and Watched in August

As I look back at the month, I can hardly believe how much I read. Nina Balatka by Anthony Trollope was my "Obscure Book Mentioned by Thomas Banks" for the Lit Life 2021 Reading Challenge. I didn't love it. I read "The Rocking Horse Winner" (short story by D. H. Lawrence) along with the podcast group. Just for fun I also read three novels by D. E. Stevenson: First was Smouldering Fire (which may be my least favorite of her titles so far); then I read The Blue Sapphire, which I enjoyed very much - even though it was a little high on the fluff meter. Sarah Morris Remembers was delightful in its portrayal of a British family trying to make the best of their world-turned-upside-down during WWII. Unfortunately, one event in the book soured the book for me. Lastly, I re-read a favorite poetry anthology for children called Silver Pennies.

I'm taking daily sips from three other books: Dom Casmurro is a Brazilian classic that I'm reading slowly because of the archaic Portuguese. I'm reading 4 to 5 letters a day from Letters of C.S. Lewis (Vol. 2). The abridged Journal of John Wesley is my bed-time book.

I listened to three delightful audiobooks: Anthony Esolen's lectures on The Roots of Western Civilization, (via Hoopla) WWII middle grade novel A Place to Hang the Moon by Albus, (via Hoopla) and J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (re-read)

I enjoyed a movie on YouTube, Adventures in Manhattan, starring my favorite old-time actress, Jean Arthur. My husband and I watched Marvel's The Black Panther (2018), which we had heard was quite good, but I thought the storyline wasn't that strong and the violence was stressful (I don't watch enough TV to get used to watching women beating up men.) I received the Signed, Sealed, Delivered series for my birthday and chuckled through the first two episodes.

It was a good month for reading. Do you have an opinion on any of these books or movies? Did you read or watch anything you'd recommend?


Friday, August 20, 2021

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

I avoid modern books as a general rule, but kept hearing rave reviews of A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus. Thankfully, I found I could listen to it for free via Hoopla, and have been devouring this wonderful story for the last few evenings. 

William, Edmund and Anna are siblings who were evacuated from London at the beginning of WWII. Their home life had been unhappy and they have learned to look out for each other. They find solace in each other's company and in books. It's heartwarming to read of their favorites such as Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, Anne of Green Gables, etc. There is even a reference to a "new" book called The Hobbit (first printed in 1937). 

The eldest, William, is only twelve, but has had to act as parent to the other two. He is determined to keep them together in their new surroundings. The book recounts the difficult circumstances they face and how each child grows in self-understanding and empathy. One of their only friends is the village librarian who is an outcast for being married to a German (who has mysteriously disappeared).

It's a delight from start to finish with its good writing, its glorious images (book-lined rooms, warm fires and cups of hot chocolate to name a few), and its well-drawn, vivid characters. Most of all it shines as a story of second chances. 

The problem with audiobooks is that you can't write down all the good quotes, but I managed to scribble this comment from Chapter 3: The first words of a new book are so delicious - like the first taste of a cookie fresh from the oven and not properly cooled.

This story gave me a "book hangover" (the first time in ages that I've had one) that kept me pondering how the children were doing days after I finished the book. This is a ripping good tale! (I'm glad I heard it read by Polly Lee in her wonderful British accent.)


Friday, August 6, 2021

"Reading as Fortress Building" - Quotes from Philip Yancey

In a recent Washington Post article, Philip Yancey laments the death of his reading life. Here are a few excerpts:

Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books. It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part—the part we all ignore—is that we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important.

We’re engaged in a war, and technology wields the heavy weapons. Willpower alone is not enough, he says. We need to construct what he calls “a fortress of habits."

I’ve concluded that a commitment to reading is an ongoing battle, somewhat like the battle against the seduction of Internet pornography. We have to build a fortress with walls strong enough to withstand the temptations of that powerful dopamine rush while also providing shelter for an environment that allows deep reading to flourish. Christians especially need that sheltering space, for quiet meditation is one of the most important spiritual disciplines.


(pic is a photo sketch of my brother reading to his first grandson. We start fortress building VERY early in our family!)


Friday, July 30, 2021

What I Read in July

It was a good month for reading books bit by bit. The first book I read was the Greek play, Antigone, which I reviewed here. I made it through a third of Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl (a fairy tale re-telling) before giving up because of the annoying voices. (Can someone tell me if this an author who merits another try?) I read Rod Dreher's Live Not by Lies for Cindy Rollin's summer class and enjoyed it very much. It has the same emphasis as The Benedict Option (that authentic Christian community is the only viable response to a crumbling society), but LNBL seems less hopeless in tone since it tells survival stories how many believers fought back against communism and totalitarianism by participating in strong religious communities. (A more complete review is forthcoming.)

I finished Dorothy Sayer's book of short stories called Lord Peter Views the Body, which was a treat that I gave myself every afternoon between lunch and my to-do list. I also listened to the ten-hour audiobook of How Dante Can Save Your Life by Rod Dreher each evening while working through some new puzzle books. It's much more about Dreher than about Dante, but was a good intro into The Divine Comedy, which I plan to tackle in September (#100daysofdante). During my morning exercises, I worked my way through Agatha Christie's Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (audiobook), which isn't one of her best, but was a fun mystery to try and solve.

I also enjoyed a couple of short stories that I read along with the Literary Life podcast: The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster, and Reunion by Fred Uhlman. Since I'm out from under my heavy academic load, I'm not watching movies for stress-relief. I'm thankful to be back to reading, writing and blogging. 


Friday, July 23, 2021

Antigone by Sophocles

When the Literary Life group decided to read the Greek play Antigone, I gave it a pass. With a towering TBR list, I assumed I had better things to read. Silly me. When I saw that the audiobook was just over an hour, I caved in. Surprisingly, I didn't need the Lit Life group to understand the beauty and power of this short play. 

For one thing, the opening paragraph (called "The Argument") gives an overview of the story's principal events so you never have to wonder what is going on. Then comes a brief list of characters (the last two books I read would have been so much easier to understand if I'd had that!) After that, the reader plunges right in. I admit that having some background in Shakespearean English (or at least in the King James Bible) would be helpful in understanding the old-fashioned language. Once I got the hang of it, I loved the plucky heroine, the great dialogue, and the gorgeous wording.

The basic story is of a young woman who goes against the king's arbitrary command (to leave her dead brother unburied) and the heavy price everyone pays for it. Many universal themes are introduced, but the main one is civil disobedience. When does loyalty to family override loyalty to government? Antigone argues that the gods would not have approved of the king's edict. So, she is not only being loyal to her brother, but also to a higher Law. She says to King Creon: 

Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man,
Could'st by a breath annul and override
The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven.
They were not born today nor yesterday;
They die not; and none knoweth whence they sprang

It was startling apropos to our present times as the government continues to encroach on personal religious beliefs.  

My translation (free via Hoopla) by Francis Storr was stunning in its beauty. Here are a few favorite quotes: 

Much thought extends a furlong into a league. (Which I loosely interpret to mean, "Overthinking turns an inch into a mile.")

Hope flits about on never-wearying wings. (Do you suppose this line could have inspired Emily Dickinson's famous poem?)

I would not weigh his wealth and power against a dram of joy.

Ironic statement from a position of power: 
Now if she thus can flout authority unpunished,
I am woman, she the man.

On Pride: To err is common
To all men, but the man who having erred
Hugs not his errors, but repents and seeks
The cure, is not a wastrel nor unwise.
No fool, the saying goes, like an obstinate fool.

Word lovers will revel in phrases like, "her brother lay unsepulchered." And the word "snaffle" made me laugh with delight (even though it's only an old-fashioned word for bridle.) Oh, if only I could slip this delightful phrase into a future conversation: "You vex me with your babblement."

A quick, but worthwhile read. I listened, and then loved it so much downloaded a copy to read again the next day.