Thursday, November 23, 2023

Reading for the Love of God by Jessica Hooten Wilson

Why and how we read matters as much as what we read

It is not enough to read the Bible; you must eat the book 

(quoting Eugene Peterson and Ezekiel 3:3).

The premise of Reading for the Love of God is that words must get inside you and change you. This is transformation vs. information. If you want to know how to "eat the book," learn how to read – not only the Bible but other great books as well – as a spiritual practice.

Wilson’s book often reminded me of the Literary Life Podcast because both she and they emphasize the folly of reader-centered education (where students are asked how the text makes them feel thereby missing most of what the text is actually saying). She suggests that one way to avoid that is to use the ART metric. In it, the Author, Reader and Text are given equal emphasis. Yes, the readers emotions are involved, but only after he begins to pay attention to what the text is actually saying - all the while being respectful of the author’s point of view.

To be a critic is to stand over the text making the reader judge and master over the text. This standing over prevents the understanding necessary to be transfigured by the reading. The reader should approach the book in the way a student draws near a teacher, with a willingness to learn, to receive, from the books. (p. 11)

Wilson places a strong emphasis on how medieval Christians saw deeper meanings in everything they read in the Bible, and criticizes Luther (and the Reformation) for making the literal meaning of the text paramount thereby excluding the other “senses” (allegorical, tropological, and anagogical). I find this to be problematic because it leaves too much room for heretical interpretations. One of her main examples of a saint whose reading style we should imitate is Juliana of Norwich. But Wilson doesn’t mention that Juliana’s zeal to see the love of God in every verse of Scripture caused her to negate the possibility of wrath, judgment or hell.

Apart from that caveat, I appreciated Wilson’s deep love for the written word and her encouragement to keep reading deeply.

A life of reading counteracts the malformation of screen and digital technology…. In contrast to many other pastimes, reading demands engagement. It asks something of the participant. It cultivates that person’s imagination and increases their vision of the world. (p. 15)


Thursday, November 9, 2023

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson

I started Miracles on Maple Hill many years ago and couldn't get past the heaviness of the first few chapters (which didn't seem appropriate for a children's book). BUT I kept hearing good things about it and am glad that I gave it another try. 

As soon as the story begins, we sense that something is not quite right with Marly's father. We learn later that he was a prisoner of war during WWII and returned with PTSD symptoms. Her mother is moving Marly (age 10), her father, and her older brother Joe to live in the country to aid her father in his recovery. Marly is hoping that the present stresses of her family life will be relieved by this change, but she has no idea of the many good things that are coming her way. 

The word "miracles" in this story can easily be translated as the acts of kindness that bring comfort and peace to this hurting family. This abundance of grace is conveyed through kind neighbors, the beauty of the changing seasons and even, on occasion, from Marly's brother who normally doesn't have time to bother with her. 

This was the 1957 Newbery winner so it assumes that kids were semi-literate and would understand references to Thumbellina, Joseph in the Bible, Shakespeare, etc. It also gives a gentle nod to differences between males and females, which I found refreshing, but which I know would not be acceptable in present-day stories. It also treats kids with respect by not talking down to them about hard subjects. Living in the country Marly discovers some hard realities about life and death. Why are their poisonous plants and mushrooms in the midst of so much glorious beauty? 

Though written for children, I got some strong Wendell Berry vibes with regard to rootedness and the healing power of community. Yes, the beginning is heavy, but it sets up the stage for the miracles that will need to happen to restore Marly's family. It is a beautifully told story and I loved the gentle way it teaches kids that though life can be hard, it can also be very good.


Thursday, October 26, 2023

What I Read and Watched in October 2023

Our rented apartment has no television so I continue to get a remarkable amount of reading done. The books I read in order of most-to-least appealing were 1) The Bridge on San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (simply astonishing in its breadth of understanding of the human condition), 2) The King's Equal by Katherine Paterson (a delightful fairy tale with a strong, yet feminine heroine), 3) Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson (1957 Newbery winner), 4) Reading for the Love of God by Jessica Hooten Wilson, 5) When the English Fall by David Williams (dystopia in an Amish community), 6) On Asking God Why by Elisabeth Elliot (collected essays), 7) Out of a Far Country (non-fiction redemption story), 8) The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart (I love her suspense novels, but this one droned on for 150 pages before my heart rate even mildly accelerated.)

The movies that I watched on my computer were: The African Queen (via Hoopla), which was a fun classic that my husband and I both enjoyed. On YouTube I started to watch a Hallmark mystery called The Curious Caterer, but turned it off after 5 painful minutes of poor acting, banal script and odd situations. The Carrot Cake Murder is a sequel of sorts to the Murder, She Baked movies that I've raved about, but was so badly done that I barely hung on until the end. Finally, I watched another Hallmark mystery (via Frndly TV), The Dancing Detective. The male character was over-the-top ridiculous, but he kept me laughing. Plus, the footage of Malta was breathtaking. 

I linked to the books so you could read more about them, but I read all of them from library, thrift store or loaned copies. Hopefully, so can you. 


Thursday, October 12, 2023

Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

Lovers of great literature will revel in Surprised by Joy, the biography of a man who was led to salvation by his reading diet. The progression of “great books” in Lewis’ life worked on him like drops of water on a stone. Eventually their Christian themes made a groove in his heart that he could no longer ignore.

The “joy” he writes of is not happiness as the world defines it, but the pang of inconsolable longing (p. 62) This longing for joy led Lewis to finally embrace theism and, soon afterwards, Christianity. Interestingly, once he became a Christian, he no long sought after those stabs of joy as before. He still had moments of intense feelings (“tastes of heaven”), but he no longer idolized those experiences. He took them as moments of grace pointing to an eternal reality yet to be experienced.

The book recounts his miserable days as a school boy, his difficult relationship with his father, his first friendships, and the heart change brought about by books.

In his penultimate chapter called “Checkmate”, he writes: All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course, it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it. Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence, had it too. Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed. On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete – Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire – all seemed a little thin… It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They were all entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books.

One of my favorite books of 2023.


Thursday, September 28, 2023

What I Read and Watched in September 2023

I enjoyed everything that I read this month. Overture to Death by Ngaio Marsh (#8 in the series) was delightful, and I enjoyed A Child's Anthology of Poetry (edited by Elizabeth H. Sword, a thrift store find for 99 cents) as my bedtime book. C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy (another 99 cent purchase) was my hands down favorite. Because of it, I downloaded (and paid way too much for) Volume 1 of his letters. The book I almost didn't finish was Stories of King Arthur and His Knights by U. Waldo Cutler, but it took a turn for the better in the last half. I finished a Bible study called God's Blueprint for Bible Prophecy, which was a deep dive into the book of Daniel. Not an easy study, but worth the effort. I appreciated Madeleine L'Engle's views on faith and art in her book, Walking on Water.

We didn't have much time for movie viewing this month. After I finished Cutler's version of the Arthurian legends, I watched Camelot (1982 HBO available through my Hoopla app). I remember hating the 1967 movie when I saw it 40 years ago, but now that I am familiar with the stories, I could appreciate the nuances in the HBO version. The lyrics by Lerner and Loewe were absolutely brilliant. Dan and I enjoyed A Puzzle to Die For (Hallmark Mystery, also via Hoopla). Dare I admit that when we had a short span of time for visual amusement we watched a few episodes of Petticoat JunctionNot having a TV in our present living situation has certainly enhanced my reading life!  


Friday, September 15, 2023

The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon

I have never understood the allure of food memoirs, but The Supper of the Lamb may have converted me. Capon, an Anglican priest, author and home chef, opens the book with self-deprecating honesty: I am an amateur. If that strikes you as disappointing, consider how much in error you are. Amateur and nonprofessional are not synonyms. The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers – amateurs – it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes and smells to keep us intrigued for a lifetime. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: it is, far more often than not, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral – it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness. In such a situation, the amateur – the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness a sin and boredom a heresy – is just the man you need.

He continues: The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye

Hence his emphasis on the importance of slowing down and paying attention to life’s myriad details, including the delights of cooking from scratch. At times he uses a wise grandfatherly tone; at other times he is more like a back-slapping older brother who loves a good joke and a good cigar. Some passages were hilariously funny. He waxes eloquent on the beauty of onions, the necessity of sharp knives and (most memorable of all) the glory that is baking soda.

Capon uses cooking as a metaphor for life. Don’t go for the processes pre-cooked garbage that passes as food because it’s more convenient. The best things in life take time and care and may even give you heartburn. “Real life” will cost you.

We were given appetites not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great. That is the inconsolable heartburn, the lifelong disquietude of having been made in the image of God. All man’s love is vast and inconvenient. It is tempting, of course, to blunt its edge by caution. It is so much easier not to get involved – to thirst for nothing and no one, to deny that matter matters and, if you have the stomach for it, to make your bed with meanings which cannot break your heart. But that, it seems to me, is neither human nor Divine. If we are to put up with all other inconveniences out of love, then no doubt we must put up with the bother of love itself and not just cut and run for cover when it comes.  

The last 25% of book is recipes, which are a pleasant, but non-essential addition. The main "recipe" is in the first 250 pages and it is on how to live life to the fullest.

 May your eyes be open “to see the bounty of small things.” 


Thursday, August 31, 2023

What I Read and Watched this Summer 2023

We were on the road most of July and didn't watch anything. But in August we settled into our apartment and had a few evenings free to use my Hoopla account. I like Hallmark mysteries but the Darrow and Darrow pilot was a huge disappointment. Not only was it cheesy, the acting and script were embarrassingly bad. The way the case was solved went against one the chief rules of detective fiction: a true mystery must include clues that the reader (or viewer) can see for themselves. The resolution of the mystery cannot come out of nowhere. Secondly was Dog Jack (a true Civil War story), which was also poorly acted and scripted.  On the bright side, we really enjoyed C.S. Lewis: The Most Reluctant Convert, which we watched at a friend's house.

My reading choices paid much bigger dividends. Except for Le Morte d'Arthur, which I ditched after 15 hours (of the 30 hour audiobook), everything else I read in July was good: Thornyhold by Mary Stewart, The Musgraves by D.E. Stevenson, The Truth and Beauty by Klavan, and the vintage novel, The Clue of the Twisted Candle, by Edgar Wallace. In August I enjoyed Deborah Crombie's A Share in Death. Because it was an audiobook, I could not skip over the swearing, but I thought Crombie's prose was exceptionally beautiful. I liked her detective and his sidekick too. Finally, I read Robert Farrar Capon's The Supper of the Lamb, which I loved. (review forthcoming)

All of these titles are reviewed on Goodreads, but I cannot figure out how to link to my reviews with their new configurations.