Friday, May 17, 2013

No Name by Wilkie Collins

Reading to Know - Book ClubCarrie hosts the Reading to Know Book Club each month, and there is a great line-up of children's and adult classics this year! Since I've read and enjoyed both The Woman in White (linked to my review) and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, when No Name was chosen for the April selection, I decided to join the fun. I did actually finish it at least a week before the end of April, but I'm late, as usual, to the party when it comes to writing my summary post. Such is life.

No Name is quite different from the other two Collins titles that I have read. Where the other novels were full of plot twists and surprises, this novel seemed overly predictable to me, at least in the overarching plot. But in spite of the fact that it wasn't too difficult to guess the characters' purposes or designs, it was very interesting to see the details of the story unfold. I still think that Collins is a masterful storyteller, and I would choose him over Dickens any day!

This story begins as a seemingly benign tale of domestic life, focusing on the Vanstone family: a benevolent and cheerful father, a weak (sickly) but loving mother, a reserved and proper older daughter Norah, and a frivolous, carefree younger daughter Magdalen. When the fortunes of the family suddenly change and leave the two daughters penniless orphans, it is not difficult to predict how the two young women will react to their reduced circumstances. Norah accepts her lot with quiet dignity and strives to make the best use of the opportunities at hand, while Magdalen starts plotting revenge on the estranged relative who took advantage of the letter of the law for his own gain.

In her quest for revenge and vindication, Magdalen unflinchingly weaves a complex web of deception, though she is always just one small circumstance away from detection. She obtains the ends she desires, but at great cost to her principles and character.* As one would expect, she does not find happiness or satisfaction. Eventually, all her tangled web unravels, leaving her in even more dire straits than before: friendless, poor, and ill. At this point, Collins reintroduces a minor character, who, predictably arrives at the opportune moment to save Magdalen from the poorhouse and from herself.

Yes, the details all fall into place a little too perfectly in both her demise and her restoration, but in spite of the predictability and idealism of a happy ending, I was struck by an overwhelming picture of grace as it drew to a close. This novel is a prime example of the point made in my previous post regarding how the wretchedness of sin is sometimes necessary for the brilliance of grace to shine forth. I don't know if this was what Collins intended, but I can't help but think that it would have been obvious to his readers in the more culturally Christian mindset of the Victorian era. Even more pointedly, I realized in retrospect, that all that predictability really served to reveal my own propensity to sin. If I could so easily predict Magdalen's thirst for revenge and the downward path she would so doggedly pursue, it clearly shows that I could be capable of the same thing. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

So, while I enjoyed Collins' well-crafted story and unique characters, this novel proved to be more than just an entertaining period piece. Once again, classic literature reveals a depth and wisdom that is rooted in a Christian worldview (whether that was Collins' personal faith or simply a product of a largely Christian culture, I don't know), that is so often lacking in more modern novels. So if you're looking for an intriguing novel, I would recommend No Name - it's easy enough for summer (or anytime) reading, but will give you plenty to ponder if you choose! (It's even available free for Kindle, which is the format in which I read it.)

*Note: This is not a typical "fallen woman" story in the sense that Magdalen loses her purity, but she certainly compromises her moral character with the lies she must propagate to work her revenge. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lit! A Christian Book Worth Reading!

When it comes to Christian books, I usually prefer titles that are 100+ years old to something published recently, but after Carrie highly recommended Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, not once, but twice (click the links to read her reviews), I thought it might be worth looking into. Add to that a book club discussion about how to choose, read, discuss, and interpret books for ourselves and with our children, and it seemed like the opportune time to give this subject some further thought.

Tony Reinke devotes roughly the first half of the book to establishing a theological basis for reading, which I appreciated both for its succinctness and accuracy. His review of the main tenets of our Christian faith, though brief, reminded me of why I chose to study theology - it's just amazing to contemplate God and His work in mankind and the world! The fact that God chose to reveal Himself in the written Word not only establishes the preeminence of Scripture in the Christian's life, but also suggests the importance of words and books on a more general sphere. They are a powerful means of communicating truth (or error), and Reinke deftly answers most objections and excuses that Christians might make about reading (not that I have that problem), making a strong case for the reading of Scripture, first and foremost, but also a wide variety of other books that can contribute to our spiritual growth and enjoyment.

Reinke's chapters are well-organized, often providing several points at the outset upon which he elaborates throughout the chapter. One example of this is his chapter on "Reading with Resolve" in which he identifies and explains six priorities by which he determines what to read. I appreciated that he included fiction under the heading of "Reading to Kindle Spiritual Reflection," recognizing that great literature, including many classics (such as Dostoyevsky and the Chronicles of Narnia) and poetry (such as John Donne or Chaucer), can illustrate the biblical truths of sin, grace, and redemption and truly contribute to our Christian understanding and spiritual growth (98-99).

For a decade or more while I pursued higher education, I read non-fiction almost exclusively, specifically works by dead theologians, for whom I have the utmost affection and respect. But upon finishing my studies and succumbing to the ready excuse of Mommy-brain, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, and my reading has for several years consisted mainly of fiction, tending towards the classics, but including some good fantasy, mysteries, historical fiction, and an occasional biography, too. At times, I've felt that this was rather a guilty pleasure, even if I was reading "good" books (mostly - there have been a few duds, but I won't dwell on those). Reinke's exposition of theology and priorities in reading, however, helped me to see how much my theological studies have informed my reading of fiction. Though I can get caught up in a good story, at times, I realized that I am almost always looking for and evaluating stories in terms of creation, fall (sin), redemption, and restoration. I guess that education wasn't for nothing! Though I still think I should return to the dead theologians more frequently, it was also encouraging to realize that I have been reading and evaluating my fictional choices through a biblical framework. Praise God for His mercies!

I also found Reinke's discussion of sin in literature to be particularly insightful, as our book club had recently discussed why we would reject a modern thriller full of vice and deception but might find value in Anna Karenina. Reinke was able to explain what I had failed to articulate clearly:
"[T]he appearance of sin in a book does not mean the author is approving of sin. . . God's 'amazing grace' is especially displayed when it 'saves a wretch.' To some degree, the author must paint a picture of the wretchedness of sin in order for grace to emerge in its brilliance. Thus, grace-filled literature is often not 'clean' literature. . .On the one side of the road, we cannot merely shut our eyes to depictions of sin and evil in literature. We find depictions of evil in the Bible. On the other side of the road, we cannot affirm fiction that glorifies sin or applauds unbelief." (124) 
Exactly! This is one reason that I am happy to be reading the classics at this point in my life when I missed many of them in high school. I really don't think I would have had the maturity, life experience, or spiritual discernment to appreciate them at a younger age, which gives me pause as I consider how we will incorporate some of these classics in my children's education as they get older. It is my hope that my children would enjoy reading great books enough to revisit them at various stages of life, but I will need to be especially careful to present them with enthusiasm and make sure they are more than just an academic exercise.

I also really enjoyed the multitude of rich quotations from other authors. It is apparent that Reinke has himself read widely and well and thoroughly researched his subject matter. Here are a few of my favorite quotations.

Cornelius Plantinga on Calvin's use of non-Christian literature (from Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living):
Calvin understood that God created human beings to hunt and gather truth, and that, as a matter of fact, the capacity for doing so amounts to one feature of the image of God in them (Col. 3:10). So Calvin fed on knowledge as gladly as a deer on sweet corn. He absorbed not only the teaching of Scripture and of its great interpreters, such as St. Augustine, but also whatever knowledge he could gather from such famous pagans as the Roman philosopher Seneca. And why not? The Holy Spirit authors all truth, as Calvin wrote, and we should therefore embrace it no matter where it shows up. But we will need solid instruction in Scripture and Christian wisdom in order to recognize truth and in order to disentangle it from error and fraud. Well-instructed Christians try not to offend the Holy Spirit by scorning truth in non-Christian authors over whom the Spirit has been brooding, but this does not mean that Christians can afford to read these authors uncritically. After all, a person's faith, even in idols, shapes most of what a person thinks and writes, and the Christian faith is in competition with other faiths for human hearts and minds. (77)
 C. S. Lewis on the imagination as
a God-given ability to receive truth and meaning. . ."For me reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning." Using fantasy in literature does not make a story fictitious; it's often a more forceful way to communicate truth. (87)
Harold Bloom on why people read classic literature (from How to Read and Why):
We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough, that we need to know ourselves better; that we require knowledge, not just of self and others, but of the way things are. Yet the strongest, most authentic motive for deep reading. . .is the search for a difficult pleasure. (104)
I could continue to illustrate the insights and practical wisdom of Lit!, but I think I should simply encourage you to buy this book and read it for yourself. Yes, you will want to buy it. I borrowed it from the library, but quickly found myself frustrated that I could not mark significant passages. Not to worry, though - I already plan to reread it (perhaps yearly or biannually), and by that time I hope to have my own copy to highlight as I would like!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Code Name Verity - Thoughts and Quotes

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein was published about a year ago (but I'm linking to the soon to be released paperback because I like the cover so much better than last year's hardcover), and after reading several glowing reviews on other blogs, I added it to my mental TBR list and finally got to it in March. I really like WWII stories, and though that seems rather sensationalist or gruesome on the face of it, I do have more thoughtful reasons. Not only are the stories of suffering and survival amazing and often inspiring, but there are so many facets to that historical time period - so many different experiences in so many different places - that I always learn more than I expected. Perhaps that's it: there is always something unexpected to discover in every WWII account, whether fiction or non-fiction. Code Name Verity is certainly no exception to my experience of finding the unexpected and learning new things in WWII literature!

So I came to this story with just a little bit of foreknowledge since the reviews I had read were careful to avoid spoilers. All I knew as I started reading was that it was an amazing story of friendship and involved flying. To be perfectly honest, I almost gave up on it, and even told a friend who likes YA literature not to bother, because at the outset it seemed to be only a thinly veiled propaganda in support of women in combat, to which I am categorically opposed. Take this quotation, for example:
"Maddie cowered next to him, her arms over her head, listening to the hideous rattle of the gunner sucking air into blood-filled lungs. Queenie slapped her.
'Get up, girl!' she ordered. 'I won't have this. I'm your superior officer giving orders now. Get up, Brodatt. If you're scared, do something. See if you can make this gun work. Get moving!'
'The shell needs to be loaded first,' the gunner whispered, lifting a finger to point. 'The Prime Minister don't like girls firing guns.'
'Bother the Prime Minister!' exclaimed the superior officer. 'Load the...gun, Brodatt.'" (65-66)
But I kept reading, and found this rebuttal late in the book (Maddie, Brodatt, and Kittyhawk all refer to the same young female pilot):
"'It is a pity we cannot keep you, Kittyhawk,' said the man whose house it was. 'You were born to be a soldier.'
Huh. Makes me quite puffed up with pride and yet fills me with scorn all at the same time - what rubbish! I wasn't born to be a soldier. There's a war on, so I'm delivering airplanes. But I don't go looking for adventure or excitement, and I jolly well don't go around picking fights with people. I like making things work. I love flying." (270)
So my first objection was resolved. But then there were the moral dilemmas the two friends, Maddie and Queenie, faced by their involvement, however direct or indirect, in the war effort. Let me clarify that I do believe that WWII was a just and necessary war, but the atrocities of war are not meant to be faced by women. Maddie and Queenie realize this as they talk about their fears and their roles of pilot and special intelligence officer.
"'Not doing my job properly,' Maddie explained. 'Failing to live up to expectations.'
'A bit like my fear of killing someone,' Queenie said, 'but less specific.'
'It could include killing someone,' said Maddie.
'It could.' Queenie was sober now. 'Unless you were doing them a favor by killing them. Then you'd let them down if you didn't. If you couldn't make yourself. My great-uncle had horrible cancers in his throat and he'd been to America twice to have the tumors taken out and they kept coming back, and finally he asked his wife to kill him, and she did. She wasn't charged with anything - it was recorded as a shooting accident, believe it or not, but she was my grandmother's sister, and we all know the truth.'
'How horrible,' Maddie said, with feeling. 'How terrible for her! But - yes. You'd have to live with that selfishness afterward, if you couldn't make yourself do it. Yes, I'm dead afraid of that.'" (77)
"'I'm not blameless,' said Maddie. 'Every bomber I deliver goes operational and kills people. Civilians. People like my gran and grandad. Children. Just because I don't do it myself doesn't mean I'm not responsible. I deliver you.'
'Blond bombshell,' Queenie said, and sputtered with laughter at her own joke. Then she began to cry." (165)
I will try to avoid spoilers also, so I can't say more about the moral dilemmas other than the fact that they become even more intense and personal as the narrative progresses.

In spite of these initial hesitations, however, I must say that I soon became thoroughly captivated by this story. It is amazingly well-crafted - right up there with Lord Peter mysteries by Dorothy Sayers, in my mind. It's not a mystery, per se, but the truth is only revealed slowly, and there were several plot twists that I did not expect. The story-telling device is unique, but not difficult to follow. The writing style was not particularly noteworthy, but neither was it annoying (a welcome relief), and there were several passages that I found particularly moving.
"'I'm looking for verity.'...
'Truth,' I said at last, in English.
'Truth,' she agreed...
'Verity,' I said in English...Then gasped: "'Truth is the daughter of time, not authority.'" And: "'This above all, to thine own self be true.'" I gibbered a bit, I confess. 'Verity! I am the soul of verity.' I laughed so wildly then, that the Hauptsturmfuhrer had to clear his throat to remind me to control myself. 'I am the soul of verity,' I repeated. 'Je suis l'esprit de verite.'" (131)
"Now they were over the ghostly white cliffs of eastern Normandy. The Seine's loops shone like a great unwinding spool of silver mesh off the port wingtip. Maddie gasped a the river's inadvertent loveliness, and all at once she found herself spilling childish tears, not just for her own blessed island, but for all of Europe. How could everthing have come so fearfully and thoroughly unraveled?
There were no lights over France; it was as blacked out as Britain. Europe's lamps had all gone out." (157)
Then, as usual, I found fascinating bits of WWII information, such as the perpetual use of Daylight Savings Time in England during the war (apparently this was true in America, too).
"In fact Maddie didn't fly at night for a while after she'd clocked the hours and had her logbook stamped, and she had a difficult time keeping in practice because she used it so little. Since 1940 we have not come off daylight-saving at all, and in summer it is double, which means for a whole month it doesn't get dark till nearly midnight." (139)
Even with all my mixed impressions as I read this book, I would definitely recommend it to an older teen or adult reader. The moral perplexities would be too intense for a younger reader, in my opinion. Is it an amazing WWII story? Yes, absolutely! The author's research is evident, and she has written a very plausible, though fictional, tale. It is incredibly well-crafted, and I do love a well-crafted story where all the pieces fall into place one by one. Do I agree with the actions of the characters? No, on principle I don't, but I can recognize and sympathize with the impossible situations and moral conundrums with which those who opposed the evils of Nazi Germany were faced.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Catching Up Again: February 2013 Reading

Farm memoirs were the order of the day for February. I'm always hopeful that reading about gardening or farming will inspire me to be a bit more enthusiastic about outdoor endeavors, but alas, it does not seem to help. I like doing stuff with produce, but I don't like the process of getting it to my kitchen. Digging in the dirt does not satisfy something deep within me - it just dries out my hands, and makes me dirty, sweaty, and grumpy, to be perfectly honest.

Well, the farm memoirs I read were at least honest - no glossing over the dirt, sweat, and tears, and no idyllic vision of a simpler life as one might conclude from reading Laddie. Whether it was the hobby farm of Michael Perry or the all-inclusive, self-sustaining project of Essex Farm, the message was clear that work - hard, physical labor - is involved in any farming venture. And I was quite happy to be reading about it from the comfort of my couch and cozy, down blanket in February, when at least I didn't have to feel guilty for not pulling weeds!

Well, I should stop rambling and making excuses for my laziness and tell you about the books, which aside from the barn, chickens, and author's picture on the cover, are really quite different.

I really wasn't sure I would finish Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting, but various things kept stringing me along - a home birth story (told from a man's perspective, so not that interesting), an impromptu visit to our local Children's Museum with no other reading options, the death of the author's nephew, with which I empathized having had two friends lose babies last year. But all told, I didn't like the author's rambling style in writing or homesteading. Carrie had a different opinion when she reviewed it a few years ago, but I didn't quite see the model of manhood that she did. I appreciate that the author is honest with his shortcomings as a husband, father, and provider, but it came off more as false humility than true repentance, and I'm not sure that's a model worth emulating. (Sorry, Carrie - we usually see eye to eye on a lot of things, but not this one. I hope we can still be friends!)

I wasn't sure I would like The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love either, but I turned out to be pleasantly surprised. I liked the author's writing style, and it was fascinating to hear of all that she and her fiance experienced in a year of making a rundown, neglected piece of land in upstate New York a productive farm and a home. While I didn't agree with some of the moral choices she made on her way to the altar, she didn't glory in them or present them in lurid detail. As I mentioned before, it was mostly about hard, physical work, with love and humor on the side, all giving the impression of a very full and satisfying life. If I lived near Essex, I might consider becoming a part of their CSA - it would be worth it for someone else to dig in the dirt!

Our read-aloud time somehow slipped away in February, but we did enjoy the second in Douglas Wilson's Maritime series: Susan Creek. As I mentioned before, I plan to discuss the whole series after we finish reading the third one, but for now, I'll just say that both my kids really liked Susan Creek, and I really like the values, history, and theology that are incorporated so seamlessly in a good story. Thank you, Doug Wilson!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Yikes! It's Almost Spring!

Well, so much for my good intentions of keeping up with blogging this year. It's almost March now mid-March, and I haven't posted about my other January reading yet, not to mention February. Oh, dear!

I already mentioned my L. M. Montgomery reading, so I won't reiterate that. My other personal reading in January consisted of rereading Laddie: A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton-Porter. I first read this book in 2010, and you can read my original thoughts and some really good quotations here. It was well worth rereading, and I'm so glad a friend picked it for our book club selection. We were amazed by the work ethic and self-sufficiency of this 19th century farm family - how many chickens would they have had to have to put on a spread like that every Sunday and for special occasions like a wedding? We were also saddened by the many changes that came to the real-life Stratton family soon after happy ending for the Stanton family of the book. As I mentioned in my earlier review, Laddie is the most autobiographical novel of Gene Stratton-Porter's, and it really is a true blue story when you understand it in the context of her and her family's life. I'm really looking forward to reading this one aloud to my kids and rereading it again myself in years to come - it's that good!

As for reading aloud to the kids, we were off to a good start this year. We finished two books in January: Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John and The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. Both were received with great enthusiasm! Treasures of the Snow engendered some thought-provoking, faith-building questions from my 5-year-old, and I could see my 8-year-old's mental wheels turning, too. While we enjoy a wide variety of books, I don't mind reading something overtly Christian and morally didactic every so often, because such stories can give my children concrete examples of our faith that is, more often than not, communicated abstractly, in spite of our best efforts to help them understand their sinfulness and need of Savior. I would highly recommend this one for your family read-alouds, too!

The whole family, including Daddy, enjoyed the imaginative fantasy of The Indian in the Cupboard. We discussed what we would like to make real if we had a magic cupboard. My daughter and I thought a Victorian family that could live in a dollhouse would be fun. My son has a plastic Indian, so he wanted one just like the book. And my husband tried to think of something more lucrative, such as a goose that would lay golden eggs, even if the eggs were only the size of a pinhead! My kids are looking forward to reading other books in this series, but I learned from the Chester Cricket books, and we will be spreading them out over a good long time, not reading them all at once.

Friday, February 1, 2013

L. M. Mongomery Challenge Completed!

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

This year, I actually read what I had planned, finishing both Christmas with Anne and The Story Girl in the month of January, and, wonder of wonders, I'm posting it before the end of February!

Christmas with Anne is a delightful collection of short stories which mostly focus on the Christmas season (obviously) though there are three New Year's stories at the end to round out the holiday spirit. I justified reading this in January because we didn't put up any Christmas decorations until a few days before Christmas, and they were still up into the first week of January. So at least it still looked like Christmas at my house when I started reading this!

In typical Mongomery fashion, every story has a heartwarming message, ranging from discovering happiness in giving to others, forgiveness of long-estranged family members (often through humorous mishaps), or just good, old-fashioned family values and traditions. This is one I wouldn't mind re-reading every few years, and I'm sure my daughter will enjoy it soon, too, as she loves stories about "real" people! For additional thoughts, including the interesting account of how the editor, Rea Wilmshurst, happened upon these and many other short stories of Montgomery's, see Carrie's posts on this title here and here.

I must confess that The Story Girl was a bit of a disappointment, but I suppose my expectations were pretty high. For some reason, it just didn't quite have the charm or appeal of the Anne or Emily books, I still have a long way to go before I've read all of Montgomery's novels, but I was struck at first by the fact that the narrator is a boy, simply because I hadn't encountered that in her writing before (aside from a few short stories). Granted, he's simply relating the adventures of eight children during one summer and fall, so there's really nothing gender specific about it. But while Mongomery's picturesque descriptions and quaint turns of phrase seem natural coming from Anne or Emily, it struck me a little odd that even a 19th or early 20th century teenage boy, or even a man retrospectively describing the best summer of his childhood, would describe the change of seasons in such terms as "though summer was not yet gone, her face was turned westering. The asters lettered her retreating footsteps in a purple script, and over the hills and valleys hung a faint blue smoke, as if Nature were worshipping at her woodland altar."

I also found this narrative a bit disjointed, as if it were more a collection of short stories involving the same characters without some overarching plot. Perhaps that is what Montgomery intended - just snippets of life on a Prince Edward Island farm from the perspective of young cousins and friends. Of course, by the end, I had developed a certain affection for those characters, and I do plan to read the sequel, The Golden Road, soon. I also enjoyed the fact that I was able to recall a few scenes the Road to Avonlea series that I watched a few years ago, which reminds me that I need to check that out from the library again!

Now, I must also share that I am very excited about next year's challenge due to some propitious finds through PaperBackSwap and our library's book sale (yes, we really love our library and make very good use of it!). Although many L. M. Montgomery books are free for the Kindle, and I do enjoy the portability and ease of marking favorite passages which my Kindle affords, there's still something so satisfying about opening a book, of remembering where a certain passage lies on the page, of flipping back and forth to clarify details, etc. So I'm thrilled to have found these books, and I have a feeling you'll be seeing at least a few of them on my line-up for next year.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Out of the reading funk - December 2012

Well, I'm still catching up from last year, but I got this posted just in the nick of time (one minute to spare!) to write up my December reads in January. Bear with me. I might catch up or even stay current eventually.

November found me in the grips of a serious reading funk (which I mentioned here). I thought perhaps it was the format in which I was reading, since I read several books in a row on my Kindle. But I'm currently doing that again, and it hasn't forestalled my progress, so I'm left to conclude that Three Men in a Boat is simply funk-inducing. My sincerest apologies to Jerome K. Jerome fans, but I just don't get it.

Interestingly enough, the book that jump-started my reading energies was the very book in preparation for which I read Three Men in a Boat. Oh, the irony! I loved To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis! Mystery, time travel, history (both WWII and Victorian era), lots of literary references, and a little tasteful romance - perfect! I must say that it was completely unnecessary to have read Three Men in a Boat in order to enjoy and understand this book. In fact, if any books would be helpful to understand the plot, it would be Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, particularly those with Harriet Vane, and those certainly are worth reading, as you can surmise from my glowing reviews here, here, here, and here!

After a homeschooling friend mentioned George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind, I decided to refresh my memory of this fantasy tale by one of my favorite authors. I love George MacDonald's novels because they are Scottish and full of the sovereignty of God. His adult fantasy novels are more difficult to understand and appreciate (you can read my thoughts on Lilith, for example), but his children's fantasy is generally sweet, good, and uplifting, if a bit heavy-handed in moralizing (see my reviews of The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie). At the Back of the North Wind falls somewhere in between fantasy and fiction, for there are parts that are most certainly dream-like and mystical (and a bit weird, at times), but other parts that provide a glimpse of healthy home-life and honest good work. It has to be understood in the context in which it was written, as I don't think this would have seemed so odd or out of place to his Victorian readers, who would have most likely understood some classical references much better than I did. I will probably read this aloud to my kids in a few years, as I think I would be good to talk about some of the more unusual parts and clarify some of the symbolism. Eventually, I may also write an entire post about this one, as it certainly gave me much to think about. Note: the free Kindle version which I read omitted much of the poetry, so I had to borrow a copy from the library to fill in the blanks. I should really leave a review and a request for that error to be corrected.

Finally, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas (probably before the previously mentioned titles, but it's less significant in my mind), I read another of the Irish Country Doctor series by Patrick Taylor. An Irish Country Girl is the 4th in the series, and I liked it best of all I've read so far (I believe there are 7 books now). As a flashback to the youth of Dr. O'Riley's housekeeper, Kitty, it seems more quaint and charming, and more essentially Irish, than the other books. I suppose I have a rather romanticized view of Ireland which this fostered, and I also enjoyed the more traditional, rural setting along with its more traditional values.

I also read Blackthorn Winter by Douglas Wilson in December in order to preview it for my daughter. She read it in January, and I plan the read the rest of the series aloud. I'll include my thoughts in a summary post once we've read them all.

For read-alouds, we enjoyed some Christmas classics, including The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (along with the 1986 movie by the same title) and The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas: An Austin Family Story by Madeleine L'Engle. We also read plenty of Christmas picture books, of which some favorites were A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill, The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown, and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

L. M. Mongomery Reading Challenge 2013

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge Every year, I have good intentions of participating in Carrie's L. M. Mongomery Reading Challenge, but my haphazard approach to blogging doesn't lend itself well to starting and finishing a monthly project such as that.

Well, this year, although I'm still late to the party, at least I didn't fail to show up at all! In fact, I've already completed Christmas with Anne, a collection of Montgomery's short stories, and intend to start The Story Girl today or tomorrow. Who knows, I may even write a wrap-up post before February!

Thank you, Carrie, for hosting this challenge every year. Returning to Anne or finding a new character to love is always like sinking into a pile of down comforters with a sigh - immensely warm, satisfying, and comforting - and just perfect for this time of year!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Most Important Book I Read in 2012

Van Gogh ~ Still Life with Open Bible (1885)

It goes without saying that the Bible is the most important book any Christian can read. I have failed for many years, however, in giving God's Word the attention it deserves. I could have given you lots of typical, maybe even legitimate, excuses, but the fact remained that it was not a priority for me. I tried the Robert Murray M'Cheyne plan along with the devotions in For the Love of God, Volume 1 by D. A. Carson a few years ago. That year I even kept up (or kept catching up) with the schedule through early October, but ultimately I fell so far behind that I gave up. And that seems to be the problem with most calendar based Bible reading plans for me. Inevitably, I will miss a day here or there, and one day turns into two, and pretty soon I'm a week or more behind. I keep thinking I'll be able to catch up, but instead I just quit.

So this year, I had a non-scheduled Bible reading plan. My goal was to read 3 chapters of the Old Testament and 2 chapters of the New Testament each day, but if I missed a day or two or ten, I wasn't behind schedule since this plan wasn't tied to the calendar. I just picked up where I had left off and kept reading, reading extra if possible, but most importantly, continuing to read no matter how sporadic it was. Interestingly, though I find it very tedious to read some books on my Kindle, I really like reading my Bible on the Kindle. It's easy to mark passages, easy to bookmark my place, and it was actually helpful (as in not discouraging) to have no easy way to look ahead to see how much I "had" to read that day.

This non-plan was a great plan for me! I finished the New Testament in early summer, and ideally it would have been nice to read it again in the second half of the year. But I knew I had enough of the Old Testament still to read that I needed to focus there in order to finish in a year. So I tried to read 4 chapters of whichever historic or prophetic book I was in and 2 Psalms each day. I finished the Psalms around Thanksgiving and read a chapter or two of Proverbs during December. I had to squeeze in the Minor Prophets between Christmas and New Years, but with fewer activities that week, I finished Proverbs 31, Zechariah, and Malachi on New Year's Eve. Praise the Lord for His grace to persevere in His Word!

Now that I have once again read the Bible in a year, however, I think I agree with my college professor William Varner, who recently commented, "I applaud all those who read through the whole Bible in a year or 2-3 times a year, but I have found that it is not as important that I go through the Bible as that the Bible goes through me. So slower is better." With that in mind, my plan for the coming year is not as ambitious. I'd like to read the New Testament through at least once - twice would be better - so I will again try to read 2 chapters of the New Testament a day. I was surprised this past year at how difficult I found parts of the Old Testament, especially the prophetic books, and I found Isaiah to be one of the most mysterious. In and around all the familiar verses that speak of the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, and God's promises of His sovereign care, there were many passages that I read, but without understanding. So I'm planning to spend some quality time with Isaiah, Calvin, and Matthew Henry this year to see if I can better grasp its truths.