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.