Books Read in 2022

It’s been another great reading year, with a variety of new and old, fiction and nonfiction, mostly good, a handful not so much. By my count, I’ve read 79 books this year—a smidgen fewer than the last couple of years.

I’ll post my favorites tomorrow. The titles link back to my reviews. (MTBR) at the end of some titles refers to the Mount TBR Reading Challenge, where we read books we already owned before the year began. I noted them here instead of making a separate list.


  1. 100 Best Bible Verses to Overcome Worry and Anxiety, a devotional book by various authors (MTBR)
  2. Aging With Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture by Sharon Betters and Susan Hunt
  3. Always, Only Good: A Journey of Faith Through Mental Illness by Shelly Garlock Hamilton
  4. Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity by Alisa Childers
  5. Be Alive (John 1-12): Get to Know the Living Savior by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR)
  6. Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13): Let the World Know Jesus Cares by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR)
  7. Be Courageous (Luke 14-24): Let the World Know Jesus Cares by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR
  8. Be Determined (Nehemiah): Standing Firm in the Face of Opposition by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  9. Be Distinct (2 Kings and 2 Chronicles): Standing Firmly Against the World’s Tides by Warren Wiesrbe (MTBR)
  10. Be Encouraged (2 Corinthians): God Can Turn Your Trials Into Triumphs by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  11. Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR)
  12. Be Responsible (1 Kings): Being Good Stewards of God’s Gifts by Warren Wiersbe (MTBR)
  13. Be Restored (2 Samuel & 1 Chronicles): Trusting God to See Us Through by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  14. Be Successful (1 Samuel): Attaining Wealth That Money Can’t Buy by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  15. Be Wise (1 Corinthians): Discern the Difference Between Man’s Knowledge and God’s Wisdom by Warren W. Wiersbe (MTBR)
  16. Daily Light on the Daily Path compiled by Samuel Bagster
  17. “Don’t Call Me Spry”: Creative Possibilities for Later Life by Win Couchman
  18. The Enchanted Places: A Childhood Memoir by Christopher Milne
  19. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (MTBR)
  20. The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis (MTBR)
  21. Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World by Hannah Anderson
  22. IBS for Dummies by Carolyn Dean and L. Christine Wheeler (MTBR)
  23. I Must Decrease: Biblical Inspiration and Encouragement for Dieters by Janice Thompson (MTBR)
  24. Jesus Led Me All the Way by Margaret Stringer (MTBR)
  25. Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment by Lydia Brownback (MTBR)
  26. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Lady Carnarvon.(MTBR, audiobook)
  27. The Middle Matters: Why That (Extra)Ordinary Life Looks Really Good on You by Lisa-Jo Baker (MTBR)
  28. O Love That Will not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence, complied by Nancy Guthrie
  29. The Path Through the Trees by Christopher Milne )Audiobook)
  30. Ten Time Management Choices that Can Change Your Life by Sandra Felton and Marsha Sims (MTBR)
  31. Treasures of Encouragement: Women Helping Women by Sharon W. Betters
  32. Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope by Katherine Elizabeth Clark (MTBR)
  33. Women and Stress: A Practical Approach to Managing Tension by Jean Lush and Pam Vredevelt (MTBR)
  34. The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz (MTBR)


  1. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (Audiobook)
  2. The Confessions of St. Augustine (Audiobook)
  3. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  4. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (MTBR, Audiobook)
  5. Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott (Audiobook)
  6. The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne (Audiobook)
  7. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope (Audiobook)
  8. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (Audiobook)
  9. Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne
  10. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope (Audiobook)
  11. The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (Audiobook)
  12. To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite (Audiobook)
  13. Victorian Short Stories of Successful Marriages by Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, and others.
  14. When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne
  15. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

Christian Fiction:

  1. Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer (Audiobook)
  2. A Daily Rate by Grace Livingston Hill (Audiobook)
  3. Enchanted Isle by Melanie Dobson
  4. The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck (Audiobook)
  5. Half Finished by Lauraine Snelling (MTBR)
  6. The Hatmaker’s Heart by Carla Stewart (MTBR)
  7. The Italian Ballerina by Kristy Cambron (Audiobook)
  8. Just 18 Summers by Michelle Cox and Rene Gutteridge (MTBR)
  9. A Lady Unrivaled by Roseanna M. White (Audiobook)
  10. Midnight, Christmas Eve by Andy Clapp (MTBR)
  11. The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White (MTBR)
  12. The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron (MTBR, Audiobook)
  13. The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White (Audiobook)
  14. The Road Home by Malissa Chapin
  15. The Search by Grace Livingston Hill (Audiobook)
  16. Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men by Cara Putman (MTBR)
  17. Shadows in the Mind’s Eye by Janyre Tromp
  18. Snowed In for Christmas by Cami Checketts (Audiobook)
  19. Something Good by Vanessa Miller
  20. The Stranger by Melanie Dobson (MTBR)
  21. Three Fifty-Seven: Timing Is Everything by Hank Stewart and Kendra Norman-Bellamy (Audiobook)
  22. To Treasure an Heiress by Roseanna White (Audiobook)
  23. Worthy of Legend by Roseanna M. White

Other Fiction:

  1. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth (MTBR, Audiobook)
  2. The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (MTBR, Audiobook)
  3. The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper (MTBR)
  4. The London House by Katherine Reay (audiobook)
  5. Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton (MTBR)
  6. Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan (Audiobook)
  7. The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow (MTBR, Audiobook)

And that just about wraps it up for 2022! I’m close to finishing a couple more, but I’ll save them to review at the beginning of next year so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

Reading is one of my highlights, so I was very thankful to be able to make time for it.

How was your reading year? The number of books is not as important as whether the books are enjoyable and edifying. In that sense, I’ve had a great year indeed.

Reading Challenge Wrap-Ups

I enjoy participating in reading challenges and sharing books I have enjoyed. Most of these challenges involve the type of books I would be reading anyway. The only difficulty comes in the time it takes for record-keeping. I haven’t decided yet which challenges I will participate in next year. But I can recommend any of these.

Most of the challenge hosts require a wrap-up post at the end of the year. I shared my Back to the Classics Challenge Wrap-Up, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate here. But I decided to include all the rest in one post so as not to be tedious for readers.

Bev at My Reader’s Block hosts the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. The idea is to read books you already owned before the start of this year. Bev has made levels in increments of twelve, each named after a mountain, and we’re to choose a level to shoot for. Even though I’ve reached Mt. Ararat (48 books) the last couple of years, I decided to play it safe and stick with Mt. Vancouver (36 books).

That turned out to be a wise decision as I just made it with 38 books. Instead of making a separate list, I marked the books in this category with (MTBR) on my list of all the books I read this year.

Shelly Rae at Book’d Out hosts the Nonfiction Reader Challenge. She provided 12 categories of nonfiction, and participants chose which level they want to aim for. Thankfully, this year she has included a Nonfiction Grazer category where we set our own goals for how many and what kind of nonfiction to read. That worked best for me this year.

I read a total of 33 non-fiction books this year, which can be seen on my Books Read in 2022 post.

As to my personal goals for this challenge:

Even though I didn’t hit every category I wanted to, I did more in others, and I feel I had a rich and varied nonfiction reading experience this year.

The Audiobook Challenge is hosted by Caffeinated Reader. I aimed for the Binge Listener level at 20-30. I finished 30, so I was right on target. I also marked these on my list of books read this year. I posted what I had listened to through June at the check-in here. Here are the ones I listened to through the end of the year:

The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge is hosted by The Intrepid Reader. I aimed for the Medieval level of 15 books. I completed 22.

As you can tell, Roseanna M. White and Kristy Cambron are favorites in the category.

I’ve included split-time novels here, which have both a modern and a historic timeline. I’ve never been sure whether classics count—books written before our time but were modern in the time in which they were written. If so, I’d have eleven more.

And finally:

The Literary Christmas challenge hosted by Tarissa at In the Bookcase. For this I read:

I also started Hope for Christmas by Malissa Chapin, but haven’t finished it yet. Maybe I will by the end of the year.

I didn’t get quite as many in this category as I had hoped to, but we had a very busy December.

Whew. It’s been a good year of reading.

Back to the Classics 2022 Wrap-Up

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say” (Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature).

That’s why I enjoy reading classics: they still speak to us after decades, even hundreds and thousands of years.

I’m thankful that the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate has expanded my horizons. Without it, I might have never have branched out beyond Dickens, Austen, and Alcott to discover Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope, and so many others.

Karen chooses different categories for the challenge each year. The categories this year are (titles are linked to my review of the books):

A 19th century classic. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
A 20th century classic. The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
A classic by a woman author. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
A classic in translation. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin.
A classic by BIPOC author. To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite
Mystery/Detective/Crime Classic. Dracula by Bram Stoker. Though this is a Gothic novel, the nature and identity of the Count are also a mystery.
A Classic Short Story Collection. Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott
Pre-1800 Classic. The Confessions of St. Augustine.
A Nonfiction Classic. The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis
Classic That’s Been on Your TBR List the Longest. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne. I’m including all four Pooh books as one entry since they are so short.
Classic Set in a Place You’d Like to Visit. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
Wild Card Classic. The Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

We’re allowed three children’s classics for this challenge. I just had two: Dr. Dolitte and Pooh.

For completing all twelve categories, my name is entered three times into Karen’s drawing of a $30 prize towards books.

Next week I’ll wrap up my other reading challenges as well as share the books read this year and my top ten or so favorites.


I’ve never been much into horror or “monster” stories, except for an afternoon TV program that was popular when I was a teenager (what is it with teens and vampires?)

But last spring, my oldest son told me about Dracula Daily. Dracula by Bram Stoker is epistolary novel, made up of dated notes, letters, telegrams, and journal entries. Dracula Daily sent out excerpts from the book on the dates of the letters, etc., so the reader got them in “real time.” There would be weeks with nothing, but then there would be several journal entries on one day when something major was happening.

I decided it might be fun to experience the novel that way, so I signed up. I didn’t think to mention it in my end-of-month posts where I listed my current reading, I guess because it wasn’t in my usual reading format.

The story begins with Jonathan Harker, a new solicitor, traveling from England to Transylvania with some paperwork for a Count Dracula, who has just bought property in England. After some weird and frightening occurrences, Jonathan finally makes it to Dracula’s castle. The Count seems nice enough, but the remoteness of the castle, the wildness of the land, the howling of wolves nearby, all seem spooky.

Over several days Jonathan notices weird things about the Count himself. He never eats. He sleeps during the day and is awake at night. He has very sharp, canine-like teeth.

Things just keep getting weirder and more horrible. And then Jonathan discovers he is imprisoned. When he finally escapes, he lands in a mental asylum for a time.

Meanwhile, back in England, Jonathan’s fiance, Mina, wonders why she has not heard from him. Mina travels to be with her lifelong friend, Lucy Westerna, whose mother is seriously ill. Lucy receives three proposals of marriage in one day, but she loves one man: Arthur Godalming.

But after a while, Lucy begins sleepwalking, and then exhibiting strange symptoms, and then becomes anemic.

Jonathan makes it home, and he and Mina get married. He doesn’t tell her all that has happened to him, but he writes it down. He tells Mina where it is and invites her to read if it she wants, but she decides not to—yet. And then one day while Jonathan and Mina are in town, Jonathan sees Dracula.

Meanwhile, Dr. John Seward, one of Lucy’s rejected suitors, is called to check on her. He calls in his friend, Van Helsing, who suspects he knows what Lucy’s problem is. He orders a blood transfusion and other measures, but doesn’t say why or what he’s thinking. Things might have gone better if he had, because people who didn’t understand accidentally sabotaged his efforts. But then, he probably would not have been believed.

Finally Van Helsing does tell the others about the Count, and they all team up together to find and destroy him.

As it happens, the Literary Life Podcast started doing a series on Dracula on Oct. 31 (appropriately). I’ve only listened to the introductory episode so far, but it was pretty fascinating and enlightening. According to those doing this podcast, in Victorian times (when Stoker wrote Dracula), monsters in stories represented the devil. (Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Picture of Dorian Gray were all written within ten years of each other). Stoker even chose the name Dracula because he thought it meant devil. These were classic good vs. evil stories in which evil must be defeated.

The podcasters say it wasn’t until after Freud that people began to sympathize with the monster, wondering what in his background made him like he was, seeing him as the victim instead of the victimizer. And in our day, people try to infuse modern sensibilities into old stories. But I agree with the podcasters that to truly understand what writer meant, we have to understand the context and times in which he or she wrote.

They also share some interesting tidbits that I would never have picked up on my own. For instance, Jonathan is traveling into Transylvania on the eve of St. George Day. That evening was something like our Halloween, and in those times, superstitious folks thought evil creatures were free to roam the earth that one night.

Then the meticulous record keeping later on is supposedly a nod to the Enlightenment–that even though this is a fantastic tale, they’re going to handle it in a very scientific manner. Yet there’s also a nod to Shakespeare’s quote in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”–there are things that enlightened science and technology can’t explain or handle.

The podcasters (one of whom is a literature teacher) also said that Stoker was not the first to write a vampire story, but he established some of the tropes of vampire lore that still hold today. Yet the modern vampire story is very different from his. They said the idea of the mysterious sensual stranger vampire came from a story written by Lord Byron, which he wrote when he hosted a party in which the participants were challenged to write a scary story. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein then. Byron left his story unfinished, but his friend and doctor, John Polidori, wrote a similar one based on Byron. Byron was angry with him and terminated him, and then Polidori published his novel in revenge (You can read more about that here).

I thought Dracula was very well-written. It was both suspenseful and scary, yet with a thread of hope throughout.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

We learn from failure, not from success!

How good and thoughtful he is; the world seems full of good men—even if there are monsters in it.

Loneliness will sit over our roofs with brooding wings.

Though sympathy alone can’t alter facts, it can help to make them more bearable.

She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist—and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so sceptical and selfish.

It is in trouble and trial that our faith is tested—that we must keep on trusting; and that God will aid us up to the end.

We believe that God is with us through all this blackness, and these many dark hours. We shall follow him; and we shall not flinch.

I’m looking forward to learning more from the Literary Life Podcast.

The text of Dracula is available at Project Gutenberg. Dracula Daily also has their missives in the archives.

I’m counting this book for the Mystery/Crime/Detective category of the Back to the Classics Challenge. Even though it’s both a horror and a Gothic novel, I think it fits as a mystery because who the Count is and what’s going on with him and then with Lucy, are all mysteries to the other characters. The Count does commit crimes. And then the measures to find him all fit with a detective story.

Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin is a classic Russian story by Alexander Pushkin, first published serially in the early 1800s before being published as a book. The most unique feature of the story is that it is all written in verse. In fact, Wikipedia says the form of poetry used in the book has come to be known as the “Onegin stanza” or the “Pushkin sonnet.”

Eugene is only 26, but he is rich and bored with his world, tired of balls, parties, etc. He’s self-centered: when the uncle who was to provide his inheritance was sick, Eugene complained of how boring it was to sit by his uncle’s sickbed. Euegen is described a couple of times as a misanthrope.

Eugene meets and befriends a young poet named Vladimir Lensky. Lensky is engaged to Olga Larina and invited Eugene to dine at the Larina’s house.

Olga is fun-loving and carefree. Her sister, Tatyana (or Tattiana, depending on the translation) is introverted and bookish. Tatyana is particularly fond of romance novels. For some reason, she falls hard for Eugene. After he leaves, she pours out her heart to him in a letter.

When Eugene comes again, he tells her he is flattered but not interested in marriage. She would be his pick if he did marry, but even though they might love each other intensely, he would eventually grow bored with her. He also warns her about naively being so open and vulnerable—some men might take advantage of her.

Tatyana is, of course, embarrassed and heartbroken. They don’t see each other for a while, until Lensky invites Eugene to Tatyana’s name day celebration. Lensky leads Eugene to understand that the celebration will be with just a few people. But instead he finds it’s a country version of the type of balls he is so bored with. He’s so irritated with the situation, he flirts and dances a lot with Olga. Lensky gets mad and challenges Eugene to a duel.

In duel having killed his friend
And reached, with nought his mind to engage,
The twenty-sixth year of his age,
Wearied of leisure in the end,
Without profession, business, wife,
He knew not how to spend his life

Some years later, Eugene attends a ball in St. Petersburg. He sees a beautiful woman and realizes it’s Tatyana. She is married to an older man now, called a prince in one place and a general in another. Eugene finally feels alive and determines to declare his love. Tatyana still loves him but refuses him. She’s determined to remain faithful to her husband.

That’s pretty much the whole plot, though there are a few side scenes, including a nightmare of Tatyana and a visit from her to Eugene’s house when he is not there.

I listened to the audiobook available free at Librovox. Even though it was nicely read, it was very hard to follow. The parts that contained action or dialogue were understandable, but suddenly the narrator would be off in some kind of musing where I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. At one point, he even says, “Haste, haste thy lagging pace, my story!” I read parts of it, but I think it would have been better to read the whole thing (this Kindle version was 99 cents but Project Gutenberg also has it online here). This version was translated by Henry Spalding, who gives some helpful comments on footnotes. One example: “It is perhaps worthy of remark, as one amongst numerous circumstances proving how extensively the poet interwove his own life-experiences with the plot of this poem, that it was by this road that he himself must have been in the habit of approaching Moscow from his favourite country residence of Mikhailovskoe, in the province of Pskoff.” It’s amazing that he could translate from Russian to English and still have it come out rhyming.

Wikipedia’s article helped me get more from the story than I would have on my own. I especially liked this line: “Another major element is Pushkin’s creation of a woman of intelligence and depth in Tatyana, whose vulnerable sincerity and openness on the subject of love has made her the heroine of countless Russian women.” There’s also an interesting section on how the duel didn’t conform to the usual rules.

Probably most people are familiar with the story through the opera by the same name written by Tchaikovsky. I watched it last night on YouTube (which thankfully had subtitles) while Jim was out of town. The music was wonderful (only the music at the opening of Act III was familiar to me, but it all sounded very Tchaikovsky-ish). The opera left out the boring parts and added in a few things, but it kept the greater part of the story elements. In fact, I picked up on points that I missed in the book. I have to say I much preferred the opera to the book in this instance. While looking for more information on some of the singers, I found this nice review of the DVD version of this performance.

I’ve not watched opera in a long time. I’m always amazed by the power of operatic voices. Opera writers and singers know how to milk a dramatic moment for all it’s worth. 🙂 I thought the first ball, the country one, looked a little clunky and mused that the smoother ones in movies are probably heavily edited: we usually just see various steps and moments rather than zooming out to see the whole thing. But then the later ball in St. Petersburg was very synchronized. So perhaps the first one was clunky on purpose to show it was a “country” one.

One side note I found interesting. I had wondered how Onegin was supposed to be pronounced. The narrator of the audiobook pronounced it with a long O and E and soft G, accent on the second syllable. But in the opera it sounded like O-nya-gin–long O and A and soft G, which I am sure is more accurate.

I read/listened to this book for the “Classics in translation” category of the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate. One advantage this book has as opposed to others in its category is that it’s a lot shorter. Other Russian books I’ve read are some of the longest novels. But I am glad to be familiar with the story now in both the book and the opera.

Are you familiar with Eugene Onegin?

Mary Barton

19th-century writer Elizabeth Gaskell is known these days for Wives and Daughters and North and South (linked to my reviews).

But her very first book was Mary Barton. Elizabeth began writing at the urging of her husband after the loss of their son. But she was also motivated by “a deep sympathy with the care-worn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want; tossed to and fro by circumstances . . . Whether the bitter complaints made by them, of the neglect which they experienced from the prosperous—especially from the masters whose fortunes they had helped to build up—were well-founded or no, it is not for me to judge. It is enough to say, that this belief of the injustice and unkindness which they endure from their fellow-creatures, taints what might be resignation to God’s will, and turns it to revenge in too many of the poor uneducated factory-workers of Manchester (from the preface to Mary Barton).

Mary’s father is a mill worker who is critical of the rich in general and the “masters” (mill owners) in particular. He feels it’s unfair that the working class puts in so much effort with so little in return. The rich unfairly (it seems to him) not only have more, by seemingly little or no merit of their own, but they don’t help the poor in their need. The death of John’s wife and son fuels his views and his anger. He’s left to raise his daughter alone.

The story fast-fowards several years. Mary is now a teenager working in a dress shop. Jem, the son of family friends, has loved her since they were children. But she thinks of him as a brother. Henry Carson, the mill owner’s son, has noticed Mary and flirts with her on her breaks and after work. Mary is flattered by Henry’s attentions. She knows her father’s feelings about rich people. But she feels that once she marries Henry and her father experiences the benefit of his riches, he’ll be all right with her marriage.

Several issues between the mill owners and workers come to a head, with the workers threatening to strike. Some of the owners feel they need to concede to some of the workers’ demands. However, most of the owners, including Henry Carson, feel they need to stand firm; if they relent on any of these issues, the workers will just strike whenever they want something.

When the workers’ appeals fail, a group of them decides more drastic measures are needed.

Meanwhile, Jem comes to Mary to plead his case for her hand. She decisively tells him there is no hope. She could never love him. Not long after he leaves, however, she realizes she does love him. She agonizes over how to let him know and decides that it wouldn’t be right to go after him. She’ll just have to convey to him in more quiet manners her change of heart when they see each other. She tries to break things off with Henry, who doesn’t take no for an answer.

But Jem, taking her at her word, arranges to be away from home when Mary comes to visit his mother.

Then, suddenly, Henry is shot.

Jem is accused of the crime because his gun was found at the scene and because he was heard threatening Henry over Mary a few days earlier.

But Mary is sure she knows who the real killer is. How can she help Jem without betraying someone else?

Besides the industrial and romantic plot lines, Mary’s friend, Margaret, lives with her wise and level-headed grandfather, Job Legh. Margaret has a beautiful singing voice and but is going blind. Alice Wilson is an older lady who is everyone’s friend and the go-to helper when someone is sick, until she falls ill herself. Esther is Mary’s aunt, who disappeared from the family early on but shows up again. Jem’s mother, Jane, lose her twins and then her husband.

Elizabeth tries to help both sides of the industrial concerns to see the other truthfully. She definitely thinks the masters can be more compassionate and do more, and she spends more time on their shortcomings than the workers’. But she cautions that they have their troubles, too. In one scene, John Barton is going to a druggist’s for a friend.

It is a pretty sight to walk through a street with lighted shops; the gas is so brilliant, the display of goods so much more vividly shown than by day, and of all shops a druggist’s looks the most like the tales of our childhood, from Aladdin’s garden of enchanted fruits to the charming Rosamond with her purple jar. No such associations had Barton; yet he felt the contrast between the well-filled, well-lighted shops and the dim gloomy cellar, and it made him moody that such contrasts should exist. They are the mysterious problem of life to more than him. He wondered if any in all the hurrying crowd had come from such a house of mourning. He thought they all looked joyous, and he was angry with them. But he could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who daily pass you by in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives; the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting, sinking under? You may be elbowed one instant by the girl desperate in her abandonment, laughing in mad merriment with her outward gesture, while her soul is longing for the rest of the dead, and bringing itself to think of the cold-flowing river as the only mercy of God remaining to her here. You may pass the criminal, meditating crimes at which you will to-morrow shudder with horror as you read them. You may push against one, humble and unnoticed, the last upon earth, who in Heaven will for ever be in the immediate light of God’s countenance. Errands of mercy—errands of sin—did you ever think where all the thousands of people you daily meet are bound? Barton’s was an errand of mercy; but the thoughts of his heart were touched by sin, by bitter hatred of the happy, whom he, for the time, confounded with the selfish.

Just occasionally, the narrator (possibly Gaskell herself) might come across as a little preachy by today’s standards. But I think in her time, she wasn’t trying to “preach” as much as to open people’s eyes to the plight of others.

Though Wives and Daughters and North and South are still my favorite Gaskell books, I did enjoy Mary Barton very much, especially the last half.

I listened to the audiobook, which was included as part of my Audible subscription. Juliet Stevenson did a superb job with the narration and different dialects. But I also got the free Kindle version to read parts there. the novel is also only via Project Gutenberg here.

Have you read Mary Barton? What did you think?

The Winnie-the-Pooh Books

Winnie-the-Pooh is a creation of A. A. Milne based on the teddy bear of his son, Christopher Robin. Milne had written many other genres: plays, magazine articles, books for adults. But these days he is best known for Pooh and Christopher Robin and their friends.

My kids grew up with the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh and company. There were four individual videos at the time: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, and Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore. The first three videos have since been combined into The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Then there was a Saturday morning cartoon called The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which we watched regularly for many years. We had stuffed Poohs (and Tiggers and Piglets) and Pooh picture books. If there were Pooh sheets or jammies, we would have had them.

But somehow, I never read the original Pooh books by A. A. Milne to my kids, and I have always regretted that. I’m not sure why I never read them. I had not read them in my own growing-up years: perhaps if I had, I would have made it a point to read them to my children just as I searched out some of the Little Golden Book titles that I’d had as a child. I dipped into one of the volumes at some point, but I don’t remember which one or if I completed it.

When I read Christopher Robin Milne’s autobiographies recently, I was reminded that I had never read the original Pooh books. So I set out to correct that lack.

There are four books that specially deal with Pooh.

When We Were Very Young is a book of children’s poems. Christopher Robin’s bear there is named Edward. Some time after that, he renamed his toy bear Winnie-the-Pooh (with hyphens when his whole name is written, though he is often called just Pooh or Pooh Bear. The Disney version dropped the hyphens). “Pooh” was after a swan that Christopher had previously given that name to, and Winnie after a bear by that name in a zoo. Some of the poems feature Christopher, but all of them were probably inspired by him. One of the most famous is “Vespers” about Christopher saying his prayers.

Winnie-the-Pooh is a collection of short stories about Christopher Robin and Pooh and the other animals/toys. The House at Pooh Corner, another collection of stories, was published next, and finally there was another collection of poems, Now We Are Six. “Forgiven” is one of my favorite poems from this volume.

One of the things I had liked about the videos and TV series was that they were quiet. There were conflicts and predicaments and misunderstandings, yes. But the shows weren’t full of noise and razzle-dazzle like other kid’s shows were (that was something I liked about Mister Rogers as well).

The books are the same way. The characters are endearing. Pooh is “a bear of very little brain,” but he is kind, thoughtful, and a faithful friend. He likes to make up rhymes and take time for “smackerel” of “a little something—usually “hunny.” Christopher Robin is the one everyone looks up to and the one who rescues the others when they get in trouble over their heads. Piglet is small and timid, but also kind and thoughtful. Rabbit is bossy, but has everyone’s best interests at heart. Eeyore is gloomy (actually, he’s a little harsher in the books). Owl is wise (he can even spell Tuesday!), Kanga is motherly, Roo is spunky.

One of my favorite quotes is from Pooh in The House at Pooh Corner about how poems come to him: “But it isn’t easy,’ said Pooh. ‘Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” Another is this: “Sometimes,’ said Pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” And these:

Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

I love how Kanga is described as carrying her family in her pocket (something Rabbit thinks strange at first).

And I dearly love this exchange between Eeyore and Pooh, read in Eeyore’s deadpan voice, when Eeyore thinks everyone has forgotten his birthday:

“Good morning, Pooh Bear, if it is a good morning. Which I doubt.”

“Why, what is the matter”

“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t, and that’s all there is to it.”

“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety. Song and dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

I was very glad to see that the films and videos, for the most part, told the stories almost completely as the books did. The series went on to develop their own stories based on the characters, but kept the same tone.

Milne captures childhood innocence and ways of thinking well with playfulness and gentleness. I was very sad to learn that Christopher came to resent the books about him as he became an adult, perhaps due to teasing from others when he went to boarding school. Christopher said in his own books that his father wasn’t very expressive in person: his inner thoughts came out in his writing. But his father’s obvious delight in his son and how he thought shines through in these stories and poems. I think Christopher must have come to terms with that at some point since he provided a favorable introduction to the audiobook of When We Were Very Young, saying family friend Peter Dennis’ narration presents Pooh “as he [Christopher] knew him.”

All four volumes of the books were available as part of my Audible subscription. I listened to the stories via audiobook, but read the poetry collections via Kindle (which included, thankfully, E. H. Shephard’s original illustrations).

One thing I didn’t like about the audiobooks was the long musical interludes between chapters.

But otherwise it was a sweet experience to visit these characters their original settings.

The Back to the Classics Challenge allows us three children’s classics. So I am going to count Winnie-the-Pooh as one for the “Classic that’s been on your TBR list the longest.”

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting first created the character of Doctor Dolittle in letters home to his children while he was in WWI. The first book in the series is The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed.

Dr. Dolittle is a medical doctor, but he has a lot of pets. He begins to lose patients when they are scared by the number and kinds of pets he keeps. Someone suggests he become an animal doctor. His talking parrot tells him all animals have languages and teaches the doctor several of them. The doctor’s fame spreads far and wide since he can now diagnose and treat animals for the exact ailments they tell him about.

There’s only one problem. Animals aren’t paying customers. As much as the doctor dislikes money and wishes he didn’t have to bother with it, a certain amount is necessary to live.

So he and the animals devise ways to economize plus make some money.

Then birds bring word that monkeys in Africa are very sick, with many of them dying. They’ve heard of Doctor Doolittle and wonder if he can help them.

So after making arrangements for his house and the animals who will stay home, and finding a boat and supplies, the good doctor sets off along with several of his animal companions. They experience several misadventures during their travels and their time in Africa.

I had not realized that there were a number of books with Doctor Doliitle as the main character until I set out to read about him. I had thought that there was one main chapter book. This book is the first written, but others tell of time periods before this book. So some sets of the Doolittle books are arranged in the chronology of the settings rather than publication order. I prefer publication order of any series because that’s how the story would have originally unfolded. Sometimes we don’t care much about the back story until we come to know and care about the characters and their world. I listed to the audiobook very nicely read by James Langton. But it was put together in setting order, so I had to search through several beginnings of chapters in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, which had been placed first, before finding this story (the beginning of the different books wasn’t marked).

Also, I didn’t realize the set I listened to was “fully updated for the modern listener.” I would much rather read and listen to books in their original words. One new illustrated edition has taken the liberty of adding an “updated magical twist.” So if you prefer original classics, check for these things before choosing a volume.

Some editions say they have removed “ethnically insensitive” parts of the story. I assume this one did since it’s “revised for modern readers.” Generally, I’d rather leave stories as they were and explain why certain things are no longer done or said. I don’t know what things were removed from these books. Perhaps, especially in the versions designed for children to read themselves, it is better to adapt them without those offensive elements.

I hadn’t intended to read Doctor Dolittle until this set came up in a “2 books for one credit” sale on Audible. I’m glad to be more familiar with it now, but I don’t think I liked it well enough to read the other two books in this set.

I have not seen any of the film versions.

I’m counting this book for 20th century classic for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

To Sir, With Love

To Sir, With Love is an autobiographical novel by E. R. Braithwaite. Braithwaite was born in Guyana, well-educated, and a pilot in the Royal Air Force during WWII. He says in the book that his color was not a factor during his military service, not even in dating, and he had almost forgotten that his color could be a factor. But after his military service, he spent almost eighteen months unsuccessfully looking for a job. He’d have promising leads until he went for an in-person interview. He began to grow bitter. A chance meeting with a stranger on a park bench put the possibility of teaching in his mind.

He found an opening at a school in the East End of London called Greenslade in the book. The headmaster said they didn’t practice punishment at the school. The students came from disadvantaged backgrounds and needed encouragement and building up. But Braithwaite wasn’t given any advice or tools to help him manage his students. When he asked fellow teachers, advice ranged from “Show them who’s boss” to “Don’t be too hard on them.”

Braithwaite found his students, for the most part, not very literate, crude, vulgar, unwashed, and uncaring about gaining knowledge or much of anything. Their reactions to him varied from ignoring him to disdain to hostility.

Finally, he hit on an approach that seemed to work. I won’t spoil the story by saying what, as for me, that was the part I was most anticipating.

Even then, the relationships between student and teacher and the students’ growth was up and down through various circumstances.

Alongside the story of Braithwaite’s journey with his students is his observations and experiences as a Black man in the later 1940s and 50s. From a white woman who refused to sit next to him on a bus, to those who refused to hire him once they saw him, to refusal of his renting a room, to a colleague making little digs by calling him “the black sheep” and “our sunburned friend,” to a waiter ignoring him, then spilling his soup and not offering to clean it up, Braithwaite experienced various degrees of racism. When asked by someone why he didn’t “stand up for himself,” he seemed to feel it just wasn’t worth it and would cause more problems than it solved. He had lived in the US for a few years and felt racism was more overt there at that time, whereas in Britain it was more subtle.

As the headmaster began to tell Braithwaite of the kinds of homes and situations the children came from, the latter thought, “I was becoming increasingly irritated by his recital of the children’s difficulties. My own experiences the last two years invaded my thoughts, reminding me that these children were white. Hungry or filled, naked or clothed, they were white. And as far as I was concerned, that fact alone made the only difference between the haves and have nots. I wanted this job badly, and would do it to the best of my ability. But it would be a job, not a labor of love.”

But, as you can surmise from the title, he does come to love the students. He felt his colleagues, except one, “accepted him unconditionally” and wanted him to do well.

A few other quotes that stood out to me from the book:

A man who is strong and tough never needs to show it in his dress or the way he cuts his hair. Toughness is a quality of the mind, like bravery or honesty or ambition; it has nothing whatever to do with muscles.

I sought to relate each lesson to themselves, showing them that the whole purpose of their education was the development of their own thinking and reasoning.

Mind? Oh yes, I do mind. But I am learning how to mind and still live. At first it was terrible, but gradually I am learning what it means to live with dignity inside my black skin.

It is not necessary for them to do anything special for a Negro or Indian or any other person, but simply to behave to them as to a stranger Briton, without favor or malevolence,but with courtesy and gentleness which every human being should give to and expect from every otherr.

I listened to the audiobook, nicely read by Ben Onwukwe. As usual, there was no back matter in the audiobook; I don’t know if there was in the print book. These days, stories based on true events often have a back section where they tell to some extent what situations were true and what were made up. According to Wikipedia, Braithwaite’s upbringing, education, military service, and teaching career were as portrayed in the book. But I would guess the students in the story were an amalgam of his real-life students. It seems like many events, as well as the progression of the story, might have been condensed somewhat from real life.

There are a number of instances of “damn,” “hell,” and the “b word” by Braithwaite as well as other adults and students. He notices and mentions students’ and women’s breasts several times. I almost didn’t get past the first chapter because of these elements.

But I enjoyed the story and felt I learned from Braithwaite’s experiences.

I don’t think I ever saw the film by the same name starring Sidney Poitier, though I want to some time. For some reason, the setting of the film was changed to the 1960s. The song from the film was popular as I was growing up.

I’m counting this book for the Classic by a Person of Color category for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

The Last Chronicle of Barset

The Last Chronicle of Barset is the sixth and final novel in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series.

There are several plot threads in this winding up of everyone’s stories. But the overarching plot involves Mr. Crawley, a curate who has been accused of stealing. Mr. Crawley was a minor character in Framley Parsonage, the fourth book in the series. He’s a curate in a small town who is very stern, proud of his poverty, critical of those who have wealth, especially other clergymen.

A twenty-pound check came into his possession, which he used to pay a bill. But then the check was found to have belonged to the lord of the manor house. The problem is, Mr. Crawley can’t remember how he got the check. First he thought Lord Lufton’s agent must have dropped it when he visited, then he thought his friend the dean must have given it to him. Unfortunately, the dean and his wife are out of the country, and Lufton’s agent insists he did not drop it.

Most people don’t think Crawly actually stole the check or confiscated it for his own use. They think it was a mix-up. But the case goes to court (not due to Lord Lufton. He would rather the whole thing had not come to light). Unfortunately, the bishop, or rather, the bishop’s wife, Mrs. Proudie, who wields actual control, thinks Crawley did steal the check and should be removed. Crawley himself almost wonders if he is going mad since he can’t remember for sure how he got the check.

Mr. Crawley was not one of my favorite characters, so at first I wasn’t terribly excited that much of the book focused on him. But after reflecting, I felt this plot line could not have worked with anyone else. And it is used to affect and bring out the personalities and motives of many other people.

The other major plot line is that Archdeacon Grantley’s son has fallen in love with Crawley’s daughter, Grace. The Grantleys are some of the wealthiest people in the area, and the thought of their son joining with a possible criminal’s daughter causes conflict between everyone involved.

Lily Dale from the fifth book, The Small House at Allington, shows up in this story as Grace’s friend. Lily had loved someone who jilted her for someone else richer and higher in society. But she still loves him. John Eames had loved her since childhood, but Lily only thinks of him as a brother. Then when Lily visits friends in London, she runs into the man who jilted her.

There is a totally unnecessary plot thread about a young artist’s flirtatious interactions with a married lady. Neither of them really care for each other romantically and consider their flirtations a game. But the relationship still causes problems when he falls in love with someone else and her husband begins to suspect something. The only connection between any of these people and the other characters is that the artist was a friend of John Eame’s. I don’t think flirting is a harmless game, especially among people married to others, so I could have done without this whole thread.

The Proudies, in all the books til now, have been almost humorous with him as a henpecked husband. They’re on the opposite sides of the fence politically and concerning church matters as many of the other people, and Mrs. Proudie is manipulative, so they’re ofttimes the “villains.” But things come to a very sad head for them.

Mrs. Crawley’s cousin, Mr. Toogood, a lawyer, has suspicions about where the check might have come from, and his pursuit reminded me a lot of Charles Dickens (who was a contemporary of Trollope).

Mr. Harding was the main character of the first book, The Warden. I think he may be the only clergyman in this series that doesn’t have a major flaw. He does tend not to stand up for himself even when he should, but whether that’s a flaw or not depends, I guess, on your point of view. It was said of him by his son-in-law, the Archdeacon: “He lacked guile, and he feared God,—and a man who does both will never go far astray. I don’t think he ever coveted aught in his life.” He has appeared throughout the series as a kindly older man. Now he is nearing his last days, and that all is handled in such a touching way.

Two of my favorite characters were the wives of difficult men in opposite circumstances: Mrs. Grantly and Mrs. Crawley. I would almost say they knew how to “handle” their husbands, but they were not manipulative like Mrs. Proudie. They each knew their husbands’ quirks and foibles and knew how to help them see reason and bring out their best. Mrs. Crawley knew her husband was very proud and unwilling to accept help, but she could find ways of accepting help without violating his desires. She didn’t complain of their poverty, though she had come from a more prosperous home. “She had been very strong through all her husband’s troubles,—very strong in bearing for him what he could not bear for himself, and in fighting on his behalf battles in which he was altogether unable to couch a lance; but the endurance of so many troubles, and the great overwhelming sorrow at last, had so nearly overpowered her.” Archdeacon Grantly is a blustery person, as well as a man of wealth and authority. Mrs. Grantly is about the only one who can speak plainly to him and point out where his thinking might be wrong, yet in a way that doesn’t disrespect him or undercut his authority. It was said after one of their encounters, “He knew very well that he could not get the better of her, and was apt at such moments to think that she took an unfair advantage of him by keeping her temper.”

I had wondered about the fact that Trollope doesn’t show his clergymen (who are the main characters in all most of the books) doing religious things. Mr. Crawley is shown in his religious duties more than anyone else, preaching, teaching in the school, visiting those in his parish. Evidently others wondered the same thing, “accusing” Trollope, “always without bitterness, and generally with tenderness—of having forgotten, in writing of clergymen,” to show “their professional duties, their high calling, their daily workings for the good of those around them.” Trollope answers that he had wanted to “paint the social and not the professional lives of clergymen,” just as he would write of lawyers’ and doctors’ lives without going deeply into their professions. Some also said all the clergymen in the books were flawed to some degree. Trollope answers, “Had I written an epic about clergymen, I would have taken St. Paul for my model; but describing, as I have endeavoured to do, such clergymen as I see around me, I could not venture to be transcendental.” But, he says, for his part, he would be happy to spend time with any of them.

Just a couple more samples of Trollope’s writing: He says of one Mr. Thumble, an ambitious lackey of Mrs. Proudie’s who hopes to take Mr. Crawley’s place, “who, having heard his own voice once, and having liked the sound, thought that he might creep into a little importance by using it on any occasion that opened itself for him.” One man’s wife dies in the book, and at the end of his story line, Trollope says, “We will now say farewell to him, with a hope that the lopped tree may yet become green again, and to some extent fruitful, although all its beautiful head and richness of waving foliage have been taken from it.”

The last couple of books had a similar feel to Mitford, Jan Karon’s books, except set in Victorian England. But it took the previous four books to get to this place.

I am very glad I read (or listened to) the last three books in succession. When I read the fourth, it had been a while since I read the previous books, and I had to remind myself who everyone was and how they were related. So I wanted to read the last three one after the other so I didn’t have to go through that process with each one.

My favorite of the series is Doctor Thorne, the third book. Wikipedia says it was that book that caused the series to take off. The site also says that Trollope didn’t originally intend to write a series. But he set later books in or near the same place as the first couple, and later on, publishers asked him for another book in the same area or with related characters. The last three novels were first released serially in magazines.

I listened to all the books via audiobook, all but the third wonderfully narrated by Simon Vance. Most, if not all of them, were included in my Audible subscription, so I didn’t have to use my credits on them. Most of the Kindle versions were free or 99 cents, so in some cases I would go back and forth between e-book and audio.

I’m sorry in many ways to see the series come to an end, and I’ll miss these characters. But I’m happy to become acquainted with Trollope and look forward to reading more of his books.

I’m counting this book for the “wild card classic” category of the Back to the Classics Challenge.