Laudable Linkage


Here are a few of the good reads found in the last couple of weeks:

Humbly Coming Before Our Father, HT to Challies. “Although most people, even many professing Christians, believe that everyone is a child of God in a spiritual way, the word of God is undeniably clear that only those who are united to the Son by faith are the adopted children of God.”

Are You Following a Bootstrap Gospel? “The bootstrap gospel is good, and sometimes is even full of things that we need to hear, but it’s not enough. We need the real gospel to truly change our lives.”

A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping. “All living things need constant care, including faith. No one brushes her teeth and says, ‘Done, I never have to do that again!’ So it is with faith. Moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity, we must choose to walk by faith, or, by default, we defer to sight.”

Church kids and Church Shootings. “For times like these, for the church shooter days and the monster under the bed nights, for the why did this have to happen conversations, there is only one source of wisdom and truth, and our kids are counting on us to be able to offer the real answers and real promises of our good God.”

Is Your Church Worship More Pagan than Christian? HT to Proclaim and Defend. “Scripture is full of exhortations to God’s people to sing and make music to the Lord. Our God has been gracious to give us this means to worship Him. But it is important to understand that music in our worship is for two specific purposes: to honor God and to edify our fellow believers. Unfortunately, many Christians tend to grant music a sacramental power which Scripture never bestows upon it.”

Laughing at the Days to Come. The Proverbs 3 woman, instead of fearing the future, “laughs at the days to come.” “The woman who laughs at the days to come, however, does not live a life governed by the fearful question, ‘What if?’ Rather, she calmly and confidently approaches the unknown with the words, ‘Even if.'”

Courageous: Inspiring Courage Through Classic Literature. “Stories feed our children’s minds and spirits the same way food feeds their bodies. I want my children to feast on books with characters who point them to hope, who are brave and honest and kind.”

And finally, this is one way to help people wake up and pay attention to the flight safety information:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

I found some great reading this week. Maybe one or two of these would appeal to you.

From Christians Who Formerly Identified as LGBTQ: A “Thank You” to Our Allies, HT to Proclaim and Defend. “To be publicly acceptable, our faith must affirm LGBTQ behavior and identity, as if Christ came soothingly to tell us there is no such thing as sin. Yet, in truth, embracing and celebrating a tendency toward that for which our Maker did not make us leads us away from Him. Basing our identity on that which is false is not the will of the One who is faithful and true. Over many years of struggle, what transformed the stigma for me was neither shame nor pride, but surrender—a surrender to the Savior’s embrace. I slowly began to unite the wounds of my sin and my struggles with same-sex attraction with the wounds of Jesus.”

The Scatter-Brained Girls Guide to Bible Study. “One second I’m pondering a deep thought, and the next I’m watching bunnies frolic in the back yard while thinking about the report I have to accomplish at work later.”

The Problem With “Spiritual but Not Religious,” HT to Challies.

Hospitality Is Not Homebound. “Hospitality is not centered only around our homes. The truth is that hospitality is about YOU, not your house or your schedule or your cooking skills. What people want is an openness, a kindness, and a posture that says that you are available and you care, and you can offer that wherever you go.”

In the House of Tom Bombadil, HT to Story Warren. This was a lovely piece about a section in Lord of the Rings that many either puzzle over or skip over. “Why do this? Why break up the action with a story of a Bed and Breakfast joint run by a man who sings like Kenneth Williams’ Rambling Sid Rumpo? As I reflected, it dawned upon me that this is so often what God provides for us. Perhaps not the faldi-singing host, but certainly the moment to pause when we’ve felt hardly able to catch a breath.”

My Face Became a Meme, HT to Challies. I often wonder what people think when their face becomes an often-used meme. Here’s one man’s experience.

This Twitter thread starts out: “Three years ago my husband’s grandmother moved in with us and on her first night, she put a dress on the dish soap. My life hasn’t been the same since.” The comments and photos are so funny. My granny made crocheted toilet paper holders like some of the ones shown, only hers looked like a poodle. HT to Laura.

Artist Pokes Fun at Literature in 30 Cartoons. about artist John Atkinson. I loved these, especially the one or two sentence synopses, like this one:

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: Anna Karenina

I had no interest in reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy for years. I knew it was about a woman who committed adultery, and I figured it would be pretty soap-opera-ish and probably a bit racy.

But Tolstoy did not seem given to raciness in any of his other books that I’d read. Then Carol’s review made me think perhaps there might be more to the story than I’d thought. So I decided to give it a try for my Classic in Translation choice for the Back to the Classics challenge.

The novel has one of literature’s most famous opening lines: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Anna doesn’t actually show up until several chapters in. The book opens with her brother, Stepan (also called by his nickname, Stiva, or his last name, Oblonsky, or his full name. All the characters have three polysyllabic Russian names plus nicknames, so it’s a little hard to sort them out at first. But once we get to know them, it’s easier.) Stiva has cheated on his wife, Dolly, who has found out. Stiva doesn’t think adultery is wrong and doesn’t see himself at fault, but he’s sorry he has hurt Dolly. His sister, Anna, is on her way to try to reconcile her brother and his wife.

Anna is described as beautiful, bright, charming, and eager. She doesn’t gloss over Stiva’s behavior, but she asks Dolly is she loves him enough to forgive him. Dolly had been contemplating leaving, but decides to forgive Stiva and stay.

Dolly’s sister, Kitty, has two suitors. Levin is the better man, but he’s socially awkward and lives in the country (and the society people can’t fathom what on earth one does in the country. Later, visitors seem to view time in the country as a holiday, while Levin works almost nonstop.) Count Vronsky is handsome, dashing, well-off, and in the highest society, so Kitty is swept away with him and refuses Levin’s proposal.

But Vronsky has no desire to marry, ever. He has enjoyed Kitty’s affections, but he’s had a string of romantic attachments, thinks marriage and husbands are stupid, and has no plans to settle down—until he meets Anna.

They meet at the train when Vronsky’s mother is coming in on the same train with Anna when she comes to see Stiva and Dolly. Anna and Vronsky are instantly attracted to each other, so much so that at a ball when they dance, Kitty knows Vronsky is lost to her.

Anna resists the attraction at first. Her situation is almost an anatomy of falling into temptation. She was not truly happy in her marriage, but as far as we know, she wasn’t entertaining thoughts of adultery until she met Vronsky. She’s disturbed by the strange attraction and knows it’s not right. When she gets home, some of the sheen is rubbed of the joy she had anticipated in getting back to her son, and all her husband’s faults stand out. Vronsky follows her. She has three groups of friends, and instead of avoiding Vronsky (“making no provision for the flesh“), she hangs out with the group he’s likely to be part of. Eventually, she succumbs. Though she’s ashamed and guilty, she continues to the point of leaving her family to be with Vronsky. Gradually her heart and conscience harden, but her thinking and personality become unstable.

Despite the lack of morals in her set of friends (almost everyone in the society group has an affair going or someone knowingly kept on the side), Anna is an outcast. One source said it was because her affair was out in the open while others kept theirs hidden. There’s also some inequity in that Vronsky can go out in society, but Anna is snubbed.

There are several major characters, but Levin’s story takes up as much of the novel as Anna’s—maybe more. His story runs in the opposite trajectory. He’s said to be based on some extent on Tolstoy. He had faith as a child, but lost it in college and now does not acknowledge himself to be a believer. He’s a landowner and tries to do his best by the people who work for him and who are dependent on him. But he gets frustrated when the peasants won’t agree to new methods or equipment. Though he thinks deeply, he gets lost in the intellectual arguments of his brothers and others. He eventually marries, but doesn’t find home life the bliss he thought it would be. He and his wife argue a lot. But they talk things out and work through them. His lack of faith begins to bother him after his brother dies, and his spiritual journey is a major part of the book. As Anna moves away from stability and happiness, Levin moves toward them.

There are so many layers in this book, it’s hard to sort through what to share. There are multiple discussions about marriage and family, society and city life vs. rural life, affected, hypocritical religion vs. true change of heart, the politics of the day.

Tolstoy does a masterful job painting his characters and helping us understand them. There are so many interesting little insights into people’s motivations and actions. For instance, Anna’s husband, Karenin, is a public official known for Christian values. Yet he fails to do the most Christian thing required of a husband: love his wife as Christ loved the church. His first notice that something is wrong is when Anna is not as attentive to him as she used to be. He only asks that she not bring Vronsky to the house and that she maintain decorum. He may think that he’s being magnanimous by yielding to her desires, but he shows he only cares about appearances. Early on, Anna says things like, “If only he’d fight for me.” His most profound religious moment comes at a crisis when he realizes he needs to forgive her. Yet even then he struggles between what he feels led to do and the “force” that drives him, the opinion of society.

One source I consulted said Anna is a pioneer feminist fulfilling her self-determination. But I don’t think Tolstoy writes her that way. He’s not saying, “Poor girl, society is being so mean to you for making your own choices.” Though he points out the foibles and hypocrisies of society, he portrays Anna as genuinely wrong and self-destructing because of it.

For all the free-thinking society talk of immorality, thankfully there are no sex scenes, and nothing explicit is said or shown.

I’ll warn you that if you look for information about this book, Anna’s end is spoiled rather ruthlessly. That was frustrating to me because I had no idea how she ended and hated finding out when I had barely started the book. After that I tried to steer clear of looking at other sources until I finished reading the book.

I primarily listened to the audiobook nicely read by Maggie Gyllenhaal, but I also read parts of the Kindle version. I wish I had known earlier that the Kindle version translated the frequent French phrases. I lost a bit in the audio by not knowing what was said in those moments. But Maggie brought a lot of emotion and thoughtfulness to the narrative, so I am glad I experienced that.

I’ve seen in several places that Anna Karenina is a major contender for best novel ever written. I don’t think I’d put it on that level. But it’s a rich book that gives one much to ponder.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Laudable Linkage


Just a few this week, but since some of them had to do with Christmas themes, I thought I’d go ahead and share them.

How God Used A Christmas Carol to Resurrect Literature in My Life. “People can be tempted to think that books are meant to take us away, meant to give us a mental holiday from our lives, but that is not true. Great books, living books, are not meant as an escape from life, but a passage into life.”

Who Were the Magi?

What’s the Difference Between Lament and Complaint? I’ve wondered about this, so this was timely for me.

4 Reasons Every Church Needs Senior Saints, HT to Challies.

End of Year Evaluation. This is not a recent one – I’ve had it in my files for years and think about doing it but haven’t yet. I have trouble choosing superlatives and tend to over analyze all of that. My friend Susan isn’t actively blogging currently, sadly, but thankfully she has left her old posts online.

I mentioned recently that Phil Vischer’s Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables was on my top 12 books read this year. I recently discovered this video of a speech he gave which is kind of a condensed version of the book. It’s fun at first because he does some of the different characters he voices in the Veggie Tales programs. But then he gets to the meat of the matter. Personally I don’t care for the phrases about God “showing up” and calling Jesus “the Big Guy,” but if you can look past that, this is well worth the 56 minutes.

Happy last Saturday of the year!

Book Review: On Stories and Other Essays on Literature

On StoriesSomeone recommended On Stories and Other Essays on Literature by C. S. Lewis some time last year. I asked for and received it for Christmas, but then set it aside when I entered a number of reading challenges for this year. But something in How to Read Slowly touched off a train of thought that reminded me of Lewis’s book, so I was happy to pick it up recently. Then realizing it could qualify for Carrie’s Narnia Reading Challenge for July made me push a little harder to try to get through it by the end of the month.

Nineteen of Lewis’s essays were compiled for this book by Walter Hooper, one of his biographers, his private secretary for a time, and eventually the literary executor of his estate. The last selection in the book is a transcript of a discussion recorded with Lewis and two colleagues. Many of the essays were previously published in magazines or in Lewis’s books: others had been unpublished until this book. Some are Lewis’s thoughts on fiction, science fiction, writing for children, etc., while others are critiques of other writers’ work (Dorothy L. Sayers, Rider Haggard, George Orwell, Tolkien, and others).

There is no way to really review a book like this, so I am just going to share some observations.

I hadn’t known and was fascinated to learn in Hooper’s mini-biography which introduces the book that in Lewis’s time “the most vocal of the literary critics were encouraging readers to find in literature almost everything, life’s monotony, social injustice, sympathy with the downtrodden poor, drudgery, cynicism, and distaste: everything except enjoyment. Step out of line and you were branded an ‘escapist'” (p ix). I’m glad Lewis not only stepped out of the box but succeeded and made it okay to enjoy stories as stories.

Lewis states many times in various essays that he did not write the Narnia series or his science fiction trilogy with morals or symbolism in view, as many people in his time and since have thought. They started with certain pictures in his mind (a faun carrying an umbrella) and developed from there. “Never…did he begin with a message or moral, but…these things pushed their own way in during the process of writing” (p. xv). He says in the transcript at the end, “The story itself should force its moral on you. You find out what the moral is by writing the story” (p. 145).

Reepicheep and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle were his favorite characters (p. xi).

He decried the kind of fiction where “the author has no expedient for keeping the story on the move except that of putting his hero into violent danger. In the hurry and scurry of his escapes the poetry of the basic idea is lost” (p. 10). Of course he had no problem with putting the hero in danger, as you know if you’ve read Narnia or the Space Trilogy: sometimes that’s a necessary part of the plot. But if that’s all the story is, it might be enjoyable to some, but there’s no deeper meaning.

He also believed that the “marvels in a good Story” should not be “mere arbitrary fictions stuck on to make the narrative more sensational” (p. 12). In other words, the story itself should be intrinsic to the “world” in the story. A story about pirates should  have a different feel and problems than a story about giants and dragons. The plot shouldn’t be such that it could be stuck into any setting.

He quotes Dorothy L. Sayers as saying, about the assumption that she wrote to “do good”: “My object was to tell that story to the best of my ability, within the medium at my disposal — in short, to make as good a work of art as I could. For a work of art that is not good and true in art is not good and true in any other respect” (p. 93).

When asked what he thought of a certain book, he replied, “I thought it was pretty good. I only read it once; mind you, a book’s no good to me until I’ve read it two or three times” (p. 146).

I found his thoughts on critiques and book reviews quite interesting in “On Criticism” and in his answering of some criticisms of his work in “On Science Fiction.” Then to see/read him “in action” critiquing other books was enlightening. He didn’t pull any punches, but he wasn’t mean or belittling, and he complimented and praised the good while sharing honestly what he thought was bad. He made a strong case for truly evaluating what was good and bad and not deeming a book bad just because one doesn’t like a particular genre.

He thought The Lord of the Rings would “soon take its place among the indispensables” (p. 90). He was right. 🙂

I didn’t look up every word I didn’t know in this book, but I should have, especially with a dictionary app at hand on my phone. I eventually started doing so partway through the book.

Though Lewis has such a wealth of knowledge, I found him very readable and not hard to follow for the most part. I’d love to have sat in on one of his classes.

And here are some of my favorite quotes:

“It might be expected that such a book would unfit us for the harshness of reality and send us back into our daily lives unsettled and discontent. I do not find that it does so….Story, paradoxically enough, strengthens our relish for real life. This excursion into the preposterous [speaking here of The Wind in the Willows] sends us back with renewed pleasure to the actual” (p. 14).

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty – except, of course, books of information” (p. 14).

On the topic of frightening elements in children’s literature, he agreed that “we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless,” but to withhold “the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil…would be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce haunting dread in the minds of children…Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book…I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable” (pp. 39-40) (emphasis mine).

On The Lord of the Rings: “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; this is a book that will break your heart” (p. 84).

“‘But why,’ some ask, ‘why, if you have a serious comment to make on the real life of men, must you do it by talking about a phantasmagoric never-never land of your own?’ Because, I take it, one of the main things the author wants to say is that the real life of men is that of mythical and heroic quality” (p. 89).

“The value of myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the ‘veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat (otherwise dull to him) by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story…If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse,apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves. This book [LOTR] applies the treatment not only to bread and apple but to good and evil, to our endless perils, our anguish, and our joys. By dipping them in myth we see them more clearly” (p. 90).

I love that – that by seeing truth in stories we sometimes see it more clearly than we otherwise would have.

If you like Lewis or like literature, I highly recommend this book to you.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: How to Read Slowly

How to Read SlowlyI don’t remember how the book How to Read Slowly: Reading For Comprehension by James W. Sire first came to my attention, but it caught my eye when it did. I didn’t want to change my reading speed necessarily, but I did want to learn how to retain more from what I read, especially non-fiction (stories seem to stay with me longer and better with less effort). Even with marking quotes, using sticky tabs to mark the most important passages, and sometimes even outlining the chapters, I still tend to forget a great deal. Even though this was a book about comprehension rather than retention, I figured the one would aid the other.

I had not known Sire was a Christian when I bought the book, but right at the beginning he states that though this book would be beneficial to any reader, he primarily wanted to encourage “Christians to think and read well. Christians, of all people, should reflect the mind of their Maker. Learning to read well is a step toward loving God with your mind. It is a leap toward thinking God’s thoughts after Him” (p. 12). To which I say a hearty “Amen!”

With both instruction and example, Sire shows how to detect an author’s world view, how to read “between the lines” while not “inventing or imagining what is not really there” (p. 42),  how to “track the flow” of author’s argument or reasoning process. He has a whole chapter on poetry, another on reading fiction, another on reading in context (not imprinting our current way of thinking on older books, but understanding the context in which they were written). He gives tips for how to read, what to look for, what to mark, and encourages a lot of rereading. He talks about the difference between reading nonfiction and imaginative literature.

Here are some quotes that stood out to me:

What is the primary reason for reading poetry or any imaginative literature? Beyond all psychologizing as to real or apparent motives, we read literature because we enjoy it — and we enjoy it because we are grabbed by it, our attention is arrested. We say, “Aha! Yes, that’s how it is.”

In great literature — poetry and fiction — we see ourselves, our friends, our enemies, the world around us. We see our interests portrayed in bold relief — our questions asked better than we can ask them, our problems pictured better than we can picture them by ourselves, our fantasies realized beyond our fondest dreams, our fears confirmed in horrors more horrible than our nightmares, our hopes fulfilled past our ability to yearn or desire. In literature we catch reality in a mirror…

Life is short, but art is long. Sophocles is dead, but Oedipus lives on…Each of us when we read a great piece of literature is a little more human than before (pp 58-59).

Well-wrought poems and works of imaginative literature can do for us what stone-cold prose can never do. They can help us grasp the full dimension of ways of life other than our own (p. 86).

Our ability to read well depends to a large degree on just how clearly we understand ourselves and how much we realize ours is not the only way to look at reality….I am not saying we ought not to disagree with anything we read. Indeed not. We must disagree if the thrust is in opposition to what we take — after reflection, study, and prayer — to be the truth. But we must also be sure that we have “heard” the other person as he or she wishes to be heard (p. 141).

We have more to fear from naivete with regard to error than we do from clear knowledge of error that we recognize as error….A knowledge of the truth is the best defense against error (p. 146).

One thing the Bible does not do: it does not denigrate the mind. The Bible is not anti-intellectual. Rather it gives the reason why all of us know what we know, why we can think with some degree of accuracy, and why we fail to think with complete accuracy (p. 148).

Every avid reader struggles with the sheer amount of good books on our shelves that we haven’t gotten to as well as the ones we see in stores or online or recommended by friends. Sire says, “We will never catch up. But we can get on with it…Reading does get done. The point is to start and then to read well. How far we get, how many books we read, must not become the issue” (p. 155).

I don’t know if I would say that I enjoyed the book – it’s not something I’d pick up for fun. But I did benefit from it. It feels a little like high school or college English class in some places (not surprisingly, Sire taught English literature and philosophy at various colleges), but I liked classroom English, so I didn’t mind that aspect of the book. The section on the mechanics of poetry got a little technical for me (I had not known, or else had forgotten, what a spondee was), but I appreciate his illustration that even the meter and rhythm of a poem illustrate its message. I just don’t know how many people are seriously going to count syllables and abab cdcd the rhyming lines outside of a classroom unless they’re really into poetry. But that’s the only part that went a little overboard (for me. Someone else may have found it fascinating). This is a book I would highly recommend for anyone interested in the subject.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

My Top Ten Books Read in 2013

books_clip_artIn the previous post I listed all the books I completed reading this year: now I want to especially mention my favorites of them, in no particular order.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, reviewed here. OK, I said no particular order, but this would definitely be my #1. It’s the true story of a leftist lesbian feminist professor who can’t stand Christians who, by God’s grace, becomes one. It is an eye-opening book on many levels.

The Fruitful Wife: Cultivating a Love Only God Can Produce by Hayley DiMarco, reviewed here. This is a study of the fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 and applied specifically to marriage (though the applications, of course, can extend to everyone). It was so instructive, convicting, and full of good stuff that I didn’t feel I had grasped completely, so I immediately reread it. Highly recommend.

Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada, reviewed here. Any marriage has its difficulties, but Joni’s and Ken’s is especially challenging due to her health issues and fame. I appreciated this honest look at some of the things they’ve had to go through and the grace God gave them to deal with them.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, reviewed here. This was helpful on so many levels. I just wish extroverts would read it. I still hear things today that show that introverts can be misunderstood and even thought to be flawed. It helped me understand more about myself and assured me that it’s ok to be introverted, that introverts are wired a certain way and have their gifts and purposes in this world.

Through Gates of Splendor, reviewed here, the story of the five missionaries who were killed by the Auca Indians in the 1960s. It’s a reread for the I-don’t-know-how-many-eth time, but it never fails to inspire and challenge me.

The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson, reviewed here. Not an exact retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but more of a story taken from or based on that story.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, audiobook, reviewed here. The title of that one put me off for a long time, but I saw so many people recommending it that I gave it a try. Such clever writing and rollicking good fun! I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Katherine Kellgren. I loved the next two in the series and am looking forward to the fourth soon.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, linked to an earlier review here, but just completed, another one that has been read multiple times, and I like it more each time. The first read-through can be confusing until everything comes into focus, but reading it knowing what’s going to happen reveals what a master craftsman Dickens was. And the story itself is an excellent example of Christlike love in laying down one’s life for another.

The Mitford Series by Jan Karon, summarized and reviewed here. OK, I’m cheating by listing a whole series, but, hey, it’s my list. 🙂 My favorite of the series is the first one, At Home in Mitford, but I actually read that one at the end of last year. My favorite of the ones read this year is These High Green Hills, but I love them all, and especially enjoyed revisiting them via John McDonough’s audiobooks this time. The Mitford Bedside Companion was a wonderful accompaniment to the books this go-round, too.

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, reviewed here. Though in some ways it is not my favorite of the Narnia series, especially the first part of the book, I dearly love the depiction of everyone’s reaction to Aslan’s country at the end.

Honorable mention:

I’m editing this list from what I had at first, and if I hadn’t already published it as a “top ten,” I’d probably name it a top twelve. But here are two more I’ll list as “honorable mentions”:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, reviewed here, about the 9 year old son of a prison camp commander during WWII who makes friends with a boy on the other side of the fence. Though the end is profoundly sad and disturbing, the style of the writing is perfect for the story, contrasting the main character’s innocence with the brutality of Naziism.

The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna by Liz Curtis Higgs, reviewed here. A just-right visiting of the familiar Scripture passages dealing with the Christmas story.

It’s interesting how many of these are rereads. Maybe next time I’ll make a separate list of favorite rereads and favorite new books.

What were your favorite books read this year?

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

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I’m also linking up with Booking Through Thursday where the question today concerns favorite books read this year.

Books Read in 2013


At the end of the year I like to look back at what I’ve read during the year. In the next post I’ll be picking out my top 10 or so from this list. I’ve divided them up into categories without much description or commentary. I decided to list the audiobooks with the other books by type rather than in a separate category.



  • Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, reviewed here.
  • Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery reviewed here.
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, audiobook, reviewed here.
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell, reviewed here.
  • The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, reviewed here.
  • Little Women, audiobook, linked to a previous year’s review.
  • The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis, reviewed here.
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, audiobook, linked to an earlier review here
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, reviewed here
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, reviewed here.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, audiobook.
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, reviewed here,
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. audiobook, linked to an earlier review here
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, audiobook, linked to an earlier review here.

Christian Fiction:

Other Fiction:

I wasn’t sure whether to put Jan Karon with the classics (though her books probably haven’t been around long enough to be called classics, but I think of them that way) or Christian fiction (though there is a definite Christian current in her books, I don’t think they were marketed as Christian fiction). I finally settled for “other.”

A couple of them, like the New American Standard Bible and With the Word by Warren Wiersbe, were completed this year but were begun long before.

By my count that’s 75 books. I’m surprised that I read more non-fiction than usual, and that I didn’t read as much from my favorite category, Christian fiction. many of the classics were rereads, which is why they’re linked to earlier reviewed of them.

There are a handful of these that I didn’t enjoy or even had some serious problems with, and there are a handful that were not bad but didn’t really do much for me. Most are good in some way or another, and there are a few standouts that I really benefited from and enjoyed. I’ll talk about the standouts in the next post.

I’ll be linking up on Saturday with Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books, where this week she is inviting us to share our book lists for 2013.

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

F451Fahrenheit 451 is, as far as I can remember, the first book I have read by Ray Bradbury. It has the same feel as the old Twilight Zone series, but it was published a few years before.

The story takes place in a future version of America where most books are illegal. Fireman, instead of putting fires out, now start them by burning books and the houses of those caught with books. Society had lost its taste for deep thinking, preferring instead sporting events, fast driving, endless entertainment via earpieces they listen to and parlour walls that act as an expanded TV and directly involve the viewer. Concurrently, books were shortened, and then books that made people think fell out of favor and then were deemed upsetting to the peace and happiness of society, as different groups would protest what different books said, so they were banned. As a fire captain later explained, “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal . . . A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.” It is interesting, and scary, that what passes for tolerance today is this idea of making everyone equal and unobjectionable to each other rather than a willingness to let others have their differences.

Guy Montag is a fireman who likes his job, until he meets a different, free-spirited teen-age neighbor named Clarisse. Though I don’t think they ever talk about books specifically, her unconventional approach to life and way of thinking spark something in him, a questioning, a wondering if there is more to life. Several things fan this spark into flame: his vapid wife overdoses on sleeping pills and has to have her stomach pumped, but remembers nothing about it the next day; Clarisse and her family disappear; and a woman whose house Guy and his crew are supposed to torch chooses to die with her books. What can there be in books that someone would die for them? Guy has secretly taken a few of them and intends to find out. But he can’t make sense of them himself, so he goes to an old professor named Faber for help.

I’ll leave the plot there so as not to spoil it for those who haven’t read it. Though it was written during the McCarthy era, when there was an increased sensitivity to anyone having the remotest possibility of a tie to Communism, and Bradbury was concerned about censorship, he  “usually claimed that the real messages of Fahrenheit 451 were about the dangers of an illiterate society infatuated with mass media and the threat of minority and special interest groups to books,” according to Wikipedia. He has an interesting afterward that tells how he came to write the book and something of the history of it. He also tells of one publisher wanting to publish one of his stories in an anthology with 450 others, including some from Twain and Shakespeare, all shortened, seeming a fulfilling of his predictions in the book. The book itself has been banned at times in the past due to language (many “damns,” “hells,” and taking of the Lord’s name in vain), its mention of one woman’s abortion, and its depiction of firemen. There were valid reasons for the mention of abortion and the firemen. The language I could have done without. I am not shocked by it: my father spoke that way, and I know people do, but I don’t want to fill my brain with it, so I usually avoid books with much of it. I have mixed emotions about censorship. I don’t think I believe in it at the government level, but I have no problem with reserving certain books from student’s required reading. There are some books and magazines that are just pure filthiness and at least shouldn’t be right out there next to Good Housekeeping and such. I would have no problem with censoring those, personally, but then other people would have no problem censoring some books I like: some parents protest their children having to read anything religious. Thus we have the problem Bradbury depicted: if everything can be banned that anyone would have some objection to, we’re left with nothing. As Christians, the best way to deal with the situation, I think, is not to necessarily to seek to ban everything objectionable, though there are times to protest certain actions (like one library I heard of that had the “adult” section next to the children’s section, or a required book for a student that a parent objects to, or unnecessary foul language and sex scenes in books I review): rather, if we concentrate on doing what Jesus told us to do – share the gospel and make disciples – people’s hearts will be changed and they won’t want the bad stuff. That’s not the main reason to share the gospel, but it is one side effect.

The book has a great many more layers to it than there would appear to be at first glance. SparkNotes helped me catch some of that that I missed at first and caused me to appreciate Bradbury’s skill as a writer. The book is one of those classics I had heard of for years and always wanted to get to someday: I am glad that now I have.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Daniel Deronda

Daniel Deronda is a young man of uncertain parentage brought up to be an English gentleman as the ward of kind-hearted Sir Hugo Malinger in England in the 1870s. The pain and shame of the possibility of being illegitimate and the lack of knowing his family has worked in him a tender heart and an inclination to help and rescue others in need. He is uncertain about what to do with his life, dropping out of university and resistant to Sir Hugo’s urging that he take up politics. “To make a little difference for the better was what he was not contented to live without; but how to make it?”

But though he is the title character, he appears silently in the first chapter and then not again until about the 15th. Those intervening chapters and the intertwining storyline are taken up with Gwendolen Harleth, a beautiful, vain, self-centered, seemingly heartless young woman. Used to getting everything she wants, her world is shaken when her family loses its fortune and the only option they can find is to move and for her to “take a situation” as a governess. To escape that fate she goes against her conscience to marry Henley Grandcourt. She knows he has a shameful secret, but she doesn’t know he knows she knows, and his knowledge gives him power over her. She was initially attracted to him because he didn’t fawn and act “ridiculous” around her like the other smitten young men in her wake, and he was rich and seemed to indulge her. But after the marriage, the niceties are off and he turns out to be a cold and cruel man whose main source of pleasure is in mastering others.

Daniel had crossed her path in the first chapter, and when they meet again, her misery in her marriage and her tormented conscience draw her to him almost as an alternate conscience and confessor.

Meanwhile Daniel finds Mirah Lapidoth at the lowest point in her life and undertakes to help her as much as he can. She is a young Jewess who was taken from her mother and brother and forced to work on the stage, but she escaped and returned to try to find them again. In Daniel’s search through the Jewish quarter of town for Mirah’s family, he meets a young zealous Jew named Mordecai, who is dying and thinks Daniel is the answer to his prayers for a successor and future leader of his people. Daniel can’t help him in that aspect because he is not Jewish, but Mordecai insists he could be since he doesn’t know his own parentage. Though Daniel continues to resist him, they do become friends and Daniel learns more about Jewish culture.

The rest of the book is taken up with the intersection and development of these lives and Daniel’s ultimately finding his identity and purpose.  In fact, identity could be an overarching theme of the book: Daniel searches for his, Gwendolen wrestles with hers, Grandcourt hides his, Mirah and Mordecai are guided by theirs.

This is the first of George Eliot’s books that I’ve ever read, though I heard a performance of Silas Marner (and want to read it as well as Middlemarch some time). I enjoyed the psychology of her writing, the way she delved into and displayed each character’s pysche. Though, as with many older classics, there is a lot more explaining than there is in modern work, the author still tucks in neat scenes that expose a lot about the characters without further explanation, like the one where Grandcourt shows his cruelty by baiting one dog and then rejecting it.

Since Eliot is a “a writer who, for many, embodies the ideals of the liberal, secular humanism of the Victorian age,” according to Wikipedia, obviously the book is written from that standpoint, and though there are Biblical allusions, grace and forgiveness are largely and sadly missing: e.g., when Gwendolen confesses to having hateful thoughts and is stricken by her conscience, she is urged to try to live a better life, serve a purpose outside herself, etc., rather than to confess to God and seek His help. That’s not surprising when you read a bit about Eliot and find that she either missed or resisted that grace in her own life as well.There are also some weird mystical allusions in regard to Mordecai, who thinks his soul will be reincarnated in Daniel.

The Wikipedia article on Daniel Deronda also goes into the influences leading to the Jewish elements in the book in a time when society was rather anti-Semitic. I thought these lines from the book were telling:

Deronda, like his neighbors, had regarded Judaism as a sort of eccentric fossilized form which an accomplished man might dispense with studying, and leave to specialists. But Mirah, with her terrified flight from one parent, and her yearning after the other, had flashed on him the hitherto neglected reality that Judaism was something still throbbing in human lives, still making for them the only conceivable vesture of the world…This awakening of a new interest–this passing from the supposition that we hold the right opinions on a subject we are careless about, to a sudden care for it, and a sense that our opinions were ignorance–is an effectual remedy for ennui, which, unhappily, cannot be secured on a physician’s prescription.

I first became acquainted with this novel when I saw the BBC film several years ago starring Hugh Dancy as Daniel, Romola Garai as Gwendolen, and Hugh Bonneville (currently of Downton Abbey fame) as Grandcourt. I think it was one of the first period dramas I ever saw, and except for too many shots of Gwendolen’s cleavage, I was enamored with movie. I just watched it again this week on Netflix and I was less so. The filmmakers were attentive to many details, such as Daniel’s tendency to grasp his coat high near the collar and Grandcourt’s to keep a thumb and forefinger in one pocket, and many lines and scenes are taken straight from the book. But they turned Daniel and Gwendolen’s relationship into more of a romance, almost an adulterous one, and changed some scenes and lines in others (such as Gwendolen’s visit to Mirah). I still enjoyed the film, though not as much as I would have without the changes, and it does follow the overall structure of the book, but of course it condenses it.

I listened to much of the book via audiobook, and Nadia May’s reading and accents were delightful. But some of the philosophical parts were harder to comprehend without pondering the words in print, so I referred often to the free (at this time) e-book version as well.

I’m thankful to Heather at Do Not Let This Universe Forget You for choosing Daniel Deronda for Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club for August. I enjoyed the journey!

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)