What’s On Your Nightstand: August 2013

What's On Your NightstandThe folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the fourth Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

It has been a long and busy summer, but thankfully there have been pockets of time to read. Here’s what I’ve been reading since the last Nightstand post and what I plan to read next.

Since last time I have completed:

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis for Carrie‘s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, reviewed here.

The Fruitful Wife by Hayley DiMarco, applying the fruit of the Spirit specifically to marriage, but it had so much and I felt I had only grasped a handful of it, so I’m going back through the chapters and outlining them. I hope to review it later this week or early next week.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer, reviewed here.

Invisible by Ginny Yttrup, reviewed here. Good!

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck, reviewed here. Meh.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach, reviewed here. Interesting, funny in parts, unnecessarily vulgar in a few places.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book III: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood, audiobook, not reviewed. It had all the elements I loved from Book I and Book II, with some new information about the children’s backgrounds, but it had the negative element of a seance.

I’m currently reading:

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot for Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club for August. Enjoying it very much, but I’m going to have to step on it to finish by the end of the month!

On Distant Shores, brand new from Sarah Sundin.

Overcoming Overeating by Lisa Morrone

Next up:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. I have been wanting to read this for a long time.

Lost and Found by Ginny Yttrup

Jennifer: An O’Malley Love Story by Dee Henderson

I hope you have had a good reading month as well!

Bookish fun

813359_book_stack_4.jpgI saw this over at Joyful Reader, who found it at Two weeks from everywhere, and it looked like a fun thing to do. I haven’t done this kind of thing in a while. All links are to my thoughts or reviews.

1. Favorite childhood book?  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

2. What are you reading right now?  The Fruitful Wife by Hayley DiMarco (actually for the second time in a row. I finished it, but it was so full and I didn’t feel I had really grasped a fraction of it, so I am going back and outlining the chapters), Daniel Deronda by George Elliot, and Overcoming Overeating by Lisa Morrone.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?  None at the moment

4. Bad book habit?  Probably buying too many. 🙂

5. What do you currently have checked out at the libraryGulp! by Mary Roach

6. Do you have an e-reader?  I have a Kindle app on my HP tablet and iPhone. It took some getting used to, and I still prefer an actual paper book, but I have enjoyed some electronically. I especially enjoy finding free or very inexpressive e-books!

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once?  I usually have 2, sometimes 3 going at once.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?  My To Be Read list has grown quite a bit longer! And I probably read things I might not have otherwise because I saw them recommended.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far)?  Probably The Duet by Robert Elmer. It was not a bad book at all – I just couldn’t engage with the characters. I loved his Wildflowers of Terezin, though.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?  The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?  Occasionally, usually if a book is highly recommended by someone whose judgement I trust or if the subject matter is really interesting to me.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?  Christian fiction, biographies, classics.

13. Can you read on the bus?  I haven’t had occasion to in many years, but the last time I tried it I could. I can read in the car as well, thankfully. I am not a good traveler and reading is the only thing that makes it endurable.

14. Favorite place to read? Curled up on the couch with a throw blanket and something to drink.

15. What is your policy on book lending?  I don’t mind lending books out generally, but you have to be prepared that something might happen to it or you might not get it back. For that reason I might not lend one that wasn’t easily replaceable or had sentimental value or that I had a lot of notes in that I wanted to keep.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?  Rarely.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?  Sometimes.

18. Not even with text books?  Textbooks were my most marked-up books.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?  English – I can’t read any other language.

20. What makes you love a book?  That would take a while to answer…but I guess I’d say I have to really connect with it in some way. Sometimes it is the plot, sometimes one of the characters, sometimes beautiful writing, with the best  books connecting all of those.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? Probably any of the elements mentioned above, or if it is non-fiction, if I found it helpful and truthful.

22. Favorite genre?  Christian fiction when it is good.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?  I can’t think of any I wish I did read more of. There are some I don’t read and have no intention of ever reading.

24. Favorite Biography?  That’s a hard one – I have several favorites. But the top ones would be Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton, By Searching and In the Arena by Isobel Kuhn, and Climbing by Rosalind Goforth.

25. Have you ever ready a self help book?  Oh, sure.

26. Favorite cookbook?  My old faithful falling-apart Betty Crocker cookbook that I have used for 30+ years and the church cookbook put together at our last church.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot.

28. Favorite reading snack?  I don’t usually snack while reading, because I don’t want to get food stains on my books, but I usually do have either a cup of decaf coffee or a decaf Diet Coke nearby.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.  I know I have had that experience, but at the moment I can’t think of any particulars.

30. How often do you agree with critics on a book?  I don’t usually read the critics, but I do peruse Amazon.com reviews as well as that of several bloggers I follow.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?  I feel it is important to give an honest review, whether it is good or bad, both as a matter of character and because people have told me they have bought a book on my recommendation, so I feel a heavy responsibility in what I say about a book. I don’t usually read books that I am expecting to review negatively, but if I find something that troubles me, I feel compelled to mention it, and my readers can take that information and make their own decisions.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?  I don’t know – I really have no desire to learn a foreign language, despite all the reasons I have heard for doing so. Probably Greek, as I’d love to read the New Testament in its original language.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? The unabridged Les Miserables just because of its size, but I loved it.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to beginWar and Peace or Crime and Punishment. I have heard both are good and not as hard to read as one might think.

35. Favorite poet?  Hmmm…probably Robert Frost or Edgar Allen Poe.

36. How many books do you usually have check out of the library at any given time?  1

37. How often have you returned a book to the library unread?  Not often.

38. Favorite fictional character?  Oh wow. That is a hard one. Maybe Aslan. Or Jean ValJean in Les Miserables. Or Mr. Peggoty, the old fisherman in David Copperfield. Or…

39. Favorite fictional villain?  Javert in Les Miserables.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?  Just whatever I am reading at the time, but probably Christian fiction or biographies rather than non-fiction or older classics with older language styles that require more concentration.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading. I’ve not gone more than a few hours without having read something, but I’ve gone a day or so without dipping into whatever book I am currently in.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish. The Shop on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber. I’ve seen bloggers mention this name for years and I finally decided to check out one of her books. I had to put this one aside due to quite explicit sexual content. I had no idea that would be in a story about ladies coming together over knitting! Very disappointing as I have seen a lot of bloggers favorably mention her books and they look so good.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?  Other people talking or playing videos on their electronic devices.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novelAnne of Green Gables and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation? Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story.

46. The most money I’ve spent in the bookstore at one time?  Several hundred dollars – but that was not for myself. 🙂 That was when I was in charge of buying items for our church’s mission closet. For myself – I don’t really know. Maybe upwards of $75…or more….on occasion…

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?  I will usually skim the table of contents and occasionally look at a page or two ahead of time with non-fiction, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise of fiction.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?  Bad language or illicit sexual scenes. Otherwise, if the writing is poor or the characters uninteresting, I keep hoping it will get better and usually persevere til the end.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?  Yes, they are organized by genre and some genres are organized by author name or subject.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them? I prefer to keep them, but one only has so much room, so I have to be discriminating about what I keep.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?  I don’t know if I’d use the word avoiding. I haven’t gotten into the Harry Potter books because I just have no interest in them and have stacks of books I do want to read. If my kids had been interested in them I probably would have read them.

52. Name a book that made you angry. There was a book we checked out from the library when my kids were younger that was like a New Age allegory complete with a personal note from the “spirit guide” in the back. Much of it was subversive, and I wanted to destroy it.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did? I can’t say I liked The Picture of Dorian Gray per se, but it was fascinating in some respects, and though it wasn’t meant as a book to draw lessons from, I did glean many pertinent observations.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’tIntroverts in the Church by Adam McHugh. I did glean many good things from it, but I expected to thoroughly love it, and instead I found many things that troubled me or that I could not endorse.

55. Favorite guilt free, pleasure reading?  I think about all of my reading could be described that way.

Wow….that was a long meme and took a lot longer to do that I thought it would. But if you decide to do it, too, let me know and I’ll come read your answers.

(Graphic courtesy of the stock.xchng)

Book Review: The Last Battle

Last BattleThe Last Battle is the last book in the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. It opens with a false Aslan: a confused donkey coerced to wear a lion skin by a conniving ape, who in turn is being controlled by others. In Aslan’s name, talking beasts are turned into slaves, dryads are dying because their trees are being cut down, Calormenes are overseers. Strange things are afoot, everything seems not quite right to everyone, but Aslan is not a tame lion, after all, so his ways will of course be a little different, and they think they must obey.

King Tirian sees at once that something is wrong, but he sets off rashly without thinking and winds up in trouble, He calls out for help, and Eustace and Jill show up. Together with the few Narnians who don’t believe in the false Aslan, they wage a last battle to save Narnia.

Even though the Narnia series is not an allegory per se, it’s still not hard to see the Biblical allusions to the end times and the antichrist. In Narnia as on Earth, things will get much, much worse before the end comes. And “Aslan’s country” has always typified heaven. All the beasts and creatures and people going “further up and further in” to Aslan’s country, the joyful reunions with those who have gone before, the sense that “this is what I have been seeking and waiting for my whole life” are the best parts of the books to me.

I think this time through the series, that is most what I have carried away with me: that longing, as in the song “Beulah Land”: “I’m kind of homesick for a country where I’ve never been before.” I have to admit that too often I am caught up with the joys and cares of this life. I look forward to having no more sin, sorrow, suffering, and tears some day, but I don’t always carry that personal longing just to be with Christ there, and this series as a whole stirs up that longing for Narnia and Aslan that all who visit experience while they’re away. It calls to mind Biblical texts like Hebrews 11:16: “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city,” and Colossians 3:1-2: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth,” as well as Lewis’s own words from Mere Christianity: , “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world…I must [therefore] keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find til after death.”

There is sadness for those who choose not to believe, such as the dwarves who are only for the dwarves and refuse to be “taken in.” As Aslan says, “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison, and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” Unfortunately there will be people like that as well.

There is a point of confusion with the Calormene Emeth, who served the Calormene god Tash, yet is admitted to Aslan’s country, not because Tash and Aslan are one, as some tried to proclaim (Aslan shook the earth with his growl at the very thought), but because Aslan took to himself everything Emeth had done for Tash. For, he says, “he and I are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he knew it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted…unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.” I don’t know how much of this reflects Lewis’s personal belief system, but I can’t endorse the idea that someone sincerely serving and seeking a false God is really serving the one true God unaware.

A couple of my favorite quotes:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it til now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.”

“Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begin. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

It was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now, at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever.”

I have to thank Carrie for sponsoring the Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, which spurred me on to revisit the series. I’ve so enjoyed being in Narnia again! I also marvel at how someone with an intellect as large and complex as Lewis’s can write something simple enough for children to understand yet engaging to adults, too, with such nobility and depth and beauty.

Here are my posts from the whole series:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
Voyage of the Dawn-Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Graphic Novel.
The Way Into Narnia
Narnian Magic.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

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

What’s On Your Nightstand: July 2013

What's On Your NightstandThe folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the fourth Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Wow, it’s been another super busy month. Here’s what I’ve been reading and plan to read next.

Since last time I’ve finished:

Through Gates of Splendor, by Elizabeth Elliot, a missionary classic about the lives and deaths of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and their three friends who tried to reach a savage tribe in Ecuador, for Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club for June, reviewed here.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer along with Cindy at Ordo Amoris who is hosting a read-along book club where we discuss a chapter at a time. My discussions are here.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book II: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood, reviewed here, another fun one.

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis for Carrie‘s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, reviewed here.

Light From Heaven by Jan Karon, last of the Mitford series, via audiobook. I summed up all the Mitford books here.

I’m currently reading:

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis for Carrie‘s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

The Fruitful Wife by Hayley DiMarco.

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck.

Next up:

Invisible by Ginny Yttrup.

On Distant Shores, hot off the press by Sarah Sundin.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach.

Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot for Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club for August.

If I should finish those, I have others lined up and just have to decide which to delve into. 🙂

What’s on your nightstand?

The Mitford Books

Last December I reread, or rather, listened to a book I had previously read: At Home In Mitford by Jan Karon. I reviewed it here and then set off to listen to audiobook versions of the whole series. I found I wasn’t necessarily inclined to write a review of each one, though, I suppose because although there are movements of plot in each book, the overall people and themes are the same. So I decided at the end of the series I’d write one post summarizing each one.

I wrote previously that “I first encountered Jan Karon in the pages of Victoria magazine some years ago. Victoria chooses a “Writer-in-residence” whose work they showcase in each issue throughout the year, and Jan was featured one year. I loved her warmth and hominess and clear faith depicted — in fact, I was surprised and pleased that a secular magazine would feature a writer whose faith was integral to her stories. I believe it was there I also first heard of and then sought out Mitford.”

The series mainly follows the life of Father Tim Kavanagh, a sixty-something Episcopal priest, and the various characters in the fictional small town of Mitford, NC. Father Tim is a hard-working single priest, but in the first book an appealing single lady moves in next door, and though he thought he was a confirmed bachelor, he finds himself entranced but not sure what to do about it.

His flock consists of a number of memorable characters: his sometimes annoying secretary, Emma: Miss Sadie Baxter, town matriarch; LouElla, her companion; Uncle Billy Watson, resident joke-teller, perhaps to take the edge off of living with his wife of several decades, Miss Rose, who is schizophrenic but refuses to take her medicine; Esther Bolick, who expresses her love via her famed Orange Marmalade Cake; the “Turkey Club” he eats lunch with regularly at Percy Mosely’s Main Street Grill, the “man in the attic” (one of my favorite story lines), and a host of others.

Mitford is a typical small town where everyone knows everyone’s business, which can be a thorn in the flesh occasionally, but overall everyone genuinely cares. I think of it as something like Mayberry but not as corny. 🙂 Though every book contains some of the same familiar, comforting elements, the lives of the characters do progress: people fall in love, marry, babies are born, people face crises and grow and some die. Father Tim himself progresses over the series and deals with a couple of lifelong issues; his wife Cynthia is a bright spot in his life and helps him become less staid and more sure of himself.

The Mitford books were not marketed as Christian fiction that I remember, but there are ample amounts of Biblical truth and pure gospel woven in naturally.

So here are brief descriptions of each book in the series:

At Home in Mitford (reviewed here): Father Tim, the town, and its characters are introduced; a dog “as big as a Buick” finds and “adopts” Father Tim and becomes a pleasant companion; new neighbor Cynthia moves in next door; neglected orphan Dooley Barlow enters Father Tim’s previously quiet life.

A Light in the Window, reviewed here: Father Tim and Cynthia become more serious while a widow in town also sets her cap for Father Tim and he doubts whether he can give himself in marriage as he should; Miss Sadie takes an interest in helping Dooley, who is now living with Father Tim, by wanting to send him to a prep school out of town; the Main Street Grill is in danger of being closed; a very abrasive, rough around the edges construction supervisor, Buck Leeper, is in charge of the nursing home being built with Miss Sadie’s donated money.

A Common Life: The Wedding Story, not reviewed, was not published until after the next three books had been written, but fits in here in the story line. It is Father Tim and Cynthia’s wedding story, both sweet and comical.

These High Green Hills, not reviewed: Father Tim adjusts to marriage; a severely abused child ends up at Father Tim’s door; an unidentified burn victim is brought to the hospital; Dooley’s mother is found; a long-time Mitford resident dies.

Out to Canaan, not reviewed: Father Tim contemplates and prepares for retirement; Mayor Cunningham faces an unlikely opponent; a mysterious Florida corporation is trying to buy up Mitford property, including Miss Sadie’s Fernbank.

A New Song, not reviewed: Father Tim supplies a pulpit as an interim in Whitecap, an island on the NC coast, gets a disturbing phone call about Dooley back in Mitford, discovers a mysterious neighbor, and performs an unusual wedding.

In This Mountain, not reviewed: Father Tim deals with retirement and wonders what his life has been worth while his wife’s fame as an author and illustrator soars to new heights; neglect of his diabetes causes a major breakdown; a serious accident plunges Father Tim into a season of depression. Though this is a bit darker than the other books, it was still a very good read.

Shepherds Abiding, not reviewed: a lovely Christmas story dealing with many aspects of the season; Father Tim, who has worked with his mind most of his life, discovers the pleasure of working with his hands by restoring an old Nativity scene in a state of disrepair as a Christmas gift for his wife; bookstore owner Hope Winchester may have to close down and move, but then the possibility of may open new doors. (In the audiobook, smaller gift books Esther’s Gift and The Mitford Snowmen are also included.)

Light From Heaven, not reviewed: Father Tim and Cynthia “house sit” at Meadowgate Farms while dear friends, the Owens family, are away for several months; Father Tim is asked to revive a little mountain church and discovers another batch of unique characters: gentle Agnes and her deaf son, Clarence, who kept up the church building for years in faith that God would bring it back into use, invalid Dovie, crusty Jubal, and many others; Dooley, nearing the end of his college career, learns about an inheritance.

Throughout the books, too, each of Dooley’s lost siblings were found, though I neglected to note which one came in which book.

Two other things I loved about this series is that Karon weaves in a number of literary references throughout each book (some of the quotes are gathered into two separate books, Patches of Godlight (which I own) and A Continual Feast: Words of Comfort and Celebration (on my wish list), both in the style of Father Tim’s quote book), and that with just a few words she can set a scene that is very warm and homey.

The only real negative in the books was that many characters have a tendency to say “Good Lord!” or “Oh Lord,” which I perceive as taking the Lord’s name in vain, using something holy and glorious as an empty epithet. It’s tame compared to the type and amount of objectionable language found in many modern books, but still it rankles.

Some have felt that the series lagged a bit in the middle books, but I did not think so: there is enough sameness to keep it familiar but enough difference in each one to keep it moving and interesting. Probably the first one is my overall favorite, with These High Green Hills and In This Mountain tying for second, but I enjoyed each one.

The audiobooks I listened to were read by stage actor John McDonough. It took me a while to get into his style, but in some parts he reminded me of a beloved pastor from my teen and college years, and once I got into the stories I enjoyed his rendition very much. He did a wonderful job with the variety of voices and accents involved, and his voice will always embody Father Tim’s for me.

Finally, one last note, The Mitford Bedside Companion is a wonderful accompaniment to the books. In it, Karon tells how the Mitford stories came about (I was surprised to learn they started as a newspaper column), groups some favorite scenes from the book under different headings (characters, prayers, meal scenes, etc.), adds some essays, some recipes, trivia, a quiz, crossword puzzle, and a list of most commonly asked questions. I haven’t read all of it, but I have enjoyed dipping in at various places in it.

There are two more books concerning Father Tim, Home to Holly Springs, where he revisits his home town and comes to grips with events from his past, and In the Company of Others, (both linked to my reviews) about his and Cynthia’s long anticipated trip to Ireland, but they are listed as a separate Father Tim series rather than a continuation of the Mitford series, fitting since they take place away from Mitford with only a few references to some of the people. I would like to listen to them as well, but I think I’ll take a little break from Mitford for a while. I always enjoy visits there.

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

Book Review: The Magician’s Nephew

Magicians NephewI read The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis for Carrie‘s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. It’s the fifth book in order of publication but the first book in the Narnian time line. I liked reading it as the fifth book very much, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

The story opens with two children, Digory and Polly, meeting. Polly lives in London, and Digory has just come there to stay with an aunt and uncle because his mother is very ill and his father is in India. Digory is not happy about leaving his pony and nice home in the country to come to London, and he is concerned about his mother, but after his meeting with Polly gets off to a shaky start, they become friends.

Digory’s uncle is thought by some to be mad, but if he’s not exactly mad, he’s at least strange. One day Digory and Polly go exploring in an attic corridor that seems to run along the length of the row of houses (the description of stepping on the rafters reminds me of a description of Lewis doing the same thing when he has a boy in a biography I read years ago – I don’t remember which one). They’re trying to get to an empty house to explore, but they miscalculate and find themselves in Uncle Andrew’s attic room. He dabbles in magic and has made some rings which he thinks sends people to other worlds – at least that seems to be what’s happened to the guinea pigs he has sent through. He suddenly sends Polly through and then manipulates Digory into going after her.

The children find themselves in what looks like a land of ancient ruins, where Digory inadvertently awakens an ancient evil, which follows them to London and causes a ruckus. In trying to get everyone back where they belong, they end up in an uninhabited world, and witness the creation of Narnia, beautifully and wonderfully described.

But they’ve brought the evil with them into the brand new world on its first day, which Aslan predicts will cause further evil later, but he promises to “see to it that the worst falls upon myself,” an echo of Christ’s taking the punishment for our evil on Himself.

More of those echoes to Biblical truth are found when Aslan breathes life into his creatures, when Aslan questions Digory as to how the evil came to be in Narnia, and Digory finds that Aslan won’t let him fudge the truth at all, when Digory concludes “the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with,” with the freedom of choice that might lead to evil and its consequences, when Digory is sent to retrieve a particular apple from a particular tree enclosed by a particular gate and reads a sign that one must come through the gate, that stealing or climbing over the wall will lead one to despair, when Digory is tempted by forbeidden fruit, when Aslan welcomes him back from his quest with “Well done,” and probably in other ways as well which I am not remembering. With this book as well as the others, as Aslan told the children in Voyage of the Dawn-Treader, “You were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

I’m leaving our great chunks of the story on purpose so as not to spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet. But this book as well as the others leaves me with an appreciation of its underlying truths and a wistfulness for Narnia.

And personally, I think I got so much more out of this book reading it at this stage rather than the beginning because of the thrill and anticipation when I recognized certain connections – realizing just who the children were waking up, recognizing the lamppost in the woods as that lamppost, finding out who Digory turns out to be, etc.. If I had read this book first I think I would have had a hard time caring much about what was going on with Digory and Polly at the beginning: I even had to almost fight to care this time, even knowing, from having read the book before, where their adventures were going to lead. But I suppose people who read this book first might experience the same thrill of recognition when they get to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s just hard for me to fathom experiencing these stories without starting there.

I ended up loving this book much more than I thought I would at the beginning, and I’m very much looking forward to The Last Battle next.

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

Book Review: The Merchant’s Daughter

Merchants daughterI picked up The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson on Lisa’s recommendation.

It’s the story of Annabel Chapman in the England of 1352, whose merchant father has died and whose proud family refuses the duty of every villager to work in the lord’s fields. As punishment, someone from her family is required to be his servant for three years, and Annabel offers herself for that position.

Lord Ranulf le Wyse is said to have a very short temper and to have some sort of deformity, making him repulsive to look upon and frightening to Annabel, but she soon discovers a different side to him.

Meanwhile, the bailiff, old enough to be her father and disgusting, has set his sights on her. Unfortunately, her duties at the lord’s house bring her into more contact with him, and even worse, her brother has given the man permission to pursue her.

Annabel feels the only way to both escape the bailiff and have access to the Bible she longs to read for herself is to escape to a nunnery as soon as her servitude is over, but when the opportunity arises, she questions that desire.

This story is based loosely on Beauty and the Beast, so of course I knew where it was ultimately going, but that was actually fun, to see how it corresponded to the fairy tale. It is a realistic retelling, though – no magic wands or spells – but I enjoyed that.

Probably my favorite parts involved Annabel being asked to read the Bible to Lord le Wyse since she is one of the few people in his household who can read Latin. Reading the Bible for herself (not everyone had one: even the local priest did not) has been one of her lifelong desires, and it’s a joy to watch her pore over it and discover its treasures for herself, stopping in her reading to ponder what it says.

This book was a pleasant companion on a recent “sick day,” and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to checking out Melanie’s other books.

Here’s the book trailer for The Merchant’s Daughter:

Updated: I just discovered that the Kindle edition of this book is on sale for a limited time at $2.99. You don’t have to have a Kindle to get deals on Kindle books: they have apps for computer, tablets, and phones.

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

And Carol‘s Books You Loved.

Books you loved 4

What’s On Your Nightstand: April 2013

What's On Your NightstandThe folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the fourth Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

April has been a lovely spring month. Though I’ve been energized to get some projects done, I did get some good reading in as well.

Since last time I have finished:

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, both audiobook and Kindle, reviewed here. Not a pleasant book, but an intriguing one. Reviewed here.

The Victory Club by Robin Lee Hatcher about four friends on the homefront in WWII, reviewed here.

Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada with Larry Libby. I think this will be one of my top ten books of the year. I appreciate their pulling back the curtain a bit to share not only the love story but the trials and tribulations and persevering “to attain a new level of love rather than simply surviving or grimly hanging on.” Reviewed here.

In This Mountain by Jan Karon (audiobook). Father Tim deals with retirement and wondering what his life has been worth while his wife’s fame as an author goes to new heights. Though it’s a bit darker than the other Mitford books, I very much enjoyed it.

Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen via audiobook. It has been fun revisiting them. I had reviewed the books earlier here and here, and I enjoyed them much more this time around. I caught much more of Austen’s wit, satire, and irony in each.  I have a feeling that if one were in the same room with Austen at a social occasion, much would be shared in knowing looks and smiles rather than tittered.

The Guardian by Beverly Lewis, third in her new Home to Hickory Hollow series, reviewed here.

I’m currently reading:

Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh. Not enjoying is as much as I thought I would, having a few quibbles with one chapter in particular, but hope to finish and discuss it soon.

Comforts From Romans: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time by Elyse Fitzpatrick.

Up next:

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell, selected by Amy at Hope is the Word for Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club for May, which is covering both adult and children’s classics this year. I’ve never read this, so am looking forward to it.

Betrayal by Robin Lee Hatcher, second in the Where the Heart Lives series.

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller.

His Ways, Your Walk, focusing on Bible passages written specifically to women, newly published by my friend Lou Ann Keiser.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer along with Cindy at Ordo Amoris who is hosting a read-along book club.

Audiobooks: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon.

What’s on your nightstand?

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian GrayThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde begins with a preface from Wilde about art in which he says some pretty preposterous things, such as “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book” and “No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.” Though this fits in with his views of “art for art’s sake,” his story seems to contradict the view that art is amoral in itself. Since it was added in a later edition of the novel, after the first printing caused a ruckus, perhaps he meant it as a disclaimer.

The story itself begins with an artist, Basil Hallward, and his friend, Lord Henry Wotten, discussing Basil’s painting of an extremely good-looking young man, Dorian Gray. Lord Henry feels the painting is Basil’s best work and wants to know the subject, but Basil demurs, saying that Dorian has come to mean much to him and to have greatly influenced his art. Basil doesn’t want Henry to even meet Dorian, but as fate would have it, Dorian arrives just at that moment. Basil urges Henry not to spoil or badly influence Dorian, but Henry just laughs — and then proceeds to spoil Dorian by telling him how beautiful he is, how sad it is that his youth and beauty won’t last long, how he needs to adopt a new hedonism and live for his senses, that “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.” He awakens new feelings and sensations in Dorian such that when Dorian sees the completed painting of himself, he mourns “How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June…. If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that–for that–I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”

And mysteriously, somehow that’s what happens. He doesn’t realize it until after he falls in love with an actress and then, when she disappoints and embarrasses him, he mercilessly spurns her. When he next sees the portrait, he notices a hint of cruelty about the mouth that he hadn’t noticed before. At first he thinks he is imagining it, but then he decides to make amends by writing to the actress and apologizing, only to find that she has taken her own life. He doesn’t feel her death as deeply as he thinks he should, and Lord Henry soothes him that it’s all right, it’s even an artistic end to her existence. Thus Dorian decides “Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins–he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all…For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able to follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul.”

Dorian locks the painting away in an unused upper room so no one else can see its transformation and then proceeds to try every kind of “infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins.” He still wrestles with his conscience at times, but convinces himself that every sin is really someone else’s fault and due to their provocation.

“There were moments, indeed, at night, when, lying sleepless in his own delicately scented chamber, or in the sordid room of the little ill-famed tavern near the docks which, under an assumed name and in disguise, it was his habit to frequent, he would think of the ruin he had brought upon his soul with a pity that was all the more poignant because it was purely selfish. But moments such as these were rare. That curiosity about life which Lord Henry had first stirred in him, as they sat together in the garden of their friend, seemed to increase with gratification. The more he knew, the more he desired to know. He had mad hungers that grew more ravenous as he fed them.”

Though in some quarters he gains a bad reputation, most people feel as one girl did who, when “He had told her once that he was wicked, she had laughed at him and answered that wicked people were always very old and very ugly,” or, as Lord Henry had thought upon first meeting him, “There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world. No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him.” When a later turn to “do good” has no edifying effect on the portrait, he realizes even that desire was filled with vanity and hypocrisy. He retains his youth and beauty for the next eighteen years while the portrait continues to age and degrade, until he comes to an abrupt tragic end.

Though this was not a pleasant book to read, it is fascinating on several levels. At first I felt some sympathy for Dorian in that he seemed innocent and simple until Henry influenced him. But even before that Basil said of him, “As a rule, he is charming to me, and we sit in the studio and talk of a thousand things. Now and then, however, he is horribly thoughtless, and seems to take a real delight in giving me pain. Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to some one who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day.” So perhaps Henry just stirred the flames of what was already there.

Lord Henry is an enigma as well. He says perfectly horrible things, such as

“We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful,”

Yet his friends don’t seem to take him seriously, saying things like, “You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing. Your cynicism is simply a pose.” and “I don’t agree with a single word that you have said, and, what is more, Harry, I feel sure you don’t either.” When Dorian tells Henry that a book he had given him had poisoned him, Henry replies,

“My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize. You will soon be going about like the converted, and the revivalist, warning people against all the sins of which you have grown tired. You are much too delightful to do that. Besides, it is no use. You and I are what we are, and will be what we will be. As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that. Art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. That is all.”

Yet earlier Dorian muses, “Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?” contradicting both Lord Henry’s opinion and Wilde’s preface.

Henry seems fascinated and delighted by the psychological effect his own words have on Dorian, even though he has no idea of the extremes to which Dorian takes them, yet he morally “gets away with” his horrible influence. Early in the book when he is just hearing about Dorian, he picks a flower to pieces while he talks and listens, symbolic of the destruction his influence will have not only on a beautiful flower but a beautiful person.

There are several take-aways from reading Dorian Gray:

That last reference, oddly, was brought up in the book by Lord Henry, though he quickly denounced the thought that man even had  soul (yet he felt art did). It’s amazing that there are so many Scriptural principles in the story since Wilde, as far as I can tell, was not a believer. I’m not sure what Wilde’s purpose would have been in writing it other than just an interesting story if he didn’t believe there was any morality to it, but despite his beliefs or lack of them, truth shines through.

The Kindle version is free and the audiobook is $2.99 at the time of this writing, and the text is online here and other places.

Reading to Know - Book Club

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

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge
With the end of February, we come to the end of the Laura Ingalls Wilder reading Challenge for this year. If you’ve read anything by, about, or related to Laura this month, please share it with us in the comments. You can share a link back to your book reviews, or if you’ve written a wrap-up post, you can link back to that (the latter might be preferable if you’ve written more than one review — the WordPress spam filter tends to send comments with more than one link to the spam folder. But I’ll try to keep a watch out for them.) We’d also love to hear if you’ve done any “Little House” related activities.
And, if you’ve participated this month, you’re eligible for the drawing for a copy of The Little House Cookbook, compiled by Barbara M. Walker and illustrated by Garth Williams (the same illustrator for my set of Little House books). I’ll choose a name through random.org. a week from today to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished. You’re eligible even if you don’t have a blog: just share with us in the comments what you read and a few of your thoughts about it. If you already have this book, I can substitute a similarly-priced Laura book of your choice. I’ve spent some time looking through it: it’s more than just recipes: it shares a lot of interesting information as well as excerpts about food and cooking from the books.
For myself, I had planned to make some items from it and have something of a birthday party for Laura on her birthday, the 7th, but that was when my mother-in-law was ill, and between that, moving her to a new place, and my husband’s surgery, I didn’t do any “Laura” activities, but I did manage to get a few books read. These link back to my reviews:
West From Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder, a compilation of letters Laura wrote to Almanzo while visiting their daughter, Rose, and Rose’s husband, and the World’s Fair.
Let the Hurricane Roar by Rose Wilder Lane. Laura’s daughter wrote a fictionalized account of some of her grandparent’s experiences.
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, covers the same events as Let the Hurricane Roar plus a few more: a grasshopper plague, blizzards, attending school for the first time, meeting Nellie Oleson.
I had originally planned to read Farmer Boy, about Almanzo’s childhood, but when I discovered the Plum Creek book covered some of the same events as Rose’s book, I wanted to go ahead and read it while the other was fresh in my mind. Farmer Boy was the second book written of the Little House books, but it can really be read at any point. I do want to read it before Almanzo shows up in Laura’s story, though!
Thank you all for participating! That’s what makes this challenge so fun. I’ve already come across a book or two I hadn’t known of before that I want to read next time through some of your reviews. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on what you’ve read!