Reading Round-Up: March 2017

How are we a quarter of the year through 2017 already? I thought the past couple years had flown – I’m thinking things have accelerated yet again.

After finally dragging through The Mysteries Of Udolpho in February, I got through far more books this month, including my first Kindle read for the year. I don’t usually read on my Kindle – I have the Fire tablet and it’s far too easy to get distracted by apps and notifications. But for those occasions when a paperback is unavailable or cost prohibitive and the digital copy is free, I’m glad to have it around.

COMPLETED:

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

Litany of the Ordinary, Trish Warren

These two theological books were both quick reads yet very deep in their short pages. Both kept coming back again and again to the idea of preaching the gospel to yourself. This was a dominant theme in Tripp’s Parenting I completed in January as well. As a believer in Christ, this is a theme I need to never get tired of, for it is the source of all my strength.

“When the day is lovely and sunny and everything is going according to plan, I can look like a pretty good person. But little things go wrong and interrupted plans reveal who I really am; my cracks show and I see I am profoundly in need of grace. But here’s the thing: pretty good people do not need Jesus. He came for the lost. He came for the broken.”

Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

Miss Mackenzie, Anthony Trollope

ONGOING:

The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald

Since this is the end of the quarter, I’m going to do a full update as well. Here’s where I am on all the challenges. Titles are linked to the reviews on my blog, the rest can be found on Goodreads.

Christian Reading Challenge  – Light list 7/13 (Titles in italics are also on Back to the Classics)

  1. A biography
  2. A classic novel: Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
  3. A book about history
  4. A book targeted at your gender
  5. A book about theology: Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges
  6. A book with at least 400 pages: The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe
  7. A book your pastor recommends
  8. A book about Christian living: Parenting, Tedd Tripp
  9. A book more than 100 years old: Miss Mackenzie, Anthony Trollope
  10. A book published in 2017
  11. A book for children or teens
  12. A book of your choice: Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren
  13. A book about a current issue: America the Anxious, Ruth Whippman

Back to the Classics Challenge 3/12

  1. 19th Century: Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain (1876)
  2. 20th Century
  3. Woman author
  4. Translation
  5. Published before 1800
  6. Romance: Miss Mackenzie, Anthony Trollope (1865)
  7. Gothic: The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe (1794)
  8. Number in title
  9. Animal (About or in title)
  10. Place you’d like to visit
  11. Award Winner
  12. Russian

Book Review: The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann RadcliffeThus had she been tossed upon the stormy sea of misfortune for the last year, with but short intervals of peace, if peace it could be called, which was only the delay of evil. (619)

So goes the year that changes Emily St. Aubert’s life. Raised in peaceful, pastoral comfort by parents who adore her, Emily’s life alters dramatically when first her mother, then her father pass away. She is given to the care of her selfish aunt who is only kind when the kindness will benefit herself. Through the actions of her aunt, Emily is removed from everything she knows – her home, her lover, her country – at the mercy of her aunt’s new husband, the Italian Montoni.

Practically every dramatic plot point possible in the history of dramatic plot points is tossed into this 693 page behemoth of a novel, written by Ann Radcliffe in 1794. Considered one of the most popular novels of Gothic literature, The Mysteries of Udolpho sports a massive cast of characters all connected by various forms of villainy. We find no less than 3 crumbling castles, 2 presumed ghosts, 1 veiled image to horrible to describe, more murderers than I can count, weeping on every page, kidnappings, sword fights, secret passages, subterranean burial chambers (which seem to only be used at midnight), shipwrecks, madness, love found and lost again, and even pirates. It’s a bit of a mess, but through the mess, I have to say I was entertained. It’s quite sensational.

Udolpho is like one of those daytime TV shows that has been on for 20 years. Every time you think that the plot is finally, FINALLY about to wrap up, a new cast of characters brings a new twist onto the scene. Out of the 693 pages, everything is described in excessive detail except the conclusion: it is really quite rushed after the abundance of earlier chapters. I suppose there is little drama to be found in “happily ever after”.

Gothic literature isn’t my thing. The mysteries, the drama, the weeping, the excessive use of commas, the word “sublime” yet again… I’m not one for horror films at all, either. Give me a Jane Austen any day! Actually, that’s why I read this – although I enjoyed Northanger Abbey, I knew there was a lot I was missing due to my unfamiliarity with the Gothic genre. Now that I’ve read Udolpho, Northanger may make its way back into my pile. I’m sure I’ll understand it better this time around.

This is my first book for Back to the Classics 2017, in the Gothic category. LINK UP here

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Reading Round-Up January 2017

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I did not get as much reading done as I’d hoped this month – I’m starting the year off behind on my challenges! (My reading goals post). But some reading is better than no reading, and I’ve had many excellent thoughts and connections in the few pages I have gotten read.

Completed:

Parenting, Paul David Tripp (Christian Reading Challenge: book on Christian living)

This is a very convicting book on the philosophy of parenting. It isn’t a how-to book, it’s a why-to, building awareness of the Gospel in every aspect of parenting. The main theme is that we are God’s ambassadors to our children and as we parent them, God parents us. The best parent is the one who realizes how unable she is on her own power. I highly, highly recommend it.

This thought from page 121 sums the whole book up very well:

No parent gives grace more joyfully and consistently than the parent who daily confesses that she desperately needs it herself. God calls rebels to his authority to rescue rebels against his authority. Only powerful grace can make that happen.

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In Process:

The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe  – this 700 page Gothic novel may actually take me forever. At least I’ll be in raptures to the sublime as I press on, ha!

Be Right, Weirsbe – I’m intentionally taking this one slowly, reading the section each week that goes along with my Bible reading plan for the year.

 

Year To Date:

Back to the Classics: 0/12

Christian Reading Challenge: 1/13

Book Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

This is my 5th book review for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I’m officially behind! Moving cross country really threw off my reading schedule – I’ve still been reading, but nothing that would be considered a classic.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carroll in 1865 and is often considered the best example of nonsense literature. Little Alice was bored one day as she sat beside her sister until by chance a White Rabbit raced by chattering about being late, pulling a watch from a pocket. In surprise, she followed him and fell down his rabbit hole into a world where nothing seems quite right.

Oh Alice. What on earth have you gotten yourself into?

Although Wonderland is completely imaginary – and beyond bizarre – I’m applying this book to the category of “Classic with a place in the title.” Wonderland is the most unique of places. Nothing makes sense and things happen at random. Words don’t mean the same thing as when one is in our own real world. Animals talk, people grow and shrink, and even playing cards are alive.

I don’t have much to add to this review other than an observation: this book isn’t my style. Maybe I’m just not in the right season of life to appreciate it’s brilliance, but I read it fast in order to be finished. I won’t be reading it again.

I’ve begun my 6th book: The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. It’s very long and hard to read so here’s hoping I can plow through! I have much to read in the next 5 months.

Book Review: Things Fall Apart

I finished reading this book almost a month ago and am only now writing it up. Why? First, life is crazy. We’re only a few weeks away from our cross country move – I’ve been in a flurry of sorting and decluttering so we don’t pack things that we don’t actually need. Second, this book is one of the most thought provoking I’ve read in a long time. I haven’t resolved all my thoughts about it; I continue to ponder. Let me fill you in a little.

Let me start with a summary. Things Fall Apart is a novel by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author. The novel is focused on a traditional man living in a traditional village… until things fall apart. Okonkwo is a wealthy man with 3 wives, a bunch of kids, a sturdy compound, and a very successful farm. He has fought for all this on his own strength because his father was lazy and, in his eyes, worthless. Okonkwo makes most of his decisions with the motivation of proving he is not like his father. An accident ends Part 1 and sends Okonkwo and his family fleeing from his village to his mother’s ancestral home to live out a seven year banishment. During this time, English colonists and missionaries move into the region, bringing it under their control. They bring churches as well as government structure. This structure is firmly held by massacres and unfair courts. In Part 3, Okonkwo has completed his banishment and returns to his home in Umuofia with great expectations of picking up where he left off – powerful marriages for his daughters, social status for himself. Yet things have changed too much under the colonial government and he is faced with a crisis: adapt or die.

According to Sparknotes (Yes, I’m well aware this is not the most excellent source, but I returned the book to the library and can’t spell on my own, and ended up clicking around a bit): “Tired of reading white men’s accounts of how primitive, socially backward, and, most important, language-less native Africans were, Achebe sought to convey a fuller understanding of one African culture and, in so doing, give voice to an underrepresented and exploited colonial subject.” Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in respond to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, seeking to give voice to the indigenous people he identified with. The Igdo people are portrayed as complex, full people, with the divisions and complications found in every society. This shouldn’t be noteworthy. Unfortunately in much of Western literature, indigenous people are not full characters but only tools used by the author for minor purposes – or worse, foils showing how good the main characters are.

Okonkwo is not a likeable character. Although Achebe writes beautifully – often poetically – the things he is writing about make me uncomfortable. Okonkwo beats his wives. He speaks horribly about others in the community and his family. He kills his foster son because it was expected by the tribe and he values his position most. Even his closest friend warns him not to kill the boy Ikemefuna but he does it anyway lest anyone call him a coward. Every action reeks of pride. Although he is the protagonist of the book, I have yet to decide if Achebe is holding him up as one to be respected or just one who *is*.

One element of the book I continue to wrestle with is the handling of Christian missionaries. These men sweep into the communities without respect for the established community structure. They enforce their beliefs without love – in one town, with a massacre. Achebe presents the missionaries as negative overall; though, I can’t gauge his opinion on the kindness they show the social outcasts. As a missionary, this book challenges me to be very careful. Our organization does church planting within tribal cultures, but from what I’ve observed and the people I know, we all seek to be as respectful as possible. When we have been rejected by communities and even martyred in the past, the response isn’t retaliation. We desire to see indigenous people first and foremost as real people living real lives within a real culture. The last thing we want is to forcefully take over, crushing people. And yet, we must be very careful.

I don’t have a lot of clear thoughts after reading this. But I do have a lot of thoughts! There is a lot I still don’t understand even a little, such as the witch doctor’s midnight hike with Okonkwo’s daughter Enzinma on her back. Many parts of the novel don’t seem to tie together. In that way, it’s more of a journalistic style – this is what happened, compared with a more story based novel. Maybe I just need to read it again for the pieces to fit.

This is my 4th book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016. I’m linking this up to category of Classics by a Non-White Author – follow the link to see other reviews within this category. And after this, I’ve decided to do a little lighter reading while we move. I’ll get back on my challenge reading this summer. Most of my book list is heavy lifting!

Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Trapped in a train stuck in a snowy bank in the middle of Yugoslavia, an unlikely cast of characters discovers an unlikely murder in their midst. It will be hours or days before the police are able to arrive. But never fear – celebrated detective Hercule Poirot just happens to be on board! With a small pile of clues and a large dose of logic, he riddles out the solution to the crime.

And that’s all the summary I’m going to share – as a mystery novel it would be far too easy to tip off a clue if I gave you more. Know that I did read the whole thing and it had me laughing and guessing the entire way through.

For me, this novel falls into the pure entertainment category. Some of Christie’s characters are brilliantly funny. Mrs. Hubbard is completely ridiculous and over the top in every way. M. Bouc’s main purpose is to stand by Poirot dramatically saying, “No! Surely not! How ever will we figure it out!” Christie’s not-so-subtle jabs at Prohibition throughout the novel are amusing as well and a reminder of the context of the novel: it was written in 1934 when the whole world was in need of some entertainment. There are economic depressions worldwide, the Nazi party is on the rise in Germany, Austria and France experience political crises, and various natural disasters rock the globe including the Dust Bowl in America. I appreciate the camaraderie of the cast of characters – it is very much, “We will all get through this together.”

Compared to a lot of classic novels, Christie’s mystery is definitely a light read. It’s funny but there aren’t many big moral lessons. The characters don’t grow and change. There is a problem, the solution is riddled out, then everyone goes on with their life with justice being served (depending on your definition of justice, and who you consider it being served to). My only real take away is “Everybody lies.”

Would I read another Agatha Christie mystery? Probably. I enjoyed it. But I won’t be grabbing another right away. This is my second read for the Back to the Classics challenge (series intro here), completing category 8. Classic Detective Novel. The category link up is HERE, in case you are looking for other detective book reviews for your own reading!

Let’s Go Camping Learning Basket

A few weeks ago, our Learning Basket for Play School was all about camping. Camping is our family’s new thing this year – we’ve really come to enjoy slipping away for a night or two to be outside and away from the regular routine. It’s a nice chance to refocus on us without the distractions that come with our current lives. A full schedule of meetings, play dates, chores, and technology draws us apart and wears us out. I love our quick forays into simplified, just-us time.

So it only made sense to do a camping themed learning basket!

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Fiction:

  • Lady Bug Girl and Bingo (by far the favorite!), David Soman and Jacky Davis
  • Flat Stanley Goes Camping, Jeff Brown and Macky Pamintuan
  • Fancy Nancy Stellar Stargazer!, Jane O’Connor
  • Because your Mommy Loves You, Andrew Clements

Non-Fiction (I forgot to mark the specific titles; they were very general though)

  • Knots
  • Campfire activities for girls
  • General camping book

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My husband carved this awesome wood forest toy set for Grace last Christmas. It was a little early for imagination play then, but now several months later she thought they were just the coolest things. They were made using patterns from Natural Wooden Toys. I’m crazy about them and want him to make dozens more this winter as we move from outside activities to inside activities when the weather turns.

We had lots of fun playing with the flashlight. Nothing specific – just playing 🙂

This next activity I’ll show you, but let me be really honest – it’s way about toddler abilities. I thought it would be neat to make a card with strings on it so I could teach the kids knotting. 2 year olds and 3 year olds can’t tie knots. Their little fingers just don’t work that way. However! I love these cards! I’m storing them in our play school box to bring out again in a couple years:

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We even did a quick painting project. My philosophy on art/craft projects with toddlers is it’s all about the process, not the finished project. Due to that, we do a lot of projects on recycled brown paper grocery sacks that, after hanging around for a few days, find themselves moving on to the recycling bin. I want to move into more of the Charlotte Mason style handicrafts eventually, but at this point, art work is more sensory play so I just let Grace explore. Here’s our campfire. First we colored the logs, then hand printed the fire:

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I’m so glad it’s fall! This is by far my favorite season. I hope you’re finding a chance to enjoy the outdoors, too 🙂