Reading Plans for 2020

There are some books you don’t get around to reading unless you plan to. Participating in some book challenges has helped be more purposeful in my reading. But I have found I also need flexibility. I don’t want to feel pressured and tied down by a reading list. I want the freedom to pick up books discovered during the year, new releases, etc. But I also want to read more classics and more books from my own shelves or list of recommendations. There are two main reading challenges I participate in every year, and sometimes I try a few others as well. Thankfully the books can overlap several challenges: otherwise I could probably only do one or two.

So this year, I’ll participate in these challenges:

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge begins here February 1-29. This will be my last year to host it. I have one book in mind for it this year, which I’ll share Feb. 1.

Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge in June.

Tarissa also hosts the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge November through December.

Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting the Back to the Classics challenge again this year. Books have to be 50 years old for this challenge and fit into the following categories. We don’t have to determine them all at this point, but I’ll list a few I have in mind.

1. 19th Century Classic: Hard Times by Charles Dickens
2. 20th Century Classic
3. Classic by a Woman Author: Eight Cousins by Louisa My Alcott
4. Classic in Translation (originally written in something other than your native language): Possibly Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. I read it a long time ago but can’t remember much about it.
5. Classic by a Person of Color
6. A Genre Classic
7. Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title: The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens.
8. Classic with a Place in the Title: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle
9. Classic with Nature in the Title: Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
10. Classic About a Family (multiple members of the same family as principal characters)
11. Abandoned Classic (one you started but never finished). Possibly Billy Budd by Herman Melville. I was supposed to read that for a college class but never finished.
12: Classic Adaptation (Any classic that’s been adapted as a movie or TV series): I might try Larkrise to Candleford by Flora Thompson. It’s long, but I’ve been wanting to read it and see the series.

Most of these books would fit in many of the categories, so I might change them around as I decide on the rest of the titles.

Karen draws a name from participants at the end of the year to receive a $30 gift card towards books, and the number of categories you finish determines how many entries you get.

mount-tbr-2017Bev at My Reader’s Block hosts the Mount TBR Challenge to encourage us to read the books we already own.. Every 12 books read is another level or “mountain” climbed. We don’t have to list the books yet, but we do have to commit to a level. I am committing to Mt. Vancouver (36 books). I’ve been able to reach that pretty easily the last couple of years. The one main rule here is that the books have to have been owned by us before January 1, 2020.

Bev is also hosting the Virtual TBR Reading Challenge, like the Mount TBR except that the first one requires you to own the books you’re reading. The virtual one can include borrowed books or books on your to-be-read list that you don’t own yet. I haven’t done this one before, but I think I can commit to Mount Rum Doodle, 12 books.

The Backlist Reader Challenge sign-up link

The Backlist Reader Challenge is new to me this year. It encourages reading books on our want-to-read list, whether we already own them or not. The only caveat is they have to have been published before 2018 and be a book you’ve already been considering. Lark will give away a $15 Amazon or Book Depository gift certificate at the end of the year. Since most of the Mount TBR and Virtual Mount TBR books will qualify for this challenge, I’m going to aim for 30.

The Audiobook Challenge is new to me, too. But since I listen to several a year (usually classics), it should be easy. I’m aiming for the Stenographer level (10-15 audiobooks). there will be a couple of giveaways with this challenge, on June 30 and December 15.

Yet another new one to me is the For the Love of Ebooks Challenge, which, as the name implies, involves reading ebooks. A good chunk of my TBR books are in my Kindle app, so I think I could do the Semi-Pro status (10-19).

Finally, I am going to try the Nonfiction Reading Challenge since I read several a year anyway. I’m only going to aim for the Nonfiction Nibbler (6 books), though, since I am not interested in all the categories for the next level.

Thanks to Tarissa and Lisa for introducing me to a few that I hadn’t heard of before.

I would never do all these except that they can overlap, and many involve types of reading I already do. There are still several other interesting challenges out there that I decided against!

Do you participate in any reading challenges or make reading plans for the year?

Back to the Classics Challenge Wrap-up 2019

btcc reading challenge 2019

Karen at Books and Chocolate hosts the Back to the Classics Challenge. She came up with categories and we come up with a classic at least 50 years old to fit each category. She also gives away a prize – a $30 gift card to Amazon.com or The Book Depository. You get one entry for the prize drawing for six categories completed, two entries for nine categories completed, and three entries if you complete all twelve.

The classics I read this year were (titles link back to my reviews):

A.19th Century ClassicThe Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1860)(Finished 7/15/19)

B. 20th Century Classic (published between 1900 to 1969): How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (1939) (Finished 3/20/19)

C. Classic by a Woman AuthorA Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905)(Finished 2/14/19)

D. Classic in Translation (written originally in a language different from your own): Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (Finished 11/23/19)

E. Classic Comic Novel. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (1836)(Finished 5/20/19)

F. Classic Tragic Novel. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)(Finished 6/12/19)

G. Very Long Classic (500 or more pages): Anna Karenina by Tolstoy (Finished 9/11/19)

H. Classic Novella (250 or fewer pages): The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott, 150 pages. (1849)(Finished 6/23/19)

I. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington. (1918)(Finished 9/24/19)

J. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Moby Dick by Herman Melville. (Finished 10/28/19)

K. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived. The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner (Finished 12/16/19)

L. Classic Play. King Lear by William Shakespeare. (Finished 12/28/19)

Karen likes for us to compute how many entries we earned: I read all twelve, so I have three entries.

I enjoy this challenge because it broadens my horizons. I would not have read some of these books if not for this challenge. I have not seen anything yet about this challenge for next year, and I’m sorry that it looks like it won’t continue. But I’ll keep reading classics. Someone has said that a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say. These books still speak today.

Do you like to read classics? Have you read any of these?

Literary Christmas Reading Challenge Wrap-up 2019

A Literary Christmas: Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.comTarissa of In the Bookcase hosts the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge each year in November and December. The basic idea is to read Christmas books!

I didn’t get to all the books I would have liked, but I enjoyed finished these (titles link back to my reviews):

I started Good Tidings of Great Joy: A Collection of Christmas Sermons by Charles Spurgeon but am only about halfway through. I thought I could read a short section at a time, like a devotional book. I could, but I just didn’t get as much from the sermon until I read each one as a whole. Since they’re a bit long, I’m having to wait til Saturdays when I have a bit more time to read them in one sitting.

I always enjoy reading Christmas books in December. It’s even more fun to do so with this challenge. Than you, Tarissa, for hosting it!

Books Read in 2019

Reading, as you know, is one of my favorite pastimes. By my count, I read 76 books this year. I didn’t distinguish between Kindle, paper, or audiobooks. Most of the classics were audiobooks, but I usually looked up parts in a Kindle or library or online Gutenberg version. I think I had a good variety of fiction and nonfiction, old and new.

Here’s what I read this year:

Classics:

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott

King Lear by William Shakespeare

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington.

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Christian Fiction:

All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock

Among the Fair Magnolias by Dorothy Love, Tamera Alexander, Elizabeth Musser, and Shelley Gray

Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa

Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Susan May Warren.

Canteen Dreams by Cara Putnam

The Carousel Painter by Judith Miller

Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock

Christmas Stitches: A Historical Romance Collection: 3 Stories of Women Sewing Hope and Love Through the Holidays by Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson

Close to Home by Deborah Raney

The Christmas Heirloom by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, Sarah Loudin Thomas, and Becky Wade

A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell

Every Secret Thing by Ann Tatlock

The Fashion Designer by Nancy Moser

A Flower in Bloom also by Siri Mitchell

Home at Last by Deborah Raney

I’ll Watch the Moon by Ann Tatlock

Jessie’s Hope by Jennifer Hallmark

Katie’s Dream by Leisha Kelly

Kill Order by Adam Blumer

A Place Called Morning by Ann Tatlock

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay

A Promise in Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga

Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock

Rachel’s Prayer by Leisha Kelly

The Returning by Ann Tatlock

A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock

Rorey’s Secret by Leisha Kelly

Sarah’s Promise by Leisha Kelly

Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

She Makes It Look Easy by Marybeth Whalen

Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey

Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock

Till Morning Is Nigh: A Wortham Family Christmas by Leisha Kelly

Travelers Rest by Ann Tatlock

Yuletide Treasure, two novellas by Lauraine Snelling and Jillian Hart

Other fiction:

Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicot

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle, review coming soon.

The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright

Nonfiction:

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior

Buried Dreams, Planted Hope by Katie and Kevin Neufeld

Christians Publishing 101 by Ann Byle. A writer’s conference in book form.

Daily Light on the Daily Path compiled by Samuel Bagster, not reviewed, read yearly for decades now.

Engaging the Scripture: Encountering God in the Pages of His Word by Deborah Haddix

Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave by Joanna Gaines

Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight by Sheila Wray Gregoire

How to Understand and Apply the New Testament by Andrew David Naselli

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel.

Journaling for the Soul: A Handbook of Journaling Methods by Deborah Haddix

Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s Fairy Poems, compiled by Stephen Hines

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook compiled and edited by Eugenia Garson

The Little Women Treasury by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson

Love Is Not a Special Way of Feeling, a reprint of Charles G. Finney’s Attributes of Love

Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved by John Townsend

On the Way Home and The Road Back by Laura Ingalls Wilder

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word by George H. Guthrie

Seasons of the Heart: A Year of Devotions from One Generation of Women to Another compiled by Donna Kelderman.

Suffering Is Never For Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot

There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe

In just a moment I’ll post my top ten books of the year.

Do you make a list of the books you read each year?

_____________________________________________

See also:

Why Read? Why Read Fiction? Why Read Christian Fiction?
Finding Time to Read
Why Listen to Audiobooks?

(Sharing with Senior Salon, Sherry, Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Carole’s Books You Loved, Anchored Abode,
Worth Beyond Rubies, Booknificent, Grace and Truth)

Mount TBR Challenge Wrap-up

mount-tbr-2017These are the books I’ve read this year that qualify for Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge. I’m listing them in the order I finished them. The publication dates are in parentheses. The titles link back to my reviews.

  1. Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa. (2016)(Finished 1/13/19)
  2. Among the Fair Magnolias: Four Southern Love Stories by Elizabeth Musser, Tamera Alexander, Shelley Gray, and Dorothy Love. (2015)(Finished 1/14/19)
  3. Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Susan May Warren (2011)(Finished 1/15/18)
  4. Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy (2018)(Finished 2/1/19)
  5. Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott (2017)(Finished 2/5/19)
  6. Katie’s Dream by Leisha Kelly (2004)(Finished 2/9/19)
  7. Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word by George H. Guthrie. (2011)(Finished 2/4/19)
  8. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905)(Finished 2/14/19)
  9. Journaling for the Soul by Deborah Haddix (2018)(Finished 2/19/19)
  10. I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel (2018)(Finished 2/20/19)
  11. Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan (2018)(Finished 3/5/19)
  12. Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey (2017)(Finished 3/8/19)
  13. If I Run by Terri Blackstock. (2016)(Finished 1/27/19)
  14. If I’m Found by Terri Blackstock (2017)(Finished 2/1/19)
  15. If I Live by Terri Blackstock (2018)(Finished 3/9/19)
  16. Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke (2014)(Finished 3/17/19)
  17. Love Is Not a Special Way of Feeling by Charles G. Finney (1963)(Finished 3/25/19)
  18. She Makes It Look Easy by Marybeth Whalen (2011)(Finished 3/24/19)
  19. The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright. (2007)(Finished 3/27/19)
  20. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (1939)(Finished 3/31/19)
  21. The Fashion Designer by Nancy Moser (2018)(Finished 4/1/19)
  22. I’ll Watch the Moon by Ann Tatlock (2013)(Finished 4/6/19)
  23. Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior (2012)(Finished 4/23/19)
  24. A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock (2016)(Finished 4/29/19)
  25. Travelers Rest by Ann Tatlock (2012)(Finished 5/4/19)
  26. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (1836)(Finished 5/20/19)
  27. All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock (2011)(Finished 5/28/19)
  28. How to Understand and Apply the New Testament by Andrew David Naselli (2017)(Finished 5/31/19)
  29. Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock (2011)(Finished 6/2/19)
  30. The Returning by Ann Tatlock (2009)(Finished 5/28/10)
  31. Close to Home by Deborah Raney (2016)(Finished 6/3/19)
  32. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)(Finished 6/12/19)
  33. Home at Last by Deborah Raney (2018)(Finished 6/14/19)
  34. The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper (2017)(Finished 6/20/19)
  35. Rorey’s Secret by Leisha Kelly (2005)(Finished 7/24/19)
  36. There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe (2017)(Finished 9/4/19)
  37. A Promise in Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga (2014)(Finished 9/22/19)
  38. A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell (2008)(Finished 9/27/19)
  39. Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight by Sheila Wray Gregoire (2004)(Finished 10/2/19)
  40. Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell (2014)(Finished 10/24/19)
  41. Canteen Dreams by Cara Putnam (2017)(Finished 11/17/19)
  42. On Writing Well by William Zinsser. (1976)(Finished 12/4/19)
  43. The Carousel Painter by Judith Miller (2009)(Finished 12/8/19)
  44. Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock (2018)(Finished 12/12/19)
  45. Christmas Stitches: A Historical Romance Collection: 3 Stories of Women Sewing Hope and Love Through the Holidays by Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson (2018)(Finished 12/26/19)
  46. Seasons of the Heart: A Year of Devotions from One Generation of Women to Another compiled by Donna Kelderman (2013)(Finished 12/31/19)(Review coming soon)

Bev’s goal markers are in the form of different mountains. I made it up to Mt. Vancouver, which was 36 books. I was just two short of Mt. Ararat’s 48. I enjoyed the climb!

If you’d like to get some of your already-owned books read next year, Bev is hosting this challenge again. Details are here.

Laudable Linkage

This is my latest collection of thought-provoking online reads:

Is the God of the Bible a Genocidal Maniac? HT to Challies. No, but some have made that accusation. Here is a thoughtful response.

When Joy Feels Far Away, HT to True Woman. “What do you do when you have tried everything, but joy still feels far away?”

How to Study the Bible. I have not had a chance to watch these videos yet, and I normally wouldn’t post something I haven’t checked out for myself first. But Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word is one of my favorite books. An updated version has just been released, and Jen published a series of videos showing how to use the Bible study method she writes about.

A Stack of Bibles. “The power of the Reformation was the power of the Word of God in the hands of normal people.”

How to Hope in God When a Door Closes.

My Love Cannot Save You, HT to Challies. As deep and wide and strong as a mother’s love is, we’re still limited in how much we can protect our children. “I can’t prevent her pain or her tears, but I know the One who wraps his arms around her and catches every tear in a bottle, present and attentive to each one.”

How TO (and how NOT to) Raise a Monstrous Son, HT to Lou Ann. “For his own good, and for the good of all the women he will encounter in life, he needs you to stand up to him when he crosses the line, especially in regard to using his physical strength to harm others.”

Four Things the Princess Culture Gets Wrong, HT to True Woman. “Rather than jumping on the bandwagon of the mommy wars—to princess or not to princess—I’ve opted to reframe the concept according to biblical truth.”

Why NO ONE Should Object to Clean Teen Fiction. Believe it or not, some do! These are good reasons they shouldn’t.

I don’t follow many comics online, but xkcd is one. Here are a couple of recent entries:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here are some of the thought-provoking reads I’ve discovered in the last couple of weeks:

How Can a Survivor Thrive After Sexual Abuse? HT to Challies. “Jenn Greenberg is one of those stories. She was abused by her church-going father. Yet she has retained her faith. She has recently written a courageous, compelling book that reflects on how God brought life and hope in the darkest of situations. Greenberg shows how the gospel enables survivors to navigate issues of guilt, forgiveness, love, and value. And she challenges church leaders to protect the vulnerable among their congregations.”

Seek the Giver, Not the Gift? HT to Challies. “The idea that we should seek the giver, not the gift, has truth behind it, but it can be misleading.”

Without Apology, HT to Challies. “When my children see me admit wrong and ask forgiveness, it is a powerful example. When my children see me struggle, yet choose right, it is even better. It teaches them victory over sin is possible with Jesus’ strength.”

Love Through the Awkward, HT to Challies. “It shouldn’t surprise us that the key to surviving awkward moments is really the key to the rest of Christian living: forgetting personal comfort and choosing selfless service.”

Do You Like Yourself?

For My Angry Friends. Thoughts about a biblical perspective on governmental authorities.

In Defense of Owning Too Many Books. “The volumes of books I continue to bring home are not reminders of guilt or inadequacy, but rather invitations to the vast world of ideas and stories worth exploring.”

8 Ways to Take Care of You. Self care is a hot topic these days, but this is the most rightly focused and balanced list I have seen.

The Life-Changing Magic of Making Do, HT to The Story Warren. “Making do is a deeply pragmatic philosophy. It means asking of our things the only question we should ever ask of them: ‘Can you fulfill your intended use for me?’ The answer – if we can be honest, and resist a moment of discomfort, inconvenience or boredom – is, extraordinarily often, yes. Making do is about taming the reflex to discard, replace or upgrade; it’s about using things well, and using them until they are used up.”

A to Z Activities for Kids and Parents, HT to Story Warren.

Seen on Pinterest, though I couldn’t find the original source:

Have a great weekend!

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

LMA-reading-challenge

Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts a Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge every June. The idea is to encourage reading or listening to books by or about Louisa or about her family during June.

I’m planning to read The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper, a fictionalized account of Louisa’s youngest sister, May, on whom Amy was based in the Little Women books.

I just ordered The Little Women Treasury used from Amazon. I am not sure yet if I’ll read it through or just peruse parts of it: I’ll decide when I see it.

I would love to listen to The Inheritance by Louisa – I enjoyed the film version a few years ago. But so far I have not found it available on either audio or Kindle, and I am not sure the library has it (found the title online but the page showed a different book.) If I can’t find this one, I might reread Eight Cousins or Rose in Bloom, as it’s been years since I read either.

Hop on over to Tarissa‘s if you’d like to join in the challenge!

 

Book Review: A Room of My Own

Room of my ownIn A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock, Virginia Eide’s family was not rich, by her father’s definition, but they were better off than most during the Depression. He was a doctor, which at least provided steady work, even if some people paid in goods and services rather than cash.

But not everyone had steady work. Ginny’s uncle’s loss of his job led to his whole family living with the Eides, with Ginny having to give up her room and sleep with her younger sisters.

The Depression also led to a shanty camp being set up outside of town called Soo City. People who had lost their jobs had nowhere else to go. They tried to rig up some kind of shelter to stay in while they looked for work.

When Virginia’s father was called to help a woman in labor in Soo City, Virginia’s mother had misgivings. Every time he was called there, she had a feeling that something bad was going to happen.

Of course, there were the usual opinions around town that the Soo City residents were bums, that they could find work if they wanted to. To combat those attitudes and develop Ginny’s empathy, her father asked her to assist him in his rounds there. He didn’t tell her his purpose: he just told her he could use her help. Likewise, when he gave some of their home-canned goods to Soo City residents, he asked if they could take the old jars of food off their hands because his wife was getting ready to start this year’s canning. He made them feel like they were doing him a favor.

Ginny feels important helping her father, and she comes to know many of the residents by name.

Meanwhile, her uncle has become involved with a man trying to set up a labor union, while townspeople accuse strikers and unionists of Communism.

Things come to a head with both the strikers and Soo City, bringing tragedy to Virginia’s world and jolting her out of childhood.

I loved the back-and-forth between Ginny’s girlish activities with her friend and her fledgling forays into being grown up. I loved her father’s gentle and thoughtful example. And I loved Ginny’s coming-of-age in a manner she had not expected.

Some of my favorite quotes:

We can’t help worrying sometimes. But in spite of what we feel, we can still trust God to do what’s right.

Fear, I discovered in that moment, is as contagious as disease–maybe even more so because it takes only a moment, a few words, or a look for it to leap from one person to the next.

Most people might just be glad it was the other fellow hit by hard times, but a sensitive person like you probably can’t look on the suffering of another without feeling guilty that you aren’t suffering in the same way. But you have to look at it this way. If you and I had nothing, we’d have nothing to give. And if we had nothing to give, our friends down in Soo City might be just a little bit worse off.

I was so overwhelmed by feelings that I couldn’t feel anything anymore.

I missed home. I missed the routines of our lives, all the otherwise unnoticed customs–meals together around the kitchen table, and evenings together on the porch or around the radio, all the untroubled hours of work and play and rest. How sweet all those simple things seemed now. How much I longed for that completely unromantic but loveliest of lives.

American flags waved from front porches all up and down our street. I saw the patriotic gesture as ironic–people had been complaining about our country all year long, but now that it was Independence Day, they went right ahead and celebrated as usual. Maybe it wasn’t hypocrisy that led to the flags and the fireworks. Maybe it was hope.

So for a time, with Charlotte at my side, I almost forgot where I was and why I was there. Friends can do that, bring a bit of real comfort in a time of distress like balm on a wound.

I love this one for the description, as one who grew up with oscillating fans before central air-conditioning was common: “The one small fan in the corner turned its head from side to side, giving off mechanical sighs of contentment as it blew warm air across the room.”

When I looked this book up on Amazon, I was surprised to see a note that it was written for the general market but “may contain content of an inspirational nature.” There is a natural faith element woven into the story without being at all preachy.

All in all, a very good book.

(Sharing with Booknificent, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Karen Swallow Prior is a professor of English at Liberty University. In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, she shares how books taught and influenced her throughout her life.

Books have formed the soul of me. I know that spiritual formation is of God, but I also know—mainly because I learned it from books—that there are other kinds of formation, too, everyday gifts, and that God uses the things of this earth to teach us and shape us, and to help us find truth (p. 10).

In commenting on her parents being pretty free in what they allowed her to read, Karen says:

It seems to be to be an entirely negative, not to mention ineffective, strategy to shield children from reality rather than actively expose them to the sort of truth that merges organically from the give-and-take of weighing and reckoning competing ideas against one another (p. 14).

That sounds a lot like Hebrews 5:14 (ESV): “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Karen goes on to say:

Books meet with disapproval because of their objectionable content. Wisdom, however, considers not only what a book says (its content), but how it says it (its form). Just as important–or perhaps more important than–whether a book contains questionable themes like sex or violence or drugs or witchcraft or candy is how those topics are portrayed. Are they presented truthfully in terms of their context and their consequences? Are dangerous actions, characters, or ideas glamorized in such a way that makes them enticing? (pp. 14-15).

Karen came to these conclusions not only from her own experience, but also from John Milton’s Areopagitica, a tract against censorship. Milton’s fellow Puritans wanted to ban books that they deemed unworthy. Milton argued instead that books should be “promiscuously read.” “Promiscuous” did not have the sexual connotations then that it does today: it just meant “indiscriminate mixing” (p. 22).

The essence of Milton’s argument is that truth is stronger than falsehood; falsehood prevails through the suppression of countering ideas, but truth triumphs in a free and open exchange that allows truth to shine (p. 10).

Milton goes on to argue that “our faith and knowledge thrives by exercise,” that “Moses, Daniel, and Paul . . . were steeped in the writings of their surrounding pagan cultures,” and even bad books “to a discreet and judicious reader serve in many respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, to illustrate”(pp. 22-23). He asserts, “Truth is strong . . . Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” (pp. 23-24).

I don’t think either Milton or Karen are saying that “anything goes.” But we don’t have to restrict our reading to just that with which we already agree. Karen quotes 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Test all things and hold fast that which is good” (p. 22).

I’ve spent the most time on this first chapter because I found it so fascinating. I don’t remember exactly when I started to come to some of these same conclusions– I think maybe during or not long after college. I realized that the Bible itself contains what many would consider objectionable elements, but it handles them in a way that does not glorify sin but exposes truth.

Karen goes on to discuss several different literary works and how they influenced her thinking. Charlotte’s Web had much in common with her own childhood and her grandparents’ farm (though her pet rooster wasn’t granted the same reprieve as Wilbur). Gerald Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty” revealed the unexpected beauty found in surprising places. Jane Eyre’s quest to become her own person rather than Rochester’s mistress or St. John’s missionary wife gave insight to Karen’s emerging self between eighth-grade cliques. Vocation, sexuality, faith, doubt, love, and marriage were likewise informed by Karen’s reading.

I greatly enjoyed Karen’s discussion of books I was familiar with. Her chapter on Gulliver’s Travels helped clear up aspects of the book I had been confused about. Her discussion of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Madame Bovary made me want to read both of those books. I knew the former was about a girl in Victorian times who got pregnant and the latter was about an adulteress, and I had figured both would be somewhat risque.  But Tess has to do with purity of heart. Either due to naivete or rape, she had gotten pregnant, which at that time meant she was “ruined.” Yet Hardy presents her purer of heart than the society that so harshly judged her. And Madame Bovary shows Emma’s struggle between the idealized life she longed for that would never be true while she missed the joys of everyday reality.

Madame Bovary changed my worldview. It made me realize that happiness is in here, not out there. That the imperfect love of a real person is far greater than the perfect love that exists only in fairy tales or movies. That living happily-ever-after begins with embracing life–not fleeing to fantasies–today (pp. 176-177).

Karen mentions throughout the book that she grew up in a home with believing parents and regular church attendance. Though she “asked Jesus into her heart” at a young age, she led a double life of sex, drugs, and drinking. She realized as an adult that she had never asked Jesus into her mind, and the Bible tells us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. Furthermore, she realized that repentance involves a change of mind that results in a change of actions. While much of the book tells how God brought her to this place step by step, I wish she had included a little more about how this change came about from professing faith to really embracing it for herself.

I will warn some readers that Karen is quite frank about some of her thinking and activities in this split part of her life. But I think it’s important to realize that many young people (and even older people) are the same way, and hearing their stories will help us understand them better.

A few more quotes that stood out to me:

In focusing my attention on things much bigger than myself, ironically, I learned who I was. It’s the lesson, once again, that beholding is becoming (p. 142).

[Jonathan] Swift’s orthodox theology led him to a realistic understanding that all of man is fallen, and this includes man’s reason . . . His method was to expose the errors of rationalism by taking it to its logical extreme (p. 129).

I wanted not only to comfort the young woman, but also to get her to see that talking about such an event in a book was a safe, constructive way of dealing with these issues (pp. 101-102).

I’d love to audit Karen’s classes. I enjoyed the insights she brought out from the various works she cited and how they influenced her own growth.

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