Friday, December 30, 2016

Books of 2016

So, as promised, my "Best Books of 2016".   Even when I'm not otherwise actively blogging, I can't help a good book post. J
So…the stats.  I actually read and finished 43 books this year, not counting the Bible or books read to/with the children for school or otherwise.  I was actually shocked by that, because I have felt so often this year that I *just don't read as much as I used to* for a wide variety of reasons.  But that's only 6 short of my 2015 tally.  Granted, I read more light fiction this year that I have typically read in years past, but still pretty respectable.  I guess I'm squeezing more reading in there than I thought I was.
My top 5 picks for this year, in no particular order:
1.       Parents and Children (Charlotte Mason) – This is Charlotte Mason's second volume, and was one of the two that I hadn't yet read (Volume 5 is my last holdout.  Hoping to tackle that one this year.)  I wrote a review of this book here.
2.      Mere Motherhood (Cindy Rollins) – Delightful and Profound.  Read my review here.
3.      You Are What You Love (James KA Smith) – If you read along with Desiring the Kingdom a couple years ago and liked Smith's ideas but not his delivery so much, this is the book for you.   The basic premise is the same as Desiring the Kingdom, but the presentation and application is much more accessible for ordinary, not-academic-philosophers.  My husband is actually reading and enjoying this one too.   In a nutshell, this is an apologetic for why liturgy matters – both in the formal worship setting, as well as informally in the habits and everyday practices of our lives.  These things form and shape us more than we realizeIt's worth taking the time to consider what kind of people our habits – liturgies – are shaping us into.
4.      I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed)  (Alessandro Manzoni) – This is one of the assigned literature selections in AO Year 8, and one of the titles selected for the Book Discussion group over on the AO Forum this past year.  It is *the* novel of Italy and an epic in every sense of the word – so much food for thought and insight into human nature all wrapped up in a compelling story.
5.      Gilead (Marilynne Robinson) – This is an author I've heard mentioned many times in the literary circles I frequent, and I'm so glad I finally gave her a try.   So, so good.  I have her others in my 'to be read' basket, waiting for just the right moment.
And a few honorable mentions, just because I can never pick just 5….
1.       The Tempest (Shakespeare) – I've dipped in to a fair amount of Shakespeare this year as my kids have reached the age that we have started to study Shakespeare for school and I (and they!) am loving it.  I haven't studied this one with the kids yet, but it was far and away my favorite Shakespeare that I have encountered yet.
2.      Surprised by Oxford (Carolyn Weber) – So this was a re-read.  For the third or fourth time.  I loved it every bit as much as the first couple of times, but since it has made a previous best book of the year list, I figured maybe I ought to bump it down?   Re-reading it made me wish I had taken an English degree rather than an Elementary Education one, made me want to travel to England and read more CS Lewis (which I have been!), and inspired me to finally finish Paradise Lost, which was worth the effort.
3.      Surprised by Joy (CS Lewis) – I've read a fair bit of CS Lewis this year, and this was my favorite of the lot.  So fascinating…I loved reading his story.
4.      Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (Marilyn Chandler McEntyre) – Recommended by a friend from church.  It is a series of essays on using Words well written by a literature professor.  Much food for thought, and a book I will revisit.
5.      To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – Beautiful picture of what it means to live with integrity in a hostile culture.  I read this back in high school, but it was very meaningful to revisit it as a 30-something adult with that much more experience of the world.
There weren't really any books I read this year that I *didn't* like, and actually only one or two that I started and didn't finish.   So I'm sort of hard pressed to pick a bottom of the pile book.  But, if I'm being pressed…I guess I would have to say Emma (Jane Austen).  Don't get me wrong.  I love Jane Austen.  And I love the movie adaptations of this book, so it's not the story that bothers me.  It's just that the pacing of the book itself is slower than some of her others.  Something would happen, and then the next chapter or two would be the characters discussing the thing that happened.  But…I finished it!  I've tried before and just couldn't.   But my hubby and I are very slowly reading through Jane Austen's work together, so I had accountability.   Now we're watching and comparing all the movie versions. :D
(Yes, I know I am a very lucky girl to have a hubby who actually enjoys reading and watching Jane Austen with me.  He also found my list of books I want to read someday and bought me a book for every single one of the 12 days of Christmas.  And when I fill up my current bookcases, I can count on him to take me back to Ikea for more.  Yes, I am a lucky girl indeed.)
What did you read this year? Highlights?  Lowlights?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Repost: An Advent Reflection

So many times over the past few weeks I have tried to sit down and write, and just found that the words won't come.  The thoughts are there swirling around in my head, but the words just won't come.  So...I think it's time to step back from this space for a spell and let those thoughts percolate a bit more.   For today, I leave you with an Advent reflection I originally posted December 22, 2014, and I will probably pop in some time around New Years to share my Best Books of 2016, but otherwise...I will be back when the words are ready,  my friends. 

A Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

An Advent Reflection
This year's Advent season has been kind of different – unique – mostly in a good way.
Part of it is borne out of the fact that I decided to wait for most of the 'celebratory' aspects of Christmas – the decorating, the baking, the gift wrapping, the music, the guests -  until…well…Christmas. We are all off of work and school that week between Christmas and New Years and will actually have time to savor and enjoy those activities.   I find that now I'm actually looking forward it rather than dreading one (or two, or three, or four) more thing to cram in around my husband's busy work schedule, the kids' swimming lessons, and moving house (which is how we spent the first three weeks of December).
Part of it has been seeing the kids embrace our Advent devotional traditions as their own.  They asked for weeks ahead of time if we were going to listen to the Messiah again this year.  They are active participators in our nightly Jesse Tree readings.  They listen.  They ask questions.  All those years of trying to establish these traditions when they were all little and it seemed to be a waste of time because they were too wiggly and squirmy to get anything out of it?  That's totally paying off now that they are a little bit older.
Part of it has been that I have been taking the time to do my own personal reflections on Advent, using the devotional guide portion of Bobby Gross' book Living the Christian Year, meditations that have seamlessly tied together with my regular through-the-New-Testament readings, my personal literary reading, and what we've been reading with the children.  Those twin themes of Advent - waiting and patience -have been particularly meaningful to me this year.  This has been true both on a personal level in my daily battle against discouragement and on a grander level when one starts to think about all the hard, hard things going on all over the world – those things that sometimes make you start to wonder at times if God is still there.
Consider this from Isaiah 35:3-4, 10:
"Encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious heart, 'Take courage, fear not.  Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, But He will save you…The ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads.  They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing with flee away." (NASB)
On the same day that I read that in the Advent devotional, my regularly-scheduled Bible reading was from 2 Peter 2.  The very same theme was echoed – waiting and hoping for the Savior who will mete out vengeance on the unrighteous and salvation to those who belong to Him.  The day is coming when all will be made right.   We've started reading the Narnia books out loud to the children, and even that story has tied right in to my reflections:
"Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."
(CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe)
The following day, I came to the story of the birth of John the Baptist in my Advent reflections.  The thought occurred to me about how very amazing these events must have been to Zechariah and Elizabeth and those around them after 400 years of "silence" - to see God stirring and working again…to see prophecies being fulfilled, to know that they were not forgotten.  This birth of John the Baptist was like that first thaw of spring after endless winter in Narnia....Aslan was on the move!  The promised Messiah was coming to rescue and to redeem and to save: "Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79, NASB).
I saw the Advent theme again as I read the final few books of Homer's Odyssey this past weekend.  Penelope, Odysseus' wife, has been waiting for 20 long years for Odysseus to return home from the Trojan War - never knowing if he was dead or alive.  Talk about waiting - longing - hoping - hardly daring to believe that it might be true - and then the joy when she finally recognizes that it is him, alive and well and home again:
"Joy, warm as the joy that shipwrecked sailors feel when they catch sight of land - Poseidon has struck their well-rigged ship on the open sea with gale winds and crushing walls of  waves, and only a few escape swimming, struggling out of the frothing surf to reach the shore, their bodies crusted with salt but buoyed up with joy as they plant their feet on solid ground again, spared a deadly fate..."
(Homer, trans. Fagles, The Odyssey , Book 23 Lines 262-269
Waiting and patience…and the joy that comes when that long waiting is over and the thing sought for has come at last. He HAS come to save us, and WILL come again to take us home.  We can have hope in the waiting because we know that the joy will come.  It is sure and it is certain.
E'en so Lord Jesus, quickly come!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

From My Commonplace: On Love, True Love

"…ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love.  Love in this second sense – love as distinct from being 'in love' – is not merely a feeling.  It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive from God. They can have this love for each other even at these moments when they do not like each other… 'Being in love' first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise."
"Let the thrill go – let it die away – go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow – and you will find you are living a world of new thrills all the time."
Part 3 – Chapter 6 – "On Christian Marriage"
~ CS Lewis, Mere Christianity
I read this book years ago, as a college student.  I remember enjoying it – I've always been a fan of CS Lewis – but I don't remember now much about what I took away from it.  (I actually really wish I still had the same copy I read all those years ago, because I'd love to see now what sections I marked and commented on my first go around, and how it compares to my second go.  Alas, that book was lost somewhere in one of our many international moves over the last 15 years.)  I am so enjoying reading it again, though.   Even though Lewis wrote this somewhere around the time of World War 2, if I'm not mistaken, there has been so much that has just resonated as timely and true in the issues of our modern culture.   And that's the mark of a good book, don't you think?

On My Nightstand This Week:
Devotional: Luke with the Luke for Everyone Commentary (Wright)
The Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven (Maurice)
The Ancient Christian Devotional: Lectionary Cycle A (Crosby and Oden)
 Theological: Mere Christianity (Lewis)
On Education: Norms and Nobility (Hicks)
                                                          Personal Choice Fiction: Middlemarch (Eliot)
Personal Choice Nonfiction: Slowly savoring the Circe 2017 Magazine while between books. J
With my Hubby: Emma (Austen)
Family Read-Aloud Literature: At the Back of the North Wind (MacDonald)
Click Here for more Words