Monday Ponderings {March 11th}

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{Summer beauty found in weeds}

Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord”. It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

~C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

p. 61

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In Which I Talk More About Books {surprise, surprise} aka My Reading Plan for 2019 ~

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I will eventually get back to writing here, hopefully, at Hearth Ridge Reflections. I miss just talking of our days and the beauty found in the little moments of life.  I will stop just blathering constantly about books and quotes. 😉 Well, maybe not. Ha. Anyway, I decided to make my own bookish challenge for myself this year. In previous years, I’ve enjoyed the Back to Classics challenge, but I decided to take a break from that. I have so many books that I’ve read a little in or have been meaning to get to at some point. I think that I’m finally ready to challenge myself with a book list. I tend to be an “emotional” reader, choosing based on how I feel, so it will be interesting to see how I do with a predetermined list. I gave myself a pretty broad range of things to choose from except I noticed there isn’t any fantasy and not a lot of modern titles. I’m sure I’ll pick some of those up from my shelf or the public library. I list these here just to nudge myself in a couple of ways: 1. read my own shelf. I’m blessed with a nice sized home library after collecting at charity shops, yard sales, used book stores, and online over the years. I have not read all of them. Ha. 2. finish things you begin. If I don’t finish all of these, or if I read other books, that’s just fine, I just want to give these a bit more priority in my 2019 reading time.

  1. Middlemarch by George Elliot
  2. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  3. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dilliard
  4. Home Education by Charlotte Mason (trying to make this an annual reread)
  5. Hints on Child-Training by  H. Clay Trumbull
  6. Persuasion by Jane Austen (reread)
  7. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (reread)
  8. Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge (reread)
  9. Island Magic by Elizabeth Goudge
  10. Make-Believe by Elizabeth Goudge
  11. Stillmeadow Road by Gladys Taber
  12. Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery
  13. Golden Road by L.M. Montgomery
  14. Gerald Manley Hopkin’s poetry book
  15. Joy of Snow by Elizabeth Goudge
  16. The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith
  17. So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger
  18. Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
  19. Springtime in Britian by Edwin Way Teale
  20. On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior
  21. The Tapestry by Edith Schaeffer
  22. Larkrise to Candleford Trilogy by Emma Thompson
  23. The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis (reread)
  24. The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
  25. The Art of Eating omnibus by M.F.K. Fisher
  26. Babette’s Feast and Other Stories by Isak Dinesan
  27. A Walk Around the Lakes by Hunter Davies
  28. Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
  29. Three Squares by Abigail Carroll
  30. Ruth Bell Graham’s Collected Poems

I own all of these books with the exception of Island Magic by Goudge, a poetry book by Hopkin’s, and Virgil Wander by Enger. I will be getting them through the library, as part of my personal challenge is to stop buying personal books for myself for a bit. I still will purchased gifts or books for my children’s education, but for me, I’m pulling on the reins. I’m still going to keep track of what I read here at the end of each month and again, I hope to give these priority. Many of these, I’m well into already, or at least started. I noticed that I have some thicker non-fiction, but a good selection of beautiful, old fiction as well. I also included all five of my favorite authors! Can you guess who they are? 😉 What do you think? Is this doable for this year? What are your reading goals?

Happy 10th Day of Christmas and Happy Reading!

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Favorite Reads of 2018

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Happy 9th Day of Christmas, friends! Below is the list of books that touched me deeply this year. I separated them in categories, so you can skim to something that may interest you! I found this year that books that challenged or shocked me were some of my favorites. I really found myself gravitating toward books that I had an intense emotional response with or a line or thought or idea that has stuck with me throughout the year, but weren’t necessarily pretty or comfortable reads. I read through the New Testament and Psalms a couple of times and a few other books of the Old Testament and really enjoyed the slow, savoring pace. I’ve only included my favorite favorites, if you know what I mean, because I read so many lovely books including home education titles, writing books, and more.

Favorite Book of the Year:

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (****) – Wow. I hated this book so much I loved it.  I’m not sure why this book so profoundly made an impression on me. I think in some ways it has to do with the fact that I feel SO much compassion for the mother and her girls (not to mention the Congolese) and feel like this is just so preventable. And yet, unfortunately, all to often, some of the elements of this story ring true in organized religion. This fictional story is an achingly beautiful account of The Belgian Congo and a family torn up by Pharisaical religiosity, racism, sexism, and as many other “isms” that Kingslover could think of and fit into this book. This is the first book that made me cry in a long time and I will never forget it. Even though I strongly believe the author made sweeping, prejudiced (ironically, the very thing she eloquently rails about in this book) blanket judgments of things she abhors (or at least seems too based on this novel), there is SO much to appreciate about this and pull away from it. Highly recommend if you can read it with a grain of salt and a willingness to look at yourself, shaking off deeply ingrained things that aren’t right.

Other Hard but Favorites of the Year: 

East of Eden by John Stienbeck (****) – Wow! The writing in this book was amazing and my first Steinbeck. The nature descriptions are wonderful and I enjoyed his rich prose and insightful, detailed observations. It started off very dark and depressing as we are introduced to Cathy, later known as Kate. She is one of most disturbing people I’ve read about in literature in a long time! Towards the end, I feel like I was able to feel a twinge of compassion (maybe) towards her or at least a teeny bit of understanding. As we went along, I started to see some of the “retelling of the Genesis story/Cain and Abel” feeling, as our characters battle the internal good and evil in their lives and with their families. This follows two generations of two families and weaves in and out in a beautiful way as they struggle to survive their parents and as parents, their upbringing, and finding their purpose in life. They battle the question of is our tendency towards good or evil inherited or a choice? The weight of this question is felt heavily in each person’s life.  I felt like I got to know the characters deeply and that many of their questions were universal. I loved Lee, the Cantonese servant, and eventually friend and caretaker to Adam. I loved, loved Samuel, the dreamy, distracted friend of Lee and Adam. I realize this is a crazy, all over the place review, but it’s hard to describe. Beautiful, recommend with caveat that it does have a lot of darkness: prostitution, language, and suicide.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (****) – Fascinating and intriguing look life after an epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? It isn’t because it’s told through the voice of a troupe of actors who travel around giving Shakespearean plays. Sobering and beautiful, sad yet strangely hopeful, I enjoyed the creative way St. John Mandel wrote this, wrapping up many veins well at the end.

Discovering the Character of God by George MacDonald (*****) -I absolutely love Mr. MacDonald’s belief on who God is as our loving Father. There are a few things that are vague and a few things I may argue and not agree with him on, but overall, I was so encouraged and challenged by this wonderful book. It took me a very long time to read, because I wanted to go slow and it’s not something you can read quickly. This is set up with three part chapters: his poetry, commentary, and a section from his fiction – all tied together with a topic for the chapter.

 The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge (*****) –  Interesting, dark story about the English Civil War and the wrestling with good and evil in all of our lives. How the love of God and others trumps darkness. Fascinating look at Royalists, Puritans, class divisions, and the Romani peoples. Gardens and herbs are prominent in this book which was beautiful and piqued my interest in it all the more. This took me a LONG time to get into, you have to be very patient with Goudge, but she will reward you many times over, if you hang on.

Books that Built my Faith:

The Wild-Bird Child: A Life of Amy Carmichael by Derick Bingham (*****) –  Amy Carmichael is one of my heroines of the Christian faith, her poetry, writing, and life’s work, encouraging and inspiring me. I really enjoyed this unique look at this Irish missionary.  Mr. Bingham created an unique take on her life, beginning each chapter, with a bit of what was going on in the world at the time. I love the first hand letters, personal stories, and information from diaries that the author had access to while writing this book. I found this much more interesting than A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot.

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger (*****) -this was a reread for me, in anticipation of reading Enger’s two other books soon and I gobbled it up in a few days. I loved this so much and was just drawn again in by the rich characters, story, and beautiful spiritual vein and questions posed throughout. Highly recommend!

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (*****) – I absolutely loved this book about a bus ride between Heaven and Hell and the conversations between “Ghosts” and “Beings”. I found it just lovely and amusing that George MacDonald was Mr. Lewis’s Being. The theology and thoughts were thought-provoking, challenging, and absolutely beautiful. I also listened to a few episodes in a series of podcast discussions on this book, which I found interesting.

Poetry:

Mountain Breezes by Amy Carmichael (*****) – This took me all year to read. It is a collection of all of Miss Carmichael’s poetry gathered from throughout her other writings. This is one of my favorite books of the year, as I found her simple, sweet poems of nature observations and the character of God to be so challenging and inspiring to my faith. Some of the poetry is very basic, but you hear her heart through it and some lines are just like arrows to your heart. I highly recommend this book.

Billy Collin’s poetry (****) – I read many collections of his poetry and I don’t know if there was one that was my favorite although The Art of Drowning and Picnic, Lightening  I immensely enjoyed. They are written in engaging, yet simple style, but meaningful and hugely layered. I was astonished at the beauty of some of his close, minute observations of daily life. He renders the littlest bits of our lives in a grand universal way, yet he was so approachable. I can’t wait to read more from him! Here is a TED talk by Mr. Collins that I enjoyed.  I thoroughly enjoyed this humorous, down-to-earth poet.

Habitation of Wonder by Abigail Carroll (*****) – I would give this six stars if I could. Just lovely, haunting poetry, exploring the beauty of life, nature, and faith in an approachable, gorgeous, lyrical way. I’m on my third reread of it, it’s not long, it’s so life-giving and wonder-provoking. Carroll is my favorite modern poet and you can visit her here and read some of her words.

On the Lighter Side: 

The Market Square by Miss Read (*****) – Another of my favorite genres is British family-ish type fiction. Miss Read is the master of beautiful settings and lovely characters that you come to love and care about. Sometimes not much happens, but you still keep reading anyway. This title was a bit different from her Thrush Green and Fairacre series in that it was a bit more sad and darker than those. Two friends grow up together and their families are inseparable until a change in the economy forces a wedge. Misunderstandings, class, race, morality, the World Wars, all test the true friendship between these two men as their lives move on. This was slow start for me and it took me awhile to get into it, but once I did, I loved it. So much to think on and consider and I won’t forget this story! I think this might be a series, but I haven’t checked into it yet.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery (*****) -This was a reread for me and I loved it more than the first time. Jane lives with her mother and wealthy grandmother in a colorless and harsh environment. She doesn’t know what happened to her father, being led to believe he died. One day,  a letter arrives from him, asking for her to spend the summer with him on Prince Edward Island. Little do they know how much this will change all of their lives. This possibly has a too-sweet ending, but I adore the hope and beauty that this story holds, it’s one of my absolute favorites from Maud. I love how happiness is found in the simple act of loving and serving.  This is in fact why I call myself “Amy of Hearth Ridge”. 😉

Crosstalk by Connie Willis (*****) – SLIGHT SPOILER! The daily workings of a telecommunications company may not sound fascinating, but oh wow, they are when you have Willis writing about them. The new craze is a medical implant supposedly to increase your emotional connection to your partner. Briddley, a young employee, is thrilled and astonished by the attention lavished on her by one of her bosses Trent, and now he wants to get this implant with her! The weird tech department guy won’t stop warning her about the dangers of this procedure, and her big crazy Irish family won’t leave her alone.  Continued review here!

The Anatole Trilogy by Nancy Willard (*****) – These three short fantasy adventure stories follow a young boy and were just wonderful. I was looking for a middle grade read and happen to have book #2 of this series on my shelf. I quickly got the other two and thoroughly enjoyed them, the last being my favorite. I love Willard’s ability to keep things grounded in the reality of a young child’s mind, yet make completely absurd and fantastical things and happenings seem everyday and normal. I loved this little escape and the quests Anatole found himself on with the help of many magical creatures and new friends. You can tell Willard understands young children, which I love so much.

 

 

{For major bookish browsing, check out my Year in Books category!}

Otherwise, you can just go to my past years favorite lists! 🙂 I can’t believe I’ve made these lists for three years now already. Time flies when you’re reading.

Favorites from 2017

Favorites from 2016

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On Fairy Tales and Fantasy

Wodwo or Wild Man of the Woods by Martin Schongauer 15th century engraving

Wodwo or “Wild Man of the Forest” by Martin Schongauer, 15th Century Engraving

“What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river’s edge
I enter water. Who am I to split
The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
Of the river above me upside down very clear
What am I doing here in mid-air?”

(beginning of the haunting poem “Wodwo” by Ted Hughes)

     What inspires and moves you? What makes you feel most alive? For me, I find inspiration in all of life, in the little details of the salad my daughter and I are tossing, or even in the way the light shines on our book shelves. I find beauty in my faith, in nature, and mostly, dear literature. My favorite fiction being fairy tales and fantasy. Something about these stories, echoes the faith I have that this world is not my real home. There is something waiting that is better and perfect. Now for clarity, I’m referring to older fairy tales, folktales, and the writings of fantasy giants like J.R.R. Tolkien and his buddy, Mr. Lewis. While fantasy, and all the sub-genres, are more readily available these days, and in some ways a bit more accepted as literature, I’m afraid I haven’t found much that I love and find value in, as I have from the classics. There seems to be a key ingredient missing in most modern fantasy, but what that is, I’m not sure I can pinpoint one main thing. I’ve been thinking about another small funny thing about my love of the fantastical. It has mainly been cultivated in my young adult and not-so-young adult years. That’s right. I’ve grown to love fairy tales and fantasy as an adult.  What may seem like a waste of time and an odd choice for an adult to be reading, has, in reality, been water to the parched soil of my imagination. Recently, I pulled off the shelf one of my most favorite books on family culture and home education, Bequest of Wings: A Family’s Pleasures With Books by Annis Duff. This book was published in 1944, but I find much of it strangely relevant for my life today. While Duff and I differ in our beliefs, I can pull out so many gems of glorious beauty.

In Chapter Fourteen, Mrs. Duff lays out a defense for fairy tales, and I found it fascinating. She is referring to the idea that many look upon the ideas in fairy tales or fantasy with what Anatole France described as, “looking upon the imagination with mistrust.”

Children do not as a rule make this mistake; they are not so rigidly habituated to the distinctions that grown-ups make between what is probable and possible and what is inconceivable and contrary to reason.  They still possess the faculty of imagination that makes room for miracles, perhaps because the marvelous novelty of the world and of living has not yet worn off. The trouble with grown-ups is that they take things too seriously. Where children read fairy tales-and they do read them-just for fun, grown-ups often tend to theorize about ethical, social and cultural values until all the juice is squeezed out.

I just love that last line. “Until all the juice is squeezed out”, indeed. As an adult, working backward through the mystery of fairy tales and fantasy, I’m finding a world in which I can make sense of life. I can untangle just a small fraction of the ugliness of reality in this world and partake of beauty not of this world. It makes sense to some inner sensibility in me as a part of the wonderful creation of God. It’s the stark, brutal, horrible world with its insane pace, unreasonable standards, and true falsity that seems strange to me.

Duff goes on to say the importance of truths about darkness seen at a slant in fairy tale:

It is not a particularly healthy thing for children to read about killing. Killing is not a healthy business. But it goes on just the same, and I think that reading about the matter-of-fact way that people have of disposing of their adversaries in fairy tales has perhaps helped to “condition” my daughter to withstand the shock of hearing and reading about the impassioned massacre that men indulge in nowadays. Children, after all, are a part of this world, and however little we and they like some aspects of it, it will not help to draw the veil over the unpleasant things. I know that with my own daughter there is no danger of developing a calloused point of view. Accepting a situation that you cannot do anything about for the moment is quite a different thing from absolving yourself of responsibility for the future, and it is possible that the knowledge that men from time immemorial have killed each other may be the basis of a practical method of discovering how to stop it. 

Fairy tales teach us about ourselves and others:

My impression is that people in fairy tales behave pretty much as people do in real life. Some live by high principles, some are given over to evil ways; some are kindly in disposition, others practice meanness and persecution. Some go adventuring, some stay at home…And in fairy tales each type, with the action that represents it, is brought to life objectively, emphatically and consistently. Fairy tales do not “condone” behavior that is contrary to ethical principle. They simple recognize the fact that it occurs.

Let’s read that again, because I love it so much.

Fairy tales do not “condone” behavior that is contrary to ethical principle. They simple recognize the fact that it occurs.

Duff goes on to talk about how the characters presented in fairy tales often give her daughter something to draw on, saying so-and-so is like a certain character, for good or for evil. This helps us to turn from that which we dislike and see as wrong and turn toward the good, beautiful, and true. Fantasy generally doesn’t tell us wrong from right, but shows us both sides, leaving us to choose, an important part of life.

Here she discusses, specifically the fairy tales of Hans Andersen, and I think it’s worth thinking about:

… the great beauty and enduring value of Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales is that they show life as it is, birth at the beginning and death at the end, and a whimsical mixture of laughter and tears in between. I do not understand why it should be thought right or necessary to shield a child from the knowledge that death is the inevitable, the logical, the adventurous end to living…This idea must grow by slow and comfortable degrees, and I know of few things that show the way more simple and sweetly than Hans Anderson’s stories. He does not twist things away from their natural direction in order to bring about a happy ending, and I think that children feel the dignity and tranquility of his rounded episodes. Tragedy, in Andersen’s tales, is never shocking; he is gentle and patient in teaching children that life does not always have a happy face, and his sense of proportion is so delicate that he never overburdens his readers with sadness. The persuasive feeling of quiet confidence and conviction of the rightness of things as they happen flows steadily through Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and I know it is helping out daughter to form her philosophy of acceptance of the naturalness and inevitability of death and sorrow. 

Not all fairy tales and fantasy are created equal, as I touched on earlier, especially, unfortunately, the modern genre. However, even in the classics, my children and I have found stories that were too grim for us. Ironically, some of these were from Grimm’s fairy tales. Some of it might find its origins in myth and folktale that is contrary to our faith. Yet, beauty can be found everywhere. I might argue that true beauty is all from the same Source, no matter the conduit that it comes through. We use discernment, but we also don’t live by fear. All of it, everything we partake of, we hold lightly, snapping up the good, and setting aside what doesn’t resonate with us. As Duff says, the ideas in literature “must grow by slow and comfortable degrees”, and I can’t agree more.

What are you inspired by? Do you enjoy fairy tales and the fantasy genres in literature?

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February Reads

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Happy March 1st! My area still has a bit of winter left, but March always brings a gentle promise of the green to come. February was a busier month for me, so I didn’t finish as much. I think I have heavier books on my stack genre and topic wise. What did you finish? I’d love to hear!

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman (***) – This is the fourth book in The Invisible Library series.  I’m a speculative genre fan and I’ve just recently learned that there is a lot that falls under this heading, depending on who you ask. Sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, magic realism, and so on. I love the fantastical world Cogman has created with the Librarian’s and library being a portal to other worlds to collect rare books to keep the worlds “in balance”. The dragons and fae are intriguing and mysterious. This title was slower, more conversation between Irene, Kai, and Evariste, another Librarian. A dragon throne comes up empty after a mysterious murder and dragon factions are wanting to fill the coveted position. Irene must keep neutral while searching for a rogue Librarian who may have crossed professional lines. Irene is finding neutrality increasingly hard with her assistant Kai, as he is a dragon himself. Vale, the mysterious human police detective wasn’t really in this title, which was strange, as he has played big roles in the previous other three titles. The romantic tension between Kai and Irene, picked up, especially in Irene’s head. Cogman did a really good job of that tension, although it’s been dragging along in the same fashion and I’m sick of the snide “get you into bed comments” from Kai. Overall, I found this to be an entertaining, fun read. I think there is to be a fifth book in this series and I’m looking forward to seeing how Cogman ties everything up. Are you a speculative fiction reader? I know it might seem odd since I write memoir and poetry mostly here, but in fiction I like strange escapism generally.

Stillmeadow Sampler by Gladys Taber (*****) – This title I’ve been reading for about a year and a half. She split this memoir into four parts following the seasons and I read it slowly, making myself read only in what season I currently was in. So with a few months of setting it aside, it took me awhile. Gladys did not disappoint. I found this last bit of reading through the winter chapters of life on her Stillmeadow farm, housework, neighbors, reflections on nature to be charming, meditative, and just beautiful. Taber is one of my five favorite all time writers. I’m still chuckling to myself, because she is pretty much the POLAR OPPOSITE of the above fiction title I read.

The Market Square by Miss Read (*****) – Another of my favorite genres is British family-ish type fiction. Miss Read is the master of beautiful settings and lovely characters that you come to love and care about. Sometimes not much happens, but you still keep reading anyway. This title was a bit different from her Thrush Green and Fairacre series in that it was a bit more sad and darker than those. Two friends grow up together and their families are inseparable until a change in the economy forces a wedge. Misunderstandings, class, race, morality, the World Wars, all test the true friendship between these two men as their lives move on. This was slow start for me and it took me awhile to get into it, but once I did, I loved it. So much to think on and consider and I won’t forget this story! I think this might be a series, but I haven’t checked into it yet.

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart (***) – I have mixed feelings about this title. Jake Palmer has it all on the surface, until a freak accident, leaves him burned from the waist down. His wife leaves him and he has to face his demons. Through a series of events, he ends up follow a legend about a portal that will heal and give you your wildest dreams. I found this title intriguing, the writing beautiful, and it did make me think. However, there was just something about it that struck me weird or forced. This was written for the Christian market and it made me think sort of a retelling of Jacob wrestling with God mixed with a magic realism approach.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (*****) – I absolutely loved this book about a bus ride between Heaven and Hell and the conversations between “Ghosts” and “Beings”. I found it just lovely and amusing that George MacDonald was Mr. Lewis’s Being. The theology and thoughts were thought-provoking, challenging, and absolutely beautiful.

The Holy Bible (*****) – 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and continuing to dip in and out of the Psalms.

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