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?

~

Wonderment

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{Trina Schart Hyman – one of our favorite illustrators ~}

Is wonder tangible? I often think of it as having a soft, secretive way about it that steals deeply into my soul, ducking just around corners. It takes a close noticing and reverence to catch it unawares. A small copse of birch trees, the certain way the light filters through the window, embroidery of the edge of a skirt, the cedar smell of newly sharpened pencils, and the sound of waves lapping the sandy shore. There are so many moments of wonder and fodder for the imagination all around, sometimes it feels like my senses will overload, or feel frantic for the missing of anything. Birdsong, the trickle music of water in a brook, the way that trees move in the wind, shadows from clouds, the musty, romantic smell of an old story rising, swirling from the pages of a vintage book, and colorful Shakespeare paper dolls that I’m slowly cutting out for my daughter. Can you feel it? Don’t you want to catch that wonder, chase it through a green field into the wide, blue yonder?  I do, I find I must.  Perfect pine cones in a dish, on display, a golden dandelion bouquet from daughter, and the fresh, born-again smell after the rain. These little things swell inside my heart as small reflections, teeny gifts, combating the darkness of this world, and reminding me of my true home, the piece of the puzzle that is missing.  Scripture and poetry come alive, with deep meaning and bloody love pricks to the heart, when one tucks them away, and takes them outdoors on a walk. Delicious tea, table set, candle flame slant, voices chattering around the table, seed cake shared, and spills mopped up by mustard, floral printed towel. Wandering through wonder, I’m able to rise above life’s daily struggles, because I see the light, or underside of them. We see the rich colors in the pile of laundry, we smell the soap suds from the sink full of dishes, we dance along the relationship intricacies, seeing them in the light of our own holes, and knowing we all are flawed, yet beautiful in our originality. The essence of glorious tulips coming up through black dirt. The ugly births beautiful. Wonder prisms the darkness with light and color. My eyes see it all through a sunrise edged with fog.

Wonderment. I’m following it.

~

April Reads

Vilma Reading on a sofa_ by Frantisek Tavik Simon (Czech 1877-1942)

“Vilma Reading on a sofa” by Frantisek Tavik Simon (Czech 1877-1942)

I was able to read some lighter fiction this month and finish some of the ones I’ve been dipping into for awhile now. The weather is turning glorious, so one must push oneself off of one’s backside and out of doors. 😉 I’m still plugging away at my selections for the Back to Classics reading community, but haven’t finished any more of them. I’ve been dipping into more Children’s and YA literature and I always fall back in love with it. Recently, I finally read a Moomin tale and found in charming. Do you enjoy Children’s or YA for yourself? WARNING: YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE SUBJECTED TO A VERY TALL PILE OF BOOKS. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. 

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (***) – I tend to rate books immediately upon completion very emotionally. I initially rated this a bit higher, but bumped it down a bit after I thought on it awhile. I’m not sure why I do this. This was silly and eye-rolling fun. I enjoyed the creativity of this story very much! It had a predictable plot, swearing, wonderfully wonky puns, and some ridiculous cliches, but the truth is, I just want to escape through a Prose Portal and visit with Jane and Mr. Rochester. The End.

Wodwo by Ted Hughes (****) – This is a collection of poems, short stories, and one play. It was weirdly wonderful. Hughes use of words is beautiful and he paints beautiful word pictures. I didn’t always understand the themes or subject of the pieces, but overall, I was enchanted by his word wizardry. My favorite poem of all, and one I’m super inspired by, is the title poem, “Wodwo”. I actually heard of this mythical creature from Robert MacFarlane’s Instagram account and googled the term. I was intrigued and chased it down, finding this book by Hughes.

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver (***) – There were parts of this that just made my soul sing. I especially loved the opening essay, “Upstream”, and there were words and thoughts and phrases that were just so beautiful. The rest was just ok and a bit strange and rambly. I really should reread and jot down words and phrases for future contemplation.

Oath of Honor by Lynette Eason (***) – This was an inspirational thriller with a side of mystery and romance. This title was intriguing and fast paced. I suspect that there are many others in this series or previous books that introduced the family of law enforcement officials, because I felt a little confused about details about the main characters, like it was assumed I knew about them a bit already. Over all, very well done, the villain/mystery was well-hidden and the romance not too bad on the cheese-o-meter.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (****) – This has taken me months to get through because it was heart-wrenching in many ways. Wow. I hated this book so much I loved it. This 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 Kingsolver 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 to 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.

Hourglass: Time, Memory, and Marriage by Dani Shapiro (*****) – If you remember last month, I finished another of this author’s titles, Still Life: Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, and thought to try another soon. This was a short and easy stroll. Just subtle and lovely look at how fast time flies and longevity in marriage (ironically, this is the author’s third marriage, BUT I want to believe the best about people, right?! Marriage is hard, but that’s what can make it good). It was poignant and it made me think.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (**) – This was another Instagram FAIL. I was so disappointed after a promising beginning. Longer review here if you are interested, but slight spoiler alerts.

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!

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (***) – (GRAPHIC CONTENT IN THIS BOOK – READ COMPLETE REVIEW BEFORE READING!) I have a bit of a book “hangover” from this title. Brutal and honest look at life during the colonization of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and the Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) by the French and Spanish. This follows the life of a young slave Tete and her masters and the people she encounters in her life from her mother’s origins in Africa, enslaved to Haiti, ending up in Louisiana. It touches on Toussaint Louverture and his impact on the Haitian Revolution.  Continued review here! 

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron (****) – A strong 3.5 stars! This was a beautifully written inspirational historic romance. Three different women’s stories carefully woven through the generations of the countryside of France. It takes you through the French Revolution, WWII, and modern day with ease and fluidity. The romance was SO well done, tasteful and slow, I’m so happy to find an Christian author like this. I can’t wait to read more from Cambron. This title reminded me a bit of Kate Morton’s style. The ONE thing I didn’t like was there were a few “neat” bows-tied up, but I’ll forgive it, because I really enjoyed it.

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises from Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell (*****) – I think that title says it all. No need for a review. Ha. This was simple, straightforward, and I loved learning about what it takes to craft fiction. Wowsers. Go shake an author’s hand, will you, please? This is a great resource, wonderful for revisiting parts over and over again, and I’m sure I will, as I continue to learn and grow.

Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson (*****) – This was absolutely charming story of a little family of critters searching for their loved ones and forever home. They meet a whole bunch of fascinating friends on their journey. Gorgeous, whimsical illustrations with just the right amount of creep.  I want to move into Moominvalley with them!

Yonder by Margaret Bell Houston (*****) – My dear friend gave me a copy of this book this past weekend and I gobbled it up. Written BEAUTIFULLY and with such a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, and creepiness. A young woman Olive lives through a horrible tragedy and needs to begin again. She ends up as a companion to a young woman suffering from acute mental illness brought on by a sudden horrific event in her life. She lives in a castle on an island in the Florida keys filled with old, hidden memories, creepy handicap sister, and old, withered father. A mysterious servant Ezra is always in the shadows, as Olive tries to help the beautiful Zoé, the atmosphere and place creeps into her being. Olive finds herself healing and growing through the most unlikely friendships. This is full of lovely atmospheric bits, delicious haunts, and old pirate ghosts floating through the halls. I could feel the salt spray on my face and taste it all. I dug around a bit I found out the author is the granddaughter of Sam Houston, of Houston, Texas fame. Interesting!

The Holy Bible (*****) – working slowly through Proverbs, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John.

~

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, dear Elizabeth Goudge!

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Can I introduce you to a dear friend of mine? Elizabeth Goudge. A gorgeous writer who has touched me profoundly. She is in my top five favorite authors.  Someone who you cannot read quickly, you must simmer and savor. Today I celebrate her birthday and like to think of her with a glimpse of the English countryside outside her window, pen scratching the paper, sipping tea, creating unforgettable stories for us to enjoy. They are sweeping, deep, with many layers, and you can reread them over and over and take away something entirely new each time. My favorites are A City of Bells, A Dean’s Watch, and A Pilgrim’s Inn (formally, Herb of Grace, which I like better). Have you read any of her books? Join me today in remembering Miss Goudge! Many happy returns!

~

Many Happy Returns, Gladys Taber!

Gladys Taber at Stillmeadow

{Gladys Taber on Pinterest}

I want to wish Gladys Taber, a very Happy Birthday! She is one of my top favorite non-fiction authors, her love of books, nature, and life’s minutia, find her a kindred spirit with me. She actually died a few months before I was born, but her observations and love of the dailiness of life are timeless. In honor of her wonderful writing, I’d love to introduce you to Michele, a wonderful online writer, who captures Glady’s spirit in her writing.  Go on over and visit Michele at The Rabbit Patch Diary and prepare to be inspired. Are you familiar with Mrs. Taber? Do you have a favorite classic memoirist and a favorite modern memoirist? I love to hear!

A cake and tea will be happening here later in memory and honor of  Gladys!

~

March Reads

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April is here, spring is not. However, who’s complaining when we have loads of coffee and stacks of books? Here is what I finished in March. How about you? What did you finish?

When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks (****) – This was a unique, quirky mystery with plenty of suspense. I did not figure out the creep before the end. Bravo. It was written well and the characters were drawn wonderfully! The snake handling church plot was slightly hard to swallow, but in the end, it overall worked. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods by Julie Zicklefoose (*****) This was a delightful memoir mixed with gorgeous nature paintings. Ziclefoose’s attention to detail in her paintings and writing captured the beauty of the birds and natural world around her. I really enjoyed this and found it soothing.

The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead (****) – This is the first in a fantasy series called Bright Empires and Lawhead doesn’t disappoint. This took me a little while to get into, but then I was hooked. The premise is that there are ley lines all over the world that lead to alternate realities and time travel. Kit Livingston’s great-grandfather shows up in London one day, shocking Kit out of his regular life, sharing secrets, mysterious maps tattooed on skin,  and multi-layered universes.

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.

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro (*****) – this was a beautiful collection of essays, memoir-style about Shapiro’s life and process as a writer. She has such a beautiful way of looking at life with a slant, of appreciating the beauty, but still understanding the reality. Many times, I was nodding, and felt like I had found a sister with regards to understanding the mental battle writers are always facing. I really loved this one. Highly recommend.

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (***) – I found these six interconnected mysteries to be interesting and the perfect light read. Sidney Chambers is a priest with the Church of England and finds himself constantly intertwined with local crime solving. My favorite thing about this book was Sidney himself. He is constantly struggling with the tension between his duties to God and his parish and his strange ability to help the police solve crimes. His love of poetry, jazz, and biking and the gorgeous descriptions of England make these a delightful read. One story was a bit more disturbing as it involves a woman’s kidnapping by a twisted man, but for the most part these were intriguing. Not grisly or super in-depth crimes, definitely more inner character driven type writing. I enjoyed these very much and hope to read more.

The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers (***) – this was a sweet story of redemption for two people, one a single mother and the other a tortured artist with a dark past. I really enjoyed Roman, the artist’s, character.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and finished Psalms.

~

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.

~

 

 

 

 

I will tune my harp again ~

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FULFILL THY WILL (Psalm 42:5)

“O my soul, why art thou vexed

And disquieted in me?”

Why cast down and sore perplexed,

Goest thou so heavily?

Hath the Lord thy God forgot?

Can it be He careth not?

 

Nay, He careth. Clouds of sadness

    Quick dissolve in gracious rain.

God of all my joy and gladness,

I will tune my harp again;

I will sing Thy love long tried,

And Thy comforts multiplied.

 

I have proved the heavenly treasure

Sustenance in desert land;

I have tasted of the pleasure

Stored for us at Thy right hand.

Now right joyously I praise

Thee, the Succor of my days.

 

Surely peace, like some fair river,

Reacheth even unto me;

And my leaf need never wither

     For my root is hid in Thee.

Ever let Thy love fulfill

In me, Lord, Thy welcome will.

 

~Amy Carmichael

Mountain Breezes, p. 96

(emphasis mine)

~

The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, Pied Piper by Nevil Shute, and More Favorites from my 2017 Reading Year ~

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Reading is a vast ocean of beauty, ugliness, and everything in-between. Ideas swish and swirl, changing the shape of our hearts, giving us compassion and understanding, softening our rocky edges. We are continually filled and emptied as we read. A humility, a refreshment, and a cleansing.

I had a wonderful year of reading, I’m so grateful for the beauty of being at home with my children, all reading together, and the time I’m given to share with many great minds through the pages of books. I tried my best to narrow my list down to those that I really stood out to me and that I’m still thinking about, forgive me for so many. I didn’t include The Holy Bible, books read with my children, Charlotte Mason educational volumes, and so many others, you can look under Year in Books, if you enjoy digging through book lists as much as I do.  I broke it into categories so you can skim to those you might be interested in.

Favorite Book of the Year:

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“Could mere loving be a life’s work?”

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book…how much the “simple” act of loving, of reaching out beyond ourselves has far reaching consequences. A timely and beautiful challenge to me as a wife, mother, and friend. This book moved me to tears and Goudge’s characters mean SO much to me, her sense of place is WONDERFUL…I was transported to this cathedral town. The nature descriptions were vivid and gorgeous. Sigh.

Writing/Author Memoir:

Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children by Susan Cooper  – Although the author and I have very different worldviews, I found this book enchanting, inspiring, and laced with a bit of magic. I know, I know…weird description for a book of essays. However, Cooper did a fantastic job just speaking to that elusive “something” in story that catches us deep in our core and takes us on a figurative journey. Continued here.

Spanning Time: A Diary Keeper Becomes a Writer by Elizabeth Yates – I found this book of Elizabeth Yates diary entries spanning her life absolutely fascinating. I’m still thinking about it, but it covered so much history and just reading from a young girl growing to woman through the early 1900’s in Buffalo,NY, WWI, the delicate and challenging part of being of a wealthy, upper class family, and the privileges yet heavy expectations on her. Continued here.

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury –  I’ve read 7 or 8 books on writing or author memoirs this year, instead of writing, imagine that. Ha. Sad truth. This was just about my favorite. Just so beautifully encouraging and so very inspiring. Bradbury is hard to explain, just sort of explosive, I think is my word for him. I have commonplace quotes to think over, and I’m totally in love with his love of words. Long live logophiles.

Memoir:

Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane – This is such a hard book to describe. I loved it! About sense of place, about people who’ve connected with their immediate surroundings and specific far-off places, and the history of place words. Continued here. 

Rising Ground: Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden – I felt like the author and I were on a hike through all of Cornwall and south western part of Great Britain, chatting about the importance of home, of the religious significance of man-made rock formations, and the land, all connecting with the people who lived and died here. Continued here.

A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim by Abigail Carroll (poetry-memoir mix) – I found this delightful poet in an anthology, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve been searching out her works and this is a lovely juxtaposition of the life of Saint Francis with Carroll’s modern life. I love the introduction she gives us to St. Francis and I love her jarring, beautiful, simple poetry. Visit her here.

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The Exact Same Moon: Fifty Acres and a Family by Jeanne Marie Laskas – I just loved, loved this! The author’s conversations with herself and stream of consciousness type writing. It was all so real. I could picture myself saying and thinking some of the exact same things. The beginning is a bit slow, but then the beautiful last half as she goes through IVF and adopting from China. Wow. One of my favorite memoirs in a long time. 

O Come Ye Back to Ireland: Our First Year in County Clare by Niall Williams and Christine Breen  – This was a beautiful memoir of two New Yorkers, of Irish descent, deciding to pull up roots and move to Christine’s family cottage in West Ireland. The language and writing of this memoir was so beautiful and of course, the descriptions of Ireland are enough to swoon over. Continued here. 

Education & Parenting:

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (YA fiction, but falls under this heading for me as it was about dyslexia) – I absolutely loved this book, I cried at times. This follows the life of Ally, a sixth-grader, who has dyslexia, and doesn’t know it. The author clearly shares some of her own life experiences through the thoughts and feelings of this young girl who believes she is stupid. It shares how one person valuing another as a person can change the course of their whole life.

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Charlotte Mason and The Great Recognition edited by Nicole Handfield – I so enjoyed this collection of essays that further helped illuminate and illustrate Charlotte Mason’s Great Recognition. I especially enjoyed the color prints of the fresco and Ruskin’s thoughts on them in such a nice convenient form.

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World by Ben Hewitt – Firstly, Hewitt is a beautiful writer. Secondly, even though I’m not an unschooler, I took away a lot of beauty, inspiration, and new ways to think about learning at home with our children. I really enjoyed this memoir!

Fiction:

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute – This beautiful story follows John Howard, a grieving 70 year old man, who escapes to a fishing vacation in France, after the death of his son in the RAF. It’s summer 1940 and he craves quiet, avoiding all the talk of war and death in England. Little does he know what he is headed for! This was a BEAUTIFUL, heart-wrenching tale that blessed the socks off of me. It was written in a plain, straight-forward style, and yet I was right there with Mr.Howard through every step of this extraordinary journey. The love and grace shown by him and others was an example to me of God’s unconditional love. I loved the children in this book and Mr. Howard’s treating them as people. My second favorite book of the year!

A Far Country  by Nevil Shute – Beautiful!  I really enjoy Mr. Shute!

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury – his book follows the story of 12 yo Douglas’ summer vacation in a small town during the late 1920’s. This book is so strangely weird and deeply beautifully, bordering on creepy at times. Bradbury does a wonderful job looking at life through the eyes of this extraordinary boy’s imagination and spin on things. The language and turns of phrase are unforgettable. I believe some of this might be inspired by Bradbury’s own childhood. I’m looking forward to reading more from him.

The Major of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy – Wow. Hardy is definitely not cheery reading, but somehow you forgive him because of beauty of his writing. I love the title, it means more than what’s on the surface, of course. Mr. Henchard is a character you find yourself alternating between frustration, dislike and pity. Continued here

Buried Giant by  Kazuo Ishiguro – The beginning was slow, so it took me a bit to get into it. For me this story asked more questions then it answered about memories, age, time, and love. It was a subtle, surprisingly powerful read for me. Continued here.

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery – I adored this title. (It ended up being my favorite of the trilogy.) Even though I’m an avid L.M. Montgomery fan, this is the first time I’m going through this series. Oh my. This is the second in the series and we continue following Emily as she grows into a young woman and beautiful writer. Continued here.

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Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge – English history, legends, sweet romance, mystery, deeply flawed, yet lovely characters, a quiet stone chapel, a lovely working farm, and a gorgeous, idyllic coastal English village make for another charming, beautiful, deeply moving story. Continued here. 

Difficult Books that I’m Glad I Read:

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan – Wow! This book was the longest I read this year. It was crazy, upside down, and inside out, but totally tugged at my heart strings. I came to care about many of the characters living in the Gray House even the hard-to-love ones. Continued here.

Silence by Shusaku Endo – I’m STILL thinking about this title.  I don’t think I totally understood it for some reason. 

 

Children’s Classics I Read to Myself:

Dobry by Monica Shannon – I found this book while dipping into a favorite book of mine on reading with children called Bequest of Wings by Annis Duff. Mrs. Duff was mentioning great children’s books with food in them! I was intrigued and picked this one up as it won the Newberry. I found this book absolutely sweet and interesting about a peasant boy in Bulgaria who lives with his mother and grandfather. Continued here.

The Midnight Folk by John Masefield – I found this title because I wanted to read a children’s classic for myself over Christmas. I was reading reviews on The Box of Delights and found out this was the first one in the series. I’m so glad I did! What an enchanting, magical British children’s story. Continued here.

Alright, regrettably, one has to stop SOMEWHERE. Ha. There are many others I read this year that I thoroughly enjoyed, including many rereads of favorites, but I think these are the ones that I keep thinking about.  If you made it this far through my list, bravo! A couple of goals I have for the new year are to read these 12 books on this list, read more modern books, especially memoir, and work on quality choices and finishing things. How ’bout you? What was your favorite read from 2017 and what do you want to read more of next year?

And if this isn’t enough reading goodness for you, here is a lovely bookish place to visit.

Here’s to a new year of great books!

~

 

 

 

December Reads

 

Happy Fourth Day of Christmas! We are getting snow currently, a beautiful curtain of white, and my feeders are full and hopping with feathered friends. We are finishing up some last minute gifts for our final Christmas gatherings of the year coming up this weekend, sipping hot drinks, and watching Narnia movies. Sigh. I thought I would share what I finished reading in December a few days early so I can work on one of my beloved posts, my favorite books of the year.

1. Many a Green Isle by Agnes Sligh Turnbull (*****) – I just loved the main character so much. Gavin McAllister is an English professor at a small town college and has a beautiful home with his wife and four children. Life is going smoothly, maybe too smoothly. A series of serious and life-altering events happen, shaking him to the core and challenging his old-fashioned values. This is set in small town America before the Vietnam War, the relationships between the characters are deep, meaningful, and beautiful. I came to care about these people and couldn’t put this book down. I found this book so refreshing in it’s tackling of hard issues with love and grace. Perhaps a bit too idyllic or sweet for some, I LOVED this look at a strong man who cares for his family and his neighbors with all of his being. Internally and privately, he deals with his thoughts, frustrations, and own faults, yet makes choices based on love. There are definitely some bows tied neatly in this story, and maybe some convenient answers, but my heart said, “YES” to the beauty of character throughout. Now to live this way myself. I also read The King’s Orchard by Turnbull way back in January and loved it so much, you can read my review here.

2. The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton (***) I found this Christian fiction title interesting and well-written. It was, however, a predictable look at early American revolutionary times in New England.

3. The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay (****) – 3.5 stars. I loved the pace of this book (calm and meandering) and it’s Austen-drenched dialogue – the mental illness seemed a little far-fetched and the romance had some cheesy-ness . I loved the engineering aspect and the protagonist’s relationship with her father. Overall, a fun read if you like fan fiction-ish stuff.

4. Spanning Time: A Diary Keeper Becomes a Writer by Elizabeth Yates (*****) – I found this book of Elizabeth Yates diary entries spanning her life absolutely fascinating. I’m still thinking about it, but it covered so much history and just reading from a young girl growing to woman through the early 1900’s in Buffalo, NY, then WWI, the delicate and challenging part of being of a wealthy, upper class family, and the privileges yet heavy expectations on her. This follows her determination and grit to go out on her own when the pressure was super heavy from her family and naysayers not to follow her dream of writing. It goes on sharing about her long and sort of strange relationship with her future husband, Bill. Her loneliness at times and her love of animals helping assuage some of that loneliness. Her extensive travels and meeting so many interesting people. Her long standing friendship and working partnership with illustrator Nora Unwin was so heart-warming and fascinating. Her love of England and her experience of living there with Bill up until WWII. Bill’s blindness enters at the end, which can be read about more in depth in another of her fascinating books called The Lighted Heart. I found her search for her faith interesting and at times sad. Her persistence and dogged determination as she kept on writing and submitting through every rejection. I highly recommended this collection of diary entries!

5. The Midnight Folk by John Masefied (*****) – I found this title because I wanted to read a children’s classic for myself over Christmas. I was reading reviews on The Box of Delights and found out this was the first one in the series. I’m so glad I did! What an enchanting, magical British children’s story. This story follows the little boy Kay searching for a lost treasure rumored to be about and all the magical creatures that appear at night also in search of the treasure. This has a way about it that actually might make it a *wee* bit hard to read aloud, one has to pay close attention, but those that do are richly rewarded by lovely details. I can’t wait to read the second soon.

6. Dobry by Monica Shannon (*****) – I found this book while dipping into a favorite book of mine on reading with children called Bequest of Wings by Annis Duff. Mrs. Duff was mentioning great children’s books with food in them! I was intrigued and picked this one up as it won the Newberry. I found this book absolutely sweet and interesting about a peasant boy in Bulgaria who lives with his mother and grandfather. They bake and farm for a living, yet Dobry has an artist’s eye and a bent for noticing beauty in the ordinary. This book is very slow moving (which I loved, but some might dislike), following the agricultural seasons, traditions, a mix of religious, folk lore, and beliefs drive the whole community. There is very little plot to this book, just a general look at their day to day lives, and a gradual realization the Dobry is meant to be an artist. I loved it. Very unique, sparse-like illustrations.

7. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (****) 3.5 stars – This is a modern title that I picked up after a lot of buzz.  Longer review here.

8. Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury (*****) – I’ve read 7 or 8 books on writing or author memoirs this year and this was just about my favorite. Just so beautifully encouraging and so very inspiring. Bradbury is hard to explain, just sort of explosive is my word for him, I have commonplace quotes to think over, and I’m totally in love with his love of words.

9. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (*****) This was a reread for me and I loved it more if possible. I found so many beautiful quotes and poems to put down in my commonplace. So many things can be applied to this journey of life and battle between good and evil. I’m especially drawn this time to Aragorn’s character and also, as always, Gandalf. I also paid very close attention to the map of Middle Earth and am starting to get more of a picture in my mind of these unforgettable character’s travels.

The Holy Bible (*****) –  Mark, Luke, and John, and some of Psalms

If you want to look through my monthly books posts, take a peek at my Year in Books! I will be back soon with my Best of 2017!

~

 

 

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Ten Pound Jane Austen

{Google}

Dear Jane, thank you for your humor, your sarcasm,  grandeur, and most of all, the hope your stories convey. I’m so thankful for your beautiful characters that walk through so many relate-able situations.  All of us, in small ways, deal with the feelings, choices, and consequences that these unforgettable people learn through, they really transcend the ages. (If anyone wants to send me one of these new Jane Austen £10 note, I wouldn’t be adverse to that kind gesture.)

~

Christmas-y, Winter-y Reading

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John William Waterhouse – “The Annunciation”, 1914 {Google}

Oh, ’tis the season for a good book. Well, it’s always the season for that, but it’s delightful thing to pick up something related to winter and Christmas. I’ve been inspired by reading other’s Christmas reading.  This list isn’t exhaustive, but I’ve just named a few in each area that we’ve enjoyed or are enjoying currently.

For the Family, our past favorite chapter books:

 

{Goodreads, Google}

The Christmas Stove by Alta Halverson Seymour -We are currently reading another Christmas story of hers and loving it. These are set around the world and The Christmas Stove is set in Switzerland.

On That Night by Elizabeth Yates – this book fostered many good discussions and I hope to reread it again another year. Lovely, heart-probing story.

Winter Cottage by Carol Ryrie Brink – a lovely story from the author of Caddie Woodlawn, another favorite title of ours. A family struggling during the Depression, end up staying in someone’s summer cottage. A heart-warming tale set in winter-y Wisconsin.

Currently, we are reading two new tales to us, and are really enjoying them:

 

{Goodreads, Google}

The Wonderful Winter by Marchette Chute – don’t let that cover fool you! We found an older copy of this lovely story. An orphaned boy runs away to London and spends his best winter ever with an acting troupe! We haven’t finished this, but the writing is GORGEOUS.

I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge – I’ve been wanting to read this story for years and now we are finally getting to it. Polly lives with her poor aunts and is hoping for a Christmas surprise. Charming story surrounding the Christmas carol of the same name. I am a huge Goudge fan, so I’m delighted with this!

For myself to enjoy, I was trying to remember ones that I have really loved over the years:

 

{Goodreads}

A Christmas Book by Elizabeth Goudge (not pictured) – I fondly remember this book from years ago and hope to revisit it in the future. A collection of stories from her previous novels, centering around Christmas, and a few new stories, make for a charming read by the tree, sipping hot chocolate.

Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read – I’m a huge Miss Read fan, albeit I haven’t read much of hers recently and need to remedy that! I enjoyed this story, Miss Read is so good at cozy stories centered in little villages and you can’t help fall in love with what’s happening in the villager’s lives  and the subtle humor throughout.

Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch – this may be a bit too sad for the feeling of the season, but I adored this memoir. Filled with Susan’s delightful illustrations, she shares how she pursued her dreams of drawing & painting, finding a darling little home of her dreams, helping her heal and work through a hard divorce.

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen – I read this with my children and was deeply moved. This is a good title for deep winter, angling into spring. A little family decides to move to a small cabin they’ve inherited that is filled with great summer vacation memories. Dad is suffering from PTSD from the war and it hasn’t been an easy time as a family. This is written so beautifully and surprising wisdom and beauty sneak up on you all the time. I hope to reread this later in winter.

Honorable mention: Jane Austen’s 6 novels often make it into my winter reading rotation. My favorites, currently are, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and Pride & Prejudice.

We also enjoy many different pictures books and devotional type readings together, but I’ll stop for now. How ’bout you? What titles have you enjoyed during the winter season?

~