Monthly Archives: August 2013

Right now I’m reading…

I am in that pleasant place between two primary reads. I just finished Clouds of Witnesses by Dorothy L. Sayers last night before bed. I have before me several choices, but I think I’m going to celebrate the long weekend with The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith. I mean J.K. Rowling. Y’know, the book that shot to the top of the bestseller list a few weeks ago and hasn’t shown any signs of coming down. Anybody read it? Never mind. I’m going to read it. It is here next to me on the table. I’m also reading God’s Secret Agents by Alice Hogge (theological reading) and I’ve got The Firm by John Grisham on audio e-book from the library. I’ve read The Firm multiple times, but I’m enjoying doing re-reads via audio book. Next up on the audio re-read front is Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling. (Aside: I’m not sure I like the US voicing of the Potter books. I’ve read the UK wording and it sounds wrong to call Matron “Nurse” or say “sweater” for the Weasley jumpers at Christmas. Also the person who does the reading makes Hermione sound like a whiner. I’ve heard the UK versions are better but they are not easily obtained in North America. Gah.) Coming up soon on the fiction front are some Pern books I found used this summer. There are a few biographies of C.S. Lewis I’ve also recently acquired that are calling to me as well.

Happy long weekend reading!


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Books And Food! Also Drink.

The question du jour from the Very Long List of Book-related Questions is: what is your favourite reading snack. I answer: Sour Cream & Onion Ruffles chips. Oh the greatness of SC&O chips and books. I got addicted to this combo summers when I was in about grade 6 or 7. I’d sit in the basement in the big yellow pseudo-leather recliner and read and eat chips. This is what summer reading is all about in my mind. Of course eating too many SC&O chips is not really good for one’s health. Ah well. Coffee it is. Black coffee never hurt anyone’s health right?

My fb friends had a variety of views on snacking and reading. Some abhor the practice as it messes up the book. Greasy fingers, crumbs, all are anathema to them. Others admit to chocolate (dark), nutella (just another form of chocolate), popcorn, nuts, raw veggies (speaking of health!), potato chips (Yes!), doritos, cheese puffs, toast and jam, and trail mix. Many people who didn’t list any food mentioned tea. I have a bunch of tea-fanatics as my fb friends. Tea and books — by the way C. S. Lewis also thought tea went with reading, so they are all in good company. Chocolate drinks did make an appearance, but the comments were awash with tea.

Then I asked my fb friends about themed snacking — what snacks go with which books? Chocolate, I began, goes with Harry Potter. Turkish Delight, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Some of the themed snacks got pretty inventive. One book club does this for every meeting. How energetic! And what a great idea.

I was interested that so many people responded to the idea of reading and eating at the same time with horror. I read and eat together all the time. I live alone and thus eat most of my meals alone. But I am never alone, I always have my book. I almost always read while eating, but I don’t always eat while reading. I am fond of meals that can be eaten with one hand while  the other hand holds the book and turns the page. I think this counts as my Bad Reading Habit, another question in the Long List I’m working through.

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Favourite Fictional Villain?

I do have a single favourite villain. It isn’t Voldemort or Vader or other Vile Villains whose names begin with V. It may be a character many of my readers don’t know. It is Rankin Fitch. Fitch is a consultant for tobacco companies and is a featured character in The Runaway Jury by John Grisham.

Fitch is an interesting villain. Grisham often creates characters that are morally ambivalent. The Runaway Jury is full of moral ambivalence. Yes, Fitch is the villain of the piece rather any other character, but there are no clear heroes in this book. I like the way Grisham does ambivalent characters. Fitch is likeable by the end. Evil, but likeable. Other villains have few redeeming features, in fact few features at all. Vile Villains tend to be cardboard characters, straw men set up for the hero/ine to defeat. Fitch is a rounded character. I like that.

My highly unscientific fb survey featured many fictional villains from TV-land as well as book-land. Those listed included the two Vs mentioned above, Baba Yaga (Enchantment), Mr. Slope (Barchester Towers), The Hands of Blue (Firefly), Hook (Peter Pan), Gordon Gekko (Wallstreet), Gollum (LOTR), Richard Parker (Life of Pi), Grace Marks (Alias Grace), The Commander (The Handmaid’s Tale), Moriarty (Sherlock), Keyser Söze (The Usual Suspects), the bounty hunter (Firefly), and Noah (Not Wanted on the Voyage). Hmm, villains are vicious. How about you?

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Favourite Fictional Character?

I found a list of 55 book-related questions that I will address in this blog. I’m not going to do all 55 at once, but have regrouped the list into categories. Today we have the infamously difficult question, “Who is your favourite fictional character?”

Hah. One? You want me to wade through the thousands of books I’ve read and come up with ONE? I threw this question out into the murk of the social media realm. From Facebook I got several thoughtful answers. From Twitter I got just one reply — the editor of Books and Culture said “Couldn’t settle on just one!” I’m relieved. I’m not the only one who thinks this an unanswerable question. I will try, though I can’t settle on just one.

A few of my fb friends also commented on the difficulty of the question. The Constant Reader and The Mrs responded with lists of possibilities. In response to one complaint that this was a hard question, I listed criteria to consider: “There are so many criteria. Favourite because you enjoy their lines? Favourite because you’d want to be their friend? Favourite because they make you laugh? You admire them?” I like my list of criteria. I’m going to answer those questions.

Favourite fictional character because they have the best lines: Reepicheep the Mouse. (If we include TV characters this becomes the Dowager Countess of Grantham.)

Favourite fictional character because I want to be their friend: Harriet Vane.

Favourite fictional character who makes me laugh: Bridget Jones.

Favourite fictional character who I admire: Lucy Pevensie.

Those are some fictional characters who stick in my mind.

Here is a list of characters mentioned in the highly unscientific facebook survey:

Elizabeth Bennet (4 mentions), Atticus Finch (2 mentions), Hercule Poirot, Emma Woodhouse, Eustace Clarence Scrubb, Gandalf, Adah Price, Sherlock Holmes, Miles Vorkosigan, Charles Wallace, Vanacy Jane, Sam Gamgee, Mrs. Wilder (Almanzo’s mother), Anne Elliot, Eliza McKay, Jane Eyre, The Time Traveller, and Captain Underpants.

How about you? The question is still open.


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Necessary? Needed?

In July I threatened that this post would come, but the actual writing has been postponed until now. I was prompted to return to my musings of almost two months ago by a YouTube video which was posted by a fb friend and on a blog that I follow via  Twitter. I generally don’t watch video links on fb or blogs, but because of the completely different people who’d posted it I did watch this one. The video is all about how smartphones are ubiquitous and may prevent interaction with people who are actually physically present with you. But we all know that from experience. Also smartphones and posting pictures/videos from those phones are what makes something “real” for some people.

Two things happened in June that made me think how quickly things can change and how often we don’t notice how much we’ve adapted to new situations. One thing happened in a local diner and the other at the local grocery store.

Diner happening: I was eating breakfast at a local diner on my day off. It was not very busy and across the room was a table of four people who were really the only ones talking in the place. I eavesdropped. The four, all of whom I thought older than me, were bemoaning the cost of having a cell phone with them in Europe. One woman announced that she coped by using her smartphone’s wireless connection vs its G3 connection whenever possible. “You can get free wireless lots of places,” she said, “so I use that instead of using the roaming thing.” This prompted a discussion of whether just getting a throw-away phone in Europe once one arrived was actually the best thing to do. Then, of course, all your settings would not be saved and it would just be a basic phone — but then you could use your smartphone for the wireless connections and the throw-away phone for calls and texts as needed. I was amazed. I could remember getting my first cell phone and I’m sure these people all remembered life before cell phones, yet now they  talked as though travelling without one was just unreasonable. They had all kinds of work-arounds for the high cost of carrying a phone with them wherever they went — when the ability to do this has only become a reality in the past 20 years. Odd how we thing that something like a cell phone is necessary to life when it is just not.

Grocery Store happening: I was browsing the produce at the grocery store and was slightly shocked and horrified to see some pomegranates in store in June. Then I stopped myself and thought more carefully about the availability of berries year-round. I’m usually shocked if I cannot find strawberries in the grocery store every week of the year. I can remember when strawberries were not available 52 weeks a year, but only in the spring and summer. I ate seasonally because I had to — there was no choice about the matter. Now eating seasonly appropriate food is an ethical decision some people make. If you don’t have contact with farms, you may not even know what food is seasonal. Interesting.

People adapt. The world changes and we change right along with it, and hardly notice when things have changed beyond recognition. New things become necessary. Conveniences are taken for granted. And I’m posting this from a laptop not currently wired to anything. It is an annoyance when I have to go plug in to a wall. How weird is that?

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25 Books By Women Every Christian Should Read

A couple of years ago Renovaré, with the help of a specially selected board of leading lights in the field of spiritual formation, put out a book called 25 Books Every Christian Should Read. I noticed the lack of women authors as I perused the list. So did Jana Riess, who wrote a post about that lack for beliefnet. Of the 25 books listed, 2 were authored by women, and these two women are both long dead – Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila. In order to procrastinate on my own writing project this sunny summer Saturday, I’ve decided to come up with a list of 25 books By Women that every Christian should read. You may disagree with my selections; feel free to suggest other titles by women.

Note that I’ve tried to match books in the male-author-dominated list with works by women from similar time periods. I begin with the two women who made the initial list, then move on to the 23 I picked out.

  1. Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich
  2. The Interior Castle, Teresa of Avila
  3. Complete Works & Correspondence, Katherine Parr
  4. Psalms of David, Mary Sidney, Countess Pembroke (finishing her brother’s work)
  5. A Short and Easy Method of Prayer, Jeanne Guyon
  6. Flowing Light of the Godhead, Mechthild of Madgeburg
  7. The Golden Sequence, Evelyn Underhill
  8. Writings of Clare of Assisi, Clare of Assisi
  9. Practical Piety, Hannah More
  10. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë
  11. The Forgotten Desert Mothers, ed. by Laura Swan
  12. The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery Kempe
  13. An Essay on Christian Education, Sarah Trimmer
  14. Scivas, Hildegard of Bingen
  15. Book of the City of the Ladies, Christine de Pizan
  16. Writings of Katharina Zell (one collection in English is titled Church Mother)
  17. Collected Writings of Susanna Wesley, Susanna Wesley
  18. Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, Amelia Lanyer
  19. The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, Christina G. Rossetti
  20. Listening to God, Joyce Huggett
  21. Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris
  22. The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy L. Sayers
  23. Radical Gratitude, Mary Jo Leddy
  24. Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard
  25. Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters, ed. Marion Ann Taylor & Agnes Choi

The last book is a resource for anyone who wants to read more books women wrote through history. There are many more. I’ve tried to go for highlights.

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Game of Thrones: Who can Play?

I’m (re) reading the four books in the Song of Ice and Fire Series, A.K.A. Game of Thrones. Yes, re-reading. I first read the books a couple of years ago. I thought the fifth book would be out in paperback by now, but the release has been pushed back to the end of October. When people expressed shock at certain wedding events in the TV show I thought, if you’d read the books, you’d know that.

I’ve been thinking a little bit analytically about this set of books. I’m trying to figure out why Martin chooses the particular Point of View characters he does. In A Feast For Crows most of the POV characters are female. Now I don’t think that GoT has a particularly feminist outlook, but at least women get air-time and are doing both traditional and non-traditional things. I wondered this week if Martin chooses characters with an obvious weakness for his POV set. Robb is never a POV character — and he is an eldest son, and King in the North. Underdogs, those fighting for power seem to prevail in the POV characters. Any thoughts?

Also, I read somewhere (though I cannot remember exactly where, and cannot find the reference) that GoT has no redeeming virtues. It is an un-redeemed world, a world steeped in sin. I’ve been looking for the redeeming features. There are signs that the resurrection is part of the world. And we haven’t got to the end yet, so redemption may yet come. I’m finding this search for redemption is also an interesting thing to think about in my re-reading.

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More Nostalgic Reading

I’ve been reading the summer away, not blogging the summer away, thus I have not written about some of the Older Books I’ve read recently. I’ve been doing some genre older reading — pre-1970 Science Fiction! A lot of authors who wrote SciFi in the first two-thirds of the twentieth-century would be disappointed to know that in 2013 we do not have a moon colony, nor have we sent people to Mars. We barely have an occupied space station. But we DO have the internet. I’m not sure computers are quite sentient, but they can do lots of mind-reading sorts of things.

Back in the day, the grade school and high school day, Robert Heinlein was one of the SciFi authors I read. Starship Troopers was the one I particularly liked and revisited. I tried reading it again when the movie came out and found it not as I remembered it. Sigh. I have been reluctant to pick up Heinlein’s adult SciFi. I never got into it back in the day, only reading his books that were classified as Young Adult in the library. I think I might have glanced at The Moon is A Harsh Mistress and found it uninteresting, and didn’t really give it another chance until this summer. I listened to The Moon is A Harsh Mistress on a library audioebook. I quite enjoyed it. Stranger in a Strange Land was on the LOST list so I decided to hunt for that one as well. I found Stranger in a used bookshop and also enjoyed it.

Heinlein is a very political writer. I missed or blocked that about his books when I was in high school. Now I see it very clearly. I enjoyed the political games in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress very much. Stranger in a Strange Land also has some interesting politics. Stranger is, however, more religious than political. I’m still thinking about whether Heinlein was just mocking all religion, or whether he was proposing something new. I’m slightly inclined to the skewering/mocking side — I think that is what he’s doing. It is still a good book, weird theological things and all. Going back to Heinlein has been a pleasant experience. I’m glad I did.


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Sad News Amelia Peabody Fans

Sadly, Barbara Mertz, who wrote under the pen names Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters died last Thursday. I just tuned in to the news today. Sorry if you are hearing it from me for the first time.
I read both Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters books. As Elizabeth Peters, Mertz wrote the Amelia Peabody series. I like Peabody for the first five books or so, but then I didn’t read any more. Crocodile on the Sandbank hooked me on the series and the author, but the series didn’t keep me interested. I’m not sure why. I’m still a big fan of Crocodile though — my copy has survived many library purges. My Aunt Nan introduced me to Peters and was the one who told me that Michaels and Peters were the same person. I think the first Peters book I read was a Vicky Bliss mystery, The Camelot Caper. It was from Aunt Nan’s shelves. Nan told me to move on to Crocodile which was MUCH better in her opinion (emphasis hers).
My favourite Barbara Michaels book, the only one to survive repeated library purges, is Houses of Stone. The copy I have I bought new when the book came out in paperback in 1994. It is about a female academic discovering a woman writer of the nineteenth century. Hmm, wonder why I like it. Note, however, that this book survived library purges BEFORE I became an academic working on women writers of the nineteenth century. Maybe this book subconsciously influenced my academic work? Who knows.
Thus I was sad today when I read that Barbara Mertz died last week. She left a literary legacy that is undervalued.

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Reading: Limited or Boundless?

Yesterday I went on for a bit about how Tony Reinke’s book Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books needs the word “Man’s” between Christian and Guide in the subtitle. Today I’m going to talk about the larger failing of Lit! which makes me say that even Christian Men could find a better guide to reading books.

I suggested yesterday, that Reinke turns reading into “an enclosed and guarded thing instead of an expansive and hospitable thing.” What do I mean by this? Two things: first, Reinke’s advice appears to exclude from his reading list people he disagrees with; second, Reinke’s stance toward reading is systematic and critical.

First, Reinke’s advice tends to exclude people he disagrees with. Why should you read people you disagree with? For the same reason you should read old books — and Reinke cites Lewis on old books with approval — they expose you to the ways your ideas might be wrong and in need of correction. Reinke says at the beginning of his book that no book has got it right except the Bible. So that means every book has got some misguided idea in it. If we read only people from approved lists or that we know we agree with, how will we learn what our own blind spots are? How will I know when I’ve got some funny idea that is off? Yes, choose books wisely (and I suggest not choosing Reinke’s Lit!) but don’t exclude reading a book just because you’ve disagreed with the author before.

Second, Reinke’s stance toward reading is systematic and critical. Reinke’s books are first non-fiction, then fiction. His method for reading a non-fiction work involves taking it apart and questioning the work systematically. This is not necessarily a bad thing — students could use some help reading systematically and critically. I could do better with that discipline myself. However, always putting on the armour of systems and pens to take notes may mean we do not allow ourselves to be touched in some deep place by the words and ideas in a book. In An Experiment in Criticism Lewis suggested (this is my paraphrase) we should let ourselves be taken by surprise and blown away by a book before we start to analyze and systematize it. Yes, we need to be critical and thoughtful and disciplined as we read, particularly non-fiction. But, maybe we should let the work stand and come to us as the author wrote it before we dismantle it.

To sum up: don’t bother reading Lit! there are many better books on reading that open up the world of books in a more life-giving way than Tony Reinke. I’ve talked about some of them previously in this blog.

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