Monthly Archives: December 2013

Reading Resolutions 2014

Reading is the only thing I make regular resolutions about at the new year. Last year I decided to try to read 1 older book for every two newer books. I made that resolution stick — I read 49 older books out of a total of 141 (that’s 34.8% which is more than the 33.3% I was aiming for). Also I resolved, as I do most years, to read 10 books per month, or 120 books in total. I don’t always keep that resolution, but this year my average was 11.75 books/month.

The older book thing was interesting, and I’d like to keep that up. I’m going to shoot for 2 older books in five total books (40%) this year. I think that will be a bit more challenging. And I’ll maintain my goal of 10 books per month. If I have another year like this one, I might up that goal. We’ll see.

I’ve got some writing resolutions as well, but I’ll reveal those later this week.

How about you? Any reading resolutions?

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Widely vs Well Read

A definition of the term “well-read” plus a reading list to make one “well-read” in the eyes of the list-producer has recently been reposted. In the comments people have, as they will, disputed the inclusion of particular books on this list. I want to dispute the term “well-read.” I think the book list provided will give anyone who pursues it reading BREADTH, that is, it will make them widely read. It may not make them well-read.

I read a lot. I’ve finished 140 books so far this calendar year. Though this is the greatest number of books I’ve finished since I started keeping a record, I still read a lot every year. I have read and re-read many books in my life. I’m pretty sure that I am not well-read, but widely read. The list linked above has 33 books I’ve read, many that I’ve got on my to be read pile, plus the list names three authors I’ve read, just not the books on the list. That list of 100 also includes four books that I have no interest at all in reading, and have decided I will not read.

I think decisions about what I will or will not read start shifting me into the well-read zone. If I read widely to me that means that I read a lot of books, of a variety of genres, from different time periods, and am open to trying new books that are out of my usual range. I think I do this. Being WELL read, to me, implies some moral content; it includes some aspect of goodness or truth or beauty. Reading well means reading with these qualities in mind. It means being discerning about content and style. It may mean not reading some books, and having reasons for this.

Of course, books are differently understood with experience. I’ve talked about this, and so have other people. I read differently because I’m older than the average person who seems to write about books for popular online book pages, or produces lists for flavorwire or buzzthingy. I like hearing about the reading experiences of people who are not my age, don’t get me wrong. Most of the really good book conversations I’ve had are with people younger than I. But, lists curated by mostly younger people can have a sameness about them. Or am I just cranky and crazy?

 

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Look, A Book!

It has been a slow December in this space mostly because I’ve been a bit distracted. Here are a few distractions for you while I work on writing a more substantial post.

  1. Misspellings of the year. This is a really good post. I’ve met some of these misspellings, or their ilk, in papers I’ve graded. “If you write like this, how can I pass you?” I want to scream sometimes. My personal favourite misspellings from this list are numbers two and seven, PROZAIC, and IMPECKABLE.
  2. Ice Storm! There was a big ice storm in Toronto last weekend. Some people — I know them — were without power until yesterday. Some are still without power. There are lots of tree branches on the ground. Lots of people had a pioneer Christmas! Guess what we talked about during coffee hour at church this morning? “And how long was your power out?” (For me, four or five days, I’m not sure because I was visiting relatives and it was on before I got back.)
  3. Literary catchphrases. Wonder how that phrase came into common English use? It was probably in a book.

I am working on a post about what it means to be well read, along with reflections on how most bookish online lists appear to be curated by people who are half my age. It might be slightly rant-flavoured. Or not. We’ll see.

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Thinking Ahead

This year I’ve had a couple of reading projects on the go. Reading Old Books was fun and interesting. I think I’ll try to keep going with the older books for next year. Reading LOST books is ongoing. I didn’t read nearly as many as I thought I might.

I’ve been thinking about possible new projects for 2014. I came across this post, in which the author read only books by women in 2013. It might be obvious to some readers of the words in this space that I study women authors, more specifically, women who wrote about the Bible in the nineteenth century and other distant times. I’m not sure what the gender balance of the authors I read in 2013 looks like. I’ll figure it out as part of my year-end assessment on January 1. I’m not sure I’ll shift to 100% women in 2014, but I think I’ll be more intentional about looking for women authors, particularly in theological reading. That would be an interesting challenge/project.

What about you? Any reading projects happening?

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A few more lists

In the spirit of the season of list making (Santa makes them, why shouldn’ t the rest of us?), three more lists that I found while lurking on the internet.

  1. Buzzfeed’s 14 greatest Science Fiction of 2013. Nice covers. Also Margaret Atwood is on the list along with Lois McMaster Bujold. I like both of those authors! Maybe I should try some of the others too. The one about the North Road looks interesting. You read any of these? Got any others to add?
  2. BookRiot’s Best of 2013 from different people. There are a lot of people contributing to this list, so it is long. Keep scrolling. Where else will you find Margaret Atwood, Chris Hadfield, and Alister McGrath on the same end-of-year list? Seriously. Keep scrolling.
  3. Finally, not limited to 2013, the ten best mysteries ever, as chosen by Thomas H. Cook. I’d never heard of Cook before reading this list. I’m intrigued by the list though. It may influence my reading in 2014. What are the ten best mysteries you’ve ever read? I’m appalled that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie is not on Cook’s list. And I’m not sure that I’d classify The Quiet American as a mystery, though it does have mysterious elements. Check out Cook’s list. Make your own opinion.

Hey the week is more than half over! And it is only two weeks to Christmas.

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Sleepless in Toronto

As noted previously, I’m re-reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. On this particular re-read, the chapter epigraphs have come into focus. I admired the epigraph for the chapter in which Lord Peter appears unexpectedly in Oxford, then naps in a boat on the river during a lazy spring Sunday. I find it even more apt now that I find I’ve drunk too much coffee and cannot sleep. The quote is attributed to Thomas Dekker, but doesn’t note which of his many works it comes from. A quick search of the internet has produced no obvious results except the continued attribution of the quote to Dekker without reference to the particular work. Here is Dekker on sleep, as quoted by Sayers.

Do but consider what an excellent thing sleep is: it is so inestimable a jewel that, if a tyrant would give his crown for an hour’s slumber, it cannot be bought: of so beautiful a shape is it, that though a man lie with an Empress, his heart cannot beat quite till he leaves her embracements to be at rest with the other: yea, so greatly indebted are we to this kinsman of death, that we owe the better tributary, half of our life to him: and there is good cause why we should do so: for sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. Who complains of want? of wounds? of care? of great men’s oppressions ? of captivity? whilst he sleepeth? Beggars in their beds take as much pleasure as kings: can we therefore surfeit on this delicate Ambrosia? Can we drink too much of that whereof to taste too little tumbles us into a churchyard, and to use it but indifferently throws us into Bedlam? No, no, look upon Endymion, the moon’s minion, who slept three score and fifteen years, and was not a hair the worse for it.

Now, lets see if I can get me some of that sleep, the golden chain, etc.

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Women’s education

Thoughts published in 1827 on educating women, from Conversations on the Bible by Sarah Ewing Hall, a book of conversations between Mother and her three children, Fanny, Catherine, and Charles. Here they are discussing Judges 4 & 5.

Fanny. Difficult as it is to reconcile our present notions with the conduct of Jael—or indeed to the participation of women in warlike exploits at all, I must plume myself on Deborah. The appointment of a woman to the dignity of a ruler and a prophet, by unerring wisdom, is in favour of my opinion, that the mental powers of the sexes are naturally equal.

Mother. That is a question my dear, which we can never determine until their natural powers are alike cultivated by education. So long as one and twenty years are unremittingly given to the improvement of the mind of one, and not more than half that time to the other, and that besides, in a desultory manner, it will be altogether unfair to estimate the minds of men and women by their subsequent conduct.

Go Sarah Hall almost 200 years ago.

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Great Men/Women Theories

I am currently reading Dorothy L. Sayers again. I’ve made it to Gaudy Night in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Gaudy Night is one of my favourite of these books. Once, when I had it with me at church, Fee, an elder now with Jesus, informed me that it was one of her favourites. I know I liked it because of the interesting female lead. I think Fee might have liked it for similar reasons. As I read last night, I came across a passage that I don’t think I’d spotted before. I’ve been interested in the “Great Men” historiography of the nineteenth century because I’ve worked with women writing in the nineteenth century who had to deal with that kind of thinking. In Gaudy Night Harriet mused on a counter theory of great women. Here is her musing

“Though of course,” Harriet reminded herself, “a woman may achieve greatness, or at any rate great renown, by merely being a wonderful wife and mother, like the mother of the Gracchi; whereas the men who have achieved great renown by being devoted husbands and fathers might be counted on the fingers of one hand. Charles I was an unfortunate king, but an admirable family man. Still, you would scarcely class him as one of the world’s great fathers, and his children were not an unqualified success. Dear me! Being a father is either a very difficult or a very sadly unrewarded profession. Wherever you find a great man, you will find a great mother or a great wife standing behind him—or so they used to say. It would be interesting to know how many great women have had great fathers and husbands behind them. An interesting thesis for research. Elizabeth Barrett? Well, she had a great husband, but he was great in his own right, so to speak—and Mr. Barrett was not exactly—The Brontes? Well, hardly. Queen Elizabeth? [Note: no number as book written in 1935.] She had a remarkable father, but devoted helpfulness towards his daughters was scarcely his leading characteristic. And she was so wrong-headed as to have no husband. Queen Victoria? You might make a good deal out of poor Albert, but you couldn’t do much with the Duke of Kent.”

Excellent. I rather liked this line of thought.

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Best of 2013 Lists

I’m not making my best of 2013 list until closer to the end of the year. Others can’t wait. Here is an annotated list of lists.

  1. NPR guide to the best books of 2013. This is a rather large collection of recommended reading from the last year. You can narrow things down by picking what kind of books you like to read in links to the left of the book montage. This is always risky as you might miss something really good in another category — but it also means you don’t miss what you are really interested in because your eyes slide past it in the really big pile of book cover pictures. Book that caught my eye that I’d never heard of before: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
  2. Speaking of obscure, over at Quill and Quire, a review editor’s top five reads for 2013. There are other links at the bottom of that page to more top five picks for 2013. CanLit and indie presses combine to bring you things you never thought of.
  3. Over in the U.K., the Guardian has a whole books of the year section with lists in a variety of categories. To Margaret Atwood’s chagrin, MaddAdam is considered Science Fiction in the Guardian’s lists.
  4. Finally, instead of a best of 2013 list, from Business Insider 35 Books everyone should read at least once in their life. I’ve read 11 of these. Some are on my To Be Read list, others, not so much. Surprise entry on the list: Anne of Green Gables. What? Everyone? Ok.

Happy list reading and Christmas list making.

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Reading Older Theology Books

I’ve just finished reading History, Sacred and Profane by Alan Richardson. The book is the published version of the Bampton Lectures for 1962. (These are the Bampton Lectures at Oxford, not the ones in the USA.) At the end, in an appendix, Richardson says that Christian theology is closer to history than philosophy, and to think that dogmatics is metaphysics confuses categories. Here is a longish quote in which this gets says. (The italics emphasis in the quote is Richardson’s, the bold emphasis mine. I’ve added a little gender-inclusivity as well.)

A very important corollary follows concerning the nature of the enquiry into the history of ideas which has been pursued in these Lectures. That enquiry has been historical in character, since it has been concerned with the interpretation of history. The point is an important one, because there is much confusion today concerning the nature of theology. Many philosophers nowadays are accustomed to class theological statements with metaphysical ones, bringing them into the same condemnation. This is a mistake, a confusion of categories, so far as Christian theology is concerned. If our approach has been correct, theological statements are historical, not metaphysical, in character. Such statements as ‘God is love’ or ‘the world was created by God’ are historical  in that they are brief summaries of a long and well-considered process of reflection upon historical ‘facts’, which are themselves interpretations of historical evidence. Christian dogmatics, is, in essence, the Christian interpretation of history. The verification of theological statements involves us in the interpretation of history, which is the task of the historian qua historian; verification is not the task of the philosopher qua philosopher, because the relevant evidence is historical. Verification, again, is not to be sought in the natural sciences (though, of course, the historian will have to take into account all available knowledge, including scientific knowledge, when he comes to make his interpretation). In the last resort, as in all historical interpretation, the interpreter’s own personal experience of involvement in history will be the deciding factor in his [her] judging, because all historical judgment is unavoidably personal and existential. There is no escape from personal decision by the fiction of an objective or ‘scientific’ history, which can determine the existential questions of historical interpretation in the kind of ‘public’ manner which is expected of the natural sciences. The sciences tell us much about the stage on which the drama of history is enacted; they can even help us to set the stage in such a way that the play may be better acted and better seen; but the meaning of the drama is perceived not by attending to the stage mechanism, but by involvement in the tragedy enacted under the lights focused by the historian’s skill.

Theologians or historians or philosophers do you have thoughts or comments?

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