What We’re Reading, Nov. 2016

Me
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry: a thoughtful and thought-provoking story that made me think a lot about how much of our lives are directed towards buying rather than making.
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry: an exquisitely written story of a woman’s life. Profound and deeply moving. I cried through more than half of the book either because of the sadness of it or because Hannah’s thoughts were so perfectly expressed.
Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge: an engaging story of two women who love the same man who can’t for the life of him pay attention to details, like names. This serves him ill in the most lamentable way, and the rest of the story is about the hard work of day-to-day love. About half the story takes place in wilds of New Zealand – so neat, seeing as my parents and brother and sister-in-law are there right now!
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden: a really, really interesting look at the life of nuns. The book focuses on Philippa Talbot, a woman living a posh life in London who gives up her career and home to become a nun. Fascinating!

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James (5 years old)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis (again!)
The Last Battle by CS Lewis
Excalibur by Hudson Talbott: the illustrations in this book about King Arthur are fabulous!
My Book House #4 by Olive Beaupre Miller
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel (reading with help)
Dick and Jane stories (reading almost independently!)

June (3 years old)
Autumn Story, Winter Story, Spring Story, Summer Story by Jill Barklem: June got this set of four books for her birthday and loves the stories of the little mice of Brambly Hedge. The illustrations are intricate and paint such lovely portraits of home life! Wendell Berry would approve. 🙂
– Miss Suzy by Miriam Young: delightful!

Recommended Reads

I’ve read a couple of excellent books this year, the sort of books to savour and to think about for months afterwards.

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Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset – this is actually a trilogy that describes the life of a young Catholic woman living in Norway in the 1300s. The characters are utterly fascinating! Kristin’s father is devout and exemplary. He has the qualities of a man born to be a leader, but instead moves to a small and unimportant part of Norway to work as a farmer so his wife will be – well, not quite happy, but at least less mournful. And even there in the back country, he finds opportunities to live out his faith. I loved the small details the author included about Lavrans, like how his eyes would be red-rimmed after confession. He’s generous to his servants, he works so hard, he even takes in two orphaned girls and raises them as his own children. It’s a remarkable account. Kristin herself is fascinating, too, in a different way. Lavrans has smaller struggles in his life, while Kristin chooses to act unvirtuously and really spends the rest of her life wrestling with the choice between sin and God. There is so much here to reflect on. I totally recommend this book!

That Distant Land by Wendell Berry – this book is a collection of short stories mostly about farmers in a little out-of-the-way part of Kentucky. Wendell Berry has this amazing ability to notice all the little details about a person – shirt untucked, hair sticking up, hat clutched in a hand – and uses those little details to figure out the bigger picture about a person, too. I absolutely adored this book, and can’t wait to read more by Mr. Berry!

(PS – I listened to this as an audiobook and loved Michael Kramer’s reading of the book.)

The Island of the World by Michael O’Brien – this book tells the difficult story of Josip, a young boy growing up in Croatia during WWII. The first half of the book is filled with unspeakable suffering, but there is also much beauty and grace. When I read Gone With the Wind several years ago, I was left with a restless heart over Scarlett’s incredible, unflinching selfishness – and the opposite was true with this book. I was undone by Josip’s quiet strength; my heart grew through reading of his forgiveness and his sacrificing selflessness. A book to remember. And for a much better review of the book, read this blog post! 

Recent Reads / October ’15

Ordinary by Michael Horton

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I’ve just started reading this book with our JOY (Future Minister’s Wives) group and find the premise intriguing. We hear a lot these days about living big lives, being able to accomplish anything, being radical Christians, etc. Horton argues instead that mundane faithfulness ought to be the goal of our lives.

Here’s a section that stood out to me (he’s quoting a blog post):

“What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily everydayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.”

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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This is a good example of a book that encourages us to live big/radical lives. Quadriplegic Will Traynor meets his new paid companion, Louisa Clark, and can’t stand the fact that she’s living an ordinary life. They have conversations like this:

“So where did you pick up your exotic tastes? Where else have you lived?”
“I haven’t.”
“What, you’ve only ever lived here?”
“Only here.” I turned and looked at him, crossing my arms over my chest defensively. “So? What’s so weird about that?”
“It’s such a small town. So limiting . . . I always think this is the kind of place that people come back to. When they’ve become tired of everything else. Or when they don’t have enough imagination to go anywhere else . . . It’s not exactly dynamic, is it? Not exactly full of ideas or interesting people or opportunities . . . You’re twenty-six years old, Clark. You should be out there, claiming the world as your own, getting in trouble in bars, showing off your strange wardrobe to dodgy men . . .”
“I’m happy here,” I said.
“Well, you shouldn’t be.”

One thing Lucy Maud Montgomery excels at is showing the loveliness of ordinary life. And I wish I could say that Louisa plays the part of LMM for Will, opening his eyes to the truth that ordinary activities, like peeling potatoes and encouraging a friend, done in love are good and worthwhile things to do. Instead, Louisa is the one who realizes that her small life is the result of being paralyzed (ahem, pun intended) by her past. It makes for a wretched and unsatisfying ending. O, for a Middlemarch-like ending instead!

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
– George Eliot

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit; head on over there to read more brief book reviews.

A Few of our Favourite Books

If you know me at all, you know I love to read. And one of my aims as a mom is to share this love of reading with my children, and to hopefully pass it on to them, too. I take the view of Strickland Gillilan:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.

And so we read together a lot. I love it. But I’m also pretty choosy when it comes to purchasing books. I don’t care to have the equivalent of Doritos and doughnuts lining our shelves; I’d rather fill them up with rich and beautiful tales that will feed and nourish our kids’ imagination.

So when I buy books, I look for three things: books that are written with vivid, beautiful language; books that tell wonderful stories; and books that show what it is to live virtuously.

Here are some of our favourites.

1. St. George & the Dragon by Margaret Hodges

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The wonderful tale of Princess Una, who finds a courageous knight to fight the dragon that has been laying waste to her parents’ kingdom.

Arenda: “This is such a good story. Like Chesterton said, fairy tales give children a Saint George to slay the dragon. This story shows what evil looks like, but also gives children a noble victor over evil. And that truth – that good is stronger evil – is so beautiful! Plus the illustrations are gorgeous.”
James: “I like this book because Saint George fights the dragon, and the dragon breathes fire out and there’s lots of struggles.”

(Note: The Kitchen Knight by Margaret Hodges is a good companion book to this one.)

2. The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall

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The ox-cart man brings the fruit of his land to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Arenda: “This story’s plot is pretty tame, but the great thing about it this book is the way it beautifully shows the resourcefulness of a pilgrim family. The ox-cart man’s and his family turn flax to linen, knit shawls from wool from their sheep, make candles and grow all sorts of food. There’s so much to admire!”
James: “I like that they pack up and that he sells his ox!”

3. Virginia Lee Burton books

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This Virginia Lee Burton treasury includes Mike Mulligan (the story of a hard-working, old-fashioned steam shovel), The Little House (which I fondly remember from my childhood), and Katy and the Big Snow (the story of an industrious snowplow).

Arenda: “James likes these stories more than I do. But what I like about them is they have a fondness for the way things have been, instead of only appreciating what is flashy and new. And they show what it’s like to work hard.”
James: “Katy is my favourite. She has a bulldozer and a snowplow. Interesting!”

4. Obadiah the Bold by Brinton Turkle

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Obadiah is terribly fond of his new brass spyglass and thinks he’d like to be a pirate when he grows up – until his father teaches him about true bravery.

Arenda: “Obadiah is a little Quaker pilgrim living on Nantucket Island. I like the formal but oh-so-loving relationship between Obadiah and his father who tells him about his courageous grandfather.”
James: “I like that Obadiah gets shoved into that closet.”

5. Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman

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Little Red Riding Hood encounters a wolf on her way to her grandmother’s house.

Arenda: “We read lots of fairy tales to our kids! This is a somewhat grim version of Little Red Riding Hood seeing as the big, bad wolf eats her and her grandmother. But good triumphs in the end, plus there’s a great line about children obeying their parents (James has repeated LRRH’s line, “Yes, mother, I will do just as you tell me” quite often!). You can get lost in the lovely illustrations.”
James: “I like that the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother and that he doesn’t even say hello or anything, and that the huntsman kills the wolf.”

6. Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer

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Another lovely book that tells the tale of hard-working, kind-hearted Beauty, her lazy sisters, and a gruesome beast.

Arenda: “I just wish this version had illustrations on every page.”
James: “I like where he says, ‘I prowl for my food.'”

7. The Water of Life by Barbara Rogasky (based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm)

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Three brothers search for the water of life to heal their dying father.

Arenda: “A tale of two wicked brothers and one good brother and their search for the water of life. Quite a neat little story with wonderful pictures.”
James: “I like that the dwarf tells the youngest one how to get the water of life because he is not too proud like his brothers were.”

8. My Book House series edited by Olive Beaupre Miller

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Arenda: “The first book in this series is full of nursery rhymes, the sort that I could read to Alice. And the rest have stories and poems that grow increasingly complex and end with sections from Dickens and other wonderful writers. A series to grow up with.”
James: “I like that the fairies had given Ellie two wings and that every Sunday she would fly away.”

We’ve started reading a handful of longer chapter books as well, just reading a chapter or two a day. As long as they have illustrations on every other page or so, James is happy to listen to the story.

1. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

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Arenda: “This is the original Pinocchio story and it’s far different than anything I remember! It’s downright grim at times, like the part where assassins hang Pinocchio from a tree. But it’s quite a moving story, one that shows the slow progress of regeneration. Pinocchio is ‘born’ selfish and lazy, but he develops into a real boy, one who honours his father, is diligent in his studies and cares for others.”
James: “I like that he gets swallowed up by the whale!”

2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Arenda: “A lovely story of true friendship.”
James: “I like the part where Avery swings on the rope swing in the barn!”

3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Arenda: “Some of the best children’s books ever written. Beautiful language, romping adventures, plus sacrifice and honour and courage. Absolutely recommended, especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
James: “I like Aslan the best.”

7 Things Making Me Happy Lately

1. Kids Who Love Playing in the Rain.

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2. Reading Through “My Book House” with James.

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3. Autumn Breezes Through the Kitchen Window Whilst Making Dinner (and Kids Who Love Their Sugary Vitamins).

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4. Alice’s Smiles. They’re the Best.

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5. Nature Walks with the Whole Family (and James Saying, “Happy Anniversary!” Ten Times That Day).

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6. Sheets Dried in the Sun (and Kids Who Love to Eat Outside Thus Sparing the Dining Room Floor from Excessive Messes).

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7. The Thrills of Childhood.

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Quick Lit // September 2015

lizzyLizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay ★★☆☆☆
Summary: Fancy food chef Lizzy moves from New York to Portland to help out her sister Jane who is going through chemo. And by “help out” I mean she prepares food for her sister who, seeing as she’s going through chemo is not really interested in eating. Yep, that’s about how well Lizzy listens to Jane’s concerns.

My thoughts: I had high expectations after quite enjoying Reay’s last novel, Dear Mr. Knightley; but Lizzy and Jane was disappointing. Lizzy is a pretty unlikeable protagonist because she’s incredibly and annoyingly self-absorbed. I wanted to just shake her for most of the novel. Lizzy, are you really going to sulk for days because Jane didn’t eat the food you prepared? Even though she clearly just had chemo? And can’t help getting nauseous? I think someone needs to shout in your ear that NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU! And another thing that made me wonder about Lizzy is that she prepared food for people based on the sort of books they enjoy. Which sounds kinda cool until you realize that she’s making meat pies for her sister who’s a Jane Austen aficionada. I love Victorian novels as much as Jane, but there is no way I’m eating mutton. Aside from that, about all I can say is that the book was a very easy read and there were a few cute moments.

Recommended: if you’re in the mood to huff or shout aloud at a character or want to read a fluffy book about cancer.


daddy-long-legsDaddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster ★★★☆☆
Summary: Jerusha, spunky orphan, is noticed by an orphanage trustee and is sent to college to develop her writing skills. The only stipulation? That she write him letters. And so this epistolary novel is born.

My thoughts: a short, fun, fresh novel. Jerusha is infectiously lively and cheerful; I brightened up just reading the book. I definitely disagreed with her, though, when it came to her thoughts on God, church and faith. And yet – it’s fascinating to me that the characters actually do attend or skip church and discuss the ins and outs of church life. That’s something that’s missing from many contemporary novels. Take, for example, Lizzy and Jane. The title characters both believe in God and share some “we’re not given more than we can handle” type conversations, but church clearly is not a part of their regular lives. Something to chew on  . . .

Recommended: for anyone looking for a quick and absorbing read.

I’m linking up with Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit today; you can check that out if you’re interested in more book reviews.