More Short Stories and Mid-year Roundup.

Where did the time go? It’s the first day of the third quarter of 2019. I have a birthday coming up very soon, even though it feels as if I just celebrated one. Preparation for the upcoming school year is well underway, and even though we’re still 16 months away from our country’s next major election, we received a political call at our a few nights ago. The mother’s encouragement trusim about long days and short years rings quite true today as I consider how quickly time  seems to be flying by.

Short stories worth a look:

In preparation for the new school year when our kids will be studying British literature (last year was American literature), I had the great pleasure of meeting with several women much smarter than me for a time of literature appreciation. We read short stories by British authors.

One of the best things about short stories (I’m certain I’m repeating something I’ve said before), is that they can be read quickly. Because of that, even those  who have limited amounts of time for leisure reading can read great literature which transmits time tested values of what is True, Good, and Beautiful. Others, such as the first one I will highlight, are just a light and fun good time, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that either.

  • Jeeves Takes Charge, by P.G. Wodehouse (read at link), is a story published in 1916 by the renowned British humorist. Wodehouse is one of my go-to writers when I want to read something that is not only funny, but intelligently so. This story is the one in which we meet the indomitable valet Jeeves for the first time. As the story suggests, he takes charge from the moment Bertie Wooster, the young heir, hires him into his employ.
  • The Red-Headed League, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (read at link) first appeared in a magazine in 1891, and is one of many Sherlock Holmes short stories. A red-headed client appears with a fantastically bizarre and mysterious tale which has left him confused. Holmes, using his masterfully astute gift of deduction, figures out that what appears on the surface to be nothing more than a curious story is actually the beginnings of an elaborate criminal heist.
  • The Blue Cross, by G.K. Chesterton is the first of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. Of the three stories I read this weekend, this was by far my favorite. Up until this point, I hadn’t read any of the Father Brown stories, but that is about to change. This story, filled with equal bits of mystery, humor, and profound -without being preachy- insights into the nature of man and nature itself, enveloped me from the first. I am very glad to be entering the world Chesterton’s fictional works, albeit a little late.

Mid-year roundup:

  • I took a minute to tally up the book reviews I’ve posted to date this year and I’ve written a grand total of 20. That isn’t many, especially when you consider that four of those were chapter installments of the Feminine Mystique throughout January.
  • In what counts as a pretty big departure from how I’ve handled this blog over the preceding three years, I’ve also written 21 discussion posts, covering everything from education to book trends,  genres and characters, and even a couple on current cultural trends. As I expected, when I began to add more of those kinds of posts, the conversations here were more animated and robust. I appreciated hearing all of your thoughts on the various topics. So thank you.

My favorite books of the year so far:

  • My favorite book that I’ve read so far this year is one that I haven’t reviewed here yet. I haven’t reviewed it for two reasons. The first is that I’ve picked it up and put it down so many times that it took what seemed like forever to read it. I often needed to set it aside and let the ideas marinate for a few days. Now, I want to re-read it and I have a friend reading it along with me so I hope to have a review up in August. At that point, I’ll divulge the title. I do have other favorites which I’ll break down by fiction and nonfiction.
  • My favorite fiction book for the first half of this year was A Girl of the Liberlost. The beauty, language, and deep relational insights of this book have stayed with me.
  • My favorite nonfiction books of the year tied for first place. The first is Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I find that I am still challenged by everything about this book. It is a magnum opus for the digital age. My second favorite nonfiction book to date at mid-year is Beauty Destroys the Beast, by my friend Amy Fleming. Yes, it’s a favorite because she’s my friend. More than that however, it’s a favorite because it speaks to a subject that I actually care about, and I agree with what she has to say about it.

Looking ahead to the second half of this year:

  • I am currently reading a few books, including a novel by the British humorist P.G. Wodehouse whose short story I reviewed above. In addition, I have three non fiction books in queue. However:
  • School starts around the middle to end of August, and we still have a lot of prepping to do for that.  At that time, my entire reading queue may be overtaken by British literature, so don’t be surprised if all the book reviews here are books by British authors -except for books I’ve already read but not yet reviewed.
  • What we refer to as “birthday season” in our family has meant we’ve been partying like it’s 1999 since May, partying overtime in June, and won’t really let up until the beginning September when all the of seven birthdays in our immediate family are wrapped up. I’ve eaten too much cake. Speaking of which, here’s one I made for one of my girls upon special request:

20190628_194644.jpg

20190628_194541.jpg

This dark chocolate cake, with peanut butter frosting, chocolate ganache drizzle and Reese’s peanut butter cups on top was very good! It was also so rich that no one (guests and family alike) could finish an entire slice. I think that’s the sign of a good dessert; you only need a little of it to be sated. We’re on a sugar moratorium around here to recover, making exceptions for, and only for, each of our respective birthdays.

Summer in Florida is oppressively hot, but we’re still managing to have great fun because, why not? I still can’t believe that we’re half way through 2019!

How’s your year been so far? Read any good books lately?

 

 

Sharing Books with Friends (and random updates)

Digital respites are almost always excellent opportunities for more reading. Of course, that’s not the only thing a digital respite frees up time for. The list is endless. There’s increased cleaning time, increased exercise time, and increased home improvement time. The latter also includes increased spending, but more about that later.

One of the most notable changes that come with reduced mental noise is the ability to think unfettered. When reading great ideas and grand classic fiction, the abiity to step away in quietness and analyze what was read helped me to better flesh out the nuances in the books I was reading. I wanted to chat with others about what I was reading, and having deliberately closed the door to being able to do that here, those conversations took on a larger role during times with friends.

At the end of March, after weeks of sharing different ideas from Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, I handed my copy to a friend who was interested in reading it. When she gave it back to me last week, I immediately took it from her and handed it to another friend of ours who’d been wanting to read it as well. It was such a satisfying moment, the ability to bond and share ideas which emerged from the things we read.

This is, without question, the best part about increased reading time: the opportunity to talk about books with friends. Even better than that is when we have the opportunity to share not only what we have read with friends, but share the books themselves.

As I have handed friends -and taken from the hands of friends- books of every era and genre, my commitment has steadily increased to physical books over digital. I thoroughly appreciate the ease and convenience of both digital and audio books. I have a loaded Kindle and am currently listening -albeit very slowly- to The Brothers Karamazov. The wealth of digital book option is a boon to the bibliophile.

However, they can’t compare with the joy of passing tomes between friends and dissecting the ideas over cups of coffee. I’m considering the idea of a summer book club because spending time chatting with girlfriends and fellow mothers about books is infinitely more edifying than complaining or gossip. I am blessed to be in community with women who don’t engage in the latter anyway.

In addition to more time with books over the past several weeks has been more time celebrating with family and friends, entertaining, spring cleaning, and probably my most favorite thing, helping my husband re-do our master bedroom closet. Remember that increased spending? Here is the before (well actually after he took out the boring original white wire hanging apparatus):

 

before

After spending a small fortune on good wood (birch I believe it is), lots of measuring, cutting, and sanding, the wood was handed to me and the kids for staining and ironing veneer on the edges. This was the midway point:

midway

Several drawers need to be finished, as we had to return some of the drawer hardware that arrived damaged to the manufacturer for replacements, which we are still waiting for, and currently my husband is working on some molding near the floor. He’s still not quite done, but we’re about 75% of the way there:

 

We went ahead and started hanging some of the garments because nearly 3 months of clothes stacked across the desk in our bedroom was more than long enough. Public service announcement: Never start a major home project at nearly the exact same time as you’re beginnng a new, relatively demanding job.

Respite, feasts, worship, family, (and extra closet space!) are the stuff of life. But what is any of it without great books?

 

 

 

Discussion post: The Great KonMari Book Debate

We’ve discussed before the advantages, limitations and broader implications of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book on de-cluttering and home organization. Quite recently, I even posted pictures of my kids’ attempts to organize their dresser drawers KonMari style for the purposes of fitting everything in such a way that each item is easily visible and easy to access.

While I was impressed with the patience and skill my kids demonstrated by turning their t-shirts and underwear into an origami project, I couldn’t quite bring myself to go that far. There’s no possible way I could ever, washing two loads of laundry per day, find the motivation let alone the time, to sit and fold everything into neat little triangular shapes then line them up in the drawers.

Guess what? My kids haven’t stuck to it either. They made a valiant effort worth commending, especially knowing them as I do. The method simply isn’t realistic long term, but I digress. The merits folding one’s clothing origami style isn’t what prompted this post.

This is a blog about books, and despite the overwhelmingly positive response to Kondo’s admonition that we get rid of most of our junk, one thing which has drawn consistent howls of protest is her suggestion that those following her method scale their libraries down to no more than 30 books. Being a homeschool parent as well as a voracious reader, I dismissed that nonsense out of hand. Others however, have taken the time to dissect and contemplate the underlying implications of suggesting that we purge ourselves right out having any substantial home library at all. The delightfully poetic Rachel at Bay Boxwood put it thus:

It strikes me as odd that one of the first edicts handed down by the pop-minimalist scolds is The Culling of the Books.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re hanging on to a houseful of junky or unread books and paper ephemera, then cull away, you’ll probably be glad you did – but – considering the amount of unworn clothing, abandoned craft projects, ancient canned goods, and broken everything in peoples living spaces, it just seems like there are better places to start de-cluttering and un-owning, and that perhaps once the rest of the mess is resolved the books are a collection worth keeping.

Given that beautifying living spaces is what she does, I’ll defer to her authority on that issue, and agree with it wholeheartedly.  Being given to conspiratorial imaginations complete with visions of elitist machinations in smoke-filled rooms, I am immediately wary of attempts to encourage the masses to do away with hard copies of books.

Y’all can cancel the paddy wagon. Tongue is planted firmly in cheek, but I do consider it unwise to trap our most beloved books in digital formats which are much easier to delete or manipulate. More than that however, is that there are few things at all which spark joy, inspire thought, and disseminate wisdom than great books. I loved the wistfully exciting way Bethany Fiction said it:

Do you know what brings me joy? BOOKS! Adventures to times and places I’ll never visit in the “real” world, deep journeys into hope and heartbreak, thrilling escapades where someone won’t get out alive but I probably will, somewhat-confusing classics I had to read for school that made me a better person even if I didn’t appreciate them at the time…I love them all.

I mean, it’s great to have a few travel mementos that bring a smile every time you look at them, don’t get me wrong, but books contain whole worlds—the lives and journeys of beloved friends we’ve admired and empathized and learned from. The joy quotient is just through the roof. Libraries and bookstores spark so much joy that they might as well be actual infernos of happiness. (Is that a little Fahrenheit 451? Maybe. But you get the idea.) And if your house just happens to resemble a library or bookstore…all the better!

I especially appreciated that she invoked Fahrenheit 451.

Writing for The Guardian,  Anakana Scholfield reminds us that not every book we read is going to spark joy, and sometimes this is a very good thing:

The metric of objects only “sparking joy” is deeply problematic when applied to books. The definition of joy (for the many people yelling at me on Twitter, who appear to have Konmari’d their dictionaries) is: “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, a thing that causes joy, success or satisfaction.” This is a ludicrous suggestion for books. Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure; art should also challenge and perturb us.

We live in a frantic, goal-obsessed, myopic time. Everything undertaken has to have a purpose, outcome or a destination, or it’s invalid. But art doesn’t care a noodle about your Apple watch, your fitness goals, active lifestyle, right swipes, career and surrender on black pudding. Art will be around far longer than Kondo’s books remain in print. Art exists on its own terms and untidy timeline.

As for culling one’s unread books – while that may be essential for reducing fire and tripping hazards, it is certainly not a satisfying engagement with the possibilities of literature. (Unless it’s self-help or golf, in which case, toss it.) Success is, eventually, actually reading your unread books, or at least holding on to them long enough that they have the chance to satisfy, dissatisfy or dement you. Unread books are imagined reading futures, not an indication of failure.

Some of the most rewarding books I own, beginning with my Bible, have grieved, challenged, and stretched me in the most painful yet rewarding ways. Several are worth re-reading again and again, sharing with friends, and passing along to my children and their children.

Despite my predilection for book collection, I am a fervent supporter of local libraries and encourage their patronage for books that we enjoy exploring which are, for whatever reasons, not worth retaining in our personal libraries.

The bigger takeaway from all of this is that each of us, rather than being carried away by the cultural wave of the moment, needs to use wisdom and discretion when it comes to what we own, how we spend our money, and how we decide which experts of the moment are worth listening to.The way I feel about my books is the way my husband feels about his tools. Some of the more obscure specialty tools might only be used  yearly, but when needed, they are worth every penny and whatever bit of space they occupy.

Materialism and collection of worthless clutter is expensive and causes unnecessary stress. That’s something most all agree on. How we approach Marie Kondo’s needed invitation to examine our relationship with our stuff will be as varied as each of our homes and families.

How many books in your library are you willing to part with?

 

 

El’s Rabbit Trail: Spring Harvest Edition.

Middle springtime down here means summer fruits are ripe for the picking, so this past week we spent a fair amount of time out picking fresh fruits. We started with blueberries:

img_20180428_0906051668014220.jpg

img_20180427_1205501311039349.jpg

img_20180427_124743~2640141600..jpg

After picking far more of those than intended when we started out (the kiddos forget that these berries ain’t free!), we moved on to strawberries:

img_20180427_203750_2431764289293.jpg

img_20180427_203750_2442048520137.jpg

Later in the week, we ended the first round of our spring harvest fun by picking peaches:

img_20180428_102758_811644270973.jpg

img_20180428_102758_8371127327131.jpg

img_20180428_094744~21502084133..jpg

Not willing to let farm fresh-from-the-tree-peaches go to waste, I promptly got on with making a peach cobbler to top off Sunday dinner. Diet? What diet?

img_5956647298140.jpg

img_20180429_220518_5911925176241.jpg

img_599843312445.jpg

img_60361142627458.jpg

#backonthewagonmonday

Look for my review of Miss Maitland, Private Secretary on Wednesday. Until then…

Happy Monday, all!

 

 

The Comedy of Errors

The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare. Analysis and synopsis here.

I only read this play -reportedly Shakespeare’s shortest- because our middle school aged daughter was recently a part of its production as a part of the classical education program our children are enrolled in. I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare. However, I am a huge fan of comedy and this play is really quite funny.

The language, as anyone who read Shakespeare in high school can attest, is cumbersome and often frustrating. I know for certain that there were parts of the dialogue that our daughter didn’t quite grasp and for that I am thankful. Our drama instructors, a wonderful couple who love the Lord dearly, are former New York theater people who stayed true to the spirit of Shakespeare’s original play and Shakespeare had a ribald sense of humor.

My  kid is down there in one of these outstanding costumes that a very talented mother put together from blankets, duvet covers, and other miscellaneous scraps of fabric.

comedy of errors

Go check out Ljubomir Farms!

Those of you who have followed my writing or commentary know that I am a big believer in supporting the business enterprises of people I know and admire. I also like to pass along a good word for them.

I am thankful that to date, every single book written or product made by friends has been high quality or worth advertising to my friends and readers. Today I am blessed to have another opportunity to support a stellar fledgling business

Scott and Mychael operate Ljubomir Farms, a hobby farm in Texas where they sell high quality home, kitchen, and food products for a fair price. I recently received a shipment of tea towels, which Mychael got to me in record time!

wp-1496594704322.jpg

She also added a jar of blackberry lavender jam which I slathered on a biscuit with butter, temporarily suspending my hiatus on wheat products. Again, it was totally worth the splurge!

I want to add an extra bit of encouragement to support fledgling business endeavors by smaller online and local Christians who for obvious reasons can’t compete with the cheaper pricing of big box stores like Wal-mart or Target. It really is worth the bit of extra money or the slight bit of trouble to make this extra effort.

We often use the promise “you reap what you sow” to remind us to do right by others and refrain from doing ill. I like to think of it in the other direction more often. When you are blessing to others, especially fellow believers, you make deposits into you own resevoir of good will and blessing.

Of course, quality matters as well, and I would never suggest you buy unworthy products, but no worries on this one. Mychael’s tea towels and jam have my seal of approval.

Other books/items from my friends for wich you can find reviews here:

Wardrobe Communication, by Amy Fleming, aka Hearth.

You’re te Cream in My Coffee, by Jennifer Lamont Leo

Christmas stockings, handmade by Joanna.

At My Savior’s Feet, a Bible Study.

Yarn Over: It’s International Crochet Day!

crochet-day

I have to tell you…normally I find these obscure specialty holidays just so much silliness. They serve no purpose at all. Really, who cares? Very few, not even those who are fond of the craft, food, animal, season, sport, people, or disease being thrust into the spotlight of “awareness” even care about these holidays.

I must confess that in our house, we have been known to cook one or two (or ten) of the foods listed on The Kitchn’s National Food Holidays list. That however, is just because we love any excuse to get together in the kitchen. If the aim is to prepare something new exotic or different, all the better. Still, given that the origin of the word holiday is built around the idea of celebrating Holy days, the “every day is a holiday” thing rubs me the wrong way.

When my daughter sent me the link to International Crochet DayInternational Crochet Day, the only reason it resonated at all is because our two youngest are currently planning and crocheting Christmas presents for numerous family members- in earnest. Yarn is center stage right now:

crochet1

crochet2

So…even though I still think the “every thing deserves a holiday” thing is kind of stupid, my kids found the fact that today is International Crochet Day  kind of neat. Because they’re kids.

Edited to add: I just remembered a quotable literary quote that well explains my acknowledging a silly holiday while simultaneously decrying silly holidays.

How quick come the reasons for approving what we like.-Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Tell me again why more people don’t spend copious amounts of time reading if they can?