Friday, August 2, 2013

Best Books of 2013: The First Half

And...we're back!!  I have some photos of our time in beautiful Northwestern Cameroon and more musings on Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles coming soon, but in the meantime, just in case you might be looking for some weekend reading, I give you the first installment of the "Best Books of 2013"!
Normally, I wait until the end of the year to do a “best of” books post, but thus far 2013 has been an excellent year for books. J  In the interest of keeping the list manageable, I will give you my best of books for January-June now, and give you the second half at the end of the year.   This list represents my personal reading, and not what I am reading with the kids. It is in no particular order, other than to group them according to genre (which also gives you an idea of what genres I generally read!)
Educational Philosophy
Towards a Philosophy of Education, Volume 6, Charlotte Mason
This probably should go without saying that anything Mason is going to make my “best of” educational philosophy list.  Volume 6 was the last thing she wrote towards the end of her long career of teaching and training teachers, and is considered the mature summary of her work as a whole.   I finished reading it on my own earlier in the year, and am now re-reading portions of it as assigned as part of the 20 Principles Study.   Good stuff.  Lots of it.
For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Maccaulay
A re-read for me – also assigned as part of the 20 Principles Study.  This is an excellent summary of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, and usually what I recommend to those who are curious to know more but aren’t yet ready to commit to reading her actual writings (with are well worth the effort, if you like what you read here).
(Interestingly enough I think every fiction book I’ve read thus far this year has made the list.  Maybe because I don’t bother with fiction unless I get really interested in it?)
All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, James Herriot                                                                                                                                                                              
For a long time, I didn’t want to read these books because I’m just not an animal person and didn’t want to read animal stories.   I was pleasantly surprised to find that these stories about a British country vet in the 30’s have far more to do with people than animals.   Well worth reading, even if you aren’t an animal lover.  (Caution: a fair amount of coarse language.)
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo (abridged, in French)
Even though it was abridged.  Even though it was in French!  So worth it.  I have been inspired to tackle the unabridged in English.  It may take me a couple years at the pace I’m going….so you may have to wait to see that one appear on one of my lists.
North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
A re-read, but just as good the second time around.  (The BBC mini-series movie is excellent too).  Reading it again this time, I noticed a strong theme of how people adapt to cultural differences and transitions – perhaps because we have been living for the past 4 years in a series of cultural transitions?   And a good love story to boot.  Can’t beat that! ;)
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy
I read this with a group on the AO Forum and it was fantastic.  Brilliant historical novel set against the French Revolution.  Intrigue, daring escapes, romance…it’s all there.
The Laughing Cavalier, The First Sir Percy, Baroness Orczy          
Prequels to the above.  Different historical setting (the Netherlands in 1623-24 against the backdrop of an assassination plot against the Prince of Orange.)  Every bit as exciting as the Pimpernel, with interesting themes (courage vs. cowardice, honor vs. selfish ambition) to consider as well.
Foodie Books
An Everlasting Meal (Tamar Adler)
It’s always a good sign when a foodie book inspires me to get out of a cooking rut and just go cook something already.   There are some recipes in the book too, but it is primarily essays about food rather than recipe book.
Oleander, Jacaranda (Penelope Lively)
Not a Christian/missionary biography, but a very interesting memoir of the British author’s childhood (until the age of 12) in pre-WW2 Egypt.   The way children perceive things is often very different from how they are.   Another interesting note – she was educated through a correspondence program provided by the PNEU (part of Charlotte Mason’s legacy).
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Rosaria Butterfield)
Riveting and very thought-provoking.   The author was a liberal, lesbian university professor who then came to Christ, married a pastor, and is now raising and homeschooling 4 children.  This was an interesting “insider’s” look to those outside of conservative Christian culture and gave me insight into what the reality of “loving the sinner” while not condoning the sin can really look like.  It raised lots of good questions for me that I am still pondering: Are we too sheltering?  Do we tend to spend time mainly with people who think the same way as we do, or do we seek out people who are different?  Are we thinking Christians or lifestyle Christians?  Are we engaging with culture or shrinking from it?  Are we genuine and transparent in our faith?  Very worth reading.
L’Abri (Edith Schaeffer)
Another re-read.  This is always such an encouraging story to me about the power of prayer and what can happen when we surrender completely to following His leading.
At the Foot of the Snows (David Watters)
Fascinating missionary biography of a family that lived in an extremely remote part of Nepal.  They didn’t see any converts (or even much interest) for many years, but stuck with it.  Amazing story.
Christian Living
Family Vocation (Gene Edward Veith)
A different perspective that your typical do this/don’t do that approach to books about marriage, parenting, and family relationships.  We are called to love our neighbors, and our closest neighbors are those in our family circle.  I will be revisiting this book again – it is deep and rich, and I’ve found it helpful as I traverse that ever delicate balance of motherhood and ministry.
Romans: The St Andrews Expositional Commentary (RC Sproul)
This was a very slow read, but I finally finished it!  I appreciated it so much as a companion to my reading of the book of Romans.  There are certain theological points I would quibble with, but overall it has helped me to gain a greater appreciation of just what we have in Christ, which was my goal in taking up a slow study of Romans.   (And I think it is good to wrestle with other points of view on issues of theology from time to time anyhow.)
King Alfred’s English (Laurie J. White)
Interesting, readable history of the major influences on the English language.  I will be sharing this with my kids sometime in their middle/high school years.  I found it fascinating.
I told you it’s been a good year for books!   Any suggestions for must-reads for the rest of this year?   I’m always looking for another good book to read!!

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