Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Books

So last year, after I had made a basic list version of my favorite books of 2013, I saw this creative book round-up post over at Amongst Lovely Things and kept it in mind for my books-of-2014 post.  Now 2014 has just about gone, and I get to share.  J
All together I read 66 books, not including school books and other read-alouds with the kids.  Some of those were slow-and-careful reads, some were quickie reads.  Most I would say weren't a waste of time although some were disappointing…but that's mostly because I'm not afraid to quit reading a book that does feel like a waste of time and those don't get counted. J  There were probably another 5-8 books that I started and read a significant amount of before I quit. 

I learned a lot about myself as a reader this year – what kind of books are really worth my time, what kind of books I should probably pass on because I will probably be disappointed, beginning to feel less intimidated by the Great Books - which is helping me hone my selections to make the best use of my reading time.  I do love to read, but there are always more books than time to read them - I want to make the most of that time.  I also started keeping a Commonplace book mid-year…may I suggest this practice to you as well?  Taking time to jot down thoughts and quotes in a journal forces me to think and ponder more deeply rather than just read and move on.
So here you have it…the books of 2014!
Best Fiction
The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I had tried a couple of times to read this when I was younger, and this time I finally connected with it.  I can't wait to revisit these with my kids in a few years.
Best Non-Fiction
Or shall I say "best non-fiction I haven't mentioned under another heading" J   I'm going to say Rachel Carson's Sense of Wonder – short, easy read but very inspiring.  Highly suggested if you need some fresh motivation to get out and do some nature study.
Best Biography or Memoir
I'm going to say Carolyn Weber's Surprised by Oxford, although Essex Cholmondely's The Story of Charlotte Mason is right up there at the top too.
Best New To Me Author
I am going to say Homer – I've read both The Iliad and The Odyssey this year and I'm glad I did.  I look forward to revisiting these at some point in the future.
Book that made me Cry  Old Sentimental Favorites that I Revisited This Year
Book that made me cry was the heading in the original post that I took this idea from, but quite honestly…I don't tend to cry over books.   But perhaps 'sentimental favorites' fit with the theme?  Besides these are books I love that I read this year that I love and so they need to make my list somehow, right?  Right.  Anyhow…favorite books I revisited this year were Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion and Jan Karon's Mitford series.
Book that Made Me Laugh Out Loud
The Lord God Made Them All and Every Living Thing – James Herriot always makes me laugh. J
Book that Changed my Perspective on Something
I think I'm going to say Isobel Kuhn's In the Arena.   The stories and testimonies she shared in this book helped me to view my present season and some of the issues that I am struggling with in it as training ground for what the Lord may have for me in the future.  That perspective has been the difference between continuing on in the face of discouragement and quitting.
Best Homeschooling Book
The best specifically homeschooling book was probably Sarah MacKenzie's Teaching from a State of Rest.    Best book on education more generally was Charlotte Mason's Volume 3 School Education – I loved the way this book built step-on-step from basic principles to practice…I also loved seeing very clearly for the first time how Charlotte Mason's principles and practices dovetail so nicely with the classical liberal arts tradition.   The Living Page deserves a shout-out here too.   So does Karen Glass' Consider This, although I only read through that kind of quickly with the intention of reading-to-savor in the coming year….this will probably be my 2016 pick. J
Worst Book
I don't know that I have one…mostly because I don't finish the ones that are heading in that direction. If I finished it, it wasn't truly horrible.  And as to the ones I quit...well, I didn't write them down and they obviously didn't make an impact on me, so I couldn't tell ya. :)
Best Surprise Plot Twist
Probably Edmund Jorgenson's Speculation – this book was interesting but rather strange, and I certainly didn't anticipate where it was going when I started.
Most Disappointing
Probably The Deadliest Monster.   We read this in the AO book group as a follow-up to Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as the premise was that it would build on those into a discussion of worldviews.  I found the book oversimplified (maybe I was expecting too much since it is really a book for young people?), his presentation of the Christian worldview  narrower than it needed to be (presenting one specific set of theological preferences, which bothered me even though I mostly agreed with his theological preferences), and I didn't really care for the us-and-them tone in it.  It was an interesting concept, but I didn't care for how it was carried out, and will likely choose a different book to explore this topic with my kids when we get to those upper levels of AO where it is scheduled (Year 10, I think).
Most Over-Hyped
Desiring the Kingdom.  I had heard so many good things about this book, and in the end found the book itself disappointing.  He did have some good and thought-provoking things to say which I have continued to mull over, but those nuggets were mixed in with a fair amount I didn't agree with or appreciate.  The book also could have been about a third of the size and still made its point, perhaps even making a stronger case for it by being more direct and less rambling.  I'm not sorry I read it, though.
Most Challenging
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, especially paired with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Dante's Inferno which I also read this fall (well I haven't finished The Inferno yet, but I started it this fall).  These three have really made me contemplate my sinful nature, the tragic consequences of sin, and thereby increased my gratefulness for God's grace.
Best Cover
You know, I do almost all my reading on Kindle, so I don't know that I can really pick one for this category.   I ended up with a lovely old copy of The Story of Charlotte Mason, however, which makes me happy to look at. 
Best Young-Person's Book
I really enjoyed reading a couple of Genevieve Foster's history books – George Washington's World, The World of Captain John Smith, The World of Columbus and Sons - there are several others as well.  I really like the way she traces major people and events taking place all over the world against the backdrop of one single influential person.  These are written for an upper-elementary and middle school readers, and a couple of them are scheduled in AO Years 4-6.
I also really liked George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin, which I pre-read as it is one of Michelle's Year 3 literature selections that I will assign to her to read on her own.
Book I've Been Meaning to Read for Years and Finally Got To
Homer and Lord of the Rings.
Best Book on Homemaking
Did I read any books on Homemaking this year?  I don't read much in this genre anymore – I have systems that work for me so it's not a reading priority.  I did re-read bits of The Hidden Art of Homemaking this year which is possibly my favorite.
Book I have Recommended the Most this Year
I didn't actually read For the Children's Sake this year, but know I've recommended it several times – it's my go-to recommendation for those wanting an introduction to Charlotte Mason.   I've also recommended Surprised by Oxford to several people too.
Best Philosophical or Spiritual Book
Besides the Bible, right? J  I'm going to say Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman. 
What did you read in 2014?

Monday, December 22, 2014

An Advent Reflection

This year's Advent season has been kind of different – unique – mostly in a good way.
Part of it is borne out of the fact that I decided to wait for most of the 'celebratory' aspects of Christmas – the decorating, the baking, the gift wrapping, the music, the guests -  until…well…Christmas. We are all off of work and school that week between Christmas and New Years and will actually have time to savor and enjoy those activities.   I find that now I'm actually looking forward it rather than dreading one (or two, or three, or four) more thing to cram in around my husband's busy work schedule, the kids' swimming lessons, and moving house (which is how we spent the first three weeks of December).
Part of it has been seeing the kids embrace our Advent devotional traditions as their own.  They asked for weeks ahead of time if we were going to listen to the Messiah again this year.  They are active participators in our nightly Jesse Tree readings.  They listen.  They ask questions.  All those years of trying to establish these traditions when they were all little and it seemed to be a waste of time because they were too wiggly and squirmy to get anything out of it?  That's totally paying off now that they are a little bit older.
Part of it has been that I have been taking the time to do my own personal reflections on Advent, using the devotional guide portion of Bobby Gross' book Living the Christian Year, meditations that have seamlessly tied together with my regular through-the-New-Testament readings, my personal literary reading, and what we've been reading with the children.  Those twin themes of Advent - waiting and patience -have been particularly meaningful to me this year.  This has been true both on a personal level in my daily battle against discouragement and on a grander level when one starts to think about all the hard, hard things going on all over the world – those things that sometimes make you start to wonder at times if God is still there.
Consider this from Isaiah 35:3-4, 10:
"Encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious heart, 'Take courage, fear not.  Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, But He will save you…The ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads.  They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing with flee away." (NASB)
On the same day that I read that in the Advent devotional, my regularly-scheduled Bible reading was from 2 Peter 2.  The very same theme was echoed – waiting and hoping for the Savior who will mete out vengeance on the unrighteous and salvation to those who belong to Him.  The day is coming when all will be made right.   We've started reading the Narnia books out loud to the children, and even that story has tied right in to my reflections:
"Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."
(CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe)
The following day, I came to the story of the birth of John the Baptist in my Advent reflections.  The thought occurred to me about how very amazing these events must have been to Zechariah and Elizabeth and those around them after 400 years of "silence" - to see God stirring and working again…to see prophecies being fulfilled, to know that they were not forgotten.  This birth of John the Baptist was like that first thaw of spring after endless winter in Narnia....Aslan was on the move!  The promised Messiah was coming to rescue and to redeem and to save: "Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79, NASB).
I saw the Advent theme again as I read the final few books of Homer's Odyssey this past weekend.  Penelope, Odysseus' wife, has been waiting for 20 long years for Odysseus to return home from the Trojan War - never knowing if he was dead or alive.  Talk about waiting - longing - hoping - hardly daring to believe that it might be true - and then the joy when she finally recognizes that it is him, alive and well and home again:
"Joy, warm as the joy that shipwrecked sailors feel when they catch sight of land - Poseidon has struck their well-rigged ship on the open sea with gale winds and crushing walls of  waves, and only a few escape swimming, struggling out of the frothing surf to reach the shore, their bodies crusted with salt but buoyed up with joy as they plant their feet on solid ground again, spared a deadly fate..."
(Homer, trans. Fagles, The Odyssey , Book 23 Lines 262-269
Waiting and patience…and the joy that comes when that long waiting is over and the thing sought for has come at last. He HAS come to save us, and WILL come again to take us home.  We can have hope in the waiting because we know that the joy will come.  It is sure and it is certain.
E'en so Lord Jesus, quickly come!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

From My Commonplace: Persons Created in the Image of God

One of the ladies in my Odyssey reading group suggested reading Chesterton's The Everlasting Man together as well.  As if I needed another book discussion to join…

This is my first Chesterton. I have always thought he was one of those authors that I *should* read, but he's always kind of intimidated me so I haven't. I'm finding I'm really glad that she suggested it, however, since I'm really enjoying him so far, and I don't think I would have picked it up otherwise. I find that I am appreciating his humor as well as his deeper insights. To me, he is making some very profound truths sound completely reasonable.

A few quotes that I put into my commonplace book  from Chapter 1 (oh, Chesterton is indeed quotable!)...
"And it will be valuable to our sense of reality to consider quite simply what that real evidence is, and not to go beyond it."
In this first chapter, Chesterton is refuting the common caricature of prehistoric cavemen that have been drawn up on little more evidence than a few paintings found in caves. I think maybe this is the crux of his point about the cave men might be? The truth is that the little bits of evidence we do have about ancient times/prehistory DON'T give us the complete story of what life was like in those times. There is much we don't know and can't know, and we would do well to be humble about that and realize that much of what does get passed off as early history is conjecture. He then goes on from there to make his next point: what we CAN know from the ancient cave drawings -
"It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree, and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man."
"Art is the signature of man."
"This creature was truly different from other creatures; because he was a creator as well as a creature."
"Man is the microcosm; man is the measure of all things, man is the image of God."
"The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth."
"There may be a broken trail of stone and bone faintly suggesting the development of the human body. There is nothing even faintly suggesting such a development of the human mind."
~GK Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

The cave painting tells us that man is unique - he is not just some smart and highly developed animal. And man is unique because he is made in the image of God. Because of that, he has capacities that other creatures don't have - art, as Chesterton says here...theology/thought of God as one of my fellow book discussion ladies pointed out, I think I've heard Andrew Kern mention language in this category too. This is all making me think about how Charlotte Mason says children are born persons - persons reflecting the image of God in in our art, in our worship, in our words.  When you think of it that way, it makes all the difference in how we view them, interact with them, and teach them.  We aren't training them to do tricks, we are helping them to better see and reflect the glory of God to the world around them. (I fleshed this topic out in a little more detail here.)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Family Reading #16

Yes, that would be all three of my children reading while waiting for a wedding to start.  Cameroonian weddings involve all the guests having outfits made from fabric chosen by the bride and groom, in case you are wondering about the matching outfits. :)  They also involve a fair amount of sitting around and waiting for the next thing to happen, so I'm glad I thought to have each of them bring a book.  Apparently this is kind of a strange thing for children to do, though, as I had one person comment that it was so nice to see children reading rather than playing with electronics, and someone else (an adult) comment to my 9 year old that he had never read a book that thick.  Who knew we were so radical?
It has been officially far-too-long since I did a reading post.  So, here it goes. J
With the Littles (James Age 6 and Elizabeth Age 4.5)
The consistent favorite picture book choices lately have included Shirley Hughes' Alfie books and the Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem.  After lunch, I have been reading the two littler ones the Little House on the Prairie series – currently working on Farmer Boy.  (My Big Girl often comes and listens in too – I don't think one can ever get tired of the Little House books.)
Michelle's Reading (Age 9)
I can't keep up with this girl's reading anymore.  She's read LOTS.  But a recent favorite was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh.  She's read it about 5 times in the last 2 months, and she even prompted me to go read it again since she wanted to talk about it with me and I couldn't remember much more than the very basic outline of the plot from my childhood reading of it. J  She's also been enjoying the Noel Streatfield Shoes books – Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes, and Dancing Shoes are the ones that we have.  She is particularly delighted by the references to Shakespeare in these books – thank you AO!
James' Reading (Age 6)
We continue to buddy read each day from the Thornton Burgess books – currently just about finished with The Adventures of Johnny Chuck.  He's also enjoyed reading from our Thomas the Tank Engine treasury (these are the original stories, not the based-on-the-cartoon ones).  He dips in and out of lots of other books too…I think I need to start challenging him to read through some chapter books on his own rather than just dipping.
Featured School Book
Michelle has about 2 days left to finish Ambleside Online Year 2!  Her favorite book this term has been Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.  While she's enjoyed the adventure aspect of the story, her narrations (oral, drawn, and written) have also paid a great deal of attention to the clothing and fashion of the people concerned, which has made me smile.  It's kind of funny, but at the same time I see her making connections not only with the text and the illustrations in the text, but also ideas that she has gathered about medieval dress and medieval lifestyle from other books.   Making connections? Check.  Really living in the time period?  Check.   (Have I mentioned how much I love AO?!)
Bedtime Reading
We just finished Along Came a Dog, a Year 2 free reading choice.  This was a surprise favorite for my crew.  It's a fairly simple story about a little red hen who loses her toes when her feet freeze (so she trots about on her 'knucklebones') and the big, black stray dog that protects her.   I've caught James and Elizabeth pretend-playing that they are the little red hen and the black dog several times in the past few days, and all three children came dashing into the kitchen when I was preparing the Thanksgiving chicken last week to see the feet (whole chickens are always sold with the feet here) so I could show them which part exactly were the knucklebones.  Who'd-a-thunk?
Next up is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Their first trip to Narnia.  I'm almost giddy with excitement.  'Nuff said.
On Mama's Nightstand
Too much as usual. J  I won't even try to list everything out, although feel free to take a peep at the sidebar if you want the full scoop J.  A lot them are books that I am reading with discussion groups that are winding down for the holidays and will resume in the New Year anyhow.  I do have three that are in process that I'm hoping to finish by the end of the year, namely: The Universe Next Door (a "worldview catalog" – I read this in college for the first time, and was inspired to revisit it by a recent discussion on the nature and importance of worldviews over on the Forum), Introducing Covenant Theology (about the significance of covenants in Scripture, and taking the theme of covenants as an organizing principle for theology – interesting so far), and The Odyssey (which has been far more readable than The Iliad – I'm about ¾ through and can't wait to see how it turns out.)
What have you been reading lately?