Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summer Reading

Although we started school on Monday, I already have a day off, since August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption.  I wanted to blog about my summer reading before school started, but this is the closest I can come to achieving that goal.

Book #24 of 2013 was Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton.  This book is a typical Victorian novel, except that all the main characters are dragons.  Picture a very correct, rules-bound society of enormous savage dragons.  It took me a little while to get into the proper frame of mind to enjoy this book, recommended by my fantasy-loving daughter, but once I did, I was captivated.  It has been a while since I've read anything this fun and satisfying. 

I chose book #25 because it occurred to me that I have read several books compared to Anthony Trollope - Tooth and Claw, for one, and Susan Howatch's Church of England series, and books by Joanna Trollope, who is a distant relative of Anthony's - but never read anything by the man himself.  I decided to remedy that.  I found a free Kindle version of The Warden to begin with, and when I liked that, I was able to find this collection of his complete works, 47 novels for $2.99.  That should keep me going for a while!

Book #26, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home, by Jonalyn Grace Fincher, was one I had been wanting to read for a while, since I enjoy Fincher's blog, also called Ruby Slippers.  She fearlessly takes on topics that other Christian bloggers might avoid, and her ideas have given me much to think about.  I found much to enjoy in the book, too, but ultimately I wasn't entirely satisfied with her explanation of what constitutes a "female soul."  I would like some friends to read this one, too, so we can talk about it.  Any takers?

I wish I had had more information about book #27 before reading it.  Specifically, I wish I had realized that Never Fall Down was a lightly fictionalized account of the experiences of a real person.  Patricia McCormick interviewed Arn Chron-Pond in English about his experiences as a child soldier with the Khmer Rouge, and she tells us in an Author's Note at the end of the book: "Trying to capture that voice was like trying to bottle a lightning bug.  Every time I imposed the rules of grammar or syntax on it, the light went out.  And so, in telling Arn's story I chose to use his own distinct and beautiful voice."  I wish I had known this because it would have kept me from being irritated all the way through the book by the unexplained pidgin-English quality of the writing.  Why, I reasoned, would the main character be speaking English at all?  In his own language he would be fluent and there would be no need for sentences like, "A lot of time kid throw stone at me."  Even in spite of not knowing the reason for the way the book was written, I did get drawn in by the horrifying story.

Book #28 was another Trollope title, Barchester Towers, and these absorbing stories about Victorian clergy and their families will be sprinkled in among the other books I read for some time to come.  Forty-five more titles to go!

Book #29 was another recommendation from my daughter.  The Year of Secret Assignments, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was a fun Australian novel about students at two rival schools required to write letters to one another.  I wouldn't give this to my middle schoolers; it's really for older kids.

Book #30 was Lucky: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People, by Glenn Packiam.  This unpacking of the Beatitudes replaces the more traditional word "blessed" with "lucky," explaining that in the original language, the word used by Jesus isn't a particularly "religious" one.  This is a refreshing and enjoyable take on a familiar passage, and I think a small group would get a lot out of discussing it together. 

Book #31 was Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore.  This is a companion book to Cashore's books Graceling and Fire, and characters from both books show up.  There was less of the mind-reading that so fascinated me in the other two books (though there is some), but this book is about a society healing after a time under the brutal regime of King Leck, Bitterblue's father.  Leck's abuses are described in some detail; ultimately I didn't find it too much, but I would understand if some did.  But I found this a very thought-provoking study of what a society would need to do to recover from a rule like this.  How have real-life countries done this?  Very differently.  Look at South Africa's amazing recovery from apartheid, due to the forgiveness modeled by Nelson Mandela, and bringing people's stories into the open during the Truth and Reconciliation process.  Compare that with the suppression in Japan of the atrocities committed during World War II, to the point that some of them are only now, sixty years later, starting to be talked about. 

Incidentally, I enjoyed this video by Christian author and literature teacher Karen Swallow Prior about the benefits of what John Milton called "promiscuous reading," meaning reading a variety of different material without much of a plan: "haphazard, mixed reading," Prior calls it.  Clearly I am a practitioner of this type of reading!

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