Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Just my cup of Tey

You reach the ripe old age of 31 and you think you've already discovered all those good, obscure, out-of-print (or-almost-out-of-print) authors. And if you haven't read all of them yet, you at least know their names.

Then you find out you were wrong.

My first inkling of Scottish author Josephine Tey came from my friend Suzannah. I quickly got The Daughter of Time (1951) out of the library, and I was hooked.

Elizabeth Mackintosh - aka Josephine Tey and Gordon Daviot

I don't know how I missed her before. No less a personage than Peter Hitchens (that would be the more-famous Christopher's redeemed brother) has praised her books, most particularly The Daughter of Time (which the Crime Writers' Association voted as the best crime novel of all time in 1990):
Josephine Tey’s clarity of mind, and her loathing of fakes and of propaganda, are like pure, cold spring water in a weary land. Her story-telling ability is apparently effortless (and therefore you may be sure it was the fruit of great hard work. (As Ernest Hemingway said ‘if it reads easy, that is because it was writ hard’) . But what she loves above all is to show that things are very often not what they seem to be, that we are too easily fooled, that ready acceptance of conventional wisdom is not just dangerous, but a result of laziness, incuriosity and of a resistance to reason.
To these qualities I would add her attentiveness to the twin themes of justice and mercy - two concepts that both crime writers and Christians must come to terms with. In the life of any literary sleuth worth his salt (and Inspector Alan Grant, her balanced and urbane detective, certainly is), there come times when he has to make tough calls about innocence and guilt. A detective novel can make an easy pulpit from which to preach relativism. Tey doesn't. The only novel I've read of hers that ends badly (won't tell which one) does so to prove the point that when we humanistically take ethical situations into our own hands, we make a right old mess of things.

Providence is often pivotal in Tey's novels. In The Franchise Affair (1951), the faithful prayer of the protagonist's aunt seems to turn the course of the novel. And, though I found it to be the least satisfactory of her novels which I have read so far, the premise of Miss Pym Disposes (1946) is explicitly based on the axiom "Man proposes, but God disposes"

I know nothing of Tey's personal theology. Coming from Scotland (her real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh) and given the above themes, I think a case could be made for a strong Presbyterian/Calvinist cultural influence.

Treatment of romantic love can be a deal-breaker for me. I really enjoy the mysteries, locations and plucky heroines of Mary Stewart's novels, but the dangerous-love-interest trope leaves me yawning. Tey's romances are more solidly built, and with a lighter touch. They feel like they could actually result in a happy marriage. (A neat bit of trivia: Mary Stewart paid homage to Tey's Brat Farrar (1949) in her mystery-romance The Ivy Tree.)

However, Tey isn't completely kosher (is there a Presbyterian equivalent?). Her interest in the pseudo-science of physiognomy/anthropological criminology - an offshoot of social Darwinism - is tiresome. For instance, did you know people with slate-blue eyes are 'oversexed'? But since even the very best of authors (yes, John Buchan, I'm looking at you!) was not immune to this cultural claptrap, I can forgive her.

What will you find in a Josephine Tey novel? An intriguing premise, likeable characters, fast-paced plotting and all of the delightful jolly-hockeysticks dialogue one expects from British 1920s-40s pop novels.

If Mary Stewart novels are your guilty pleasure, I recommend Josephine Tey's novels: all the pleasure and none of the guilt.

Here are some e-texts at the University of Adelaide.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A project or two

Our lovely newborn daughter, Lilia, thoughtfully deferred her birth until halfway between the birthdays of her Mama and Papa. This gave us time to finish two projects that I'd been dreaming of.

Unfortunately, I am not a sewing/crafting/knitting woman. I don't rule out being one at some point in the future, but I am not one now. This is why I am inordinately stoked that we got to make something ourselves for our girls and why I feel the need to tell you about it.

The Mobile

Our former next-door neighbour gave us their mobile when Eve was born, but it was a shaky, noisy, flashy mobile (yep, Eve loved it), and ever since it squealed its last I've been dreaming of something a bit more...Etsy.

After a burst of "pinning", I came up with an idea that would utilise my husband's origami skills. He consented and selected this lovely three-dimensional star pattern.

Lilia's mobile

I am beyond happy with this project, especially since it cost us absolutely nothing in cash (I had an old embroidery hoop on hand from my single days and my husband has copious amounts of origami paper from his). I got to sit around in my overly-ripe state and read Anthony Trollope's "The Warden" aloud while Peirce cyphered origami instructions in Slovakian. What could be cozier?

The Paper Dolls

My almost-2-year-old, Meg, has been feeling rather left out that her older sister can play with paper dolls and she can't. I had long suspected that magnetic paper dolls might be the answer, but I couldn't really find the $40 to buy them locally.

Crafty blogosphere to the rescue! Sarah Jane Studios has a winsome set of paper dolls for $3 which she suggests you print out on magnetic paper. (Of course, there are plenty of free paper doll patterns online - Betsy McCall has some gorgeous vintage ones here - but since I was saving so much money by making the dolls myself, I was happy to send a few dollars to Sarah, who runs a home business designing beautiful fabrics.)

Sarah Jane Studios' magnetic paper dolls - well-lit photo from her site on left, chaotic photo from my home on right. (These got stuck together somehow while I was uploading them. Since my techie husband is out right now, that's how they are staying.)
My wonderful mum made lovely drawstring bags out of some fun floral fabric we had lying around, and I bought two small cookie sheets/trays ($3.28) from Big W to use as a backdrop and container for the dolls.

Meg has been very proud and excited to have her own paper dolls, and we made a set for Eve as well. I gave them to the girls the day Lilia was born.

Cautionary note: the biggest expense was - you guessed it - the magnetic paper, which I purchased at OfficeWorks. $20 for a packet of five sheets. This becomes depressing when you look online and see that the same product would have cost you about $8 from Michaels in the US. However, I'm still very happy that I was able to make two sets of magnetic paper dolls for my girls for under $30 total.

And it was fun.

I promise I'll get back to posts about books soon. On the non-fiction front, I'm enjoying Dinah Roe's biography of an important Victorian family, "Rossettis in Wonderland", and slowly but surely working my way through Augustine's "The City of God" (and I mean slowly - don't look for a post on that one before next year!).

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Reading Jane Austen with my husband

 “When Darcy, in finally confessing his faults, says ‘I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice though not in theory,’ he gets nearer to a complete confession of the intelligent male than ever was even hinted by the Byronic lapses of the Brontes’ heroes or the elaborate exculpations of George Eliot’s.”  - G.K. Chesterton

My husband just finished reading all of Jane Austen's novels. I'm impressed that he had the discernment to see past the uber-feminine stereotypes of Jane Austen's work that are common in our culture and really enjoy the novels for what they are: well-crafted works of art that are popular because they are insightful, funny, balanced and human.

He's in good company. Along with C.S. Lewis, Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, Anthony Trollope, Sir Walter Scott, G.K. Chesterton, and many others, he is now A Man Who Likes Jane Austen. (Theologian Peter Leithart has attempted to lead Uni students in chants of "Real Men Read Austen" - a quick google search reveals mugs and t-shirts with this mantra, just in case you're interested.)

Let me back track. At the time when I met my husband, his immediate off-the-cuff comment about Austen was something like this: "Oh, yes - women sitting around in nightgowns."

I thought he was referring to all those candlelit scenes in the films where the characters brush their hair and speculate about what so-and-so is really thinking (which happens much less frequently in the novels). It took me about a year to realise he thought all Regency dresses looked like nightgowns. They kind of do.

However, while we were engaged, he started with Emma. I don't remember him having an epiphany about it, but after our marriage we settled into a rather nice habit of me reading to him while he does after-dinner cleanup (his idea, I promise!), and somehow, we selected Mansfield Park

"What should we read next?" I asked, when we finished it. 

His reply? "Let's just read another Austen because we haven't enjoyed anything else as much."

Peirce's ranking (though he says "they're all great"):

  1. Mansfield Park
  2. Emma
  3. Sense & Sensibility
  4. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey
  5. Pride & Prejudice

Reading through the whole Austen body-of-work (excepting Emma) over a year or so was such a delight - though sometimes I felt a bit like a glutton. Seeing her world through the eyes of my husband was great fun and really surprising. For instance:

  • He didn't understand why Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth and to this day maintains its unlikelihood. (What! Did I give Lizzie a silly voice in my read-aloud?!)
  • He absolutely refuses to see why people don't like Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram.
  • He thought Edward Ferrars should just get a job (he's right).
  • He nearly went batty listening to Willoughby's big explanation scene and wanted to excise it from the novel.

One of the delights of great literature is the way it grows with you - how you can enjoy different aspects of it at different stages in your life. I used to think that Austen's novels were all about courtship, each one ending with a wedding, but now I realise how much they are about marriages, and how surprisingly little weddings themselves actually feature at all.

But getting back to the subject of this post... Just in case you didn't buy my opening paragraph, I thought I'd leave you with a few quotes from some of Jane Austen's more famous male admirers (and some of my other favourite authors): Trollope, Chesterton, and Lewis.

"The faults of some [of Austen's characters] are the anvils on which the virtues of others are hammered till they are bright as steel." - Anthony Trollope

"The Novel of the nineteenth century was female; as fully as the novel of the eighteenth century was male. ... The strength and subtlety of woman had certainly sunk deep into English letters when George Eliot began to write. Her originals and even her contemporaries had shown the feminine power in fiction as well or better than she. Charlotte Bronte, understood along her own instincts, was as great; Jane Austen was greater. The latter comes into our present consideration only as that most exasperating thing, an ideal unachieved. It is like leaving an unconquered fortress in the rear. No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went looking for their brains. She could describe a man coolly; which neither George Eliot nor Charlotte Bronte could do. She knew what she knew, like a sound dogmatist: she did not know what she did not know--like a sound agnostic. But she belongs to a vanished world before the great progressive age of which I write. ..."Jane Austen was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected women from truth, were burst by the Brontes or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains that Jane Austen knew more about men than either of them. - G.K. Chesterton
"It is perhaps worth emphasizing what may be called the hardness - at least the firmness - of Jane Austen's thought exhibited in all these undeceptions. The great abstract nouns of the classical English Moralists are unblushingly and uncompromisingly used; good sense, courage, contentment, fortitude, 'some duty neglected, some failing indulged', impropriety, indelicacy, generous candor, blamable trust, just humiliation, vanity, folly, ignorance, reason. These are the concepts by which Jane Austen grasps the world. ... All is hard, clear, definable; by some modern standards, even naively so. The hardness is, of course, for oneself, not for one's neighbors. ... Contrasted with the world of modern fiction, Jane Austen's is at once less soft and less cruel. ... It remains to defend what I have been saying against a possible charge. Have I been treating the novels as though I had forgotten that they are, after all, comedies? I trust not. The hard core of morality and even of religion seems to me to be just what makes good comedy possible. 'Principles' or 'seriousness' are essential to Jane Austen's art. Where there is no norm, nothing can be ridiculous, except for a brief moment of unbalanced provincialism in which we may laugh at the merely unfamiliar. Unless there is something about which the author is never ironical, there can be no true irony in the work. 'Total irony' - irony about everything - frustrates itself and becomes insipid. ... If charity is the poetry of conduct and honor the rhetoric of conduct, then Jane Austen's 'principles' might be described as the grammar of conduct." - C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Book Review — Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

"Robert gave the box-room door a resounding kick, merely for his own satisfaction, for he knew that only the kick of a giant would have made any impression on its strong oak panels, and sat down cross-legged on the floor to consider the situation. Betsy was roaring in the bathroom, Timothy was yelling in the broom cupboard, Nan was sobbing in the linen room, and Absalom was barking his head off in the small cupboard where the boots were kept."
This is how Elizabeth Goudge introduces the four pseudo-orphaned Linnet children (and their dog) in the opening of her 1964 novel, Linnets and Valerians.

I thought this was going to be one of my favourite Elizabeth Goudge novels, and certainly my favourite of her children’s books.

But it was not to be.

The wonderful, Goudgian characters and settings, given in richly allusive language, are all present and correct -- but my favourite feature of her writing is missing: a Christian worldview. I’m not meaning to cast doubt on Goudge’s Christianity, but in a few of her books I feel like her worldview just goes AWOL, and this is one of them.

Consider the novel’s treatment of the following themes:
  • Paganism: Protection against evil for the children comes in the shape of such guardians as bees and rue, relics of English paganism. Anybody who knows Goudge’s stories also knows she was perfectly capable of writing of God’s sovereignty and compassion with great poignancy and power. In this book, she just decided to swap out the Living God for a herb.
  • Redemption: For the evil-doers (and I’m talking some mean customers), redemption comes because they suddenly sense they’re beaten and decide to skip town and/or be good from then on. Who knew it was this easy?
  • Forgiveness: Again, it’s something that just happens in this book, on the spur of the moment and without any real effort because everyone’s so happy they can’t remember that they’ve been put through absolute heck for years. This is called forgetfulness. Forgiveness is hard.
  • Witchcraft: The turning point in the book for me was when the good guys decide to actively use “white magic” (herbalism, charms, rituals, etc) to combat the villain’s very black magic. Make no mistake, this is not an allegorical/representational “magic” to signify the supernatural (as in Lewis’ Narnia). God and the Church also exist in the book, but in a pallid, this-is-what-we-do-on-Sunday-before-we-eat-roast-beef sort of way.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot to enjoy in this book. The scenes of Uncle Ambrose home-schooling the children (along a classical model) are some of my favourite Goudge scenes ever. The Edwardian Devonshire village and parsonage are among the most unabashedly delightful settings I’ve encountered in literature (and the descriptions of food...oh, my. Pass the yorkshire pud, please!). These details would make the book an ideal 'comfort read'.

But because of the serious worldview problems...let’s just say this won’t be on my children’s reading list any time soon. There’s much better stuff for them to cut their teeth on - stories that will tell them the truth about the big things: 
  • Forgiving those who have wronged you is hard work. 
  • “Let us do evil that good may come” is never a good idea. 
  • Real protection and redemption are gifts of our Saving and Sovereign God.
All lessons that Goudge knew - and wrote about elsewhere - very, very well.

For these and other truths, read: 
  • George Macdonald’s stories, especially The Lost Princess: A Double Story
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

To turn your children into Anglophiles, read these books* by Rosemary Sutcliff:
  • The Armourer’s House
  • The Queen Elizabeth Story

Finally, some Goudge books that will turn you into a fan:

Another view on Linnets and Valerians.

*These contain elements of 16th century English paganism - herbalism, “the Good Folk” - but they are in the spirit of “let’s have fun leaving a dish of milk out for the fairies”, rather than "let's entrust our lives to their protection"!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Waiting for Papa — book review of "Lizzie Nonsense"

While my husband is adventuring in Papua New Guinea, it seems apropos to talk about one of my absolutely most favourite picture books - Lizzie Nonsense by Jan Ormerod.

This is a lovely gem of a picture book about a family who live in the Bush in Federation-era Australia, told from the perspective of the oldest of the two children, Lizzie. It focuses on what life is like for Mama, Lizzie and Baby as they wait for Papa to return from selling sandalwood in town (50 miles along sand tracks).

My own recent experience of waiting for Papa to come home has been rather eye-opening. Eight days is a considerable time when the longest period you've been separated from each other previously is three nights. (Yes, I'm aware of how ridiculously blessed that makes me. My cousin whose husband is in the Navy was telling me on Skype that she'll be facing separations of up to 6 months.)

Lizzie's experiences in the book may not include the following:

  • Being upset that Papa was not reachable on mobile phone for most of the trip.
  • Finding out just how far sprinkles go disperse throughout the house after a nutritious afternoon snack of fairy bread (Americans can google that one).
  • Confronting a sudden lack of motivation to do laundry.
  • Discovering EXACTLY how much tidying up Papa does every day without mentioning it.

And now back to the book....

This is one of the few children's books I've discovered at the library which I felt I actually wanted to own. So many picture books are badly drawn, or stylish but "thin". Sometimes the illustrations are very attractive, but don't interact with the text in a meaningful way.

In contrast, Ormerod's watercolour illustrations are just lovely (but not "pretty") and her simple text rewards repeat reading. Lizzie is inventive, fanciful, and capable. Mama is brave and sweet, and there's an undertone of poignance for the adult reader who senses how much she may have given up to live this life. I also love the obvious conjugal felicity of the husband and wife, which balances the awareness of hardships.

While brief, it conveys a wonderful sense of place and family. It's not surprising that Ormerod seems to have based it on the life of her own grandmother.

My daughter Eve absolutely loved this book as a 2-year-old and chose to dress up as Lizzie for my 30th birthday party, though I imagine the book is probably aimed at children around age 4-6.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Learning from Anna's mistakes

Vronsky, meanwhile, in spite of the complete fulfilment of what he had so long desired, was not completely happy. ...It showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that 
happiness consists in the realization of their desires. - Anna Karenina, 1877

When I think about the benefits of reading fiction, I often think about my experience of reading Anna Karenina when I was in my late teens.

I was falling in love with paperback Penguin classics for the first time (though I refused to read the 'introductions', the aim of which seemed to be to spoil both independent discovery and simple enjoyment of the novel). 

I'd grown up with thousands - yes, thousands - of textured, earthy-toned, loamy-smelling books from the 1800s. But novelty is often given undue importance at age 17. In my case, a fresh, creamy-paged paperback with a venerable penguin on the spine was a strong incentive to read books I probably wouldn't have otherwise tried. 

Now, I have very little interest in or time for adultery narratives, which is what I think Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is filed under in a lot of minds. I cannot imagine ever reading Madame Bovary. Flaubert's work is less interesting to me than the stove manual my husband read to me two nights ago (and let me tell you, I don't do manuals - there's a reason he had to read it to me). Brideshead Revisited wouldn't have been on my horizon until a very trusted friend convinced me to read it (and she was right to do so...but more on that some other day).

But Anna Karenina took my breath away. I spent the next decade telling my mother she should read it, and I'm happy to say that just last year she did, and loved it.*

Now, the thing I want to say is not that Anna K is a great book/Great Book (Kitty! Levin! Karenin! Oh, there's so much to this book!), but that it served more than what one might call a purely 'literary' purpose in my moral formation, if you will.

When I opened the book I firmly believed that adultery was wrong, wrong, wrong. When I closed the book, I knew that it was also painful, boring, relationship-fracturing, parasitical, and engendering of endless and irremediable regrets. (As an aside, let me say that it is also totally unappealing from the standpoint of such conjugal bliss as I am now blessed to enjoy!!)

And this, I believe, is one of the best features of great literature - that through it, we can gain wisdom. We can learn from other people's mistakes. Even fictional people in 19th century Russia.

And let me tell you, this is a book in which the characters make a lot of mistakes. Some of the consequences you see coming - charging towards the characters like the novel's infamous steam train - some of them you don't. Some of the characters are redeemed when you have lost hope for them, others cling stubbornly to their foolish, pointless, uglifying choices just when you expect the reverse.

So this is just one reason why I won't be seeing the new film adaptation of Anna K coming out this year. This story should never shoe-horned into a stylised melodrama with doll-house sets. Anna should not be gilded over into Keira Knightley's passionate-but-doomed-by-society-proto-feminist in asymmetrical Klimt couture.

What are viewers of Joe Wright's film going to learn? All the things they already 'knew' about those judgemental people in the bad old days, I'm guessing -- nasty old biddies peering through their opera-glasses at poor Anna!

When we succumb unquestioningly to what C.S. Lewis called 'chronological snobbery', we lose so much of our heritage - both of wisdom and folly - as God's fallen image-bearers.

A Great Book can cry aloud to us on the street corner, in a faint echo of the Lady Wisdom in Solomon's Proverbs:

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you."

*My mother tells me that the unabridged audio-book read by David Horovitch at is
something really special.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Book Review — "The Road from Coorain" by Jill Ker Conway

A portrait of memoirist and academic Jill Ker Conway
by Sarah Belchetz-Swenson,
which hangs in Australia's National Portrait Gallery
Quite frankly, the only thing that induced me to open the covers of this book was the fact that I'd never heard of it. Neither had any other Australians I mentioned it to. Yet my husband remembered it as a highlight of his Uni World Lit class.

This gave me pause. Uni students in America were required to read a memoir of life in Australia by someone I'd never heard of? And my husband actually liked it?

I found this to be a riveting memoir. Jill Ker Conway (born in 1934) is the engaging kind of memoirist who makes her life really interesting to readers...without being the annoying kind of memoirist who comes across as being endlessly fascinating to herself (a feat, since a lot of us secretly find ourselves fascinating, don't you think?).

While the book jacket wants us to think that it is a portrait of Jill's bush childhood, it is, in essence, a memoir about the events which shaped Jill's decision to leave two great loves: her native country, and her mother.

I wonder if this lies at the heart of why the book has not taken off in Australia in the same way it has internationally. Australia can be ambivalent towards its distinguished ex-pats. We love that they have the goods to really make it out there in the world, but we tend to be suspicious of their authenticity as a result.

But don't let me turn you off reading the book. This is not a depressing or self-pitying memoir at all. This is the story of a young girl whose "feminist" mother tried to abort her (two planned sons were enough), but who became the life and hope of her family: the one who cared for the farm while also achieving the educational goals her parents had dreamed of for their sons - long after they had abandoned those dreams in the wake of devastating tragedies.

This is a girl who took up the notion of duty with teeth-grinding seriousness despite the imperfections of her family and who kept a sense of wonder and excitement in learning about the world despite the many disillusionments of academia.

A few themes which struck me, and made the book valuable for me to read:

  • Insights into education — Jill goes from doing her 'school' at home - which she completes in just one afternoon a week - on her parents' sheep station in remote NSW, to adjusting to an all-encompassing institutionalised schooling with its opaque priorities:
    "The routines governing time were also puzzling. One just began studying one subject after everyone had been induced to sit still and be quiet, and suddenly a bell rang, the teacher departed, and we rushed in the gymnasium for an activity called physical exercise. This I could not fathom. I knew how to do hard physical labor, but I was bored by the calisthenics and too clumsy to play the games. The purpose of all the activity was clear to everyone but me, and no explanations were ever given... Our parents had taught us to be the best at everything we did, but the things we were supposed to excel in had always before had some practical purpose."
    Her later discovery of how to make her university environment serve rather than squelch her love of knowledge is very interesting.
  • Interactions with Christianity — Learning about T.S. Eliot's conversion forces her to question her negative assumptions about Christian belief. Later, after seeing the famous cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in Spain:
    "It was clear that I had to learn more about medieval Christianity because it had produced a world more beautiful than any I had ever seen."
  • Understanding the tragedy of her mother — Jill wants to find a way to understand her mother's "descent into hell" (my husband and I have used this phrase ever since reading Charles Williams' novel of the same name). She senses that something larger than just their individual family situation has worked towards the demise of her mother's character. To her credit, she refuses to jejunely throw the blame on Men, or a Repressive Society. Christians will find ample basis in our common fallen condition (based on a historic space-time Fall) for the kind of disintegration she describes.
  • Refusal to conform to the dominant cultural camps —
    "My schooling had been supposed to be training an elite for leadership, but it had really been training me to imitate the ways and manners of the English upper class. To talk of Australian elites was to realise that the people I and my brothers had known in school were working not on Australia's social and political problems, but on gaining recognition from an external British world. ... My friends on the left were no different. They were hostages to the worldview of the British working class... Australia was different."
    In the end, an unwillingness to fit into this dominant intellectual grid of 1950s Sydney - in which each camp romanticises/absolutises different aspects of British society - leads to Jill's decision to leave Australia to study History in America.
    "I realised that my plans to write a new kind of Australian history couldn't be fulfilled at the University of Sydney... I didn't want to join my radical friends in railing against a heedless society. I didn't want to write old-style institutional history of the British Empire and Commonwealth. ...the Harvard History Department...seemed to know how to explain the development of a new culture, and I was ready to learn from them."
I'd recommend this beautifully-written book for people who just really like memoirs, or those who are interested in reading the reflections of an intelligent woman who grapples with the questions of Australia's culture and history and doesn't settle for easy answers. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Big books

Dante Alighieri

I'm starting a list of "big" books. The books that I haven't read, but kind of bump into all the time in the books I have. Here's where I'm starting:

Aristotle's Poetics
Plato's Republic
Augustine's The City of God
Dante's Divine Comedy
Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion
Milton's Paradise Lost

My modest aim is to finish at least one this year.

Incidentally, I also imagine these popping up in our future learning together as a family (aka homeschooling), and I want to give myself a head start.

Any to add?

Translations to recommend?

Monday, 4 June 2012

What I read in 2011

Eve reads to Meg in 2011

I love reading lists.

Looking at a friend's yearly reading retrospective is a bit like that distracted sideways bend some of us do to scope out the bookshelves in other people's houses...but much less awkward.

I have a sanguine hope that there will be a forthcoming post about which books were the highlights of my year.

Miscellaneous non-fiction  —
  • Musicophilia: Tales of Music & the Brain - Oliver Sacks
  • 5 Cities that Ruled the World - Douglas Wilson
  • Loving the Little Years – by Rachel Jankovic
  • Raising Babies - by Steve Biddulph
  • Parenting in the Pew - Robbie Castleman

Books about Christianity and the Christian worldview —

  • Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis A. Schaeffer - by Bryan Follis
  • Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth - by Douglas Wilson & Douglas Jones
  • Family Driven Faith - by Voddie Baucham
  • The Plain Man Looks at the Beatitudes - William Barcley
  • Escape from Reason - Francis Schaeffer
Biographies —
  • William Tyndale: If God Spare My Life - Brian Moynahan
  • Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - by Eric Metaxas
  • Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life - Colin Duriez

  • Silas Marner - by George Eliot
  • The Children of Men - by P.D. James
  • The Foolish Immortals - by Paul Gallico
  • True Grit - by Charles Portis
  • Framed - by Frank Cotrell Boyce
  • The Daughter of Time - by Josephine Tey
  • Rendezvous with Rama - by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Refugees - by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Miranda Going Home - by Eleanor Spence
  • The Rider of the White Horse - by Rosemary Sutcliff
  • Mansfield Park - by Jane Austen (reread with Peirce) John Buchan:
  • The 39 Steps
  • Witchwood
  • Greenmantle P.G. Wodehouse:
  • Laughing Gas
  • Leave it to Psmith N.D. Wilson:
  • 100 Cupboards
  • Dandelion Fire
  • The Chestnut King
  • The Dragon’s Tooth Jill Paton Walsh:
  • The Wyndham Case
  • A Piece of Justice
...some “golden age” mysteries:
  • Mystery Mile - by Margery Allingham
  • The Man in the Brown Suit - by Agatha Christie
  • Lonesome Road - by Patricia Wentworth

Books I gave up on  —

  • What Maisie Knew - by Henry James

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Maybe just get the Ferrari?

My husband's favourite magazine is - wait for it - Popular Mechanics. Yes.*

Personally, it always looks profoundly dull to me, but he mines it for all these nuggets of fascinating information and then tells me about them. (This endearing habit of making previously boring things scintillatingly interesting is one of the many excellent reasons I had to marry him.)

I was struck by this article, written by a law professor at the University of Tennessee, on the impossibility of higher education fees continuing to rise as they are now (at four times the rate of inflation!!).

Here's a quotable bit:

Research by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that people who major in computer science, business, or engineering get a big lifetime-earnings boost, while people who major in the humanities don’t do nearly as well. That’s not a reason to look down on the humanities, but with college growing ever more expensive, a degree that won’t add to your earnings potential isn’t an investment, but an expensive consumer item. It may be nice to have—but so is a Ferrari, another expensive consumer item. The difference is, nobody’s encouraging 18-year-olds to take on six-figure debt to buy a Ferrari. 

Read more: Can Technology Fix the College Debt Crisis? - Glenn Reynolds on the College Bubble - Popular Mechanics 

*If you know Peirce, you probably thought it was going to be an obscure historical or theological journal.

Friday, 1 June 2012

meet Frank Cotrell Boyce

Here's a fantastic interview with Catholic writer Frank Cotrell Boyce, who wrote one of my favourite recent fiction finds, Framed. Hopefully I'll get a chance to say something more about it one of these days.

Really impressed by lots of the Q&A, but especially this:

How does your faith affect your work?
In every single way, I think. I’ve got a very kind of specific faith idea when I’m writing my children’s books, which comes from St. Paul about thinking on the good things (“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” Philippians 4:8). Because so much of what’s aimed at our children is about how rubbish life is. They’re always being told that life is scary and life is dark. Saying “Life is amazing, and the world is a phenomenally wonderful place and full of grace” is my starting point.

It's unspeakably encouraging to me to know that a man with this ethos is writing for children today, and with some success.

Plus, he has seven children, which in my books makes him very cool.

Homeschool propaganda

Here is a fun image, helpfully compiling many of the amazing stats about home-education I've been telling people about for a while now.

I'm supposed to be able to embed it on this site. But that would be too much effort.