Book Memories (2016)

Happy new year to you all! As I have done for the last two years, I wanted to share my year’s leisure reading with you. I’ve read some brilliant books this year–and some that were not so brilliant too! I have to say, though, I am a little embarrassed that I didn’t read more non-fiction.

As usual, I only list books that I’ve completed, so books that I gave up on or haven’t finished yet won’t show here, nor will books that I only dipped into. On the other hand, if I began a book last year, but finished it this year, it goes on this year’s list. Asterisks indicate re-reads. Links are to where I’ve written about the book on this blog. And children’s books count. Even picture ones!

 

Non-fiction

Orthodoxy (G. K. Chesterton) *

A Grief Observed (C. S. Lewis)

For the Glory: The Life of Eric Liddell (Duncan Hamilton)

Highly recommended.

The Cross of Christ (John Stott)

Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work (Brad Littlejohn)

Every Bitter Thing is Swet (Sara Hagerty)

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (James K. A. Smith)

Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams are Delayed (Betsy Childs Howard)

An Experiment in Criticism (C. S Lewis)

The Four Loves (C. S. Lewis) *

The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember (Nicholas Carr)

 

Fiction and Poetry

The Rosemary Tree (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Happy Prince and Other Stories (Oscar Wilde)

Crossing to Safety (Wallace Stegner)

Beowulf (trans. Seamus Heaney)

I am David (Anne Holm)

Highly recommended.

The Scent of Water (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Perilous Gard (Elizabeth Marie Pope)

Pity the Beautiful (Dana Gioia)

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

Highly recommended.

Rilla of Ingleside (L. M. Montgomery) *

Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)

The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

Parable and Paradox (Malcolm Guite)

Hay Fever (Noel Coward)

The Magic of Ordinary Days (Ann Howard Creel)

Disappointing.

Gentian Hill (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Awakening of Miss Prim (Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera)

In This House of Brede (Rumer Godden)

Tales from the Perilous Realm (J. R. R. Tolkien)

The End of the Affair (Graham Greene)

Highly recommended.

The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)

Highly recommended.

The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge)

All This, and Heaven Too (Rachel Field)

I Saw Three Ships (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Heaven Tree (Edith Pargeter)

The Green Branch (Edith Pargeter)

So, yes, there was real book joy in 2016! I’ve picked out some of the best by labelling them as “highly recommended”, but there were others that I found excellent even if I haven’t given them that label. I do hope that you might find some new friends waiting for you in this list. Read with discernment, of course. I don’t recommend every book–or every aspect of every book–on this list. Lastly, if you have any book suggestions for me, do return the favour and leave a comment telling me what they are! Who knows what book joy might await you and me in 2017? Happy reading!

 

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Potpourri

Well, hello. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s been a busy summer, let me tell you. But that season has passed, and I’m hoping to appear on here again a bit more regularly now. I plan to have a book review here in the next week or so (I haven’t finished the book yet!), but in the meantime, I present you with a medley culled from recent reading.

“That morning when they woke and pulled up the blind, they saw the sun jumping out of the sea, all fiery-red with clouds about his head, as if he had had a cold bathe and was drying himself with towels.”

From”Roverandom” in Tales from the Perilous Realm (J. R. R. Tolkien)

 

“Down-stairs I laugh, I sport and jest with all:

  But in my solitary room above

I turn my face in silence to the wall;

  My heart is breaking for a little love.”

From “L.E.L.” (Christina Rossetti)

 

“Capricious fortune took it into her head sometimes to lay upon a wound a salve of such value that a man became positively glad of the wound…. Had he been able to choose his son, he thought, he would have had him in no wise different; and not every father whose son was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh could say the same…. But no, he did not believe in capricious fortune but in a carefully woven pattern where every tightly stretched warp thread of pain laid the foundation for a woof thread of joy.”

From Gentian Hill (Elizabeth Goudge)

 

 “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,   

Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam 

And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.” 

From “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” (Richard Wilbur)

 

And lastly, from the book I’m planning to review (and, in the meantime, am having a delightful time reading!):

“’What you mean is it’s like a fairy tale, is that it?’ she asked, intrigued.

‘No, of course not. The Redemption is nothing like a fairy tale, Miss Prim. Fairy tales and ancient legends are like the Redemption. Haven’t you ever noticed? It’s like when you copy a tree from the garden on a piece of paper. The tree from the garden doesn’t look like the drawing, does it? It’s the drawing that’s a bit, just a little bit, like the real tree.’”

From The Awakening of Miss Prim (Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera)

Night: A Roundel

I’d been wanting to try my hand at a roundel ever since encountering one in Malcolm Guite‘s latest poetry collection. When I was pondering the writing prompt “night” from my friend Sarah earlier this month, I thought about the beautiful evening prayer in the Anglican prayer book and based a roundel on that.

This is the prayer:

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

And this is my roundel:

 

Lord, give us light and shatter by your word

The thick black darkness of this dreadful night.

The gloom is hovering like a deadly sword:

Lord, give us light.

 

For in the night, our fears take form. The sight

Of walking horrors chills our souls. The world

Has lost her smile. We look around in fright.

 

Yet in the night, we cling to what we’ve heard:

That you are good, that all you do is right.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech you, Lord.

Lord, give us light.

Parable and Paradox

Parable and Paradox: Sonnets on the Saying of Jesus and Other Poems, is Malcolm Guite’s latest collection of poetry. As he did in Sounding the Seasons, Guite uses the Bible as a springboard for many of his poems, and as the title suggests, in this case it is Christ’s words, such as his “I AM’s” and his “hard sayings”, that form the basis of his poetic reflections here.

“When it comes to hearing the words of Jesus, our great problem is over familiarity”, Guite writes in his preface, and in his poems on Christ’s sayings, he intends, as he writes in one sonnet, to “peel aside the thin familiar film” and help us feel the force of Christ’s words again.

Guite does this both in beautifully comforting poems such as “Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled” (which you can read here) and in challenging ones like “A Sword”, which begins “Oh, you have come indeed to send a sword/We feel it in the keening grief that cuts/Through kinship, blood, and culture.”

The collection also includes some wider-ranging pieces (akin to those found in his The Singing Bowl) where Guite celebrates themes such as nature, wordplay, and—yes—decay (in which latter he praises the “old and mouldering” in the face of “the shiny new,/Persistent plastic choking out our life”).

As in his previous collections, I appreciate Guite’s spiritual insight, the beauty of his language, and his commitment—for the most part—to using poetic forms rather than free verse. Two of my favourite couplets show off his skill:

 

“Slowly, slowly, turning a cold key,

Spring will unlock our hearts and set us free.”

 

And

 

“For longing is the veil of satisfaction,

And grief the veil of future happiness.”

 

 

Let me finish with one of my favourite poems, which is a sequence of seven roundels mirroring the seven days of creation, while also tying in the theme of each day with the story of our lives now. The first, deeply satisfying, roundel begins

 

“Let there be light as I begin this day,

To draw me from the darkness and the night,

To bless my flesh, to clear and show the way,

Let there be light.”

 

Amen.

Someone at the Door

I know, I know. I’ve expressed my antipathy for free verse more than once on this blog. And it’s true: I tend to have a strong distaste for it. I recognise there are exceptions, however. Some free verse poetry is wonderful. And when I set about to write a poem for the prompt Sarah sent me, “Someone at the Door”, a fixed form didn’t seem to work, while free verse did. So, here goes….

 

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes,

I stumbled towards the door.

I’d been scrubbing all day, my body now one vast ache.

But I couldn’t go to bed yet,

Not yet.

Not with Peter’s life in the balance.

 

We’d prayed and pleaded together,

But weary with work and woe

I’d fallen asleep to the sounds of prayer.

Until the bell rang, bringing me to my senses, rousing me from my dreams,

And I had to tiptoe out

To answer the door.

 

I peered into the darkness, and suddenly my body jarred awake,

Life tingling in every fingertip.

Peter!

I was so happy that I ran to tell them–

Ran like a child.

I couldn’t wait to see the joy that would

Fill the faces of my master and his friends.

Couldn’t even wait

To open the door

And let Peter

In.

 

You can laugh.

I laugh now,

To think that for joy

I left him standing in the cold and dark. Fine welcome, that!

But I did.

 

Bursting into the room,

I shouted over James’ “Lord, we beseech you….”

“He’s here! Stop your beseeching! Peter’s outside!”

They looked at me blankly.

“Can’t you see? You don’t need to pray any more. You’ve been answered!”

Silence.

 

And then,

“Rhoda, you’re mad,” said Andrew.

“Mad”, they echoed.

“But he’s alive! He’s outside!”

My eagerness made me stumble over my words.

“Perhaps it’s his angel, child”, came Mary’s gentle voice.

“No”, I said, polite but firm.

 

Why I didn’t

Dash back to that door and drag Peter inside and shout “See!”,

I don’t know.

Maybe I was mad.

 

Meanwhile, the banging continued.

Someone (I don’t know who)

Slowly got up and stepped to the door.

I heard a gasp, laughter and exclamations, and Peter was ushered in.

 

And in my joy at their joy, I forgot to feel smug that I’d been proved right.

And really, the joke’s on me, as much as on them.

Surely Luke must have smiled as he wrote his second book,

Smile as you and many others have smiled too,

At my thoughtless eagerness,

My careless joy.

 

Friendship: A Literary Medley

In honour of my friend Sarah, with whom I have been privileged to spend so many happy hours this past week.

The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”

C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.

P. G. Wodehouse

“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you yourself keep it. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.” 

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

Dinah Craik

We two have had such happy hours together/That my heart melts in me to think of it.

William Wordsworth, “Travelling”

 A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”, can truly say to every group of Christian friends “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another”. The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing.

C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

 

Dear March, Come In!

DEAR March, come in!

How glad I am!

I looked for you before.

Put down your hat—

You must have walked—

How out of breath you are!

Dear March, how are you?

And the rest?

Did you leave Nature well?

Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,

I have so much to tell!

 

I got your letter, and the bird’s;

The maples never knew

That you were coming,—I declare,

How red their faces grew!

But, March, forgive me—

And all those hills

You left for me to hue;

There was no purple suitable,

You took it all with you.

 

Who knocks? That April!

Lock the door!

I will not be pursued!

He stayed away a year, to call

When I am occupied.

But trifles look so trivial

As soon as you have come,

That blame is just as dear as praise

And praise as mere as blame.

 

Happy 1st March, everyone, from Emily Dickinson and me! As far as I’m concerned, spring has sprung. 

Book Memories (2015)

I can’t quite believe that it’s the end of the year. Where is the frost? The chilly nights? The cosy fire in the living room? But my calendar assures me that it is indeed the last day of December, and so I take it on faith that it is so. That being the case, I’m going to continue the tradition I began last year and share with you the books I’ve read this year. I enjoy browsing other people’s book lists, and I hope you enjoy doing the same with mine.

As I did last year, I only count books that I’ve completed, so books that I’ve given up on or haven’t finished yet won’t show here, nor will books that I dip in and out of (usually poetry). On the other hand, if I began a book last year, but finished it this year, it goes on this year’s list. Asterisks indicate re-reads. Links are to where I’ve reviewed the book on this blog.

Non-Fiction

The Screwtape Letters (including “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”) (C. S. Lewis) *

A re-read, apart from “Toast”, which was new to me.

84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Haff)

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (Helene Haff)

Planet Narnia (Michael Ward)

The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Alan Jacobs)

Chance or the Dance? (Thomas Howard) *

The Four Loves (C. S. Lewis) *

Reflections on the Psalms (C. S. Lewis)

The World’s Last Night (C. S. Lewis)

I skipped the “Toast” essay as I’d read it when I read Screwtape.

The Meal Jesus Gave Us (N. T. Wright)

The Dating Manifesto (Lisa Anderson)

A Dash of Style (Noah Lukeman)

The Good God (Michael Reeves) *

Highly recommended.

Teach Us to Want (Jen Pollock Michel)

Everlasting is the Past (Walter Wangerin Jnr)

Letters from the Land of Cancer (Walter Wangerin Jnr)

The End of Our Exploring (Matthew Lee Anderson)

Highly recommended.

Behold the Lamb of God (Russ Ramsey)

Fiction and Poetry

The Heart of the Family (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Silver Chair (C. S. Lewis) *

The Horse and His Boy (C. S. Lewis) *

Daddy-Long-Legs (Jean Webster)

The Magician’s Nephew (C. S. Lewis) *

The Last Battle (C. S. Lewis) *

Huntingtower (John Buchanan)

Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen) *

Pendragon’s Heir (Suzannah Rowntree)

Our Mutual Friend (Charles Dickens)

The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey)

Lilith (George McDonald)

A Soldier of the Great War (Mark Helprin)

Highly recommended.

Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery) *

The Singing Bowl (Malcolm Guite)

Anne of Avonlea (Lucy Maud Montgomery) *

The Blue Castle (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)

The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith (Bruce Marshall)

Four Quartets (T. S. Eliot)

Only forty-something pages, but it was packaged as a book, so I’m treating it as one! Also, I have almost no idea what it all means….

Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset, trans. Tiina Nunnally)

Highly recommended. 

So, yes, there were plenty of good reads here. I’ve picked out some of the best by labelling them as “highly recommended”, but there were others that I found excellent even if I haven’t given them that label. (Almost everything by Lewis, for example!) I do hope that you might find some new friends waiting for you in this list. Read with discernment, of course. I don’t recommend every aspect of every book here. Lastly, if you have any book suggestions for me, do return the favour and leave a comment telling me what they are! Who knows what delightful or thought-provoking or moving or helpful books might await you and me in 2016? Happy reading, and the happiest of new years to you.

Desert Island Book List

In the last month or so, two of my blogger friends have posted about what books they’d want with them on a desert island (see here and here), and I’ve decided to follow suit.

Of course, the Bible and a handy collection of survival books are a given. And the books I’m selecting aren’t necessarily my favourite books of all time. I love Perelandra, for example, but reading about the Un-Man perusing Ransom through the caves of an almost-deserted island, while marooned on an island myself, would be far from ideal. I’m also looking for books that can bear the weight of repeated re-reads, and even offer new insights with such re-reads.

Anyway, here goes.

  1. Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck (the abridged one-volume version). I began trying to read this, but gave up. However, I know it’s good, and if I were stuck on a desert island I’d want to be able to do some in-depth theological reading. And since there’d be so little else for me to be distracted by, I know that I’d actually finish it.
  2. The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis (edited by Don King). This is my favourite collection of poems. There’s beauty and wisdom and joy and wit and Lewis-ness in here, and I wouldn’t want to be without it.
  3. The Book of Common Prayer. I’d want to have words to pray for the times when I had no words of my own, and to be reminded that even in my lonely state, I was part of the church universal.
  4. Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. This one would help to remind me of the loveliness of life.
  5. Emma by Jane Austen. Because if I only have one Austen book, let it be a long one.
  6. Augustine’s Confessions. I haven’t read past the opening few pages, at most, but as with Reformed Dogmatics, I know that it’s worth reading. And re-reading.
  7. The Oxford Book of English Verse. I own The New Oxford Book of English Verse, but I have more than half a suspicion that this one would be the better of the two. There’s be plenty for me to enjoy here, and plenty for me to study. Memorising poems would also help to pass the time.
  8. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis (volume II or III). I haven’t got far yet in reading these myself, but I’d choose a volume because it’s massive, so I’d get much more of Lewis’ prose than I would were I to choose a single book. Lewis was an excellent letter writer, so there’d be much for me to learn and delight in here.
  9. A Handbook to Literature (Harmon and Holman). I’d use this to help me study the poetry I’d brought, as well as to help me write my own.
  10. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Yes, I know this isn’t exactly (ahem) a single book, but in my defence it’s a series, each book is short, and—and—how could I possibly live the rest of my life, perhaps, without having the opportunity to read Narnia again?

What would your desert island book list be?

Inside of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

I visited Cambridge for the first time in Easter 2014, with SJ as my sidekick. While of the two quintessential university cities it’s Oxford that has my heart, I have perhaps never been so enraptured with a building as I was with King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, which surely is a poem in stone and glass. In this sonnet, Wordsworth captures a little of that beauty, and reminds us to make our art the best it can be, to give it all we can.

 

Tax not the royal Saint with vain expense,

With ill-matched aims the Architect who planned—

Albeit labouring for a scanty band

Of white-robed Scholars only—this immense

And glorious Work of fine intelligence!

Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the lore

Of nicely-calculated less or more;

So deemed the man who fashioned for the sense

These lofty pillars, spread that branching roof

Self-poised, and scooped into ten thousand cells,

Where light and shade repose, where music dwells

Lingering—and wandering on as loth to die;

Like thoughts whose very sweetness yieldeth proof

That they were born for immortality.