Category Archives: books

Summer Reading Redux

In the midst of summer busyness–caring for the kids, yardwork, household projects–I have been trying to get some reading done. Well, I had to return Belong To Me (mentioned in my last post) to the library. I had Mark check it out for me when it was due last week, and then today, it was due again, and I figured they wouldn’t let me check it out again. I am more than half-way through, and I want to finish it. I just haven’t had the time to get to it.

I did finish The Good Earth, and it was worth reading. If you don’t know, it is the story of a farmer in China before the revolution. The farmer, practically worships the land. With the help of his stalwart, former slave wife, O-lan, Wang Lung survives a brutal famine and goes back to his land to farm it and become rich. He amasses more and more land, and becomes a lord in their small town. He also takes a second wife, a real sign of wealth.

What is great about this book are the themes that run through it–the benefit of hard work as opposed to slothfulness, the benefit of long-term faithfulness as opposed to betrayal, true humility versus false humility, being grateful for the gifts you receive in this life, etc., etc. The story is set in a pagan culture where false gods are honored and the people are superstitious, so the benefits of the gospel are missing. But the good and beneficial elements of these qualities to families and communities are still evident.

After I finished the book, I checked out the 1937 film based on it from the library. The movie had a happier ending and Wang Lung’s character was more foolish than in the book, but it was still a good reflection of the novel.

From looking at, it looks like there are 2 sequels to the first one: Sons and A House Divided Maybe I’ll get to reading them next summer!

Summer, Books, & Other Thoughts

Summer is here–well, almost. Charis graduates from pre-school tomorrow, and the other kids have their last day of school on Thursday. Then, whew-hew, it’s summer!

St Louis has not felt very “summery” yet. I know it is still technically spring, but with all the rain and cool temperatures, it is not the typical hot spring prelude to summer we experience here. I like to think that means we won’t have the typical 95+ days this summer, but that’s just wishful thinking.


I am reading a couple good books. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck is compelling, but it is not a great read when our country is at the beginning of a recession. I just got to the part where the storyline gets more positive, so I am hopeful that I will feel better as I get further along. We’ll see. I am enjoying the writing, though.

Belong to Me by Maris de los Santos is a contemporary novel on the NYT bestsellers list. I picked it up at the library today because I liked the cover.

I choose books all the time because of the cover. My short stint working for a book publisher in the 90s caused me to be obsessed with good book covers. I am not ready to recommend this book, but I am enjoying the writer’s style and getting to know the main character. Since it is a bestseller, it is only a 7-day-loan, so I should have more to say about it soon.

I am also reading Parenting Today’s Adolescent by Barbara & Dennis Rainey. So far after a little more than 2 chapters, it hasn’t told me anything I don’t know. But I am hoping it will offer some insights as we enter a new phase of parenthood that I am honestly not prepared for. I should have been reading everything available about 2 or 3 years ago. Now I am playing catch-up with our oldest boy having just turned 12. I really see why I need to be praying and seeking God in His Word now more than ever as I face our children entering adolescence one after the other in rapid succession! Can I just say that I entered their infancies and toddler years exhausted, but the next 15 years (span from Calvin being 12 to Charis being 20) are the scary ones to me. May I never lose sight of the need to bathe our family in prayer!

Other Thoughts

You just can’t blog about everything. With that in mind, please pray for us more than you may have already been doing, or start if you haven’t been. We need it.

Persuasion on the Road

Or, Confessions of a Jane Austen fan.

I have always loved the Jane Austen books I read–Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma. But I confess that 2 were often hard for me to read: Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. So earlier this spring, I set out to try Persuasion again. In 6 weeks I waded through only 7 chapters, and let’s just say I wasn’t enthralled. It seemed like the sentence construction in this book was just too convoluted for me to get my brain around. So, I took Persuasion with me on our cross-country trek to MT. After a few hours of driving when boredom was beginning to set in for Mark, I said, “Hey, I could read Persuasion out loud to you.” Mark agreed to the plan, and we were off.

After just 2 pages of my reading aloud, we were both laughing at the ridiculous Sir Walter Elliot. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t see the humor in this book in earlier attempts to read it. By the time we arrived in MT, we were on chapter 8. We finished Persuasion on our return trip in Columbia, MO. So now I can add it to my list of Jane Austen novels read. Now I have to work on Northanger Abbey. I think it is supposed to be a parody of the Brontes and all their “gothicness.” Perhaps the parody notion will help me conquer NA this year, too. We’ll see. . . . .

Tidying Up

Take a peek at my sidebar. I’ve tidied things up a bit. I’ve updated the books I am reading, and I’ve added a very short list of what I have read this year. Hopefully, that list will grow as the year marches on.

Anybody reading something great that you want to tell me about? I always enjoy trying something new.

Girl Meets God – Quote 2

Here are some of the thoughts on baptism that jumped out at me in reading Girl Meets God. Oh, by the way, just because I include something here, doesn’t mean I agree with it fully. It is just “food for thought.”

Child-like faith (my heading-jh)
At All Angels’, I teach the 5 and 6 year-old Sunday school class. One day, we sit in a circle on the dusty green rug and talk about the Eucharist. “Then Milind stands up and prays for a long time. He gives a long speech, doesn’t he?” I ask, referring to the consecration of the bread, when the priest tells the story of the Lord’s Supper. “What do you think is in that big goblet?”

“Apple juice,” cries out one student, swayed by months of Sunday school snacks. (She may also think the Eucharist wafer is a graham cracker.)

“I know,” says a boy in a daringly pastel T-shirt, “Milind is giving everyone wine to drink.” That was the correct answer, of course, but I kept calling on students.

“I think,” says a pensive girl with black corkscrew curls circling her face, “that Mister Millind is pouring God into the cup for us to drink.”

That, I think is what Jesus must have meant when He said we need to be like children. He was talking about this very corkscrew-curled little girl, who doesn’t care about transfiguration or consubstantiation or substance and accidents. She just knows that the priest pours God into a communion cup.

Communion and the Body (my heading-jh)
It doesn’t sit well with our modern sensibilities, the idea that you could be excluded from a group, asked to leave, shut out because you didn’t believe something, or hadn’t been doused in the right water. But there is something fitting to the privacy of members-only eucharist. The Eucharist is intimate. Watching it is a little like spying on a couple making love. This may be the place where Christ loves us best.

Holy Communion is another name, and there are good reasons to speak of taking communion. Those words remind us that we are not only drawing near to God, but that we are doing that most basic and social thing, we are eating together, we are drawing near to one another. This has been a long, slow lesson for me. I am just starting to learn that the people I take communion with are the people who count.

I didn’t like most of the people at Clare College chapel. I loved my priest. And, I loved Becky, my godmother; Anna, the ordinand sent over by her seminary to be our priest-in-training; and Helen and Olivia, two short-haired eighteen-year-olds with lively minds and brassy giggles. Other than those few, the people at chapel weren’t people I would have chosen to socialize with. They weren’t up to my standards. I didn’t think them clever enough, entertaining enough, whole enough. Mostly, at the Clare chapel, I met broken people, needy people, people who were in church for a reason.

In fact some of the chapel people repelled me. They were pale and pasty and watery drips of people, inarticulate and shy and nerdy and downright tedious. I had nothing to talk about with any of them, though Lord knows I tried, not even theology, a concept that seemed foreign to these students, students for whom everything about Jesus was perfectly clear-cut. “These are not,” I sniffed to Jo, “people I would invite to a dinner party.”

Jo, in her wisdom, didn’t point out the obvious fact that I was, indeed having a dinner party with them every Sunday morning. She pretended to sympathize. She pretended to be every bit the snob that I was. She said whole days elapsed where she had to speak , hour after pastoral hour, to people she did not like very much or find terribly interesting. “There aren’t too many people around here like you,” she admitted conspiratorially, as though it were just us two charming ans sophisticated Christians pitted against the rest of the sorry, benighted church. Then she sighed and said, “But I realized awhile back that if I built a church filled with my friends, it would be rather small and homogeneous church.” I blinked. “Dull really,” said Jo.

So much for sympathy.

The day before I left Cambridge for good, I saw Paul and Gillian, two of the most annoying Christians, on Clare bridge, and I hugged them. I said I would miss them. I thought I was lying, to be polite. But I wasn’t. I have missed them. No one else I ever meet will have pledged to support me in my life of Christ, which is exactly what Paul and Gillian pledged at my baptism. My Village, the friends with whom I chat about post-structuralism and Derrida–those people didn’t witness my baptism. They didn’t cheer at my confirmation, they didn’t pray with me every Sunday for two years, they didn’t hand me Kleenex when I burst into inexplicable tears in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. They aren’t my brothers and sisters in Christ. They are merely my friends.

Girl Meets God – Quote 1

A while back, I posted about reading Girl Meets God. I finally finished it last weekend, and I wanted to share a few of my favorite parts. A review is likely in the future, but for now, here’s one part that jumped out at me:

Regarding liturgy and its benefits:

  • Sometimes, I think I have come up with something poetic. One day, when I was full in the flush of agony about what I should do with my life, whether I would always be alone, whether I should become a nun, whether I should drop out of graduate school, and other high-pitch anxieties, I heard, reverberating around in my brain, “Go out to do the work I have given you to do.” The work I have given you to do. The work I have given you to do. What an ingenious sentiment, I thought. I can’t believe I dreamed that up. Maybe I should drop out of grad school and enter a poetry-writing Master of Fine Arts program. All day, all week I heard those words, the work I have given you to do, heard them and was deeply consoled by them, sure that God had given me work to do, that He has sent me out into the world to do it, that He had even woke me up too early in the morning to do that work, it was mine, I was consecrated to it, and it was given of Him. I heard those words all week, and I felt peaceful. Not only had God given me work to do, He had given me poetic snatches of reassurance, too.
  • Then I got to church on Sunday. We opened with a hymn. The crucifier and the priest processed in. We prayed the collect of the day, we read three passages from Scripture. Milind gave a rousing sermon about forgiveness. We sang some more, we prayed the prayers for the people, and exchanged the peace. Milind consecrated the Eucharist and we received it. Then we said the prayer of thanksgiving. “We thank you for receiving us as living members of your Son.” And there, in the middle of that prayer, the words God had given me all week: “And now, Father, send us out to the do the work you have given us to do.” It was the liturgy that had lodged in my brain, words of the liturgy I barely noticed Sunday to Sunday when we said them, but here I was, noticing them raptly, in the middle of a weekday afternoon, when I needed them most.
  • Habit and obligation have both become bad words. That prayer becomes a habit must mean that it is impersonal, unfeeling, something of a rouse. If you do something because you are obligated to, it doesn’t count, at least not as much as if you’d done it on your own free will, like the children who says thank you because his parents tell him to, it doesn’t count. Sometimes, often, prayer feels that way to me, impersonal and unfeeling and not something I’ve chosen to do. I wish it felt inspired and on fire and like a real, love-conversation all the time, or even just more of the time. But what I am learning the more I sit with liturgy is that what I feel happening bears little relation to what is actually happening. It is a great gift when God gives me a stirring, a feeling, a something-at-all in prayer. But work is being done whether I feel it or not. Sediment is being laid. Words of praise to God are becoming the most basic words in my head. They are becoming the fallback words, drowning our advertising jingles and professors lectures and sometimes even my own interior monologues.
  • Maybe St. Paul was talking about liturgy when he encouraged us to pray without ceasing.

Library Elf

I came across the library elf on our local library’s website.  This is a great service if you are a parent who takes your kids to the library with any regularity.  It is a free service that links to libraries across the country and tracks individuals accounts to help you keep track of all those books, videos,  etc., that the whole family has checked out.  It sends you e-mails or text messages to remind you when items are due.  You can choose how far ahead of the due date you want the reminder.  You can also choose to get one reminder or daily reminders until the items are returned.  What makes this better than tracking accounts on the library’s website is that it lists the entire household’s checked out items.  Just go to your library elf account and it’s all there on one page.  This is going to save us time and money!  Woo-hoo!

Now, if only I could finda free laundry-elf, cooking elf, driving elf, cleaning-elf,  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This, That, and the Other Thing; Baedekers Included

First, this:

Procrastination–I have a big project to complete, so I am finding every manner of activity to do instead of working on the project–blogging included.

Second, that:

The project I am completing involves a lot of data entry. Arrgh. So I am sitting with my laptop on the sofa and watching a movie while I enter the data. When I come to a stopping point, I do a little web surfing. This is not the most time-effective way to complete a project, but it makes me feel less like I am working on a Saturday. I won’t do all the work like this; I’ll buckle down and get it done on time.

I am watching a movie that I love, so I don’t have to really concentrate on it. I can hear it in the background, and enjoy the familiarity, the comfort of it. It is A Room With A View by EM Forster. Say what you may about EM Forster, but I enjoy his books. I can overlook his opinions that I don’t agree with to just enjoy the plot. I’ve read this book multiple times, and I enjoy the movie from time to time. I received it on DVD as a gift for my birthday last year, so now I can just put it in whenever I please.

I recommend this movie highly if you enjoy British period films. Helena Bonhomme Carter plays the principle female role, and there are other British actors that you’ll recognize. My only disclaimer is that it has some brief male nudity that is shot distantly, so it isn’t horribly scandalous. However, once I forgot to mention this to someone when I recommended this movie, and I lived to regret that mistake. Never again.

The Other Thing

The other thing I did today was shop for pants for my eldest son. At the beginning of the school year, a mere 4 months ago, we bought him several pair of school pants and a few pair of jeans. Now, at the halfway point of the school year, he has grown 3 inches! His pants are what we affectionately referred to as “flood pants” in the old days. When he is standing, they rest about a half inch above his high-tops. At his current height, size 18 in boys’ sizes are too short. So, today I went to Old Navy to purchase the smallest waist men’s pants available–28. I am expecting them to be a tad loose at the waist, but hopefully we will no longer have a view of his ankles. He is camping with scouts this weekend, so I have to wait until tomorrow to see if my pants errand was successful. If it was, I will be a devotee of clearance racks at Old Navy. I hardly ever set foot in the store because I can’t really afford clothes from there, but there sale prices were reasonable and the clearance rack was an excellent place for the budget conscious to shop. Mark even scored a pair of pants from the clearance rack and a pair of jeans from the sale selections!

Baedekers included . . . I just threw this in because chapter 2 of A Room with a View is entitled, “In Santa Croce with No Baedeker,” which begs the question, what is a baedeker? If you really want to know, go here.

500+ Page Book Robs Time from Missouri Woman

For my birthday last summer, I received a couple of gift cards to book stores. I love browsing through books, so it was fun to go spend a little time picking out some new reading material. I came home with Girl Meets God, a memoir about a young woman’s journey of faith. I actually read bits of this before, but I wanted to read the whole thing. I also picked up The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. I had no prior exposure to this book, but when glancing in the classics area, the back cover copy caught my attention. Finally, I purchased Lady’s Maid by Margaret Forster. This is another book that I got because I liked not only the cover copy, but also the illustration and design style of the cover. (A matte finish on a paperback book always calls to me.)

Sadly, I didn’t read any of these books before 2007 ended. But after the new year was underway, I got involved in Lady’s Maid. It is the culprit who stole away many hours of the past week from my life. It is the life story of the personal servant to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. You might think you have to be a Browning lover to enjoy this book, but that is not the case. I am actually only vaguely familiar with some of her work. The life of Wilson, Browning’s maid, is intriguing. Following her, her attachment to her mistress, and her attempts to live her own life while caught in a life of true service is really compelling.

Wilson wanted to please so much. She quickly earned a spot in the heart of her mistress. Soon she was indespensible to Miss Barrett, and she even risked her position and livelihood to help Miss Barrett secretly marry Robert Browning and then left England with them so they might live their lives abroad.

The core of the book deals with the struggle Wilson has finding her place in the world and in her relationship with her mistress. If she had been a less competent servant, in some senses, her situation would have been far less complicated.

In some ways, Wilson’s struggle is not unlike our own to know how to live as individuals while still faithfully serving Christ. There is a constant back and forth in our minds and hearts as we try to navigate life with some sense of personal identity coupled with a life submitted to our Master.

Much of the time, I found myself despising Elizabeth Barrett Browning as I read, despite the fact that Wilson was devoted to her. One thing that pulled me on through page after page was my desire to see what Wilson would do after Browning died. While I don’t wish to give away the ending, I will say that I was not emotionally satisfied with it. I wanted more triumph, more personal accomplishment for Wilson than the author gave.

The afterward of the book explains how much of the book is based on fact and how much is purely fictional. This was helpful for me to accept the ending. The author, Margaret Forster, has also written a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, so I felt the book was likely more authentic as a result.

As I think about the parallels I saw between the maid’s life of service to her mistress and my life of service to Christ, I see my own flaws. I think I am sometimes pulled through life by my desires to have more triumph and personal accomplishment, too. So while nothing about the author or this book is specifically Christian, I came away feeling a need to submit more to Christ–to recognize that my identity is truly in Him. Our rewards on not often given in this life, and it is good to be reminded of that. This is the Scripture passage that came to my mind when considering these thoughts:

Colossians 3:2-4 (English Standard Version)

2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

I recommend Lady’s Maid purely for its good writing and interesting story. But it is also worth reading to spur on thoughts about your own life. For me, my relationship with Christ came to mind. For someone else, it might be a relationship with an employer or some other authority. Don’t get me wrong, the parallels are not complete. For one thing, Christ will never disappoint me as Mrs. Browning was capable of disappointing Wilson. But I always find fiction more worthy of my time when it opens up my minds to think about my own situation, and to hopefully, improve it.

The Jane Austen Book Club

I wanted to see this movie that came out in the late fall. With life’s many commitments, I never fit it into my schedule. When I saw the preview, I guessed I would like the film but wouldn’t just love it.

One day in November, I was wandering through Goodwill, and I stopped to peruse the books. I came across the book on which the movie was based. I bought it for 70 cents, and I was able to read it over the Christmas holiday.

The premise is no surprise. The book is about a group of five women and one man who read several Jane Austen novels together and meet monthly to discuss them. It follows the group chronologically over the period in which the group meets. Each chapter deals with parallels between the Austen novel being discussed and the lives of the book group characters. It is truly a character driven story, but there is enough plot line to pull the reader along.

The matriarchs of the group are Jocelyn and Sylvia. They were high school friends who became lifelong friends. Jocelyn is single and a dog breeder. Allegra is the daughter of Sylvia. She is struggling with her personal relationships, and she has moved back home with her mother who has just separated from her father. Bernadette is retired and older than Jocelyn and Sylvia, but she is more like the eccentric aunt than a matriarch. She has been married several times has lived in many places. Her comments on Jane Austen always lead to a monologue about something from her own eclectic history. Prudie is a high school French teacher–probably in her mid-to-late-thirties. She questions the status of her love for her very loyal and stand-up husband when she thinks of Jane Austen. The last group member is Brigg, the only male in the group. He was invited to join the discussion by Jocelyn, whom he met at a science fiction convention that was meeting in the same hotel as one of her dog breeding meetings. Brigg is suspect from the beginning because he is a man and he had never read Jane Austen in the past.

There’s really not a lot of discussion about the Jane Austen novels. There are opinions given here and there, but no comments are really substantial. This book is truly a commentary on how readers relate the details of their own lives to Austen’s novels. It shows the timelessness of Jane Austen. I think is reflects how most book discussion groups actually happen. A group meets to discuss a novel, but they end up talking about how the novel speaks to their own situation. They end up getting to know each other. This book shows that the rise in popularity of the book group is reflective of a need for people to build relationships–to be a part of a group.

I enjoyed this book enough that I plan to check out some other fiction by Karen Joy Fowler. I also still plan to see the movie, but I guess it will be on DVD. Maybe I’ll have to invite a group over to watch it with me!