Monday, February 29, 2016

February’s Reading Adventures

I love dull, bleak winter days. I pull them around me like a warm blanket and read to my heart’s content, or almost, thankful for the quiet before the hectic days consume my time again, and the little space the season allows to breathe, refresh, and read.

I finished a few books I’ve been reading in for awhile and reached the last page. One of the ways I make it through long books is to read a little every day, or alternate spells of reading them with shorter or easier books. Charlotte Mason was right about many things, but I especially employ her method of slow reading, stretching big books over weeks and months, and short lessons. Ten minutes here and ten minutes there finds the way through.

I had to smile the other day when a friend admitted to reading while she does the dishes, empties the dishwasher, even sweeps the floor. “I do these things so often, I can do them without looking, just like you,” she said. It reminded me of the elaborate contraptions Emily used to rig up to turn pages for her while she was knitting.

I know this list of books seems an odd conglomeration, but that is also a Mason secret I’ve adopted—-varying the reading.



1. Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson. I gave this book as a Christmas gift to my football-loving son-in-law and he was so enthusiastic about what Watson, pro football player for the New Orleans Saints, expresses about his views of the race problems in our country he gave it to me to
read right away. My husband read it aloud to me and it was a compelling appeal to Christians in particular, to consider the experience of those who live next to us in skin of a different color. His honesty is disarming and his thoughts will provoke heart searching. My husband and I grew up during desegregation and the unrest of the 60’s, and have been disheartened by the seeming lack of progress our country has made. Watson asks good questions and suggests the only good answers.



2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. I first nervously entered into this epoch fairy tale with skepticism—anything this culture idolizes usually is a cue for me to avoid it. A quote at the end of the book is my defense for returning to it ten years later: “It was one of those rare occasions when the true story is even more strange and exciting than the wild rumors.” For this generation, Harry Potter is a hero worth emulating. Rowling’s device of magic is one of the most compelling arguments for an unseen world I can imagine in a culture rooted in concrete facts where proof reigns supreme.



3. William Bradford, Plymouth’s Faithful Pilgrim by Gary D. Schmidt. Recently having become enamored with Schmidt’s fiction for young people, I tried this true account of one of America’s first leaders. As a librarian and homeschool consultant, I’m always on the prowl for great biographies and this is excellent for grades 5-9, a different view of the Plymouth settlement and the man who was instrumental in keeping a toehold on a new continent with virtue, tenacity, and integrity.



4. The Wand and the Word by Leonard S. Marcus. Having debated with several friends of late about the current obsession of children with fantasy fiction, this book appealed to me as a collection of 13 interviews with fantasy writers, all of whom were fascinating, most of whom were influenced by Lewis and Tolkien in their early lives. If your kids are also addicted to this genre, they might love to hear how their favorite authors, such as L’Engle, Cooper, Le Guin, or Jacques, got started, where they get their ideas, and why they write the kind of tales they do.



5. The First Salute by Barbara W. Tuchman. My son was mystified one day to hear me suddenly begin expounding about naval warfare in the 18th century. I had to admit I was reading this book. He’s right. It isn’t the normal kind of book he finds me reading. Truly, I was fascinated. I suppose I’ve read enough Stevenson, Sabatini, Kingsley, and Forster, not to mention biographies of Nelson or John Paul Jones, that I had some hooks to hold my interest. The true fascination of the book is in viewing the American Revolution from the point of view of the British and to realize all the power struggles that nation was up against simultaneous with our little haphazard rebellion. If you enjoy Tuchman’s masterful writing style and the lucid way she presents history, this is a great book for a different perspective.



6. The Wishing Pear by Elizabeth Coatsworth. My friend Bonnie read this sweet story to me via iPhone files about a little Dutch girl in New York City that takes place during the transition from Dutch to British control. I love any story that shows the youngest children what can be possible for them to do to change the course of history. For grades 1-4.



7. Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz. I’ve seen this book on book lists for years and finally got the chance to read it myself. Though the description of Roman debaucheries is tasteful, the book is for your mature readers. It is full of intrigue and duplicity, gives vivid pictures of some of the most famous characters in history, including Nero and the Apostle Paul, and attempts to show the tension between the Roman Empire and the victorious fledgling early church. I found some of the theological views of the author to color some of the interactions a little differently than my imagination has, but there was enough authentic detail to keep it interesting. If you have an avid reader who needs to have the study of ancient Rome come to life, it might be a good choice.



8. Rip Van Winkle and other Stories by Washington Irving. I read this to my 12-year-old son over the past few months and just delighted in Irving’s complex and word-rich prose. The tales captured my son’s interest too. I remembered the Sleepy Hollow legend from my own childhood, but the other tales were new to me and fun.



9. The Holy War by John Bunyan. My Charlotte Mason discussion group is studying volume IV this year, Ourselves, and, knowing that she was inspired in part as a result of this allegory of Bunyan’s, I plunged in. Having read Ourselves several times, I found this book to be intriguing and his depiction of the battle for our souls between the Savior and the powers of darkness was poignant.



10. Leaves, Their Amazing Lives and Strange Behavior by James Poling. Well, as usual when I find myself actually reading a “science” book, I was pleasantly surprised. To be honest, this was a fascinating book and I have an entirely new affinity for trees and the leaves they grow, our dependence on them, and the incredible and masterful design of the Creator of our amazing world. Books like this make me repent anew for taking life so for granted.



11. Penrod by Booth Tarkington. I cannot count how many times I laughed right out loud while reading this book. It’s about an 11-year-old boy and his rather ordinary life. As the mother of three girls who grew up in a girl-dominated childhood, I am still mystified by boys and their thinking and behavior--even after raising my own three. This book enlightened me. The style was reminiscent of Mark Twain’s and Penrod has got to be a distant cousin of Tom Sawyer—they just have too much in common, though Penrod is a New York City boy who lives 60 years later and a few notches up the social ladder. It is always instructive for me to see life in a different generation in the country that is still my home, to note the changes in thinking and behavior—and all those common to us still. I doubt this book would interest most 11-year-old boys today, but it was highly entertaining to this mother of some.



13. A Night Out with Robert Burns, The Greatest Poems by Robert Burns, arranged by Andrew O’Hagan. I try always to have a collection of poems I’m reading daily and have long searched for one by this poet available to me in Braille. The Scottish brogue was delightful, his cadence so contagious I actually found myself humming some of these poems. It was a pleasure to get involved with more of this poets works than I have been able to before and the commentary and notes sprinkled throughout it were informative and added some helpful context for me.



14. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. A mother recently asked if her eight-year-old daughter was too young for this book. I have read it to six-year-olds and thoroughly enjoyed rereading it for the fifth or sixth time. Anne is ever fresh, ever a good mirror to look into to see the world.



15. The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy. Kate Seredy is of course one of my favorite children’s authors. This was our most recently concluded family read-aloud. My husband and older son had read it before, but this one was new to me and as charming as all the rest, and especially touching and worthwhile reading if your children are studying the first World War—to see the other side. We must always remember the other side.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

10 comments:

  1. So many wonderful titles, Liz! My boys love, Love, LOVE Penrod! We read the first title last year and they begged me to read Penrod and Sam for our next read-aloud. They are rolling over each other laughing and I'm breaking out in song to, "welcome to my world!"

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    1. Robin,

      I join your boys in hilarity--and am relieved to know boys themselves see what is funny in it because I feared it was just my mother perspective that made his antics amusing.

      Liz

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  2. Enjoyed reading through these. Love, love Kate Seredy

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    1. Erin,

      Me too. Every book has such a sense of authenticity, whimsicality, sensitivity, and humor.

      Liz

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  3. It makes me happy that you're reading Barbara Tuchman! I haven't read "The First Salute" yet (though it's on my shelf), but I here are links to my reviews of A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August.

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    1. Beth,

      I have read both of those, and some others of hers, but have seriously considered rereading A Distant Mirror. It is very long, but I feel I would get more from it now that I've studied that period in history so much more since the first read. I think it may have been one of the first books my husband and I acquired as newlyweds, many, many moons
      ago.

      Liz

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  4. Thanks for the Burns poetry book title. I haven't read Penrod but have it. I do like these monthly postings.

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    1. Bonnie,

      Is there a poetry book you don't have? I really enjoyed Burns, especially because I happen to be reading Waverly at the moment and am getting more of a feel for that Scottish nationalism and heartbeat for freedom.

      Liz

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  5. I'm enjoying catching up on all your posts and this book list is no exception. I enjoy your book thoughts so much. I recognize the authors on most of these titles, but have only read one or so myself.

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    1. Heather,

      I hope they inspire you to read more of those authors. It has been fun for me to read books I have recommended and never read myself (Emily has, of course).

      Liz

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