children's books, Christian, Classics, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

In the Queue…

Today was a library run day. What started out as a quick trip to pick up a specific book, Thomas Sowell’s latest Discrimination and Disparities, ended with my checking out the Bible sized Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

Friedan’s seminal work is one of those books that I’ve read a lot about, and read a lot of excerpts from, while never actually reading the book to take in the entirety of Friedan’s arguments and the conclusions she drew. I don’t expect the reading to soften my disdain for the havoc she unleashed along with Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex.

However, I have learned over the years that many of the most notoriously damaging social thinkers and commentators in recent history had their fingers on the pulse of a real problem. It was their prescriptions which were toxic and culturally destructive. So I am reading The Feminine Mystique, but not until I finish with Thomas Sowell. Priorities!

I am also in the final stages of reading through Hippies of the Religious Right by Preston Shires. This is, so far a highly enlightening book and one that I look forward to exploring here.  In other words, there is some heavy reading going on here at present, but not all of the reading is heavy.

I also just finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with my kids, who had to read it for school. Whimsical, funny, and astute, it was a fun read and the perfect counter balance to all the weightier philosophical, cultural, and religious writings that have occupied my reading time. Because Tom Sawyer is such a well known and widely read work, I have decided not to review it here, but I will offer one of my favorite quotes from it:

“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Lastly, Advent is upon us, beginning on Sunday December 2, and after much research and exploration, we have rested on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God is in a Manger as the devotional for this year. Reflecting as we commemorate the Advent of the Savior is important to us, and I am really looking forward to this devotional.

That’s what’s in my queue. Do tell:

What is in YOUR reading queue as the end of 2018 rushes upon us?

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children's books, fiction, genres, iconic characters, joys of reading, just for fun

Our love affair with magical nannies.

mary poppins

There was a nanny debate the other night in our house. No, we’re not considering getting a nanny! The debate centered upon which is the most magical magical Nanny. Is it Nanny McPhee  (originally Nurse Matilda) or Mary Poppins? After this post at Of Maria Antonia recently reminded me of the similarly delightful Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I came away wondering about our love affair with magical nannies, and began Googling in an earnest search for others I may have forgotten.

Including the delightful dog Nanna in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan,  it was clear that the magical nanny trope extends beyond my original limited imagination of what a magical nanny is. She’s not only characterized by the possession of literal magical powers, but also has a magical effect on the entire family as she serves. The literary blog Slap Happy Larry outlines the general story arc of children’s books which employ the magical nanny trope:

  • The parents are colourless and unremarkable except for their utter cluelessness.
  • The nanny might be actually magic, or seems to work magic due to being a ‘child whisperer’
  • The children are highly spirited tricksters
  • The nanny sees right through the children and although she may have a harsh exterior, has a heart of gold
  • The children are at least upper middle class
  • Nanny stories of the old-fashioned kind, set in large houses, are probably from an earlier era such as the Edwardian
  • The plots tend to be episodic rather than dramatic, with each day bringing a new adventure which is over and solved by bedtime. But there is still a character arc whereby the children become better behaved (or more morally upstanding) by the end of the story.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, an American story, necessarily demands a slightly different twist on the notion than we find in the the other renown stories, typically written by British authors. In contrast to Nurse Matilda, Mary Poppins, or even Nanna, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle doesn’t live with her charges. Instead, she is a kindly neighborhood lady whom all the children love and all the parents trust to know just the trick to rectify their children’s bad or detrimental behavior.

This short exploration doesn’t even begin to address the numerous nannies and nursemaids to be found in adult literature, who are far more likely to have a significant effect than magical powers. The unrefined but devoted Mrs. Wix from Henry James’ What Maisie Knew springs to mind here. I’m not sure I could even exhaust the list in a short post as short as this one. This leads  me to the question:

What is it about the magical nannies that grabs hold of our imaginations and makes us enjoy them so? I have my own hypothesis, but I’d much rather hear yours first!

 

 

 

 

Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

The Great 2018 Book Purge.

Great Book Purge a bit of an exaggeration, but there will be a thinning. When it’s done I’ll fill you readers in on the final tally. It is the time of year when I begin my year-end cleaning blitz. I suppose fall is when I tackle the equivalent of Spring Cleaning.

I am not much of a spring cleaner. In springtime, my energy is mostly directed towards end of school year activities both in my house and out of it. There are a few annual checklist items, such as calling HVAC companies, pest control, and sprucing up the yard after winter, such as winter is here. But deep spring cleaning? It’s just not my thing.

For me, fall cleaning is where it’s at!  Since we are finally getting a taste of fall (and by fall I mean daily highs below 85), my sudden itch to begin the New Year with an organized, deeply cleaned house is ready to be scratched. With that comes the dreaded task of figuring out which books to keep and which ones to toss.

As I noted in my review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as much as that process speaks to the rabid minimalist inside me, I don’t live alone. Ruthless purging would be an extremely challenging undertaking, fraught with family drama not worth the rewards. I purge little by little, one closet, cabinet and bureau at a time.

However, I am in charge of 90% our library. I could, theoretically, pare down to the 30 books Marie Kondo suggests. I won’t because it’s not a feasible solution for our family, but I could. This article from Lithub explores the emotional connection bibliophiles have to books and the angst that can comes with deciding which ones “spark joy” and which should be tossed on the pile. Some books really are one and done reads, or books we acquired knowing full well we might never get to them; not now or in the future. For the true book lover, however, it is not as simple as that. From the Lithub piece:

It occurred to me that part of the reason why tackling the “books” stage of the Full Kondo seems so daunting is that to many of us our books don’t really belong in the category she has assigned. They are not impersonal units of knowledge, interchangeable and replaceable, but rather receptacles for the moments of our lives, whose pages have sopped up morning hopes and late-night sorrows, carried in honeymoon suitcases or clutched to broken hearts. They are mementos, which she cautions readers not to even attempt to contemplate getting rid of until the very last.

To be fair, Kondo no longer thinks that ripping books to pieces is a good idea, but it’s telling to learn that she herself once did this to save space. Keeping parts of books might make sense if your entire library consisted of cooking or craft manuals, but sounds completely crazy when applied to novels or narrative nonfiction. Which chapters of Anna Karenina or In Cold Blood would you keep, for example? The picture Kondo paints is a bleak one, referring mostly to business books and textbooks, to “studying” and “necessary information.” The “classics” she refers to are not Dickens and Brontë but “authors like Drucker and Carnegie,” a management consultant and an industrialist, respectively. With no offense to those two illustrious professions, I am not very shocked that these didn’t “spark joy.”

None of this is to say that there aren’t books book lovers should be willing to dispose of. I suspect I will shed at least 30. That’s not even counting at least 20 on the shelves that were borrowed from or dropped off by friends and need to be returned. I have as many books floating around also. Either way, purging 50 books (well, maybe 40) is better than none.

I’m not sure how this round will end, but I am hopeful. Because I am currently gripped with the urge to purge nearly every space in the house that is within my domain, I think I’ll get rid of quite a few. I expect I’ll even lose a few that I never thought I’d part with, but there does come a point when you have to accept that you’re probably never going to pick up a certain books a finish it, and that there’s a reason for that.

Analyzing why certain books land on the pile might be a fun mental exercise, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

children's books, joys of reading

Beyond Early Readers — marginalia books

Our youngest two children -10 and 12- are beyond early reader and even the newly independent reader stages. They are currently reading Tom Sawyer for their literature class. However, those early years when young kids are just beginning to read independently are precious, and Marginalia Books offers some excellent suggestions for nurturing that stage of a child’s literary development.

 

My two oldest weren’t exactly fluent readers yet but old favorites like Mouse Soup and Frog and Toad were too easy. They needed something interesting and challenging but weren’t ready for most chapter books. Here are some of the early chapter books we found and loved: Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo We loved the […]

via Beyond Early Readers — marginalia books

Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

Is reading necessarily the highest use of leisure time?

“I don’t own a television.”

It’s the mantra of many who want to signal their elevation above the unwashed masses who go bananas with excitement at the prospect of a new season of Game of Thrones or Jack Ryan. I had to Google “most popular current television shows” to come up with those two titles. Does that earn me a bit of intellectual gravitas?

The sign of an educated mind today is often marked by testimonies of reading, and reading so many books per month, quarter or year, determined by what the reader thinks is the best period to use as a gauge. Reading it is supposed, is infinitely better than watching television. Anything, it is supposed, is better than watching television. Given that this is a blog dedicated chiefly to the discussion of books, reading, and the vast amount of knowledge to be found as a result, you might assume I am of the mind that reading is ever and always better than watching television.

Disclosure: As I begin this post, America’s Test Kitchen is fading to black on PBS and I am looking forward to next program, Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire. I am a sucker for a good cooking show and PBS spares me offensive commercials. No. I have not killed my TV. It doesn’t get a whole lot of use, at least not for scripted broadcast television shows, but we do have one.

Over dinner tonight we discussed this idea that reading in itself is a higher brow leisure activity.  The general consensus was that yes, it is certainly better than watching television. There was also a general agreement that a lot of people who brag about their lack of television watching spend copious amounts of time watching YouTube videos or arguing on Twitter and Facebook, which is hardly any better. What I really wanted to know however, is if there is more reading taking place, and if so, is it the kind of reading which adds to the metal acuity what television is presumed to take away from it. The answer we came away with was: It depends.

One of our daughters, a history buff if ever there was one, has been watching the documentary series World War II in color. She questioned whether reading one of the latest YA novels would be more advantageous than watching her documentary based solely on the fact that she would be turning pages whether than watching a screen. It’s on this point that I find myself parked.

There is a school of thought among people in general and even some educators that children and teens reading anything is better than if they were reading nothing at all. I am embarrassed to admit that there was a point when I harbored such foolish thoughts as well. Reading is fundamental, after all! Reading is always the best and most effective use of one’s leisure if television is the alternative. Hikes, jogs, nature exploration and the likes are even better, but suburbanites are not always in the position to exercise those options.

However, a cursory glance at the books which are most popular today leaves me with the impression that most are literature’s version of junk food. Books so devoid of depth (of characters as well as language) that many people can read two or three of them a week without missing a beat! Given the relatively common damage to the attention spans of the public at large, it doesn’t take a literature professor to figure out that 300 page books which can be zipped through in one’s spare time after just three days and over 4 hours are probably hamburger to Thackeray’s t-bone steak.

The devolution of reading, which we’ve discussed before, necessitates that certain books demand different levels of engagement than others. In other words, digesting words on a page is technically to read. However when we digest and process ideas, language, and stories that challenge us to think deeply and seek more earnestly the good, the true, and beautiful, then we know that we are really reading.

In short, not all reading is created equal.

Elaboration: Yes, in most cases, reading beats watching television. I know full well most Americans aren’t into PBS cooking shows or WWII documentaries. Including our young adult kids, who are kind of hooked on The Office.

Wait. Is Netflix TV?

 

joys of reading, the business of books, writing

Why Can’t We Be Friends? the non-review

to read or not to read

While researching reviews of Aimee Byrd’s book, Why Can’t We Be Friends? I was struck with the realization that this is a good opportunity to discuss the things that I consider when deciding whether or not to read and review certain books. Since I have decided not to read this one, it is the perfect conversational springboard.

Most of the books I read and review, I find one of three ways. I stumble upon them in the library, read a riveting analysis of said book, or as is often the case, am reminded that it was one I’d always intended to read but never got around to it. Classics most often fall into the last category.

When a book is generating a lot of buzz and I can’t find it at my local library, I embark on a research expedition. The regrettable experience of spending my beloved’s hard earned money on a book that is best fit for the trash heap is a hard learned lesson. As a result, I do my homework and often find that the homework provides plenty about what I am going to find in the book. This either saves both my time and money from being wasted, or heightens my anticipation of curling up with that book.

The former is what happened when I started poking around for some insight on Why Can’t We Be Friends? Most of the reviews were positive, but in ways that only served to solidify my initial skepticism. They were long, wieldy and confusing, explored the book in multiple parts, or otherwise worked to further entrench me into my position. Thankfully, I ran across an article at The Federalist which directed me toward the author’s previously published and readily available words on the subject.

In essence, Mrs. Byrd has written so many articles and blog posts laying out her case for why Christian men and women -regardless of marital status- should be able to have close, personal, even intimate friendships (“sacred siblings” she calls it), that reading her book would have been an exercise in redundancy. The book was an expansion of and explanation of ideas presented in those articles. As a result, I felt no need to purchase, read, or review the book.

This was a good reminder to me that while it is important and vital for any aspiring writer to write, write often, and generate exposure for her writing, it isn’t a good idea to base any potentially publishable work on a conglomeration of ideas that have already been shared and disseminated far and wide. Why should people buy a book that includes ideas and information that I have already shared repeatedly?

Another way I decide which books to read or not is on the basis of a recommendation or down vote from a trusted source.  By that I mean a source that I trust. There have been books I was considering then decided not to read because someone who knows me well gave me a full and complete idea of what it is, and why it’s not worth my time or attention.

Lastly, there are books I read but don’t review for myriad reasons. One of those reasons is because I didn’t finish it.  When a book is taking me an eternity to complete and I constantly find myself picking up other books to give me a break from that book, I conclude that it’s probably not a book for me. That could mean it’s a bad book worthy of a negative review, but if I didn’t finish it I never know if it finally came together in a satisfying way.  This potential for recovery and success is more likely in fiction than nonfiction of course, and is another reminder to me to keep thoughts and ideas cohesive when I write.

Another reason I may not review it is because the ideas are either so personal or so big that I feel it is best not to open a blog discussion about it. Rather, my time with that book is best spent by pondering its ideas privately or with those in my inner circle. That doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

I’m sure there are as many times that I’ve skipped books I may have enjoyed as there are times I read books that felt like a waste of time. In either case, I try to be deliberate and informed before I read any book that I intend to review in this space. This process of mine is obviously far from scientific, but there is some level of method to the madness here.

How do you decide which books you will read?

 

joys of reading, philosophy

An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis

Because this post interconnects very closely with my most recent post on the different approaches readers can take when sitting down with a book, I’m sharing it here.

Lewis’ depth of thought certainly gives me, as an avid reader, something to think about. For instance, the notion that it is possible to sit with a book and get no more out of it than one would a half hour sitcom was one image which sprang to my mind.

The question becomes: Is there ever a time when reading is suitable for that?