Monday, August 3, 2015

Reading Challenge Up-Date ~ July 2015

Book Club @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

The 2015 Book Challenge continues…

I finished only four books in July, but I greatly enjoyed all four which is a minor miracle, People.

The Awakening of Miss Prim, Go Set a Watchman, Boys in the Boat, and 84 Charing Cross Road were all winners as well as a diverse mix of subjects.

The Awakening of Miss Prim will likely be my most favorite (delightful) book of the year. I was a little scared to read Go Set a Watchman, but I ended up loving it. (Oh, how I adore Uncle Jack!) Boys in the Boat was so well-written and weaves in many different stories. I was on the edge of my seat cheering by the end. And 84 Charing Cross Road was just a simple delight. [Slightly longer reviews below.]


My ChocLit Guild book club met on the patio of a charming vintage small-town diner to discuss Boys in the Boat. The entertaining owners served us fresh peach smoothies to go with the trays of fruit, veggies, chocolate swirl banana bread, cheese, and crackers they had set out for us. [If you’re a local, go visit The Diner at Shedd!]

I did make progress on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but I’m finding it SLOW going.

Instead of curating literature-themed articles with the others in my most recent Food for Thought post, I am sharing them here with my book list.

::  Why You Should Still Read “Go Set A Watchman” by Megan Tietz @ Sarah Bessey

This is by far my favorite thoughtful review of the book. In the comments, a woman shares about her own father. Her story is similar to how I think about Atticus in GSAW. People and experiences and culture are complex. The other important thing to remember is that Harper Lee did not intend to publish GSAW so she was free to rewrite the characters. She did not have to reconcile them and neither do we.

:: Watching Well: Intellectual Humility by Alissa Wilkinson @ Reel Spirituality/Brehm Center

Yes. I love the way she frames this idea. [And it applies to reading as well as watching.]

"And I watch them with others, and then discuss them with others, so that I can be challenged by their viewpoints. If there is one thing I have realized is essential over the past few years, it is that watching cannot, must not be done in a vacuum. Critics help us open up our view of a film, and of the world, in powerful, affirming, challenging ways. Conversation partners who are honest and thoughtful make us see a movie in a new way. Friends gently remind us that our opinions are not the final word on the subject—that art is part made by the artist, part made by us in our reactions."

:: The Future of Dystopian Literature @ The Imaginative Conservative

"At its best, dystopian literature allows us—through the faculty of imagination—to see not only inhumanity, but the motives behind inhumanity. Dystopias allow us to understand, analyze, and warn the world of nightmares, ideologies, and fundamentalisms. Through their own horrors, they might very well allow us to hold off the abyss for another generation or more."

:: Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature @ Commentary Magazine

“Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values, and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender, or personality type. Those broad categories turn out to be insufficient, precisely because they are general and experienced by each person differently; and we learn not only the general but also what it is to be a different specific person. By practice, we learn what it is like to perceive, experience, and evaluate the world in various ways. This is the very opposite of measuring people in terms of our values.

… “We all live in a prison house of self. We naturally see the world from our own perspective and see our own point of view as obvious and, if we are not careful, as the only possible one. I have never heard anyone say: “Yes, you only see things from my point of view. Why don’t you consider your own for a change?” The more our culture presumes its own perspective, the more our academic disciplines presume their own rectitude, and the more professors restrict students to their own way of looking at things, the less students will be able to escape from habitual, self-centered, self-reinforcing judgments. We grow wiser, and we understand ourselves better, if we can put ourselves in the position of those who think differently.”

:: Why Do We Love Jane Eyre? @ BBC [audio]


The 2015 Book List Challenge

[*Added to original list]


Lila: A Novel [I had a more difficult time getting into this novel than Robinson’s previous two novels in the series, but the story was greatly rewarding in the end. What a beautiful picture of grace the author masterfully paints. Marilynne Robinson is at the top of my list. 4 1/2 stars]

Hood [Hood is the first Stephen Lawhead book I’ve read. It is a retelling of the Robin Hood myth. It was well-told and entertaining, but not excellent. I’d like to try another series by Lawhead. 3 1/2 stars]

The Sunday Philosophy Club [This is from the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which I very much enjoyed. Interesting in places, charming in places, and boring in quiet a few places. 3 stars.]

A Girl of The Limberlost (ChocLit Guild) [Sweet, safe, turn of the century romance novel by Gene Stratton-Porter, full of natural history. 3 1/2 stars]

The Brothers K

The Road

Dune [I tried to start it and just couldn’t get going. Maybe I’ll try again later this year.] [I found this article at The Guardian: Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world. I guess it stays on the list…]

The Once and Future King

The Chosen [A fascinating look at Jewish culture in 1940s Brooklyn, New York, written by Chaim Potok. I was captivated. 4 1/2 stars]

Beloved [Toni Morrison has given us a tragic and graphic but exquisitely-written narrative that seeps the reader in the culture of slavery. Haunting. 4 1/2 stars]

The Book Thief

*Whose Body? [Lord Peter Wimsey debuts in this detective novel by Dorothy Sayers. Slightly reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse, but not nearly so silly, Whose Body? is the first of the series. I mostly read this one so that I could work my way up to Clouds of Witness. 4 stars]

Clouds of Witness

Catch-22 [This was a tough read for me, and I wished it had been about half as long. I cannot read 400+ pages of satirical nonsense before my head explodes. It gave me more to think about, however, as I was reading Unbroken since both books are about bombardiers during WWII. It is an important modern classic, but not at all enjoyable to read. 3 stars]

Lord of the Flies [Lord of the Flies was not cheerful, by any means, but not quite as grim or at least not as explicit as I was expecting. Important modern classic, not particularly enjoyable. 3 1/2 stars.]

The Great Gatsby [Quintessential Jazz Age and a cultural imperative. 4 1/2 stars.]

Invisible Man

The Return of the Native

The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel

The Grapes of Wrath


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [in progress]

The Signature of All Things [This is a brilliantly-told narrative, even if it took quite some time for the story to get going. (The beginning is interesting, but the first 13 chapters all seem to have the same pacing.) I have very strong feelings about this one, but it is a bit of a pendulum swing when I consider it. It disturbed me. I think I hated it. But maybe, if I read it again, I’d love it. Oddly, it reminded me in some ways of Till We Have Faces, which I didn’t hate. I don’t even know how to rate this one. 4 1/2 stars for the excellent writing. 2 stars for enjoyment.]

*Godric: A Novel [My feelings about Godric were similar to my feelings about The Signature of All Things, though I was more frustrated than disturbed and Godric wasn’t as long. I think I hated it, but maybe I’d love it if I re-read it so that I could understand it better, see more deeply. I suppose good writing is writing that makes you feel and think, in which case both books are excellent. I don’t know. But I hate hating books. It makes me feel shallow and imperceptive. Am I not intellectual enough to love books that aren’t enjoyable? I think I have to be prepared ahead of time for a tragic or graphic or dark story like I was for Beloved or Till We Have Faces. I also find it fascinating that stories can speak so differently to people. Again, it is true: no two people read the same book. 4 stars for the writing, 2 1/2 for the enjoyment.]

Merry Hall [I loved Down the Garden path by Beverly Nichols, and Merry Hall did not disappoint. It’s like P.G. Wodehouse in the garden. Quite hilarious. The little vignettes are somewhat unconnected, though, and there is no driving narrative, so I didn’t find myself needing to continue reading. 3 1/2 stars]

*Go Set a Watchman: A Novel by Harper Lee [Megan Tietz has already given a phenomenal thoughtful review on Sarah Bessey’s blog. This book is a completely different experience from To Kill a Mockingbird. It feels like a light read, somewhat rambling (though not unpleasantly) with flashbacks to Scout’s growing-up years, until at least two-thirds of the way through. And then a tornado hits for the last fifty pages. My emotions were all over the place and I was worried about how it was going to end. But the conclusion is incredible. Friends, we are all so human. Humility. Grace. Love. Hope. (P.S. I still love Atticus.) Also, this is more of an adult’s book than To Kill a Mockingbird. There is language, but it’s more about the age and transformation/conflict of Scout/Jean Louise. 4 1/2 stars.]

*Gone with the Wind (ChocLit Guild)

*The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel [This is a charming and delightful modern novel. I needed something light after a run of several difficult novels. I liked this one in a way similar to The Rosie Project. Quirky. Modern. Not depressing. Not cheesy. Not squeaky clean, but not gritty. 3 1/2 stars]

*The Little Village School [Charming story. Sort of like Mitford, but centered around a school in England. 3 1/2 stars]

*The Awakening of Miss Prim [Review here. 5 stars for enjoyment.]


Pride and Prejudice (ChocLit Guild) [For years I have adored both the BBC movie version with Colin Firth as well as the newer movie version with Matthew Macfadyen, but I had never read the book! Now I can say that I’ve read it. But, honestly? It was delightful in the same way that the movies are delightful. (grin) Both movies retain so much of the story (particularly the longer BBC movie version) and the original dialogue, that I simply replayed the movies in my mind throughout my reading of the whole book. And then I wanted to watch the movies again. I’m not sure how to separate my love for them, so I’ll rate them together: 5 stars.]

Gulliver's Travels (An abridged re-telling) [I love this retelling and the illustrations are fantastic. A must for cultural literacy. 4 stars]

Moby Dick [I knew I wouldn’t end up reading this one this year (or ever), so I grabbed an excellent graphic novel version. This month a friend shared with me an interesting essay titled Why You Should Read Moby Dick by R.C. Sproul. I still don’t know if I’ll read the unabridged version, but I appreciated having some deep ideas to think about as I read the graphic novel.]

Paradise Lost (ChocLit Guild)

The Brothers Karamazov

The Lord of the Rings

Frankenstein [in progress]

No Name (Or something else by Wilkie Collins. ChocLit Guild)

Hamlet (CC Moms Book Club) [deep reading in progress]


The Iliad

The Odyssey

Children’s and YA Novels

The Door in the Wall (CC Challenge A) [A wonderful coming of age story set in Medieval times. 4 stars]

A Gathering of Days (CC Challenge A) [This was my least favorite of all the Challenge A literature selections. Somewhat boring and forced. I didn’t care for the journal-style writing. 2 1/2 stars]

Crispin: The Cross of Lead (CC Challenge A) [This was my favorite of the Challenge A literature selections. I ended up purchasing the other two books in the trilogy as well as several others by the author. Another great coming of age story set in Medieval times. 4 stars]

Where the Red Fern Grows (CC Challenge B)

*A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park [This was an excellent read about a boy from war-torn Sudan. Highly recommended for adults as well as children (though it may be a little much for very young or sensitive children). This will be one of my favorite books this year. 4 1/2 stars.]

*In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord [This is a darling book about a little girl who moves from China to New York in the year 1947. It is a well-written simple chapter book. I would have given it four stars if it hadn’t been for two short events in the book that I did not care for. First (and this is a nit-picky complaint), a bully at school gives her two black eyes while swearing at her, and the words are bleeped out in asterisks. Shirley refuses to tell her parents what happened because she knows the bully would take it out on her. Her resolve not to tattle is rewarded by the bully becoming her friend the next day. Second, Shirley’s next friend tells her that she wants to show her something and swears Shirley to secrecy. The girls sneak into the friend’s dad’s office (he’s a psychiatrist) and the friend shows her a book (presumably a medical book) with pictures of naked people. Shirley pretends enthusiasm, but has no desire to look at the book. The story takes only a couple pages, but it begins with “Only one aspect of her friendship with Emily would have displeased her mother, but she was not likely to find it out, and so Shirley did not trouble herself too much over it.” It was this second event that just didn’t sit well with me, partly because the rest of the book is wonderful for 8-11 year olds. 3 stars.]

Junk Food

*Highland Fling [So fun. So easy to read. So not edifying in any way. (grin) 3 stars]

*Paradise Fields [I enjoy this author, but this was probably my least favorite book of hers. 2 stars]

*Undetected  [Tom Clancy meets Grace Livingston Hill. Well-researched and interesting details about sonar. Squeaky-clean and positive Christian romance. Not painfully written. Probably just a tad (ha!) unrealistic and idealistic. If I were willing to be totally honest, I would tell you that this genre is smack-dab in the middle of my comfort zone and the easiest, most enjoyable thing for me to read. But I don’t want to admit that. (wry grin) 3 stars]

*Attachments [Chick lit set in 1999. 3 stars]



Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (ChocLit Guild)

*The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (ChocLit Guild) [Outstanding. The author deftly weaves multiple stories into one cohesive whole: the Pacific Northwest, logging, mining, the building of the Hoover Dam, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, the history of rowing, the construction of rowing shells, Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the intimate life story of Joe Rantz (and details of the lives of several other men), and the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington. 4 1/2 stars.]

*84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff [A charming collection of correspondence between a New York writer and a bookshop in London from 1949-1969. 3 1/2 stars]

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (ChocLit Guild)

The Hiding Place (CC Challenge B)

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Faith, Culture, and Education

The Pursuit of God (ChocLit Guild) [in progress]

Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age (CiRCE Conference)

Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education (CiRCE Conference) [in progress]

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

The Soul of Science (CC Parent Practicum)

Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art (CC Parent Practicum)

Honey for a Teen's Heart [Detailed review here. 4 1/2 stars]

Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read

*Just Walk Across the Room (ChocLit Guild)

*The Conversation: Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins (third in trilogy) [Excellent. 4 stars for the trilogy.]


*The Bronze Bow (CC Challenge A)

*The Question (CC Moms Book Club) [deep reading in progress]

*A Tale of Two Cities (reading aloud) [in progress]

*The Catcher in the Rye [in progress]

*Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll [audio book/read aloud in progress]

*Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (read aloud)

*Heidi by Johanna Spyri

1 comment:

Renaissance Teacher said...

Miss Prim is absolutely delightful. I don't understand how anyone can read Go Set A Watchman, though. This isn't a "new" book; it's essentially the rough draft of TKAM....a draft she never wanted published. The publication of this book is simply a gross exploitation of an elderly woman with diminished mental capacity. I'll never read it.