Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A Word for Wednesday

"We mortals, men and women, 
devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; 
keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, 
and in answer to inquiries say, 'Oh, nothing!' 
Pride helps; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our hurts—not to hurt others."

~from Middlemarch by George Eliot~
"Victorian Lady in a Rose Hat" by Sue Halstenberg

Monday, September 21, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : The Four Loves

Okay, this has exactly zero to do with today's recap but first things first: Blogger has changed EVERYTHING and in my very mature, grown-up, totally zen, go-with-the-flow-man opinion: it's stupid and I hate it. We all know I'm not a tech-savvy individual in the first place and CHANGE IS HARD, y'all. If there's anyone out there reading this who can do anything about it, make the option to revert to legacy Blogger interface permanent, prettypleasewithacherryontop! (And before you tell me to go leave "official" feedback for Google: done.)

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, on to today's recap. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis was published in 1960 and explores the nature of love from a Christian and philosophical perspective. My edition of this book is about 80 pages long and is actually included in a larger collection entitled "The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis" which includes four of his books, the only other one of which I've read is Surprised by Joy. Even though in regards to length this is a somewhat brief treatise on the topic of love, it was dense and took me several days to read and absorb, much like The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson did a couple of years ago.

So let's break it down a little bit. Lewis introduces The Four Loves by talking about his intention to contrast what he calls "Need-love" (such as a child's need for his mother) with "Gift-love" (God's love for humanity) and disparaging "Need-love" in comparison. But in exploring this idea further, he quickly came to the realization that these basic categorizations of love are much more complex than they may at first seem. 

He goes on in his second chapter to develop the idea that in our love for the sub-human (i.e. love of nature or love of country), we find an additional categorization of love: Appreciative love. Throughout the rest of the book, Lewis shows how each of these three categories of love (Need-love, Gift-love, and Appreciative love) work themselves out within the four different types of love humans experience: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. 

He devotes one chapter to each of these four types of love and that's the book. In each chapter, he defines the love and gives positive examples; then he goes on to show how that love can be perverted if it's made out to be the absolute sovereign of a human life and gives negative examples. 

For instance, when two people discover a special common interest like stamp-collecting, a friendship may arise. These two can find fulfillment and enjoyment in their mutual friendship, but when they elevate this bond to the highest place, they are prone to become snobbish or exclusive thus distorting the love of friendship and corrupting it to something base. 

The only love that isn't susceptible to this kind of perversion is Charity or the divine love of God. Affection, Friendship, and Eros are what Lewis considers natural loves which must be contained by Charity in order to retain their integrity. He starts off his chapter on Charity like this:

William Morris wrote a poem called "Love Is Enough" and someone is said to have reviewed it briefly in the words "It isn't." Such has been the burden of this book. The natural loves are not self-sufficient. Something else, at first vaguely described as "decency and common sense," but later revealed as goodness, and finally as the whole Christian life in one particular relation, must come to the help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet. To say this is not to belittle the natural loves but to indicate where their real glory lies. (emphasis mine)

While I found The Four Loves very interesting and ultimately helpful, it took my full and undivided concentration to read. It's certainly not a book to be read quickly or casually, and it's one that will definitely be improved upon with rereading. As has become par for the course with Lewis, I was floored by his brilliant analogies and ability to follow a thought to its logical and rational end in a concise and intelligent manner. What a writer.

I'm thinking I may need to follow The Four Loves up with Till We Have Faces in 2021 which is Lewis' fictional treatment of the same subject, but I'm also very interested in reading Present Concerns and his space trilogy so who knows where I'll end up. Any advice?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : Middlemarch

Ah, Middlemarch. The book that wouldn't end. This is not, in actuality, the longest book I've ever read, but it sure felt like it. I started reading this tome at the very beginning of March and didn't turn the final page until the tale end of July. Five solid months. Though to be fair, I largely ignored it for all of April. I know there are a lot of fans of this classic out there, but I can't say I've joined your ranks. 

Middlemarch was written by Mary Ann Evans under the pen name George Eliot and originally published in eight installments in 1871 and 1872. In it, we follow the lives of Dorothea and Celia Brooke, Reverend Edward Casaubon and Sir James Chettam, Tertius Lydgate and Rosamond Vincy, Fred Vincy and Mary Garth, and Camden Farebrother and Will Ladislaw among a host of others, but these were the ones I was most interested in so they're the ones I'll mention. They all live in the fictitious village of Middlemarch and the novel is mainly about who marries who and how that goes for them. While the portraits Eliot paints of each character are penetrating and real and the situations complex and compelling, none of the characters were likable (except Farebrother who ends up with the rawest deal of them all) and all the politics of early 19th century provincial life had me falling asleep every time I was trying to read (what a slog). I was expecting something in the vein of Jane Austen, but what I got was something akin to the wordiness of Dickens married to the obscure politics of Tolstoy. 

For all that, this is not a bad novel. My sister-in-law read this along with me (although she was smart enough to tackle it via audio) and when I finally finished (months after she did), I told her that the entire novel was almost worth it for the very last sentence of the book alone. I mean, Eliot writes the absolute glorification of and resulting disillusionment with marriage in the cases of Dorothea and Casaubon and Rosamond and Lydgate with heartbreaking accuracy. She portrays the ruinous effect a completely self-absorbed wife (*cough*Rosamond*cough*) or an indifferent, neglectful husband (lookin' at you, Casaubon) can have on a marital relationship with poignancy. And her depiction of the acute strain financial hardship puts on a couple was strikingly vivid. Eliot managed to evoke strong emotions in me with her writing; unfortunately, they were mainly the negative emotions of frustration and exasperation. I wanted to shake Dorothea and smack Rosamond around a bit. I think the biggest problem I had was that my expectations were out of line with what ended up being my actual experience. I went into books like Anna Karenina and The Count of Monte Cristo being intimidated by their length and the fact that they were classic works in translation, then ended up being pleasantly surprised; whereas I approached Middlemarch with enthusiasm and ended up being underwhelmed and a bit disappointed even. 

Overall, I don't regret reading Middlemarch. I maybe didn't choose the best time to read it or approach it with the right mindset, but after the deaths of Thackeray (in 1863) and Dickens (in 1870) George Eliot became recognized as the greatest living English novelist at that time and Middlemarch is largely considered her greatest work though I tend to agree with the critic who said it was "overwrought and would have benefited from hastier composition". Interestingly, I learned in writing this post that Middlemarch is included in the same list as Ballet Shoes (which I also read this year) of the BBC's 100 Most Inspiring Novels, and it shows up on most every list the BBC puts together of exceptional novels. 

Would I recommend it? I mean, probably not if we're being honest. It's not one I'll be revisiting in future; but for its place in the canon of Victorian literature it might be worth a go if you're willing to give it some time.

I have one other Eliot novel in my collection—Daniel Deronda—but after making it through Middlemarch, I may call it quits with Eliot and stick Daniel Deronda in a Little Free Library somewhere. 
What do you think? Do I need to give Eliot another chance, and if so, what book can I not miss?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : Ballet Shoes

Okay, you guys, I've wanted to read the Shoe Books ever since 1998 when I first saw You've Got Mail which is one of my all time favorite movies to this day. In the movie, Kathleen Kelly's little Shop Around the Corner has just closed and she makes her way to the children's section in Fox Books. A frazzled mom comes in looking for the "Shoe Books" and Kathleen Kelly proceeds to tell the clueless sales associate everything he needs to know to find the books. Click here to watch the scene. It's a gem.

I've never been able to find the books but in 2018, they got a makeover and were republished by Random House Children's Books. I immediately added the four books mentioned in You've Got Mail to my amazon wishlist and my sweet husband (ever my book-enabler) got them for me for my birthday last year. It was a no-brainer for a Shoe Book to have a slot on my 2020 book list, and naturally I had to follow Kathleen Kelly's advice to start with Ballet Shoes (her favorite). 

And the flawless Kathleen Kelly did not lead me astray. I enjoyed every charming second with this lovely children's novel.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild was originally published in 1936 by J.M. Dent & Sons. It was Streatfeild's first book for children, and since its publication it has been adapted twice for the screen and also been included on BBC's list of the 100 Most Inspiring Novels. In it, we are introduced to Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil; three adopted sisters who were each discovered as babies by Great-Uncle-Matthew (lovingly referred to as "Gum") and sent back home to his niece Sylvia who raises them with the help of her childhood nanny, Nana. When Gum doesn't return home from his expedition abroad in the promised five years, Sylvia falls into financial hardship and decides to take on boarders to help make ends meet. One of the boarders helps Sylvia arrange to have the girls enrolled in the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training so that they can learn a skill that will help provide for themselves and the household. 

I loved every minute. The girls' unique personalities and talents, their relationships with the boarders who become like family, the lessons they learn; with each turn of the page I couldn't stop smiling. Highly recommend you give this one a look and then just for fun, go watch You've Got Mail. I can't wait for my next Shoe Book. (Next in publication order would be Theater Shoes, but I'm tempted to skip ahead to Skating Shoes as that's the other one Kathleen Kelly particularly loves.)

Have you read any of the Shoe Books? Have you ever been inspired to read something just because it was mentioned in a movie or TV show you were enjoying?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : Sisterchicks Down Under!

Happy Monday! I decided to start this new week off with the book that's been waiting the longest to be recapped. (Well, technically that's not true. I still want to write a recap for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I read last year, but this one's been waiting the longest in 2020 so we'll count it.) I read this book back in April between Maisie Dobbs and Charlotte's Web and it's just been sitting at the bottom of the stack of my finished books while others keep piling on top. 

I know I say it every time I mention Robin Jones Gunn, but she's one of my very favorite authors and I always turn to her when I need a pick-me-up. Not just in the sense that things are crazy and I want to read something easy, but more because I know I'll be encouraged and refreshed when I read something she's written. And Sisterchicks Down Under! was no exception.

Sisterchicks Down Under! was published in 2005 and is the fourth book in the Sisterchicks series which consist of eight standalone novels. It's also the fourth one that I've read, and this one definitely had a different tone. It's the first one I've read that wasn't set up as a girlfriend getaway. In Sisterchicks Down Under!, Kathleen and her husband pack up and fly off to New Zealand for a short-term job opportunity that her husband has been offered. Even though Kathleen is initially excited for the opportunity, upon arrival she finds that more than her geography has flip-flopped and she has a harder time embracing the adventure than she anticipated. Through a series of God-things, she ends up meeting another California girl and they instantly become sisterchicks and take a fun trip together to Australia. 

Reading this one during the height of all the initial drama and unknowns with COVID-19 was a sweet reminder to make the best of the circumstances God has placed us in and look for ways to connect with others, even when it might seem more appealing to hole up and wallow. 

Another home run from my favorite author; no surprise. Pretty soon I'll be recapping her most recently published novel Being Known (which I also read in April) so be on the lookout for that!

Do you have certain books or authors that you turn to when life gets to be a bit too much? Have you found any new favorites during this pandemic pandemonium?

Friday, September 11, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : This Momentary Marriage

Y'all. We have a lot of books by John Piper. But confession time: I had never finished a single one of them until this week. I read some of Don't Waste Your Life in high school, and I've started Desiring God at least twice (without making it past the first chapter), but for some reason, he's an author I've just kept putting off. 

After reading This Momentary Marriage, I may need to add Piper to the very small list of authors who automatically get a slot on my yearly book lists. FYI: the only three who currently have that honor are C.S. Lewis, William Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens; and the only two I've actually read yearly with any consistency are Lewis and Shakespeare.

This Momentary Marriage by John Piper was on my very first official book list way back in 2015, but, like I said, I kept putting it off and Piper hasn't made it onto any of my book lists since...until 2020. 

And this book came to me at just the time I needed it. Cody and I celebrated our eighth anniversary this past May, and while I would marry him all over again in a heartbeat, 2020 has been one big ball of crazy and I was extremely blessed and challenged by this reminder that marriage is the doing of God and the meaning of marriage is the display of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and His people. What a sobering thought. That's much bigger than me and Cody and how we feel on any given day.

John Piper has been putting books out almost yearly since the '80s and this particular one was published in 2009. It consists of fifteen chapters, comes in at just under 200 pages, and it is very straightforward. Piper's writing in This Momentary Marriage is clear and if you haven't gotten his point by the end of the book then you weren't paying attention. I was hooked from page one of the foreword by his wife Noël, and I read the book in one week because I deliberately limited myself to two chapters a day so I could absorb it. I easily could have read this book in a day.

Piper not only writes to married couples in this book; two chapters are dedicated to singles and he covers the topic of divorce as well. I truly would recommend this book to anyone. I think it would be helpful no matter what stage of life you're in or no matter how long you've been married. Piper says in his acknowledgements: "I waited forty years to write this book. There have been so many stresses in our marriage that I felt unfit to write about marriage at ten, twenty, or thirty years into it. Now at forty years, I realize we will never have it all together, so it seemed a good time to speak." None of us will ever have it all together this side of Heaven, but reading books like this sure do help along the way.

"As you gave the ring to one another 
and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, 
so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. 
As high as God is above man, 
so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. 
It is not your love that sustains the marriage, 
but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love."
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer~

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : Cymbeline

Time for some more Shakespeare! And apparently I'm only blogging every other month this year. Seems par for the course with 2020. 

For the past five years or so, I've been reading a Shakespearean comedy in February and a tragedy in August. This year's pick for August was Cymbeline, and even though it is classified as a tragedy in the First Folio it's definitely not one and modern critics often classify it as a romance or even a comedy. I think it solidly lands in the "romance" category, and it was a pleasant change of pace to read a play where the people you hated actually died and the people you liked (or at least you didn't completely despise) finally got their happily ever after. 

We open to find two unnamed gentlemen setting the stage for us which is basically this: King Cymbeline's daughter Imogen has essentially flipped him the bird by marrying the love of her life (one Posthumus Leonatus—bless his heart—that the king raised and loved as a son, by the way) instead of acquiescing to the king's plans for her to marry Cloten (a total loser who happens to be the king's stepson). So naturally Cymbeline banishes Posthumus from Britain and tells his daughter she can go to H-E-double-hockeysticks for all he cares about her feelings. 

Oh and also Cymbeline has two sons who were kidnapped as small children because why not?

Once the two gentlemen have given us this little history of our main characters, the queen and Imogen and Posthumus enter and we realize Imogen is about to say her farewells to Posthumus. The queen is all, "I'm not your typical wicked stepmother; let's be pals" and Imogen is all, "I can't live without you; my dad's the worst for banishing you" and Posthumus is all, "I'll always be true; write me constantly and wear this bracelet forever." 

Posthumus takes himself off to Rome where he immediately makes himself obnoxious by bragging about his gorgeous, faithful bride to anyone who will listen. He catches the attention of one Iachimo who bets him 10,000 pieces of gold that he can bed Imogen no problem at which point Posthumus is like, "Go for it, bro."

Meanwhile back home in Britain, we find out that the queen actually is your typical wicked stepmother and is planning to kill Imogen to secure her son's right to the throne. She hits up the local doc to hook her up with some poison, but the doctor (and everyone else) can see right through her and sets her up with some brew that will for sure knock you out but definitely won't kill you and goes on about his business. The queen then passes along the potion to Pisanio (the loyal servant of Posthumus who has stayed in Britain to attend Imogen) hyping it as the best Tylenol ever and feeling pretty confident that both Pisanio and Imogen will take it and die.

By this time, Iachimo has shown up in Britain ready to get jiggy with Imogen and carrying a letter from Posthumus introducing him as this great guy. Just so, you know, Imogen has no suspicions about his intentions. He starts coming on to Imogen like it's his job (which, I mean, I guess it kindof is since he's got skin in the game), but Imogen is all, "Kick rocks, scumbag." Iachimo starts backpedaling faster than the speed of light and goes off monologuing about lucky Posthumus for bagging such a worthy chick and how amazing Imogen is for proving everything and more that Posthumus ever said about her. At which point, Imogen is like, "Cool, bro, you're alright" and Iachimo is like, "Would you mind safeguarding a trunk of my crap?" and Imogen's like, "What are friends for?" 

Um, what?! And that was all Act I.

Later that night, Imogen's asleep in her private chamber with Iachimo's trunk nearby for safety when out of the trunk comes Iachimo himself because he is not about to lose 10,000 pieces of gold over this dame. He leers over her like the major creep he is (noting a distinct mole in a place that only a lover should know about) and steals her precious bracelet right off her arm, then climbs back into the trunk for the rest of the night. 


Outside Imogen's bedchamber, Cloten is pulling a John Cusack in Say Anything when the king and queen walk up. Cloten's complaining that Imogen isn't giving him the time of day and Cymbeline is like, "Give it time, son. You'll get her eventually." 

Seriously?? Worst. Dad. Ever.

Imogen finally deigns to come out of her room and Cloten is like, "I really, really love you so like, can we just get together already?" to which Imogen replies, "I actually hate you and you're not even good enough to lick Posthumus' shoes." 

Back in Rome, Iachimo has produced enough "evidence" to convince Posthumus that Imogen is not all that he thought she was, and he sends off a letter to Pisanio ordering him to kill that whore ASAP.

Seems harsh, man. But let's get back to Britain.

Out of nowhere, an ambassador from Rome named Caius Lucius shows up and is all, "Hey, you owe us your annual tribute" and Cymbeline is all, "You ain't gettin' a dime outta me" and Caius Lucius is like, "We will fight you" to which Cymbeline responds, "Bring it."

By this time, Pisanio has gotten the letter from Posthumus along with a letter he is to give to Imogen telling her that Posthumus wants her to come to him at Milford for a little lovers' getaway. 

Because why ask Imogen—the woman he loves, the woman he's known his entire life—for her side of the story? Instead, let's let her think everything is business as usual and make my servant do my dirty work. Seems logical. Real mature, Posthumus.

Pisanio and Imogen head off on their little trip, but halfway there, Pisanio is like, "We need to talk." He tells Imogen about the contents of his letter and that Posthumus is setting her up for her death. But Pisanio (the real MVP of this play) is not about to shed Imogen's perfectly innocent blood and instead concocts a plan for Imogen to disguise herself as a man and run away.

Because would this even be Shakespeare if there wasn't a little cross-dressing involved?

Pisanio heads back to Britain where Cymbeline, the queen, and Cloten are all in a dither because Imogen has run away. Cloten demands that Pisanio bring him some of Posthumus' old clothes because he's had enough of the cold shoulder; he's going to dress up like Posthumus, go find Imogen, and have his way with her whatever it takes. He doesn't really need Posthumus' clothes for this plan, but Cloten has a weird clothing fetish all throughout the play.

In the meantime, Imogen has been wandering around a forest, dressed like a boy, and stumbles into the cave where her two long-lost brothers have been living with their kidnapper (who they believe to be their father) their whole lives.

How convenient.

They all love each other immediately (even though none of them have the slightest idea who they are) and they decide the new guy needs some food pronto because he's looking ready to pass out from hunger. So Arviragus stays with Imogen (who's going by "Fidele"), and Guiderius goes out to hunt. 

While he's out hunting, he comes across Cloten wandering around the forest looking for Imogen. In typical Cloten fashion, he manages to insult this complete stranger to such a degree that Guiderius swiftly cuts off his head.

Belarius (the kidnapper) recognizes Cloten and is like, "We're all gonna die." But Guiderius is like, "Whatever, I'd do it again, that guy was a tool."

Back in the cave, Imogen decided to take the Tylenol that Pisanio gave her before they parted ways. (Remember, this was the potion that the queen got from the doctor that's supposed to be deadly, but isn't actually.) So upon the return of Guiderius and Belarius, Arviragus is carrying Imogen out thinking she's dead as a doornail. The three of them lay Imogen next to Cloten's headless body and sing a dirge in honor of Imogen (which is actually one of the most beautiful pieces I've read by Shakespeare) and then go off to fight for Britain in the mounting war against Rome. 

A little while later, Imogen wakes up and sees a headless body dressed in Posthumus' clothes lying next to her. Obviously, she gets a little upset. Caius Lucius and some other Romans ride up to this scene and she agrees to go along with them as their servant boy. (She's still dressed as a boy and going by the name Fidele.)

Then there's some fighting, and Posthumus ends up rescuing Cymbeline, and then Posthumus has a weird dream, and Britain ends up beating Rome, and everyone goes back to the king's palace so we can sort out this mess.

First of all, the doctor reports that the queen died in a mad fit and before dying she confessed to the doctor and her ladies in waiting that she only married the king so she could get her son the throne. To which Cymbeline basically says, "Well, she was hot so....WORTH IT." 

Iachimo (who is there with Caius Lucius and Imogen and some other Romans) suddenly grows a conscience and confesses his whole drama with Imogen and Posthumus at which point Posthumus is like, "You lied?! And I ordered the death of my wife because of you???" But then Imogen comes forward and is all, "No harm, no foul. I'm here. We're good."

And then Belarius steps up to the mic and is like, "I know you banished me, but look, here are your two sons that I kidnapped and raised and took care of, and I fought for you pretty valiantly in this skirmish with the Romans so let's all be friends." 

And then a soothsayer comes forward and spouts off a bunch of stuff, and Cymbeline decides that even though Britain beat Rome, he's had a change of heart and they'll pay the tribute after all.

And they all live happily ever after.

I mean, wow. If I could change anything: Iachimo would get what was coming to him, and Posthumus would at least have gotten a good combing down from Imogen, but all in all I loved it.

This play was definitely involved. While I was reading this, I couldn't help but get the feeling that Shakespeare just took all his favorite parts from all the plays he had ever written and kindof mashed them up into this one and said, "Here you go, world." Cymbeline is one of the last plays he wrote just a few years before he died. I really did enjoy it though, and I thought that everything was pretty important to the story whereas with some of Shakespeare's work, there are side stories happening that I don't really care about. Maybe not Shakespeare's greatest work of all time, but definitely one I'd still recommend for a good time. 

Have you read Cymbeline or seen it performed? As usual, feel free to nominate your favorites for next year's book list. I'm thinking Troilus and Cressida for my tragedy, but I'm not sure about my comedy yet. Merry Wives of Windsor? The Comedy of Errors? What would you recommend?