Back in 2015, I read my first Steinbeck: Of Mice and Men. And I was depressed for about a week afterwards. So I didn't put any Steinbeck on my book lists for the next two years. But this year, I decided it was time for another one, and I placed The Pearl on my 2018 list. It was also on the depressing side, but it ended on a semi-hopeful note (at least that's the way I've decided to look at it) so it was easier to stomach than Of Mice and Men was.
The Pearl by John Steinbeck was first published in 1947. It's a short, 6-chapter, 90-page book and very easy to read. It very much reads like an old folk tale that's been passed down for generations in the oral tradition, and, in fact, Steinbeck was inspired by an old Mexican folk tale he heard on a trip to La Paz which used to be a very pearl-rich region. In it, we learn the story of the indigent pearl diver Kino who discovers the Pearl of the World.
In The Pearl, Steinbeck explores themes of poverty, human greed, materialism, and "the inherent worth of a thing." He paints a heartbreaking picture of mankind: of the rich taking advantage of the poor, of the poor being trapped in their poverty by ignorance, of the hope a little wealth can bring but also of the all-consuming greed it can bring.
90 pages but they were heavy. Again, Steinbeck just made me sad. I have two more of his on my Life List (The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden), but it may be another 2 or 3 years before he makes it on another book list.
Short recap for a short book. Have you read The Pearl? Did you like it? Have you read anything else by Steinbeck?
Ok, let's get this over with. I'm sure not everyone is going to like what I have to say here.
The first book I read from my 2018 book list was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, and I didn't like it. Sue me.
I chose to begin with A Wrinkle in Time because I've only ever read positive reviews of it, it was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1963, and it's touted as a charming book for children which presents lovely and beautiful ideas. How can we go wrong?
In A Wrinkle in Time, we meet Meg Murry and her family. Meg's parents are scientists and her father has mysteriously disappeared. Meg has twin brothers and a baby brother Charles Wallace who is completely brilliant but is considered stupid by most people because they can't understand him. Through a series of events, Meg and Charles Wallace meet Calvin O'Keefe and the three of them end up on an adventure through time and space to find Meg's father and battle against the cosmic Black Thing that is trying to take over the entire universe. With the help of the nebulous entities Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which, they eventually end up on the planet of Camazotz where they have to defeat IT in order to survive their brave mission.
First of all, I found the "lovely" and "beautiful" ideas presented in this book to be muddled and half-developed at best. This made more sense to me as I read more about the author herself. L'Engle was an Episcopalian and believed in universal salvation. She once wrote that "All will be redeemed in God's fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones." While this is a nice, happy thought, it's not true and it leads a person into dangerous theological territory.
Oh Hannah, do we have to drag the author's faith into this recap?
Well, yes. Yes, we do. Because L'Engle incorporates Scripture throughout A Wrinkle in Time, and when an author does that, I as a Christian need to think critically about what she's communicating about Christianity and hold her body of work up to the light of the Bible as a whole. And I have to say, A Wrinkle in Time puts forth wrong ideas and if people grasp at L'Engle's "beautiful" ideas instead of the truth, they will be led astray.
Jesus was not just another warrior in a long line of warriors including philosophers, scientists, poets, and even stars (*eye-roll*) against the Darkness. He was and is the ultimate Conqueror and Victor over evil. He has already overcome the Darkness (praise God!) and we, while we certainly stand against it with Him, have nothing to do with the actual conquering of it. Yes, Love is powerful, but to know true Love you have to know the true God. Love doesn't come from within: we love because He first loved us. (1 John 4)
A quote that kept coming to my mind while I was writing this post and trying to work through the reasons I didn't appreciate this story is, "Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right." (C.H. Spurgeon) While there were a lot of "beautiful" ideas in this book that seemed almost right, they weren't right. And the distinction between the two is important.
Theological reasons aside, I did not enjoy the sci-fi aspects of the book, and honestly, I didn't find Meg a likable character. The book did nothing for me, I had to push my way through to the end, and I have absolutely zero interest in reading any of the other books in the quintet or anything else by Madeleine L'Engle for that matter.
Zero stars and I would not recommend.
Have you read A Wrinkle in Time? Did you like it? Is it your favorite book from childhood? If you're a Christian, what do you think of the theological implications in the book? Am I being too harsh?
We have checked the Big Apple off our Bucket List and with it, another state in our quest to #SeeAll50. This was the longest amount of time we actually spent in one state (5 days!), and we made the most of it so here we go.
We flew out of the sweet land of sunshine and warmth early on Friday, December 29th on a straight flight to JFK. After picking up our one checked bag and putting on several more layers of clothing, we braved the sub-freezing temps (literally, the warmest it got the whole time we were in NY was a frosty 21 degrees. I can't.) to meet our car service for a nice, warm ride to our hotel.
Giant shout-out to Hotel Mimosa in the heart of Chinatown. Even though we showed up four and a half hours before our actual check-in time, they had our room ready for us, greeted us warmly with maps and lists of things to do in the area, and let us go up and catch a nap at no extra charge. We loved staying there and would definitely recommend it.
After getting intimately acquainted with our cozy room and even cozier bed, we forged our way back out into the cold to go check out Ground Zero. In the handful of times I've been to New York since 9/11, I have never been to the site and wow. I stood between the imprint of the Twin Towers and just cried. The memorial they have created there is beautiful and moving and sobering.
From there, we headed uptown to find The Strand, another iconic NYC location to which I had never been and a big personal Bucket List item for me. And y'all. When we stepped inside that space containing over 18 miles of books, it was as if I had arrived at the Mecca. We explored about every inch of the four glorious levels (spending the most time upstairs in the rare book room—eight grand for a first edition Adventures of Tom Sawyer by the incomparable Mark Twain!) until Cody finally dragged me out of there before I could spend our entire life savings and someone else's on all the books.
After leaving the Strand, we ducked into Bravo Pizza for a late-night dinner of hot, New York-style pizza before heading back to our hotel room to crash.
Saturday, December 30th: was awakened by my husband excitedly dragging me to the window to see that it was SNOWING. We bundled up and made our way out into the frozen tundra to commence our Statue of Liberty adventure. Ducked into a Dunkin to grab some hot breakfast sandwiches before trekking down to Battery Park to stand in line. Y'all. That line was legitimately the worst part of our entire trip for me. I was so cold I wanted to cry. My husband was loving every second of that icy snowfall and I'm just standing there wondering who in the world I married. I love that guy with every ounce of my being, but no. Standing in line with the freezing heavens snowing down around me is not my idea of a good time. But once we got onto the ferry, Saturday turned into the best day. Exploring Liberty Island, climbing the inside of that classy lady all the way up to the crown, learning all about how immigration has changed at the excellent museum on Ellis Island: we had a complete blast. And snow is fun as long as you don't have to stand still in it.
You couldn't even see the skyline from the crown because of all the snow!
Inside Lady Liberty's crown.
Check that extremely narrow spiral staircase.
This climb is not for the fat, claustrophobic, or faint of heart.
Just being honest.
It stopped snowing right about the time we were getting ready to leave Ellis Island, and we could finally make out the New York skyline which was really beautiful to see riding the ferry back to Battery Park.
We made it back to our blessedly warm hotel room to thaw out and clean up before heading back out for.....
....Anastasia on Broadway! The show was spectacular with dazzling sets and absolutely fantastic music. Caroline O'Connor stole the show as the Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch and was my personal favorite. I would definitely recommend this if you're trying to decide which show to see while you're in the city. Loved it!
After the show, we started making our way back downtown to our hotel. Although we had a very late lunch on Ellis Island, that was not going to sustain my husband through the night so we ducked into a little place called 375 for some yummy thrice-cooked fries. Funky little find at which our enjoyment was not at all diminished (and possibly even increased) by the fact that we were eating crispy, fried food at midnight in zero degree weather. Stumbled into this place totally by accident and it was the perfect way to end our day.
Sunday, December 31st: the infamous last day of 2017 had arrived boasting the lowest temps NYC had seen on a New Years Eve since 1917 (that's a hundred years, you guys). Because when we decide to check off a major Bucket List item like see the ball drop on New Years Eve, we go hard. We started the day by sleeping in and spent the morning finishing up our Bible reading. Cody read through the ESV in 2017, and I read through the KJV. We then donned as many layers as humanly possible and caught the subway uptown to make teeny tiny snowmen in Central Park.
I like kissing that guy.
Okay, so Cody made a teeny tiny snowman. Isn't he the cutest little thing you ever saw with his little dead-leaf bowtie? I promptly named him Winston. I made a teeny tiny undefined snow blob that we dubbed Hubert. We grabbed a couple of hot dogs from a Nathan's Famous stand in the park before heading downtown back to Ground Zero where we purchased tickets to take a ride to the top of One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 6th tallest building in the world. We hung out inside the Oculus drinking hot Starbucks while we waited for our time slot to go up. The ride to the 102nd floor takes a mere 47 seconds, and the views from the top are amazing. We got to the observatory just as the sun was setting over the city.
After we came down out of the sunset, we hoofed it back to our hotel room to get thoroughly warmed up before braving the coldest New Years Eve in recent history to watch the ball drop. I didn't think it was physically possible, but I added even more layers before we headed back out into the city. We hopped on the subway and got off at Essex street to hang out at a 24-hour diner called Remedy for a couple hours before going uptown. We ate super-yummy sandwiches and quesadillas and had generous slices of pie and cheesecake and left around 10:30 to brave the crowds and the cold.
We got off the subway at the 42nd St/Bryant Park stop where we had a full view of the glittering ball. We then took a brisk walk all the way around Times Square checking out the pretty Christmas lights and displays and trying not to actually turn to ice waiting for midnight. There were literally thousands of people milling around, celebrating, and snapping photos. You couldn't take 10 steps without seeing a police officer. I don't care what anybody says: NYC was probably the safest place in the world to be on New Years Eve 2017. At about a quarter till, we ended up back at our Bryant Park spot in a crush of people, waiting for the ball to drop.
At about five minutes to midnight, everyone started cheering and kept it up right into the New Year. I wasn't even exactly sure when midnight hit because everyone was in total party mode and between all the fireworks and confetti and people shoving you all around, I definitely couldn't keep my eye on the ball. It was chaos and fantastic. Pretty much exactly what I was expecting. The cops finally fanned out and told people it was over and to move it. We did not need much prompting. Caught the subway back to our blessedly warm hotel and crashed.
On New Years Day, we tramped back up to Times Square for our private viewing of the ball. That's right. Some sweet friends of ours (thank you so much, Mytron and Kathy!) connected us with their daughter who is part of the NYE team in New York and arranged for us to take our own little tour of the ball headquarters.
That is the ball. Right above my head. We learned about how Waterford Crystal gives a themed gift of crystals to the ball each year which are then incorporated into the ball's design. The year is engraved on the crystals and you can see crystals from years past all over the ball when looking at it up close. This year's theme was "Serenity". Seeing the ball up close and being on the very top of One Times Square on New Years Day 2018 was such a cool experience and one I will not forget.
We ended up back at Remedy Diner for brunch which was an entirely different experience on New Years Day than it was on New Years Eve. The night before, we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. On New Years Day, it was crammed to capacity and we waited half an hour for a table. The food was just as good though, and after we filled our bellies with pancakes and bacon, we trudged back to our hotel room for naps. Later in the afternoon, we met up with Melanie (our sweet friend who arranged our viewing of the ball) for a late lunch at WestWay Diner which we discovered (as we were leaving) was the birthplace of Seinfeld. What?!
And how did we spend our last big night in NYC, The City that Never Sleeps? Snuggled up in our cozy hotel room having chili dogs and milkshakes delivered to us watching Family Feud until we fell asleep. We party hard.
We checked out at noon on Tuesday, January 2nd and used our hotel's car service to get to LaGuardia where we ended up hanging out most of the day eating Auntie Anne's pretzels and reading because our flights kept getting delayed. We finally made it back home to sunny FREEZING COLD Florida just before 3 AM (thanks for picking us up from the airport, Dad!) on Wednesday, January 3rd. I'm not sure where my 80 degree weather went, but please come back!
All in all, fabulous trip and if you actually made it to the end of this post: God bless ya.
Well, I've finally gotten myself together and created my 2018 Book List. It was brutal narrowing this list down. I got a lot of great books for Christmas, and I just want to read all the things, y'all. But if our first year with a book list taught me anything, it's that realistic and manageable goals are crucial for success.
So here we go. My official goal for 2018 is 24 books. I wanted to create a starting list of about 20 books to give myself a little wiggle room, but darnit if I didn't fill every single slot. Oh well. It was impossible to narrow it down any further. I'm just not disciplined enough, you guys. Here's the list:
James Madison: A Life Reconsidered : Lynne Cheney
The Three Live of James Madison : Noah Feldman
31 Days of Praise : Ruth & Warren Myers
Mere Christianity : C.S. Lewis
God is Able : Priscilla Shirer
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God : Carson
I Believed in 'Issa, I Met Jesus : Jamel Attar
Night : Elie Wiesel
Tuesdays with Morrie : Mitch Albom
Othello : William Shakespeare
Twelfth Night : William Shakespeare
Anna Karenina : Leo Tolstoy
A Tale of Two Cities : Charles Dickens
The Return of the Native : Thomas Hardy
The Professor : Charlotte Brontë
The Good Earth : Pearl S. Buck
The Great Gatsby : F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Pearl : John Steinbeck
And Then There Were None : Agatha Christie
The Wizard of Oz : L. Frank Baum
A Wrinkle in Time : Madeleine L'Engle
Hinds' Feet on High Places : Hannah Hurnard
Song of Deborah : Bette M. Ross
Sisterchicks Do the Hula! : Robin Jones Gunn
I'd like to squeeze in a biography on James Monroe this year as well so I can knock out two presidents, but I've got some pretty big reads on this list, and I have not yet acquired a biography on Monroe so we'll just see how it goes. I'm breaking into the Russian authors this year with Anna Karenina which is the book that seems the most intimidating to me right now, but I've recruited some friends to read it with me and we're going to have a party this summer if we make it through. All in all, I'm excited to get started.
What are your 2018 resolutions? Do you have any new books you're excited to read? If you're interested in reading Anna Karenina along with me, the goal is to finish it by the end of June. Let me know if you do, and I'll invite you to the party!