reading

Back to The Classics: Two Years Before The Mast

My parents taught me well to check if a book was abridged before reading it and reading an abridged version of Two Years Before The Mast was one of the few mistakes I made in that department as a young reader.  Even in the ridiculously cut-to-size adaptation I fell for, the story entranced me, took me worlds away from my ordinary life and even my usual imaginary worlds.

That’s one thing this classic sea story is: a full immersion in a lost world, the world of sailing ships.  It is still far from my typical reading fare but so interesting that, once I started, I picked it up every chance I got.  It’s the first hand account by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. of two years he spent as a sailor, to save his scholar’s eyesight.

Those two years involved huge physical risks, narrow escapes, storms at sea.   They involved mundane chores: scrubbing decks, mending and sewing, laundry.  Dana saw the pre-Gold Rush coast of California, visited the missions, observed a wedding there, a funeral.  We see through his eyes sailors’ dances, we hear the sailors’ songs and drawn-out calling of the ropes.  Of particular interest to me was the prized place of letters and books in the lives of men at sea.  Letters and newspapers were read and re-read.  Ships traded books when they met each other.  Dana reads aloud to his fellow sailors and during a particularly tedious time of high vigilance in icy seas recites memorized facts, Scriptures, and poetry to combat the oppressive boredom.

I was struck too by the function of the Sabbath in the largely secular lives of the sailors.  Dana speaks of the powerful boost to morale and renewed hope he gained during his first on-shore day of liberty, how critical such days of rest are to men living with routine deprivations, steady hard work, and, in this case, bad feelings between officers and crew after a traumatic outburst of injustice from the captain.  We get to see as well the customs of Catholics, at sea and in California, from an outsider’s perspective. Catholic ships take liturgical days of rest more seriously.  They arrange their sails for mourning on Good Friday of Holy Week.

I saw analogies between the sailors’ life answering to bells, seeing only a limited group of people for months at a time, and working together without being allowed to speak, to the lives of prisoners, and especially to the monastic life.

Dana’s two years off from school became a defining event in his life.  It is for those two years that interrupted his projected career and the book he wrote about them that we remember him today.  His book preserves for our national memory scenes and people and an entire way of life that would otherwise be forgotten.  It is worthy of its classic status.

 

Mrs. Aldertree

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4. Children’s Classic: The Wind in The Willows

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Indulge your inner child and read that classic that you somehow missed years ago.”An appealing invitation.  As I suggested previously, it wasn’t that I “somehow missed” The Wind in the Willows, it was that I deliberately avoided it.  I loved the title; I didn’t like the movie.  I was very picky about my talking animal stories (I pretty much liked only Narnia books in that category).  So, though the movie’s theme, “soon, soon you will forget” haunted me with a sweet painfulness, I didn’t read the book.

Would I have liked The Wind in the Willows, if I had read it some thirty years ago? Mr. Toad’s plot with its ups and downs, with its constant sense of threat, and with his mercurial manipulative character would doubtless have made me nervous. I know because it made me nervous even as an adult and there were a few times I skimmed quickly to make sure nothing terrible was about to happen before I could relax and read every word. The constant amused affection with which the author follows the miscreant may have been lost on the younger me.

I’m sure though I would have loved the lyrical chapters starring Rat and Mole. This is where the sehnsucht and the numinous music that I heard in the book’s title come in. There is even a gnostic/pagan/crypto-Christian religious element to be found here, a spiritual dimension akin to the Magic of Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden.

The Wind in the Willows sits in a friendly way next to C. S. Lewis’s Narnia (and, as I saw another blogger mention, to Tolkien). From the descriptions of cozy meals shared by friends and snug underground houses to the aching quality of Joy in its pages, it was as if a band Talking Beasts from Narnian realms had crossed the border into the human world. It was perfect to read curled up on a couch, while the rains and winds, the sleet and snow, of mid-April howled around our house. So, all told, my inner child was satisfied with this one.

 

-Mrs. Aldertree

3. Woman Author: Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey

This is the only book by a woman author I have on my list for the Back to the Classics challenge.  About a third of the way in I thought it was going to be a disappointment. It certainly lacked the scope of the first two books I read for the challenge. First person narration almost always results in a narrower perspective.  The narrator-protagonist is from a happy but financially struggling family, scandalized and out of her depth as a very young governess for the children of a rich but deeply unhappy family.
The book picks up interest as Agnes moves into her second governess position.  She grows as a person.  She falls in love and, after losing contact with her beloved, learns emotional independence.  It is a Cinderella story in some ways but completely without any but the most quiet and natural magic and free of the sensational.
Wildflowers, primroses in particular, have a significant part to play in the story.  A primrose might be a good emblem for this book.  I found Agnes at first unsympathetic in her inability to see or show the good in most of the people, even the (deeply damaged) children, she lives and works among.  But, gradually, she comes into her own.
A Biblical Christianity informs the vision of the novel.  It has a delicate, satisfying conclusion.  The love relationships between mother and daughter, between man and maiden, are very finely drawn.  A right understanding of marriage, based on mutual respect and love, and a proper relationship to the goods of this world are contrasted with the disorders previously encountered.  Agnes endures and overcomes.  A somewhat oblique comment on education in the contrast between the impossible position of a governess and the sustainability of a private school strongly favors a culture of ownership.
Maybe it was the back of the book that kept me from reading it so long.  Agnes Grey is not socialist tract or an expose of unremitting grimness.  It’s a story of love, family working together, and a God who is faithful to His promises.
New Calligraphy Scroll Clip Art Fancy Flourish Clipart Best
-Mrs. Aldertree

How I Read 50+ Books in a Year

 

I am not a speed reader, and I’m busy  if I can read over 50 books in a year, so can you!

  1. I Use A Reading Log.
    I keep track of the books I read on a Pinterest Board, this motivates me to fill up the pinterest board. At the end of the year I like seeing all the different books I’ve read in one place.
  2.  I Have a Reading List.
     I  have a pinterest board where I pin interesting books I might want to read.
  3. I Always Bring a Book.  I always have a book (or two or three) in my purse, don’t you?
  4. I Set attainable goals: I set specific goals. Instead of saying “I’ll read more this year” Say “I’ll read a chapter a day” or “I’ll read ten minutes daily.”
  5. I Work it into my schedule:  If you have time to browse facebook, pinterest, netflixs, Then you have time to read! Simply commit to reading 10 minutes before screentime. You’ll find that reading is more relaxing.
  6.  I Keep a Commonplace Book: A commonplace book is a journal where you write down poems, passages, quotes you like. Keeping a book where you write down these passages can be motivating. You begin to want to find more things for your commonplace book, you also remember more of what you read.
  7. I Read With my Family: Reading with my family builds up our home culture, strengthens our bonds and let’s us discuss all sorts of topics (more) organically. When I see these good fruits I want to read more.
  8. I Read More than one Book at a time : I read a book of poetry, fiction, children’s fiction and a spiritual book. This keeps me interested as I begin to connect all sorts of ideas from the different genres.
  9. I Don’t always finish books:  It’s okay to stop reading a book. If I dislike a book I give it a few chapters then move on to another one. Maybe it will speak to me in a year, maybe in ten years, maybe never.
  10. I Joined a Book Club: It’s good to have accountability and discussions. It doesn’t have to be a formal book club maybe just a few friends. The book club I’m in is just me and my sister-in-laws but it keeps me reading.
  11. I listen to Books on Audio: We always have a audiobook in the car, my kids love it and I get to revisit so many classics!
  12. I have a library card: This gives me freedom to read books I’m not sure I want to invest in. I also get all the audiobooks from the library.
  13. I Buy books cheap: I buy books used from all over locally and online.
  14. I read Book reviews: Reading reviews from goodreads or other book blogs  can be helpful when I don’t know what to read next.
  15. I’m not try not to be a Book Snob: It doesn’t always have to be a Classic. I read fun pseudoscience books, personality books, interior design coffee table books, children books  . . .
  16. I “Unplug” for 2 hours: For two hours straight everyday I turn off my laptop and put away my phone. Scheduling in no screentime is just easier to manage than scheduling in limited screentime.  I usually end up staying offline for more than 2 hours and I usually end up reading a book to avoid the housework.
  17. I READ.  I Commit to reading at least 10 mins a day just like I commit to praying or exercising.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

Best of 2017

I reached my personal reading goal of 52 books for 2017!  Here’s the Best of 2017:

The Best Nonfiction: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser with Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Ina May Gaskin’s guide to Childbirth a close second and third. dscn6455

 

Best Fiction (adult): Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin. Guided by Virgil, Lavinia tells her story. Le Guin beautifully blends history, tradition, myth, and poetry into an elegant work of fiction. 

Best Children’s Story Book: The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Graham Pictures by Ernest Shepherd.  Whilst trying to fulfill my children’s desire for more dragon stories, (My Father’s Dragon was a hit) we stumbled upon this wonderful book at our local library. It is a classic, a new favorite of ours. Runner ups: Snowflake Bentley and The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

Best Children’s Chapter-book Fiction: We read a lot of Chapter-books this year and so it’s hard to choose but  The Secret Garden was the best. We also Loved: A Little Princess, The Princess and The GoblinBecause of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

Best Spiritual Reading: Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Phillippe. This book is an excellent Spiritual guide to Peace and easy to read. I read it in a few days but it would be a good slow read or daily devotional.

Best Book of Poetry: One of my all time favorites, Christina Rossetti’s Sing-Song.  

What were some of  your favorites from 2017? Have any reading goals for 2018?

My Complete Reading List is here 

Tasha Tudor’s Garden

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Tasha Tudor’s Garden written by Tovah Martin, lavishly photographed by Richard W. Brown and featuring Tasha Tudor’s famous watercolors, is one beautiful book. The book is astonishing, you’ll feel transported to Tasha Tudor’s home and her garden.

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But what I found most endearing was it’s practical tone, for it’s more than a tour to dazzle the senses and leave you feeling an inadequate gardener indeed, it’s instructive. What’s her secret to those towering foxgloves?

Bernideen's Tea Time Blog: "OPEN HOUSE": Wintertime Means A Stack Of Garden Books

 Simple, manure tea.

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 This intimate and yet practical book will make you feel as if you have discovered the secret garden itself – but is that any surprise?

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-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper Jr.

Motherhood: Books That Have Helped Me Along the Way.

 

The Birth Order Book

The Birth Order Book

The Birth Order Book is easy to read, it has helped me better understand myself and my children. It has also helped me see the difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism. The later can be a stumble block to bettering oneself.

The temperament God Gave your Kids

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Another quick and easy read! This book helped me understand how to motivate my children and discipline them according to their different temperaments. I liked how practical it was! I could apply what I learned right away.

Kon Marie’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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We’ve written several book reviews on Kon Marie’s books already but I had to put it on this list because it has helped me create a more peaceful home without spending a dime on organizational tools or home decor, and when your home is more peaceful, so are you, and so are your children!

Little House on The Prairie Books

Vintage Little House Children's Books Complete Series 9 Book Boxed Set (Paperback) 1971 & 1970s (Little House In The Big Woods; Little House on the Prairie; On The Banks of Plum Creek; The First Four Years; Farmer Boy; The Happy Golden Years; Little Town on the Prairie; The Long Winter; By The Shores of Silver Lake)

The Little House on The Prairie Books have been so wonderful to read with my children. They reaffirm the importance of hierarchy, authority, and obedience  within the family- a truth which has become politically incorrect these days. They are also a fascinating account of frontier life.

 

What Books have helped you? I’d love to hear!