Literary Life Reading Challenge
The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer through Frost compiled by Harold Bloom
I heard this book referenced on The Daily Poem podcast, and ordered a copy. I like that there is a write up about the poets and poems. I did read a little here in there in 2020 and decided this would be a great fit for this challenge. And it is. However, I came across a copy of A Poem a Day: 365 Devotional Readings Based on Classic Christian Verse compiled by Phillip Comfort. I have been drawn lately in my devotional reading towards the classic works, and once I started reading these poems I knew that this was a BETTER choice for my poetry anthology choice for 2021.
This will not be the only poetry I read this year, I have formed the habit of stopping in my tracks and picking up a volume of poetry and sitting down to flip through the pages and reading first verses at random until one catches me, then soaking it in. In the past I have enjoyed poetry, and have always sought out poems that comforted my sensitivity. Poems that reflect my connection with nature, or that reflect the joys of this life, or poems that were for or about children. I stayed in the ‘happy zone’ with poetry and feeling lifted up and lighter after reading poetry. I was always looking for the good and beautiful not wanting to feel hurt or pain through the words of a poem. However, since mid 2020 I have been seeking out poetry that helps me connect with heavier emotions. I have found some poems that have helped me to feel and, then release, the aching of my grieving heart. And I find that I am more and more going to poetry for processing thoughts and feelings. I can say that I enjoyed poetry only on a shallow level before, but am now realizing the full depth and breadth of the power of poetry.
My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail Adams and John Adams by Joseph Ellis
In December I and January, I made a few impulse book orders and forgot to make a note of them. This book arrived in the mail and I said to myself “Oh! I must have decided this would be great for the letter category based on something I heard or read”. And because I read and very much enjoyed Those Who Love by Irving Stone, I felt I would enjoy reading their letters. So I started reading. And I opened more forgotten book mail. Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Leonard S. Marcus arrived and I started reading and could not put it down because it was exciting to read about children books I have known and loved being published. It didn’t take me long to realize I could not connect with Ursula and was only connecting with the stories about the authors and illustrators I already ‘know’. I finished the book, quite a bit deflated from the initial excitement I felt at the beginning of the book. And because she was mentioned in one line of Dear Genius, I was wishing for a parallel publication about beloved author Alice Dalgliesh and the books she edited and helped publish. Hopefully I will be able to return to John and Abigail’s letters this year, but I may be distracted by another impulsive book order in the “Letters” category: The Habit of Being by Flannery O’Conner.
To Be Read
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death by Jean-domonique Bauby
I have a ginormous “To Be Read” selection in my home library. Mostly comprised of books that were given to me or found while thrifting. A few books were ordered online. When it comes to choosing a book to read from this group of books, I frequently reach for the titles that cost more money to read first. And those are the books I have ordered. Somewhere in my book-collector-guilt portion of my reason there is twisted logic that I should read the more expensive books first to justify the cost. But sometimes I choose books based on my mood. Each year I choose a few books to be placed ‘on deck’ and shelve them near my desk. For the challenge I first looked through those titles.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was recommended to my by a dear friend. She narrated a bit to me and I was interested enough to order a copy in 2020, and it was already placed ‘on deck’. For my supplemental choices in this category, I selected a few books I had selected as ‘possible reads’ left over from the 2020 reading challenge. From the category “Book about Books”: Parnassus on Wheels. From the category “Re-read from High School”: The Scarlet Letter. And from the category “Children’s Book”: The Wonderful Adventures of Nil.
I had re-read D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths in 2019, and wanted to choose another easy to follow book of myths. So many were recommending the work of Stephen Fry, that I purchased Mythos and Heroes on audible. I listened to all but the last three hours of Mythos. I gave it a sincere TRY. And my spirit was troubled. Although the narration was well done and his voice very pleasing, the content was not worthy of my time and mind. I returned both titles and decided to revisit an old friend, and am now reading and listening to Bulfinch’s Mythology. My children read and listened to these when we were homeschooling, but I have yet to read them cover to cover and am happy with my revised first choice for this category.
The first quote I copied into my commonplace book from Bulfinch’s work will explain fully why this is a better choice for me:
“Having chosen mythology as connected with literature for our province we have endeavored to omit nothing which the reader of elegant literature is likely to fine occasions for. Such stories and parts of stories as are offensive to pure taste and good morals are not given. But such stories are not often referred to, and if they occasionally should be, the English reader need feel no mortification in contesting his ignorance of them.”Preface to Bullfinch’s Mythology
Supplemental titles I have chosen for this category are V. M. Hillyer’s books: A Child’s History of the World, A Child’s Geography of the World, and A Child’s History of Art. I never finished my congruent re-reading of them in 2020.
How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by Francis Shaeffer
My children who were homeschooled in high school read this book, and they participated in an Art History and Appreciation class in our local co-op using this book as part of their curriculum. I had read most of it in a pursuing, skimming way during that time but have yet to read it intentionally cover to cover. I asked a friend to join me for discussion and we are working our way through and watching the videos he made to go along with the book, which are currently available on Amazon Prime and YouTube.
It just so happens that I am doing the same with the book Seven Men Who Ruled the World from the Grave by Dave Breese, and it has been very interesting to read these two books at the same time. I definitely see the authors coming forward in the writing, but there is an awful lot to consider about the ideas they are presenting.
My supplemental choices for this category are to finish When Children Love to Learn by Elaine Cooper, a Charlotte Mason education book that somehow slipped out of my reading radar in our early years of schooling. And to read Sally Clarkson’s newest book Awaking Wonder. I have dreams of hosting a mom’s book club and using Awaking Wonder and Adventuring Together by Greta Eskridge, but that is a rabbit hole conversation about all of the ideas and dreams I have of using this old house to encourage and support women.
Silas Marner by George Eliot
I have read Silas Marner before, but when I discovered the Literary Life Podcast would be discussing this book I decided to re-read and found an audible narrator I enjoyed. I just finished chapter 9 this morning, and I am definitely getting more out of this story with the second read— a not uncommon occurrence! I think, sometimes, with a first read we focus more on the ‘what happens’ in a story. And with subsequent reads we feel more free to notice the surroundings, to stop and smell the roses so to speak. I remember the first time I read Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery as a young girl. I was speed reading through the long passages of description, fast forwarding to the bits with quotation marks. I wanted to get to the action of the story. As the years have passed and I have read and re-read that series numerous times, I can honestly say that my favorite parts are the very ones I skimmed. My reading life has matured through the years. Now I will read and re-read passages that ‘move me’ before getting on with reading to find out what ‘happens’ in a story.
Supplemental titles for this category are The Warden by Anthony Trollope (which I have on audible) because I have yet to read more than one Trollope and this book was very enticingly spoken of on the Lit Life podcast. I am looking forward to meeting more characters with Collins-like charm. Also to re-read from a favorite author, The Musician’s Quest by George MacDonald.
Of Other Worlds by C. S. Lewis
My son and I have had this title on our to-be-read shelf for several years. I am hoping that since I wrote it down in the challenge plan page of my bullet journal, I will actually read it this year! We are both interested in sci-fi and fantasy. Except for watching Star Trek, the Next Generation this was something I was never interested in until he came along, by the way. And now it very well may be my favorite guilty pleasure reading and tv watching genre. I stumbled across Stephen Lawhead several years ago, and his Song of Albion books opened the door to going further than I had ever thought of in my reading. I did not realize that fantasy could be GOOD. I figured it could be interesting or exciting or imaginative.. I just did not know it could be uplifting and God honoring and just all around good, leaving me better for the reading. Aside: I am not claiming the tv shows I watch to be God honoring, but reading is much more intimate. I have a high standard for tv, such as it is, but for reading I set the bar far above what I do for tv!
My supplemental choice for this category is a devotional I did not finish in 2020, The Fear of God by John Bunyan.
My choice is still to be determined!
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Okay. I do not want to read a Stephen King book because I have never been able to handle scary. However– he went to the same school my mother attended, although a few years after she graduated because she is a few years older. They grew up in the same small town in Maine. And I spent much time in Maine when I was young and have much affection for Maine. For these reasons I have been thinking of reading a King title for some time now just to be able to say I did! I came across this book at a thrift store, it seems to have some elements I will enjoy such as time travel (see above!) and is in a historical setting. I hope to tackle this book early on in the year and give it an honest chance. But I will not push myself to finish reading it if it becomes too dark for me. My supplemental book for this category, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, I am sure I will read in its entirety hopefully this year. I picked it up to read last year and I was too sad to read a sad book. This is a book I really WANT to read though, and will push through. I chose the King book for the first choice because I see it as the more difficult-for-me read.
Hidden Art by Edith Schaeffer
I finished this one in January. It was very very good! I know will go back to certain chapters for encouragement. My supplemental choice for this category is The Light Beyond the Forest by Rosemary Sutcliff. I may wait to read until I have collected the others in the trilogy. I read her Sword at Sunset recently and it was my least favorite Arthurian retelling to date. Yet, I have heard so many good recommendations for her children’s retelling, and I have absolutely loved everything else I have read by her, that I want to give it a chance. I typically read a book about King Arthur every year or two. I don’t know why, maybe I am on a quest of my own to read them all!
*I am coming back to writing up this post after weeks of stepping away– my tenses may be a bit mixed up at this point– I am not going to go back and rewrite, only move forward! Or I will never get any posts out. I do hope to get to a blogging rhythm soon.*
Beyond the Snow: The Life and Faith of Elizabeth Goudge by Christine Rawlings
I love a good literary or naturalist biography, and have collected several for reading. I thought I would choose one that excited me, instead of merely interested me. So I chose from my ‘favorite author’ list, and from what I had already collected. I also decided I needed to read Goudge, at least one a year, until I have read all of her works. Previously I have been spreading out the joy of reading Goudge because there are so few titles— but the older I become the more I want to seize the day, and have been wondering if there is wisdom in saving her works instead of savoring them. This is my first choice for an author biography, my supplemental choices are George MacDonald by Michael Phillips (another FAVORITE author) and Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon (one I purchased on a whim after hearing someone mention the title)
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
I read (with audible) quite a bit of Russian literature in the last couple of years. I was a bit deflated to see this category on the challenge because I was ready to step away for a while and come back to War and Peace. My idea was to read several other Russian classics before committing to the BIG ONE. I have some crazy ideas sometimes but they make sense to me! Anyhow– when I heard they would be discussing this short title on the podcast I immediately chose it for my book. I think it was supposed to be humorous, in a Russian Literature way. I listened to it on audible and it was one of the most difficult reads for me since loosing a loved one in February 2020. I cried through most of the story, it was too close to personal events and emotions. It kept bringing me to raw places and hard memories. It was very difficult for me to finish and I wanted to quit many times, but pushed through. And I do not regret my decision. I don’t know if I will ever be able to revisit and see it differently. But that is what is so incredible about living books, great literature– every reader will have a different experience because every reader is unique. I am looking forward to the upcoming podcast on this story, and am sure it will open up ideas that passed my mind because I was reading from a place of grief.
Bitter Blood: A True Story of Southern Family Pride, Madness, and Multiple Murder by Jerry Bledsoe
Okay. This one could most DEFINITELY also count for my ‘Out of Comfort Zone’ choice from the 2020 challenge. I do not read real crime books. Well I can’t say that anymore, I had never read or wanted to read a real crime book until this one. It took my 82 year old neighbor and the desire to share a book with community to get me to take the plunge. I made it through this long detailed retelling of craziness. At first it was a drudge. But midway I was determined to find out what happened. It was horrid and sad. However it was interesting because my neighbor knew the people and community involved, so the book discussion was like having ‘insider information’. I passed the book along to another neighbor, saying keep the book as long as you want because I will never read it again.
My supplemental regional title is much more lighthearted and cheerful! An Island Garden by Celia Thaxter. Yes, it is a regional from Maine, but this girl cried real hard tears when she found out she was actually born in North Carolina and not Maine at the age of eight. I always have and always will think of Maine AND North Carolina as my home. I also have My Connermara: Carl Sandburg’s Daughter Tells What it Was Like to Grow Up Close to the Land on the Famous Poet’s North Carolina Mountain Farm by Paula Steichen in my Amazon cart and ready to order if I have time for a third regional read this year.
The Cathedral Trilogy: The City of Bells, Towers in the Mist, The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge
Towers in the Mist is the only one that falls within the category, but as previously stated I want to read more Goudge! I could not read just the one and I am so very very very glad I plunged in deeply with reading Goudge this year. What a delight! The first, The City of Bells was something like a beautiful dream. Towers in the Mist was a very interesting period read with fun characters surprising historical. The Dean’s Watch had me in happy tears. The Dean is PRECIOUS beautiful soul and reminded me very much of a beloved friend and neighbor, Ms Lossie. It was a lovely lovely, God honoring story.
For a supplemental read in this category, I have Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl by Kate McCaffert. It is a difficult read that I have had for very many years and have been avoiding it for that many years! It could definitely go in the avoided book category. Several years ago I read every African slave story I could get my hands on, and determined to also read the harsh tales of the Irish Slave, my own ancestors. I have opened this book a few times and the writing is a bit difficult and combined with the difficult topic I have set it back down each time instead of perservering. But I am determined, even though evidence points to the contrary, to read accounts of Irish Slaves.
Strange Fruit by Lilian E. Smith
How I came across this title is a very interesting story. I enjoy coming to books in an around about way! I was reading When Books Went to War with my little book club. This title was listed on the ‘canceled book’ list and was controversially being printed as an Armed Service Edition. I decided to choose an at-that-time banned book to read for myself. JUST BECAUSE I CAN. I chose Strange Fruit because President Roosevelt, after his wife requested it to be, lifted the ban on this title.
My supplemental choice is Untangling Emotions by Groves & Smith. This is an odd category in my mind, a book about emotions from a Biblical point of view. It was read and recommended by my best friend and based on her description of the book I believe it will be helpful to me.
Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
I looked and looked and listened and listened for an ‘Obscure Book Mention From Thomas Banks’ that piqued my interest– and found none. Therefore I opted to go for the ‘Or Any Book Mentioned On the Podcast’ caveat.
My first choice is Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, because I already have several from the series and was thinking of giving them a try anyway to see what they are all about! Also I loved hearing the girls talk about reading The Outsiders, and I just HAVE to meet the infamous Pony Boy for myself. I chose this for my supplemental, and one of my neighbors is going to read it with me.
Three men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
I was very thankful for this category. I appreciate light reading to balance out the harder reads. I listened to this title on Audible, and although it did not have me laughing out loud as much as Jeeves and Wooster it was delightfully funny!!! I do not have a supplemental chosen but if I decide another fun-funny book is needed I plan to read a Freddy the Pig title.
The Dragon King Saga: The Hall of the Dragon King, The Warlords of Sin, The Sword and the Flame by Stephen Lawhead
I needed a reason to read another Stephen Lawhead title. And this category fit that bill! I almost chose to re-read the Song of Abilon trilogy. These were my first introduction to his writing and I have been a firm friend of his work ever since. His King Arthur retelling is the BEST I have ever read, and I have read many and plan to read as many as possible. I try to read one retelling a year, this year I want to read Rosemary Sutcliff’s children’s version. I am sliding off category– The Dragon King books– I am a few chapters into the first book. Immediately I noticed it was different than any I have read before and asked my friend Jan Bloom if this was his first book. She looked at me and read my mind, and replied “The Dream Thief was his first. He really developed as a writer.” Hahaha! This is not a BADLY written book at all, I could just tell that it was not as wonderfully written as the others I have read so far. I picked up a copy of The Dream Thief. I mean, I just have to know now….
My supplemental choice is The Class Country by M. E. Bell, a fairy tale.
How the Heather Looks: A Journey into British Sources of Children’s Books by Joan Lodger
I had begun this book sometime in 2020. I think maybe even late 2019. It was so very good! But, I wanted to make sure to read it with notebook and computer handy for all the rabbit trails it set my mind to following. So I set it aside. And things happened causing me to not pick it up again. When I made my choices for 2021 this was an instant first choice, to finish what I started and ‘read it right’ this time! I want to dive deep into this book and not just skim the words. I could tell that it would be a very pleasant read with many connections and introductions.
I have a back up travel choice: Working My Way Around the World by Harry Alverson Franck and Lena M. Franck. This book was recommended to me by a friend and it promises to be a great read, similar to a Halliburton. And a good geography book for me. I also randomly pick up Edwin Way Teale’s ‘season’ books and read excerpts and samplings. I hope, one year, to commit to reading them all each in the proper season–but it doesn’t look like 2021 is the year for me to achieve that goal. It’s already SPRING!!!
Wrapping it all up…..
This is a lengthy post. I knew it would be! I mean, its about books!
If anyone gets all the way through my ramblings, tell me what you are reading? and if you are reading any from my choices! I love to talk about books with friends.