Friday, July 30, 2010

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

Lewis's Mere Christianity (Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (Paperback - Feb. 6, 2001))Title: Mere Christianity
Author: C. S. Lewis
Pages: 227
Published: HarperCollins 2001
Originally copyright 1952
Mere Christianity is comprised of the following: The Case for Christianity (aka Broadcast Talks) copyright 1942, Christian Behavior copyright 1943, and Beyond Personality copyright 1944.

Mere Christianity is the first non-fiction book of C. S. Lewis' that I've read.  I've grown up hearing from various people that he is difficult to read, and so perhaps I've procrastinated reading him longer than I should have.  Eventually I realized, Hey, I've read Tolstoy--can it be more involved than that?  At least C. S. Lewis doesn't have all those crazy Russian names in his books, right?

Now that I've read it, I feel the need to broadcast that it really isn't difficult reading at all (still trying to convince my mother).  It is written in a very clear, simple, logical manner.  The most difficult part about it is the fact that the subject matter requires you to stay mentally engaged, following his logic.  If you are not used to following a logical progression, or reading slowing enough to make sure that you internalize each sentence, then you may indeed have a difficult time understanding the book.

Of the three different sections of the book, Christian Behavior was my favorite, being practical and applicable to daily life.  The first and third were more philosophical, which--while enjoyable--seemed to be geared towards a person of a differing viewpoint, and therefore not quite as engaging for me.  C. S. Lewis has an approach to Christianity that takes much of the mystery and emotion (that seem so prevalent in many churches) out of the equation, leaving you with and understanding of what true Christian behavior looks like.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hop, Hop, Hop

Good thing I like bunny rabbits--the hop doesn't get old.  Jennifer's weekly questions {@Crazy for Books] and all the great bloggy friends waiting to be found help out with that a bit too.  Ok, more than a bit.  I have such fun seeing what everyone is reading and what they think about it.

This week we get to cruise around book-blog-o-sphere and find out what the great new-to-you authors of 2010 are.  Great question!

Really great question.

Hmmm.  I'm going to have to peruse my list...just a sec...okay, so maybe that's not as simple of a question as I thought.  Or maybe I just need to be more decisive.  

Looking through my 2010 list, I have to say that my favorite discovery, if you will, is Jessica Day George.  She writes Junior Fiction, and her Dragon Slippers Trilogy was just about perfect.  That coming from a person who generally dislikes fantasy.  My 11 year-old son devoured the 3 books in 2 days.  I'm definitely interested in reading more from her.

I'm off to browse and see what all of you said...while you're here, leave me a comment--I want to make sure I make it to your blog too!  Meanwhile, happy reading!

Resurrection in May by Lisa Samson

Resurrection in MayTitle: Resurrection in May
Author: Lisa Samson
Pages: 322
Published: Thomas Nelson 2010
Read For: BookSneeze review copy
My Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

The scope of the storyline in Resurrection in May is so broad as to seem almost improbable until you begin reading the story.  When we first meet May Seymour, she is in a sad state--deeply sunk in a fast-paced, shallow lifestyle at the end of her college years.  Her physical journey takes her to Rwanda and back to Kentucky, after narrowly escaping the brutal destruction of the town she was volunteering in.  Her spiritual journey is cloudy; she is lost and filled with doubt.  May's wounds are deep and her recovery is long.

It took me a few chapters to adapt to the author's writing style and get into the story, but it wasn't long before I was sucked into the story.  Largely plot driven, I found myself hooked, not wanting to put the book down.  I often wished for a more thorough understanding of the characters, as I believe that would have made the emotional impact that much greater, but what was lacking in depth of character was made up for with the engaging plot.  The gardening, cooking, and book references throughout were a fun touch.  I appreciated the picture of true religion (if you will) and the willingness on the part of the author and publisher to address a topic that wasn't candy coated.

This was a diversion from my typical book selections, and overall I was pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday: All Time Favorite Books

I missed joining Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish last week because I was busy travelling with my family: to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe--wonderful!  So I missed out on my Top Ten Favorite Book Covers, but all is not lost.  My Top Ten All Time Favorite Books?  Well, this is a lot more difficult that my favorite authors...this is what comes to mind (in no particular order):

1. Persuasion, Jane Austen--the gentle introspection of this book makes it my favorite of hers, although I enjoyed them all.

2. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy--more than the great story and historical references, I love how Tolstoy thinks.  There are parts of the book that are discussion about war rather than story development, and while you could skip them and not miss any of the story, I loved those parts--it was like sitting with Tolstoy and having some great conversation.

3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith--Just remarkable, personal, perfect.  I loved it in high school, but my recent re-read was so much better

4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee--so easy to appreciate on many different levels.

5. Song of the Lark, Willa Cather--not for the story necessarily, more for the amazing description of the development and cost of creativity and art.

6. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte--Gothic flavor without the loss of logic.  I liked the more philosophical elements.

7. Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell--even though she died before writing the ending, this girl is a good story teller.

8. Love is Eternal, Irving Stone--this has affected my perception of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln.  Great biographical novel.

9. A Woman in White, Wilkie Collins--made me remember why I used to love mysteries.  Top notch, lots of fun.

10. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole--one of those books with an irritating main character that you just can't stop reading about.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Confessions of Book Lover

I wish this could be a flippant confession of how many books I've purchased this year (blush) but I've been really good this summer, and that's not what is on my mind.

I've been thinking about my journey and growth through books in life.  Why is it that books are air to me, and an afterthought to some around me?  I'd love to be able to say that I've had incredible literature selection skills all my life, but the truth is that it's been a journey: I have changed; I have grown.

When I was a young child, before I began going to school, my parents read to me.  My parents were determined to raise readers, and found a way in their meager budget to make sure there were books in the home.  One of my favorite things as a child was hearing my dad roar "Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman!"  I loved books.

As a grade schooler, my favorite parts of the day had to do with reading and writing.  I especially loved story time in the early grades, where my teachers brought beloved chapter books to life.  The children's section of the library was a magical place.  I loved to write stories, and fell in love with Beverly Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder, then Frances Hodgsen Burnett and Louisa May Alcott

In the middle years, I floundered.  Writing became non-creative, regimented.  The Babysitter's Club was diverting but not satisfying.  I felt out of place in the Children's section of the library, but didn't know where to turn.  Directionless, I never found enough to read, never found something to fill me.  English as a subject was fast becoming my least favorite.

High school was a time of discovery and refocus.  I found great comfort in writing creatively: poetry, songs, short stories; but still hated the analytical, dry, dissection that English classes were.  I started to get to know my library again: enjoying the fast paced and titillating; rebelling against The Old Man and the Sea.  A few great books broke through my self-centered fog:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Three Musketeers. And then an amazing creative writing teacher at the local Community College during my 11th grade year made me realize that I did not hate English--I just missed the creativity and wonder that I had known when I was younger.

As an adult, I have found the great joy that comes with growing, maturing, learning.  I am having a great time reading all of the great stuff I missed out on in my middle years, and the classics I rebelled against in high school as being too boring.  I am discovering that Non-Fiction does not necessarily equal tedious.  I am learning a great many things, and enjoying the process.  I am wondering how the outcome might have changed if I'd had teachers focusing on the creative instead of the regimented.  I am thankful for the opportunity--every time I open a new book--to make up for lost time.  I am fearful I will never be able to read everything I desire.

If you've made it this far with me through my memory-lane-therapy, you must continue on and write me a 52 paragraph comment about your journey!  How did you get to where you are?  Was your love for books innate, fluid, continual?  Or chopped up and pieced together?  Are you making up for lost time?  On top of the world?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What on Earth am I Reading?

It's time to check out book blogs!  Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books has asked her fellow book bloggers to talk about the book we are currently reading.

Wait a sec.  I'm supposed to be reading only one book?  Shoot.  Failed that one.

This is what's happening around here:

Rooted in Barbarous Soil: People, Culture, and Community in Gold Rush California (California History Sesquicentennial Series)I am making my way, bit by bit, through Rooted in Barbarous Soil: People, Culture, and Community in Gold Rush California, which is fully textbook status.  It's only 384 pages, but since it's printed on huge 8x10 paper, it should count as more.  It is mostly very interesting, in a I-need-to-know-about-it-because-I'm-writing-about-it way.  I grew up in Gold Rush country, and since that's pretty much the only history I remember from my fabulous education, I thought I had a good idea of what I was talking about.  This is one of the books that is changing my mind.  But slowly.  Very slowly.

Lewis's Mere Christianity (Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (Paperback - Feb. 6, 2001))I recently finished a classic (The Master and Margarita) and then blew through two Junior Fiction titles in a day, so I started reading Mere Christianity.  I'm enjoying it, like how it's written, happy to finally be reading some nonfiction C.S. Lewis, but honestly the aforementioned titled has taken some of the Non-Fiction Zest out of my sails.  I want to continue with it, but am itching to start another fiction title.

Ramona ForeverRamona ForeverI am also reading Ramona Forever aloud to my girls.  I Ramona.  Always have, probably always will.  It's not that I identify with her problems so much (my eldest daughter definitely does) but as a girl I drew great comfort in the fact that someone else out there felt out of place.  

Since we are on the subject of great old children's titles, can I just say that it really (really) bugs me when they update the classic cover artwork?  Please (please) don't try to make Ramona Quimby or Laura Ingalls look like they were born in 2001.  Kids aren't that dumb--they'll start reading the book and realize something is a little wonky about the illustrations.

Anyhow, it's a good thing Jennifer asked this question now, and not tomorrow...tomorrow I will certainly have added a title or two.  I seem to be unable to read only one book at a time.  If you are hopping by, leave me a comment--I'd love to check out your blog!

The Glass Castle: A Memoir

The Glass Castle: A MemoirTitle: The Glass Castle: A Memoir
Author: Jeannette Walls
Pages: 288
Published: 2006 Scribner
Read For: Thursday Night Book Club
My Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

If you keep abreast of the bestsellers, you will not be unfamiliar with The Glass Castle.  You may even have read it.  This book seems to pop up everywhere, and with good reason.  It is a memoir of an extraordinary childhood; it is a testament to human will and resourcefulness; it is an amazing picture of one's capacity to forgive, to adapt.

Lest you think that it is a typical story of a bad childhood, let me assure you that this remembrance is far from typical.  While Jeannette's parents were often negligent, while they dealt with chemical and emotional issues, they also made many efforts to educate their children in academics and arts.  She learned advanced science and math from her father (can you imagine doing your mathematics in binary?) and a love of reading and the arts from her mother (Jeannette tells of her mother bringing pillowcases of library books home).

Jeannette Walls did a great job of telling her own story while being respectful to her other family members.  Throughout the book I felt her ride the line between wanting to share her story, and wanting to prevent a sweeping judgement of her parents and siblings.  You can feel her struggle between loyal love and hurt resentment.  If you aren't a big fan of non-fiction, you'll appreciate how easy this is to read, and how quickly it moves.  In either case, it is a book worth reading.

Olive's Ocean (Newbery Honor)

Olive's OceanTitle: Olive's Ocean
Author: Kevin Henkes
Pages: 217
Published: 2003 HarperCollins
My Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5--it's complicated)

I am, admittedly, behind the times with this book.  Since one of the paragraphs in the book made me gasp with shock, I immediately looked up reviews and Google results after I finished reading it.  Guess what I found?  Controversy.

Olive's Ocean is a coming-of-age story of 12 year-old Martha (not Olive) who, spending the summer at her grandmother's home, sorts through many life changes.  I have to say that I liked the writing style.  Great visual word choices, fluid sentences, introspective and varied.  It is quick to read, as the chapters are short and simple, but the content is multifaceted.

The controversy comes in because a few instances of less-than-stellar language, as well as some sexual tension/situations that are far from typical for elementary aged readers.  Honestly, none of this really bothered me except for the aforementioned paragraph.  Although I did find it slightly atypical that a 12 year old would be dealing with kissing boys, hating her mom, and other puberty-esque issues, I can excuse it away.  What I could not excuse away was highlighting the parents sexual relationship.

Hear me out.  I'm not saying that kids should be (or are) ignorant about sex.  I am not saying that the reference was necessarily explicit or harmful.  I am saying that it felt very out of place in both content and writing style, and was completely unnecessary.  It instantly pulled me out of the fictional dream, and it was jarring enough for me that I will think twice before recommending the book.

Judge for yourself: my opinion will not be everyone's.  Most of the book was written in clear, descriptive (almost poetic) prose.
Two orbs of light shone through the window.  Their beams blazed up the wall and slid across the ceiling, interrupting her midsentence.  Then they disappeared.
Martha drew a quick breath inward.  "He's back," she said.
But the section in question, to me, planted a clearer picture than I thought necessary or desirable:
More kissing.  Martha's parents were standing by the sink--kissing and smiling and kissing and laughing and kissing.  If Vince had been around he would have said that his parents were exhibiting MSB. Morning Sex Behavior.
"When they do it in the morning," Vince had informed Martha earlier that summer during one of their nightly chats, "they're all giggly and kissy and weird for at least an hour afterward.  It's unmistakable."
Martha blushed.  She could feel warmth spread through her neck, cheeks, and ears.

Okay.  So, not descriptive, right?  There's way worse stuff out there that our kids are liable to see, yeah?  If our kids are not aware of sex then something's wrong?  Okay.  Sure.  But what about the Newbery Medal on front?  Whether it is meant to or not,  that award connotes something wholesome--something worth having children read--something that doesn't need to be pre-read for content.

I have to say that the older Newbery books are much more impressive to me than the newer ones.  The more I read of the recent award winners, the more I am disappointed.  I'm starting to feel like I'm watching the Oscars or a presidential election: oozing with politics, losing sight of where it started, and oh so politically correct.  The disappointing part isn't that it is all low quality, rather it is like looking at what could have been a masterpiece if not for the glaring blemish.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita (Everyman's Library classics)Title: The Master and Margarita
Author: Mikhail Bulgakov
Pages: 446
Published: Everyman's Library Classics, 1992
Originally written in the 1930's
Originally published in 1967
My Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) wrote this book as something of a statement against Stalin's regime, which is why it was published posthumously, so many years after it was written.  It is, from what I've heard, very different from Bulgakov's earlier work.  (If you are interested in why I read this book, as well as some of my first impressions, check out my previous post about it.)

This is a story in which anything can (and probably will) happen.  Woland (the devil) and his cohorts descend on Moscow and proceed to make quite a stir. Filled with historical references and allusions to the political climate, irony and irreverence abound.  While it is not necessary to be familiar with the facts the story is alluding to (I wasn't) in order to enjoy the story and be amazed by the prose, I feel that it would make the book that much more engrossing and meaningful.

So, then, to convince yourself that Dostoevsky was a writer, do you have to ask for his identification card?  Just take any five pages from any one of his novels and you'll be convinced, without any identification card, that you're dealing with a writer. [...]
"Dostoevsky's dead," said the citizeness, but somehow not very confidently.
"I protest!" Behemoth exclaimed hotly.  "Dostoevsky is immortal!"

In this story, men commit themselves to the asylum, women sell themselves to the devil and become witches, men are decapitated, women run around the city without being fully clothed, papers and money appear and disappear right before your eyes.  Pontius Pilate is brought to life through the story the Master writes, and an interesting perspective on Jesus and his disciple Matthew unfolds.  It's a crazy, wild, romping adventure.  If you enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, I think you will enjoy The Master and Margarita.
At a huge writing desk with a massive inkstand an empty suit sat and with a dry pen, not dipped in ink, traced on a piece of paper.  The suit was wearing a necktie, a fountain pen stuck from its pocket, but above the collar there was neither neck nor head, just as there were no hands sticking out of the sleeves.  The suit was immersed in work and completely ignored the turmoil that reigned around it.  Hearing someone come in, the suit leaned back and from above the collar came the voice, quite familiar to the bookkeeper, of Prokhor Petrovich:
"What is this? Isn't it written on the door that I'm not receiving?"
The beautiful secretary shrieked and, wringing her hands, cried out:
"You see?  You see?! He's not there! He's not! Bring him back, bring him back!"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vacation Picks

Mere ChristianityIt's the vacation time of year, and consequently, time to choose which books come with me.  I will be away from home for a good two weeks.  If I packed 5 books (plus my just-in-case-Kindle) for a 4 day trip, then how many should I pack for a 14+ day trip?  Admittedly, I only read 3 of those books on that 4 day trip, but my question remains.  How many?  Which ones?

The Grapes of Wrath (Penguin Classics)This may be my big opportunity to get some reading done (we'll see) which means I want to consider my 2010 goals (including my Summer Slimdown).  I wanted to read some C. S. Lewis nonfiction this year, as well as some Charles Dickens, so maybe I'll bring Mere Christianity and  A Tale of Two Cities.  I also wanted to read another Pulitzer, so maybe I'll bring The Grapes of Wrath, or The Good Earth.  There's always the ARC and pre-reading books for my son for school, and I've really been wanting to read A Room With a View.  Those (plus my just-in-case-Kindle) should be good, yeah?  All of these books are on my TBR shelf, which is a handy bonus.
The Good Earth (Enriched Classics)
I'm really bad at estimating.  Whether it is how many books to bring, how many people at the concert, or how tall my ceilings are.  I need a reference to figure it out logically; pure raw estimating just doesn't work for me.  How do you decide how many books to bring?  How are your estimating skills?  Do you get weird looks when you load crates of books into your car along with your luggage? (or am I alone in that embarrassment?)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Skin: The Bare Facts

Skin: The Bare FactsTitle: Skin: The Bare Facts
Author: Lori Bergamotto
Pages: 95
Genre: Teen Nonfiction
Published: Zest Books (imprint of Orange Avenue Publishing)
Read For: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
My Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

I received Skin: The Bare Facts from Library Thing as part of their Early Reviewers program and was very happy to receive it.  Zest Books, from what I have seen, seems to do a good job of presenting nonfiction topics to teens in a clear, appealing manner.

I appreciated how logically and succinct the information in this book was presented. The way the book was organized, in combination with the simple, direct, informative writing style made it easy to read and retain information, and will prove an easily accessible resource to refer to at later dates. The artwork was nice--not overdone--and overall the layout and design was clean and balanced (making the book even easier to read.) Don't let the seeming simpleness make you think that this isn't a valuable resource. It may not have any breakout information ( I don't think that was the point of the book) but it does weed out all the excess information and give you--like the cover says--The Bare Facts.

In addition to informing the reader about what skin is, including the different types of skin and different skin problems, it also talks about skin care, encouraging natural, healthy practices. It talks about skin cancer in a non-threatening, informative manner, gives some natural spa recipes, and a brief history of makeup. Lori Bergamotto did a great job of sticking to the topic without becoming repetitive or boring. This is a book to keep around--for teens and adults alike.