25 September 2010

What I'm Reading...

When I start a novel, any novel but especially a good one, I want to read it all the way through from start to finish with as few interruptions as possible, which is of course not at all possible most of the time.  Vacations are an exception.  Earlier this month while on vacation, I indulged in a fiction binge:

Lady Audley's SecretBraddon, Mary Elizabeth:  Lady Audley's Secret, Kindle downloaded from  Project Gutenberg.  Braddon (1857-1915) first published her "sensation" novel about bigamy in 1862 and it was a sensation of the popular sort, going through nine editions in the first year.  I was surprised at how much fun it was to read this book--a murder mystery with a bit of romance and family dysfunction.  The character of Robert Audley (the nephew/sleuth) and some of the book's tone remind me a bit of the much later comic novels of P. G. Wodehouse.  A quote re. Lady Audley's relationship with her adult step-daughter:  "There can be no reconciliation where there is no open warfare. There must be a battle, a brave boisterous battle, with pennants waving and cannon roaring, before there can be peaceful treaties and enthusiastic shaking of hands."    Another favorite:  "Sir Michael Audley made that mistake which is very commonly made by easy-going, well-to-do-observers, who have no occasion to look below the surface.  He mistook laziness for incapacity.  The thought because his nephew was idle, he must necessarily be stupid.  He concluded that if Robert did not distinguish himself, it was because he could not.
"He forgot the mute inglorious Miltons, who die voiceless and inarticulate for want of that dogged perseverance, that blind courage, which the poet must possess before he can find a publisher; he forgot the Cromwells, who see the noble vessels of the state floundering upon a sea of confusion ...  and who yet are powerless to get at the helm...  Surely it is a mistake to judge of what a man can do by that which he has done....  The game of life is something like the game of ecarte, and it may be that the very best cards are sometimes left in the pack."

The Essential Charlotte M. Yonge Collection (27 books)Yonge, Charlotte M.:  The Heir of RedclyffeKindle downloaded from Project Gutenberg, first published in 1853 and the best selling of Yonge's novels, "the most popular novel of the age."  Yonge (1823-1901) used profits from her  books for charity.  Her father told her upon the success of The Heir of Redclyffe "that a lady published for three reasons only: love of praise, love of money, or the wish to do good."  She is sometimes called the novelist of the Oxford Movement and was a life-long Anglican Sunday Schools teacher.   I read this book long ago, probably in imitation of  Jo March in Alcott's  Little Women.  I enjoyed reading it again.  Yonge is  a bit "preachy" even for my taste (despite my complete sympathy with her religious views and, as readers of this blog have undoubtedly noted, my predilection for all things theological) but dear Charlotte does go on and on and on and...  Perhaps that's one more thing I have in common with her.

I've started Wright, N.T.:  Surprised by Hope.  Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, Harper-Collins, 2008.  This is the book selected for Sunday Bible study in the Open Door class which I'm reading in a digital edition  on Kindle and I'm hopelessly behind the class in my reading.  I'm greatly enjoying the DVD discussion by N.T. Wright and the discussion questions.   A few years ago I read this author's  The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God--Getting Beyond the Bible Wars (2006) and would put it on my short lists of books that made a significant difference in my world view because it finally made clear to me the questions asked by post-modernist thinkers. p. iv "Almost all Christian churches say something in the formularies about how important the Bible is.  Almost all of them have devised ways, some subtle, some less so, of ostentatiously highlighting some parts of the Bible and quietly setting aside other parts."  p. xi "How can what is mostly a narrative text be "authoritative"?  [How can we] "speak of the Bible being in some sense "authoritative" when the Bible itself declares that all authority belongs to the one true God, and that this is now embodied in Jesus himself."  p. 14 "My present point is that these older ways of thinking about the world have left their mark on the study of the Bible, on the way it has been taught... and that these ways of thinking have themselves become discredited in the mainstream culture."  p. 16 "integrity consists not of having no presuppositions but of being aware of what one's presuppositions are and of the obligation to listen to and interact with those who have different ones."  My copy of this book is very heavily highlighted and I recommend it with enthusiasm.  I'm hoping that I will be able to enjoy reading N.T. Wright as much on the Kindle with bookmark/highlight tabs as I did in print with my yellow highlighter in hand.

Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters I continue reading Annie Dillard (previously blogged) and greatly enjoyed revisiting Total Eclipse and An Expedition to the Pole from Teaching a Stone to Talk.  I found her short story The Living a bit odd and disturbing, as Dillard can be.  I'm reading a collection of her works on my Kindle.  Dillard is one of the finest nature writers I've encountered and I greatly enjoy her writing style and her powers of observation.  She makes unexpectedly connections and helps me see how intricately all of life is interwoven.  Interwoven--what a great name for the book I'll never write.

The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond SixtyAnd as previously blogged  I'm reading through everything by Carlyn G. Heilbrun who will undoubtedly merit a blog dedicated solely to her one day.  I recently finished The Last Gift of Time. Life Beyond Sixty. This author gives voice to my thoughts and I know no other author (who did not live in the 19th Century) who mirrors by interior life and thoughts so well.  p.2  "...aging might be gain rather than loss, and... the impersonation of youth was unlikely to provide the second span of womanhood with meaning and purpose."   p.4 "Perhaps I am one of those who are born... blessed with the gift of eternal old age."  p. 35 "As Sartre said, not to choose is to have already chosen.  The major danger in one's sixties--so I came to feel--is to be trapped in one's body and one's habits, not to recognize those supposedly sedate years as the time to discover new choices and to act upon them."  p. 120 "What one remembers is, I think, a clue to what one wants to be."  p. 137 "To find unmet friends, one must be a reader, and not an infrequent one.... Reading--like those more frivolous lifelong pursuits, singing in tune, or diving, or roller-blading--is either an early acquired passion or not:  there is no in-between about it, no catching up in one's later years."   and p. 182 "Life seemed simpler because I was young and simple."  p. 150 quoting Samuel Johnson:  "the enduring elegance of female friendship." ...perfectly describes the relationship of a woman reader with a woman writer whose work she has encompassed, reread, and delighted in."  Thank you to my "unmet friends for that "enduring elegance:  Jane Austen, Evelyn Whitaker, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Grace Livingstone Hill, Beatrix Potter, Christina Rossetti,  Annie Dillard and, yes, Elaine Showalter and Carolyn G. Heilbrun.

I finished the second of the poetry books DMP gave me for Christmas last year.  Gluck, Louise: Averno.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux,  2006.  She is an excellent poet and I'll probably keep  this book on the shelf and may reread it in a year or two but it was much to dependent on the Persephone myth to be quite my cup of tea.  full text available at the floating library

I'll close this month's reading list with another quote from Carolyn G. Heilbrun (p. 182): 
"True sadness which is not nostalgia can, I have found, be dispelled by reading: by that same literature which seemed, in my youth, to hold both excitement, wisdom, and all I could discover of truth; and by today's newly perceptive books.  Lifelong readers continue to read, finding in books... the means to enjoy life or to endure it." 

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