August 2017 Reads

Earlier in August, Anne Bogel wrote a blogpost Does your reading list embarrass you sometimes? Yes, it does. But not necessarily in the ways she describes.

I’m a member of several book groups online. In The Book Club everyone seems to be reading the latest fiction – granted, more literary in nature yet very here today, gone tomorrow. I’m so not one of those readers yet I like to read the occasional new release and am always in search of those that stand out from the crowd (hence my love of the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club). Close Reads and the Well Read Mom are definitely on the more serious side, as is the Potato Peel Society. I would love for my reading list to look like those of Laura Vanderkam or Gretchen Rubin – more thoughtful stuff both classic and more current. On one hand, I feel like I don’t have time for serious books (how many months has Emma by Jane Austen been on my list and I still haven’t gotten to it?) and yet that seems light compared to the stuff I pre-read for school (listed at the bottom of this post as it’s what I find most embarrassing because everyone else is not reading those types of books). But I digress.

Here is what I read during the month of August – the good, the bad…and the embarrassing.

Crazy Horse by Mari Sandoz is the book group selection for our community library in September. There are so many books out now trying to re-educate us on how horrid the white people were to the Indians, how evil Christopher Columbus was, etc. I’m not one for the rewriting of history though I do understand that much of what we have passed down through the generations is written from the white man’s perspective and reflects that bias. This book is about the famous Oglala Indian warrior Crazy Horse. In 1930 Mari Sandoz made a 3000 mile trip through the Sioux country, visiting key Indian sites and interviewing friends and relatives of Crazy Horse. This book is written from the Indian perspective, and when she describes what things were like, it’s based on what she was told from those who lived it. There were white men who did stupid things. There were Indians who did stupid things. Largely both groups meant well, but those stupid things caused a lot of problems and led to a lot of grief on both sides. If you want to be well-informed about the struggle between the white man and the Indians, this book should be a cornerstone of what you read. 5 stars

I pre-ordered The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher before it was published in March 2017 but only now finally got around to reading it. I’ve read the Rules of St. Benedict and loved Rod’s book How Dante Saved My Life. This book was sort of a different note – Rod takes the story of St. Benedict and uses it as a model for how Christians might respond to a society that is once again (as in St. Benedict’s day) becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. The concept that your home is a monastery is not new to me – had it not been for the monasteries, the classics would not have survived. It was the monks who carefully copied the classics while also spending their time doing physical labor (necessary for survival) and caring for the poor and needy. That pattern for living is well worth considering. At the same time, in order to make his case, he has to talk about the difficulties Christians face in today’s society, which isn’t exactly pleasant to think about. Lots of good fodder for thought though definitely not the last word on this topic. 4 stars

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollara has received great acclaim in conservative scholarly circles because it supposedly is about a small town living out the Benedict Option described by Dreher. The highly educated Miss Prim goes to serve as a librarian for a gentleman in a small town. Her boss has a group of children to whom he is teaching the classics, obviously very different from what she is accustomed. The premise sounds great and the first few chapters were good. But the social life of the town – oh my! They have these social groups that get together to meet and at one of them, an item on their agenda is making a short list of candidates for a certain person to marry. That is the point where the book became absurd and it only went downhill from there. It reminded me of those books which are written to illustrate a certain Godly characteristic (e.g. “having faith” or “being kind”) in which the characters don’t act like anyone in real life acts ever. Or, as I say about many current fiction selections: very plot-driven with little substance to support the plot. 1 star

Deep Work by Cal Newport has been in my reading queue for quite a while. It popped up again when I read a negative review about how he was able to focus and do “deep work” only because he had a spouse at home caring for the children while he pursued his career. I love it when I can completely immerse myself in a project and long to do more of that – not being able to do that anymore was the hardest adjustment when I became a mother and left the workplace. I’m always trying to find ways to focus more and waste less time on distraction. My take from this book was completely different from that review. My kids are still all at home since they are homeschooled, but they are all school age which makes a big difference. I already do many of the things Newport talked about, there were many I could certainly do more so, and none of his methods were really that far fetched if I set my mind to it. My secret fantasy is to go on a retreat where I have peace and quiet for several days and can immerse myself in whatever projects I wish. Yes, I did say “fantasy” but Newport and I are on the same track. The methods he speaks of in this book happen to be how I get so much reading done (and not just light reading). This is a book I will return to again and again as a model for how I like to work. 5 stars

Food Rules by Michael Pollan was a re-read. When I purchased it a couple years ago, I found it disappointing in that it was just a summary of his other works which I had recently read. But now it served its purpose well as a quick review of what I loved so much in his books. 5 stars

On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder. On our recent trip to Oklahoma, we stopped at where they believe the Ingalls family lived in the book Little House on the Priarie just north of the Oklahoma-Kansas state line. This book was about their move from South Dakota to Missouri after all of the stories in the Little House series. It was short, composed mainly of Laura’s diary on the trip. Then Rose finishes the rest of the story at the end. Knowing many of the places on their route as I do, it was very interesting to hear Laura’s opinion on them. Once again, I love reading about times past written by the people who lived them. 5 stars

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh was the Close Reads podcast selection over the summer months. I had read it previously but once again enjoyed it immensely. The podcast brought out a lot of symbolism and underlying themes that I hadn’t directly identified in my first read, though I’m sure I absorbed many of the ideas indirectly. I listened to the audio version narrated by Jeromy Irons both times: that good. 5 stars

Return of the King [Lord of the Rings trilogy book 3] by J. R. R. Tolkien. Gollum was so annoying to me the first time I read the series that’d I’d pretty much forgotten most of the rest of the story. This read turned out to be quite fascinating – Gollum didn’t overtake the book so much as much as I thought, and I really enjoyed the parts without him (and actually didn’t mind him so much when he was there). Such an epic adventure. 5 stars

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I have always wanted to read Robinson’s works but just never got to them. Now the Well Read Mom and Close Reads are both doing Gilead so I read this to get a feel for her work before diving into Gilead. I listened to the audio version and then I would go back and read portions of it again on my Kindle because it was just so beautifully written. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work (and not just Gilead). 5 stars

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury was my last-fling-at-the-end-of-the-summer read. Supposedly semi-biographical, the novel is set in small town America the summer of 1928 following boys young enough to still have their freedom but old enough to be coming of age. I listened to the audio version narrated by Paul Michael Garcia (love the cover!). Great book to listen to while you sit out on your patio on a summer evening savoring a glass of wine. I’ve added Something Wicked This Way Comes (next book in the series) to my short-list for October. 5 stars

Now, switching gears to books from term 1 of year 9 for Ambleside Online.

For history this month, I read the first six chapters of The Age of Revolution by Winston Churchill. This is the third book in the series and is read over the entire year. Usually at this point in history, we turn to America and all that was happening in the colonies. It was fascinating to read about what was going on in England at the time and how little mention was made of the budding colonies across the ocean. I’ve enjoyed Churchill’s previous works – this one is no exception. 5 stars

The biography Peter the Great by Jacob S. C. Abbott opened my eyes to part of Russian history of which I was largely unaware. Abbott is very engaging and interesting – I read his biography of Charles II while camping one weekend. Peter the Great was a tyrant in many ways and yet had an obsession with improving his country. He traveled incognito to Europe and learned many things during his travels that he brought back home and implemented. Abbott also told of the city of St. Petersburg which Peter founded as a strategic maneuver in his battles with Finland – if you look at the city on Google Earth, you can see many of the geographical features Abbott mentions as important to the founding of the city. 5 stars

From London to Land’s End by Daniel Defoe describes the cities between London and Land’s End on the southeast corner of England. As I read, I followed along on Google Earth and “saw” many of the places he mentioned. For instance, he would talk about cities that were accessible by river or towns on the coast with rocks on which ships were lost and I could see exactly what he was talking about. It was a fun little tour of life in southern England during the early 18th century. 5 stars

The English Constitution by Walter Bagehot. I must confess I know relatively little of the structure of British government beyond the fact that the royal family was once very powerful but is largely symbolic today. The study of English history serves as a great backdrop to American history and the development of the American Constitution, but beyond that, I know little. This book was written during the late 19th century by a man who believed the English Constitution to be superior to any other government, including America. He describes various aspects of the English Constitution, contrasting them to the “inferior” American Constitution. This book is a goldmine for pondering why government is structured the way it is and what really works best in practice. It’s one I could teach every year for many years and learn something new every time. 5 stars

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift was a book I knew of but had never actually read. The book is hilarious in so many ways and yet gives a very thoughtful look at the structure of society especially in terms of visiting places where things are done differently. As I read it, I kept thinking of how Caroline and Joey howled with laughter at books like PinocchioPippi Longstocking and 21 Days in a Balloon and wondering why it wasn’t scheduled earlier when kids would really enjoy the humor of the book. Rose Wilder happened to mention it in On the Way Home as a book she read once she had completed the Third McGuffey Reader (so about halfway through her schooling). But then I saw that Ambleside Online has a footnote warning parents about questionable content in a chapter in book 2 where he is a tiny person and the people he visits are giants and the nurses cradle him with skin-to-skin contact between their breasts. I had to go back and read that part to see what they were talking about – when I read it, it had simply reminded me of skin-to-skin contact with babies immediately after birth in natural birthing literature so I thought nothing of it. Yes, I have met homeschool mothers who would be hysterical about their children being exposed to such risqué content, but I obviously am not one of them (or maybe I didn’t re-read far enough? – still, I thought nothing of it when I read it). When I watched Three’s Company as a kid, it was just a show about silly misunderstandings; when I watch it today, I see so many levels I was completely oblivious to as a kid. I must confess, I still may play the audiobook [performed by David Hyde Pierce] just to hear my kids laugh at the funny parts while they’re still young enough to not take it so seriously. 5 stars

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler. Ambleside Online spreads this book over several years, but this month I decided to go ahead and just finish it. He talks about the three levels of reading, not unlike the grammar, logic and rhetorical stages of classical learning. Then he applies his method to various genres of books. His method focuses mostly on nonfiction rather than fiction and is very scholarly in it’s approach. If you’re writing a research paper, this type of reading will serve you well. Susan Wise Bauer prescribes a similar method in her book The Well Educated Mind. I’m sure I would get more out of all of the books we do for school if I read them several times as Adler and Bauer recommend. That said, a lot of all three levels of reading can be done at once if you proceed slowly and don’t just inhale a book. Books that merit this type of deep reading aren’t necessarily exhausted after the third reading. 5 stars