All, Bookworm

Spooky Reads for October: Classics Edition

At last, it’s beginning to feel a bit more like fall. Seemingly overnight, the trees have donned their autumnal dress of warm, vibrant hues. The evening twilight gathers earlier and earlier. There’s a crisp bite to the air in the mornings.

This time of year you may enjoy having your reading fare line up with the season -the spooky season. If you find it fun to have a chill up your spine to match the chill in the air but don’t want to deal with the surfeit of gore and evil all too prevalent in modern “scary stories,” you have to look no further than some tried-and-true classics, which you may just remember from high school literature courses.

These selections are more restrained, leave some things to the imagination, and often seek to impart a deeper moral message or show a character’s development as a person. They don’t promote or glorify gratuitous violence and darkness for its own sake as some contemporary tales are wont to do but they entertain nonetheless.

With that in mind, here are five timeless novels that may not initially seem like a spooky or weird read but that, nevertheless, contain elements to create an eerie, suspenseful mood.

1) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This novel is a staple of high school literature classes and though at first blush, one may not consider it a “spooky read,” it contains many of the elements of an uncanny, October tale.

The titular heroine, Jane, starts off as a forlorn but passionate orphan who’s mistreated by relatives and cruel school mistresses. She grows up to become governess to the ward of Mr. Rochester, the enigmatic and brooding master of the old mansion Thornfield Hall. Jane’s goodness, frankness, and strength, despite her menial background, attracts the troubled Rochester and the two fall in love only for Jane to discover on the day of her wedding that her betrothed is already married to an insane wife whom he has hidden away in the attic of the mansion. This demented woman is the cause of midnight fires and other mysterious goings-on that had aroused Jane’s curiosity.

Jane runs away after learning of Rochester’s betrayal but eventually is drawn back to him by an almost spiritual, preternatural communication between their two hearts. She finds he’s been blinded and maimed in a conflagration set by Bertha in which Bertha herself perished despite Rochester’s attempts to save her.

All of these Gothic, gloomy qualities (though there is light-heartedness as well) create quite an atmospheric story but Jane’s integrity and character eventually triumph.

2) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne’s American classics are also heavy with brooding and mysterious atmospheres. The Scarlet Letter, set in Puritan New England, contains the time period’s superstitions surrounding witchcraft, lending a creepy element to this tale of the shunned and ostracized Hester Prynne, her child Pearl, and the troubled minister Dimmesdale who carries a scandalous secret. Imagery, symbolism, and conflict as well as themes of guilt and innocence, light and darkness, truth and deception, punishment and redemption all combine to make this a suspenseful novel.

3) The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Another Hawthorne classic that contains many of the same weird and superstitious ingredients as The Scarlet Letter. A young woman Phoebe goes to care for her reclusive relatives in their old and lifeless ancestral home. The threads of Puritan superstition about witchcraft and the gloomy setting of the mansion also make this a story weighty with atmosphere and mystery.

4) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I first read this book about three years ago and I was surprised by its suspense. The story opens with the protagonist Pip as a young orphan encountering an escaped convict in a foggy cemetery. Moving through the novel, one of the main characters that covertly propels some of the plot is Miss Havisham, a bitter and vindictive old woman living in a decaying mansion. She was betrayed by her husband-to-be on their wedding day and has left the wedding cake and everything else in her home just as it was at the moment her life changed. She even stopped all the clocks- a moment frozen in time. Disillusioned and hardened, she’s now training her protege Estella to toy with men’s emotions and to hurt them as she had been hurt. The aforementioned escaped convict also comes to play a pivotal role in the protagonist Pip’s life and fortunes as a young man. There are numerous twists and turns and suspenseful moments throughout this Dickens tome.

Though these four seemingly unlikely candidates for “spooky reads” are more subtle with their creepiness, they are, nonetheless, satisfying.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention some of the more obvious classic spooky tales, which may come to mind during October.

1) The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a page-turning Sherlock Holmes mystery about a potentially preternatural dog haunting an estate.

2.) Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ve never read this one myself but from what I’ve heard its not simply a tale of horror but really a tale of good and evil with some deeper philosophical and moral messages.

3) Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which I also need to read, and which like Dracula has some deeper messages to ponder.

If you’re more interested in short stories, there’s always Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost and nearly anything written by Edgar Allen Poe.

Hope these classic tales offer you just the hair-raising thrill that is characteristic of this time of year. Happy Reading!!

🍁🎃🍂

All, Bookworm, Culture/Life

Patriot Summer

Is it just me or does summer feel like an especially patriotic time of year? As soon as the 80 degree weather rolls in, I’m ready to roll out all the red, white, and blue.

This inclination is likely for good reason: late spring and summer offer multiple patriotic holidays.

Cue a John Phillip Sousa march! 🎶

We just marked the solemn occasions of Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion during WWII–both necessary and important reminders of the cost of our freedom here in this sweet land of liberty.

Now, we are on to more festive and jubilant holidays: Flag Day (also the US Army’s Birthday) today, June 14th and, of course, Independence Day on July 4th!! #partylikeits1776

As a bookworm and a history buff, some of my favorite types of books are ones about American history as well as memoirs of our presidents, military service members, and other notable figures.

What better time than these sun-drenched days of summer to lay on a hammock with a cool drink on a lazy afternoon and learn more about our nation’s history and the people who have helped to shape it both in the past and the present?

It may make all these patriotic holidays even more meaningful.

So without further ado, I thought I’d share some books I think are worth reading.

1) 1776 by David McCullough

1776 reads more like a novel than a history book. McCullough’s writing is engaging and vivid. He presents all the historical figures, American and British, in their full humanity with strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, and idiosyncrasies. Ample recourse to primary sources such as letters serves almost as dialogue in this riveting story. I learned much about this pivotal year in America’s founding as well as the characters of its principle playmakers, especially the admirable, fallible, courageous tenacity and leadership of George Washington whose circumstances and obstacles frequently appeared insurmountable.

2) The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America’s Founders Really Believed by Alf J. Mapp, Jr.

I haven’t read this book in a few years, but I remember it as an interesting look at the Founders’ religious beliefs, which ranged from orthodox to definitely not-so-orthodox. It’s not a continuous narrative but divided up by individual people, so it’s a book you can set aside and then pick up again without having to refresh your memory about what just transpired.

3) The Declaration of Independence

Okay, this one isn’t a book, but what more appropriate time than Independence Day to read the document that officially declared that our country was the United States of America! It’s kind of like our nation’s birth certificate. You can find it online.
Under this entry, I’ll also add The Patriot’s Reference: Documents, Speeches, and Sermons that Compose the American Soul edited by Joel J. Miller and Kristen Parrish. This book contains the Declaration and numerous other primary sources of American History. I have not read them all but it’s a good book to have on hand.

4) Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose

This is the book on which the popular TV mini-series was based. It brings home the unthinkable realities of war. Well-written and engrossing.

5) When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning

If you’re a voracious bookworm and a fan of WWII history like me, this book is a perfect combination. I had no idea of the tremendous impact that books, especially the Armed Services Editions paperbacks, had on the morale of our troops. Not only that but the books turned a whole sector of the population into readers and learners post-War. Books were “weapons in the war of ideas,” which this book shows was just as critical as the physical battles being fought. Books represented democracy and freedom in contrast to the Axis powers’ tyranny and oppression. Amazingly, the U.S. distributed more books to the troops than Hitler destroyed.

6) Over Here, Over There: The Andrew Sisters and the USO Stars in World War II by Maxine Andrews and Bill Gilbert

A more light-hearted but still informative look at the WWII years and just how much every part of society gave up to support the war effort. Makes one wistful for a time when the country was so united and everyone was willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves.

7) American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice

I have not seen the movie based on this memoir but the book is certainly an eye-opening and gritty firsthand account of war.

8) Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Lutrell and Patrick Robinson

Gripping and page-turning story of endurance and sacrifice as told by the Lone Survivor Marcus Lutrell. In recent years,his story was also turned into a movie (haven’t seen that one either.)
Both American Sniper and Lone Survivor are intense accounts of war but they offer authentic, thought-provoking perspectives for civilians who have never had to endure the unimaginable atmosphere of modern warfare. Both Kyle and Lutrell are gloriously unpolitically correct. They definitely pull no punches in their accounts in order to sugar coat harsh realities or to protect feelings. Yet they are not writing to sensationalize their experiences but to honor those who served alongside them. These aren’t always easy books to read but they are certainly impactful and profound.

9) Grateful American: A Journey From Self to Service by Gary Sinise

You may know Gary Sinise from the movie Forrest Gump in which he played Lieutenant Dan or from the TV series CSI:NY but you may not know all he has done to support our military service members, veterans, first responders, and their families. He has gone on 100 USO tours to entertain the troops, and he has established the Gary Sinise Foundation, which has several different programs assisting our service members, veterans, and first responders. He is such a decent, good man and a true patriot. His story really inspires you to support those who protect our freedoms as well as to persevere through one’s own challenges.

10) My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas

Very interesting autobiographical account of the life of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He writes honestly of his own shortcomings and the obstacles he faced as an African-American man raised in the South and coming of age in the Civil Rights era. His determination and thoughtful opinions based on experience when it came to things like Affirmative Action are certainly valuable to today’s public discourse.

11) Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meachem

I checked this book out at the library shortly after President George H. W. Bush passed away last December. It is quite the tome but Meachem’s writing is not dry and this book is a lesson not only in the life of our late president but also in how politics functions and in the historical and cultural changes that transpired during Bush’s life span which covered a large portion of the twentieth century. Side note: Jon Meachem eulogized Bush at his funeral.

12) Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me by Condoleezza Rice

I’ve read this book a couple times. Rice’s journey from a little girl in the segregated South to her service in the national government is inspiring. Her attitude of never succumbing to victimhood in the face of prejudice and of striving always to be her best and pursue her passions is inspiring.

Note: Obviously, recommending a book does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of everything contained in said books.

Happy Reading and Happy Summer!!

🇺🇸😎

All, Bookworm, Culture/Life

The Secret Wisdom of Nancy Drew: How the Teenage Sleuth Reminds Us of Important Life Truths

Have you ever noticed that re-visiting favorite childhood stories as adults allows us to pick up on so much that is easily overlooked as children in the sheer enjoyment of the plot’s action? Pearls of wisdom we may have missed or ways of thinking and talking that are now considered passé or politically incorrect.  This was the case for me when I recently re-read a couple books in the Nancy Drew mystery series. 

Written by multiple authors under the pen name Carolyn Keene, the books began to be published in the 1930s and have been popular reading material for generations of school-age girls ever since.  Penguin Random House’s website describes the books as “a cherished part of our cultural landscape” and “a noted inspiration for generations of women.”  The books have generated movie adaptations of the teenage sleuth as well as computer games and other items. One year, I even had a Nancy Drew wall calendar!

Though I haven’t come close to reading all of books, I periodically like to return to some of the older stories.  While outmoded elements can be found in descriptions of and references to characters, I also found myself recognizing positive messages that this perennial series subtly conveys.

There are many hallmark features of these books: descriptions of Nancy’s and her friends’ various outfits on different occasions, plentiful meals and snacks supplied by Nancy’s housekeeper Hannah Gruen, and mention of the title of the previous mystery Nancy solved as well as an anticipatory mention of the next mystery Nancy will tackle after she has wrapped up the current one.  And who can forget those classic cliffhanger chapter endings that made you read just a little bit more to see who had screamed or what would happen to Nancy after she was struck in the head and blacked out?

However, beneath the light-hearted fun and page-turning thrills, a few deeper messages emerge that are valuable reminders for readers of any age.

1.) The importance of family relationships. Nancy’s relationship with her attorney father Carson Drew is one of openness, respect, and confidence.  Nancy always discusses her mysteries and problems with her Dad, asking for his advice and help when needed.  In return, Carson Drew unfailingly tries to assist her.  He also just as unfailingly encourages Nancy and puts his trust in her abilities and judgment.  He has confidence in her, and she has the utmost respect for him.

Though it’s hard to imagine many real-life fathers agreeing to allow their 18-year-old daughters to attempt many of the things Nancy ventured to do in pursuit of clues and criminals, their relationship is a good example of a father-daughter bond.  Moreover, it underscores the importance of parents and mentors in the lives of young adults not only to advise and to warn but to encourage and to instill self-confidence.  Especially in the ‘30s when the books were first published, Carson Drew’s support of his daughter Nancy’s intelligent and adventuresome spirit is noteworthy and empowering. 

Meanwhile, Nancy’s rapport with the Drews’ housekeeper Hannah Gruen is just as endearing in different ways.  As we are reminded in each book, Nancy’s mother died when Nancy was a little girl and Hannah became a mother-figure to her.  Always fretful over the danger Nancy might be facing on her adventures and ready with revivifying food any time of the day or night, Hannah’s tender love and concern for Nancy exemplify the importance of always being there for family (blood-related or not) and of not being afraid to show you care.

2.) The need for loyal, supportive friends. Though our sometimes seemingly perfect heroine Nancy is clever, brave, and self-reliant, she could never have solved her many mysteries without the aid of her best girlfriends Bess and George and frequently her “favorite date” Ned Nickerson as well as Dave and Burt, Bess’ and George’s boyfriends, respectively. And Nancy would likely be the first to acknowledge that fact.  They were the ones alongside Nancy, “in the trenches,” so to speak, braving danger, contriving narrow escapes, and outwitting bad guys.  Bold George always jumped at the chance to assist however she could.  Bess, though usually more timid at the start, continually came through for her friend.  Of course, the boys always did their best not only to protect their girlfriends but also to help solve the case.

These friends’ willingness to help their pal Nancy through thick and thin reminds us not only of the need to have people in our corner to assist us in reaching our goals and overcoming our challenges but also of the need to be that kind of supportive person for our loves ones.  Everyone needs help along the way and the Nancy Drew books provide concrete examples of this truth through the lens of a group of friends teaming up to solve a mystery.

3.) Compassion for others.  In the series’ first book, The Secret of the Old Clock, Carson Drew states that Nancy loves to help people.  Nancy’s intelligence, affinity for mystery and her sense of adventure aren’t used for frivolous or selfish motives.  Instead, she puts them at the service of others.  She’s not hesitant to become involved in the problems of other people, even people she just met.  She utilizes her talents to help them.  While we obviously must exercise prudence in determining how much we insert ourselves into other people’s problems, these stories show us that good, old-fashioned love of neighbor can come in many forms.  We sometimes might think that charity only consists in volunteering with or donating money to a designated charitable organization.  However, Nancy demonstrates that serving others can be as simple and as creative as using our talents and interests to help those we meet, and she always makes new friends in process. This is certainly a message that is both timely and timeless.

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis is: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” The truth is that quality children’s literature, seemingly simple as it may be, frequently contains a wealth of wisdom while also providing an entertaining tale.  Initially, the Nancy Drew mystery series may not seem like a candidate for such edifying literature, but a closer look at this famous teenage sleuth with her kindness, smarts, spunk, and respect for others, may just show that she is a worthy girlhood role model who will continue to stand the test of time.

All, Bookworm, Faith

Book Recommendation: “Dear Mr. Knightley”

Gifts come in diverse places and forms. They can be large or small. They can have life-altering consequences or maybe provide a temporary lightness of heart.

An unassuming, easily overlooked gift arrived in my life a couple weeks ago. I was at the library hurriedly searching for a new story, scanning some of the authors a good friend of mine had suggested but nothing was piquing my interest. I said a quick prayer– yes, I prayed for Jesus to help me find a good book. He cares about all our concerns even those as seemingly insignificant as checking out a book at the library. Finally, I decided to look for another of my friend’s suggestions: Dear Mr. Knightley.

I went over to one of the search computers, typed in the title and, lo and behold, Dear Mr. Knightley was available at that library branch, no request necessary. Thank You, Jesus!

Oh my gosh! I devoured that book. It felt like finding a new friend. And I am now currently re-reading it. 🤓

Though a bit of my initial enthusiasm has waned on a second reading, it’s a book I will likely re-read again in the future.

Dear Mr. Knightley is a well-written, engaging Christian romance/fiction. The characters have some depth and dimension to them and have believable development and growth. Moreover, if the title didn’t give you a clue, this novel is brimming with references to classic English literature (Mr. Knightley is the hero in Jane Austen’s Emma).

Don’t be wary of its Christian classification. It does not brow beat you or preach at you. Rather, it’s through the faith, goodness, and love of some of the characters that the heroine begins to believe in God’s love for her.

Written by Katherine Reay, it is a re-telling of the 1912 story, Daddy-Long-legs by Jean Webster (which is now on my to-read list, haha.)

Samantha Moore, the main character, has had a difficult childhood – abusive parents, in and out of foster homes. She’s now in her early twenties and endeavoring to find her place in the world and to take ownership of her life.

She loves reading and writing (to borrow a phrase from Anne of Green Gables: I think she’s a kindred spirit!) and is attending graduate school for journalism through the financial support of her anonymous benefactor, the mysterious Mr. Knightley. The only condition for the arrangement is that she must write him letters describing her life and her progress in school. Hence, the book’s narrative takes the form of letters penned by Samantha to the mysterious Mr. Knightley.

Reay writes in the afterword that this is a story about forgiveness. Which is true. Samantha states decidedly at the beginning of the story that she does not forgive. However, by the conclusion, she is faced with a life-altering opportunity to forgive, and the painful growth she has undergone may enable her to assent to doing so.

Another motif of the novel is “unwarranted and undeserved” grace, as Samantha’s mentor Father John describes, and the choices we make to accept or reject that grace.

Samantha must accept and acknowledge the wrongs committed against her as well as her own sins and shortcomings and consciously strive to do better. She must give and receive second chances.

Then, of course, there is Samantha’s love life. This brings me to another element of the story: the various types of love.

True, constant love of any variety is something basically foreign to Samantha. She always has used her affinity for literature and its characters as a means to hide and to hold people at arm’s length, actually quoting stories to evade revealing her own thoughts and feelings.

Now, as she begins to blaze a path forward, she must learn to offer and accept love in a healthy way and in a variety of scenarios: to parent/mentor figures, to friends, and to potential romantic love interests.

One of my favorite relationships in the book is between Samantha and Kyle, a teenage foster kid for whom Samantha plays the role of mentor. Yet this mentorship blossoms into a true friendship, and Kyle is the catalyst for an event that brings major healing both to him and to Samantha.

The primary love story, which I won’t spoil, involves a handsome young novelist and is refreshingly clean in this “too-much-information” culture in which we dwell. It has its fairy tale elements, but it also has a lot of reality as two struggling, striving people find friendship and eventually love.

Samantha is relatable to me in many ways. From her physical description (tall brunette), to her proclivity for reading and writing, to her feeling of disorientation and being behind the curve in some areas of life. Our childhoods were not remotely similar, but there is much in Samantha that I think many twenty-somethings can find appealing.

Another perk to this book is the rich reference made to classic literature. It has re-awakened my interest in reading some stories which I haven’t picked up in a long time and in delving into some new ones as well (like Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South).

Of course, after reading Dear Mr. Knightley, I wanted to read more of Reay’s work. Accordingly, I checked out The Bronte Plot, also filled with literary references, coming of age, and finding forgiveness. I definitely plan to read more.

As I said at the opening, gifts come in surprising packages sometimes. And though I am always truly grateful for books and stories, finding this new golden nugget felt like a God-wink, a little gift that popped up just when I needed it.

If you’re looking for a breezy summer read that also has heart, I hope you pick it up and enjoy!

Happy Reading!📖☺️

All, Bookworm

“So Big”: It’s a Big Deal

Edna_Ferber
Edna Ferber

When I initially started writing this post back in the fall, I had recently re-read Edna Ferber’s 1924 novel So Big, which I first encountered in high school. This book is not only enjoyable, but it also arguably offers many profound lessons. Should one pursue worldly wealth or should one sacrifice and work for what is truly fulfilling and for which one has passion and talent? What is beauty and where do we find it? What is a true education? What is the value of living on and working the land versus living in a city? And what are the consequences of the choices we make about our life directions?

So Big is an important, multi-layered book, insightful in its look at cultural history and its philosophical questions about life. On top of all that, it is an engaging story with vivid, believable characters. Ferber doesn’t give the reader a tidy, “happily ever after” conclusion but rather a realistic one with one of the characters facing a moment of crisis and decision about what he will do in his life.

Set in rural Illinois and in Chicago from the late 1800’s to post-World War I, the reader witnesses the deracination of the culture with the Industrial Age and the accompanying generational shifts in people’s priorities and values as well as some of the disillusionment among the wealthy, “gilded youth” after the war.

The book takes its colloquial title from the game parents often play with their toddlers: “how big is baby? Soooo big.”  SoBig becomes the childhood nickname of the main character’s son and by the end of the book, the reader is left to wonder about the cost of being “sooo big” in the eyes of the world.

The story centers around Selina Peake Dejong, who is only nineteen when the action of the plot gets going.  Her father is loving and good-natured but he is a gambler by trade and tragically becomes the accidental victim of a fatal shooting.

He had instilled in Selina an appreciation for and love of beauty, and he had imparted this seminal piece of wisdom: “The more kinds of people you see and the more things you do and the more things that happen to you, the richer you are. Even if they’re not pleasant things. That’s living.” He told her that life is a grand adventure.

In order to support herself, Selina takes the position of school teacher in the bucolic, Dutch area of Illinois known as High Prairie. She is something of a fish out of water in the decidedly pragmatic and phlegmatic but welcoming community.  Yet, she accepts the challenges of her job and her new farm life as an adventure.

With her characteristic eye for beauty, she exclaims upon first sight that the cabbages grown by the Pooles (the family with whom she stays) are beautiful. Her reaction raises the mirth of all her new companions except for the Pooles’ twelve-year-old son, Roelf whose sensitive, artistic disposition contrasts with his family but finds a kindred spirit in Selina. Selina encourages Roelf’s artistic tendencies and loans him some of her classic literature to read.

Selina marries a farmer and settles on a High Prairie farm into a life she has never imagined for herself.

She has her fair share of hardships, including being widowed and having to raise her young son by herself, but she faces her trials squarely with poise, courage, intelligence, and creativity as she herself matures and grows as a person. She never loses her ideal of beauty but integrates it into all aspects of her life from how she runs her farm, to how she raises her son, to how she treats and views other people.

Even years after first moving to High Prairie, she still finds the cabbages beautiful. Ferber writes, “Life has no weapons against a woman like that.”

Selina has a child-like curiosity and simple kindness about her that attracts other people to her and gives a luminosity to her eyes. Ferber makes a point of contrasting Selina’s eyes to those of Julie Arnold, Selina’s girlhood friend, who attains wealth and societal prestige and can afford all the latest cosmetics. Yet Julie’s eyes do not shine like Selina’s but remain dull despite make-up, perhaps illustrating that old adage that the “eyes are the window to the soul.” Julie does not carry the same inner beauty that Selina possesses.

Selina is steady and steadfast, the “rock” of the story.

Her son Dirk is a different tale. Selina wants Dirk to have more opportunity than a farm life can proffer. She sends him to college where he decides to study architecture. This elates the beauty-loving Selina. However, away from his mother’s grounding influence, Dirk begins to stray from some of the values she held dear, even in how he treats those considered unpopular by the in-crowd.

When the Great War breaks out, Dirk gives up architecture for the more swiftly lucrative career of selling war bonds. He then transitions to banking when the war ends.

He falls into the restless, pleasure-seeking set of wealthy, gilded youth and their insipid, homogenous lifestyle, particularly that of his friend, the conniving and unhappily married Paula.

However, Dirk is ill-at-ease and Paula grates his nerves.

Selina, naturally, is concerned about her son and warns him not to betray beauty, saying that beauty may no longer be there when he decides he wants her. Basically, she is reminding him to take stock of his priorities and what he truly values personally and professionally.

Despite himself, Dirk finds that he is falling for a woman named Dallas, an unassuming, bohemian artist whose views on life are very similar to those of his mother Selina.

Dallas sizes up Dirk and decidedly gives him her opinion, and Dirk is left to accept the consequences of his life pursuits and choose in which direction he will turn.

I really cannot recommend this book enough. I don’t think it is as well-known nowadays as it should be. Its questions and conflicts are as relevant and timely today, if not more so, as they were one hundred years ago.

If you are looking for both a thought-provoking as well as engrossing read, check out So Big. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

All, Bookworm, Culture/Life

The Healing Power of Play

Playing, imagining, creating. These are an integral and indispensable aspect of every person’s life and development, particularly as children.

As a child of the nineties, I grew up going to Toys R Us, and I feel a bit like I’m mourning the end of an era with the news of the toy stores’ closings around the country. It seems the chain is just the latest to succumb to the swiftly changing retail landscape, thanks in part to the internet.

Technology certainly has its beneficial uses for work and for recreation but, to me, it’s frightening just how pervasive and how profound is its influence when it comes to affecting people’s lives and well-being. Physical problems like back and eye ailments, increased loneliness, social isolation and bullying. All these adverse conditions are attributable at least partially to technology. Not to mention the stress of being accessible 24/7 through smart phones.

Technology has also impacted the realm of children’s play. Computer games, video games, TV shows and movies available anywhere and everywhere due to mobile devices and in-car screens. Yet, more and more, it is being recognized that children’s screen time needs to be monitored and limited.

But this is not a post bashing all technology. I mean I’m typing this commentary on a smart phone for goodness’ sake.

Rather, it’s an invitation to remember and maybe try to re-capture some of your natural childhood wonder and imagination.

The Broadway musical “Finding Neverland,” which tells the story of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, has a whimsical but thought-provoking song that asks:

“Can you remember back when you were young?/When all the simple things you did were so much fun/ You got lost somewhere along the way/You’ve forgotten how to play, every single day.”

It’s refrain declares, “The world is so mysterious and wild/when you start to see it through the eyes of a child.”

PC: https://www.disneyclips.com/imagesnewb/peterpan3.html
PC: disneyclips.com

Back in February, my ballet company hosted a Father/Daughter Valentine’s Day event, which included the dancers teaching a simple dance to the dads and daughters.

In one section of the dance, the parents and children formed a “tunnel” with their hands and all the couples passed under it. You can imagine the giggles and gleeful expressions this elicited when the six-foot-plus dads tried to squeeze through with their tiny pre-school and elementary-school age daughters.

Yet, as I was watching and directing, it struck me that I was seeing looks of authentic happiness on the faces of these dads. They were genuinely having fun. And what were they doing? Dancing. Playing. Creating a memory that did not involve a cell phone or a screen.

Earlier this year, I was reading the story of a ballet to young students whom I teach, and I noticed their intent attention to the illustrations and the comments and questions they shared. It made me remember just how enjoyable such a simple activity like studying a picture can be.

Lately, I’ve been on a kick of re-discovering and reading classic children’s books. I’m slowly making my way through the Little House series. I re-read Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryand Shilohfor the first time since third grade. I’ve even re-read some of my favorite picture books from childhood.

In a world that is overly-technological, morally confused and is continually feeding us disquieting headlines, I think we could all use a healthy dose of child-like wonder in the little moments and opportunities for fun throughout the day. That doesn’t mean we shirk our responsibilities or ignore realities. But we don’t let our duties or technology or our worries overwhelm our capability for the simple joys that are offered to us every day.

Allowing ourselves to remember and experience those innocent realities of childhood- the fun of laughing, of using our imagination, of playing a game, or maybe even re-reading some of those classic or favorite children’s books- can be an excellent antidote to the ubiquitous stress and hustle-bustle of daily schedules and commitments. I really believe it can be healing, refreshing, and reassuring for one’s mind and spirit.

So un-plug from social media for a day or a week. Don’t allow yourself to check your email for an evening.

Use your leisure time to actually be leisurely-which is different from being idle- and enjoy your life, your friends, your children, your family.

In the words of Walt Disney,

“Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever.”

All, Bookworm

On Books

There’s nothing like walking into a bookstore and having the scent of books hit my olefactory sense. Whether it is the pungent mustiness of used tomes or that “new book smell,” shelves lined with books ignite curiosity and bring comfort.

For me, reading simultaneously feels like coming home and setting off for uncharted adventures. Reading a new book and making the acquaintance of the characters dwelling in its pages is like making a new friend. And like human friendships, there is always room for more.

“Books are the most wonderful friends in the world. When you meet them and pick them up, they are always ready to give you a few ideas. When you put them down, they never get mad; when you take them up again, they seem to enrich you all the more.”

– Venerable Fulton Sheen

All sorts of genres: fiction, history, biography, religion, poetry, philosophy, fantasy– they all have a different “personality” through their various styles and myriad characters. They all teach you, comfort you, entertain you, challenge you, in diverse and wonderful ways.

Even now as a young adult, I relish going back and reading children’s literature. Classic kids’ books from the Chronicles of Narnia to the Berenstain Bears series to Charlotte’s Web to the Tales of Beatrix Potter, these enduring stories and others in the canon of time-honored children’s literature impart important lessons that are valuable to young, old, and in-between.

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

-C. S. Lewis

During my senior year of college, one of my echoing refrains was that I couldn’t wait to be able to read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted again.  Sure enough in the year-plus since graduation, one of my most pleasurable, restoring, and peaceful past times has been reading. Lying in a hammock in the warm sunshine of a drowsy afternoon or the cool evening breeze with a book or two–that is my happy place.

I have always been a voracious reader, a bookworm, a bibliophile.  As nerdy as it may sound, I am truly grateful for the gift of stories, literature, books, and for the authors who pen these friends in leaf-and-binding form.

Before I was homeschooled, one of the best parts of “regular” school was when I’d walk into the classroom in the morning and find a Scholastic book order on my desk. I would eagerly open it up and begin circling the books I hoped my parents would purchase for me.  Oh the joys of childhood!

I can definitely relate to that song from “Arthur,” one my favorite book series and TV shows from childhood. “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!”

I know you children of the nineties are singing along. 😉

Speaking of nineties TV shows, who remembers “Wishbone”? Another of my favorites. A cute, spunky Jack Russell terrier imagining himself as the hero of classic literature like Tom Sawyer and Romeo and Juliet, all the while going on relatable adventures with his owner Joe and Joe’s friends, Sam (Samantha) and David. Talk about truly educational children’s television! (For those of you who want a trip down memory lane, most of the old Wishbone shows can be found on YouTube.)

I don’t really know the point of this rambling and perhaps maudlin post except maybe just take it as a PSA in favor of reading! Haha. Reading really can improve your life, expand your vocabulary, help you to think critically and creatively, and introduce you to new places and people.

To all my fellow bookworms, keep on reading! Even if you’re not much of a book person, maybe listen to a book on CD or online.

I hope it’ll bring you much happiness!

PC: https://www.facebook.com/I-Love-Dogs-And-Books-185755638206971/
All, Bookworm, Faith

Musings on Narnia

NOTE: I wrote these reflections a few summers ago after I had re-read “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I thought that they would possibly make a decent blog post, so now that I actually have a blog I decided that I would share with y’all.  Edits and additions have been made.  Hope you enjoy these ramblings/informal book report from a bookworm! 😉

I feel like the older I become the better I can appreciate C.S. Lewis’ genius, his societal commentary, and the very spiritual Christian insights he incorporated into his writings.  He is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite authors.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third book published in the Chronicles of Narnia series but the fourth in Narnia chronology), like all of the Narnia books, is simple, beautiful, profound, and enjoyable for both children and adults.

During the first chapter, it struck me how much pointed humor his series contains.  When I was younger, I could not appreciate it as much, but now some comments stand out to me that were previously less conspicuous.  An example is Lewis’ description of Eustace’s family: “They were very modern and up-to-date people.  They were vegetarians, non-smokers, and tee-totalers.”  This is not intended as a compliment.  Eustace is obnoxious, bratty, and arrogant.  He has no imagination, believing solely in science and rational facts.  He and his family have abandoned the timeless truths and principles of wonder, respect, and belief in a Higher Power.  They are politically correct, but they are insufferable.  It’s not that being a vegetarian, a non-smoker, or a tee-totaler was necessarily wrong.  The problem is more that they have no permanent foundation of beliefs for their lives.  Instead, they go along with the latest trends, whatever is in vogue at the moment.eustace

Eustace ridicules Lucy and Edmund for their belief in Narnia.  Even when Eustace experiences the wonder of Narnia firsthand, having entered this other world through an enchanted picture frame, he seemingly cannot give his assent to the substantiality and rationality of this fantastic realm.

Eustace continually tries to hold Narnia to the limited standards of his legitimate but incomplete world of science-only.  A world of chivalry and monarchy where a girl is given deference over men when it comes to living quarters is unfathomable to him. (Lucy was given the use  of King Caspian’s room while Caspian, Edmund, and Eustace bunked below the Dawn Treader’s deck.)  Eustace tries to tell King Caspian that this is demeans girls, not seeing how this simple distinction does not diminish femininity but actually shows respect for Lucy.

How often do we behave in a way similar to Eustace?  We measure God by our own limited, finite vision, experience and life.  Often we are blind to His work in our lives even when it is right in front of our eyes, like Eustace when he first enters Narnia.

We must strive to adopt the attitude of Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, who not only continually pondered and spoke of Narnia, but also always hoped and expected to experience it once more. Their faith was rewarded, and, thankfully, Eustace was pulled along with them for the adventure of a lifetime.

The crucial moment that begins Eustace’s journey of conversion is when he is transformed into a dragon.  Having wandered away from his traveling companions during a respite on an island, Eustace stumbles onto a dragon’s lair and falls asleep upon a mound of enchanted treasure.  During his sleep, he undergoes a metamorphosis into a dragon: “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”  His outside now reflected his interior disposition.

However, Eustace’s time as a dragon is a bit of an epiphany for him.  He recognizes how beastly he has been behaving and for the first time experiences true loneliness and a longing for companionship. Once he is able to communicate who he is to the others, he becomes most helpful, bringing them food and a massive tree from which to fashion a new mast for the Dawn Treader.  He also offers his services (the fire in his belly) as a source of warmth on cold nights.

Eventually, Eustace is transformed back into a boy, and the process by which this is wrought is filled with Christian symbolism.  Aslan, the mighty lion and Christ figure,  appears to Eustace and tells him to “Follow me.”  Aslan leads him to a well that is filled with water and directs him to bathe in it after undressing first, meaning after removing his dragon skin.  Eustace tries three times to scratch away his skin on his own, only to find that there is more underneath.  At last, Aslan says that Eustace must be undressed by him.  When recounting the encounter to Edmund, Eustace explained that this process hurt, but it was a good pain: “And when he [Aslan] began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”  Aslan then tossed him into the well water, which also smarted and hurt at first but then became “delicious.”

One can easily compare this scene to repentance and Baptism. We must first shed the “dragon-ish” parts of ourselves, namely,  our sins and shortcomings through repentance.  However,  we cannot remove them ourselves.  If we try, we are only frustrated by our failure.  We must let Jesus and His grace work the transformation in us, a process that can be painful sometimes but that ultimately brings joy and peace.  We are ready to accept God’s forgiveness and be made clean in the waters of Baptism, which we will ultimately find “delicious.”

Eustace is frequently described by Lewis as a “beginner.” Baptism is meant for Christians at the beginning of their faith journeys, either as infants or as adult converts.  In fact, it is one of the Sacraments of Initiation.  Lewis says that Eustace was mostly a completely changed person after his encounter with Aslan, but he still had slip-ups and it would be more accurate to say that he was becoming a better person.  When we first make a commitment to Christ and to the faith, we often do have setbacks and slip-ups but we are now striving and improving and have hope rather than remaining in our mess.  Indeed throughout our whole lives and faith journeys, we must continuously strive for conversion and re-commit ourselves to Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and acts of charity.

Lastly, Eustace’s conversion was prompted first by being immersed in a world of believers, by being immersed in the world of Narnia.  Lewis mentions that the good effects of Narnia began to work on Eustace without him even realizing it; case in point, when he is struggling to climb a mountain, he perseveres to the end instead of giving up like he would have been wont to do before experiencing Narnia.  This small event exemplifies both the importance of evangelization as well as the reality that both our chosen companions and environment have an affect on our attitude and ways of thinking.  Secondly, his conversion was motivated mainly by an experience of hardship, that is, becoming a dragon.  Eustace’s suffering impelled him to make an examination of conscience, so to speak. He realized his nastiness and wanted to be reconciled and be friends with his companions once more.  So often in the real world, it is suffering and trials that drive people to conversion or to a re-awakening of faith.  We take a hard long look at ourselves and our lives and realize where we have fouled up and who we have wronged, and we desire to make amends.

These musings only cover a small portion of the insights contained in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as well as the whole Narnia series.  If you have never read these books or if it’s been a while since you’ve read them, pick them up again and discover the beauty that C.S. Lewis has to offer!

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Images taken from the Chronicles of Narnia page on Facebook.