#31. Mansfield Park

[For the Rules, click here.]

"I do not quite know what to make of Miss Fanny. I do not understand her. I could not tell what she would be at yesterday. What is her character?--Is she solemn?--Is she queer?--Is she prudish? Why did she draw back and look so grave at me? I could hardly get her to speak. I never was so long in company with a girl in my life--trying to entertain her--and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me! I must try to get the better of this. Her looks say, 'I will not like you, I am determined not to like you,' and I say, she shall."

Author: Jane Austen

Synopsis: The shy and sensitive eldest daughter of ne'er-do-well parents is sent to her wealthy aunt and uncle to be brought up a gentlewoman. She is kept below her cousins and shamed by her aunt Norris, but when scandal occurs, her steadfastness and love for her cousin Edmund prove the most stable forces in the family.

* * *

This book of Austen's gets a lot of complaints because it is darkly moral, because the protagonist has little to say for herself, and because the machinations working against the desired happy ending come off as too successful. Members of our society are just as likely to sympathize with the womanizing Henry and his mocking, unprincipled sister Mary as Edmund or Fanny.

Not me. I find it a joy to read a novel in which the primary characters are decent moral human beings, ultimately able to sacrifice their own self-interests for the sake of something considered objectively right. It's like drinking clean water, breathing fresh air.

I also find it easy to empathize with a character fond of books and nature and family but not fond of talking.


#32. Little Women

[For the Rules, click here.]

"My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning, and may be many; but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother."

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Synopsis: The four March girls live The Pilgrim's Progress in their daily lives: carrying their burdens, fighting Apollyon, visiting the Palace Beautiful, etc.

* * *

Little girls in America should never have to grow up without Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. For my part, I sympathize with all four of the primary characters in different ways.

I have no idea how many times I read this book growing up--or how many times I've read it since, for that matter. And like all good children's books, the story is just as readable now as it was when I was ten.


#33. The Story of a Soul

[For the Rules, click here.]

You know, God, that I have never wanted anything but to love You alone. I long for no other glory.... Love attracts love and mine soars up to you, eager to fill the abyss of Your love, but it is not even a drop of dew lost in the ocean. To love You as You love me, I must borrow Your love--only then can I have peace. O Jesus, it seems to me that You cannot give a soul more love than You have bestowed on me, and that is why I dare ask You to love those You have given me "even as You have loved me." ... I cannot imagine any greater love than that You have given me without any merit of my own.

Author: St. Therese of Lisieux (translated by John Beevers)

Synopsis: When Therese Martin was fifteen years old, she threw herself at the feet of the Pope and begged him to convince her spiritual advisors to let her enter the Carmelite convent early. She did enter quite young, and devoted her short life--she died in her early twenties--to loving Jesus and praying for the souls of others. Her story of faith, which her superiors in the convent asked her to write, was published shortly after her death and became very well-known and very well-beloved.

* * *

I wish I had the firm, wholehearted devotion she speaks of. I can only struggle with my wandering mind and stubborn nature and pray for greater ability to love than I have now. But "Therese of the Child Jesus" comes to her God as His child, as a 'little one', His 'little flower' among the great saints. And I, despite my thirty-one years and my almost six feet of height, can wholly sympathize.

The book is a challenging if short read and not one I pore over regularly, but its meaning stays with me. May Therese, who is now with her Jesus, pray for another flower who struggles against the shadows of doubt and self-will and longs for the sun.


#34. The Mitford Years

[For the Rules, click here.]

"Edith Mallory's lookin' to give you th' big whang-do," said Emma.

Until this inappropriate remark, there had been a resonant peace in the small office. The windows were open to morning air embroidered with birdsong. His sermon notes were going at a pace. And the familiar comfort of his old swivel chair was sheer bliss.

"And what, exactly, is that supposed to mean?"

His part-time church secretary glanced up from her ledger. "It means she's going to cook your goose."

Author: Jan Karon

Synopsis: Anglican priest Father Tim is single and over sixty, happy preaching and gardening and reading deep theological work in his small-town parish. A pretty neighbor, a giant dog, an abused boy and many other stories are about to mix up his simple life for good.

* * *

Lazy, rambling, summery tales--I love the Mitford books. Jan Karon has a unique writing voice and a talent for creating vivid comic characters. Father Tim and Cynthia are particularly lifelike.

When I want a relaxing read, free from mind-games or frustration, I'm as likely to pull these off the shelf as anything else.


Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie

Fifty Favorite Books will return tomorrow ... I promise.

My husband took me to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night. It wasn't the most exciting event on the planet for him, so I felt bad (he gave a far more positive review of the Twilight movie.) "I hate making people put up with my whims," I told him. He said that I don't have many whims, for which I affirmed his husband skills. He might be right about that after all, though; I just have a few really strong whims, one of which is watching a movie just so I can hate on it with the other Potter fans (although Travis liked it, so maybe it won't get so much ragging this trip around.)

Planning to go see the movie? Spoilers follow, so beware.

Rather than sit down in the theater armed with my encyclopedic knowledge of the book, ready to Reducto the movie's every scene, I decided to watch it as a movie in its own right. I found this difficult, of course, because in know-it-all-Hermione fashion, my knowledge likes to jump up and down with its hand in the air. But I didn't want to drink the Haterade too quickly. (Katdish used that phrase in a comment on Stuff Christians Like the other day, and I've wanted to use it ever since. "Drink the Haterade." That's hilarious.)

I found a few things to hate on. I went into this movie knowing--and it feels like I've known this forever--that an attack on the Burrow was invented for whatever reason. Not only was that not in the book, it was rather pointless as to the movie, with no leadup before or fallout afterward. Also, never in his entire existence does Dumbledore say something as fallibly human as "This is beyond anything I ever guessed!" Let me explain something, Warner boys: When a character is, as they say, "larger than life", you don't mess with his lines. You just don't. And where was Snape? Wasn't this movie called "Half-Blood Prince"?

Beyond those things and similar others, I did find a lot to like about the movie. First, the artistry was downright splendid. It was beautifully filmed and reminded me that big-budget movies tend to recognize true art even when the rest of culture forgets. The music was likewise lovely; better to do as they did then try to produce Fawkes' phoenix song as such. The phoenix song always gets me in the book, and it was Fawkes that finally brought tears to my eyes in the movie, though Ginny holding Harry, kneeling at Dumbledore's side after the fall from the tower, came awfully close.

Other parts of the movie were really funny, even though I'd seen several of them online beforehand. Some of the acting was very good, notably Jim Broadbent as Slughorn, and ... whether due to being prepared for the worst by my long happy years of being horrified at Michael Gambon's Dumbledore performances, or due to an honest improvement, I didn't hate it this time. I tend to like understated acting, which is presumably why I have never really liked David Thewlis's Lupin, and the main criticism of Gambon's current performance is that it's too deadpan. Better deadpan than collaring and shaking Harry or rolling eyes in apparent helplessness.

As to the details, here's my review.


Beautiful, beautiful architectural shots. I'll repeat myself: the cinematography was just lovely.

Ginny seeing Hedwig and searching for Harry just before he arrives at the Burrow made for a lighthearted, really likeable scene and brought her character forward.

The Pensieve: Not like I pictured it, but quality. Young Tom Riddle was thoroughly creepy.

The scene with Slughorn at Aragog's funeral and afterward in Hagrid's cabin: Hilarious, poignant, beautifully done.

Ron's encounter with love potion was absolutely hysterical. I'd seen it before, but still got a kick out of it. "All right, you love her! Have you ever even met her?"

Felix Felicis. Nicely done, although Harry clearly had some left over after the Slughorn event and I thought he'd divide it between his friends as he did in the book.

Ginny everywhere. Cheers! They gave her some lines. Bonnie Wright pulled them off with emotion and grace.

Quidditch. In the first movie, the famous ball-game-on-broomsticks had the graphics of a video game. This time, the Quidditch action was fabulous. I loved Luna's lion hat, too, though it would have been fun to see it roar.

Snape's AK. Knowing "the rest of the story", as it were, I thought Alan Rickman pulled off Snape's emotion fabulously.

Ending the movie with Fawkes' departure into the sky. I'm not sure anyone only watching the movies would have gotten that he was Dumbledore's pet phoenix, but for book-formed Potterheads, the Resurrection bird is a powerful and important symbol. Just thinking about it makes my eyes well up.


The scene with the waitress at the beginning of the movie. It worked okay, but I liked Dumbledore's scolding the Dursleys in the book much better, and it doesn't seem necessary to portray Harry as a "normal teenager" interested in "going out" when in the books he's honestly distracted. It detracted a little from the onset of Harry's interest in Ginny, I thought.

It makes sense, I suppose, to play Bellatrix up and Narcissa down in the movie version of the "Spinner's End" scene, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

They at least tried to make Natalia Tena look like the book description of Tonks. And I liked it that she called Lupin "sweetheart", though I of course missed the depiction of their difficult move into romance.

Harry's comfort of Hermione after Ron kisses Lavender is a little too open, a little too unlike the masculine reticence of the Harry we know, but it made for an enjoyable scene and a good explanation of both Harry's and Hermione's romantic turmoil.

I had expected Hermione's flock of birds to attack Ron's face and arms, like they did in the book, but their kamikaze run into the door was tolerably effective.

Harry and Ginny's kiss was sweet, but not really the victorious experience from the book. A mildly seductive initiation by Ginny just doesn't compare to Harry's making the move "without thinking, without planning it, without worrying that fifty people were watching" when she runs into his arms after the Quidditch win.

Harry and Draco's battle in the bathroom. Tom Felton's fantastic acting helped. What I didn't like was that we didn't hear Draco attempt to use an Unforgivable, which made Harry's use of Sectumsempra a little less forgivable. Snape never questioned it, either, which was odd.

The Inferi were never explained, and I expected them to be more like the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings, but they served their purpose. I managed to watch them without nightmares, so the scariness factor could have been worse.

Snape's explanation to Harry that he was the Half-Blood Prince was moving, but I did miss the almost-demented "Don't call me coward!"


Tonks' "The first night of the cycle is always the hardest" makes it sound like Lupin's about to change into a werewolf then and there. Followed immediately by Bellatrix and Greyback's attack, it makes no sense. Greyback is a werewolf too (which is never explained) and this just doesn't compute.

David Yates gives a good explanation of his reasons for adding the Burrow attack, noting that JKR herself affirmed it, but I still think there might have been a better way to accomplish the sense of jeopardy. It just felt too out of place with the story.

How did Harry know to use a bezoar to save Ron from the poison? What's a bezoar? We know this from the books, but it came out of nowhere in the movie.

The only pointer to Harry and Ginny's breakup is that she's not in the final scene where Harry, Ron and Hermione discuss the fake Horcrux and watch Fawkes fly away. Not only that, there's no confirmation that Ginny and Dean actually broke it off before Ginny and Harry's big kiss. Actually, there's never even any explanation that Harry and Ginny are officially dating; they just kiss briefly in the Room of Requirement.

Speaking of the Room of Requirement, if Ginny hides the book and Harry has his eyes closed, how will he remember the tiara-on-a-bust when he needs to in Deathly Hallows?

Did Hagrid get Fang out of the burning hut? I suppose, if you'd never read the book, you might not have thought of them as being trapped in the building Bellatrix sets afire.

Gambon's "Severus, please ..." didn't sound like pleading to me. I thought it came across that he was asking Snape to do what he did, which was important but perhaps a little too obvious.

When McGonagall raised her wand and sent a light up into the Dark Mark in the sky, starting to dissolve it, I thought that was sweet. When everyone else raised their wands, I thought they meant to do the same, and since the Mark did fade, perhaps it was intended that way--but it did come across as rock-concerty. Amy Sturgis said that someone in the theater with her actually whispered "Free Bird!" at that point.

* * *

What have I missed? I've just jotted down things as I recall them, so certainly there will be something.



November. Over 100,000 people. From scratch to 50,000 words apiece.

I just signed up for National Novel Writing Month.

Here's what drew me to the program. Quoting directly from the email the site sends the newly-joined:

"Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it's hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn't."

Wow. They know my inner editor really well.

This means laying my current work aside for that month, since previously written prose on a NaNo novel is, according to the site, punishable by death. But the temporary break into a different story and a full-speed, haphazard writing style should be freeing; I can give over the worries about bad sentences and imperfect voice and incorrect symbolism for awhile, and just see what happens.

Besides, I smell challenge--the sort of challenge I cannot resist.

I am so excited.

What will I write? I have a couple of ideas and may come up with more. The next three months should give me some time for sketching out plot summaries. We'll see what intrigues me most on October 31.

Want to join me? I could use some writing buddies for the event. :D


#35. Summer's Song

[For the Rules, click here.]

"My name is Bethany Prudence Worthington Taylor, which is more than enough name for any 17-year-old."

Author: Linda Massey Weddle

Synopsis: Beth Taylor takes a summer job as a crew member at family camp, where she meets three interesting guys: Kip, handsome and popular; Russ, loon aficionado and secret informer; and Luke, a lonely child who looks to Beth for friendship and faith. Ice-maiden Erin tests her patience and crew rebellion tests her integrity, but it is Luke who asks her for an act of bravery that means living up to her grandmother's name.

* * *

My sister Beth brought this book home from Clydehurst, a summer camp we attended in junior high and high school, where the author and her husband had been speakers. As far as I know, the book was either self-published or put out by a very small company, although Mrs. Weddle has since published nationally. I will have to track this book down eventually, as Beth and I read the copy we had to pieces over ten years ago.

I don't recall the tale as being particularly deep or layered--not that I would have recognized such back then--but as a simple, sweet story this was one of the rare gems of the Christian fiction genre.


#36. David Copperfield

[For the Rules, click here.]

"So you have left Mr. Dick behind, aunt?" said I. "I am sorry for that. Ah, Janet, how do you do?"

As Janet curtsied, hoping I was well, I observed my aunt's visage lengthen very much.

"I am sorry for it, too," said my aunt, rubbing her nose. "I have had no peace of mind, Trot, since I have been here."

Before I could ask why, she told me.

"I am convinced," said my aunt, laying her hand with melancholy firmness on the table, "that Dick's character is not a character to keep the donkeys off. I am confident he wants strength of purpose. I ought to have left Janet at home, instead, and then my mind might perhaps have been at ease. If ever there was a donkey trespassing on my green," said my aunt, with emphasis, "there was one this afternoon at four o'clock. A cold feeling came over me from head to foot, and I know it was a donkey!"

Author: Charles Dickens

Synopsis: David narrates his life story from his early suffering at the hands of a severe stepfather through going off to school, taking refuge with his aunt, learning his trade, making many friends, and falling twice in love.

* * *

This is another book that I've read only once cover-to-cover; yet it has remained my second-favorite of Dickens' work. When I picked it up the other day to go quote-hunting, I found myself reading long stretches that I had forgotten or vaguely remembered, and hunting for others that I remembered loving the first time. It would take another trip through to reacquaint myself with some of the characters and side stories, but as time goes on I am sure I will pick it up for another full read.

Maybe I like the story because David is such a slow-moving, introspective character, more inclined to daydreaming and thinking through past events than to raw achievement. He's a lot like me. God made us cloud-headed snail-wits for one distinctive purpose, as far as I can tell: turning our extensive thought-processing into polished words. Hopefully those words prove useful for the encouragement or assistance or at least entertainment of others.


#37. The Scarlet Pimpernel

[For the Rules, click here.]

"Do you think that Blakeney would leave Calais without having accomplished what he set out to do?"

"You mean ...?"

"There's the old Comte de Tournay ..."

"The Comte ...?" she murmured.

"And St. Just ... and others ..."

"My brother!" she said with a heart-broken sob of anguish. "Heaven help me, but I fear I had forgotten."

"Fugitives as they are, these men at this moment await with perfect confidence and unshaken faith the arrival of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who has pledged his honour to take them safely across the Channel."

Indeed, she had forgotten! With the sublime selfishness of a woman who loves with her whole heart, she had in the last twenty-four hours had no thought save for him. His precious, noble life, his danger--he, the loved one, the brave hero, he alone dwelt in her mind.

Author: Baroness Orczy

Synopsis: A young French actress has married an English baronet who is a mystery to her--the more so after he discovers she denounced an aristocratic family, unwittingly sending them to the Revolution's guillotine. A member of Robespierre's henchmen uses the jeopardy of her brother's life to blackmail her into spying for France. Her task is to help discover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a daring young man who with several assistants is smuggling members of the French aristocracy into England.

* * *

My family saw several times, and owns, the Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour movie based on this book and another Orczy novel (Eldorado). Jane Seymour's hair in this movie is beyond belief, but the story is lighthearted and fun. It was my favorite movie for awhile.

The book is likeable, an easy read, heroic and romantic and clean--and honestly a little over-the-top, but who cares? I've read it several times and can never put it down once I get going.


25 Things About Me

The members of my writing group have pledged to each write "from a prompt" and post it to our blogs by this Wednesday. This popular Facebook prompt was mentioned as an option, and since several people tagged me with it months ago and I loved reading theirs, I'll do mine now (here, because I don't get around to Facebooking much).

Technically I'm supposed to tag 25 people; for me, that's pretty much all of my Facebook and blogging friends. Tag! You're It.

Here are 25 things about me, randomly chosen for your reading pleasure:

1. To my very great surprise, I am not awful at decorating a house.

2. I adore houseplants. I put them everywhere.

3. Someday I want a bird feeder in my yard. Maybe a couple of bird houses, too. Birds fascinate me; I find them charming and cheery and delightful and hopeful.

4. Trees give me encouragement and comfort; I'm getting to know the ones in our neighborhood as friends. Looking up at blue sky through the leaves of a tall old tree is one of my greatest pleasures.

5. For a couple of years I tried very hard to be interesting and unafraid; I learned to climb rocks and got certified as a whitewater guide. I could not stop being afraid. Hopefully I have also not stopped being interesting.

6. Debate and conflict terrify me even more than whitewater rafting. Anything that resembles an impending serious argument can make me cry and shake till my whole body vibrates. I am not exaggerating.

7. When I was in sixth grade, I was the third tallest in my class. I was a year younger than my classmates.

8. I have a love-hate relationship with being tall. It's nice to be able to reach things on the top shelf, and it's nice when your girlfriends tell you that you look like a model. It feels weird to tower over half of all men, however, and with my enormous wingspan I am sometimes afraid to move for fear I'll hurt someone (or myself--I punched a low ceiling the other day). Also, I occasionally see cute little petite girls cower a bit when they get near me. I want to tell them that I'm harmless, but it seems awkward.

9. Until I was 28, no eligible--or even young--man ever told me I was beautiful. But I felt beautiful once: when my swing teacher used me as his dance partner while teaching swing dancing at Jade's wedding. Doug was a professional dancer and I knew just enough to follow. A male dancer can, by good leadership, make a girl feel all starry and graceful. I know.

10. Sometimes I do actually feel beautiful, and enjoy looking at myself in the mirror. It generally requires full makeup.

11. My husband will tell me I'm beautiful when I know perfectly well that no other person in the world would make it past the acne scars and the ponytail and the gangly arms poking out of an ancient t-shirt. It took me awhile, but I've come to the conclusion that he means it.

12. I honestly love being a girl and wouldn't trade it, despite the pain and mood swings and inconveniences, for the triumphs and tribulations and freedoms of manhood.

13. I am so grateful to have a husband--and so awed that he loves me in spite of my weaknesses--that I feel horrified when I say the slightest grouchy thing to him.

14. Writing forms such a thoroughly integral part of my life that imagining life without it is like imagining nonexistence.

15. The curse upon my writing is the tendency to overuse ellipses.

16. Part of what keeps me in the Christian faith is the tough moral teaching that everybody rails against. Call it what you will, but it seems necessary to the health of humanity.

17. Of all the things I've given away in my life, I regret my first doll, Mark, the most.

18. Most of the time I prefer silence to music.

19. I detest coarse language and the vulgar freedoms of modern conversation. When a girl says she "has to pee", or a couple says they're "trying for a baby", I recoil. Ew. Please. Do not make me picture that.

20. One of the highlights of my week is listening to John Derbyshire's Radio Derb on Friday nights with Lou. Seriously, if you're going to tell me the world is coming to an end, make it funny.

21. I live for sunshine, perhaps because I try to fill myself with light and warmth the way folks of the Goth persuasion fill themselves with severity and darkness.

22. I never thought I'd fall in love with a man who willingly wore slacks and ties and buzzed his hair. Now I find myself rather proud of my handsome, neatly-dressed husband.

23. Despite being shy, I am in danger of giving away too much information whenever I open my mouth.

24. The appeal of Christianity to my imagination is at least as strong, and possibly as important, as its appeal to my reason.

25. Many years ago--after reading George MacDonald's "There and Back", I think--I decided to hang onto childlike wonder all my life. Cynicism and depressive moments get the better of me at times, but for the most part I think I've kept it up so far.


#38. Pollyanna

[For the Rules, click here.]

"Please, Aunt Polly, you didn't tell me which of my things you wanted to--to give away."

Aunt Polly emitted a tired sigh--a sigh that ascended straight to Pollyanna's ears.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you, Pollyanna. Timothy will drive us into town at half-past one this afternoon. Not one of your garments is fit for my niece to wear. Certainly I should be very far from doing my duty by you if I should let you appear out in any one of them."

Pollyanna sighed now--she believed she was going to hate that word--duty.

"Aunt Polly, please," she called wistfully, "isn't there any way you can be glad about all that--duty business?"

Author: Eleanor H. Porter

Synopsis: An orphaned girl goes to live with her strict and angry aunt, bringing the game her father taught her. Aunt Polly is not interested in finding things to be glad about, but many a member of the town learns to play. One of them has the secret to softening Aunt Polly's heart.

* * *

Reading this book reminds me to be cheerful. It also reminds me that doing my duty is only half the battle; being glad about it is the other half.

Yes, I'm serious. Nowadays with everyone wanting to do just as they please and still managing to be unhappy, the story of someone who did much that they did not wish to and found a way to be happy about it is worth reading. But more than that--I like the story. I like the simple sweetness of it. I like the characters and the setting and the happy ending.

Tonight my duty is sleeping at my parents' temporary house to care for Grandma while Mom and Dad defend their new house from its previous tenant, who broke into it last night. I'm glad my husband is willing to come with me, and that it's not far from our place. And that I had a place to park, which is always something to be glad about in Bellingham.


#39. Summer of the Monkeys

[For the Rules, click here.]

If I had kept this monkey trouble to myself, I don't think it would have amounted to much; but I got my grandpa mixed up in it. I felt pretty bad about that because Grandpa was my pal, and all he was trying to do was help me.

Author: Wilson Rawls

Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Jay Berry Lee, roaming his parents' farm in the Ozark mountains, comes across a troop of monkeys that have run away from a wrecked circus train. When Jay Berry learns that a large reward is offered for the monkeys, he decides to capture them and return them to the circus so he can make enough money to buy a pony and gun. The monkeys are more interested in taunting Jay Berry than being caught, however, and then Jay Berry has to decide whether to pursue his dream or whether something else might be more important.

* * *

My family read books aloud in the evenings when my sisters and I were young, and this was one. After that, I read it several more times. I'm not sure where the family copy went, but will likely find it and read it again someday.

Wilson Rawls is perhaps better known for Where the Red Fern Grows, but Summer of the Monkeys is a likewise touching story with more humor and a happier ending.


#40. The Wild at Heart Books

[For the Rules, click here.]

No, we have not been poisoned by fairy tales and they are not merely "myths." Far from it. The truth is, we have not taken them seriously enough. As Roland Hein says, "Myths are stories which confront us with something transcendent and eternal." In the case of our fair maiden, we have overlooked two very crucial aspects to that myth. On the one hand, none of us ever really believed the sorcerer was real. We thought we could have the maiden without a fight. Honestly, most of us guys thought our biggest battle was asking her out. And second, we have not understood the tower and its relation to her wound; the damsel is in distress. If masculinity has come under assault, femininity has been brutalized. Eve is the crown of creation, remember? She embodies the exquisite beauty and the exotic mystery of God in a way that nothing else in all creation even comes close to. And so she is the special target of the Evil One; he turns his most vicious malice against her. If he can destroy her or keep her captive, he can ruin the story.

Author: John Eldredge (Captivating with Stasi Eldredge; The Sacred Romance with Brent Curtis)

Synopsis: Wild at Heart talks about what men most desire: a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. Captivating discusses a woman's three great wishes: to be romanced, to be an irreplaceable part of an adventure, to have beauty to unveil. The Sacred Romance and Journey of Desire speak of God's love for us and our adventure in learning to love Him.

* * *

Oddly enough, after reading Wild at Heart, I came away thoroughly fascinated by what women desire--and not exactly as the Eldredges put it. Captivating didn't quite live up to the emotive writing of Wild at Heart, and I thought it didn't look closely enough at a woman's desire to nurture; I would have added that as a full fourth desire. Sure, it messes up the neat "three" thing, but it's important.

Between the two books, I have visions of womanhood that encompass everything from the tender-eyed soft-hearted ladylike girl to wood-queens with swords and long wild hair and fierceness in their eyes. For all my resentment toward certain aspects of feminism, I can't dissociate myself from the movement entirely when I read a book about men and come away having learned more about the fair sex.


#41. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

[Pardon my missed post yesterday. I'm an auntie again, to a gorgeous little five-pound nine-ounce niece. :)]

For the Rules of the Fifty Favorite Books, click here.

* * *

"A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the boot-strap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion in his heart for those has left behind him in the cruel up climb."

Author: Betty Smith

Synopsis: The early years and coming-of-age of Francie Nolan, child of poor immigrant parents, are chronicled in this tale.

* * *

I read this book once, years ago, and perhaps the time has come to pull it off the library shelf again. I remember it as stunningly well-written, vivid, a beautifully human description of life in poverty without--as far as I recall--romanticizing such a life or trying the reader's patience by a preachy attitude about social justice. (I'm not saying that social justice is unimportant ... just that nothing makes it harder to care than a self-righteous mouth-off thinly disguised as entertainment and/or "speaking out".)

Having only read the book once, I don't have a lot more to say about it. It left quite an impression that first time, though; certain characters and scenes stand out strongly in my mind even after all these years. I also have to give it an extra star for having one of the greater titles that I've ever come across.


#42. The Hiding Place

[For the Rules, click here.]

"All watches are safe."

Author: Corrie ten Boom

Synopsis: Corrie ten Boom details her family's experience hiding Jews in Holland during Nazi occupation, and the subsequent time Corrie and her sister Betsie spent in a concentration camp.

* * *

I love the tale Corrie told (in another book, Tramp for the Lord) about meeting, years after her release from the concentration camp, a former Nazi guard who had tormented her and her sister. He had become a Christian in the intervening years and begged her forgiveness, offering his hand in friendship. She had only seconds to overcome the hate Betsie had always protested against and shake the man's hand. By the grace of God, she succeeded.

The Hiding Place is a painful read, but a powerful one. Her recounting of her family's work helping Jews escape and the price they all paid for that work is thoroughly moving. It is a beautiful story of work against evil, of love and superhuman forgiveness. Most great stories involve something of those concepts. Hers is true.

RRR: The Diary of Anne Frank, of course. I always feel guilty reading that because I would never, ever want my own diaries published, but stories hardly get more human-interest than hers.


#43. No Flying in the House

[For the Rules, click here.]

"Can you kiss your elbow?"

Author: Betty Brock

Synopsis: A fairy princess married a mortal man, and her father the Fairy King was so angry that he exiled both indefinitely, willing to restore them to favor only if their first child became mortal by the it turned seven. No Flying in the House is the story of that first child and the tiny dog who helps her.

* * *

I read this innumerable times in fourth grade; unfortunately, never since. Someday I'll stick this and 101 Dalmatians on an Amazon order to benefit from the free-shipping-over-$25 promotion.

Though I attempted Belinda's trick for flying several times, I don't think I really expected to get off the ground. It would've been fun, though. As I recall, Annabel floated around the living room ceiling eating a cookie. Of course, her benefactor wasn't incredibly excited about her dropping crumbs on the carpet.


Christmas in July

My poinsettia, which is at least five years old, is blooming for the first time since I got it:

Poinsettias are notoriously difficult to bring to bloom, usually requiring rather harsh treatment--that is, they want to be locked in a basement or closet every night for two months. They like filtered but direct light in the day. I have mine in a sheer-curtained south window, but didn't give it any extra darkness at night.


#44. 101 Dalmatians

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Not long ago, there lived in London a young married couple of Dalmatian dogs named Pongo and Missis Pongo. (Missis had added Pongo's name to her own on their marriage, but was still called Missis by most people.) They were lucky enough to own a young married couple of humans named Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, who were gentle, obedient, and unusually intelligent--almost canine at times.

Author: Dodie Smith

Synopsis: When their fifteen puppies are stolen by Cruella de Vil and henchmen, Pongo and Missis go to the rescue with the help of many dogs and their "pets" along the way.

* * *

First things first: This is not the little Disney book, which messes dramatically with the characters; nor is it the movie based thereon. This, as I recall, is an honest-to-goodness novella, written by a talented author capable of appealing to all five senses, who makes her characters and scenes dimensional and believable.

I haven't read this since about sixth grade (thank goodness for the first page on Amazon, which provided the above quote), but in that year I read it over and over for several months. Certain scenes from the story still come up very visually in my mind, especially the old dog sharing his hot buttered toast with the travelers by the fireside.

It makes me hungry. Hmm. I think I have some leftover biscuits ...


#45. Sense and Sensibility

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"I am convinced," said Edward, "that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower--and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world."

Author: Jane Austen

Synopsis: Two sisters, with decidedly different principles for facing life and love, watch each other's ideals tested as they struggle side-by-side through passions and heartbreaks and into marriages.

* * *

We've reached the first Austen book in the countdown. I considered making Austen and Lewis their own special rules because they've both written so many good books, but in the end decided to let the titles stand on their own. Lewis, by the way, is known for saying about Austen that her books had two faults, both of which were "damnable: They are too few and too short".1

Of all her novels, this is the only one that feels even remotely rambly to me. I loved the Emma Thompson/Hugh Grant/Alan Rickman/Kate Winslet movie, which is artistically made and well-acted and concise enough, decently capturing the spirit of the story.

There's a scene in the movie where Marianne rushes crying into one room, her mother rushes crying into another, and Margaret hands Elinor the cup of tea she'd brought for Marianne and disappears crying into a third room. Elinor looks at the closed doors and listens silently to the muffled weeping; then she sits on the stairs and takes a sip from the tea.

My family has laughed and laughed at that scene. Everyone says I take after Elinor, and I do sympathize with her.

More and more through life, though, I tend to be impressed by Elinor and think myself unlike her. "Do you compare your conduct with his?" Elinor asks Marianne, speaking of a former beau who turned out to be a rascal. "No," says Marianne. "I compare it with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours."

Elinor's wisdom and self-controlled conduct cannot protect her from suffering, but it can protect her from making an idiot of herself in the process. That sounds like something to me ... what could it be? Ah yes: Reality.

I'm working on that.

1 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis Vol. 2, Hooper, p. 977; quoted from "Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader", John Granger, p. 35


Happy Independence Day, America

A few minutes ago, a truck drove down our street, tapped its horn, and blared the Star Spangled Banner.


Here's the song in its full glory, thanks to Wikipedia:

O! say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


#46. The Trumpet of the Swan

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After awhile, Mr. Brickle rose to his feet and addressed the boys and the counselors.

"I call your attention," he said, "to a new camper in our midst--Louis the Swan. He is a Trumpeter Swan, a rare bird. We are lucky to have him. I have employed him at the same salary I pay my junior counselors: one hundred dollars for the season. He is gentle and has a speech defect. He came here from Montana with Sam Beaver. Louis is a musician. Like most musicians, he is in need of money."

Author: E.B. White

Synopsis: Louis the Swan cannot make the long ko-hoh sound that the other trumpeter swans make. His father steals a trumpet from a music store and Louis learns to play--but he must repay the store for the trumpet. After consulting with his friend Sam Beaver, a boy he met as a cygnet, he finds work to pay for the trumpet and wins the love of beautiful Serena.

* * *

Just before Lou and I got married last year, Lou had a busy Saturday and I took my car downtown for an oil change. While the car was in the lube place, I walked over to Henderson's Books (the coolest used bookstore ever--you can get lost in there) and made my way to the children's section. Pulling The Trumpet of the Swan off the shelf, I remembered having loved it as a child. But when I opened the book and saw that the hero was named Louis, well--I had to buy it. I started reading it while waiting for my car and finished it not long thereafter.

Children's books, which are usually free from the pretentious depression common to adult fiction, make me happy. The hard-working, intelligent Louis, the cheerful, wondering Sam Beaver, and the many characters they meet on their adventures can fascinate and charm me just as they would have twenty-odd years ago.


The Hogwarts Professor Came to Bellingham

... and I wrote all about it and sent the write-up over to John so he could post it on his site. You can read it here.


#47. Girl of the Limberlost

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"As for managing a social career for him, he never mentioned that he desired such a thing. What he asked of me was that I should be his wife. I understood that to mean that he desired me to keep him a clean house, serve him digestible food, mother his children, and give him loving sympathy and tenderness."


"To which of us do you intend that adjective to apply? I never was less ashamed in all my life."

Author: Gene Stratton Porter

Synopsis: Elnora Comstock's mother has never forgiven her for being born at the wrong time: when Katharine needed to save the life of Elnora's father. Unwanted but unafraid to pursue a better life, Elnora works to fund her way through high school and discovers a gift inherited from her father. Her work as a naturalist captures the attention of fever-weakened Philip Ammon, a city boy interested in moths and engaged to a beautiful socialite. All of Elnora's courage and wisdom are required to unravel the tangle of hearts that follows.

* * *

Philip Ammon has always annoyed me--is there really anything romantic about getting brain-fever just because you can't find your girl? He seems pushy and thoughtless and a little wimpy to me, and I'll title him "Most Annoying Hero in an Otherwise Good Book."

Elnora Comstock needs no disclaimer before her character. Her naturalist studies are fascinating, her human love and anger and forgiveness endearing, and if she wants Philip, he is at least sympathetic enough to make the reader feel she ought to have him. The side stories of Kate Comstock, Wesley and Margaret and Billy, Edith Carr and Hart Henderson also make for an enjoyable read.

I also just really, really love that quote. Put that with her life and character, and Elnora is my kind of feminist. :)