Friday, February 28, 2014

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens can be excessively dreary. I avoided him for years based on the depressing movie versions of his books. But then I read A Christmas Carol and delighted in the sly humor on every page. Hard Times was another Dickens' title that I found to be hard-hitting yet amusing at the same time. I learned that his books are less heavy than the movies because they are balanced by witty asides that are impossible to convey on film.

Still, I found the beginning of David Copperfield to be slow-going and even painful. (One of my siblings was often mistreated for her handicaps so I have a very low tolerance for meanness. And the first chapters of DC pay homage to some of the meanest people I've ever encountered in literature.) If it hadn't been for Sherry at Semicolon who told me this was one of her favorite Dicken's titles, I'm not sure I would have persevered.

Thirteen was a lucky number in this case since that's the chapter when things began to turn around for our suffering hero. Dastardly characters continue to come on the scene, but they are counterbalanced by virtuous and loving people. By the middle of the book there was an impending sense of doom that kept me reading, but I still wasn't sure I loved it. Later, however, I suddenly realized that Dickens had cast me under his spell. My misgivings about the heavy dose of villainy were dissipated by the irresistible charm of Dr. Strong's faithful love, Micawber's loquacious letters, Traddles amazing hair, and Mr. Dick's simple kind-heartedness. (Not to mention the "iron true" Mr. Peggoty, noble Ham, and Copperfield's guardian angels in the form of Miss Trotwood and Agnes Wickfield.) Without any effort I had learned to love these characters with all my heart.

And, of course, the writing is splendid. Describing Miss Murdstone's luggage, we understand her perfectly: She brought with her two uncompromising hard black boxes, with her initials on the lids in hard brass nails. When she paid the coachman she took her money out of hard steel purse, and she kept the purse in a very jail of a bag which hung upon her arm by a heavy chain, and shut up like a bite. I had never, at that time, seen such a metallic lady altogether as Miss Murdstone was. (p. 58)

This book, with its host of unforgettable characters, highlights the many kinds of love: shallow, filial, and romantic, but especially the deep, self-sacrificing kind. Like other chunksters I've read (Count of Monte Cristo and Middlemarch), this took almost a month to get through, but it was worth the effort.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ten Reasons People Prefer Physical Books to Digital

Tim Challies had a link to this infographic on ten reasons people prefer physical books to digital ones. I use my Kindle often, yet I have to agree with most of the reasons listed. One thing that bugs me about digital books is the anonymity. Lots of people on the subway use e-readers, but without the visible book cover I can never see what they are reading (and hence can't strike up a conversation about it.)

Also, implicit in number two is the difficulty of paging back and forth in an e-reader. It's so frustrating to try and find the passage you vaguely remember. (The Kindle search engine sometimes helps with this.)

Number ten made me laugh: "How can anyone see how clever you are if you are holding a grey rectangle?"

Friday, February 21, 2014

Son by Lois Lowry

A lot of bloggers were disturbed with the ending of The Giver because it did not tell what happened to Jonas. I was okay with the open-endedness of the book since its main impact for me was in its powerful ideas. But because I enjoyed Giver so much, I was glad when a friend loaned me, Son, the the final book in the series.

To prevent spoilers, I will just say that the fourth book continues with the theme of the high cost of love. It creates a character from the first book and weaves a story around the search for her missing son. In the midst of her story we find out what happened to Jonas and Gabriel.

It does not have the same "wow" factor as the first book, but for those who need a satisfying conclusion to the series, this should fit the bill.  The interim books (Gathering Blue and Messenger) are only loosely connected to Book One, but Son is THE sequel to Giver. (You can even skip the middle two books and not miss a whole lot.)

Some critics complained that the first book stretched the limits of belief. I didn't feel that way, but there were definitely moments in Son, when I was wrinkling my forehead and saying, "Really?" Still, it is worth reading if you like a compelling story of the pain and pleasure of loving deeply.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

Although it contains recipes, Bread and Wine is not a recipe book. It is a book about loving people lavishly around your dining room table. At a time when people are becoming increasingly overweight because they are looking to food to fill their need for comfort, you may wonder how anyone can celebrate tables that are groaning under the weight of sumptious food. But there is a fine distinction between overeating and eating well.

Frankly, when we eat to feel comforted, we are bound to get fat because no amount of food can ever satisfy that need. BUT when we sit around a table with loved ones and the meal is incredible, we feel loved and satisfied in two ways: primarily by the people around us and secondarily by the delicious meal.

Niequist explains her book title: Like every Christian, I recognize the two as food and drink, and also, at the very same time, I recognize them as something much greater - mystery and tradition and symbol. Bread is bread, and wine is wine, but bread-and-wine is another thing entirely. The two together are the sacred and the material at once, the heaven and earth, the divine and the daily. This is a collection of essays about family, friendships and the meals that bring us together. It´s about the ways God teaches and nourishes us as we nourish the people around us, and about hunger, both physical and otherwise, and the connections between the two. (p.11)

Modern life has pushed us into faux food and fast food and highly engineered food products cased in sterile packages that we eat in the car or on the subway - as though we were astronauts, as though we can´t be bothered with a meal... But many of us, men and women alike, at a certain point, are wandering back to the kitchen and fumbling and learning and trying to feed ourselves and the people we love, because we sense it´s important and that we may have missed something fundamental along the way. Especially for those of us who make our livings largely in front of computer screens, there´s something extraordinary about getting up from the keyboard and using our hands for something besides typing - for chopping and dicing and coaxing scents and flavors from the raw materials in front of us. There´s something entirely satisfying in a modern, increasingly virtual world about something so elemental - heat, knife, sizzle. (p. 14, 16)

I´m coming to see that the table is about food, and it´s also about time. It´s about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented person, phone in hand and a to-do list in the other. Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age, and pick up a knife and fork. The table is where time stops. It´s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite. (p. 257)

Not all the essays are about food. Some are about her struggles with infertility. Others are just about the craziness of life. As a non-drinker I found the free-flowing alcohol at her gatherings to be a bit bewildering, but I withheld my judgement because the primary theme of the book really resonated with me. Sharing our lives around the table is one of the easiest ways to reflect the lavish love of Christ.

Footnote: Babette´s Feast is a Danish film that excellently portrays this "grace upon grace" at the meal table.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Benefits of Serious Reading

"Cultivating a serious reading schedule is the best gift you can give yourself."

 Edie over at Life in Grace has a lovely post today on how what we read forms us (her reading list for 2014). There are some good thoughts and great quotes. Worth a look.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Comparing Kindles

I am not an electronics person and was stunned when my husband gave me a Kindle way back in 2010. Since that Kindle was working just fine, I was even more astonished to receive a Kindle Fire HD three Christmases later. I've had a month to get used to my new toy and to discover some key differences between the two e-readers.

The Kindle Fire is a sleek and shiny gizmo that allows me to read books with full-color photos. It also enables me to check my e-mail when travelling. I love it that book covers are visible when I'm swiping through the carousel, which makes them seem more like real books somehow. I love it that it has a free app for playing Killer Sudoku. And I like how easily it manages my music (IF the music is from Amazon). Plus you can highlight text in FOUR different colors.

The Kindle Fire can be compared to an electric car that has a very short battery life and needs continual re-charging (especially if using wi-fi). Even when I avoid the internet, I have to recharge the device every few days. And it takes quite a while to charge up fully.

The old Kindle (keyboard model) is like a no-frills economy car that keeps on running. I take it with me on the subway every day because it's lighter in weight and because its battery life is much longer (two weeks as opposed to two days). And because it uses side buttons (vs. touch screeen) I can hold it and control it in one hand while using my other hand to keep my balance while holding onto the overhead bar). It can fully recharge in about an hour. And because it's not so spiffy looking, I never have to worry about it being stolen.

As I said earlier, the color pictures are a nice kick, but trying to read magazines on the 7-inch KF screen takes effort since you have to amplify and maneuver each page to read the tiny print. My son showed me how to download movies, but I'm not really interested in watching films on tiny screens.The Kindle Fire has several annoying features. Swiping through the carousel (books list), it is easy to accidently open up a book you don't want to read. Then there are those ever-present ads (unless you pay $15 to have them removed.) I appreciated how I was able to categorize my books on the old Kindle. Haven't found a way to do that on the new one yet.

The Kindle Fire HD is a fun-loving, fickle friend (that sometimes won't turn on or reboot after multiple tries). The Kindle keyboard is my dowdy but faithful companion that starts up quicker, recharges faster and lasts longer. I love them both.