How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Top Books of 2017

It’s that time of year again: the very end, when readers reflect on their reading choices throughout the year and pick their favorites! I’m here to do exactly that. I read 55 books this year (not counting my editing projects). Hmm . . . when I compare that to the number of books others have read, it seems so small, but rest assured, I read whenever I can. Besides being a slow reader, maybe it was all that time away from home this year (six weeks).

Out of those 55, I selected 16 that impacted me most. Six of those are in a special category to themselves, however, which I’ll save for the end. Let’s start out with the basic Top Ten:
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Anne Brontë
Anne was the youngest of the Brontë sisters and the only one I hadn’t read yet. She wrote two novels, The Tenant being her second. I was delighted to find it possessed the depth that I’ve come to expect from the Brontës, complete with a strong female lead and high-stakes moral issues. Controversial in its day for its depiction of dissipation, Anne intended it as a cautionary tale. I liked the heroine, Helen, for her strength, morality, spiritual growth, and resourcefulness. Read my review.
The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame
This iconic children’s story I’ve known practically my whole life, but I never actually read it. I’m so glad I finally did. Delightful and ageless, cozy and quaint, it’s a book that lingers in your consciousness long after you’ve read it. It represents some of the best things about British literature: well-crafted writing, engaging characters (in this case, mostly woodland animals), witty dialogue, and idyllic settings where you wish you could live. (If I were a badger or a water rat, that is.) Read my review.
The Sea Keeper’s Daughters
Lisa Wingate
I’ve enjoyed all of the novels I’ve read by Lisa Wingate, but this was my favorite yet. Wingate is one of my modern-day inspirations. I admire many things about her writing: her flowing, descriptive prose; her intricate, interpersonal plots that create tension without cheap suspense; her rounded, unique characters; and the emotional depth she portrays. The Sea Keeper’s Daughters combines two storylines, one contemporary and one 1930s, in a mystery and a race to save a family heirloom building on the North Carolina coast.
The Mind of the Maker
Dorothy L. Sayers
Sayers is one of the most intelligent writers I’ve ever read. This relatively short book had so much wisdom packed into it that I really need to reread it to harvest even more. It compares God’s creativity to our creativity while exploring the tenets of Christianity. It’s a fascinating, eye-opening examination of language, art, and theology and how they are interconnected. Read my review.
Julius Caesar
William Shakespeare
Within a month, I read this play, listened to it on Librivox, and watched a live performance at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon with my Oxford Creative Writing Class. I’ve only read a couple of Shakespeare’s plays, so his genius is still new to me, and because I experienced this play in three different ways, I appreciated it even more than otherwise. The performance was unforgettable, and I’ll always associate Julius Caesar with my trip to England.
The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Goudge
How could a book by Elizabeth Goudge not make it to my top reads list? This children’s book was everything I could wish: well-written, whimsical, descriptive, moral, mysterious, British, set in a grand mansion in the English countryside, and peopled by wonderful characters. It includes a touch of magic, mainly to do with a family curse and magical creatures, but that just adds to the appealing storyline. This would probably have been my favorite book growing up if I’d read it during those years. Read my review.
Yeshua Matters and Israel Matters
Jacob Fronczak
I really appreciated the solid theological insights in these two books by First Fruits of Zion author Jacob Fronczak. Delving into the Jewish roots of our faith, he emphasizes our Messiah, His identity, and how He fulfilled Scripture in Yeshua Matters, and the history and continued significance of God’s people Israel in Israel Matters. Read my review of Yeshua Matters.
Little Dorrit
Charles Dickens
Reading a thick classic gives me a quiet thrill that no other book can give. Spending so much time in an intricately crafted world gives me the feel of living a dual life. The protagonists, Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam, stepped up to second place on my list of favorite literary couples (after Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars of Sense and Sensibility). I was struck by Dickens’s masterful writing and by these two characters’ strength and goodness in the midst of endless challenges, including a hapless father in a London debtor’s prison and a heartless mother with a crime on her conscience.
God’s Smuggler
Brother Andrew with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
There’s nothing like a missionary biography to renew your passion and encourage you to continue following God with all your heart. Not only did God’s Smuggler accomplish that for me, it was an enjoyable, exciting read. It built my faith as I witnessed how Brother Andrew heard the Lord’s voice and acted in faith and courage to bless God’s people and expand His Kingdom.
The Siege of Jerusalem and Window on Mount Zion
Pauline Rose
I’m always fascinated by Israel’s history because it so clearly shows God at work in the world. I especially valued these books by Pauline Rose, written in the mid-twentieth century, because Rose was a Messianic Jew with a desire to see God and her fellow Jews fully reconciled. She provides a glimpse into the nation’s struggles in its early decades of modern independence (1940s-1960s) and recounts God’s miracles in her life and in the life of the nation. Read my review of The Siege of Jerusalem and Window on Mount Zion.

And now, for the special category of six books that impacted me the most this year (and in the case of one of them, the past couple of years):

 The Vintage Jane Austen Series
Emmeline (Sarah Holman), Second Impressions (Hannah Scheele and other authors), Suit and Suitability (Kelsey Bryant), Bellevere House (Sarah Scheele), Perception (Emily Ann Benedict), and Presumption and Partiality (Rebekah Jones)
If you follow me or any of these authors, you’ve probably become familiar with this series over the course of 2017, so I won’t go into details of how the impacted me; you already know! This has definitely been the highlight of my short writing career thus far, and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.

Happy end-of-2017! What books impacted you most this year?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Country of the Pointed Firs

Hello, Blog! You are not forgotten! I have a number of excuses I could display for my neglect – writing, editing, reading, travel, wrist pain, general busyness; in short, life – but I only mention them to show you that I do have legitimate excuses and I haven’t ignored you just because I’m tired of you.

Ahem. Now that I have my excuses out of the way, on to the substance of my post. I’ve wanted to write about the literature I’ve been reading during the past few months. You’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve been posting book reviews on recently published books, but I’ve also been reading older works. 

One of my favorites is The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Short Fiction by Sarah Orne Jewett. Have you heard of Sarah Orne Jewett? She was an American who wrote short stories and essays in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She’s well known as one of the best authors of “local color” writing, a popular genre during those decades in America. Local color works describe the way of life in distinctive rural regions where few readers have visited. She mentored Willa Cather and encouraged her to write her poignant fiction about the Midwest (such as My Antonia and O! Pioneers).

Jewett grew up in southern Maine, an area of beautiful scenery, quaint customs, and quirky people. As she developed her writing craft, she realized she could write popular short stories about that locale. I read the fifteen that were included in this book, my favorite being the longest, The Country of the Pointed Firs.

I file these stories under my “cozy” reads. They remind me of Cranford (by Elizabeth Gaskell) with their peaceful pace, their focus on characters and their stories, and their lingering descriptions of comfy homes and lovely landscapes. But they are uniquely American as they portray the difficult life that these farmers and seafarers cut from the wilderness of land and sea.

The Country of the Pointed Firs plus four short stories tell about Dunnet Landing, a fictional town on the Maine seacoast, as viewed from an outsider narrator who grows to love the place and its folk. This lady is never named; she’s a professional writer who travels there for the summer to work but finds herself hard-pressed to do so when she’s tempted by sunny weather, meadow picnics, island excursions, boat rides, and, above all, fascinating company.

She becomes intimate friends with Mrs. Almira Todd, that lady’s brother, William Blackett, and their mother, Mrs. Blackett. All three are kind, genuine people, well past middle age and full of earthy wisdom. Here’s a taste:

“[Mrs. Blackett] was a delightful little person herself, with bright eyes and an affectionate air of expectation like a child on a holiday. You felt as if Mrs. Blackett were an old and dear friend before you let go her cordial hand.”

Her children are opposites of each other: Mrs. Todd is a talkative herbalist, and William is a silent fisherman. The Blacketts live on a small island (which I really wish I could visit) that reminds me of the bits of Maine that I was blessed to see last year.

Photo Taken by Me

“A long time before we landed at Green Island we could see the small white house, standing high like a beacon, where Mrs. Todd was born and where her mother lived, on a green slope above the water, with dark spruce woods still higher . . . . The house was just before us now, on a green level that looked as if a huge hand had scooped it out of the long green field we had been ascending. A little way above, the dark spruce woods began to climb the top of the hill and cover the seaward slopes of the island. There was just room for the small farm and the forest; we looked down at the fish-house and its rough sheds, and the weirs stretching far out into the water. As we looked upward, the tops of the firs came sharp against the blue sky. There was a great stretch of rough pasture-land round the shoulder of the island to the eastward, and here were all the thick-scattered gray rocks that kept their places, and the gray backs of many sheep that forever wandered and fed on the thin sweet pasturage that fringed the ledges and made soft hollows and strips of green turf like growing velvet. I could see the rich green of bayberry bushes here and there, where the rocks made room. The air was very sweet; one could not help wishing to be a citizen of such a complete and tiny continent and home of fisherfolk.

“The house was broad and clean, with a roof that looked heavy on its low walls. It was one of the houses that seem firm-rooted in the ground, as if they were two-thirds below the surface, like icebergs. The front door stood hospitably open in expectation of company, and an orderly vine grew at each side; but our path led to the kitchen door at the house-end, and there grew a mass of gay flowers and greenery, as if they had been swept together by some diligent garden broom into a tangled heap . . .”

Photo Taken by Me
Sounds like an idyllic escape, doesn’t it? If you’re looking for a short, summery, warm-hearted read this winter that ferries you into the good old days, I highly recommend The Country of the Pointed Firs. If you’re enthralled as I was, check out Jewett’s other short stories, too!