Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Notes: Letter to a Stranger by Elswyth Thane

Letter to a StrangerLetter to a Stranger by Elswyth Thane

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The first fifteen pages or so of this book made me think it was a comedy of manners, but then it shifted into something between a ghost story and a psychological thriller - or what I would call a psychological thriller if the propriety of the Eastern seaboard upper-class white fifties culture in which it takes place didn't keep it from ever becoming anything quite so severe.



To be honest, I felt too much culture shock (I feel weird calling it that, but I think that's what it was) reading this to feel like I can really say how good it was. It was certainly well-written - well-written enough that I want to read another by this author. But I kept wanting to yell at the characters that THAT'S NOT HOW YOU DEAL WITH CRAZY PEOPLE (seriously: you don't go and spend the weekend at the house of an abusive father who thinks you should marry him to heal him from his heartbreak over the death of his neighbor's wife) and that desire to yell at the characters did, I think, interfere with my ability to just sit back and enjoy the book.



But great characterization (I couldn't have been so frustrated with the characters' actions if they hadn't seemed so real) and some of the best-turned phrases I've read in a long time. It does make me want to read more by Elswyth Thane - if only to find out whether or not they're all about crazy people or whether she ever did write the comedy of manners I was hoping for when I started.



View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Keeping Advent: the week before the fast

Advent starts on Sunday, and I have only two thoughts about it right now:

1. My kids need hats for St. Nicholas' Day. Bright, garish, warm, stripey hats. I'm working on them now.

2. I want to fill my heart with good things this Advent. I want to listen to all four gospels and read lots of John Donne.

If Advent is about preparing our hearts, that's how I want to prepare mine. I want to feather the nest of my heart with scripture and poetry.

And I want the good stuff to crowd out all the bad. Sometimes the best way to flee temptation, to banish evil thoughts and sinful tendencies, isn't to fight them head on. It's just to fill your heart so full of good things that there's no room for the bad. Remember the story of the demon in Matthew: he was banished, but when he went back and visited the exorcised man, he found his old place swept clean and emptied, and so he reinhabited the man, bringing in other demons worse then himself.

Don't leave your heart empty. Don't just banish what is wicked; fill in its place with what is good. Focus your eyes on Jesus, and let his words resonate in your mind with every beat of your heart and exhalation of your breath. Sing hymns, read poetry, pray the Jesus prayer in every spare moment: Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Because he is ever ready to hear us. And he does have mercy on us. Every time.

And pray for me, a sinner.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

ETA: more Advent thoughts found here, at A Ten O'Clock Scholar.

"Keeping House" Read-Along: Chapter 1, Part 2

The first commandment (to love God with all one's heart and soul and strength and mind) always takes precedence over the second commandment (to love one's neighbor as oneself). But in the paradoxical realm that is real life, it is not possible to love God without loving neighbor, and a primary and essential way of loving one's neighbors is to feed and clothe and house them.

I feel that this section of the book had two main points and that they are well summed-up in the above-quoted paragraph:

1) Housekeeping is not the most important thing in the world, and,

2) Housekeeping is an important thing in the world.

It's the way that Peterson holds that paradox in right tension that really gives this book its value. Too often the pressing nature of housework tricks us into thinking that housework is the whole world, that if only we could keep everything clean all the time all the other problems would solve themselves and we'd all be perfectly happy.

And that isn't true. In fact, too often, that very pressing nature - the immediacy of needing food to eat and clean clothes to wear and a place to lie down and sleep - can prove a terrible distraction from "the one thing needful", a frustrating sort of temptation, a jangling noise that draws our attention away from our Lord and gives us nothing but neverending work in return.

But at the same time, in cleaning and covering and feeding and caring lies our secondary duty - the love of neighbor, and we can't, as Peterson says, really love God without loving our neighbor. It reminds me of the old song lyric, "A heart to God/And a hand to man". Our eyes on Him and our hands active about his work.

And in that work we learn something we can't learn any other way: we learn a longing for home. In loving these imperfect homes we learn to value home and also we learn that the ones we have are not sufficient or final:

The practicalities of housekeeping - cooking, cleaning, laundry - are among the things that ground our existence in the particular times and places in which we live and in so doing make it possible for us to keep alive the memory of our first home in paradise and the hope of our ultimate home in God's new creation.
More thoughts on this book found here.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Links! white clothing, cuckoopants movies, and teenage writers

Here's a history of white - no, really, it's about how people have, through the centuries, dyed their clothing white. With great difficulty and in great peril, apparently (see the parts about sulfuric acid and powdered lead). Makes me skeptical about our current use of "optical brighteners" (which trick our eyes into thinking our laundered clothes are whiter than they actually are).

My two favorite media writers - Linda Holmes and Steven Lloyd Wilson - both reviewed the new Twilight film. Given the impact that these stories have had and are having on current culture, I really appreciate reading smart people's takes on these movies. While they both point out how, in Holmes' words, "cuckoopants" the latest installment is, Holmes' review delves into the domestic abuse aspects of the film whereas Wilson's review has this to say:

There is also no getting around the fact that Bella and Edward are not characters but blank slates. Their honeymoon consists of hiking and playing chess. They do not talk except about their drama. They have no interests, they have no future, they have no dreams. Fans have repeatedly emphasized that these blank slates are what is appealing about the characters, that they can map themselves onto the characters. But only being able to empathize with characters devoid of anything that might distinguish them as individuals is terribly emotionally immature. Empathy is the ability to empathize with those who are different, requiring them to be blank slates so that you don’t have to empathize with any degree of difference is just the softer side of sociopathy. (Emphasis mine.)
By the way, a heads-up: the comments on the second linked-to site tend to be raunchy (the first one is on NPR, so no worries there). I really like the site's movie reviews, because even though the writers often have different world-views than mine, they've very good and clear writers and their reviews make it easy for me to know whether or not I'd be interested in the movie they're reviewing. But I skip over a lot of other stuff on the site 'cause of content. Caveat lector.


John Scalzi's 10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing is great advice. And not just for teenagers.


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell






Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Top 10 Romantic Heroes

From books, of course. I could do movies too, but I'm afraid that if I did the list would end up with silliness like: "William Wilberforce. What do you mean why? Oh. I guess you're right. 'Because he's played by Ioan Gruffudd' isn't a good reason, is it?"

No, actually, if I made such a list, it'd probably read:

Top 10 Romantic Heroes from the Movies:
#'s 1-9: Westley, beloved of the Princess Buttercup.
#10: Han Solo.
The End.

No, this is a list of romantic heroes that win a place on the list based on character alone - the fictional fellows who have flaws, but who love their ladies well despite them. As I look over the list, I realize that firstly, it doesn't hurt to be a lord, and, secondly, most of these men share in common the virtues of integrity and courage, allowing them to see both themselves and their loves clearly and to take whatever action (including self-abasement!) is necessary in order to win their ladies' hearts. But also just plain old courage, which lets them stand against the world, championing the cause of right - and of the women they love.

Here's the list:

1. Lord Peter Wimsey. From "Gaudy Night", by Dorothy Sayers.
2. Sir Anthony Fanshawe. From "The Masqueraders", by Georgette Heyer.
3. Lord Miles Vorkosigan. From "A Civil Campaign", by Lois McMaster Bujold.
4. Hugh Beringar of Maesbury. From "One Corpse Too Many", by Ellis Peters.
5. Sir Percival Blakeney. From "The Scarlet Pimpernel", by Baroness Orczy.
6. Faramir. From "The Lord of the Rings", by J. R. R. Tolkein.
7. Val Con 'yos Phelium. From "Agent of Change" by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee.
8. Gilbert Blythe. From the "Anne" books, by L. M. Montgomery.
9. Joe Willard. From the "Betsy-Tacy" books, by Maud Hart Lovelace.
10. Sylvester, Duke of Salford. From "Sylvester, or, The Wicked Uncle", by Georgette Heyer.


Runners-up:
-Robin MacRae ("Sandy"), from "Dear Enemy", by Jean Webster.
-the Essie Summers hero (same one in every book, but he's awesome)
-the Carla Kelly hero (ditto)
-Mr. Darcy, from "Pride and Prejudice", by Jane Austen.
-Benedick, from "Much Ado About Nothing", by William Shakespeare.
-Michael Moon, from "Manalive!" by G. K. Chesterton.

What do you think? What would your list look like?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s., "Top 10 Romantic Heroines" coming up shortly.  :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yarnalong

I'm working on finishing my second (ever!) sock, with the help of Silver's Sock class (a free online tutorial). I'm enjoying it so much, mostly because of how lovely and rhythmic the work is. It's very meditative, and the easy motion of my hands feels like it stills my heart.

The book I'm reading is "A Dash of Style: the Art and Mastery of Punctuation" by Noah Lukeman. All I can say is that I knew it was a good book when it came down in favor of the semicolon.

More knitting and reading to be found here.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Keeping Advent, the week before Christ the King Sunday

". . .  for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth." - Psalm 96:13

It being the week before Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, when we pay special attention to the imminence of Christ's return, I am thinking about how the first coming of Christ that we prepare to celebrate in Advent carries with it foreshadowings of the second coming of Christ, when he will come again to judge the Earth.

I am also thinking about something I read here, about how Advent is the time for making room. As she says, there isn't any room and yet there must be room. (And when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the Earth?)

And I am thinking about the Christians in other parts of the world who "don’t even pray that their persecutors would stop, only that they would be able stand when their time comes." 

And I have no synthesis for these thoughts yet, but Advent is a time of waiting and fasting, and this whole year has been a time when I've felt urged to pay attention, and so I'm gathering my thoughts here, hoping that writing them down will keep them in the forefront of my mind, where I can pay attention, and hoping that when the synthesis comes, I will be able to see it and God would give me the grace to bear it.

Finally, from Christina Rossetti:

Then awful Judge, most awful God,
Then cause to bud Thy rod,

To bloom with blossoms, and to give
Almonds; yea, bid us live.

I plead Thyself with Thee, I plead
Thee in our utter need:

Jesus, most merciful of men,
Show mercy on us then;

Lord God of mercy and of men
Show mercy on us then.


More Advent thoughts are here, at Kerry's place.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

on recommending non-Christian books

This is a long blog post. The short version is: I read secular books when I think they have more good than ill in them. And I avoid books that I think will tempt me to sin. But what I should read and what you should read are not necessarily the same thing, so I'm wondering what and how much I ought to say about the potentially objectionable parts of books when I review them, and I'm interested in what other people think on the subject.

I've been thinking of my review of "After the Golden Age" since I posted it. I really did like the book and I know my review reflected that. But it was certainly written from a worldview that differs from mine, and I've been wondering how much I ought to comment on that when I review books.

I regularly read both Christian and non-Christian books. I'm careful about what I read insofar as I avoid reading anything that I think will tempt me to sin, but I often read authors I disagree with. I know that's not unusual, especially when it comes to non-fiction books - what good Christian thinker, after all, would shy away from learning from Plato or Aristotle? But I wonder if it's less common when it comes to fiction.

There are a couple of potential problems when it comes to reading secular fiction - I'd separate them into the problem of character and the problem of author.

The problem of character is that you're going to have characters in the story doing things you disagree with. They're going to sin in all kinds of creative ways. This, actually, isn't so much of a problem. Everyone you meet in real life sins in all kinds of ways too - and that probably goes for the person you see in the mirror too. And while I'd expect a Christian to repent and make good, I don't expect non-Christian characters to conform to my ethics any more than I expect real non-Christians too. People who disagree with me are just a part of life and it doesn't bother me overmuch that they're a part of my reading life too.

The problem of author is a little harder, because there is telling and there is persuasion. Take adultery: you can write about it well and you can write about it poorly. Adultery could be the subject of the greatest Christian masterpiece (try something like Graham Green's "The End of the Affair") or the filthiest piece of trash ever to be set into type. It's not what you write about, it's how you write about it. I mean, think about it: every time you see a crucifix, you're seeing a piece of art on - among other things - the subject of torture. Is torture something you're normally willing to read about? I'm not, not usually. But my love of Lars Walker's "The Year of the Warrior" and Stephen Lawhead's "Byzantium" tells me that I'm willing to entertain the subject when it's really, really, really well-presented, and that by Christian artists.

When you read books by non-Christians, you're going to basically be allowing someone to try to persuade you to think about ethical issues in a way that disagrees with your faith.

At least, you might be. You might, if that's what the book is about. You might not be though: there are plenty of secular works that have large areas of agreement with the Christian faith. As far as I know, Lois McMaster Bujold is not a Christian. But her book "Memory" taught me yards and miles and ells about what integrity is and means and looks like. Are there parts of her work I disagree with? Certainly. Am I a better Christian for having read her work? On the whole, I think I am. Her idea of courage, for instance, largely accords with the Christian ideal, especially in books like "The Curse of Chalion".

St. Augustine talked about "stealing the treasures of Egypt", or, how all truth is God's truth, and it's ours to take wherever we find it. This is true, and I think there's a lot of truth to be found in works that aren't overtly Christian. The universe was ordered by an intelligent Creator, and any creature of His who approaches it thoughtfully and makes art out of what he finds will inevitably showcase some of that inherent order and beauty put there by God, whether that artist himself believes in God or not.

On the other hand, Augustine pointed out that the real treasure isn't in any of these secular works, but in God's own word. And we can certainly get so caught up in the art of the creature that we forget to turn our eyes towards our Creator. And that is disaster.

So, that's what goes through my mind - or that should - when I pick up a book. I still don't know how much of a disclaimer I should add to my reviews of non-Christian books. I've assumed that most people who read my blog have their own rule for what they will and won't read, and know their own individual weaknesses and watch out for them. For example, I know some people I admire that can handle art that's a lot more terrifying or depressing than I can handle. They can learn from it and be edified by it, but I'd just be a weeping puddle of goo if I watched what they watch or read what they read. And I know that, so I avoid those works of art. They might be good, but they're not good for me.

(And that's no statement on the relativity of eternal principles. Eternal principles are eternal principles. But I am mortal, mutable, and small, and so it's about the application of eternal principles to such a one as me.)

I hope that anyone reading my book reviews will take it as given that I'm assuming you'll do your own assessment of whether or not the book I'm reviewing is something you should read. For example, "After the Golden Age" has a heroine who has (off-stage/off-page) sex before marriage. I liked the romance in the book regardless, because, given who the character was (a non-Christian I wasn't expecting to act like a Christian), she did a great job of discerning which man was good for her and which wasn't and why. That's what I liked about the romance in the story. And I felt able to say, "this part is good" and "this part isn't" without being tempted to change my mind about Christian sexual ethics. Did I agree with all the heroine's choices? No. But did I think there was something good to learn from the good choices she did make? Yes.

But should every person read the book? I don't know. How can I? Maybe someday, as I grow and mature, I'll come to the realization that I shouldn't have read it. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll always think it was a good decision.

The point is, though, that I think we all have to take responsibility for our own choices in regard to the art we consume.

The other point is that I don't want to lead anyone into temptation - I don't want to highlight pieces of art that will hinder anyone in their walk with God.

But if I only talk about absolutely perfect books, I am left talking about only one Book.

(Some people in some places at some times might tell me this is not a bad thing.)

Anyway, I suppose I haven't quite reached a conclusion here, so let me open it up to discussion. How do you decide what you're going to review? If it's a worthy piece of art with a few problematical elements, how do you present it to your readers? Do you present it to your readers? Are there things you absolutely won't read or recommend (I know I have some very solid lines myself)? If you like the book reviews I do here, would you prefer a heads-up on anything, content-wise, and if so, what? Also, what about heads-up on method (i.e., not the "what" of the book but the "how" the author handles it)?

This is one I'm still thinking about. I'm sure about some of it, but there's a lot of it, especially the new-media aspects, that I'm still pondering, and would really love to hear your thoughts about.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

"Keeping House" Read-Along: Chapter 1, Part 1: "What's Christian About Housework?"

Willa, over at The Quotidian Reader, notes that this part of the chapter is not very practical, and I think that's what I love about it.

I understand the practical part of housework - the basic how-to. But this book is all about the "why" and in order to get to the "why", Peterson takes a step back and recounts the history of housework.

She points out that "housework" is a new-ish word, in the history of things. There used to not be "housework". Rather, there was "husbandry" and "housewifery", the two halves of the work needed to keep an estate running, the two sides of a coin. But when everyone started leaving home for his or her daily work, there was this whole category of jobs that were left undone during the day: housework. And ever since, whose job it is and how it should be done (and how much of it should be done) has been argued about. (This is a fact worth remembering when it comes to talking about gender roles: our assumptions about "women's work" are a lot more modern than we might, well, assume.)

Also, Peterson points out, the amount of work to be done hasn't changed much. In some cases, it's been added to (no one used to have bathrooms to clean, after all, because no one had indoor bathrooms or knew about germ theory, and no one had mountains of laundry to do, because no one had that many clothes). But we do have modern machinery that makes us more efficient at it. So: same amount of work, more or less, but we can do it faster.

(And that "faster" might mean that it takes us a couple of hours less than it took our forebearers - but those are a valuable few hours. That's enough to let you read for an hour before bed, you know? That's a luxury, that is.)

I'd add - because I've been noticing it a lot in my daily life - that we have yet another whole new category that I don't think Peterson mentions. You could call it "paperwork", but I almost want to call it "electronic work" - it seems like the "business" of the house exists in a miserable limbo between envelopes and email - and none of it is ever done.  I hate that part of housework. It's a lot easier to know if the floor is clean than if all the paper/electronic work is done. At least, for me it is.

Which is why I also appreciate the clarity of Peterson in this chapter, redirecting my attention from the paperwork morass: at its heart, housework is about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. That command to feed and clothe includes a lot more than our own families, but it does include them. The housework that Adam and I do does clothe and feed us and our children, and that's not the end of all work, but it's the work without which no other work gets done.

In Peterson's words:

There is undoubtedly more to the merciful service that Jesus describes in Matthew 25 than caring for the daily needs of the members of our own households. Housework is a beginning, not an end. But it is a beginning - not a sidetrack, not a distraction, but a beginning, and an essential one at that - in the properly Christian work of, among other things, meeting the everday needs of others, whether those others be our fellow household members, our near neighbors, or people more sociologically or geographically distant from ourselves.

I'm excited about the next section, where Peterson talks about God's own "divine domesticity" (stuff from the Psalms! always cool!), but I appreciate the time she takes in this first section to lay out the history and necessity of housework.

This read-along is hosted at the Quotidian Reader, here.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, November 14, 2011

New music!

New to me anyway. Well, newly in my possession. Well . . . 

I had an iTunes gift card that I got at Christmas - that I was delighted to get at Christmas - but that I didn't spend till today. Mostly because I'm a procrastinating git. Partly also because my husband grouses to me about iTunes and I feel guilty buying stuff on there that he won't be able to listen to without going to a great deal of trouble to get it in a format that works with whatever Linux-y music program he's using these days. (Loooooooove you, Adam!)

(Um, I should add, if you know Adam and I at all, you'll know that Adam doesn't really care and that I think about everything too much.)

So, here's what I bought, even though my husband likes Brooke Fraser too:


-Brooke Fraser:
Something in the Water - a love song of pure happiness, bright and spring-y.
Here's to You - not merely a drinking song, but a toasting song, with great lines like, "cheers to friendships well-worn-in" and "cheers to the losses that grew us up, killed our pride, and filled our cup".
Coachella - This makes you want to be somewhere outside with a fire so you can spin around with your arms flung out, gazing at the stars above.
Who Are We Fooling? - this is heart-piercingly sad - a song about the breaking up of a marriage . . . except maybe not. It ends on the slimmest of hopeful notes, and that, along with the utter beauty of the melody, makes it sad, but not depressing, and certainly not despairing.
Orphans, Kingdoms - This reminds me very much of Dallas Willard's writings, about how we are all in charge of our own "kingdoms" - kingdoms that, of course, we are to put in submission to God's own. With poignant phrases like "babes with coats of arms" and an incredible bridge that starts with "Eat and drink for tomorrow we die" and builds up to a crescendo of "Who is he that can conquer himself?" this is a powerful song whose effect lingers long after the notes fade.

-Graham Kendrick:
Shine, Jesus, Shine - this really is a hymn, in structure, though it's from the height of the time of great-praise-chorus-writing. Anyway, I've long loved it and didn't have a copy, so I bought one.

-P!nk
Please Don't Leave Me - this is, of course, your poster-boy (girl?) anthem of a dysfunctional relationship. But, again, I find that the beauty of the melody makes it - for me at least - not depressing, but thought-provoking. I don't identify with the situation of the singer, but the haunting refrain of "I've always said that I don't need you/but it's always going to come right back to this: please, please don't leave me" . . . well, who hasn't felt that heart cry at one time or another? At the heart of it, we humans don't want to be left.

And, again, it's just so pretty.

-Shakira
Ciega, Sordomuda - I really just bought this because I like how it sounds. I didn't even do my customary due diligence and look up an English translation of the words. I feel a little guilty about that. I should probably go and ask my sister just how guilty I ought to be feeling, shouldn't I?
Gitana - And this one . . . I bought in Spanish because I disliked the English lyrics enough. They're not terrible but . . . eh. Not great. (I'm a gypsy! Which means I'm leaving soon! So let's live in the present! Carpe diem! I.e., sex!) But, again, it's such a pretty tune that I wanted to be able to listen to the pretty music . . . so I bought the Spanish version to make it easier to ignore the words. Heh. Not being very proficient at my chosen second language has some advantages . . .

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Links! Doctor Who, Abraham Lincoln, and more!

Sean Gaffney is writing a series on the Christology of Doctor Who, and it's brilliant. Since I became a Doctor Who fan because the main character reminded me of Christ, I'm really digging this blog series. The reason, btw, that it can be a good series is that Gaffney recognizes both that A) the series' authors aren't Christians and so the show isn't a straight-forward Christian analogy (not even close!) but that B) our world is God's, and therefore any really good heroic stories are going to have echoes of THE good heroic Story.  (And Doctor Who is a truly superlative heroic story.) Intro to the series is here, and the first two entries are here and here.

John Mark Reynolds writes about what he's learned from Abraham Lincoln. An excerpt:

Fifth, God is not on the side of America, but America can be on God’s side. Lincoln was too smart to believe that the cause of the Union was God’s cause. He hoped that he could associate the United States with what God was doing on the earth.

God is not an American, but Lincoln tried to make America godly. He knew virtue was in both sides and vice in every man who fought in the War. Lincoln acted boldly, but always with charity.

Is writing therapy? R.L. LaFevers of Shrinking Violets says that it's not in the traditional sense, but,

It has not provided me an avenue to work out my past and my own emotional baggage on the page. Instead, the hard work I do to make my writing better has spilled out into my non-writing life. How could it not? One of the first lessons we learn about characters is that whatever conflict they are going through affects all aspects of their lives. So when we as writers push ourselves to strive and grow, of course that is going to spill out into other aspects of our lives as well.
The rest of the article is well worth reading, for any artist.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book Notes: "After the Golden Age" by Carrie Vaughn

"After the Golden Age" by Carrie Vaughn has a logline as high concept as any movie's: what if your parents were super-heroes, but you were just a squib?

Celia West is the daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, two superhumans who have saved their cities countless times over the years, but don't seem to know what to do with their ordinary human daughter.

The book starts, hilariously, with several kidnappings in a row; Celia is the constant target of villains who grab her in order to manipulate her parents. She's always fine, of course, because her parents always come to her rescue. But the constant hijinks make it difficult for her to pursue her own life, which includes a career as an accountant. Celia may be less flashy than her parents, but she pursues justice in her own quiet way, following the numbers and nabbing wrong-doers by finding out cases of tax fraud and other financial malfeasance.

I don't want to go much further into the plot or I'd start giving away the fun stuff, but suffice it to say that the rest of the plot is very fun - there's a super-villain and conniving politicians and a mind-altering ray gun, just to start - and I think anyone who enjoys superhero stories will enjoy this. Celia's not an anti-hero and this isn't superheroism gutted and rebuilt, but "After the Golden Age" definitely does tell the same old story from a new and intriguing point of view. And it includes a romantic subplot that I liked very much*.

I also found the end more moving than I expected, probably because it ended differently than I expected it to, and I'm still pondering the ideas about sacrifice and love that the climactic scene of the story provoked.

It's not meat and drink, like Lewis and Sayers, but it was a fun story, well-told. I'm definitely going to look for more by Carrie Vaughn, and I even quite hope she writes in this world again. There are characters here I'd like to see more of.

To copy Lars Walker's warning: this book contains adult situations and language.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*mild spoiler alert: the romance is not what you think it is when the book starts - though I guessed where it was going earlier than the author officially tipped her hand, which only added to the fun, for me.

"Keeping House" Read-along: Preface

In the preface of "Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life", Margaret Kim Peterson talks about why she started writing the book, so it seems appropriate to recount, at the beginning of this read-along, why I wanted to ponder over her words again.

My original review of this book can be found here. A lot has changed in my life since I last read "Keeping House", a year an a half ago. My kids are older, two of them are in school, our church situation is different, and my writing life has grown.

In the past few months I've begun to learn the new rhythm of my days, and as I have, I've noticed three things about my housekeeping:

1. It's getting better. I'm becoming more efficient and, with older children, I'm able to do more than I have in the past.
2. It's getting harder. Largely because I'm fitting more into my days - more writing and more interaction with the kids. As they grow, I'm finding that I want more and more time with each of them; it feels like most of the physical tasks of mothering are still there, and the relational/intellectual ones are also increasing in leaps and bounds.
3. I value good housekeeping more. More and more, I'm noticing the effect of a messy house on my soul - and of a clean one. An uncluttered room encourages inner peace, and I'm less willing to discount the value of that than I have been in the past.

So, mostly because of the third reason - because a peaceful home-space is something I'm learning to value - I'm rereading Peterson's book. As she says in the preface:

Of course housework is about making a home, but a Christian home, properly understood, is never just for one's own family. A Christian home overflows its boundaries; it is an outpost of the kingdom of God, where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and there is room enough for everyone.

Our bodies and our spirits are not separable matters, not in practice. And so it's not strange that what influences our bodies also influences our spirits. Our homes are homes for our own bodies and the bodies of those we care most about. Which means our homes are worth caring for.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This read-along is hosted by The Quotidian Reader.

I made a sock!

Now I just need to make its mate!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 10, 2011

7 Quick Takes

1. The traffic reporters in L.A. are nuts. An accident happens and they say things like, "Two cars got together in the left lane." Got together? Guys, it was not a DATE, it was a CAR CRASH.
 
2. My husband was playing "Happy Birthday" on the harmonica and I realized: I still don't hear the words in English when I hear that tune. Someone starts playing the "Happy Birthday" tune and my brain goes, "Bonne fête à toi, bonne fête à toi . . ." Never in English, never.

Such is the result of going to early elementary school in Canada.

3. My husband's work gave him a pedometer (cool!) that tracks both his walking, and his aerobic walking. You know, because you can walk without using your lungs.

4. By the way, I assume “for Pete’s sake” must have once been “for St. Peter’s sake”? I think that makes me like the saying better, if it’s not profane. St. Peter is so familiar to all Christians, after all, and in the end, such a comforting figure. Even in his epistles, where he’ll ream you up one side and down the other and you know you deserve it, in the end he is the rock and you know you can rest your chastened self against his assurance of Christ’s goodness and borrow his conviction for awhile, letting it soak into your bones and become your own. I love St. Peter. If I’m allowed to. You know what I mean.

5. When I printed out my calendar for November, I got to print out "Christ the King" on November 20, which put a big smile on my face. It's my favorite feast!

6. I've often written sentences that use "that" twice in a row - like "who would have guessed that that would happen?" - and felt that it must be wrong, but thanks to Daily Grammar, I now know why it's correct. The two "that"'s are doing different things. They're both pronouns (who knew? not me) and the first one is a "relative pronoun" joining the two clauses together and the second one is a "demonstrative pronoun", pointing you back to the antecedent.

Even knowing that, it still doesn't sound quite right, does it?

7. I'm rereading "The Elizabethan World Picture" by E. M. W. Tillyard, a favorite from college, and finding his picture of the "chain of being" - a cosmic ordering of creation moving from the inanimate through the beasts and men and up to the angels - compelling. In that ordering of things, each realm of being mirrors the others, which means that you can learn about man, say, by studying either the animals or the angels, and extrapolating. Try this on for size:
Morally the correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm, if taken seriously, must be impressive. If the heavens are fulfilling punctually their vast and complicated wheelings, man must feel it shameful to allow the workings of his own little world to degenerate.
Ouch.

Anyway, I'm not saying I'm ready to subscribe to the idea of the four humors and such - I have reason to be grateful to modern medical science after all - but it seems to me that there's a great deal of wisdom in how Shakespeare, Milton, and Donne saw the world, and it'd be a pity to ignore what they knew. Especially as what they knew made for such excellent poetry.

For more Quick Takes, go visit Jennifer at Conversion Diary.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

knitpicks giveaway

Knitpicks is doing a wishlist giveaway and since I like their yarn, I'm entering. Here's my wishlist and if you want to enter the giveaway too, head over to their site and follow the instructions here.

-Jess

Monday, November 7, 2011

Daybook for November 7, 2011


outside my window . . . it's dark. It's after four'o'clock: of course it's dark.

I am listening to . . . This. You're welcome. (the line that totally makes that song is, "I'm not jokin' any more, girl . . .")

I am wearing . . . My Birch Vest! It's finally cold enough that walking around all day in wool is appropriate. Or at least not wildly uncomfortable.

I am so grateful for . . . not being sick. We were sick here for two weeks straight, and it just wasn't any fun.

I'm pondering . . . I just finished The Curse of Chalion (again) and I'm pondering what it had to say about saints. In that book, the saints are those who open themselves completely to the will of the gods, and the gods pour through the open portal of the saint's person in order to accomplish their works. And the saint sits back and watches in astonishment at what his own hands accomplish when hands other than his are guiding them. He is in the company of his god, and it is enough.
            That is it, that is the theme - and I think it's a true (as far as it goes) reflection of Christian life: that God is enough. He, Himself, is our peace.
            The Christian life is, over and over again, surrendering ourselves to God and finding ourselves again in that place of profound peace (“His will is our peace," as Dante said). And I wonder if that’s not what I’m meant to write about, in the end. But I can only write it if I live it.


I am reading . . . Not Chalion, sadly, having just finished it. I'm in the middle of several nonfiction books, but I'm dithering about a bit for a novel. I might start West Oversea or The Hawk and the Dove, which comes highly recommended from a friend.

I am creating . . . my novel! Which is going swimmingly, just as it's supposed to (my hero and heroine touched for the first time today and I cackled like an old matchmaker at how giddy it made them both), and that unexpected trilogy is getting plotted too, just as it wasn't supposed to (I'm the one getting a bit giddy in that case - it's turning into just the sort of story I love most: "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...")

("Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try to stay awake.")

I am thankful for . . . Adam.

around the house . . . getting everything shaken back to rights after two weeks of being sick.

from the kitchen . . . my grandma's persimmon cookies!

real education in our home . . . Bess and I are reading Mandy together. It's just about the perfect story for any girl of any age. In making her home, her home finds her. It's very good.

the church year in our home . . . still collecting gifts for the kids for the Twelve Days of Christmas. Pondering what I'm going to do for the Advent fast. (See, that's the fun of being Anglican. If I was Eastern Orthodox, I'd just know.)

recent milestones . . . got the novel to 15,000 words today!

the week ahead. . . I'm having my tooth pulled tomorrow. No, it doesn't sound fun to me either. But I'll be very glad to have it out. It's not where it's supposed to be (and never has been) and it's been a minor irritation for over a decade now.

Can I add that I'm also grateful for dental insurance?

picture thought . . . Here is my terribly blurry proof that I've figured out how to knit cables:

It's a hat for a friend, just before the ends were woven in. Adam obligingly tried it on for me so that I could make sure it'd fit the friend, and now it's in the laundry, waiting to be washed and blocked. But - cables! I'm so chuffed. I love learning new things.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Links! Violence, Death, Pain, and More

Another links post, because we've all (well, 5 of the 6 of us) been sick here, and I'm down for the count for a second time, and so I've had way too much time to just poke around the internet, reading.  Here are some of the cool things I've stumbled across:

-I actually caught this interview when it aired on NPR, and it was so good. Interview with the author of "Don't Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America." I know that sounds dull and perhaps depressing, but it's actually one of the most riveting and hopeful things I've heard in a long time. Highly recommended.

-In "Steve Jobs and Death In Medias Res", John Mark Reynolds argues that the saints never die in the middle of their stories, but always at the end.

-Shannon Hale's giving away some ARCs of her new book "Midnight in Austenland" if you like her on Facebook. I do like her and her writing, so I'm passing this one on! :)

-Willa, over at Quotidian Moments, is going to be hosting a slow, thoughtful read-through and blog-through of Margaret Peterson's "Keeping House: the Litany of Everyday Life". I'm joining in and I'd encourage you to join in too; if you go look at Willa's post, you'll see that the schedule she's proposing is really leisurely and doable - and the book isn't very long to begin with. To encourage you further, here's a link to my review of the book from a year ago. As you can see from the quoted sections, it's very lovely, rich, and rewarding reading.

-Jeanne over at At A Hen's Pace has a beautiful and profound post on pain up on her blog.

-Fictional Places You Can Visit in Real Life. Anyone up for a visit to Hobbiton?

-When a motif starts showing up over and over in popular culture, it's smart to wonder why. With that principle in mind, here's another thoughtful analysis on the current popularity of zombies in today's entertainment offerings.  An excerpt:

David has grasped a breathtakingly essential point about zombie fiction: if human beings really were merely animated meat suits, then there would be no moral difference between killing zombies and killing human beings--and, as a corollary, we could kill human beings without remorse or pity simply because they were in the way. The history of the atheistic regimes of the twentieth century shows us what that looks like--what it looks like when a society arises to whom human beings are merely interchangeable animated future corpses, and which treats people as if they have no intrinsic human worth.

But if humans have intrinsic worth--if they are not mere walking bodies, if they are more than merely well-evolved animals--where does that worth come from? If the people we once loved who have died are not merely decomposing flesh, if they, the essential selves, still exist, then where and what are they, and why are they still alive? For Christians who believe in the soul, these questions can be pondered with placidity, gratitude, even joy. For anyone who does not believe in an immaterial and immortal human soul which makes us look like our Creator, though, these questions can only be rather grim to think about.

-And, the best news for last, Lois McMaster Bujold, my favorite living novelist, has finished a new book! Better yet? It's the one about Ivan. w00T!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell