My Year in Books: 2012

31 December 2012

winter"I am a product of . . . endless books"
— C.S. Lewis

The world's approach to New Year's is much like Cogsworth's approach to love: "Flowers, chocolates, promises you don't intend to keep . . ." Though the talking French timepiece was speaking of what to give one's beloved, I believe the principle still applies here. Something in the idea of a fresh, untouched new year right at our fingertips pushes us into a mode of frantic nostalgia. We reminisce about the old year, lingering over memories that bring tears to our eyes when recollected, we drink bubbly apple cider and play games until midnight, and we make our paper resolutions for the next year. All this is well and good, of course, until we wake up sometime in January's second week and realize our dispositions are still the same. We cannot perfect ourselves by virtue of simply promising to do so. Real change, to bring Churchill into the matter, takes blood, toil, tears, and sweat. And far beyond all that, it takes the recognition that we alone cannot change ourselves. Only the Holy Spirit can truly meld and reshape our hearts.

But I digress. The true purpose of this post was to share the titles I've read this year, as well as to give a passing glance to those I hope to devour in the new year. As anyone who's anyone would tell you, the books a person reads and the pages among which he hides his nose say a lot about said person. I have seen my reading choices mature with the passing years, the passing months even, for that matter. I could not give proper time and attention to every tome, so I'll be selecting a few of my favorites, those that truly changed and melded me in these past twelve months.

In required reading, I began the year off by diving into Chaim Potok's The Chosen, a title I was predisposed to dislike. It was actually quite an interesting read, full of details on the various sects of Judaism. It was also a heartbreaking book about the friendship of two young boys and their respective relationships with their fathers. I read Night by Elie Wiesel, a graphic account of the author's experiences in Auchwitz, and though I was not scarred for life, it was a terribly horrific read that I won't be picking up again. In the spring I was first exposed to To Kill a Mockingbird, which to this day remains one of the best books I've ever read. I also re-read The Old Man and the Sea, which filled me with a great sense of admiration for Hemingway's ability to convey emotion through his brief, simple sentences. Rebecca was stunningly written, the sort of book that puts you in the mind of rich velvet and smooth dark chocolate, and it would have been my favorite book of the school year, were it not for its shameful ending and its heroine's surprising lack of morality.

What with the rest of the world going positively mad over the famous Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I devoted some of my free time in the spring to reading them, primarily to reassure myself that the hype was all for nothing. On the contrary, I found the books intriguing and certainly gripping, despite the complaints I could raise with Collins' writing abilities. They were rather depressing at moments, as would be expected, but I still enjoyed the trilogy reasonably well.

Over the course of the summer, I spent my time among the pages of Alan Paton's social novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. I had hardly expected to love it as much as I did, and it certainly left a mark upon my heart. As the year progressed, I delved into Greek classics when I rediscovered The Iliad and read Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Antigone. In November I was marked forever by the dark background and literary brilliance of Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth. 

My favorite read of this year was undeniably Jenny Freitag's The Shadow Things, followed in close second by her sister's novel, The Soldier's Cross. Both books were beautifully penned, compelling tales that drew my soul to them. Something about The Shadow Things in particular was so magnificent that it can hardly be drawn out in words, and several scenes gave my heart such a terribly lonesome ache that I can only describe as sehnsucht. I am eagerly awaiting future titles from these brilliant authoresses.

My to-read shelf for 2013 is so extensive that it could practically make a book all on its own. After a time, however, I must make some sort of deference between them all and form lists of those most important to me. The titles I've included below will, Lord willing, be completed in this coming year.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (started, but haven't finished)
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (started, but haven't finished)
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (started, but haven't finished)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers
Saratoga and Victory at Yorktown by Richard M. Ketchum
The Eagle of the Ninth, The Shield Ring, and many other titles by Rosemary Sutcliff

It's by no means a paltry list, and the master document from which it stems is nearly five times its size. Hardly a day passes that someone does not recommend a book to me; and while they are not all titles from which I would profit, those that are still tend to add up. Sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed by the weight of them all, and it pushes me to such feats as attempting to read three or four books all at once (which, in the end, never works out well). There are so many titles, and I want to read every last one . . . !

There are, of course, worse problems to have.

Poem of the Week: Blessed Homeland by Fanny Crosby

28 December 2012

via pinterest
Even during the holiday season, we still heave ourselves up on weary elbows and face struggles such as poverty, loss, sorrow, heartbreak, and every other shard of pain brought on by sin. This beautiful poem penned by Fanny Crosby reminds us that though we face troubles in the world, this is not our soul's true homeland. The day will come when we rise from the ashes of misery and sin and are called to His home for eternity.

Blessed Homeland
By Fanny Crosby

Gliding o'er life's fitful waters, 
Heavy surges sometimes roll; 
And we sigh for yonder haven, 
For the homeland of the soul.

Blessed homeland, ever fair! 
Sin can never enter there; 
But the soul, to life awaking, 
Everlasting bloom shall wear.

Oft we catch a faint reflection, 
Of its bright and vernal hills; 
And, though distant, how we hail it! 
How each heart with rapture thrills!

To our Father, and our Savior, 
To the Spirit, Three in One, 
We shall sing glad songs of triumph 
When our harvest work is done.

'Tis the weary pilgrim's homeland, 
Where each throbbing care shall cease, 
And our longings and our yearnings, 
Like a wave, be hushed to peace.

Feel free to link up below with any inspiring bits of poetry you've lately discovered!

The Word Dwelt Among Us

24 December 2012

(from The Nativity Story)
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

— Isaiah 7:14

It's the simplicity, humility, and at the same time, profound magnificence of our Saviour's birth so long ago that still wrings my heart and brings me to tears. More beautiful than the lights, the music, the decorations, and the food is the great love He held for His sinful people: a love so powerful and all-encompassing that He chose to send His Son for our sake. May we dwell on that truth as we celebrate His birth today and tomorrow.

Blessings on your Christmas celebrations, sweet friends.
rejoice! rejoice! emmanuel / shall come to thee, o israel.
Comments are closed until December 26th.

Sunday Blessings

23 December 2012

via Google Images
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

— "Silent Night" by Josef Mohr (lyrics) and Franz X. Gruber (music)

May you be blessed this fourth Sunday of Advent !
"And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." — Luke 2:9-12

Poem of the Week: Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

22 December 2012

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
I know it's Saturday and my weekly poems are traditionally posted on Fridays, but I couldn't allow yet another Friday to pass without some semblance of verse. It just wouldn't be proper. On that note, I feel I must apologize for the lack of poetry hereabouts in the past month or so. Nearly every Friday has held some great event for my family, and whether that means dinner guests, a meeting at the house, or a dance recital dress rehearsal, one common thread binds them all together: they steal away my blogging time. 

The poem I've chosen to share today was the inspiration for the classic Christmas song, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". If the song has charm to it, the poem has even more. What I love best about it is that it recognizes God as the source of true peace, and does not attribute it to a lack of suffering or conflict in the world, as many are wont to do. As one of the poem's final lines states, "The Wrong shall fail / The Right prevail." No trial we face as humans can dim the radiant light of His beauty and power, and the Lord will always triumph in the end.

Christmas Bells
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

I hope each of you are experiencing a blessed and joy-filled Christmas season!

Book Review: Son by Lois Lowry

19 December 2012

Typically, I prefer to review books in a series in their original order. Perhaps it's not so necessary an evil as I would make it, but keeping matters neat and tidy has never done anyone any harm, and especially in the managing of a blog, it forces me to stay disciplined on my posting schedule. I generally review books as I read them, and since I am of the rigid sort who reads a book series in its published order, it follows that I would stick to that order when going about the business of typing up reviews. But book reviews also come at a more natural pace when the margin between my completion of the volume and its subsequent review is kept slim, and since it's been two months since I finished Son and I can make no firm promise to review Gathering Blue or Messenger in the near future, I thought I might as well go ahead and write this review sooner than later.

By Lois Lowry
*Summary via

They called her Water Claire. When she washed up on their shore, no one knew that she came from a society where emotions and colors didn’t exist. That she had become a Vessel at age thirteen. That she had carried a Product at age fourteen. That it had been stolen from her body. Claire had a son. But what became of him she never knew. What was his name? Was he even alive? She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible. Now Claire will stop at nothing to find her child, even if it means making an unimaginable sacrifice. 

My Thoughts: Coming from the perspective of one who has read The Giver numerous times, this book was everything for which I could hope in a finale. It drew the other three books together effectively while still leaving many surprises for the reader throughout the plot. Claire's experiences were heartbreaking, and the author threads the young girl's longing through each page with ease. I quite enjoyed the chance to revisit highlights of The Giver in this book, especially since the reader was shown a few of the same scenes through different eyes. All of the characters were lively and real, and the dialogue was natural. The only error I could find in the prose was the author's own style. While Lowry maintained her trademark tone for the first part of the book, she took on a writing style particularly laced with cliches for the second part that didn't sound at all like her usual self. 

Without the background of the three preceding titles, one would find this book difficult to understand at times. If you are interested in reading Son, I heartily suggest that you read the series in order, as doing so would smooth out any wrinkles or confusion.

Pros: This book is an almost-perfect conclusion to the beloved series. Lowry brought to life an aspect of the Community barely touched within the pages of The Giver and introduced her readers to a charming new character, all the while maintaining the honest narration, memorable characters, and challenging settings that readers came to love in her three previous books. Anyone who loved The Giver is bound to enjoy this new book, as it ties together well-loved characters such as Jonas, Kira, and Gabriel in a story that is both new, creative, and intriguing.

Cons: My main complaint with Son can be found in its denouement. While the ending was sweet and happy, Lowry seemed to tie everything together a bit too neatly. I think she would have been better served by leaving a few of the strings dangling at the end. There was a great deal of suspense built up around the climax in the final part, only to have the antagonist meet his defeat in a manner I found too simple. I wish the author had spent a little less time setting up the conflict and more on a creative untangling of the final defeat.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
I recommend this book for ages 12+

A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
"He, she thought . . . I had a son. The feeling of loss overwhelmed her again." — Son, chapter 2

For Us, There Is Only the Trying

11 December 2012

But perhaps there is neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying.
The rest is not our business.
East Coker, T.S. Eliot

Words are such stiff, formidable things, and sometimes I wonder if I would have more success trying to harness the ocean's spray than to form colored emotions with such mediums as paper and ink. In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo writes, "[Fantine's] words could have melted a heart of iron, but you cannot touch a heart of wood." I believe the same principle can be applied to words: if they were iron, you would only need to give them a bit of heat, and they would melt at your touch. As it happens, they are far more wooden in nature, leaving the wordcrafter to poke and scrape and wittle until he is left with some semblance of his original intent. In short, it's not easy.

This is part of the reason this post has been delayed until now, when it should have gone up most primly and respectably on December 1st. (The other reason is that I'm up to my ears in exams right now and have been for the past week and a half, and I have an unfortunate feeling that telling my tutors I used my studying time for blogging would not sit very well with them.) With NaNoWriMo but a distant memory now, it seems rather odd to sift back through the faded pages and piles of dust that were my world during those short thirty days. I would love to pen my thoughts with eloquence and grace, but sometimes simple words are all that truly suffice.

I didn't win NaNoWriMo.

Principles can be stated quite cooly and calmly when one is blogging. This mask of the web gives one the opportunity to tout ideas and give a false front as to his true identity. Making white-washed statements is easy; upholding them is quite another thing. I've claimed numerous times that quality matters more than quantity. And lest you think I intend to mislead you, I would not say such if I didn't believe it myself. But when one is in the throes of November and feeling pressured from all sides to fill the daily word-count quota, it's easy to compromise. It's far too simple to pound out scenes that aren't the pinacle of excellence. I've often sacrificed some of the quality of my writing on NaNo's altar. Up to this point, I was never convicted of it.

I didn't lose NaNoWriMo by writing up until the last minute and falling short of 50,000 words. I lost because I chose to do so.

It was seven o' clock in the evening, and I could have written for five more hours and reached my word count goal. I was terribly behind at only 40,000 words, and I knew I would have to write faster than normal, but that's not to say it would be impossible. I was prepared to meet the challenge.

And then the Lord convicted me. It was not one-sided; He pricked my conscience on many counts. For one, I would have had to lock myself in my bedroom and rush to finish the last 10,000 words sans company. My family was hosting a meeting at my house that night, and while I didn't need to be present, I knew my father would have preferred for me to be downstairs listening to the discussions rather than closed away in my room. Further, I knew that half the writing I did that night would most likely be deleted or at the very least, severely edited later on. At that point, what did it matter that I reached the "magic number" of 50,000 words if they weren't words I would keep?

So, I chose to stop. I had already written about 6,000 words earlier in the day, and my creativity was slowly running dry. One can only keep at such a pace for so long. I swallowed my pride at the thought of admitting defeat and did not allow the progress bar to control me. It was painful, but I knew I had to follow my own words with true actions.

This is not to say that I believe NaNoWriMo forces you to write poorly and draws you away from your family. On the contrary, while I don't agree with everything NaNo promotes, I appreciate the incentive it gives me each November to write voraciously for those thirty days. In my case this year, however, I was attempting to write far too much in one day, and all for the joy of seeing the progress bar turn purple.

I am quite pleased with what I was able to accomplish this past month in Rifles. The plot has grown, strengthened significantly, and I love my characters more than ever. I plan to spend the next month or two doing a good deal of heavy research on the battles of the Revolutionary War, and then I'll be going back to my document with a will. Unlike last year, when I won NaNo with a manuscript I've barely touched since, I'm eagerly anticipating reuniting myself with these people I have come to know and love so well. For that reason, November was still very productive.

Though it ended almost two weeks ago, I must ask,

how did you fare during nanowrimo?

Sunday Blessings

02 December 2012

via Google Images
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

— "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" by Charles Wesley

Let us keep our focus on Him and His coming during this season of advent. May your Lord's Day be blessed!
" . . . the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts." — Haggai 2:7b
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