My Year in Books: 2013

31 December 2013

Last Thursday we made our semi-traditional Christmas trek to the cinema to see Saving Mr. Banks, a new film based on the tussle between Walt Disney, who wanted the rights to make Mary Poppins into a film, and P. L. Travers, the no-nonsense nanny's cantankerous author who was dead set against it. We had only just been the previous month to see Disney's newest animation, Frozen, but rather than exiting the theater as I had in November (that is, still humming the catchy songs), I was more contemplative. I had had my doubts before coming, but on the whole, it was an excellent viewing experience, and I would just as quickly see it again. 

What impressed me the most was how Saving Mr. Banks captured the ineffable power of words. They capture your heart and mind. They reveal light and beauty in the midst of a darkened world. In the film, Disney states that we "restore order with imagination." I would say it runs deeper than that: books restore order when they reveal the transcendent truth of God as written in His Word. The best books are those that draw their inspiration from the holiest Book. The best words are those that mimic the living Word. For "the Shadow is only a small and passing thing: there is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach."
read in twenty thirteen

This year has been an interesting one for the bookshelf. January through May found me finishing up my sophomore year of high school, including a class in World Literature that ended up being highly enjoyable. Pride and Prejudice, our Christmas break assignment, could hardly be called a task, and if anything, made me love that dearly familiar book all the more. Frankenstein took a bit more patience, but Shelley made up for the grotesque content with her effortless prose; The Metamorphosis was every bit as tedious with none of the former's beauty ("I find little pleasure in Kafka: I would infinitely prefer Austen"). A Tale of Two Cities and The Last of the Mohicans — two very different books drawn under an arching theme through their heart-shattering endings. Between Cora, Uncas, and Sydney Carton, Dickens and Cooper made me weep like no other authors this year. I rushed through the first with a bit more speed than the second, as it was a school assignment, but I don't think that spoiled my pleasure (or is that pain?). 

The last quarter took a more serious turn as we delved into modern literature. The Lark by Jean Anouilh, a play based on the life of Jeanne d'Arc was interesting but not terribly remarkable. The Secret Sharer was dark and disturbing. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a haunting record of life in a Russian gulag based on Solzhenitsyn's own experience, seared itself in my memory. Despite the mature content and bleak subject matter, I'm very glad I read it, as it unashamedly pealed away the layers hiding a dark period in history.

With the freedom summer's leisurely months bring, my reading turned to happier matters. Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Moonblood, all by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, fit the bill perfectly. Being light reading material embedded with deep truth and a rich background in faerie lore, they filled many a warm June or July afternoon. It doesn't fall chronologically, but while we're speaking of Stengl, I really loved Dragonwitch, a darker tale suited to the colder season in which I read it. I have yet to read Starflower, but I hope to have changed that status in a year's time. Around this time, I began slowly working my way through Letters to a Diminished Church, a collection of essays by Dorothy Sayers that I received for my birthday. I finished it in early fall and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a challenging read on all aspects of a faith-based life. Johnny Tremain, another childhood favorite, I re-read with great relish as I used it to teach American history to two little neighbor girls this summer. McCullough's excellent history, 1776, was part of my research for Rifles in the South Field, but I ended up liking it as much as if I had been perusing it for fun. The Grand Sophy, a light and witty romance by Georgette Heyer, was my main August read as I sipped the last ruby drops from summer's glass.

The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne's famous treatise on sin and redemption in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, officially began my American Literature course. The reading process itself was tedious, and the story felt extremely hopeless, but when we all gathered in late August for our first class and discussed the novel, the shades fell from my eyes. Hawthorne's purpose in dwelling on man's fallen nature was to combat the Transcendental optimists of his time who claimed man was inherently good. His characters always fail when they attempt to make their names pure by their own actions, and while it makes for dark literature, his purposeful execution cannot be denied its value. "Young Goodman Brown," a short story of Hawthorne's that we read a little later in the year, fulfills the same objective on a more compact scale.

Autumn was a sluggish time for reading, and most of it came from the annals of American literature. I already mentioned Hawthorne; Thoreau, Emerson, and Melville also joined the ranks as the crumpled leaves died their brilliant deaths. My mind seemed eternally lodged in Concord, Massachusetts, a situation suitable for harvest-time. Irving, Poe, Longfellow, and Bryant added their names to the list, and though Poe was probably my least favorite, I commend him for his mastery of description — the man knew how to send the infamous shivers down one's spine! Huckleberry Finn made for jolly fall break reading, though it had some questionable morality. And between Crane, Bierce, and London, who closed our first semester, I read more about Naturalism than I cared to. I must give Crane his due for his imagery, though, which is breathtaking.

Finally, after trudging through it in chunks all summer and smaller portions through the fall months, I triumphantly finished the final page of The Count of Monte Cristo yesterday afternoon. It was easily the most challenging book of 2013, but in many respects the most rewarding as well. I should be putting up a full review here soon, but in case that takes a while in coming, here are some of my thoughts in the review I posted on Goodreads.

On the whole, I tried to keep my literary diet varied this year. The list includes a smattering of the classics, romance, drama, suspense, adventure, fantasy, and theology, and while I can't say I liked them all equally (that would be too predictable), it was fun making an acquaintance with the more unfamiliar ones. I wish I had read more books from my personal list, or more bluntly, I wish I had time to read more, but what else can one do but look to the horizon and say with Scarlett O'Hara, "tomorrow is another day"?

to read in twenty fourteen

My Ántonia by Willa Cather (currently enjoying)
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers (just begun)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (albeit with trepidation)
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo ("I shall conquer this!—I shall!")
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (a good summer break read, and another unconquered tome)
At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald ("Fairytales are more than true...")
Several Sutcliff titles (thank you, Jenny)
Orthodoxy and The Ballad of the White Horse by G. K. Chesterton
Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
Starflower and Shadow Hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

It's an oft-spoken truth that books mold and change you as Disney and his daughters were molded and changed by Mary Poppins. 2014's twelve months are still untouched, but they'll bear dog-eared pages, underlined words, and scribbled notes soon enough. Our lives are marked by the words we take in: not the number, but the quality. 

What will you read?

Breezes of November

02 December 2013

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Hello, scribblers all! I trust you each had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. I think it was the lateness of the holiday this year that made the oncoming Christmas season feel a bit rushed, but one cannot argue with a calendar: December is well and truly here. I had planned to get my snippets of November noveling posted at a reasonable time, but better late than never is my motto, so here they are at last. Besides Rifles, I've been working on plotting There Blossoms Red, my next novel that I hope to begin some time in early 2014 (more about that at a later date). The rest of the excerpts are not labeled, either because I don't wish to reveal their identities yet, or I do not know them myself. You can decide on that account. Enjoy!

snippets of a november nature

If he did not rush to the distant battlefields of the Colonies and swiftly turn their towns to rubble, he would be thought the lowest sort of coward. If he didn’t follow after [name omitted] and promise his devotion to the land that had birthed him, no man would ever follow after him again.
Rifles in the South Field

Susannah was nothing like Mae. She was too open and obliging. While Mae was lovely and mysterious, the young plantation mistress was blunt and kind. Her low voice was gentle, but demure, and it never overstepped the bounds of propriety. For these reasons and more, Kenneth soon found her presence unbearably dull.
Rifles in the South Field

The girl stood alone in the shadows, watching after his retreating figure, silently accepting the reality of his answer. Never would she pass words with him again.
Rifles in the South Field

With the plantation's size and slave-number, Susannah was the American equivalent of a manor's lady. She should have been allowed to drink tea brought into the parlor by silent butlers, her cream-white hands hovering moth-like over a snatch of intricate embroidery. The state of the house and grounds was the concern of the servants, not her. And yet, here she was, struggling cheerfully as she hauled buckets of fresh water up to the house, her rosy cheeks the same color as the strands pricking out of her knotted bun. She exuded a spirit of quiet independence in everything she did.
Rifles in the South Field

Send me the season's scent, the thick warmth, the wafting spice, the exotic air that runs through the day until each moment is an hourly gem on the year's necklace. I'll tie it 'round my neck and wear it all my days. Give me the chill that ices over my red heart, the cold that makes the cider steam in the stillness, the frosty silence that draws me closer to you.

Lend me autumn, and I'll bury it in my heart. Give me autumn, and I'll love you until life passes from this world.

The minute the thought came to his head, he realized its truth. He hadn’t thought it of her before. She was too veiled, too mysterious to possess any sort of beauty. But now that he saw her anew, her thick hair falling gently from waves to curls like water over rocks in a riverbed, he thought her lovely.
And she was his.
There Blossoms Red

The decision was her own. She held the lives of so many in her unpracticed hands, and she could barely even speak their tongue. Mercedes was suddenly grateful her mother had been so strict about harsh language long ago, or else a few words not befitting a lady of her station might have slipped out of their own accord.
There Blossoms Red

[She] was dimmed in his presence, her own flushed glory decreased like an orb that catches sight of the sun for the first time and recognizes in the celestial body its own natural superior. She fell into his orbit with all the easiness of breathing.
There Blossoms Red

"Child of the lone dark, you alone know my nature. You alone know the secret of my destruction. Let it fall from no mortal lips; offer it to no mortal ears. You are one set-apart, for you know my fury as no one else can."
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