What do I remember about December? Â Well, it was a mad, mad rush of wrapping up first-semester classes and doing truly epic amounts of grading (why didn’t I become a P.E. teacher? Â Why? Â Why?) and getting ready for that little holiday on the 25th. Â In other words: it was busy.
That said, I did find some time to read. Â Between early November and, well, now, here are a few of the highlights.
Longbourn by Jo Baker intrigued me because it’s the story about Sarah, Â the maid of the Bennet family (yes, THOSE Bennets), and I’m rather an Austen fan. Â I loved the concept: sort of a cross between Pride and Prejudice and “Downton Abbey.” Â And it was a very well-written book, no doubt about it. Â But — how do I say this — it kind of tainted my beautiful little Austen fantasy. Â Baker’s story plunges into the underbelly of the Regency period, including some flashback scenes of a character at war, and there’s some pretty icky stuff going on. Â Back at Longbourn, there’s talk of emptying chamber pots and boiling sanitary napkins for the Bennet girls, and while that is real life, I’ve realized that I regard Austen as an escape from real life. Â I will readily acknowledge grit and reality in other contexts, but P & P is Â my happy retreat into a candybox world where people speak with precision and wear pelisses and there are balls and tea in the afternoons, and I don’t want it messed with (let this be a warning to you, oh aspiring writers of Austen spin-offs!) Â So while I enjoyed Longbourn, I’d actually have enjoyed it more if it were the story of some random maid unconnected with my beloved Austen characters. Â Does that make me shallow? Â Oh well.
I’ve read a little bit of George Eliot over the years: liked Silas Marner, found Middlemarch really dull. Â And years ago I found a nice little hardcover copy of Adam Bede in a used bookstore. Â I finally read it, and I’m glad I did. Â It was a slow starter, but when the plot started taking off, it took off. Â “Downton Abbey” has nothing on what happens in the last third of this book. Â I actually dog-eared lots of pages because I liked the way that Eliot described certain scenes or situations; she gets philosophical and spiritual in places, and there were several really beautiful passages that I knew I’d want to read again. Â A good vacation read, for sure.
And Then There Were Nuns: Adventures in a Cloistered Life was on the library shelf one day, and I grabbed it, because I like stories of people trying to figure out their life’s calling. Â In this case, it’s a discernment story from the second half of life. Author Jane Christmas, divorced with adult children, is on the cusp of getting married again when she realizes that she has never really listened to that inner voice saying “maybe I have a calling as a nun.” Â She explores various convents in Canada and England, all the while finally coming to terms with a trauma from her past. Â In spite of the cover, which Â makes this look like breezy religious chick-lit, the book ventures into some pretty heavy territory. Â I wasn’t expecting the darker stuff, but the story is so well-told, with a combination of humor and depth of reflection, that it all worked. Â I recommend it, if you like faith memoirs (it also made me realize that as much as I envy life in a convent every now and then when my boys are being loud and wild, the life of a nun is most emphatically NOT my calling).
Castles in the Air: The Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion by Judy CorbettÂ (another library book — I love how our library system has British titles, too!) is about a young couple who have a dream of owning a very old house in Wales. Â They find one — a castle that is in truly terrible shape — and buy it and set about making it, well, livable. Â As escape lit goes, this was so fun. Â I often look around my tiny cramped postwar tract home and dream about living in some castle-like manor home thingy, but this book may have cured me of it Â (the author and her husband literally shared their bedroom with bats. Â BATS!). Â Throw in a ghost, some roaming peacocks, a visit from Prince Charles and some unhelpful flooding, and it’s quite a kick.
Blessed by Less: Clearing Your Life of Clutter By Living Lightly by Susan V. Vogt could not have come at a better time, honestly. Â Our house has way too much stuff in it (having kids will do that!), and over the last six months, I’ve been wanting to do something about it. Â This book not only gives some helpful tips about downsizing, it also addresses the bigger picture and challenges me to think about my relationship to things. Â Why do I have all this? Â Why do I find myself buying more? Â What might shift in my life if I shrug off some of these possessions? Â Is there someone who could use this item more than I could? Â This book blends the practical with the spiritual, and it has been a great way to kickstart my Great Purge of 2014. Â (You’ll be hearing more about this in a future blog post, I promise.)
What have you been reading lately? Â I love recommendations!