Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Reading Year in Review

I read 11 novels from my 100 Greatest Novels Quest in 2016, but – and this is the last time I’ll whine about this – there were some really BIG novels among them. According to Goodreads, I read over 11,500 pages.

Quest novels completed in 2016: #65-75

Favorite: The Count of Monte Cristo
Favorite that was not a reread: Atlas Shrugged

Least Favorite: Money

Best hero/heroine: Dagny Taggert from Atlas Shrugged

Most Villainous: Danglars from The Count of Monte Cristo

Most interesting/Complex character: Francisco d'Anconia. I feel I should say John Galt, if anyone from Atlas Shrugged - but no. I found Francisco more fascinating and more likable.

Best film adaptation: 1995 A&E mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice

Worst film adaptation: I haven’t watched film versions of most, and the ones I did watch were Excellent to decent. I’ve heard the film version of Atlas Shrugged is not very good.

Best Quotation:  …for the wicked are not so easily disposed of, for God seems to have them under his special watch-care to make of them instruments of his vengeance.  ~ narrative from The Count of Monte Cristo

Best Subtitle: Money: A Suicide Note

Literary Bucket List: I'm gonna claim War and Peace

With The Fountainhead, I completed my Classics Club Challenge of 50 Classics in 5 Years.

I completed 9 of 12 Classics for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.

And I read chapters 1-29, right on schedule, for The Pickwick Papers read along.

I also read the following that were not part of the quest:  

Evenings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings by A. W. Tozer

The Oswald Chambers Daily Devotional Bible
This is broken up into 365 sections, that each include a portion from the Old Testament, a portion from the Psalms, a portion from Proverbs, and a portion from the New Testament each day. At the end of the year, you’ve read through the entire Bible. There is also a brief commentary each day by Oswald Chamber.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Three Short Christmas Tales - 2016

According to Saint Matthew, wise men brought gifts to the Christ child in Bethlehem.

Apart from this, much of how we imagine the wise men is based on tradition rather than recorded history. We do not know for instance, that there were three. The number is inferred from their three distinct gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Much less do we know their identities, though tradition has ascribed them to be Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior. These three are often portrayed as African, Oriental, and European – merely tradition. Scripture records only that they were from the east. Etymology of the word “wise men” or magi suggests Persia. Perhaps the greatest inaccuracy in our perception is that they were present at the nativity, the birth of Christ, at all. Contextual clues in Matthew’s gospel suggest the wise men arrived nearly two years after the birth of Christ.

Nonetheless they were wise, for they sought – and found – and worshiped, the Christ.

Last year I read three short Christmas tales. I had no particular reason for three, but now it’s tradition. I’ll say it is in reference to the three gifts of the wise men.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

The is not really a tale, but merely a record of letters that Tolkien wrote to his children, John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla. The letters are from 1920 to 1943.

Posing as Father Christmas, Prof. Tolkien recounts various delights and dilemmas at the North Pole in preparing each year’s deliveries. Father Christmas is assisted, and confounded, by the North Polar Bear, who is well intentioned but somewhat bumbling.

My favorite letter was 1937. Tolkien’s youngest child and only daughter Priscilla was apparently a great reader. Father Christmas said he had thought of sending her “Hobbits” (copies of the book), but he figured she already had plenty of copies. (The Hobbit was published earlier that year.)

There are also charming illustrations throughout, drawn by Father Christmas, or the North Polar Bear, for the children, in reality of course, drawn by Prof. Tolkien.

Father Christmas even recounts wars with the goblins at the North Pole. I think Tolkien, via Father Christmas, was telling the children that war is a reality, that it is serious, but that it is an adult problem and that it would not last forever.

I enjoyed learning about one of my favorite authors through this very personal glimpse of his devotion to his children.

The Burglar’s Christmas by Willa Cather

From the title, and a little knowledge of Cather, you can probably guess the theme of this story.

A poor lost soul, near the end of his rope, resorts to desperate measures – only to find hope, on the Holy Night of Hope.

I won’t describe it further. It is touching and poignant.


He had demanded great things from the world once: fame and wealth and admiration. Now it was simply bread.

It is a tragic hour, that hour when we are finally driven to reckon with ourselves, when every avenue of mental distraction has been cut off and our own life and all its ineffaceable failures closes about us like the walls of that old torture chamber of the inquisition. Tonight, as this man stood stranded in the streets of the city, his hour came.

From this brilliant city with its glad bustle of Yule-tide he was shut off as completely as though here were a creature of another species.

Have you wandered so far and paid such a bitter price for knowledge and not yet learned that love has nothing to do with pardon or forgiveness, that it only loves, and loves – and loves?

The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens

The Cricket on the Hearth is the third of Dickens’ Christmas stories, though probably the second best known, after A Christmas Carol. The Cricket is a novella, third-person narrative of John and Dot Peerybingle, and their perfect little home, that is nearly ruined by a misunderstanding. The Cricket is merely a household – hmm, guest I might say, as it is cherished and welcomed by the occupants. When it chirps, it seems to be a harbinger of comfort and contentment. It also seems to be a good-luck spirit, or faerie that watches over the good fortune of the home. Not fortune of riches, but riches of love and peace.

John, is a carrier (a delivery man of sorts), and loves his sweet young wife Dot, with complete devotion, along with their young baby.

…this lumbering, slow, honest John; this John so heavy but so light of spirit; so rough upon the surface, but so gentle at the core; so dull without, so quick within; so stolid, but so good! Oh Mother Nature, give thy children the true Poetry of Heart that hid itself in this poor Carrier’s breast.

As I’ve mentioned, they reside in the very picture of a happy home. But it is nearly destroyed when John witnesses a compromising exchange between Dot and a young man. Heartbroken, he spends a long pensive night, during which, unknown to him, consciously at least, the Cricket and attending faeries, whisper reassuring thoughts of Dot’s constancy. But they only succeed in convincing John, that there is no fault in Dot. He concludes the fault must be his own, for marrying a younger woman. He determines to set her free, though his heart remains broken.

The reader can never really doubt Dot, though neither can they understand the meaning of the compromising circumstances. In true Dickens fashion, unexpected and joyous revelations set all thing right, and then set other things even better.

It’s a charming little tale. Not quite equal to A Christmas Carol, I think, but still worth a read.

Wishing you a Blessed Christmas!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 - Wrap Up

I knew at the beginning of 2016 I probably wouldn’t finish all 12 books from my
Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, but I managed to finish nine – all hyperlinked below to their respective reviews.

Challenges completed.  These were all excellent but my favorites were The Count of Monte Cristo and Atlas Shrugged

#1 A 19th Century Classic: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
#2 A 20th Century Classic: The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (1949)
#3 A classic by a woman author: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
#5 A classic by a non-white author: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
#6 An adventure classic: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
#7 A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic:  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
#8 A classic detective novel: The Man Who was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K Chesterton
#11 A classic you read in school (high school or college): Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
#12 A volume of classic short stories: Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories

The Three I didn’t get to:

#4 A classic in translation
#9 A classic which includes the name of a place in the title
#10 A classic which has been banned or censored

Thanks to the hosts at Books and Chocolate. It is a great challenge. I’ll give it a go again in 2017 – watch for reading list, coming soon.