Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Reading Year in Review


I read 55 individual works: 22 novels/novellas; eight short stories; one short story collection; 13 plays; seven biographies; three other non-fiction; and The Pentateuch.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Papillon by Henri Charrière
Candide by Voltaire
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Reablais
The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
The Oak Openings by James Fennimore Cooper
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Short Stories: 

Christmas short stories:

Sherlock Holmes Short Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle:


Shakespeare Comedies:

Shakespeare Historical Plays:

Shakespeare Tragedies:

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen
Gordie: A Hockey Legend by Roy MacSkimming
Benjamin Franklin by Edmund S. Morgan

Other Non-Fiction: 
The One Year Book of Hymns by William J. Peterson

The Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy) corresponding to Thru the Bible Volume I.

I completed three reading challenges:

And finally, I read 20 books for The Classics Club round II, leaving me with 13 left out of 75 to complete Round II

2019 Bible Reading and other Spiritual Food

I usually read through the Bible each year, but in 2019 I began a Bible reading schedule that will take five years to complete.

The schedule corresponds to Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee.

J. Vernon McGee was an ordained Presbyterian minister, a non-denominational pastor, and Doctor of Divinity – though I never heard him addressed as Doctor. He was also a radio Bible teacher. His Thru the Bible broadcast was a daily study of every chapter of the Bible that took five years to complete (and then, he’d just start again).

If you never heard J. Vernon, well friend, I’m sorry you missed something special. He had a fatherly, mmm…make it grandfatherly, kindly voice full of warmth and wisdom. Fortunately, audio files of the broadcasts are available for free download at the Thru the Bible website.https://www.ttb.org

I think listening to J. Vernon is the best way to experience Thru the Bible, but, I’m old school about reading, and like to – you know – read. So, I’m using the printed version to go through the Bible in five years – that’s reading the Bible, along with J. Vernon’s corresponding commentary. 

Year One – Thru the Bible volume I, covers the Pentateuch, the writings of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

I’ve been reading the Bible for over 40 years, but J. Vernon still manages to enlighten and inform. I’m looking forward to 2020, when he covers Joshua through the Psalms.

I also read The One Year Book of Hymns compiled by Robert K. Brown and Mark R. Norton. It tells the story, and back story, to 365 different hymns and hymn writers – some of them well known, others less so. It was uplifting, not only for the joyful praise, beautiful poetry, and profound theology, but also for the diversity of the hymn writers who came from all branches of Christendom.

Some, well known in Chrisitian vernacular:
Isaac Watts
Fanny Crosby
Charles Wesley
Martin Luther
Thomas Moore
Thomas Aquinas

Others, better known for other achievements:

John Milton
John Greenleaf Whittier
G. K. Chesterton
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Rudyard Kipling

And hundreds I'd never heard of.

And of course, reformed slave trader John Newton, whose hymn Amazing Grace is part of the inspiration for my blog name (I once was lost, but now am found)

One excerpt, from one hymn:

O ‘tis not in grief to harm me;
While Thy love is left to me;
O ‘twere not in joy to charm me,
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.
     ~ Henry Francis Lyte, from Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019, Wrap-Up Post

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019, Wrap-Up Post 

I completed all 12 Categories in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019, which is hosted by Books and Chocolate

The titles are hyperlinked to my full review – cuz why wouldn’t you want to read those?

Bleak House by Charles Dickens – a 19thCentury Classic
Loved it: Some say this is Dickens’ best. I rank it third behind A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield. It has the distinction as the only Dickens novel with a female narrator

The Ox Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark – A 20thCentury Classic
Liked it a lot:  Must be defined as a Western, but it is much more. Tragically beautiful.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor – A Classic by a Woman Author
Indifferent: I like her short stories much better. 

Papillon by Henri Charriére – A Classic in Translation
Indifferent: I found the narrator unreliable. That could work if this was pure fiction, but it is supposed to be an autobiographical novel. For me, if the autobiographer is unreliable, then it’s a manifesto, not a story.

Candide by Voltaire – A Classic Comedy
Indifferent: A sharp satire to serve as Candide’s rebuttal of Optimism. I was unimpressed, and didn’t find it funny.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – A Classic Tragedy
Liked it a lot: A non-fiction novel that hauntingly tells the tale of…four shotgun blasts, that all told, ended six human lives.

Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais – A Very Long Classic (over 1000 pages)
Didn’t like it. Codpiece jokes – lots of codpiece jokes. Probably pretty bold and edgy in the 16thCentury, but now? Meh.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft – A Classic Novella (under 250 pages)
Liked it. Very creepy – creepy in a good way. Part of the Cthulu Mythos and the only Lovecraft story published as a single book.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – A Classic of the Americas
Liked it a lot: Most consider Huckleberry Finn to be Twain’s greatest work, but for me it's Tom Sawyer.

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay - A Classic from Africa, Asia, or Oceania
Liked it: An Australian classic, unsolved mystery, and a great argument for rereads. I nearly hated this the first time I read it, but with the reread I noticed some very subtle things that made it quite enjoyable.

The Oak Openings (alternate title: The Bee Hunter) by James Fennimore Cooper – A Classic Set in a Place Where I Lived (Set along the banks of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan)
Loved it: The last of Cooper’s Wilderness Tales. For me, this easily Cooper’s best.

The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe – A Classic Play
Liked it a lot: Perhaps the best-know rendering of Faustian legend – a man who sells his soul for power and prestige.


King John by William Shakespeare

King John by William Shakespeare

This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror ~ the Bastard

(repost of an accidentally deleted review from may 2019)

The Life and Death of King John is a historical play, written in the late 16th Century, but not published until the early 17th Century.

I am slowly working my way through the entire works of Shakespeare and have finally gotten to his historical plays. I’ve read all the Sonnets and other poetry, quite a few comedies, and several tragedies. This is the first of the historical plays that I’ve read. I decided to read the historical plays in chronological order, so King John is first. The historical King John of England reigned from 1199 until his death in 1216. He was the son of King Henry II and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine, succeeded his older brother Richard I to the throne, and was succeeded by his own son Henry who necessarily became King Henry III.

The play centers around the legitimacy of King John’s right to the throne. John is the oldest surviving son of King Henry II, but his older brother, Geffrey had a son, Arthur (no, not THAT Arthur). I am uncertain of 13th Century British rules of succession, but I think Arthur had a strong case. Other advocates for Arthur included King Philip of France, Cardinal Pandolf legate of the Holy See, and of course Arthur’s mother, Lady Constance. John’s advocates include Queen Eleanor, and the Bastard, the illegitimate son of John’s brother King Richard I.

The play is about confusing genealogies, shifting loyalties, and family feuds. I am tempted to call them petty feuds, but they do decide the King of England, so petty is probably unfair.

At one point, the matter is settled by the marriage of John’s niece Blanch, to King Philip’s son Louis (no, not THAT Louis). But moments after the marriage, older, more sacred alliances are recalled and the debate is renewed. Poor Blanch, caught in the middle of the muddled affair, faces war between her new husband and her uncle. She expresses her dismay – which is I think fairly representative of the entire matter:

          The sun’s o’ercast with blood. Fair day, adieu!
          Which is the side that I must go withal?
          I am with both:  each army hath a hand;
          And in their rage, I having hold of both,
          They whirl asunder and dismember me.
          Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayest win;
          Uncle, I needs must pray that thou mayest lose;
          Father, I may not wish the fortune thine;
          Grandam, I will not wish thy wishes thrive.  
          Whoever wins, on that side shall I lose:
          Assured loss before the match be play’d

SPOILER ALERT: In the end, it is all settled rather neatly, though tragically. Arthur dead, John dead, leaving Henry the undisputed heir to the throne. (Shakespeare did not write a play for Henry III. In fact, he skipped the next three monarchs: Henry III, Edward I, and Edward II. Next up is Edward III.)

It is easy to get caught up in the dozen or so august personalities named in the play, their divine mandates, and noble destinies, and forget the thousands of unnamed lives that were spent in settling such disputes. I am not criticizing the play – it is quite worthy of its author. I am simply reasserting something that may have been a subtle point of the Bard’s: the political, economic, familial, ecclesiastical, and egotistical plays for power in this period of Western Europe were indeed often – petty feuds with dreadful consequence.

And thou, to be endeared to a king,
Made it no conscience to destroy a prince. ~ King John to Hubert

Heaven keep my soul, and England keep my bones! ~ dying Arthur

And as usual, a couple phrases original to Shakespeare that have become part of English vernacular:

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily (which is clearer than the vernacular to gild the lily – to praise something that does not need further praise)

Play fast and loose

I read this for the 2019 Year of Shakespeare Challenge.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare 

Timon of Athens is a tragedy by Shakespeare, probably co-written with Thomas Middleton, very early 17thCentury. It is about a fictional Athenian during Hellenistic Greece. The title character may have been influenced by, though not entirely based on, Greek philosopher Timon of Phlius.

Timon is a generous and gregarious fellow – generous to a fault. He has many friends and flatterers who receive benefit from his generosity. Timon’s faithful steward, Flavius, tries to warn him of his wastefulness, but Timon is too deluded by flatterers to listen.

Of course, there is a limit to Timon’s resources and his generosity leads to ruin. He rebuffs Flavius for not warning him, but is not overly worried. He is confident his many friends will assist HIM, now that HE is in need. He chides Flavius for doubting.
     And, in some sort, these wants of mine are crown’d
     That I account them blessings for by these
     Shall I try friends: you shall perceive how you
     Mistake my fortunes; I am wealthy in my friends

But of course, none are so faithful. 

Timon’s lands are sold, he renounces society (pictured) and flees to live in a cave and dine on roots. He discovers a hidden treasure of gold, which he uses to hire mercenaries to destroy Athens. I’ll spare the rest.

This is rightly called a tragedy, not because Timon is ruined financially, but because his soul is ruined. He becomes a complete and hopeless misanthrope. He offers this prayer…
     And grant, as Timon grows, his hate may grow
     To the whole race of mankind, high and low!

Throughout the play all the characters, but especially Timon’s false friends, are ridiculed by cynical Apemantus, who sees through their duplicity. And although Apemantus is somewhat sympathetic to Timon’s disillusionment and need, Timon offers even him contempt, which is then returned in a sad, and yet amusing exchange of insults
     T: I had rather be a beggar’s dog than Apemantus
     A: Thou art the cap of all the fools alive
     T: Would thou wert clean enough to spit on
     A: A plague on thee, thou art too bad to curse
     T: All villains that do stand by thee are pure
     A: There is no leprosy but what thou speak’st
     T: If I name thee – I’ll beat thee, but I should infect my hands
     A: I would my tongue could rot them off
     T: Away, thou issue of a mangy dog!
          Choler does kill me that thou art alive;
          I swoon to see thee
     A: Would thou wouldst burst
     T: Away, thou tedious rogue! I am sorry I shall lose a stone
          [throws a stone at Apemantus]
     A: Beast!
     T: Slave!
     A: Toad!
     T: Rogue, rogue, rogue!

The play is a sobering indictment on humanity. And while I am certain that not all friends are false, there is a danger in wealth that makes it hard to distinguish between the true and false. I’m certain there are many instant millionaires (lottery winners, professional athletes, etc.) who could relate to this interesting play. I can’t say I loved it. I’m not surprised it is not one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays.


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Tales - 2019

The Magi honored the Christ child with three gifts.

and in honor of the magi, I read three Christmas tales each December. My Christmas reads are also part of A Literary Christmas – sponsored by In the Bookcase.

At Christmas Time by Anton Chekhov is an extremely short short story – six pages. It is divided neatly into two parts – two separate settings. In the first, an illiterate peasant woman hires someone to write a letter to her only child, a daughter who married and moved away four years earlier. The woman is heartbroken that she hasn’t heard from her daughter. The second setting is the daughter overjoyed to receive her mother’s letter, but then plunged into despair at her plight – married, three small children, in a small apartment, very nearly trapped by her husband, a heartless brute who carelessly forgets to post the letters his wife writes to her parents. 

It’s a pretty depressing tale, but quite poignant. Mother and daughter each feel forsaken by the other, but the foibles of human communication hide the truth – that they are loved, remembered, and missed, which would surely be of some comfort in the midst of their dismal lives. 

And although I liked At Christmas Time, it left me longing for something a bit cheerier.

Fortunately, next up was Dickens’ The Trial of Life, the fourth of Dickens’ five Christmas tales: A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain. It is the least popular, least known, and barely qualifies as a Christmas Tale – there is only one scene at Christmas that could have just as affectively been at any time of the year. It is the only one of Dickens’ Christmas tales with no element of supernatural.

It is about Doctor Jeddler who was a great philosopher, 
...and the heart and mystery of his philosophy was. To look upon the world as a gigantic practical joke;

But the good Doctor’s philosophy is challenged by the fates and fortunes of his two daughters – beautiful and virtuous as you would expect from Dickens heroines. 

And after all, Doctor Jeddler is compelled to change his philosophy…
“It is a world full of hearts,” said the Doctor, hugging his youngest daughter, and bending across her to hug Grace – for he couldn’t separate the sisters; “and a serious world, with all its folly – even with mine, which was enough to have swamped the whole globe; and it is a world on which the sun never rises, but it looks upon a thousand bloodless battles that are some setoff against the miseries and wickedness of Battle-Fields; and it is a world we need be careful how we libel, Heaven forgive us, for it is a world of sacred mysteries, and its Creator only knows what lies beneath the surface of His lightest image!”

I found it to be a marvelous little tale about love and sacrifice, and in true Dickensian fashion, sublimely happy in the end, but yet…

There was an unexpected development. I’ve read quite a bit of Dickens, and thought I knew where he was going, but in the end, he “Wowed” me. Everything was NOT as it seemed. It’s a bit like David Copperfield meets A Tale of Two Cities, much shorter of course, which is high praise since those are two of my favorites by Dickens.

And finally, the best known of the three, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. Hoffman.

You probably know something of the story, of a marvelous nutcracker who comes to life to battle the evil mouse king. It is a fairy tale in the truest sense – there is a mysterious portal between our world and another, that opens at infrequent times and to select few, usually it seems, the innocent and unspoiled.

In this tale, young Marie is the privileged traveler, whom no one believes, except perhaps with a wink and a whisper her eccentric Godfather Drosselmeyer, the clockmaker, toymaker, and almost it seems the director of this drama.

It’s an excellent tale. If you’ve only experienced the ballet based upon this fairy tale, I’d recommend reading the story. There is much more going on than the ballet can reveal.

Merry Christmas

          ~ The Wanderer

May you be blessed with
the spirit of the season, which is Peace,
the gladness of the season, which is Hope, 
and the heart of the season, which is Love


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Classics Club Spin #22

Classics Club Spin #22

It is time for the 22nd edition of the Classics Club Spin – List 20 books from my CC TBR, by December 22; the mods then pick a random number, and I have until January 31, 2020 to read the corresponding book.

But I’ve only got 13 books left on my Classics Club list so I will list some of them twice. I used a random number generator to rank them, and determine which appear twice. My list:

1. Fahrenheit 451
2. Riders of the Purple Sage
3. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
4. Nicholas Nickleby
5. Fahrenheit 451
6. The Tale of Genji
7. Riders of the Purple Sage
8. The Tale of Genji
9. Cry the Beloved Country
10. At Swim Two-Birds
11. Jude the Obscure
12. Cry the Beloved Country
14. At Swim Two-Birds
15. Where the Red Fern Grows
16. The Sea, the Sea
17. Nicholas Nickleby
18. The Castle of Otranto
19. The Sea, the Sea
20. Greenmantle