Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020 Reading Year in Review



I read 42 individual works: 30 novels/novellas; four short stories; one play; one poetry collection, one epic poem; one biography; three other non-fiction works; and The Bible: Joshua thru the Psalms.



Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler 

Riders of the Purple Sage

Jude the Obscure

The Sea, The Sea

At Swim Two-Birds

Fahrenheit 451 

The Sign of the Four


The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story

The Tale of Genji

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Cry, the Beloved Country

Nicholas Nickleby

The Stranger


Where the Red Fern Grows

Something Wicked This Way Comes

The House on the Borderland

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Wide Sargasso Sea

Under the Net 

Greenmantle (Buchan)

Greenmantle (de Lint)

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Winnie the Pooh

The House at Pooh Corner


Big Trouble

Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Short Stories: 

Twenty-six men and a Girl by Maxim Gorky


Christmas short stories:

The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain by Charles Dickens

Christmas on Ganymede by Isaac Asimov

The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern



Shakespeare Comedies:

All’s Well that Ends Well



Rudyard Kipling:  Selected Poems


Epic Poems

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri






George Washington:  Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Leader by Robert F. Jones


Christian Allegory

Hind's Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard



Other Non-Fiction: 

A Shepherd Looks as Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller

Thru the Bible Vol. II by J. Vernon McGee

The Bible (Joshua – Psalms) corresponding to Thru the Bible Volume II.


I completed five reading challenges:

The Classics Club Round II

Back to the Classics 2020

2020 Classic BINGO Challenge


A Literary Christmas


And finally, I read 15 books for The Classics Club, Round III



Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020 Bible Reading and Other Spiritual Food

In a few days, I will complete Year Two / Volume II of a five-year Bible study: Thru the Bible by J. Vernon McGee. Volume II covers Joshua thru the Psalms.


J. Vernon McGee was an ordained Presbyterian minister, a non-denominational pastor, and
Doctor of Divinity – though I never heard him addressed as Doctor – I suspect he wouldn’t have it. 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, humor, and wisdom. Fortunately, audio files of the broadcasts are available for free download at the Thru the Bible website:


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 Two – Thru the Bible volume II, covers Joshua thru the Psalms, or all of the historical books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; and the first two of the poetic books: Job and the Psalms.


I’ve been reading the Bible for over 40 years, but J. Vernon still manages to enlighten and inform. 2021 will cover the remainder of the Old Testament.


I also read My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers: a daily devotional, in which Chambers provides commentary on some portion of scripture. This was unintentionally, a very interesting contrast to J. Vernon McGee. McGee is very accessible, very down to earth, whereas Chambers writes some of the most spiritually exalted thoughts I’ve read – quite challenging, and to be honest sometimes beyond my own spiritual maturity. This is no criticism. The Bible is spiritual food. J. Vernon McGee prepares it like healthy soft vegetables and sweet fruit. Chambers prepares the tough pieces of meat. Both provide needful nourishment – one is simply harder to chew and digest. 




Monday, December 28, 2020

Recap of Novels 161 - 170

Average rating of novels 161 - 170:  3.6 stars (out of 5)



151.  ★★★ ½            Wide Sargasso Sea

152.  ★★★ ½            Under the Net

153.  ★★★ ½            Greenmantle (Buchan)

154.  ★★★                Greenmantle (de Lint)

155   ★★ ½                Jonathan Livingston Seagull
★★★★             Winnie the Pooh
★★★★             The House at Pooh Corner

158.  ★★★★             Germinal

159.  ★★★ ½             Big Trouble

160.  ★★★★             Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Favorite: Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Least Favorite: Jonathan Livingston Seagull


Best Hero: Tom aka Uncle Tom

Runner up: Pooh (he is given a hero party, so…)

Best Heroine: Eliza from Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Most Villainous: Easily Simon Legree from Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Most interesting/Complex character: Jake Donaghue from Under the Net


Best Subtitle, there was only one subtitle: Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly


Best Quotation: O, ye who take freedom from man, with what words shall you answer it to God? Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Runner Up: So there is still the sound of whispering that I have heard all my life, but these are different voices. ~ Antoinette from Wide Sargasso Sea



Saturday, December 26, 2020

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (novel #170)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life among the Lowly


O, ye who take freedom from man, with what words shall you answer it to God?


Much of the time I was reading this, I was thinking it was not a very cheerful read for the season of Good Cheer (I finished it Christmas Day).


And indeed, it is not – for it is filled with cruelty, heartache, and injustice, but I am glad to have read it this season nonetheless, for it also speaks of love, victory, and redemption.


I think most novels are part entertainment, and part thesis. This is one of those novels that although the story is agonizingly captivating, the message is of the greater import. 




First the story: It is about the overpowering desire for freedom, told via the desperate escape of the slave Eliza, and the long enslavement of Tom – Uncle Tom. Both win their liberty – by very different roads. Eliza’s ending is almost Dickensian, as improbable coincidence, lends a hand to the sublimely satisfying ending. (It is possible that Stowe was familiar with Dickens, though I have not read that she was).


The story was satisfying, though heartbreaking along the way, and any satisfaction is quickly tempered when remembering the sixty million. Stowe’s passion adds credence to the characters, whether the slaves themselves, the slave owners, the traders of human souls, the hunters, or the criminal abettors of liberty. One of the most interesting characters is St. Clare, a New Orleans slave owner, who abhors the institution, but feels impotent to change it. He deludes himself that he is trapped in it by necessity. He has several insightful conversations with his abolitionist cousin, such as…

“The short of the matter is, cousin.” Said he, his handsome face suddenly settling into an earnest and serious expression, “on this abstract question of slavery there can, as I think, be but one opinion. Planters, who have money to make by it, – clergymen, who have planters to please, – politicians, who want to rule by it, – may warp and bend language and ethics to a degree that shall astonish the world at their ingenuity; they can press nature and the Bible, and nobody knows what else, into the service; but, after all, neither they nor the world believe in it one particle the more. It comes from the devil, that’s the short of it; – and, to my mind, it’s a pretty respectable specimen of what he can do in his own line.”  

To the point that the story, is not merely a story; Uncle Tom’s Cabin is Stowe’s exposé on the evils of slavery and the guilt of both North and South. In the final chapter, which is not really a chapter of the story, but her treatise on the subject, she writes:


Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian church has a heavy account to answer.

…not surer is the eternal law by which a millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!


It was a powerful and dreadful message – one that some claim led to the American Civil War – so be it!


Stowe’s logic had one minor weakness. Occasionally, she made generalizations about the slave-race, such as…

They are not naturally daring and enterprising, but home-loving and affectionate. 

Which is simply a prejudicial stereotype…benevolent, but a stereotype no less than more sinister ones like: they are better off as slaves in America than they would be free in Africa…a common delusion of the day. Or that…

The intention of Providence that the African race should be servants,…

Stereotypes notwithstanding, is it an important and heroic work.  


My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was my book for The Classics Club Spin # 25.


Other excerpts:


“Tom, you love me,” he [St. Clare] said.

“I’s willin to lay down my life, this blessed day, to see Mas’r a Christian.”


Is not the senseof liberty a higher and a finer one than any of the five?


There is no monument to mark the last resting-place of our friend. He needs none! His Lord knows where he lies, and will raise him up, immortal, to appear with him when he shall appear in his glory.


What a fool is he who locks his door to keep out spirits, who has in his own bosom a spirit he dares not meet alone,…


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Classic Meme 2.0 - Favorite Christmas Classic

The Classic Meme 2.0


What is your favorite seasonal/Christmas/holiday classic? Why?


Oh well, that’s easy. But to keep you in suspense, I will make honorable mention first to The Gift of the Magi, by O Henry. I like O Henry to start with, and The Gift of the Magi is his masterpiece. 

But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.


But apart from THE Christmas Story, according to St. Luke, my favorite Christmas story is easily, The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry VanDyke, wherein the hero of the tale, Artaban, finds failure that is better than success. It is a luminous gem; READ IT!

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



Fine print disclaimer most will not notice: The original wording of the meme, as taken from The Classics Club site, used the imperial spelling “favourite” but in deference to ME, the new world proprietor of this blog, I have Yankified the spelling to “favorite”. Not sorry. 



Sunday, December 20, 2020

Twelve Days of Christmas book tag

I got this from Hamlette over at The Edge of the Precipice. It’s quite simple, a book tag based on the Christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas


1. A Partridge in a Pear Tree -- book that involves agriculture 

This was harder than I thought it would be. There are many books with a minor reference to farming, planting, growing, etc., but few I’ve read where it is a major theme, so I had to rely on an obvious choice…Animal Farm


2. Turtledoves -- book about a long-lasting relationship 

I’m going to cheat just a bit – it’s OK, the rules are more like guidelines. I think the intent is a long-lasting romantic relationship, but I’m going with Death Comes for the Archbishop which is a sweet tale of the very long sanctified relationship between Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant. Both men are also wise as serpents, and gentle as doves (see what I did there).


3. French Hens -- book that takes place in France 

There were quite a few good ones to choose from, so I am going with the most recent I’ve read…Germinal


4. Calling Birds -- book where people talk on the phone 

There are a couple of slightly humorous and exasperating phone calls in Under the Net


5. Golden Rings -- book with multiple romances 

My somewhat tongue-in-cheek choice is Atlas Shrugged, as passive aggressive commentary on the one thing I didn’t like about Rand’s classic (not politically correct to like Ayn Rand – I know – you’ll get over it). The heroine, Dagny Taggert is in love with three men in two chapters, and has a fourth that is in love with her.



6. Geese A-laying -- book with a birth or that features babies 

The Scarlet Letter begins with Hester’s scandalous pregnancy.


7. Swans A-swimming -- book where someone goes swimming 

The main character goes swimming several times in The Sea, the Sea, and then nearly drowns in another incident, when he wasn’t intentionally going in.


8. Maids A-milking -- book with cows 

The Good Soldier – I didn’t like this book, but it has one utterly (bad pun, I know) …one utterly unnecessary but delightful bit of narrative from the main character…

I chuckled over it from time to time for the whole rest of the day. Because it does look very funny, you know, to see a black and white cow land on its back in the middle of a stream. It is so just exactly what one doesn’t expect of a cow.



9. Ladies Dancing -- book with a dance scene 

A Dance to the Music of Time – I don’t remember if there is a dance scene in the story, though there probably is, as it is a billion pages long, but the title is derived from a painting of the same name by Ncolas Poussin. The painting is depicted on the book cover of my edition.



10. Lords A-leaping -- book about athletes 

This was also harder than expected. My “athletes” would be more properly characterized as “sportsmen” for their rugged outdoor adventure in Deliverance.



11. Pipers Piping -- book with someone playing a musical instrument. Coalhouse Walker Jr. is successful jazz musician in Ragtime 



12. Drummers Drumming -- book with characters in the military

A Farewell to Arms


Friday, December 11, 2020

Christmas Tales 2020

The Magi honored the Christ child with three gifts.


and in honor of the magi, I read three Christmas tales each December which are also my selections for A Literary Christmas hosted by In the Bookcase.

Christmas on Ganymede by Isaac Asimov

One of Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede has been, not so much colonized as industrialized, by Earth corporations which are harvesting the planet’s natural resources using the indigenous race of Ossies as labor (Ossies: so named for their resemblance to Ostriches) One of the earthmen, Olaf Johnson, innocently tells the Ossies of the Santa Claus legend, and the Ossies subsequently go on strike, until they are visited by Sannycaws. This will negatively impact the bottom line, so the corporate production supervisors, arrange for a reasonable facsimile, consisting of Olaf posing as Santa, a rudimentary flying sleigh, and another indigenous species, the spinyback – cross between an aardvark and stegosaurus – to perform as reindeer. It is intentionally, quite silly, and good clean fun, but not at all profound, as are my next two selections.


The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern

This short story is the basis for the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. Legendary director Frank Capra called The Greatest Gift


…the story I had been looking for all my life!


To be honest, the film is the better telling, simply because it contains more details of how one life touches so many others. But the STORY, and its marvelous message, that THE greatest gift, the gift of life…is all Stern’s. In reviewing classic literature, I often say, skip the movie, read the book, but in this case I say, LOVE the movie, then appreciate it better, by reading the book. (Also read the background, of the short story Stern couldn’t sell, and how it became the classic film.)


The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain by Charles Dickens

This is final 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 




Goodness, this surprised me. After Dickens drew raves for his first three Christmas novellas, he created great expectations (pardon the pun) for more, his fourth and fifth were not so well received, but for me, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain is perhaps the most poignant of all. To further add to my enjoyment, it was a perfect complement to The Greatest Gift, as the moral for both could be…be careful what you wish for.


The haunted man is Mr. Redlaw, a man everyone would say


…looked like a haunted man.


He sits long hours alone, pondering over…


things that might have been, and never were


Redlaw is indeed haunted by a specter twin of himself, who reminds him of all the sorrow of his life, and who eventually offers him the dreadful bargain.


“Hear what I offer! Forget the sorrow, wrong, and trouble you have known! Forget them!” He repeated.


Redlaw is suspicious of the seemingly evil smile, that presages the bargain, but reasons to himself…


All men and women have their sorrows, - most of them their wrongs; ingratitude, and sordid jealousy, and interest besetting all degrees of life. Who would not forget their sorrows and their wrongs?


The bargain is struck, but course all does not turn out as was hoped (much like George Bailey’s bargain in The Greatest Gift.)


He is not happier, once relieved of the burdens of sorrowful memory, if anything, he is more miserable…and makes those around him more miserable in the bargain.


I am tempted to leave it at that, and tempt you to read it, but I cannot omit this moment, when Redlaw, in the depths of despair, is admonished by a kind and gentle friend.


“I have no learning, and you have much,” said Milly; “I am not used to think, and you are always thinking. May I tell you why it seems to me a good thing for us, to remember wrong that has been done us?”




“That we may forgive it.”




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