Dec 31, 2018

New Year's Eve & Reading Goals for 2019

Seattle New Years Eve Fireworks 2011 (8)
Rajiv Vishwa [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Hoping all of you have a lovely New Year's Eve, whether it's already past midnight for you, or, like us West Coasters, you're still waiting.  :)

I typically spend New Year's Eve all warm and cozy at home with a book.  It'll probably be AI Superpowers (published just this year), which I started a couple days ago.  So far, it's really intriguing:

Dec 29, 2018

The Code of the Woosters - A Novel for New Year's Resolutions


Already feeling the post-holiday blues?  Sometimes you just need a good British comedy to help get you back into the festive spirit.  And for good British comedy, you simply can't go wrong with P. G. Wodehouse.

The Code of the Woosters (1938) is book #7 in his Jeeves and Wooster series but, as with many of the adventures of this duo, it can be read on its own. The scene opens with Bertie Wooster, an idle man-about-town, shunning the opportunity of a Round-the-World cruise, against the counsel of his smarter but dutiful servant, Jeeves.  Wooster's boredom disappears when his beloved Aunt Dahlia shows up, demanding he steal a silver cow creamer from collector Sir Watkyn Bassett, who, she believes, wrongfully acquired what was rightfully her husband's.  The trouble is, Bassett is the same magistrate who Wooster had a run-in with before, not to mention the father of his dreaded sometime fiancee, Madeline Bassett.  Wooster's friends Gussie Fink-Nottle and Stiffy Byng complicate matters with love triangles and altercations of their own, and Wooster feels bound by his family Code to help them out - "Never let a pal down."

Dec 27, 2018

2019 Christian Greats Challenge: Past & Present

Hosted by Carol at Journey and Destination
Carol at Journey and Destination is hosting a new challenge - focused on Christian literature!  Though I've read Christian classics on-and-off through the years, I've been meaning to read more, and this seems like the perfect chance! 

Here is my (overly ambitious) list:

Dec 26, 2018

The Divine Comedy - Parts 2 & 3: Purgatorio and Paradiso


Previously: Part 1: Inferno

Purgatorio

And of that second kingdom will I sing
Wherein the human spirit doth purge itself,
And to ascend to heaven becometh worthy
After enduring the nine circles of Hell, Dante and Virgil finally make it out of the underworld and back to the surface of the earth.  Under a starlit sky, they watch as a boat filled with souls and captained by an angel approaches the foot of Mount Purgatory.  Dante continues on his own journey as he follows Virgil up the nine levels of the mountain.  Together, in a similar vein to their experiences in Inferno, the two travelers observe the different disciplines which souls must endure before they have been "purified" of their remaining sins and made fit to enter Paradiso.

Dec 23, 2018

Mount TBR Challenge 2019

Hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block
This is a favorite challenge of mine, all about reading books you already own.  (FWIW, I'm bolstering my list with a couple of my parents' books.  We share with each other!)  It's crazy, but I'm also choosing a steep challenge this year: 24 books.  Don't know how far I'll get, but I'm pretty excited with the list!

Here it is, in no particular order (and subject to change): 


MOUNT BLANC - 24 BOOKS

Fiction:
  1. Nostromo - Joseph Conrad
  2. The Professor - Charlotte Bronte
  3. Cancer Ward - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  4. Light in August - William Faulkner
  5. The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
  6. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
  7. The Red and the Black - Stendhal
  8. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
  9. Moby-Dick (reread) - Herman Melville
  10. Jane Eyre (reread) - Charlotte Bronte
  11. Pilgrim's Progress (reread) - John Bunyan
  12. The Time Machine (reread) - H. G. Wells
  13. Bonus: Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  14. Bonus: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Bronte
  15. Bonus: Bleak House by Charles Dickens
If I read The Professor and Tenant, I will have finally read all of the Bronte sisters' novels.  The completist in me is eager for that milestone!

Non-Fiction:
  1. The Lost City of Z - David Grann
  2. The Emperor's Sea Eagle: A Memoir of the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the War in the Pacific - Abe Zenji
  3. Recollections of Japan - Hendrik Doeff
  4. The Boy in the Mask: The Hidden World of Lawrence of Arabia - Dick Benson-Gyles
  5. To Begin the World Over Again: Lawrence of Arabia from Damascus to Baghdad - John Hulsman
  6. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - Eric Metaxas
  7. Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age - W. Bernard Carlson
  8. AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order - Kai-Fu Lee
  9. ✓ Fear No Evil - Natan Sharansky
  10. Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook - Jane Maxwell
  11. The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition - Caroline Alexander
  12. Shackleton - Roland Huntford
There are a LOT of chunksters here, particularly the biographies.  We'll see how that goes...

Dec 21, 2018

The Divine Comedy - Part 1: Inferno

Dante, lost in a dark forest, is overcome by feelings of fear and loneliness, until he is met by the spirit of Virgil, the Roman poet and author of the Aeneid.  Virgil was sent by Beatrice, Dante's deceased childhood sweetheart, to come to his aid and help him back into the way of light and salvation.  The way back, however, starts as a downward descent into and through the nine circles of Inferno.  The journey becomes a test to Dante's courage as he, led on by Virgil, faces the cries, tortures, and apparitions of sufferers in Hell, some of whom he recognizes.

Dec 20, 2018

Catching My Breath - Christmastime, Dante, and Beyond...

After patiently saving vacation days, today I can at last disconnect from work emails and other stressors.  I really want to slow down even more over my almost two-week holiday, beginning with these last few days of Advent.


Dec 9, 2018

Top Ten of 2018 + Reading Goals Recap





There's three weeks left in the year, but I honestly don't expect to get much reading done till my Christmas break (beginning the 20th!!!), so I thought I would start my yearly retrospective a bit early.

These were my reading goals for 2018:
  • Bring back Book Journals - Kind of a fail. I started a book journal with Ben-Hur but lost momentum early on.  I'm still tacitly reading it, and maybe during my break will start posting about it again.
  • Read more non-fiction.  Check!  Of the 45 books I read (or partially read) this year, almost a third were non-fiction, and some of the fiction was based heavily on real life.  That's pretty good for me.
  • Escape the comfort zone.  Check.  I read a number of books this year that definitely challenged me, and some made me extremely uncomfortable.
  • Revive the blog.  Check.  While podcasting, I made an effort to write posts that complemented the episodes, and that worked out nicely.
In spite of having more or less reached my 2018 goal of 40 books, I have to admit only a fraction of the books really stand out to me as I think about it now.  Some were duds; others were momentarily entertaining but failed to leave a long-lasting impression.

Dec 1, 2018

Slowing Down with Tolkien, Lectio Divina

With all that's been going on in my life lately, I've been finding it necessary to take action to slow down.

I know, that sounds like an oxymoron.  But as a recovering perfectionist and incorrigible planner, I tend to labor over any life changes, even if it's merely the quest to find a little peace and quiet.  I have learned a few things from this methodical approach, although in reality, just the awareness of trying to slow down has helped lead me into some more practical, if unexpected, steps.

Turning off the "TV"

Prior to all of this, I had (for other reasons) decided to take a YouTube fast for three weeks this past November.  For me, YouTube is the equivalent of cable TV, except that I get to choose the content through a very personalized subscription list.  Typically, I can spend hours just trying to keep up with each channel, and I actually avoid some channels in part because I can't keep up.

Taking a break was really hard, but very good.  I did not feel particularly happy knowing I was missing out on all my favorite YouTubers, but at the same time, it forced to me do more reading.  It's probably the reason I managed to finish Kirkegaard's The Concept of Anxiety, a book which was as dry as YouTube is enthralling.

Coming back to YouTube in December, I'd been dreading the "catch up" phase. What I didn't expect was that my fast had changed my perspective.  Now I see a lot of videos I could watch, but viewed collectively, only some of them stand out as actually interesting.  I feel motivated by this to limit my viewing now and may even unsubscribe from some channels.

A Long-Expected Viewing Party

Something really exciting happened during my YouTube fast.



The local library had the full, extended-edition Hobbit trilogy.  More importantly, the DVDs all arrived for me at once.  Unheard of!

My siblings and I have been watching it over the past few weeks - it's new to us.  "Extended edition" is by definition "slow," but in a good way.  It gives you space to really savor each segment and talk about it.   

I don't know if it's the "extendedness," but I love these three films more than ever and in some ways as much as The Lord of the Rings.  It's really apples and oranges, yet I'm a child at heart, and The Hobbit especially appeals to my love of fairy tales.


You can read about my history with Tolkien here.  I have just started re-reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time.  I don't know how long it'll take me - and in the spirit of slowing down, that's ok.  I just don't want to wait for the "perfect time."

The Bible and Lectio Divina

As a Christian, I've read the Bible through once or twice, in addition to studying sections of it.  But it's been a while since I read it regularly, and I've found it difficult to get back into it.

During my break from YouTube, I listened to several episodes of The Word on Fire Show, a podcast by Bishop Robert Barron from Los Angeles.  He talks about books on occasion; I think I first stumbled across his talks on YouTube, possibly to do with Shūsaku Endō's The Silence (a book I have yet to read).  I'm not Catholic, and I don't agree with all of Barron's views, but of the episodes I've listened to, I've found the podcast to be interesting, educational, and well presented.

One of his older episodes is about "5 Ways to Pray Better Today."  In it, he talks about lectio divina, a method of prayer and Bible reading traditionally used by Benedictine monks.  It's broken down into four steps (which I paraphrase from Wikipedia):
  1. Lectio (read) - Read a passage of Scripture.
  2. Meditatio (meditate) - Ponder over what you have read.
  3. Oratio (pray) - Speak to God.
  4. Contemplatio (contemplate) - A calm silence.  Bp. Barron describes this step as "contemplative listening to what God wants to tell you."
Coming from a Protestant background, I had never heard of lectio divina before.  I tried this for the first time the other night, reading John 17

John 17 is one of my favorite parts of the Bible and certainly one of the most beautiful passages of all literature.  Absorbing it slowly and with prayer brought me so much peace.  I think I will continue lectio divina as I re-read the New Testament.

Looking to the New Year

As planned, I've read at least 40 books this year.  Much of that was for my podcast, which I highly enjoyed while I had time to do it.  I still want to bring it back next year, though it's looking doubtful if I will have the energy for it.

I've shelved Flannery O'Connor's Complete Stories and Václav Havel's Open Letters for the time being.  Same with Hawthorne's Complete Tales and Sketches.  I love anthologies, but the best way to read them is at intervals, not all at once.  (I made the latter mistake with Kafka.)

Next year remains open.  How many books will I read?  I don't know if I want to set a goal.  Ideally I'd like to avoid reading several books at once, which is what happened this year.  Focusing on one book at a time and avoiding multi-tasking - these are going to help me get more out of my reading and enjoy life.