February Book Notes

February Book Notes

I find that February has been a rather lackluster month I haven’t even done a bare minimum of one book a week. True, it is a short month. Also true: I spent almost one week of it in hospital in a drug-induced, baby-drunk stupor. It really is almost impossible to make much progress on book reading while in hospital, much easier to catch up on blog reading, because the tray table holds the computer while I hold the baby and I can advance pages with one wave or click of the finger (there isn’t a device which similarly holds a book at the proper angle while allowing you to turn pages one handed).

I’ve been continuing to juggle several books, had a hard time committing to any one. Some of the books I hadn’t finished at the end of January are sadly still unfinished at the end of February. I may just write some of them off as a lost cause. Much as I hate to give up on any book, I’m also realizing that my reading time is a premium and I’d rather not waste it slogging through a book just because I’ve started it and am feeling stubborn.

Finished in February:

1. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

I listed this as in progress at the end of January. I actually finished it. Hooray!

I think I heard about this one from Jen Ambrose? I put it on my library hold list on impulse and forgot about it. When I picked it up I wasn’t sure I really wanted to read it. But this was the one book I couldn’t put down. I stopped juggling my pile of books and read it exclusively until I was finished.

I opened it up one evening thinking I should at least give it a glance. It had me at the first page. I realized I know next to nothing about Korea and my curiosity got me into the first chapter. But Demick’s compelling storytelling has kept me reading to the end.

Demick’s narrative follows six people who defected from North Korea to the South and weaves in history, politics and economics with their individual stories to give a picture of what life i like in one North Korean city. The narrative is based on extensive interviews not only with her six subjects but with a wide variety of North Korean defectors. The level of detail and the narrative style make this book feel very novelistic at times, a big attraction to someone like me who generally prefers fiction to non-fiction. Some of the portraits are more complete than others; but all are fascinating stories set against the backdrop of the terrible famine caused by North Korea’s self-destructive economic policies. There is the kindergarten teacher who watches as her children die one by one and feels guilty about having enough to eat even while she makes no move to share with her starving pupils. There is the young dating couple, each dreaming of defecting but with no idea that the other feels the same way because neither dares to trust the other. The middle aged woman who is completely loyal to the party even after starvation drives her to black marketeering just to keep herself and her family alive.

The title of this book seemed strange to me at first. Turns out it comes from a song sung by school children in North Korea. The irony of the song idealizing life in North Korea under Kim Jung-Il, sung by a little boy in rags who is starving, drives one young man over the edge to defection: �Our father is here / we have nothing to envy in this world�

2. The Winds of Marble Arch by Connie Willis

I wrote about it here. This is a nice fat volume and in addition to short stories contains several novellas, so in terms of length, I suppose I could count it as two or three books; but that feels a bit like cheating.

3. A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep by Rumer Godden

This is the first volume of Rumer Godden’s autobiography. Godden is one of my favorite storytellers and she writes her own story with as much grace and poise as she does any of her novels. The bookcontains many excerpts from Godden’s letters and some from her fiction as well. It is loosely organized around Godden’s novels, at times as much an account of her writing as her personal life. But the two are really so intertwined one could hardly separate them. As many of her novels are highly autobiographical, much of it is familiar to me. I’m finding that as I read it’s very much a winnowing process, this book sorts out the facts of the fictional versions I’ve already encountered and adds context to the smaller snippets of Godden’s life which have made their way into her novels.

Reading Notes:

  • Amazing how much of her life was spent shuttling back and forth between India and England. I can’t find the figure now but I think she says there were upwards of thirty trips both by sea dn by plane.

  • In seeing the extent to which they are autobiographical has given me new appreciation for her Indian novels. Makes me want to read more of them.

  • Godden taught dance and opened her own school in Calcutta.

  • Godden had a cottage business selling herbal teas and medicinals.

  • Homeschooling mothers, especially Charlotte Mason devotees, will be interested to note that during the war years when she lived with her children in Kashmir, Godden homeschooled them with the help of another family and various friends and that she belonged to the PNEU. Of the materials that they sent out each month, she says they were not only a good help but a lifeline. Godden outlines a bit of the CM method.

I really want to track down a copy of the second volume of her autobiography, A House With Four Rooms.


In Progress:

1. Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog…) by Jerome K. Jerome

I still haven’t finished this. Somehow it got pushed to the back burner and I lost momentum. It’s really the kind of book that’s best read all in one go and is hard to pick up and put down at intervals.


2. The Liars’ Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr

I read the second two volumes of Karr’s memoir, Lit and Cherry, last year. I really want to read this first volume and what I’ve read so far is just as good as Lit. But it is a bit dark and bleak and from reading the other two, I know it’s not really going to pick up and have much redemption. That comes in Lit. I’m just not quite in the mood right now but I’ve been putting off returning it because I’m not likely to check it out again. Still, the due date is past and I think this may go back to the library unfinished.

3. Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching

This is a collection of essays that address the question of feminism and the Church and the conflicts of ideologies, especially the perception that the Church’s position is anti-woman.

This collection is edited by Erika Bachiochi (who happens to be a friend of Dom�s brother, John, and his wife. I�ve met her at a few of their parties.) She was born to a family who were nominally Catholic but not at all living the Church�s teachings about sexuality and marriage. As a young woman she rejected the Church and became a radical feminist. Later, she had a change of heart and returned to the Church and embraced Catholic teachings about sexuality and marriage. She now writes and speaks eloquently about her experiences.

Her first book was a collection of essays about abortion called The Cost of Choice: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion. In both that first book and in her essay on abortion in this second book, Erika argues that an authentic feminism is pro-life because abortion hurts women. She is a Catholic woman who is not ashamed to claim the feminist label and who clearly articulates how the authentic Catholic position is really pro-woman.

I’ve only read the introduction and first essay; but I plan to write a much onger blog post as I work my way through this book. It is a rich feast and deserves more than some hastily tossed off book notes.

In the meantime, see Jennifer’s review at As Cozy As Spring.

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  • My two oldest will be kindergarten age this year.  In our state, school is not compulsory until age 6 (first grade), so I won’t be registered with our district this year, but it still feels as though this is the year we start what I hope will be a long, blessed, and wonder-filled journey.  We’ll be starting in a very informal way over the next couple years, but it’s still hard to think of how to arrange our very short and basic studies into our very busy days.  I am looking forward to the challenge, though, and I look forward to reading about your journey’s beginnings as well!

  • The pictures of you and the baby are wonderful; you look so happy.
    My husband and I used to live near where you live but we moved when our first child was a toddler. I didn’t realize that kindergarten (or formal homeschooling) was mandatory there. I have to admit that I am glad we live now in a state where children do not have to go to school until they are eight (or even close to nine depending on the month of their birth). 
    You do so many homeschool type activities with your girls now that even on days when you cannot get to your formal lesson plan, all the reading and art and “nature study” that you do surely counts.

  • That first picture is just fabulous—I could look at Anthony smiling all day. 

    You sound like you’re already well on your way with homeschool planning, and I just wanted to offer a word of encouragement there.  We’re almost four years into homeschooling, and I bitterly regret now that I didn’t make some kind of formal arrangements for my day back at the beginning.  I’ve always resisted scheduling and having a routine, and it’s come back to bite me now that my kids are old enough to feel like they’re being punished when I whip out one more subject.  We’re going to start implementing a daily schedule here, but I wish I’d started that ages ago.  Part of the problem is that for the longest time I parented as an older sibling—making sure things kept running, keeping order of a sort, but not throwing myself into the role of Parent qua Parent. 

    Anyway, you’re on the right track!

  • hope,

    I’m actually a bit confused on that point. It seems that kindergarten is not mandatory.  I thought I remembered that one of the homeschooling association websites I checked said it is mandatory to report to the local school district that one is homeschooling in the calendar year in which your child turns 5. But now that I go back to double check I’m seeing 6 as the age.

    Still, I think it will be good for us to go ahead and start trying to schedule some school time into our week now. Bella certainly is interested in school.

    Mrs D.

    Thanks for the encouragement! Schedule and routine have been my bugbears since Bella was born. At that time Dom was working from home and I wasn’t working at all and we had nothing resembling a schedule or routine. Is it any wonder the poor baby never slept? Implementing something like order in our home has been my great chore as a mother. I know children need predictability and yet I am so very bad at it.

    Knowing it is my weakness is the biggest impetus to start having some kind of routine from the get go it’s as much for me as for them. I know once I’ve got four (or more!) children all doing school we’ll desperately need some kind of order in our school days. Might as well start simple with 45 minutes to an hour a day now and build up, adding on as they grow so that it’s an organic process. Hopefully having a school schedule will also help me regulate other aspects of our lives.