1. Lessons at Blackberry Inn: Adventures with the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola
This novel is the sequel to Andreola’s Pocketful of Pinecones, which I received for my birthday last year but i don’t think I ever wrote a review..
This is the continuing story of a Carol, a homeschooling mother in the 1930’s. In Lessons at Blackberry Inn the family are living with Emma, a friend and grandmother figure, in her house, which is also an Inn. The family have various adventures that show learning both in formal lessons and life learning such as their hard work helping to run the inn, and their encounter with a hobo who they befriend, helping him to find meaningful work and seeking to reconnect him with his family. Carol substitutes for the village schoolteacher, applying Charlotte Mason’s methods to her lessons, showing how the same educational principles can be adapted to different sized groups, different situations, and different learners.
Although this novel might not be high literature, it was motivational. I enjoyed it for the same reasons I enjoy reading homeschooling blogs. I like to see how educational principles are carried out in daily life.
2. The Pope & The CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard by Andreas Widmer
This book is above all a portrait of two fascinating men: our beloved former pope, Blessed John Paul II and Andreas Widmer, a former Swiss Guard who came to know JPII during his time of service and who later applied the lessons he had learned from observing and interacting with the pope to his business life as a CEO and entrepreneur.
This book is first and foremost about Andreas’ spiritual journey, secondarily about how he sees those spiritual lessons applying to best business practices. I think it will be an inspirational read for everyone, not just guide for people in business but for anyone in leadership and more broadly for all Christians. I hope to follow up once I’m finished with a separate post highlighting some of my favorite parts of the book.
3. Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope by Amy Welborn
I forgot to note at first that I have a review copy of this book. Amazon says that it won’t be available until February. Bt if you pre-order from them they’ll ship it to you as soon as it’s released.
I feel like nothing I can say will do justice to this book. It is so intense so personal, so that at times—most of the time—it feels like eavesdropping. But it is beautiful, a treasure I am so profoundly grateful that Amy was wiling to share this journey with us.
The book is very easy to pick up and put down, which is good because it’s a book I want to nibble at rather than gulp. To swallow it all too quickly, to wolf it down as is too often my wont, would be a terrible shame. This is a journey to savor slowly. Partly because sometimes, sometimes it’s a little bitter. Mostly, though, because it is so beautiful and rich.
The short sections, each one like a cut facet on a gem, sharp and focused, jump back and forth. Now you are in Sicily, now on the other side of the Atlantic back at home. Now you are in the “present” on a curious journey through an ancient land, full of sun and shadow, sparkling ocean, vivid architecture, curiosities and personalities at every turn. Now you are wandering through the halls of grief, startled to find death just over your shoulder. Faith is everywhere, elusive, beguiling, always the end of the journey, glimpsed at every turn.
I’m trying not to be all gushy and fangirl about Wish You Were Here. Amy’s was one of the first ever blogs I read and I’ve always felt she was sort of a kindred spirit. And I remember reading what she wrote at the time of Michael’s death and her blog posts about Sicily so I sort of feel like I’m approaching the book with a very strong predisposition to love it. And maybe there are funny echoes in it for me in that I’ve never really wanted to go to Sicily very much until I married a man who is half Sicilian and then we discussed it as our dream honeymoon but couldn’t actually afford to go. So there is that layer of the emotions from my own marriage weaving throughout.
All that said, I do think its a magical (I’ve not read Didion’s book; but I can already tell you this is completely different) sort of mash up of travel memoir and a very Catholic exploration of grief. She does both genres so well but the way she slips seamlessly from one to the other is sort of breathtaking. (See, I’m gushing.) Just to do a reality check I read a chapter to my sister this evening while we were making dinner. Oh even better than I thought. The prose is lyrical but down to earth. The imagery doesn’t beat you over the head but somehow the details of every tourist stop are marshaled so that you are constantly staring death in the face. Most of all what strikes me is how faith informs everything. It doesn’t make death and grief easy, doesn’t make it go away. Just that it is the medium in which they happen.
I’m still reading, still trying to get a handle on it. Hopefully a fuller review will follow. But I won’t make any promises because, well, life happens.
4. Trees of New England: A Natural History by Charles Fergus
This is not a guide book to trees but is meant to be a companion to a guidebook. It picks up where a guidebook leaves off. Once you have identified a tree, a guidebook might have some little additional information. Fergus, on the other hand, is a treasure trove of knowledge. His natural history explains where the tree grows, describes its life cycle in detail, from flower to seed to seedling to full growth. He details the various uses each tree has for animals and birds and insects as well as for man. You get a historical sense of how a tree’s range has changed due to human influence, how it has been used at various times in history. Native American uses, colonial uses, modern uses, and so forth.
This would definitely fall into Charlotte Mason’s category of “living books”, a narrative by a single author whose writing clearly conveys his passion for his subject. Fergus, who lives in a farmhouse in Vermont on 108 acres of mostly forested land, clearly loves his subject. He doesn’t stick to science and history, his appreciation for his subject leads him to poetic descriptions as he ponders the beauty of a tree as well as its usefulness.
For example, I’ve been reading up on the various species of maples. This passage in particular from the section where he discusses human uses for red maple caught my eye and seems worthy of note:
A craftsman friend of mine builds award winning rocking chairs. He makes the frame, rockers, armrests, headboard, and seat out of red maple, which he buys from mills under the designation soft maple (as opposed to hard maple, which is sugar maple). He shaves the back-cushioning ribs from black walnut. The contrast between the two woods is stunning: the walnut a deep, lustrous brown, the maple pale gold to nearly bone white. My friend picks through boards to find ones with a tiger-striped grain pattern. I see such figuring from time to time in red maple I split for the woodstove; usually I set those billets aside to enjoy for a while, picking them up and turning the wood back and forth to catch the light, so that the grain winks light and dark like flames dancing.
I checked this book out from the library after stumbling across the title while looking for something else on Amazon. It’s definitely one I will add to our home library. While it’s not really a book I’d read from cover to cover, it’s one I want to have on hand to browse, to read to the children when we discover new species or want to deepen our knowledge of familiar friends.
5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
I picked this up from the library because it was highly recommended by Emily of Back Bay View. My initial impression was not highly favorable. I didn’t like the device of having Death as the narrator and I didn’t very much like the text layout, interrupted with frequent headline news flashes in bold type. By the end of the book I’d accepted that Death was the narrator that the story demanded. It wasn’t a gimmick after all and it worked. Mostly. I still don’t like the odd typographical layout stuff, though it seemed less intrusive as I got further into the story.
Emily wrote a nice synopsis so I won’t bother to repeat it. No novel about the holocaust can be happy and feel good. When Death is the narrator you pretty much know where you are going to end up. But what’s interesting is the way you get there I suppose. Perhaps I could make some connections between this and Amy’s book. Both exploring death and beauty, love and loss and regret and the connections that last after death has pulled us apart.
But I’m too tired to do the book justice. And I don’t want to drag out posting this. I may come back with more thoughts later. Or I may not. I seem to be saying that about all of the books I read these days. It is so much easier to just read than it is to read and then digest it and synthesize what I’ve read in a coherent way. My brain feels rusty these days.