Reading Notes February 2017

Reading Notes February 2017


1. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

Could also be known as Death Takes a Holiday. There are moments in this one that I really love but I don’t follow the ending. Really, the whole thing with Azrael and the universe clock kind of makes me go: huh?

2. The Drover’s Road Collection by Joyce West

A perfect ending to the trilogy, a typical coming of age story ending in a happy match where our heroine chooses the perfect one of her suitors. I really am a sucker for these stories. I like Gay Allen as a protagonist. She isn’t overly bookish like Anne or Calpurnia, the books I’m reading with the kids, she’s a girl who loves horses and taking care of sheep. She’s got a good heart, tries to do the right thing, isn’t afraid of hard work. It was fun getting to explore a little corner of New Zealand

3. Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill by Maud Hart Lovelace

Reading with a group book group of sorts. I read half of this volume with Bella several years ago but she found it distressing and so we dropped it. I never finished it, being busy at the time, I guess. One thing drives out another. So this was my first complete read through. Too bad Bella doesn’t like stories with sibling rivalry and conflict (yes, it does get resolved in a good way, but the tension until it does, the fact that its there at all, bothers her.) too bad because last part of the book has some fine moments that I think Bella would like: the crowning of Naifi, the letter from Spain, the emeer. Most of all the pondering of what it means to be an American, about royalty and democracy.

4. Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Someone has offed the Hogfather, Discworld’s answer to Father Christmas, so Death takes over the role while his granddaughter Susan tries to find out what has happened. Meanwhile the wizards are beset with too much belief in the vacuum left by the Hogfather’s absence and new minor household gods keep popping into existence. Some very interesting meditations on the necessity of belief and man as a mythopoetic creature.

5. Soul Music by Terry Pratchett.

In which a new form of music invaded the Discworld, Music with Rocks In. Also, Death takes yet another holiday and his granddaughter Susan finds herself unwillingly taking his place. She spares the life of a musician who then becomes the conduit for this new music, aided by a magic guitar. Lots of funny plays on words and names, riffing on the history of Rock music. But the plot is kind of slow and rather drags in places. Susan and Death are the best parts of the book. Much of it feels rather strained.

6. Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

A coming of age novel by the author of the Betsy-Tacy series. The book begins as Emily is graduating from high school. Unlike all her friends, she is not setting off for college because she’s an orphan who lives alone with her elderly grandfather who needs her. At first Emily drifts, not ready to let go of high school, not sure what to do with her life. But eventually she “musters her wits” and begins to find a direction. First, self-improvement: dancing lessons, music lessons, a book club, new clothes, new friends. And eventually she finds a need to fulfill: helping the Syrian community to integrate and become citizens. She begins with a few children and then befriends their mothers and begins to teach them English. Eventually she organizes a push to have language and citizenship classes at the high school when the group gets too big to meet in her parlor. Along the way Emily lets go of her attachment to the caddish Don and finds a new love interest who shares her concern for the Syrians. It’s a sweet book, right there with the later Anne books and Little Women.

In Progress

1. Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

This re-read is taking backseat to all the other books, but I’m still reading at least a chapter a week. Still gathering my thoughts. Still thinking this is not going to be one of my favorite Kay novels. Alas.

2. Omeros by Derek Walcott

Still ticking away, steadily. Still stunned by how beautiful this poem is.

3. The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel Boorstin

Less than a hundred pages left, the end is in sight. And I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it. This has been an excellent book. I got bogged down in the natural science section but I’m back to the history of the idea of history and am loving all the meaty ideas to chew on.

4. The Village that Died for England by Patrick Wright

A strange story, I’m only a chapter in and so far I have no idea where the author is going. I feel like there’s a subtext, an agenda, that I just don’t get not being British.

5. John Adams by David McCullough

So far most excellent. McCullough is a great storyteller and obviously loves his subject. He looks on Adams with affection and admiration and that shines through.

6. The Mass in Slow Motion by Ronald Knox

How I wish this were about the new Mass instead of the old (the extraordinary form). It’s so witty and clever and has wonderful flashes of insight. And is so painfully dated in many ways.

7. The Mass Explained to Children by Maria Montessori

This is a brilliant book. Like the Knox, though, it’s painfully outdated and only marginally helpful for a family that doesn’t attend the extraordinary form of the Mass. I have a dream of someone writing a similar book for the current Mass and yet realize what a daunting prospect that is. It’s not just that the prayers of the Mass have changed. It’s the vestments, the cultural context, so very much different. And yet, how clearly and lucidly Montessori writes and how much I wish this book could be read as-is to my children. And yet it’s too much of a historical artifact unless you’re a family who attends the traditional Latin Mass. There is such a need, though, for this kind of book.

Six books completed this month to last month’s one. Definitely an improvement. All six finished books were light reading, either fantasy or juvenile novels. The heavier reading just progresses at such a slow pace. And yet if I fill up on too much light reading, I don’t spend enough time on the heavier stuff that I do want to make time for. Finding balance. It’s all about balance.

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  • It’s not a book that you can hand to a child, but the Mass Explained to Children happens in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, over a period of many years. I think you might be interested in the History of the Kingdom of God, by Sofia Cavalletti, particularly part 2. I absolutely agree on the need, and I am so grateful for the atrium at my parish.

    • Is History of the Kingdom of God the same thing as History’s Golden Thread? I have that one on my shelf though i haven’t read it.

      I’m still miffed that there isn’t an atrium close to me and that CGS materials are so hard to obtain and the method as it is currently formulated is so hard to implement in a homeschool environment. I’d love to see some innovative and creative educators rethink it from the ground up as a low cost, low materials, more improvisational and less rigid program for homeschoolers. I wish I had the mental bandwidth and talent to tackle the problem of how to make it more something my kind of personality can access. It really seems to appeal to a certain type of person who is good at structure, but for the more unschoolish of us, it’s not a good fit, but I think that’s more about how its written and not inherent to the pedagogy if only I could untangle it.

      • HKG part 1 is the revision of History’s Golden Thread. HKG part 2 is the revision of Living Liturgy. Or so I understand it. I did my CGS training as HKG was coming out, so I never saw the old books.

        It’s not just CGS that’s hard to implement in the home, it’s Montessori. I did some Montessori at home with my oldest, but by the next one was three, I had infant twins, so I’ve mostly given up on Montessori at home. Given up on the method, that is, not the philosophy. There are SO many materials, and they are SO expensive and the use of them is SO technical and the home is just not a controlled enough environment unless you have a dedicated school room and school time. We are too unschooly for that also.

        Anyhow, I am very grateful that I can lean on my parish atrium and do the unschooly thing at home. It’s not just happenstance that my parish has an atrium – I was one of the ones involved at the beginning of it (and now). I’m also interested in the untangling of CGS for home use, but I’m not sure how much can be done without the materials, especially in the early years.

        • I know the Missionaries of Charity in Boston do a CGS based catechesis and I’ve always been curious, given their poverty and emphasis on minimalism as to how they do it. Do they have all the materials made or donated or do they do a stripped down version that is not as focused on the materials?

          For example, do the materials have to be wooden? I know it’s the ideal, but would a paper doll version of the Good Shepherd and sheep and sheepfold be better than not doing CGS at all? And would it be possible to do catechist training via a webinar format or an online small form discussion group? I know the ideal is meeting face to face, but are we letting the perfect be the enemy of the good?

          • The Missionaries of Charity do CGS all over the world, including in India. There’s a formation leader in my area who no longer does local training courses because she spends so much time in India. The ideal is that the materials are hand-made by the catechists. I think that the MoC put a priority on the making of the materials by the Sisters – the materials aren’t so expensive if all you need are the raw materials. And once they are made they are made. For other low-income atria with lay catechists, the community often makes the materials.

            The MoC emphasize a beautiful atrium with beautiful materials because this might be the only beauty these children see.

            A paper doll version of the good shepherd would probably work, but not of the cenacle (Last Supper). The figures for the parables are in 2-D, but for historical events they are 3-D. For home use, sure, use paper, but for a parish atrium, there’s usually somebody in the community with the skill to cut a shepherd and sheep out of wood, and it’s important that the building of an atrium is a community activity, not a solo activity.

            There’s something very inspiring as a catechist starting a new atrium to spend time in an actual, physical atrium, and handle the actual, physical materials. Again, for a home catechist, a webinar may work, but for someone starting a parish atrium, doing the training in person would be worthwhile.

            There is a lot in level 2 and 3 (ages 6-9 and 9-12) that doesn’t use physical materials, it’s just guided discussion of scripture. We have a prayer table in our home that we use in a similar way to what I do in the atrium. Some materials can be found inexpensively at thrift stores. The physical materials are really important to the Level 1 (ages 3-6) child, and I don’t think there’s a way around that :/

            My DRE is on the national board. I’ll prod her too and keep pondering these things.

            Have you asked your parish about CGS? That’s how it started here. Apparently our brand new DRE got four emails about CGS in one week and decided to look into it. Mine was one of the four – I found her email address in the bulletin, screwed up my courage and sent it. I’m so glad I did. That was seven years ago.

            If your parish isn’t interested, I’m so sorry. I really wish all children had this opportunity. I can understand the objections to CGS, but they all seem to be rooted in fear of change and a lack of trust in God’s providence. The power of a whole generation raised in CGS would be amazing. Our youth ministers are giddy about this class of kids coming out of the atrium in a few years, positively giddy. It’s given me hope for the first time about what my kids could have as a youth ministry experience.

  • I love The Discoverers. The history of natural science is such a great way to encounter it. I have often thought that it might make a good two-semester college course for non-science majors.