Reading Notes September 2018


We were on the road for almost two full weeks in September. And the first week was getting ready to go and the final week was recovering from the trip. I didn’t get much reading done at all.

Finished in September:

1. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

A fantasy novel that’s not so much a retelling of a fairy tale as a new story that weaves in elements from several traditional fairy tales into a something new and different. The primary theme is Rumplestiltskin, the miller’s daughter who turns straw into gold, but it’s not the only fairy tale theme that Novik is spinning. She also draws on Jewish folklore and Russian and Lithuanian. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, it was different than other fairy tale reworkings I’ve read.

I wrote further about it: here.

In Progress

1. The King’s Achievement by Robert Hugh Benson

A novel about the dissolution of the monasteries in the time of Henry VIII. Tells the story of two brothers, one who becomes a Benedictine monk on the very eve of the Visitation of the monasteries, the other is one of Cromwell’s assistants and spies who becomes one of the Visitors and is responsible for implementing the policies.

It’s not a comfortable book to read, but it’s quite good so far. A very different way of understanding a tumultuous time in history.

(This one’s free on Kindle, so if you have a Kindle, you have no excuse not to read it.)

2. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery

I picked this up at Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s the story of the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail straight through from Georgia to Maine. It’s also the story of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve read parts of it to the kids, but there are parts that aren’t kid friendly, Emma Gatewood had an abusive marriage and I don’t think the kids need to read about that, especially not in this context and in the way this author presents it.

3. Nella Last’s War edited by Richard Broad and Suzie Fleming

I can’t remember who mentioned this book, but I put it on my wish list and recently stumbled upon a copy. This genesis of the book was far more interesting than I thought. I knew it was the wartime diaries of a British housewife, a sort of everywoman. What I didn’t know was that the diaries were part of a greater project, called Mass Observation, set up by an anthropologist in the late 30s which recruited volunteer observers from all over the country to report on their daily life. In other words, it wasn’t just a casual diary, like Anne Frank’s. It was at attempt at something more deliberate, the journaling had an external motivation and an outward focus. It was meant to be read.

I’ve only read the first few entries, but it looks like it will be an interesting read. The editorial notes are very informative so far. I’ve already learned more about the preparations leading up to the war than I ever knew before.

4.Salt:A World History by Mark Kerlansky

A fascinating history of man’s complex relationship with simple salt. Kurlansky begins in ancient China and his story of salt’s origins are intertwined with the story of the beginning of civilization and plumbing and the use of natural gas. I wanted to read the first bit about China to the kids* because it was so much better than our history book and clear enough that a child could follow. Sadly, the book had to go back to the library.

*(Although Salt is not a kid-friendly book, unless you do’t mind navigating conversations about sex and prostitution, Kurlansky did publish a picture book based on it: The Story of Salt, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, which the kids enjoyed.)

5. St. Nicholas Owen:Priest Hole Maker by Tony Reynolds.

The story of the Elizabethan carpenter and martyr who traveled as a servant to a Jesuit priest and who made priest holes in great houses where priests could be hidden from the pursuivants. Not a lot is known about Owen, but this novel tells what is known and also provides a lot of context, telling about the various priests Owen knew and worked with. Reynolds studied architecture and got interested in Owen’s work partly through his studies.

6. Building the Benedict Option by Leah Libresco

Many of the basic ideas outlines in the first chapter is familiar to me from reading the Leah’s blog over the past few years. Which doesn’t mean that the book isn’t fresh material. It is, but the ideas are familiar. The focus is on the necessity of community and what small steps can be taken to achieve a Christian community where you are. I really liked the chapter about barriers to the Benedict Option because really they’re just barriers to living a Christian life. I look forward to finishing the book.

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