25 Mar 2013

What we're reading in March

It's been a while since we've had a chat about reading, isn't it? Have you been doing any? I haven't been doing very much - which is very unlike me. It's a good job I read with the family, I guess, or this would be a very short post indeed. Do you have periods when you don't read as much as normal for no particular reason? Maybe it's just me. Dunno.

The photo above is of our book bag. As you know, these are the books we read in the car as a family. Of all the reading aloud I do, this is my favourite. As you can see, it's an eclectic collection, as usual!
We've been reading Rob Roy for a couple of months. I can't wait until we actually get into Scotland where all the excitement and adventure happens, but we're sort of plodding with this one so far. It's a pleasure to read its fine literary language, though - it is easy to see why it's a classic.

God's Smuggler is the book that first kindled my yearning to visit Asia. I used to fantasise about smuggling Bibles across borders. Did you? Possibly if you're of a...ahem...certain age you'll answer yes, because this was an immensely popular book in Christian circles when I was in my teens. This book is my old copy. I get great satisfaction reading the books of my youth to my daughter. This and Rob Roy are AO6 free reads.

From Billabong to London is next, the fourth in the Mary Grant Bruce Billabong series. In this book WWI has just been declared, and the family travels to London for Jim and Wally to enlist (among other things). It was published in 1914, and it is interesting reading a book about the war that would have been written before armistice. What can I say? All Billabong books are wonderful, and this is no exception. We're taking bets over the identity if the mysterious light signaller. Is it really as blatantly obvious as it seems?

Jemimah has been desperate to begin The Swiss Family Robinson. I think she imagines it as a sequel to Robinson Crusoe, and she adored that book. I hope she isn't expecting a Disney version - our lovely old edition is very long and has very little print, 7 or 8 pt, I would think. We are just about to start, so I'll let you know what we think next time. We'll still be going. What do you know about translations of this book? Ours has beautiful language, but it doesn't tell me who the translator was or when it was published.  Before the turn of the century, I would think. It was published by Collins.

A Wizard of Earthsea, another novel from my misspent youth. At first I wondered whether I would have an issue with this title as I did with A Wrinkle in Time. It is possible, I think. Le Guin's was a Taoist, not a Christian, so the book is written with a worldview not our own. It is beautifully written, slow and languid and gentle. It is a pleasure to read aloud.

Then you get to the Taoist bits:
Ged reached out his hands, dropping his staff, and took hold of his shadow, of the black self that reached out to him. Light and darkness met, and joined, and were one.
Not the idea of good and evil in a person is not a new one to a Christian, but this idea of good and evil coexisting amicably probably is. Then there is this bit:

"It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man's hand and the wisdom in a tree's root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name."
Ged, the main protagonist, is basically saying there is no God here, isn't he?

When we get to these paragraphs we will discuss them. I'll let you know how that goes. I think I have less issue with this book than Wrinkle because it isn't quasi-Christian. That, IMHO is much more dangerous. I am not personally against a book that comes from a different worldview than mine provided it leads to useful discussion. I'm hoping Wizard will do just that.

So far we're tentatively liking it..

Right. That's the book bag. Moving on to personal reading, Jemimah's been reading the fabulous Bottersnikes and Gumbles Series. We read the first book a couple of years ago, and she reread it before moving onto the next two. Currently she's half way through Gumbles in Summer. There's a fourth book, but I haven't found that one yet.

Australian and don't know who the Bottersnikes and Gumbles are? Shame on you.

The cute ones are Gumbles; the scaly ugly one's a Bottersnike. Boo hiss. You've gotta read these books. You've just gotta.

Jemimah also has a few other books on the go - the Newbery, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor is her AO6 free read, and is our Newbery Challenge book at the same time. It is not an easy story, telling the story of racism in America during the Great Depression, but she talks about it a lot, and is glad to know more about this important issue.

On a lighter note she's reading Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries. As a warning, there is much more mature content in the book than the delightful Disney movies, and I'm thinking I should probably not allow her to read any more of the series. If any of you have read these books ( I haven't) what do you think?

Daddy is reading William McInnes's latest novel, The Laughing Clowns, and says that it is good.  He's a one book at a time kinda guy. How odd.

I'm reading a few things. The first is The Annotated Double Helix.  It's sort of a novelisation of the discovery of DNA as seen by James Watson himself, and as a geneticist by training, I am finding it enthralling. I am considering reading it aloud to the fam, but am not far enough through yet to judge suitability. Just fascinating.

My last book club read was Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. This is a beautiful historical, strong in Christian faith and rich in history, it is based upon the remarkable but true account of Caleb, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in 1665. He was converted at about 12, then mastered English, then Latin and Hebrew and Greek. He attended Harvard and studied to be a minister with the finest Puritan youths of his time. All this is true; the rest of the book is mostly fiction. I loved it. Read an excerpt I found interesting, and watch the book trailer here. I have a new book club book for next month, but I haven't started it yet.

I'm drooling over my next book - it is possibly the most sublime cookery book I have ever owned. Entitled Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, it's filled with Japanese food that is simply prepared and yet looks and tastes wonderful. American born Nancy lives in Saitama Prefecture in Japan with her farmer husband, Tadaaki. She and her family eat what their farm yields, cooking and eating simple fresh Japanese food and preparing it the way it was done in time gone by. I love the way Nancy gives you a recipe using a certain vegetable, and then tells you which others you can use as alternatives. There are lots of new ways for me to cook up our bounteous harvest of zucchini, pumpkin and cucumbers, for example. So far this book has been something to dream over in bed, but I have lots of recipes I'm keen to try. I'll take photos.

Apart from all this, it is possibly the most beautiful cookery book I've ever seen. Take a look.

My final read is Salman Khan's book about Khan Academy and his goals for education, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. I've found it very interesting.  Have you read it?

Okay, I'm almost done now. I'm reading Deuteronomy in private devotions, and we're reading J Douglas Macmillan's wonderful expository devotional on Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd, during family devotions after dinner. If you haven't read this book then all I can say is that you should. It is one of my very, very favourite books.

Our bedtime read aloud is The Endless Steppe by Ester Hautzig. This book has possibly the most gripping opening scene I've read for a long time. It's the true story of Hautzig's exile with her family to Siberia during World War II, and it is a well written and incredibly moving account of a side to WWII that o know little about.

The Hobbit for school. Illustrated by Alan Lee. Perfect.

Maybe I've been reading more than I thought. Odd.

The End.


  1. Yep, I'd definitely say you've been reading lots. Just read Empty Cradles (Oranges and Sunshine) by Margaret Humphreys, all about child migrants to Australia, horrific!! (wrote more in latest 7 quick takes) now reading 'An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson, Josephine Tey is the main character:)
    Love reading your list, I have read an old version of SFRobinson, loved it!

  2. How fascinating.I loved the Earthsea books as a child & never picked up on the Taoist thing. However your 2nd quote struck me as completely Christian.In the beginning was the word... Probably just the strange way my mind works.

    From Billabong to London is probably one of my least favourite of the Billabong books. I find the history fascinating but the period distressing.

    And That book on the 23rd Psalm is one I lend all over the place. Absolutely brilliant & I reread it regularly. I regularly find his insights on sheep come out when I'm preaching just because he sooo knew what he was talking about.

  3. Hmmm, maybe I need more of the quote in context. I'll look.

    I am finding it interesting rereading books like this and Wrinkle as a mother reading to a daughter. I am far more discerning this time around.

    I still like the stories, but I prefer alternative world views to be blatantly obvious. I don't like murky, y'know? The version of Arabian Nights that we finished recently was openly Islamic. It didn't worry me nearly as much as these two sort of New Age-ish books have.

  4. Ah well, perhaps that's why I tend to like so much fantasy. It's blatantly pagan & I so don't go there *for real*.

    Perhaps it's more a question of what the mind hits on than what is actually in the books? The overall impression Wrinkle leaves with me is *Perfect love casts out fear.* Love seemed to me to be the dominant theme ~ & I have reread the book several times as an adult. The more dubious themes seem to my mind unimportant overall. However I am usually out of step with other Christians on this issue. ☺

  5. You are reading a plethora of books! How many of those books are a part of AO6? I have been thinking about blogging about what we are reading too soon!

  6. So glad Jemimah is enjoying Bottersnikes! AND Swiss Family Robinson is one of my all time favourites. I remember being disappointed in the movie when we were taken to see it at the drive-in. It was my first experience of the license directors/screen writers can take with a book.

  7. I remember Swiss Family as a hard read aloud. I also love The Lord is Shepherd. Most of the others IS haven't read. I am in a slow reading period after the bliss of the long holidays.

  8. We finished Swiss Family Robinson recently as a family and the children loved it even though it was different than the Disney movie. They've also just finished Anne of Green Gables, The Burgess Animal Book, and about 19 f Beatrix Potter's stories.

    Current read alouds: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and we're starting The Hobbit today.

    Current Personal Reading:
    11yo - Just finished the Inheritance Cycle by Paolini. Started Dragon Song as well as The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang.

    8yo - Nearly finished with Amazing Magnetism (A Magic School Bus Chapter Book).

    7yo - Reading Kaya's Hero.

    5yo, 4yo, 2yo, and 1yo - Listening to anything anyone will read to them, plus 5yo reads on his own for fun.

    We're also working through our month long study of the Life of Christ for Easter, down to the last week. It has been wonderful.

  9. Oh, how delicious, Tristan. Thanks for writing all that! I love reading about books!

  10. That's a lot of reading! I simply must get our books together in one spot and get on with it now that we will need lots of down time for my sweet girl!

  11. I think it is good to let her read some things outside the comfort zone. Note I did not say "leave her alone to read things outside...." She IS growing up and I believe (you and your husband are free to disagree entirely!! :) )that she must question to strengthen her faith. The Bible is clear that train up a child and that IS the truth. I read Gone with the Wind and the Winds of War at 12--both had what today is called "adult content" (sex) as well as moral dilemnas of other sorts. They helped me grow up--my Mom and Dad both discussed things with me. My d read Princess Diaries 1 and 2 but preferred the movie and didn't read more. (You know she isn't much of a reader!) I would not say anything much--a little taste of something more grown up may convince her she isn't ready for it and may also illustrate your lessons on "twaddle" or "vulgar" too!!

    Swiss Family Robinson is so worth it!! I started it in the dumbed-down Scholastic version my mother had read to my brother in the 60s, then found a much better, old translation, and started it over. While I enjoyed both the older was by far the better. For a reluctant reader the newer DID convery the essence of the story, but left out more than just much of the faith of the family.

  12. Now for the grown up books! Would love to see the Japanese Farm Food book. And, I totally agree with Endless Steppe!!!

  13. Bottersnikes and Gumbles was a read aloud during our lunch break back when I was at school (a thousand years ago). We had the most lovely 5th grade teacher who would read the most fabulous books (Let the balloon go, My side of the Mountain, etc) whilst we ate our lunch. I bought it for my girls a few years back because I remembered it with such fondness.

    Re the Princess Diaries I hired the audio series from the junior section at the library to put on in the car and was horrified when I heard it. My girls were only about 5 and 7 at the time so it was quickly ejected. I took it back and complained that it should have a warning on it that it was more suited to teens, etc. Not in the kids section amongst the audios of the Wiggles, etc. To their credit it wasn't there next time I went back.

  14. Yes, I bought the book when Jemimah was about 7, and realised the same thing. She is now 11, so I let her read it, but we've now had a chat about why we won't be reading more.

  15. I am so glad that you are reading Esther Hautzig. I first read The Endless Steppe as a set book as a young teenager. It really got under my skin and still haunts me today. I have since travelled to Siberia and named my son, "Solomon". I hope you enjoy it as much.


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