Thursday, October 4, 2012

What I've Been Reading: September 2012

 This is a sort of Seven Quick Takes, since it is seven, and coming out just before Friday.

I spent most of the summer reading free kindle books by PG Wodehouse and H. Beam Piper and though it was fun, it didn't give me much to update about.  Who knew that Wodehouse had written so many stories of British public school life where cricket games are a central motif?   I wish he had written more!

But now that summer's over, I'm on to reading more seriously, or something.  Mostly something.  So I thought I would list some of my September reading just in case it interests you readers:


Strange Gods Before Me by Mother Mary Francis
I came to read this one by a rather indirect route.   This summer I started following a blog called The Cloistered Heart.   This blog mentioned a book called A Right to Be Merry by Mother Mary Francis, a Poor Clare nun.    Well, my library system did not have that book but it did have this other one.   Very insightful book -- the title refers to the Commandment "Thou shall not have strange gods before me" -- but Mother Mary Francis's take on the "strange gods" is refreshing when one has already read way too many conversative jeremiads against modern popular culture and technology and media.  Sure, those things can be a problem, but the real problems come from inside.   Distanced from pop culture and technology by her vocation, Mother Mary Francis brings gods like "hyperopia" and "surface" and "neuroticism" into the light (where they blink unhappily and try to escape with as much dignity as possible) and diagrams their appearances amusingly and thoughtfully.   I really like this author, and I like getting to see inside a contemplative monastery, where the sisters (back in the 60's at least) lived with bare feet and kissed the ground when they had made a loud disruptive noise, say, by dropping a plate.


Another recent library book:   The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings.   In this book, Quinn talks about her experiences with her first year homeschooling her daughter.    This book is NOT a how-to and for that reason I found it refreshing.   It's a combination of personal experience and stealth investigatioin in the style of two books I read last year: Buzz:  A Year of Paying Attention
and  Helping Me Help Myself.   This kind of book is fun and if you have a combination of  a clever, funny writer like Quinn Cummings and a high-interest subject like homeschooling (and associated angst) then you have a very readable book.  And then to see the inside workings of a Gotthard Institute conference and a Radical Unschooling conference, even on a detached-observer basis, is a bonus.  My husband read it, too.  He sat out on our deck with his coffee and read one Sunday.  I don't think he's ever read a homeschooling book before.


The third library book of note is The Power of Habit.    This was a library borrow, too, courtesy of the new Kindle library program.   My husband read this book on his Kindle, so I was very happy to read it too, since he had quoted so much of it.   In spite of being non-fiction, this was a page-turner for me.  I stayed up till 2 am one weekend to finish it, and this is someone who is sleepy at `10 pm.    I think if you are interested in habits, perhaps because of Charlotte Mason, and want to read the modern research about the topic, and perhaps even change some habits of your own, you will like this book.   I shall probably have more to say about it at some future date.


I am also reading "The Mass in Slow Motion" by Father Ronald Knox.  The Creed in Slow Motion is online, but the Mass one is not, and costs a bit of money in its OOP status, so I have had it on my wish list for several years.  I decided to go ahead and get it finally, while I was spending a bit for homeschool for this year.   I have only just started it.


Finally I will quickly mention the fiction I have been reading.     One is Chloe and the Half-World by Neon May.  I got it on the Kindle for free, but I see it is not free any more.   I am glad I didn't read this as a 14 year old girl.  I would have been so sad that I couldn't look cute in bike shorts and a mini-skirt, and that I didn't have a best friend with long black and natural-electric-blue hair with whom I could trade cute clever lines.  And that I couldn't race with Echo-people including jumps off skyscrapers, and beat up the school bully.   Seriously, this was a very good book in a peculiar way.    It is for young people and I totally visualized it in anime.  It has oddities compared to traditional literature but I got the feeing the oddities were intended rather than inadvertent (the latter is too often the case with those free Kindle books).   It was clever and atmospheric.   The plot was quite complex and well contrived, though I have to complain it ended on a cliffhanger.  I don't know -- I am sort of addicted and might have to even buy the sequel in spring of 2013.


Another free Kindle novel was Don't Let Me Go by Catherine Ryan Hyde.   This one isn't free anymore either.  It is apparently by the author of Pay It Forward, which Sean was assigned in his sophomore year at school as part of a sort of unit study in being good to one's neighbor. .  I am not surprised, because the main idea is that tiny little acts of helping one's neighbor lead to huge consequences for the better.   I liked the quirky characters.  Though set in a less fantastic world than Chloe and the Half-World, it has a somewhat fantastic feeling -- the characters seem both real and iconic.  If you watched Lady in the Water,  the setting felt a little like that, with a tenement and disparate neighbors who are brought together by a joint undertaking.  But in this case, all the plot could theoretically happen in real life.     I read this on the way to TAC to visit my daughter with my family.   


One more reading adventure is Galen:  On the Natural Faculties.

The reason I am reading this is because this summer I decided that since I have time on my hands to read, I should do at least some systematic reading.    I had just read Robert Hutchins' essay The Great Conversation.  In volume 1 of Great Books of the Western World, which he edited along with Mortimer Adler, and which was a heavy influence on Great Books college programs like Thomas Aquinas College, there is a 10 year Reading Plan, and I found a month by month breakdown here.

However, I felt like I needed some interaction in order to be motivated to keep going through the dryer selections.   I found this Great Conversation Reading Group.   It has a yahoo email list, and it is in its fifth year, so in order to follow along I had to jump into the middle.    Here is the schedule for this year.  So I am reading Galen.   If you happen to be reading Galen, and are like me and get totally rabbit-traily and use it as an excuse to find out everything about everything, then you can look at my Readlist:  Galen and Ancient Medicine.    It is so much fun doing this reading that I have to limit my time so I don't get obsessed.  And if I'm tired, it's hard to follow about the Four Humors and how they affect health (and temperament) so then I read about girls with red hair who ride around on cool scooters and have genius inventor dads like Antonia Banderas in SpyKids, or about former dancers called Billy Shine who have not been outside their apartment for 12 years. 

If you stayed with me, thank you... next time I will talk about what the guys are reading for school.


  1. I love, love, love all of Mother Mary Francis' writings! I "discovered" her when I was discerning my vocation when I was younger and I have been hooked ever since. Her "A Right To Be Merry" is humorous and touching.

    Ignatius Press has a few of her books in print. Her meditations on Advent are so wonderful. I also loved the one on friendship.

    My favorite is a slim book called "Blessed Are You" which contains meditations on the Beatitudes. You can order some of her books through the Poor Clare's, I think the New Mexico monastery.

  2. Willa,

    What a lot of reading you've done recently! Thank you for sharing. I am tempted to buy a few of the books you mentioned. I shall have to bookmark them for when I have finished all the ones I still have on the go.

    I bought a copy of The Mass in Slow Motion too. Yes, I had to buy a secondhand expensive copy but I think it is worth buying some books. I also bought The Gospel in Slow Motion from Ignatius Press where it is available as a downloadable audio file. That was expensive too but we are enjoying listening to it.

    God bless!


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