Thursday, February 28, 2013

If I could pick a theme song.

It's been one of those days. Two of my little guys are ill with a stomach virus. I've been holding them alternately for hours. Little sips of beef broth and crackers. It just helps to be near Mama when you don't feel well. They are both sleeping peacefully now.

It's rainy and gray outside. I'm pining for Spring and all the adventures we will soon have outside together.

I'm on Chapter 25 of  "The Pride & Prejudice Synchro-Read" on Facebook.  It has been wonderful. I can't believe I've gone this far in life without reading it. I love it when you leave your favorite quotes from the day's reading on my status updates. I love your wit and humor. I'm so blessed to have so many amazing friends for reading pals.

I'm also reading Anne of Green Gables aloud to my kids at night -- also a first time read for me! (Though I was hooked on the movie when I was about thirteen, so I'm very familiar with the characters.)

So that's pretty much all. I just felt like checking in with everyone.

If I could pick a theme song for Classical Quest, it would be the video above. I hope you enjoy it. I sometimes find myself humming it when I'm on my long walks. Maybe if you're feeling a bit blah like me today, it will cheer you. Take care friends. See you tomorrow for my "Friday Quote!"

Monday, February 25, 2013

Blink: Facial Expressions in Literature and Life

Perhaps the most common -- and most important -- forms of rapid cognition are the judgments we make and the impressions we form of other people. Every waking minute that we are in the presence of someone, we come up with a constant stream of predictions and inferences about what that person is thinking and feeling. 
When someone says, "I love you," we look into that person's eyes to judge his or her sincerity. When we meet someone new, we often pick up on subtle signals, so that afterward, even though he or she may have talked in a normal and friendly manner, we may say, "I don't think he liked me," or "I don't think she's very happy." 

We easily parse complex distinctions in facial expression. If you were to see me grinning, for example, with my eyes twinkling, you'd say I was amused. But if you were to see me nod and smile exaggeratedly, with the corners of my lips tightened, you would take it that I had been teased and was responding sarcastically. If I were to make eye contact with someone, give a small smile, and then look down and avert my gaze, you would think I was flirting.

If I were to follow a remark with a quick smile and then nod or tilt my head sideways, you might conclude that I just said something a little harsh and wanted to take the edge off it. 


You wouldn't need to hear anything I was saying in order to reach these conclusions. They would just come to you, blink.
Excerpt from Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

We all read faces by nature with varying degrees of perception -- even my baby seeks out my eyes when I speak to her -- but I believe the authors of the classics were uniquely attentive to facial expressions and body language.  Long before Lie to Me, long before Dr. Paul Ekman's research findings and co-discovery of micro-expressions, writers of the world's greatest literature were expertly unpacking the human face.
In respect of character a face may make certain admissions by its outline; but it fully confesses only in its changes. So much is this the case that what is called the play of the features often helps more in understanding a man or woman than the earnest labors of all the others members together.
~ The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Sometimes a flash of expression merely adds depth to characterization. In The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Caspar Goodwood did not have to tell Henrietta Stackpole in words that he was desperate to meet Isabel Archer in England.
"Did he ask you to speak to me?"
"Not in so many words. But his eyes asked it -- and his handshake, when he bade me good-bye."
~ The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

It can mean more than what a character actually says in dialogue. Sometimes what is written on a character's face even contradicts what he says.
...[Anna] was not listening to [Vronsky's] words, she was reading his thoughts from the expression of his face. 
~ Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Often what flashes across a character's face is critical to the plot. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is burdened with attempting to conceal his guilt from Porfiry Petrovich, the magistrate in charge of investigating the murder of an elderly pawn broker and her sister.
Porfiry Petrovich suddenly looked at [Raskolnikov] with obvious mockery, narrowing his eyes and as if winking at him. However, perhaps it only seemed so to Raskolnikov, because it lasted no more than an instant. There was something of the sort, at least. Raskolnikov would have sworn to God that he winked at him, devil knew why."He knows!" flashed in him like lightening. 
~ Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
In The Portrait of a Lady, Isabel comes upon her husband, Gilbert Osmond engaged in a conversation with their mutual friend, Madame Merle. 
...the thing made an image, lasting only a moment, like a sudden flicker of light. Their relative position, their absorbed mutual gaze struck her as something detected. But it was all over by the time she had fairly seen it.
~The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Indeed, body language ultimately reveals all.
"Dost thou know child, wherefore thy mother wears this letter?""Truly I do!" answered Pearl, looking brightly into her mother's face. "It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart!" 
~ The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"Your poor lip is twitching again, like the other day," Porfiry Pertrovich muttered, even as if sympathetically. 
~ Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
And of course it is especially effective in a love scene.

Yeobright and Eustacia looked at each other for one instant, as if each had in mind those few moments during which a certain moonlit scene was common to both.
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
The moment had arrived when [Eustacia's] lip would tremble in spite of herself, and when the gasp could no longer be kept down. 
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
At the very instant when the apparition was vanishing, [Kitty's] truthful eyes glanced at [Levin]. She recognized him, and her face lighted up with amazed delight.
~ Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Did I mention it is effective in a love scene? Oh yes

Here is Kitty and Levin's love scene:
. . . swift, swift light steps sounded on the parquet, and his bliss, his life, himself -- what was best in himself, what he had so long sought and longed for -- was quickly, so quickly approaching him. She did not walk but seemed, by some unseen force, to float to him. He saw nothing but her clear, truthful eyes, frightened by the same bliss of love that flooded his heart. Those eyes were shining nearer and nearer, blinding him with their light of love. She stopped close to him, touching him. Her hands rose and dropped on his shoulders. She had done all she could -- she had run up to him and given herself up entirely, shyly, blissfully. He put his arms around her and pressed his lips to her mouth that sought his kiss.  
~ Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I have collected literally hundreds of examples of blink from my reading. It was difficult to choose which ones to share with you for this post. I hope these quotes will inspire you to be more attentive to facial expressions and body language in both literature and life.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Beautiful Expression of Her Dark Eyes

Lately I've been following a wonderful blog called Scribblepreach. I've noticed once a week the author, Nick McDonald, puts up a post that is simply a quote pulled from his reading. I love that idea! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Nick is a very thoughtful writer. Also, and he and his wife are working on a children's book together! I hope you'll take the time to check out his blog.

So introducing the Classical Quest "Friday Quote":
Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed [Elizabeth] to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly unaware; -- to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.
~ Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How I Take Notes

Today several of my WEM friends and I are sharing how we take notes. If you find taking notes challenging, let me encourage you to visit each of them! You will find all the links at the bottom of this post.

When I first started my journey through The Well Educated Mind reading lists, I really had no idea how to take good notes. Early on, I tried using spiral bound notebooks for WEM journals, but I could never decide what I should write down. (And then there was the whole matter of finding the journal when I needed it -- spiral notebooks and  # 2 Ticonderoga pencils tend to disappear rather quickly around my house!)

Though I now follow some of Susan Wise Bauer's good advice for note taking in WEM, I've finally developed a system that feels meaningful to me. I'm not reading through the classics to pass a test -- I'm reading to experience and grow. My process has gradually evolved into something I enjoy. I hope my examples may inspire you to take notes in a way that gives your reading more meaning!

Confessions of St. Augustine
The first few books I read from the WEM list were autobiographies. I crawled through them and did little more than underline stuff that appealed to me, though I wasn't always sure why.

I knew I should be writing short summaries when I finished each chapter, but I didn't develop that discipline right away.

Halfway through Moby-Dick, I remembered that Montaigne wrote his summaries directly in his books. This tip was perfect for me. Maybe Montaigne was a bit scatterbrained too.

The Essays of Montaigne
To help my defective and treacherous memory a little -- and it is so extremely bad that I have more than once happened to pick up again, thinking it new and unknown to me, a book which I had carefully read several years earlier and scribbled all over with notes -- I have for some time now adopted the practice of adding at the end of each book . . . the date when I finished reading it and the general judgement I drew from it, in order to show me again at least the general idea and impression I had conceived of the author when reading it.
Michel de Montaigne

I now write a short summary at the end of each chapter I read. This really helps when I'm trying to find something later or if I lose my place.

Anna Karenina 
Often my chapter summary is just one sentence.


Writing the date and time I finish a WEM novel feels like a special ceremony!

Anna Karenina
For all of the wonderful insights and amusing tid-bits I come across -- I make lists.

I dearly love to make lists!

I feel like my lists are my own special collections. I will share some of the types of lists I keep, but they change somewhat with each book I read. The themes you choose to collect may be totally different from mine. Whenever I find something that fits into a category I've made, I follow the following procedure:

1. Mark it by underlining or circling.

2. Write the name of the category in the margin near the marked portion.

3. Write the page number under the column I've made for the specified category in the back of my book.

Back cover from The Portrait of a Lady

Here are some of the catagories of lists I keep in most books now:

BIBLE: I'm always on the look out for themes to use in my Classics and the Bible posts.

SIMILES and METAPHORS: Just because they're fun.

WHAT DOES SHE/HE WANT: In the case of Isabel Archer, the protagonist in The Portrait of a Lady, this list surpassed all else.

GOOD QUOTES: If I like it and I don't know where to else to put it, it goes here. Occasionally I see a dominate theme emerge in this category and I have to start a new list.

I CAN RELATE: I don't always share these in blog posts. Sometimes they are just too personal. As far as my inward growth goes, this is usually where it's happening.

BLINK: This is my absolute favorite theme of all. In real life I constantly challenge myself to observe facial micro-expressions and body language. My husband thinks I'm gifted with this, but I think I've just practiced it for a long time. Anyway, I'm convinced that the writers of the classics could read micro-expressions and body language quite well. Nearly every WEM book I've read so far has been laden with descriptions of them. Sometimes what flashes across a character's face is even critical to the plot.

FORESHADOWING: Again, just because it's fun. If I had been keeping lists for Moby-Dick, this list might have been the longest.

TOUCHING: If it makes me cry or even puts a lump in my throat, it goes here.

I've also noticed that each book has a special something that takes over. On the first read you may not know for sure what it is until page 40 or 50, but something always rises to the surface. Here are some examples:

In Madame Bovary, it was the landscape descriptions. I had a hard time focusing on the plot because I was positively swept away by how Flaubert described the earth.

In Moby-Dick it was the foreshadowing.

In Anna Karenina it was the classic signals of conscience: blushing, flushing, reddening, and crimsoning.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin it was sermonizing.

In addition to keeping lists I also try to pin point a few key things such as: 

What is the inciting incident?

What is the climax?

What is the author's argument?

Why did the author write this book? 

What does the author want me to believe?

Am I convinced?

What does the author want me to experience?

I hope this was helpful! 

Now I'm looking forward to finding out new ways I can improve my system by learning from my fellow WEM bloggers today!*

For more ideas on taking notes visit:

And dear readers, if you have any tips for taking notes please share them in the comments section! :)

* I've published my post early so if all the posts aren't up yet they will be soon!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Pride and Prejudice in Our Story: Conclusion

Honeymoon 2001
If you've missed the first two posts in this series, you will want to read Part One and Part Two before reading the conclusion to "The Pride and Prejudice in Our Story" The following is an excerpt from Part Two:
"You got a call tonight from ...FROM A YOUNG MAN!"
"Who?" I was truly surprised.
"He said his name was Joe. He called your house first and your dad gave him the number here."
"He called here? Joe called here?"
"Well honey," she waved her hands in the air excitedly, "aren't you going to call him back?"
 +  +  +  +  +  + +  +  +

On the first date-second time around (two years after the first date), Joe showed up at my house wearing a light blue oxford. He smelled of aftershave. My heart was fluttering. As he greeted my parents I observed him. He seemed taller. His shoulders were so broad. His hands were . . . 

Well, you get the idea.

We went to a seafood restaurant. After dinner, we sat in the parking lot and talked. He was working as an estimator for a construction company now. He was thinking of going to Bible college. Our communication was pleasant --very low key. I enjoyed it, but I was still being cautious with my heart. 

I did feel a physical attraction to him, yet I was still unclear as to where the relationship should go. After this date, we went out several times, and nothing changed. I felt neither more nor less sure about whether he was the one. But I liked being with him and I was determined to be more patient that I had been before. So each time he asked me out, I said yes.

Though we spent ample time alone together, he attempted nothing which would compromise my conscience. One day he told me he was resolved to win me "though honesty and integrity". I thought this was especially noteworthy. 

When did my heart turn to him? When did I first realize that he might actually be the man I would pass through life with?

It happened when our canoe tipped.

Joe had planned a canoe trip for the two of us just outside of town. There were options: you could book a 3 mile, 5 mile, or 10 mile trip. He reserved the 10 mile trip. He told me later that we were getting nowhere by going out to fancy restaurants and movies for a few hours at a time. His plan was to spend the greater part of a day with me in the wild. He felt certain this would provide his best opportunity to win me over.

The morning of the canoe trip, my friend Debbie called.

"So what do you think?" she asked. "Could he be the one?"

"Honestly Debbie, I don't know which way this relationship is going to go. I like him just fine, but I'm not in love."

Joe packed a cooler full of goodies for our journey. I thought he looked nice in a green T-shirt and khaki shorts. He guided me to the front of the canoe. I reached for an oar.

"You don't need to row." he said. "Put it down. Let me row for us."

I contemplated this for a second. I felt a bit odd just sitting there like the Queen of Sheba. But he was insistent; his offer was sincere. I recognized the effort he had put into planning things. I didn't want to make him feel deflated, so I put down the oar.

For the next five miles Joe was my gondolier. I grabbed the oar a few times to help steer, but replaced it reverently on the floor of the boat when it was not needed.

We hit some rapids. The boat tipped. I flew into the water and bounced up drenched . . . and laughing! He was soaked too. All at once, we were laughing together. . .

laughing about how ridiculous we both were,

laughing because it felt good to be young and alone with each other on a splendid summer day.

And as we laughed, all that was left of my pride and prejudice -- broke loose and floated away.

We waded up the river pulling the boat along. It felt right to be pulling together with someone. When we got back in the canoe, I rowed too.

And Joe told me I was the most special woman he had ever known.

This time his sincere feelings fell softly over me and settled into the virgin soil of my heart,

And there my love for him began to grow.

This concludes "The Pride and Prejudice in Our Story". I would love to read your love stories. Please share!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Pride and Prejudice in Our Story (Part Two)


The following is an excerpt from Part One of "The Pride and Prejudice in Our Story":
"I got a call from Joe tonight. He asked me to thank you for the letter, but he is very busy on the rodeo circuit and he doesn't plan to come back in town for quite a while. He's not interested in pursuing things further at this time."
Dad watched me process this. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I don't know about a young man who would dump a blonde for a bull. Forget about him, honey."
I straightened up. I felt strangely calm. 
"Don't pity me, Daddy. It's not meant to be. I'm fine."
* * * * * * 

Remember that little porcelain angel strumming a harp which Joe gave me after the ballet? 

Within the week I tossed it into a cardboard box and sent it off to Goodwill.

Time passed. Life went on as before, yet not as before. A bit of the wind had been knocked out of my sails. 

Early one morning, I was jogging with my married friend Julie. 

"So, are you interested in anyone right now?" Julie asked.

"Not really, no," I replied.

"What about that cowboy you dated a few times . . . what was his name - Joe?" 

I stopped and looked at her in astonishment.

"Julie! How could you suggest that person? I would not date him again if he was the last man on the planet!"

Meanwhile, Joe was crisscrossing the country riding bulls for all he was worth. I am told he mounted a bull over 800 times during his rodeo career. He was even on TV.  After the letter he began to feel an internal struggle. Though he continued to press forward though hundreds of miles of open highway, his heart was pulling him home. At last his career ended in a dusty ring in Texas when he got caught under the belly of a bull and was kicked in the back of the head.

Once back in town he attended a wedding reception.

"Don't you have a girlfriend, Joe?"  someone asked.

"No, I don't now, but I'm going to have one soon," he replied. "In fact, I'm going to marry a girl named Adriana, she just doesn't know it yet ..."

At the same time, my heart was beginning to feel more frequent jabs of loneliness. It was as if a tiny shard had entered in and was inching its way deeper into the core of me. In the spring I was chased down and bitten by a dog while rollerblading through a quiet neighborhood. I fell off a horse at my riding lesson. I suddenly had too many students. Papers were due. I had a recital to plan. And then my younger sister got married; and though a joyous occasion, it was also a quite hard on my firstborn psyche. 

Standing at the prow of a riverboat on a glorious afternoon, I observed a married couple give each other a knowing look. It was a look which spoke of shared delight and of what would come later for them -- a look which I had never shared with anyone.

I went to a see a romantic movie with my friend Debbie. On the way home, she asked, "What is the most romantic thing a guy has ever done for you?"

I thought of the porcelain angel, and my mouth felt dry. I had to admit it was the most romantic gift because it represented a moment -- a moment a noble young man had found good.

One evening in late summer I drove to my  grandmother's home to spend the night. She greeted me with grin. I could see she was positively bursting to tell me something. 

"What is it, Mimi?" I couldn't help but smile too.

"Honey, you got a call from . . . FROM A YOUNG MAN!"

"Who?" I was truly surprised.

"He said his name was Joe. He called out to your house first. Your dad gave him the number here!"

"He called here? . . . Joe called here?" I stood transfixed.

"Well honey," she waved her hands in the air excitedly, "aren't you going to call him back?"

* * * * * * *
Tune in next time for the conclusion of "The Pride and Prejudice in our Story" 

Don't forget to "Like" Classical Quest and join me for the Pride& Prejudice Synchro Read!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Pride and Prejudice in Our Story: Part One

In celebration of Valentine's Day, I'm kicking off the Pride and Prejudice Synchro-Read on Facebook. If you've never read P&P (like me!) or if you would like to read it again with others, please join in the fun by liking Classical Quest.

Our engagement picture 2001

I taught piano lessons for Angela's children for a year before she mentioned anything about having a single nephew. All that time I felt her eyes observing my every move, weighing out each answer I gave to each heavy question she hurled at me. I thought she was simply a protective mother analyzing whether or not I was a good influence on her young children. I never dreamed she was considering me as a potential match for her nephew Joe.

Joe and I were introduced in 1998 at an old-fashioned revival meeting in a little church in the country. There was an altar call and the first time I saw Joe, he was kneeling in prayer. After the service we shook hands and exchanged names.

Like a true gentleman, he called my father and asked permission to date me. Dad and I discussed it together just as we always did. My dad's opinion mattered to me; if he had any objection, I would not have given Joe another thought. But he was fine with it, and I liked the idea. The next time Joe called, I answered the phone. 

We went on four dates:

First, an Italian restaurant. I ordered spaghetti, which was silly. Who orders spaghetti on a first date? Spaghetti is what you eat after you fall in love -- when it doesn't matter if a little sauce dribbles on your chin. But the look on Joe's face assured me I could have dumped the whole plate in my lap without causing injury to his impression.

Second, ice skating at a winter festival. We got lost twice, which greatly bothered him. He had everything planned out perfectly!  (If he only knew then how much I love to get lost.)

Third, a wonderful old conservatory for a Christmas floral show. I walked in front of him and passed a harp sitting in the foyer. I strummed my finger tips across the strings, ignoring the sign which read "Do Not Touch." 

Fourth, the ballet. The Nutcracker. After the performance he gave me a gift -- a porcelain angel strumming a harp. 

How do I explain the feelings I had at age twenty-two? I sensed he had made up his mind about me; the weight of this made it difficult for me to be at ease. I had always imagined a scenario in which I would be friends with a man first, but that didn't seem possible since he was already smitten.

Though I made every effort to be kind, I was inwardly quite prideful. And maybe, if I'm honest, I was even a bit prejudiced because Joe was a rodeo cowboy and I was not a cowgirl.

I went on a winter vacation with my aunt, uncle, and their two young children. I skied for two weeks. We celebrated the new year in a charming cottage on a frozen lake. Getting away gave me some perspective. I didn't feel ready to be a wife. When I got back Joe called to ask me out again. (This time he wanted me to meet his family!)  As gently as possible, I turned him down.

I spent one year in contentment. 

I pursued some things I had been wanting to do. I enrolled in college and paid cash for my shiny new black Baldwin piano and my not-so-shiny, not-so-new 1987 Nissan Maxima (priorities). Took English riding lessons and piano lessons. Taught Sunday School. Visited historic places and art museums with my friends. I did want to get married someday and, yes, occasionally I felt a little lonely for a special man to love, but I was overall happy to wait.

Then one afternoon I drove to Angela's house to make up some lessons I had missed. It was not my usual day for lessons there. As I pulled into the lane leading to the house, I saw Joe's old brown station wagon in the driveway. He was in a distant pasture riding a horse. I felt dread. I hoped I could finish teaching before he came to the house. 

Halfway through the second lesson, I heard the door open behind me. I turned, determined to be gracious and polite. I just wanted to get it over with.

He was standing in the doorway. His gaze was direct.

This was not the Joe who had dated me a year before. This was a confident man in a T-shirt and tight jeans with an unshaven face. He said, "Hello, good to see you." and his voice was firm. 

Suddenly my face felt hot. I glanced down and spoke more softly than I had intended, "Good to see you too."

Seeing him in this new light wrecked me. For a week I couldn't sleep. The next time I had a chance to speak privately to Joe's Aunt Angela, I told her that perhaps I had been too hasty when I broke things off before. I saw a glint of amusement in her eyes, but she was careful not to smile. She remarked, somewhat dryly, that she would mention it to him.

When I got home that evening I swung around the banister and hurried up the stairs to my room. (I never liked to miss a minute of All Things Considered in those days.) I hollered down to my parents, 

"If the phone rings, it's for me!" 

The phone did ring a couple times that night, but not for me. He did not call.

Another week passed, and I went back to teach at Angela's home again. I taught three of her children. For a torturous hour and a half, nothing about Joe was said. I hoped Angela would tell me his response, but I was too proud to ask her. At the end, she handed me my check and said curtly, "Thank you, have a nice week." 

I reached for the door,

"Oh by the way," she said, "I talked to Joe... and he wondered if you would be willing to write him a letter."

 "A letter?"

"Yes, he wants to hear from you in your own words."

I felt a bit annoyed"I don't normally write to guys like that," I said.

"Very well," she shrugged. "It's up to you." 

Now he was challenging me. I gripped the steering wheel on the way home. I said I was too hasty and I meant it, so I supposed there is no harm in writing it on paper for him to read with his own eyes.

Dear Joe, 
It was good to see you again in your aunt's home last week. I've been thinking that perhaps I was too hasty when I broke things off before.  

It was just one note card inside a small envelope, but in my hands it felt heavy. I sat in my car in the post office parking lot holding that tiny parcel for a long time. I knew that once the letter was in the big blue mailbox, it could not be taken out again. I felt all the gravity of an eternal moment. In time, I would come to see this as a crucial inciting incident in the story of my life.

I got out of the car and approached the box swiftly, pausing for only an second before slipping it into the slot. 

A few weeks passed with no word. One evening I came home later than normal because I had eaten dinner out with some of my piano parents.

My dad was standing on the front porch of our farm house waiting for me as I came up the walk.

"What is it?" I asked, my heart falling a little at the sight of his tender eyes. Such love -- a father's love!

"I got a call from Joe tonight. He asked me to thank you for the letter, but he is very busy on the rodeo circuit and he doesn't plan to come back in town for quite a while. He's not interested in pursuing things further at this time."

Dad watched me process this. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I don't know about a young man who would dump a blonde for a bull. Forget about him, honey."

I straightened up. I felt strangely calm. 

"Don't pity me, Daddy. It's not meant to be. I'm fine."

Tune in next time for Part Two of "The Pride and Prejudice in Our Story." :)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (A Review)

by Adriana

I love to read  promiscuously. 

If you've followed this blog for any length of timeperhaps this is something you've noticed.

Many, perhaps even most, well-meaning Christians from my conservative circle would consider my reading habits excessively liberal. In fact, I've been pressed to defend my preferences more than a few times. Some of the titles I've read could easily have been chosen as fodder for the book burnings I witnessed a few times as a child. 

Still I read on.

Now and then my quest feels daunting. I'm always grateful to receive encouragement from Christian intellectuals whom I respect. For the past several months, I have enjoyed being part of the growing community at Tim Fall's blog, Just One Train Wreck After Another. Not long ago, Tim posted a review of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University. 

The mere idea of Booked intrigued me immensely. Tim quoted Prior's insights on what reading promiscuously means and why it is an important habit to cultivate. I had never heard of an Evangelical apologetic for reading indiscriminately beforeThe day Tim put up his "Hooked by Booked" review, I flew straight over to Amazon and loaded the book to my Kindle within seconds.

What a joy it was for me to read Dr. Prior's insights! In Booked she articulates the need for stories with candor, grace, and wisdom: 
I know that spiritual formation is of God, but I also know -- mainly because I learned it from books -- that there are other kinds of formation, too, everyday gifts, and that God uses the things of the earth to teach us and shape us, and to help us find the truth.

I am certain that God is leading me on my quest.  He draws me farther and deeper with my reading; consistently nudging me through the Holy Spirit to probe and listen carefully, and to examine ideas in the light of Holy Scripture. 

As Prior says,
. . . God who spoke the world into existence with words is, in fact, the source of meaning of all words. My journey toward that discovery is the story of this book. I thought my love of books was taking me away from God, but as it turns out, books were the backwards path to God, bramble-filled and broken, yes, but full of truth and wonder.


In Booked, Prior parallels key moments of her own coming-of-age story with the literature that helped shape her. I was thrilled to find several titles featured which are also part of the reading lists from The Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (Jane EyreGulliver's TravelsMadame Bovary, and John Donne's Metaphysical poetry), as well as other titles from authors we WEMers are familiar with now (Dickens and Hardy). Prior cleverly connects her own unique memories with poignant literary scenes any avid reader would find apropos.
Discovering truth is a process that occurs over time, more fully with each idea or book that gets added to the equation. Sure, many of the books I read in my youth filled my head with silly notions and downright lies that I mistook for truth, but only until I read something else that exposed the lie for what it was.

Prior points to John Milton, who held that "the best books to a naughty mind are not unapplicable to occasions of evil"; whereas "bad books, to a discreet and judicious reader serve in many respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, to illustrate."

Since reading Booked, I've thought a good deal about how literature has shaped my life. There are titles which stand out, in hindsight, as having proved crucial to my formation. Perhaps some of my reflections might show up in future blog posts here.

For me, the experience of reading has always felt much like entering into a conversation. And fittingly, classic literature is sometimes referred to as the "Great Conversation." Through reading widely I'm learning how to listen, discern, and empathize -- how to "examine everything carefully and hold fast that which is good."

I read to better understand both my world and myself. Great literature delights, elevates -- and at the same time it humbles. I am grateful that God often uses it to coax open the eyes of my soul. Ever so patiently He leads me to glimpses of Himself in nature and in the highest works of art which humankind has made.