Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Classics Book Tag

My fellow blogger and book lover Elliott Blackwell recently wrote a post called "The Classics Book Tag" on his blog Begin In Wonder. In that post he answered ten questions about classic books and issued a challenge to others to do the same. Here are my ten questions and answers.

1. What is an overhyped classic that you didn't really like? 

That's easy: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. At 55 pages, it is the shortest book I ever hated too much to finish -- and I am sure I had it assigned at least twice in university courses. I think on both occasions I just read the first five pages and the last five pages. I just hated it! I think it is probably an important book to read in the context of discussions about race and colonialization, so someday I may give it another try........................................................ actually no, I probably won't.

2. What is your favourite time period to read about?

Many of my favourite books (not necessarily classics -- yet) are set in/around World War I or II: All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), The Light Between Oceans (M.L. Stedman), Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Chris Cleave), The Secret Keeper (Kate Morton), just to name a few.

But I think actually my favourite setting (if not time period) for fiction is rural: whether it's the "good country people" of Flannery O'Connor's fiction, or the Avonlea-dwellers in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, or the poor migrants of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. I just love reading about -- and writing about -- rural life and the things that go on behind the simple bucolic exterior.

3. What is your favourite fairy tale?

Hansel and Gretel. As a child hearing this story I admired the children's resourcefulness in leaving their breadcrumb trail, and I loved the idea of them nibbling parts of the gingerbread house. I thrilled at the idea of the witch being tricked when Hansel holds out a bone instead of his own finger -- and of course seeing the witch pushed into the oven was great! 

None of the disturbing parts of the story, such as why the children were alone in the forest in the first place, ever bothered me. 

By the way, Jonathan enjoys the PBS show Super Why in which the Super Readers fly into a fairy tale to solve a mystery using the power of words. In the Super Why version of Hansel and Gretel, the children must "ASK FIRST" before biting a piece off the witch's cookie house; once they do, she's perfectly fine with it and doesn't try to eat them at all. (It just  shows you what good manners can accomplish.)

4. What is the classic you are most embarrassed you haven't read yet?

Maybe not exactly embarrassed, but I confess that I have not read any of the great Russian classics except Anna Karenina. I have not read War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, or Crime and Punishment. Nor have I read Hugo's Les Miserables -- not Russian of course, but a large novel (in size and influence) that I've yet to read.

5. What are the top 5 classics you would like to read soon?

A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens. It is one of my brother Lincoln's favourites, and he gave me his copy when we were in PEI this summer.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I love Wharton's writing, and this is one of hers I haven't read yet.

(Notice how none of these are the same novels as in #4?) 

6. What is your favourite modern book/series based on a classic?

I liked Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres and David Wrobleski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, both based on Shakespeare plays. 

I also enjoyed -- much more than I expected to, in fact -- Jo Baker's Longbourn, about a servant in the home of Pride and Prejudice's Bennet family. It's not a sequel to or a rewriting of the original, just a really good stand-alone novel that someone who'd never read P&P could enjoy.

7. What is your favourite movie/TV version of a classic?

I love the BBC version of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, with Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.

8. What is the worst classic-to-movie/TV adaptation you've seen?

The worst for me would have to be The House of Mirth starring Gillian Anderson. Anderson does her best, but this movie has serious casting problems. And the writers made an abysmal, nonsensical decision to combine two characters (Gertie and Grace) into one, obliterating one of the most important subplots of the novel. I could go on and on and on, but this is just an awful treatment of one of my favourite novels.

Two other adaptations I strongly disliked were The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (I gave up after half an hour) and Earthsea, based on Ursula LeGuin's wonderful book A Wizard of Earthsea. That one is brutal.

9. Favourite editions you'd like to collect more classics from?

I don't have an answer here; I don't collect any particular versions.

10. What is one under-hyped classic you would recommend to someone?

Make that two -- and they're very different:

Silence by Shusaku Endo - about Portuguese missionaries to Japan in the 1600's.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - about a teenage girl, Cassandra Mortmain, who lives in a tumbledown castle with her eccentric family in 1930's England. I think of Cassandra as a cross between Anne of Green Gables and Jane Austen's Emma. She's delightful.

Well, it's been fun answering these questions. I always enjoy thinking, talking, and writing about books.

Monday, October 15, 2018

October 2018 Quick Lit: What I've been reading

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle by Sarah Arthur. 
This recently-released book reflects on the life and work of Madeleine L'Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time and over 50 other works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Arthur organizes her material according to paired concepts like Sacred and Secular, Faith and Science, Fact and Fiction, etc. L'Engle was both a revered and a controversial writer; while A Light So Lovely reveals aspects of her life that many of us may be unaware of, it also reinforces her influence as a writer of deep faith, intelligence, and imagination. Excellent book.

Aching Joy: Following God Through the Land of Unanswered Prayer by Jason Hague. 
In this memoir, released just a couple of weeks ago, Hague shares his journey as a dad coming to terms with his son Jack's autism diagnosis and learning more about prayer, dreams, and hope. So good and so real. You can read my full review HERE.

Only Dead On the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse by James Breakwell.
I follow Breakwell (a.k.a. @XplodingUnicorn) on Twitter and enjoy his funny tweets about life with his wife, four young daughters, and pet pig*. Amazon has this to say about the book: "This step-by-step manual teaches you how to raise happy, healthy children in a world overrun by the undead." Just as silly and fun as it sounds. 
(*By the way, one of Jonathan's favourite things to do while we wait for the school bus is to watch a video Breakwell posted of his family singing Happy Birthday to their pig, Gilly, as it eats a watermelon birthday cake they've placed ceremoniously in the middle of their living room carpet.) 

  Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan.
If you picked this up thinking you were getting Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life, I have great news: this is not that book! I stumbled upon Tell Me More, which I'd never heard of, at the library this summer and it looked intriguing, so I took it out. Corrigan shares stories from her family life and friendships, focusing on 12 key phrases that are important in relationships -- phrases like "I was wrong," "I don't know," and of course "Tell me more." This book is a quick, enjoyable read with some profound takeaways. Some of the stories took a little long to get going, but overall I liked it a lot.

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. 
This is the only piece of fiction I read since my last Quick Lit post, and it's an unusual one. In the first scene, Greek gods Hermes and Apollos make a bet over whether dogs would be happier or less happy than humans if they could speak and think like humans. They happen to be passing by a Toronto vet clinic, so they give human consciousness to the fifteen dogs inside. The rest of the book explores how this change affects the dogs as individuals and as a group. I read this for a book club, and it was certainly interesting to discuss issues the novel raises like what is happiness? how do we react to change? how do we experience time? etc. It is intriguing and original, but I can't actually say I enjoyed it: it felt choppy, and the overall atmosphere of the book was pretty bleak. 


I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these books, or on anything you've been reading. Please comment! 


Friday, October 12, 2018

Five Minute Friday: PRAISE ("Excellent job!")

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, where we write for five minutes about a given prompt.

This week's word: PRAISE.

This morning I took Jonathan to the dentist for a checkup and cleaning.

Dentist visits with an autistic child can be challenging, but now that we've been going to this clinic for several years, Jonathan seems very comfortable with it. He actually looks forward to going, maybe in part because he likes being fussed over by all the women on staff. They also make sure to schedule him for the first appointment of the day, which ensures that our wait will be minimal.

One of his favourite people in the office is Erica, one of the dental hygienists. They greeted each other enthusiastically this morning. 

Erica knows about Jonathan's interest in garbage and recycling, and she knows that his favourite part of the appointment is throwing away all the trash: wrappers, gauze, used gloves and masks. 

So while Jonathan was lying in the chair, Erica said, "Look, I'll pile everything up here for you, and when we're all finished you can throw it away."

To Erica's great amusement, Jonathan replied, "Excellent job!"

He uses this expression when he sees someone shoveling a driveway or sweeping a floor or raking leaves.

He compliments fast food workers, janitors, garbage truck drivers, and construction workers.

Everyone needs praise.

Everyone needs to know they're appreciated for what they do.

Everyone needs, now and then, to be told they're doing an excellent job.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

A review of Aching Joy: Following God Through the Land of Unanswered Prayer (by Jason Hague)

Parents of autistic children are always looking for companions on the autism journey. Jason Hague's newly released book Aching Joy: Following God Through the Land of Unanswered Prayer provides that kind of companionship.

Jason writes in a vulnerable, honest way about his struggle to accept his son Jack's autism diagnosis and to form a real connection with Jack. But beyond the specific details of the Hague family's life, the book is really about deeper issues that we can all relate to:

  • how to balance hope and realism
  • how to accept the what-is without sinking into dull resignation
  • how to acknowledge struggle without trying to fix, escape, or seek pity
  • how to foster the potential in our children without making their achievements all about us. 

For Jason, faith in God is what helps resolve these tensions. However, faith is not presented as a panacea or a source of glib inspirational quotes (Jason specifically mentions the cliche so many of us love to hate: "God never gives you more than you can handle"), but as an anchor in times of real challenge and wrestling.

It's also clear throughout the book that autism is not an enemy. Jason doesn't talk about finding cures or reasons or about "fixing" Jack; rather, he emphasizes over and over the need to connect with autistic people, to participate in how they see the world (something he and his family do consistently, in beautiful and often funny ways), and to foster inclusion and acceptance. I have to say I just LOVED getting to know Jack in these pages. He is such an interesting boy, and I could see so much of Jonathan in him.

Toward the end of the book, Jason says, "My story was a messy one ... [but] if I can help other parents -- especially dads -- identify what they are feeling instead of telling them the way they ought to feel, they might, in the end, be better equipped to love their children the way they ought to. They might, in other words, become better fathers." 

I have little doubt that those who read this book will come away with new information, new insights, and a renewed sense of what we all share, regardless of the unique circumstances we face.