Ruminations by Anne Chamberlin on home, church, and culture -- and here showing off an adorable new baby niece.
Book and Movie List
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
At the moment I am a morning person staying up late at night, reading desperately in carpool line and at gas station pumps --the picture of the undisciplined, novel-reading housewife someone might have written a cautionary tale about in 1890. (Well, minus the carpool lines and gas station pumps.) Thanks a lot, David Mitchell.
Paul Simon was the only living boy in New York, and I suspect I am the only living English major to discover Mitchell just last week. This guy is a brilliant writer, and I never say brilliant. A tight, satisfying story compiled of tight, satisfying stories, a walk through time via reincarnation: racism, courage, liberation, political economy, stewardship of the earth, and, ultimately, human nature. Stories within stories, and for that matter, are they stories or historical narratives?
One may reject the Buddhist and hyper-feminist notions, but if you want a moving picture of both original sin and human potential, this novel is it. Consciously or unconsciously, it is also profoundly pro-life, especially the story of Sonmi.
Cloud Atlas is several stories in different genres -- the journal travelogue, the letter, the spy thriller, the humorous narrative, the sci-fi novel. His characters are full but his descriptions are efficient.
Surprised by Joy, CS Lewis. Full of Lewis insight into the human condition...expressed through his practical, truthful yet charitable analysis of his childhood, parents, and education.
Is Christianity Good for the World?This little book is the published debate (on the title's topic) between the late Christopher Hitchens, an atheist, and Douglas Wilson, a Christian. I recommend it as the writers are intelligent, concise, articulate, witty communicators and the presentation is lean -- you can read it in the course of a soccer game. I put it down and was struck by Isaiah 6:9. The truth can be jumping around with a placard, a megaphone, and a purple wig right in front of us.... and we can totally miss it.
The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, both by HG Wells. Somehow I had never read these, but I read both over the holidays and enjoyed these stories, his imagination, and the warnings against hubris. Stories were less-bleak versions of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The brilliant doctor in The Invisible Man keeps a moral compass because he remains in touch with humanity. The scientist locks himself away to study and experiment -- and falls out of touch with compassion and morality. He sees himself and his pursuits as "above" the everyday needs of his fellow man.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Tom Wolfe captures the LSD craze and generation, fictionally chronicling the real-life travels of Ken Kesey. It is intuitively written and graphic. Well-done, perhaps too detailed in its trippy-ness and wretchedness...gives one a headache.
The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller. Are you the older son or the younger, in that defining parable? Do you try to get something from God by leveraging righteousness, and do you think God owes you, and are you angry at Him when things go wrong? Or perhaps in your subversiveness or alternative lifestyle you seek to gain your own salvation, to save yourself or this world on your own? The parable that lays bare the truth about the idolatry of Self, the depth of our need, the Grace of the Father, and the only worthy achievement in life...to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Let's Study Ephesians, by Sinclair Fergusen.
Gilead...Marilynne Robinson. This is a beautiful book.
The Christian Liberty Nature Reader is our main kg and 1st grade science text this year -- a new edition of an old fashioned text -- and it is just so fun and interesting. We have learned about ants and flies and beetles. And the narrator does winning things like refer to "Mrs. Fly" and "her babies." The information is rather in depth but told in such a way that the kids listen and learn easily.
Called Out of Darkness, Anne Rice. This is Anne Rice's (Interview with a Vampire) recounting of her turn to atheism in college and then her return, in her 50s, to Catholicism.
It is dear to meet in the pages of a book a seeker who has frankly wrestled with the unknown and the complicated, and then surrendered to the known and the simple. This is an expression of loving Jesus for Who He is, and Rice decides to throw up her hands and leave to Him the part she doesn't understand. Surely we can trust Him with that and with this world, with our family, and friends.
As a writer, she is keenly interested in defending the Gospels as eye witness, true accounts.
As an aside, the description of her young life as a devout Catholic shed some helpful light on my Catholic education in high school. And her discussion of certain aspects of the Roman Catholic liturgy took me back, movingly, to my days as a girl and young woman in the Episcopal church. (Thanks to crazy old Henry VIII, the liturgy is very similar!)
The Root and the Branch. Joseph Pipa.Pipa -- in this short and efficient book -- defends the mystery of both the humanity and deity of Christ from Scripture. It has been edifying to me to revisit these basic truths about Christ. He is both the root of Jesse (all humanity springs from the Divine Word's creative power as recounted in Genesis) and a branch in the line of David (that Word was made flesh, born of man -- a lowly virgin, Mary -- and adopted by a human man, Joseph -- both of whom hail from genealogical lines that trace back to David, the son of Jesse). This is the definitive answer to the Mormon and Jehovah's Witnessses mis-readings of Scripture (and a fleshed out, readable version of the Council of Chalcedon).
The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky. Another Kurlansky project, shorter, lighter and more whimsical than Salt. A fun read about the oyster trade, ostensibly, but really about the history of New York City.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. Maybe my favorite book! Dillard describes her encounters with nature and human nature in extended prose, somehow making botany, zoology, and biology into poetry. It is like reading the human amplification of the chapters in Job where God describes His handiwork. Dillard's response to creation is frank wonder and delight.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. The kids and I just listened to this classic on audiotape in the car and it had us all entranced, with Ben saying when we'd arrive home, "Can we just drive around a little longer and listen?" She treats the teenage growing up years very tenderly and earnestly, and not without realism. I cried when Beth died.
Little Heathens, by Mildred Armstong Kalish This is a lively, good natured book about living on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression. It is a straightforward journal of family life at the time, and gives all sorts of fun descriptions of farm life; church life; chores and how they were done; food and how it was made, preserved, stored; home medical remedies; and general farm family ethics.
Salt, by Mark Kurlansky. An interesting book about the history of salt, which really is a thumbnail sketch of world history and basic economics. Learn about the origins of many words and phrases and certain kinds of food.
At Day's Close, by A. Roger Ekirch. This is a "history of night" in pre-industrial/early modern times (ie, basically late middle ages to just before electricity).
First of all, a disclaimer: This book is rollicking, rapid series of data and quotes. An attempt is made to organize it contents, but it still lacks enough perspective and framework. Ekirch has a prodigious amount of information to share, and it is hard to get a sense of how prevalent and frequent behaviors and beliefs were in context with the times.
That said, it is addictive read, and the reader is drawn inexorably into the social, familial, criminal, vocational, and religious practices of pre-industrial people, mostly in Europe and North America -- their beliefs about night time before electricity...and lighted houses and streets.
The most interesting part of his research is, I think, almost groundbreaking and comes at the end, when Ekirch discusses common sleep patterns before electricity. This section is almost a separate book in and of itself. The way people slept in early modern times provided for a different kind of night rhythm and a different kind of night time personal "culture" ...it added an unexpected dimension of rest, imagination, and relationship, even.
I was left both thankful to live in the post-industrial age, and also a little suspicious that we moderns may be missing out!
Barefoot Contessa, Family Style, by Ina Garten. A Christmas gift from my Aunt Margaret and Uncle JB, this is a cookbook full of fresh, simple family recipes that look absolutely delicious, and beautiful pictures of the food which, also, looks absolutely delicious. In the back are simple menu plans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Any P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves book. Hats off to Bertie Wooster, the Anti-Hero, and Jeeves, the all-suffering and omniscient man among men. I took Wodehouse to China to read when I felt down. It is impossible to feel dark after a few mishaps at Totleigh Towers. I tried Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, but Jim doesn't hold a candle to Bertie Wooster.
Holiness, JC Ryle. This book was written in the late 1800's and actually is a primer about being a Christian! Ryle tackles many topics: doctrinal basics that transcend denomination, wrong beliefs people have, how our belief relates to life, common pitfalls for Christians, and more. It is a good example of how theology is, by nature, practical. It is a dense and packed book, but Ryle outlines his thoughts very clearly. He writes with a winsome mixture of both zealous conviction and sympathy.
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, John Piper and Justin Taylor, general editors. My husband is a fan of John Piper's writings and says this explains and describes the controversial doctrine of election in the most powerful, humble, convincing, and moving way. I have appreciated the excerpts he has read to me.
Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, edited by Ken M. Campbell. Our pastor recommended this interesting book to me, a collection of scholarly but accessible essays by historians on what kinds of marital and family laws and practices existed in the Hebrew world of the Old Testament and in the other local cultures at the time.
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper and Wayne Grudem, editors. A collection of interesting essays, but mainly worth reading for John Piper's sweet essay tribute to/description of his mother at the beginning.
O Brother Where Art Thou. The Odyssey meets Flannery O'Connor while Alison Krauss sings about baptism. Funny, too. Paraphrase of a quote: "Well, you've sold your soul to the devil, and he's just been born again. Looks like I'm the only one here who's unaffiliated." Not long until he finds himself affiliatin' "real quick."