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The Reading Report, Vol. 21: 2020 Year in Review

My, oh my, how time does fly! Moving to a new state and getting all settled, home renovations, homeschooling, Revelation Wellness Instructor Training, and podcast jobs have all kept me on my toes this fall! They have also taken so much of my physical and mental energy that blogging has taken a sad hit this year. But I have some time today, and I wanted to sit down and look back on this year in my reading life. Maybe sometime I will get around to a more general “life update” type of post before the end of 2020. For now, though, I just want to talk books for a bit. Hope that’s good with you! 😉

Back to the Classics Challenge Report

It looks like I haven’t written reviews here for all the books I read for the challenge, and I have ended up just one book shy of completing all 12. But that’s not bad for a year that ended in a whirlwind of activity and very little reading time! Here is my (almost) completed B2tC Challenge List:

The Literary Life 20 for 20 Challenge Report

For the year’s Literary Life 20 for 2020 challenge, I also am just one title short of a complete list, with only my “high school re-read” category left unread. Here are the books I did end up finishing:

Scholé Sisters 5×5 Challenge Report:

The 5×5 challenge was by far the one I most neglected, but I did read some interesting new things that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Let’s see how things shaped up. Titles marked with a ^ are finished. Those with a ~ were started by not finished. Unmarked titles are ones I never even cracked open!

Mathematics

  1. ^ Here’s Looking at Euclid by Alex Bellos ^
  2. ~A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley~
  3. ^ The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz ^
  4. Math with Bad Drawings by Ben Orlin
  5. Change is the Only Constant by Ben Orlin

Biography/Memoire

  1. ^ Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser ^
  2. An American Princess by Annette van der Zijl
  3. ~ Ocean of Truth by Joyce McPherson ~
  4. ~The Wilderness World of John Muir by John Muir (ed. Edwin Way Teale)~
  5. ^ My Family and Other Animals by George Durell ^

Theology/Christianity

  1. ^ The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer ^
  2. ^ In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen ^
  3. ~ Missional Motherhood by Gloria Furman ~
  4. Knowing God by J. I. Packer 
  5. ^ Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton ^

Health/Wellness

  1. ^ The Wellness Revelation by Alisa Keeton ^
  2. Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman
  3. The Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer
  4. ^ The Complete Homeopathy Handbook by Miranda Castro ^
  5. ~ Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols ~

Literary Fiction

  1. ^ A Room with a View by E. M. Forster ^
  2. ^ A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens ^
  3. ^ Silas Marner by George Eliot ^
  4. ^ The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde ^
  5. ^ Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck ^

Summing It All Up:

In the end, I am pretty happy with my reading for the year. With all that has happened in my little world, not to mention the greater craziness that has been 2020, I think I did pretty well with these challenges and am pleased that I stretched my reading life in some new directions. Plus, there are so many more books not on these lists, things I read to my kids, audio books we shared together, or that I listened to on my own, as well as some fun, lighter reading that I have enjoyed indulging in here at the year’s end. (I’m looking at you, Alexander McCall Smith.)

It remains to be seen whether I will attempt another Scholé Sisters 5×5 Challenge in 2021, but I will definitely be on board for The Literary Life’s 19 Books in 2021 challenge. My son will even be joining in on their kids’ version of the challenge this year! It also looks like Karen is hosting yet another Back to the Classics Challenge for 2021, so I will be checking that out, too! (The books on my B2tC list were honestly some of my favorite books for the whole year.)

How did you do with your personal reading goals this year? I would love for you to drop me a comment or link to your challenge reports. Let’s chat books! 🙂

Over the Horizon: When God Moves Us Beyond What We Can See

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way,

Where many paths and errands meet.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of The Rings

The year began as others have, with new plans and goals and hopes. We try to think ahead and prepare ourselves as best we can, but as humans we never can tell what the future holds. And this year has shown us all, I think, how little we know about what will happen tomorrow or the next day. I don’t know about you, but I am a little weary of hearing words like “fluid” and “pivot” and “adjust.” As comfort-loving creatures, we would almost all prefer to keep things a little more controlled, familiar and predictable. Oftentimes, however, this tendency is actually not in our own best interest, and sometimes God has to shake things up a bit to get our attention.

As I sat down to write this post, a picture came to mind of Frodo Baggins in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. He was just a young hobbit, setting out on a journey to an unknown destination, uncertain of his task. In my own personal life, aside from all the national and international chaos and crises, God has been mapping out a journey for me. This path is going to take me beyond my comfortable little hobbit hole and out into my own patch of wild and unexplored territory. This change is happening on two fronts simultaneously, and it all sometimes has me looking off to the horizon and feeling overwhelmed.

The First Path

Back in June, Alisa Keeton, founder of Revelation Wellness, announced that the next session of their instructor training program would be completely online for the first time ever due to COVID-19. Then she added that the cost of training would be half what it normally is. My heart skipped a beat when I realized that this might be my best opportunity to pursue the call that I sensed God laying on my heart 2 years ago when I attended Rev on the Road in Franklin, TN. After some prayer and talking with my husband, I knew that this was the time, and I joined Platoon 25!

But I am not fitness instructor material. This girl stinks at choreographed workouts, not to mention that she feels like throwing up anytime someone brings up leading group fitness classes. I’m not strong, or fast, or even very flexible. Beyond the fact that He wants me to get trained, I honestly have NO EARTHLY IDEA what God wants to do with this in my life! But in some strange way, the not knowing is a comfort. I don’t have to have a plan. I don’t need to see what is beyond the horizon. All I need is to simply trust that the Lord has it all prepared for me, and that He is getting me ready for the work He has for me to do. (To find out about Revelation Wellness Instructor Training, click the image below.)

The Road Goes On

The second path involves our whole family more directly, and it has us all heading into uncharted territory. In July, my husband was called by Bluefield College in Bluefield, VA to serve as their new Dean of Registration Services. Over the course of about 3 weeks, he had an online interview, an in-person interview, got hired, went on 2 unrelated business trips, and took us all house-hunting around Bluefield! It was quite a flurry of activity. He is now hard at work in his new job, and the kids and I are packing and cleaning and getting everything ready to move to our new house in our new state!

Bluefield is a unique town in that it crosses the border between Virginia and West Virginia, and it is situated in the heart of the beautiful Appalachia Mountains. For this born and bred Nebraska plains girl, driving into those tree-covered mountains was a brand new experience. Perhaps the more significant change for our children will be learning to live in town instead of the country. The house we are buying is right in the heart of historic Bluefield. They have never lived in a neighborhood before, and I have never lived on the side of a steep hill. The view on the horizon of our lives is certainly amazing, but it is also a little intimidating!

With Eager Feet

As I look out toward this future I can’t quite see, one thing is certain. God has us in position to be on mission for Him. What with being in town, our family can get more involved in our local community than we have ever been before. Even though I don’t know how God might ask me to use my RevWell training, I have a feeling He isn’t going to want me to just sit on the sidelines once I’ve finished. And what is more, we have a church and a homeschool community out there just waiting for us to find them, too! So it is with eager, though somewhat trepidatious, feet that we set out down the road. Truly, God only knows what lies ahead, just over the horizon.

“The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club” Book Review

This past weekend I finished reading The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers. It is one of her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, and it was, of course, an enjoyable read. I seem to be gravitating to an awful lot of mystery stories this year. I guess it is no wonder because with the world in such chaos, I need a good detective book to take all the broken bits and puzzling clues and finally bring everything to a satisfying end. As my friends at the Literary Life podcast have pointed out in the past, mystery novels move from disorder to order, so they have a way of reassuring us that justice and right will win at last.

Anyway, back to the story at hand… This story is, I believe, the fourth book in the Lord Peter series, so it still comes rather early in his sleuthing hobby/career. However, Lord Peter is a keen observer and judge of human character. His task at first seems relatively mundane, to try and pin down the time of death of the elderly general who was a member of the Bellona Club in order to help settle a dispute over the man and his deceased sister’s estates. Quickly, however, Lord Peter (and the reader) become convinced that some foul play may have had a hand in bringing about the old man’s death. In the end, Wimsey is able not only to solve the mystery of whodunnit, but his suspicions about the murder’s motives prove correct as well.

If you are not familiar with Sayers’ detective novels, you may be interested to know that they are set in post WWI England and often deal with the cultural repercussions on the Great War on British society. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club is a good example of this. The story begins in the middle of Armistice Day festivities, and both of the General’s grandsons are also veterans of the war. One of them was partially disabled by toxic gas and also was suffering from shellshock (now known as PTSD.)

This book fulfills the “Classic with a Place in the Title” category for the Back to the Classics Challenge. That means I just have three more titles to read in order to check all 12 categories off my list! Yippee!

“Seacrow Island” Book Review

I seem to be on a roll with the heartwarming family stories here lately. Today I’m writing a review of Seacrow Island by Astrid Lindgren. This book fulfills the category of a “Classic in Translation” for the B2tC Challenge and the “Book by a Minor Author” for 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge. The edition I read was translated beautifully by Evelyn Ramsden.

This gem of a book was written by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, best-known for creating the character of Pippi Longstocking. But Lindgren was actually quite prolific, writing many children’s series, dozens of stand-alone novels, and even some screenplays.

Seacrow Island was the most recent book I read aloud to my son each night before bed, and we were both rather sad to leave the island and the Melkersons at the end. In this book Lindgren tells the story of a family who rents a summer cottage in a small island community. At first it seems like the arrangement might not work out, but the Melkersons quickly fall in the love with the island, the cottage, and more importantly, the people who are their neighbors.

The widowed father, Melker, is somewhat of a bumbling artist type, but he loves his children fiercely and does his best to provide for them and make them happy. His eldest daughter Malin fills the role of both mother and sister to her three younger brothers. She is both responsible and somewhat of a romantic, not to mention lovely. Her brothers have the goal of keeping boyfriends away at any cost. Johan and Niklaus are closest in age and seldom seen apart in any adventure. Pelle, the youngest boy, is an incurable animal lover and something of a young philosopher. These, along with their island neighbors, form a delightful, colorful cast of characters. Seacrow Island is a story full of the joy of the everyday, as well as the love of family and friends.

If you are in the market for a light, hopeful story with just a bit of whimsy and adventure, as well as lovely prose, I highly recommend Seacrow Island.

“My Family and Other Animals” Book Review

Boy Under Tree by Norman Rockwell

If you are looking for some light fiction that is also written in sparkling prose, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell is the book for you. I really cannot say enough good things about this read. It was sheer delight.

The book begins with a family of four children and their widowed mother tired of their humdrum average British life. On a whim, they sell their house and move to the island of Corfu and rent a house sight unseen. The story is told from Gerald’s perspective as the youngest brother, describing his family with a loving touch, though each member has his or her definite shortcomings. He strongly focusses on his intense fascination with the natural world as well as the curious cast of characters in this island community. Durrell relates his anecdotes in a such a humorous way that many times I frankly laughed outright. My husband gave me the side-eye more than once while I was reading before bed, tee-hee.

Also, I feel like I must mention that I am aware of the TV series loosely based on this book, but after watching some of it when I was finished reading, I would strongly recommend you skip the show and go straight to the book. The TV version doesn’t even seem to the be about the same people, really. They took the names and places and twisted Durrell’s optimistic, funny and uplifting family comedy into a somewhat dark, depressing and dysfunctional family drama. But that is just my two cents. If you loved the TV show, maybe you will like the book, too. In fact, you might like it even better!

I read My Family and Other Animals in fulfillment of the “Classic About a Family” category for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020. It also fills the “Biography/Memoire” category for me in both the Literary Life 20 for 2020 challenge and the Scholé Sisters 5×5 challenge.