Tag Archives: Reading

Hanging out together

Effie naps while I read; I’m happy she actually prefers to share the bed. Perhaps she realizes we can’t share her window perch. . . .I can’t know what she dreams much better than she can read Victor Hugo’s novel, The History of a Crime: The Testimony of an Eye Witness.  I suspect the French Revolution is an unlikely candidate for her cup of tea anyway.

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Blog Blockers

I seem to have taken a break from writing, at least for my blog. . .I’ve kind of been on blog blockers, or whatever else one might call an influence that persuades me that I simply have nothing to say, or at least, nothing interesting to chronicle, even if only for the sake of preserving a thought or event that strikes me as potentially, if not presently, noteworthy.

That said, I did an extraordinary thing for me, and spent parts of two evenings actually reading a book from start to finish. I could have just as easily read the entire book in one evening, but I actually wanted to take notes, something extraordinary for me. A book must be uncommonly engaging for me to finish it at all, much less in two evenings. But I find J. I. Packer compelling; in fact, I find him companionable in spirit.

The book that grounded me is Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging, and it is written for Dr. Packer’s people, the cohorts of aging Christians. I say cohorts because he divides us into three age cohorts: the Youngest Old, who are 65-75; the Medium Old, 75-85; and the Oldest Old, who are blessed to be 85+. I am still a couple of years from entering the Youngest Olds, but as I say in my review, I need time to come to grips with these things.

And so, J. I. Packer’s book, which he published this year at the age of 87, was an exceptionally worthy blog blocker. I seldom write when I am reading something wholly engaging. What would I have I to say in comparison? Our lilac buds are close to swell; the wind is blowing as it nearly always is; and beneath the basalt hills, the most beautiful green I have ever seen is winter wheat in Spring. But a book that encourages and consoles like Finishing Our Course with Joy is also a miracle–another sort of gift from God–the one we call the Church.

0401141217 buds

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A restive festive spirit

I seem to be lapsing into the somewhat inconvenient “Why Can’t Lauren Read?” poster-child mode of my law school days. It might possibly have been my attitude back then, but I am fairly certain that the required reading for law school has a uniform tendency to (a) seem meaningless for want of context, and (b) induce logophobia.

But that probably doesn’t explain why it’s difficult for me even to read two chapters of my Bible, or a Banner of Truth article, or even a news item from start to finish. Maybe it’s a seasonal affect thing, but we’ve been blessed with a fair amount of sunshine and fairly mild temperatures.

The trouble with logophobia is that it tends to trigger my hibernation response, and I have never figured out what to do in a hibernation state besides read. I become so easily agitated that even conversation and coffee provide limited returns. I will forget everything we discussed just as efficiently as I will forget everything I read.

Having a decreased interest in reading is a bit inconvenient right now, because I just started Michener’s The Source, and I feel beholden to finish it because I actually bought it in Kindle edition. Everything I read, I read on my Kindle, and most of these books were free, thanks to altruistic volunteers and generous publishers. Alaska is the only other book by Michener I’ve read, and that was in 1997. I borrowed it from the library. All I remember from the three-pound tome is that Alaska began American life as a Nordstrom colony.

Ah, but it’s Christmas, and the refuge of the logophobe is numbers, as in tracking numbers. See the festive restive numerophile. Track, numerophile, track. See your parcel, something wonderful inside, sit in a Lima, Ohio or Santa Clarita, California postal sorting facility for three days. But then—suddenly—your vigil is rewarded! Your parcel, something wonderful inside, is now in Federal Way, in the western portion of your own Washington state! See your parcel, something wonderful inside, arrive in your very own mailbox in eastern Washington state, the same day, via warp drive! How do they do that?

I don’t know, but if I had to guess, someone significantly less compulsive than I am is updating the tracking information.

And I, a little toward the high end of compulsive when it comes to tracking tracking numbers, think that just adds to the festive restivity (or even the restive festivity) of it all.

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Extraordinary activities

Suddenly I find myself doing things that for me are probably beyond the unusual and well into the extraordinary. I doubt it has much if anything to do with the emphatic assertion of Fall. But the thermometer displayed its red line only to the 40° mark this morning: its first such display since last year’s leaves began to bronze.

It was extraordinary for me to watch the Presidential debate. It was extraordinary because I have no interest in the election. Gay marriage vs. magic underwear—who cares? Still, the debate interested me. I got to see a surprisingly kinetic candidate I had previously thought was in early algor mortis; and I saw a stiffly braced candidate I had previously thought of as kinetic but insubstantive, looking very resentful to no real advantage. I don’t know why these things interested me, but they did. But I still can’t get past the magic underwear thing.

It’s extraordinary for me to fill out financial aid forms, but if the hospital wants to reduce my bill for my two extraordinary visits, I will go the extra mile and ask them to.

It’s extraordinary for me to read an entire book on history. I’ve tended to attribute my indifference to the subject to poor writing on the subject. I’m reasonably well versed through the Bronze Age, but my conversancy takes a dive from there. And now, here am I, 24% through Churchill’s second volume on World War II. What next? Volume 3. It’s amazing how an educated person in this country can know nothing about the events most impacting her parents’ generation, except the gruesome details of the concentration camps. And I know I’m not the only American like me. That’s probably why our country is still acting like a dumb little kid standing in the snow without his boots on, throwing snowballs with all his might.

I’m also reading Les Miserables; I have been reading it since June. It is extraordinary that I would spend four months reading a novel, but it is long and I have been reading other things concurrently. Now that I am 92% of the way through Hugo’s monumental tome that touches on every conceivable aspect of life except the reality of divine sovereign grace, I am starting to think I don’t like the book after all. But I will finish it, because I am a finisher.

I can’t think of anything else going on that’s particularly extraordinary, even for me.

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Audi shocks, French insurrections, and nearly everything else: an uneventful week in review

My beautiful Grunhilde’s shocks are shot, and most blessedly, my husband is able to replace them. Of course the shocks must be mail-ordered, because the nearest Audi dealer is 2 hours away and charges $2300 more for the parts than the vendor selling the same ones through Amazon. Shocks are a big deal with the Audi Allroad’s automatic suspension. Very big, evidently.

I sustained a stinging encounter with a low-flying insect while standing outside my husband’s shop, watching him work. Benadryl brought down the hives, but if there is an instructive moral to be garnered from the incident, it eludes me.

I’ve had rather a bad pain-wracked week, but with no dearth of consolations. My friend Jane, an artist who makes beautiful jewelry, sent me a wonderful polymer clay pendant on a silk cord from her new line. She sent it as a surprise, and it cheered me immensely. Jane is a contributor to my recently published book, as well.

Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm, the first of his six volumes chronicling the events leading to and culminating in World War 2 and its aftermath, has been on my Amazon Shopping List for a few months. (You’re sweet, but I don’t have a public Wish List.) I haven’t wanted to spring for it at $8.99, or even $6.54. Today, the Kindle Daily Deal had all six volumes for $1.99 apiece. My husband has wanted to read them too, so I purchased all six for less than the usual price of two. So now I have begun reading The Gathering Storm, while concurrently reading Les Miserables, which I began reading in June.

Les Miserables has not been a quick read, but it is a rich and beautiful novel, with books taking extensive detours within the book, as if Victor Hugo could not bear for us to be unacquainted with every nuance of his beloved self-destructive France. How could we elude intimate knowledge of the socio-economic history of French convents; or the socio-economic importance of the jet (lignite crystal) trinket industry? Nor would he leave us ignorant of the dynamic interplay of hunger politics and nihilism, a dynamic that generated a 20-year period of pathological, suicidally insane insurrections that followed in the wake of the horrific French Revolution. It’s a slow read, but I’m in it for the history.

Meanwhile, I try to get my mind around the comprehensively unwise policy of assigning Germany to pay reparations after World War 1, when it had no money or credit. We loaned them money as if they could ever hope to repay it, which resulted in the notorious inflation that drove the mark’s value down to 43 million million marks to one pound sterling. That would be 43 trillion by current American reckoning, but don’t gasp; in Churchill’s day in the UK, a million millions meant a mere billion.

How pleasant it is to read things that permit one to gain a realistic perspective of uncomplicated life. And I didn’t even burn the beans.

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From My Unsheltered Mind: a Scene with Matine

Contemplating the downside of life as a celebrity author, I rehearse an interview with dreaded Culture Mulcher reviewer, Matine Mudge.

Every little-people author I know dreads The Call from The Mudge. If you grant her an interview, she’ll make you invisible. If you don’t, the first digit in your royalties will be a decimal point.

Her MO is to come to the victim’s home. I’ve heard that she will even lift the lid of your washing machine if she happens to see it, to see whether there is any grunge in the inside rim. I cleaned mine this morning. It’s a good thing to do anyway, but I admit I was motivated by Mudge fear.

With Matine comfortably seated and drinking coffee from my best Corelle cup, and me seated on the edge of my chair, my spine torqued forward and my shoulders doing their best to embrace my ears, the interview commences.

Matine: Why did you write this book? Wait a minute, what was the name of your book again? I’m doing so many today.

Lauren: Um, it’s just a little book. Cat poetry. It’s called, Glamorgan’s Tales: A Cat’s Garden of Verse. I didn’t mean to write it. It just showed up on my steno pad and wouldn’t go away. So I kept writing it.

(At this point, I am absolutely transfixed with a hat pin accenting her little black hat that must have caused a sensation in 1941 but honestly didn’t do very much for her rumpled yellow-checkered linen blouse and orange corduroy miniskirt. The hat pin is no doubt an heirloom through her Lucretia Borgia line.)

Matine: Indeed. Could you tell me in very few words what your book is about?

Lauren: I think my book expresses my worldview through the actions of various cats.

Matine: And what is your worldview?

Lauren: I’m a Scriptural presuppositionalist. For one thing, I believe all creation groans for redemption from original sin.

Matine: Could you explain that? Is this something new?

Lauren: No ma’am; it’s rather old, actually. As old as man.

Matine: Oh! It’s New Age then.

(I swoon, afraid I will throw up.)

That’s good. Well, let’s move on. What do you think distinguishes your work? Why should anyone read it?

Lauren: I don’t know that anyone should. If anyone does, I would hope to goodness they would enjoy it, find it humorous perhaps, poignant occasionally, reflective of their own cats and maybe their own thoughts and experiences. I suppose there any number of reasons why people read things. I think what distinguishes my work is that my poetry uses fairly traditional rhyme and metric structure with modern context and language. But I would certainly want to clarify that it uses very clean, family-friendly modern language.

Matine: So you would categorize your work as family-friendly?

Lauren: I would, if it had occurred to me to categorize it at all. Amazon just categorizes it under 20th century American poetry.

Matine: All right now, what exactly inspired you to write this particular book?

Lauren: My cat. His name is Coolidge. He’s sort of a sweet-natured curmudgeon. Glamorgan has a sense of justice, and even demonstrates a fair amount of altruism; but if he were human, he would be a good-natured sociopath.

Matine
: I understand this is a re-release of a previously published edition.

Lauren: Yes, Coolidge is 14, and I originally wrote this book when he was a kitten, in 1998. We published it in paperback, and it sold copies, but we decided not to keep it in print because printing costs were so expensive and we had to sell the book for $8.95. I received a wonderful letter from a middle-school student who read the paperback edition, telling me that her class was assigned to write about their favorite American poet. She chose me!

This year I got a Kindle, and haven’t wanted to read anything in print since. I just want to read everything on my Kindle. My husband and I decided to publish a line of e-books because we really believe this is the wave of the present and the future, and we just really like them. It’s just such a great way to read. People who don’t have Kindles can download free Kindle apps and read on their cell phones, iPads, or computers. And people who don’t have any of those things — well, they aren’t my market. I’m sorry, but I can’t help it.

For our first launch, we decided to resurrect Glamorgan, this time with my husband’s illustrations. I also wrote two new poems for the new Kindle edition. I think it was just the spark from that wonderful girl who bothered to write me, that kept my belief in the book alive. There is a companion volume, Glamorgan: He Who Would Be Cat, and my husband will be illustrating it as well, and then he will code it for Kindle publication this fall.

Matine: Well, that sounds like quite a story within a story. Oh! No!

(I would almost swear she deliberately poured coffee all over her rumpled yellow-checkered linen blouse…)

Lauren, dear…

(The woman adores me!)

I have other interviews to do, and I hate to go out this way. If I could possibly prevail upon you to let me use your washing machine for just a short cycle in order to clean up, I could give you some more time.

Lauren: Of course, Matine. I’m so sorry about your blouse. I think we’re about the same size and I’m happy to lend you a T-shirt till your blouse is washed and dry. You’re welcome to change in my study.

(When she returned in my T-shirt, she wouldn’t think of letting me take her blouse and wash it for her. I showed her to the washing machine and retrieved the detergent from the cupboard for her. She opened the lid herself, looked around it a little, and, with an apparent look of approval, plunked in her blouse. I figured I had passed her test and could relax and wait for Oprah to call.)

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Free e-books for life

I note that Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal is offering a slew of mysteries today for $.99, but none of these will solve the real mystery all men have needed to know, and that all men have secretly if not openly desired to know since the Fall: how in the world to unburden himself of his sin. Sin is a problem, and the cleverness of man and the wisdom of the world cannot solve it. No amount of gazing into the particulate matter of the crystalline structures of the universe is going to be of the slightest help; nor is being nicer than your neighbor.

If you’re looking for some summer reading to jerk you into realizing the need for something entirely else, something that could lead you to the knowledge of free grace, the forgiveness of your sin, and the peace of unconditional surrender to and unconditional acceptance from God, monergism.com is offering a boon.

At their free e-book website, monergism is offering John Piper’s sermons on the first eight chapters of the book of Romans. (There are a couple of defective pages in the beginning with some repetitive sentences. It’s a free book. Be forgiving. Get past the misprints. The substance is near.) Romans is the crux of the word of God. It’s all right there: free grace and how to freely obtain it; why you need it, why there’s no other way to salvation from sin, why you’re not too bad to get it, why you’re not too good to need it. Also featured in Romans: why sin leads to eternal death, and why salvation through grace alone leads to eternal life.

While you’re checking that out, they have a lot of other swell free e-books, too. Like Pilgrims Progress, and other timeless — as only wisdom and truth can be — hits.

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Bouquet for my friends

Lately I’ve just wanted to send people flowers: pictures of them. The trouble is, I have been taking fairly crummy flower pictures with my new camera phone, and my old Kodak digital five megapixel camera isn’t honestly much better. Flowers have a way of going out of focus when they move in the wind, and the wind is ever with me. Flowers have a way of looking wonderful in their environment, but the environment isn’t always photogenic. But the largest barrier between my flower pictures and my intent is man’s eternal quest, a camera that sees as he sees. I am amazed at the disparity between what my camera records and what I have seen in the very same spot. And the dissimilitude is specifically disheartening. All of this notwithstanding, I have included here a little bouquet of photos of my garden that look nothing like my garden because my camera does not see what I see. Just because I wanted to send some flowers to my friends.

My reading has changed trajectory. I decided life was too long to read The Canterbury Tales, because I found them not only candidates for being declared disgusting, but worse, frankly dull. I have wanted to read Black Hawk Down for about a year, so I finally gave in and ordered the book — one of three Kindle books I have actually purchased for more than $0.00. The incidents chronicled in the book occurred while I was in law school, so I was unable to follow the events as they happened. I have no doubt that Mark Bowden has recorded things accurately, including the high volume of gratuitous profanity, but my moral-ground altimeter places him at a point a little below sea level. I read about a quarter of the book and decided to return it.

My reading is a lot like my photography: I like things to be rendered as I see them. Narcissistic, I know, but at this point in life, necessarily valid. All Things Considered, a wonderful (and free!) e-book of essays by G. K. Chesterton, has been captivating, as have John Piper’s sermon series on Romans 1-8, and a delightful collection of short stories called More Sweet Tea. I was a day late for the $0.00 price, but splurged on day two and paid $1.99. It’s a wonderful book. The stories draw me into dynamic heart-to-memory ping-pong. I have so long denied myself the simple pleasure of reading really good stories. I am positively enchanted to discover there really is such a thing. I’ve never quite trusted fiction, or even other people’s memories as literature. Maybe I just had to outgrow a lot of resistance first.

So, here are some flowers for you. But I wish you could see what I see.

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The highest and best use of a lap

Coolidge and Chaucer

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mickle-lief for such wonders

I’m looking at my hoard of devices on my desk — a computer, a Kindle, a camera phone, a Walkman, an MP3 recorder. They all factor into my life most days; they all make life as I know it better, and even, I often rue, possible.

The computer, of course, is the clearinghouse from which everything comes in and is distributed to other devices and other people. The megaton desktop is my commercial center and communications network. My Kindle, the simplest of its kind possible, is my favorite inanimate object in the world. My favorite work and leisure pastimes are acquiring free e-books and reading them. My camera phone is simple to carry — I would carry a phone anyway — wherever I go, even walking around our field. Besides the ordinary and obvious advantages of a phone, the device has a half-adequate camera with which I can take pictures of flowers and e-mail flowers to my friends, and to my husband, so that he can see what has bloomed since he left for work. My Walkman contains all the pictures and videos my daughter sends me of my granddaughter. They are also on my computer, of course, but my Walkman enables me to share them with friends without worrying about where they might go from there. I have used the recorder to record books for my granddaughter.

Another favored wonder is my highly intelligent car, Grünhilde. Last night, or, I should say, this morning at 1:45, highly intelligent Grünhilde’s security alarm broke the pleasant bucolic silence. My sleep-gifted husband would have missed it, but I made sure that he didn’t. There was no cause for alarm, so to speak; a mere warning that a particular wire somewhere was simply losing its sense of purpose. My husband was able to quell the alarm, which, thankfully, apparently wakened no one but us. Neither did the redux at 3:45, which I think was the time Grünie locked my husband in — a security response — but he resourcefully climbed over the front seats and opened one of the doors manually. Again, he managed to quiet the restless wire. He came in and perused some online Audi forums for a while, which paid off when my genius car’s alarm went off at 5:15. This time, my husband was fully prepared to disconnect the wire to the security alarm’s horn. A good time was had by all.

This afternoon, I was walking around our pasture and garden, taking a few pictures as I engaged in such elemental things as stretching muscles and breathing air. A breeze was blowing the thin stems of the grasses and flowers, so the pictures aren’t very sharp, but it’s the experimental purpose that counts. If you receive a blurry picture, just know that I saw it as something beautiful and wonderful and amazing, and that is the image I wanted to send you. If you like sharp pictures, make friends with my daughter, who has an 8-megapixel iPhone camera.

When I came in, I saw that my daughter with the 8-megapixel iPhone camera had e-mailed me a video of my 9-month-and-one-week-old granddaughter pushing a wheelie horse and walking with long-fast strides behind it. In seconds, the video was in my computer’s desktop video folder, in my Walkman, and in a forwarded e-mail to my husband. I think I watched it 30 or 32 times in the first minute and a half. It is 19 seconds long. Life is too wonderful.

And if that were not enough, I read Beowulf this week, and mickle the liefer am I for having read it. I read two long critical articles about it as well — one by J.R.R. Tolkien, the other by Seamus Heaney — both edifying, and fortifying to my own thoughts about this wonderful landmark work. One was an HTML, the other a PDF, but with a few clicks of my mouse, I converted them both to Kindle fodder. I have been trying to teach my dull Dragon Speaking voice recognition software some basic Anglo-Saxon, but it’s not catching on awfully well.

I am just starting The Canterbury Tales. The best things in English are free, and I am gradually acquiring a hoard in my Kindle that would make a dragon of Beowulf’s day jealous. The average apartment-size refrigerator would make anyone of Beowulf’s day jealous. Then I see a house sparrow hefting most of his weight in straw and flying off with it. Now that is wondrous and amazing.

But this becomes mickle-ramble.

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