Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reading This Week...

~Chris Seay's The Gospel According to LOST. My husband and I are passing this one back and forth; the chapters are short. Lighter than I expected, and not quite as thought-provoking as I'd hoped. Still, good insights into the power of stories, lots of good questions re: the intersection of faith and popular culture. If you like this sort of thing (and like LOST) definitely worth picking up.

~Michelangelo by Diane Stanley. The sweet girl and I continue our meandering tour of the Renaissance. I love Stanley's lengthy picture book biographies, rich in language and art, and this one is no exception. As a fun sidebar, we watched Mike Venezia's Michelangelo on DVD, from his "Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists" series. I think "you don't say no to the pope" is going to be one of my new favorite expressions.

~"Stealing Past Watchful Dragons: C.S. Lewis' Incarnational Aesthetics and Today's Emerging Imagination" an essay by Phil Harrold in volume 3 of the series C.S. Lewis: Life, Works and Legacy, edited by Bruce Edwards. Excellent essay, recapping and cogently expressing many things I've been reading & thinking about Lewis in the past year. Giving me new thoughts to chew on too.

~An essay by Jennifer Woodruff Tait on gender in Lewis' That Hideous Strength. It's in a recent Bulletin of the NY C.S. Lewis Society; unfortunately I had time to read the first half of the essay at the library but not time to photocopy the rest of it. Hope to get back to it soon.

~Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary. Current read-aloud with the sweet girl, and as usual, Ramona is providing both joy and mirth. Not to mention plenty of good adverb spotting practice. (Stay tuned for a new post on teaching grammar with Beverly Cleary.)

~And speaking of Cleary, I recently re-read her book Sister of the Bride after discovering a used library-sale copy I forgot I'd picked up. I don't think it's worn as well for some folks as many Cleary books, but it was one of my favorite books in the world when I was around ten or eleven, and I can still quote chunks of it. And I still get a lump in my throat during the scene where younger sister Barbara, sitting in Rosemary's shabby, unfinished university apartment, gets a tiny glimpse of how real love and looming marriage have already changed and deepened her big sister. Maybe you've got to be a little sister to love this one as much I do.

~Still re-reading Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terebithia out loud to D. Love Jess and Leslie. Love May Belle. We're almost to the key scene, the one I can't read without crying. I've never tried it aloud, so we'll see how it goes.

Bits and pieces of other things, but that's the main list for the past few days. What are you reading and enjoying this week?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More Musings (Alchemical and Other) on LOST

I can't seem to help myself...the more I watch LOST's final season, the more excited I'm getting about the ways it's using alchemical imagery.

If you've not watched last week's episode "The Substitute," don't read any further. Otherwise, let's forge ahead.

When my friend Erin saw my last post, and knew that I hadn't yet seen the latest episode, she left an enthusiastic comment to let me know that lots of albedo imagery was on the way. And boy, was she right.

"The Substitute" focuses on John Locke, one of my favorite Losties. We get three versions of John in this particular episode: island John (dead); island fake John (whose body has been taken over by Smokey); and sideways world John (broken and flawed but loved and somehow renewed).

Whatever the writers intend us to think about regarding the sideways story ~ is it a reality that might be? that is? that will be? that could be? that should be? ~I am loving it.

And part of the reason I'm loving it is because, oh happy day, the writers seemed to get the memo from so many of us who have enjoyed this show for five seasons. The mysteries are grand. The science-fiction and fantasy elements are intriguing. But the characters...the characters!...are what it's all about. They're why we care that any of the rest of it is happening.

Because I care deeply about these characters, I love seeing what their lives might look like if able to let go of their baggage, or at least begin to. What would a second chance at life look like for these people, especially if their island lives have taught them important life lessons? What if people could re-enter their own pasts with newly gained forgiveness and wisdom and hope?

Because alchemical literature majors in stories that deal with purification and transformation, such stories are rich in symbols that help reveal the purifying and transforming process. And LOST seems to be literally dripping with such symbols right now.

With John's story, we definitely seem to be in the albedo stage. Think, if you will, of just a few of the major images in "The Substitute." We see John:

~lying humbled, facedown, on his lawn, unable to move, drenched in the spray of his sprinkler system. Pre-island John would have bellowed in rage; sideways John just laughs, in an echo of how he laughed in wonder and lifted his face to the heavens when it poured rain on him on the island in season 1. I was so awash in the excitement of seeing the water imagery this time around that I almost missed that echo; both Erin and Dana (my hubby) more astute LOST-observers than I, picked it up right away.

~in a bath (a bath! how alchemical can we get!) discussing his wedding (a wedding! how alchemical can we get!)

~looking contemplatively in a mirror. Oh this you have to love. Doppelganger John, contemplating his mirrored reflection. Just as doppelganger Kate contemplated her's last week, and doppelganger Jack did the week before. Hats off to Doc Jensen, amazing pop culture critic, for noticing that we've had three sideways bathroom-mirror moments so far. LOST has always abounded in "seeing eye" imagery, and I love that mirrors are showing up everywhere in season 6. Mirrors are one of the most potent symbols of spiritual contemplation, hinting at the union of subject/object. More contraries resolved? We shall see.

But my favorite alchemical symbol last week turned out not to be one involving water, at least not directly (though we had to get there on a perilous trip down a cliff next to a crashing ocean). I almost shouted in glee when I saw the white rock and black rock on the scales. Yes, I know...we've seen white and black rocks before in this show, but never before had they seemed this pregnant with meaning, a meaning that goes far behind the simplistic dark=bad and light=good, though that's there too. The white rock reminded me forcefully of the philosopher's stone (and here we're at the albedo stage again, with the material washed and purified, ready for the red flushing of the rubedo).

The white rock also made me think of the white stone from Revelation 2:17. This is the stone given to those who conquer, a stone on which is written a "new name." Given the fact that the phrase "black rock" conjures for us images of the slave ship of the same name, which we've seen earlier on the show, it seems to me that the difference we're being shown here, between Jacob and Smokey, and the alternatives being presented to those who (like Sawyer) find themselves needing to choose allegiances, is between servitude and freedom. Or you might say between slavery to old, outmoded lies about themselves and the joy of knowing their true selves: loved, forgiven, redeemed.

And how much do I love that it's Sawyer most explicitly confronted with this choice right now? If there is one character on LOST we long to see embrace a new name, his true name (James Ford ~ is he fording a deep river?) it's Sawyer, whose very moniker reminds us constantly of his bondage to his past.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Old Friends in New (or Old) Places

One of the many reasons I loved Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me (the 2010 Newbery Medal winner) is the way in which she wove in so many wonderful mentions of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I love it when characters in books reference other characters and stories I know and love. It makes the world of fiction so interrelated, and gives me a definite "point of contact" with the characters, similar to how I feel more deeply connected to someone in real life when I discover we share a love for a book.

So I loved it in Cynthia Lord's Rules when we see Catherine reading the Harry Potter books in the doctor's office while she waits for her autistic brother David at his many therapy appointments.

And of course I've always enjoyed the fact that Jess and Leslie, when they create their kingdom of Terebithia in Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terebithia, refer to Narnia. But I just recently discovered another lovely reference at the beginning of chapter 6, when one of Jess' older sisters is trying to tease him about his friendship with Leslie:

"He tried to ignore her. He was reading one of Leslie's books, and the adventures of an assistant pig keeper were far more important to him than Brenda's sauce."

I wish you could have seen my smile when I got to those words. I must have skimmed right over this line a dozen times before in all the many times I've read and re-read Terebithia in the past 20 plus years. "Assistant pig keeper" didn't send up any flags or set off any bells until now because, until this past year, I hadn't read Lloyd Alexander's wonderful Chronicles of Prydain. But Taran, the assistant pig keeper of those stories, has become one of my favorite characters in literary fantasy. How marvelous that Kat Paterson, writing just a decade or so after Alexander, slipped this small tribute right into the flow of her own story.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alchemical LOST?

Geek question of the week…

Is LOST working within an alchemical framework?

I know I’ve been sitting at the feet of John Granger for a few years now, so you could say I have alchemical imagery on the brain. But as I’ve pondered the first couple of shows this final season, I find myself wondering if the show’s writers are somehow tapping into, if not a full alchemical framework, at least some serious alchemical imagery.

What makes it difficult to ascertain, beyond the fact that this isn’t literature on the page, is that we really don’t have just one central character. We have a whole group (or groups) of them, all of them seeming to struggle toward redemption and purification. But whether or not you look at the alchemical journey in terms of the community story arc, or just one central character, like Jack Shephard, some of the imagery seems to leap off the screen.

I’ve been particularly pondering it at the beginning of this sixth and final season because our characters have certainly been through plenty of nigredo moments. Think about Jack in L.A., but really think about any of them and the kinds of things they’ve gone through in recent months, on and off the island.

Although I think it’s possible that you’ve got frameworks within frameworks (individual characters at different places in the journey toward purification; individual seasons with discrete alchemical frameworks from start to finish, working like a book in a series) I think it’s possible we’re also seeing the show as a whole working within the three symbolic stages. And if that’s the case, I think season 6 is beginning with the albedo stage and working steadily toward the rubedo.

Here are some of the clues I’ve noticed. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that when the screen went to white, instead of its traditional black, at the end of season 5, that was our signal that we were beginning the transition from the nigredo to the albedo stage. Think about it: our survivors, when they detonated the bomb (in their attempted time reboot) have seemingly been “reborn” (their old, outmoded selves “dead”) into a new state of being. Or maybe two states of being, given our island timeframe and the sideways timeframe, where we’ve actually met with former characters who have died (Locke, Boone, Charlie…)

If you miss the symbolism of dying to their old selves, the show gave us an exploded hatch that literally functioned as a grave for Juliet ~ and yes, tragic Juliet shares a name with one of the most famous couples in alchemical literary history. Sawyer descends beneath the earth to try to retrieve Juliet, who dies in his arms. He carries her back above ground, and not long after receives a message from her (via Miles, who can listen to the dead) that seems to indicate the explosion “worked.” Worked how? To give them back their lives? The survivors, of course, were always mixed in their hopes and fears of what it might accomplish, but there has always been some doubt that a reboot would restore them to their pre-crash selves. What if a reboot somehow restores them instead to new-forged, purified selves? Or at least to an ongoing process of purification toward that end?

At the moment, of course, they seem to be existing in two alternative time frames, but it seems as though the time-frames may somehow be connected, and that washing/purification (the work of the albedo stage, which readies the material/person being purified for new life/resurrection) is possibly going on in both, or is reflected in one while going on in the other. Isn’t it fascinating to note the places where things keep happening in 2004 sideways world that seem to mirror, or echo things that have happened on the island? Jack saving Charlie’s life, Kate connecting with pregnant Claire (is Kate destined to be at Aaron’s birth, whenever/wherever it may occur?).

The water/washing symbolism seems especially potent right now. We’ve plunged beneath the ocean from the skies. We’ve seen Sayid, literally, physically dead, put into a healing pool. What that might or might not have affected, we don’t know, and there are troubling indications that dark is on the rise in some of our survivors, including Sayid and Claire, but still. We’ve seen Sawyer, of all people, dissolved in tears. Actually, the possibility that the water of the healing pool and the water of Sawyer’s tears could be functioning on some alchemical symbolic level gives me the best hope I have at the moment that we’re not going to lose either man totally to the powers of smoky darkness.

Beyond the things I’ve already mentioned as alchemical possibilities, I have to mention this one: doppelgangers. As John Granger writes (in his book Unlocking Harry Potter) “This staple of 19th century Gothic and romantic fiction is of a creature or pair of creatures that have complementary figures or shadows, which shadows reveal aspects of their character otherwise invisible.” In the HP stories, all sorts of things functioned as doppelgangers: twins, brothers, half-breeds, liminal characters, etc. In LOST, it seems to me we have a storyline currently run amok with doppelgangers, from the re-animated bodies (“claimed”? by Jacob’s nemesis Smoky, and/or potentially by Jacob?) to the timeline doubles of our castaways themselves. However else the double-timeline story plays itself out, I don’t think we can get away from the symbolic power of the fact that our survivors, perhaps brought to the island in part to “work out their salvation” in some sense, currently have “shadow selves.”

And I won’t even begin to speculate on the fact that of our two married couples on the island, the women are named Rose and Sun….

Or that the island has been rife with “quarreling couples” of all sorts (with Jacob and his nemesis perhaps the biggest quarrelers of all…)

I’m not arguing that the alchemical framework/imagery is the only or even most important element of the story-telling. I’ve not even convinced myself that it’s completely conscious…so much of the LOST narrative depends on references to other stories and story-telling traditions, some of them are bound to be alchemical literature. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. So my fellow geeks, have at it. Is there alchemical imagery at work in LOST?

P.S. Re: potential spoilers in the comments, please know that I am running a few days behind in my LOST watching. I generally see the current week’s show over the weekend (thank you, Erin!) so I’m only up through “What Kate Does” for now.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reading and Writing Links

The Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary) awards have been announced. Hooray for All the World winning best picture book. We just recently read and enjoyed that one.

A belated Happy Valentine's Day! Since love is in the air, I just posted some reflections on my favorite literary couples over at Epinions. Enjoy!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Of Books, Banana Bread, and Small Bottles

I think I need to be in touch with more mom-writers.

I'm curious to know if any other mom-writers ever feel torn between vocations (that's vocations with an "o" not vacations with an "a" -- I know most moms don't get the latter!) and long for writing time.

My vocation as a mom and teacher is dear to my heart. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I love guiding my daughter, both in heart and head formation. I have days (especially perhaps during snowbound weeks when we both get cranky with cabin-fever) when I may not always do those things as well, patiently and creatively as I should, but it doesn't mean I don't love doing them and recognize them as one of the main calls God has put before me during this season of my life.

But oh, do I miss writing. Not little bits of posts on my blog, or jottings in my journal, or responses to my seminary students' essays, or reviews that earn us necessary pennies...all of which I do realize count as writing, all of which I enjoy and am grateful I get to do. I mean writing...the kind of writing I spent long stretches of adolescent and young adult time doing...short stories, poems and revisions of poems, essays, drafts of novels or scenes from novels or character sketches. The kind of writing it is very hard to squeeze into the cracks of crevices of a life filled with other things I need to do and want to do and yes, have to do. The kind of writing I tell myself, if I were truly dedicated, I would get up two hours earlier a day to do, only I'm often so tired from having to work late the night before, I just can't. Nor would it always be wise, because I need to be cogent and patient that day, not bleary and growly as I tend to be when I don't get enough sleep.

I'm truly not complaining. I know not all of it is because I'm a parent -- lots of folks are much busier parents than I, who only have one child. I know if I had gone on to have another baby back when we had real insurance, or if we'd been in good enough financial shape to adopt, I would likely still be up in the night with a baby or chasing a toddler, and those seasons, in particular (the infant/toddler seasons) are so good but exhausting on very different levels.

Back when the sweet girl was a baby, and I was still in that wonderful though challenging season, I remember reading very wise words from Debra Rienstra, in her lovely book Great With Child. I can't recall the exact wording (nor find the quote right now) but the image has stayed with me now for almost eight years. She talked about the season of intense, active mothering of very small children, and imagined it as a bottle with a very slender neck. There's only so much you can pour at once into a small-necked bottle, she said, and so you have to be very careful what you pour, choosing wisely how to spend your energy. But she also encouraged mothers to remember that not every season of life is a bottle with such a slender neck. Value the precious slender-neck bottle time, and remember that one day, that bottle will widen and you will have more room to pour.

I remember feeling so encouraged by that, both in the hope it held out (my horizons will widen again, and my energy deepen) but in the timely reminder that the time I was in right then was precious and fleeting. It helped me to value that moment, yet look ahead for other moments.

And I think it's a very true image.'s the thing...I'm pretty sure most of life is filled with season upon season of slender-necked bottles. Not in a bad way, but because we choose how to narrow our focus, where to spend our strengths and gifts, and we're finite, we can only do so much at a certain time if we want to do it well.

For me, the season where the bottle expands and I will have time to truly write the things I want to write has just never come. The snippets I've started spill out of notebooks and drawers, but they never seem to get anywhere. And I'm realizing it's partly due to choices I've made, and partly due to where our call as a family has taken us. We are a family involved in mission and ministry. I homeschool. I need to help bring in very necessary income, so I also work -- I teach online courses, I edit, I write, I do whatever I can to help bring in what we need. But somehow I have never found a way (never found the time) to do the kind of writing I most long to do, mostly because it has never been feasible for me to invest that kind of time when there is no guarantee of a concrete return. And given how broke we are (really) that has simply been a wise decision and a necessary one.

So I try to squeeze the time in, here and there, and most of the time that's okay. I see the value in it, and I tell myself to wait because another season is coming, at the same time that I love the season I'm in and value it.

But then I have days when I get frustrated. This is where I think talking to other moms-who-write sometimes helps. The frustrating moments are the ones where I find myself having a wonderful idea for a story, but being almost too afraid to get it to paper because I know I won't have time to really help it unfold, no stretches of writing time when I can just lose myself in the joy of writing, no writing space where I can just shut the door and write. Right now I am almost constantly on call to do other things. But I don't know what I'm afraid of -- that it might take me months? years? to write a story the way I want to write it? Consciously I know that's not a very good excuse, but it seems to stand in my way of starting or moving very far past the start of a project.

And then I have what I call the "odious comparison" days. The days when I see what other writers have accomplished (some moms too, though not all of them). I see their books, or beautifully crafted essays, or brilliant poems, and I look around at the piles of read-aloud books and at mountains of laundry and I think "hmmm...and what I have accomplished this week? Well, I made two loaves of banana bread."

Those are the moments where I have to start laughing. Laughter is better than despair any day. And who knows, in this particular season of life, maybe the making of really good banana bread is just as important as the crafting of a good story.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting Ready for the February

After carefully watching my seven year old last night, I can now offer these instructions for "how to get ready for the February."

1) Carefully peel off your socks. Check.
2) Find last summer's flip-flops and rejoice they still fit. Check.
3) Roll up the sleeves of your corduroy dress. Check.
4) Push your leggings up as high as they'll go, so they're more like shorts. Check.
5) Find your sunglasses and put them on. Cool shades! Check.
6) Ditto your sunhat. Check.
7) Turn the overhead light on in the front hall, the energy-saving one that lights up gradually, "like a sunrise." Check.
8) Open the red paper parasol (the one from Daddy's prop stash) and position it carefully so it looks like a beach umbrella. Check.
9) In blissful denial of the something like two feet of snow outside our house (no joke, the piles are huge and it JUST KEEPS SNOWING) flop down under your beach umbrella and happily sun yourself. Check.

Now you're all ready for the February! Don't forget some light reading...

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Countdown Begins: Fuse #8's Top 100 Children's Novels

Hooray! Betsy Bird, blogging as Fuse #8 over at SLJ, has officially tabulated her poll results. She began counting down the top 100 children's novels (chapter books for mid-grade readers) yesterday.

Here are #s55-51.
And the link to #s60-56.
Here's #s65-61.
Click here for #70-66.
Check here for #s75-71.
Here's the link to #s80-76.
Here's a link to #s85-81.
You can find #s90-86 here.
And #s100-91 are here.

She's writing up extensive notes on each book, and including various covers, interesting tidbits about film adaptations and other resources. It's excellent reading for anyone who loves children's literature.

I've already cheered the inclusion of some favorites, and been intrigued by a couple of titles I don't know well.

And yes, I did vote. After all the results are published, I will post my top ten list (well, actually I ended up with a top twenty...but only the first ranked ten counted for the poll).

ETA: I've decided to keep updating this post with links as Betsy keeps putting up her posts, so eventually links to all entries can be found here. Fun note following her fifth post today (Feb. 12): actually only one of my top ten has made the poll so far (I was thinking two, but forgot that I'd had to drop the other book down into my second ten due to limited space). But a handful of books in my unofficial top twenty-five, and several other books I love, have made the cut! And of course, my TBR list is growing...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Thankful Monday

A few months ago I decided to begin making regular "gratitude lists" -- lists of specific things I'm thankful for. The idea is to do this on a regular basis, preferably weekly. I got the idea from Ann Voskamp's Gratitude Community/Multitude Monday on her beautiful blog A Holy Experience.

I've been more conscious of counting my blessings, but it hasn't always translated into actual lists on the blog each Monday. Mondays seem to get here so quickly, and to move past in such a blur! Maybe that's part of the challenge, actually, to move into the new school/work week (following a day of rest) conscious of new blessings.

So here I go thankful on this Monday for...

30) Light on snow. Is there anything more dazzling than early morning sunlight on pristine layers of white? It sparkles like a carpet of diamonds. Breath-taking.

31) Snow on trees. Especially as it was falling, falling, falling. At midnight, as Friday turned to Saturday, I peeked through the blinds in our front room and looked out the window, just in awe over the white and silver and pink that had turned the ordinary world of our urban landscape into fairyland. The midnight sky was pink, truly, pale and and luminous like the inside of an oyster shell, and snow poured onto the branches of the nearby sycamore trees. Their limbs looked drenched in beauty.

32) The delight of a child playing in snow. My little girl had never had so much snow to play with, in her seven and a half years. She was astonished by the piles, amazed by how easy it was to build a *really big* snowman with her Daddy (we named him Sebastian, and he's still guarding our front door, carrot nose and all -- not at all one of the little mini-snowmen we usually have to content ourselves with each winter) and giggled over trying to walk, in her unwieldy layers of clothing, through the heavy snow.

33) A warm home. Oh how thankful we were that the power, after a very brief outtage in the night as the snow poured down, came back on.

34) A day when no alarm clocks were set at all. Our church had to cancel services yesterday, and though that was unfortunate, we truly enjoyed a day of rest. We all slept in, and the sleep was delicious, especially after so much time spent playing in the snow and digging out the car (the grown-up version of snow playing isn't nearly as much fun!)

35) Midsummer picnics in Mr. Knightley's strawberry garden and on Box February. Yes, I decided to re-read Emma last week. I do love reading Austen anytime, anywhere, but winter reads are forever my favorite.

36) Time to finish listening to a story. My husband and I have been listening to the wonderful audio versions of the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. In recent weeks we'd slowed to a crawl, just so busy we hadn't had time to listen (except late at night when we were too tired). But being snowed in for two days has so many advantages. We finally finished The Black Cauldron (I was so eager for him to hear the finish, which is so different in the book than in the awful movie that bears so little resemblance to the book). If you've never heard James Langton read these books, you've missed out. I especially love his Eilowny voice!

37)The safe return of my sister and her husband from their vacation in Puerto Rico. I'm so thankful they were able to take some beautiful time away.

holy experience

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Snow Had Fallen, Snow on Snow...

I know it's not anywhere near the bleak midwinter, but I've still had the Christina Rossetti hymn in my head all day...

Lots of other areas got much more, but this is still the biggest snowfall (at 15 inches or so) that we've ever seen in our twelve plus years in this river valley.

Our little snow-angel loves it!

It looks beautiful on the sycamores.

The small tree on the corner (some sort of cedar, I think) seemed less sure. I wasn't sure whether or not it looked more like he was bent over from carrying the heavy burden of winter, or bowing in humble awe and respect at what powerful winter had wrought in the space of several hours. I'm hoping he will fully rebound.

Monday, February 01, 2010

2009: The Year of the Re-Read (Finally, My Favorite Books)

I’m late posting my annual ruminations on favorite books, but it’s taken me a while to pull the list together and to think about what I especially loved...and why. It struck me mid-way through these ponderings that, although I read a number of good books in 2009, many of my favorites were re-reads. That seems appropriate during a year in which I read (for the first time!) C.S. Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism, a book in which Lewis eloquently defends the practice of re-reading.

So I’ve dubbed 2009 "the year of the re-read" – but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some new gems along the way. Let me dive right into my usual categories – though I plan to make a few alterations to categories along the way too. As always, links are to my reviews on Epinions.

Favorite History Book of the Year: Susan Wise Bauer’s History of the Ancient World. Yes, I finished it! And it was truly worth reading, even (or especially) in the slow-mining way I read it, over the course of much longer than one year. Bauer does a great job of chronicling and organizing history over vast amounts of time, giving you the grand sweep but also finding narrative pockets where you can settle down and nestle. I have not yet reviewed it, but still plan to (and will post a link here when I do). And now, of course, I’m all primed for her History of the Medieval World, coming out this spring, though I’m waiting until I can afford a copy ~ these long, heavy books are not the kind I can check out of the library and expect to get through within the allotted time. They’re bedside books for sure, and books I want in our family library. I’m pretty sure we will use these for high school history studies, Lord willing and we’re still homeschooling.

Favorite Children’s Biography of the Year: Lincoln and His Boys, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by P.J. Lynch. In a year stuffed with good children’s biographies of Lincoln (since it was his 200th birthday) this one really stood out, both for its text and its pictures.

Favorite Biography of the Year: Conundrums for the Long Weekend, by Robert Kuhn McGregor and Ethan Lewis. I’m cheating a bit choosing this, since it’s not straightforward biography. Instead, it’s a great genre-rolling of biography, literary analysis and social history. This was a big Sayers year for me, and I happened to be reading this alongside a more traditional biography of Sayers. Conundrums beat it hands down by providing a memorable portrait of Sayers both in the context of pre-war England and in the context of her wonderful books about Lord Peter Wimsey.

Picture Book Author of the Year: I'm going with Lois Ehlert, because her visual artwork has meant so much to the sweet girl. Here are my reviews of Pie in the Sky and Oodles of Animals.

Best Devotional Book: Aidan, Bede and Cuthbert, by David Adam. Not really a devotional book per se, but I still loved the devotional sections at the end of each chapter. Adam does a great job of presenting historical profiles, but also in providing opportunities to practice lectio divina with Scriptures and prayers that seem to flow out of the profiles.

Best Novel I Read This Year: Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers

Best Novel I Re-Read This Year: Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers. Seriously, nothing beat it, so it wins both categories. And I did read it twice ~ yes, two re-reads of the same novel within about a three month period!

The re-read choice was difficult decision because I re-read several truly great novels this year, including Deathly Hallows, Northanger Abbey, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Hobbit. But Gaudy Night moved me at all sorts of levels: emotionally, spiritually, aesthetically. I found myself utterly fascinated to see how Sayers grew this kind of book out of the earlier, much fluffier (or so it seems to me) Wimsey books. Her development of the character of Harriet Vane, culminating in this novel, is a writer’s tour de force.

Favorite Book of Literary Analysis/Criticism: The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer. This actually may have been my favorite book of the year. Period.

Best “pop culture” book: Hmm. I didn't really read much in pop culture or cultural studies this year. Apparently I was reading more in this area back when I inagurated this list four years ago.

Favorite “new to me” children’s book, mid-grade reader (8-12 year olds): The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Favorite “new to me” young adult book (12-15 year olds): The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman

Best Children’s Book I Re-Read This Year: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is one of those books I've always loved but had never read aloud until now. Wow. Does it read aloud powerfully. I think one of my favorite reading memories from 2009 will be finishing this book in the car (by the light of a very tiny booklight) on the way to Grandma's for Thanksgiving. A long, tiring day and trip, and yet every single one of us was hanging on the final chapters of this lovely, classic tale, and the physical journey seemed much shorter than usual.

Classic Book I Can’t Believe I’d Never Read Before Now: The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander. All I knew about this book was that it had been made into a pretty bad Disney movie. What a joy to discover the book itself, and the whole Prydain series.

Favorite “new to me” picture book: My choice: Old Bear by Kevin Henkes; the sweet girl's choice: Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex. Yes, her picture book taste is becoming older and more sophisticated than mine, especially when it comes to humor! I actually thoroughly enjoyed Billy Twitters, but I still have a soft spot in my heart pictue books like Henkes' ~ simple stories, beautifully illustrated, more geared for the preschool crowd. I know I no longer have a preschooler in the house, but I suspect I shall always appreciate books like this.

Book I Wish I Hadn’t Wasted My Time Reading: Thankfully, no book really fits that category this year. Even in reads I found less than stellar, I found some unexpected learnings.

Book I Should Have Finished (and still plan to): The Rise of Evangelicalism by Mark Noll. See post from last week...I'm still wending my way through it!

The Book That Surprised Me The Most: No one book springs especially to mind for this category this year.

The Book That Made Me Laugh the Most: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

Book That Challenged Me the Most: I’ve picked three titles this year, for utterly different reasons. The Company They Keep challenged me to really think about a writer’s work in the context of community, and to look at my own need (as a writer and a human being) for real community. John Granger's Harry Potter’s Bookshelf challenged me to read more deeply no matter what I’m reading (thank you, John!). And Enna Burning, the second and most challenging book of a four book series I enjoyed, made me work hard to tease out the interrelationships of meaning, worldview, and artistry and how one evaluates the latter when tripped up by the former.

Favorite “new to me” mystery writer: There isn’t one this year. I simply didn’t read many mysteries this year, at least not after the first quarter. After gorging at the Sayers banquet table, nothing else (and nothing contemporary) seemed to taste very good. So I’ll add a new category this year:

Favorite “new to me” fantasy writer: Lloyd Alexander. How did I miss him in my childhood? I think the Prydain Chronicles should be part of every child's foray into literary fantasy. I think Alexander's work would fit well as a bridge between Lewis (still the best introduction to literary fantasy for younger children) and Rowling, with Tolkien crowning them all.

Favorite “new to me” Spiritual Resource or Bible for Children: Angels, Angels All Around by Bob Hartman and Early Saints of God by Bob Hartman. Saints was not actually new to me/us, but this was the year the sweet girl completely fell in love with it. We read through it all the way, not once, but twice. She was so inspired by the lives of some of these saints, and I was so inspired by seeing her inspired! In fact, it’s thanks to the story of St. Cuthbert that she’s moved naturally (at no urging or compelling from us) into a regular quiet/alone time reading her Bible for a few minutes each evening.

Favorite Book of Theological Reflections: Probably Aidan, Bede and Cuthbert again by David Adam though I also enjoyed Is Your Lord Large Enough? How C.S. Lewis Expands Our View of God by Peter Schakel

It occurs to me that I should begin adding poetry to this list each year, if nothing else to inspire myself to read more. I actually read a fair amount of poetry online, but it's rare I read (or even "read at") a full-length book of poetry for adults. One of the best parts of the 2009 reading year, for me, as reader and teacher, was the excitement in the kidlitosphere over poetry month last April. The sweet girl and I read and enjoyed so much poetry together, including a number of fine collections we got from the library throughout the year. Two of our very favorites (one contemporary poet, one classic poet) were Ken Nesbitt's My Hippo Has the Hiccups, and Robert Louis Stevenson (in the series "Poetry for Young People").