Reading Year in Retrospect

DSC_1833“I am an inveterate browser of people’s bookshelves, always curious to see what other people have been reading, and which books they choose to display. but I am equally curious about the manner in which they array them. Are their books neatly aligned, like the leatherbound books in the Levenger catalog, or do they teeter on the shelf at odd angles?”  — David Levy in Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital AgeI love looking back at my reading year, and yet I also shrink from the raised eyebrow of my inner critic. Deciding on categories and distributing my titles in those gives the same thrill that I get in organizing my books. This is my reading year in retrospect.

My own Book of the Year? It’s a tie! N.D. Wilson’s Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent was both the slowest and most profound read. I read it aloud to my husband a page or even a paragraph at a time. But reading through Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence was also deeply satisfying. (confession: I have 60 pages to finish)

This Rich & Wondrous Earth Linda Burklin (life in boarding school)
When a Crocodile Eats the SunPeter Godwin (living in Zimbabwe)
The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild Lawrence Anthony (animal conservation)

Over the Gate Miss Read (cozy read)
Lark Rise to Candleford(trilogy) Flora Thompson (a portrait of a culture)
Lady Anna Anthony Trollope (novel of a marriage)
Cousin Henry Anthony Trollope (a study of a guilty conscience)
Tyler’s Row Miss Read (not my favorite Miss Read)

The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith Bruce Marshall (story of a Scottish Priest)
Father Hilary’s HolidayBruce Marshall (priest gets involved in political intrigue)

Death by Living N.D. Wilson (memoir/family heritage/travelogue/random thoughts)
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community Dietrich Bonhoeffer (crammed with good stuff)
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert Rosaria Butterfield (unusual story)

From Dawn to Decadence Jacques Barzun (500 years of cultural history, EXCELLENT) Scrolling Forward David Levy (e-book or bound book debate, written a decade ago)

Early American
Rip Van Winkle & Other Stories Washington Irving (some classics improve as we age)

Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood Rachel Jancovik (wise)
Real Marriage Mark and Grace Driscoll (yes and no: all the stats got old)

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed Philip Hallie (5K Jews saved by people of Le Chambon)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog Muriel Barbery (postmodern novel, quotable sections)

First Family: Abigail and John Adams Joseph Ellis (very enjoyable read)

Kid Lit
Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery (priceless)
Anne of Avonlea LMM (sad to lose Matthew Cuthbert)
Anne of the Island LMM (away at school)
Anne of Windy Poplars LMM (winning over the Pringles and Katherine Brooke)
Anne’s House of Dreams LMM (early marriage, bereavement)
Anne of Ingleside LMM (a houseful of kids and dear Susan)
Rainbow Valley LMM (add the Meredith kids to the Blythes: delightful)
Rilla of Ingleside LMM (I love Rilla; more Susan; a great view of WWI at home)
Chronicles of Avonlea LMM (12 short stories, Anne is just a cameo)
Further Chronicles of Avonlea LMM (includes a delicious story of a revival meeting)
The Story Girl LMM (she can make a story reciting the multipication tables)
The Golden Road LMM (a hilarious mistaken identity story)
Kilmeny of the Orchard LMM (a mute girl plays the violin)
Emily of New Moon LMM (appeals to all aspiring writers)
Emily Climbs LMM (word lovers will love Emily)
Emily’s Quest LMM (overcoming obstacles to writing)
The Blythes are Quoted LMM (more short stories)
Charlotte’s Web E.B. White, (classic, test-drove with a grandson)
Island Magic Elizabeth Goudge (Guernsey family, classic Goudge)

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers Maria Augusta Trapp (must read for S o M fans)
God’s Arms Around Us William Moule (heart-pounding tale of family in WW2 Philippines)
Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism Temple Grandin (she translates autism)
The End of Your Life Book Club Will Schwalbe (terminally ill mom and son read books)
A Little Moule History William Moule (life of a vagabond adventurer)
Appetite for Life Noel Riley Fitch (bio of Julia Child)
The Bookseller of Kabul Asne Seierstad (daily life in Afghanistan)
The Alpine Path LMM (frustrating in its brevity)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie Alan Bradley (I ♥ Flavia de Luce)
Speaking from Among the Bones Alan Bradley (another Flavia book)
Chop Shop Tim Downs (Bug Man is a forensic entomologist)
First the Dead Tim Downs (almost had a heart attack reading this)
Less than Dead Tim Downs (difficulty breathing while reading this thriller)

Twelfth Night W. Shakespeare (mistaken identities)
The Tempest Shakespeare (full fathom five thy father lies)
The Comedy of Errors Shakespeare (TWO sets of identical twins)

Little Black Sheep Ashley Cleveland (the gift of willingness)
Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk Heather Kopp (story of addiction)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot (spellbinding story of HeLa cells)

TV Reading (one-night read without substance)
A Lancaster County Christmas Suzanne Woods Fisher (English stranded with Amish)

Shadow of the Silk Road Colin Thubron (China-Turkey by one of my fave travel writers)
In a Sunburned Country Bill Bryson (winsome writing…mostly)
Stephen Fry in America Stephen Fry (witty, sometimes coarse flyover)
Roads : Driving America’s Great Highways Larry McMurtry (he drives the interstates)

The Whistling Season Ivan Doig (the Wendell Berry of Montana)

What have you been reading?

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which allows me to buy perhaps one or two new books a year. But I’m thankful if you decide to buy a book through the links.)


Angling for a Catch


Only they who have closely watched the natural uneasiness of human hens can understand how great was Lady Milborough’s anxiety on this occasion. Marriage to her was a thing always delightful to contemplate. Though she had never been sordidly a matchmaker, the course of the world around her had taught her to regard men as fish to be caught, and girls as the anglers who ought to catch them. Or, rather, could her mind have been accurately analysed, it would have been found that girl was regarded as half-angler and half-bait. Any girl that angled visibly with her own hook, with a manifestly expressed desire to catch a fish, was odious to her. And she was very gentle-hearted in regard to the fishes, thinking that every fish in the river should have the hook and bait presented to him in the mildest, pleasantest form. But still, when the trout was well in the basket, her joy was great; and then came across her unlaborious mind some half-formed idea that a great ordinance of nature was being accomplished in the teeth of difficulties. For — as she well knew — there is a difficulty in the catching of fish.

~ Anthony Trollope in He Knew He Was Right


Trollope can be depended on to make one chuckle and snort. And nod in appreciation. He describes a bachelor: There is nothing on earth against him, except that he does not set the Thames on fire.  He writes tasty phrases that make you repeat them aloud: …so flattered her and so fluttered her…  However, this book appears to chronicle the failure of a marriage. Not the happiest of topics.

Trollope’s Rachel Ray

Beer and evangelicals: that’s what you’ll find in Anthony Trollope’s Rachel Ray

What Luke Rowan, the main man in this novel, cares about is brewing good beer. He inherits a portion of the brewery of Messrs. Bungall and Tappitt, gentlemen who consistently made muddy, disagreeable beer.  Naturally Mr. Tappitt objects to an upstart nephew suggesting ways to improve his beer.  To Tappitt, beer is business; Luke thinks there is a great deal of poetry in brewing beer.

He is “a young man, by no means of the bad sort, meaning to do well, with high hopes in life, one who had never wronged a woman, or been untrue to a friend, full of energy and hope and pride.  But he was conceited, prone to sarcasm, sometimes cynical, and perhaps sometimes affected.”  Perhaps the greatest compliment is that Luke “had the gift of making himself at home with people.”

In the character of Dorothea Prime, Rachel’s widowed sister, Trollope takes aim at pharisaic pietism.  “Her fault was this: that she had taught herself to believe that cheerfulness was a sin…”

Nice things aggravated her spirits and made her fretful.  She liked the tea to be stringy and bitter, she liked the bread to be stale; –as she preferred also that her weeds should be battered and old.  She was approaching that stage of discipline at which ashes become pleasant eating, and sackcloth is grateful to the skin.  The self-indulgences of the saints often exceed anything that is done by the sinners.

Sweet Rachel Ray is the antithesis of her sister.  “She walked as though the motion were pleasant to her, and easy,–as though the very act of walking were a pleasure.”  Rachel’s sister wants to keep her cloistered at home, leaving only for church services and afternoon teas at Miss Pucker’s house.  Rachel protests, “If I was minded to be bad, shutting me up would not keep me from it.”

Thus two views of marriage and courtship are at opposition.  Trollope poses “that great question,–What line of moral conduct might best befit a devout Christian?”

Marriage is the happiest condition for a young woman, and for a young man, too.  And how are young people to get married if they are not allowed to see each other?

Men and women, according to her theory, were right to marry and have children; but she thought that such marriages should be contracted not only in a solemn spirit, but with a certain dinginess of solemnity, with a painstaking absence of mirth.

I loved the storyline but I adored the writing.  Phrases like “elated with dismal joy” and “she knew her mother must be appeased and her sister opposed” and “burial service over past unkindness” delighted me. 

If you are so inclined, click on the link in the first sentence of this post, then click Look Inside the Book, First Pages.  Read the first paragraph and tell me it’s not brilliant.

Rachel Ray.  Written in 1863; my favorite book of 2009.

Trilling about Trollope

From the Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of novelist Anthony Trollope, born in London (1815). Many of his novels originated from daydreams that he had as a child. He worked for the post office, and became a postal surveyor. And every morning before breakfast, he sat down to write 1,000 words, publishing about three books every two years. He wrote realistic novels about the daily life of ordinary people, including The Warden (1855), Barchester Towers(1857), and Framley Parsonage (1861).

And, because she asked, some random Trollope quotes (gathered in 45 seconds from Barchester Towers) for Dana

“Well, Madeline; so I’m going to be married,” Bertie began as soon as the servants had withdrawn.  “There’s no other foolish thing left, that you haven’t done,” said Madeline, “and therefore you are quite right to try that.”

How it is that poor men’s wives, who have no cold fowl and port wine on which to be coshered up, nurse their children without difficulty, whereas the wives of rich men, who eat and drink everything that is good, cannot do so, we will for the present leave to the doctors and the mothers to settle between them.

He wished to be what he called “safe” with all those whom he had admitted to the penetralia of his house and heart. […] His feelings towards his friends were, that while they stuck to him he would stick to them; that he would work with them shoulder and shoulder; that he would be faithful to the faithful.  He knew nothing of that beautiful love which can be true to a false friend.

Eight other blog posts about Trollope.  I. love. Trollope.

Her Answer – Fine Art Friday

Yes, 1877


Yes or No

Last week I highlighted Sir John Everett Millais’ print The Boyhood of Raleigh.  To my great delight Sir John Everett Millais keeps popping up on my horizon.  I just finished Anthony Trollope’s book The Small House at Allington; Millais illustrated the book when it was first published serially in a magazine, but it is difficult to find a book with all of Millais’ illustrations. 

Trollope’s words about Millais’ illustrations, from his Autobiography:

Writers of novels know well–and so ought readers of novels to have learned–that there are two modes of illustrating, either of which may be adopted equally by a bad and by a good artist.  To which class Mr. Millais belongs I need not say; but, as a good artist, it was open to him simply to make a pretty picture, or to study the work of the author from whose writing he was bound to take his subject. 

I have too often found that the former alternative has been thought to be the better, as it certainly is the easier method.  An artist will frequently dislike to subordinate his ideas to those of any author, and will sometimes be too idle to find out what those ideas are.  But this artist was neither proud nor idle.  In every figure that he drew it was his object to promote the views of the writer whose work he had undertaken to illustrate, and he never spared himself any pains in studying that work, so as to enable himself to do so.

A Most Delightful Evening

Like the tendrils of this plant our hearts are attached to a new friend.
We met Sara(h?) with a polite handshake last night.
She left this morning with hugs.

Hosting friends (and friends of friends) is such a delight.
Mark used to be a friend of a friend but after one visit
we claimed him for our very own.  When he called to ask if
we could house him and his friend Sara we were excited to see him again.
When they arrived last night, I knew the instant I saw
the book in Sara’s hand, that this was a kindred spirit.

Lingering around the table, Mark told us about his recent
trip to Poland, his three week course in Polish
and the idiosyncrasies of that language. 
His mom lives four blocks from Schindler’s factory in Krakow.
Mark said that you could see bullet holes in the walls around the
holding area where they rounded up the Jews.

Mark gave us several recommendations of foreign films
to watch.  We’re ready to check out Robert Bresson’s films
and particularly eager to watch  Dekalog, one hour films
inspired by each of the ten commandments.

Have you heard of the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz?
I’m interested in learning more.
Here’s a short poem he wrote in 1991:


When I die, I will see the lining of the world

The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset

The true meaning, ready to be decoded.

We started talking books and authors.  Sara said, “Have you
ever heard of Wendell Berry?” Oh my. Oh my.
After twenty minutes of Wendell Berry adoration
I mentioned that he and Anthony Trollope were
my favorite discoveries this past year.  Now it was her turn to stare.
“Anthony Trollope?  My mom, my brother, and my brother-in-law
are all huge Anthony Trollope fans.  The last time I was home
my mom read to me from Rachel Ray.” 
Rachel Ray?  She has a cooking show!
Yup, there is an Anthony Trollope book entitled Rachel Ray.

First sentence:
There are women who cannot grow alone as standard trees;
-for whom the
support and warmth of some wall,

some paling, some post, is absolutely

-who, in their growth, will bend and incline themselves

towards some such prop for their life,
creeping with their tendrils
along the ground

till they reach it when the circumstances of life
brought no such prop

within their natural and immediate reach.

Trollope, Again

Today is the birthday of Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (pronounced TRALL-up).  Does he look gruff and scary to you?  That’s some hair, eh?  I’m surprised his eyebrows aren’t more dense and textured.  If you’ve hung around Magistra Mater for a while you’ll recollect my pleasure in Trollope, whom I just discovered last year. 

When his name was mentioned in the same sentence as Jane Austen by a dear and respected friend, I determined to make myself acquainted with him.  He is my light reading, my Juicy Fruit, my slug-on-the-sofa all day read.  This is my sixth post about Trollope (he has his own tag on this blog) and I can assure you that I hope to add many more.  I have a few of his books on my shelf patiently waiting for me to get through the Medieval/King Arthur/Dante business so I can read them.  Hold on, dear books, summer is coming!

Quotes is what we want.  The first one is such a good reminder to keep up the drip drip of our daily work.  Thank you, Mr. Trollope.  Thank you very much, sir. 

A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules.

The habit of reading is the only enjoyment in which there is no alloy;
it lasts when all other pleasures fade.

There is no royal road to learning;
no short cut to the acquirement of any art.

Framley Parsonage

~ Have you ever made a foolish financial transaction and hid it from your spouse?
~ Have you loved your son, but disliked his choice of wife?
~ If you loved a man, but knew that his mother didn’t like you, what would you say to a marriage proposal?
~ Do you sometimes yearn to be an accepted member of the inner circle?
~ Should a pastor have nice things?
~ Has a formerly close friendship changed because your friend was promoted and you couldn’t deal with the differences in your situations?

Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage, the fourth book in the Barsetshire novels, leaves the theme of class divisions and explores the complete orbit of ambition.

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina takes the reader through every stage of an affair, from the stolen glances across the room to the clandestine meetings to the pleasure of consumation.   Tolstoy accurately narrates the zest and tingly shivers that accompany illicit love. Then he carries the story to its logical conclusion; the eventual boredom of the relationship, estrangement from family, the problem of the children, the loss of respectability, the loneliness of self-imposed banishment and despair that ends in tragedy.  

I thought of Anna K as I read Framley Parsonage.  Mark Robarts is a nice guy: a young, well-established vicar with a growing family and a generous patroness.  He is invited to a party of the upper crust, unscrupulous high rollers, and also asked to preach a sermon at their church.  The invitation to preach legitimizes whatever questions may be raised by the company he would keep.  Robarts is naive; he is manipulated; he is outrageously foolish. 

It is no doubt very wrong to long after a naughty thing. But nevertheless we all do so.  One may say that hankering after naughty things is the very essence of the evil  into which we have been precipitated by Adam’s fall. When we confess that we are all sinners, we confess that we all long after naughty things. … Clergymen are subject to the same passions as other men; and, as far as I can see, give way to them, in one line or another, almost as frequently. Every clergyman should, by canonical rule, feel a personal disinclination to a bishopric; but yet we do not believe that such personal disinclination is generally very strong. (p.66)

Mark thought he could touch pitch and not be defiled.  After he is entrapped, he muddles around, scrambling to cover and hide his situation. When his courage builds to the point of facing his wife, confessing his foibles, and enduring public embarrassment, we admire and enjoy this country vicar and adore his wife Fanny.

Is not that sharing of the mind’s burdens one of the chief purposes for which man wants a wife? For there is no folly so great as keeping one’s sorrows hidden. And this wife cheerfully, gladly, thankfully took her share. To endure with her lord all her lord’s troubles was easy to her; it was the work to which she had pledged herself.  But to have thought that her lord had troubles not communicated to her; – that would have been to her the one thing not to be bourne.  (p.400)

Trollope always writes with humor, clarity, and a supreme understanding of human nature. His tone is warm, not preachy; he is funny! Yet in his humor, he is serious.  He likes women who are “ready-witted, prompt in action, and gifted with a certain fire” not “missish, and spoony, and sentimental”.  He unveils many forms of pride: the refusal of poor Mr. Crawley to accept needed help; the idolatrous pride of mothers in their children; the haughty statue of a girl whose only desire is to sit and be admired; the difficulty of a stubborn aristocratic mother to admit her judgment was wrong. 

The entertaining subplots add interest without distracting from the main storyline.  The wealthy heiress, Miss Dunstable, is adroit at batting off marriage proposals with her “I am much obliged to you”s until she receives a most unusual love letter from a hero of a previous book.  Young Lucy Robarts is a genius in dealing with a potential mother-in-law problem.  If you’d like to know her solution, email me and I’ll tell you without spoiling it for the others.  TBOI (tasty bit of information): Mr. Spurgeon makes a brief entrance.

It is only mid-February, but I suspect that this book will be my favorite 2007 read.  Elizabeth Gaskell, a contemporary of Trollope, wrote, “I wish Mr. Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage for ever.”

Dr. Thorne

Discovering a new favorite author is one of the joys of the reading life.  It’s like receiving a box of chocolates which should last several weeks, but tastes so good that it is rapidly disappearing. 

Trollope is my chocolate.

The locus of the first two books in Trollope’s Barset Chronicles, The Warden and Barchester Towers, is a cathedral city. The conflicts of diocesan appointments, the juxtaposition of humble clerics with self-serving ecclesiastical climbers, and the quest of three very different men to marry a wealthy widow carry the narrative along. 

The setting in Dr. Thorne is out in the countryside where landed gentry struggle to maintain the purity of their class connections and suffer from want of money.  To this strata of society every potential marriage is evaluated by the ability of the person marrying into the family to provide either increased prestige or an infusion of cash.  One phrase surfaces repeatedly:  “Frank must marry money.”   Unfortunately, the woman Frank loves does not have money; therein resides the conflict to be resolved.

Opposite the gentry are the merchants, manufacturers and professionals who insist they are equal in dignity to the Earls, Counts and Baronets.   Wealth is a passport into the aristocracy, but a man like Dr. Thorne holds stubbornly to his right to enter into the society of anyone regardless of  his own birth or wealth.  Class consciousness is everywhere in this novel.

Trollope writes with humor, grace and insight.  His portrayal of the ebb and flow of an alcoholic written in 1858 rings true today.  Little gems like this pop up:

Even in those bitterest days God tempered the wind to the shorn lamb.

The expectation of some people that doctors should work only from altruistic motivation made me laugh aloud:

It would have behoved him, as a physician, had he had the feelings of a physician under his hat, to have regarded his own pursuits in a purely philosophical spirit, and to have taken any gain which might have accrued as a accidental adjunct to his station in life.

The Victorian Web is a good resource to learn more about Trollope.  Contributors include P.D. James, Antonia Fraser, Paul Johnson, Maeve Binchy, and Louis Auchincloss.   P.D. James has written an introduction to Dr. Thorne here.

Hawthorne’s quote on Trollope mirrors my thoughts:

“Have you ever read the novels of Anthony Trollope? They precisely suit
my taste; solid, substantial, written on strength of beef and through
inspiration of ale, and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great
lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its
inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that
they were made a show of.”

Barchester Chronicles


The Barchester Chronicles is a 1982 BBC mini-series adaption of Anthony Trollope’s The Warden and Barchester Towers.  Donald Pleasance does a fine job portraying Septimus Harding, who must be a good guy since he plays the cello.  A young Alan Rickman enters the story in the third episode playing the filmy chaplain, Obadiah Slope.

The pace of the series is agonizingly slow at times, and the style of videography is reflective of both 1982 and the BBC: slow pans, very little background music, single camera shots.  If you are itching for action, watch National Treasure; get the itch out of your system before you sit and savor this slow, sweet film.  With that caveat given, I can rave about this wonderful DVD.  

At the heart of the story is “our dear Mr. Harding,” a man who is kind-hearted, contented, and perceptive, a man who is meek in the best sense of the word.  His over-ambitious son-in-law, the archdeacon, is perpetually peeved at  Mr. Harding’s placid response to personal criticism.  “My father-in-law can be a very difficult person,” he complains to his father, the bishop.  To which the bishop replies, “He has persistent bouts of ….Christianity.”

Lawyers and lawsuits occupy the first two episodes.  Twelve bedesmen are persuaded to make a class-action suit against our cello-playing hero, who is the warden of Hiram’s Hospital, an almshouse for aging workers.  One man is loyal to Mr. Harding and tries to talk them out of the suit.

“We wants what’s ours by law!”

“Law!  Never a poor man yet was better for law or a lawyer.  Will Mr. Finney [lawyer] be as good to you as the warden has been? Will he feed you when you’re sick, comfort you when you’re wretched?  Wait ’til you’re all on your deathbeds.  Then cry out for lawyers. See what good it’ll do you.  Law!  Tchah!”

~    ~   ~   ~   ~   ~ 

The relationship between our dear Mr. Harding and his younger daughter is a lovely portrait of mutual devotion and respect.  The man who loves this daughter has been cast in an adverserial role to the warden. 

“Mr. Bold has asked me to marry him.”

“I trust you said yes?”

“You don’t mind?”

“John Bold is honest, good, kind-hearted and right-thinking in the main.  A good wife will smooth the little imperfections.”

~   ~    ~   ~   ~   ~   ~  ~ 

Our dear Mr. Harding is passionate about music.  One of his peculiarities is that when he is trapped in an emotionally-charged situation he will comfort himself by playing the cello in the air, making bowstrokes with his right hand and vibrato on the strings with his left.   This was played to perfection by Pleasance.  Later,  after the slimy Obadiah Slope preaches a sermon against the use of music in worship, Mr. Harding reflects:

“If there is no music, there is no mystery.   If there is no mystery, there is no God.  If there is no mystery, there is no faith.”

Finally, in a tender scene of parting, a benediction given to the bedesmen by Mr. Harding, the loyal bedesman responds, and Mr. Harding’s reply:

“May you live content and die trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and thankful to Almighty God for the good things He has given you.  God bless you all, my friends.”

“I have now to forgive those who have injured me, and then to die.”

“That’s all any of us can hope for.”