Book Review

84, Charing Cross Road: Really Fun Read!

8 Reasons to Read 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

  1. This book can be read in one sitting. Not kidding. You won’t want to put it down. I only got up once while reading it and that was because one kid decided to bite another kid, and I had to feign like I cared for thirty seconds and dole out consequences. Motherhood.
  2. Read it for free! You can probably get this book from your local library. I did.
  3. This book is in an epistolary book, which means it’s a series of letters written between one party and another. In this case, they’re between Helene Hanff and a book store in London.
  4. It’s a book about books. It’s fun to see what a spinster in 1950s New York City wants to read and can’t find in the States. It’s her real story–her real letters.
  5. And she’s hilarious. On page 5, she informs the book store that they sent her the wrong bible. She writes, “Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They’ll burn for it, you mark my words. It’s nothing to me, I’m Jewish myself…”
  6. I think the gals (and the Mysterious Mr. Banks) at the Literary Life Podcast are going to do an episode on this book soon. They keep mentioning it, anyway, which was why I read it to begin with.
  7. Speaking of the Literary Life Podcast…you do know it’s the best podcast out there, right?
  8. Helene Hanff loves Jane Austen. She put off reading her because she hates novels and anything that didn’t really happen in Real Life, but when she finally did read Pride and Prejudice, she “went out of my mind” over it.

2 Reasons to NOT Read 84, Charing Cross Road

  1. It’s too short. I wanted it to go on and on. My heart sank when it ended.
  2. It’s apparent that a few letters are missing. Where are they? I’d like to know!
Life is Worth Living

Christmas Shopping!

Yes, we’re talking Christmas here, and it’s about the material side of things, too. Yikes! I intend to dedicate this post to Christmas shopping and Christmas gifts intentionally for two reasons:

  1. It is always a good idea to look closely at one’s finances well ahead of any purchases, especially in a season oftentimes fraught with expense. So for prudential budgeting purposes, our family actually does the bulk of our Christmas shopping in October.
  2. We also like to have our Christmas shopping done well in advance of Advent so that we can do precisely that: Advent. Who likes to rush around frantically shopping at the last minute? Not me, anyway. We prefer to attempt a slower, more prayerful awareness of the liturgical season.
Here are a couple of the little girls in their new dresses we gave them last year for Christmas.

That said, let’s look at a few things our family does for gifts.

Ah, but perhaps I should mention that we don’t do Santa Claus? On second thought, let’s not mention it and move on. Feel free to ask me to explain later, if you’re curious, and I will.

So on Christmas morning, after praying Lauds and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, our children open a few gifts from us. Our goal is to keep it simple, and so here’s what we typically give:

  1. A book
  2. An article of clothing
  3. And something else fun or useful

Now we have 7 children, and those three items add up and can be expensive, so we buy used things, if possible. For example, almost all the books are used, or I will purchase them months in advance from, say, Bethlehem Books when they have their half-off sales. Most of the clothing I purchase used too, at second-hand stores. The last “fun” gift, however, does get to be tricky and most often is not used.

Let me give you some examples of what our children will actually receive this very Christmas. (Should you happen to see the children, don’t tell them!)

The Youngest:

Second-hand dress from Once Upon a Child, used Jan Brett book purchased online, and a play skirt from Hobby Lobby

Next Girl Up:

Same as above.

The Third Youngest Girl will also receive much the same, except that instead of a play skirt, she will be getting some colorful notecards that I found on sale at Hobby Lobby. (She likes to do crafty things.)

The boys will also be receiving second-hand clothing from my cousin, the following books, which I purchased earlier this year at a Bethlehem Book sale, and one pellet gun, which they will all share.

The Eldest is getting a new dress–not used–and this book:

The Eldest loves everything Jane Austen.

Christmas Stockings and a Family Gift

Yes, we do Christmas stockings. Typically we put Christmas candy in the children’s Christmas stocking. This year I also purchased some Christmas-themed socks to stick in too.

And lastly, I purchased a Christmas puzzle as a family gift.

And what about me and my husband? Do we exchange gifts? Yes, and while I do have his gift purchased already, I cannot tell you what it is, for fear that he might actually look at this blog post.

Do You Have Any Christmas Gift Ideas?

Do any of you have any Christmas Gift ideas? If so, I’d love to hear about them. I suspect that some of you are very crafty and handy and might even be able to make Christmas gifts.

Book Review

Read a Print Book!

The other day I attended a talk given by the founder of the Well-Read Mom Book Club, Marcie Stokman.  The most inspiring point I took away was simple and went something like this:

You really do have time to read!

Now, she’s right.  There are many moments throughout the day that I waste.  For example, what did I choose to do during those fifteen minutes of free time after the boys’ Morning School, but before I had to get lunch ready?  Nothing.  I really can’t account for them.  Then, what about that half hour in the afternoon when nobody was hanging on me?  I checked my email and scrolled through a favorite blog.  Or, how about last night when everyone was in bed?  Hmmm….

Usually I’m pretty good about not wasting time, but I know I do it.  Yesterday, however, I was inspired to sneak in a few extra minutes of reading, and it was worth it.  I actually read about 75 pages.  Got that?  75 pages that I normally wouldn’t read.

Today, I just want to challenge you to pick up a print book and read it, if only for ten minutes.  Just do it.

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P.S.  Need a book recommendation?  I would suggest anything by Michael O’Brien or Jane Austen.

P.P.S.  Already read all of O’Brien and Austen?  Read Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Book Review

Cranford: One Big Yawn

Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been reading lately?

The answer is Cranford.

I’ve been trying to read this book for years.  I’ve started and stopped three times.  So, as part of my Lenten penance, I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet and just do it.

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Cranford was originally published as a series for a periodical in 1853.  I wonder if small doses wouldn’t be a better way to read this thing?

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Now I really enjoy reading Elizabeth Gaskell.  I’ve read three of her other books, and they’re excellent.  I couldn’t put them down.  A friend of mine introduced me to her a few years ago because she knew of my obsession with Jane Austen.  (I like Austen so much that I’m almost always rereading one of her six novels.)  And apparently most people know that if you like Austen, you’ll also like Gaskell.

But that statement needs clarification.  Let me rephrase it as follows:  If you like Austen, you’ll like Gaskell’s North and South and Wives and Daughters, but not Cranford.  You might also enjoy Gaskell’s biography, The Life of Charlotte Bronte, but again, not Cranford.

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Need a good book?  Read these instead of Cranford.

Cranford is just one big yawn.  The whole book details the lives of a few of old spinsters sitting around in nineteenth-century parlors, knitting and mending caps and shawls, and gossiping.  Only a most devoted lover of Gaskell could ever find this interesting.

However, it may be that the deficiency lies with me, instead of Gaskell.  Likely I don’t appreciate the niceties of nineteenth-century etiquette and culture as much as I should.  Or, if only I had a better understanding of this time period, perhaps I could enter more fully into the book?

I’m not sure.  There were a few passages that I did find moving and interesting.  I’m thinking of the sad story of Miss Matty passing up marriage to Mr. Holbrook and a part wherein Mrs. Brown details her desperate flight from India to save her only remaining child.  And of course the faithfulness and generosity of Miss Matty’s friends to help her when she loses all her money is endearing, but overall, I cannot recommend this book.

I am sorry for the poor book review.

For those of you, however, who enjoy watching some of these books played out on television, I can recommend the 2007 version of Cranford, starring Judi Dench.  I remember watching it a few years ago and being entertained by it, but I warn you, it doesn’t follow the book very closely.