My 6-year-old and I have been working our way through Rosemary Sutcliff’s Black Ships Before Troy for several weeks. It corresponds with a period we just studied in our Story of the World tour of ancient history. I have mixed feelings about how well the book worked for us, but not about the book itself, which won a Kate Greenaway medal. As a simplified retelling of Homer’s Iliad, the writing is lovely and keeps the story managable at 125 pages. It gets some of the classic…Continue Reading “Black Ships Before Troy”

What does evil do to a soul? And how would you live if the only marks it left were preserved visibly in a secret work of art? Apparently for Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray, the answer is, “as decadently as possible.” The story’s vapid pretty-boy protagonist prays for eternal youth in exchange for a painting that bears all the burden of his soul, then spirals downward through various forms of degeneracy until he finally commits murder and (by accident) suicide. Reading this…Continue Reading “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

I read Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain chronicles when I was in junior high. Mrs. Greenblatt, the librarian, recommended them to me, and I wasn’t disappointed. Last year I revisited the first book, The Book of Three, and this week I read book 2, The Black Cauldron. Experiencing the book as an (alleged) adult, I was less absorbed by the story, but more appreciative of Alexander’s ability to craft a myth for young adults that includes so many of the pleasing elements of some great stories they’ll encounter later. Once…Continue Reading “The Black Cauldron”

I finished L’Engle’s  A Live Coal in the Sea. It was hard to put down once I got going, even though there’s much in it that’s excruciating. It centers around a family’s attempt to absorb a variety of traumas through a surrounding “sea” of mercy. That’s the best way I can summarize it. The statement from which L’Engle draws her title is from William Langland, who wrote in around 1400, “But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more…Continue Reading “A Live Coal in the Sea”

I just ingested Boundaries with Kids, by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, in a two-day gulp. Though I haven’t read a lot of parenting books, this is the best one I’ve encountered. It defines a parent’s role as being the guardian, manager, and source for our children, then sets out a very sensible series of strategies to help children mature into loving adults. It’s organized according to ten boundary principles: the laws of sowing and reaping, responsibility, power, respect, motivation, evaluation, proactivity, envy, activity and exposure. It concludes with a chapter on practical implementation….Continue Reading “Boundaries with Kids”

How do you heal human brokenness? It’s a question–the main question–Madeleine L’Engle explores in A Severed Wasp. The answer is a little surprising, given that the novel is set within the close-knit framework of relationships involved with an Episcopal cathedral in New York. L’Engle, an author who’s been faulted for being too heavy-handed about her Christian beliefs in some of her fiction, presents art as the transcendent force in this novel’s world. The question is posed early. Katherine Forrester, the protagonist of L’Engle’s first novel The Small Rain, returns…Continue Reading “A Severed Wasp”

Question: Is it too late to dress up as a dufflepud for Halloween? Sometimes it seems that all around me are dufflepuds–those one-footed, herd-mentality little creatures in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They’re ruled by a wise magician who was once a star, but they see him as an enemy and throw themselves giddily behind a “head duffer”–a loud-mouthed egotist who ventures only the most pedestrian and obvious of pronouncements, all of which are greeted by an earsplitting chorus of agreement by his fellow…Continue Reading “A Confederacy of Dufflepuds”

This is Katie. She’s a border collie. She’s bred for intelligence and stamina, made to herd sheep all day long. Instead, she spends most of her days sleeping or chasing frisbees or going for walks on a leash. She’s a good sport. But her life with us is not the purpose she was made for. What are people made for? This is Almanzo Wilder: His boyhood life is the subject of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, which we’ve been reading. It’s a life loaded with purpose, skill, knowledge, and…Continue Reading “Socialization or sufficiency?”

Why has the Wood between the Worlds in The Magician’s Nephew always appealed to me? It’s a place I return to often in my own mind. I like it so much I tried to find the perfect picture to capture it, and use it as the header for my blog. But all the photos were ruined in the distortion of being stretched to fit the available space. So I thought I’d just try to nail down a few thoughts. What is so compelling about this place…Continue Reading “Wood Between the Worlds”

I finished Falling Man. It leaves me with the sense that I have inadequate categories for judging the story. My visceral reaction is that I didn’t enjoy it, but that’s hardly a judgment of the book’s literary qualities. There is a sensibility I can’t relate to there–a skepticism, a sophistication in the narrative voice as he observes these pathetic figures trying to cope with tragedy. It’s distasteful to me. Somewhere between the heavy-handedness of the didactic novel (”Gentle reader, don’t let this happen to you!…Continue Reading “Falling Man”