A Reflection on Reading Goals

As we move into a new decade, I have taken some time to review my reading life.

As in every area of life, I have changed quite a bit as a reader over the last 2 or 3 years. While my reading interests remain largely the same, my approach to books has evolved. A few years ago, if I started a book, I had to finish it. Since I’ve started teaching, however, I’ve realized that I don’t have time to waste on books I don’t love, or at least like.

I recently finished reading Sarah Clarkson’s Book Girl. I found myself thinking about reading from many new avenues as I read Sarah’s reflections on the purpose reading plays in a woman’s life. One point that stood out to me in this book was the emphasis on quality over quantity in reading.

Hmm. Interesting.

Sarah’s book log, I’m sure, is probably 10 times the length of my own. However, the books she chooses are books that do something more than just entertain (think genre fiction dime-a-dozen kinds of stories); they speak to the soul.

And if it takes you 6 months to finish The Brothers Karamozov, then so what? It was time well invested.

While I was reading Clarkson’s book, I also took the time to read some blogs and Good Reads postings to see what other people’s 2020 book goals are. I was struck by how many people seemed to emphasize quantity over quality. While I know that every reader has different amounts of time to read and different ways of processing a story, I was still surprised at the number of posts I saw that mentioned reading 100, 200, or more books in a year.

I speak candidly on this because I am, to a large degree, born of that same school of thought. However, I’m slowly being converted to a different way of viewing my reading experience.

Here’s what I think.

A good book demands your time. It requires more of you than just the reading of words on a page. It requires a space in your mind to unfurl its petals and blossom into the full depth of the author’s message. For me, this process takes time, and I find that when I rush on to the next book, I can sometimes miss out on something important in the one I just finished.

Each person’s encounter with a book is different. We all have different experiences, different backgrounds, different personalities and temperaments that affect the way we interact with a story and how the story impacts us. You can’t synthesize a book by reading other people’s opinions. And you can’t fully come to an opinion you can “own” without really analyzing how the story is landing in your heart.

My personality type demands time and space to process things. So, maybe this is just a “me-thing.” And please don’t think that I’m bashing readers who set a goal of how many books they want to read in a year. I get a kick out of seeing how many titles I can finish in a year too. I’m simply saying that in a world that emphasizes speed and turnout, reading is a lovely place for the mind to explore without having to feel like you must bow down to those pressures.

While I don’t set a “number” goal of books for myself each year, I do have several reading goals that I try to accomplish within a calendar year. Here are some that I have been working on:

Reading the Classics:

When I was in high school, I encountered a blogger who introduced me to the Classics Club. The premise is that you choose 50 classic books that you want to read in a 5 year period and commit to blogging about each of those titles as you finish them.

At the time, I did not have a blog, but I liked the idea of tackling the classics in such a clear-cut way. So, I made a list of books and decided that I wanted to read 50 classics before I graduated college.

Typically, when I set goals like this, I don’t get very far before sputtering out. This goal was not like that, though. My log reveals that I tackled about 40 classics in that 5 year period. And, in the process, I discovered some books that I love.

Reading Shakespeare:

The first Shakespeare work I read was The Merchant of Venice. I was a junior in high school at the time, and my English class wasn’t emphasizing literature studies to the extent that I wanted. So, I started getting up an hour earlier every morning to read both The Merchant of Venice and Great Expectations.

Approaching Shakespeare without any guidance is kind of dangerous. You run the risk of spoiling your opinion on the playwright simply because you don’t have the tools you need to navigate his work and see the layers of his genius. So, while I survived The Merchant of Venice, I didn’t truly come to enjoy reading Shakespeare until I took a literature course in college.

Because of how much I enjoyed that class, I have recently tried to read one work of Shakespeare a year. In 2018, I finally read Romeo and Juliet, and in 2019, I tackled Julius Caesar.

The secret, I’ve found, to enjoying Shakespeare, or any other classic that is mentally taxing, is to read it out loud. I try to tackle 1 scene a day, usually in the summer when I have more time to devote to such things. I find that reading the words out loud allows me to better decode the meanings of passages, and it’s just more fun when you get to put your emotions into the characters you’re reading.

Process What You Read

This was an unspoken goal I set for myself last year. I realized that I had read many classics but remembered little of their plots, and even less of their deeper meanings. So, I started a new book journal.

Every time I finish a classic, I write a brief analysis of the story. I usually include important characters, settings, motifs, symbols (if they’re crucial to the theme), and the various themes I was able to extract from the book. This practice really helps me to better interact with the story, and the act of writing my analysis down keeps me from forgetting the plot 3 weeks later.

Tackling the TBR List

Even though I’m a die-hard list maker, I don’t really have a formal TBR list. However, I have selected a few titles and authors I want to tackle this year.

  • A Russian novel (I’m leaning towards either Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment)
  • Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
  • Something written by Thomas Merton (I’ve never read any of his work, but I’ve heard great things about his books)
  • A Shakespeare play (King Lear or a re-read of another tragedy)
  • A Jane Austen novel (either Emma, Northanger Abbey, or Persuasion)

What are your reading goals for 2020? Let me know in the comments below!

Among Schoolchildren – A Review

I finished my first year of teaching at the beginning of June this year. It was undoubtedly the hardest task I have ever undertaken, and by the grace of God, I made it through successfully.

When I decided to become a teacher, I was filled with so many high ideals. I would set the minds of my students on fire with a love for literature. I would teach them all to analyze fiction like college students. I would teach them to compose essays with eloquence and style. I would be the “fun” teacher – the one every kid loves.

Fast forward to September 2018, and I’m doing my best to maintain grape soda can explosions and paper wad fights and collect missing work from 3 weeks ago.

And so began my rude awakening.

While teaching may not be the Magic School Bus type of experience I thought it would be, I really do love it. I am overwhelmed by the gift that I have been given in being entrusted with 170 young minds and the opportunity to guide them, instruct them, and cheer them on as they learn the most fundamental skill necessary to a thriving democracy.

And most importantly, I love my students.

Teaching is more than just a job to me. It’s an identity.

As I was driving home from school one afternoon last year, I was reflecting on this new-found identity and its relation to my reading life. Like every reader, I love to immerse myself in a story where I can relate to a character’s circumstances – their frustrations, their anxieties, their moments of triumph, or even just their daily routines. There’s something about human nature that needs to know that we’re not alone in our unique situations, that others have been-there/done-that and have wisdom to offer us. Stories that follow such characters offer us hope that they made it through and we can too.

I realized, on the drive down the highway that cuts through the cornfields and cow pastures of my county, that I had encountered very few books that dealt with the situations unique to teaching.

Of course, there’s Catherine Marshall’s Christy (which I read during my student-teaching days). And there are several “chick-lit” reads that feature some single teacher who winds up with a hunky dude in some far-from-realistic small town. And teachers often appear as stereotypical characters in children’s books – the mean old witch of a teacher that everybody hates, or, alternatively, the heroic role model who seems to never make a mistake. But I had heard of very few books that dealt with teaching from the teacher’s perspective, where teaching is the source of the character’s conflict.

So when I stumbled upon Tracy Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren at a local thrift shoppe, I was eager to see how he approached this topic.

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The story follows Chris Zajak, a teacher in her 30’s who teaches 5th grade in an inner city school in New England. Mrs. Zajak is known for being tough, but fair. Sometimes, she comes across as unnecessarily harsh (if a kiddo doesn’t do the work well the first time, she gives it back to him and tells him to do it right). But she has a heart for her students.

Over the course of the school year, Chris fights for her students’ success and well-being. She identifies the needs of each student and does whatever she can to meet that need, even if it means extra headaches, reams of paperwork, and long hours spent after school. Chris is cut to the heart by the social issues that enslave her students – income inequality, housing segregation, abuse and neglect, poverty. Even on her worst days, Chris tries to keep her sights on her true struggle – not the student’s behavior, but the source of that behavior. She faces frustration as she encounters the flaws and the hang-ups of “the system,” and within her classroom, she does her best to let each student know that they are capable of achieving their dreams and that she will be there to cheer them on every step of the way.

Among Schoolchildren was, in many ways, the type of book I wanted to find. I loved to see how Chris handled her class – how she responded to disrespect, lack of effort, and the myriad of crazy, random problems that pop up out of nowhere when you’re dealing with a room full of kids. In short, I felt a sense of camaraderie with Chris. She has the same problems that I do, and she’s a veteran teacher. My problems are not all due to my being a rookie. Kids are going to be kids, and I am only human, and somehow, despite these two facts, we all come out better for our time together.

Among Schoolchildren is a fair and honest view of the classroom from the eyes of a teacher who cares. The teacher isn’t the bad guy here, and she’s not a perfect hero. She’s human. She makes mistakes, just like her students. But she starts each new day with a clear slate because she wants what is best for her students.

The teaching profession may have changed with the implementation of common core, standardized testing, and technological advances. But, I hope that we teachers maintain a Mrs. Zajak heart each day as we find ourselves among schoolchildren.

Bridge to Haven – A Review

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Do you ever find yourself in a reading funk? You know those horrible seasons of your literary life in which you find that no matter what book title or what genre you pick up, the plot is cliche, the characters stereotypical, and the setting so perfect you want to puke?

I tend to find myself in those types of  moods periodically.

Needless to say, they are highly unpleasant.

The older I get, the more I find my reading tastes are becoming more discriminating. When I was a kid, I would read whatever I could get my hands on – juvenile fiction, of course, but also cereal boxes, medical dictionaries, nutrition books. Abandoning a book when I was only half-way through it was an unpardonable literary sin (although, I must confess, I did do it a few times…).

As an adult, of course, my free time is much more limited, so I have amended my cardinal rules of reading. It is no longer an unpardonable sin to abandon a book I am halfway through. In fact, in many instances, it is a celebrated occasion.

Now that I’m playing under these new guidelines, I find that these rules tend to sacrifice quantity for quality. Unfortunately, as a check-list, type-A, get-er-done kind of a reader, this can be extremely frustrating.

 And, it has inspired more than one rant (just ask my poor sister).

It was in this state of mind that I was browsing the library stacks about a month ago, looking for something decent and exciting to read. I was in a mood for a gripping thriller – something fast-paced and slightly unbelievable. I first picked up Andrew Klavan’s newest release, Another Kingdom. As a teenager, I loved Klavan’s YA fiction, but I have never read any of his adult thrillers. I knew Klavan had become a Christian within the last ten years, and since then, his writing had taken on more Judeo-Christian motifs. So, I figured Another Kingdom was a sure winner.

Nope. Not even close.

I was disappointed by some of the content I encountered within the first three chapters. While the plot was fast-paced and engaging, I decided I probably didn’t need to finish reading this one. It was a hard one to put it down, though. The story-line is that good.

With another book ending in disappointment, I moved on to A Bridge to Haven. 

Reluctantly, I might add.

When you’re in the mood for swash-buckling, butt-kicking, action-packed adventure, a book set in a sleepy 1950’s town where a pastor’s family takes center stage isn’t exactly a satisfying substitute.

On top of that, I had just just abandoned Rivers’ The Last Sin Eater after reading only half of the novel. I just could not endure the pace of the plot, which seemed to drag out with limited excitement.

But within pages of starting A Bridge to Haven, I knew my book slump streak was over.

Summary:

The story follows Abra Matthews, an up and coming star in Hollywood. As a baby, Abra was abandoned under a bridge in a small town in California soon after her birth. She was found by Reverend Zeke Freeman, and he and his wife adopted Abra. However, after his wife dies of heart failure due to the strain of caring for a young child, Reverend Zeke decides to give Abra up for adoption, citing his busy schedule as a pastor and the fact that a 5-year-old girl needs a mother in her life.

The scars his decision leaves upon Abra’s heart affect her for the rest of the story.

As a girl, Abra grows up feeling unwanted. Her new mother and father, Peter and Priscilla Matthews, try everything to make her feel like their little girl, but Abra’s relationship with their jealous daughter, Penny, and the pain she feels from being abandoned by Pastor Zeke cause her to keep the Matthews from getting too close.

The only person Abra feels she can really trust is Joshua, Pastor’s Zeke’s only son. Joshua understands. Joshua is big-brother and best-friend rolled into one.

As Abra grows into an adolescent, however, Joshua’s feelings toward her change. He no longer views her as little Abra, the baby his father found abandoned under a bridge one night. Instead, he finds himself falling in love with her.

Abra, who is oblivious to Joshua’s feelings towards her, is enamored with Dylan Stark – a hot-shot from Hollywood who has eyes for her. When she runs away with him, Joshua is devastated. Despite his attempts to find her, he eventually realizes that he must leave Abra in God’s hands.

Life in Hollywood is not what Abra expects. Neither are men. Abra is forced into one compromising situation after another, and she soon finds herself playing whatever role is necessary to get what she wants. As a beautiful young woman, she faces an opportunity to make in big in the film industry. However, with fame comes sacrifice, and Abra begins to realize that fame is no substitute for a personal identity.

With each new heartbreak, Abra is one step closer to realizing who she really is. And where she really belongs – back home in Haven with Pastor Zeke, the Matthews, and, of course, Joshua. But her life is such a mess, crossing the Bridge to Haven seems like nothing more than a distant fantasy. Will she ever find the home her heart longs for?

Review:

I am a big fan of books that deal with characters who have deep-seated hurts that are the ultimate propulsion of the story’s conflict. I need to see the back-story, experience the character’s pain, and understand where they’re coming from before I can fully live the story with the character.

Bridge to Haven is one of the few books I’ve read in the last five years that met that literary need for me.

While Rivers’ style may not be the most memorable, her ability to craft characters that reader comes to love (or hate) is unparalleled in the Christian Fiction circle. She starts with the basics – what motivates the character to act the way they act – then weaves a plot that will bring out those qualities and highlight the character’s hurts in such a way that leads to a beautiful resolution.

This story deals with serious issues – abandonment, abuse, sexuality, personal identity – but in a way that displays the love and grace of God. Much like Angel in Redeeming Love (another one of my favorite books), Abra’s poor decisions are the results of the lies the Enemy have whispered to her from her childhood. Her redemption is one of gentle grace and love, much like God reveals in Hosea 2:14, 16, and 19 when speaking of his wayward Bride:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her…In that day…you will call me ‘my husband’; I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.”

Reading A Bridge to Haven was a reminder of why I read fiction in the first place. Stories have a way of speaking truth and grace into our lives in a way that catches us off guard. When we read stories, we let our guards down in order to experience the story with the characters. And it’s in those vulnerable moments when God seems to speak to me through the actions of a character that display what his grace and love for me looks like. That’s why I love books like Redeeming Love and Les Misérables so much. Whereas sermons and self-help books prompt me to put my barriers up, stories tear down the walls, and I believe God uses that as an avenue for his love.

It’s not often that I encounter a “5-star” book, especially these days. With the way the world is, it seems as though every book that comes off the secular presses is filled with vulgarity. Creativity in writing craft and style are rare gems, especially in the strictly “genre” forms, like Christian romance. Yet, Bridge to Haven was not like that to me. It was a good book when I needed to find a good book.

And honestly?

What more can a reader ask for?

A Journey Through the Classics – 5 Stories that Justly Earned Their Fame

Originally published on November 24, 2019.

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When I was 15, I made a goal to read 50 classic texts by my 21st birthday. The day came and went, and I fell just 10 books shy of my goal. Today, I have still only made it to 44 of the 50. But, I have learned a lot about myself as a reader in the process.

Now, I will admit, of the 40 novels I read, I can only recall in great detail about half. Several, I forced my way through.

Because, you see, I am a numbers person. Not a mathematical, algebraic, geometric kind of girl. No, ma’am. I’m a goal-setting, number-counting, OCD kind of a woman.

Let me give you an example.

A few months ago, I was doing some chores, going through my list, checking items off as I completed each task. I found myself disappointed because I had accomplished more things than I had written on my list. The concrete markers of success (i.e. – my check marks) did not correspond to my true level of productivity. And it was then that I became aware of a strong urge to write down tasks I had already completed for the simple pleasure of being able to check them off.

Please tell me I’m not the only person who has ever considered this.

And so, you see what type of person I am. Unfortunately, this get-‘er-done tendency also carries over into my reading life, and I have finished many a book (most of them were classics) that I found unpleasant simply because I must have an extra number to record on my list.

Jane Brocket, one of my favorite authors and domestic artists, offers some words of wisdom in her book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity, that I would have been well advised to listen to in my earlier years. She explains that the classics are something to be consumed in small quantities, much like fine chocolate. You must taste them in small bites, savor them, reflect upon their flavors and styles, and digest them before you go back for more.

Too bad I didn’t read that jewel of wisdom 20 classics ago.

Despite my type-A reading tendencies, my goal was not a total waste of time, nor was it an entirely unpleasant experience. In fact, it allowed me to grow as a reader, to discover for myself what I truly enjoy and what I truly do not.

In that time, I discovered that I must have a story that involves deep, human emotions; true-to-life portrayals of humanity’s struggles and griefs; and characters who face problems that hurt them but leave them stronger, better people, despite the mistakes they may make along the way.

Today, I want to share with you 5 classics that I found not only worth my time but also truly enjoyable reading experiences.

#5 – The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

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I am going to make a confession here. I have never seen The Phantom of the Opera. I desperately need to fix this, because I adored the book.

What really earned by love for this book is the characterization. Leroux gives us glimpses of the masked Phantom which reveal his heart. He is not your typical villain. Instead, you see the heart of a man who has been rejected, a man who longs for love and acceptance, but hides behind the fear of total rejection because of a physical deformity. Although his manner of romance may not be the most subtle (i.e. – kidnapping the girl you love and blackmailing her into marrying you), it is in his crude and perilous manner that the depths of his passion and hurt are revealed. It’s a romance unlike any other.

#4 – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Like The Phantom of the Opera, this story captured my heart through its intense characters. Narrated from the perspective of a nine-year-old, this book addresses some very serious topics and themes with an innocence that really drives the point of the book home. Scout, the narrator, is a tom-boy growing up in the Deep South at the height of racial prejudice in the 1930s. Her father, the attorney Atticus Finch, has agreed to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman.

I think what most captivated my heart in this novel is the character of Atticus Finch. I want to meet a man with his integrity and convictions displayed in such a quiet, yet strong, way. My favorite scene in the book is when he sits guard all night outside of the prison to protect Tom from an angry group of white men who want to see the defendant hanged, simply because of Tom’s race. These types of encounters in the novel reveal Atticus’ character to his daughter, Scout, who shares them with the reader and reflects upon them from the view of a child. This literary relationship could not have been more effective in illustrating Lee’s themes on prejudice and doing what is right.

# 3 – Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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Pride and Prejudice was one of the novels that I forced my way through one summer in the name of numbers. Had it not been for Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, I would hate the story to this day.

Sense and Sensibility, however, is a completely different story.

I picked this novel up in the duldrums of the winter, one year, and lost myself in the cozy parlor scenes, Marianne’s misadventures, and Elinor’s calming presence in the midst of adversity. Jane Austen had me from the moment the handsome Willoughby turned up to rescue a wounded Marianne and carry her all the way home in the pouring rain (sigh…how utterly romantic!).

Personally, I found this to be a much easier read than Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps the social situation was a bit less confusing since we only have 2 ladies to keep up with instead of 4. Or perhaps it’s because of the kinship I feel with Elinor. I am the oldest sister in my family too (although my sister is NOTHING like Marianne, thank God!). Whereas Jane in P&P seems a bit too…perfect (forgive me, Austenites!), Elinor is not. She is torn deeply by the tempests of love and rejection around her, and even though she conceals it for most of the story, she finally lets this come out in a not-so-graceful way.

I love this book even more after watching the BBC movie (especially the ending when Elinor gets her big “surprise.” Her reaction just makes my heart melt).

#2- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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I took the dive with this book after one of my mentors told me it was a favorite of hers. I had tried to read this book a few years before, and I had gotten bogged down in Jane’s early life.

Let me encourage you, friend. If you can make it through Jane’s boarding school experience, there is a rich reward awaiting you.

I loved how Bronte mixes a passionate love story with an air of mystery and foreboding and how she is constantly springing deep, dark surprises at the most inopportune moments in our heroine’s life. I enjoyed every page of Jane’s time spent at Rochestor’s estate, and was disappointed when her time there ended.

#1 – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

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Oh. My. Gosh.

Can words even express what a beautiful story this is?

If you never read a classic except for this one, you will have spent your time well. Even though this book spans several hundred pages, it is worth it.

Les Miserables warmed my heart from the first book (it is divided into seven). Bishop Myriel’s incredible display of grace shocks both the protagonist, Jean Valjean, and the reader right from the starting gate, and Hugo doesn’t let up. What follows is an epic tale of sacrifice, justice gone awry, devotion, grace, and the deepest kind of love known to literature.

Every time that Valjean faces an unjust adversity, I was amazed at his strength of character. He’s not a perfect man. He struggles with human feelings and intense desires to take the easy way out of situations. But he never does. His life has been forever changed by the Bishop’s kindness, and he, in return, lives out a life that showers those around him with grace, even when it hurts him to the core to do so.

Very seldom does such a narrative capture the kind of love every human heart longs to experience – the story of unmerited grace and agape love, first shown to us in the hands of a Man who poured out his blood for us 2,000 years ago.

While I do think Hugo’s “setting-the-stage” chapters are a bit excessive (I didn’t think I’d ever make it through the Napoleonic War book!), the story of Jean Valjean, Cossette, Marius, and Javert is one that will leave you forever changed.

Though I may have started this journey through the classics with a type-A mentality, I have learned a lot from my mistakes.

Numbers are meaningless in the world of literature.

What really counts is finding a story, be it a 200-year-old classic or a recent release, that speaks to your heart and changes you.

After all, isn’t that what made us all readers to begin with?

The Bookshop on the Corner – A Review

Originally published on November 16, 2019.

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I had 2 days off last week. This was a lovely surprise! On the preceding Friday, I was watching the morning announcements with my students when I heard that we would have no school on Monday, in addition to Tuesday (election day).

That Friday got about 95% happier at that point.

And so began the lovely problem – how to spend my spare time in such a way as to maximize the fun?

Not surprisingly, I hit up my favorite thrift shoppe’s book section.

As I was browsing, I came across The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny ColganIt looked and sounded sweet, not too sappy, and from what I could tell, I couldn’t see any hints of rated-R content buried beneath its cover. So, for $1, I took a chance.

The story follows the life of Nina Redmond, a twenty-nine-year-old who finds herself at a crossroads. Having just been laid off from the library where she has worked for the past several years, she is faced with a decision on what to do with her life.

Apply for a job at the new media center?

Nah.

Bum it around Edgbaston?

Nope. She has a book addiction to fuel, ya’ll.

Nina has a dream of one day running her own small bookshop, so when she sees an advertisement for a large van in the Scottish Highlands, she gets an idea. What about setting up a mobile bookshop?

While in Scotland, Nina falls in love with the quiet, country life, the charming townspeople…and a couple of fellas. Marek – the train engineer – whose Latvian-English and habit of tossing her presents into “their” tree everyday as he drives his train by completely captivates her heart; and then there’s Lennox, the crusty farmer and soon to be divorcee from whom Nina is renting her room.

While the bookmobile business booms, Nina’s love life does not. There is something mysterious about Marek, and the revealing of these secrets leaves her heartbroken. Will Nina find true love in the Scottish Highlands?

Opinion:

Ok, I feel like my tone in the review is a bit crass. Sorry, folks. So much for an objective summary.

I really loved the way the story starts off – a young woman faced with an opportunity to follow a dream and leave a life that’s comfortable to pursue something she’s always wanted. Toss in the Scottish Highlands, and I’m in.

Until…

Things started going down-hill in the believability department in the Chapter 7 when Nina’s van stalls on the tracks and nearly gets hit by a train.

OK. Not too out-there, I guess…

But when one of the train conductors turns out to be a hunk?

Alright, I can see where this is going.

That wasn’t too bad, though. I expect a bit of the extraordinary in chick-lit, which is what this turned out to be. Kind of like every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made. We all know we’re not going to run a Santa-land and meet a handsome Grinchy man who at first antagonizes us before sweeping us off our feet.

We know this.

I think.

But we watch – and we read – anyway because it’s fun to at least hear about it happening to someone else.

Where Colgan really started to lose me, though, is about half-way through the book. After Nina discovers that Marek, the handsome-train engineer, is not who she thought he was, she isn’t irate. She doesn’t give him what-for or slap his face. She feels sorry for him. I don’t want to give away too much detail here, but let’s just say, that in my opinion, she had every right to shake this joker up a little.

At this point, I’m starting to not like Nina so much. This is the point where I’m starting to scream at her for being so stupid.

And I REALLY don’t like her by the end.

Spoiler Alert: 

Nina ends up falling in love with Lennox (after she just had her heart broken by Marek – fast rebound, there, Nina). This isn’t the sweet-stuff-of-Hallmark-movies kind of love. Oh no, this is the hot-and-heavy stuff of those movies whose trailers my mom would never let me watch as a kid.

I dislike it when an author makes the climax of a book a sexual experience, and that’s what happens in this book  After only having “feelings” for Lennox for a week (if that long), the 2 characters are already in bed together.

Personally, I think ending a book with a sexual relationship (a casual one, at that, since Nina doesn’t truly fall in love with the heart of the man until after all of this goes down) shows a lack of creativity. Everybody and her brother writes stories like this. What takes more creativity, in my opinion, is when an author finds a way to still incorporate romance but also to allow the heroine to rise above her problems without relying upon a significant other.

Toss in a handful of f-bombs, especially towards the end, and The Bookshop on the Corner was a bit of a let-down. (As an aside, I’m not even sure where the “corner” part in The Bookshop on the Corner comes in at. There is no “corner” shop.)

I do not wish to offend anyone, here, especially if you are a romance-novel fan. I do enjoy a good chick-lit every once and a while. I like it when an author incorporates a love story into the plot, and I am always happy when the heroine gets a good man. Nevertheless, I think the predictability of this genre makes it difficult for me to truly fall in love with it (no pun intended).

So, if you like romances set in lovely settings with a good smathering of bookishness in the overall plot, you may want to try The Bookshop on the Corner. If you prefer romance stories that keep things on the PG side, I would say you might not want to pick this one up if you see it for a dollar at your local thrift shoppe.

Color – Embroidered Elephant

Originally published on February 20, 2019.

Good Thursday evening!

It’s been a rainy several days around here. The ground is saturated, and temporary ponds are every where. I pass one on my way home from work every day, and a band of ducks has chosen to make it their home.

In contrast to the dreary weather, I thought I’d continue on in our discussion of color by sharing one of my finished embroidery projects as well as a bit of my creative process in designing and creating my embroidery projects.

Januaries and snow days are prime breeding grounds for an exotic-themed embroidery project. I find that in the winter months I crave both color and the sites of far-away places. Last winter, I had a particular craving for sights of India. So, I decided that an Indian elephant with appropriately-themed colors would be right up my alley. I tried to pick colors,like magenta and orange, that are similar to those used for traditional purposes in the vibrant Eastern culture. I then tried to keep the scheme in balance with softer hues like gray and mint green. I was quite pleased with the results.

A bit of a disclaimer: I do NOT draw my embroidery patterns for pretty much any of my projects, unless it is ridiculously simplistic. I wish I could draw such complex things. But, I have neither the patience nor the skill to do such intricate drawings. So, I do the next best thing: find a coloring page online. You can find the pattern for the elephant here.

Currently, I have this piece hanging in my room over my bed. Eventually, I hope to make it part of a gallery wall that I am planning for this space.

Even though this elephant hangs alone right now, his vibrant colors are still enough to add a little bit of pop to an otherwise dreary February.

Color – Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

Originally posted February 6, 2019.

In keeping with my theme for the month – “Color” – I thought it would be fitting to share my thoughts on one of literature’s most color-filled story – The Scarlet Letter. 

Isn’t this one of those books everyone is supposed to have read in high school?

It slipped by me. We read Dracula, The Red Badge of Courage (another color-filled novel), and Huck Finn, but we skipped out on the “high school classics,” namely To Kill a Mockingbird and The Scarlet Letter.

Whatever. Better late than never.

One of my new year’s goals this year was to read harder books more frequently (i.e. – read more Shakespeare and less chick lit, ya’ll). I’ve been meaning to read The Scarlet Letter for a while now, and I finally got around to it last month. One of my students is reading the book for a class book talk my students are working on, so I figured now was as good a time as any to read Hawthorne’s masterpiece.

My response in broad general terms?

Wow.

I can see why it’s a classic.

I’m pretty decent at analyzing literature. I don’t have an M.A.E., but I can pick out a theme, spot foreshadowing, and analyze the complexities of characters. I’m not going to lie, though. I feel like I probably missed some stuff in this novel.

Another goal I’m working on this year includes digesting my reading material more fully. To do that, I’ve started a reading reflection journal where I jot down my analyses of the books that I read. I generally include the main characters, the themes, and publication information. For The Scarlet Letter, I also added a section for symbols. Color symbolism is a big part of the story, so I felt like a journal entry on this book would be incomplete without it.

In honor of this month’s theme, then, I thought I’d share my perceptions of Hawthorne’s use of color  as well as some images to set the mood of the story.

Color Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter:

Oudemolensche Diep

Gray – symbolic of oppression, confinement, and enslavement to a sinful past

In the story, Hester Pryne wears dull colors – mainly gray – as part of the Puritan community in which she lives. Hester’s clothing choices, which are discussed several times in the story, represent the oppression of guilt and the consequences of her past that she deals with on a daily basis. Interestingly, Hester’s neighbors also likely dress in somber colors since this is set in Puritan New England. In the story, the narrator reflects on the fact that everyone around Hester has their own sinful secret, making them just as guilty of wrong as Hester. The only difference is that their sins are not disclosed whereas Hester’s is (If you were my students, this is where I’d wink-wink-nudge-nudge you to be thinking about a possible theme).

“Actual Sunset”

Sunlight (yes, I know that’s not a color, but it’s in the same ballpark) – symbolic of freedom from guilt and dishonesty

One scene that really kept me focused for fear of missing something significant is the scene where Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the woods. In this scene, Hester casts off her scarlet letter, and she and Dimmesdale decide to flee New England to escape their haunting past. In this scene, the sun shines through the forest, representing the hop of beeing free from guilt and, in Dimmesdale’s case, the dishonesty of leading a double-life.

“Acer Japonicum ‘Vitofolium'”
Scarlet – symbolic of the fury of guilt and shame

The name-sake color symbol and also my favorite color.

The color scarlet is referred to most frequently as it is displayed in the emblem that Hester wears on her dress. The scarlet “A” is a letter of guilt and shame, and it is representative of the unrelenting fury of shame she must bear for her past sins.

One of my favorite parts in the story comes right before Dimmesdale dies when he rips open his shirt to reveal his own scarlet letter. In the following chapter, the narrator shares the townspeoples’ theory on how the letter appeared. Apparently, Dimmesdale had been punishing himself physically by mutilating his flesh, carving out or burning out his own scarlet letter on his chest. I think this is a very vivid indicator of scarlet’s fury in this novel, perhaps the culminating instance of color symbolism. 

Note: Photos were edited from the original version to include color schemes. No other alterations were made.