And wow, is there ever some trash being thrown around. It’s not only at the parties, but on the big screens and the small screens and within the covers of novels.
So Erin McCole-Cupp laid it down: #showusyourlist, she said, of fiction worth reading.
Now THIS is a challenge that makes me put all my actual work to the side and rub my hands together excitedly. Because I’m on a timer here, I’m limiting myself to three of my favorite novels.
The Screwtape Letters
This book is an old friend. My battered copy was marked and dog-eared and loved. It wasn’t mine at first, so it wasn’t my name written in maroon marker inside the front cover. I loved it so much after reading it (via audio) the first time that I reread it within months while leading a summer study with a group of women.
I now have a less battered copy, because I lent that original copy to someone (I couldn’t help it! It’s one of my favorite books…to read and to share!).
For me, Screwtape is an examination of conscience. It’s also a good reminder that there are forces of evil working against us all.the.time.
I love having a book that makes me think differently about the world around me. This book has the advantage of also inspiring a number of other works, and I am a sucker for reading source material. Besides that, C.S. Lewis is just fabulous. Need I say more?
The premise of The Screwtape Letters is that a senior devil/tempter, Screwtape, is writing to his nephew, Wormwood, about Wormwood’s “patient.” Everything is backwards – what’s good to Screwtape is NOT good to us. When he refers to Our Father Down Below, he’s talking about Satan, and the Enemy is God. This alone is enough to delight me as a reader.
The Screwtape Letters struck me, the first time through, as though it was one of the best examinations of conscience I have yet found. It made me consider sin in a whole new way. It made me think about angels and demons – especially demons – as workers with a stake, and as forces that I can beat, but not alone. It made me see the need for God in my life ever more, ever more.
Many years later, I still consider it one of the best examinations of conscience I’ve found.
The second time through, I was reading more carefully. Since I had listened to the audio version the first time, different things leapt out at me when I went back through it with the book study. I was again struck by the fact that this was, in effect, a description of ME, and it was a starting place for an examination of conscience.
In This House of Brede
I picked this up after being introduced to Rumer Godden by Julie Davis’s excellent reading of China Court on the Forgotten Classics podcast a number of years ago. It sat on the top shelf of my to-read bookcase for a few months before I decided that, whatever pull the other books may have on me, it needed to be read NEXT.
The timing was just right. I stayed up late, I lived in another world for at least a week, and I enjoyed it as I have enjoyed other great books.
What makes it great? My feeling that it’s great was intuitive at first, which doesn’t make for the kind of review this book deserves. Me saying “Ooo, you’ll love it” might not be true, and might not encourage you to dig in and read it.
There were three distinct things I liked about In This House of Brede, things that are tangible and that I can put my finger on: the characters are REAL; the places are characters too; and the writing is impeccable.
The characters are among my favorites ever. From my love affair with Little Women in fourth grade (and the subsequent once-a-year readings that took me through junior high), where I found a soul sister in Jo, a little sister in Beth, a baffling older role model in Meg, and a kindred spirit in Amy, I found myself delighted and enamored with Godden’s cast in Brede. There’s Abbess Catherine, the reluctant leader who I think would commiserate with me when I so often find myself reminded that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. Dame Philippa, the businesswoman-turned-nun, is somehow realistic, even as she seems unlikely at first glance.
The monastery, it turns out, is like any group of people – full of a little of this and a little of that, people with strong opinions and others with clashing talents. Just how interesting could 638 pages about a nunnery be? I stopped wondering about three words into the book.
Godden’s writing turns the places into major characters (as, of course, they ARE, but I still so SO enjoy this about her books), and she weaves the Brede monastery – its history and its long life – into the commentary and the very plot of this book. This was one of my favorite aspects of China Court, and (bit of a repeater here, but it bears repeating) THAT was the book that convinced me to buckle down to enjoy Brede.
Godden is a master storyteller. I didn’t think I would be very interested in monastery life. I mean, except for being a woman myself, just how much do I have in common with a bunch of cloistered nuns? I’m in the throes of motherhood of little ones, working full-time, immersed in a different century in a different country.
And that’s just it. Godden pulled me in, softly. She didn’t do a thing, except make me love her characters. They’re HUMAN, you see. It’s not just that they’re believable. It’s that I found myself walking through my day and thinking something crazy like, “Sister Philippa appreciate this ironic moment in the parish office.” I know that doesn’t sound completely sane of me, and it didn’t feel completely sane as it happened.
There is a lot more that I could say about this book – it’s considered a classic for many, many reasons. This is a book that I expect to hold on to for at least as long as I’ve had that original copy of Little Women.
In fourth grade, Little Women was the one book my mom would let me buy from one of those book flyers. I was so disgusted and disappointed that I sulked and pouted like a champ.
And then I proceeded to read the book until the cover came off. I think I clocked at least four readings before sixth grade.
A couple of years ago, I wanted to revisit my old friends, the Marches, after having a conversation with one of the young people in my life that went something like this.
“Oh! Little Women! Have you read it?”
“I saw the movie.”
“But…but…it’s a great book. You should READ it!”
“Yeah. Hey, have you read Maximum Ride yet?”
I started this about midway through my tour through the first Maximum Ride novel and it was probably the only reason I was able to plow through that book. Revisiting this old friend of a book and the old friends within the book was soothing to me
It was delightful and just as wonderful as I remembered it being. The March family held all its appeal, I still sided completely with Jo and wanted to be her, wondered at the curious femininity of Meg and Amy, and loved Beth, though I shook my head at her.
I paid more attention, this time around, to the role Mrs. March played, and since I’m also the mother of girls, couldn’t help but take a few pointers from her. My girls won’t be playing Pilgrim’s Progress, mind you, because I threw the book across the room more than once the year when I tried to read it. Then again, the idea of it doesn’t demand reading the book…
All in all, as fantastic a reading as could be had. And revisiting it on this list reminds me that my oldest daughter is in fourth grade this year…I think maybe we have a date with this book together…and I think I know just where my cover-less, name-engraved paperback is…
Yes, I could go on and on. I could do a list like this every week, because there is SO MUCH GREAT FICTION OUT THERE.
There’s no need to settle. Ever. So don’t.
Read what’s great. And let me know what it is YOU would recommend!