Book Review: Between Heaven and Mirth

I don’t think people in general fully appreciate the humor in the Bible.  I was lamenting this while on a retreat a few months ago, and a woman at my table recommended Between Heaven and Mirth by James Martin, SJ.  On my list it went, and in due time it landed in my spiritual reading slot.  It was excellent!

It turned out to be not quite so much about humor in the Bible (though there was some of that), but rather about how humor and especially joy are at the heart of Christianity.  Or as the subheading says, “Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.”  There’s also extensive historical discussion about why this is frequently not the viewpoint—or, in other words, why religion can be so grim sometimes.

I enjoyed this one a lot.  I love the emphasis on bringing humor and joy into spirituality—or, rather, why it doesn’t need to be brought in because it should be there all along.  Martin gives examples in history of joyful saints and religious figures, and brings out the more joyful aspects of the Bible, some of them not always apparent.  He argues that many of Jesus’ parables would have been seen as funny in their day; we may intellectually know that he’s exaggerating what a normal wheat crop would be, but an agrarian culture might have been much more struck in a humorous way (as they say, jokes aren’t funny when they have to be explained). Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Worth the Money?

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Have you ever bought a more expensive edition of a book, when a cheaper edition was available, just because you preferred the cover of the more expensive one?

 

I distinctly remember being in Barnes and Noble, looking at two different copies of Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey.  $6.99 vs. $4.99, exactly identical copies, except the cheaper option had the lowered price printed big and bold right on the cover, I think in a red star or something like it.  It’s relevant to note I was young enough that two dollars made more of a difference than it would today.  But I just couldn’t stand that printed price messing up the lovely dragon cover, so I bought the more expensive copy.  Considering I still have it, 15 or 20 years later, and have read it multiple times, that was a worthwhile extra two dollars!

That may be the only strict example where I went for a higher price because of cover.  I have paid more money for nicer editions–particularly old volumes, a hardback copy, or one with illustrations.  That feels slightly different, though.  The thing is, I buy most of my books unseen (online) or in used bookstores where there’s only one copy on the shelf, so there aren’t a lot of choices!

Do you buy books based on their cover?  Would you pay more for  good one?

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Classic Review: Emily of New Moon

Emily of New MoonHaving just finished rereading the Anne of Green Gables series, I’m about to reread L. M. Montgomery’s other most famous heroine’s trilogy, starting with Emily of New Moon.  I thought it would be fun to look back at what I had to say last time I reread!

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It’s been far too long since I read Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery–ten years, I think, since I took the trilogy with me on a school trip to England.  In fact, I found a customs form tucked into my book!

Emily is a lovely and beautiful tale of an imaginative girl who dreams of being a writer–of climbing the Alpine Path to success.  She lives with relatives at New Moon farm, and runs about with her devoted friends, Ilse, Teddy and Perry.

The book sounds at a glance like it’s an opposite number to Anne of Green Gables, and there are certainly overlaps–kind yet not quite understanding guardians, the beautiful expanses of nature in Prince Edward Island, the bosom friends, flights of imagination and inevitable scrapes.  But from the very beginning, when Emily learns in devastating fashion that her beloved father is dying, there’s a tragic strain here that gives a different color to the entire trilogy.

The difference is visually clear, looking at Emily’s midnight hair versus Anne’s fiery red locks, but it goes much deeper than that.  Emily seems to feel things more deeply than Anne (despite all her drama)–both joys and sorrows.

The book also touches (with extreme discretion, of course!) on more mature subjects.  There’s Mr. Carpenter, Emily’s irascible teacher, who drinks on weekends because he feels his life has been a failure.  And there’s Ilse’s mother, who gossip has it left her husband and baby to run off with a sea captain.  Anyone who thinks Montgomery only wrote gauzy fairy tales with no shadows is wrong.

However–don’t come to the conclusion that the book is dark or morbid or depressing!  It’s still Montgomery–and it’s still Prince Edward Island–and there’s still more beauty than sadness.  Emily has her trials and her sorrows but she is also surrounded by love and buoyed up by her dreams, her joy in the beauties of nature and her passion for writing.  And while it’s been some time, I don’t remember being strongly conscious of the darker undertones when I read this at a younger age.

It’s fascinating to read this after all my reading of Montgomery’s journal.  There are strong autobiographical strands, especially in Emily’s writing goals and experiences.  I get a fun little moment of recognition every time I spot something from her real life–like when Emily’s aunt describes her blank verse poem as “very blank” (LMM’s father said the same once) or when Emily mentions a compact with a friend to never say good-bye (LMM had such an agreement with her beloved cousin, Frede).

You know I’m always going to recommend Montgomery books.  🙂  Emily of New Moon is a beautiful novel with an appealing heroine–and for adult readers, more depth and maturity than you might expect.

Other reviews:
Reading the End
Books4Fun
Bookshelves of Doom
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Emily of New Moon

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Blog Hop: Judging by a Cover

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Have you ever bought a book because you liked its cover art?

Just once that I can remember.  I bought Aria of the Sea by Dia Calhoun based on its cover–which didn’t even have the title on it, and I seem to recall there wasn’t a plot description anywhere either.  This was a significant departure for me, since I rarely buy a book without reading it first.  But I was at my library’s warehouse sale, and this was a gamble that only cost me a dollar.  It was a good book too–and I think I was intrigued by the art style of the cover, and wondering what that heroine was thinking.

I can’t recall another time I’ve bought a book by cover–but I read books that way often.  My practice when browsing at the library is to find an intriguing title, look at the cover (usually a pretty good hint of genre and style, though not always), and then read about two sentences of the plot description.  At that point a book either has me or not.

Do you look at covers when you buy books?  How heavily do they weigh with you?

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Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett has been on my radar as a soon-to-read Discworld novel, so when I needed a new audiobook and it was available–perfect!  This turned out to be one of Pratchett’s more overtly satirical novels.  It was still funny, but there were also some darker elements highlighted.

This one takes out of the familiar territories of Ankh-Morpork or Lancre, to Borogravia, a tiny country fighting a war against all its neighbors.  Polly’s brother Paul went away to war some time before, and now Polly has decided to set out in search of him–by joining the army disguised as a boy, of course.  She joins the last party of recruits heading for the front, a motley group including a troll, a vampire and an Igor (pretty much what you’d think).  It become quickly clear that nearly all are girls in disguise, although their commanding lieutenant remains blissfully unaware of that fact.  Meanwhile, Borogravia’s war is disrupting transcontinental communication for Ankh-Morpork, and Commander Vimes of the Night Watch has been sent to handle the situation.

Pratchett is at some of his gender-political satirizing best here.  A thematic issue since the third Discworld book (Equal Rites) he’s fully engaging here.  There’s much discussion of how the world feels different (and regards the girls differently) when they do something as simple as putting on a pair of trousers.  I don’t think (I might be wrong) that Pratchett ever directly states that women are as capable as men (but not necessarily wiser or more interested in peace).  He simply tells a story that shows equality between the genders in no uncertain terms.  It’s far more effective that way. Continue reading

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