Day 17: One Thousand Gifts

Ann-Voskamp

Ann Voskamp is one of my favorite voices on the internet. I read her blog, A Holy Experience, almost daily, and I love how her writing causes me to exhale and breathe gratitude in the midst of life’s hectic pressures and never-ending hustle and bustle. I actually read her blog and had become familiar with the One Thousand Gifts concept long before I finally read the book; in fact, I had started my own 1,000 gifts gratitude journal before I ever opened Ann’s book, but it still changed my life when I finally did.

OneThousandGifts

Ann frames her work around a single word – “eucharisteo” – and the idea of living the small moments of everyday life with joy and with thanksgiving. One Thousand Gifts started when a friend dared her to write down 1,000 things she was thankful for – not 1,000 things that she wanted, but 1,000 gifts that God had already given to her. Through the process of making that list, of thoughtfully counting gifts of mercy every single day, God transformed her life by allowing her to see through the lens of gratitude, a lens that changes everything.

“Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience;
thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life. …
Our salvation in Christ is real, yet the completeness of that salvation
is not fully realized in a life until the life realizes the need to give thanks.”
- from One Thousand Gifts, page 39 & 40

Gratitude changes everything. We cannot, Ann argues, truly live as Christians unless we live a life of eucharisteo, and at the same time, if we do live with such gratitude in our hearts and lives, we cannot help but bring glory to God and His kingdom as we do.

A small note: Ann Voskamp’s literary style is an acquired taste, and I admit that without hesitation. I have heard from many readers who find her message obscured by her style, and I truly understand. But my dear friend Melissa, my college English teacher and fellow book aficionado, put it best: her style perfectly complements her message. Her diction and choice of words force her reader to slow down, to breathe, to take in her message slowly and thoughtfully – and her message, in turn, urges her reader to slow down even more, exhale, and live life with eyes wide open to the gifts God provides at every turn.

Enjoy this beautiful excerpt, in video form, of what Ann’s message is all about:


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.
31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 16: Jane Austen

JaneAusten

I can still remember my very first introduction to Jane Austen, and it pains my literary soul to admit that it was through a movie and not a book. My parents had invited friends to our house for dinner, and after we children had gone to bed, the adults watched the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, starring Emma Thompson and a very young Kate Winslet, and I was absolutely fascinated. I don’t recall exactly how old I would have been, but I do remember that as my first taste of period drama, and I hated being excluded. I’m pretty sure I sneaked into the kitchen and peered around the corner into the living room, just to snatch a few minutes of the movie.

Years later, a friend of mine told me I simply must watch the BBC miniseries adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, so I requested the 6 VHS tapes from the library, and my mom and I watched all 5 hours together–and have rewatched it countless times since then. I absolutely adored Elizabeth Bennet, with her razor-sharp wit and her fierce but humble confidence, two qualities which I lacked entirely as a young teenager. Of course, no female, of any age and with any of her wits about her, could resist falling in love with Colin Firth’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, and he remains one of my favorite heroes of all time.

I think I finally started picking up the Jane Austen novels after my initial encounter with the BBC Pride and Prejudice adaptation, and I have since enjoyed all seven major novels several times over. I still find something new to delight me each time I return to them–the very definition of a classic, in my mind. I have relished many of the film adaptations over the years, but as always, the books are infinitely superior to any of the movies. Surprisingly, I wouldn’t actually pick the famous Pride and Prejudice as my favorite book; instead, I would call it a perfect tie between the deliciously funny Emma and the bittersweet and haunting Persuasion, followed closely by Pride and Prejudice and then Sense and Sensibility.

JaneAustenCompleteWorks

I own this delightful hardbound collection of Jane Austen’s seven major novels – one of my favorite items on my bookshelves!

Jane Austen has endured as one of the great novelists of her day because of her uncanny ability to give her readers a glimpse into not only the daily world that surrounded her with its seemingly unimportant but delightful details, but also into the complexities of human nature itself, and her tales twist and turn with the charm, heartache, and triumph of what it means to be human. Her stories are not just for girls, and certainly not just for girls who are interested in period drama–rather, they are for anyone who wants to experience the human joys and sorrows of living in this frustrating, delightful world.


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.
31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 15: Connie Willis

BlackoutAllClear

I wish I could remember how I first stumbled upon Connie Willis, but I have to admit that I do not. I know I somehow ended up with Doomsday Book from the library, which I finished and enjoyed but didn’t necessarily rave about–although Connie’s style interested me enough that I wanted to read more. I then read To Say Nothing of the Dog, which remains one of my favorites, and is my first recommendation for someone who has never read Willis before:

“Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest.  He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop’s bird stump.  It’s part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.

But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past.  Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right–not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.” [from Amazon.com]

I then moved on to the laugh-out-loud hysterically funny Bellwetherthe eerie and somewhat morbidly compelling Passagethe suspenseful and hauntingly gripping Lincoln’s Dreamsand her latest, the two-part WWII novels Blackout and All Clear, which depict the London Blitz with stunning and vivid detail and masterfully reflect the eight years of meticulous research she spent while writing what is perhaps her most compelling tale yet.

Connie Willis is typically classified as a science fiction author, since many (though not all) of her stories deal with time travel and other science fiction themes, but her stories hold far more depth than a typical sci-fi title. She possesses a sharp, intelligent wit and sense of humor, which caused me to assume at first that she was a British author rather than an American–what a delightful surprise. Her use of technology and time travel serves merely as a vehicle to drive what truly matters: her characters. She is, more than anything else, a masterful storyteller, and she weaves compelling tales with larger-than-life characters that practically leap from the pages into the reader’s imagination. It’s simply a fine coincidence that she also happens to present one of the most coherent and “believable” (as much as it can be believable!) explanations of time travel that I have ever seen in literature.

Although I tend to gravitate toward “dead authors” whose works have already stood the test of time, I do also enjoy a handful of truly remarkable modern authors, who will, without a doubt, stand the same test of time, and Connie Willis most emphatically falls into this category. She has won 11 Hugo Awards, 11 Locus Poll Awards, and 8 Nebula Awards, and anyone who reads her impressive body of work will immediately understand why. There are several modern authors who I would absolutely die to meet in person, and Connie is one of them. 

I love what she says about her own writing in an interview after winning another Nebula award in 2012:

I know what I like in books and movies, which is characters who are in over their heads and trying to do their best in impossible circumstances; mysteries that need to be solved; no-win situations; people who care about each other and about the world more than they do about themselves; revelations (both good and bad) that hit you right in the stomach and knock you off your feet; and irony. And I try to put all those in my stories.

I adore [a long list of her favorite authors] and try to write like all of them. And fail miserably. But whatever’s good in my books probably comes from them.”

Has anyone else read Connie Willis? How would you describe what makes her such a terrific author? 


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 14: Eight Cousins & Rose in Bloom

EightCousins

I suppose I could call this post “Louisa May Alcott Part 2″, since it naturally follows from Little Women, about which I have already written earlier this month. After reading Little Women as a young teen and then the sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys, I wanted to read more Louisa May Alcott, so I eagerly dove into Eight Cousins and then its sequel Rose in Bloom. Although Rose in Bloom ties up the storyline of the title character, I do remember preferring Eight Cousins overall for sheer charm and enjoyment of the story.

“After the death of her father, orphan Rose Campbell has no choice but to go and live at the ‘Aunt Hill’ with her six aunts and seven boy cousins. For someone who was used to a girl’s boarding school, it all seems pretty overwhelming, especially since her guardian Uncle Alec makes her eat healthy things like oatmeal, and even tries to get her to give up her pretty dresses for more drab, sensible clothes. Will Rose ever get used to her Uncle’s strange ideas and all her noisy relatives? Will there come a day when she can’t imagine living anywhere else?” [from Amazon.com]


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.
31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 13: Mutiny on the Bounty

Today’s title is another one that I have not read in years–probably more than a decade, in fact–but I wanted to include it because I do distinctly remember my first impressions reading it, and also because reflecting on it motivates me to read it again.

MutinyOnTheBounty

I think I was about 15 or 16 when I picked up Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, and I think I owe the recommendation to my beloved Oma and Opa, from whose bookshelves I also snatched my first copy of The Count of Monte Cristo (Oma and Opa, I don’t think I ever returned that book–but my literary palette was greatly expanded as a result!). As a lifelong bookworm, I would often devour novels in mere days or a week, but I think I inhaled Bounty at a rate that surpassed even my usual pace. The phrase “couldn’t put it down” does not even begin to describe my encounter with what has been called “the most stirring sea adventure ever told.” In later years, I would discover and thoroughly enjoy C. S. Forester’s Hornblower Saga, again from my grandparents’ bookshelves, but I think Bounty still remains my favorite seafaring adventure tale.

What I did not recall until researching for this post was that Mutiny on the Bounty is actually the first book in a trilogy by Nordhoff and Hall, known as The Bounty Trilogywhich concludes with Men Against the Sea and Pitcairn’s Island. This reminder has given me an even more eager desire to re-read Bounty and then pick up the remaining two books I have not yet experienced!

One great book always leads to another, does it not?!


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 12: The Count of Monte Cristo

“On what slender threads do life and fortune hang…”
- The Count of Monte Cristo

CountOfMonteCristo

As both a bookworm and a movie fanatic, I often find myself wondering how whatever book I am currently reading would translate to film, and I specifically remember, after my first experience with The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, how I started scribbling down a wanna be screenplay after I finished reading the book. I think I must have read it in about 3 days, utterly captivated and swept away by this classic tale of revenge and redemption, and I desperately wanted to see it brought to life on screen.

[As a side note, my disappointment upon watching the film version starring James Caviezel and Guy Pearce could not have been more intense. A stereotypical Hollywood happy ending if I have ever seen one, which completely destroyed the heart and soul of the story. Don't waste your time!]

This classic swashbuckling story is perhaps one of the greatest tales of love and revenge, of trials and redemption, and ultimately of the healing power of forgiveness in the face of betrayal and suffering. It remains an enduring classic for a reason!

It is difficult to find a good translation, especially one that is truly unabridged, and it took me a long time to find one. I specifically recommend this translation by Robin Buss – it is complete, unabridged, and maintains the feeling of the original text.


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 11: Jane Eyre

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!” - Jane Eyre 


JaneEyreBookCover

I will never forget my first encounter with Jane Eyre, the book that was my introduction to the classic English novel. It was one of the first “grown up” novels I remember reading, and although I didn’t fully comprehend its intricacies after my first reading, it certainly left a lasting impression on me, which has only deepened as I have returned to re-read it again and again.

My novel-reading world was shattered by the depth of the symbolism and the overwhelming power of the emotion in the climax of what remains one of my favorite stories of all time. I still struggle to find the words to describe what strikes me so strongly every time I go back to Jane Eyre, but I think my first and most vivid impression came from the example of Jane turning her back on all she knew and loved, at great cost to her well-being and especially to her happiness, in order to do what she believed was right. To stand against the world and leave behind everything that provided comfort and security, in order to do the right thing – I always wondered whether I would have had the moral courage to do the same.

Jane Eyre is certainly a dark and brooding tale, and rather depressing for many of its pages, but the sad struggles Jane undergoes at first simply serve to make the climax even more triumphant and glorious in the end, a powerful conclusion such as I have only experienced in a handful of other literary masterpieces.

Worth noting, in addition to the book itself, are several film adaptations that have done a masterful job of translating the story to the screen. I have yet to see a movie version that I would call perfect, and honestly I’m not sure it could ever be done perfectly, but my favorite is the recent version starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Although nothing will ever compare to the delightful experience of the book itself, I was pleasantly surprised by how well this film version captured the essence of the story’s emotion and the moral courage of Jane. Well worth watching!

JaneEyre


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 10: The Scarlet Pimpernel

ScarletPimpernel

[This post is modified from the original review I wrote after first reading
The Scarlet Pimpernel back in 2008.]

It is 1792, and the reign of terror has engulfed the beautiful city of Paris in a sea of blood. Madame la Guillotine has claimed hundreds upon hundreds of lives, and day by day more of Paris’s leading citizens are being thrown to the jaws of death—each of them guilty of no crime except being aristocrats, the bitterest enemy of the new social order. But now there seems to be a small ray of hope for the innocent French families accused of crimes they did not commit. Many aristos are daily being snatched away from Madame la Guillotine, and the stories are growing stronger and more fantastic—stories of a small band of Englishmen, willing to risk their lives to rescue their fellow men from an untimely death, and of their leader, the mysterious and enigmatic man known as… the Scarlet Pimpernel.

It is against this backdrop that Emma Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josefa Barbara Orczy narrates what has been called “one of the most enthralling novels of historical adventure ever written.” Within the pages of The Scarlet Pimpernel, we meet the elusive Pimpernel himself, the brilliant man who has pledged himself to rescuing innocent human beings from unjust condemnation; his cunning and merciless arch-enemy, the Frenchman Chauvelin, who has in his turn pledged himself to hunting down the man who keeps meddling in the affairs of the Revolution; members of the loyal band of nineteen Englishmen who are willing to risk all for the sake of their brave and bold leader; and above all, Lady Marguerite Blakeney, the “cleverest woman in Europe” and also perhaps the most beautiful, a former actress who led the French stage and who now finds herself caught in a terrifying dilemma that will test all her loyalties and her love.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is perhaps the grandest novel of the French Revolution, with a vivid story that captures both the imagination and the heart. Baroness Orczy is a supremely talented writer, bringing her tale to life with superb wit and passion. On the surface, it is a classic tale of adventure, with all the right elements of conflict, suspense, and drama. At its heart, though, The Scarlet Pimpernel is also one of the most captivating and beautifully compelling love stories ever written. This is a tale that must not be missed.


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 9: Inkheart

Inkheart

[This post is modified from the original review I wrote after first reading
Inkheart back in 2006.]

It’s rare that I’m convinced I have to finish a book before I go to sleep, feeling that there’s no way I can succumb to slumber until I know what happens to the characters. It’s also rare for me to stay up past midnight for this reason. Rarer still will I finish an entire book in one day. I’m a bookworm, yes, but usually not to such an extent. Nevertheless, all three of these rarities occurred the first time I read Cornelia Funke’s delightful Inkheart. Years later, I still have a hard time describing what makes it so tremendous.

Inkheart tells the story of twelve-year-old Meggie and her adventures with books—particularly with one book, a mysterious and somehow dangerous story called Inkheart. When a strange man named Dustfinger suddenly appears to meet with Meggie’s father in the middle of the night during a rainstorm, Meggie finds herself swept away from the world she has always known and caught up in a world she thought only existed in the pages of a book. Inkheart has come alive in the real world, though she does not initially understand how, and Meggie is put to the ultimate test when she realizes she alone has the power to destroy evil and save the lives of those she loves.

I’ve always believed that one of the most important aspects of good fiction is good characterization. If a book’s characters aren’t believable, real, genuine, and engrossing, then the story simply cannot involve the reader successfully. Cornelia Funke has the talent of making her characters come alive in a breathtaking way. As I read, I couldn’t help becoming attached to them all—Meggie, Dustfinger, Mo, Aunt Elinor, Farid—and I couldn’t help despising the villains—Capricorn, Basta, Mortola the “Magpie.” Funke’s characters delight you, disgust you, surprise you, and ultimately move you and sweep you into their world.

Cornelia Funke is a storyteller in the fullest sense of the word, and her writing throughout Inkheart proves it. From the very first sentence, she pulls the reader into her world, beautifully portrayed so that everything unfolds before your eyes. Throughout the story, one thing is made particularly clear—Meggie loves books. She is a bookworm in every respect, as revealed in the very first chapter when she sleeps with her book under her pillow. A deep love of literature pervades the whole of the story, delightful for any reader who is a true bibliophile. One of my favorite quotes comes from Meggie’s father in the second chapter: “If you take a book with you on a journey, an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it . . . yes, books are like flypaper—memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.” Again and again, I found myself smiling and nodding as some new insight into the power of the printed word came to light through the story.

It speaks for itself, from the very first page. At the time of my first reading, I was only beginning to plunge into the world of fantasy books, but I believe this title will always rank near the top of my list of favorites. Open it up and see for yourself. But be forewarned—you might not be able to put it down!


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.31 Days of Favorite Reads

Day 8: Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates

My previous title, Watership Down, I confessed was little more than a somewhat vague memory in terms of the detail of the book, although the overall impression of the book remains quite vivid, and today’s title falls into the same category. I remember my parents reading Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates aloud to us, and although the details of the story are now foggy (which makes me want to read it again!), I remember being fascinated by the cultural and historical context, the compelling mystery of the complex and layered story, and the triumphant and redemptive conclusion that literally brought me to tears as we finished reading. Just writing about these impressions makes me want to re-read it again!

Hans Brinker

“Set against a backdrop of frozen canals in a winter wonderland, the year’s most exciting event in a little Dutch village is about to take place. But will Hans Brinker and his sister Gretel, with their hand-carved wooden skates, be able to compete against their well-trained young friends who own fine steel blades?” [from Amazon.com]


Note: This post is part of the Write 31 Days challenge hosted by The Nester. To see the rest of the posts in this series, please see the introductory index post.
31 Days of Favorite Reads