"I think it will last," said Grandfather. "In my experience when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must. Yes. They find it widens life. We're all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can't give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books we experience all life vicariously." ~ Elizabeth Goudge, A City of Bells
That lovely stack of books there came to me from a very kind and generous reader (thank you, 'Kitty'!). She said she was sending me a book and behold, she sent three (like Galadriel, my kids noted)! So I am happy to be reading Goudge again. She sent a sweet little copy of Henrietta's House, but recommended I read A City of Bells first, so I did. It's a wonderful story with delightful characters young and old, set in an English cathedral city during the early twentieth century, totally satisfying and typical Elizabeth Goudge. Thus I've just started Henrietta's House and it seems to be a charming story - so nice to be able to visit again with the beloved characters from A City of Bells.
I think the last Goudge I mentioned reading some time ago was The Middle Window, and I feel obliged to let you know that one was quite a disappointment. I enjoyed Towers in the Mist so very much that after borrowing it through interlibrary loan I wanted to find one for myself. The only nice copy I was able to locate was part of a lot which included The Middle Window, so I purchased and read it not knowing much about it. I must say it was not a favorite (to put it mildly), having a rather bizarre story line combining the present and past and implausible, disturbing notions of how the two can come together. Even as just a plot device it was pretty dreadful. At times I actually groaned aloud wondering how she could write such stuff, but I persevered and finished the book. There were some pleasant parts, with it being set in the Scottish highlands after all, but still. (sorry dear daughters, it's not all about the setting) Happily my mind dwells on the enjoyable romanticized Jacobite middle section and has handily blocked out the rest. Definitely not the best Goudge to try if you're not already a devoted fan. ;-)
On to something completely different, Hannah Fowler by Janice Holt Giles was recommended by Leila as a book she (wisely!) gives to her daughters as they head off for marriage. This is the story of a Kentucky pioneer woman in the time of Daniel Boone, learning along with her new husband to live and to love together, forging a marriage of uncommon strength and beauty. The language is simple but powerful and the portrayals of what makes a hearth and home, marriage and family, are just beautiful. Hannah is such a strong, spirited woman but in no way does she seek to overpower her man. I like how their deep love is lived so truly without having to be spoken. I like how all the domestic little things that are so dear to a woman's heart are given their rightful importance and meaning, and how in the end none of them are what really matters at all. If you like Laura Ingalls and Little House you ought to love this beautiful book.
Other books in circulation right now are Churchill's own series on World War II. I still remember the time we were at a booksale and teenaged Josiah came up and asked me if we could buy this set of old books as he heard they were good. Yes, of course we could! He proceeded to read all of them for what constituted his history studies for the year. We've since picked up a couple more sets at book sales as several other folks here wanted their own copies, and Jonathan and Lydia are currently reading them. There's nothing like reading an in-depth history of the war from such an important person who lived it. "A sad tale of all the complicated idiocy." Highly recommended.
I am currently reading aloud another awesome book from the same time period, The Shadow of His Wings: The True Story of Fr. Gereon Goldmann, OFM. I had read this aloud to some of the older kids during Lent, and it was one of those books where we all wanted to right away read it aloud again to the family members who missed it - it's that good. This is the first hand account of a Franciscan priest who was drafted into the German SS as a young seminarian and the truly astonishing events surrounding his military service and life of faith. It would be a first rate choice for an older student studying WWII as it gives a most unique and interesting (!) perspective on the war, but it's really an awesome read for anyone (teens and up) as a story of incredible faith. On the surface it would seem amazing that I ever became a priest... Don't miss this one.
Another favorite recent read here is Priest on Horseback : Father Farmer 1720-1786 by Eva K. Betz. This little gem of a book is unfortunately out of print, but is certainly worth tracking down to borrow from the library or some fortunate acquaintance who owns a copy. This book tells the story of a circuit riding priest during Colonial times and the hardships and trials Catholics faced during pre-revolutionary times, something often glossed over in the history books as the pilgrims all came here supposedly for religious freedom. Under English law Mass and the Sacraments were forbidden in the colonies, and while the Quaker William Penn showed religious tolerance in his lands, priests in New York were subject to the death penalty. Though this is a children's book, Michael and I both enjoyed it as well as the older girls. It also sent us on a bit of a rabbit trail investigating local history, as Fr. Farmer was assigned for a time to a church in our (present day) diocese and there is a page about him in our book on the history of the diocese. He spent time at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia and helped to establish the parish of St. Peter's in Manhattan, where years later St. Elizabeth Ann Seton would become Catholic. You can even find his marriage register online. If you can't find it at all there seems to be recordings of it at librivox, but you know we like books. :-)
I have also been reading aloud to the family some favorites of the older kids. Rasmus and the Vagabond by Astrid Lindgren is a splendid story about an orphan boy and his adventures with a big-hearted but mischievous, singing, wandering vagabond who calls himself 'God's best friend.' It has old fashioned charm and hair raising adventure, good guys and bad guys, all the stuff that makes for a good story and an utterly satisfying ending to boot.
Rasmus was sitting in his regular notch in the linden tree, thinking about things that shouldn't be allowed to exist. Potatoes were at the top of the list. Cooked, with gravy on them for Sunday dinner they were all right, but when they kept on sprouting in the field and had to be dug up - then they shouldn't be tolerated. He could also easily do without Miss Hawk, for it was she who was always saying, "Tomorrow we're going to spend the day digging up potatoes." "We" she said, but of course that didn't include her...
But it also has love and longing and friendship and family and what it means to belong to someone else. And butterscotch.
That Oscar happened to be such a moderate butterscotch eater made him still more perfect in Rasmus' eyes..."Let's save the others," suggested Oscar. If we ever get into a tight spot it might be nice to have a little butterscotch in reserve."
With Rasmus and Oscar as the protagonists this one has special appeal for boys, though it is of course enjoyed by all as all good stories are. I don't know why the silly Pippi Longstocking remains a perennial favorite while this rich, rewarding work of Lindgren's is out of print. I suppose that's how you know it's extra good?
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