One highlight of the month was the Durham Book Festival. It’s shocking that I have been complaining about a lack of book festivals in the North for so long but never heard of this one before (subsequently, we also discovered the book festival in Newcastle in November…). We picked two talks quite randomly on Saturday on the train to Durham, one on the relationship between the authors and the publishers, the other was with the author Colm Toibin who wrote Brooklyn. Or I thought we were. Five minutes before the talk started I found that Toibin was actually for Sunday 4pm, not Saturday 4pm! A beautiful autumn day was just about to get ruined… or got even better! I pleaded with the nice ticket lady with tears. She couldn’t give me a refund but she did let us into the talk with Louis de Bernieres! I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and even put my hand up and took the opportunity to ask the last question.
We also had the rare chance to peek into the historical buildings of Durham University. The privilege of walking and reading in those places alone would be worth doing a degree all over again (plus some good education). I have put the dates for next year in my diary.
I had GREAT fun dipping into many books thanks to Kindle samples. I sampled The Heart’s Invisible Furies, The Eye of the World, A Wizard of Earthsea, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Name of the Wind. All were highly recommended. Some were good, but, surprisingly and a bit disappointingly, most were not. To try out books like this, the recurring question is, how long should I read a book before it’s OK to give up? When I read a sample, I, first of all, assess the writing style, which means I check if the author likes to use big words and difficult sentence structures. If it’s too much hard work, I leave it for the future (for example, C. S. Lewis’ adult books, unfortunately). After that, I decide mainly by feelings.
For example, the Prologue of The Eye of the World feels a bit over the top for me. The colour palette would be black and red, bold and dramatic. Two characters did the conversation in a “Romeo Romeo” way; way too many exclamation marks. At the end of the chapter, I had very little idea what they were talking about, which was fine, that was just the prologue. There was also too much scene-setting for my personal preference. I don’t like reading long descriptions of the environment. Then the style changed drastically in chapter one, which was actually a lot friendlier to read. It was a normal English countryside setting. Except on and on it went, full of jargon and made-up terms with capital letters, leaving me still feeling like an outsider in chapter three. It felt like trying to get myself into a group conversation where everybody was looking down at their phones. And the conversation kept on going for four chapters. There was finally some action going on in chapter five, where the sample ended. But was this frustration caused by my impatience?
Another puzzling one is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. Everything I heard is about what a masterpiece it is: how all the plots are intricately woven, how the historical background is well researched, not a word is wasted, it’s long but it has to be that long. It has 69 bloody chapters! SIXTY NINE chapters! It must be special in some way to get people all the way to the end and love it that much. I got a sample and decided to find out all about the fuss but found myself really struggling to finish reading the sample, which is the first seven chapters of the book. SEVEN chapters! Thanks to the Kindle sample I was able to do that. There’s no way I could stand in a Waterstone’s reading a whole seven chapters. I was more than happy to buy and read the whole lot if I liked it (as I couldn’t wait to do for Rivers of London – see below). And surely seven chapters were long enough to make a judgement. But I really struggled with all the Jane Austen style conversations, scene-settings, characters and humour. There was no action for the whole seven chapters, only: Mr Norrell met this gentleman, Mr Norrell went to this party, Mr Norrell bought a house and refurbished it. I must be judging it unfairly without reading the whole book. But I don’t feel particularly encouraged to go on reading it except the sample ended at the point that Mr Norrell was about to raise the dead. I’m in two minds if it’s worth reading the whole thing which is as thick as the New Bible Dictionary (IVP).
(I actually read the whole thing can you believe it. See full review here. 7 Dec 2019)
However, I did finish reading Rivers of London. That was an exciting and brilliant read. A seamless tapestry of the daily job of the Metropolitan Police, the specialist work of the magic department, the dazzling geography and history of London, with a pinch of romance, family and pet love, in a matter of fact tone and good humour, with some mildly strong language. I love the tough but good old world. You might be the victim of a gunshot, a riot or get possessed by an evil spirit that makes your face fall off, but someone is working their socks off catching the criminal, risking bruises and blows to come to the rescue. You hear the siren and what a beautiful sound. See full review here.
Another five out of five read this month was The Weirdest Nativity. It’s a pocket-size book for the Christmas period when you try to shove average evangelistic booklets into unwilling victims. BUT NOT THIS ONE! Very briefly, it’s about the same baby’s birth story, but with an overdressed woman (for labour) and an enormous red dragon! (And it’s not a children’s book.) Review to come but for now, have a read the booklet yourself for how brilliant it is. I’ll be keeping a precious copy for myself this Christmas!
The last book I finished this month was Treasures of the Snow, a children’s novel by Patricia St John, originally published in 1950. The biggest theme is forgiveness and reconciliation. I did some research when writing this post. I found that the story was written soon after the Second World War. When peace looked restored on the outside, there was much hatred unresolved. The author wrote, “I remembered… the resentment of those who could not forgive others, the remorse of those who could not forgive themselves, and I knew that this generation of children needed, above all things, to learn the meaning of forgiveness.” The story is not the whimsical and mischevious Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, nor the fantasy and adventurous C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories. It’s similar to Anne of the Green Gables in its realism; it’s about real-life children living ordinary lives. But Treasures of the Snow feels quite serious as a children’s book. I guess partly because of the topic of forgiveness would always involve people wronging each other, anger, hatefulness and tears. But also it is partly because feelings from the sorrowful and grievous heart of the author slip through the pages. The descriptions of the children’s emotions, feelings and behaviour are from a master’s pen, so real and vivid.
Misc. of Misc
JPCi Colossians girls had great fun escaping!
I post this at the beginning of November just after we came back from the annual highlight of JPCi, the JPCi Weekend Away. Such high energy activities and packed programme over the weekend, everyone was exhausted at the end of it. Gloria likened it to a whole week of Word Alive kids work. When in the New Creation, we’ll be able to enjoy close friendship, long walks and crazy games, with a better idea of what Song of Songs is on about, without feeling sleep-deprived, without feeling melancholy because we all have to leave at the end of it. What a thing to look forward to!