I was feeling adventurous enough to read my first ever Shakespeare and meet some new book friends, but also feeling a bit tired sometimes and was very happy to have the cosy familiar company of Potter and Co. I got into the swing of Victorian literature towards the end of the year and have been loving it.
Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander*** (audiobook, narrated by the author)
This is one of the reference books in the Harry Potter world.
In the Introduction, Scamander briefly retells his fond memories of the years he traveled across countries in search of magical beasts, “witness their powers, gain their trust and on occasion beaten them off with my traveling kettle” and then moves on to the more academic aspect of things like the classification of ‘beast, being and spirit’, answering questions like ‘why don’t muggles notice them?’ The art and literature of the middle ages and some historical records actually prove otherwise: muggles do notice them. Also, do you not remember the incident in Ilfracombe in 1932?
The book includes an A to Z list of 81 magical beasts. The list reads a bit like an encyclopedia. But I managed to get through it entry by entry. I think that says something about how interesting the beasts are and how masterfully Scamander compiles the book. (It’s J. K. Rowling just in case you’re still in the dark.)
Tin Man by Sarah Winman****
Novel. It’s a tender and quiet story of a love triangle which is set from the 1960s till 90s in Cambridge. What I loved most was the kindness shown to the three main characters by the strangers: the student who brought tea when Ellis broke his arm and invited him to their parties when he was lonely; the woman a few doors down who knocked on the door with food shopping and simple words when Michael was grieving; the couple who included him around the camping stove for a meal and simple company; and of course the wood merchant who took the photo before the fateful night. Kindness was simply given and accepted, which almost had a sepia hue to it.
Enjoying God by Tim Chester****
Christian living. This book is about the small changes in our thinking and the small things we can do to have a closer relationship with God. Tim Chester has a gentle writer’s voice. Each chapter concludes with an ‘Action’, a case study and a ‘Reflection Questions’ section. I especially love the simple instructions of each action and I found a lot of comfort reading it during the anxiety and restlessness of lockdown.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak***
Novel. I got this randomly in Waterstones one day. The blurb on the back says, “1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.”
I like the various relationships on Himmel Street: the friendship between Liesel and Rudy, her ‘boyfriend’, the father-daughter relationship, and the relationship between the orphan girl and the Jew hiding in the basement. I was delighted to find some of the stories within the story (like a Russian doll) are told in illustrations. The narrator tells readers very early on that everybody died in the end, but it’s still gripping most of the time. Obviously it’s a tragedy during a dark period of history but the human relationships make the story beautiful.
The Art of Rest by Adam Mabry***
Christian living. A small book on the topic of Sabbath rest, written for those who obsessively plan their days to minutes and find out-of-proportion satisfaction in ticking off to-do lists (i.e. people like myself). See full review here.
King Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare***
I read King Henry VI part 2 as part of my Reading Oxford project+. My first Shakespeare play read in its fullness. To be honest, I didn’t love it. I managed to get to the end with the help of a free video book on YouTube. My only two vaguely interesting conclusions are, one, the basilisk and mandrake etc reminded me of Harry Potter; two, people knew their Bible well and didn’t mind using Bible verses in creative ways, e.g. “Could I come near your beauty with my nails, I’d set my ten commandments in your face” meaning scratch her face. Genius.
Deeper Still by Linda Allock***
Christian living and Bible reading. The tagline is “finding clear minds and full hearts through biblical meditation”. The book is on biblical meditation, which is not a new concept to me but this is the first book I came across that is dedicated on this subject. If you have the experience of closing the Bible after reading a few pages of the Bible and immediately cannot remember what you just read, join the club and I recommend you this book!
Down, Not Out by Chris Cipollone***
Christian living and mental health. This is one of the books I read on the subject of mental health. I’ll list the chapter titles here for you to have an overview: thirty, brokenness, feelings, sin, hope, attack, meaning, idols, suicide, healing, discernment, prayer, guarantees, community, love. One thing that stands out for me is that, instead of talking about feelings, troubles and possible solutions, the book ties in many Bible passages to keep the focus firmly and gently on our identity in Christ.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë****
Victorian literature for my Reading Oxford project+. I read it for the second time immediately after I finished it the first time (in September). I have produced four essay-like blog posts since then, specifically analysing the Christian faith in four characters in Jane Eyre: Mr Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, St John Rivers and Mr Rochester.
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan**(Kindle)
The Eye of the World is the first book of the Wheel of Time series by American author Robert Jordan. It’s a much praised fantasy series of a whopping fourteen volumes, each consists of 600 to 1000 pages, published between 1990 to 2013. I was more than happy to give it a try (especially when it appeared as a Kindle Daily Deal title).
However, the thing that happened to The Name of the Wind a few months ago happened to this one too. Namely, it’s OK but I don’t love it. I spent three weeks with it and finished the first half, and I’m going to leave it at that and move on.
One reason is that I don’t feel much for any of the characters, and to be clear, there are a lot of characters. I was surprised at the number of people involved when they first set off on their journey and wondered how the author is going to develop eight characters along the way. I probably can tell them by their physical appearance but I don’t know them well enough to care about their final destination.
Another reason is the monotony of the plot line: they run from the monsters, they hide a bit, they are forced to fight desperately, they have prophetic nightmares, they run more. The emotion is monotonous too. They are forced onto this journey and they are anxious and desperate the whole time. It’s a bit dull.
One more reason is that all the mysteries and a lot of jargon are kept unexplained for too long. It alienates me from getting engaged. The author keeps too many secrets. It doesn’t make me curious, it makes me feel a bit fed up, ‘if you don’t want to tell me, fine I’ll stop guessing’ type of feeling.
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling****(Audiobook by Stephen Fry)
What else can I say? Love it.
Searching for Christmas by J. D. Greear***
Gospel tract. I feel a bit sorry for all the authors every year who have to write up a Christmas gospel tract. So many have been written over the years and there’s an even bigger challenge: the key message remains unchanged and should never be changed. This one is not bad at all. But the Weirdest Nativity is still my all-time favourite Christmas gospel tract.
Time for Everything? by Matt Fuller****
Christian living. If you’re a busy Christian pulled in every direction to fulfil your responsibilities at work, at church, with family and trying to have some rest and fun as well, this is an excellent time management handbook. See full review here.
Where is God in a Coronavirus World? by John Lennox****
Gospel tract. This was written and published at the beginning of COVID pandemic and it explains the question on the front cover. The reading experience feels like having a chat cover a cup of coffee with a grandfather-like scholar. Anything written by John Lennox is worth a read.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens***
Victorian literature for my Reading Oxford project+. I read this at the same time as Middlemarch and finished this one first. They were both serialised when they first came out and published at similar time periods (Great Expectations in 1860, Middlemarch in 1871).
Two tiny details triggered my memory and made me realise I must have read it when I was little. But I forgot all the plot lines and characters except those two insignificant details. These are what I remember: a person’s face gets serious and his mouth tightens into a line like a postbox when he walks from home to his office; a person rounds up the figure of his debts as a clever way of housekeeping but always ends up spending over the ‘Margin’ in no time and gets in greater debt. Isn’t it odd? I didn’t even realise these details are from Great Expectations until I read it again this November!
I don’t like the story very much, mostly because of Pip’s exasperating personality. I’ll have to dedicate a full post complaining about the book and Pip soon.
Middlemarch by George Elliot*****
Victorian literature for my Reading Oxford project+. I have thoroughly enjoyed ninety per cent of Middlemarch. The ten per cent was too difficult to understand let alone enjoy – I mostly skipped them. I loved the interaction between people in general, but especially between each couple. I find Mary and Fred the most adorable, both their individual personalities and their interaction. Dorothea is an unrealistically fabulous woman and Will is irresistible in his young and whimsical ways; but the sparks they strike against each other is not as dazzling as when they interact with other people. That’s odd to me but I don’t know why. Rosamund and Lydgate’s relationship is more in the tragedy category and I feel sorry for Lydgate for his careless decision. Celia and Sir James are an easy and cosy couple – Dorothea is fortunate to have them as family. Again I’ll have to dedicate a full post praising the book and the various characters soon.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier****
Modern literature for my Reading Oxford project+. I have finally read this sensational novel and ‘visited’ Manderley, one of the most famous houses in English literature no doubt! What stands out most to me is the narrator’s wild imagination that goes into over-drive with a flick of the finger. I can resonate with the kind of theatre in one’s head. The overall lesson of the book would be: the importance of communication: do not guess each other’s mind, speak up!
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman****
Fantasy fiction. I enjoyed The Subtle Knife way more than Northern Light. Going into Northern Light without knowing anything about the story, I felt really lost. But now I’ve watched the film, and I’m now watching the TV series (AFTER I read The Subtle Knife of course), I understand it a lot better. I have to say Pullman’s imagination is marvellous. By the way the TV series is VERY good. I really like the actors for Lyra and Will.
Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb**
Shakespeare retelling. Charles and Mary Lamb wrote this book to tell Shakespeare’s plays in a striped down version to children in early 19th century. Since I’m struggling with reading Shakespeare’s plays themselves, I thought I’d give this a go. It’s a very useful book to find out what some of the Shakespeare’s plays are about. But the comedies all sound so similar to each other, by the end I’m not able to tell one from the other.
Show Your Work by Austin Kleon****
Non-fiction. A small inspiring book that encourages people to show the world what you’ve been creating. A lot of new perspectives. A lot of encouragement and ideas. Love it.
To end the post and as a reflection: I shall endeavour to do wrap-ups every month in 2021 instead of every three months. The length is getting ridiculous!
+See an explanation of my ‘Reading Oxford’ project at the bottom of this post.