Saturday, 19 January 2019

What I Read, 2018 edition, Part 1

Soooo, progress! 

This year was the second year I tracked my reading, and last year felt lacklustre, but turns out wanting to beat a number is really nice,because it gives me just the extra push to get to my book instead of mindlessly scrolling for an hour after babies are in bed and chores are done. Anyhow. I recommend having a running tally and a goal, even if it feels somewhat forced, they really work.

Jude wrote a book this year. 

My running tally is on my phone, I just write title/date started/date finished and then aim to write a few notes in my reading journal, but I don't always get to that last part.

In terms of goal, I was aiming for 52 aaaaaaaaand.....

*drum roll*

*more drum roll*

I finished 56! 

I also abandoned 4 and started 2019 with (only!) 7 books on the go. Another thing that changed is that I used the library a lot more, which is nice for my wallet, and another good motivator to get the book read.

But without further ado, here are the first 16 from 2018.

1. The Bible - by God (01/01/18 - 31/12/18) my own book

This was a challenge Simon and I set ourselves, reading through the whole Bible in a year, and we did it! It was a great experience, and I will talk about it some more in another post, but if anyone fancies giving it a shot, we used this reading plan by Meg at Held By His Pierced Hands, and it worked really well.

2. The Listening Life - Adam McHugh (05/01/18 - 13/01/18) audiobook

An interesting read, very motivational and practical on the why and how to listen better. I particularly liked the tip about naming intrusive voices playing in your brain whilst you try to listen to someone ("Hello there, Envy!"). 
One thing that amused me was that although the author is Presbyterian, he is slightly in denial about the fact the 99% of his sources are Catholic.

3. Danubia - Simon Winder (21/11/17 - 20/01/18) my own book

My, that was fun. Nothing better than learning lots about history you don't know much about, apart from reading lots about history you don't know much about in a book that is very well written and quite funny. In terms of style, it reads like if Bill Bryson was more history focused and loved art and music.
Go Habsburgs! Although I disagree with Winder about Karl. I like Karl.
Also, now I need to find a good book about the history of Poland.

4. Reasons to Believe - Scott Hahn (21/01/18 - 30/01/18) audiobook

As always with Scott Hahn, a great read, the premise of this one being trying to help us justify "the hope that is in you", starting from belief in God to Christ, to the Catholic Church. I liked his point about how being a theist was always considered more reasonable than not, until our age got weird and bad at reasoning.

5. Gargantua - Francois Rabelais (December 2017 - 02/02/18) my own book, unfortunately

I chose this one as part of my "reading the classics" endeavour, because the next one on the list was Pride and Prejudice, which I have read approximately 5638754 times, so I thought I'd throw in a French classic instead. Bad move.
Not funny (gross doesn't make me laugh, it just bores me) and pretty weak in terms of being a manifesto for humanist ideas, especially in light of what I was reading abut the Byzantine empire. All his pitting of the Ancient world against the Middle Ages seemed like the reaction of a dedicated follower of fashion to a new fad - the whole of his argument being that new (or old-new, in the case of the humanists) is necessarily better. Like the Enlightenment, Humanism is turning out to be, upon closer inspection, rather a self-glorifying movement than a useful critique of its time.

6. The Dry - Jane Harper (01/02/18 - 03/02/18) audiobook

A great page-turner. I took a little while getting used to the Australian accent (audiobook problems), but the author manages to make the book both page-turny (it's a word) and atmospheric. And also, something I love in murder mysteries, it did keep me guessing until the reveal!

7. Emil and the Detectives - Erich Kästner (08/02/18-11/02/18) library book

Officially, I was reading this so as to know whether I can hand this to my children when they grow up. Unofficially, I just loved it for its own sake. I could feel myself slipping back into the young reader I once was, and it was glorious.

8. The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin (08/02/18 - 11/02/18) Library book

Like all the other Rubins. A fun read, lots of fun facts, but very much felt like nothing new was added to her other works I read in terms of applicable insights. And she still uses the word "healthful".

9. How To talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk - Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich (15/03/18- 20/03/18) My own book (thanks Pascal and Armelle)

The beginning of a rabbit hole of parenting books. More on that soon.

10. Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay (25/03/18 - 26/03/18) audiobook

I was having an Australian mystery phase, apparently. A very short but really well written book, blurring the lines between reality and fiction beautifully, but in a way that leaves you fascinated, rather than annoyed and manipulated. I hate to use the word "atmospheric" again, partly because it is not at all something I am drawn to normally, but there it was. And it was good.

11. Signs of Life - Scott Hahn (26/03/18 - 03/04/18) audiobook

Another solid Scott Hahn. He goes through and defends 40 different Catholic devotions. Very inspiring if you want to take up a new one, or simply be a little more mindful when you do the sign of the cross.

12. The Zero Waste Home - Bea Johnson (22/03/18 - 10/04/18) library book (she would be proud)

Lots and lots of ideas to reduce waste, plenty of them very feasible, and I have implemented a few. The book itself is well-organised and practical, but the author considers reducing waste her family's first priority, and I am just not on board with that. There was also a bit on the number of babies you should have which was plain immoral - apparently the zero waste community is hoping to eradicate themselves from the earth, and that doesn't gel with my understanding of human beings made in the image and likeness of God. Still, it's a hard book to top if you want practical ways to be a more mindful steward of resources.

13. Mindless Eating - Brian Wansink (09/04/18 - 12/04/18) audiobook

An interesting read and refreshingly non-accusatory. It is not demonising the food industry or a food group (or the people who eat it). It's not having a huge impact on my habits, but I can see how it could help someone else. And it IS very interesting.

14. Braving the Wilderness - Brené Brown (12/04/18 - 16/04/18) audiobook

Completely fascinating and very thought-provoking. I felt encouraged to listen to other people's stories, especially when I disagree with them - including her. Her imagery of dancing in the wilderness and of the tribe of misfits fell completely flat for me, I'm afraid, but it doesn't cancel the very great qualities of the book in terms of encouraging dialogue.

15. A Damsel in Distress - P. G Wodehouse (17/04/18 - 20/04/18) audiobook

I expected it to be funny, and yet I did not expect how completely delightful and hilarious it would turn out to be. Eat your heart out, Oscar Wilde. THIS is true comedy, but the author is clearly fond of his characters instead of sneering at them or pontificating. 

16. The Vanderbeekers of 141th Street - Karina Yan Glaser (20/04/18 - 22/04/18) audiobook

Another, erm, research project, you know, for my children. This is an excellent example of modern children literature done very well. Plus it involved a large family, a plot that was sweet without getting naff and if the parents were a touch too perfect, well, I didn't mind.

That's it for now. Tune in again for 

Part 2
Part 3

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Being Martha

I have struggled with this post for quite a long time. I keep trying to write it, and then I worry it will just sound like stealth bragging, conceit, or whining. But the urge to write it is not going away, so I will attempt to push through with it.


When I was a child, I was always incensed by the “unjust” parables. The 99 sheep versus the lost one, the prodigal son, and Martha and Mary (not a parable, I know, but go with me here). Especially Martha and Mary.

I think to some extent, every one struggles with how counter-intuitive these parables are, but over the years, I have come to realise that I am the lost sheep and the prodigal son, and thank God that God is not fair. But I am also Martha. Definitely Martha.

Martha resonates I think because whilst the others are actual parables, and therefore feel exaggerated, or at least exemplary, Martha is, Martha was, and Martha feels real. We have all been there. Demanding justice, asking for fairness, and “why can’t she help?”

And the thing is, Jesus doesn’t tell Martha to sit down. He says that Mary shall not be made to stand up. It is unfair.

I was prepared for many struggles when I became a mum, I read the blogs and the manifestos and the “you won’t sleep” and “your house will be a disaster” and the “you won’t be able to take a shower for days” and I was fully ready to give myself a break. What I didn’t expect was to be the sorted one. Being organised and having a clean house, that took me by surprise.

So I am Martha. And the thing they don’t tell you about Martha is the internal monologue which leads to “why can’t she help?”. The Evil One whispering in her ear “No-one has your back. You can’t let go of a single thing, because no-one has your back. The others are struggling more. And no matter how nice they are, they kind of resent you for being the sorted one. So no-one will have your back. You are all alone.”

That’s why, in my head, I'm often catching myself thinking: “why can’t she help? Why can’t I be the helped one for once?”

On better days, I know why she can't. Because Mary does struggle more, that is why she is at the feet of Christ. According to tradition, Mary had sinned heavily before she found herself clinging to Christ. There is a desperation in her clinging, like the mother of a sick child, grasping and gasping for air in the struggle. 
That’s not to say I think Martha is not clinging to Christ. She seems to need him in a different way. Martha is sorted, she knows what to do and she does it. Just like that. But she also believes. She goes and tells Him off for being late, because she knows had He been on time, Lazarus would have lived – her faith is strong, she just hasn’t quite let go of the world like her sister has. She is the practical one, the sorted one. And I can see the excesses in her tendency, I really, really can. Being worldly. Pride. I can see why Christ rebukes her.

But all the same, I kind of want to say “I hear you, sister. I’ll have your back”.

Will you have mine?

Monday, 16 July 2018

The Ten Best Baby Books We Own (in English)

I recently finished a very good book (this one), which helped me re-focus on the joy of reading aloud with the children, even when they are too young for stories, but can delight in the rhythms and cadences of words. Sarah Mackenzie points out that the most important thing is to help your child feel connected to you, and bonding through books is the best!

The only hiccough with very small children is that many books aimed for them are counting/colour/animal primers, and unless the illustrations are REALLY captivating, you will soon want to pull your eyes and ears out. But children also want to read them over and over again. Which is a problem.

So, ideally, what we need are books that can withstand 34909285687 readings in a row, and that's a pretty tall order. No adult book is ever submitted to that kind of scrutiny! But that is not even all! The other things you need are books that are short enough to keep the one year-old interested, with beautiful enough images to keep the 2 and 4 year-olds looking, and language that gives enough pleasure to the adult reader that s/he won't mind going straight back to the beginning at the end.

So, without further ado, I present to you, the ten books in our house which come closest to accomplishing this feat (in the order they appear on my shelves, so pretty random!):

1 - Whose Toes Are Those? - Jabari Asim

This is a very sweet book, completely delightful, and the images are gorgeous. It's in pretty constant demand in our house, and I don't mind one bit!

NB: It's an American book, so at one point, it talks about going "all the way to England", which is obviously not that impressive for us, but no-one batted an eyelid.

2 - Barnyard Dance - Sandra Boynton

I wouldn't say the illustrations are the most beautiful I have ever seen, but this book is pure fun, and I dare you to pretend like you don't want to join in the dance just a teensy bit!

3 - Peepo - Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The Ahlbergs are fabulous at creating books that you just want to look at that little bit longer, because of all the sweet details in every image. This one actually encourages you to do just that, and it's a pretty good antidote to the 327594382 re-readings which WILL happen.

4 - Each Peach Pear Plum - Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Another Ahlberg masterpiece. Even the very small children with no knowledge of the fairy tales they refer to, love looking for the hidden characters, and it keeps the book delightful for the older ones when they suddenly "get" the references.

5 - Monkey And Me - Emily Gravett

I love Emily Gravett. She has the ability to tell stories in very few words, the drawings are absolutely delightful but also sparse. I don't know how she does it! 

NB: As you can see from the title, the book is not perfectly grammatically correct - she's reproducing the language pattern of a child - but if that is enough to keep you from it, then it's your loss!

6 - Where's Bear - Emily Gravett

Stock photo

This was Jude's number one absolute favourite for the longest time. This is another example of Emily Gravett's genius, with even simpler language.
Her books are some of the ones I always seek out, because I know she will not disappoint. I would have added Matilda's Cat to this top 10, except we don't actually own it, we just borrow it from the library. A lot.

7 - Oi Frog - Kes Gray

Hilarious, lots of fun details, the kids will be reciting it along in no time. Plus, it draws attention to the mechanics of rhyming. What's not to love!
Actually, one thing: the author has since written 2 or 3 more on exactly the same pattern, and that is a bit annoying. But just get the original one and ignore the rest!

8 - Sheep in a Jeep - Nancy Shaw

I see a bit of a pattern here, because this is another example of a book with very simple language used beautifully and paired with lovely illustrations with lots of details that keep you looking. Also, I still chuckle a bit at the end, and that is no mean feat, because I have read this book A LOT.

9 - Goodnight Moon - Margaret Wise Brown

Of course. All children are completely and universally mesmerised by this book. And it IS lovely to read. But really, you need to read this analysis of it by Raquel D'Apice on The Ugly Volvo, and this book will become the official funniest thing you own. Trust me and go read her piece.

This one is beautiful and will delight your children so much you won't mind re-reading again. 

Bonus - Little Miss Austen: Pride And Prejudice - Jennifer Adams

My children aren't actually that interested in this one but I am, so I don't care, and I'll keep reading it. And that's saying a lot for a counting primer.

Here you go. Now you can go read to your babies.

Coming soon:

Best picture books we own (in English)

Best picture books we own (in French)