I feel I've been in a bit of a slump lately--most of the books I've been reading have either been very well-written but soulless (Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus, for example), or sincere yet unimpressive. The exception is Thomas a Kempis's medieval devotional classic The Imitation of Christ, which is terrific. I'll look forward to reviewing this in more depth later, but for now I want to say that it's wonderful. Having been written over 600 years ago, it's like taking a giant step away from our all-encompassing culture of modernity, in order to view it and critique it through other eyes.
And it's also beautiful.
Elisabeth Foley recommended the 1959 flick North West Frontier earlier this year, and I was interested because it's got one of my favourite actresses, Lauren Bacall, in it. The real star of the whole show, however, turned out to be the steam-train engineer, Gupta, who has to be one of the most immediately lovable fictional characters I've come across.
Another noteworthy flick was Pixar's latest, Inside Out. As with Up, it's beautifully-conceived, beautifully-told, unconventional and yet gloriously well-crafted. I was thoroughly impressed by this poignant and family-affirming exploration of depression, empathy, and joy.
'Tis the season for Christmas music! Most recently I've been enjoying my friend Christina Baehr's haunting harp and voice arrangement of one of my favourite Christmas carols, Down in Yon Forest, newly released as a single.
The same carol also features as the title track for Kemper Crabb's Downe in Yon Forrest. Subtitled "Christmas From the Middle Ages", this album is a sinewy mix of traditional tunes and instrumentation with a little avant-garde prog-rock styling. To say nothing of the sitars. Featuring lesser-known traditional hymns like Of the Father's Love Begotten and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, as well as a truly epic rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, this album has stood up to much repeated listening and continues to be a favourite.
Finally, the update you've all been waiting for! Outremer continues to unfold into a messy first draft. November was, of course, National Novel Writing Month, which didn't go quite according to plan. For one thing, I only had 13 writing days in the whole month. For another, I started the month with great enthusiasm, knocking out a number of 5,000-word days (and even one 6,000-word day), but after a week or two of that, began to feel slightly burnt out. As a result, as soon as I hit my wordcount goal of 50,000, I decided to stop and take a week off. I'm glad I did, because December has seen me back in form.
I think I'll be taking most of January off, though. It's been a big year.
Oh hey, and I was tagged at Fulness of Joy to list 8 "desert island reads". Here goes!
(I'm going to cheat and not include the Bible. That doesn't count, sort of like how underwear doesn't count when you're talking about packing outfits for a trip away from home. Nor am I going to include Basic Survival Handbook: Pacific Island Edition, or Thompson's Practical Guide to Shipbuilding, because GK Chesterton already thought of that joke.)
Since I first read it, this has always been my favourite book. I actually haven't read it for nearly ten years now, because I felt if I went on reading it annually I was going to end up getting every word by heart. But I do mean to read it again sometime in the next couple of years, and if I'll be stuck on a desert island for the rest of my life, I want it there with me.
2. The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
Another beloved fantasy tome, I felt the first time I read it that I was only scraping its surface. On my desert island, I suppose I would have the time--in between building treehouses and milking goats and what-not--to reread this four or five times, until I began to feel more familiar with it.
3. The Oxford Book of English Verse, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
Even though I would still wake up in the morning and curse it for not including more John Donne or Christina Rossetti poetry, it's still the best single collection of poetry I have, and I'm not actually 100% sure how I managed to survive without it until this year.
4. The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
A desert island just might be the only way I'll ever find the time and pluck up the courage to tackle this magnumopus.
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
True, it's Mansfield Park and Persuasion that I love best. But I think if I was going to be face being stranded on a desert island for the rest of my life, I'd want something a bit more charming and bubbly to keep me going from time to time.
This would come because, like The Faerie Queene, it's a book with apparently limitless re-read value. Each time I've read it--three or four times by now--it's revealed new intricacies, new dimensions. It would definitely have to come.
7. Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton
And five minutes after I was shipwrecked I would be kicking myself for not bringing The Man Who Was Thursday instead. Still, I'd probably be able to make the best of the bad bargain...!
It is horrible, I haven't had room for John Buchan, or PG Wodehouse, or Angels in the Architecture, or any of my other favourites. And I'm assuming neither my Crusades reference library nor my wifi would be available--but still, I would be bringing along this WIP, and an endless supply of paper and pens (that doesn't count as a "book", right?!), and it should keep me quite happily occupied for years.
Consider yourself tagged, if you wish! What books would you want with you on a desert island?