Monday, February 28, 2011


A WANDERER'S WAY - Charles E. Raven, D.D., Canon of Liverpool and chaplain to the King.

A friend lent me this book published in 1928.  It is the story of the Reverend Raven's journey to the Anglican priesthood. More unusual is his very liberal theology (liberal even for a present day Anglican priest). He writes very clearly, that is to say not like a theologian. He recounts his unhappiness at boarding school,  his early indifference to and then rejection of religion. At Cambridge he ranged from paganism to neopaganism to materialism, but although he thought Christianity "bankrupt", he found its replacements even more so. How he finally became a Christian - albeit as he terms it "I was at home with the heretics and an anathema to the devout"  -- is a journey of twists and turns. He is an advocate for changes in the creed and forms of service of the church. He looks at God with the knowledge of a scientific age.  Here, he distinguishes between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the Twentieth Century:

               "He (the OT God) was a sultan, they His ministers sending out decrees from a supernatural realm to which man's intellect could not aspire nor his criteria of judgment apply. Nowadays we must start from the data furnished by science, history, and experience, observing the world, the records of mankind, and our own personal and corporate lives, testing and comparing the results, and forming hypotheses to cover and explain them. For us God is manifested always and everywhere, the fullness of the manifestation being determined by the quality of the medium in which it is given. We can learn something from the flower in a crannied wall, more from knowledge of our own physiology and psychology, more still from men of large heart, sound intellect and moral worth, most from Jesus, the full-grown Son of Man." . 

I found his book inspiring and am trying to find more of his writings, most of which are out of print. If you'd like to read it, I'm sure my friend will lend it to you.


I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF - Deric Longden; A PLAY ON WORDS - Deric Longden

I've already reviewed several of Longden's books. The first one here dates from 1990 when he and his second wife, the writer Aileen Armitage, move to Huddersfield in Yorkshire. Longden describes his books as his writing about nothing. That is, he can write an entire chapter about going shopping or a repairman fixing the stove or a cat with attitude (and all the Longden cats have attitude). The point is that somehow all these very ordinary enterprises become humorous in his writing. In the second book, he recounts more of his ordinary adventures and also his more extraordinary as he takes part in the filming for TV of his story about his mother. His world is such a pleasant one. Reading his books is like being in the presence of a friend. Of course, it helps if you like cats.

Amazon or borrow from me


GROWING UP - Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell with her usual wit makes even World War II Barsetshire seem like the place to be.Best to start earlier in the series, but if you find you like Thirkell, you are in for a treat as she, like the author who is a character in her books, wrote a book a year for many years.  Although full of humor, the novel also depicts the continuing changes in English society from one of landed aristocrats and servants to land-poor aristocrats with a few old retainers and most of the young unwilling to be servants.  The war in this case has moved the lord and lady into the servants quarters (which in fact they find more comfortable) as their manor house is turned into a convalescent hospital. Men and women, as is usual in Thirkell, manage to fall in love, but all the characters are touched by losses of loved ones in this war or the last.

Virtual catalogue. Amazon


JUST WILLIAM - Richmal Crompton

This is the first book in a popular English series of the 1920s-40s.. Supposedly a book for children, it is certainly an entertaining book about one particularly rascally boy that adults will enjoy. Whether today's children will, I am not sure. Apparently the young of England did at one time as there is a club, they can join, the Outlaws,and receive a badge, wallet, secret password, etc. Crompton is an inventive writer. William manages to get in trouble in chapter after chapter, and always leaves the reader smiling. Excellent before bed reading and also because the book is actually pocket-sized and the chapters are self-contained, a good book to put in your pocket for times you may have to wait in line, or more appropriately, in a queue.

Amazon or borrow from me.


THE SHOOTING PARTY - Isabel Colegate

The novel depicts a fateful weekend in the lives of the aristocrats and servants taking part in a shooting party at a stately home in England in the fall of 1913. The author weaves together the individual stories flawlessly, bringing to life pre-war English society.Here is the last look at a society about to be changed forever by war and its subsequent social upheaval both for good and ill. The shooting party with its codes that once broken bring about disaster is a microcosm of what is to come. Beautifully written, this is a book that takes you back into a lost world.  An excellent movie was made from this book.

Library, Amazon



An elegantly written tale of a secret love by a French-Chinese author, winner of the Grand Prix for Lifetime Contribution by the Academie Francaise.  This poetic novel balances passion with restraint in the lives of a man and a woman who fall in love at first sight and are then separated for thirty years. Even upon meeting again their love must remain unrequited physically as she is married, and he, a monk now. Still they manage to express their love in such a way as to enrich their lives while not breaking their vows. A bittersweet reflection on the power of love as well as the pain of unfulfilled love.

This book was a discard from our local library. You can borrow it from me. Probably available on Amazon.



For readers of the above authors, this book is a pleasant account of their friendship and its effect on their writing and spiritual lives. The fascination of the two men for the "other" world of fairy, myth, and Christianity and the joy they found in all three was the foundation of a friendship that survived the politics of Oxford - and most probably helped them both to survive the same. 

Virtual catalogue, Amazon

Wednesday, February 16, 2011



Read a review of the Miller book which led me to read the book itself, and then wanted more of Greece, so went to Eurydice Street. Henry Miller's book, published in 1941, tells of his travels in Greece in 1939-40 as war is taking over Europe. He fell in love with Greece, and the book is a rhapsody on the beauty, mystery, spirituality, joy of Greece and Greeks. At that time, Greeks were friendly towards America (not so by Zinovieff's book in 2001). Miller traveled often in the company of Laurence Durrell, an English writer who lived on Corfu, and of the Greek writer, Katsimbalis (the Colossus of the title). He gives a vivid portrait of Katsimbalis. One of his comments I particularly liked: "He saw the humorous aspect of everything, which is the real test of the tragic sense."  Certainly true of Shakespeare.

Sometimes Miller rants and raves a bit too much, but more often he paints his adventures so vibrantly you feel you are there. I found some of his passages so lyrical and the insights so incisive that I bought a copy of the book after returning the library copy. It is a Greece that died with the war, and a Greece that is eternal.

EURYDICE STREET is Zinoveiff's account of her family's settling in Athens in 2001.  Her husband, a Greek, had been living aboard for years. She had lived in Greece before but was brought up in London, where her divorced Russian parents lived. She presents her story and enough Greek history to give the reader context to help understand the perspective of contemporary Greeks. She too loves Greece and decides to become a citizen - a journey fraught with bureaucracy. A good trip to present day Greece for those who can't afford the passage, and for those who can, your trip will be more interesting having read this book.

MILLER:  Virtual catalogue, Amazon  ZINOVEIFF: Rockport Public Library, Amazon

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Fred Secombe

I reviewed the second book in this series, CHRONICLES OF A VICAR, in January blog.  The curate book here precedes that one, and the more chronicles continues it. All of these books are actually Three in One books, containing three of each series in one book, a great buy!

Each series is entertaining and heartwarming as Secombe relates the story of his life as an Anglican priest in Wales in the 1940s and 50s.

Amazon, or borrow from me.


DIANA'S STORY - Deric Longden

"Wide-eyed and Legless", a song beloved by his wife, was the title Deric Longden wanted for his book, but the publisher opted for the more conservative "Diana's Story".  Diana Longden suffered, and suffered is the operative word, for fifteen years from ME, myalgic encephalomyelitis, an excruiatingly painful, crippling disease. Worse, she suffered from doctors who could not diagnose her condition (it was finally diagnosed after her death), and subjected her to test after test, and some of whom told her unfeelingly that "it was all in her head."  Meanwhile, her fingers would turn into claws without the special plaster casts she had to wear daily, and even with the casts, the fingers eventually clawed and had to be broken and recast several times. Despite her almost constant pain Diana's pluck and good humor are what dominate the book, as do the same attributes in her husband, Deric, who cared for her throughout her illness. Both are upheld by their son and daughter, and Deric's mum, a character he wrote about in his previous book, LOST FOR WORDS, as well as by friends and neighbors. For a book of such seeming sadness, I laughed as often as I was angered in Diana's defense and cried for the terrible loss all suffered. I started reading and didn't put the book down until I was finished.
There is a movie of the book available from Netflix, on the BBC, it was called "Wide-Eyed & Legless" but on Netflix has been renamed THE WEDDING GIFT.

Amazon or you can borrow from me.



I discovered these books reviewed together and immediately requested both from the library. The two animal subjects couldn't be more disparate - the ferocious tiger and the mild snail - yet each is equally intriguing.

John Valliant tells the story of the hunt for a man-eating Siberian tiger in 1997 in Primorye Territory in Russia's Far East. He spares no details (this is not "light-reading") of the tiger's ravages while also presenting a case for the preservation of tigers in the Territory, one of their few remaining viable habitats, although here too poachers kill many adult and cubs. The mystery of the story - why did this tiger kill in an extraordinarily vengeful way, not usual for tigers -- remains only partially solved, but the investigation is thrilling. Vailliant presents the differences in perspectives to the taiga and its wildlife of the European Russian newcomers, and the indigenous Nanai, who view the tiger as a spiritual totem. Both live in near poverty in a harsh climate, yet one of sometimes amazing beauty.  Virtual catalog.

In THE SOUND OF A WILD SNAIL EATING, Elisabeth Tova Bailey tells of how a snail brought in on a plant helps her live through a devastating illness. Struck down after a flu with a fatigue so paralyzing she was confined to her bed for several years, and from which she did not completely recover for 20 years, Bailey starts observing the snail as it lives its only slightly more active life confined to a terrarium beside her bed. She reads up on snails and shares her knowledge with us, and it is fascinating. I would never have guessed that snails have an active and loving sex life (so do tigers, but somehow that was not as surprising). Bailey's stoic description of her own life, her joy at being transferred from a bed where she couldn't see out the windows to one where she could, the simple heroism of living with a debilitating illness, is inspiring. Coincidentally, one of her diagnoses is for an illness ME myalgic encephalomyelitis, which is the illness which afflicts the woman in the next book I review as well.   In Bailey's case, however, she is found to have a different mitochondrial disease from which she recovered to some extent.

Rockport Library