An Ambush of Tigers by Betsy R. Rosenthal

An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns by Betsy R. Rosenthal.

Collective nouns are such attractive words for poets. Who can resist such evocative phrases as “a murder of crows” or “a pace of asses” or “a sleuth of bears”? It makes sense that there are several authors who have used these collective nouns to form the text for a picture book featuring groups of animals:

A Gaggle of Geese by Eve Merriam, illustrated by Paul Galdone. Ms. Merriam starts out her book with a snippet of poetry and ends with the same, but the main part of the book is made up of a list of fun-sounding collective nouns with pictures by one of my favorite illustrators, Paul Galdone.

A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns by Ruth Heller. Ms. Heller continues to rhyme throughout her entire book about collective nouns, and she also gives us several examples of these collective nouns that refer to other things, not just animals: “a fleet of ships” or a “lock of hair”. She also informs readers in a note at the end of the book that “one collective noun can describe many groups” and “one group can be described by more than one collective noun.”

I like both of these books (and there are others) and have read them with children several times. However, this new book, An Ambush of Tigers, takes these special nouns to new level by incorporating them into a rhyming poem that speculates on the meaning of the collective noun as it relates to the actions of the animals it refers to:

Who cleans up
when a clutter of cats
gets fooled by the pranks
of a mischief of rats?

When a murder of crows
leaves barely a trace
is a sleuth of bears
hot on the case?

How imaginative! The illustrations by Jago, a British illustrator, are beautiful, lots of detail, but big enough and vivid enough for even small children or groups to enjoy. (Jago is the illustrator who did the wonderful and award-winning pictures for The Children’s Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.) I especially like the murder of crows flying against the full moon in the background with the sleuth of bears on the ground, using noses and magnifying glasses to search for clues. Not terribly smart bears, they need to look up.

So, this book is my new favorite collective noun book, and I’m adding it to my huge wishlist at Amazon. Enjoy it with your favorite child, or with a chaos of children.

Briefly Noted, Nonfiction

Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food, and Healing in Italy by Paula Butterini. This story of two journalists who dealt with injury by criminals and terrorists and then multiple bouts with clinical depression for the husband made me crave Italian food and admire the courage of those who struggle with depression and of their spouses.

Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind by Margalit Fox. “In a remote village (in northern Israel) where everyone speaks sign language, scientists are discovering the essential ingredients of all human language—and uncovering the workings of the human mind.” Too much technical information about linguistics, but the stories about the village and its inhabitants were interesting. Ms. Fox seemed overly concerned with the particular clothing people wore, especially the T-shirts for some reason; almost every person in the village is described in terms of what words or images adorn his or her T-shirt. The author is also mightily concerned about the status of ASL and other sign languages as full-fledged languages. I agree that ASL and other sign languages are truly, really, completely languages, but I find it odd and somewhat disturbing and uncaring that the linguists in the story want to preserve the languages by preserving and protecting deafness and the genetic transmission of deafness in the community.

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Written to a secular audience, the book has a lot of good and useful information about how to evaluate charities and giving opportunities. There’s even a chapter about church-related charities that is fair and open to the possibility of giving through one’s own church or church-related organization. Specific charities are recommended, and the criteria for evaluation are well-thought out and take into consideration the fact that you often have to spend money and invest in advertising to get money for the charitable endeavor.

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Shouldn’t You Be In School? (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket

Reading Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler, isn’t about the characters or the plot. The characters are quirky and memorable. The plots are convoluted and confusing. But really the experience of reading a Lemony Snicket book is all about the language. Snicket plays with words like a cat plays with a hummingbird. Dangerously. (You can tell I’m under the influence, but I’m not nearly as skillful as Mr. Handler.)

Anyway, this third book in the All the Wrong Questions series is full of linguistic gymnastics and examples of literary celebration. Here are a few:

“The sun was having a tantrum so fierce that all the shade had been scared away, and the sidewalks of Stain’d-by-the-Sea, the town in which I had been spending my time, were no place for a decent person to walk.”

“I took a bite of the bread and something in the jam made me feel sparks on my tongue. It was a lunch of adventure. I felt my mouth grinning around the spoon.”

“Solving a mystery is like naming a dog. If enough people call it one thing, that’s the name that tends to stick.”

“I put it in my shirt for safe-keeping, and passed the rest of the time trying to remember everything that happens to a little bunny who appeared in books I didn’t like. He disobeys his mother and eats vegetables out of some man’s garden. He loses his jacket and shoes. He drinks chamomile tea. He gets his clothes cleaned by a hedgehog. He gathers onions. He helps his sister Flopsy. Before I knew it, it was dark.”

“It’s like the difference between what happens in a book and what happens in the world. The world is swirling with so many mysteries and secrets that nobody will ever track down all of them. But with a book you can stay up very late, reading and rereading until all the secrets are clear to you. The questions of the world are hidden forever, but the answers in a book are hiding in plain sight.”

“A skeleton key is like a skeleton. It doesn’t do much good if you don’t know how to use it.”

“I limped into Hungry’s like a broken parade.”

“In a way it was the statue that had started the fuss, as I’d learned while investigating my last big case. But the fuss had long ago grown bigger than the statue had ever been, the way an answer to a simple, clear question can turn out to be complicated and mysterious.”

I really enjoy Mr. Snicket’s metaphors and similes and bunny rabbit trails and philosophical musings, but if you don’t or if you don’t have a high tolerance for confusing and unresolved, you’ll want to skip these books. Lots of things are introduced in this book and in the two previous books that are still unexplained by the end of this third book. In this book alone there’s a honeydew melon robbery (why?), a furious, hungry, raging, disappearing dream-monster (how?), and a mysterious basement full of fish tanks (huh?). I didn’t understand any of those parts of this story at all but I just kept reading, lost in the journey.

Lemony Snicket, who is the narrator as well as the author of these stories, says in his introduction that there were “four wrong questions, more or less” that he asked and was wrong to ask. So, the fourth book should have all the right questions or the wrong answers or something. But I’m not holding my breath, a phrase which here means that I’m just going along for the ride.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett

I read the first of the Lymond Chronicles, The Game of Kings, back in early January and reviewed it, sort of, here. Mostly I told you about all of the new words I learned from reading the first in a five volume series about a sixteenth century Scots lord with a loquacious and facile tongue.

A couple of months ago I read the second book in the series, Queens’ Play, in which Francis Crawford of Lymond, moves his base of operations from Scotland to France, where he lives a dissolute and adventurous life at the court of Henri II and manages to protect the young Scots princess Mary, who is affianced to the the Dauphin, from numerous assassination attempts, all while drinking inordinate amounts of alcohol and staying drunk for most of the book. Crawford of Lymond is, simply put, amazing.

“On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt.
News of the English attack came towards the end of the ceremony, when, by good fortune, Young Scott and his aunt Grizel were by all accounts man and wife. There was no bother over priorities. As the congregation hustled out of the church, led by bridegroom and father, and spurred off on the heels of the messenger, the new-made bride and her sister watched them go.”

In this third book, The Disorderly Knights, Lymond becomes entangled with the affairs of the Order of the Knights Hospitaliers, whose headquarters and refuge on the island of Malta is threatened by the Turkish fleet bent on revenge. The Knights of Malta themselves are torn by internal dissension, and the only hero in the whole mess, besides the ever-smiling and accomplished Lymond himself, is Sir Graham Reid Mallett, nicknamed Gabriel, a Scots recruit to the order whose skills and expertise in war and diplomacy rival those of Lymond.

After a stirring and tragic (for Lymond’s inamorata, Oonagh O’Dwyer) escape from the Turkish invaders in Tripoli, Lymond and Gabriel both return to Scotland where Lymond puts together a small private army, trained in all of arts of war and intended to keep the peace along the Scottish border on behalf of, but not directly under the orders of, Queen Dowager Mary of Scotland. Gabriel joins Lymond’s merry band ostensibly to train under the great soldier, but also to claim Lymond’s allegiance and soul for God, the (Catholic) Church and the Knights Hospitaliers. Lymond, of course, has other plans for his soul.

Lymond: “What does anyone want out of life? What kind of freak do you suppose I am? I miss books and good verse and decent talk. I miss women, to speak to, not to rape; and children, and men creating things instead of destroying them. And from the time I wake until the time I find I can’t go to sleep there is the void—–the bloody void where there was no music today and none yesterday and no prospect of any tomorrow, or tomorrow, or next God-d— year.”

Finally, in addition to a fiendishly clever plot and excellent characters and dialog, there are the words. Here are a few more words that I gleaned from The Disorderly Knights:

Fremescent: Becoming murmurous, roaring. “Fremescent clangor.” –Carlyle.
Opaline: of or like opal; opalescent; having a milky iridescence.
Fauve: wild, literally, tawny
Insessorial: adapted for perching, as a bird’s foot.
Coign (quoin): an external solid angle of a wall or the like; cornerstone.
Debouch: to march out from a narrow or confined place into open country, as a body of troops: The platoon debouched from the defile into the plain.
Culverin: medieval form of musket or a kind of heavy cannon used in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Cittern: an old musical instrument related to the guitar, having a flat, pear-shaped soundbox and wire strings.
Simulacrum: a slight, unreal, or superficial likeness or semblance.
Dissentient: dissenting, especially from the opinion of the majority.
Otiosity: being at leisure; idle; indolent.
Pendicle: An appendage; something dependent on another; an appurtenance; a pendant.
Bagatelle: something of little value or importance; a trifle.

Those are just a few of the new-to-me words I encountered in this volume of Francis Crawford of Lymond’s further adventures. The next book (fourth) in the series is entitled Pawn in Frankincense.

QOTD: What is your favorite word? What word(s) do you just like to use because of the sound and meaning and the way the two fit together?

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet

Betsy-bee loves Blue Balliet’s books–Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game— which incorporate art education and mystery and adventure to make up a lovely, colorful mixture of a read. She might like this one, too, even though it’s different. It’s set in Chicago, but it’s not a Chicago of art museums and art thieves. Instead Hold Fast is about a family of four, Dashel and Summer, the parents, and Early and her little brother, Jubie (short for Jubilation). Dash works as library page at the Harold Washington Public Library, and he’s “a man who love[s] language almost as much as color or taste or air.”

“Words are everywhere and for everyone. They’re for choosing, admiring, keeping, giving. They are treasures of inestimable value. . . . Words are free and plentiful!”

51tNF5vxWjL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_The above quote is an example of the way Early’s father, Dash, talks about words and books and learning and, well, life. He’s a whimsical, poetic, word-lover sort of guy, and unfortunately he gets mixed up with a rough crowd by mistake. Early and Jubie and Sum end up separated from Dash and living in a homeless shelter. Everyone, including the police, thinks Dash has run away because he might be involved in criminal activity. But Early knows her father is a man of honor and responsibility. Dash will come back to the family, and they will prove his innocence and fulfill their family dream of having a real house someday.

The book is confusing at first. But if a reader can get past the first couple of chapters, this one is a keeper. Early has a voice that shines, or resonates, or whatever the right word is. And she’s quite as concerned about words and how to use them and treasure them as her father is. I doubt there are many families like Dashsumearlyjubie (yes, that’s what Early calls her family in the book), but I doubt there are many families quite like mine either. Or yours. Happy families are not all the same, no matter what Mr. Tolstoy said, and unhappy families are only happy families that have given up in some way or another. Quirky, unique, eccentric, whatever you want to call us, our families have personalities, too. And I really enjoyed the author’s portrayal of Dashsumearlyjubie and the plot of how they were pulled apart and eventually knit back together through faith and perseverance.

Lost in a Walker Percy Cosmos, Part 5

The conference, “Still Lost in the Cosmos: Walker Percy & the 21st Century,” that I attended in New Orleans along with Eldest Daughter was a very Catholic conference. I would guess that most, not all, of the speakers at the conference were Catholic. The conference was held on the campus of Loyola University, a Catholic Jesuit university. I told one man at the reception on Friday evening that I had eight children. He immediately assumed that I was Catholic. I should have said, “No, I’m just a fertile Baptist.” I did tell him that I was Baptist whereupon he asked me what I was doing at a Walker Percy conference in the middle of all of the Catholics. Didn’t we (Baptists) think they (Catholics) were all a bunch of heathens?

I reassured him that I was OK with Catholics if he was OK with Baptists. Everyone else at the reception drank alcohol. I didn’t, but I enjoyed the food. We all enjoyed the keynote address, and then Eldest Daughter and I went back to our bed and breakfast and enjoyed a good night’s rest.

On Saturday morning Eldest Daughter and I decided to mirror the theme of the conference by getting lost in New Orleans. New Orleans, at least the part of New Orleans where we were lost, has lots of narrow, one-way streets, with potholes, and people park alongside the streets, making them even narrower. It’s picturesque, but confusing. We wandered the byways of NOLA for over an hour before we happened upon the Loyola campus and were returned to the bosom of the Walker Percy conference. It all felt predestined.

We did miss the first seminar sessions of the morning, but we were able to make the 10:15 session on Technology and Media in Lost in the Cosmos. The first panelist used the word “semiotics” more than once, but I did not walk out or make any rude noises. If one attends a conference about an author who is interested in something called “semiotics” one must put up with a certain amount of semiotics. Anyway, apparently the alphabet is to blame for modern man’s alienation. The post-alphabetic self gains the whole world (on paper) but loses itself? Actually this analysis of the plight of modern man bears thought. What were the negative results of the invention of the printing press? What did we lose when we put everything into print? The art of story-telling? Community? And what are we losing now as we put everything into pixels on a computer screen?

The next presenter spoke about “the liquid society”, a phrase coined by a sociologist named Baumann. The idea is that we live in a society of individuals and individualists with fragmented lives, no long-term career, no family ties, no sense of place or community, our identities in constant flux. This lack of fixed identity is a major theme of Lost in the Cosmos.

May 9, 2011. Venice. European society, said the Holy Father, is submerged in a liquid culture; in this regard, he pointed out “its ‘fluidity,’ its low level of stability or perhaps absence of stability, its mutability, the inconsistency that at times seems to characterize it.”
He noted that Bauman attributes the birth of the “liquid” society to the consumerist model. The philosopher stated that its most profound impact has been felt in social relations, and, more in particular, in relations between man and woman, which have become increasingly flexible and impalpable, as manifested by the present concept of love reduced to a mere passing sentiment.
Speaking to an audience in the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, Benedict XVI opposed this model of a liquid society with a model of the society “of life and of beauty.”
“It is certainly an option, but in history it’s necessary to choose: man is free to interpret, to give meaning to reality, and it is precisely in this liberty that his great dignity lies,” said the Pope.

Again, the loss of community, and the resultant loss of self, is a theme. Belief in technology and progress alone is inadequate and dangerous. We need a community to “in”form our sense of self. Lost in the Cosmos involves the reader in the message through a repeated use of the second person: “You grow thoughtful” or “you feel like a castaway on an island”. Also, the reader is asked questions and enticed to participate in thought experiments and multiple choice quizzes.

Percy said that “words have a tendency to wear out.” Because of this loss of meaning, authors in particular keep trying to find new ways and new words to express old truths. Percy was always trying to “tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

Tell All The Truth by Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

I’m not sure how successful Mr. Percy is in communicating with me, but I’m also not sure I am his target audience. Percy was born in 1916, so he’s a twentieth century author to be sure. However, I’m something of an anachronism. I’ve never felt the twentieth century alienation and loss of faith in God that most twentieth century authors exhibit. I settled the God question when I was a teen with C.S. Lewis, a little Josh McDowell, G.K. Chesterton and two verses from the Bible:

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Job 13:15

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68

Not saying I have all the answers or never feel depressed or never doubt God’s intentions or nearness. But who or what else is there to assuage the ache? (Listen to Ben Shive’s song, Nothing for the Ache, which I would embed here if I could.)

Lost in a Walker Percy Cosmos, Part 2

I forgot to mention, in Part 1 of this series of posts on the Walker Percy conference at Loyola University in New Orleans, that Eldest Daughter was presenting a paper at the conference. I will not tell you which paper she presented, but it was good and it had nothing to do with French medieval poetry, the ostensible subject of her dissertation that she is supposed to be writing. Walker Percy is simply more compelling right now than French medieval poetry, a truth universally acknowledged, is it not?

For those of you who, like me, have never attended an academic conference, the format is quite simple. The presenters, mostly professors of something or another at some university or another, get up in groups of three or four and they read their papers. That’s right, they read to the audience, just as librarians read picture books to first graders in story time, except mostly there are no pictures, and then they take questions. Some of these academics are better storytellers and readers than others, but I will say that I learned something from almost every paper I heard read, except when I got lost in the cosmos of academia and erudition. (I heard and made lots of “lost” jokes at this conference.)

Here are some really, truly, actual sample titles of papers from Still Lost in the Cosmos: Walker Percy & the 21st Century:

Alienation, Dislocation and Restoration: Percy’s Semiotic Psychology
The Semiotics of Shame and the Christian Meta-narrative in Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos
(I can’t tell you about these first two because I refused to attend session or panel in which one of the papers to be presented used the word “semiotics” or meta-narrative”. I have my limits. See Part 1 of this series.)
Falling into Transcendence: Walker Percy’s Demoniac Self, the Erotic and the Lust for God
Walker Percy’s Semiotics of Self: A Case Study: C.S. Peirce and the Problem of Reentry
(Two colons! But pardon my ignorance, who is C.S. Peirce, and does he really place the “e” before the “i” in his last name?)
Deceit, Desire, and the Self-Help Book: Rereading Lost in the Cosmos as a novel in light of Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory (Ditto Rene Girard?)
The Mishmash Theory of Man
Where are the Hittites? Tracing Walker Percy’s Theology of the Jews
A Moveable Piece: Stefan Zweig and Walker Percy’s Problem of Artist-Writer Reentry
(And who is Stefan Zweig? I’m starting to feel like a low-information conference attendee.)
Revealing the Transcendent Third: Walker’s Percy’s Trinitarian Imagination
Starting Over: Amnesia, Escape, and Redemption in Lost in the Cosmos and in Percy’s Novels
Lost in the Cosmos and Gulliver’s Travels: Christian Satire in the Anglo-American Tradition
Walker Percy, Herman Melville, and Moby Dick, the (Second-to) Last Self-Help Book: An Intertextual Study of the Self
(Ah, at last, Melville, Moby Dick, and Gulliver I know. I went to these two presentations, wanting to feel as if I had at least something in my brain besides mush, the mishmash theory of me.)
The Dialectic of Belief: Participation and Uncertainty in Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos

'St Ignatius T Shirt Beads' photo (c) 2009, Infrogmation of New Orleans - license: begin with, I learned from just reading these titles that an academic conference requires colons. Without colons, the professors would find it impossible to give titles to their papers. However, my favorite title of a paper presented at the conference had no colons at all. It was a joke. Really, the paper was titled: “I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.” It may have been my favorite, or at least second favorite, part of the entire conference.

So, the presenting of papers began on Friday afternoon in various conference rooms in the library at Loyola. I like libraries, and it was a very nice library. As we entered, to our left, was a statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was wearing a purple T-shirt.

“Outside the front steps of the Monroe Library stands a life-size bronze statute of St. Ignatius de Loyola, a diminutive ex-soldier, courtier, and our patron saint.
Our students have named the statue Iggy, and occasionally loan him hats and T-shirts to promote various campus events and or decorate him with Mardi Gras beads during carnival season.”

I don’t think the purple shirt had anything to do with Walker Percy, but he might have appreciated the local color. The first panel I attended was transcendence, amnesia, and the paper with the joke title. I took notes. However, my notes may or may not have been recognizable as related to the topics being discussed. In my mind, My Self, the notes I took make perfect sense and are semiotically and integrally related to the papers that I heard. However, an impartial judge, if such a judge were to exist, might beg to differ. Perhaps St. Ignatius in his purple t-shirt will deign to judge in Part 3 of this series, Digression, Catastrophe, and Narcotic Refuge: Are the Existentialists Really Epicurians?

Poetry Friday: Plagiarizing Donne

The following poem was kinda, sorta plagiarized by me from John Donne’s poem, A Lecture Upon the Shadow. I was trying to write some song lyrics for my musician son to put to music, and I liked the images and thoughts in Mr. Donne’s poem. So I captured them in my own poem/song, and I also used a quote from Downton Abbey that I liked and believe to be true. Quoth Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: “One way or another, everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden.”

So, anyway, here’s my take on shadows and secrets and the clarity of love:

'No thank you!' photo (c) 2011, Mathias - license:
Stand still and I will read to you,
A shadow lecture in the sun
Three hours we’ve spent, two shadows went,
A-walking hand in hand.
A-walking hand in hand.

And everyone goes down the aisle
With half the story hidden.

The sun is just above our heads,
The shadows underfoot.
In clearness brave, all things reduced,
Disguises flow away,
Disguises flow away.

'Hochzeit M & R' photo (c) 2010, !Koss - license: everyone goes down the aisle
With half the story hidden.

And after noon new shadows shall
We make the other way.
At first we’re blind, these come behind,
And westwardly decline.
And westwardly decline.

Oh love’s day is short, if love decay,
Love needs a growing or constant light;
His first minute, after noon, is night.

And everyone goes into night
With half the story hidden.

In April by Rainer Maria Rilke

“Poets help us by discovering and uncovering the world-its history, culture, arifacts, and ecology, as well as our identities and relationships.” ~Wallace Stevens

'red cedar with rain' photo (c) 2011, /\ \/\/ /\ - license: APRIL
by Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Jessie Lamont

Again the woods are odorous, the lark
Lifts on upsoaring wings the heaven gray
That hung above the tree-tops, veiled and dark,
Where branches bare disclosed the empty day.

After long rainy afternoons an hour
Comes with its shafts of golden light and flings
Them at the windows in a radiant shower,
And rain drops beat the panes like timorous wings.

Then all is still. The stones are crooned to sleep
By the soft sound of rain that slowly dies;
And cradled in the branches, hidden deep
In each bright bud, a slumbering silence lies.

'106/365 April Showers' photo (c) 2011, Joe Lodge - license: AN APRIL
by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Austrian poet and writer, from a new translation of his poems by Edward Snow

Again the woods smell sweet.
The soaring larks lift up with them
the sky, which weighed so heavily on our shoulders;
through bare branches one still saw the day standing empty —
but after long rain-filled afternoons
come the golden sun-drenched
newer hours,
before which, on distant housefronts,
all the wounded
windows flee fearful with beating wings.

Then it goes still. Even the rain runs softer
over the stones’ quietly darkening glow.
All noises slip entirely away
into the brushwood’s glimmering buds.

Poems are notoriously difficult to translate. Poetry depends so much on the sound and meaning of a particular language, in this case German. I don’t speak or read German, so I can’t read Rilke’s poems in their original form. I like pieces of each of these translations: “The woods smell sweet” is better than “odorous”. However, I like the shafts of light flinging themselves at the windows and the raindrops beating the “panes like timorous wings.” “The rain runs softer”, but “the stones are crooned to sleep.” “And cradled in the branches, hidden deep in each bright bud, a slumbering silence lies.”

Beautiful imagery, but I can’t help but think I might be better able to capture the essence of the poem if I could read German.

12/12/12: Themes of My Life

These are the twelve themes or ideas or motifs that God has placed in my heart, and consequently the 12 Big Ideas that appear most often here on Semicolon.

1. Books. I have a houseful of books I read lots and lots of books, probably over 100 per year. I love books; I live inside books. I write about books here at Semicolon a lot. Some of my favorite booklists (may be helpful for last minute Christmas gifts?):
Reading Out Loud: 55 Favorite Read Aloud Books from the Semicolon Homeschool.
History and Heroes: 55 Recommended Books of Biography, Autobiography, Memoir,and History
Giving Books: Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.
Giving Books: FOr the nieces and other girls in your life.
Nine Series for Nine Year Old Boys.
Narnia Aslant: A Narnia-Inspired Reading List.
Books for Giving (to kids who want to grow up to be . . .)
Best Spine-Tinglers
Best Journeys
Best Laughs
Best Crimes

2. Family, particularly large families. I have eight children. Five are grown-ups, and three are still growing. Actually, we’re all still growing. I don’t write as much about my children as I do about my books, privacy and all that jazz. But having a large family and seeing God through the joys and difficulties of large family life is one of the major themes of my life.

3. Community. Through family, yes, but also through the church, the neighborhood in which I live, and even through the blog-world, the experience of community is very important to me. I’m interested in community as an ideal, and I’m also interested in little communities that form around hobbies, intellectual pursuits, ethnic identities, and other kinds of people-glue. I want to know how a subculture develops around a shared interest like bicycling or collecting butterflies or playing Scrabble (Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis) or any other random interest, how those communities work and how they coalesce, what the rules are and how they resolve conflict.

4. The Bible. God’s Word has been a part of my life since I was a preschooler, and my mother read to me from the book of Genesis. I still remember how exciting and suspenseful the story of Joseph was, and how I wanted to know what would happen next. I have read the Bible numerous times, studied it alone and in groups, and still I find treasure, hope, reassurance, and life in the words of history, prophecy, poetry, gospel, and letters in the Bible. The Bible is the central book in my life, by which standard all the many, many other stories that I read stand and fall.

5. Prayer. God is still working out this theme in my life. I’m 55 years old, and I still long to know what it means to really, really pray. If God knows and has preordained everything that happens, why pray? I think part of what it means is to communicate the desires and depths of my heart in language, that God-given means of communication and organization. If I can put my inchoate feelings and thoughts into words and tell them to a God who really, really cares, then I participate in the creation of meaning somehow. I participate in God’s work on earth through prayer.

6. Language. We create community through language. God communicates with us and we with Him, mediated by language. The Word became flesh. What does that mean? We are creatures who speak a language, and that means something. One of my life’s quests is find out what it means to be a language-using creation and how to use those words to communicate truth.

7. Story-telling. One theme leads to another: from books to the Bible, to prayer, to language, to storytelling. Maybe they are all one grand motif that defines how God is working in my life.

8. History. I love family history, especially my family history, but others, too, if they have stories to tell. History is the story of how God created, how He creates in the events of our lives, and what it all means.

9. Singing and Poetry. Music, in general is nice, but singing, alone or with other people, is what I most love, what makes me feel alive. That’s why I did the 100 Hymns series: I love songs with words and poetry put to music. This theme ties into my fascination with language and words, but the melody adds another dimension.

10. Homeschooling. Education in general is a theme in my family and in my life. I pray that I will be always learning, always educating myself and others about the wonderful world where God has placed us. I believe that as a family we were called to homeschool, not because homeschooling ensures God’s blessing or favor nor because homeschooling is always better than any other way of educating young people into adulthood, but rather because it fits with the other themes and concerns of my life: the community in family, the immersion in language and story-telling, the transmission of God’s truth to another generation.

11. Evangelism and missions. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, in GA’s and Acteens, two SBC missions organizations for girls. I am still immersed in the idea of how the gospel is spread to other people and cultures and active in supporting missions and missionaries.

12. Jesus. Last, not because he is the least of my life themes, but rather because He is the foundation. If I wrote a book, Jesus would be the underlying theme, perhaps unnamed as in the Book of Esther, but always present, always at work, always the Rock upon which everything else rests. In Him, we live and move and have our being.

You can see these themes embodied in this list of 52 things that fascinate me. Now it’s your turn. What are the themes of your life? Where has God led you to focus your energies and talents? What is it that wakes you up in the morning, draws you into study and/or action, makes you who you are?