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If you like Little House: The Older (Golden) Years of Laura . . .

For the month of July, I’m planning a series of posts about readalikes: what to read (or what to suggest to your favorite child reader) when you’ve read all of your favorite author’s books or all of the books of a certain genre that you know of, and you don’t know what to read next.

On Saturday we talked about Little House (Laura Ingalls Wilder) readalike books for middle grade readers; today I have some prairie and frontier fiction for middle school, high school and even adult readers.

The Jumping-Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely. Becky, Dick, Phil, and Joan, orphaned brothers and sisters, work hard to retain their Uncle Jim’s homestead in Tripp County, South Dakota at the turn of the century, early 1900’s. This book won a Newbery Honor in 1930, around the same time that the Little House books were being published, but it’s not nearly as well known. I put it here in this post for older children and teens because it’s a little darker in tone than the Little House books. A baby dies of snakebite; some homesteaders go hungry; life is hard. But the children/young people survive and thrive with grit and determination.

Patricia Beatty’s historical heroines are usually strong, spunky, and full of life and mischief. Often her novels have themes related to women’s rights, women’s suffrage, and feminism. These have a much more comical, individualistic, and adventurous tone to them than the Little House series, and they’re written for twelve year olds and older.
A selection of some of my favorite frontier fiction titles by Patricia Beatty:
That’s One Ornery Orphan. In Texas in the 1870’s orphan Hallie Lee Baker tries to get herself adopted, but her plan go awry.
Just Some Weeds from the Wilderness. In Oregon in 1873, Adelina Westlake, with the help of her niece Lucinda, goes into business, unheard of for a well-bred female, to save her family from financial ruin.
Something to Shout About. Thirteen year old Hope Foster and her family become the new residents of a new town in 1875: Ottenberg in Montana Territory.
How Many Miles to Sundown? Beeler Quimey and her pet longhorn, Travis, travel with brother Leo and another boy, Nate through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the 1880’s.
By Crumbs It’s Mine. In 1882, thirteen year old Damaris and her family are traveling through Arizona territory in hopes of settling somewhere when her father catches gold fever and deserts the family for the gold fields of California. When Damaris accidentally becomes a hotel owner, the family calls on Aunt Willa to help.
Bonanza Girl. Ann Katie Scott and her mother move to a mining boom-town in Idaho Territory and begin to make a living by opening a restaurant.But how will they survive if the gold gives out?
The Nickel-Plated Beauty. In Washington state in 1886, the Kimballs order their mother a new, shiny, nickel-plated cookstove for Christmas. They keep their plan a secret and spend half the year working to try to pay for the beautiful new stove.
Hail Columbia! In 1893, Louisa’s Aunt Columbia bring her suffragette and other political ideas to the frontier in Astoria, Oregon.
O The Red Rose Tree. Also set in 1893, but back in Washington state, this novel features four thirteen year old girls trying to help an old woman complete her special quilt pattern.
Eight Mules from Monterey. In 1916, Fayette and her librarian mother try to bring library services by mule to the people living in and around Monterrey, California.

When Molly Was a Harvey Girl by Frances M. Wood. Molly pretends to be eighteen years old so that she can get a job as a Harvey girl at the famous Harvey House restaurant.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. The orphaned sixteen year old Hattie Brooks decides to leave Iowa and move to Vida, Montana, to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim. In Montana in 1918, Hattie finds adventure, hardship, and family.
Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson. In this sequel to Hattie Big Sky, Hattie wants to follow in the footsteps of Nellie Bly and become a real newspaper reporter.

If you’ve tried all of these and the ones in the previous Little House readalike post and you still want more, let me know in the comments. I can probably come up with a few more authors and books to sate your appetite for girls and families in historical frontier fiction.

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If you like Little House on the Prairie . . .

Posted by Sherry on 7/1/2017 in Children's Fiction, General, History, Summer reading |

For the month of July, I’m planning a series of posts about readalikes: what to read (or what to suggest to your favorite child reader) when you’ve read all of your favorite author’s books or all of the books of a certain genre that you know of, and you don’t know what to read next. Here are a few suggestions for Little House on the Prairie fans.

First up, author Melissa Wiley has written a series of books about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandmother and great-grandmother:
Books about Martha Morse, Laura’s great-grandmother by Melissa Wiley:
Little House in the Highlands
The Far Side of the Loch
Down to the Bonny Glen
Beyond the Heather Hills

Books about Charlotte Tucker, Laura’s grandmother, also by Melissa Wiley:
Little House by Boston Bay
On Tide Mill Lane
The Road from Roxbury
Across the Puddingstone Dam

Another duo, Maria Wilkes and Celia Wilkins, has written about Laura’s mother’s childhood.
Books about Caroline Quiner Ingalls, Laura’s mother, by Maria Wilkes & Celia Wilkins:
Little House in Brookfield
Little Town at the Crossroads
Little Clearing in the Woods
On Top of Concord Hill
Across the Rolling River
Little City by the Lake
A Little House of Their Own

Books about Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, by her heir, Roger Lea MacBride:
Little House on Rocky Ridge
Little Farm in the Ozarks
In the Land of the Big Red Apple
The Other Side of the Hill
Little Town in the Ozarks
New Dawn on Rocky Ridge
On the Banks of the Bayou
Bachelor Girl

Then, there’s this set published by Harper Collins and written by various well-known authors who are also Little House fans:
Old Town in the Green Groves (Little House) by Cynthia Rylant.
Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls (Little House) by Heather Williams.
Mary Ingalls on Her Own (Little House Sequel) by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel.

Carol Ryrie Brink published Caddie Woodlawn in 1935, and it received the Newbery Medal in 1936. It’s about a girl growing up on the frontier in Wisconsin, before and during the Civil War (1860’s). Caddie is set during much the same time period as the Little House books by Ms. Wilder. A second book with more stories about Caddie and her family is called Magical Melons.

Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House is about Omakayas, a seven-year-old Native American girl of the Ojibwa tribe. It’s a good counter-balance to the portrayal of Native American people in the Little House books, which tends to be somewhat negative and stereotypical. The books in the series so far are:
The Birchbark House
The Game of Silence
The Porcupine Year
Chickadee
Makoons

Latsch Family Farm series by Anne Pellowski. These are a series of five novels about life in the Polish Catholic farm communities in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. Each book tells about one year in the life of the author’s great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and the author herself in the last book, Stairstep Farm. The books, which do not need to be read in chronological order, are:
First Farm in the Valley: Anna’s Story
Willow Wind Farm: Betsy’s Story
Betsy’s Up-and-Down Year
Winding Valley Farm: Annie’s Story
Stairstep Farm: Anna Rose’s Story

The Orphan Train Adventures series are also worthy and exciting reads for lovers of frontier-setting fiction. The books tell about the adventures of a family of orphans from New York City who are split up and sent west on the Orphan Train to live with frontier families.
A Family Apart (Orphan Train Adventures, #1)
Caught in the Act (Orphan Train Adventures, #2)
In The Face of Danger (Orphan Train Adventures, #3)
A Dangerous Promise (Orphan Train Adventures, #4)
Keeping Secrets (Orphan Train Adventures, #5)
A Place to Belong (Orphan Train Adventures, #6)
Circle of Love (Orphan Train Adventures, #7)

If you finish all of these and still want more you can always enjoy a few nonfiction spin-offs:
The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker. Illustrated by Garth Williams.
My Little House Sewing Book by Margaret Irwin.
My Little House Craft Book by Carolyn Strom Collins.
The World of Little House by Carolyn Strom Collins.
Laura Ingalls Wilder by Gwenda Blair.

All of the above books are for approximately the same maturity and reading level as the original Little House books. Tomorrow I’ll post about what to read when you’ve sort of outgrown Little House but still want to read prairie and frontier adventures: Little House for young adults.

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Saturday Review of Books: July 1, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 6/30/2017 in Saturday Reviews, Summer reading |

“There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become a part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t.” ~Gail Carson Levine

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

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Up Periscope by Robb White

According to Jan Bloom’s Who Should We Then Read, Volume 2, author Robb White’s books are “high action, well-written adventure yarns peopled with realistically drawn, likable characters in plausible yet exciting situations.” This particular yarn is a World War II submarine adventure that takes place in the South Pacific. Kenneth Braden, lieutenant (junior grade), U.S. Naval Reserve, volunteers for an unnamed job while he’s in Underwater Demolition School, and he soon finds himself in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, talking to an admiral about doing something “hard, lonely, and dangerous” somewhere in the Pacific. Ken can take the job or back out. Of course, he decides to go for it.

I won’t spoil the story by telling what Ken’s job entails, but it does involve a great deal of time on a submarine. Both Ken and the readers of the novel learn a lot about submarines by the time the story is over. I knew almost nothing about submarines and submarine warfare when I started reading, and now I know . . . a little, not because there’s only a little information in the book, but mostly because I could only take in and assimilate so much. Readers who are really interested in submarine warfare will find the story absorbing and informative, and I assume the details are accurate since Mr. White served in the U.S. Navy himself during World War II. Suffice it to say I enjoyed this action tale, and World War II buffs or submarine aficionados will enjoy it even more than I did.

Apparently, the book was popular in its time, or else Robb White had connections in Hollywood. The novel was published in 1956, and it was made into a movie, starring James Garner, in 1959. White’s memoir, Our Virgin Island, about the Pacific island he and his wife bought for $60.00 and lived on before the war, was filmed as Virgin Island in 1958. The movie starred John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, and Ruby Dee. (White did write for Hollywood, so I guess he had connections.)

The author is just about as fascinating as his novel. He was born in the Philippines, a missionary kid. He learned to sail at an early age, graduated from the Naval Academy, and loved the sea. But he also wanted to be a writer, and he wrote magazine articles, screenplays, three memoirs, and more than twenty novels. His novels were mostly marketed to what we would now call the young adult market, but Up Periscope at least is not about teens, but rather adult men, fighting in an adult war. The only reason it might be considered a “children’s” or “young adult” novel as far as I can see is that there is a distinct lack of bad language and sexual content, a welcome relief from modern young adult novels. I counted only one “damn”, and on the flip side, several instances in which the men pray in a very natural, fox-hole way for God to save them from impending death. There is some war nastiness and violence, but that’s to be expected in a war novel. I think anyone over the age of twelve or thirteen could appreciate this thrilling story of espionage and submarine derring-do.

Only a couple of Robb White’s books remain in print; the rest are available at wildly varying prices from Amazon or other used book sellers. On the basis of just having read this one (and Jan Bloom’s recommendation) I would recommend his novels for your World War II-obsessed readers, and I would be quite interested in reading Mr. White’s three memoirs: Privateer’s Bay, Our Virgin Island, and Two on the Isle.

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Posted by Sherry on 6/20/2017 in Biography/Memoir, Current Events |

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Former Marine and Yale Law School graduate J.D. Vance has an unconventional background for a man with such credentials: he grew up in poor, dysfunctional, hillbilly family from northern Kentucky, mostly living in the lower-class neighborhoods of Middletown, Ohio. His mother was a drug abuser who subjected him and his older sister to a series of husbands and boyfriends, who were neglectful or abusive or at best, temporarily decent. Any stability he had in his childhood came from his maternal grandparents who were fiercely supportive, even if they had issues of their own. J.D.’s grandmother is a character from the Beverly Hillbillies, without the the silly humor, with the shotgun firmly in hand, and with the addition of some salty language that wouldn’t have been appropriate in a TV sitcom. His grandfather was a taciturn man, a former alcoholic, who supported J.D. mainly by spending time with him, availability being nine-tenths of the job requirement for a substitute father-figure.

The book definitely reminded me of my family’s lower middle class background. The violence and drug abuse in Vance’s family are mostly absent from mine, but some other forms of family dysfunction are quite familiar. Divorce, alcoholism, and poor educational choices and opportunities have dogged my working class white family, too, with some members of the family being able to move past those limitations while others became mired in their own generational poverty and family dysfunction.

It’s rather funny to read a selection of the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads for this book. Lots of people from inside and outside the Appalachian culture that Vance describes laud his deep insights into and vivid depiction of hillbilly culture. Others insist that Vance doesn’t have clue what he’s talking about, that his insights apply only to his own particular family situation or that his depiction of hillbilly life in the Rust Belt town of Middletown is either too dark or too optimistic.

I thought Mr. Vance had a lot to say about how people are able to grow and change and make good choices, partly despite their family background and partly as a result of clinging to the good parts of the family heritage. Vance’s grandparents were able to leave the Hatfield/McCoy violence and bitterness of the northern Kentucky hills behind and make a better life in Middletown, not a perfect life since they brought a lot of problems (and guns) with them, but a better life. Vance’s birth father was able to find stability and a fulfilling life in his Christian faith and church community. Vance himself was able to draw from the tenacity and love of both of his grandparents to make mostly wise choices about his own life, become a marine, get an education, and eventually write Hillbilly Elegy. Some critics deride Vance’s emphasis on a strong work ethic and moral choices to bring people up out of poverty and dysfunction, but the truth is the truth. A person who works hard and makes good moral choices about important life decisions (don’t abuse drugs and alcohol, marry your sexual partner, do what you need to do to support your family financially, try to get a good education, etc.) is much more likely to graduate from lower class poverty into at least middle class stability and functionality.

The book isn’t really preachy, however. It’s likely only to offend those who have already decided that traditional morality and hard work are useless prescriptions to ameliorate or even cure generational poverty. The author himself doesn’t state or imply that it’s easy or that he didn’t benefit from some fortuitous events and help along the way, such as a full scholarship to Yale Law School. He’s honest and gives credit where credit is due, but he’s also unflinching in his assessment of the flaws and inherent deficiencies that characterized his experience of “hillbilly culture.”

Many readers and reviewers have tried to sell this book as a guide to “why people voted for Trump” or “why Trump was elected president”, especially why lower class and lower middle class white voters were inclined to be Trump supporters. I don’t think that’s the main point of the book, and I don’t really think it’s too helpful in that regard. J.D. Vance’s hillbilly family members may have supported Trump, but they weren’t his only supporters. Don’t read the book to understand Trump voters; instead, read it to understand Appalachian and Rust Belt family dynamics and social mobility and the saga of one hillbilly who lived to tell his own story.

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Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Posted by Sherry on 6/19/2017 in Adult Fiction, General, Historical fiction, Romance |

Best Regency romance ever with strong characters and witty and slangy repartee. I liked the romantic leads quite a bit, and I even felt sympathy for the ingenue parts, played by Frederica’s sister Charis and her crush. Oh, I just had a thought: this book would translate into a K-drama quite nicely.

The male lead of the novel, the Marquess of Alverstoke, is thirty-seven years old, rich, cold-hearted, uninterested in marriage, and unwilling to become involved in the lives and fortunes of his various relatives. However, Miss Frederica Merryville, a distant country cousin, breaks through his defenses without even meaning to do so. By the end of the novel, of course, Alverstoke and Frederica are in love and well on their way to becoming a “good match.”

I’ve been reading several of Gerogette Heyer’s Regency and other romance novels, and I find them of uneven quality. They are rather predictable, but the journey to the happy, married ending is rather fun, IF I like the characters from near the beginning. On the other hand, as in The Devil’s Cub, if the characters are unbelievable or unlikeable in the extreme, displaying the worst characteristics of the time period and culture, then it’s hard to develop much sympathy for them or interest in their eventual fate.

So far, here are the best and worst of Ms. Heyer’s oeuvre, in my opinion:

Best: Frederica, The Grand Sophy, Lady of Quality

Worst: The Devil’s Cub and perhaps by extension, These Old Shades, which is about the parents of Vidal from The Devil’s Cub. I didn’t like Vidal nor his parents in the latter book, so I doubt I would develop much affection for the Alistair family by reading These Old Shades.

Still planning to read: Cotillion, Venetia, The Convenient Marriage.

Any others you recommend I seek out?

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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Posted by Sherry on 6/17/2017 in Adult Fiction, Adventure thriller, General, Literary fiction |

As I was reading this book, I remember thinking, “This story reminds me of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” Then, I went to Goodreads to log the book as having been read, and there I discovered that several other people noticed the similarities to Conrad’s classic story. Perhaps Ms. Patchett intended to follow after Conrad, in a feminist, post-colonial setting along the Amazon rather than the Congo. At any rate, she did have a harder time taking her characters into the unknown. With our twenty-first century technology, we at least think we know everyone and everything and can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

“I don’t know how to write a novel in the world of cellphones. I don’t know how to write a novel in the world of Google, in which all factual information is available to all characters. So I have to stand on my head to contrive a plot in which the characters lose their cellphone and are separated from technology.” Ann Patchett interviewed in The Washington Post, June 17, 2011.

So, Ms. Patchett’s protagonist, Dr. Marina Singh, turns out to be particularly absent-minded and tech-averse, unable to hang onto her cell phone or make it work for any length of time. Accept that plot/character device and go on.

Dr. Annick Swenson is working, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, on a fertility drug that will revolutionize the world, if it can be brought to market. The trouble is that Dr. Swenson can’t be bothered to communicate with the pharmaceutical company that is sponsoring her work and that hopes to make a fortune by selling her discovery. The company has already sent one person down to Brazil to find out what’s going on, Anders Eckman. But he’s disappeared, reported dead. Now, they want Dr. Marina Singh, a researcher who worked with Eckman, to go to Brazil, find out exactly what happened to her friend and colleague Anders Eckman, and bring back a firm timetable for the completion of research on the fertility drug.

Dr. Singh, of course, finds that getting in touch with her old professor, Dr. Swenson, is not as easy or uncomplicated as it looked to be from far away in good old Minnesota. And once she does arrive at Dr. Swenson’s camp among the Lakashi people, Marina Singh is embroiled in a web of competing interests and secrets and lies that threatens to keep her in the Amazon jungle for the rest of her life or perhaps end her life prematurely, as happened to her colleague, Dr. Eckman.

Some of the episodes and plot developments in the book certainly stretched mu credulity and my ability to suspend disbelief, but to list these rather unbelievable coincidences and character actions would be to spoil some of the “wonder” of the story. As a reader either you decide to go with it, or you put it down. I read to the end, and although I didn’t like certain aspects of the ending very much, I still found that the book gave me much to think about:

Would it be a good thing to have a drug that enabled women to continue to have children into their fifties and sixties and beyond? Why is it that women lose their fertility in their mid-forties? Would women’s lives be improved by such a drug? Would the children who resulted from such an innovation be better off or worse of than children who are conceived and raised while the parents, especially the mother, are relatively young?

Is it really important to protect “native” cultures from the influence of modern Western culture? How important? Should we withhold what we consider to be life-enhancing technology and medicine from those native peoples in the interest of protecting their way of life? Does this novel perpetuate the myth of the “noble savage” living in a sort of paradise and the intrusive white colonialists coming to despoil and exploit those indigenous peoples? Or is it a myth?

What does this book have to say about our current Western cultural habit of putting off child-bearing to farther and farther into a woman’s life span? Is this a good idea, and should we change our biology, our biological clock so to speak, to accommodate the choice to delay child-bearing, if we can? When we abort our babies and use contraception to avoid conceiving them and delay marriage, are we doing anything different from the people in the book who work to extend women’s fertility and child-bearing years into old age?

I didn’t really like the ambiguity of the ending in this novel, but I suppose it was necessary to make it a “literary” novel. I’m low-brow enough to like all of my loose ends tied and questions answered at the end of a book, but I know that’s not necessarily in vogue in literary circles.

Fans of Patchett’s other novels, of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness will probably find State of Wonder to be to their taste as well.

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Saturday Review of Books:June 17, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 6/16/2017 in General, Saturday Reviews |

“I was a bookish child and grew to be a bookish adult. Books gave me pleasure, but they also gave me permission to isolate myself, to turn away from the world when it bothered or frightened me. Books allowed me to hide from demands, from the day, from family and the immediate world. They provided solace and amusement in the deep night and served as surrogates for friendship when I was far away from home.” ~Kyo MacLear

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

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The House of Months and Years by Emma Trevayne

Posted by Sherry on 6/16/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, General |

This middle grade fantasy about a spooky house that allows certain “special” people to travel through time and space didn’t quite work for me. I’m trying to figure out why.

1) I think it’s it’s a little too creepy, spooky for my tastes. An older man/ghost, Horatio, takes on ten year old Amelia as a protege, telling her how special and intelligent and wonderful she is. He takes her to places that only Horatio and Amelia can go and shows her wonders that only she is special enough to appreciate. And he takes her to a special feast and gives her special “memory-food” that only Amelia can enjoy. There’s nothing sexual or pharmaceutical involved, but it all feels borderline icky and drug dealer and exploitative.

2) The rules of the “calendar house” and the creatures (not ghosts, not really human either) who own the calendar houses are nebulous and unclear to me. Horatio tries to explain to Amelia, hoping that she will become his apprentice and build her own calendar house, but since it turns out that Horatio is a liar sometimes, I couldn’t get a good fix on what was and wasn’t true about the world he and his fellow memory eaters live in.

So, I read the whole thing. And the premise is intriguing, at the very least. Certain houses are built to be calendar houses, with various features corresponding to the seasons, the days of the week, the number of weeks in a year, etc. And these houses are full of magic, enabling the builder to travel through time and space to other eras and climes. But there is a price to be paid for privilege of time travel. Is Amelia willing to “steal time” from others, including her own family, to give herself the ability to go anywhere and experience all sorts of times and places?

Anyway, that’s my take. I didn’t like Amelia very much; she was, for most of the book, a very spoiled and selfish child. And I liked Horatio even less, not that the reader is supposed to like him, I suppose. Amelia’s cousins, who also come into the story, are rather flat characters, tow boys and a baby who never really came alive for me. (However, the baby is named Lavender, which I thought was a lovely name.) There’s nothing overtly objectionable about this book, but as I said, I found it to be kind of disturbing and icky.

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The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

Posted by Sherry on 6/15/2017 in Christian Life, Church, Community, Current Events, General, Nonfiction |

So, I’m usually a day late and a dollar short when it comes to talking and writing about the “buzz books”—the ones everyone seems to be discussing at any given time. And since I was on a blog break for Lent, that makes me even later in my entry to the discussion. Nevertheless, I did read both The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance while I was “lenting”, and both are books which shed some light on current events and trends and decisions yet to be made.

I agree with many other writers about Mr. Dreher’s book. Holly Ordway writes, “I would say that Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option has some strengths and a number of weaknesses, but one thing I am sure of: it’s great that it’s prompting discussion about Christian cultural engagement!” Her contribution to the discussion is worth the read, even though she seems to say (rather oddly) that the real Benedict Option should not reference Benedict so much nor is it possible for anyone other than Catholics and maybe Orthodox believers. I say oddly because Ms. Ordway teaches in the apologetics program at Houston Baptist University. Maybe she has learned more about evangelicals and their ability to create sustainable communities in her interactions with HBU and all those Baptists than I know from my fifty plus years of being an evangelical Christian. But I really think it is possible to have the Holy Spirit work in us and through us to create Christian community without Catholic liturgy and without believing in the actual presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I’ve seen it done, imperfectly, in many churches and para-church groups.

That detour aside, the call for community and community-building in Mr. Dreher’s book is a topic dear to my own heart, and I am glad to see it treated with the serious consideration and wide-ranging discusion that it deserves. I wish Mr. Dreher’s book could have been longer and more specific about exactly how to build, maintain, and repair communities, but he spends most of his 272 pages writing about the need for Christian community and writing about some examples of burgeoning attempts at community both in the United States and in Europe, Italy in particular. Some of the communities Mr. Dreher references are monastic, but most are loosely organized communities, either ecumenical in nature or built around a specific church or denominational entity. Most include families and singles and people of all ages.

I think most helpful in Mr. Dreher’s book is a call to build, not monastic or cultic communities, but rather institutions that encourage and sustain Christian faith and community in the face of a secular onslaught of God-denial. He writes about home schooling and private schools as community building institutions. He also writes about discussion groups and communities built around daily worship and activities at a nearby, local church. And about hospitality and the wise use of technology and social media.

Dreher’s book has been widely lauded, but also widely criticized for what it leaves out. He doesn’t write about how the black church has preserved the faith and its own existence through community building. He doesn’t write about Anabaptist traditions and communities. Nor does he interview or write about Christians who have lived through real persecution under Communism or other non-Christian governments and cultures. How did these and other Christian communities survive cultural marginalization and political powerlessness? Dreher also doesn’t really speak to or about poor people or non-Westerners or Hispanics or you name it. He’s writing from a white, middle class, Western perspective, and that’s OK by me, partly because he makes an effort to include Catholics and Protestants as well as Christians from his own (Eastern Orthodox) tradition and partly because many of those other categories include me. If you want the “Benedict Option” (or whatever you want to call serious Christian commitment to community and faith preservation and evangelization) to be applied to people in poverty or African Americans or Native Americans or Cambodians or Pacific Islanders, write your own book and show how and why it should be done.

Which brings me to the second book that I was going to write about in this post, Hillbilly Elegy. However, I think I’ll finish up with some links to other thoughts about The Benedict Option and write about Hillbilly Elegy another day.

Top Christian Thinkers Reflect on The Benedict Option.

If Politics Can’t Save Us, What Will by Collin Hansen.

Sparking Renewal by Gerald Russell.

What Would Jeremiah Do? by Samuel Goldman.

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