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Monday, August 03, 2015

Laddie, by Gene Stratton Porter :: Reading to Know Bookclub AUGUST

Greetings all! This is a book I'm excited to read. (Alright. Truthfully, I already read it in advance because I had some time to kill one day and I decided to launch in.) I loved the book and will be sharing my thoughts on it shortly. However, we mustn't put the cart before the horse, so here is Heather (of Lines From The Page) explaining why she chose this book.

*****

I grew up in the Midwest, but somehow I missed reading anything by Gene Stratton Porter until five or six years ago. It wasn't until I moved to Indiana and my local book club focused on Indiana authors for a few months that I first read Freckles, A Girl of the Limberlost, and Laddie. I've read Laddie at least twice more since then, and I'm thrilled to return to it again this August.

Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost are quite similar in tone to L. M. Montgomery's writings, with common themes of orphans overcoming difficulties and finding success in life and love. But Laddie is considered the most autobiographical of all Gene Stratton Porter's novels. She was the youngest of twelve children, just like Little Sister, who here narrates her own story and that of her family. You will laugh at her brother Leon's antics, glean wisdom from her mother and father, and root for Laddie to win the hand of the Princess. It is really an amazing combination of beautiful prose, humor, wisdom, romance, and even a little mystery - all my favorite story elements in one package! What I love the most, however is that faith and family values are at the heart of this story. Though it is not particularly a "Christian" book, Biblical truths are woven all through it. I think you will find it inspiring, encouraging, and thoroughly enjoyable, and I look forward to sharing favorite parts and comparing notes at the end of the month.

Here is one of my favorite quotations to whet your appetite for some of the treasures you'll find in Laddie. This is mother speaking to her agnostic neighbor Mr. Pryor: "Had I life to live over, I see now where I could do more; but neighbor, believe me, my highest aspiration is to be a clean, thrifty housekeeper, a bountiful cook, a faithful wife, a sympathetic mother. That is life work for any woman, and to be a good woman is the greatest thing on earth."

*****

I hope you'll consider reading along with us this month. In order to remove any excuses you might have in not doing so, I'll note that Laddie is available for FREE on Kindle. You're welcome.

If you are or will consider reading along, we'd love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Reading to Know - Book Club

Friday, July 31, 2015

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge : CONCLUSION (2015)

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

I always like the beginning of July because it signifies the start of the Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. I'm always sad at the end of the month because it signifies that my "official" time in Narnia is over. I do realize that I can read Narnia all year long, anytime I want. But for the sake of a thousand other books I want to read, I set aside July as the month to revel in the re-reads.

As usually, I didn't read as much as I'd have like to have done, but we still enjoyed our time in Narnia immensely.

The kids and I re-read both The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. (Both titles are linked to our reviews/thoughts.) Although there was a request to move along to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, that didn't happen simply because we ran out of time. (We're currently wrapped up in The Secret Garden.)

This is the first year that Bookworm1 read Narnia on his own. He read The Horse and His Boy by himself.

Aside from reading straight up Narnia, I pulled Knowing Aslan, a book about Narnia off my bookshelf and gave it a quick read. I didn't like it and you can't find out the reasons why by clicking over to THIS POST.

I'm really glad to say that on our upcoming trip to England, we have plans to visit The Kilns, C.S. Lewis' home in Oxford. Everyone in our family is super excited about that! Of course, we'll plan to share pictures and our experiences afterward. I suppose in some ways I don't consider our time in Narnia to be completed this year until we visit Lewis' home. (So we still have ample time to get to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader then, correct?)

Now! What about you?

Who read along and what did you read? I'm curious and anxious to know! If you have a blog post to share, now is the time to "link up" by leaving a comment in the comment section below. I'll be off to visit your posts as you share the links.

I hope you did get to spend a little bit of time in Narnia (or with Lewis in some capacity) this past month. I look forward to hearing all about it!

Further Up, Further In!









Monday, July 27, 2015

What's On My Nightstand - August

What's On Your Nightstand

Another month down, fewer more to go before the end of the year. Ah, pathetic sadness! And yet - also exciting. Time is just whizzing along! Time for another Nightstand post to help sort through and keep the reading goals I have for myself.

Last month I mentioned that I was reading through the Anne series by Montgomery again, surrounding an anniversary getaway to Prince Edward Island. I meant to review Anne of the Island in July but I forgot! Oops! I have several blog posts coming up about the trip and Anne in general. I'll still throw an Anne of the Island review post out there at some point this coming month.

The month of July was fairly consumed with The Chronicles of Narnia in conjunction with the annual Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. I've been enjoying Narnia with my kids. I was hoping to make it to Voyage of the Dawn Treader this month but I don't know that we're going to make it. The jury is still out on that one. But it doesn't look good.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

I did manage to finish reading The Accidental Feminist by Courtney Reissig. You can read my thoughts here: Part I, Part II.


Now, moving along to August reads . . .

The kids and I are currently in the middle of reading The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. We're all loving it and will share our thoughts upon completion.


I am currently reading The Black Star of Kingston which is the prequel to The Green Ember (which you must read if you have not). The latter title is linked to my review of the same.


Lately I would say that I've been enjoying my reads a bit more. I hit a reading slump after reading Harry Potter last year that I only now feel that I'm fully recovering from. It probably doesn't help that I'm reading Book1 aloud to Bookworm2 (who is pleased as punch that I'm reading it to him) and so I'm enjoying a little Harry Fix. Hopefully it won't set me back. It took a long time to crawl out of the slump and read just for the fun of it again! I hope this feeling lasts....forever.

Here are a few of the books floating around our house which are currently awaiting my attention. I may read all or none of them. (Heh.) I'm trying to read as the mood strikes so as to keep this reading boat afloat as long as possible! Know the feeling?




I guess we'll see!

Now, off to find out what is on YOUR nightstand. Many thanks to the nice ladies at 5 Minutes for Books who so faithfully keep this meme going!

The Young Clementina, by D.E. Stevenson

I have my friend Sarah (formerly of A Library is the Hospital for the Mind) to thank for introducing me to author D.E. Stevenson. It had been a year (almost exactly!) since I read my last book by Stevenson and so my hands were practically (just about literally) itching to read another. I ordered The Young Clementina because I just wanted to relax with a book and I figured Stevenson was a good bet. It was time to give in and indulge myself! My expectations for a good time were met, although I was surprised by the content.

Really I can't think of any marvelously good reason to put forward as an explanation as to why I enjoyed The Young Clementina as much as I did. Written in 1934 this book has been previously published under two different titles: Miss Dean's Dilemma and Divorced from Reality. It was republished under the title The Young Clementina in 1966. (Personally I think the title Miss Dean's Dilemma suits it best but I would enjoy it under any title.) One person has written that readers like Stevenson books because the characters are endearing, they encounter familiar circumstances to us, and that Stevenson is just simply a terrifically good story-teller. I agree with all of that. It's the only thing that makes sense.

This book covers a rather wide time span. We meet the protagonist, Charlotte Dean, who is writing down her remembrances from her childhood. We track with her relationships with other key characters from childhood well into adulthood. She is writing down her past history because she has a problem which she needs to solve in the present and she hopes that by writing things out, it will bring clarity of mind and help her think through the issues at hand. You aren't immediately told why the past is relevant and you have no idea what the current problem is that is facing her. Patience is required as a reader. Stevenson will fill you in, but she is going to ask that you wait with her while she slowly tells you Charlotte's story. By page two I was fully engaged, wondering what great mystery was wrapped up in this book.

We see Charlotte's history through her own eyes. If she is missing information to complete a thought, so are we. We struggle with her as she engages with her family, loses a great friendship, and deviates from the future she believed that she would have. I don't want to get too specific with this post because there is a mystery and while it becomes clear enough as you read along, Stevenson saves some surprises up until the very last page. I found The Young Clementina to be completely enthralling, so much that despite my best efforts to draw it out and enjoy it over a period of days, I caved and read the whole thing in one sitting. (It had to be done.)

As much as I enjoyed this read, I also hated it. The Young Clementina is quite depressing. Charlotte experiences some great losses which leave the reader feeling both helpless and angry throughout the book. You want reach into the pages and shake sense into characters, holler at them, speak up for others when it doesn't seem like they can do so on their own. All the reader is allowed to do is watch and wait in total agony. Why couldn't I stop reading when I found it to be so frustrating and hopeless? I can only refer you to the suggestion of others that Stevenson tells a good story. As much as I wanted to turn away and forget about it, I could not. It had to be read to the bitter end.

Although I was hooked on the book from the get-go I would offer up a few warnings for my fellow friends and readers as they read this title:


  • There is talk of a marital affair and infidelity.
  • There is foul language scattered liberally throughout the book.
  • God's name is taken in vain. Repeatedly.


Can you see why I'm confused as to why on earth I would like this title? Normally all of the above would be a complete turn-off to me but in this case I was spell-bound. I don't know if it was the time period (post World War I through the Great Depression), the setting (England), the characters (completely believable), or the faith in God expressed through the bitter hard times which made this book so attractive to me. It is probably a combination of all of the above. I understood the time period and the characters better after, well, watching the last season of Downton Abbey and then reading this book (which I find hard to recommend). Charlotte's way of thinking was more understandable after exposing myself to these other things. Also too, Charlotte could be likened to the main character's voice in Du Maurier's Rebecca, a character I cannot stand (because my personality is total opposite). Charlotte, however, grows a spine which made me both forgive - and ultimately love - her for her personality.

Really and truly, what it boils down to is that this is not a book I would normally enjoy. When I began reading it I hesitated a little, wondering if I should press on. However, a few chapters in and I knew that the only way out was through the entire story and so I committed myself to it. Ultimately, I have to confess that this is going to be one of those memorable stories that just stand out in my mind as being peculiarly stellar. It's sort of like Gone With the Wind. Why does anyone like that book? Why do I like it? I don't know. I just do.

I'm really glad to have read The Young Clementina and instead of putting me off Stevenson it only increased my appetite for her works. I'm striving not to give in to temptation and order every single book of hers which I've not yet previously read. Amazon is just too convenient sometimes!

If you want to try a Stevenson I highly recommend starting with Miss Buncle's Book which was great fun. I've lived the title to my review of the same.

Thank you, Sarah, for "pushing" Stevenson on me. I am indebted.


Friday, July 24, 2015

The Tea Party in the Woods, by Akiko Miyakoshi

Recently we were sent a copy of review copies to check out for the kiddos. They always love receiving new books in the mail (they take after their mother) and the following titles were all declared a complete delight.


The Tea Party in the Woods, by Akiko Miyakoshi was the first book we read out of the stack. The author and illustrator lives in Tokyo, Japan which totally makes sense by the time you get to the end of the story (if the name of the author didn't tip you off in the first place). The simplicity and straightforwardness of both the story and the illustrations had a quality to them which tells you that this was not written by an American and sure enough it was first published in Japan. I don't really know how else to explain it but I began reading it before I looked at the author's name or bio and I just knew it didn't originate in America. It's clean, neat, and doesn't err on the side of the ridiculous, despite the story's magical tones.

In this story we read about Kikko who sets out through the woods to bring a pie to her grandmother. Along the way she discovers a strange house full of animal occupants. She is invited in to tea and then the animals accompany Kikko to her grandmother's so that she will not be alone in the woods. She arrives at her grandmother's house, pie intact. Her grandmother opens up the door to welcome her in.

"My dear, did you come all this way on your own?" asked Grandma, stepping inside.
Kikko looked around, but the animals were nowhere to be seen.
"You're never alone in the woods," Kikko answered, smiling.

I absolutely loved this story. In fact, I'm fairly sure that it is going to rank as one of my favorite children's books ever.


Mr. Postmouse's Rounds, by Marianne Dubuc could easily be considered the children's favorite out of this stack and I confess to its cuteness and likability. Curiously to me, this is also not written by an American author and it also shows. Dubuc lives in Quebec. You can tell this book is a little more "American" in that it includes some potty humor in the illustrations but the storyline is cute and you have to really look for the potty humor in order to find it.

In this story Mr. Postmouse is out on his mail rounds, delivering the mail to animals everywhere. He climbs up into trees to deliver to the birds and puts on a scuba diving outfit to deliver to the clown fish in the coral. The super fun aspect of the book are the illustrations which are brilliant. We read the story and then went back through the book again simply to look at the pictures and see what there was to see. As Mr. Postmouse makes his deliveries, you get a glimpse into the animal homes and can see what they are up to and how their homes are decorated. It's very cute and fun. We highly recommend this one.


I Can Roar! is by Frank Asch of Moon Bear fame. This is actually a reprint which is popping up for a new generation of young children to enjoy. (I thought I had seen this title before!) As you can sort of make out from the picture of the cover, the entire book has one gigantic hole cut out. This hole is so that you (or your child, but probably you) can stick your face into it and make the accompanying animal sound. Put your face up to the book and roar like a lion, neigh like a horse, chew like a cow, bark like a dog, etc.

My older kids were curious about this, having never seen anything like it. My three year old was in stitches, laughing. He can highly recommend this to you.

By the way, I'd like to note that American children's book authors can be awesome in their own right. However, I do think that Americans these days tend to like things light, fluffy and rather ridiculous. More recently, too, we're so busy trying to make political points that we fail to tell good stories, forgetting that a good story is the best and only way to really make a point in the first place! We're so concerned with shoving messages in people's faces that we seem to care less about art and skill.

We also seem to suffer from a notion that kids can't focus on anything for more than 2.2 seconds and so our modern stories seem to be full of bright colors, ridiculous-to-poorly written story lines and odd, random fonts. I can't say that I care for that. I so enjoyed the first two titles because they told a story in an engaging way and assumed that children could follow along without trying to be "over the top" in nabbing attention. Simple. Direct. Intelligent. These are the types of books I'm interested in surrounding my children with and I am very pleased with the above titles.

Many thanks to Kids Can Press who sent the above titles my direction in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are 100% my own.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis

Upon finishing our last Narnia read, the kids asked if we could immediately launch into Prince Caspian, a request to which I will never say 'no'. When the kids ask for time in Narnia, they get it! Prince Caspian is not my top favorite of the Narnia stories so I don't know it quite so well. I often find myself saying, "Oh yeah! I had forgotten...." while reading.

I would like to note that Bookworm1 especially requested this title because he wanted to "hear about Reepicheep" again. I convinced him that we should read this one first and then move quickly on to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader so as to spend as much time with Reep as is possible this month. (My son, the boy after my own heart!)

Bookworm2 likes Prince Caspian because it has exciting battles. Actually, I had quite forgotten just how exciting these conflicts are. Two heads are sent rolling during the fighting and I was wondering how the Bookworm's were going to take that information. They didn't seem phased but it made me cautious about having them watch this film. I can't remember what the battle scenes are like in this movie adaptation (because this is also not an adaptation I care for a great deal). Does anyone out there remember? Reading about it is is one thing, visualizing it is another.

As I like to do when reading Narnia, I like to point out particular passages which stood out to me as being exceptionally moving and process my thoughts a bit. I'll do the same in this case.

The first passage that caught my eye is when Trufflehunter and Trumpkin are introducing Caspian to Old Narnia and are in process of drumming up an army to battle against Miraz. They are at the cave of the five Black Dwarfs who accept Caspian as king on the basis of the fact that he is against Miraz. However, they are concerned that they do not have enough power on their side in order to defeat Miraz.

"Shall we go farther up for you, up to the crags? There's an Ogre or two and a Hag that we could introduce you to up there."
"Certainly not," said Caspian.
"I should think not, indeed," said Trufflehunter. "We want none of that sort on our side."

(Chapter 6, The People That Lived in Hiding)

These few sentences pack quite the punch if you stop and ponder for a moment. I believe it to be very true that Christians in every age are prone to the same weakness: that of fear. Circumstances frequently have a tendency to look rather glum. It might be a political situation, or a personal relationship issue that we're dealing with, or some unnamed hurdle in our lives that we just can't seem to jump. Either which way we fear that we will not have the ability to make it through the difficulty without assistance.

This feeling of fear can actually be a good thing when and if it reminds us that our hope and only hope of real help is found in Christ Jesus. If fear turns us in His direction and causes us to cry out to Him to help us through our various trials and circumstances than, truly, all is well. The problems usually exist because we feel like we need assistance that we can see and touch. We so quickly forget that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us and that He will be our help in times of trouble. Bad circumstances that remind us of this are actually good circumstances. When the chips are down and your back is to the wall that's when God is standing at the ready to glorify His name in and through you.

There's a story in church history of two men named Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley who began preaching the Gospel - in English instead of Latin - to the people of England in the mid-1500's. They rejected the papacy and declared the the church was built on Jesus Christ alone. For this they were burned at the stake on October 16, 1955. As the flames began to grow higher the men were suffering greatly. Latimer died quickly but Ridley's body took awhile to burn. As Latimer was dying he said to Ridley:

"Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out."

Play the man, he says! The flames were hot. Death was the only option and they could only cry out to the Lord for death to come quickly. Note that neither Latimer or Ridley tried to deny the inevitable. They didn't seek help from evil sources. They did indeed "play the man" which, in their case, meant suffering a martyr's death. They died to self with a clean conscience of not having given in to "an easy out" to relieve them of their burden. Their backs were to the wall. There was no escape. They sought comfort in Christ which gave them the strength they needed to just make it to the end. Their names and their story are an encouragement to others, a candle was lit to save others who were wallowing in darkness. Their words and their attitude declared, "This looks bad! But God means for good. Let's trust Him for that good!" Could you do it? It would be a hard thing. But we each have our own trials that come along and question whether we will 'play the man' or seek out ogres and hags.

Their ogres and hags could have been escape for the Narnians, but at what ultimate cost? At various times and places my hags and ogres look different. I see an "easy out" or a "sure way" out of my troubles and I feel inclined to take it. But we must "have none of that sort" on our side as we run this good race which the Lord has put before us. Whether your struggle be with family, with friends, with the church, or whatever - when your back is to the wall, look up! Aslan does exist, though in this world we know Him by another name. Take courage in knowing that your outcome in Christ is secured!

Do right even when it looks to be hard. Play the man. Or, if you will, play the badger. They never forget the past and hold on to the promise of victory.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

This would be my comfort; I would even exult in pain unsparing, for I have not denied the words of the Holy One. Job 6:10

Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:9-10

The next passage which spoke courage to my heart was when the Pevensie children were talking about the magic that brought them back to Narnia. They were debating whether or not they really had any choice in coming or if magic had compelled them.

"But we want to be here, don't we?" said Lucy, "If Aslan wants us."

(Chapter 8, How They Left the Island)

Lucy just makes my heart sing, that's what! No matter what brought us to a certain place in our lives - shouldn't we want to be here? That is, if the Lord wants us here?

Life isn't all fun and games as we all know. (And if you don't know it then I question how you've been living your life.) It is hard and painful and we get bumped and bruised quite a bit as a result. There is nothing unusual about this and no one should be surprised or feel singled out for hardship.


But there is good news and here it is . . . are you ready for it? The pain has a purpose. The purpose? To drive us to Christ.

We don't always get to chose the circumstances in our lives but it is a good question to ask, "Shouldn't I want to be here? That is, if the Lord wants me here?"

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Psalm 62:1-2





I want to be right here. Right now. In this time and in this place that God has placed me, surrounded by the people He surrounded me with. It isn't always easy, but I trust that whatever my God ordains is right.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth;
And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.






Monday, July 20, 2015

Knowing Aslan: An Encounter With the Lion of Narnia, by Thomas Williams

Whenever I see a book about Narnia I always pick it up and poke through it. If it looks like it could be evenly slightly promising, I'll purchase it and save it to read "sometime later." Knowing Aslan, by Thomas Williams was one such book. Actually to call it a book is somewhat stretching the truth. It's more like a 56 page tract that you'd leave in a bathroom somewhere, with hopes that someone who is interested in Narnia will pick it up.

I know that sounds a little harsh. That rather summarizes my feeling about this book though. It's not anything remarkably special; it's a dull but quick read with a strong attempt at sharing the Gospel message. (And the Gospel message is not meant to be dull!!!) In this book Williams is predictably trying to share the good news with a non-believer by explaining how Aslan represents God. The only problem is that the Aslan and the god which Williams presents to His readers is lacking teeth.

Williams explains how our human view of God is often so disturbing, wherein we picture a harsh God in the sky who is just waiting for us to do wrong so that He can punish us. Williams explains how Lewis wrote this story to show us how loving and kind God really is and how we should want to follow after Him because He is so joyful and friendly. Furthermore, Williams delivers his message as if talking to a 10 year old instead of to an adult which irked.

Basically I found Knowing Aslan a bit on the dribbly side. Williams and I clearly have a few theological differences, most chiefly in the area of free will and predestination. In saying that much, you can probably guess that I believe we were predestined before the beginning of time to be (or not be) children of God. At the same time I do not believe that that in any way removes our responsibility to go forth and preach the Gospel to all nations. In fact scriptures command that Christians go and spread the news of Who God Is to all of the world. I firmly believe that God works through His people to share Himself with others. Now, I do understand why some Christians like the use of tracts and I don't have any huge or hearty objection to this means of reaching people. It's just that I find tracts generally have a very watered down message, replete with a lot of begging and pleading for the hoped-for reader to dedicate their life to Christ. Knowing Aslan was no exception.

For example, this passage on the next-to-last page:

"Jesus loves you so much that he died for you, and he longs for a relationship with you. But you still have free will, and he will not force himself upon you. If you choose to remain apart from him, he will be heartbroken, but he will honor your choice."

I'm going to stop it there and explain that I agree that Jesus does love His people wholeheartedly. He is a very kind, merciful and gracious God, full of love and compassion. (How do I think this when I believe in predestination? These are age-old questions and long debates. I believe He is most gracious to save any of us. Yet He does. What a gift! What an incredible, beautiful gift!) He did absolutely die for our sins and if we will believe in Him we will not perish but have everlasting life. Up to this point, I have no glaring disagreements with the passage.

It isn't until we get to the sentence "he will honor your choice" that I begin to quibble. That sentence sounds so friendly, so very much like a discontented sigh at the most. But to reject God doesn't just leave us sighing and lounging about. To deny Christ and to walk away from Him leaves us in dire peril. If by "he will respect your choice" Williams means, "you will unfortunately receive what you deserve" then I agree. And I tremble for the person who does walk away as a result.

God's message of good news - that He would save sinners - is good because His wrath is terrible. He isn't just a God of love or just a God of justice. He is both. He demands justice and because of His great love He offers to save us from the wrath required as a result of our sins. This is hard news. It is the best news. It is the most awesome news you will ever hear and I felt like Williams was attempting to water it down with his "jolly god". I do think that Aslan is picture of Who God Is for he roars when he conquers and he growls when there is sin. Then - when sin and death are conquered (usually through bloody battle) - Aslan REJOICES! You have to know the heat of battle in order to understand the glorious victory. Don't remove the hard part so that we can "just get to the good stuff." The good is good because the bad is bad.

Yes, I do realize that this is a mere 56 pages worth of book and doesn't necessarily warrant a gigantic critique. Then again, if we let so many little pieces of bad theology in through the cracks we'll suffer from an even greater lack of understanding of who God is in His mighty fierceness and most excellent glory.

To really know Aslan you must understand and believe that he has sharp teeth.



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Watching the English, by Kate Fox

Did you hear that joyful yell? I finally finished reading Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior after about, oh, two or so months of reading. It's not that it was a dull book or even terribly boring. However, I also can't say that it was exciting, thrilling and/or totally enthralling. I wanted to read it because we've got this upcoming trip to England later this year which I keep mentioning. I wasn't totally sure what to pack (to wear) and I always hate stepping on well-known customs (embarrassing) and I thought that reading this book might help us all navigate our way around the country a little bit better. I was right about that.

Kate Fox is an anthropologist (the study of humanity) and her epic work would be this book, originally published in 2006 and updated and reprinted in 2014. Watching the English is 566 pages of her observations of the English and their behaviors. She wanted to find out and help define what makes the English, English. She observes and make notes of their sense of humor, table manners, holiday customs, shopping habits, bus riding habits, behavior in pubs, dress, food, you-name-it-and-she probably-made-a-note about it! To some readers, this work might come across as dry and boring. Again, I can't exactly say that this book was a real page turner. Gratefully I enjoy the quintessential form of British humor - their dry wit - and thus found many things to snicker over as I read along. She described her findings in a witty manner which is what ultimately kept me reading. However, do remember that despite the humor it took me many months to make my way through the book.

There was only one chapter which I did not read and that was the chapter on sex. Why, you ask? Simply this: exasperation. Being that we are daily bombarded with the sex life of Americans everywhere every time we open up a news feed on our computers, turn on our television sets, or glance at a magazine rack, I'm just feeling done. Does anyone feel the need for privacy anymore? Must we discuss every single sexual detail of our lives? I think no. Perhaps Kate Fox agrees but I really couldn't tell you.

Quite frankly I'm not really sure where to take the review of Watching the English. If you love England and its people, and are curious to learn more about them, then that is a pretty good reason to read this book. If you frequently find yourself paying attention to the behaviors and tics of others (and find them amusing) then you might also like this book. If you favor non-fiction titles which educate you as to society and the world then you are also a good reading candidate. I happen to be all of those things. If you are none of those things then the chances are high and likely you'll wish to spend your time with a different title.

In my reading of this title, I gleaned various bits and pieces of information about the English and what I should expect to find when I spent time among them. I learned about what differentiates the upper classes from the upper middle/middle middle/lower middle and lower classes when it came to clothes and even to what type of marmalade a person will purchase. I learned that I probably shouldn't stress out too much about what to pack and wear in England because they have no solid sense of style or class, a similar complaint of Americans. (However, it is thought that the English should be better dressed as they are, what?, only one hour away from Paris!? Although Americans have no style we're excused to some extent by being younger.) I'll bring one longer-in-length dress with a nice cardigan but no jewelry which is too matchy-matchy and I should blend in ok if we went out to dinner.

I also learned that people usually greet each other by remarking on the weather and that you should agree with them in whatever they say (at least at first). If someone says, "Rainy out there, isn't it?" I should respond, "Yes, isn't it? But it's warm out and it looks as if the sun might shine through." First you must agree and then express your own opinion, should it differ. Otherwise you'll be considered rude and/or obnoxious. Do remember to call napkins napkins and not serviettes. Also, consider the food to be descent in spots but not spectacular. Go with low expectations and don't be surprised when things fall apart or aren't exactly to your liking. Say things like, "Typical!" if the train is late - should you feel the need to say anything at all. Keep calm. Apologize for everything even if it's not at all your fault. Don't talk about money. When in public, don't make eye contact with others; everyone has their own personal bubble which they are striving to live in.

Actually, what I learned about the English is that I'm remarkably like them thanks to my introversion. If I were an extroverted personality I might more easily be considered to be the loud and rowdy type of American-over-seas. After reading this book I started observing myself in social settings and making note of my tendencies. A few weeks ago I was grocery shopping when a fellow patron bumped into me by accident. They didn't apologize but I did! "Whoops, sorry!" I said before continuing on my merry way. Then I chuckled because I realized that was so like the English. I've noticed I do that a lot, as a knee-jerk reaction. In public I'm extremely self-conscious and careful not to offend. It's when on Facebook or the blog when I feel more free to speak my mind. Perhaps the English are all more introverted, or perhaps it's just their way. At any rate, it's my way too. This to say that if I were at all worried about our ability to navigate the country, I'm less so now. Our accent (or lack thereof?) will peg us instantly but hopefully we'll show ourselves friendly and respectful. I might have us rehearse our eating habits with a plate of peas (fork prongs down) but otherwise I think we'll be fine.

On the whole I'm glad to have read Watching the English. It was entertaining and informative. It's not a book I'd slide up on my shelf and read again but I have some friends who I think might very well enjoy it so I'll pass it along to them.

Now. If someone has written a book like this about Americans, I'd like to read it.
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