Category Archives: Literary Fernweh

Literary Fernweh As A Picture

Several years ago I wrote a blog post about Literary Fernweh. The post is so long it makes me laugh! I saw this image today, however, and it made me think of it. Literary Fernweh: A love for, and a wish to be, in a place that only exists in a book! It is such a beautiful feeling. 

Homesick for places you've never been and people you've never met:

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2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

The 5-star, best of the best, reads from 2016! 

The Iliad by Homer

It is always difficult to rate a classic, but this is a super-duper classic. THE classic. A lot annoyed me in this story and I was often bored or grossed out, but the humanity captured is truly amazing. Many of the struggles, desires, emotions, and even insults thrown back and forth are recognizable and relevant today. This is a messed up story, but it is a also a story of coming to terms with grief and life and honor. It is incredible. My favorite “character” was Diomedes. I can’t believe I had never heard of him before! He was awesome! There is a reason this story has remained such a favorite for so long.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas 

I had some pretty high expectations for Bonhoeffer and, remarkably, it lived up to them. Bonhoeffer is great, not only because it is the story of the pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but because it incorporates WW2 history, theology, and the story of Germany in the early twentieth century all at the same time. I especially enjoyed the quotes from Bonhoeffer. I am going to have to read more by him. This book may be thick but it is worth it. Highly recommended for lovers of history and anyone who wants to learn more about a fascinating, relatively unknown and unsung hero of WW2.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens 

Despite being ridiculously long and occasionally mindbogglingly boring, this book was wonderful and hard to put down. There were moments I loved it and moments I hated it. However, in the end, loving or hating, I really enjoyed David Copperfield and it might surpass Our Mutual Friend as my favorite Dickens novel. You can never tell what will happen next. There were a lot of characters but it was surprisingly easy to keep them straight. I like how everything was tied up and how everything comes around. The description on the audio book says, “tragedy and comedy in equal measure.” That is this book in a nutshell. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. And in the end, it is totally worth the 34 hours, or 900 some pages, or whatever else it takes to get through it. Go Dickens!

Poems by C.S. Lewis 

Did you know Lewis was a poet? He was a really good one, too. In general, I don’t read poetry but this volume gave me a better sense of why people like it. Poetry can be bite size brilliance. These were utterly profound but applicable and memorable. My favorites were “Pan’s Purge”, “Reason”, and “The Country of the Blind.” Some of Lewis’s poems are silly. Some are profound. Quite a few confound me with allusions to things I know nothing about. He writes about angels and nature, love and Dwarfs. Well worth finding. 

The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka 

I like this book because I could enjoy it just as it was, as a story, and yet also enjoy it as a classic literary work revealing human nature. I like Gregor and the love he has for his family, a love eventually worn down by self-absorption and then flipped again in his last moments. I actually liked his family as well with all their passivity, self-absorption, and laziness. Basically, they are horrible humans, but they ring true. The way they behave towards Gregor felt completely natural and realistic. Kafka makes a brilliant point about human dependency and how we let things control our whole lives. Fascinating stuff! 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 

Another Dickens novel! This timeless Christmas tale was even better than I expected. The book is simple and yet timeless. I don’t know what else to add because you probably already know about Scrooge and his nocturnal visitors, this story is part of our common culture. I thought I knew it. However, it has more depth than I realized. If you haven’t read it for yourself, I recommend doing so. 

Common Sense by Thomas Paine 

The historical significance of Common Sense alone argues for a 5 star rating. Highly readable, this pamphlet references natural law, legal theory, historical precedent, and Old Testament narrative. It made for an enjoyable read and provides insight into what fired up our Founding Fathers. I was pleasantly surprised by this one! 


2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 2

The best books I read in 2016…take two! 

Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting by Johnny Carr and Laura Faidley

Orphan Justice is a blunt look at the intellectual and emotional problem of orphans and the way society handles, or rather doesn’t handle, them. While promoting adoption, this book also focuses on solutions that help orphans beyond adopting. It addresses many issues facing society from child trafficking and HIV/AIDS to racism and poverty. A very convicting, challenging read. 

Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester

Georgette Heyer is one of my favorite authors and I really enjoyed reading about her life. This book has its problems, perhaps more than others on this list, but it was such a treat to read about an author I deeply adore, even after learning about her flaws. And Heyer definitely had her flaws. From her inability to manage her finances to her weird marriage to her extreme shyness, Heyer was a strange, snobbish woman who yet remains extremely recognizable. She really is “to be found in [her] work.” A definite must-read for all Heyer-lovers. 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

Despite its bizarre premise, Frankenstein was a really good read. Though the details in the writing occasionally got on my nerves (this was the age of Romanticism), the overall plot was captivating and tumultuous. It is Gothic horror. The Gothic portion gives it historical importance; the horror gives it a timeless interest. The book is a great combination of literary merit with themes about morality, responsibility, etc. and is full of genuinely good storytelling. It is an English major’s book but also Bookworm’s book too. Win, win.

The Mysterious Affair At Styles by Agatha Christie 

Christie’s first mystery, The Mysterious Affair At Styles also introduces her starring detective, Hercule Poirot. Emily Inglethorp rules Styles, but when she is suddenly found dead, her new neighbor Poirot is called in to find out why! This book was marvelous. There were a host of interesting characters and a most naive but endearing narrator. I enjoyed the story thoroughly and was kept guessing the whole time.

Destiny of a Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard 

This is a biography about the assassination of President James A. Garfield. I knew very little about Garfield going into the book and was pleasantly surprised by how readable and informative it turned out to be. I have a greater understanding of him as a president and era he lived in. I especially appreciated reading this one during an election year.  It reminded me that as dreary and depressing as this political season has been, America has weathered worse. As a country, we’ve dealt with corruption, assassinations, and Civil War. We survive and move on. Well worth reading! 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Shorter than I expected, but exceptionally good regardless. It wasn’t over the top but still dark and interesting. I was most fascinated by Dr. Jekyll’s initial reaction to Hyde. Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, who gets all pale and wussy because he created something ugly, Dr. Jekyll initially celebrates his alter-ego. He puts aside Hyde because of society’s condemnation, but it isn’t until he sees his friend’s abhorrence that he really understands what he did. Really fascinating. 

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre 

In 1943, the Allied forces wanted the Axis to think they were attacking Sardinia rather than their actual target, Sicily. To convince them, British intelligence concocted a crazy scheme involving a dead body, forged papers, fake German spies, and the Spanish government. In this bizarre but true account, Macintyre masterfully recounts the story of the men who influenced and enacted the deception. I highly, highly recommend this one. 


2016 Reading Challenge – The Moving Ones

Last year, I had a post designated for the the most “mind blowing reads” of 2015. I was planning on doing that again this year. However, what stands out most from this year isn’t the non-fiction that made me think, but the books (fiction and non-fiction) that made me feel. Each of these books left a lasting impression on my mind. All the 5 star reads I will share over the next few days arguably have a claim on this list (they did make 5 stars), but these were the ones that came immediately to mind. Without further ado, I present you:

Emotionally Moving and Character Shaping 5 Star Reads from 2016:

A Separate Peace by John Knowles 

This American classic is a dark, coming of age story set during early WW2. It is the story of Gene, a brooding introvert, and his friend, Phineas, the outgoing and favorite boy at school. This book is full of emotions: hatred, love, friendship, and jealousy. It was poignant, melancholy, and left me slightly breathless by the end. I’m glad I didn’t read this one in school because I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did on my own. Also, while they are often compared, I immensely preferred this one to Catcher in the Rye.

Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society by Dorothy L. Sayers

A 75 page booklet consisting of two essays: “Are Women Human?” and “The Human-Not-Quite-Human.” Sayers did not write or speak much about feminism but in this work she lays out her opinion about the role of women in society. Sayers’s main point is that men and women have more in common than not and that each should do what they were designed to do. If a woman enjoys and is good at business, she should be a businesswoman because that is what she was made to do. However, if a woman desires to be a traditional housewife, she should do that because that is what she was meant to do. The same standards apply to men and women equally. While these are hardly groundbreaking concepts, Sayers’s brevity and snark offer an exceptional and thought provoking look at what it means to be human in today’s society. 

All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

661 pages, but worth every word. At first glance,this Depression-era novel is the story of Willie Stark, an initially idealistic politician who amasses power and uses ruthless methods to get what he wants. However, this is equally the story of the men and women around Willie, especially his right hand man and the narrator of the book, Jack Burden. I’ve already written about how much I love Jack; the truth is, I enjoyed all the characters in this book. They are multilayered and even characters with only one or two scenes have color and depth. Rarely, though, do characters only have one scene. They always seem to come around as the story weaves a tighter and tighter plot towards the final, emotional conclusion. The writing style is beautiful and poetic and the plot is thought provoking and full of character change. Definitely my favorite book from 2016. 

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton 

Chesterton is utterly brilliant and reading him is like thinking on a different level. This is a book on theology and orthodoxy and Christianity; it is a convulsion of ideas and pictures about stories, worldview, and the role of joy in the Christian’s life. I didn’t always agree with Chesterton but I was challenged to think more deeply about why. He writes in a clear fashion that makes abstract concepts understandable, yet deals with subjects so profound I could read this book ten times and still gain something new. Here is one popular quote to illustrate – “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

All Quiet on the Western Front by  Erich Maria Remarque

They were Germany’s Iron Youth, but as WW1 drags on 19-year-old Paul Bäumer and his friends become more and more disillusioned and embittered by war. What will become of men trained only to kill? I found this book so beautiful. Difficult. Thought provoking. Introspective. Painful but real. The narrative isn’t “exciting” necessarily and the whole story seems to drift from moment to moment, but in doing so it reflects the characters and their outlook. Their lives have been stopped and now drift with the war. I love the mercy and realism, the camaraderie and sorrow. The war created one good thing – their friendship – and then destroyed it with all the senseless death. So poignant. My second favorite read from this year.


Classics 2016

It is my favorite time of the year! (Next to Christmas, Easter, July 4th, and my birthday, of course.) This is the time I blog about all the books I read over the past year. However, before I jump into my stats, I thought it might be fun to list out all the classics I read this year. 

You see, I have a bit of an inferiority complex where classic literature is concerned. I blame my friend Hope. When we were seniors in high school, she was appalled at how few Charles Dickens novels I had read (only 3!) and proceeded to introduce me to some really great reads, like Our Mutual Friend. Since then, no matter how many classics I read, a tiny part of my brain always tells me I’m behind. This is part of the problem with being friends with English majors. It is also partially because, outside of school, it isn’t very usual to read classics unless you have specific motivation. This year, I challenged myself to work through my to-read list, especially the classics. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed most of these books. You will probably see many of these on my 5 (or 1…) star book review posts!

Brave New World by Adolph Huxley
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Iliad by Homer
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Dracula by Bram Stoker
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Villette by Charlotte Brontë
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren


Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Lately I have been reading Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton. It is not a very long book (155 pages) but it is taking me a long time to read. Chesterton is an incredibly deep thinker. Every other sentence is a profound observation that forces me to stop and ponder. It is a lovely feeling; I am forced to think on an entirely different level. Chesterton writes about theology and philosophy and other seemingly dry topics but he does so with such pleasure and imagination that it is hard not to get swept up in it. I understand C.S. Lewis so much better as I read Chesterton. Lewis’s works feel like the natural outcropping of Chesterton’s ideas. 

In fact, I would say that feeling goes beyond Lewis. I understand stories and imagination at a different level reading Chesterton. 

I just finished page 120 and while a part of me longs to finish the book up and read the other 35 pages this morning, another part of me simply wants to savor what I’ve just read. I am definitely going to need to re-read this one.  Probably with a highlighter. 


A Re-rereview of The Blue Sword

Today I finished re-reading The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley…again. Not only have I read this particular book countless times, I have reviewed on this blog before. However, once again I find myself disagreeing with an earlier opinion. I loved the story in high school, found it disappointing in college, and now love it again. I love because in it I see the younger me, but also because I see the current me too. I see the themes, ideas, and characters that fed me. It is like the Inkheart quote:

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?…As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

The Blue Sword is an old friend. We had a bit of a separation, but now we are good again. In fact, better. Looking at the story now, I realize what an impact it had on me. It wasn’t that I wanted to visit Damar, like I would Narnia. It was rather that I wanted to be Hari, in a way I never felt about Susan or Lucy. I emotionally connected with her. I understood her boredom and I wanted to escape it like she did. I wanted to go on a quest. I wanted to discover secret guardians and magical abilities. I wanted to be a brilliant horsewoman and swordsman and save the day. I loved Hari for her confusion and frustration and emotions. I loved her for her courage. I wanted to face the world with the same determination as Hari; I too wanted to be part of something greater.

In 2011, I raved about the book but claimed it was only a 4 star. In 2013, I semi-criticized my own contentment and basically declared myself too grown up for the story. Now, I find myself a little older and (I hope) a little wiser and I relate more to C.S. Lewis’s words to his goddaughter, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” For me in 2016, this is beyond a 5 star read. This is a cherished memory.

I am always drawn to authors who claim Robin McKinley as a favorite author. It is like we share a secret understanding about fantasy and what makes it good. This book is at a level with my other favorite fantasy novels, like Plain Kate, The Silver Bowl Series (the first two, at any rate), The Queen’s Thief Series and The Chronicles of Prydain. However, it tops them because it comes with a special connection from growing up. I treasure The Blue Sword because of that, and I hope I won’t lose thta knowledge again.