On My Reading List: May 2016

Taking a few days break after a busy month at work has provided me with a very welcome opportunity to catch up on my reading, and the result is a fairly large pile of books on my current reading list.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark, is, from the standpoint of someone trained in the current ethics of working with young people, a somewhat sinister study in the risks to young people of teachers who cross professional boundaries to pursue a cultish personal relationship with their students. Miss Jean Brodie is a woman in her prime, and determined to encourage a select group of favourites ‘”the crème de la crème”’ as she flatteringly calls them, into a love of truth, beauty and the arts. But it’s the 1930s and Miss Brodie is also worryingly impressed by the ‘achievements’ of Continental fascism, leading one of her students to make the difficult decision to ‘betray’ her for the sake of others.

My Mother’s House and Sido, by Colette. The works of famed twentieth century French author Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) are seldom encountered in New Zealand, so I was quite pleased to find this two-volume work in a book exchange in Queenstown. In them, Colette reminisces about her childhood in the late-1800s, and particularly her mother, Sido. There’s a sweet nostalgia about these memoirs, which, with little in the way of commentary, depict a time when life, particularly for women, was very different, and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions. This was probably my most fascinating read for the month.

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If Colette’s works were my most fascinating read for the month, thus far Bonhoeffer is proving the most challenging and invigorating. This was the only work on my list of Six Christian Classics which I hadn’t already read, and is a call to sincere, humble Christian living written at a time (the Nazi regime in Germany) when sincere, humble Christian living could be very costly indeed. I can’t help but wonder what Bonhoeffer might have said to Miss Brodie, had he met her.

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Popular Hymns and their Writers, by Norman Mable is one of those wonderfully idiosyncratic older books (c.1945), where hymnists get left out if their hymns weren’t popular enough, or if the author considered them boring. As an example of what I mean by idiosyncratic: John Newton’s most famous hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’ isn’t mentioned, with Mable instead turning his attention to two of his other hymns, the almost-but-not-quite as famous ‘How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds’ and ‘Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.’

The Lives of the Great Composers, by Harold C. Schonberg is already proving useful in my pursuit of biographical information on some of the great composers. Schonberg traces the history of European classical music through the lives of its composers, making for an interesting and insightful, if decidedly heavy, work. My only niggle is that he started with Monteverdi, not Vivaldi, in spite of the current popularity of the latter’s ‘Four Seasons’, which makes him arguably the better known to modern audiences, even if they don’t know they know him.

The Story of Painting, by Sister Wendy Beckett. I really need to get this one back to the library… but not yet. It’s wonderfully comprehensive, and the works selected are so wonderfully illustrative, that it’s taking me a while to work my way through it.

As always, the Bible rounds out my reading list for the month: I’ve finished the Psalms and the book of Proverbs, am three-quarters of the way through Deuteronomy, and have just started the Book of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Bible reading is both a joy and a discipline, especially with so many other good books to tempt me!

What books are tempting you at the moment?

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