Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘postaday2011

I stumbled across a fun idea today of doing a year in review for books. I’m stealing the questions from The Story Siren. The sixteen-year-old host of that site stole them from The Perpetual Page Turner. Just goes to show the best ideas are stolen!

1. Best book you read in 2011?

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
It’s a beautiful book, well-deserving of the Newbury Medal. I loved the folklore elements, the intriguing characters, and the uplifting messages. If you haven’t discovered Grace Lin, start with this book and then borrow the rest of her fiction for young people. She’s that good!

2. Worst book you read in 2011?

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
I feel ashamed to hold an English degree. 😩 It’s such an important book in literary history that I feel I should like it, but I don’t.

3. Most surprising book you read in 2011?

My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison
If not for Kate McMurry, I probably would have missed this delightful book. Romance is rarely high on my list of books to read. Yet I loved this chick-lit entry!

4. Most disappointing book you read in 2011?

Flawed Dogs The Novel by Berkeley Breathed
I loved Flawed Dogs the Picture Book! As soon as the novel came out, I added it to my wish list. The moment it came into our school library, I received special permission to borrow it. I desperately wanted to love this book, but it was overwritten, the characters were not sympathetic, and so much more was wrong with it.

5. Best series you read in 2011?

The Year of…. books by Grace Lin
One of my resolutions for this year had been to read fiction from other ethnic groups. Before the Plum Creek Literacy Festival, Grace Lin had been an unknown to me. When I read that she drew upon her Asian background to write her fiction, I immediately decided to attend. I’ve never regretted the decision!

6. Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?

Because of GoodReads, I discovered One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Pretty much everything I’ve read of Rita Williams-Garcia pushed me outside of my comfort zone. For that reason, I credit her with my resolution to broaden my reading experience.

7. Book you can’t believe you waited to read until 2011?

A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

How can I have lived almost fifteen years in the Midwest and so blatantly ignored its most famous literature? Aldrich writes with love about small towns and conservative values. Now I’m slowly building up a collection of her works.

8. Book that didn’t get enough press?

Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz by Laura Toffler-Corrie

Actually, I have to admit that I don’t really know what books didn’t receive a lot of press. However, this book never showed up on lists in my reading groups, on bestseller lists, and probably wouldn’t have been on my radar if not for a lovely thing called Giveaways.

9. Best book that you reread this year?

Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle
After reading lots of current books, I found myself looking sadly at old favorites sitting forsaken on my bookshelves. Finally, I decided to start including a few of them in my selections. To celebrate the new year, I’ll post a round-up of L’Engle’ s books.

10. Book you wish you had read this year?

Squashed by Joan Bauer
I first became acquainted with Joan Bauer’s books when she spoke at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival. Squashed is her first and sounds intriguing: “I wrote this story after a serious car accident.  The laughter in Squashed, I assure you, helped me heal.  The metaphor about growing a big dream is with me always.”

Whenever my husband and I visit a restaurant, I always struggle to choose my meal. I can quickly narrow my options to two or three, but then I get stuck. This is how I feel about books. If you asked me in a week for my answers to these above questions, I’d quite likely pick different ones.

Now how about you? What were your best and worst book finds of the year?

In my teens, there were two authors whom I wanted to write like when I grew up. One of them was Madeleine L’Engle.

Madeleine L'Engle

Image via Wikipedia

This holiday season, I had high hopes to reread ALL of her books. That was a little overambitious, because I also wish for time to write my own stories, hang out with family, reconnect with friends, and catch up on household chores. Yup, that’s a LOT for one week. So, I’ve settled on rereading the three Austin family books of hers that I own.

I still love them! They extol values of family, moral integrity, and faith. At the same time, the characters are so flawed that I always readily identify with them. There is also a recognition that evil exists although, by the end, we feel that it can be faced.

Of course, now I’m getting ahead of myself. My teasers are supposed to be about the author. Well, a second reason I wanted to grow up to write like Madeleine L’Engle is because of who she is as a person. Growing up, she struggled with acceptance. And, as an adult, she faced rejection many times over as an author. Yet she persevered to become write over sixty books and to establish herself as a beloved author. Because she tackled issues of faith, she also faced controversy from both inside and outside of Christian circles. Yet I like many others count her among the authors who positively influenced my growth as a Christian.

During the rest of the week, I’ll share info about this amazing author. Then on Sunday, to usher in the new year, I’ll post a round-up of her Austin books. Save the date: January 1!

Madeleine L’Engle As A Child

One reason I love Madeleine L’Engle’s fiction is that she perfectly captures the emotional angst I felt in my formative years. Although as a child she wrote stories about the kind of person she wanted to be, as an adult L’Engle instead filled her pages with young people who were often confused and rejected. In doing so, her fiction provided me with solace in a way that few books did during my teens.

Like me, L’Engle struggled for acceptance during her youth from peers. She was slightly lame, which did not make her popular. For example, when teams were chosen, she was always the last chosen. I was merely shy and clumsy, yet those traits tend to make one a misfit too. And, like L’Engle, I was an only child–and so we both a lot of time to read, write, and draw. Eventually, L’Engle found that she would much rather be writing stories, poems and journals for herself instead of doing school work, which was reflected in her not so great grades.

Unlike me, L’Engle also sadly struggled for acceptance during her youth from teachers. One teacher refused L’Engle’s desperate requests to use the bathroom and later denied there had ever been a request. Another teacher accused her of plagiarism when she won honors for a piece of writing. L’Engle had to show a mountain of work to prove her ability to write it. With the exception of an arithmetic teacher, who expected her to excel, her middle-school teachers made her feel as if she were stupid.

For the first time, L’Engle found herself accepted and popular in high school. She became editor of the school’s literary magazine and played lead roles in a number of the school plays. Both in high school and college, she also had encouraging teachers.

Because Madeline L’Engle has long been one of my favorite authors, I grew up reading a lot of biographical information about her. Ironically, through her, I first discovered the Emily of New Moon trilogy by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which were L’Engle’s favorite childhood books. Like L’Engle, I immediately related to Emily in many ways: Emily’s peers typically rejected her; Her father had died (although in my case, my mother had died); She lived on an island; And, last, Emily wanted to be a writer.

Madeleine L’Engle As A Writer

Vicky at age twelve on the 1960 cover of Meet ...

Image via Wikipedia

Besides providing encouragement to me as a teen through her books, Madeleine L’Engle also inspires me as a writer because of her dry years. Even though she had already published five books, and so one would expect her books to receive immediate acceptance, Meet the Austins was rejected for two years because it begins with a death. Through the Austins, L’Engle shared her beliefs about living and dying, mankind’s responsibility to one other, and the Christian family. With its rejections came the feeling that her beliefs were being denied. Yet she persevered and wrote another regular novel, which was published.

Next, L’Engle wrote A Wrinkle in Time, a book that is notable for two reasons. First, it was rejected twenty-six times. (For examples of other famous books rejected multiple times, check out Daily Writing Tips) In an interview with Christianity Today before her death, L’Engle expressed these feelings about the experience: “It was rejected and rejected. I would put the kids to bed, walk down the dirt road in front of the house, weep, and yell at God. I’d say, ‘God, why are you letting me have all of these rejection slips? You know it’s a good book. I wrote it for you.'” This part of the Wrinkle in Time story I have known about most of my life. However, Wrinkle in Time, is also notable because it won the Newbery Medal. I didn’t know that in hindsight L’Engle came to believe that if her prayers for publication had initially been answered, Wrinkle in Time might have dropped into a dark pool of oblivion. Instead, Wrinkle became famous due to its many rejections and many awards. It has also endured the test of time. This upcoming year (2012), a fiftieth anniversary editionwill even be released.

As an author who faced so many rejections, Madeleine L’Engle serves as an inspiration. I like the answer which she gave Christianity Today about how to handle failure: “As Christians we follow a man who in terms of the world failed. He listened to his mission, to where the Father told him to go. We seem to have lost sight of that. We live in a world that insists we be successes. If you’re not free to fail, you’ll never be anything but mediocre. You must try to do more than you can really do. Sometimes, you do more than you can really do. That’s the marvel of it.”

Besides helping me through my teens and inspiring me as a writer, Madeleine L’Engle also impacted me as a Christian. Unlike me, she grew up without a formal religious background. Yet like me, she always felt a deep sense of the nearness of a personal God to whom she could talk.

L’Engle credited her faith to an old English Roman Catholic woman, Mary O’Connell, who took care of her. Wherever O’Connell was, L’Engle felt there was laughter and joy. Yet, O’Connell had a terrible life. Her husband was an alcoholic. O’Connell had to take her children’s Sunday coats with her to work, so that her husband wouldn’t sell them for drink. She often didn’t know where the money for the rent would come from. In her later years, she suffered with painful arthritis. Despite all of her hardships, O’Connell always brought joy with her. In an interview with Christianity Today, L’Engle said: “A close friend of mine says that a Christian is someone who’s met one. I met one, early.”

Cover of

Cover of A Wrinkle in Time

The reason L’Engle impacted me as a Christian is that her faith always comes through so strongly in her books. That said, not all of the Christian community embraces L’Engle. Some Christians dismiss her, because of her decision not to create overtly Christian characters and to use themes in her novels that are not explicitly Christian. Others rejected her because of her controversial belief in universal salvation. (Everyone eventually will be redeemed in God’s fullness of time.) Over that belief, many Christian bookstores, schools, and libraries refused to carry her books. A Wrinkle in Time, specifically, has drawn criticism for an inaccurate portrayal of God and a nurturing of a belief in fantasy. Ironically, many outside of the Christian circle, attack her work for being too religious.

From what I have read about L’Engle, she seemed to hold to the same philosophy as C.S. Lewis with regards to writing. Both believed that if authors wrote the best story they could, their faith would shine through in their work. L’Engle also apparently had a goal to to create fiction that was Christian, while also writing to an audience that included all kinds of believers and unbelievers. That way she felt the Gospel would be shared and spread. What do you think? Can one write a good story, but also share their beliefs in a way that anyone can hear them?

Welcome to a new feature: Quick Take Reviews! Earlier this week, I said that today (Wednesday) I’d post a surprise review. For a long time, I’ve been wanting to share my brief reaction to books that don’t fit into my normal schedule. I’ve been also wanting to review shorter books, without necessarily making them part of a round-up so that I can post my traditional long review. Today I’m making good on my hope by posting a mini-review of a devotional. While I don’t plan to post quick takes regularly, every now and then I will interrupt my weekly teasers for a Wednesday Quick Take. Enjoy!

For a long time, I’ve wanted to find a book about inspiring Christian women of our times. So I happily bought Sister Freaks at a concert of one of my favorite Christian singers, Rebecca St. James. She edited this devotional, which is divided into twelve weeks: with each day featuring a mini-biography of about four pages, and each week being followed by a series of journal questions. While the subtitle, “Stories of Women Who Gave Up Everything for God,” is somewhat misleading, Sister Freaks aptly serves the purpose of its editor: “I pray that you’ll see the world through His eyes and look for ways you can change it through His power.”

When I think of women who gave up everything for God, I think of missionaries, pastors, or at least women who started a ministry. Some of these types of women are featured here. For example, in the 1800s, Amy Carmichael threw herself into serving others-especially those from the lower class and slums, even when her church community criticized her. Then in 1892, she responded to God’s call to serve in India as a missionary. Amy Carmichael spent fifty-three years there without furlough and founded the Dohnavur Fellowship, a refuge for children who are set aside for Hindu temple prostitution. (If Amy Carmichael’s story makes you think of Mother Teresa, you might be as surprised as I was to find that her story was not included in Sister Freaks.) There are also recent examples, such as Karen Watson who died from a grenade attack in 2003 while providing humanitarian aid in war-stricken Iraq.

Christian pop singer Rebecca St. James in appr...

Image via Wikipedia

Stories such as these can inspire, because how amazing it is to have faith so strong that one can face rejection, persecution, or even death for God, and yet these women’s lives can feel far removed from that of the average Christian. Most church-goers are not called to serve either abroad or at home. So I loved that Sister Freaks featured less extraordinary women too.

I didn’t agree with all of the selections. While Kate’s story might encourage other women to give their anger over rejection to God, I’m not sure how she qualifies as a woman who gave up everything for God. The majority of stories however do nicely illustrate how even average Christians can accomplish something good for God. For example, after a short-term mission trip, Megan couldn’t forget about a woman she had met abroad. Megan felt driven to do something. And so she did. She wrote letters and, with the money she raised, built a rescue station for females devastated by prostitution and AIDS. Other stories directly spoke to my situation: such as the example of Shannon who dreamt of becoming a journalist but now uses her writing skills to help others find a voice, and Kirsten who studied medicine but ended up teaching in the inner cities. These women found that their life’s work lay “where the needs of the world and the joys of your heart intersect.”

After buying Sister Freaks, I eagerly read a new devotional every day until I had finished. As a whole, Sister Freaks made me appreciate how average Christians can impact the world, no matter how small their acts. In her introduction, Rebecca St. James wrote that all of the featured women inspired her to want to “live a bigger, greater life”-and so they have me.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Merry Christmas!

No reviews today.

But I do have a surprise! I’ve been featured at Blogger Love. What is Blogger Love? It’s a weekly post which features book bloggers with guest posts, guest reviews, and Q&A sessions. If you are a blogger and you would like to be featured on Blogger Love, please email Heather of Nightly Reading at

And if you check back on Wednesday, you’ll see a different kind of review. What you ask? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see. 🙂

Do some literary classics become dated? Should such books ever be rewritten in modern English? Should such books ever be abridged? These are questions that my husband and I discussed after I finished reading Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.

There is no doubt that Robinson Crusoe is important to literary history. First published in 1719, it is among one of the first novels ever written. It also marked the beginning of realistic fiction, with its success leading to the popularity of castaway novels. I doubt however that the style and content of the original version of Robinson Crusoe will appeal to today’s young readers.

It sure didn’t when I first read it as a high school student. Then again, that might have been because I was too busy falling for my literature teacher to care about the rebellious main character, who against his family’s wishes decided to take to the sea. Or so I told myself recently when our family decided to read it for our monthly discussion group. And thus I decided to give this literary classic another chance. Perhaps inspired by real-life Alexander Selkirk who lived for four years on a Pacific island, Robinson Crusoe tells the fictional story of a castaway who spends twenty-seven years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad. While on this island, Crusoe builds shelter and tools, hunts animals, and plants crops. He also witnesses cannibalism and rescues their prisoners/food. Sounds as if Robinson Crusoe has huge potential for a great adventure story, right? Too bad it’s such a bore.

First, let’s consider the style. It is so rambling and repetitious that it made my head hurt to read it in large chunks: “My father, who was very ancient, had given me a competent share of learning, as far as a house-education and a country free school generally goes, and designed me for the law; but I would be satisfied with nothing but going to the sea; and my inclination to this led me so strongly against the will, nay, the commands, of my father, and against all the entreaties
.” Besides writing novels, Daniel Defoe apparently also wrote manuals. I believe it! A second problem I have with Defoe’s style is how analytical and impassive his descriptions are: “Before I set up my tent, I drew a half circle before the hollow place, which took in about ten yards in its semi-diameter from the rock, and twenty yards in its diameter from its beginning and ending.” I can’t remember the last time I checked my email so often during one page.

Next, let’s consider the content. It irritated me on two levels. First, Defoe was badly in need of an editor. There is an old adage amongst writers that one should cut the first chapter. With any other novel, this would probably eliminate the bulk of the background text. With Robinson Crusoe, one would have to keep hacking away to cut out the multiple stories about the times Crusoe went to sea, encountered storms or other dangers including captivity at the hands of the Moors, and subsequently repented (and then rescinded) of his foolishness.  I’m all for skipping ahead to that fatal seafaring journey where he is marooned, because from that point until his rescue I somewhat enjoyed the story. There is also an old adage that when a story has been told, one should STOP. Someone should have given Defoe this advice. In my version (a slightly shortened form of part one published in The Children’s Illustrated Classics by E.P. Dutton & Co.), after Crusoe is rescued, Defoe tortured me for twenty-five additional pages with accounts of Crusoe’s life back in England. The content irritated me on a second level, in that there is material which begs for footnotes so that readers understand the context of the times wherein Defoe wrote. For example, slavery was an acceptable part of life in Defoe’s time. Readers who have heard how Robinson Crusoe is a beloved story of friendship between Crusoe and his man Friday might be surprised and shocked to realize that Friday referred to Crusoe as “master”. Even if Crusoe taught Friday to speak English and later converted him to Christianity, today’s readers would struggle to understand how their relationship is an example of friendship.

At this point, I would be amiss if I didn’t point out what I did enjoy about Robinson Crusoe. Daniel Defoe created an extremely realistic character. Crusoe reacts initially with fear to storms and natives, but eventually calms down enough to react logically to dangers. When a storm leaves him shipwrecked, he methodically salvages supplies. When a footprint appears on the other side of his island, he figures out when natives are most likely to visit and so when he should stay hidden. Crusoe is very human. I also enjoyed reading about all the tools that Crusoe created during his sojourn on the island, along with his ponderings on moral dilemmas such as when is it right to kill another man and what role God should have in his life. At first, Crusoe turns to God only in times of trouble. As God continues to provide for him on the island, Crusoe develops a sense of thankfulness and contentment for what God blesses man with in his daily life.

As you can see, there are gems in Robinson Crusoe. Unfortunately, they’re so grimed in repetition and unnecessary content that they become drudgery to mine. For that reason, I found myself wondering:  Do some literary classics become dated? Should a book ever be rewritten in modern English? Should a book ever be abridged? What do you think?

For more discussion of this question, check out Adaptions for Children at the Rebecca Reads review blog.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 127 other subscribers