I love exploring the vast world of classic literature. There's always another book to read (and sometimes it seems like I spend more time making lists of books than actually reading). Here's a list of a few of the books I read in 2009:

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne doesn't impress me as much with his actual stories as he does in pulling such feeling and poetry out of inanimate objects. It's almost as if the house is a main character--full of history, symbolism, & meaning. His books have a very unique aura that some people find too melancholy, but I enjoy it.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

This was such a pleasant English novel. I felt like I was just observing the lives and interactions in small community without necessarily reading a story, though there were plenty of twists and turns to keep it interesting. I appreciated that it was very driven by characters and dialogue. Eliot is always delightful in a good and simple way.

The Robe by Lloyd Douglas

This was a story about a young Roman tribune who lived during the time of Christ, was present at his crucifixion, and happened to cast lots for his robe. The robe was strange and fascinating to him, and caused him to seek out the truth about who Christ was. I loved the perspective of this story; it gave a fresh outlook on the life of Christ and his early disciples, both Jew and gentile.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

This was very characteristic of its time in literature--many difficult life questions and a lot of drinking. There are many profound morals to be found in the protagonist's hard reminiscings about the Flyte family (ironically, flyte means "strife"). It shows what happens when religion becomes a mindless tradition. You fail to embrace it, but you can't ignore it, and you deteriorate from the inside. It's not the kind of genre that I typically read, but it's a fascinating rendering of apathy & sin.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

It's worth reading simply because it's the archetypal science fiction story. It has all the important characteristics of the genre. There are some insightful points on societal development, though philosophically the existence of God & thus the God-given nature of man is out of the picture. Still, it's an interesting read & significant literary piece. Besides, who can resist the enticement of time travel?

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

There's no question that it's a gruesome story. Power, strife, greed, & the tendencies of man in society are nasty topics, and they're described crudely in this book with the title that means "Beelzebub." It's an exaggerated allegory that's rudely provoking (and probably a huge turnoff to literature for high school kids who are forced to read it in school...)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

This is another rather crude book. (It seems like there was a lot of that this year, mostly because I've been focusing on reading well-known classics & books commonly used in the classrooms.) I appreciated this story, not really for its literary themes, but for its historical exposé, which I thought was brilliantly poignant. The last chapter was heart-rending. Simply put, it was an eye-opening masterpiece of misery.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Like Brideshead Revisited, this story was full of tormented minds and too much wine. It shows the shallow emptiness beneath the glittery American dream of the Roaring Twenties. Yes, the story was affecting, but unlike Brideshead, there was no hint of a redeeming entity.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Here's another classic novel that I appreciate more for its insights into an historical era than for its literary themes. It's the story of a proud, self-absorbed Southern belle named Scarlett O'Hara. (I think it's the only story I've read with such a villainous protagonist!) I appreciated the reliable constancy of the characters. Each were predictable (or predictably unpredictable), and they all added to the story in their own way.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

What a clever, charming little book! It was very engaging and entertaining; plus, the French Revolution was a fascinating time in history. I think I'd be a great book to read out loud my children someday.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I can really only handle one massive Russian novel a year. They are so heavy--literally & figuratively, but they're entirely worth the effort. This book was my favorite of the year. The psychology of the characters, their detailed thoughts & interactions, and the resolutions of their fates were so interesting. There were some beautiful and profound passages, and some scenes that were perfectly cutting. The ending was so lucid and very stirring for me. It's one of those books that I hope to read again someday, and I know I'll get even more from it.

I'm glad I got a chance to write down my thoughts about some of this year's books, because to be honest, I have a pretty poor memory, so hopefully my notes will be able to refresh me on them in the future. I hope 2010 will have even more great books in store! I've been accumulating a lot of good non-fiction as well, and I'm looking forward to reading and learning lots more!

Happy New Year!

Advent is a very reflective time for me. It's a time for expectation and preparation. I love that it's so richly reminiscent of ancient things, and so convicting and hopeful for the things yet to come. It shows the full and colorful canvas of Christianity.

It seems like so few people see that picture, though. I just wish they would remember how Christmas is Christ's Mass--the fulfillment of all God's promises and the ultimate feast.

The story of the "Christ Mass" began in Eden, when the need for a savior was created. God established his chosen people and sent a baby who would rescue them from slavery in Egypt. God revealed His truth to these people, and from them came prophecies--such beautiful, hopeful, longing prophecies! The people hoped and prayed for centuries; they sang psalms and they celebrated feasts that reminded them of God's salvation from slavery. They were unfaithful, yes, but they still had God's truth and they still had His promise.

Then God chose a woman, and unlike Eve, this woman obeyed Him. Out of her obedience came, not death, but LIFE for all mankind.

But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. (Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, And the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel.) He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD... Micah 5:1-3
He came and fulfilled all those strange and beautiful prophecies. He was born to a small woman in a small cave in a small town called "House of Bread," visited by small shepherds to become a shepherd himself--a humble King. It's the wildest, most creative story I've ever read!

I'm bursting with anticipation for the Christ Mass! At midnight on December 25, I'll hear the ancient prophecies, sing the ancient psalms, and say the very words uttered by the ancient people of God. Then I'll partake in the feast of our salvation from slavery; I'll eat the bread that was placed in the food trough two thousand years ago--the redeeming flesh that was sacrificed on the tree.

We remember the advent of the child, and we prepare and purify our hearts for the advent of the bridegroom, when we'll celebrate the Mass of Christ--the great wedding feast--into eternity.

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