Four Books in Four Weeks

I took the reading challenge from January and read four books in four weeks. Even better, my third-grade daughter out-read me with 17 books in six weeks. My conclusions? Reading one book a week (in my adult lifestyle) is a doable goal that keeps me stretching. And, the concentrated reading challenge for my young reader stepped up her intellectual and emotional maturity in a short period of time, allowing us to converse more openly on a wider range of subjects. Here’s some reviews of what I read:

1 . A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. This book was like taking daily doses of nasty medicine. The bad taste inevitably goes away as it starts working on the patient. Set in India in the mid 1970’s, the story reveals the almost unbelievable circumstances of deprivation that occur as different castes struggle for basic necessities. The horror and anguish of this struggle comes in rich character development of three men and one woman from varied backgrounds who are all seeking a common need—shelter. While the sights of crudeness, poverty and cruel corruption pierced my own emotions, their insights on life also became mine, making it more palatable and purposeful. As a minor character said, “You cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to see your failures as stepping stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.”

2. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. This is my recommendation for moms and their young adult daughters (maybe 11-16 years old) who want a book to read and discuss together. A noble lady is confined to a tower for seven years with her maid for refusing to marry her father’s choice of a husband. Her maid keeps a book of their imprisonment in which we discover the real truth about the man her father intends her to marry, the unexpected warmth of another suitor, and the reality of following through to the end of a decision. The story is one of commitment to principles and the resulting sacrifices and is flecked with allegorical allusions that add depth for older readers and can spark conversation with younger ones.

3. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. I was in my mid-twenties when I first read this short compilation of fictional training letters from a devil’s helper to his apprentice nephew. At the time, I couldn’t help but see the folly of others and would think, “Oh, I know someone who does that.” Rereading this C.S. Lewis classic ten years later, a little more humble from added life experience, now I can’t help but see all the subtle ways that the devil persuades me. I was struck anew by the wisdom of C.S. Lewis. But the surest realization I had was that the devil and his assistants could not understand the concept of love at any level. While they delighted in falsifying this virtue wherever possible, our surest refuge from their darts is to be cloaked in the mantle of charity. A nice concept for this week of love.

4. Writing Biography: Historians and their craft, edited by Lloyd E. Ambrosius. I began my challenge with this book, which is more textbook than anything, and end my reviews with it. I am thoroughly curious about people, love reading biographies and sometimes aspire to be a biographer myself. But regardless of the genre, the following writing tip from Robert J. Richard’s essay, which I amended with parenthesis, applies not only to historians but all nonfiction and fiction writers. He said:

. . . (the writer) has to unknot the skein, so that all the strands can be appreciated. . . (the good writer) will also reweave the threads to touch the emotions of the readers, so that they might feel something of the forces that drove the actors to take one path rather than another.


  1. Minna
    Feb 12, 2008

    I enjoyed your reviews! I’ll have to get in on your next challenge.

  2. sister#2
    Feb 16, 2008

    Hey, thanks for the new ideas of things to read. My latest read is a teaching tool I’m using as I “play school” with Rebecca each day. The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading. Easy lessons to teach the vowel sounds and all the weird rules that we just know, but don’t know how to explain. She’s having fun with it and learning to sound out words.
    I also just reread Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising which is the basis for the new movie, The Seeker, which I haven’t seen yet. Fun, fascinating young adult fantasy.
    So what are some of your favorite biographies?

  3. TJ
    Feb 16, 2008

    Ok, so even though I love reading about people and love reading biographies, I don’t know that I have a favorite one. I once read a biography about four women living in one neighborhood in Pittsburgh but I can’t remember the title or who wrote it. I loved it because they were all real, not famous, and led rich lives. Biographies, hmmm, this is a good idea for the next reading challenge . . .

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