2021 Goals, Resolutions & Blogging Plans (+ a Convicting Sentiment on Prayer)

As we settle into the groove of a new year, many of us contemplate what we’d like to accomplish. Sharing those goals and resolutions is socially acceptable but sorta-kinda borders on narcissistic because let’s face it–no one cares as much as me! 😉 Still, for fun and accountability’s sake, and to perhaps provoke you to think over your own goals, I want to share some of mine.

“Typical” new year resolutions:

  • Drink more water.
  • Start a vitamin regimen.
  • Create a cleaning schedule.
  • Use daily to-do lists more often.
  • Get my living space totally organized.
  • Get rid of clothes and other items I don’t use (no matter how much it makes me feel guilty).

Lily-esque goals:

  • Read scripture and pray daily (more on that below).
  • Read 1-2 Shakespeare plays and more books on historical events.
  • Upload videos to my YouTube channel regularly.
  • Come up with a good name and intro for my channel.
  • Get a camera and a better set-up (depends on finances).

Fortunately, my goals and resolutions for the year can happen despite the status of the pandemic. Like everyone, I’m eager for a return to normalcy, even if our new version of that requires a little more caution and cleanliness. IDK about you, but I’m fine with people washing their hands more, businesses wiping down their bathrooms frequently, etc.

My blogging habits may shift a bit this year. Since I’m directing a lot of creativity and energy towards my YouTube channel, and there’s only 24 hours in a day, I may devote less time to composing lengthy blog posts. I’m not going anywhere; writing is still my #1 passion. But since I’m also writing video scripts, my posts might be less in-depth at times. I will probably have weeks when I want to break down a topic and go deeper, but other weeks, I’ll turn out a shorter post like this one (well, I thought it would be…ha). Some weeks, I might take a “two-birds-one-stone” approach and blog on a subject about which I’m also making a video–not always, but sometimes.

I’ll leave you with a convicting sentiment I came across the other day. I read a post about “not making time an idol” with regard to prayer (though I’m applying it to scripture reading, also). It essentially read that we’re all busy, so incorporate your relationship with God into your life constantly, as He’s never out of reach. There was also a quote from someone who said, “I never pray for a long sitting, but I never go 30 minutes without praying.”

While there’s an argument to be had about making time for God and/or prioritizing devotionals, it is hard to the point of impossibility for most people to carve out a lengthy prayer-and-scripture-reading time in their schedules. And even those who could do so for some days likely can’t do it every day. Though the phrasing of time being an idol struck me as odd, it did make me contemplate whether I’ve become a bit legalistic about my relationship with God–reserving it for an “official” devo time, almost treating it as ceremonial when it should instead be interwoven in the fabric of my being. So, this year, I’m going to try to let that go and pray and read scripture every day, whenever and however I can, for five minutes, 20 minutes, an hour, or whatever length of time is available. [Sidenote: “Can we become legalistic about our relationship with God?” definitely needs to be a future vid!]

Now you know my goals and resolutions for the year; what are yours? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Please watch, like, and subscribe if you want. It’d mean the world to me. ♥ My channel will generally feature Christian topics, but I have some ideas related to disability and books, and I’m wondering if I should make two channels or have one channel that’s a mash-up (like this blog). Let me know if you have input on that!

This post is part of Twinkl’s New Year Campaign, and is featured in 20+ New Year’s Resolutions For Families

Books I Read in 2020

As we embark on a new year starting today, it’s fun to look back on what we accomplished over the last year. In this case, I want to reflect on my reading in 2020 and see how many books I got through and what kind I gravitated to the most.

Here’s the books I read in 2020 (smiley face=good, heart=great):

  1. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott 🙂
  2. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë ♥
  3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline 🙂
  4. The Pale-Faced Lie by David Crow ♥
  5. Middlemarch by George Eliot 🙂
  6. The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel 🙂
  7. The Green Mile by Stephen King ♥
  8. The Shining by Stephen King ♥
  9. Gay Conversations with God by James Alexander Langteaux ♥
  10. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence 🙂
  11. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon ♥
  12. Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy 🙂
  13. What This Cruel War Was Over by Chandra Manning ♥
  14. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo 🙂
  15. Precious by Sapphire 🙂
  16. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck ♥
  17. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas ♥
  18. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (started in 2019, finished in 2020) ♥
  19. America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis ♥
  20. Practicing Resurrection by Janet Wolf 🙂

DNF (Did Not Finish): Sick Girl Speaks! by Tiffany Christiansen (lost interest b/c she mostly talks about navigating doctors and hospital visits–can’t relate at this point in time–may revisit someday), Third World America by Ariana Huffington (informative, but b/c it’s ten years old, info needs updating), 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson (unbearably tedious)

Current Reads (end of 2020, going into 2021): Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Your perspective on the size of my list will vary depending on your own reading habits; those who don’t read often may be impressed, while fellow Bookstagrammers might wince with judgement. Considering the (mostly, though not totally, self-imposed) responsibilities I juggle–editing worship and Sunday School videos weekly, writing/reading blog posts, Bible study and prayer, writing/recording/editing my own videos, reading books, writing SS lessons, making the UMW newsletter, my job with the newspaper, exercising, not to mention time spent with my fiance or relaxing/having fun–I think it’s pretty commendable!

But these Bookstagrammers and real life serial readers don’t play around. It amazes me that some people can read 5-10 books a month. How?! Do y’all even eat or sleep?! Ah, well. I squeeze in my books around the rest of my life.

This year, I read several books on current social issues, like the phenomenon of women objectifying themselves (Female Chauvinist Pigs) and racial justice (America’s Original Sin). What This Cruel War Was Over was my only historical book; it delved into the American Civil War. 2020 was the year I was first exposed to Stephen King through The Green Mile and The Shining, and perhaps needless to say, I’m hooked. I read several classics this year because I’ll always be an English major at heart, but I branched out and read a few modern fiction novels, too.

As far as Bible reading, I got through all the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) and most of the minor ones in the OT. I think 2021 is the year I can start over again at Genesis! Yay! IDK how people read the entire thing in one year; it’s taken me about three years to wade through the OT. Since the NT is so short, I just lap it repeatedly.

I don’t particularly have any 2021 reading goals except to keep knocking out unread books on my shelves. It would be nice to squeeze in a Shakespeare play and read more historical books and Stephen King novels.

Did you read any books in 2020, or down you plan to in 2021? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

The 3 Best Nonfiction Books I Read in 2020 (So Far)

As an English major, I read many classics in college from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Shelley’s Frankenstein. For the first couple years after graduation, I was a book snob who literally only read classics. I’m still a classics lover–just finished Eliot’s Middlemarch–but I got turned on to nonfiction last year when I started participating in the United Methodist Women Reading Program. I just love learning, so I quickly became addicted to gaining new knowledge from nonfiction. Today’s post touches on the three best ones I’ve read this year (though I could read more awesome ones before the year ends!). [The first and third book came from the Reading Program.]

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

In 1979, two years before our protagonist Kamila was born, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan and waged a decade-long war with the Muhajideen. When the Soviet forces dried up, they were forced to admit defeat and withdrew the last of their troops by 1992. At that point, Muhajideen leaders began fighting with each other for control of Kabul. In spite of the constant discord, Kabulis still went to work and school. Kamila, a natural leader, earned a teaching certificate and planned to continue her education to eventually teach Dari or literature. The trajectory of her life changes when the Taliban move in and take over the city. Women were no longer allowed to attend school, hold a job, appear in public without a male companion, show any skin (even exposing the wrist incurred a brutal beating), or talk to a man in public.

For a while, Kamila is resigned to this new, indefinite, oppressive way of life. But her family and others around start struggling to put food on the table since less household members can make an income. Necessity eventually drives Kamila to start a business from her own home and employ women around her in making and selling dresses.

Kamila is amazingly sharp and resilient, and her leadership abilities really blossom through her circumstances. The story is so investing and easy to digest that one could read it in a couple sittings, and the heart-wrenching moments are balanced by triumphant ones. There were also times I was holding my breath, wondering when or if Kamila might get in trouble

Highly recommend this exciting, inspiring read for anyone (who doesn’t love a good “defying the odds” story?).

What This Cruel War Was Over by Chandra Manning

Scholar Chandra Manning sets out to answer a basic question: why did primarily non-slaveholding men fight a war over slavery? Moving chronologically through the four years of the American Civil War, she uses primary sources–Union and Confederate soldiers’ letters, newspaper articles, and other written records–to explain the motivations of both sides and examine how and why they shifted as the war progressed. Manning doesn’t project her views on to the past; the soldiers’ own words speak for themselves. In fact, one-third of the book is just a list of citations and references. Though the book takes longer to read, it’s never dry or boring.

In the beginning, Unionists wanted to defend/preserve America because it was a beacon of hope for the world and proved that democracy leads to a prosperous nation; from this standpoint, the Confederates were traitors for seceding and shattering that noble image. The Confederates saw slavery as preserving a God-given hierarchy of white men-white women-white children-black people, and they also felt the government’s main purpose was to benefit them (as opposed to ordering them around). Thus, the resistance to deem new states joining the Union “slave states” threatened Southern white mens’ authority and the structure of their society while also qualifying as government overreach, making secession vital.

It’s important to remember that, throughout the four years of the war, the reasons to keep going evolved. Many Union soldiers wound up interacting with black people to a degree they hadn’t before, strengthening their resolve against the dehumanizing parts of slavery like family separation, while Confederates nursed a growing fear that black people would vengefully brutalize white people if the South lost. To be fair, even Union soldiers who supported abolition didn’t see black people as equal to themselves. Brutality occurs in the way Confederates treated blacks in general AND the way Union soldiers treated their fellow black soldiers.

Highly recommend this enlightening read for anyone who wants to dive deep into this slice of history.

America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis

This book is a great resource–basically “Racial Justice 101” from a Christian perspective. It delves into systemic racism, white privilege, implicit bias, police brutality, and more. These subjects are very touchy, but Wallis mostly does a good job of coordinating stories, statistics, and biblical lessons to explain/support his points and convict Christian readers. While it felt a bit repetitive at times, that’s understandable with a complex subject. I’m not going to lie; it occasionally felt preachy. But the moments where I felt mentally exhausted came few and far between, thankfully.

I find it commendable that Wallis doesn’t just identify problems but provides solutions, too. Since these topics are so heavy, it’s nice to be given optimism for resolving the issues. Considering that the Christian faith rests on hope in salvation through Jesus, the hope incorporated throughout this book is fitting. For instance, in the chapter on police brutality, he ends with a list of ways that law enforcement officers and the communities they serve can reconcile broken relationships and build trust.

Highly recommend this comprehensive read for those who want to learn more on these topics. I will note that some of my fellow UMW members struggled to swallow it, and to be frank, one should only read this if they are willing to acknowledge that systemic racism exists (or are willing to be uncomfortable/challenged).

Thanks for reading! Do any of these pique your interest? Do you like to read nonfiction? Do you have any recommendations to share? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. I’m behind on comment responses, but thanks to those who leave them. Replies coming soon! 🙂

Classics: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (& Why Its Portrayal of Extreme Poverty Matters)

Of Mice and Men is a wonderful novel and movie many people have read or seen. I was so excited to check out another classic from the same author, and this turned out to be one of the most memorable, stirring, and important books I’ve ever read.

Brief synopsis & formatting details

Migrants from MI driving to CA in a “jalopy”

Published in 1939, this story is set during the Dust Bowl Migration, which occurred in the American Great Depression. Many people from the Midwest-ish region, particularly sharecroppers, traveled to California. Economic hardships drove them towards an illusive dream of beautiful land flowing with fruit and job opportunities. The Joad family is one of many to chase this dream. When food and work become scarce in Oklahoma, they pack their few belongings and hit the road. The novel follows their journey from a third-person perspective, and one of the sons, Tom, is our protagonist.

Structurally, the novel oscillates between the actual story and these fascinating, penetrating diatribes that fall somewhere between prose and poetry. They provide thought-provoking commentary on everything from the bank’s impersonal formality in sentencing people to destitution to the ways poor men withhold generosity from other poor men, clinging to what little assets or authority they have (not realizing that those with real money and power view them all the same). Also, the vernacular imitates an old Midwestern accent, so the grammar is imperfect and colloquial terms crop up often (such as “jalopy,” an old, dilapidated vehicle).

Why this book is important

A mother of seven children

Originally, I intended to write separate sections to illustrate how the book is memorable, stirring, and important. I quickly realized the reasons all overlap. So, here is why this one fits those three adjectives: the portrayal of extreme poverty. The visions created in my mind of shanty towns put together by starving migrants…of families who haven’t showered in weeks…of one man’s account of his children dying of hunger…of workers lined up at an orchard at the crack of dawn, hoping beyond hope for a chance to do hard labor in the hot sun all day for nickels and dimes…I can’t and won’t forget these scenes. Unrelated to my main point, the book is also memorable because it conveys so much iconic imagery–like the whole Joad family loaded into their truck, the bed of it piled high with belongings, several family members perched at the top, driving down dusty, deserted roads under a blazing summer sun (sorta like in the earlier photo).

Those visions are so memorable because they are stirring. Reading these things makes me almost ashamed that I ever complain about anything, considering the luxuries and conveniences I have contrasted with those who are just trying to put food in their bellies. The rabbit trails throughout the story, where the narrator muses on deep topics, are also stirring in their profoundness.

A TX migrant family living in a trailer on a cotton field*

What makes this novel memorable and stirring is also what makes it important. As I read about these kind of material conditions, I couldn’t help but make connections to the current day. Having neither a roof over one’s head nor hygiene access are horrible circumstances to face, especially in a pandemic. Migrants and homeless people around the world live in these situations, and that should break all of our hearts. Recently, I saw a political commentator who was actually joking about port-a-potties being added to a homeless shanty town in San Francisco. Joking…about human beings living like this in one of the world’s wealthiest nations… We need to open our eyes.

Literature (and art in general) is amazing for a multitude of reasons, of course, but one of its greatest capabilities is to increase our awareness and understanding of different issues. Books take us into another world, but they sometimes bring us into a world that already exists, though we might’ve never thought about it or cared in the past. The Grapes of Wrath really exposed me to how tragic extreme poverty is. A book that can enlighten us and broaden our perspective is important, indeed.

*In the above photo, note how dirty the children are. Then, ponder the fact that migrants who lived in a trailer, a boxcar, or an actual structure were the lucky ones. Many lived (and many still live) in even worse conditions.

Fun facts

John Steinbeck

The novel won the National Book Award and the Pultizer Prize for Fiction.

John Steinbeck won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, in large part due to this novel.

At the time, some criticized Steinbeck for having political motives and deemed the novel communist propaganda. (I guess the Joads should’ve just picked themselves up by the bootstraps)

The title comes from a line in the hymn “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” —

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Thanks for reading! Have you read any Steinbeck? Do you agree with my point on the power of literature and art? Let me know in the comments.

Which Is Better? “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” vs. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

Mark Twain authored these two books, which are absolute gems among American classics. Readers of all ages can digest and appreciate them. The question is, which one is better (and why)?

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)

Though he’s a good kid deep down, Tom Sawyer is quite mischievous. He likes to go on adventures with friends, and he always plays the ringleader, egging on the activities. Throughout the novel, he winds up involved in several pranks–some of which he drags out far too long (his poor Aunt!). His naughty ways eventually land him in a borderline life-or-death scenario. By the end, he realizes the error in some of his ways, though the readers leave him as basically the same playful scamp. Huckleberry Finn appears throughout the story as the quintessential “bada$$ kid” because he’s allowed to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants (no parental supervision). However, Huck isn’t too cool to run with Tom, so he accompanies Tom on a few adventures.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

Huckleberry Finn is a simple, kind-hearted boy. He winds up in the situation of needing to flee his home and meets an escaped slave named Jim. The two of them travel the Mississippi River together. In a somewhat similar fashion to its predecessor, Huckleberry Finn moves along by illustrating the crazy, comical, and/or dangerous situations Huck and Jim stumble upon along the way. By the end, Huck is still Huck (for instance, still hates taking baths and dressing nicely), but he grows up in other ways, such as learning to care deeply for a black man. Tom Sawyer appears towards the end of this story and, as in the first book, serves the role of “mischievous ringleader.”

Comparing & Contrasting

I appreciate The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the superior novel. [As my edition phrases it, TAHF was Twain’s “masterpiece.”] Though TATS is amusing, it’s a straightforward story, so I don’t think there’d be much reason to return to it. Actually, it reads like a children’s chapter book; it didn’t provide me much (if any) material worth pondering. With the dynamics of Jim and Huck’s relationship + social/political commentary, TAHF is far more thought-provoking, which justifies future re-reads. [See quote at bottom of post.] Another subtle but noteworthy factor here: TATS is narrated from a third-person perspective, but Huck himself tells the tale in TAHF. Experiencing Huck’s thoughts, feelings, and inner conflicts made the novel even more intriguing for me.

It boils down to this: TAHF is a meatier story with more to chew on than TATS. I want to mention two minor points, though. Firstly, while TATS provoked some chuckles here and there, TAHF had me GUFFAWING–I kid you not. Secondly, Tom Sawyer was exasperating in TAHF. Had I only met Tom Sawyer through TAHF, I would hate him! He was a little punk already, but jeez…his errant decision-making in TAHF almost made me throw the book out a window in pure frustration.

Trivia Facts

Mark Twain
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is based on Twain’s actual hometown of Hannibal, MI (near St. Louis). Some of the places mentioned in the book are real, and the town is now a tourist attraction. [This just got added to my bucket list.]
  • The real Tom Sawyer was a San Francisco fireman Twain met and befriended; he was locally famous for rescuing 90 passengers from a shipwreck.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the first piece of major American literature written in vernacular English. [If you are unfamiliar with deep southern US accents, you will struggle to comprehend this novel.]
  • Twain originally intended TAHF as a coming-of-age story about Huck, but after years of working on it, abandoning it for a while, and finally returning to it, he took the story in a different direction…and here we are now!

I’m ashamed that I didn’t know this already, but I recently learned there are several sequels to these two books. I’m curious to read them (and see if Tom Sawyer goes back to being tolerable or remains unbearable). 😉

Thanks for reading! Have you read either of these books? Let me know in the comments.

It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting ON to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that n*****’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie–I found that out.

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter–and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway n***** Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.

HUCK FINN.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking–thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell”–and tore it up.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Why We Should Be More Conscientious When We Shop

This is the cycle of hyperconsumerism: shop excessively, stockpile clutter, repeat. America is built on this wasteful but effective concept, which causes us to ravage people and the environment yet keeps our economy afloat. How do (and how should) we think about this issue?

For most of my life, I didn’t think twice about my typically-American lifestyle choices. Some of those include:

  • Leaving a store with several items I didn’t intend to buy initially
  • Buying new things often
  • Having piles of clutter throughout my living space

I never questioned these actions because frequent, frivolous shopping is so normalized in our culture. Entire stores exist with the seeming purpose of encouraging us to buy things we don’t need (shooting you a side-eye, Target). Almost every household in a first-world country contains some amount of excess.

Towards the end of 2019, I stumbled across two books which changed my perspective and ripped the blinders from my eyes. Shopping by Michelle Gonzalez is about 100 pages and provides illuminating information on American consumption levels. Gonzalez, a Catholic, spends a portion of the book delving into the spiritual implications of this issue. I also read We Are All Fast Food Workers Now by Annelise Orleck, which pries the shiny veneer off our first-world lives of luxury to reveal a dark underbelly. Our materialistic lifestyles are held up by foreign and domestic workers who are impoverished, mistreated, and miserable.

Now, my lifestyle looks drastically different. I don’t buy things without a lot of critical thought on whether I will REALLY use/need/love it and where I will store it in my home. I almost never leave a store with more than I went to buy. And I consider the conditions around which things are made–what resources did it require? Was it made in a sustainable way? Are the workers who made it getting fair wages?

During the Coronavirus quarantine, I’ve been decluttering, organizing, and cleaning (among other things). I’ve read of and spoken with others who are doing the same. For those going through that process, we are being reminded how much junk we own. And for all of us, whether we are or aren’t in the midst of spring cleaning, we are being deprived of many “impulse shopping” outlets. No T.J. Maxx, no Hobby Lobby, no Forever 21, no Marshall’s, no Zara’s (in-person stores, at least). I feel slightly diabolical for saying this, but I’m GLAD people can’t access as many stores right now. Temporarily, we’ll have to be less mindlessly compulsive than usual.

I don’t want to cram “everything under the kitchen sink” in this post, so I’ve got some ideas for future posts:

  • Shocking Statistics on American Consumption
  • Ways to Shop Sustainably
  • Ways to Save Money & the Environment
  • Reviewing Sustainable Purchases I’ve Made
  • Etc.

So, now, there will be a new category on Retrospective Lily–“Sustainability.” 🙂 [Updated website graphics coming soon!]

I’ll wrap up this post by saying that hyperconsumption is not good for our wallets, our already-overflowing living spaces, or the planet (not to mention, our mentality/spirituality). However, the American economy depends on our materialism: millions upon millions of people work in a retail industry…hence my feeling “diabolical” for my earlier comments. Speaking of monkey wrenches, we must also consider how those in poverty can participate in sustainable practices; as with the fast food vs. fresh veggies predicament, it’s generally cheaper to live UNsustainably. I plan to explore the nuances of this topic in future posts.

Exploiting the environment, people, and even our own spirits is not sustainable long-term. We need to change. We can, and I believe we will, do better in the future. Surely, we can find ways to sustain our economy without destroying God’s creation.

Thanks for reading! How are your shopping habits? Do you have excess in your home? Let me know in the comments.

Another blogger pointed out recently that our seemingly-unanswered prayers could actually come to fruition after we’ve passed on from this life. That is an encouraging thought for me. I pray that, throughout my lifetime and even after I’ve passed on, ideas of waste reduction and caring for the environment will continue to grow in popularity to a point where they are eventually normalized. I hope Americans will look back on us in a few generations and scoff at how we did things.

Why “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins Is my New Favorite Victorian Novel

Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Edith Wharton (who sorta-kinda counts)…these are a few of my favorite Victorian authors. But The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins now ranks as #1 on my list of the best Victorian novels.

A bit about the book (no spoilers)

the woman in white by wilkie collins

This is a mystery novel. In the beginning, Walter Hartwright tells us he will be the first of several narrators to recount the story. From there, we follow Hartwright, who acquires a job as a drawing teacher and introduces us to the two most important characters–an all-around lovely young lady named Laura Fairlie and her unattractive but sharp half-sister, Marian Halcombe. Miss Fairlie ends up in…let’s just say, an unhappy predicament. Miss Halcombe, with unfailing love for her sister, schemes against and out-wits her/their foes in order to save her.

As Mr. Hartwright journeys to Limmeridge House the first time, he has a strange encounter with an elusive, unnamed “woman in white.” Though the plot doesn’t directly revolve around her, the enigma of her character and backstory is a recurring theme that eventually becomes vital to the story.

Why it’s my new favorite Victorian novel

Flat-out well-written (in a literal sense)

The writing style, for a book published in 1859, is surprisingly easy to digest. I didn’t get hung up on never-ending sentences (*cough, cough* Jane Austen) or lots of unfamiliar words/phrases; the text flowed smoothly. More than that, the writing was actually comical. I laughed out loud countless times.

For instance, when Mr. Hartwright first meets Miss Halcombe, she stands on the opposite side of the room, gazing out a window. He admires the grace of her form as he approaches her; having been around the romance-in-literature block a few times, I was expecting her to turn around at last and beam with radiant beauty. Instead, he observes with slightly horrified surprise as she turns to him, “The lady is ugly!” The subversion of expectations makes the statement hilarious in context.

[This has more to do with characterization than writing, but I must also point this out–Mr. Fairlie (Laura’s uncle/caretaker) calls himself “nervous,” but that’s really an excuse for him to act tedious, demanding, and even silly. Every time he appeared in the story, I was cracking up at his ridiculousness. {The subtle but stinging wit contained in others’ descriptions of him, more relative to the literal writing in the book, was exquisite and often got chuckles out of me.} A couple quotes from him: “It is the grand misfortune of my life that nobody will let me alone.” & “I am a bundle of nerves dressed up to look like a man!”]

Narrative shifts: a unique literary device that really works in this case

I’ve read a few books that use off-the-wall literary devices. Sometimes they work, but I usually hate them because they are confusing and too avant-garde (anyone ever read The Sound and the Fury?). But the use of different narrators actually gave more facets to this story without throwing me for a loop.

Telling the story this way forced Collins to fully develop the characters so their outside behavior from others’ perspectives correlated with their inward motivations, revealed during their narration. Intimately glimpsing thoughts and feelings from a character during their narration makes it more intriguing to see only their actions when another character narrates. Also, as different characters shed light on the details they recall from various events and exchanges, aspects of the mystery are revealed. [During a character’s narration, they might nonchalantly mention details of an earlier incident that were previously-unknown to us.]

Great overall plot and characters

The story itself was fantastic. I had a hard time putting the book down, and there were plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep the plot fresh. The characters were dynamic and captivating. The heroine is an eyesore, and one of the the antagonists is a a morbidly obese man who equally loves tarts and his pet mice… Doesn’t that by itself just sound intriguing?!

By the end, I felt satisfied with how each loose end was tied up. I also felt sad to leave these characters. The good ones were easy to love, and even the bad ones were fun to disdain.

A downside (just to be fair)

This novel was considered “sensationalist” at publication. Though our standards for “shocking” have greatly lowered since then, it is still worth noting that this book is meant as pure entertainment. As such, I may find it less returnable. (Reminds me of a college professor who attempted a re-read of Hunger Games and discovered the book is 100% disappointing if you already know what’s coming).

Based on that, some would argue it doesn’t deserve the #1 spot as much as something like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, which would likely still resonate with me on the umpteenth re-read. I suspect I’ll enjoy this novel on a re-read…but I don’t know for sure, so we’ll see if my feelings change in the future. 😉

A few fun facts

Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White is considered one of the first mystery novels, and some deem it a primer to a genre which came later–detective novels.

The use of multiple narrators draws from Collins’ legal training (similar to hearing from multiple witnesses in court).

As with many Victorian novels, the story first appeared in serial format. Funny enough, Charles Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round (UK) was one of the two that featured it. The other was Harper’s Weekly (US).

Wilkie Collins was 34-years-old when he wrote The Woman in White.


So, for now, The Woman in White will be my favorite Victorian novel. I wonder if or when another will supplant it? I did just read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Ann Brontë, and though it doesn’t beat this novel, it was sooo good. (Review impending)

Thanks for reading! Has my review of this book piqued your interest? Do you like to read mysteries? Let me know in the comments.

Modern Classics: The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Plot Teaser + my Thoughts)

Hi, friends. Today’s novel, which has been deemed “a modern classic,” is a mysterious slow-burner that keeps readers turning the page.

Plot Teaser (No Spoilers)

This is one of those “flip-flopped” stories that provides a glimpse of a future scene in the beginning then spends much of the book building up to that point. In the “flash-forward,” we learn that the narrator and some accomplices push a boy named Bunny off a cliff, and police don’t find his body for ten days; the narrator refers to the crime as “Henry’s plan.” The narrator muses that he has never really left the scene of the murder in his mind and ends the prologue by saying, “This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

As the book kicks into motion, we meet our narrator, a laidback college-aged guy named Richard. When he moves far from home to attend a small liberal-arts college, he tries to sign up for Greek as his foreign language. He learns that the campus Greek professor has strange, stringent expectations of his students; those who wish to take Greek can only take classes with this professor. Richard doesn’t know anyone there and tends to go with the flow, so he obeys the whim and takes all his courses with this professor, causing him to get entangled in the elite group of Greek students. Henry is the tall, dark, scholarly ringleader; Francis is exotic and elegant; Charles and Camilla are charming, mysterious twins; Bunny is loud, a bit oblivious, and relentlessly cheerful. The group does everything together, and Richard, instantly intrigued by them, is soon roped into their eccentric clique.

Richard spends a lot of time with them, yet he suspects they are keeping things from him. As he grapples with this feeling, little does he know that he is starting on the path that will lead to the flash-forward–uncovering secrets and, eventually, protecting those secrets at all costs. Dun, dun, duuuunnnn…

My Thoughts

Donna Tartt

I really enjoyed this one. I imagine achieving a balance between “slow burner” and “page turner” is tough, but Tartt accomplished just that.

My only critique? The murder scene felt like a let-down. I don’t generally crave gruesomeness from a book, but since I waited for that scene for hundreds of pages, the lack of graphic details seemed anti-climactic. However…

What’s cool about this novel, which makes up for the lacking murder scene, is that the crime is not the climax of the novel. In fact, one might argue the murder is anti-climactic because it’s not the story’s true “aha moment.” Since the crime is initially revealed as the point we are working towards, and because murder is a big deal to say the least, I assumed that scene would be the climax of the novel. But the story extends far beyond the crime, and the real climax towards the end is exhilarating and fulfilling.

A fun fact before you go…

I include an “Additional Details” section with the older classics because they tend to have some interesting trivia around them and/or have a cultural impact. This book hasn’t had as much time to influence art or have a lasting impact yet, but I did find this–

Most author-debut novels get 10,000 prints, but 75,000 prints were initially ordered for this one. It has since sold over five million copies and been translated into 24 languages.

Also…

Donna Tartt was born Dec. 23, 1963 and raised in Greenwood, MS. The Secret History was published in 1992.

Thanks for reading! Have you read this one? Do you like mysteries and other eerie genres? Let me know in the comments.

Books I Read in 2019 (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Christian & the Bible + Best of 2019 in Each Category)

Hi, friends. As 2019 winds to a close, let’s look back on my reading this year!

My habits fluctuated throughout the year. I didn’t spend enough time reading for the first few months…in my opinion, anyway (about 30 minutes a day, frequently skipping days). I grew weary because finishing books seemed to take forever, which made me even less motivated to read. Then, a few months ago, I reshuffled some priorities and moved “reading time” up the list, so my goal is to squeeze in at least 1-2 hours on the days I read.

Fiction books I read in 2019:

  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • The Age of Iron by J.M. Coetzee
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Quicksand by Nella Larson
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (currently reading)

Three not-so-honorable mentions of novels I invested time in but couldn’t see through to the end: Howard’s End by E.M. Forster, Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, and The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. [Apparently, trying-to-be-profound-but-actually-being-confusing-and-boring books aren’t my thing. 😉 ]

Non-fiction books I read in 2019

A few months ago, I started participating in the reading program through the mission organization United Methodist Women and quickly discovered a previously-unknown passion for books that address social issues. I posted a haul of recently-purchased non-fiction books on my Instagram, so I’m excited to dig into those this year.

  • Shifting into High Gear by Kyle Bryant
  • Shopping by Michelle Gonzalez
  • We’re All Fast Food Workers Now: The Global Uprising Against Poverty Wages by Annelise Orleck
  • Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth (currently reading)
  • Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute

Christian books I read in 2019

  • Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve by James A. Harnish
  • The Apostle’s Creed for Preaching, Teaching & Worship by Rev. James Howell
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (re-read)
  • The Reason by Lacey Sturm
  • Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright (currently reading)

Books of the Bible I read in 2019

Around summer 2018, I embarked on a quest to read the whole Old Testament; by the end of the year, I read Genesis through the middle of Joshua (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua). Here is what I chipped away in 2019–

  • The rest of Joshua
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • I & II Samuel
  • I & II Kings
  • I & II Chronicles (skimmed the last half of II Chronicles bc it closely mirrored II Kings, which was tedious enough the first time around)
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Esther
  • Job (skimmed bc it’s extremely repetitive)
  • Some Psalms
  • Some Proverbs
  • Some Ecclesiastes (have read in the past)
  • Daniel
  • Ezekiel (currently reading)
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • All of the NT, multiple times (it’s waaayy shorter than the OT; just finished John, going to Acts next)

Wish me God’s blessing as I dive into the prophets, ugh….I mean, yay! 😉

Best of 2019 awards

Fiction: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is laugh-out-loud witty and packed with dynamic characters, exciting twists and turns, etc. I didn’t want to put it down. Possibly the best Victorian novel I’ve ever read…which is saying A LOT coming from the queen of classic lit.

Non-fiction: We’re All Fast Food Workers Now by Annelise Orleck provides a great blend of research and statistics with interviews and stories from the people who work in huge corporations, fast fashion factories, and farming. This book taught me a lot, broke my heart, and galvanized me.

Christian: The Apostle’s Creed by Rev. James Howell helped me comprehend and appreciate each line of the Apostle’s Creed; a rote recitation has become the condensed, A-Z story of my beliefs.

Books of the Bible: This feels like a weird choice to make, haha. As tough as it was to keep trucking some days, reading I & II Samuel followed by I & II Kings helped me understand the trajectory of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel–how they went from the glory of King David to the Babylonian Exile.

Thanks for dropping by! What did you read this year? Have you read any of these books? Will you join me in making reading a higher priority in 2020? Let me know in the comments, and Happy New Year!

P.S. Peep the ring on my finger in the featured image. ♥

Modern Classics: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (Glimpse at Mental Illness + my Reaction)

Hi, friends. In today’s post, I’ll discuss one of the most renowned classics dealing with mental illness. I’ll give a general overview of the storyline then digress about my reaction to the book and its depiction of mental illness.

The Bell Jar tells the story of a young woman named Esther Greenwood who loses grip of her sanity throughout the story. The novel begins with her working as a summer intern for a magazine and follows her college experiences from there. The actual plot feels random, but the languishing musings in her head are more intriguing; I suppose the whole point is that her behavior is mundane/ordinary while her mental state isn’t. Her outlook on life grows more cynical and jaded with time, which leads to half-hearted suicide attempts and more…[I won’t spoil the story for you.]

Themes addressed in this novel aside from mental illness include feminism and women’s roles in the mid-twentieth century. Esther’s life revolves around academic excellence for a long time, so after she graduates, she feels lost; though she wants to write a novel, she fears her lack of life experience will be an obstacle. Left with the options of becoming a wife, mother, and homemaker or pursuing a “woman’s career” (like shorthand), she meets a serious impasse in her life that helps push her over the edge, figuratively speaking.

My Perception of her Dilemmas

I relate to some of her personal dilemmas because she is an English major, which was also my university major. However, the difference between a person with depression or anxiety (Esther) and a person without it (me) became clear as much of her anguish struck me as melodramatic.

For instance, she once drew an analogy between a tree full of fruit and choosing a life path; she felt existential dread about having to choose just one, not knowing if one of the others would’ve tasted better. While it’s true that we can’t choose every life path simultaneously, her analogy is inherently flawed because we still determine our lives after choosing a life path…or, in the analogy’s terms, our own choices greatly affect how our chosen fruit tastes. Even if we stuck with her analogy, I can throw out my fruit and try another one if I so desire. Granted, I can’t go back in time, but I could still change how “my story” ends…

Being mentally sound, I approach the dilemma rationally, but to Esther, these kind of thoughts are debilitating. I wonder if this is how clinical anxiety works–feeling an unnecessary dread about every little thing but being unable to banish the tormenting thoughts. While I don’t identify with the protagonist for the most part, it was a unique, interesting experience to be transported to the head space of a mentally ill person.

This is a novel I’ll likely read again sometime to pick up on all the little subtleties.

Additional Facts

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

“But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn’t do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get.”

Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is considered a Roman à clef, a novel about real life overlaid with a facade of fiction. In other words, Esther is a thinly-veiled version of Plath herself. This is the only book she ever wrote, and she committed suicide soon after its 1963 publication in the UK. She was just 30 years old. The novel was released in the US in 1971 and has been translated into twelve languages.

Thanks for reading! Have you read or heard of this novel? If you experience(d) mental illness, how does the middle section of this post compared to your own experiences? Let me know in the comments.