Saturday, August 18, 2012

Classic #10 of 70 -- Pilgrim's Progress

The Bible is the most-read book in the world. It is the the one book that has sold more copies than any other book. It is the one book that has been cherished for centuries by people all over the world. And John Bunyan's book The Pilgrim's Progress, published in February 1678, comes in second. Within the first ten years of its publication, it was translated into at least ten different languages and had been revised/edited numerous times. It was the most loved book next to the Bible for decades. And for some, it still is. But for me, not so much.

The Pilgrim's Progress is categorized as speculative fiction. But it is most easily categorized as an allegory. It was written in old English and translated into over 200 languages and has never been out of print. So what is it that makes this such a loved, popular piece of literature? Is it the poetic writing style? Is it the allegory genre? Is it the strong connections to and use of Scripture? Is it the storyline? Is it the characters? What is it? I'm just not sure.

John Bunyan writes his story as though he was in a dream. He tells the story of Christian and later of Christiana (Christian's wife). There are two journeys making up two parts/editions of the book telling the story of these two characters as they journey to the Celestial City (heaven). The journeys include hardships that are pictures of the Christian life. Hardships such as people to discourage you (Obstinate and Giant Despair), places to distract you (Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair), evils to scare you (lions and giants) and even beatings, imprisonments and deaths to stop you from following the Way. But there are also good blessings that find their way into the journey. Blessings such as scrolls and messages to remind you of the Good King, faithful people to walk the journey with you (Faithful and Hopeful), places of rest and encouragement so you can keep going (Palace Beautiful). The whole story was focused on this journey. The journey from a life of evil, sin, darkness and destruction to a life of joy, freedom, light and life.

While I (like many readers before me) loved the idea behind the story, the idea and images of what it means to live a Christian life, it was so hard to read at times. The old English. The allegory genre. The poetry added at different points. The constant movement. It was hard to keep track of the story. Especially because the copy I was reading wasn't broken up into chapters or small sections. It was just the first part (Christian's journey) and the second part (Christiana's journey). Because of that I felt like I had to just sit and read it without taking a break. There were no clear breaks or good places to stop to take a break without losing track of some of the details. I read it in a little less than a week (5 days I think) and I was glad when I finished it. Not just because I could say that I had read Bunyan's most popular work, but also because I had actually finished it.

I am proud to say that it was Classic #10 of 70 from my Classics Club list. And while it wasn't my favorite, it was definitely worth it. Especially since it gave me a glimpse into why it has been so loved and cherished the last 300+ years. I am now moving onto some Jane Austen books and am looking forward to that since she is definitely on my list of top 5 favorite authors.

So for now... I am out of here and going back to my books.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far"

The name Palin is one that used to (and still does) stir up a lot of people. People either hate or love the Palin family. Now, I am not writing this in order to discuss politics or to start arguments with anyone. I like the Palin family. I like and approve of what Sarah Palin stands for, values and believes as a woman, a mom, a wife, a politician and a Christian. I think that if she and McCain had won the 2008 Presidential campaign things would be very different than they are now. But that's just my personal opinion and not the main point of me writing for the second time today. Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol is the reason for me writing again.

Bristol wrote a book called Not Afraid of Life: My Journey so Far. I started it at about 12:30 this afternoon and finished it about an hour ago. It was a fairly easy read. But it was a very good read. I was so impressed with her simple, down to earth, real style of writing. It was almost as if I was sitting across from her in a coffee shop talking with her. That's how real it was in my mind. And I was also really impressed by honest she was. She didn't try to make things look good in her favor. She didn't try to spin her story in such a way that everyone would just love her at the end of it. She wrote to tell her story. To help people understand her in some small way. To help young women realize that people make mistakes, but life can go on. To write about how even though her son is the best thing in her life, the choices that she made with his father shouldn't have happened and that she knows that being a young, unwed, mother is not how GOD intended anyone's life to be.

Bristol's story walked through her life as a native Alaskan, daughter of a politician, student, athlete, sister and young woman of faith. She walked through events that shaped her life and shared how she knows she messed up, but yet has made things turn around. She shared funny stories, hard stories, real stories. It was a great picture into how life is normal for them. Even though they got thrown into the spot light with the Presidential campaign. She showed how her family is a tight-knit family that has proven that they can (and will) overcome any obstacle that comes their way. And she showed that they are a family of strong faith.

I honestly could go on and on about this book. I can't say enough how impressed I was with how she wrote. The fact that she is just a couple of years younger than I am and has faced far more in life than I ever will, yet still has come out strong and close to GOD is so incredibly amazing. The fact that she could write so simply, so clearly, so honestly about the hardships and triumphs that have made up her life was refreshing.

Again, I don't want to debate about politics or hear arguments for or against the Palin family. I just want to share about an awesome book that I enjoyed today and will probably read more than once. Just saying. :)

Why do I love the Classics?

People have debated for years what exactly defines or qualifies literature as a classic. For me, I can honestly say that I don't have a specific definition for it, but in my mind I always think about authors such as Dickens, Austen, Bunyan, Alcott, Dumas, Carrol, Emerson and Twain. I also think of Homer, Shakespeare and Stevenson. I think of books that have been around and loved by many for centuries. I think of books that have been sitting in a dusty old bookstore that only get pulled off the shelf to be dusted or by committed and avid book lovers. I think of books that have stood the test of time and remain favorites for so many around the world.

I love those books. I have a special edition set of many of the loved classics sitting on my bookshelf from my great-grandpa. I love spending my time at bookstores looking at the various editions of some of my favorites. I love when I get to escape into the worlds of some of the most loved characters and settings. I love the Classics.

For me the Classics represent something that is good. Something that is different. Something that is timeless. Something that is real (even though it's fictional). The Classics are beacons of light to a world that is so often not fun to be in. I love to read the Classics because the characters, stories, lessons, and lives I read about are ones that I can often identify with or learn from. They are often ones that prove to be comforting when things just aren't easy in real life. They are often ones that remind me to enjoy the little things in life and to make the most of everything that comes my way. For me the Classics are a piece of history, life, faith and experience that anyone can connect to and be changed by.

I am participating in the Classics Club where I have chosen to read 70 Classics in 5 years. I have already read 9 off my list since starting in April. And a lot of the books on my list are from authors I am  familiar with. Now, I am not one to read a lot of new literature or authors I am not familiar with. I am careful about what I choose to read because I do hold literature up to some pretty high standards. I compare almost all literature to those beloved Classics (really the only literature I don't hold up to those standards include history, biography and Christian/missions). I am not one to read the latest New York Times bestsellers. I am not one to read some of the exciting new series that everyone raves about as soon as they come out. I can honestly say that the only new series I have read was Twilight and Harry Potter and both of those series were read quite a long time after they came out and took the world by storm... no Hunger Games for me at this point. Now, I am not saying that one day the Hunger Games or Harry Potter or Twilight won't be counted among the Classics. Who knows... in 100+ years maybe they will. But right now they are no where near the Classics in my book. And that's okay.

I love to read the Classics. I value the Classics and I hold literature up to high standards because of authors like Austen, Alcott, Montgomery, Dickens, Emerson and Whitman. I have no set definition of what Classic literature is. I just have my own personal opinion, my own personal thoughts. Just like a lot of other readers. But I certainly do love the Classics. And I always will.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Classics Club: My Favorite Classic (August Meme)

At the age of 8, maybe 9, I was given a copy of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I honestly don't remember much about getting it or even who gave it to me. I think it probably was either a birthday or Christmas present since books are usually what I was/am given. But I remember being so excited to have it, yet being amazed by how big it was and unsure if I would be able to actually finish it. But I did finish it and I have finished it countless times since then.

Little Women is by far my favorite classic. It's one of the first ones I read and it's one that I have cherished for at least 15 years (with many more to come).

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Marmee and Laurie were characters that became so incredibly real to me. The images of family, love, individuality, faith, hard-work and triumph were ones that mirrored (and still mirror) my family. I am from a home-schooled preacher's family with 4 sisters and 1 brother. I have parents who let us be ourselves in whatever way we wanted. My sisters are photographers, fashionistas, runners and comedians (okay just with our family, not professionally). My brother is an athlete, a boy Scout and a gentleman. My parents are active in our lives. They are present for every event. They are committed to investing in each of us. Our family life is something I would never trade in a million years. And while at times like the March sisters we wished that some things would be different, I would never want to trade my family and I would never want to change anything in our past.

Little Women taught me a lot about family and work and love and life. It is still a book that teaches me. With each time I read it there is something else new that I notice or take to heart. It's a timeless book with timeless lessons. And it's my favorite. Plain and simple.