An Old-Fashioned Girl

by Louisa May Alcott

published 1897

So, here’s yet another winner!  The other day I talked about two of my favorite Alcott books, Eight Cousins and its sequel, Rose in Bloom.  An Old-Fashioned Girl is another of those dear, dear favorites, a book that I’ve returned to time and again, and come away with some new lesson – or an old one remembered – to strengthen and challenge me.

In this story, Polly, a quiet country girl, comes for an extended visit with her city friend, Fanny.  Fanny’s family, the Shaws, are well-off  and comfortably placed in society, while Polly comes from a large, poor family – the daughter of a country pastor who has frequently received clothes from charity, and has learned the importance of work and determination.  Polly struggles a bit to find her place in the Shaw’s home, so different from her own, but by being true to herself, Polly becomes an beloved friend and a quiet example of selflessness and kindness.

The second half of the book jumps forward several years to young adulthood.  Polly returns to town (although she has obviously been back for visits in the meantime) to live and earn her way as a music teacher while her younger brother attends college near by.  The challenges of adulthood are different, and Polly does not always succeed in resisting her small temptations, but she grows and learns, as do her dear friends the Shaws.

While many may scoff at the idea of Polly having anything to teach to the modern girl, I believe that the truths she discovered then are just as relevant over a hundred years later.  Who can argue with the validity of “When you feel out of sorts, try to make someone else happy, and you will soon be so yourself”?

Alcott deals well with deep subjects, keeping them light enough to be refreshing reading, but with a strong challenge underneath.  Her preface for this book is telling:

The “Old-Fashioned Girl” is not intended as a perfect model, but as a possible improvement upon the Girl of the Period, who seems sorrowfully ignorant or ashamed of the good old fashions which make woman truly beautiful and honored, and, through her, render home what it should be – a happy place, where parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to love and know and help one another.

Lessons of true femininity run strongly throughout this wonderful story, and it is a story I strongly recommend.

ReRead: “Black Sheep”

BlackSheep

by Georgette Heyer

published 1967

I originally read this delightful Heyer tale back in August 2012, and it was definitely worth the reread.  The dialogue is fantastic, the characters delightful, and ending perfect.  The interaction between Abby and Miles is really just wonderful from beginning to end, making this book the perfect relaxing love story, one that I highly recommend.

Do Butlers Burgle Banks?

DoButlersBurgleBanks

by P.G. Wodehouse

published 1968

Okay, so how can you resist an author whose little biography on the back of the book reads:

P.G. Wodehouse is 87 years old and has written a million books, or else he is a million years old and has written 87 books.

Anyhow, the figures are incredible.

That’s it, by the way – the whole biography section.  Brilliant.

Anyway, Wodehouse is still the best cure-all for when you’re feeling sad or wondering if life really is worth living.  It is worth living – at least as long as you can keep reading Wodehouse.

In this absolutely delightful story, there are all the usual twists and turns.  One of my favorite things about Wodehouse is the way that he throws in a game-changer as the last sentence in a chapter – just when you think things are going one way, they veer off onto another track.

And, of course, there is the descriptive language that only Wodehouse can produce –

Horace burned with remorse and shame.  Contrition flowed over him like a tidal wave.  Only a moment ago he in his haste had dismissed this man’s intelligence as inferior to that a retarded rabbit, and he now saw how mistaken h e had been.  In the matter of brain and when it came to solving problems, no retarded rabbit could hope to compete with him.  Even one with an exceptionally high IQ would have to acknowledge that it had met its match.

Wodehouse makes me laugh out loud every time I read one of his books, and if you haven’t tried one of his works, you should do so without delay.

Colliding with Destiny

9780764212116

by Sarah Jakes

published 2014

This book was provided to me free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I apologize to the publisher for taking so long to review this book.  Personal life has been a bit crazy.

I’ve always loved the story of Ruth.  It’s the story of a patient, self-sacrificing, kind woman who, while working to take care of someone else, finds love and security from a man who admires her for her faithfulness and determination.  So I was intrigued to read this devotional about that woman’s life.

The format of this book was excellent.  Thirty short chapters make it an easy one-month devotional.  There were just a few journal questions at the end of each chapter.  While I didn’t actually journal my way through this  book, they were still good to read and take pause, a moment to help digest the chapter and apply it my life.

While I liked Jakes’s writing, there were times that I felt she was extrapolating quite a bit to make a point.  In my mind, this book could have used a larger dose of Ruth, as most of the chapters opened with a couple of verses from Ruth, and then a story just from random life.  The Jakes would spend a few paragraphs connecting that story to the couple of verses from Ruth, and that was where sometimes things got a little shaky.

For instance, this passage –

Ruth learned quickly that her arrival into a strange land acquired the attention of many.  As a new convert, she may have faced some speculation on the validity of her faith.  Perhaps they even questioned her motives.  Why would a young woman stay with this aging, grief-stricken woman?  What would  motivate her to wander out into the fields, looking for leftover grain in someone else’s fields?  Surely she must be up to something.  What was her game?

The rumors spread so rapidly that everyone knew her story before getting to know her.  The conversations about her, whether idle chatter or  malicious gossip, made her journey more difficult.  It’s one thing to struggle; it’s another to struggle on stage.  When private battles become public performances, it’s hard to remain true to yourself.

And just…  that’s not in the book of Ruth?  There’s nothing about her struggling with gossip, malicious or otherwise.  Boaz does know her story when he speaks with her, true, but Boaz is also one of Naomi’s closest relatives, so it’s natural that he should know about Ruth.

The overall point that Jakes was making in the chapter – the importance of being true to ourselves even when we are wrestling with difficult circumstances what people are saying about those circumstances – was solid.  But her tie-in to Ruth was weak, tweaking the story to fit what Jakes wanted to say, instead of saying what the story was teaching.

This was a consistent pattern throughout the book.  While I (mostly) didn’t disagree with what Jakes had to say overall, she repeatedly stretched and extrapolated from Ruth to make her point.  I personally feel that she would have been better to either write a devotional about Ruth, or write a devotional about the things she wanted to say; they really didn’t seem to be the same.  Sometimes, like above, it was just deliberate padding the story to make the point.  In other areas, there seemed to be a lack of understanding of culture and traditions in the time of Ruth.  One chapter is based on the “fact” that Ruth wasn’t allowed to glean with the other women…  again, not in the story.  As was cultural, Ruth, along with other poor women, was allowed to glean in the fields behind the reapers.  This is actually a part of the Jewish law of the time, one of the ways that God set up to provide for the poor of the nation.  Saying that Ruth “didn’t allow rejection to keep her from doing what she could” makes no sense because she hadn’t been rejected.

Like I said, many of Jakes’s lessons were good, and a few were actually thought-provoking, but if you’re looking for a devotional that really delves into the story of Ruth and brings out truths from it, this isn’t the one.