Blogging – One Year On

Roquesreviews reached its first anniversary last week.  On 25 May 2015 my first book review appeared and now here I am a year on, 26 posts later, reflecting on how it’s going.

26 posts doesn’t sound very impressive, does it?  That’s an average of two a month which, given that the posts are mostly book reviews, is reasonable.  Not a complete disgrace anyway.  But is anyone actually enjoying the blog?  Social Media has been my main source of  readers but to be honest, though there have been a good number of visits and views, the likes can be counted on two hands and that’s pretty dispiriting.  Is there some coffee I need to wake up and smell here?

Cup of coffee

Reluctant to quit,  I’ve been doing some research. I recently stumbled upon WordPress’ ‘Blogging Fundamentals’ course which advises posting answers to various questions whether you’re new to blogging or have been at it for a while.  Today I’m focussing on this one:

Why are you blogging publicly instead of keeping a diary?

  • Predisposition
    The main reason is that I love writing.   Secondly,  I love reading.  The third reason is that I’m a Christian and I want to serve God with these two passions.  So I review the books that have touched my heart and mind in the hope that you might read them too and be encouraged and stimulated whether you share the Christian faith or not.  I keep a diary too as it happens (and have done since the age of 11) but the diary cannot by definition be a blessing to another.   It’s private.  And I want to bless others with my writing not store it up for myself.
  • Inspiration
    I was a late starter when it comes to literature.  It wasn’t until my ‘A’ levels that I really got going and became an avid reader.  Up until then I’d existed mostly on a diet of ‘Malory Towers’ and ‘Flambards’.  Then two English teachers and a friend studying art history, in their very different ways, inspired me.  I discovered Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Kurt Vonnegut, Milan Kundera, Iris Murdoch, Jean Rees, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster – the list goes on and on and despite a rejection from Oxford University I went on to study English at St Andrews… and read on.  I enjoyed writing about the books I was reading and have kept records ever since.
  • Conviction
    In the last couple of years I’ve been learning how the Lord can use literature (and the arts more generally) in the life of a believer to his/her own, and others’ encouragement.    Novels, music, paintings and films are not the big bad distraction from the Gospel that I’d always feared but are part of what is sometimes called ‘Common Grace’.  (I’m not talking about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ here).  What I really want to do by writing this blog is to bless others, Christian or not, by sharing my thoughts on books (and the occasional painting or other art form) and how they have helped me understand and love Jesus more.

My prayer is that you will be helped or encouraged by what you find here.  It will then all be worth while.

 

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Creative Ideas for Enriching Everyday Life

41pKrEoDrZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Hidden Art of Homemaking
by Edith Shaeffer

Available from  Amazon.co.uk

A vicar was heard to comment to his wife who was industriously de-cluttering their home after a chaotic move, that she should ‘make do and mend’ rather than throwing things out.  She had recently read Marie Kondo’s successful publication ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ and was trying to follow William Morris’ advice to ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’  Edith Shaeffer, were she still alive (she died in 2013), would have them combine their instincts in the interests of marital harmony and creative expression.  The Hidden Art of Homemaking would have shown them how to do this.

Edith Shaeffer was the wife of the better known Francis Shaeffer, the American evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher and pastor most famous for his writing and his foundation of the L’Abri community in Switzerland in 1955,  a community offering the opportunity for enquiring individuals to seek philosophical and religious answers to life’s questions.

Schaeffer-Edith

His wife, the daughter of missionaries in China, was evangelical as well as stylish.   Petite, beautifully dressed and redolent with Chanel No 5, she combined wholehearted support of her husband’s ministry and commitment to the gospel with a passion for sharing her love of music, art and literature, not least with her children.

In this short, readable and quirkily illustrated book, Shaeffer defines ‘Homemaking’ as an art form encouraging women called to this vocation to pursue their daily tasks with creativity and individuality.

Perhaps too dated in style and content for some modern readers, the book nevertheless carries a timeless message.  It is not a waste of man’s time to be creative.

‘It is not a waste to pursue artistic or scientific pursuits in creativity, because this is what man was made to be able to do.  He was made in the image of a Creator, and given the capacity to create – on a finite level of course, needing to use the materials already created- but he is still the creature of a Creator.’

Since we have been made in God’s image, Shaeffer explains, we not only can be, but are made to be creative. In fact, she suggests that Christians have a duty to be creative because of their Paternity.  It is far from being an irrelevance to a devout life.

‘What I call “Hidden Art” should be more important to one who knows and admits that he is made in God’s image, than to those who do not.’

If ‘Hidden Art’ is the art which is found in the minor areas of life, then everyday opportunities come alive with possibility.  Do we recognise the importance of living artistically as we make beds, prepare meals, paint walls, plant violas, play music to our children, read to our children, clothe our children?  Sensitivity to beauty should increase as we walk with the Lord, not dry up.

All these pursuits can be enjoyed as worship and without regard to success.

‘There is a God who is there, and who is personal, and who accepts music as praise to Himself, as worship, when given to Him in this sincere way – without being strained through the “strainer” of human acceptance.’

The writer devotes chapters to Music, Painting, Interior Decoration, Gardening, Flower Arranging, Food, Writing, Drama and Clothing to name a few and ends with an interesting take on ‘Environment’.  This is not, as I was expecting, a chapter on recycling cereal boxes but on the challenging concept that we create an environment around ourselves by the way we live.

‘We are an environment, each one of us.  We are an environment for the other people with whom we live, the people with whom we work, the people with whom we communicate.  And in this sense we do not choose an art form and create something in that form; we are an art form.’

Emily Freeman is saying something similar in ‘A Million Little Ways’ but the particular strength of Shaeffer’s book is that she reminds the bible-believing conservative Christian of the value of beauty without for a second denying the ‘first importance’ of sharing the message of the cleansing blood of Christ in whom true Beauty is found.

 

 

A Very English Family Saga

The Cazalet Chronicles
by Elizabeth Jane Howard
jane

Elizabeth Jane Howard who died early last year aged 90 is a writer whose work I first came across as a teenager when my father gave me ‘A Beautiful Visit’, her first novel, published in 1950.  I never read it despite its prize winning status.  (It won the John Llewllyn Rhys memorial prize).  The intellectual snobbery of youth meant that I quickly assumed the condescending attitude of her critics who described her as a writer of ‘women’s novels.’  They might just as well have said ‘magazines’.  As an aspiring English Literature student I was looking for the higher brow.

It was not until twenty years later that I came across her again when her Cazalet Chronicles were republished after the event of her death.  Looking for an ‘easy’ read I came across Volume One, The Light Years, began reading and was pleasurably gripped by the novel and its four successors (Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off and All Change) for the next few months.  Howard combines pure story-telling brilliance with an enviable elegance of style.

Jane, as she was known, was born in London in March 1923.  Now recognised as an acclaimed novelist in her own right, she was formerly referred to purely as Kingsley Amis‘ wife or Martin Amis‘ stepmother.  Margaret Drabble famously omitted her from the 1985 edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature, a slight which she took with commendable equilibrium.  Married three times, she sadly described herself as a ‘tart for affection’ having had a troubled relationship with her mother, re-enacted with her own daughter Nicola by the Naturalist Peter Scott, her first husband.

Marriage to Peter Scott, Naval Officer and Naturalist in 1942

Marriage to Peter Scott, Naval Officer and Naturalist in 1942

Perhaps the appeal of the novels for me lies in their Englishness.  A large family country house in Sussex, a kindly matriarch and her ageing husband ‘The Brig’,  three brothers and their spinster sister, troubled marriages, growing children, boarding school angst, coming of age, unrequited love and the onset of war.   The details of upper middle class England are minutely observed alongside the repressed emotions of its inhabitants.  These books are a delight.  There is a time for everything under the sun and there is a time for reading for the pure pleasure of enjoying a story.

Her work doesn’t come into the category of improving reading, there being no Victorian moral didacticism nor any particular heroic protagonist to emulate.  Instead, we are introduced to an array of humanely portrayed, utterly credible characters crafted lovingly with failings and idiosyncrasies, insecurities and foibles with which the reader is only too able to relate.  Getting to know their personalities and what drives them, seeing their motives and their regrets is an education in patience, compassion and human understanding.

Her autobiography ‘Slipstream’ if read after this family saga reveals how much of her own life she drew upon for her Cazalet novels.  It is an ‘achingly honest’ portrayal of her life, her marriages, her mistakes and her writing.  Writing was clearly a form of therapy for her alongside the formal psychotherapy she received in her later years.

Fascinatingly, Janet Watts in her Guardian obituary of 2 January 2014 writes:

Jane once admitted that writing was the most “frightening” thing she did, and that she did not enjoy it.  “I find it much too anxious a business”, she said.  She once tried to give it up altogether.  But she couldn’t.

51jGu0d6AAL._UX250_

It is terribly moving to see how frankly she faces up to the ‘mess’ she made of her life.  With three failed marriages, an abandoned daughter and a string of affairs one can see why she might have felt this way.  However, with such a legacy of literary work, a final reconciliation with Nicola, her daughter and a long life ‘full of years’ she has also left a valued mark on the landscape of English fiction and is to be admired for her courage, her perseverance and her insights into the English psyche.