I couldn’t resist the pull to post three more books this week. I mean, I’ve been verbally recommending books for years, but this…this is a whole new ballgame. I like it. Here we go.
1) Josephine Butler by Jane Jordan. I first learned of Josephine Butler in a footnote of one of the Call the Midwife books (which are in and of themselves good reads if you’re ready to ugly cry for a few hours). I love Victorians, particularly Victorian women. Mock the Victorians as much as you will for draping furniture legs for the sake of modesty, but Victorian reformers got things done. Josephine Butler campaigned endlessly to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act (England’s attempt to more or less regulate and prostitution). She was certainly a feminist. She was also a deeply committed Christian. In fact, it was her faith that lead her to defend helpless women trapped in a life that they certainly wouldn’t choose for themselves. Before she started campaigning for the repeal of the legislation, she worked in the Liverpool County Jail “picking oakum” (picking apart the fiber of old ropes for caulking ships) alongside convicted prostitutes. She prayed with them and for them and treated them like human beings. She and her husband (a hero himself) opened up their home to several young women and eventually established a hospital and rest home. And then she took on Parliament. It’s a long book, and not all that beautifully written, but it’s a good, true story. I think it’s also an example of how Christians ought to involve themselves with politics. Rather than choosing a cause and marching on DC, Josephine lived with these women, prayed with/for them, and loved them. It was this love for them that prompted her to change the law (which she ultimately did).
2) The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. My poor colleagues heard tidbits of wisdom from this book for weeks and weeks. The premise is that Amanda Ripley, a journalist, decides to shadow three American exchange students in high schools in South Korea, Finland, and Poland. Both Finland and South Korea boast the top test scores in the world, and Poland is quickly rising. The US…not so much. We spend more than either Finland or South Korea on education, and yet our students’ scores remain flat. I don’t think anyone wants us to imitate South Korea’s school (incredibly long school days, intense pressure to succeed on standardized tests), but we stand to learn a lot from Finland. In the US we focus so much on technology and small classroom sizes. Finland has chosen to focus on teacher quality, allowing only the top 10% of college students into teacher education programs. The education program itself is 6 rigorous years, culminating in a thesis based on original research. I would have loved a program like this. While I think that something more than intelligence is needed to be a good teacher, having smart teachers seems like it would be a no-brainer. And yet our teacher ed programs attract some of the least intelligent college students. So now we’re trying to “reverse engineer” the process by setting incredibly high standards for our students, but we really don’t have the quality educators to meet those standards. The result is demoralizing for students and teachers. Anyways, it was full of interesting statistics and ideas, and I think everyone should pay close attention to what’s going on in the world of education.
3) I was first required to read W.H. Auden at Oxford. I loved his poetry then, and I continue to love it now . It’s only in the last year, though, that I’ve started tackling some of his longer and more complicated works. I read For the Time Being before Christmas (it’s a “modern” retelling of the nativity) with the intention of returning to The Age of Anxiety in the new year. Well, it’s the new year. The Age of Anxiety is difficult, but not nearly as allusive (and I do mean allusive not illusive) as Eliot’s poetry. When I read Eliot, I find myself constantly hunting and researching allusions. With Auden, it’s a matter of reading very closely and then rereading. One reason I love Auden is that his poetry is deeply Christian, and he, more than anyone else I’ve read, communicates the mundanity of the Christian faith. And yet in our daily ins and outs God is there. These lines are from the end of the poem, and they give an example about what Auden’s poetry is like:
In our anguish we struggle
To elude Him, to lie to Him, yet His love observes
His appalling promise; His predilection
As we wander and weep is with us to the end,
Minding our meanings, our least matter dear to Him….
It is where we are wounded that is when He speaks
Our creaturely cry, concluding His children
In their mad unbelief to have mercy on them all
As they wait unawares for His World to come.
So…you can see that he uses words unconventionally although grammatically all is well, and it makes you slow down and think about what he’s really saying. It’s slower reading perhaps, but the poem’s not too long (about 100 pages), and it’s worth it to read some poetry. I don’t love love poetry, but I find that it allows me to read in a different kind of way. I’m more careful, I reread more, and I remember poetry better than prose. That’s my two cents, anyways. Happy reading!