"The Company of the Committed"

The Company of the Committed by Elton Trueblood

I wanted to get back to some spiritual reading this year so I grabbed this off my shelf and started reading a couple of pages every morning. It's old - published in 1961 - but most of it is completely relevant for today or any other time in history. There are a few dated references but they don't interfere with the message of the book at all and the book still feels current.

What he's saying through this book is that every Christian is a minister, that we can't just hire someone to do the job so we can go home and comfortably forget about it.  We are all part of a task force left here to spread Christ's influence. The message is not new of course, but the way he says it doesn't let the reader shrug it off. He forces you to look at yourself and ask what you are doing with your time. He doesn't do it with guilt, he just, in his unassuming way, gets you to open your eyes and face your own personal reality.

I found it honest and straightforward, yet gentle at the same time. The writing is absolutely beautiful. And there was so much good material in it that I read it through twice and have by now underlined about half of the book. These are some of the most helpful passages to me:

"They are looking for a bold fellowship, and what they find is a complacent society concerned to an absurd degree with its own internal politics or so unimaginative as to suggest that the world can be saved by three hymns and a sermon or Mass."

"A Christian is a person who confesses that, amidst the manifold and confusing voices heard in the world, there is one Voice which supremely wins his full assent, uniting all his powers, intellectual and emotional, into a single pattern of self-giving. That Voice is Jesus Christ. A Christian not only believes that He was; he believes in Him with all his heart and strength and mind. Christ appears to the Christian as the one stable point or fulcrum in all the relativities of history."

"Our commitment is outside the spirit of Christ if it involves an effort to ride over other men, to use them for our cause, or to see anything else as more important than the individual welfare of individual persons."

"Somewhere in the world there should be a society consciously and deliberately devoted to the task of seeing how love can be made real and demonstrating love in practice. Unfortunately, there is really only one candidate for this task. If God, as we believe, is truly revealed in the life of Christ, the most important thing to Him is the creation of centers of loving fellowship, which in turn infect the world. Whether the world can be redeemed in this way we do not know, but it is at least clear that there is no other way."

I wish I could memorize this entire book. I need Trueblood's wisdom to stay in my head until it becomes second nature and I'm actually living it. It is so very easy to be distracted by less important things. 

If you're looking for a book to encourage you in your spiritual life I hope you will check this one out. It is truly a breath of fresh air. 

"Tennyson's Gift"

Tennyson's Gift by Lynne Truss

Well this isn't what I expected at all. I don't remember why I bought it - it's been quite a while - but the cover picture led me to expect a serious story. Instead it's a clever, comical tale of several egotistical, artistic personalities meeting on the Isle of Wight in the summer of 1864 and it's very funny.

First, there is Alfred Tennyson who is on the island with his wife and sons and spends his days reading his own works aloud to himself. Surly and unfriendly, he has very little tolerance for anyone but his own family. Juliet Cameron is a photographer with such an obsession for the good opinion of others that she forces unwanted gifts on everyone she meets. G. F. Watts is a painter who lives off the charity of others and who is married to a beautiful woman with whom he has never been intimate. Then there is Lorenzo Fowler and his daughter, Jessie, American phrenologists who are on the island to put on a show and find new clients. And finally, there is a mathematician called Charles Dodgson, who is actually Lewis Carroll. Once he enters the picture the story begins to take off.

It could be called a comedy of manners, except that most of these people don't have any manners - or they have them but feel no need to use them. I think it would be more accurately labeled a farce. It's quite light-hearted and witty but underneath the comedy are some deeper issues that I think are as well handled as the humour.

All in all Tennyson's Gift made for an entertaining summer read but don't let the fact that summer's over hinder you. You'll enjoy this one anytime.

"Tales From Willowshade Farm"

Tales From Willowshade Farm - An Island Woman's Notebook by Betty Howatt

Betty Howatt is a native Prince Edward Islander who farms with her husband, Everett, on land that has been in his family since 1783. Howatt's Fruit Farm, formerly called Willowshade Farm, is known for their fruit, vegetables and honey.

There are stories in this book about her personal history and what it's like now to be a full time farmer. It's full of interesting information about the history and the flora and fauna of the area and anecdotes about her family's farming experience. The sections of the book are titled The Howatt Farm, My Younger Years, Farming for a Living, Creatures of the Wild, In the Garden and Feasts from the Farm.

Published in 2003, it's a wonderful look at operating and making a living from a small family farm and a lifestyle that is too quickly disappearing. The stories were gathered from broadcasts presented by the author on a CBC radio program.

 I tried to find out if the farm is still operating but the internet didn't yield any current information, just some old references from four or five years ago. If anyone out there knows if they are still open for business please do leave a comment letting me know.

"Persuasion" and "The Incident Report"

Persuasion by Jane Austen

This is not my favourite of Austen's books but I love reading it anyway. In this one the main character is a woman who, in her youth, broke off a relationship with the man she loved because of her family's disapproval. All of Jane Austen's novels end happily ever after and this one has the same predictable outcome when the man shows up in her life after a few years and they renew their acquaintance. I wish there was more dialogue between these two characters, but there are only a few very brief meetings before they finally get together and reveal their feelings for one another. Until then it all happens in her thoughts, which is a bit disappointing. As I said, I like her other novels better. I'll keep reading them all though because there's simply nothing like Jane Austen's writing. It's in a class by itself.

The Incident Report by Martha Baillie

This wasn't what I expected. I'd read reviews saying it was the (fictional) record book of a librarian writing up reports on various incidents taking place in the library, but the tone and the direction the story took were quite a surprise. Because the main character is a female librarian I was thinking it might have a "Miss Read" or "Anne of Green Gables" feel to it. Wrong. It started out with a couple of funny incidents but the stories get much more serious as it continues. This is an edgy librarian - two words not often used together, I suspect. Many of the incident reports are about her personal life, though the book was supposed to chronicle events happening in the library. Toward the end it gets much more intense than anything I expected. I wasn't disappointed with it, just a bit disconcerted because it was so far off what I was expecting. I think I liked it. I know I'll remember it.

"Without A Guide" and "A Tale of Two Cities"

Without a Guide - Contemporary Women's Travel Adventures edited by Katherine Govier

This is a collection of short travel stories from some of the world's best known female authors, including Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker, Annie Proulx and Carol Shields. The stories are meant to be some of their more memorable travel experiences, but I was a bit disappointed to find them focusing less on the places they were visiting and more on what was happening to them personally at the time.

I am usually a big fan of travel storiesI'm not able to travel myself so I devour other people's travel experiences with great expectation and excitement. These stories, though all set in different places around the world, didn't make any of them seem appealing. Many of the stories are about negative experiences and one, called "On The Train To Hell And Can't Get Off", is just weird. It closes by telling us that the author is still on the train, that we are with her, and that none of us are ever getting off. Not your usual travel tale.

I did find the writing a pleasure to read, if not the stories. These are, after all, proven authors, so though  I can't say I enjoyed the book, I don't feel my time was wasted.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

There's no way I'm going to review a Dickens novel, but for those who don't know the story, it's set during the French Revolution and takes place in both London and Paris. It's tragic because it's set in a tragic time, but it's not all unhappy. As it says in its famous opening line:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." 

The closing line is also a famous one, one I never really understood until I read the novel in spite of its being quoted frequently in other writings:

"It is a far, far, better thing that I do, than I have ever done;
it is a far, far, better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

What else can I say? It's Dickens. If you love Dickens, you'll love A Tale of Two Cities.


Sweetland by Michael Crummey

Moses Sweetland lives on a tiny island, also called Sweetland, off the coast of Newfoundland. The federal government has offered the residents of Chance Cove, the only settlement on the island, a hefty relocation incentive if, and only if, every household on the island agrees to take it. The last two holdouts are Moses and his neighbour, Loveless, until finally Loveless gives in and leaves Moses Sweetland to stand alone. As the community tries to talk, badger, then threaten him into taking the package, he resists them all.

Moses lives alone, next door to his brother-in-law, niece and her son. The boy, Jesse, has taken a liking to Moses and follows after him when he's trapping rabbits and fishing. The affection is mutual, but Moses is not given to emotional display; he shows he cares by letting Jesse into his life.

There are a lot of stories on this tiny island. The residents and their parents before them grew up here so their lives are all intricately intertwined. Although Moses Sweetland says he will never leave, circumstances lead him to eventually give in and agree to take the settlement. Agreeing and going, however, are two very different things. If his plan succeeds, he will be the only living resident of Sweetland.

Words cannot say just how much I loved this book, in spite of a lot of cursing/bad language that for me usually takes away the appeal of even a great story. Just as I didn't really understand my ambivalence to the last book I read (Noah's Compass), so I don't really understand my strong reaction to this one. I was nothing short of mesmerized by it. The characters became so real to me that I felt a terrible loss when they left the island. And Moses, he's inside my head all the time. But the thing that really got to me is the island itself. As I approached the last chapters of the book I could feel the dread of finishing it growing in me. I didn't want to leave, but those words "didn't want" don't really express it. I was heartbroken to leave it. I am so homesick for this place I've never been that I'm avoiding putting the book away. Somehow it feels closer with the book nearby. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but there you have it.

Looking at more tangible things, the writing is also very good. I can't remember which author said that his rule when editing is "If it sounds like writing, take it out.", but he'd be happy with this one. It never sounded like writing. It's one of those books that make you feel as if you're living the story, not reading it. It's that vibrant, that immediate. I don't remember there being a lot of descriptive passages, and yet many details about the place and its people clearly stand out even now, after finishing the book. The dialogue was very natural, blending in with the narrative so well it was barely noticeable. This guy can write.

It's been a while since I found a book worthy of adding to my "favourites" list, but this one is truly something special. I hope you'll read it and enjoy it, too.