Two books I read in November 2020

This post includes reviews of two e-books, which are also available in other formats.

Songs for a Saviour’s Birth by William Philip

Book cover

I read Songs for a Saviour’s Birth as an ebook, which I received free from the publisher, IVP as a ‘thank you’ for completing a survey. I had great difficulty downloading it and finding an app, which could open it, so was not in the best frame of mind when I began reading it using the EPUB Reader app. It is a short book, with five chapters and a commendation. It is also available as a paperback.

As I continued reading I regained a sense of joy. The book is well-written and brings out the excitement of the story as told by Luke. William Philip is ideally qualified to write about the early chapters of Luke’s gospel – he is a physician turned pastor, whereas Luke was a physician who became an evangelist. The book is written in a way, which encourages believers and explains the story to those, who have not previously had a clear explanation of the story. This is an Advent book I found to be compulsive reading and therefore recommend. (Advent  this year is from Sunday 29 November and to Christmas Eve, 24 December, inclusive.)

The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland

Book cover

The first book I read this year was Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland. When I found another of her books on BorrowBox, I selected it (not having been put off by some strong language in the other book). The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae :Ailsa Rae survived now she needs to learn to live… is set in Edinburgh, a city I visited for a day in 2018. (Coincidentally 2018 was part of the timeline for The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae.)

I could relate to the description of the confusing railway station and some of the other places mentioned. The story of someone, who needed a heart transplant is told as a blog, second-person narrative and email correspondence. There is sadness and humour. The experience of the protagonist seems authentic. (Among my friends and acquaintances there are at least two recipients of vital organs.) I really enjoyed this book, which I read in a few days. It was written before the opt-out legislation for organ donation was introduced in England. In Scotland the law is not changing until 2021.

Advent in Music

This year Advent began in November.  This is because there are always four Sundays in Advent.  If Christmas Day is on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday Advent Sunday is in December.  Otherwise it begins in November, the earliest possible date being 27 November for years when Christmas day is on a Sunday.

(Please correct me if I am wrong, I have worked this out on the back of an envelope!)

For our Church choir the first big service was on the morning of 29 November.  There was an Advent Carol service (five lessons and carols), similar to the world-famous Christmas Nine lessons and carols, but with music and readings chosen for the season of Advent.  We processed in singing, O come, O come Emmanuel.  The carols sung by the choir were People look East, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, Advent Message, and And the glory of the Lord.  The hymns were On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s cry, Hark!What a sound and too divine for hearing, Come thou long expected Jesus and Lo, He comes with clouds descending.

The second and third Sundays in Advent were marked with services of Holy Communion.  At the first of these the choir was very few in number, but still managed to sing And the glory of the Lord by special request of the celebrant and preacher.  The anthem at the second service was Be still for the presence of the Lord.

It is possible that some people attending the service are unaware that the organist and choir have been practising beforehand for at least 45 minutes. During Advent the emphasis is on the carols for our Nine Lessons and Carols which takes place at 4pm on the fourth Sunday in Advent.

For me the weekend before Christmas is exceptionally busy.  An extra choir practice for this special service is always necessary.  The morning service includes a traditional nativity play, which has carols interspersed among the lines recited by young actors.  These are accompanied by an orchestra made up of children and adults.

For many years I have been involved in this, playing a recorder of whatever pitch is needed most.  Attendance at a rehearsal is definitely recommended.

As well as singing in the Church choir, I also belong to another choir, which gives a Christmas concert in the church.  This always includes carols, some with audience participation, but often includes secular music as well.    The choirmaster introduces the songs with lots of background information.  The church organist meanwhile accompanies us on the organ as required.  This year much of our programme was a capella (unaccompanied).  The singing is complemented by entertaining readings from members of the choir.

If the title of this post seemed the wrong way round, perhaps having reached the end of it, you appreciate my reasons for not calling it Music in Advent.  For me Advent is dominated by music and other preparations for Christmas such as writing cards and wrapping presents.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I pray that you will experience the peace of God at this time.


Resolutions revisited

I made a New Year’s resolution and managed to keep it!  My post on this blog alerted readers to one on my other blog.

Although the year is not over I have achieved my goal (to read more books).  Since I keep a record of the books I have read with dates, it is easy to compare how many I read last year with this year’s total so far.  In 2013 I read 17 books and gave up on The Poisonwood Bible.  Between October 2013 and February 2014 I have not recorded any books I read.  I wonder whether this is a seasonal effect.  It is a struggle to read books at present, although I am reading blogs, magazines and other printed matter.

In 2014, so far I have read 21 books – fiction, cartoons, memoirs, Christian books, secular books and non-fiction.  Some of them are reviewed on my other blog.

I am also part way through 4 others.  The books I am currently reading are not ones to read at a sitting.  One is about writing poetry in the form of examples in verse, many being humorous.  It is How to be Well-versed in Poetry edited by E. O. Parrott (Penguin 1991).  I bought it second-hand five months ago, dipped into it first and then began at the beginning.

I have reached page 191 out of 257+ (I have read the glossary, which starts on page 259).  This book is old enough to have a blank page on page 258, which does not have any words on it.  “This page has intentionally been left blank” is surely a contradiction in terms!

I am also about halfway through Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey.  It is subtitled, Whatever happened to the good news?  This is another fashion.  Books have had titles probably from the time they appeared between covers and probably on scrolls too!  But subtitles?  People are so busy now that they are not expected to read the blurb or reviews (or even the genre in the bookshop, whether analogue or digital).

Of the three books I downloaded to my Kindle app a few weeks ago, I have read two and am struggling with the third.  I approached it with some prejudices, which may be hindering me.  In any case it is intended to be read a chapter a day.  Some days I forget!

My fourth book is the one that the Ladies’ Bible study group is using this term.  It is Let’s Study Philippians by Sinclair B Ferguson.  This is also a book to read slowly – two chapters a week is taking us the whole term.

As I read something from the Bible every day, I have not included that in my list for either year.  I consult the dictionary and reference books too.  We had to throw out a Scrabble reference book as we had worn it out!  Fortunately its replacement is more useful, with meanings as well as lists of words.  It is Collins Scrabble Dictionary.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution?  How did it turn out?  For Christians there is an extra New Year’s Day.  The Church’s year begins on Advent Sunday.  This year it is 29 November.   Perhaps we should be considering whether we need to make any resolutions for the next year.

Related post

Post Script:  The Daily Post has come up with this prompt almost a month after I published this.