Flowchart Friday: Which Netflix mystery you should binge-watch

Okay, some of you probably came to this post because of the provocative title: “Binge-watching?? Are you a fan of that?”

Let me give you a brief opinion on binge-watching. I’ve been binge-reading for quite some time now, and most of you would be okay with that. If I want to sit for three hours and read Hamlet, no one seems to have a problem. In fact, you’ll think I’m quite intellectual. However, if I tell you that I’ve been binge-watching instead of binge-reading…well, well… suddenly you raise an eyebrow. Here are some simple things to consider.

Is binge-watching any different from binge-reading? Sure, perhaps the amount that you imagine individually is less while watching a TV show, but you are still engaging with a narrative, and both books and television are types of technologies and–arguably–types of art.

Can anything be binge-watched? Goodness, no. Please no. But it’s the same with reading–I’ll raise all the eyebrows I have if you say you’ve been binge-reading Twilight.

Is binging anything inherently bad? Ah, there’s the rub. Something worth a discussion. Is anything in excess a bad a thing? What about reading poetry? Or binging on classical music? If you want to discuss this, comment on this post because I’d love to talk it through.

As far as binge-watching goes, there are a few things I think about. First, is the show that I’m watching worthy of being binged? How is the plot? Character development? Treatment of right and wrong in moral dilemmas? Secondly, if this show was a book, would I read it? Thirdly, am I avoiding any responsibilities by choosing to binge-watch for a few hours?

But why mysteries, you ask? Well, besides being wildly popular in our culture, mysteries do have some virtue in them. Thankfully, I don’t have to defend this much because Angelina Stanford and Brian Phillips did a great job of it in this podcast. Mysteries, especially murder mysteries, have some sense of wrongs that need to be righted, justice that needs to be enacted, and care for human life. Instead of settling into relativism, mysteries imply that there is both a good and bad side.

With no further ado, here are some Netflix mysteries you might want to binge-watch this summer if you happen to fall ill or be on a lousy vacation or just have a free evening.

Click here for a closer look. netflix

Cover image: from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

 

Flowchart Friday: Which Dickens novel you should read this summer

Welcome to my first flowchart Friday post! I’m putting aside my usual “What I’m Reading” series for the summer for something a bit more interesting.

My first flowchart is about Dickens. If you talked to me last semester, or kept up with this blog, you know that I took an incredible Dickens graduate seminar this spring and fell in love with everything Dickens. Sure, his books are long, and he does spend a lot of time bashing the English legal system, but his fame is not without reason! Some compare his popularity and impact on the English culture with Shakespeare’s.

So with no further ado, here are suggested Dickens readings based on some random assessments. Click here for a closer look. Dickens

 

Dickens

Blogs I Follow 3.31.17

What I’m reading this week isn’t that interesting or different from what I posted last time…so I thought, instead, I’ll give you some recommendations of things worth reading on the internet.

  1. G.C. Jeffers. Greg is a middle school teacher at a classical school, a friend of mine from ACU, and an excellent writer. He has been blogging about his faith for several years now, and his thoughtful responses to political and cultural movements are timely. Here are a couple of my favorite: 

    How Rote Worship and Ritualistic Prayer Saved my Faith

    Election 2016 Thoughts

  2. First Things. This isn’t really a blog, but a journal that also publishes articles online. If you want to keep up with the conversation surrounding Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, this is a good site to keep up with. Peter Leithart, who writes often about faith and literature, also has his own blog attached to First Things. Here are two of the posts worth a read:

 Against Great Books 

Architectural Justice

 

3. Experimental Theology. Dr. Beck from ACU writes, well… a lot. And a lot of interesting    stuff, from theology to psychology to literature to pop culture to race. You’ll never get bored on this blog!

Summer and Winter Christians 

Series on Theology and Monsters 

 

4. Comment Magazine. Again, not quite a blog, but a magazine that also publishes online. James K.A. Smith, who wrote the popular Desiring the Kingdom, is the editor, and Comment’s goal is “renewing the North American social architecture.” Here are a couple posts (that I’ve probably shared before!):

By the Book

Habits of Mind in an Age of Distraction

 

5. Circe Institute. This is a great resource for educators, and book lovers, and humans. Their podcasts are also well worth a listen! Here are two posts I recommend:

What to Say When Your Students Hate a Classic Book 

Why Tolstoy and Dostoevsky Matter Now More Than Ever 

 

 

Reading for Rainy Spring Days

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It seems that some books are seasonal. It doesn’t feel right to pick up Macbeth in March, or A Christmas Carol in the summer, or Right Ho, Jeeves during finals week. So here are some suggestions for those rainy spring days (for us Houstonites, those days come pretty often).

A Novel

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. There’s something refreshing about Austen’s writing—maybe it’s her snarky social satire, her playful characters, or the fact that she writes comedies that end in a marriage. Her writing, in short, sounds like spring. I chose Mansfield Park because it’s a lesser-read but more mature novel of Austen’s. The 1999 film is also a classic!

Short Stories

Any Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be read on sunny days, so a rainy day is perfect to pick up these classic mystery stories. You may say that mysteries are best read in the fall, but spring is often reminiscent, and I remember reading Sherlock Holmes stories with my twin brother on lazy spring afternoons, when playing outside meant getting covered in pollen, so we picked the indoors instead.

Non-Fiction

Confessions by Augustine. If you haven’t read this yet, run to the bookstore. Confessions is the amazing story of Augustine’s spiritual journey. It is full of repentance and renewal—two spring themes, as spring corresponds with both the confession season of Lent and the renewal and re-birth at Easter. Reading Augustine’s story will give you insight, too, to your own spiritual health. Don’t ask me how it works—but Augustine’s straightforwardness is revitalizing.

Poetry

Wendell Berry. If you know me well, you probably knew this was coming. Berry’s This Day collection is grouped by year and then organized by date written within that year. So each year progresses from an early Sunday in the year, when spring is just emerging, to a late Sunday, when autumn comes in full force. His ability to describe nature is remarkable, and he still lives on his farm in Kentucky. I’ll leave you with a short excerpt:

At the woods’ edge, suddenly

the air around him was perfumed

with the scent of wild plum flowers.

The whitened trees were accompanied

by several redbuds also in bloom,

equally beautiful, and both

together more beautiful than either

alone. Nothing in the long winter

prepared him to imagine this, a moment

in a thousand years never old.

Wendell Berry, 2011

Mysteries, Monasticism, and Podcasts 3.17.17

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  1. Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Great vacation reading, right? This is one of Dickens’s longest works, and one of the first mystery novels. Before Sherlock Holmes, there was Inspector Bucket. Dickens’s skill in characterization is perhaps at its height in this novel, and his descriptions of London are some of the most memorable in English literature. He begins the story by describing fog in London: “Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping…Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.” And you, the reader, will remain in a fog for much of the text, as this story of mystery unfolds slowly with episodes of mad women, ghosts, a boy from the slums, and a woman from the richest family in England. If you like mysteries and social satire, this is worth the read.
  1. Q podcasts. Q usually produces some thoughtful podcasts, and I wasn’t disappointed by the two I listened to this week. “Activism,” released on February 9, is a refreshing look at the value and pitfalls of social activism, especially in light of recent events. “Transgenderism,” released on January 12, is a topic that needs to be thought about by the church. This podcast is a helpful introduction to transgenderism and possible responses of Christians.
  1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, illustrated by Matt Kish. I would love to say that I had the time to re-read this entire book, but I didn’t. The first time I read Conrad, I went to my professor and asked him, “Why has no one made me read this before?” But this mention is not about the book itself—it’s about a recent version that came out with artwork that goes with EVERY PAGE. Matt Kish, who has also illustrated Moby Dick, wrote a foreword to the version that includes his illustration, and it’s this that I read and that has been on my mind ever since.The artwork isn’t even my favorite style–but the thought process behind each piece is astounding. If you like Heart of Darkness, or have never read it, you might consider this version (artwork not recommended for under age 17, as the book itself has some gory descriptions that are sometimes reproduced).
  1. This article by James K.A. Smith. I’ve been following the discussion surrounding Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, which was recently published. I have yet to read it, but this article is an interesting criticism of Dreher. I’ll be seeing both authors speak this summer at the Society for Classical Learning (panel discussion, please??), so I’m following the back story as much as possible. Even if you’re not familiar with Smith or Dreher, this article asks some valuable questions about the role of the church in today’s society.

Memory, the Great Books, and Lady Gaga 2.17.17

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  1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

I read this once in high school, but revisiting it as an adult has proven to be rewarding. One of my graduate courses is a seminar on Dickens and his work, so we’re getting acquainted. I fell in love with his comedic Pickwick Papers, and this later work has some of the same charm but with more depth. If you’re interested in the act of memory, and how it shapes our future, then this is a good read. Or if you want to laugh, but still explore themes such as death, innocence, and memory, pick this up! It’s long, but it will keep your interest.

  1. The Prelude by William Wordsworth

My other graduate course is called Structures of Poetry, and we’re slowly working through this text. I appreciate my professor’s idea of “living” with a text over a long period of time (a semester), and I’m slowly warming up to Wordsworth’s autobiographical account. The best part is reading David Copperfield at the same time, as both texts are experiments in memory. Wordsworth writes about “spots of time,” or moments of epiphany in his past, as he catches glimpses of beauty and the sublime in nature.

  1. The Gospel According to Lady Gaga by Richard Beck

There are several reasons I am interested in this post: 1) the SuperBowl was in Houston!; 2) Lady Gaga came to my church on SuperBowl Sunday—and no, I didn’t see her, because she was at the early early service, and no, most people didn’t recognize her, and no, I’m not familiar with her current faith status; and 3) the author is a professor from my alma mater. Those may not be YOUR reasons for reading this article, but I highly recommend taking a few moments to look at it! This is an insightful and provocative look into Lady Gaga’s career and fans.

  1. What To Say When Your Students Hate a Classic Book by Joshua Gibbs

Obviously a great post to read if you are a teacher or student, and Josh Gibbs does a delightful job of defending the idea of Great Books. But this post also encourages other questions to be asked—for those of you who care about education—that are just as important: is education about entertaining students? Should we make them read challenging texts? What is valuable about an education in literature? If you are a teacher, or student, or parent, or human being (I think that covers everyone),  these underlying questions of education are important to consider.

 

 

Suggested Tales for Reading Together 1.27.16

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grateful to Annie Lamb for capturing this moment! 

One of my favorite things about marriage is having someone to read with (or to, depending on how you look at it). Experiencing stories with loved ones is delightful, and though we’ve attempted to read heavier fiction together (like Dosteovsky), I’ve found that lighter, usually humorous, stories work best. Obviously, you can read anything aloud… but I’ve compiled a short list that might help you get started. Here are a few of my top suggestions for reading together, as a couple or with kids!

  1. The Pickwick Papers. What happens when you put four English gentlemen together—a sportsman, a poet, a ladies’ man, and their fearless leader, an “observer of human nature”? And when Charles Dickens is writing the story? This comedic magic. Though the short chapters are connected by characters, The Pickwick Papers is more of a collection of episodes than a novel, which makes it perfect for reading together even if you’re not consistent about it. This is the work that made Dickens famous, and for good reason. A great way to develop your sense of humor! Very!
  1. The Hobbit. Obviously a classic, this shorter tale from Tolkein is a great way to explore heroism, friendship, and courage. And if you’ve seen the recent movies? Not even close to the charm of the book. If you want to read together as a family, but don’t like reading aloud, this is one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to, and worthy of a long road-trip.
  1. Any of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories. I sing his praises often. Will and I were in tears over The Code of the Woosters this summer. I’ve read Wodehouse with my brother, my students, my husband, recommended him to friends, and given his short stories as a wedding gift. If you need a laugh, he’s your best bet!
  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams. A friend recently recommended this to me, and Will offered to read it together. It’s delightful so far, and the short chapters make it the perfect read if you don’t have much time daily to devote to reading aloud.It is, simply, a story about talking rabbits fleeing from danger and establishing a new homeland. Especially known for appealing to all ages, this will become a family favorite!
  1. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor. Studying O’Connor with my high school students is one of my favorite memories. Not only is she witty, but she has a profound understanding of the South, fiction, and religion. If you want to laugh and encourage conversation about heavier topics (race, relationships, religion), this one is for you.
  1. Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe. A perfect companion for a dark and story night, these are psychological suspense tales that forever changed the short story form. Oh, and each story has to be read in one sitting—Poe wouldn’t have it any other way.

7. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Need I say more?

I hope this list has inspired you to read with your family. Let me know which books you’re reading together!

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Interrobangs, Smartphones, & Education 1.20.17

My reading list this week consists of some things I read over the Christmas break. fullsizeoutput_6f0

  1. Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation by Keith Houston. One of my professors challenged me one afternoon on my excessive use of colons, and somehow that conversation culminated in his recommendation of this book. Simply put, it’s a detective story about punctuation marks. This may sound boring to you, but if you’re a history buff, or a punctuation nerd like me, this book should be on your list. Did you know that the # sign comes from the Latin term libra, referring to a pound of weight? Do you know what the interrobang looks like? I’m telling you–this book is surprisingly intriguing. It also has some interesting information on how interpretation of text (and biblical text) has been affected by punctuation use over the centuries.
  2. “Habits of Mind in an Age of Distraction” by Alan Jacobs. I found this article in the summer, but revisited it in honor of the new year. In the midst of resolution craze, we often forget how our habits and surroundings shape many of our actions and decisions. Jacobs discusses technology’s affect on self-awareness, especially related to sin. Is our day merely a string of distractions, brought on by our technological age? How can we contemplate long enough to dwell on our fallenness and Christ’s redemption if any awkward social situation is responded to by picking up our iPhones? Jacobs gives an account for what distraction is, why it is our social ill, and possible responses of the church.
  3. Philosophy and Education: An Introduction in Christian Perspective by George R. Knight.This is an excellent overview and comparison of different educational philosophies. Perhaps the most valuable chapter in the book is one on the philosophies that have shaped 20th century education. Though I have spent much time discovering a Christian philosophy of education, and more particularly a classical philosophy, it is helpful to know what is shaping the culture’s view of education, and just what makes a Christian perspective so different.
  4. “The Muse” by Anna Akhmatova. I can’t get Russian literature out of my head, and it particularly haunts me during breaks in school. Obviously, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are the masters of the Russian novel, but Akhmatova, a poet, was my first Russian love. Her poetry is the cry of the Russian people during the tumultuous years of the 1920s-1950s. I’ll leave you with one of her more lighthearted poems.

 

All that I am hangs by a thread tonight 

as I wait for her whom no one can command. 

Whatever I cherish most–youth, freedom, glory–

fades before her who bears the flute in her hand. 

 

And look! she comes… she tosses back her veil,

staring me down, serene and pitiless.

“Are you the one,” I ask, “whom Dante heard dictate 

the lines of his Inferno?” She answers: “Yes.” 

-The Muse, 1924

Finals, Studying, and Survival Tips 12.9.16

img_5938I love finals week. Wait, don’t click off this page in disdain… Hear me out. It is a planner’s dream to approach finals week—for one week out of the semester, time seems suspended as classes don’t meet and you have these arbitrary times when tests are to be taken. Suddenly, it seems as if you’re in control of your destiny. And the words “finals week” gets you out of pretty much any event whatsoever. So in a way, time stops while millions of students the world across sit and study.

But really, I know that most students hate finals week. So without further ado, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about studying.

1) Map it out.

The first thing to do for any finals week (or upcoming test) is to plan out the time you’re going to devote to it. This is helpful for all of us. If you are the type to not spend enough time studying, this holds you to a standard; if you are the type that spends every hour awake studying, this makes you stick to a schedule and not turn into a zombie during finals week.

Pro Tip: If you have a take home final, plan the exact hours you’re going to take it. Even if this is spread out over a few days, it is much better than taking it in the wee hours of the morning because you forgot it was due the next day. I do not appreciate take home finals, but you can create an exam-like situation by turning off your phone, getting dressed for an exam, and having plans afterwards. Oh, and have a teapot full of some caffeine to keep you alert.

The goal here should be to create a realistic schedule in which you are not neglecting any class (or your health). There are two types of study schedules:fullsizeoutput_6dc

  • Time Based

In this sort of schedule, you set a time you want to devote to each subject for each day. This is the schedule I did for this week, so I’m spending about an hour and a half on each class per day. This is helpful if you could spend days studying one subject because of the depth, but need to focus your study on what is most important. Also helpful if you only have so many free hours per day. This prevents cramming for one exam, then cramming for another, etc.But even with this type of schedule, write out what you plan to do each hour, or else you may find yourself staring into space.

  •  Goal Based

For this schedule, break up what you need to study over the days that you have. If you have 7 chapters of Spanish to study for the exam on Wednesday, start on Tuesday the week prior, focusing on one chapter a day (excluding Sunday and the day of the exam). You may like this sort of schedule if you are unsure of how long each subject will take you. The danger in this schedule is studying yourself to death, so be sure to keep tip #4 in mind.

 

2) Shut off the WiFi.

I’ve spent…let’s see…about 17 years in school, and I still get distracted while studying. So don’t beat yourself up about it—find solutions. Something I started doing in college was putting my phone on airplane mode while studying and turning off the WiFi on my computer. If you still need your phone, or the WiFi, there is such a thing as turning off social media notifications or blocking websites that you frequent (yes, many of us have blocked Facebook while studying). And when you get back on social media after studying, think about how much more exciting that will be!

We can talk about the epidemic of distraction another day. It’s a problem.

 

3) Develop your own study habits.

I will go to the grave singing the praises of flashcards and timelines. My students know this (and some don’t appreciate it). Find what works for you and stick to it. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a “study guide” for yourself that includes key terms, definitions, and even diagrams
  • Make a timeline of major movements, people, and events
  • Go back and highlight your notes in different colors based on topics
  •  Study with other people in your class IF all of you are committed to actually studying
  • Make flashcards–there are apps for this, which are great because you can study whenever, wherever! But it is also helpful to be forced to write out the information on physical flashcards, as the act of writing assists in memory. Pick your poison.
  • Have a “location” for each study session. This could be moving from room to room, sitting at a coffee shop for a few hours, or going to the library. Anything that gets you out of a rut!

 

4) Remember the physical world.

Look back at #2. That’s right—if you actually study when you say you’re studying, and not distracted by social media or texting, you’ll be able to get much more sleep than planned. I’m not saying that late nights won’t happen—because they will—but find a schedule and stick to it. Remember that your brain is actually part of your body, and if you aren’t functioning correctly, your thinking will be impaired. Here are some ways to take care of yourself:

  • Set a consistent sleep schedule. For me, during finals, this is 1am. to 9am. You might have an 8am exam, so your schedule should be something more like 11am. to 7am. Take advantage of your natural tendencies–if your brain works best at midnight, like mine, then stay up until then. If you’re a morning person (how do you do it?!) wake up at 6am and get started.
  • Stick to your exercise schedule, if you have one. Don’t create more stress for your body by not following your schedule. And if you don’t workout, this is not the week to start! Just take a stroll every once in a while.
  • Don’t study non-stop all day. I know, this is the best part. You should absolutely take breaks! Get some fresh air, call a friend, cook a meal, exercise. This should also be mapped out in your schedule.
  • Eat well, especially on test days, and especially breakfast. If you’re tempted to indulge in holiday sweets, see my next tip…

 

5) Treat Yourself.

In the abyss of studying, I sometimes promise myself something that acts as motivation. For me, it’s usually food (“Stick to my schedule today and then I’ll go get a pint of chocolate ice cream tonight!”). Now, I don’t plan on gaining weight during finals week (because it will easily snowball into holiday weight) so remember that #4 is also essential. Maintain a generally balanced life while studying and a pint of ice cream won’t kill you. If, however, you’ve been surviving on 3 hours of sleep a night, haven’t showered in four days, and decided to forego your workout for the past two weeks, then sugar is the last thing I’d recommend. You’ll regret it.

If you are not motivated by food, we can’t be friends. Just kidding, but I’m not sure who isn’t. Here are some other possible motivations to get your studying done:

  • Go see a movie
  • Invite a friend over
  • Start that novel you keep saying you don’t have time to read
  • Buy a sweater
  • I really can’t think of anything else that doesn’t involve food.

 

Happy Studying!

Advent, Sci-Fi, and Safe Spaces 12.2.16

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  1. That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. George Orwell critiqued this work for its non-scientific reality, admonishing Lewis for attempting to widen the sci-fi genre. But Orwell critiques exactly what makes Lewis’s work so…well…Lewis. The heavens break through all too often, disrupting the scientific view of material reality. The faerie world keeps appearing, though the characters are facing a technological revolution. It’s sci-fi meets fairy tale, but Lewis pulls it off. Not interested yet? It’s also an updated Arthurian legend–Merlin and all!
  2. Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross. Advent is fully upon us, and for those of us who didn’t grow up aware of the liturgical calendar, Gross’s guide to the Christian year is indispensable. Gross structures the book around three periods of the year: The Cycle of Light, the Cycle of Life, and the Cycle of Love. Each section contains historical information on each season and is followed by a weekly reading plan. Though I’m often reading The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, Gross’s book is helpful when it comes to particular seasons.
  3. This article from CiRCE. “Safe spaces” has been such a debated phrase, especially during the election, and especially when it comes to students. Some take the idea too far, while others have no respect for the spiritual turmoil that many people are going through–election or not. But this article points out the shallowness of safe spaces, and how the church provides sanctuary and healing.img_2873
  4. What I’m Really Reading Today: I’m writing a paper on modernity according to Edwin Muir and T.S. Eliot. Why those two? They both write about tradition, time, and  myth. Oh, and Eliot said that Muir was the best English poet of his day. This is my first exposure to Muir’s poetry–here’s a taste:

 

That was the day they killed the Son of God

On a squat hill-top by Jerusalem. 

Zion was bare, her children from their maze

Sucked by the demon curiosity 

Clean through the gates. The very halt and blind 

Had somehow got themselves up to the hill. 

-From “The Killing” by Edwin Muir