Category Archives: Reading

On the Bookshelf XXX

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The Terror: A Novel by Dan Simmons
Based on historical events, Simmons’ tale follows the crewman of the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror as they try to survive the Arctic Circle. Tragedy ensues: disease, starvation, and brutal temperatures ravage the men, while an unknown monstrosity stalks them on the ice. At nearly a thousand pages, this is one of those stories tailored made for getting lost in. I’m already having serious trouble putting it down.

Everything I Want to Do is Illegal by Joel Salatin
“Drawing upon 40 years’ experience as an ecological farmer and marketer, Joel Salatin explains with humor and passion why Americans do not have the freedom to choose the food they purchase and eat.” I’ve only ever read snippets of his work, so finding myself in the immediate vicinity of these essays was a real treat.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
The famous retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. It’s phenomenal. I only regret not reading it before now.

Putting Jesus in His Place by Robert Bowman, J. Ed Komoszewski
I picked this up when it was on sale awhile back: “Putting Jesus in His Place engages objections to the divine identity of Jesus Christ from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, Unitarians, and other religious perspectives. Its emphasis throughout, however, is on the positive case for the deity of Christ. The book introduces the reader to cutting-edge scholarship on New Testament Christology and makes the information accessible and usable for those who are not biblical scholars or theologians.”

What’s on your bookshelf right now?

On the Bookshelf XXIX

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Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Conspiracy theories. Templars. A map. And a literary joke gone very, very wrong. If an uber-bizarre, intellectually sophisticated version of National Treasure sounds like your thing, you may want to give Eco’s book a try.

The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett
A beautiful, Word-saturated collection of Puritan prayers that should be on every Christian’s shelf. “​Oh God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creaturely power and goodness, when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incar​​nate.”

My Life for Yours by Douglas Wilson
A walk through the Christian home.  Allie and I are reading through this together and appreciating it immensely.

What’s on your bookshelf right now?

Book Review: A Landscape with Dragons

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A Landscape with Dragons is about battlegrounds and books and battlegrounds that are books. In it Michael O’Brien offers a critique of contemporary children’s literature, with a goal of pushing parents to think seriously about the impact such reading can have on their children – for good or ill.

O’Brien is a smart and impeccably readable writer, and that makes it difficult not to respect his line of thought even when one disagrees with it. He’s also the author of Island of the World, one of the most marvelous storytelling triumphs I’ve ever seen. So while I’m busy reviewing Dragons, allow me to pause and strenuously recommend that you find a copy of Island somewhere. Experiencing that story will lend greater credibility to what the author has to say about stories here.

That said, I came away from Dragons with mixed feelings. Sometimes it was the pettiness of certain complaints; sometimes the line of argument just wasn’t very convincing. I’m not ready to concede, for example, that Jurassic Park is a manifesto for reptilian omniscience.

More troubling is O’Brien’s Roman Catholicism. He toots the popish horn rather loudly for my taste. (Being the iconographer that he is, I suppose such things are to be expected.) Case in point, there’s that awkward moment when he admonishes his readers about the perils of idolatry – and then urges them to invoke the intercession of the saints, the angels, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this Presbyterian, the irony was a bit much.

There is also his over-polite handling of the Universalism of George MacDonald. MacDonald was an exemplary writer and storyteller (see The Princess and the Goblin), but O’Brien’s appreciation for these qualities leads him to treat MacDonald’s stray theology with gloves that can only be described as alarmingly soft.

In sum? O’Brien urges us to be cautious in our reading habits, and to take our helpings of literary porridge with a grain of salt. We ought to do the same with him.

Having given that caveat, it must be said that I loved a great deal of what he has to say – above all, perhaps, his passionate reinforcement of a truth often acknowledged but infrequently acted upon: the minds of the young will not be left alone. Either we will see to them, or someone else will. This means war. This means tending the imagination, fortifying it to withstand the shock troops of paganism. As Douglas Wilson writes in Father Hunger,

If a Christian father does not teach his children that the dead are raised, someone else is going to teach them that the dead will do no such thing… Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum, and when Christian fathers leave a vacuum, someone or something else will in fact fill it.

And so it goes with the literature our children feed on. Lay off the super-sized pop cliches and faddish nothings. Real culture, the kind that reaches down and seizes beauty, goodness, and truth by its roots – this is essential. This is the choicest meat; this, the choicest wine. Why are we be satisfied with less?

“The imagination must be fed good food,” notes O’Brien, “or it will become the haunt of monsters.”

On the Bookshelf XXVIII

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Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun
Thoughtful and reminiscent of Matheson at his eerie finest, Black Moon is the story of apocalypse through mass insomnia. Basically: when 90% of the world’s population loses its ability to sleep, everything goes to hell. This is a stunner of a debut. I have my fingers crossed that it ends as well as it has begun.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
My second time through. If you haven’t read this book, you are committing a crime deserving of punishment. (Sorry, it had to be said. You know it did.)
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
A grand, gritty, painstakingly detailed account of the Spartans at Thermopylae. Pressfield is an engaging tale-spinner, and I’m looking forward to rewatching Zach Snyder’s 300 when I’m finished, just to compare.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Next to Douglas Wilson’s Wordsmithy, there is no writing book I return to more frequently or with greater relish than this one. Regardless of what you think of his fiction, King is a great writer. We can – and should – learn much from what he’s written here.

What’s on your bookshelf right now?

The New Wave of Shock Fiction

In A Landscape with Dragons, Michael O’Brien makes a key distinction between the horrors found in classical tales and the horrors that saturate so much contemporary fiction:

These shocks are presented as ends to themselves, raw violence as entertainment. In sharp contrast, the momentary horrors that occur in classical tales always have a higher purpose; they are intended to underline the necessity of courage, ingenuity, and character; the tales are about brave young people struggling through adversity to moments of illumination, truth, and maturity; they emphatically demonstrate that good is far more powerful than evil. Not so with the new wave of shock fiction… This nasty little world offers a thrill per minute, but it is like a sealed room from which the oxygen is slowly removed, replaced by an atmosphere of nightmare and a sense that the forces of evil are nearly omnipotent.