Friday, May 1, 2015

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

Batman has Albert. Wooster has Jeeves. And Wimsey has the amazing Mervyn Bunter as his butler sidekick.

Lord Peter Wimsey is a bored aristocrat who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder related to his experiences in WWI. One of the "cures" is to keep his mind busy by solving crimes. He especially enjoys beating the slow-witted inspector Sugg at his own game.

I loved this first in the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. Aside from some light profanities, it is chock-full of British witticisms and had me smiling from start to finish. A wealthy financier turns up missing on the same night that a naked stranger is found in Mr. Thipp's bathtub. They are not the same man, but Wimsey is determined to show that they are connected.

The two men who help are his manservant Bunter and Chief inspector Charles Parker. Both these men are endearing. Bunter is pure snob, but manages to pull it off beautifully. Parker is a more humble man who reads theology books for pleasure. He is the "slow and steady" foil to Wimsey's more flighty character.

Whose Body? pretends to be a light-hearted mystery, but asks important questions. The scientist in the story sees piety and concience as chemical/physical responses. "The knowledge of good and evil is an observed phenomenon, attendant upon a certain condition of the brain cells" (p. 91) Lord Peter and Inspector Parker have a long conversation about the the morality of detective work. Plus there are a lot of literary allusions. So it's a fun book if you like to think even when reading lighter fare.

Unlike the pricier books in the series Whose Body? is only 99 cents for Kindle.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Stephen Altrogge

When my work load is overwhelming, I don't want my reading to be heavy too. So I was happy to stumble upon these essays by Stephen Altrogge.  I must have been in the mood for Atrogge's quirky humor, because I had to keep myself from laughing out loud on the subway when I read, "There are certain things that parenting books can't prepare you for, such as dealing with real, living children."

This short book (68 pages) is light and witty, yet not "fluffy." Altrogge gives you lots to think about as he pokes fun at parenting experts, Amish romances, reality TV, and organic food. I really appreciated what he had to say about the present popularity of bucket lists:

If you were to only look at our bucket lists, you would conclude that my generation is the most ambitious generation to ever walk the face of the earth. Everybody wants to accomplish a lot of awesome things. Now, I'm all for ambitious goal-setting and for trying to acheive great things, but the whole concept of a bucket list kind of bothers me. When you think about it, the whole concept is profoundly selfish. [The Bible says,] "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." If anything, I should be making a bucket list of ways I want to serve others before I die."

Where's the excitement in that? Wheres the fun and thrill in that? I mean, holiness doesn't exactly give the same adrenaline rush as dropping out of a helicopter and skiing down the slopes of a mountain. The thing God cares about and honors is faithfulness, not famousness. Faithfulness looks like creating spreadsheets and changing diapers and caring for aging parents and setting up chairs on Sunday morning. Nobody gets a standing ovation for faithfulness. Nobody even notices, except God.

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum is an odd combination of goofy humor and clear thinking. Worth a look.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Movies about Faith

It's a rare thing to find a movie that deals with Christianity in a responsible and respectful way. So I was intrigued by these two lists that surfaced recently.

Relevant Magazine highlighted 8 Underrated "Christian" Movies. I've only seen a couple of them. Although The Book of Eli was way over my comfort level for violence, it was a remarkable movie. I'll never forget the scene when Solara wakes up and sees Eli reading the Bible and asks him why he would bother reading the same book every day. Good question. And of course the final scene when he reaches safety and "hands  over" the book is powerful.

The Imaginative Conservative lists 10 Movies Every Conservative Should See. While, not overtly Christian, they deal with the important themes of hope, mercy, free will, and family. (I've only seen one of the ten.)

Let's face it. Most Christian movies are cheesy and I'd be embarrassed to show them to anyone. But here are a few other films that handle Christian themes with care:

1) A Man for All Seasons (1966)
2) Babette's Feast (1987)
3) The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
4) Unbroken (2014)
5) Chariots Of Fire (1981)
6) Secretariat (2010) - Though not technically a "Christian" movie, it includes voice-overs of scripture being read and seamlessly includes the gospel song "Oh Happy Day." Powerful without being obtrusive.
7) Person of Interest (TV series) deals with many ethical issues. (Are bad people worth saving? How far can man go in trying to play God? etc.) In spite of the violence, I appreciated the repeated redemptive themes in this program.

Do you have suggestions for other movies?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Righteous by Martin Gilbert

Martin Gilbert's The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust gives an account of the thousands of gentiles who helped the Jews during the Holocaust. Many of us know the names of the more famous rescuers (Schindler, Wallenberg, Corrie Ten Boom, etc.), but Gilbert highlights hundreds more.

He divides the book by countries, which makes for a fascinating study of how different areas in Europe reacted to the Nazi mandate to exterminate the Jews. Some caved in and turned in their Jewish poplulation while others (like Norway) resisted with all their might.

Gilbert writes that there are 19,000 documented "Righteous" but many thousands more whose names will never be known. In fact, for every Jew who was saved at least TEN people were involved either by directly helping or by looking the other way and not reporting them. After the war, one man, Konrade Latte, could name 50 people who had helped him survive. This was more than "doing a good deed" since helping a Jew was punishable by death. When a hiding place was discovered, those in hiding (as well as their host families) were brutally murdered.

By and large most of the rescuers were Christians, but not always. In some cases even anti-semites were hiding Jews as a protest against Nazi savagery. A few rescuers extorted money from their "guests" and turned them out when the money was gone. But most of the stories are about poor people who were willing to share the little they had with those in need. Huge numbers of Jews spent the war hiding in pits under barns and village houses, only coming out at night to get fresh air.

How could 450 pages of statistics and unpronouncable names (Wladyslaw Liszewski, for example) be so compelling? I have to admit that after awhile some of the stories started to run together, but, honestly, reading list after list of rescuers and rescued showed a magnitude of mercy that was staggering.

It was astounding to read that none of the Righteous thought that their actions were out of the ordinary. It was astounding that many were prepared to die for people they hardly knew. It was astounding that many parents handed their babies to complete strangers as they marched off to concentration camps with complete faith that their children would be taken care of. (One huge question in my mind was, "What happened to all those parentless children after the war?")

If you are interested in WWII and also in this fascinating slice of Holocaust history, I recommend this book.

Stay tuned because I'll be giving it away to one of my readers when I head to the U.S. this summer.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Intimidating Classics

Although I was an English major in college and have a masters in philosophy and theology, I am intimidated by certain books. I sometimes wish I still had an English teacher to walk me through them. But I've discovered the next best thing: simplified (but not dumbed down) versions.

The less-daunting language helped me get over my qualms about these titles and it didn't take long to recognize their well-deserved classic status. The books I have tackled this way are:

Beowulf (Serraillier's children's version)
Paradise Lost (comes with a plain English version next to the poetic version)
The Odyssey (retold by Charles Lamb)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Morpurgo's version for young people)

Another favorite method for getting through a difficult book is to listen to the audioversion, but this doesn't always work for books that requires careful, slow reading. Here are a few titles I would not have read (and enjoyed) if it had not been for the audioversion:

Shakespeare plays, The Turn of the Screw by James, Heart of Darkness by Conrad, Emma & Northanger Abbey by Austen, Daniel Deronda by Eliot and Moby Dick.

Even though I know they are worth the extra effort I'm still avoiding:

Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Spencer's Faerie Queen, Canterbury Tales, The Aeneid, and Dante's Divine Comedy. Oh, and Uncle Tom's Cabin.

What about you? Are there any books you've been afraid to try?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Honey for a Teen's Heart by Gladys Hunt

Why would I read about books recommended for teens when my teens are grown? Why would I add almost a hundred titles to my already overwhelming list of "books to read someday"? Because I'm nuts. Nuts about books, that is. And I'm fond of Gladys Hunt whose Honey for a Child's Heart led us to many happy hours of family read-alouds.  AND because a really good YA book can be read and enjoyed by an adult. (Two of my very favorite books are The Giver and Tuck Everlasting.)

I also like books that make me think. The subtitle of Honey for a Teen's Heart is: "Using Books to Communicate with Teens" and Hunt offers hundreds of suggestions for family read-alouds that will open up the floor for discussion of crucial subjects. Some of her choices are more gritty than I like, but probably necessary because of the sordid world we live in. Each recommendation is followed by several paragraphs of explanation about its theme or its author's world view. Very helpful!

The book is divided into sections by genre/subject. (Mostly fiction titles since stories offer wonderful fodder for discussion.) A small percentage of the books fall into the "twaddle" category, but every parent has to make book choices based on their child's interests and reading level. There are dozens of tried and true classics listed, but many more modern and new (to me) books.

Since I abhor most of the rubbish that has been written for children in the last 60 years, I'm thankful for someone like Gladys Hunt who has sifted through the chaff and brought out the wheat. I can hardly get wait to get back to the U.S. to look up some of these titles. (two months from now!)

I look forward to sharing my thoughts about these books in the near future.

Note: There is a small issue with the Kindle formatting which sometimes puts information from the sidebar into the middle of the text.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Brown Study by Grace S. Richmond

The reasons I dislike vintage novels (preachy and sentimental) are the same reasons I'm drawn to them (morally uplifting and undemanding).

Grace S. Richmond is an author from that era who intrigues me because my grandparents used to read her books together when they were courting in 1917. Anyway, her book, The Brown Study, was a pleasant surprise in light reading. It had a nice twist on the common plot of "poor-girl-meets-rich-boy-and-they-live happily-ever-after."

Donald Brown is the young pastor of the huge wealthy congregation of St. Timothy's. After some soul-searching, he decides that he's wasting his life serving such superficial folks, and he makes the experiment of moving into a poor neighborhood to see if he can make a difference there. His friends think he's a lunatic and the gist of the book is how they all come to understand one another. (There's a little romance too.) The title is a pun on the old-fashioned expression "Brown Study," which means to think deeply about something.

Two other novels that deal with this theme are Harold Bell Wright's A Higher Call and Elizabeth Goudge's Gentian Hill. In these books the pastor is forced to decide if he'll leave a comfortable ministry for a demanding one. (This is also the message of Jen Hatmaker's Interrupted, which I'm reading right now so this subject is really resonating with me.)

There is a chapter that could not have been written today about how Brown borrows the neighbor's baby to cuddle in his loneliness. Modern readers would only see sexual implications in that.

This title is free for Kindle (My version was followed by a romantic short story "The Time of His Life" that you can take or leave.)