Friday, November 30, 2012

Recommendations for Light Reading (and one Chunkster!)

In the past two weeks I've enjoyed some light reads. All were free at the time, except for The Hobbit.

The Mystery of 31 New Inn (1912) by R. Austin Freeman.  It was interesting to discover that Freeman dominated the field of detective fiction for the first 25 years of his career.  His key character, Dr. Thorndyke, was overshadowed, however,  by more memorable men such as Sherlock Holmes, Peter Wimsey and Hercule Poirot.  Several of Freeman’s titles are available for 99 cents on Kindle if you are interested in a quick, pleasant read (especially if you love quaint old-fashioned language.)

The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter - I have enjoyed several of Porter’s books, but this was too sentimental for my tastes.  David Langston harvests herbs for medicinal purposes and seeks to win the love of his “dream girl”.(Librivox recording)

The Confessions of Arsène Lupin - (Librivox recording)  Another intriguing installment in the life of the "gentleman burglar”.  The reader, Kathy Barrett read without much emotion, but that seemed to fit the genre.  Beside that, she pronounced the foreign words beautifully, something quite rare for Librivox readers.

The Hobbit - review here.  Fun!

I am also listening to Moby Dick
on the Moby Dick Big Read.  Yes, all the other bloggers were right. This is a classic worthy of the name.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Quote on Foreknowledge by Tolkien

Sometimes we wish we could see into the future because the “unknown” is so nerve-wracking.  Yet it is a mercy that we can’t.  How could we bear it if we saw all the troubles that were ahead?  According to Tolkien, it is a mercy in another sense:

And Gandalf said, "Many folk like to know beforehand what is to be set on the table; but those who have laboured to prepare the feast like to keep their secret; for the wonder makes the words of praise louder. (Return of the King, p. 307)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Life Together by Bonhoeffer (Part Two)

While the overt theme of Life Together is community, the underlying theme is servant leadership.  According to Bonhoeffer, a community can only be healthy if every thought and action is bathed in a spirit of gratitude and humility.  Last week I wrote about how Bonhoeffer redefines the basis for Christian community: nothing less than the blood of Jesus.  In this post I want to focus on his advice to pastors, in which he redefines ministry as we normally think of it.

In Chapter Four he writes of various ministries:  1) The ministry of holding one’s tongue, 2) The ministry of meekness, 3) The ministry of listening, 4) The ministry of helpfulness, 5) The ministry of bearing each other’s burdens - after which one has the liberty to do the ministry of proclaiming the gospel.

He concludes with the ministry of authority, turning it’s accepted definition on its ear (just as Jesus did in Matthew 20:25-28).  Authority is not displayed via power, but through servanthood.  A pastor who humbly believes that God has put him in authority over his people does not need to coerce or control them.

Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. . . .  Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities , virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christian community.  The desire we so often hear expressed for “authoritative personalities” springs frequently enough from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive. . . . The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. (108, 109)

This little book had enough “revolutionary” ideas to keep my head spinning for a month.   Highly recommended for those of who have been Christians a long time and may be in a rut.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

E-Books vs. Physical Books - Part One

Tim Challies had a link to a New York Times article on how e-readers have yet to match up to regular books.  It's a bit lengthy, but quite insightful.

I admit it.  I have become emotionally dependent on my e-reader because of my book addiction and the fact that I have very little access to books in English in our new location.  But sometimes I desperately miss the maneuverability of physical books, the ability to flip back to favorite passages without laborious clicking.  And as someone else has said, "You never look at an e-book with quite the same emotion and love as you do a dog-eared novel that you've read a dozen times."

In my post on Moonwalking with Einstein, I cited Joshua Foer's argument that moving from scrolls to books  took away the necessity of being completely familiar with the text.  It made us lazier readers.  Yet Lev Grossman (in the NY Times article) contends that moving from scroll to book (codex) was an amazing advancement.

The codex also came with a fringe benefit: It created a very different reading experience. With a scroll you could only trudge through texts the long way, linearly. With a codex, for the first time, you could jump to any point in a text instantly, nonlinearly. You could flip back and forth between two pages and even study them both at once. You could cross-check passages and compare them and bookmark them. You could skim, if you were bored, and jump back ro reread your favorite parts. It was the paper equivalent of random-access memory, and it must have been almost supernaturally empowering.

Yes, yes, yes, that's what I miss about reading "real" books!  That's why I'll never be able to do indepth Bible study on my Kindle.  It just doesn't allow for it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Part One)

I thought I could sail through this 100 page book in a couple of days, but I was overestimating my powers of assimilation and underestimating Bonhoeffer’s profundity.  Like some books by Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, I understood only half of Life Together.The little I “got”, however, was well worth the effort.

Bonhoeffer wrote the book in 1938 after having lived in an underground seminary with twenty-five pastors.  It addressed the issues of Christian brothers living in close proximity.  

It is clear why I was so enamored with this book during my seminary days. After all, I was living in community with hundreds of other men and women whose sole purpose was preparation for the ministry.  We ate together, prayed together, studied together.  Now, almost 30 years later, I’m reading it in a completely different context.  My husband and I are working with church planters whom we hardly know.  We meet briefly during the week and then scatter back to the privacy of our own homes.  Life Together helped me see how loosely we use the word “community” and made me more determined to put up with the necessary “inconvenience” of spending more time together.

The book opens with Psalm 133:1 and then goes on to explain the steps that make possible a unity that is “good and pleasant.”   Right from the start Bonhoeffer nixes the idea that we have fellowship because of common interests or backgrounds or because we like each other.  Comfortable feelings toward one another have nothing to do with it.  True fellowship is based solely on the fact that we are sinners saved by grace.  

The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.  But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams.  Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves. . . . Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight. . . . 

A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.  Sooner or later it will collapse. . . . He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. . . . The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.  (pp. 26, 27 30) 

I have many other thoughts, but will save them for my next post. A worthwhile and thought-provoking read.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Have you ever watched  a movie in which the wife is married to a jerk?  When the man of her dreams comes along, you wish with all your heart that she could leave her slob of a husband and find happiness with the new man?  I. Hate. Those. Movies. Because they manipulate me into elevating my flimsy feelings above what I know to be right.

I had similar feelings as I read Catching Fire,
the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  Yes, there is the same heart-thumping action as book one.  Yes, the themes of self-sacrifice are very real and powerful.  But the love triangle is starting to wear on me. Katniss has strong feelings for Peetah because they’ve been through hell together in the arena, but she reserves her romantic feelings for Gale, her lifelong best friend.  When she has bad dreams, however, she allows Peetah to hold her through the night.   Blech.  She hates herself for using him, but she can’t help it...  You feel so sorry for her.  She’s got so much to worry about - keeping her friends and family alive, etc.  But I don’t like being manipulated into thinking that what she’s doing is justifiable.  

And do you really want me to believe that this handsome hulk of a guy holds her through the night with nary a sexual impulse? Is this some feminist theme - that men are there for our needs, but we don’t need to be there for theirs?  Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want sex in these books.  I just think it’s weird that this guy loves her so much that he can pretend that he doesn’t have hormones.

Off my soap box now.  There are things to really like about Katniss.  She eschews the empty-headed people from the Capitol who care only about clothes, tattoos and outlandish hairdos.  She scorns “playboy”  Finnik, comparing him to the lascivious Cray.  She feels pity for the morphling addicts who need the drug to escape from reality.  (She, herself, gets drunk once, but this is shown in a negative light.)  In addition, she is constantly reaching out to the kind of people whom the world rejects.  The main theme of book two is Katniss’ determination to give her life in exchange for Peetah’s.  So aside from her ambivalence toward the men in her life, she is a very moral character.  

Catching Fire has more gore than Hunger Games (book one) and more mentions of people in various forms of nakedness (no details though).   I’d think twice before giving this to a young girl to read. Although the book ended with a great twist, I'm going to resist checking out the third book until I read a few others with less adrenaline-based plots.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Steven Leacock

This Canadian classic (which just celebrated its 100th anniversary) has been on my TBR list for years. But I never got around to “reading” Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town until I downloaded it from LibriVox.  Each of the twelve chapters describes a person or event in the mythical town of Mariposa in the early 1900’s. Leacock pokes fun at small town ways, but he seems to do it without any malice.  Much of the humor is understated and since the majority of the narrators read with deadpan voices, I almost missed some of it.  I kept thinking that if a man like Garrison Keillor got hold of this material, it could be laugh out loud funny.

Many of the characters in the stories have an exaggerated sense of importance. Others, like Reverend Drone and Peter Pupkin have an overwrought sense of worthlessness. Pupkin, the bank teller, is afraid he is unworthy of Zena Pepperleigh, the judge’s daughter.  Except for the fact that suicide is no joking matter, the chapter on Pupkin’s attempts to do away with himself so that Zena will notice him is quite funny.

This is an easy, yet slow read (Lately, all books seem slow after the Hunger Games), but it might be worth a listen if you’re cooking or sewing and want a good story in the background.

Sample from Chapter One: 

Of course if you come to the place fresh from New York, you are deceived. Your standard of vision is all astray; you think the place is quiet. You do imagine that Mr. Smith is asleep merely because he closes his eyes as he stands. But live in Mariposa for six months or a year and then you will begin to understand it better; the buildings get higher and higher; the Mariposa House grows more and more luxurious; McCarthy's block towers to the sky; the buses roar and hum to the station; the trains shriek; the traffic multiplies; the people move faster and faster; a dense crowd swirls to and fro in the post office and the five and ten cent store -- and amusements! well, now! lacrosse, baseball, excursions, dances, the Fireman's Ball every winter and the Catholic picnic every summer; and music -- the town band in the park every Wednesday evening, and the Oddfellows' brass band on the street every other Friday; the Mariposa Quartette, the Salvation Army -- why, after a few months' residence you begin to realize that the place is a mere mad round of gaiety.

Also available free for Kindle.