Friday, January 31, 2014

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I was recently given a copy of Son, Lois Lowry’s conclusion to The Giver. It has been six years since I read (and loved) Giver, so I decided to give it a quick re-read before delving into the newer book. Would having read two classic dystopian novels (1984 and Brave New World) in the mean time diminish the pleasure and impact of Giver the second time around? Not a bit.

Jonas lives in a highly structured future society where husbands and wives are matched up  by the government and each family unit is assigned one male and one female child (not related in any way to the designated parents). Jonas is almost twelve and awaiting the big day when all the "Twelves" receive their job assignments, which are career paths chosen for them by city officials according to their natural gifts. He is surprised to be chosen as the "Receiver of Memories," a very unique position in the community.

As soon as children reach puberty they are given a pill to control their "stirrings." This medication also serves as an equalizer for all emotions. Love and anger are barely recognizable as such. Jonas is allowed to stop taking the medicine since his assignment requires him to feel joy and pain. He feels threatened by this at first and then comes to believe that the colorless, safe world in which he lives is actually more dangerous and diabolical than the one that freedom would bring.

Common dystopian themes surface throughout the story: Government mandated families, and motherhood as a function vs. a vocation. Sexuality is something to be repressed. Books (and free thinking) are off limits. A substandard life is the norm since pain and risk cause too much chaos.

Lowry claimed in an interview that the book was not meant to be specifically Christian and that it should appeal to all religions. But as a believer, I found many of the themes fascinating, particularly the necessity of one person suffering for the sake of all the others.

Then there's the euthanasia theme. And the theme of naming as nurturing. Babies in the nursery are only given names once it is proved they will be healthy. Parents in the book will call a child by his birth number when they are cross with him (basically dehumanizing him.) The classic biblical example of valuing something in this way is found in Isaiah 43 when God tells Israel, "I have called you by name." This same theme was expertly done by Madeline L'Engle in the third book of her Wrinkle in Time series, A Swiftly Tilting Planet

The Giver is a well-written and thought-provoking book. I'll be reviewing its conclusion next week.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

British vs. American War Movies

Since I enjoy WWII movies, I appreciated John Howard's Reid's insight into films made about the war:

No greater contrast can be found than that between the war-time propaganda movies made by England and America.  The Hollywood product is full of false heroics and exaggeratedly racist bravado (“One of us is worth ten of them”), glamorized action and an enormous amount of dame chasing on leave.  The British movies are soberly realistic to a fault...; little attempt is made to glamorize war and give it a glossy sheen of high adventure (although there is plenty of tension, war is usually shown in all its horror and futility and mindless waste); whilst Germans are invariably presented as lacking the quick wits of the English, they are still a force to be taken extremely seriously; and leaves are usually spent quietly with family in environs far removed from high-stepping night clubs.

(from p. 248 in Reid’s 140 All-Time Must-See Movies for Film Lovers

Over time (because of all the books I've read about it) I've learned to prefer the more "truthful" portrayals of the war over the morale boosters, but I enjoy them both.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Victorian Challenge Wrap-Up

One of my goals for 2013 was to read one Victorian author per month. I read ten authors and had mixed feelings about them. As I wrote earlier, the more obscure novels (even some by well-known authors) have fallen off everyone's radar for the very good reason that they don't hold up over time. These are the last two books I read neither of which merited a review of its own.

Old-Fashioned Fairy Tales by Juliana Horatio Ewing - While I did not love this book, it did grow on me. In several stories,foolishness is severely punished rather than virtue being rewarded (a little hard on modern sensibilities). Half of the stories were very good and the other half were forgettable. Unfortunately the book starts out with the mediocre tales.The story of the two widow ladies who live at the base of a monastery is a classic which needs to be revisited. I loved the introduction, which is quoted here.

Matthew Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum and Other Poems by Matthew Arnold - Arnold was a lover of classical Greek literature and many of his poems have themes relating to those well-known (at the time) stories. But this makes his poetry obscure to most modern readers. Helpful explanatory notes for each poem are in the back of book but were virtually unusable on my Kindle since it’s very difficult to page back and forth.

The tweaked list:
1. George Eliot - Adam Bede - really liked it
2. Wilkie Collins - The Moonstone - liked it but didn't love it
3. Robert Louis Stevenson - The Master of Ballantrae - really enjoyed it
4. Charles Dickens - David Copperfield - really enjoyed it
5. Anne Brontë - Tenant of Wildfell Hall - liked it
6. Margaret Oliphant - The Marriage of Elinor - strongly disliked
7. Charlotte Yonge - The Heir of Redclyffe - didn't make it to this author
8. Mary Louisa Molesworth - The Carved Lions - okay
9. Juliana H. G. Ewing - Fairy Tales - see above
10. Thomas Hardy - A Pair of Blue Eyes - liked it, but didn't love it
11. Matthew Arnold - Sohrab and Rustum and other Poems - see above
12. Anthony Trollope - The Claverings - okay

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Carlingford Chronicles by Margaret Oliphant

Good writers ruin you for mediocre ones. I should never have read George Eliot before picking up Oliphant.

I had written earlier about discovering Margaret Oliphant through G.K. Chesterton's book on Victorian authors. I did not like the first book I tried and followed someone's suggestion to read the Carlingford Chronicles. According to Wikipedia they are loosely related stories which take place in the same city yet involve different clergymen. I was hoping for some Trollope-like insights into clerical life, and was sorely disappointed. Actually, I liked the first book I read, The Rector, but following the Wikipedia list I assumed I had to go back and read Salem Chapel (first in the chronology). Big mistake.

Salem Chapel doesn't fit the description of a prequel to The Rector. In fact, without having read The Rector first I would not have know about the relationship between Lucy Wodehouse and Wentworth that is just hinted at in SC.  This book had none of the lighthearted wit of the second.  In fact, Arthur Vincent, the protagonist, is an insufferable bore. Not only is he too proud to reach out to the simple folk in his parish, he's self-centered, jealous, vengeful, sullen and unbending. Furthermore, this was a typical example of a Victorian "sensation" novel complete with a villain out to ruin a lady's virtue and the subsequent necessity of her having brain fever so no one really knows what happened till she comes out of it. UGH!

The sequels (The Doctor's Family, The Perpetual Curate, Miss Marjoribanks, and Phoebe Junior) are all on my Kindle, but I am not sure I'll be making the effort to read them.

If you've read any of the above titles and can recommend them, please let me know.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

G.K. Chesterton's New Year Quote

Diane at An Extraordinary Day has a nice printable of G.K. Chesterton's New Year quote: "The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year, but rather that we should have a new soul."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Resources for Scripture Saturation

I wrote earlier that one of my goals for the New Year was to read the Bible from cover to cover. Since then I've seen many resources that would be helpful for those who are wanting to get more Scripture into their hearts and minds this year. My sister wrote of a plan for reading the Bible in 90 days. (15 chapters a day). An article at Gospel Coalition talked about how reading the Bible intensely changes your thinking. (Mr. Carter recommends reading a Bible book 20 times before going on to the next book.) A whole lot of Bible reading plans are listed at Ligonier Ministries.

Finally, is offering the ESV Bible as its free audiobook this month.

The basic way to read the Bible in one year is three chapters a day and five on Sunday. Since I sometimes miss a day, I'm shooting for five chapters every day. And because of the articles mentioned above (and especially the one I wrote of in a previous post), I'm trying to do ten chapters a couple of times per week. This way I hope to read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice. AND with the audio Bible, I may even "read" the whole thing one more time. I'm not doing this because I'm "super spiritual".  On the contrary, I'm doing this in the hopes of growing in my faith and in my understanding of God's matchless word.

You didn't start on January 1st? Not a problem. It's never too late to start reading Scripture.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Worthwhile Movie #9 - Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I know that this is supposed to be a literary blog and that I try to recommend books and movies that are a cut above what passes for entertainment in our culture. But I have to put my two cents in about the second Hunger Games movie. I surprised myself by liking the books and surprised myself even more by loving the film version of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It was amazing. I liked it even better than the print version, which never happens.

Some of the most powerful themes of the trilogy are clearly seen in this second installment: The fact that hope is more powerful than fear. The fact that it's better to die for something that matters than live in a hellish society (Don't even get me started on how so many characters in the movie were willing to lay down their lives for a purpose greater than themselves.) In both the first and second films, there is a strong emphasis on the strong protecting the weak. And in Catching Fire the "rejects" form an alliance to beat the powers that be - a perfect example of I Corinthians 1:27 where the weak are used to shame the strong. Astounding.

I hate modern movies for their overdose of sex, profanity and violence. This film has lots of the latter, a few curses and no hanky panky. See it.

(My only question is: "Why doesn't Katniss ever run out of arrows?")