Friday, June 27, 2014

Our Culture, What's Left of It by Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple is the pseudonym for writer and retired prison doctor Anthony Daniels. He writes about the death of culture in England with the lucidity of a G.K. Chesterton or a C.S. Lewis (without, however, their Christian perspective). Our Culture, What's Left Of It is so non-politically correct that it had me gaping throughout. Whether he’s lambasting Princess Diana, D.H. Lawrence, or Virginia Woolf, or discussing the benefits of government corruption in Italy or the the inability of muslims to hold a frank discussion of ideas, Dalrymple’s clarity and verbal expertise will force you to rethink many common assumptions.

I kept wondering how he gets away with writing this kind of thing, yet at the same time wishing there was a similar American voice. Thanks to Corey at Ink Slinger for alerting me to this mind-stretching title. It was quite a divergence from my regular classic, cozy fiction choices, but worth the extra time and effort. Here are a few salient quotes:

On British society: To break a taboo or to transgress are terms of the highest praise in the vocabulary of modern critics, irrespective of what has been transgressed or what taboo broken. 

On the evil of political correctness: It does violence to people’s souls by forcing them to say or imply what they do not believe but must not question.... And what is political correctness but Newspeak, the attempt to make certain thoughts inexpressible through the reform of language?

On Shakespeare: He is a realist without cynicism and an idealist without utopianism.

On the sexual revolution: No one seems to have noticed, however, that a loss of a sense of shame means a loss of privacy; a loss of privacy means a loss of intimacy; and a loss of intimacy means a loss of depth. There is, in fact, no better way to produce shallow and superficial people than to let them live their lives entirely in the open, without concealment of anything.

Be warned. Although Dalrymple deplores the profanation of culture, he does not hesitate to show how far society has fallen by quoting those who are excessively crude. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Free Summer Reading - Vintage Novels

After my last post on Christian romances, you might think I don't like light reading. But I do. It just has to be well-written. The Common Room has a list of great summertime books. Some are syrupy, but some are classics. All are free for Kindle. You'll be sure to find something in the list to fit your tastes. One of my absolute favorites is there: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Friday, June 20, 2014

Christian Romances

On very rare occasions I grab a Christian romance novel when I want a quick, light read that will be inoffensive. The problem, however, is that bad writing offends me. Honestly, where are the editors of these books!?!? My most recent attempt was a book about a widow who discovers her husband, a medical doctor, had secretely gambled away their wealth.

She starts a new life with God’s help and meets a wonderful widower and lives happily ever after. There was nothing terribly wrong with the story, but it was supposed to take place in Victorian England and all the dialogue sounded one hundred percent American.

Many descriptive (showing) sentences were followed by unnecessary telling sentences such as this: “I wouldn’t mind weavin’ baskets if I could stay home from school all the time.” Obviously he dislikes school, but the author has to hammer that in with the following phrase: Jeremiah often let it be known that the pursuit of education was low on his list of priorities. This kind of disprespect to the intelligence of the reader rankles me.

I am a Christian who appreciates a story in which the protagonist’s actions are governed by his sincere faith, but I thought that the preachiness of the book was over the top. 

In my younger days I was a big fan of Janette Oke and Gilbert Morris books, but I tired of them when they all started sounding the same. And after swearing them off for a time, I just never could get back into them. The best writer by far in the Christian romance category is Jan Karon. Although her books are not strictly romances, she somehow she broke the formulaic barrier and wrote believable, non-syrupy novels about people of faith (with intelligent sentences to boot!)

What are your thoughts about Christian romance novels? 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Little Manfred by Michael Morpurgo

Little Manfred is a short children’s book about a German P.O.W. who is interned in England and who stays for a few years after the war to work on a farm. (This was not a choice, but a part of his punishment before being repatriated.) Many years later he returns to England to try to bring closure to his experience.

To avoid spoilers, I will only say that Morpurgo has written a gem of a book, conveying the conflicting feelings of men in war (but in manner that’s not too overwhelming for children). It’s a sweet story of friendship in spite of very real barriers. And in a small way, it’s a tale of hope and healing. It’s what Morpurgo does best. He takes a big story like the War and skillfully weaves people’s smaller stories into it, resulting in a lovely book.

I expected to like Little Manfred since it was written by Murpurgo (of War Horse fame) and was about World War II, but I didn’t expect the serendipitous references to the 1966 World Cup  – quite appropriate, considering the Cup games beginning in Brazil this week. Now even my history/soccer-loving husband wants to read it!

More about Morpurgo can be found in this earlier post.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Free Summer Reading - Mysteries

I've been in the mood to read some mysteries so I was delighted to find this list of free detective novels (e-books) over at The Common Room blog. I've already got the Chesterton titles, but a few others appealed to me for their Britishness: The Man in Lower Ten & The Mystery of Lincoln's Inn

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

After listening to Adrian Praetzellis read Treasure Island, I downloaded his version of Tess of the D'urbervillesI had a vague recollection of having read this for a college lit class but all that I remembered was that Tess was a fallen woman. I will do my best to write about the book without any more spoilers than that. Beautiful (but poor) young Tess is taken advantage of by a rich young man early in the novel. Thankfully, Hardy spares us the sordid details and spends the greater part of the novel revealing the effects of Tess's transgression. Hardy makes it clear he sees her as more sinned against than sinful. I was completely blindsided by the ending (I must have slept through that lit class!), but I have no excuse for that since I knew from previous experience that Hardy is a gloomy gus.

In spite of the unhappy conclusion, I strongly recommend this book for its fine prose, compelling story, and for its vigorous portrayal of the "evils" of Christianity.  Our hero, ironically named Angel, declares he has no use for doctrines, but, is "of course, a believer in good morals." (p. 225) A few pages later Hardy compares a mill that is situated next to a crumbling abbey. He observed that the one continued to thrive because "food is a perennial necessity; [but] the abbey had perished, creeds being transient." (234) Clearly Hardy believes the world would be a better place without the doctrines imposed by the Church.

The religious people in the book are either hardhearted or hypocrites. Those who have rejected Christianity want morality without dogma. But the horrible result is that there is only law and no grace. And nothing shows this more than Angel's reaction to Tess's confession. Since he has rejected the articles of Christian faith, he has no basis for forgiveness. She has broken the law and she must pay. And pay, she does!

Although Hardy himself rejected Christianity, he was clearly familiar with the Bible which makes this book rich in biblical allusions. I found great pleasure in those references and in his excellent writing. I only wish he could have known that Christ's teachings are not "suffocating creeds" as much as they are liberating truths.

Nobody says it better than G.K. Chesterton in his book Heretics: The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions, it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut.... When [a man] drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.