Monday, July 28, 2014

E-Books vs Physical Books - Part Three

Tim Challies once again linked to a great post from The New Yorker about how our brains process printed words and the big difference between e-books and regular books. I continue to be fascinated by this discussion.

One slice of the article:

Professor Ann Mangen had her students read a short story in two formats: a pocket paperback or a Kindle e-book. When Mangen tested the readers' comprehension, she found that the medium mattered a lot. When readers were asked to place a series of events from the story in chronological order - a simple plot-reconstruction task, not requiring deep analysis or critical thinking -  those who had read the story in print fared significantly better, making fewer mistakes and recreating an over-all more accurate version of the story. The words looked identical, but their physical materiality mattered for basic comprehension.

MaryanneWolf's (author of a book on the history of reading called Proust and the Squid) concerns go far beyond simple comprehension. She fears that as we turn to digital formats, we may see a negative effect on the process that she calls deep reading..."Reading is a bridge to thought," she says. "And it's that process that I think is the real endangered aspect of reading."

Two previous posts on this topic are here and here.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman

After I read a number of reviewers saying Mrs. Mike was their favorite book ever, I whipped over to PaperBackSwap and snagged a copy. A few months later (as we headed out the door for a few days of vacation) I stuffed it into my bookbag expecting a fun, fluffy read. The first few chapters have a little romance and a lot of humor, so I settled in for a cozy time of it. I did not get what I bargained for.

It's 1906 and sixteen year old Kathy O'Fallon is sent to Alberta, Canada to live with a bachelor uncle because the climate is supposed to be good for her lungs. She falls in love with Mike Flannigan, a Canadian Mountie, marries and moves even farther north. Kathy discovers that her husband not only represents the law, he's doctor, dentist, counselor and jack-of-all-trades. Not only that. Life. Is. Hard. Forest fires, vicious bears, diptheria epidemics, and sub-zero temperatures are just a few of the perils they face.

So it wasn't the light read I was expecting, but it was deeply satisfying nevertheless. Kathy and Mike start with happiness, get sidetracked by tragedies, but fight their way back to joy. I kept thinking their story would make a great movie, and sure enough a 1949 version was filmed. I didn't know till I linked this review to Amazon that there are two sequels: The Search for Joyful and Kathy Little Bird.

As much as I hate swearing, none of the cursing in this book seemed gratuitous. In fact, the funniest scene in the entire book involved a drunk man being made sober by putting his head under a water pump where "profanity and water ran down into the drain." Also, there is one reference to the Indians as "savages," but for the most part Kathy and Mike love and reach out to the Indians.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Michael O'Brien Quote on Stories

Because I appreciate a good discussion about children's literature and the value of fairy tales, I enjoyed Michael O'Brien's A Landscape With Dragons. He argues against most modern fiction for young people because it makes the macabre appealing. (This was written well before the vampire craze.) Fairy tales, says O'Brien, have bad dragons and good knights and children are very aware of the line between good and evil. Modern stories, on the other hand blur the lines between the two.

Our truest stories tell us who we are and where we should be going. They inform us about the nature of the enemy. They strengthen us for the journey. A badly flawed tale, on the other hand, can weaken and confuse it. It may even direct us into some very dangerous territory. (p. 102)

My favorite quote along this line will always be G.K. Chesterton's on dragons: Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell the children that dragons can be killed. (This is a paraphrase of the quote from Tremendous Trifles: "What fairy tales give the child is  his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.")

Friday, July 18, 2014

Faith in Literature

After my rant about substandard writing in Christian romances, I thought I'd create a list of classics that skillfully portray the intense Christian beliefs of their central characters without nauseating the reader.

The Warden  by Trollope (my review here)
The Dean's Watch by Goudge (my review here)
Gilead by Robinson (my review here)
Cry, the Beloved Country by Paton (my review here)
Middlemarch by Eliot (my review here)
Jane Eyre  by Brontë (my review here)
Silence by Endo (my review here)

Marvin Olasky (in the June 28 issue of World Magazine) listed his ten favorite Christian fiction authors: Randy Alcorn, Don Brown, Tim Downs, Brian Godawa, Steven James, Ray Keating, John K. Reed, Randy Singer, Dave Swavely and Bret Lott. (I have not read ANY of these guys, but wonder if they lean toward more guy-friendly stories.)

Do you have any recommendations for novels (new or old) that show faith in God in a positive, convincing way?

(For more suggestions on faith in literature, the list of "100 Authors of Faith" at has always intrigued me. I've only read about a dozen of them so far.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne

Several writers who are remembered as children’s authors also wrote books for adults. (Dr. Seuss, Russell Hoban, Frances Hodgsen Burnett, and A.A. Milne, to name a few.) Since I’ve been in the mood for mysteries this summer, I was happy to see Milne’s The Red House Mystery was a free download for Kindle.

Mark Ablett is a rich, spoiled bachelor whose only friend is his cousin, Matthew Cayley. Cayley runs Ablett’s estate and caters to his whims. Suddenly one day Ablett’s estranged brother arrives from Australia, someone dies, and the reader is left to figure out who did it and why.

I guessed some of the answers very early on in the book, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of this British mystery. The charm of the book rests on the character of Antony Gillingham, another wealthy bachelor who arrives on the scene just as the murder has been committed. He is a man who likes to experience life and has enough money to dabble in any profession that he likes. He’s been a waiter, a journalist and a shop clerk. And after becoming involved in the investigation, he decides to play amateur detective. His friend Bill Beverly plays Watson to Gillingham’s Holmes and their banter is spot on.

There is some mild swearing.  The English use the word “ass” in a way that we Americans do not. It’s almost a term of endearment when Beverly calls Gillingham a “silly old ass.” It reminded me of the way that Christopher Robin affectionately addresses Pooh as “silly old bear.”

It’s the perfect “cozy mystery” with delightful characters, witty dialogue and a murder with no gratuitous details. A good option for summer reading.

Friday, July 4, 2014

More Summer Reading Plans

I usually don't have time for magazines, but whenever the summer "Books Issue" of WORLD arrives, I drop everything and read it from cover to cover. It's luxurious to read about so many wonderful books in one spot. To be frank, most of the recommendations are for non-fiction, and I come away with only half a dozen "must reads," but I enjoy just knowing what books are available since I live in Brazil and can't keep up with the gazillions of books that keep coming out in the U.S.

I had heard some buzz about the book Mission at Nuremberg, which WORLD voted as "2014 Book of the Year," so now it's definitely on my list. It's the story of the U.S. chaplain assigned to the spiritual care of the Nazi officials who were condemned to death after the war trials. Sounds amazing.

Some of the 140 book recommendations were brand new, but many were of books written in the last few years. Here are the ones that grabbed my interest:

The Great War by Peter Hart - "a 522 page blow-by-blow history of World War One"
The Reason for God by Tim Keller (World's 2008 Book of the Year)
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Butterfield
Booked by Karen Prior (She wrote this to show "how reading Great Books drew her back to God.")
Faith and Reason by Swinburne (a solid, thorough introduction to philosophy)
The Great Books Reader by Reynolds
(These last two were surprisingly pricey, even for Kindle.)

Finally, author Larry Woiwode highly recommends Peavear & Volokhonsky's translation of War and Peace as the best version of "the best fiction novel."

Oh yes, and one more perk. My brother's book, Coming to Grips with Genesis, was mentioned on page 50!

Have you read any of these books? Any thoughts?