Monday, December 29, 2014

Reading Goals for 2015

My goals for this year are pretty straightforward. I'll continue to "shop" my Kindle and to chip away at my Classics Club Challenge list.

But I have six specific fiction titles I want to tackle:

Paradise Lost (I read the first half TWO years ago and loved it. Why haven't I ever finished it?)
North and South  by Gaskell
To Kill a Mockingbird
Our Mutual Friend by Dickens (I'm listening to a fantastic audio version)
Two Shakespeare plays: King Henry V and The Winter's Tale

I also want to schedule in six non-fiction Christian books, but I'm not as certain about those titles. Possibly Eugenics and Other Evils by Chesterton, Art for God's Sake by Ryken, If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis, Pilgrim's Progress, Simply Christian by N.T. Wright, and The Scarcity of Praying Men. (because they are already on my Kindle.)

May your new year be replete with good food, good books, good company, and God's blessing.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Reading Year in Review - 2014

Considering my crazy schedule, I'm surprised at the number of books I read this year (64). It must have been due to my daily subway ride to and from school because most days I came home too tired to read anything. Here are the dozen I enjoyed the most. (Clicking on the title will take you to my review - if I wrote one).

Books that were the most demanding but worth the effort: David Copperfield by Dickens and Our Culture, What's Left of It by Dalrymple.

The books that brought the most pleasure for the least amount of workThe Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne, and Sleeping Beauty by C. S. Evans.

Favorite Children's Classics Re-reads: Charlotte's Web and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang.

Best Audiobook: Treasure Island (Narrator Adrian Pretzellis is amazing.)

Best World War II: Monuments Men

Best Christian Books: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (the best antidote to fluffy Christianity that I know.), Preparing for Jesus (advent book by Walter Wangerin), and A Life of Obedience by Murray.

BEST OF THE YEAR: Shauna Niequist's Bread and Wine because it echoed the longing of my heart to slow down enough to be available to God and His people.

Most important podcast: Edie Wadsworth's "The Life You Love Manifesto" (same reason as above)

Most important internet article: "The Girl with the Gadget" by Arthur W. Hunt III

Also, I'm making progress on my Classics Club Challenge list. Only fifteen more titles to go! And I read two (of the intended four) Shakespeare plays, Midsummer Night's Dream and Two Gentleman of Verona.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bonhoeffer Quotes from Life Together

I read a couple of books this week and was underwhelmed with both of them. So in lieu of a book review I'll post these two fine quotes on Bible reading by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Since meditation on the scriptures, prayer, and intercession are a service we owe and because the grace of God is found in their service, we should train ourselves to set apart a regular hour for it, as we do for every other service we perform. This is not legalism; it is orderliness and fidelity. (p. 87 in Life Together.)

It is not necessary that we should discover new ideas in our meditation. Often this only diverts us and feeds our vanity. (p. 83)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer

In Escape from Reason, Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) breaks down philosophy into the simplest terms. He begins with the 13th century ideas of Aquinas which separated the world into upper (grace, spiritual matters) and lower (nature, material) categories. He explains how subsequent philosphers used these distinctions to separate man completely from his Creator. This autonomy, instead of bringing freedom, brought chaos to every field of knowledge.

A Christian world view elevates man to the upper region since he is made in the image of God. The secular world view pulls him down to the lower level, since “man apart from a biblical understanding can only go down to the animals.” (p. 26)

Have you ever wondered how people who scoff at the “nonsense” of Christianity can believe in UFOs? Schaeffer explains, “Man made in the image of God cannot live as though he is nothing and thus he places in the upper story all sorts of desperate things.” (p. 53)

Another quote: “The Bible teaches that, though man is hopelessly lost, he is not nothing. Man is lost because he is separated from God, his true reference point, by true moral guilt. But he will never be nothing. Therein lies the horror of his lostness. For man to be lost, in all his uniqueness and wonder, is tragic.” (p. 90)

Escape from Reason was written in 1968 and is part of a trilogy of the philosphical basis of all Schaeffer’s writings. (The other two books are The God Who Is There, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent.)

It  is very dry, but mercifully short and I am glad I made the effort to read it. I was challenged by Schaeffer’s immersion in modern-day thought (1960’s) in an effort to point his listeners to truth. He wrote that it is overwhelmingly selfish to not learn the language (world view) of the people you are trying to reach. 

May we learn to think more carefully and express more thoughtfully what we believe.

Friday, December 5, 2014

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Many reviews (and the 1975 movie) claim that Philippa is the main character in In This House of Brede, but I would disagree. The central figure in the book is Religious Life and it is shown with a gritty realism that keeps this book from being fluffy. (Why, oh why, are Catholic writers so much better at this than Protestants?)

Brede is an English benedictine monastary where 90 nuns of varying ages and social classes live, work and pray together. Most took their vows as young women, but some, like Phillipa, entered at a later age. All of them come with baggage that doesn´t just go away when they put on their habits. Godden succeeds in showing that being a nun does not exempt one from petty jealousies, baser emotions and deep longings.

Godden paints the ironies of life with a deft touch: The necessity of coming to the end of oneself in order to find oneself (Matthew 16:25), the closed-in Abbey being a more "spacious" place than the open town, and the desire of the nuns to be separate from the world yet needing to belong.

For those with a religious bent (Catholic or Protestant), this novel gives much to ponder. Philippa became a nun to "give herself away," but found later that she had put conditions on how that should be done. (Oswald Chambers echoes this idea in his devotional book, My Utmost, when he says that God sometimes crushes us like grapes to turn us into good wine. We don´t mind the crushing as long as we can choose the hand that does it.- from Sept 30)

In spite of the lack of action, and my disagreements with some Catholic doctrines, I found this to be a deeply compelling book.

(By the way, I have not seen the movie, but L.L. at the Catholic World Report had this to say about it: The movie is hollow and insipid compared to the novel. The novel is like good cheesecake - dense and rich; the movie is like a jello pudding mix by contrast.)

Two other Godden novels I've reviewed are China Court and Kingfishers Catch Fire.