August 15, 2013

Merging blogs

I've realized that this blog's mission has been accomplished and I don't really need to post here any more. I've read more good books in 2012 and 2013 than in the previous several years combined. So for now anyway, I'm putting this blog on pause (not that it's been very active anyway) and duplicating the posts on my other blog, mrjeremy.

July 9, 2012

Blurbing the Classics

I love this project that Justin Taylor is undertaking at the Gospel Coalition. He is curating blurbs on theological classics. These books are too old to have been blurbed about on their "original dust jackets," so they are finally getting the short commendations they deserve.

The first book is Augustine's Confessions, which I happen to have read recently. Taylor collected several blurbs and added his own take at the end. Here is Fred Sanders's.
If you took a list of the greatest books of western civilization and whittled it down to the top five, Augustine’s Confessions would still have a secure spot on that list. It might even make the cut and stay on the top three list; it’s that much of a classic. In this carefully-crafted book, Augustine does theology by listening to his life, and then listening even more carefully and passionately to the words of God. We hear him ask all the right questions and most of the wrong ones. We hear him finding the truth and saying it in his own words. Or rather, we overhear him, because from beginning to end the Confessions is one sustained prayer to the God who alone can give the soul what it needs.
Read the rest.

July 7, 2012

14 Characteristics of a Classic

I haven't posted in a while. I've been busy vacationing (saw a bear yesterday!) and finishing up Paradise Lost. An interesting article on Brain Pickings excerpts Why Read the Classics? by Italo Calvino. Calvino offers 14 characteristics of a classic book, most of which I agree with, some of which seem redundant to me.  Here are a few of my favorites.
5. A classic is a book which even when we read it for the first time gives the sense of rereading something we have read before.
8. A classic is a work which constantly generates a pulviscular cloud of critical discourse around it, but which always shakes the particles off.
 14. A classic is a work which persists as a background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible with it holds sway.
What do you think of the list?  Was "pulviscular" a new word to you like it was for me?

June 15, 2012

Twice Freed - Excellent Biblical Fiction

Twice Freed, by Patricia St. John, was a recent school assignment for my nine-year-old daughter. She was having a tough time getting into the book because of the tough vocabulary (it's recommended for 12 and up), so I decided to read it aloud with her.

I'm so glad I did. This book follows the life of Onesimus, a slave who is the topic of the book of Philemon in the Bible. My daughter and I enjoyed the story line and the struggles between and within the well-developed characters. I appreciated the accurate portrayal of society in the Roman empire including the institution of slavery, gladiators in training and in the arena, pagan festivals, guilds, shipping and dock work, and family relationships. The traits of the cities that Onesimus finds himself in--Colossae, Laodicea, Ephasus, Athens, Corinth, and Rome--are described without caricature (except maybe for Athens).

Twice Freed made me want to go back to the Bible and read Acts, Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, and the parts of Revelation that deal with the people and places mentioned in the book.

I highly recommend this book for adults and children 11 and up, and as a read-aloud for kids as young as about eight.

May 22, 2012

The Hidden Life of Prayer

Reading Camus's The Stranger with Dr. Ryken at The Gospel Coalition has been such a great experience that I am joining another reading group. This time it's with Tim Challies and the book is David McIntire's The Hidden Life of Prayer. Get your copy of the book (paperback, cheap kindle version, free pdf) and head over to The first chapter will be discussed on May 31. See you there!

The Hidden Life of Prayer - David McIntire

May 21, 2012

The Only Christ We Deserve

Albert Camus said that Meursault, the protagonist of his existentialist novel, The Stranger was "the only Christ we deserve." He's right. And I'm glad that God gave a Christ that we didn't deserve.

I'm reading and discussing The Stranger with some fine folks at The Gospel Coalition under the guidance of Professor Leland Ryken. We're discussing chapter 4 now, but it isn't too late to join!

May 20, 2012

A Confederacy of Dunces

I read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole on the recommendation of Russell Moore, and must say that I've never met a more despicable protagonist. You would never want to cross paths with Ignatius J. Reilly. He's an over-educated, underachieving, extremely judgmental, scheming, neurotic, physically disgusting, ungrateful mama's boy who billows through life leaving chaos in his wake. The book is funny, laugh-out-loud funny in many parts, and the disparate threads of the zany plot all wind together in a surprising yet oddly fitting way at the end.

Statue of Ignatius J. Reilly in New Orleans

A Confederacy of Dunces has been reviewed all over the place, so I won't spend much time on the story here. I'll just touch on one recurring motiff that made me think--the well-meaning, yet out-of-touch helper who only makes things worse. Myrna Minkoff, Reilly's girlfriend/nemesis is a socially conscious New Yorker who
had stopped throughout the rural South to teach Negroes folk songs she had learned at the Library of Congress. The Negroes, it seems, preferred more contemporary music and turned up their transistor radios loudly and defiantly whenever Myrna began one of her lugubrious dirges.
Mrs. Levy, wife of the owner of Levy Pants, refuses to allow Miss Trixie, an aged senile employee, to retire because she worries that Miss Trixie will fall into despair if she is not contributing to society. Really though, Miss Trixie wants nothing more than to retire, and spends her days at work napping, making bitter remarks, and hoarding bits of paper and foil.

Ignatius engages in this kind of activity more than once. He stages a "Crusade for Moorish Dignity" at the pants factory where he works, and he tries to organize New Orleans's gay community to infiltrate global government and military power structures in movement to "Save the World through Degeneracy."

Potential readers, be warned. A Confederacy of Dunces contains foul language including multiple f-bombs, and treats various sexual topics, though not lasciviously. In my opinion Toole, describes immorality without reveling in it, and the good in the book outweighs the bad. Christians sometimes jump in to "help" too quickly, and this book demonstrates the danger of that behavior with humor and compassion.

You can find A Confederacy of Fools on Amazon. As of this writing, the kindle edition is $3.99, the new paperback edition is $10.20 and you can buy it used for as little as a penny plus shipping. If you've read it, let me know what you think in the comments.