Friday, September 29, 2017

Catching Up on My Reading

Before we head out to Branson for a couple of weeks -- momentous days that will include a 4-day family reunion with all my siblings and their spouses as well as a working vacation for Claire and I afterwards, I thought I’d clear the decks here at The Book Den with a quick review of books read since my last catch up post (August 10). I do so with pleasure because there were several that I recommend.

The first on the list is one of those very old mysteries that I love to download from Kindle. And I love to download them because 1) I love reading old books. 2) Many of these old books are out of print and otherwise unobtainable. And 3) Many of these Kindle editions are completely free! Can’t beat that. In this latest case, the old book was actually an early 20th century collection of short stories by British writer Thomas W. Hanshew entitled Cleek, The Master Detective.  Great stuff. (Recommended.)

Next up was A Light in the Window, Jan Karon’s second book in the Mitford series of novels that Claire loves so much. I’m beginning to love these books too. In fact, I hope to read another (or two) down in Branson. (Highly recommended.)

I went on a bit of a Shakespeare run in August and early September with six of the Bard’s great plays: “Antony & Cleopatra,” “Measure for Measure,” “Julius Caesar,” and then all three plays in the “Henry VI” trilogy.  This is truly superb literature from one of the most original, most insightful, and most skilled of writers. (Highly recommended.)

A theological work of value was Jeremiah: Prophet of Judgment by Irving L. Jensen.

I enjoyed (for the most part) a free Kindle book of poetry dealing primarily with domestic life from Christopher Morley. It was called Chimneysmoke.

I re-read and, in some cases, listened to an audio rendition of the G.K. Chesterton short stories, The Innocence of Fr. Brown. (Recommended.)

I thrilled my way through two rousing G.A. Henry adventure novels: Held Fast For England: A Tale of the Siege of Gibraltar and St. George for England. (Recommended, especially the first title.)

In anticipation of meeting Shun Lee Fong, I read his book of short essays, The Saints & the Poets. I enjoyed it very much. Indeed, here’s what I wrote in an Amazon review of his book: The Saints and the Poets is an engaging collection of short, charmingly personal, and ultimately inspiring essays. Fong writes as an artist to artists and yet the life lessons he presents can be easily understood and practically embraced by any reader. Those lessons deal with such topics as creativity, vision, relationships, responsibility, and faith. All relevant matters certainly. And, along the way, there is humility, wit, humor, and sage advice. I'm pretty sure other readers will respond to The Saints and the Poets as I did; namely, to hope Mr. Fong soon follows with a second volume. (Obviously, I recommend it.)

And finally, our September selection for the Notting Hill Napoleons was The Frozen Hours by Jeff Shaara, a detailed historical novel of one of the key campaigns in the Korean War. Fascinating, gripping, maddening, and very somber reading but quite worth the effort. (Recommended.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

“St. Barnabas” by Christina Rossetti

“Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand.” (Acts 21: 3)

“We sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.” (Acts 27: 4)

St. Barnabas, with John his sister's son,
  Set sail for Cyprus; leaving in their wake
  That chosen Vessel, who for Jesus' sake
Proclaimed the Gentiles and the Jews at one.
Divided while united, each must run
  His mighty course not hell should overtake;
  And pressing toward the mark must own the ache
Of love, and sigh for heaven not yet begun.
For saints in life-long exile yearn to touch
  Warm human hands, and commune face to face;
  But these we know not ever met again:
Yet once St. Paul at distance overmuch
  Just sighted Cyprus; and once more in vain
  Neared it and passed;--not there his landing-place.

The painting (“The Deliverance of St. Paul and St. Barnabas”) is by French artist Claude-Guy HallĂ© (1652-1736).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Coleridge’s Four Classes of Readers

“Readers my be divided into four classes,” believed the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the famed author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

The first of those classes Coleridge believed were the sponges. They were those, he said, “who absorb all they read and return it nearly in the same state, only a little dirtied.” Ouch! The second class consisted of the sand glass (moderns would know them as hourglass) readers. These retained nothing from their time with a book. Indeed, they were content to merely get through the book for the sake of passing the time. The third class? They were the strain-bags, like our day’s tea bags, who retained merely the dregs of what they read. And, finally, Mr. Coleridge described the fourth class of readers as “mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read and enable others to profit by it also.”

Mogul diamonds; that, of course, is the class to shoot for, becoming a reader that allows quality books to illuminate hisown life and then who gratefully passes the glistening shine on to others.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Latest Round

The latest round of reading, that is.

It’s been a very busy July and August is continuing apace.  That’s fine.  In fact, that’s what we generally prefer for we believe it’s a blessed thing to be busy about the Father’s business.  But a hectic schedule does limit one’s reading.  Note, however, I say limit…not eliminate.  If one is willing to turn off the television and be circumspect about time spent on the computer, there is always some time for reading good books.  And, for those of you who have discovered audio books, you know that one area where multi-tasking may actually be profitable is listening to good books while you’re driving on vacation or even during long commutes.

Claire and I did this in two trips to Colorado in July.  We listened with great relish to The Rider of the Ruby Hills by Louis L’Amour, Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs by Michelle Malkin, and Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade & Don Yaeger.  I’d give 2 stars to the L’Amour (out of my scale of 4 possible) and 3 stars to the two other non-fiction books.

The other reads I’ve managed to complete in these last few weeks have included 4 adventures by G.A. Henty:  In the Heart of the Rockies: A Story of Adventure in Colorado, One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo, The Queen’s Cup, and The Dragon and The Raven: Or The Days of King Alfred. The two I’d recommend from that bunch would be the 3 starred Colorado and Waterloo adventures.

The July selection for our Notting Hill Napoleon book club was a winner and it provided plenty of inspiration for a great discussion. It was Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. (3 stars).  And finally, I enjoyed Making Sense: The Case for Christianity by a British friend, Ian Cooper (3 stars) and a re-read of the C.S. Lewis classic, The Screwtape Letters (4 stars).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer Reading (So Far)

The primary theme for my summer has been C.S. Lewis.  That has coincided with several showings at our home of David Payne’s one-man play, “An Evening with C.S. Lewis.”  So far we have entertained (and inspired) 36 guests with this marvelous video.  Also this summer, Claire and I have organized a couple of discussion parties dealing with classic Lewis titles – June was Mere Christianity and coming up on August 12th will be The Screwtape Letters.  But, in addition to re-reading these, I have, with great delight and appreciation, returned to several other Lewis books in these last couple of months: The Abolition of Man, Pilgrim’s Regress, The Great Divorce, and The Dark Tower & Other Stories.

The last title in that list is made up of very short stories and fragments of stories that C.S. Lewis’ brother Warnie collected from the desk after he died.  Seeing that “Jack” (C.S. Lewis) hadn’t cared to publish them or even organize them, Warnie concluded they should be burned up.  But in stepped Walter Hooper, an exorbitant fan of C.S. Lewis who some believe was a bit of an a exploiter as well.  He took the papers, sifted through them, and found enough to publish.

I think Lewis would have preferred they would have gone up in flames.  And except for a few sentences that I found of interest, I would agree.

Indeed, the reason C.S. Lewis discarded these things were because they were not only incomplete and unpolished, they weren’t very good. And that’s fine.  In fact, it made me appreciate Lewis more as both a writer and a Christian gentleman to see that he was a craftsman who knew the difference between good writing and bad.  And the bad he rejected even though, in the latter decades of his life, he could have profited financially by publishing anything at all that had his name on the manuscript.

Let’s face it — our attempts at art are like our attempts at anything in life. Sometimes we succeed magnificently; sometimes we perform adequately; sometimes we fail.  When we achieve the first level, we should be humble and thank God for His grace active in us.  When we hit only the second level, we should redouble our efforts and seek to improve.  But when we dip into the lowest level, we should quickly admit it, toss it into the bin, and start over.  Jack Lewis did that with the manuscripts in the collection that became The Dark Tower & Other Stories. Walter Hooper should have respected Lewis' wishes. What Lewis had quite literally, put into the trash, should have stayed there.

As to the other Lewis titles I’ve re-read this summer, there is little to say except that they were all excellent, all provocative, all 5-star recommendations.

The other books of summer?  The May and June selections of the Notting Hill Napoleons were The Gates of Doom by Rafael Sabatini and Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey. Both were enjoyable and our book club discussions over both were lively and fun. Nevertheless, I would rate the Sabatini higher.

Claire and I did follow up on the Western genre, though, when we listened to an unabridged audio book of Louis L’Amour’s The Rider of the Ruby Hills on our way out to Colorado early in July. On the way back, we opted for a non-fiction title and were really pleased we did so.  The book was Michelle Malkin’s Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs read superbly by the author.

The other two books of summer (late spring too, I guess) were also terrific books. One was a collection of the “obituary columns” for which William F. Buckley was well known, A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century. These columns from the pages of Buckley’s magazine National Review span the decades and cover various public figures, personal friends, and even intense antagonists – many with whom Buckley maintained warm friendships.  Imagine reading Buckley’s reminiscences of Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss, John Kennedy, David Niven, John Lennon, his wife Patricia, his mother and father, Richard Nixon, Gore Vidal, and many more. The book is a fabulous look back into 20th Century history -- and into the personal life and character of Bill Buckley himself.

The other grand read of these two is the first novel in Jan Karon’s much-loved Mitford series, At Home in Mitford.  Claire loves these novels and has read through the series a couple or three times already. Indeed, she’s recently started a small book club devoted to the Jan Karon series.  For my part, I had read this first novel 3 or 4 Christmases ago and, though I liked it well enough, it certainly didn’t capture me like it did on my recent re-reading of it. Now I found it not only a joyous read but a convicting one also, particularly as I reflected on the protagonist’s dedication to prayer, preaching, hospitality, and serving the needs of his small church.  This time I found myself struck with how profound a picture the novel portrayed of the winsome lifestyles of faith and compassion as insisted in the writings of Francis and Edith Schaeffer and G.K. Chesterton.  So I think I’m hooked too and, as soon as I’m free, I’ll be starting into the whole series as well.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Latest Chapter: Reading Through 2017

We’re only a couple weeks into March but I’ve already been blessed to read several exceptional books this year.  I have already mentioned a few in my last “catch up” post (Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Edna Ferber’s Ice Palace, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Hamlet), but I’m pleased to list a few others that I've read since then that carry my enthusiastic recommendation.

Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute.  This 1960 novel was the February selection of our book club, the Notting Hill Napoleons, and the consensus from our group was overwhelmingly positive.  It’s rather rare for a popular novel written by a non-believer to contain such insight and inspiration for the Christian activists who make up our literary group, but Shute’s story of a middle-aged, introverted machinist being drawn into a dangerous journey to achieve a seemingly impossible goal did exactly that for us.  A common conversation theme between a couple of my friends (John Malek and Pat Osborne) is the need to be faithful to God’s call, including the unspectacular, dull, and seemingly insignificant details of ordinary life.  In fact, our recent reading in Randy Alcorn’s Happiness and Tony Evans’ Kingdom Man have made these matters frequent in our early Thursday morning coffee at Panera restaurant. Well, Trustee from the Toolroom demonstrated a remarkable clear and provocative picture of how those virtues can be lived out.  It's easy for me to give it 4 stars.

* Kingdom Man by Tony Evans.  This was easily one of the best books I have read in this line.  Thoroughly biblical.  Practical.  Acutely relevant insights. Effective illustrations.  Challenging on many fronts.  I began this book back in December and read it more slowly and more carefully in order to spend an appropriate time in thinking through the book’s applications in my life.  I heartily recommend you taking a similar approach.  4 stars.

* Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.  It had been many years since I had read this epic novel of revolution, suffering, injustice, and, throughout these cruel upheavals, the highs and lows of romance.  The novel is historically accurate, as far as it goes, and so the reader must face the extreme violence, hypocrisy, power lust, revenge, and mindlessness which was the Russian Revolution.  For these reasons (and because the novel is 523 pages), it’s not an easy read.  However, this time around, I also found it rather difficult reading because of the tragic weaknesses of the protagonists.  One might find them sympathetic characters. But, truth be told, they are not very likable nor can one find reasons to respect, let alone emulate, them.  However, for those interested in seeing the horrors the revolution represented (and that it created for later generations), then Dr. Zhivago remains a valuable read.  3 stars.

* Among my reading for mere entertainment are what I call “popcorn pleasure” books. Those are fast-paced, quick reads, usually in the adventure or mystery genre. Some of my favorites in this category are Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series.  I go through the whole set of 27 novels every few years and I started them again in February. So far, I've put a half dozen behind me this year.

* Finally, besides the read-through-the-Bible regimen Claire and I are following, there are two other books I’ve been reading these last few weeks. I’m not close to being done with either one but both are proving excellent.  They are Randy Alcorn’s Happiness and a collection of obituary columns written by William F. Buckley, Jr., A Torch Kept Lit. More on these in the next “catch up” list.

Happy reading.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Literati Alert: A Few Very Interesting Articles

Frequently over on Vital Signs Blog, I post compilation lists of articles that I believe will be interesting, equipping, even inspiring to my friends who check in there. I've decided it's a tactic I should employ here at The Book Den as well, occasionally listing for you some of the more provocative articles about books, history, and the arts that I've recently come across.

Here is the first of those posts.

* “The Master Obituarist: William F. Buckley’s glorious tributes to the dearly departed raised eulogy to the level of art.” (Herbert W. Stupp, City Journal) — Being, in part a look at A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century, by William F. Buckley, Jr. and James Rosen, editor.

* “The Seduction of Benedict Arnold” (John Daniel Davidson, National Review) -- Being, in part, a look at Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution.

* “The revolutionary vision of Jane Austen: Is Austen’s popularity starting to undermine her stature?” (Gillian Dooley, Mercator)

* “George Washington’s God” (Mark D. Tooley, Juicy Ecumenism) — Being, in part, a look at Michael and Jana Novak’s book, Washington’s God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country.

* “Horrors of Waugh” (Violet Hudson, TLS)

* “The Very Drugged Nazis” (Antony Beevor, New York Review of Books) — Being, in part a look at Norman Ohler’s book, Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich.

* “The New Unworking Class” (Mona Charen, National Review) — Being, in part, a look at Nicholas Eberstadt’s book, Men Without Work.

* “How King Arthur became one of the most pervasive legends of all time: Brave, noble, kind -- everything that is missing from our modern world?” (Raluca Radulescu, Mercator)

* “On the trail of the Man in the Iron Mask” (David Coward, TLS)

* “After the exile: poetry and the death of culture” (Anthony Esolen, Mercator)

Uh, About Those Unmanly Churches

From Tony Evans' excellent book, Kingdom Man:

In most lives, albeit exceptions always exist, women were built to respond to relationships while men were built to respond to ruling. Women were wired to respond to cuddling, while men were wired to respond to conquering. We are made differently so we respond differently. Yet what frequently happens in the church is that the church will call for relationships without giving men an opportunity to rule. Or the church will offer nice, warm fuzzies to cuddle emotionally with while withholding or ignoring any potential challenge that men can conquer. Often the temperature in the church is set for women, and therefore, men sit there cold.

So many men come to church only because they are pushed to do so or because they feel guilty for not doing so. They stand there as the music plays with a feeling that something just doesn't seem like it fits. Kind of how I would feel if Lois ever asked me to hold her purse. Something just doesn't seem manly about church for many men. It's cute with pretty decorations, soft music, long songs, and an atmosphere often geared toward evoking emotions -- which is why a lot of men simply do their time, albeit sincerely, rather than view it as a vehicle through which they are to change the world.

Yet that wasn't the church Jesus established.

Amen brother Tony. Amen.

I most heartily recommend Kingdom Man.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

To Reject or Revisit Shakespeare: That Is the Question

Who is the best writer in the English language?  Who is the most influential? Who provides the most valuable insights into human nature, political leadership, the development (or digression) of personal character?  The answer to these questions, of course, is easy.  And it's been the answer for over 400 years.  It is William Shakespeare.

So why has the reading of Shakespeare fallen out of favor?  Indeed, why have even professional educators suddenly kicked the noble Bard into the gutter? The recent study conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni reveals just how dramatic has been this new disdain. That study showed that only 4 of the nation’s 52 highest ranked colleges require their English literature majors to take a course in Shakespeare. Unbelievable.

Why has this happened? Well, there have been several fine articles published in the alternative media which deal with this perplexing question. But may I boil it down to two basic issues?

1) Reading Shakespeare is just too hard for today’s students.  Sadly, our dumbed-down society doesn’t go in much for reading anyhow.  We prefer visual stimulation, especially TV, movies, and computer games that are heavy on sensuality and action and politically-correct propaganda.  And we certainly don’t have the time, the inclination, the attention span, the work ethic, or the literary skills to read the works of a writer as complex and profound as William Shakespeare.

Therefore, rather than admit the obvious; namely, that we have produced a nation of 100 pound weaklings for whom Shakespeare is just too heavy to lift, we merely read something easier, quicker, and more fitting to our self-flattered egos. Better yet, we watch a movie.

2) Reading Shakespeare has been determined by the post-moderns who control academia as an activity geared primarily to racists, misogynists, and elitists. After all, Shakespeare was a white male who was gifted, well-educated, and who associated with the upper crust of society.  Even worse, Shakespeare’s plays and poetry reflect a Christian worldview which is, to use a word newly popular with liberals, deplorable.

This unreasonable but determined neglect of Shakespeare’s genius by today’s academics is, of course, sad for the culture as a whole, not to mention individual students who miss out on Shakespeare in preference to the scratchings of irreligious, untalented hacks. As Professor Jonathan Bate, a leading Shakespeare scholar at Worcester College, Oxford put it, “Shakespeare remains the greatest author and most rewarding to study who ever lived. American students who do not study Shakespeare are missing out on the depth of his characterization, the brilliance of his language and the universality of his themes.”

Claire and I have become particularly frustrated with the situation. In fact, we take it a little personal. After all, we have been fans of Shakespeare since our youth.  We read him in high school.  We took college courses on him.  We have seen many of the dramas performed; listened to his work through audio recordings; and read many of the plays over and again.  So, as we considered this new trashing of the Bard by the post-modern powers that be, we decided to double down on Shakespeare. We will now read, study, and promote his work with greater vigor than ever.

Our plan of action involves several steps. 1) We’re going to be more aggressive and organized.  For instance, we are committing to read at least one Shakespeare play every month. We will also be watching more of the plays, many of which you can find for free.  2) We are currently taking the online course on Shakespeare offered for free by Hillsdale College.  We have only two lectures to go and have found them very interesting and motivating.  3) We are going to re-read some of the excellent books in our library that persuasively argue that the real author behind the pseudonym of William Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. And 4) we will be encouraging others more than ever to read and watch the Shakespeare plays.

Want in on the fun? Just let us know.

(The photo at the top of this post is An Early Reading of Shakespeare by Solomon Hart, 1838.)