Wednesday, March 23, 2016

On Re-Reading G.K. Chesterton's "Manalive"

“A wind sprang high in the west, like a wave of unreasonable happiness.”

This wind, appearing in the first line of G.K. Chesterton’s short novel, Manalive, is a boisterous wind, blowing hats to the tops of trees, blowing Innocent Smith over a high garden wall, and eventually blowing clean apart the na├»ve (even nasty) worldviews held by the assembled cast of characters.  Furthermore, it is a wind that brings life and joy and purpose, proving in the end that the happiness it carried was, in fact, not unreasonable at all.

Chesterton foreshadows this explosion of good and jolly sense early on when he tells us this “was the good wind that blows nobody harm.”  Yet it was resisted at first by the two young couples into whose moribund company Innocent Smith suddenly appears and then more forcefully by the experts in materialist philosophy who end up prosecuting the uniquely adventurous hero of the novel.

Along the way, Chesterton’s wit and wisdom are on wonderful display.  So too is his artistic temperament, his poetic skills, his chivalrous ideals, and his moral courage. Manalive is a classic of inventiveness and fun. However, amid the riot of revelry and the kaleidoscope of color, there are quite serious lessons being taught. The reader will find himself challenged by the novel’s exhortations about love and marriage, contentment, modern philosophy, common sense and appreciation, the rule of courtesy, Christian apologetics, the ingenious thrift of the Swiss Family Robinson, democracy, property, the overreach of science, socialism, Christianity as a “creed of wonder,” spiritual homesickness, patriotism, and more.  I recommend Manalive heartily. No surprise there...I’ve been doing so for 30 years.

And yes, one can one re-read a work often and still find fresh enjoyment and profit. C.S. Lewis, perhaps thinking of Chesterton (one of his literary influences), once wrote, “One must read a good book at least once every ten years.” I wholeheartedly agree.  In fact, there are a dozen or more of my favorite books (Randy Alcorn’s Heaven, Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring trilogy, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, history books by Walter Lord and Samuel Eliot Morrison, and yes, Chesterton’s Manalive) that I couldn’t possibly wait for ten years to get back to.

This time around, I had particular motivation to glean relevant truths from Manalive for it is one of a series of books I’m reading with friends this spring.  It’s a project meant to sharpen yet further our understanding and appreciation of key books by reading them together and then sharing with one another our responses.

And so with my latest reading of Manalive, I’m pleased to tell my partners in the project that I was moved on several points: 1) to dedicate myself anew to keeping spontaneity and romance, appreciation and gallantry in my marriage; 2) to review until I can clearly recall in detail Innocent Smith’s use of the pistol to illustrate the value of presuppositional apologetics; 3) to relish Chesterton’s unique skills in describing color and paradox and careful perceptions of everyday life; 4) to appreciate anew how strong a theme in Chesterton’s work is Christianity serving as man’s true and desired home; and 5) to better appreciate the gifts of everyday life, to see with more wondrous eyes the beauty of plain things.

Postscript 1: The first books in this spring reading project series were C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy; the next up (at least, in the original plan) is Francis Schaeffer’s The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century. The invitation to participate in this reading project, by the way, can be read here. And the resultant review of the space travel series can be found here.

Postscript 2: Reading often creates its own spin. Reading one book prompts you to read another that you hadn't planned on. That's certainly happening with this project. There were things in Out of the Silent Planet that caused me to go ahead and read a book given to me as a Christmas gift, Os Guinness' latest book dealing with Christian apologetics, Fool's Talk. I found it very good. And upon finishing Manalive, I found myself following up by re-reading one of G.K. Chesterton's best on apologetics, Orthodoxy. It too is terrific and the "combined weight" of reading these various titles dealing much with the same issues was of tremendous value.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On C.S. Lewis and Os Guinness' Latest

“In the biblical view the issue is not modern versus postmodern.  Both these views are partly right, and both are finally wrong.  Nor it is rational argument versus story or reason versus imagination.  In fact it is not either-or at all.  The deep logic of God’s truth can be expressed in both stories and argument, by questions as well as statements, through reason and the imagination, through the four Gospels as well as through the book of Romans.  This is one reason why C.S. Lewis has had such enduring appeal.  At times he was coolly rational, as in Mere Christianity, while at other times he engaged the imagination brilliantly, as in The Screwtape Letters or The Chronicles of Narnia.  There is a time for stories, and there is a time for rational arguments, and the skill we need lies in knowing which to use, and when.” (Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk)

Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness is an excellent book on practical apologetics which discusses the relationships of apologetics to evangelism, lifestyle, presuppositions, confidence, hypocrisy, culture, asking questions, and more. I found it very helpful, especially because I read it right before attending a L’Abri conference in Rochester that dealt with the same subject.

I heartily recommend the book even though you may find things you disagree with, things he treats too lightly (or too heavily), things he repeats too often. I did. But overall I found the book stimulating, informative, and challenging.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Here's Spring's Reading Project

Dear friends,

Last summer I tried the experiment of inviting several friends to join me in reading Randy Alcorn’s Heaven and to write up their reactions to the book to be shared with others via email.

The initial response was positive but, except for some terrific reviews from Dr. Greg Gardner in Great Britain and Jim Bingham from here in the States (which were so good I posted them on Vital Signs Blog), I have little idea how others fared but I retain the hope that some of you were moved to read Alcorn’s wonderful book and thereby grow in your anticipation of the triumph and delight that waits for us all at the end of the age.  And I’m delighted with those results of the experiment that I know worked.  For instance, Greg and Jim had not read the book at all, but now have put it among their “must read” recommendations. That’s terrific.  Also, my pastor read our posts about the book (links to them had appeared on my Facebook page) and he was moved to ask me to teach a Sunday School series on Heaven.  Terrific again.  And finally, a third blessing -- through the resultant correspondence, other book recommendations from some of you were passed on to me.  Greg suggested Peter Kreeft’s old book, The Snakebite Letters and Pat Osborne suggested Os Guinness’ new book about apologetics Fool’s Talk.  I liked them both an awful lot. Both were provocative, well-written, and very helpful. I enthusiastically second their recommendations.

Therefore, with these positive benefits from that first experiment – and with high hopes that another invitation might involve more of you this time around – I am sending along a spring project for you to consider.  This one is a bit more open-ended in that it allows you to participate in 2 ways.  1) I am sending along titles of few of the books I’ll be reading this spring.  If you’re interested, choose one or more of them, read along, and drop me a line…or a longer review like Jim and Greg did. I would love to post them on Vital Signs Blog or The Book Den.  And, of course, even if you aren’t going to write anything up, you might still find the reading list of interest as you consider your own spring reading. 2) A second option is to send along a title of a book (or more than one) that you are currently reading.  Reviews of a few sentences would be extremely valuable to others but even a quick thumbs up or down would be helpful too.

I’m sending this to some of the same guys I did last year along with a few others.  I’m hoping many of you join in on some level.  Thanks for considering it.  And thanks for saying a prayer for the project’s success – that Christian men are stimulated to use their time wisely, to do the work of reading spiritually-enriching books, and to encourage one another in our common adventure in Christ.

So here’s my booklist. They’re all classics.  And all except the Augustine, they are all books I’ve read before. I do a lot of that.

Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis)
Manalive (G.K. Chesterton)
The Church at the End of the 20th Century (Francis Schaeffer)
Saving Leonardo (Nancy Pearcey)
Confessions (Augustine)

Of course, if you’re busy with other things or, for whatever other reasons, you’re not interested, that’s cool. We will keep in contact at other times and over different matters. But, of course, you can still lift up that prayer!

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Last Year's Reading: A Top 20

Among the many books read last year (as is normal for me, many of them were re-reads), I've whittled down a Top 20 to pass along. All of them are highly recommended.

They are listed in the order I read them.

1) Snow by Calvin Miller. A heartwarming Christmas novel from a great preacher, writer, and friend.

2 & 3) Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen. Classic novels from one of the genre's best.

4) The Forgotten 500 by Gregory A. Freeman. A fascinating (sometimes infuriating) history about the rescue of Allied air crews from behind enemy lines in WWII.

5) The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. One of my favorite fantasy novels, full of adventure, heroism, and inspiration.

6) Fire Over England by A.E.W. Mason. An exciting historical novel dealing with the Spanish Armada's plans against England.

7) Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. The title is self-explanatory. I found this book most instructive, challenging, and, because I agreed with many of his observations, rather comforting too.

8) The Gentleman from Indiana by Booth Tarkington. This was one of my favorite novels from this year's list of reading from the Notting Hill Napoleons, our longstanding literary club.

9 & 10) The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan and D-Day: The Sixth of June by David Howarth. Two excellent histories of the Allied landings in France during WWII.

11) I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norm Geisler & Frank Turek. Apologetics of the finest (and most practical) quality.

12) Run Silent, Run Deep by Edward L. Beach. A fine WWII novel about submarine warfare in the Pacific written by a highly acclaimed Commander of the U.S. Navy.

13) The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers. A very moving WWII novel dealing with a German national fleeing from a Nazi concentration camp.

14) A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer. One of the most life-changing books for both Claire and I, we re-read this every few years.

15) Knight Without Armor by James Hilton. This is a wide-ranging novel about the Russian revolution. It is written by one of my favorite authors, yet it's quite different in subject than his other works.

16) The Christmas Room by Denny Hartford. A realistic yet uplifting novel about the lives of people involved in one way or another with Villa Vista Care Community, a nursing home.

17) Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. It's not my favorite Dickens novel but then he's never written anything but quality stuff.

18) Dawn’s Early Light by Walter Lord. A detailed history of the War of 1812 by one of my favorite historians.

19) Miss Bishop by Bess Streeter Aldrich. A lovely, inspiring novel about character, education, duty, small town life, the changing social scene of America at the turn of the century, and a life well lived.

20) Heaven by Randy Alcorn. Besides the Bible itself, I recommend this Bible study book on heaven more than anything else. An enlightening, exciting book that will change your life.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Kids Books for Christmas: A Few Suggestions

I recently read through a couple of lists representing recommended Christmas reading for kids. I'm afraid I didn’t care for either list.

So, I thought I’d drop a few hints myself.  Ready?

For little kids (of all ages), you can't go wrong with the Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne; the Freddy the Pig series by Walter Brooks; The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; the collected fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm; or stories about such heroes as Robin Hood and the Knights of the Round Table.

As these kids grow older, toss in C. S. Lewis' Narnia series; Arthur Conan Doyle; Laura Ingalls Wilder; Robert Louis Stevenson; Robinson Crusoe; Peter Pan; Jules Verne; John Buchan; James Herriot; O. Henry; and biographies of missionaries, explorers and warriors.

By the time they are in their mid teens, let's hope they've become acquainted with J.R.R. Tolkien; Randy Alcorn's fiction; G.K. Chesterton's poetry and his Father Brown series; Louisa May Alcott; G.A. Henty; Charles Dickens; Alexandre Dumas; Thor Heyerdahl; Rafael Sabatini; and plenty of history books. In the latter category, please be sure and include Shelby Foote, Samuel Eliot Morrison and Walter Lord.

Happy Christmas shopping. And don't feel bad that you're going to go out and order the books for your kids that you really want to read too! Literature should promote sharing!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The 2016 Notting Hill Napoleons Booklist

At our weekend retreat in Nebraska City, our book club of 23 years made their list of books to be read in the coming year. Here they are.

January -- The Smoke At Dawn (Jeff Shaara)

February -- That Hideous Strength (C. S. Lewis) A re-read.

March -- Drums Along the Mohawk (Walter D. Edmonds)

April -- The Children of The New Forest (Frederick Marryat)

May – The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas) A re-read.

June -- Trustee from the Toolroom (Nevil Shute)

July -- Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)

August -- Vandemark's Folly (Herbert Quick)

September -- Ross Poldark (Winston Graham)

October – The Ox-Bow Incident (Walter Van Tilberg Clark)

November -- Martin Chuzzlewit (Charles Dickens) A re-read.

December -- The Snare (Rafael Sabatini)

Alternate 1 -- Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)

Alternate 2 -- The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Under Review: The Christmas Room

The Amazon reviews are beginning to come in on my new novel, The Christmas Room. Here’s a few.

“I loved The Christmas Room. The story is innovative and captivating, full of familial struggles and true to life stories that so many can relate to as they deal with aging parents. You'll learn and grow in your knowledge of care for the elderly and will be encouraged by the healing power of love, patience and kindness. Assisted living and nursing home employees/employers will especially enjoy how they can relate to so much in this book. Senior citizens have much to offer us!”

“Great read. Denny does a great job bringing out the good as well as the bad that families face dealing with family issues while also juggling the declining health of a loved one. Going to be sending this to friends and loved ones for Christmas 2015. Thank you!”

“Thank you so much.  The Christmas Room is written with so much appreciation and respect for our elders as well as capturing the daily blood, sweat, tears, and joy of a nursing home.”

“The Christmas Room is a book that holds your heart. Each page is full of love, compassion and joy. While the characters go through their trials and doubts - their faith grows, as forgiveness, mercy and understanding is waiting for them if they just trust and believe. A good read from a strong Christian writer.”

“The book is a bit of heaven in this cursed world. Oh if there really was a place like this for someone who needs care. This would be the place. Mr Hartford has such a wonderful way of weaving the personalities in harmony, problem solving, love, and respect for the dignity of all life. What a great book!”

Copies of The Christmas Room are available from Amazon and from Kindle download.  The novel can also be purchased at Bookworm and Divine Truth book shops in Omaha.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Bringing the Reading List Up to Date

It is an early Friday morning and I’m sitting in a Panera’s restaurant in Branson, Missouri while a cool and gentle rain falls outside.  It has been doing so for hours. That's great for creating a pensive mood for Day Five of our annual working vacation here in the Ozarks.  More important, the rain has provided needed relief from the unusually dry climate the area has experienced in recent months. Sadly, that lack of rain has muted the brilliance of autumn a bit -- that beautiful, awe-inspiring burst of colors that we've come to expect just hasn't materialized. But we're not complaining. It's still very pretty, very peaceful, and we have had a very enjoyable time.

The blog post that is most overdue is this one for The Book Den.  This morning I grabbed my reading list and written one of my “catch up” posts in which I list the books I’ve recently read but with minimal comments.  The last such post appeared way back in July. Yipes. 

Here they are.

* Into the Volcano by Forrest DeVoe.  I don’t remember just where this book came to my attention but, in graciousness to that source, I hope I never do. I did finish this espionage story but just barely.  Please don’t bother with this one or anything else by this author.

* Run Silent, Run Deep and Dust on the Sea by Edward L. Beach.  Both of these WWII-era submarine novels are well worth the read but the first is of really special value.  They are full of adventure, tension, detailed information on submarines and naval warfare strategy, plenty of human interest, and featuring remarkable writing skills from a real-life submarine commander.  Recommended.

* The Four Just Men, Council of Justice, The Just Men of Cordova, The Law of the Four Just Men, The Three Just Men, Again the Three Just Men, The Green Rust, and The Angel of Terror  by Edgar Wallace.  Thanks to Kindle, a reader who enjoys fine books from years gone way by now has a chance to enjoy them...and at a truly astounding bargain as well.  All of these Edgar Wallace books (none of which I could have afforded because of their rarity) came in a collection provided through Kindle for only 99¢.  Cool, huh? That’s the kind of opportunity that Kindle frequently provides.  Wallace’s books, by the way, were bestselling thrillers on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 20th Century.  Therefore, reading them provided not only the fun of well-written mystery novels with a political twist, but the added advantages which older literature can provide – delightfully different styles and perspectives, richer vocabulary, history provided by first hand commentary, and the absence of those things that so often make modern books morally objectionable.

* The Lancashire Witches by William Harrison Ainsworth.  This is another long out-of-print book (1849) that I probably couldn't afford even if I could have found a copy somewhere.  But through Kindle I purchased (again for 99¢) a whole gang of W.H. Ainsworth novels.  I enjoyed this one very much.  There was a lot of history, a lot of interesting perspective on the witch craze in Pendle Forest in the year 1612, and a lot of insightful comment and fine writing.  Now, after this Ainsworth novel, I tried a couple others in the collection but couldn’t make it very far in either one.  But The Lancashire Witches was an unusual and profitable read.  Recommended.

* The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers is an exceptional novel written in 1942, a tense thriller about a Communist escapee from a Nazi concentration camp. It is a profound, moving novel that explores the nature of German politics, the soul’s yearning for spiritual as well as physical freedom, the loathsome and fearful force of violence, the sublimity of heroism exhibited by everyday people, and much more.  This was one of the Notting Hill Napoleon’s monthly selections and the discussion over the novel was exceptional.  Highly recommended.

* Prepare by J. Paul Nyquist.  This is brief but excellent theological work written by the current president of Moody Bible College in Chicago.  The general subject is the persecution of Christians – how and why it happens, how it has increased dramatically in recent decades (including the West), the critical necessity to grasp the biblical teaching on persecution, preparing for it, and praying for revival.  Highly recommended.

* The Lone Star Ranger, The Young Pitcher, and The Mysterious Rider by Zane Grey.  Here are three more historic novels that came in a giant collection of Zane Grey novels available through Kindle at a remarkably cheap price.  The first two were enjoyable but I don't think I would recommend them. And the third? Definitely not. It was tedious, predictable, and poorly written.

* A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer.  This is a genuine classic, the book which launched Claire and me into pro-life ministry almost 35 years ago.  Re-reading it is always a moving experience for us with fresh applications that are always relevant.  This time around a few friends read it with us (Matt, Allen and Quint) and the subsequent discussion was tremendously stimulating.  Highly recommended.

* Knight Without Armor by James Hilton.  This is one of the most dramatic and enjoyable reading surprises in recent years.  It’s not just the fine writing and the interesting plot twists – one rather expects that from the writer of Random Harvest, Lost Horizon, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips – but it was also the setting (just before and during the Russian Revolution), the amazing historical detail, and one of the most intriguing, unusual, and wining love stories I’ve ever read.  The discussion of the Notting Hill Napoleons over this one was really fun.  Highly recommended.

* Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis.  This simple but compelling account of the first months of the U.S. Marines’ fight for the island of Guadalcanal in 1942 is a must read for those interested in military history.  Recommended.