Thursday, December 07, 2017

Chesterton's Wild Knight

Here's a stirring poem for prophets, warriors, and all others who love justice enough to fight for it.

The Wild Knight
(G.K. Chesterton)

 The wasting thistle whitens on my crest,
The barren grasses blow upon my spear,
A green, pale pennon: blazon of wild faith
And love of fruitless things: yea, of my love,
Among the golden loves of all the knights,
Alone: most hopeless, sweet, and blasphemous,
The love of God:
        I hear the crumbling creeds
Like cliffs washed down by water, change, and pass;
I hear a noise of words, age after age,
A new cold wind that blows across the plains,
And all the shrines stand empty; and to me
All these are nothing: priests and schools may doubt
Who never have believed; but I have loved.
Ah friends, I know it passing well, the love
Wherewith I love; it shall not bring to me
Return or hire or any pleasant thing—
Ay, I have tried it: Ay, I know its roots.
Earthquake and plague have burst on it in vain
And rolled back shattered—
        Babbling neophytes!
Blind, startled fools—think you I know it not?
Think you to teach me?  Know I not His ways?
Strange-visaged blunders, mystic cruelties.
All! all! I know Him, for I love Him. Go!

So, with the wan waste grasses on my spear,
I ride for ever, seeking after God.
My hair grows whiter than my thistle plume,
And all my limbs are loose; but in my eyes
The star of an unconquerable praise:
For in my soul one hope for ever sings,
That at the next white corner of a road
My eyes may look on Him....
        Hush—I shall know
The place when it is found: a twisted path
Under a twisted pear-tree—this I saw
In the first dream I had ere I was born,
Wherein He spoke....
        But the grey clouds come down
In hail upon the icy plains: I ride,
Burning forever in consuming fire.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Classic Mystery Reading for Christmas

A couple of days ago I posted over on my Facebook page a Christmas reading list that I've sent round for a few years...including here on The Book Den. You can find those recommendations right here.

But tonight I'm adding to that list a few "Golden Age mysteries" that concern Christmastime that I recently came across. Now, I haven’t read all of these so I can’t vouch for them but the ones with an * in front of the title represent ones that I have read and do recommend.

* The Egyptian Cross Mystery (1932)
Author: Ellery Queen

* The Nine Tailors (1934)
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers

Thou Shell of Death (1936)
Author: Nicholas Blake

* The Santa Klaus Murder (1936)
Author: Mavis Doriel Hay

* Mystery in White (1937)
Author: J. Jefferson Farjeon

* Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938)
Author: Agatha Christie

* Envious Casca (1941)
Author: Georgette Heyer

The Clock Strikes 12 (1945)
Author: Patricia Wentworth

Groaning Spinney (1950)
Author: Gladys Mitchell

An English Murder (1951)
Author: Cyril Hare

* Tied Up in Tinsel (1972)
Author: Ngaio Marsh

Happy reading!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Latest Reading Review

For my latest reading review, one that covers the last couple of months, I will mention several books which receive my hearty recommendation.  Among these stimulating reads were a historical novel from a surprising author, return adventures to Mitford and Middle Earth, and two ambitious reads that were well worth the time.

Those two “ambitious” books — 900 and 984 pages, respectively — were Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son and Eiji Yoshikawa’s  epic novel of late medieval Japan, Musashi. The Dickens novel was the November selection of our book club, the Notting Hill Napoleons.  By the way, come January that book club will begin its 27th year.  Pretty impressive!  Anyhow, Dombey and Son, a book we had once read before in the Napoleons, was a genuine treasure.  It is a little different than other Dickens novels – a tighter plot with less than the normal cavalcade of colorful characters – but it has its own charms, insights, and superb writing.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Musashi was a book I would never have tackled except that it was strongly recommended by one of the residents of a senior facility where we do our “When Swing Was King” program every month.  Tom is a doctor who served the United States in Army intelligence during World War II and is himself Japanese.  He wanted me very much to read it and so, though I had to fit it in whenever I could over a course of almost two months, I finally finished it.  And I’m glad I did.  The story concerns a traveling samurai who is looking first to sharpen his fighting skills and reputation but who eventually changes his goals to things deeper and more spiritually satisfying.  It was an excellent read, very different and provocative.

The return journeys to Mitford and Middle Earth I mentioned came via my reading of Jan Karon’s These High, Green Hills and J.R.R. Tolkien’s precursor to his Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit.  First, the Karon book. These High, Green Hills is the 3rd novel in her Mitford series. Though late to the game — Claire has loved these Karon books for a couple of decades — I have only recently started reading them. But I’m delighted I finally got round to them. Far from being the "chick-lit” I feared, they have proved to be heartwarming, fun, and spiritually challenging books in the best sense.  Indeed, I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time in Mitford in 2018.

The Middle Earth excursion came with my umpteenth re-reading of The Hobbit.  Every few years I revisit the Tolkien masterpieces (usually around Christmastime) but this year I had an added incentive to do so because the Napoleons had voted in the last novel of the Lord of the Rings trilogy for our January book.  So, it’s a natural thing to read the previous volumes (including the one that started off the whole thing) as part of my yuletide reading this year.

Okay, about the surprising author I referred to in the opening paragraph. That would be none other than Newt Gingrich.  Now, Mr. Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, is a very intelligent fellow and a fine writer.  But the books I knew of were all non-fiction.  I wasn’t aware that he has, in recent years, become part of a partnership that has charted several best-selling books of historical fiction.  And since it was nearing Christmastime, I decided to try the one he did about Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. I liked the book a lot, finding it exciting, inspiring, and true to historical fact.  The title of the novel?   To Try Men’s Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom.  I persuaded the Napoleons to vote it in as one of our books for the coming year. I would encourage you to do the same.

There were a few other books I managed to get through these last couple of months – and I enjoyed them all.  There was a theological study of the Old Testament Zechariah written by G. Coleman Luck and a splendid collection of short stories about Christmas crime called The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. Among the classic authors included in the book are Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, Ngaio Marsh, John D. MacDonald, Damon Runyon, and many, many more.  It’s great pleasure reading.

And finally, let me tell you about another book I read while down in Branson. It is actually the one that tops my list of recommendations for this post.  That book is a collection of brief devotional essays written by Joni Eareckson Tada and titled Holiness in Hidden Places. I really love Joni’s books and I have for decades.  In fact, I believe she is one of the best writers, the best theologians, and the best Christian activists around. Her books therefore provide practical counsel and relevant inspiration for any Christian who truly wants to grow in their faith.  I found Holiness in Hidden Places one of the very best of all Joni’s books.  I bought a bunch of copies to give as Christmas presents this year and I’d strongly encourage you to make sure there’s one under your Christmas tree!

Okay, that’s it for this round.  December’s reading awaits.

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.