Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Catching Up on Books

Among the to-do items I had scheduled for this our second and last week of our working vacation down here in Branson was catching up on my reading reviews for The Book Den.  Indeed, the last one of these I posted was back in July and there’s been quite a few pages turned since then.  So I’ll just jot down a few lines about each of the most important books in the list from these last months.

* Number 53 in the 2021 booklist was Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas, It was a very beneficial study (notwithstanding a few annoying quirks of the biographer) and was important enough for us to set up a Vital Signs Ministries' Book Brunch on Saturday morning October 23 at 10 o'clock to discuss it with friends.

* Book number 54 in my 2021 reading was Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson. It was the July selection of our book club.  Because I had once read one of Johnson’s Longmire novels which I found dull of plot, coarse of language, and naively irreligious, I didn’t vote for the book when we were making the list.  And, sure enough, I didn’t much like this short Christmas-themed novel.

* I had a much better time with the next month’s book club selection, The Eagle’s Claw by Jeff Shaara. Our book club likes Shaara quite a bit. Indeed, we have read every one of his military novels.  This one, dealing with the Battle of Midway, was on a par with his others.

* In between the above books, however, were three re-reads of military novels that I recommend even more enthusiastically.  They are the acclaimed submarine novels by Edward L. Beach, who combines his experience as a remarkably impressive and admirable navy officer with an artistic handling of plot, character, mood, and description to create three of the most exciting adventures I’ve ever read.  Run Silent, Run Deep and Dust on the Sea are set in World War II while Cold Is the Sea takes the same protagonist into the dawn of nuclear submarines.  All three are exceptional reads.

* In reading The Faithfulness of God: Volume III, I completed the incredibly detailed biography of missionary LaVern Smith. LaVern’s story takes in his childhood upbringing and education, his courtship and marriage to Marlene, their family and years of missionary service in the Caribbean, and recent ministry.  The length of these books made each one a challenge but the exemplary lives and ministries of LaVern and Marlene documented therein made them a profoundly moving read for me.

* Jan Karon’s Come Rain or Shine was a delightful read. And, as her Fr. Tim/Mitford novels always have been for me, they were inspirational and encouraging.  However, I must admit that as this is the second to the last in her series and Fr. Tim is moving out of limelight, I didn’t find it quite as endearing as previous novels.  But I did like it and found it more than worthwhile.  I have just one more to read to complete the series.

* G.K. Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill is GKC’s first novel and one I find lively, fun, and provocative.  I’ve read it many times and always enjoy it.

* I had read Hitler’s Cross by Erwin Lutzer many years ago.  But with the modern Church increasingly being duped by both “the carrot and the stick” of worldly tyranny, I thought it a most relevant time to read it again.  It was a sober but very helpful exhortation.

* Calvin’s Miller’s short novel Frost (one of the four of his season-themed novels, the best of which is Snow) was quite good and it’s another I would highly recommend.

* Beth Streeter Aldrich, the Nebraska author who I vastly prefer to Willa Cather, is another author who has become a favorite with our book club. I was absolutely delighted and impressed with A White Bird Flying.

* Command by Anthony Melville-Ross was another WWII novel I discovered as a “free read” on my Kindle.  It is, I believe, the first of a series of four novels dealing with the crew of a British submarine fighting in the north Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  I liked it a lot and, even though the next ones will cost me a few dollars, I’ll be ordering the others.

* By far the most challenging read of these last few months has been the Dorothy
Sayers translations of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy -- Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.  This was quite a project because I not only read carefully and took notes over the poetry of all three books but also Sayers very learned, very perceptive introductions, notes, and commentaries.  Completing this classic trilogy has already been of great spiritual value and I have no doubt that the effects will be ongoing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Submarine Novels of Edward L. Beach Jr.

I recently finished re-reading one of my all-time favorite trilogies, the submarine novels of the highly-decorated Navy captain Edward L. Beach Jr.  Those novels, by the way, are the 1955 classic, Run Silent, Run Deep which TIME magazine called "the liveliest and most authentic account of underseas combat to come out of World War II; Dust on the Sea (1972); and a thriller set in the early age of nuclear submarines, Cold is the Sea (1978).

These riveting action novels make for exciting reading but there is plenty of history, human interest, even life-oriented philosophy to be gleaned as well. And Beach is an incredibly gifted author whose experience is uniquely rich: a Navy combat veteran; winner of the Navy Cross, the Silver Star with Gold Star in lieu of a second Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with a combat Distinguished "V" and Gold Star in lieu of a second Bronze Star Medal; three Presidential Unit Citations, and many more awards; the naval aide to the President Dwight D. Eisenhower; and the submarine commander in the first
submerged circumnavigation of the globe.

Impressive? You better believe it. But again, I recommend Beach's submarine novels not because they were written by a genuine American patriot and hero but because they are simply the best naval stories I've ever read.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Dante's Comedy: The Adventure Renewed

Yesterday Claire and I finished our latest Hillsdale College online course, a very engaging 10-lecture series by Stephen Smith on Dante's Comedy. It was the 6th Hillsdale course we have completed and certainly one of our favorites. Now, with the lectures finished, we will be re-reading the trilogy itself: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.  

Claire I have read these classic poetics works but it has been many, many years ago -- me in high school and the both of us in the very first year of the Notting Hill Napoleons. But after going through Dr. Smith's lectures, we're very eager to take this amazing journey with Dante again. 

Also exciting is that our previous excursions in the Comedy were with the texts translated from the ancient Italian by John Ciardi in the 1950s. This time around, we've ordered old copies of the translations made by none other than Dorothy Sayers. 

Anyone interested in taking the trip with us? If so, let us know...and may I suggest that a great preview would be that Hillsdale course.

Monday, August 09, 2021

Let's Talk Wilberforce...

Lord, Melbourne, one of the ardent supporters of the English slave trade in the 18thCentury, once vented his hatred of the winsome, persistence of Christian abolitionist William Wilberforce with this infamous slur, “Things have come to a pretty pass when one permits one’s religion to invade public life!”

Sound familiar? As in something you might hear from one of today’s progressive politicians who wants to receive communion while yet supporting the killing of preborn boys and girls by government-funded abortionists?

Well, on Saturday morning October 23 at 10 o'clock, Vital Signs is hosting a special Book Brunch at the Hartford home to discuss Eric Metaxas’ biography of William Wilberforce.  It’s a fascinating, enlightening, and challenging book and one well worth your time.  Indeed, for those of you with home-schooled teenagers, we cannot think of a better project to kindle their awareness of one of Christianity’s most important (though largely overlooked) heroes.  So, here's an invitation to grab a copy of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas, read it, and then plan on joining us on October 23.

P.S. We are setting the date for the Wilberforce brunch a couple of months away in order to give people time to order copies of the book (used copies are plentiful through the internet) and to get it comfortably read. Also, RSVPs are profoundly appreciated.

Monday, July 26, 2021

There's Always a Little Time for Books

My last reading review posted here on The Book Den was the first week of May and a lot of things have competed for those hours usually devoted to reading: Vital Signs Ministries responsibilities (including several preaching assignments), an awful lot of lawn work, days spent without electricity after Omaha's horrid wind/rainstorm, a mountain hiking trip to Colorado, and some household projects.

Still, I found enough time to work my way through proofreading the first two manuscript volumes of The Faithfulness of God, missionary LaVern Smith's detailed autobiography. Really rich and inspiring. There was also Elie Wiesel's Hostage, Rafael Sabatini's The Banner of the Bull, Howard Pease's The Tattooed Man, and Dorothy Sayers' Clouds of Witness.

I also enjoyed re-reading yet again all five books by John Buchan which feature his hero Richard Hannay and friends: The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast, The Three Hostages, and The Island of Sheep.

Next in line? I'm reading Eric Metaxas' biography on William Wilberforce. The historical material is quite good and profoundly challenging...even though the writing itself is too often strained and unprofessional. Claire and I are also reading Dante's Divine Comedy and enjoying very much the Hillsdale College online course over the same trilogy.

The Trumpets Sound for Mr. Valiant-for-Truth

Here is a stirring passage from John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. It comes from Part Two of that classic allegory and describes what occurs after Mr. Valiant-for-Truth is summoned to the Celestial Gate by the Master. Mr. Valiant-for-Truth makes his will, as it were, speaks his parting words, and departs for glory.

Then said Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, "I am going to my Father's; and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will be my rewarder."

When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river-side, into which as he went, he said, "Death, where is thy sting?" And as he went down deeper, he said, "Grave, where is thy victory?" So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

Friday, July 16, 2021

“The World Is Getting Socialism Like the Measles"

“The world is getting socialism now like the measles.  It all comes of a defective education.” (Says an old Scots craftsman, Andrew Amos in John Buchan's 1919 thriller, Mr. Standfast). 

Other passages relevant to the effete progressives the novel's hero encounters: 

“It was their fashion never to admire anything that was obviously beautiful, like a sunset or a pretty woman, but to find surprising loveliness in things which I thought hideous.”  

"I hate more than I love.  All we humanitarians and pacifists have hatred as our mainstream.  Odd, isn’t it, for people who preach brotherly love?  But it’s the truth.  We’re full of hate towards everything that doesn’t square in with our ideas, everything that jars on our lady-like nerves...We’ve no cause – only negatives, and that means hatred, and self-torture, and a beastly jaundice of soul.” 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

A Lot of 4-Star Reading Here

There have been some really wonderful reads in the last few weeks (my last reading review was posted March 18) with several that I can unreservedly recommend to others. And that, of course, is a major reason I present these lists here on The Book Den.

* First off, let me suggest that Calvin Miller's 175-page The Philippian Fragment (published by IVP in 1982) is quite effective in comedic punch as well as spiritual challenge. Purporting to be a recently discovered manuscript from the early church, Miller uses it to pass along witty and wise counsel about both an individual Christian's sanctification and the life of a local congregation. (It is a re-read which I appreciated a lot more this time around. I'll give it 3.5 out of 4 stars.)

* 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is a classic that I first read (in an abridged version) as a lad and I still love it. Yes, Verne can be a bit tedious in his detailed descriptions of flora, fauna, geography, and scientific processes but it remains an exciting and worthwhile read. (Re-read. 3 stars.)

* Dr. Dwight Pentecost's Design for Discipleship (1971) came out of sermons he preached at Grace Bible Church in Dallas where he pastored (as well as serving as a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary). It is an excellent study of the topic: well-presented, enlightening, convicting, helpful. (Re-read. 4 stars.)

* Churchill by Paul Johnson is a superb short biography of one of the most interesting, brilliant, and influential men in modern history. And, coming from Paul Johnson, you know that the argument and writing style are going to be first rate. (A new read. 4 stars.)

* The Man in White is a novel written by none other than American music legend Johnny Cash. I wrote a bit about the book in this post. (Re-read. 4 stars.)

* In 1912 Henry Gilbert created the first modern retelling of the noble medieval hero, Robin Hood. It is a rather lengthy book -- which is terrific for I love every thrilling, endearing, inspiring chapter. I have since I was a kid. (Re-read. 4 stars.)

* Along the way in March and April were three "mere entertainment" novels, all of which were wonderful for what they were. I'd give them all three stars as mystery/adventure novels: The Crime at Halfpenny Bridge by George Bellairs; The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Ellery Queen; and When Eight Bells Toll by one of my favorites for literature of this genre, Alistair MacLean. (Of these, only the MacLean book was a re-read.)

* Certainly the most important book from these past weeks would be Heaven by Randy Alcorn. Indeed, that would be true of any of the several times I've read it. It is easily the book both Claire and I most recommended to others. This time around we even hosted a Saturday Brunch discussion here at our home where we were joined by 15 guests to discuss Heaven. And, yes; we had a lovely time. (Re-read. 4 stars plus.)

* And finally, another book from my "Resisting the Thugs of the Cancel Culture" reading list was Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. It is a gem. (Re-read. 4 stars.)

And Talking About Heaven...

The key element of Vital Signs Ministries' latest Saturday Morning Brunch was a very meaningful discussion of Randy Alcorn's marvelous book on heaven. 17 of us were involved and we had a good time talking about how the book enlightened us, comforted us, excited us, and challenged us to more devotedly lay up treasure for our lives to come in that "continuing city" of the New Jerusalem. 

We also enjoyed a meal together of a hash brown casserole (with bacon, eggs, and cheese), kielbasa in apricot sauce, assorted fruit, pecan rolls, and bagels with cream cheese or jam. A good time, indeed...but just a foretaste of what awaits. Maranatha!

P.S. We took this photo to enclose in a card we all signed thanking Randy, his wife Nanci, and the whole team of Eternal Perspective Ministries for the Heaven book and all the rest of their terrific work for the Lord Jesus.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Standard Oil and the Problems in the Middle East

From Paul Johnson's brief but excellent biography, Churchill...

"[Winston Churchill] now remodeled the Colonial Office to found a new and powerful Middle East department, which in the spring of 1921 organized a high-level conference in Cairo to refashion the areas in light of the Saudi triumph.  This was one of the highlights of Churchill’s career, and it gave him a taste for summit conferences he never lost.  It was highly productive.  Two new kingdoms were created, Iraq and Transjordan, for the two leading Hashemite princes, Emir Faisal, sharif of Mecca, and Emir Abdullah.  The role of the RAF was confirmed and a vast new base in Habbaniya in northern Iraq, still in use by the West, was created. 

This settlement lasted half a century and would have endured longer but for an unfortunate intervention by the world’s largest oil company, Standard Oil.  While Britain was using Anglo-Persian and Anglo-Dutch Shell to develop the fields in Persia, Iraq, Kuwait, and elsewhere in the Gulf, Standard formed an alliance with the Saudis to develop fields on their territory, which proved the richest of all.  American policy almost inevitably backed Standard, and so the Saudis.  

Thus the Wahhabi fundamentalists became a great power in the Middle East, immune from attack because of U.S. support and provided with colossal sums of oil royalties with which to undermine the moderates everywhere and the Hashemites in particular."