Tag Archives: Reading

The Eagle & Child Notable Books

My favourite books of those I read this year:

Theology: T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ.

This book changed my outlook on faith. There is a lot of solid material in this book, but what stood out for me in particular was his take on  “pistis Christou” (Greek for either “faith in Christ” or “the faith/faithfulness of Christ”). I had not heard of this distinction before. It started me down a road reflecting on the nature of faith.

Philosophy: James A.K. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church

This book introduced me to Radical Orthodoxy, which is very interesting. Also, while I wasn’t fully convinced by all of Smith’s arguments, I do think it is a good introduction to postmodernism for Christians who are uncomfortable with it. He engages Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard in relation to theology and church practice. I would give this to people who have fear or misunderstanding of postmodern thought.

Sociology/history: Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries

The subtitle explains what the book is about. It’s a study from a sociological perspective. Fascinating read.

History: Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of the Private Life

I love Bill Bryson. It doesn’t matter what he writes–and he’s covered linguistics, travel, science, and now ordinary matters of the home–I love it all and I’ve read it all.

I took smug delight in the fact that I bought his new book in England before it was published in North America. In fact, I also read it before it was published in North America.

It’s a book about the history of the house (they weren’t always 1000 square foot buildings with 3 bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, etc.) and its various common contents. This may sound like boring subject matter, but this is Bill Bryson, folks. In his hands, nothing is boring.

Fiction: David Lodge, The British Museum is Falling Down

A pleasure to read, and funny. I started leafing through it one day when I was bored and I couldn’t put it down.

Literature: Shusaku Endo, Silence

This was a textbook for my survey of Christian history class. I had read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory this summer and thought it was good. Silence is similar in many ways to The Power and the Glory, only better. It instantly became one of my favourite novels of all time. Very moving and thought provoking.

It was one of the “textbooks” for my survey of Christian history class and it generated way more discussion–and more passionate and animated discussion–than all the other books for that class combined.

Nothing that is worth doing…

I always feel like a cheater when I post quotes that are just epigraphs from another book.  But I like this one from the beginning of How the Irish Saved Civilization, so I will continue to cheat:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved on our lifetimes; therefore we must be save by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.  — Reinhold Niebuhr

The Lord helps those…

I’ve dived (dove? doven?) right into my reading for this semester.  The first book I started is Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (a mouthful with the subtitle).  It’s written from a sociological perspective and one of the chapters deals with the fact that, among other things, Christianity was able to mobilize a human response to epidemics in a way that pagan religion was not able to.

What was new and different about Christianity was the “notion that more than self-interested exchange relations were possible between humans and the supernatural” and that “because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please  God unless they love one another” (86).  Emperor Julian–not a fan of Christianity–noted the benevolence of Christians and wanted pagans to at least match this activity, “but for all that he urged pagan priests to match these Christian practices, there was little or no response because there were no doctrinal bases or traditional practices for them to build upon.  It was not that Romans knew nothing of charity, but that it was not based on service to the gods” (88). The pagans mostly fled the cities to save themselves from epidemics; Christians stayed in the cities and cared not only for their own but also for those sick pagans who had been left behind.

There were, in Stark’s view, a number of implications to this Christian charity which contributed to the rapid rise of the faith, but that’s another matter (though an interesting one).  However, this particular passage struck me:

I suggest reading the following passage from Matthew (25:35-40) as if for the very first time, in order to gain insight into the power of this new morality when it was new, not centuries later in more cynical and worldly times:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

When the New Testament was new, these were the norms of the Christian communities. Tertullian [one of the church “fathers”] claimed: “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!'” (87)

This immediately put in mind of the relatively recent brouhaha over universal medicare in the U.S. Run from your church if they talk about social gospel!, says Glenn Beck (inexplicably the new spokesperson for what appears to be much of the Christian right).  What is the social gospel?  As far as I can tell, these words of Jesus in Matthew are the essence of the social gospel. And it comes from the mouth of Jesus!

How it is that the “Christian right” came to oppose the notion of universal healthcare is beyond me.  It seems to me that they ought to be the ones who most strongly support it.  I’m not suggesting that state sponsored medicare is a biblical mandate.  What is a biblical mandate is care for those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned and what have you.  The state steps in because Christians are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. Somebody needs to heed Jesus’ words.

It would be one thing if the Christian right opposed universal healthcare on the grounds that they wanted to provide it instead of the Joe and Jane Taxpayer, but from what I can gather those within the church who opposed universal healthcare are not afraid of the government shuffling into their territory.  At least, not the territory of taking care of orphans and widows in their distress.  But the territory of tax dollars and the American dream?  Yes.  After all, God helps those who help themselves, it says somewhere in Hezekiah.

It scares me to think that many Christians seems to be drifting away from this “notion that more than self-interested exchange relations were possible between humans and the supernatural”.

East Coast Literature

Remember that time that I posted about how much I like melancholic maritime fiction?  No, well, I did.  Today Rilla posted this on my Facebook wall.  It is both AWESOME and hilarious, mostly because it’s an incredibly accurate summary of the genre. In other words, it’s funny ’cause it’s true.  Of course, if you’ve never read any of this type of lit, it won’t seem like such a big deal:

So a couple of weeks ago…

So a couple of weeks ago The Mountain Goats were in Winnipeg opening for another band that I don’t know that well.  I chose not to go.  My brother, a fan of both bands, was aghast.  I was too cheap to shell out the minimal charge for an opening act to a band I don’t know.

Here’s the thing: as much as I love live music, I don’t care for this kind of concert all that much: a crowd of people crammed into a bar or a small concert hall, standing, shouting, drinking, dancing like fools, blocking my view.  It’s not my scene.  I prefer the kind of concert where you sit and applaud.  It’s not because I’m so cultured.  It’s because I prefer to sit and applaud.

* * *

I’ve missed many concerts simply because I have no initiative to get out and do anything. Also, I’m cheap.

* * *

I Played Single Father for a Week (And It Wasn’t that Bad)

* * *

It seems I am at my worst between 6p.m. and approximately 8p.m.  Conveniently, this is also bed/bath time.  I am short tempered during these hours; irritation and yelling sometimes follow.  I don’t like it, but it’s the way it is.  Except for this: if I have a post-supper snooze.  I realized this tonight;  I felt myself getting edgy with the kids, who were playing by with each other (which they seem to do after supper), so I retreated to my bedroom for about 15 minutes and rested.  This made all the difference.

The after supper snooze.  Does this make me old?

* * *

So I discovered that after a month away from Hebrew, I had already forgotten a good chunk of my vocabulary. Dang.

* * *

My goal for the summer was to translate a verse a day in both Hebrew and Greek to keep up the language for the fall semester. In fact, I wanted to work ahead and translate the Biblical books of Ruth and Philippians, which is what we will be translating in the fall in intermediate Hebrew and Greek, respectively.  I had started, with the blessing of my Hebrew professor.

My Greek professor, perhaps mistaking my eagerness to learn for a desire only for good marks, tried to steer me away from working ahead. For some reason this took the wind out of my sails, as it were, and instead of forging ahead or taking his advice, I found myself attempting three different recommended tracks: translating Phillipians (for next semester), translating 1 John (as per the prof’s suggestion), and working through a graded grammar (suggested by my intro to Greek prof).

Too many choices.

Other goals for the summer: ride my bike 3 times a week. Eat less. Go to bed on time.  Read more (for fun).

Here’s what I’ve done about my goals: nothing.

Well, not nothing.  I got started on the translation, but haven’t touched it for some time.  And I’ve been reading.

* * *


Here’s what I’m most looking forward to about our trip to England in August:

Eating whatever, whereever and whenever we want.

* * *

Kurt Vonnegut is a syntactically fun author.  I haven’t read him for a couple of years.  Tonight I started reading Breakfast of Champions again, for the third or fourth time.  One of my life goals is to figure out what the big deal is about Breakfast of Champions. It’s everyone’s favourite.  I preferred Slaughterhouse-five and Cat’s Cradle.

* * *

Another life goal: acquire taste for Guinness.

Life goal achieved.

* * *

Related life goal: acquire a taste for scotch.

Life goal not yet achieved. My brother, whom I will set out on Friday to visit, has agreed to help me achieve this goal, saying, “The moment you walk in the door we will begin.”

How far have we come?

In the Koran, Allah asks, “The heaven and the earth and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?” It’s a good question….Pascal uses a nice term to describe the notion of the creator’s, once having called forth the universe, turning his back to it: Deus Absconditus. Is this what we think happened?…”God is subtle,” Einstein said, “but not malicious.” Again, Einstein said that “nature conceals her mystery by means of her essential grandeur, not by her cunning.”  It could be that God has not absconded but spread, as our vision and understanding of the universe have spread, to a fabric of spirit and sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of its hem. In making the thick darkness a swaddling band for the sea, God “set bars and doors” and said, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” But have we come even that far? Have we rowed out to the thick darkness, or are we playing pinochle in the bottom of the boat? (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 9)

Melancholic Maritime Fiction

I’m reading Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief again. Last summer I read his collected short stories, some of them while sitting in an Adirondack  chair on the west coast of Vancouver Island overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The weather wasn’t great those couple of days on the ocean, but it was perfect for the melancholic nostalgia of MacLeod’s short stories set on Cape Breton Island (even though it’s on Canada’s opposite coast).  Memory is connected with action and activity, as well as the senses, and MacLeod’s fiction will always be connected with our family vacation on a beach just south of Tofino.

Today is wet and windy, kind of like it was on the island last summer–a perfect day for reading, especially MacLeod.  My daily routine since finishing the school year has been to take an afternoon nap on the living room couch, which sits underneath a window.  On cool days like today, I will open the window so that the cool air flows in and down over my face as a read and then lay the book open on my chest and drift into sleep.  There are few things as enjoyable as a nap in a fresh breeze. And so I took one.

I wish there was a website somewhere that would give me suggestions for books similar to MacLeod’s.  I would enter “Island” or perhaps “The Shipping News” (not by MacLeod, but in the same category) into a search field and up would pop a number of appropriate suggestions.  Or maybe they’d have a Melancholic Maritime Fiction category.  I can’t enough of this stuff.

And not just a site that generates suggestions based on what other users have read.  If they used my fiction reading habits to recommend books to someone else who is searching for something to read akin to, say, Kurt Vonnegut’s The Slaughterhouse-Five, would turn up not only Catch-22, which is in the same vein, but also The Lord of the Rings, Right Ho, Jeeves, and, perhaps Who Has Seen the Wind, none of which would be helpful.  No–there would have to be a direct link in feel not just an algorithm or some such based on other people’s reading habits.

It would probably be a magical website.

Alas, I suspect one lands on these books by sheer accident.  There is no way of predicting which book will satiate that melancholic maritime fiction desire. As it is, I think I originally bought No Great Mischief at Costco some 10 years ago based mostly on its cover photograph in combination with the blurb on the back.  Had the cover been designed differently, I may never have read the book.  So much for the old saying.

Summer Reading Revisited

I don’t know why I bother posting reading lists. I don’t remember ever following a reading list beyond maybe two books. It’s fun to discuss what I want to or should read, but I should never presume to set it in stone. One of the joys of owning books is perusing them over a time and simply choosing one that feels right to read at that moment. It means, too, that one week my list might look like this and the next it might look like that.

The list I made up for this summer was not only heavy, but premature and too rigid. Plus, I made it up off the top of my head without a glance at my bookshelves.  Ignoring for the moment possibilities in theology and spirituality, where are Kafka, Paley, Dillard, Buechner and Berry? What of Leacock, Findley, Achebe, Faulkner, Austen, Stegner? How about In Praise of Slow and In Defense of Food? What about Amusing Ourselves to Death or Prairie: A Natural History?

Let’s be realistic. My summer reading will look like what it looks like. Sure, I could use some structure in my life–but not in my reading. Not in the summer, anyway.

The small things

I’ve been meaning to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together for a couple of years. Once again, my book purchasing anticipated my course syllabus: I was required to read it this semester.  It’s a great book–one which will be worth reading over and over again over the years.  For some reason–probably because it strikes a current sensitive spot–this passage stuck out to me:

We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.  We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good.  Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? (p. 29, emphasis mine)

Summer reading

Here’s what I’d like to read this summer.  I say “like” because I don’t want to be legalistic about it.  And, let’s face it, the list will change by the time school’s over in June.

  1. The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright
  2. The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hays
  3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  4. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson
  5. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
  6. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
  7. Three by Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor (a collection of 3 of her books)
  8. Something by Salman Rushdie — either The Moor’s Last Sigh or Midnight’s Children

I can already see this list is unreasonable.  The only realistic thing on the list is the Greene and the Nouwen.  But I really do need and want to read the Wright and the Hays.  And the Peterson.  And the others.

Perhaps the more important question is, which book should I take with me to England in August?  I’m thinking either Greene or O’Connor.  But then it might be nice to read a British author on his or her own soil, so perhaps something by P.G. Wodehouse or perhaps Pride and Prejudice, which I haven’t read but am told is clever (the various film adaptations certainly are and the books are always better, aren’t they?).  Or there’s Rushdie.  He’s British isn’t he?

Dunno. Will mull.