2018 Reading Wrap Up 1

The Central Significance of Culture by Francis Nigel LeeNIgel Lee

In a world where Christians see the extent of their religious practice as the four wall of their local church, Francis Nigel Lee’s book offers the thorough proposition of an expansive Christian outlook. Referencing biblical and historical sources  Lee shows the radical importance of religious participation in a culture’s art, life, and expression. I found nothing in the work radically new, due to my familiarity with works of this sort. However, it is an excellent overview for the reader new to the idea of a cultural Christianity. (Francis Nigel Lee is a South African Calvinist writer who does in some of his work express an old South African ethnic prejudice. The glimmer of a race bias can be seen in the presuppositions of this work. And yes, this does greatly stain his voice and credibility.)

A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

Oconnor

Flannery O’Connor is the holy mother of Southern Gothic Realism. A devote Catholic with an eye for the human soul, she writes moral expose on the ticking time bomb that was Southern America. Each short story tell a horror stories with characters that are cuttingly real all about the ghost that haunts us all, sin. This collection is a must for every reader over 16.

 

 

Eggs by Fanny HoweHowe

Fanny Howe captures chaos and makes it sing for her. “Eggs” is her first book of poetry published in 1970. I found the collection very moving. It shows Howe’s talent from the very start of her career.

 

 

 

Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows by Robert McKuen

McKuen

I did not like this collection of poems. McKuen writes shallow rhymes about his one night stands. Apparently it was very popular in the seventies and early eighties.

 

 

 

 

 

Art and the Bible by Francis A. SchaefferSchaeffer

Schaeffer was the first in over a century to enter the mainstream church with the voice of Christendom. Here in this short book of two essays, Schaeffer lays out a theological and then a biblical argument why the arts are a dominion of Christ and therefore a subject of serious engagement for the serious Christian. Shaeffer’s take is far from thorough, but it is groundbreaking for a church that has buried itself in apathy and false piety. For those artists in such churches or believers of that worldview Schaeffer’s booklet is the personal relief and opening for real conversation.

Foundation and Empire by Isaac AsimovAsimov

I can’t remember which book I like more, the first or this one. This story is a bit more choppy than the first, telling different stories in different parts. It felt made for a periodical rather than the form of the novel. That said, by the end Asimov had me gripped to finish. And he spoke with the same galaxy-building and cultural criticism you become so found of in the first. Not overall disappointing with somethings improved (some amazing characters) and somethings lost (continuity).

 

Unconditional Surrender by Gary NorthNorth

Gary North deserves more attention than he receives as an economist and a biblical scholar. He has undoubtedly written more on the intersection of those two topics than anyone on the planet. Despite being an expert, his anonymity is due to his very particular and pointed worldview and therefore a very singular readership. This work was made for the new believer to unload his view of the faith for the uninitiated. This is not the audience I would recommend read this. Even two years ago, a time when I thought I belonged to the same camp as North, I had significant differences with the work. It was enjoyable at the time to hear many of my already held beliefs reiterated and in some places expounded. But that was not enough for my endorsement. Now, I would only recommend the book to someone who finds themselves squarely in a very traditional Calvinism, with a very traditional view of marriage and the church, with a propensity for dense books.  That person would be served by this book. (The second edition is an great organizational improvement.)

Spring and All by William Carlos WilliamsWilliams

I need to read this book again. I first read it and I fell in love with William Carlos Williams. This is work of literary criticism (which often philosophizes) threaded with some of the best poetry. Here you find Williams’s ethos open and bare. I found it exquisite like an oyster. I think I ate it with the same spoon too. The reprinting by New Directions Publishing as an object in itself is profound. I will read it again and I will have more to say.

 

Doubt by John Patrick StanleyShanley

Timely and impactful. “Doubt” is a story that all the churched and then everyone else should know. For far too many innocent have lived it without the defense of morally perceptive and courageous nuns or the reality of fiction. John Patrick Stanley demonstrates the intricacy of real characters and a terribly real situation with writing so clean you forget it’s there. This play is an example of purity for playwrights and all our callous hearts.

 

Blizzard of One by Mark StrandStrand

These poems were poignant enough to read at the dinner table to my family and in the car driving up snowy back-roads hunting for a Christmas tree with friends. Both audiences found these poems moving and good listening. I think any book that can earn that kind of praise deserves the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

2017 Reading Wrap Up

Yes, I realize that its 2019 but I told myself I was going to start reviewing two years ago. So here is me catching up.

The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins81ZFWaPQYrL

Billy Collins is a great introduction to contemporary poetry. He uses plain language, and simple straightforward structure that treats a first time poetry reader nicely. It’s good training for the reader unaccustomed to how poetry communicates, transmitting some of the same rhetorical complexities of most poetry in a sleek, unimposing form. Collins’ writing is witty and often serene. And now and again he somehow ends up being profound. I find myself returning to him when my mind wants a lazy Sunday stroll.

Since my first reading I have heard some complaints about how Collins treats certain subjects. Only one of his poems comes to mind, one where he objectifies a woman/women in an image that works toward the greater point of the poem. Not all objectification is pornographic. It is often emotional or intellectual but objectification all the same. So I understand that some of these criticisms are warranted.

The Sonnets and Dreamtigers by Jorge Luis BorgesBorges

Borges is a profound Postmodern writer from Argentina. He is most famous for the short story collection “Labyrinths”, a book on my fiction shortlist. Although best know for his fiction he thought of himself first as a poet. As he became blind later in life he dedicated himself to the composition of his sonnets, as he could do that work in only his mind and then dictate the words to a typist later. His poems are cryptic but I remember enjoying them. Borges’ work was where I first discovered that artists could create their own language of symbols and images with an initially relative meaning that is gradually established and given to a reader through a whole body of work. I liked getting lost in Borges’ spinning dreams. There were a few of his stories at the back of “Dreamtigers”. They showed why he is so respected in that medium. He is definitely an author I will return to. I’ll probably understand him better next time.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’BrienObrien

O’Brien is an excellent writer. This collection of short stories about the Vietnam War is uniquely powerful because of a question, a mystery presented to the reader right away but never answered. That is, are these stories true, biographical or purely fiction?  O’Brien’s intimate narration and total immersion into the horror and wonder filled world he was thrown into as young man make these stories of fiction seem utterly real. This work creates a suspension of disbelief for the reader that is arguably incomparable.

Tim O’Brien visited my university while I was an undergrad and during his speech he portrayed himself and his writing with the same moral relativism and “neutrality” is all too common in contemporary America. But in the same breathe he spoke in utter disbelief of how once a High school student told him that this book was what inspired him to join the Marines. O’Brien broke down crying after that.

A good book to show your older children great writing and the horror of war.

The Hound of the Baskerville by Sir Arthur Conan DoyleDoyle1

Doyle at his finest. I believe this book serves as a prophecy of doom coming to the 18th century British aristocracy and social order. Not to be missed.

 

Versification by James McAuleyMcAuley

The single best introduction to verse and meter. McAuley was Tasmanian Catholic poet and academic that was often mocked by the literary Modernist institution. He is a good poet whose work I’ll hopefully get to soon. But this short book is indispensable for the teaching of poetry. McAuley presents versification as a systematic whole that I believe only a Christian mind could bring to the subject, eliminating the many confusions that have been brought into the teaching of English meter. Although it’s a little hard to get through, once I understood, it was like someone turned on the lights

The Door Into Summer by Robert A. HeinleinHeinlein

My fist Heinlein book. Not the most enthralling writing or story, but still a fun ride about invention, personal relationships, time-travel with a twist at the end. Many of Heinlein’s comments throughout the book are worth noting. This book showed me that sci-fi authors are just Postmillennialists chained to their naturalist worldview.

Red Rising by Pierce BrownPierce Brown

A fun sci-fi novel that follows the YA Dystopian bandwagon. It follows the quest of a young miner who must break from his social caste to infiltrate the tyranny that keeps his people enslaved.  It reads fast and I enjoyed it. Not the best writing but good for YA. The worst issue was pacing but a great debut.