Sunday, January 03, 2010

December Reading: A Dozen Novels?! Yeah, But Mostly Short Ones

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis.

Read these for book club. While many non-Christians love these books too, most of the believers I talk to about them treasure their characterization of God, as reflected in Aslan. In “Silver Chair,” it’s particularly noticeable in Aslan’s knowing but gracious response to human foolishness and failure. Maybe you remember Jill’s encounter at the stream, with its parallels to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. But I also liked this one, at the story’s end:

“The Lion drew them to him with his eyes and bent down and touched their pale faces with his tongue, and said, ‘Think of that no more. I will not always be scolding. You have done the work for which I sent you into Narnia.’”

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter.

My great aunt Grace introduced me to this author and we read all her stuff as kids. Dad says this volume had a big influence on her sister, my grandmother, as well: that it gave her gumption she might not have had otherwise. For all I like it, too. The novel, though charming and kind of inspiring, does have some significant flaws, and it is quite dated. Consider this passage:

“All his vows of love and fidelity made to me before the Almighty forgotten in a few months, and a dance and a Light Woman so alluring he had to lie and sneak for them… I know men and women. An honorable man is an honorable man, and a liar is a liar; both are born and not made. … If he lived six months more I should have known him for what he was born to be. It was the blood of him. His father and grandfather before him were fiddling, dancing people…”

Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Read this and skimmed several of her other books the day before the roommate and I and some friends went to see “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical” downtown. Reading this again, it strikes me that Laura lived in a different world with different, though distinctively American, values. Her parents’ wanderlust, independence, and insistence on lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps (seeing people outside their own family as a corrupting threat) seems so weird to me. I wonder if anyone has ever done much analysis of these books and the people behind them? Laura was writing for children and seems careful about what she doesn’t include. Does it say something about me that I want to hear the “dirt”?

The Man in the Brown Suit and Cat Among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie.

"Brown Suit" has got to be one of her best. Pick it up for a rollicking adventure next time you are traveling, perhaps. One of the frivolous goals I’ve considered pursuing, hobby-like, is to systematically read through all of Christie’s book. Such a good writer. But on the other hand I don’t know if I could take such a marathon of murders, however “cozy.” Better to spread it out over time, perhaps.

An Anne Perry Christmas: Two Holiday Novels, by Anne Perry.

The last Anne Perry novel I picked up was dark enough that I didn’t know if I’d care for this. But, Dickens-like, she’s adept at the lighter-touch story as well, and these two have some great content about human nature, as well. For example, the second of the novellas in this collection includes a character, perhaps the one “whodunit,” who lives in what the author calls a “self-made prison” of resentment toward the murdered man.

“The longer you persist in blaming others, the more difficult it becomes to retreat, until finally your whole edifice of belief rests on the lie, and to dismantle it would be self destruction.”

Contrast that with the characteristics of the “victim”:

“Judah had had faults. He could be overconfident, impatient with those slower of thought than himself. He was omnivorous in his hunger for knowledge, untidy, and he occasionally overshadowed others without realizing it. But he was utterly honest, and as quick to see his own mistakes as anyone else’s, and never failed to apologize and amend.”

Which characterization would others use for each of us?

False Witness: A Sister Agatha Mystery, by Aimee and David Thurlo.

Sister Agatha is a nun in New Mexico, and seems to get sucked in to solving mysteries on the side. (She’d formerly been a journalist, and the police chief is an old friend…). One thing I appreciated about this one is the side plot about another middle-aged nun who is obviously rather troubled, and nobody knows why. Turns out she’s struggling with the implications of never being able to have children, something I find troubling as well. But, like this sister, perhaps I need to allow myself both a chance to grieve it and to open my eyes to the family that God mercifully provides through other believers.

I Heart Bloomberg and On This Day, by Melody Carlson.

Carlson’s work is rather obviously flawed and formulaic: she’s writing for a market. But somehow she seems to overcome these limitations. I like her. I find her novels engaging and relaxing. The nice thing about this sort of Christian chick lit is that it’s a fast read, not too challenging, but often still thought-provoking, and generally wholesome. All of which adds up to good bedtime reading.

Honolulu: A Novel, by Alan Brennert.

This one’s a bulky but fascinating historical novel, probably based on a great deal of research. It’s the tale of a Korean girl around the turn of the century, living a very restricted life, but seizing opportunities to learn to read, and to leave the country as a “picture bride” for a member of the Korean community that had developed around the plantations in Hawaii. Lots of interesting cultural information about the evolutions of both the Korean and Hawaiian societies. I’d recommend it.

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