Books: Winter of the World

July 27, 2014

As I had read in book reviews that Winter of the World picks up where Fall of Giants left off, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to find out that this was not really so. There is a gap of nine years, with the sequel beginning in 1933 with Hitler’s rise to power. Perhaps in terms of world events nine years isn’t so long, but I was expecting continuity in terms of the characters.

Nine years is long enough that the main characters of the first book have receded into the background and it is through the eyes of their children that we see events unfold. The parents are there, but they are no longer very interesting. And there is little explanation for how they got to where they are now. Grigori, in particular, seems much too content with his comfortable position in life as a general in the Red Army. I realize that it would have been dangerous for him to oppose Stalin (he escaped being purged by not being important enough at the time), but one can’t help but wonder what happened to his thirst for a just society.

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Books: If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis

July 8, 2014

Last summer I read a biography of C. S. Lewis as part of the Tyndale Summer Reading program. When I saw that this summer’s list includes another book by Alister McGrath, If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life, I was immediately intrigued and added it to my list of books to read.

The biography had certainly been interesting, but long and sometimes overly detailed. McGrath says in the preface to this new book that a lot of people want to learn from C. S. Lewis, more than to learn about him. That was definitely how I felt after slogging through the biography, and since McGrath had indicated in that book that he was planning to also write a book about the ideas of C. S. Lewis, I looked forward to reading it. I don’t know if this book is what he was talking about, but the idea of imagined lunches with Lewis seemed very attractive.

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Books: Captive in Iran

July 4, 2014

I vaguely remember having heard about Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh when they were in the news so much a few years ago. When I first saw a headline (on the internet) about two single women arrested for distributing Bibles in Iran, I first assumed they were missionaries from another country, perhaps from the U.S.

Then I learned that they were Iranian themselves, and that the charges against them were also about apostasy. It is not illegal in Iran to be a Christian, but it is a capital offense to convert from Islam to Christianity. I suppose I may have wondered how they came to faith in Christ. But I really don’t think I paid a lot of attention to their story at that time.

When I recently reviewed Tyndale Summer Reading Program book list for this year, I decided that Captive in Iran: A Remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph amid the Horror of Tehran’s Brutal Evin Prison would be one of the first books I would read. I spend much of last week reading it, and I am still trying to sort out my reactions to it.

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Books: Sparrow Migrations

June 19, 2014

The premise of Sparrow Migrations intrigued me – “a 12-year-old boy with autism, witnesses the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ from a sightseeing ferry and becomes obsessed with the birds that caused the plane crash.” Other characters are on the ferry or the plane that landed in the Hudson, and while they seem to have nothing else in common with each other, their lives intersect over the course of the novel.

In an author Q&A, Cari Noga explains that she wanted to write about “ordinary people transformed by an extraordinary event –and by each other.” Furthermore, she wanted to make it a “braided narrative” – “multiple story lines that intertwine.” So once she had an initial idea for the novel, she had to find some other characters and conflicts to form the other strands of the braid.

I was not at all surprised to learn that the idea for the story started with Robby, the boy with autism. He is the most fully-developed character. The parts of the story dealing with him and his parents, and their struggles in parenting someone with autism, draw the reader into the characters’ minds and emotions in all their complexity as they deal with a variety of situations. Since the author and her husband have a boy with autism, it is hardly surprising that she can portray their experiences so well.

The other characters, in contrast, were add-ons created for the sake of the “braided narrative,” and their conflicts are those that the author thought would be interesting to deal with. Noga presumably does not have the same personal experiences to draw on with a couple dealing with infertility or a pastor’s wife dealing with homosexuality, and these characters do not come across with the same depth. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: Fall of Giants

June 12, 2014

Ken Follett’s books are all great stories, but especially his big historical novels. Pillars of the Earth is one of the best works of historical fiction I have read, and the only reason I haven’t yet read the sequel, World without End, is that it would take a considerable commitment of time. I spend a lot of time reading, but mostly novels of just a few hundred pages, where I can finish in less than a week without taking too much time away from other things that need to be done. Then I can get caught up on other stuff.

There are books that I read for a while, set aside to either do other things or read other books, and then get back to. But those are usually books I don’t much enjoy reading, and when I do get back to them I have to go back and reread some to reacquaint myself with the characters and what happened previously. With a book of over a thousand pages, that could be a lot of rereading. Or else leaving a lot of laundry unwashed, checkbooks unbalanced, and all the other things that require my time.

Books on CD are a great way to listen to books that I don’t have time to read – especially as the reason I have less time to read than I once had is because I spend over an hour and a half a day in the car driving to and from work. Even so, the fact that the audiobook version of World without End is so long that it requires two separate cases to hold all the CD’s made me wonder if I could finish it during the time period provided by the library.

Which is where Fall of Giants came in. It was not quite as long – at 24 CD’s, they all fit in one case, albeit a very large case. I do not generally have as much interest in reading early twentieth century history – or historical fiction based in that period – as in the medieval period. But it was by Ken Follett, which meant it would be an absorbing story. And I’d see how long it took me to listen to 24 CD’s.

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Movies: Odd Thomas

June 11, 2014

Dean Koontz is one of my favorite authors, and Odd Thomas is one of my favorite books by Koontz. I was surprised, however, to discover that it had been made into a movie. Part of what appeals to me so much about the character of Odd Thomas is his “voice” – the way he tells his story and how he talks about himself and about life. That didn’t seem like it would translate well onto the screen.

But it does, surprisingly well, because the movie allows Odd to narrate the story, rather than just trying to display it through images and action. It’s not the same as the book, of course – a movie adaptation always has to pick and choose and leave out a great deal. But on the whole I think it is very faithful to the book – and I ended up choked up at the end of the movie just as I did at the end of the book.

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Books: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

June 9, 2014

I chose this book from the “New Books” shelf at the library because I recognized the author. In our book club last year we read Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, and I was interested in reading another book by her.

With a title like The Museum of Extraordinary Things, I had expected it to be about the sort of museums I have visited, filled with unusual and intriguing objects from natural or human history. The chief attractions of Professor Sardie’s exhibits, however, are not things but people with physical abnormalities.

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Books: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

June 2, 2014

Our book club selection this month was Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir. Having previously read his book The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way, I was happy to read something else by Bryson.

It took me a while to realize that while it is written in the form of a memoir, it really is not so much about Bryson as about what it was like growing up in the 1950′s and early 60′s. As I was born a decade later in the early 60′s, and in the middle of Connecticut rather than the middle of Iowa, I find some of his recollections similar to my own, and others very different.

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Books: Lit!

May 24, 2014

I read this because it is recommended by Carolyn Weber, whose books Surprised by Oxford and Holy Is the Day I appreciated so much, as a help in finding the right books to read to serve our purposes in reading. I had hoped for specific suggestions of good literature to read, but while Reinke mentions some titles in Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, for the most part it provides general principles rather than specific examples.

I suppose my biggest disappointment with Reinke’s book is that it is clearly intended for nonreaders. At least that’s what C. J. Mahaney says in his Foreword, and the book as a whole seemed to bear out that statement. But I can always learn something new, and given Weber’s recommendation I thought I would.

The one section of the book I found the most interesting is the one that compares words with images. Reinke claims that “most of us have only known a world dominated by images: glossy magazines, wide billboards, corporate icons, realistic video games, 3D movies, and high-definition TVs.” In such a world, reading books which communicate with words rather than images may seem to require more effort than many people want to put forth.

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Books: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

May 19, 2014

The last time I picked a book to read because the title and main character had a connection to books, I was disappointed. The books turned out to be little more than props used to tell a story, with little attention given to the stories in the books themselves.

This time I was not disappointed. Books and the stories they contain are integral to The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Each chapter is even prefaced by some notes by Fikry (the owner of a bookstore) about some short story that has parallels of some sort to the real-life events in his life.

Yet the real story is not about books but about people, with all their greatness and meanness and hopes and disappointments. Some of them have particular connections with books (besides the bookstore owner, there is a publisher’s rep, a writer, and the leader of a book club that meets in the store). But others are connected to these by the usual ties of love, family, business, or friendship.

I don’t know if I’ll read any of the short stories referenced by Fikry. Unlike him, I’ve never cared for short stories as well as novels. Some are very good, but you just can’t lose yourself in a short story the way you can in a novel. All too soon, it’s over, just when you were getting really interested in the people and their lives.

I also can’t say the book will make me appreciate books more, because – as readers of this blog know – I have always loved books and my favorite pastime is reading. But as a book-lover it’s great to read a book where reading is portrayed so positively.

But it is a heart-warming story, which is the sort of book I was looking for when I found it.



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