Books: Les Misérables

January 17, 2015

One of the books in my want-to-read-someday list has long by Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I had heard and read about the characters and Javert and Jean Valjean, and the theological lessons about law and grace one could see reflected in their very different lives. I wanted to read it for myself.

But it’s such a very long novel. I wondered how I would ever manage to finish it. Then after having read Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame during Christmas break a year ago, I decided that this winter during Christmas break I would tackle Les Misérables.

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Books: Doomsday Book

December 29, 2014

I was trying to think of something to get my younger son for Christmas. I remembered that he had enjoyed some books about time travel, but rather than another book in a series we’ve already read (from the library), I decided to look for another author neither of us had read before. One of my first hits in Google was Connie Willis.

I’m not sure which book I looked at initially, but from the description I discovered that it was not the first novel in which Willis had historians of the future going back in time to study their subject first-hand. So I looked through the list of books mentioned, and decided to start with Doomsday Book, which fortunately was available through the library.

If I liked it, I’d invite my son to read it. Then if he liked it I’d consider buying some of her books. With Christmas coming up so soon, I had to find something else to get him (how’s this for someone who particularly likes both science and superheroes?). But having discovered Willis, I was eager to read her books just because I like time travel books so much myself.

I was already in the middle of a historical fiction novel I’m reading for the book club, but it was slow going so I set it aside (knowing I had all Christmas break to read it), and picked up Doomsday Book. I put it down a few times because I needed to cook meals or other necessary stuff like that (though I did kind of get behind on the laundry). I didn’t quite finish it within 24 hours, as one reader on amazon.com had, but I came close.

I realize that not everyone finds it such a page-turner. Several reader reviews complain that it is much too long and that very little happens, or that it is full of time-travel clichés and too-obvious foreshadowing. I suppose those criticisms have some validity. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: Vanishing Grace

December 24, 2014

Almost twenty years ago I read a new book by Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace? It was one of the best Christian books I had ever read, and I wrote a review on the website of an internet bookseller I had recently discovered (but most people had probably not heard of), amazon.com. Since then I have enthusiastically recommended the book to others.

So when I saw recently that Yancey had written a follow-up, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?, I was eager to read it. I chose to request it from the library, however, rather than order my own copy, as few books have turned out to live up to their glowing reviews as well as What’s So Amazing about Grace?

And while I wanted Yancey’s new book to be as good as the other, I just didn’t find it nearly as compelling. It asks some good questions, and could start some good discussions. But if I wanted to help someone understand grace I’d still recommend the first book. And if I wanted to lead a discussion I’d recommend the first book, and then ask some of the questions raised in this book, without necessarily spending a lot of time on Yancey’s answers.

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Books: The 19th Wife

December 12, 2014

Following my recent penchant for historical fiction, my latest audiobook selection from the library was David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife. I was initially somewhat hesitant to read a book about the Mormons and polygamy – I just could find nothing very appealing in those topics. But it was somewhat intriguing that the novel combines the historical fiction, following the life of Ann Eliza Young, with a modern murder mystery.

I’m not sure just how well the combination works. On the whole I enjoyed the chapters of narrated by Ann Eliza Young more than those narrated by Jordan Scott, a young man whose mother is in jail for allegedly killing his father. But I realize that Ebershoff wants to tell not only the story of one woman who fought to have polygamy outlawed in this country, but also how polygamy continues to affect people today.

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Books: Gutenberg’s Apprentice

November 28, 2014

I have enjoyed several works of historical fiction lately, so when I was looking for a book recently at the library, and had no author or series in mind, I decided to just look for historical fiction. It’s easy to find books belonging to other genres, such as science fiction and mystery, because the spines of the books are marked with little stickers showing a spaceship or a question mark. (In the same manner, it’s easy to skip over the books marked with hearts or cowboy boots because I’m not interested in romances or westerns.)

But there’s no sticker for historical fiction. (What would one look like, anyway?) So I just walked along, running my eye over book titles, waiting for something to catch my eye. And what caught my eye was Gutenberg’s Apprentice. Now there’s a piece of history I knew little about. We learned in history class about the significance of Gutenberg’s development of movable type, and in Junior Achievement classes I have helped students get an idea of the huge gains in productivity that resulted. But I knew next to nothing about how the invention of the printing press actually came about.

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Books: Caleb’s Crossing

November 10, 2014

Having enjoyed Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book so much, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of Caleb’s Crossing. It has a lot of features that appeal to me – it’s historical fiction, and it deals with themes related to cross-cultural communication, religious faith, and education.

I was fascinated by the depiction of life in the 1660’s, told by a minister’s daughter named Bethia. The language uses a variety of words unfamiliar to the modern reader, but never difficult to understand in context. This archaic phrasing helps reinforce the sense of the story being solidly set in the past, in a cultural context very different from ours.

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Many moods of silence

October 24, 2014

This morning I was reading Psalm 62, and I was struck by the word “silence” in the first line.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;

Then again in verse 5,

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence

Yet in verse 8, I read this

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him

So what does it mean to pour out my heart before God while at the same time waiting in silence?

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