Happy Resurrection Sunday! I hope you enjoy my attempt at blank verse poetry. I wrote this for Easter one year after reading Paradise Lost.
Perfection reigned in Eden’s beauty new.
The man and woman lived in blissful love,
At peace with God, in fellowship divine.
One rule alone they had, a test of faith:
To trust the loving heart of God and live
Or doubting eat and thus give birth to death.
The tempter sowed the seeds of doom-filled doubt:
“True love would not forbid a thing so fair.
This wondrous fruit will make you just like God
Who holds you back from glory, not from death.”
Deceived and proud they ate, defying God
And bringing death upon the human race
And so death reigned o’er Adam’s sinful race
Until the coming of the Lord of Life.
Though God the Son He laid aside His crown,
Came as a servant to this broken world.
He felt its sorrows, wept in grief and pain,
Faced all temptations, yet he did not sin.
As both eternal God and Son of Man
He paid man’s debt in infinite degree.
His guiltless soul was charged with all man’s sins,
And, suffering the Father’s wrath, he died.
Now all was finished; sin was overcome
And death defeated as he rose again.
For those in Christ the fear of death is gone.
Their faith in Him comes ringing down the years:
“In Adam all men die; in Christ they live.”
“For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
“Although they kill us, they do us no harm.”
“One short sleep past we wake eternally.”
One day the blessed hope will come to pass:
The time of restoration of all things
When Jesus Christ returns the dead are raised,
The earth made new, the Kingdom come at last!
No pain, no grief, no death forevermore,
And so shall we be always with the Lord.
– By Joel E. Mitchell
Title: Song of Kali
Author: Dan Simmons
Genre: Cosmic Horror?
Rating: 3 of 5
I’m not quite sure what to make of this disturbing tale. In it, an American travels to Calcutta with his wife (who is Indian) and infant daughter in search of a lost book of poems by an author long thought dead. The plot takes forever to get off the ground, but once it does every parent’s worst nightmare ensues.
The author expertly evokes an atmosphere of human misery, darkness, corruption, and horror (some of it too explicit for my taste) that appears to be driven by a great cosmic evil. There’s just enough wiggle room for possible lying, hallucinations, nightmares, etc. that you can’t be 100% sure how much of what is going on is truly supernatural.
If that was all there was to it I’d probably give it an “amazingly atmospheric but a little too disturbing for me” rating. However, the author also seems to be indicting Indian culture in general as almost completely calloused, corrupt, disgusting, and evil. Putting the fullest expression of that accusation in the mouth of an Indian character doesn’t make it any less insulting.
Overall, the book was horrifying and convoluted enough that I kept reading just to see where it was all going. However, once I was done I felt like I had read the ranting of an ethnocentric tourist who visited India, didn’t deal well with culture shock, and decided to turn his negative experience into a horror story. (Also, this is my fourth book read for the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge).
This year I was doing fairly well at reading books that I already owned and not buying too many new books (though we won’t speak of $3/bag day at the library book sale), and I had just gotten my TBR under 60 books. Then I spent the last three days at the The Gospel Coalition conference. It’s an excellent conference that I would highly recommend if you want solid biblical challenges to live your faith and not just frothy “you can do it!” prosperity gospel.
But bibliophiles beware: all the best Christian publishing houses are there with 2,500+ heavily discounted books, and we’re not talking “bonnet ripper” barely historical romance tripe (I don’t think there was any Christian fiction outside of the children’s tables). I had more or less controlled myself and bought only 7 or 8…and then I got 4 or 5 freebies…and then a friend/enabler told me to go pick out another $75 worth on him…and, long story short, I ended up with 20 new books.
Ten on social issues / applied theology:
…and 10 that are more straight up systematic theology, philosophy, or biblical studies:
Have you read any of these? Where would you start?
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translator: Louise Maude
Genre: Classic Russian Fiction / Philosophy / Theology
Rating: 4 of 5
I seldom read modern Christian fiction. With a few exceptions, it tends to be preachy, poorly-researched schlock full of morbid introspection and cheesy romance. I’m not sure where things went wrong, because this Russian classic is most certainly Christian, features quite a bit of morbid introspection, and still managed to wow me. This is one of those books where plot comes in a distant second to the author’s desire to explore and expound philosophical and theological points, but the characters were still sympathetic (or loathsome), and I genuinely wanted to find out what happened to them.
Tolstoy’s tale follows the spiritual journey of a privileged man who realizes that his actions, past and present, have contributed to the downfall of a poor woman: sending her into a down-spiral leading into prostitution and eventual wrongful conviction for murder. We see his inner spiritual struggle over how to rectify the situation as well as the outward struggle of living in a self-centered society that cares nothing for the poor and “criminal class.” To me, Tolstoy’s approach places so much emphasis on doing good that faith (an indispensable part of Christianity) is nearly excluded. However there was much food for thought throughout the book whether I agreed with him or not.
I listened to this as an audiobook read by Simon Vance. His narration was excellent, but I think that I might have preferred reading this myself for the sake of being able to re-read, make notes, etc. when it came to many of the philosophical points.
Overall, even though this had a lot of what I dislike in modern Christian fiction, it worked in the hands of a master like Tolstoy, and I greatly appreciated this book. Also, I am using this for my Classic in Translation category over at the Back to the Classics Challenge.
For the third year in a row I will be participating in the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen @ Books and Chocolate. The challenge is to read classic books (50+ years old) in the 12 selected categories.
Books don’t have to be chosen at the beginning of the year, but I like to start with a provisional list. I usually end up changing 3-4 of them by the end of the year, but here’s my starting list:
- A 19th Century Classic: Lilith by George MacDonald
- A 20th Century Classic: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
- A Classic by a Female Author: Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
- A Classic in Translation: Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
- A Classic Comedy: The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N by Leonard Q. Ross
- A Classic Tragedy: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
- A Very Long Classic: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
- A Classic Novella: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
- A Classic from the Americas: The Prince & the Pauper by Mark Twain
- A Classic from Africa, Asia, or Oceania: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
- A Classic from a Place You’ve Lived: O Alienista by Machado de Assis
- A Classic Play: Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
One of my goals for this year is to read some of the books that have been hanging out on my shelves and/or TBR for a while. To make that goal a little more concrete, I’m signing up for the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by RoofBeamReader.com. The challenge is to post a list of 12 books that have been on your shelf and/or TBR for at least a year. Finish all 12 books by the end of the year (2 alternates allowed in case there are a couple you just can’t get through) and you are entered in a $50 Amazon gift card drawing.
To knock even more books off the TBR, I decided not to “double dip” with the books that I’ll be reading for the Back to the Classic Challenge, so none of the books on here are classics (other than some genre fiction old enough to be considered classic). Without further ado, here’s the list:
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Atonement by Ian McEwan
- The Baby in the Icebox and Other Short Fiction by James M. Cain
- The Case of the Velvet Claws (Perry Mason: Book 1) by Erle Stanley Gardner
- Corum: The Coming of Chaos (Eternal Champion Sequence: Volume 7) by Michael Moorcock
- Ever by Gail Carson Levine
- King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
- The Little Drummer Girl by John LeCarré
- Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey
- The Roads Between the Worlds (Eternal Champion Sequence: Volume 6) by Michael Moorcock
- Song of Kali by Dan Simmons
- The Tyranny of the Night (The Instrumentalities of the Night: Book 1) by Glen Cook
- Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng
- Unusual Uses of Olive Oil by Alexander McCall Smith
In 2018 I read 121 books (38,307 pages) and reviewed 101 of them. Here are my year-end best and worst lists (excluding re-reads / click book titles for full review where available):
- How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith & Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman – A much needed, truly non-partisan book about how American Christians should view and participate in the political process without losing their integrity
- Darkness Over Germany by E. Amy Buller – A sobering look at the rise of Nazism, written during World War II (but with some worrisome parallels to current events)
- Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – A whimsical dystopia about letters (in both senses of the word) & censorship
- Silas Marner by George Eliot – A classic story of providence & redemption that led Charles Dickens to write a well-deserved fan letter
- A Spy Among Friends by Ben MacIntyre – A true account of Ken Philby’s career as a Soviet mole in MI-6 (explains the cynicism of espionage authors like John LeCarré & Graham Greene)
- The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher – A satirical tale of academia & bureaucracy that rings all too true
- A Middle Earth Traveler: Sketches from Bag End to Mordor by John Howe – A collection of John Howe’s gorgeous, detailed sketches of Middle Earth
- Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey – A creepy thriller with multiple unreliable narrators
- Christianity at the Crossroads (no review) by Michael J. Kruger – An examination of the church in the 2nd Century (very similar to Destroyer of the Gods (reviewed) by Larry Hurtado but with a broader focus and better organization)
- Peril in the Old Country and Soul Remains (no review yet) by Sam Hooker – The first two books of the hilarious dark fantasy series, Terribly Serious Darkness
Honorable Mention: Robots vs. Fairies Edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe – An anthology of stories featuring our future overlords (robots, fairies, or both)
- Robot Depot by Russell F. Moran – A muddled near-future sci-fi thriller featuring Trumpian political views and pages of tangentially related roboethics infodumping
- Apocalypse 5 by Stacey Rourke – An incredibly derivative dystopian sci-fi story with Harlequin Romance-esque physical descriptions
- Our Kind of Traitor by John LeCarré – An espionage thriller with a ridiculously abrupt ending that leaves most plotlines unresolved
- The Magic of Recluce by L. E. Modesitt Jr. – A fantasy tale starring a sullen brat and oddly frequent use of onomatopoeia
- How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley – A political screed with solid potential marred by extreme partisanism
- Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs – A classic pulp adventure story complete with all the cheesiness and product-of-its-era racism you would expect
- Killing Floor by Lee Child – The first novel starring Jack Reacher in all his sociopathic vigilante glory
- Against Nature by Joris K. Huysmans – A tedious exploration of a hedonistic aesthete’s vain search for fulfillment
- Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne & Delilah S. Dawson – A satirical take on fantasy tropes that buries any cleverness under an avalanche of adolescent toilet humor
- Plantation Jesus: Race, Faith, & a New Way Forward by Skot Welch, Rick Wilson, & Andi Cumbo-Floyd – A book about a genuine problem that offers few practical solutions and shames those who ask the wrong questions
Dishonorable Mention: Nostromo by Joseph Conrad – An overlong, depressing classic on the consequences of greed and pride
And there you have it…I have one more NetGalley book to review (Soul Remains) and a couple sign-up posts for 2019 reading challenges to write, but this is probably the last post of 2018. Happy New Year!
El-Gibbor: The Mighty God
Will rule the earth with an iron rod
The Son of Man, worthy of praise
Dominion receives from the Ancient of Days
The Word was God, Creator of all
The Word became flesh, helpless and small
Born in humility, swaddled in cloth
A newborn infant asleep in a trough
The gift so great no words can tell
God with us: Emmanuel
by Joel E. Mitchell
(References: Isaiah 9:6-7, Psalm 2:7-9, Daniel 7:13-14, John 1:1-3, John 1:14, Luke 2:4-12, 2 Corinthians 9:15, Matthew 1:22-23)
Title: Seven Types of Atheism
Author: John Gray
Rating: 3.5 of 5
(Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley – this in no way affects the content of this review)
I believe that it is important to understand where other people are coming from in terms of differing culture, beliefs, and worldview. It can help foster respectful dialogue rather than talking past each other or yelling at each other. To that end, I picked up this overview on atheism.
Just as no major religion is monolithic in its belief and practice, those who espouse atheism have a wide variety of arguments, beliefs, ethics, worldviews, etc. John Gray gives a guided tour of seven kinds of atheism, describing major proponents and beliefs of each category and pointing out its strengths and weaknesses. He strongly criticizes most versions, mostly alleging inconsistency via partial dependence on a monotheistic or even Christian worldview. He speaks favorably only of what he calls “Atheism without progress” (George Santayana & Joseph Conrad) and “The Atheism of Silence” (Arthur Schopenhauer & Benedict Spinoza).
Obviously, the seven categories are Gray’s own generalizations, but they were helpful in getting an overview of a huge topic. As far as persuasiveness, some of Gray’s argumentation is pretty shoddy. For example, he summarily dismisses certain topics touched on by some atheists philosophers (e.g. Nietzsche & Rand) as “silly” without any further explanation, and his main argument against Christianity is little more than “there are much more likely explanations of who Jesus was than the one offered by Christianity.” Overall, this was a helpful overview, and that is what the author stated as his primary goal, so I guess he was successful in spite of occasionally lackluster arguments.
Title: Robot Depot
Author: Russell F. Moran
Rating: 1.5 of 5
I seldom accept requests to review self-published books because of their tendency to be lacking in quality (professional editors and publishers’ rejection letters exist for a reason!). However, the premise to this one (ISIS must be stopped from using consumer-grade robots to deliver bombs) sounded interesting enough that I decided to risk it…that risk did not pay off.
Stylistically this was amateurish. The dialogue was stilted and little more than over-explained info-dumping. The narration switched erratically between first and third person. Most of the characters were so flat as to be virtually indistinguishable.
The actual plot of the story involving ISIS didn’t really begin until almost halfway through the book. The first 88 pages was a little setting and lots of meandering regarding current and near-future breakthroughs in robotics & AI technology and their implications for economics, politics, ethics, etc. Most of the plot threads in this first half became completely inconsequential or remained unresolved once the actual story started.
The actual story lacked believability. Like most people who were alive in 2001, I remember the national fear, anger, and bravado that followed the 9/11 attacks. I sense very little of that here even though the attacks are of a similar magnitude. Our plot is mostly about the CEO of Robot Depot sitting around with his lawyers, PR people, and the FBI and discussing how to save his company (and stop further attacks, of course). There is little sense of a nation in crisis outside the boardroom, and it just doesn’t ring true. Then, in the last few chapters this becomes a completely different style of book and it all ends in sadistic vigilante “justice” to which the government turns a blind eye.
If that’s not enough, the author’s Trumpian political opinions drive the book’s main conflicts. I’m not a fan of politically preachy books in general whatever the politics, and this one was particularly cringey. Just look at the cast of characters –
- Good guys: our billionaire CEO and his potty-mouthed wife (both veterans), his lawyers and PR people, a couple Arabs who we are clearly informed are definitely not Muslims, and students who beat down violently protesting “lefties” and “academics” and thus provide “a win for Western civilization.”
- Bad guys: “Academics,” left-wing protestors (most of whom “don’t even know what they’re protesting”), ISIS, “Islamic culture and the ‘Religion of Peace'”
In summary (since I’ve already gone on way too long), I seldom give a book fewer than 2 stars, but this one is so lacking in style and plot that it richly deserves 1.5 (the extra .5 is because some of the economic and ethical questions raised in meandering bits were somewhat interesting).