Abandoned: David Copperfield

David CopperfieldDear readers, I only have 11 more months in my 30s. I will not be spending more of them on David Copperfield.

I don’t love all of Dickens’ work, but expected to be transported by this book. Hannah and I decided to read it together. We slogged through it for long stretches of December. Finally, last week, I looked up from page 311 and called a DTR.

In case you missed college, a DTR is when one party initiates a discussion about where the relationship is headed. In short order, Hannah and I decided to dump David Copperfield.

Yes, I understand, the book is a classic. But it’s also sappy, tiresome, repetitive, frowsy, and overblown to the point of extreme annoyance. It was not inspiring us to love truth and beauty, write better prose, or learn more about conditions in Victorian England. And if you’ve been with me long, you know that there are few things I enjoy more than the chance to learn more about England. This book just wasn’t doing it for us.

Having put in over 300 pages, I felt like we had given this one a solid go. We didn’t abandon it lightly. But life is short, and excellent books are myriad, so abandon David Copperfield we did.

What books have you decided not to finish lately?

 

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Sabbath Reading: Living in the Light

living in the lightJohn Piper’s Living in the Light is a short but punchy treatise on how to keep God at the center of your life so that you can enjoy money, sex, and power as blessings rather than being enslaved to or worshipping them.

“The bottom of sin, the root of all sins, is a heart that prefers anything above God, a heart that does not treasure God over everything else, and everyone else.”

It’s a good distinction. As Christians, we’re not called to eschew any of these three things, just to keep them in their proper places. You see people (and by people I mean all of us, probably) fall off the horse on both sides with these issues–it’s just as easy to deny Christ centrality in your life in a more internal, subtle, religiously/socially acceptable way as it is to sin visibly in these areas. Piper wisely points out that whenever we’re looking to money, sex, or power for security or value or fulfillment or meaning or identity…and the list goes on…that is a problem. The book is geared toward Christians, and Piper spends time unpacking these areas for that audience.

“We fight as forgiven people trying, in the power of God’s spirit, to become what we are.”

I enjoyed Living in the Light’s hopeful tone and insight, and think it would be a quick, helpful book for a Sabbath read.

What are you reading this Sunday?

 

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Read Alouds: England (Always)

There’s that old adage: you can never be too rich, too thin, or read too many books about England.

Well, I suppose you could be too thin.

But, England? One never reaches a saturation point.

Here are a few books we read together or that I read for discussion purposes with the kids last semester:

our island storyOur Island Story – Told in short story form, easily read in one sitting, Our Island Story covers many facets of British history at an elementary school level. In many ways, England’s history is also America’s history, so I see this as an extension that also helps us understand our own culture and legal system. The kids love this book.

Good Queen Bess – This is solid historical fiction for kids, although it gives a LOAD of gloss on some of the more tricky parts of Elizabeth I’s reign. If you’re ok with reading something else as historical background, this is a great book, but I wouldn’t make it your only source about the time period.

Children of the New Forest – We enjoyed learning more about the Roundheads and the Restoration–a very interesting time in British history, but not one with which I am deeply familiar. The great thing about this book is how it melds historical information with great adventure, particularly in how a family of orphans learns to be self-sufficient in the New Forest. It has sort of a Swiss Family Robinson feel at times!

Life of Alfred – It’s good to read original sources, but, to be honest, this was not one of our favorites.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – This is an odd book. I suppose it’s good to read, and perhaps my ambivalence is due to the incredibly annoying narrator. I wonder if the novel seemed more ground-breaking at the time of publication. At this stage of history, the structure feels tired.

The White Company – I cannot emphasize enough how insanely dull this book truly is. With the exception of one good part near the end, it was an unremitting slog. I decided not to make Hannah finish it, so as not to kill her love for literature.

The Incorrigible Children of Aston Place Series -I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. These books are so fun and funny. We listened to them on audio when we were in the car, and the reader is terrific. That may have added much to our enjoyment, as I’ve heard from others that the books are not as good for independent binge reading. But if you’re looking for a fun series to keep you busy on car trips, this is your win.

Sabbath Reading: Against the Gods

against the godsThis year I decided to set my Sunday reading time aside for books of theology and spiritual matters. The first book I picked up was John Currid’s Against the Gods.

The book considers the question of whether or not the Old Testament was written in response to or by borrowing from the myths and religions of ancient pagan civilizations. I thought the topic sounded fascinating.

Unfortunately, I think I was not exactly the target audience. I was hoping for lots of depth and cultural analysis, as well as deeper theology. The author, however, states up front that he’s writing on a more casual level, so the book stays pretty light. That’s an interesting choice for the topic, as I wonder how many people would be interested in polemical theology but NOT want detail and depth. However, if you’re casually interested and looking for a quick and not-too-demanding treatment of the topic, Against the Gods could be for you. I didn’t disagree with the author, just wish he had given us more.

What are you reading this Sunday?

 

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The Bear and the Nightingale

The-Bear-and-the-NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale, and its sequel The Girl in the Tower, are right up my alley given the medieval Russia setting, great writing, strong pacing, and folktale tie-ins.

But I found the real strength of the books to be a theme that I’m not sure was intentional. Maybe Katherine Arden has thought a lot about the culture of juxtaposition that happens when two belief systems overlap and collide, when two systems of thought are slipped into and out of as an era changes. Or perhaps not. Either way, these stories are fascinating examples of belief overlap, which is a situation our own culture finds itself in today.

I’m sure there is always an element of syncretism in any era, but sometimes belief is more stable and universal than others. In the late ancient and early medieval eras, a growing belief in Christianity clashed with older pagan beliefs and it wasn’t a clean break. For a long time, people held on to the old beliefs, or held them along with the new, and gradually slipped from one paradigm to the other. This is actually a very productive space to use in writing about our own culture. Fiction softens the blow about how vestiges of Judeo-Christian belief compete with post-modern materialism or neo-paganism. It is a softer window into how many Christians also hold cultural beliefs that are in direct opposition to their stated religious tenets. The folktale genre, when thoughtfully done, gives a canvas to explore what that looks like without stepping on modern toes.

I’ve read that science fiction is the literary space for exploring technological ethics, and I’m thinking that maybe early medieval historical fiction/folktales are the space for thinking about the culture of beliefs in flux.

If you’re interested, Eifelheim is another great example of this juxtaposition, and A Secular Age gives terrific background on the medieval shift in beliefs (although it focuses more on the late medieval shifts).

What do you think?

 

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