Read Again

These reviews are based on a second (or third) reading of the book. I link to my previous review as well.

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by CS Lewis

I am reposting this 2014 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99
Takeaway: The gift of friends that allow us to explore and try out and explore ideas in safety and love is truly a gift that we all need.

As I am continuing to try out KindleUnlimited I decided to pick up the kindle edition of Letters ot Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by CS Lewis.  I had purchased the audiobook and read and reviewed it several years ago.  But I have been wanting to read it again, and I like changing formats when I re-read a book.  So I mostly read this short book on kindle with a few audio chapters.  (As I keep saying, the ability to seamlessly move back and forth between audio and kindle with whispersync is a great feature.)

As I was reading it, I confirmed that Letters to Malcolm is probably my favorite of Lewis’ books.  I am not sure many others think so, several reviews on Goodreads think it is one of his weaker popular books.  But like Paul’s II Timothy, there are hints of real humanness here that give me great joy.

Letters to Malcolm is a fictionalized set of letters that Lewis writes as if to a close friend.  It was Lewis’ last book to be published while he was alive, about 6 months before his death.  And while it is fiction, it feels like real letters.  There are side notes and personal details.  You can feel his age and some loss of freedom because of his health.

At the same time this is not a book that is completely easy to read.  There is only one side of the letters.  Malcolm’s letters are not included so we only know the response through Lewis’ side. Some of the letters are light and simple, some are pretty dense and dealing with heavy problems.

Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch

Summary: An Abbot feels he receives a call from God to leave his order and return to the world.

I am working my way back through Susan Howatch’s Church of England series. This six book series is about four different Church of England clergy told from five different main characters (one is told from the perspective of a mistress) over 30 year period.

Glamorous Powers was probably my least or second least favorite of the series on the first reading. But I discovered a lot more depth on a second reading. The first time I read this on kindle, this time I switched to audiobook.

As with all of Howatch’s writing, I think there is too much melodrama. But the melodrama makes a lot of sense to the story here. Jon Darrow is an Anglian monk. He is Abbot of one of the houses of the Fordite order (the order is fictional, but according to Wikipedia there are about 2400 Anglican Monks or Nuns around today.)

Darrow is the spiritual director from Glittering Images, the first book in the series. In the first book, Darrow was a near perfect figure, always knowing what to do, in near perfect communion with God and using his psychic abilities for spiritual direction. But several years after the first book he receives a vision that he interprets is a sign from God to leave the order and re-enter the world.

Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ by Eugene Peterson

Summary: The church is where we we can learn to grow up as Christ intends.

A bit over 4 years ago I first read Practice Resurrection. It affected me then and affects me now. I picked it up again and intentionally re-read it with Glittering Images.

The two books, at different times, are two of the books that have most impacted me since I started

Practice Resurrection, the final of a five book series on practical theology by Peterson, is a long exploration of Ephesians as an illustration of why the Christian life is at root a means of allowing us to practice being like Christ (and central to that practice, why that  must be done in context of church.)

Peterson uses the illustration of practicing to remind us that no one is suddenly saved and holy. Yes from conversion we are saved and viewed as righteous in God’s eyes. But the rest of our life is practice on how we can become more like Christ.

Glittering Images (Church of England Series #1) by Susan Howatch (Second Reading)

Takeaway: One of the best examples of how fiction is important to give form to important ideas.

Almost exactly two years ago, while on vacation I first read Susan Howatch. That first reading started me down a path which helped shift me theologically, I am now much more Anglican (or at least sacramental). I have found a spiritual director and been meeting with him for nearly 18 months. And I have started thinking of the spiritual life much more as an ongoing work in progress than I did previously.

Glittering Images is the start of a six novel series set in the 1930s (first four) and the 1960s (second two) and then a spin off trilogy set in the 1980s (that I haven’t read yet).

Charles Ashworth is a young professor and Anglican priest who is sent by the Archbishop of Canterbury Lang (actual person) to spy on the Bishop Jardine of Starbridge (fictional town). Bishop Jardine, as many of Howatch’s characters are, is based on a real bishop. And as the original bishop did, Jardine has spoken out about the need to liberalize England’s divorce laws.

Charles Ashworth attempts to investigate Jardine’s personal life to see if there is anything to the rumors about Jardine’s womanizing. What follows is a mix of straight melodrama, serious theological discussion, and some of the best fictional portrayals of spiritual difficulty I have read.

The God Of The Mundane: reflections on ordinary life for ordinary people by Matt Redmond

Summary: God is God of all of us, not just the extraordinary that get the world’s attention.

I think I am in a season where I want to re-read books that have impacted me.  As I am drafting posts today, three of the four books I am writing about are books that I am re-reading. (My original review of God of the Mundane.)

Re-reading a book a couple years later is something I try to do regularly because often good books have more content than can be absorbed in a single reading. And several years later, you are in a different place and different things are impactful.

This time I suggested that my small group read this book together for discussion. The length is perfect as a discussion book, there are 15 chapters in less than 100 pages. Even slow readers can read 2 or 3 chapters in 20 or 30 minutes.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson (Second Reading)

Takeaway: Love, in essence, is the greatest expression of Grace.

It is not often that I re-read a book so quickly after a first reading, but Lila was the best novel I read last year and I wanted to re-read fairly quickly to see if I was just swept up or if I would love it just as much the second time.

The first time I listened to the audiobook, this time I read it on kindle. I didn’t realize (because I was listening) that there are not chapters, but only pauses. That lack of formalized structure reflects Lila, who is uneducated, almost feral.

At the beginning of the book Doll takes Lila (as a young child)  from the home where she was being ignored and neglected (nearly to death) and raises her the best she can. But because of that kidnapping and some other background, Doll and Lila are on the run for all of Lila’s childhood and young adult life. There is no one, except Doll, that Lila can trust; no one that really loves her.

So when Lila stumbles into Gilead and meets the elderly pastor John Ames and is loved by him (and eventually married to him) that lack of trust in the world does not end over night.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Reposting my earlier review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99
Takeaway: The classic 1973 book, which was made into the 1987 movie, is still worth reading.

Like most of my generation and later, I was introduced to the movie before the book. The book was written the year I was born. And the movie came out when I was 14. So the characters have always been the movie characters in my head.

I first read the book pretty soon after the movie came out. I expected a movie novelization, but while the movie was closely based on the book, it was clearly not a novelization. At the time I remember it as a book where I literally laughed out loud often.

I have not read it since, but I have maintained my appreciation of the book and movie. I still usually watch at least a few minutes of the movie every time I notice it is on tv.

I do not always want to re-read books that I have fond memories of. I have re-read too many books that on a second or third reading, a decade or two later, do not hold up. That is probably a bit true here, although I still really enjoyed the book (it just felt a bit too long.)

The joke of the book is that it is an abridgment of a classic novel and William Goldman puts himself into the book and makes lots of comments about why he is abridging a section. But also the ‘original author’ S Morgenstern also is continually making aside comments as well.

The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St Francis by Richard Rohr

Summary: A series of six lectures on spiritual development.

Just over a year ago I first listened to The Art of Letting Go. And at the time I absorbed much, but also thought I needed a second listening. So I have slowly listened to this a second time over the past two weeks.

The strength and weakness of the book is its format as lecture/conversations.  It is formated as six lectures for those that would like to go on a spiritual retreat with Rohr but cannot. Rohr is clearly working off of notes but does tend to go off those notes occasionally and is not always as precise about his language as he could be. But at the same time this is very conversational and relaxed in tone.

One of the things I appreciate about reading Catholic priests and monks is that the Catholic church is much more comfortable with psychology and philosophy than the Evangelical world. But the flip side of that is that the language used by Catholics often has slightly different meanings (usually more precise academic meanings) than many Evangelicals are used to.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Read Again)

I am reposting my review of Neverwhere because it is the Kindle Daily Deal and on sale for $2.99.
Neverwhere by Neil GaimanTakeaway: Is comfortable better?

After I reviewed Neil Gaiman’s latest novel (The Ocean at the End of the Lane), I started having friends ask for recommendations of other Gaiman books.  So I decided I should go back and re-read some of those books that I keep recommending.

My traditional advice with Gaiman is that is you like the adult fairy tales, then you start with Stardust, then read Neverwhere or The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  Then read his creepy kids book Coraline.

But if you like Gaiman’s alternative takes of mythology, then read American Gods, Good Omens and Anansi Boys.

Neverwhere is the story of a man (Richard) that has a comfortable, but plain life in London. When he stumbles on Door (a young woman that is bleeding on the sidewalk in front of him). He is introduced to the world of London Below.  And suddenly his life in London Above is not quite the same.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Reposting this 2011 review because the kindle edition is one of today’s kindle deals of the day (June 28th only) and on sale for -$1.99 American Gods: A Novel

Takeaway: America is a difficult land for the gods.

American God’s is a classic postmodern fictional look at religion.  All of the Gods are here.  If someone once worshiped them at some point in the past, then that God is wandering around, except for the few that were killed or completely forgotten.

Gods in this world rely on worship, and in modern US, that worship has mostly stopped.  No one remembers the old gods any more.  Some gods work as taxi drivers.  An old eastern European god of death worked at a meat-packing plant.  Several old fertility gods work as prostitutes.  All of them are trying to squeak out a bit of worship, a little remembrance.  Mostly, they just end up tricking people, stealing from them.  Small things here and there, shorting the waitress $10 at dinner or talking their way into a free room at the hotel.

Shadow is the main character.  He is an ex-con, a want-to-be good guy, that only got involved in a crime because he was trying to help out his wife.  He served his time and was a model prisoner.  But the day before he was released, he finds out his wife has died in a car accident.  He gets out early to attend the funeral.  Along the way he meets Mr Wednesday, who offers him a job.  Once once home, Shadow realizes that all his future plans are gone.  His wife is dead, his original job is gone, he has nothing. So he accepts the job, protecting and working for Mr Wednesday.

Gaiman is following along with a number of books recently that are exploring old mythology.  American Gods has been out for over a decade now so it was at the head of the trend.  I first read American Gods about six or seven years ago, it was the first Neil Gaiman book I read.  Other authors have explored similar areas, but Gaiman is a master.  Few can write like he can, few have that subtile humor, just enough mythology to make it believable and just enough modern sensibility to make it sing.

The conflict of the book is between the old god and the new gods.  The new American Gods are those of technology, television, internet, transportation.  The worship of time, money, energy has empowered these new gods try to get rid of the old gods.  Gaiman likes the old, the fantastical and weak magical forces.  None of the gods are omniscient or all-powerful.  They are really just humans with a few extra powers and a few extra weaknesses.  Even the new gods are not nearly as powerful as they think they are.  They are still dependent on the old rules and the need for worship.  They are just as afraid they will be replaced or forgotten as the old gods are.

Gaiman is a classic story-teller.  His stories do not alway make complete sense as they go along.  There are times when a couple of contradictory ideas are being held onto at the same time.  But that is not a problem for Gaiman, just keep reading and things will work themselves out, or sometimes they will not.

If I were a good Christian book blogger I might spend more time exploring the way Gaiman deal with themes of power, sacrifice and worship.  These really are important to the book.  There is even a sacrificial scene that is reminiscent of the crucifixion (although I think it is intended to be more like old traditional animal sacrifice than the actual crucifixion.)  I bring this up more as a warning to those that are easily offended.  I think Gaiman has some interesting perspectives on what worship really is about and how power and sacrifice interact with one another.

There are Christians that will be offended by this book.  Even though the book is about the gods, in the end, it affirms that the real power is with the worshiper, not the worshiped.  For Gaiman the worshiped is created by the worshiper.  That obviously is not a Christian perspective.  But it is an understandable perspective from a post-modern author and I think that we can use that perspective to help us as Christians look at our own worship to see if we really are trying to create God after our own image.

Purchase Links: Original Paperback, Original Kindle Edition, Tenth Anniversary Hardback, Tenth Anniversary Kindle Edition

Purchase Link Notes: I have both read and listened to the original version.  I have not read the 10th Anniversary edition.  The 10th Anniversary edition has 12,000 extra words and a new introduction.  Reviews I have seen suggest that if you have own it already, there is no reason to buy the new version.  But if you have not purchased the original, you should get the new version. If you are getting the audiobook version, get the new one, because it is a full cast production, not just a single narrator.