Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis

Takeaway: A story of regret and complaint, joy and pain. Much like the story of many of us.

As regular readers of this blog well know, I have been intentionally reading a lot of CS Lewis for about 18 months. Lewis is an icon of Christian literature. And there are few that can compete with the breadth of his work, from apologetics, to memoir, to children’s literature, to serious adult fiction, to serious academic work, to contemporary essays.

I first read Till We Have Faces nearly three years ago before this most recent reading. I liked it much more this time. I think I both understand Lewis and have more context than the previous reading and I think I probably read the book better.

Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche from the perspective of one of Psyche’s sisters. I didn’t really know the story of Cupid and Psyche before, and so I intentionally read several things about it before I re-read this to make sure I have the basics of the story in my head.

Books and Cuture had a good review by John McWhorter of a book on the history of jazz. The thing that has really stuck with me is McWhorter’s comments about a 1957 Looney Tune cartoon that riffed off of the three little pigs story with jazz musicians.

What McWhorter notes is that in order to understand the “˜Three Little Bops’ cartoon, the audience had to understand the original story of the three little pigs. And similarly, when jazz was popular music, the jazz solo was riffing off of a known melody and song. But as jazz has become a more “˜classical form’ it has taken more work to understand the original musical stories that are currently being riffed off of.

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The Second Coming: A Novel by Walker Percy

The Second Coming by Walker PercyTakeaway: Evidently I am old enough to understand and appreciate mid-life crisis books.

Recently I have decided that I need to read more 20th-century literary fiction. My education missed out on that entire century. And I also have been interested in the Catholic writers that were so popular in the mid to late 20th century.

Walker Percy has been republished by Open Road and has books easily available on Kindle (and from Lendle.me).

I didn’t realize when I started (and I don’t think it makes much of a difference) but The Second Coming is follow-up to The Last Gentleman. (I will get back and read that at some point.)

Will Barrett is middle aged, retired early, wealthy, and recently, a widower. This is a classic mid-life crisis book, one that I don’t think I would have appreciated as much as I do now even five years ago.

Allison is a young woman that has recently escaped from a mental hospital. She is schizophrenic, daughter of an old flame of Will’s, fabulously talented, but unable to cope with much of normal life.

Most of the book centers around Will Barrett’s internal drama. He is focused on the meaning of life, whether there is a God (and how God can be proved) and Barrett’s own history. Barrett’s (like Percy) father committed suicide when Will was a teen. Coupled with Barrett’s health problems, which are slowly revealed throughout the book, his thoughts take over his life.

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Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries #6)

Summary: A female crime novelist is accused of poisoning a former lover, and Lord Peter falls for her, but he has to prove she is innocent first.

After reading the first two books of the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series and enjoying them, but being a bit disappointed by a collection of short stories that came next, I decided to skip to Strong Poison (book six), which many reviews suggest was one of the better books in the series.

Strong Poison opens with a judge reciting the facts of the case as he gives instructions to the jury.  Harriet Vine is accused of poisoning her former lover several months after they stopped living together. Unfortunately, the facts seem just a little too perfect for Peter Wimsey, and he is convinced that Harriet Vine is innocent.

After a hung jury, Lord Peter sets out to find evidence for his intuition.  After meeting regularly with Harriet Vine, he falls in love and has even more reason to prove her innocent.

This is a well-written mystery, and I think the best of the series I have read so far.  What I keep discovering about Sayers is that there are many instances of mystery conventions that seem to me to have originated with her in her hands.  I have to wonder how much of herself Sayers was writing into this book (and others.)  Here, in particular, Harriet Vines is a crime novelist who lived with a man out of wedlock (Sayers secretly had a son raised as her nephew, and his real identity was not revealed until her death.)

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Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Summary: Two long lived people interact, love and fight over generations.

Wild Seed is now the fourth book and the start of the second series I have read by Octavia Butler. She is a good writer and creates interesting (and wildly different) settings and characters.

But Butler is also hard to read at times. Not particularly unusually among fantasy and science fiction authors, she uses her settings to create alternative social structures and explore issues of ethics and morality.

Butler is known for her feminist writing. While not all men are evil, all of the books I have read from her so far have explored the ideas of male oppression of women.

Wild Seed is about two long lived people. Doro has the power to move from one body to another, living forever, but needing to “˜feed’ on those around him both to stay alive and because of an innate need. Because of his long life (he has been alive for over 4000 years), he has created breeding programs to breed special powers into his “˜children’. These settlements, first in Africa and then later in the Americas, are scattered, but allow him to live as a God. Worshiped by his children, who will willingly give up their bodies for their God.

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Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries #1)

Reposting my 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is free today only. The audiobook is $2.99 with the purchase of the free kindle book.
Whose Body? by Dorothy SayersSummary: An amateur detective (and younger brother to a Duke) helps a Scotland Yard officer solve a murder.

In my ongoing quest to read more old literature, I picked up the first book in Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series.  Generally the reviews were mediocre.  Most people agreed that this isn’t her best book and not the best of the series.  The Audiobook review (which is how I read this) were even less kind.  There are two copies of this at Audible, both are narrated by middle aged British women.  (I listened to the sample for the one I didn’t get and both sound very similar.)

Maybe it was the very low expectations that I had coming in, but this was an enjoyable mystery.  I am not a huge mystery fan, I don’t really like the traditional Sherlock Holmes style detective who is just so much smarter than everyone and figures things out.  But Sayers is intentionally writing Lord Wimsey to be an anti-Holmes.  There are several passages about how Holmes is not real and how real police work different than Holmes or most other books.

Although it is a bit of a stretch, this feels more like the TV show Castle than anything else (without the sexual chemistry between the police detective and the amateur sleuth).  Peter Wimsey is a relatively young, single, carefree man that is part of the Nobility, but does not have a particular role to fill.  He is a younger brother, so he is not the Duke, he has not gone into politics or law.  He is well educated, but not a professional.  So he has made a hobby of being a detective.

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The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Reposting this 2014 review because it is the Audible Book of the Day and on sale for $2.95
The Wind in the Willows | [Kenneth Grahame]Summary: A Classic children’s book about a water rat, a mole, a toad and a badger and their adventures.

As I have said before, I am trying an experiment of only allowing myself to buy one book a month right now so that I can force myself to read books that I already own.

I picked up a free audiobook copy of Wind in the Willows last year when Audible was giving away a number of classics (it is not currently a free audiobook, but there are several versions that are quite cheap.)

I am a bit hesitant to pick up a book that is so loved by so many (especially by Seth Simmons, one of Bookwi.se’s regular contributors who has told me that he has read it at least 3 times in the last 5 years.)  I never want to dislike a book that others like, so I often have a hesitancy to even start books that others love.  Maybe others feel the same, or maybe I am just weird.

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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.

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What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

Reposting this 2014 review because What if is today’s Audible Deal of the day (March 30) and on sale for $2.95 for the Audible.com Audiobook. This is one that might be better in print, but the narrator is Wil Wheaton and the audiobook is well reviewed.
Summary: Serious science, with humor and line drawings, what more could you want.

The best thing I randomly stumbled across in my searching through the Kindle Unlimited books is the recently released book What If? by the author of the xkcd comic.

This is formatted as a book to browse through (or a bathroom book if that is your thing.) Each question is 4 to 5 pages and Munroe takes the subtitle’s Absurd idea seriously.

Some of the questions are absurd, but most of the answers are taken to an absurd level that puts the original questions to shame.

One of the questions asks if you could turn the recoil of a machine gun into a jetpack. Then Munroe calculates the recoil of various machine guns and figures out how many of them together would need to lift you into the air.

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by John Safran Foer

Reposting this 2012 review because the Kindle Edition is on the the Kindle Deals of the day and on sale for $2.99 today only.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close is an intense novel about a boy who has lost his father in one of the twin towers on 9/11. The majority of the novel is made up of the inner workings of this boy’s mind as he attempts to navigate through life carrying the burden of the tragedy of his father’s death. Oscar is a very smart boy and there are times where you would think that his thoughts belong more to an adult, but there are also times when his fragility and youth are revealed. While the boy is the main narrator, there are times when the boy’s grandmother and grandfather reveal their thoughts through the form of a letter.

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How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity by Rodney Stark

Takeaway: Sometimes in the attempt to tell a fuller story, part of the story gets lost. But the correction usually has the same problem.

I really appreciate Rodney Stark’s desire to fight back against biased history. This is my third book by Stark. God’s Battalions told the story of Crusades and the Triumph of Christianity used sociology and history to explore how Christianity grew.

In How The West Won, Stark is fighting against a pendulum that has swung too far and now can be anti-western. Earlier, pride in Western achievements was easy to see, but also easy to see was how that Western bias lead to racism and blind spots about the negatives of some of the West’s bad points.

Stark, fairly briefly attempts to re-balance the academy’s view of Western triumph. The components of how the West Won are fairly simple. Christianity had a rational worldview and a God that created and ordered the world. That orderly world gave rise to science and innovation. Christianity valued education in order to better understand the world. In addition, Capitalism and European political disunity (which kept countries vying for power and innovating in technology), while maintaining Latin for communication across Europe further developed Western strengths. (This is, of course, over simplifying Stark, his argument is rich in detail and very readable.)

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