Monthly Archives: July 2014

Get your Summer Reading On

Summer reading, depending on your definition, could be anything from beach brain candy to something heavy that you need more time and space and sunlight to get into. What does your reading list look like?

These days my summer list looks like a list from any other season — it depends on my mood, what is available, and other hard-to-define factors. I’ve been looking at other people’s lists for ideas (as usual), so here are some lists that I’ve looked at for your own amusement.

Ten unlikely heroes of children’s literature. I just finished Wizard of Earthsea for the first time, so I’ve just met Ged. I must admit that I’ve not met many of these unlikely heroes. I may have to work on that.

Books people think they’ll actually finish this summer. This list comes from readers responding to a Powell’s bookshop enquiry about the state of their summer reading. The photo of the Harry Potter books in this list is so great. I like my collected-over-time Potter set, but I think I’d trade it for this set, just for the look on the shelf. Check it out.

CBC’s list of 100 books (plus 10 more) that make you proud to be Canadian. To be honest, I saw the plus ten list first and I was a little shocked that some of these weren’t on the original 100! Who doesn’t put Anne of Green Gables on a list of 100 proudly Canadian books?!? Of the plus 10, I’ve read 4, and of the original 100 I’ve read 12, though I have many of the others on my shelf with good intentions. I should get on those good intentions and be a little more intentionally Canadian for part 2 of summer reading.

If you are looking for a new place to read this summer, this article suggests a bar between meals when it is only you and the bartender. I’m actually better with a coffee shop, though a mostly empty diner also works well for that isolation factor.

How’s your reading this summer? Anything good? What do you recommend?

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Bits and Pieces

For the day before I preach, two cool internet things that I’ve found this week that are worth sharing:

Weird Al’s parody about Grammar. Really funny. Should be required for all university undergrads. Possibly graduate students as well. We all need a refresher from time to time.

An article about the deep meaning of fantasy. Really. You should read it. It isn’t a short little article, it is longer, but take your time. Read it. Think about it. Look for more of Alan Jacobs’s work.

Happy Saturday.

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Funniest Book

Here’s the answer Publisher’s Weekly staff gave to the question “What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?

The criteria for the PW list seems to be LOL funny. This is not mild amusement, this is LOL at least, if not ROTFL.

Turns out this is a hard question. I started thinking about it as a distraction from what I should actually be doing right now (sermon prep: it’s Thursday, but Sunday’s comin!) and I found a lot of books that I thought were amusing (Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman; Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen; Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding) but while those evoked smiles and a few chuckles, they weren’t really Laugh Out Loud funny. I am pretty sure I did LOL for Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (Jen Campbell) because I work in a bookshop and I recognize those customers. But not everyone will find Weird Things as funny as bookshop staff do. I think the answer to this question is “It depends.” When I was small, Amelia Bedelia and her tribe were the funniest thing ever. Now, it takes more. It also depends on the timing of the read. Another time I might not find any of the books listed here very funny at all. Things shift and change.

How about you? Funniest book ever? or even lately? Books are never funny?

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More Talking about Hawking — the Index that is

This whole Hawking Index (HI) has the bookternet buzzing. A couple of other things to consider:

1. Purchasing books & then not reading them is not new. (I mentioned how I can tell if a used book I buy/describe has been read or not, and this article talks about similar things: crease marks in a paperback’s spine, bookmarks that never move.) Possibly the thing is not that Literature is Dead or that No One Reads Anymore, but that some people are over-ambitious in their book purchases. I mean c’mon, most of us have loads of books we haven’t quite read yet, right?

2. Should one actually feel obliged to read to the end of a book? The debaters in this article are, I think, talking past each other to a certain extent. The NO arguer gives the example of holiday reading, and there I’d say, yeah, if something doesn’t grab you, move to the next thing. BUT at other times, and with other ends than entertainment in mind, the YES argument has merit. Sometimes it is worth the struggle to get through, and sometimes you can’t tell whether or not it is/will be worth it until the end.

I’m still amused that this UnRead index is named after a famous physicist. (True Confessions: I’ve read A Brief History of Time and didn’t find it difficult. I have recommended it as an interesting read to others who found it very difficult indeed.)

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The Horror of The UnRead

This is an interesting article. Go read it and then come back and we’ll talk about it.

There are several things of interest in the article: (a) Oyster’s business model, (b) this thing called the Hawking Index, and (c) the invasiveness of e-readers and software and Certain Large Internet Retailers. I’m most interested in talking about the Hawking Index (HI). (While I think e-readers and e-books are interesting, I don’t use e-books. I listen to e-audio books, but I’ve stopped reading books on my tablet. I’ve tried it and found I prefer a physical book.)

So the Hawking Index. This is an index of how far readers progress in many books. It is named for Stephen Hawking, physicist of great renown, who wrote a book called A Brief History of Time which, it seems, not many people read. The HI estimates an average percentage read using e-reader data.

Interestingly, here is a list of books people pretend to have read, a list based on a reader survey over at that trendy and hipster book site, Book Riot. I wonder what the HI is for those books? Anyhow, there’s all kinds of news out there about the HI, which, as The Guardian points out, is clearly statistically flawed. But it is kind of a fun idea. Which book do people actually give up on? How far do they get? I can tell when assessing used books — if the underlining stops after the introduction and the rest of the pages are clean, then probably the person didn’t get much further than that introduction. But if the book is unmarked, it is harder to tell.

When do you give up on a book? (Me? Hardly ever completely. I just put it down for a while and try again. If the first page or two doesn’t work then I might drop it entirely.)

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Current and Recent Reading

It has been a bit of a slow reading year so far. Not that I haven’t been reading (68 completed books to date), not that I haven’t been reading widely (both fiction and non-fiction, the old books percentage is up-to-date), but nothing has really stood out so far. Sometimes that happens, then BAM, a book hits you over the head. Still looking for the BAM book.

Enjoyable current reads:

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I started this one a while ago and never got past the first page. Not sure why. This time I’m enjoying it very much. There is this lovely little bit on books and reading near the beginning. The main character is in hospital recovering from a serious fall and is contemplating with some disgust the pile of books kind friends have sent in.

Even in that, you knew what to expect on the next page. Did no one, any more, no one in all this wide world, change their record now and then? Was everyone nowadays thrilled to a formula? Authors today wrote so much to a pattern that their public expected it. The public talked about ‘a new Silas Weekley’ or ‘a new Lavinia Fitch’ exactly as they talked about ‘a new brick’ or ‘a new hairbrush’. They never said ‘a new book by’ whoever it might be. Their interest was not in the book but in its newness. They knew quite well what the book would be like.

Excellent. The book itself is about Richard III, monarch who has recently been in the news because he was dug up out of a car park. This book is a great novel to give beginning history students, or anyone who thinks all history they’ve heard in school is true. This is one of my older books, so there is no discussion of kings in car parks at all.

Longbourn by Jo Baker. Below-stairs at the Bennet’s house during the events related in Pride and Prejudice. So far this is a well-imagined mirror world. I’m quite enjoying it.

Recent Reads:

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. A very enjoyable essay on reading and its benefits. Jacobs does not rail against the internet and all distractions, but talks about them as one who has been distracted, but managed to find his way back from distraction. With an e-reader. True story.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I had high expectations of this book as many people said this was THE Murakami book as far as they were concerned. I’m not quite sure. I think I liked 1Q84 better. It is the fourth Murakami I’ve read, and it isn’t the last, but so far it isn’t my favourite. Possibly I was reading it at the wrong time.

What have you been reading?

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Lists!

I found a couple of new lists of books on the web this week. In case you need reading suggestions for July, here they are:

  • The Top 20 Novels Set in Toronto. Local Literature! How exciting. I’ve read five from this list, including the Fionavar Trilogy, which is actually three books. In this case “top” means popular, which explains the breadth of the list. It includes fantasy (the Fionavar Trilogy), graphic novels (Scott Pilgrim), and books by CanLit icons (Atwood, Ondaatje). (5/20 = 25% of this list I’ve read)
  • 100 Greatest American Novels. 100 years, 100 novels, “American” novels, though some of the USAians listed work abroad (ex. Plath, Hemingway), and buddy who wrote the list includes William Gibson (born in the USA works in Canada) but not Carol Shields (same pedigree) which I find a tiny bit odd. His criteria are clear, and he invites revisions to the list with the rule being to add something you must eliminate something else. I’ve read 8/100 or 8% of this list. I tend to prefer British or Canadian writers I think, which may skew these results.
  • Time 100 Best Novels since 1923 (the beginning of TIME, haha.) I’ve read 19% of this list. Lev Grossman was involved in making the list, so he included Possession, a critical inclusion in my books.
  • Modern Library 100 best novels list includes two lists on one page, how handy. One list is the Modern Library Board’s list, the other is a Reader’s list. I’ve read 12% of the Board’s list and 26% of the Reader’s list. The Reader’s list is oddly skewed toward science fiction, which may indicate that somewhere someone was stuffing the ballot box in some way, or that only scifi fans found a way to participate in making the list.

So there you go, handy dandy reading lists for this July weekend.

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A Dozen Books of Influence

Karen Swallow Prior recently wrote an article called “Classic literary works to challenge the thinking Christian” in which she lists 12 + 1 (a baker’s dozen) works she recommends because they are challenging but rewarding, and all have helped her “to love the Lord my God with all my soul, all my strength, and all my mind—and to be a better steward of this world in which God has placed us.”

It is a good list. I’ve nothing against Prior’s list. So far I’ve read 2 of her 13, and have at least three others on my shelf. I agree that the list is challenging. I started one of the books she lists, and was not able to go on after about a page. I’ve not had the courage to try again, though everyone raves about Beloved. (Does this count as a true confession? Probably.) Though Prior’s list is good, it isn’t my list. So I’ve come up with a list of my own, not to replace hers, and not with exactly the same criteria. I made a list of books, works of fiction, that have in some way shaped my spiritual life and thinking. Often a particular author has been a spiritual guide in many works, but I have only chosen one work by any author.

Disclaimer: These are all works of fiction, and I don’t think any of them is classified as “Christian Fiction” anywhere. Some come closer to actually being that than others. Just because a novel is on Prior’s list, or on my list, you shouldn’t think it is “safe” or happy-clappy or filled with people going to church. These books gave me some kind of positive spiritual insight, but they are not in the least preachy.

  1. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve set this as an option for an intro to the OT class I taught. I have enjoyed students’ thoughts on this as well, and learned from them.
  2. John Wyndham, The Chrysalids. I’ve also set this for that OT intro class. This has some striking ideas about what it means to be created Imago Dei.
  3. P.D. James, The Children of Men. You may notice a speculative/science fiction bent to this list so far. Yes, that is true. Sometimes by writing about worlds askew somehow from reality, writers are better able to comment on lived reality.
  4. Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. And a fantasy novel?? Yes. See above remark. Also see the works of C.S. Lewis, who I have not included on this list anywhere.
  5. Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana. More fantasy. Don’t worry, I’ll turn to more “serious” fiction next. If, however, you think that the speculative/science fiction and/or fantasy is less serious than other kinds of fiction, I refer you again to that guy Lewis.
  6. John Grisham, The Last Juror. Yes, this could be classified as genre fiction of a certain kind (Thriller? Mystery?). Grisham is, however, a good story-teller, and his stories can pack a punch. You don’t need to go to the classics for the possibility of life-change.
  7. Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection. At last! A canonical writer! Bet you’ve never heard of this Tolstoy though. You should check it out. It is his last novel.
  8. Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory. More solid recognized fiction, even recognized as Christian. I read Resurrection and The Power and the Glory this year. The timing was good for me on both of them. If you don’t find them appealing now, try again some other time.
  9. Susan Howatch, Mystical Paths. Again, Howatch’s Church of England series is pretty churchy, but not in a conventional way. I picked this one out of all of them because it was the one that resonated with me most when I read it.
  10. Chaim Potok, In the Beginning. All of Potok’s books belong on this list, as with Howatch above. Let’s just leave it there. With Potok we end the obviously religious books.
  11. Emma Donoghue, Room. This is a life-altering book. I’ve heard lots of people say so. I don’t think anyone who says that has exactly the same experience reading the book. You should try it.
  12. A.S. Byatt, Possession. I debated putting this book on this list. It could also be on a list of books that have influenced my personal life, or resonated with me personally/emotionally/intellectually. It does all those things, but it also has spiritual resonance.

And now the plus one for the baker’s dozen. Ready for it?

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ll just leave it there for you to ponder.

What about you? Books that have influenced your spiritual life in some way?

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