Category Archives: Christmastide

Twelfth Day: Bad Theological Writing

I’m teaching this term and selected two textbooks for the course based on prior experience with both. I’ve been re-reading these books as one should do when teaching a course. One is not a bad read. The other is pretty dreadful academic theological stodgy writing. The grammar isn’t bad. It is just that the writing is terrible. You want an example? Happy to oblige. Please note that I’m not going to tell you the titles or authors of the books. I’m just going to show you what I mean by giving a sample sentence from both. Both are about Christian Education since that is what the course is about. Here is a sentence or two about education in the church from both.

Not A Bad Read: “I believe that a broad definition helps us to see the basics that are necessary in developing a strong and vital educational ministry. Education in the church calls for religious instruction, socialization, personal development, and liberation. There is a need for transmitting knowledge, for shaping people through their participation in communal activities, for helping people on their individual faith journeys, and for developing a critical consciousness that leads to faithful service in the world.”

Dreadful Prose: “Christians are called to be faithful in the theory and practice of Christian education to assure the transmission of a living faith to the rising generations. In support of this task, Christian educators are called upon to reappraise their thought and practice in relation to the foundational issues of Christian education. These foundational issues represent perennial or recurrent questions for those involved in the teaching ministries of the church. They deserve careful consideration by those who reflect upon their ministries of the past, the present, and future.”

Not A Bad Read isn’t great, but the author varies sentence length, tells stories, puts themselves into the text, and expands upon key points to explain them. Dreadful Prose has sentences all about the same length, saying similar things using slightly different language, without rhythm, and without really saying much. What does “their ministries of the past, the present, and the future” mean? Ok, I can unpack that, but shouldn’t the author do a little bit of unpacking and not be so dense? And if the first thing that happens when I read a sentence is to yell What? that means the author has not properly done their job in writing clearly.

I admit that I can write dense putrid prose with the best of them. I’m an academic theologian. It is what we do. But, I would like to write better prose so that reading theology doesn’t automatically cure insomnia or require reading at a snail’s pace with coffee and a notebook to unpack every sentence. I don’t think that is what academic writing should be like. You are not smart just because no one can understand you. You are smart if you can clearly explain your new ideas for others to understand them.


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Eleventh Day: Revisiting Emily

Happily I have been discovering old books all around me after my reading resolution to read one old book for every two new books. I’ve been meaning to re-read Emily of New Moon and sequels for some time. Hey, I thought in a moment of brilliant inspiration earlier this week, the Emily books count as old! I decided not to wait for another new book, but to jump right into the sea of Emily, and am glad I did. I forgot about L.M. Montgomery’s recreation of an 11-year-old girl’s phonetic spelling in her journals and letters to her dead father. Very nice. I’m also enjoying the odd aunts and the description of school-yard politics. The dynamics of school-yard politics have not changed much in the 90 years since Emily first saw the light of day. This is interesting. Have others found the same thing when reading Montgomery? Does she capture some of the politics of female friendships at school in her books accurately? Or do movie-makers just use Anne and Emily so that we think Montgomery is accurate? Hmm. Points to ponder.

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Tenth Day: LOST in a good book

I’ve been re-watching LOST because MBro got me seasons 3 & 4 for Christmas. I knew from previous voyages with these characters that there are a lot of book references in the show, but I’d forgotten just how many. To top it off, I realized last night that many of the books referenced on LOST meet my criteria for old books! I can just jump into the LOST reading list if I am at a loss.

Now there are many lists of books referenced on LOST. So far I’ve noticed explicit references to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, and Watership Down. Alice meets my old book criteria, but Watership Down just misses it. Oh well, there are other references that make the cut, not the least of which is Our Mutual Friend.

I think I’ve just figured out at least part of my winter reading list. In addition to Christmas books of course. I will not neglect those.

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Ninth Day: How to find old books?

I work with used books in my job. In the inventory are a lot of books that count as “old” by my definition of the word given the other day in my reading resolutions. I should have no trouble with reading 1/3 old books right? Maybe.

Which old books to should I read? And do I read old fiction as well as old non-fiction? Yes, I should read old fiction too, but that is harder to figure out. Some old fiction books have aged well and are pleasant to read. Others are cheesy and hokey and hardly worth the paper they were printed on. IMHO of course. How does one tell the difference? I’m not sure. I think the library will be my source for older fiction, and this resolution may mean I finally read some people like Waugh or Trollope. Possibly even Dickens. I think I’ve lots of old books to read and it won’t be a problem reading 1 old book for every two new ones. But I’m a bit worried at the moment. I’ve finished a new book. I’ve got one more new book, then it is old book time for me. Good thing I’ve got St. Athanasius on the go. He definitely counts.

Any suggestions for older fiction (where my cut off date is 1970 for “old”) that is worth reading? Let me know.

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Eighth Day: Other Christmas Books

Back to the bookshop today. Other books I got for Christmas, ones I haven’t mentioned yet:

1. The Walking Dead Compendium 1. From YBro, a graphic novel. It appears to have zombies from the title.

2. God Knows my Size, by Harvey Yoder. From my Detroit Cousin. It appears to be a memoir of the work of God in some woman’s life.

3. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. From RABro, a Murakami novel I’ve not yet read. How exciting.

4. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell. From RABro. Mitchell wrote Cloud Atlas which I thought brilliant and so have been avoiding the movie.

5. Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. From RABro. The sequel that won the BookerI quite liked Wolf Hall so quite looking forward to this one.

I’m actually quite looking forward to ALL my Christmas books. Books to read. Very exciting. I’ll just go and read then.

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Seventh Day: Reading Resolutions

I keep a reading journal with brief notes on books read. This is the twentieth January 1 I’ve looked back over my reading from the previous year and made reading resolutions. Here is a brief summary:

Numbers from 2012: 105 books read, that is 8.75 books/month and 2.02 books/week. 85 books were fiction, 20 non-fiction. The most common kind of fiction read in 2012: mysteries. In April I read 14 books, the highest number for any month.

Resolutions for 2013: 10 books/month, or 120 for the year. This is my standard benchmark, though I’ve missed it for the past three years. Also, increase percentage of non-fiction (move up from 19% in 2012) and read one old book for every two new books. My definition of “old book” means one published before 1970. Why that year? I don’t remember much before that, and older books are meant to give me access to ideas and times you don’t have access to yourself. That is my reason for reading older books (as well as books by people not like me).

What are your reading resolutions?

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Sixth Day: Book Pick of the Year

I don’t have a book of the year for 2012. There is no clear winner, so I declare no winner.

How do I judge this? Books that are books of the year, should pop instantly to the top of the mind as books that have stayed with me. They roll around in the mind and come back at odd moments. I remember the characters and think about them. None of the books I read this year stand out as that memorable. When I looked through the pages of my reading journal (kept since 1993, now in its fourth volume) for 2012, I found books I remembered and nodded, yes, that was an enjoyable read. But none got in my head  like my pick for last year, Room.

Maybe Room was one of those extraordinary books that just gets in your head and stays there, and maybe that doesn’t happen every year. Maybe I should go easier on the books I read this year. I did get pretty distracted at the end of this year with the moving and doing NaNoWriMo and a bunch of other things in November. In this spirit, here is a list of books read in 2012 that I passed on to others. None of them are my pick of the year. There just isn’t one.

1. Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. I hesitated before putting this book on this list. I read it in 2012 and purged it from my library in 2012. I was disappointed by it. When I was in the process of moving, I took about 10 boxes of books with me to a Sr. High/College fall retreat at camp. I announced there were free books, and a hoard descended upon the boxes and picked through them. One young woman asked me for recommendations. I spotted Weber’s book, looked at the person, then said “I think you’ll like this book. I didn’t, but I think you will.” And she did. I passed it on to someone who liked it better than I did.

2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’ve not given this to anyone in particular, but I’ve certainly recommended it many times at the bookshop where I work. Stayed in my head for the first part of the year. Looking forward to the sequel. Not quite pick-of-the-year stickiness though.

3. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I’ve used this as my pick of the month at the bookshop where I work, and also recommended it there. I will be reading this again. I think it takes a while to digest.

4. The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. Gave away for Christmas. Doesn’t make pick of the year because I’d forgotten about it until I saw it in a bookshop and then it all came flooding back. Jumped on it, bought it, gave it away. I hope 1Mom enjoys it.

5. In the Bleak Mid-Winter by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Read it, realized we should sell it at the bookshop where I work, recommended it to my manager. Both the store manager and the customer service manager are now hooked on the series. Score.

Do you have a pick of the year? Did any book stick in your head as a stand out for the year?

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Fifth Day: J. K. Rowling

RABro got me The Casual Vacancy for Christmas. This is very exciting. I’m looking forward to it, despite the indifferent to negative reviews I’ve seen. I don’t necessarily trust reviewers any more, particularly when they get their copy of a much anticipated book and have a deadline in less than a day. Sometimes one must savour a book, not barrel through it looking for something to say in a review.

I re-read the Potter series during Advent as an escape from reality. Potter is a very handy escape series. It can take a week to read, and one can profitably read and re-read the books. That is to say, I can read and re-read the books. I’m not sure about everyone else. I think I’ve heard of other people re-reading Potter, so I think it is more than just me. I think Rowling will turn out to be a good writer, because she writes even when she doesn’t need to — she has enough money just from Potter and movies — but because she likes to tell stories. I think this is important.

I’m still enjoying The Elegance of the Hedgehog so it will be at least a day before I turn to Ms Rowling’s latest work. I’ll tell you if the reviewers had anything useful to say when I’m done.

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Fourth Day: Coffee Messages

I got two great coffee mugs for Christmas. They have different messages on them. I think they go together quite well.




The first one I got from 1Mom. We laughed at the mug’s message because, well, its what we do. That’s it over there. 1Mom and I are temperamentally similar. We relate to the message.









This mug I got from RABro. It also made me smile because it is the stiff upper lip thing and I like the variants on this wartime poster that have appeared in the last year or so. In internet-speak, it has become a bit of a meme. And the red goes with the accent colours in my apartment.





The mugs kind of go together. They balance each other. I think they’ll get along nicely on my shelf.


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Third Day: A French translation

I requested and received The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary for Christmas from RABro. This book is set in Paris, and is translated from the French. (All you readers of French out there might want to read it in the original.) I am enjoying it very much. It is hard to describe exactly what the book is about. Philosophy. The meaning of life. Deep thoughts by unlikely people. All these phrases might describe the book. You should just go and find it and read it. It is a few years old at this point, but you can find it at large bookshops and probably also at small independent bookshops as well. It is lovely. Go find it. Now.

What books did you get for Christmas?

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