B is for Battling Books

B is for Battle. Why do books battle? Wherefore warfare in our metaphor? Of course, it isn’t only books that battle. People battle disease, notably cancer. What makes us so prone to warring metaphors?

Battling books came to life in Jonathan Swift’s Battle of the Books, a clash between Ancients and Moderns with no clear resolution. Since Swift’s account of this battle, fought in St. James’s Library, was published in 1704, we might now consider Swift’s “Moderns” rather out of date. Yet the battle over the Literary Canon rages on. Which books are big guns? Who should we read? How is ethnicity (or gender) involved (or implicated) in epistemology? How do we know what to read? Who do we trust to tell us what to read?

A couple of years ago, a friend asked me for a reading list. I’m usually happy to recommend reading, but I am reluctant to list things, as though that were some kind of Canon of Books To Be Read. Yet I get asked the question. This means that (some) people trust me to tell them about things that might be interesting to read. I am a fan of reading broadly, which means I like my reading to come from books both Ancient and Modern. New and old reading challenges me to think differently, to broaden my horizons. I don’t like fixed canons, though I do see the point of them. Common ground in reading gives people places to start in conversation. Instead of a battle, I’d rather the books (and their readers) sat down and had a real discussion, one that involved listening carefully and thoughtful replies, instead of entrenched positions and cutting remarks.

On the disease front, perhaps it would be healthier for everyone if we used life-giving rather than battle-drenched metaphor. Unfortunately the fighting words around disease are so entrenched (a battle-word if there ever was one), that I’m not sure what life-giving lively metaphor would even sound like. I’m open to ideas.

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A Postscript

The A is for Authentic post tends to oversimplify the ideas “real” and “true”, concepts long discussed and debated by philosophers. However, the initial question that prompted me to talk about authenticity disregards the strong connection between truth and reality – and asked if it mattered if something was one without the other. Yes it matters! And one should think about what is real, and what is true, and how those are connected. The complexities of the discussion do matter. My friend the Philosopher shook Prince Harry’s hand yesterday, and I was excited with her. If she’d texted me in all caps that she’d shaken Harry Potter’s hand, I’d have been more worried than pleased — unless I knew that was the way she normally referred to Daniel Radcliffe. Think about the connections between truth and reality – they matter.

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May 3, 2016 · 7:04 AM

A is the first letter of the Alphabet

A is for Authentic. Of course A could also be for Authority, Argument, or Agnostic, words which could all lead to profitable Academic discussions. I’m going to stick with Authentic as my A-word. Authentic things are true and real. Truth plus reality gives these authentic things weight. On the other hand, if something is inauthentic it has a hollow ring of fakery about it.

Why be concerned with something authentic, something weighty? Recently I saw a question posed in a header in social media that separated reality and truth from one another – do we care if something is true, so long as it is real? I’m not sure reality and truth should so casually be separated. Can something be real without being true? And if it were one without the other, would it be an authentic thing, something that carried solid weight?

As an example, lets compare two people called Harry – Potter and Prince Harry of Wales. Both are appealing people, well known and loved by millions. However, Prince Harry is authentic, and Potter is not. Potter is a character in a book and movie series. Because of the ongoing appeal of the series in print, on film, and online, Potter may seem very real. There may be true things to say about Potter and his world. Potter may even seem closer to the world in which you live than Prince Harry does. But Prince Harry shows up in our worlds from time to time, Harry in the flesh. He does things in the real world that Potter cannot do. He is an authentic human being, living and acting in the world, not a character in a fictional universe.

Of course there are many ways to spin authentic. I could argue that I have a more authentic relationship with Potter than with the prince, having read the Potter books more times than I care to admit, and never having met the prince. I could say I have a couple of authentic Canadian first edition Potter books. This sort of spin may have led to the question separating the real and the true that I saw on social media. I’m not sure we should do that in such an off-hand manner, without thinking about what it is we’re saying.

I find that I rather like authentic things, that have both reality and truth, that carry weight. Separating the real and the true diminishes something. So my answer to that internet question, “Does it matter if something is true as long as it is real?” is YES. Yes it matters to me. And I think it should matter to you too.

 

(This is an Authentic Alphabet Soup Monday Morning Blog Post. The authenticity is guaranteed by the capital letters.)

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Alphabet Soup

About a month ago, I came across an article on the Guardian, “From Alright to Zap: An A-Z of horrible words.” Excellent, I thought. I rather enjoy alphabetical lists, and horrible words are always good for either agreement or outrage. Would the perceptive author include the abomination “impactful” or the over-used “utilize”? I turned to the article with interest. After reading it, I thought the article could be more appropriately described as a reflection on how language, English in particular, changes over time. Words shift in use. Neo-logisms appear. Some of these catch on; others fall by the way. It is a helpful reminder to define terms, particularly when I’m using them in a specific and nuanced way. In fact, this article has inspired me to write an alphabet of my own, a list of words I find troublesome as I do scholarly work. My A entry will appear on Monday, and B-Z will follow on from there. Please feel free to indicate any academic jargon you think should be included in the comments.

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Favourite Non-Fiction Books

After posting my ten favourite novels I got thinking about a top-ten non-fiction list. This turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be. I’ve got a list of non-fiction books that I like and have been influential, but how do you pick favourites? And how do you eliminate some of these? I’m not sure. So I have two lists.

The first list is my current top ten, ordered alphabetically by title. Here it is:

An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis

Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner

Holy Writing Sacred Text by John Barton

How To Read Slowly by James W. Sire

Outsmarting IQ by David Perkins

Second Words by Margaret Atwood

The Call of Stories by Robert Coles

The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education by Walter Brueggemann

The Godbearing Life by Kenda Creasy Dean

The Science of God by Alister McGrath

The second list is the next twenty books. These books might make a top ten list given more or different criteria, or given a different week or month. I couldn’t quite bump them up, but neither could I let them go. So here they are for your consideration, again alphabetically by title.

100 Ways to Improve your Writing by Gary Provost

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Between Two Worlds by John R.W. Stott

Black and White Styles of Youth Ministry by William R. Myers

Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris

Everybody’s Favourites by Arlene Pearly Rae

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Like Dew Your Youth by Eugene Peterson

Of This and Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis

Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative by Adele Berlin

Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Take and Read by Eugene Peterson

Texts of Terror by Phyllis Trible

The Bluestocking Circle by Sylvia Harstock Myers

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Original Vision by Edward Robinson

The Scope of Our Art by L. Gregory Jones

This Odd and Wondrous Calling by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell

How about you, any favourite non-fiction reads?

 

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Ten Favourite Novels

My friend the Outdoor Voice recently asked for a list of my ten favourite books. Similar requests have been made by other friends via various social media at various times. This is a hard question. To make it easier, I decided to produce both a fiction and non-fiction list, thus (sneakily) doubling my choices.

These are my favourite novels. The first 9 are in alphabetical order by title (excluding “the” of course), and the tenth is my favourite book. Please note that Possession tops anything non-fictional I’ve read, so it would be my number 1 whether or not I made two lists.

  • The Children of Men by P.D. James
  • Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Killing the Shadows by Val McDermid
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
  • Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

And the top of my list:

  1. Possession by A.S. Byatt

I sat with this list for a couple of weeks. A few books almost made it, but then were cut in favour of others. I frequently consulted my database of books I have read (records kept since July 1993) in making the list. I excluded two series from consideration: The Chronicles of Narnia and the Potter books. Both of those are favourites, but in both cases the series must be taken as a whole, not split apart. I realize that you can get Narnia all in one volume, but the order is wrong in that volume (in my humble opinion of course).

Which of your favourites are missing from my list?

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Influence Part Second

Some people with some time on their hands searched Facebook for everyone’s lists of ten influential books/books that stayed with them, then compiled the top twenty. I’m pleased to say that not a single one of my ten books of influence made the top list. I’ve read most of the books on the list (16/20) but none is in my books of influence list.

Are you one of the mob? Or do you stand alone?

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Book Club?

This evening the Priestling, the Philosopher, the Orthodox Classicist, and I are gathering for the first meeting of our (potential) book club. I say potential, because I’ve tried this read-with-friends thing before, and last time it sort of collapsed. Well, we got together and talked about books, but decided it was too much work to all read the same book.

Do you do book clubs? How often do you meet? What do you read? Who decides? Do you have ground rules?

I’ll let you know what comes of us, whether we are indeed a book club or instead a fight club.

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Influence, what is this influence?

Ten Influential Books:

My friend Slick tagged me on her list of 10 influential books. Slick managed to squeeze in 12 or so by using letters with some numbers. I have kept it to ten. I’m not sure these are THE ten, but they are the ten that I can think of right now. I’ve avoided putting the Bible first; take that as underlying the rest – possibly it is the zeroth entry. I am, after all, a PK who could recite Luke 2 (King James Version) from a very early age. (The recitation of Luke 2 is an excellent Christmas party trick. My RABrother pulls it out from time to time.)

  1. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis: Gateway Narnia book for me.
  2. The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch: Time travel is a (fictional) possibility. Time Travel!
  3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: First grown-up mystery book I read, assigned reading in Grade 10, got me hooked on mysteries for good.
  4. Loving God by Charles Colson: First venture into reading Christian theology-type books.
  5. Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood: Hmm, literary fiction is interesting – Canadian literary fiction no less.
  6. The Call of Stories by Robert Coles: Pulled together a theory I had lurking in my head about teaching and stories. I’d tried something with science fiction when teaching high school physics, and reading Coles convinced me I was on to something.
  7. The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe: Writing a paper on Kempe convinced me that I could be a scholar. It also got me into the women.
  8. Possession by A.S. Byatt: I connect with this book. It is the Best Book Ever – IMHO, of course.
  9. Mystical Paths by Susan Howatch: I also connect with this book, in a different way than Possession, but definitely there are connections.
  10. Room by Emma Donoghue: This book is so interesting and suspenseful and it was also the first book 1Mom passed me to read. We both thought it was great.

What are your ten influential books? What do you mean by influence?

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The interesting interconnections you notice

I’ve been doing this reading old books challenge for a year and 8 months now. As part of the challenge, I read some Sherlock Holmes mysteries for the first time. I’m in the middle of a second volume of the complete Sherlock (actually it is volume 1 but I read volume 2 first), so have got a pretty clear picture of Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson and their world. It is fairly shocking to see Mr. Holmes clearly shown to be a user of intravenous drugs without censure. I kind of knew this, but still. Plus, the 19th-century versions of crack houses are rather vividly portrayed.

All this reading about Sherlock Holmes has made me a bit more attuned to mentions of him in other places. I picked up The Magician’s Nephew for a little night-time relaxation, and Ka-Zam! Mr. Sherlock Holmes shows up, right there on page 1. Really. This is how C.S. Lewis begins TMN:

This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.

In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road.

I stopped reading. I looked again: “In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street.” Suddenly the world of Polly and Digory got a little dingier, a little more full of frightening possibilities, and the idea of Queen Jadis at large in London with Mr. Sherlock Holmes around was rather interesting. I saw the setting of this one book (which I’ve read more times than I remember) differently because I’d read all these other books.

Connections and literary references. The more you read, the more interesting re-reading becomes.

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