Tag Archives: Lewis

K is for Knowing

I talked about Epistemology, the discussion of How We Know Things, previously in this blog. This is a twist on that discussion provoked by some recent reading.

The recent reading provocation came from a book called Planet Narnia by Michael Ward. In this book Ward convincingly argues that C.S. Lewis wrote each of the seven Chronicles of Narnia to represent or embody the character associated with the seven planets of the Ptolemic astronomical system followed in the Middle Ages. Lewis describes this system in The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Ward argues that the Narnia books then embody the images of the planets, so that, for example, the Jovian character is embodied by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When we read The Discarded Image we contemplate the medieval world system; when we read Narnia we enjoy it.

Lewis distinguished between knowing a thing by contemplating it, and knowing a thing by enjoying it. In what has become a famous example, Lewis talked about a light beam seen in a dark toolshed: the beam can be seen and contemplated from outside itself, or can be enjoyed by standing within the beam and seeing other things by its light. Light is difficult to describe when one is enjoying it. Everything else is illuminated by it – it pervades our understanding of everything around it. We contemplate something from outside; we enjoy it from inside.

I found an example of the difference between knowing about something and experiencing it in 1 Kings the other day. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon, and after she had been given the royal tour and conversed with the king, she said “It’s all true! Your reputation for accomplishment and wisdom that reached all the way to my country is confirmed. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself; they didn’t exaggerate! Such wisdom and elegance—far more than I could ever have imagined.” She’d heard reports, but these reports were nothing compared to the experience of being in Solomon’s courts and conversing with him.

Then I got to wondering if one’s worldview (often cultural) is an example of things we enjoy first, and contemplate later. We are immersed in our view of the world. It pervades the way we understand everything. It includes attitudes toward others that are often described by –isms: ageism, racism, sexism. We see from the outside other worldviews or cultures, and contemplate them. It is fairly easy to poke holes in the things seen from a distance, from outside. It is much harder to see the faults in things we enjoy from the inside. It is also difficult to listen to others criticize our worldview or culture, the lights we see by. I wonder if we need both to learn to step outside and contemplate our own thought-system, and also figure out how to get inside and enjoy another. Lewis thought one way of doing this was reading literature. I think he may have been onto something there.

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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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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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FIVE Non-Fiction Books!

(Sing the title to the Five line of the 12 Days of Christmas. Ok, it doesn’t quite fit perfectly, but that’s what’s in my head.)

I mentioned in my 4 reasons for not posting for a while that I went on a road trip last month. I listened to two non-fiction audio-books on the road, one for the way there, and one for the way back. Let me tell you about those two books and three other non-fiction books that I read after that road trip.

  1. Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill. I’ve read Cahill before. I quite enjoyed his How the Irish Saved Civilization in the “Hinges of History” series. This book also fits into that series. I’m afraid I didn’t find Mysteries as well argued as How the Irish. I read the Irish book and came away convinced of the importance of the Irish monks in preserving historical documents in the early Middle Ages. Mysteries I found over-ambitious in its reach and without a clear-cut argument. I think Cahill was trying to show that good things came out of the Medieval Catholic Church, but I didn’t need convincing of that. He also elevated the expression “vox populi, vox deus” to scriptural status, which I find unwarranted. I am pretty sure that the vox populi can be misguided. Witness Rob Ford. The book contains interesting stories about interesting people, but its overall argument is not strong.
  2. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. I rather enjoyed this tale of murder and death in New York City, despite the general sense that it is in essence a tract on the evils of prohibition. Besides railing on the US Government and its misguided prohibition amendment, the book tells the story of NY City’s first medical examiner and his colleague, who developed the field of forensic toxicology. It is pretty interesting stuff. You should read it. Or listen to it.
  3. The Lion’s World by Rowan Williams. This is Rowan Williams’s reflection on Narnia. Reading this short book made me want to read all the Narnia books again. I am still not convinced that one should read the Narnian books in chronological order as Williams suggests (and yes, I know Lewis suggested it too) but Williams did give me different ways of looking at some parts of the books that I’ve never really liked, including seeing the value of The Last Battle, my least favourite book in the series.
  4. Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination by Richard Morris. This is a fascinating book. I read it over a very long time, more than six months, and it talks about understanding the data of archaeology in different ways, so that the past can be accurately heard in the data. I thought about finding Richard III a lot when I read the chapter on digging up battles and seeing that the story told by the remains doesn’t match the written historical record. The aerial survey photos and the writing about new techniques in archaeology are extremely interesting.
  5. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. I’d not read this particular Lewis book before. I found his reflection on Praise the best part of the book. It is a nice short book, and easy to access.

What non-fiction books are you reading?

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Sunday Excursions

This is not an excursus, but an excursion, a small trip around a few old books I read during my two months of silence. It does not follow the numerical sequence which I picked up with my Four Reasons post of yesterday, and which I’ll continue tomorrow, in the tradition of other Sunday posts this year so far.

Time Travel: Of course one of my reasons for reading older books is time travel. I travel to a different age, whether or not the author sets the book in his or her present, it is the past now. At times the author sets the book in some imagined future, but that is still time travel of a sort. I read one book set in the author’s future during my little blog break: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. C.S. Lewis though very highly of this book when it first came out. I think it was mentioned in one of his letters. Lewis’s mention of Childhood’s End was the reason I picked the book up in the first place. It is certainly an interesting take on the visitation by UFOs/aliens story. If you haven’t read it and enjoy SciFi, I’d recommend it. It is vaguely Buddhist just as Orson Scott Card’s books tend to be rather Mormon.

Russia: I’ve now read two Russian Novels, both by Tolstoy. I should probably branch out and try some other Russian Author as well. Dostoevsky might be next. I did not revisit War and Peace, rather I read Resurrection. I began this book during Holy Week, and found it appropriate reading for the season. It is very good, and, I think, pretty accessible for Tolstoy. It is his last novel, first published in 1899. It gave me a different view of pre-revolutionary Russia.

England: Four books took me to England, two to the early 19th century, and two to the first half of the 20th century. Northanger Abbey, the Jane Austen I hadn’t read before, is quite amusing. Austen sends up gothic novels very well. Great Expectations is the first Dickens novel I’ve read. I have read A Christmas Carol, but it is better called a novella I think, and I know the stories of A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist, but have never read the books. I quite enjoyed Great Expectations considering that I had low expectations as I thought that possibly Dickens has been over-hyped. I’m not as convinced of the over-hyped opinion as I once was. I’ve more Dickens on the shelf for this year, so we’ll see what comes of those. Both the Dickens and Austen books are set in the early part of the 19th century. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is set in the second World War, but recollections of the narrator give his story through the 20s and 30s as well. This has an interesting theological twist or two in it, and I’d like to hear what YOU think of the ending. Finally, His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle brings Sherlock Holmes into the 20th century in a collection of short stories that are not entirely sequential, but include a story set during the first World War.

New England: Finally, I listened to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott on audio book. I still think that this is a rather moralistic/moralizing book that is not very theologically sound. It was interesting hearing it read, as I couldn’t skip bits as I tend to do when re-reading. I heard a lot more foreshadowing of who the boy next door would end up with than I’d noticed when reading the book.

Those are some of the places I’ve gone while reading, how about you?

 

 

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Riotous Living

I’ve been off doing scholarly things in the real world, thus there has been a small silence in this space. Regularly scheduled posts will return as soon as I’ve read something to discuss here.

In the mean time, some posts for you from Bookriot:

1. a list of lists of or about books,

2. a list of things to be thankful for that is book-focused.

Finally, a picture of and story about the new memorial to C.S. Lewis in Westminster Abbey.

Advent starts tomorrow!

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Narnia, the happy land of Narnia

I’ve spent many hours in the happy land of Narnia (as Bree, the horse calls his home). I’ve done a bit of a search around this blog and found that I’ve listed two different Narnia books as my favourite of the Chronicles of Narnia. Oops. In one place I said The Horse and His Boyand in another, The Silver Chair. Hmm. Guess I’d better make up my mind.

Here is the order in which I favour the Narnia books, with reasons:

  1. The Horse and His Boy. It was the first Narnia book I ever read. I was 7. It also appeals to me on many levels. As a friend of mine put it when I asked about favourite Chronicle of Narnia on facebook: “Talking horses, finding your real family and home, the glimpse of grownup golden age Pevensies.” What more could anyone ask for? Plus I was 7 and the whole finding one’s biological family without really looking appealed to me. I ended up having to look. Oh well.
  2. The Silver Chair. I love the quest in this book, plus Puddleglum. He’s my favourite character in the series. Plus there’s something about the signs, and the many ways Aslan shows up that I find appealing in this book.
  3. The Magician’s Nephew. It is the creation scene with the lion singing that gets me every time. I’ve grown in appreciation for this book over time. I also like the prequel aspect of the book, you get the deep background of the Lamp Post (for example) and other things.
  4. 5. and 6. I never read these ones separately so they all run together in my mind: The Lion, The Witch, and the WardrobePrince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Favourite scenes: Father Christmas; when Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy figure out where they are; Edmund the dragon.

And finally, 7. The Last Battle. I have grown in appreciation for this one over time, but I like it least because things end in it. But the last chapter with farther up and farther in is pretty awesome.

What about you? Which is your favourite? (Vote!)

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