Tag Archives: reading

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of this battle, fought in St. James’s Library, was published in 1704, we might now consider Swift’s “Moderns” rather out of date.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 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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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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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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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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Ten (non-fiction) books on my To-Be-Read Pile

Yesterday I inflicted part of my fiction To-Be-Read Pile upon you. Today, it is time for non-fiction. These are all books in the actual piles in my apartment. They are not on shelves. Some of them are borrowed from the library or from kind, accommodating friends. Again, these are in no particular order.

  1. The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition by C.S. Lewis. Scored a seventies reprint at a used bookshop. Looking forward to Lewis on Literature.
  2. The Lord as Their Portion: The Story of the Religious Orders and How They Shaped Our World by Elizabeth Rapley. It looks interesting and the title is intriguing and there is a great photo of cloisters on the front.
  3. Thomas Cranmer by Diarmaid MacCulloch. A biography of a Very Important English Reformer. And he has a great beard in the cover painting. I borrowed this from the accommodating friends.
  4. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs. A biography of C.S. Lewis with a cool picture of him and a lion drawing on the cover.
  5. Better Living: In Pursuit of Happiness from Plato to Prozac by Mark Kingwell. A local Philosophy prof writes popular essays.
  6. The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund De Waal. About a nineteenth-century art collector and his collection and his family.
  7. Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Michael Casey. More monastic practice, but with notes for current practice of this ancient art.
  8. A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland. Recommended to me by a friend last summer, but I haven’t quite gotten past getting it to reading it.
  9. Theology, Music and Time by Jeremy S. Begbie. I’ve heard Begbie a couple of times and am fascinated by what he’s said on both occasions. Now I also want to read his stuff.
  10. Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II by Keith Lowe. About the terrible, wild, and crazy things that happened at the end of the second war. I heard this guy lecture on a podcast and went after the book.

What non-fictional, reality-based things are you reading these days?

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