Two Books from July

Excuse the unimaginative title for this post.

It’s been quite a full week. Furthermore, I don’t have any more stories about train ladies reading Narnia. Lacking such inspiration, I decided to share some thoughts on two books I read last month.

I was reading Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage as part of the student challenge I’ve mentioned before. Otherwise, I doubt I’d have read it. I’m really not the sort of girl to pick up a book from the shelf, see that it’s a story about men stranded in Antarctica, and exclaim, “Oh, that looks good!” I admit, however, that it can be beneficial to sample something outside of one’s usual genres, and as it turned out, Endurance is a well-written book and, given the limits of the subject matter (or of my reading preferences, depending on how one wants to look at it) it still manages to tell quite a good story.

In brief, Endurance recounts how Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous Antarctic explorer, is determined to set a new record, that of being the first person to cross Antarctica. (I know, I know. He evidently had too much time on his hands.) With twenty-seven men and a veritable mountain of supplies, he sets sail as Europe is on the cusp of the First World War. Before the expedition can even land on Antarctic–“soil” is probably not the right word here–their ship, Endurance, becomes trapped by ice. A trapped ship obviously means trapped men, and so Shackleton and his party are stranded in one of the most uninhabitable regions of the globe. The year and a half that follows is the story of their life and their attempts to escape back to civilisation.

Reading something like Endurance shows what people can cope with, what they can survive, when they really, really have too. Isn’t it quite amazing how the human spirit can overcome not only dreadful outside hardships but the weakness of its own body? Could I do that, I wonder? I don’t suppose anyone really knows until he is in such a situation. A story like Endurance also shows that when push comes to shove, life has very few actual necessities. So much can be stripped away and yet life can still go on.

(One word of warning: the version I read was the Tyndale House version with a forward by James Dobson. There’s a note inside saying that it has been edited for a Christian audience. I imagine that editing would be for language, but I don’t actually know. Just bear in mind that whatever was taken out in the Tyndale version will still be in the regular version.)

St. Elmo, by Augusta Evans Wilson, was on my mental “possibilities” list for a long time. I don’t think it’s a well-known book these days, but apparently it was wildly successful in the nineteenth century. Inheritance Publications carry (or at least carried) it in their catalogue, and some of my favourite Christian novels have been from books that Inheritance Publications have listed. These favourites of mine have been well-written books of historical fiction with a Christian ethos that is a natural part of the story rather than being light, trite, and mediocre. St. Elmo was described as sensational and Christian. If that sounds dodgy, please do remember that it’s a nineteenth-century book written by a Christian lady. That being said, the description captured my attention and eventually I acquired a copy–or in other words, downloaded a free kindle edition.

Edna is a young orphan who gains a home with an aristocratic lady, Mrs Murray, and her son St Elmo. (No, I hadn’t realised “St. Elmo” would end up being a person’s name either.) St. Elmo is a hardened, bitter cynic, but as he watches Edna, he begins to see that all of womankind may not be as untrustworthy as he bitterly believed them to be. He tries not to believe this, preferring to stay in the safety of cynicism, but all the time he is silently watching and testing Edna, and she, while fearing and avoiding him, unintentionally upends his assumptions about human nature.

I’ll admit I didn’t like everything about St. Elmo. I did get frustrated with Edna at times, but I would probably have cut her a certain amount of slack if I had known how the story was going to end! Furthermore, Mrs Wilson immersed the book in classical allusions. It seems that she can scarcely describe a scene, or one of her characters can scarcely open their mouth, without her subjecting the reader to at least a couple of paragraphs of classical and eastern allusions. Yes, I exaggerate, but not as much as you might think. Lastly, I don’t think the story showed as clearly as I would have been liked that when someone turns to God he is forgiven fully and freely–yes, his life changes, but he does not need to make atonement himself. It is, however, a gripping and even a moving story, with a key theme being the question of whether someone’s life can truly be turned around. It kept me up reading late more than once!

And there you have it. No prizes for guessing which book I enjoyed more!

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One thought on “Two Books from July

  1. “I’m really not the sort of girl to pick up a book from the shelf, see that it’s a story about men stranded in Antarctica, and exclaim, ‘Oh, that looks good!'”

    Oh … I relate! 🙂

    It’s sometimes so good, however, to step out of the rut of “what I read” and realise that I can read and enjoy other kinds of books too. I’m so glad that you found “Endurance” a rewarding read. Funnily enough, I’m re-reading “Surprised by Oxford” and finding it a similar kind of experience, not being the sort of book I usually read but being rewarding nonetheless.

    I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts on your next books! 🙂

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