Book Memories (2015)

I can’t quite believe that it’s the end of the year. Where is the frost? The chilly nights? The cosy fire in the living room? But my calendar assures me that it is indeed the last day of December, and so I take it on faith that it is so. That being the case, I’m going to continue the tradition I began last year and share with you the books I’ve read this year. I enjoy browsing other people’s book lists, and I hope you enjoy doing the same with mine.

As I did last year, I only count books that I’ve completed, so books that I’ve given up on or haven’t finished yet won’t show here, nor will books that I dip in and out of (usually poetry). On the other hand, if I began a book last year, but finished it this year, it goes on this year’s list. Asterisks indicate re-reads. Links are to where I’ve reviewed the book on this blog.

Non-Fiction

The Screwtape Letters (including “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”) (C. S. Lewis) *

A re-read, apart from “Toast”, which was new to me.

84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Haff)

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (Helene Haff)

Planet Narnia (Michael Ward)

The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Alan Jacobs)

Chance or the Dance? (Thomas Howard) *

The Four Loves (C. S. Lewis) *

Reflections on the Psalms (C. S. Lewis)

The World’s Last Night (C. S. Lewis)

I skipped the “Toast” essay as I’d read it when I read Screwtape.

The Meal Jesus Gave Us (N. T. Wright)

The Dating Manifesto (Lisa Anderson)

A Dash of Style (Noah Lukeman)

The Good God (Michael Reeves) *

Highly recommended.

Teach Us to Want (Jen Pollock Michel)

Everlasting is the Past (Walter Wangerin Jnr)

Letters from the Land of Cancer (Walter Wangerin Jnr)

The End of Our Exploring (Matthew Lee Anderson)

Highly recommended.

Behold the Lamb of God (Russ Ramsey)

Fiction and Poetry

The Heart of the Family (Elizabeth Goudge)

The Silver Chair (C. S. Lewis) *

The Horse and His Boy (C. S. Lewis) *

Daddy-Long-Legs (Jean Webster)

The Magician’s Nephew (C. S. Lewis) *

The Last Battle (C. S. Lewis) *

Huntingtower (John Buchanan)

Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen) *

Pendragon’s Heir (Suzannah Rowntree)

Our Mutual Friend (Charles Dickens)

The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey)

Lilith (George McDonald)

A Soldier of the Great War (Mark Helprin)

Highly recommended.

Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery) *

The Singing Bowl (Malcolm Guite)

Anne of Avonlea (Lucy Maud Montgomery) *

The Blue Castle (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)

The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith (Bruce Marshall)

Four Quartets (T. S. Eliot)

Only forty-something pages, but it was packaged as a book, so I’m treating it as one! Also, I have almost no idea what it all means….

Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset, trans. Tiina Nunnally)

Highly recommended. 

So, yes, there were plenty of good reads here. I’ve picked out some of the best by labelling them as “highly recommended”, but there were others that I found excellent even if I haven’t given them that label. (Almost everything by Lewis, for example!) I do hope that you might find some new friends waiting for you in this list. Read with discernment, of course. I don’t recommend every aspect of every book here. Lastly, if you have any book suggestions for me, do return the favour and leave a comment telling me what they are! Who knows what delightful or thought-provoking or moving or helpful books might await you and me in 2016? Happy reading, and the happiest of new years to you.

The End of Our Exploring

I finished this thoughtful book by Matthew Lee Anderson (subtitled “A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith”) earlier this week. While I had expected it to focus primarily on how to deal with the doubts and questions that Christians may wrestle with, instead it turned out to be more about how to “question well”—an important topic and one that Anderson handles wisely and gracefully.

Anderson discusses a range of topics, including what questions are and what they reflect about those who ask them, the frameworks from which we ask our questions, the difference between doubts and questions, what the goal of our questioning should be, and the place of questioning in our churches and our relationships. In terms of style, I sometimes felt that the transition between chapter subsections wasn’t the smoothest, and the abundance of footnotes irritated me a little until I gave in and decided to just enjoy all his parenthetical remarks, but Anderson’s overall writing style—at times almost breathtakingly beautiful—amply atoned.

For me, an important takeaway point was that we need to learn (and teach our children) how to question and think deeply rather than superficially. Anderson is surely correct that we tend to prefer quick easy answers to careful thinking (“just enough instruction so we know what to do but not so much that we have to think”—ouch). It’s never been easier to get our hands on facts, he points out, but our goal should be understanding: “Those who inquire well must move from answers to understanding, from the instant gratification of our need for comfort and security toward the deepened desire for the enduring good of wisdom.”

Slowing down on the rush for easy answers also means that we will be able to interact in a more empathetic way with those we disagree with, recognising that we may not be right and trying to see things from their point of view. As Anderson says, “To understand a position does not entail that we agree with it: but in a world marked by unsympathetic, hasty dismissals and cataclysmic, thunderous prognostications of doom, a strong dose of listening and considering might go a long way toward improving our discourse, both inside and outside the church.”

I appreciated, too, how Anderson shows that in the midst of our questioning, in the uncertainty and in the waiting for answers, we can have, as the subtitle says, confidence: “Reality makes us; we do not make it. And at the heart of reality, out of the silence of unknowing emerges the cross. The cross engenders within us the courage to explore without finding, to wait without an answer, to search without seeing—precisely because we know one has already gone before us into death, come back victorious from it, and will come again to consummate His triumph over sin.”

Ultimately, The End of Our Exploring is a Jesus-focused book. Because, as the final chapter in particular makes so beautifully clear, the end of our exploring is Jesus. “For the answer we are given is the life of a person, the Lord of all, life abundantly.”

Desert Island Book List

In the last month or so, two of my blogger friends have posted about what books they’d want with them on a desert island (see here and here), and I’ve decided to follow suit.

Of course, the Bible and a handy collection of survival books are a given. And the books I’m selecting aren’t necessarily my favourite books of all time. I love Perelandra, for example, but reading about the Un-Man perusing Ransom through the caves of an almost-deserted island, while marooned on an island myself, would be far from ideal. I’m also looking for books that can bear the weight of repeated re-reads, and even offer new insights with such re-reads.

Anyway, here goes.

  1. Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck (the abridged one-volume version). I began trying to read this, but gave up. However, I know it’s good, and if I were stuck on a desert island I’d want to be able to do some in-depth theological reading. And since there’d be so little else for me to be distracted by, I know that I’d actually finish it.
  2. The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis (edited by Don King). This is my favourite collection of poems. There’s beauty and wisdom and joy and wit and Lewis-ness in here, and I wouldn’t want to be without it.
  3. The Book of Common Prayer. I’d want to have words to pray for the times when I had no words of my own, and to be reminded that even in my lonely state, I was part of the church universal.
  4. Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. This one would help to remind me of the loveliness of life.
  5. Emma by Jane Austen. Because if I only have one Austen book, let it be a long one.
  6. Augustine’s Confessions. I haven’t read past the opening few pages, at most, but as with Reformed Dogmatics, I know that it’s worth reading. And re-reading.
  7. The Oxford Book of English Verse. I own The New Oxford Book of English Verse, but I have more than half a suspicion that this one would be the better of the two. There’s be plenty for me to enjoy here, and plenty for me to study. Memorising poems would also help to pass the time.
  8. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis (volume II or III). I haven’t got far yet in reading these myself, but I’d choose a volume because it’s massive, so I’d get much more of Lewis’ prose than I would were I to choose a single book. Lewis was an excellent letter writer, so there’d be much for me to learn and delight in here.
  9. A Handbook to Literature (Harmon and Holman). I’d use this to help me study the poetry I’d brought, as well as to help me write my own.
  10. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Yes, I know this isn’t exactly (ahem) a single book, but in my defence it’s a series, each book is short, and—and—how could I possibly live the rest of my life, perhaps, without having the opportunity to read Narnia again?

What would your desert island book list be?

Inside of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

I visited Cambridge for the first time in Easter 2014, with SJ as my sidekick. While of the two quintessential university cities it’s Oxford that has my heart, I have perhaps never been so enraptured with a building as I was with King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, which surely is a poem in stone and glass. In this sonnet, Wordsworth captures a little of that beauty, and reminds us to make our art the best it can be, to give it all we can.

 

Tax not the royal Saint with vain expense,

With ill-matched aims the Architect who planned—

Albeit labouring for a scanty band

Of white-robed Scholars only—this immense

And glorious Work of fine intelligence!

Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the lore

Of nicely-calculated less or more;

So deemed the man who fashioned for the sense

These lofty pillars, spread that branching roof

Self-poised, and scooped into ten thousand cells,

Where light and shade repose, where music dwells

Lingering—and wandering on as loth to die;

Like thoughts whose very sweetness yieldeth proof

That they were born for immortality.