Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beowulf in Florida

Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson

N. D. Wilson's latest story is essentially a zombie novel, but don't let that turn you off. (In fact, he never even uses the word.) I was a little sceptical at first as to how plausible the supernatural elements were going to be, but they work, mainly because of the way that Wilson draws on the great Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf.

Wilson has a special interest in writing American stories. In this interview, concerning The Dragon's Tooth, he notes that growing up, he had the assumption that "you had to be in England if you wanted to have a magical adventure", and so he set out to make magical adventure possible in America. Boys of Blur is set in Florida's  Everglades region. It does for Florida what 100 Cupboards did for Kansas; incidentally, it also does for American football what 100 Cupboards did for baseball.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the novel is the way it brilliantly depicts what it means to face temptation. Usually this is a temptation to anger, resentment, or envy – e.g. "Just about every human on the planet was better off than Charlie at this moment" (p. 157) or "This stupid town and all its petty people deserved everything they were getting" (p. 169). But this is an optimistic novel – the main characters resist these tempting thoughts. Wilson also eschews any form of moral ambiguity – these thoughts are always depicted as being wrong.

This is a great story, that I can heartily recommend to young and old alike. Only one minor quibble: on p. 95 it says "the two tumbled off of Charlie". There's no excuse for that.

Finally, here is a very good review of the book: You’ve got your aforementioned zombies as well as a paean to small town football, an economy based on sugar cane harvesting, spousal abuse, and rabbit runs. It sounds like a dare, honestly. “I dare you to combine these seemingly disparate elements into a contemporary classic”.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Should be part of every theological curriculum

Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature by Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken and Todd Wilson

This is one of very few books on an interesting and significant subject, and I hope it becomes widely used.

This volume covers seventy books in which Christian ministers feature prominently. Twelve books are covered in depth, while the rest have enough information to help you evaluate whether you want to read the book.

In fact, I found this book made me want to read some of the novels it describes. I have read eleven of the books (The Canterbury Tales, The Diary of a Country Priest, Gilead, And the Shofar Blew, The Book of Bebb, Death in Holy Orders, the Father Brown stories, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and The Sunday Wife), while another six I hope to read this year (The Vicar of Wakefield, Witch Wood, The Mackerel Plaza, The Dean's Watch, The Warden, and Silence). My only quibble is that the book didn't include Madeleine L'Engle's A Live Coal in the Sea.

I would love to see this book used in seminaries and theological colleges, as a launching pad to reading some of the books covered. It would be so helpful to prospective pastors to meditate on and discuss these fictional portrayal of ministers. Even a reading course of four such books would be a big help in thinking through various pastoral and theological issues. Pastors in the Classics makes an important contribution to the Christian Church.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How to be a writer on $10,000 a year

I have been been reading Boswell's Life of Johnson, and it's quite fascinating. I'm up to Johnson going to London to try to make a living as a writer. Boswell records a hypothetical budget that one of Johnson's friends had explained to him:
Thirty pounds a year was enough to enable a man to live there without being contemptible. He allowed ten pounds for clothes and linen. He said a man might live in a garret at eighteen-pence a week; few people would inquire where he lodged; and if they did, it was easy to say, "Sir, I am to be found at such a place." By spending three-pence in a coffeehouse, he might be for some hours every day in very good company; he might dine for six-pence, breakfast on bread and milk for a penny, and do without supper.
Samuel Johnson in 1772
Let's break that down:

Per day
Per week
Per year

4 s.
£ 10

18 d.
£ 4
7 d.
4 s.
£ 10
3 d.
18 d.
£ 4

Now, this website tells me that £1 in 1750 would be the equivalent of £190 today, and this in turn equates to A$350. This gives us an annual budget of $10,000:

Per day
Per week
Per year



For a writer in Melbourne, the coffee works out about right. The food budget would be roughly equivalent – $2 a day will give you bread and milk for breakfast, while $8 will fill you up in Chinatown. Unfortunately, one would be hard pressed to find accommodation at even the most dingiest dive for $30 a week. The clothes budget, both then and now, is wildly disproportionate.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Books Kara read in 2013

 With our new little boy, Zephaniah.

Total read: 36

Fewer than in 2012, but I had other fun things to do, like growing a baby and living with an energetic toddler!

So here they are, with occasional comments. I've only linked to reviews, this time.

The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton

Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer

The Lord our Shepherd by J. Douglas MacMillan

They Found a Cave by Nan Chauncy

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity by Mark A. Noll (my review here)

Thunder on the Right by Mary Stewart

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce (John's review here)
Maddeningly unreferenced and anecdotal. Misunderstands her subject on key points, particularly missing the point of Christian self-sacrificial living.

Leepike Ridge by N. D. Wilson (John's review here)

The Puritan Experiment in the New World (1976 Westminster Conference papers)

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart
I liked it until the last couple of chapters. Not recommended.

Talking About Dragons by William Chad Newsom
Nothing much new here.

Fit to Burst by Rachel Jankovic
Excellent, gospel-centred mothering book. I like her sense of humour and imaginative illustrations.

Standing on the Promises by Douglas Wilson
Best parenting book I've read.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Ride Like an Indian by Henry V. Larom
Children's book that reads like it was written by a health and safety committee. What kid sterilizes his knife before becoming blood brothers with his best friend?

Evening in the Palace of Reason by James Gaines.
Fascinating double biography of J.S. Bach and Frederick the Great.

Asterix the Gladiator

Asterix and the Actress

Family-Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham (John's review here)

Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson

The Four by Peter Leithart

The Light Princess by George MacDonald

Classical Education and the Homeschool by Wes Callihan, Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson
Short, helpful introduction to the subject.

Monet by Jude Welton (Eyewitness Art series)

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton

Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher

The Dean's Watch by Elizabeth Goudge
I fear she didn't believe in the resurrection.

Aunt's Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse

A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
Charlotte Mason isn't God. Sometimes Andreola sounds like she thinks differently.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson (John's review here)
This series keeps getting better. Fascinating incorporation of theology into story.

The Last Judgement by Iain Pears

Death By Living by N.D. Wilson
If you read Empire of Bones, you need to read this too.

The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger

The Lord's Service by Jeff Meyers
Not uniformly convincing, but still very helpful in thinking through liturgical matters.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Kara's Reading Goals for 2014

It's that fun time of the year again. Book lists! Here are twelve books I plan to read in the coming year.

Books that are presents from my husband:

True Companion by Nancy Wilson Finished in June
This is a reworking of the Pastor's Wife e-mails that Nancy has been writing for the past few years. I find her advice biblical and practical.

The Book Lover's Cookbook
A present for our fourth anniversary.

Devotional books:

The Pastor's Wife by Sabina Wurmbrand
I'm reading this as a companion to John's Lenten reading.

Pulpit and Communion Table by John Duncan
This will be my Sunday book.

Books on Raising Children:

Instructing a Child's Heart by Ted Tripp

Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist Finished in March
I like to read one book on homeschooling every year. This one is from a Catholic perspective.

Christian Living:

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode by Crystal Paine Finished in March
This is written by a childhood friend.

Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber Finished in January
This looks like another book about motherhood burnout, which seems a popular topic these days. But I'm interested because her book Surprised by Oxford was so good.

Children's books:

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff  Finished in February
Illustrated by Alan Lee.

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson Finished in April
I like this author so much that I think I'll be reading anything he writes from now on.

Bible Study:

How to Read the Bible as Literature by Leland Ryken
I attempted this last year. Maybe I'll finish this time!

Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson
This book is about things like the etymological fallacy.

Monday, December 30, 2013

20 books John plans to read in 2014

See my previous years' lists: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. Last year I listed 25 books; I have finished 17 of them, and am currently reading another five. Altogether, I read 83 books in 2013.

Anyway, here is my so-called "shelfie":

Five novels:
Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin by P. G. Wodehouse 13th Feb.

I include a Wodehouse book on my reading list every year. This will be the 22nd one I have read.

The Dean's Watch by Elizabeth Goudge

I read City of Bells by the same author in 2012.
The Mackerel Plaza by Peter de Vries 25th Aug.

In his Dutch Calvinism in Modern America, James Bratt describes Peter de Vries as a "secular Jeremiah, a Christian Reformed Church missionary to the smart set."
The Immaculate Deception by Iain Pears 22nd Feb.

This is part of a series of detective novels set in the art world. The protagonists are an English art dealer and his girlfriend, who is a member of the police art squad in Rome.
Scimitar's Edge by Marvin Olasky 19th Mar.

Olasky is best known as the editor of WORLD magazine, but among many other books, he has also written this novel.

Five theological books:

An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke

I have a particular interest in the Old Testament, and aim to read one book like this a year.
Through his Eyes: God's Perspective on Women in the Bible by Jerram Barrs 11th Feb.

This book discusses about twenty different women in the Bible. This book will, I think, help me in my doctoral thesis, which is on the portrayal of women in the Book of Samuel.

The Four: A Survey of the Gospels by Peter Leithart

I really like Leithart, and this book seems to be in the same vein as his Deep Exegesis, which I read a few years ago.
The Hope Fulfilled: Essays in Honor of O. Palmer Robertson 31st Jul.

I generally enjoy Festschriften, and this one has a really interesting collection of essays.  

"Right Reason" and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal by Paul Kjoss Helseth 11th Feb.

I am reading the Princetonians in some depth this summer, presently engaged with Charles Hodge's The Way of Life as well as Archibald Alexander's Thoughts on Religious Experience. The "unorthodox proposal" in this book is that the Princetonians were consistently Reformed thinkers rather than Enlightenment rationalists.

Five more Christian books:
Death by Living by N. D. Wilson 10th Jan.

I love Wilson's fiction (see my reviews of Empire of Bones and Leepike Ridge) and this looks like it is just as good.
Holy is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present by Carolyn Weber 29th Jan.

Weber's Surprised by Oxford was excellent (see Kara's review) so I am keen to read this, even though the topic doesn't seem as interesting. 
Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes by Voddie Baucham 18th Apr.

I appreciated Baucham's Family Driven Faith (see my review) and this book is rather relevant for me.

Defending Constantine by Peter Leithart

Yes, Leithart is the lone writer to appear twice on this year's list. He argues in this book that Constantine was a genuine convert to Christianity.
Sermons in Solitary Confinement by Richard Wurmbrand 26th Mar.

Wurmbrand was a Romanian Christian pastor imprisoned from 1948 to 1956 (including three years in solitary confinement) and again from 1959 to 1964. After his release he left Romanian and founded the Voice of the Martyrs organization. This book will be my Lenten reading for 2014.

Five miscellaneous books:
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson 23rd Apr.

This book was published around 25 years ago, but I'm sure it will yield some fascinating insights. 
Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff 29th Jul.

Hanff is best known for her wonderful 84, Charing Cross Road. (I never realised until now that there was a comma in the title!) This book seems to be a prequel of sorts. The "Q" referred to in the title is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.
Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson 18th Jan.

I don't particularly regard myself as an aspiring writer, but Wilson is usually fun to read.
The Dreams of the Witch House And Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft 30th Aug.

I have read a few Lovecraft stories, although now I think of him mostly in connection to Arkham Horror, which is one of my favourite board games.

Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings by  Charles Hapgood

Hapgood argues that the Piri Reis map provides evidence of global exploration by an as yet undiscovered pre-classical civilization.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nobody seemed to like him much but we think he's great

Gordon H. Clark: Personal Recollections

Gordon Clark was a 20th-century American Christian philosopher and theologian. This is a book published a few years after his death by The Trinity Foundation, an organisation dedicated to promoting his work. This volume is a collection of reminiscences by people who knew Clark.

This is a rather strange book. Again and again reference is made to people who disagreed with Clark, disliked him, and even doubted his Christian faith. One slowly gets an idea of why that might have been the case, but this volume lacks an explanation of the issues involved. It would also have been improved by a balanced assessment of Clark's life and thought.

Here are some representative quotes:
  • "Many people found Gordon Clark to be a hard man: cold, ruthless, blunt, unsympathetic, disdainful." (p. 19)
  • "His many books testify to his faith. Yet, sadly, even almost to the end of his life, there were those who were skeptical of his salvation." (p. 23)
  • "My Apologetics professor had Dr. Clark explain his philosophy to our class one session. After Dr. Clark completed his lecture, responded to questions, and left, the professor said his method of apologetics was heresy and no one would likely come to salvation after hearing the Gospel preached by Dr. Clark." (p. 69)
  • "None of the authors I read mentioned Clark very favorably. Some had written before Clark's time; others ignored him; a few made disparaging remarks." (p. 96)
One further claim arrested my attention. Ronald Nash says (p. 87),
From the year when J. Gresham Machen died (1937) to the first publications of Henry and Carnell after World War II, Clark stood almost alone for the set of essential beliefs that came to serve as the foundation of evangelical scholarship in the 1950s. Others who may have shared Clark's convictions neglected the vital matter of getting those views into print.
This is simply not true. It didn't take me long to find some counter-examples:
The last book mentioned is significant, since it was the first book published by Baker.  

Gordon H. Clark: Personal Recollections includes numerous frank acknowledgements of Clark's weaknesses, but it does seem to be a little starry-eyed in its assessment of him.