Island of the World (Michael O’Brien) –5 STARS– It took me a little while to realize that I do like this book and then a little longer to realize just how much I like it. However, since it’s 838 pages long, I had plenty of time in which to make those decisions. The Island of the World is a novel about one man, but written in epic form to illustrate the way that all our lives are epics in themselves. The Odyssey is referenced frequently and provides a backdrop for the book, which draws heavily on the beautiful theme of nostos, the homeward journey. Indeed, this is the theme of the entire book, although on a grand and cosmic scale. Josip Lasta, the central character, is a Croatian boy whose life is traced from childhood until old age during a period of massive and tragic turbulence in the Balkans and wanders through hell itself on his search for a reason to live. While I grew frustrated in the middle of the story with imagery that didn’t seem to make sense, I was pleasantly surprised by the way that all of the clues were woven into the story by the end. Note that O’Brien does not shy away from writing about violence. On the contrary, he seems to revel in it when it is necessary to the telling of the story he has set out to tell. Sensitive readers should be forewarned.
Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton (Kevin Belmonte) –4 STARS– This is a decent biography of Chesterton. Belmonte capitalizes on the sequence and contents of his writings (which were many and varied!) and doesn’t add as much insight into his life – especially his childhood and conversion – as I would have liked, so I didn’t learn quite as much as I was hoping I would. Overall, however, this is a solid look at the legacy of a mighty wordsmith.
Letters To Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer (C.S. Lewis) – 4 STARS – I think Letters to Malcolm is quite underrated. An insightful collection of thoughts concerning the subject of prayer, it gives the reader a glimpse into a more private side of the mind of C.S. Lewis, revealing questions which that great man asked and yet perhaps was never able to answer on this side of the gray rain-curtain. However, the fact that he didn’t understand everything doesn’t seem to have bothered Lewis overmuch and this happy fact makes the book all the more precious. Of course, in addition to these more theoretical and philosophical considerations, Letters To Malcolm also provides practical ideas for cultivating a habit of prayer.
Miracle in Moscow (David Benson) – 5 STARS – David Benson’s story of distributing Bibles and meeting with followers of Christ in Russia during the cold war is chilling, to say the least. It’s also educational and fulfilling, but I wouldn’t tack on any light and fluffy words like “inspiring.” It is a chronicle of great faith and its rewards, but the rewards mostly consist of assistance on the battlefield of the world and in desperately dark places. This isn’t a book that will leave you with warm and fuzzy feelings about leaning on the everlasting arms, but will point out to you instead that leaning on the everlasting arms is not always a matter of settling into heated blankets. Indeed, it is more often like walking through the valley of the shadow of death with four cold fingers taking refuge in One Great Hand. The nobility of the upside-down Kingdom is portrayed very beautifully in this book, as well as the harried and haunted people of God who have lived in all ages in fear for their lives and yet not afraid. I suppose this is the aristocracy of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis) – 5 STARS – This is a book I will probably come back to more than once, in order to spend more time going over some more complex portions, particularly the chapter on transposition. My favorite essays from this collection were The Weight of Glory, Learning in War-Time, The Inner Ring, and Membership. The title essay, The Weight of Glory, is an exploration of sehnzucht, what C.S. Lewis calls “your inconsolable secret.” It questions if the answer to our unfulfilled longings might not be ultimate acceptance by God. Of course, in so doing, Lewis lays bare a score of other delightful things. I want to post about three pages of quotes from this book, but will refrain from doing so, and simply admonish you to pick up this book and read at least the first chapter, if nothing else.
The Defendant (G.K. Chesterton) – 4 STARS – The Defendant is not really built around a unifying theme but is a collection of observations concerning varied and mostly unrelated topics. Chesterton’s two great weaknesses – carelessness and generalization – render a few of the essays unsubstantiated and shallow reasoning is evident in some places. However, there are also many moments of stunning brilliance contained in this volume and these make it well worth the read. Some of my favorites of the “defenses” were Rash Vows, Heraldry, Humility, Baby-Worship, and Patriotism.
Autobiography of George Muller (George Muller) – 5 STARS – This classic is simply written and easily read in a few hours. It is well worth it. Don’t let the title fool you: it is not really an autobiography of a man, but a chronicle of the ways of God with one man who wanted to give everything. And oh, what would we see if we would once realize the heights and the depths of the riches that are ours in Him?
A Damsel in Distress (P.G. Wodehouse) – 4 STARS – Wodehouse delivers again with another entertaining novel spiced with his typical verbal gymnastics and the recycled stock characters we’ve come to know and love.
How to Read the Bible as Literature & Get More Out of It (Leland Ryken) – 4 STARS – This is a magnificent look at the literary nature of the Bible. The preface and first chapter (which, in my opinion, are the best parts of this entire book) attempt to show the reader the artistry of the Bible and the importance of the imagination in coming to a true understanding of the Word of God. Ryken works from the premise that the story is the meaning, explaining that, “because literature aims to recreate a whole experience, there is a certain irreducible quality to it.” He shows why our abstract dissections of the Bible so often fall short of truly communicating the truth contained in the text. This book gave a context and an expression to things that I have felt for many years but have not been able to coherently verbalize.
The Club Of Queer Trades (G.K. Chesterton) – 4 STARS – Solid Chestertonian fiction, riddled with farce and mystique. I listened to this on Librivox and heartily enjoyed the reader, David Barnes, who reads in a delightful British accent, well-suited to the characters in the story.
Adela Cathcart (George MacDonald) – 3 STARS – Novel about a sickly and psychologically weary young woman who is restored to health through the efforts of a group of acquaintances who form a storytelling club. The plot is rather thin, and some of the stories are annoyingly sentimental, but a few of MacDonald’s classic short stories are also included in this volume, such as The Light Princess and The Giant’s Heart. Overall, I have read better things by MacDonald and expect to read more of them in the future. I was super excited to find 53 of MacDonald’s books in one book on Kindle for $1.99. Now I won’t have to settle for anymore abridged and edited versions of his writings!
The Cold War: A History In Documents (Allan Winkler) – 3 STARS – I would hesitate to recommend this book. Despite its claim to rely on documents for evidence, the author’s bias toward modern liberalism is made all too evident. While Winkler does try to approach most issues more or less objectively, some statements he quotes (or makes himself) serve as windows into his own ‘progressive’ worldview. Take, for example, one towards the beginning of the book which deplores the fact that women in the US during the 1950s “could identify with nothing beyond the home – not politics, not art, not science, not events large or small, war or peace, in the United States or the world…” A discerning reader may be able to pick out the fact from the opinion, but I’m going to keep looking for a better book on the Cold War.
What I’m still reading
The Iliad (translated by Martin Hammond)
A Patriot’s History of the United States (by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen)
The Complete Poems (W.H. Auden)
The Collected Fictions (Jorge Luis Borges)
The Road to Serfdom (F.A. Hayek)
What else I want to read in the near future
Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)
Middlemarch (George Eliot)
The Weapon of Prayer (E.M. Bounds)
Hudson Taylor (by Howard Taylor)
The Gulag Archipelago (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)
The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers