Books

Finished Reading

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is a well-crafted and entertaining parable about being good stewards of the earth. For the main characters Lina and Doon, the world is a small town called Ember whose flood lights and light bulbs are the only things that keep eternal night at bay. At age twelve, each boy or girl finishes school and is assigned a task, like messenger (Lina’s job) or pipes worker (Doon’s job), which he or she dutifully performs to keep Ember running. The problem is that the storerooms are running low and all the machines, including the generator, is breaking down. The mayor is more interested in living it up than finding solutions, the happy Believers are hoping for the return of the Builders to make things right, and everyone else is worried and in the dark about whether or not anything exists outside of Ember. The serious Doon wants to find a way to help the city, and he is given an opportunity when Lina finds a document written by the city builders with instructions for how to leave when everything starts to run down.

This is a fun story and an imaginative world. The writing is good and the story is thoughtful. The portrayal of the Believers (i.e., Christians) is interesting. They are shown as happy people who gather together and sing, but they hold to an unfounded belief that the city’s builders will one day return for them. This seems to be a pretty clear critique on Christians who don’t care about the earth because Jesus is going to return anyway and it will all end. Sadly, this is pretty fair critique. Many Christians do feel this way, but that is changing. Now many if not most of us are acknowledging that it is our God-given duty to take care of his creation.

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyers. One blogger, commenting on the Twilight movie, put it aptly:  this is pornography for women. Edward is godlike in beauty, sensitive, kind, brilliant, and musical–every woman’s dream. His relationship with Bella is forbidden, passionate, and unable to be consummated. Every time they kiss, I groan and roll my eyes. Edward’s lips, Meyers writes again and again, become “urgent” and he “crushes” Bella to him. Ugh.

This book begins fast. (Spoilers!) Bella gets married, has sex (Meyer’s keeps it PG-13, the actual act is not described and details are not graphic), gets pregnant, has a 1/2 vampire baby, and becomes a vampire herself. Whew! A lot to happen and pretty exciting to read. I was suprised that Bella became a vampire two thirds of the way through. I had expected it to be the crucial moment in the series. The conflict of this book turns out to be Bella’s half-vampire baby girl. Apparently, it’s against vampire law for babies to be made into vampires (even though Bella’s baby is naturally made), and the ruling Volturi condemn them to death. The Cullens amass an army of vampires to face the Volturi and at the very end…

nothing happens. They all talk it over and decide not to fight because the law wasn’t really broken. The end. Amazingly lame. Aro and the little twins go home and continue to be their evil selves. Can you imagine Lord of the Rings ending this way? Or Harry Potter? What in the world was Meyer thinking? I didn’t read through 750+ pages just to find a battle averted. Meyer is not the queen of action. She does not know how to take advantage of the possibilities of good action. It’s almost like she is afraid to let anything happen to any of her characters. What a disappointing ending.

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyers. Thankfully, book three of the vampire series shows an improvement in writing style, and there is less of Bella’s nauseating drooling over Edward. The plot is too slow, drawing out a relatively simple sequence of events over 500 or so pages, but the strength of these books lies more in the drama of the relationships. Eclipse focuses on the competition between Edward the vampire and Jacob the werewolf for the affection of Bella. At the same time, the vampire Victoria is planning her revenge on Edward and Bella for the death of her mate James. Last, Bella is dying (excuse the pun) to become a vampire so that she can be with Edward forever. Not a bad read, but still a C.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyers. At times, reading this book was like reading a teenage girl’s journal. I found myself wondering whether Meyer had succeeded brilliantly in imitating a teenager’s style or whether her writing was just plain bad at times. I think it’s the latter. Sometimes, New Moon is almost unbearable to read. Bella will describe in astonishingly boring detail her night out at the movies with Jake and Mike, or Bella and Edmund will have an awkward, drama-filled conversation overflowing with sap. Oh, and call me a nerd, but someone needs to talk to Meyer’s editor. I probably found seven or so errors.

But the book has an undeniable draw, thanks to Meyer’s talent for suspense. The incorporation of werewolves is a nice addition to the drama, and the introduction of the ruling vampires in Italy brings serious danger to the overall story, even if it does feel a lot like Interview With the Vampire.

There was one point in the book that captured something of reality for me. When Edward comes back for Bella, he tries to convince her that he loves her. He had told her earlier that he no longer wanted her because he thought it would be safer for her to be away from him. Now, though, he realizes that he cannot live without her.

   “You don’t believe me, do you?” he whispered, his face paler than
   his usual pale—I could see that even in the dim light. “Why can
   you believe the lie, but not the truth?”

   “It never made sense for you to love me,” I explained, my voice
   breaking twice. “I always knew that.”

Those quotes seem to sum up what my relationship with God feels like. I struggle to know or believe the extent of his love. I wonder if it feels frustrating to him like it does with Edward. C

Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin. As an AP:Vergil teacher, I was excited to discover Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin, and I have even considered adding it to the curriculum for the class. Told from the perspective of the Latin princess Lavinia, future wife of Aeneas, this book retells the events of the last six books of the Aeneid and also imagines the reigns of Aeneas’s two sons, Ascanius and Silvius. (For a more in depth summary, go to my other blog http://www.delatina.wordpress.com.) December 2008. B

Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz is about a Roman general named Vinicious who falls in love with the young Christian Lygia. When Vinicious converts to Christianity, his love for Lygia is threatened by the persecutions of Nero. An educational read, if not a bit slow at times, this book is a good way to learn about early Christianity and Nero’s cruelty. November 2008 B

Twilight by Stephenie Meyers. My curiosity was peeked because 1) lot’s of students, all girls, were reading this; 2) the movie version is coming out next month; and 3) it’s about vampires. Who could resist?

This was interesting and suspenseful, but far from masterful or original storytelling. I’m sure Ann Rice has pretty much covered this. Lots of teenage angst and sexual tension. Girl meets cute boy, but cute boy wants nothing to do with her because he’s a vampire. That’s all I’ll say for fear of giving the rest away. C+

The Fall of Troy by Quintus of Smyrna fills in all the details of the Trojan War that Homer left off. What happened after Priam got Hector’s body back? How do Achilles and Paris die? What about the Trojan horse? The language is archaic, but I found that endearing, like hearing the Old King James version. It is true that many sections will be laborious. There is only so much that you can take of one hero killing in detail a bunch of other Greeks or Trojans who I’ve never heard of. B-

Coming To Peace With Science by Darrell R. Falk. Falk makes the case for a belief in Jesus and in evolution. He concentrates much more heavily on the scientific evidence for evolution rather than how Genesis and other scriptures can be interpreted to include evolution. He is wonderfully courteous toward opposing views within Christianity and exhorts believers to likewise be patient and open with others with different interpretations. July 2008. A

Battling Unbelief by John Piper is a condensed version of Future Grace. Piper shows how the root of sin (from anxiety to lust) is unbelief in the promises of God. Piper is a favorite of mine. He has a wonderful passion for Jesus that makes me envious. July 2008 A

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson. Caroline wrote a great review of this children’s book on her weblog. I was less impressed than she by the storytelling and the action. Peterson just was not able to transport me to his magical world or humor me with his quirky jokes. June 2008 C

The Aeneid by Vergil is a pretty amazing piece of poetry because it shows incredible sympathy with human suffering. Vergil sees humanity in the conquered. There is a lot of variety to this epic, spanning sea adventures to a love affair to a visit to the underworld to wars in Italy over the hand of a second Helen. Much of the poem is laborious, however, especially the battle sequences when someone or other kills someone else or other. The Roman propaganda and praise of Augustus can cause your eyes to roll, but there is valuable insight into the times that Vergil wrote in these sections, too. May 2008 (2nd reading). A

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins is another book about the relationship between Genesis and modern science, but this one is much better written than A Matter of Days (see below). Francis Collins is a distinguished geneticist who was the head of the Human Genome Project. He is also a Christian who embraces evolution and a 14 billion-year-old universe. His purpose in this book is to convince believers and non-believers alike that modern science and faith in God are not contradictions. Among other things, Collins describes the unlikely orchestration of events post Big Bang that made life possible on earth, the fascinating work of the Human Genome Project, and his own fulfilling relationship with Jesus.

As I have been examining what I believe about science and Genesis, I have come to respect old earth interpretations of other Christians. It used to be that I was aggressively opposed to non-literal views of Genesis 1 and 2, but now I am seeing the possible value of having alternate interpretations. Many non-believers have as their one stumbling block to accepting the faith the idea that Christianity ignores the clear testimony of nature. I wonder if this ought to be a stumbling block for them? Should we not be able to tell them that not all Christians are young earthers?  A

A Matter of Days by Hugh Ross. The astronomer and pastor Hugh Ross makes a case for an old earth interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. He presents convincing scientific data that supports an old earth and refutes arguments for a young earth. He then makes a less convincing (but not bad) case for a Biblican interpretation other than a literal twenty-four hour day. Ross points out that the debate among Christians has turned un-Christian in its hostility toward those who are non-literalists and encourages believers to be patient with one another. (I heartily agree. ) He also labors to show that the church’s history is not uniform in its interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. I found this to be a pretty helpful read for me as I search out this issue, but I was rather skeptical of some of the ways he interpreted scripture. Other things in scripture he pointed out gave me pause. 5/08 B

The Truth Behind the New Aetheism by David Marshall. This is an excellent response to the “new aetheists” Dawkins, Harris, et al., exposing their bad logic and even bad research. For anyone searching for a reasoned defense of the Christian faith, this will not disappoint. 3/08 A

Oedipus At Colonus by Sophocles. Eh. 3/08 C

Oedipus The King by Sophocles. Motivated by embarrassment that I, a Latin teacher, have never read this play, I picked up a copy from the school library and consumed this short tragedy pretty quickly. The translater, Paul Roche, was excellent, rendering the Greek into natural English and yet preserving the poetry. I already knew the story, but that didn’t diminish my empathy for poor Oedipus. I only wish I knew more about Sophocles’s message behind his writing. 3/08 B

Knock, Knock: Shedding Light On Jehovah’s Witness At the Door by Ruth Baker. The author is not the most sophisticated writer, but she has a heart for the conversion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The most helpful suggestion she gives for evangelizing to J. W.’s is to counter their doctrines by quoting only scriptures that match their own Bible translations. Otherwise, they will not accept anything you say. If you are looking for a history of Jehovah’s Witnesses or a detailed outline of their beliefs, then you should look elsewhere, but if you want to find a good strategy for witnessing to J. W.’s, then this is a helpful resource. 3/08 B

A Short History of Christianity by Stephen Tomkins. Because this is such a short history, I don’t think I learned much. It might be more accurately titled Christian History: A Taste. What I did learn is that much of our history is pretty discouraging, but I wonder if Tomkins neglected to fairly present the good of Christianity. I hope to find out in future, more thorough books. 2/08 C

What’s So Great About Christianity? by Dinesh D’Souza. This is one Christian’s response to the recent onslaught of atheistic anti-Christian literature. D’Souza answers their attacks eloquently, showing how religion is triumphing globally over atheism, how Western culture, including the scientific method, is thoroughly indebted to Christianity, how Christian teachings are supported by science, and how aetheist attacks against Christianity don’t hold up philosophically. I found this eye-opening and intriguing. It’s a good tool for anyone seeking an answer to books like The God Delusion, God Is Not Great, et al. One of the things I found particularly interesting was D’Souza’s outlook on how the Big Bang Theory supports creation ex nihilo and how evolution theory cannot possibly work without the hand of God. 12/07 A

The Two Towers, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Ah! I think this is my favorite of the series. Who doesn’t love Treebeard or feel the thrill of the ents attack on Isengard? And the contest between Gimli and Legolas over who can kill the most orcs is a nice bit of Tolkien humor. To cap off the story, Tolkien ends with the fantastic fight between Sam and Shelob. I have lots of fond memories associated with this book. 1/08 A+

The Weight of Glory, by C. S. Lewis. I’m constantly amazed how much insight Lewis has into God’s character and how much good sense he displays . These are great essays and served as wonderful Sunday morning devotionals for me. My favorites are “Transposition” and “The Inner Ring.” 11/07 A

The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien. I love few books more than I love this one. I think this is the fourth reading. 10/07 A+

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Responses

  1. David,

    I’m reading the trilogy to my kids right now and we are toward the end of Fellowship. They do not care for my voice impersonation of Bilbo, but they do like my Gandalf, Frodo, Bombadil, and Gimli…

  2. I’m reading ROTK for what I think is the fourth time as well. Are you familiar with Good Reads? It’s yet another place to keep track of what you’re reading and see what others have read. Here is my list (but you would have to add me as a friend to see it): http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/174187

  3. Joe, I’d be interested to hear your Bilbo voice.

    Caroline, what a great idea for a website! Like netflix’s friend list. I’ll check it out.


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