Book Reviews · Books · C.S. Lewis · ebooks · JK Rowling · Tolkien

The Magicians – Review

The-Magicians-Book-Cover-e1317909429117In 2009, Lev Grossman, a writer for some of the most popular newspapers and magazines in the world gave us a new fantasy book. The premise, what if the Harry Potter series and the Chronicles of Narnia had a child, but that child turned out to be a vulgar, “adult” perversion of it’s parents. This is The Magicians

The Good

The was one thing that stood out as a positive. The innate depravity of human kind is on full display. Every character is lost in a hopeless cycle of searching for happiness and never being able to find it. They are trapped in a life were there is nothing beyond themselves and the material world, even their fantasy realm is just as mundane and morose as the “real word”. It is a fantastic representation of darwinian, atheistic belief and the utter despair that kind of worldview fosters.

The Bad

The Magicians stands on the backs of fantasy genius, Rowling and Lewis, yet it lacks any of the heart, depth or soul of either. The plot meanders for far to long, following pointlessly vacant characters doing aimless things. There is no driving force to the plot or passion in the story. It is the post-modern Harry Potter/Narnia and it suffers under the weight of it’s hollowness.

Another important issue is the amorality of the characters. This fits perfectly with the feeling that Grossman seems to be striving for. The problem is it never rises above feeling like Harry Potter: The College Years. Grossman seems to revel in the salaciousness and profanity of his characters. The whole time it just feels forced, as a way to cover up for his constant and blatant ripping off of Rowling and Lewis; it’s the book’s undoing. By leaning so heavily on these pillars of fantasy, Grossman’s story falters, coming up completely void and empty in comparison. Tolkien and Lewis both speak of the power in fantasy and myth to teach as well as mirror the great story of the Gospel, even George Lucas with Star Wars understood this. Myth can guide and teach in ways no other literature can. Yet as you read The Magicians, the lack of purpose gnaws on you, reminding you that Lewis, Rowling and Tolkien are all on your shelf with the ability to wash away ruinous, joyless fantasy such as this.

Although there are many problems with this book, the last I’ll mention is the lack of joy and fun. All of the characters are completely lost and lifeless, eking out, what can only be considered vapid, wearisome lives that no one reading would wish for. The hopelessness and purposelessness translates to the reader, a rain cloud following you everywhere. It is sad because just as much as there should be some fun, fantasy can also be a very serious work and regrettably here too, the book fails. There is just not enough self reflection for the characters or meat to the story for there to be of any redeeming value. Fantasy should have a sense of awe and wonder, like Harry in Diagon Alley for the first time or Lucy entering the wintered Narnia to find a lamp-post in the wood. Unfortunately all The Magicians has to offer is drunk, drugged miscreants with little worth living for.

Conclusion

Do yourself a favor, pick up Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, something by Le Guin, Riordon or Asimov and leave The Magicians to gather dust at you local bookstore.

Arts · Books · C.S. Lewis · Christianity · Cohabiting · Dating · Facebook · Faith · Reading · Sex · Tim Challies

Owl Post 8-19-14

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The Problem with Christian Films

gods_not_deadThis past year has been the year of the Christian film. We have seen an explosion of Christian-themed and Christian-produced films, each seemingly more financially successful than the last. In the words of Scott Mendelson, box office analyst for Forbes.com, “I think we can safely say that 2014 is the year that Christian-themed religious pictures officially outnumbered comic book superhero films. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it definitely is a thing.”

Confronting Reality By Reading Fantasy

TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd)“If you were in a room full of books,” Lev Grossman writes in his latest novel, The Magician’s Land, “you were at least halfway home.” For Grossman, no books feel more like home than C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, which provide the template for what he likes to read—and how he wants to write. In our conversation for this series, Grossman explained what The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe taught him about fiction, what makes Lewis’s work so radically inventive, and why his own stories must step through the looking glass into fantasy.

Five Principles of the New Sexual Morality

boy_girl_symbolsThe sociologist Mark Regnerus recently published a piece for the Witherington Institute’s Public Discourse, suggesting that support for same-sex marriage in some Christian circles correlates to broader shifts in morality surrounding sexuality and relations. Survey respondents were asked to declare their level of agreement with seven statements relating to the issues of pornography, cohabitation, no-strings-attached sex, the duty of staying in a marriage, extramarital sex, polyamorous relationships, and abortion. The results illustrated pronounced fault lines between those committed to historic Christian stances on sexual morality and supporters of same-sex marriage.

I Quit Liking Things On Facebook for Two Weeks. Here’s How It Changed My View of Humanity

Facebook-Like2On August 1st, I announced that I was going to quit liking things on Facebook. At the time, I simply stated that I no longer wanted to be as active a participant in teaching Facebook how to advertise to me as I had been in the past, but another and much larger issue was my real curiosity: how was my Facebook experience going to change once I stopped feeding its engine with likes?

How To Keep the Spark Alive

sparksWhy do married couples have sex? And how can they ensure that they keep enjoying the sexual relationship throughout their marriage? This weekend I read through a pair of recent studies from the University of Toronto that offer some intriguing, though not shocking answers.

Why We Love to Read

reading-a-bookI have watched the avid outdoorsman, the fisherman, come slowly drifting by. He goes by morning after morning, day after day, always at the same time, always casting into the same locations. He is patiently waiting for the big one, waiting for that hard strike, that long battle that will land him his prize.

Books · C.S. Lewis · Christianity · Divorce · Faith · Film · Hollywood · Marriage · Movies · Tim Challies

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Why C.S. Lewis Never Goes Out of Style:

IMG_0145Last month marked the 50th anniversary of a bizarre day in history. Three men of significant importance each died on November 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy, author Aldous Huxley, and author and scholar C.S. Lewis.

On that day, the developed world (appropriately) halted at the news of the assassination of the United States’ 35th president. The front page of The New York Times on Saturday morning, the day after the tragic shooting, read, “Kennedy Is Killed by Sniper as he Rides in Car in Dallas; Johnson Sworn in on Plane,” and virtually every other news service around the world ran similar coverage and developed these stories for days and weeks following.

16 Books To Read Before They Hit Theaters This Year:

91o13sPo7VLEvery year there are more and more movies based on books being released. Here are 16 books that have been turned into films that you should read, the books are always better than the movie.

Evangelicals and Hollywood Muck:

game-of-thrones-posterI grew up in a fundamentalist environment. The church I was baptized in believed it was inappropriate for Christians to go to a movie theater. To this day, my grandparents maintain this standard as a bulwark against worldliness.

The library at my Christian school had a variety of books for children, sanitized for Christian consumption. Encyclopedia Brown made the cut, but all the “goshes” and “gee whizzes” were marked out with a heavy black pen. No second-hand cursing allowed.

Strength = Good, Weakness = Bad:

1122777918_the_dramatic_decline_of_the_modern_man_460x307_xlargeI like to be strong. At least I like to appear strong. You do too, I think. Most of us value strength and look down on weakness. We honor those who have their lives together and regard with suspicion those who do not.

Strength = good, weakness = bad. That is our functional formula. But it is not the Lord’s. 2 Corinthians 12 says it very differently: “ ‘My grace is sufficient for you,” said the Lord, “ ‘for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

6 Deadly Enemies of Marriage:

religion-300x336Marriage is under attack. Marriage has always been under attack. The world, the flesh and the devil are all adamantly opposed to marriage, and especially to marriages that are distinctly Christian. Marriage, after all, is given by God to strengthen his people and to glorify himself; little wonder, then, that it is constantly a great battleground.

Book Reviews · Books · C.S. Lewis · Timothy Keller · Tullian Tchividjian

Best Books I Read in 2013

7126The Count of Monte Cristo

Dumas writes with ease and this book cracks on at an always entertaining rate. The characters sparkle and the themes of life, love and revenge never go out of style.

Favorite Quote

“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.”

TheNightCircusThe Night Circus

I was intoxicated by this tale of two magicians that are involved in a competition against each other, unaware that it is the person they love most. Hauntingly beautiful, The Night Circus will have you page turning till there are no more pages, then wishing for more.

Favorite Quote

“Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that… there are many kinds of magic, after all.”

photoOne Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World

Grace, grace, God’s grace, it is what it is all about. This timely reminder that God has done for us what we could not and therefore all we need to do is rest in his grace, is the perfect antidote to a world that is broken and overrun with performance-based living throughout it’s entirety.

Favorite Quote

“Unfortunately, this is the way that so many Christians live: searching high and low for something we already have, trying to earn something we’ve already been given, forgetting that everything we need, we already possess in Christ. Or perhaps it’s not that we forget, perhaps it’s that we prefer having ‘elf on the shelf’ keeping track of our every move. It makes us feel safer. We would rather work under duress than live under freedom. Yet this is precisely why we need to hear, each and every week, the basic good news that because of Jesus’s finished work, we already have all of the justification, approval, significance, security, freedom, validation, love, righteousness, and rescue for which we desperately long – and look for in a thousand things that are infinitely smaller than Jesus”

9781414339351_p0_v2_s260x420C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

From my original review –

“This is a terrific biography that also dives into many of his most important books and looks at them critically. For anyone looking to understand Lewis and his works this is a wonderful place to start.”

9780525952459Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Keller has been very influential in my life through his writings and this book was no exception. He does a wonderful job of walking through the cultural understanding of suffering, the challenges of suffering on the Christian faith and then the last section of the book is the practical applications of faith in the midst of suffer. This is one of the finest books on this subject I have read.

Favorite Quote

“The only love that won’t disappoint you is one that can’t change, that can’t be lost, that is not based on the ups and downs of life or of how well you live. It is something that not even death can take away from you. God’s love is the only thing like that.”

I-Do-and-I-DontI Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies

From my review (and I was right, it is on the list) –

“I highly recommend this book for film buffs and the novice. I also recommend this book to anyone who is interested in marriage. This book will leave you with a better understanding of the way marriage is seen now and give a context for why that is. This is one of the best books I have read this year and am certain that it will be on my top 10 list at the end of the year.”

Favorite Quote

“It was a supreme irony that moviegoers could be conned into believing in romance that lead to happy endings in one kind of movie, and then be shown that what came after happily-ever-after was pretty awful…and yet still be conned all over again into believing that the awfulness could be fixed, made new, and restored to the point of the original happy ending. (And of course, be conned even further into going to more romantic comedies.)”

Smith_Elizabeth-the-QueenElizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch

A fascinating look at a woman who has been queen for over 60 years. For such a public figure, Elizabeth has done a remarkable job of keeping herself private. Smith cracks open the palace to give an in depth account of her amazing life.

 

71IGT31I9aLInsurgent

This is the second book in the Divergent series and my favorite. The first book sets up the story, world and characters, the second is able to dive into each of these in more depth. Roth fleshes out her main character much more in this second installment, making it the best of the series.

Favorite Quote
“May the peace of God be with you,” she says, her voice low, “even in the midst of trouble.”
“Why would it?” I say softly, so no one else can hear. “After all I’ve done . . .”

“It isn’t about you,” she says. “It is a gift. You cannot earn it, or it ceases to be a gift.”

star-trek-the-fall-the-crimson-shadowThe Crimson Shadow

From my original review –

“When a book transcends genre, it reminds you that great books are just that: great books. The Crimson Shadow does this fantastically. The best in science fiction, as well as Star Trek, has always been about us, our struggles and problems allegorized in a palpable medium. Una McCormack’s continuation of The Fall is brilliant.”

Favorite Quote
“But you understand, don’t you, that the institutions don’t matter? The Obsidian Order, Central Command, the True Way, Starfleet, empires, unions, federations-these are names and names only. They are tools. They count for nothing if the purpose is flawed. That was my mistake for a long time – confusing the purpose with the instrument….The truth is that the institution flourishes only when the people who comprise it flourish. And if the people are sick, the institution will be sick.”
Comment and tell me your favorites! Follow me on Goodreads to keep track of what I am reading.
Books · C.S. Lewis · Calvin & Hobbes · Christianity · Dear Mr. Watterson · Faith · Star Wars · Television · Tullian Tchividjian

Owl Post 10-11-13

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For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov:

the_essential_tales_of_chekhov.largeSay you are getting ready for a blind date or a job interview. What should you do? Besides shower and shave, of course, it turns out you should read — but not just anything. Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel.

That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.

You Can’t Exhaust It:

photoWhy do you think the news of God’s inexhaustible grace for an exhausted world has “never been more urgent”?

There’s a quotation that astonishes me every time I see it: Dr. Richard Leahy, a prominent psychologist and anxiety specialist, said a couple of years ago that “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.” Wow. There’s also a statistic The New York Times reported in 2007, showing that 30 percent of American women admit to taking sleeping pills before bed most nights. And that’s just the ones who admit it!

The news of God’s inexhaustible grace has never been more urgent because the world has never been more exhausted.

The Thirtysomething Teen: An Adult YA Addict Comes Clean:

420-size-mature-adult-reading-hunger-games-bed.imgcache.rev1330105769988As a full-grown adult, I’ve gotten my fair share of dubious looks and halfhearted utterances regarding my young-adult reading habits—“Oh, yeah, you like Harry Potter? So does my 8-year-old nephew!” “Sisterhood of the Traveling … ha-ha-ha-ha.” I’ve heard the behind-the-back jibes as well as the to-my-face criticisms that adult fans of YA are stuck in some sad adolescent existence and, quite possibly, bringing down the collective IQ of our nation by reading below our grade level. Or that we’re just weird.

Is ‘Star Wars’ Without George Lucas Still ‘Star Wars’?

george-lucas-jj-abramsThanks to a video interview that Jett Lucas gave to Flicks In the City, the Internet is now abuzz with the idea that his father, George Lucas, will still be involved on some level withDisney‘s new series of Star Wars movies. The newsworthy bits are that George Lucas had actually been working on expanding the franchise a year before the Disney sale, and that Mr. Lucas is in constant contact with new director J. J. Abrams. We obviously don’t know to what extent Lucas will be hands-on or hands-off in regards to the next series of movies, nor do we know to what extent Lucas’s prior ideas, both the aforementioned work he did as well as the rumored already-written scripts for Episodes 7-12 that he had already compiled, will be utilized in the new series. But the question becomes, is a Star Wars film franchise without George Lucas’s involvement really Star Wars, or is it just a generic science-fiction franchise with familiar names and locales?

Lewis on Disordered Desire to Enter the Inner Ring:

Inner-Ring-Photo-300x202One of the most memorable of C. S. Lewis’s essays is entitled “The Inner Ring.” It describes our common desire to be accepted within the “inner ring” of whatever group matters to us at the time.

To feel “excluded” or “out of it” is miserable. Yet the desire to be “in” can make you say things you would not otherwise say or not say things you should say. This desire to be on the inside of whatever group you aspire to join can affect your relationships at work, in the community, and in the church.

Netflix and On-Demand Aren’t Killing ‘Water-Cooler TV’—They’re Saving It:

WatercoolerJust a few months ago, the concept of water-cooler television—where weekly episodes become communal, must-see live events that dominate workplace conversations—had become something of an anachronism, at least to those working behind the scenes.

In The New York Times’ August showrunner roundtable, Netflix’s House of Cards creator Beau Willimon declared the end of the singular, common viewing experience, which he argued had been replaced by smaller, “concentric circles” of conversation that better reflected how time-shifting technologies and on-demand options have fragmented audiences. (The rise of second-screen viewing, where audiences live-tweet Scandal, Pretty Little Liars, and more on mobile devices during the show, was said to be the new home for the collective experience.) Later that month, The Guardian excerpted a lecture from Cards‘ Kevin Spacey that touted the success of the Netflix original series as “kill[ing] the watercooler moment.”

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C.S. Lewis · Christianity · Faith · Movies · Tolkien · Uncategorized

All Ready, Just Not Yet

the_best_exotic_marigold_hotel_3

In the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, there is a phrase that is repeated a few times, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.” It is a powerful statement that drives to the heart of human existence. There is a deep longing and desire for a happy ending. Instinctively we wait for things to get better even though empirical evidence does it’s best to quench any hope that better is just around the corner. Tolkien calls it eucatastrophe.

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

In our minds there is this the idea that there has to be more to life. There must be a joyous “turn” at some point, good has to win, the boy has to get the girl, each of these is an expression of the heart’s desire for all to be set right. Hopelessness ends up leading to the mantra, “Meaningless, meaningless all is meaningless.” Without hope, without a belief that things can and will get better there is only the alternative of suicide; the life of Nietzsche illustrates this well.

The desire that there be more to life is subaqueously rooted in our souls. We look to many things for the answer; money, fame, power, sex, the list is endless. C.S. Lewis says,“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” The Bible’s answer to Lewis’ thoughts on desire and Tolkien’s idea of eucatastrophe are found in the Gospel. John tells us in Revelation, 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

There is coming a day when all will be made new, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Life is full of valleys and vistas and there will never be a time before the end that is completely “all right”. Yet the promise of the Scripture is this,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The process of refinement is at work. The joyous turn is coming and  “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end” when “the grey rain-curtain turns all to silver glass and rolls back, and we behold white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

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Book Reviews · Books · C.S. Lewis · Christianity · ebooks · Uncategorized

C. S. Lewis – A Life – Review

tumblr_mft42lRZw61qcx6sno1_500“It actually seems to me that one can hardly say anything either bad enough or good enough about life” C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis has been one of the most popular authors of the 20th century. He is still one of the most read authors in the 21st century; from children’s books in the Narnia series, to science fiction, to apologetic works, his influence has lived on. So how did this man, an atheist in his early life, become the patron saint of mere Christianity? What drove him and what was the thought process behind his greatest works? Who was Lewis? Is there a need for another biography of him when he has been written about by so many, including his good friend George Sayer as well as Dr. Alan Jacobs?

Alister McGrath’s new biography, C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet is much needed in my opinion. He meticulously read everything that Lewis had ever written in chronological order, “…so that the development of his thought and writing style could be appreciated.” Because of this he is able to challenge some long held assumptions about Lewis as well as reveal more clearly the thought process behind many of Lewis’ most famous works.

McGrath does not shy away from the truth of Lewis and his failings. Lewis has been such an icon in the Christian community for so long that he has almost become a saint. This book helps bring Lewis back down to earth, revealing a flawed man who had pain and struggles aplenty. By doing so, the writings of Lewis actually become all the poignant when they are put into the context of his life.

This is a terrific biography that also dives into many of his most important books and looks at them critically. For anyone looking to understand Lewis and his works this is a wonderful place to start.

You can also check out this great review at The Gospel Coalition.

Book Reviews · Books · C.S. Lewis · ebooks · Harry Potter · Man of Steel · Marilynne Robinson · Matt Chandler · Superman · Tolkien · Uncategorized

Best Books I Read in 2012

The other day I gave my top ten films of 2012 and so I decided that I should do much the same for books. I love to read and this year read over 70 books. This list will not just be new books even though there are quite a few, some of them are also books that I have just finally gotten around to reading. I am going to rank them, but they should not be considered less if they are lower on the list. Each of these books is the top 9 out of over 70, not bad.

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars9. The Fault in Our Starts

John Green knows how to write. This book is not just for teens, it is for anyone that likes a good story that is not afraid to ask big questions. Hazel and Augustus struggles with mortality and the ultimate questions will leave you teary all while pondering the final questions yourself. Good books should always leave you thinking about something important and Green is not afraid to have his readers do just that.

 

0615_superman-book8. Superman: The High-Flying History of the Man of Steel

Ever since I was a child, Superman has captured my attention in a way no other superhero has. A man that is all powerful and yet, in the end, is forced to hide himself, his true self from everyone was actually very relatable to me (not the all-powerful part). Larry Tye has written the best book on the history of Superman, from conception of an idea to the new 52. Tye delves into the background of his creators as well as the ways in which Superman has reflected the generations to which he has been written; each generation getting the Superman that they need. For all those who have never liked Superman or if you have always been a fan, this is the book for you. Everyone who reads this will walk away with a deeper appreciation for the Man of Steel and all that he has stood for. Tye sums up the longevity of Superman well when he writes, “Our longest-lasting hero will endure as long as we need a champion, which should be until the end of time.”  My full review is here.

20110511_Jacobspleasurescover7. The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction

This is the first book that I have read about reading and it was well worth it. In a short 162 pages, Jacobs helps us understand the plight of reading in the 21st century. With the proliferation of technology in our lives and the distractions that it brings, reading is something that has fallen by the wayside. Instead of telling readers what they should be reading, Jacobs says read for whimsy. Read what you like. This is a long quote from an interview that Jacobs did, but is helps explain what he means,

Where this really got started was with the many, many students who have come to me over the years after graduating from Wheaton. And they think, Oh, there are so many important books I haven’t read. They come to many teachers, but I get my fair share of them. They come to me and say, “Give me 10 books that I should read over the next year.” Or: “Give me 10 books that you think everyone should read.” I always find myself thinking, Read what you want to read. Since you were 6 years old you’ve been reading things that people told you to read. Now you don’t have to do that anymore, unless you’re going to graduate school. Go out and read what strikes you as being fun.

I don’t think these students trust themselves to be readers on their own. They want to continue the sort of reading under direction that they have experienced ever since they started school. Over the years I’ve gotten absolutely stiff-necked about it. I refuse to give any recommendations. I say, “Go and read for fun,” because that sense of reading as a duty is not going to carry you through. It’s not going to sustain you as a vibrant reader, as you will be if you read what gives you delight. You may have actually lost some of that sense of delight over the years reading primarily for school. So go out there and have fun with it.

What will happen when people do that? Will they read frivolous things? Yes—at least I certainly hope so. I quote W. H. Auden, who says that the great masterpieces should be reserved for the “high holidays of the spirit.” You’re not designed for a steady diet of literary masterpieces any more than you would eat a seven-course French meal every day. At one point, Auden says it’s not only permissible but admirable not always to be in the mood for Dante. And I think that’s right. Sometimes you just want a lighter fare.

Auden himself liked detective stories and doggerel poetry and other things that many of his peers would have looked down their noses at. I want people to recover that sense of pleasure. Of course you’re going to want the heavier stuff. You’re going to want the stuff that’s possibly life-changing. But for heaven’s sake, don’t turn reading into a matter of eating your literary vegetables. I don’t think that’s healthy in the long run.

What I also really appreciated about his book is that he praises what Kindles, Nooks and iPads are doing for reading. Each of these devices are making it easier for people to read more often and for longer periods of time. Instead of carrying around bulky copies Anna Karenina or The Iliad, now they are stored in light-weight devices that also have built in dictionaries, enabling longer reading sessions in more places.

So pick up this short little book and be inspired to read all the more in 2013!

the-great-divorce6. The Great Divorce

Every year I try to read at least one C.S. Lewis book that I have not read before. The Great Divorce is a short book about people from hell visiting the outer regions of heaven. Each person that visits has a different reaction to this new place. Lewis’ keen insight into the human condition is on full display here. This is a challenge to read, there are many points you may find yourself in one or more of the characters and their excuses, but this makes it an important read. Start the new year off right and see what path you are on. For more on The Great Divorce go here.

when-i-was-a-child-i-read-books5. When I Was a Child I Read Books

Marilynne Robinson is one of my best-loved authors, her books Gilead and Home are on the top of my list of all-time favorites. Her newest collection of essays is well worth the read. She talks about America, religion, science, literature and more, weaving together a diverse set of thinkers and philosophers with ease. This is a short book and yet dense enough that it needs to be digested slowly and with a pen for notes and underlines. Accept this challenge in 2013, it is worth the effort. For good taste of her writing go here.

the narnian4. The Narnian

I own my voracious reading appetite to C.S. Lewis and his Narnia books. As a young boy I really did not enjoy reading and when I did I read non-fiction. After reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that all changed. Alan Jacobs has written a masterful book on the life of Lewis. This is not an exhaustive biography but a focused look at his life and how he came to write the beloved children’s series. Jacobs shows how Lewis’ experiences as a boy telling stories with his brother to his deep, life-changing friendship with Tolkien, each gave him a pieces to the puzzle that would become Narnia. This needs to be on your reading list fo 2013! My full review is here.

134978183. The Casual Vacancy

No writer has had more to live up to than J.K. Rowling with the release of her first novel post Harry Potter and no book could have been more different. Rowling weaves a tale of a small British town with the intricacy of Austen and the modern sensibility of McEwan all while challenging our notions of social justice. This is an important book on the level of novels like To Kill a Mockingbird; so if you missed it last year, read it in 2013. My full review is here.

12ExplicitGospel_L_8590274382. The Explicit Gospel   

2012 has seen a flood of gospel oriented books and I read quite a few of them, but Chandler’s book was at the top of the list. God has used the preaching of Matt Chandler and now his book to open up the truth of the gospel in new and life-changing ways for me. Understanding and thinking about the ultimate questions of the universe is the most important thing a person can do, so spend some time on that this year. I cannot recommend a book more to you for 2013! My full review is here.

riseofteddyroosevelt21. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

This is the first book in Edmund Morris’ trilogy on Teddy Roosevelt and it is fantastic. There is never a dull moment in this book so do not let the length dishearten you. Spending time getting to know one of the most interesting and influential men in American history was one of the highlights of my year. Roosevelt was forged in the fire of suffering and the American ideal. He will leave you captivated and inspired even when you might not always agree with his sensibilities. I am looking forward to reading the next two books in 2013.

What did you enjoy reading in 2012? Let me know, leave me a comment so I can add it to my list!

Books · C.S. Lewis · Catching Fire · Christianity · Disney · Doctor Who · Faith · Film · James Bond · Movies · Star Wars · Tolkien

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Director Sam Mendes explains how Casino Royale saved James Bond:

On the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films, director Sam Mendes strives to make Bond brand new again — and his new movie,Skyfall, is so self-aware that the clash between old and new is at the center of it. Can an old-school agent like James Bond still exist in today’s world? What’s the point of a Cold War secret service in the 21st century?

Thinking About Aslan and Jesus with C. S. Lewis:

As an English professor, I have spent the last two decades guiding college students through the great books of the Western intellectual tradition. And yet, though I have taught (and loved) the works of Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dickens, I do not hesitate to assert that Aslan is one of the supreme characters in all of literature. Though many readers assume that Aslan, the lion king of Narnia who dies and rises again, is an allegory for Christ, Lewis himself disagreed.

New ‘Star Wars’ Will Be ‘Biggest Event Movie Ever,’ Says ‘Lost’ Co-Creator:

Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof remembers exactly where he was when he heard that Disney had bought LucasFilm. “I was in a production meeting next to Brad Bird for a movie we’re working on together,” he says. “A bunch of guys at the table started passing notes to each other. Suddenly I’m like the teacher at the front of the class. I was like, ‘Is there something you’d care to share with the rest of the class?’ I grabbed a napkin, and someone had written on it, ‘Disney bought Lucas Film!'”  

Catching Fire: Cruciform Heroes, Unconventional Villains and Breaking the Closed Circle of the Modern Bestseller:

A brief recap: in The Hunger Games piece, we examined a two-level voyeuristic scaffolding built by Suzanne Collins as the book meditates on our attraction to violence and suffering. The Gamemakers create a brutal world into which teenagers are plunged to fight to the death for the amusement of thousands in the fictional dystopia of Panem and, simultaneously, Collins herself is constructing that world as the author for the amusement of, by now, over a million contemporary readers. In our indignation against the Gamemakers for the horrors they perpetrate, we are ultimately drawn into a split between our own enjoyment of and demand for violent literature, on the one hand, and our moral outrage against its interior reflection in Panem, on the other. These sides of our nature clash (Romans 7), producing introspection and godly sorrow (2 Cor). The Hunger Games, at its conclusion, leaves two crucial questions unanswered: (1) why are we humans so attracted to violence and (2) what do we do about it? These set the thematic stage for Collins’s brilliant sequel, Catching Fire.

Doctor Who, Vincent van Gogh, and the Limits of Future Hope:

With the recent wave of BBC programs appearing on PBS (Downton Abbey, The Hour, Mr. Bean) it’s somewhat surprising that the 49 year old mainstay Doctor Who hasn’t enjoyed the same popularity. With time travel, aliens, and revisiting historical events, what’s not to like? Either way, this is a major oversight.

But I digress… a quick summary of the show’s premise and plot. The Doctor is a time traveler who has made it his mission to protect Earth from the multitude of extraterrestrials who threaten humanity, both in the past and future. Helping him in this quest is his the adventurous assistant Amy Pond. In Vincent and the Doctor, the Doctor notices a sinister, alien grimace within one of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. He and Amy set off for 1890 Paris to investigate. What they find is a van Gogh who is the laughing stock of the entire town of Auvers-sur-Oise. Suffering from extreme depression, he has no money, friends, or family, and no one will buy his paintings. On top of all that, van Gogh is “hallucinating” to see a deadly alien lurking around town. Enter the Doctor and Amy to save the day (spoiler!).

C.S. Lewis · Christianity · Faith · Jesus · Matt Chandler · spiritual warfare

Everyday Armor

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV)

There is a daily battle going on, it is waging on outside and inside of us. This battle looks to win our hearts and minds. It looks to tear us down and defeat us; dragging us back to the life that we have died to in Christ. So much has been written on this passage and I do not think that I have much to add, other than highlighting it for us. You see Charles Baudelaire is right when he says,

“The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.”

We get so busy in our daily lives, running to meetings and after kids, keeping up with the Joneses that we forget the battle that is raging for our souls. So as you go out today, “Suit up”! Do not forget that the devil is real and actively looking to trip you up, make you weary and get you to go back to the life of death you have been called out of. So soak yourself in the truth, know the Gospel and it’s power to effect righteousness in your life, use faith as the shield against the lies of the enemy and speak the Word of the Spirit, the very Word of God in prayer to destroy what is evil. Constant vigilance and preparedness are the key. The only way to be this vigilant is to be rooted and grafted into Christ, to abide in him daily.


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11 ESV)