Monday, May 3, 2010

Reading List: April 2010

36. The Dante Club.  6 stars out of 10.

I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn't get there.  It even had an endorsement from Dan Brown which suckered me into reading it.

It's the story of a group of scholars--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and J.T. Fields--who are translating Dante's Inferno into English for the first time.  There are powers that be at Harvard who don't want it to be published in English.  But when some murders appear that could only have arisen from an intimate knowledge of the sufferings in The Inferno, the scholars track down clues to prevent more deaths.  

It had lots of potential, but the book tried too hard.  It had a couple of more exciting parts to it, but for the most part, it just dragged.  It could have been about a third shorter & would have been a lot better. 
"We all revolve around God with larger or lesser orbits, I suppose, Wendell, sometimes one half of us is in the light, sometimes the other.  Some people always seem to be in the shadow....."


37.    1 Corinthians, by the Apostle Paul.

This is one of two letters that Paul wrote to an amazing gifted & amazingly twisted church in 1st century Corinth.
"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."


38.  "Revelation," by Flannery O'Connor.  10 out of 10 stars.

This is my favorite story by my favorite southern author.  I recently reread it for about the 4th or 5th time, and it simply gets better with every reading.  I told my wife that this might be the perfect short story.

Ruby Turpin gets a surprising "revelation" from a college girl who throws a book--aptly titled Human Development, at her in a doctor's waiting room.  The girl grew irate after listening to the jolly but self-righteous Mrs. Turpin talk about herself & condescendingly about others.
"Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin's.  'Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,' she whispered."
The rest of the story deals with Mrs. Turpin's "revelation" & her anger at God.
" 'What do you send me a message like that for?' she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury.  'How am I a hog and me both?  How am I saved and from hell too?'"
A-gruntin and a-rootin and a-groanin.

She unexpectedly gets one more revelation, and was graced to hear "the voices of souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah."

This is no cheesey Christian fiction stuff that is so prevalent today.  O'Connor was a Roman Catholic writer writing in the Christ-haunted protestant south back in the 1st half of the 20th century.  Good stuff.  Go get it & read it.

On a side note, one's reading pleasure from O'Connor will be enhanced if one reads along with it Baylor Professor Ralph Wood's excellent work, Flannery O'Connor & the Christ-haunted South which I am doing as I'm making my way through her works.



39.  "Parker's Back," by Flannery O'Connor.  9 out of 10 stars.

This is another favorite story of mine.  O.E. Parker meets the ugly (speaking more to the inside) Sarah Ruth.  They have nothing in common.  He's a regular ol' guy, lost as he can be both in relation to God & in life.  She's a stuck-up, self-righteous, Scripture quoting, people-hating Christian (I know, an oxymoron).  They end up married.  And nothing good can come of that.

When Parker was 14, he saw a man at a fair whose body was covered in tattooed from head to foot.  O'Connor narrates,
"Until he saw the man at the fair, it did not enter his head that there was anything out of the ordinary about the fact that he existed.  Even then it did not enter his head, but a peculiar unease settled in him."
One day, while driving a tractor, he runs into a tree & it bursts into flame.  Parker shouts, "God above!" as he falls out of the tractor.  His conversion experience sends him immediately on a search for a tattoo that will impress his wife.  He settles on getting a picture of Jesus tattooed on his back--the only place where he has any blank canvas left.

He goes home to show his wife, takes off his shirt & makes her look at it.
"Don't you know who it is?" he cried in anguish.
"No, who is it?" Sarah Ruth said.  It ain't anybody I know."
"It's him," Parker said.  
"Him who?"
"God!" Parker cried.
"God?  God don't look like that!"
I'll leave the rest to you, but there are so many layers to this story, from the significance to their names, to his longing for communion, to the emptiness of self-righteous religion.

Again, go & read it. 



40.  1, 2, 3, John & Jude.

Great *little* letters at the end of the Old Testament.  The letters of John were written by the Apostle who also wrote the Gospel bearing his name plus the book of Revelation.  John writes,
"Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."
Jude, the brother of James writes this short letter urging, among other things, that we "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints."



41.  Total Church:  A Radical Reshaping around Gospel & Community, by Steve Timmons.  8 out of 10 stars.

This is a good book that connects gospel communities ("the church") with Jesus' mission in this world.  There is so much good stuff to say, but let me just point out on a chapter on evangelism in which he ties in the importance of the church.  Here's a diagram illustrating the connection:


Here's a couple of videos explaining more if you're interested.



42.  Job.  This ancient, classic text tells of a man named Job who wrestled with a lot of junk that happened to him.  He lost his family, his children, & most of his wealth.  The bulk of the book is a dialog with Job & his friends, who implicated him for suffering for the guilt of his sin.  Job was guilty of accusing God of wrong & being more worried about clearing his own name.  In the end, God blesses him more than ever.  In the meantime, Job (& we) learn much about the mysterious ways of God.

"For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another."



43.  Acts, by Luke.  Acts is the second volume of Luke's work on Christ, the first of which was the Gospel according to Luke in which he describes all that Jesus began to do and teach.  Acts is about the continuing work & teaching of Christ through His Church.  In this book, we see the birth of the early church, the preaching of Peter, and the conversion & ministry of Paul.  My favorite chapter is number 17 in which Paul speaks to the Epicurean & Stoic philosophers in Athens.  My favorite verse comes from ch. 20:
"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."


44.  Unpacking Forgiveness, by Chris Brauns.  9 stars out of 10. 

An excellent book on forgiveness.  Brauns avoids the trap that says we should forgive others so that we will feel better.  Christians should always be ready to forgive, and to offer forgiveness, but we forgive others based on their confession of wrongdoing, just as God forgives us in Christ.  Filled with real-life stories & examples, this book is an excellent resource & guide.

2 comments:

Brian said...

I read The Dante Club a few years ago, and I felt the same way. I wanted to like it - cool idea - but it just didn't work out.

I'll eventually have to try out some more Flannery O'Connor. I read "Wise Blood" a few years ago, and I just didn't enjoy it. Where would you recommend I start on O'Connor works?

John said...

Hey Brian,

Thanks for stopping by. Re: O'Connor, I had a rough entry with her when I first delved into her writings & what she was trying to do with the grotesque. I just didn't get it, but I kept being drawn back to her.

It really helps to have someone like Ralph Woods book, "Flannery O'Connor & the Christ-haunted South," as a sort of reader's guide. You simply can't (or ought not to) read O'Connor without talking about it, and for me, Woods is that conversation partner.

I'd recommend starting with "Revelation." It is masterful & serves as a good launch pad.

Here's a couple of resources from Woods that are online:

His essay on Reading Flannery:
http://article.nationalreview.com/389438/reading-flannery/ralph-c-wood

Other essays on themes:
http://homepages.baylor.edu/ralph_wood/essay-topics-articles/flannery-oconnor/

Cheers, and happy reading.
John