Monday, July 16, 2012

Books: I give up! I'm going back to the classics

In a book review I wrote two weeks ago of Carol Balizet's "The Last Seven Years", I'd mentioned enjoying it very much. I enjoyed it even more because if you have read my other blog, you know the travails I've moaned about in trying to find a good book to read. It seems that the dumbing down of America has afflicted literature, and not only are there often typos and wrong words used, but the books themselves not very well written. If you want a Christian book, the outlook is even worse.

I had written in that book review, "An essay I'd read this morning linked from Challies titled Master craftsmen 2012 Books Issue talks about how Christian novels are not all treacly or badly written, that they can deal with mature themes and have a gritty undercoating but remain moral and sensitive. A list was offered of recommended books. You can click on the master Craftsmen link for that reading list and synopses of each book. I haven't had much luck with enjoying a recent Christian book lately, except for the classics that are on his list, such as CS Lewis, John Bunyan, Tolkien, and several others. I remain skeptical. But the list is there for you to check out, it's a long one, and likely there will be something on it for your quality summer reading."

I still remain skeptical, and I've decided to abandon my pursuit of quality recreational reading material if that book has been published in this century. Or even the last. lol. I cry uncle.

Oh, I enjoy the John Grisham legal thrillers. But I've read them all. If you enjoy legal thrillers and a good story, Grisham books are well-written, and mostly free from immorality and blasphemy. They always have a moral ending too.

I enjoyed the recent book by William Forschten called One Second After. America is hit with an electro-magnetic pulse and the book realistically chronicles a community's struggle to stay alive in the chaotic and terrible aftermath. If you like apocalyptic literature, even though this book isn't  Christian, it will satisfy by giving a glimpse into the struggles of post-civilization. Alas, Babylon is a classic along those same lines. Written in the 1950s, it is about a Florida community struggling to survive after a series of atomic bombs wipe out most of the US and the world.

I loved these non-fiction books. They interwove a good story with a true historical incident. They were also well written!

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea: The History and Discovery of the World's Richest Shipwreck
"Ship of Gold tells the story of the sinking of the SS Central America, a side-wheel steamer carrying nearly six hundred passengers returning from the California Gold Rush, two hundred miles off the Carolina coast in September 1857. Over four hundred lives and twenty-one tons of California gold were lost. It was the worst peacetime disaster at sea in American history, a tragedy that remained lost in legend for over a century. In the 1980s, a young engineer from Ohio set out to do what no one, not even the United States Navy, had been able to do: establish a working presence on the deep-ocean floor and open it to science, archaeology, history, medicine, and recovery. The SS Central America became the target of his project."

Moby-Dick was based on a true incident. This book is about that incident. In my opinion the book lived up to the hype in the following blurb:

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
"The ordeal of the whaleship Essex was an event as mythic in the nineteenth century as the sinking of the Titanic was in the twentieth. In 1819, the Essex left Nantucket for the South Pacific with twenty crew members aboard. In the middle of the South Pacific the ship was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale. The crew drifted for more than ninety days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger, disease, and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival. Nathaniel Philbrick uses little-known documents-including a long-lost account written by the ship's cabin boy-and penetrating details about whaling and the Nantucket community to reveal the chilling events surrounding this epic maritime disaster. An intense and mesmerizing read, In the Heart of the Sea is a monumental work of history forever placing the Essex tragedy in the American historical canon."

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
"The astonishing saga of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton's survival for over a year on the ice-bound Antarctic seas, as Time magazine put it, "defined heroism." Alfred Lansing's scrupulously researched and brilliantly narrated book -- with over 200,000 copies sold -- has long been acknowledged as the definitive account of the Endurance's fateful trip. To write their authoritative story, Lansing consulted with ten of the surviving members and gained access to diaries and personal accounts by eight others. The resulting book has all the immediacy of a first-hand account, expanded with maps and illustrations especially for this edition."

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
"September 8, 1900, began innocently in the seaside town of Galveston, Texas. Even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the city that morning. Mere hours later, Galveston found itself submerged in a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town and killed over six thousand people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history--and Isaac Cline found himself the victim of a devastating personal tragedy."

LOL obviously I like a good ocean yarn. Also enjoyed Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, a story of the worst season on Mount Everest ever. Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm (made all the more compelling to me because I was living on a sailboat at the time and was IN that storm. Rough.) Dava Sobel's Longitude, you would think being about the discovery of longitude; would be a boring read but it is NOT! It's really good.

As far as fiction goes, I can't think of a single good Christian book I've read in the last two years that I enjoyed or even respected. Tracie Peterson/Michael Landon Jr's One More Sunrise comes to mind, and the slow moving but OK Tides of Truth series are as far as I'll go with recommending good Christian fiction. Secular fiction is even more of a hopeless genre to me.

I MISS having that book on the coffee table calling out to me. I MISS having that feeling of not being able to wait until evening when my chores and prayers and study and ministries are done and I can steal half an hour or an hour before bed to crack open a good book and get lost in it. I haven't had that feeling since high school, when I was reading all the classics. I got lost in a Thomas Hardy jag, and Mark Twain, and The Once and Future King and All Creatures Great and Small, and ...so...

So I decided to go back to the classics. I first started with the Christian classics. I've read Balizet's book the Last Seven Years and reviewed it here as I noted at the top. I've read Pilgrim's Progress, CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters, and In His Steps. I'll review In His Steps tomorrow, and the others after that.

I guess when all else fails, read the classics. And don't forget to read the most famous classic of all time, THE BIBLE! lol

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for this great list of books! I too have a hard time finding a good Christian book to read. So many Christian authors have ties to mysticism or too much filth in it. Even some of the good youth authors like Bryan Davis, I am starting to question.

    I was doing a bit of a search on the Emergent Church and I found one site that listed C.S. Lewis as an Emergent author!! Finding good, reliable sites is getting very difficult these days. :(

    Blessings,
    <><

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  2. Have you ever read any Francine Rivers? Her books are very well written, one of the best Christian fiction writers I've read. I wish there were more like her because so much Christian fiction IS poorly written. I really enjoyed books 1 and 3 of the Mark of the Lion trilogy, although book 2 was a bit 'out there' for me. I've really enjoyed her other books as well, Leota's Garden and the Scarlet Thread especially.

    Not everyone can digest the heavier books you read. Some are not good readers, others are just slow thinkers, others are too busy and weighed down by family or job situations and want something light for awhile that is decent/moral without having to think a lot about what they're reading. I'd much rather see someone reading Janette Oke (whose books I also enjoyed) than watching sticoms on television.

    I'll check into Tim Challies list - I need a good book for the rest of the summer!

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    1. I have read Francine Rivers. I am not too into her. I will check out the Mark of Lion series you mentioned.

      The books I mentioned here I don't think are too heavy...though a lot are non-fiction I enjoyed them because they are a good yarn and roll along well. One More Sunrise is light fiction as is The Last Seven Years. One Second After is also pretty absorbing and not heavy.

      The heavier theological books I have on my table, the Piper book about the life of Jonathan Edwards, or MacArthur's book about Christ's Prophetic Plans I admit are heavy. They are not the books I pick up to read during the commercials while multi-watching Masterchef, that's fur sure! The ones I've listed, are.

      But I agree that Janette Okle is way better than watching a Charlie Sheen sitcm. Oy. Imagine when we are in heaven and will behold ONLY purity! Forever! We will never have to avert our eyes again!!!

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  3. You're welcome! The Christian classics I mentioned range from OK to great. Pilgrim's Progress and Screwtape were my faves. One Second After was tremendous. The recently published One More Sunrise was very good, (I believe the co-write Michael Landon added the testosterone touch that kept it from being too sappy). The Tides of Truth series (I think there are 4 now) extremely conservative, and completely clean. I do believe that series can be unilaterally recommended to any believer!

    The non-fiction secular books I mentioned are all good also, and pretty riveting as well as informative. For example, Isaac's Storm is about the very first days of the nascent US Weather service, as well as being a compelling tragedy of the worst hurricane death toll *ever* in the US. I don't remember immorality in the non-fiction books I recommended, unless it is an integral part of the story. For example, in the Essex, there were a few survivors of the whale attack adrift in a lifeboat...they turned to cannibalism. But the author wrote about it in context and with some agony and complexity.

    What I liked about all of them was that the people were facing life and death circumstances. The captain of the US Central America behaved so heroically as did most of the passengers. Even the same on Mt Everest. The scene where one particular climber was allowed to satellite-call his wife as he was about to expire, to say his goodbyes, was heartbreaking.

    Current literature is just atrocious and I am in constant struggle to make sure my eyes and ears stay as pure as possible, a battle for sure, but one I am willing to wage.

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  4. Have you ever read any novels by Kristin Hannah? Her books, while not Christian, are well written, deeply moving and usually have a lesson learned at the end. Unfortunately, there usually is some sex (usually not tacky, filthy, step by step described sex) involved, and most times no profanity. I have found her books to be quality books about relationships.

    Kim

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