2012: Forty Books (And Their Reason…)

While I love reading, I tend to be sporadic in my choices of books to read. Some are easier for me to read than others.  I may love reading history, but it takes me a longer amount of time to read a biography than it does to read a general work of fiction.  Because of this I often end up with a “currently reading” list of about twenty books.  Not only do I want to knock off some of these books I’ve been “currently reading” for about three years (i.e. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens) but I want to read books that have been on my “to read” list for ages.  One of my goals for 2012 was to fix this.  So I picked four categories, Philosophy/Theology/Inspirational (that’s a bit of a wide range), Fiction, Literature, and History.  Into these four categories I put ten books, and I will read one book from each category each week.  Not only will it balance my mind and the information I’m taking in, but the fact that I know: “This week I’m reading this book,” will help me to focus on that specific book.

My book choices were not necessarily random.  In the first category, I chose books that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile.Those might be a bit random. I also possess a great love for both C.S. Lewis and (especially) G.K. Chesterton.  The Puritans have been a heavy influence on my life, and A Practical View of Christianity by William Wilberforce I’ve been reading for two years now.  Every time I pick it up, I wonder why I don’t read it more consistently.  After two pages I know.  As beautiful as the writing of 18th century writers is, it can be a bit, just a bit, heavy at times.  But this book truly is wonderful. I can’t say how many things I have written down from it, and it’s inspired a few blog posts.

In the Fiction section are books whose style I would like to imitate (Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen) and for study on techniques (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.)

In literature I basically just picked one novel I hadn’t read from ten famous writers living before the 20th century. Each one of these authors, though, has been inspiring to me in different ways. Tolstoy is obvious. I love Russian literature. Anthony Trollope interests me, and while I’ve never read He Knew He Was Right, I know the story and the psychological part of it (something Trollope liked to toy with in Can You Forgive Her?) is intriguing, however frustrating.  I never read Wuthering Heights before, because I knew how it ended and it struck me as depressing.  Time to put that aside and enjoy the literature.

As far as history goes, I’m generally interested in WWII for different reasons.  Mein Kampf is something I’ve been reading for about a year now, but I’d really love to finish it up. Anne Frank I find to be an inspiring character in history, though she may not have known it.  I love history; I like to know people’s stories, why the do things, what caused them to get off on the wrong foot, or what inspired them to do the right thing.  To see the evolution of politics, the introduction of a new idea or concept for worldwide living, socialism, and the rush for it, and then its downfall, is amazing.  To be able to see how an entire country filled with millions can pick itself up and recover from a horrible war… it’s a gift to be able to learn these things.  But most of all I love stories of individual people.  The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Mary Bosanquet, has sat on the bookshelf in my parents living room for years.  I used to look at it when I was younger, turn it over in my hands.  The bold writing on the front—even that intimidating German name, Dietrich Bonhoeffer—awed me and I was, actually, scared.  How did he die? I kept asking myself. It said death right on the front.  I knew he died.  I found out later the reason, but it only intrigued me more. I always meant to read it, but it was only in October that I actually took it up to my room along with some other WWII books, and determined in my mind to start it. (But that didn’t happen till 2012…)

So far, I have found this this plan of mine, to read systematically and in an organized fashion, has worked.  I’ve only read Run (Ann Patchett), The Abolition of Man (C.S. Lewis), and The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Mary Bosanquet), but I find my appetite for always starting something new and not finishing a certain book has been curbed.  I think I can safely recommend it.

Philosophy/Theology/Inspirational

  1. The Everlasting Man – G.K. Chesterton
  2. The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis
  3. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis – Michael Ward
  4. A Body of Divinity – Thomas Watson
  5. The Bondage of the Will – Martin Luther
  6. A Practical View of Christianity – William Wilberforce
  7. One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp
  8. The Mystery of Providence – John Flavel
  9. Ezekiel (An Exposition) – William Greenhill (Let’s specify… only parts of it!)
  10. All Things For Good – Thomas Watson

Fiction

  1. Run – Ann Patchett
  2. Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
  3. The Summer of the Bear – Bella Pollen
  4. Possession – A.S. Byatt
  5. Gilead – Marilyn Robinson
  6. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  7. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  8. This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  9. The Red Pony – John Steinbeck
  10. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

Literature

  1. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  2. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  3. Onegin – Pushkin
  4. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
  5. Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  6. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
  7. He Knew He Was Right – Anthony Trollope
  8. Rob Roy – Sir Walter Scott
  9. Vilette – Charlotte Brontë
  10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

History

  1. Schindler’s List – Thomas Keneally
  2. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
  3. A Woman in Berlin – Anonymous
  4. The Long Walk – Sławomir Rawicz
  5. The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Mary Bosanquet
  6. Mein Kampf – Adolf Hitler
  7. Le Morte d’Arthur – Sir Thomas Malory
  8. The Birth of Britain – Winston Churchill
  9. How Should We Then Live? – Francis Schaeffer
  10. Lark Rise to Candleford – Flora Thompson
Advertisements

2011 Favorite Books


Unfortunately, I didn’t do as much reading in 2011 as I hoped to do.  Or rather, I did a lot of reading, but only in the beginnings of books.  Hence, the list I have to put up are only the books that I finished completely.

Reading is a gift.  And when I say that, I don’t mean that it’s a talent.  It is a gift to be able to read the books we have access to.  It’s a gift to have access to them! I was thinking the other day, what if Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) came true? What if books were outlawed and people went around burning your house up if you had one? Would you really have the stamina to memorize the books you love, so that they never cease to be a part of you?  I like to think about this a lot.  A poem is much easier to memorize because you can quite easily follow the themes of the writer, the different patterns (especially in rhyming poems.) But books? If I were to memorize my favorite book? It would take five years to complete The Idiot (Fydor Dostoevsky).  So then I look on all those shelves of books, books holding stories, ideas, philosophies, saving grace, wars, policies, catharsis all in their strong straight arms, and I think: “This is all a gift.”  Please, appreciate this gift while you can.  Read books, but read the good books.  And I don’t mean the ones whose ideas agree with yours, or the ones that only have things you like in them.  I mean books that are well written.  Books that consciously present paradoxes, relevant in our cultures or past cultures, that are worthy of notice.  Books that tell the heart of the author.

I’m done talking about reading.  Here’s my top… well, I’m not sure how many there are yet, but my top favorite books from 2011.

Can You Forgive Her?

Save all the depressing elements of Anthony Trollope’s plots (especially He Knew He Was Right and The way We Live Now) I actually rather enjoyed this dusty, dry novel.  Can You Forgive Her? explores the mental confusion that can come from never really deciding on one thing or another (in this case, for the heroine Alice, a husband.)  In the midst of her going back and forth, telling one man yes and another no and then switching soon after, people are always trying to influence, are looking down on her, and controlling her.  The title was a bit deceiving.  I really thought it was going to be some Gothic novel like Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) and the main character (a woman) runs around melodramatically ruining everybody else’s lives. But it wasn’t like that at all.  It deals much more with mental strain and confusion than anything else.  All in all, it was a pretty satisfying read.  I knew I had to schedule myself in order to get through it, so I forced myself to read two chapters every day and I finished it in a month and a half. (That schedule didn’t work with Don Quixote, but I would recommend something like it if you’re having trouble getting through a 19th century novel.)

 

Mere Christianity

Ah, C.S. Lewis.  I do love you.  Not much to say here about this book except that I love reading apologetic type things, especially from 20th century thinkers.  C.S. Lewis fascinates me.  Although I disagreed with some of the theological principles in Mere Christianity (only slightly disagreed) I would say that it remains, to me, one of the clearest cut pictures of the doctrine of Christianity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narcissus and Goldmund 

Please welcome Narcissus and Goldmund to the front.  By far, this was one of my favorite books this year.  I really liked this book simply for its comparison on the spiritual passions versus the physical passions, and what it meant for Narcissus (the more cynical, stern, ascetic man) and Goldmund (the beautiful, passionate, wandering man).

Besides being an excellent writer, Hermann Hesse is a great thinker.  I appreciate literature written by deep thinkers because I think they combine so much of their own personal mental thought process and struggle in their books. (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky… Hesse.)  It makes it so much more interesting to read a book when you know it’s written with the mind and soul of the author all through it’s pages.

 

 

Hannah Coulter 

Wendell Berry is an excellent writer.  He’s real. When you read him, you feel like he’s tangible, like he’s been sitting next to you the entire time, telling you the whole story. (Except for maybe Remembering, which had some different writing techniques that made it seem a bit abstract.)  Hannah Coulter tells her whole story in the first chapter.  You know everything.  Who dies, who lives.  But you keep reading on because there’s something so beautiful about the way she thinks, about the way she remembers things.  And you know, you just know, that there has to be something she hasn’t told.  Some little secret, something that redeems all her troubles.  It’s a story rich in real, genuine love, between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, etc.  Wendell Berry loves the idea of unity.  He writes about it everywhere.  Keeping the family together.  Being close knit even when the birds grow up and leave the nest.   If you enjoy his fiction, read his poetry.

 

Cyrano de Bergerac 

Well, I rather liked his nose.

I forced myself to read Cyrano de Bergerac in a moment when I thought I wasn’t appreciating tragic writing very much.  (Well, after all, I was studying Bolshevism, and Marxism, reading Mein Kampf and Macbeth at the time…) But Cyrano de Bergerac is a wonderful story.  I yelled at Roxanne quite a bit.  She annoyed me with her sentimentality. Yet, Cyrano was deceptive.  Even though he wrote letters to her in Christian’s name, it probably gave him some self-satisfaction.  And Christian.  If you love the woman, say so, and woo her for yourself. And if she can’t see beyond your inability to make up poetic lines, then maybe she isn’t worth it after all.  (How quickly she loved Cyrano at the end when she discovered it was him all along!) Roxanne was only in love with words, not an actual person.

And after that little rant, here we are.  I love plays. This year I read about ten or twelve plays.  It was a very interesting experience.

Much Ado About Nothing

Oh, if you ever wanted me to recite something all day long over and over again it would be this play.  Shakespeare was a genius.  In this particular play he presents the comparison of courtships, the comparison of deception and honesty, and so many other things.  It’s important to note about the title, that in Shakespeare’s day, the word “nothing” would have been “noting,” which meant eavesdropping.  Also, nothing, in its literal sense, refers to that which does not happen, but which might.  In other words, you have a circle and inside of it are all the things that did, do, or will happen.  But outside that circle are all the possibilities of what might have happened, in other words, Nothing.  Both possibilities are relevant to the play. My favorite line from this play?

“Shall these quips and sentences and paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor? No! The world must be peopled! When I said that I should die a bachelor, I did not think that I should live to be married.” – Benedick

 

A Room With  A View

This was such a delightful novel.  I read somewhere else that it has to do with the enchantment of Italy and how it can affect even the most sensible of people.  I think it’s very true. But I haven’t been to Italy so I would exactly know.  I think there are several odd things in this novel, but none the less, it’s wonderfully written and for once things really do end up right in the end.  E.M. Forester has such quirky characters. (These things I’m writing really aren’t intended to be in depth reviews… I’m just observing.)

 

 

 

The Great Gatsby 

I have nothing to say to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I admire him too much.

Things do not “end up right” in this book.  That’s no secret. I can’t imagine, though, a book plainer or truer to the drama of life than this.  And yet, you wouldn’t even say that the style is dramatic.  But it is.  In the midst of a fight between a husband and his wife who’s trying to leave him for another man (this is a big fight…) the narrator suddenly says: “I’ve just remembered it’s my birthday. I’m thirty.” And it’s funny, because I don’t find that strange.  I would probably say something like that too, if there was a fight like that going on.  But writers these days don’t think to make their characters go off on these weird trains of thought, and then, without relating what the train of thought is, have them say something they ended up at, just out of the blue. Somehow, it all makes sense.

 

 

Screwtape Letters

Oh, C.S. Lewis again.  I would read this book a hundred times over and again.  I’ve never seen the spiritual battle depicted so neatly and truthfully.  I knew it was true because I had experienced some of the exact things described in here.  Everyone should read it.  Twice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it.  Can you believe it?  Once I get one book up there, I remember all the other books I’ve read.  I want to bring them all up, and talk about them all.  But I can’t.  These are just nine books from 2011 I thoroughly enjoyed.  Next post I’ll give my 2012 to read list.

Morsels

A month, more or less, since I’ve posted.  And here is not anything original with me—not any thought or idea that has come.  Life has been busy, and I have been working in it.  But this is something which has given me sudden comfort.  Like the person who continues drudgery, the mundane, and suddenly finds hope in it, a certain satisfaction and justification.  Let any one who suffers, any one who is in grief, any one who is simply having a down day or a frustrating mood read this.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. – 1 Peter 4:19

Oh the implications.  It brings to mind a quote by C.S. Lewis, on my sidebar, I believe.

Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.

Our grief, our misery, our sorrow, deep as it may seem, too unfathomable to render precisely—it is all present, and passing, interminable as it may seem.  We have a faithful Creator. We suffer according to God’s will.  And we suffer so that we will not forget him.  The life of our Saviour was one of great suffering on our behalf.  This world we live in is a torment and a grief to me—but can’t I live in deep joy in spite of it?  And it is not about ourselves.  We must be doing good—always.  Being kind, being attentive, sympathetic, loving, tender.  And what are we at heart? Warriors—and sufferers.  But our comfort is great, the end eternal and wonderful.  Don’t give up.  Press on, and hold fast.

It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. – Psalm 119:71

Everything We Need

Banana Pancakes.  It’s a sweet song by Jack Johnson, and I like to listen to it while I do the dishes because sometimes it makes me happy.

I never really think much of songs like these.  To me they’re mindless.  I listen to them when I’m not really listening, not thinking about what they’re saying.  Sometimes I like to give my full attention to music, let myself feel it swell inside of me, abandon myself to it, and I listen to something deeper and richer.  But those times are not when I’m doing the dishes.  So I was thankful when, this time, in the midst of scrubbing and rinsing and humming along, I looked up, and became struck by a sudden thought.  I knew all the words to Banana Pancakes, but had never thought of them, and this line hit me.

“We’ve got everything we need right here

And everything we need is enough.”

I don’t care what it means in the context of the song, but I thought about what it means right now.  How often do we have everything we need, and actually consider it enough?

No, whatever we obtain is never enough.  As one millionaire said in response to the question, “How much money is enough?” “Just a little bit more.” Alway more, more, more, because our minds are never dead.  We are brimming with ideas.  We yearn and pine for things we want, and we get them.  And we weary of them, just as we weary of this world, our friends, and our lives.  And why? Because we have made everything worthless in an attempt to please ourselves.

There has always been satisfaction in contentment, but contentment isn’t an abandonment of dreams and aspirations.  But why does ambition always have the accompanying ideas of hardness, of money, of endless wealth?

Why must our dreams be so contained? So pent up as to deal only with this earth and what it can give us?  Why can’t we dream of what we can give other people?

If we dreamed of helping other people, if our ambition was not to obtain money, but to obtain ideas, to learn how to be gracious and compassionate, to learn how to serve people best with the talents we have been blessed with, then there is contentment in that, and there is satisfaction, because that is doing the right thing.  That is using ourselves as we were meant to be used, that is, not for ourselves but for the community we live in.

That is why we have everything we need, and that is why it is enough.  You have your talents within you.  You cannot wait to hone them to use them. Remember that life is a journey, and you learn along the way.  It is the blessed thing about growing older, is that if you try hard enough, you grow wiser.  Don’t think you have to go to school or on a missions trip or see the whole world to minister to it in the proper way.  Use what you have right now, inside of you, and let it flow out of you into the world to those you love.  Strive for perfect, settle for excellence, a friend told me.  That is what will bring you satisfaction, and contentment, even if you have to work harder for it than you’ve ever worked before.

This world is tiresome, but we can have joy in it.  These things, contentment and satisfaction, are what give us the joy to make it through the world.  People are wonderful things, you know.  They draw us away from ourselves, they challenge us, hurt us, love us, teach us, bear with us.  There are so many wonderful things about life that we miss when we draw the curtains of our soul, and put a wall between ourselves and the people around us.  But we must be self-sacrificial to have joy.

You could say that joy is an acquired taste. True joy is, anyway, because it’s not what most people desire once they see all it takes to attain it.  They would rather settle for something less that brings a more passionate happiness… that sadly ends too soon.  They know it ends soon, they do know it, but they continue wandering this tiresome world in search of a new pleasure, trying to fill up their souls, trying to find contentment and knowing all along it will never be real, but skeptical about how to make it real.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis)

Work for joy by being content and being satisfied.  Don’t try to minister to the whole world at once, but use your gifts to the best of your ability towards they people you come into contact with. Give yourself, your work, and your ambition to the community, give all of that and your soul to God.  Abandon yourself to anything but yourself.  Don’t look within, but without your own self. Live for God, and in doing so you will live for each other.  If you do this, everything you need will finally be enough.

Of Primroses and Books

On this warm Spring day, my primroses are dying.

I killed them.

I really did, because I didn’t water them. And now I’m sitting calmly writing about it while their drooping leaves are draping themselves over the pots.

I should take care of my flowers.

I used to think  I would be a horrible gardener, because whenever I went outside I would most likely read and not attend to the earth.  At other times I think I would make a wonderful gardener, because I love feeling the dirt on my hands, and tending the flowers and herbs.

I admire people who garden.  When I’m gardening, I usually think: “I wonder how many pages of such and such a book I could have covered,” or, “I wonder how much I could have written in a blogpost or a story or an essay.”

I’m sitting here writing about all my faults, all the while neglecting a comparison essay on Darwin and Marx…

There’s been a thought in my mind that I’m sure has been there for my whole life, but has been experiencing micro-evolution, and has been growing with me.  It is the idea of a holistic life.  I do know how to cook, I know how to write, and I know how to play piano.  But I also know how to read, and that seems to send all the other things into the water.  I read when I’m supposed to write, I read when I should cook, and sometimes I grow impatient when I’m playing the piano so I go read instead.

As a writer, I have become convinced of the importance of “being accomplished” as the Jane Austen prigs would say.  I’m not saying that I have to know French, German and have “a general knowledge of all contemporary languages,” or that I have to play the piano incredibly well, or that I need to be able to paint screens and embroider cushions.

But I do believe in experience.  I believe that experiences form the most poignant stories.   That’s why true stories grip us.  When Gene-Stratton Porter writes about birds, insects, and nature in fiction you appreciate it all the more because she was, in fact, a naturalist.  The same goes for any author who describes the way a drawing or portrait is done, if he has a knowledge of art.

Beatrix Potter’s stories are charming because she wrote and illustrated them, and because she kept many of the animals she writes about as pets.  Arthur Ransome wrote and illustrated his own works as well.  And we mustn’t forget J.R.R. Tolkien, whose illustrations for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings lend a whole new perspective into the work.  They are truly beautiful, and you know that this is exactly what he wanted things to look like.

Historical literature is a wonderful thing, let me tell you.  But what makes it so interesting?  That the writer has knowledge enough of history to know what he’s talking about in fiction that he knows how to write. (We’re talking about the good historical fiction here, yes? Yes.)

What I’m trying to say is that fiction is always more interesting when it’s not just a romance where people talk back and forth about how they can’t live without each other.  (By the way, I think that romance in literature is biblical and sometimes, depending on the context, necessary, but I think it needs to be well-mixed with other elements.)  Fiction is always more interesting when there’s a law intrigue (Bleak House by Charles Dickens, for example) or when there is an art theme (A Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevelier) or when there is historical background (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.)  But if you think about it, all these books have many, many other elements combined.  In order to have a variety of characters, there must be a variety of characteristics.

Imagination is a beautiful thing, but imagination also tends to go overboard. (I always tell myself that I can’t write stories about Switzerland until I go to Switzerland… but maybe that’s beside the point.)  Imagination tends to make things out to be more than they really are.  The problem with mine is that it tends to blow up a circumstance—one I’ve never been in— like a balloon, and then make the character respond as I would imagine they would respond, not taking the time to see the character as a real person with their own personality.

This is why the study of life is so important to those who are going to write.  I know I’ve said it before, but I like to say it again because it sounds nice and studious and thoughtful.  I would like to have a general knowledge of art and drawing and painting… Then I could draft my illustrations and have some other painter who’s good at the thing paint them.

It’s always nicer reading a book where the mother is cooking something and you know that the author knew how to cook because of the way he describes the food, lovingly, in a way, and thoughtfully.  He knows what he’s talking about.  I’m guessing Dickens didn’t cook because the way he approaches food is rather indifferent.

Chesterton is another matter.  If he didn’t know how to cook, he certainly was passionate about his food (see here Chesterton on Cheese) and that fact alone makes the meals described in his books more interesting to read about.

Then there is the aspect of music.  I love music.  I play piano, but not like I should.  Every day I sit down to play and I think: “Good heavens, I wonder why I’m so sloppy.” I shouldn’t be surprised when I never really practice.  I know enough about music, the history of music, genres, and composers to appreciate it in literature.  The First Violin, by Jesse Fothergill, is not very well known, and the romance is a bit sentimental  but I was able to appreciate the many musical aspects of it because I was introduced previously to Beethoven and Bruckner and others.

The thing of it is, people don’t appreciate books that were written by unintelligent and misinformed people.  Perhaps the majority of America love Stephanie Myer, but I have to wonder if she really knows what love is.  Awhile ago there was a rumor that J.K. Rowling was a witch.  If she was, then we know that Harry Potter was truly penned from the heart.

All this gets back to the idea of a holistic life.  It is not enough to imagine myself doing the gardening, or cooking a meal, or painting a picture.  It is not enough to simply read about them.  Even on a small scale, it is enough to experience.  This is because sight, sound, texture, smell, taste… these are all part of it.  I love the way the air tastes around the basil and oregano plants.  I love the way it feels to play Chopin passionately.  I love the way the paints swirl together while your mixing colors for a picture.  I love the way bread dough feels under my hands.  You cannot experience the feelings that come as natural consequences of these activities through reading.  You must do them.

Tea With Lewis and Chesterton… and Alice

I can just picture it.  Lewis and Chesterton are having tea, talking about the impossibility of the reality the world is talking about, and the probability of greater morals existing in other worlds.  They both turn, Chesterton has a marmelade roll Lewis has brought with him halfway to his mouth.  Lewis’s teacup is suspended three inches above the saucer.  Both of them smile at the little blonde-haired girl next to them.  “What do you think, Alice? Do you think everything in Wonderland is impossible?”  And Alice probably said no, she didn’t.

And Chesterton would smile approvingly and continue complimenting Lewis on the “excellent marmelade,” and Lewis would nod and smile and begin observing how the world would be much better off if all little children were like Alice.

Reality.  The word used to hit me in the face.  I used to think of something covering up or tinting my passion for beauty.  When I thought of the stars, or flowers, or mountains, or love I got excited… My imagination felt alive.  I felt alive.  But then the word came—reality—and I felt guilty for thinking of those things.  It seemed as though reality was something that covered up the stars… something that made love seem “idealistic”… unreal…  Impossible—something people only dreamed of.  To me, reality seemed like finishing highschool at seventeen or eighteen. Going to college for 4+ years. Pursuing a career.  Maybe getting married between 27 and 35.  Maybe have a kid.  Maybe two.

Then I had a realization.  I suppose that means I came to terms with reality.  Reality is now my friend.  Facts and reality coincide… to an extent.  I see the flowers.  I can touch them, feel them, smell them.  There are flowers—that, in fact, is reality.  Reality isn’t something blurring the stars… it is the stars.  As for love, it’s the most realistic thing I can think of.  I was quite wrong in thinking there is no beauty in reality.  You could say that reality is beautiful, or that Beauty is reality, for there is a God.  Or it might be better to say that God is.  That is reality, because that is a fact. I was reading C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity and I was struck by something he said towards the beginning.  Before now, I had never really thought about the existence of God being a fact. I thought that because not everyone believes in God, it couldn’t be a fact.  If I had thought seriously about this, I would have slapped myself very hard for that philosophy.  If I didn’t believe in God—why, my life would be the unrealistic one.

“If the universe was really without meaning, we should have never found that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe, and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should have never known it was dark. Darkwould be a word without meaning.” Further back he says: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got the idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be a part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?” [Mere Christianity, book 2 chapter 1.]

It is so interesting to read how Lewis himself sees and describes how, when he was an Atheist, in the very act of proving that there is no God, he was proving that there is a God.  (I love reading Lewis—Mere Christianity is brilliant, and he’s really a fantastic writer.  When I read his fiction, I feel like I’m sitting right next to him, and he’s telling the story.  When I read his apologetics, I feel as though I am standing right there, arguing in a friendly way with him.)

Is reality, in fact, something cold and hard that you land on when you’re head is in the clouds?  Is the logician right when he says Wonderland is irrational and senseless?  It’s not just wonderland.  When I use this word, I am referring to any fantasie. (As opposed to fantasy—spelled with a y.)

Fantasie means more than Twilight or Harry Potter. (Sorry to any fans out there.)  It refers the beauty of mind and soul… the world in our subconscious, all things beautiful and imagined.  Things are only impossible when they cannot be imagined.  All possibility is contained within imagination.

If a child actually wondered if the moon were made of cheese, is it really impossible?  Perhaps the logician would say: “Yes, it is; cheese is made from curds.  It goes through a certain process, and it is impossible that there could be enough cows even in the world to make enough cheese to fill a moon.”  But the child has already had the idea.  The idea has become a possibility.  There is a certain amount of logic that must be combined in the imagination.  For instance, as soon as the possibility has been birthed with the idea, one must find out if the possibility is real.  For all we know, God might have made the moon out of cheese.  And he still could.  And once you admit that, you denounce the word “impossible.”

I have never seen a blue talking and smoking caterpillar.  I have never seen the Jabberwocky.  But because I have never seen them I can’t say that they don’t exist.  It simply hasn’t been proved to me that they don’t.

If there is a law that pick-pockets shall go to prison, it implies that there is an imaginable mental connection between the idea of prison and the idea of picking pockets. And we know what the idea is. We can say why we take liberty from a man who takes liberties. But we cannot say why an egg can turn into a chicken any more than we can say why a bear could turn into a fairy prince.  As ideas, the egg and the chicken are further off from each other than the bear and the prince; for no egg in itself suggests a chicken, whereas some princes do suggest bears.  Granted, then, that certain transformations do happen, it is essential that we should regard them in the philosophic manner of fairy tales, not in the unphilosophic manner of science and the “Laws of Nature.” When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o’clock. We must answer that it is magic. It is not a “law,” for we do not understand its general formula.  It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen… We risk the remote possibility of a miracle as we do that of a poisoned pancake or a world-destroying comet.  We leave it out of account, not because it is a miracle, and therefore an impossibility, but because it is a miracle, and therefore an exception. All the terms used in the science books, “law,” “necessity,” “order,” “tendency,” and so on, are really untinellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, “charm,” “spell,” “enchantment.” They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.  The sun shines because it is bewitched. – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter IV

I had to try very hard not to type out the whole book just now. I think he has a point.  In his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton cleverly combines logic and fantasie in a wonderful way.  He makes fantasie a reality, and reality a fantasie.  Is there anything blasphemous about saying a tree grows because it is magic?  No, there is not.  Because a tree does not grow by any law or power of our own.  It grows by a supernatural power, something altogether outside of our understanding.

So why should the world of dreams and imagination and idealism be praised?

There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind —what they are in their thought world determines how they act.  This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword. – Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? Chapter I.

Because it determines how we live.  It is not only the imaginative person who has a thought world.  Even the mathematician (I am very unjust towards mathematicians) has a thought world.  Even in his logical mind there are thoughts that determine his actions.  I’m sure even he has had dreams at night about yellow rabbits eating chinese takeouts. (Sorry – bit tired here.) But at any rate, think of what the world would be like if everybody was a logician.  We would all be the same.  Where’s the fun in that?  What if everybody was an idealist? Everybody would be the same – still no fun.  And note – idealist here does not mean Sir-Thomas-More-Utopia-Idealism.  Or Avatar, for that matter.

Napoleon Bonaparte had dreams.  Most people would have called him idealistic, but he almost succeeded in becoming the emperor of the world. He almost made his dream a reality.  The world was thrown into chaos because of one man.  His dreams, his thoughts, his idealism helped shape the world.

Fairy tales might be the most realistic thing on earth. Why? Because a true fairy tale always has a knight-in-shining-armor, always a damsel in distress, always a dragon or evil witch or king of some sort.  Why is this realistic?  Because Christ is the knight-in-shining armor, the Church is the damsel in distress, and the dragon is the devil.  The consequence of the dragon is the judgement that’s inevitable unless a savior comes to save her from the thing she cannot save herself from.  That is why fairy tales are realistic. And if they are, reality is no longer a stone wall you walk into when you think you’re walking on clouds.

Makes me think of love.  Is love idealistic? Yes, because it ought to be.  Idealistic because true love is perfect.  The love on this earth that is exchanged between people is warped and shadowed by sin.  Yet, in marriage vows you will hear the phrase: “Love her as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  Perhaps our view on love is a bit irrational.  Love itself is not a fraud; it is the idea that depraved humans came up with and accompany love with that is a fraud.   If you read Ezekiel 16 you will see that love is not about obsessing over someone, or even saying: “I love you.”  It’s a sacrifice.  It’s a sacrifice of life, on the part of a perfect person, for a person who’s wronged again and again.  Love is a covenant.  And a covenant is more holy and sacred and beautiful than any kiss in the moonlight.

Lots of rabbit trails here.  Where were we?

If J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were such great thinkers, then why did they write fantasie?  If G.K. Chesterton was such a great writer and thinker, why did he uphold fairy tales?  Because fantasie reflects the world we live in today.  There might not be a Jabberwocky, but there is a president Obama. (Okay, sorry.)  You might not find someone by the name of Sauron here but you will find someone very, very similar.  That great Being who created middle-earth and spun melodies out of the stars, Iluvatar, might not be found by that name here, but you will find Him, certainly, if you search for him.

Idealism is not something to be scorned.  It is something to be admired.  The pursuit of perfection exists, though perhaps that pursuit ends in heaven, when we are fully sanctified.  Reality is beautiful, and idealism is beautiful.  But you cannot have one without the other in order for them to be beautiful. Idealism, as we understand it, becomes foppish and empty.  Realism, the logician’s world, without idealism, because hard and empty.  There must be a perfect blend.

To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. – Orthodoxy, chapter II.

Belief must come without explanation.  If Christianity could be understood, there would be no reason to believe.  The whole point of belief is that you must put your faith in something you are absolutely certain of, but that is not fully explained.  Because Christianity isn’t.  There is a degree of mystery, a depth of understanding that is beyond our human comprehension.  If I understood that, they would have to add a fourth person to the Trinity.

That is why it is a hundred times easier for a child—who still maintains the child-like imagination and simple faith— to believe that God created the earth out of nothing than for the scientist.  Yet how beautiful it is when the scientist, logician, and mathematician all lay aside their stuff about laws and impossibilities and believe with the same child-like faith this truth.

So why do I like Alice in Wonderland? Book and movie? Because the idea of something different – of oversized mushrooms and flowers with faces, of smoking caterpillars and mad March hares and a mad hatter – appeals to me.

Even in the physical appearance of the story, the colors and shapes provide such an artistic picture that’s different from things you see in this earth.  It astonishes me, yet it’s not surprising.  I love it, and who can say it’s impossible? I saw it – just the other night.  And I’ve read about it numerous times.  I can’t really get in my car and go there, but I can draw up mental images.  In my thought world I have already made friends with the March Hare (who is one of my favorite characters.) And our relationship is one of the quirkiest, oddest things you’ve ever seen.

I also maintain that dead people are the most interesting ones to talk to.  I would also say that while people alive on this earth are walking around and doing things, dead people understand everything and have a greater level of brilliance because they are dead.  I am jealous of them, because they have seen, as soon as they are dead, the whole value of living.  They know where they are right, and where they are wrong.

I wonder – would Chesterton, now that he is dead, still hold to everything he said in Orthodoxy?  Would Lewis wish The Chronicles of Narnia unpublished?  Would J.R.R. Tolkien still think about Lord of the Rings as though that world actually existed in some form?  Well, I would hope that they would, because I think that they’re absolutely right.

Dickens: The Mind of A Murderer

(A morbid tale.)

This is a morbid tale, and may contain spoilers.  For those of you who are reading or planning on reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, and don’t want anything spoiled, I would suggest skipping this post.

Have you ever wondered about the mind of a murderer?  I’ve always assumed the same thing for each case: the murderer, deep deep down inside, felt a tinge of guilt… and his conscience plagued him, of course, even if he didn’t necessarily regret it.  Though Charles Dickens never murdered anybody, and could never really see into the mind of a murderer, he lent a new perspective to me.

In Our Mutual Friend, this is basically what happens.  Eugene Wrayburn is a lawyer who’s never had a purpose in life.  He’s never wanted a purpose, and he always gets bored… and he continues in a perpetual state of boredom… until he meets Lizzie Hexam.  She changes his life, though she his exact opposite.  Though he’s well above her station, Lizzie begins to love Eugene because she sees his purposelessness, and she wants to give him a purpose… help him find one, through her interest, help him become interested.  Eugene, always doubting himself because of his Boredom, doesn’t know whether he really truly loves her or not.

Enter school master: Bradley Headstone.  He meets Lizzie, and immediately falls in love with her.  Here is compared the difference between two loves: Eugene is hesitant to admit his, for he would never want to do her any harm, and he is only interested in doing what is good for her. (Sure proof of love.)  The schoolmaster becomes inflamed with passion for her.  He also sees her undoubted love for Eugene, and this maddens him.  The thought consumes him, the passion eats away his sense of right from wrong.  He hurriedly proposes, and is rejected.  Almost makes her accept by force, but finally goes away.

The premise is, after Lizzie leaves to escape this man’s terrible passion, Eugene tries to find her, and Bradley follows him.  Lizzie and Eugene have an interview, in which they both confess their love for each other, but the awful fact that they can never, never be married.  Most of it is the class difference, the other part is the passion of Bradley Headstone.  Lizzie fears for Eugene’s safety, and begs him to go and never come again, but the entire scene is spied upon by Bradley Headstone.  As soon as Lizzie leaves, Bradley mutilates the body of Eugene with an oar and throws him in the river.  Eugene is saved, but it is believed he will die.  Unsettled in spirit, Eugene makes one last request: that Lizzie would be his wife ere he died.  And there, upon the death bed, Lizzie and Eugene are united… and she must help him put her ring on her finger, because he’s too weak and hurt to do it himself.  And they watch the sun rise together.

The next chapter began to delve into Bradley Headstone’s mind.  I settled down and thought, “O, here’s where we deal with the guilt. Woe to you, Bradley Headstone.”  But oh no, something quite different.  The thought plagued him, the scene embittered him.  Why? Well… Was Eugene really dead? Had he done it the best way? It wasn’t perfect… he should have done this, altered this, made it less dramatic, made it quicker… etc.  I was shocked.  Was this the mind of a murderer? I thought there was remorse?  But I wonder, did I have any reason to think there would be remorse?  Had I ever hated to such an extreme, or experienced that kind of passion to such an extent?  No, I haven’t.  Bradley Headstone’s hate and passion went so far, that no remorse, no grief lingered behind.  In the end, his conscience was dead, he was lost, he could not be brought back.  In this I experienced something else: the awful sense of hopelessness. I felt that there was no hope for him, absolutely none.  People might try to bring him back out of this, but nothing could ever heal him.  He was hopelessly gone, and no amount of hope could bring him back.  Is this what the mind of someone God-forsaken looks like?

I know that in C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity he talks about how man always has a sense of right and wrong… It’s like the moral code, underneath everything there’s a conscience, something that tells right from wrong and plagues you if you do the wrong thing.  But Bradley Headstone had none of that.  I’ve always wondered, if Lewis’ theory was correct, where did that leave the Indians, or the cannibals, who felt absolutely no remorse at killing/eating the people that came their way?  Wasn’t that wrong?  Why didn’t they feel guilty? But who can tell? I’ve never been an Indian, and I’ve never been a murderer.

Who was right? Dickens, or Lewis? I’m not saying I believe one or the other, but Dickens presents a dark, lost, forsaken side.  It’s morbid, it’s horrific, and it’s evil.  Lewis present a side that’s “good but gone a bit wrong, with the ability to do right.”  But it seemed as though Bradley Headstone couldn’t do right he was so lost beyond healing.

What about the people today?  Mothers are horrified when their children come home from school or from anywhere and start swearing.  If they aren’t Christians, or “religious,” why are they horrified?  Because it’s not appropriate to swear? Well, why not?  It presents a bad view of your family? Well, why? WHY?  It eventually gets back to the fact that long, long ago, Christ set an example for use.  God set down the rules.  We aren’t supposed to take His name in vain, we are supposed to treat everybody with respect, “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth,” etc.  That’s where it originated, and it’s been passed down through the years, but the reason has become antiquated, and lost.  Some people swear and “do all the bad things” without feeling guilty in the least. It’s natural to them. But a Christian would be horrified, wouldn’t he/she?

I’ve never been a murderer, I’ve never been an Indian, I’ve never been a “swearer.”  I cannot tell you if there is a conscience in any one of them, I can’t tell you whether Dickens or Lewis was right.  I would lean towards Dickens, because I do believe that God has forsaken some.  The “wicked” to be exact.  And if there is any such thing as a God-forsaken mind, then I think Dickens represented it in a horrifyingly true nature.

For the record, Bradley Headstone, in the end of the book, wraps his arms around a man he tried to blame the murder on, and jumps into the river.  They both drown.  This is after he hears of the marriage of Lizzie and Eugene, and Eugene’s decided progress in health.