Saturday, February 24, 2007

I've been reading

Many of you who read my blog are aware that I'm currently working as an editor for a Web site called For those of you who don't know, that's what I do.

Since I began my current position, I can't read enough. It's weird. For some reason or another, it's what I want to do more than anything else during my free time. (Well, skiing is pretty high up there, but the cost and travel time are deterrents.)

Wanting to be more intentional about my reading — and my life in general — I decided, as a goal for 2007, to read 15 books.

I'm well on my way. I just finished my fourth book, and it's not even the end of February.

Here are the books I've read this year:

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
Previous to this book, the only works I had read by the venerable C.S. Lewis were the Chronicles of Narnia and portions of The Abolition of Man. The Chronicles fascinated me as a young child, and I've reread the first two books in the series in the past year or two. As for Abolition, that was part of my reading regimen for Focus on the Family Institute. It was quite dense, and rather unenjoyable.

I've tried reading Mere Christianity several times, but it never really caught my interest. I've always thought I didn't really need to read it. I grew up a Christian — surely I wouldn't get much from a book called Mere Christianity. Now having read it, I realize that assumption was very much wrong.

I love how Lewis approaches his explanation of the faith. He's honest — he acknowledges where his metaphors break down, and he doesn't berate the reader for the doubts they may have.

All in all, I highly recommend this book if you haven't already read it.

Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, Lauren Winner
Lauren Winner writes monthly for our Web site,, and so I was happy to get a glimpse of her work in book form.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book as well. Winner discusses cogently the topics of sex, marriage and chastity. Coming from a Jewish, nominally religious background, Winner became a Christian in her 20s, after she had lost her virginity. She looks at these subjects much more deeply than the average Christian writer does — she doesn't just give pat answers (i.e. sex before marriage is wrong because God says so and we shouldn't ask questions).

Another thing I really liked about this book is the lexicon from which Winner writes. She is a true academic (she's currently working on her doctorate degree). She invokes many words that I had never come across. Reading her book was like uncovering little buried treasures with the turn of every page.

The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World, Robert E. Webber
This book was very interesting — and not a "I'll just say 'interesting' because that's what we say in Kansas when we don't want to offend" kind of interesting. It was thoroughly insightful.

Webber surveys evangelicalism through the 20th century into the 21st. Focusing primarily on the newest breed of evangelical (the "younger evangelicals," as he calls them), Webber also discusses the views of the megachurch-buildling, business-model-following pragmatic evangelicals of the 1970s and '80s and the hymn-singing, tract-distributing traditionalist evangelicals of the 1950s.

While I don't agree with everything Webber says younger evangelicals espouse, I am fairly hopeful about the way evangelicalism seems to be heading.

Something that kept standing out to me is the way that we humans tend to be, individually and collectively, rather like pendulums. It's very hard for us to find balance. We're always swinging from one extreme to another — always reacting. Younger evangelicals, in the way they "do" church and evangelism and life, seem to be reacting to the shortfalls of the traditionalists and the pragmatists. And perhaps they're "throwing the baby out with the bathwater," so to speak.

They seem to reject the importance of understanding the tenets of the Christian faith (something very important to the traditionalists) in favor of "doing" their faith. Both are necessary, of course, but the former seems to be lost on the younger evangelicals. That's just one example, of course, but there are more.

Having thought about it at length, this swinging back and forth between extremes seems inevitable to me. After all, we're human. Balance is not our specialty.

All in all, a good read. I recommend it, especially if you like religion and sociology in tandem.

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
Most of my reading over the past five years has consisted of textbooks, Christian non-fiction and contemplative, nature-y writings. And so I thought it would be good to get into some straight-up fiction.

My older sister and I jointly purchased A Fine Balance back when I was a freshman in college. We had seen it highlighted by Oprah as a part of her Oprah's Book Club. Being the budding anthropologist and geographer that we were, we thought a book about a South Asian culture would be quite interesting.

The book is set in 1970s India. It tells the interweaving of the lives of a 40-year-old widow named Dina, a uncle-nephew pair of tailors named Ishvar and Omprakash, and a reluctant young college student from the Himalaya named Maneck. The book begins by telling the histories of each character (or pair of characters, as is the case for the tailors), and then braids their stories together as they come together via some very intriguing circumstances to live together in Dina's apartment.

If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be depressing. It constantly recounts the horrors of India's caste system and beggar society. For example, Ishvar and Om are the only living members of their family, after goondas (henchmen) kill all their relatives. Their crime was that Ishvar's father, Om's grandpa, had dared to have his sons learn a more respectable trade than leather tanning. They were trying to escape their caste, and they paid dearly for it.

Another example: In the epilogue, Maneck visits Dina eight years after having moved out to go work in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Dubai. Dina tells him of the unlucky lives of Ishvar and Om — while visiting their native village so Om could get married, the two are forced into having vasectomies as part of the government's attempts to curb rampant population growth. Om offends one of the officials and gets castrated. Ishvar, as a result of his surgery, gets an infection in his legs and has to have them amputated. Having no other option, they become beggars. After learning this, Maneck jumps in front of an on-coming train.

I told you it was depressing.

The book really left me asking a lot of questions about life. Questions like Why does God allow so much suffering in the world? and What about all the billions of people on earth who don't believe in Jesus or haven't heard of Him? What about them?

I'm glad I read this novel. I got a thoroughly glimpse into another culture. And Mistry is an amazing storyteller. His book is not uplifting, but it is real.

Well, there you have it. That's what I've been up to these days. What have you been reading?

1 comment:

Rachel said...

I like your goal of 15 books--lofty but reasonable. It's interesting that you read all day for your job and go home and read to relax. I also just finished "Mere Christianity." Lewis makes the most basic ideas sound so complex, as well as the converse. Now I'm reading "A Basic Christian Theology" by AJ Conyers (hasn't been great) and "East of Eden" by Steinbeck (slow and thick but interesting). Hollaback some more recommendations as they come...