A Song of Ice and Fire

imagesI’ve just finished reading book five in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. These books are likely best known through the title of the first book of the series, A Game of Thrones, which is also the title of the HBO series based on the books. The series is based in an imaginary medieval world and describes the rise and fall of kingdoms in the brutal way that one might expect of a medieval time.

For the past months, I’ve been immersed in these kingdoms and the machinations of the folks who want to run them. I started the first book in late April and by Sunday of this week I had finished the final book with a total page count of almost 4300 pages. (that’s enough reading for four masters courses) I did read other things along the way, but these last months have been dominated by brutality and backstabbing, religion and romance, hope and hatred. All of it wrapped up in a story that actually doesn’t move very fast. It could likely be seen as five or six separate, but linked novels dropped into a blender, each with its own story and plot, each one at some point intersecting with, or being affected by, the others.

None the less, I’m feeling a little lost now. The website says there is a book related to the series coming out next month, but there is no indication when the actual story will continue. We were left hanging, but I guess life is like that. I’ll need to find something else to read in the meantime.

Any suggestions?

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More Grief

I’ve been reading a lot of fiction involving grief lately. I’m not sure if this is a coincidence or an unintentional leaning. I described a group of similar books  in an earlier post.  These latest three begin with loss and grief, but build very different stories..

51t6EQZ50bL._SY346_Enon, by Paul Harding, describes Charlie’s life and struggle after his teenage daughter dies in a cycling accident. The grief is palpable and it draws Charlie down into its vortex, leading to drug dependence and mental anguish.  The man he becomes is unrecognizable. All is lost. In the background, the grief unearths other losses, times past, and in particular loss of the community for which the book is named.

Taylor Jenkins Reid, in Forever Interrupted, balances the story of grief with a story of romance. Elsie loses Ben after six months of marriage, to a bicycle accident (another common theme here, bikes are dangerous).41arpKFNp1L._SY346_ Her grief is complicated since her husband never told his mother he was married. The conflict between the two women adds to the tension of the story and reminds the reader that grief is never experienced in isolation. Loss affects many people in a community or family, and is manifest in different ways.

The final book in this “grief trio” is the very popular Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This book has more twists and turns than a mountain road, pointing in one direction while going in another. 0806_gone_425Grief is here, but it is overshadowed by mystery, lies, and embellishments. In fact, anyone with a knowledge of how grief works and moves, would recognize something amiss in the way the characters respond to the loss they face. While the other two books ended in some sort of redemption, some resolution, this one leads to a place which is possible, but less than plausible.

All three were great reads.

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The Inbetween People

cover30903-smallWhile rolling through a list of potential novels to distract me from the world for a while, Emma McEvoy’s first novel, The Inbetween People, caught my eye.  I’m not sure what drew me. Maybe it was the male leads in a book authored by a woman. Maybe it was the setting of the book in Israel, an exotic, hostile, “other” place. Maybe it was the chance to look inside the modern Israel and how it continues to be affected by its history.

McEvoy did not disappoint. The fact that she spent eight years living on a kibbutz provided her with the experience to make the writing believable. I could feel the heat, smell the white dust of Galilee, experience the deep felt division that is part of the culture of the area, held in the reservoir of those who were primarily affected by the war in the 1970’s. We come to understand a younger generation of Jews and Palestinians who are mixed in their alliances, propelled more by history than by their own convictions.

McEvoy makes a strong case for a new generation in Israel, tired of conflict and confused about the motivation for a continued struggle. While I enjoyed the read, her style, writing in the first person for multiple characters, jumping back and forth in time, makes the book tough to follow at times. From time to time, I would be three or four paragraphs into a chapter before figuring out who was speaking. This style, while distracting, also served to highlight the similarities and differences in attitude and conviction between the older and younger generations.

All round, a worthwhile read.

Reading

Someone asked the other day, what I have been reading. At that point, the answer was not much. I was part way through a Booker prize winner from a few years ago, which was not really grabbing my interest, as well as a book called Lamb, by Christopher Moore, a comical, but thought provoking, fictional epistle recording the childhood of Jesus, through the eyes of his childhood friend, Biff. I haven’t finished either of them and they continue to languish, one on my ipad, the other on the bathroom floor.

Three more books have come into my life since the question was asked. One from the questioner herself, the rest through a web page suggestion from Nettie at This Dusty House. None are fiction, all have to do with the Christian church, and they just seemed to compliment each other, as I read them together, over this past week.

imagesThe first was Mark Buchanan’s Your Church is too Safe (Zondervan). Following on the theme of his earlier book Your God is Too Safe, Buchanan pulls out well known, well loved, Biblical passages and presents them in a new light. He portrays God as a God who expects us to take “some hell-bent-for-leather risks” if we are to truly be faithful. He encourages churches not to try to choose between fellowship and mission, but to see them as partners together. He suggests that we get back to the basics of being church, devoting ourselves to “teaching, fellowship, sacraments, worship,and stewardship” and to stop spending energy on vision casting. He points to the “religious spirit” which works its way into many churches as being the most difficult to remove, the most harmful to the growth of the church, and often the most counter to God’s word and the Holy Spirit’s working. Buchanan is Canadian and writes with a Canadian accent, which I appreciate,

cover30351-smallThe second book this week is a brand new one, due to be published this week. Aliens in the Promised Land (P&R Publishing), by Anthony B. Bradley, provides a hard hitting, frank, overview of the place of minorities in American churches. As a Canadian, I’m sure some of the criticism Bradley aims at the white dominated denominations in America can be brought across the border as well. As part of a bi-national denomination his words come with a sting. His language and writing style are colourful and provocative, setting the tone already in the introduction by labeling some of his detractors as “John Calvin-loving racists” and going from there to point an unwavering finger at all of the mainline churches as he enumerates their misdeeds and missteps. Bradley has gathered other voices as well as his own African American one. Chapters by Asian, Hispanic, Latino, and other African Americans all tied together by the work of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and their report: Racism and the Church. The book is not all negative. Each chapter provides corrective words and encouragement to the church. Its final chapter is a what’s next, step by step plan for the future. Bradley himself states, in the closing words, his hope that this book will start a conversation, to get folks to listen to someone outside their tribe, to move toward embracing our common human dignity.

cover27745-smallFrom moving to unsafe, uncharted territories, to the issues of racism  it just seems right that the final book of this trio be one on we one thing we as churches, in one way, or another, share, worship. R.C Sproul’s How Then Shall We Worship (David C. Cook) is coming out in it’s second edition. First published in 2006, this book takes us through the Old and the New Testament in an effort to reground our worship practices in scripture, to reclaim the symbolism of the sacraments, and to have us rethink the meaning of worship. I was particularly taken by his study of the Church as a house of prayer recognizing that the practice of worship in ancient Israel included praise, prayer, and sacrifice, he wonders why  Protestant churches in North America are not houses of prayer, why prayer is pushed to the side by other elements we apparently find more exciting. Sproul does a wonderful job of connecting the elements we find in worship to scriptural anchors, in a very readable way,  resonating with my own Calvinist background.

Lost Highway and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen

It’s been a quiet day. I preached this morning, at an early service, with the intention of going to my own church afterward, but the weather was wild enough that going back home seemed to be the most prudent course of action. So, I spent the day reading.

I have lots of required, textbook type, reading to do, but today it felt like a day of reading for me. I have been working on reading Lost Highway by David Adams Richards (2007) for over a month and finished it today. (for some reason the Kobo copy I borrowed from the library didn’t expire after two weeks). Then, this afternoon, in one fell swoop, I read all of The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen (2012). The two works are obviously very different but both touch on the affects, both long term and short term, of bullying.

lost-highway-david-adams-richards-hardcover-cover-artAlex Chapman, the anti hero of Lost Highway has been the subject of bullying from a number of directions which has formed his life in such a way that he finds himself living in a shed on his uncle’s (one of the bullies) property, willing to let go of his ethics, his moral standards, to show them all that he is more than what they say he is. The book is a long wander through his psyche and the factors involved in it’s development, from his perspective anyway. It was was a long, hard, somewhat circular read, which was, in some ways vindicated by the surprise ending.

Susin Nielsen’s offering comes from the young adultthereluctantjournalofhenryklarsen fiction category but touches on some very mature themes. Suicide, school shootings, grief, alcoholism, mental health issues, and bullying all make an appearance in Henry’s journal. It’s a quick, but powerful read which pulls on the reader’s emotional heartstrings. It says a lot about the value of community and family, acceptance and loyalty. While it was a quick read, this book has a lot more staying, contemplation power, than anything else I have read recently.

My holiday is over, now it’s back to text books.

Sutton by J.R. Moehringer

13624683It’s time for an admission. I don’t read non fiction, unless it is a textbook or some sort of biblical or Christian commentary, and I certainly don’t read biographies, at least, not on purpose. I just finished reading J.R. Moehringer’s “Sutton” and have to say I feel tricked (or maybe I just experienced an epiphany in terms of biographical literature). When I went searching the best seller lists for my next read, I saw no indication  this book was a biography, and it really wasn’t until I was nearing the three hundred page mark  the notion  this might not be a purely fictional work even crossed my rather dull mind.

Willie Sutton, it turns out, was a real live American folk hero bank robber. It seems time and folk lore  have added an aura of myth to his story; embellishing, adding and subtracting to the point that his own autobiography, published in 1976, seems to contain a good dose of fiction. Certainly the structure of Sutton relies on a fictional reporter and photographer to move the reader through Willie’s story, adding their own character and the culture of the late 1960’s to the tale, but even without this framework, the story is told in a way which prompted me to push through the italicized “present day” into the past, to the real story.

So, I was tricked, and happily so. I met someone new, who really lived, didn’t really change the world much, but was part of what came out of the struggles of immigrants to America. I likely won’t change my reading habits because of this book, biographies will remain low on the list of choices, but Willie the Actor (J.R. Moehringer) stole another one by disguising himself as something he wasn’t, and left me happy to be robbed.

Touch

I just finished reading Touch by Alexi Zentner. Its not a brand new book, you have to wait a long time on library waiting lists to download any popular new book. This one came out in 2011 and sits on Amazon’s list of top Canadian fiction for that year.

The book is one of those multi-generational sagas inspired by a death bed vigil, and the memories of family that the passing of a loved one inspires.History and generations are spun together to tell the story of a family and a town.  There’s a twist here though. Its not just a simple history, but rather has mixed into it a spicing of mysticism and indigenous lore.

In an interview with the National Post in 2011 Zentner is quoted “If you take a cold, blunt view of most religions, and you sort of say, ‘Well, here’s the basis for it,’ most of them sound crazy,” he says. “It’s the belief that makes them real. I was interested in that question: When does a belief become a myth? When does something you believe in become just a story?” . I read the quote after I read the book and, while I wanted to discount the mystic bits of the story as unbelievable, and in fact interfering with what really happened, Zentner’s quote does give me pause. Does our understanding of history, our belief systems, our philosophy, rely on what really happened or what we believe happened.

That aside…it was a good read.