I didn’t think I had it in me. Somehow over my extended Christmas break I managed to read seven books. During the last year or so, I had taken a somewhat involuntary hiatus from reading as I’ve become increasingly demanding of the material I take on. If a book can’t grab me within, say, the first 50 pages, why continue? Fortunately my short attention span, which I happen to regard with esteem, was rewarded by many useful tomes during the last couple of weeks. Allow me to share and recommend.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie — This short novel was suggested to me and my classmates in Dr. McNeely’s Modern World Literature class as one of his favorites. Since I greatly enjoyed the class, it was only a matter of time before I finally gave this a read. It is a whimsical tale of a boy whose father is a revered storyteller, one who loses his talent the day his wife leaves him. Whereupon Haroun meets a water genie who transports him to a fantasy land covered by an ocean that happens to be the origin of all stories. The ocean is under attack, so of course it’s up to Haroun and his wacky friends to fix things. The more I read of this adventure (and this may sound self-promoting), the more it reminded me of the book Ed and I wrote so many years ago—the next book on this list, in fact. Clearly Rushdie threw caution to the wind and probably had loads of fun writing this novel. The giveaway is the motley crew of characters: a telepathic robot bird, an ugly and tone-deaf yet beloved princess, a couple of talking fish, and a water-walking tree with flowers for eyes. Thus my prevailing impression of the novel is one of weirdness, but the author also makes an admirable point or two about family and creativity. In these aspects he accomplishes precisely what Ed and I set out to do with our story.
“That’s the trouble with you sad city types: you think a place has to be miserable and dull as ditchwater before you believe it’s real.”
The Trials of Kelvin and Isaac Reynolds by N. Brad Garrett and J. Ed Long III — Rushdie’s book inspired me to do what I had put off for a long time: critically reread my own novel and make the necessary edits to enhance its readability. The story that Ed and I created in a flurry of absurdist passion was initially completed back in 1995. I finally self-published the novel in 2006, but I knew that minor changes were needed here and there to provide clarity—as much clarity as we intended, at any rate. So this is what I did with pencil in hand a few weeks ago, and I admit I enjoyed taking the bizarre trek with the Reynolds brothers once more after so long a time. The shiny new version is now available in a smaller-sized paperback with improved text layout at Lulu.com, so please do your old pal Brade a favor and nab a copy.
As they descended down a long winding staircase, he noticed that the wall was finely crafted of exotic red meat. Its intoxicating smell reminded him much of the fine trinkets of Converse. As he continued to descend, ingenuity struck Kelvin. He opened his mouth, placed it on the wall, and continued to walk, all the while getting mouthfuls of delicious tenders.
The Language of God by Francis S. Collins — I had started this one a while ago and finally finished it over my break. This is an absolutely fascinating read by one of the world’s foremost scientists—Dr. Collins heads the Human Genome Project, which successfully interpreted the map of our DNA. The author is a Christian who also believes in the theory of evolution and demonstrates that the two are not mutually exclusive. Now if you’re like me, you’ve heard evolution defended by no one except arrogant blowhards such as Richard Dawkins and everyone who posts on Digg. Rising above this fray, Collins does a very respectable job of presenting the pros of evolution in a sane manner—his points on the second human chromosome and the concept of gene duplication are especially compelling. But though he is a master biologist who shares a trust in evolution with the majority of his peers, I personally am still not fully convinced. The author openly admits on several occasions that our data is incomplete and inferences must be made, but he feels that evolution provides the best framework for understanding life on earth when compared to other theories. I for one can’t shake the thought that scientists and theologists alike are missing some key details that will make the story of our existence more palatable. The sharp contrasts between species (and dearth of transition fossils) still puzzle me, and I wonder how gene duplication could really accomplish all of these changes to such a miraculous extent.
I think we’re missing something. My mind is completely open to truth—if evolution is true I will accept it as such. But I need a lot more study. Dr. Collins cites such Christian stalwarts as Augustine and C. S. Lewis who were unafraid to plead ignorance on the issue of our origins. From my own extensive reading of Lewis, he seems to have been a Christian evolutionist as well. And really, is it any less noble for man to have emerged from a primate than from dust? But for me the jury is still out. The main idea I took from the book is that science does not threaten God and that I should continue to embrace the study of it. I’ve always had an intense interest in “how things work” but have sat on my heels for too long. To that end I have put in my subscription to Scientific American and look forward to finding out more about the amazing world God has created and given us considerable ability to understand.
The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate, and beautiful—and it cannot be at war with itself. Only we imperfect humans can start such battles. And only we can end them.
The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis — Professor Lewis is my favorite writer. What he does with prose is a gift the likes of which I cannot fathom. I have read much of his Christian apologetics and some of his fiction, yet I never cracked open The Chronicles of Narnia until just recently. I swiftly made my way through the first two installments (according to the Narnia time line), and my opinion of the author is only strengthened. Everything is so perfectly depicted and paced, the characters earn our immediate sympathy, and the story is told with such jubilation and wonder that I simply get swept up in the current. Reading Lewis always reminds me that I have not in fact become uncultured or ignorant when I find myself utterly bored by lesser writers. Just when I’m ready (even as a writer myself) to proclaim film the primarily effective storytelling medium of the present and future, Lewis reminds me of the unequivocal power of the written word.
The Magician’s Nephew shows us how Narnia came to be, through the eyes and experiences of young Digory and Polly, whose curiosity of Uncle Andrew’s dark magic eventually sets them on a whirlwind adventure, introducing us to such enduring characters as Aslan and the White Witch. The second book has of course been adapted to film, and as it turns out a pretty faithful one. Lewis has a special talent for creating truly distinct characters, as each of the four kids elicits different feelings from the reader. Yet we root for them all to triumph, even troubled Edmund, for we all know someone remotely like him. The final chapter is so poignant, so wonderful—a remarkable celebration of imagination and the memories we hold dear.
And Digory could say nothing, for tears choked him and he gave up all hopes of saving his Mother’s life; but at the same time he knew that the Lion knew what would have happened, and that there might be things more terrible even than losing someone you love by death. But now Aslan was speaking again, almost in a whisper:
“That is what would have happened, child, with a stolen apple. It is not what will happen now. What I give you now will bring joy. It will not, in your world, give endless life, but it will heal. Go. Pluck her an apple from the Tree.”
The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi — This ancient samurai text, written by a master of sword combat, is a cornerstone of the study of martial arts in Japan and throughout the world. In it the author details his Way of Strategy, a philosophy of combat that requires intense practice, thought, and dedication. The book was a gift from my sister and her husband, and I read the whole thing almost immediately after opening it. Practical truths and keen insight flow freely from its pages, yet these pontifications are framed within the wanton violence of medieval Japan, when shogun warlords ruled with the power of their blades. Musashi goes on to explain the actual sword-fighting techniques of his school, along with their accompanying stances and approaches. I was instantly transported to this alien yet authentic era of brutal combat and artistic refinement, and I came away with a renewed sense of awe for those who are willing to devote their lives to the art of war. As much as some may want to deny it, this art is alive and well and probably will be for some time to come. We should hope that for our own security America continues to be the side whose soldiers practice their art with the mastery they have demonstrated throughout our history.
In general, the Way of the warrior is the brave acceptance of death. Of course, this is true not only for warriors, as even priests, women, farmers, and all sorts of people have sometimes died because of a commitment, or out of shame, but for the warrior it is different.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick — Blade Runner, which is based on this novel, is possibly my favorite film of all time. It is dramatically different from the source material, yet it is a credit to Philip Dick that both are amazing and unforgettable experiences. Sure, the main character of both is a bounty hunter named Rick Deckard who specializes in hunting androids, robotic creations that are much like humans except for a very limited lifespan and a troubling lack of empathy. But the similarities don’t extend much farther than that. For one thing, Rick is married in the book, and one of the main plot threads concerns a new age religion known as Mercerism that is practiced by the few remaining citizens of Earth and promotes empathy towards humankind and animals alike. The author’s vision of a future Earth is one of ruin and decay, a place where one’s status is measured by the pet animal he keeps—animals are now alarmingly scarce, after all. Deckard stays because he is the best at what he does, but what happens once he develops a seemingly unnatural affinity for a mere android named Rachael Rosen? There are many fascinating aspects to Philip Dick’s story, and I dare not spoil any of them for prospective readers. The novel that inspired Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece is a masterpiece of its own—they coexist wonderfully, each possessing the greatest strengths of its medium.
Mercer smiled. “It was true. They did a good job and from their standpoint Buster Friendly’s disclosure was convincing. They will have trouble understanding why nothing has changed. Because you’re still here and I’m still here.” Mercer indicated with a sweep of his hand the barren, rising hillside, the familiar place. “I lifted you from the tomb world just now and I will continue to lift you until you lose interest and want to quit. But you will have to stop searching for me because I will never stop searching for you.”