Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Break Book Six: And Then There Were None

                This isn’t technically the sixth book I’ve read over break. I started a translation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Misérables, and when I got halfway through, I realized I was reading an abridged version.
                I stopped immediately. I am now in the middle of a full-length, unabridged translation of Les Misérables, but before I picked that up at the bookstore, I filled my free time with this acclaimed crime novel.
                In And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie tells the story of ten people who travel to Indian Island on a vacation. But instead of warm sand, gentle waves, and a smiling sun (yes, I just used that cliché), they find murder. What’s more, they soon deduce that the killer is one of them.
                There’s a nursery rhyme called “Ten Little Indians” (an alternate title for the novel) that is quoted early on in the novel. I stuck a bookmark in that page, and kept turning back to it as I read further. Why? The rhyme foreshadows the plot of the entire book. And despite the fact that I knew, to some extent, what was going to happen next, I enjoyed trying to guess who the murderer might be.
                I can’t say the book was particularly thrilling. Sure, I wouldn’t have enjoyed being one of the ten trapped on the island, but the only thing that really drew me into the plot was curiosity as to which one of them had been murdering the others.
                I guess that’s how mystery novels are supposed to work. But I guess I’d expected a little something more from such a well-known and well-loved author.
                Pros:  It’s a quick read, and that’s nice. It’s a page-turner, I guess, mostly because I wanted to find out if my suspicions were right (after a couple of wrong guesses, I did figure out who the killer was). There’s nothing too confusing, and the epilogue does a good job of explaining the murderer’s motives and methods.
                Cons:  It’s not brilliant. It’s a simple plot, with simple characters and a simple conclusion. These aren’t bad things, I guess, but I’d rather read something that really draws me in, emotionally connecting me with characters and involving me in their situations. This didn’t do that for me.
                Conclusion:  This is a good choice if you want a quick escape into fiction that doesn’t really require a ton of thought. Just don’t expect to be blown away.
                Next up:  Julie Rose’s translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables… if I can get through its nearly 1,200 pages by the time Christmas break is over.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Break Book Five: The Book Thief

                There are good books and there are great books. Good books make you think. Great books go a step further and make you feel.
                This is a great book.
                Another recommendation from my brother, this novel brought both of us to tears. It has joined and maybe even surpassed The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game at the top of my list of favorite young adult novels.
                Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is set in Germany during World War II. The protagonist, Liesel Meminger, takes an abandoned book from the snow at her brother’s grave and soon, with the help of her foster father, learns to read, fueling her soon-insatiable hunger for words. She also learns to keep dangerous secrets when a Jew seeks refuge in her foster family’s basement.
                And if that wasn’t enough, this story is told by Death itself.
                That sounds weird. I know. But Death is a hugely appropriate narrator for a story set during the time of the Holocaust. Death, it turns out, is (more often than not) reluctant to take those whose lives have ended.
                Liesel’s story is that of a typical teenage girl in a time that was far from typical, and Zusak—whose parents also grew up in that time in Nazi Germany—tells it brilliantly.
Pros:  Zusak’s voice, though simple, is precise and profound, perfect for this story. He does an excellent job of balancing somber subjects with his strangely fitting dark humor. In The Book Thief, he does historical fiction in a way it’s never been done before, and the effect is phenomenal.
Cons:  I’m not a historian so I can’t be sure of this, but there are probably a thousand deeper, more intricate meanings between the lines that I completely missed because of how little I know about World War II. I’d like to find out how someone more knowledgeable on that era would react to the story.
Conclusion:  This is a must-read. Just have a box of tissues handy. You’ll need them.
Next up:  And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Break Book Four: Going Deep

                They say it’s not what you know, but who you know, and I’m learning that fast. Who I know at the moment consists mostly of a certain professor who often assigns his students book reviews for future publication. This book was my latest assignment.
                Sometimes I don’t get to choose my book. In those cases, I usually end up with a mediocre novel or Christian self-help book (at least I haven’t been cursed with an Amish romance yet… knock on wood). But this time, I was able to pick my own. And, I must say, I chose well.
                Gordon MacDonald’s Going Deep follows his fictional congregation (from his previous book, Who Stole My Church?) on a journey of renewal. Pastor Mac (as MacDonald is called by many of his friends) leads a small group of Christians for a year, guiding them and helping them grow, transforming them into deep people capable of great Christian leadership.
                This book is written in narrative form, but MacDonald still manages to cram its pages full of tips and insights. His methods may be revolutionary, but their foundation is very basic:  to simply follow in Christ’s footsteps. And though they’re revolutionary, they seem so obvious that I was shocked they’d never occurred to me before.
Heads-up for any non-Christian readers:  this book is, as you’ve probably guessed, intended for a Christian audience. It’s not literature; it functions as more of a guide to how to make these kinds of changes in a church.
Pros:  MacDonald has real experience in this kind of transformation, and the fictional nature of the book makes his concepts clear and easy to understand.
                Cons:  With clarity and simplicity come redundancies. And with redundancies come unnecessary length. Also, know that this book was not written primarily to entertain. Don’t expect intricate plot twists or an edge-of-your-seat conflict. Though fascinating, this is a strictly informative novel.
                Conclusion:  I absolutely recommend this. Especially if you’re in a leadership position in your church. This could really change how you look at the way churches should function.
                Next up:  The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Break Book Three: 1984

                First of all, merry Christmas! I am pleased to report that, despite the unfortunate warm weather and resulting lack of snow, it has been yet another lovely holiday.
                This book, however, is completely unrelated to Christmas.
                George Orwell’s celebrated novel 1984 is the story of a future world (future from the year 1949, at least, when the book was first published) that has been stripped of nearly every form of privacy. The main character, Winston, is a government employee who, despite his indoctrination, realizes something is wrong with the way his world functions.
                Not far into the story, Winston meets Julia, who is just as fed up with the way the government constantly monitors their lives. They soon begin a romantic relationship. When I got to this point in the book, I did a little mental eye-roll. Pretty much every book with two main characters, one male and one female, regardless of their situation and regardless of their age, involves them getting together at some point. And yeah, I know that attracts an entire new group of readers, but it’s cliché.
                Otherwise, though, Orwell has done an excellent job depicting this dystopian society, especially in the book’s last third. Though it’s darker, sadder, and far more foreboding, I was much more intrigued by that last portion than the rest of the novel, and a little frightened at some of the close similarities our society bears to the one Orwell has imagined.
                Pros:  Dystopian novels all have one thing in common:  an uncanny ability to make readers aware of problems in their own society. 1984 is among the best dystopian novels, and it definitely has that effect.
                Cons:  The entire Winston-Julia love thing is completely unnecessary, in my opinion. It accomplishes what I think Orwell’s purpose for it must have been (showing that society was leaning toward eliminating a sense of privacy in relationships), but that purpose was far less important, in my opinion, than the whole “make sure you know if the government is controlling your life” issue.
                Conclusion:  I definitely recommend this book. Aside from the excessive focus on you-know-what, it really is a fantastic read. Big Brother is watching you....
                Next up:  Gordon MacDonald’s Going Deep.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Break Book Two: Pathfinder

                I live in a house full of nerds. We’re the kids who were homeschooled for most of our childhood, who watched Magic School Bus instead of Barney, and who have frequent conversations about theoretical physics over dinner. So it was no surprise to me when my older little brother suggested this book to me.
                We’d both read Ender’s Game a few years ago, and it briefly held first place in my long list of favorite novels. So when this new title from the same author came out, I jumped at the chance to read it.
                Pathfinder, by Orson Scott Card, is about a boy named Rigg who can see the past paths of every living thing in history. For years, he has used this skill to help his father hunt, but an accident soon sends Rigg alone on a mission to fulfill his father’s final request:  find his sister and mother in a faraway city.
                Like in Ender’s Game, the first few paragraphs of each chapter tell a different narrative. This plot, which we soon realize is closely related to Rigg’s story, tells of starship captain Ram Odin, who is piloting a ship meant to colonize a distant Earth-like planet.
                Rigg’s story falls into the fantasy genre, but not the kind of fantasy with dragons, sorcerers, and magical creatures. This fantasy realm isn’t as out there as most, only including the impossibilities of Rigg’s ability (and the abilities of others we meet later in the novel). Ram’s story, until it intertwines with Rigg’s, is strictly science fiction, as you’d expect from Card’s fiction.
                Pros:  Card makes really complicated pseudo-scientific concepts that are vital to the plot easy (or at least easier) to understand. And he does a phenomenal job of combining fantasy with science fiction that doesn’t seem at all contrived or cliché. The story flows well, and dialogue is especially well done.
                Cons:  It’s not Ender’s Game. It’s still a good read, but if you open the book expecting something that can compete with the excellence that is Ender’s Game, you’re going to come away disappointed. Also, the plot twists that Card included aren’t very twisty—they’re relatively predictable. The book is a bit long, too, especially if you’re expecting something that’ll keep you constantly on the edge of your seat.
                Conclusion:  Go for it; Pathfinder is a fun read.  But definitely read Ender’s Game too. It has all Pathfinder’s virtues without its shortcomings.
                Next up:  1984, by George Orwell.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Break Book One: The Great Gatsby

                I read a lot. Or at least I used to. Then I went to college.
                There’s something wrong with that.
                So I’m going to drown myself in literature this Christmas break. Classics, modern bestsellers, the occasional nonfiction, and anything on my shelf I haven’t read (or finished) yet. And I’ll post each item on my reading list here, a few days after I’ve finished each book. It’s going to be a fantastic couple of weeks.
                Then I’ll go back to school, and I won’t have time for this anymore.
Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
                F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby follows the relationship between Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby through the eyes of Daisy’s cousin and Gatsby’s neighbor, Nick Carraway.
Gatsby is a pretty mysterious guy. He throws lavish parties all the time, and everybody knows his name, but nobody knows where he’s from, how he ended up living in a mansion on Long Island, or even what his job is.
                I don’t know whether it was his mysterious charm, his apparently never-ending supply of money, or his dashing good looks that attracted Daisy to him five years ago. But whatever it was must have been powerful, because even though Daisy’s married now (to a jerk named Tom) and has a daughter, she and Gatsby still, well… you know.
                The affair annoyed me, but for the most part I just pitied everyone. I felt sorry for Daisy because she’s married to a jerk, for Gatsby because Daisy’s married to a jerk, for Nick because he got caught in the middle of this whole situation, and for Tom because… actually, no. I didn’t feel sorry for Tom. It’s hard to pity a jerk with few redeeming qualities.
                Pros:  Fitzgerald knows how to write. He uses very simple language, but somehow gets across a sophisticated, nostalgic voice that enhances the novel’s tone. His writing is jazz and moonlight and champagne and everything classy, but not snobbish—it’s completely within reach and completely brilliant.  
                Cons:  You’ve probably read The Great Gatsby already, and it was probably for a high school English class. That, unfortunately, can ruin even the most wonderfully written novel. Also, if you usually only enjoy fast-moving plots, Gatsby might not be for you. And it’s kind of depressing.
                Conclusion:  Read it. Absolutely. Just be prepared for the sad bits.
                Next up:  Orson Scott Card’s Pathfinder.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

He loves me.

Unrequitedly and unconditionally.  Incredibly and incomprehensibly.  His love is beyond compare.  He is worthy of love, but does not receive it.  Instead of loving Him, I’ve mocked Him, I’ve scorned Him, I’ve sometimes hated Him.  But that does not deter Him from loving me.  I was in danger of death, and He stepped in the way of the sword meant for my neck.  His bruises came from my fists, his pain from my angry words.  Yet He gave His life to save mine.  That’s love.
He loves me.
That fluttery feeling in my stomach isn’t love.  The sense of closeness I feel with a friend isn’t love.  Saying, “I love you,” isn’t even love.  Dying to save the very ones who murder you… that’s love.  God is love.  His love is indescribable.  And I am so undeserving.
He loves me.
I don’t have to wish on shooting stars or pick petals off flowers or wait around for 11:11 to be loved by Him.  Before time, when only He was, He already loved me.  The least I can do is give my life to Him.  He’s already given his for me…
He loved, loves, and forever will love me.  His love is divine.  Beautiful.  Perfect.  No human love compares.
I am loved by the Creator, the Comforter, the Savior. 
The least I can do is love Him back.