Monthly Archives: February 2012

Drew

Drew’s #9 – The Time Machine

Like a number of books, the movie was shameful by comparison.  H.G. Wills’s classic story follows his time traveler’s exploits (primarily) 800,000 years in the future.  There he finds mankind divided into two terribly different species:  the carefree but helpless Eloi and the toiling, violent Morlocks.  This stories a quick read; interesting social commentary, good story–a little dry, though.

Drew

Drew’s #7–That Hideous Strength

This one was actually a re-read.  I’ve read this book a number of times and something fresh strikes me every time.   This story is Lewis’s striking contribution to “Prophetic” fiction–on par with 1984, Atlas Shrugged, Fahrenheit 451, etc…  It’s actually the final installment of his “space” trilogy including Out of a Silent Planet and Paralandra (both great stories on their own but very different stories).  Anyway, the story takes place in England shortly after the 2nd World War pans back and forth between the efforts of a shadowy institution–menacingly flexing its influence in government, media, and academia–to plunge the world into a totalitarian dystopia and the small, eclectic band of underdogs fiercely struggling to save  it.  All these pivot on young couple trying to balance their urbane, progressive aspirations with the inescapable nuances of human affection.

Honestly, only Lewis could pull off a story like this–and he does so brilliantly!  The story touches on everything from social relationships to politics to philosophy to Arthurian legend ultimately producing a rich picture of God’s simple, undeniable goodness and our various reflections of that.  One of my all time favorite books, this one is great by itself or as the capstone to the trilogy.  I recommend simply reading through it as a narrative your first time, then linger over each aspect later.  Great story, fascinating insight–deep, rich, unnervingly familiar, and thoroughly enjoyable.

mark

Mark’s #10 – Replay by Ken Grimmwood (1986)

If one of the marks of a good book is that it makes you examine your own life, dreams, choices, and future direction, then Replay by Ken Grimmwood is a great book.

Imagine dying of a heart attack in your 40′s only to wake up again as an 18-year-old freshman at college.  How would your second life differ from the first?  What regrets from your first life would you try to avoid in the second?  With your accumulated knowledge from your past, and a foreknowledge of the future,  how would your relationships or career choice be different?  Now imagine doing this again, five or six different times… This is the experience for Jeff Winston in Replay.

At first thought, the concept and the opportunity to redo life the right way seems like a pretty cool experience.  Yet, as Grimmwood points out throughout the book, there may be much more of a downside to such experiences than any upside.  These life-cycles seem to be a small snapshot of the Hindu concept of reincarnation (with the goal being to get off of the endless wheel of life and finally reach Nirvana).  For example, anyone you loved and shared experiences with in a previous life would not share those same memories with you in the next life – you would need to painstakingly recreate such experiences.  Any children you had would cease from your existence as each cycle began anew.

As I read the book and followed the often hedonistic pursuits of Jeff and Pamela (a second ‘replayer’ discovered on the third replay of Jeff’s life), along with their pursuit of meaning and transcendence, I felt that this book, in some ways, was a retelling of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes.  Jeff and Pamela experience the meaninglessness of a life of fortune, of fame, of sexual promiscuity and indulgence, of drug and alcohol abuse, and even of loving relationships.

Time and again I had the thought that while life itself is a good gift from God, in this fallen world, life is meant to be lived only once – and that’s a good thing.  As the author of Hebrews puts it, “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb. 9:27).”   As a follower of Christ, my hope is not in fortune, fame, worldly success, or even really great earthly relationships in this life.  Ultimately, there is a longing in us for something more, because we were created for something so much more than this life has to offer.  We were created for an endless relationship in perfect love, free from the shackles of sin, with our Creator and Redeemer, along with others that have been redeemed in a perfect place called Heaven.

Reading this book was a good reminder of how short life really is, even if one were given the opportunity to relive it five or six times, it’s still just a blink in the spectrum of eternity.  As Jeff and Pamela begin to realize that their ‘life-cycles’ are almost over, they too seem to wake up to this reality:

It had seemed as if they would have forever, an infinity of choices and second chances.  They had squandered far too much of the priceless time that had been granted them, wasted it on bitterness and guilt and futile quests for nonexistent answers… (pg. 291).

***It should be noted that author Ken Grimwood did not write Replay from the same Christian worldview that I embrace.  As such, there are chapters in the book where the main character goes headlong in to the sins of hedonistic sexual indulgence and illicit drug and alcohol use.  In addition, even by the end of the book, the reader is left longing for answers to the questions of meaning and purpose.  Those answers cannot be found in Replay, but there is another ‘Good Book‘ to which one can find the answers…

 

Ally

Ally’s #11 Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I have to give the Bronte sisters a round of applause for having much more substance, mystery, and strange twists to their stories than Jane Austen. If Austen’s books are “Days of Our Lives,” then Wuthering Heights is “Jerry Springer.” It is dysfunction to an unbelievable degree. It’s filled with abuse (physical and verbal), revenge, family infighting, broken marriages, unrequited love, and more. I had to plow through 90% of this book before the dreariness and churning hatred began to lighten up.

The story is told from the point of view of the head maid, Mrs. Ellen Dean. She recounts the story of the inhabitants at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange for the new tenant of her master, Mr. Heathcliff. There are so many characters and names that overlap, that it would be confusing for me to comment on too many aside from Mr. Heathcliff. They all, however, seem unfortunately drawn and bound to him like mice to a trap.

Heathcliff is rescued as a boy on the streets of Liverpool by Mr. Earnshaw, the patriarch of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is brought home, taught English, and enjoys a childhood equal to the Earnshaw children. He is especially close with Catherine, whom he loves, but is considered unworthy to marry because of the mystery behind his extended family and his darker features (his country of origin is never mentioned, but Mrs. Dean suspects he may be Spanish). All spirals out of control within the family once Mr. Earnshaw dies and his eldest son turns on Heathcliff.

If there’s one word I had to choose to describe the majority of the characters, it is venomous. The Earnshaws are infamous for their raging tempers, complete lack of manners, and insolence. It broke my heart to see characters with so much potential for goodness sucked into the swirling vortex of animosity. In spite of his love for Catherine, Heathcliff’s final plot is to break the spirit of her daughter. In doing so, he is able to exact revenge on a number of parties and secure for himself the wealth of two separate families. He is a man of deep anguish until the end, when it is suggested that he is visited by the ghost of the love from his youth. His death is unremarkable, but marks a sigh of deef relief for the handful of characters that survived his tyrannical rule.

It’s an intense, but riveting read. I highly recommend it!

ron

Ron’s #5: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Even though this book was on my soon-to-read list, Mark beat me to it and reviewed it already. I’m glad that he did, as he has been propagating the memory palace idea in our discussions lately, and it spurred me on to read it sooner than I would have. Drew also reviewed it. I’m last on this.

The book is more of an overview of memory history rather than specific techniques to help readers improve our own memorizing. Although through the narrative of having Foer report on memory and eventually winning the U.S. Memory Championship, he discusses many little tricks along the way. These were helpful in my own thinking about memory. I also found some of the case studies of memory prodigies and memory-deficit people particularly fascinating.

Foer is overly critical and insulting about Tony Buzan, the granddaddy of memory techniques, an aspect about the book that I found to be mean and ungracious, as Buzan seemed kind enough to grant him an interview. I also am hesitant about how ingrained Foer is within his own story here. Unlike another similar journalist-becomes-subject account Born to Run, Foer borders on self-serving.

While it starts to feel too long toward the end, I really did enjoyed reading this. It helped me to think more about memory and how I can memorize more Scripture and poetry. Maybe even a deck of cards or two.

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