Tag Archives: classic

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Ron’s #2: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities is easily in my top ten favorite books list, perhaps even in the top 5. I’ve read this each year for the past three years, and each time the story grows richer, the language more beautiful, and Sydney Carton more courageous.

The story is an excellent portrait of the Gospel in several ways, but I hesitate to comment too much as there are some of you who still have this in the pile of “someday reads.” My recommendation is to find a friend and read this together. It’s a challenging novel, but certainly manageable. You will be glad that you did.

If you are interested in my past review of this book, check out one from 2011 and one from 2012.

JRF

JRF’s #1 – The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

I am doing something different for my reading this year.  You can check it out at:

 

10kpagesayear.blogspot.com

 

if you are interested.  Long story short – I won’t hit 52 books this year but I will continue to post what I read here as well as at my other blog.

I grew up fascinated by the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, with it’s cheesy effects but interesting plot about a victorian era scientist who travels into the future. I was surprised by two things when I read the original book: 1. the movie (note: the 1960 version not the abomination-that-shall-not-be named made in 2002) followed the book rather closely and 2. The book really isn’t very long.

Written in 1895, the plot follows the unnamed Time Traveller, an eccentric London scientist, as he recounts to his skeptical dinner guests how he constructed a machine that is capable of traveling in the fourth dimension – time. Traveling thousands of years into the future, the Time Traveller encounters a humanity that has been divided into two deformed mutations of what it once was. One ilk living in ignorant luxury above ground, being raised as human cattle for the more primitive but powerful subterranean Morlocks. His time machine stolen by the Morlocks, he eventually escapes with not much more than his life, traveling even further (and foolishly in my opinion…what happens when you run out of time?) into the future to observe the sunset of life on earth…which apparently involves weird crab-like creatures and lots of moss.

Wells’ groundbreaking novella provides thought-provoking speculations about the nature and future of mankind, along with a mildly entertaining adventure.

JRF

JRF’s # 48 – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

 

Joseph Conrad’s classic novel tells the tale of Marlow, a sailor who travels up river into the dense Congolese rainforest on an expedition to retrieve a legendary ivory hunter, Mr. Kurtz, who has not been heard from in some time.  The further into the jungle Marlow travels, and the further away from civilization, the more savage the world becomes.  When they finally find Mr. Kurtz…well things get weird.  They find evil.  But they also bring evil.

Conrad supplies an interesting look at how humans view each other and ourselves and provides a beautifully written commentary on the forces that both fence in and reveal our depravity.  This exploration into the meaning of and potential for savagery within all of us is filled with powerful symbolism and enigmatic prose (a lot of which went over my head, I must admit).

 

ron

Ron’s #34: Candide by Voltaire

I reread this novel before teaching it again in my 10th grade class. I love this unit, as it allows for discussions on the problem of evil and the nature of God. Here’s my past review.

In a satire against the optimism of Leibniz, Candide has its young philosopher traveling the world searching for his love and attempting to see if his tutor Pangloss is correct in that this world is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created.

The story begins as Candide is expelled from the Edenic castle in Westphalia for his scandalous kiss to the baroness, the fair Cunegonde. He travels across continents meeting a variety of common people and royalty; priests and sinners; wealthy and poor. Candide continues to struggle with the question of whether Pangloss (and ultimately Leibniz) is correct that this world, the one filled with greed and murder and hypocrisy and cruelty, is the best possible one out of the mind of God. He fights with what he believes and what he sees, and cannot justify the two. Candide is left to “cultivate his garden” rather than waste any more time thinking through these issues.

For the Christian, this book explores one of the key objections to a theistic faith: how can a good God allow suffering in this world? While that question is not specifically addressed, is it at the heart of Candide’s uneasiness. What happens when our world is filled with pain, disappointment, and horror? Can we reconcile a God with our life experience? This is a topic that Christians must not only address to those around who question the claims of Christianity, but we must also have an answer for ourselves when the horrors come.

It would be the height of hubris to state a simple answer to this issue, but we must begin our search for one in the gospel itself. We must remember that God the Father knows suffering and murder, as his Son hung on the cross to die for the sins of the world. He watched as Jesus was tortured and killed to become the payment for sins that we not his own. When we are trying to justify a good God with suffering, our question must begin with God himself. Candide met a cast of characters spewed from the bowels of humanity, but never discussed sin.

Christian doctrine teaches that Adam’s sin brought this world from perfection to the wastelands with people corrupted in the downward spiral. Leibniz’s optimism is wrong: this world is depraved and men have the capability to act like animals to one another. Candide’s observations should bring us back to the God who has provided his Son as a sacrifice to restore humanity to our true image-bearer state. The murderers, the rapists, the thieves in Candide’s journey point us back to a God, one who is perfect because we see that man is not. Corrupt men in the world show a moral structure beyond us that defines what corrupt men act like.

Candide’s decision to focus only on his own garden shows a hopelessness that Christians ought not have. Even in the light of pain and difficulty, we should see our “gardens” in light of the larger garden, the only that has the Tree of Life swaying. Because of this, we can have hope in that other world that is the best of all possible worlds.

ron

Ron’s #33: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.  Jonathan Swift

Swift’s quotation describes Ignatius J. Reilly better than you could possible imagine. The entire world is filled with idiots interfering, cheating, manipulated the misunderstood genius, or so it seems in Ignatius’s mind. Ignatius is over-educated, under-motivated, overweight, and socially deformed in his quest to, well, to do nothing. His mother is over-bearing yet sympathetic, but she is running out of patience with her TV-watching son. The story begins with a small car accident in New Orleans, forcing Ignatius to seek employment to pay help pay for the damages. The results are pure comedy.

Ignatius hops from a clerk in a failing clothing company to a hot dog vendor to a political organizer in an effort to bring his intelligence to a much lower element of society. Lucky them. The story is filled with flawed characters: a hapless police office, a detached business owner and his condescendingly liberal wife, a busybody neighbor, a stripper with a heart of gold, a flamboyant party organizer, a cruel strip bar owner, an elderly clerk with dementia, and female college activist with a penchant for bad screenplays and petty antics. And, of course, is Jones, a Black janitor for the less-than-reputable Night of Joy strip club. Jones is the least educated yet the sharpest character in the bunch.

But the real story is Ignatius himself. His “Oh my God!” gasps, complaints about his heart valve, and his sophisticated turnings of a phrase make this a funny, funny book. As readers we both love and despise Ignatius. Either way, we watch him with car wreck-like wonder.

The story behind the book is interesting: the book was published posthumously after his mother nagged Walker Percy to read it. Toole committed suicide in 1969, and the novel was published in 1980. It won the Pulizer Prize the following year.

I’ve wanted to read this book for years now. Mark read it this year, and his review nudged me to start it. I alternated reading the book with listening to the audio book. I’m glad I listened to it, because this is the best production of any audio book I’ve ever heard. The performance of Ignatius and Jones is unbelievable.

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