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Entries in Reading (39)

Monday
Apr032017

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

I just finished reading Proved Innocent. It is the autobiographical account of the unjust incarceration for 15 years of Gerry Conlon and four others who were accused of bombing a pub in Guildford, England, in 1974. The bombings hastened the passing of The Prevention of Terrorism Act, which gave law enforcement officials extended powers in the arrest of potential terrorists. Conlon's father and other family members were also falsely accused and convicted. Conlon's father, who was already ill, having had one lung removed, died in prison.

I had seen the movie In the Name of the Father, but of course, the book was different. The account of what the prosecution suppressed is more detailed in the book than in the movie. And the cruelty and violence Conlon and the others received was graphic at times. In the movie, law enforcement officials coerce Conlon into confessing by threatening to kill his father. In reality, they threatened to kill Conlon's mother and sisters. While being questioned, Conlon was never allowed to sleep in his cell. If he did fall asleep, guards would create noise, telling him he could not sleep. The other three members of what became known as "The Guildford Four" had similar treatment. After his release, Conlon's life was not free from grief and struggle. He struggled emotionally until he died in 2014.

This is what happens when governments are given extensive powers and when those powers reside alongside public hysteria. Absolute power is always a bad thing when given to men and women. People may have good intentions and may be really convicted that there is threat which needs to be squashed, but fear and a sinful heart make for a very bad combination. Fear can be a deadly thing.

This book made me think of the reality of sin. It is pervasive. And it is not just "them" who struggle with sin. Christians are not immune. Why are we surprised when Christians sin? Perfection is not going to happen in this lifetime. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have victory from sin, but our natures have not changed. We see daily Christians behaving badly.

I don't remember what I was reading, but something over the weekend made me stop and wonder if those who believe in Calvinistic doctrine actually believe in Total Depravity. Do we take our own sin seriously? We often underestimate ourselves. We may think we know how we will behave in a certain situation, but we don't have foreknowledge. Surely I am not the only Christian who has done something and thought, "Why on earth did I do that?" 

We need to be aware of being too self-satisfied; too sure. We need to stop expressing shock when sin happens. And we need to stop looking at others and saying, "How on earth that so-and-so do this or that?" It could just as easily be us doing that shocking thing. There is a reason by the Lord's Prayer includes petitions for forgiveness and freedom from temptation. Practicing virtue and holy character is crucial, but it also must live alongside exhortations to flee from sin. 

Wednesday
Mar292017

Even older people can improve their reading ability

Is it still okay to say good things about homeschooling? Lately, I've seen people who used to homeschool say some really negative things about it. No education system is perfect, including homeschooling. However, it's still something I recommend. My kids grew to be good writers, good thinkers, and good readers. They all did really well in high school and university. My youngest son recently made the Dean's List.

Homschooling was good for me, too. I have always been a good reader. I have always engaged with books, pencil in hand. But I learned to be a better reader after homeschooling; thanks to Susan Wise Bauer's books The Well-Trained Mind and The Well-Educated Mind. By teaching reading principles to my children, I was able to learn some helpful ones myself.

In her book The Well-Trained Mind, she encourages students learn to outline passages. It all begins with dictation: having a student tell you what he's just read. Later, you write down what he tells you, and later still, she writes what she's read. I did that with my kids. Later, it turned into full blown outlining of short passages, using a formal outlining system with Roman and Arabic numerals. In my daughter's first years of undergraduate study, she told me that learning Latin and outlining were the two best things she got from homeschooling.

Susan Wise Bauer's book The Well-Educated Mind is similar to Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book with the exception that it isn't mind numbingly boring. Honestly, when I see people recommending Adler's book, I feel sorry for the potential reader. I read it, and so did my daughter. Ew. Ick. I didn't realize how boring it was until I read The Well-Educated Mind. The only benefit it has is that it addresses reading science. 

Bauer, in The Well-Educated Mind lays out a reading plan for self-education whereby we have different levels of reading corresponding to the Classical model of the Trivium. There is Grammar Stage Reading, Logic Stage Reading, and Rhetorical Stage reading. Grammar stage reading is the basic level of observation, Logic delves into deeper questions, and Rhetorical even deeper. The book encourages one keep a notebook. The genres of fiction, biography, history, poetry, and drama are examined individually, and each chapter ends with an annotated list of suggested books. While I have put my The Well-Trained Mind away in a box, I keep The Well-Educated Mind on my shelf. For those people who are queasy (or outright hostile) toward homeschooling, one can read this book without bothering his conscience.

Last night, as I got out my "Theology II" notebook, I thought of how much Bauer's book has helped me with reading. We have weekly quizzes, and outlining has helped me read with a purpose. Every week I read the assigned chapters, and then a couple of days before the quiz, I outline the chapters, using the techniques I taught my children and the ones derived from The Well-Educated Mind. It prepares me well for the quiz, and cements the content in my head which will be necessary to write the final exam. One summer, while reading a lot of fiction, I used the same procedure, and from those books, I remember more of the content, themes, and some specific passages. That's something else we can use a notebook for, to write down passages we really like. Outlining and going through levels of reading makes me more attentive to detail. If one does not like paper notebooks, there is always digital help through things like Evernote or even just having a file on one's desktop.

I'm thankful for homeschooling in so many ways, and what it gave me is just as valuable as what my children received. And today, they are well-adjusted, well-socialized young adults. It's a win-win.

Wednesday
Mar152017

This Canuck Reads

I've not had time for a lot of reading other than school reading, but I do make an effort to read for pleasure. It makes being a student that much more enjoyable when we can relax with a book. This year, in light of Canada's 150th birthday, I have been reading Canadian fiction and non-fiction. So far, I have enjoyed a few.

Fiction:

The Break, Katharena Vermette:  Vermette is a Métis writer from Winnipeg. This is a brilliantly crafted story about interconnecting relations between Métis women in the north end of Winnipeg. 

The Birth House, Ami McKay: The story of a Nova Scotia girl who becomes a midwife. It is set in the early years of the 20th century. Someone told me later that it may have been on Oprah's reading list. I didn't pick it for that reason. I enjoyed it, but there were some anachronistic parts. 

The Way the Crow Flies, Anne-Marie MacDonald: A story of a young girl living on a military base in the London, Ontario area in the 70's. In the summer months, one of her classmates goes missing. The story also has multiple layers of relationships. 

Barometer Rising, Hugh MacLennan: Wonderful book by MacLennan set around the Halifax explosion in 1917.  MacLennan was a brilliant writer, and this was one of the best books I've read in a long time.

Non-Fiction:

Shattered City, Janet Kitz. A carefully compiled account of the Halifax explosion. I picked this up after reading Barometer Rising. Years ago, our family visited a museum in Halifax where there was a lot of information about the explosion. The chapter about what happened to the children was rather heartbreaking.

Just Started:

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir, Joseph Augustus Merasty with David Carpenter:  The story of Canada's residential schools is not a pleasant one, much like many stories related to Canada's First Nations. The story of how Merasty collaborated with David Carpenter is just as interesting as the first couple chapters of Merasty's narrative.

Looking forward to:

The Orenda, Joseph Boyden: Although there has been some controversial accounts of Boyden's claim to aboriginal heritage (I have closer Métis ties than he claimed at one time), I love Boyden's writing. Looking forward to this one. 

Peace Shall Destroy Many, Rudy Wiebe:  I have read reviews of Wiebe's writing, and heard many others say how good it is. I'm going to find out for myself. This is the first of his novels. Another, Come Back, sounds very good. I read a review of it recently.

Vimy, Pierre Berton:  I have read many of Berton's books. I am drawn to Canada's history in the first few decades of the 20th century, inclding her war history.

Friday
Feb102017

What makes a book timeless?

Yesterday, in my theology class, we were discussing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and specificallly, the debate between continuation and cessation of gifts. Part of our assignment was to engage with a chapter from Charismatic Chaos and Showing the Spirit. Both of these books were published more than twenty years ago; Charismatic Chaos in 1992 and Showing the Spirit in 1987. I was curious if there had been any works that were more recent, and while I didn't spend a whole lot of time on the matter, I didn't find much. In fact, Carson's book is one of the Leader Recommended books at Westminster Books. My prof said that he thinks it is still one of the best books on the subject. John MacArthur, however, has written another book on the topic, Strange Fire.

I was perusing my book shelves this week, making space for books which had previously been beside my bed, and wondering what I could remove from the shelves. I noted that there were many books I purchased in response to some controversy or issue I'd been interested in. I think I can safely say that while I don't think I'd throw them out, the books on the Emergent Church (I have about four of them) can safely be tucked away in the Rubbermaid bin until such time as I have more bookshelves. Does anyone talk about the Emergent Church anymore? I don't think I'll read those books again.

There are other books on my shelf that I know I will read again. Books by Lloyd-Jones, David Wells, J.I. Packer, the Puritans, church history, and biographies by Iain Murray. The commentaries I have by Karen Jobes have been utilized more than once, and will no doubt be again. Yet there are other commentaries I have purchased which have made their way into the Rubbermaid bin because what I want from a commentary has changed over the years.

I've been trying to sort through what I think it is about a book which guarantees that someone will be reading it in ten years or even ten months. These days, books come so fast and furious, the lifespan of the interest in a good book can wane quickly. What was yesterday's "Must Read!" may be gathering dust on the shelf tomorrow.

One thing I think which makes a book have a longer appeal is what its concerns are. Matters like holiness, righteousness, conversion, the atonement, the Trinity, and the Scriptures are examples of ones that have always pre-occupied the church. And yes, marriage and children are similar topics, but the way those concerns are approached have changed. I doubt very much that the concept of "biblical womanhood" was probed too deeply 150 years ago, but men and women like the Puritans gave a lot of thought to marriage and family. I think many of the contemporary issues we spend a lot of time on ultimately become non-issues in a few years, despite our fascination with them at the time. Those books can ultimately provide historical material about the times, but there are still books which are read for their content which endures.

The question about what makes a book timeless is a question I continue to ask myself. Hopefully, my thoughts on the matter will shape my book purchases. I have far too many books which are kind of "obsolete" in a sense. I'm asking myself more and more if the book I'm investing in is something which will guide my thinking over the long haul or if it's just satisfying a momentary pre-occupation. If it's the latter, then maybe I don't need to buy a book, but instead just partake of a few well-written articles instead.

Yesterday, I finally acquired the Battles/McNeill translation of Calvin's Institutes. I wanted a hardback copy, and I didn't want to sell a kidney to get one. I found one used. It was cheaper than the new softcover edition. The dust jackets are pretty worn and its previous owner has underlined, but the bindings on both volumes are tight. I'm confident these will be well used for many years. Now, if I can just decide which books will be put into the Rubbermaid bin to make room, I'll have space for them.

Saturday
Jan282017

Where can a gal find an objective book review?

I know that the reality of complete objectivity is a myth. We all bring presuppositions to matters. However, there are times when we bring more or less. I have thought about this as I've watched my social media feed over a number of months presenting book review of numerous new books that came out over the past few months. 

I was approached by a publishing company recently to review a book. I had reviewed for them before, so I was among their contact list. This idea of hand-picking people to review new books is definitely the result of social media. I'm sure this practice is a very effective way of getting the news out about a good book. But are the people being asked the ones publishing companies know will give a positive review? When one receives a review copy, how much pressure does she feel to avoid saying anything negative?

In the past when whenever I have reviewed a book I have been requested to put the review on Amazon as are all the other people who received a review copy. Amazon is frequently filled with book reviews which are 90% five star reviews. Perhaps this reveals my glass half empty view of the world, but I want to hear what some of the downsides are. I'm aware that many people who received review copies are already pre-disposed to like everything the writer does, so will that reviewer be willing to share something negative?

Quite a while ago, I saw repeated rave reviews of a book and I resisted buying it because I didn't really have time to read it, and I didn't want to buy another book which would sit on the shelf unread. As it happens my friend had it, so I borrowed it. Ultimately, I was disappointed, and frankly, I could not see what all the fuss was about. Yes, it was good. But it had some problems, too. I looked at some reviews to because I thought "Why am I not seeing what everyone else is seeing?" I thought there was something very crucial missing in the book, but every review spoke about it as if it was the most perfect book ever written. Perhaps the problem is in how we review books. 

I have participated in review initiatives when the majority of the participants are already supportive of the author in general. It is a good way to promote a book, but I do feel a concern about there being a hesitancy to give a negative review. We follow these authors on social media; we read their blogs; we feel like they are our friends. How willing are we to point out something negative?

It's something I continue to think about when pondering books. I am finding more and more that the best place to hear about good books is a good book itself. I love books with notes and recommended resources. I've been very fortunate in gettng great recommendations from seminary profs. My theology prof will even recommend we read dissenting views. I have benefitted from Amazon reviews, but it's not always a place to find the best ones. I have also been more convinced that I'd much rather buy the book myself, read it at my own pace without a deadline, and enjoy it.