Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dangerous Territory by Amy Peterson (2016)

I found Amy Peterson's book, Dangerous Territory, intriguing and encouraging. A lot of that has to do with how she makes few claims about what she had done to save the world, but instead she chronicles how God both saved and worked among those no one expected to be saved and then allowed her to be separated from them. Not only was she separated from them, but she was stuck in the ambiguous situation of being a missionary in a country where it was questionable whether they were actually necessary, as she seemed to be teaching rich folks English who had no interest in spiritual things.

Yet, God's work was also ambiguous - because God could have done so much more: protecting those she cared about, directing her to be wiser (and allowing her to return), causing more fruit to grow from missionary endeavors - and people to be wiser about them. Her honesty about how God has a tendency to act in ways that we don't understand concurs with how I see God presented in the Old Testament - almighty, but not so manageable (or not safe, as the Christianity Today review points out).

On a secondary note, I also appreciated the quiet focus she put on her integrating into the culture and how that was an important part of how she approached her task as a missionary (she probably wouldn't use the word calling, at least not anymore). 

Christianity Today gave a very positive review of the book and was the reason that I picked it up in the first place:

Although the following review is somewhat negative, as the author is disappointed with how she doesn't also include a more positive, less ambiguous side to missions, it does give another helpful perspective and overview of the book:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Children's books owned by the Kronemeijers

The following are the children's books that we currently own (feel free to come over and read or even borrow any of them any time). Feel free also to add to our collection :)

They've been sorted alphabetically by author. Of note is that we have almost as many Dutch children's books as we have English - and we have books in multiple languages. The link to the spreadsheet of the list is included in the end, and it will include any additions. Bold denotes picture books.
Author Title English Title in Language other than English
Alcott, Louisa May Little Women
Alexander, Lloyd Taran Wanderer
Alexander, Lloyd the Black Cauldron
Alexander, Lloyd The book of Three
Alexander, Lloyd The Castle of Llyr
Alexander, Lloyd The High King
Baum, L. Frank The Wizard of Oz
Beckman, Thea
Geef me de ruimte
Beckman, Thea
Het rad van fortuin
Beckman, Thea
Kruistocht in spijkerbroek
Beckman, Thea
Triomf van de verschroiede aarde
Benchley, Nathaniel Red Fox and his Canoe
Biegel, Paul
De brieven van de generaal
Biegel, Paul
De kleine kapitein
Biegel, Paul
De kleine kapitein en de schat van Schrik en Vreze
Biegel, Paul
De kleine kapitein in het land van Waan en Wijs
Biegel, Paul
De Tuinen van Dorr
Biegel, Paul
De Twaalf Rovers
Biegel, Paul
De vloek van Woestewolf
Biegel, Paul
Het sleutelkruid
Biegel, Paul
Ik wou dat ik anders was
Biegel, Paul
Reinaart de Vos
Biegel, Paul
Twaalf sloeg de klok
Brenner, Barbara Cunningham's Rooster
Bruna, Dick
Lees mee met nijntje
Carle, Eric The Grouchy Ladybug
Carle, Eric The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Carle, Eric
Mijn eerste boek over kleuren
Cole, Joanna It's Too Noisy!
Cooper, Susan The Dark is Rising
Dahl, Roald Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Sjaakie en de chocoladefabriek
Dahl, Roald Fantastic Mr. Fox De Fantastische meneer Vos
Dahl, Roald The BGF de GVR
Dahl, Roald The Twits
Dahl, Roald The Witches De Heksen
Disney, Walt
Donald Duck als proefkonijn
Dragt, Tonke
De blauwe maan (8e deel)
Dragt, Tonke
De brief voor de Koning
Dragt, Tonke
Geheimen van het Wilde Woud
Dragt, Tonke
Ogen van Tijgers
Dragt, Tonke
Toren hoog en mijlen breed
Dragt, Tonke
Verhalen van de tweelingbroers
Dragt, Tonke
Water is gevaarlijk
Dulieu, Jean
Paulus en de eikelmannetjes
Dulieu, Jean
Paulus en het levenswater
Dulieu, Jean
Paulus en Priegeltje
Fitinghoff, Laura
De kinderen van de grote fjeld
Frank, Anne The Diary of a Young Girl
Goschinny and Uderzo Asterix in Britain
Goschinny and Uderzo
Asterix (many); mostly French but almost every language
Grahame, Kenneth The Wind in the Willows (2x)
Gross, Ruth Belov The Bremen-town Musicians
Gunzi My Very First Look at Opposites
Hagen, Hans & Monique
jij bent de liefste
Hartman, Evert
Oorlog zonder vrienden
Hofman, Wim
Koning Wikkepokluk de merkwaardige zoekt een rijk
Hurd, Edith Thatcher Hurry Hurry
Kirkegaard, Ole Lund
Lutje Giel en andere verhalen
Krasilovsky, Phyllis The Cow who Fell in the Canal
Lear Lear's Nonsense Verses
Lewis CS Narnia (whole series) Horse and his boy in Hungarian
Lindgren, Astrid
De bende van de Witte Roos
Lindgren, Astrid
Pippi Langkous
Lionni, Leo Frederick
Lionni, Leo It's Mine
Lionni, Leo Nicolas, where have you been?
Milne, A.A. The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh
Munsch, Robert David's Father
Munsch, Robert I have to Go!
Munsch, Robert I love you forever
Munsch, Robert Mortimer
Munsch, Robert Murmel, Murmel, Murmel
Munsch, Robert Pigs
Munsch, Robert Purple, Green and Yello
Munsch, Robert Something Good
Munsch, Robert The Fire Station
Munsch, Robert The Paper Bag Princess
Munsch, Robert Thomas' Snowsuit
Munsch, Robert Where is Gah-ning?
Pyle, Howard The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Rowling, JK Harry Potter (whole series) first book also in Latin
Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de
Le Petit Prince
Schmidt, Annie M.G.
Heksen en zo..
Schmidt, Annie M.G.
Het hele schaap Veronica
Schmidt, Annie M.G.
Scott, Sir Walter Ivanhoe
Sendak, Maurice Where the Wild Things Are
Seuss, Dr. ABC
Seuss, Dr. My Many colored Days
Seuss, Dr. The Cat in the Hat
Silverstein Where the Sidewalk Ends
Singer, I.B.
De gescheidenis van De Dwazen van Chelm
Singer, I.B.
Toen Schlemiel naar Warschau ging
Singer, I.B.
Zlateh de Geit
Stevenson, Robert Louis A Child's Garden of Verses
Sutcliff, Rosemary Frontier Wolf
Sutcliff, Rosemary Knight's Fee
Sutcliff, Rosemary The Eagle of the Ninth
Sutcliff, Rosemary The Lantern Bearers
Sutcliff, Rosemary The Mark of the Horse Lord
Sutcliff, Rosemary The Silver Branch
Sutcliff, Rosemary Warrior Scarlet
Terlouw, Jan
de Kloof
Terlouw, Jan
Tolkien The Hobbit
Tolkien The LORD of the Rings (2x)
Tolkien The Silmarillion
Tolstoj, Leo
De wonderlijke kerst van vadertje Panov
Ungerer, Tomi
Geen kus voor Moeder
Urbanovic Duck and Cover
Vandersteen, Willy
Susken en Wiske: De elfstedenstunt
Velthuijs, Max
Kikker is verliefd
Watterson, Bill Calvin and Hobbes
Watterson, Bill Calvin and Hobbes: Something under the Bed
Watterson, Bill Calvin and Hobbes: Yukon Ho!
Watterson, Bill The Indespensable Calvin and Hobbes
White, E.B. Stuart Little
White, T.H. The book of Merlyn
White, T.H. The Once and Future King (2x)
White, T.H. The Sword in the Stone
Wilder, Laura Ingalls By the Shores of Silver Lake
Wilder, Laura Ingalls On the Banks of Plum Creek
Wilder, Laura Ingalls The Long Winter
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
De Kleine Stad op de Prairie
Wildsmith, Brian
Williams, Margery The Velveteen Rabbit (shorter version)
Wilmink, Willem
Ali Baboo en de veertig Tekenaars
Wilmink, Willem
Dicht langs de huizen
Wilmink, Willem
Het Bangedierenbos
Wrede, Patricia Calling on Dragons
Wrede, Patricia Dealing with Dragons
Wrede, Patricia Searching for Dragons


 The spreadsheet with the list can be found here via google drive.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)

When breath becomes air is a memoir from a young neurosurgeon who gets cancer. He started it when he was in the midst of fighting cancer and hopeful that he would have much more time to live. It was (not quite) finished when he passed away.

It is a sad but profound book, well-written and moving. The book highlights Kalanithi's exploration of how life has meaning - both as a doctor fascinated by the mind and relating well to patients and as a patient who was trying to make choices when faced with uncertainty about how long he had to live.

I have purchased the book as part of my work (in campus ministry), as I think this is the sort of thing that all medical students ought to read. I also believe that the book raises helpful questions for everyone to ponder. His description of his learning how to become a better doctor presents a picture of an honest struggle about how to be present and honest to those we relate to. His description of being a patient helps those of us "in charge" to have empathy for those we serve, but also raises questions about the meaning of life and how to live honestly and fully in the midst of deep challenges.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor (John Piper and D.A. Carson)

Review of The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor:Reflections on Life and Ministry
John Piper and D.A. Carson, edited by Owen Strachan; David Mathis
n.b. I downloaded a pdf version of the book free at some point in time, and the numbering comes from that version.

In general, I appreciated this booklet. There were a number of good points, and it would be a godo read for those from more conservative, evangelical backgrounds to read in order to appreciate both the scholarly and pastoral nature of working with the Bible. However, I did at times find its strong evangelical focus to detract from the overall relevance of the book.

The following are several quotes from the book and my reflections on them:
page 52 (John Piper):“So the mind is supposed to be engaged in seeing reality for what it is, and awakening the heart to love God for all that he is. If I were to claim the role of pastor-scholar, this is what I would mean by it. Think rightly and deeply about the Word and the world with a view to seeing the greatness of God and his works (especially the work of Christ) so that the affections of our hearts might rest on a true foundation and God might be honored by how we feel toward him and by the behaviors that flow from this heart.”
 I agree with what he is saying here actually, although I would look at it somewhat differently. I would identify it as being more caught up in the mystery and wonder, i.e., astonished by what cannot be known.

After Piper quotes Matthew 21:23-27 and the Pharisess refusal for giving Jesus an answer to a question, simply saying “I don’t know,” Piper has the following to say: “Frankly, that behavior makes me angry. We are surrounded in America by people like that. Instead of using their minds to come to strong convictions and let the chips fall where they will and suffer for what’s true, they are repeatedly angling to get out of traps. Don’t be like this, if for no other reason than because it is bad scholarship! If your mind, in studying the truth, leads you to a conviction that will get you into trouble, believe it! Speak it! There are so many pastors who conceal their convictions from their people because they are afraid of conflict.” (page 58)
 I don’t disagree with him here so much as I disagree with how he says this. There’s a way of speaking one’s mind and saying the truth without being beligerent about it. That could be related better in this paragraph, not only in the message he presents but also the way in which he presents his message.

page 75 (Carson): “Since all truth is God’s truth, we are not far from the inference that all Christian intellectual endeavor offered cheerfully and wholeheartedly to God—that is, all Christian scholarship—lies close to the heart of our calling. Whether you are tackling the exegesis of Psalm 110 or examining the tail feathers of a pileated woodpecker, you are to offer the work to God and see such intellectual endeavor, such scholarship, as part and parcel of worship.”
My response is simply: Amen.

page 76 (Carson): “So just because I study the half-life of a quark, a pileated woodpecker. . . or a Hebrew infinitive construct does not guarantee that I love God better. In fact, it may seduce me into thinking I am more holy and more pleasing to God, when all I am doing is pleasing myself: I like to study. After all, plenty of secularists are fine technical scholars who enjoy their work and make excellent discoveries and write great tomes, without deluding themselves into thinking that they thereby prove they love God and deserve high praise in the spiritual sphere. Nothing is quite as deceitful as an evangelical scholarly mind that thinks it is especially close to God because of its scholarship rather than because of Jesus.” (These thoughts are also continued on the following page.) 
I find these to be helpful words when talking about the academic endeavour from a Christian perspective. They are worth thinking about more.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lying by Sam Harris

A friend on Facebook recommended this book - and posted the link to the (then) free pdf. I downloaded the book with the hopes of reading it some day. As this category - hope to some day - describes too many books/things in my life, it says something that I managed to read the whole book.

The book itself is short - about 50 pages - which makes it inherently readable and something one can read through on a train ride or several lunch breaks. The topic, lying, is also of interest today, especially as we have often become a culture of nice, in which insignificant lies seem inevitable. Harris challenges, rightly I think, whether lies, insignificant or not, are appropriate.

As a Christian, I believe lying is categorically wrong, even nice lies. Harris provides in his book a more sociological reasoning for why lying is wrong. Ultimataely, he argues that lying is unfair to others. It is done out of our own selfishness and not out of goodwill for others. After all, if someone really does look fat in a dress, doesn't it help her more to honestly say that so that she doesn't buy it and continue to look bad in it - or so that she considers losing weight? Of course, it needs to be done tactfully - but even a "thanks for the present, I don't think this is my style" can be done tactfully. After all, isn't that more tactful than disappointing the person because they never see you wear it?

The book is worth picking up and thinking about. I think it would also make a good book for a discussion group. If you'd like to borrow my copy, let me know and I'll send it to you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma (2006)

Someone outside of the Netherlands had recommended this book, and I finally got around to reading it this summer. For anyone interested in Dutch culture today, it is definitely worth reading. It summarizes well events connected to Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Furthermore, he accurately highlights some of the underlying assumptions found in Dutch politics and society - something that both insiders and outsiders would do well to read.

A good review of the book can be found online at the Guardian - Review: Murder in Amsterdam. 

On a personal note, Buruma also helped me understand better why people have reacted how they have to Hirsi Ali (the author of Infidel). He describes her as being almost religiously devoted to the Enlightenment (and hence her quick acceptance within Dutch political circles). She also seems to expect that once a Muslim is enlightened he or, more so, she would then leave their religion. Buruma even gives an example of her dismissing women who validate their being Muslim. As much as her questions about the influence, radicalism, and intoleration of Islamism are good to think about, her enlightenment devotion and her refusal to listen to others holding different beliefs makes her a less than ideal advocate for Christians.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pretty Woman (2006) by Karen Schwarze, Marianne Berger, Edith Geurts

This book, written in Dutch, gives practical information about how teen prostitution and how one can help. It is based on the experience of the Pretty Women Foundation.The book is specifically designed for those who work with teenagers. The first half of the book focuses on the problem of teenage prostitution and how Pretty Women gives presentations to on this topic, and specifically to teenagers. The second half of the book specifies how Pretty Women reaches out to teenage girls through individual contact and group settings.

For those working directly with teenagers, it is a helpful resource. For those, like me, who are somewhat more removed from the target group, it is less helpful. Yet, two overviews are worth reporting here - not because they are so much new or unique to this book, but because they have been presented here in a clear and accessible manner - and these two overviews are: the means in which teenage girls are often led into prostitution and the risk factors for entering prostitution.

The means in which teenage girls are often led into prostitution by a pimp/loverboy (pages 13-14)
- led away and isolated from family and friends (and thus dependent, especially emotionally, on the one pushing them into prostitution)
- physical violence
- psychological pressure - e.g., pressure on her to repay the gifts/attention to her, threats against family, threatening to disclose to family and/or culture group how she has harmed the honour of her family.
- false promises - especially that of a good future together
- addiction to drugs

Risk factors in teenage girls (pages 18-20) - both for going into prostitution or already being involved in it:
- dysfunctional family background, notably the absence of one or both parents and, more so, a lack of supervision.
- problems at school - this can be both a cause or a result of prostitution
- drug or alcohol problems - this can lead to prostitution but also can be a means of surviving prostitution
- psychological problems,
- traumatic youth, especially sexual abuse. This leads to unhealthy perspectives on both sex and relationships.
- problems with relationship (e.g., dating older men, highly influenced by other's opinions, and/or social isolation),
- runaways (both as cause or result of prostitution)
- time spent in the foster care system - here teenagers who are less socially competent are exposed to those who are already involved with prostitution,
- strong sexual morals of family - if a girl breaks these, she is more likely to be cut off from her family/culture and potential help.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Achter het raam bij Patricia Perquin

This book comes after a series of articles in Het Parool written by Patricia, someone who claimed to work several years as a prostitute in the Red Light District. For those who read Dutch and want to learn more about prostitution from more of an insider's perspective, I would definitely recommend this book. Based on my conversations with the women working and what I've read about prostitution, it seems to provide a fairly balanced picture. Not all prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, nor under the influence of loverboys or pimps. Neither is the work glamorous, as one might conclude from the recent book, Ouwehoeren. Instead, for many women, prostitution is something in between or, perhaps, another category completely.

The book does a good job in raising good questions and it especially gives a good picture of how emotionally difficult the work can be - from a lack of respect given to those working behind the windows to the complicated relationships with the other women to the demands on her person. It details a bit of the actual work that she does but she doesn't let that overwhelm the book - partly because she doesn't sensationalize it. And she raises questions about what might not be good about how we respond to the work she does: how helpful are the umpteen organisations offering help? how easy is it to leave the work? should the work not be more regulated (i.e., should someone who can speak neither English nor Dutch be allowed to work in the Red Light District? What receipts can actually be claimed for taxes? Should there be a maximum hours per week that someone can work?). I know a number of others who have now read the book, and I look forward to talking more about it and the questions it raises.

Because Patricia remains anonymous and because her words correspond well with the 1012 project to clean up the Wallen, this leads to suspicious about how true her story really is. One fascinating reaction along that lines is found on the blog, "the experiences of a prostitute." (before you click on the link, you should be warned that crass language is involved and it's in dutch)." The writer of the blog is rather sceptical of Patricia and negative about what she has written. Yet, she also has some things to say about prostitution that I think ought to be heard. The following is a translation of a few sentences middle in the blog entry linked to above:

"Prostitutes are often depicted as murder victims in crime shows and books. Not surprising, as many people consider prostitutes not to be real people. We are seen as inferior, and people who want to harm others find it easier to do that to prostitutes. That is a problem and a danger.... We are not actually outlaws, but we are more vulnerable because many people believe that we are. And thus we must learn to stand up for ourselves..."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fietsen met God: van Canterbury naar Rome (2007): by Monic Slingerland and Alja Tollefsen

the following has been least partially copied from my other blog:
In anticipation of my father-in-law's bike trip to Rome, I borrowed the book, Fietsen met God (biking with God) from my in-laws. It tells the story of three women who made a pilgrimage to Rome: one a Catholic, another an Anglican priest, and the third Reformed (vrijgemaakt - Canadian Reformed). I had planned to read it slowly, so that I could have a picture in my head of what my father-in-law was experiencing. But I just found it so fascinating that I couldn't help but continue reading! (Unfortunately, it hasn't been translated into English).

It tells not only of the physical challenge of the adventure but also of the exploration of three different expressions of the Christian faith. Although Monic could handle the physical challenge of it, the other two both had moments when it was too much for them. And while Monic had expected the physical exertion to be the challenge, she soon discovered that this paled in comparison to the challenge of learning how to wait patiently for the others.

The most fascinating part of the book for me was the desire of the women to discover what their faith traditions had in common -  to explore their ecumenicity. It was interesting to see that it wasn't simply doctrines that were different - it was a complete manner of looking at the world that was different. And it was here that Agnes, the one from the Reformed Church, stuck out for me: her stubborn determination to search for the truth and to place that truth only in what the Bible says (and ignoring both the mystery of the faith and years of church tradition). And her scorn for relics and holy water (hocus pocus) caused friction. And it made me somewhat disappointed to be from that tradition. It was obvious that faith isn't simply what you believe, but also how you believe.

And yet, despite the differences in each of the women, it was obvious from the beginning that they needed each other. And learning how to need each other, while both acknowleding and honouring the differences, is a challenge - not only for a bike trip - but also anytime different Christian traditions come together.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Echte mannen eten geen kaas (2008) by Maria Mosterd

This book is a story of a teenage girl who claimed to have been involved in prostitution via a relationship with a loverboy. As I've once again been reading books about prostitution and trafficking, it seemed only appropriate to read one of the most famous ones. The edition I had from 2009 was the 22nd printing of the book (sequels were written, numerous interviews were made, and film writes had been sold,) - and then came the scandal. The true story was filled with lies (see the dutch article on wikipedia). Most notably, the lawsuit against the school for neglect was dismissed - in the book, Maria claims to have attended class only on days when there were tests, which should have raised questions and caused the school to contact her mother, at the very least. Maria did not skip class at any level of significance (and significant contact was attempted with her mother). Classmates/friends of Maria testified in public to her presence around school - and that she had a good imagination. There is little doubt any more that significant parts of the book are fictional.

Before reading the book, I knew about the scandal - and I'm sure that influenced my reading. I found the book itself hard to believe; yet, at the same time, in the midst of this rather nasty and depressing story, I am concerned about the fact that at least some of it isn't fiction. As for the parts about power and violence, I tended to skip over - they seemed untrustworthy enough that it wasn't worth the effort to sort through their validity. And the way that Maria related to her loverboy also came across as strange - because it was the wrong kind of strange. The relationship with a "loverboy" - a dutch term for a guy that uses the guise of love and promise of a future together in order to convince a woman to prostitute herself for his benefit - is for me, by definition, strange: a woman, because she has "fallen in love", accepts things that are not loving. The relationship gets more complicated with time, but the desire of the woman for her loverboy and his (positive) attention to her remains, irrelevant of everything that has happened. Maria tries to convey that desire, but it falls flat as it misses the echos of a longing for an addiction that you know you need to rid yourself of.

Maria herself, as she presents herself in the book, is not a sympathetic character. She is unmotivated and lazy with regard to school and studies. She claims to be looking for trouble in the beginning of the book. She claims to know how to manipulate people well. She acknowledges lying (or at least withholding information) in regard to police actions in a rape case. She regularly does drugs. She doesn't appear to care much about other people - she expresses some desire of protection for her friend and sister - but generally seems indifferent. If such a character were to write a book, what kind of book could we expect? A book that bends the truth and tells people what they want to hear (i.e., manipulates) seems not unlikely.

Yet, even if I find Maria rather unlikable, I do find it a pity that her story has been completely dismissed. Her book suggests that she knows a lot about having sex with strangers - and not good sex, and only partially because she was a minor when it happened. It is also obvious that she was mixed up and hanging out with a bad crowd. Both of these things should raise questions amongst Christians and Dutch society (see Guardian article from 2009) in general. It should also raise questions about how much catering to popular taste messes with truth - both on the side of the writer and on the side of the reader. Have we avoided the real story - both with Maria and others - because a story was written that would sell?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Emperor of all maladies: a biography of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee; in translation

As it was only possible to get ahold of the Dutch translation of Emperor of all Maladies in the libraries here, this is what I read. I found it a fascinating book. The storyline, with its underlying question of how what I now know about cancer fits with the history of development of treatment, was laid out very well. He also sorts through the information in an incredible way - somehow organising and connecting what is obviously a wide range of efforts to fight cancer - despite those efforts being often made disjointly from each other.

He also does a good job of giving a face to cancer: besides the numerous stories of the researchers and doctors and lobbyers fighting cancer, he also tells the tales of those who have cancer, both those who survive and those who don't. Cancer becomes real in a new way to the reader.

Although I found the scientific part of the book incredibly fascinating, I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed by the humanside. Listening to others praise the book, especially the human side of it, I've tried to figure out why I was disappointed. I wonder if reading it in translation hindered my catching all the nuances - and made the individuals slightly flatter. I also wonder if the individuals I know who have had cancer, a number of whom have died, have coloured my understanding of the human side of cancer too much: no matter how many faces or people Mukherjee names, there remains always something slightly less human in a brief synopsis of someone's struggle with cancer when it compares to the reality of having watched a 23-year-old international student lose his fight with stomach cancer.

Another (positive) review of the book can be found at the website from Mountain View Public Library

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The value of reading fantasy literature

Abbot Andrew of St. Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, MI recently wrote a great piece expounding the value of reading fantasy literature.

The following is the beginning of it:

Baptizing the Imagination

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes his chance encounter with a book he found in a book stall in a train station that played an important role in his conversion to Christianity. Its title was Phantastes and its author, George MacDonald. With hindsight, Lewis realized that, through the novel’s enchanted landscape, his “imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized.” Here, Lewis uses the term “baptized” in a sub-Christian sense to show how the vision of George MacDonald led him to Christianity. At the time he first read the book, he was overwhelmed, drenched, by the enchantment of MacDonald’s writing. Only later was Lewis overwhelmed by the grace of his baptism when he returned to the faith of his youth, at which time he also appreciated how deeply MacDonald was inspired by the Gospel.

In Phantastes, Lewis “saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow” of MacDonald’s novel. The same can be said of any good fantasy story. It is impossible to see trees the same way after meeting the Ents in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Every fresh snowfall is more enchanting after having read of Will Stanton’s first journey through a time warp to a wintry landscape in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. The unicorn in Madeleine L’Engle’s The Swiftly Tilting Planet is so luminous that it casts a spell on everything for ever after. (Isn’t that what unicorns are for?)

Much of the enchantment of fantasy stories is that they draw us into a world different from the world we normally live in....

The full article can be downloaded as a 'pdf' file until fall 2011 at the link for current issue.
Otherwise it can be found via the archives of the Abbey Letter: Issue 246. It is the main article in the journal.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (2007)

This book recounts the story of a successful woman who is faced with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. As the disease progresses, Alice changes and yet stays very much herself, albeit a self that at the beginning of the book neither the reader nor Alice expect. In the beginning of the book, Alice's identity is very much wrapped up in her being a professor at Harvard. Yet, as the book progresses, it becomes obvious that the things so important to her old professor life, things she did not believe she could live without, are actually forgetten as even being of importance. The author conveys this in subtle ways: relating Alice's expectations and perceived necessary level of awareness at the beginning and then subtly showing the reader that Alice has learned to live without these things, without her showing any awareness about what she had lost.

In many ways, it is a tragic story - the loss of a gifted mind and the confusion brought on by Alzheimer's are made real to the reader. And yet, at the same time, it is also a story of hope - Alice is not simply her gifted mind and aspirations, but also someone who loves her family and can enjoy life. Thus, even as her mind goes, she is still Alice. Furthermore, as she becomes more attuned to enjoying life and becoming aware of others, a side of Alice that was earlier overshadowed comes out, bringing joy and restoration in the midst of the all the suffering and loss.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dorsvloer vol Confetti (2009) by Franca Treur

It is a coming-of-age story set in a conservative, ultra-Christian family in Zeeland. The main character is precocious and full of life - and the persective she gives on life is a delight to read.

In my perspective, one of the most positive aspects of the story is that the focus given on Christianity isn't negative; despite not fitting into the family norms, there's still a sense that the main character is loved and cared for. And there's a sense that there are many good things about her religious upbringing, even if more freedom and a broader outlook on life would have been appreciated. In this way, the book besides being a coming of age story is also a book that gives a positive glimpse into the life of a fairly closed group, which is often misunderstood by those not holding to the same conservative Christianity.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Reader (film - 2008)

Knowing that the movie was significantly centred around a questionable relationship between a teenage boy and an older woman, I was unsure whether I'd really want to watch it. I'm still not sure about it - especially with relation to the limited moral commentary on a number of questionable events / actions. I don't know if I'd recommend it.

Yet, at the same time I found it to be a very thought provoking movie. The movie illustrates the power of shame – and how it has the ability to shape so much of our life. It also shows how actions sometimes have more consequences than we might ever expect. It is these two aspects that have caused me weeks later still to be thinking about the movie.