Friday, September 19, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Who am I to criticize Shakespeare? All I know is that I like some of his plays and don't like others. Strangely, I'm inclined to enjoy his tragedies since they aren't quite as silly as the comedies. Midsummer Night's Dream may be the silliest of them all.

The most famous line from this play is "The course of true love never did run smooth," and Shakespeare sets out to prove just how foolish and fickle lovers can be. Hermia loves Lysander. Helena loves Demetrius. Both men love Hermia. But, of course, Hermia's father wants her to marry the one she doesn't love. Oberon and Titania (fairy king and queen) have a spat and he casts a spell that causes more romantic confusion.

I'm sure it would have been much more enjoyable (and much easier to keep everybody straight) if I'd watched the play. Maybe someday. For now I have to say the most delightful part of the whole experience was reading the Arthur Rackham version. Even on the Kindle Fire the pictures were large enough to admire. Rackham perfectly captured the ethereal quality of the fairies. The only fly in the ointment (apart from the silliness) was that I could not underline favorite passages. These beautifully illustrated books are like pdf files and cannot be highlighted.

I especially enjoyed Oberon and Titania's benediction at the end of the story: "Hand in hand, with fairy grace, will we sing, and bless this place."

I'm halfway through my goal to read  four Shakespeare plays this year!

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Life of Obedience by Andrew Murray

In our anti-authoritarian culture, books about radical obedience rank up there in popularity with books on male headship. I have to admit I picked up A Life of Obedience only because it was offered for free and because I love Andrew Murray.

Murray traces the theme of obedience from Genesis to Revelation. We all know that sin was introduced into the world through Adam and Eve´s disobedience. And we know that the Israelites were given constant commands to walk in God´s ways or else suffer the consequences. 

But isn't that just for the Old Testament? Don´t we now live in a state of grace, light years away from all that legalism? Murray would say no. At every single point in Jesus´ ministry He was 100 percent obedient to his Father. We are to do nothing less than follow his example. "If you love me, keep my commandments."

Lest we fall into the trap of seeing this as salvation by rule-keeping, Murray elaborates on the blessings of living in such intimate relationship with Christ that it is our joy to live unreservedly for his honor and glory. Whereas the Jews of the Old Testament did their best to follow God´s commands and kept failing, New Testament Christians were given not only Christ´s example, but Christ´s enabling presence. The Holy Spirit changes our rebellious, stony hearts into "hearts of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26) as we yield ourselves completely to God. Some traditions call this "sanctification" or "complete surrender;" Murray contends that without it, we are doomed to a life of mediocre Christianity.

I highlighted countless passages but will share just a few:

We have imagined that more study of the Word, more faith, more prayer, or more communion with God would surely be the keys [to abiding in Christ], but we have overlooked a simple truth: "He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me." So, again, obedience is the key... obedience on earth is the key to pleasing God's heart. (p. 17)

If you accustom yourself to studying the Bible without an earnest and definite purpose to obey, you will become hardened in disobedience. (p. 49)

From the very outset of the Christian life, let us avoid the fatal mistake of calling Christ "Master" but not doing what He says. (p. 58)

Beware of seeking just enough obedience to ease your conscience, and as a result to lose the desire to do and be and give God all He is worthy of. (p. 92)

A very worthwhile book!

Friday, September 5, 2014

On the Shoulders of Hobbits by Louis Markos

I first heard of Louis Markos when The Teaching Company offered a big discount on his lectures about C.S. Lewis. Later my husband enjoyed Restoring Beauty, Markos' book on the themes of truth and beauty in Lewis' books.

While I was still reeling from the impact of The Lord of the Rings (which I read it for the first time in 2013), I heard that Markos had written a book called, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis; I knew I had to have it.

His introduction, called "Stories to Steer By," suggests that in the past morality has been taught "first and foremost through stories." But today there is a dearth of such tales. "Worse yet, we try to make up counter stories, politically correct fairy tales that are as paltry as the newfangled virtues they are meant to celebrate" [i.e.tolerance, multiculturalism and environmentalism.] (p. 12)

Markos then sets out to celebrate the traditional virtues of courage, love, self-control, etc. by highlighting how each of them is portrayed in the masterworks of Tolkien and Lewis. Although friendship is not included in common lists of virtues, Markos contends that Tolkien elevated it to new heights with his powerful depiction of the bonds between the members of the Fellowship, especially between Sam and Frodo.

Each chapter of the book deals with a specific moral quality as evidenced in Lord of the Rings and in the Narnia Chronicles. Although I loved both of them, I wasn't always able to appreciate the two of them being compared side by side. It was jarring at times to be pulled out Middle Earth and yanked into Narnia. Still, I appreciated Markos' keen observations with regard to these two masterpieces of English literature.

Fairy tales are often accused of prettifying hard truths. In the hands of masters like Lewis and Tolkien, they are more likely to strip away prettified lies. (p. 153)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ChristianAudio's Free Book for September - How Should We Then Live?

Christian Audio's free book this month is Francis Schaeffer's, How Should We Then Live?  

I read it many years ago and enjoyed it, but have a hard time staying focused when listening to non-fiction, so I might pass on this one. Just wanted to let you know in case you are interested.

Blessings, Hope

Friday, August 29, 2014

Thoughts on

Let me begin by saying that I'm not receiving a penny from Audible for this post. I like to share ways to save money on books, so here it goes.

Audiobooks are expensive. Audible charges $14.95 per month/book and therefore, I wasn't even vaguely interested in joining. When I registered my new Kindle, I was given the option of two free Audible titles (normally it's just one) and the right to drop my membership at any time. Since I'd been wanting to buy a pricey audio Bible, the offer was too hard to resist. I decided to get my free books and hang around for a couple of months to buy a few more at the regular price.

As I cullled through the titles I discovered many favorites at rock-bottom prices. Without using either of my "expensive" credits, I bought two favorites: Jane Eyre and Persuasion. Through their summer kids' book sale I got Peter Pan. At their anniversary sale I got two Shakespeare plays for 99 cents each. Also, there are some deep discounts if you already own the book version on Kindle. Did I mention that most of these titles are done by outstanding British voices? Top that with their beyond excellent customer service, and I'm one happy camper.

The final results...

ESV Audio Bible - Free Credit
Classics of British Literature (24 lectures) - Free Credit ($250 on The Great Courses website)
Jane Eyre - $2.99
Jane Austen's Persuasion - 69 cents
Psalms (KJV) - $2.35
Peter Pan - $2.99
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - 99 cents
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - 99 cents
Paid Credit #1 - With a Buy-One-Get-One-Free I purchased Part One of The Lord of the Rings (19 hours!) and Higher Call, a WWII title I've been wanting to read.
Paid Credit #2 - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
Wind in the Willows - $2.99
Richard Burton reading Poetry of John Donne - $4.95
Screwtape Letters - $1.95

Summing it all up: If you get your free title(s) and several deals along with a few regularly priced books, it's VERY reasonable. (For around $50 I got 13 books and 24 lectures.) Well-produced audiobooks at about $4 each are quite a bargain.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Free Kindle Titles - Christian Classics

I'm a voracious reader, but I have to remind myself to balance fiction with non-fiction. So I've intentionally scheduled six devotional books into my next 10 months of reading. Here's what I'm hoping to read: A Life of Obedience by Murray, Pilgrim's Progress by Bunyan, Wisdom & Wonder by Kuyper, The Scarcity of Praying Men by Opoku, Simply Christian by N.T. Wright, and Death by Living by Wilson. Almost all of these were free at the time I downloaded them, but are now back to their original prices. Many Christian books, however, are always free for Kindle and I thought I'd highlight those this week:

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
The Pursuit of God by Tozer
Lord, Teach Us To Pray  by Andrew Murray (ANYTHING by Murray is good.)
When the Holy Ghost is Come by Samuel Logan Brengle (founder of The Salvation Army)
Pilgrim's Progress by Bunyan
The Confessions of St. Augustine
The Practice of the Presence by Brother Lawrence

Free titles by D.L. Moody, and R.C. Sproul are also available.

Since the newest NIV is not a reliable translation, I'm pleased that these two good Bibles are free - HCSB and the ESV.

Do you know of any titles I missed?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn,'" Ernest Hemingway famously declared in 1935. Considered by some to be the greatest American novel, Huckleberry Finn is definitely not one of those classics you have to struggle through. Twain is a gifted story teller and there is nary a dull moment in this tale of a young boy and his struggle to live free from society's constraints. Plus, a lot of it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Critics of the book fall into two distinct camps. The loudest group calls it racist for it's profusion of derogatory references to African Americans (This is why it has been banned in many schools). The other group insists that Twain was reflecting the language of the times BUT was making a strong case for the humane treatment of black Americans. After all, Huck grows to love and respect Jim, and refuses to return him to slavery.

This idea of allowing Jim to go free was so counter-culture that Huck decides it must be a sin: He writes, "All right, then, I'll go to hell. . . . And I never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go whole hog." (from Chapter 31)

I listened to the audio version done by Elijah Wood, which was outstanding. My only quibble is that it is easier to skim over coarse language in a physical book, but impossible to do so with an audiobook. Having been taught as a child that the "N" word was profanity, hearing it over 200 times caused a continual pang.