Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book 52: The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake

Title: The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyne Peake

Pages: 1023.

How it was obtained: I bought it on for about five bucks.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 2 years.

Days spent reading it: 2 months.

Why I read it: I ran across a copy of the book at Barnes and Noble, looked it over, thought it might be interesting.

Brief review: Reading The Gormenghast Novels was a unique experience. I had never heard of them before I stumbled onto them in a Barnes and Noble one day.  Peake is a combination of Dickens and Tolkien.  He has elements of high fantasy like Tolkien, but his writing style is more like Dickens. Peake pays a great deal of attention to details. Gormenghast castle comes alive in his hands. Peake has a great way with words. He can be difficult to adjust to, but once I got rolling I enjoyed reading the first two novels in this collection. The first two novels—Titus Groan and Gormenghast—are wonderful. These two novels are very similar in tone, pace, language, character and plot. They are slow, descriptive, and sometime rambling works of literature. You feel Gormenghast castle as if it is a character. It lives and breathes. And in Titus Groan, Peake introduces one of my new favorite "villains"—the very cunning, ambitious, and intelligent Steerpike. He is a fantastic character, and I wish there was more of him.

Which leads me to Titus Alone, the third novel in this collection. All I can say is "What the Heck?!?" Titus Alone is the odd man out. In it Titus leaves Gormenghast, and as Titus leaves Gormenghast Peake leaves that which is comforting to the reader. This book is such an abrupt departure from the other two novels, I wonder what Peake was thinking. The scenes become much shorter (for instance there are about 80 chapters in the 400 page Gormenghast, and there are 122 chapters in the 220 page Titus Alone). I had no idea what was happening most of the time. We flit from scene to scene. Introduce random new characters and then move along. It is so disconnected and bizarre. Peake was beginning to show signs of Parkinson's as he wrote this last Gormenghast work, but I do not believe that can excuse the complete divergence embodied by this work. It was such a change of style and direction it is hard to explain.

To finish up I would say this, if you can get into the slow paced Titus Groan, and you enjoy it, you will enjoy Gormenghast as well. They are great literature. But I suggest you should just skip Titus Alone. It just is not worth it.

Favorite quotes: From Titus Groan: "The others were involved with counting the portentous minutes before their own particular clouds broke over them, yet at the back of their personal troubles, hopes and fears, this less immediate trepidation grew, this intangible suggestion of change, that most unforgivable of all heresies.

Two from Gormenghast: Who else is there of the direct blood-line? Only the vacant Aunts, Cora and Clarice, the identical twins and sisters of Sepulchrave. So limp of brain that for them to conceive an idea is to risk a haemorrhage.

There is nothing frightened or querulous about young Steerpike. If ever he had harboured a conscience in his tough narrow breast he had by now dug out and flung away the awkward thing—flung it so far away that were he ever to need it again he could never find it.

From Titus Alone: Cold love's the loveliest love of all. So clear, so crisp, so empty. In short, so civilized.

Stars: 4 out of 5 for Titus Groan and Gormenghast. 2 out of 5 for Titus Alone.

Final Word: Dickensian.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book 51: Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap into Vision by Donald Stephenson

Title: Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap into Vision by Donald Stephenson

Pages: 455

How it was obtained: I traded for it at used book store in Columbia.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 4 years.

Days spent reading it: 5 days.

Why I read it: I have read a few books by Stephenson, so I read one more.

Brief review: I think this is probably the last Donald Stephenson novel I will read. I just have not been very impressed. His books are easy enough to read, but I realized I just do not like his protagonists. I am not drawn to them. I do not want to be them. I sometimes pity them or revile them, but never feel good about them. This is a big deal because I like characters so much, thus when I don't like the character development I tend not to like the story.

Forbidden Knowledge is about Morn Hyland, a space cop who becomes connected to a group of pirate scum. She does what she must to survive, and this means she makes unpleasant decisions frequently. Donaldson writes in a way that pretty much only depresses me.  He's dark, with very little silver lining to redeem the characters.  Sure they are tough, but they are also sad to read about.  I was unimpressed by the story until about 2/3 of the way through, when the plot finally grabbed my attention. The pirate ship enters "Forbidden Space" where a group of aliens who are trying to control the human species through genetic warfare. That was interesting.

Overall I liked how this book progressed as I got into it some more, but honestly I was not interested enough to continue the series from here, even though it does continue for a few more books. It just was not good enough for me to consume my time anymore.

Favorite quote: "Unlike the crew, however, she didn't regret his death. Such men didn't deserve to live, no matter how expensive it was to get rid of them."

Stars: 3 out of 5

Final Word: Flat.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book 50: The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

Title: The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

Pages: 466

How it was obtained: I bought it for a dime from the Toccoa Falls College library withdrawal pile.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: I must have purchased this book in 2001 or 2002, so about 7 or 8 years.

Days spent reading it: 10 days.

Why I read it: During college I wrote a report in my Intro to Islam class about Black Muslims. In writing that report I discovered that Malcolm X started off with a deviant form of Islam, but after his trip to Mecca he began to change his views about Islam and also his views on hating all "white devils." I picked up this book because I was interested in Malcolm X's life after writing that report.

Brief review: Wow. This book was not what I expected at all. Reading this autobiography was more compelling than I could have imagined. I was engaged in Malcolm's life from start to finish. Starting with his street hustler days in Harlem, to his conversion to Islam (as preached by Elijah Muhammad) in prison, to his break with Elijah Muhammad, to his pilgrimage to Mecca, and ending with his assassination, this book was informative and entertaining.

A few things I found most interesting about Malcolm's life. First, Malcolm X was full of hatred for what the "white devil" had done to the black man. He saw injustice, called white men out on it, and sought to fix the situation. While I do not agree with his militant tactics, I respect his unflagging devotion to righting centuries of wrongs. Second, I find his change after his trip to Mecca as completely astonishing. He completely transformed his views. He stopped saying all white men were the devil. He started pointing to the system that oppressed, and that many white men perpetuated. It is a fascinating study to look at how drastically he changed in those last few months of his life. One certainly wonders, if he had not been killed, how his new views would have changed his approach to civil rights. Third, I was impressed by the scope of the story. Malcolm's self commentary on his life ends just a few days before he was killed. Alex Haley does a wonderful job of telling the story about the rest of his life. The account of his death is simply compelling to read. I was hooked to the very end.

I think this was one of the most important books that I have read on my list. I certainly do not agree with many of Malcolm X's views (especially the young, belligerent Malcolm). But by reading this book, I can enter his world. I can understand the pain. I can begin to understand why Malcolm was so passionate about his cause. I can begin to see how important the civil rights movement was for black Americans. And I can see how far we still have to go. We still have racism in America. Even if some of it is hidden, it is still in the American system. I think America has come a long way, but this book challenges me to look deep into my own heart and see if there are prejudices that I need to eliminate. It is not always pretty.

Malcolm X lived a life very different from my own. I am glad that I read his autobiography because it helped me to understand his radically different life more than I did before. I would highly recommend reading this book. It is enlightening and challenging and different than what I expected. Well worth the time it took to read.

Favorite quote: I told him, "What you are telling me is that it isn't the American white man who is a racist, but it's the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racists psychology in the white man." He agreed.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Final Word: Provocative.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book 49: Youth Culture 101 by Walt Mueller

Title: Youth Ministry 101 by Walt Mueller

Pages: 480

How it was obtained: I bought it at the National Youth Ministry Conference almost 3 years ago.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: I started reading it right away, but I did not finish it until this month.

Days spent reading it: About 3 years, but I finished half of it in about a week when I buckled down to finish it.

Why I read it: After seeing Walt Mueller at NYMC, Susan and I knew that we had to pick up his book and read it. He was incredibly knowledgeable about youth culture and specifically about how media shapes their worldview.

Brief review: Walt Mueller's book Youth Culture 101 is sure to be the standard by which all other youth culture books are evaluated. It is well documented, well thought out, and well presented. Mueller starts off with an overview of why culture is so important to understand, and further explains why youth culture is so unique. Mueller is especially impressive when it comes to youth and media. He dedicates a few chapters to the subject. He talks about how media (movies, music, TV, advertisements, etc.) really influences us. His main approach is to talk about how it impacts youth, but one cannot walk away from this book without evaluating your own media consumption. It's crazy actually how much we are exposed to in any given day.

Mueller has a simple message. We need to evaluate the message of media in our lives, not just consume the product it promises. He helps Christians to critically look at these influences, run them through a grid of how they line up with Biblical values, and then encourages us to act on how they compare. He has other resources that go over these same principles. It is called the 3-D approach to media. And you can find it, along with other resources on youth culture, at His website is a great resource for youth pastors and parents who want to understand the youth they are living life with every day. However, media is just one facet of this book. Mueller covers a wide variety of youth culture topics including: Media, Marketing to teens, Peer Pressure, Sex, Materialism, Substance Abuse, and Depression and Suicide. It is a book full of helpful statistics, facts, interpretations, and ideas for how to counsel students.

The chapter that really scared me in this book was the chapter on teens and sex. It was heart-breaking and challenging. If I could hand it out to every parent I knew, I would. Just a few shocking statistics for you: "70 percent of young women and 62 percent of young men today have had sexual intercourse by age 18." If that makes you cringe, the statistics for oral sex are increasing in an alarming way as well. "By the time they reach the age of 19, three-quarters of all teenagers will have engaged in oral sex." That's 75 percent!! 75 percent!!! Mueller states "Oral sex is now more common than sexual intercourse among teenagers." And most of those teenagers do not consider oral sex to be breaking an abstinence pledge. "One study showed that among students who said they'd made and kept an abstinence pledge, 55 percent had participated in oral sex." One last word on this subject, the craziest part is that many of our middle school students are beginning to engage in these activities. Parents and youth workers, it is NOT too soon to talk about sex with your kids. They are getting a sex education from their friends, music, TV, movies, and school. If you want to give them a Biblical perspective on sex, YOU have to speak up. I know it can be scary, but after reading these chapters I am convinced that parents and youth workers must do a better job of educating our youth about what the Bible says about sex. They are already hearing it, but are they hearing it from the most important people in their lives? I was personally challenged after reading this chapter and plan on having some talks and lessons in the upcoming months about healthy relationships and sexual purity. I hope you will too.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who works with youth. You need to know about the world these students are living in because it is much different than when you were a student. Youth culture has changed rapidly in the past decade and it continues to accelerate in how rapidly it changes. Mueller's book is helpful because it lays out some of the basics, but also gives us advice for how to address the issues from a Biblical perspective. It challenged my personal walk and my teaching patterns as well. My copy of this book is marked up, with notes in the margins, and thoughts scribbled throughout the whole book. I would highly recommend this books to parents as well, but the size might be daunting. I think Mueller has written some other books that are more approachable, but really this book was not as big as it seems on the outside. With large fonts, ample spacing between lines, and wide-margins make this 480ish page book read like a 250 page book. It is very readable, well documented, and very practical. One of the best books on ministry I have ever read.

Favorite quote: "Today's teenagers desire real relationships that are characterized by depth, vulnerability, openness, listening, and love—connectedness in their disconnected, confusing, alienated world."

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Final Word: Vital.