08 May 2015

1984 by George Orwell

     It is a common misconception among my friends that 1984 by George Orwell is my favorite book. Mainly because I find myself in the throes of excitement saying something like, “1984 is my FAVORITE book!” You can see how confused they would be. Though there is a major soft spot in my heart for dystopian literature, it’s probably not true that it is my favorite book since, as anyone knows who has read it in the past or read along with it as part of the Reading to Know Book Club, it is not a very pleasant book to read. In some places it’s actually downright unpleasant. I have a constantly changing top ten books or so and 1984 is in there, but probably the book that holds the number one spot fairly consistently is David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. However, 1984 is the book that changed my life, and potentially found me a husband. That last part is questionable, but I’m willing to run with it. 

Reading to Know - Book Club

     1984 was written in the aftermath of World War II and when the Soviet Union was in its heyday. It is a partial warning against state tyranny and a partial story of a revolution betraying its adherents. Eric Blair, the real George Orwell, was a democratic socialist with a strong revulsion to totalitarian government. Both 1984 and his other novel Animal Farm: A Fairy Story share the theme of the revolution betrayed by tyranny. Now, I’m actually a little confused by Blair I have to say, because he agreed with a revolution from below (socialism) but not one from above (totalitarianism) yet in both of his novels the revolution from below eventually becomes totalitarian anyway. I guess he believed that if one walked carefully and if everyone did their part we could prevent socialism from devolving. I would probably argue that in all cases history has seen this really hasn’t happened. You end up with a Stalin, or a Mao, or a Big Brother.
     As a cautionary tale though, 1984 certainly works. It’s the story of Winston Smith who still clings to truth and memory and hopes that one day Big Brother will be overthrown. Throughout the book we learn the futility of one man against a set system. The takeaway is not to let the world get like Winston’s world because by that point it’s too late.
     This time around I found two parts particularly chilling. The first is when Winston mentioned how “Owntime” was perceived as weird and revolutionary. Everyone was expected to share their lives and always be around others. Facebook anyone? Also, not to mention, how exhausting would that be to never have time alone? The second is the part of 1984 that always makes me cry. When Winston looks at himself in the mirror after spending some uh, quality time in the Ministry of Love building and weeps over his dehumanization. I guess it’s not chilling so much as just horribly sad.
     I also think it's scary how quickly Winston's comrades swallow everything. They even forget an announcement from the day before that their rations were being lowered and rejoice when they are told that Big Brother has actually procured them more rations. They have completely forgotten the previous day's announcements. Even the proles who are relatively free are mainly wrapped up in day-to-day things and distractions like the lottery. I find myself a little like this to be honest. I have gone weeks and weeks without knowing anything that is happening in the world. The news usually makes me a little depressed and I have plenty of things at home that need taking care of. But I don't know if this self-inflicted ignorance is actually very good. In fact, re-reading 1984 makes me want to be more aware than ever.
     The lack of truth or the willingness to change truth is also shocking. Truth is whatever Big Brother and the Party say is true. If they say 2+2=5 then one is to believe them. This is something that has gone on since Adam and Eve right? "Did God really say?" The enemy has always wanted to distort the truth. There is a lot of pressure on Christians to compromise on what is true, and while it is disappointing to see the ones who do cave to the pressure, it is encouraging to see the ones who believe in Truth. 1984 though not written by a Christian, is written by someone who has been given common grace. The book is a call to not let Truth go or even let it slip into compromise.  
     There is some amount of speculation that 1984 was originally going to be called 1948 but Orwell’s publishers thought that was going to be a little too pointed. Regardless I think the Soviet Union understood Orwell’s accusations enough to ban it from 1950 to 1990. Orwell also was influenced by the Tehran Conference when he wrote about the world being divided into Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. It is also believed that 1984 was inspired by another dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin called We. I read it a few years ago and I could see the influences, but it is not nearly as approachable as 1984.
     In my Sophomore year of college I was taking quite a few English classes and learning I was much more knowledgeable in English than I was ever going to be in history. I even switched my major to English for a semester, but then I read 1984 and suddenly I realized the importance of truth and memory and what better way to preserve both those things than to have a solid knowledge of the past. So, I returned to history where I did not do nearly as well, but I did end up studying a few times with the man who later became my husband. Thanks George Orwell!
      So, even though we’re over a week into May I’m still going to post this. I’m so happy that Reading to Know hosted this book as part of the book club. And thank you Annette for picking it. Also, kudos to Carrie for pointing out that as much as we may sympathize with Winston, he is still in an adulterous relationship. Sometimes I can get so caught up in the story I forget to take a step back and say, "That's not ok." I'm very glad to have had that in my head this time around. I mean, I don't think anyone every really has much sympathy with Julia "rebel-from-the-waist-downwards" Dixon (her last name is never given in the book, but a later movie gave her that name), but I do remember the last time I read it I found myself interested much more in their romance, because mine was happening at the same time. So, it's good to have some reminders of the Truth.
     Also, fun personal  fact: Husband and I will frequently refer to things as doubleplusungood if we don’t like something.Another fun personal fact: I have actually made up a tune for "Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree."I'm humming it right now.

06 April 2015

Divergent by Veronica Roth

     We can all agree that teen romance is stupid, right? I mean, I figure if you disagree with this you wouldn’t be reading my blog anyway. So, I feel like I can just say we all agree that teen romance is dumb and should go away, forever.
     Now that I have that out of the way, I need to say I read the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. In fact, I read it a week or two ago and I’ve been thinking about what to say in this post ever since. The thing is, it was really really good. I am loathe to say it but I think it might have been even better than The Hunger Games. There were some real Christian themes and very good discussion topics.
     That being said, this is an adult book. The romance is waaaay too erotic for kids. In fact, it’s too much for teens. I’d wait until you know for sure your teen is a serious Christian and very mature (think 17 and up) and then give it to them. Now, I don’t really know because I’m not a mom, but that would be my guess. This is actually the only bad thing about this book. It makes me doubly angry because the rest of the book is so good, if the romance wasn’t so erotic it would have been perfect. Though there are no actual descriptions of sex happening and though one could read the book and never know if the characters had sex it got close enough that I didn’t care for it. The romance is also between teenagers which (as aforementioned) we all think is stupid. So, this is actually going to be the last thing I’ll say about it.
     So, I dislike giving too much away which is why I often shy away from the description of the book, but it’s a dystopian series (my favorite!) set in a future where humanity has wiped out more than half of itself. In order to ensure that this doesn’t happen again society has split into five factions, each cultivating a different virtue. Beatrice, the protagonist is a sixteen year old girl raised in the faction called Abnegation. They cultivate selflessness, but Beatrice knows her own selfish heart and thinks she won’t be able to fit into her family’s faction. (This all happens in the first few chapters, if not the very first one so I don’t think I’m giving too much plot away) Later on in the book and for the rest of the series the reader watches as man’s attempt to better himself ultimately fails.
     The series isn’t a Christian series, but the themes are striking. I find it lovely that a believer can write redemptive literature without explicitly saying, “And then Beatrice accepted Jesus into her heart and everything turned out better after that.” This is a book that can appeal to believers and unbelievers, but believers will naturally pick up on certain aspects.
     Ok, I said I wasn’t going to mention the romance again, but I realize that I have to. One of the big themes of the book is forgiveness. And it is most blatant in the relationship between the two main characters. If you can for a moment pretend they aren’t kids, the romance is actually quite mature. They don’t stay starry-eyed about each other all the way through the series. I was particularly blown away by this quote, “I fell in love with him. But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.” What a great description of marriage. Love is not a free-fall or a lack of control, love is a choice you make every day. The same applies to family relationships. There are some broken familial ties and though not all of them get fixed (yet another realistic aspect of life. We don’t always get all the loose ends tied up this side of heaven) the forgiveness shown is remarkable.
     The theme of sacrifice also is strong in the books. People die in this series. Everything from suicide to murder to laying your life down for your friends is explored. Each death is treated with respect and thought. Not all of these deaths are sacrificial, but some are. There is quite a bit of a discussion of what is worth dying for and I think Ms. Roth and her protagonist display a great deal of maturity in the right way to look at death and particularly in sacrificing yourself for others. As believers we know the power of a death to save others (I am posting this the day after Easter so this should all be fresh in your minds), and I think Ms. Roth wants us to think of Christ when we read these books. The sacrificing isn’t always one’s life, however. Beatrice is raised in the faction that values self-sacrifice above all things. Beatrice never ends up despising where she comes from. She actually sees the sacrificial life as beautiful and brave in its own way. She just is all too aware of her own selfish heart to feel that she can fit in there.
     The biggest theme though not necessarily the one I picked up on until I read reviews from other people is the topic of original sin. The entirety of the series revolves around whether or not men can fix original sin, either by cultivating specific virtues or by genetic modification. Each faction takes a virtue they claim can fix a broken world and ends up distorting that virtue. Bravery becomes cruelty and unnecessary risks. Truth becomes harsh and insensitive treatment of others. Knowledge becomes pride. Ultimately men cannot fix themselves. Total depravity.
     I have one last thing to say about the book that is going to be a little cryptic if you haven’t read the books, but it is my own personal axe to grind. I think the ending of the series was heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I didn’t cry, but I thought it was genius, and I’ll never understand the negative backlash about it. Ever. Selah. Now, everyone go read it!
     In conclusion there is a website called EpicReads and the author of said website apparently falls victim to the same problem I have. I want to eat what my characters are eating. I actually made an orange saffron cake for Easter this year because I was reading Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone and the characters had a saffron cake. Anyway, in the Divergent series a certain cake is mentioned a few times and really it’s not explained at all, but here is a recipe put together anyway by the fans of the series. I kind of want to give it a shot.

Great quote that all Christians can rally behind:  “You don’t believe things because they make your life better, you believe them because they’re true.”

30 March 2015

Forgive the Fan Girl Moment

It's coming...

Reading to Know - Book Club

It was a bright cold day in April...

 And the clocks were striking 13....

My copy is by my bed already and I can't wait for April to begin our next read!

27 March 2015

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

     I made the mistake of reading Carrie’s review of The Pursuit of God before I even started the book, so I may have begun the book with an already tainted perception of it. I would like to think; however, that I would have come to some of the same conclusions without reading what she had to say. I was already a little skeptical when I saw that Mr. Tozer was a pastor without formal training. *sigh* I’m not even going to start ranting about that. Also, I knew there were just going to be some things I disagreed with when I read that he was a Methodist minister. I’m sure he is a sincere believer with a serious love for the Lord, but I knew we were going to have rather large theological differences.

Reading to Know - Book Club

     That being said, I feel like Mr. Tozer and I could have had a better conversations if he stuck to his points rather than attempting to hammer them home by pointing out how “many misguided Christians today think…” or “Churches today often blindly do…” I actually came away totally unsure of who he was talking about. It kind of sounded like everyone except Mr. Tozer himself.  He even went so far as to say that most churches don’t encourage their members to pursue God. I apparently lucked out and went my entire life to that slim percentage of churches that did encourage their members to pursue God. In, fact, somehow despite my immersion in the intellectual side of theology, the churches I grew up in actually encouraged a heart and head approach to God. Who knew how close I was to attending one of the GINORMOUS amount of churches who have absolutely NO idea about how to actually have a relationship with the Lord?! Lucky me!
     Ok, all sarcasm aside I now have to come to grips with a few of his points. His tone was just so distracting it was hard to get to these points. Mainly, Mr. Tozer is all about the experience. This really shouldn’t come as a shock since he is a Methodist minister. I don’t feel like I’m denigrating the experience, when I say it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some people (you can’t actually SEE me but I’m pointing at myself) grow up with no memory of a conversion experience, but are still somehow able to be awed by the work of Christ in their lives. And some people do have quite a dramatic experience and also end up awed by the work of Christ in their lives. God works in all kinds of ways, and to insist that He only work in one is, at best, a little arrogant.
     Also, somewhat unsurprisingly Mr. Tozer is very skeptical of theology. Now, I agree that one can know theology and not have a very thriving relationship with God, but I feel like a lot of misguided Christians (sorry, I can’t stop) think that a strong emphasis on theology immediately equals a poor relationship with God. Believe it or not, one can have both! “The highest love of God is not intellectual, it is spiritual,” says Mr. Tozer, but Luke 10:27 says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (my emphasis). Jesus Himself believes that both are important. Why are both important? (I mean, besides the fact that Jesus said so, which honestly is actually good enough of a reason) Because we are sinners and sometimes our “feelings” and “emotions” will fail. We will grow weary and in those moments we just need to hold on to what we KNOW. There is a popular song from a few years ago about our relationship with God. It says “More like falling in love than something to believe in/More like losing my heart than giving my allegiance.” I imagine if one treated marriage this way (No honey, we don’t need to make vows, we just need to be in loooove), it would go horribly awry. Why do people feel like we can treat our faith this way. We need the heart AND we need the head to be fully engaged. One is no better than the other.
     In chapter five, Mr. Tozer talks about Universal Presence. He starts (of course) with talking about how he is the ONLY person who is comfortable talking about the universal presence of God. “Christian teachers shy away from its full implications…and, if they mention it at all, mute it down.” I’ve actually not experienced this, but ok, Mr. Tozer. Later in the chapter he talks about the biblical biggies: John, Moses, and Isaiah and even talks about later saints like Luther and posits the idea that they were perhaps more spiritually receptive than others. I’m not necessarily saying he was wrong, but I personally think the reason those biblical characters are so powerful is that there really isn’t anything bigger or better about them. The fact that they are all ordinary sinners like us is more of a testament to the power of God. He uses ordinary sinful people to enact His plan.
     In chapter eight, Mr. Tozer takes up the subject of restoration. He says that the fall created an estranged relationship between creature and Creator (true) and how we need to be restored to that right relationship (true). So, we need to work on that (um…?) and somehow this is a separate work from what Christ already has done (wait, what?). I feel like there is a bit of self going on in Mr. Tozer’s thinking. I don’t think he would agree with me, and I think he is very sincere, but every chapter (especially this one) seems designed to pump up the Christian (Emotion! Experience!) and encourage us to do something. I guess I feel like the work has already been done by Christ. Not that we are off the hook. We are told to examine our lives and of course we want to look more and more like Christ, but I just think there is a worry from Mr. Tozer that Christendom just needs to work harder. I think this might be a misplaced worry.
     So, I guess at the end of this book I’m glad I read it, but I won’t be reading it again. And I don’t think I will attempt anymore of his books either. I don’t read enough theology though, so I am glad to have got this one under my belt. I'm actually looking forward to someone's review who actually LIKED this book. Thank you to Carrie and Shonya for the opportunity to read this with you all!

20 March 2015

I Will Be Near To You by Lindsay McCabe

     When I was younger I read a book called Behind Rebel Lines which is based on a true story of a woman who entered the Civil War on the Union side (I believe) dressed as a man. Now, I don’t recall all the particulars because I think she ended up becoming a spy and I’m not sure how that happened. I do recall being terribly fascinated with her story.
     I know it is no longer a big shock to people that women in disguise fought alongside men in the Civil War, but I think because I found Behind Rebel Lines so interesting as a young person, I picked up I Shall Be Near to You by Lindsay McCabe when I read the description. Also, when I was at the library I noticed there were about five copies of the book on the shelf, which led me to believe it was once a book club book and for better or for worse I’m drawn to those books.
     The story is about a newly married woman, Rosetta Wakefield, whose husband enlists in the Union army and leaves her on his parents farm. She tries for a few days (literally) to be apart from him and decides her place is with her husband so she disguises herself as a man and enlists with her husband’s company. I’ll try not to spoil anything for anyone, but oh my GOODNESS this was a tear-jerker.
     Now, most of the story takes place at the camp, with a lot of soldiers. There is at least one character named Hiram, who is the course jester of the group and he has many bad words and remarks about women that the gentler reader might not like, but other than that the book is very clean.  Hiram is not exactly viewed favorably. Rosetta and her husband seemed to remain chaste prior to marriage (it takes place very early) and even in the confines of marriage Ms McCabe leaves the romance mainly veiled. You understand what is happening but it is treated respectfully.
     I feel like one can’t enter into the topic of women disguising themselves to fight without touching on egalitarianism or women’s rights or something, but I enjoyed how non preachy McCabe’s story was. Rosetta has always found farm work and outside labor much more interesting than housework, which doesn’t come very naturally to her, but it doesn’t seem like she’s trying to make a statement. She has seen her father mourn over his lack of sons and she is trying to fill that space for him. So, when she eventually enters the war some of the tougher tasks come easier to her than it would to most women. But she doesn’t even enter the war to make a statement. She goes because she decides her place is with her husband. I can dig that.
     This is a wonderful story of love. True, real, and sacrificial love. There are undertones of Ruth throughout the book and it will break your heart. I just thought it was completely well done and very moving. I am probably going to go back to the library and see if Ms. McCabe has written anything else.