Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Well, strictly speaking, it's not the New Year until tomorrow, but now is as good a time as any to start celebrating.

First, I'm sorry I left you all without holiday reading recs over the last two weeks. I will be getting back down to business sometime next week with a review of Ariosto's famous Italian epic poem Orlando Furioso, so stick around!

In addition to being a new year, January is also time for another Feature Week! One week solid of fun and daily posting! So make sure you come back around the third week of January for some of that--topic still undecided, so let's call it a Mystery Feature Week! Otherwise, I do plan to cut back on the volume of posts--we're up and running smoothly now, and I have some other projects to work on. This does mean fewer Friday Poems as well, but to be honest I was beginning to run short of poems not written by GK Chesterton.

As far as retrospectives go...2010 was a dramatic year, full of unexpected plot twists and nail-biting moments. And I wouldn't have missed any of it, not for the world.

I read a lot of good books this year; some of the best, like The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Man Who Was Thursday, Lorna Doone and The Pilgrim's Progress were re-reads. Of the books I read for the first time this year, my ten favourites were:

1. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis by Michael Ward--This book cannot be recommended enough--it shows how and why Lewis embodied medieval cosmology in the Chronicles of Narnia, and then kept it secret all his life. Absolutely amazing.

2. Captain, My Captain by Deborah Meroff--The (fictionalised) true story of Mary Patten, who went to sea in a clipper with her husband, its captain; their stormy love story, and how she navigated some of the most dangerous seas in the world alone. A great girly read; bring hankies.

3. Lilith, by George MacDonald--An eerie fantasy, full of wisdom and truth, by one of the few Calvinist fantasists!

4. The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Armin

5. So Much More by Anna-Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin--Finally, a clearly-articulated vision for those of us Christian, homeschooled daughters who want something more from life than a nine-to-five job. While a little of their discussion of Scripture looks closer to eisegesis than exegesis to me, their fundamental thesis is sound, convincing, and winsome. I wish I'd read it six years ago.

6. Nancy Wake, by Russell Braddon--The far-fetched yet true story of Australian Nancy Wake, who served in the French Underground during the last years of World War II.

7. War in Heaven by Charles Williams--An obscure Inkling and close friend of CS Lewis, Williams wrote peculiar and deeply theological fantasy stories. This one, set in the present day but with a strong medieval flavour, tells of an occult attempt to steal the Holy Grail.

8. A People-Watcher's Paradise: Odd People in Our Parish by Brian J Meade--By a local author, this deserves to be known as one of the great works of Australian humour. Mr Meade, no matter what his books suggest, is no village idiot: I think I detect the influence of PG Wodehouse. Great fun.

9. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart--A fun mashup of The Thirty-Nine Steps and Jane Eyre, with a bit of Cinderella thrown in for good measure.
10. Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics by Melinda Tankard Reist--What happens when an unborn child is diagnosed--often wrongly--with Downs Syndrome, cleft palate, or some other disability or abnormality? Life unworthy of life, says the medical profession, and pressures the parents to abort. This sobering and important book tells the story of women who defied them.

Without a doubt the worst book I read last year was Kathleen Winsor's Forever Amber, Or, Eight Hundred Pages of Pain. My only excuse is that I thought there would be something redeeming at the end: surely nobody could think that such a scheming, horrible, immoral, murderous, gold-digging, shrill, petty, and horrible woman as the protagonist was actually admirable? Surely there would be a comeuppance, or a redemption? ...No. Possibly the worst book I have ever read, even beating out Allende's Zorro: A Novel and Henry Handel Richardson's The Getting of Wisdom.

Every year I try to discover a new and wonderful author, and this year I have two. The first is Dean Koontz, a Catholic author of...well, horror novels. Many horror stories are like the Greek tragedies: they depict innocent and good people preyed on by an irrational and terrifying supernatural. In his A Christian Survey of World History, RJ Rushdoony writes (p31):
The moral of Greek tragedy is that fate rules and man is a helpless pawn in a perverse universe. [...] For Greek tragedy, man is not a sinner but a victim. The gods torment him, and Fate destroys both men and gods. [...] Life is presented as meaningless or perverse. Man does not have a chance, nor is it his fault that he fails.
Modern horror has the additional level of repressed guilt: the horror story becomes an attempt to exorcise the guilt which Greek tragedy denied, as E Michael Jones argued in his book Monsters from the Id (discussed in my review of Dracula). However, I believe that there are Christian forms of both tragedy and horror, which rightly depict mankind as sinners pursued by both the wrath and the mercy of a righteous God. Koontz's horror is squarely situated within a Christian cosmology, and shows the heavy influence of Flannery O'Connor. I have been reading, and greatly enjoying, the Odd Thomas books.

Another author I've recently made the acquaintance of is Elizabeth Goudge. So far I have only read Smoky-House, a delightful children's book, but I look forwards to making her better acquaintance in the New Year...

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

People like you are the reason I walked away from Christianity years ago and never looked back.

Suzannah said...

What, people with idiosyncratic literary choices?

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