Featured

A Reading Crisis

You can blame my friend John Duncan for this literary existential crisis. Recently he gifted me with a wonderful little book called The Reading Life. It is a compilation of some of C.S. Lewis’ written words about reading. The book is not very long. I started it Friday night and finished it this (Monday) morning all in the midst of a very hectic weekend. I recognized many of the passages from Surprised by Joy or any of the other numerous Lewis works in my library.

But there was a bit I’d never seen before, and it was titled “How To Know If You Are A True Reader”. Lewis lists four qualities of true readers.

  1. Loves to re-read books.
  2. Highly values reading as an activity (rather than as entertainment of last resort).
  3. Lists the reading of particular books as a life-changing experience.
  4. Continuously reflects and recalls what one has read.

I have always, since my earliest memories, loved to read. I love the feel of a book in my hand, the smell of pages — the older and moldier the better, and the discovery with each turn of the page. I would consider myself a true reader.

It breaks my heart into a million pieces that Lewis probably would not. Let me explain by working backward on his list. I recall very much what I have read, whether literature, novels, sci-fi, or dense theology. There are powerful life-changing books in my past, and hopefully in my future. Among these are novels, self-help books, professional development books, and short stories. I love to read and would rather do that than just about anything else.

But I don’t re-read books. Other than the Bible, which I have read continuously since I was seven years old, I have only read one other book more than once and that is Hamlet. I often read Hamlet during the Lenten season in preparation for Easter. But I’ve never re-read book just to re-read it. Mrs. Greenbean does — I believe she has read, for example, the Harry Potter series at least four times. Maybe more.

But not me. My philosophy has always been there are so many books I’ve never read before that I need to just move forward. In contrast, Lewis argues good books, great books, get better with subsequent readings as the mind picks up more. I see his point, because I have certainly re-watched movies and television shows over and over again, each time with fresh enjoyment. I’ve just never thought of books in the same way.

Maybe I need to evaluate this. As I think on it, were I to re-read — where would I start? I made a list of ten, but I cheat a little.

  1. The War of the Worlds — the first novel I ever read. Lewis talks about reading books you read as a child when you are an adult. This would be a great place to start. Speaking of that . . .
  2. Gentle Ben — I loved that book so much. As a boy it sent me into a legitimate frontier motif in my reading tastes.
  3. The Dark Tower series — Probably the best series ever compiled. I remember reading it and discovering how it changed the way I thought and spoke.
  4. The Lord of the Rings — Maybe the best written document in the English language other than the Authorized Bible and The Book of Common Prayer.
  5. Fathers and Sons — An somewhat obscure Russian novel by Ivan Turgenev. I read it in college and I remember it made me weep. I don’t really remember the plot, but I remember it made me weep. Russian literature does that.
  6. Quiet — This is one of my ‘life-changing’ books. I wish I’d read it when I was a kid. Now that I am full enmeshed in pastoral ministry again, maybe I need to revisit the wisdom about being an introvert in an extrovert world.
  7. The Bible Jesus Read — For my money this was the paradigm for writing a reflective book on the Jesus way of living.
  8. Assassination Vacation — I listened to this on audiobook once. I think I’d like to read it in print.
  9. A Canticle for Leibowitz — Texarkana. That is all that needs to be said.
  10. Celebration of Discipline — I remember how much this book altered me. Maybe reading it again would be a double-blessing.

I’m not saying I will re-read these books, but if I decided to engage in the practice, I would start with. these.

JOY QUOTES

Last Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, I preached a sermon I called “A Symposium on Joy” which was really just a series of loosely connected quotations. If you want the sermon, you’ll have to go listen to the podcast. Here are the quotations, without comment.


The joy which the Spirit brings to our lives lifts us above circumstances. Joy can be ours, even in the midst of the most trying situations.
—Billy Graham

this joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me,
this joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me,
this joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me,
the world didn’t give it, and the world can’t take it away.
—Contemporary African American Lyric

Yes, a few things in life are absolutely tragic, no question about it. First among them, a joyless Christian
—Chuck Swindoll

We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.
—Helen Keller

I’m out of joy. Stop at Albertsons and get me some.
—Kim Greening

Surprised by joy—impatient as the wind.
—William Wordsworth

Weeping may tarry for the night,
But joy comes in the morning.
—King David of Israel

Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.
—Mark Twain

preserve a quiet conscience, and you will always have joy
—Thomas a’Kempis

the time of preparation for the Lord’s Supper will be filled with brotherly admonition and encouragement, with prayers, with fear, and with joy.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You give me joy that’s unspeakable; and I like it
—Peter Furler

Joy is the serious business of heaven.
—C.S. Lewis

we must preach for joy in the glory of God if we would produce true grief over falling short of the glory of God.
—John Piper

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
—Jesus

MAKE BELIEVE STORIES NEED MAPS THAT ARE REAL

Every evil scientist needs a secret lab, right?

I gave the bad guy in The Deep Cove Lineage, Dr. Sleeth, more than a lab.  I gave him an entire underground complex fully funded out of the covert operations of the United States.  Yeah, I was having  fun with that.  His job was to create a monster that could be useful in warfare, that could be unleashed behind enemy lines and turned lose, so to speak.

Of course he succeeded, because that is how the Deep Cove monster came to be.

The last two weeks I’ve been working on the next installment (I hope to have it out by Thanksgiving) and it is set almost entirely in the underground complex named DECOSOL, which is an acronym for Deep Cove Special Operations Laboratory.  I gave it a long acronym name because when I was in Port Orchard I was surrounded by government employees and sailors in the Navy, and those people use acronyms like you wouldn’t believe.  I mean, everything is an acronym.  Whenever they talked it was like a whole other language.  So, I made this one up as a tip of my hat to them.

Continuity has been an issue with this story, now the fifth one in the series, but the biggest problem has been the actual layout of the compound.  In The Deep Cove Lineage I mostly described individual rooms–the lagoon where the monster was kept–the cafeteria–private quarters–administrative areas–you know, the places things happened.  What I didn’t do was work on a unified map of the complex.  Shame on me, because now the plot requires an almost systematic walk-through of the facility, and I need to describe where the characters are, where they are going, and how they get there.

So, with my large red Sharpie I made a map.

TOP SECRET:  A map of DECOSOL
TOP SECRET: A map of DECOSOL

I am not much of an artist, but in my mind I need to know where things are because those things matter when telling a story.  I recently read a novel that had people on a spaceship and, although the book was good, I never could get a mental map of where they were on the spaceship and what was happening where.  I don’t want my readers to have the same problem.

I don’t think sharing the map gives too much away, and you probably can’t read my handwriting anyway.  The bottom of the map where it says “Above/Below” is the entry place.  I really liked that piece in the story.  You’ll have to buy it to find out why.  From there, on one side of the compound is the lagoon, which I sometimes call the lair, and on the extreme other side (top left) are the private quarters for the bad guy Dr. Sleeth.  I had to shrink them down a bit because I ran out of paper.  In between those two areas is essentially an H-shaped facility.  Again, I was thinking about government buildings here.  One hallway is filled labs that heads into the cafeteria.  A hallway joins that large room to another large room, what I call the workroom.  To the right of the workroom is a hallway that runs parallel to the labs, but it has living quarters for the scientists.  Above the workroom, along a zigzag hallway is Dr. Sleeth’s bedroom, living room, and private laboratory.  There is lots of cool stuff inside his private lab.

The blue ink line represents the water line.  Everything to the right of that line is actually built under the lake.  And yeah, that matters.

I share all of this just to say that when writing it is sometimes helpful to draw it out, or diagram it, even if the actual picture or image never makes it into the text itself.  This kind of grunt work is a part of the background story, and that is what I think gives even far-flung fiction like government engineered lake monsters a feeling of reality.  I am reminded of a story I once heard about C. S. Lewis.  Apparently he made the first map of Narnia when he was about seven years old.  When he was an adult, he could write about Narnia as an adult with clarity, even though Lewis still had some major continuity problems, but that is a topic for a different blog.

I resisted the temptation to put a “You Are Here” sticker on the map.  I am proud of myself.

If you’re interested in reading the first four stories, head over to my Amazon author page (click here) and pick them up.  Most of them are only 99 cents.  The first two, Deep Cove and Deep Cove: The Party Crasher are pretty short, but The Deep Cove Lineage and The Deep Cove Investigation are both good sized short stories, about 12,000 words each.  Those last two are also more sci-fish than the first ones, which are more horror/monsterish . If you read Lineage and Investigation, you have the essence of the story.

TOP THREE BOOKS: FANTASY

This post was originally scheduled for next Monday.  However, some exciting things (like my new novel’s release) are taking precedence on Monday, so instead of bumping this one back further I decided to push it up to today.  I hope you will not mind.

The problem with fantasy, like the problem with science fiction, really, is that defining the genre is so blasted difficult.  Then there is the problem that these fantasy books often come in long series.  This makes it exceedingly difficult because a series can be over-the-top great but within the series there is not a single stellar book that would be the best.  I hope that makes sense to you, because it makes sense to me but I’m not sure it makes sense.  And yes, I realize the ridiculousness of that sentence, it accentuates my problem.

Okay, now having said that, here are my top three fantasy books.  As you read, please keep in mind these are not in any particular order.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Book Five of the Chronicles of Narnia), C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis
Lewis hard at work

I know that I will get push back on this one.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is everybody’s favorite.  I love it too, but there is something about Dawn Treader that is marvelous.  I don’t know if it is the rag tag crew, their odd discoveries, dragons, the speculation about heaven or that it is a tribute to The Odyssey but there is something about this book that makes it my favorite in the set.  Plus, it has one of the greatest first lines ever:  “There once was a boy called Eustace Clarence Srubb, and he almost deserved it.”

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

If you didn’t like my first pick, I know you’ll not like this one.  The world is filled with Lord of the Rings aficionados, including some of my very best friends, but for my money The Hobbit is a better book than any of those three.  Here are my reasons.  One, it is shorter.  The eventual finished product was longer than the first release, I grant that.  This demonstrates Tolkien’s perfectionist tendencies.  Shorter is better because it skips all that blasted elfin poetry.  Second, its more playful.  The Hobbit is really just a treasure quest tale.  Compare Gandalf  in The Hobbit with Gandalf in LOTR.  He is far funnier and whimsical in The Hobbit.  Third, LOTR is slightly predictable.  You can see it all coming.  The Hobbit, not so much.  These three differences is why I think The Hobbit movies are failing, they are trying to reduplicate LOTR but The Hobbit is a completely different kind of tale.

The Singer Trilogy, Calvin Miller

I will not have a “Christian Fiction” book category in these lists.  The main reason is my strong conviction that Christian literature doesn’t exist.  There is only literature.  Christian writers should strive to create works of art that stand on their own merit as they reflect a biblical worldview.  The Singer Trilogy (originally released as  three small books, The Singer, The Song, and The Finale) does that.  It is outstanding artwork and poetry that casts Christ as a troubadour singing an eternal song.  Calvin Miller was a teacher and hero of mine, but that is not why this book is on my list.  It is on my list because it is a great work.  That it is biblical is a bonus.

So these are my three fantasy book favorites.  What are yours?  What do you think of mine?  I’d love to know.

The Most Influential Books

Top Three Books:  Classic Fiction

Top Three Books:  Contemporary Fiction

Top Three Books:  Science Fiction