Here I am, propped up in bed today, with my computer on my lap, which means I can actually write something. I'm going to have an epidural in a week, and am very much looking forward to it. In the meantime, I am taking it easy, and reading a lot, well, maybe not that much, but it is all I have at the moment. Books are piled all around me, along with my laptop, kindle, and my cell phone so I can talk to people and while away mindless hours playing games -- really there is nothing quite like a vacation filled with books and idle distractions.
Here's a brief rundown of what I've read so far.
Hidden by Katherine McKenzie was a book I picked up as part of the Kindle First program. I'm all for free reading, especially if I don't have to drive to the library to get it at the moment. It is not a bad novel, and I enjoyed it, sort of. It didn't really capture my interest and I found none of the characters compelling. The story is about a man who dies suddenly, and the interlayering of his reminiscences with those of his wife and another woman with whom he has an intense relationship has a lot of potential. The problem for me was that the individual voices didn't really seem that distinct, and the characters were not fully developed, although perhaps that was the point. They all seemed like unrealized people who just happened into their lives through no fault of their own. I felt no emotional connection to any of them.
Next up was The Voice of Silence by Oonagh Shanley Toffolo which I enjoyed. It is a simple book, a simple story of a life, and nothing is fleshed out in great detail. Yet it has a simple calmness and clarity about it, which I felt said a great deal. I found it satisfying, perhaps more so than had it been more greatly mired in gritty detail or endless spiritual exploration.
After this I read The Shack by William Paul Young. This is a book that came out a few years ago and apparently got some attention in Christian circles, but I was basically unaware of its existence. I read it because several people in a discussion group I participated in talked about it and how it helped them with some difficulties in their lives. Having read the book I now have a better sense of what they were saying.
That said, I have to talk about this book on two levels. First of all the author is not a writer. It is not well written. The wording and phraseology is awkward and terribly clichéed.
The novel is about a father who has lost his young daughter to a serial killer, is wrapped in grief, is seriously injured in a automobile accident, and has an encounter with God that restores his faith. It is clearly based on the principles that seem to shape some near-death experiences. It is also clearly written by someone who has struggled with loss and faith and is trying to share his story.
I can in fact see how this book has angered many and also helped many, and I have no interest in getting involved in the discussion of Christianity, humanism, universalism, heresy etc. etc. that this book plays into. I felt the discussion of the Trinity was quite good, but there are many areas that are theologically weak, to say the least. It is thought provoking if one is inclined toward thinking about the topic of God and/or the meaning of life and the nature of forgiveness and restoration. It is also a work of fiction, not a work of theology. The author is telling a story, not telling people what they should believe. Strict adherence to truth is not the purpose of good fiction. Through story we are lead to open our minds, perhaps think, perhaps see the world a little differently. If the story helps some people with their own issues surrounding faith, so be it. They will perhaps move on and seek out further sources. If the story makes you recoil in anger and frustration it may still be a success if it forces you to face your anger and define your frustrations. Some of the books that have had had the strongest impact on me have been books which elicited strong feelings of anger and frustration.
I am inclined to say that I believe it is not my place to tell anyone what they should believe, that we humans have a very spotty record when it comes to judging, and we should therefore best avoid it. Sometimes we find enlightenment and understanding in the strangest places, in the least expected places, even in wrong-headed places. This is one of the gifts of humanity. All I can say about that this book is, if one is thoughtfully or spiritually inclined, and capable of getting past the many short-comings of this book, there are quite a few profound insights that may make you think and reflect and question what it means to be a better person. And I suppose I believe, that for me, those insights transcend all the other failings of the book.
Lastly, for this post at least, I read Dr. J: The Autobiography, by Julius Erving which I found to be gripping and fascinating. The book is written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style with each chapter of his life existing in the present tense, which can be confusing, except that I find that Erving's voice, and his thoughtfulness is really emphasized by this style. It seems like an honest and thoughtful reflection by a man who has lived a life defined by extremes in some sense, a man who is prone to thoughtfulness, and who has managed to stay true to himself, admitting to both his strengths and his flaws.
And that is enough for now. Expect more.