Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gathering Up a Few Book Notes

I have a tantalizing stack of books I'd like to read this summer and I recently gave myself permission dive into it, however, I made myself wait until I finished the last book of our Great Books/Ancients class: Virgil's Aeneid.

The Aeneid

This was my second time through the Aeneid, and while I'm sure I yet have much to gain from this Latin masterpiece (read by me in translation!), a second reading brought greater understanding and appreciation of Virgil's epic poem. Particularly, I learned to appreciate the 'Virgilian Solution', a sort of Virgilian "Back to the Future" in which Virgil sets his narrative in the Homeric past while making illusions to future events surround the founding of Rome and the rise of the Empire under the Emperor Augustus. Brilliant!

And, the boys and I enjoyed discussing the themes of furor, irresistible fury and unquenchable passion, as personified in Dido, and pietas, or duty, as exemplified in the life Aeneas. Are the two qualities mutually exclusive, or can there be any furor in pietas? The two books below served to heighten our understanding, and appreciation of this great poem.

From Achilles to Christ

Heroes of the City of Man

In George McDonald's fairytale, The Princess and the Goblin, Princess Irene becomes distraught to the point of tears when her good friend, Curdie, can not see, and thus, not believe in the princess's magical grandmother. As she comforts the Princess Irene, her wise grandmother also advises her:

..."'But in the meantime you must be content, I say, to be misunderstood for a while. We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary.'

'What is that, grandmother?'

'To understand other people.'

It is this humble position which Randy Newman, the author of Questioning Evangelism, takes in his practical and loving apologetic. Says D.A. Carson: "This book reflects a deep grasp of biblical theology and a penetrating compassion for people. How very much like the Master himself!"

Chapters 1-3 answer "Why ask questions?, chapters 4-10, address "What questions are people asking?", and chapters 11-13 explain why "Why are questions and answers not enough?" Newman demonstrates his winsome and way of answering such questions as "why does a God allow suffering?" or "why are Christians so Homophobic?" or "what is so good about marriage?" by asking further questions of his interlocutors, revealing presuppositions while at the same time engaging their hearts and minds. Highly recommended for all audiences and especially high school for college students.

Questioning Evangelism

The next book, a memoir written in the form of letters home by an graduate student studying Arabic in Jordan, was a light read I picked up just before our friends from Boise arrived for a first-time visit in Jordan. Since we've lived here for nearly 21 years I thought it might be good to get a fresh perspective of what is like to view life in Jordan from a new arrival. And while it might not be the first or only book I'd recommend to someone interested in Jordan, the author gave an accurate and readable account of life in Jordan just before the war in Iraq, and he insightfully summed up the concerns of the Jordanians he knew and talked with: the Palestinian Issue, marriage, and nationality.

Live from Jordan

The White Tiger was loaned to me by a friend who read it after watching the movie Slumdog Millionare. I haven't yet seen that movie, but I read this book, a first novel by Indian(raised in Australia) author, Aravind Adiga, which made it to the short list for the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

The White Tiger

I read this quickly--on a five hour flight from Amman to London. Exploring the social and class distinctions and inequalities of present day India by way of letters (hmm, I seem to be reading lots of books written in letter form. I'm reading another one at present) from a aspiring Indian entrepreneur to the prime minister of China, Adiga reveals more than a triumphant rags to riches story; he explores the darker side of Indian upward mobility as his protagonist ultimately justifies murdering his 'weak' employer in order to escape a life in which humans are not treated as such. This was an intriguing look at human nature in light of the changing social and economic landscape of contemporary India. Caution: some crude language and unsavory allusions. I wouldn't recommend this for my high school children.

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