Summer Reading: 1 July

A reader, Philip Tyers, wrote that he was re-reading my A British Crash. ( ‘Why?’ I asked:

Why do we read books for a second, a third, or more times? Because they offer the nutrients we need.

So if I need refreshment in the sense of living in a loving world, I might turn to Anne MacCaffery and her Dragon books, or to Ursula Le Guinn’s Tales of Earthsea, especially the latest stories which seem to add extra depth and wrap things into the future.

If I need to regain my sense of the reality of a loving God, William Young’s The Shack does it again and again.

But if I need to revive my positive vision of multicultural city life, where God is gently and normally at work in ordinary people, I re-open A British Crash. It shows life as I know it to be, deep down, among the ordinariness and tragedy. It does not prescribe, but provides a mirror in which I perceive afresh.

Personally, I read books once, making notes of anything significant. There are too many books unread to go over the same pages again.

Conversely, plenty of books turn out to be a waste of time or worse. The stories can be well written and well structured, but if the author’s view on life is pessimistic or callous, I end up feeling besmirched. Reading is like going on holiday with someone. The company can be interesting and engaging but you may not want the same for your next trip. With some people, you want to come home early.

Half a Martin Amis novel was enough. I took the unusual and drastic decision not to finish. J K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy was the same. Well written and well told, it is a more serious, sharper, version of the TV show Little Britain. ‘See all these dysfunctional, disreputable, despicable, typically English people and how they attack each other (under the shadow of a ruined monastery – a defunct Christianity).’ Having been told that the end is the same but worse, I decided it was not for me.

George Eliot is great company. I have read most of her books. Adam Bede is still my top holiday reading recommendation. Here is a great sympathetic ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ story, with depiction of spiritual and church life as normal, together with thought-provoking insights into spirituality and morality. An ‘eye witness’ account of John Wesley preaching sets the tone.

William Young of The Shack is good, living, company. Not as accomplished a writer as some, he has a great, humane, imagination and enjoys tackling big questions head on. Cross Roads, the book after The Shack, gives us a humorous-serious spiritual story, another direct depiction of the Trinity, and a cameo role for C S Lewis. The first half has a bit too much theologising. When the story later predominates, it’s better.

Rachel Held Evans thinks holidays are for heavy reading, not light. See I disagree. Holidays are for coming away and being refreshed, which, for me, means coming away from theology and book research. We need to make time for the ‘heavy’ reading in the working year, and week. Sabbaths and holydays are for the lighter. Adam Bede and Cross Roads are light with heavy bass notes. Just right.

I haevn’t read MacCaffery or Le Guinn yet. I look forward to coming to know them, maybe this summer.

Do you have reading recommendations? Please comment.

Roger Harper

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