Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Book thoughts

Reading a friend's blog I came across the follwing questions, which made me think a bit. I wonder what your answers would be - here's mine.

1. Name one book that changed your life.
Well, clearly I am going to go through the same issues as my friend in working out whether or not it's OK to choose something other than the Bible here! But given the Bible, two books come to mind for different reasons. As a young Christian, David Watson's autobiography "You are my God" was life changing. Reading it made me a charismatic before I knew what one was. It really transformed my understanding of God and of what it meant to be a Christian, and it propelled me into my adult faith. And the second book... forgive me, it's my own - Salvation's Song. Not because I think it's a great read, but because writing it changed me dramatically. The year it took re-shaped my ministry and life, and gave me for the first time a theology of the cross which really works for me.

2. Name one book you have read more than once.
So many to choose from! Some of the Bond novels, so many books of the Bible, or my favourite book of George Herbert poems: but perhaps the evocative and wonderful "The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper will do. I loved it as a thirteen year old, and I still love it. Dark, moody, wintry, exciting and mystical. A great children's novel, with plenty to satisfy adults too.

3. Name one book you'd want on a desert island.
And now I think I will plump for that collection of George Herbert poems. I'm presuming I have the Bible and Shakespeare anyway, as they are to be found on every desert island. And tempting as taking one novel would be, I think eventually it would grow tiresome. Herbert's poems always have new light, and require being read out aloud, which would be a good discipline in such an environment.

4. Name one book that made you laugh.
Anything by Jasper Fforde. I've just finished "The Fourth Bear", and he never fails to make me laugh. I shall try for ages to find a reason to use his "right to arm bears" line in a sermon.

5. Name one book that made you cry.
Where to start! Maragret Atwood and Amy Tan manage it with every novel. But I think I will choose "Firesong" by William Nicholson, the third in his "Wind on Fire" trilogy, because Chris Holmwood got him to sign a copy of the book for me with a reference to Charlie, my old Springer, who had recently died. Four years on, I can't pick that book up without a tear coming to my eye!

6. Name one book you wish you had written.
Anything by JK Rowling; the bank balance would be a lot healthier! Or anything by Tom Wright - just for the insights he has into Scripture. Or "The Unquenchable Worshipper" by Matt Redman, a tiny, thin book which has a weight of understanding and experience of worship and a commitment to Jesus to which I rarely come close.

7. Name one book you wish had never been written.
Ooh, tricky. Let's find my inner book-burner.
Two close run things and a winner.
First - and forgive me , this is really controversial: what if there had never been the Koran? Would the world be a better or a worse place? I can argue that both ways, so having thought the thought, I shall put it aside and move on.
Second, and also just failing to make it: Silence of the Lambs. Yes, it was a book first. And my sister made me read it - and on the printed page the words and ideas so messed with my imagination that I gave it up and threw it away!
Third, and the winner: the Da Vinci Code. Not because of any theological point, but because if it had never been written the whole world would not have had to sit through the second most tedious movie ever. (The most tedious movie ever being Pirates of the Caribbean, based on a ride rather than a novel.)

8. Name one book you are currently reading.
"Simply Christian" by Tom Wright. It's his basic Christianity book, and has a lot I like and some aspects I dislike. If you are looking for a good Tom Wright book to start with, his "the Challenge of Jesus" was for me far more satisfying. And any of his commentaries in the SPCK "Matthew for Everyone" series will do you good too. I've just finished "non-stop" by Brian Aldiss; good grown-up sci-fi, as well written and thought out as Aldiss always is.

9. Name one book you have been meaning to read.
I could put something pretentious down here, but by now it has become clear I read mainly novels, some of which are children's novels, and a few light theology books for good measure. I have been meaning to read Tom Wright's "Jesus and the Victory of God" for quite a while, but the size of the book makes it unlikely. And I have been sent a book on bereavement which I do mean to read - when I can pluck up the courage!

The post finished there, but I'm going to add a tenth point.

10. Name one book which you thought you loved - but which you hated when you re-read it.
"Cather in the Rye" is an easy answer for me. As an angst-ridden, zit-faced adolescent, I loved it. Really loved it. Thought it summed up the world and all its problems perfectly. Coming across it in an airport, I bought a new copy two or three years back, started to read it, and found myself wanting to throttle poor Holden Caulfield and to tell him, lovingly, to GROW UP! I disliked it (and him) so much I gave up half way through. Whereas, having hated HG Wells' "War of the Worlds" as a teenager, I picked that up at an airport last year and revelled in its sweet and melancholy prose. A beautiful small book that deserves far better even than Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg!


Ricky Carvel said...

OK. Here's my not-as-holy-as-thou list of answers to those questions...

1. Name one book that changed your life.

Side-stepping the Bible answer again (actually, I think the 'Word of God' that changed my life is the person, rather than the book), and shying away from other Christian books (I can't actually think of any individual book that had a life-changing effect), I'd have to opt for the same kind of answer as Marcus's second answer to this question. No, not the book with his name on the cover, but the book with my name on the cover. Despite the fact that it is a technical (science / engineering) book and I only wrote 4 of the 28 chapters, I invested about three years of my life, on and off, into planning, editing, re-writing and (for one chapter) translating that book and it was (with hindsight) a huge undertaking. It has also turned me into a "name", albeit in a very small and specialist field of engineering. As a direct consequece of that book, people have asked me to contribute articles to various publications, and I have had researchers from the Discovery Channel and New Scientist calling me for my opinion on things. And I have managed to get a few consultancy jobs too, which is financially very nice. And last year's royalties cheque was larger than I was expecting...

2. Name one book you have read more than once.

I could name several. I could actually recite several (I have that kind of brain). The first books I read multiple times were the Chronicles of Narnia - with the Last Battle probably having been read in excess of 10 times before the end of primary school. After that I discovered Douglas Adams and have read all of his books multiple times; yes, even Last Chance to See. As an adult I seem to have less time for reading and a much longer list of books I want to read, so repeat reads are less common these days, although books on tape help in this regard.

However, I have managed to find time to read Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay three or four times in the past decade. It is not a life-changing book. But it is a fantastic read and one of the few books I have read where you actually feel involved in the story - you feel like you're actually there observing the events. It is also one of the kind of books that I like the best - early on in the narritive, the (seemingly impossible) goal is clearly
established and the book unfolds the story of how the impossible is achieved. Nothing is predictable and everything is exciting. And there is a jaw-droppingly awesome twist in the tale at the end.

I recently read that Robert 'Back to the Future' Zemeckis has bought the rights to make the movie of one of GGK's other books (The Lions of Al-Rassan, which is also fab), so I have high hopes that the movie of Tigana will be made some day. It would be wonderful.

(p.s. if you take my recommendation and read this book, be warned that it is a 'grown up' fantasy novel - i.e. it features sex and swearing, which some may find offensive)

3. Name one book you'd want on a desert island.

Something big. The complete Encyclopedia Britannica perhaps?

4. Name one book that made you laugh.

Having just finished The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde and gone headlong into the sequel, I'd have to echo Marcus's comment here - these books are hilarious. The chapter when they go to the sing-a-long-a Richard III had me gutting myself. Terry Pratchett books also bring a smile to my face, but there are less laugh-out-loud funny bits in there.

5. Name one book that made you cry.

I seem to cry more at films than at books. But any time a character faces the death of a parent does it for me. My dad had a major heart attack when I was 6, and the doctors didn't think he would last very long. So from the age of 6 on my biggest fear was the death of my dad. He actually lived another 27 years after that, but stories of the death of a parent have always hit home to me.

The twist at the end of Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay made me cry too.

6. Name one book you wish you had written.

Oooh, there's lots. I wish I had the ability to write books as good as those by GGK (yes, him again).

7. Name one book you wish had never been written.

There's a few books I wish I'd never read, but none I can think of that I wish had never been written. The Coming of the King by Nikolai Tolstoy was a huge effort to read, a
waste of time and I never even finished it. And everything David Eddings wrote after the first Sparhawk trilogy has been a waste of time too. The man seems to only have two stories; the first is told in the Belgariad, is repeated in the Malloreon, is repeated again in the Tamuli, is repeated again... etc., etc. The second is in the Elenium - the original Sparhawk trilogy, but he only seems to have used that story once.

8. Name one book you are currently reading.

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. I started it at Christmas and have read it in bursts ever since. Its interesting, but has never grabbed me to the point where I have to invest time into getting it finished. But all the reviews were very positive, so I'm still expecting great things...

9. Name one book you have been meaning to read.

I have a 'popular science' book called "Ubiquity" which has been sitting, unread, on my book shelf for about 5 years now... I will read it someday.

10. Name one book which you thought you loved - but which you hated when you re-read it.

Terry Pratchett's first Discworld book The Colour of Magic. It was great on first reading, but those that followed have been so much better that the original is now dull and silly (not silly in a good way). Sure, there are good bits in it, but the middle two sections of the book (it is spit into 4 chunks) are utterly forgettable and not really worth the effort.

camillofan said...

Hi, Marcus. I know you didn't get the book meme from me, as the version of the exercise I did is a teeny bit different from yours. If you're interested, go here for my full answers; otherwise, content yourself with the summary below:

Changed your life: I, too, wrestled over picking the Bible, but went instead with The Need to Question, my first college philosophy textbook.
Read more than once: The Little World of Don Camillo
Desert island: If desert islands really do come already equipped with Bibles, then a complete Sherlock Holmes.
Made you laugh: Small World (David Lodge). I tried to chose a Wodehouse, but I find that they all run together in my head!
Made you cry: Incidents in the Rue Laugier (Brookner)
Wish you'd written: Gaudy Night (Sayers)
Wish hadn't been written: Lolita, but I like your answer (DaVinci) better. What a nuisance that book has been! :-)
Wish someone had written (this question was in the version I did): I immediately thought of two books that I wished existed: a William Weaver translantion of Don Camillo, and a William Powell autobiography. The first, at least, is still theoretically possible!
Currently reading: Death in Ecstasy (an early Roderick Alleyn mystery by Ngaio Marsh)
Meaning to read: The Brothers Karamazov-- as if!
Liked, now dislike: The Beekeepers Apprentice (and, in fact, the whole Sherlock Holmes-Mary Russell series by Laurie King). Also, the conclusions to both C.S. Lewis' Narnia series and his space trilogy.
Disliked, now like: Wuthering Heights