Friday, February 19, 2016

2016 Reading Challenge Update

It has been a month and a half since I started in on Tim Challies' 2016 Reading Challenge. I spent some time in December choosing books, but my actual reading has taken a more random route so far.

When I began, I was planning to follow the "Avid Reader" plan, with 26 books. As I've been reading, though, I've been thinking that I can probably handle the "Committed Reader" plan with 52 books. I also have been choosing categories from anywhere in the challenge, and as long as they add up to 52, I'll be happy.

Here's what I've read so far, with reviews for the most significant ones, and stars to rate them:
A mystery or detective novelArthur & George by Julian Barnes ***
A book by a female authorThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield ****
A novel set in a country that is not your ownThe Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers ***
A novel that won the Pulitzer prizeTales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener ****
A book by or about Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens *****
A book based on a true story: The Brainy Bunch by Kip and Mona Lisa Harding **

A book with the word "gospel" in the title or subtitle: The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson ****

In this book Matt Chandler spells out the gospel from two aspects: "on the ground" (personal, where we see that individual sinners are reconciled to a holy God through Christ's atoning sacrifice) and "in the air" (cosmic, where we consider God's great plan of salvation and how it affects everything). Nothing in this book is "new" ...if you know the gospel, you will have heard it all. But having this most important of themes spelled out once again will call forth a response of worship. We can never hear the gospel enough, can we? Chandler is also concerned that we do not focus on one aspect of the gospel and neglect the other, and spells out the implications if we do.

The chapter I appreciated the most was chapter 8: "Consummation." I appreciated that Chandler stepped away from speculation about the end times and focused on the point "When God finally makes all things new as he promises throughout the Scriptures, what will things look like? Where will we be?" I don't think I'd ever thought in this way about what it will be like to be in our new bodies in the new heaven and the new earth. For the first time I thought, "Yes, Jesus, I truly do long for your coming."

This book is very readable, though occasionally I was jolted by Chandler's style and sense of humour. This annoyed me a little because I felt he meant to startle --as though what he had to say was not enough to hold my attention. This is a minor quibble. This book led me to worship, and I was blessed.

A novel longer than 400 pages: Island of the World by Michael O'Brien *****

Bosnia-Herzegovina. Croatia. Serbia. Yugoslavia.
Croats. Chetniks. Ustashe. Partisans. Communists.
Suffering. Massacres. Labour camps.

Having read this book, I am only marginally less confused about the history of the former Yugoslavia, but then a comprehensive view of the different parties and factions involved is not its point. This is the inner life of one person, Josip, an unusually bright and spiritually perceptive boy who grows up in the midst of unimaginable suffering. As the horror of what he has gone through takes hold, he is changed. Human love and beauty make a great difference, but not an ultimate one. When he loses everything again, he finds that his own heart has become as bitter and murderous as those who have done evil to him. It seems like an inevitable cycle "--the children of Cain breeding Cain breeding Cain breeding Cain breeding Cain--". But the cycle is broken with the forgiveness and love of Christ.

This is a devoutly Roman Catholic book. I am not; I cling to the clarity and simplicity of the Reformation solas. And yet I was deeply blessed by the deeper Christian themes of this book --themes of suffering with Christ, of redemption through his sacrifice, of the continual dying to self of the Christian life, and of Christ's return. This was a moving, even heart-breaking book in many ways, but I did not weep until I came to Josip's vision as an old man of the celestial city come down from above. I thought, "Yes. Jesus will come, and He will set everything right." There is Truth here.

I have not yet mentioned Josip's poetry, which is beautiful and all the more powerful because it is paired with this story.

I hope to read this book again when I have read The Odyssey, which is referenced throughout the book. I know I missed some depth of meaning because I was not familiar with it. I will also keep it in my mind should ever God allow deep suffering to come into my life. It is a powerful, beautiful book.