Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reflections: Mere Christianity

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity:

"C.S. Lewis is of course most well-known for his Chronicles of Narnia series.  I think far more compelling, however, are his commentaries on Christian theology, which include extra-scriptural explications on everything from psychology to sociology.  Thus far I have read two of Lewis's commentaries, The Four Loves and now Mere Christianity.  I liked them both equally, but I had a unique reaction to various aspects of Mere Christianity.

I don't think it would be inappropriate to label a large portion of Mere Christianity as brilliant, even inspired.  His writings on human nature, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the personality and historicity of Christ, and his logical connections, his prose, and his analogies are truly thought-provoking.  The first three quarters of the book are well-worth a recommendation for others to read the book.

However, and I realize the criticisms that follow are totally subjective and based on personal theological disagreements, the last quarter of the book kind of fell off of a cliff for me.  In my opinion, not even C.S. Lewis, even with all his brilliance and insight, can make the doctrine of the Trinity make any sense at all; although, I will admit that he has come closer than any other Christian I have spoken with or read.  Lewis becomes more of a logician than theologian (which he wouldn't claim to be anyway) toward the end of the book, working himself into logical pretzels that became, in my mind, somewhat nonsensical.

Mere Christianity is a great book, definitely worth reading.  Even if you have doctrinal disagreements with Lewis, which I certainly had, there is plenty to ponder in this relatively short book.  Lewis gave more reasons than not to continue to read his other writings.  I genuinely want to know what he thought, and I can't say that about many authors."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reflections: The Host

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Stephenie Meyer's The Host:

"I lost another bet.  Reading The Host by Stephenie Meyer was the result of losing that bet.  I don't want to be misunderstood, however.  I didn't begin reading The Host with low expectations.  In fact, I very much enjoyed the first quarter of her book.  Alas, as the story continued, the less I cared and the more I wanted the story to end.

As far as originality goes, The Host does have some things to offer.  The narrative is a well-known 'invasion of the body snatchers' type of story.  It reminded me, especially in the beginning, of the film The Invasion, except a lot less icky.  Yet, it does provide something new in its protagonist, who is a part of the invading alien species but is tormented by the consciousness of the one who's body she stole.  It made for some interesting character conflicts, but it all gets very tiresome by the middle of the book.  And it gets downright annoying by the end of the book.  I simply stopped caring.  Meyer spends entirely too much time analyzing and re-analyzing her characters' motives, via the first-person thoughts of the main character, that you'll feel like you've been reading the same 5 pages for the last 5 chapters.

Meyer's sci-fi elements, once again, start off reasonable enough at the beginning of the book, but it all gets a little wonky by the end of the book.  How can an alien species that shudders in primal fear any time a handgun is displayed conquer a planet of 6 billion people, some of whom have some pretty big guns?  It, along with other elements of Meyer's sci-fi world, felt rather silly.

I truly didn't have any prejudices or unfounded perceptions when I started reading The Host.  I really enjoyed the first portion of the book, but the rest of the book didn't offer much to love."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Reflections: East of Eden

Marie Teemant shares her thoughts on John Steinbeck's East of Eden:

"If you ever find yourself with a copy of East of Eden, you’ll see the fans start to come out from the woodwork as with no other book. I had never been required to read Steinbeck novels in either high school or college level literature classes. I picked this one up with some vague interest, having the title ingrained with some sort of remembrance about someone saying something positive about it. Carrying it around I had at least one roommate, a handful of friends, and a photography professor all start to rave about how fantastic this book was.

This was not without good reason. Steinbeck is a master of human condition and character. His method of weaving in and out of the lives of his characters to show different experiences and perspectives has the potential to make it feel like you have four separate books within this one. Each character has their own set of flaws and tendencies. Samuel Hamilton, for example, is a man who is a good neighbor and friend, with a vast cache of stories and advice, a wealth of ideas for great inventions, and absolutely no luck in the world for providing more for his family than the necessities. Knowledge about each of his children and their lives are told as though it were a recording of genealogy by the narrator.

The Trask family is central to the story: Adam and his brother Charles, then Adam’s children—Cal and Aron. Attached to them is Lee; a Chinese man with a great education whose purpose is to raise the boys and show the audience that perhaps stereotypes and prejudices may be entirely incorrect.  Most fascinating of all the characters is a woman named Cathy Ames. Introduced as a 'psychological monster', her actions continued to horrify and intrigue me. For being the one character who lacked any humanity, she understood the trait better than any other person, manipulating it for her own horrid purposes.

The book lacks an obvious plot curve that our society—which is bankrupt of attention span—is used to. If you are one who actually loves literature, however, you won’t be disappointed by the beautiful prose, the truthful characters, or the observations made about love, life, and the variety that lie in both."

You can read and view more from Marie Teemant by following the links below:
Marie Teemant Photography
Tales from Estonia

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reflections: The Hero of Ages

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on The Hero of Ages and the conclusion to the Mistborn trilogy:

"The Hero of Ages is a flawed book.  It suffers from the same problems that the first two books in the series—Mistborn and The Well of Ascension—suffered from, which is extremely annoying since I was hoping that the author, Brandon Sanderson, would have improved upon some of his previous mistakes.  Some of the grand revelations given in the third book, which the reader has been wondering about since the first book, clunk instead of click into place.  Yet, for all of my grumbles toward The Hero of Ages, I really enjoyed the book and was, in the end, satisfied with the characters, story, and experience the trilogy offered.

Sanderson's Mistborn universe is fascinating to me.  The more time I have spent with the Mistborn's particular brand of fantasy the more I have liked it.  I love the magic system, the theology, and the fundamental conflicts.  The Hero of Ages offers the most interesting moral/ethical conflict of all of the books by presenting several of its characters, and subsequently the reading audience, with the powers of godhood.  What would we attempt to do driven by our most benevolent feelings and what unforeseen and crushing consequences would that create for mankind and the ones we love?  Furthermore, the question presented in the first book—what happens if the hero fails?—is added upon in the finale by presenting new and challenging information about the first book's villain.  Were his motives good but his actions evil?  Was he completely evil?  Would we be any different being presented with a circumstance and a power that he held?  It's these types of questions that Sanderson's characters wrestle with that make the trilogy compelling, even if some of the storytelling is lacking.

The Mistborn trilogy is not perfect; in fact, it's far from it.  Pacing, dialogue, missed opportunities to develop character and story are all elements of its shortcomings.  But I liked the Mistborn trilogy.  It was fun, entertaining, creative, and at times presented some hardy ideas that I pondered when I wasn't reading the books.  Would I recommend it?  Certainly.  But only if you're willing to overlook some faults and embrace some fantasy.  I ended up being able to do both, and I genuinely enjoyed myself."