Monday, August 14, 2006

Book Meme

I don't ordinarily do this sort of thing, but I was so moved that PamBG tagged me that, what the hell, I'll do something bloggy!

[note: I added honorable and occasionally dishonorable mention to this list to get around the fact that it asks for only one book in each category. I cheat. Shame on me.]

1. One book that changed your life: The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning.

There are so many great books to choose from. I cut my theological teeth on C.S. Lewis, who opened my eyes to the process of thinking about God, even if, now, my thoughts about God bear little resemblance to his thoughts about God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Kung, and Thomas Merton have each shaped my approach to my faith. But, while not overtly theological, this gem of a book by a recovering alcoholic and defrocked priest about the liberating power of God's grace helped me to accept myself, and stop trying to earn the love of God, as though it were a product to be bought.

Honorable mention goes to The Dignity of Difference, by Jonathan Sacks, and The Wounded Healer, by Henri Nouwen.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman.

One of my best friends in high school turned me on to this strange novel by an MIT physicist. It is a fictionalized account of the dreams that Albert Einstein might have had as he was formulating his theory of Relativity. Each dream presents a world operating under a certain theory of the nature of time. I don’t often read novels, but the ones that I do read often become life companions, and this is one such companion. I could just as easily picked some of the more fantastic (literally) novels from my childhood, such as any of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis or the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, or any of several novels by Madeleine L’Engle or Douglas Adams. While I read almost exclusively non-fiction books, I rarely read them more than once. But a good novel I’ll never get tired of.

Honorable mention goes to Dune, by Frank Herbert, and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin.

3.One book you’d want on a desert island: A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, by John Wesley.

I seriously doubt that a book would do me much good on a desert island, but if any book (other than, say, a book on how to get off the island) would do me good, I suppose that this Methodist manifesto on sanctification would be the one.

4. One book that made you laugh: Love Feast, by Fredrick Buechner.

The third of four Bebb books, this novel by a Presbyterian minister and National Book Award finalist follows the crazy adventures of diploma mill operator and evangelist Leo Bebb, a man so fake he just might be real, as he takes the Gospel literally and offers a free feast to whomever will come and eat it. My favorite scene has Bebb witnessing to a bitter and cynical college professor, giving him the standard Gospel message, only substituting “shit” for “sin.” Bebb is an absurd character, and there is nothing I can write about him that will do justice to the depth of his absurdity. Anyone with any interest whatsoever in religion and storytelling should read Buechner’s Bebb books, Lion Country, Open Heart, Love Feast, and Treasure Hunt. Each are great, but Love Feast is the funniest. Of course, none of these books rival Beuchner’s best novels, Brendan, and Godric, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, for spiritual depth or majestic use of language, but unlike those more serious works, these strange tales will tickle those with a twisted sense of humor.

Honorable mention goes to Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams, and (though it may not have meant to be funny – I can’t quite tell) The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton.

5. One book that made you cry: Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi.

This memoir, by an English literature professor who taught at the University of Tehran before and after the Iranian revolution, describes what was lost in that formerly great part of the Persian Empire, when the clerics took over. When church and state are merged, there are great losses to both church and state, not to mention art and liberty. Anyway, this is one of the best, and most moving, books I have ever read, more than earning its place on the New York Times Bestseller List. Usually when I read such a popular book the inner snob in me wonders what the fuss was all about. Not this time. If you haven’t read it yet, drop what you’re reading and pick it up.

Honorable mention to Adam, by Henri Nouwen, and A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis.

6. One book that you wish had been written: Drawing Water Out of Rocks: Reflections on Scripture, by Chris Baker.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis.

Lewis despised this book, which inspires such an unhealthy fascination with evil. He was disgusted that it was one of his more popular books, and would be appalled to see how many evangelical Christians in America treat it like an appendix to the Bible. He wrote so many great novels aimed at adult audiences, such as ’Til We Have Faces (my favorite of his novels, and the last book he ever wrote) and Perelandra (the second book of his Space Trilogy, which he said was “worth a thousand Screwtapes”), but aside from his children’s books and some of his non-fiction works, he may be best remembered for this terribly executed bad idea of a book. James Forsyth even turned it into a play, Dear Wormwood. If I were God, I would give Lewis a mulligan.

Honorable mention goes to The Golden Bough, by James Frazer, and Totem and Taboo, by Sigmund Freud.

Dishonorable mention goes to anything by Tim LaHaye.

8. One book you’re currently reading: The Four Witnesses, by Robin Griffith-Jones.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry, by Samuel G. Freedman.

Honorable mention to God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection, by Hans Kung.

10. Now tag five people: Troy, Brian, Liam, Tyler, and Tom. Sorry, guys, the Internet made me do it!


Tom said...

I could make my Meme easily. Plug in something by Douglass Adams for all of them.

We'll have to use something else for the "you wish had never been written" bit. How about any of the evangelical self-help-how-God-wants-you-to-spend-His-money shit that my brother-in-law reads?

I'll put some actual thought into this later. I left home before seven this morning and just now got back and ate dinner. I'm going to bed now.

Brian Cubbage said...

I'm "it," I suppose. I'll have to think about this, too. I will have a great deal of trouble with #10-- you named the vast majority of people I know who blog!

Liam said...

Like the flu, this meme was going around and I knew I'd eventually catch it. I will have to think about #1 the most -- books on the whole have changed my life but one book? hmmm...

PamBG said...

Thanks for doing this.

Einstein's Dreams and Love Feast sound like books I'd like to read.