New Read: The Pilgrim’s Progress

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. Back in October we read and met to discuss The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Next up was the classic, Christian allegorical novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, which I put onto my new Classics Club list as soon as I found out we would be tackling it.

Part 1, published in 1678, follows Christian, an everyman, who leaves behind his home, wife and children in the City of Destruction to make the perilous journey to the Celestial City. Along the way he faces many trials, tribulations, monsters and spiritual terrors, as he travels through the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Doubting Castle and the Delectable Mountains. His pilgrimage is hindered by characters such as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, Talkative and Ignorance, but he is also supported by Evangelist and his travelling companions, Hopeful then Faithful.

All of which is surreally presented as a dream sequence narrated by Bunyan as an omniscient narrator: giving him the power to observe all, but powerless to help. There is no arguing with the content, characters and wisdom in this enormously influential classic – which has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print – but I did struggle with the style and flow. I found it a bit jerky and I often found I had to go back and re-read sections to fully understand what was being said.

However I found Part 2, published in 1684, a much easier and quicker read. In this second part, Bunyan follows the subsequent pilgrimage of Christian’s wife, Christiana, their sons and their maidenly neighbour, Mercy. They journey to all the stopping points Christian visited, but they take a longer time as the sons marry, have children and their party grows. They are also guided by the brave hero, Greatheart, who along the way slays four giants and a monster named Legion, that have been terrorising pilgrims.

This second part grabbed me instantly and flowed much better, especially as it has a more natural time frame for the journey – akin to a Christian’s life span. I was fascinated to see Bunyan express some very ‘modern’ thoughts and ideas through out this second pilgrimage too. First in his choice of a female pilgrim, but also in his portrayal and discussion of the important role women have in bringing people to and nurturing faith. I enjoyed it so much, that I actually finished this part in less than half the time the first part had taken me.

So, overall, I was left feeling a little confused about how I felt about this book, with the big difference I experienced between Part 1 and 2. It was not till after my church’s book club eventually met, last week, to discuss this, that I saw in hindsight how much more I enjoyed this than I initially thought. We discussed our struggles with Part 1; our preferment for Part 2 and our universal love of Bunyan’s emblematic characters – many of which are characters you can find in life today. And the general consensus was that the content was great, even if the style and language was problematic.

All in all then, I found The Pilgrim’s Progress to be a clever allegorical look at the journey Christians must take through life. I can’t say it was an easy read – in fact it was in parts hard work – however it was a rewarding read, and this is a book I feel with benefit from re-reading. Good read.

Have you read this? Can you recommend any other classic Christian books?

This is book 5/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

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The Classics Club: Spin #19 Result

Last week, The Classics Club announced their 19th Spin event. The idea for which is to list 20 books remaining on our Classics Club lists, numbered 1-20, and the number announced today (Tuesday) is the book we have to read by the 31st January 2019. So the results are in and our spin number is…

1

Which means I will be re-reading the wonderful Emma by Jane Austen. Not the longest book on my list, so I think I have got a sweet result!

Have you read this? If you also took part, what was your result?

Re-Read: The Return of the Prodigal Son

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. After a summer break, we read and met to discuss But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing. Having got muddled with the order of the books, I actually read our October book, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen first. So it seemed like a good idea to re-read to refresh my memory before we met.

In The Return of the Prodigal Son, the bestselling writer and pastor, Henri Nouwen chronicles how a chance encounter with a poster of Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, catapulted him into a long spiritual adventure. That saw him making a pilgrimage to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg to see the original in the flesh and undertaking deep, personal meditation; that led him to discover the place within which God has chosen to dwell.

Inspired by Rembrandt’s powerful depiction of the Gospel story, Nouwen probed the several elements to the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s resentment and the father’s compassion. Broken down into three parts with three short chapters each, Nouwen describes and discusses concisely each element and how he feels about them. With this lay out it meant I was able to take my time and easily dip in and out of this book, which gave me plenty of time to think and reflect.

The themes of homecoming, affirmation and reconciliation contained in this book will resonate with all of us who have ever experienced loneliness, dejection, jealousy or anger. I was also interested in how Nouwen felt that he and many of us have probably been both the younger and elder son at some point in our lives; even if you initially feel sympathy for one or the other. But the point is not which son we are, instead the challenge is to be able to love like the father and to be loved as the son, which Nouwen believed was the ultimate revelation of this parable.

When my church’s book club group met, just last week, to discuss this we were split on the use of Rembrandt’s painting to discuss this parable: some absolutely loved the visual aide, others found it distracting and at worst some thought it was irrelevant. However we all agreed we enjoyed Nouwen’s in-depth exploration of the parable, looking at the roles of both the younger and the older brother, as well as the father. We all also thought it was a beautiful piece of prose, with some real little gems of wisdom. Many of us had noted down favourite quotes.

All in all, I thought The Return of the Prodigal Son was an inspiring guide that helped me to look at this well-known parable with fresh eyes, which made for an interesting, if a little contentious, discussion point. Now I am reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan for our November meeting. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Henri Nouwen?

New Read: But is it Real?

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. Back in June, we read and discussed Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey. After a break over the summer, we kicked things off again in September with this, But is it Real? by Christian apologist, Amy Orr-Ewing.

Is God real? God is just a psychological crutch. Why does God allow bad things to happen? I used to believe, but I’ve given it all up now. What about the spiritual experiences of other faiths? Are just five of the ten common questions, accusations and objections to the Christian faith, all directly taken from real-life situations, which Orr-Ewing seeks to answer in this book. Hoping the thoughts offered will help people to see what the Christian faith has to say amid all the pain, confusion and complexity of this life.

And Orr-Ewing is really coming from a strong place of knowledge to answer these big and often hard-hitting questions and issues, being the Curriculum Director for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. As well as speaking and lecturing on Christian apologetics all over the world. If, like me, you’ve heard of this apologetics malarkey, but aren’t sure exactly what it is: well it is a branch of Christian theology which focuses specifically on defending Christianity against objections. Throughout this book, Orr-Ewing’s knowledge and experience was evident as she spoke in a clear and confident style.

Each of the ten common questions, accusations and objections, are given its own chapter, each of which are broken down into several parts themselves. With this lay out, very similar to The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen, I found I was able to take my time and easily dip in and out of this book, which gave me plenty of time to think and reflect. While perhaps not the most in-depth book, I did think Orr-Ewing clearly described and discussed each objection and gave plenty of examples and other materials to support her arguments against it.

When my church’s book club group met to discuss this we agreed it didn’t really inspire or move us like previous reads have, however it is a very informative read which will be great to refer back to when faced with difficult questions of our own faith in the future. We also ended up going off on a tangent – due in-part to one member’s comment on Orr-Ewing’s reliance on scripture – to discussions on the validity of scripture and creationism vs evolution! Slightly random but very interesting all the same.

Overall, I thought But is it Real? was a short, concise and informative handbook on how to discuss and defend my Christian faith. It also made for an interesting starting point for our last book club meeting. Next we will be meeting up to discuss The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen and I have already started reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan for November. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else about Christian apologetics?

This was also book 8/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

New Read: The Enchanted Castle

Back in June, I found myself craving a lighter classic to continue my Classics Club challenge. So I reached for The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit, a lesser known example of Nesbit’s many classic children’s novels, that was first published in 1907. I adore her best known work, The Railway Children and I also really enjoyed Five Children and It and the other books in her magical Psammead series, which meant I had high expectations for this.

Similar to the Psammead series, The Enchanted Castle starts with a group of Edwardian children being, rather improbably, left to their own devices. In this case the children are siblings Jerry, Jimmy, and Cathy, who find themselves stuck at school over the summer holidays, with only the French governess and the maid, after a measles outbreak at home. Determined not to let this ruin their summer, Jerry sweet-talks the adults into allowing them to set off alone, with a picnic, for a jolly good adventure. Where upon they stumble across a mysterious castle with a beautiful princess asleep in the garden.

Once they awake the princess, she takes them on a tour of the castle and tells them it is full of magic, and they almost believe her, but Jimmy, and myself, immediately think something seems fishy. It is only when the magic ring she is showing them really turns her invisible and she gets stuck that way, that she panics and admits she is really the housekeeper’s niece, Mabel, and was just playing! What follows is a rather hodge-podge mix of adventures as the children try to get Mabel out of trouble and along the way discover the many other magical powers the ring possesses.

The fantastical scrapes and delights the children get themselves into due to careless wishes, is all very reminiscent of those in Five Children and It. But for me it just wasn’t half as much fun with them just wishing while wearing the ring, then it was having to go visit the wonderfully cantankerous sand-fairy, ‘It’! Some great fun was still had though, as they caught thieves whilst invisible; frolicked with statues by night and brought inanimate objects to life. However, due to the nature of the ring randomly granting wishes, the story hopped around a fair bit and so didn’t seem to flow as well as previous Nesbit stories I have enjoyed.

As for the children, there was the charming Gerald (Jerry), the no-flies-on-me Jimmy and the girls – I say the girls because sadly Cathy and Mabel were too similar and often blended into one for me. A bit of a let down when I think of the believable and endearing characters of Roberta, Phyllis and Peter in The Railway Children. On the other hand, I had a similar complaint about the children being rather one-dimensional in Five Children and It too, but then that book had the larger-than-life ‘It’ to save the day! All in all, Jerry, Jimmy and the girls were a sweet, but forgettable group of children to read about.

Overall, The Enchanted Castle was the lighter classic I was hoping for, with its blend of magic, adventure and old-fashioned ideals. Unfortunately, this is just not Nesbit’s best work I have read. I still look forward to reading more by Nesbit – Maybe I should try some of her books for adults next? Okay read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Nesbit? Could you recommend one of her adult novels?

This is book 4/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

New Read: Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia

After I enjoyed the swashbuckling classic, Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem by Italian author Emilio Salgari, last year, I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read another, Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia, by its translator Nico Lorenzutti. First published in 1896 this edition was translated by Lorenzutti in 2007.

Some years after the last adventure and the destruction of their home, Sandokan, the feared ‘Tiger of Malaysia’; his faithful friend Yanez and his loyal band of rebel pirates are back with a vengeance. On one such raid, Yanez spares the life of a young Indian man, Kammamuri, who is attempting to rescues his poor master, Tremal-Naik, who has been wrongfully sentenced to life in a notorious British penal colony. Kammamuri enlists the help of Sandokan and Yanez, but in order to succeed they must lead their men against the forces of James Brooke, ‘The Exterminator’, the dreaded White Rajah of Sarawak.

It was great fun to be re-united with our righteously angry, princely pirate Sandokan and his friend, my personal favourite, Yanez, the charming Portuguese adventurer. However it was sad to learn that Marianna, ‘The Pearl of Labuan’, the woman Sandokan moved heaven and earth to possess, has tragically died in the few intervening years. But this does help to show a softer, more human side to Sandokan, especially when he discovers that Kammamuri has in his protection his master’s fiancée Ada Corishant; who is the very image of her beautiful cousin… Sandokan’s very own, dear Marianna!

Sadly Ada plays an equally small, passive role in the adventure, as Marianna did in the previous book. However Ada is by far a more interesting character: having been snatched from her father and fiancée in India by the terrible Thuggee cult. This shocking event and the violence she witnesses during her time with them have shockingly sent her quite mad, which is the main reason she plays such an understandably passive role. Seeing the sad state this beautiful, young woman has been brought to only resolves Sandokan and his pirates to see her fiancée, Tremal-Naik free and reunited with her.

While it was nice to have a more interesting female character and through her a more touching, realistic romance, what I really picked this book up for was adventure! And boy did Salgari deliver more of that! With battles at sea, deadly traps, shipwrecks, cannibals, jungle hideouts and a fetid convict ship, Salgari takes us on another fast paced, roller coaster ride. Also Lorenzutti’s translation is so smooth and seamless it means we never miss a beat or flow of the all the twists and turns.

Overall, I thought Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia was another rip-roaring adventure (with a touch of romance) that swept me back in time and across the seas. I look forward to reading more by this author. Good read.

Thank you to the translator for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any of Sandokan’s other adventures?

This is also book 3/50 off my Classics Club II list.

New Read: The Return of the Prodigal Son

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. In June, we read and discussed Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey. The group takes a break over summer, but I thought I would get ahead by reading The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen; believing it had replaced But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing as our September book… however it turns out the books have been switched back round! Oh well – I had almost finished this when I found out and I still have plenty of time to read Orr-Ewing’s book as well before our meeting in September.

In The Return of the Prodigal Son, the bestselling writer and pastor, Henri Nouwen chronicles how a chance encounter with a poster of Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, catapulted him into a long spiritual adventure. That saw him making a pilgrimage to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg to see the original in the flesh and undertaking deep, personal meditation; that led him to discover the place within which God has chosen to dwell.

Inspired by Rembrandt’s powerful depiction of the Gospel story, Nouwen probed the several elements to the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s resentment and the father’s compassion. Broken down into three parts with three short chapters each, Nouwen describes and discusses concisely each element and how he feels about them. With this lay out it meant I was able to take my time and easily dip in and out of this book, which gave me plenty of time to think and reflect.

The themes of homecoming, affirmation and reconciliation contained in this book will resonate with all of us who have ever experienced loneliness, dejection, jealousy or anger. I was also interested in how Nouwen felt that he and many of us have probably been both the younger and elder son at some point in our lives; even if you initially feel sympathy for one or the other. But the point is not which son we are, instead the challenge is to be able to love like the father and to be loved as the son, which Nouwen believed was the ultimate revelation of this parable.

Overall I thought The Return of the Prodigal Son was an inspiring guide that helped me to look at this well-known parable with fresh eyes, and I think it should make for an interesting discussion point. My church’s book club should meet sometime in October to discuss this – I think I will repost this review then, with the extra thoughts from the group for you. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Henri Nouwen?

I am also including this book towards my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge, as a title with the word ‘the’ used twice (3/6).