June 25, 2011

Spring Reading [Part 1]


While going through church history in Sunday-school, my pastor briefly detailed the life of David Brainerd who was a missionary to the American Indians in the 1740s. Brainerd was a friend of Jonathan Edwards. It was he that compiled Brainerd's writings, wrote the "Life" part, and published the book. (Edward's seventeen-year-old daughter Jerusha Edwards nursed Brainerd in her father's house for the months leading up to his death from tuberculosis in 1747, and died herself from contracting the disease from him a few months later). My pastor lend me a copy (old and red) of The Life and Diary and I must say that all in all I enjoyed it. The book was roughly split into three sections- Edward's biography of him (mildly interesting), Brainerd's spiritual journal (terribly boring- Brainerd was what Edwards called a "melancholy" man and day in and day out he wafted between the depths of despair and spiritual ecstasy). The last portion was Brainerd's writings of his dealings and ministry to the American Indians. This was fascinating! And so uplifting. It was neat to read Brainerd's descriptions and reactions to the indigenous, pagan practices of the tribes (pre-revolution, and still a far-cry from the peace-loving, story-telling, animal-loving fiction promoted by the media). It was also wonderful to read of his preaching and endurance through harsh conditions (and at first reaping no fruit), and then the genuine repentance of individual after individual- and evidence of lives radically changed for Christ. [RECOMMENDED]


So believe it or not, I read the first two  Harry Potter books (and hopefully will have the rest read by mid July). Growing up, we (my family) and then I was one of those people that eschewed Rowling's series as something less than exemplary. (Despite my love for the fantasy works of Tolkien and Lewis- we felt there was a difference.) At any rate my sister watched the movies at college and fell in love with them- and since then those of us of age in my family have been enjoying them as well.  About a week ago I felt like some light reading- so I decided to take the plunge. And yes, I love them. There's no denying they're not high-literature, but regardless Rowling is an absolutely delightful writer. She has an incredible (and ever-surprising) imagination (I really get a kick out of the idea of "every-flavor-beans" and jumping chocolate frogs) and her characters are endearing and full of true feeling and an ultimate desire to do right. So far as the magical elements of the novels go- I have found nothing that gave me pause. I would not, myself- hand them to a twelve-year-old, anymore than I would hand a twelve-year-old Anna Karenina- not because they have anything "bad" in them so much as it deals with themes that a child may find difficult to process. For those of us who know fantasy when we see it- it's a fantastical ride. [RECOMMENDED: for light reading and the high enjoyment of a discerning reader]


Unfortunately my library doesn't have The Idiot on hand (the Dostoevesky novel I'm dying to read)- so I am contenting myself with working through their collection of Dostoevsky's lesser novels. The Friend of the Family was nothing other than boring and torturous. The main character never does anything of consequence (except immortalize the miserable tale) and I found none of the other characters likable. The story is of  how a family is taken incredible advantage of by a wily "fool" (Dostoevsky loves making people play the buffoon) named Foma. Foma takes particular advantage of the generous, large-hearted (though simple) "uncle" in the story- who can't say the simplest thing without the rogue, Foma, (who is living at the uncle's expense in his house), spouting tears and curses  and accusations of ungratefulness, pride, and wickedness (to which the poor uncle is sure Foma must be right and repents of his so-called sins with tears and kisses). Maddening stuff.  The scenes go on for pages and pages. The worst of it is that Foma never gets what he deserves and at the end still has the upper hand on everyone. That really annoyed me. [NOT RECOMMENDED]


The second novel in the book was Netochka Nezvanov. Such a difference! This was the gripping Dostoevsky I know- with all his brilliant understanding of the minute emotions and far-reaching importance of human interaction. One particularly interesting aspect of this story was that it was written in the first person- and I only discovered half-way through that it was a girl. I'm afraid I never really was convinced (I kept thinking the girl would turn out to be a boy) for the character's mind was anything but feminine. (I am glad to know that Dostoevsky got his females under control by the time he wrote The Brothers Karamazov). After following the main character through her abused childhood, her placement in a new home and (rather creepy) infatuation with the family's daughter, and then teen-age years in a psychologically oppressed family- (the story culminates when a revealing letter is found and there is much screaming and dying and fainting and that sort of thing)- suddenly the story stops. So much drama- and no conclusion. I was shocked. I googled to see what the scholarly opinion of the work was and read on wiki that it was only the beginning, barely a prologue, to  Dostoevesky's first and  never finished novel. (Man, thanks a lot, Fyodor.) [RECOMMENDED FOR THOSE WHO DELIGHT IN  MAKING A CASE-STUDY OF DOSTOEVSKY]

NOTE: This post is split into two portions- I read three romances and I found them in interesting contrast to one another so they will make up the second part of this post.