Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
It’s been a while since I read this one and so I’d forgotten that, well, not much happens in the story. It’s a creative idea – bringing the Pevensie kids hundreds of years forward in Narnian history so that their return is like the return of King Arthur – but it sort of falters on the action front. By the time the kids reach Caspian, the book is almost over and the final “fight” is kind of anti-climactic.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage, 1994)
I knew this was a book about World War One and so as I began to read the first section, I was surprised by its content. Beginning in France in 1910, it obviously doesn’t start with the war but the action is really of an entirely different sort. From there we jump to 1916 into the heart of trench warfare. Faulks does a heartbreakingly good job of showing the horrors of this war and just what a war of attrition looks like. By focusing on a few different characters with different roles, we see the myriad of ways that war affects and scars people.
I disliked the sections where the story jumped forward to 1978 and felt that they added nothing to the plot. I also found it pretty unbelievable that Elizabeth was an educated woman in her thirties, in England, and seemed to know nothing about World War 1. I knew more than her by the time I graduated high school and I would assume the world wars are also taught in English schools. Her ignorance felt false, simply for the sake of the plotline which, as I said, added nothing to the book over all.
The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
This story is unique in the Chronicles of Narnia as it’s the only story that doesn’t involve a child from our world entering Narnia. Set during Peter’s reign as High King, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy all make an appearance but our main character is Shasta, a young boy growing up in Calormene. Shasta makes his escape with a talking horse called Bree and the two have a few adventures as they travel to Narnia and the North. This one is a straight-up adventure story and a fun one to read aloud (you get to do a horse voice!).
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
My favourite of the Narnia series. I love sea stories and this one has it all – mysterious islands, a sea serpent, merpeople. I love the development of Eustace’s character and the friendship he and the Pevensies have with Caspian. I think Lewis’ imagination shines as he creates multiple adventures for the children. I could re-read this book forever.
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
As a child, this was the scariest Narnia book for me and so I’ve probably read it the fewest times. I think it’s the idea of being trapped underground plus being under a curse for ten years. The giants freaked me out too. It still strikes me as one of the bleaker books. The weather is bad even when Eustace and Jill are above ground and they never seem to experience that magical, beautiful aspect of Narnia like the others do. I did find Puddleglum much more charming than I used to though. And I applaud Lewis for taking the reader to a whole new region of this imaginary land.
Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago
I have to be honest and say that I didn’t finish this book. That isn’t anything against Saramago (his book Blindness is one of the best I’ve ever read). It’s more about my life right now. Saramago has a very distinct style. He doesn’t use quotation marks and he moves very fluidly between time and characters. Add that to the Portuguese names and the fact that I was trying to read it in ten or fifteen minute chunks and I just didn’t seem to be able to keep up with what was going on and who these people were. It’s a multi-generational tale of Portuguese history and I hope to approach it again when I have the attention span for it.
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger (Bantam Books, 1964)
This was a re-read. Something simple and quick to read after I gave up on Saramago. Great to read at 4 in the morning when you’re struggling to stay awake.
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
I remember not liking The Magician’s Nephew that much as a kid. Maybe because the characters seem more disconnected from the other Narnia stories? I’m not sure now. It’s actually quite a beautiful creation tale. There is a beautiful scene where Digory longs to ask Aslan to save his mother’s life and when he looks in the lion’s face he sees that Aslan is weeping with him.
“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
I think this was the first book I ever read where the heroes lose (uh, do I need to call spoilers on this?). Of course, if you keep reading past that final battle, you’ll see that they’ve really won. But it’s still awful to read about Jill trying to keep her bowstring dry as she weeps over Eustace’s death, or the horrible scene where the horses are all killed. It’s a sad book and it gets sadder until suddenly the reader and the characters get to see the bigger picture, the bigger plan. It’s an unusual way to end a children’s fantasy series but fits in well with the larger, allegorical tale that Lewis is telling.
Though I always did feel really sorry for Susan.
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Touchstone, 1995)
(translated by R.H. Fuller)
I started reading this one back in January and have been picking at it slowly over the last few months. Executed in 1945 after imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, Bonhoeffer is certainly an inspirational figure. This version included a short biography of him at the beginning that was very informative and put his writing into a larger perspective. I found the book to be a dense read but with a lot of wonderful thoughts (not always concisely put). I was underlining and jotting down in my journal and folding pages a lot.
I thought the chapter about the visible church and the church body was fascinating, especially in light of Bonhoeffer’s later life and death. (He was only 39 when he was killed.) He writes about respecting the way things are in the world and how, as Christians, it is not necessarily our place to incite revolution or change ruling powers. Obviously, his thoughts on this seem to have altered as he was faced with the growing evil of the Nazi regime, but I think his basic meaning here stayed the same. There’s lots of good stuff here.
Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner
Confessions by St. Augustine
Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl