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The Dreamers & Silence

Is Attention Deficit and Reading Hyperactivity Disorder (ADRHD) a thing? If so, I’ve had it this month. I’ve started reading eight great, intriguing books but I’ve only managed to finish two. Why can’t I just commit to one and stick with it?

The two books I have finished so far are The Dreamers (audiobook) by Karen Thompson Walker and Silence by Shusaku Endo. Neither of these books are characteristic of what I would normally read, but they actually made for an interesting pairing.

The Dreamers takes place in a modern California college town. In one of the dorms, students are falling asleep and not waking up. As this mysterious virus begins to spread throughout the town and some people slip from sleep into death, panic takes hold of the population. The book follows the stories of several characters and the people closest to them as they react to these unusual circumstances. Some people hide away, many try to leave the town, and others strive to help the sick despite the risk to their own well-being.

Silence is a historical fiction novel set in the 17th century. A Portuguese priest travels to Japan with his companion to be missionaries to the peasants there. Japanese Christians face intense persecution for their beliefs. The priest’s faith is tested to the extreme as he is pressured to apostatize.

At first glance, these two books may not seem to have anything in common, but as I’ve reflected on them, they both deal with humans in unusually intense situations. They must make difficult decisions that significantly impact others. With both of these books, I found myself asking “What was the author’s purpose in writing this book? Is it just a source of entertainment? Did the author want to provoke the reader to ask questions or is the author trying to offer an answer about morality and human purpose?”

(***spoiler alert***)

In The Dreamers, a college boy asks a girl what she would do if she had to choose between saving him or two strangers. She responds that she would, of course, save the boy she loves. He tells her this is wrong and that she needs to think about the greater good. In Silence, the priest watches as his companion refuses to apostatize even though several Christians are mercilessly drowned as a result. The priest doubts he would be able to stand firm in his faith when faced with such a decision.

The boy in The Dreamers eventually must live out the ideals he has propounded when a fire threatens the lives of the sleepers. He must choose between saving the girl or an unknown infant. He choses the infant and leaves the girl to die. The priest in Silence comes face to face with the decision to go through the “formality” of trampling on the image of Christ as an apostate act in order to save the lives of tortured Christians. He tramples on the face of his Savior and saves the peasants.

For me, these books provoked more questions than offered clear-cut answers. Both stories had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next and what the characters would decide to do. Honestly, I wanted to scream at the boy to disregard his beliefs and save the girl. Yet I also wanted to yell at the priest to stand firm in his faith and not trample the symbol of Christ. But when I step back and really think about each situation, who am I to judge the characters’ actions? I can’t imagine being in such a difficult situation, and neither situation appears to have a clear right or wrong solution.

As I read Karen Swallow Prior’s thoughts on Silence, this quote stood out to me. It so aptly fits my feelings for both of these books.

But the purpose in reading this novel – or any novel – is not to find definitive answers about the characters. It is rather to ask definitive questions about ourselves. To read about an experience of faith as it falters is an opportunity to seek resolution not in the work of fiction but in the work of our own faith.

“On Reading Well” by Karen Swallow Prior

As I continue to process these two stories, here are some of my take aways and questions I’m continuing to ponder in the context of these books:

  1. The object of our faith matters. Are we trusting in our own strength and wisdom or the ultimate source of strength and wisdom? Are we relying on earthly logic or seeking God’s truth?
  2. Our perspective impacts our actions. Are we only focused on life on earth or do we have eternity in mind when we make decisions?
  3. Living is sometimes more difficult than dying. Are we willing to continue living despite the trials, pain, and sorrow of this temporary earth for the greater glory of eternity? Slipping into an endless sleep with perfect dreams sounds pretty tempting at times. And a quick death sounds like a good escape when facing continual persecution and hardship. How does God want us to live in the day to day life for His glory?
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April Reads 2019

Jane of Lantern Hill

by L.M. Montgomery

Jane can’t do anything right. Her grandmother is always reminding her of her faults. Then Jane finds out her father, who she has assumed was dead, is alive and wants her to spend the summer with him. She is understandably nervous and terrified. She travels to Prince Edward Island (PEI) for the summer and discovers a home where she is loved and free to be herself.

I loved Montgomery’s descriptions of PEI. I was often reminded of my trip there last summer. For those who love Anne of Green Gables, I would definitely recommend this delightful story.

Three Act Tragedy

by Agatha Christie

A man dies at a party, and it appears as if he has been poisoned. However, no traces of poison or possible motive are found. But when a very similar death occurs at another party with the same group of friends, Poirot begins to investigate.

Agatha Christie is my go-to companion on road trips. I powered through this audiobook on a weekend trip. This was not one of my favorite Agatha Christie’s, but the mystery was still engaging enough to keep me awake while driving.

I’d Rather Be Reading

by Anne Bogel

My intention was to read these bookish essays slowly throughout the month, but I just couldn’t put this delightful book down! I really enjoyed reading Anne’s reflections on her reading life, from discovering as an adult that she was an avid reader to her adventures living next door to a library. It caused me to look back on my own reading life and made me so thankful that I started a log of what I read when I was a kid (back before I knew how to correctly spell “great” when rating a book). Anne warns against telling other readers they SHOULD read something, but I do think this is a book most readers would like reading/owning. I highly recommend purchasing your own hardcover copy for your personal library. It’s an adorable little book!

Death in the Clouds

Agatha Christie

Another Poirot mystery! A lady dies on an airplane and a small dart is found at her feet. Although Poirot was present on the plane, he is stumped as to the motive and means. If she really was killed by a blow dart, how did someone manage to do it in front of a plane full of people? Poirot teams up with a young lady and gentleman on the plane to investigate.

I really enjoyed this audiobook. Christie had me guessing right up until the end as I tried to figure out who the murderer was.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

After running away from his abusive father, Huck teams up with a runaway slave, Jim. The book tells their series of adventures traveling down the river, meeting a variety of characters, and thinking of schemes to stay out of trouble.

This was my book club read for the month. I read Huck Finn back in high school, but I found it was so different reading it now as an adult. I don’t think I picked up on Twain’s clever use of satire in this book. I loved the character of Jim and wanted to scream in frustration at Tom Sawyer towards the end of the book. I definitely have a deeper understanding and appreciation for this book now.

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March Reads – 2019

I spent the first half of my spring break sick, curled up on the couch with a stack of books while the rain tapped on my windows. Well, to be honest, there was also a lot of binge watching TV shows, but it was still a great month for reading.

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

by C. S. Lewis

I have read biographies about C. S. Lewis, but I loved hearing his testimony in his own words. Every time I read something by C. S. Lewis, I’m astounded by his intelligence and the way he crafts words into stories. This book was no exception. In this autobiography, Lewis traces how God was sovereignly orchestrating his search for joy throughout his early years to bring him to Christianity. Lewis includes the everyday details about his school days and home life, including descriptions of the people who influenced his thinking over the years.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

by Patti Callahan

I’d been excitedly waiting to read this book since before it was even published. It did not disappoint! This book paired so well with “Surprised by Joy” and “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War.” Although this is a fictional telling of the romance between C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, it seemed to be built on a lot of history and fact. The story is told from Joy’s perspective and shows the journey she went on from being an admirer of C. S. Lewis’ work to becoming a close friend and confidant to being his devoted wife.

Every Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire

I think the premise for this story is intriguing, but I was left somewhat disappointed by this book. The story takes place at a school for teens who have traveled to other worlds that feel more like home than our world. They are now stuck in our world and dealing with negative repercussions from experiencing the wonder of another world. Horrific deaths begin to take place, and one group of students take it upon themselves to track down the murderer.

I have always loved stories about other worlds and dreamt of finding Narnia, so I was somewhat intrigued by the idea that traveling to another world might not be as wonderful once you return. However, I did not care what happened to any of these characters. They could have all died, and I would have been perfectly fine with that. Granted, I tend to like more character-driven plots, and the length of this book just didn’t lend itself to much of that. I’m still wrestling with whether this book just wasn’t for me or if it was simply poorly executed.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

by John le Carre

I decided to read this book so I could listen along to the discussions about it on the Close Reads podcast. I don’t think I’ve really read a true spy novel before this, and I’m worried that now I have very high standards for all spy novels. I loved this book. I never knew who or what to believe and didn’t fully understand what was happening until the very end. This is the first book I’ve ever ready where I’ve finished it and thought “I need to immediately go back to the beginning and read this again!”

I don’t even know how to give a good synopsis of this book without being confusing or giving away too much. The main character, Leamas, has spent his career as a spy during the cold war, and now he has one last assignment to bring down a German leader. Slowly, Leamas begins to realize things are not quite what he expected. Is the mission spinning wildly out of control or are there unknown factors at play?

If you read this book, I highly recommend listening along to the corresponding episodes and discussions on the Close Reads podcast. I wish I could analyze and think about literature the way they do!

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

I loved rereading this classic tale of romance and revolution. I was able to see more foreshadowing the second time through, and I was reminded how much I like the character of Miss Pross. As an added bonus, I got to discuss how this book illustrates the virtue of justice with a great group of ladies at book club. 

How Does Sanctification Work?

by David A. Powlison

This little book gives a brief overview of sanctification and real-life examples of what sanctification looked like for some Christians. The concept that stood out to me the most was Powlison’s statement that “Ministry ‘unbalances’ truth for relevance; theology ‘rebalances’ truth for the sake of comprehension.” I balked at this statement initially. I didn’t like the idea of “unbalancing” truth, but once Powlison unpacked what he meant, it made so much sense! He explains how it is important for us to have a full understanding of theological truth so that we are ready with the one specific “nugget” of truth needed in a given situation. “Unbalancing” truth means that in difficult situations there is typically one especially relevant biblical truth that God will use to speak into our lives to advance our sanctification.

Vinegar Girl

by Anne Tyler

Kate’s father, Dr. Battista, is trying to matchmake her with his research assistant, but not because he has her best interests in mind. His assistant’s visa is about to expire, and Dr. Battista is desperate to keep him in the United States. Kate is busy keeping house for her father while also watching out for her annoying younger sister, and now she has to deal with this awkward stranger who she’s supposed to marry. But maybe this marriage is just the opportunity she needs to break free and start a new chapter in her life.

I’m typically skeptical of retellings, especially modern retellings of classic stories, but I really enjoyed this story! The audiobook was excellent. Anne Tyler did a beautiful job translating Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” to a modern situation. I found the main character relatable, and I loved the humor woven throughout the book.

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February Reads – 2019

Gone with the Wind

by Margaret Mitchell

This classic American novel made a great audiobook because of its length. I enjoyed how Mitchell combined Scarlet’s story with the history of the Civil War and post-Civil War.

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was the February book for my book club. I enjoyed this book in high school, but the high school me had no idea what was really going on in this book. I thought it was just a tragic romance. Rereading this book made me realize that Fitzgerald had a completely different message to share with his readers. This book points out the sin and depravity in our world. The characters show us that we can get everything we want and still be lacking. A godless world is an empty world. 
If you read this in high school, maybe it’s time for a reread. It’s a quick read but also beautifully written and powerful. I would also recommend listening to the podcast episodes on this book from Close Reads podcast. Listening to literary experts discuss this book was so helpful and interesting. 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman

I devoured this audiobook! This story of Eleanor combines the awkward, humorous, and pain of human life. I thought it was interesting that this book is told from Eleanor’s perspective, yet as the reader there were often times when I had more insight into what was going on than Eleanor. I thought I had the plot of this story figured out, but there was still a surprise twist waiting for me in the end. I found myself thinking “I knew it! Wait, what???” and going back to catch the final piece of the puzzle that surprised me at the end. Also, as a warning to sensitive readers, the trauma, mental illness, and abuse dealt with in this book made me both angry and heartbroken at times.

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Books must look clean

The only criterion I have is that books must look clean, which means that I have to disregard a lot of the potential reading material in the charity shop.  I don’t use the library for the same reason, although obviously, in principle and reality, libraries are life enhancing palaces of wonder.  It’s not you libraries, it’s me, as the popular saying goes.  The thought of books passing through so many unwashed hands – people reading them in the bath, letting their dogs lick them, picking their nose and wiping the results on the pages.  People eating crisps and then reading a few chapters without washing their hands first.  I just can’t.  No, I look for books with one careful owner.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I love old and used books, but I completely agree with Eleanor Oliphant: they have to be clean. This quote reminded me of a used bookstore I visited in Colorado last summer. The yard of the bookstore was littered with “antiques.” Behind the store, there was a foreboding display of tombstones. Perhaps this was where they buried the unsuspecting customers who got hopelessly lost (or worse) in the endless stacks of dirty books that filled the bookstore. A blue light dimly lit the inside of the bookstore, and I began to wonder if it was possible to contract a foot fungus through my shoes as my feet sunk into the mildewy carpet. When I dared to pick up a book, I found the cover and spine dusty and the pages slightly damp. I didn’t see the owner until I was on my way out. A pair of eyes peered silently through a gap in the ceiling high stacks. If someone wanted to write a bookstore murder mystery, that store would be the perfect setting.

But seriously, Eleanor Oliphant put into words exactly how I feel about library books. Libraries are wonderful places, but I will go out of my way to get a nice, clean copy of a book from a known source rather than check the book out from the library.

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