Pulitzer Prize Good News

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded last Thursday to Kazuo Ishiguro, which is good news. Ishiguro writes literary novels that defy genre boundaries and garner popular appeal.

Here’s the New York Times online story about the award. And here’s a Times 2015 interview with Ishiguro that explores his reading opinions and related reflections. A former editor, Robert McCrum, muses about his friendship with Ishiguro in this piece. And James Wood, of the New Yorker, gives his take here.

If you want to dip into the award-winning literature of Kazuo Ishiguro, be prepared for the unexpected. You may want to start with The Remains of the Day, his portrayal of a dignified butler on an introspective journey at the fading of his days.


Reading Recommendations

sunsetAfter a recent speaking engagement, I was asked for some book recommendations. Having expended a great deal of mental energy into the talks I’d just given, I felt a little brain dead and came up with only a few favorites. I did recall and mention, however, this earlier post that includes a variety of nonfiction related to literature as well as some fiction (both CBA and literary). That earlier post also talks about starting a book club.

Because I wrote that post several years ago, it’s definitely time for an update.  I also need to clarify something I said in front of the group. I spoke about finding one of Lynn Austin‘s books particularly meaningful when it described the struggle of Dutch settlers, and I’m pretty sure I gave an incorrect title. The book I was referring to is Waves of Mercy. But if you picked up Wings of Refuge, you’re also enjoy reading about how a woman’s archaeological adventure leads to a new understanding of the Middle East and her marriage. Lynn is a humble, godly woman who reminds me of Elisabeth Elliot.

Another favorite author in the Christian fiction genre is Ann Tatlock. In Every Secret Thing, a teacher learns how to cope with the present when she learns how to deal with the past. I’ll Watch the Moon is about a girl’s growing maturity while her brother is hospitalized with polio.

Jeanette Windle grew up as a missionary kid and spent many adult years in missionary contexts in foreign countries. This real life experience lends verisimilitude to her suspenseful books, and her painstaking research results in such remarkably accurate descriptions that she has been questioned by drug enforcement agencies about how she knew so much about their work.

I haven’t read any of the Amish novels written by Dale Cramer, but I enjoy the blue-collar male protagonists in some of his other books. One of my favorites is his Bad Ground, which is a coming of age novel with a young man who learns about work and relationships. His Summer of Light is a delightful novel about an unemployed husband and father who discovers a lot about himself and his family.

When it comes to literary fiction, the first name that comes to mind is Larry Woiwode. I had the privilege of participating in a week-long fiction workshop under his direction a few years ago (you can find my posts about that here, here, here, here, and here). Larry’s published works include novels, a memoir, and helpful books on writing.

Another literary author is Wendell Berry, creator of novels set in the fictitious town of Port William, Kentucky. His Hannah Coulter is a realistic portrayal of a woman’s long and difficult life.

Bret Lott has written many literary novels as well as an excellent book on writing, Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian.

Charles Martin is a fresh voice who skillfully constructs his plots in a way that keeps the reader guessing. I love When Crickets Cry, and I’m pretty excited to see the movie based on his The Mountain Between Us. 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is one of my favorite novels. I love its imagery and mystery. I’m not a huge fan of her other fiction, but this one shines with luminous writing.

Island of the World by Michael O’Brien is a beautiful and tragic book about great loss with healing through faith. This is a difficult book to read, but one that shows redemption through Christ.

To Kill a Mickingbird by Harper Lee may be my favorite American novel. I also enjoy several Victorian authors, especially Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope.

I hope you find these reading recommendations helpful. Feel free to leave a comment. If you’re interested in my work, hop over to my new author page on Facebook and comment there.

The Delight and Truth of Fiction

flaming-mapleWilliam Boekestein, pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI, was recently appointed as the social media coordinator for Reformed Fellowship, publisher of the The Outlook. In his continuing task to help Reformed Fellowship build an online presence and engage meaningful internet discussion, he posted yesterday (October 20, 2016) a link to my article on Fiction’s Delight and Truth.

I wrote the article over a year ago, and it appeared in 2015’s November issue. At the risk of sounding like a presidential candidate, I felt then and I still feel it is one of the best things I’ve ever written. In my defense, I submit what Leland Ryken (longtime professor of English at Wheaton College) wrote after I shared it with him:

Your essay is what I call a moon shot in my classes. It is absolutely perfect as a complete coverage of the material in a small compass. Congratulations on work well done. You did it better than I could have.

Considering Leland’s prolific writings on the subject and his astounding output as an author, I take this as the highest compliment. And I give all praise and glory to God, the I AM who writes all our stories as part of His great and never-ending story.



Fiction’s Delight and Truth

2015-06-nov-dec-outlook-coverAn article I wrote about why Christians should read fiction appears in the November issue of The Outlook. You can page through this online preview to read that article as well as a lovely review of my Matthew books.

Thursday Thanks

PrintToday I’m thankful that a mom in Canada took the time to share this on my Facebook page:

I am reading Matthew Muddles Through to my nine-year-old and seven-year-old every evening before bed. They are just LOVING it. Every night I hear, ‘Please! Another chapter, Mom. Pretty, pretty please?’

It’s so great to hear of kids enjoying Matthew’s story. What an encouragement!

And it’s not too late to order copies for the kids on your list.

Lit! An elliptical book review

You say you’re not a reader? Readers are made, not born. Like anything else, we learn to do it through practice. You read a lot or you want to read more, but you feel like you need direction? Look to the light of Lit! by Tony Reinke.

The title is a clever play on words that intentionally conveys Reinke’s basic premise: appreciation for good literature, which reflects the Creator’s glory, shines in the flood lamp of a biblical worldview. Now don’t roll your eyes and click away, dismissing Lit! as a boring theological tome. It’s title also shows this is a short, easy read that engages and challenges.

I may have heard first about this book from Tim Challies, perhaps in a Facebook status update, but I’m not sure how I came across it. Tim has written at least three posts mentioning the book, and gives 5 reasons to read it. And The Gospel Coalition (TGC) blog features an interesting interview with Tony Reinke.

In any case, I purchased Lit! several months ago and sent it to my husband’s Kindle, but didn’t find time to read it until this month. That’s when I began reading Kindle books in bite-sized pieces as a way to force myself onto a newly-acquired used (and very old) elliptical. Lit! has short, easily-digested chapters that lend themselves well to these brief elliptical reading episodes.

Reinke doesn’t write like a theologian, but he writes from a solid biblical foundation. He doesn’t write like a professor, but he writes about literature from a broad liberal (in the academic sense) perspective. Reinke writes like a regular guy who comes up with unique phrases.

Take this hook from his introduction, for instance:

Perhaps you love to read. You get the same feeling from a new stack of books as you get from looking at a warm stack of glazed donuts. Maybe not. For most, reading a book is like trying to drink down a huge vitamin. You know you need to read—you’ll be healthier for it—but everything within you refuses to swallow! (p. 15)

Or this gem as he describes different bookstore experiences:

My hanging head notices an eight-hundred-page Russian novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book cover is beautifully designed, the book was translated into English with great care (according to a friend of mine), and the novel is reasonably priced. My eye has caught the spine of this book many times before, and I’ve nearly purchased it on several of my frequent trips to the bookstore. But it’s also a very thick book that asks me for a serious commitment. And I’m already married! (p. 22)

Reading Lit! is almost an interactive experience. It’s like sitting across the coffee shop table from Reinke as he sips a hot latte and punctuates his sentences with expressive waves. When he dropped the names of old friends Anne Bradstreet, Leland Ryken, and Larry Woiwode, I actually spoke aloud: “Ah!”—which is elliptical shortspeech for, “Oh, you know him (her) too?”

The first part of the book presents a theology of books and reading. Reinke lays a scriptural and historical foundation before he recounts how personal sin and the gospel shape literacy. He then talks about developing a biblical worldview in an “Eye-Candy” culture.

Chapters 5 & 6 conclude his first section and contain the information I found most valuable. “The Giver’s Voice” presents seven accessible arguments for reading non-Christian books with discernment. Reinke writes, “As book readers, we are mistaken when we categorically reject non-Christian books. And we are mistaken when we read non-Christian literature uncritically” (p. 77). He reflects on John Calvin’s wisdom in this area, finding his model “generous, cautious, and sobering” (p. 77).

In his chapter, “The God Who Slays Dragons,” Reinke speaks about “The Purifying Power of Christian Imagination”:

The imagination is a God-given ability to receive truth and meaning. In an essay, C. S. Lewis wrote, “For me reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Using fantasy in literature does not make a story fictitious; it’s often a more forceful way to communicate truth” (p. 87).

Fiction writers strive to write what’s true. While that may seem an oxymoron to some, discerning readers understand that truth shines bright in the best fiction.

The second part of Lit! gives practical advice on book reading, all of which can be implemented easily. Although I still cringe at his advice to write in your books. I understand the logic and wisdom behind his argument, but I haven’t quite summoned the strength to jump over my defacement hurdle. Maybe if I work out a little longer on the elliptical.

If you’re looking for a quick but thought-provoking read about reading, pick up Reinke’s Lit! And see the light.

The above book review by Glenda Mathes is on:

Lit! © 2011 by Tony S. Reinke
Published by Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois
186 pages

Reformation resources

You won’t see John Calvin bobble-heads or Martin Luther window clings in the seasonal aisle of your local discount store, but Reformation Day is right around the corner.

Many Reformed churches sponsor conferences this time of year, which recharge adults’ Reformed batteries, but what about the kids? How does your family or church jumpstart children’s love for the Reformed faith?

Readers who’ve known me for many years may recognize this as a subject close to my heart and remember the original Reformation Celebrations at our local Christian school. From the beginning planning stages of those events, organizers believed that while learning about our great Reformed heritage was crucial, no event for kids could succeed as an alternative to Trick-or-Treat unless it included two elements: fun and free candy.

Rev. Andrew Eenigenburg and the people at West Sayville Reformed Bible Church share a desire to teach children about the Reformation in an interesting way while making a small concession to their sweet tooths. I’m writing an article about their annual special Sunday school celebration for families that includes candy for kids, but focuses on presenting and reading a Reformation-related book.

Last year’s featured book was Faithfulness Under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres by Bill Boekestein. I reviewed the book and interviewed Boekestein and artist Evan Hughes last year. You can read both the interview and the review here. Guido de Bres was the author of the Belgic Confession, one of the three confessions embraced by Reformed churches in the continental tradition known as the Three Forms of Unity.

Boekestein has since written a book describing the history behind another of the Three Forms of Unity: the Heidelberg Catechism. He plans to write a third book on the Canons of Dort.

This year West Sayville Reformed Bible Church will incorporate Boekestein’s second book in its Reformation-themed family Sunday school. And I hope to review the book in Christian Renewal as well as on this blog. You can view a trailer for his new book here.

Boekestein’s book on the Heidelberg introduces children to the three men most responsible for crafting the popular and well-loved catechism: Caspar Olevianus, Zacharias Ursinus, and Frederick III. Evan Hughes again contributes artwork to the combined effort: The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Each book is available from Reformation Heritage Books for a mere $7.50, about what you’d pay for a couple cups of flavored coffee. The coffee might jumpstart your mind one morning, but the books will ignite young minds for a lifetime. 

These two little books are excellent resources for parents or church educators who want to introduce children to the authors of Reformed confessions and the critical times in which the works were written.

Church school instructors using Not My Own: Discovering God’s Comfort in the Heidelberg Catechism may want to consider using Boekestein’s The Quest for Comfort as a supplemental reading during class or giving it to students as a Reformation Day or Christmas gift. Not My Own by Glenda Mathes (yes, me) is the first volume in the “Life in Christ” catechism curriculum produced by First United Reformed Church in Chino, CA, and available from Reformed Fellowship.

Other Reformation-related resources for children deserve mention in this post as we anticipate observing Reformation Day next Monday.

Janie Cheaney and Emily Whitten, the wise women over at Redeemed Reader, are currently giving away a copy of Reformation Heroes, a book by Diana Kleyn and Joel Beeke. This is an excellent book that has been placed in our church library. Since it sells for $25 on Amazon, you may want to check out their contest!

The October 26 post at Redeemed Reader features a guest review by Shanna Gonzalez of Paul Maier’s Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World. The review is worth reading simply for its handy pronunciation guide at the end.

Although I’m short on time and this listing is far from exhaustive, I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the beautiful and excellent books by Simonetta Carr.

Simonetta has written books on John Calvin, Augustine of Hippo, Athanasius, John Owen, and will soon release Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata.

Her books are available from Amazon, Christianbook.com, Reformation Heritage Books and other distributors. Each book is a literary and visual delight!

John Calvin bobble-heads and Martin Luther window clings may remain scarce. But Reformed parents and educators have access to some very helpful books that can help them spark within children’s hearts a lifelong love for the Reformed faith.

Secret of Chimneys

Mysteries were my standard reading fare during the long summer breaks between my highschool years. Ever since I’ve equated summer reading with mysteries. And although I now have several favorite authors, my first favorite mystery writer–and one who remains a favorite despite some criticisms–is Agatha Christie.

Last night I read The Secret of Chimneys, one of her early novels and one that garners decidedly mixed reviews. Some reviewers feel it lacks the depth of her later stories, while some view it as one of her best. I fall into the latter category. My daughter recently read and enjoyed it, so I picked it up this week as one of the few Christie mysteries I had not previously read. The lively dialogue of its characters and the tricky twists of its conclusion thoroughly delighted me.

Although I had solved the primary puzzles long before the last page, I prefer that to mysteries whose conclusions depend on information that has been withheld from the reader until the very end.

Fiction, especially mystery, provides a great break for my mind after a long day of trying to craft coherent writing. And Christie never fails to disappoint for a quick and fun read.

Redeeming YA fiction

Janie B. Cheaney and Emily A. Whitten write discerningly about Young Adult literature over at their Redeemed Reader website. Yesterday’s intriguing post by Janie piques my interest in the “Use and Abuse of Youth Literature.”

The two recently interviewed Meghan Cox Gurdon who wrote in June for the Wall Street Journal a controversy generating review about the “Darkness Too Visible” in youth fiction.

I read Meghan’s article when it first came out. She shares the story of a mother who can’t find anything decent to purchase for her daughter in the YA section of her local Barnes & Noble. I, too, have stood in the YA section of B & N, feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. It’s one of the reasons I keep working on fiction for young people as well as adults.

Janie commented on Redeemed Reader soon after Meghan’s article was published. You can read her reflections here.

Head over to Redeemed Reader and read Janie’s excellent June reflections as well as her excellent post on using and abusing youth literature!