Reading the Classics: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

The best on-screen adaptation

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

Pride and Prejudice is a longtime favorite of mine. I have read it maybe 3 times before, and loved both the recent movie adaptation and of course the most excellent BBC adaptation. For this reading, as I thought about “Reading the Classics,” I reflected on what made this such an excellent novel with a long staying power. And, when I say “reading,” I meant listening, because I listened to it on Audible. It made for a delightful experience.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is a longtime favorite of mine. I have read it maybe 3 times before, and loved both the recent movie adaptation and of course the most excellent BBC adaptation. For this reading as I thought about “Reading the Classics,” I thought about what made this such an excellent novel with a long staying power. And, when I say “reading,” I meant listening, because I listened to it on Audible. It made for a delightful experience.

There are, I think, two primary things that make Pride and Prejudice great. First is the enduring wit of Jane Austen. Her social commentary continues to amuse and remain relevant even more than a hundred years after her life. We can put ourselves in the shoes of the characters–not directly, perhaps, but we can imagine similar social situations. There will always be haughty men and women. There will always be awkward social situations, and family members overstepping their bounds or causing embarrassment. The way these things play out in Pride and Prejudice is part of its staying power. Austen captures those timeless things that can go wrong and intertwines them into a story of manners–good and bad.

The second thing that makes Pride and Prejudice great is not Mr. Collins, though I was quite tempted to say so, as I find him endlessly amusing. The second thing is actually Austen’s own outlook on the world seeping in at opportune moments. Whether it is her dry commentary on social norms or her subtle jabbing at clergy who are inept, she prods her readers to rethink expectations and consider what is the norm for their own society. One thing that strikes me on that score is that Austen tends to depict nearly any clergy throughout as lost, shallow, or impious. Some have suggested that is a comment from Austen on her own (lack of) faith, but from what I’ve read about Austen as well as my own reading of her, it seems more probable that Austen is in fact pointing out the systemic issues with having a state church and the way that leads to such inept, sometimes faithless people getting jobs as clergy. In other words, her barbs aimed at the clergy in the novels is a way to awaken readers, however subtly, to the need for reform.

Picking these two things as those which make the novel great is not, of course, to discount the many, many other things (like Mr. Collins) that make it so enjoyable. Yes, the dialogue is spot on. Yes, the central narrative is woven together in a satisfying and sometimes surprising way. Yes, Austen’s use of caricature for humor is excessively diverting. Did I mention I enjoy the English-isms? I do. But this read through, it seemed to me the two aforementioned things are what makes it so enduring, so perfect.

Should you read Pride and Prejudice? Yes, obviously. It’s got a 4.25/5 rating on Goodreads, a site not really known for generosity in its reviewers at all times. Looking at the long list of friends of mine who’ve rated it on Goodreads, I noticed that one of them gave it a 3-star rating and I’m tempted to unfriend them. But enough of that. This is a fantastic book, even if you’re not into this kind of book. I wasn’t, until I read it.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas- Reading the Classics

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Several friends had recently talked about finishing this book and how much they enjoyed it. I also recalled seeing the recent-ish movie several years ago (though, having finished the book, I threw it on hold at the library, so I’ll be watching it again!). Also, there’s a delicious sandwich that I at least assume got its name from this book, which makes it even better. But other than these fleeting glimpses, I knew pretty much nothing about Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo going in. The memory of the movie had faded, and I just recalled there was some guy who wanted revenge. Yeah, there’s a lot more to the novel than that.

The Count of Monte Cristo is, on the surface level, a novel of vindication and revenge. It’s an adventure that spans more than a thousand pages. Yet it remains a page-turner that demands to be devoured in sitting after sitting. But on the deeper level, it is a fantastically Christian look at the world and God’s action therein.

The set up for the plot involves the man who would be the count getting set up by several who wish him ill for various reasons. But throughout even that section, “Providence” is constantly in view. Providence is historically one way people talked about divine activity in the world, so the reader is led to see Dumas’s viewpoint as having a divine hand in many acts. And, indeed, as our lead character begins his quest for vindication and vengeance, bringing blessings and curses upon those who helped or hindered him, we as readers cannot help but associate his actions with those of God. We want the Count to succeed in his quest for revenge; it is so well planned, and he has become a man of almost limitless poise and focus. It is not until the count has one part of his vengeance go “too far” that he starts to have second thoughts.

These second thoughts translate into an awareness that our Count’s activity is not just the hand of God acting. Though we as readers have been rooting for him throughout, it becomes clearer that the assumptions we’ve made about how the story is going are wrong. It’s as though Dumas played into our expectations, allowing us to think that, perhaps, here is the kind of “divine vending machine” that we so often wish to turn God into. Here, in at least this story, God is working in the way that we want, dispensing a kind of hard justice on wrongdoing and giving great benefit to those who deserve it. But our Count realizes that this is not, in fact, what is happening. His own actions have been, well, his own. Has he been aided by God? Yes, in the sense that his endeavors could not have all succeeded without some acts of Providence. But he has presumed too much. Like Job in the Bible, he has questioned God; nay, he has gone farther and turned himself into the hand of God, dishing out vengeance and blessing as he wished. And his actions have led to a great wrong with the death of innocents.

So Dumas asks us to take ourselves back out of the shoes of the Count, to stop assuming that we know what is supposed to happen. Instead, he has lured us into this complacency, thinking we know how things ought to be, when instead we should be approaching the acts of God with fear and trembling, carefully avoiding the notion that we can make God act in the ways we desire. Hidden in plain sight within this apparent adventure novel, we have a serious theological commentary that forces us to re-examine who God is and how God acts. How often we make God into what we want, thinking we can control God! Yet here we see how foolish that is, and how we must once again evaluate the assumptions we have made.

So apart from this deep theological discussion, is there a good book? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The novel is so well written. I found it un-put-down-able. It’s a true page turner even at its doorstop-like heft. The story is full of beautiful description and overflowing with heart and depth.

There is far more that I could say about The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s such a phenomenal achievement. It definitely stands among my favorite works of all time, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to you, dear readers.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #41-45

cflI’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

41. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle Grade: A
“Theology, technology, and imagination are intertwined in surprising ways in L’Engle’s classic. It’s scary and delightful all at once. So many elements are here that it becomes increasingly surprising that they manage to stay together without bursting apart at the seams. It’s a remarkable book on many levels.”

42. The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov Grade: B
“Another proof that Asimov is capable of at least somewhat interesting characters. The first part of the story is the most compelling, as an apparently free source of energy is revealed to have dire consequences and pretty much nobody cares. Free energy is free, right? So who cares if everyone will die billions of years in the future? It’s the exact kind of reasoning that would probably be used, to the end of us all. But that dire feeling is mostly lost at the end of the book as Asimov changes its tone into a kind of future look at human colonization of the moon and the problems that might face. Yes, there are still references to the earlier portions of the book, and the solutions offered are interesting, but it lost something of the truly bleak and all-too-reasonable feel of the beginning chapters.”

43. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham Grade: B
“There is a lot going on in this book, and some of it stretches credulity a bit, but it is the kind of campy science fiction that makes you not mind so much. I mean really, plants that can’t see but sense people’s eyes as the weakest points on humans? Sure, yeah, why not? But the campiness also hides layers of complexity that aren’t immediately apparent. This is a pretty thoughtful book, though it is never quite clear what it is thinking about. I still haven’t figured out exactly what the message is that Wyndham is trying to get across here. It is also plagued a bit by outdated views of women. A good book with a few problems.”

44. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge Grade: A
“It’s as majestic as it is personal, alternating between intimate portrayals of human-alien relations and massive, sweeping conflict. It’s exciting and breathtaking. The only strikes against it are that in a few places it does drag and that it is occasionally so big that I as a reader lost track of all the events happening at once. A phenomenal read overall that will leave you thinking long after completing it.”

45. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Grade: A
“It’s basically a thoroughly Roman Catholic ‘Mad Max.’ Is it even possible to not like that as a concept for a novel? Effectively three short-stories tied together, this novel tells of a dystopian future at three stages. A Roman Catholic order of monks, those who follow Leibowitz, have preserved human knowledge after major nuclear war and pushback against learning and science have set humanity back centuries. It’s a haunting, beautiful novel with character and delight to spare. Fantastic.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “An Inquiry Into the Secondary Causes Which Mr. Gibbon Has Assigned for the Rapid Growth of Christianity” by Sir David Dalrymple

An Inquiry Into the Secondary Causes Which Mr. Gibbon Has Assigned for the Rapid Growth of Christianity by Sir David Dalrymple (1786).

Review

Dalrymple shows, exhaustively, that Edward Gibbon is deeply mistaken in his theses about the rise of Christianity in his famous historical work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #1-5 scores and comments

duneI’m a huge science fiction fan, but realize I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. We’re kicking off here with the top 5 science fiction books according to the fans. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

1. Dune by Frank Herbert Grade: A+
“Certainly one of the best novels ever written, Dune’s depth is astonishing. The characters are captivating, and the reader is put directly into their minds frequently. The book’s message is also thought-provoking on many levels–theological, scientific, ecological, and more. A true masterpiece of the genre.”

2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card Grade: A+
“Card manages to make you get inside characters’ heads in ways no other author can. There is a reality to the characters that leads to empathy even for the ‘bad guys.’ A shocking twist at the end makes you want more. It’s science fiction at its best.”

3. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov Grade: C-
“The overall plot is good, but my toddler’s board books have deeper characters than are featured here. It is extremely hard to care about any of the goings-on when not a single character is given depth or even has energy directed towards them by the writer. I know it’s a classic, but I’ve read them twice and don’t think I’ll bother again.”

4. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams Grade: A
“Hilarious and wry, Adams presents a shockingly nihilistic view of the universe. Although we laugh for the whole ride, the implications make me want to weep. It’s a vision of the future that is funny–yes–but it is also horrifying, in its way. It envisions a universe in which we don’t matter, nor does anything else, really.”

5. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein Grade: A
Stranger in a Strange Land manages to capture the feeling of ‘alien-ness’ utterly, but stumbles slightly at the end, when Heinlein allows his own time period to take control of the plot too completely. It takes some digesting. The small stumble does little to take away from the overall power of the book.”

What do you think? Which are your favorites? Are you surprised at any of the scores or what is on the list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Review

Crichton wrote a suspenseful, deep novel explaining why dinosaurs and humans don’t mix.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Book Review: “We the Underpeople” by Cordwainer Smith

wtu-smith“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” It’s a maxim that I hammered into my own head for quite a while. Yet, as an author (Eric Flint) said at a convention I was at some time ago, “People don’t buy books based on the covers, but they do look at them based on the cover.” I bought We the Underpeople because the cover of the next collection of Cordwainer Smith’s writings looked so interesting to me I figured I had to have them both. (The cover has a dragon eating a space ship! What could go wrong!?)

I finally got around to reading the first collection, which has a bunch of Smith’s short stories as well as the novel Norstrilia in it. I gotta say it blew me away. The introduction certainly set me up with high expectations–this unknown author with a pseudonym that made it even harder to determine blew up the science fiction scene when one of his stories was published in a sci-fi magazine some time ago.

Well, the stories blew me away too. Here is a collection of stories unified around a central timeline that has breadth and scope that is sometimes hard to comprehend. As a reader, you’re thrown into a world with a huge amount of terminology, names, and histories that are unknown and mostly used unapologetically until you figure out what they mean. It’s a bit like reading Dune the first time (how’s that for a recommendation?). The world Smith created spans thousands and thousands of years, and the stories take you across a portion of that time.

Humanity has sought to eliminate sorrow and hardship, but in doing so have created the “Underpeople”–human-like creations made from synthesis with animals. These underpeople basically serve as slaves for the “real people.” Thus, there are some elements of social justice found throughout the stories. There is also a strong sense of dystopia as the way hardship is eliminated is through brainwashing, reconditioning, and the radical loss of human freedom. There are also elements of religion found scattered throughout, with subtle references to Christianity melded into a kind of retelling of Joan of Arc, among other stories. One central theme in the novel that is included in this collection, Norstrilia, is the theme of forgiveness and the power that it can bring in one’s life.

All of these elements are set to an amazing lyrical style of writing which weaves poems and songs and even descriptions of artwork into the stories in meaningful ways. Smith’s writing style makes the words seem to flow from the page in a rhythm, even when it is written into paragraph form. Smith’s background in psychological warfare (I’m not making this up, folks) also comes through in a number of–sometimes disturbing–ways.

We the Underpeople is an absolutely incredible read that I would recommend to any and all fans of science fiction. The epic scope, beautiful style, and wonderful stories contained herein are well, well worth the price of entry. I’m pleased to say I’ve discovered a master writer I didn’t even know about. Thanks for putting a dragon on the cover of the second book, Baen books! Time to read the next collection.

The Good

+Lyrical, poetical style of writing
+Wonderfully rich world with sense of vastness
+Complex, intricately detailed plots
+Stunning scope

The Bad

-Not enough character development in some of the stories

Grade: A “A surprising, inventive collection of thought-provoking science fiction.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.