Tag Archives: Faith 'n' Fiction Saturday

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Word Lily review

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark (1959), 228 pages

The phrase memento mori translates to “Remember you must die.” When Dame Lettie starts getting phone calls, in which the anonymous caller repeats that exact phrase, questions abound. Then other people begin getting the mysterious calls too.

Hearers’ reactions differ. Some panic, some fear, some become angry. Some convince themselves it didn’t actually happen. The police think the old people are losing their minds.

I read this because it’s on the Image Journal list (one of my personal perpetual challenges) and also because it’s the pick for the first quarter Faith and Fiction Roundtable discussion of 2012, hosted by My Friend Amy.

Memento Mori was a relatively fast read for me, at least compared to what I’ve come to expect from books on the list. That’s probably partly because of its briefness, though, too. It didn’t measure up, depth-wise, with my expectations, though. (Unless you all can enlighten me?) It felt less nuanced, almost blatant, in comparison.

That said, it did succeed at holding my attention.

What seemed its big theme, its major emphasis, it handled well.

“As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

—Psalm 103:15-16

And using that theme, Memento Mori draws a pretty clear picture of human nature. So maybe I shouldn’t call it a failure — or even one-noted — at all.

It seems like we as humans should become more accepting of our mortality as we age. But the characters in this book, for the most part, treat these reminders as more threat than truth. And maybe that says something about the human condition. As much as we know we won’t live forever (in these bodies, at least), we’re not very good at dealing with that information. We’d rather place blame and seek answers than live like these days matter, because they’re numbered.

The way characters’ lives are interwoven, filled with intrigue and secrets at various levels, is fascinating. As the message becomes an obsession for the characters, their flaws and virtues bubble to the surface.

Rating: 4 stars

About the author
Muriel Spark (1918-2006) was an award-winning Scottish novelist. In reading about her life, it seems at least parts of Memento Mori may be autobiographical.

Check out Amy’s post and the rest of the discussion!

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

Word Lily review

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee, book 1 of The Books of Mortals series, (Center Street, September 13, 2011), 384 pages

In a world ruled by fear (no other emotions now exist), although violence is basically unheard of, people generally go through life keeping their heads down.

A vial of blood and a cryptic page are thrust into Rom’s hands by a man on the run from authorities. The old man says something that makes Rom think his father didn’t live quite the straight-and-narrow life he’d always thought. But he doesn’t have long to think about it, now that he’s being pursued because of what he now possesses.

This was, overall, an enjoyable read for me. I don’t always respect Dekker’s books much, but this is one of his better ones. He’s always been great at pacing, and this book is no exception. The story flies along, dragging the reader from one page to the next. Lee’s influence was clear — at times, the prose really sparkled, which is something I haven’t experienced in Dekker’s writing.

Somehow, while feeling pretty unique, the whole dystopian setup also felt trite.

There was also one scene, in particular, that was overwrought, more bloody than it needed to be. Maybe this will be sussed out in subsequent books, but as it stood in this one, it was out of place and gory.

The part of the book that was most interesting to me was touched on immediately, on the first page of the first chapter: Art, any kind of creative pursuit, only barely survives in this world, and that only because a long-dead expert had written about the educational merits of the arts. The life of an artisan is hard, in a world unmoved by creativity. [Not that the life of an artist is exactly easy, even today.] Even then, “artisan” is a more accurate word than “artist” because the act of creation doesn’t really happen outside the full scope of emotion, which this population lacks.

I love that one of the characteristics we as humans share with God is creativity. God created ex nihilo, and we, made in that image, create.

I can easily see how art appreciation might not happen in a world without love or joy or even anger. But I hadn’t really thought about creating being an act that required emotional undercurrents.

A quote:

“You only feel pain because you’re alive, boy!” the keeper thundered. “This is the mystery of it. Life is lived on the ragged edge of that cliff. Fall off and you might die, but run from it and you are already dead!”

~page 339, Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

What do you think? Could an emotion-less being create?

Rating: 3.5 stars

Book 2, Mortal, is schedule for release in September 2012; book 3, Sovereign, will be published in 2013.

About the authors
Ted Dekker is a bestselling author of more than 20 novels. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Tosca Lee (@ToscaLee) is the author of Demon and Havah.

Other Faith and Fiction Round Table Participants:

I received this book from the publisher as part of the Faith and Fiction Round Table. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Word Lily review

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker (Bloomsbury USA Children’s, July 19, 2011), 288 pages

Lacey Anne Byer’s a preacher’s kid and has never really rebelled. But there are some things she hasn’t quite told her parents yet. She really, really wants the lead – Abortion Girl — in her church’s annual Hell House. And then a new boy arrives in town.

To me, Small Town Sinners is mostly the story of a teenager beginning to make her faith her own. She questions what she’s always been taught, sees discrepancies between words and actions of the church.

Quote: “‘Lacey Anne,’ says Ty, ‘the God I know welcomes questions. He welcomes doubts. He welcomes criticisms of His kingdom when things aren’t just or fair.'” (page 158)

In some ways, I could relate to Lacey Anne. I grew up in the Church, my dad’s a pastor. Something I had, though, that Lacey Anne doesn’t have for most of Small Town Sinners is parents who gave me space to ask the whys and hows.

Lacey Anne believes that if she doesn’t believe exactly as her parents do, then that the relationship is harmed. And her parents don’t respond well when she even begins to pose a question; they give her pat answers, regurgitations. And get angry. As I read, I mourned that her parents didn’t give her that space for growth.

I, like Lacey Anne, see so much of life in shades of gray rather than merely black and white. Yes, there are some things that are definite. But there are many things that just … aren’t.

Other thoughts:

• I kind of loved that they used their personal prayer language as vocal warm-ups.

• The whole Hell House thing. Ugh. I wish the Church didn’t feel the need to make “Christian” versions of all things secular. From T-shirts to haunted houses, the Church has been in copy-cat mode for centuries now. Why can’t we create something original? That feels like a dead horse, though. *wry grin* There’s more I could say about Hell Houses, but I’m not going there today.

• I was excited to read it, but this book didn’t really live up to my expectations.

• Ty felt like a plot ploy. I wish she would have had the courage to walk this road without a romantic partner.

• The cover is really nice!

Rating: 3 stars

About the author
Melissa Walker (@MelissaCWalker) has worked as ELLEgirl Features Editor and Seventeen Prom Editor. She’s the author of the Violet on the Runway series as well as Lovestruck Summer. Melissa manages a daily newsletter, I Heart Daily, and handles blogging for readergirlz.com, an online book community that won the 2009 National Book Award for Innovations in Reading.

Other Faith & Fiction Posts about Small Town Sinners
My Friend Amy
Books & Movies
3 R’s Blog
Ignorant Historian
Book Addiction
Book Hooked Blog
My Random Thoughts
Tina’s Book Reviews

I received this book from the publisher as part of the Faith & Fiction Round Table. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links. Quote(s) are from an uncorrected advance proof and have not been verified with the final version of the book.

Faith and Fiction Round Table Discussion: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

The Faith and Fiction Round Table is a group, started by My Friend Amy, that determined six books relating to faith and mostly fiction to read together in 2011. We have discussions via email and then post our thoughts on the book.

This month’s book is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

This book is on the Image Journal Top 100 list, so I was excited that it coincided with the Faith ‘n’ Fiction Round Table, since I’ve committed to reading every book on that list but my progress has been so very slow.

So often science and faith have been cast as opponents. Whether we’re talking Galileo or the current origins conflict, science and faith are often seen — even by their members — as mutually exclusive. This is something I grew up blowing off, almost ignoring. I knew the two could work together. But as I’ve experienced more of the world, I’ve seen how strong the dichotomy is, in practice. (Like oil and water? Do you remember those science experiments?)

In Canticle, though, Miller casts at least this small part of the church, a monastery dedicated to the memory of an early 20th century engineer, as the keeper, sustainer, of scientific knowledge.

As the monks copy artifacts and fragments over the multiplied lifetimes, most of the time they gain no understanding from what they read. And the outside world is no better, with low single-digit literacy over the centuries, following that first catastrophic nuclear “Simplification” (in the 1940s).

But time passes, and eventually one of the monks with a particularly scientific mind takes the necessary leaps and reinvents electric light.

At this point, the outside world (this monastery is very isolated) also has a leading scientist or two, but his mind is clouded by his preconceptions — and the monk has reached so much greater success, even without the benefit of a university education.

Hm, that may be a bit more detail than I needed to give.

Anyway, I guess my question today is this: Do you view science and faith as diametrically opposed, or do you see how they can be reconciled? Examples?

NOTE: This is not a forum to debate creation/evolution or the like — not even close.

For more posts on A Canticle for Leibowitz, please visit:
My Friend Amy
Ignorant Historian
Book Addiction
3Rs Blog
Books and Movies
Book Hooked Blog
My Random Thoughts

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Faith and Fiction Round Table Discussion: What Good Is God? by Philip Yancey

The Faith and Fiction Round Table is a group, started by My Friend Amy, that determined six books relating to faith and mostly fiction to read together in 2011. We have discussions via email and then post our thoughts on the book.

This month’s book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters by Philip Yancey

“Sometimes we must go outside the church to get nourishment — art, beauty, knowledge — which we can then bring inside to appreciate fully.”

~page 130, What Good Is God? by Philip Yancey

Is this true? Do we agree?

I, for one, certainly get nourishment outside the church. To give a quick example: Most of us read a mix of books, Christian fiction and general market books (I mean, not exclusively Christian fiction).

I believe strongly that artists within the Church should have the same level of craft and content as artists outside the Church. Restated: There should be the same quality of art inside the Church — being created in the Church, emanating from the Church — as there is outside the Church.

I hypothesize, though, that even if/when the Church is consistently producing art on that level, some people will need to seek (hopefully only) partial nourishment outside the Church.

But we’re neglecting the second part of Yancey’s statement. What about that second part, that to fully appreciate a work of art one must “bring [it] inside”?

If, by this, Yancey means that the artwork must be brought inside the Body, discussed and examined with the congregation, then I don’t agree. Sadly, the Church (I’m speaking in generalities here) isn’t equipped to discuss or appreciate art. The Church bought so fully into Modernism that is has no place for art. Still.

If, though, Yancey’s statement is read to mean that the artwork is most fully appreciated through a Christian worldview or lens, then I can’t argue. Sure. But that’s a pretty … unorthodox interpretation of his words, I think.

What do you think? Must we, sometimes, go outside the church to find artistic nourishment, but then bring it back inside to partake?

For more posts on What Good Is God? In Search of a Faith that Matters, please visit:
My Friend Amy Book Addiction, Book Hooked Blog, Books and Movies, Crazy for Books, Ignorant Historian, Linus’s Blanket, My Random Thoughts, Book Journey, Roving Reads, Semicolon, The 3R’s Blog, Tina’s Book Reviews, Victorious Cafe

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

Word Lily review

Certain Women: A Novel by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992), 351 pages

Told mainly from the perspective of up-and-coming stage actress Emma Wheaton, Certain Women is primarily a family drama. (And what a complicated family it is!) World War II bisects the narrative. Actor David Wheaton, Emma’s father, is dying, and his mind is filled with what ifs, focusing around his ex-wives and children, but viewed through the lens of something else he left undone, a play about the David of the Old Testament.

I really loved L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time — that whole series really — when I read them in my preteen years, but in the last couple years I’ve heard a few naysayers, so I was eager to experience L’Engle again and see if I still appreciated her writing. I wasn’t disappointed.

The story feels very modern, to the extent that I sometimes forgot it’s set in an earlier time.

I loved the interplay between the Baptist and Episcopal grandparents and ideas. She portrayed the back-and-forth (but ultimately unified) positions well.

The writing is splendid.

One complaint: I grew tired of what felt like harping on the connections and/or differences between the two stories, though. On the one hand, it makes sense, since Dave Wheaton is so obsessed with the biblical David, but the comparisons still felt a bit forced on me. Since the story’s told from Emma’s perspective, it might have been nicer to just let it flow.

Now, getting back to the writing (examples):

‘I listen to my characters better than I listen to anybody else. That’s not good.’ They had reached their building and he let go of Emma’s hand to reach for his key.

‘No, it’s not good, but I think maybe it’s true of all artists. When I’m working on a role I listen to my character. And I listen better than I listen to myself. Or to you.’

~page 260, Certain Women

“Maybe we have to sin, to know ourselves human, faulty, and flawed, before there is any possibility of greatness.”

~page 326, Certain Women

“I don’t have answers to the questions, at least not yet, but I have some good questions.”

~page 333, Certain Women

Rating: 4.5 stars

[I read this for the Faith ‘n’ Fiction Round Table; I posted Saturday about a theme I discovered in its pages, Serve the Gift.]

About the author
Madeleine L’Engle is the author of many acclaimed and popular works for adults and children, including the Newbery-winning A Wrinkle in Time and her autobiography, The Crosswicks Journal.

Other reviews
The 3 R’s Blog
Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Faith and Fiction Round Table Discussion: Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

I quite liked Certain Women, my first foray into the adult fiction by Madeleine L’Engle. The book sets up the mid-century family sired by actor Dave Wheaton as a counterpoint and entree into a closer look at the biblical David. And yet the book is really more about the fictional family. Told from the perspective of daughter Emma, quite a bit of the story centers around the stage, since acting is something Emma and her father share. (The family also includes producers, directors, musicians….)

This was the first time I’d seen the phrase (exhortation, really) in print: Serve the gift. In Certain Women, it’s almost a thread running through the entire story.

‘David truly believed that although he himself was the Lord’s anointed, so was Saul, and the Lord’s anointed must not be dishonored.’

‘The Lord’s anointed,’ Emma mused, pressing closer to Nik as a gust of west wind made her stagger slightly. ‘Do you believe that?’

‘The anointing of kings?’ Nik raised his dark brows. The wind from the river was ruffling his hair. ‘Maybe, when being a king was a talent and a vocation, not something political.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘What about your father? Isn’t he in a way also the Lord’s anointed? Where did his incredible gift of acting come from? Granted, he serves it well, he hasn’t wasted or perverted his talent as some artists do, but what about the talent in the first place?’

‘Is it maybe genetic?’ Emma asked.

Nik shook his head violently. ‘I don’t want all our gifts relegated to genes and chromosomes. Although I’m sure that would have satisfied my father.’

‘And your mother?’

‘She believed in gifts. And that I have one as a writer.’

‘You do.’

‘So all I can do is serve the gift. I’d give anything if I could serve mine as well as your father serves his.’

‘He tries,’ Emma said slowly. ‘When he’s working on a role it has nothing do do with his private life.’

Certain Women, page 163

The phrase, the idea, stuck out to me because it was hammered on at Hutchmoot last year, and it’s not really left me since.

As I understand it, it means that the artist has been given this giant gift, but with it comes a big responsibility. Not everyone has this gift, and so to be worthy of it, to do right by that gifting, the artist must throw himself into his work, must prove himself worthy of the gift almost.

Which … is something I’m not sure I believe. We’ve all been gifted, with talents, skills, abilities. Why would those in artistic arenas be held to a higher standard? In my head I’m connecting this to the artist-as-genius mentality.

Now, L’Engle draws a line between serving the gift and dying to yourself, which can be seen in the quote above. But still, I’m not convinced this is right.

Maybe, despite all that, I can buy into the serve-the-gift concept, though. Perhaps the phrase draws on the idea that creativity is part of being an Image-bearer, being one made in the image of God. Enh, I’m still not sure.

What do you think about serving the gift? What does it mean to you, do you agree with the idea?

For more posts on Certain Women, please visit:
My Friend Amy Book Addiction, Book Hooked Blog, Books and Movies, Crazy for Books, Ignorant Historian, Linus’s Blanket, My Random Thoughts, One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books, Roving Reads, Semicolon, The 3R’s Blog, Tina’s Book Reviews, Victorious Cafe

Defining ‘Christian fiction’

Word Lily thoughts

My Friend Amy and Deborah have started something, I think.
Amy’s post 1
Amy’s post 2
Deborah’s post
#CFChat transcript from this week, with more chats to come (the next one is Monday at noon Central, again).
• I posted about this a week ago, too, and I’ve got notes for more.

Whenever there’s a big discussion, I always feel the need to go back to basics — to definitions, to be more specific. The discussion will be less productive and meaningful if we aren’t understanding terms they way others are using them.

Like any definition, my working definition of Christian fiction is imperfect. It’s subject to change, and it’s flawed.

When I say “Christian fiction,” I mean novels published by Christian publishing houses.

I get frustrated by this definition frequently, though. It excludes Jan Karon’s Mitford series, for example, because they’re published by Viking. And yet content-wise, that’s where the series fits, in my opinion. It also excludes most literature considered Christian classics, from C.S. Lewis to Flannery O’Connor — not to mention basically all of the Image Journal list.

And yet I stick with this definition because it’s harder to draw the line anywhere else.

How do you define Christian fiction?

The books I *most* want to read don’t fit neatly in any category. I want to read well-written, literary:
• books that are messy, like real life,
• fiction that’s thought-provoking and embodies Truth,
• stories that don’t have all the answers, that are OK with gray, that raise big questions and let mystery hang in the air.

What kinds of books do you most want to read?