Thursday, October 04, 2007

Books read in September

1. Letters to Malcolm by C S Lewis
2. Speaking of Love by Angela Young
3. Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
4. Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
5. Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson
6. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
7. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
8. The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Black Cat from Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe

I finished reading a good mixture of books in September. First in the month was Letters to Malcolm by C S Lewis, which was our book group meeting’s choice. For this group we usually read religious non-fiction, both older and more recent books. Letters to Malcolm was published in 1963, not long before Lewis’s death. It takes the form of letters on prayer written to an fictitious correspondent called Malcolm in a similar vein to The Screwtape Letters, but nowhere nearly as amusing or as confrontational. He has some interesting comments on different aspects of prayer: petitionary prayer, prayers of praise, corporate prayer, and whether it is right to pray for the dead.


There are some questions he poses that he doesn’t answer directly, which made me ponder further. Such an example is how can we account for the embarrassing promises made in the Bible that what we pray for with faith we shall receive. I’ve always found this statement puzzling. So did Lewis: “Every war, every famine or plague, almost every death-bed, is the monument to a petition that was not granted.” The difficulty is not why prayer isn’t answered, but why it is promised and Lewis can only offer guesses. He asks, as I do too: “Are we only talking to ourselves in an empty universe?”

I’ve already written about Speaking of Love (see here), Crow Lake (here), Ghostwalk (here) and Ivanhoe (here) all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories are very short and I’ve discovered that I don’t really like such short stories. These are most grizzly and so horrific that they turn my stomach, particularly The Black Cat, in which the narrator kills his wife with an axe and then bricks her up in the cellar. When the police arrive and search the premises they hear the cat howling and wailing and lo and behold when the wall is opened there is the corpse, “greatly decayed and clotted with gore” and standing on its head is the cat “with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire.”

I had built up in my mind this picture of Poe’s tales as being really spooky and scary, but reading them proved to be disappointing. The Fall of the House of Usher is a bit better, but it still didn’t live up to my expectations. It’s a story of the decay of a family into madness and this time the lady of the House of Usher is buried alive.

I’ve written about The Murders in the Rue Morgue here. This story too has gory details and is interesting as the forerunner of the modern detective story. I’m not sure I’m going to read all of Poe’s tales, but I am going to see if reading The Pit and The Pendulum is as terrifying as watching Vincent Price in the movie.

Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson is a beautiful book and Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader is a little masterpiece. I’ll write about both of these in another post, as this is enough for now.

8 comments:

Dorothy W. said...

I'll look forward to your thoughts about The Uncommon Reader -- that one looks like a whole lot of fun!

Gentle Reader said...

I'm interested to hear what you have to say about Astrid and Veronika, too--it's been on my list for awhile!

stefanie said...

Can't wait to hear about The Uncommon Reader! Please write about it soon to alleviating my curiosity :)

danielle said...

I've read a few of Poe's short stories and they are sort of gruesome, aren't they. I'm looking forward to hearing about the Bennett and Olsson books!

BooksPlease said...

Thanks everyone. Bennett and Olsson coming up soon - two very different but enjoyable books.

StuckInABook said...

Re: the Lewis question - is the verse something like "everthing you ask for in my name will be granted you" (Jesus being the 'my')? My understanding of this is that one can only be asking for something in Jesus' name if the petition follows God's will, and you have recognised this will by the Holy Spirit - a will which doesn't always seem to make sense to humans in the short-term, but is much more far-reaching. Thus praying people can't just ask anything... But you (and Lewis!) are right, it is sometimes a confusing matter...

StuckInABook said...

Gosh, that was more thoughtful than usual - I'll be back to bookish natter soon!

BooksPlease said...

Simon, the verse Lewis is referring to is Mark 11.24 "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

Lewis then states: "No question, it seems, of confining it to spiritual gifts;whatever we ask for. No question of a merely general faith in God, but a belief that you will get the particular thing you ask. No question of getting either it or else something that is really far better for you;you'll get precisely it."

As you say, a confusing matter.