Archive for C.S. Lewis

2008 Reading Project

Posted in Reading List with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2017 by jaclemens

I joined Goodreads in April 2008 and began adding titles right away to my to-read shelf. These titles were the books I most wanted to read, foremost on my list, and yet some of them can still be found lingering in to-read limbo today. I realized that if I did not rectify this situation in 2017, I will be lamenting – not celebrating – my 10 year anniversary next spring!

Looking back on that first year, I read 44 books, many of them formative for my development as a book buyer. Three books by Michael Chabon (not my first, but it cemented his place as one of my favorite authors); three by Brandon Sanderson (ibid); The Book Thief; American Gods; Wicked; Reinhold Niebuhr and Isaac Bashevis Singer; and The Stress of Her Regard (one of my top ten favorite books), among other great reads. It was a tremendous year of reading for me, so it’s no slight on the books I didn’t get to in 2008.

Since then I have read plenty of books and added plenty more to my to-read list. From 2009 to 2011, I managed to move 20 more of my 2008 books from to-read to read (past tense), so it isn’t as if I forgot about the books that had earlier caught my eye. However, I have made no progress on that subset of books since re-reading The Stress of Her Regard in 2011. I wouldn’t say that I lost interest after three years – or that more appealing books intervened – but, for one reason or another, those books did not fit into my immediate reading plan.

In 2017, I will be reading 1-2 books each month from my 2008 list in order to finish the remaining 18 that have gone neglected for the last six years. I started my project in February with a pair of timely titles: 1984 by George Orwell and The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. I plan to read a larger amount of new releases combined with other books that haven’t languished as long on my to-read list, but the 2008 books will provide the basis for my reading this year. I don’t anticipate writing a review for every book I read in 2017, but hopefully working through the books I wanted to read back then will help recapture some of the magic of buying and reading books in 2008!


Mother of Them All

Posted in Fiction with tags , , , , , , on July 28, 2010 by jaclemens

This is the second romance by George MacDonald I’ve read, the first being Phantastes. It’s also the second consecutive book I’ve read about someone crossing over into a treacherous fantasy world. Concurrently I read Jack’s Life, Douglas H. Gresham’s biography of his stepfather, C.S. Lewis. The Magicians was inspired in part by The Chronicles of Narnia, while Lewis referred to MacDonald as his master. Thus in the ascribed order I traced the flow of inspiration back to its source.

MacDonald traced mankind back to its source as his inspiration for Lilith. Certain traditions hold Lilith to be the first wife of Adam. She was loath to submit to her husband, so she was set aside in favor of Eve. Lilith was demonized for her refusal, becoming a child-stealing succubus. MacDonald harks back to the original sin to tell this tale of redemption.

Mr. Vane inherits his father’s estate, complete with library* and seemingly its former librarian. He follows the dispossessed librarian into a mirror world, where he encounters Adam, Eve, Lilith, and Mara, the Lady of Sorrow. It is a world of stasis, where the innocent remain children, no water flows, and Lilith persists in enmity. Only through the unwitting intervention of Mr. Vane is the world able to resume its natural progression of life and death unto new life.

*I envision this library to be like that of Biltmore, which I recently visited. The house was completed in 1895, the year Lilith was published.

Here’s a Book for Me

Posted in New release, Non Fiction, Recommendations with tags , , , , , , on January 27, 2010 by jaclemens

The pseudo-spinning dial on the cover of Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son by Michael Chabon is exceptionally fitting.* Choose a subheading along the lines of Experience or Sincerity as a starting point and allow Chabon to elaborate in his distinctive elaborate prose! Even for Chabon enthusiasts such as myself not every essay is required reading, and one certainly need not read them in the order presented.  There is something here for every reader, man or woman, novice or expert.

I skipped ahead when I read Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands (see review posted on 8/15/08), and I wish I had given the dial a spin with this book. Consider it an amateur error! “A father is a man who fails every day,” Chabon asserts in the lead off essay “The Losers’ Club.” A reasonable premise, if not an encouraging one. I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s greatest hits as I read the first few sections, and the repeated messages of failure and nostalgia had a synergistic downer effect. I knew precisely from whence Chabon came, yet the book was not lighting me up intellectually the way Maps and Legends had.

I was well into the fourth section before I encountered an essay which shook my intellectual moorings. Reading “The Ghost of Irene Adler” on the train I almost exclaimed aloud! Chabon’s depiction of Alexis from Texas is tantalizing and his enumeration of the ways “the Woman” gets on a best friend’s nerves is spot on: “and worst of all, most egregious of all, you cannot believe the way she talks to him. No, worst of all: You can’t believe that he puts up with it.” But what caused me to sit up and re-read the essay was his diagnosis: the death of a friendship over a woman can be attributed to a failure of imagination. In essence that is what a person admits when he says “I don’t know what he sees in her” or “I just don’t get why he’s with her,” but I had not considered it from that salient angle. And I have given it due consideration, particularly with regard to C.S. Lewis, his wife Joy Davidman, and his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien. Just as Alexis from Texas presented Chabon with an interpretation of his story that had not occurred to him, he then presented me with a novel interpretation of an age-old dilemma. I had no idea that this topic would be addressed in the book, but this is the profound type of insight I expect from the sage Chabon!

I did not expect an essay about carrying a man purse (“I Feel Good About My Murse”), but then one should always leave luxuriant latitude for the unexpected when reading Michael Chabon! I won’t fault him for it, but I think I will stick with my “reading is sexy” canvas messenger bag. Nor do I see myself collecting cookbooks (“Art of Cake”) or throwing my support behind Jose Canseco (“On Canseco”), but I will not deny a man’s right to do so. Chabon is unstinting with his personal experiences, be it admitting his reformed habit of marijuana use to his kids (“D.A.R.E.”), losing his virginity (“Verging”), the dissolution of his first marriage (“The Hand On My Shoulder”), or the outré recommendation that resulted in his being set up with the woman who is his ideal complement, fellow author Ayelet Waldman (“Looking for Trouble”). His contemplation of his contemporary David Foster Wallace committing suicide (“Getting Out”) called to mind the U2 song “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”, written about the suicide of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence.

There were a couple of essays that left me cold, a fair amount that sailed by with a comfortable recognition, and a precious few that had me grinning from ear-to-ear (“Surefire Lines” to name only one). There are some that I won’t be inclined to re-read, some that I have already re-read and shared with other like-minded individuals, and some that I will wait to revisit until I (and my children along with me) have aged a few more years. As a thirty-two year old husband, father of three, and aspiring author, this is exactly the type of book for which I have been searching. The insights of a forty-six year old husband, father of four, and accomplished author. It is material I can identify with, presented in inimitable style, by an author whom I admire and respect.

I’m not much of a pool player, but I would relish the opportunity to shoot pool with Chabon after one of his readings like Alexis from Texas. Better yet, to associate as parents of kids in the same social sphere. Would our shared “strangely possessive feelings about mythology” (“Sky and Telescope”) be a bond or a barrier? He would pity me “with the especial harsh pity of the geek” for not having an appreciation of Dr. Who (“An Amateur Family”), but considering my firstborn son gave me a t-shirt with the phrase “I’ve got MAD Bat’leth Skills” on it for Christmas I’d say I’m doing my part to raise the next generation of geeks (or amateurs, as Chabon prefers)! I gave myself Manhood for Amateurs for Christmas; is it manly to send yourself a thank you card?

*Cover design by Will Staehle

Top Ten Books

Posted in Top Ten with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2008 by jaclemens

There are many ways to slant a top ten list, but this is my straight up Top Ten Books list (arranged alphabetically by author):

1. Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto

2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

3. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

4. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

6. On Writing by Stephen King

7. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

8. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

9. Mila 18 by Leon Uris

10. Trinity by Leon Uris

While no individual title by C.S. Lewis has cracked the list (I have yet to acquire Allegory of Love, so it may still happen), his collected works are certainly among my favorites.