Christian author Philip Yancey has given me a lot of encouragement over the years. In one of his other books, Soul Survivor, he writes about 13 people, many of them writers, who salvaged his Christian faith when it might have hit the rocks. If I were ever to make my own Soul Survivor list, Philip Yancey would be on it. His compassionate, grace-filled, not-afraid-to-doubt view of evangelical Christianity has provided me with one of the anchors of my spiritual outlook.
Finding God in Unexpected Places is a collection of short pieces, grouped together by common themes, many of them inspired by places Philip Yancey has travelled or people he has met. Some are funny, some touching, all thought-provoking. The book was originally published in the 90s, but Yancey wrote several new chapters for this re-release, chapters which updated the book for the post-9/11 world. Many of the original chapters, written after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, feel dated now — it’s hard to remember now the optimism with which we viewed the world after the Berlin Wall had fallen and apartheid was vanquished in South Africa. But the inclusion of both the earlier and later chapters gives the book a broad perspective, and a valuable reminder that no matter what’s happening in the world around us, whether world affairs are hopeful or discouraging, God is still present.
I know it’s very early in the year to be guessing what books will make my Top Ten list this year. One of the wonderful things about being a Compulsive Overreader is that you never know what serendipitous treasures you may end up stumbling across in the bookstore or the library (or someone else’s house … hey, it happens). But Marybeth Hicks’ Bringing Up Geeks is a strong contender, because I freakin’ love this book and her parenting philosophy.
Now, I should point out that I have for a long time now described Jason’s and my parenting philosophy as “Geeks Raising Geeks,” so I may have been predisposed to love this book. I was certainly predisposed to grab it off the bookstore shelf when I first saw it. Our geekiness refers mainly to training our kids to love fantasy and sci-fi, which is not really what Marybeth Hicks is talking about, but it’s not unrelated. A true geek — for example, a hardcore Trekkie (we are softcore Trekkies) — is someone who is passionate about the things they love and doesn’t care at all about what other people think is “cool.” And that’s not too far off Hicks’ definition of what it means to be a geek parent raisin a geek kid, even if sci-fi isn’t your thing.
Although I enjoyed some works of young-adult historical fiction when I was a kid, The Sunne in Splendour is the first big, chunky, blockbuster of an adult historical novel that I picked up and read soon after leaving my college days behind. I’ve reread it a few times in the intervening years, most recently over this Christmas break. I have to say that for me, this novel, along with Margaret George’s The Autobiography of Henry VIII, sets the gold standard for historical fiction. Everything else has to be weighed in the balances and, usually, found wanting.
The Sunne in Splendour is primarily the story of Richard III — a very Ricardian, very non-Shakespearean take on Richard III, which portrays him as a good though deeply troubled man, loyal to his brother Edward IV yet shaken and in the end destroyed by Edward’s mistakes. But it’s not just Richard’s story — Penman uses the omniscient point of view skilfully, giving us the story from the perspective of Richard, Anne Neville, Edward, Edward’s wildly unpopular wife Elizabeth Woodville, and many other characters, while still keeping the story clearly focused on her main character. That’s not easy to do, and she does it well. As for using detail to create a sense of place and time — in this, as in her other novels, Penman does this so effortlessly that I suspect she’s actually discovered the secret of time travel and has really lived in medieval England. There’s just no other explanation.
The contest is complete and the winners have been chosen! Details are at http://trudymorgancole.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/winners/ . Thanks for playing, everyone, and I’ll be back with another contest next January!