May 2008 Archives
No one ever accused me of being on the cutting edge of anything. I'm behind the curve in all areas of life, slow on the uptake. I defend myself as intelligently cautious; those who know me would say that I'm just clueless. Anyway, I offer that as an excuse as to why I'm just now posting about a book that was published in 2003 and which has been mentioned many times by many better bloggers and writers.
First, I have to give credit to Jim over at Serotoninrain, who was the first to get my attention about Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. Jim is pretty much the antithesis to me when it comes to books, as he's always the first to find the good stuff, and you'd think that by now I'd learn to just immediately go buy and read whatever he recommends instead of waiting, like, five years. (I'd link to some of his posts that referenced the book but I think they were pre-Wordpress and therefore not searchable.)
But, then, it occurred to me that not everyone I know is as cool as Jim and it's entirely possible that some of you haven't read Blue Like Jazz either. This post is for you, especially if you are a Christian (or if you're curious about what it means to be a Christian).
Listen carefully: read this book. It takes just a few hours -- a Sunday afternoon works great -- and I promise that you'll come away with some new ways to think about Christianity. More to the point, you'll be challenged to look at your own flavor of Christianity through a new lens, and particularly if you grew up in the Bible Belt in a mainstream evangelical church.
Miller opens his heart and allows the lifeblood to spill onto the pages of his book as he describes what it means to be a sinner held fast in the arms of a loving God. His witness and testimony isn't powerful because of his theological or hermeneutic prowess; it's powerful because he tells what Jesus has done for him.
Along the way, he also manages to entertain the reader; this is no dry and somber work. It's often playful, even juvenile in a Dave Barryish kind of way. One of my favorite passages is taken from a chapter about money, where he describes what it's like to be a poor writer (this passage could, by the way, apply to bloggers, with the exception of the overstatement of how much they get paid):
Christianity Today describes Miller as "Anne Lamott with testosterone" and compares Blue Like Jazz with Lamott's excellent Traveling Mercies. I wouldn't disagree; both books are now in my "read again every so often" collection, both for the writers' skill and for their messages. (Miller shares Lamott's dislike for Republicans and corporations, although he's not as rabid about it. The strength of my recommendation for this book is directly proportional to the negativism with which you assimilate this observation, as it gets right to the heart of what Christians should be about.)
You may be wondering about the book's title. The phrase comes from an almost-throwaway line in a passage about the beauty of the Grand Canyon at night, where Miller describes the stars as "...notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz." He writes about jazz a few times through the book, beginning with the introductory author's note, where he relates how he never liked jazz until he saw a man on a sidewalk playing a saxophone for fifteen minutes, and the man never opened his eyes. After that, he liked jazz; the musician's love for it was that infectious.
That, my friends, is how we are to be about Jesus, never taking our eyes off him. Because that's the surest way to show others how to love him, too.
Book Reviews: "The Blue Star," "The Good Guy," and "Blasphemy"
May 2, 2008 3:03 PM | Posted in: Reading & Writing
Summer is fast approaching, and that's prime novel-reading season. I've read three novels in the past month or so, something of a record for me, and wanted to share some observations in case you're getting summer book-buying fever. (Note: There are no plot spoilers in these mini-reviews.)
The Blue Star - Tony Earley
A review copy of this book arrived, unsolicited, on my doorstep in late February. I knew nothing about it or its author, and the jacket blurb telling me that the writer was also responsible for Jim the Boy did little to work up my enthusiasm for the thin volume. I finally threw it in a suitcase and determined to work my way through it during a trip, more out of a sense of obligation than anything else...and ended up kicking myself for ignoring one of the more delightful books I've had the pleasure to read in a long time.
There's nothing particularly dramatic or edgy about The Blue Star, which is set in a small North Carolina town during the run-up to America's entrance into WWII. Tony Earley has crafted a character-driven novel that's beguiling in its simplicity, and soothing in its pace. If you're a fan of Jan Karon's trillion-selling Mittford series, I think you'll find The Blue Star has the same ambiance. I recommend it highly for a stress-free warm weather indulgence.
The Good Guy - Dean Koontz
Koontz's novel is almost a year old, and so all of his fans have already read it. But if you don't fall into that category, and you're looking for an edge-of-the-seat "action/suspense" novel that grabs hold and doesn't let go, you won't be disappointed in this one.
Koontz creates one of the most creepily competent bad guys since Hannibal Lector, and pits him against an enigmatic-but-just-as-competent ñ are you ready? ñ good guy. The result is not art, but it's a perfect poolside page-turner.
Blasphemy - Douglas Preston
Then we come to this waste of paper by another well-known creative type who seems to be just phoning it in. Preston has authored (or co-authored along with Lincoln Child) some very good novels, but this isn't one of them. He's pulled in every stereotypical character and every lame plot twist you can imagine and concocted a big mess. My advice is to avoid it like the plague. Try Tyrannosaur Canyon if you want some of the same characters in a better setting.