I have a little notebook
With handmade leather bound.
And in it I put little words
And things I find around.
There's bits by C.S. Lewis,
One quote from Sherlock Holmes,
Another line from Pargeter's
A Morbid Taste for Bones.
These quotes, they can be funny,
They can inspire awe.
From others, I my worldview
And aesthetic draw.
I need to add some Tolkien,
And Laura Ingalls, too.
And if you say the right thing,
The book might feature you.
"So you're not really close to your dad, are you?"
I had to stop and think about it. I mean, we live in the same house. How can you not be close to someone who lives in your house? But I was forced to answer that the answer to that question was "No, not really."
A recent college assignment was to write a page or two about stereotypes--list a person who fits a certain stereotype, then describe how they don't fit it completely. The goal of the exercise was to see how people are three-dimensional and should never be reduced to a job, ethnicity, or fad.
(I argue that "flat characters" like Dr. Watson are very important--their exaggerated characteristics and refusal to change over the course of a book or series makes them quite enjoyable and almost cozy. But I digress.)
That said, I chose to talk about my dad. I rambled on for two and a half pages about how he watches TV and yells a lot and works hard and likes pasta, but doesn't drink red wine. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And Mom asked to read the paper.
"I don't think you'd like it," I told her.
But you know what? That's a writer's job. To be brutally honest about things. It doesn't matter if you're talking about politics or family or the evils of technology, writers call it like they see it. It doesn't even matter if you offend people. You need to get the truth, or at least the part of the truth you're capable of seeing, out to your readers.
In Where the Clouds Catch Fire, I was brutally honest about Catholicism. Lots of my extended family is Catholic, and I was able to see things they weren't able to see. Like my grandmother on her deathbed, not sure if she'd been good enough to get into heaven. Like the stories I've been told about abusive nun-teachers and my maternal great-grandmother crying because my grandmother became Protestant, which meant she was going to hell.
We're all God's children, and I'm extremely grateful to Catholicism for keeping Christianity alive throughout the Middle Ages. I've even met some Catholics who love Jesus more than anything--and good for them! But there's a reason that my dad, and now my aunts and uncles, are slowly turning Protestant.
It's hard, being brutally honest and knowing that not everyone's going to be happy about it. There's a reason books get banned from time to time.
That said, dear readers, what's something you'd like to be brutally honest about? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to review us on Amazon!
When Christmas break started, I made myself a promise. At that point, I owned one and two-half books by C.S. Lewis that I'd never finished reading. And I was bound and determined to finish one of the two books that I'd started but never finished.
I picked That Hideous Strength.
I chose that book because it's the third book in a trilogy. I'd quite enjoyed the first book. I'd endured the second book. I'd given up on the third one after I was five chapters in, and there was no mention of the main character from the first two books. But then I picked it back up and, after sifting through sentences the size of paragraphs and words I didn't know existed, I found a quite enjoyable novel.
And also a slightly terrifying novel.
That Hideous Strength is, by Lewis's own admission, a novel that portrays the points he made in his philosophical work The Abolition of Man (which I've read about three times and finally understand). But there's a definite sci-fi twist. There are alien-angels and inferior gods and for some reason, the magically revived Merlin. Yes. As in sword-in-the-stone Arthurian legend Merlin.
Oh. And there's a reanimated severed head. I will never look at Futurama the same way again.
There seem to be two moral threads to That Hideous Strength. The first discusses the abolition of man--in other words, a group of men (in this case, a "scientific" organization called N.I.C.E.) decides that the next step in human evolution is to eradicate most organic life and transfer the consciousnesses of select individuals into immortal machines. It comes with serious 1984 vibes and a few uncanny resemblances to real life. One of the main characters, Mark Studdock, is tasked with writing "fake news" articles praising the works of N.I.C.E. and generally manipulating public opinion. Terrifyingly familiar.
The second moral deals with--of all things--marriage and gender roles. And to be quite fair, I don't think C.S. Lewis does it very well. The aforementioned Mark Studdock isn't exactly a model husband, but he doesn't deal with (or even recognize) his shortcomings until the last few chapters of the book. It's his wife Jane, the second protagonist of the book, who gets most of the chewing out. Things like submission and birth control are discussed in ways that would get C.S. Lewis banned from Twitter.
One of the things I quite liked about this book, though, is the characters. Sure, you've got a few boring old college board members that all sort of blend together. But you also have McPhee, the Irish skeptic who made me laugh aloud. You have Mr. and Mrs. Dimble, the essence of a charming elderly British couple. You have "Fairy" Hardcastle, the N.I.C.E.'s female chief of police and a heavily-implied lesbian sadist. And, fortunately, you also have Dr. Ransom, who's been so changed by his experiences in the first two books that he's nearly given a demigod's status.
I read the reviews. Tolkien called it "That Hideous Book" (probably teasingly, as he was good friends with the author). George Orwell noted that it was good, but could be better. I'm inclined to agree. That Hideous Strength is a good book. I can see why I put it down, and yet I'm glad that I picked it back up again.
Are you familiar with Lewis's Space Trilogy? If so, tell me your thoughts in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to review Where the Clouds Catch Fire and Where I Stand on Amazon!
There's a certain type of poem
That you don't read in high school
That you don't memorize for sixth grade drama
That you don't write to impress anyone.
There's a certain type of poem
That you only write when you feel the urge
A certain fulness, as if a birdsong
Presses against your ribcage
And screams to be released.
Even Jeremiah paused his tears
To talk about the fire in his bones.
Here lies no rhyme, no meter
Here lies no aesthetic purity
But here lies passion and blazing words
That fly like anvil sparks from my lips
And drip like honey from my fingers.
Hello, dear readers! My, it's been a while since I've written a blog post. I was actually in Branson all of last week, so I scheduled my posts (insert evil laughter here) and it's honestly quite refreshing to sit down and write to y'all.
Anyway. Christmas happened. It was a good Christmas, and one of my presents was a poster called a Novelogue. Basically, it has the titles and authors of 100 books on a scratch-off book shape. When you read the book, you scratch off the gold part to reveal a colorful cover. You can also rate the book and list your favorites.
I found that, out of the 100 books listed, I've already read 15 of them. I'll try to rank them for you, worst to best. Here we go!
#15: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I might be cheating on this one--I read the graphic novel for a college class. Atwood is certainly good with words, but the whole concept of the book was just giving women something to feel oppressed about. Far too feminist for my taste.
#14: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. I grew up watching the animated movie based on the book, and I've read the book exactly once. I didn't want to read it; my mom insisted that it was a classic that deserved my attention. It does have some good themes about friendship and death that kids need to learn. Not a bad book, certainly, but not one I particularly enjoyed.
#13: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. I actually just finished reading this while on vacation! The characters have great names, and the book has the best opening line I've seen in quite some time. Rowling doesn't have the way with words that other authors do; it might be because she's writing for such a young age group.
#12: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle. This book presents a very unique way of looking at time travel and features some very interesting (and occasionally weird) characters. It's aimed towards younger readers and isn't nearly as impactful as some of the other books on this list.
#11: Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I remember reading this book a long time ago, and I like the themes of family that run throughout the story. It's certainly a cozy book that will make you cry (maybe).
#10: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Considering that Twain's hometown was only a few miles away from my mother's, I'm practically obligated to like this book. And it's a good book. It's been a while since I've read it, though, so I don't feel qualified to critique the novel.
#9: Animal Farm by George Orwell. C.S. Lewis and I agree that this book is actually better than Orwell's more famous 1984. Reading this (delightfully short) book showed me what communism is actually like, despite what certain political parties try to tell us. The ending sentences chilled me.
#8: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. While hilarious, this book has one pretty large plot hole that prevents it from being higher up on the list. (If you've read the book, you might also be asking yourself why the all-powerful mice didn't stop the destruction of Earth.) A great book nevertheless.
#7: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I grew up with this series, and while I didn't enjoy it as much as the Little House books (which was criminally excluded from the Novelogues poster), I found myself quite enchanted with the entire series.
#6: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The only good book to come out of the same college class that forced me to read The Handmaid's Tale. And dang, this book grabs you by the emotions. You really, really care about what happens to the main character and his son, even though you never find out what they're named. I might have cried at the end.
#5: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One of the few classics I've read of my own volition and genuinely enjoyed, this book gives great insight into human nature and the mind of children.
#4: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. You might be wondering why this book by my favorite author ranks so low. The answer? I'm not sure. It's a great book. Perhaps Narnia became too much like a home for me to look at with eyes of wonder, the same way I read the next book on our list.
#3: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Holy crap, Middle Earth is amazing. At least this version of it is, with less walking and fewer council meetings than The Lord of the Rings (which I'm not enjoying nearly as much).
#2: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. The last few chapters had me on the edge of my seat. I was stumped until the final reveal. I can definitely see why Agatha Christie is only outsold by Shakespeare and God.
#1: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The ending had me shook for at least three days, and the description of Tellson's Bank is one of the best descriptions I've read in my life. A Classic that you hardly feel like putting down (except for maybe once or twice in the middle)? Yes please. This might be the best novel I've ever read, and it's certainly my favorite Classic.
Which books deserve to be higher on my list? Which are too highly praised? Let me know in the comments below! And, as always, don't forget to hop over to Amazon to purchase your own copy of Where the Clouds Catch Fire or Where I Stand (which will doubtless make it onto the next edition of Novelogues). God bless, and Happy New Year!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.