02 April 2012

Sidelined by life

Well, I'm back, even if only momentarily. I've had so many great ideas for new posts, but life has been catching up with me in the past few months. I took calculus and a pre-med class last quarter, and this quarter a lovely pre-law class is glaring threateningly down my neck. Friends, illness, school, and extra-curiculars are all regulars on my handy-dandy list o' excuses, but I also had to complete the second step of applying to my dream school's honors program. This second step consists of ten questions that must be answered "thoroughly, as to provide a view of the prospective student, both as an individual, and academically." Some were easy: "List three reasons you would be a good fit with the Honors Institute" and "describe a time your core beliefs were recently challenged," took very little time to write.

The real kicker was "Excluding the Bible, what are your three favourite books? Explain why you chose these three." All told, I think I spent a good 2-3 hours trying to answer this question. And today's post is my answer to that question, sort of. Enjoy.

This question is very difficult for me to answer: I have spent at least an hour trying to decide my three favorite books. I have an advanced case of bibliophilia, and I don’t “enjoy” books. I live in them; swim through them; smell, taste, touch and savor them until they become an intrinsic part of my personhood. Even after removing the Bible from this consideration, I have a sheet with the names of 16 of my absolute favorite books sitting in my lap. To choose a miserly three would be to ignore the impact of so many other books on my life and my thinking. Who am I kidding? This current list is the result of staring at my reading list, pondering which three to choose: Do I choose philosophical books, written by the likes of Jean-Jacques Rosseau or Aristotle to impress the faculty reading my answers? Or should I choose the autobiographies and histories that have inspired me to fight dragons where ever I find them? Should I consider the works of fiction that, by reflecting God’s Eternal Story, have invaded my dreams and imaginings? How can I go about pruning the already-abbreviated list to my advantage?

In the end, I have decided to include the books which have already had, or are likely to create, a lasting impression in my life. Though these three are by no means exhaustive, I hope they can give you greater insight into the stories that stick with me.

My first influential book is “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton. This could give you an idea of how influential Chesterton has been in my worldview: Four of the final list of sixteen books were authored by Chesterton. Were I to open ‘Orthodoxy’ to my favorite passage, I would have to read the entire book. Whether Chesterton is describing Christianity as a carriage pulled by galloping horses or a rock held in balance by its extremes; or discussing insanity, fairy tales, and courage, ‘Orthodoxy’ has irrevocably changed the way I view my Savior and my God.  Before reading this book, I had always viewed Christianity as a dusty, dried-up, moderate religion that discouraged its practitioners from imaginings, from passions, and from extravagance. My mental image of the body of Christ was akin to one of the Pilgrims from William Bradford’s journals: sober, stale, and not very interesting. However, Chesterton opened my eyes to the extravagances of my faith. “This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. … To have fallen into any of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

I am having a hard time choosing between Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” and Jane Porter’s “The Scottish Chiefs” for the second influential book. Both sparked my imagination in entirely different ways. While they are, ultimately, the stories of a man making his way through life, their respective scopes are quite separate. “Les Miserables” is the story of one man’s journey to shape his and his adoptive daughter’s future, mostly unrelated to the historical conflicts occurring at the time; “The Scottish Chiefs” is about one man’s journey to shape his country’s future without regard for his own safety. “Les Miserables” concerns itself with the seemingly mundane: one anonymous man’s life and goals. “The Scottish Chiefs” is more grandiose: true, it tells the story of William Wallace, but its subject is an important historical figure.

However, both follow one man’s quest to change what may be considered “the inevitable.” And whether it’s the image of Wallace blowing his bugle and leaping on the rocky craigs of Scotland; or Valjean staggering his way through the Parisian sewers to rescue Marius; Wallace’s escape from prison; or Javert’s leap into the water; the two stories inspire me to fight for the good, the true, and the noble. These men’s struggles set my imagination on fire, and tell me to never settle for the mediocre.

My final influential book is a little more obscure than the others I’ve mentioned. When I was just learning to read, my Dad and I read this book on the sly: to this day, Mom has never truly appreciated “And God Created Squash” by Martha Hickman. It’s a colorfully illustrated re-telling of the Creation story, but rather than focusing on the actual events of that first week, “And God Created Squash” looks instead to God’s delight in His creation. The days are mentioned, but, as the title implies, it is mainly about Squash: how it’s delicious to say; how it’s both a plant and a sound and an action. This book taught me how to experience the world in a different way. It showed me in the most powerful terms possible for a five-year-old that the world was full of wonderful things; that God created all of it; and that God takes as much delight in His creation as we should. It taught me to marvel, to observe, and to be made giddy by the wonderful things we interact with every day. It is safe to say that I will still be reading “And God Created Squash” well into old age.

1 comment:

  1. Since I needed something profound to read (my brain has been feeling book-deprived lately), I started reading Orthodoxy. It's my first non-fiction GK Chesterton book ever. And now I feel shocked that I went this long without having read him -- he's better with metaphors and imagery than even Lewis. Wow.