This is the follow-up book review to this post.
I finished reading The Year of Living Biblically in about three weeks. Fun book – the author made me think about some of the things that I do. He lived in New York during the writing of the book, and got to do a lot of things with Hasidic Jews, which interests me (and not just the Jewish delis, although I confess a certain attraction there). But I think the author wimped out when he went through the New Testament. He was happy following the external practices of the OT, but did not want to try accepting Jesus as his Savior and Lord. He talked a little bit about it in the book, but it left me feeling flat after his enthusiastic Old Testament participation. Still, I recommend the book. An outsider’s viewpoint is usually revealing of our assumptions.
And so we come to my assumptions about Nelson’s book, The Name of the Wind, a first novel by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s the first book of a trilogy (book 2, The Wise Man’s Fear, is coming out March 1 of 2011). It’s a fantasy set in an alternate earth. I was worried that Nelson may have led me down a rabbit hole, but the book turned out very well. I shouldn’t have been surprised – his mom Cheri has been a bookish person for decades, and dad Steve could easily stand in for an Old Norse god.
So this was no thud and blunder book. The writing was crisp, the characters well-formed, the action believable and not always expected. I found myself staying up too late to read the book, and at 660 pages there were many nights’ worth of up-too-late-ness. Again, recommended. I’m looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.
But the book was also disconcerting. Not because of the use of magic (plentiful) or inappropriate language or activities (minimal), but because of how easily it took the place of reading the Bible. I was reading through Revelation while I was reading this fantasy. Some would see Revelation as a fantasy or fable – I accept it as truth, even if some of the meanings are hidden behind images. It’s not a newspaper account of the end days, but it is a map, although perhaps best understood from the other side.
But I was hungering for fiction instead of striving for the truth. I would read for twenty minutes, and then go to bed and fall asleep without finishing a chapter in the Bible. Some of that is familiarity – I have read through the Bible multiple times, and I know how it’s going to come out. And the reverse, the novelty of a novel. Part of the reason I like science fiction is the ideas, and the book I was reading had new concepts, new situations, that didn’t seem forced or different just for the sake of being different. And yet is God not the creator of all things, seen and unseen? Lamentations 3:22-23 says
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
And then Isaiah 55:8-9 brings me this tidbit:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
If I want novelty, newness, freshness, I’ve got it. If I want something I haven’t thought of before, it’s available. If I want to search for deeper meanings, there is a Person who will never run out of interesting things to talk about, never repeat Himself unnecessarily, never vary from what I should hear.
So I am putting myself into my Bible reading more, trying to imagine what it was like to read (or hear) these verses for the first time. And James had to be a shot in the head. Two verses in, and they’re getting dire warnings about either troubles coming, or a different way of looking at the problems they had.
James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials
No, wait. We, the initial readers of James’ letter, don’t want to hear about trials. We want blessings and mercies, happiness and gladness. And yet . . .
And yet hearing the word of God, reading the Bible, praying without ceasing – these are good things. Reading books about other people reading the Bible, or a story of a place that never was – these are not bad.
But are they the best?