Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Book Review: The Benedict Option

Dear Reader,

I recently finished reading The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. I am not very up on contemporary Christian culture but I had heard about or seen this book in a few places so my impression is it is quite the in-thing these days.

My short take on this book is that I would recommend it, with some caveats. In fact, I plan to have my 12th grader read it in the upcoming school year. There is a lot here that is good and that the church needs to hear. Sad to say, a lot of it is probably common sense or basic Christianity, but nonetheless we need to hear it.  There are points at which I disagree with the author, or perhaps just have a different take on things; these differences arise on large part from our differing backgrounds and affiliations.

The subtitle of Dreher’s book is “A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.” His audience seems to be first and foremost conservative Christians who have been thrown for a loop by the recent legalization of gay marriage and who are finding themselves floundering, wondering how things could have gone so far astray and why right doesn’t seem to be prevailing in America today [the book was written after the election of Trump but gay marriage seems to be the crisis that fostered it; it is clear Dreher doesn’t like Trump (p. 79), but he does not dwell on him]. This is a book for people in crisis who are in panic mode and wondering how their culture got this way and what they can and should do about it.

Which is not to say that the ideas in this book can’t benefit others, but it seems to be directed mainly at the overwhelmed Christian. I don’t find myself in this category, for various reasons, and I don’t have quite as negative a prognosis for our society so there is some extent to which I can say that I don’t even agree with the premise of the book. That is not a good place to start with a book, and there was a point early on when I considered just dropping it altogether.  As Dreher gets going, however, he has a lot of useful things to say that relate to living in a society that does not always (ever?) embody our beliefs and I am glad I persevered with his book.

Before we go too far, we need to ask the most basic question: What does the title of this book mean? What is “the Benedict Option”? The phrase seems to be one Dreher coined — I could not find other references to it, apart from his book — though at times he makes it sound as if it is a larger movement to which he became attached. The “Benedict” part refers to St. Benedict, a relatively well-known monk who established a religious order based on a set of particular guidelines known as the Rule of St. Benedict. This rule, as Dreher describes it, orders daily life; it is meant to bring God into every part of life and to be freeing rather than restrictive. Dreher’s thesis is that in this time of crisis, when our culture has turned so far from Christianity, that we as Christians need to live deliberately in a way that is modeled upon the Benedictine communities. This is not to say that we should all become monks. Dreher’s idea, rather, is that we should have Christian communities in which we support one another but also through which we can reach out to the world.

Dreher uses the Benedictine Order as kind of a disguise for presenting what is really just a lesson in how Christians should have been living all along. This is a point which John Jalsevac makes in his review of the book for Life Site News . I agree with his assessment that Dreher’s ideas might have gained more of a foothold with evangelicals if he didn’t present them in such a seemingly Catholic guise.

There are a lot of ideas in this book as Dreher treats issues from pornography to politics to worship, and I will not address each one, but I would like to highlight a few.

Politics is the elephant in the room though it by no means is the only subject of this book. The problem, which Dreher makes clear (though I wish he had been more explicit about it earlier in the book) is basically that American Christians have put their faith in the political process and it has failed them. They have been like the Israelites trusting in their chariots or sending to Egypt for help against Assyria (my comparison; not his). Though Dreher says we must not abandon the political process altogether, his main solution seems to be to step away from it and build small subcultures instead.

I understand that there are a lot of Christians who had put their faith in the political process and they are probably those most in crisis and who most need to hear what is in this book. But, coming (by adoption) from a tradition which until the mid 20th century did not even allow its members to vote, I find myself holding two contradictory ideas: on the one hand, it was foolish of Christians to ever believe this was a Christian nation and that somehow they could rely upon its processes to accomplish the will of God, and, on the other hand, I am not quite so willing to abandon the process we have as Dreher seems to be. So while I am glad to hear Dreher say that we cannot rely upon the political process to accomplish godly ends, I am at the same time not as negative as he is on the whole subject nor as willing to abandon that arena.

Dreher writes his book for any orthodox (little “o”) Christian who adheres to a traditional form of Christianity. He himself is Eastern Orthodox. His book is broad in its basis — seeking to appeal to the Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants. Not too surprisingly, this produces some weaknesses. In general, in the areas that most concern me, which are worship and education, I can say that Dreher has good principles but that he seems to see only one way to apply them.

When it comes to Protestant worship, Dreher adddresses evangelicals who are drawn to a very seeker-friendly, contemporary form of worship. And I would agree with him that this kind of worship needs reformation but disagree strenuously on what that reformation should look like. Oddly enough, the principles he espouses are often ones I can heartily agree with; their application is where we diverge. He says:

“. . . the concrete form in which information is delivered is itself a message . . . ” (p. 105)

Liturgy should follow ” . . . a basic pattern derived from Scripture.” (p. 107)

” . . . in the Christian tradition, liturgy is primarily, though not exclusively, about what God has to say to us.” (p. 108)

” . . . there can be no doubt that the form worship takes is a powerful weapon . . . against modernity . . . ” (p. 113)

All of these are good principles. Dreher uses them to argue for a liturgical form of worship, that is, a traditional liturgy that is not “low-church” (p. 112). Reformed Christians, those of us who adhere to the Westminster standards, would use these same arguments to argue for a simple worship– without the Book of Common Prayer; without man-made songs, whether we call them hymns or praise choruses; and with the Psalms of God.

On the topic of education, one on which I write extensively on this blog, Dreher sees the problem — but again latches on to one solution, and not the one I would advocate. I agree with his statement that: “Every educational model presupposes an anthropology: an idea of what a human being is” (p. 147). In fact, that is one of the major premises of this blog — that we have to consider the views of man and God that are behind our philosophies of education (see, for example, this very extensive series on approaches to education). While I am not a fan of the public schools, however, I would not go so far as he does in saying that “it is time for all Christians to pull their children out of the public school system” (p. 155). I do think parents need to think seriously about how their children are educated and what ideas are underlying their education. Dreher treats homeschooling as a last resort (p. 165), a view which I completely reject. His method of choice is classical Christian education. I say his method of choice, but, in fact, he shows no awareness of other approaches to education. His take on classical education seems to be right from the modern classical movement. He refers to Sayers’ famous article (of which I am not a fan), CIRCE Institute, and the Great Books Movement. He speaks of the need to return to classical education, noting Greek and Christian sources, but does not address the very real issue of how and why we should incorporate these Greek (read: pagan) sources.

In short, having rejected our society’s norm (the public schools), Dreher seems to latch onto what is a very popular approach in the world of  Christian education, but nowhere does he consider other approaches or explain why this approach is the best one.  In the area of education, then, as in his discussion of worship, I think Dreher starts with good principles but doesn’t actually go far enough in researching and evaluating all the options out there. He accepts what presents itself as “traditional,” namely high-church liturgy and classical education, and does not delve deeply into what is truly biblical or what God desires.

I went back and forth as I read through The Benedict Option. At times I liked the book; at others it irked me. I would recommend it in the end because I think Rod Dreher raises some issues we need to consider. I think that his title and the way he frames his subject are a little gimmicky and that, while they may initially draw some people in, they can also work against him. But he does raise some good points about how Christians should live and his book serves as a call for the church to return to a more basic understanding of what it is. When it comes to specific application of his principles, I think he often does not go far enough and needs to consider even more radical, more counter-cultural options and  above all to ask what is truly biblical.

Nebby

 

 

Book Review: The Liberated Imagination

Dear Reader,

I recently finished Leland Ryken’s The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Christianly about the Arts. This is my third (I think?) Ryken book and my overall impression of it is much the same as the others — a pretty good book that made me think but the author and I are not 100% on the same page when it comes to things Christian and theological.

I am not very informed when it comes to art, and especially to art criticism and the theory behind it, but I have one child who is  a born artist; my intention is to have her read this book next school year (she’ll be in 10th grade then; this is high school level or above). Though I’m sure I didn’t get all of what Ryken was saying since I am not familiar with other Christian works on art, this was not a very hard read. It was just newer material for me. There is a lot of what Ryken said, about education and literature particularly, that I liked and agreed with. I don’t know if he has ever heard of Charlotte Mason but I think he’d like her educational philosophy.

I’ll start with the negatives so as to not end on a down note. My sense from this and the other books I’ve read by Ryken is that his Christian slant is different than mine. In this context, discussing art and the Christian, it becomes clear that we have very different views of how worship should look. This is not a huge surprise since my view, and that of my denomination, the RPCNA, is pretty counter-cultural these days. I adhere to the regulative principle which says we should only worship God how He has told us to. What this means is no modern music (only psalms a capella), no statues, no pictires, etc. Obviously, this is going to lead to some difference when we start talking about using art to the glory of God. I believe art, of all kinds, can still be done to the glory of God, but most of it is going to happen outside of the corporate worship of the Church. Ryken doesn’t spend a lot of time on how art can and should figure into worship an dperhaps it is unfair to expect him to devote too much time to this topic but it is an issue Christians need to consider.

Beyond this, I think there is a deeper theological divide between us. Ryken, as he has in other books, seems at time to disparage the truth of the Bible. He speaks of “fantasy” in the Bible (p. 45). I will admit that many prophetic passages are fantastical, but when we label them “fantasy” with no caveat we imply that they are not true. I do believe such passages are true on at least the level that the prophet truly saw what he reports.

Near the end of the book Ryken speaks on people as being “capable of moral and spiritual choice” and even “capable of redemption” (p. 235). As a reformed Christian, I would not speak this way. His language goes even beyond the idea common in our day that people are free to choose the salvation provided by Christ. When he talks of being “capable of redemption” he implies that we have a hand, at least, in our own redemption, an idea which I utterly reject.

Despite these differences, Ryken does have  a lot to say that I like. His view of the role of art is good. When he mentions education, he is right on target, and his view of leisure time is quite interesting. I may come back to these ideas in future posts.

By far my favorite part of this book is how Ryken relates ideas and art. This is where he sounds particularly CM. “Art,” he says, “aims to convey not primarily the facts of life but the truth and meaning of those facts. Art is not about things as they are, but about things as they matter” (p. 26). He makes an intriguing and well-taken point that if we could boil down a work of art (I term I use broadly here to include music and literature as well) to just a list of ideas than we could just read those ideas, we would not need the art (p. 128). But this is not the case. We cannot remove the ideas from their casing, if you will. This is why, in a Charlotte Mason education, we give ideas in the form of living books (and art and music). It is not just a candy coating that makes the ideas palatable. The form, the environment the ideas come in, is just as important as the ideas themselves. You cannot take one without the other. The picture I get is not of ideas, like vitamins, in a sugary coating that is the art or living books, but of two vitamins which the body cannot absorb wthout each other. Both are vital but they must enter together.

But I am digressing but Ryken’s book. Here is how he puts it:

“Exactly what is it that enables the arts to express enduring truth? What do they add to the facts that the news does not? They give us the event plus the meaning. A science textbook gives us the physical facts about nature; a Constable landscape painting or a nature lyric by Wordsworth gives us a sense of the moral meaning of a landscape.” (p. 34)

Thus art (and again I speak of it here in all its forms) illuminates reality (p. 110); it opens is to new experiences (p. 36); it teaches us to cope with our problems (p. 27).

Ryken goes beyond this and, acknowledging that not all ideas are good and true (p. 126), gives us tools to analyze and consider art from a Christian perspective (see pp. 145, 152-53, 169-70, 172-73). Here I find his work very valuable on a practical level, especially as I have children who will be looking at and evaluating nay kinds of art.

Though Ryken and I might not see eye to eye on a number of very important issues, his book was quite helpful and I did enjoy reading it. More than that, I am quite happy to have found it for my daughter as it is a quite accessible, practical and helpful introduction to the topic of art and art criticism from a Christian perspective.

Nebby

A Living Book on Writing

Dear Reader,

Writing seems to be one of the subjects which sends homeschoolers of all stripes into fits.  I’m not sure if it actually is tough to teach, but we all seem to think it is.  When I read through Charlotte Mason message boards, it seems like one area in which we are all tempted to abandon Charlotte’s principles and use some sort of prepackaged curriculum. So what if there were a living book that taught writing? How great would that be? I think I have found just such a book.

I obtained On the Writing of English by George Townsend Warner when it was the free book of the day on Forgotten Books. Though it may not be free today, you can still get the book on their website in various digital formats (I get nothing for promoting them, I promise; I’ve just fallen in love with the site).

Warner’s book was written in the early 1900s and is addressed to the student who is called upon to write essays. I found this book highly readable. It’s language is simple and conversational, its tips relevant, and its tone often humorous.   The goal of this book, as Warner states it, is to teach the student “to think, and to write down his thoughts in good English; that is all” (pp. 1-2). Along the way he covers “the way to gather and sort material . . .[and] the commonest pitfalls which lie in wait for the beginner” (p. 2).

This approach taken by Warner is not that of a highly structured 5-paragraph essay. That is a good thing in my opinion. He discusses sentences and paragraphs and always having a topic sentence, but he also encourages variety in the structure and wording of one’s essay. Frankly, I find it a refreshing alternative to a lot of the rigid curricula which are out there. He says, for example:

“Variety in the shape of sentence is needful; so is variety in words when you can get it. But never shrink from using the same word over and over again when it is the right word.” (p. 55)

And regarding adjectives, he says:

“Some beginners usher in every noun with an adjective clinging to it, like the men and women going down arm-in-arm to dinner.” (p. 72)

Warner instead urges caution with adjectives which I find a refreshing change from some of the curricula out there which require certain numbers of adjectives and the like.

On the Writing of English may not be for everyone. It is not a curriculum as such but a handbook on writing. I happen to think that a child who has been reared on living books could go through this volume a time or two and end up quite a good writer. I plan to test this theory on my own kids so I can let you know how it goes. Though so far I have only read it myself and not handed it over to them, this is definitely on my “highly recommended” list.

Nebby

 

Book Review: The Shape of Sola Scriptura

Dear Reader,

I have spent a long time on Keith Mathison’s The Shape of Sola Scriptura. It is not a thin book, but beyond that there is also a lot to absorb from it. I had come to this book after many unfruitful and frustrating discussions with a recently turned Catholic friend. A large issue for him is authority in the church — Where does it come from? Who decides what the Bible means? I hoped that this book would provide some coherent answers to his questions and mine.

I am going to spend a couple of posts (at least) on The Shape of Sola Scriptura. In this first one I will attempt to give you more of a classical book review — what the book is about, what works in it, what doesn’t. In my next post I will delve deeper into Mathison’s arguments and give my own responses to them.

Mathison defines four views of the relationship between Bible and tradition. He calls them Tradition 0, 1, 2 and 3. He is a proponent of Tradition 1 which he defines as the reformation view of Sola Scriptura which views the Bible as the ultimate authority for God’s people but takes it in the context of the regula fidei, or Rule of Faith (we’ll come back to the specifics of what this means). Tradition 0 is, by his definition, a corruption of Sola Scriptura which he calls solo scriptura. It takes the Bible as the only authority, the result of which is that each Christian interprets the Bible for him or herself with no guiding principles and ultimately no uniformity in doctrine within the church. Tradition 2 adds Sacred Tradition to Scripture, a position which Mathison would say leads to the supplanting of Scripture by tradition as it is tradition which tells us what Scripture means. Lastly, Tradition 3 makes the church the authority over Scripture and Tradition, telling us what both mean. This is the view of the modern Roman Catholic Church with its Magisterium and papal infallibility.

Mathison divides his discussion into three main parts. He begins with the historical evidence from the early church on, asking what the church fathers had to say about tradition, and then moving on through the Medieval church, the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, discussing ideas which arise in the process (like papal infallibility). Mathison then truns to what Scripture has to say about tradition and about its own authority and then to more theoretical arguments for sola scriptura in a section he calls “The Theological Necessity of Sola Scriptura.” The very end of the book is devoted to some common objections to the Tradition 1 view.

Mathison is really trying to do two things in this book: to present and defend the view he subscribes to and to critique competing views. While my own view is very similar, though not identical to Mathison’s, I felt that he did a much better job of critiquing the positions of others than of presenting his own.

As I said, Mathison begins with the historical evidence from the early fathers. I found this section quite convincing as it is presented. I did wonder, however, if what he gives us is an accurate and complete account of the evidence. Everybody (or almost so, some “Tradition 0” Protestants don’t care) in this battle wants to trace their own position back to the church fathers. The ones Mathison cites seem to expound a view similar to his. The problem is that the Catholics and Orthodox will both give a different series of quotes, or perhaps even different takes on the same sources, that seem to support their view. I find this one of those subjects that it is very hard for me to draw a conclusion on, like global warming and evolution. “Experts” on both sides seem to present convincing evidence until you talk to the other side’s expert and find his evidence sounds just as convincing. While the body of writings from church fathers should be a finite one, it is nonetheless a large one and is itself subject to interpretation so it is hard for me as a lay person to take it all in and say “yes, this is what the church fathers thought” or “no, that is what they thought.”

Beyond this, there is the problem of being anachronistic, of reading our modern understandings into ancient writings. When we use or read the word “tradition,” we must always ask how it is being used. The early fathers did not have the arguments we are having so they weren’t setting out to answer our questions for us. We are left trying to look back and discern how they would have seen the issue when they never framed it the way we do. Here I should say that I have some problems with how Mathison frames the whole issue. His use of the labels Tradition 0, 1, 2, and 3, I find to be a bit oversimplified and to leave out some legitimate options. I do understand that it is helpful for a book like this to be able to boil it all down, but there is a fine line between giving us helpful terms with which to discuss an issue and oversimplifying or even misrepresenting an issue through one’s terminology. I actually really liked the categories Oberman uses which Mathison briefly references in a footnote on p. 86, but Mathison himself does not choose to use them.

As Mathison moves on from the early church period into the Middle Ages and beyond, he shows how new views of the interplay of Scripture and Tradition developed. His focus is really on the Roman Catholic position and though it is not his direct object at this point in the book, he (at least as far as I am concerned) raises a lot of legitimate questions about the Roman Catholic position and its origins. In fact, I think the strongest part of the book is the questions Mathison raises about the Catholic view. I will treat these specifically in my next post on the content of the book.

Though he devotes a short section to it, Mathison does not talk much about the Eastern Orthodox view and even admits that it does not really fit his categories. Neither does he discuss other, admittedly less widely held, views or address other branches of the Christian tree such as the Oriental Orthodox churches.

A main purpose of this book is to distinguish Mathison’s Tradition 1 view from the common Protestant position which he calls Tradition 0. Proponets of the latter accept no authority other than Scripture, and Mathison does a decent job of showing that this position is quite problematic because it so very subjective and because it leads to many, many divisions in the church and undercuts any attempt at defining absolute truth.

The weakest part of The Shape of Sola Scriptura is Mathison’s defense of his own position. He does acknowledge some of the problems inherent in his own position, most notably that it is quite dependent on our definition of what the church is which is another huge can of worms. Though he defers this discussion of this issue till near the end of the book, he does attempt to address it. I did not find his arguments very convincing at this point, however, nor his definitions of what a true church is very helpful. Though he uses Charles Hodges’ definition of a true church to attempt to define the issue, I was not enamored of Hodges’ approach and Mathison does not bring the issue of apostolic succession into it at all. One can argue that there is no such thing as apostolic succession, of course, but I don’t think we can ignore the question altogether. The fact is authority in the church has to come from somewhere, and Mathison does not address where it originates or what makes the authority of a given church legitimate. His only reference to this issue is a brief statement in passing that “The corporate judgment of the Church normally operates through those who have been especially gifted by the Holy Spirit with leadership and teaching gifts” (p.272). He does not expand upon this, however, and I am left wondering how one can discern the presence of these gifts, who gets to say whether an individual has them or not, and whether there are any other criteria he would use to establish legitimate leadership in the church.

Mathison says a number of times that the only time in history when we have seen Tradition 1 as the established view of the church for any length of time is in the early church. Though he believes Tradition 1, as he defines it, is the view of Reformers like Calvin he also says that it quickly degenerated into Tradition o. As I have noted, while I personally found Mathison’s evidence on the point convincing, there is no consensus on what the view of the early church was as every group wishes to claim it for their own side. We are left then with only a brief period when Tradition 1 clearly held sway to any degree in the early days of the Reformation. If this view did not last, I am left wondering if it is at all sustainable or if it inevitably becomes supplanted by what Mathison calls a Tradition 2 view in which tradition reigns over Scripture or degenerates into a Tradition 0 view in which every man’s opinion is his only guide. And if Tradition 1 is unsustainable, is it then untenable?

My last major criticism of Mathison’s  expounding of his position has to do with how he defines the Rule of Faith, or regula fidei, by which he believes Scripture is to be interpreted. As Mathison says, “The Reformers did not reject tradition; they rejected one particular concept of tradition in favor of another concept of tradition” (p. 345). The concept they favored, or at least which Mathison, proposes is found in the creeds. This, for him, is the Rule of Faith, that standard by which we are to discern orthodox from heretical interpretations of Scripture and also by which we are to discriminate between true and false churches. Mathison does not argue this point; he does not suggest that there might be other rules or embodiments of tradition. Nor does he spend time showing particularly that this is the standard the Reformers used. That is assumed rather than shown in this book. Mathison also does not pick a creed. He mentions the Apostles’, Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds but does not pick between them. It is worth noting that the Oriental Orthodox churches and the Assyrian Church of the East do not accept the creed of Chalcedon. I assume that by his definition, then, Mathison would not consider them true churches. Personally, I am not comfortable with doing so and the Roman Catholic church, which Mathison does believe is a true church, has in recent years said of the Oriental Orthodox churches at least that their differences are minor and that they share a common faith.

Mathison at times refers to “essential doctrines.” These he finds, again, embodied in the creeds (again undefined as to exactly which creeds are included and which are excluded). In addition to using these as the regula fidei by which we are to interpret Scripture, he also uses them as the test of a true church. But the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and (most) Protestant churches all accept these creeds. If we are to look at only the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, we can add the Oriental Orthodox churches and Assyrian Church of the East to this list. And yet with this common confession we do not end up with much common belief. The whole point of this book is to show that how we view tradition relative to Scripture, what Tradition we use and what role we give it, are important. And yet in the end, Mathison picks a standard which all these churches accept though they end up in very different places on so many, many issues. The creeds themselves are open to interpretation to some degree and they provide little guidance for us in interpreting Scripture. They rule out extreme positions like that Jesus was not God, but they still leave quite a lot of room on other issues. So my biggest difference with Mathison’s position is that I do not find his definition of what Rule of Faith (which for him is the whole embodiment of tradition) we should be using very hepful. While I do agree with him in a general way on the relationship between Scripture and tradition, I am left still wondering what tradition we are to look to. Mathison’s deferral to the creeds I find very unsatisfactory. I am honestly not sure at this point how exactly I would define my own position. That is something I hope to get closer to working out in my next post in which I will delve more into the content of the book.

To sum up, then, my reactions to the book itself, I would say that The Shape of Sola Scriptura is well worth reading. It raises a lot of issues that need considering. While I am not 100% happy with Mathison’s categories, they do help us to think about the issues. He is strongest in his critiques of others’ positions, particularly of the Roman Catholic and solo scriptura positions, but he falters when it comes to defending his own position.  Ultimately, there is a lot here I agree with, but I am uncomfortable with his deferral to the creeds, and these only generally speaking, as the sole regula fidei by which we are to discern true from false interpretations.

Nebby

 

 

How We are Studying Current Events and Geography

Dear Reader,

We are attempting to study geography and current events together this year. The plan I have devised is based upon the book Why Greenland Is An Island, Australia Is Not-And Japan Is Up for Grabs: A Simple Primer For Becoming A Geographical Know-It-All by Joyce Davis. I really love the idea behind this book though I am struggling to implement its ideas practically. My simple summary of the book would be that it provides steps for looking at news stories and using an atlas or other geographical tools to gather more information thereby allowing one to gain a deeper understanding of world events. I went through for myself and wrote down the basic steps. They are:

  • Identify the geographical issue
  • Study maps
  • Compare with more detailed maps
  • Look at large area maps
  • Combine geography and other facts
  • Picture the scene you have been studying

While I love this idea, I am wishing that the book had more examples, more detailed examples, and more contemporary examples of how all this plays out. The first example given is of the break up of the Soviet Union. Davis gives a brief blow by blow account of the events, sends us to look at more detailed maps, and then gives her own conclusions. But I am left wondering how exactly the geography played into it all. She supplies in her conclusions information we could not have gathered on our own from simply studying maps which makes it all a bug useless in terms of teaching how this process it to be carried out. We did to start off out studies begin with her Soviet Union example, however. It was somewhat useful. I did not feel like we achieved any ground breaking insights, but we could see, for example, how the mountain range on Russia’s southern border separates it from the countries below. We also talked about why Finland, alone of all the nations surrounding Russia, was never absorbed.  I don’t know if our conclusions are historically accurate, but they made sense to me. And, because every good post needs a picture, my older daughter doodled this cute image of the Baltic states while we talked:

IMG_0117

For our second endeavor, I picked a news story that seemed liked it would be relatively easy to understand and have a natural connection with geography: the plight of refugees in Slovenia.** These refugees have come from the Middle East and are hoping to get to Germany and have been pushed off into Slovenia by neighboring Hungary. We read the story, looked at our atlas, and then talked about where the refugees came from, what their easiest means of travel would be (sea travel across the Mediterranean), why they would choose the Slovenia area, and the like. I think it was a somewhat fruitful conversation. I would like to gain the ability to delve deeper and deeper into such stories and to get more out of our studies but it felt like not a bad beginning. My goal is to do such studies once or twice a month. I will try to post here about how they are going.

Nebby

**Side note (well, footnote, really, I suppose): My source for this news blurb and a magazine I really love is The Week. If you are not familiar with it, is is a news summary magazine. Issued weekly, it purports to be “all you need to know about everything that matters.” If you are like me and can’t always keep up with everything in detail, it is a great way to make sure you are not completely out of the loop, current events-wise. Plus I think it will prvide great fodder for these sorts of studies.

Reading the Bible as Literature (A Book Review)

Dear Reader,

I recently finished reading How to Read the Bible as Literature . . .and get more out of it by Leland Ryken. I approached this book with mixed feelings. On one hand, I loved Ryken’s book on Puritans and had high hopes for him as an author. And I would really like to have found a book on biblical interpretation or reading the Bible that I could just hand to my older kids.

On the other hand, someone in an online forum had told me this book was great if you want to use the Bible to study literary concepts and then be able to apply them to other literature. This made me very suspicious, because I didn’t see how it could be true. I know I have said it before, but, in case you are new here, let me explain where I am coming from. I studied biblical Hebrew as an undergrad and in grad school. I have a Master’s Degree in it and was All But Dissertation (ABD) in a PhD program. So I have opinions about how we should approach the Bible. I tend to be pretty opinionated and critical anyway 😉 So my initial thought was that I didn’t see how studying the Bible as literature could transfer to English (by “English” in this post, I will mean English language, whatever its country of origin) or western literature. Poetry was the first thing that popped into my head. Hebrew poetry works differently than English poetry. It uses parallelism and not rhyme and really doesn’t use rhythm either, at least not in any coherent, widely agreed upon way (no iambic pentameter here). So how would studying biblical poetry help one when studying English poetry?

After reading Ryken’s book, my mind hasn’t really been changed. I still have a lot of concerns and I still have some mixed feelings. There are some things Ryken says to which I found myself giving an enthusiastic “Hear! hear!” But if anything, his book just raised more questions in my mind, even about the very nature of this enterprise. There is a lot I could say and I have struggled to write this post in a coherent way. So that you are not as befuddled as I feel, let me lay out the issues I want to address from the outset. They are:

  • Can we/should we use terminology and concepts from western literature to analyze biblical texts? This could also be asked the other way: Can we take literary terms from our study of the Bible and apply them to other works we might study?
  • What does it mean to study a biblical story or passage in its “context”?
  • Should we even be studying the Bible as literature? Is this a valid way to study it or does it erode the truth value of the Scriptures?

Literary Terminology and the Bible

To a certain extent, the reservations I had before reading Ryken’s book were unfounded. The concepts he discusses are indeed applicable to other literature one might study. This is because he does not approach the biblical text as I expected. Ryken starts with a western lit mindset and western literary terms. He takes these and applies them to the biblical text. The problem is not that these terms don’t apply to western literature but that the biblical text is not western. (I will speak mainly of the Old Testament because that is what I know best. His categories and terms may apply better to the New Testament writings, especially those of Paul who was very cosmopolitan and fluent in Greek, though I suspect that even there there is a lot of eastern/Semitic influence.)

The biblical text is ancient Near Eastern (ANE), and to understand it I think we must look at other ANE literature. There may be parts of what we know from western literature that do apply as well, but we need to first ask what applies. Ryken does not ask; he just takes western categories and terminology and applies them without asking if they are appropriate. An example of this would be his discussion of the terms “comedy” and “tragedy.” As I read this section, I thought “Ah, Shakespeare!” because in Shakespeare’s work we can see these two categories so clearly. But are they also applicable to biblical stories? Ryken assumes they are, though he must admit in the end that the Bible has few if any true tragedies (by his definition) and that it has many stories which are potential tragedies but which have (again, by his definition) comic endings. Perhaps, though, instead of needing to contort himself so, it would be just better to say that the biblical stories do not conform to western ideas of comedy and tragedy. And, indeed, why should we expect them to? It is worth noting that Ryken’s sources often betray this western lit bias. In the chapter “Types of Biblical Stories” he references works such as Victorian Poetry and Poetics and The Return of Eden: Five Essays on Milton’s Epics (pp. 77,79).

This, then, is the first issue I have with How to Read the Bible as Literature . . . — it treats the Bible as a piece of western literature without asking if it is appropriate to do so. A corollary of this is that it does not look to eastern sources to shed light on the text. The example that pops into my head is covenants. How can we understand the Ten Commandments or God’s relationship with Abraham without understanding ANE covenants? Nor does he address what the full range of what prophecy is in the OT(it is more than just visions and future-telling) or how the Bible responds and reacts to ANE creation myths. In his list if types of poetry, he completely neglects wisdom psalms and does not discuss wisdom literature as such apart from proverbs.

A consequence of Ryken’s approach is that it does not do as much as one would like to increase our understanding of the biblical text. Now there are places where Ryken talks specifically about how to read and understand certain kinds of texts, poetry and proverbs in particular, and he does discuss parallelism in the chapter on poetry, though he saves this section for the end whereas I would begin any discussion on biblical poetry with the concept of parallelism and what we can learn from it. His comments on these topics are somewhat helpful and are aimed at enabling the reader to better understand what he reads. Nonetheless, I still think there is so much more that could be done.

When we use the wrong terminology, we also find ourselves asking the wrong questions, and in the end we miss quite a lot of what the text is trying to tell us. On some level Ryken seems aware of that his terminology may not apply. In his discussion of what he calls epic hero stories, he says that “David, in fact, is the closest parallel in the Bible to the epic hero of the Western tradition” (p. 80; emphasis mine). Earlier in the same paragraph, he applies the lens of the epic hero story to the book of Judges. In doing so he must admit that “The Book of Judges lacks a unifying hero and is perhaps better viewed as a collection of separate hero stories” (p. 80). I would add to this that not only does the category fail to adequately explain Judges, we also miss quite a lot of its meaning if all we are looking for is hero stories. There is a definite pattern of rebellion, repentance and redemption which structures the book. When we see this pattern, we see that the main story here is not about Gideon or Samson but about God and His people. It shows us the people’s weakness, their unwillingness to be governed by God and why they so desperately feel the need for a king as the nations around them have. As such, it is a kind of prequel to the books of Samuel and Kings.

Understanding Biblical Literature in Its Context

Up until this point what I have been talking about is reading the Bible in its social and geographic context — that is, understanding it in the light of other works from the same time and place (very roughly speaking); we need to view it in its own world, if you will. But when we speak of context in biblical interpretation we also mean its literary context — what other verses, stories, books surround a given passage and how do these affect its meaning? Most Bible readers worth their salt know that we cannot just take isolated verses out of context and quote them willy-nilly to support any old thing we like. This is poor scholarship. But what exactly the context of a given story is when it comes to the Bible is a tricky question. Obviously, what we have in the Bible are stories within books within a Book. Sometimes there are even more layers involved if we are considering, for example, a story from the Abraham cycle. This nested approach applies as well when we are talking of proverbs, prophecies and psalms, each may stand alone but is also part of a collection which is part of the whole Bible.

So the question we must ask is: when looking at a given passage, how wide a context do we need to consider? We may be able to learn quite a bit when reading a story (or psalm, or proverb . . .)  by itself, but when we become familiar with the whole of Scripture and can see it in the light of the rest of the Bible, we are likely to glean even more. Ryken acknowledges this, and even spends a chapter on it, near the end of his book, when he says:

“The result is a book in which no part is wholly self-contained but instead carries echoes from many other parts.” (p. 186)

Nevertheless, there are times when he does not go far enough in considering the wider context. For example he says that:

“For example, it is quite possible to treat the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22) as a self-contained story. But that same material becomes only an episode if we are discussing the story of Abraham as a whole.” (p. 45; see also p. 62 where Ryken again discusses this story)

I would add further that the story takes on a whole new meaning when we consider also the story of Jesus and God’s sacrifice of His own Son. Indeed our understanding of the binding of Isaac would be incomplete if we did not consider this wider context.

Though I don’t have a lot of evidence to back me up, I also question Ryken’s assertion regarding the sayings in the Book of Proverbs that “Beyond these [first] sections, though, the structure is miscellaneous and the unity nonexistent” (p. 127). I suspect that there is actually a lot more to which proverb is placed next to which one than we have yet discerned. [Side note: I love the way Psalms 80 and 81 seem to speak to each other — see this post; this is the sort of intentional placing of texts side by side that I thinking of.]

The Bible as Literature

There is still a larger issue which arises as one reads Ryken’s book, namely, is it even appropriate to read the Bible as literature? Is this something we should do? Or does treating the Bible as one would any other piece of literature undercut the truth value of Scripture? Honestly, I did not go into this book with these concerns. If you had asked me before I read How to Read the Bible as Literature . . . I would have said that while we cannot solely treat the Bible as literature that it is a perfectly valid way to approach the text and could even be useful in helping us delve into its meaning. Ryken made me doubt this, entirely without intending to I am sure. As a little preview of posts to come, let me quote the book I am currently reading, Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield; in presenting her own story, Mrs. Butterfield says that:

“I also learned that the Bible was a literary text, discernible through the lenses of literary devices. It seemed to me that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a metaphor, powerful only in the worlds of words.” (p. 13)

The point here is that when we begin to treat the biblical text as literature, as we would any other literature, we can begin to undermine its truthfulness. If we, for instance, regard some aspect of a story as a plot device, are we then saying that it didn’t really happen that way?

At the outset of this book Ryken said a lot about how literature works that I found myself agreeing with. He says “literature expresses truth in its own way” (p. 11) and “The knowledge that literature gives of a subject is the kind of knowledge that is obtained by (vicariously) living through an experience” (p. 13). As statements about literature in general I would agree. But in the midst of this he also says, “when the Bible employs a literary  method, it asks to be approached as literature and not as something else” (pp.11-12). On the surface this does not sound too bad. But as I think about it I wonder what this means for the historical books of the Bible. If we are taking them as literature, can we also treat them as reliable history? I feel that there is a door here which is being cracked open, a door that Rosaria Butterfield (in the above quote) and others have gone through.

Now the truth be known, I am well aware that history is written by the victors. Or at least that you and I can both write about the same event and yet give very different interpretations and depictions of it. Ryken addresses this as well:

“Authorial selectivity and arrangement of details lie behind every story in the Bible. There is always more than one way to tell a given story. The story as it finally stands has been consciously assembled by the author for a calculated effect on the audience. In short, storytellers control what you see and don’t see, how you see it, and when you see it.” (p. 63)

And again:

“Characters in biblical stories are conscious creations of the storytellers, not in the sense that the writers disregard the real-life person, but in the sense that they decide what to include and exclude from their portrait.” (p. 64)

We see this, I think, in the two pictures of David given in Kings and Chronicles. In the former, Israel’s great king is nonetheless a flawed and hounded human being; in the latter he is much more majestically portrayed. In a different way, we see it in the gospels, each of which gives a different viewpoint on Jesus’ life and ministry (see Ryken p. 133).

Despite these examples, I still found myself, as I read this book, coming back again and again to the question of how we can trust the historicity of the Bible if we are always confronted with the storyteller’s art and all the mechanisms he chooses to use. The lines are very blurry here. On one hand, I don’t believe we ever have truly unbiased accounts of anything, whether we are watching the evening news or reading history. On the other hand, truth is truth. There is a point at which any account goes from the realm of truth into that of fiction. That is why in our courts we are asked to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Any mother who has been confronted with a naughty child knows that there can be a lot of truth that is not the whole truth and that a half truth or a truth that is not complete might as well be a lie.

Ryken himself seems to be trying to preserve the truth value of the biblical text. He speaks, for instance, of the support of archaeological evidence for biblical claims (p. 131). Nonetheless, many of his statements seem to undercut the reliability of the Bible. He notes, for example, that the settings of various stories often have symbolic meaning –“Spiritual revelations often occur on mountains” (p. 35) being one example. When we begin to make statements like this, we can quickly come to believe (or at the very least lead others to believe) that these settings are authorial choices and therefore purely metaphorical. And once we begin to cast doubt upon the details, it is a quick and slippery slope to coming to believe that the whole story is metaphorical and not historical. Elsewhere he says that the gospel narratives “convey an astonishing sense of reality” (p. 133) and in discussing prophecy that the visions of the prophets “exist in the imagination and not in empirical reality” (p. 165) and again that “We know that people do not fly through the air on wings” (p. 169). He may now this, but I believe that if the Bible says that a prophet was transported and/or saw a heavenly vision that he quite possibly did go somewhere and definitely did see something that was more than his imagination.

Drawing Some Conclusions

So what are we supposed to do then? I’m not advocating living in ignorance or taking the Bible in isolation. But I do think we need to acknowledge that it is fundamentally different from other books. I don’t know that I have all the answers but here are some conclusions and ides that have occurred to me:

  • We need to consider the geographical and social context of the Bible. Its human writers, at least for the OT, would have had some familiarity with the myths and stories of the cultures around them (read: ANE other cultures) and so it is reasonable to expect them to have responded to these cultures in their own writings. They also had to some extent a common culture with their neighbors so it is reasonable to look for similar genres and literary devices.
  • We need to exercise more caution in applying western concepts to the Bible (again, especially the OT). These things will be more familiar to us, but we must guard against putting our own expectations on the text.
  • When interpreting an given text, we should consider it on many levels: on its own, in the immediate context of its book, and in light of the rest of Scripture. A corollary: we should become more and more familiar with all of Scripture so that this becomes easier and easier for us.
  • When discussing the storyteller’s art, we should be careful with the phrasing we use. While the speaker may have  a healthy respect for the authority of Scripture, others, especially children, may be led to think that if we call one part of a story metaphor or hyperbole, that skepticism about the whole is appropriate.
  • We need to keep in mind who the ultimate Author of Scripture is. Ryken speaks in his book of the text’s various human authors and, of course, there were many people involved in its authorship and editing. But each of these, I believe, was led by the Holy Spirit. We are told that the Bible is “God-breathed.” While its many human contributors are not infallible and would surely have had their own opinions and biases, we must not lose sight of the fact God has given us the Book He wants us to have. We know for instance that Paul wrote other letters which were not included in the canon and that there were other chronicles which recorded the history of the nation of Israel. But the Bible we have is what God ahs chosen to preserve and hand down through the generations to us. It is this divine inspiration which truly sets the Book apart form all others.

Nebby

Book Series for Tween and Teen Boys

Dear Reader,

I have had a couple of conversations (or virtual conversations) about book series for boys between the ages of 9-15 or so. I don’t know what it is about boys, but it seems a lot of them like to find series and read them through. It can be hard, though, to find quality ones. I know my own local library tends to have a lot of fantasy-type books. I don’t inherently object to fantasy, but there is a thread in modern books which irks me (more on that here). So I thought I would give  a list of the series my older boy (now 15) has read.

Book Series for Tween and Teen Boys

Though I know they need hardly be mentioned among Christian homeschoolers, let’s start with The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The former is much easier reading than the latter. I will admit that as a child I started both and could not get into them. My kids have enjoyed them though. My older son has read Tolkien many times over.  But they are excellent in their outlook and theology (both authors are Christian) and my son has enjoyed them both. I am not a huge fan of Christian lit but, though Narnia at least is quite obvious if you know the Christian story, these books do not come off as obvious or preachy. A warning: read them first! Don’t go to the movie versions. The Lord of the Rings in particular has been made very violent in the movies.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling — Okay, I know you have heard of this one. And I know some will have objections to the magical elements. For me Harry Potter is at a level I can take. My older son has read them all many times as well. HP and Lord of the Rings are the two series he keeps coming back to.

Rick Riordan — Riordan has a few series. Percy Jackson and the Olympians one is the most well-known. In it the main characters are demi-gods, the offspring of human and the ancient Greek gods. He also has an Egyptian series which my kids don’t like quite as much and a newer Norse one which we haven’t tried. We have done many of these as audio-books so I have heard most of them too. Though in many ways they embody the themes I object to in other teen books (misunderstood kid discovers he/she is not really human), I find these books humorous, exciting and enjoyable to listen too. But then again, I don’t mind Greek myths either.

N.D. Wilson  — Wilson is apparently a Christian author. Honestly, I haven’t read any of his books but they were recommended to us by our pastor’s family (a source I trust) and my son is enjoying them. The two he has tried so far are the 100 Cupboards series and Ashtown Burials. A good sign: I see on his website that Wilson has books on Eden and Noah for ages 4 and up. I’ll have to check those out.

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander — Alexander should be listed soon after Lewis and Tolkien, so here he is. I think he has other series too. My son has liked everything he’s read by Alexander.

M.T. Anderson — Anderson is a weird one. We like weird around here. We first encountered him in his Pals in Peril series. These are best qualified as detective stories. The name of one, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, will give you an idea of their character. That series is younger, I would say middle school age (with all the silliness middle school boys love; but not just a gross out book). I think my son also read another of his middle age series though I don’t know which one. He has also tackled an older series, Octavian Nothing. This one deserves a warning that there is some adult content. We did the first one as an audio book and even my then 12yo dd was lost. But my older one liked it. The premise takes a while, like most of the book, to figure out and is pretty bizarre. It is set during the Revolutionary War.

Agatha Christie — An oldie but a goodie. If you like mysteries, don’t forget these classics.

The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol — Older books again. Very quick reads for the boy with a short attention span who likes a puzzle. Both my boys read these.

Allen Quartermain by Rider — I call this as a series because there are sequels. These are also older books. I read both this one and King Solomon’s Mines as did my son. We both enjoyed them.

The Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng — I didn’t read these either (bad parent, bad parent!) but my son enjoyed them all a few years back. More middle school level silliness and probably a fair amount of gross stuff is my guess.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud — We all listened to the first of these and then my son read the rest. They are borderline imo because of their treatment of magic/occult stuff. Edited to add: with no prompting my son brought these up in conversation recently and mentioned how much he had liked them. It has been a few years since he read them so I take that as pretty high praise.

The Emerald Atlas  series by John Stephens — Another one I didn’t read and which is probably borderline with the magic-y stuff. Here is a blurb from the author’s website:

“Brimming with action, humor, and emotion, The Emerald Atlas is the first stage of a journey that will take Kate, Michael, and Emma to strange, dangerous lands and deep within themselves. It is the story of three children who set out to save their family, and end up having to save the world.”

Children of the Lamp by P.B. Kerr — I think we listened to the first of these (or maybe two?) and then my son read the rest. As the name implies, there is an Arab twist here. There are djinn (like Arab genies) involved. But honestly I think this one bothered me less than Stroud’s books. I think they are for a slightly younger age too though they are still at least middle school level.

The Golden Door series by Emily Rodda — She has another series which may be more famous. This is the only one we’ve tried. Amazon calls it a “high-fantasy” world.

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini — Amazon calls is “worldwide bestselling saga of one boy, one dragon, and a world of adventure.” My son seemed to really enjoy this series and they seem to be widely popular.

The Francis Tucket Books by Gary Paulsen — A safer choice and an easier read. These books are set in the Old West. No fantasy here. Just a lot about growing up, becoming a man, and dealing with Indians.

William O. Steele — I’m not sure if any of Steele’s books are actually  a series. But he has a ton set in olden times in America. Lots of battling the elements and hostile peoples. They can be found on Amazon under the series name Odyssey Classics. 

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott — Another series recommended by the pastor’s family. They have titles like The Alchemyst and The Enchantress. There is stuff about the search for eternal life. But they seem like really good books.

Wayside School by Louis Sachar –Pretty harmless silliness for younger kids. Upper elementary age, I’d say. Though they are set in a school, there doesn’t seem to be the bullying and other issues which often bother me in school-y books.

A to Z Mysteries, Calendar Mysteries and Capital Mysteries by Ron Roy — Not high literature but more fairly harmless books for the younger set. Kids seem to zip through them pretty quickly but Roy has a lot to offer so it might still take them awhile.

The Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka — A group of boys travel through time, visit other times and places (hidden history lessons here), and satisfy your young boy’s need for grossness.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner — More oldies but goodies. Easy to read mysteries for elementary kids. Make sure you stick to the original series (there are only about 30 of them).

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl — Pretty brief for a series but I am including them because these are such great, classic books. Read all his other ones too while you are at it. Have we forgotten how to manage so much silly without a ton of gross?

Drift House by Dale Peck — Children adrift on a houseboat is what I get. The author says C.S. Lewis was his biggest influence. My older son enjoyed them.

Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger — Okay, this is probably a desperation choice for the Star Wars fan who is a reluctant reader. My younger son enjoyed these. A lot of silly, I am sure.

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Graham — Okay, I really thought there were sequels to this one. I think I am conflating it with another dragon series. Does anyone know which one I am thinking of? Grahame is the author of The Wind in the Willows and wrote in the late 1800s. If that doesn’t recommend this book to you, well, you need to read more old books.

Terry Pratchett — We’ve only read a few scattered books by Pratchett but some of his are series (see them all here). They vary in content. I read Dodger and found it a tiny bit risque at parts but a pretty good read. It is set in Charles Dickens’ time so there is the added history lesson they don’t know they’re getting bonus. We also listened to We Free Men which we didn’t think was a spectacular story but had a lot of silliness in the wee men’s names which we still refer to.

Solomon Snow books by Kaye Umansky — Ridiculousness abounds for kids in (what seems to be) Victorian England. How come all books set in this time and place seem to be better?

Roman Mysteries by Henry Winterfield — Fun and slightly educational reading for upper elementary or middle school.

The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence — Okay, Lawrence’s actually have the name “Roman Mysteries.” I don’t know that Winterfield’s series has a name. Both are good.

The Bogle Books by Catherine Jinks — Victorian England again, What did I tell you? These ones center around a fanciful creature called a bogle that eats kids. Don;t let that put you off; they are decent books and not scary.

Smells like Dog and sequels by Suzanne Selfors — It was my daughter who read these but she tells me if a boy likes dogs he will like them too. I think they are pretty silly and not hard reading.

Avi’s Crispin series — Avi is very prolific. Some of his books are about animals (the Redwall, the animals are the main characters and talk). The Crispin books are about a boy living in, if I recall correctly, medieval times. We really enjoyed them.

Gary Blackwood’s Shakespeare series — More hidden education. When we first started one of these books, I thought it was not the best writing but then as we went along, we all got sucked into the plot. Not hard books but a great way to get at Shakespeare’s time and even at modern themes like the rights of an author to his material, etc.

Clyde Robert Bulla — I cheat so much. You guys shouldn’t let me get away with this stuff. Again I am not sure there are any series here but Bulla is so prolific there is still a lot to read. His books all seem to be set in different historical times and places. They are usually exciting adventures for upper elementary and beyond (and younger ones too though perhaps as read alouds).

The Swindle series by Gordon Korman — Korman is a modern writer and has some of the themes of modern writers that I don’t always like (bullies in school, siblings don’t get along, etc.). But we did enjoy this series. It has animals (not as talking characters but as major parts of the plot) which is always a plus. I would not assume his other series are as acceptable.

The Inkheart and MirrorWorld series by Cornelia Funke — She’s German; is that a recommendation? Inkheart in particular gets a lot of attention. My older son has enjoyed both these series. They are older, at least late middle school.

Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy — Another one that’s compared to Lewis. I don’t know if it’s deserved by my son enjoyed them.

The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins — A boy goes underground and encounters giant rats and the like. It didn’t sound to appealing to me but my son loved them and I know another boy who is a reluctant reader who did too.

The Indian in the Cupboard and sequels by Lynne Reid Banks — My two older ones read some of these in a class and seemed to like them.

The Incorriglibles series by Mary Rose Wood — An absolute favorite series of ours. More Victorian children, mystery and utter silliness. We all adore these but I did have someone tell me her son couldn’t get into them because the main character is female.

The Redwall series by Brian Jacques — Okay, we listened to the first one and never got into them but I knew if I left them out, someone would mention them. Talking animals in a medieval setting with lots of descriptive detail is what I remember.

That’s my list so far; what am I forgetting (or haven’t yet discovered)??

Nebby

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