What I’m Reading: December 2015 Edition

David Russell Mosley

Advent
16 December 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve written these sporadically, but I’m going to try to write them a bit more regularly, at least once a month.

On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria

15106299This is one of my annual Advent/Christmas reads. If you’ve never read it, or if you’ve never read a book by an ancient Christian, then I recommend it, especially this translation. The Popular Patristics Series (patristic means relating to the early Christian theologians, often called the Church Fathers) by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press is a great series for getting translations of ancient texts in understandable English. However, it’s also a great series for the scholars out there. If you are a scholar or are interested in getting into the original languages then I’d recommend picking up this edition which has the Greek on page and English on the other. This book has been formative for me as a theologian. It’s one of the foundational pieces for understanding deification and it helps situate the Incarnation as the central cosmic event. It’s a must read for me every Advent to help prepare me for the coming of our Lord.

Theo-Poetics: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Risk of Art and Being by Anne Michelle Carpenter

25434467This is the other theological book I’m reading right now. I picked up at the recent AAR/SBL and have become acquaintances with the author. Now, my reading of Hans Urs von Balthasar has been fairly limited, but that’s not an issue with Carpenter’s book. She explains Balthasar’s thought very clearly so that you get a sense of what he’s saying without having read all the books and essays Carpenter has. That said, this is a definitely an important book in Balthasarian scholarship. Carpenter, so far anyway, is doing an excellent job explaining the importance of art and poetics to Balthasar’s theology. While she uses the word theo-poetics differently than I do in my thesis, her use is, I think still connected. For Carpenter, theo-poetics is about a poetic theology, poetic logic and images that help undergird and connect theological reflections (whereas my own use is to connect it directly theopoiesis or deification). So far the only glaring problem with this book is that it is making me want to buy more Balthasar books than I can presently afford.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

593985This is another of my annual Advent/Christmas reads. Tolkien, that wonderful sub-creator, began writing his children letters from Father Christmas in 1920 when his eldest son, John, was three years old. From that first simple letter comes many more with more and more characters and events each year for the next 26 years (he stopped when his daughter Priscilla was 17). These letters are full of wonderful stories, as you can well imagine, but also wonderful pictures. Tolkien was a rather good artist in his own way and the pictures as well as samples of the handwritten letters that adorn this book are wonderful in the truest sense of the word.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

5175x9z9v8LYet another of my annual Advent/Christmas reads, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is really a book everyone should read, full stop. In this book both the meanness, the grotesque, the worst of human nature and the best are on display. Dickens perhaps knew people, and possibly even humanity in general, better than almost any other author (Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tolkien, and a few others would perhaps also vie for this honor). In this book we get a glimpse into dark recesses of fallen human nature and even a reminder that we cannot crawl out of those recesses completely on our own. The story has, it’s true, become perhaps a bit too familiar to us with umpteen different versions of it in existence on the big and small screen. Still, if you can, try to read the story with fresh eyes and I will be much surprised if you don’t come away having been changed by the story.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

27402335For the last few years when I decided I wanted to read through the Sherlock Holmes stories, I would pull out a single-volume edition of the complete stories that I have (it’s a facsimile edition from the originals in the Strand Magazine) and attempt to read them. I say attempt because the book is massive and the pages fragile. So, this year, after reading half of A Study in Scarlet in this format I decided enough was enough, popped over to the library, and picked up several smaller volumes in order to read all the stories without the pain of using my beautiful, but unwieldy single-volume edition. If you’ve never read Holmes, I highly recommend it. These stories are witty, interesting, full of life. I will give a warning however, the majority of the second half of A Study in Scarlet is generally uncharacteristic for the rest of the Holmes stories, taking place in America and having nothing directly to do with the primary protagonists, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson.

On the Back Burner

Advent is a funny time of year for me when it comes to reading. I usually have, as you’ve seen above, several books that I like to read during Advent and Christmas time. In fact, all the books listed above as Advent/Christmas reads, are really books I’d prefer to read during Christmastide (from roughly Christmas Eve to Epiphany eve). But I’m also usually finishing books during this time and don’t like to wait before picking up a new book. But then I have to try and find books that I can actually read during Advent so that I’m done with them before Christmas, but not too much before so that I’m not just waiting around bookless for Christmas to come. For that reason, and others that make even less sense. I also have two other books that I’ve begun in the recent past but not finished and may not get back to until after Christmas.

543164The first of those books is The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. This is the first in a series of books that are collections of fairy-tales and folk stories from around the world. When I first started writing my novel 8 years ago, it was to this series of books that I turned reading every story about dwarves, goblins, elves, brownies, and more to try and ground my characters and creatures in the stories we have told ourselves about them.

1063075The second book on the back burner is The Shaping of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is the fourth book in the History of Middle-earth Series put out by Christopher Tolkien. This particular volume takes through the stories as things begin to shift from Book of Lost Tales version of them to The Silmarillion version. This isn’t a great book (nor are any in the series) to serve as your “fiction read” if you divide up your reading like I do. That said, the stories in them are always fascinating, as is the insight we’re given into how Tolkien wrote and how his stories developed over time.

Well, that’s it, that’s everything I’m reading right now. What are you reading?

Sincerely,
David

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What I’m Reading: Heaven, Mary, God’s Existence, Dragons, and the End of the World

David Russell Mosley

Epiphanytide
Candlemas
2 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, we’re experiencing yet another snow storm here in New England, and while not a blizzard this time it is still keeping me and my family inside. Snow and ice are beautiful but perilous. I think it no coincidence that we tend to associate snow with Faërie. But more on that another day.

I wanted to write to you about what I’m reading right now. It’s a new theme I’ll be coming back to from time to time as the books I’m reading change. The hope is to interest you to read new, or old, books that you haven’t read, or haven’t read in a long while. Also, it should hopefully help me engage more fully with the books I’m reading by writing about them from time to time as I read them.

All Things Made New by Stratford Caldecott

Stratford Caldecott has increasingly become one of my favourite authors. I have, to date, read his The Power of the Ring, Beauty for Truth’s Sake, and The Radiance of Being. I am immensely saddened that I had not met him before he went further on his pilgrimage to the Patria than I can currently follow. Still, I have the comfort of his words and his book All Things Made New is just that, a comfort.

The book begins with a spiritual commentary on the book of Revelation, noting the important theological, symbolical, and even numerological meanings in the text. From there it moves to a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, the Rosary, and the Stations of the Cross. In a way, the whole book is concerned with the Rosary, which is to say that it is concerned with the life of Christ as partially mediated through the eyes of His mother.

The Major Works of Anselm of Canterbury: The Monologion

While I will read the whole book, I am currently working my way through the Monologion of Anselm. It is an attempt to come at some knowledge of God by way of reason alone. I decided to read this book because my background in Anselm is rather weak. I have read about his famous “ontological argument” for God’s existence: namely, that God is that-than-which-no-greater-thing-can-be-thought. This argument has often been dismissed, but I hope to come to a better understanding of it. I have also read Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo or Why God Became Man, which I found both interesting and insightful. Reading this book is my chance to go deeper into the good doctor’s writings.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Every year I re-read the entire Harry Potter Series. I have done so since the seventh book came out (actually, I re-read the entire series as soon as I had finished reading the seventh book for the first time). Goblet of Fire is not, perhaps, my favourite book. It can often get bogged down with all the side stories: Hermione and Rita Skeeter; Hermione, Ron, and Krum; Harry and Cho; Fred, George, and Ludo Bagman (and the goblins); Hagrid the Half-Giant; S.P.E.W.; Crouch and Winky and Crouch; etc. However, what is perhaps stranger, is how necessary each of these side stories is to get us to the end. While the film attempted to streamline the story, it failed (rather miserable, in my opinion). Each one seems almost necessary to get us into the graveyard with Harry. Still, the book often seems overfull, perhaps because it is, I believe, the second longest of the series.

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia are another septology I read every year. While this reading technically belongs to 2014, I’ve had to stretch it out as I’ve been reading the book aloud to my twin sons. Every night, we put them in pyjamas, I sing them a lullaby (The Road Goes Ever On and On by J. R. R. Tolkien), put them in their cribs, turn out the lights, except for a book light, and read to them. Something I’ve noticed in reading them aloud this year are the parts that choke me up. Sometimes reading can be difficult because I’m trying to fight back tears and do voices. Another interesting aspect of reading them this year is that I’ve been reading them in the order in which they were written. This means I’m only on the second to last book with The Magician’s Nephew still to go. It makes it different since I’m reading references to The Magician’s Nephew without having read it yet.

Well, that’s all the books I’m currently reading and a little about them. What are you reading?

Sincerely yours,
David