Reader Review: A Grief Observed

We haven’t had a reader book review in a while. Today’s is from Jenny at Gracepoint Berkeley Church, who shares with us her thoughts after having read A Grief Observedby C.S. Lewis. I think it speaks for itself, so I will leave you to it.

a grief observed c.s. lewisThis book is really just that –a grief observed–the tortured grief of C.S. Lewis losing his beloved wife to cancer, compiled in a collection of his personal reflections. The book is a significant departure from his most popular works like Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain, where Lewis is at his armchair, describing reality and life with honesty and wit, deftly persuading us of truth of Christianity. This book is different.  This is Lewis doubled over by loss and trying to make sense of life and God in the midst of it.

For someone going through loss of a loved one, I can imagine reading this book being a balm to the pain… Because it’s someone you admire deeply saying, “I’ve been there too”– not in a tidy, sanitized manner after the fact, but a real-time messy reflection full of doubts, unanswered questions and honest pain, that maybe can give voice to the chaos inside. In one heartbreaking entry, he writes of visiting all their favorite places, anticipating a heightened sense of her absence but when he doesn’t feel that, he realizes “her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

His more famous book, The Problem of Pain, which Lewis wrote to to provide an intellectual response to suffering, was written 20 years before A Grief Observed. Losing his wife turns out to be the crucible in which all the theory he writes in The Problem of Pain is tested. He writes in A Grief Observed, “Nothing will shake a man – or at any rate a man like me – out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”

A Grief Observed is one of the few CS Lewis books I never wanted to read. But the past year and a half, I’ve attended more funerals than I ever had in my life and sat with people, most of whom younger than me, who’ve faced losses greater than anything I’ve experienced. Grief was something on my mind a lot so I finally picked up this book. And I found that it provided a window into the grief of losing a loved one, but also of losing things you can never retrieve again. It also provided a hard look at walking through difficulty as a Christian, of having one’s faith refined or demolished and remade in the fire of pain and struggle.  One quote I kept going back to was this:

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”

If grief has been on your mind lately, maybe this book can help.

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”


Reading Testimonial: Narnia Visited and Revisited

It’s been a long while since we had a reading testimonial. Today’s is from Philip, a college freshman from Klesis at Gracepoint Berkeley church, and our first male guest contributer! He and I go way back, and in honor of Narnia November (have you been reading/listening?), I asked him if he remembered our Narnia Challenge from almost ten years ago. I asked him if he would be willing to write a little something for the blog.

Narnia-ChroniclesHardI can remember the first time that I heard The Chronicles of Narnia. It was in the first grade when my “Uncle Mo” (Maurice from Gracepoint Austin church) had chosen the first book to read as a bedtime story. It was The Magician’s Nephew, and while I can’t remember many of the details from that time, I do remember the excitement of hearing about magic rings and crazy adventures. Though I loved reading adventure novels growing up, it wasn’t until much later however, that I read through The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time on my own.

It was during my middle school years, either 6th or 7th grade, when Emily challenged me to see who would be able to read through the entire series first. It was a simple wager with a Barnes and Nobles gift card set as the crown for the winner. I remember reading the books as fast as possible, but at the same time trying to keep a hold of the plot development in order to prove that I truly had read through the entire series! Despite quick reading, and consequently some skimming, the land of Narnia that C.S. Lewis created was mesmerizing. Eventually I won the contest, probably due to my superior intellect (but in reality just due to the fact that I had more free time), and I don’t remember what I spent that gift card on, but I know that I gained so much more from that contest.

It was actually just last year that I decided to reread the entire series with a more developed understanding of literature, and a greater level of appreciation for such thought-provoking literature. The stories had not lost their magic as I felt that I myself had simply returned the land of Narnia that I had discovered as a younger child. It is true, however, that I had my mind blown by all the meaning and the powerful messages that I had missed. Understanding the themes of redemption and loyalty, the struggle between selfish action and sacrifice, and the symbolism that I simply failed to understand before had made the books even more amazing to me. C.S. Lewis had so vividly brought to life the idea that there is a distant land to which I belong as heir to the throne because the true king, Aslan, had made it so. Aslan being the embodiment of justice and right, a powerful terrifying lion, and yet caring and merciful enough to die in order to redeem Edmund, that was powerful for me. The adventures that were shared through loyalty and a striving for good and what Aslan would want, those were adventures that I wanted. I cannot express enough how The Chronicles of Narnia has impacted me, though at first I saw them as “only” children’s stories.

I didn’t know the fuller story of Philip’s history with Narnia. I just remember trying, all those years ago, to think of a way to motivate Philip to read, and even being willing to suffer the humiliation of losing the challenge (I did actually try, but Philip’s superior intellect won out!). It tickles me to read of how he too has experienced what so many of us have as we read and read the series after childhood — that our eyes open to the deeper spiritual truths embedded in what seems to be “only” a child’s fairy tale.

I’m reminded of a couple of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes about reading:

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

“A children’s story that can be enjoyed only by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

This has been my personal experience with The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as with other great stories for children. I’m especially looking forward to rereading The Horse and His Boy, as I have now tallied six people who count it as their favorite of the series, and for compelling reasons!

Reading Testimonial: This “One’s” for Me!

Today’s “Reader Testimonial” comes from Irene, new mom, staff with Koinonia Berkeley at Gracepoint Berkeley church, and as you’ll find out, a social worker by day.

OnefortheMurphys_low-ResJust wanted to share a bit about my experience reading the book One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. I am not much of a reader. I don’t read unless it’s mandatory, for the most part. But Emily suggested this book for me as a professional recommendation.  And it had me in tears as I read.

Working as a social worker in the child welfare system, this story about a child navigating her way through the system really struck home. The author was able to give light to the child’s emotional challenges and the reality of being in such a painful and tumultuous situation. The story helped give voice to the many clients I have worked with over the years. And it helped me to experience a renewed excitement for reading. As a professing non-reader, I was encouraged by the suggestion that fit my interest. And it was an easy read, and so engaging that I just couldn’t put it down!

Emily here: This is a favorite among many readers, young and old alike. And despite the semi-girly cover, and the female protagonist, this is a favorite among young men too! Almost everyone who has read this book has cried or gotten choked up. This is classified as a “middle grades” book, so it’s appropriate for 5th grade and up…all the way up! 🙂

For fans of One for the Murphys, Hunt’s newest novel is called Fish in a Tree, which is also awesome! It’s also awesome that it is available at Coscto, though of course, here at Bibliopolis, we do try to support independent bookstores, such as Books Inc. 🙂

Have you read One for the Murphys? If so, what did you think? Any youth out there want to write a youth book review for Fish in a Tree?

Reading Testimonial: The Good Earth, A Good Book

I’ve decided to ix-nay the cutesy categories that correspond to the day of the week. It was too constraining, and I was struggling with making posts fit into categories. I’m going to be way more organic and true-to-reality with the categories, as they come together.

Today I want to feature the first of what I anticipate to be many “reading testimonials”*, which are basically vignettes from regular people throughout Gracepoint ministries sharing their own stories of a powerful reading experience. Some are from long ago, and some are more recent. And some may or may not include a mini-review of specific books. To kick it off is a story from Sophia, who is serving on staff in our Praxis ministry at Gracepoint Berkeley church.

I was never a strong reader as a child and never had much interest in reading.  The fact that I was an immigrant kid trying to learn English growing up did not help either. Then as an adult, I was always too busy to read for pleasure. As a parent, I saw that my daughter was also not fond of reading, but accepted it as a given, and that she was just like me. Recently, I wanted to motivate my daughter to read more, so I tried managing her time better by requiring her to read for X amount of hours after school.  But I saw that I was doing something that I would not like to be put upon myself at that age! Then I tried rewarding her for reading books and allowed her to choose her own books, despite my own opinion about the books.  That effort gained some traction because she was motivated by the reward and the books she chose were interesting enough. I also started reading with her whenever I could; she would read one page and I the next. Through another conversation with Emily, I decided to try to lead by example rather than just telling her to read and not do it myself.

thegoodearth_coverTherefore, out of my love for my child, I picked up the book The Good Earth by Pearl Buck from the Bibliopolis Adult Extension bookshelf. I was not sure how much time I would have to read for pleasure; all I knew was that I have always been curious about some of the famous books but never got time to actually read them. I wanted to know what a Nobel-prize winning author writes like.  And to my complete surprise, I was hooked once I started reading. I couldn’t put the book down.

As a Chinese growing up both in Taiwan and America, I was impressed by the detailed yet succinct way in which Pearl Buck described the Chinese sentiment. Her observations about the irony of human life cycle and the weakness of man in the face of temptation made a deep impression on me as a Christian. Wang Lung is a poor but upwardly mobile farmer trying to raise a family during a time when the rich seem to have all the blessings from the gods, and the poor are stuck in their relentless cycle of poverty. But through hard work and some luck, he slowly becomes rich. The irony is that the problems he faces after becoming rich – the temptations he faces as a man and the family quarrels – were much sadder for me to read than the struggles he has as a poor man. Wang Lung never loses his love for the earth, yet he is, after all, a mere man and gives into his lust and self-justifying voices. Moreover, he has no higher authorities to look to except the two earthen figures to which he gives some incense from time to time, but does not hold back in spitting upon when he feels like it. Despite everything, he is a likable figure and an accurate portrayal of a good, hard-working Chinese. At the end of the story, Wang’s life is eerily similar to those he envied in the first place.

The book helped me to have a greater appreciation for  the cultural struggles that took place in China in the past one hundred years.  It gave me a greater understading and greater sympathy for the Chinese people, even though I am a Chinese myself.  I think it’s a must read for all who are interested in getting to know the Chinese people of today!

More than that, I am surprised by how hooked I got on the book. After finishing it, I decided to check out Between Shades of Gray, after reading Elise’s review and watching the video with the author. I’m reading that now!

Can you relate to Sophia’s story at all? Are you someone who “discovered” reading once you became a parent? Have you ever stumbled upon a great book in an effort to model reading for your child? Or when trying to find a good book for someone else, you found one you liked?  

*If you have a catchy category title for this type of post, I’m open to suggestions.