Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Top 10 Tuesday: Non-Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

In an attempt to demonstrate that I do actually (on occasion) read things that aren't science fiction and/or fantasy of some kind, today's Top 10 is a list of books outside those genres. As always, these are in no particular order.

Planet Narnia by Michael Ward

Planet Narnia is an analysis of the Narnia series, along with portions of C. S. Lewis' other works like his poetry and the Cosmic/Ransom Trilogy, exploring Lewis' fascination with medieval cosmology. Ward theorizes that Lewis' construction of the Narnia books builds each story around one of the seven heavens of the middle ages; in the medieval understanding of the unvierse, each heaven is the sphere of a planet (Venus, Mars, Mercury, the Sun, the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn). While I doubted the validity of Ward's thesis before I read the book, he quickly convinced me this theory had merit. This book not only gave me a fresh understanding of some of my favorite books, it also stirred a desire to read more of Lewis' works outside his fiction.

How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger

I've read two versions of this book: this full version that covers the entire Harry Potter series, and an earlier version that only covered the first four or five books. Granger's work does something similar for Harry Potter to what Planet Narnia does for Narnia, only Granger's literary structure of choice is alchemy. He introduces the reader to the basics of alchemical imagery and demonstrates Harry Potter's use of that symbol system to deepen the meaning of the plot. He also ties the use of alchemical imagery to Rowling's Christian faith (something not often spoken of when the Potter books are discussed). If I hadn't read Granger's book and discovered the deep and meaningful layers of imagery that can lurk in a book series, I probably wouldn't have believed Ward's theory as readily.

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton has a way with words and analogies that I've only ever seen repeated in C. S. Lewis' nonfiction. The one passage in this book that has stuck with me most since I read it last year is this:
[G]rown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
The image of God eternally pleased with His creation to the point that He never tires of it doing precisely what it was intended to do captures my imagination and rekindles my wonder in the beauty of the world.

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

I had the pleasure of first reading this book by listening to the audio version which is a recording of Lewis' original broadcast. It's a wonderful thing to finally hear one of my favorite authors' voices and be able to now imagine his voice when reading his other works. This book also helped me to face the deficiencies in my own loves -- familial, friendly, romantic, and godly. It's a book I can return to many times and still be refreshed and challenged by.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

This is one of the few non-SFF books I have reread multiple times because it's just such a fun ride every time. Even knowing how it ends, I get caught up in the relationships and struggles of the characters as they navigate the Westing Game. This is a book I can't wait to read with my future kids when they're old enough.

The Patrick Bowers series by Steven James

This series follows geographic criminologist Patrick Bowers as he assists the FBI in solving crimes by helping them determine where serial criminals's home bases are. Each book delves further into Patrick's faith and struggle to raise his step-daughter in the wake of his wife's death, and the characters always leap off the page. Once I start reading one of these books, I know I'll be lost to the world for a few days because I won't want to stop reading.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Despite the less-than-stellar "sequel" released last year and its potential damage to the characters I loved so well, To Kill a Mockingbird still ranks as one of my favorite books ever. It presents much of the South that I knew and even more of the South my parents and grandparents remember. It gave me heroes like Atticus, Scout, and Jem. It inspired a character in one of my books. Its themes of love and friendship and honor in the face of peer pressure will forever resonate with me.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I first loved the story of The Secret Garden when I watched the Hallmark film as a child. I would watch this one frequently, and the magic of the phrase "if there's a key, there must be a door" fired my imagination more than any other in that time. The earnestness of Mary and the balancing nature of her friendships with Dickon, Colin, and the rest made me long for secrets and revealings and places which were reflections of oneself.

The Complete English Poems of George Herbert

I first discovered George Herbert's poems in the literature survey classes I took pursuing my undergraduate degree. Herbert was something new to me: a man who wrote poetry at once both simple and deep, religious yet not maudlin, skillful and entertaining. He created stories and psalms within his words. He knew how to thrust the knife of conviction into his reader's heart and then spread the balm of grace over the wound. I thank God that his poems were not burned after his death as he wished but preserved for us to enjoy and be edified by for years to come.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard

Let me start by saying that Hamlet is not one of my favorite of Shakespeare's plays. It isn't as thrilling as Othello or Macbeth nor as readily heartfelt as King Lear, and it certainly has nothing like what A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest offer. But David Tennant's production of the play gave me a new appreciation for it, and when I came to Stoppard's deconstruction of the play I knew I was in for something different. I didn't quite love the play when I read it. It was good, it was clever, but I didn't quite have the full picture of it. It's this way with most plays for me; they're written to be performed, and I understand them best when they are. Fortunately, I was able to watch the film version, which Stoppard also wrote, shortly afterward. Things clicked into place. The play was phenomenal. I wanted to reread it again right away (it doesn't take long).

How about you? What are some of your favorite non-SFF books? Let me know in the comments!

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