Friday, July 26, 2013

Recent books

I've had a rash of finishing books in the last week or so; here's the list:
Orthodoxy – (re-read, on Kindle) – G K Chesterton – 18.7.13
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce – 19.7.13
Into the Woods – John Yorke – 24.7.13
Being a Christian – Helmut Thielicke – 25.7.13
Leadership and Self-Deception (on Kindle)– Arbinger Institute – 26.7.13

As noted, I'd read Orthodoxy before, but basically I remembered almost nothing of it, so I guess it's several decades since I first worked my way through it.  It was nothing like I expected, except that being a book by Chesterton it was full of wonderful inventiveness, delightful arguments against godlessness, and marvellous debunking of people who were his contemporaries.  It makes you long for a 'Chesterton' for the 21st century.  Unfortunately, he was one of a kind.  I highlighted so much of the book on Kindle that Amazon couldn't cope and hasn't recorded many of the later ones.  At least my copy on the PC and the Kindle copy, and the iPad copy, all synched, show all of the highlightings.  I just can't access the unrecorded ones via ClippingsConverter, or Kindle online.

Here's just one longer example of Chesterton in full flight (and he's only just getting started at this point):

I do not see how this book can avoid being egotistical; and I do not quite see (to tell the truth) how it can avoid being dull. Dullness will, however, free me from the charge which I most lament; the charge of being flippant. Mere light sophistry is the thing that I happen to despise most of all things, and it is perhaps a wholesome fact that this is the thing of which I am generally accused. I know nothing so contemptible as a mere paradox; a mere ingenious defence of the indefensible. If it were true (as has been said) that Mr. Bernard Shaw lived upon paradox, then he ought to be a mere common millionaire; for a man of his mental activity could invent a sophistry every six minutes. It is as easy as lying; because it is lying. The truth is, of course, that Mr. Shaw is cruelly hampered by the fact that he cannot tell any lie unless he thinks it is the truth. I find myself under the same intolerable bondage. I never in my life said anything merely because I thought it funny; though, of course, I have had ordinary human vain-glory, and may have thought it funny because I had said it. It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn't. One searches for truth, but it may be that one pursues instinctively the more extraordinary truths.

And a much shorter one, what might be called a Chesterton one-liner:

Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.

I've already written about Rachel Joyce's book in another post, so I won't elaborate further on it here. 

Into the Woods, which is subtitled a five act journey into story, has a blurb on the back from scriptwriter, Jimmy McGovern, along the lines of 'when I first saw this book I thought, not another book on scriptwriting.'  McGovern goes on to commend the book however, and overall, I would too.  I think its great feature is using examples from movies and TV shows we've all seen, though some of them it overuses (Thelma and Louise, in particular), and there is some other repetition which felt as though he'd run out of pertinent examples.  Yorke is good at insisting that the underlying structure (or the purposeful attempt to go against that structure) of virtually all stories has been around as long as good stories have; it's almost something we can't avoid if we want to make a good story.  Of course it's often used badly, and unimaginatively, but the essential structure also makes its presence felt in the best movies, TV and books.  If that structure is missing, or if the writer doesn't appear to be aware of it, the creation, in general, fails. Certainly the viewer or reader is aware that something is not quite right with the work. Yorke offers some argument against his own thesis, but manages still to say that even those who rail against the structure tend to use it unconsciously, and lays out the way in which they've done so: Being John Malkovich, for example, turns out to be 'properly' structured, even though its creator Charlie Kaufman claims it's not!

I picked up Helmut Thielicke's book earlier this year and have been reading it a chapter at a time when so inclined.  I don't know that it's his best book, by any means, but as always with Thielicke there's some good stuff in it.

Leadership and Self-Deception is a bit of a phenomenon, apparently.  I was alerted to it by a colleague who said that it could be useful for reading in relation to the pastoral supervision work I do.  Seemingly it's used in big and small companies around the world as a way of helping staff to work together for 'results' and good relationships rather than destroying each other.  But I found it's also useful in terms of thinking about my own relationships with other people, and I've been particularly reflecting on a work relationship I had a few years back that seemed to sour when it shouldn't have.  It gets to grips with blame, and self-justification.

It's written as 'fiction' though what that actually means is that the theory behind the 'getting out of the box' thesis is written out in dialogue form with three or four fairly cardboard characters instead of being presented as straight non-fiction.  The narrator comes across reasonably well as a 'person', but those teaching him are a bit bland in terms of personality.  Nevertheless, the material itself is of value, and, if taken on board, would certainly be of help within a family or a firm. It boils down, in essence, to do unto others as you would wish to them do unto you, and it's perhaps not surprising, when you go and investigate who the Arbinger Institute actually is, that the man who initiated the ideas in the book and its subsequent self-perpetuating life, C. Terry Warner, is a Mormon. His books in general, though listed as self-help, come out of a stream that uses Christian underpinnings to show people how to live (without necessarily having to become Christians).  

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