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Posts from the ‘books & book reviews’ Category

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The Black Dog (10 years on) 8: SOME LITERARY COMPANIONS…

William Nicholson wrote Shadowlands, the play (which became the film) inspired by C.S.Lewis’s extraordinary testimony A Grief Observed. In it, he gave Lewis this lovely line, one he never actually uttered, but may as well have done.

We read to know we’re not alone

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Closing the gap: sitcoms, spin and suspicion

Paul Arnold, the coordinator of the Church and Media Network (MediaNet), kindly invited me to write a post this week to point to how Wilderness engages with media issues. So here is the result:

When Jeremy Paxman gave his MacTaggart lecture at the 2007 Edinburgh International Television Festival, he actually created his own headlines. After a spate of scandals at the time, he described how his employer, the BBC, had been left with “a catastrophic, collective loss of nerve,” with the bigger question of whether the corporation “itself has a future.” Those comments are even more relevant today, with many seeking to exploit its insecurity. The precariousness is indicated by the fact that big celebrity guns have been marshalled to speak out in its defence. Read more »

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Broadcast of my Wilderness of Mirrors interview on 100 Huntley St

While I was in the US for the publication of A Wilderness of Mirrors back in May, I was asked to make a mildly crazy detour to Toronto for an interview on 100 Huntley St, a daily Christian TV talk show. Having not really done this kind of thing before, and certainly not knowing what kind of constituency the show serves, I was rather nervous about it all. Read more »

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Double Whammy! Special GoodBookCo Deals on Wilderness and Humans!

Well, you work on one book for 5 years, and another one for 5 months, and whaddaya know – they appear on the same day! Well in the UK at least. Tim, the noble overlord of the Good Book Co had asked me to contribute to their little series, Questions Christians Ask a while back. But because a big annual conference in London had the issue of human nature as its main theme, the plan was to work on getting this out in time. Read more »

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Kim Philby & Jim Angleton and the genesis of A Wilderness of Mirrors

So here is the second of 3 promotional films for Wilderness of Mirrors (the first can be found here on the Kickstarter campaign – only a week to go for that remember!!). Read more »


Spurgeon’s Sorrows: a book I never realised I was desperate for

If you’re from a certain corner of the global harvest field that is the church, then Charles Haddon Spurgeon will be a familiar, if not revered, name. The ‘prince of preachers’ (as he was known) was perhaps the world’s first megapastor – but the wonderful thing about him was that it never went to his head, he wasn’t corrupt, he was a character of whom it could certainly be said that ‘what you see is what you get.’ A far cry, in other words, from the smooth-talking, chiseled and attractive megapastors of today. Read more »

Forecastle of the wreck of MFV Princess Elizabeth by Peter Southwood

Feeling out of your depth…?

Am in the middle of a book which was recommended to me by a friend I hardly see for reasons of which I have no knowledge! Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus – Life and Ministry as a Human Being.

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Maintaining a mixed diet of reading

I was recently speaking at the UCCF staff conference which was a real privilege and joy – and in one of the talks, I gave some tips on reading books, and a number asked for them to be reproduced (as they weren’t on the handout). So I will now oblige here (such is Q’s generosity of spirit). Read more »

Andy Lee: Desolate road

The Paradoxes of Loneliness from Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human

Depression isolates and introverts. It’s a brutally vicious circle. And so when one occasionally gets swept up by outbreaks of energy, they are often focused on desperately trying to make connections beyond oneself. It might be music; it might be a conversation with someone who gets it with minimal explanation; it might be words on a page. I love that line from Shadowlands, William Nicholson’s TV play (turned into a stage play and then feature film) about C. S. Lewis’s grief for his late wife Joy (though bear in mind that the film really misses a lot of the theological nuance of the play, inevitably):  Read more »


Deep (?but not stuck) in the frozen wastes of winter faith: Brueggemann on Beck on Freud & James

Q regulars will be aware that issues related to depression come up here from time to time. One or two have encouraged me to be a bit more open about such things and to pick up a few things that others might find helpful, or at least a resonance.

So here are a couple of extended quotations from Walter Brueggemann’s most recent book, Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks. These paragraphs jumped out at me from his middle section on the need for prophetic grief in the face of contemporary suffering, In this he echoes the mourning of Jeremiah and Lamentations in particular. Read more »


Transports of delight: 5 great Books about reading other Books

It wasn’t a plan particularly, but then that’s part of the joy of books – I never have a plan for what I’m going to sink my teeth into next. It is usually just a matter of wanting something different from the one before.

But a couple of books recently have done that self-referential thing: they’re books about books (a bit like U2’s recent self-referential album, I suppose). And it got me thinking about the other books I’ve loved that have done this. Read more »


Veiled irrelevance: a surprising point of connection?

As ever slow on the uptake, but I finally got round to reading Azar Nafisi’s beautifully written 2004 book, Reading Lolita in Tehran. It is a rich, highly thoughtful and thought-provoking memoir from an Iranian English literature professor about her life and students (in particular the small but diverse group of women in her reading group). She meditates deeply on her culture, on their favourite authors and their books, on the simple wonders of reading. She makes extraordinary, unexpected connections – which aid understanding of both the literature and life in Tehran.

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Faith under fire in Bethlehem: Mitri Raheb’s FAITH IN THE FACE OF EMPIRE

At last year’s launch of veteran travel writer Dervla Murphy’s remarkable book, A Month by the Sea – Encounters in Gaza, she made a simple but telling point. “The Palestinians’ predicament is that they are the victims’ victims”. Of course, in Faith in the Face of Empire, an equally remarkable book by a Palestinian Christian pastor, victimhood (despite its postmodern attractions) is a dangerous mantle. Read more »

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On Human Transience and Mortality: Clive James’ JAPANESE MAPLE

Have been playing catch up with a few New Yorker back issues in the last couple of days – like buses, you get none, and then suddenly several arrive in the post in a pile. So I was stopped in my tracks by Japanese Maple, a new poem by Clive James. He’s a remarkable writer and commentator – his is a sizzling combination of high intelligence, unsnobbish cultural magpie-ism (if that’s not a thing, it jolly well should be) and laugh-out-loud-wit.

But he now has terminal cancer. As a result he knows he’ll never make it back to his native Australia before he dies. (Here is an interview he gave back in 2013) He is confined to Cambridge and the UK. So here he writes of the tree planted by his daughter in their garden. Read more »

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Beware the conspiracy theorist’s ‘fact’: THE UMBRELLA MAN

This is superb and completely speaks for itself.

It subverts the natural, but risky, human desire to connect all the dots on the basis of a few curiosities and anomalies.

Errol Morris’ short film asks why it was that ‘The Umbrella Man watched the JFK motorcade in November 1963 with his umbrella up. Whenever someone is articulating a conspiracy theory like this one, it is always worth keep an ear out for ‘facts’ like this one… Read more »


Heartsongs from the Shepherd-King Poet: Psalms from King David’s life

Friday saw the end of our annual All Souls church week away, during which I was speaking on a series of psalms from David’s life. The result is now online on iTunes, for general amusement, delectation and/or edification. Read more »

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The Recovering Greenness of a Shrivelled Heart: Thoughts on Rachel Kelly’s Black Rainbow

Rachel Kelly is spot on: “But in the end, depression doesn’t follow rules: it is a devil that comes in many guises.” (Black Rainbow, p231) So there is a sense in which her experiences of depression (two highly debilitating and bewildering attacks and the subsequent need to manage it) will inevitably be unique. But her new Black Rainbow is remarkable: for it is no misery memoir but an act of generosity. In making herself vulnerable through talking so openly about facing and working through deeply personal pains, she has offered nothing less than a gift of grace. For in the midst of the bleak, black, barrenness of depression, she has found a path through. For those of us perhaps further back along the road, this is a germ of hope.

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back to spying… Charles Cumming’s A Colder War

It hardly needs saying, but spying did not stop with the collapse of Communism. But if spying continued, it naturally follows that so did betrayal. The haunting question provoked by every betrayal is, “Why?” Perhaps it was easier to understand during the Cold War. The globe’s ideological map was drawn all too clearly. However flawed the enemy might be, believing in their ideological stance always made it forgiving those flaws much easier. But what about today? Read more »


Help, please, with the Jesus conspiracy behind Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code

Work on my book on suspicion, spies, conspiracies and the like continues apace (hence minimal blog posting) – but I’m wondering if some of you can help me a little bit. I’m currently working on some of the conspiracy theories that float around Christianity and the church. Perhaps the most notorious is the one popularised by Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code. It’s been a while since reading it, but I wonder if any Dan Brown aficionados might check that I’ve done justice to the conspiracy that his heroes Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu expose. I’ve tried to summarise it as succinctly as possible, but if you can think of any aspects that I’ve overlooked, I would be hugely grateful if you could suggest them in the comments. Read more »

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie embark on their final journey

The Uncertainties of Contingency: What if Franz Ferdinand didn’t die in 1914?

I have stood at the very spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot by Gavrilo Princip 100 years ago. And the impossible “What If” question occurred to me even then. So when I noticed that eminent historian Ned Lebow had published an examination of the issue, I leapt at it. The assassination was such a fluke, so preventable, so absurd that the yearning for a different outcome of that moment is great. As he says at the start (having summarised some of the counterfactual options),

None of these what-ifs strains our understanding of the world because most royal processions do not stray from their intended routes, and most security details would have rushed the archduke and his wife to safety at the first signs of violence. In this instance, the so-called factual, not the counterfactual, is what strikes us as unrealistic and incredible. (p16) Read more »


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