Review: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a child I fell in love with the Norse myths through Roger Lancelyn Garden’s retellings. Many years Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors has released his own retellings. Obviously I was going to read it! I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting them after many years, and what better guide than Neil Gaiman. His love for these myths is clear and the gods come alive in his hands, especially Thor. Was fortunate enough to hear him at the book launch at the Festival Hall in London, and hearing him read Thor’s Wedding was a delight and helped hear this book in his voice as I read it, capturing the humour as I went. I still have questions about the myths that remain unanswered, but Gaiman’s task was not to add to the tales but simply retell them for a new generation following in the footsteps of the great Roger Lancelyn Green whose telling I and he grew up in.

View all my reviews

Review: Judas: The Biography of an Idea

Judas: The Biography of an Idea
Judas: The Biography of an Idea by Peter Stanford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating read, sifting through the Biblical references to try and gain a picture of Judas and then tracing through popular thought through the ages to see how this enigmatic figure had been seen in the public imagination. Whilst I have a more evangelical view of scripture than Stanford and so differ a little in my treatment of the Biblical texts, I was drawn into this work; for me too, Judas has long been a figure of intrigue. Stanford’s biography bright to my attention the sorry history of anti-Semitism that although I was aware of it, I hadn’t quite grasped it’s extent and the connection to portrayals of the disciple, Judas. Evil betrayer, innocent part in God’s plan, Satan’s agent or revolutionary whose plans backfire? Stanford’s picture is more nuanced than these simple clichĂ©s, and tinged in the epilogue with a surprising touch of grace.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated ManThe Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A collection of short stories by one of the masters of his genre. Most only a few pages long, all with intriguing concepts. There is inevitably a range of quality amongst them, and personally I’d have loved to have seen them tied to the opening motif of the tattooed man more, but despite this the book is satisfying. There are some standouts – I shall never view virtual reality in the same way again having read the story of the futuristic children’s playroom, and as a church minister found the story of hunting for Jesus from planet to planet fascinating. My favourite is the story of the mannequins – had heard this previously on the radio and was delighted to find it in these pages so I could read it again.

View all my reviews

Review: High-Rise

High-Rise
High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I kind of enjoyed this read, but not as much as I hoped. Its an interesting idea and Ballard successfully makes the High-Rise an ominous character looming over the story as a whole, much as the One Ring does in Tolkien (although as the introduction suggests, the darkness is not from the High-Rise, but is in humanity, only revealed and emancipated but the architecture). I think what spoilt it for me is having just read The Narrow Road to the Deep North. This also deals with the ‘fallen’ nature of humanity, our inherent potential for violence and cruelty etc. but in doing so adds a lot more nuance that Ballard’s characters who I felt quickly became two dimensional. In The Narrow Road there is resistance to this descent, glimmers of hope as well as wretchedness. Both books are born out of the war and concentration camps, hence no doubt the authors desire to explore the topic, but to my mine, The Narrow Road does it far more effectively and movingly than High-Rise.

View all my reviews

Review: Sharing the Word

Sharing the Word
Sharing the Word by Lucy Atkinson Rose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Currently in the process of writing a review of this for my DMin course, and so won’t write a full review just now, but I found this a thought-provoking read that got me thinking about the nature of my relationship with the wider community as a preacher and what preaching is actually there for – why do we preach? I think I have great sympathy for what Rose is trying to achieve here, and will certainly try out some of the ideas in practise.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Preaching as Testimony

Preaching as Testimony
Preaching as Testimony by Anna Carter Florence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picked up this book for my DMin research (Doctorate in Ministry) as I’m looking at doing a project based on encouraging people to share their stories about their experiences of God in their daily lives, ‘testimony’ if you like. The title seemed to support that. At some point I shall be writing a proper review of this, but for now suffice to say I found this a challenging and encouraging book both for myself as a preacher and for my thesis. In some ways it feels like three distinct books, a theological overview, a biographical survey of three female examples of testimony preachers, and then a section on ‘how to’. This is a deliberate move by the writer to echo the journey she went on in her thinking. Is that helpful? Hard to say. There were certainly sections I think I could have done without, and some spoke to more more than others, that said, the journey helped to earth the book and to make me ponder on how it reflects my own journey.
So what’s it about? It’s her presentation on an approach to preaching based not on explaining the text or proving the text, but living in the text and sharing what you encounter there – a confessional approach. This is what I encountered in the text and this is what that means for me in my life. This is a liberating approach, you don’t need to be a theological or Biblical expert to engage in it, and a challenging approach, if your encounter with God is shallow or absent, that will show up in your preaching, and if you avoid saying the hard things in that encounter, taking a risk in what you say, then you will be preaching a lie.
The practical notes at the end are fun, and I shall certainly be trying some of them.
One note that particularly hit me was her insistence on this not being primarily for preachers, but an encouragement for all people to ‘preach’ their experiences of God in the text and in their lives, but a recognition that for many this is a big step, therefore as preachers we have a duty to practise this in our preaching to help our congregations make that step.
More to follow when I’ve had time to deliberate further in the course of my studies, but I think this book has been a great place to start.

View all my reviews