Arts & Culture

Books We Like: Tolkien Scheming with International Spies and Four Tips for Slogging through Shakespeare

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My list of books includes an autobiography, play, and a fiction story. I chose these three (my favorites) because they each have something powerful to say about the human reaction to tragedy and adversity.

These authors remind me that my perspective on life is woefully limited; the best books in life offer a viewpoint that transcends my own. These books entertain and leave an impression long after they’ve been put back on the shelf.

Toward The Gleam by T. M. Doran

Author ­­­­T.M. Doran uses J.R.R. Tolkien as the protagonist in a spy thriller that meets science fiction. A young philologist stumbles upon a manuscript which reveals the history of an ancient civilization that harbored the knowledge to achieve ultimate power over humanity (a nod to Middle Earth). The philologist finds himself facing every kind of foe, from sinister criminals to his own brokenness and lust for power.

For those of you who love Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, and many other literary figures of Tolkien’s day, you’ll enjoy seeing them brought to life in this fictionalized account of the writing of the Lord of the Rings. The overall message that the smallest and seemingly most insignificant people in our world can do tremendous things to serve humanity will shine through, making it an inspiring read.

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

In this book you will fall in love with a young couple as they fall in love with Christ. The auto-biography follows the young Sheldon and Davy as they fall head-over-heels in love and marry, then attend Oxford University.

In England, they become close friends with C. S. Lewis and convert to Christianity. The author has a wonderful tone saturated with literary references and amazing story-telling. He makes a heartbreakingly honest reflection of his doubt that plagued him when he became a Christian and again when he faces the death of his beloved Davy.

He includes several letters from C.S. Lewis that were previously unpublished (which is a huge bonus), but the author’s own story stands alone as worth reading. Vanauken skillfully articulates the intellectual climb he made to know God, which will certainly appeal to anyone who loves apologetics.

It’s the kind of story that makes you feel as if you really know the author and his wife, and leaves you desperately wanting to meet him for tea and to hear a lecture.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

I can hear the sigh of derision – This is such a boring pick. Hold on! When is the last time you read something other than a biography? (If you’re me, the answer is almost a year). If you’re having a hard time remembering, you should pick up a classic and give it a shot.

Over the last several years I’ve challenged myself to read the books I never found time to read when they were assigned to me in high school (how I pulled that off is still unclear). Shakespeare is a must for any classic reading list.

I have a particular love of Hamlet because it’s the first Shakespeare play I read on my own for fun. Hamlet is also iconic for several reasons, including the layers of mystery folded into the story.

Is Hamlet crazy or a genius? Is Queen Gertrude a guilty conspirator or innocent victim? Does Hamlet love Ophelia? If you can get a friend to read along with you, a lively debate on one of the subjects is likely to spring up between you!

In case you’re a little nervous about venturing into Shakespeare, these tips will get you through:

  1. Don’t put it down. You just have to slug through the first dozen pages and get used to that funky beat Shakespeare is known for. If you keep with it, your mind will adapt and suddenly the cadence and rhythm of the characters will seem second-nature (much like getting used to subtitles during a foreign film).
  1. Read a synopsis before you start. If it’s a work I’m completely unfamiliar with, I read a brief synopsis to keep everything straight. I avoid spoilers (what’s the fun in that?!), but getting to know main characters, plot points, and whether or not the play is a comedy comes in handy.
  1. Listen to a podcast. I actually found a collection of lectures from a professor who has spent more than 20 years teaching Shakespeare to college students. After reading the play, I listened to the lectures and gained incredible perspective.
  1. Read it more than once. I’ve reread Hamlet several times since I first dove in post-college, and I always finds something new in the text. The richness of Shakespeare is what makes it a classic; everyone can get something new and different from it. Reading it more than once will give you a deeper appreciation for the telling of the story, and it will make it easier for you to impress your friends with quotes.
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