Saturday, June 09, 2012

Books read in the past six months

Once again, depression has restricted my activity, reading included.

1. The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, The Only Surviving Veteran of the Trenches 
Harry Patch has now passed on but left a fascinating memoir. It tells,as one would expect, of the horror of the trenches, but also that which is less well known, a social history of life in England in the first half of the last century. He served with a Lewis gun crew and the most remarkable thing in the book is that they has a pact not to shoot to kill the enemy unless their own lives were under threat. Three of his crew were killed and he was wounded by shrapnel which he had removed without anaesthetic. Hell on earth indeed.

2. The Autobiography Of Henry VIII by Margaret George
He lived only 55 years but no monarch changed our country so much and forever it seems. This is a long historical novel told by the voices of the king and his jester. It certainly tries to get into the mind of the monarch and this gives you a feel for the people and events. Henry is a pious Catholic who only breaks with Rome because of his obsession to bet a male heir who will bring stability to the kingdom. Never did God move in a more mysterious way to effect reformation of the church. I am not expert enough to judge the accuracy of the author's portrayal. The one place I do question her is the portrayal of Anne Boleyn as a witch in the eyes of her husband.

3. The Development of Islam in West Africa (Studies in African History) by Meryvn Hiskett
The late author lectured in England and Nigeria and was a world expert on this subject to which he gives a comprehensive introduction. He shares it seems the sympathetic British attitude to things Islamic, an attitude evidenced most of all in the years of colonial indirect rule, and an attitude not shred by the French colonial administrations. It is interesting to read how the Muslims facing colonial forces described their enemies as Christians, but when these enemies were victorious British troops, they prohibited Christian missions and by indirect rule established and unwittingly promoted the spread of Islam. The development of various Islamic groupings are described but even by the date of publication this seems to me to be lacking in describing for example Wahhabi influences.

4.  Apostolic Networks in Britain: New Ways of Being Church (Studies in Evangelical History & Thought) by William Kay
Though this is an academic survey of the development of charismatic Christianity in England, it is written by a sympathetic insider. It is a comprehensive history and analysis of different networks of charismatics so is most informative. It tells us what has happened among this growing section of the church but there is no attempt at any biblical theological critique. Nor is there any discussion as to why this manifestation of the faith is the fastest growing. It only deals with Protestant groupings in England.

5.  At Home: A short history of private life by Bill Bryson

Bryson is one of the best contemporary non-fiction authors and he does not disappoint here. He tours his old rectory home to tell us more than the history of private life. There is a lot of social history here, especially from the American founding fathers. This is a compendium of things historic that one never knew. It is fascinating and at times horrific. It proves that no-one except the ignorant would want to have rather lived in past times. If you need to be convinced read the account written by a woman enduring mastectomy without anaesthetic. This may not be Bryson the humorist but it is him as entertaining educator par excellence.

6. Icons of England , foreword

This glossy coffee table type book comes from The Campaign to Protect Rural England. So it is full of beautiful images of our countryside rather than many design or cultural icons. A fitting present for a friend from overseas.

7. A Way to Pray: A Biblical Method for Enriching Your Prayer Life and Language by Shaping Your Words with Scripture (Hardcover) by Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry is justly famous as a biblical commentator so I am surprised this excellent volume is not so well known. O Palmer Robinson deserves thanks for revising and modernising it. I consider this the most helpful aid to prayer I have ever read. It shows Henry's amazing knowledge of Scripture that he could take countless biblical texts and form them into prayers which are three to stimulate and aid the reader's praying. This is the one book I will have with my Bible to aid daily devotions.

8. QI: The Book of General Ignorance (The Noticeably Stouter Edition) (Paperback) by  John Lloyd and John Mitchinson 

I confess I have never watched QI and the comments from its panellists here I found inane or smutty so the book does not attract me to the programme. However the questions will delight pedants and those wanting to set quiz questions that will catch people out. It is a good read if you skip the inserted comments.

9.  Godly and Righteous, Peevish and Perverse: Clergy and Religious in Literature and Letters by Raymond Chapman

It may be appropriate to describe this as a curate's egg of literary excerpts. Some fascinate, others seem rather a bore. I think the selection is heavily biased to the established church. Puritans, non conformists and missionaries seem in short supply.

10. Sitting in my house dreaming of Nepal by Valerie Inchley

This is a study of Nepal through the eyes of its proverbs. It has taught me a new word, paroemiology, the study of proverbs. The author has spent her working life in Nepal and this is from a masters thesis. It gives proverbs in Nepali, translates into English, categorises and compares with English proverbs. It will prove a valuable resource for anyone going to Nepal to learn the language and gives much insight into the culture. The reader will also learn some English proverbs which will be new to them.

11. Magnificent Seven: Yorkshire's Champions of the Championship Years by Andrew Collomosse

Yorkshire were the county champions seven times between 1959 and 1969. I first saw them in 1962 at Harrogate. Don Wilson spun Glamorgan out. He tells his story like a Boys Own hero,coming to the attention of the county, aged 16, when with his sixth ball for Settle against a Yorkshire XI, he clean bowled Len Hutton. The county side of those years were lions under  the donkey chairman Brian Sellers. All those great players still alive recount their stories with only Boycott, ever the odd one declining to contribute. It is full of great cricketing tales from another era of the game now sadly gone. It really took me back to happy youthful memories.

12. Balti Britain: A Journey Through the British Asian Experience by Ziauddin Sardar

If you want the 'gift to gie us, to see ourselves as others see us' here the gift comes through the eyes and voice of a man born in Pakistan who grew up in London. He is a journalist who travels in England and Scotland recounting the experiences and diversity of South Asians in Britain. He is outspoken on the history of colonial India and how Indian immigration and influences are no new thing. He is good on the diversity of South Asian immigrant communities, especially the diversity of Muslims. This diverse Islam is in his view essentially benign. I think he is too kind when he says many (Muslim) puritans divide the world into the abode of Islam and the abode of infidels. Is that not Islamic orthodoxy?  He is a strong advocate of multiculturalism and gives a very good chapter advocating a kind of multiculturalism which is not wholly relativistic, one which I could never envisage in a Muslim dominated society

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