Category Archives: Reviews

Is Fiction Inferior to Non-fiction?

Many of the people I meet at book tables explain to me that they only read non-fiction. The implication is that fiction is somehow inferior. Just give me the facts whether of history or engineering or finance—write it out for me in logical order.

Non-fiction writing has great value. I’ve written nine non-fiction books and many articles. But soon after my book, Revolutionary Forgiveness was published, a neighbour asked me a question. “Why don’t you write about forgiveness using the medium of a story with descriptions of characters dealing with bitterness and hurt?’

Good question. I still feel it is important to summarize biblical teaching on forgiveness [and other subjects] and give examples of those who have abandoned bitterness and resentment. But in some ways fictional characters and situations can illustrate more deeply the thoughts and feelings, the anguish and pain of unforgiveness. Fiction can also reflect powerfully on the subtleties of joy and peace that comes with forgiveness.Scan_20170327 (5)

Consider historical fiction. It is one thing to read the facts and figures of life and death, of battles and defeats that occurred in World War Two. But when we read, for example, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doer, the effects of the war on allies and enemies become stark. We feel the story. A French family with a blind daughter open up to us the anguish and fears that reverberate deep inside the psyches of an occupied people. In the same book, a German family gives us an agonizing glimpse into the pressures and fears that drove many to conform and even resort to unbelievable cruelty under the Reich.

Rust Bucket jpeg, 288 pixOr take slavery. We are told that there are an estimated 27 million slaves today; men, women and children being trafficked for sale to brothels, farms, and businesses. Telling the true story of one or two who escaped can put a face on this evil. However, fiction, written, as I have done in Captives of Minara and Rust Bucket, helps to illuminate both those who traffic and those who are kidnapped. We can gain a heightened a sense of the unbridled malevolence of its practitioners and agony of the victims.

What about indigenous affairs in North America? The Back of the Turtle or The Inconvenient
Indian
by Thomas King, or Susan Cooper’s The Ghost Hawk probably accomplish more in raising awareness and sympathy than a dozen government studies.

Think of geogrScan_20170327 (6)aphy. In Christy, by Catherine Marshall, we journey back in time to an earlier day in t
he Great Smoky Mountains. We might be able to read depictions of the flora and fauna, the slang of the people and their superstitions in non-fiction books but we would miss the living sense she gives of people and place. We would not feel ourselves walking with Christy among spring dogwoods.

Consider terrorism and Islam. We have myriad books written about Islam, pro and con, but without fiction books such as The ReScan_20170327 (4)luctant Fundamentalist, or The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahanjan, we will miss insights into the influences moving liberal Muslims to become militant as well as the anguish of those affected by their militancy.

But let me hammer in the final nail in the coffin of those who restrict their reading to non-fiction. Do you mean to tell me that the method of the greatest teacher of all time is defective? That is, should we discount the parables and stories Jesus told to teach us about how to act and believe? The parable of the good Samaritan. The Lost Sheep. The Rich Man and Lazarus. I doubt any would go that far. Jesus not only taught straight-forward principles—the sermon on the mount—but a multitude of stories. He was the penultimate story-teller. It is an honourable calling.

Give fiction a try…but be careful of your choices. Not all fiction is created equal.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright  Also check out his books on Amazon.)

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The Book That Made Your World

The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western CivilizationThe Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of his own Indian experience of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam along with his scholarly research and study of western secular humanism Mangalwadi demonstrates the historical effect the Bible has had on our world. This books should drop like a bomb in the middle of our complacent and arrogant so-called secular scholars. That it won’t is due more to their prejudice than reality. That it has been written by a non-western Asian is startling in itself.

Mangalwadi seeds his scholarship throughout by telling illustrations from his experiences in both India and the West. With voluminous quotations from an astounding array of scholars of every stripe, he establishes the democratizing, liberating, inspiring role of the Bible in the success of Western civilization and its spread throughout the world.

He traces the effect biblical knowledge has had on human’s rediscovering their humanity, becoming thinking, rational people who were given to invent things–the rise of technology. He shows the effect it has had on freeing women, marriage, banning slavery, etc.

He ponders how the abosolutely unique character of Christ,an apparently defeated hero, supercedes the mythiccall heros of the ancient world to remake civilization in miniscule amounts into his own image. Christians, believers in the dignity of man and in morality, became the revolutionaries that really changed individual societies and ultimately vast segments of the world.

He shows how the Bible inspired language codification, translation and great literature; how it led to the founding of universities and was the inspiration for genuine science.

He establishes the role it played in rooting morality at the foundations of just societies, without which corruption becomes epidemic. Which societies are the least corrupt? Those founded on Protestant principles.

He traces the effect Bible believers have had on exalting the family; inspiring compassion through a host of insitutions including hospitals, leprosariums, and orphanages; creating wealth and innovation.

Perhaps, most important, he shows the effect it has had on producing human liberty. He gives case studies along the way to demonstrate the transforming effect the Bible has had even on societies as disturbed as those who were headhunters.

This is not a book to read in a week or even month, at least in my mind. It is a book to read in small batches that inspire thought. Every thinking person, especially secular humanists and post-modernists who are leading us deeper and deeper into despair, need to read this book. Highly recommended.

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The Shoemaker’s Wife

The Shoemaker's WifeThe Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Shoemaker’s Daughter, is a lush portrayal of Northern Italy and immigration to Minnesota, the Iron country—between the very early 1900’s and the Second World War. It is a story of two families, of love and loss and immigration and struggles against all odds to succeed. And we learn that the story reflects many experiences and characters from the author’s own life.

Throughout the story we glean wonderful insights into Italian food, family, relationship to the Church, and to the flora and fauna of the Alps. The same can be said when the story moves to New York and Minnesota. Added to this the Italian love of music and art. The Great Caruso makes cameo appearances. And this, an abundance of description, is the only quality that I find over the top.

Ciro and his brother are left by their grieving mother into the care of nuns in a high Italian Alpine village. The father has disappeared after immigrating to America to care for his family…we learn he died in a mining accident. The mother’s grief incapacitates her. In spite of their abandonment by their mother both boys thrive in the warm, caring atmosphere of the nuns until Ciro has to flee to America to escape the anger of their parish priest.

On a memorable occasion he kissed a girl, Enza, after helping her with the burial of her much loved sister. Enza comes from a very close and loving family, but when they lose their house and their livelihood from running a carriage up and down the mountain, Enza and her father must emigrate to America.

She goes to New York whereas he goes to Minnesota to be apprenticed to a shoemaker. How they meet after the passage of years creates a touching love story. 4 of 5.

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The Failure of Zen

Zen and Now: on the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceZen and Now: on the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Mark Richardson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Richardson, editor of the Wheels section of the Toronto Star, sets out to follow the route Robert Pirsig and his 11 year old son took from Minneapolis to San Francisco.

Pirsig’s original, “Zen and the Art of motorcyle Maintenance” was a best seller that established a cult following. The book early impressed Richardson, who now, after re-reading it investigates what happened to Pirsig then sets out to retrace his steps on his own old Suzuki dirt bike. This new book was published on the 40th anniversary of Pirsig’s ride.

The narrative is interspersed with what he learned about Pirsig, events from Pirsig’s ride, the sad relationship with his son, Chris, and what happened to him as he followed the strange philosopher.

As a travelogue, I found it interesting. Richardson has an easy style that includes many observations of the people he met and the places he stayed. Richardson also includes many new facts about Pirsig’s family, his mental illness, the failure of his marriage, his strange relationships with the colleges where he taught and the tragic murder of his son, Chris.

Since I have run into anti-social types who lived on the border between genius and madness, the book intrigued me. Truly, Pirsig was a strange man whose Zen-influenced beliefs probably contributed to his wierdness. Looking at his life through the prism of practicality, one would have to say he was a failure in all his relationships. Is that what Zen teaches? Give me the teaching of the Nazarene any time.

In trying to explain the message of Pirsig’s book, Richardson summarizes it in a truism: if a job’s worth doing, it is worth doing well…includng the repair of a motorcylce. Pirsig lamented the deterioration of standards which have been strained by the pressure to mass produce stuff for our throw-away culture. Lack of time to do something well is a huge problem. We see the decline of craftsmanship, of expertise in repairs…gone because new items can be purchased cheap from China.

Pirsig felt that the comes down to “the scientific, which he called the Classical, and the artistic, which he also called the Romantic. These are opposites that we need, the light and the dark, the yin and the yang…we need proper balance.” I would comment that we need a balance between the technological, the work related, the time driven and the artistic, meditative, relaxing side of ourselves/our lives.

So Pirsig’s message is to slow down, “the real cycle you are working on is yourself. Attain peace of mind.”(p. 145) Pirsig continually searched for the right balance, and the enthronement of Quality. That he failed in every area, seems to me to show the failure of Zen and of those who pursue it. But his thoughts do point out the failure also of our western society to achieve balance and peace and relational harmony.
Zen, peace, quality, failure, insanity, travelogue

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