This entry is about the books I read on my honeymoon.
Just wanted to start an entry Eric Yang style. So, I took four books with me to Tahiti. Five if you count the Tahiti Lonely Planet Guide: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, Where Do We Go From Here by Ralph Neighbor, and a newspaper.
The books were a study in contrasts. Let me start with the first two. So, I wanted to take one light book and one heavy book. For light I went with High Fidelity, because I'd only heard good things about it. And I liked the movie. SN. I like watching movies before reading the book. I've written about this before. But yeah, the books are always better than movies, so you get two times of enjoyment, instead of one time and one time of disappointment. And sometimes, watching the movie first makes you like the book even more, because it's like elaboration on something you already like.
For the heavy book, I chose American Pastoral. I'd been wanting to read Roth for a while just because everyone's so high on the guy, talking about him all the time, and he's so well regarded. I didn't know which one to get so I chose one that won a Pulitzer.
Their writing styles could not be more different. Hornby is whimsical, colloquial, and hilarious. Whereas every word in Roth's writing announces that his is a serious work. Not that that's bad. It's in fact quite good. It's just very different, in light of HF. And having read HF first, it was jarring.
I think if I were a writer I would want to write like Hornby. I'm not particularly well read but I know what I like, even if others think they're populist hacks. I like Stephen King. I like Garrison Keillor. I love the Sports Guy on ESPN.com. Love. SN. One of my friends thinks the Sports Guy writes exactly like me, which is odd, but flattering. It's actually the reverse though, and I pick up some of his writing tics in my own, like I do with everything.
But yeah, I think I like Hornby's writing best. It's funny enough to make you laugh out loud. It's believable, in the sense that the narrator writes like an everyday man. And it's believable in terms of characterization. And it's also kinda deep. That's basically the combination I wish I could have if I were a writer. Real, funny, and perceptive. I think I try for those things but Hornby succeeds.
Anyway, there's one thing that happens in the book that I really like: the character changes. You know, books often have these sections that almost aren't for plot at all, they're just intended to convey the opinions of the author. They're like author soliloquys. Like, Les Miserables has this with those super long digressions Hugo gets into. Grapes of Wrath also if I recall correctly. American Pastoral has it too, like that quote I put up on my short thoughts a while back. Just meant to directly impart the opinion of the author to the reader, and written as a truth. Dunno if this makes any sense.
Anyway, when the narrator is a character in the book, it's the narrator talking but really the author talking about what's true in life, if you know what I mean. Anyway, High Fidelity has this. Has the narrator giving these soliloquys which are actually pretty perceptive. The great thing is, he changes. And that's just kind of cool to me. I dunno if I'm making sense. But yeah, usually narrator soliloquys are usually just a disguise for author opinions so you read that and you think, ah, that's what the author thinks. When it changes on you, it's a pleasant surprise. I dunno if I'm making any sense; like I said, I'm not particularly well read so whatever.
Still reading American Pastoral, but it's pretty good. Still, at this point, I like High Fidelity more. Actually, it's more I want to be like Hornby more than I want to be like Roth.
So I read (er started to reread) Where Do We Go From Here after the newspaper and again, a study in contrasts. That's actually one of the weird things about marriage, when something that's forever been not exactly bad but forbidden is all of a sudden good, even part of something holy. But won't talk more about that.
So I've actually never made it all the way through WDWGFH. I get halfway and I'm so impressed by how true it is that I just stop, inspired. So when I say I reread it, I mean I reread the first half. And just like every other time, I didn't finish.
Where Do We Go From Here is a great book; not as good the second and third time, but still I think full of a lot of truth. It's obvious to me why John loves it. It's just like John - it takes something that's good or true and then pushes it to the extreme for no good reason. So it takes a little work to get through the bluster.
Should I give an example? Here's one for John, already recounted somewhere. So last road trip, we were in one hotel where there weren't enough pillows for everyone. So John, servant that he is, offers to go without, saying "I never sleep with a pillow." That's typical John. He takes something good - that he is willing to sacrifice - and takes it too far, in this case with a blatant lie that he never sleeps with a pillow. Gotta love John.
So yeah, Ralph Neighbor is like that. Here's one example. He makes a compelling (to me) point of why the traditional church building based model is inadequate for modern times. His idea is that the traditional church follows a rural model. Where population growth is slow and stable. In that case, this model, which is focused on the church building, makes sense.
His argument is that nowadays, especially outside the U.S., that won't work because of the way populations are exploding. It's not just that there are more people everywhere. It's also that urban populations are exploding. Not just in absolute terms - the percentage of people in the world living in cities in increasing dramatically. And he cites the appropriate U.N. statistics.
In light of this, he argues, the traditional church model that bases everything on the church building is inadequate. The church building is an inherent limitation on the growth of such a church, and it can't keep up with the rapid population growth in the cities. And to me, that's compelling. At the very least it's a reasonable idea, that the traditional church was good and appropriate in the rural American age, but it's not as effective now.
And then he pushes it. After making this point, later on he says how the cell church model is the only Biblical model, meaning, it's the best model now anywhere for anything and in fact there's no reason the traditional church should have ever existed. He doesn't say it quite so explicitly (although he might) but it's the natural implication of his writing. I dunno why he has to push a reasonable idea so far, but he does. The crazy thing is, I think he still might be right. But anyway.
Here's the realization I had this time around reading it, which I shared on the road trip. I think the biggest insight this book has is that what reaches people best isn't an event or a program. It's seeing Jesus alive in people. And people see that best in community, in small groups. That's why a small group focused structure is, in my opinion, the most ideal one for evangelism.
So I've said all this stuff in the past about what kind of church I want to be involved with (Asian American Cell Church Tabernacle). I'm dropping all of that, for just a single requirement - a church that has a strong focus on small groups for the purpose of evangelism. I really think that's the biggest thing I'm looking for. Pray for me.
So those were the books I read on my honeymoon.