Monday, May 29, 2017

Wishlist Reads: May 2017

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

I recently revisited one of my favorite authors: J.R.R. Tolkien. It'd been years since I read either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, but picking all four books this last week reminded of all the reasons I love the stories. On finishing the books, however, I found myself wanting more. I wasn't ready to jump back into my usual reading patterns and I found myself looking for more on Tolkien and the Inklings. Within a few minutes, the following list was born. Enjoy!

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The untold story of how the First World War shaped the lives, faith, and writings of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis

The First World War laid waste to a continent and permanently altered the political and religious landscape of the West. For a generation of men and women, it brought the end of innocence—and the end of faith. Yet for J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, the Great War deepened their spiritual quest. Both men served as soldiers on the Western Front, survived the trenches, and used the experience of that conflict to ignite their Christian imagination. Had there been no Great War, there would have been no Hobbit, no Lord of the Rings, no Narnia, and perhaps no conversion to Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

Unlike a generation of young writers who lost faith in the God of the Bible, Tolkien and Lewis produced epic stories infused with the themes of guilt and grace, sorrow and consolation. Giving an unabashedly Christian vision of hope in a world tortured by doubt and disillusionment, the two writers created works that changed the course of literature and shaped the faith of millions. This is the first book to explore their work in light of the spiritual crisis sparked by the conflict. 

A stirring group biography of the Inklings, the Oxford writing club featuring J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is the twentieth century’s most widely read Christian writer and J.R.R. Tolkien its most beloved mythmaker. For three decades, they and their closest associates formed a literary club known as the Inklings, which met weekly in Lewis’s Oxford rooms and in nearby pubs. They discussed literature, religion, and ideas; read aloud from works in progress; took philosophical rambles in woods and fields; gave one another companionship and criticism; and, in the process, rewrote the cultural history of modern times.

In The Fellowship, Philip and Carol Zaleski offer the first complete rendering of the Inklings’ lives and works. C. S. Lewis accepts Jesus Christ while riding in the sidecar of his brother's motorcycle, maps the medieval and Renaissance mind, becomes a world-famous evangelist and moral satirist, and creates new forms of religiously attuned fiction while wrestling with personal crises. J.R.R. Tolkien transmutes an invented mythology into gripping story in The Lord of the Rings, while conducting groundbreaking Old English scholarship and elucidating, for family and friends, the Catholic teachings at the heart of his vision. Owen Barfield, a philosopher for whom language is the key to all mysteries, becomes Lewis's favorite sparring partner, and, for a time, Saul Bellow's chosen guru. And Charles Williams, poet, author of "supernatural shockers," and strange acolyte of romantic love, turns his everyday life into a mystical pageant.

Romantics who scorned rebellion, fantasists who prized reality, wartime writers who believed in hope, Christians with cosmic reach, the Inklings sought to revitalize literature and faith in the twentieth century's darkest years--and did so in dazzling style.

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends were a regular feature of the Oxford scenery in the years during and after the Second World War. They drank beer on Tuesdays at the 'Bird and Baby', and on Thursday nights they met in Lewis' Magdalen College rooms to read aloud from the books they were writing; jokingly they called themselves 'The Inklings'.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien first introduced The Screwtape Letters and The Lord of the Rings to an audience in this company and Charles Williams, poet and writer of supernatural thrillers, was another prominent member of the group.

Humphrey Carpenter, who wrote the acclaimed biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, draws upon unpublished letters and diaries, to which he was given special access, in this engrossing story.

Clyde S. Kilby is rare among the best expositors of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their circle of friends in that he became personally acquainted not only with Lewis and Tolkien, but also Lewis’s brother Major Warren Lewis, Owen Barfield, Lord David Cecil, and others of the Inklings. He particularly captured the soul of C.S. Lewis in his lectures, articles and books, which guided his vision in creating and curating the prestigious Wade Collection at Wheaton College, Illinois. This delightful book makes available Dr. Kilby’s wide-ranging and inspiring take on Lewis, Tolkien and the affinities they shared with their circle, the Inklings, in their enchantment with profound thought vibrant with imaginative wonder which took them beyond “the walls of the world”. 

An inspiring look at the Inklings and their creative process

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings met each week to read and discuss each other's work-in-progress, offering both encouragement and blistering critique. How did these conversations shape the books they were writing? How does creative collaboration enhance individual talent? And what can we learn from their example?

Featuring original illustrations by James A. Owen, Bandersnatch offers an inside look at the Inklings of Oxford, and a seat at their table at the Eagle and Child pub. It shows how encouragement and criticism made all the difference in The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and dozens of other books written by the members of their circle. You'll learn what made these writers tick, and more: inspired by their example, you'll discover how collaboration can help your own creative process and lead to genius breakthroughs in whatever work you do.

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Stephanie at Layered Pages
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Glow by Megan E. Bryant

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 5, 2017

When thrift-store aficionado Julie discovers a series of antique paintings with hidden glowing images that are only visible in the dark, she wants to learn more about the artist. In her search, she uncovers a century-old romance and the haunting true story of the Radium Girls, young women who used radioactive paint to make the world's first glow-in-the-dark products—and ultimately became radioactive themselves. As Julie’s obsession with the paintings mounts, truths about the Radium Girls—and her own complicated relationships—are revealed. But will she uncover the truth about the luminous paintings before putting herself and everyone she loves at risk?

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*** NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Please take heed and proceed at your own risk. 

For those who are slightly confused by or don’t understand the references in the jacket design, Megan E. Bryant’s Glow is a young adult fiction that blends a modern storyline with the tragic history of the radium dial painters employed at the United States Radium factory in Orange, New Jersey.

Three of Bryant’s fictional characters – Liza, Lydia, and Charlotte Grayson – work at the factory and while I absolutely loved the level of detail worked into their experiences, I couldn’t help feeling the historic elements of Bryant’s book played second fiddle to the modern mystery. The author obviously did her homework with regard to working conditions and the effects of radiation sickness, but I found the novel as a whole poorly balanced and wished Bryant had spent more time with the Grayson sisters and less on Julie’s needlessly dramatic personal life.

Don’t get me wrong. I felt the link Bryant created between Julie and Grayson girls grotesquely imaginative, but the supplemental details of Julie’s life felt unnecessary. Luke, for example is a conveniently single chemistry student who falls for Julie the moment they meet. The romance is clichéd at best, but his role in the mystery at the heart of the book is blatantly obvious from the moment he’s introduced. Rounding out the trio is Lauren, Julie’s best friend and poorly contrived foil. Bryant seems to have created the character to emphasize Julie’s misfortune, but I personally felt the effort banal and trite. The only character that annoyed me more was Julie’s mother, but even I admit my frustration on that point relates to the open-ended and ambiguous nature of her role in the story. I can’t speak for everyone, but it is my opinion that her subplot could have been omitted entirely without detriment to the narrative.

Lingering questions regarding the plausibility of an art enthusiast’s ignorance of the history of glow-in-the-dark paint also bother me, especially when the character in question harbors a distinctly defined penchant for chemistry. Pardon the observation, but I couldn’t put stock in the premise Bryant presented and found myself increasingly irritated with Julie as the story progressed. I suppose it is possible that she’d lack a base knowledge when the story opened, but the fact that she conducts enough research to create her own formula from strontium nitrate and europium undermines her integrity as a basic internet search for luminescent paint reveals the effect itself is created through fluorescence, phosphorescence, or radioluminescence. Call me crazy, but that last point should have piqued some interest.

I’m an unapologetically picky reader, but let’s consider this reality against the context of the story. At this point, Julie has already broken into the factory in Orange, perused what remains of the work stations, and been unnerved by a sign proclaiming the site is contaminated by hazardous materials. I might be going out on a limb here, but shouldn’t someone smart enough to dissect the chemical compounds of luminescent paint recognize the obvious link? Not in Bryant’s universe, but let’s be real. The factory itself was torn down by the EPA in 1998, long before the development of the GPS system that led Julie to 482 Dover Street in the first place, which makes it impossible for Chapter 11 and the discovery of key character Charles Graham to have unfolded as depicted.

Long story short, I’d recommend Glow for its representation of the historic material, but I’d caution those who don’t appreciate young adult themes to proceed with caution. As for me, I can only hope that I fare better with Stout’s Radium Halos or Mullner’s Deadly Glow.

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I got out of bed and crept closer to the painting, which glowed with ghostly luminescence. Like a moth to the flame, I approached it without hesitation, my hand reached to touch, violating ever art museum's cardinal rule. 
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