These are copies of a few of more than 650 reviews by Gord Wilson on Amazon.com.
To see more Amazon reviews, click here: More Book Reviews
See these books at A Reading Dog in the Living Dog Store.
See these DVDs in the Classics Store
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Minority Report by Gord Wilson, August 31, 2014.
More than 1,000 reviewers on Amazon have praised this book to the sky, as well as Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput in the journal First Things.
I merely note a few salient points.
First, it's tremendously difficult to write a biography. What to include, what to leave out? What's the angle? Write in the first person? Omniscient (see and know everything going on) narrator? Or write it like a novel?
Second, not knowing Metaxas, I'd say he must know German and wonder if he translated the Bonhoeffer passages himself. Some of the English comes off as clunky and hard to understand, but people often say that of Bonhoeffer.
Third, the use of various versions of the Bible for quotes puzzles me. The NKJV (owned by the publisher), and the NIV often do not make the text clear. A few times he uses the RSV, which is a clear and readable translation, or the ESV, which is actually based on the RSV.
Fourth, of the most interesting, but not generally known facts revealed is this one: that many Jews were members of the German Evangelical/ Lutheran Church, and some were pastors, so the artificial division Hitler and others desired to make between Jews and so-called Aryans was once again shown to be invalid. The Vatican early on signed a concordat with Hitler, which it did with all nations, attempting to assure religious freedom in the new government. At this time, Hitler was thought to be the good guy and his underlings the problem. The German Protestant Church was nearly entirely pro-Hitler and signed a loyalty oath to him. He was also courted by Chamberlain in England, and the budding ecumenical movement worldwide. The largest liberal Protestant church, Riverside Church in New York, built by John D. Rockefeller for Harry Emerson Fosdick, favored appeasement of Hitler at this early date.
Fifth, the only anti-Hitler force in England was Churchill. When the Aryan anti-Jewish laws were instituted, Bonhoeffer and others formed the "Confessing Church" and tried to get other German pastors and clergy to resist as well. At the same time, the puppet leaders of the "German Christians" as they were known, made overtures to the ecumenical movement and fought Bonhoeffer. Hitler declared himself the Fuhrer ("Leader"), taking over more and more German institutions. But propaganda was carefully handled so that few outside Germany would know the fate of Poles, Czechs, Jews, and others until the war's end.
Sixth, and this is not in the book, the only persistent voice against Hitler was Chesterton. He blamed Chamberlain's failure to stand up against Hitler on the influence of pacifist Quakers in England. In America, future president John F. Kennedy wrote a book showing England could not win unless America entered the war.
Seventh, when visiting America, Bonhoeffer was shocked by both racism there and prohibition. Visiting Italy, he found the various races together at Catholic Mass "ideal". When Churchill refused to recognize the German resistance, the pope agreed to to so, and promised to help rebuild the post-Hitler Germany. Everyone thought Hitler would be toppled any day.
Eighth, the "Church of Luther" was in turmoil because Hitler had unearthed and published Luther's last anti-Jewish ravings. Originally, Luther had tried to help Jews in Germany, but then later turned against them. Most Germans didn't know about these writings, which caused confusion. To his credit, Metaxas handles this well (pp. 91-94 in the 2010 paperback edition).
Ninth, although Luther had attempted to destroy the monasteries in Germany, somehow one still existed in Bonhoeffer's time. He was welcomed there, and followed the monks' regimen of daily Scripture reading and prayer, which he used for the basis of his own two seminaries, and followed for the rest of his life. For this he was denounced as "too Catholic".
Tenth, tightening Nazi control over all areas of life forced Germans between a rock and a hard place. The future Pope Benedict XVI, forced into the Hitler youth, was told to give his life for Hitler, to which he bravely replied, "I will give my life for Jesus Christ".
Eleventh, something barely touched on in the book is Hitler's defeat by Stalin. The blurb for this book calls Hitler the "greatest evil of the 20th Century", but Stalin is a close contender for that title. As no one knew the extent of the Nazi's crimes, at the time everyone also thought the USSR was a paradise on earth. Its true nature would not be exposed until Malcolm Muggeridge's accounts of forced collectivization, recounted in his autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time, and Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago.
Twelfth, Nazi propagandists continued to work after the fall of Hitler. One of their big successes was a play and subsequent book, "Hitler's Pope", attempting to shift blame onto the pope. When the play opened in France, audiences rioted, knowing the accusation was fault. In reality, the pope had given orders for all the priests in Italy to hide Jews, but as with Bonhoeffer, it had to be done in secret due to reprisals from the Nazis against the Jews. The true story is told in The Myth of Hitler's Pope, and Salvation is From the Jews. Einstein is one of those who thanked the pope after the war for saving the Jews.
Thirteenth, Bonhoeffer is one of three people I know who tried to live the Sermon on the Mount. Another is Gandhi, who based his non-violence on the words of Jesus. The third is Eric Liddell, the Scottish pastor featured in the film, Chariots of Fire.
A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle
Finally L'Engle Comes to the Screen by Gord Wilson. November 18, 2002
Lloyd in Space. Kim Possible. Except for a few cartoons, I veer between Cartoon Network and Nick, not stopping at the Disney Channel. A big exception, though, was A Ring of Endless Light, a recent Disney Channel TV movie. Given that the books are always better, in my opinion, this film compares favorably with the book. It's enjoyable to see the dolphin sequences "come to life," as it were, after their vivid portrayl in the story.
Like many readers, I came to L'Engle through the "increasingly inaccurately titled" Time Trilogy (now up to five books). I was amazed at how her story-telling skill transferred effortlessly from the O'Keefes to the Austins, even without tesseracts, Proginoskes and kything.
Having said that, I think that L'Engle is one of the most
delightful authors to read. Her writing is deceptively simple, but
something new subtley draws you in. Somehow she also seems to
adolescence. She doesn't write down to teens or fob off some contrived
formula (as a great many recent films seem to do); maybe her inner teen
is writing these books. I'm likely not the only one who'd like to see
L'Engle's books get the Harry Potter treatment on the big screen, but
this Disney Channel movie is certainly a good start.
Half Magic by Edward Eager
Better By Half by Gord Wilson. October 18, 2002
So this is what Dr. Eager did in his spare time. If Half Magic is indicative of his bedside manner, he must have been a very good doctor indeed. For this is one of those sleepy time read-in-bed books like the Chronicles of Narnia, that gently draw you into their fantastic world at that drowsy time when good things seem so much more possible and you're about to drift off into the Land of Nod.
Half Magic is written in that wonderful, light, easy 'fifties style that gets so easily overlooked in favor of more extreme excitements. Later discovered, though, one simply wonders how writing could have ever been this good. A wonderfully understated example is shown in the genial attitude of the good samaritan stranger who helps out the young adventurers. He's first respectful of their mother,then falls more and more in love as the book goes on. This undercurrent is so subdued and tasteful that it's barely noticeable amid the magical misadventures until the conclusion of the book.
The Leave it to Beaver approach to problem solving is also
delighfully refreshing--the spells only half work; unlike the obvious
fantasy formulae in countless later books and movies, the magic leaves
plenty of room for human ingenuity and skill,as well as the need to
Eager's other great fantasy, Knight's Castle, also continues in this
vein, the hyjinks and hilarity deriving from,and always affirming,the
The Iron Giant: A Story in Five Nights by Ted Hughes
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful:
See the Movie; Read the Book; The Two Are Very Different by Gord Wilson.
October 4, 1999
Director Brad Bird's take on Ted Hughes' memorable 1968 tale, The Iron Giant, differs substantially from the story. So much so, that the book and the film may not have the same audience. Then again, those taken with the movie will likely want to explore the brief (80 page) book. This recent paperback edition features a beautiful cover drawn from the Warner Bros. movie, although the story is Hughes' original. Priced far below the lavish library volumes, this edition may be the best of both worlds, providing a look at the film's inspiration for the Iron Giant's many curious fans.
The Ball and the Cross by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Faster, Higher, Cooler by Gord Wilson. October 24, 2002
So many people wrote great reviews of GKC's best-known books here that I'll concentrate on this one. It happens to be my favorite novel by him, but I was quite surprised that this nearly unknown book would be so good. My suggestion is don't read Martin Gardner's foreword first--read it as a backword, after the book, and then see if you agree.
Chesterton later wrote a little poem about how he didn't like this book, and how it didn't make any sense, but I found it to be the clearest thing I've ever read, and it has forever instilled lucid pictures in my brain. It starts with a scene that seems to be some sort of dizzying science-fiction story from Victorian England--sort of like something Jules Verne would write if he suddenly became a better writer.
That's not the only unforgettable visual image in this book, which is pieced together like so many cliff-hanger serials. Someone else will likely write about all the debates over points of view implicit in the title and fiercely held by the characters, but what attracts me is the excitement of a widly heroic life (which both characters live). GK shows, of course, that it's found in the romance of orthodoxy, but by the time the book winds up, he has me panting like a thirsty horse to find those cooling streams.
Another novel that does this is Manalive!, which a friend of mine said is her second favorite book, next to C.S.Lewis' Perelandra. Manalive! is very light, but it just flies, and opens with the most intriguing first page I've ever read. Both these stories, although written in different ways, seem modern or even post-modern. They seem like they were translated into modern English from another language, even though they both date from the early 20th Century.
Recently, I had the chance to see the world premiere of a play of The Man Who Was Thursday, which put these three novels into perspective for me. Chesterton wrote at a time when anarchist dynamiters --the terrorists of their day--were causing havoc about London. Many social conditions were chaotic and in the world of ideas, things were up for grabs.
Chesterton did not have an easy conversion, nor did he come by his views without a hard-won struggle. In this sense, he didn't arrive at the "right" answer by working a puzzle or stumbling on the secret to life, but like his story about a man who walked around the world, came back with a new perspective, able to see things in a new way for the first time. Although I did come to embrace his romantic orthodoxy, I don't think his big gift is in convincing us of the wisdom of the Creed, but rather in opening our eyes to the wonder around us.
Fourth Mansions by R.A.Lafferty
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Fourth Mansions reveals Lafferty at the top of his form. by Gord Wilson. September 28, 1999
One of the quirkiest science fiction novels ever written, Fourth Mansions reveals Lafferty's story-telling prowess in novel-length form. This is the timeless tale of reporter Freddy Foley, in a way a strange sort of Everyman, on the trail of things that ought not to be known. And they will not be known if a shadowy group called the Returnees have their way. Foley's misadventures lead him to a tangled web of bored suburbanites who concoct a mindweave to snare unsupecting souls. When the weave takes on a life of its own, demanding ever bloodier sacrifice, Foley is drawn toward a meeting with destiny that will take him into the secret world of the Returnees. Along with Past Master, Arrive at Easterwine, and Annals of Klepsis, I rate this book among Lafferty's best, and reread it often to remind myself that no matter how odd the world gets, it doesn't get odder than Lafferty.
Annals of Klepsis by R.A.Lafferty
A Ripping Sci-Fi Yarn by Gord Wilson. October 19, 2002
Annals of Klepsis is one of Lafferty's most satisfying books, but differs quite a bit from his better-known works. It's not a profound, brain-frying novel like Fourth Mansions, but it's not as airily light as The Reefs of Earth. It doesn't bog down like his most unreadable books--number one being Apocalypses, or stall in spots like The Devil is Dead. It doesn't crumble under the weight of some big idea, as do some of the short stories. It differs from obvious horror books in not relying on shock value,and from obvious sci-fi in not relying on neat plot tie-ups.
It's Lafferty's most visual book, which is to say it conjures up unforgettable pictures. I wish this had been the beginning of a trilogy, because the book drops off right when it gets going. Some of Lafferty's books end up in a very satisfying way, like Fourth Mansions, or Past Master. This book opens up at the climax more than it ends. Like the Star Wars films, you wait for the next one--only there aren't any more.
The idea of this book, of pirates who leap through space to plunder worlds, is strong and substantial, and the lightly comic tone seems made for movies or video games or some larger realm than just one book. Maybe some other writer can take up with Lafferty's characters and worlds, as with the novels based on Isaac Asimov's robots--with, of course, a suitable deal cut with Lafferty's estate. It's odd that Lafferty is such an untapped source, because he's simply a better writer than most of those behind films and TV today.
This is an easy going science fiction yarn that you don't have to be a Lafferterian to devour. But it's better than some of the Keith Laumer and even Phillip Dick I've read, even though those were all pretty good. Lafferty's strong suite is story; but he also evokes some very visual settings; I can't watch Disney's Treasure Planet--Treasure Island in space--without wishing it were Annals of Klepsis.
French Leave by P.G.Wodehouse
The Wodehouse magic spans continents in a delightful farce. by Gord Wilson.
September 27, 1999
I came upon PGW in no systematic way, and my favorites by him may be those most easily accessible: Jeeves and Wooster, the Drones Club, the golf stories, the Mr. Mulliner tales. Taking the occasional chance to read more widely in Wodehouse, however, I came across French Leave, which is delightful in every sense and repays even more than better known Wodehouse fare in becoming more tangled, involving more cultures and sensibilities, and painting a very special picture of young love. French Leave could easily be a Doris Day movie, painting, as it does a visual travelogue in which its actresses' high spirits and light comedy can have free reign, with the unerring touch of the master.
Jeeves and Wooster: The Complete First Season DVD
From the Books to the Screen February 11, 2000
Readers who have seen my Amazon review of PGW's French Leave know I am an incurable fan of the Master. Here I will merely make some notes on the DVDs of the Jeeves and Wooster series, since other readers have already reviewed them so well. Since the TV episodes do not have titles, the shows appeared on video under various names, which made for mix-ups, and you could easily have bought the same show twice. This was particularly the case in the transition from the Masterpiece Theatre/PBS editions to the A&E sets. To make matters worse, A&E also retitled the sets variously, so you never knew what you were buying.
The DVDs are at least grouped by seasons. In the first season on VHS, the five shows,"Jeeves Arrival," "Golf Tournament," The Gambling Event," "Hunger Strike" and "The Matchmaker," also appeared as: "Jeeves Takes Charge," "The Purity of the Turf," "Tuppy and the Terrier," "The Hunger Strike," and "Brinkley Manor." The A&E boxed VHS set is called "The Very First Jeeves and Wooster."
The Second Season in VHS consisted of "Jeeves Saves the Cow Creamer," "A Plan for Gussie," "Pearls Mean Tears," "Kidnapped," and "Jeeves the Matchmaker." The Third Season on VHS was called "More Jeeves and Wooster," and included "Bertie Sets Sail," "The Full House," Introduction on Broadway," "Hot Off the Press," "Comrade Bingo," and "Right Ho Jeeves." Fourth Season titles are: "Return to New York," "The Once and Future Ex," "Bridegroom Wanted," The Delayed Arrival," "Trouble at Totleigh Towers," and "The Ties That Bind."
I find the first three seasons eminently watchable, although they go slowly downhill from the excellent first season on. The fourth season departs too far from PGW's style to please longtime Wodehousians, but some viewers unfamiliar with Plum's books might like the faster pace better.
This retitling problem occurs with P.G.Wodehouse's books also, since the American editions were often renamed from the British versions, different short story collections were variously titled, etc. etc. In his book, P.G.Wodehouse, in the Thames and Hudson Literary Lives series, Joseph Connolly gives a listing of duplicate books with different titles. I also have a review of that book in the PGW section on Amazon.com for any interested readers.
The Cliff Richard Collection (The Young Ones/ Summer Holiday/ Wonderful Life DVD
Sir Cliff's a Hard Day's Knight by Gord Wilson. October 21, 2002
Since Britain's VCRs ran on a different format than America's, we on this side of the pond missed the British teen musicals when they came out on video, even though they preceeded the stateside Beach Party Bingos. The Young Ones is nothing short of great, and this set has the added bonus of introducing two more musicals. Cliff's got an easy, unaffected style like Ricky Nelson, while the Shadows seem to preshadow the Monkees.
The Young Ones invents music video, with antics predating the Beatles' Help. It takes place in the Carnaby Street environs currently popularized in Austin Powers. It influenced American beach movies and inspired the East Berlin teen musical, "The Loveable Mouse." Summer Holiday makes reference to the Mods and Rockers and the conflict that would explode the next year, so graphically portrayed in the Who's Quadrophenia. These films help fill in for us stateside bits of British culture with which we are only slightly familiar. That said, The Young Ones is enormously entertaining, with the sort of innocent 'sixties appeal of the original Bye Bye Birdie--another teen musical about a maverick musician.
I'm glad Cliff's albums are being rereleased on CD, because apart from the few that came out on Elton John's Rocket label, his records were generally not available here. I don't know how many films he did, but I hope they all find their way on to DVD as well. I find Cliff's musicals more enjoyable to watch than either Elvis Presley's films or the teen beach movies. It seems surprising that they were never widely shown in the US, but I am delighted to have found the DVD set of The Cliff Richard Collection.
Iron Giant: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
'Fifties pop hits provide space-age setting for Iron Giant by Gord Wilson.
September 27, 1999
Producer Brad Bird's vision for The Iron Giant is as far away from traditional Disney animation as possible, even to the musical rendering of the sountrack. There are no number one hits here; the only addition to Michael Kamen's few original symphonic pieces are pop singles from 1958-1962, some with space-age themes, which in the film provide the Sputnik-era setting for the Iron Giant. In this sense this Rhino CD is a true soundtrack, capturing both the essence of the film and the feel of the era when it takes place.
Off! Rockets, Robots, Ray Guns, and Rarities from the Golden Age
of Space Toys by Mark Young, et al.
This Book Has it All by Gord Wilson. October 19, 2002
Blast Off! does what other collector's books only pretend to do. Collector books usually center around value guides, and pass themselves off as glorified shopping lists for toy shows and antique malls. Other books forego any knowledge of the subject whatsoever, and go with photographic essays of the nostalgia craze. A third sort of book tells long stories about growing up in some bygone era. All three sorts of books have, understandably a small readership and limited popular appeal.
The authors of Blast Off!, on the other hand, did the hard work of writing a real book, somehow combining it with the best photos and graphics I've seen in a collector's book, and sprinkling in enough anecdotes and oral histories to keep it interesting. This book is a major effort from an accomplished team: a knowledgeable collector, a lively writer, and an avid fan and history buff--the last being Mike Richardson, publisher of Dark Horse comics and owner of the Things from Another World sci-fi comic shops.
Blast Off! launches itself as an overview/ intro to the golden age of space toys, but its appeal is really wider than that. This is a book collectors will want, not simply to locate market values for haggling at the junk shop, but to remind them what they like about their hobby. Beautiful and imaginative graphics evoke the promise and wonder of the space age, but the book is so lively and informative I had to read it twice: once to read the captions and look at the pictures, and again just enjoying the text.
It's impossible to overstate how great this book is. The photographs are incredibly clear and bright, and the subject matter is drawn from endlessly rich collections. Books like this tend to fall through the cracks--not really appealing to the general reader, and yet not in-depth enough for the collector. But a reader from the first category who casually glances at this book may find a new interest, and seasoned collectors may find rarities they didn't know existed. Every era has volumes that define it; for the space age, that would be Blast Off!
Toys: 734 Tin and Celluloid Amusements from Days Gone By by
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Kitahara Grabbag is Visual Feast by Gord Wilson. February 6, 2002
As an introduction to Teruhisa Kitahara's magnificent toy collection, this book is lavish and enchanting. The large-sized, hardback coffee table book edition consists almost entirely of gorgeous, color photographs of toys from the past, which are visually interesting and require little comment. What comment there is, however, is sometimes wrong. That's not a big downside, because toy hobbyists don't read Kitahara so much to learn about their hobby, as to gaze at the wonderful treasures in his collection.
This book is compiled from three previous Kitahara books covering, respectively, "dolls, clowns and animals"; "planes, trains, boats and cars";" and "robots, spaceships and monsters." Someone interested in one of those categories isn't necessarily interested in all three. I, for one, find myself mostly drawn to the third category of robots and spaceships.
Other visually lavish and not-too expensive books in that category include "Vintage Toys: Robots and Space Toys" by Bunte, Hallman and Mueller. "Marx Toys: Robots, Space, Comic, Disney and TV Characters" by Maxine Pinksy includes lots of old robots because many of them were imported through Marx or its subsidiaries. "Baby Boomer Toys and Collectibles" by Carol Turpen is also fascinating in this regard. One recent book I very much like is "Space Toys of the '60s," by James Gillam, which concentrates exclusively on three toy lines: Zeroid robots from Ideal, Mattel's Major Matt Mason, and Colorforms' Outer Space Men. Along with many color and black and white photos, this inexpensive oversize paperback provides a fascinating history and personal discussion of these toy lines.
"Toys of the 'Sixties" by Bill Bruegman is slighty harder to find, but this large paperback by the editor of "Toy Scouts" is filled with fascinating behind-the-scenes stories from the history of toys, and chock-full of black and white drawings and pictures. Finally, "Boy's Toys of the Fifties and Sixties" and its companion volume, "Girl's Toys..." is a fascinating collection of actual pages from the Sears Christmas Wishbooks from 1950-1969 (something everyone wishes they had kept). Those enchanted by the visual feast of Kitahara's book might want to peruse further in some of these other inexpensive volumes.
P.G. Wodehouse (reprint with revisions) by Joseph Connolly
3 of 3 people 3 out of 3 people found the following review helpful:
New Fans and Old Hands Will Both Take To This PGW Intro. by Gord Wilson.
October 3, 1999
Those new to PGW can find the going tough; you literally can't see the forest for the trees (well not literally). This brief (159 page)oversize intro in the Thames and Hudson Literary Lives series is drenched in beautiful b&w illustrations and peppered with lively prose. The best part, though, is the brief bibliography, which enables one to wade through the various editions and cross reference English and American titles, so you don't buy the same book under two different names. Rather than bog down his biography, Connolly has kept just the good bits in this once over lightly tour of PGW's life and letters, which surely numbers among the best of the books on PGW.
| The New Testament by Richmond
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Smell the Ink in Your Nostrils by Gord Wilson. November 18, 2002
Lattimore's translation of the N.T. seems so new it's like it just came off the presses. It's so fresh you can smell the ink in your nostrils. It's so vibrant you can easily forget it's the N.T. and then forget to put it down. It's so gripping that instead of dreading the daily dose of a couple of verses, you look forward to overloading on your next fix. At least I do, and that's after reading countless translations, studying all sorts of helpful guide books, and knowing the Sunday School stories front to back.
But Lattimore's translation is different. He's a Greek translator not a theologian, concerned not so much with making the text say something in English, as with letting it live. And stripped of adornment, the Word is pulse-pounding, heart-racing, blood-pumping alive. "Wait a minute," someone may say, "Are we talking about the Bible?" Yes, we are. But reading Lattimore's version, one sees why people think the story is so exciting.
The genius of this book is in what it leaves out. So not the stately King James. Nor the Not-so-New International Version. No chapter or verse numbers. The four Gospels sound like stories, and the letters of St. Paul read like letters. Lattimore's other genius is his uncanny ear; he often uses simpler words than other translations, but sometimes he chooses bigger ones. Some parts flow together connecting half-remembered tales into a larger narrative, but others are told at a breathless pace: "we did this, and then we did that and then this happened, and then some other thing occured." This is exactly how someone, face to face, would relay a story.
In the preface Lattimore modestly says, "I was struck by the natural ease with which Revelation turned itself into English." I am struck with how he turned it into great reading.
Being Catholic by Thomas Howard
Calling All Protestants! by Gord Wilson. October 20, 2002
Thomas Howard loves you! Thomas Howard is a great writer! This is Thomas Howard's best book! Despite being a prolific and engaging writer, Howard's books have only shown up willy nilly, here and there throughout the years. Students may have taken his classes at Gordon College or St. John's Seminary. He wrote an entertaining column in the New Oxford Review when that was still an Episcopalian journal. His biography, Christ the Tiger, and a beautifully written apologetics book, Chance or the Dance, went in and out of print in various editions. He gave seminars at the C.S.Lewis Institute held at Seattle Pacific University, and wrote a wonderful book on the novels of Charles Williams, published by Oxford University Press.
That doesn't exhaust where you may have come across Thomas Howard, but those are a few places I ran into him. He described himself once in the New Oxford Review as sitting on a cliff overlooking Rome, dangling his legs off the end, and wondering how long it would be until he jumped. As it turned out, not only Howard, but editor Dale Vree, and everyone else associated with that publication jumped--with the magazine shifting from lively Episcopalian discussions to lively Catholic ones. Eventually I followed Howard and another favorite writer, Malcom Muggeridge, and jumped off myself.
Fortunately, my sponsor gave me this book as a confirmation gift. I say fortunately, because Howard describes a worst-case church service of the sort I experienced as a new convert in a new church. If not for this book, I would never have gone back, and never found the sort of joy and belonging that follows the awkwardness and discomfort of exploring something new.
I gave this book to an Evangelical friend (who did not also jump off the cliff), and he said it was one of the best books he had ever read, and that it makes you excited about your own church, whatever communion you are in. I think this is Howard's gift. A great many people try to live as believers apart from joining any church (at least I did). Howard simply points out the benefits of the latter course. I think the title of the book is unfortunate, as this is really a book for everyone. Curious Protestants may read it to find out what is going on in the puzzling world of the Catholics, but Catholics will be equally enlightened about the diverse practices of Protestants. Howard comes from an Evangelical missionary background, and he is deeply thankful for and respectful of that heritage.
Howard writes two sorts of books--light, breezy ones and
thoughtful ones with big vocabularies. Arguably, this book falls into
the latter camp, although it is so beautifully written and wonderfully
engaging that I'd suggest reading it with a dictionary rather than pass
up the pleasure. A Catholic friend of mine preferred his easier book,
If Your Mind Wanders at Mass, which covers some of the same ideas.
Enclyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music by Mark Allan Powell.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Gord Wilson. October 24, 2002
From the sleepy title, I expected "Amy Grant" to be the hardest rocking entry, but a majority of the 1900 plus artists profiled are justifiably termed "rock": Stryper? Sam Phillips? Mortal? Deliverance? P.O.D.? MXPX? Yup. They're all here. Powell's original title was much more telling: "Parallel Universe: A Critical Guide to Popular Christian Music."
Powell is nothing if not critical. "Opinionated" was the word the store clerk used. So are all the great rock writers; so are all the great rock books, and despite its encyclopedic format, this is a great rock book. Surprisingly, the author is Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary; not surprisingly, therefore, he argues with the theology in some songs. For instance, he doesn't agree with the idea of "the rapture" popularized by Hal Lindsey's book, The Late Great Planet Earth, and the "Left Behind" series, and prevalent in numerous Jesus Movement-era songs. Most significantly, he takes these artists and their music seriously. This gives the whole genre of gospel rock more signficance than it is often felt to warrant, and certainly more than the tag "ccm" suggests.
If rock rings true, it's because it's about real life. CCM, on the other hand, often sounds phony, stressing the ideal over the real, and marketing over the music. This has left many artists confused, angry and disenchanted. Powell deftly captures the undercurrent of alienation, and the love/hate relationships many artists have with their labels. He also graphs the rise of independent labels like Tooth'n'Nail, and the backlash against business-as-usual "corporate rock." The result is that many artists emerge as "survivors"--ground up and spit out of the music machine, but still standing; Powell's underlying conviction is that it doesn't have to be that way.
Accordingly, he doesn't sidestep the divorces and drugs, lies and lawsuits that attend real history; rather than tarnish these artists, the effect is to increase their street credibility: they emerge as real people instead of cardboard cutouts. By even greater magic of his pen, Powell makes us see all that out-of-print vinyl as a significant part of music history--far too important to relegate to the dustbin of "cookie-cutter" ccm.
Some of the short entries are too short, and many are incomplete, understandable given the mammoth scope of the project. Powell wisely chose to include brief entries when information was unavailable, rather than leave artists out. Some of the long pieces, however, are truly outstanding; the ten page Bob Dylan bio ranks among the best bits on that artist I have read. Again and again I looked up obscure artists I was sure would not be among those present: Larry Norman; After the Fire; Malcom and Alwyn; the Lead; Andy Pratt; Robin Lane; Cliff Richard--each time I was amazed to find that Powell had already been there and done that.
Amazon's price is far lower than retail, and Powell includes a searchable CD Rom disc and websites for bands to pump up the value, and at 1,088 pages, it's really more reading than three Harry Potter books. Professor Powell has done music fans a great service with this ground- breaking book, unearthing more than forty years of virtually unknown history--yet for all that, it's a very enjoyable read.