Monday, October 2, 2017

Book review: Reading Between the Lines

Reading Between the Lines. Gene Edward Veith Jr. 1990. Crossway. 254 pages. [Source: Gift]

First sentence: Will reading become obsolete? Some people think that with the explosion of video technology, the age of the book is almost over. Television monitors, fed by cable networks and video recorders, dominate our culture today.

In the preface, Veith writes: "The capacity to read is a precious gift of God, and this book is designed to encourage people to use this gift to its fullest.

The first two chapters are perhaps the most important. Chapter one is "The Word and the Image: The Importance of Reading." Chapter two is "Vicarious Experience and Vicarious Sin: The Importance of Criticism." I think these two chapters would prove relevant and beneficial to anyone regardless of your background.

Veith then addresses "the forms" of literature. Chapter three is "Nonfiction: The Art of Truth-telling." Chapter four is "Fiction: The Art of Story-Telling." Chapter five is "Poetry: The Art of Singing."

He next turns to the "modes" of literature: tragedy and comedy (chapter six), realism (chapter seven), and fantasy (chapter eight).

The next three chapters tackle the "traditions" of literature. While earlier chapters are more general and broad--giving you tools to help you read--the focus narrows quite a bit in these last chapters. Veith examines various ages of literature: the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism.

The last chapter is probably the most outdated chapter in the entire book. It is "The Makers of Literature: Writers, Publishers, and Readers." In it he addresses many newfangled notions: Christian publishers publishing Christian books by Christian authors; the establishing of Christian bookstores selling Christian books; Christian publications tracking Christian bestsellers, reviewing Christian books, etc; and literary awards being given specifically for Christian books. Veith seems to have his doubts and questions about all of these new notions.

While Crossway published a new edition of this book with a NEW cover. None of the text has been updated. Veith does not address the internet, streaming entertainment like Netflix and Hulu, video games, online bookstores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, self-publishing, or E-BOOKS. I don't think Veith could have imagined all the happenings in the world from 1990 to 2017.

I think Veith loses a couple of points because he recommends Madeleine L'Engle as a great Christian author people should read. Her nonfiction is TERRIFYING. BAD theology cover to cover.

That being said, some of his statements are just as true as ever.
  • Reading the Bible tends to lead to reading other books, and thus to some important habits of mind. (17) Gene Edward Veith Jr.
  • Universal literacy, taken for granted today, was a direct result of the Reformation's reemphasis upon the centrality of Bible reading, not only for theologians but for the spiritual life of every Christian. (19) Veith
  • Great works of literature may not always articulate an explicitly Christian worldview, but they will still usually be worth reading for their intrinsic merit and will often give unwitting testimony to God's sovereignty over all of life. (28) Veith
  • Those of us who know God are freed to enjoy literature on its own terms, without requiring it to be either overly serious or overly trivial. (29) Veith
  • Reading provides mental training for empathizing with real people. (31) Veith
  • Writing makes thoughts permanent. (149) Veith
  • Literature ushers us into the minds of its authors and into the heartbeat of their age. (149) Veith
  • Literature can function as a time machine whereby we leave our own day to enter other ages. (149) Veith

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