Ty Johnston: life on the written page

Home to fantasy, horror and literary fiction author Ty Johnston

Monday, August 18, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 34 -- The Wind Through the Keyhole

by Stephen King

Started: August 17
Finished: August 18

Notes: There are three reasons I am reading this novel now: 1.) I am woefully behind on my King reading, and at one time I had read practically everything by the man; 2.) I am a fan of King's Dark Tower series and this book is a followup to that; 3.) I've been telling myself all year I will read more fantasy, but I keep getting distracted by other material, and while this isn't exactly straight fantasy, the Dark Tower series is King's own unique form of epic fantasy with elements of horror and even the occasional touch of sci-fi thrown in.

Mini review: It was very nice to venture back into the world of Roland Deschain, like visiting with old friends. One of the things I like about King's fantasy is that, for me, it brings a sense of wonder I see rarely in most fantasy literature nowadays. Some would find this book annoying as it is a story inside a story inside a story, not an unknown tact for King, but I've always felt King does this well, perhaps even better than any other author I've read, and I'm one who usually does not enjoy flashbacks or stories within stories. Is this King's best work? Probably not, but it's still pretty darn good, and it was nice to see fantasy literature with a sense of honor and gentleness about it.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 33 -- Blaze

by Richard Bachman

Started: August 14
Finished: August 16

Notes: Is there anyone who isn't aware Stephen King occasionally writes under the pen name of Richard Bachman? Either way, I'm way behind on my King reading, much of his work from the last decade, so I thought it time I got back on that wagon.

Mini review: Sort of a light crime novel (with shades of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men), this is not King's best work, but that's to be somewhat expected considering this is basically a "trunk" novel of his originally written back in 1973 while King was in his 20s. Still, this is a pretty solid book, and I believe the story's structure is quite strong as are the characters, which is almost always the case with King. The ending is a tad underwhelming, but again, that is often the case with King, and it is by no means the worst ending I've seen him give a tale. If one is a King fan, then this book needs to be read because it will provide some enjoyment, but this is not a book I would suggest to the casual King reader or to one coming fresh to the author for the first time.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 32 -- Blood Red Rings

by Rick Mofina

Started: August 14
Finished: August 14

Notes: This is another thriller author I've been meaning to look into for some time now. Beyond the writing, I've been wanting to check out this little e-book because it is apparently a short story plus a collection of first chapters from several of Mofina's novels. I'm not interested in putting out such a collection myself, but I'm interested in how it will be handled here.

Mini review: The short story, from which this e-book's title comes, is a damn fine piece of police fiction, bordering on horror. I can't quite say the tale is a favorite because I did figure out where the story was going, but the technique was superb over all. The other writings here show Mofina knows what he's doing, so I'll have to check out more of his material in the future.

Book read in 2014: No. 31 -- Water Walker: The Outlaw Chronicles, Episode 1

by Ted Dekker

Started: August 14
Finished: August 14

Notes: It's high time I got back into some fiction reading, and this author came highly praised by a friend, so here goes.

Mini review: Okay. Not great. Didn't suck. Just ... okay. Fairly straight forward thriller material with a hint or two of the supernatural. The author does a decent job with characters and motivations, but the action seemed a little slow, as if there was no real sense of urgency despite the tenseness of several situations here. Again, though, this wasn't awful, so I may have to check the writer out again at some point.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 30 -- A Portrait of Jackson County, Kentucky, 1858-2008

by The Jackson County Development Association

Started: August 12
Finished: August 13

Notes: After my father passed away a couple of months ago, I had to spend more than a little time in the area where he lived, McKee, Kentucky, which is the capital of Jackson County, Kentucky. My mother and father are from Jackson County, as are all my family going back as far as I am aware, and I've always considered Jackson County my second home, though I did not grow up there and never lived there, at least not longer than a week or so at a time. The region is considered "in the mountains," but they're not tolerably high mountains, more what I think of as overly-large hills, more like foothills into the Appalachians than actual mountains like you'd see further east in Kentucky and into West Virginia and western Virginia and even western North Carolina. It's a pretty region, and I like it there though it's a little too removed from the beaten path for me to likely ever consider moving there. Anyway, I've long wanted to know more about the history of the area, but there are not a lot of sources available to those living outside the region. As fate would have it, I walked into the town's phone company to settle up my dad's bill when I saw they had these books for sale. I picked one up and looked it over, and while it's not a hardcore history book, it more than suits my needs for background on the area, and it includes a number of photographs to add interest. It's time to step into the past.

Mini review: As might be expected, this is mostly a chamber-of-commerce-esque look at the economic and social history of Jackson County, but that's not a bad thing. This book provided some basics of which I had been unaware, and it was interesting to look at all the photos from the 19th and early 20the Centuries and to see how familiar places had looked different once upon a time. For more depth I will have to look elsewhere, but this was a nice start, brief and easy to read.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 29 -- How Jesus Became God

by Bart Ehrman

Started: August 5
Finished: August 12

Notes: I've read so much of Christian apologetics of late, I thought I'd give the other side a shot, so here I turn to the more skeptical. The author is a former Christian who has become an agnostic, and he is a Biblical scholar and history professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, by coincidence only about an hour from me.

Mini review: To call this book "skeptical" is somewhat of a disservice to the author because his approach here is strictly historical, not theological. He makes it plain he himself is no longer a believer, but for the most part I felt he approached his subject matter without becoming overly subjective. That doesn't mean I don't have some problems with his conclusions, but again, more from a historical than a theological approach. First off, he approaches the New Testament, specifically the Gospels, from a traditional historical/literary criticism point of view, one which I do not subscribe to. Why don't I subscribe to such views? Because, in my opinion, they are not based upon any sort of historical evidence. I'll give a most basic example. If one is even vaguely familiar with historical and literary criticism of the Gospels, especially the Synoptic Gospels and specifically the Book of Mark, one will be familiar with the "Q" document. The Q document are writings and perhaps some oral traditions that apparently existed between the death of Jesus and the earliest New Testament writings, mainly before the writing of Mark and perhaps even before Paul's letters. This Q document is supposed to have had a big influence upon Mark, but also Matthew and Luke, and if one studies the Q document closely enough, one can discover what the earliest Christians believed. The only problem is, there's no historical evidence whatsoever for the Q document. None. Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of historians, armchair and professional alike, who would argue with me, but I feel I can objectively say they are wrong. There are no Q writings that have survived, no archaeological evidence, not even a direct mention of these documents by church fathers. Historians have surmised the Q document (as well as a number of other documents) must have existed because they believe they can detect the Q documents presence within the Gospels by pursing the texts, by deciding what does or does not match the rest of what can be found within one particular book of the Gospels. I'm over-simplifying here, but to go into all this would take a book itself. Anyway, I can fully believe there were earlier Christian documents than Paul's letters (generally believed to be the earliest surviving Christian texts) and the Book of Mark (generally believed to have been the first Gospel written), and that there was an oral tradition telling stories of Jesus and the like, but what I cannot subscribe to is that historians can gather any real information on the Q document and similar texts or traditions. They can't. I'm sorry, but doing so is mere guesswork at best. Just because a group of history professors agree upon something, that doesn't mean it's true. It's speculation at best, but often enough all kinds of speculations, historical and theological, are based upon legendary documents when we have no real idea what was said within those documents. As a writer myself, I know that often enough people read all kinds of things into my writings, things that I did not intend, so I cannot imagine trying to pull any hidden substance by bisecting the work of another writer, especially one writing 2,000 years ago. The few exceptions to this would be someone like James Joyce, an overly literary writer who often intentionally set out for the reader to have to search for hidden texts and the like. My rant for the day. On more theological ground, the author here believes at least three individuals actually believed they saw Jesus after Christ's death. Those three are Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene. I can go along with that, though the Bible says otherwise. But where the author loses me is in some of his interpretation of what brought about this witnessing. He does not go into detail, which is fine because it's not really the point of his book, but basically he comes down on the side of Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene having seen illusions, sort of mass delusions but not all at the same time. He bases some of this opinion on modern science which proves to him that individuals can suffer from such illusions, and that even groups can believe they experience such illusions. Again, I can follow along so far. Where I have a hard time accepting part of his premise here is that he leans towards the notion that individuals are susceptible to such illusions after a time of loss, during a strong emotional upheaval in their lives. Basically, the three saw Jesus because they were in emotional turmoil at the time. There's only one problem with this. Why would Paul have been in emotional turmoil? Why would Paul have held a dense sensation of grief at the loss of Christ? If anything, Paul was an enemy to Christianity before his conversion. Peter and Mary Magdalene are other matters, obviously, but Paul? I'm not worried about the theological implications here, but the historical ones. I believe this is an area the author needs to think more on. I'm not saying he is necessarily wrong in his thoughts on Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene, but that he hasn't fully worked to an outcome as of yet, or at least one I don't find fully acceptable. For those with interests in this subject matter, I can say this author has a pretty good style, easy to follow, and while he does delve into some sticky matters, for the most part he won't bore you too much. For a fairly basic look at the early Christians fathers, especially the first four centuries, this book would be a good kicking off point for believers and non-believers alike; there might be some unfamiliar territory, but the writer does a pretty good job of giving basic definitions where needed.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 28 -- Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume 2

by Josh McDowell

Started: July 14
Finished: August 5

Notes: This is the second volume of the two-part series on Christian apologetics that I've been reading. From what the first book mentioned, this would should be even deeper.

Mini review: I did not find this book as interesting or as helpful as the first volume, but that does not mean it was a total waste. Some brief sections about archaeological finds I found quite fascinating, but there were chapters upon chapters trying to debunk various literary criticisms of the Bible. Here's the thing, though, none of these literary criticisms are based upon any evidence, only upon the opinions of some college professor or other (usually German, quite often 19th or early 20th Century), and the truth of the matter is those opinions are relatively uninformed. Frankly, there have been a handful of people with far too much time on their hands and an inclination to distrust Christianity, yet instead of having the courage to merely say so, they have to spend their lives conjuring forth imaginary excuses for not trusting the words found within the Bible. Believe or not, but if you're going to espouse yourself as some kind of literary or historical expert, at least use actual facts to back yourself up. As harsh as I'm being here, there was information of interest to me here, and at the least I gained more than a little basic knowledge of a few areas of Biblical studies.