Posts Tagged reading
Paul Stutzman lost his wife to cancer. A Mennonite by birth and a restaurant manager by trade, Stutzman was used to being home and staying close. His family was very conservative, his life was under control. But the loss of his beloved Mary threw him for a loop he could not handle.
Unsure of how to grieve, he set off on a journey to find peace in his loss. This is not uncommon. What was a bit uncommon was that Stutzman decided to make his journey on the Appalachian Trail.
He hiked all 2,187 miles of the Appalachian Trail on a journey to find peace, to find God. He picked the wettest year of recent history (2008) and spent most of his 3 month long trek in mud and rain. He and the half dozen other hikers who appear in his book Hiking Through endured storm after storm all the way up the Appalachians. Mourning his loss, hiking through the rain and snow, and missing the birth of his first grandchild – it could have been worse, but I’m not sure how.
But Stutzman did it, and along the way he found new hope in his life. He found peace with his wife’s passing. He found a renewed faith in the God of all.
I have read a couple of books about hiking the AT. My personal favorite, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, casts the trail in a humorous but slightly whiny way. (Don’t get me wrong. I love Bryson’s book.) This book, Hiking Through, had a very different take on the trail. For one thing, Stutzman was in much better condition than Bill and his friend Steven Katz. For another, Stutzman had a reason for hiking other than writing a book.
The two books are very different, not only because of the authors but also because of the trail. Bryson section hiked a large chunk of the AT in 1996 and Stutzman thru-hiked in 2008. The separation of twelve years changed the trail quite a bit. The trail is far more popular now, thanks in part to Bryson’s book, and so there is a lot more interest in it.
Hiking as a whole is far more popular now, and the equipment is vastly, dramatically better. Bryson walked with a giant pack, carrying mostly dehydrated noodles and snickers bars. Stutzman hiked with an efficient pack, wearing high tech shoes and eating all kinds of prepared foods.
Another difference is that Bryson and Katz were incredibly unprepared for the hike. Their knowledge of walking and hiking was limited mostly to the midwest and Europe, where ambles are possible. The AT is not an amble and the ill-equipped are miserable. As a result, where Bryson complains of wilderness conditions and maddening shortages of food. Stutzman, on the other hand, came prepared. He knew what he was doing. Bryson, as much as I love him, had no clue.
I love both books for different reasons. Bryson’s book left me laughing so hard I fell out of bed but also having the sneaking suspicion that normal people should stay away from the AT. Stutzman sparked something in my mind, and I thought, “Yeah, I could do that – well, except for sleeping outside.”
(My idea of roughing it is a hotel without a continental breakfast.)
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books that have nothing to do with each other. For some reason, my reading habits got unfocused. Actually, I know the reason. Someone gave me a Nook and I’ve been playing with it rather than just reading a book through. As a result, I have several books going right now and I can’t seem to finish any of them.
(Eventually, I’ll get the reviews out on The Next Christians, Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, The World War and What Was Behind It: The Story of the Map of Europe, Ulysses, Publish This Book and Bishop Westcott, which are the other books I’m currently reading.)
In the meantime, I finished the second book in C.S. Lewis’ Outer Space Trilogy, Perelandra. If you don’t know about this series, it was Lewis’ first well-known works of fiction. Without a working knowledge of Lewis’ own beliefs, however, the series is virtually unreadable.
Early in his writing career, Lewis seems to have tried to work in the style of George McDonald and David Lindsey. Both of whom are also virtually unreadable. As a result, the Outer Space books are very heavy in philosophy and are written in something akin to a heavy hand, although Lewis’ prose does rise well above that of McDonald and Lindsey.
I read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a teenager but when I read the first book in the Outer Space series – Out of the Silent Planet – and had no idea what was going on. Only later did I learn that Narnia was written long after the Outer Space series, when Lewis had gone through something of a renaissance in his thinking and style. To tell the truth, if his name wasn’t on the covers of both sets of books, I doubt I would be able to say they came from the same author.
Armed with years of experience and a wonderful course on Lewis’ work, I felt better prepared to read Perelandra. I returned to Lewis’ Outer Space world and my experience was very different.
First of all, Perelandra is different from Out of the Silent Planet. It is far more internal – with the main character Ransom having to face demonic oppression, his own self-doubts and a growing understanding of his incapacity to understand God. It is an intensely intellectual, multi-faceted book which struggles with many themes we would today call postmodernity. There are often multiple levels of meaning and interpretations, and Lewis very much leaves a lot of these ideas “hanging” for the reader to decide.
I won’t give away the story, but essentially the book is about our role in redemption. It is about assuming our place in God’s economy even when that place is incongruous with our understanding of how God should be.
This is not a book for children. In fact, any child under the age of 13 will not understand most of it, and most over the age of 13 will not truly grasp what is going on. It is most definitely a book for adults. What’s more, it is also a very Christian book. I’m not sure that a non-Christian would find it interesting or engaging because it is almost entirely set within the Christian framework.
All the same, it is an intriguing exploration of themes Christians often do not want to explore. It is worth reading, but prepare to sit and think quite a bit. This is not a quick breeze of a book by any stretch of the imagination.