11. Book Review


medieval libraryYou’re second paper (after the personal profile essay) will be a significant experience essay.  Your third will be an argumentative paper, a research paper or a longer project like a film or book review.  A book review course project focuses on reading an entire book and then writing your own personal review of the book.  


A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, a true story about sailing, studying abroad, meeting friends you never forget.


Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, the story of a 1600s friendship between two young people, a Wampanoag male and a Puritan female on the island of Noepe (modern day Martha’s Vineyard.

Girl at War, by Sara Novic, returning home, looking for a lost love and special places.

The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis, a wild bus ride from hell to heaven.

The Sacred Earth: Writers on Nature & Spirit, by Jason Gardner

????? Or how about another book you might choose to read this semester? Fiction, nonfiction, biography, science fiction, poetry, politics, science, a classic, fantasy, education, sports, another country or culture (maybe a book in a language you are still learning) . . .


Here’s an example of a book I read with my own review: The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis: 

Digory Conrad: I’ve been “Time-Slipped”

AslanPart I: Time Slips: Doorways into other worlds

C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories grew from his knowledge of the ancient traditions of folk and fairy tales, through which people could escape the trials and drudgery of their everyday lives, and enter the realm of the magical, often in front of a cheery fireplace or around the red coals of an outdoor campfire. Modern children’s literature has developed one of the magic techniques of fairy tales, the “time-slip,” into a compelling narrative device. Now children (and adults) often find unexpected adventures and insights on a printed or digital page . . . and through time-slips involving life experiences, deja vu, synchronicities, animals, people, nature, and more. A time-slip is a doorway into a parallel universe, another existence where the rules of the space-time continuum don’t operate on your comfort level, unlike the reality you’ve known before. You might slip away for an instant, a day, or even a lifetime. In Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, simply going through your bedroom door transports you into a wild or scary twilight zone world. Children in Lewis’ seven Narnia books leave this world to another via rings of power, pools of water, a locked door in a garden wall, a train crash, a framed picture of a ship at sea, and that famous wardrobe full of furry coats with the back disappearing into a snowy forest (now on display at Wheaton College).

Part II: Magician’s Nephew

wisdomI happened to choose The Magician’s Nephew two times for my students to read in a children’s literature class that I teach at Weber State University: once in 2002 and next in 2012, ten years apart. In each case, someone close to me would develop a rapidly spreading cancer and have to fight for her life. Narnian aficionados know that Digory is a little boy throughout most of The Magician’s Nephew, but at the end of the novel has become a middle-aged professor. The narrator of the story (Tutor & Professor C. S. Lewis?) tells us in the last chapter: “When things go wrong, you’ll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things once start going right they often go on getting better and better.” And the more we read about Digory and his mother, the more I hoped my own mother, and Nancy, a special friend and teacher colleague of my wife and me, would find their worsening cancers take on a miraculous turn, and a “silver apple” bring back their health and vitality.

Part III: Jadis

JadisSeveral interwoven plots impressed me as I read The Magician’s Nephew. On the surface, two children, Digory and Polly, explore new worlds by means of magic rings. They witness the new, beautiful Narnia created from scratch. At the same time they must confront the evil queen Jadis who has the power of “The Deplorable Word,” by which she destroys billions on a world named Charn simply because of her twisted, evil anger towards those who oppose her desire for power and control.In the post 9-11, fantastical plot of our own world, we came to fear so greatly terrorists who toppled our tallest buildings of power, bringing an entire nation’s aviation to a halt for a day, nearly bankrupting it in the ensuing months, and who perhaps someday would unleash biological or nuclear weapons capable of annihilating whole cities, nations, even the Earth itself.


Then there’s the subplot of a little boy Digory who keeps seeing things go terribly wrong, often because of his own stupid mistakes. He desperately wants to save his dying mother’s life. He can’t bear to see his father’s grief. Through the confusion, the overwhelming challenges, he learns to trust in his faithful friend Polly, the brains of their relationship, and a great magical lion, Aslan. Finally, Digory brings one of the silver apples from Narnia to his mother’s sick bed, miraculously restoring her life. Later, we discover that the core of this apple grows into the special tree from which a wooden wardrobe closet is built and through which more children can slip into the wonders of Narnia.


Part IV: TimeSlips

hospitalFlash forward to another scene in our world. A 50s middle-aged boy desperately tries to get the best possible care for his own mother who is dying of cancer, cruel chemotherapy drugs killing her tumor but also her weakening heart and lungs. Magically, the gap narrows between this world and beyond. One time, my mother’s eyes follow a bluebird flitting around the room, perching on my own shoulder. “Can’t you see it? It’s a pretty little thing!” On another occasion, she tells Marlin, my sister’s husband, that she had a very pleasant conversation with a friendly fellow who asked her to make sure she sent on his greetings to “Miistuh Maawlin” (imitating a Black-vernacular accent). Marlin tells us that an African-American friend of his back in his high school days in St. Louis used to greet him in that way, but his friend had died unexpectedly in a car accident. Still another time, when the whole family is present, my mother is happily, busily “preparing Christmas dinner,” asking each of us to help take the turkey out of the oven, set the table, get her favorite ceramic bowl down from the top shelf of the cabinet.
It all happens in my mother’s little hospital room amid the trickling of the IVs, beeping of the monitors, whoosh-whooshing of the oxygen machine. Full-color, tangible, wonderful images and experiences—seen only by her. She invites us in, to taste the Christmas turkey, hand her the mugs for steaming hot coffee and cider. Mom was disappearing into her own Narnia, not through that famous wardrobe closet made from the wood of Narnia’s Tree of Life, but through the door of Ogden Regional Hospital, Room 214.And Nancy, much-loved high-school math teacher, her memorial attended by hundreds, fellow teachers and former students flying in from out of state? During her final battle with her own cancer, these words were found in her last journal: “For we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary…we groan in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.” Choosing a coat from her bedroom closet one painful winter night in February, she slipped from one world into another.