So I was wandering about on the internet looking at apocalyptic literature stuff and I ran across a quote in a Frontline article (follow the “apocalypticism” link) that made me wonder a bit. Prof. Paul Boyer of the University of Wisconsin, in reference to Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind books, wrote “They’re very readable. They’re very well written.” Really? Is that so?
I recently had the…well I guess I’ll say opportunity to read Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code. This book is also apparently considered a good book – it sold a hell of a lot of copies at the very least.
Here’s my question. If these are considered good books, what exactly is it that constitutes a bad book?
Update: I thought I was alone in my disdain not only for the content, but also for the presentation of The Da Vinci Code. It would appear that this is not the case…see here.
I just read a great post over at AKMA (see “No Popular Culture” from May 28/06) from which I’d like to quote briefly: “If the church were a more congenial ecology for learning and critical reflection, the ‘popular culture’ topos might bring to the surface more interesting issues….” On this estimation of the church’s attitude towards learning I think Dr. Adams might be on to something (though I certainly don’t think that this ethos has permeated the western church alone…but that’s a post for another day). One of my concerns is that church leaders tend to underestimate both the level of interest and the potential for understanding in the average Christian person. It is too much to present complicated thoelogical problems or to investigate the greater political and ethical repercussions of our beliefs. All of this is looked on as “theological hair-splitting.” This is unfortunate because in fact it is these issues that will determine the role of the church in both the world of today and of tomorrow. I would suggest that our understanding of God’s will matters, that the way we think of God’s relationship with the future matters, that a knowledge of what grace and faith might be matters greatly to our own engagement with the possibilities and problems of the world in which we live.
I realize that there will be many people in any given group of Christians (or people of any other faith for that matter) who have no interest in the intellectual component of their religion/faith system, but this does not mean that these will be the only kinds of people preset, nor that they will be in the majority (as though only the concerns of the majority mattered to church governance anyways…again, a post for another day). I would be stunned to discover that any given congregation of people did not have among them some for whom supposedly esoteric concerns are important and interesting. I am not advocating that we turn regular worship services into academic exercises, nor that we neglect teachings with practical ends in mind. I would only suggest that there are many times when attempting to teach only things that are “practically applicable” has the potential to create a faith that differs only insignificantly from many entirely non-christian approaches to the world (I’m not opposed to such systems out of principle, but in a church the aim is to be not of this world). Additionally I would say that a great many topics that might be seemingly arcane in fact have great practical implications for the living of the Christian life. I would agree with whoever it was that suggested we must let Scripture read us, setting the agenda for conversation (as much as such a thing is possible) and not the other way around (I’m not sure who it is that I’m [mis]quoting here, someone from the post-liberal vein, Lindbeck maybe).
I guess all that I’m saying is that we need to have a little faith. In people’s interests, in their capacity and also in the importance that some slightly more complex issues might have on the nature and future of Christianity in the western world.
So this past week I subjected myself to two new movies based on previous stories; in the case of one, X-Men 3, a comic book series and in the case of the other, The Da Vinci Code, a best-selling novel. Neither of them was all that great, but neither was terrible either. I was really looking forward to X-Men since I’ve always loved the comic book series and the first two films were great. The third installment, however, just didn’t do it for me. Conversely I went into The Da Vinci Code expecting a boring and ridiculous story based on an incredibly bad novel. In this case I was…well I’m not going to say I was pleasantly surprised because it really wasn’t a very good movie, but it did surpass the novel simply because it took less time. Now, though I could certainly spend some time beating up on The Da Vinci Code or even X-Men, this just doesn’t seem like a particularly original thing to do with my first post. It also seems, especially in the case of DVC, like beating the hell out of the weakest kid on the playground just because I can. Instead I thought it might be interesting to present some ideas for books and stories that I’ve always wished would find their way onto the big screen.
First up how about I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. This book has actually been adapted into two different motion pictures, though neither was called I Am Legend and, according to wikipedia at least, neither was very good either. It turns out that someone figured that this one was worth another try because it is currently in pre-production, slated for release sometime in 2007. For those of you not familiar with this book, it’s a great little novella about the last human being living in a world full of vampires. It has some wonderfully dark humour, lots of action, and the theme of the book is a fascinating exploration of Otherness (hey, vampires are people too!!).
Another book that I think would translate well to the big screen is Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell’s Lucifer’s Hammer. If you’ve never read the book and you’re looking for something that will keep you turning pages, this is the book for you (though clearly not everyone loved this book, see here). It’s basically about an asteroid that hits the Earth. I know what you’re thinking…what about Armageddon and Deep Impact? Well in both of those films the asteroid misses the Earth. I assure you that Niven and Pournell’s take is far more interesting. BTW this one was Jin’s suggestion…credit where credit is due.
Shifting gears out of Sci-fi I’ve always wanted to see a movie made from Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse. If you’re familiar with the Jack Ryan series this book occurs in the same timeline but is centred on the character who later comes to be known as John Clark. Once again, however, someone beat me to the punch. According to IMDb the movie is in pre-production and Joaquine Phoenix is rumored to be attached for the leading role. Excellent Smithers.