Book and Film Recommendations for Christmas Break 2010
The History Department at Williams Baptist College
Book: Samuel Shellabarger was perhaps the last century’s best (American) writer of historical fiction. A first-rate scholar, a painstaking researcher, Shellabarger was adept at vivid, compelling narration. Set in Renaissance Italy, Prince of Foxes (1947) is his masterpiece. Rich in detail, a model of pacing and suspense, this is a very worthwhile book.
Film: Four Daughters (1938) reveals a vanished American way-of-life. For younger audiences, it will seem – probably – to be the representation of an almost alien, exotic culture; for the “fading” (older) generations, it provides something of a last look at a lost, but remembered, world. The film is starkly, unapologetically rich in sentiment, but devoid of (any trace of) mawkishness. Claude Rains, Priscilla Lane, John Garfield are perfect in their roles; the entire cast is superb. Sets (like everything else in the film) are intimate and warm, unmistakably Warner Brothers in ambiance. Max Steiner’s score is, well, a score by the incomparable Max Steiner.
Book: Karen Armstrong's The Case for God. Although, theologically, we would disagree with some of her ideas about Christ and her ecumenical approach, it is a fascinating history of the development of our understanding of God and an appeal for us to see God in all of His mystery as opposed to the intellectual pursuit of Him as merely an idea that we talk about in modern religious circles.
Film: Master and Commander. The adaptation of the O'Brien books of the exploits of a British vessel chasing down a French battleship into the pacific. Russell Crowe is great as Aubrey and one gets a good feel for life and combat in the period.
Book: Gilead. In this short, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Marilynne Robinson, a dying pastor of a small church in Iowa shares intimate thoughts and memories with his young son through a series of poignant letters. This lovely little book will move you to laughter and tears. It's simply a beautiful story, and a must read.
Film: See many cheerful holiday films during the break, and then find a few hours one afternoon to watch Steven Spielberg's masterpiece, Schindler's List. One of the greatest films ever made, it deals with both the holocaust and one man's struggle for redemption. It offers a gut-wrenching and sobering meditation on human nature, and it serves as a powerful reminder that individuals do make a difference.