Tag Archive: books


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles William Eliot

A month ago I was in Bangalore looking for a couple of books. I stumbled across a second hand bookshop called ‘ Goobes Book Republic‘ on Church St Inn. It is a wonderful place – an Aladdin’s Den of books in a basement shop.  I was mooching and trying to restrain myself from buying too many books when I overheard the wise owner (pictured) trying to persuade a boy with his mum to start reading an Enid Blyton book.  The boy was doubtful – so the owner cut a deal – he could have the first book as a free loan and if he enjoyed it he had to come back within a week and tell the owner why.  The boy left the shop skipping with enthusiasm.  I was smitten with this book shop and the mission the owner had to get the children reading.

This year – because of my tertianship (like a renewal year) I have had the space and time to read more.  It has been a great joy rediscovering novels and books.  I now feel at least half an hour quietly reading in some corner or other has become indispensable.  It struck me that reading is an important contrast to the immediacy of the digital age.  Films, TV, The Internet seem to have become faster – hyperstimulating – a succession of rapidly changing images – and the danger is that there is no ‘breathing space’  or more importantly space left for your imagination to engage with what you are consuming.  With a book I find myself putting it to one side, thinking about something, mulling something else over.  It is refreshing and can increase your sense of well being tremendously. Along with this rediscovered passion I have found wonderful resources on the internet such as Goodreads, The Browser and BookCrossing.  In fact you can see my goodreads widgets to the left of this blog.

Literacy Rates around the world (wikipedia)

Here in Manvi – literacy rates are very low in the villages.  So as well as attempting to convince a first-generation how important schooling is, we are also trying to do so in the English Language.   For the poorest children from the remotest villages, they stay on site in hostels.   That means we get an extra few hours in the evening with them. At the moment that is ‘dead time’ i.e. after a day in class the children sit with their books open but not really doing any productive work.  So I am suggesting that we buy sets of comic books to improve their English. Good learning can also be fun and entertaining. So now, during the holiday, whilst the hostel is relatively empty,  we are trialing a few different types of comics to see which type are the most engaging and hold the attention of both girls and boys. Fingers crossed this could get the children into the habit of reading for enjoyment, thus expanding their worlds. A true gift if you come from a family who have been illiterate for generations.

Is God Silent?


Wow – I have just finished reading Shusaku Endo‘s historical novel Silence.  I know that the story will stay with me for a long time. Powerful and haunting. I strongly recommend it as a good Lenten read.

Its main theme is the silence of God in the face of the terrible suffering of Japanese Christians in the face of a brutal persecution by their own government. However perhaps this is misleading. Without wishing to spoil the book,  if you read it carefully it seems that God is not silent – the main character having a few mystical experiences in which God’s presence, encouragement and love have a deep effect on him. So silent or not – maybe the question should be : Do we have the ears to be able to listen and recognise the divine – or are we’ God-deaf?’   In this way it reminds me of another excellent book I read a long time ago – Touching the Void by Joe Simpson.

Cover of "Touching the Void"

Cover of Touching the Void

Like Silence this is also a true story, about a famous British Mountain Climber. Climbing with a friend in a remote part of the Andes – Simpson broke his leg – a almost fatal development in such a remote and harsh place. Needing to descend quickly with bad weather closing in and daylight fading  Simpson’s friend inadvertently lowered him off a cliff.  He could not see or hear Simpson; he could only feel that Simpson had all his weight on the rope. Simpson could not climb up the rope, and his friend could not pull him back up. It looked like they would both die so his friend had an excruciating ethical dilemma –  in the end he has to cut the rope in order to save his own life whilst almost certainly sending his friend to his death.  Simpson plummeted down the cliff and into a deep crevasse but amazingly survived – and having been given up for dead – he crawled back to base camp to arrive just as his friend was burning his clothes and getting ready to depart.

What intrigued me most about this book was that first night that Simpson spent on the ledge in the crevasse.  Staring death in the face Simpson said he touched the void that night – God seemed silent or indifferent and this experience became the basis of his atheism. It might seem to be incredibly presumptuous to disagree with this interpretation. Of course – Only Simpson was there on that terrible night. But by writing a book about it I think he allows us to share his experience in an intense and intimate way.  In his absorbing account of the subsequent events, it is clear that there are two voices in his head.  One telling him to give up – lie down – and let exhaustion and sleep takeover. But there is another voice that keeps urging him on – telling him to get up. maybe that was the voice of God – whether acknowledged or not. Voices of consolation and desolation, voices of death and life.

Both books are rated as classics – Silence in Japanese literature, Touching the Void in Mountain Literature.  A word of caution for Martin Scorsese who is working on a film version of Silence.  I think the book Touching the Void  is much better that the subsequent film was.

…… Of course Scorsese reads this blog!!