Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

When my wife and I were still dating back in the day, we stopped off at one of those little carnivals that sets up in mall parking lots. We rode several rides (we were too young to think that a mall parking lot carnival would have less than the strictest safety measures...) and then, right before we left, we jumped on the Tilt-A-Whirl. She and I were the only ones on the ride so the operator let it run almost twice as long as the normal time. When we got done with the ride, we had a little different outlook on things...

In his first non-fiction book, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, N. D. Wilson uses the imagery of the carnival, and specifically the Tilt-A-Whirl, to draw the reader in. And once you climb on board, it is a wild ride. I got a little dizzy (but not nauseous) and was really glad I took the ride...

I really liked Wilson's style of writing in this book. The best way I can describe many parts of it would be to ask you to imagine C. S. Lewis as a beat poet on stage in a hip coffeehouse with a light jazz combo in the background. There is always a flow to what is being said. Even when there are interruptions in thought or digressions. Once I caught the beat and starting mentally snapping my fingers in time, I was utterly hooked on the book.

The book is partly a celebration of life in all of its stages, partly an apologetic (of sorts) on the existence of God, and partly praise to the Creator and Redeemer of all things. Wilson walks the reader through the four seasons, starting in winter, and uses them to parallel our lives and God's creation. In each season, the author's rhythms and word choices match the general mood. In winter, the reader moves slow and steady with a reverence reserved for the dead. As Wilson takes us into Spring, the reader picks up a step and might even begin skipping along with the word pictures and stories. If he is nothing else, Wilson is a vivid storyteller. See how he describes waiting for a light to change on his way home one early spring afternoon:
There are times when it is easy to go numb, when it is easy to forget that you sit in a box of metal, dug from the earth and alloyed, shaped by the men and robots of Detroit. I don't care that I sit three feet above the ground in a machine with the soul and strength of (muffled) explosions. Horses are for recreation; my harnesses are hitched to pounding bursts of fire, and they pull me (gently, please) without complaint, while I collect invisible waves from the air with a magic metal wand and turn them into orchestras, pop stars, and indignant voices complaining about the war. It is easy to forget that the trees are busily carving up the air with sunlight and factory-producing the new year's leaves more efficiently than Germans.
Yawn. Again.

The apologetic part comes in with Wilson's references to, jabs at, homages to, and sometime explanation of many dead (some not?) philosophers, theologians, and poets. The author seems to take particular interest in sparring with David Hume and Nietzsche. Wilson name drops old dead guys faster than I can type them into the search field of Wikipedia, so I finally give up on trying to know all of them and focus on what is being written. I'm not smart enough to try to summarize Wilson's discussions with/about the naysayers of God (Hume, Nietzsche, et al.), but I did recognize that the author uses sound logic and a Scriptural basis to deal with them. In the end, I felt like Wilson had helped shed some light on very intriguing, and often troublesome, areas for Christian and atheist alike: the existence of evil, Creator vs Chance, Grace...

In the end, I really liked how Wilson brought things into focus with our all knowing, all powerful, and all loving God:
But there was a Being, spirit, infinite, I AM. In that being there was One, and there were Many. There was Love. There was Joy. There was true Laughter. There was a Word, a Voice. There was Artist, but there was not yet art.
And that Voice said Light, and extended Himself a finite canvas to paint the only thing that could be worth painting, to paint the I AM.
The art has beginning - it began when time did - but it will have no end. Only endings. Even now it still grows and expands, twists and interwines, rises and sets, spins and doubles back.
The Voice will never be silent.

Hop on the Tilt-A-Whirl.. You will enjoy the ride...

Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.