Auntmarge64 - 50 BOMBS or bust
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Bad books - seducing you away from the older ones. You show them that you WILL not be seduced!
One thing that's really jumped out at me recently is that so many of the books I own are fairly old and don't really represent what I want to read any more. My hope is that if I can get at least some of those out of the way, I should be in good stead!
Go go go - you can do it!
I just have to remember that only a short time ago these were the books I reallllly needed to have, and pick them up instead of browsing the library. In fact, many of those on my shelves are the ones I'd pick up at the library if I saw them on the shelves. Concentrate, Margaret!
Abraham Lincoln (The American Presidents Series: The 16th President, 1861-1865) by George S. McGovern *** 1/2/12
A short and adulatory introduction to Lincoln and his presidency, written in an easy style which would be useful to a high school student. Hits the high points but leaves plenty to follow up on.
The Royal Ghosts by Samrat Upadhyay **** 1/3/12
Set in Kathmandu during the Maoist insurgency of the late 1990s, these 9 stories lovingly explore the struggles of regular people dealing with the caste system, political upheaval, and weight of cultural expectations of modern Nepal. I found myself compulsively reading one story after another, finishing the book in one day and feeling as immersed by the whole as I usually do after a good novel - a mark in my book of a well-chosen collection.
Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon *** 1/6/12
A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel *** 1/9/12
An interesting look at the life of Copernicus and the early publication history of his magnum opus, On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres, which turned the world upside down with its proofs that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Sobel uses illustrations and long quotes from letters and other documents to give an immediate sense of medieval northern Europe, the lives of its mid-level Catholic clergy, and the extent to which the Church felt threatened by and controlled new hypotheses such as the Copernican theory.
All this is absorbing, but unfortunately Sobel wrote the history just to give herself a forum to publish a play she'd written, which she has sandwiched into the middle of the history. The play imagines the means whereby the young Lutheran mathematician Rheticus convinced the elderly canon to allow publication of his long-shelved work. If the play had stuck to discussions between the two geniuses it might have been bearable, but instead it conjures up an affair between Rheticus and Copernicus's aide and imagines Copernicus's own relationship with his mistress. An unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion into a serious treatment.
Read this for the history, skip the middle 80 pages, and you'll have a rewarding experience. It might also lead you to an interest in some of the other characters - in my case, Rheticus, about whom a recent bio was written.
The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore ***½ 1/10/12
I'm counting the following because I spent several hours studying it in order to review for Early Reviewers. I was pretty shocked when I received it in the mail: a brand new, final (not review) copy of this $495 2-volume reference book.
Antarctica: An Encyclopedia by John Stewart ***** 1/15/12
This is an extraordinary labor of love, a four-year effort to expand and update the 1990 first edition, which won a Library Journal Best Reference award. It is a direct-entry encyclopedia in two volumes, with 1758 pages, 30,000 entries, an extensive bibliography, and numerous cross-references. While people, expeditions, and general topics are described, the greatest percentage of the work serves as a narrative gazetteer, bringing together information from various English and non-English sources and presenting it in readable English, often for the first time. For the researcher, student, or aficionado, there is an enormous amount of information which is either unavailable online or scattered about in numerous locations. In the cases of many geological features, maps and satellite images are easily available online, but the Encyclopedia provides details not readily handy, including naming dates, lists of expedition members, and details which may correct previous data. As dry as this may sound, it can be quite amusing, and I found myself moving from entry to entry following references in the various articles. Here is an example which shows several of the points described above:
Entry searched = CREANEY NUNATAKS
Every entry I checked online, from the Australian Antarctic Data Centre (http://data.aad.gov.au/) to Wikipedia, stated that this feature was named for David B. Creaney, an aviation electrician at Ellsworth Station during the winter season of 1957, for whom they give no additional information. Here is the Encyclopedia’s entry in full (p. 369):
Creaney Nunataks. 83°14′S, 51°43′W. Rising to 1475 m, SW of the Herring Nunataks, and 9 km W of Mount Lechner, in the W portion of the Forrestal Range, in the Pensacola Mountains. Mapped from USN air photos taken in 1964, and from USGS ground surveys conducted in 1965-66. Named by US-ACAN in 1968, for a man who doesn’t exist. The real person is David Bartholomew “Dave” Greaney, Jr. sic (b. Feb. 16, 1930, Chicago), VX-6 aviation electrician who wintered-over at Ellsworth Station in 1957. One day he got beaten up by a penguin. The feature is shown with its erroneous name on a U.S. map of 1969, and the name was accepted by UK-APC on Nov. 3, 1971, which shows that they don’t check either.
There is also a cross reference from Greaney to Creaney Nunataks. If you want to find out who his coworkers were at Ellsworth Station that winter, check out the entry for the Station, where all 39 men are listed, including enlisted man Ronald D. “Brownie” Brown (the youngest man in the group, his tractor came within an ace of plunging down a 900-foot crevasse one day. There is no cross reference for Brown, but there is for the team’s leader, Finn Ronne (whose management style created problems, there can be no doubt about that), where his nine outings to Antarctica and his successes (including proof that Antarctica is a continent) are briefly described. From there, of course, one can meander along through Ronne’s expeditions, co-workers, and discoveries.
Any large, regional, or university library would find this a fine purchase, and I’m sure polar researchers, and those for whom Antarctica is a hobby, will find it endlessly informative and entertaining. I certainly will.
Eifelheim by Michael Flynn ***** 1/17/12
This novel will become one of the very few I keep to savor again, along with titles such as The Eqyptologist by Arthur Phillips and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. The multiple layers of history, science, linguistics, philosophy and plot would all benefit from a second reading.
As the plague approaches through the Black Forest of Germany in 1348/49, a group of wayfarers appears in a lightning storm near a tiny village deep in the woods. The travelers, who resemble more than anything giant grasshoppers, awaken diverse reactions among the villagers. Some decide demons have descended on them, others that these are people from an unexplored part of the world. The more thoughtful among the inhabitants, including the priest, a visiting monk, and the lord of the manor and his sergeant, take a more nuanced approach, giving the newcomers a chance to act and explain themselves before drawing conclusions. The visitors are, of course, interstellar travelers, but they have crashed into a world which thinks the stars circle the earth nearby and which has no sense of modern physics, cosmology, or time theory.
And here lies the depth of the book, because the villagers have their own cosmology to describe the world they perceive, and several members of each group attempt to understand the other, the villagers to understand what’s happening and the visitors to find a way to go home. The visitors have technology which allows them to learn the local language, but only to a point. Abstractions prove the foundering point, as with the priest’s assertion that the Lord rises to heaven (the skies) at Easter, which leads some travelers to be baptized so they can get home by going with Him. William of Ockham visits at one point, on his way to make peace with the Pope (historically, he disappeared on the way), and the priest has a past which brings up various historical events of the time.
Interspersed through this story is that of a present-day couple working through separate scientific projects (one on variable light speed and the other on population anomalies) which are destined to collide head-on and bring the village’s story into a new perspective. There is a nice building of suspense and dread throughout the story, and generally the author leaves it to the reader to decipher German, Latin and scientific terms, making the read dense and enveloping. The only complaint I had was with the priest’s choice of pointedly modern terminology to describe some of the travelers’ technology (e.g., their fotografik devices which render pictures for them) – just a bit too jarring for the reader enmeshed in the medieval.
For all the alien travelers and modern interpretations by the scientists, this did not read like science fiction but as a story of cultures and languages colliding. Most of the tale takes place in the village and is told from the priest’s learned viewpoint. Very compelling, especially coming hard on the heals of reading A More Perfect heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos.
The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys ***½ 1/19/12
A neat little collection of 40 vignettes, one for each time the Thames froze between 1142 and 1895. Some are stories about average folk, such as two lovers meeting on the river in 1363, he rushing to embrace her, she stretching out her arm to exhibit the boils of plague and warn him off. Many stories touch on famous people or events, and they had me avidly looking them up to flesh out the facts. For instance, in 1142, Queen Matilde escapes from her jailors by walking across the Thames at night, wearing white into the snowstorm. In 1795, a composer wants to create an "Ice Music" to rival Handel's "Water Music" and references Purcell's "Cold Song" which included in the music chattering teeth". Well, that one I had to look up, only to find several videos of performances by countertenors (for a truly bizarre experience, check out the films of Klaus Nomi), one by Sting (simply awful in comparison) and a ballet. Nice illustrations round out the book.
Why have I not heard of Eifelheim before? That sounds right up my alley!
>11 I've been trying to remember where I heard of Eifelheim - probably here on LT. I love finding unexpected gems.
Eifelheim is new title to me as well, but not anymore, I originally saw this mentioned by you over on the 12 in 12, and now here - it's definitely going on my wishlist!
Sleepers of Mars by John Wyndham *** 1/27/12
Minor early Wyndham from the 1930s, but still enjoyable for the committed fan. Includes the following stories: "Sleepers of Mars" (a companion piece to the novel Stowaway to Mars), "Worlds to Barter", "Invisible Monster", "The Man from Earth", and "The Third Vibrator".
Marge, this is just not fair. We are trying to clear our shelves and you are seducing us with the desire to add more to the shelves..
***SIGH... Guess I'll have to add Eifelheim to my wishlist.
Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama: The Untold Story of the Holy Men Who Shaped Tibet, from Pre-history to the Present Day by Alexander Norman ****½ 2/9/12
Despite the title, this is a serious history of the institution of the Dalai Lama, Buddhism in Tibet, and Tibet and its neighbors: three topics inextricably connected.
Beginning with the pre-history of Tibetan myth (that is, myth to non-Tibetans), Norman spends the first half of the book explaining the concept of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and his personal interest in Tibet and history of reincarnating in human form throughout Tibet’s history. By the second half of the book we reach the 16th century, when Chenrezig’s rebirth was formally given the name of Dalai Lama and applied for the first time to the man who became known as the 3rd Dalai Lama. (The two immediately preceding incarnations were retroactively proclaimed as the 1st and 2nd.) Each Dalai Lama is then given a chapter or more depending on his significance, along with detail on his family and background, as well as on the actions of the various Buddhist hierarchs and sects in selecting him as the incarnation, training him, and running the country during his minority. Norman examines the rise and fall of each Dalai Lama’s control of the religious and secular institutions of his day and the resulting fortunes of Tibet in relation to its neighbors, especially Mongolia and China. The final chapters bring us up-to-date with the current Dalai Lama and Tibet’s ongoing struggle to maintain a presence distinct from that of China.
Footnotes, a 22-page bibliography, and a detailed index are included. The author is a long-time acquaintance of the current Dalai Lama, with whom he has co-authored several books and who wrote the forward to this one. The reader would have been well-served with a few maps, a glossary, and charts showing the succession of Dalai Lamas and their earlier lineage, and for this reason I’ve deducted a ½-star. But even without these I highly recommend this book for anyone with an interest in the Dalai Lama and his religious background, Tibet and her woes, or Tibetan Buddhism in general. It is hugely informative and compulsively readable, honest in its appraisals (the author is quite forthcoming about the personal and professional shortcomings of the incarnations and other main characters), and gives the reader a solid basis for understanding what’s happening between Tibet and China.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak ***** 2/16/12
Death is haunted by humans, especially a young girl in Nazi Germany whom he glimpses several times as he collects people she knows. Liesel has watched her brother die and mother leave forever (likely “disappeared” for being a Communist), and been assigned foster parents near Munich. As the war approaches, she and her friends attend Hitler Youth meetings, play street soccer, and steal food from nearby farms. Liesel also steals books, the first from the gravedigger at her brother’s burial. Oh, and her foster parents hide a Jew in their basement. Even the secondary characters here are priceless: the gentle, accordion-playing foster-father who teaches Liesel to read and sits with her every night through her nightmares; the grumpy foster mother who comes to love her; the Jew Max, who hides in the basement for two years and writes stories for Liesel; and the best friend who longs only for a kiss someday. Very highly recommended.
Blood Men by Paul Cleave ** 2/17/12
A heart-pumping but finally rather distasteful psychological thriller, in which a young father's world is turned upside-down after tragedy strikes his family and he finds himself tempted to follow the footsteps of his own estranged father, a convicted serial killer.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill ***½ 2/27/12
Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives by David Eagleman *** 2/27/12
Very repetitive in tone, although reading just a few was quite amusing.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett **** 3/1/12
This is only the second book I've read by Patchett (the first being Bel Canto, which I adored). While I wasn't quite as taken with this book, it's clear that Patchett's a superb storyteller. Here, the first half of the book could have been shortened, the second half is stunning, and end is too abrupt and leaves just a few too many loose ends.
Somewhere in Brazil, Dr. Annick Swenson, an irascible, elusive, and brilliant physician, is hidden away in the bush working on a fertility drug which will allow woman to continue to bear children through old age. (Why the world would need this isn’t addressed except for the puzzle to be solved, the profits to be made, and the occasional woman who has waited too long to have children). The company footing the bill has sent researcher Anders to track down the doctor and pin down just how the work is going, but after 3 months they receive a curt note from Swenson that Anders has died and been buried in the jungle. Anders’s office-mate, a 40-something scientist with her own past run-ins with Swenson and a current affair with her widowed boss, is asked by said boss to follow Anders’s trail and finish his assignment. Swenson doesn’t want to be found so this proves difficult, but eventually contact is made. That’s the first half of the book, and it does drag on a bit.
But the second half, in which Marina travels inland with Swenson to the native village she’s living with and testing, is fantastic. Herein lies a plot thick with one of my main interests: how the meeting of mutually inexplicable cultures leads to misunderstandings, disasters, and, sometimes, revelations.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with the end of the story. The events themselves might make more sense if the author had taken the time to explore them as much as she did the main story, but the reader is left to reread the final few pages over and over trying to make sense, and it left a bad taste, given how the characters acted throughout the rest of the book. There is also a tiny bit of action which the careful reader will observe and understand, but its ramifications are not addressed at all, and I couldn’t tell if Patchett was leaving this as a bit of an Easter egg for the reader or just wrapped up the book too quickly to deal with it. (Sorry to be so vague, but it’s an event which would give away much too much to relate.) The reader will beg for a sequel (or even an epilogue).
Well worth the read. Patchett’s dialogue and invention of scenario are simply too wonderful to miss.
Lost Horizon by James Hilton ***½ 3/3/12
Fail Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler ***** 3/5/12
It’s exactly fifty years later and this book is still very powerful. I’ve seen the movie version with Henry Fonda a couple of times, knew exactly how the story ended, and I still couldn’t put it down and then cried at the end.
It’s the mid-sixties and the USA and USSR, mutually distrustful and each protected by huge stockpiles of weaponry, depend on multiple technological safeguards to ensure against accidental war. Civilian and military intellectuals from all sides engage in philosophical debates which inform national policy on armament, pre-emptive war, and nuclear policy. Swagger and the threat of annihilation are generally thought to be prohibitive of intentional war. But, of course, errors of machinery and human activity do occur, and here an unnoticed breakdown in a minor part of one machine mistakenly sends a group of bombers into the Soviet Union with orders to bomb Moscow. Unable to recall them, the President (presumably JFK) contacts Khrushchev, and the two must weigh their actions in the event the planes are successful.
Gripping, informative, and, finally, heartbreaking, and very highly recommended.
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo ****½ 3/16/12
Inspector Harry Hole, of the Oslo police, is the only cop in Norway with any training and experience in tracking serial killers, but because serial killing in the country is so rare, his superiors are reluctant to agree when he thinks a new one is on the loose. The murders stretch across the country and back fourteen years, so recognition of the pattern has been hindered. Now the killing has become more frequent and more blatant, and as red herrings multiply, Harry and his team disregard official warnings and follow his instincts, even as he begins to suspect the killer is trying to draw him in.
This is suspense writing at its best – believable action, great dialogue, interesting characters, and a group of equally plausible villains. I did deduct a half star for some unnecessarily (IMO) graphic sex (enough so I felt uncomfortable handing this on to a 20-something niece), and be forewarned that the violence is very graphic. I’ve already downloaded the sequel to my Kindle and I’ve ordered some of the earlier titles from the library.
Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys ** 3/25/12
A short science fiction novel from 1960, but unfortunately not short enough. This would have made a terrific short story but instead in burdened by several secondary characters of no interest to the reader but with lengthy scenes with the main characters.
Below the Convergence: Voyages Toward Antarctica 1699-1839 by Alan Gurney **** 3/28/12
A dense history of early voyages to the high south latitudes to determine if there was land and, if so, inhabitants and resources to be exploited. After a chapter on ancient and medieval propositions about what might be found, and chapters covering maritime reckoning, scurvy, the Antarctic convergence and the wildlife of the southern ocean, the author proceeds with vivid histories of trips by Halley, Cook, Bellingshausen, Weddell, Biscoe, Kemp and Belleny. There are also colorful but sad descriptions of the early-19th century discovery of massive seal colonies and their subsequent devastation over only a few years.
Anyone interested in the Antarctic should enjoy this. It fills a gap usually overlooked in favor of the famous explorers of the early-20th century and provides an intriguing look at what greatness there was in those who sailed into the void and made those later explorations possible. Personally, this book has led me to want to read about Halley and Cook, especially. What courage and vision (and maybe a bit of insanity) these men had.
Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales From the Invertebrate World by Richard Conniff ***½ 4/5/12
Down To a Sunless Sea by David Graham **** 4/9/12
Terrific apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction from 1979. A bit dated, and slow for the first quarter of the book, but then edge-of-the-seat suspenseful until the very last page.
Jonah Scott, a British pilot who makes rescue flights across the Atlantic to a failed and violent post-oil America, tells of the days before and after uncontrolled nuclear war erupts. Among those on board a flight from New York to London are 150 children, several scientists, a large group of returning British soldiers, diplomats from several competing countries, and two stowaways Jonah is hoping to sneak through heavily-armed British customs. They are mid-way across the Atlantic when they hear reports of cities being bombed, and one by one their possible landing sites become unapproachable. Desperate to find somewhere, anywhere, they can land, Jonah and his crew search for a landing site or a ship to contact if they have to ditch in the water.
A keeper to read again.
Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will by Judith Schalansky **** 4/11/12
A charming collection of short essays and scale maps of 50 small, isolated islands scattered over the planet. The maps are all in the same scale, so they really are all very small islands, some well-known (Easter Island, Iwo Jima, St. Helena), others extremely obscure. Many are lagoons, possibly the most interesting of all. Each two-page spread includes the map, geographical location, population, current geopolitical affiliation, and a few sentences which describe an event or fact about the island which encapsulates the essence of what the island has meant to humans. It’s an interesting approach and addictive to read.
26. The Help by Kathryn Stockett **** 4/14/12
This book is so well-known I’ll skip a summary and just make a few comments. The storytelling is mesmerizing and will hook most anyone who reads the first few pages. I don’t know how authentic the voices are, but the three main characters certainly came alive for me. Two complaints will explain the lack of a fifth star: with few exceptions, the black characters are all positive and the whites negative, and while race relations may have been this stark, there must have been a more equal representation of individual behavior within the two races. Second, the end is much too abrupt. 90% of the story leads up to the publication of the book, but then the reader is left to wonder about the effects its publication had in the long-term for the main characters. An epilogue would have rounded out the story much more satisfactorily.
Tibetan Prayer Flags: Send Your Blessings on the Breeze by Diane Barker ***½ 4/17/12
Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson ***½ 4/29/12
Three connected stories spread over 400 years as humans explore the solar system from the Martian settlements and discover a Stonehenge-like monument on Pluto. Humans who can afford the treatments live 800-1000 years, so 400 isn’t too long to expect the same characters may show up from one story to another.
Published before the Mars trilogy, there are some familiar place names and developments mentioned here (e.g., the city of Burroughs, the progress towards a breathable atmosphere), so there was a sense of familiarity in reading this, although the overall future envisioned is more bleak than that explored in the later books. So while it’s a stand-alone novel, it was a welcome return to the Martian world so beautifully explored in the trilogy. It was also neat to see Robinson’s speculation on the development of self-publication on an Internet-like network (this was written in 1984) and find Pluto still described as the ninth planet.
Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson ****½ 5/1/12
Christine, in her mid-twenties, wakes up one morning with a middle-aged married man sleeping next to her. She goes into the bathroom and sees herself in the mirror and is horrified: reflected back is the image of a middle-aged woman. There are photos taped up with notes explaining that she has amnesia and that the man in the bed is her husband. This has apparently happened every morning for years and she has no ability to make new memories, so each day is a new start. On this particular day she is contacted by a doctor who claims they have been working together for some time, without her husband’s knowledge, and that she’s been keeping a journal which he reminds her of each day so she can keep up-to-date and add each day’s events. It’s becoming clear that her husband is lying to her about some things and keeping other things secret, and the question becomes, why? Is he trying to protect her from daily hurt, or so bored by repeating things each day he’s giving her a simplified version, or is he manipulating her in some malign way? As the journal gets longer and certain events trigger flashes of memory, these questions take on new urgency.
Exactly what psychological suspense should be: edge-of-the-seat drama you can’t put down.
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester *** 5/16/12
This was a depressing little book built around the collaboration and friendship between the self-made scholar who shepherded the astonishing birth of the Oxford English Dictionary and one of the volunteers who regularly sent in contributions. The volunteer turned out to be a wealthy American doctor and murderer housed in an insane asylum outside London. The book expounds on a variety of topics which touch on the lives of the two men, including surgical practice in the Union Army during the Civil War, the Battle of the Wilderness, and the history of dictionaries. Much of this is quite interesting, but I didn’t find the central story all that compelling, perhaps because the actual documentation isn’t voluminous, so all the details on other subjects feel like filler.
Time Untamed by Isaac Asimov and others ** 5/19/12
Nothing to do with time except its passing, perhaps, and only a so-so collection short stories by Asimov, Bloch, Bradbury, Simak, Sturgeon, De Camp, Leiber, and my favorite, John Wyndham. Read if you're a fan of any of these, otherwise skip.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells **** 5/26/12
After seeing various film versions, it was a pleasure to read the original, which is actually quite exciting and must have been tremendously so when it was first published. It reminded me of John Wyndham, so maybe it's the British approach, but that made it even more enjoyable. I especially appreciated Wells' philosophizing over the position the invasion put the humans in: that of the rats or ants to us.
Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry **** 5/27/12
A Scientific Romance by Ronald Wright **** 6/4/12
A mixture of time travel and post-apocalyptic fiction, this journal is written by David Lambert, an archaeologist who finds Wells' actual contraption 100 years after the events related in The Time Machine. Mourning his lost love Anita who has recently died at age 32 of BSE (mad cow disease), and himself diagnosed with early stages (they ate the same contaminated food while on various digs), he sets the machine for 500 years hence and takes off, hoping to find science that will allow himself to be cured and save her if he can reverse course to before she was infected. What he finds is retold in a series of letters which are part memoir of their times together and part travelogue of his adventures in 2501.
The story is dense with description and literary allusions, and a familiarity with London, England and Scotland is advised for full appreciation. David and Anita traveled around the UK together, and the time machine is found in, and subsequently arrives in, greater London. David's time in the future parallels much of the traveling they did together, and each new day brings both discoveries and memories, which entwine in the letters. It's tough going occasionally, especially for someone not familiar with the geography, and there were times I wasn't interested in his memories but just in finding out what happened next. Still, it's moving, although emotionally difficult to process, and hanging over all the proceedings is the specter of David's brain deterioration and the effect it may be having on what he is experiencing and writing.
Cool! A Scientific Romance is going straight onto the must-read list.
I read A Scientific Romance for a Utopian (dystopian?) Fiction class in university and remember being really impressed by it. Should give it a re-read sometime. Thanks for the reminder. :)
Ooh, sounds great! A Scientific Romance is now on the wishlist. Thanks for the great review!
Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography by John Dominic Crossan **** 6/6/12
Reading Crossan is both enlightening and depressing. He’s well-known in the historical Jesus school and has written numerous books for both the professional and layperson on what we can really know about the life and sayings of Jesus. For those who take the Bible literally, whatever version you’ve chosen to take literally, I’d say read this only if you’re willing to be challenged. For the rest, Crossan offers a detailed exegesis that will make your hair stand on end. In short, he sees the historical person as (1) an illiterate peasant teaching a type of radical social change at a time when the entrenched political and religious elites were stamping out such troublemakers brutally and without thought, sympathy, or delay; (2) likely killed for causing a scene in the crowded temple at Passover, when Jerusalem was at its busiest and Roman authorities were primed to put down any sign of disturbance; (3) left on the cross or the ground as carrion with no chance of burial, for which a special request would have had to be made and, as he points out, no one with the chops to make such a request would have cared and anyone who cared wouldn’t have had the contacts to make the request. Non-burial was considered the ultimate insult to the deceased and a deterrent to crime.
The teachings themselves are distilled down to just a few, which are so far from the hierarchical church structure which developed that organized Christianity ends up in the same position to Jesus as all the other institutions he was trying to bring down. Crossan concludes that Jesus practiced, and taught, that the Kingdom of God can be here now only if people will 1) practice complete, open table-sharing and spiritual healing, without any care for status, class, wealth, physical condition, race, freedom, or any other division humans have invented over time; and 2) set down no roots where a hierarchy or center of power can be identified (and the reason he instructed his followers to leave anywhere after a day or two) so that the typical 1st century system of patronage (elites), brokerage (middlemen) and clients (everyone else) could not be set up. He didn’t want anyone to be the head of an organization. He wanted complete equality and sharing, which no institution can pull off by definition, let alone given the human predilection for power, status and hoarding of wealth.
One of the most fascinating points Crossan makes is about the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. In her, Jesus found the only person, male or female, who actually listened when he talked about the death he expected and who recognized his need for burial preparation, knowing he’d never get it later. In an age when a couple of the major Christian organizations still won’t recognize women as equals in the church, isn’t it interesting to speculate on why that might be?
This book is the layperson version of Crossan’s arguments. The more scholarly version is The Historical Jesus.
The Rainaldi Quartet by Paul Adam ***½ 6/8/12
Paganini’s Ghost by Paul Adam ***½ 6/10/12
The first two in a series of mysteries set in Cremona, Italy, home of history’s greatest violin-makers, including Stradivari, Guarneri and the Amatis. The stories are told in first-person by Gianni Castiglione, a widowed luthier whose closest friends are the members of his string quartet (most especially the cellist, Antonio Guastafeste, a detective in the local police department).
In the first book, the quartet’s first violinist is murdered on his way home from a rehearsal, and Antonio calls on Gianni for his expertise on violin history, which seems relevant to the murder. In the second story, there are two plots: a young Russian violinist comes to Cremona to play a recital on Paganini’s own violin, played only once every two years by a competition winner. Gianni is able to help the boy adjust to his burgeoning international career while having a personal life. There is also a series of murders which are connected to two other Paganini artifacts, both missing: an unpublished composition and a miniature violin made of jewel-encrusted gold.
I’d consider these cozies – not much blood, no sex, clean language, and a likeable “Murder She Wrote” main character who keeps getting dragged into these cases involving violins. So, light-weight but thoroughly enjoyable, especially for music lovers. Hopefully there will be more in the future.
Breakfast With Buddha by Roland Merullo **** 6/16/12
A humorous spiritual-quest travelogue by Otto Ringling, a solidly middle-class and vaguely depressed cookbook editor whose plan was to drive from New York to North Dakota with his flying-phobic New Age sister to settle their parents’ estate. Instead, she sends him off with her guru, telling him she wants her share to be given to the Rinpoche as a meditation center. The first half is pretty slow, largely taken up with Otto’s confusion over what he’s supposed to do with his companion and his alternating irritation and alarm at the guru’s ability to get under his skin. After a few days’ of wandering back roads and having adventures along the way, though, Otto begins to sense a new sensibility opening to him, and he gives the teacher more of his attention. By the second half of the trip Otto is actively engaging in philosophical discussions and dreading the end of the road trip. Charming and very funny, with a spiritual edge which should appeal to anyone feeling Otto’s need for a change in their interior alignment.
The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad *** 6/19/12
These linked short stories provide glimpses of tribal life in the remote area where Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran meet. They are bleak and depressing, showing a land where life is valued lightly and everyone lives on the brink of destitution. The reality presented here is so alien I had a hard time figuring out whether the characters had the same reaction I did to the cruelty and meanness of their lives. Interesting to read but offering little emotional connection to outsiders.
The Wave by Christopher Hyde ***½ 6/21/12
Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger ***½ 7/7/12
The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean **** 7/24/12
The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale **** 7/30/12
Two men, three generations apart, cope with the consequences of their failure of nerve. Daniel Kennedy, an academic scientist, is taking his long-time lover and mother of his daughter on a trip to the Galapagos to propose. When their small plane ditches about 20 miles from the islands, Daniel pushes Nancy out of the way to escape the sinking craft. She survives but cannot forgive him, even though he goes back to the plane and rescues almost everyone, then swims towards land to find help. Back in England, Daniel's career is endangered by a jealous colleague who pretends to be his friend, even as he struggles to save his relationship with Nancy and cope with a vision he had at sea which led him to keep going when he was about to give up and remove his life jacket.
Interspersed with Andrew's story is that of his great-grandfather, who disappeared during the battle of Passchendaele in 1917. New evidence points to his desertion and death by firing squad, a possibility which is torturing Daniel's father, himself a decorated war hero and now quite ill, and Daniel accompanies him to the continent to unravel the mystery. A long-rumored Mahler symphony revision, stories of guardian angels leading soldiers out of danger, and a Muslim elementary school teacher who seems oddly familiar to both Daniel and his father, all lend depth as the two stories intersect.
It is easy to become absorbed in many of the plotlines here. The war scenes are particularly effective, and the machinations of the psychopathic colleague are chilling. The struggles of a confirmed atheist dealing with a possible religious vision were also interesting, although he's really, really strident about his convictions. And although Daniel and Nancy repeatedly declare their love for each other, neither is all that convincing. So it was a book I couldn't out down, but it didn't always flow successfully, although all the important questions are at least partially answered by the end.
The Best of John Wyndham 1932-1949 by John Wyndham **** 8/18/12
Six very early short stories from the author of Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids. Some SF, some horror, all quite enjoyable. I was surprised at how well these measured up, since they're from the 30s and 40s. "The Lost Machine", stranded on a Martian mission to Earth and appalled at the backwardness of both humans and their machines, becomes lonely and makes a fateful decision. "The Man From Beyond" awakens is a living museum exhibit but is able to convince the caretakers that he is sentient and tells his story. Two ASPCA types investigate claims by residents that a local scientist is abusing animals to create monsters, only to run into much more than they bargained for in the very funny "Perfect Creature". Three other stories are just as appealing.
The Disappearing Spoon And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean **** 8/19/12
A loose history of the ongoing discovery of the elements and what it means to our understanding of the universe and our place in it. The first couple of chapters are somewhat technical but meant for the layperson, with additional science mixed in as the book goes on so the reader can understand how scientists build on what they know to push the limits further. Some of this is fairly unnerving: currently, work is being done on the possibility that the universal constants on which Einsteinian physics (or any other we know) is built may not hold true throughout the universe or at different times.
The book is laid out rather strangely, with a periodical table on the last two pages (after notes and index and where the reader might never notice it). And this is a case where having the lengthy narrative footnotes located with the main text would have worked better than grouped at the end. Still, lots to learn here, and told with a sense of humor.
Hippolyte’s Island by Barbara Hodgson **** 8/24/12
Hippolyte Webb spends his life traveling, but only to out-of the-way, offbeat, and little-known places. He supports his lifestyle writing articles on his adventures, often in one of the numerous languages he’s picked up along the way. As the book begins, Hippolyte has been home in Vancouver only a short time but is being drawn to tales of lost islands, reported in the literature but no longer appearing on modern maps or even showing up on satellite imagery. Intrigued by the idea of rediscovering something lost, he decides to sail to the location reported to be the Auroras, three (more or less) islands halfway between the Falklands and South Georgia in the southern Atlantic. He spends weeks reading, going to museums, taking sailing lessons, and provisioning himself with all the necessities suggested by his treasured 1906 Royal Geographical Society Hints to Travellers, and then he flies to the Falklands and sets off alone in a rented sailboat. What Hippolyte finds, and his difficulties making his editor believe him, form the core of the book. Hippolyte is larger than life and bowls over his editor, whom he’s never met, and his unconventional way of telling his story and presenting his evidence convinces her he’s lying. How each of them approaches this dilemma makes for a charming story.
Interspersed throughout the book are Hippolyte’s photos, drawing and watercolors, along with maps, logbook entries, and journal notes. This is definitely a keeper for my small permanent library.
What a wonderful review, and a lovely book! Consider added to my TBR pile. :)
The Landmark Xenophon's Hellenika **** 8/28/12
I'm so sick of Xenophon right now I don't even want to attempt a full review. The Landmark presentation is as superb here as for Herodotus and Thucydides, so the 4-star rating is purely for the original work, which is not nearly as interesting as the earlier works.
The Best of John Wyndham 1951-1960 by John Wyndham ***½ 8/29/12
Good reads and you are so close to your 2012 goal! I hope that you don't mind that I steal a few for my Wishlist.
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