28 March 2012
It took me a while to figure out which direction I was going to take this post. Should I talk more about 1984 and how much it changed my life but was depressing and disturbing at the same time? Should I be snarky and talk about how Twilight is encroaching on the already diminished brain capacity of the average teen? Should I talk about how it's depressing that there are evangelical Christians in the world who are wondering why they don't have a Bentley yet and questioning their faith as a result? Should I talk about the book that most recently put me in tears?
I finally settled on The Shack. And it's not just it's outrageously poor theology I have a problem with. Love Wins had equally poor theology, but I feel like since one is disguised as fiction, it is much more insidious.
I think down the road
We will all have forgotten
Rob Bell's book
Or at least
We will try to forget
That he writes like this
But most likely
I'm being optimistic
About this one too
I don't think The Shack will be as easily forgotten. I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong, but I just don't think I am. I'm not going to review it because better people than I already have. All I want to say is that, aside from the deplorable writing and patronizing tone the author takes, the "love" put on display in that book is, at best, very human (and we all know how that has failed) and there is absolutely no hope within its pages. How other Christians can find anything good or hopeful in it is beyond me, and it makes me very sad.
Ok, it makes me more than sad. It honestly makes me a little angry, but I really don't want to rant. The question for this post was "A Book That Makes Me Sad" and that was the best I could do. Also, I lied about initially thinking of using 1984. I just said that because I just wanted to make the reference.
I'd ask what books made you sad, only this post has taken such a melancholy turn, I'm not sure it can handle much more. If you want to, you may share.
27 March 2012
Aside from it being my idea first; however, I thought Collins did a pretty good job. The story takes place in the dystopian future of North America. The twelve (formerly thirteen) districts of North America are under the totalitarian control of The Capitol. Before the story begins we learn that there has already been a revolt, which led to the destruction of district 13 and the beginning of the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is basically a reality TV show where two children (one boy and one girl, aged between 12 and 18) from each of the twelve districts, engage in a large gladiatorial match. A lottery is taken in each district to determine who goes into the games. Viewers of the show can participate by sponsoring who they think will win and paying to have certain supplies delivered to the child they are sponsoring. The last participant standing (yes, alive) wins and brings "honor and fame" and more importantly food to his/her district.
The protagonist is Katniss Everdeen who is taking care of her family single-handedly after the death of her father. Her mother went through a long bout of depression (and is just coming out of it) when the story begins, leaving Katniss to step up as provider for herself, her mother, and Primrose (Katniss's little sister). The Everdeen family lives in one of the poorest of the districts (twelve) and relies mainly on hunting (illegally) and foraging with her friend and hunting partner Gale. Surprisingly when the lottery takes place, Katniss's sister was chosen to go into the games, and Katniss volunteers to take her place. District twelve players we are told are always eliminated right away. The boy chosen is Peeta Mellark who long ago at a very crucial time in Katniss's life lent her a helping hand. They are taken to The Capitol for some training, and then the games begin.
If I tell you any more, I will spoil it. Now it's time for caveats. I don't feel like I need to point out that this is a frightening story. I feel like children in gladiatorial matches should really do it for you. The youngest person I think should be allowed to read this book is maybe sixteen, and even then I would gauge how well your sixteen year old handles harder things. Anyway, not being a mother, this wasn't my first thought, but if you are a mother you should be aware. Also, the Gale ->Katniss ->Peeta love triangle was there. I'm never ever ever going to like teenage romance. Ever. Ever. Have I emphasized that enough? There is quite a bit of kissing, but that is as far as it goes, which quite honestly is more than I can say for most of the young adult literature that is being cranked out. It's too much for me, and I really wish Collins could have done without it, but it's not as bad as it could be.
I think I'm going to risk it all and say I really liked it. It's hard saying you like a dystopian novel where children kill each other, but I did. There are a variety of reasons and for clarity (and because I'm running out of time) I'm going to bullet point them.
- Katniss sacrifices herself for her sister. The reader gets the impression that Katniss knew she was giving her life. In years no one from District twelve had lasted in the games. To volunteer in district twelve did not mean you were volunteering for the false promise from the capitol of glory and fame. It meant you were volunteering to die. (John 15:13)
- The relationship between Katniss and her mother was redeeming. Even though the mother abandoned the family emotionally after the death of her husband there is little to no hatred from daughter to mother. When Katniss fears for her life, she thinks mainly of who will support her mother and sister. I'm tired of Young Adult fiction with wretched parent-child interactions and this was a nice change.
- The unfaltering nobility of Peeta. Throughout the games (even when he knew that there could only be one person left) he works to protect Katniss. She continually doubts and distrusts that nobility, but he remains steadfast throughout the entire tale.
- No sex between the teenagers. I mentioned this already, and I hate that this has to be pointed to as a good thing, but it is.
- Yes, the children were fighting to the death, but it was oddly not as violent as one would think. It's not as if Ms. Collins was unrealistic, but she was as tasteful as she could be under the circumstances. It also wasn't warm and fuzzy. I don't want to give that impression at all. I was just expecting a blood bath, and I anticipated skipping a lot, but I didn't actually need to.
- I liked some of the clever things in the book. One example is the presence in the capitol of "traitors to the state" who could no longer speak. They were called the Avox. Get it? A (no) vox (voice). I like it when I can exchange a knowing wink with an author and say, "hah! I see what you did there."
- My brother was reading it. This was probably the strongest reason I was inclined to like it. My youngest brother wanted me to read it, and I don't have much of a grasp on what he reads. So, it was nice to be able to connect with him that way.
As an aside: Someone's brother who might actually read this blog has expressed annoyance over the fact that Ms. Collins has "borrowed" a lot of her ideas from other places. This might be true. Other than the obvious gladiator theme, I didn't really recognize the ideas from anywhere else. So, I guess I'll leave it up to others to make that call. I personally found the story entertaining, for the above listed reasons.
23 March 2012
Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James: Remember how I endorsed James before? Now, I'm not so sure. I actually liked this one the best of all of them, but there are some iffy relationships if you are a more conservative reader. And I still can't decide if I like Inspector Dalgliesh or not.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards: I cautiously suggest that those who know me in real life should give this one a try. I read it for my library book club, and the discussion was very interesting considering that not all of the ladies in my group were Christians. In fact, we have one very tolerant Atheist.
The story is about a doctor who assists in the labor of his wife. Unexpectedly, they have a boy AND a girl, but the girl is born with Downs Syndrome. The doctor decides to give the baby girl to the nurse and asks that the nurse send her to an institution (this was in the 50's clearly...if it was now, the baby girl would probably be dead). When his wife wakes up (apparently they used gas during births?), he tells her the girl died. The nurse decides to abscond with the child instead of taking it to the institution, after she sees the deplorable conditions there. The children grow up separate for twenty-five years, and the secret grows within the family in a way tearing them all up. It's a sad story, but it's an interesting story. I've honestly never read anything where the protagonist of the story is a person with Downs Syndrome. Also, it brings up a LOT of questions about the value of a person. Like, I said earlier, if the baby had been born today, she would have been killed in the womb. Considering that this sort of thing is happening right now, maybe stories like this are becoming more and more important.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: Read this for my church book club. I'm leading so, I can't discuss it much here. I liked it. I thought the ending could have been more emotionally satisfying, but it was probably more realistic. It's written like a diary from a girl whose quirky family is living in an abandoned castle in England. That sounds sort of boring the way I just said it, but it really is good. Maybe after our meeting, I'll be able to do a better review. Maybe. Probably not.
Death of a Perfect Wife by M.C. Beaton: Another Hamish MacBeth mystery story. It was as formulaic as ever. Cute and funny, but still sort of earthy. Hamish is offered another promotion, but refuses because he loves his little village of Lochdubh, and he seems to fall out of love with his former interest, Priscilla. Also, he solves a mystery. These books are so funny because no one you like EVER dies. It's always some outsider who comes in to make trouble in the village, and serendipitously they are murdered by another outsider equally as unlikeable.
Postmodern Pooh by Frederick Crews: This is my review from Goodreads - I gave this three stars because I couldn't give it five. I wanted to give it five because it's HILARIOUS!
It's basically a satirical recounting of a fictional postmodern literary critique conference on the subject of Winnie the Pooh. Each "scholar" takes Pooh for his/her own personal spin in order to denounce the decline of the gentleman, or expose Piglet's hidden abuse, or lament the cause of woman. The book takes all the theories of the postmodern literary field and airs them for the world to see them for they really are: Absurdities.
However, I can't give it five stars because I don't want any of my conservative friends to unwittingly pick it up and be shocked at me. If you haven't caught on by cultural osmosis, a lot (and I mean A LOT!) of postmodern literary theory is obsessed with sex. Frederick Crews in his satire makes frequent use of this, and there are things in the book that are a pretty sketchy. So, it's funny, but consider yourself warned
20 March 2012
This was actually a hard one for me, and it may be because I tend to like thoughtful books. Thoughtful books tend to not be cozy comfort reads. Almost all of the books that made me happy were from childhood. I don't think this is a problem, but maybe I need happier reads on my list. I considered using either The Phantom Tollbooth, any of the Mrs. Pollifax books or The 13 Clocks, but it had been so long since I read any of them.
But then I remembered A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage. Yes, ok, I admit it, I'm a nerd. Nothing makes me happier than a history (lite) book about something obscure as drinks and how they impacted the history of the world. Mr. Standage takes six sections (one per beverage) to talk about the discovery and social impact of tea, coffee, beer, wine, spirits, and soda. The impact is so much greater than you would think! (Sidenote: I thought the most boring section would be the soda, but I was completely wrong). I mean, obviously we all know that history is not as simplistic as that. Everything that happens is contingent on a bunch of other things, but certainly food and drink is as important to human history as to humans themselves.
So, now you know that odd things make me happy. I may have chosen the wrong book, but I did need to post something. And it does vie with The Phantom Tollbooth for my affection, and that is certainly saying something.
Ah yes, housekeeping...I'm toying with the idea of another blog. "But Heather, you don't even update your third one very much," I hear you say. Yes, well, yes...that is correct. I don't really have an excuse for that. But I constantly have this urge to photograph my lunches because I'm so proud of how pretty and healthy they are. If you don't know me in real life, when I get the chance to cook for myself, I create mainly raw food. At my most crazy, I cook vegetarian food. That's not to say meat is always unhealthy (hush you lean protein supporters!) it's just not what I eat. Anyway, I mentioned my penchant for photographing my lunch to a friend and she suggested I blog them in order to give others (also looking for healthy options) some ideas. My initial thought was: YES! I will! I will create one now. But my second thoughts are: I'm not sure if I can maintain a fourth blog, AND these are just phone pictures. I don't even own a little nothing digital camera. I mean, I guess the point wouldn't be the photo, it would be more the health content of the food. I'm just not sure. Let me know what you think. Also, let me know what books make you happy. For some of you I can already guess.
09 March 2012
I read Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I don't have the time today to dedicate all of what I'd like to say about this book, but I actually had to stop reading it on my lunch breaks at work because I kept crying. Happy and sad tears flowed. This book was amazing! I also plan to bother all of my friends until they at least try to read this. I don't usually do that with books. If I have a recommendation, I just throw it out and don't insist. I'm not going to be so polite with this one. So, if I know you in real life you should probably prepare yourself.
Hopefully sometime soon, I will have a review for you so I can peak your interest more, but just in case I don't, Carrie (who I can be extremely grateful to for loaning me her copy...even though I'm going to have to buy this one) wrote an excellent one already.
Ok, now go read it.
06 March 2012
There is no end to the amount of emphasis I want to give to this point: I am not endorsing this series and I am not suggesting anyone read it. In fact, I absolutely forbid it. So, if you go and read it and blame me, I will point back to this paragraph and say, I forbade you to read those books! What were you thinking?! So, there is my caveat.
The books make up The Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson (not Steve Martin as I originally thought). I was sent The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (book number one) by my grandmother. I'd heard a lot about it because back when I had a functioning iPod I listened to The New York Times Bestsellers Podcast which was often quite fascinating, sometimes gave me insights into new authors I appreciated, and sometimes led me to authors that made me sad for the rest of my country. I believe there is much controversy surrounding Mr. Larsson regarding who gets the money for The Millennium Series, which was published posthumously, and whether or not his death was a result of natural causes, but none of these things are what I want to talk about.
The books themselves are wildly popular, which is weird to be honest because they come to us from Sweden, and can you think of any other Swedish crime thrillers who have rocketed to the top of the best sellers list? Yeah, I can't either. I needed (yes needed) to know what was up with these books.
The first book was thrilling, absolutely thrilling. I mean, crime thriller was in no way a misnomer. Mr. Larsson tells a great story. The tale grips you right away and drags you all the way through to the end, with sweaty palms and increased heartbeat. Please note that I am not giving away the plot. This is on purpose, because again, I do not want you to read this. If you choose to do it it's on your own hands because this is the other side of it.
The antagonist in the book (if you can pin down just one antagonist) is evil. Not only is he evil, he comes from a family of evil. The evil is both sexual and violent and often comes across graphically. Since this is set apart as "evil" I may have been able to overlook it, except that the protagonists are also a little hard to embrace. Mr. Larsson has some vague idea of wrong. Rape is wrong. Fornication is normal and encouraged. Adultery is ok as long as both parties are fine with it. Obviously, I don't expect a strictly Christian sense of right and wrong from a postmodern author, but it was sometimes a little hard for me to get a sense of whether or not he actually believed there even WERE concepts like "right" and "wrong." For him it seemed to come down to, if it harms others, it's wrong.
So, I got the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I recycled it. Why? Well, first off because I'm a good citizen who recycles, but more importantly because: I don't want anyone else to read it. Have I said this enough? I just don't want to take any blame for this. It was absolutely one of the most exciting crime novels I've ever read. And I do read crime and political thrillers. Usually they aren't so graphic, and usually if they are I tend to put them down. (Also, I put them down if they go on for over half a page about a gun. I do have my limits, as a woman, to what I can take and that just bores me, but that's another topic...) This one, I couldn't put down, there were parts I purposefully skipped over, but even when doing that, there were things I read that probably didn't enrich my life, and may have diminished it.
I decided I wouldn't go on with the series. This was a very hard decision. When I start something I have a hard time not finishing. In fact, I can remember the exact book I was in the midst of slogging through when I had a moment of mental break through. I. Didn't. Have. To. Finish. It was like the sun came out in my life. That was actually a very short time ago (less than five years) and "not finishing" a bad or just a poor book/series, has been a long process of reformation for me. But after reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I knew that if I found the second one it would be too much of a temptation to read it. So, I purposefully didn't look for it at the library. And one year went by.
Recently I was browsing shelves at the library (because I don't have enough books at home ha.ha.ha.) and I was in the fiction section looking for a book by Nevil Shute. Shute....starts with an "S". Pretty far from "L" one would think. Yet some person with a grim sense of destiny had set The Girl Who Played with Fire on top of the Nevil Shute books. I'm a Calvinist. This was clearly predestined. I picked it up and read the inside cover. Alas! It looked more exciting than the first, but the bad guys were involved in sex trafficking, so it had the potential to be more explicit than the first. I walked away. But then I walked back. And then I walked away again. And then I checked it out.
Since a year has gone by, I'm actually not sure I could compare the two as far as explicitness. I do know the second one definitely had more questionable "casual" relationships than the first, but I also know that there was one point where I was holding up the book and saying out loud, "go go!! GO!" to the main character and I couldn't read fast enough because I was worried about her fate. I do get rather emotionally involved in my books, but even I was surprised how into the story I got. It was a really intense and absolutely thrilling story.
I am ignoring the fact that there is a third book. I really am torn because as far as just action and exciting story, they are hands down the best books I've ever read. But there are things in the book I am about...85% sure I should not have in my head (And I think the other 15% is denying reality). I know we have freedom in Christ, so all things are lawful (like reading these books) but not all things are helpful (like reading these books). I really really really want to read the third in the series. Partially because I cannot let things go, but mainly because the second book kiiiinda ended as a cliff hanger and I know the third one is going to be dreadfully exciting. Yet at the same time, I'm unsure about the wisdom in doing so.
I think my weird love/hate relationship with the books, is mirrored in my love/hate relationship with the main character. Her name is Lisbeth Salander and she is a pierced and tattooed 4'11" computer hacker with an attitude and a photographic memory. She's a genius and she's antisocial and she is not someone I would ever ever ever ever EVER want to befriend because she seems rather terrifying actually. She's also a character that the literary world has never seen before. She's just a new type of character. In fact, when I originally heard of the series, someone pointed out that she might be the reason the books are selling so well. People are just curious about this tiny, misunderstood misfit who takes justice into her own hands. In the books she's described as "moral." I think as far as Mr. Larsson's morality goes, she does indeed fit the bill. Personally I don't find her particularly moral, but I'm attracted to the ways she gets the job done.
She's also described as someone who "hates men who hate women." As stated before the books often revolve around crimes of a sexual nature. These are the type of crimes that often go unreported, still more often are ignored by the authorities, and are a repulsion to the image of God in every human being. As a woman, I'm aware of the dangers associated with crimes like these and as a Christian I hate them too. What is so fascinating about Ms. Salander is that she goes out directly and puts to right the wrongs that she sees. I can't help but cheer her on.
Another caveat, I do not advocate vigilante justice. I sometimes think the justice system is slow and frustrating, but ours is a lot better than what others have. I can't speak to the situation in Sweden, but as a Christian I do not endorse taking the law into your own hands. But it is very hard to not sympathize with the urge to do so. Perhaps this explains the popularity of western movies as well. We want to see justice performed. We acknowledge that we are living in a sin-filled world and long to see the wrongs put to right. This will never fully be done until Christ returns, but I think this explains our cheering on the "good guy" even when he (or she) is taking a controversial route. Plus, to be honest, there is a part of my brain that finds poetic justice in the fact that a woman is doling out justice to men who take advantage of other women. Yes, I do admit I get a little "girl power!" over these books.
So, there is my long post trying to justify/explain/confess my relationship with The Millennium Series. And really as far as guilty pleasure, that is as close as I could get. I won't induce you to share your guilty pleasure, but if you'd like to make me feel better about myself you certainly are welcome to do so.
05 March 2012
He's Baaaack- Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser
I also suggested hosting a Welcome Back Putin party at the Kremlin, but considering the uproar, that would most likely not be prudent. I believe my sister and I added jellied fish heads and borscht to the menu so I also think it would not be extremely palatable either.
I won't try to justify my fascination with the former KGB agent turned president, but I will re-post an old old OLD review of the most fascinating book ever written about him. I don't plan on editing the review at all so forgive the gushing accolades (of the book not the man...ok, maybe a little bit of the man, but have you seen the outdoors man photo shoot!?) of an undergraduate.
And so it goes...
I'm just finishing up a book called Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution. It's so amazing I could not wait until I was completely finished to write a review for my adoring audience. I've been personally fascinated by the enigmatic Prime Minister of Russia ever since his mysterious rise from relative anonymity to the Presidency after the Yeltsin era in 2001. When Time Magazine awarded Vladimir Putin the 2007 Person-of-the-Year award, my fascination reached its height.
The former KGB agent, who in his younger days would never have been called particularly ambitious has always displayed a stubborn and unbending nature suited perfectly to taking on the leadership of a country as thoroughly confusing to its vacillating friends as it is to its ambiguous enemies.
Kremlin Rising written by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser is a brilliant expose of Vladimir Putin and the Russia he has shaped. It paints a picture of a leader stretched between the old Soviet world he has grown up in and has framed his own worldviews and the new and democratic Russia he professes to desire for his people. It tells a story of a people who are tentatively enjoying their freedom and wealth and a people not quite ready to fully cut off their Soviet past and become "completely Westernized." But most of all this book is really a wonderful contribution to the "Russian question."
As former Cold War antagonists, the Russians have never experienced a firm and settled relationship with the United States. Despite the show of friendliness during the Bush administration, the intentions of Russia and its leader, continue to be misunderstood by the western world. Some countries continue to see Vladimir Putin as merely an ex KGB agent and therefore a threat to democracy and freedom. Some, more optimistically minded see only Putin the progressive (in Russian terms) reformer.
Baker and Glasser seem to consider Putin's Russia as too unstable to be able to last and his reign too volatile, but in my estimation I think he is terribly underestimated. Under Putin's leadership Russia has experienced the most growth they've known since Peter the Great. Public opinion polls are too highly in Putin's favor to be merely explained away by fear of the state.
Recently there has been talk of the current president, Dmitri Medvedev, extending the presidential term from four to six years. This extension will only apply to future presidents. There is no reason to believe that Vladimir Putin will not return to the office in 2012. In his own words the Prime Minister says, "In the Kremlin, I have a different position. Nobody controls me here. I control everybody myself."
02 March 2012
A Mind to Murder by P.D. James: I've talked about James before. I actually thought this one was maybe a little bit not as clean as the first. I would say reading James is like watching a BBC detective story. It's great and extremely British and you are engrossed in a really good mystery and then, suddenly, a nude person is on the screen. Do you know what I'm talking about? Anyway, as long as you keep that in mind, I think James is a pretty fun mystery writer.
This one was set in a psychiatric ward where the Administrative head is found murdered in the basement. The staff is under suspicion and detective Adam Dalgliesh (who is actually a poet we find out in this book) is called in to sift through the lives and secrets of the staff of The Steen Clinic.
The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares: This is the second in the Traveling Pants series. Someone else, who I won't name read them and I got curious and am reading them too. It's a series about four girl friends who find pants that magically fit them all, despite their differing body types. They send the pants and letters through the mail to one another all through their summers (the only time of the year they are apart), and the pants give them the emotional support of one another's friendship to be the best they can be. Yes, it's brain candy. If you reading something particularly daunting, or heavy, or overly academic and you need a break, these are fun, stupid, girly reads. A word of caution is that the girls all go through phases of being bratty to their parents (although I DO appreciate that nearly all of the situations get resolved and the parents are almost never actually in the wrong), two of them get in an adult situation with a boyfriend (also note that neither of these situations work out well, but they are still IN the book), and the fact that they portray teen relationships in a good light is a little sketchy in general.
The Death of a Cad and The Death of an Outsider by M.C. Beaton: Ok, I'm not going to take a lot of time here. My dad randomly brought home from the library a series of mysteries set in the remote village of Lochdubh in the Highlands of Scotland. The series involves a local policeman named Hamish MacBeth who solves mysteries. They are very funny. I recently found out that they were actually based off a real series by M.C. Beaton, who I'd never heard of before. (She writes Regency romance novels actually...which is why I'd never heard of her) So, I checked out some and they are funny. Again, more brain candy and the language of the Scottish highlanders is apparently very earthy if we are to believe Ms. Beaton. They're enjoyable, but I think they are only enjoyable because I liked the TV series first.
Unnatural Causes by P.D. James: This one was very dark and very very mysterious. I guessed the end of this one, but I didn't guess ALL of it.
Adam Dalgliesh, after releasing his second book of verse (by the way we finally get to read one of his poems in this one) and suffering from a failing love affair, goes off to stay with his aunt for a holiday. Apparently holidays aren't easily come by because he comes just in time to find a murder has taken place. A writer of detective fiction (aha!) has been killed, and Adam's aunt and all of her neighbors (who are all members of the literary field in some capacity) are immediate suspects. This is not Adam's case (because it's not his jurisdiction) but naturally he solves it anyway.
Selected Poems; Bilingual Edition by Rainer Maria Rilke: I don't think I can review this. Reviewing poetry is tricky and not remotely within my expertise (*snicker*...expertise!). I do like reading Rilke. He's possibly in my top five poets. I don't think we would be able to talk theology without arguing, but I do appreciate that his poetry grapples with questions about God, while he was writing in an age that had rejected traditional religious values.
I also loved reading the bilingual edition because I read the German out loud to myself to keep my accent fresh and a slight grip on my already failing vocabulary.