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How past atheist and agnostic thinking shapes people's thinking today

Number of pages: 655

While Christianity is a major world religion, there have been many atheistic forms of thinking that go back many centuries (even more so than I thought), from the thinkings of ancient philosophers to Friederich Nietzche.

This book provides a history of these views, as well as explaining the differences between different religions (both major ones and cults) from traditional Christianity. Not surprisingly, the works of Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins are mentioned a lot in the book (particularly the latter).

In the second half of the book, writer John Blanchard examines all of the problems with these alternate views of thinking, effectively using his own Biblical, scientific and historical knowledge to debunk all other theories. For example, he mentions how Dawkins sees people as just a random collection of atoms and molecules, but Blanchard sets out what the probability of this even happening is, and shows how unlikely and absurd this is, as well as explaining one of the problems with not believing in a creator is that the universe could not have appeared from nothing, so there must have been something before it existed.

This book is very long, and feels quite difficult to begin with, but as a Christian I found it immensely enjoyable; it feels painstakingly researched, and I found it to be a good way to reinforce my own beliefs by explaining why the author believes the clains of the Bible to be true.

This is definitely worth reading for anyone religious or interested in the subject of theology.

Next book: The Dark Half (Stephen King)

This was a completely blind read for me, as I had no idea what exactly it was about; it certainly wasn't about someone writing in a sketch book, as I had imagined!

This book is nothing like any book I have ever read before, and certainly seems very post-modern in format, though written in a typical style for the 19th century. This book comprises of a series of self-contained pieces of writing, mostly in the style of essays and memoirs (some of these effectively combine both), with a few short stories. However, this wasn't the thing that made this book unusual.

The whole thing is written from the point of view of the eponymous (and fictional) Geoffrey Crayon, and the writing demonstrates a variety of subjects. There are essays on Westminster Abbey and also on Native American history, and at times the fictional author describes himself walking around the place while talking about the historical importance. This book effectively feels partially like a textbook and partially like a book on observations on life 200 years ago; I also noticed that the character Geoffrey Crayon seemed to spend a lot of time in Britain, and at times it felt like I was reading a book by a very early version of the travel writer Bill Bryson.

At times, I wasn't sure exactly what to make of it; most of the historical stuff was presumably from Washington Irving's own knowledge, while some of the accounts of times spent in the company of others could have been based on real-life events or could have been written up based on Irving's knowledge of customs of the time. I noticed that a few of the chapters did join together to form a whole story, particularly about six chapters in the middle which tell of Geoffrey Crayon spending Christmas with an English family, and talking about all the customs that he witnessed. I got the impression that maybe Washington Irving was just curious about some things that he must have observed while visiting England himself.

As for the fictional short-stories, there are only a few. This includes the story of Rip Van Winkel (the man who slept for twenty years), which felt like a very quirky, but entertaining tale, although I could tell where it was leading because it is so well known. The longest story, located towards the end, is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which wasn't exactly what I was expecting. The story spends a lot of time talking about parties in the town of Sleepy Hollow and introducing main characters, with the headless horseman from the Tim Burton movie not showing up for a long time. This did make me realise that the movie version included a lot of stuff that wasn't from its source material, which deals with the appearance of the phantom and finishes with the disappearance of a character who he was pursuing.

Overall, I had mixed-feelings about the book; at times, it felt long-winded, but there was something in the style of writing that made me want to keep reading it. I remember one of my favourite bits was the fictional author talking about how me made the obvious social faux pas of laughing out loud in a reading library. Overall, I would say that this is worth reading, though at times it wasn't the easiest book in the world.

Next book: The X-Files Season 10, Volume 1 (Chris Carter, Joe Harris, Michael Walsh, Jordie Bellaire)

Number of pages: 170

Vaughan Roberts' book provides an overview of the Bible's structure, by setting out its message in reading order.

This book shows an excellent knowledge of the Good Book, as Roberts structures it in eight parts, covering separate parts of Biblical history, starting with the garden of Eden, followed by the fall of mankind.

Throughout the book, there are several short studies included that look at different parts of the Bible; I did these on my own, though I suspect that I would have benefitted from doing it with others. I loved the fact that there were many things in the book that I had never considered before, including the idea that God still showed His love to Adam and Eve after casting them out of paradise, and even to Cain after he murdered his brother Abel.

Overall, this is an excellent book for both people with a sound knowledge of the Bible and people who are new to the book and want to find out what it is all about.

Next book: The Sign of Four (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Book #20: Buttoned-Up (Fantastic Man)

Number of pages: 112

Fantastic Man is not, as I first thought, a pretentious pseudonym, but a men's fashion magazine that originated in The Netherlands.

Although this book is part of a series celebrating the 125th anniversary of the London Underground, this book has absolutely nothing to do with trains or public transport, instead focussing on: "The peculiarity of buttoning up one's shirt, especially in east London"; it sounds like a strange topic, and it is one, and it seems incredible that a 112-page book was published about this subject. It sounds like it could be meant as hilariously funny, but the writers take themselves very seriously.

The book consists of a series of different articles, written by different writers from the magazine, all talking about how several young men in the Shoreditch area of London took to wearing a shirt with the top button done up, but without a tie. The book includes an interview with Neil Tennant of 1980s band The Pet Shop boys and an article that connects the fashion with mod rock culture.

Overall, this feels like a very niche interest, and the book is padded out by various pictures of young men modelling shirts and street corners in Shoreditch. I thought it made for a reasonably interesting read, though the chapter where it talked about mod rocker culture felt like it was giving a very quick overview when it could have gone into great depth about this topic. I thought this was an okay book, but I suspect many audiences would be quite cynical about it.

Next book: The X-Files Season 10 Issue #5 (Chris Carter, Joe Harris, Michael Walsh, Jordie Bellaire)

Number of pages: 144

American evangelist Dale Ralph Davis' book focusses on the first twelve Psalms, with essays on how he interprets all of them.

I quite enjoyed this book, particularly as I had never considered exactly why the Psalms are ordered as they are, but here they are shown that they set out the things we need to remember first, such as why God is there for us and how He will save the righteous. I loved the way that Davis used examples from his own experience to illustrate his own points.

I've been reading through the Psalms and this made a really good companion to them.

Next book: The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

December 2013 reading

December 2013 reading:

49. Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly, edited by Jane Espenson (238 pages)
I really enjoyed a lot of the articles. I think my favorite was "Whores and Goddesses." There were a few I actually did not like--a few of the authors seemed unable to look beyond their own Western perspective. I also loved getting Jewel Staite's take on the episodes, complete with insider information on where the nickname "Captain Tightpants" originated. The essays made me appreciate the nuances of Firefly, and notice more of them.

50. The Simple Truth, by Philip Levine (80 pages)
A lovely example of his work. Reminds me in some ways of Whitman and Ginsberg.

51. Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (526 pages)
A lot of people seem torn over this one, but I think the thing that drew it to me the most was the characters being true to themselves. As a result, the story gets a bit misshapen at times, pulled in different directions based on the various characters' motivations. So while I understand their concerns, it was one of the things that I actually liked about it. We have character arcs that threaten the plot at times, but they engrossed me. I loved, and was heartbroken, by the conclusion to this series, but I love that Roth doesn't pull the punches. I also love that this series leaves an entire dystopic, post-apocalyptic United States to be explored.

December pages: 844

Pages to date: 15,763

Progress: 51/50

December 2013 Comics/Manga reading:

294. A Bride's Story: Volume 5, by Kaoru Mori (208 pages)
295. Fate/Stay Night, Volume 6, by Dat Nishiwaki (192 pags)
296. xxxHolic: Volume 7, by Clamp (192 pages)
297. Arata The Legend: Volume 15, by Yuu Watase (192 pages)
298. Zombie-Loan: Volume 7, by Peach-Pit (174 pages)
299. Descendants of Darkness: Volume 6, by Yoko Matsushita (192 pages)
300. Ceres: Volume 5, by Yuu Watase (200 pages)
301. Bleach: Volume 20, by Tite Kubo (216 pages)
302. Case Closed: Volume 18, by Gosho Aoyama (192 pages)
303. Case Closed: Volume 19, by Gosho Aoyama (192 pages)
304. Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Volume 10, by Naoko Takeuchi (248 pages)
305. Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Volume 11, by Naoko Takeuchi (248 pages)
306. The Wallflower: Volume 11, by Tomoko Hayakawa (192 pages)
307. Black Butler: Volume 15, by Yana Toboso (176 pages)
308. The Wallflower: Volume 12, by Tomoko Hayakawa (192 pages)
309. The Wallflower: Volume 13, by Tomoko Hayakawa (192 pages)
310. Case Closed: Volume 20, by Gosho Aoyama (192 pages)
311. Case Closed: Volume 21, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
312. Kekkaishi: Volume 11, by Yellow Tanabe (192 pages)
313. Loveless: Volume 9, by Yun Kouga (184 pages)
314. Fate/Stay Night: Volume 7, by Dat Nishiwaki (192 pages)
315. Fate/Stay Night: Volume 8, by Dat Nishiwaki (192 pages)
316. Ceres: Volume 6, by Yuu Watase (200 pages)
317. Ceres: Volume 7, by Yuu Watase (200 pages)
318. Bleach: Volume 21, by Tite Kubo (200 pages)
319. Bleach: Volume 22, by Tite Kubo (216 pages)
320. Translucent: Volume 1, by Kazuhiro Okamoto (186 pages)
321. Translucent: Volume 2, by Kazuhiro Okamoto (196 pages)
322. Pandora Hearts: Volume 18, by Jun Mochizuki (192 pages)
323. xxxHolic: Volume 8, by Clamp (192 pages)
324. xxxHolic: Volume 9, by Clamp (192 pages)
325. Bride of the Water God: Volume 13, by Mi-Kyung Yun (164 pages)
326. Zombie-Loan: Volume 8, by Peach-Pit (171 pages)
327. Zombie-Loan: Volume 9, by Peach-Pit (173 pages)
328. Someday's Dreamers Spellbound: Volume 4, by Norie Yamada (192 pages)
329. Descendants of Darkness: Volume 7, by Yoko Matsushita (192 pages)
330. Descendants of Darkness: Volume 8, by Yoko Matsushita (184 pages)
331. Candidate for Goddess: Volume 2, by Yakiru Sugisaki (144 pages)
332. Gunslinger Girl: Omnibus 4, by Yu Aida (320 pages)
333. Doonesbury: The Long Road Home, by G.B. Trudeau (96 pages)
334. Doonesbury: In Search of Reagan's Brain, by G.B. Trudeau (128 pages)
335. Chi's Sweet Home: Volume 10, by Kanata Konami (160 pages)
336. Yotsuba&!: Volume 12, by Kiyohiko Azuma (224 pages)
337. The Wallflower: Volume 14, by Tomoko Hayakawa (192 pages)
338. The Wallflower: Volume 15, by Tomoko Hayakawa (176 pages)
339. Blue Exorcist: Volume 10, by Kazue Kato (192 pages)
340. Sakura Hime: Volume 10, by Arina Tanemura (184 pages)
341. Nabari no Ou: Volume 13, by Yuhki Kamatani (192 pages)
342. Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Volume 12, by Naoko Takeuchi (276 pages)
343. Detroit Metal City: Volume 3, by Kiminori Wakasugi (192 pages)
344. Boy Princess: Volume 1, by Seyoung Kim (200 pages)
345. Kekkaishi: Volume 12, by Yellow Tanabe (192 pages)
346. Kekkaishi: Volume 13, by Yellow Tanabe (192 pages)
347. Case Closed: Volume 22, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
348. Case Closed: Volume 23, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
349. Dance in the Vampire Bund: Volume 8, by Nozomu Tamaki (192 pages)
350. Spice & Wolf: Volume 7, by Isuna Hasekura (192 pages)
351. Durarara!! Saika Arc: Volume 2, by Ryohgo Narita (176 pages)

December pages: 11,028

Pages to date: 69,038

Progress: 351/350

Number of pages: 96

According to the back cover, this book addresses the notion: “That nature’s canniness will always trump techno hubris”, and throughout you can tell that writer Richard Mabey has a keen interest in naturalism.

This book centres largely around London’s Metropolitan Railway and talks about how it was intitially constructed, and how it connected the urban centre of London with the suburbs and surrounding countryside. The historical stuff is fascinating, and I got the sense that this book was well-researched.

The second half of this book is largely about the subject of nature, and particularly about Mabey’s own experiences growing up living in the countryside; I particularly enjoyed the vivid depiction of an incident where he and his friends had to be rescued from sinking into mud. Along with a brief commentary on the planned High Speed 2 rail line, this turns into an essay on nature the impact that urbanisation has on it.

I loved the way that the writer uses language throughout the book, and he seems to have quite a way with words (talking about the railway coming to “a ceremonious full stop against a set of buffers”), and there is a very upbeat feel to it.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book, and it didn’t just feel like something for the naturalists or the hippies.

Next book: Thief of Time (Terry Pratchett)

Book #54: Earthbound by Paul Morley

Number of pages: 137

This book by journalist Paul Morley has a very unconventional feel, largely because its principal subjects are the London Underground (specifically the Bakerloo line) and the music industry, both subjects that he seems to be fanatical about.

It sounds like a strange mixture, and it is. So, one moment, Morley will be talking about the London Underground and its history, and then suddenly the book will turn into an essay about the development of the Walkman and the author's favourite bands, focussing largely on obscure groups, with a lot of commentary on a "Bakerloo" track by the band Can. The two seem to be linked by talks of sitting on an underground train while listening to music.

One of the best things about this book is that Paul Morley seems to be very knowledgeable about his subject matter, and he seems to enjoy talking about it; he also has quite an interesting way with words, at times treating a London Underground line as though it is a human being with feelings, and at times going into flights of fancy that almost make you wonder what he's been smoking, commenting on how the line probably has tunnels leading Jupiter and how Elephant and Castle Tube Station is probably home to tramps and mutants. There was also an intriguing fascination with the colour brown, which is the colour that denotes the Bakerloo on tube maps, and Morley keeps returning to this subject almost obsessively, comparing it to Sherlock Holmes' pipe and "the colour of hashish".

I found it overall to be an enjoyable read, although the two subjects seemed to sit side-by-side somewhat awkwardly.

Next book: Carpe Jugulum (Terry Pratchett)

Book #40: Walk the Lines by Mark Mason

Number of pages: 382

Mark Mason's book charts his efforts at walking along the routes taken by the London Underground lines. During the book he talks about everything he sees, including notes about the geography of the areas he visits and random things that he observes on the way, as well as including fascinating historical facts (plus some very geeky ones regarding individual stations), plus he talks about various people he interviews on the way, such as the actor who voiced the "Mind the Gap" announcement heard often at the London underground station platforms.

While this book is something that most people will either love or hate, depending on whether they are interested in the subject matter, I enjoyed this enormously. Mark Mason's writing displays a sense of humour similar to that of Bill Bryson, except without the surrealism, and you almost get a sense of being on his journey with him. While I felt a bit disappointed at a few moments when it felt like the book rushed past areas with barely any comment, walks through other areas of London were covered in a lot of detail, and I could imagine him walking around with a notebook, constantly jotting stuff down that he wanted to put into the book. The chapter where he and a friend did the "Circle Line pub crawl" was one of the most entertaining of all.

Next book: The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Book #33: A Fresh Start by John Chapman

Number of pages: 214

In this book, writer John Chapman explains about the way of life for Christians, and although it feels as though it is aimed at people who are just starting to think about becoming Christian, it is also a good book for committed Christians to remind themselves about the important aspects of faith and the right attitude towards life.

I quite liked the fact that Chapman points out the number of eyewitness accounts for Jesus' resurrection in the Bible, setting out this as his reasons for believing what it says. He also shows that he has a good Biblical knowledge, and shows this by quoting relevant passages throughout the book. Overall, this was a very simple book to understand, so is a recommended book to anyone who would like to know more about what it means to be Christian.

Next book: Nicholas Nickleby (Charles Dickens)

Number of pages: 73

William Leith narrates this autobiographical story, telling of how he stepped onto a Northern Line train and started to sense that something was wrong. As the account continues, you can tell that something bad is going to happen and this is what the whole story is building up to.

I found myself feeling sorry for the author immediately, because he is evidently claustrophobic, and talks a lot about how anxious he gets when he uses the London Underground, and he talks a lot about his relief when he gets to the end of his journey, and how he wishes he hadn't decided to go one stop further. The depictions of how other people behave on the train are all very vivid, and it made me feel almost like I was there.

The book was written well, occasionally going off on tangents about other aspects of the author's life, and there was some good use of humour at times that put me in mind of Bill Bryson. I liked the way that the narrative built up to the climax.

This is one of a series of twelve books that has been written about different lines on the London Underground.

Next book: Clay (Melissa Harrison)
Title: Ruskin Bond's Book of Nature
Author: Ruskin Bond
Genre: Nature writing, Indian lit, anthology

For over half a century, Ruskin Bond has celebrated the wonder and beauty of nature as few other contemporary writers have, or indeed can. This collection brings together the best of his writing on the natural world, not just in the Himalayan foothills that he has made his home, but also in the cities and small towns that he has lived in or travelled through as a young man. In these pages, he writes of leopards padding down the lanes of Mussoorie after dark, the first shower of the monsoon in Meerut that brings with it a tumult of new life, the chorus of insects at twilight outside his window, ancient banyan trees and the short-lived cosmos flower, a bat who strays into his room and makes a night less lonely... (from the blurb)

I'm on a bit of a nature kick these days (books, documentaries, considering postgraduate courses) so it was great to re-read this book, which I first read some years ago from a library. My own copy's been on my shelf for at least a year, so I was glad to finally get around to it.

As the blurb says, this is a collection of Bond's nature writing - long and short prose pieces of both fiction and non-fiction, and poetry. All of the chapters but one are vignettes of varying lengths brought under a common heading. Some are hit and miss - for me, more of the poems were misses, and in one chapter his referral to some plant species by just their scientific name was, I thought, not very helpful - but overall I liked this quite a bit.

Chapters and descriptions. No spoilersCollapse )

Part of the reason I like it is that his passion for his subject(s) clearly comes through. He really is a lover of nature, and that's one thing we have in common. I've also lived in the town he now calls home, so it's a somewhat familiar environment to read about. But it's also different because I spent significantly less time there, and so my experience is nowhere deep as his, and because I was there during a very different historical period...yet that itself is engaging in an interesting way.

Overall, an interesting read. I've already lent it to one friend and may lend it to at least two more.
Book 76: Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies.
Author: Ian Mortimer, 2010.
Genre: Non-Fiction. History. 14th Century England. Historiography. Essays. Academic.
Other Details: Hardback. 391 pages

In this important new work Ian Mortimer examines some of the most controversial questions in medieval history, including whether Edward II was murdered, his possible later life in Italy, the weakness of the Lancastrian claim to the throne in 1399 and the origins of the idea of the royal pretender. Central to this book is his ground-breaking approach to medieval evidence. He explains how an information-based method allows a more certain reading of a series of texts. He criticises existing modes of arriving at consensus and outlines a process of historical analysis that ultimately leads to questioning historical doubts as well as historical facts, with profound implications for what we can say about the past with certainty. This is an important work from one of the most original and popular medieval historians writing today. - from Bloomsbury Academic website.

I picked this book up in the library because I was curious to learn more about the controversy surrounding the death of Edward II and the Fieschi Letter following my reading of Ken Follett's World Without End and watching its TV adaptation. My expectation was that it would be similar in style to his Time Travellers Guides; that is accessible to a layperson. I didn't note that it was published by the Bloomsbury Academic imprint yet soon realised that it was scholarly in its approach and content and much more suited to an academic readership than to someone like myself.

I could recognise its worth and did take on board the issues being discussed but I realised that I didn't have the background in Historiography required to be able to follow Mortimer's arguments for his innovative information method, which seeks to apply a scientific model to the study of primary sources. Frankly, I knew I was out of my depth. I spoke to one of the librarians at our local branch when I returned the book and she was going to pass it on to one of her colleagues who is a medieval scholar for his opinion.

My feeling is that while I was able to understand that Edward II's death and other issues addressed within are highly contested subjects that I wouldn't really re-visit this book unless I decided to study medieval history as a discipline and gain the knowledge and skills in understanding methodology that I currently lack. I also discovered on Dr. Mortimer's website that this book was listed among his research monographs, so again an indication this was a specialist book.

Dr. Ian Mortimer's page on 'Royal Intrigue' - Introduction and background on his writing the book.

Number of pages: 276

Streets and districts in London have a lot of fascinating names, and this book analyses their origins.

I found this to be an enjoyable read, although in many cases I found that a lot of the streets were named after people, while my favourite stories were about how the street name was derived from an old word (e.g. in Anglo-Saxon) regarding how the area appeared many years ago. The book had a lot of intriguing historical facts about London.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history.

Next book: The Bellwether Revivals (Benjamin Wood)
This was a book I was given about friends, and it is a useful 50-day study guide to the book of Romans from the Bible, so you read another section of the book every day (though sometimes you will read the same section multiple times); the author has written a number of page-long essays on what each part of the book means to him, and asks the reader questions about how they feel themselves. Very useful on getting an in-depth look on the book of Romans.

Next book: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Book #54: London Under by Peter Ackroyd

This is a fascinating book, all about the sort of stuff that goes on underneath London, mostly focussing on history, and some of it was quite surprising. The bits that got me most interested were the later chapters, all about the London Underground system and how the deep tube lines were built, their architectural features and how many of them were used as shelters during the Second World War.

There were many other fascinating facts in the book, mostly about London's sewers and the "Thames Tunnel". This is a good book with anyone with even the slightest interest in architecture or engineering.

Next book: Romans: Momentous News by David Cook
I won this signed anthology in a blog giveaway over two years ago. It has just been sitting on my shelf, passed over time and again. I couldn't help but think political equaled boring.
However, all the recent political stupidity regarding women's bodies has had me rather pissed off, so I decided to give the book a try. If it turned out boring, I'd just stop reading.

I didn't stop reading until the very last page.

I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging the anthology turned out to be. The voices varied in tone and topic, ranging from Benazir Bhutto balancing family and policy (all the more sad considering she was assassinated) to Barbara Kingsolver comparing herself to her daughter at thirteen. Some of my favorites included "Adoption in III Acts" by Kathy Briccetti, an intimate tale of how subsequent generations of her family had been adopted and the ordeal she and her partner were enduring to have them both listed as the mothers of their child, and "On Receiving Notice of My Stepdaughter's Pregnancy" by Mary Akers, in which she balances her love and frustration at her stepdaughter's choices.

The one weakness of the anthology is that it skews left--in some cases, far left. There's a lot of mourning over John Kerry's loss. A few essays verge on being outright antagonistic to Republicans, and sometimes the self-righteousness could be irritating. I consider myself an independent, and after reading so many liberal-themed essays in a row, I really yearned for more balance. My favorites essays were the ones that avoided those Republican/Democrat labels. Fortunately, there were many, and it's not as if any of the essays were "bad." I may not have agreed with the authors, but I found their arguments compelling and insightful.

Book #48: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This book is another of C.S. Lewis' essays on living a Christian life, and his views on the right way to behave as a Christian; it is quite wordy, but I loved the examples and metaphors that he used to illustrate specific situations and aspects of the Christian experience.

A good read for anyone who is already religious, or who is looking into the Christian religion.

Next book: Catch as Catch Can by Joseph Heller.

#13 Johnathan Biss: Beethoven's Shadow

A Kindle single, i.e. an essay in which Johnathan Biss, a performing pianist, tells about his love for Beethoven's music and his quest to record the all the 32 sonatas. Being a (very amateur) pianist myself and having been in love with Beethoven's music since I was about 10, I found this very interesting and touching.
Biss also discusses how recording is different from a concert, and how we are used to hear perfection (whatever that is) on our CD, whereas in a concert hall minor glitches and inaccuracies do not matter but rather add charm and personality to the performance.
All in all, nicely written. 4/5.


June Books: #69-79/200

Laurie's Loves by Lynnette Bernard
Louisiana Heat by Dominique Adair
The Girl who was on Fire ed. Leah Wilson
Fairest #4 by Bill Willingham
American Vampire #26 & #27 by Scott Synder
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Plain Kate by Erin Bow
Hark! A Vargrant by Kate Beaton
Monster by A. Lee Martinez
The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

My Thoughts?Collapse )

Book #38: The Christ Files by John Dickson

This book is written for the purpose of analysing the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. It is a bit of a heavy read, but it is not too long, and the book made some interesting points about Jesus and the writings in the Gospels.

The book does not appear to have been written from a biased point of view, and so comes across as very objective, rather than subjective, and is therefore a good book for anyone, even if they are not a committed Christian.

Next book: 2061: Odyssey Three (Arthur C. Clarke)

Books 4, 5, 6

Really behind on these updates!

Book 4: Anthem by Ayn Rand
The most succinct rendition of Rand's philosophy.

Book 5: Free Will by Sam Harris
A forty page essay which states that Free Will is an illusion (and has caused a great debate between him and the philosopher (and his friend,) Daniel Dennett.

Book 6: Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham
My review just posted on GoodReads:

Paul Graham is an early web innovator (creating the first online store company, ViaWeb, which was later sold to Yahoo!) He clearly foresees technology trends (the iPhone and Cloud Computing, for example) and is righteously opinionated - something important for creative, entrepreneurial people as he writes in one of the book's earliest essays.

PG is a libertarian and sees the world through those lenses (it happens to be a lens I share to some degree, so it was a refreshing read.) If you dislike libertarian thought the book can be a challenge as that flavor permeates nearly every essay.

I am scientist but not a computer programmer (I last programmed in both Basic and IDLE in the 80s.) PG's explanations of programming languages and the strength of LISP in particular were illuminating and enjoyable. It's inspired me to take a programming class at a local university this summer.

(x-posted to my journal)


Book #35: Miracles by C.S. Lewis

This is effectively an essay from C.S. Lewis regarding the concept of a miracle, and the differences between the natural and supernatural. The book is quite profound and complex at times, as Lewis puts across his personal views, mostly regarding how some people do not believe there can be anything beyond the natural world, and talks about the life of Jesus and his purpose, as well as putting all his ideas into a modern concept.

It is not an easy book to read, as you will need to concentrate in order to understand the arguments put forward, but anyone who enjoys philosophy and has an interest in the Christian faith should read this.

Next book: We Could Be Heroes (Ben Dirs and Tom Fordyce)

#19: A sense of wonder

The Sense of Wonder was Rachel Carson's final book; her intentions to expand it into a full-sized dissertation were derailed by her premature death from cancer. As it stands in its posthumously-published version (usually presented as part of a nature photo pictorial), it isn't much longer than an essay - but it's probably her most potent book. Its thesis is on how to impart a sense of natural curiosity to the young, and its suggested solution is mere exposure to the great outdoors - not with any particular point or pointed instruction in mind; just to look and see and experience. As Carson explains:

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused - a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration, or love - then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response.

Carson interweaves her thesis with treasured memories of exploring the wild with her own young nephew, Roger, venturing out together into the spring woods and pretending the new crop of spruce seedlings woulc make fine Christmas trees for the squirrels, or seated "in the dark living room before the big picture window to watch the full moon riding lower and lower toward the far shore of the bay, setting all the water ablaze with silver flames and finding a thousand diamonds in the rocks on the shore as the light strikes the flakes of mica embedded in them." Carson's genius was in her talent for bringing the workings of the natural world to life for a wide audience with lyrical prose, and The Sense of Wonder, though short, is perhaps her most graceful and compelling synthesis of beauty with fact.
Title: Useful Work vs. Useless Toil
Author/Illustrator: William Morris
Genre: Political Philosophy
Publisher: Penguin (Great Ideas imprint)

Visionary English Socialist and pioneer of the Arts and Crafts movement, William Morris argued that all work should be a source of pride and satisfaction, and that everyone should be entitled to beautiful surroundings – no matter what their class.

This was a collection of three essays – the titular Useful Work vs. Useless Toil, Gothic Architecture, and How I Became A Socialist.

The first work is the longest and outlined the changes he felt had to be made in the attitude towards work/labour. The goal of those changes would be to help create an ideal society, one in which people enjoyed doing what they did and produced goods/services that were useful.

The second is a slightly shorter essay. It’s a piece about architectural history as well as a critique of certain styles. It’s about notions of beauty and how the past can influence the present in art forms, particularly architecture. I think it’s also at least a little (it’s been a while since I read it) about beauty vs. utility.

The third essay is a concise and to-the-point piece about the author’s political views and how and why he modified them when he felt he had to.

I took this from the library because I was intrigued by both the title and the little blurb, such as it was (the same one in italics above). Glancing at his Wikipedia entry, among other sites, it looks like Morris was an interesting figure and someone I may read more of.

This was an unusual book, to say the least; while the characters are fictional, it is not so much a narrative but a series of essays on human nature, as a demon called Screwtape writes a series of letters to his nephew, who is trying to corrupt a human character.

The book is essentially a satire, and the letters are likely to raise a few smiles, as the demons try to tempt the character away from his religious values (as described in what Screwtape discusses); while it sounds subversive, the whole conceit of “humanity from the point of view of a demon” is actually quite interesting, and it made me think about the amount of distractions and temptations that can occur in real life.

The book is quite wordy, and the version I had also included the short story, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, which is also a similar discussion on the nature of evil. The book is quite wordy at times, and might not be to all tastes, but is a good book for anyone who is religious – and very different from the Narnia series.

Next book: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Book 22: 21st Century Gothic: Great Gothic Novels Since 2000.
Editor: Danel Olson, 2011. Foreword by S. T. Joshi.
Genre: Non-Fiction. Literary Studies. Academic. Gothic and New Gothic.
Other Details: Hardback. 675 pages.

The fifty-three works, published between 2000-2010, covered in this essay collection were selected by a poll of more than 180 specialists in the field of Gothic Studies. The essays discuss the merits of these novels, highlighting the influences and key components that make them worthy of inclusion in a study of the Gothic Novel in the 21st Century.

This collection of academic essays proved a fascinating read even if at times a little uneven as naturally in a collection with fifty-three contributors there were some essays that flowed better than others. A few essays were very thick in academic terminology making them a little difficult for a reader like myself without that background. All essays had notes and there was detailed information about the publishing history of the novels covered. The runner-ups in the poll were also included and I was surprised that a few mentioned didn't make the cut.

The criteria in academic circles for what constitutes a Gothic or New Gothic novel obviously is wider than I had realised. More than once while reading the essays I did wonder if the term was being diluted too much. It seems I wasn't alone in this as more than one contributor mentioned how the term 'Gothic' had become so difficult to pin down in recent years. Richard Bleiler in his essay on Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book summed it up very well: "one may justifiably argue that the word Gothic has been applied in so many ways, in so many places, and to so many authors and works that it has effectively lost all of its original meaning."

While I enjoyed the essays on books I had already read, I did have to skim parts of the ones dealing with novels that were already on my 'to be read' mountain as most of the essays contained spoilers in their analysis of the plot and themes. One of my favourite essays was upon the Twilight Saga by June Pulliiam, possibly because it was one of the less esoteric in its terminology and I'd already read a number of critical essays on the novels.

Still throughout I gained insight into various novels as well as broader aspects of how the term Gothic is applied in contemporary literary studies. It is the sort of book that does serve as a great resource for libraries. I am pleased that my local library bought this copy as once I've read those outstanding novels I should be able to pop in and read their corresponding chapters in greater depth.

'Sneak Peek' at Table of Contents - posted by Stirling University.
David McWilliam's Detailed Review - posted on Stirling University's Gothic Imagination site.

Book #7: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I had mixed feelings about this book, in which Captain Ahab becomes obsessed with killing the white whale who was responsible for him losing his leg. While the story is very thrilling, it is also quite long-winded and padded out by various essays regarding whales and whaling, which at some points actually sound like Herman Melville getting up on his soapbox. There were some enjoyable moments in the essays, including parts of the spine from a dead whale being used by children for playing with, and how the men responsible for cutting up blubber frequently cut off their own toes, but a lot of this just seems tedious and definitely won’t be to all tastes.

There is, however, some enjoyable action, during the scenes when whales are harpooned at sea, and the book does not shy away from any realism. The best moment in the book for me, however, was the entrance of Queequeg, the cannibalistic harpoonist, as the whole sequence is very descriptive and gives an immediate sense of unease. This is good to read it you are able to persevere, but it is definitely not an easy read.

Next book: A Scandal in Bohemia and Other Stories (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

#4: More than good wives and wise mothers

I finished Japanese Women: New Feminist Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future today, a collection of over twenty essays relating to women's place in Japan throughout the centuries and It's intriguing for its sheer breadth alone - some essays are quick histories on certain issues like the evolution of female higher education or the traditional place of women in Buddhism; others are examinations of certain contemporary issues, like the difficulty of accessing Japan's new, nominal right to paternity leave or the unique plight of foreign workers in the Japanese sex trade; others are insightful portraits of notable women, like female artists in the Meiji period and 1980s female assemblywomen in an overwhelmingly male Diet. It covers a broad spectrum of topics, and you learn a lot of unexpected tidbits, like the prominent roles socialism and Christianity played in early Japanese feminism. Plus, the voices are overwhelmingly those of actual Japanese women which is important - so much of English nonfiction material on Japan is of the "I'd make such a better Japanese citizen than those ungrateful jerks!" self-impressed overseas-author variety.

The modern material is dated a bit, as the book was published in 1995. The book's good enough for a second edition to be released, though, and I can heartily recommend it in its current state to anyone with an interest in Japanese culture.



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