Monthly Archives: June 2014

Ten (non-fiction) books on my To-Be-Read Pile

Yesterday I inflicted part of my fiction To-Be-Read Pile upon you. Today, it is time for non-fiction. These are all books in the actual piles in my apartment. They are not on shelves. Some of them are borrowed from the library or from kind, accommodating friends. Again, these are in no particular order.

  1. The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition by C.S. Lewis. Scored a seventies reprint at a used bookshop. Looking forward to Lewis on Literature.
  2. The Lord as Their Portion: The Story of the Religious Orders and How They Shaped Our World by Elizabeth Rapley. It looks interesting and the title is intriguing and there is a great photo of cloisters on the front.
  3. Thomas Cranmer by Diarmaid MacCulloch. A biography of a Very Important English Reformer. And he has a great beard in the cover painting. I borrowed this from the accommodating friends.
  4. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs. A biography of C.S. Lewis with a cool picture of him and a lion drawing on the cover.
  5. Better Living: In Pursuit of Happiness from Plato to Prozac by Mark Kingwell. A local Philosophy prof writes popular essays.
  6. The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund De Waal. About a nineteenth-century art collector and his collection and his family.
  7. Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Michael Casey. More monastic practice, but with notes for current practice of this ancient art.
  8. A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland. Recommended to me by a friend last summer, but I haven’t quite gotten past getting it to reading it.
  9. Theology, Music and Time by Jeremy S. Begbie. I’ve heard Begbie a couple of times and am fascinated by what he’s said on both occasions. Now I also want to read his stuff.
  10. Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II by Keith Lowe. About the terrible, wild, and crazy things that happened at the end of the second war. I heard this guy lecture on a podcast and went after the book.

What non-fictional, reality-based things are you reading these days?

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Nine (fiction) books on my to be read pile

True Confessions: I went to a bookshop today. Is anyone surprised? I was. I wasn’t really planning on it, but it turns out the new Book City Bloor West is open. I am so happy there are books in the ‘hood again, I went in and bought books. The three books I bought have been added to my growing To Be Read Pile. Here are 9 randomly grabbed books from my fiction to be read pile. The first three I bought today, the others I acquired as noted.

  1. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Why have I not noticed this book before? Possibly people have pointed it out to me but I couldn’t see it for various reasons.
  2. Divergent by Veronica Roth. Now A Major Motion Picture! But I’ve also been intrigued by what I’ve heard about this YA dystopia. My friend the Library Page is a fan.
  3. Longbourn by Jo Baker. My Orthodox Colleague is muttering about the pollution of the shades of Pemberley again, but I can’t help it. It is Austen FanFic.
  4. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. I got this for Christmas but Whim has not taken me to this book quite yet. I’ll get there soon. Almost there. (I’ve just finished reading The Pleasures of Reading in An Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs, who talks about reading Serendipty and Whim. These things, he argues, are vital to the well-rounded reading life.)
  5. Millenium by John Varley. A Time Travel Thriller! according to the cover. I recently re-read a Varley book (Red Thunder) and enjoyed it so much I went Varley-hunting in several used bookshops. I scored a bunch. This is one of them.
  6. The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe. Lent to me by 1Mom a while ago, but Whim has not yet encouraged me to open the cover.
  7. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The ambitious choice. I picked this mass market seventies edition up at one of my local used bookshops. The owner and I had a little chat about whether it was actually a readable book or not. We both agreed that the mass market format made it less formidable looking.
  8. Domino by Ross King. I’ve read King before and enjoyed his historical fiction. I found this used somewhere, so I picked it up.
  9. Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom. I really like Sansom’s murder mysteries set in the reign of Henry VIII. This is not so much set in the reign of Henry VIII, but I thought I’d give Sansom’s other work a try as well.

What is on your to be read pile?

 

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Eight Books that Blew Me Away

I list these eight in addition to the six-that-stick other-worldly books I wrote about the other day. These are in no particular order, but are clustered as indicated by the subtitles.

Books other people recommended to me that I was pretty skeptical about:

  1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The Norwegian gave this book to me. I was pretty skeptical. How interesting can a book about a tiger and a boy in a boat be? If this is what you think, think again. It is really good. Try it and see.
  2. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Again, this is the Norwegian’s fault. I should just stop being skeptical of books she gives me and read them. This book won the Booker Prize in 1997. I don’t think the Booker is infallible (there are a couple of Booker-winners that I thought were duds) but I’ve usually enjoyed the winners. This one kept me glued to the pages, plus the writing is beautiful.
  3. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. 1Mom recommended this one to me. I was slightly skeptical because of the title. But I thought I’d give it a try. I usually like the books 1Mom recommends, though we don’t always see eye-to-eye on every book. (Her theory is that this is timing. Sometimes a book comes to you at the right time. I think there’s more to it than that, but agree that timing is important.) This book blew me away for a variety of reasons, not least that it is a window on worlds I didn’t know existed.

Books other people recommended to me, no skepticism to overcome:

  1. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. One of my math students recommended this to me. “You are religious, right? And you like computers? You would like this book.” Who can resist this recommendation?
  2. Room by Emma Donoghue. This was the first book 1Mom lent me. I read it pretty much in one sitting. It blew me away. Look for the resurrection in it.

Books I read because of the author, but were better than I expected:

  1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. Link this to Cutting for Stone because of the twins if you must, but this is something else entirely. Surreal. Haunting. Mind-blowing. All of these things. Fair warning: it is not The Time-Traveler’s Wife in any way, they just happen to share an author.
  2. Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams. I expected a nice little scifi adventure and got my mind blown. Kaboom! You should read it even if you don’t like science fiction. It is philosophical. Yes, yes it is. Mind-blowingly philosophical.
  3. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Potok’s book stick in my head in general, but this one sticks out more than the others. I’m not sure exactly why that is. Some of it is the art discussion I think.

So there are my 8 books that blew my mind. Which books blow your mind?

Follow-up from the number 7:

Many of you have read my previous post about books I’m not interested in reading — in fact the post has turned out to be the most popular post I’ve published in some time, with over two hundred hits in the last couple of days. I’ve enjoyed the feedback, both in comments on the blog and on fb. I’m not actually sure that I’m open to reconsidering some of the books on that list (as the Constant Reader astutely pointed out on fb), but I’m thinking about some of them in a different way now that you have spoken. Keep speaking! Who knows what will happen.

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Seven Books I Am Not Interested In Reading

I’m not interested in these books, even though they are all on lists of the 100 books you should really read in your lifetime. Not Interested. These are the books that I’ve gotten close enough to to get a whiff of what they are about and what they are like and decided I was not interested. I’m not even sure I’m open to your arguments about why I should want to read them. But you can try.

  1. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by  Judy Blume
  2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce
  4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  5. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  6. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

So tell me, why should I care about any of these?

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Six Other-Worldly Books

Today I’m going to talk about other-worldly books, six that stuck in my head. This group of books is not clearly Science Fiction, or clearly Speculative Fiction. One is a Fantasy more than anything else. I’ve put them together because they are all set somewhere Other. Plus they all stick in my head. Books that make you think, that you remember for a long time, these are the ones that are good, not your every-day run-of-the-mill stuff. I won’t argue that these books are great, but I will say they are all worth reading. These are in no particular order.

  1. Children of Men by P.D. James. This is not a mystery novel, it is speculative fiction. I’ve just finished listening to the audio book version for a different spin on it. I want to assign this book for a children’s ministry course in seminary. This evening, I began comparing it in my head with The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. James and Atwood are onto some similar themes I think, but they work them out quite differently. Things that make you go hmmm.
  2. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. So good. Kay’s best in my humble opinion. The Constant Reader thinks so too. This is the Fantasy book. Kay writes Historical Fantasy, in which his fantastic worlds bear some resemblance to some aspect of world history. This one is sort of Italian.
  3. A Scientific Romance by Ronald Wright. A twist on time travel, with apocalyptic overtones. It references The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, which I’ve not yet read. I should get on that. One thing I remember about Wright’s book is that Harry becomes king and we never find out what happened to William. (This was written before George was born.) Henry IX is a very remote and background figure in the book, but it was an interesting future what-if detail, part of a well-imagined world.
  4. The Moon is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. Moon colonies and sentient machines, plus a lot of political manoeuvring, what else could you want in a SciFi book? I liked this one on audio quite a lot because the guy who read it performed the voices so well. (To be fair, others found the voices irritating.) The sentient computer is a key character in the book, which is part of what makes the whole thing interesting to me. Plus Heinlein managed to imagine a moon colony with its own evolving cultural mores.
  5. Red Thunder by John Varley. Part of the reason this one sticks in my head is the the giant engineering hack that is the centre of the plot. Home-built spaceship anyone? Oh yeah. Plus there’s a fake crocodile in a pool, and the space coast setting in Florida, what more could you want?
  6. Beggers in Spain by Nancy Kress. I read this one first a long time ago. It was recommended to me by a fellow physics teacher. This is speculative fiction that imagines what happens when people are genetically modified so they don’t need sleep. The Sleepless have 8 more hours every day than the rest of us. Think on that.

Any Other Worlds that stick in your head?

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FIVE Non-Fiction Books!

(Sing the title to the Five line of the 12 Days of Christmas. Ok, it doesn’t quite fit perfectly, but that’s what’s in my head.)

I mentioned in my 4 reasons for not posting for a while that I went on a road trip last month. I listened to two non-fiction audio-books on the road, one for the way there, and one for the way back. Let me tell you about those two books and three other non-fiction books that I read after that road trip.

  1. Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill. I’ve read Cahill before. I quite enjoyed his How the Irish Saved Civilization in the “Hinges of History” series. This book also fits into that series. I’m afraid I didn’t find Mysteries as well argued as How the Irish. I read the Irish book and came away convinced of the importance of the Irish monks in preserving historical documents in the early Middle Ages. Mysteries I found over-ambitious in its reach and without a clear-cut argument. I think Cahill was trying to show that good things came out of the Medieval Catholic Church, but I didn’t need convincing of that. He also elevated the expression “vox populi, vox deus” to scriptural status, which I find unwarranted. I am pretty sure that the vox populi can be misguided. Witness Rob Ford. The book contains interesting stories about interesting people, but its overall argument is not strong.
  2. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. I rather enjoyed this tale of murder and death in New York City, despite the general sense that it is in essence a tract on the evils of prohibition. Besides railing on the US Government and its misguided prohibition amendment, the book tells the story of NY City’s first medical examiner and his colleague, who developed the field of forensic toxicology. It is pretty interesting stuff. You should read it. Or listen to it.
  3. The Lion’s World by Rowan Williams. This is Rowan Williams’s reflection on Narnia. Reading this short book made me want to read all the Narnia books again. I am still not convinced that one should read the Narnian books in chronological order as Williams suggests (and yes, I know Lewis suggested it too) but Williams did give me different ways of looking at some parts of the books that I’ve never really liked, including seeing the value of The Last Battle, my least favourite book in the series.
  4. Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination by Richard Morris. This is a fascinating book. I read it over a very long time, more than six months, and it talks about understanding the data of archaeology in different ways, so that the past can be accurately heard in the data. I thought about finding Richard III a lot when I read the chapter on digging up battles and seeing that the story told by the remains doesn’t match the written historical record. The aerial survey photos and the writing about new techniques in archaeology are extremely interesting.
  5. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. I’d not read this particular Lewis book before. I found his reflection on Praise the best part of the book. It is a nice short book, and easy to access.

What non-fiction books are you reading?

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Sunday Excursions

This is not an excursus, but an excursion, a small trip around a few old books I read during my two months of silence. It does not follow the numerical sequence which I picked up with my Four Reasons post of yesterday, and which I’ll continue tomorrow, in the tradition of other Sunday posts this year so far.

Time Travel: Of course one of my reasons for reading older books is time travel. I travel to a different age, whether or not the author sets the book in his or her present, it is the past now. At times the author sets the book in some imagined future, but that is still time travel of a sort. I read one book set in the author’s future during my little blog break: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. C.S. Lewis though very highly of this book when it first came out. I think it was mentioned in one of his letters. Lewis’s mention of Childhood’s End was the reason I picked the book up in the first place. It is certainly an interesting take on the visitation by UFOs/aliens story. If you haven’t read it and enjoy SciFi, I’d recommend it. It is vaguely Buddhist just as Orson Scott Card’s books tend to be rather Mormon.

Russia: I’ve now read two Russian Novels, both by Tolstoy. I should probably branch out and try some other Russian Author as well. Dostoevsky might be next. I did not revisit War and Peace, rather I read Resurrection. I began this book during Holy Week, and found it appropriate reading for the season. It is very good, and, I think, pretty accessible for Tolstoy. It is his last novel, first published in 1899. It gave me a different view of pre-revolutionary Russia.

England: Four books took me to England, two to the early 19th century, and two to the first half of the 20th century. Northanger Abbey, the Jane Austen I hadn’t read before, is quite amusing. Austen sends up gothic novels very well. Great Expectations is the first Dickens novel I’ve read. I have read A Christmas Carol, but it is better called a novella I think, and I know the stories of A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist, but have never read the books. I quite enjoyed Great Expectations considering that I had low expectations as I thought that possibly Dickens has been over-hyped. I’m not as convinced of the over-hyped opinion as I once was. I’ve more Dickens on the shelf for this year, so we’ll see what comes of those. Both of these books are set in the early part of the 19th century. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is set in the second World War, but recollections of the narrator give his story through the 20s and 30s as well. This has an interesting theological twist or two in it, and I’d like to hear what YOU think of the ending. Finally, His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle brings Sherlock Holmes into the 20th century in a collection of short stories that are not entirely sequential, but include a story set during the first World War.

New England: Finally, I listened to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott on audio book. I still think that this is a rather moralistic/moralizing book that is not very theologically sound. It was interesting hearing it read, as I couldn’t skip bits as I tend to do when re-reading. I heard a lot more foreshadowing of who the boy next door would end up with than I’d noticed when reading the book.

Those are some of the places I’ve gone while reading, how about you?

 

 

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Four Reasons I’ve not posted in a couple of months

  1. I read Northanger Abbey, thus the world as I knew it ended. There’s your gratuitous LOST reference for the month.
  2. I’ve been writing things out in the real world. Isn’t the blog-o-sphere also a part of the real world? Hmm. Too philosophical a question for the moment. Anyhow, I finished one writing project (I think) this week, thus removing some writing from my current to-do list, and making (some) room for blogging.
  3. I travelled! Yay for Ambridge and Durham, not to mention The Constant Reader and The Norwegian!
  4. I also taught some, read a lot, and watched some movies. It’s been nice having a break, but I’ve been getting hints, from some quarters, that the blog might be missed, and I think I might have some more things to say. Keep watching this space.

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