Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Mini review: 'Artemis'

ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, what a ride! Science in digestible bite sizes, wrapped in a mystery, set on the moon. I love the culture of the moon city Artemis. What a fun read to me.

If you're looking for literary, nuanced take on human life, you should look elsewhere. I was not offended by the locker room banter about sex, but I can understand how many reviewers were, especially in the current climate.

I still enjoyed it thoroughly.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 13, 2017

'God: A Human History'

godgod by Reza Aslan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What is God? Where did the idea of God come from? These are the questions Reza Aslan examines in his latest book.

I am an agnostic brought up in the Christian tradition and a lover of Aslan's book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I also read many popular science books about the brain, so I was excited to find that Aslan included cognitive science in his consideration.

Although it is written in a clear and engaging style, I am afraid I was disappointed in this book, a result I will lay at the feet of a mismatch in expectation and execution. Aslan provided a great many notes that I would have wanted in the text; that is, he just asserts things like "we are born believing in a soul," without discussing it. Yes, there is more in the notes (the bibliography and notes take up half the book), but I found it a very dissatisfying construction.

What the book is, Aslan says in the end, is a tracing of God through archaeology and history that mirrors his own journey to a religious view that most closely resembles Sufism, a mystical tradition of Islam. I guess I expected a more scholarly discussion; I might have found that more enlightening.

I wonder if I could adjust my expectations if I would find this trip through Western religions -- very little is said of Buddhism and Taoism, for instance, while focusing on the religions born of the Middle East -- providing more food for thought. This book should certainly spark discussion and would be best read a jumping off point rather than an end point.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Harry Potter and the Endless Inventiveness of Fans

I discovered a podcast recently called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, and I LOVE it. Brought to us by a couple of employee-graduates of Harvard Divinity School, I have never come across such a thoughtful, delightful, and uplifting discussion of pop culture.

I don't know whose idea it was originally to apply practices for reading sacred texts (the Bible mostly) to secular literature, but it is brilliant.

Lest this sound like sacrilege, let me be clear: nobody is saying the Harry Potter series is a set of sacred texts. These folks are just taking thoughtful practices from the Judeo-Christian traditions and applying the to Harry Potter to see what they can learn, about themselves and living an ethical life

I thought it was weird too, until I started to listen. The hosts, Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile, are lovely and wholesome and funny. It does my heart good just to hear a couple of Millenials talking about how to be good people and bringing an intellectual approach to it. What they are doing is so counter to the approach of the current people in power in the U.S. government and those who put those people in power. To use a Harry Potter metaphor, they are a warm and fuzzy version of the Order of the Phoenix.

If Harry Potter isn't your thing, you can bring this approach to your favorite literary work; Vanessa Zoltan wrote her masters thesis on reading Jane Eyre as a sacred text; her explanation of how she came to that project is touching and told in an early episode of the podcast.

Read an interview with Vanessa and producer Ariana Nedelman published last year in the Harvard Gazette here.

Happy listening!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Reincarnation BluesReincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eastern metaphysics meets science fiction in Michael Poore's Reincarnation Blues, a highly-inventive, tragicomedic tour of human life and the afterlife.

Milo is an old soul, the oldest, in fact. He's used up almost all of his 10,000 lives and has yet to achieve Perfection, although he's often gotten close. Perhaps what's holding him back is love for Death, or Suzie, as she likes to be called. Suzie is one of the incarnations of death that collects souls and meets them in the afterlife. Suzie and Milo hit it off immediately and are friends for his first 1,000 visits to the afterlife, but after that, they are lovers. (The afterlife, it turns out, has a lot in common with daily life, like eating, sleeping, working, and having sex.)

Time is not linear, and reincarnating souls can live in any time in history. Old souls like Milo go back and forth and sometimes experience their past lives as voices in their heads. The reader is treated to many of Milo's lives, a few in great detail, which is where you can just feel author Michael Poore flexing his imagination. He's clearly thought far into the future, and some of Milo's lives are mini dystopian novellas. (Happily, the overall arc of history is positive.)

This may be the most original boy-meets-girl story I have come across, and I quite enjoyed it. It would have been nice, although less honest, if life weren't so often violent and painful, but alas, we are not treated to Milo's happiest lives in any detail.

Well-written, humorous, and engrossing, Reincarnation Blues should entertain readers willing to delve into speculative fiction with a touch of mysticism.

View all my reviews

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mini-review: 'Change Agent' by Daniel Suarez

Change AgentChange Agent by Daniel Suarez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An impressive thriller/dystopian/sci-fi novel. Both a page-turner and a meditation on the true nature of identity. Loved it!

View all my reviews

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mini review: 'Ink and Bone' by Lisa Unger

Ink and BoneInk and Bone by Lisa Unger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. At times it had me on the edge of my seat, and I always looked forward to getting back to it. At one point I thought it was closer to the conclusion than it was, which frustrated me. But it ended up taking a turn I didn't see coming. A nice blending of mystery and the supernatural that kept me turning the pages.

(I received a NetGalley copy of this book)

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Listening to Jhumpa Lahiri

I attended Dartmouth’s “Conversation with Jhumpa Lahiri” on Monday, May 16, for which she sat at a table and answered questions, first from moderators, then the audience. The event, which took place in Dartmouth’s Filene Auditorium, was standing room only.

Ms. Lahiri talked about her most recent book, In Other Words, about learning to speak and write in Italian and live in Italy. She is so very thoughtful about language, what it means to her, what it means to have a mother tongue and its relation to feeling at home. Lahiri was born in England to parents, speakers of Bengali, who were immigrants from India. They moved to the United States before Lahiri started school, so she grew up here, speaking and learning to read and write in English but speaking Bengali at home.

So which is her mother tongue, Bengali or English? She referred to Bengali as a mother tongue that died (although not completely) and English as a step-mother tongue. Being an avid reader (“I live to read” she said at one point), she feels she could never be nourished by Bengali because she never learned to read and write it. Yet English was not the language of mother love for her. When her son was born, she found she only desired to speak to him in Bengali; for her, English was inappropriate for a young child.

Instead she spoke the language of her own first nurturing. Lahiri never felt truly at home with either Bengali or English; “home” or “coming home” were concepts she knew but never felt, until she moved to Rome, a city for with whom she fell in love. And speaking and writing in Italian gave her freedom she never felt before. “The thing that’s liberating about Italian,” she said, “is that I can never be Italian.” She is free to make mistakes.

Jhumpa Lahiri has lived astride cultures and languages and struggled, feeling alienated and lonely, as many people have. She took refuge in the books, feeling at home in the library and she never did in her house. Learning Italian has given her another tool with which to work, another perspective from which to gaze. Long may she do so.