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.

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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!

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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)

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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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

'The Children' by Ann Leary

The ChildrenThe Children by Ann Leary
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

Old money meets love and deceit in Ann Leary’s novel The Children.

The children are all adults now: Perry and Spin, the sons of Whit Whitman and scions of the wealthy Whitman family; Sally and Charlotte, daughters of Whit’s second wife Joan; and Everett, son of the groundskeeper of Lakeside, the grand Whitman lake house.

Whit and Joan married when Sally and Charlotte were little and Spin was still a baby, so the children all grew up together. Not Whitmans in name, Sally and Charlotte saw Whit as their father and were accepted as family, but they were not made heirs to the Whitman fortune.

Whit died two years previously but provided for Joan to remain at the lake until her death, and she and Charlotte still live there. Sally is a violinist in New York, Perry is married and living in the Hamptons, and Spin, now 26, is teaching and living at the private boarding school up the road where all the Whitmans went to school and Whit had been a trustee.

The arrangement holds until Spin meets his future wife. With her arrival, the cracks in the foundation are exposed and widened. Sally and Charlotte have their own issues that come into play, but it’s Charlotte’s occupation--successful mommy blogger when she has no children--that bring to light the least savory aspects of the new reality.

Ann Leary captures an old family in transition and an aspect of new Internet culture at once. Told from Charlotte’s point of view, the novel is most engaging when describing the quirks and joys of life at Lakeside. There are a great many things going on in this novel, not all of which feel as if they are examined thoroughly. Perhaps it is true to life, but not many of the characters change dramatically in the end, either. Although I enjoyed reading this book, I saw the big plot elements coming. I’d say The Children would make a good beach read.

I received a digital galley from NetGalley.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

'The Forgetting Time' by Sharon Guskin

The Forgetting TimeThe Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Do you believe in reincarnation? You might, after reading The Forgetting Time. "Gripping, deft, and moving," according to The New York Times. I completely agree. I couldn't put it down and found it interesting and compelling. Loved it.

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'Everyone Brave is Forgiven' by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (author of Little Bee) is starkly beautiful and heartbreaking, filled with astute observation, keen insights, and touches of humor. It is the story of four young London friends at the start of World War II. Three remain in London during the Blitz and one serves on Malta. I found it gripping and moving, and it made me wonder how people recover from war, witnessing so much cruelty and destruction and suffering so much pain and deprivation, but Cleave based his novel on his grandparents’ courtship. For an excellent fuller review, which I cannot better, see the one written by Jeanette Zwart for Shelf Awareness: