27 August 2009

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart: A Novel
This was a reread for a book group. I'm looking forward to the discussion, especially about missionary work in Africa since this is a church group and we're certainly a missionary church.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Everyone in the neighborhood was talking about this book, so my neighbor loaned it to me to read so I could talk about it too. Unfortunately, he seems to be on vacation now. Anyway. I liked this book (especially the footnotes that bugged some people- really, who can complain about interesting footnotes). I really know very little about the Dominican Republic and I enjoyed reading something about it, even if it is fiction. But it's the writing that made the book worth reading for me. Words like vibrant are a good way to describe it.

Side note- if you're a careful reader, I'm not recommending it to you.

Arranged

We watched this a couple of weeks ago on the recommendation of some online friends and were very pleased (at least I was). This film is about an orthodox Jewish woman who becomes friends with a Muslim teacher at the school she is teaching at. They are both in the process of having their parents arrange their marriages.

Yes, the movie was a bit predictable, but when we hear so much about how bad arranged marriage is, and about the pressure put on girls to do what their parents ask, and blah blah blah, it was nice to have a film that presented people who had faith in their traditions, but concerns about how those traditions would affect them.

I think I especially enjoyed this movie because I come from a conservative religious tradition myself (although we don't arrange marriages) and many of the things the two main characters deal with are things Mormon women deal with too.

The Aurora County All-Stars

The Aurora County All-Stars
Middle son got this book for free from the B&N summer reading thing and I read it when he was done. It started out great and it looked like it was going to be interesting and different, but then it just sort of fizzled out. There was nothing wrong with it, but it could have been so much more. Too bad.

Why Evolution Is True

Why Evolution Is True
I read this one a couple of weeks ago for my last hurrah on evolution books (till school starts next week). I liked this one much better than Why Darwin Matters and think it's a better book by far, although the two books aren't necessarily trying to do the same thing. Coyne writes to sustain the theory of evolution, instead of to refute intelligent design. So he comes across as less shrill and annoyed about what others think (although he does get his jabs in at creationists). I thought the book was clear and well-explained and interesting.

The last chapter in particular was good, for the opposite of all the reasons that Why Darwin Matters wasn't so good. Even though Coyne is nothing like a creationist, he is much more sympathetic to the concerns many Americans have about evolution and addresses those concerns in a much better way. This book wouldn't convince anyone who's fanatically converted to a literal reading of Genesis that there may be another way to look at it, but for the many Americans who just don't know so much about evolution, this is a good book to read to learn more.

26 August 2009

School Starts on Monday

I get to take control of my life again. And I get my boys back. It's been a fun summer, but I'm ready for it to be over. Maybe I'll even start blogging again, about something more interesting than what every other parent is blogging and Facebooking about.

06 August 2009

Blink

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
This was a book group read that I probably wouldn't have read otherwise. It was interesting to read about how we think, but I don't know that it'll make a good discussion. I thought the book was a little repetitive or could have easily been shorter. If I hadn't been reading it for a book group, I'd have skipped around and still gotten the same amount out of it.

The book mentions IAT tests, which I'd done before several years ago. I went back and did this test and it turns out I like Islam best of all. Surprise, surprise.

01 August 2009

Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide

Speaker for the Dead
These two books have been perfect reading for the last week while it's been so hot. You all recommended finishing the series and I've enjoyed it so far (although I agree with Melissa that Speaker is better, at least than Xenocide). I liked Speaker better than Ender's Game, unquestionably. I've got Children of the Mind ready to go next.

I'll try Ender's Shadow sometime, I think. Thanks for your recommendations!

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
I read this book for a new book group I'm starting for church with another woman. We were looking for something short since we wanted to get the first meeting scheduled soon, and when she suggested this one, I thought I'd like to read it. It wasn't till later that I thought we were probably the only two in the group who might be interested, since she lived in Russian for a couple of years and has a degree in Russian and I'm obviously interested. So we'll see if anyone else reads it too and pick something a little different for next month.

Anyway. Even though I read a lot about Siberia, I've read almost nothing about the gulag (which surprises many people, since Siberia and the gulag are the same thing to so many). I think, for a book like this, that it's very accessible to someone who doesn't know Russian, or Soviet history, or Russian literature. It was worth reading and I'm looking forward to the discussion (hopefully with more than one other person). Sometimes I don't like fictionalized accounts of events/times like this (Revolution is Not a Dinner Party is one example), but Solzhenitsyn is such a good author that that wouldn't be a problem.

Holy Fire and Saving the Holy Sepulchre

Saving the Holy Sepulchre: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue their Holiest Shrine
These are both about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but they're about as different as two books on the same topic can be. I enjoyed the second, but thought the first wasn't so great. Both had a lot more detail than I wanted.

Holy Fire is a more general history of the Church and if you haven't ever read much about the Church, this would be an interesting way to learn more. But I thought the book was uneven and disorganized. Yes, it was basically chronological, but I felt like the author just threw in whatever she wanted even if it didn't really fit it. This was particularly true at the end of the book when she spent a long time writing about Christan Zionists. What they have to do with the Holy Sepulchre, I don't know, but they get a lot of space. After getting through the book, I felt negative about the Church and the Christianity in general. I almost felt the author had an agenda, and even though I almost entirely agreed with her agenda, this book just really didn't work for me. I had been very much looking forward to reading it because there isn't a lot out there for the general public about the Holy Sepulchre (and this is definitely for the general public- the author assumes the reader knows absolutely nothing about the Holy Sepulchre and to a large extent, recent history).

Saving the Holy Sepulchre was a lot better, if awfully detailed. Cohen writes that he didn't set out to write a book on this particular topic relating to the Holy Sepulchre, but this is the story he found (a major difference between these two books- the author of the other wrote exactly the book she set out to write). This is the 50-years and more tale of the difficult negotiations regarding the reconstruction of the Church last century. There are so many reasons why it was so very difficult and Cohen explains everything so well and was so even-handed. I was very impressed. And when you're done? You're left with a very positive feeling about the Church. Recommended, even if you skim some.

Spoken Here and The Stuff of Thought

Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages
I poked through both of these books on language a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed both, even if I didn't sit down and read them completely. Spoken Here is about endangered languages and the author travels around learning about a few of them. However, he has a limited budget and a limited ability to speak in a language other than French or English, so he's limited on what languages he can learn about in person. Rather ironic, in a book about endangered languages. Anyway. It was still worth reading.

The Stuff of Thought is more generally about language and communication and was also great to read. I'd check it out of the library again since I ran out of time to get through all of it (and I had way too many books come in on hold a few weeks ago).