Sunday, July 30, 2017

Novels, The Bible, Judaism, Eucharist & Holden Caulfield

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.  It had been many years since I’d re-read Catcher.  It was time for me to reacquaint myself with Holden Caulfield.  I was glad I did. Too close to realities I had lived through in the depressed perspective for life evident in a close family member.

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.  Nothing profound, though enjoyable.  I enjoy observing what people own and how/who they interact with - and the mimetic functions that certainly shape their acquisition.  This book is an exploration of the same variety.  

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.  This was not in my “best reads” ever, though I loved this book.  I loved the “tales” of Hope on her Ph.D. journey - and in her details of trees, her “exploits” with her lab partner, her pregnancy, her fears, and simply digging in dirt.  I’ll recommend this book to anyone interested in science and human realities of research.

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper by Brant Pitre.  The next words are taken from the book itself and accurately describe precisely what the book does.  A few key new insights for me, though many ideas previously discerned in other scholarship from many years ago - this is still a solid read.  “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist shines fresh light on the Last Supper by looking at it through Jewish eyes. Using his in-depth knowledge of the Bible and ancient Judaism, Dr. Brant Pitre answers questions such as: What was the Passover like at the time of Jesus? What were the Jewish hopes for the Messiah? What was Jesus’ purpose in instituting the Eucharist during the feast of Passover? And, most important of all, what did Jesus mean when he said, “This is my body… This is my blood”? To answer these questions, Pitre explores ancient Jewish beliefs about the Passover of the Messiah, the miraculous Manna from heaven, and the mysterious Bread of the Presence. As he shows, these three keys—the Passover, the Manna, and the Bread of the Presence—have the power to unlock the original meaning of the Eucharistic words of Jesus. Along the way, Pitre also explains how Jesus united the Last Supper to his death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.”

A Truck Full of Money by Tracy Kidder.  I think I kept after this book as it was written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author . . . and I kept thinking something “must yet emerge” that will turn this novel around for me.  It never did.  The main character gets involved in technology, makes money, buys and sells business.  I think I followed along as the main character, Paul English, clearly was dealing with Bipolar disorder - and with recent events with a member of our family - this story intrigued me insofar as English was a “success” in many ways.

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns.  I like Peter Enns a lot, personally.  He’s a good scholar and a great person.  His writing style (akin to his persona and presentation in public venues) include bits of humor and “asides” that try to draw the reader in.  This is certainly invitational to many.  I’m thankful for his work and his publication - and for what he is helping Christians discern about the Bible.

A Jew Among Romans: The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus by Frederic Raphael.  I needed to know more about Josephus - and this book helped me.  A review from Booklist appropriately says of this book: “Raphael, a novelist and classicist, provides a more nuanced portrayal of the first-century-CE soldier, politician, and historian. When the cataclysmic Jewish War began in 66, Josephus, a governor of Galilee, tried to mediate between his fellow Jews and their Roman overlords. When that effort failed, Josephus joined the rebellion. Apparently sensing the futility of the revolt, he switched sides, became a translator for the Roman general Vespasian, and later became a friend and court favorite of the Emperor Titus. Yet, as Raphael demonstrates, it would be unfair and wrong to see Josephus as simply an opportunistic turncoat and Roman lackey. In his later writings, he proudly defended the culture of the Jews. Like countless other Jews from antiquity to the present, Josephus tried to navigate between commitment to Judaism and the broader, often hostile gentile world. This is a well-done account of his life and works.”

The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army by Stephan Talty.  In the same vein with other books I’ve read this past year on the history and spread of disease, this title captured my attention.  It turned out to be *less* about Typhus and more about Napoleon Bonapart, the Grande Armee and the conquest and then defeat to and from Moscow (Russia). I had to plow through some of the lengthy battle scenes, to get to the salient parts more intriguing to my interest.  Though, reading the accounts of war and the pillage, rape, terror, cannibalism and loss of life on the battle-fields does make me ponder yet more - why men fight wars of conquest instead of finding ways to share the resources that Creation provides, if only we lived in peace and harmony one with another.

The Warsaw Anagrams by Richard Zimler.  In many ways “just another” history-like account of the Holocaust (of many hundreds/thousands published). That is not to undercut it’s value, only to note that this is one of many within the specific sub-genre.  This story was intriguing with the anagrams used by smugglers/traders to bypass detection.  I will say, a few narrative descriptions of how persons dealt with the grief of the loss of their children included *the* most compelling portions of this book.  The way in which the grief was characterized and narrated by Zimler, I found to be particularly profound.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Malcolm, MLK, Ziglar, RBG, Prince, and more.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik.  I loved this book.  I was inspired by the person that RBG has been - her relationship to her husband, her work through schooling and navigating religious and family commitments alongside her husband.  I was impressed with who she “is” as a person and what ideas and issues of her life have shaped her identity. I’d read this one again.  

Having recently read a good book on Native American tribal leaders, I picked up Warpath by Stanley Vestal.  This was an account of the life of White Bull (Sioux) left behind as an autobiography though retold by Vestal, et al.  This story was more an account of the actual battles that White Bull engaged, than a reflection on the history of ideas/issues between indigenous persons and the White Man extending their reach to land across the continent. This was, as much as anything, a collection of stories that describe the actual battles of White Bull, more than any evaluative/moral/political review.

April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Death and How It Changed America by Michael Eric Dyson. I’m not sure if I gave this book the focused attention I should have given to it, frankly.  That is perhaps more a reflection on my personal state of mind in the days I read this book.  I note this as I perhaps should re-read the book for my own learning.  What stood out to me is the many ways that MLK, like so many leaders who died/were assassinated - was used by others for their agenda as much as they used MLK for the agendas MLK was working to achieve.  How MLK has been “used” by the likes of Jesse Jackson to Bill Clinton is not what I was looking for, though, still intriguing.

The Friends of Jesus (Life-Changing Bible Story Series) by Karen Kingsbury.  I knew when I picked this book off the shelf it would be “below the academic level” of what I read.  No problem.  Years ago I read a “historical fiction” on Jeremiah that reshaped the way I saw and see Jeremiah as a human.  As a result, I still pick up historical-fiction narratives on the Bible as, on occasion, they’ll help open up a new perspective on who these humans were and what *might have* happened with them.  This book, like others, certainly is fiction - and is not informed by grounded study in the period of the 1st Century Judaism/Roman World . . . and yet, as an exploration of persons and bringing some “life” to the Bible, it was not wasted time.

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable.  As with so many books I read in History and/or Biography, I am amazed at how much I have to learn about so many persons and periods in history.  This book was intriguing to me in many ways - and, honestly, akin to the title.  While I’ve known about the popular picture of Malcolm’s life - and his “contrast” to the Christian and more pacifist leanings of MLK, I knew nothing of how Malcolm’s family history shaped his young life.  And, how out of sync he was with Islamic traditions and even disjointed from them and other sectarian perspectives (with his being most sectarian). The Nation of Islam was more akin to a cult of Islam, it seems, than a sectarian form of Islamic tradition. I was most surprised at how many radical shifts in thinking and perspectives Malcolm had over his adult life.  In truth, I was startled to read that he rarely stuck with any set of ideas for more than a few years and as such, I wondered *how* he was influential at all, to be frank.  

Defying Hitler: A Memoir by Sebastian Haffner.  I’ve read so many books on the Holocaust over the years, that it becomes harder to distinguish narratives/accounts/studies that offer something distinctly new *for me.*  This book was good.  It offers the early perceptions of Haffner on what happened that he experienced.  It was written in 1939, but only published in 2000.  As a book written close to the historical events - with critical assessment of what took place from the Nazi Youth and rise of the Nazi party - it’s insidious and rapid growth, an important addition to our study and percepton(s) of the politics of a nation and what came to pass in the Shoah.

Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks by Ronin Ro.  I’m not a fan of Prince - and perhaps that is why I read this book.  (A good audio read will traversing miles across several states in America in the Summer of 2017!).  As with any biography, I obviously learned about Prince - his childhood, his family, his emerging work as an artist and his unique influences.  Even while I was a child of the 1980s, I wasn’t terribly “into” pop culture or music.  I enjoyed what I learned about the music industry and Prince, himself, though I’m not sure I have any particular “take-aways” from this book.

Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave by Peter Heller.  I like surfing.  I love being in the ocean - or really, any body of water.  This book was light reading, indeed, but fun.  The story narrates Hellers personal introduction to and experience with learning how to surf, and the various sub-culture(s) of persons who engage with surfers - from other surfers to persons who rob them in places like Baja Mexico.  Surfing is a way of life for those who do it - as much about waiting  . . . and relationships as anything else.  

Better Than Good: Creating a Life You Can't Wait to Live Paperback by Zig Ziglar.  I love Zig.  I started listening to him back in the 1990s and have been shaped by his influence.  He’s inspirational and always forces me to think more positively about life in general, my life and taking ownership for who I am and how I work.  I recommend anything in audio format “led” by Ziglar.  His unique voice is curious - though his ability to narrate his own tales and lessons is powerful.  All of Zig is great!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Reading: Wars, Disease, Race & Religion

Several books I read in the past months covered the study of some disease - or - the sickness that humans bring with the ravages of war, or both.  

I was intrigued by the study of disease - the spread of it and misguided attempts to understand it.  It was also intriguing to discern the ways in which war, religion, incarceration and “travel” (usually for war/trade) contributed to the spread of disease.  Yet more intriguing within these issues were the first attempts to discern the spread and science of disease, how people failed to do careful study and pay attention to developing “theories” - and how many theories of disease were wrong and yet persisted in spite of evidence.  I read more about miasma than I had ever known.  

Each of the following books was intriguing and I enjoyed every one of them for many different reasons.  I was intrigued at how each author connected wars/disease with various elements of religious history.  Of course, religious groups have been participant and fomenters of war itself - though I also learned details like the fact that Typhus spread more among Catholics than Protestant as Catholics were against washing for fear of being naked(!).

The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army.  I learned much about Typhus, and as much bout Napoleon and his conquests - and failures.  Fascinating.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.  Fascinating.  I loved the careful thinking and the collaborative work of a few that had to come together to, quite literally, “map” out the spread of disease. Fascinating. Well written.

True to it’s title: America's Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation.  Tidbits and connections to persons and histories that are “not in the history books” and yet clearly a part of the exploration and conquest (pillage?) of the Americas.  One take away that I enjoyed was how each ravaging set of conquistadors would come to various parts of the “New World” and indigenous persons learned to lure them away from their region by the promise of gold in “the next region” just beyond their own.  Sad to read the history of the spread of disease - and emboldened to read tales of the feats of women (though I don’t like tales of anyone leading the charge in battle, male or female.)

I’ll tie this next entry in with the his(story) of war/famine - as race has been used as a weapon and has waged very real wars against persons. 

The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.  The book is true to its title and narrates numerous events, stories, and persons that have contributed to a misguided “white” perception of Jesus in America.  Oh the age old ways to re-appropriate religious figures to “our” image so that persons can use that as a way to dominate, (insert sad face emoticon here!). The stories of how African American Churches used "the white Jesus" - and yet gravitated toward darker and black images of Christ was intriguing - tied to the history of race particularly in the 1960s.

Another intriguing read: Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero.  The text tells the story embedded clearly in it’s title.  I learned much about the history of the Dalai Lama and the current Dalai Lama, including the region, types of cultural heritage among the people of Nepal and responses to China (Chinese incursion).  I have a greater appreciation for the region and religion as a result.

Random Reflections: 2017 Reading

American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.  We have teenage girls (now 18 and 20), and their lives have been shaped by the culture and media of the world in which we live in profound ways. We’ve watched it first hand and been witness to the devastating forces of mimicry in a culture of impossible achievement, sexuality, and acquisition. This book reflected what we’ve seen personally. I wish for a better world with better examples and exemplars for our teens (and our young women) - and for my daughters!

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.  I’m not sure that I found anything revelatory or remarkable in this text, mainly as I read in the subject area frequently.  As a single, accessible text full of good information, I enjoyed it.  We all have a “set-point” for our happiness that we return to.  We need to each understand what this is for us as humans and for us as individuals. I really should come back to read it, to be honest - and perhaps use it in my work in informing others.  I’d suggest a review of the book on any number of book sites on the web, for ample descriptive data.  A book I need to revisit and reread.

For Men Only, Revised and Updated Edition: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women.  Any book that helps us understand characterizations of standard gender roles - and how we live into them (or are askew from their standards) is a good book for discerning humanness.  This book tends to try to be “reader friendly” and is not clearly informed by unbiased studies.  As a result, while it has many truthful claims - it’s probably more specifically full of truisms and many biased truisms.  I was surprised the reviews of the book were/are as favorable as they are . . . though, that might reflect average readership.  

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.  I need to read more from this author, Daniel J. Levitin, and I need to not be consumed by our information overload culture.  The book is not written with a framework that gives the reader a “guide” for how to over come cognitive overload, which is a problem for the book.  And, the book tends to wax eloquent for too long on narratives to illustrate the point (which betrays the book’s “thinking straight” byline!!??!!) - and yet, intriguing bits all along the way.

Hellhound on His Trail: The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History.  Hampton Sides provides a remarkable collection of facts, stories, names, persons, and events in the history of MLK, Jr. and the “hunt” for his killer.  So many tidbits of history and facts that I had never studied elsewhere.  A great account of a horrible set of events involving James Earl Ray - and - a book that will inspire me to read more by Hampton Sides if he is this good in all his work.