The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Readings for January 2015

Published: 2015-02-17 05:59:00
Category: books Tags: books

My reading log is now seven years old. Pretty cool.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

The new novel Steelheart kicks off a new fantasy series for Brandon Sanderson. The twist is that this is marketed as young adult fiction (though I think it is being broadly read among adult Sanderson fans). I must admit I was taken aback by the "young adult" label, as this novel has more violence, particularly gun violence, than other works by the same author. Perhaps the descriptions are less gruesome? I don't know, but the older I get, the more sensitive I get to such things.

Oh yeah, the book! Hey, it's a Sanderson read. Maybe you can use this one to get the next generation hooked on one of your favorites. Recommended.

The Understory by Pam Erens

This slim novel is a treat. I was doubtful at first that Erens would be able to get me interested in her trust-fund pretender protagonist, but it all works out. Set in Manhattan and at an upstate Buddhist monestary, the reader follows a lonely soul who is desperate for human contact and determinedly trying to hang on to his rent-controlled apartment. Recommended.

I Will Fear No Evil by Robert Heinlein

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... This is the second consecutive Robert Heinlein novel I've rage quit, only to pick up and finish a year later. The last one, the Number of the Beast, should have been a lesson to me, namely that I've already read all the Heinlein novels I'll like. But no, I had to try one more time with I Will Fear No Evil (since it was already on the shelf).

The premise is decent: brain transplant. And imagine the hilarity and weighty implications if an old man acquired the body of a young woman. You can see the potential. But let me spoil a few things for you: After the transplant, the protagonist realizes he can communicate with the spirit of the former occupant of the body, s/he goes on to explore uncomfortable transformations of social relationships (e.g. business partner into lover), sleep with literally everyone who is breathing, and ends up impregnating herself with his own archived sperm donation.

Unfortunately the bulk of the novel is taken up with the copious, seemingly endless, expansive, vapid internal dialog of the protagonist. This of course serves as the primary vehicle for Heinlein's favorite authorial activity: letting the reader know about all the better ideas he has about everything, particularly in the realms of government, self-sufficiency, and sexual relationships. Just endless, ceaseless pages of the plot going nowhere, with zero character development despite all of the talking.

There is a decent twist at the end of the novel which I hope explains some of the worst features, though I am not sure of the scope. Nonetheless I'll take it on faith that this dialog between the old man and the young woman is not meant to be a faithful representation of a realistic relationship, but rather a satire of everything an old man wishes that an attractive young woman was thinking. If not, this goes from farce to tripe in a hurry. Definitely not recommended.

We Still Don't Get It by Douglas Moo

This essay arrived bundled with a Zondervan Academic catalog. It is adapted from a talk Moo apparently gave to the Evangelical Theological Society on the topic of Bible translation. I happen to agree with virtually all of Moo's positions there.

Given the publisher, you can probably guess that the product which benefits most from his praise is the NIV. As such I found it quite unseemly that Moo's talk, given to an academic meeting, had been repackaged as marketing material for a publisher. That feels like a betrayal of trust to me, and was in poor taste.

Periodicals

  • Journal of Biblical Literature volume 131 number 4
  • Harper's February 2015

How many unique words in the Greek NT?

Published: 2015-01-04 19:56:00
Category: language Tags: greek SBLGNT MorphGNT

How many unique words are there in the Greek New Testament? Well, that depends on how you count.

I am doing some research and experimentation on indexing the Greek NT (or Koine Greek in general). One crucial aspect of indexing is to normalize the text so that potential search matches are not missed by the presence of punctuation, capitalization, contextual accentuation, etc.

At the same time there are some words which have the same normalized form which we should nonetheless count as different words, such as when morphology overlaps or different lemmas get inflected to the same forms.

So I set out to analyze the Greek NT and find how many unique instances of words there are. Namely, words are grouped if the share the same lemma, normal form, and parsing. To begin I used MorphGNT, which is based on SBLGNT. MorphGNT contains a column for the normal form of each word, as well as the parsing information, so it is just the ticket.

I used Python to find all unique instances of lemma, normal form, and parsing info. Then I used James Tauber's pyuca module to sort the results. You can find them in a compressed file here, sorted by lemma.

Using this methodology, I found 18,873 unique words in the Greek New Testament.

Here is a sample of the output:

ἅγιος ἁγίων A- ----GPM-
ἅγιος ἁγίων A- ----GPN-
ἅγιος ἁγιωτάτῃ A- ----DSFS
ἁγιότης ἁγιότητι N- ----DSF-
ἁγιότης ἁγιότητος N- ----GSF-
ἁγιωσύνη ἁγιωσύνῃ N- ----DSF-
ἁγιωσύνη ἁγιωσύνην N- ----ASF-
ἁγιωσύνη ἁγιωσύνης N- ----GSF-
ἀγκάλη ἀγκάλας N- ----APF-

Anyway, I hope to have more to share on this front later, but this just tickled my fancy.

Readings for December 2014

Published: 2015-01-03 13:54:00
Category: books Tags: readings

For the first time I admitted that I was not keeping up with my load of periodicals, and stopped trying to stay on top of Scientific American. It is a shame, but I have all the issues, so I can get caught up if I ever so desire. I am also way behind on Journal of Biblical Literature.

Nonetheless this was a great year for reading.

Periodicals

  • Harper's December 2014
  • Tin House #60
  • Harper's January 2015

Year-end notes

In 2014 I read:

  • 19 magazines
  • 20 books
  • 11,109 pages
  • or about 30 pages per day

Up from last year!

Readings for November 2014

Published: 2015-01-03 13:35:00
Category: books Tags: readings N.T. Wright Ian Mortimer Randall Munroe

I wonder if I have failed to log any books, and how many they may be.

Surprised by Scripture by N.T. Wright

Wright's latest popular work is a slim volume. I picked it up from my church library, having enjoyed his writings in the past. Overall, I have no complaints. Many of the topics discussed warrant more space, but that is not really within the scope of this book. In it you'll hear some of Wright's contrarian interpretations of scripture, some of which call for a change in practice, e.g. the ordination of women. But fear not, even at his most liberal Wright gives off a distinct air of conservatism. Maybe it's a British thing.

The Timetravelers Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

Medieval England is a favorite backdrop for historical fiction, in film and in print. In reading a number of novels set in that period, I felt that I had a basic familiarity with that time and place. I happened to acquire Ian Mortimer's *The Timetravelers Guide to Medieval England" as a part of an English-themed basket in a silent auction (complete with a novel, some tea, and a London mug). The quirky title probably excited me as much as the subject matter.

Mortimer's book is the sort of popular social science that I love. He does a great job of presenting the material and giving the reader a sense of how life was different for so many of our ancestors. Perhaps my favorite example of the relative simplicity of this setting was the criminal justice system. The result of justice was typically either a fine, corporal punishment, or capital punishment. That's it.

Life expectancy was low for myriads of reasons, and Mortimer's work reminded me of the joys of modernity which I enjoy. But he also reminds the reader that medieval England, like all times, had its joys as well. Recommended.

What If? by Randall Munroe

Readers of xkcd will need no convincing on this gem. What If? is a book of "serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions.". Its author is a web cartoonist who draws stick figures and is good at math. The result is fascinating and hilarious. Highly recommended.

Periodicals

  • Harper's November 2014

Readings For October 2014

Published: 2014-12-11 20:56:00
Category: books Tags: readings Susanna Clark

I finished just one book - a great big book.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a break-out award winner which seemed right up my alley. It certainly has its charms, and I had an overall fair impression of the work. Yet there were a few issues which will preclude a recommendation from me.

The main criticism I will level against this novel is its length. I think Clark had a big story to tell, and there is nothing wrong with that (Sanderson reader here!). She even ironically employs multi-page footnotes in the documentary style of prose. This leads to a lot of back story and world building which is charming, but leads to a bit of a long slog.

I feel the amount of exposition and detail ultimately detracts from the finished product. What ends up clocking in at over 1,000 pages in paperback could have been accomplished in about 400. I also feel that the story did not really get started for about 300 pages, which was frustrating.

(Nerd nit pic here: I hate free-energy magic systems.)

I feel like Clark could have broken this up into multiple parts, and the universe of this novel could yet produce some great fantasy storytelling. But this one was just a bit too much for me. LocalWords: Norrell

Time for Oregon to re-examine capital punishment

Published: 2014-11-07 20:54:00
Category: politics Tags: Oregon capital punishment

John Kitzhaber was re-elected to a fourth term as Governor of Oregon. This in and of itself is a remarkable achievement. The situation is even more interesting when considering the swarm of scandals which Kitzhaber successfully swatted in winning. Yet I would like to focus on a single issue which did not end up playing as prominent of a role in the campaign as I thought it would: capital punishment. Given the relative silence on this issue during the campaign, and given the governor's re-election, I think it is highly significant for the near future of Oregon politics.

Capital punishment was up for discussion because early in his term, Governor Kitzhaber effectively halted all capital punishment proceedings in the state. This came to a head because a particular death row inmate had forsworn further appeals and was electing to die.

Kitzhaber was deeply troubled by the memory of the two executions which happened during his first pair of terms. Likewise, he questioned the logic of a death row system which effectively only proceeded to execution if the inmate gave up and asked to die. Therefore he issued an indefinite stay on this inmate's execution. Moreover, the Governor announced that no other executions would proceed during the duration of his term in office. (He was not commuting the inmates' sentences, so it is possible that a subsequent governor could reverse course and executions could continue.)

This act raised various levels of controversy. On the first level, the inmate wanted to reject the clemency and demanded to be put to death in spite of the Governor's action. The case went to the Oregon Supreme Court, which ruled that the Governor's power of reprieve is unconditional.

Above that, some citizens were upset that Kitzhaber was unilaterally stopping capital punishment in Oregon. This, they argued, was contrary to the law and the will of the people of Oregon, and against the intent of the clemency powers given the governor in the state constitution. In this, the Governor was essentially shirking his duties.

I was among Kitzhaber's supporters in this move. And now the Governor has been re-elected with this policy still standing. I believe this possibly signals that Oregon voters are ready to remove capital punishment in this state.

The only way to know for sure would be to have an initiative on this topic in the next election. Oregon voted the death penalty into law in 1984. That is more than a generation ago. Popular opinion on gay marriage changed in ten years, and Oregon voters reversed themselves on marijuana legalization in only two. It's time to put the question to the people again. I believe the measure would pass, and the death penalty will be repealed in Oregon.

In addition to his personal objections, Kitzhaber is ultimately calling for the same re-examination. The system should be scrapped or fixed, he says. Let's find out the will of the people.

O Bazan, Where Art Thou?

Published: 2014-11-02 15:30:00
Category: κτλ Tags: music David Bazan

David Bazan is the greatest Christian songwriter of his generation. This remains true in spite of him no longer being a Christian. Even now his reflections and critiques of Christianity are more powerful than the vast majority of believing artists.

His faith, or lack thereof, has formed the thematic core of his work throughout his career. Bazan cannot (or will not) move on the from the topic. This is fine by me as a listener.

Yet his music is a lot more than his faith. It is beautifully written, brilliantly executed. I love Bazan's songs; I sing along. In this spirit I am embarking on this piece. It is not a review, per se, but a remembrance.

"Edgy"

In his early role as a Christian indie artist, Bazan was perhaps best known for being "edgy." Bazan's "Christian" band Pedro the Lion's first E.P. Whole was about drug addiction, after all. He continued to push the envelope in addressing themes of sex, infidelity, loneliness, suicide, corruption, murder and doubt. And then to make his edginess double-bladed, he liked to perform old hymns.

The aforementioned themes were virtually absent from any contemporary Christian music, which is almost always vacuous and expressed in empty positivity. For young Christians like me who themselves liked to think of themselves as "edgy", this produced an immediate and intense affection for Bazan's music.

At last there was a voice of honesty in Christian culture! Honesty is in some sense the central task of art: to let an unflinching eye gaze upon a subject, and to render it into a new medium. In pop Christian music the medium is whitewash.

I should not say that Bazan was alone as a Christian artist. There are other artists, other favorites of mine, who worked at the same task by degrees. However in my estimation, Bazan fulfilled the role best. Perhaps too well.

It seems inevitable in retrospect that this envelope-pushing would lead to Bazan's exiting the faith. With each new album, the edge was being pushed further and further, until Achilles' Heel, the last under the Pedro the Lion moniker, led right to the border:

Who shall I blame
For this sweet and heavy trouble
For every stupid struggle
I don't know
I could buy you a drink
I could tell you all about it
I could tell you why I doubt it
And why I still believe it
And why I need it
And what the Pharisees don't see

But more on that later.

Winners Never Quit

"Winners Never Quit cover art"

My favorite album of Bazan's is Pedro the Lion's Winners Never Quit. It is only 8 tracks and about forty minutes long, but it packs a big punch. The album relates the story of a corrupt politician and his loser brother. Spoiler alert: the politician kills his wife and then himself after she uncovers his bid to steal an election, and the brother survives to have a second chance. You know, good wholesome music.

Briefly: this album is a masterpiece.

First, the music. I love the simple orchestration, and I love the way this simple combo was recorded. Clearly articulated, I feel like I can picture a live band playing the music. Yet Bazan did a good job not letting the simple kit limit the range of sound. On the contrary: we hear folk guitar, vintage indie rock, an ethereal ballad, and some more aggressive fare. They are all heard distinctly, and match the voice of the lyrics.

More important than the production, however, is the composition. Bazan's use of recurring motifs sprinkled through the songs bring make a coherent whole of the album. The listener hears an echo of a previous tune (with which I am obliged to sing the lyrics, being like that). These lead to a thematic tightness which is emphasized in the music, not in spite of it.

In addition, Bazan employs a number of tropes to underline the lyrics to great effect - e.g. "now that's the sort of smack that leaves a bruise" followed by accented attack, evoking the same.

Bazan's music is always good, but I feel like Winners Never Quit is his best example of music being an integral part of the story telling.

Lyrics are the other side of that coin, and here Bazan excels as well. It is a short album and he has a big story to tell, so he has to be economical. It feels cliche to say "show, don't tell" regarding the literary arts, but that is exactly how this album works. Consider the following:

My jail shoes on
The well-kept cemetery lawn

Two lines, nine words; but also: exposition, advancing the plot, revealing the scene, and setting the emotional tone. I think the real challenge in all of this is keeping the lyrics from sounding over-wrought or pretentious.

Yes, Winners Never Quit: a joy to listen to; a joy to sing to yourself; a joy to think upon. Do yourself a favor and have a listen. In my opinion it is the best album of Bazan's career. Probably not the best in each individual element, but the best complete package.

Collaborations

Before commenting on Bazan's religious metamorphosis I wish to bring attention to his musical collaborations outside his own projects. Pedro the Lion and Bazan's current band have always truly been a one-man show. Bazan provides almost all of the creative inputs, and his band plays with him on the road. But that doesn't make Bazan a lone wolf by any stretch. He's making great music with friends, if only in fairly limited doses.

Perhaps the most fruitful of all Bazan collaboration's is with T.W. Walsh. Walsh was a touring member of Pedro the Lion and received some writing credits on Achilles Heel. But more exciting for me was Bazan and Walsh's synth-and-drums project Headphones. The orchestration was a great vehicle for some fresh songs from Bazan. My favorite was "I Never Wanted You" which starts out as cruel parting shot in a breakup but is revealed to be the desperate deflection of a heart-broken man.

More recently Bazan has made an album in a new group - Overseas. It is not clear to me what the future of this collaboration will be, but it was interesting to listen to Bazan participating as a member of an enterprise. You can definitely hear his influence (especially in the songs for which he provides vocals), but it is not dominating.

To end the list of collaborations I have saved Bazan's work with Jason Martin of Starflyer 59. I hold a great affection for Martin (and probably should commit a post to him someday). It was at a Starflyer show that I first heard Bazan play. He was touring in support of Control, the follow-up album to Winners Never Quit. I stood riveted throughout his performance, even overcoming my initial annoyance that Martin had flipped the bill and let Pedro the Lion perform last.

So two of my favorite bands sometimes toured together - bonus! But my joy at this collaboration was fulfilled to an even greater degree when Martin and Bazan started making music together. This culminated with a few songs being published of their direct cooperation:

  • "Broken Arm" on the Starflyer 59 box set Ghosts of the Past
  • "Lost My Shape" - the same lyrics as "Broken Arm" but different music on Bazan's Curse Your Branches
  • "Messes" - the same music as "Broken Arm" but different lyrics on Bazan's Strange Negotiations
  • "Eating Paper" on Strange Negotiations

I hope that someday Martin and Bazan will retire to leisure and be able to make music with each other as often as they please. And Bazan very well may lead me to another favorite musician through his future collaborations.

The Conversion

Bazan has definitely affirmed his exit from the church in interviews. In following his history of musical releases, it is not exactly clear which album is his last "Christian" one. I know many Christian listeners regarded Control as the final straw - here Bazan violated sacred taboos against curse words and explicit lyrics. And there was really no doubt by Strange Negotiations, where Bazan put a semi-nude woman on the album art, I think, to send a very clear message.

I look squarely at Curse Your Branches as the conversion - not of the artist himself, but of the thematic core of his music. This is what I like to call the "God and alcohol" album, where each song seems to wrestle with one or the other, until the final cut "In Stitches", which handles both:

I need no other memory
Of the bits of me I left
When all this lethal drinking
Is to hopefully forget about you

And it is in this same song that teases the listeners:

I might as well admit it
Like I even have a choice
The crew have killed the captain
But they still can hear his voice

There's doubt in doubt.

Of course Bazan shuts the door again in the final verse, and the song ends in an unsettled fashion. But that is what the listeners love to hear.

Incidentally, Bazan's newest music featured on his website is still dealing with Christian themes:

I was trembling with goose-flesh The first time I prayed to speak in tongues

And so on. So the conversion is over, but the conversation is not.

If I look up and the sky's not there...

Did Bazan take believers with him? This seems to be the biggest charge levied against him. It is one thing for a grown man to decide to leave the faith. But it is quite another for an influential musician with an impressionable (mostly younger) audience to do so.

Or, another way to ask: will I let my kids listen to him? Of course they won't want to listen to anything dad does, but hypothetically speaking. Yes, I think so, when they are a certain age. I want them to be able to face tough questions and be stimulated by ideas which are not necessarily "safe" by the standards of Christian culture. However, I will of course at all times accompany that with voices "on the other side," as it were.

That's my recollection of David Bazan for you. Lover of his music, stung but not scandalized by his conversion, thankful for him sharing his experiences.

Currently on the stack

Published: 2014-10-26 13:53:00
Category: books Tags: on the stack

You have a book shelf, but you probably also have another stack of books. This other spot houses your queue of books to read, or maybe reference works. You love this stack of boos, and you look at it wistfully, wishing you had more time to read.

This is my current stack of books:

"Stack October 26, 2014""

That's:

  • The big Liddell & Scott Greek lexicon
  • The General Class amateur radio manual
  • Randall Munroe's What If?
  • Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You
  • The NRSV
  • THe Loeb volume Select Papyri III: Poetry

Translation ex nihilo

Published: 2014-10-19 12:21:00
Category: Christianity Tags: translation

Join me in a thought experiment. A team of biblical language experts has been convened to produce a new translation of the Bible into English. However, none of the translators have ever read the Bible before, and they have no knowledge of Judaism nor Christianity. How would their translation differ from the received tradition?

Against his will

Published: 2014-10-16 21:08:00
Category: quotes Tags: Leo Tolstoy

A man cannot be placed against his will in a situation opposed to his conscience.

~ Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You. Trans. Constance Garnett.

The operative concept is the will. If one is seemingly forced to go against it, the reality is that one's will truly preferred to preserve what was being threatened.

Readings for September 2014

Published: 2014-10-09 21:32:00
Category: books Tags: readings Leo Tolstoy

We took a vacation and had other distractions. Sadly I don't get so much reading done on vacations these days, but this too shall pass.

The Kingdom of God Is Within You by Leo Tolstoy

I found this re-read to be very stimulating. As a matter of fact, I marked up the margins with a pen and dog-eared a bunch of pages, something I feel quite certain I have not done since my college days. Tolstoy's writing requires response.

I may yet commit some of those marginal notations to blog posts, as I was planning when I first penned them. I think the primary value for me in reading this work is to reflect on Tolstoy's challenges to traditional power structures and to compare how my views fit with his.

As I often say, I am a Yoderian, meaning I support "legitimate" violence only as constrained by law in a legal system. Extra-judicial violence, especially wars of aggression, cannot conform to Christian standards. But Tolstoy is right there, questioning everything, and that has value. This book is recommended for mature readers.

Periodicals

  • Harper's October 2014

Readings for August 2014

Published: 2014-09-02 05:40:00
Category: books Tags: readings Thomas Merton Mark VanSteenwyk

If I had to choose a theme for this month, it would be cloistered anarchic hacking.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain is the account of his conversion to Catholicism and call to his vocation in a Trappist Monastery. I had seen this work recommended by a number of my favorite authors, so I was keeping it on my mental "to read" list (which should probably be written, due to the failings of memory). Having read it, I can easily see the source for the affection which so many have for this writing.

Merton's style is excellent. He stretches the first twenty-eight years of his life past 400 pages, but it is kept engaging. I think my favorite feature of Merton's was to write mostly directly, but then to occasionally throw in the most whimsical observations. These were usually brief and sparse, and were used to great effect in my opinion.

The story is compelling as well. I found myself rooting for Merton. But what I think I liked best in this work was the look into monasticism. I had never known much about the cloistered life (and still don't, honestly), but The Seven Storey mountain paints a vivid picture of the appeal of monastic life. At times I found myself thinking - "What good are these monks? All they do is pray!" And then immediately felt silly. This precisely exposes the rift in worldview between monasticism and modernity. If you are interested in more, then it is certainly recommended.

That Holy Anarchist by Mark VanSteenwyk

After completing Merton's autobiography, with all of its Catholic orthodoxy, I felt compelled to mix things up and read from the radical side of the Christian spectrum. This began with a re-read of Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You (which is still on-going at the time of writing). However, whilst in the general neighborhood, I happened across Mark VanSteenwyk's That Holy Anarchist.

I was already familiar with Mark's work on the Jesus Radicals site and the Iconocast podcast. So when I came across this slim primer on Christian Anarchism, I was immediately interested.

First of all, in line with true anarchist principles, That Holy Anarchist is not protected by copyright and available on-line for free. So if you are interested by this review, there is nothing stopping you from reading the book (and buying it to share if you like).

I believe this is the best, most succinct primer on Christian anarchism which I have encountered thus far. It is not over-long (I read it in a single sitting), and not hard to understand. In addition to this, Mark avoids to the temptation to "theorize" Christian anarchism - he lays out the arguments but does not try to make an airtight case. In this way the book comes across more as food for thought than a forceful argument, which may be useful in attracting new readers to the philosophy.

I myself remain a Yoderian, so Mark didn't win me over. This work is recommended if you'd like to trouble your notions of Christianity and state power.

Periodicals

  • 2600 31:1 - I liked this issue of the hacker quarterly better than I did the other one I had read.

  • Harper's September 2014

Tolstoy documents American pacifism

Published: 2014-08-12 05:58:00
Category: Christianity Tags: ethics Leo Tolstoy

I have commenced re-reading Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. I first read it four years ago. It was a challenging read. This book of Tolstoy's is primarily concerned with offering a defense of the Christian principle of non-resistance to evil (Matthew 5:39). Tolstoy's interpretation calls for absolute non-violence for Christians.

(He makes this theme so central to his Christianity, he ends up being a redaction critic, attributing almost anything "mystical" in the balance of the New Testament as being added to distract from the earl church's desire to distract from Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.)

In the first section of The Kingdom of God Is Within You, Tolstoy reacts to critics and supporters of his previous work (What I Believe). In doing so, he lists authors and movements pre-dating himself which held essentially the same viewpoints about non-resistance. What interests me is that the list is dominated by American institutions - the Quakers, the Mennonites, etc. Apparently in the late 19th century, the US was known for having a bunch of Christian denominations which were dedicated to peace.

This is not the case now. Many of those historical institutions have declined in relative prominence, and some of the same have softened their stances on non-violence. On the world's stage, American Christians are now probably best known for sanctioning state aggression. But I am proud to recount that we used to have something of a reputation for refusing the call to arms.

I will probably have several posts inspired by Tolstoy's work as I read through.

Readings for July 2014

Published: 2014-08-11 05:46:00
Category: books Tags: readings Ursula K. LeGuin John Scalzi

You can't always read as much as you want.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin

In reading The Tombs of Atuan I have completed LeGuin's Earthsea cycle. I read the whole thing out of "order", which is of course the proper way to read this series. The narrative focuses first not on Sparrowhawk, but on a young girl Tenar on a far island. Tenar has been selected as a young girl to be the figure head of her people's cultic religion. It is as a thief that Sparrowhawk comes to Atuan, meets Tenar, and begins the relationship at the heart of the cycle.

In Atuan LeGuin is trying to portray a caricature, I think, of a rotten culture. The place of worship is patrolled by spirits who exhibit malice and fear of change. The narrative becomes an account of Tenar's courage to confront the wickedness and free herself. In doing so she alienates herself, which seems fitting (and is one of my favorite fantasy tropes).

This was not my favorite Earthsea novel - that distinction will remain with The Farthest Shore until another read-through of the cycle. But, as with everything LeGuin I have read, this is recommended.

Red Shirts by John Scalzi

John Scalzi. Making fun of Star Trek. What more could you want a sci-fi comedic novel? Not much more, if you ask me. Red Shirts is the tale of those expendables on away missions who always seem to die needlessly. Scalzi launches from this premise into a fun plot which gets more distance than I had guessed before reading it. Certainly recommended.

Periodicals

  • Tin House #59 - I have now completed my first ten issues of Tin House. Each issue is still a treat.
  • Harper's August 2014

Readings for June 2014

Published: 2014-07-24 20:34:00
Category: books Tags: readings Dave Eggers

In which I reach the nadir of summer reading.

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

I realized upon seeing this book that I had never read Dave Eggers' fiction. Yes to his autobiography, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And yes to his novel-biographies of What is the What and Zeitoun. But never pure fiction. A Hologram for the King therefore grabbed my attention, and I picked it up.

Eggers is definitely trying to capture zeitgeist in this novel. After all, the premise is that a hard-on-his-luck salesman goes to pitch technology to the Saudi King - a definite attempt to evoke the modern feeling in America. Yet I am grateful that there is more to the storytelling than an appeal to the current spirit. Timelessness is of course a requirement for any good fiction. Being timely only helps with sales.

I enjoyed the read, but not immensely. Eggers tells a good story, and makes you love the protagonist in a Willy Loman sort of way. So yes, by all means, read and enjoy the story.

Periodicals

  • Harper's July 2014

  • Harper's February 2014 - Playing catch-up with some missed back issues. For some reason it bugs me to miss Harper's issues.

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