The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Readings for November 2011

After a month off from reading I have started working my way back.

American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell

American Grace tells the story of religion in the United States as collected by survey data. It is a book with a lot of statistics and charts and graphs. Yet it does a good job of conveying the nature of American religion without getting overly bogged down in the details. As a reader I learned some new things and had some assumptions confirmed while others were dashed.

One of the best features of this book are the vignettes, which leave the abstract statistics in favor of focusing on some particular churches. Reading these was like reliving my own life - an evangelical megachurch was featured along with Episcopalian parishes. I also experienced a lot of intuitive agreement with what the statistics were telling me about the trajectories of those movements.

This book is of course based on surveys, so it only reflects reality insofar as people know themselves and tell the truth. I found instances in the book where I felt a sociological study of actual behaviors would expose hypocrisy among the respondents (e.g. regarding pre-marital sex).

In closing I'll share one of the more ironic factoids from the book: Black Protestant congregations, in spite of having an explicit racial identity, are more likely to be racially diverse than mainline Protestant churches. This must be a particularly deflating statistic for the mainliners because racial diversity is so coveted by that group. Recommended.


I managed to read a pair of Harper'smagazine issues this month, November and December. "I walked with a Zombie" by Hamilton Morris in the November issues was particularly amusing. It opened up for me the voodoo religion in Haiti and the origin of the zombie concept. In the December issues Ben Ehrenreich's "Drip, Jordan" stuck out. Apparently the River Jordan has slowed to almost nothing due to water redirection for agriculture and other needs. Sad.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of KingsIt took me a while, but I finished The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson's massive novel. At over 1,200 pages in paperback it may be the longest novel I have ever ready. It is the first in a planned series called the Stormlight Archive. (If Brandon Sanderson is for some reason unable to finish this series, will Robert Jordan be able to repay the favor?)

When I see a 1,200 page fantasy novel, the first word which comes to mind is "epic." But I would not really describe The Way of Kingsthat way. The story only follows a few characters in a relatively small milieu. Sanderson keeps his characteristic focus on a few characters. What makes the book long is not its breadth but the depth.

All the classic Sanderson elements are there, including the learning of a new magic system by one of the characters. I enjoyed the read, and I'll definitely be reading the next in the series when it comes along. Recommended, though probably only for established Sanderson fans. For first-time readers I would recommend Elantris or Mistborn.