August was a rather prodigious month of reading for me. At the beginning
of the month I was on a leisurely vacation, which always helps. I got
through a lot, but there are always more books.
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
If you want to read some straight-ahead sci-fi, Old Man's War is for
you. Scalzi does an excellent job of mixing classical sci-fi elements
with some unique contributions of his own. The novel is an engaging
read, perfect for summer.
I did have some slightly different expectations about the significance
of age in this story. Yes, the element of old age is integrated into the
plot, but not into the theme in the way that I would have thought. But
that is a problem with my expectations rather than with the book, so it
is nonetheless Recommended.
All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest
In my readings surrounding Christian pacifism and anarchism I
have heard much about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. So
when I saw that this revised and expanded biography was being published,
I asked for it for my birthday, and was happily rewarded. I fully noted
the irony of me reading about the life of someone who had taken a vow of
poverty while spending a week relaxing on a houseboat.
The biography does a good job focusing on Dorothy up until the founding
of the Catholic Worker. After that point her life and that of the
movement become so entwined that it would be difficult to tell the story
of one without the other. Still Forest is able to continue with enough
personal insight into his subject's life in between the developments in
the Catholic Worker.
The story is inspirational and challenging. Of tangential interest to me
was just how alive and well socialism was as a political movement in the
earlier parts of the 20th century in the United States. But Dorothy was
about the practicality of helping the poor and resisting state power
rather than promoting ideology. This is, I think, why she is being
considered for canonization.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet
I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I had not read Good Omens until
now. Luckily my vacation made this an easy mistake to rectify. The book
is downright hilarious. Christian friends: grow a thick skin and learn
to laugh, and you'll love it.
I finished the August 2011 issues of Scientific American and Harper's
this month. The most striking article came in the 9/11 remembrance
genre: an account of the distortions of the justice system which
have occurred in the wake of the attacks. If you care about American
political ideals, Petra Bartosiewicz' article will make you mad.
Sharing Possessions by Luke T. Johnson
I knew I would be in for a treat when I found that renowned Bible
scholar Luke Timothy Johnson had released a revision of his work of
Christian ethics. It is a good thing for scholars to cross disciplines
and bring their discoveries to bear on other concerns. Johnson I think
does a splendid job in weakening the myth that the Bible teaches a
normative posture toward possessions. Neither the Jerusalem commune of
Acts nor the wealthy patrons of Corinth are the only way.
The author recommends the giving of alms as the go-to practice for
Christians. Probably my biggest take-away from the book comes in how
Johnson attacks state socialism not from political-ideological grounds,
but from the standpoint of ideology: to measure equality qua possessions
is to give possessions too great a place in determining the worth of
people. If your idea of a just society is one in which every person has
the exact same amount of stuff, you are unwittingly materialistic, as
Johnson argues. Recommended.
Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky
On September 20th, 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
addressed the United Nations and commended to the nations a Noam
Chomsky. This makes Hegemony or Survival very intriguing by default, and
lead to big sales of the book.
I have yet to read a thorough criticism of a Chomsky book. I am sure
they are out there somewhere. It could be useful since I sometimes get
the feeling that Chomsky is pulling one over on his reader. The reliance
on end notes and dismissing opponents objections with a casual wave of
"does not deserve comment" seems like the tactics of a manipulator. Yet
I have never found Chomsky's arguments nor evidence lacking, and he is
compelling. My desire to doubt his work probably comes from the fact
that his attestations and their implications make American patriotism
This book is a bit hard to follow in its general scope, though it is
quite understandable (if not dry) in the particulars. The basic theme is
that the US is trying to dominate the world, and that for elite powers
democracy (that is, the will of the people) is something which must be
crushed when in opposition to official positions. I cannot really
recommend this one Chomsky book over any other, but I think every
American should read at least one of his books.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Once again Sanderson delivers. Mistborn happens to be the first in a
trilogy, and I am lucky enough to have the next two volumes on my shelf.
And a fourth in the Mistborn universe is coming out this winter. Oh
yes, and there's The Way of Kings. Good time to be a fantasy fan.
Do yourself a favor and read Mistborn. It's not particularly
sophisticated literature, but it is a good story and a really fun read.