dragojustine: (Book stack)
I'm a Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson

More humor travel writing, this one much more of the type I enjoy. This is an expat American's attempt to reconnect with the land of his birth by driving through 38 of the lower 48. It won't be my favorite travel humor (because it's hard to be Round Ireland With a Fridge), but he has a keen eye for the ridiculous and an ability to be incredibly opinionated and crotchety about everything without seeming as offensive as he really ought to. Very fun.
dragojustine: (Clever)
Religious Literacy- Stephen Prothero

This was good- he presents an overwhelming amount of evidence of the bizarre and insane lack of the very most basic factual religious knowledge in America, combined with the incredibly high rate of religiosity. He takes a pretty good stab at explaining why religious literacy should be a civic and secular concern. Most interesting of all, though, is that he completely rejects the argument that it's all the fault of the Supreme Court of the 60s, and instead traces the history of non-denominational and inter-denominational movements since the Second Great Awakening early in the nineteenth century, coming to the really very persuasive conclusion that religious illiteracy in this country is mostly the fault of religious organizations attempting to strengthen their hold on American politics and policy without inter-denominational conflict. He just rips into the idiocies of "all the great religions are basically the same" and "we all worship the same god" and "it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe" and the ridiculousness of "religious equals values equals sex" in modern politics and so forth, and it's extremely satisfying.

Naturally, I don't really agree with his inherent assumptions about religion as a good thing on its own merits, or his conviction that a religiously-inflected public discourse would be an inherently good thing provided everybody knew what the hell they were talking about, but his history of the phenomenon is good.

The interview here says some interesting things, among them an observation of how the religiosity of America seems to actually lessen the more religiosity becomes seen as a political statement (that is, the more "being Christian" comes to equal "being republican" in the young generation's mind). Anyway. Most definetely worth a read.
dragojustine: (Book stack)
Good Dog, Stay, Anna Quindlen

Extremely short nonfiction, halfway between a memoir of life with a dog and an essay. Sweet and funny but, in the way of all such books, I know how it ends. It always, always, always ends with the elderly dog in the writer's arms while the doc puts in the needle, and it always ends with some reflection about care and mortality and love, and it always ends with me sobbing and feeling drained and wrung-out, and even though we reach that point honestly (the dog dies all too soon is a fact of life, not an unfair authorial manipulation), I always sort of wish I hadn't put myself through that again. Such is the way of books about dogs.
dragojustine: (made of awesome)
I had the most incredibly awesome time on Thursday with [personal profile] miriad  and Katie. It's... awesome. Yaay for local friends, and somebody to share my cheese obsessions, and good conversation, and YAAY. Seriously. Plus, I think we will hold an orphan Thanksgiving with [personal profile] miriad  and Katie and I and... maybe some other people she knows? Maybe at my place, maybe at those other people's? (if there are other people, it will need to be at their place, because mine is really only big enough for four comfortably). An orphan Thanksgiving sounds utterly awesome to me. There will be Guitar Hero 3, Apples to Apples (plus I'll bring some other games) and [personal profile] miriad  has promised really good pumpkin pie and I am just SO HAPPY about this whole thing 'cause I was so sure this Thanksgiving was going to suck for me.

*huggles [personal profile] miriad  a lot, for being awesome to the lonely out-of-towner*

Plus, the last two SPN episodes were awesome beyond all possible belief. You know, over hiatus I was SO convinced the third season was going to just lose all the magic, as they tried to make a leap to a whole new arc and a format with more recurring characters and ditch the bro-emo-togetherness-angst altogether and I was so sure I would end up saying "So long, SPN, and thanks for all the porn" but instead, the third season has (with the one striking dissapointment of The Magnificent Seven) been of uniformly higher quality than the second and the awesomeness only continues ramping up. Jared is doing so well with really good character development (I'm so proud of him!) and Jensen continues to be a god among actors and Sterling just kicked the ass of that last episode and Bela is actually a good character who stands on her own rather than existing for the purposes of the Winchesters. And, going back a week, Dean's "don't objectify me!" was perhaps the most perfect line spoken on TV EVER and makes me want to just pet him and say "Oh darling, that ship has sailed." The show is still Not Subtle but all the thematic anvils are utterly working for me, and our two bro-emo-togetherness moments in Fresh Blood just proved that Sera Gamble owns my heart and soul forever and ever.

*flails a little in sheer joy*

Seriously, no media- book, movie, TV, nothing- has given me this much sheer JOY in my entire life. Hell, I'm counting the great loves like Tolkien and Wolfe and the fun ones like Harry Potter and Indiana Jones and everything. I've never gotten as much joy from anything as from SPN.

dragojustine: (Damaging my calm)
So the official answer is no, C will not be visiting me over Thanksgiving. Mom spun this whole thing about how she couldn't stand to lose both of her kids on the same Thanksgiving, but I'll be home for Christmas and the real reason is that she's punishing me for living with Dustin. Because I'm going to be some sort of horrible bad influence on my pristine sister or she's just generally upset or god knows but I'm pissed because dammit, I wanted to see C and I wanted to see her without mom and dad around all the time and I wanted someone to visit me here. And I've lived with Dustin for over a year now and even though mom and dad have been better about it than I honestly would have predicted (in fact it's been really really good between us since I moved out, which makes me think I should have moved out about a year earlier, because one fewer years of arguing about inanities like phone calls after 10pm and church attendance would have helped everybody's blood pressure), and even though I know they have every right to feel uncomfortable about it and I can't change that it just pisses me off that they're finding stupid petty little ways to try to punish me for it.

*gasps for breath*

And I just... really really really wanted to see her for Thanksgiving and I wanted to spend Thanksgiving here, not up in Seattle, because I just... want this to feel like home too and I just want these things to not be an issue and I just... need to have a good cry now.

Plus, Dustin's afraid he's going to be fired and even though there are plenty of jobs here for him, that combined with my own apparent inability to get work combined with the realization of how incredibly unstable and un-long-term-suited this whole damn thing we have going is and what do I want with my life really and why am I stuck in these temporary situations that don't even make me happy in the short term and ANGST.

Well, that felt good. I guess while I'm here I should report on my required reading. Are You Dumb Enough to be Rich? G William Barnett II )

ETA: So C and dad are visiting on the 8th for several days, and they have offered to buy my ticket home for Thanksgiving. They always do this, pull my anger out from under me with awkward peace offerings that don't fix the underlying thing but make it impossible to be pissy and just leave you... sad. But it's sweet, it really is. And I have a job interview for tomorrow, too.
dragojustine: (Book stack)
Random:  The maintenance guys finally fixed our dryer.  There was a bird's nest the size of a soccer ball in the vent.  Now I can do laundry.  Score! 

The Ancestor’s Tale,
Richard Dawkins

The Ancestor’s Tale combines a unique and catching premise with mini-lessons in everything from carbon dating to ribosome function. Dawkins is an absolutely incredible popularizer of Evolution and biological science. He can write accessibly and engagingly about complex subjects and make you think even about things you understand pretty well in radically new ways. It sure is a pity that Dawkins seems to feel that this qualifies him to say a damn thing about religion or politics, isn’t it?

So I've seen this "unread books" meme floating around everywhere, most recently from [personal profile] musesfool, and it's just the sort of listy booky thing I love.
dragojustine: (Greek poet)
Tolkien and the Invention of Myth (various).

I have an overwhelming urge to read Beowulf, and the Finnish Kalevala, and the old Norse Eddas and Sagas, and Gawain the Green Knight, and the Epic of Gilgamesh, and, you know, everything ever written about any of them. Most of all I am impressed with what one essay in here identified as the specific tone and flavor of Norse mythology- that the gods are mortal, that the inevitability of defeat does not in any way change the moral quality of the fight- and what it said about the Elegiac tone, that very particular emotional tone that seems so very powerful. I just want to devour all of this material. I want that light-headed, crystal-clear, soaring, free, aching feeling brought on by really powerful myth. Apparently there's a lot of it to be had in the Finnish and Norse and Old English, while I've just been putzing about with the classics. Dammit, I want to bottle that feeling. I want to be able to read it all in Finnish and Norse and Anglo-Saxon. I want to be a hell of a lot smarter than I am. That is all.
dragojustine: (Book stack)
The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins.

This book makes me squirm. It's very similar to Farenheit 911, in that one half of you wants to cheer wildly in desperate joy that someone finally has the courage to come out and SAY IT, but the other half of you cringes, realizing how many fence-sitters and moderates are alienated, not by the argument, but simply by the tone. That said, the guy is hugely influential, and he is rational, witty, charming, well spoken, and brilliant. It is good to finally read something of his, and it is good to not feel terribly alone in ones views, you know?

The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy

This book makes me feel stupid, in a big way. There's an immense amount going on here, emotionally, psychologically, and thematically, and I don't understand any of it well enough to articulate. It is, perhaps, a manifesto of existential nihilism, but the mail character, Billy, has too much love and pathos in him for it to be at all coldly clinical. It's a chillingly depressing book, with, at first glance, no overall shape or pattern or anything to give it any meaning whatsoever- and then, another level down, more and more functional structure emerges. I feel like a complete idiot, groping in the dark.

Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Robert Louis Wilken

I really like the basic premise of this book- an attempt to analyze early Christianity through the prism of pagan criticisms and analysis, as reconstructed through later Christian apologists responding to those criticisms. The conclusions revolve around Christians' retreat from civic, public religion (which I expected) and their apostasy from the more ancient and therefore more respected Judaism (which I didn't). He deals a lot with Porphyry and Julian, both fascinating. Overall, there's a focus on the sheer amount of communication and intellectual engagement shown between pagans and Christians in those centuries, quite the opposite of the normal picture. Quite good.

Mossflower (Redwall), Brian Jacques

This was a blast of nostalgia. I devoured Redwall books when I was.. 10? The writing style is, of course, more juvenile than I remember, with a few very annoying quirks, and the characterization is shallow at best, a bit over the top. But how fun! How sweet! It is really an accomplishment of world building on a very small and cozy scale, and the young age he aims for should diminish that, I think. A better job with interwoven legends and backstories than most other series. How fun!
dragojustine: (Reading is sexy)
Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan

Thank god for Carl Sagan. These books are certainly products of their time, and dated (The second one refers to the mass movement away from religion in America...), but also timeless. Sagan was a polymath, one of those rare people who thinks broadly, deeply, clearly, logically,
and creatively all at once. It is a sheer joy to read something from someone so clearly immersed in and enthusiastic about the life of the mind, the pursuit of science, and the evolution of human knowledge. This is the religion that resonates with me. Childlike wonder,
rigorous thinking and a determination to rely on evidence characterize everything he does.

Dragons of Eden is an exploration of human intelligence, of the evolution of the brain. It is a wonderful and rare achievement to be able to make our own evolutionary history exciting, wondrous even. It leaves you wondering how the idea that man is an animal, descended
from animals, could ever have been seen as insulting or demeaning, instead of marvelous. None of this information is new; indeed it is all quite dated, with many advances and some debunkings since this was written. However, the very mindset- that we can strive to understand ourselves and our minds through the prism of evolution- is what makes this valuable.

Sagan's thinking is rigorous, yet he is willing to venture into the arenas of myth and symbolism, willing to see insight and metaphor there. Once again I am startled by what a wonderful myth the garden of Eden turns out to be. It may be the single most powerful and
versatile story of Western tradition (as much as I love the fall of Lucifer, Eden seems more widely applicable), enhancing meaning wherever it is used.

The Demon-Haunted World is yet another book whose main value lies in its mindset. Science here is empowering and enlightening, the greatest achievement and joy of mankind. This vision is so markedly different from that taken in most of American politics and popular culture that even for someone who already espouses it, it's breathtaking. "The siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms,"- perhaps the bravest and most audacious statement of this belief I've ever read. The book covers a huge territory, from UFO abductions (and the best description of sleep paralysis in that
context that I've ever read) to astrology and pyramidology. All of it is calm, non-sensationalistic, relatively non-insulting, and powerfully persuasive.

Thank god for Carl Sagan!
dragojustine: (Reading is sexy)
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

This is a memoir that got a lot of good press, and was one of the only appealing books in English that I found in Israel. It is the memoir of a woman, Iranian-born and raised in the US, who became one of the Islamic Revolutionaries at her US college and returned to Iran shortly before the revolution in 79. She taught English literature at the University of Tehran and several other places, becoming more and more disenchanted with the theocratic government, refusing to wear the veil in class and eventually being expelled for subversiveness. She then taught a secret English lit class in her home, before eventually getting a passport under the more moderate government in 97 and leaving the country before it exploded again in 99.

But this is not a straightforward chronological memoir. It is "my life in books," an acknowledgement that the way we understand our lives is shaped by the books we read, and vice-versa. The experience of being a woman under the Islamic Republic- never feeling the sun on your skin or the wind in your hair, never out of your house unaccompanied by your husband, subject to stops and searches on the street for makeup or nail polish- The experience of seeing your country turn on you, a revolution devour its own children- the knowledge that you, as a woman, have become irrelevant. It's all told in terms of literature. The great lessons of Western literature all seem to have to do with empahy, listening and connecting to other people. Hubert Humphrey's real crime is not sexual- he steals Lolita's life, using in only for his own purposes, denying her an existence as her own person. Women become political objects.
dragojustine: (Rome)
Jews, God, and History, Max Dimont.

A classic that is now very dated- interesting more as historiography than history, but a good read nonetheless.

Five Children and It, E. Nesbitt.

This is cute. It's one of that particular era of children's novels, that both talk down to children and characterize them as odd little adults. It's also chock-full of British schoolboyisms- such a very definite flavor. Completely enjoyable, if nothing earth-shaking.

Pompeii, Robert Harris

This is fantastically fun fluff. It needs a hook to hang off- simple death and destruction wouldn't do it- and the Roman aqueducts actually make for a very good one. It still can't be a TERRIBLY good story, with that particular end looming down on it, but it sustains interest right up to the very end and the guy obviously knows his Roman-engineering-stuff... And Roman engineering hardly needs help to be very interesting and impressive.

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