Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book Review: Lost Christianities

TitleLost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
AuthorBart D. Ehrman
Tagsearly christianity, sects, forgeries, scripture
Your reviewEhrman in this book writes about the broad variety of Christian viewpoints in the early centuries after the life of Jesus and the apostles. It was not until the 4th century that the books of the new Testament were finalized, and it was around the same time that what Ehrman calls the proto-orthodox views of Christian belief overcame the other views to become the orthodox Christian standard views. As the other sects of early Christianity lost out, their writings were, for the most part, lost. Over time, some of these writings have been found again, most notably with the Nag Hammadi discovery in the 1940s.

Thus a new vision of early Christianity is required, one in which there were many competing doctrines, with proponents of each having lively debates with each other, and in which each church might have its own set of works it considered sacred Scripture.

There's some unexpected humor in the work. Look at page 146-7 to find out what one early author thought was the relationship between weasels and oral sex.,

Ehrman is a decent writer, which is necessary, as he is a scholar writing about scholarly topics, which can tend to get rather dry. Yet the topic is quite fascinating, to see a new picture of a particular period that had so much influence on our world today, unfold. Recommended.
PublicationOxford University Press, USA (2005), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 320 pages
Publication date2005
ISBN0195182499 / 9780195182491

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

When America Can't Handle the Truth

A friend sent me this brilliant post that expresses better than I did what I feel about America and the Obama/Wright racial issue. It is by Pierre Tristam of the Daytona Beach News-Journal online. Find it at this address:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review: The Darkest Evening of the Year

TitleThe Darkest Evening of the Year
AuthorDean Koontz
Tagsthriller, paranormal
Your reviewThe only Koontz I've read before are the 1st and 3rd of the Odd Thomas books, and I loved them. This book I mostly loved. Koontz is amazing at getting into the skin of his characters. In this book there are sociopaths and there are good and noble people. There's also great love for animals and golden retriever rescue is a plot point in the book. I had trouble with the supernatural ending, though I know that Koontz writes a lot of paranormal books. I think it is a philosophical problem I have. Maybe miracles exist, but not for everyone who needs them, and that makes for a deity that plays favorites.
PublicationBantam (2007), Hardcover, 368 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0553804820 / 9780553804829

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Book review: Touchstone, by Laurie R. King

AuthorLaurie R. King
Tagshistorical mystery, england. 20th century

Your reviewIn my opinion, Laurie R. King is One of the Best Authors Ever. Admittedly, my knowledge of contemporary literature is limited, but I'll stand by it anyway.

I was aware of King before I ever read her. She had the temerity to use Sherlock Holmes as a character in one of her series, the Mary Russell series. All the Holmes pastiches I had read were pretty dreadful, and understood the character not at all. But people kept talking about how good she was, and I did finally read some of her Kate Martinelli series about a woman policeman in San Francisco. They were very good. So eventually, I took the plunge and read the Mary Russell series and loved them, too. She did right by Holmes., if you can get around the outrageous premise he would get romantically involved with a woman, and a young one, at that. King makes it work, and she does it by having a respect for Conan Doyle's famous character.

But characters in a series have some limitations. They have to survive, first of all. They have to develop as characters, but not in a way that will turn the reader off (although the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay has pushed that envelope until it is almost useless). So King has written some stand-alone novels, and while her series books are excellent, it is in her stand-alones that she puts herself into that rarified atmosphere of author whose works illuminate the human condition in marvelous, and sometimes heartbreaking, ways.

In Touchstone, the plot revolves around Harris Stuyvesant, a US FBI agent in 1927. Harris is after radicals, especially one who has set three bombs in the US. The trail leads him to Richard Bunsen, a British labor leader, and Harris goes to England after him. A British agent connects hims with Bennett Grey, a man with the odd talent of usually knowing who is telling the truth. Grey and his sister are good friends of Laura Hurleigh, who is a Duke's daughter and Bunsen's mistress. Grey is able to connect Harris up with the Hurleigh family. A tightly-plotted story ensues, building to a literally shattering conclusion, one that takes the reader apart and puts her back together as a new individual.

In Laura Hurleigh , King has created a character that deserves to be rediscovered by new generations of readers much as they now discover King Lear, or Frodo Baggins, or Sherlock Holmes. Bennett Grey is almost as great a character.

Recommended reading? No, more like required reading.
PublicationBantam (2007), Hardcover, 560 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0553803557 / 9780553803556

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's Speech

Well, Obama won me over. I'm supporting whoever the Democrat is in November, for many reasons, the makeup of the Supreme Court most importantly. I've had some doubts for various reasons about Hilary and Obama. Hilary for her ties to corporate America, Obama on his experience (though I'm aware that Lincoln started his Presidency with less experience), and because Paul Krugman dislikes his health care program. But his speech was a thing of beauty. He mentioned the grievances of both sides, the wrongs of both sides, but made clear he disagreed with Wright without entirely repudiating him. More importantly, he did not deny the anger of the black community and their reasons for it, while acknowledging some resentments among whites. It was masterful, and powerful, and gives me hope that he could indeed be what we need as President. As usual, Jon Stewart summed it up the best on The Daily Show. He said, finally, somebody talked to Americans about race as if talking to adults.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Reframing Jeremiah Wright pt. 2: Jim Wallis article

Here is an article from Jim Wallis saying much of what I was trying to say and doing it better.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Reframing Jeremiah Wright

Wright is Obama's pastor who has been so in the news recently for making inflammatory statements. See the ABC News report here. Wright says such things as maybe we should sing God Damn America, and that America's actions helped cause 9/11. I was watching this being discussed on This Week with George Stephanopoulis in the round table, and all the whites on the panel could not conceive, it seemed to me, of any reply to what Wright said in terms other than how reprehensible his statements were. Only African-American Donna Brazile was a dissenting voice, saying that Wright is actually pretty moderate among black preachers, and mentioned the ability of these preachers to uplift their hearers.

If you don't know me, I am a white woman, a progressive/liberal on social issues. I've been doing a lot of reading in current events. And I'm not at all insulted or outraged by the things Wright said. Everything, everything, that I hear about the state of black America today leads me to understand that there are very valid reasons for anger. The rate of imprisonment for black men, tied in part to the rate of much stiffer sentences for crack cocaine than powder cocaine ... guess which one is used more by black and which one is used more by whites (this issue is finally being addressed, by the way). The level of poverty and unemployment. The percentage of predatory loans that are the only loans many blacks and Hispanics can get. The much higher rate of disease, and the much more restricted access to decent health care. On, and on, and on, you can find so many reasons for black anger.

Do I think there are things black culture can do to help with these problems on their own? Things that need fixing by them for themselves? Yes. But there is so much that has to be addressed by all of us, of all colors and genders, to create a lasting positive change. And I don't see it happening much. Reading the comments on the news stories it seems to me that so many whites are complacent. Many of them are willing to vote for Obama. But they seem to think the state of America is just fine, and to bitterly resent any one trying to tell them it is not. How much in the campaign are we hearing about black issues? How much are we hearing about ways of stimulating the economy for the lower end of the income spectrum? How much are we hearing about the deplorable state of American prisons, where there is a huge minority population? You do hear some about health care, but not enough. How much do we hear about the need for better health care, especially mental care, of the troops, which also have a high proportion of minorities?

If you read my book reviews, you'll see a recent review of What We Say Goes, by Noam Chomsky. He discusses that there are some issues you can't basically talk about in the US because people are so convinced of one way of thinking that those who say reality is something different are simply not understood. And that is what I believe I saw today on the round table on This Week. Too many people will simply not look at what Jeremiah Wright is saying with any conception that he may be right.

We've come a long way since the days when a teenaged Emmett Till could be brutally murdered for being impertinent to a white woman. But please let us not think that the distance we've come is all the distance there is. We have further to go, and it will take a majority of us to get there.

As for Reverend Wright, one comment in the Atlantic links to his sermon that gave Obama the title of his book, The Audacity of Hope. Take a look at it to get a more complete picture of the man.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Book review: What We Say Goes

TitleWhat We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World
AuthorNoam Chomsky
Tagspolitics, current_affairs, us
Your reviewThis is my first Noam Chomsky, and it was probably not the best one to start with. This is a series of interviews with Chomsky, mostly on the topic of the US and how it relates to other countries. In parts it tends to assume some background knowledge. Without having read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine I wouldn't have understood the term neoliberalism and the references to the Chicago boys.

It is obvious that Chomsky has traveled widely in the world, and has read widely in what is happening in the rest of the world. The book is rather depressing because even Presidents I've admired, such as Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton, have done nasty things in ohter parts of the world in he name of the US. Part of the problem seems to be that in the US it is unthinkable that we are not the top dog in the world, or that we don't have the right to exploit the world's resources, no matter what the cost.

Chomsky sees some reasons for optimism. He thinks speech in this country is freer now than it was in the 1960s, for example.

How prescient or knowledgable is Chomsky? In one interview, in January 2007, he states there is good reason to think the housing market is a bubble and the housing market was already declining. That is just one example of his understanding of the world. He is remarkable for both the breadth and depth of his knowledge. In the interviews, he comments extensively on Latin America and Israel, among others, and he shows his depth in explaining how the situations there developed.

Chomsky is another piece of the education of a US citizen in the reality of a world that the US media does not present. I plan to read more of his work.
Other authors
Author – Barsamian, David
PublicationMetropolitan Books (2007), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 240 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0805086714 / 9780805086713

book review: Turquoise Girl

TitleTurquoise Girl: An Ella Clah Novel (Ella Clah)
AuthorAimee Thurlo
Tagsmystery, navajo, ella_clah, series
Your reviewThe eleventh in the Ella Clah series by Aimee and David Thurlo. The series is excellent, and like Tony Hillerman, gives an excellent picture of Navajo culture. In this particular book, a woman has been killed in a mockery of Christian baptism. The killer seems to be after Ella personally and endangers her family. A well-written, absorbing book.
Other authors
Author – Thurlo, David
PublicationForge Books (2007), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN076531715X / 9780765317155

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Review: The Girl with Braided Hair

TitleThe Girl With Braided Hair (Berkley Prime Crime Mysteries)
AuthorMargaret Coel
Tagsmystery, arapaho
Your reviewMargaret Coel's series has been running a long time, and I've never been able to get hold of the books to read them through in order, which is how I prefer to read a series. So I've only read a few, but have liked all of them I've read. Coel creates good characters in an interesting plot. Her main characters are Vicky Holden, an Arapaho who has returned to the reservation to work with and for her people, and Father John O'Malley, who is priest for the Catholic church on the reservation.

The plot revolves around a cold case. The body of a young girl murdered in the early 70s is found, and the women of the tribe ask Vicky, who is a lawyer. to see that the case isn't just dismissed. They want justice for the dead woman.

The case involves the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the turbulence around them in the early 1970s. Very interesting story, and recommended.
PublicationBerkley Hardcover (2007), Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0425217124 / 9780425217122

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Review: Prayer for the Damned

TitleA Prayer for the Damned: A Mystery of Ancient Ireland (Mysteries of Ancient Ireland featuring Sister Fidelma of Cashel)
AuthorPeter Tremayne
Tagsfiction, historical_mystery, ireland, fidelma
Your reviewThis is the 17th in Tremayne's Sister Fidelma seires set in 7th century Ireland. Tremayne is a pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis, a Celtic scholar who has published over 80 books total, many on Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Cornish studies. He uses his scholarly understanding of Ireland to good effect in creating Fidelma's world.

Fidelma is a religeuse and a lawyer. At the time, the professionally religious were still allowed to marry, although the Roman church was moving towards banning it. The setting for Prayer for the Damned is the fromal marriage of Fidelma and Eadulf, with whom she has been investigating cases for years. As Fidelma is sister to the King of Cashel, one of the five kingdoms of Ireland, the nobility of Ireland comes to the wedding. Unfortunately, the happy event has to be put off as a bishop is found murdered.

Tremayne conveys fascinating tidbits of information on ancient Ireland, not always gracefully. The characters are interesting, and the plot is good. The series seemed to me to get rather plodding in some volumes, but this particular entry in the series is back to full strength. Recommended.
PublicationSt. Martin's Minotaur (2007), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0312348339 / 9780312348335

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Book review: Smoke and Ashes

TitleSmoke and Ashes (The Smoke Trilogy, Book 3)
AuthorTanya Huff
Tagsfiction, paranormal, vampires, wizardry
Your reviewNow this is more like it. I wasn't that fond of the second book in this series, but with this third book Huff is back to work that I really like. I don't think the second one was a bad book, but just not my kind of thing. This one reminds me of why I'm so fond of Huff as a writer... she creates great characters and good plots. She doesn't cheat. Her books always have a logical consistency. For example, her Blood book (the Vicky Nelson series) that dealt with werewolves created a werewolf pack that combined human and wolf social structure that made sense.

In this volume, the main character, Tony Foster, gets caught up with a 3500 year-old woman who currently works as a stunt woman. She's immortal because a demon made her that way. The demon seems to be trying to use her to come through to this world from his own dimension, and Tony and the stunt woman have to stop him from sending demons through and causing the end of the world..

Lots of fun.
PublicationDAW (2007), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 416 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0756404150 / 9780756404154

Book review: Thomas Paine and the Promise of America

TitleThomas Paine and the Promise of America
AuthorHarvey J. Kaye
Tagsthomas paine, non-fiction, american revolution, history
Your reviewKaye's book includes a biography of Thomas Paine, and an assessment of his life in the context of the American Revolution, but also tracks his influence in America from his time to the present.

Without Paine's Common Sense, the American Revolution may not have happened. He took a vague thought of many, the possibility of revolution, and clarified why it was possible and necessary. More, he created a vision of democracy that has inspired so many ever since. Paine was from a working class background, unlike most of the Founding Fathers, and was more trusting that the working class could and should be given political power in a democracy. For that reason he has never been a favorite of conservatives, who generally wanted power limited to an elite, and has inspired radicals ever since.

In fact the latter part of the book is basically a history of radicals in America from Paine's time forward. I find that fascinating, as I've always been interested in various radicals. They were the ones demanding the end of slavery, the expansion of the electorate, the equality of women, fair wages and working conditions, and so much more. I think I was a radical in a previous life - though I don't know much about her, I've always been drawn to Emma Goldman, for example. I don't approve of violence, now, but I understand the desperation that can lead to it.

This history does show the influence on history that a single individual can have, Fascinating read.
PublicationHill and Wang (2006), Paperback, 336 pages
Publication date2006
ISBN0809093448 / 9780809093441