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Showing posts from 2012

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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Months before finding this classic at my local used bookstore, I had an exchange with an atheist about morality. He’d insisted that children are born with empathy, inclined to share, and, if not corrupted by society, religion, or a sociopath gene, will grow into adults of a similar disposition. I noted that his faith in human nature was both startling and naïve, that parents and society teach children these virtues, and that it’s a circular argument to deny the inherent selfishness and other vices for which humanity has cornered the market and instead relegate bad behavior exclusively to the insane and the religious zealot. Of course, the atheist must additionally dismiss the atrocities humanity has committed toward one another in the name of political expediencies, as well as crimes of passion, cruelty, and the tendency humans have for self destruction in general. Evidently, the atheist reconciles his faith in humanity’s goodness against human history in general by rendering these ho…

The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce (1911)

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Since there’s no plot, no characters to recall, no thesis statement or theme (beyond tongue-in-cheek hostility) to keep track of, this is perfect bathroom reading. Using only one word to describe it, I’d go with sardonic, a word, incidentally, not in this dictionary. Nor is sarcastic, cynical, acerbic, sacrilegious, or amusing. Yet this dictionary is all those things. If you enjoyed Woody Allen’s Getting Even or Side Effects, which I recommend (“You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.”) or Fran Lebowitz’s Social Studies or Metropolitan Life (“All God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable.”), then you might enjoy this book. Some choice selections, truncated:
Birth, n. – The first and direst of all disasters. Egotist, n. – A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me. Friendless, adj. – Having no favors to bestow. Destitute of fortune. Addicted to utterance of tr…

James Baldwin

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I stumbled on James Baldwin by accident. More than 20 years ago. So I neither knew nor cared about his politics or his sexual orientation. All I knew after 30 or 40 pages into his novel Giovanni’s Room was that I’d found a gifted writer. That last detail – the writing quality – is all that matters to me when selecting what books to read. Now, 20 years later, a Wikipedia search reveals all kinds of curiosities about the writer, nothing that changes my impression of his stellar writing ability, but certainly details that must’ve been hardships for him growing up in Harlem in the 1950s. I say ‘hardships’ but it might be just as valid to say ‘catalysts’ for his works. African-American, gay, a Pentecostal preacher who later rejects faith yet never quite affirms atheism, recognizes that religion both influenced his writing and inspired some African-Americans to defy oppression, and yet embraces a lifestyle religion condemns, and so on. As conflicted as his life must’ve been, so are his char…

Trick, Treat, or the Gothic Novel

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Halloween came and went without me having to deal with a single child. The candy, the costumes, the high-pitched noisy monsters – none of it interrupted my daily life of self-absorption and misanthropy. Still, I wanted to pay tribute to the horror genre on my blog. Problem is I hate the horror genre. Not too crazy about Halloween either, which is why we left our porch light off and refused to go to the door. Unlike others who see the holiday as their opportunity to be someone else – to play dress up or to shed their everyday skin for an excuse to make fools of themselves – I take the high road by mocking their shameful indulgence and remaining indoors where it’s safe.
I’ve never been a big fan of holidays. The parties are just an excuse to indulge, make yourself sick and do things you’ll later regret. Plus, I never get invited. Besides, I’d rather watch horror movies. And I hate horror movies. I never saw any of the Friday the 13th films or the Halloween series or I Know What You Did …

The Jungle Book 2 by Rudyard Kipling

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As I mentioned in a previous post about Kipling’s first Jungle Book, see here, categories and genres don’t influence my reading habits. I’ve read wonderful children’s books and I’ve read some crummy novels that could’ve been written by children. A decent writer once asked, “… if it’s true you can’t judge a book by its cover, why should we judge a book by the category stamped on its spine?”

For those not familiar, Kipling’s 2 Jungle Books are fantastic, each a collection of short stories, many of which involve the familiar Mowgli and his animal friends – Baloo, Kaa, Akela, Hathi, Bagheera, and others – surviving in the jungle wilds, and exposed to all sorts of dangers. These tales are interspersed with other stories unrelated to Mowgli and the jungle but just as harrowing and exciting. Stories like “The Undertakers,” an amusing exchange between those who put the survival of the fittest and its amoral realities to the grim test, and one of my personal favorites, “Quiquern,” a story of I…

A Fistful of Impressions

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Childhood and Society, by Eric Erikson. This instructive book started off pretty well. Part one, which dealt with psychoanalysis in practice, offered fascinating case studies and anecdotes about children patients and their individual problems. These problems were successfully diagnosed and often remedied after causes were identified. So far so good. Erikson certainly provided compelling evidence to support some of the views espoused by Freud and his followers regarding this area. Part two exposed many of the psychological factors influencing cultural worldviews. Such Indian tribes as the Sioux of South Dakota and the Yurok along the Klamath River were examined. Opinion was often enlightening. Part three, however, offered more speculation than it did science, but still outlined and expounded on Erikson's famous eight psychosocial stages (i.e. basic trust vs. basic mistrust, etc.), and Erikson took this opportunity to explain the development of the individual in a comprehensive way.…

Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

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Based on this first book in a five book series, I won’t be seeking out the rest. The overly casual narrative and generalizing descriptions made for dull reading.
Durnik had been right when he’d spoken of frost. The ground was white with it the next morning, and the horses’ breath steamed in the chill air as they set out.
Very little happens and nothing Eddings describes goes beyond first draft quality. Observations like the air was crisp, the sun was hot, and the day was overcast are simply not worth reading.
Their route skirted the edge of the foothills through rolling and sparsely settled country, and the sky hung grey and cold overhead.
That’s as detailed as it gets. And I don’t recall a single simile or metaphor.
Even the plot itself is thin and caricatured. The archetypal villain has no real motivation apart from lusting after a magic object that later maims him, making him only more obsessed over said object.
Eddings devotes lots of attention to a number of different races in his…

Rick Riordan

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Rick Riordan is one of my favorite living authors. He has a distinct voice and it suits his protagonist Tres Navarre for what has become a stellar crime fiction series. If you enjoy following the exploits of an iconic hero throughout an ongoing number of novels – whether it’s Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, or, I don’t know, James Bond – this series is for you. Riordan delivers engaging plots, snappy dialogue, three-dimensional characters, and the rich tapestry of San Antonio, Texas, with a grit and attitude as genuine as real snakeskin chaps. Just wished mine didn’t chafe so much. Would probably help if I wore pants.
I’ve met Riordan twice at annual Book Festivals in Austin. He spoke each time to a large room filled to capacity. (He used to teach high school, and he's a great, charismatic speaker. Won a Master Teacher Award in 2002.) Many had to stand in the back. The following year they gave him a much larger space. It too was overfilled. Afterwards, he autographed books. The …

The Living End by Lisa Samson

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I consider myself open-minded. My reading habits embrace all genres and a broad variety of authors. But a writer's command of the language is my primary concern. Diction appeals to me more than a particular faith or philosophy. So when a friend gave me a novel by a Christian writer I wasn’t familiar with, I set the book aside. Not that I’m opposed to reading fiction that affirms my faith, but the Christian market, like a lot of genre-based markets, frequently focuses on the creed at the expense of the writing quality. The good stuff is so rare I generally don’t bother. Turns out my reluctance was misplaced. The writing quality was actually pretty good. It was just about everything else I had problems with.
Samson’s novel is a first person perspective of the protagonist Pearly Laurel, a woman in her mid 50s who never had kids. As the novel opens, her husband has suffered a massive stroke. He dies shortly thereafter and Pearly is so inconsolable, she entrusts the funeral arrangements…

Philosophy of Language, by William P. Alston

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I’ve always been the inquisitive sort. Probably more so than your average kid. I asked where babies come from at four. Never mind that I didn’t listen to the answer. I’m told that I stared at my mother’s mouth throughout the whole birds and bees speech and when asked if I had any questions, said, “Yes. How many teeth do you have?”
I once stumped a hippie couple with a question on metaphysics when, during Sunday school, they told us that God was all about love and that He expected us to love everybody.
I raised my hand. “Does that mean we should love the Devil too?”
Adults know everything when you’re eleven, but they’d hesitated, glancing at each other first as if seeking confirmation or preparing to take a vote. “Yes. I…guess we should.” I wasn’t convinced.
This questioning has plagued me my whole life. Others call it doubt, cynicism, and annoying. I call it a healthy dose of curiosity. I suppose it’s a defense mechanism, though. I recognize how naïve I can be so I wear this You-Can’t-…

Beware Blurbs Bearing Gifts

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As anyone who follows my blog knows, I’m constantly on the lookout for good fantasy fiction. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim. I can count the good ones on my hands and my painted toenails. Wait. That was meant to be a secret. How do I delete? Never mind. Anyway, I’ll grant you that I’m hard to please, but when I fall in love, I fall hard. So it balances out.
Imagine my joy when, after sifting through the fantasy fiction aisles and reading a few pages from a couple dozen novels, I stumbled on one endorsed by Stephen R. Donaldson. Did you just gasp? I sure did. Donaldson is one of my favorite living authors. I’ve read over a dozen of his books, some of them more than once. Reading Donaldson made me want to be a writer over twenty years ago. So I really thought I’d stumbled on a rare find when I saw Donaldson’s blurb on the cover of Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson:
“My advice to anyone who might listen to me: Treat yourself to Gardens of the Moon.”
Needless to say, I rushed h…