Saturday, December 27, 2008

Book 10: Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov.

Pages: 494.

How it was obtained: I purchased it from when I started reading the Foundation Series.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 3 years.

Days spent reading it: 4 days.

Why I read it: I started reading the Foundation series a few years ago. I made it through the first 4 books and this was the next book in the series (in order of copyright).

Brief review:
Let me start off by saying, I LOVED the first 3 Foundation books, especially the first one (simply called Foundation). Isaac Asimov creates interesting situations that his characters must resolve, and they usually do so with interesting insights. Asimov wrote the first 3 books as a series of short stories, and they were later compiled into what became the Foundation trilogy. I would highly recommend those to anyone who enjoys a truly unique story.

Having said that, books 4 and 5 were different. Instead of being short stories, they were true novels. They stayed with the same characters the whole time. I personally think the characters are flat and boring. Asimov's strength is not characters but dilemmas. Unfortunately book 4 (Foundation's Edge) does not have enough dilemma in it, and almost turned me off from the rest of the series. I also really did not like how it ended. However, Foundation and Earth returned to Asimov writing more in short story format, even though he stays with the same characters, the story is revealed as they leapfrog from planet to planet in search of Earth.

I will not give away the plot, but it would say it was a decent story. Not the best in the series, but not as disappointing as Foundation's Edge. The conclusion felt a little awkward and forced. Asimov did some strange things with this series as it progressed forward. I think he wanted to make it seem like his writings as a whole were more planned out and connected than he originally intended. In the end it seems gimmicky. I'm sure there are some Asimov fans who enjoy the connections, but I would not number myself among them.

Overall, I would recommend this book to the fans of the Foundation series, but slugging through Foundation's Edge along with Foundation and Earth means reading nearly 1,000 pages of frankly sub-par Asimov. For reader's interested in something truly unique--check out Foundation, it really is superior. But realize that the first book (which is awesome) is the best it gets.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

Final Word:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Book 9: Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus

Title:  Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, translated by James Scully and C. John Herington

Pages:  117 total.  The play itself consists of about 54 pages.

How it was obtained:  I don't remember.  I got it used somehow, from either a library or the used book store in Columbia before we moved.  I think it was the used book store.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:  A year or two.

Days spent reading it:  1 day.

Why I read it:  I actually liked the Greek tragedies we read in High School.  I also think that Prometheus is an interesting character, so I thought this play might be interesting.

Brief review:
I really liked this play.  In the beginning of the story Prometheus is bound by Hephaistos to a rock to serve as his punishment for giving mankind fire.  Prometheus has a number of conversations with people as they wander by in their travels.  These make up the major movements of the play.

The themes of his conversations include:  Suffering, usurping power, tyranny, human culture, hope, civil disobedience, restoration, fate, brute force vs. cunning thought, and a host of other themes.

Some interesting elements about Prometheus in Greek mythology:  

Prometheus is the god who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity.  Fire seems to also include self awareness and human culture, because that's what else Prometheus claims to have given to mankind.  Prometheus also claims mankind once foresaw their own deaths, but that he overcame their visions by giving them the gift of hope.

Prometheus Bound is apparently a part of a trilogy.  We only have scraps from what was perhaps the sequel, Prometheus Unbound.  It is a shame that we will never see the full story arch that Aeschylus prepared for Prometheus.

I enjoyed this short play.  If you enjoy Greek drama, this is a must read.  If you do not appreciate Greek drama, this one will probably not warm your hearts to it.  Further, I appreciated the notes and introduction to this play as well.  I read them after I read the play, and felt like they enhanced my experience of reading instead of bogging it down.  This was one play I am glad I got the chance to read for myself.

Favorite quote:  It's easy enough for the bystander, who's not bogged down in sorrow, to advise and warn the one who suffers.  Myself, I knew all this and knew it all along.  Still, I meant to be wrong.  I knew what I was doing.  Helping humankind I helped myself to misery.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Final Word:  Captivating.

Connecting by Paul Stanley and J. Robert Clinton

Title:  Connecting:  The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life by Paul Stanley and J. Robert Clinton


How it was obtained:  
Ordered from Amazon for my missions course.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:  0.  I had to read it right away to write a report on it.

Days spent reading it:  1 day.  Blitzed through this one.

Why I read it:  I had to read this book for a missions course I am taking.  This book was assigned in regards to the need for people to connect with mentors at different periods in their life.

Brief review:  I have read this book before for another class before, but picked up more from it this time through.  There are two ideas I really liked in this book.

First, Stanley and Clinton talk about a Constellation Model of Mentoring relationships.  It looks something like this:
You have yourself  at the center.  In your life you should always have an Upward Mentor, someone who is further along in life or ministry who is teaching you and handing skills along.  You should have Peer Co-Mentors.  People who are walking beside you and learning with you.  You should have one who is external to your organization and one internal to your organization.  Finally you should have a Downward Mentoree, someone that you are teaching and training and encouraging who is not as far along in life or ministry as you are.  I liked this idea of different levels of mentoring, and thought it was a helpful model for most of us to follow.

Second, I appreciate how Stanley and Clinton propose multiple types of mentoring.  They have intensive mentors:  Discipler, Spiritual Guide, Coach.  They have occasional mentors:  Counselor, Teacher, Sponsor.  And they have passive mentors:  Model (by which they mean a contemporary or historical figure whom we can model our lives after).

This book was not thrilling, but it does have many insights on mentoring, so it accomplishes its task.  It is fairly easy to read and is well organized.  It is worth picking up if you are looking at developing mentor relationships in your life or in the team you work with.

A quote: Mentoring is a relational experience in which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

Final Word:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book 8: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Pages:  552.

How it was obtained: 2.99 from Goodwill.  Sometimes our Goodwill actually gets in nice looking books.  You have to be there the day they come in though.  Luckily ours is right next door to the video rental place, so I usually drop in to see if any nice looking, net books have come into the store.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:  6 months.

Days spent reading it:  7 days.

Why I read it:  The book looked interesting, I had seen it a few times in the bookstores we frequent, so when I found it for a mere 2.99, I had to have it and read it.

Brief review:
In case you have missed it, I love a unique perspective in a book.  Therefore, when I read the dust-jacket and saw that this book was narrated by Death, I was hooked.
This book starts off a little disjointed, images are flashed quickly, and dropped quickly as Death begins his tale about the Book Thief.  However, as the tale begins to unfold I was sucked in and did not want to let go.

What can I say about this book?  It is a unique telling of Nazi Germany through the eyes of a girl, named Liesel, and her adoptive family who do not buy the Nazi propaganda and help to hide a Jew named Max.  The tale is wonderful, as we see Liesel's life through the eyes of Death.

I must admit, Markus Zusak has entered a very elite group of writers in my life.  I do not cry very often when I read books.  Not even if they are extremely sad.  However a few authors know how to pull my heart strings and make a few tears roll down as I read.  Kate DiCamillo does it to me in all of her books.  And now Markus Zusak.  If you are under the impression that a book narrated by Death about Nazi Germany is going to end with all sunshine and no gloom, look again at the pieces of the puzzle.  

The Book Thief will have you praising the virtues of mankind in the midst of despair, as well as cursing the hatred that mankind also possesses.  I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone.  The Book Thief makes us think about love, war, loss, friendship, and the perseverance of men to bring hope to hopeless situations. And these are good topics to think about and discuss with our families and friends.  This book is marketed to young adults, but once again it definitely transcends that genre and can certainly be enjoyed by adults as well.

One side note--This book truly made me think about the people in Nazi Germany.  I guess in my mind there has always been this monolithic idea that all Germans at that time were compliant and empowered Hitler.  I don't know why I have thought this, but The Book Thief brought a fresh perspective and names to the masses of people who were simply living life in Germany under one of the most evil tyrants in history.  Many were forced into compliance.  Some were killed because they dissented.  I did not cheer when bombs were dropped on Germany in this book, I cried.  And that alone was worth reading this book.  It brought a new perspective of war to me.  The Book Thief reminds me that our enemies are human, just like us.  That lesson is just as pertinent now as it would have been during WWII. 

Favorite quote:  "It kills me sometimes, how people die."  --Spoken by Death.

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

Final Word:  Provocative.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Kingdom Partnership for Synergy in Missions edited by William D. Taylor

A little retro reporting here.  I wanted to share brief reviews of the two books I had to read for my missions course with those who were interested.  Here's the first book.

Title: Kingdom Partnership for Synergy in Missions.  William D Taylor, ed.

Pages: 270.

How it was obtained:  I bought it online for a missions class that I took online.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 0.

Days spent reading it: 2.

Why I read it:  I was offered a free course at Crown College for being a new worker in the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  I decided to take a course called Contemporary Issues in Missions.  I had to read this book for that class.

Brief review:  This book was a series of papers presented at a missions conference in Manila in 1992 that focused on the idea of partnerships.  Essentially it asks the question:  What is partnership in missions?  And then proceeds to answer that question from a number of perspectives.  The best part of this book is its intentional diversity.  Partnerships are discussed from Western and non-Western perspectives.  It talks about the difficulties of forming true partnership and what results can be achieved when two groups work together for the kingdom.

This is not a book for the average reader.  Its not even necessarily for those interested in missions.  It is a technical book about how partnerships work in missions.  Unless that interests you, stay away.  If that does interest you, this book has some great insights about how partnerships can be formed and continued.

Two primary things I learned from this book.  1.  Communication is almost always where partnerships break down, and it is often from misunderstanding the culture of the other party.  2.  An example of that is the word "accountability."  I have always thought of accountability as a good word.  People making sure that other people are following the Lord.  I think of a few guys gathering and praying together, etc.  Accountability in missions is often a code-word for:  "We give the money, and want to make sure you are doing what we want with it."  It has very colonial connotations in its meaning outside of the U.S.  This fascinated me and was a real eye opener for how ideas can express different meanings in different contexts.

Favorite quote:  Do not have one.

Stars: 3 out of 5.

Final Word:  Tedious.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Book 7: The Catcher in the Rye

Title:  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Pages: 214

How it was obtained: I bought it for a dime from our library's used book bin.  It was in good shape.  Not dog-eared or yellowed from age.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 4 or 5 months I think.

Days spent reading it:  4 days.

Why I read it:  The Catcher in the Rye is an American classic and very controversial.  I honestly wanted to see what was so controversial.  Also, it was one of those "classics" that I did not read while in high school.  In researching about it later I read that in 1981 it was the most censored book in US high schools and the second most taught book in high schools.  It was one of the 10 most challenged books in 2005, but it came off the list in 2006. Those are some fun facts for you.

Brief review:  
This book frankly annoyed me.  The writing has very repetitive and had many aggravating sayings in it.  The word "really" is used almost as much as the curse words that are prevalent throughout the book (one reason it is often censored--I would guess that gd appears 2-3 times a page at minimum, sometimes significantly more).  And I assure you, both appear more than they need to, I really mean it.  

Holden Caulfield is the main character.  He is the epitome of teenage angst.  His world is utterly pessimistic.  He sees only the bad in everything except his sister and his deceased younger brother.  He is bright, but is failing out of school.  He is obsessed with sex, but cannot develop a relationship with a girl.  He is active and pursues all the pleasure trappings that a big city have, but has no defining meaning to his life.  

The book covers three days between him being kicked out of school and his untimely return home.  Holden is depressed, hates everyone, exaggerates EVERYTHING (annoyingly so), and seems to have few people skills.  In short, he is the perfect anti-hero and irritating enough that I did not like him one bit while reading this book.

I suppose this book speaks to the hearts of some disaffected youth, but they would have to be interested in drudging through 200 pages of dribble in order to find the voice that Holden ultimately gives them.  

I found little redeeming quality in this book.  I felt like I was being attacked as a reader throughout the book.  The curse words were prevalent.  Holden's judgmental attitude and disquieting assessment that everyone was fake simply unnerved me.  The last 20 pages or so bring a little clarity to the book, but even that is not satisfying.  I read this article in wikipedia and found a little more clarity on the book, but not enough to ever allow me to suggest this to a friend.  I understand why people have tried to censor it (and sympathize with them even if I disagree with them), but honestly if it was not so controversial I think few people would ever pick it up and think "Hey, that's a great book!  Everyone should read this."  

In short, I'm glad I am not Holden Caulfield.  I respect those who relate to him and his story, but his life is from such a different perspective from mine that I never sympathized with the character and ultimately never connect to the book.

Oddly, in reflecting on the book some--the tone, the overall message, the anxiety it produced in me, perhaps I give J.D. Salinger too little credit.  He probably got the exact response that he wanted out of me.  I hate it when that happens.  This is probably one of those books you mull over for a long time and never really like it, because its not fun.  But you can respect it because of the emotions and conflict it produces in the reader.  How interesting--actually reviewing the book in writing has changed my mind regarding my final critique of the book.

Favorite quote: "Girls.  You never know what they are going to think."

Stars: 2 out of 5 (I originally was going to give it 1, but its moving up based on my reflections).

Final Word: