Monday, September 28, 2009

Book 39: Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

Title: Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

Pages: 592.

How it was obtained: I bought it at Borders.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 2 years.

Days spent reading it: Over 1 ½ years. I started reading it just before a family vacation in June of 2008.

Why I read it: It is the third book in the Ender series by Orson Scott Card. Ender's Game is one of my favorite books of all time.

Brief review: Xenocide is a strange book to categorize for me. On the one hand, Card has created a morally fascinating novel that started in Speaker for the Dead and continues here in Xenocide. At the heart of the book is the question—how do we determine who we will go to war with and kill? What if it is us or them, how do we respond? And he takes these very great questions and extends them to the extreme. So, what if it was the entire human race or an entire alien race? What would we do? What if it was three or four intelligent species? I love the questions that this book creates and begins to solve.

Second, I like how Card makes me think about how we would interact with a culture that is entirely different from our own. Sure, Card is using aliens as his example of a new culture, but aliens are a clear metaphor for any culture different from our own. How will we interact with that culture, influence that culture, change that culture, even by simply observing? It is a question cultural anthropologists and missiologists have been dealing with for a long time now.

This book struggles (and so does Speaker for the Dead) in explanations about science. Card gets bogged down explaining philosophy about human connections (philotes), DNA splicing, space/time travel, etc. It is clear that Card has done his background research, his explanations just seem forced. I feel like someone needs to tell him, "It is science fiction, it does not have to be based on REAL science."

Reading Xenocide made me want to read Ender's Game again. And that is not a bad thing. I think people who are already committed to the Ender series will like this book, but it would not be a good place to start.

Favorite quote: "Isn't it possible, he wondered, for one person to love another without trying to own each other?  Or is that buried deep in our genes that we can never get it out?  Territoriality.  My wife.  My friend. My lover.  My outrageous and annoying computer personality who's about to be shut off at the behest of a half-crazy girl genius with OCD on a planet I never heard of and how will I live without Jane when she's gone?"

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

Final Word: Deadly.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Book 38: Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers by Alan Storkey

Pages: 366.

How it was obtained: I bought it at an Evangelical Theological Society conference in 2005 (50% off most books at the conference! Woot!)

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

Days spent reading it: 8 months.

Why I read it: I have been interested in how Christians should interact with politics for a long time. This book looked like it would be a solid examination of some of those principles.

Brief review: Religion and politics and Jesus, is there a more inflammatory combination of topics in the world? For me, I have a love/hate relationship with politics. I am interested in politics, but politics also makes me so angry sometimes. I do not understand a lot of the issues of our day, and understand even less when it comes to how a Christian should interact with a particular topic. I was hoping that Jesus and Politics would be a helpful and practical guide to understanding a Christian's role in politics. This book did not meet those expectations. I would say it flat out failed in that regard. Actually, the application elements of this book were limited to a few pages in the conclusion and pot-shots against the Iraq war.

What this book did deliver on, and oddly how I usually prefer content, was a solid exegesis of Jesus' life with a focus on how specifically he dealt with the political powers in his time. If I would have known this was going to be the pattern while reading this book, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Why? Because I love when key passages are examined and the principles of application are left to the reader (or student). Sadly, when I was reading this book I did not want to work that hard.

I loved the first few chapters. Storkey has an excellent chapter at the beginning of the book that details what the different political powers in Jerusalem were at the time Jesus was preaching and teaching. One of the best break-downs of the different factions I have ever read. His descriptions were concise and clear, but not simplistic.

My other favorite chapters were at the end of the book. One fascinating chapter was on taxation, it simply made me think about how Jesus perceived taxes, but also how taxes were different in the first century than they are in the 21st century.

The last few chapters were a fantastic analysis of how Jesus, on the road to the cross, confronts the authorities of his time. He shows them he has a kingdom that the different political groups do not understand. They think they have power, but the power of God is in the cross. I loved Storkey's description of Pilate confronting Jesus. I think Storkey has a great deal of sympathy for Pilate who is stuck between a) controlling the Jews from rioting (and thus losing his job, perhaps his own life) and b) the truth of who Jesus is. Like Pilate, are we more concerned about our livelihood and our own lives than we are with presenting who Jesus really is? It is a challenging question that haunted me as I read a tale that I know so well.

Overall I liked this book. I would not say that I loved it because it dragged in the middle, it was not what I expected, and the specific applications of texts were rare. But after finishing it, I appreciate the way Storkey uses the Biblical text to describe how Jesus confronts the political opponents of his day. This was a Biblical theology of politics and it will probably be used as a text book in colleges and seminaries for years to come.

Favorite quote: Principled opposition always costs.

Stars: 3.5

Final Word: Political.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book 37: The Final Warning by James Patterson

The Final Warning by James Patterson


How it was obtained:
Susan and I bought it from Border's for 30% off (the sticker is still on the book).

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:
1 year.

Days spent reading it:
1 day.

Why I read it:
This is the fourth book of a series, need I say more?

Brief review:
It is clear that James Patterson can write a book. I enjoy reading his stuff. He's a light, quick, easy read. So of course I still enjoyed reading The Final Warning. Mostly because I just relax when I read Patterson's stuff.

Having said that, this series is increasingly becoming less and less interesting. Patterson moves to a plot purely driven by the dangers of global warming--culminating in a hurricane that "was caused by global warming" towards the end of this book. I find that simply ridiculous.

Another way in which Patterson is beginning to faulter is finding a good bad-guy. It seems that the old ones were not up to snuff, and so he created (I'm not kidding here) The Uber-Director, a brain in a jar who masterminds the capture and auction of Max and her flock. If it sounds silly, it is silly.

This book seemed rushed. It is about 100 pages shorter than any other Maximum Ride novel so far (and they're not that long!). It was also released almost before the previous book was out in paperback.

I know Patterson is a writing machine, but I hope that for the next installment (which I already have, and Susan has read), that Patterson slowed down some, established a solid nemesis, and begins to wrap things up. He is becoming predictable and boring. This is not helped by his tirades on global warming. I'm all about people sharing their beliefs about global warming. But this book was a little on the absurd side.

If you've read Maximum Ride, you'll read this one, but unless the series reclaims it's original grandeur, I'm getting close to checking out. I enjoy reading Patterson's stuff, but there is only so much that I can take. And that's my final warning.

Favorite quote: "You stand out like a fart in church."

Stars: 3 out of 5.

Final Word: Global-boring.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.


How it was obtained:
My first book that I purchased here in Thailand! I got it at a book sale in the mall. I know, bad Patrick! Finish your list!

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:
Maybe 2-3 days.

Days spent reading it:
2 days.

Why I read it:
This little gem of a book ended up on one of those "BBC must read 100 books of all time!" lists. How it ended up there, I'm not quite sure. But that's where it first caught my eye. Then I saw it at the C&MA guest house here in Thailand. Then I saw it at this book sale. When books keep popping up on my radar, I usually try to check them out.

Brief review:
I loved this book! It was quirky and unique. I always love unique. The narrator is Christopher. He is a young man with Asperger syndrome (or this is what I surmised, he never comes out and says it). He is socially awkward, but in math and science he is brilliant.

This tale is a murder mystery that Christopher tries to solve. A dog, Wellington, is killed across the street from Christopher with a garden fork. As Christopher begins to unravel the mystery, the heart of this book unfolds. You see what Christopher's condition has meant for his family and the painful decisions that were made. There is a lot of emotional material in the book, but it's slightly removed because it is told through the eyes of Christopher who clearly does not understand the nuances of events that take place around him. Pulling off the emotional material with a slight detachment is Mark Haddon's crowning achievement in this book. You feel great sympathy for Christopher as we journey through this mystery with him.

This book was top-notch. I only wish the author had left out the numerous f-words throughout the book. They were completely unnecessary, even if reflecting the speech of real-life people. Besides that, I highly recommend to anyone who wants a book that is told from a unique perspective, with an incredible protagonist, it is very funny (although Christopher claims to make no jokes, Mark Haddon clearly knows how to set up some great lines), and has a ton of heart. I highly recommend.

Favorite quote:
"I also said that I cared about dogs because they were faithful and honest, and some dogs were cleverer and more interesting than some people. Steve, for example, who comes to school on Thursdays, needs help to eat his food and could not even fetch a stick. Siobhan asked me not to say this to Steve's mother."

-Actually my favorite quote is the last paragraph of the book, but it wouldn't be fair to write that paragraph now would it?

5 out of 5.

Final Word: Curious.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Book 36: Metamorphoses by Ovid

Metamorphoses by Ovid

416 (including literary introduction and criticism).

How it was obtained:
I picked it up from Barnes and Noble.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:
Around 4 or 5 years.

Days spent reading it:
2 weeks.

Why I read it:
I had been reading a number of books that referred to Greek mythology, and specifically stories told by Ovid. So I thought I might appreciate this book.

Brief review:
Metamorphoses was certainly a difficult book to read. Not that I was looking for easy, but it was challenging to pay attention to this epic poem. I found the difficulties in a few areas:

1. The narrator changed often. I almost never knew who specifically was telling the story, and sometimes I did not even know what story I was reading. It was so hard to follow. And sometimes there would be a story within a story, and then you'd come out of the one story, back to the "main story" and then eventually leave that story as well. I think this poem would be easier to read if one had an outline of the stories in it with them. I wonder if anyone has done that? A quick search on google reveals that indeed it has been done. Maybe I should have printed one out before I started reading!

2. The stories become a little repetitive. Love found. Love pined for. Love lost. Change lover/lovee into animal/plant/exotic object of your choice. It becomes a little redundant in my opinion. More flowers and trees were created in the midst of the tale than it took to print it.

3. The use of the gods names in Roman, not Greek. I realize Ovid was writing as a Roman, but I mostly know my Greek mythology with Greek names. I found it hard to equate the Roman name with the Greek name. Add to that the difficultly of using multiple names or odd descriptors for someone and the task of figuring out who is being talked about can be rough (son of _____ was very common, actually there's an appendix in the front of the book for all of these, it's a few pages long).

4. The concept of love in this poem is ridiculous. Love at first sight is not so much love as lust. And that's about the extent of how love is portrayed in this work.
I wish Ovid had a better understanding of what true love really was. The love he describes is selfish, greedy, and superficial. Throughout this poem people do crazy things because they saw someone beautiful. Well get over it, and stop being crazy!

So it was hard to appreciate this poem. Am I glad I read it? Yeah, probably. Some of the scenes were actually interesting. Like when Ajax and Ulysses make speeches for who should receive Achilles armaments. That was a fun chapter, the insults were flying. But for the most part, it was difficult to read, more difficult to follow, and the return for me was not as great as the investment. This is probably a great poem to study in college, not so great to manhandle for fun.

Favorite quote:
Ajax talking smack...
"I own that it is a mighty prize I strive for, but such a rival takes away the honor of it. It is no honor for Ajax to have gained a prize, however great, to which Ulysses has aspired. Already he has gained reward enough in this contest because, when conquered, he still can say he strove with me."

2 out of 5.

Final Word: