Search This Blog

Monday, October 31, 2011

Multiple Bles8ings, by Jon & Kate Gosselin and Beth Carson

In honor of the birth of our sixth child a few weeks ago, a coworker of my husband gave this book to us, with a note attached indicating we only need two more to have eight. If we had not received the book as a gift I do not think I would ever have picked it up. I've never watched the reality show about the Gosselins, and found the photos of the family plastered on the covers of tabloids rather tedious.

I did not have high expectations for this book. In the beginning, though, even my low expectations were not met. As the book moved on through their experiences, however, I was surprised at how much simple human interest I found in the story of having sextuplets. I became more interested in the story than I had expected to be. Nevertheless, I would not recommend the book (I would not oppose it either).

Each chapter starts with a Scripture. There are many references to God, salvation, Jesus, prayer, etc. throughout the book. This made their recent highly public divorce sadder and more lamentable to me. I can't help but think that the pressure of being on a reality show could not have been healthy for their marriage.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

M. Aurelius became emperor of Rome when his adoptive father died. He was, by and large, a just man and a wise ruler, with the glaring exception that he persecuted the Christians during his reign. He became an adherent of the Stoic school of philosophy at a young age. In his 'Meditations,' M. Aurelius urges and seeks to persuade the reader to view life through a Stoic lens.

I did not enjoy the 'Meditations' as much as the 'Golden Sayings' of Epictetus. M. Aurelius was not nearly as pithy as Epictetus, and he went on at considerable length (i.e., I found his book somewhat tedious and repetitive). I would recommend the 'Golden Sayings' over the 'Meditations.'

The Horse that Leaps Through Clouds, Eric Enno Tamm

Subtitled: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road, and the Rise of Modern China

Around a hundred years ago the Russian Empire sent a military man by the name of Baron Mannerheim on a two-year-long mission to spy on China. A few years ago a journalist spent seven months retracing the Baron's steps.

Mr. Tamm wrote an engaging narrative about his trip, quoting from the Baron's diaries, letters, and military report to compare the awakening China of the early 20th century with the rising China of today.

What has changed? What has remained the same? What will China be like during this coming century? Mr. Tamm meditates on these questions and their answers.

I liked this book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in China in particular, or current affairs in general. Also, one can visit Mr. Tamm's website and see many pictures of his trip, a neat use of social media.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Prince, by Machiavelli

What remains for me to say about such a legendary book? Machiavelli had been exiled and excluded from political life. While exiled he studied history and political philosophy. Machiavelli distilled what he learned from his studies into this little treatise, which he offered to the Medici when they regained power. He was not restored to any position in political life.

In 'The Prince,' Machiavelli poses the question 'Is it better to be feared or loved?' He approaches the subject in a very logical way, dividing and subdividing his subject and posing and answering questions in a coherent manner.

This was a surprisingly easy read.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

eye of the god, by Ariel Allison

The Hope Diamond, seen by around 100 million people since being donated to the Smithsonian, holds a deep attraction for many. Is the attraction due to the beauty of the gem? The size? The legacy of being cursed? I know it was my favorite exhibit when I lived close to the Smithsonian and could visit it at my leisure. I didn't even care about any of the other exhibits.

In 'eye of the god,' Ariel Allison explores some of the true history of the stone and the nature of the curse on it, in a modern-day fictional intrigue to steal it. Will the would-be thieves succeed?

I thought it was fairly well-written, though there seemed to be some discrepancies between early parts of the story and later parts of the story (such as the chronology of the days leading up to the heist, for instance). I was surprised by one of the late twists in the story, which impressed me. The telling of the history was more enticing and enthralling to me than the contemporary scenes in the book. I did have a little difficulty in believing the character changes which one of the characters undergoes (I won't be more specific than that, to avoid spoiling the story).

All in all it was a decent, exciting, quick read.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A List

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, by Alexander McCall Smith. Does Mma Makutsi finally get to wed her beloved Phuti Radiphuti? What do her shoes tell her in this installment? Does Precious Ramotswe finally confront a case which she can't quite unravel? I like this series, and this newest book in the series does not disappointment. I like the courtesy of the old Botswana ways. I like the genuine but not showy affection Precious Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni feel for one another. These books are comfortable.

Three Dialogs of Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett. I read this because it was the next book in a course of study I have set myself. The three dialogs are The Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. It's been long enough since I finished Crito (my course of study is going forward slowly) that I don't recall what it's about. Oops; so much for learning anything from my course of study. The Apology is Socrates' defense of himself when he was brought up on charges of corrupting the youth and corrupting worship. Phaedo is an account of the conversation Socrates had with his followers when in jail on the day he was to drink the hemlock. I like The Apology. If Socrates was as he is presented as being, he was a truly noble man.

The Wordsmith's Tale, by Stephen Edden. This was interesting and well-written, poetic and whimsical. The narrator tells his family story, beginning with his great-grandfather, which is a story interwoven with English history. It begins before William the Conqueror sets foot on English soil, and ends after his death. As the narrator was a storyteller by trade he shares some of his stock of stories as he tells his family story, and his stock resembles, in a primitive way, tales familiar to us as folk and fairy stories. There is much sadness in this book, and a fair amount of sexual references, but the story was interesting and the writing was fine.

The Three-Arched Bridge, by Ismail Kadare. I believe this is the first book by an Albanian author I have ever read. It was great. Spooky, like Poe. I was reading it one night, when my husband was at work, and I had to set the book aside to wait either for morning light or for the presence of another adult in the house. And yet the spookiness is not the point of the story. The story of the book takes place in Albania a long time ago. The narrator is a learned monk. The threat of Turkish domination is looming on the horizon. Of all the books on this list, this book has the distinction of possessing the greatest literary merit. (We'll allow The Apology to have the greatest philosophical merit.)

The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, translated by Hastings Crossley (isn't that a great name?). Epictetus was a Stoic. These Golden Sayings of his promote that bracing view of life. As it happens I am also reading The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. The contrast between the two books is striking. While to some degree they counsel reaching for the same goal, that of not complaining, but accepting one's lot (Epictetus of course refers to gods, while Burroughs to God), yet they are worlds apart. Epictetus expects you to find the strength you need to be stoical within yourself. Burroughs offers the help of the Holy Spirit. Epictetus speaks as if one can stand before the gods and sincerely claim to merit their approbation. Burroughs confirms that one needs a mediator between oneself and God. Epictetus does away with all excessive feelings. Burroughs allows that one may feel the pain of one's circumstances, may plead with God with tears and lamentations, yet submit to His will. I do think there is value in reading Epictetus; it could stiffen one's spine with good, but not with the best, reasons. But it is not a work of grace (not that I expected it to be).

On the Narrow Road: Journey into a Lost Japan, by Lesley Downer. The author took a walking tour of Japan, following in the footsteps of Japan's Shakespeare, Matsuo Basho (of the 17th century). The author weaves together her own experience, the experience of Basho, and the more distant history of Japan (Basho himself followed in the footsteps of a legendary Japanese warrior, Yoshitsune). I enjoyed this book and appreciated the view it provided into a culture I know very little about. Ms. Downer jumped around chronologically a bit too rapidly from time to time, leaving me occasionally confused as to which of the three eras she was talking about. Aside from that problem I thought the book was well-written. She mentioned that 'why' is not a question considered appropriate in polite Japanese circles. That left me wondering, do the children there not go through a 'why' phase? Or is just squashed quickly? It also made me aware of how often I ask why. It's a word that escapes my lips multitudinous times a day.

And with that I am caught up! Time for a little victory dance. I had begun to wonder if I could maintain a blog.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Dog Who Came in from the Cold, Alexander McCall Smith

I am a fan of Smith's Botswana stories, and so decided to try one of his Corduroy Mansions series. I think Smith excels at characterization; that skill was evident in this book. However, I did not care for the characters as much as I care for the characters of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. Nor did I care as much for the looser morals embraced by the Corduroy Mansions characters. It was a pleasant read, but I don't know that I'll read the other book(s) in the series (I think there's only one other at this time).

And I am being brief because I am still behind by five books! Plenty of time to read, very little time to type with two hands.