Thursday, November 17, 2011

Always Playing Catch-Up

But, what ya gonna do?  Aside from, you know, "stay on top of things," that is.  Because that is clearly not an option. 

I was pretty excited about Scary Book Month for October.  I even started with Stephen King and Peter Straub.  Got just over 350 pages into it and then...I lost it.  Which is awesome, because it's a borrowed copy.  I set it aside to take with my to my church leaders' conference (which is all kinds of funny in and of itself) and then I just couldn't find it again.  After four days of not reading The Talisman, I realized I didn't really miss it much and wasn't too concerned about what was going to happen next.  This, despite the fact that the last line in the book that I had read was, "And then all hell broke loose."  So maybe I'll finish that one one day.  Probably not anytime too soon, though.  I mean, it wasn't bad, but I just never really got into it.  I didn't particularly care for the boy or his mom, I found the fantasy world-jumping to be a little tedious, and while I was a little bit interested in the story about the boy's father, it wasn't enough to keep me plodding through the random episodes involving evil trees or donkey-faced mutants or abusive bar owners.  The book just never really felt like it was going anywhere, and when there are over 700 pages to read I like to be fairly certain nearly halfway in that I'm going to enjoy the rest of the journey. 

Since I lost Talisman, I bought a book at the airport book store to keep me company on the flight to Chicago.  At the conference, I picked up a few book titles I wanted to check out, and eventually Scary Book Month was dead before October 10th.  I guess this doesn't bode too well for Christmas Book Month, but I do love a good theme so I'll give it a go anyway. 

As for the books I actually have finished lately:

Pirate Latitudes
by Michael Crichton
384 pages
Harper Collins, 2009

Did you know that Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park, Congo, Timeline, and lots of other things that turned into action movies) wrote a pirate adventure novel right before he died?  And that they found the completed manuscript in his desk drawer when they were going through his things? 

Sound a tad sketchy?  Yeah, but no big deal.  Bottom line, we got a pirate novel from Michael Crichton.  It's exciting, the characters are good, and the thing moves along at a good steady clip.  You have all of your pirate story cliches, including a sea monster battle, but nothing ever feels too forced.  It's more coherent than certain largely-successful Hollywood pirate stories, that's for sure.  I will say I wasn't too crazy about the last portion of the story. It kind of goes from being an adventure story on the high seas to a gruesome revenge plot, and parts of this last storyline seem really forced or just unnecessary.  Okay, fine, I'll just say it: (SPOILERS)

When the guy  hits his pregnant wife and then forces his best friend to have sex with her while he watches, and the other guy, sorry.  Totally unnecessary, doesn't advance the characters at all, we've already had plenty of evidence that he's an evil jerk--for no apparent reason, by the way--this did NOT need to be included.  Also, since I'm spoiling, the entire town's sudden shift to this suddenly power-mad secretary from earlier in the book is kind of ridiculous.  So yeah, the book could have ended with them coming home, or at least the ending could have been thought out quite a bit better.


On the whole, this book served its purpose.  It was entertaining, it was about pirates, it was a quick read, and it passed some time.  So, good on 'ya one last time, Michael Crichton. 

Is Belief in God Good, Bad, or Irrelevant?: A Professor and a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism, and Christianity
by Preston James and Greg Claflin
165 pages
InterVarsity Press, 2006

This is one of those "a Christian and an atheist have a debate" books, though "debate" is not really the right word because it never feels like either is trying to "win."  Rather, both the Christian James and the Naturalist Claflin (lead singer of Bad Religion) use their email exchange to clarify their own positions while getting a clearer picture of the other's stance.  While the tone is very respectful throughout, both men stick to their guns throughout the discussion.  The exchange is very natural and realistic because it appears to be presented without an ulterior motive despite the fact that the book is published by a Christian publisher.  (That said, the final email in the book is from James, and was one of his stronger entries.  We never see how Claflin replied.  Then again, since the book wasn't really designed to come to a neat and tidy conclusion, it did have to end somewhere, and one can surmise this was the point where the discussion began to become a bit repetitive)  Both Claflin and James approved the the book (though there's no direct comment from Claflin about the book itself within its covers) and both sides end the discussion in pretty much the same place they began it. 

The back-and-forth is quite engaging.  I read the book in about a day.  And I appreciated that it didn't become the typical Christian apologetics book where the atheist comes up with the same stock arguments that are easily shot down by the wise believer.  In fact, James gets flat out beaten on certain points at times, and this book makes no pretense about it.  James also comments that his dialogue with Claflin forced him to think more critically about his faith than many of his doctorate-level classes.  And therein, I think, is the value in a book like this.  Claflin presents some legitimate heavyweight arguments against not just Christianity, but faith in general.  Again, he's not seeking a fight with James or anybody else, but he's very certain of his beliefs and he articulates those beliefs well.  Similarly, James knows his stuff and never gives the cliche Christian responses that so often leave non-believers frustrated with these discussions.  Both sides end up conceding on points, and it's honestly a lot of fun to "listen in" on the discussion.  Ultimately, however, if you're looking for a payoff, you're not going to get one here.  You'll get a lot of book recommendations, but the discussion just suddenly stops, and then the book is over.  You get a footnote that the two continue to keep in tough and are at a friendly standstill, but as for this book itself, it just feels like it cuts off in the middle of a question.  Which isn't a diss on the book, just a warning to anybody who goes in expecting any sort of conclusion :-)

Ordering Your Private World
by Gordon MacDonald
181 pages
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985

I don't have a whole lot to say about this book.  It was recommended at the ministry conference I was attending for folks who feel like they have trouble balancing everything in their lives.  Well, that's-a me!  This book was pretty good, but most of what it has to say isn't really a new concept to me.  It did give some good tips on prayer journaling, time management, and that sort of thing, and it does a great job of identifying the symptoms of what an unhealthy life looks like (hint; mine.  Actually, a lot of folks I know and love, too).  It wasn't really earth-shattering, though.  I'd like to find an old copy for sale sometime because there are lots of great quotes to underline and keep at the front of my mind.  Also, I did take away a few things I want to start practicing in my own life.  So it's a good book.  Just not one that leaves you with a lot to say.

Oh, although this was really frustrating: he talked about keeping a Sabbath, and actually keeping it as an actual holy day.  He mentions he and his wife protecting one day a week to use as a day of spiritual retreat, and then he goes on about all the many things they do, together and alone, during their Lord's day.  And I'm thinking, "That's awesome, but what do you do when you have young children who are in constant need of your attention and supervision?"  And toward the end of that chapter, he writes (paraphrase, but an accurate paraphrase), "Obviously, when our children were younger and required more of our direct attention, this sort of routine would not have been possible." 

Fan-freaking-tastic.  So, Kim and I can start having positive, refreshing periods of rest and about twelve years.  Yeah, I actually got really frustrated when I read that, because there seemed to be no suggestion for what to do if you do have little ones hanging off you most of the time. 

That's my only gripe with this book, though. The book itself was a lot more than the 181 pages I listed, but the last 1/3 of it was study guide, and since it was an ILL request and due back at the library I just sorta skipped the study guide.  Don't have enough time in your life to read a book about ordering your life AND handle the study questions?  Might be part of the problem. 


Anyway, I'm just about done with Home, the sorta-sequel to my favorite book, Gilead, and then I've got another King book from the library (hopefully a bit more focused than Talisman was), and then I plan to do a month of Christmas-related books. 



  1. Well, I intend to read A Christmas Carol at some point in the next month. You very likely already thought of that, but if you hadn't... Hey look at that! I had a suggestion!

  2. You should read Chris---AGH, Travis already said that. Nevermind.

    Actually, I struggle to think of Christmas books. That's sad.