If you've ever tried to read the Bible, whether for religious or literary reasons, then you know that there are several points in the first five booksIf you've ever tried to read the Bible, whether for religious or literary reasons, then you know that there are several points in the first five books—that is, the Torah, Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses—that seriously induce (to borrow, again, Richard Ellis's term) MEGO syndrome (My Eyes Glaze Over). Be it the numerous mitzvot—strictures, edicts, dictums, commandments—of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, or the long lists of descendants' names in Genesis, there is some dry reading interspersed in with the gratuitous sex and violence and deep spiritual meaning. Of course, that which is dry in the Torah is usually much mored interesting given a second, deeper look.
One of the most mindboggling parts is Exodus's long description of the Tabernacle, the place built and carted around by Moses and the Israelites, where G-d's feminine attributes and spirit lived, leading the twelve tribes through the desert as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Basically, G-d is telling Moses how to build the Tabernacle, so these specific instructions are, well, specific. And archaic—what the hell is "shittim wood," anyway? Oh, I see, it's acacia wood.—wait, what the hell is "acacia wood," anyway? Just kidding, but you get my point, no?
Enter Moshe Levine, Holocaust survivor, master craftsman—woodworker, metalworker, textilist. This book documents a scale model of the Tabernacle in photographs, with commentary that documents the Biblical and Rabbinic sources Levine drew upon to make his model. He uses a scale of one centimetre to one cubit. This fact is not in your head as you flip through the pages—that you're looking, for example, at an Ark of the Covenant only a couple of centimetres long! Personally, I think it's a shame that this English edition is OOP—the only currently available edition is French. This could be a widespread text for Bible studies students of Jewish and Christian persuasion alike, were an affordable paperback produced.
My only complaint is that the book looks and feels as though it were printed out on somebody's printer at home and assembled by hand with Elmer's glue—an impossibility, given that the book was published in Israel in the late 1960s. The model get five stars, but the layout gets four....more
Hm... The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, eh? I read C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce before I read this, and I think his preface there sums up my thoughHm... The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, eh? I read C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce before I read this, and I think his preface there sums up my thoughts on the work:
Blake wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. If I have written of their Divorce, this is not because I think myself a fit antagonist for such a genius, nor even because I feel at all sure that I know what he meant.
And yet... I, too, do write of their divorce.
I think that The Marriage is a very engaging and invigorating intellectual work, copiously and beautifully illustrated, and one of the better early interdisciplinary works in the Western canon (mingling, in 1790(!), poetry, prose, and proverbs, in a very Biblical style, though subversively so). And I love Blake's synthesis and acknowledgment of his influences—Swedenborg, Milton, the Bible, and so forth. But his philosophy is, I think, dangerous, just like Ayn Rand's or Aleister Crowley's, and I'll get to why in a minute. Suffice to say that whereas Rand's philosophy is a joke, debunked by Michael Shermer in one chapter of one of his books, and Crowley was clearly just trying to show Victorian society how stilted it was by taking the opposite to the extreme, Blake's is semi-plausible and very respected. The danger lies in extreme individualism, following your "energies" without restraint. In the wrong hands (those attached to simple minds), it can be taken the wrong way, and seen as permitting anything at all.
Here's where stream of consciousness starts. Goody!
As Al Franken pointed out in that little book he wrote for grads—and I'm paraphrasing here—some people shouldn't follow their passions. What if you have a passion for embezzling large sums of money?—and so it is with Blake's "Exuberance is beauty." I understand his meaning, but is a war fought exuberantly any less brutal for it? Should all people follow their passions? Steven Pinker'd be inclined to say no as well, methinks. He points out that some people are just sociopaths. Remember that guy that duped Norman Mailer?—but Judaism has a similar thing, Kaballah (that oft-misunderstood doctrine), wherein their are many truths revealed and those truths are seen as being dangerous, and restricted membership is enforced (well it was in the pre-Madonna days).—could not the idea that both light and darkness come from Hashem be taken out of context, too?—so maybe an exuberant war can be beautiful?—no, wars are ugly affairs. I stand on my own legs here. Uh...
Maybe the shitty thing is that, deep down, not believing in Hell isn't liberating, it's disappointing. Sure, you won't be burning in the afterlife, but neither will Michael Vicks... or Hitler. Shouldn't there be a Hell for the bad ones among us? There certainly is evil, and most of us have seen it. Isn't it crushingly disappointing that "All religions have made the error... that God will punish Man for following his energies"?(—paraphrased again.)
And where does he get off thinking Jesus violated any of the Ten Commandments? A child could disarm Blake's Devil here, without consulting any texts. Jesus did not mock the Sabbath, any more than King David did by eating the showbread while on the run, by healing the sick thereon. The Baal Shem Tov has a nice parable illustrating that too many restrictions choke the soul, and Jesus must've concurred:
"Listen closely," said the Besht, "I was once driving a coach with three horses—one brown, one black, and one white—and they were not able to neigh. A gentile peasant called out to me from his coach, 'Slacken the reins!' I slackened the reins, and once again the horses were able to neigh. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Blake's Devil's assertion that Jesus "murder'd those who were murder'd because of him" is just absurd—and "turning away the law from the woman taken in adultery" didn't condone her adultery, merely pointed out the hypocrisy of those who would punish her. He did not steal any labours to support himself; he did not bear false witness by omitting a witness before Pilate, he simply omitted making a witness at all. There's a better argument for him having coveted a normal life, but Blake doesn't mention this—his argument for Jesus having coveted is nonsense. Even if he were right on all six accounts, that's still only six out of ten!
At the Proverbs, though, I lose my ability to comprehend. I love some and hate some. The ones I love the most are:
The most sublime act is to set another before you. If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise. Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion. Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps. The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man. The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship. One thought fills immensity.
But others are just perplexing. We are told that "The eagle never lost so much time. as when he submitted to learn of the crow," but then that "When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius. lift up thy head!"—I can hardly disagree, but I thought the crow was the smart one here? Didn't he just teach the eagle for hours and hours?
Others are just dangerous. "Every thing possible to be believd is an image of truth" recapitulates—sorry, predicts—the foolhardy ontological argument so readily debunked by Richard Dawkins; and "Where man is not nature is barren" hurts my soul so badly; it's so antithetical to everything I believe. Man is but a cog in God's nature; we have been demoted and demoted and demoted, as Carl Sagan shows in the "The Great Demotions" chapter of his book Pale Blue Dot. Ask me, man's presence makes nature barren.
Blake's greatest strength here is pointing out Milton's Satan is an engaging and sympathetic character, whereas his God and Messiah are abstractions, boring, revolting even. (Same as Dante's Hell vs. his purgatory and Heaven, IMO.) It's so true!
Anyway, as you can see, I can think and have thought about this book a lot! I leave you with my favorite passage:
The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive. And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity. Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood. Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales. And at length they pronounced that the gods had orderd such things. Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.
I think that I'll get the cover image tattooed on my arm, as every word is already tattooed on my soul. Honestly, it's hard for me to conceive of AttiI think that I'll get the cover image tattooed on my arm, as every word is already tattooed on my soul. Honestly, it's hard for me to conceive of Atticus Finch as a fictional character: it's like he's real. Seriously, he's every bit as much of a moral compass and teacher to me as, say, Jesus or the Baal Shem Tov. It's like a spiritual thing I swear.
Basically, ignore my rambling and read this book. It's a key work of Southern literature, young adult literature, and just literature in general....more
My great grandfather, William Rollins, held this poem in higher esteem than any other book, fiction or non-; it was his absolute favorite. Wherefore,My great grandfather, William Rollins, held this poem in higher esteem than any other book, fiction or non-; it was his absolute favorite. Wherefore, seeing as so much of my taste in reading came down to me from him, through the veritable library he left in the house now owned by my grandmother, I have endeavored to collect as many different editions as possible. When I have a house, I'm going to put all my books in a little room, and call it The William Rollins Memorial Library. And there will be a special little shelf housing all the Rubaiyats. Crazy? Perhaps. Awesome? I think so!—the question is, do I see why he liked it? Yes. It's not my absolute favorite. But it's hard to argue that these lines are truly something to behold:
Would but some winged Angel ere too late Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate, And make the stern Recorder otherwise Enregister, or quite obliterate!
Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would not we shatter it to bits—and then Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
In other words, "To mould a new reality/Closer to the heart"? (Where's the smile emoticon when you need it.)...more
This book was written by a local, so I feel uncomfortable slagging on it. Perhaps, to those of you who live in sprawling metropolises like London or NThis book was written by a local, so I feel uncomfortable slagging on it. Perhaps, to those of you who live in sprawling metropolises like London or New York or Tulsa, Oklahoma, for that matter, this makes no sense to you. Alas, I am from the Maritimes, a trio of Canadian provinces by the sea, and here in the Maritimes, we are supposed to offer no criticism of that which is released by other people from the Maritimes. (Maybe I'm making this up? I don't think so, though.) It's the bad side of the solidarity coin, a product of years of non-recognition only very recently broken by, say, Joel Plaskett and Buck 65. So... I'm very sorry, but this collection of short stories isn't very good, despite it being promoted in every record store and bookshop in Saint John, Fredericton, and the like.
I should preface my explanation of the above comment by saying: there are moments of genuine brilliance here. The story "Eric, Who Is A Robot," in particular, is stunning, and its use of some Huey Lewis lyrics (Mars is getting closer by the hour; a DJ has run in fear, but courteously left the entire News discog playing on loop) gets a funny mention .on the book's copyright page:
Lyrics from Huey Lewis' "If This Is It" used without permission because we're a tiny company with no lawyers and, really, is he ever going to see this book? Probably not.
But as you read the entire thing, you realize that the "random" sense of humour and esoteric style of "Eric," or any other story in the book, for that matter, is ubiquitous, and I don't mean that in a good way. The stories are all cut from the same cloth: no plot, a little development here and there, but not too much; bizarre, strange little snippets of fictional (impossible?) people's lives, usually involving death or a body or suicide, written, nine out of ten times, in third-person limited (You are writing a book. It's not a very good book...), and very poorly edited with regard to punctuation. I felt like pulling my hair out by the end of it.
And I loved Stewart's earlier book of poetry. You see, modern poetry at its best is all-style, no-substance; or, rather, style over substance, in a Henry-Miller-esque sort of way, sensation over clarity, like Yeah Yeah Yeahs lyrics. So it worked better for him to do this, zoom in, take a verbal snapshot, in poetry. In prose, however, I feel like he's going for Douglas Coupland and coming up short.
However, I state again that there were some truly stellar stories here. In order, they are: "Brangelina," about an indifferent writer receiving an award, in which we get this awesome observation—
"Here is a glass of champagne," someone says, handing you a glass of champagne. This is something that happens when you've just won an award for successful screen writing. You are standing at the edge of the room thinking about why certain drinks hold certain significances. You won an award; here is some champagne. You are eating a cookie; here is some milk. You are closing a deal; here is a double scotch on the rocks. You are planning a triple homicide in your parent's basement; here is some Tang.
—"A Month of Saturdays," about a millionaire whose life is, essentially, unchanged; "Dressing In Layers," the second-best story in the book, about a tough-guy who talks a talking grizzly out of jumping off a building; "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" (maybe?), a Monty-Python-esque skit about a breakup in the middle of a violent trainwreck; "Looks Like Rain," wherein it rains heavy objects instead of water; and "She Is 9/11" (again, maybe?), about a stalker caught in the act (oddly, you're compelled to say, "poor guy!").
And, of course, I'll finish by saying that I'm full of shit, and I've never published anything. So there you go....more
Warren Ellis has written something of a minor steampunk(-ish) masterpiece here.
This particular volume concentrates on introducing the characters, twelWarren Ellis has written something of a minor steampunk(-ish) masterpiece here.
This particular volume concentrates on introducing the characters, twelve 23-year-old UK psychics who destroyed the world, "six years ago," by simply concentrating on it hard enough. Now they've set up fort in the London district of Whitechapel, providing shelter from bloodthirsty gangs to refugees from the English countryside. Each has pale skin and violet eyes, and a sardonic, temperamental disposition seems to be common, as well.
I won't bother describing each character; this isn't a press release, and it's just a slim trade that I'm reviewing here. But the best compliment I can give this is that it really, really makes you want to read more. At the end of the book, you know the characters, you know their predicament, you've been treated to some major foreshadowing, and you want to know exactly what happened and exactly what will happen.
Sometimes it slips into post-apocalyptic cliché, at least visually (although the art is great), and in terms of dialogue, but I feel like this is going to get even better in subsequent volumes....more
What can I say about this book? It mostly consists of photographs of awful, awful cakes. Like... wow. So, yes, there's only so much you can say, I gueWhat can I say about this book? It mostly consists of photographs of awful, awful cakes. Like... wow. So, yes, there's only so much you can say, I guess. Just buy it, read it, and laugh. It's rare that a book has me laughing quite as hard as it did... from start to finish, I was in physical pain....more
This was good, but add it to the ever-growing pile of Elie's minor stuff. Short though the book was, it could've been shorter—the rehash of Rashi's GeThis was good, but add it to the ever-growing pile of Elie's minor stuff. Short though the book was, it could've been shorter—the rehash of Rashi's Genesis commentary was fairly unnecessary. The best parts of the book were the history of Rashi's own life and the final chapter on the Crusades and the anti-semitism of the Gaonic period, some accounts of which filled me with rage and a palpable sadness. Wiesel's own musings on Rashi are cursory, introductory, begging to be expounded upon. I guess my main complaint was that this was marketed as an introduction to the man, and actually seems like a poor substitute for a more in-depth bio....more
Oh, God, why, why, why... why would someone given the option to create a fictional universe make one so... so... depressing, with seemingly no reasonOh, God, why, why, why... why would someone given the option to create a fictional universe make one so... so... depressing, with seemingly no reason to it?!—that's the deal you see, I can handle depressing. The Road is depressing, so depressing it actually depressed my wife. But it has a message: if we don't stop fucking around, this is the endgame. This, apparently, is supposed to be about how Holocaust survivors can never find true happiness and blah blah blah, and about how hard it is to believe in love after Auschwitz, etc.
But it's crap. I've spoken to four different Holocaust survivors, two of which were camp survivors, both Auschwitz, who saw dead babies being shoveled onto trucks with pitchforks like hay and Joseph Mengele pointing left (work) or right (crematoria) for each new arrival. They saw that, lived it. One of them said that she was not afraid of Hell; she had been to Hell. And yet, were they depressed? No! They were happy, "just unbelievably happy to be alive," and to have friends, and to be able to tell their stories. To me, obviously not being a Holocaust survivor, and unable to speak for them at all, the Holocaust is a reason to believe in love, not to give up on it, because it was Hell; it was the absolute dark night of humanity, and we won, the soldiers who payed the ultimate sacrifice or were prepared to, my grandparents amongst them, won. Love won—"The unrelenting constancy of love and hope can rescue and restore you from any scope."
Get over it, Elie.—although my wife suggests that maybe he needs to get this shit out, and that's understandable. I do remember that he said—and I'm paraphrasing here—"The question is not, 'How did I keep my faith in God?', but, 'How do I keep my faith in humanity?'"—you see, I, too, am just getting shit out. And, to be fair, the translation is very weak compared to his wife's more delicate work with Night, the first book in this trilogy, a five-star classic if there ever was one....more
Not the greatest. It wasn't broad enough for absolute beginners, because it assumed a lot of knowledge regarding Judaism aside from conversion. And yeNot the greatest. It wasn't broad enough for absolute beginners, because it assumed a lot of knowledge regarding Judaism aside from conversion. And yet it wasn't specific enough for the serious potential convert, because it skimmed over the specific details of pretty much everything. So this book is useful to someone in a very small window of time. It was also a little too "Oprah's Book Club" for me. A great Zen master once said, "I sell all kinds of things in my shop. If someone comes looking for pure gold, I sell him pure gold. If he comes looking for rat shit, I sell him rat shit." Yeah, well, call me pretentious, but I need the gold!
I did learn that Judaism has a theological opinion wherein sincerity is all that is truly required of a Tzaddik, a righteous man (or woman); you don't need to be Jewish, so long as you're a good person. I always felt that all the world's religions—I mean, if there is a God, which you have to take on faith, right?—were probably just the same numinous experience of oneness or God, filtered through subjective cultural preferences, giving rise to a sort of equivalence. And fair enough, my Rabbi said when I first approached him, "You know, you can be a good Gentile. There are only seven basic mitzvot that you need to follow." I'd take that a step further and add, why do you need to believe in God at all?—as long as your atheism comes from conviction, not apathy.
Final comment: useless if you're converting to Orthodox. More aimed at Conservative and Reform/Reconstructionist, those latter two being essentially atheist and viewing halakah (Jewish law) as "folkways."...more
For the general part of this brief review, I should say that I think that this book was way ahead of its time. Some people will object to this, call iFor the general part of this brief review, I should say that I think that this book was way ahead of its time. Some people will object to this, call it just another pop-sci book, and move on, decrying the science in it for already being out of date, a mere 15 years after publication. "Obsolescence," however, "is a fate devoutly to be wished," reminds Stephen Jay Gould. So what if some of this science is old hat? The vast, and I mean that, vast, majority of Sagan's predictions are already fact, especially his thoughts on the then, and now, burgeoning field of exoplanetary science. I say that Sagan was ahead of his time not because of any particular science in question, though, but because centuries from now, when we have colonized the solar system and its myriad worlds are known to us, we will be able to look at Sagan as the one guy who was on the right track at the end of the twentieth century, whereas most people even at the start of the twenty-first were finding excuses not to spacefar and search for extraterrestrial life. "SETI," remarks Sagan, "costs less than one attack helicopter a year." We spend so much on killing each other and so little on exploring together, on being human. Read this book like some people read the Bible and spread the word in the same way; baby steps, eh?
As for the edition, it was convenient for me, listening on an iPod at work in a kitchen. But it consists of Sagan reading the abridged edition and J. Charles, an OK, but not noteworthy, narrator, rounding out the remainder, that is, 3 hours of Sagan, 7 of Charles. Go for the illustrated copy of the paperback if you have more time on your hands; I also own that one and turned to it as an augmentation of my listening here....more
There's nothing wrong with these essays, so don't take affront to the fact that I gave this a two-star rating (as far as I'm concerned, everything CarThere's nothing wrong with these essays, so don't take affront to the fact that I gave this a two-star rating (as far as I'm concerned, everything Carl Sagan ever published is solid gold). It's just that most of them are awkwardly abridged and taken from other sources, including, largely, Broca's Brain and Sagan's opus, Pale Blue Dot, published a mere four years prior, and for which there is already an excellent audiobook, mostly read by the author ('nuff said). This is an OK introduction to Sagan, by all means, but hardcore fans will be left wanting.
I agree with another reviewer who said that the description of chimps' stick-in-a-termite-mound technology is mindblowingly good—turns out that the nuances of this "simple" technology couldn't be mastered by the humans who discovered it....more
This review is edition-specific. Excellent, if highly abridged, reading of the famous popularization of linguistic nativism. Lalla Ward, Richard DawkiThis review is edition-specific. Excellent, if highly abridged, reading of the famous popularization of linguistic nativism. Lalla Ward, Richard Dawkins's wife and once an actress on Doctor Who, is well known among those who like science audiobooks for her contributions to the audio versions of her husband's The God Delusion and The Ancestor's Tale. Her reading here is characteristically lively, and of course, the material leaves nothing to be desired. Especially good was that one interview with a subject intended to illustrate what Black English Vernacular (BEV) sounds like was an actual recording. I dock a star from the review only because more than half of the printed book was not present in this audio edition....more
I wanted to give this a higher star rating, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
In several respects, this book is an absolute classic, not least ofI wanted to give this a higher star rating, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
In several respects, this book is an absolute classic, not least of which that in which it is, first and foremost, the flagship book of the Hindu religion. (I had tried to tackle a religious edition (Bhagavad Gita: As It Is, that with commentary by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, which my younger brother gave me, it having in turn been given to him by the bass player of the hardcore band Glassjaw) but found it inpenetrable, and checked this more secular (or more Western) edition from the library.) In another respect, it's been a huge influence on the American literary tradition, having been translated into English a little too late to effect the comparable British tradition in any major way. Thoreau and Emerson paid it major lip service, and J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted it when he witnessed an atomic explosion for the first time: "I am become death, destroyer of worlds." In other ways, however, the book is a total letdown. But the universe just kept therowing it at me, time and again. As I said, my brother gave me a copy; one of my groomsmen, Shawn, was reading it on my wedding night. And so on.
Mitchell's translations are usually fantastic, and this is no exception to prove the rule. It's just that the source material isn't very strong. Chapters 1-12 are riverting and filled with things to "mull around the ol' noggin'," sotospeak, and then chapter 13 comes in and ruins everything with a dry sermon on the three gunas or modes of material nature. Mitchell concedes as much in the endnotes to the book.
In short, this is worth reading, but it's not necessary to finish the book, short though it is, unless you actually intend on becoming a Hindu. It does, however, contain moments of infallible wisdom, as here:
Death is certain for the born; for the dead, rebirth is certain. Since both cannot be avoided, you have no reason for your sorrow.
Before birth, beings are unmanifest; between birth and death, manifest; at death, unmanifest again. What cause for grief in all this?
Or, as my friend Shawn put it, "There was never a time when you never were, and there will never be a time when won't be. So just relax." When you think about it, this is true with or without a belief in reincarnation; science teaches that we all return to what we were eventually: atoms, stardust, carbon, new life-forms. Atoms in you now were once in others. It's a cycle.
One might take Richard Dawkins's saying, that we're going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones, as another way of looking at this passage. But I'll gladly give the last word to Mark Twain.
I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit.