Like many of us, my introduction to Reza Aslan's book Zealot came through the hubbub. First with an NPR interview, and later through trending YouTubeLike many of us, my introduction to Reza Aslan's book Zealot came through the hubbub. First with an NPR interview, and later through trending YouTube clips of a Fox News anchor attempting to corner an Islamic man who--yes it's true--wrote this carefully researched book--in part--to discredit the notion of Jesus as God made flesh. As an often cynical agnostic, I watched with a mixture of frustration and amusement. How dare a scholar attempt a historically accurate accounting of Jesus!
Finally, courtesy a Thanksgiving road trip, I made it through Zealot via the unabridged audio production read by the author. This was a highly engaging audio production. Reading the book himself ensures Aslan can pace and accent the text in a manner that underscores his pursuasive agenda. Aslan is able to make his case audibly, like a TED talk, where a for-hire audio book reader might have voiced the text less emphatically.
Aslan builds this entire book around one key point. Jesus was crucified. Rome reserved this form of punishment for convicted revolutionaries. Therefore Jesus should be understood first and foremost as a revolutionary. The balance of the book, with extensive referencing of early historical and scriptural texts, fleshes out this argument. In the process, Aslan follows the well-worn path of scholars who debunk the claim of Christians that the New Testament is itself historically accurate. Hence the controversy.
Yet, having made the case early on that the Gospels cannot serve as historical biography, Aslan repeatedly returns to them for snippits that do appear to strengthen his thesis. So while I appreciated the quality of his writing, especially the organization of the chapters and clarity of his assertions, I am left to take yet another scholar at his word on which parts of the New Testament should be trusted.
I found the final chapters most engrossing, as the author shows how the historical/political Jesus was supplanted by the evangelical deified Jesus. In particular, Aslan paints a picture of incredible tension between the apostles Paul and James, with James receding in prominence as the New Testament is compiled and the center of Christianity shifts to Rome. The relationships of the various apostles are rendered far more acrimonious than anything I encountered in Sunday School while growing up.
Since the broad strokes of Zealot were already familiar to me, I have to assume Aslan is not saying anything especially new. Still, he brings the scholarly argument into focus. I do recommend this book to people wanting to consider the historical Jesus. But you may find, as I did, given the lack of first-hand source material, the historical Jesus seems almost as speculative as the divine one....more
Here is a book that tickles both my love of the universe and my love of English. Dr. Roberto Trotta's choice to tell the story of the universe using oHere is a book that tickles both my love of the universe and my love of English. Dr. Roberto Trotta's choice to tell the story of the universe using only the 1,000 most commonly used words in English is a great writing and pedagogy exercise. The literary merits of the finished product are secondary to me. One of the things I have learned as a trained writer/actor is that occasionally giving yourself a limiting set of rules can have great benefits. Though arbitrary, doing so takes you out of habits and can enable you to create in innovative ways.
The author is a professional astrophysicist. By hobbling himself linguistically at the outset, he forced himself to come up with new ways of explaining the universe to lay people like myself. It's a wonderful idea and I hope similar pedagogy experiments happen throughout the sciences.
In terms of literary results, The Edge of the Sky achieves a folkish allegorical flavor. The oldness of our cosmos comes out bright and clear. The charm and color of astrology occurs without the attendant superstition. This is science, but it is science as a campfire story meant to intrigue children of the human tribe. For me, the strongest passages dealt with Dark Matter which, as one of the great current mysteries of science, seems ideally suited for dramatization with symbolic language.
Thanks to previous non-fiction reading, documentary viewing, and a college education, I am highly conversant in the subject material. I am not an expert, but I know the scientific story of the universe pretty well. So I can only guess at how effective this book might be for someone not conversant in science. Perhaps it will read with even more delightful mystery. Perhaps it will just seem cryptic.
I think the greatest benefit could be derived by the academy of physicists. I recommend this book to the scientists whose deep knowledge of the universe allows them to take the sensibility of science for granted. If they wish to connect with taxpayers like me, they need to find effective ways of explaining the more esoteric of their mathematical doctrines. Roberta Trotta seems to have caught the spirit of finding ways to do that....more
It's commendable how John Green keeps his teen tragedy moving right along, given that so much of the action is just suffering kids sitting in rooms. TIt's commendable how John Green keeps his teen tragedy moving right along, given that so much of the action is just suffering kids sitting in rooms. The Fault in Our Stars could easily have settled into stationary dreariness and still come out meaningful. The characters are all somewhere between likable and very likable (with one engrossing exception). They are all suffering from cancer or attached to someone who is sick. Feeling meaningful is a pretty wide target to hit with that setup.
Yet, from early on I found myself genuinely interested in Hazel, the protagonist, and her supporting cast. In particular, I was taken in by how the ailing youths wield cynicism. Most of the time, practiced as they are from chronic/terminal illness, they do so deftly--not with abandon. Sickness has forced them to grow up quick. Like seasoned adults, they pick their moments. The resulting dilemmas make for compelling scenework.
The Fault in Our Stars did move me to sniffle and tear up. If I had not been reading in public, I would have let myself sob as I read some of the later chapters. This is well-crafted, accessible, and meaningful fiction. The ending, which goes nowhere new and wallows somewhat, felt belabored to me. Yet, like the rest of the novel, it felt earned. Thanks to John Green, I will be giving young adult fiction the time of day going forward....more
Cymbeline is a play named after a character who doesn't deserve to have a play named after him. Granted, Cymbeline has the most elegant and poetic namCymbeline is a play named after a character who doesn't deserve to have a play named after him. Granted, Cymbeline has the most elegant and poetic name of any of the characters in the play. But who gives a damn what Cymbeline thinks? Answer: pretty much nobody else in the play. You might as well rename Romeo and Juliet after that Paris guy.
Okay, with that out of my system I will simply say that I enjoyed most of this play. Cymbeline has a lot of the well-tested devices audiences expect from a Shakespeare comedy/romance: rebellious youths fawning over each other in the woods, gender-flipping disguise, plot-hinging use of potions, and sex puns.
To my pleasant surprise, this play also has wonderful plot twists. A great deal of intrigue builds, so much in fact that the fifth act is inevitably a hasty, wordy, action-free letdown. In the final pages of script, I went from sitting on the edge of my seat to rubbing my temples. Alas, the final act involves most of the cast standing around retelling the first four acts to each other as each in turn comes to realize everything that the audience already knows. ...more
I don't have a very long commute. Still, when the misery that is American broadcast news gets to be too much, I take a break from my car radio to listI don't have a very long commute. Still, when the misery that is American broadcast news gets to be too much, I take a break from my car radio to listen to an audio book. This is why I decided to listen to Billy Crystal's memoir/exploration of aging. And let me just say, I cannot imagine reading this book. Experiencing it as an audio book seems both obvious and mandatory. Only listening in 15 minute commute segments proved too slow. A couple of CDs in I yanked the case out of my car and gorged on 2 CDs at a time in my apartment.
Billy Crystal has been a welcome guest in my family's entertainment circle since he appeared in the sitcom Soap. We have loved his standup, his impersonations, and many of his films. When Harry Met Sally is one of my all-time favorite films and certainly my favorite romantic comedy. It was a pleasure to revisit all of these cherished memories through Billy's perspective, humor, and voice. The chapters he reads before a live audience are riveting in their hilarity.
The appeal of this memoir may come down to whether or not you are already a Billy Crystal fan. The approach he takes is inevitably an extension of his lifelong comedic style and wit. I think it is safe to say his recent Emmy Awards tribute to the late Robin Williams counts as something of a supplement, and a good sense of how this book comes across: candid, sentimental, bright. Thank you, Billy....more
On the dust jacket, Janet Maslin of The New York Times rightly compares The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to Ragtime. While I have not readOn the dust jacket, Janet Maslin of The New York Times rightly compares The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to Ragtime. While I have not read that novel, I have seen the major film adaptation and twice seen the wonderful musical adaptation. With regard to the latter, I appreciate a story that captures the nostalgia for a bygone era without white washing the history. (To my knowledge, there have not been any utopian decades…ever.) Michael Chabon’s tale of two immigrant cousins who break into the nascent comic book industry of the 1930s achieves this balance between remembering the best of times and acknowledging the coexistent worst of times.
In some chapters, this novel adopts the spirit and pacing of a comic book. The narrative intentionally disorients readers so that one can experience the melding of comic book fantasy with stark reality in the mind of young men. My favorite chapter depicts the origin of a female superhero dreamed up by the protagonists. Here the prose is laden with sexual tension of the pubescent variety. Yet Chabon retains the artful flourish that accompanies so many tales of buxom feminine warriors. As I told members of the book club I attend, the chapter was undignified in all the right ways. It made me remember why I enjoyed comic books in my teens.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a Pulitzer Prize winner. That says something about its literary credibility. I highly recommend this novel for its colorful mix of history, fantasy, and humanity. ...more
A moment of real-life horror occurred during my reading of Cujo by Stephen King. I was lying on my stomach, focused on the developing story of a rabidA moment of real-life horror occurred during my reading of Cujo by Stephen King. I was lying on my stomach, focused on the developing story of a rabid Saint Bernard terrorizing several inhabitants of Castle Rock, Maine. Suddenly, an actual dog in the room charged me, bit down on my hand, then darted away in a frenzy. The next morning my mouth began filling with foam.
Okay, here are the less sensational truths: the dog that merely nipped my hand was an adorable cocker spaniel. She was chasing down her favorite purple ball and it rolled too close to my hand. And the next morning? The foam in my mouth was from a latte. Yummy! Still, am I not brave for reading Cujo while dogsitting for a coworker who lives out away from the city lights?
As with Doctor Sleep, I over-braced for this King novel. I worried it would overwhelm and sicken me in the way Pet Sematary did. Adding to my pre-read fretting was an interview King gave to The Paris Review in which mention is made that he lost fans over this book--not because it's a lousy read but because it proves too horrible for recreational reading ("Stephen King, The Art of Fiction No. 189", The Paris Review Fall 2006, No. 178). Great interview, King fans. Google it.
Cujo did not overwhelm me. It succeeded with me. I rode the waves of suspense. I cared about what happened to major characters. I found myself engrossed by the dog's thought process as it grows sicker. I also found the final showdown between dog and human to be downright awesome. Vintage King! We'll see what kind of residual scare I get in future late nights.
On a structural level, King provides effective parallels between two families, between two classes of people, and between rabies psychosis and human anger. The result, as I've come to expect from King, is highly entertaining fiction--not incredibly deep, but far more compelling than the forgettable junk audiences routinely settle for in contemporary horror cinema.
Cujo is often a brutal and relentless read. Still, if you are in the mood for a thrill, I do recommend it. Now pardon me while I go snuggle with the cocker spaniel I mentioned earlier. Dogs are awesome!...more
Reading True Grit led me to an unexpected comparison: namely westerns and sci-fi novels. There is the obvious similarity of westerns and sci-fi novelsReading True Grit led me to an unexpected comparison: namely westerns and sci-fi novels. There is the obvious similarity of westerns and sci-fi novels both exploring frontiers. Other similarities can be found though, all related to craft. Both genres are often more focused on surface features than character development. This does not automatically mean they are thin or superficial. Both sci-fi and westerns tend to be rich by virtue of their sense of place, their specialized vernacular, and their use of archetypes to dramatize society-wide trends. Lastly, they are often both action oriented with an emphasis on the meaningful application of available technology.
All of these observations apply to my highly enjoyable reading of True Grit. Author Charles Portis crafted a colorful, scrappy (trying not not to say gritty) yarn about frontier justice. And while this may be a tale about a teenage girl proving her grit, the novel is a story told in retrospect by an elderly woman who still has plenty of scrap in her. The dialogue is lively and unapologetic, the action is steady and engrossing. It is easy to see how this novel has spawned not one but two masterful film adaptations--both of which take remarkably few liberties with the plot.
I highly recommend True Grit. It is a fast read and it is also a good read....more