The most fascinating thing about this book is the way it divides its readers. Some hold that it is a tragic romance, a sweeping tale of a woman suffoc...moreThe most fascinating thing about this book is the way it divides its readers. Some hold that it is a tragic romance, a sweeping tale of a woman suffocated by her stultifying circumstances who tries desperately to find some measure of happiness in a mundane world. These are probably the same people who use "Romeo & Juliet" as ideal romantic examples.
I have never agreed with the interpretations which hold it is about the struggle of a free spirit against the banal misery of middle-class married life; Flaubert's tone is too wry, his style too arch for that to be the case. If anything it is a satire of those very sentiments, an exposure of the immaturity and selfishness which plague those so-called "free spirits" and reveals them for what they really are: spoiled and ungrateful perpetual-adolescents. The heroine of this novel sees her unhappiness as the fault of outside factors (husband, home, child, region, monogamy, etc.) and sets out to satisfy herself by imposing her fantasies on the world around her; it does not go as planned. She keeps convincing herself that one more thing, one more change will make her happy, will satisfy her, but she never bothers to look at herself or her role in creating her own unhappiness. If my interpretation is correct then this is a brilliant, incisive commentary on society and the human desire to deny all responsibility for our unhappiness/happiness. If I'm wrong, then Flaubert had his head simulatneously in the clouds and in the sand, and this book deserves a much lower rating.(less)
The pacing for each individual issue is improving, but it's starting to feel like the author is impatient to get where he's going. One minute they're...moreThe pacing for each individual issue is improving, but it's starting to feel like the author is impatient to get where he's going. One minute they're in Kansas, the next they're in Colorado. One minute they're in Colorado, the next they've abruptly been in San Francisco for weeks. That sort of approach might work for a tv series which has breaks between seasons, or for a series of novels in which one assumes time has passed between entries, but for a regularly-published monthly comic book series? It just feels...off. The last issue attempted to explain why Yorrick was making so many stupid decisions (he wanted to die) but it felt excessively obvious -- i was hoping there was more to it than that. This volume finally explained how Yorrick managed to survive the plague with, I will admit, an interestingly subversive explanation, but the pacing still felt all wrong.
Still not seeing any sexism. Just women behaving like human beings. Though again, the idealized representation of post-male San Francisco felt like more of Vaughan's political ideologies intruding on the narrative.(less)
Sub-par writing and ho-hum art keep this from rising above an interesting bit of pulp. Also, the author's political agendas keep getting in the way. V...moreSub-par writing and ho-hum art keep this from rising above an interesting bit of pulp. Also, the author's political agendas keep getting in the way. Volume 1: Republicans are crazy, gun-toting fascists; Volume 2: the death penalty and the US prison systems are baaaaad; Volume 3: Israel is evil and militaristic. The attempts to draw parallels to post-9/11 America are no longer subtle, as the Israeli leader's anti-Arab and anti-Muslim actions and words are explicitly depicted as wrong.(less)
The second volume in the series improved a bit on the pacing, and the characters are a bit better defined, but not by much. The character Yorrick keep...moreThe second volume in the series improved a bit on the pacing, and the characters are a bit better defined, but not by much. The character Yorrick keeps making bizarre decisions which seem to come out of nowhere; I'm not sure whether it's just that the author has failed to characterize him enough for me to understand WHY Yorrick is making these choices (which, in the first volume, I tried to rationalize as the result of his traumatic experiences) or whether he's just having Yorrick make them to drive the plot. Six of one, a half dozen of the other.
Again, I just don't see the sexism, and I've been trained to see it EVERYWHERE. No orgies, no weak women begging to have a crack at the last man, no sexual activity at all. A pleasant surprise from a series about "the last man on earth" which others have claimed is chauvinistic. The religious fanatics behave exactly as religious fanatics are wont to do, but we are also presented with a town full of reformed female prisoners who have established a near-utopia yet harbor no ill-will towards males. Again, the main problem is how flat all the characters feel. Yorrick's romance (?) with the townswoman didn't feel authentic, and while I understand intellectually the dynamic which exists between Victoria and her Amazons (seeing it, as i have, in real-life situations), it still feels nonsensical for Hero to flip from loving her brother to hating him just because Victoria punched her and gave her a little lecture. Yes, we learn that she had a habit of picking bad men before the extinction, and we learn that she and Yorrick each thought their father loved the other more, but so what? We also learn that Hero's boyfriend at the time of the die-off was a great guy, so it would make more sense for Hero to blame the Amazon's "Goddess" for robbing her of that than accept that all men are evil and must be purged. Frankly i couldn't understand why Yorrick didn't point out that the only ones doing any killing or oppressing were WOMEN. None of it makes much sense if I stopped to think about it for even a second, and I suspect it's because the none of the characters feel fully realized. We don't connect with them, and so many of their actions just seem...arbitrary.
Still no sexism. The political partisanship rears its head again at certain points, but nowhere near as egregiously as in the first volume. Still a 2-star series...(less)
I've been hearing about this series since I came back from Panama, and I figured it was about time I finally got around to reading it. As far as I kno...moreI've been hearing about this series since I came back from Panama, and I figured it was about time I finally got around to reading it. As far as I know, the series has ended, and that means I don't have to worry about keeping up with it. I went on eBay and purchased the first five volumes as a set for a very reasonable price. In the end, I'm not sure I'll read any more than these five.
This is a case of a remarkably intriguing premise betrayed by unremarkable execution. I've heard accusations of sexism, and when I heard descriptions of a "feminzai" biker gang roving post-male America I assumed them to be correct. Well, those "feminazi" bikers ARE in this book, but they're certainly not the lion's share of the female characters. What they are is symptomatic of what may be Vaughan's most daring assertion -- that women and men, while different in certain biological and psychological ways, are fundamentally the same, and a world without men would wind up pretty much like a world WITH men. Vaughan's post-male America is populated by religious extremists (eg: the aforementioned "feminizais"); by strong individuals trying to assert dominance; by charismatic individuals who warp the minds of the weak and the indigent; by politicians who can't seem to set aside their party affiliations in the face of a society-shattering crisis; by people who are looking for someone, anyone to blame; and most of all by people who are just trying to survive from day to day. In a world in which half the population has died horribly and reproduction is no longer a possibility, Vaughan presents women as behaving...well...normally. People are people, humans are humans, and these humans behave pretty much the way one would expect them to if half the population of the world suddenly died in a minutes-long extinction event. I've seen these women in my own life, including the violently anti-male cultists and the high-minded political idealists. Unless things get much, much worse in the rest of the series, I suspect that the majority of the accusations of sexism are actually coming from women who expect a world without men to be more like "Herland" -- a utopian paradise of egalitarianism and automatic sisterhood. The fact that the only living male is portrayed as an irrational, shiftless incompetent with whom none of the surviving women want to copulate seems to have escaped the critics' notice. Frankly, given his jarringly offensive portrayal of Republicans and what one might refer to as "white trash" I think there's far more room for accusations of political partisanship than sexism. I suspect there's some veiled criticism of post-9/11 America snuck in here too.
No, the problem isn't sexism, because the only sexism in these pages is the sexism manifested in the lives/words/actions of the characters (the critics seem to either forget or ignore the fact that the story begins with examples of male chauvinism towards women) or in the minds of certain readers.
The problem, when you get right down to it, is the poor quality of the writing. The pacing is off, the characterizations (of ALL characters, male and female) are at once excessively broad and frustratingly vague, and the dialogue is unmemorable at best. Yorrick is just a guy who whines about missing his girlfriend and cracks wise; 355 is just a tough, tight-lipped secret agent; Dr. Mann is just a scientist. It's all remarkably flat. Vaughan impresses with his ideas and with his amazingly (and controversially) evenhanded portrayal of a world without men, but the overall execution, the specifics and the details upon which world-building truly rests, are just "meh" in the end.
Incidentally, the art is mediocre at best. Great writing can turn mediocre art into a masterpiece of the graphic novel format, but that is not the case here.(less)
First off, this is not just a parody of the "Harry Potter" series and its author J.K. Rowling. It is just as much a tribute to "The Books of Magic" (w...moreFirst off, this is not just a parody of the "Harry Potter" series and its author J.K. Rowling. It is just as much a tribute to "The Books of Magic" (which Peter Gross ALSO worked on) and their tale of a boy wizard raised by his single father, and even more so a tribute to the difficult life of Christopher Robin who spent so much of his life trying to escape his father's use of him in his "Winnie The Pooh" stories. There are a lot of other allusions and references and base-works which the creators of the series used, and that gives it a much broader and more timeless feel than a simple "Harry Potter" parody might. It has as much in common with the Bakshi film "Cool World" and the Browning novel "Zod Wallop" as it does with Rowling's "Harry Potter", and is the better for it.
Second, this is a fun and fairly original story. This is what Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" wishes it could have been, or perhaps this actually contains what everyone claims to find in that book. While some of the plot twists were clear to me from the very beginning, I think it's going to be worth keeping up with the story. Onward to the next volume!(less)
This book is a bit of a mess, the product either of an inexpert translator or a careless non-native English-speaker. The language and the syntax are o...moreThis book is a bit of a mess, the product either of an inexpert translator or a careless non-native English-speaker. The language and the syntax are off just enough, just often enough to make it a jarring and frustrating read; the fact that the English is otherwise quite good makes the whole work all the worse.
The tone is also unfortunate, as it was clearly written by a passionate proponent of Sikhism who is completely incapable of talking about their religion with people outside of the Sikh community. Assumptions are made about the meaning and import of terms and ideas which are impenetrable to one not already "in the know"; I've studied Sikhism before, but I was left confused by many parts of this missionary tract. Chances are, the readers aren't already going to accept the divine light of Guru Nanak or understand the socio-political structure of 14th-18th century India, so this tract would have been more effective had it devoted more space to context than to ecstatic psalms and praises. The author of the tract takes for granted that the reader already believes, and seems content to tell us that Sikhism is the true way without showing us WHY. Furthermore, they offer translations of the Sikh scriptures and many common Sikh terms, but even in the glossary there are many terms they leave untranslated, apparently assuming that the reader already understands some esoteric elements of Sant Bhasha without understanding the basics...Imagine, if you will, a Christian missionary tract which offers translated excerpts of the biblical epistles, explains the meaning of many anciently-contested theological terms, but repeatedly lapses into koine Greek when discussing the fundamentals of Christian belief; the effect would be much the same.
And that is the saddest part: this is a missionary tract, intended to stir up spiritual interest and begin conversions. But lacking editing and context, this book reads more like a review for the already-converted. It purports to answer questions about the Sikh religion and the nature of existence, but really just prompts further confusion and questions - ones for which, after reading this tract, the reader would be more likely to turn to Wikipedia than the Sikh Missionary Center.(less)
Yes, I gave this one star. Yes, I think this is one of Heinlein's lesser works, despite it's "classic" status. Yes, I don't think it's particularly we...moreYes, I gave this one star. Yes, I think this is one of Heinlein's lesser works, despite it's "classic" status. Yes, I don't think it's particularly well-written, well-plotted, or well-paced, with paper-thin characters and a surprisingly shallow "revolution". And yes, I think it's entirely too heavy-handed and evangelical -- even for Heinlein! Despite all of those factors, I have not put it on my "tripe" shelf because I also think it's a remarkably harmless evangelical tract and I appreciated the few further glimpses into Martian culture (assuming, as I did, that these were the same Martians featured as those in childhood-favorite Red Planet).(less)
**spoiler alert** It's been over a year and I'm still not sure how I feel about this book. If you've seen the film then you already know the basic plo...more**spoiler alert** It's been over a year and I'm still not sure how I feel about this book. If you've seen the film then you already know the basic plot of this story of the supernatural in 1980s Sweden. The book is far more gruesome and far more disturbing than the film however, and not simply because of the horror elements. It explores the true origin of the vampire character (yes, the "girl" is a boy, if you missed that part in the film), the motivations of the vampire's servant and his eventual fate (neither of which are explored in the film), and the lives and loves the town barflies who hope to avenge the deaths of their friends (again, also ommitted from the film). It explores the horrible details and consequences of pedophilia, the way children internalize rage when bullied, and (of all things) the nauseating results of inbreeding that takes place in the home of an animal hoarder. Normally I resent changes made to a book when it is turned into a film, but in this case the film's alterations are almost a relief. There are points where you may want to put the book down because it is simply too graphic, but there are also parts where you cannot bear to stop reading. (less)
Stark continues to impress; he's like Jenkins without the weird (and often-irrelevant) anti-Mormon bias. The premise of this book is: that neither the...moreStark continues to impress; he's like Jenkins without the weird (and often-irrelevant) anti-Mormon bias. The premise of this book is: that neither the growth of Christianity nor the Christianization of the Roman Empire required divine or imperial intervention. He uses the information which we possess to demonstrate that the growth of Christianity occurred quite naturally, did not require any mass public conversions, and that Emperor Constantine's Edict of Toleration and death-bed conversion were responses TO rather than causes OF the Christianization of the Empire. He approaches the available historical and textual evidence without trying to make it fit his a priori assumptions about antiquity, allowing the evidence to inform rather than forcing it to conform. This is (as always) refreshing.
The author offends some with his sympathetic depictions of early Christianity and Second Temple/pre-rabbinic Judaism, but his intent isn't to defend or to champion either religion. Likewise, he offends some by arguing that things other than the influence of God could lead to Christianity's rise, but balances it out by by reminding the reader that he is neither arguing for nor against any sort of supernaturalism. Ultimately his purpose is to uncover the social and cultural dynamics which led to the growth and expansion of Christianity in the ancient world, focusing on the ancient Roman Empire as a sort of religious marketplace and treating the various religions vying for supremacy as products and "firms" -- it's a healthy combination of history, economics and sociology.
Also notable is the fact that, while Stark seems generally sympathetic to Christianity (and Judaism), he is similarly sympathetic to the various specific paganisms he discusses. He never treats paganism as a single, monolithic entity, always addressing (albeit tangentially) the various religious traditions which make up the category we now refer to as "paganism".
And though Stark uses Mormons frequently as an example, he's doing so in full possession of the facts, and because it is directly relevant to the topic under discussion -- not because he has some barely-concealed ideological axe to grind for or against them. Stark is not a member of any of the various Mormon sects, but he has done extensive research into the growth of the main Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the factors which contributed to that growth. He makes a convincing argument that the growth of "Mormonism" from less than a dozen adherents to several million (at the time of this book's initial printing) in the space of under 300 years is a plausible match for the growth patterns and methods of early Christianity.
He also takes 19th and then-contemporary 20th century academia to task for being more interested in disproving religion than actually trying to understand religion, religiosity or religious people. This is especially relevant today, as for my three separate academic Religious Studies degrees I was required to attend three separate seminar classes designed to "prove" that religion was hogwash. Using martyrdom as an example, Stark points out that the social and psychological explanations of religious activity and belief usually involve contemptuously writing religion off as the product of psychological illnesses and disorders; he then demonstrates how, from an economic perspective, the choices made by believers in religion (and specifically martyrs) are actually completely rational. The problem, he argues, is that we have come to conflate "rational" with "accurate" and "truthful" when there is rarely any correlation between them. Someone can make a perfectly rational choice without that choice needing to be grounded in anything demonstrably true. For instance, an ancient Roman urban citizen with a life expectancy of 30 years could expect to spend those thirty years suffering from all sorts of illnesses and deprivations and afflictions; most martyrs were already near or past their average life expectancy of 30, so it made perfect sense for them to choose death/torture over renouncing their beliefs because the former carried with it the possibility of an eternal life free from suffering in the presence of the Christian god while the latter carried with it the possibility of a few extra years of miserable mortal existence followed by an eternity of more-than-likely miserable immortal existence in one of the pagan afterlifes (which were not known for being pleasant to ordinary mortal spirits). The cost-benefit ratio was in their favor. Yet Stark also points out that whether that choice was rational or not depended on the individual perspectives of the persecuted; some of the persecuted chose NOT to be martyrs, and for them that was an equally rational choice. I'm not doing his argument justice as there is a lot more nuance and complexity to it, but suffice to say he capably demonstrates that modern anti-religious biases result in a view of history as distorted and occluded as any pro-religious bias.
He also confronts some of the problems scholars face due to their tendency to project their own moral and social views back onto ancient civilization. For instance, abortion and contraception are seen as "civilized" and "liberating" for modern women, and so modern scholars tend to assume that they have always been so; they assume that it was only because of prudishness, misogyny, or ignorant religious oppression that women in antiquity were denied these wonderful methods of "family planning." But the reality is that in antiquity the primary methods of abortion and contraception were wildly dangerous and dependent on the will of men. Men ordered women to undergo abortions, and the contraception methods often led to infection and poisoning for the women who used them. Both the methods for ancient abortion and the methods for ancient contraception also often resulted in female sterilization. Infanticide was also common, and usually done at the command of the father (or the husband, anyway). Infanticide and abortion were advocated by ancient philosophers and went largely unpunished by the ancient legal system; they were both used in the service of an ancient form of eugenics, and husbands often ordered their wives to abandon or murder infant girls because females were seen as less valuable. Marriage was largely regarded by Imperial men as a burden best avoided unless there was some financial or social status to be gained, and many a Roman historian and satirist mocked the fact that Roman men couldn't stand to be around their wives but loved to patronize female and male prostitutes. What is more, women in Rome were required by law to remarry within two years if they were widowed, whether they wanted to or not. Meanwhile the Empire was ravaged by a series of epidemic plagues, wars, fires, floods, earthquakes and famines. All this resulted in a society in which men overwhelmingly outnumbered women, and many of the remaining women died in childbirth or trying to prevent childbirth; thus the population of the Empire was actually shrinking by the time Christianity appeared, a fact well-documented by historians ancient and modern. The Imperial government tried to circumvent this by mandating marriage and requiring at least three children per couple, but the people ignored or resisted those laws; the government actually wound up importing Northern "barbarians" and allowing them to settle the regions of the Empire that had either been depopulated or were close to collapse.
Christianity (and Judaism) however prohibited abortion and infanticide, encouraged large families, argued that women and men were ultimately equal before God, ordered men to love and value their wives and daughters, and allowed widows to remain single (thereby maintaining control of their property in their families). Christian families were therefore larger than pagan families, and more Christian women lived to start their own families and stayed fertile longer. And while Christians were reproducing naturally, they were also engaged in the conversion of non-Christians. Stark notes that women were predictably the majority of primary Christian converts (ie: those who converted under their own auspices), and that men tended to be secondary converts (ie: those who converted because others pushed them to convert). This all resulted in the natural expansion of the Empire's Christian population even as the Empire's pagan populations contracted.
Stark also notes that Judaism naturally had many of the same qualities that allowed Christianity to survive, including prohibitions against abortion and infanticide (for which it was condemned by pagan writers), and attracted a fair number of converts throughout the Empire even as Jewish communities grew in the diaspora; however the religion also had stricter conversion requirements than did Christianity, resulting in the so-called "God-fearers", and even lifelong adherents often found themselves drifting towards or embracing Hellenism instead. Stark fails to note something else, but I think it bears consideration: had Judaism's conversion requirements and relationship to Hellenistic Imperial culture been a bit less complicated, had pagans been a bit less...well...lazy, or had Christianity just never come on the scene, Judaism could easily have become the Imperial religion. Jews had larger families, and Jewish women lived longer and stayed fertile longer; the addition of more converts in a shrinking pagan world could have pushed Judaism over the top! Now THAT is an alternate-history novel waiting to happen!
In any event, I highly recommend this book, especially in concert with Stark's "Cities of God". This is one of his earlier books, and you can see the genesis of "Cities of God" and "For the Glory of God" in some of the chapters.
UPDATE 1: Finally picked up a copy at the 2011 AAR/SBL conference in San Francisco. Looking forward to this one; Stark is fantastic at laying bare the actual history without letting personal political/social biases taint his understanding.(less)
It is inevitable that John Ajvide Lindqvist's second novel will be compared to his first; "Let The Right One In" was an international best-seller and...moreIt is inevitable that John Ajvide Lindqvist's second novel will be compared to his first; "Let The Right One In" was an international best-seller and twice made into popular feature films. Readers who are looking for more of the same will be disappointed, but not because this novel is somehow inferior or less ambitious than the first. They will be disappointed because they are trying to read his first novel again. They will not be interested in what Lindqvist is writing now, and they will be missing out on a fascinating book as a result.
This is a more expansive story than Lindqvist's previous novel with more focus on more characters, but (to my surprise) it was a more powerful, more personal and more emotionally resonant book as well. Like the protagonist in "Let The Right One In", I was raised in a single-parent home, I was bullied, and I had a friend at that age who believed himself to be a vampire; I too entertained vicious revenge-fantasies and struggled to understand the state of my young life. Yet for the most part all i felt while reading that novel was a general revulsion -- at the characters, the events, the places. That was absolutely not the case with "Handling The Undead" however. This book begins by focusing on three groups of people, each dealing (or about to deal) with the death of a loved one, and these were more real, more emotionally honest, than anything I encountered in "Let The Right One In".
These are two very different novels. "Let The Right One In" is a more traditional horror story, a vampire story, and a story about life in 1980s Sweden; "Handling The Undead" is a novel about humanity and its relationship to death, about our different reactions to loss and to the unexpected, set in an alternate version of our recent past (alternate only because of the events described in this novel). This book has a broader scope and is more about reactions than about the horror itself. The nature of the Re-living is never quite explained; there are hints and suggestions and attempts, but it is never as clear, never as explicitly articulated as is the nature of the vampires in "Let The Right One In". Death is the Great Unknown and so even where explicit features are given in "Handling The Undead", they are little more than tantalizing clues to a riddle which is never really solved. To some this will be frustrating; to others it will be brilliant; the rest will simply shrug and say "Well, yes, that's European novels for you." I reacted in all three ways. And i loved it. (less)
A brilliant and elegant refuation of many of the most prevelant theories surrounding the nature and origin of Christianity. Why are members of non-Abr...moreA brilliant and elegant refuation of many of the most prevelant theories surrounding the nature and origin of Christianity. Why are members of non-Abrahamic religions called "pagans"? How did Christianity become an imperial power? Why did the elite and the intelligentsia engage in Christian exegesis? All explored herein!(less)
A compelling corrective which demonstrates the ways in which modern Western claims (particularly by academics and secularists) about the impending "de...moreA compelling corrective which demonstrates the ways in which modern Western claims (particularly by academics and secularists) about the impending "death" of Christianity are in fact based on ethnocentrism and cultural myopia. Such claims, as Jenkins demonstrates, fail to take into account the explosive growth of Christianity in Africa, Latin America and Asia over the last few decades -- growth which is generally ignored because it is occuring among peoples whom claimants (perhaps subconsciously) view as unimportant, insignificant or unworthy of consideration, and because it involves forms of Christianity which the claimants do not even bother to take into account. And growth which I myself have witnessed.
Jenkins proposes: that Christianity will eventually shift from a religion centered in the global West and North to a religion centered in the "global South"; that while Islam may eventually emerge as the dominant religion of Europe, the continuous stream of Latin-American, African and Asian immigrants into the United States and Canada will likely lead to a sort of "re-Christianization" of those nations (rather than the secularization predicted by academics); and that just as the shift from the Near/Middle East and Mediterranean regions to Europe and Russia changed the nature of Christian credo and praxis, Christianity's nature will eventually be determined by the people of the global South.
A fascinating read, and amazingly thorough. Highly recommended. (less)
A gorgeously-written and accessible introduction to the world which straddles the line between neurology and psychology. Sacks is a literate, artistic...moreA gorgeously-written and accessible introduction to the world which straddles the line between neurology and psychology. Sacks is a literate, artistically-minded man (who had a fondness for drugs himself, though he doesn't explicitly discuss that in this book) and helped revolutionize the psychological case study by focusing on his patients' abilities and adaptations rather than their disabilities and stagnations. It's an artefact of its time, so some of the information is no longer current and some of the words betray its 1970s/1980s context, but the only real weaknesses are the oddly abrupt ending and the chapter in which he betrays his own political bias and then projects it onto a room full of aphasiacs. Other than that? Beautiful.
Notably, it contains what I have long considered the best description of mania I've ever encountered (excepting, of course, Billy Joel's "I Go To Extremes"):
"'I have too much energy,' one...said. 'Everything is too bright, too powerful, too much. It is a feverish energy, a morbid brilliance.' 'Dangerous wellness', 'morbid brilliance', a deceptive euphoria with abysses beneath -- this is the trap promised and threatened by excess... The human dilemmas, in such situations, are of an extraordinary kind: for patients are here faced with disease as seduction, something remote from, and far more equivocal than, the traditional theme of illness as suffering or affliction... In disorders of excess there may be a sort of collusion, in which the self is more and more aligned and identified with its sickness, so that finally it seems to lose all independent existence, and be nothing but a product of sickness."