This was my second reading of this book. It's stated premise is that it will make you believe in God. Well, color me twice unconvinced. But it must sa...moreThis was my second reading of this book. It's stated premise is that it will make you believe in God. Well, color me twice unconvinced. But it must say something that after two readings of the book, it can fail at its objective, leave me disagreeing and annoyed, and also end up on my list of 20 best books I've ever read.
I guess I'd say that it's very annoying and very amazing at the same time.
I'm annoyed by the pro-zoo, anti-animal rights slant. To the narrator, animals benefit from their own submission to a controlling authority. In fact, he explicitly believes the same thing about humans. I just can't get behind that.
But I absolutely love the imagery of the zoo and the lists of animals. The idea of turning Tokyo upside down and shaking out all of the loose animals. It's just such an interesting concept - good for him for writing a book about it. Just too bad the book also attempts to argue that captivity is this favor we give to animals.
The main character is fervently religious, but at the same time, he's kind to (and dishonest about) atheism. He says he favors atheism over agnosticism, but his reasoning doesn't make sense. He skewers some of the absurdity in Christianity quite nicely. (Yay!) Right before his character accepts it. (Boo!) And then there's this line about Islam:
"I challenge anyone to understand Islam, its spirit, and not to love it. It is a beautiful religion of brotherhood and devotion." Challenge accepted. I win.
If he's saying what I think he's saying about God (no spoilers), then I'm definitely not on board with his conclusion. But some of the stuff he implied about Richard Parker was great - about needing a bitter adversary in order to make it through a trying period in your life.
The writing was really excellent. And if it's possible, I agree with all of the supporters of this book as well as the detractors. Wonderful book, I'd read it again and again, it's pretty heavy-handed, and the author sets up way too many strawmen.(less)
The author's writing style was really good, but I'm going to echo some of the other reviews and say that it lacked some of the character analysis that...moreThe author's writing style was really good, but I'm going to echo some of the other reviews and say that it lacked some of the character analysis that I would have liked.
I'm happy I read it, though, because it brought up a lot of thoughts to me about sexuality and sexism that I bet are just bubbling below the surface in the Muslim world. The stories of religious extremism were nothing I hadn't heard before. But I'd recommend reading this book for nothing else than the fact that it's a quick and enjoyable read and that it will leave you pondering the intricacies of sex and gender roles in the Middle East.
Having said that, I actually don't like a lot of the story's resolutions of the stories about sexuality and sexism. The women were often given very one-dimensional roles. While the author would generally write a little about why a particular female character acted the way she did, women characters were generally there to augment the stories of the men (I'm thinking of the betrothed fundamentalist wife, of Soud, etc.). The storyline involving the sex worker gave us a lot of her background, and her self-interest in why she would take up with such a profession, but at the same time, the resolution of her story left me really unfulfilled.
I think that ultimately, my problem with this book is that, while it pointed out some of the problems associated with sexual repression in the Middle East, there weren't a lot of strong characters (or even one that I can think of) who functioned as someone who challenged the repression; they simply skirted around it. (less)
This book was pretty good, especially once I got the thesis. The prose was really dry.
It was a look at the pervasive anti-Semitism of Tsarist Russia a...moreThis book was pretty good, especially once I got the thesis. The prose was really dry.
It was a look at the pervasive anti-Semitism of Tsarist Russia and also how much it would totally suck to be in a 19teens Russian prison. I felt really bad for the protagonist, but not so much because I thought he was terribly interesting. More because sometimes it felt like one of those plotlines where everything someone does continues to get misinterpreted as the exact opposite of what it was supposed to be. And you just want to scream, "What rational person doesn't understand that Yakov wasn't doing __ - he was actually doing __!?"
The book also made me kind of grateful to be living in a world with the internet and Snopes, where it's a lot easier to debunk ridiculous stereotypes and rumors about groups of people.
Finally, it was a good little tutorial on how the personal is almost always political and vice versa.(less)
Say what you will about Chris Hitchens (and I do, often), he can write one hell of a book.
I really didn't expect to like this book as much as I did be...moreSay what you will about Chris Hitchens (and I do, often), he can write one hell of a book.
I really didn't expect to like this book as much as I did because I don't really care for Christopher Hitchens, and I find atheist authors like Sam Harris to be overbearing, over-alarmist, over-everything...
And Hitchens is overbearing and prone to exaggeration to prove his point. But in his case, it works for him. There's no false modesty (or any other kind of modesty) in his tone. He lambastes the world's religions in a way that convinces me that they deserve it. This book was therapeutic for me to read, as an atheist. And it was even funnier when, after reading it for a few hours, I walked home with my radio headphones and tuned into some absurd fundamentalist Christian radio program devoted to debunking those dirty skeptics and atheists. It was a nice and surreal juxtaposition.
I'm not done with the book yet, but I intend to be before the year's end in two days. Below are some the the quotes from this book which I absolutely loved. ---- "From a plurality of prime movers, the monotheists have bargained it down to a single one. They are getting ever nearer to the true, round figure."
"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." (This is a recurring theme.)
One the idiocy of the argument "from design,": "Fish do not have fins because they need them for the water, any more than birds are equipped with wings so that they can meet the dictionary definition of an 'avian'."
Called to testify against the canonization of "Mother Teresa," Hitchens wrote, "Although the then pope had abolished the famous office of 'Devil's Advocate,' the better to confirm and canonize an enormous number of new 'saints,' the church was still obliged to seek testimony from critics, and thus I found myself representing the devil, as it were, pro bono."
"[Islam] makes immense claims for itself, invokes prostrate submission or 'surrender' as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain. There is nothing - absolutely nothing - in its teachings that can even being to justify such arrogance and presupposition."(less)
**spoiler alert** This book was a solid Rushdie endeavor. It was no Midnight's Children - but, really, nothing is.
The story zigzagged in direction acr...more**spoiler alert** This book was a solid Rushdie endeavor. It was no Midnight's Children - but, really, nothing is.
The story zigzagged in direction across many chapters. Some of the characters were really awesome.
Part of it involved a relationship between a very young woman and a middle aged man. And to be honest, I was ready to be pissed off at Rushdie when he began telling the story of a concubine/ambassador arrangement as if it were something positive. But I never should have doubted him. What an A+ commentary on what beauty really is and what falling in love with someone just because they're beautiful can become. There was also a really cool passage relating to that, comparing this story to the story of Rama and Sita and the idea that it was somehow Sita's fault for something that Ravana di - just getting at the idea that women are so often held responsible for simply existing as women, when really that's not fair.
All-in-all, a good book, and I'm glad I read it. But unlike with Midnight's Children, I'm not hankering to read it again.
A few passages I particularly liked:
I particularly liked Rushdie's narration of a main character's plunge into the depths of food addiction: "Once she understood that Edgar was prepared to satisfy her every whim she grew increasingly promiscuous and peremptory in her gourmandizingg. She sent for Kashmiri food, of course, but also for the Tandoori and Mughlai cuisines of north India, the boti kababs, the murgh makhani, and the fish dishes of the Malabar coast, for the masala dosas of Madras and the fabled early pumpkins of the coast of Coromandel, for the hot pickle curries of Hyderabad, for kulfi and barfi and pista-ki-lauz, and for sweet Bengali sandesh. Her appetite had grown to subcontinental size. It crossed all frontiers of language and custom. She was vegetarian and nonvegetarian, fish- and meat-eating, Hindu, Christian and Muslim, a democratic, secularist omnivore." Awesome. Makes me hungry just reading it.
Also, after a discussion of dangerous and wily animals that threaten people: "Animals neither know nor shape their own nature; rather, their nature shapes them. There are no surprises in the animal kingdom. Only Man's character is suspect and shifting. Only man, knowing good, can do evil. Only Man wears masks. Only Man is a disappointment to himself."(less)
I got about halfway through this one, but I don't think I'm going to finish it.
The beginning of the book really got me into it - the first chapter an...moreI got about halfway through this one, but I don't think I'm going to finish it.
The beginning of the book really got me into it - the first chapter and the stroy of Jerome's choosing this reactionary English family over his own bougie liberal parents had so much potential! I was excited anticipating all the the things that could unfold from this. And maybe this theme gets developed.
But after 200 pages with little development on the contrast between these two ideals, I feel like Zadie Smith is wasting time. Maybe she intended to delve into it later in the book, but I don't have enough patience for that.(less)
This book had moments of genius, but I didn't walk away going, "WOW!" So I can't quite rate it as more than 3.5.
There are a lot of grotesque shows of...moreThis book had moments of genius, but I didn't walk away going, "WOW!" So I can't quite rate it as more than 3.5.
There are a lot of grotesque shows of religious piety in this book, and Coupland often touches on the theme that people generally get spirituality totally wrong. But all four narrators of this story are, in some way, believers. So, I think it's a nice quality to combine the skepticism with these (generally) sympathetic characters.
I found a couple of the storylines related to Jason to be unnecessary. And every so often, some of the dialog was a little Diablo-Cody-too-quippy-to-be-true. Generally, though, Coupland is brilliant with his writing.
A nice quote to finish off with:
"...I do believe in God - I think that He created an order for the world; I believe that, in constantly bombarding Him with requests for miracles, we're also asking that He unravel the fabric of the world. A world of continuous miracles would be a cartoon, not a world."(less)
All hail seitan! Oh, wait, that line is for my review of a vegetarian cookbook.
I, Lucifer is a little bit of a treatise on how we'd do exactly the sam...moreAll hail seitan! Oh, wait, that line is for my review of a vegetarian cookbook.
I, Lucifer is a little bit of a treatise on how we'd do exactly the same things Satan has done if we were in his position. And it was pretty damn convincing: "The idea of spending eternity with nothing to do except praise God is utterly unappealing. You'd be catatonic after and hour. Heaven's a swiz because to get in you have to leave yourself outside. You can't blame me because - now do please be honest with yourself for once - you'd have left too."
And it's interesting to think just how much Lucifer embodies honesty, in a strange way. He's honest about his feelings, his boredom, his ambition, and he doesn't sugar coat anything. In this book, Lucifer's original sin was just daring to think of himself as himself. Coming from a very individualistic society, I can't imagine doing things any other way, so I was on his side for most of the book. Not to say that it didn't have some problems...
The problems I had with the book were that the author was going at this so full-throttle with his thoughts that occasionally it rang false (example, his Elton John vendetta got really old)- but you have to expect that when you put yourself out there like this. He was writing from the point of view of Satan, for Chrissakes.
But you have to admire the author's style. Wow.
The absolute best parts were the retelling of the Garden of Eden/Crucifixion/War in Heaven from his point of view. The retellings were brilliant! I'm a stone-cold naturalist, so this supernatural mumbo-jumbo doesn't sound logical to me, but it all makes a helluva lot more sense than the original versions where we're supposed to side with God! Alternatively, the non-supernatural portions of the book where Luce interacts with humans as Declan Gunn are boring, and they get worse as the book progresses. Okay, to end with another precious quote. This was a description of Eve before she met up with Adam, living in her own part of the garden:
"[Eve:] had something Adam didn't. Curiosity. First step to growth - and if it wasn't for Eve's Adam would still be sitting by the side of the pool picking his nose and scratching his scalp, bamboozled by his own reflection. Off in her part of Eden, Eve hadn't bothered naming the animals. On the other hand she'd discovered how to milk some of them and how best to eat the eggs of others. She'd decided she wasn't overly keen on torrential rain and had built a shelter from bamboo and banana leaves, into which she'd retire when the heavens opened, having set out coconut shells to catch the rainwater with a view to saving herself the schlep down to the spring every time she wanted a drink. The only thing you won't be surprised to hear about is that she'd already domesticated a cat and called it Misty."(less)
**spoiler alert** The Poisonwood Bible feature Barbara Kingsolver's unassailable ability to construct strong characters. Every chapter I read was writ...more**spoiler alert** The Poisonwood Bible feature Barbara Kingsolver's unassailable ability to construct strong characters. Every chapter I read was written with the distinct voice of one of the five female narrators - you could definitely tell each one apart. Even more impressive - as the narrators aged, their narrative voices changed too. Some gained wisdom, and others didn't, and it almost always made sense the way they changed. Of the four children, the twins had the most interesting personalities, to be sure.
Rachel's character made me frustrated, but not for the reasons that Kingsolver probably intended. At the beginning of the book, I could empathize with everything she said, especially the self centered stuff. I could imagine being just as self-centered if I were an American teenager thrown into the Congo. She even had a couple of great lines at the beginning: "So Mr. Patrice will be the Prime Minister of the Congo now and it won't be Belgian Congo anymore, it will be the Republic of Congo. And do you think anybody in this hip town we live in is actually going to notice? Oh, sure. They'll all have to go out and get their driver's licenses changed. In the year two million that is, when they build a road to here and somebody gets a car."
But as she aged, Kingsolver turned her into some sort of ridiculous caricature. At first, I considered her to be a 20th century Scarlett O'Hara (even from the same home state). But in later chapters, she was just as self-involved as Scarlett with none of the charm or passion. It was a little bit of a disappointment. With some of the other characters' being so multifaceted, both Rachel and Nathan got almost comically one-dimensional personalities (though, Nathan got slightly more interesting as time passed).
Anyway, aside from that the book was good, if unsubtle, at making its anticolonialist points. Kingsolver's prose - especially at the very end - was luscious. (less)
Should I give this book a 4 or a 5? I can't decide... It's SO GOOD. As you can probably tell from other reviews, it's written in the style of walking...moreShould I give this book a 4 or a 5? I can't decide... It's SO GOOD. As you can probably tell from other reviews, it's written in the style of walking backwards on the road of Time. As we walk into the past, we join up with our cousins, the apes, monkeys, remaining mammals, remaining animals, fungi, plants, and bacteria along the way. I think I'd appreciate it even more if I had red Canterbury Tales - I hear that's what it's modeled after. This book has some of the most interesting scientific explanations of life on earth that I've ever heard. The only thing keeping this book from five stars is that I skimmed a few places where I lost interest in understanding the minutiae of an individual "tale" and just wanted to get to the next Concestor.
Some of the best stories are about why we have ventral hearts, why we have sex (rather than asex), why we have blood types (this fascinated me!), and why we have less hair than most apes. It really is like a novel, and I appreciate that from a non-fiction book.
I couldn't recommend it enough! It's a wonderful book on how related we are to everything on the planet. What're a few hundred million great grandparents among species?
Below are some of my favorite quotes, because I don't want to foget them:
On irreducible complexity: "An arch is irreducible in the sense that if you remove part of it, the whole collapses. Yet it is possible to build it gradually by means of scaffolding. Yet the subsequent removal of the scaffolding, so that it no longer appears in the visible picture, does not entitle us to a mystified and obscurantist attribution of supernatural powers to the masons."
This was just so wild, I have to quote it... Dawkins was writing about the resiliance of the small rodent community on earth, and their likelihood of outliving us when our time's up: "Given enough time, will a species of intelligent, cultivated rats emerge? Will rodent historians and scientists eventually organise careful archaeological digs (gnaws?) through the strata of our long-compacted cities, and reconstruct the peculiar and temporarily tragic circumstances that gave ratkind its big break?" - Props to anyone who can coin the term "ratkind".(less)
This was a lot like Hitchens' God is not Great. There were some parts I loved, but as a long-time atheist, I've read a lot of this stuff before, so it...moreThis was a lot like Hitchens' God is not Great. There were some parts I loved, but as a long-time atheist, I've read a lot of this stuff before, so it was nothing ground-breaking for me.(less)
I read this book on my to- and from- work commute one day this week: it's that breezy. But that doesn't mean it's light. At the end of many of these v...moreI read this book on my to- and from- work commute one day this week: it's that breezy. But that doesn't mean it's light. At the end of many of these vignettes, I was left laughing and thinking, "Oooookay, well that was a downer!" It was always a funny, ironic downer, though.
Some of my favorites of the forty tales (though, really all of them were fantastic) were . . .
"Oz" (which had a lovely closing line)
"Death Switch" (a story where people indefinitely communicate with each other after death by way of advanced e-mail algorithms)
and "Search", which I would love to have read at my funeral, (assuming that death is real and not just a practical joke put on by actors). It's pretty much the most lovely way of thinking about death that I've read.