A great read for anyone who loves the red deserts of Utah and the Southwest and who can stomach a hefty dose of over-inflated naturalist moralizing. AA great read for anyone who loves the red deserts of Utah and the Southwest and who can stomach a hefty dose of over-inflated naturalist moralizing. Abby is a man of contradictions, to put it mildly: a self-styled humanist who hates humans, an anarchist who advocates compulsory birth control of Native Americans (!), and a paradigmatic preachy environmentalist who shamelessly boasts about the time that he rolled a tire into the Grand Canyon just to hear it crash and on another moment carved his initials on an aspen in the wilderness just to leave his mark. It would be easy to dismiss Abby as a pedantic hypocrite.
But Desert Solitaire delivers some truly inspired writing. Abby's account of his trip through Glen Canyon pre-Lake Powell and his rhapsodizing on the rocks and trees and dirt and bugs of Southern Utah simply shine like the sun-cast sandstone of the Southwest. And Abby is surprisingly well-versed on philosophy, music, literature, and other fields, which he weaves throughout his narrative to admirable effect.
Parallel Worlds cured me pretty quickly of that burning interest I had in getting up to speed on the multiverse, string theory, and what lies beyond tParallel Worlds cured me pretty quickly of that burning interest I had in getting up to speed on the multiverse, string theory, and what lies beyond the event horizon that I felt so keenly after I watched Interstellar.
The early chapters on relativity, black holes, and quantum theory were pretty engaging, but I started losing my moorings in string theory and by the time Kaku hit his stride theorizing about how humankind might escape our universe in a couple hundred million years, I just wasn't feeling it. Theoretical physics just seems so cabalistic after a certain point. Plus, I couldn't keep my quasars straight. I guess I'll just wonder at the recent images from Pluto and whatever was going on at the end of Kubrick's 2001 and let greater minds hash out the details of space's next frontiers and the future of the universe....more
Some funny moments, but most of the book clunks along at a pretty lumbering pace. Twain's wind up is pretty slow, and the punchline does not often delSome funny moments, but most of the book clunks along at a pretty lumbering pace. Twain's wind up is pretty slow, and the punchline does not often deliver. In general, I don't know that 19th century travel writing has aged all that well relative to the great novels of the era. Then again, there's no shortage of precious travel blogs around these days, so perhaps it's a matter of taste.
Roughing It is famous for Twain's classic skewering of the early Mormons he encountered in the Brigham Young's Salt Lake valley, and these sections are genuinely hilarious and for the most part good-natured, at least to this Mormon. There's Twain's famous and unflattering assessment of the Book of Mormon ("chloroform in print") and playful shots at polygamy. But behind the humor is a rare detachment and awareness of his lack of understanding. After cataloguing all he encountered, Twain threw up his hands and "gave up the idea that I could settle the 'Mormon question' in two days," only to quip "Still I have seen newspaper correspondents do it in one." How little progress the press has made since then.
In the end, I'd say read the early chapters about Twain's classic visit to Salt Lake and then skip the rest of Roughing It....more
Has to rank among the top works of Mormon Studies. Barlow's compact study of Mormons' interpretive use of the Bible ends up being about so much more tHas to rank among the top works of Mormon Studies. Barlow's compact study of Mormons' interpretive use of the Bible ends up being about so much more than the Bible. The church's official discourse on the Good Book over the years more or less tracks the Church's development from radical openness to stalwart conservatism. Barlow's book focuses on a handful of the titans of Mormon thought to study Mormonism's evolving relationship with the Bible over the history of the Church, from Joseph Smith's outright revision and expansion of the text and Brigham Young's totally non-literal reading of the Genesis creation account to Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie's strictly literal view, which now more or less dominates mainstream Mormon views. Just fascinating....more
This one is for Melville completists only. I may have had ambitions to fit in that category myself, but I just couldn't finish Mardi. I made it aboutThis one is for Melville completists only. I may have had ambitions to fit in that category myself, but I just couldn't finish Mardi. I made it about halfway out of devotion to Melville and a personal interest in some potential parallels to the Book of Mormon, but neither factor was enough to carry me through. The descriptive landscapes are beautiful, and there are some truly remarkable passages like this:
"Yet if our dead fathers somewhere and somehow live, why not our unborn sons? For backward or forward, eternity is the same; already have we been the nothing we dread to be. Icy thought."
But these beautiful verbal islands become increasingly infrequent in Melville's voyage through a sea of stilted dialogue and esoteric mythological allusions. Some of the prose is so purple it is almost embarrassing, like that time Melville actually busts out with this:
"We fish, we fish, we merrily swim We care not for friend nor for foe: Our fins are stout, Our tails are out, As through the seas we go."
. . . .
Clearly, Melville was still honing his craft, and while all the practice pays off in spectacular fashion with Moby Dick and his later works, Mardi is very much practice. On the other hand, the high points in Mardi may just be great enough to draw me back in to fish this at some point....more