My favorite novel, from one of my absolute favorite authors. I've re-read it at least a dozen times, and it's lost none of its luster.
What do I love a...moreMy favorite novel, from one of my absolute favorite authors. I've re-read it at least a dozen times, and it's lost none of its luster.
What do I love about this book? First and foremost, Duncan is a brilliant writer. He's smart, well-read, and can bring you to both frank tears and out-loud laughter without being cliche or predictable about either.
Above all, this book is honest. Even the seen-that-a-thousand-times setups--the coming-of-age tale, the dysfunctional family, the romanticized nobility of the working class sacrificing their dreams--are here, rather, achingly genuine portraits.
I can't say much about this book without exhausting my word limit (and, likely, your attention span). Just read it. (less)
I'm guessing most of my friends would find this series mean-spirited, puerile, scatological, and fairly worthless as art. I found it damn entertaining...moreI'm guessing most of my friends would find this series mean-spirited, puerile, scatological, and fairly worthless as art. I found it damn entertaining and whip-smart underneath the poop jokes. But that's Warren Ellis.
Edited to add: I re-read this series on the eve of last November's election, and it rang even more chillingly true. I had to stop at re-reading V For Vendetta, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984 as well, or I might have ended up in the fetal position. Seriously, read this book. Don't let the graphic novel part put you off (or the poop jokes, or the juvenile character traits, or the weird sci-fi-esque setting... if any of those are liable to bother you, that is). Ellis is a master of compassionate misanthropy (though he'd probably tell you to strike the "compassionate" bit) with a keen sense of justice. I know I'd certainly like to apply the bowel disruptor to certain prominent political figures now and again...(less)
The angels responsible for bringing about Armageddon are having second thoughts, because this superficial Earthly life is just too damned enjoyable......moreThe angels responsible for bringing about Armageddon are having second thoughts, because this superficial Earthly life is just too damned enjoyable... Smart, funny, blasphemous, and on my to-be-reread mental list.(less)
More of the soul-searching, compassionate criticism that Duncan does so well. Much of this book is a calling-out of the current American religious rig...moreMore of the soul-searching, compassionate criticism that Duncan does so well. Much of this book is a calling-out of the current American religious right; the balance is musings on faith and meaning and action. Duncan has always struck me as being more well-read than I could ever hope to be, and that background makes his novels and his nonfiction incredibly rich. There's a wee bit of overlap in material with some of his earlier nonfiction, but he's such an astonishingly good writer that's easy to overlook.
Duncan's preface begins the book by paralleling the current US administration with Shift & Puzzle's faux Aslan in the last Narnia book, and from there he deftly criticizes the neocon Right with the words of the very Book they use to defend their own actions. Not myself one for getting into real-world arguments with Fundies, since the powers of logic seem to hold no sway, it's vicarious fun to watch such an eloquent soul put it all down on paper.
Beyond that, this book holds a few gems that are less about argument and more about example. "Romeo Shows Jamey the Door" made me cry like a baby. "When Compassion Becomes Dissent" has in it some of the bones of this blog post. And he closes by walking some of the same terrain Dillard covered in For the Time Being:
...the scientific facts of our physical situation are becoming impossible to express in spiritually neutral terms... This is not to demean reason. It's only to say that, unless trained like a bird dog to heel in the presence of love and mystery, reason lunges forth barking and snuffling, scaring off meta-meanings that only the heart could have hoped to embrace. When a superb reasoner like Teilhard says that "the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us," he has not left his sanity behind: only his reason. He is exposing matter to spirit. He's using beyond-language to do it. We can go with him. Our reason can't. The notion that we can stand apart from all things, infer the existence and true properties of all things, and solve the dire problems we've created for ourselves, with reason alone, it what I would call "Rationalist Woowoo."(less)
Dense, dense, dense book -- but in the good way. So much stuff here to mull over. Keizer writes about what it means to "help" another person, the inhe...moreDense, dense, dense book -- but in the good way. So much stuff here to mull over. Keizer writes about what it means to "help" another person, the inherent value in types of "help," what we can and cannot accomplish by "helping," and where our urge to "help" comes from in the first place. There's more there to think about than you might expect, at face value.
One of the reasons I love this book:
...it comes as something of a jolt to realize that Jesus is hardly ever seen doing the three things we are most often called upon to do. He never donates money, gives advice (in the specific sense of "Here's what you ought to do"), or offers support (in the uncritical sense of "Everything you're doing is perfectly fine"). We see him reaching out to those at the margins of society to remind them that they too have a place in the kingdom of God, but we never see him sacrificing his time or his agenda on the altar of another person's loneliness. Nor do we see him investing much energy in helping people to get along, as that is generally understood. "Master, speak to my brother that he will divide the inheritance with me." To which Jesus replies, "Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" adding a few disparaging words on covetousness for good measure. Surely the most underrated answer to the currently popular question "What would Jesus do?" is "Nothing."(less)
This book makes me homesick on an atomic level. Kingsolver, so far as I can tell, is a near-infallibly good storyteller. I'd read any of her books and...moreThis book makes me homesick on an atomic level. Kingsolver, so far as I can tell, is a near-infallibly good storyteller. I'd read any of her books and expect to enjoy myself. This one, however, is special. A lot of it's about my connection to the place I call home, a connection that's deeply, intractably imbedded in the land itself. Other writers capture the South in its people, but in this book Kingsolver has re-created the way I remember my little corner of Appalachia--first, the land; then, the people. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.(less)
David James Duncan could transcribe the phone book, and I'd read it.
From The River Why: Across the road from my cabin was a huge clear-cut--hundreds of...moreDavid James Duncan could transcribe the phone book, and I'd read it.
From The River Why: Across the road from my cabin was a huge clear-cut--hundreds of acres of massive spruce stumps interspersed with tiny Douglas firs--products of what they call "Reforestation," which I guess makes the spindly firs en masse a "Reforest," which makes an individual spindly fir a "Refir," which means you could say that Weyerhauser, who owns the joint, has Refir Madness, since they think that sawing down 200-foot-tall spruces and replacing them with puling 2-foot Refirs is no different from farming beans or corn or alfalfa.(less)
Book-candy to feed my inner tin-foil-hat geekery. The concept alone garners three stars, but Stirling's execution is lackluster (and this applies to t...moreBook-candy to feed my inner tin-foil-hat geekery. The concept alone garners three stars, but Stirling's execution is lackluster (and this applies to the next two books in the cycle as well). For one, his personal biases shine right through--to suggest that SCA members would survive this quasi-apocalypse better than the rest of the population because they have "experience" sword fighting is more than a little hilarious. I've watched SCA folks in action, and I can tell you they're not exactly Aragorn come again. For two, the prose tends to be a little stale--while it sounded great the first time, you can only describe someone "eeling" through the grass so many times before it wears thin. Ultimately, though, a great beach or airplane read--totally entertaining, and the flaws are forgivable if you don't take them seriously.(less)