So bad it could even be good. A young, squeaky clean, all American, god fearing couple hike the JMT and the story is narrated by Jeff the pompous, oveSo bad it could even be good. A young, squeaky clean, all American, god fearing couple hike the JMT and the story is narrated by Jeff the pompous, overbearing and, it has to be said, somewhat tedious husband. This book is so close to a parody that after a while I started to fill in missing sentences with my own words, turning it into a Pythonesque romp through the Sierra Navada in the style of The Ascent of Rum Doodle. I laughed out loud on several occasions as Jeff relates his dramatic tales of...forgetting his clothes, catching the bus, and brushing his teeth. Jeff is a real man, never failing to tell us about his extensive outdoor experience, while at the same time relating every minor hurdle as if it is completely new to him. He fearlessly guides his 'little lady' Beth through the wilderness, teaching her to do everything from peeing in the woods to pulling her socks up. It's fun to reimagine a second version of the journey from Beth's point of view. She can barely hold in her exasperation at Jeff's patronising behaviour and is liberated by a one night stand with a lesbian lover on the trail, before meeting a man who treats her as an equal. Beth finally realizes she has many more choices in life than Jeff....more
To begin with it felt strange to be reading a new 'old book', with several 1950s southern references which I didn't quite get. However, as the book prTo begin with it felt strange to be reading a new 'old book', with several 1950s southern references which I didn't quite get. However, as the book progresses it feels more relevant given recent developments with regards to the Confederate battle flag, gay marriage, and the ongoing cultural-political polarization in the US. I was surprised to see some of the arguments and phrases we hear today are over 50 years old. It is the lack of moral ambiguity in To Kill A Mockingbird which perhaps ensured its popularity and classic status. Go Set a Watchman reminds us that life and self-interest can give good people misguided opinions, disengagement will not help things change, and engagement with opinions you do not agree with takes real strength. It's usually not a good sign if I find myself thinking more about the author, than the characters. Maybe it is because of the circumstances in which the book was published, but I did start trying to decipher Harper Lee's opinions at the time the book was written, and wondering what she might think about the modern debates. Go Set A Watchman is an interesting short story that can be read by itself, but will most likely be read as context for literary analysis of its distant, more distinguished cousin. ...more
Ben plays around with the idea of the butterfly effect and the history of the 20th century. Would you have shot Hitler if you could? Would it have madBen plays around with the idea of the butterfly effect and the history of the 20th century. Would you have shot Hitler if you could? Would it have made things better, or perhaps worse? What if you could return to 1914? It kept me engaged and had an interesting twist in the tail, but it isn't an uplifting read. Having moved to the US from the UK, it did make me think about how different peoples have their own imagined histories that are every bit as 'real' to those who share a culture. And that leads to even more interesting thoughts... ...more
I'm amazed by the number of topics in this ambitious novel that touch upon my own interests and experience: Victoriana; travel & emigration; sociaI'm amazed by the number of topics in this ambitious novel that touch upon my own interests and experience: Victoriana; travel & emigration; social history of class, gender & race; relationships & sex; places including Kew, Philadelphia & Amsterdam; science and religion; Darwin, Wallace and natural selection. I get the impression that Gilbert and I share a similar perspective on the signature of many things. The narrative leads up to a fascinating and imaginative meeting. Although I'm sure that the story and the characters will stick with me for a long time to come, it is perhaps because it is about topics close to my heart that I cannot shake the feeling that it could have been even better. There were moments when, due to a little contrivance or a derivative plot line, I became aware of the author rather than lose myself in the narrative. It is a novel which takes you on a journey with a tidy ending, and in so doing it left me, like Alma Whittaker, intellectually content but with an unfulfilled desire. Nevertheless, I do highly recommend this book. I would not want to have not read it....more
As a Brit who has recently moved to the States and feels baffled, alienated and perhaps even a little scared by the gun culture that exists in some seAs a Brit who has recently moved to the States and feels baffled, alienated and perhaps even a little scared by the gun culture that exists in some sections of US society, this book helped me to understand the context of this American issue. It has given me reassurance that the right for an individual to own (and use) a gun is not incontrovertibly enshrined in the US constitution; the fundamentalism of the National Rifle Association is a relatively recent phenomenon; and the debate is unresolved and ongoing.
Part one is a short, fascinating history of the independence era, and the framing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Part two is an infuriating account of the post 1977 radicalization of the NRA. Part three brings the story up-to-date with the recent ideologically-driven Supreme Court decisions, leading up to continued atrocities like Sandy Hook. The book ends with a note of hope for me. Whatever the opinions of gun-advocates on the Supreme Court, lower courts are upholding the right of local democratically elected officials to make decisions in the best interests of those they represent, as is "the right of the people". In addition, the long-term demographic trends in the US suggest a decrease in those sections of the population currently most enamored of gun culture.
Ultimately the discussion must move on from (pseudo) originalist interpretation of words that were cobbled together over 200 years ago for reasons that historians debate fiercely. Justice Breyer argues that the Constitution is best understood as a charter for a vibrant, self governing democracy. The courts are the wrong branch of government to make decisions about the costs and benefits of greater regulation. The way forward lies with democratic government. Democracy requires an engaged and educated electorate. That education requires both a sophisticated understanding of the Second Amendment (offered by this book), and detailed studies of the costs and benefits of gun regulations....more
This book is too long and detailed to be a campaign speech, but it is clearly meant to set the record straight and demonstrate Clinton's credentials fThis book is too long and detailed to be a campaign speech, but it is clearly meant to set the record straight and demonstrate Clinton's credentials for high office. It shows Clinton to be both intellectually and emotionally intelligent. She comes across as someone with strong principles without being blinded by ideology. This memoir of her time as Secretary of State leaves me with the impression that she is politically astute, with a strong pragmatic streak. It's not a page-turner aimed at the mass market, but it is a book to which she can refer to, and draw upon, in order to answer the arguments and ad hominem attacks of her often less able and ideologically driven political detractors. ...more
I heard John Green interviewed on NPR this week. I wasn't surprised to hear he had worked in a children's hospital and started training to be an EpiscI heard John Green interviewed on NPR this week. I wasn't surprised to hear he had worked in a children's hospital and started training to be an Episcopalian vicar. He gave it up to become an author and blogger. Most of us are touched by cancer in our lives, and many of us are totally unprepared when we are. I know I was, when my mam discovered she was ill in the 1990s. This book is a wonderful preparation for love, life, and death. It's written for 'young' adults, but most 'old' adults will find something for them here too. I hope the forthcoming Hollywood film isn't too glossy....more
I listened to this audio book while jogging. It's read by Alan Sklar who has a rich, deep, American accent. It was a bit surreal listening to him readI listened to this audio book while jogging. It's read by Alan Sklar who has a rich, deep, American accent. It was a bit surreal listening to him read a book about religion when I previously listened to him read science books on primatology and The Enlightenment. But actually, Spong's "Jesus for the Non-Religious" is not inconsistent with these other books.
Like Thomas Jefferson before him the retired Episcopalian Bishop, John Shelby Spong, attempts to remove the supernatural additions from the palimpsest of the gospels and claims to reveal the original underlying humanist message. The first two thirds of the book is essentially a debunking of the supernatural elements in the gospels which, as a skeptic myself, I found unnecessary and at times a little tedious. Spong reminds us that the historical narrative should be viewed in the context of the contemporary culture and religion of Judea. For me, the book got most interesting in the final third when Spong tries to rebuild a progressive approach to Christianity that sees divinity as the best of humanity, and doesn't require a suspension of critical and rational thought.
Following Dawkins' reactionary polemic there appears to be several authors, coming from theist (e.g. Karen Armstrong, originally Catholic) and atheist (e.g. Alain de Botton, originally secular Jewish) backgrounds, disillusioned with both philosophically naive supernaturalism and purely materialistic consumer values, who see a positive role for some kind of reformed religious institutions. It will be interesting to see if this develops into a popular movement. ...more
Appropriately, I fell asleep listening to Goldilocks last night! However, this version is not a fairy tale, it's the science of Earth's climate: The GAppropriately, I fell asleep listening to Goldilocks last night! However, this version is not a fairy tale, it's the science of Earth's climate: The Goldilocks Planet. As a geoscientist with some familiarity of this subject I could visualize the classic maps and graphs referred to by the narrator of this audiobook, but for the general reader the hard copy/ebook versions would likely be preferable. The book covers all of the major concepts of palaeoclimate science that I would expect in upper level college class. While for me, Earth's history provides a fascinating narrative in itself, some readers may prefer more artistic license and literary imagination in illustrating past environments. The book treads a thin line between popular science and text book, with a smidgen of advocacy. For the purpose of predicting future climate change scenarios, the only data we have to corroborate our models comes from the past. The past is therefore the best place to begin for those looking to really understand the scientific context of modern climate change issues. I strongly recommend this book....more