Thursday, December 31, 2009

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

Title:  Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes

Authors:  Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Paperback:  196 pages

published:  2008

ISBN:  9780143113874

An Irishman walks into a Dublin bar, orders three pints of Guinness, and drinks them down, taking a sip from one, then a sip from the next, until they’re gone.  He then orders three more.  The bartender says, “You know, they’d be less likely to go flat if you bought them one at a time.”

The man says, “Yeah, I know, but I have two brothers, one in the States, one in Australia.  When we all went our seperate ways, we promised each other that we’d all drink this way in memory of the days when we drank together.  Each of these is for one of my brothers and the third is for me.”

The bartender is touched, and says, “What a great custom!”

The Irishman becomes a regular in the bar and always orders the same way.

One day he comes in and orders two pints.  The other regulars notice, and a silence falls over the bar.  When he comes to the bar for his second round, the bartender says, “Please accept my condolences, pal.”

The Irishman says, “Oh, no, everyone’s fine.  I just joined the Mormon Church, and I had to quit drinking.”

-”Illogical Reasoning,” Plato and a Platypus Walks into a Bar… by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, page 29

In Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein the authors use jokes to illustrate a wide variety of philosophical schools of thought.  Sometimes they do it with great intelligence and deftness, sometimes not so much.  Most of the jokes are quite funny, with an occasional belly-buster, but some do fall a little flat.

But the jokes are only a vehicle for the authors to open the door for the layman to understand different philosophical thoughts.  For the most part, they are successful in this venture, but there are a few sections which I didn’t understand any better after reading them than I did before.  Overall, however, the book seems to be meant only to introduce the reader to philosophy, leaving it to them to explore different concepts on their own. 

Two cows are standing in the pasture.  One turns to the other and says, “Although pi is usually abbreviated to five numbers, it actually goes on into infinity.”

The second cow turns to the first and says, “Moo.” -”Metaphysics,” page 20

What this book really accomplishes is make philosophy accessable to readers who have had little to no exposure to it.  After reading, I also want to look into some of the philosophers mentioned in this book.  For readability and for inspiring me to get MORE books, I give Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein 4 out of 5 stars.

An eighty-year-old woman bursts into the men’s day-room at the retirement home.  She holds her clenched fist in the air and announces, “Anyone who can guess what I have in my hand can have sex with me tonight!”

An old man in the back shouts, “An elephant?”

The woman thinks for a moment and says, “Close enough!” -”Philosophy of Language,” page 141

By the way, the website is pretty cool, as well.  You can watch videos as well as take tests and read the authors’ latest news.  Check out Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… the website.


Reviews: OUT STEALING HORSES by Per Petterson

A couple of WWII reading challenge participants reviewed Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, in which the war is a secondary theme and appears in a character’s memories.  Here’s what they had to say about the book; click the links for the complete reviews.

Fleur Fisher from Fleur Fisher Reads says:

The story moves seamlessly between past and present and, little by little, you come to understand why Trond has withdrawn from the world and why he gives little of his emotions away.

So yes, the story is bleak, but is also quite beautifully told and oh so believable. Time and place are beautifully evoked, the descriptions of nature and the changing seasons are quite magical, and the imagery is stunning.

Nise’ from Under The Boardwalk says:

This was a beautifully written novel that was a bit slow going at the begninning but once I got into it, I could not put it down.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Books of the Year

So I realize everyone loves reading as much as I do (lol just joking) but I figured I’d let you know some of the top books from the year, from people whose opinions I pay attention to (doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with them).

First of all, the best book I read all year is “Christless Christianity” by Michael Horton. I highly recommend it. It was a little academic at some points, but overall I didn’t think it was a very difficult read. The author basically looks at modern Christianity in North America and compares it to two of the largest heresies in Christian history – Pelagianism and Gnosticism. It wasn’t actually written this year, but it was still good, so it makes it on the list. There’s also a sequel, “The Gospel-Driven Life,” and it’s sitting on my bookshelf, but I haven’t read it yet, so don’t ask.

So now for other people’s recommendations (these are just their recommendations; it doesn’t mean I’m recommending them).

C.J. Mahaney’s 4 Top Books

Christianity Today’s 4 Top Books

Denny Burke’s recommended Children’s Bible

Justin Taylor’s books recommended for kids: New Testament, Old Testament

Keith Mathison’s Significant Books

Kevin DeYoung’s 10 Top Books

Ligonier Ministry’s recommended books

Mark Dever’s 3 Top Books

Russell Moore’s 10 Top Books

Scott McKnight’s Top Books

Thabiti Anyabwile’s 5 Top Books

Tim Challies’ 9 Top Books

Tony Reinke’s 13 Gift Ideas

Trevin Wax’s 10 Top Books

Upcoming books from Crossway/Zondervan, Baker/Moody

That’s alot of different books, but I’d like to point out a few that showed up multiple times: Adopted for Life by Russell Moore; Calvin by Bruce Gordon; The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf; Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller; Finally Alive by John Piper; The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne; Why Johnny Can’t Preach by David Gordon; Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck


Review: THE MAN WITH THE IRON HEART by Harry Turtledove

Another book read by Christopher from Doolittle’s for the WWII reading challenge was Harry Turtledove’s The Man With the Iron Heart.  Here’s a little of what he had to say about the book:

The initial idea is interesting. Why did Nazi Germany accept Allied occupation when so many other countries have fought long guerrilla wars against occupying forces? How is 1946 Germany different than 1979 Afghanistan or 1960s Vietnam? How is it like the former Confederate States in the 1860s?

These are important and valid questions that I feel were swept under the rug.

Read the full review here.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**


Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Review of Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.

This year (it’s still 2009!) marks two notable anniversaries, Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, and the sesquicentennial of his most renowned treatise, On the Origin of Species.  It comes as no surprise, then, that Richard Dawkins and myriad other prominent biologists chose this year for the publication of their own books on the subject of evolution.  Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Shown on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, was perhaps the most droolingly anticipated of the lot.  Due to being tied up with a full semester of school, I hadn’t the time to read the book until now, between semesters.  Previously, the book sat on my shelf for months, pristine and waiting to be read, staring at me like a lidless eye, ever-watching, wreathed in dust-jacket, whispering my name as if Sauron calling for his ring.  OK, perhaps I’ve gone a bit too far, but I did really really wanted to read it!  And behold, after much anticipation, I began reading.

Having read all of Dawkins’ previous books, and having seen probably every YouTube video and documentary featuring him, I started the book a bit concerned that I wouldn’t learn much new material.  I am not only a fan of Dawkins, but of the science of evolution in general, and therefore know many of the exemplary experiments commonly rehashed by popular science writers on evolution for the layperson.  My initial worries were correct, but that is to be expected; Dawkins has to supply the reader with the basic concepts and terms to aid in the understanding of future chapters.  While not learning anything new initially, I am always left agape with how many different ways Dawkins has of explaining nearly the same thing from book to book.  I hope I am not turning you off from reading other books by Dawkins, it’s just that each of his books necessarily has a chapter (or two) dealing with introductory, boiler-plate concepts for the newcomer.  Here is my take on Dawkins’ book.  I will give my overall impressions, but won’t ruin it for you by giving spoilers.

Dawkins pulled it off.  He kept someone, who should frankly be sick of him by now, glued to each and every one of the book’s 437 pages.  While it normally takes me two weeks to finish a book of that length, I blazed through it five days.  Just when I thought the man couldn’t teach me anything, he blows me away with a chapter on natural clocks, ranging from dendrochronology (tree ring dating), radioactive clocks, namely, the potassium argon clock, and carbon-14 dating.  Of the latter I knew some, of the former I new nearly nothing, initially.  This is an important chapter, because one cannot get a sense for evolutionary time without a sense of geological time, and also geological activity, which he deals with in later chapters as well.  It is a frightening fact that over 40% of Americans believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.  The in(s)anity of those 120 million people (just in America) is truly astounding, and anyone making it to the end of chapter four will see why.

Dawkins then deals with the common public misconceptions of evolution, both those from honest ignorance, or those fueled by religious angst.  Common conundrums such as, “If we evolved from chimpanzees, then why are there still chimpanzees around?” or, “Show us the missing link!” are here clarified with a proper understanding of evolutionary theory.  A quick review of the fossil record, and you’re on your way to understanding evolutionary science better than probably upwards of 90% of the American population!  I only wish I were kidding.

One of my favorite chapters was the chapter that Dawkins devoted to developmental biology in explaining many of the “unintelligently designed” things in nature.  I would love to go into more detail, since I loved it so much, but I don’t want to spoil anything for future readers.  Just know that it’s FANTASTIC!  Especially when he goes into enzymes, and proteins as enzymes, and then, ooh, I have already said too much!  Future chapters come back in cyclic form to reiterate, and drive-home the concepts of developmental constraint due to common ancestry, and then RNA as enzymes as potential candidates for the first forms of life, from which all life has evolved.  Enough!  I will say no more in praise of his book, I leave the rest for you to read and enjoy.

So far I have given nothing but praise for Dawkins’ work, and it is praise that is wholly deserved, but I also have criticisms for this book as well that I feel need to be presented.  For those who don’t know, Dawkins, while a greatly accomplished evolutionary biologist and ethologist, is (perhaps sadly) best known to the general public as the world’s most famous atheist, because off his previous book, The God Delusion—Dawkins’ no-holds-bar criticism of organized religion, and faith-based thinking in general.  While I am in agreement with Dawkins in that I do not believe in the supernatural or God, I feel that he may have come out rather too strong in the opening pages of his new book.  Dawkins mentions that those 40% of Americans are “among those [he] is trying to reach in this book.”  I feel, however, that he may be instantly losing those readers who so desperately need to read this book the most in the first few pages by referring to them as “history deniers.”  I don’t disagree with Dawkins that they are history deniers, but perhaps he could have made the first chapter a bit more neutral, and less off-putting, for the fence-sitters who, in my opinion, need to read this book the most.  I felt like the book was mainly geared toward people like me; that is, the last people on the planet that should be reading this book!  I already agree with the stated objective from the very beginning, I didn’t need to read it.  I don’t need any more convincing.  But there are plenty who do, and I feel that they won’t make it past the first five pages without feeling offended for being compared to Holocaust deniers.

However, despite my above objection, Dawkins claims another, perhaps more important reason for writing the book, and that is to adequately arm those who are not ‘history deniers’, but feel inadequately equipped to argue their position, with swaths of facts and evidence covering a large base.  That is a noble cause indeed, and perhaps I am a bit too naïve to think that the ‘history deniers’ will even buy the book in the first place.  If they were at all curious about the evidence for evolution, and valued logic and reason, then they wouldn’t need to read the book in the first place, because they would already have accepted evolution, the only game in town, the greatest show on earth.


Book Review: Life As We Knew It

Book Review:

Life As We Knew It

By Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life As We Knew It was the latest book for our little book club. A young adult book, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

This book was about the life of a 16-year old girl and her family living in Pennsylvania after a meteor hits the moon and knocks it out of orbit. This spurs off a series of natural disasters – tsunamis, storms, droughts, blizzards, effecting the lives of everyone. Ordinary life shifts rapidly to a life with spotty or no electricity, little to no news about the present circumstances or predictions for the future, and limited food supplies (whatever you have stocked up on). The family struggles to cope with these challenges and prepare for an uncertain future, sacrificing so much for each other.

This book really makes you realize just how quickly things can change, and how we should remind ourselves how lucky we are. There are so many things most people today take for granted – a never-ending supply of food and gas; electricity; heat and air conditioning; telephones; etc. Life As We Knew It takes away all of these things, and reminds us of what is important – family.

I found Life As We Knew It to be a quick read but highly recommended.

If you liked this book… there is one other in the “series.” The Dead and the Gone has a similar storyline but is written from the perspective of a cityboy, and of what life is like in a city at this time. I have not read it, but have been told that it is a bit more graphic and darker than Life As We Knew It.

A third related book, This World We Life In, is also expected to be published on March 31, 2010.

Pfeffer’s Blog


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Time Out Paris Guide: 2009

The Time Out travel guides are amongst the most well written, handy, informative, useful, and overall best guides in the world, with a wide series covering cities and countries across the globe. This edition, relating to Paris is no exception, giving the reader valuable insight to the city, as well as providing information on the best places to go, monuments to see, and restaurants and bars to visit. Not initially being a fan to these types of guides, being a believer that you should go, be surprised, and experience the world for yourself. However, for less adventurous travellers, families, and couples – no trip to Paris should be complete without this.

The structure of the book is laid out in an easy to understand manner, with Paris split up into different districts, a map for each, and subdivided into categories such as places to see, places to eat etc. The descriptions are simple to follow, and are never boring as many guides can be. There are many photographs of famous buildings and streets to colour the guide, listings for opening and closing times, train time-tables, and even planned daily guides of where to go if you want to be led around. Also, there is a map of the metro system which at first may seem daunting is easy to understand with a little time. This map certainly helps when deciding where to go next and how to get there. If you’re heading to Paris soon, and are unsure of going it alone, then this guide will act as your… guide.


Three Books That Changed My Life

Not all that long ago, I had absolutely no answers to the questions you should have figured out by the time you reach your late-twenties: Who am I? Where am I going? What do I want? Etc.  In short, I was lost.  I had strayed away from the flock and forgotten about the healing power of prayer and the amazing love and forgiveness of Jesus.  Through some amazing life events, which are too long of stories to explain here, I was introduced to three books that would ultimately change my life:  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller, In the Meantime, by Iyanla Vanzant, and Crazy Love, by Francis Chan.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure if A Million Miles in a Thousand Years would have affected me as much as it did if it had not come into my life at the exact perfect time from the most unexpected of sources…and to think some people actually question divine intervention! The essence of the book is about a man who achieves his goal, but is left unfulfilled, tired, and bored.  He is forced to take a good hard look at himself through the eyes of an outsider, and realizes the person he has become is not at all the person he really wants to be.  The following quote just about sums up the entire book:  “I wondered if life could be lived more like a good story in the first place.  I wondered whether a person could plan a story for his life and live it intentionally.”  For so long I had felt trapped into a story I had written that had gone terribly wrong somewhere along the way. What was worse was I felt like there was nothing I could do about it!  Through Miller’s ideas of character arc, conflict, fearless living, and resolution, I was able to find the courage I needed to redefine my character, rewrite my story, and start living the life I wanted.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: NANCY WAKE by Peter Fitzsimmons

Tracey from A Book Sanctuary read Nancy Wake:  The Inspiring Story of One of the War’s Greatest Heroines by Peter Fitzsimmons for the WWII reading challenge.  Here’s a little of what she had to say:

I appreciated all the details of her early life and escapades and was fascinated with her war time story, her determination, passion and bravery. … What I didn’t enjoy so much was the style or tone of the book, the way the information was presented. It is told in a flippant, slightly cocky way with plenty (I felt) of the authors own little remarks thrown in.

Read the complete review here.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Review: HUNTING EICHMANN by Neal Bascomb

Lorri from Jew Wishes read Hunting Eichmann:  How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb for the WWII reading challenge.  Here’s an excerpt from her review:

…Hunting Eichmann is infused with spy material that will leave you amazed and astounded. From CIA records to Mossad agents, from worldwide indiffference to the Nazi underground in Argentina, to the El Al flight, the trial, the sentence and execution, and so much more, the historical information is incredible. I was totally engrossed in the book from page one. A thriller it is in every aspect.

Read her full thoughts here.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: FlashForward

by Robert Sawyer

Flashforward, a novel by Canadian sci-fi author Robert Sawyer, no doubt made more popular by the ABC series by the same name, is the story of a handful of CERN scientists who are experimenting to prove the existence of the Higgs boson particle.  One moment, Lloyd Simcoe and his associates are in a CERN lab counting down the final seconds to flipping the switch to activate the huge particle collider, and the next moment they are about twenty years older.  Simcoe sees himself in a cottage in New England lying in bed with a woman he’s never met.

It takes them a little while, but the scientists realize that they were not the only ones whose consciousness shifted.  News reports from around the world, detailing catastrophic devastation and confusion, seem to indicate that the events at CERN are directly related to the flashforwards.  How can that be proven?  How much responsibility should CERN assume for hundreds of thousands of deaths and destruction of property into the billions of dollars?  Finding answers leads to more questions and finally to a worldwide decision to recreate the event.

What I Liked
After the flashforward, the characters discuss their differing philosophical and metaphysical viewpoints in order to explain their experience.  They discuss the idea of time travel, consciousness, eternal life, human volition versus free will.  Were the flashes real future events or simply what could be?  I enjoyed the verbal exchange of ideas among the characters.  In fact, within a few pages, the reader will find a conversation that includes several theories with little or no explanation of a thought process or development of the idea.  It’s as though the reader needs to already know what the characters are discussing.  The conversations forced me to think about the universe in a way that I hadn’t in a very long time, probably since college.  Which brings me to one drawback of this book.

What I Disliked
While most fiction books feature a human character who undergoes a trial or change, who learns an important lesson, or who comes of age, Flashforward’s main character is an Idea, or Theory.  The people are only there to help explain the Idea.  They lend words, theories, and experience, but the driving force of the book is the flashforward.  The characters do not have to learn anything because they are already the foremost scientists and physicists in the world.  They neither grow nor change.  As a reader, I enjoy getting lost in the story.  But in Flash Forward, there isn’t a sympathetic character or a grand tale in which to be lost for a few hours.  Even though one of the main characters’ life was in danger, I wasn’t at all concerned for his safety, and, honestly, maybe even looked forward to his death.  The worst part for me though was the 2001: A Space Odyssey-like ending.

The bottom line: Flashforward is very interesting, but I missed connecting with a favorite character.  The main question my friends have asked me since I read the book is, How does it compare to the t.v. show? If you’re a fan of the show, don’t worry — they aren’t very similar.  Reading the book will not spoil the television series.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Reads from Down the Bayou

Being from down the bayou in south Louisiana, I have a great many regional tales to remember and retell during the holidays. My favorite is the story of Papa Noel, or Pere Noel, as he is sometimes called. The Cajun families who live along the Mississippi River anxiously await the arrival of their version of Santa Claus every Christmas Eve.

Somewhere back in time, no one knows exactly when, the legend of Papa Noel and the bonfires crept into the holiday traditions here. Basically, from the day after Thanksgiving right until Christmas Eve groups of men and boys (and today women and girls) have built teepee-shaped bonfires atop the levee that hems in the mighty river. On Christmas Eve, these fires are lit and a long party ensues on the levee – until it is time to put the children to bed or attend midnight mass. The legend goes that the only way Papa Noel will find the good children along the river is by following the path of the bonfires – which put out a strong beacon in the dark and the fog.

Our bonfires represent our own version of Rudolph’s red nose – which is important because in many of our tales Papa Noel is pulled in a pirogue by a clan of alligators – not reindeer. Two books that give us a Cajun Santa are the now classic Cajun Night Before Christmas by Trosclair and the newer Legend of Papa Noel by Terri Hoover Dunham. Both are wonderful picture books for the holiday season.

In The Cajun Night Before Christmas, written in a stiff Cajun dialect that takes a little getting used to if you aren’t familiar, we are treated to a distinctly French Louisiana version of Clement Moore’s classic. With a Santa who dresses in muskrat, rides in a skiff pulled by French named alligators and who takes perhaps too many nips of blackberry wine, this tale is a wonderful read aloud – if you can pull off the dialect.

The Legend of Papa Noel tells the story of the bonfires more directly – and includes a beautiful white alligator, Nicolette. The white alligator is a rare occurrence in the Louisiana swamp. It isn’t an albino, it is the result of an unusual genetic abnormality that leaves the gator with white skin pigmentation and blue eyes. Dunham did a wonderful job with this story and the illustrations are beautiful.

There are many great Christmas traditions from around the world and I’m happy to have grown up with one of the truly unique customs that accompany the Yuletide season. How about you – do you have any unique Christmas customs from your neck of the wo


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Top Ten Faves for 2009

books in a stack (a stack of books) by austinevan.Well, I have to do it sometime so it might as well be now. Below I have posted My Top 10 Selections for books published in 2009. Though my “to read” stack still holds a few titles that would potentially bump a couple off of this list, it’s not likely that I will finish them before the new year. Therefore, I offer these up along with with my yearly lament…so many books,so little time…


Annie’s Ghosts:  A Journey Into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan

Brooklyn:  A Novel by Colm Toibin

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Half Broke Horses:  A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow

Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line by Martha A. Sandweiss

The Big Burn:  Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

-Post by Megan Shaffer


Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Modern Construction of Myth by Andrew Von Hendy

The Modern Construction of Myth is a book that gives a critical account of how myth came to be seen in modernity.  It starts in the eighteenth century with the reinvention of the concept of myth and then follows the major branches of the theories, of which the author tells us there are three, as they appear in the works of theologians, philosophers, literary artists, political thinkers, folklorists, anthropologists, psychologists and others from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

Generally, what I took away from the book is that there were three phases of development in the field of theories of mythology, the first was in the eighteenth century called the romantic era; the second is in the nineteenth century where the origin of myth was important, and the third phase was in the twentieth century when the function of the myth was important.  These distinctions of course were not always clear and co-existed.

Also of these three phases and during the last two phases, you have three strands of mythological theories, what the author calls ideological, folklorist and constitutive and all three stem and stand in relation to romantic or transcendental origin.

I have to say that for me the book was a bit hard to follow.  I knew all the names mentioned in the book from other books that I have read and dealt with the same material but it was hard for me to follow what the theories were and how these people developed them.  Some chapters I’ve had to read more than a few times just to get what he was talking about.  The author used really hard words that sent me to the dictionary (and really he could have used easier words that were still big words if you know what I mean…).  This book is not for anyone beginning to study theories of mythology like me, but rather for someone who is already extremely familiar with the theories and want to trace them to their origins and to see how they evolved.


Friday, December 11, 2009

If Indiana Jones Were A Metaphysician

Where Pharoahs Dwell

Where Pharoahs Dwell: One Mystic's Journey Through The Gates Of Immortality

I’m going to be completely honest. Being a big fan of Patricia’s work, I was a bit skeptical if I’d like this book as much as her other books. I know next to nothing about Egypt and it has never really interested me too much. But knowing that I love everything else Patricia has done, I gave it a chance. So with an open mind I began reading the book only to realize that I couldn’t put it down. You feel like you are right there with Patricia through the whole journey. She presents the story with honesty, humility and without watering down her metaphysical experiences.

This books is very different than her other work she does with the Sirian Speakers. This is a personal story of discovery and initiations, which makes you feel like you are experiencing these initiations and revelations for yourself. It is presented in such a clear manner and takes you step by step of her learning experience that you really don’t have to know anything about Egypt to read it. Based on past life-regressions and her channeling work with the Sirian Speakers, she eventually finds validation of the information she received within herself in the outside world, in Egypt. Patricia takes you to the remote, secret & forbidden places of Egypt on her search. I really want to leave a review without spoiling the book, so I’m going to talk about what happens in the book further than that. You definitely have to read it, even if you are a bit reluctant or know nothing about Egypt, like me. This book holds a special place in my heart and I’m sure it will for you. This book would make an excellent movie. It reminds me of a mix of the adventures of Indiana Jones with the discoveries and questioning along the line of Erich von Däniken but with a mystical and metaphysical experience.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Redefining Beautiful: What God Sees When God Sees You by Jenna Lucado and Max Lucado

How do you define beautiful? In Redefining beautiful, author Jenna Lucado lays out a blue print for a positive view of beauty. Instead of talking about putting on different cloths and jewelery to make you beautiful, Lucado discusses putting on different behaviors and attitudes to define your real beauty.

Redefining Beautiful is written for Christian teen and tweens girls, and I am a 30 year old male youth worker….So needless to say I had trouble connecting with the author. Although though Redefining Beautiful is packed full of great information and concepts, its content is loosely woven together making it hard to put the whole book together without loosing some of those gold nuggets of wisdom.

I recommend this book to any Christian teen and tween girls who is struggling with how they view themselves. (Which is almost everyone) In order to get the most out of the book, it should be read with a mentor or parent who is willing to discuss and reflect on the information and content. I also recommend everyone else that has contact with a teen or tween girl read this book and strain out the gold nuggets of wisdom. It is well worth the effort to help them grow into the women and mothers of tomorrow


Review: A FINE of 200 FRANCS by Elsa Triolet

In Laurie’s Mind selected A Fine of 200 Francs by Elsa Triolet for the WWII Reading Challenge.  To read her full review, click on the link.  In the meantime, here’s an excerpt:

Because this was published during wartime by the underground press there are elements of wartime culture Triolet never fully explains. While these must have been self-evident in 1944, they are not necessarily so in 2009. That said, this was a very interesting look at the day-to-day operations of the resistance movement.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Question of Personhood

I have been thinking about the issues of personhood a lot these days – mostly through Jonathan Edwards – and how one’s understanding of what a person is, and what “human” entails, often does a lot of work in one’s theology. In an attempt to feed my inquiry, Oxford was kind enough to send me Lucian Turcescu’s Gregory of Nyssa and the Concept of Divine Persons. I would like to use some of Turcescu’s reflections on Gregory to talk a bit more broadly about the concept of personhood and how it functions theologically. Taking a look at Gregory of Nyssa will hopefully prove instructive as more and more theologians scan the horizon of Cappadocian theology for answers concerning trinitarian personhood and theology.

To begin, Turcescu offers a broad definition of a person: “A person is ‘an indivisible, unique and therefore non-replicable unity in human existence.’” He, furthermore, suggests that prior to the Cappadocian work on the Trinity there was not a notion of “person” in circulation. Therefore, it is a mistake to assume modern beliefs about willing personal agents and apply that wholesale as a starting assumption. Starting with God for instance, Turcescu suggests that it would be tautological to speak of free will in God for the Cappadocians. He quotes Gregory as saying “God continually wills to be what he is and is adequately what he wills to be.” This, to our sensibilities, is a very troubling comment, but we’ll see how that develops in Gregory’s thought. As many conceive it, God is who God is in pure act, as a category of being not will. On the other hand, God’s action ad extra is usually seen to function in the register of will and not being.

Gregory functioned on the belief that humanity, and by extension, personhood, is not degreed. In other words, it is impossible to be more or less human – this, we should note – is not the case in much of modern theology and is certainly worth discussing. Trinitarian personhood is developed by Gregory through origin and “properties” related to origin. For instance, concerning the Spirit Turcescu states,

The Spirit in turn can be described as a unique collection of the following properties: has his being from the Father, that is, proceeds from the Father, and he is known after the Son and with the Son. Gregory seems to imply here that the unique collection of properties is both that by which the person is known or identified and that by which the person is constituted as distinct” (57).

Turcescu goes on to address how the divine persons are not merely collections of properties but actual persons. Gregory invokes the concept of communion to somehow bridge these ideas. How is this so? Turcescu explains: …it is the communion among these persons that makes them persons. The dynamics of communion are expressed not only in relations of origin among the divine persons but also in their love for each other, perfect knowledge of each other, perfect accord of will, and all other perichoretic activities.” In Gregory’s Ad Petrum, which is the work Turcescu initially addresses (and which our discussion has followed), Turcescu picks out five major points concerning the concept of divine persons: First, the relation of divine persons to the divine ousia runs parallel with the relation between an individual and universal; second, divine persons are understood as collections of unique properties; third, divine persons are relational entities; fourth, distinctions among the divine persons follows the delineations of origin; and fifth, the divine persons have a permanent and perfect communion with one another (60). It is only this last factor which allows them to be living persons rather than simply a unique collection of properties.

There are certainly many aspects of this account which sound familiar. Turcescu is going to turn to other treatises to look for a progression in Gregory’s work with specific reference to the concept of personhood. I’m not sure I like the use of properties in the fashion he suggests, but it runs throughout the tradition. Any thoughts about this?


<i>Sacred Hearts</i> by Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts is definitely the best of Dunant’s Renaissance novels.  I was totally absorbed in life behind the walls of Santa Caterina.  Although, I find it difficult to believe that Serafina managed to fool so many.  I mean, when a rebellious sixteen-year-old girl suddenly becomes sweet and complacent it means she’s up to something.  Everyone knows that, or so I thought.  Especially women who used to be sixteen-year-old girls themselves.  I know that being sixteen then meant different things than being sixteen, in maturity and responsibility, but come on!

The contrast between the austere piety of Umiliana and the more worldly shrewdness of Chiara was especially well done.  There was little freedom for women in those times and I found it fascinating that many found more of it within the convent walls than in the outside world.  The fight for those freedoms in the face of the reforms of the Counter-Reformation was very compelling.

This is an excellent, absorbing read, though I must say that the way Serafina’s fate was achieved was almost too cliché.

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars


Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Different Kind of Love Story

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a love story. Yet unlike many love stories, it does not overflow with cringe-inducing dialogue. In fact, the lines are very terse, the conversations sparing. There is no alpha male for a hero and a delicate beauty for a heroine. There is only a dying father and a dying son in an already dead world.

The story is set in post-apocalyptic America where ash falls like rain and where day is dark and cold. The streets are filled with mutilated bodies. People devour one another in order to survive. Father and son have nothing but each other—“each the other world’s entire.”

The Road is more than a story of a father and son struggling to keep each other alive. In a dead world like theirs, their physical doom is a certainty. But each one fights to keep death from robbing what remains of the other’s humanity. Every single day is a fight not to win against the certainty of death. Every single day is a fight to be human even in death.

I want to be with you.
You cant. You have to carry the fire.
I dont know how to.
Yes you do.
Where is it? I dont know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.
Just take me with you. Please.
I cant.
Please, Papa.
I cant, I cant hold my son dead in my arms. I thought I could but I cant.
You said you wouldnt ever leave me.
I know. I’m sorry. You have my whole heart. You always did…


The Wall Street Journal has an interview with Cormac McCarthy where he talked about “love, religion, his 11-year-old son, the end of the world and the movie based on his novel The Road.”


<i>Censoring an Iranian Love Story</i> by Shahriar Mandanipour

I don’t really know what I think of this book. 

On the one hand, I found Mandanipour’s description of the agonies of being a censored writer fascinating.  An American writer can simply sit before their computers and let the words flow, but an Iranian writer must constantly think about whether or not a sentence or word may be seen as provocative or corrupting in the eyes of the Islamic Republic.  And isn’t it interesting that use technologies purchased from the hated West in order to monitor and purify their literature?  Talk about hypocrisy.

However . . .

On the other hand, the love story was quite dull, not to mention ridiculous.  Dara was an insane stalker, in my opinion.  Rather like an Iranian Florentino Ariza (from Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera).  My impression of Sara is that she’s a spoiled child.  She liked male attention in a society where it was banned.  Liked watching their jealousies and the rivalries for her love.  First Sinbad and Dara, then Dara and Farhad.  She kept insisting that Dara prove his love for her in idiotic and childish ways, as if she actually wanted him to get arrested.  Until, that is, it happens.  But does she learn her lesson?  No.  She just has to flirt with the good doctor at the wedding.  See?  Ridiculous! 

There is one good thing about the love story:  I also kind of liked the idea of a Hashashin in modern-day Tehran.  It was an interesting twist to the story.  I was also amused by the references to other novels an stories integrated into the text.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story is certainly an enlightening read, but not very entertaining.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars


Saturday, December 5, 2009

“My name is A. B. C. D. Douglas; Father’s name: E. F. G. H. Douglas”

Cover of Fakir Mohan Senapati's Six Acres and a Third

Cover painting by Jatin Das

Ramachandra Mangaraj was a zamindar – a rural landlord – and a prominent moneylender as well, though his transactions in grain far exceeded those in cash. For an area of four kos around, no one else’s business had much influence. He was a very pious man indeed: there are twenty-four ekadasis in a year. If there had been forty such holy days, he would have observed every single one. This is indisputable. Every ekadasi he fasted, taking nothing but water and a few leaves of the sacred basil plant for the entire day. Just the other afternoon, though, Mangaraj’s barber, Jaga, let it slip that on the evenings of ekadasis a large pot of milk, some bananas, and a small quantity of khai and nabata are placed in the master’s bedroom. Very early the next morning, Jaga removes the empty pot and washes it. Hearing this, some people exchanged knowing looks and chuckled. One blurted out, “Not even the father of Lord Mahadeva can catch a clever fellow stealing a drink when he dips under the water.” We’re not absolutely sure what was meant by this, but our guess is that these men were slandering Mangaraj. Ignoring their intentions for the moment, we would like to plead his case as follows: Let the eyewitness who has seen Mangaraj emptying the pot come forward, for like judges in a court of law we are absolutely unwilling to accept hearsay and conjecture as evidence. All the more since science textbooks state unequivocally: “Liquids evaporate.” Is milk not a liquid? Why should milk in a zamindar’s household defy the laws of science? Besides, there were moles, rats and bugs in his bedroom. And in whose house can mosquitoes and flies not be found? Like all base creatures of appetite, these are always on the lookout for food; such creatures are not spiritually minded like Mangaraj, who had the benefit of listening to the holy scriptures. It would be a great sin, then, to doubt Mangaraj’s piety or unwavering devotion.

Jonathan Swift – about whom I speak solely from reputation and hearsay – felt the need to create believable characters and put them in situations strangely reminiscent of reality to perform his satire. Fakir Mohan Senapati, in his Six Acres and a Third (translated by a veritable army consisting of Satya P. Mohanty, Rabi Shankar Mishra, Jatindra K. Nayak and Paul St-Pierre),feels no such need. His characters are all caricatures, his Orissa a land that exists only inasmuch as it helps him make his point, but I believed in them nevertheless.

When I finished this book, I thought this was a ‘great’ book in the same way that Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever made, because of its importance. It is widely touted, to the extent that it is touted at all, as being the apex of nineteenth century realism in Indian literature, as showing the ‘view from below’ before most of India had heard of anything along the lines of Marxism, as … well, quite a few more things, as described in Satya P. Mohanty’s (rather averagely written, even if makes good points) introduction. But, now, five days after having finished it, I realise that there may be more to the greatness this book than just importance. Not that I ever thought it wasn’t a very good book, but it just didn’t strike me as a candidate for greatness merely on basis of quality. Now, as I was typing up that quote, I realized that not only had Senapati got me to believe in the caricatures while I was reading it, I still believe in Ramachandra Mangaraj and co.

All he does is make no pretensions at depth, or naturalism. His narrator is nothing more than a ‘dispassionate’ (I’ll come back to these quotation marks) observer, who tells us merely what he sees, what he ‘concludes’, and the results of his ‘research’. This, you would think, isn’t very hard to do. Take, for counter-example, Albert Camus’s The Outsider, a review of which was my first post on this blog. My primary complaint with it was that it felt as if Camus wasn’t trying hard enough to convince us, because everything from the plot to the characters apart from the protagonist struck me as very poorly thought-out. Max Cairnduff commented saying that it wasn’t intended as a naturalistic piece in the first place. Which is a fair reason for disagreement; the primary reason we disagree about quality of art is that some things are more important to some people than they are to others. My point in bringing this up was that I felt no such irritation while reading Six Acres and a Third, which I feel even works as a naturalistic piece. This is so because Senapati makes so little pretence, makes everything he says sound so provisional, that I can take it as the version of truth as offered by someone not completely disinvolved.

And, therein lies the crux of the narration; the book is narrated by a person, or persons – even common people from Orissa and Bihar tend to use the royal pronoun, and the narrator could well be an investigator for the English, so I can’t be sure though I lean towards it being just one person –, who’s not involved but is making a thinly-veiled pretence at being one of the people whose life depends on these people whose dealings he talks of. I can say this because of the way it is said: looking at the quote, you can see three levels of narration, so to say. First, we have the fact that he is using Western courtroom logic to defend Ramachandra Mangaraj. Then, we have the fact that he is revealing facts that can only incriminate the man. Then, he is using the worst logic available to save him nevertheless, inasmuch as he will then be safe in a (caricaturised) court of law. He’s attacking Mangaraj, and thinly veiling it as a defence. The whole book – which, compliments to the author, is very short, less than two hundred very loosely packed pages – passes in such a flurry of multiple but obvious levels of deceit, most of the time more thinly-veiled than the rest of it. Sometimes, we even see trickery in the narrator’s mention of his target audience.

There is a plot, but it only comes in the second half of the book. Senapati packs most of it with a set of vignettes showcasing corruption at various levels – and the various branches of each level – of society, going as high as is relevant from the villagers’ point of view. Brahmins, peasants, zamindars, policemen, lawyers – especially lawyers, since it is their language which is used as the medium of satire –, they all come under scrutiny. There are six acres and a third, not to mention a cow, that are seized, and which go to court etc. Interestingly, even the victims of the seizing aren’t completely honest. Most interestingly, the only good people in the book barely talk; there are two, and one of them gets one scene with three, maybe four, barely functional dialogues. The other one? He only gets a few actions to perform.

It sounds so complex (here, I’m talking about morally complex, all the little implications; my ‘levels of writing’ are actually fairly obvious, even necessary for a book claiming to be a satire). But, when I read it, I thought the book was written in a simple, lucid style with few depths I was surprised to have plumbed. It is nothing more than the highest compliment to Senapati that all of his meaning came across so clearly. After I finished the book, I read Mohanty’s introduction, and there’s very little of this write-up that uses things I’ve learnt from Mohanty. Not because I found the points unworthy but because I already knew them. It was valuable only as a history lesson on this book. It is this simplicity, supported strongly by the cultural – it was the apex of nineteenth century realism in Indian literature – as well as historical – as a burning critique of the British administration – importance that makes this a great book. And I never even mentioned the anger simmering beneath the narrative, with about as much obvious force as this sentence.


The Lady Magazine

Here in the United Kingdom there is a nice weekly periodical for women who aspire to be, and are, ladies. It is called The Lady and it has some interesting household tips, information, interviews and other things that interest ladies.

The Lady, Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP as found on

The problem, in my experience with the magazine, is that it caters to the older generation, mainly those over 50. I find it rather offensive that I, a 24 year-old lady, have to choose between mind-numbingly superficial rubbish like Glamour and Cosmopolitan (which is meant for the young women in society) or The Lady, which caters to a much older group. I would love to be able to read a cultured, ladylike, intellectual magazine which does not include power chairs, frou-frou clothing. I would like a ladies’ magazine to show a sophisticated, youthful, sexy but tasteful clothing styles. I still like reading The Lady, because it is the only periodical I know of that is decent and doesn’t go on ad infinitum about sex, dating and fashion trends. Any lady would tell you that trends are temporary, but elegance is timeless.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Win a copy of Wombat Divine by Mem Fox!

This year Wombat is old enough to part in the nativity play, ‘so with his heart full of hope and his head full of dreams, he hurried along to the auditions.’ It’s hard to find a part that’s just right for him and when all the parts have been handed out, he’s a very sad wombat indeed. Everyone crowds around to comfort him but then Bilby has a brilliant idea.

The Australian animals go on to put on the ‘best Nativity ever.’ Our favourite page is where all the animals are sitting about eating pudding on Christmas Day, talking about the Nativity. (Platypus is dozing, maybe he ate a little too much pudding.)

This picture book is a favourite at our house. And the good news is – we have one copy of Wombat Divine to give away! To enter, tell us how you heard about Soup Blog by leaving a comment in the comments box for this post. We will draw a winner at random on 10 December 2009 and ask the winner to contact us with their posting address.

Wombat Divine by Mem Fox, illustrated by Kerry Argent, Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia, ISBN 9781862918412 This book was selected for review from the Editor’s own collection but we also received a review copy – the prize in the giveaway.


The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I feel like I’m the last person to read this book.  Given that it involves time travel, it’s theoretically science fiction, but really it is more properly filed under romance.  I don’t read enough romances to really evaluate it as part of that genre, though, so all I can say is on that score is that while the story can be justly criticized for being melodramatic, Niffenegger is pretty successful in pulling the strings.

You may be wondering how a story that has time travel in it can be anything than other science fiction.  Well, definitions of genre vary.  The book’s Wikipedia page quotes a critic as saying “uses time travel as a metaphor to explain how two people can feel as if they’ve known each other their entire lives”.  So there’s your answer, I guess.  I don’t think the book “explains” anything of the sort, but again, I come from an SF background where you start by assuming a spade is a spade.  Especially space spades.  That doesn’t mean that SF novels don’t have the symbolism, metaphorical interpretations, and so forth, but they are expected to take their surface elements seriously.

I can’t help but approaching it as a science fiction novel, however, and in that role the book is lacking.  The time travel is unexplained, but that’s more a relief than a problem.  The problem is the plot is a large time travel paradox.  If the past and future can’t be changed, yet you can travel into the past, how are we to resolve a case where a man meets and marries a woman precisely because he later time travels back to before they met?  The novel shrugs off this concern.  If you’re interested in the mechanics of time travel, this isn’t the story for you.  Ted Chiang’s story “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” actually uses the very same “system” of time travel to rather profound effect.

So, leaving aside the science fiction elements, what’s left?  A chronologically dislocated romance between two people that’s written well enough that I enjoyed it even though I didn’t particularly like either of them.  The book is so thoroughly about their relationship, to the exclusion of just about everything else, that it feels as though they don’t really have lives.  Harry is a librarian, but he never seems to care too much about his job.  He doesn’t need a job since he can use his time travel to generate plenty of money, but he goes to work anyway.  Not because he is passionate about what he does, but because he wants to live a normal life.  His wife, meanwhile, grew up in an extremely wealthy family (complete with servants…how many people had servants in 1980?) and, having completed her liberal arts education, becomes a professional paper sculptor.  That’s fair enough, I guess, but little time is spent on this.  They put a studio in the house for her and she has puts together a show of her work, but I didn’t get the sense she had major artistic aspirations.

But these criticisms don’t really matter.  The book is focused on the relationship and for most people, including me (despite coming in expecting to not like it, I’ll admit), it presents an entertaining narrative.  So as long as you’re expectations are appropriate it can be widely recommended.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Boy Book: A Study of Habits and Behavior, Plus Techniques for Taming Them

A book review by Alicja Duda

Has the social web of drama ever ensnared you in its tangles?

Were you able to find your way out?

Through lists, letters, e-mails, footnotes, and therapist appointments; E. Lockhart spins Ruby Oliver, an apparently troubled adolescent, and the reader into the crudely enticing and messy world of drama in The Boy Book: A Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Taming Them.

Entering her junior year with the reputation of a promiscuous “leper” after a summer fling, Ruby endures the silent treatment of her friends, the hollow absence of her ex-boyfriend and adapts to her socially deprived status at her private high school. Although the reader may be able to empathize with Ruby, it becomes clear that she is more than applicable for her frisky “leper” status. Ruby juggles boys as if they were rentable relationships, lacks a secure foundation of priorities and decides to childishly channel her hormonal anger and confusion out on her therapist. It seems that despite her countless efforts to redeem herself from the bottom of the social totem pole, Ruby succumbs to even the slightest temptation that boys offer.

Despite the predictable plot that Lockhart creates, The Boy Book is essentially the publishing of social drama of teenagers alike in which both the characters and the reader are able to learn and mature from. 


Beauty’s Secret: A Girl’s Discovery of Inner Beauty---Book Review

Dear Reader,

Beauty’s Secret Talks To–Not At–Girls

Beauty is a much loved, intelligent, and mostly happy teen. And she is pretty. So when her less attractive best friend and she enter a contest to win the opportunity to be a spokesperson for a popular teen magazine, Beauty is a little anxious but still confident. Toward the end of the contest, though, her confidence gives way to jealousy and her obsession over her physical flaws. The more she looks at herself the less her inner beauty, her Heartlight, glows. (Yes, even pretty girls can be insecure.) Beauty goes on to examine her emotions and is reminded of a message she’s received throughout her life: “True beauty lies within.” She changes, but she does not win the contest. (Yay! This is not a fairy tale in which the girl gets what she most wants just because she’s “seen the light.”) She wins other things.

Many children’s book authors preach their message to children, tell them what to think, but author Debra Gano definitely does not. She has clearly made the decision to allow her readers to learn as Beauty learns, through experience. Gano does not say external beauty doesn’t matter, because it does. And she doesn’t deny girls are judged by, or noticed for, their looks. She encourages girls to enjoy their physical beauty and that of others, and to develop who they are on the inside.

The illustrations in Beauty’s Secret are sure to entice girls 10-14 to read the text. They feature pinks, purples, bold colors, pastels, and strong femininity, all which invite introspection, quiet, and calm. The book is beautifully packaged, and the message (what’s inside) is equally beautiful.