Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Reviews: First Two Thirds 2008

My friend leighcia reads a lot of books. She posts reviews on her lovely blog every three months or so.

I read some books. I'll also try my hand at reviewing.

Not aware of, let alone feeling an irresistible urge to justify, the theses implicit in star ratings,* I'll use leighcia's scale, which I believe comes from goodreads:

* Didn't like it.
** It was okay.
*** I liked it.
**** I really liked it.
***** It was amazing.

On to the books:


***** White Noise (Don DeLillo)
I read this book straight through without any prior knowledge of it except the title and that several friends loved it. So, after reaching the end, I was shocked to discover that it was published in 1985, the year I was born. The terrifying yet ordinary life which DeLillo depicts in this novel felt as true today as then.

Matthew's comment here (where I also rave) describes this book better than I could:
Don DeLillo is one of the few contemporary novelists good enough to have that paradigm-transference effect. He's an alchemist of the mundane --- but not in a mundane-becomes-sublime/exalted kind of way (which is how most postmodern creative people see themselves, because they don't believe in anything that's ACTUALLY sublime). Rather, in his work the mundane becomes ominous, forboding, paranoia-inducing (the supermarket scene!!!). I love that. It's the closest thing to fables or cautionary tales that the postmodern world has produced. Beware aimless floating on the sea of radio and television signals...
*** One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez)
Again at the behest of my friends, and again knowing nothing but the title and some loose idea that this was "magical realism," I read this apparently semi-allegorical novel about seven generations of the Buendía family in a miscellaneous Latin American town called Macondo. Márquez's writing knocked my socks off, especially in his interweaving of the magical with the real. However, without spoiling too much, I think the book could have as easily been titled One Hundred Years of Futility, and that made it less pleasant to get through. I also could have probably benefited from some more background.

**** The Omnivore's Dilemma (Michael Pollan)
To be fully honest, I only read the first three sections of this book, and not the final one about foraging.

Pollan gives a great overview of the American food system, in particular showcasing how industrial of an industry it is. While the book is most famous for its meditations on corn, the section on the grass farm was most fascinating to me. It describes a Virginia farmer who, through active management of livestock placement, exploits the full web of an ecosystem you might have learned about in biology class. His land is acre for acre more productive than the industrial standard, and comes off as far more in line with natural design and common sense. Descriptions of the FDA's forced establishment of the industrial standard were enlightening and infuriating.

***** Knowing God (J.I. Packer)
Every Christian should read this book.

*** Being White (Paula Harris & Doug Schaupp)
A book by white Christians for white Christians, this one seeks to exhort and encourage its readers to discover and realize the Gospel's vision for ethnic reconciliation. The book does well by insisting color-blindness isn't enough, that experiences displaced from majority culture are essential, and that white identity can be redeemed. For me, the section on racism was particularly challenging and deep-digging.

**** Shakespeare: The World As Stage (Bill Bryson)
I never really appreciated Shakespeare. Since I seemed to be the only one, and since Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors, I decided to give this one a try. It was fantastic. Bryson is very funny and has a talent for taking simple facts and rendering them into a coherent, pointed picture. He draws inferences at once obvious and easily overlooked. The book is less a biography of Shakespeare than it is a book about how little we actually know about Shakespeare, and how much speculation has attempted to fill the gap. It developed in me an appreciation for the man's genius, and thoroughly laid to rest any silly claims that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare, or didn't exist, or whatnot.

I saw a performance of As You Like It for free last Sunday in Clark Park and enjoyed it thoroughly, in no small part thanks to this book.

***** Getting a Grip on Your Money (William C. Wood)
Practically speaking, the best book I have ever read that wasn't written by God. Just having graduated college and without the foggiest idea what to do with my finances, I feel this book told me all I need to know to manage my money wisely and shrewdly for life. Wood is an economist with a long history of helping people with their money. He lays all of his cards on the table, even maintaining a web site to keep the advice current. The goal everywhere is eliminating worry rather than blind accumulation of wealth. Every page drips wisdom that is centered on common sense, an acute knowledge of human nature, and the Gospel.

Buy it on Amazon for the best $2 you've ever spent.

Average rating: four stars. Not bad.

*Read the comments here to see what I'm talking about.

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