Sunday, August 31, 2008

The American Book Review's 100 Greatest Opening Lines

Including some personal favorites:

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

16. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

...and buried all the way at 100...

100. The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. —Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good to Great by Jim Collins

I read this book for a class, so I am posting the questions I had to answer for my review. It was an excellent book. It gave me lots of great ideas about how to plan and not get stuck just being good enough.

1. Central Theme:

Answering the question: How does a company push through the mediocrity of good and achieve great?

The Good-to-Great concepts are:

Level 5 Leadership: Where leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.

First Who ... Then What : First get the right people on the bus, wrong people off the bus, right people in the right seats and then figure out where to drive.

Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith): Have faith that you can and will prevail in the end, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.

The Hedgehog Concept: Simplicity within the three circles of what you are deeply passionate about, what drives your economic engine and what you can do better than anyone else in the world.

A Culture of Discipline: When you have disciplined people, thought and action, you don't need hierarchy, bureaucracy and excessive controls.

Technology Accelerators: Technology should be used as an accelerator of momentum, not as a creator of it.

The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Building momentum over a span of time leads to breakthroughs while shortcuts seldom do.

2. Helpful Concepts:

Stop making to do lists and start making stop doing lists.

The ideas of looking for things you shouldn’t be doing, cutting out the wrong people, and understanding what you can’t do.

Establishing and maintaining a corporate culture of discipline built around commitments, with freedom about how to meet those promises.

3. “WOW” Factor:

I used the Hedgehog Concept in three areas: my personal life, my upcoming marriage relationship and my work here at Miracle Hill.

§ Find what you can be the best in the world at, and what you cannot be best in the world at.
§ Know that this will bring in an income, and support you.
§ Do the things you are passionate about.

4. Book Recommendation:

Yes, I would recommend this book because it is helpful in developing a philosophy to grow by, while being an incredible inspiration.

5. Did you find the book helpful?

Yes, it helped me to clarify some goals in my mind, and to prioritize finding a focus.

6. Were there any concepts in the book with which you disagreed?


7. Were there concepts in this book that are in conflict with either our ministry philosophy or any evangelical Christian ministry philosophy?


Monday, August 25, 2008

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon, while highly regarded, never seems to be mentioned along the same lines as 1984 or Brave New World, those two pillars which define the dystopian novel, yet all the same elements are contained within: the shadowy, all-ruling government which speaks publicly through propaganda and iconography while speaking privately by firing squads, the individualist free-thinker whom the regime sets out to squash, the inevitable unhappy ending. Darkness at Noon even has its Big Brother who glowers down at the masses from his ubiquitous poster, here called simply "No. 1."

The difference between those books and this is that while 1984 and Brave New World are set in distant futures where Britain has been subsumed by nascent fascism, the unnamed country of Darkness at Noon is transparently identifiable as the Soviet Union post-World War II. No. 1 is no other than Josef Stalin himself and the protagonist, N. S. Rubashov, an amalgamation of those men like Trotsky and Bukharin who had the misfortune of being on the wrong side of internal strife within the Communist Party. Darkness at Noon is a real-life dystopian novel that bridges the gap between speculative fair, like 1984 and Brave New World, and the semihistorical accounts of men like Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak. It is perhaps precisely this that makes it a more powerful novel than Orwell's or Huxley's; whereas those novels warn of a dark future ahead, this one announces that it is here, as brutal as imagined, having landed not in Britain but across the Iron Curtain.

The narrative is confined for the most part to the close quarters of a political prison in the aftermath of Rubashov's arrest. Once a fundamental player in the Revolution, Rubashov is now on No. 1's blacklist as a counterrevolutionary, collared with the specious accusation of arranging an assassination attempt. The charge is nonsense, of course, but it is only the justification for punishing Rubashov's true crime, a difference in opinion from No. 1 and the Party's current ruling elite. In other words, heresy. As Rubashov is grilled by his interrogators, he recounts his own life as a Party operative through flashback: There is the young German Party member whom Rubashov reprimands for printing material antithetical to the Party line, and whom Rubashov ultimately banishes from the Party. There is the dock worker and Party sympathizer whom Rubashov convinces to break a dock strike that they might receive a supply shipment for the Revolution. Later, we find, the dock worker commits suicide from shame. Most hideous of all, we hear the story of Arlova, the young secretary whom Rubashov loved but let the Party try and execute rather than speak up on her behalf.

And yet Rubashov's flaw isn't selfishness, but something quite the opposite of it: Rubashov seems to believe in that moment that letting Arlova die is the best thing because he is more important to the Party's goals than she. Rubashov talks endlessly of following things to their logical end; here is the logical end of Stalinist Communism: "He who is in the wrong must pay," Rubashov writes in his prison journal, "he who is in the right will be absolved. That is the law of historical credit; it was our law." Such is the law in a world where the good of the movement is always put ahead of the good of the individual, where wrong is the same thing as evil and the ends always, always justify the means.

What results is a cannibalistic society that is, Ourobourous-like, always devouring itself by the tail. Those who once were in the right, like Rubashov, find themselves suddenly in the wrong in the eyes of the new guard, and shuffled off to the firing squads. In the end, Rubashov decides that what is best for the people is what is worst for him, and goes to his death with only minimal objection. Rubashov's death is not the ultimate tragedy of the novel--for it is difficult to read the book without knowing that it will come--but the fact that he goes quietly. Ultimately, Rubashov is a man faced with a choice between the system he has worked all of his life for and his own self-preservation, but the conclusion that there can be no defending a system that asks that choice of anyone seems just beyond his grasp.

Interesting notes: Darkness at Noon was originally written in German, but the original copy has been lost and the existing German copy is translated by Koestler from the English. Also, famous screenwriter and communist Dalton Trumbo (and author of Johnny Got His Gun) once bragged that he had long kept anti-Communist material out of Hollywood, including a film version of Darkness at Noon.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali

Ahmed Ali was a novelist, social critic, scholar, diplomat, and poet. In 1932 he and a few other Indian writers published Angaray, a collection of short stories in Urdu. This was noteworthy, because at the time, the British Crown was trying to Anglicize the people of India. In the words of one British official, the goal was to produce "a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste and character, in morals and intellect." Of course proselytizing Christian zealots were at the forefront of this movement, doing "the work of God." With their help, British practices were promoted, Indian customs were denigrated, and English was made the official language. In this political climate, it is no wonder that the writers of Angaray were labeled dissidents and agitators, and that the book was banned by the British Government in India. That same year, Ali co-founded the All-India Progressive Writers' Movement, a movement which helped to birth many novels by Indian writers. Twilight in Delhi was one such novel.

Ali had a great deal of trouble getting Twilight in Delhi published. The printers found many parts of the book subversive and refused to print these sections. For instance, what Ali called the War of Independence of 1857, the British Crown had labeled a mutiny. Oddly enough, Virginia Woolf came to Ali's aid and helped push the book through publication without any changes being made. Go, Virginia Woolf!

Twilight in Delhi follows one family living in the city during the first decade of the twentieth century. The book is separated into four parts, each about a different period in the life of this family. Through detailed accounts of weddings, funerals, and political protests, you learn about the customs and mores of Indian life during that time.

There is truly an ensemble cast, although the son Asghar plays a larger role than others. However, the seasons play as big a role as any person in the story. Often a description of the weather sets the scene for the upcoming chapter. And as the chapter comes to a close so does the day or season. Here is where the poet in Ali can really be seen. He describes the oppressive loo that blows through Delhi, the sand storms that rush through the city, and the way the city comes alive at night as it gets cooler. His descriptions are so vivid that you almost feel you have sweltered in the heat and tasted the grit of sand between your teeth.

Twilight in Delhi is about things coming to an end. The patriarch of the family in the twilight of his life, as he succumbs to age and ailment. The waning of Indian traditions and customs, slowly replaced by those of the Western world. The twilight of the city that Ali loved. The twilight of Delhi.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Monsters never die. They are reborn from the chaos and barbarism that is always bubbling underneath civilization, the very stuff that makes Kronos stronger. They must be defeated again and again, kept at bay. Heroes embody that struggle. You fight the battles humanity must win, every generation, in order to stay human.
-- Chiron speaking to Percy

Percy Jackson once again finds himself in the middle of a dangerous adventure, in the second book of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. In the first book, Percy is introduced to Camp Half-Blood, a safe place for demigods -- the offspring of Greek gods and humans. Some kids go there during the the summer, and some stay there all year long. Sea of Monsters opens with the camp coming under attack -- somehow its magical borders have been breached -- Grover in danger, and Percy getting kicked out of yet another school.

Percy and Annabeth set out to find and rescue Grover, who is being held by the cyclops Polyphemus (the same cyclops that Odysseus blinded). They are also trying to find some way to restore the tree that protects the boundaries of the camp. They are helped in their quest by Tyson, a young cyclops that Percy befriends and later finds out is his half-brother. Cyclops are are the offspring of the gods and nereids. Clarisse, a daughter of Ares and fellow Camp Half-Blood resident, also shows up throughout the book, sometimes helping, sometimes causing problems. What do you expect from a daughter of the god of war?

Most of the action in the Harry Potter books happened during the school year at Hogwarts. The Percy Jackson books are the exact opposite. The school year is almost completely ignored and the books begins with Percy heading to Camp Half-Blood for the summer. I point out some other similarities between these two series (Riordan wrote his much later than Rowling) in my review of the first book, The Lightning Thief.

If you approach these books with the right mindset, they are a lot of fun.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

If I Only Knew Then... compiled by Charles Grodin

Perennial funny man Charles Grodin tapped a bunch of his friends and acquaintances for help with this book. It is a collection of essays, ranging from 1 page to 20+ pages. Each contributor was asked to write about a mistake they made and what they learned from it. Some of the contributors rose to the prompt put to them by Grodin. They dug back into their past, bared their souls, reopened old wounds, and came up with something really meaningful and poignant. However, many of the contributors evaded Grodin's question, and not always artfully. Some of these dodgers wrote essays that were incredibly self-serving, such as Martin Sheen and Nancy Grace. Some wrote essays that were about near mistakes instead of actual mistakes. Some did not write much of anything at all. This was my main complaint about the book -- there were quite a few essays that did not serve the purpose of the book for one reason or another.

I was surprised by two things about this book. First off, I expected it to be funny. Grodin wrote the preface and contributed one essay, neither of which were even slightly humorous. That was unexpected. Paul Newman saying that he has learned nothing from his mistakes was pretty funny, and there were a few other amusing essays. But for the most part, the book was not funny. It wasn't meant to be.

The second surprise came from Rosie O'Donnell, who turned in my favorite essay of the book, which is weird because I really don't like Rosie. I find her incredibly annoying and grating. For this reason, I reread her essay a few days after I finished the book, just to make sure that is wasn't some weird state of mind that affected my opinion of the essay. If that was the case, then the weird state of mind must have been a lingering one, because I liked the essay just as much the second time.

This book has some interesting insights and truly offers some good advice. It is too bad that it's hampered by so many lackluster essays.

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Ah, I have been so bad about this blog. I was so close to catching Carlton, but, what with my recent job hunt and all, reading books has been the second farthest thing from my mind, the farthest being posting on the blog. The closest thing to my mind is Michael Phelps. He's as good at swimming as I am lovemaking.

But now it's time to put all jokes aside, because The Day of the Locust is a not a very happy book (though it is very good). I'm not sure if I've read anywhere that it is the quintessential Hollywood book, but you're reading it here now. West's 1930's Los Angeles is populated not by movie stars and celebrities but by has-beens and hangers-on, the fringes of Hollywood culture, who operate, sometimes literally, behind the scenes.

Consider the cast: At the center of it all is Tod Hackett, a set painter who spends half of his spare time painting a masterwork called The Burning of Los Angeles that depicts the final destruction of the city at the hands of its own, like some form of self-cannibalism. He spends the other half of his spare time ogling Fay Greener, a teenage would-be starlet who, shall we say, spreads her affection very thin. But it isn't a story of unrequited love; it's a story of consuming and unfulfilled lust. As the narrator tells us point blank, for Tod, "Nothing short of violent rape would do." Fay's father is an aging Vaudevillian who has been phased out of modern pictures. She also has another suitor in Homer Simpson (I know, I know), a simple man whose doctor has recommended he spend some time in Southern California for his health. West lets the irony of this speak for itself, as it is Simpson's uncomplicated feelings for Fay that eventually cause him to break down and set into motion a massive riot that brings Hackett's painting to life.

The cast actually does very little, and yet it seems like the terrifying final chapters hinge on the tiniest human movements. How sad it is to see Harry Greener stumble drunkenly through his clown act, and how disheartening to watch Tod and Fay and the others loiter and drink and do nothing, as if it were an expression of the totality of their existence. For West, human ugliness arises out of little more than boredom, the symptom of a desire for objects unclear, to be anything else, to do anything else. Hackett's job is to paint worlds, to create the illusion of places, but he cannot satisfactorily define his own world or his own existence. He hates Los Angeles because it is nowhere and offers nothing, and The Burning of Los Angeles is the way that he channels the destructive--and self-destructive--impulse. Others in the book seek more proactive recourse, but like Hackett, they are all intensely miserable.

The Day of the Locust is like Hobbes' famous epithet on human life: Brutish, nasty, and short. What it lacks in length (it and West's novella "Miss Lonelyhearts" add up to a scant 183 pp.) it makes up for in power. If you ever find yourself on a flight to LAX, you may want to pick it up for the ride--just to prepare yourself.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Twelve year old Percy Jackson has some problems. He is dyslexic and has ADHD to the max. As a result, he gets kicked out of every school in which his mother enrolls him. His stepfather is a jerk, and he doesn't know his real dad. As the book opens, Percy is on a field trip to the Met with his fellow classmates. Just a typical, boring field trip until one of the teachers turns into a Fury and tries to rip him in half. Percy realizes that dyslexia and ADHD are the least of his problems, when he discovers that he is a demigod -- half man, half god -- and that he is caught in the middle of a war that is threatening to tear the world apart, quite literally.

The Lightning Thief is a quest story set in modern times. The setting moves from New York City to St. Louis to L.A., as Percy works his way toward the West Coast, where the entrance to the Underworld is located. He is helped along on his quest by Grover, a satyr, and Annabeth, another child demigod.

The Lightning Thief is the first book in a five-part series, called Percy Jackson & the Olympians. Four books have been released. If you liked the Harry Potter series you will probably like this book. It is written for the same audience. Riordan even cribs a little from the Potter series. The protagonist in the book is helped by two best friends, a boy and girl. There is mystery surrounding his past. And the Greek-god world exists alongside the mortal world, hidden in plain sight.

I liked how Riordan brought the Greek gods into modern times, updating them, but not fundamentally changing who they are. I am sure he fudges a little on some of the details to make things fit his story, but I don't know enough about Greek mythology to notice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Being A Christian Without Being An Idiot by Brad Stine

"I believe the follower's number one purpose in life is to demonstrate reasonably, authentically, and lovingly, the truth, which is Jesus"

As far as style, the book was harder to read than it should have been. Stine sets up each of his topics with a short comedy routine, which may or may not have anything to do with the actual chapter. As he notes, a lot of his material would go off better said than read.

However, I thought this was an excellent book. A lot of the concepts are taken from C. S. Lewis, and brought into modern times, looking at ten assumptions most Christians make, and challenging us to take a closer look at our beliefs so that we can better reach the world for Christ.
1. “Satan causes most of the problems for Christians.”

I thought this was an odd place to start, but as I read, I found myself agreeing – many of our problems do stem from our own disobedience. It is easier to blame others, even Satan himself, than to take responsibility for our own actions. I did think his definition of a Christian could use some clarifying, “The truth is, if you believe Jesus is God and is the only way to salvation, then guess what? You’re a Christian.” Not true, it is not belief in the concept, but acceptance of the reality in repentance that makes the difference in a life.

2. “Christians shouldn't hurt over death.”

(After a long rant about hating to run late) Stine delves into how painful death is both the fear of our own death, and the pain of losing a loved one. Even as Christians, or knowing that the one we lose is in Heaven is not enough to take away the pain and fear of death, because death is an unnatural state.

I thought this point that God experiences something far more painful by allowing us to choose Hell if we want, because He refuses to force us into an inauthentic relationship with Himself, was interesting.

3. “Drinking and smoking are sins.”

I think this is where I started agreeing with what Stine is saying, without accepting his implementation of that belief. I do agree that we cannot call these things sins, but I also know that they are very dangerous things to play with and are often times better off left alone.

4. “There are some places too sinful for a Christian to go.”

This chapter took me aback at first. Stine’s main illustration is about a man who goes to strip clubs to witness. While I completely agree that God calls some Christians into this ministry, I also know that a man witnessing in a place that will put him in direct temptations, needs to not only “walk close to God”, but be completely engulfed in Him. He might also want to me single.

God will give this person a very unique set of talents and abilities, and he better not screw up.

5. “Christians in the entertainment industry cannot act, sing, or perform anything that doesn't have a Christian message.”

I had a role as a sorcerer in a high school play. My parents pulled my out of it once they realized this, which eventually led to the break up of our entire home school group.

Looking back, I remember a concept I was taught in drama. Some things you can act out, and they are just acting. (I can steal in a play without really stealing) There are other things that, if I do them in the play, I am really doing them. (Kissing, taking off clothes) I felt that this was an important distinction to make.

This chapter was about how we have set up entertainers as gods, and how difficult it is to be a Christian in the entertainment world. Difficult, not impossible. It explored whether or not it is wrong for a Christian to play an unbeliever in a role. Interesting point, but I didn’t think it was a vital topic to address.

6. “All Christians will be offended by the same things.”

Say what you mean, in the easiest way to understand, even if the language you use is coarse. Here is where I disagree with Stine. He believes that it isn’t how we say what we say that matters, but what we mean. I think the way we say things is important, even the actual words we use. I believe this because, "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment.”

If there are words that would be offensive to people, I think we should avoid using them. With all the words in the English languages, I think there is probably an alternative to every word.

7. “All Christians have the same conclusions about Christian behavior.”

This is about judging people by where they are now, and their current actions. I do see how we have to be careful when we are assuming motives for people’s actions. Because, like Stine says, it is where God is taking us that is the important thing.

8. “Sinners are worse people than I am.”

I think this is a very important and convicting concept.

“What every homosexual, unruly teenager, anti-Christian bigot, and amoral ideologue needs is exactly what I need – to know that my life has meaning, to know that someone somewhere will love me, to believe that I am significant to somebody… (God) doesn’t love me more than He loves you, He can’t… I don’t get a superior place in His kingdom, only an equal one with the rest of the unworthy.”

9. “Once you are saved, you'll never doubt.”

Without doubt, we cannot exercise faith. This chapter actually addresses a lot of atheistic beliefs and struck a cord with me. I dealt with a lot of these ideas when I lived with an atheist family. I guess the idea of faith is unacceptable, if your faith is in God, and not in scientific theory.

10. “Christians should never admit that they struggle with temptation.”

Good point. Let’s be open and show our faults and temptations to unbelievers, so that they can really know what a relationship with God is all about. Because it is real, and God is real with us.

I guess the main point of this book is about being real and transparent. Not letting traditions keep you from building relationships with unbelievers. I liked it a lot, it was challenging and helped me not to feel like a heretic for some of the similar things that I have been criticized for believing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene

In some ways, Monsignor Quixote is similar to The Power and the Glory. Both feature, as their protagonist, a priest. In each, the protagonist is being run out of his parish by authorities. Both are grappling with their faith, and both become wandering envoys of the church, performing priestly duties wherever they are needed. Monsignor Quixote can, throughout most of its length, be seen as a lighter parallel story to The Power and the Glory.

Father Quixote is a humble parish priest, administering the host to his poor and uncommitted congregation in Toboso, hometown of Don Quixote. The lines between fiction and fact are blurred as Father Quixote claims to be a descendant of the infamous Don, and indeed, much of Monsignor Quixote resembles that famous story. And of course, it's impossible to pay tribute to Don Quixote without a Sancho Panza, so that role is filled by the Communist ex-mayor of Toboso, nicknamed (of course) Sancho. After helping a passing bishop whose car has broken down, Father Quixote is promoted to Monsignor, angering his local bishop and causing his resulting in his virtual exile from Toboso.

Throughout the novel, Father Quixote and Sancho journey through a series of vignettes that mirror the adventures of the Father's esteemed forefather. He helps a man on the run, and is later mugged by him; he tilts at some windmills; and he has lots of discussion of the worth of Catholicism vs. Communism. Although the Communism references seem a little dated (and Father Quixote's semi-endorsement of Marx seems a little heavy-handed), Father Quixote is another in Greene's line of sympathetic holy men, real people with real doubts and questions. Although Father Quixote never questions his devotion to the faith, he spends a large portion of the book questioning the necessity of Catholic ritual, arriving at conclusions sometimes orthodox and sometimes not.

The tone throughout is fairly light, but near the end, there's an absolutely stunning scene involving a somnambulist mass that ranks among Greene's best. It's a prime example of how hard-hitting Greene's writing can be, even in his minor works, despite his unwillingness to indulge in the sensational. Character and ideas are king, but, as in all of Greene's books, there's a driving undercurrent of drama, internal and external .

Monsignor Quixote is a minor work compared to The Power and the Glory or The End of the Affair, but behind its lighthearted premise and comical inspiration, there's substantial discussion of God, ritual, and the place of religion in the modern world.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Since Christopher and Liz both already read and summarized The Power and the Glory, this entire review is going to be my thoughts on it. It's basically nothing but spoilers, and if you haven't read this book, I strongly recommend not reading this review until you have.

I doubt I've read anything since The Brothers Karamazov that's caused me to consider my religious beliefs so deeply. Greene plumbs the psych of his protagonist, a nameless whiskey priest guilty of the mortal sin of fornication and countless venial ones, with an aptitude hard-earned through his own struggles to reconcile his Catholic faith with the world around him. The priest, the last one in Mexico during the Catholic purge, is compelled by powers greater than himself to continue offering confession and communion to those who request it, even though his life is in jeopardy and his own faith is nearly gone.

The book opens with the priest eschewing escape to offer confession to an old woman miles away who dies before he reaches her. It's a scenario that repeats itself throughout the narrative, as the priest passes up one opportunity of escape after another, bound to his calling even as it leads him closer and closer to his inevitable death.

And it is inevitable. From the first chapter onward, there's never really any doubt of the priest's fate. He lives in a world haunted by death and disgrace, the only honest priest left in all of Mexico. The only other priest significant in the narrative is Father Jose, spared because he renounced his Catholic vows and took a wife. The contrast between Father Jose and the whiskey priest is sharply drawn. Despite his safety, Father Jose is miserable and purposeless, spending what little screentime the story gives him bemoaning his uselessness and damnation, while the whiskey priest lives in fear of his life but has a purpose beyond simply staying alive.

The whiskey priest's penultimate scene finds him on death row, begging Father Jose to administer the host to him and thus save his soul, but Father Jose, despite receiving special permission from the government to do so, refuses. The book's most crushing moment arrives during the whiskey priest's last night, when he realizes that though he has absolved the sins of many, he cannot absolve his own and thus must die a damned man. It's a profoundly real and painful moment, a few lines communicating more about the human condition than most authors do in their entire career.

These few paragraphs can't do the book justice, and I strongly recommend that everyone here read it. I'm not Catholic, but I think it may be the greatest treatment of religion in English literature I've read.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Homegrown Democrat by Garrison Keillor

I am a liberal and liberalism is the politics of kindness. Liberals stand for tolerance, magnanimity, community spirit, the defense of the weak against the powerful, love of learning, freedom of belief, art and poetry, city life, the very things that make America worth dying for.

The above quote perfectly sums up this book. Keillor, of Prairie Home Companion and Lake Wobegon fame, sets out to explain why he is a Democrat, by interweaving stories from his life and the history of the Democratic party. He writes about his parents and how the WPA helped them pull themselves up after the depression, his going to college on a government grant, and his encounters with average people in Minnesota.

The book amounts to nothing more than the ruminations of an old man, but the thing is this old man is a writer and a thinker. He is someone worth listening to. He has great thoughts about what it means to be a citizen of the United States and insights into the psyche of a Democrat. Keillor even attempts to figure out what goes on in the minds of Republicans, with comic effect. Keillor was raised in a religious home. This upbringing left an indelible mark on him, one that guides his actions and informs who is is to this day. This early imprint can be seen all throughout this book. And of course, Keillor's unmistakable wit is present, making Homegrown Democrat a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Homegrown Democrat is not a diatribe against the Republican party, although Keillor is never reluctant to take them to task. It is an impassioned celebration of old-time democratic (lowercase D) values.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mystery of the Desert Giant by Franklin W. Dixon

Yes, the entire month of July was wasted on a Hardy Boys book. However, it was my first Hardy Boys book, and that means absolutely nothing.

I did learn that the Hardy boys' cases always overlap with their dad's case. Not Cool. Overall, I ended up really liking it. It was an easy read while I wasn't feeling well, and, although unintentionally, it was also very funny.

Hardy Boys books get short reviews.