Five hundred and two years ago today Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, inadvertently sparking the Protestant Reformation. I’m not a Lutheran, but I admire his steadfast adherence to the plain sense of Scripture and insistence that “the just shall live by faith”:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scriptures and clear reason, for I do not trust in the Pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. God help me. – Martin Luther
(For any pedants out there: yes, I am aware that the exact date and manner of the posting of 95 Theses and wording of the above quote are somewhat debated, but I’m going with the traditional version here)
Oh, and happy Halloween as well!
Title: Superhero Thought Experiments:
Comic Book Philosophy
Authors: Chris Gavaler & Nathaniel Goldberg
Pages: 202 (plus citations, etc.)
Rating: 4.5 of 5
(Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review)
It’s Superman vs. Batman: consequentialism vs. deontology! Within these pages you will find this and other astounding speculations as our intrepid authors perform feats of daring philosophy.
Okay, this isn’t actually a high-action book, but if you enjoy philosophy it’s a lot of fun. Gavaler and Goldberg treat superhero comic as thought experiments to explore the nature of doing good, existence, time, identity, communication, etc. (or morality, metaphysics, meaning, and medium if you prefer the alliteration of their section titles). Fodder for philosophizing includes Bizarro world, Dr. Doom’s time machine, Scarlet Witch’s imaginary twins, retcons & reboots, and much more. To me, the first three sections that focus on characters and stories were much more interesting than the last section that focused on comic books as a medium.
If you’re the kind of person who when confronted with someone asking “how do I know I’m really here?” gets annoyed by anything more theoretical than pinching/punching them and asking “did that hurt,” this isn’t the book for you. If you enjoy thought experiments and speculating on the nature of life, the universe, and everything give this a shot.
Thanks to my awesome wife I survived this year’s Vacation Bible School. Just for fun, here are a couple pictures.
…and (hopefully edifying) fun was had by all.
Happy Resurrection Sunday! I hope you enjoy my attempt at blank verse poetry. I wrote this for Easter one year after reading Paradise Lost.
Perfection reigned in Eden’s beauty new.
The man and woman lived in blissful love,
At peace with God, in fellowship divine.
One rule alone they had, a test of faith:
To trust the loving heart of God and live
Or doubting eat and thus give birth to death.
The tempter sowed the seeds of doom-filled doubt:
“True love would not forbid a thing so fair.
This wondrous fruit will make you just like God
Who holds you back from glory, not from death.”
Deceived and proud they ate, defying God
And bringing death upon the human race
And so death reigned o’er Adam’s sinful race
Until the coming of the Lord of Life.
Though God the Son He laid aside His crown,
Came as a servant to this broken world.
He felt its sorrows, wept in grief and pain,
Faced all temptations, yet he did not sin.
As both eternal God and Son of Man
He paid man’s debt in infinite degree.
His guiltless soul was charged with all man’s sins,
And, suffering the Father’s wrath, he died.
Now all was finished; sin was overcome
And death defeated as he rose again.
For those in Christ the fear of death is gone.
Their faith in Him comes ringing down the years:
“In Adam all men die; in Christ they live.”
“For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
“Although they kill us, they do us no harm.”
“One short sleep past we wake eternally.”
One day the blessed hope will come to pass:
The time of restoration of all things
When Jesus Christ returns the dead are raised,
The earth made new, the Kingdom come at last!
No pain, no grief, no death forevermore,
And so shall we be always with the Lord.
– By Joel E. Mitchell
Title: Song of Kali
Author: Dan Simmons
Genre: Cosmic Horror?
Rating: 3 of 5
I’m not quite sure what to make of this disturbing tale. In it, an American travels to Calcutta with his wife (who is Indian) and infant daughter in search of a lost book of poems by an author long thought dead. The plot takes forever to get off the ground, but once it does every parent’s worst nightmare ensues.
The author expertly evokes an atmosphere of human misery, darkness, corruption, and horror (some of it too explicit for my taste) that appears to be driven by a great cosmic evil. There’s just enough wiggle room for possible lying, hallucinations, nightmares, etc. that you can’t be 100% sure how much of what is going on is truly supernatural.
If that was all there was to it I’d probably give it an “amazingly atmospheric but a little too disturbing for me” rating. However, the author also seems to be indicting Indian culture in general as almost completely calloused, corrupt, disgusting, and evil. Putting the fullest expression of that accusation in the mouth of an Indian character doesn’t make it any less insulting.
Overall, the book was horrifying and convoluted enough that I kept reading just to see where it was all going. However, once I was done I felt like I had read the ranting of an ethnocentric tourist who visited India, didn’t deal well with culture shock, and decided to turn his negative experience into a horror story. (Also, this is my fourth book read for the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge).
This year I was doing fairly well at reading books that I already owned and not buying too many new books (though we won’t speak of $3/bag day at the library book sale), and I had just gotten my TBR under 60 books. Then I spent the last three days at the The Gospel Coalition conference. It’s an excellent conference that I would highly recommend if you want solid biblical challenges to live your faith and not just frothy “you can do it!” prosperity gospel.
But bibliophiles beware: all the best Christian publishing houses are there with 2,500+ heavily discounted books, and we’re not talking “bonnet ripper” barely historical romance tripe (I don’t think there was any Christian fiction outside of the children’s tables). I had more or less controlled myself and bought only 7 or 8…and then I got 4 or 5 freebies…and then a friend/enabler told me to go pick out another $75 worth on him…and, long story short, I ended up with 20 new books.
Ten on social issues / applied theology:
…and 10 that are more straight up systematic theology, philosophy, or biblical studies:
Have you read any of these? Where would you start?
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translator: Louise Maude
Genre: Classic Russian Fiction / Philosophy / Theology
Rating: 4 of 5
I seldom read modern Christian fiction. With a few exceptions, it tends to be preachy, poorly-researched schlock full of morbid introspection and cheesy romance. I’m not sure where things went wrong, because this Russian classic is most certainly Christian, features quite a bit of morbid introspection, and still managed to wow me. This is one of those books where plot comes in a distant second to the author’s desire to explore and expound philosophical and theological points, but the characters were still sympathetic (or loathsome), and I genuinely wanted to find out what happened to them.
Tolstoy’s tale follows the spiritual journey of a privileged man who realizes that his actions, past and present, have contributed to the downfall of a poor woman: sending her into a down-spiral leading into prostitution and eventual wrongful conviction for murder. We see his inner spiritual struggle over how to rectify the situation as well as the outward struggle of living in a self-centered society that cares nothing for the poor and “criminal class.” To me, Tolstoy’s approach places so much emphasis on doing good that faith (an indispensable part of Christianity) is nearly excluded. However there was much food for thought throughout the book whether I agreed with him or not.
I listened to this as an audiobook read by Simon Vance. His narration was excellent, but I think that I might have preferred reading this myself for the sake of being able to re-read, make notes, etc. when it came to many of the philosophical points.
Overall, even though this had a lot of what I dislike in modern Christian fiction, it worked in the hands of a master like Tolstoy, and I greatly appreciated this book. Also, I am using this for my Classic in Translation category over at the Back to the Classics Challenge.
For the third year in a row I will be participating in the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen @ Books and Chocolate. The challenge is to read classic books (50+ years old) in the 12 selected categories.
Books don’t have to be chosen at the beginning of the year, but I like to start with a provisional list. I usually end up changing 3-4 of them by the end of the year, but here’s my starting list:
- A 19th Century Classic: Lilith by George MacDonald
- A 20th Century Classic: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
- A Classic by a Female Author: Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
- A Classic in Translation: Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
- A Classic Comedy: The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N by Leonard Q. Ross
- A Classic Tragedy: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
- A Very Long Classic: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
- A Classic Novella: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
- A Classic from the Americas: The Prince & the Pauper by Mark Twain
- A Classic from Africa, Asia, or Oceania: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
- A Classic from a Place You’ve Lived: O Alienista by Machado de Assis
- A Classic Play: Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
One of my goals for this year is to read some of the books that have been hanging out on my shelves and/or TBR for a while. To make that goal a little more concrete, I’m signing up for the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by RoofBeamReader.com. The challenge is to post a list of 12 books that have been on your shelf and/or TBR for at least a year. Finish all 12 books by the end of the year (2 alternates allowed in case there are a couple you just can’t get through) and you are entered in a $50 Amazon gift card drawing.
To knock even more books off the TBR, I decided not to “double dip” with the books that I’ll be reading for the Back to the Classic Challenge, so none of the books on here are classics (other than some genre fiction old enough to be considered classic). Without further ado, here’s the list:
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Atonement by Ian McEwan
- The Baby in the Icebox and Other Short Fiction by James M. Cain
- The Case of the Velvet Claws (Perry Mason: Book 1) by Erle Stanley Gardner
- Corum: The Coming of Chaos (Eternal Champion Sequence: Volume 7) by Michael Moorcock
- Ever by Gail Carson Levine
- King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
- The Little Drummer Girl by John LeCarré
- Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey
- The Roads Between the Worlds (Eternal Champion Sequence: Volume 6) by Michael Moorcock
- Song of Kali by Dan Simmons
- The Tyranny of the Night (The Instrumentalities of the Night: Book 1) by Glen Cook
- Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng
- Unusual Uses of Olive Oil by Alexander McCall Smith
In 2018 I read 121 books (38,307 pages) and reviewed 101 of them. Here are my year-end best and worst lists (excluding re-reads / click book titles for full review where available):
- How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith & Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman – A much needed, truly non-partisan book about how American Christians should view and participate in the political process without losing their integrity
- Darkness Over Germany by E. Amy Buller – A sobering look at the rise of Nazism, written during World War II (but with some worrisome parallels to current events)
- Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – A whimsical dystopia about letters (in both senses of the word) & censorship
- Silas Marner by George Eliot – A classic story of providence & redemption that led Charles Dickens to write a well-deserved fan letter
- A Spy Among Friends by Ben MacIntyre – A true account of Ken Philby’s career as a Soviet mole in MI-6 (explains the cynicism of espionage authors like John LeCarré & Graham Greene)
- The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher – A satirical tale of academia & bureaucracy that rings all too true
- A Middle Earth Traveler: Sketches from Bag End to Mordor by John Howe – A collection of John Howe’s gorgeous, detailed sketches of Middle Earth
- Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey – A creepy thriller with multiple unreliable narrators
- Christianity at the Crossroads (no review) by Michael J. Kruger – An examination of the church in the 2nd Century (very similar to Destroyer of the Gods (reviewed) by Larry Hurtado but with a broader focus and better organization)
- Peril in the Old Country and Soul Remains (no review yet) by Sam Hooker – The first two books of the hilarious dark fantasy series, Terribly Serious Darkness
Honorable Mention: Robots vs. Fairies Edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe – An anthology of stories featuring our future overlords (robots, fairies, or both)
- Robot Depot by Russell F. Moran – A muddled near-future sci-fi thriller featuring Trumpian political views and pages of tangentially related roboethics infodumping
- Apocalypse 5 by Stacey Rourke – An incredibly derivative dystopian sci-fi story with Harlequin Romance-esque physical descriptions
- Our Kind of Traitor by John LeCarré – An espionage thriller with a ridiculously abrupt ending that leaves most plotlines unresolved
- The Magic of Recluce by L. E. Modesitt Jr. – A fantasy tale starring a sullen brat and oddly frequent use of onomatopoeia
- How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley – A political screed with solid potential marred by extreme partisanism
- Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs – A classic pulp adventure story complete with all the cheesiness and product-of-its-era racism you would expect
- Killing Floor by Lee Child – The first novel starring Jack Reacher in all his sociopathic vigilante glory
- Against Nature by Joris K. Huysmans – A tedious exploration of a hedonistic aesthete’s vain search for fulfillment
- Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne & Delilah S. Dawson – A satirical take on fantasy tropes that buries any cleverness under an avalanche of adolescent toilet humor
- Plantation Jesus: Race, Faith, & a New Way Forward by Skot Welch, Rick Wilson, & Andi Cumbo-Floyd – A book about a genuine problem that offers few practical solutions and shames those who ask the wrong questions
Dishonorable Mention: Nostromo by Joseph Conrad – An overlong, depressing classic on the consequences of greed and pride
And there you have it…I have one more NetGalley book to review (Soul Remains) and a couple sign-up posts for 2019 reading challenges to write, but this is probably the last post of 2018. Happy New Year!