TBR Challenge Complete!

Over the last month I finished the last three books for the Official TBR Pile Challenge, so here are the reviews (I ended up using my two alternate titles to reach 12 books, but I may still get back to the two that I skipped):

Title: Fear and Trembling
Author: Søren Kierkegaard
Translator: Alastair Hannay
Genre: Theology/Philosophy
Pages: 160
Rating: 3 out of 5

In this classic, Kierkegaard ponders the nature of faith by considering the account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). Themes include the relationship and relative merits of faith and reason, the necessity of resignation before faith can occur, belief in “the absurd” (that which is humanly impossible), and more.

I found some of it hard to follow as Kierkegaard is largely interacting with Hegel and I’m not really up on Hegelian philosophy. On top of that, he is writing as the pseudonym/character “Johannes de silentio” whose thoughts do not necessarily fully reflect Kierkegaard’s own (he’s an odd writer/thinker). This is my second time reading Kierkegaard and I don’t know if I’ll dip into his writings again…I think I prefer my theology/philosophy a bit less convoluted.

Title: The 1980 Annual World’s Best SF
Editor: Donald A. Wollheim (Ed.)
Genre: Sci-fi Short Story Anthology
Pages: 284
Rating: 2.5 of 5

It has been quite a while since I read this sort of anthology, though I read them all the time as a teen. It gave me a sense of nostalgia when I started, but that eventually gave way to annoyance. The stories are well-written and memorable (I actually remember reading one of them in a different collection 20+ years ago) but almost all of them were some variation of “let’s imagine a world in which Christianity and/or sexuality and/or the nuclear family has evolved away from the pathetically narrow-minded present.” I don’t know if that was the prevailing theme of late-70’s/early-80’s sci-fi or just the editor’s pet theme. After a while it just kind of felt preachy.

Title: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine 
Author: Gail Honeyman
Genre: Some sort of Psychological Fiction?
Pages: 352
Rating: 4.5 of 5

This isn’t my usual kind of read, and I don’t remember how it originally ended up on my TBR, but I’m glad that I read it. I’m not sure how much I can say about it without spoilers as gradually getting to know Eleanor (a socially awkward loner who repeatedly assures us that her life is fine) and seeing her personal development is the whole point of the story. I don’t know if someone with so little self-awareness and understanding of the real world (to say nothing of other issues) would really be as independent as Eleanor is, but her struggles, tragedies, and triumphs provide a moving tale of humor, heartbreak, and hope.

A Banned Book

When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment

Title: When Harry Became Sally:
Responding to the Transgender Moment
Author: Ryan T. Anderson
Genre: Psychology / Ethics
Pages: 272
Rating: 4 of 5

In February of this year, Amazon scrubbed all traces of this book from its platform without explanation (later citing its ban on hate speech). The author maintains that the accusation of “hate speech” is unwarranted and that this ban is an attempt to stifle legitimate debate over the treatment of gender dysphoria. I decided to read it and see for myself what was going on (#ReadBannedBooks and all that…I assume that applies to books banned by both “the left” and “the right”).

Essentially, the author argues that the current rush to transition those who express gender dysphoria (without seriously considering other alternatives) may not be the healthiest solution. He is especially concerned when it comes to the ethics and potentially irreversible impact of transitioning minors. The book explores potential incoherencies in trans ideology, philosophical and medical definitions of sex and gender, anecdotal stories of people who “de-transitioned,” and scientific/medical evidence that he claims is ignored or downplayed during the current “transgender moment.” Overall, I believe that many of his assertions and questions do raise valid concerns that should be taken into consideration, even if doing so is not the politically correct course of action.

Having read the book, I think that the author presents these concerns in a respectful and evidential enough manner that the proper response from those who disagree would be a written rebuttal rather than the banning of a dissenting voice. Shouting down or censoring an opponent does not prove that they are wrong.

Time Travel & the Fear of Death

Title: The Psychology of Time Travel
Author: Kate Mascarenhas
Genre: Time Travel Sci-Fi
Pages: 336
Rating: 3.5 of 5
Future Release Date: February 12, 2019 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review.)

I have always been fascinated by time travel stories in which time travel cannot create reality-altering paradoxes (e.g. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis). As this book’s title suggests, it explores what kind of psychological effect this sort of time travel might have on people. The author does so with a degree of thoughtfulness and complexity that I don’t think I have seen before in time travel sci-fi. Topics explored include crime & punishment, romance, mental illness, bullying, fate/fatalism, and especially the fear of death.

What makes the plot great isn’t the solution of the mystery (the “whodunnit to whom?” is obvious well before the end). Rather, the fun is in watching the characters figure it out and seeing how the three different story arcs (starting in 1967, 2017, and 2018) fit together. The actual narration of the story was a bit flat (e.g. sometimes something momentous would happen and it would be stated so blandly that I would have to go back and reread to make sure I read correctly), but the plotting and worldbuilding more than made up for it.

To me, the characters seemed a bit contrived to check as many “strong, diverse female character” boxes as possible (e.g. black, immigrant, lesbian, mentally ill, aristocratic…). All the primary and secondary characters are women with a handful of men putting in very brief whiny, overprotective, or leering appearances. Though it felt a bit overplayed, if you are looking for sci-fi with strong female characters, this is it.

Overall, the plotting, worldbuilding, and psychology mostly made up for any bits that felt flat or contrived.

A Complex Issue

Title: Understanding Gender Dysphoria:
Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture
Author: Mark A. Yarhouse
Genre: Psychiatry
Pages: 191
Rating: 3.5 of 5

As a Christian who trusts the Bible to be God’s inerrant self-revelation and “everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3), my views on sexual morality are much narrower than society in general. However, I am frequently troubled by the disgust and animosity which many of my fellow Christians show toward those whose lifestyle falls “outside the boundaries” of what they believe to be morally right. The Bible talks about treating others as I want to be treated which includes showing compassion, gentleness, and respect toward those with whom I disagree. Part of doing that is trying to understand another person’s point of view even if I do not fully agree with them. Reading this book was an attempt to do that as a friend of my recently came out as transgender.

The author of this book is a psychiatrist who works primarily with people who are dealing with gender dysphoria (feeling that your gender does not match your physical sex). His approach is fairly objective, presenting gender dysphoria as viewed through three “frameworks” which he labels:

  • The integrity framework – a Christian worldview that sees gender dysphoria as compromising the integrity of the male/female distinction created by God
  • The disability framework – a clinical view that sees gender dysphoria as being a disorder with a physical / psychological cause
  • The diversity framework – a view that sees cross-gender identification as something that should be accepted and celebrated
    • Strong version – seeking the complete deconstruction of traditional gender and sexuality
    • Weak version – seeking to resolve the individual’s dysphoria by transitioning away from their birth/physical sex to their psychological/preferred gender

The author explores various theories of the causes of gender dysphoria (emphasizing that there is not currently enough data to know for sure), discusses different treatment approaches in children, teens, and adults (up to and including sex reassignment), and suggests how churches and Christians should navigate transgender issues and help transgender individuals. While I didn’t agree with all of his theological conclusions (and found his frequent repetition a bit irksome), this book was very helpful in understanding the complexity of the issue.