Two More for the Book Challenges

Life is still pretty chaotic at our house, but I’ve finished another book for each of the two reading challenges I’m doing this year. First, for the Back to the Classics 2022 Challenge I completed this book for the Classics Short Story Collection category:

Title: An Obsession with Death and Dying: Volume 1
Author: Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish, George Hopley)
Genre: Classic Pulp Fiction
Pages: 335
Rating: 4 of 5

Cornell Woolrich falls into my second tier of Pulp crime/detective fiction authors. He’s no Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, but still worth reading if you enjoy the genre. Woolrich knows how to crank up and maintain suspense, even if his endings tend to be either painfully predictable or so out of left field that they barely make sense.

This collection in honor of his 50th “death-day” pulls together 10 of his stories that have the word death or die in the title. It’s a mixed bag, that gives a pretty good feel for what Woolrich is capable of. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of classic pulp detectives.

The second book I’m reviewing is from my list for The Official TBR Pile Challenge. This book has been hanging out on my TBR pile for a couple years since Amazon insistently recommended it because of my interest in weird/cosmic horror fiction:

Title: The Twenty Days of Turin
Author: Giorgio De Maria
Translator: Ramon Glazov
Genre: Weird Fiction / Satire
Pages: 224
Rating: 4 of 5

Since I’m not up on 1970’s Italian political history, I doubt that I caught all of the satirical nuances in this Italian novel that recounts a “mass psychosis” tragedy in Turin (as researched and retold by our intrepid narrator). That said, it still works as a creepy piece of weirdness with themes of voyeurism, paranoia, insomnia, uncaring powers, and more.

It became clear to me what was going on fairly early in the book (intentionally on the author’s part, I think). However, the characters’ unwillingness or inability to do anything about it or even acknowledge it is what provided a lot of the disturbing atmosphere. Also, I’m not quite sure what the author intended “the library” to represent in his original context, but it came across as a prescient warning against some of the darker aspects of social media. I’m really not sure what else I can describe without starting to give things away, but if you’re in the mood for something strange and paranoid check this out.

Oh be careful little fingers what you type…

Title: Posting Peace
Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About It
Author: Douglas S. Bursch
Genre: Applied Theology / Social Science
Pages: 208
Rating: 3.5 of 5

I appreciate how social media (mostly Facebook) helps me stay in touch with friends and family. However, there are times when I am ready to call it quits and delete my fb account due to the seemingly constant torrent of anger, slander, fear-mongering, misinformation, and other filth. And it grieves me that many of my fellow Christians seem to be just as caught up in the war of words as anyone else. Rather than “keeping in step with the Spirit” by demonstrating godly character and motivations (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23), far too many of us engage in the kind of speech that we are told has no place in our life (bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice – Ephesians 4:31). This timely book addresses these concerns.

The first part of the book focuses on how online communication shapes our interaction with others, with heavy emphasis on the distance it puts between us and the tendency to tribalization. This is followed with advice on how to overcome pitfalls and use social media for good. Throughout the book, the author strongly emphasizes Christians’ responsibility to be peacemakers who make room for reconciliation (among people as well as between people and God).

While I strongly agree with most of the author’s main points, some of his presentation felt muddled and imprecise. Criticism of those who are divisive is followed by admonition to use social media to confront injustice. Triumphalist declarations of how we can use social media to transform society are followed by warning that the task is impossible and full peace comes only when Christ returns. Verses about the Gospel reconciling people to God are used to talk about the social justice kind of reconciliation. None of these are necessarily complete contradictions, but I don’t think that the author explained with enough nuance or provided enough concrete examples to avoid confusion. Instead, I think he relied on discussion questions and writing assignments at the end of each chapter to try to get readers to think it through for themselves. While that approach might be great in a classroom setting, I find it less useful in book form (and, unfortunately, I have been seeing it increasingly often in “applied theology” kind of books).

Overall, even though the book could have definitely used more concrete examples and clearly nuanced explanations, it is well worth reading for Christians who frequently engage with social media. Let’s post peace rather than engage in trolling!