Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Art of Biblical Poetry by Robert Alter

To be fair, I only skimmed this after my disappointment with Alter's other book. But my reaction was, as I had feared, the same: for whatever reason, this book was a disappointment.

The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter

It may be that a book this hyped could never live up to that hype; it may be that a book revolutionary when it was written a generation ago succeeded in making itself appear commonplace today; it may be that I was already familiar with the basic material; it may be that I am too uptight to handle jumping from passage to passage. In any case, I found this rather disappointing.

Curry: A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham

Fascinating topic; poorly executed book. I could barely make it through the first chapter. Reject.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

I thoroughly enjoyed this--it is a fine specimen of the mystery/thriller/beachread genre. Needless to say, I thought the historical reconstruction of early Christianity left a little to be desired (what's the point of humanizing Jesus if you are going to marry him off to a goddess?), but it made for a fun book. I find it ironic that there are at least a half dozen 'The Truth about the DaVinci Code' type books, but no one who thinks that The DaVinci Code is truth. While the characterization left a little to be desired, there wasn't that much of it to wade through. This book has a great plot and it was a fun read.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Safe Journey: An African Adventure by Glenn L. Pace

If you read the blogs, you hear about the condition of the Church in South America, Asia, etc. all the time. Why? Because there are so many American RMs who served in those countries. But it seems that almost all missionaries in Africa are Africans, so we don't hear much about the tortured history of the Church in Ghana or the fact that African men are substantially more likely to join the Church than African women. Which means that this portrait of Africa written by a GA fills an important niche, and can be easily forgiven for its sometimes pedestrian writing.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

In this wonderful book, Pollan traces the food chain through four meals: McDonald's, Whole Foods, a home-cooked one from a sustainable farm, and one that he hunted-and-gathered. You will perhaps not be surprised that McDonald's doesn't fare well (although his analysis of its failings is much better than the usual screed), but what was truly amazing was his smackdown of Whole Foods, which he finds to be not much better than McD's despite its pretentions and price tag. The lengthy description of the sustainable farm was enough to convince me to get to the farmers' market this week (I'm not kidding), and the gathering of mushrooms was interesting enough to compensate for the overly philosophical ruminations on hunting. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Ack. This was so depressing. The prequel to the book is one of the finest works I have ever read, but this is just a trainwreck. I couldn't keep the characters straight, let alone care about them. She had to pull about a half dozen rabbits out of her hat to keep the plot moving along and by the time she got around to resolving all of the plotlines and redeeming all of the characters, I was so irritated I didn't care.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

This is one of the half dozen or so best novels that I have ever read. The plot sounds stupid (Jesuits make first contact with aliens), but the characterization is superb and the book manages to explore the Big Issues without becoming ponderous or cheesy. Highly recommended.

Prayer (compilation)

There were a few gems in here, but overall this book didn't do much for me.

Monday, April 10, 2006

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

I just couldn't get into this. The protagonist didn't gel as a character.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Pedestals & Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights by Martha Sonntag Bradley

By attempting to be history and polemic, this work fails as both. It is inadequate as a polemic (namely, making the case--contra the Church's position--for the ERA) because a chronological narrative is no way to argue a position. And it fails as history because the polemical aspects make it impossible to trust the author. While virtually every page contains examples of the bias-in-sheep's-clothing, perhaps a few examples will suffice:

(1) Rhetorical sledgehammers. Sonntag Bradley describes the church's position as creating women who are financially dependent on their husbands.While technically true, her words certainly create a different impression than if she had quoted the language from the Doctrine and Covenants that women have claim upon their husbands. As one isolated example, I would dismiss this, but this kind of rhetorical trick exists on virtually every page of this book. She casts the Church and its doctrines in the worst possible light.

(2) Unsupported conclusions. By way of summation of the Sonia Johnson affair, the author states that no one really believes that her excommunication wasn't because of her support for the ERA. This is a hard position to maintain when this book provides the following data points: (a) Mormons for ERA had hundreds if not thousands of members, none of which were excommunicated, (b) the letter that Johnsons' bishop sent her announcing the decision to excommunicate began with the charge that she had publicly stated that nonmembers should not allow the missionaries into her home because of the church's opposition to the ERA, and (c) the quoted letter from a GA to an ERA supporter assuring her that her membership in the Church was not in jeopardy.

(3) Inaccurate quotations. As part of the Sonia Johnson story, the author quotes an unnamed church spokesman as stating that one is either on God's side or Satan's side. This did not strike me as the kind of language that a church spokesman usually uses, so I checked the footnote. It was to Sonia Johnson's From Housewife to Heretic, which I have, so I checked it. We can leave aside, for a moment, the questionable source itself (as Johnson is hardly a disinterested observer). The statement in Johnson's book (which is also attributed to an unnamed church spokesman) does not purport to be his (or her?) exact words, but is clearly Johnson's summary of his position. Yet Sonntag Bradley quotes it as if it were the words of the spokesman. When you only check one footnote in a book and it is as mangled as this one, it is difficult to have much confidence in the rest of the book.

I really wanted to read a good history of the Church's opposition to the ERA. It is a fascinating episode in Church history, all the more so given the current situation regarding same-sex marriage. I was seriously disappointed in this work.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rose Marie Reid: An Extraordinary Life by Carole Reid Burr

This book was simply amazing; if it were fiction, it never would have been published because the story is completely implausible. Her life genuinely was extraordinary, and this book is a must-read for those interested in LDS women.

Freakonomics by Stephen Levitt

OK, I didn't actually read this--I listened to it over the course of several weeks with my husband. I'm usually incapable of focusing on audio books, but this book was light enough and fun enough that it held my attention. I enjoyed it; I always enjoy a contrarian. At the same time, I doubt that many of his scenarios and theories would hold up under close scrunity . . . but it was still fun to listen to.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Mormon Lives: A Year in the Elkton Ward by Susan Taber

Wow--what a fabulous book. In the 1980s, the Elkton Ward participating in a special project where extensive records--including interviews with every ward member who was willing--were made. This book is a compilation of those interviews. The diversity represented in this book is amazing. I expected it to feel dates (these interviews were, after all, conducted a generation ago), but virtually every line in here could have been spoken yesterday. Highly, highly recommended.

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