Monday, November 19, 2007

The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis by Leon Kass

I've read about a dozen commentaries on Genesis now; this one is by far the best. Which isn't to say that it is perfect (I thought the handling of the Joseph cycle was a little weak) but--wow!. If you read only one book on Genesis, this should be it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

Working the Divine Miracle: The Life of Apostle Henry D. Moyle by Richard D. Poll

This was one of the less interesting biographies that I have read. I also think that Poll may have overplayed his loss of power, but I'm not convinced either way.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Odyssey retold by Geraldine McCaughrean

I pre-read this for Simon's history reading. I thought it was wonderful and would make an excellent read-aloud for kids as young as five. Kids 8+ could read it themselves.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Latter-day Saint Courtship Patterns edited by Mary Jane Woodger

Latter-day Saint Courtship Patterns is part of Studies in Religion and the Social Order, which is edited by Jacob Neusner. Many interesting tidbits gleaned from the data would make fun discussion topics (only 22% of BYU men and 29% of BYU women expect that a “spiritual confirmation” will help them know when they have found the person they should marry; 60% of BYU freshman think it is wrong to kiss on the first date while only 20% of older students thought the same). But it is hard to overlook the major flaw of the book: every study which included information about its survery population indicated that the participants were all BYU students (or high school students from the Orem and Springville areas). For those studies where the institutional affiliation(s) of its participants were not mentioned, every indication is that they also were BYU students. (One of the folklore essays did indicate that one-third of its participants were from outside of the “Mormon belt.”) So the book is, I think, improperly titled: it isn’t about LDS courtship patterns or even American LDS courtship patterns, but rather about the courtship patterns of BYU students. I’m guessing those aren’t coterminous groups. Not only do I have philosophical objections to letting BYU culture stand proxy for the Church, but a non-LDS researcher who approaches this work will be left with the impression that “creative dating” is a Mormon thing, not a Jell-o Belt thing. And while I’m not a sociologist, some of the research methodology seemed suspect to me, such as comparing the opinions of BYU students to a national sample of high school students. Similarly, a few studies used ‘grounded theory,’ which not only seems to have the potential to find nothing other than what the researcher wanted to find, but in the case of the essay on females in relationships seems (based on the quotations provided, which don’t support the hypothesis) to do just that. It is hard to take seriously conclusions based on interviews with only fifteen different subjects or a four-page piece on wedding receptions. I find sociological research on the Church and its members fascinating and hope that this book will pave the way for more work in the field–work that has larger, more diverse samples and more rigorous methodology.

Piggyback Rides and Slippery Slides - How to have fun raising first-rate children by Lynnae Allred

Do you really need to read a book on how to play with your children? Maybe. Lynnae W. Allred’s new book, Piggyback Rides and Slippery Slides; How to Have Fun Raising First Rate Children, may not exactly be a necessity, but it could be a blessing. In a world where people enroll their three-month-old babies in classes and buy phonics toys for infants, it is safe to say that some parents don’t have a clue as to what is developmentally appropriate or necessary for children. To the extent that this book will help parents who need a little help fending off today’s excesses of hyper-parenting (or who didn’t see good parenting modeled by their own parents), it is, as Martha would say, a good thing. It also has some innovative ideas on making chores and that sort of thing more fun (hint: turn out the lights and aim your searchlight [flashlight] at the grenade that is about to explode [toys, dirty clothes] and see if your child can defuse [put away] it before it explodes in ten seconds). I wasn’t thrilled with her hyperbolic and over-generalized description of the differences between how fathers and mothers play with their children, but I was very pleased with her critique of over-scheduling.

Eighteen Months: Sister Missionaries in the Latter Days edited by Melissa Baird Carpenter

Eighteen Months: Sister Missionaries in the Latter Days, edited by Melissa Baird Carpenter, is a “collective memoir” of the mission experiences of many sister missionaries, including T& S's own Rosalynde Welch. Most essays succeed marvelously in hitting the sweet spot of spirituality without succumbing to the saccharine; we are introduced to the bulimic companion and the golden investigator and both are made equally real. While not all essays evince the best writing style (and a fair number of typos mar the book as well), the genuineness of the stories overcomes these flaws. From ruminations on how the local transvestite manages to keep his makeup immaculate in the humidity to visiting a new convert in prison, it’s all here and it’s well worth reading.

Indian Summer by Alex von Tunzelmann

I don't know that I've ever read a book that was such a mix of fascinating detail, notably good reading, and dry-as-dust detail.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs

Jacobs, who described himself as being Jewish in the same way that The Olive Garden is Italian, spends a year trying to live, as literally as possible, every commandment in the Bible. He also visits fundamentalists of various stripes throughout the year. The results are hilarious and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is my hero and I don't say that lightly. This book is way fun. Her other works have taken a small slice of life and looked in-depth (anyone who hasn't read A Midwife's Tale needs to stop what they are doing right now and go read it), but this book covers the entire enchilada. What is most fun about this book is that instead of plodding along chronologically, she works thematically. This book will, I'm sure, become a standard text for intro to Women's History and similar classes. And it should be. But it is also buckets of fun and would be a great choice for a high-school aged homeschooler.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Arms of His Love: Talks from the 1999 Women's Conference

Years ago, I loved the Women's Conference books. Now, they barely hold my interest. I'm not sure if the books have changed or I have. Maybe both.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

A charming tale of a Polish woman who hid Jews in her zoo. The gentle humor of a life surrounded by animals nicely balances the terrors of Nazi occupation. Recommended.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Setting the Record Straight: Blacks and the Mormon Priesthood by Marcus H. Martins

Millennial Press has a new series of short books on controversial topics. The volume on the priesthood ban was written by Marcus H. Martins, a Brazilian who joined the church in 1972 and would later be the first post-1978 full-time missionary of African descent. He speaks with a faithful voice; he's the chair of the Department of Religious Education at BYU-Hawaii. Book Cover

The best parts of the book are his personal experiences with living the gospel as a man of African descent both before and after 1978. He related that he is often asked why his family joined a church that didn't allow them to take part in the priesthood. His heartbreaking but perfect response, based on John 6:67-69: "We had nowhere else to go."

But most of the book is, as the back cover puts it, "deeply doctrinal" and not personal. This causes a problem as all one can say with surety about the priesthood ban is this:

(1) We don't know the reason for the ban.
(2) Everything you've ever heard justifying the ban was Mormon folklore and should be ignored; see statements from Elder McConkie and, more recently, Elder Oaks to support this idea.

So Martins says those things. But that isn't enough to make a book, not even one that's a slim 83 pages. What Martins adds often feels like filler and in some cases detracts from his overall message. For example, at one point he makes the argument that the ban wasn't an eternal law, but a custom. He uses a system of classifying laws in order to make this point. Unfortunately, this leads him into unnecessary and bizarre conjecture ("We may assume that electromagnetism and perhaps even the weak and strong nuclear forces might also be controlled by the Holy Ghost.")

He spends some time logically (and scripturally) debunking the more common folk doctrine. And his arguments are pretty good, but they miss the main point: the purveyors of the folklore he is disputing were people sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. So logical arguments are all well and good, but the real issue is the authority with which the person spoke when making the statement. But Martins doesn't address how problematic it is when he is saying (in effect, because he doesn't name names): "This argument, made by Joseph Fielding Smith or Bruce R. McConkie, is incorrect because it is not scriptural." This, of course, leads to a larger question (that Martins doesn't address): If previous church leaders were guilty of promulgating folklore to explain practice, then could current leaders be doing the same? How does this knowledge of the past affect how we view the present? These may be some of the most troubling questions related to the priesthood ban for twenty-first century Mormons and so it is disappointing not to see them addressed here.

While I'm no expert on the history of the priesthood ban, there were a few statements Martins made that caught me short. In one case, he referred to "the Prophet Joseph Smith's opposition to the ordination of Blacks." But my understanding is that there is no scholarly consensus as to the origin of the ban and that many scholars locate it in the time of Brigham Young, especially since Joseph Smith ordained Elijah Abel, a black man. Martins also seems unaware of the material in the recent biography of President McKay, which contains statements that contradict his assertions that "the Lord appears to have been mostly silent about the issue until June 1, 1978" and that "the leaders of the past had already discussed the matter, and that because they had no ideas of their own to add, they didn't see any need for further discussion." (This latter statement is also contradicted by the efforts of J. Reuben Clark as described in Quinn's biography of Clark.) It is also unfortunate that Martins uses Acts 10:15 to sum up the section where he argues that the Lord only revealed the end of the ban when Church leaders showed interest in it, since the scripture from Acts shows the Lord ending a similar ban (i.e., on eating with Gentiles) that was most certainly not requested by the prophet at the time.

Despite these flaws, I am pleased that Millennial Press has issued this series of books and pleased with Martins' presentation of the issue in general.

Cross-posted from Times & Seasons

Body of Work by Christine Montross

A mildly interesting memoir of the author's experience dissecting a human body as a first-year med student. A better book on this topic is Mary Roach's Stiff.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Elder Statesman: A Biography of J. Reuben Clark by D. Michael Quinn

Good stuff, but definitely not for the faint of heart. Reading a book like this with its cringe-inducing GA squabbles, errors, and extremely bizarre personal opinions taught over the pulpit is almost enough to make one a believer in 'faithful history.' Clark certainly was an odd duck.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On the Road with Joseph Smith by Richard Bushman

I can't remember that last time I enjoyed reading a book this much (and I'm not just saying that because my name was on page 78). This is essentially Bushman's diary from the year after Rough Stone Rolling was published and he muses on everything from sales rank at Amazon to the deeper issues of non-member perception of Joseph Smith. There's a blog post on nearly every page of this book--it is that discussion-worthy. Highly recommended.

Last Harvest by Witold Rybczynski

This was interesting: he traced every step in the development of a new neighborhood.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ice Bound by Jerri Lynn Nielsen

I thought this was be a fairly tame "here's my 15 minutes of fame!" sort of book but I thought it was fascinating.

A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure and Passion Inside One of America's Best High Schools by Alec Klein

This was mildly interesting. The pressure these kids are under is amazing and saddening. I admit that I was reading looking for secrets to the production of super-students. Unfortunately, the only thing I came away with was: "Start with a kid already internally motivated or convince them that you won't love them and/or will punish them if they don't excel."

No thanks.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Ooh, this was good--I was prereading it since I'll be having my 9yo read it for school this year. Books like this make me glad that I'm a homeschooler! The story was engaging, the background (ancient Egypt) was fabulous, and I thought Mara was the perfect feminist heroine--even allowed a love story, but noted for her bravery and self-defense. Do not be put off by the cheesy 80s cover art! Highly recommended for adults and kids--would be a great read-aloud.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk

So disappointing--it was about as interesting as reading someone else's family history.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Completely entertaining and filled with all manner of interesting tidbits, Weisman's book does justice to its unique topic. It didn't fall down until the last few pages where he suggests a world-wide single child policy as a miracle cure for all of the world's environmental problems. That's too clever by half, but the rest of the book is great.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

So, so hard to read--even novelized, you know the tragedies lived by the Afghani people aren't fiction. But such an excellent, gripping book with love and redemption on every page.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

FDR by Jean Edward Smith

Good but not great. Possibly my fault since I've read several others books skirting the subject and so there wasn't a whole lot new here. But a few interesting tidbits.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

Better than New Moon but didn't hold a candle to Twilight.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Easily one of the ten best books that I have ever read, this exploration into the experiences of Hmong immigrants with the American health care system shone a revealing light on both. Highly, highly recommended.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Head Start with the Book of Mormon by Vicki Lynn Rasmussen

Book Cover

When I think about the curricula available to evangelical homeschoolers, I instantly become guilty of several of the deadly sins. Oh, if I were a young earth creationist, the riches that would be mine!

Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni

This was a pretty good mix of personal and political reflections on life in Iran and the challenges of being bicultural.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy by Dorothy Solomon

By turns fascinating and tragic, this tale of a childhood on the run from the authorities is a compelling read.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Homeschooling by Samuel Blumenfeld

This book was a nice blend of hysterical fearmongering related to public schools and homeschooling advice too vague to implement (but concrete enough to inspire guilt). Most highly unrecommended.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

I thought it was wonderful and the ending was exactly right. (For some reason, I didn't care too much for the epilogue, however.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Genesis 1-4 by C. John Collins

Collins has a handful of interesting insights here, but overall this book was a disappointment.

Friday, July 13, 2007

New England White by Stephen Carter

So: I could guess the ending within the first hundred pages, the book consisted almost entirely of unbelievable coincidences, the story was hard to keep track of, and the ending was disappointing. But I still kind of liked it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman

Contains some interesting thoughts on the cognitive processes that doctors use to make diagnoses (and misdiagnoses). Not earth-shatteringly good, but fairly interesting.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Little Heathens by Mildred Kalish

Reminiscent of the Little House books (but with adult content), this memoir of life on a farm during the Great Depression was delicious and thought-provoking. It would make for a great book-group discussion. Recommended.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Genesis by Nahum Sarna

Well: the book itself is a work of art and the commentary was wonderful. It is a shame that the JPS is so expensive, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

Genesis as Dialogue by Thomas Brodie

His basic thesis is that the stories in Genesis all form diptychs. In some cases, this seems true; in others, it seems forced.

The Savior and the Serpent by Alonzo Gaskill

There were a few interesting insights and questions in this book, but overall I was very disappointed in it. There were some glaring errors, but the biggest flaw was that he spent most of the book castigating some people for taking the text too literally and others for not taking it literally enough without ever making it clear by what metric we determine how to take what. His overall thesis is unconvincing.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

House Thinking by Winifred Gallagher

Some interesting data points here but mostly a mish-mash. Her room-by-room formula doesn't work so well when most of the info isn't room specific and this book is too short to try to combine examples, theory, and practice.

Genesis Vol I and II (Word Biblical Commentary) by Gordon Wenham

This was a solid and useful commentary but not earthshaking.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Better by Atul Gawande

I love Gawande's writings and many of the essays in this book were excellent and thought-provoking. But it was disappointing to find two that I had already read (in the New Yorker) and another essay (and the conclusion) that seemed irrelevant to the theme and mere padding. Oh well.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata

Kolata points to evidence that humans have a (very narrow) weight preset and that it is virtually impossible for them to diet their way below that amount (at least, for the long term). I'm no scientist and can't judge the evidence, but one would think that given the discrimination obese people face in this culture that if it were possible to be thin, they would be. So I'm inclined to believe her and think that all of the cultural focus on losing (large amounts of) weight will someday join leeches in the history books.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Wow! This was excellent. This was another pre-read for studying ancients next year, but I totally got into it--amazing suspense for a children's book. Highly recommended. Would be a great family read-aloud, too.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Boy of the Painted Cave by Justin Denzel

I read this since it will be part of Simon's reading for our study of Ancients next year. I think it is a good, if not stellar, choice for pre-history.

Monday, June 18, 2007

House Update

OK, this is supposed to be a book blog, but I haven't been reading much since I've been working on the house so . . .

. . . brace yourself for a pretty scary 'before' picture. (Two people had the same reaction on seeing this bathroom for the first time: "That paint looks just like baby poop!")

And here's the after pictures:

(I think the first picture is a truer representation of the paint color.)

Here's the master bedroom, which also has a scary 'before' (yellow and gold/orange spongepaint; mercifully, I don't have a picture):

Now, I think that wall needs something, but I don't know what. Also, should I paint the nightstands white or black?

Here are a few more views of the master bedroom:

I'm pleased with how the stencil turned out; definitely the best way to cheaply add interest to a huge, blank wall.

And this if from my yard (how cool is that?):

This is the library; over the bookcase, it reads "I have always imagined that paradise is a kind of library."

This is the master bedroom. I like the tile but I don't like the paint. Any ideas on what color would be better?

This is one of the walls in the gameroom (AKA the DMZ):

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