April 21, 2005

Book Reviews

It's (mostly) cut 'n paste day here at the ol' blog. Here are some micro reviews I've written of books I've read over the past few years.

The Correspondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy by Shelby Foote Hellaciously great read. Answers the query 'what happens if two great writers correspond in total honesty'?

Of Irish Ways by Mary Murray Delaney
A great smorgasboard of all things Irish, including a history of the isle. I read it before going there in '96 and it was a great primer, giving me a taste of everything from Irish mythology to Irish recipes.

Wobegon Boy by Garrison Keillor
I liked this book even better than "The Book of Guys" and "Lake Wobegon Days", the two other books from him I've read and enjoyed. The lyrical writing includes images like old Norwegian bachelors gathered at the Sidetrack bar looking like "rock bass on a dock". A great combination of pathos and comedy!

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
Basically this is the book I was looking for to clearly and methodically express the case for the divinity of Christ and to effectively demolish the arguments of the Jesus Seminar. Should be required reading for anyone who has read Time and Newsweek's annual parade of Holy Week articles attempting to distort the historical Jesus.

The Medjugorje Deception: Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives by E. Michael Jones
The Medjugorje story is one that is fascinating because searching for the truth always is. This book tells the other side of the story, one I haven't seen anywhere else. The only disappointment was that there wasn't more focus on the seers themselves, like why Jakov left two seminaries. The hunger for signs - visible manifestations of the divine - is one that is old as history and won't go away but might be approached more cautiously after reading this book.

Eureka Street : A Novel of Ireland Like No Other by ROBERT MCLIAM WILSON
Even when the plot gets ragged or preachy, which it sometimes does, the lyricism and word choice makes this a delicious read.

Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith by William F. Buckley Jr.
I was a bit disappointed that Mr. Buckley failed to come down on one side or the other on the tough issues. I assume that either he has, and did not want to share it, or that he has not yet. If the latter, it is disheartening to think that accepting or rejecting the authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals has not been definitively reached yet by such a learned figure. If that point has been reached, then contraception and priestly celibacy are non-issues.

Lost in the Cosmos : The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
Walker Percy asks all the right questions in a unique way. He describes transcendence be it through art, science or God, and gives a brief rundown on his theory of sign and language or "semiotics".

Stonewall Jackson : The Man, the Soldier, the Legend by James Robertson
This was one of my favorite books of the 1990s. The book was almost healing, after theClinton years and all the cheap scandal and trivialities. It was truly inspiring to read about a figure for whom religion was not a photo-op, and to be saturated in the story of a dense, mysterious hero.

Salt of the Earth: Christianity and the Catholic Church at the End of the Millennium : An Interview With Peter Seewald by Joseph Ratzinger
There are so many fabulous insights in this book, and such honesty that it should be required reading for high school religion classes. Cardinal Ratzinger has really hit the nail on the head, giving all of us an inside view of the issues that are important to the Church. "In today's whirl of instant bliss, religion, too, is socially respectable only as a dream of happiness without tears, as a mystical enchantment of the soul. Perhaps the Church comes under heavier fire because she talks about sin and suffering and rectitude of life....Just one curious example - when it comes to the state, as soon as crimes begin to multiply and society feels its safety threatened, there is an immediate demand for tougher laws. In relation to the Church, whose laws are moral in nature, the exact opposite happens - there is a demand for further relaxation."

C. S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands: The Story of His Life With Joy Davidman by Brian Sibley
A very readable and well-done book which highlights the fascinating relationship between two people who would seem to have little in common. Even better than the movie!

Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions by Peter Kreeft, Ronald K. Tacelli
This is a tremendously important "one-stop" shop for most of the crucial Christian questions. It bears re-reading since at different times of life there are different obstacles to faith. There is also an essential honesty to the work. One of my favorite quotes is: "The tension is between appealing to free choice and appealing to divine providence and grace to solve the problem of evil. Sin is explained, on the one hand, by our free will. On the other hand, God's providential plan foresaw and used even sin. God brings good out of evil, and makes all things work together for good for those who love him. The argument between those who emphasize free will and those who emphasize providence is largely one of emphasis, for both are parts of our scriptural data. The difference in emphasis is between those who see human history as a novel, written by God, and those who see it as a play, enacted by man. The two images are not exclusive. The novel, though completely the author's creation, is about free people, not trees or robots; and though the play has a script, the actors are free to obey the script or not. If the emphasis is on God's predestination, our attitude to life will emphasize trust and faith and acceptance and hope; while if the emphasis is on human free will, our attitude to life will emphasize morality and spiritual warfare and the will to make the right choices. The first emphasizes wisdom, the second morality; the first contemplation, the second action; the first seeing, the second doing; the first faith, the second works. They are two sides of the same Christian coin."

The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions by Randall Sullivan
This book fills a much-needed niche. So often with apparations, you have get either a complete debunker or a credulous believer. The author is an agnostic on the question but someone open enough to painstakingly research what has been a mystery to many of us. The author's spiritual journey is an added bonus and is fascinating in its own right.

Drop City by T. C. Boyle
Really loved this book, loved his word choice and cared about the characters. Kind of reminded me of why I like Tom Wolfe novels in its journalistic approach. I ate up the details on what it's like to be a hippie. I liked that Boyle suggests there is no free lunch since "dropping out" is portrayed either as a self-indulgent loveless enterprise or nightmarish hard work, and that the extremes of either communal living or complete solitude aren't answers. Makes me appreciate the 'burbs more.

What's interesting too is how Boyle suggests we are products of our environment. The stress of Alaska broke the hippies, exacerbated Ronnie/Pan's evil and eventually caused the leader to bolt, a breach of everything he stood for. Pre-Alaska, their brotherliness and camarderie was fostered by the comfort and drugs, but how many of us our bolstered in brotherliness and camarderie by our comfort and our beer? Sess's hatred of the contemptible Joe Bosky is understandable, but he's as much a product of the environment as any wolf, heartless as the climate.

Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel
I'd already read a couple biographies of this pope and was initially reluctant to get this one. The other biographers seemed to miss the point by seeing JPII in strictly political terms. Weigel masterfully adds color and dimension so that a much more vivid portrait emerges. It is the definitive biography for me because it is jam-packed with inside information on the spiritual issues of our time and for that reason will also serve as a reference book.

Degenerate Moderns: Modernity As Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior by E. Michael Jones
An eye-opening look at the hidden motivations of many of the leading figures of modernity. Most of those profiled were/are revered for their seeming objectivity, but Mr. Jones shows the faulty moral framework that caused them to have huge ulterior motives in bending truth to their own particular problem. Powerful stuff - you'll never read anything like this for a course at a secular college or see it reviewed in a weekly news magazine!

Father/Land: A Personal Search for the New Germany by Frederick Kempe
Very enjoyable read that examines some of the amazing contrasts in the German pysche. The author's own ancestors included a "good German", composer R. Schumann and a "bad German", a Nazi, and it is interesting to see him grapple with it.

Gladstone by ROY JENKINS
If you share any of Gladstone's passions - his bibliophilism, his religious ardor, his breaktaking political energy - then you'll like this. The writing itself is also a plus, for Jenkins writes beautifully.

Round Ireland With A Fridge by Tony Hawks
I got a kick out of this book. In the "Decline of Pleasure", Water Kerr warns that people are losing their sense of play and that play means doing something that is completely without utility. Well I know of no greater definition of an activity sans utility that hitchiking around Ireland with a refrigerator!

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