Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Some Stuff I've Been Reading This Spring and Summer...

What have you been reading lately? Here's some of the stuff I've been reading this Spring and Summer.

I've enjoyed discovering classic literature - and Frankenstein was not disappointing. I was intrigued to read this book mostly because I wanted to find out what the original story was really about. Dennis Miller introduced me to Mel Brooks Young Frankenstein a decade ago; when I was a kid there was a cereal with Frankenstein monster shaped marshmallow pieces; and Frankenstein these days comes across as either goofy or weird. So it was with great interest I delved into a "modern" story of fringe science, amoral ambition, unintended consequences, gut-wrenching heartache, and deep insight into human development.

A quick read - because I wanted to find out what was going to happen next as soon as I could. The story created a helpless feeling inside - what can be done about massively corrupt and grossly wealthy people who pollute and abuse and destroy. And this is done while putting up a slick image of success, glamour, and importance. Ugh. I have a new respect for trial lawyers (beware those people who lump them into a bland category of "parasite"). I also have a new respect for how politics tends to work these days. It's useless to hold on to idealism; deal with reality and hold onto your ethics as tightly as you can. Apparently it can be done...

Still working my way through this massive yet easy-to-read account of how globalization has changed/is changing our world. Fascinating stories of how corporations and governments have adapted, failed, and blossomed in this new world that both causes and flows from our choices. The world will never be the same - we live in a radically transformed era that apparently too many people under-appreciate or refuse to acknowledge. In order to better understand what to do next, it's wise to better understand how we got to where we are now. It's a massive task, but for leaders in our world, what other task is there?

A great read - slowly absorbing the chapters and letting the ideas reshape my understanding of politics in America. Maybe I'll finish the book next year - it's too good to rush through. And dense. And thoroughly enlightening. Where did "liberals" come from? Where did "conservatives" come from? Why are they so opposed to each other? Why is the "battle" between the two so seemingly infantile and nonproductive? Is there any better choice or way forward for American politics? I'm sure Dionne has some suggestion, I just haven't gotten there yet. But considering the kind of political discourse I grew up with, I definitely enjoy the thoughtful, informed, articulate insights piled into this book.

Started this book a few years ago - it is been a plodding experience. Immensely insightful, unveiling big picture developments of where America's constitutional democracy came from - where did democracy come from, and how to understand the significance and value of this experience. This isn't a primer on the issue (ie. democracy came from Greece, our Founding Fathers invented the constitution, etc) but a deep analysis of where we are in history politically, how we got here, and what that means for the future of the world. Not sure what I'll do with what I'm learning... but it's helping rethink how I think about our current political, cultural, and historical experiences.

What's so fascinating about Ireland? Uris captures that magnetism, the book keeps me glued to the pages for hours at a time. Over a thousand pages, and I have hundreds to go before I finish it. But already I'm gaining a more nuanced understanding of the strife between the Protestants and Catholics of Ireland. It's a sad, enraging, inspiring yet devastating story of colonialism, greed, prejudice, and abuse, on a massive scale. How many million individuals throughout history have been swept up and discarded in the large powerplays between nations, corporations, and armies? How many citizens have been used up, chewed up, abandoned because of "greater" interests? And yet there are people who resist empire, who won't accept oppression, who push back against corporate evil. What a complex world each generation gives to the next.

Discovered this little book at my Mum's house. An historian with an attitude, a realistic recounting of the foibles and feats of some of history's most famous individuals. Cuppy gives no respect to these "great" people, but puts them in their place, recasting them as merely individuals who got remembered by historians. It's real history that makes you chuckle, ponder, and re-adjust how you evaluate the "greatness" of people past and present.

With a gift-card to spend at Barnes & Nobles, and an interest to discover an interesting story, I discovered this gem. A history of prostitution in Chicago - which includes the formation of the FBI, the emergence of the WCTU, and the role of ministers battling vice in our society. Being a pastor who just graduated from a school in Chicago, and also constantly thinking of ways that churches can do good in society, I was glad to find this story. It's a short read with helpful insights into the reality of prostitution rings, corrupt politics, motivated ministers, and naive citizens. For pastors who want to undermine or subvert institutional corruption, read this book and then ponder. And then act.

What? Jesus was a human? A man who grew up in a society where marriage was expected? Jesus was thoroughly shaped by his culture? He was immersed in the Torah, Psalms and Prophets? At some point he realized he was the Christ? Something about the water-to-wine miracle was pivotal, scintillating remarkable and politically charged? Jesus the God-man is inspiring in his interactions with fellow neighbors and enemies? Yes.

Always expect the unexpected. Makes it hard to read a book and get lots out of it when one is constantly looking for cleverness, layers, and attitude. And yet a reflective walk through this text will prompt a fresh perspective on life and suffering and creativity and overcoming and joy. Rooted in a deep understanding of the Scriptures, written with a constant eye on the reality we live in everyday, this book seeks to help people like you and me immerse and transcend our suffering. Immerse ourselves in the pain we cannot avoid, transcend the suffering that would normally crush us. For those of us that are willing to let the worst of times bring out the best in us, Rob Bell gifts us with fuel for the journey.

1 comment:

Kratz said...

Sounds like your reading selection has gotten fairly diverse. However, after reading your blog, I did put a hold on "The Decline and Fall..." book at the Phx library (I wonder if there's anything about Jefferson in there). That book sounds pretty interesting! Always been impressed w/ Grisham, even though I haven't read any of his more recent books.

I've considered reading "Why Americans Hate Politics" - but a book that be more appealing to me would be "Why Americans Hate Politicians".

Years ago, after seeing the movie "Michael Collins", I started reading a little bit about the strife between Ireland and England, and all of the dynamics between Sinn Fein, the IRA, the provisional IRA, and the Protestants and Catholics. After reading just a little bit, I felt helpless, the situation just seems irreversible.

As for me, for those people that know me, my reading in the past few months has been pretty predictable. "Ghost Soldiers" - about the Rangers raid on Cabanatuan Prison Camp in WWII, which inspired the '05 movie, The Great Raid. "Nothing Like It In The World" - Ambrose - the building of the transcontinental railroad and the financial debacle it was with the government bonds and land grants. And I read one of Mark Bando's books on the 101st Airborne Division in WWII - Bando is a phenomenal researcher - I will soon post a blog entry on this. Very impressive with great pictures. I also read portions of "Forgotten Airfields of America" - it's a then and now of air training bases in the U.S. that were used during WWII. A good chapter on Baer Field, in fact. Baer was where all of the C-47s were inspected and fixed prior to going to Europe (the C-47 was the transport used to drop paratroopers in Normandy, among other uses).