Wednesday, September 10, 2008

This Week at the Library (10/9)

Books this Update:
  • Me of Little Faith, Lewis Black
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris
  • Surviving Auschwitz, Primo Levi
  • Carl Sagan: A Life, Keay Davidson


I began this week with Me of Little Faith, which is a book about comedian Lewis Black’s experiences with religions and the paranormal. Black is a comedian often featured on The Daily Show who hosts his own show on the Comedy Central channel called The Root of All Evil. It’s not anti-religious, which came as a surprise to me given his comedy routines. Black was raised Jewish and considers himself a Jew even though he doesn’t follow Judaism. This makes him a “cultural Jew”, which Black says sounds like a name for some sort of yogurt. Black begins by describing growing up in a family of “cultural Jews”, then moves on. The book is a book of comedy, so there’s no real organization to it. Black describes his experiences and knowledge of various religious entities (Jonestown, Oral Roberts, Mormons, the Amish, televangelists), reflects on religions’ various effects, and provides personal anecdotes to give the reader a feel for Black’s own religious beliefs. As far as I could figure, he believes in a god, believes in ghosts, believes some people are gifted with psychic abilities, and is easily impressed by astrological coincidences. He mentions experiences he’s had -- seeing things while visiting the Farm, seeing things while being touched by a guru, etc. A large part of one chapter comes from his “Red, White, and Screwed” show; a clip of which you can see here.

Next I read David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Sedaris is a comedian, one I became familiar with thanks to NPR. He often appears on the show “This American Life”, and when he read from Me Talk Pretty One Day, I was so amused that I had to go find the book. I ended up reading all of his humor books, and I looked forward to this new one with great anticipation. It was not disappointing. Sedaris’ particular style of humor is as ever delightful. If you want to listen to Sedaris reading from one of his books -- and thus get an idea for what is included -- click here for one of my favorite readings. That’s a short version: you can watch the longer version here.

Also this week I read Surviving Auschwitz, which is the story of an Italian man named Primo Levi who was captured by fascists while hiding in the countryside of Italy. Owing to his Jewish ancestry, he was sent to Auschwitz. Because he was captured in 1944, he was only forced to spend a year in the work-camp. While the SS had suspended mass killings by this point -- wanting to maintain as much of a work force as possible to help with the war effort -- death was still common. Levi describes the work details, the infirmary, the rituals of life in the camp. It’s an interesting read.

To finish the week’s reading off, I read Carl Sagan: A Life by Keay Davidson. The book is a large biography of Sagan, host of Cosmos and an astronomer associated with the Mariner and Voyager projects. He’s one of my favorite people to learn from, and as such I enjoyed this biography very much. The book does not shy away from Sagan’s failings, which I appreciate. Reading the book is a bit like reading about science, skepticism, and psuedo-science from the 1950s to the 1960s. Here are a few Sagan-related links:
  1. Celebrating Sagan
  2. "Pale Blue Dot"; Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot. Beautiful video.
  3. "Wonder and Skepticism", parts 1 and 2. His last lecture.
  4. Ted Turner interviews Carl Sagan, part 1. You can find the rest from there.

Pick of the Week: When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris

Next Week:
  • The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampusa. This book is another book for school.
  • Banquets of the Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov. Given how much I enjoyed the first two books in the Widowers series, I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one.
  • The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’, Bill Zehme. I read this book in early 2005 and am anticipating a good re-read.
  • Sinatra: the Artist and the Man, John Lahr

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