Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This Week At the Library (29/7)

Books this Update:
  • The Vile Village and The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket
  • Syrup, Max(x) Barry
  • Finding Your Religion, Scotty McLennan
  • Reclaiming Virtue, Ray Bradshaw

I started the week off by continuing in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. While I typically check out three at a time, some unknown person had checked out book nine before my arrival, and so I settled for only two. At this point in the series, the books are more possessed by the overall story: the format set by the preceding six books in which Mr. Poe, as the children's overseer, inadvertently places them in the trust of people who are either destined to be killed or who are working with Count Olaf, and eventually takes the children away once they've dealt with Olaf's sinister plot, is no more. Mr. Poe does not come to rescue the children at the end of The Vile Village after they've been accused of murder and run out of town, nor does he find the children at the Hostile Hospital before Violet nearly loses her head. He never shows up at all, and the children have finally realized that he and every other adult in this world of theirs is useless and they must rely fully on themselves. Although they continue to face adversity with their usual stamina, they begin to question their actions after using deceit to protect themselves.

Syrup by Max Barry is not at all like the Snicket books. Like Jennifer Government and Company, it's a short but fast novel that provides laughs, an enjoyable story, and satire. This one is set in the marketing industry, following the struggle between two groups of marketers at the Coca-Cola company who are competing with one another for glory and money. Scat and 6 are our two main characters, and their rival is Sneaky Pete -- who is only in the story because he trademarked Scat's big idea to pitch to Coca-Cola while Scat was pitching it. Having robbed Scat of his opportunity, he immediately displaces the marketing executive that first heard Scat's idea (6), pitting the two against him. The quick and funny plot culminates in their attempt to film a movie that will serve as a feature-length advertisement for Coca-Cola. The conflict is not resolved until the book's final pages, keeping readers' eyes firmly on the page.

I read Scotty McLennan's Finding Your Religion next, and it seems to serve as a guidebook of sorts for people who are having problems with their own childhood religion or who are looking for a spiritual path that best suits them. Why would a religious skeptic such as myself read this book? Good question. What drew me to it initially was its potential for looking at the spiritual elements of the various religions and seeing how they compared and contrasted. The book was written for people who are looking for meaning or direction in their lives and not finding in in "material" means. McLennan is a Unitarian Universalist and does write on the universality of religions here, noting that each has something to offer. He believes in making religion serve the individual needs of people, allowing people to interpret the tradition they subscribe to as much as necessary -- as he has done in calling himself a Christian while dropping much of what is traditionally considered Christian. It was certainly an interesting read.

Lastly I read Ray Bradshaw's Reclaiming Virtue, a rational defense of morality that incorporates philosophy, sociology, parenting strategies, information on childhood development, self-help psychology, psychiatry, biology, and more into its argument. There's a lot of information here -- I regarded it as a mental hike -- but it all ties into the act of "prudence", which Bradshaw defines as doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason, allowing our emotions to inform us and our reason to guide us in figuring out what's best in a given situation. I think it merits recommending.



Pick of the Week: Finding Your Religion was surprisingly interesting, but I think Syrup takes it.

Quotation of the Week:
"History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again." - Maya Angelou, as quoted in Reclaiming Virtue

Next Week:
  • The Carnivorous Carnival, The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril, and The End by Lemony Snicket.
  • To Have or To Be, Erich Fromm. I'm assuming this builds on "Affluence and Ennui in Our Society" from For the Love of Life and Fromm's criticism that people today build their identities based on what they own rather.
  • Walden, Henry David Thoreau. I've found his journal writings and Civil Disobedience to be thought provoking and personally inspiring, so I look forward to reading the work for which he is arguably most known.
  • Gold, Isaac Asimov. This is a collection of science fiction stories and essays published after Asimov's death.

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