Thursday, July 23, 2009

This Week at the Library (23/7)

Books this Update:
  • Lemony Snicket's The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, and The Ersatz Elevator
  • Company, Max Barry
  • The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
  • Drawing Down the Moon, Margaret Adler
  • Ricochet, Sandra Brown

For future reference, I decided a few weeks back to postpone my comments on The Sane Society until I have access to the book once more. This week began with Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, as I read books four through six. Although each of the books follow the same general plot (Snicket warns readers against readers and introduces the book: children arrive at a new guardian's house and learn that they're either crazy or mean; Count Olaf arrives and contrives to steal the children away; the children come up with a plan to stop him, which only works partially and at best results in Olaf's cover being blown; and finally, the children contemplate the degree to which their lives are miserable), they're never dull. Snicket's narrating style is funny, and hints of the larger story are beginning to play into the books themselves now.

C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce is a short fantasy story conveying Lewis' impressions on what (Christian) Heaven and Hell are like, or why some people remain in Hell when they could easily be in the other. The unnamed narrator finds himself in a dreary town for no reason that he's sure of. The town is peopled by people at their worst -- angry, spiteful, short-tempered, petty -- and Narrator is anxious to leave, so he hops on a bus and finds himself near scenic woodlands far from the "Grey Town". When he arrives in the woodlands he sees that he and his fellow passengers are just ghosts . Solid or "real" people from a city in the mountains arrive to talk with the Grey citizens and ask them to join the solids in heaven, at which point we are treated to a series of conversations between the solids and strawmen that Lewis uses to tell everyone under the sun who does not grasp the importance of Lewis' grace/submission centered theology. The narrator eventually wakes up and realizes it was just a dream. It's an entertaining little story, but the theology is another matter. Its moral is to accept Lewis' god on his own terms.

Next I read a quite thorough survey of Wicca, goddess-worship, and other Earth religions by Margaret Adler. After establishing background -- focusing on what these groups have in common, where they came from, and how they are adjusting themselves to a culture that by and large rejects them -- Adler moves to examining the specific movements. Wicca receives proportionally more attention than the rest, but its members are more prominent and have more in common than the various goddess-worshipers might have. There's a lot of depth here: although (as a skeptic) there's information here that tempts me to wrinkle my nose, there's also a lot that intrigues me and confirms Adler's suspicion that if not for the connotations that witchery and such terms have, what they're actually saying would otherwise draw social critics and religious pluralists like flies. While reading, I was often reminded of Sufisim.

Max Barry's Company is a delightfully funny story about Zephyr Holdings' newest employee and his rebellion against what the rest of the company takes for granted -- the negligent when not cruel behavior that the company's managers and senior executives seem to exact on the workers, the fact that no one knows what Zephyr Holdings does, the fact that no one has never seen the CEO, and a few other irritations. He is alone in this quest: everyone tells him to just accept the fact that some things at Zephyr Holdings do not make sense, and that poking his nose into matters will just get him fired. Eventually he finds it necessarily to scale a twenty-story building using the fire-escape stairwell while being chased by security guards. What he finds makes Zephyr make sense, but it doesn't make him happy. What finally results is something that might require red flags and a boisterous singing of the Internationale. The book is definitely enjoyable, and I recommend it.

Lastly, I read a reccommendation from my sister in Sandra Brown's Ricochet, a police mystery thriller about an honest cop and a plot that somehow manages to pit him against the three people in his city that most threaten his integrity: a master criminal who he has a serious grudge against; the judge who let the criminal walk on a technicality; and the judge's wife, who our honest cop falls hard for. The story begins when the wife shoots a man in her own home. What looks like a simple case of self defense against an armed burgular has a few too many questions for Honest Cop, and when he presses the investigation further, the wife asks to meet him in secret -- at which point she states that she believes her husband was attempting to assassinate her and that he will try again. It is hard for the police to believe that the corrupt judge would want to part with his trophy wife under any terms, but as the protagonist digs, he finds pictures of her in the company of the criminal. What this means is that he can't actually figure out who is telling the truth: he has to wing it and go from his gut at times. The book was fairly entertaining with enough plot twists to keep it interesting.

Pick of the Week: Company, Max Barry

Next Week:
  • Lemony Snicket's The Vile Village and The Hostile Hospital. (Number ten was checked out.)
  • Reclaiming Virtue: How We Can Develop the Moral Intelligence to do the Right Thing at the Right Time for the Right Reason; John Bradshaw.
  • Finding Your Religion, Scotty McLennan. I'm not sure why I checked this one out: the impression I got flipping through its pages was that it's about the common practices of the major religious and "spiritual paths", so file it under comparative religion -- perhaps.
  • The Great American Wolf, Bruce Hampton
  • Medieval Lives -- maybe. It isn't actually a history book.
  • Syrup, Max Barry

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