Sunday, December 31, 2017

Unfinished Business, 2017 Edition

Every year a few books will slip through the cracks, and become read but un-reviewed. Sometimes books are so good I keep pondering them until the thought of writing about them has slipped my mind; other times, the books are too short or simply don't inspire comment.  As a way of finishing the year with no loose ends, and as a reminder to return to a few of these, here are the books that I've read, but didn't review, for 2017.

First, the books I'm likely to revisit:

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, Philip and Carol Zaleski
This is a joint biography of Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams. I was mostly reading it for the Tolkien and Lewis, so I need to go through it again and pay more attention to the sections on Barfield and Williams.

Reclaiming the Catholic Social Doctrine, Anthony Esolen
Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy Humanity Of Your Child, Anthony Esolen

While I have an interest in the Catholic social doctrine borne of E.F. Schumacher's small is beautiful,  I'm also a fan of Anthony Esolen as a literary and cultural critic, admiring his deep immersion in the western heritage, as well as Anglo-American folk culture.

Of Other Worlds, C.S. Lewis
This was a slight collection of essays and stories about science fiction and fantasy which overlapped  with the recently-read From Narnia to a Space Odyssey, so it wasn't a priority for reviewing.  I could see revisiting this one during a Read of England series.

And  now,  the also-reads:

Verbal Judo, George Thompson.  George Thompson was an English teacher & martial artists enthusiast  turned cop turned...tactical communications specialist. He made a career for himself by training police officers and other contact professionals  in the art of 'verbal judo' to do their work more professionally, peaceably, and effectively.  The lectures I watched repeatedly earlier in the year were fantastic illustrations of nonviolent communication that struck me as very useful for any job that involves working with the public,  This book was only based on Thompson's work, however, and compared to his lecturing style I was not impressed. The earlier editions, published when Thompson was still living, may be closer to his own approach.  If you are curious, I found the notes for a lecture based on verbal judo online. I also link to the first in the four-part lecture above; I've listened to them several times this year.  He makes points like listening to what people are trying to say, rather than the words they're using -- instead of getting irritated about someone's aggressive language, focus on resolving what is causing their frustration. Another lesson is that role and voice have to match: delivery of information is often more important than the information itself, so if helpful advice is rendered in a condescending or brusque manner, it probably won't be received.   There are other lectures from Thompson on youtube, including those aimed specifically towards police officers, like detailing the way he approaches a car he's pulled over.

The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton.
This spiritual autobiography often has the effect of making people realize a call to the priesthood, or to some religious order. It did...very little for me.  That surprised me, because I like western monasticism and intentional communities. The source of my dis-interest, I think, is that Merton was drawn to a more withdrawn and contemplative order, while the monks who interest me most are those who are engaged in some sort of service -- teaching, nursing, running inns, resisting tax officials with the help of outlaws in green tights, that sort of thing.

A Study in Scarlet,  Arthur Conan Doyle
It's a short Sherlock piece. I enjoyed it, and..well, that's it.

Over and Over the Road: A Truck Driver's Stories, V. Shephard
A memoir of trucking stories, which I liked well enough.  I'd read several around the same time, though.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to American and English Literature, Elizabeth Cantor
In the mood for a literary survey,  I picked this up and found it amusing, if acerbic. The series as a whole is intentionally confrontational, of course, but the authors can also be thoughtful. I did begin a review for this one:

Cantor suggests that instead of using literature as a mirror that reflects our own vanity, we simply allow the text to say what it says. Read Beowulf and hail the conquering hero,  understanding that humanity needs courage and strength to fight against its enemies -- and itself.  Read the Canterbury Tales and witness that the medieval mind was not gray and miserable, but colorful, mischievous, and passionate even  in its piety.  Visit with Jane Austen and consider that the problems of her novels are caused not by men behaving patriarchal, but by men shirking their duties.

The Naked Future, Patrick Tucker.
"Everything we do is turned into data, which can be used to drastically improve services like healthcare. Of course, it's also a little unnerving and if we're really concerned we should write Congress."

That's the book in a nutshell. Good title, but the delivery was...tepid.

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