I feel like this is going to be another whirlwind year in slow motion (yes, that’s a thing). Goodreads says I’m already behind on my reading challenge. Oh well—I’ve been reading, anyway!
Here are some books I’ve needed to review but didn’t feel like doing an entire post or video about. Naturally, it’s turned out to be a long post, so brace yourselves…
Datura by Leena Krohn
This Finnish novel, which I completed in December, is strange and haunting. A woman takes a job at a magazine called The New Anomalist, which specializes in articles about the supernatural and unexplained. Around the same time, she receives an unusual gift: a datura flower, still in the pot. The narrator begins eating datura seeds to ease her asthma, but what she doesn’t fully realize is the plant is also a very powerful hallucinogen.
That is the frame story. The book actually takes on some mammoth themes, such as the meaning of language, how time works, the basis of reality, and more. There are multiple layers of ambiguity—for example, the narrator meets a number of eccentric characters on the job, and the chapters are arranged and interlinked in such a way that you cannot be sure when certain events take place or whether they happened at all. It’s quite unsettling and cleverly written.
This is a book best appreciated by a person (or in my case, having a reading buddy) who has a background in philosophy. If you do, there’s rich food for thought, above and beyond the storyline. Suspense, mystery, and surrealism also make this a bit of a page-turner. I did have issues with some parts of the plot, including the ending, and would not necessarily recommend it to everyone, due to the disturbing subject matter. That said, it’s one of the best written contemporary novels I’ve read, and I would consider reading more by Krohn in the future.
Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher
A couple different people referred this book to me ahead of its release, so I got in line early for the library ebook and the paperback. I read it in a day or two over Christmas break.
Live Not by Lies is about the arrival of persecution against Christians in the West and how we can approach it with a Christ-like mindset. Dreher outlines what he sees as the increasing encroachment upon Christians’ lives by certain leftist ideology. He gives some concrete examples from recent events and trends, with the larger theme being “cancel culture” and a general coercion to live in a lie…that is, to say (and think) what society wants you to say regardless of what you believe. Dreher doesn’t leave the right blameless, either, pointing to the excesses of capitalism as an equally dangerous idol, which, in the form of big tech, is about to eat us whole (my words, not his).
As its basis, the book leans on the history and examples of Christians who were arrested, tortured, or even murdered during the worst of the Soviet years. Dreher includes interviews from survivors and family members, which I found especially encouraging. Solzhenitsyn’s essay “Live Not by Lies” provides the titular theme, and Havel’s story of the greengrocer features as well, so for anyone who had not come across them before, this is an excellent starting point.
The book started out slow but improved as it went on. Dreher’s advice—and the framework See, Judge, Act—is solid. He advocates for strong family, community, knowledge, and self-awareness. And last but not least, a willingness to endure. There is absolutely nothing here about use of force or race, and I applaud him for not even entertaining those kinds of ideologies. What he describes instead is a non-violent self-assurance that includes compassion for the persecutors—the only way to truly win.
On the cons: I would’ve liked to see more content on Christianity in China, since there is already massive persecution there of the underground churches. I also think the technology factor is a huge hurdle that wasn’t quite as pernicious during the 20th century. (To his credit, Dreher does reference We Have Been Harmonized, another book on my shelf waiting to be read). Lastly, this book would be kinda tough for the average teen, and I feel this is a topic that needs to be accessible to that age group. These are minor critiques, though. I would recommend the book to any Christians.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
This was my fifth reading of this novella. Oddly enough, I love it more and more every time I read it. This simple tale of a young man who sleeps in too long in the morning, only to find out he’s turned into a monster, is part tragedy, part comedy, and part what I would call a “personal epic.”
I find something new in The Metamorphosis every time. This time, it was the likeness to silent film—the horrible apple-throwing scene could only be played out in silence, maybe with some eerie music in the background. I noticed also the incredible symmetry of the story, with only a momentary show of real love and affection towards the middle. On either side is a rapid dissent into selfishness, where Gregor’s family lives in their own cocoon (see what I did there) of what they can get for themselves, regardless of the cost.
I just finished the Book of Leviticus for the second time. It is a tough one to read, and I’m sorry to say I procrastinated for months on sticking to it regularly.
There were a couple of things I noticed this time. One is the references to male/female in the different animal sacrifices the Israelites were commanded to make. I felt there was some significance there, and it’s a topic I want to read up on (re: Adam and Eve’s culpability).
The other thing that jumped out to me was, well, the Uncomfortable Topics, such as capital punishment. While I can’t presume to question God’s commandments, there’s certainly a desire in me to better understand them and how the Old Testament teachings relate to the New.
Key factors here, of course, are theocracy and audience—the OT and the NT can’t be compared as if they were written for the same people, place, and time. The Mosaic Law does not apply to us today, but it also seems to me we (at least, average readers) don’t have the context to grasp its full significance in its time and place, especially contrasted with the cultures of other nations (take a trip down the Wikipedia article on human sacrifice, if you want to be shocked).
All that said, I did find this fantastic article which makes a case that some of the statements in Leviticus could have been intended as “genre devices”—that is, descriptive of the seriousness of the crime rather than the actual punishment. Apparently, this was a thing in ancient law, and the author cites the Babylonians as a contemporary example. This is just one article and doesn’t by itself negate the possibility of literal interpretation. Still, it’s a perspective I was not previously aware of, and one I would like to research more about.
I am taking a break from David Copperfield in order to try to finish:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This book is my reading bane. I read four chapters in 2012 and called it quits. I have started over again—I’m now on page 130-something, in part two.
NOTHING HAS HAPPENED.
Look, I will praise Ishiguro’s name to the skies when it comes to The Remains of the Day, A Pale View of Hills, and An Artist of the Floating World. Those books are masterpieces as far as I’m concerned.
This one, though, makes me question reading as a hobby.
It’s about three children—Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy—and how they were raised for their organs. You would think this book would be some kind of thrilling horror story. Well, I’m nearly halfway, and it’s not even suspenseful. So far, it’s been all about these children growing up at Hailsham (think Edwardian manor) and having little tiffs with each other and discovering Sex. The organ harvesting lurks in their future, but apparently these kids were also raised to have almost zero curiosity, or fear, for that matter. Again this could all be interesting, but it’s written in such a dull and long-winded style (from Kathy’s point of view), it’s all I can do to keep reading. I’m hoping for some kind of big reveal, but I’m starting to doubt it’s coming. This one may even end up as bad as When We Were Orphans.
I will give an update once I’ve finished the book. I wouldn’t usually finish a book at this point, but this is one I really want to be able to review fully.
I’ve been reading from the Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories for my Japanese lit class. The stories I’ve read so far have been highly sensational, which I don’t care for, but the writing is good, and I’ve learned a fair amount of history.
I’m also reading “Axolotl” by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. This story came recommended to me by my former Spanish professor, and though initially I was going to read it in English, I’ve decided to try Spanish. So I’m going through it, sentence by sentence, reading what I can and filling in my knowledge with good ol’ Google Translate and an English copy for a sanity check. Difficulty-wise, it’s a bit above where I left off learning the language, but I’m enjoying the process and the writing, and want to make this a new habit.
Finally, I am still reading The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. It’s a book of ups and downs—I will have more to say about it in the future…