What I'm Reading (and More): January edition 2020

[Editor’s note: It seems my blogging is going to consist of this kind of post for the foreseeable future. I’m tentatively putting classics (and the return of the podcast 😦 ) on hold to make a dent in my 2020 reading. There will be classics (primarily for the Japanese Reading Challenge), but most of them I’ll be saving for the middle/second-half of the year rather than the beginning. Sorry in advance!]

Reading

A History of East Asia

This year I want to focus on a couple of reading topics, one of which is Asian history & literature (think Finding Your Roots 😉 ).

Holcombe’s book is the quintessential college history textbook: heavy on exposition, low on intriguing anecdotes, and written with an abundance of caution (not usually a bad thing, but overdone here IMHO). That said, I still find the overview useful and expect it will get more readable as it heads into the 19th–21st centuries. (Most interesting thing I learned so far is that a Catholic cleric helped facilitate the first unification of Vietnam, privately funded by Frenchmen roughly around the time of the American Revolution!)

Exodus and Beyond

This month marks my 1-year anniversary of resuming near-daily Bible reading via the New King James Version. I’ve made it roughly halfway…I’m intentionally slow and determined to read this entire translation before starting my New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (which is KJV).

As is well-known, there are many schools of thought on English translations of the Bible. What I appreciate about the NKJV is how naturally (to us moderns) it reads, while having relatively few differences in syntax and wording. It’s helped me keep up momentum, while the KJV remains my gold standard/reference since it contains important distinctions like “thou/you” (sign me up for the NKJV that uses “you all”). I expect this experience will make the KJV easier to read when I return to it next year.

(As a side note, I am completely won over to single-column/paragraph formatted Bibles now. The KJV I read growing up was traditional column-style—maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I find it still very hard to read to this day.)

But back to Exodus. There are many mysteries in this book, from Moses’s troubled beginnings to the magic of the Pharaoh’s sorcerers and the crossing of the Red Sea. Regarding the latter, one verse that jumped out to me was 14:29, which clearly calls out “a wall” of water on each side of the Israelites as they made their crossing. I’d recently heard of a scientific theory that they crossed a “reed sea” at low water level, but that theory obviously doesn’t fit this description. (So yes, Hollywood is more accurate…this time.)

Watching

The last movie I watched was It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which was very touching and relevant to me personally. I reviewed it on my other blog. 🙂

Other than that, my folks gave me the Complete BBC Robin Hood for Christmas! I actually have never watched Season 3 and don’t expect to like it (it’s verrrryyyy poorly rated), but I plan to watch and review it when I can find time. My favorite episodes are still from Season 2 and some of Season 1.

Robin Hood with hoodies—yep, this show is my guilty pleasure. It’s every bit as cheesy as it looks.

Also, I will forever ship Robin/Marian, cause Guy of Gisbourne is a CREEPER, even if he is the one-and-only Richard Armitage.

Other

I desperately wanted to go see Eugene Onegin at the Seattle Opera this month, but a) I completely forgot about it until there were no cheap tickets, and b) Seattle is kind of a scary place right now. So yeah, that’s not happening. 😥

There’s not much else going on, but that’s ok, as it gives me more time to read. A year ago, I was up to my ears in work, so it’s nice to actually not be busy in January.

What I’m Reading (and More): May edition

Well, friends…this month’s edition of “What I’m Reading” is going to be a bit of a ramble.  You might want to grab something to snack on or drink.  I usually try to abridge, but this time I just feel the need to stream-of-conscious it….

Personal

For starters, a personal update. Though work and everything are going fine, I’ve been feeling very directionless lately and in need of a change.  The thing is, there’s so many things I would like to do – from buying a house to changing jobs – but no one thing that especially stands out as “yeah, that makes sense.” It feels like a big decision chart with lines going all over the place.
 
I’ve been through all the conventional wisdom – focus on others, not yourself; try to find what you’re passionate about; make small goals; etc.  But after all of that, I’m still in a maze, with too many ideas and hopes and doubts pulling me in different directions.  And in spite of everything being fine, that sense of possibility is making me feel like I’ve lost control of the situation and need to choose something.

First-world problems, for sure, but frustrating nonetheless.  I hope writing about it enough times might help me figure it out.

Reading

Psalms

A bit of a backstory: After finishing Revelation, I read Romans.  It’s perplexing, but I found Romans to be very heavy, difficult reading.  I didn’t want to carry that feeling into Corinthians, so I decided to switch gears to Psalms, which I’ve been meaning to re-read ever since reading Fear No Evil earlier this year.

'David' by Michelangelo Fir JBU013
Jörg Bittner Unna [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Psalms is deceptively familiar.  I remember some verses and of course Psalm 23.  But I can’t say that I actually know the book, all 150 songs/poems.   I am reading just two at a time and hoping, at this pace, to help it sink in more.  Also, I’m still using the lectio divina method of Bible reading, which works very well with smaller sections.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Not sure if this warrants a disclaimer, but here goes anyway…

I fall into the peculiar category of people who neither love Peterson nor loathe him.  I’ve seen him in a few YouTube videos, but they didn’t spark enough interest in me to want to watch more.  What is most interesting is the effect he has on other people (his fans and enemies).  I thought I’d read this book, published just a year and a half ago, to see what the fuss is about.

That said, I did come into this 400-page tome with some bias:

  • Philosophy is still a fairly new genre to me, and I’m warming to it only very slowly.
  • I actually loved the movie Frozen, particularly as it features the strong relationship between two sisters, something I relate to personally.  Due to that, I doubt the judgment (literary or otherwise) of someone who writes Frozen off as “propaganda.”
  • I don’t care for self-help books as a rule (uhh no pun intended), so it takes a pretty good one to impress me.

So I’m about halfway through 12 Rules and, consistently enough, my feelings about this book are mixed.  There are many moments of wisdom, but some parts are also quite questionable, or even laughable.  Some reviewers are turned off by the many Bible references; they’re somewhat interesting, but I don’t really like his use of them, either (though for different reasons).  It’s also both creative and tedious that he doesn’t stick to his thesis the whole time, but rather weaves other topics into each chapter.

My favorite parts thus far were his anecdotes about growing up in a small town in Canada, in Rule #3 “Make friends with people who want the best for you.”  It had all the makings of a gripping memoir, or even a coming-of-age novel.  That was the book I wanted to be reading. 

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age 

 

Another tome, over 500 pages!  Actually I powered through the first 60 pages, in spite of learning science-y things (gasp) about motors and such.  The book uses original diagrams from olden times (aka Tesla’s day), which makes my amateur graphic designer heart very happy.

More importantly, however, the writing is excellent: serious, yet approachable and very informative.  Tesla’s early life was largely positive, but after the death of his older brother, his adolescence was overshadowed by his tense relationship with his father and, at one time, a bizarre transition from workaholic student to gambling addict.  I didn’t know all of this, so those first chapters were especially fascinating.

No classics?!  What is this?

Yes, apart from Psalms, I’m not reading any classics at the moment.  I’m supposed to be re-reading The Time Machine and Ben-Hur, but lost steam somehow.

Also, can you believe I’ve only read two fictional books this year, and the rest have been nonfiction?  That’s some kind of record.  My challenges are getting rusty, too.

I do plan to get back into fiction reading soon, as I’m in line for a library copy of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander…  I’m tentatively excited, because I love the movie and kinda hope the book is just like it, at least character-wise.

Other

Apart from Valkyrie, I haven’t watched any movies.  I do want to re-watch Cranford soon, though.

I also have an album review coming up later this week, since one of my favorite groups just released a new one.

Other than that… hope everyone is having a lovely week!

Thoughts on Revelation

Just finished re-reading The Book of Revelation this morning.  This is one book I may never be able to analyze or understand satisfactorily; much of it still confuses me.  Still, I wanted to share some memories, literary references, and thoughts about Revelation, since it may be some time before I read it again.

First, a note on the edition.  For this re-reading of the Bible, I’ve chosen the New King James translation in single-column format.  I grew up with the NIV and KJV, and I was curious about the NKJV.  Compared to the KJV, I’ve noticed not many, but some, differences.  Translation is a topic on its own; so far, though, I can say I’ve had a good experience reading this one.

Flashback #1 – “Revelations”

I don’t know why, but since childhood, I thought the book was called Revelations, plural.  It appears this is a common misconception, according to Wikipedia.  Other titles mentioned on Wikipedia are:

  • The Revelation to John
  • The Apocalypse of John
  • The Revelation of Jesus Christ (from its opening words)
  • The Apocalypse

In my Cambridge KJV bible, it’s called The Revelation of St. John the Divine.  In the NKJV, it’s Revelation of Jesus Christ.

I’m afraid verse 1 must have gone over my head in the past, because, due to the NKJV’s title, this is the first time it sunk in: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants…”  Revelation is not only about Jesus, but it’s from Jesus.  This is further emphasized by the beginning of the vision, in which Jesus dictates to John His letters to seven churches.

Out of habit, I think of the Ascension as containing Jesus’ last words to us before the Second Coming, but it would be more accurate to say Revelation contains those words.

Flashback #2 – “Boring”

During my teen years, I had a Christian friend whom I would sometimes chat with over Skype.  (I think he actually wanted to be my boyfriend, but, being rather naive, I didn’t realize it at the time.)

I was reading Revelation one week (probably the last time I read it before this year), and I mentioned it to him.  He replied with a message calling it “boring.”

To this day, I have no idea whether he was being serious, facetious, or ironic. I’d like to think ironic, because personally I’ve never found this book to be boring (far from it!).

Lord of the Flies

In the NKJV version, chapter 13 was given the subject heading “The Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Land.”  I couldn’t help but be reminded of the chapter titles from Lord of the Flies called “Beast from Air” and “Beast from Water.”

The main comparison to be drawn between the Beasts of William Golding’s novel and the Beasts of Revelation is that, while the former are psychological and the latter are physical, they both use terror and deception to gain control of people, eventually taking over their lives.  I don’t know if this was intentional on Golding’s part (for one thing, his novel predates the NKJV translation), but this would not be the only biblical theme in Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Rings

Another part of the book which jumped out to me was chapter 17, verses 12–13.

The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

I thought immediately of The Lord of the Rings, in which Tolkien describes “Nine [rings] for Mortal Men, doomed to die” because their rings of power made them slaves to the Dark Lord’s One Ring.  Tolkien was Catholic; I wonder if the parallel was intentional?

The White Horse

Towards the end of Revelation, there’s a beautiful scene of triumph in chapter 19:

11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.

Electronica artist Adam Young (my favorite musician of all time) references his Christian faith many times in his 2011 Owl City album All Things Bright and Beautiful.  In the lyrics to “Kamikaze,” what may be his most cryptic and strangely titled song, Adam includes this same scene from Revelation:

My captain on the snowy horse
Is coming back to take me home
He’ll find me fighting back the terrible force
‘Cause I’m not afraid to die alone

Cowards and Liars

In Revelation, there are encouragements to hold fast to one’s faith, and there are also warnings.  This is from chapter 21, verses 7–8:

“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

It’s sobering to think that cowards and liars are counted among murderers and idolaters.  But it’s reminiscent of Jesus’ statement that those who are ashamed of Him, He will in turn be ashamed of before God (Mark 8:34–38).  Also, cowardice and lies are sometimes the root of betrayal and other kinds of crimes.

Forgiveness

Good Friday, the memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice, is just a few days away.

One of the most tense and heartbreaking parts of the Bible is when Peter, having been previously warned by Jesus he would deny Him (and protesting he would not), does just that, not once but three times.  He does this in the presence of Jesus, in the high priest’s courtyard where He was being held.  At the third denial, Jesus looks at Peter.  (As a child, I was most familiar with this part in the Jesus film (1979) – it really stuck with me.)
 
Peter is horrified by what he’s done and leaves, in grief.  His repentance is sincere, and Jesus forgives him.  When they are reunited after the Resurrection, there is no further mention of what happened.

Peter is one of the most relatable New Testament figures – emotional, earnest, and imperfect. His story is like the journey every Christian takes, and it gives me hope because it means there is forgiveness even for cowards who repent.

Slowing Down with Tolkien, Lectio Divina

With all that’s been going on in my life lately, I’ve been finding it necessary to take action to slow down.

I know, that sounds like an oxymoron.  But as a recovering perfectionist and incorrigible planner, I tend to labor over any life changes, even if it’s merely the quest to find a little peace and quiet.  I have learned a few things from this methodical approach, although in reality, just the awareness of trying to slow down has helped lead me into some more practical, if unexpected, steps.

Turning off the “TV”

Prior to all of this, I had (for other reasons) decided to take a YouTube fast for three weeks this past November.  For me, YouTube is the equivalent of cable TV, except that I get to choose the content through a very personalized subscription list.  Typically, I can spend hours just trying to keep up with each channel, and I actually avoid some channels in part because I can’t keep up.

Taking a break was really hard, but very good.  I did not feel particularly happy knowing I was missing out on all my favorite YouTubers, but at the same time, it forced to me do more reading.  It’s probably the reason I managed to finish Kirkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety, a book which was as dry as YouTube is enthralling.

Coming back to YouTube in December, I’d been dreading the “catch up” phase. What I didn’t expect was that my fast had changed my perspective.  Now I see a lot of videos I could watch, but viewed collectively, only some of them stand out as actually interesting.  I feel motivated by this to limit my viewing now and may even unsubscribe from some channels.

A Long-Expected Viewing Party

Something really exciting happened during my YouTube fast.

The local library had the full, extended-edition Hobbit trilogy.  More importantly, the DVDs all arrived for me at once.  Unheard of!

My siblings and I have been watching it over the past few weeks – it’s new to us.  “Extended edition” is by definition “slow,” but in a good way.  It gives you space to really savor each segment and talk about it.   

I don’t know if it’s the “extendedness,” but I love these three films more than ever and in some ways as much as The Lord of the Rings.  It’s really apples and oranges, yet I’m a child at heart, and The Hobbit especially appeals to my love of fairy tales.

You can read about my history with Tolkien here.  I have just started re-reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time.  I don’t know how long it’ll take me – and in the spirit of slowing down, that’s ok.  I just don’t want to wait for the “perfect time.”

The Bible and Lectio Divina

As a Christian, I’ve read the Bible through once or twice, in addition to studying sections of it.  But it’s been a while since I read it regularly, and I’ve found it difficult to get back into it.

During my break from YouTube, I listened to several episodes of The Word on Fire Show, a podcast by Bishop Robert Barron from Los Angeles.  He talks about books on occasion; I think I first stumbled across his talks on YouTube, possibly to do with Shūsaku Endō’s The Silence (a book I have yet to read).  I’m not Catholic, and I don’t agree with all of Barron’s views, but of the episodes I’ve listened to, I’ve found the podcast to be interesting, educational, and well presented.

One of his older episodes is about “5 Ways to Pray Better Today.”  In it, he talks about lectio divina, a method of prayer and Bible reading traditionally used by Benedictine monks.  It’s broken down into four steps (which I paraphrase from Wikipedia):

  1. Lectio (read) – Read a passage of Scripture.
  2. Meditatio (meditate) – Ponder over what you have read.
  3. Oratio (pray) – Speak to God.
  4. Contemplatio (contemplate) – A calm silence.  Bp. Barron describes this step as “contemplative listening to what God wants to tell you.”

Coming from a Protestant background, I had never heard of lectio divina before.  I tried this for the first time the other night, reading John 17

John 17 is one of my favorite parts of the Bible and certainly one of the most beautiful passages of all literature.  Absorbing it slowly and with prayer brought me so much peace.  I think I will continue lectio divina as I re-read the New Testament.

Looking to the New Year

As planned, I’ve read at least 40 books this year.  Much of that was for my podcast, which I highly enjoyed while I had time to do it.  I still want to bring it back next year, though it’s looking doubtful if I will have the energy for it.

I’ve shelved Flannery O’Connor‘s Complete Stories and Václav Havel’s Open Letters for the time being.  Same with Hawthorne’s Complete Tales and Sketches.  I love anthologies, but the best way to read them is at intervals, not all at once.  (I made the latter mistake with Kafka.)

Next year remains open.  How many books will I read?  I don’t know if I want to set a goal.  Ideally I’d like to avoid reading several books at once, which is what happened this year.  Focusing on one book at a time and avoiding multi-tasking – these are going to help me get more out of my reading and enjoy life.