Battling Reader’s Block

Hope everyone is doing well this fine June… It feels like the month is FLYING by.  Tomorrow is going to be about 90 degrees where I live, so I’d say summer is here.

Albert Bierstadt - Matterhorn

Since I finished 12 Rules for Life, I’ve been having pretty bad reader’s block.  You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell… Current status seems productive:

  • Still slowly plugging away at the Tesla biography (it’s interesting but very brainy)
  • On track for Cleo’s read-along of The Four Loves (Lewis), though I failed to post for part 1 (will roll it up into the next part)
  • Also reading Master and Commander (O’Brian) and The Scapegoat (du Maurier), both of which are pretty good books so far

I think recent “real-life” stress has zapped my attention span.  I hate it when that happens.

There are certain types of books that can get me out of that.  I will probably keep sampling books till I find one.  Till then, it might be kinda quiet around here…

On Fictional Violence and Naming Children

Note: Contains Game of Thrones Season 8 spoilers

(Note 2: I never thought I would be doing a post on Game of Thrones, but here I am.  Never say never.)

When I first heard about this book/TV franchise, it was years ago, still in the early days of the TV series.  At first I was interested, because a lot of people were comparing it to The Lord of the Rings, and aesthetically there is some similarity.  I read some Amazon reviews of the books (as I usually do) and was a bit disturbed to hear the series is full of heinous, macabre scenes, including frequent sexual violence.  I always pass on that kind of content and decided not to read it.  Frankly, I also expected the hype would fizzle out sooner rather than later.

Well, hindsight being 20/20, I was completely wrong, and enthusiasm for the series catapulted into eight TV seasons.  I’ve been observing the franchise’s progress from afar and, thanks to the media, wasn’t allowed to not know the fact that it finally reached its last season this year.

I wouldn’t have given it much further thought, if I hadn’t stumbled across this story: Latest Game of Thrones episode sends curveball to children named Khaleesi

“Khaleesi” basically means “queen” in this story, and by association refers to Daenerys, one of the female characters and arguably the poster child for the series.  Many viewers had perceived her as a strong heroine, and sure enough, her name and title made it on to baby names lists.

In season 8, the show writers threw in a plot twist in which Daenerys decides to bomb a conquered city with dragon fire, mass murdering innocent civilians.  This may not be shocking material for the series as such, but it poses a real problem for parents who had envisioned the character as a role model, or at least a namesake, for their daughter.

I’m no fan of Bustle, but they followed up on the topic with a fascinating article which suggests Daenerys was always a villain, just not as blatantly.  If that’s so, it could be argued the writers were taking this aspect of the character to the next level, rather than reinventing her.

Not being a fan of the show, the whole outrage doesn’t affect me, but I do find it interesting that:

  1. there is such a high tolerance of evil (yes, let’s call it that) depicted in fictional form, justified in the name of fiction.  And that’s not one or two isolated episodes; it’s a steady diet throughout eight seasons.
  2. anyone would name their child after a fictional character which is still a work in progress
  3. anyone would associate their child with a TV show famous for its violence

It’s hard enough finding a common name without connotations (Twilight managed to taint “Edward”), but naming your child after a fictional character is quite risk.  If the character is new, their legacy is still to be established.  If the character is old, even a classic, they may have a fairly solid legacy, but perceptions can still change rapidly.  Take Atticus Finch, for example (not that anyone’s naming their boy Atticus… or are they?).

As for the violence, I wonder how many people are actually desensitized to it now.  It also begs the question, how much violence is excessive, in fiction?

I’m completely against sugarcoating non-fiction.  Some terrible, despicable things have occurred in history and in recent events – things as bad or worse than are shown in Game of Thrones.  We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

When it comes to fiction, however, I’m always more skeptical.  As a writer, I can’t help but feel that much fictional violence is really gratuitous.  How do you justify graphically depicting something awful, except to illustrate a historical fact?  And if you’re illustrating those particular segments of history, why are you using fiction as the outlet?  (It’s a question for myself as much as anyone else.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these topics…

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.

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

Hi readers – hope everyone is doing well!  I’ve been incredibly busy the last several weeks at work, which seems to be the new normal.  To be honest, I haven’t been reading much, but I have watched some interesting films lately which I wanted to share.

Reading

The Acts of the Apostles
Rereading Acts, one thing which stands out to me is Peter’s character arc.  He starts out as emotional and at times cowardly in the Gospels, then grows in faith and courage till he faces his fears in Acts.  It’s really moving to see him develop in this way; it’s the progress every Christian wants to make.

No-No Boy, by John Okada
This 1957 novel is about a “no-no boy”: a Japanese-American man who, under pressure from his mother, refused to fight in WWII against the Japanese and was subsequently imprisoned.  I actually live near a temporary camp where Japanese-Americans were held, and as disturbing as it is, I feel it’s important to read about this piece of local history.  It’s the only remotely contemporary novel about this topic that I’m aware of, and interestingly, it was Okada’s only book.  So far it’s very interesting, but a slow read for me (hard to get through the cussing and domestic violence…getting major Brothers Karamazov vibes).

Watching

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

A small local theater was playing Peter Jackson’s new documentary, a colorized edit of WWI footage narrated by veterans.  I thought it was a great film, both emotionally evocative and also highly educational.  If you get a chance to see it in theater or on DVD, I’d highly recommend it!

Leave No Trace (2018)

This is one I saw on DVD with my mom and brother.  Leave No Trace is an indie film about a father and his daughter who live off-the-grid in the woods, until they are found and forced to leave.  Their love for each other is put to the test when a social worker tries to get them to rejoin society.

This is a very slow-paced film and stylistically very “indie,” from the woodsy shots to the folk music.  I think it could have been 30 minutes shorter, and I wasn’t sure if the ending was actually realistic (plus it was really depressing).  That said, overall it was a fascinating film and an important conversation piece, especially if you live in the Pacific Northwest where we have a homelessness crisis.

A Sister’s Call (2018)
This is a documentary about a sister who spent years looking for her homeless brother, Call, and finally found him.  The film covers topics such as schizophrenia and sexual abuse, so be warned, it is pretty dark.  I found it hard to watch but it was certainly thought provoking.

Listening

I just finished listening to “TL;DR,” an episode of IRL (“In Real Life,” a Mozilla podcast) that Mozilla (who else?!) recommended to me. The host and the interviewees talk about how people today have trouble reading books because we are so used to digital mediums and the brevity of headlines.  It was a rather cursory treatment of the topic – and felt a bit like an extended ad for Mozilla’s “Pocket” app – but it is a topic that interests me.

I know I read differently now than I did as a kid, and ironically I have a much lower attention span as a 20-something than as a ten-year-old.  I would be curious to know if it’s reversible damage, or if my brain is now permanently wired this way…