July Miscellany – Books + Life

It seems the theme of my life in 2019 is “life gets tougher, books get better.”  Well, some books anyway.  I have to say, I haven’t been reading as much as I would like, but in spite of that, am pretty pleased overall with the books I have read so far.

I’ve also highly enjoyed reading other’s blogs this year and found many new ones to follow.  I’ve been thinking about doing a post series sharing links to blogs I follow, if that would interest anyone (?).

Ok, let’s talk about some books.

Another one bites the dust…

Here’s one of those “not so great” reads of the year.  I had every intention of posting a review on The Scapegoat, by Daphne du Maurier.  But after reaching a glorious 44%, I came to a screeching stop.  The plodding repetition of the plot was one thing… the narrator’s nauseating “aha!” moment was the cherry on top.  I thought I’d take one for the team, finish the book, and present you with a scathing review, but sanity won, and I had to shelve it.  So alas, no review of The Scapegoat.

Jonah, revisited

I may have mentioned it before, but over the past year, my family and I have been watching a YouTube series on the Bible by a preacher named David Pawson.  While I don’t agree with all of his views, the series is nonetheless thought-provoking, as he goes in-depth on the historical and geographical context of each book.  The last episode we watched was Jonah, which, coupled with the upcoming Moby-Dick readalong in August, prompted me to re-read it.

Jonah has always been one of my favorite Old Testament books.  At just four chapters, it is incredibly short, but there’s much to unpack – judgment, mercy, high-seas drama, miracles, and even humor (maybe it’s just me, but I always thought the worm eating the vine was hilarious).  Pawson observes the references to Sheol (the grave), as well as the succeeding lines in chapter 2, suggest that Jonah may have actually died and was resurrected, as a precursor to Jesus.

I grew up with the 1956 Moby-Dick film, starring Orson Welles as Father Mapple.  The sermon on Jonah is one of the most memorable scenes.  I just recently noticed how the camerawork cuts to Starbuck during the line, “preach truth to the face of falsehood,” as a foreshadowing of his moral dilemma to come.

The Professor, and writing what you know

Cleo mentioned she’d be reading The Professor by Charlotte Bronte this month, so I picked up where I’d left off (not very far).  Why oh why is this book such a struggle for me to read?  Here’s some theories:

  • Male narrator – Bronte is not bad at it, but you get the sense of her holding something back.  It just doesn’t sound entirely natural, compared with Jane Eyre and Villette.
  • Plot – The plot, thus far, is like a much more boring version of Villette – English teacher moves to French-speaking country.  However, while our narrator has some unfortunate circumstances, it is nothing compared to the heart-wrenching, excruciatingly depressing life of Lucy Snowe, which grabs you immediately.  To be fair, The Professor feels much more realistic, more akin to naturalism than the other novels.  It is more like Anne’s novel Agnes Grey, though even there, Agnes’s conflict is more pronounced.

While The Professor was indeed based on Bronte’s own experiences, so far I would say she did not perfect that story until Villette.  I think the lesson for us writers is…go all in.

Anyways, I will be finishing this one, so maybe it will get better later on.  🙂

Iwan Iwanowitsch Schischkin 003

Other stuff

I am considering trying to pare-down my 700+ list of books to-be-read.  It disturbs me.  On the other hand, it may be a waste of time trying.  I already cheat right now with a bookmarks folder of “Books” that I haven’t added to Goodreads, out of the sheer number of them (some of them are links to other people’s lists) and/or embarrassment.  But I’m genuinely concerned that the list will grow (has grown??) so large, it will cease to be useful.

I would also like to publicly confess that, thanks to the election season beginning, I’ve become slightly addicted to YouTube, particularly binge-watching political commentary.  This is part of what is taking time away from my reading.  Not sure if it’s time well spent (though I am learning things).  Hopefully I will eventually get sick of it.

Overall I would, as usual, like to take a more simplistic approach to life.  I am a very organized person, but unfortunately I am not a minimalist.  I get bored way too easily and am interested in a wide range of things, which is a dangerous combination.  See, I’ve always had escapism in my life, but it used to be books almost exclusively.  Now the internet has taken over that role, and it’s endless rabbit-hole of genuinely useful information.  Still, I probably need to change some habits, because there is still something important about reading a book, a whole composition, that the internet can’t give you.

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!

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…

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

It’s snowing heartily again, on top of the 2-4 inches from earlier this week that didn’t fully melt.  So I came home early and am looking forward to a weekend “snowed in” – which means reading!

Reading

The Gospel of John
I’ve been rereading the Gospels in this order: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and now John.  Though I don’t know it’s right to have a “favorite” Gospel, what I will say is I particularly connect with John’s because of his incredible writing style and some of the details he includes, like the story of Nicodemus.

I’m reading a few other books as well, but I’m holding back a little, partly in anticipation of an upcoming Moby-Dick readalong.  (Not exactly sure when it’s starting, but I don’t want to be in the middle of two chunksters at once.)

That said…  I recently found these cute little books at the thrift store and had to take them home. I’ll probably read one or two this weekend.

By “little,” I mean pocket-sized.  They’re really excerpts of longer works, part of a Penguin series called Great Journeys.  I’m not usually a fan of excerpts (give me unabridged!) but the cover art drew me in. Plus I’m not necessarily planning to read the full version of all of these (except Shackleton, which I already have).

Watching

Stan & Ollie (2018)

My family and I went to see Stan & Ollie a couple of weeks ago, at a small theater which specializes in indie and foreign films.  We’re big fans of the original Laurel & Hardy, and we all enjoyed this biopic, even if it was very sad.  I didn’t feel there was enough in the movie for me to give a full review, but you can read more about it (and the real-life figures) here.

Downton Abbey
My family is on a Downton Abbey rewatch, and, in spite of my best efforts to resist, I’ve joined them for an episode or two… or three… or four…

I’ve always had extremely mixed feelings about this series.  (When one’s favorite character is the cynical, sometime villain, Thomas Barrow, one is bound to have mixed feelings.) I can’t deny the plot and characters are very entertaining – and who doesn’t enjoy a jaunt through the 1920s?

Listening

Still on an indie folk kick.  I always enjoy this one, “Birds” by East Love, and I can relate very strongly to it at the moment.

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

Ah, January.  I always find this month to be dreary.  (Anything coming after a glorious Christmas break is bound to be dreary).

My reading, as you might expect, has been somewhat sporadic and diverse, as I’m trying to escape the doldrums.  I don’t have full reviews yet, just a scattering of thoughts…

Reading

Fear No Evil, by Natan Sharansky
Finally reading this after hearing about it two years ago from Stephen.  I’m almost halfway and getting strong Kafkaesque vibes from the tedious, illogical interrogations by the KGB.  Also, the author is a fellow computer science major and Sherlock Holmes fan, which is personally inspiring.

Philosophy 101: From Plato and Socrates to Ethics and Metaphysics, an Essential Primer on the History of Thought, by Paul Kleinman
I am trying to rectify my ignorance in philosophy with this crash-course style book.  The author’s approach is sometimes questionable – he bizarrely mentioned Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in the same breath, and I’m not sure what order he’s following, but it’s definitely not chronological.  In spite of its faults, this book is still better than me attempting to, say, follow the rabbit trails of Wikipedia on my own.  I’m halfway through and have learned quite a bit.

The Gospel of Luke
Been steadily reading through Luke with my morning coffee and lectio divina.  It’s sad to admit, but I never had much of a thirst for Bible reading before and always felt bad about it.  Now, with lectio divina, I read it daily, because it’s very calming and sets me up for the entire day, even if I don’t feel great (I’m not a morning person).  This method of Bible reading & prayer has honestly changed my life, and I’m so happy to have reached this turning point. 

The Professor, by Charlotte Brontë
The Professor was Charlotte’s first novel and one I’ve struggled in the past to get into.  (This time, I shall finish it.)  I haven’t read a Victorian novel in a long time, so it’s refreshing to get back into my old comfort zone.

Watching

Speaking of Victorian novels, last night I watched Victoria, Season 3 Episode 1.

I have a real love/loathe opinion of this series… mostly loathe.

I watched about half of Season 1, coming into it with the highest hopes and getting truly disappointed.  I don’t even remember if I saw Season 2.

The good: stunning cinematography and costumes, stellar cast
The bad: historical liberties, lackluster characterization, overly simplistic dialogue, and some aspects/characters which are way too similar to Downton Abbey

Sadly, S3E1 was no improvement over the previous episodes I saw.  I might watch more of S3 for the sheer eye candy (I LOOOVEEE Victorian costumes), but the script makes me cringe with second-hand embarrassment.

Listening

It’s early days, but I haven’t yet found any new favorite songs this year.

Till then, I’m still obsessed with “Rich Boy” (2018) by Sara Kays.  If you haven’t heard of her before…well, neither had I, till late last year.  I tend to stumble across obscure artists, because I enjoy indie folk music, especially songs that tell a story.  This one’s a classic tale, with sad Americana vibes.