What I'm Reading (and More): Quarantine Edition

Well, folks…we’re all hunkered down, now officially. I hope everyone is staying well. It’s also been a while since I did one of these posts, so it seemed like a good time. Feel free to share your own updates in the comments!

Reading

Silence

Finally read Silence by Shūsaku Endō! It is not a book one enjoys, but I did appreciate the challenge of deciphering the message (or losing my voice attempting to). You can watch the video review here.

TL;DR version: The book is gut-wrenching and, as I put it to another reader, “psychologically horrifying.” The writing style is masterful, from the use of silence as a motif to the mix of tenses/perspectives which create distance between the reader and the protagonist. I feel the surface message is unbiblical, but I also believe there is a second, more nuanced way to read it, where rather than view it strictly from Rodrigues’s eyes, you view the sequence of events holistically and see his flawed thinking. This gives the novel a level of depth that makes it worthwhile, especially for Christians.

What next?

I ought to read Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, because I have it on ebook from the library for eight days. However, Silence was so emotionally draining, I’m thinking I’ll take a break from fiction. I’ll probably read one of my exploration nonfiction books, like The Lost City of Z.

Watching

Gaslight

The other day I watched Gaslight (1944) with my family. This is an Ingrid Bergman film, about a young woman who marries a handsome stranger and bad things happen (ya don’t say?).

It is a verrryyy slow film. I couldn’t help wishing Alfred Hitchcock had directed it. On the other hand, it has a level of artistic restraint that I did appreciate and which Hitchcock never seems to be able to leverage. So, overall, it was an ok film. Charles Boyer’s character made me want to punch the screen, but Ingrid excels in this genre and made me stick it out. Also on the plus side, the plot reminded me of Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Fortunately (?), Gaslight is not nearly as bloodcurdling as that short story.

Listening

I started my personal blog back up, so have been journalling there about the shutdown, plus music recommendations and funny videos.

I’ll share this song now—“Vancouver Waves” by August and After, a calming song for times like this.

Listen on YouTube

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.

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…