17 July, 2008

Harry Potter I

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
J.K. Rowling

Bought this the other day for a pound because our othr copy is stuck in the USA and not likely to be here for months or more yet. This is the second time i have read the first book in the septology, and it was very interestng to go back after eight years and do it again.  Doing so, i found that there is one character who, to me, is permanently coloured by the portrayal given in the films, and that is Hagrid; when i think of Rubeus Hagrid as i read, i find i automatically think of him as portrayed by Robbie Coltrane, which is rather interesting, as Coltrane was apparently Rowling’s conception of Hagrid from the beginning ~ obviously, her writing reflected her conception, and the actor and directors have interpreted her well. There isn’t another character for which i can say the same thing; none of them is simply appalling, but none of them, going back to this book and then thinking through the lot, has the same resonance with my imagination as Hagrid.

Moving on, what can i say about this book this time through? Well, it was interesting to me to see how much i had forgotten. If you had asked me before i read it, i would have said that i remembered pretty much all of the book, the characters, the twists, the developments of the plot; after all, i haven’t fully reread it since we bought it, but i’ve seen the film several times, read all other six books, and read portions of this one numerous times. And, to be fair, i did remember the main structure of the book; i was surprised, however, several times as i read it this time, at what i had forgotten: There was more than i expected gone from my memory, which gave me some pleasant surprises as i read. It was, indeed, a pleasant expereicne to reread this book, which is a brilliant introduction to the septology: Rowling benefited from the editing she apparently didn’t get later on; she did not cram more between the covers than they could comfortably carry; the charactrs are presented to the reader in the best way possible, we are allowed to like or not each one correctly as we meet them, several times someone is introduced with humour (Fred, George, and Percy, for example). All in all, i really had a fun time racing through this book again. A pound well spent!

13 July, 2008

501 Books

501 Must-Read Books
edited by
Emma Beare

Sometimes i like lists like this, other times, not. This time, it’s not too bad; i disagree with some of the choices ~ what kind of a reader would i be if i didn’t! ~ but i agree with a lot. I took a couple of highlighters to the book as i read through it, one to indicate if iv’e read the book listed, another to show that we actually own it, here; there’d be even more showing if i had cheated and highlighted the ones i know we have back in America, but i didn’t, because that felt like cheating (after all, i don’t know that we’ll ever see them again [pause here to weep]). I once started keeping a list of books i wanted to read for one reason or another, usually because a writer i enjoyed or respected recommended them; i have not yet added any from this book to that list, and may find that i don’t ~ perhaps because there are too many, perhaps because it is a little against my principles to read something because i ‘ought’ to, and that is what this feels like. Nevertheless, there are several in here that i have been tempted to attempt to find and read. We’ll see, a couple of years from now perhaps, how this list of reviews looks: Will there be many more on it that i was urged to read by 501 Must-Read Books?

26 June, 2008

Two Reviews

Two, because i've been quite slacky about posting lately ~ though not about writing.  Let's go then, first with:

Riotous Assembly
Tom Sharpe

It seems to me that the last time i read one of Tom Sharpe's works i was less than pleased with it; let me place it firmly on the record now, that that is not the case this time around. Not at all. This was the first Sharpe i ever read, and i clearly remember being in the library at Loretto, sitting in the window beside the newspaper stand, devouring it. It was just as funny this time around, or more so. The absurdity is so overwhelming that really i cannot even begin to describe any of the plot machinations or characters, except to say it takes place in the South Africa of the National Party, with all that implies; the actual events are, perhaps it is to be hoped, just a little too extreme even for that country at that time, but the farcical nature of the policemen who try to prevent crime by committing it, cover up death by causing it, and show respect by destroying the object of respect is a joy to read for anyone who ever has had reason to doubt the efficiency of ~ let alone the philosophical basis for ~ a police force. I hope that one day i may cause someone as much pleasure as they read something of mine as i have gained from Tom Sharpe here.

Enjoy that?  Good, then there's:

The Way it Was
Ken Walters

A collection of eleven sermons by Ken Walters, until last year Warden of the Church of St. Michael and all Angels, Aberystwyth. I have heard him preach a few times, though none of these sermons, and reading them i can hear his voice: He has a very distinctive style which comes through in each selection in the collection. Perhaps it arises from being a professor in a complicated subject ~ applied mathematics, what i think is called engineering in North America ~ which needs slowly and carefully explaining to occasionally half-witted students; he is thereby prepared to spend time explaining to a slow congregation the particular points he feels led to make. Several of the sermons i have heard, and all in this collection, are what you might call character studies, a small autobiographical snippet from, usually, a lesser known character of the New Testament; Ken has an ability to draw all the known facts of, for example Silas, together, and present them as a coherent whole, giving what might well be new insight into how and just why Silas acted as he did at certain points in his story. Well worth listening to, and worth reading, as well.

11 June, 2008

Fat, Bald, and Worthless

Fat, Bald and Worthless
Robert Easton

Light reading, for the average reader who picks up the book just on the basis of the title. Not, in other words, to be taken as a final source for research results, though an excellent place to start such hypothetical research, because it has, amongst fifty pages of end matter, ten small print pages of bibliography.

I really make no comment on the accuracy of the stories Easton gives; some of them seem a bit dubious, and in some cases he strives for a cuteness not really suited to a history book (see, for example, “John the Wizard”, who “simply lacked the magic needed to prevent his homeland from tumbling into vassalage after his death”). A second point which i shall comment upon, is the questionable names some of the subjects are given: I don’t suppose that i have read everything, nor do i imagine that i am aware of all the many and varied names given the nobles of Europe; i do think, however, that it is surprising that i haven’t ever heard of a British monarch’s primary nickname, and yet that is the case with Edward the Caresser ~ the admittedly appropriate name Easton gives Edward VII. “Tum Tum”, Bertie, “the Uncle of Europe”, Edward the Peacemaker ~ all these i have heard or read previously; but the caresser? I wonder to myself where Easton found it?  It didn't even turn up in the biography i had previously read. And, curiuosly, the very next name is another Edward, “Edward Carnarvon”, to whom i have always given a medial “of”, a minor point, to be sure, but odd.

These caveats aside, i did enjoy the book, and would certainly keep it for light reading, and a good bibliographical source.

01 June, 2008

26 Tales from the Testaments

26 Tales from the Testaments; An Alliterated Bible Passage in Every Letter of the Alphabet
Cameron M. Semmons & Marc Rader

Lovely retellings of some Bible stories in verse ~ of a sort ~ with the primary catch that almost all the words in most of the poems are alliterative, so Semmons works his way through the alphabet. Sometimes the work is, as one might expect, a bit forced, though never painful and, i should think, still good in performance; many of the stories, however, are brilliantly retold, with new insights and ideas pushed forward because of the need to avoid or emphasise certain vocabulary. I particularly enjoyed the sound effects in the story of the wise and foolish builders (letter F words) and Pentecost (P) ~ especially interesting to me in that i have always linked flowing water with the sound of F, as in my poem “The Fountains of Rome”, and now perhaps i’m not alone. This will be a good source for our Church drama group to draw from; i’m sure that we can bring a newness to an occasional reading with one of these poems. Certainly a good thing that Andrew lent me the book.

30 May, 2008


Warwick Collins

This also came from the Librarything Early Reviewer programme; it was my allocation in the February batch of books ~ apparently the publisher had some difficulties delivering; it has not taken me three months to read it! It is quite a sweet book, taking after the main character, who seems to be a very sweet man.

Ez, for Ezekiel, is an immigrant from Jamaica, living in London with his wife and son; we follow him as he makes his way to his new place of employment, a public convenience near an Underground station; there, he meets the two other major characters, his fellow employees, who have already had experience in the business of keeping the place clean and acceptable. As it turns out, under the Council's direction, a large part of that “acceptable” means keeping the cubicles free from homosexual encounters, which appear to be the norm between random strangers in the book's London. The problem for Ez and his colleagues arises when, on the orders of the Council's representative, they start to clamp down on the homosexuals, whom they call “reptiles”, the income from the place goes down quite substantially, to the point, in fact, that the place is going to be closed down completely. In between all this and the working out of a final solution to the problem, we read of Ez's home life, and his relationships with his two co-workers, none of which is perfectly smooth, but each of which Ez is willing to work at, to differing degrees.

All in all, this is a nice portrait of a man who is willing to go through life as it comes to him, not pushing it, accepting what it gives, and making lemonade from the lemons that sometimes come his way. One leaves the book liking Ez and his wife, hoping that things work out for them, and their son, and the new business of the Gents.

17 May, 2008

Baroness Cox

Baroness Cox; A Voice for the Voiceless
Andrew Boyd

A birthday present, this biography, because we enjoyed Baroness Cox’s speaking so much when she visited St. Mike’s last year. This is not a conventional biography (as, perhaps, Cox is not a conventional baroness), but more a look at three of the conflicts of the the world today and the work that Cox has done in alleviating some of the suffering they have caused. Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan; the Karen are a people in the eastern part of Burma; Sudan is split into several warring factions, one of which is the official government. In each of these places atrocities have been performed, by both sides; in each place, the people charged with keeping the peace, having the responsibility to all the peoples of the country, the government, have failed in that task, and have persecuted a minority; in each of these places Baroness Cox and the British branch of Christian Solidarity International, now Christian Solidarity Worldwide, after a split of the charity, have gone in to relieve some of the suffering of the persecuted people. Obviously, her care for the persecuted has lead to a great deal of criticism, not least by the persecutors, and the book reflects some of that, usually defending her from it, or pointing out the illogicality of it, or refuting it altogether; Boyd is certainly not an unbiased biographer.

Nevertheless, it is a well-written biography, annotated properly (though i hate end of chapter notes), with plenty of valid source material, which is essential for a programmatic study of a controversial person. The most interesting part of the book (the rest are horrific, not interesting) is the first, which is as near as the book gets to conventional biography, and which outlines the first portions of Cox’s life until she was made a baroness by Margaret Thatcher. I was astonished to read of the vitriol that existed in British society in the Sixties and, especially, the Seventies, aimed towards anyone who was perceived by the self-proclaimed revolutionaries as being a part of the old way; the portrayal of the students and Marxist teachers at the North London Polytech is of a part with the portrayal of the oppressors in the rest of the book, and clearly shows how self-important and -aggrandising groups can quickly lose their focus and turn from correcting wrongs (always their proclaimed goal) to perpetrating them.

11 May, 2008

The Janus Effect

The Janus Effect
Alan Cash

It has been less than two years since i read this book previously; let's review, why did i read it again so soon? It could have been one of a few reasons: It had a huge effect on me the first time i read it (The Shack); i didn't get all i could from it last time (The Bible); i loved the writing style and wanted to revisit it just for that pleasure (John Galsworthy); it was a really easy read and i'm a lazy reader (Agatha Christie). Any of these is an acceptable (to me) reason for rereading; the problem is that my reason doesn't really fall into any of these groups. The closest, i suppose, is the Bible group, that there was more to get from it than i did last time; but i would put it a bit more bluntly: I didn't really understand everything in the book last time, because it seemed a bit incoherent and needlessly puzzling.

All right, then, having read it again, what do i think? Well, i still have some of the same feelings of vague dissatisfaction that i had previously. I have learned since reading it before that Dinas, the imprint under which it is published by Y Lolfa, is their self-publishing unit, though not quite (as i understand the term) a vanity house; the book does show evidence of slightly poor copy-editing ~ at one point one character's name is clearly accidentally substituted for another, a sigh elsewhere is spelled with a zero instead of a capital 'o' ('0hhh' instead of 'Ohhh') which looks odd on the page ~ though certainly not enough to affect enjoyment of the book. The biggest drawback, i fear, to this style of publishing is that the publishers are less involved and it is a less urgent task for them to polish the story and make it as clear and saleable as they can. In this case, that means that the plot is a bit more convoluted than it ought to be, with a couple of the characters really being superfluous to requirement (Elnac and Bartok seem to be little more than deus ex machina characters, introduced early as simple, but not consistent in that characteristic depending on the need Cash has for them), and some of the conflicts between characters not fully developed (Camille and Veema, for example) or explained. In addition, the ending seems to be more of an ending than a resolution; perhaps reflecting a belief of Cash that life doesn't resolve, even with time travel.

Overall, how do i feel having given the time to the book again? Well, not badly ~ it wasn't wasted time ~ but not altogether happy, either: I would be happier with a bit more understanding of Cash's purposes, which seem hidden in the convolutions of plot, or with a bit more polish and professionalism on the dystopic themes. The ultimate test, as far as i'm concerned, however, is whether or not i would read another book by the same author, if i knew nothing about it other than the author. Here, i have to admit, The Janus Effect passes the test; if Cash writes again, if Y Lolfa publish, i will certainly read.

04 May, 2008

Darwin's Angel

Darwin's Angel: An Angelic Riposte to The God Delusion
John Cornwell

Another of the many responses to Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. This one has the conceit that it is written by a guardian angel, specifically that of Charles Darwin and Dawkins himself. Cornwell has not written at all angrily but, as one would expect from an angel, rather he writes with affection and concern for Dawkins and his complete misunderstanding of the situation. In this, it is much like most of the other reviews of Dawkins i have read, which have approached the issue as one of logic and thought rather than emotion, which it seems to me it is, at heart, for Dawkins himself. He is, for whatever reason, so repelled by religion, the revulsion is so deep, that an unthinking emotion is at the root, as it is at the root of so many of our most deeply held positions, and all his logic and thought has been bent to the task of justifying that emotional response. If this is the case, i wonder if it isn’t so much wasted energy to write books such as this ~ at least if one truly writes with the hope of engaging Dawkins in dialogue, which Cornwell probably doesn’t ~ because the past has clearly shown that Dawkins doesn’t participate in dialogue in his books (no matter what he may do in personal sessions), perhaps because he doesn’t wish his audience to become confused, perhaps because it is easier to set up straw men and beat them down to great applause than to actually engage in legitimate argument. Be that as it may, this little book is quick, easy, and clear though ultimately, i fear, unsuccessful.

30 April, 2008


Torchwood:  Trace Memory
David Llewellyn

Abby borrowed two of these Torchwood books from friends, i suppose because she has seen the television programme and wanted to read the book. Perhaps the programme is necessary, because for me, not having seen it, this was not a good investment of time.

The story was all right, though difficult to follow because it jumps about in time rather disconcertingly; there is a sort of resolution, though not by any means a happy ending, and no real explanation of all the events, including the antagonists, who seem to be some sort of creature from primeval time, yet are nattily dressed in suits and bowler hats from last century (and the reason they are even vaguely humanoid in form is...?). The characters, likewise, are all right, though there is no real definition or development ~ i suppose Llewellyn is depending on the reader already knowing them from the programme, which is pretty sloppy writing, as far as i’m concerned ~ i certainly don’t care about them or their futures any more at the end of the book than i did at the beginning.

Another problem for me, again more than likely a leftover from the appeal of television, is that all of a sudden, out of nowhere, two of the characters are indulging each other in sex which, at the very least, has to be seen as exploitative on the part of the main character, Jack Harkness, who sleeps with the completely lost young time-traveller whose appearance triggers the entire plot.

Overall, it is pretty easy to see that i won’t be reading another of this series, as it’s not done a thing for this television non-watcher.

19 April, 2008


Catherine Forde

I got this through the Librarything Early Reviewer programme, which works with publishers to offer a few copies of a number of books each month to people who will read and (it is hoped) review them. So, here's the review.

I received Sugarcoated on 17 April and started reading it more from a feeling of obligation than anything else ~ i am not in the target audience group (mid- to late-teenaged girls), this was not the book i had been hoping to receive, i already have several other books going ~ so i could still feel a part of the programme. Well! I was wrong in my low expectations, i am happy to report. After a few minutes i took the book to bed and, almost before i knew it, was reluctantly finishing for the night on page ninetyeight. Last night i did the same thing, and completed the book less than two days after i received it; such speed is not really unusual for me, often a book can be done in one sitting, but is so far removed from what i anticipated that it deserves comment.

The narrator of the story, Claudia but called Clod by almost everyone from her parents on, witnesses, and wishes she didn't, a particularly nasty murder in a Glasgow shopping mall. Urged by the police to speak of what she saw, she doesn't and is rapidly met by the most gorgeous guy she's ever seen. Swept off her feet, blinded by this man's beauty of character and body, she is rapidly drawn deeper into a situation she can neither understand nor control ~ though the reader understands all too easily, hence a nice layer of suspense which permeates the books pages. The end of the story is quite unusually done, in that Forde stops before we expect her to (i was flipping pages, not quite understanding), without spelling everything out for us, though leaving us to hope that all has ended well, or satisfactorily at least, for a heroine we've grown accustomed to, if not actually fond of.

All in all, this was an excellent introduction to Early Reviews for me, as it allowed me to meet a novelist i've never run across before, gave me two evenings of pleasure, and added a book to my shelves; three superb results.

18 April, 2008

Horrible History

The Barmy British Empire
Terry Deary

It was quite odd to me, reading this book: I really felt that i had been dumped back into the 1970s, perhaps, and was reading something written in the throes of guilt by a Briton undergoing passionate regret for everything that the British Empire stood for and did. Now, i am not one who will say that it was an unadulterated good thing for civilisation in general, and for the colonies in particular, that the Empire was built. Neither, however, will i permit it to be seen as an unmitigated evil that held the world groaning in slavery until the colonies could be wrenched from greedy Britannia's grasp and given their freedom. The truth of the matter is that immeasurable amounts of evils were done, as well as positive actions; many people suffered because of the Empire, and some still do today, and yet more are probably in a positive position today as a result. For Deary, however, the second part of each phrase just doesn’t seem to exist: Everything he says, with the exception of small mentions of positives at the end of the book, is negative. Even at the moment of mentioning a positive ~ the extinction of the slave trade, for example ~ he cannot but subsume that in a far more powerful negative which essentially devalues completely anything positive said. Certainly Bristol and Liverpool were built by the blood of slaves; certainly the trade was not stopped until two hundred years had passed; certainly hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Africans died in the Middle Passage. On the other hand, the fact was that the trade was stopped; British Christians of different varieties saw and recognised the evil and worked for years to correct it; Sierra Leone was set up with the best of intentions to provide for men and women torn from their homes and families. It is, maybe, fine rhetoric to ignore certain facts in order to improve your case; it is poor writing, however, not to mention intellectually dishonest to pretend that shades of grey are all black ~ especially in a book for children, who are less likely to be able to pick out the illogicality and dishonesty for themselves, and thus will imbibe an incorrect view of the past. Not, i am afraid, one of Terry Deary's better outings.

13 April, 2008


Revival! A People Saturated with God
Brian H. Edwards

The first thing i want to write is that this is such a challenging book; then, of course, i start to second-guess myself and think that it’s not, because the challenge, if any, is to God: Is he, or is he not, going to bring revival to this town (or any in this country); and obviously we cannot manipulate him into it as it is his decision. Then again, i think, ah, but there is a lot in this book which does challenge us, as we look for revival, because our behaviour can make it less likely, though not impossible, as nothing is for God, that he will grace us with his presence in a particular and especial way.

Edwards does an excellent job of unfolding the revival of Hezekiah’s reign, mostly as given in II Chronicles, and the things that he, the king, did which prepared the nation for a huge and successful revival. These things, prayer, preaching, repentance, worship, &c., he links to other revivals over the past seven hundred years, including the Welsh revivals, Borneo, the Great Awakening, Korea, the Waldensians, and others. And, yes, there is a challenge in it: Are we going to pray and repent, and desire God to visit us, here, today?

I enjoyed Edwards’s writing style; he is didactic without being heavy-handed (something i could aim for!), and easy to pick up and read quickly. I used this book, along with Selwyn Hughes, Why Revival Waits, as support when i preached a few weeks back, and thoroughly enjoyed the process from beginning to almost the end.

11 April, 2008


Byzantium; the Early Centuries
by John Julius Norwich

Well, i certainly don’t feel competent to pronounce on this book, written as it is by perhaps the leading historian of Byzantium, and as well known as it is. But it is not may way to simply roll over and play dead when it comes to these reviews, so i shall give my opinion, though remaining well aware that it may not have a lot of value, in the scheme of things. Having said this, actually i have very little to say against this book. Only the one thing, actually: I could have wished that in the text there were more specific dates to hang some of the events and emperors on, or at least to peg them near. The text flows so beautifully that perhaps no one wanted to interrupt it with anything so prosaic as dates, but i certainly find history easier to pull into a big picture if i have a bit of the context to fix it in, and i’m sure i’m not alone in that. It would have been enough to put a date in the margin every page or two or in a running header, just something to look at. Certainly, there is a dated list of emperors at the end of the book, linking both Eastern and Western Empires; but then the genealogical tables (utterly vital in this book) are at the opposite end of the book, and there are no dates with the emperors in them. Altogether, the dating issue was a bit frustrating to me. Other than that, however, can i say enough about this book and the ease with which it teaches about the lesser known Roman Empire? Probably not. Let this suffice: We went to Hay-on-Wye, where i bought Byzantium, on the first of April; i finished reading it on the ninth, and that’s with still reading the other two or three books i’m involved in at the moment. I really enjoyed this, though not the eye-poking and nose-slitting per se, all the way through; i learned, as i knew i would, a lot of detail about the East; and i truly look forward to the time when i can find, buy, and read the second and third books. Roll on the next trip to Hay!

09 April, 2008

The English Language

This was one of the most satisfying books i have read in a long time. Everything about it was pleasing, from the most basic physical appearance (it's one of the Folio Society books that we bought) to the notes at the end of the volume. It pointed up, once again, for me the irony of a powerful interest in linguistics, which i have, combined with an appalling ability to learn languages, which i also have ~ despite the fact that i am currently struggling to learn two! Burchfield has made a lovely analysis of English, from Anglo-Saxon times to the very recent present, both in England and in other versions spoken. He explains much, in fairly simple terms, of why we speak the way we do, how it developed, touching on basic linguistics as he goes, and with a nice number of illustrations to help make his points. Burchfield speaks with great authority, as he was the editor of the OED for some years, at least during the publication of the latters portions of the Supplement, and possibly during the consolidation of the same. Obviously, he knows of what he writes, but he never ~ literally, not once ~ lost my interest by becoming too technical or resorting to jargon; as far as i am concerned, he is a fluent writer, as well as a knowledgeable one. Thus the time in this book was time very well spent.

27 March, 2008

Today's Review

If This is a Man
Primo Levi

This ought to be required on every reading list in every school in Europe, in the whole Western World, in fact. It is too easy to allow, even for those who accept the fullness of all the reports and historicity of the Holocaust, the numbers and figures and descriptions to swill over and blur the fact that the victims were actually human beings. Reading the narration of one man's experience must surely remind even the most jaded of readers that Levi, and the other six million, were people, not numbers, not cyphers. I am reminded, and horrified. Of course one reads it and thinks, “How could such a thing happen? How could anyone permit such treatment?” Yet still, it is too easy to forget that the Gulags lasted fortyfive years after Auschwitz, that the Middle Kingdom still treats people as disposable in the cause of its progress, and that Guantanamo Bay hosts a camp (even the same word!) where people are purposefully by government policy made into less than human beings. Levi's writing must be passed on, understood, taken to heart by all men, and renewed each generation, so that the evil can be prevented from recurring. Of course, this is a blindly optimistic thing to write, because we can be absolutely certain that the evil will continue, until the end of time. The book itself, disregarding the subject matter, is very easily read; i shall recommend it to Abigail, who is seventeen, and even JAG, eleven, as an excellent introduction to the Holocaust, because it is so simple and facile. I wonder if it was that way in the Italian, or if it is the translator's skill triumphing; certainly, the very ease of the writing is a benefit to the subject matter, by not distracting a whit from it. (Except for the small matter of the title, which niggles me: Why is it not If This Be a Man?)

20 March, 2008

Through Changing Scenes

Through Changing Scenes by David C. Potter.

The history of Prospects, the parent organisation of Plas Lluest, and thus of great interest to both of us. We had known previously that Lluest was the first residence set up by the charity, but not the manner in which it had happened; i had assumed, which is as we know dangerous, that the Alfred Place members whose daughter was the first resident were the prime movers behind the charity, but i was quite wrong. David Potter was a minister in the south of England; he and his wife had a Down's syndrome daughter for whom they had to work out the future; in the process of doing so, they were put in contact with Geoff Thomas of AP, and events moved on from there. As Potter tells it, Thomas was more deeply involved than his parishioners, though that may be simply his recollection; certainly he was admirably interested in and working out the needs of his congregation. Apparently much as Christians Against Poverty, the story in Nevertheless, which i read recently, the charity grew more than expected, though a little more slowly than CAP, and God was clearly in control of the process ~ allowing some purchases, forbidding others, and guiding the board of directors. The interesting thing about Potter and Prospects is that he has taken a very real step back from the running of the charity, perhaps forced to by the health issues which have attacked him, perhaps because he has been able to recognise that there were far more capable men available and involved, and he was sufficiently in tune with God to hear Him and allow them in. Quite admirable.

16 March, 2008

Friends...'Til the End

A new idea; i think, for a while anyway, i'll post my reveiws as i write them.  Here's the current:

I am in two minds about this, mostly, i think, because i am reminded that i enjoyed the show Friends when it was on ~ though i never made it a passion to watch it, and have, indeed, been caught by surprise by a number of things i’ve read about here ~ and i now have a mild urge to watch all the episodes in order, and yet i found the book itself rather annoyingly smug about its insider knowledge and overwhelmingly gushing about the actors, writers, caterers, indeed everyone with any connexion to the programme. And, of course, the simple grammatical mistake in the title (the title!) of the book just irks me further. Overall, though, i would have to regard this as a successful book, because it has, as i said, re-interested me in the show. I suppose that’s the best that can be hoped for of a TV book like this, from a non-TV person like me!

08 March, 2008


This is actually two reviews put into one, so does not flow perfectly smoothly; nevertheless, it's worth posting, i think:

This has been a hard review to write; it is, in fact, right now a week and a half since i finished the book, and i'm still not sure what i want to say about it. Apparently it affected Dad & Susan well, too, because they bought and sent copies to all nine of us, a couple of months ago. I don't know which (if any) of the others have read it, but i have ~ twice now since Christmas ~ and so has Lynne.

Let's see; the book starts quite unpromisingly, i think. I don't mean the death of Missy, the little daughter of the protagonist, though that is painful it is not a bad beginning; somehow, i found that the narration was a bit difficult to get myself into. There was no question that i was going to continue with it ~ i was committed to it, probably because D&S had spoken highly of it ~ but despite that commitment i slogged just a bit at first. Nevertheless, once i was into it, certainly by the time Mack, the protagonist, returned to the place of his daughter's death, and met the three persons there, i found it moving quickly enough to hold my interest and desire to know what was going to happen, what they were going to say.

“Say” because much ~ almost all ~ of what is important in the book is contained in the dialogue between Mack and the other Three. It is not a straight exposition, but it could have been that way and quite boring; Young, however, has done a great job, in my opinion, of avoiding any theological or doctrinal prose, and allowed his beliefs and understanding of God to come to the fore through the narration, just as in the Bible story God is revealed. It has always been clear, i have previously preached, i think, that God reveals himself through story, not through theology and doctrine; this book has simply made this point clearer to me, as i have read and meditated on the story in it.

It is, in fact, a story pretending to be true; and truth masquerading as story. Perhaps the words and the phrasing aren't perfect, but i can't really think of a better way to describe the book I was more moved the second time that i read it ~ if this is a linear relationship, a couple more times through it and i will be weeping openly from beginning to end; that might not be a bad thing, i suppose, so long as i understand, and am better able to live in, the reality of the relationship within God and between me and God.

The experience of Mack with the God revealed as Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu is glorious; the way that Papa talks with him, leads him to the point of forgiveness, and helps him to understand, is wonderful; the image of Jesus snickering as Mack gets his shoes and socks wet walking on the lake is lovely; and Sarayu is now, more than ever, a person i want to know and experience. Together these stories make this one of the most enjoyable books i've read recently; and certainly the most exciting for me: I have taken to Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu, and i am finding that my prayers are a bit realer for me. A Good Thing. Once again, the grace with which Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu open themselves to the possibility of loss, and the joy with which they reclaim their beloved Mack fills me with emotion i don't understand, but i want the reality behind it. Yes, Papa, more of you; more of Jesus; Sarayu.

08 February, 2008

Music Madness

I was, i confess, disgusted at work recently. Doesn't happen a lot; i'm usually pretty tolerant of the foibles and eccentricities of customers ~ and, trust me, some of them have foibles! This time, though, what i saw was a bit over the top.

There were two young mothers in the shop; i say young mothers, but if they hadn't been pushing prams i'd have called them girls: Neither of them can have been far into her twenties, if at all, both were dressed in typical “girl-clothes” rather than “mum-clothes”. The key point, however, the thing that so greatly surprised me, was that each of the girls had some kind of an MP3-player sitting near their babies, playing music, loudly enough to be heard from some feet away.

Now so far, you might think, this is just the story of two exceptionally rude youngsters, not terribly unusual i fear, who needed their music with no regard to politeness or thought for fellow customers (for they weren't alone in the shop). There is more, though, which makes the story, to my mind, just a bit stranger.

First, their music was particularly tinny sounding, evidently being played through a speaker that really wasn't designed for music, but probably for voice, while being held close to the ear ~ a mobile 'phone, in other words ~ and, as such, it wasn't doing the music any favours at all.

Second and, perhaps, even stranger, we have music playing at all times in the shop. Not Muzak; not classical stuff; not even old-time pop. GPHQ central office sends out CDs to be played, with relatively new, modern music, of a variety of popular genres. So, apparently, it was so important to these two girls that they keep hearing their own music that they were willing to put up with it in competition with two other music sources, and played in poor quality. Now, perhaps it is my age speaking, but i don't understand that, i confess.

Nor do i understand, and this is the part that i really found distasteful, the attitude that said that their own pleasure was so important that they were willing to subject everyone else in the shop ~ including each other, their friendship notwithstanding ~ to their ridiculous behaviour. I know that technology today is working quite hard at reducing us from people in relationship with our surroundings to individuals out of contact with all around, by mobile 'phones, by music players, by laptops, all of which say, “I am too involved in myself to have any relationship with you” ~ and say it far more effectively than a book or even a newspaper held up to the face can. I know it, i say, but i don't understand it, and nor do i, most assuredly, approve of it; we people only in relationships, denying them we lessen ourselves. Thus, though what they did was completely tasteless, in the end i am sorry for those two young mothers, because they are the sufferers for their own behaviour.

03 February, 2008

A Newish Review

Global Jihad, by Patrick Sookhdeo.

Patrick Sookhdeo spoke in St. Mike's about a month or so ago, and we bought this at that time, as it is his latest book. Interesting it is, if somewhat frightening.

Sookhdeo was raised in a Muslim family, as i understand it, and became a Christian around the time that he left home, and has, evidently, made the study of Islam one of his life's works. His has written this book primarily for those in power, the decision-makers in such countries as the US, Western Europe, and further afield though, the blurb assures us, it is useful to “any reader who seeks to understand Islamic violence in the world today.”

The basic, general thesis of the book is that violence is inherent in Islam, and has been present in just about every manifestation of the religion since Muhammad, so it is thus almost impossible to work against the violent interpretation of jihad until and unless there is a true reform of the religion, perhaps to the original Mecca-period suras of the Koran that have, by most interpretations been abrogated by the later, Medina writings. And, of course, anyone who writes on, promotes the cause of, or attempts to reform the religion is branded heretic, with the distinct possibility of being killed for that crime.

Interestingly, and quite contrary to many contemporary commentators, Sookhdeo does not go down the road, far from it, in fact, of trying to redeem Islam as a whole by condemning the few who are preaching jihad and practising war and terrorism, but he rather insists that the submission the word Islam refers to is to be forced (in the view its adherents) if there are any who will not submit willingly. This use of force is shown very clearly to go all the way back to the time of Muhammad, who was not above the judicious use of murder to enforce his will on the tribes of Arabia, even when claiming to be respectful of the people of the book (Jews and Christians), whom he actually killed as he chose.

The biggest issue i have with the book is nothing to do with the content, but the presentation. I know nothing about Isaac Publishing, but suspect that they are a minor operation, or a vanity house, because there are a number of errors in the style or presentation that a good editor or publisher ought to have caught. For example, the format of Arabic names is not consistent, as some are given as X bin-Y and others X b. Y, where the b. can only stand for bin. There are words or phrases used which are not defined in the glossary, though i would think that in a work like this, written to persuade, any and all means ought to be used to aid in that end. These, and others like, are minor irritations, i admit, but enough that i noticed them, and therefore they are flaws. Otherwise, however, this is a fine book, with detailed notes, a huge bibliography, a fairly comprehensive index, and seven appendices, four of which are quite substantial themselves. In over six hundred and fifty pages, well worth the almost unbelievable ten pounds we paid for it.

27 January, 2008

What'm I Reading?

A review for you, of a recently read book: Arthur; the Seeing Stone.

We went to a meet-the-author event at the Arts Centre late last year to see Kevin Crossley-Holland, and were surprised that JAG was the only person under twenty there, and even more surprised to discover that the author enjoyed in this household for his Arthur books was actually better known for being a poet and Anglo-Saxon scholar. The upshot was that we all enjoyed it ~ including Crossley-Holland, who had the, possibly unexpected, task of making it interesting for a group of adults and one child with varied expectations ~ and it was, for me, a learning experience.

I now know that i enjoy some of Crossley-Holland's poetry; i would like to get his translation of Beowulf and compare it with that of Heaney which Chen and i read and liked; and i was, eventually, stimulated to read this book, the first of the Arthur trilogy, and therefore the rest which will follow for me. I found this a much quicker read than i had expected ~ probably i'd have read it before if i'd realised ~ which was partly facilitated by the style of having a lot of very short (less than two pages, most) chapters, and jumping the action quite quickly (though not usually within the chapter) between the past and the present so that neither ever grows tedious. Arthur-the-narrator, as opposed to Arthur-in-the-stone, is a lovely character; sufficiently precocious to be able to be writing and holding my interest at age thirteen, yet na├»ve enough to be worried about a “devil part” his body is growing, he tells us everything, but he doesn't know everything, so we are both left partly in the dark, as the book progresses. Lovely; it only remains to be seen if Crossley-Holland can keep it up for another three books ~ yes, another “trilogy” with more than the requisite number of books!

21 January, 2008

I go to...?

There is a youngster who works with me at GPHQ whom it is so easy to tease that really it's no challenge at all. As well as our mutual employment, she also is taking a course at the local 6th form college. Her goal is to complete this course, then apply to and attend a university, and emerge with some form of employable degree. The teasing ~ and my interest in it today ~ comes from the fact that, as in so many other areas, our language use is slightly different.

Here, apparently, it is an insult to call all places of education schools, the word being reserved solely for use with those institutions which actually have the word in their name ~ Penglais Secondary School, or Rhydypennau Primary School, for example ~ and not for other places. Thus, since although my friend is still involved in her secondary education she is attending a college, not a school, all i have to do is to ask her when i see her how school is going for her to be annoyed.

This is, to me, a funny distinction to make, as in the usage i am used to (Canadian?, American?, i don't know) school is used to all levels ~ primary, secondary, and tertiary ~ with no derogatory implication. Thus, i have talked about doing this or that “at school” referring to the post-grad university course i'm taking. In fact, my friend usually tries to tease me back when i ask her about school by saying something along the same lines to me, but it has no effect ~ to her further annoyance.

The reason that i find this interesting is that it seems to me to run ~ in both parts of it ~ counter to the stereotype. One expects, according to type, North Americans to be quite concerned with status, especially their own, and thus if they were attending a university to be sure all know that fact, rather than allowing it to be called school or, as is also often the case, college. The British, however, have a reputation for understatement, for allowing the wrong impression to gained by people they meet. How curious it is, then, that my British friend is so concerned (apparently as a cultural influence) that her college be recognised as such.

Goes to prove, i suppose, that stereotypes are merely a guide to what can be expected, not graven in stone guarantees of what people will be like. Maybe that's what makes them dangerous.