Friday, November 23, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Christmas Shopping Guide 2012

Happy Black Friday!

That beautiful time of consumerism is upon us again, folks. The time when neighbors punch each other over a deeply discounted BluRay player at Walmart, and shopkeepers are reduced to tears by customers arguing about how their coupons should be combined.

Ah, magic.

For those of you who have a book worm on your list, or, more likely based on statistics, you are buying someone their one or two books for the next year, I have a little reference to help get you started. (I've linked to reviews where I have them, to give you more info)

For Movie-Lovers:
Here are books that are the basis for some of the season's biggest blockbusters...

  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein (related: The Lord of the Rings series) --> basis for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin --> basis for Lincoln
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy --> basis for Anna Karenina
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel --> basis for Life of Pi
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo --> basis for Les Miserables

For TV-Lovers:
A few books that are either the basis for, or in the same spirit as, some of the tube's biggest hits:

  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin --> basis for A Game of Thrones miniseries
  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie --> This is not the basis for Downton Abbey, but it is in the same universe. The first Poirot story, it takes place on a British estate during WWI. Mystery ensues. 
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle --> basis for the fantabulous BBC modern adaptation Sherlock
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey --> This is not the basis for Grimm, but it scratches the same itch. It is a modern retelling of a Russian folk tale and the prose is haunting. 

For Dad:
It seems like dear ol' Dad is always one of the hardest people to buy for. You ask him what he wants and he says... nothing. Thank you very much. So here's a few reads that have cracked a smile from my dad (though I can't tell you what I'm actually getting him, since he pops over here sometimes):
  • The Big Short by Michael Lewis --> For the dad who is still pissed off about the 2008 meltdown
  • An autobiography from one of his political party's bigwigs (my dad enjoyed Bill & Hilary's respective tomes) --> For the dad still smarting from or glorying in the election
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg --> For the efficient dad who wants to be more efficient
  • Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner --> For the dad who wants to be the fountain of random facts at his New Year's party

For History Nerds:
There are just so many of us history geeks out there (me, your uncle Sal, your great aunt Sissy...) that I thought I'd call out some options for that contingent...

  • The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes --> Science + the tropics + Romantic era England
  • The Body and Society by Peter Brown --> Romans + Christians + bodily functions + sex + philosophy
  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson --> Chicago + serial killer + World's Fair
  • Death in the City of Light by --> Paris + serial killer + Nazis
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kosova -->  (this is fiction, but still delightful historically nerdery) Letters + Istanbul + vampires + Commies

For Jesus People:
Since I'm studying theology, it would be wrong if I didn't include a few of these...

  • The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament by Brendan Powell Smith --> This might be the perfect Christmas gift... it's not something people would normally buy for themselves, but it is awesome. It's the Old Testament acted out in legos. It doesn't gloss over some of the more graphic scenes (Dinah, anyone?) but makes them more interesting. Because they are acted out in legos. Which is awesome. On my list!
  • The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark --> A great sociological survey that provides many insights into the great question: How did Christianity go from being a persecuted cult to a major world religion in 300 years?
  • Prayer by Richard Foster --> I'm working through this devotional gem right now - it's an amazing walkthrough of many different kinds of prayer and is a great companion to his classic Celebration of Discipline
  • Hind's Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard --> This is Pilgrim's Progress but with a girl and so much better. Sentimental perhaps, but if weeping over Christ's love for me is wrong, I don't want to be right.
  • Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer --> Deep and inspiring - what else do you expect from Herr Bonhoeffer? A great introduction to his works

For Book People:
I'm a book person. You may have other book people in your life. And there's nothing that book people love more than books about books.
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane --> This is one on my Christmas list... Books + mysteries + secret society + techno fun
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon --> Books + mysteries + secret society + post-World War II Spain
  • The Book Thief by Mark Zusak --> Books + mysteries + death + World War II

For Young'uns:
I believe the children are our future- thank you, thank you very much.* So let's give them lots of fun things to read!

  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead --> For the child who has read The Wrinkle in Time and is ready for the next book in the same vein
  • The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo --> For the child who loves fantasy and beautiful, mysterious settings
  • The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson --> For the child who loves England, serial murderers, and boarding school (this was me- drawing what conclusions you will)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart --> For the child who has read The Westing Game and is ready for the next book in the same vein (this was recommended to me by my friend in her 30's and my cousin's sharp as a tack daughter - so there is wide appeal)... this is another one on my Christmas list

For Funsies:
If you're just looking for a fun, well written fiction book, here are a few titles that I think have pretty broad appeal across taste, age, and gender...

  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell --> Jesuits + space + mind boggling Big Questions
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern --> Victoriana + magicians + circuses + gorgeous prose
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt --> Cowboys + family drama + philosophical introspection on the frontier
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt --> Fancy college + clique drama + Greek + death
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan --> Interconnected short stories + music industry + broken time stream + Pulitzer Prize 
  • In the Woods by Tana French --> Ireland + procedural cop drama + childhood trauma + unreliable narrator
  • Johannes Cabal: The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard --> Mystery + pithy prose + steampunk + blimps

For White Elephant:
Or Yankee Swap, or Dirty Santa, or whatever you call it...
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James --> Harlequin romance + bondage + Twilight + mega bestseller 
That was fun! If you have a hard-to-shop for reader in your life, just holler and I'd be glad to take a crack at a recommendation

Who is the hardest person on your list to shop for?

*Name that movie!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

I hope everyone is enjoying Thanksgiving, either with their family or friends. I will be celebrating American Thanksgiving, Canadian style. Looking forward to potluck good times and THIS is what I will be listening to today. It is the original and best Thanksgiving song.

Happy Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Bad Religion by Ross Douthat (2012 Book Challenge) (Jesus Corner)

Ready to have your mind hole exploded? I've been threatening to review this for weeks now, and the time has at last come...

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
by Ross Douthat

Procured from the Regent College bookstore when I was visiting in the spring

Procured on June 3, 2012

Finished on June 5, 2012

Format: Good ol' hardback edition (I read so few hardbacks, it always feels like a treat)

Why I gave it a try: I read a fascinating conversation on Slate with the author that intrigued me

Summary: The public political and cultural life of American Christianity has drastically morphed from the early 20th century to now. Douthat argues that Christians should not feel so embattled against secularism - just against aggressive secularism (which grows as Christians become more extreme). Rather, internal fracturing is the greatest threat to Christianity in our times... Douthat labels many of these streams as heretical, hence the title. His thesis is that we are not living in a Christian or post-Christian age, but that we are living in an age of heresy, where cultural forces want to reshape Jesus in the image of our own preoccupations.

Thoughts: As far as genre goes, I think would classify Bad Religion as prophetic history. He paints the recent past with the brush of the current cultural situation, allowing us to draw comparisons and differences from those "golden eras" of American religious life. Douthat asserts that while religious institutions have declined, religious belief has actually grown (he points out that more people believed in an afterlife in the 1990's than in the 1940's). His history of American religious life is illuminating precisely because it is not strictly objective (then again, what history is?)- he allows the reader to extrapolate lessons from his version of the past that apply to our current context.

Douthat highlights several themes throughout his historical accounts. First and foremost, he illustrates how the political polarization of the Church came to be. He views this as a negative development, as it causes the faith to be firmly identified with a political platform that may or may not align with Christian belief. It also creates an ethos of "all or nothing" within the church, with conservative churches convinced that the Republican ticket is the ONLY Christian choice, and liberal churches convinced that the Democratic candidate is the ONLY moral choice. Spirituality and politics become conflated and lead to the savior/apocalypse cycle that we see on both sides. "If Obama/Romney loses, the world is over. If Obama/Romney wins, we are saved." When I saw Douthat talk, my favorite quote of the night from him was about the damage that this conflation does to Christian witness: "People look at the church's politics and think, if you don't like Republicans, you probably don't like Christians."

Douthat also shows how the sexual revolution and economic prosperity have changed the religious landscape. Christian sexual ethics used to be socially acceptable because, pre-birth control, they were accepted common sense. It wasn't that America was more Christian - it was that the spiritual principles of chastity intersected with the pragmatic principles of family planning. He's saying that sexual ethics have never been popular, but they used to seem more practical to nominal Christians or non-Christians. Likewise, he argues that the Christian ethics of economic simplicity or asceticism were never popular, but before the economic boom years, they weren't as problematic.

He discusses several "heresies," which in his definition seems to be the incorrect attempts to make Jesus /God culturally relevant (see Joel Osteen, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dan Brown, etc.). What fascinated me was his diagnosis of these phenomenon as religious energies being diverted from formal religion as those structures weaken. Our religious impulses aren't gone - they have been funneled into our politics, our social causes, or our media.

Though Douthat is a self-identified conservative, his relentless moderation between the religionists who say secularism is the root of all our problems and the secularists who say religion is the root of all our problems compelled me most in the book. He is saying that everyone is wrong - that's my kind of argument! His critique of some religionists' theocratic rhetoric would hopefully inspire that camp to ask themselves... what do we really want? Do we really want a state like Saudi Arabia where religion is "enforced"? Douthat is calling them on the carpet to really think through what their idealism would look like practically. Likewise, his critique of the secularists would hopefully inspire them to ask themselves... what are our notions of freedom and equality predicated on? What is supporting our ideology when we've hollowed out all the religious underpinnings? Douthat is calling them on the carpet to confront the fact that they are wanting to have their cake and eat it, too.

I find this book very hopeful, especially after hearing Douthat speak. Basically, he sees that Christians dominating politics is not the primary way that we should declare Jesus' lordship. He's advocating for sanctity in the church ("letting the church be the church") - the outpouring of sanctification should be culturally and politically manifested, but we shouldn't confuse the method with the result. I was especially inclined to agree with him on the dire need for good art being made by Christians - not Amish romances or low budget didactic movies, but the great art in the tradition of our fore-bearers that appeals to the society as a whole.

This has been a really nasty election cycle. Both sides have been unnecessarily harsh and uncharitable to each other. For Christians who are trying to reorient themselves in the new landscape, I would challenge you to read this book prayerfully and to look at where our cultural affiliations have significantly tarnished the message of our True King. For non-Christians who are baffled by why Christians are so (fill in the negative adjective here), I would challenge you to read this book with an open mind and to try to understand why cultural Christianity has taken the shape that it has.

Bad Religion has been immensely helpful for me in articulating my thoughts on politics and culture. I don't always agree with Douthat's conclusions (he's a conservative who has made me more liberal - oh, sweet irony). I, however, am very grateful for how clearly (and relatively fairly) he lays out the terms and stakes of the current situation.


7 - I will have to seriously reevaluate any friendship or romantic interest that does not like this book: a favorite 

Do you ever feel frustrated with the cultural manifestations of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof)?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reflection Sunday 11.18.12 (Jesus Corner)

I officially survived the nutso part of my semester with only minor scars. Whew. I do still have my history paper to write, but considering it's about the female body in patristic leaders' writings, I am relishing getting up on my hobby horse for that one. Anyways... I'm back! Thanks for all the encouragement, everyone, via Facebook and texts. I sometimes forget that a big part of why I blog in the first place is to let my loved ones who are scattered everywhere know that I'm alive. And I always love hearing from you in return (aka Facebook stalking you and/or finding out what you're doing from mutual friends).

This week is Thanksgiving. Not Canadian Thanksgiving - real Thanksgiving. Though, now having experience both, I do think that we could stand to push ours up a few weeks, America. Everyone is already itchy for Christmas music this late in November, and it would give retailers a few more weeks to pelt us with candy canes and obscure techno carols. Just some constructive feedback, Mr. Lincoln.

Anyways, since I'm not heading back east for the official holiday, I thought I would reflect on what I am most thankful for this year: to be in Vancouver, at Regent, studying theology and, soon, the arts.

I am thankful for the job I spent three years at prior to coming to Regent. I learned the value of patience, hard work, and continuous improvement, as well as how to endure in a hard season. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from many brilliant, fun people who taught me innumerable job skills that I could not have acquired without them. I also would not have the financial resources to be here without that job.

I am thankful for the financial and emotional support of my family, who always told me I could be anything, and really meant it. I am thankful for their consistency and just the fact that I know I can always go home to Knoxville, no matter how far away I roam.

I am thankful to live in a safe city that is clean and truly beautiful, and that has made me exponentially more thankful for days without rain. I am thankful to see the snow-capped mountains from my window. I am thankful for how gracious and kind the Canadian nation is - they are consistently positive and helpful as a people, and I will be lucky if I leave more like them.

I am thankful for the community I continue to establish here and continue to be humbled by how intelligent and compassionate everyone I meet seems to be. I am thankful for the supportive atmosphere that makes even a grim day in the library more fun and more "doable."

I am thankful for the intellectual environment that Regent has cultivated. I am thankful to be in a place that is neither antagonistic towards childlike faith nor towards challenging questions. I am thankful for the value that Regent places on acknowledging Jesus as Lord over all, while challenging the places that our assumptions are cultural and not Biblical. I am thankful to feel the freedom to find new answers to questions I have long asked and to feel the security that my faith is growing, not dying, in that process.

But most of all, I am thankful that this is the path God has for me right now. I don't think I realized how much I needed it until I got here, but I am so thankful that He has carved out these years for me to focus on Him and the imagination that He has given to mankind. I am thankful that I already know and love Him better for being here and am thankful that I will know and love Him more by the time I leave.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving season?