When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem by Richard J. Mouw
(Eerdmans, 2002, 142 pages)
This book originated as a series of lectures given by Mouw on the subject of Christianity and its relationship to culture. Mouw brings focus to this broad issue by zeroing in on one particular biblical passage, Isaiah 60, which gives a prophetic picture of the heavenly city. Each chapter looks at a particular aspect of this vision and draws applications from it for a Christian understanding of economic, political, social, technological, and religious cultural patterns.
Mouw is the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the largest and most culturally diverse seminaries in North America. He is well qualified to speak to this set of issues, and he does so in a very generous and thoughtful way. This is the most recent of several of Mouw’s books that I have read, and, as always, I found his writing to be engaging and thought-provoking. In particular, this book did a wonderful job of bringing a careful consideration of scriptural texts to bear on current issues.
The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis
edited by Robert MacSwain and Michael Ward
(Cambridge University Press, 2010, 326 pages)
People are generally most familiar with C.S. Lewis either as the author of the children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia or as a writer of popular Christian classics like Mere Christianity. However, aside from these literary roles, he was also a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature, a literary critic, a moral philosopher, a science fiction author, and a poet. This collection of essays offers a critical guide through Lewis’ multifaceted career. It brings together scholars from various disciplines to evaluate the strengths, weakness, and overall impact of Lewis’ literary output.
As a fan of C.S. Lewis, I found these essays extremely enjoyable and very helpful in gaining a broader perspective on his work. I particularly found two of the more critical essays interesting. Stanley Hauerwas gives a pacifist critique of Lewis’ views on war in “On Violence,” and Ann Loades’ “On Gender” takes issue with his writings on women’s roles. Lewis is such a beloved figure that he often receives more reverence than critical appreciation. Both these essays (and most of the others) offer the latter, and I found this to be one of the major strengths of the volume. Anyone who is looking to know more about neglected aspects of Lewis’ writings would do well to consult it.
American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
by Karen Abbott
(Random House, 2010, 320 pages)
This is the biography of famous burlesque star, Gypsy Rose Lee. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of her before picking up this book, but now I’m intrigued. This is the burlesque star that the Broadway show, Gypsy, is based on. Abbott does a great job giving you a true sense of the time when vaudeville was going out and burlesque was coming in, in a big way. You not only get Gypsy’s biography, you get a great history lesson about American culture and how it shifted throughout the early 20th century.
Apparently Gypsy Rose Lee did a pretty impressive job trying to keep her true identity and past a secret since it didn’t line up with the persona she had created. Abbott did a considerable amount of research to try and give you the whole story. She takes you inside the intense/co-dependent relationship Gypsy shared with her mother and sister – all of whom were entrenched in the world of show business. We learn that these women, especially Gypsy, had no lack of ambition and would do anything to get ahead. Even when she was at the top of her game, she didn’t live in an ostentatious way. Learning extreme frugality from her mother, Gypsy was always concerned about her money and never wanted to see it squandered when it could be saved.
This was an interesting read for me. I love reading about New York City in the early 20th century (which played a starring role in this book), and I also really just enjoy reading about the period of U.S. history between the 1920s and 1950s. American Rose was an enjoyable read and it did a great job in making me want to learn more about the mystery that is Gypsy Rose Lee. Also, since I listened to this as an audiobook, the narrator gave a great reading of the book.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
(Ecco, 2010, 278 pages)
This was my first read on my new Nook, and I have to say, I love my Nook and I loved this book. Patti Smith is an artist in every sense of the word. She is a poet, and even her prose is poetic. She is a visual artist—she draws, she photographs. And she is a musician, melding her poetry into song. This is the story of her lifelong relationship with artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. They started as romantic partners, but even as their lives led them into other relationships, they remained soulmates. They were struggling artists together, living in hotels with little money for food. They both eventually became famous, but it was hard to tell in the book when this was actually happening. They were artists working to perfect their craft; the fame seemed secondary and nonexistent most of the time.
There were so many characters in the book that it was hard to keep track of who was who. I stopped asking myself, “now who was that?” and just kept reading. Smith also referred to several writers, artists, and musicians that she admired and whose work influenced her. I wish I had set a computer beside myself and looked up each reference as I read; it was a history lesson in itself. I sobbed during the last 20 pages of the book as she reminisced about her relationship with Mapplethorpe who had died during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. This book is a work of art and worthy of the 2010 National Book Award.
Quantify!: A Crash Course in Smart Thinking by Göran Grimvall
(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011, 218 pages)
Here’s a science book that won’t put you to sleep. It kept me up past 11:30 pm. That was on a weekday night, mind you. The author is a physics professor and a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. He is a frequent contributor to local news, radio and tv programs, and he’s very enthusiastic about promoting science, especially physics.
The book has seven chapters, each chapter includes several essays focusing on a main subject. Most of the essays can be read independently of each other. Fascinating stories and daily examples are told and scientific interpretations are explained. This is an excellent read for high school students, college students, or anyone who just enjoys science. How about a teaser from chapter seven, a problem that has been given in an entrance exam to Finnish University of Technology:
A beaker is two-fifths filled with water. An apple floats in the water, with a certain fraction of the apple’s volume submerged in water. Then one adds as much olive oil as there is water in the beaker. How large a fraction of the apple’s volume is now submerged in water? (a) A larger fraction. (b) A smaller fraction. (c) The fraction is unchanged.
Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich
(Random House, 2011, 305 pages)
Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich is the latest Stephanie Plum novel. Stephanie Plum is a fictional bounty hunter from Trenton, N.J. Using a combination of luck, more luck, and the talents of her friends, Stephanie Plum usually bumbles her way to getting her man or woman. In Explosive Eighteen, Stephanie is the accidental recipient of a photograph. There are many villains looking for the photograph. So, once again, Stephanie must watch her back and solve the case.
Each of the Stephanie Plum novels contains a number in the title. The first novel, One for the Money, will be released as a movie in 2012. If done right, the movie should be lots of fun. Stephanie Plum has two hot love interests, a gun toting Grandma, a boss who is also her cousin named Vinnie, and a co-worker who is a former ‘ho.
Janet Evanovich is a prolific writer. I’ve read several of her novels. Evanovich’s novels are all humorous and quick reads. The Stephanie Plum novels leave you wanting to know what happens next. I recommend Explosive Eighteen to anyone looking for a “fun” read.
Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday with William Dufty
(Harlem Moon, 2006, 231 pages)
I don’t remember where I first read about Billie Holiday’s autobiography, but I know that as soon as I did I put in a MOBIUS request because I really wanted to read it. I was familiar with Holiday’s music but I’ve never really sat down and listened to it – I certainly plan on remedying that now. Lady Sings the Blues is an autobiography Billie wrote with William Dufty – essentially he interviewed her and transcribed her responses. You get a very clear sense of Billie’s voice when you read through this book. As is often the case with autobiographies, you get a sense that Billie wants to set the record straight on her life, especially when she talks about her struggle with drugs and the effort she put into becoming the singer she was.
Billie had a rough life. There’s no question about that. Born to parents who were still children themselves (13 and 15) she started out with the odds stacked against her. Her home life wasn’t ideal – she lived in Baltimore with her abusive aunt, grandparents, and cousins while her mom went off to New York in an attempt to bring in more money. Eventually she and her mother made it to New York together (after Billie suffered a near-rape which she was then incarcerated for). It was here that Billie’s talent was first recognized – she went in to find a job dancing (which wasn’t a talent she possessed), but when pressed to sing she was hired immediately.
This book takes you through the drastic ups and downs of Billie’s life. You see how her career builds, yet she is always struggling to hold onto her money or to find a man she can trust. While we aren’t given too many details of the role drugs played in her life, Billie gives considerable space in the book to the effort that went into fighting the law over her drug habits. She talks a lot about trying to beat the habit, but how the government always had its eye on her.
This was an interesting read that has me wanting to read a biography or two about her life to get a more well-rounded picture of who she really was. This was a great way of being introduced to the singer and it was really interesting to read about her encounters with various celebrities and other bands and performers of her time (Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway…). Can’t wait to find out more about her…
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor
(Hyperion, 2011, 432 pages)
Not really a ghost story, but a there is no such thing as a ghost story. Set in London and Cambridge in the late 1700’s, The Anatomy of Ghosts tells the story of one man who, because of a personal tragedy, accepts a job to help a young gentleman at Jerusalem College conquer the ghost who is driving him mad. I liked this book, full of surprises.
The Pact by Jodi Picoult
(HarperCollins, 2006, 496 pages)
A teenage girl dies and her boyfriend is wounded in a suicide pact gone wrong. The two families involved are longtime friends and in the aftermath their relationship comes apart at the seams. Through flashbacks Jodi Picoult tells the story of these two families and how they ended up experiencing this tragedy. If you like Jodi Picoult, you will like this book. I couldn’t put it down.
The Barred Window by Andrew Taylor
(Penguin Books, 2007, 416 pages)
This book is really hard to describe. It is set in England in the early nineties and is about a strange family that lives in an estate by the sea – the main character is a seemingly semi-dotty Thomas who is 48 and still occupying the nursery room. He is living with his cousin, Esmond, who is taking care of him since his mother died. The story goes back and forth from the past and the present and follows the connection these cousins have with each other. I really liked it, but I would call it a “haunting tale” that leaves you with a little bit a chill by the end.