The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood by Joseph Ratzinger
(Ignatius, 1993, 93 pages)
In The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, originally published in 1960 by the current Pope Emeritus, Ratzinger traces the notion of “brotherhood” through the Old Testament, the Greco-Roman world, and into modernity. He then turns to examine the New Testament’s conception of brotherhood. After this historical analysis in part one, he articulates a fully fledged Christian understanding of brotherhood in dogmatic and moral terms. In the process, Ratzinger deals with the Church’s relationship to the broader world, and the relationship of Catholics to “separated brethren.”
This book is interesting for any number of reasons. Among them is the fact that it is an early work of an important theological figure. Historically, it also gives a sense of the theological climate leading up to Vatican II. As a participant in that council, Ratzinger’s engagement with modern biblical exegesis, positive interaction with Protestants like Karl Barth, and concern for ecumenical issues anticipate some of the council’s major themes. I found the comparison of early Christianity with Roman mystery religions particularly interesting. Through this comparison, Ratzinger draws out some of the ways that early Christianity promoted equality for women and facilitated reconciliation amongst the various racial and ethnic divisions of the ancient world.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
(Crown Publishers, 2015, 430 pages)
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson is a well-researched account of the final voyage and sinking of the passenger liner, the Lusitania. The Lusitania set out on the New York to Liverpool voyage on May 1, 1915. World War I was underway, but the United States was not yet at war. Although the ship counted Americans among its almost 2,000 passengers, the Germans issued a warning that the waters around Britain were a war zone and ships would be targeted. As the Lusitania was approaching its final destination on May 7, 1915, it was torpedoed by a submarine and sank in about 20 minutes.
Larson did a masterful job of intertwining the various parties involved in the voyage of the Lusitania. He introduces us to the Captain of the Lusitania, William Thomas Turner, along with several passengers and crew members. Larson also highlights Walther Schweiger, the commander of U-20 which was the submarine that sank the Lusitania. President Woodrow Wilson’s life and thoughts on the war are highlighted along with a behind-the-scenes look at what was going on in the British Admiralty’s Room 40.
Dead Wake was written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania. While the deaths of over 1,000 people is sad, the story is interesting. If there had been a little more fog or the Lusitania’s sailing had not been delayed by a couple hours, the story of the Lusitania could have been much different.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
(W. Morrow, 2001, 465 pages)
I enjoy this type of fantasy genre so I really liked this book by Neil Gaiman. It was a great road trip story mixed with a unique look at a melting pot American mythology.
“Shadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she’s been killed in a terrible accident.
Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him introduces himself. The man calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he knows more about Shadow than is possible.
He warns Shadow that a far bigger storm is coming. And from that moment on, nothing will ever be the same...”
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
(Knopf, 2014, 429 pages)
Based on the true story of the Dreyfus affair and told from the point of view of Georges Picquart, Harris gives a fictionalized account of the French scandal. I loved this book, I didn’t know anything about the Dreyfus affair and I purposely didn’t look it up before starting the book. Because of this, it was a real page turner for me and felt like a political thriller. The subject matter still seems relevant today. I highly recommend it.
“Alfred Dreyfus has been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment on a far-off island, and publicly stripped of his rank. Among the witnesses to his humiliation is Georges Picquart, an ambitious military officer who believes in Dreyfus’s guilt as staunchly as any member of the public. But when he is promoted to head of the French counter-espionage agency, Picquart finds evidence that a spy still remains at large in the military—indicating that Dreyfus is innocent. As evidence of the most malignant deceit mounts and spirals inexorably toward the uppermost levels of government, Picquart is compelled to question not only the case against Dreyfus but also his most deeply held beliefs about his country, and about himself.”
Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe
(Pulp, 2014, 223 pages)
This is a nonfiction book about a real life crime of passion in 19th century Memphis. Alice and Freda were teenage girls engaged to be married and when Freda’s family found out they were forced to end their romance. Alice, pushed to the edge, killed Freda but was never tried for the crime because she was judged to be insane by virtue of her same sex love.
This was one of the book club titles this semester. I thought it was well written; the illustrations in the book, as well as the hand written letters, added to the overall impact of the story. It did seem the amount of source material the author had access to was stretched a little thin for a book, it could have been a longish article and had the same result. The subject matter was very interesting though and it was eye opening to see how a middle class white woman was treated in the court and the press for a crime that society couldn’t quite comprehend.
I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short
(Harper, 2014, 336 pages)
Few people make me laugh as hard as Martin Short does. I love his physical comedy, his characters, and now I love his book. I Must Say – the title comes from the verbal tick of Short’s famous character Ed Grimley – includes stories from Short’s childhood growing up in Ontario, his time at SCTV and SNL, his movie career, and (my personal favorite) the creation of the character Jiminy Glick for the show Primetime Glick. For comedy fans, Short’s account of his early career doing theatre and SCTV in Toronto, where he worked with people like Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, John Candy, Andrea Martin, and Catherine O’Hara, is particularly interesting. He has much less to say about the one year that he spent at SNL, but what he does reveal shows just how much pressure can be on the cast of that show.
As funny and interesting as Short’s stories are, the book is as much about the difficulties and joys of his personal life as it is about his career. His oldest brother died in a car accident when Short was twelve, and both of his parents had died by the time he was twenty. Short’s love for his family is evident in the stories he tells about them, and he describes how facing the tragedy of untimely death has shaped how he lives his life. The later part of the book is largely a tribute to his late wife, Nancy Doleman. It is as heartfelt as it is funny.
The Passion of Christ edited by Charles Williams
(Oxford University Press, 1939, 83 pages)
This little book is a selection of readings from the passion narratives of the Gospels. Each reading is followed by commentary from various spiritual writers, including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Julian of Norwich, and many others. Meant to be read during the season of Lent, the readings are broken up into seven chapters. This makes for convenient daily reading during the days of Holy Week. These readings were compiled by the poet, novelist, and lay theologian Charles Williams. Williams’ strange and paradoxical spiritual sensibility makes for some fascinating combinations of Gospel readings and commentary. The selections are well chosen, and they certainly bear out Williams’ sense that “the more time that is given to them the more vitality they seem to possess” (v). Aside from its purpose as edifying reading, the book also offers helpful insight into the sources of Williams’ own theological and spiritual writings.
If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t) by Betty White
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011, 258 pages)
If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t) by Betty White is a quick, fun, and a joy to read. White was 89 years young when she wrote this memoir in longhand. She does a fantastic job at touching on so many different aspects of her life. Each chapter is a light-hearted short story that tells about her working in show business, being married, and her absolute LOVE for animals, especially dogs. The chapters feature great pictures of her during different stages of her life.
She speaks highly of her peers and those she has worked with in the show business including the friendships that have been created along the way. She talks about her appearances on late shows and also the making of movies. She reveals the reasons for choosing to or for choosing not to accept the invitations to be in certain movies.
Her passion to make every day worth living is nothing short of inspiring. She is full of insight and inspirational anecdotes with humorous undertones.
I found this memoir to be a short, sweet, and wonderful story of who Betty White really is; entertaining, witty, intelligent, charming, and humble. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Betty White, and who doesn’t love Betty?
You can also check out reviews of this title from Julia and Ying!
This Is My Funniest 2: Leading Science Fiction Writers Present Their Funniest Stories Ever edited by Mike Resnick
(BenBella Books, 2007, 410 pages)
I wanted to read something light and this title caught my eye. It’s a collection of 29 short stories by writers of science fiction. Don’t be fooled by the title 🙂 Only a couple of stories are funny. Some stories were good but not funny. A few stories were too dull for me to finish reading. I was expecting many laugh-out-loud moments. Ok, it’s not a total waste of time. One of the stories is not a story at all but it’s smart and super funny. It’s titled “How to Write a Scientific Paper” by Greg Benford. Benford is a physicist at the University of California Irvine who writes science fiction in his spare time. This story has the standard format of a scientific paper. Here’s the “Acknowledgements” part. Enjoy!
Another important ego-feeding ground. Thank the big names in your field, even if your sole contact with them was schlepping coffee at a conference three years ago. The list should be lavish, implying close connections with all the movers and shakers. Avoid mentioning dead people; they can do you no more good, and their rivals are still around. If space permits, include those who actually helped you.
The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope
by Austen Ivereigh
(Henry Holt and Co., 2014, 445 pages)
I’ve been intrigued by Pope Francis since he was elected in 2013. Naturally, I had to read this book when it appeared on our New Book shelf. Author Austen Ivereigh is a historian and a religion scholar. He did a great job on giving the reader a detailed and fascinating account of the Pope’s life. Pope Francis (Jorge Bergoglio) was born to Italian immigrants in 1936 in Argentina. He studied at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina as a chemical engineering major before turning to philosophy and theology. I enjoyed learning about the environment he grow up in as a child. It’s interesting to read about the family and friends around him and events that happened during his youth. Helpful background information was also abundant on Pope Francis’ priesthood and the path that led him to be elected to the pope.
Though the book is heavy on history it’s not dull at all. Ivereigh’s engaging writing style and the interesting stories helped to make the content captivating. I’m glad Ivereigh spent a great deal of time explaining the history, politics, church and state in Argentina and South America. It took me a long time to finish it; that’s because I didn’t know anything about any of those topics. The book helped me to get a sense of who the Pope is, where he’s from, and what kind of pope he is today. Kudos to the author’s painstaking research and superior knowledge on the subject.