"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
Eighteen years reviewing books, audiobooks, graphic novels, movies and music! More than 1500 reviews.

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

LIVING for ANOTHER: MORE of OTHERS, LESS of YOU by Brent Gambrell



Museums, parking duty and the point of it all.

This book was originally published in 2017 by Abingdon Press.

I had a week off of school for fall break last week. During that week I had three experiences of a religious bent (beyond my weekly church attendance): 1) I read this book, 2) I helped park cars for my church's annual "Trunk or Treat" that we host for the community, 3) I visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

I listed the activities in this order because that is the order of importance on a spiritual level. The Creation Museum is an impressive and beautiful 75,000 square foot facility that, to me, is just the wrong approach to Christianity. It is so bent on proving that every little sentence fragment in Genesis is accurate that it almost entirely misses the point of Christianity. I felt no love or comfort there. It reminded me of the passage from 1 Kings Chapter 19:

"
11-12 Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.
13When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?”            -The Message translation

My second event was helping to park cars (it is a big event) with 4 other good guys from my church. We all come from different kinds of jobs, our family lives are all different, but there we were working together as a small part of a larger team to help provide a safe, free experience for a bunch of people we'd never met. That was good - not the profoundest experience and not the necessarily the most meaningful way to reach out as a Christian, but it was good.

My third event was this book. The older I get, the more I realize that the simplest teachings of the Gospels are the most profound. Those parables of Jesus are simple and offer the most teaching. The arguments about this and that fine point of theology are simply beyond the point. They are that big, cold museum that sucks up time and resources. They are the loud wind and the earthquake from the story of Elijah. They are noisy things that get the attention, but not the essence.

Gambrell says it simply on page 89 of his book:

"...often I am asked by pastors and student ministers to 'go deep.' I am told that their people need to be challenged with deeper truths. My response to them is always the same: there are no deeper truths than that God loves me for no good reason, and He forgives me completely and wants me to show that love to others. I will never get over God's amazing desire to redeem me, to make more of me than I could ever imagine, and that He intends to accomplish this, not by helping me with my little life but by actually living His life through me!"
Gambrell's message - don't focus on you and your problems. You will always
have them, but reaching out to others helps the other people and it helps you. I know in my career as a classroom teacher, the more I come at things as a servant and with a tone of forgiveness, generally the better things work. Do I always succeed? Not even close.

Gambrell acknowledges that failure will be all too common on page 206 (almost the very end of this short book):

"Now if, at the end of this book, you are thinking that this living-for-another thing is too hard to keep up, is too hard to maintain 24/7, then you are correct. To live the perfect Christian life of complete humility and servanthood is not difficult...it's impossible.

But we are called to be an example of His life and live in a way that points others to Jesus by our modeling of His character and love.
"



This short, easy to read book includes lots of questions that could be used for self-reflection or group discussion.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: LIVING for ANOTHER: MORE of OTHERS, LESS of YOU by Brent Gambrell.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

I FIND YOUR LACK of FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS and the TRIUMPH of GEEK CULTURE (audiobook) by A.D. Jameson



Published in May of 2018 by Macmillan Audio.
Duration: 6 hours, 58 minutes.
Read by Holter Graham.
Unabridged.


A.D. Jameson is a student of cinema - not just science fiction and fantasy movies, but of cinema in general. I used the word "student" in the previous sentence carefully because he is not just a fan of movies, he studies the directors, the movements and the ideas behind the movies.


Photo by DWD
But, he is also a proud geek - a fan of sci-fi and fantasy literature and movies. Like me, he was really into those genres in middle and high school, moved away from them for a while during and after college and then came back to them in a big way when the Star Wars "Special Edition" movies were released.

My own children do not believe me, but there was once a time when the mere sight of a Star Wars t-shirt or bumper sticker was worthy of comment. Now, they are everywhere. My family probably owns more than 20 Star Wars-related t-shirts alone.

A.D. Jameson explores how this happened by focusing on the world of cinema and television. He argues that Star Trek, not the original run on NBC but the re-run episodes running night after night, day after day until everyday, normal TV viewers got used to the idea of spaceships and aliens. When Star Trek was starting to fizzle out, Star Wars came in and made a big splash - the biggest splash in movie history up to that point. When the Star Wars phenomenon started to fade away, Star Trek came back with the movies and then with four different TV shows that spanned 18 years. Many of those shows aired every day (sometimes multiple times per day) because they were syndicated.

Star Wars came back with the troubled (but immensely successful) prequel series. X-Men movies started coming out - another troubled franchise, but it has been going on for 19 years! The Lord of the Rings movies and suddenly it seemed like every movie was a sci-fi, fantasy or a comic book movie.

As I mentioned, Jameson focuses on TV and especially cinema, spending a lot of time arguing that Star Wars fits perfectly well in with its peers from the time period like Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather. He makes a compelling argument, one that would undoubtedly be argued against by Martin Scorsese when you consider the ruckus he has kicked up with his comments about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  While I was interested in all of this exploration of cinema, the book title gives the reader the impression that "geek culture" was going to be explored in a meaningful way. Culture is more than movies. I assumed that the book was going to explore how we went from being a culture where sci-fi and fantasy were fringe movements in everyday life to the point where the truck in the picture I posted with this review is driven around in central Indiana, but it is largely unexplored.

His comments on Star Trek and its influence on culture as a beacon to where we might one day end up as a society (more open, more accepting) were quite good. It occurred to me that among my many behavioral role models are Jesus and Jean-Luc Picard - and those two don't clash with one another at all.

The audiobook was well-read by Holter Graham. He did such a good job at sounding like he was into the topic that I actually assumed that the author was self-narrating the book until I checked.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. I have to take off a star for mostly failing to address one of the themes mentioned in the title. Still, it is a good book. It can be found on Amazon.com here: I FIND YOUR LACK of FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS and the TRIUMPH of GEEK CULTURE by A.D. Jameson.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

TRIPWIRE (Jack Reacher #3) by Lee Child



First published in 1999.


Composition with Red Blue and Yellow 
by Piet Mondrian. Reacher's favorite piece of art,
according to this novel.
Tripwire is the third book in publishing order in the Jack Reacher series (the sixth in chronological order - as of right now).

Jack Reacher starts out in the Florida Keys. He is digging swimming pools by hand during the day, working as a bouncer in a strip club at night and drinking lots of bottled water. It is mindless work, but he is getting enjoying that aspect of it. Then, a man from New York City comes to the bar where he is drinking a bottled water and asks if anyone knows Jack Reacher.

Reacher lies and says he never heard of the guy.

Two more guys from New York City find Reacher at the strip club. They are different than the first guy - pushier and rougher.  Reacher has to get physical with them. When he finds the first guy dead on the street, he decides to head off to New York City to see if he can figure out who is looking for him.

What he finds, surprises him and takes him back in time in more than one way...

This is an early Reacher novel and it doesn't have the normal rhythms that you find later on (as of today there are 24 books and 18 short stories in the series). It's a good action novel, but it feels a little different than the rest of the series.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Tripwire by Lee Child

Friday, October 25, 2019

A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman



Published by Dreamscape Media in 2014.
Read by George Newbern.
Duration: 9 hours, 9 minutes.
Unabridged.


The author, Fredrick Backman
Ove (pronounced ooo-vah) is a 59 year old grump. His wife has passed away, he has no children, no pets and no job since he has been forced to retire. He keeps himself busy by keeping an eye on the neighborhood - he yells at the neighbor lady that lets her dog pee in front of his house, he yells at people who drive through the neighborhood (it has a parking area so that the entire area is pedestrian friendly), he yells at bureaucrats, bad drivers, hipsters, immigrants and...well, he just yells.

Ove has determined that the best thing about his life left when his wife passed away. He was filling in that hole in his life, at least a bit, with his work. But, since his forced retirement, he has nothing. So, he is planning his suicide to join his wife.

Then, a tough old homeless cat shows up.

After that, a hipster father with an immigrant wife and two little girls moves in across the way and backs the moving trailer right over Ove's mailbox - a trailer that shouldn't even have been there because the hipster was driving in the no driving area! Why can't people learn basic skills like backing up a trailer and reading signs?

I really hated the first hour of this audiobook. It faithfully tells the story but the reader/listener is missing so much of the back story that is was mostly confusing. There are a lot of flashbacks intermixed with the present-day story and the flashbacks really make Ove a human being that you are interested in.

By the time the I had gotten to the halfway point, I was pretty sure how the story was going to end - but I still had to hear it for it myself. It becomes quite the touching story.

The story was well-read by veteran actor George Newbern (he's one of those faces you recognize from a dozen different movies and shows but you have no idea what his name is). Newbern's long experience as a voice actor for cartoons and video games shows in this audibook. Well done.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Thursday, October 17, 2019

NIGHT (audiobook) by Elie Wiesel. Translation by Marion Wiesel.



Originally published in 1960.
New translation published in 2006.
Read by George Guidall.
Duration: 4 hours, 17 minutes.

Unabridged.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel's famed book Night is a standard, perhaps THE standard, that all Holocaust literature is judged by. Originally, this was written as an immense memoir in Yiddish, but during the process of translating the book to French, it was pared down to about one-fifth of its original size. The paring down resulted in a more literary work - a work that feels almost fictional because it is so selective as it tells the true story of how Elie Wiesel's childhood, his family, his community and his religious faith was destroyed by the Nazis.

Slave Laborers liberated by U.S. Army soldiers under the command
of General Patton. Photo taken by Private H. Miller.
Wiesel is in the picture. He is on the second row from the floor,
the seventh prisoner from the left (by the post)
The book begins with his little Jewish neighborhood in Romania that had been relatively unaffected by the war. But, as the Germans are retreating from the Soviets, they implement their Final Solution and start liquidating all of the Jewish communities while they still can. The Jews in Wiesel's neighborhood are divided into groups and loaded onto trains over the course of several days.

The trip, in cattle cars, is horrific. The camps are no better, of course. Wiesel and his father are separated from the women in his family at Auschwitz. They never see each other again. Wiesel and his father go from one work detail to another in different camps, slowly retreating away from the Soviet advance. Their only hope is to stay healthy enough to work so that they might be allowed to live until the end of the war...

I read this book because it is read by students in one of the English classes at the high school where I teach. I have never heard a student speak poorly of the book, which is itself a solid endorsement.

The audiobook was read by George Guidall, one of the most experienced audiobook readers of all time. Not only has he won two Audie Awards (the Oscar for audiobook readers), he has also read more than 1,200 audiobooks. Guidall, of course, was quite good in this presentation.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: NIGHT by Elie Wiesel.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

TIES that BIND (Amanda Jaffe #3) by Phillip Margolin



Originally published in 2003.

The most likely candidate to win the presidency is an Oregon Senator. He has a winning public personae, but he is a violent, horrible man in reality. He beats a high end prostitute to death simply because he enjoys inflicting violence. His people cover it up. Everyone is shocked when this Senator is found beaten to death. It looks like the prostitute's pimp killed him. When the pimp kills his court-appointed attorney in the lock up, no one will defend him until Amanda Jaffe is convinced to do it.

Once Amanda starts her investigation, it turns out that things are a lot worse than she thought...

I almost stopped reading this book after the first 50 pages or so. There are very few likable characters anywhere in this book. Everyone seems to be outright evil or compromised.  The only real positive was that the horrible Senator character died a violent death. Let's face it, that's not much of a positive.

But, I stuck with it and, eventually, this book turns into a solid page-turner. It was a welcome change of pace from the non-fiction I have been reading lately.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: TIES that BIND (Amanda Jaffe #3) by Phillip Margolin.