Monday, June 29, 2009

East Of Eden by John Steinbeck (finished)

I just finished East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  Ladies and gentleman, I think that I've found a book that has broken into my top ten books of all time, maybe even within my top five.  But before I start gushing about East of Eden, let me tell you briefly (if I can) about it...

It was originally published in 1952, thirteen years after the publication of his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, which was published in 1939.

The book introduces two families: the Trasks (from New England) and the Hamiltons (from California).  They are initially independent of each other but as the stories progress, their lives get intertwined.

East of Eden is epic in scope; it describes three generations of the Trask family in detail as well as three generations of the Hamilton family.  The movie East of Eden, staring James Dean, only describes the events in the last 150 pages of this 600 page novel.

So what is this book about?

Simply put, I think that it is about redemption.  As a christian man, I personally love this topic; I never tire of reading about redemption (for example, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables The Musical [I guess the novel is about redemption also], A Christmas Carol, The Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance Legends and Star Wars, to name a few).

The execution of the storytelling is outstanding.  I was in awe of Steinbeck's writing.  I felt like the writing was very tight and not a word was wasted.  Also, the book felt so organic to me; it felt like it was a real story because of how beautifully everything fit together.

This is writing at it's best by an author at the height of his powers.

I would encourage people to read this with a friend (or a group of friends) and discuss the book: Who did Cyrus love more? Why? Who did Adam love more? Why? What does Lee represent?  What function does Lee have in the book?  How are the husbands and wives different from each other?  How are they the same? etc.

The characters in the book are so complex (almost as if they were real people).  You can almost guess what a character is thinking without actually reading their thoughts.

I could go on and on about how good this book is but I think this is a good place to stop and let you pick up the book yourself if you have an interest.

Overall, I give East of Eden my highest recommendation.  It is brilliantly written.  The story is amazingly executed.  The characters are extremely complex.  And finally, it's about my favorite topic in the world, redemption.  Outstanding, outstanding.  Good times.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson (finished)

I just finished Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson.

In the Introduction, Carson takes time to explain why studying Exegetical Fallacies are important.  "Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not a virtue."  He also writes about the potential dangers of focusing on something negative.  "...the persistent negativism is spiritually perilous.  The person who makes it his life's ambition to discover all the things that are wrong--whether wrong with life, or wrong with some part of it, such as exegesis--is exposing himself to spiritual destruction."  

The book is broken into five main chapters: (1) Word-Study Fallacies, (2) Grammatical Fallacies, (3) Logical Fallacies, (4) Presuppositional and Historical Fallacies, and (5) Concluding Reflections.  (NOTE: Chapter 1 (word-study fallacies) and 3 (logical fallacies) are both long whereas the others are relatively short).

When I write about weaknesses, it is in no way about D. A. Carson's writing but rather about how a reader such as myself understands this book.

There was a lot of greek in the book.  I do not understand greek.  I felt like I was missing a lot of the arguments (especially in chapter one) because of my lack of understanding greek.

The book is written technically and academically.  For example, here is a typical sentence in the book: "After all, he argues, every apodosis is future (ou me) subjunctive, with a present indicative, a future indicative, an aorist subjunctive with (hina) or some other form."  I did not understand completely this sentence and the like.

At the end of this book I felt a couple things: (1) D. A. Carson is very smart and I am glad that he is a Christian helping to increase and strengthen God's kingdom,  (2) My desire to read Scripture more critically was cultivated, (3) There is a lot of bad exegesis out there and I should listen to sermons and read books, regardless of who is speaking and who is writing, critically, and finally, (4) my desire to read more theology (as I read more scripture) was cultivated.

The feelings that this book cultivated in me was worth the time and effort it took to read, even if I didn't understand everything in the book.  In fact, my not-understanding everything was encouraging to me because it showed me how little I actually know and how much more there is to know and study.

Overall, I do recommend this book.  It is written with a seminary student in mind with a certain amount of training in linguistics so the writing is technical and academic (and, for me, hard to understand).  I felt inspired by the book to read more Bible and theology myself and to read books and listen to sermons more critically; this is a very good thing.  Good times.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Salem's Lot by Stephen King (finished)

I just finished Salem's Lot by Stephen King this morning.

Salem's Lot is a story about a quiet, small town (Jerusalem's Lot) in Maine.  King spends a lot of time setting the stage; each character, in their typical routine is introduced.  (I think that I can share the following without introducing any spoilers to the story.)  There is a creepy old house (the Marsten House) where a murder-suicide occurred.  And then strange things begin to happen in this quiet town including the unexpected purchase of the Marsten House by a stranger.  (I wonder who this stranger is...)

Salem's Lot is the second full length novel that Mr. King has written (Carrie was the first).  Because this was written early in Stephen King's career it makes sense that the writing style is weaker here than his later novels.  For example, profuse use of adverbs, wordy writing, flat dialogue (awkward at times), to name a few.

I felt Stephen King spent too much time in the first half of the book setting up the story.  The story dragged.  The second half of the book was better than the first half but it still suffered from the same ailment as the first half of the book, too much set up.  (NOTE: If you do decide to read this book, this may be a good book to try to practice speed reading with.  The story itself was interesting enough but the pacing of the book made it tedious.)

The story didn't depart too much from the classic Dracula story by Bram Stoker; Salem's Lot was the same story set in modern (the 1970's) times.

Overall, I do not recommend Salem's Lot by Stephen King.  It suffered from poor pacing.  The story itself was fairly interesting but the execution was not up to par with King's other books.  Good times.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (finished)

I just finished The Martian Chronicles (abbr. TMC) by Ray Bradbury.

One can tell by the title that the book is a work of science fiction.  It is a collection of short stories and vignettes that are loosely associated to each other.  Many of the stories were first published as stand-alone shorts in science fiction magazines and most were published cirque 1950.

TMC reminded me of episodes from the old Twilight Zone series hosted by Rod Sterling.  Each of the shorts from TMC could have been an episode from the TMC could have been an episode from the Twilight Zone.  Some of the Twilight Zone episodes may have been directly inspired by TMC (to put it kindly).

A strength of TMC is that is is easily accessible to a non-science fiction audience.  I can just imagine a teenage science fiction geek (male because I think that most science fiction geeks are guys but props to you female science fiction geeks out there) giving their non-science-fiction-loving girlfriend a copy of TMC.

Science fiction geek (SFC): Hey, you should read this.  I think you'll like it.
Hot non-science-fiction-loving girlfriend (HNSFLGF): Okay, I'll read it.  But only because I like you so much.  (and I know that when you graduate from college, you'll end up being a rich doctor or scientist who adores his wife and who'll understand my desire to be both a stay-at-home mom and a career woman at the same time).

...later on that week.

HNSFLGF: Well, I finished it and I liked it.  The stories were more about the human condition and how humans deal with their desires as opposed to rockets and rivets.
SFG: I'm glad.  Now that you've read one of my recommendation, I guess I'll read one of yours.  What recommendation do you have for me?
HNSFLGF: Pride and Prejudice of course.  :)

NOTE: I do recommend Pride and Prejudice for anyone that's interested.

A weakness of TMC is that many of the stories are campy and slightly corny (trite, banal), much like the old Twilight Zone.  Also, because the stories were written independently of each other, there are continuity problems.  Bradbury tries to connect the stories but that only adds to the confusion: some things are connected (some characters are referenced again and reappear) while others are not (black people all leave to go to Mars but we never hear about them again).

Bradbury seems to be anti-technology, which is ironic because he is a science fiction writer.  One of the themes of the book is that the ancient cities and history of the martians should be respected and venerated.  In contrast, his ideas of technology (I think that hot-dog stand symbolizes the ugliness of technology) and how humans wield it is condemning.

This is in stark contrast to another giant in the science fiction world, Isaac Asimov.  Asimov was a humanist that saw technology as a means for humans to achieve evolutionary enlightenment.  Asimov (like Roddenbury) looked to the future for the hope of man; it seems that Bradbury looked to the past.

Overall, I thought the book was good (not excellent but certainly not bad): some of the shorts were cute, some profound and so stupid.  This is a good read for those that don't have time to read a full novel because you can stop anywhere in the book without ruining the pacing of book.  Good times.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Character Of God by R. C. Sproul (finished)

I just finished The Character Of God by R. C. Sproul.

I am a long time fan of R. C. Sproul.  A lot of my formative theology was shaped by Sproul and I am thankful for it.  I think that I was spared from a lot of bad theology because of him.

The Character Of God is an intermediate theology book about the attributes of God; some things that the book discusses include His holiness, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, etc.  The book is a solid introduction to the attributes of God.  It is written in an easily accessible way.  And I found it to be an enjoyable read.  Much of Sproul's candidness and humor comes out in his writing.

In another book by Sproul, he shares the following anecdote about when he was in high school (or was it middle school).  Sproul was not artistic (with respect to fine arts) but one day, his teacher put one of his essays on the board with other student's artwork communicating that Sproul's writing is a work of art.  Sproul tells this story humbly.  And I do agree.  I think that Sproul's writing is very good; his writing of theology is a work of art.

I highly recommend this book.  If you want to read serious, academic theology that is easily accessible, this is the book for you.  Good times.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Genesis, A Novel by Bernard Beckett (finished)

I just finished Genesis, A Novel by Bernard Beckett.

The novel is short, about 150 pages; I would have called it a novella.

Genesis is about a female taking a four hour exam for entrance into the Academy.  Unfortunately, I can't tell you much about the book without stealing the author's thunder.

The question is why should 'constant reader' (that's you) read this?  I liked the writing style.  Beckett was able to communicate a lot of exposition through the interview style without having to transition; a lot of the book was written like a play.  The scenes from the past are written in normal prose and I did find those scenes engaging.

There is a surprise ending.  I normally hate surprise endings because I think surprise ending destroy the symmetry of novels but I liked the ending to this book (again, I can't tell you more than that).

There were some things about the book that I found irritating (such as the names of each of the characters are names of philosophers or people from antiquity (I didn't like this because it seemed like Beckett was being overtly philosophic which gave me the impression of pedantry); and he unfortunately choses three main character names to start with the same letter which to a reader is a little confusing (Anax, Adam and Art)).  But these are minor things that don't really detract from the enjoyment of the book itself.

Overall, I enjoyed this little novel (novella).  I would recommend it.  I think that Beckett wanted to tell a story about a believable future, teach a moral lesson and ask a few good question; And for the most part, I think he accomplished these things.  Good times.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Foundation by Isaac Asimov (finished)

I just finished Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

The author of Ender's Game (which is an outstanding book), Orson Scott Card, said that the Foundation Trilogy profoundly affected him as a young man.  He said, something to the effect, that this series of books was the reason why he wanted to become a writer.

I really liked Ender's Game so I decided to give Foundation by Isaac Asimov a try.

It turns out that there are a lot of Foundation books:
Prelude to Foundation
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation
Foundation's Edge
Foundation and Earth
Forward to Foundation

Initially, I found this confusing.  I was looking for a trilogy and to my untrained mathematical eye, it looked like there were more than three Foundation books.  After a little bit of research, it turned out that the books that Card was referring to are the following: Foundation, 'Foundation and Empire' and Second Foundation.  The others were written later on in Asimov's life.  Prelude to Foundation, which within the story is first in the series, was written much later than most of the books.  So I started with Foundation.

Foundation is a collection of five short stories.  Part I is simply introduces the premises of the book.  Part II refers to the first crisis.  Part III refers to the second crisis.  Parts IV and V refer to the third crisis.

Asimov's writing is interesting to me.  There is a lot of dialogue and very little description.  I have to import a lot of the setting, costume and action into the story.  Most of the drama happens in the dialogue and there are only a few places where there is any action.  So essentially, this book is non-descriptive with a lot of talk and little action.  Considering this, Foundation (as a book) shouldn't work well.  But it does.  It does indeed.  Two places in the book brought shivers down my neck as I was reading.  I had a hard time putting the book down because it was so engaging.

I don't want to tell you any more about the book because part of the fun for me was I didn't know anything about the book when I started.

Overall, I thought the book was outstanding.  It is a classic science fiction novel (is it a novel or should I say collection?) for good reason.  I plan to read 'Foundation and Empire' and Second Foundation in the near future.  Good times.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (finished)

I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling.

It was good.

It was very good.

I don't really know what more to say about the book, other than I thought that it was outstanding.

I highly recommend reading the entire series just to get to read this book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in the right context.

The last two books (the Order of the Phoenix and the Half-blood prince) felt unsatisfying, even though they were good reads, because they didn't feel like complete stories (the first four felt that way).  The last two books felt like they were setting the stage for this last book.

This book had a lot of action and it was fast paced.  Although, especially in the beginning of the book, there was very little development of characters; I guess you can't develop and have lots of action at the same time, or it is very hard to do that.

By the time I was about 150 pages from the end of the book, I started to wonder how J. K. Rowling was going to resolve all the loose ends, if she was going to wrap it up in a satisfying way.  Now that I've finished the book, I would say that, yes, she did wrap it up well; very well, indeed.

I read that last 200 pages in essentially one sitting; there are only a few books that can glue me to my seat for about 4 or 5 hours and this was one of them.

So, overall, I would highly recommend Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  It was a very enjoyable read.  I am tempted to pick up Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and start the series from the beginning again tomorrow (most likely, I'll pick up a new--at least new to me--Stephen King book).  Good times.