Sunday, October 21, 2018

Book Review: What are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson

I'm of the opinion that any collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson is worth it, and I'm glad that she's consistent enough to be repeating her familiar (by now) themes. In this collection, she rehabilitates New England Puritans and Oliver Cromwell where in previous ones it was John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. She also writes some gorgeous prose about recent scientific discoveries in cosmology and immunology, and then turns around and upbraids the selfish-gene crowd for their shallow philosophy and straw-man depictions of religion. These comprise at least two-thirds of the book and are worth the price of admission easily. Mixed in there's a few essays I disagree with, possibly more strongly than anything else she's written, mostly because she has a few blind spots that she shares with most of academia. Perhaps I have a different perspective as someone who writes for scientists rather than about them, and also as someone whose ears are a little too full of wax to hear the great command "Fear not" as much as I should. It doesn't worry me, I'm sure I'm more wrong than she is about these things. I'm happy to have Robinson goading the scientists with her academic, historically grounded Protestant humanism, and I hope she keeps these coming. Which historical figure gets rehabilitated next, I wonder?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book Review: The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin

I'm a sucker for a realistically weird universe. One of my favorite things about Orson Scott Card's Ender universe is how people age realistically at relativistic speeds, and The Expanse has maintained its scientific footing even as it got more, well, expansive. The Fifth Season has the same ring of truth to it, with a greater element of mystery revealed. The character moments are creative and the characters themselves compelling. But it's the science in the science fiction here that really makes me pay attention: geology and thermodynamics are faithfully recreated, and that's very hard to do. My only complaint is the structure of the book -- like Hannibal Smith, I love it when a plan comes together, and it does in this book, but too close to the end and without the same kind of clues that sustain the science mysteries. Part of the problem may be that I was listening to an audiobook for the first half (then switched to print), but I found that element too confusing for its own good. Also, I have some philosophical issues with how people behave, but I'll withhold judgment on that till the end of the series. Which I'm ambivalent about getting to. I'm very eager to find out where this story goes, but I also need to pace myself because it's a heavy, intense read. There is a part of me that I have to hold back, and that's the sign of an excellent story.

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Usually when a story reflects many of my favorite things I see it as more than the sum of its parts, but this time it's less. Every Heart a Doorway is like Harry Potter without the anglophilia and with more murders and more group therapy. It's too dark for YA but too short and story-like for grown-up fantasy lit. I did like the yearning at the center of every character and the magical cartography that connects the worlds has promise. But in the end I'd rather read one of my favorite books again than read this a first time. I'm still undecided as to whether I'll continue, maybe it gets better? I genuinely hope so.

Book Review: Faith, Hope, and Poetry by Malcolm Guite

Years ago I read Break Blow Burn by Camille Paglia, and I think it's taken about a decade to find a book like that, and even better. Malcolm Guite has the same strategy as Paglia: step through history reading excerpts from poems. But Guite's findings are more meaningful to me (and I don't have to put up with things like Paglia pushing Revenge of the Sith as an incredible artistic vision). Also, Guite introduced me to poets I never heard of but who nonetheless spoke to me as if they were living around the corner from me. John Davies is the best surprise, who may eventually become one of my favorite poets. Of course, the Coleridge chapter is fantastic and somehow as illuminating as Guite's full-length work on the Rime. Finally, Guite brings it into the present day by bringing a depth to Seamus Heaney I never knew, and introducing me to Geoffrey Hill's Lachrimae Amantis, a poem that immediately sank deep into my heart. So, yeah, this is a perfect book for the Christian who wants to know more about poetry.