Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book #36

The Official Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes, vol. 1, Batman, by Michael Fleisher. Paperback.

In the late 1960's, Michael Fleischer nabbed his dream job -- full access to the DC Comics archives of every comic they had ever produced, with the intent of writing an encyclopedia-style series of books on DC heroes. It took nearly a decade, and the Batman Encyclopedia was the first that was produced, in 1976. I read the 2007 reprint.

The book is simply put, impressive. Covering the first 30 years of Batman "history" -- the only gimmick in the book is that Fleisher treats his work as an actual historian would, referring to the issues as "texts," for example -- every aspect of Batman and his world are covered. Long entries on Alfred, Catwoman, Vicki Vale, Robin and the Joker are mixed in with smaller entries about criminals that may have appeared in one issue in 1957.

Admittedly, reading the book from start to finish is a bit like reading a "real" encyclopedia from start to finish. It's a research book, a reference book; Let's just say there is no narrative flow to the work.

But I am glad I read it - I am interested in Golden and Silver Age comics, and a book like this cetainly covers the era, as far as batman goes. There is nothing about the character from that era that I feel I'm missing. There are Superman and Wonder Woman volumes in the series, that I plan to pick up later in the year.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book #35

The Story of a Soul, by St. Thérèse of Lesieux.

A spiritual classic, The Story of a Soul is the spiritual memoir of Thérèse Martin, whose desire to enter the Carmelite convent was granted as a teenager, and who died from tuberculosis at 24. Knwon as the Little Flower, this book has touched millions in the century since it was written.

The bulk of the book is addressed to the Mother Superior of her convent, who asked Thérèse to write her life story after she had become ill. It was originally printed for an extremely limited audience of Carmelite convents. But as word of the simplicity and devotion that the book presented grew, the work became a publishing phenomenon. Sister Thérèse was eventually canonised in 1925, and seven decades later she was named a Doctor of the Church. Such was the influence of a seemingly insignificant woman living a seemingly indignificant life in a small convent in a small town in France.

I have made it a point to read through older works of piety and devotion, and despite the fact that this is one of the "newer" of those works, only 100 years old, I did find parts of it hard to wade through -- the evangelical in me did not comprehend all of the distinctly Catholic aspects. The details of convent life were less interesting to me as they went on, as well, but I recognize that the book was never meant for mass consumption, and to some extent that is part of its charm. But there are aspects of it that are powerful, and touched me, as they have touched many others.

I would be pleased to possess just a part of the rock-solid certainly that Thérèse possessed regarding the character of God, and her humble acceptance of suffering is inspiring.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book #34

The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson. Unabridged audio.

Book two of the wildly popular Millennium trilogy, this novel picks up months after the events of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Salander has disappeared, and Bloomqvist doesn't know why. When she does reappear in Stockholm, three people are murdered in quick succession and Salander is the prime suspect.

As in the first novel, the plot involves the exploitation of women, in this case human trafficking and prostitution. There are rough moments, as the subject matter implies, but the plot moves quickly and never dwells too long on the uncomfortable moments. The spinning our of the plot against Salander is well done, and how the novel wraps up the events is compelling and satisfying.

The characters of both Salander and Bloomqvist are developed well, and we get more insights and backstory into Salander than we had in the first book. The time-jumping aspects of the narrative threw me off at first, but once I saw what Larsson was doing, I grew more comfortable with it. I am not a fan of Salander seemingly turning into a action movie super-heroine -- the outlandishness of her actions in the last few chapters seemed odd for a book that tries so hard to be grounded in the grittiness of the real world.

It is hard to criticize word choice and terminology in translated works, because it is hard to know whether the issues are in the original text or in the translation. But that is the area where the book is the weakest, and it's frustrating to not know where to place the responsibility.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Cribbed from Ms. Litwit. This is how it works:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
*Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their to-be-read lists if they like your teasers!

Music was my dream, but it was also my career; it was how I supported my family ... sometimes, when you love someone, you believe the best of thim, in spite of the evidence, just because you love them.

Save Me From Myself, by Brian "Head" Welch, pg. 95

Monday, May 23, 2011

Time-shifting vs. Live stream

One of the great advantages of podcast listening is the same advantage that the DVR offers -- the ability to time-shift programming. Also, depending on the method of listening to recorded audio, it can sometimes be played at (the more efficient) 1.5x speed.

With this great advantage, why have I always been intrigued with listening to shows on the live stream? In the past, when I was a heavy listener of the GSPN.TV podcast network, I got more than half of my audio from them via the live stream. Listening to the Katia & KylieMac live stream was something I did a lot, when it worked well into my schedule last year.

My current live stream listening includes the The Tony Kornheiser Show -- technically a local radio show that is also available via podcast. I also live stream the No Agenda Show show whenever possible, as well as a growing number of TWiT shows. Both of these networks have an app that allow me to listen to the live streams on my portable device, which I enjoy -- the other shows tether me to my computer, which is a disadvantage. Some live casts have chat rooms, but I don't often participate, so that's not the key. But time-shifting is such a great benefit, why are there times when I willingly give up that advantage?

Maybe the content is the key, as I consider the above list. Those shows that are more news-focused I tend to listen to via the live stream, while those that are less current-eventy I let wait.

Also the excellent new TWiT show, Mostly Photo, pretty much requires video, so watching the live stream on the computer makes more sense than watching it on the little iPod screen. But I don't watch a ton of videocasts, so that's only a part of it.

I should listen to everything via time-shifting, it's definitely more efficient. But still I do the live streams. And I'm not totally satisfied that I know why I do that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book #33

The Pursuit of the Holy, by Simon Ponsonby. Paperback.

Ponsonby recently taught at my church, and I instantly became a fan. His ability to combine the academic and the practical, the high- and low- church, the historical and modern views of the church, all impressed me. I quickly grabbed two of his books, and hope to find a few others.

In this one, Ponsonby takes on what is to me the scariest verse in the Bible: Leviticus 19:2, "be Holy because I am Holy," restated by Jesus in Matthew 5:48, "Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect." The first time I ran across these verses, my blood ran cold.

Ponsonby takes these verses apart, and explains the sanctification process as not achieving perfection on our own, but allowing the Holy Spirit to bring us into the likeness of Jesus. His explaining of the work of the Holy Spirit is both sound and encouraging, infusing grace into all aspects of his discussion of the holiness of God and our lifelong call to strive toward holiness ourselves.

This is an excellent discussion of the topic of the Holy Spirit and sanctification, pulling in current theological insights and touching on a range of historical theologies, as well. He handles these historical aspects well, not letting the work get bogged down, but allowing his text to be informed by past wisdom on the subject.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Book #32

Lucid Intervals, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.

Stone Barrington and Dino are back to their old tricks, hanging out at Elaine's (I wonder if the real-life death of Elaine will be reflected in a future novel) and getting themselves and each other out of dangerous situations.

In this installment, Felicity from MI6 (and from Stone's past) arrives with an assignment for Stone -- find the whereabouts of a missing British turncoat agent. Felicity zeroes in on one candidate, who Stone befriends and comes to believe is not the turncoat. All the while, the annoying Herbie Fisher comes and goes, sometimes at fortutitious moments, and sometimes not. The light comic relief was fine, but the coincidental nature of one particular incident seemed a stretch.

As always, high adventure and danger and thrills. Enjoyable stuff.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Book #31

The Sign of the Cross, by Andreas Andreopolous. Hardcover.

This is a delightful little book, more interesting than the topic -- the social history of crossing one's self -- may suggest. Academic yet devotional, historical yet readable, the book manages to weave church history and the author's own experiences in an intriguing manner.

Andreopolous is an academic, and as a professor myself, I appreciate his turning an academic subject into a practical, general work. The 10 pages of notes at the end of the book are not necessary reading, but do reflect the academic heft of the book.

As an evangelical, I have only recently begun to appreciate the contributions to faith and practice that other streams of the Church have made. Andreoppolous explains the Orthodox approach to gestures and symbols as worship, as well as the theological and practical implications of the sign of the cross, and how that meaning has changed over time.

found thise book very insightful and interesting.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Book #30

Tongues of Serpents, by Naomi Novik. Unabridged audio.

As I said a few months ago, this is my favorite ongoing series. The world that Novik has created -- the 18th Century with dragons -- is both believable and delightful. There is no magic, the dragons are simply presented as zoological facts, and the stories stem from that single point.

The strength of the series is the cause-and-effect of the plotting. Facing the consequences of his actions in prior books, Will Laurence finds himself in the new colony of Australia. The Chinese also have their eyes on the land, and the natives are not happy about being colonized by either world power.

The stakes seem smaller in this book than in the prior efforts. There is little actual warfare here, Napoleon is half a world away, and this does change the feel of the novel. There is more of a sense of the unknown, the land itself and the circumstances of the character's presence there make for the drama. But the character moments are strong, both for Laurence and Temeraire, and their relationship drives the narrative forward more than the world outside.

I don't know what Novik's plans are for Laurence and Temeraire -- her most recent book is not in this series -- but I hope that she does return to them. But this story was solid enough that if we get no more stories of these characters, I can be satisfied. A little disappointed perhaps, but satisfied.