Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition

Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian TraditionSeeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition by Hans Boersma
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Indeed, whenever and wherever we see truth, goodness, and beauty, it is as though the eschaton comes cascading into our lives and we receive a glimpse of God's beauty in Christ."

That's a fine sentence. I can imagine it will appear in a sermon sometime.

This book is a thorough (sometimes too thorough I think) review of the theology of the beatific vision, focused on a handful of key figures in Christian history. The most interesting, to me, chapters were on Protestant versions, as one doesn't usually think of this as a prominent Protestant doctrine. Chapters on Calvin, the Puritans, and Edwards showed that Protestant theology has neglected an important idea.

By the end Boersma seems to be supporting an idealistic metaphysics that I find odd. But the book was substantive and informative.

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Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding / Concerning the Principles of MoralsEnquiries Concerning the Human Understanding / Concerning the Principles of Morals by David Hume
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been 25 years since I last read Hume's Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. I don't remember being all that engaged or impressed by it before. Nor is my old copy all that marked up. At the time I directed more attention and interest to the first enquiry.

But this time reading Hume I found it delightful. It is an enjoyable reading experience. Both enjoyable because engagingly well written and enjoyable intellectually, to reflect on the ideas presented.

I particularly liked Hume's emphasis on the pleasing social virtues that make life easier and more enjoyable. For instance, he describes entering a well-0rdered home as a guest and how the very site of the way the room is arranged and decorated "presents us with the pleasing ideas of ease, satisfaction, and enjoyment." Then the family enters and their "freedom, ease, confidence, and calm enjoyment" express their happiness and excite the sympathies of the guest, bringing the prospect of a joyful visit.

If you need a pick-me-up about positive emotions leading to a good social life, then take the time to read some Hume.

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Deaths of Despair

Deaths of Despair and the Future of CapitalismDeaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Case & Deaton were alarmed by numbers related to the opioid epidemic and further researched showed a rise in white middle class mortality in the United States after a century of decline and with no corresponding rise in comparable nations. What to explain this?

They conclude a loss of a way-of-life that brought meaning and economic stability.

And for them the primary cause is neither globalization or inequality, though those are both part of the narrative, but the American health care system.

The book concludes with their ideas on what we need to do.

The analysis is interesting and persuasive. I scored the book lower because it's not really an enjoyable read. It also seemed longer than necessary.

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Philippine Myths, Legends, and Folktales

Philippine Myths, Legends, and FolktalesPhilippine Myths, Legends, and Folktales by Maximo D Ramos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Humans made from corn meal is the most interesting takeaway from reading this book of mythology and folktales. An enjoyable read full of monsters, handsome princes, beautiful princesses, magical creatures, hidden treasures, and poor people who get lucky or unlucky with their encounters in the forest.

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Apollo's Arrow

Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We LiveApollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In one volume Christakis helps to make sense of the year we have all just endured, approaching from many angles. Here is a review of the medical science and our quickly developing understanding of the virus. He also presents the history of the outbreak beginning last fall in Wuhan and spreading around the world. He sets this virus within the broader historical setting of other plagues and pandemics. He reviews the various kinds of public health measures, evaluating their use this year and their justifications. And he also discusses the wider social and moral impacts, how the virus has impacted mental health, economics, education, racial disparities, etc. He shows how plagues are accompanied by epidemics of grief, fear, and lies. He also shows how our species has evolved critical tools to respond to plagues and how we have marshalled these tools this year in ways that will bring the pandemic to an end. In the final chapter he discusses the difference between the medical and social ends of the pandemic.

I found this an important read for drawing together in one place so much of the disparate information and impacts of this pandemic.

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Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our OwnBegin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This books is two things at once and does it well, since the one thing is in service of the other. It is a presentation of the thought of James Baldwin in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. Baldwin's earlier books are his most popular and often read. His later work after the assassinations, the rise of Black Power, and then the conservative backlash has been less examined and has generally been criticized from all sides. Glaude sets about to right these wrongs and demonstrates that Baldwins ideas are rich and fertile.

The second thing the book is is a commentary on our own times and what we need to do to begin again with a more just society. In this goal, the book is one of many books from the last few years attempting to do this work. Glaude achieves this goal through the first goal of the book. Baldwin's later ideas are fertile for helping us to understand America in 2020 and for guiding us in how to begin again.

A worthy read combining literary criticism, historical analysis, social critique, and insights on contemporary public policy.

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Istanbul: Memories and the City

Istanbul: Memories and the CityIstanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have this sense that Istanbul ought to be the great city of the world, based upon its long history and grand location. Pamuk, the great Turkish novelist and Nobel prize winner, instead writes about the melancholy of the city almost two centuries into its decline from being one of the great cosmopolitan capitals of the world.

His tale of the city is highly personal, this book functioning both as a memoir of childhood and adolescence and something of his Ulysses--doing for Istanbul what Joyce's novel did for Dublin. One does feel as is if one has walked along and boated along many of the streets and shorelines after reading this book.

There is also an interesting engagement with the European gaze upon Istanbul, with much attention to 19th century writers and painters who visited the city. Unlike Edward Said's critique of orientalism, Pamuk has a more nuanced and complex interaction with the European gaze, particularly discussing the ways it has shaped him and shaped the city itself, but not fully rejecting it. These chapters form a rather lengthy section at the center of the book.

I delighted in the book at first, but grew weary of it as it continued. I do think it is rather too long, deserving of some substantial editing and condensing. Again toward the end there are some marvelous chapters, such as "First Love."

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Time of the Magicians

Time of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade That Reinvented PhilosophyTime of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger, and the Decade That Reinvented Philosophy by Wolfram Eilenberger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A look at German philosophy in the decade of the 1920's, focusing on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Cassirer, and Martin Heidegger. A well told tale. Eilenberger combines story with acute analysis of these complex philosophers and their ideas. These are some of the most easy comprehended introductions to their thought I've encountered.

Opening in the aftermath of the First World War with its traumatizing scars upon these thinkers, their families, and cultures, and concluding as the horizon begins to darken with the clouds of National Socialism, Germany in the 1920's is fertile ground for new philosophical visions. One wonders what impact our current global pandemic might have in seeding new thoughtforms in the 2020's?

While the stories are enjoyable and the discussions of their philosophies are lucid, I completed the volume unsure of the actual point. What larger lessons was I supposed to draw from the book? Why these four particular thinkers? It didn't seem that the focus on these four and their limited interactions (though much is made of a public debate between Cassirer and Heidegger) generated any overarching takeaways.

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Averno

AvernoAverno by Louise Glück
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Time passed, and some of it became this.
And some of it simply evaporated;
you could see it float above the white trees
forming particles of ice."

This is now the third book of hers I've read since she won the Nobel. I regret not having read her before, but also feel that arriving at her work precisely now is right. She is an essential voice for expressing the thoughts and feelings of our pandemic moment. The ways in which her poems express beauty deeply acquainted with darkness and suffering that leave you pondering whether they are completely despairing or if there is a glimmer of vital hope?

And this volume is a meditation on death and our how our mortality connects to the earth and our earthiness. For instance, in the title poem. A cultivated field has burned and yet new plants appear in the spring. She concludes with this searing stanza:

"The terrible moment was the spring after his work was erased,
when he understood that the earth
didn't know how to mourn, that it would change instead.
And then go on existing without him."

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Of Plymouth Plantation

Of Plymouth PlantationOf Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read my first excerpt of Bradford's book in tenth grade American Literature class. It was sitting in Mrs. Douthitt's classroom that I first heard the story of my ancestor John Howland falling off the boat and catching a halyard by which he was pulled back in. I experienced an existential moment, realizing that this story from "literature" affected whether or not I even existed.

So it is odd that I had never ventured to read Bradford's book until now. I've read a handful of other historian's books on the Mayflower and the Plymouth colony. But with this being the 400th anniversary year, I thought I should correct my lack.

But little of Bradford's account contains the vivid story like Howland falling off of the Mayflower. Huge sections of the book go into details about controversies over the later business dealings of the colony. Clearly Bradford was trying to defend the colony to the wider English reading audience, but doesn't make for riveting reading four centuries later. Other than to remind you of how much this was also a business enterprise.

There are vivid moments. like the description of how smallpox ravished Native tribes. And the book is a strong reminder of how harrowing and traumatizing the whole experience was on those original pilgrims.

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Intimations

IntimationsIntimations by Zadie Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Smith's sketches of life during the early weeks of the pandemic are more phenomenological than analytical. There are moments of brilliance. The essay on suffering is the best in the book. Other parts were less engaging. The final sentence is powerful (I won't copy it here). So a good record for the future to give some sense of how bewildering the moment was.

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