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Chronicle in Stone

Chronicle in StoneChronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in an Albania city during the Second World War that repeatedly changes hands between Italians, Greeks, Communists, and the Germans. Told from the perspective of a young boy and based on Kadare's own childhood experiences. This is a wonderful tale full of rich characters and a vivid setting. The second of his novels I've read, both a delight.

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The Book of J

The Book of JThe Book of J by Harold Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have read sections of this book over a few years as they were relevant to preparing a sermon or Bible study, and after recently using it a good deal while preaching a Genesis sermon series, I elected to read all the parts I hadn't yet.

The book is full of profound, curious, and provocative insights as Bloom develops his idea that the author of the oldest parts of the Torah must have been a woman of the royal court writing during the reign of Rehoboam. What distracts from reading the book in whole is how repetitive it is.

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A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe I would have felt differently if I had read it a decade ago, but I just didn't care much for this book and am surprised at its reputation. None of these characters are attractive and strangely they almost all lack any depth. I can imagine short stories or novels of some weight and substance with these characters and plots, but that's absent in this book. For example, in chapter 11 art professor Ted spends time admiring a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice. But Egan narrates no depth or substance in this moment, despite it being rife for that.

The only chapter I found interesting was the final one which imagines an America in the 2020's too focused on unreality. That one has a prophetic bent to it and has turned out not to be too outrageous.

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Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology

Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive ChristologyDivine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology by Tripp Fuller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tripp has written a fine book. He's pulled together so many different theological threads and made sense of them.

The first chapter conscisely and straightforwardly summarizes some of the key themes of Process thought. The second chapter is the best summary of the current state of historical Jesus research I've read. Subsequent chapters review major developments in Christology and places differing voices in conversation with one another developing from them the major themes that a contemporary theology should have. And the conclusion draws it all together to present a fresh and inspiring picture of the Christ.

I know I'll find it helpful for teaching and preaching for years. Thank you Tripp.

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The Dark Years?

The Dark Years?The Dark Years? by Jacob L Goodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first met Jacob Goodson more than twenty years ago when he was a brand new freshman just starting his pursuit of philosophy. He was eager to learn everything. Now he's an established professor with a few published books.

In this volume Goodson discusses some predictions that the philosopher Richard Rorty made in the 1990's about America in the 21st century. Rorty predicted that from 2014-2045 America would through dark years--gun violence and racial unrest would proliferate, a populist strongman would be elected in 2016, we'd experience a Second Great Depression, etc. According to Rorty this resulted from the failures of the academy to address the concerns of the poor, generating resentment that led to the rise of populism.

Of course, as these predictions have come true, attention has returned to Rorty's thoughts. Goodson's book discusses how we should understand and evaluate Rorty's predictions.

The second aspect of Rorty's 21st century predictions is that we would come out of the dark years with a new and renewed politics based on love. Through the dark years Americans, through reading novels and scripture, would develop sympathy that generate shame about the inequities of our system resulting in social solidarity. More of Goodson's book focuses on these predictions, finally centering on what kind of hope we might have that this outcome will materialize.

A worthy contribution to public philosophy and our attempt to better understand the moment we are living through.

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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, and Spy

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I learned so much about Bonhoeffer, about whom I thought I knew a decent amount. But what was best about this book was that it was encouraging, in the strictest sense of the word, in that it gave me courage. Right now, in the midst of our current crises, it was very good to read about how other people of faith grappled with their crisis and faced it with courage and a zest for life.

"He saw it as an act of faith in God to step out in freedom and not to cringe from future possibilities."

And this direct quote from Bonhoeffer, "To renounce a full life and its real joys in order to avoid pain is neither Christian nor human."

And also this quote from him, "It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith."

A reminder that we are inheritors of a proud, courageous legacy.

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Woman at Point Zero

Woman at Point ZeroWoman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A searing portrayal of how oppressed a woman can be by patriarchal society. Firdaus, the main character, will always remain conscious to me. From childhood she was a victim to predatory men and every attempt to develop her own agency was ultimately thwarted by another man, until she took the most extreme outcome in the end in order to find her own freedom. A powerful novel.

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The Plague of Doves

The Plague of DovesThe Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Louise Erdrich is arguably our greatest current American novelist. I feel that strongly about her novels that I've read and her power to reveal characters, develop stories, and shape words into sentences and paragraphs that delight.

There is much I really liked in this novel and that was worthy of four stars. And I admire the attempt to pursue a unique structure, with a series of almost stand alone stories with a complex use of chronology and an array of characters. But I don't think the ambition completely succeeds. Some of the stories and characters seem distractions from the main narrative and the first characters one is captivated by. And I was quite confused by the ending voiced in a character we had just met.

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The Fetterman Massacre

The Fetterman MassacreThe Fetterman Massacre by Dee Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in the Nebraska Panhandle, the most exciting thing for me was the surprising collection of Native American artifacts that the family which once owned the ranch on which the fossils were discovered, had been given by their Native American friends. And the most surprising of those items was the war club American Horse used to kill Captain Fetterman. I distinctly went "Wow!" when I read the label posted by the club.

Now, this volume tells a different story of Fetterman's end--that he and a partner took their lives rather than being killed by the Lakota and their allies. I Googled and learned that this is a discrepancy between Native and Military versions of the story. Prior to reading this book, I had only read about the massacre and Red Cloud's war from accounts by or sympathetic to the Native perspective.

Last summer I bought this volume from the gift shop at Fort Hartsuff in the Nebraska Sandhills and finally read it while on vacation in the Black Hills this summer. It is a detailed account of the establishment and short life of Fort Phil Kearny and the famous massacre which helped contribute to Red Cloud's victory in his war against the United States and the ultimate disestablishment of the fort. So, if you like histories of the West or of the military, you'll enjoy this volume.

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Normal People

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The main characters Connell and Marianne are fully realized, with rich inner and outer lives, well narrated.

Rooney also uses some creative structure in the ways chapters unfold the story, however, it feels as if a couple of structures become a form that then all the chapters must fit, so it came across as overly structured.

I think my biggest complaint, however, is that almost none of the supporting characters (only Eric maybe?) is more than one-dimensional. Now, we mostly view these characters through the inner lives of the two main characters, but I still think they could be more richly conceived.

So, I found the novel entertaining enough, but not a rich reading experience.

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