I have found a really fantastic book lovers paradise on the web. It is called Goodreads and my page is at Goodreads Here you can post all your books into virtual bookshelves of books you have read, books you are reading,etc. You can even create your own bookshelves. There are thousands if not millions of books reviews, to rival that of Amazon.com and the community is very robust.
The following are a few of my recent very short book reviews.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pulman -- gave it 4 out of 5 stars
Loved every minute of it. Pleasantly surprised! Found that the majority of the criticism thrown at the book from religious conservatives was totally unwarranted, although I guess I can see why they are scared of the book. They are scared of the book just as the Magisterium is scared of Dust in the book. They can't control it and since they are in the business of controlling minds and especially those of young children, they don't like it when someone comes along and teaches kids to think for themselves, that adults are not always right, that too much religion can sometimes be a bad thing.
After reading the book, my girlfriend and I watched the movie, excitedly rubbing our hands together, excited to watch the book come to life on screen. Unfortunately, the movie was a huge disappointment, as the plot order and even some plot details were changed. We kept asking ourselves, "Why?" It seemed that sometimes details were changed just for the sake of doing so and we couldn't understand why. And then to see that the entire last 3 chapters of the book were left out entirely, well.. let's just say we were more than a little peeved. Also the movie moved along way too fast and if we had not first read the book, we would have been totally lost.
But this review is for the book, not the movie, and so I have to say it was fantastic. Went to the library the day I finished it and picked up the second installment, The Subtle Knive, and can't wait to dive right into it.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins -- gave it 3 out of 5 stars
This book was a real eye opener for me, as an Agnostic since my early teens. Growing up in a Southern Baptist family, later to rebel and to travel my own roads, I found this book refreshing, entertaining and enlightening all at the same time. Since I have read a lot on this subject, I can't say that everything Dawkins had to say was totally new to me, but there were a few gems that stick out in my mind.
For example, he totally demolishes liberal Christian theology along with the conservative view. He spares no one. He shows how that when Christians admit to no longer living according to the Old Testament law, they are in fact admitting, whether they realize it or not, most probably they do not, that our human sense of morality is in fact universal and does NOT come from within the pages of the Bible or any other 'holy' book. It is this universal sense of morality, for instance, which allows us to say today that the stoning of adulterers is not only no longer culturally accepted but that it is in fact immoral. This same universal sense of morality tells us that stoning children for talking back to their parents is immoral. This sense that these things are wrong can NOT be coming from within the Bible, for it is the Bible itself which tells us to do these things. And this sense of morality is something that we all possess, it is universal, and we therefore do NOT need the Bible in order to live moral lives.
Aside from these few gems though, I found myself scratching my head though, in that I just could not find where Dawkins had in fact proved the non-existence of God. He did not, instead he proved the fallibility and immorality of organized religious institutions. It could be that all religions are wrong all the while God still does in fact exist. Proving religion wrong does not disprove God. I felt like Dawkins just dismisses any aspect of the spiritual out of hand, as if it is just a given, yet he does not sufficiently give reason for this belief. For him, if he can't touch it, see it, smell it, hear it, etc, then for him it does not exist. For him, if it can not be proven then it does not exist, or at least does not deserve to be fretted about.
My girlfriend has said that since evolutionary Biology is perfectly capable of explaining life on earth, it renders God unnecessary and if God is unnecessary then why would he exist? That may be true.
I have also heard that when using causation as a basis for a belief in God, Theists point to God as the ultimate Cause, and then posit him as existing forever, the uncaused cause, the unmoved mover. But why not just say that the Universe itself has always existed, in one form or another, and cut out the middle man? In other words, it is not the existence of eternity that Theists have a problem with, they can fathom that God has existed forever, it is not ultimate cause that Theists have a problem with, they can fathom that God himself is uncaused. Why not then just call the Universe itself God?
Lots of things to think about and ponder and that's what I do quite a bit. It's just who I am.
This book was very well written and caused me to re-think some of my positions. I have always considered myself an Agnostic, although I do tend to fall back into old ways of thinking from time to time, but after reading this book, I was able to say, "Yea, I could see myself as an Atheist."
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Dawkins himself, at least in this book, was nothing like his "anti-Christ" persona. That he was not out to hurt or make fun of people, that he was in fact a very likable and personable guy. I did not get that he was belligerently or militantly Atheist at all. I had actually put off reading any of his books, because of my fear that he would be too offputting in his approach. I found him to be just the opposite. Very bright, erudite, enlightening and approachable.
I especially liked the beginning part of the book where he describes the spirituality of people like Einstein and how it was NOT Theism but instead, "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. "
Dawkins says that he has this same unbounded admiration for the structure of the world and it in this way that even he has been called deeply religious by his close friends and associates.
I also am very averse to organized religion but in Einstein's and Dawkins' Pantheistic way, I am also deeply religious.
I am just not as sure as he is that the soul does not in fact exist. I tend to still believe in the soul and it's immortality. Maybe he does too, just in a more physical way, as in our bodies being broken down and going back to the universe, "ashes to ash, dust to dust."
American Gods by Neil Gaiman -- gave it 2 out of 5 stars
So far, I'm loving it. Hence the five stars. I especially like the story of Essie Tregowan. Gaiman is a fantastic story teller and I have come to the conclusion over the past few books I've read that it is the great storytellers, not the most verbose authors, who are best remembered. That is why The Alchemist has sold millions of copies and is one of the world's most beloved stories. And mine! I believe American Gods will be one of those.
Several days later.....
Well, I have finished reading American Gods, finally!! It felt like the story would just never end and if one is anxious for the story to be over so he can get on to the next one, then the book can't have been all that good.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this novel of gods and men, it was just too tedious at times and a tad bit boring. And I thoroughly enjoy the subject of religion, so this should have been a dead ringer for me, but it wasn't.
As I said earlier, I loved the story of Essie Tregowan but after her story, I kept waiting for more like it and it just never came.
I love it when a novel is able to incorporate a lesson or when you are able to learn something from reading it. I believe that is one of the best ways to learn, when you don't even realize that is what you are doing because you are having such a good time. Entertainment can be educational as well.
The entire premise of this book though was that America, being a land of immigrants, in point of fact even for the Native Americans, that America's peoples brought their old Gods from the old lands with them and that over time when the old gods are forgotten, they die. Ok, that is not anything really groundbreaking, it's common sense really. The attempt to turn this premise into a story of the old gods wanting to fight a war with the new Gods for their very survival and incorporating the twist in the end whereby it was not really a war after all, but a bloodbath, just seemed kind of silly to me. The entire idea of the old Gods living human lives just seemed trite and boring. I like at least a semblance of reality in my fiction.
I didn't hate this novel, I was just greatly disappointed because I feel it had such great potential.
In a literary sense it also began to grate on my nerves how Gaiman just could not seem to describe a scene or a character without using the word gray. "The sky was gray." "His eyes were charcoal gray." "The rocks were gray!" I have heard such great things about Neil Gaiman and really enjoyed his short story collection, "Smoke and Mirrors" so I KNOW he has more creativity than this.
The Autobiography of Mark Twain -- gave it 5 out of 5 stars wishing I could give it more.
Ok, I have decided to mete out the 5 stars sparingly. The rating wouldn't mean much if it was given to just any old book that I happened to like.
This book though, is without a doubt, one of those few that actually deserves more than 5 stars and it is therefore one of my favorite books of all time.
Well, I think there are some books that you read and you think, upon closing the last page, "Hmmm, that was a pretty good book", but then if asked about it a few days later you might be hard pressed to remember much if anything about it. Other books you read, they affect you, they touch your life, your heart, your soul, and you are changed, a different person afterwards. I have not read too many of those books.
When people are asked to name the books that have changed their lives, I'm always amused at those whose lists are long. My list is short and this one is on the short list.
I absolutely fell in love with Mark Twain and his autobiography. It is even more interesting when you realize that Mark Twain never actually wrote an autobiography. What he did write were a grab bag assortment of small books and personal anecdotes, with the intention of someone else compiling it after his death into an autobiography. That is why each version will be slightly different. This is not the version that I read, but Amazon did not have a photo of it, so I chose this one.
I was just so taken in by the humanity of Mark Twain, his was an American life to be sure, but it was more than that. He was a living human being,much more than just one of America's, the world's, most beloved authors. He was also a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend. He was all of those and more. He lived the ups and downs of life. He lived through more than his fair share of tragedy and yet in the end, he was never beaten by life's circumstances. He stayed true to who he was. He stayed forever and inimitably, Mark Twain. He laughed, he cried, he was happy, and he was sad. In the end he was supremely human, not a perfect human being, and his flaws are readily apparent.
This was one of the few books that I have read where I actually had tears streaming down my face when I closed the last page.
From his early boyhood, to the many tragedies in his life, all the way up to the end when he lost his daughter and his wife, this book was incredibly poignant. You couldn't help loving this man even more and being sad that we have no equivalent of Mark Twain today. He died himself the following year after his daughter Jean died and the world has been the worse off ever since.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho -- gave it 3 out of 5 stars
Ok, so this book has been probably one of the most recommended books of the past few years, even residing on the New York Times best seller list for quite some time.
What did I think about it?
Well, I think sometimes one must finish a book and let it stew, to digest it, to mull it over, to think about it for a little while before forming their own educated opinions on it.
My first reaction was that this was a very readable, reading pretty much like a children's book, enjoyable read. The story was enjoyable and the message was a good one. That everyone has a "personal legend" or dreams and that not too many actually follow them, but that we should, and that when we do, we will find that the majority of the time, our personal legends reside right in our own back yards,within ourselves, not somewhere else, that's it not over the rainbow, but right here.
Very good and well meaning message. I'm just not so sure how profound it is. I mean, I read somewhere that this is one of Madonna's favorite books of all time. Makes me wonder how many books she has ever read. I'm willing to bet she has never read The Brother's Karamazov.
Don't get me wrong. I liked this book. I thought it was very simple and quite enjoyable. I just think it was marketed to the wrong audience, that it should have been marketed as a children's book, and not adult fare. That's not to say that adults can't get anything out of the book. There's just nothing truly profound or eye opening here.
I also think sometimes it is a good idea to read other reviews, before writing your own, not so much to form your own opinions, but to put your opinions in perspective, to temper them.
Sithara's review below did that for me. Being a white male, I never even noticed the blatant sexism of the book. I don't think this was intentional on the author's part though, I just think, as other's have said, that the book was not fleshed out, that it did not tread in deep waters. Like the children's part of the pool, it never ventured out to the deep end, it stayed in the shallow end, never going more than 3 feet deep.
She also mentioned the millions of equally heroic people who stay home to raise a family, giving up on their dreams in the process and how they are equally heroic. I think though that this was part of the message of the book. That one can search the entire world for their "personal legend" only to find that it truly resides at home and that's where it has been all along. It's true that dreams change and morph over time, so if someone decides to change one dream in order to raise a family, well that IS their personal legend now right?
I just think fault is being layed on the book for not being deep enough when it was never intended to be profound. I think it was meant to be a light hearted and whimsical story with a good message. And the message is that we should all follow our dreams, no matter where it leads, even if it leads us right back home.
This book also showed me though that it is not always the most profound or the most verbose authors who are best remembered, but instead it's usually the ones who are the greatest story tellers. I love a good story and this was a good story. I think many authors could learn something from that. You can be as verbose and profound and intelligent as anyone out there, but if you are not telling a good story, then you might as well not even write. The trick is to learn how to do both, to both tell a good story and be profound at the same time. This book only succeeds at the former.
Walden by Henry David Thoreua -- give it 5 out of 5 stars
On my short list of all time favorite books, this one is up there at the top. It doesn't attain the #1 spot, but it's up there, definitely top five.
I think it is very interesting to read the reviews and notice that the vast majority of the bad reviews are coming from the young, mainly teenagers who were made to read this in school. The vast majority of the good reviews are coming from the older and the more wizened.
I think the youth of today are just so totally enamored with technology and what's cool and popular. I know I was when I was 17. But then you grow older and hopefully more wise, you live life a little and you no longer care about what's cool or what's popular, you are no longer so enamored with technology and you begin to see how technology is actually killing us. You have some perspective to temper the youthful idealism.
I just loved everything about this book, but I never read it until my 30's. If I had read it in my teens, I probably would have thought it pretty stupid.
I think Thoreau was a genius, both with words and how he lived his life. He did not live on Walden Pond his entire life, by the way. Walden pond was an experiment, not so much a way of life. His time there was meant to show people how superfluous most of our lives are, that it can be simplified, to our soul's benefit, not to mention the benefit of our fellow human beings and the world at large.
He was not a stupid man, he was educated at Harvard. He knew that his way was not the way everyone could or would live. He was not advocating a new social order. He was merely trying to prove a point, that people's lives are way too complicated.
It has been said that Thoreau was the anti-Benjamin Franklin. Realize that even in his day, Thoreau was ridiculed. It is no surprise that he would be ridiculed today, mainly by those who just simply could not live without their iPods.
I read Walden as an ideal and it made me sad. I would love to live my life in the way he did on Walden Pond, but I'm just not so sure how possible it is to live that way in today's world or even how desirable. There has to be a happy medium. You don't have to run out and live as a hermit in order to be able to appreciate Thoreau. There is beauty in the middle way, one can learn to make small changes in their lives, to try and live more simply, as many today are trying to do, to lighten our footprint on this earth, for the betterment of all.
I do believe that people's lives are too complicated, that they can't see the forest for the trees,that their lives are only about making more money so they can buy more things. They have lost their way in the world, they have forgotten, if they even even knew, what life is about.
But running out to live by yourself is not the solution either. I am reminded of the story of Christopher McCandless, whose story was made into the movie Into the Wild. He learned too late that true happiness is not real unless shared. That without love, life is meaningless. And THAT is the reason that living on Walden Pond by yourself is not the answer. We are here on this earth for each other, to love. Without love, life is meaningless.
To live on Walden Pond by yourself for a period of time, to find yourself, or to prove a point, is all well and good, but as a permanent way of life, it's not utopia.
And Thoreau knew this, after his time in the woods, he went back to civilization, but he never lost his soul and he knew how the soul was refreshed... with love, with learning, and with nature.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller -- gave it 5 out of 5 stars
Also in my top five favorite books of all time. With The Brother's Karamazov in the number one spot, this one is right below it at number two.
I just read this book last month, at the age of 35, 8 years after spending 6 years of my life in the United States navy. I know the books was supposed to be absurdist, but I couldn't help thinking how utterly close to the reality of military life it was. I didn't serve during wartime, but I don't think that really matters. I said myself when I was serving that the Navy was one of the most disfunctional, unorganized, inneficient organizations I have ever been a part of and it truly boggled my mind that they were able to get anything done in a safe manner.
I found myself shaking my head and laughing all throughout this book, thinking, "Oh my God, the Navy was just like this!"
This was definitely a hilarious and entertaining read about the absurdities of military life and war.
The ONLY bad thing I can say about Catch-22 is that trying to keep track of all the characters was a bit difficult. It would introduce new characters at random, with the reader not knowing who the hell the person was. This got a little annoying at first, but then I realized that if I kept reading, the characters would be explained later on, exactly who they were in detail.
Yep, I've been doing a LOT of reading lately! It seems that every spare moment I have a book in my hands, even at work. Some guys were teasing me the other day saying,"Look, Brian's reading again, trying to make himself look smart!" ha ha
Another girl asked me why I was reading so much, because "that's what we were made to do when we were in school,now that we're out we don't have to read this shit anymore."
I feel sorry for people who think this way!