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Recent Reading

I haven't reviewed many books lately, but that isn't because I haven't been reading. I read quite a bit, if not as much as I often wish I had time for. If I don't review a book here, it's generally for one of these reasons:

  1. Reviewing books is difficult to do well, and my time/energy is committed to other things;
  2. The books I read are sometimes so vanishingly narrow in interest that I doubt anyone would care what I thought of them;
  3. The books are so-so and I can't bring myself to spend time describing them.

This third point is the most interesting of the three. A really bad book I might mention to save you time and money. But what about a so-so book? Is it worth any effort at all?

This applies to wine as well as books. I try a lot of wine and like only some of it. The things I like I mention here, especially if they're unconventional. (Generally this means not dry.) I've mentioned a few wines that I loathe, like the unfathomably awful Sweet Walter from the incomprehensible Bully Hill Vineyards in upstate New York. But something like Taylor Sauterne is difficult to describe, as it has so little character I'm not sure what to say. It's not quite tasteless—just mostly tasteless. (It's certainly nothing like the other sauternes I've had in the past. But then again, it's an $8 twist-cap wine.)

So today I'm going to mention a few of the books I've read recently, including the odd things that I expect no one among my readership to be interested in. I won't spend a lot of space on any of them.

  • The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. (2006) Probably the best of the current batch, it is nonetheless extremely uneven. Gut-splitting hilarious in places, it also has long runs of very boring stuff, and occasional departures that suggest anger that the author can't quite express. Misses more than it hits. Borrow it maybe, and when things get boring, skip to the next chapter.
  • Ghosts and Poltergeists by Herbert Thurston, S. J. (1954, and now out of copyright) A deadpan description of, well, ghosts and poltergeists from around the world and across centuries of time. Competently written but dry; if you want a diverting read in similar turf, try Colin Wilson's Poltergeist.
  • The Polish National Catholic Church by Paul Fox (undated, probably 1957ish) A self-description of the PNCC for prospective converts. Nice little book, with some interior color. Includes church history, its constitution, liturgy, and directory of parishes. Best concise description of the church at its peak that I've seen.
  • Who Really Cares? by Arthur C. Brooks (2007) Reviewing this book will only get me beaten up, but it reads well and provides loads of research that I'm not entirely sure I understand the same way that the author does. His conclusion: Political conservatives are less selfish than liberals, who are in turn less selfish than independents. My conclusion: It's down in the noise. Try again, dood.
  • The Fall of the Dynasties by Edmond Taylor. (1963; may be out of copyright) 300-level European history text that I read to try and understand WWI. Eye-crossingly dense, but he covers all the bases and I think I now have a grip on what destroyed Europe in 1914: Itself. What Europe is best at. Surprise!
  • Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood by Steven Mintz. (2004) Almost worth a review, and not a total waste of time, but the author describes more than he explains, and I put the book down having gained a great deal of information but not a lot of insight.
  • Every Knee Shall Bow: The Case for Christian Universalism by Thomas Allin and Mark T. Chamberlain. (2005) Covers ground well-covered in other books on this topic, and doesn't add much that I haven't seen. Confines itself to scriptural argument, and doesn't go after more gnarly philosophical questions like, How can eternal punishment for finite transgression be just?
  • Original Blessing by Matthew Fox. (1983) A muddy-headed challenge to the Augustinian heresy that changed original sin to original guilt. Fox makes me nuts sometimes, but here and there he goes places nobody else wants to go. He's willing to condemn Augustine of Hippo, something no one else (except me) is willing to do. I honestly don't know what to think about this book, which will be incomprehensible to anyone without a fair grounding in Christian theology.
  • Complexification by John L. Casti. (1994) Awful, but not so awful I wanted to waste the energy required to throw it at the wall. Maybe a smarter guy could grasp what's there. Or maybe there's nothing there to grasp. Pass.

Note also that I cruise a lot of computer books, but I haven't sat down to read one cover-to-cover in years. I haven't mentioned any of those here, good or bad. I also occasionally pull out books I've already read and reread a few chapters to clarify some question that's been haunting my mind. I haven't mentioned those here either, but that's actually a growing slice of my reading time, and an interesting phenomenon all by itself that I should take up again at some point.

That will have to do for now. I know I've read a few other things in the last couple of months, but they made such a light impression I don't recall what they were, which says something right there.

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