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Andrew

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Right now, I'm engrossed in the early stages of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. So far, so good.

Ohhh this book gets SO much better as it goes along! And it starts out pretty good, so that is a winning proposition.

You've read the bit about York Cathedral yet? I was sold on the book after that chapter.

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I just finished Tash Aw's Harmony Silk Factory.

I'm currently reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

I'm reading and reviewing books as part of a class I am taking. We are doing a tournament of books. We started with 16 novels (all published in 2005), and based on our own reviews of them, we choose which books we'll read for the next round.

The final four were:

The March (E.L. Doctorow)

Harmony Silk Factory (Tash Aw)

Shalimar the Clown (Salman Rushdie)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)

Harmony Silk Factory and Extremely Loud advanced to the final round.

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I finished up Dave Egger's You Shall Know Our Velocity! not too long ago (and Francis Schaeffer's "trilogy" before that). I liked both (or, technically, all four).

Right now, I'm on Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far. I love it.

Next up, something fiction: maybe one of the following?

Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

Stanislaw Lem's Solaris

Raymond Chandler's Simple Art of Murder

or

Alan Furst's Kingdom of Shadows

Any suggestions which I should hit first?

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On Beauty, by Zadie Smith. I'm just starting this, and as it's quite different, so far, from White Teeth, I'm hoping to ultimately like it better.

Beth - did you ever finish this? I just did. I admired the craft of the book greatly, and liked so much of it, but ultimately was very let down by the choices the characters made. They all ended up sort of John Updike-y in a way that disappointed me.

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BethR   

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith. I'm just starting this, and as it's quite different, so far, from White Teeth, I'm hoping to ultimately like it better.

Beth - did you ever finish this? I just did. I admired the craft of the book greatly, and liked so much of it, but ultimately was very let down by the choices the characters made. They all ended up sort of John Updike-y in a way that disappointed me.

You've more or less summed up my assessment, Sara. I suspect this novel is going to appear on a lot of "contemporary/postmodern" course syllabi. For a while.

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Andrew   

Two books I've recently completed:

- A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller - I now know why this is regarded as a science fiction classic: intelligent, spiritual, comical, and (sadly) still relevant

- Creation and the Persistence of Evil, by Jon Levenson - a fascinating, meandering book by a Harvard prof of Jewish Studies - among other things, it's a look at comparative Ancient Near Eastern religion, an OT consideration of theodicy, and a reflection of the meaning of humankind's creation 'in God's image' - I thought it dragged a bit in the middle, but quite worth the overall effort

...and three books waiting to be read:

- Kon-Tiki Man - an autobiography of Thor Heyerdahl

- Misquoting Jesus - by Bart Ehrman

- Seven Story Mountain - I'm sorta embarrassed to admit that I've not yet read any works by Merton

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- A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter Miller - I now know why this is regarded as a science fiction classic: intelligent, spiritual, comical, and (sadly) still relevant

I read this book for the first time back in high school, and I still go back every five years or so and re-read it. It's a gem. It is science fiction of a sort, but it's really more of an exploration of the heart of darkness, and why we never learn, and why Jeremiah's words about the heart being deceitful above all things will never become stale or antiquated. It's also beautifully written, with some passages of poetic grandeur that will take your breath away. Sadly, Walter Miller was never able to recapture the glories of A Canticle for Leibowitz. He suffered through decades of depression, and put a bullet in his brain in 1996, 37 years after he finished his first and only novel.

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Crow   

I've recently finished reading Leibowitz, and it is an excellent book. It raises some profound questions about whether sinful man can harness technology and use it responsibly, and the questions extend to issues about life itself. It's too bad to hear about Miller; the burden of genius was apparently too much for him to bear.

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I've just finished Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith - a great return to form in his Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series.

I haven't had a chance to read Smith's stuff yet, but I'd heard good things about the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I DID buy 44 Scotland Street, which I have yet to read. Are his other books subpar in comparison to the Ladies' books?

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Chashab   

I'm in the middle of Heaven by Randy Alcorn. His writing has been very influential in my Christian thinking the last few years. I also just finished the paper Redeeming the Arts commissioned by the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelism, which I mentioned in the visual arts section. And I keep T.S. Eliot's complete works by my bed, and occassionally chew on some of his writings.

My wife has started The Story of the Stone, the first volume of an enormous 5 volume work

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Next up, something fiction: maybe one of the following?

Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

Stanislaw Lem's Solaris

Raymond Chandler's Simple Art of Murder

or

Alan Furst's Kingdom of Shadows

Any suggestions which I should hit first?

Wow. This post is so old, you've probably made your decision by now, sorry. The title essay of the Chandler is a famous New Yorker article and considered one of the finest treatises on crime fiction and mystery novels ever done. I'd suggest that, even if you blow off the short stories to follow (there is a slam-bam-thankyou-ma'am quality to his short stories that can be grating if you are familiar with any of his novels).

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I saw that Canticle for Liebowitz was read by some ... it is most excellent. Has anyone ever come across a short story by Miller, Dark Benediction, involving a group of people with a skin disease, who are called the "Dermies"? It is very worthwhile. I wish I had a copy.

What I've just finished:

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama.

Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott (read with the kids).

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Andrew   

::...and three books waiting to be read:

- Kon-Tiki Man - an autobiography of Thor Heyerdahl

- Misquoting Jesus - by Bart Ehrman

- Seven Story Mountain - I'm sorta embarrassed to admit that I've not yet read any works by Merton

Ooh, quoting myself - I feel so special! Of these 3 books, I only finished book #2. The Heyerdahl book was interesting enough, but I couldn't muster the energy to finish it, once I'd read about his initial transoceanic voyage. Merton's book was written as a new convert to Catholicism, and his condemnatory zeal of all who lived and believed otherwise (whether Protestant or nonbeliever) was rather unappealing.

On the other hand, Ehrman's book was an interesting layperson's guide to textual criticism. Although there was a feeling of muted sensationalism to some of his sweeping statements, his literary/scientific reasoning when applied to individual New Testament texts seemed sound overall.

Next, I think I'll take a break and read a bit of fiction, some Graham Greene or Wendell Berry, perhaps...

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Was surprised to see my acquaintance Jim Skillen had a review up at Amazon from just a few days ago. For those who wonder if Jesus was apolitical Storkey forthrightly says that Jesus was VERY POLITICAL. The term "Messiah" is not an apolitical term (Christ saves only our souls). Storkey says that "Messiah," Jesus is a political leader.

Skillen says, "Any Christian today who wants to understand the Bible and the Christian drama into which God draws us by the power of the Spirit, must read the Bible as the story of God's kingdom and our place in it. And not our place only, but the place of every government, every nation, every authority on earth. Nothing and no one stands outside this story of judgment and redemption, which is now dramatically unfolding toward the climactic return of the King, the Lord, Jesus the Christ."

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I'm reading Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel. The narrative style is hard to follow (lots of clauses in the middle of sentences which interrupt the flow of the prose in service of helping us know the narrator is all over the place), so I'm not sure I'll stick with it.

I'm reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the kids (my first time too).

I have The Meaning of Jesus out of the library, and I'm trying to get to it so I can participate in the book discussion here.

When I give up on Indecision, I'll start In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

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Darren H   
Merton's book was written as a new convert to Catholicism, and his condemnatory zeal of all who lived and believed otherwise (whether Protestant or nonbeliever) was rather unappealing.

I wondered how that book would rub you, Andrew. I suspect that you'd prefer Merton's later writing. You might give New Seeds of Contemplation a shot.

I just finished Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down, which is predictable and surprising, enjoyable and annoying. I still haven't decided if I liked it. As usual I have three books going at the moment:

- Nick Rombes' contribution to the 33 1/3 series, The Ramones

- A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain (my lunchtime read)

- A nuts-and-bolts biography of William Wyler that I'm reading while working through his films

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I am currently re-reading Shelby Foote's massive 3-volume, 2,500 page The Civil War: A Narrative. And I am enjoying it as much as I did the first time, more than ten years ago.

Before 1990 the American Civil War was dusty, ancient history to me. I knew it from the cursory overviews I had received in high school and college history classes

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Andrew   

::I wondered how that book would rub you, Andrew. I suspect that you'd prefer Merton's later writing. You might give New Seeds of Contemplation a shot.

Thanks, Darren - I just might do that. I was surprised by my negative reaction to my first exposure to Merton, considering all of the good things I've heard about him. I'm willing to give his later writings another chance.

Right now, I've got a few other books waiting in the wings:

- Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii

- a book by Timothy Ware on Greek Orthodox spirituality (I'm just curious to learn about devotional practice in another wing of the Christian faith)

- '1968: The Year that Rocked the World'

- 'The Places in Between,' by Rory Stewart - a travelogue of a walk across Afghanistan - the NYT review last week was stellar

- a book on forgiveness by Miroslav Volf - I can't decide between his more scholarly and more popular work on the subject; both sound excellent

I just finished Graham Greene's 'The End of the Affair' - a fascinating read of a tormented soul hunted by the hound of heaven; not up in the stratosphere with 'The Power and the Glory,' but a worthy read nevertheless

I'm presently reading Michael Malone's 'Handling Sin.' After 300 pages, I'm deeply impressed. So far, there's been a laugh-out-loud moment about once every two pages. The story's pretty darn ridiculous - think Homer's Odyssey set in 1980's rural North Carolina, if Odysseus were an uptight life insurance salesman; but Malone throws in some weighty subject matter on justice vs. grace, plus theodicy, in between the chuckles.

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Now he's doing it all over again. I think this is the best historical writing I've ever encountered.

I think Bruce Catton's work is also worth checking out; he's a different sort of writer than Foote, but incredibly talented and very interesting.

I joined an online book discussion with some friends from college, and I just finished our first book: Walker Percy's the Moviegoer.

So now, I working through the introduction of Ray Oldenburg's the Great Good Place. It's absolutely fascinating; third places and their role in a community is something I'm very much interested in.

On deck over the next few weeks:

-Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (next up for our book discussion)

-David Dark's the Gospel According to America (Dark is a neat dude)

-Raymond Chandler's the Simple Art of Murder (because Chandler is a master)

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Now he's doing it all over again. I think this is the best historical writing I've ever encountered.

I think Bruce Catton's work is also worth checking out; he's a different sort of writer than Foote, but incredibly talented and very interesting.

I joined an online book discussion with some friends from college, and I just finished our first book: Walker Percy's the Moviegoer.

So now, I working through the introduction of Ray Oldenburg's the Great Good Place. It's absolutely fascinating; third places and their role in a community is something I'm very much interested in.

On deck over the next few weeks:

-Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (next up for our book discussion)

-David Dark's the Gospel According to America (Dark is a neat dude)

-Raymond Chandler's the Simple Art of Murder (because Chandler is a master)

Those three upcoming books are wonderful. I haven't read the Chandler book you mentioned, but I've read all his novels. My secret ambition is to be Philip Marlowe.

Walker Percy is my hero. I don't know if you're aware of this, but Shelby Foote and Walker Percy were boyhood friends in Greenville, Mississippi. They kept up a remarkable correspondence for decades, and it's well worth reading. It bears the remarkable title of The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy.

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Those three upcoming books are wonderful. I haven't read the Chandler book you mentioned, but I've read all his novels. My secret ambition is to be Philip Marlowe.

You and me both, brother. :)

Walker Percy is my hero. I don't know if you're aware of this, but Shelby Foote and Walker Percy were boyhood friends in Greenville, Mississippi. They kept up a remarkable correspondence for decades, and it's well worth reading. It bears the remarkable title of The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy.

I actually found out about their friendship last week. I heard a humorous story about Percy and Foote meeing William Faulkner: Foote talked to Faulkner on his porch, while Percy was so nervous he couldn't leave the automobile they came in.

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stu   

I am reading Margaret Atwood - Oryx and Crake. Is Margaret Atwood still alive? If so, then she is easily the best writer alive, in my book. If not, then she's, well, one of the really good dead writers. And still in my book.

Anyway, it's good, and very different to The Blind Assassin, which was the last one I read.

And I'm also reading Velvet Elvis, which is some new-ish book about being a Christian, and all that kind of thing. It has some good points, some of which he has inadvertantly nicked from Derrida, but the style is a bit irritating sometimes. I'm reading it because quite a few people I know are reading it, and I have a feeling they're going ask me about some of the issues it raises, so I'm getting myself ready.

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Thom   

I am currently reading Art Worlds by Howard Becker. It is quite challenging and an interesting investigation into how art and "art worlds" are created. It focuses a good deal on the many people and relationships involved in creating a piece of art.

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Am re-reading Richard Adams' Watership Down. Amazing how reading about rabbit behavior - wild and tame - and watching my own new rabbit has affected my perception of this book. I'm enjoying it very much, but the animals seem a bit too verbose!

I bought this years ago after reading Stanley Hauerwas's excellent essay on Watership Down and narrative theology ("A Story-Formed Community: Reflections on Watership Down"), but I have never read it. Maybe I'll try to get to it this summer.

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