November 19, 2009

Read Anything Good Lately?

I do a lot of reading. Sometimes I buy books, and sometimes I get them from the library. I never seem to be able bring myself to write formal reviews of the books I'm reading (even though I know a lot of blog readers like reading book reviews), but here are some short reviews "in brief" of some books I've read in recent weeks...

The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. This book is fascinating. Did you know that there is a whole new world, largely undiscovered, existing in the branches of California's redwoods? So few people have ventured up there, 200 and 300 feet above the ground. Some branches are so large that a whole forest, with many different types of trees, plants, and animals, sprout from the soil that collects on them! This book is an account not only of the trees, but of the individuals who have begun exploring them in recent decades. Their lives are as interesting as the trees they study, and this is one of my favorite books of the year.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. An enjoyable read, like Brown's other novels; however, several scenes of torture were too violent and gruesome for my taste, and at one point I considered not finishing the book. The plot is highly contrived, and often serves no purpose other than as a vehicle to convey Brown's theological and philosophical ideas. Many pages in the novel consist of nothing more than one character explaining these ideas to another. I can't imagine scenes like this being made into a movie (although I'm sure Hollywood will try). For me, though, it was the theology and philosophy that was interesting, and kept me reading.

The First Paul by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Like The Wild Trees, I found this book at my local library. It was published this year (2009), so I was pleasantly surprised to see it there on the shelves. I can't believe I haven't read more of Borg and Crossan. At this point in my ministry, some of their ideas are not new to me, and yet they present them in ways that make it easier for me (as a pastor) to share them with my congregation. This book is an excellent exploration of the biblical writings attributed to the Apostle Paul, and how Paul's thoughts were adopted and transformed by subsequent writers using his name. The authors show how Paul was a radical on issues such as women and slavery, and how subsequent generations twisted his ideas into something more conservative and reactionary. I'm now inspired to read some of Borg's and Crossan's older books, and am looking forward to Marcus Borg's visit to Chapman Univeristy's Founders' Day next spring.

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. In the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Will Turner says "This is either madness or brilliance," to which Jack Sparrow replies, "It's remarkable how often those two traits coincide." Reading No Impact Man, I'm struck by both the madness and the brilliance of the author, who convinced his family to live for a year having as little environmental impact as possible. Their goal was to produce no trash and no carbon emissions, which meant buying food without packaging, walking or biking everywhere, turning off their electricity, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator, even though they lived--and worked--in New York high-rise buildings. Along the way, they faced some very difficult challenges, but also discovered new meaning and joy. Beaven's goal is not to convince readers that everyone should live like that; rather, he wants readers to understand how the choices they make affect the planet, and that many of the "conveniences" in life actually do little to improve the quality of life. It's an excellent book that I'm now reading through for a second time.

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