Monday, January 31, 2011

Reena Reviews Exercises in Style by Raymond Queaneau

Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
Calder Publications, 1998

So there's this guy named Raymond Queneau, right, and one day he decides to write the same little scene (i.e. a man is jostled by another man on the bus and they argue, then the first man goes and sits down; later on the narrator spots him being questioned by a friend about his fashion sense) in ten different styles. He sends the completed work in to a literary magazine and the editor looks at it and is puzzled and sends it back. Then the guy writes 89 more variations of his story and at some point the whole thing gets published.

It's a simple and somewhat strange concept. But the fantastic thing is that it illustrates just how much diction, subjectivity and tone really matter in language. Just by using appropriate synonyms and adding some exclamation points here and there, a sombre description of the scenario evolves into what could pretty much be an extract from a lighthearted gossip session. Each time, the same scene is retold from a different angle, with a different hook (without the letter 'e', as a tanka...). It's a charming exploration of the nuances that a mastery of language - French, in the original; and English in the edition I read (of course) - can afford.

Having read this, I've come away with an overwhelming appreciation for the art of translation. The edition I read includes a foreword written by the translator Barbara Wright, a foreword in which she describes the painstaking effort put into approximating the tones of each original snippet. In many cases for which there are simply no equivalent jokes or words in English, she had to craft similarly contextualized scenarios from scratch at her own discretion. With this in mind, the final English language work, while certainly based on the premise introduced by Queneau in the original French, is probably as much Wright's work as his. It did make me wonder how different the English translation is from the French original - but I suppose, not being a Francophone and not really knowing much about French culture in general, it's not likely that I'll be able to find out any time soon. Which is kind of a shame.

All that said, though, no matter how interesting its premise, you really can't escape from the fact that Exercises in Style is basically 99 slight variations of the same short and not particularly meaningful story. I have no doubt that the scene to which the reader is repeatedly subjected is in fact intended to be meaningless on its own; the overall focus of the book is supposed to be on the various forms through which the story is told, rather than on the story itself. But it's kind of like in Whose Line is it Anyway?, when the improvisers were asked to read the credits out in an 'amusing' style of Drew's (or, indeed, Clive's) choosing - it's funny at first, but after the nth time it just gets a little bit old. After I got the point it was trying to make about the flexibility and fluidity of language, I found it quite difficult to go on reading for more than a few chapters at a time.

Because of this last point, I'm giving Exercises in Style 3.5 stars. It's an intriguing idea that gets slightly tedious after a bit, but I can't say I regret checking it out.

I'd actually wanted to read this book for a while now. It was briefly featured in a book I read last year, Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton (I love typing that out in full), which I reviewed some time ago. At the time I figured that the two books were somehow linked, in spirit, both being concerned with the retelling of everyday stories in unique styles. The thing is, Important Artifacts worked for me because the story was one I enjoyed and could invest in; Exercises in Style not so much, because of the mundanity of the basic story. I think I'm just fundamentally a story person.

Friday, January 28, 2011

One of the most important questions for a reader..

 To reread or not to reread?

I touched on this question  on my (Jamie's) personal blog in my Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down feature but I really wanted to really discuss it further with all of you.

When I was a child I used to reread all my favorite books without restraint. I never thought, " There are too many books and too little time" or "I have to beat my "Books Read" count from last year." Those thoughts were never present in my mind. So I would settle down with The Giver, Little House on the Prairie or one of my favorite Sweet Valley High books for the 10th time and get lost in the story and reunite with my dear old friends in these books.

Now, here I am, at age 25 and I worry about how I'm going to read all the books I want to read and how I'm going to read 100 books in a year. I'm so focused on reading MORE that I rarely let myself reread those books I've deemed my favorites in fear that I'll miss out on all the other books in the world. Don't get me wrong, I love having that experience of reading a book I've never read before and discovering new favorites but I need to allow myself to reread all my old favorites or a book that really meant something to me without feeling guilty. I love seeing details I didn't catch the first time around in a book because I was too busy thinking about the plot. I really do believe rereading makes the life of a reader richer. I think I'm going to challenge myself to reread at least 2 books this year and NOT feel guilty about it despite the glaring pile of books that I've never read making their presence known in my room.

Anyone else struggle with this? Do you reread, and if so, how often would you say you reread? Is it just one or two favorites you reread or many books?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Julia Reviews "Final Jeopardy" by Stephen Baker

Title/Author: Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything by Stephen Baker
Publisher/Year Published:2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
How I got this book: I got this as an eBook from netGalley
Why I read this book: I love three things. Reading, Jeopardy and computers. This book is the love child of those things
Rating: 4.5 stars

I love Jeopardy. I have no idea why, but lately I have just been so into the show that I have the DVR set to auto-record. When I heard that there was going to be a match between a computer and the two famous Jeopardy winners, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, I was instantly excited. But this excitement led to some questions. How was it built? Is Watson just hooked up to a search engine or were their complex algorithms involved? But even before that, how would you teach the computer enough about the English language to be able to perform a search let alone play Jeopardy?

Then I found this book.

Final Jeopardy not only holds the answers to my above questions, but really delves into the man vs. machine thought. How do we as humans learn a language? How do we measure perception? And then once we know all of this, how do we teach it to a machine? If you are even the slightest bit interested in artificial intelligence this book is for you. At the same time, it is not so down in the computery depths that someone who knows little of data-mining algorithms won't be able to understand. I think it is a very accessible book.

If you think about it, it is quite a lot to teach a computer to understand English. I remember one example from a pre-Watson project that the book points out. The question was "What was Fracis Scott Key best known for?" A computer could recognize Francis and Scott as names but Key may be a noun. "In its hunt, the computer might even spend a millisecond or two puzzling over Key lime Pies." Then, Baker points out, there isn't even a verb in the question so even if the computer went to the Wikipedia page of Francis Scott Key it could guess that he was "best known" for being an American lawyer!

But that was the beginning. This book is seriously an awesome journey into the depths of computer human interaction, as well as delving into the puzzling quirks of language. Why did it lose a half star? There were points that dragged a bit longer than I wanted, but not too badly. The way I am thinking, the things that I thought were too long were probably the part someone else really was looking forward to and vice versa.

But I still have more book left. A partial eBook was released the 26th which does not include the last chapter called "The Match." They are holding this chapter until after the match airs from the 14th through the 16th. If you buy the partial eBook, the final chapter will arrive as an update after the match on the 16th.

I am highly interested in computers and language, but I think if you are even remotely interested in the evolution of technology (the technology of the Future, if you will), give this book a try. I am excited to have read it in preparation for the match, because now I get to be the know it all who gets to say "You know how they made that right? It's not just a search engine"

A partial eBook is available now. It holds off the final chapter (which talks about the outcome of the match, which airs February 14 - 16). If you buy the partial eBook, the final chapter will arrive as an update after the match on the 16th. The hardback book will be out in stores the 17th.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jessi Reviews "Beautiful Creatures"

Title/Author: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Publisher/Year: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009
How I Got This: From my lovely public library
Why I Read It: I've heard so many great things about it, and I was in the mood for something gothic! 
Rating: 5 Stars 
Quick Synopsisis:

 "There were no surprises in Gatlin County. We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.At least, that's what I thought.Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong.

There was a curse.There was a girl.And in the end, there was a grave."

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever. 

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them. 

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything. 

Wow. Seriously. Just. Wow.

I'm going to apologize beforehand for the following review because it's going to contain A LOT of gushing. And probably A LOT of capitalization.

First thing's first. I NEED Beautiful Darkness. Right now. And I'm gonna stomp around and conjure up a Lena-esque storm until I get it. Okay, maybe not. But still. I'm dying to keep reading.

I've read some pretty good books in my day. There are good books, and then there are those books that just haunt you, for lack of better words. When I wasn't reading this, I wished that I was. I thought about the characters constantly. I pulled two near all-nighters just to keep reading. Even today, when I was browsing books in Target, I found myself with a copy of Beautiful Creatures reading where I had left off, while my library copy sat waiting for me in the car.

There were just so many things that I loved about this book. This book was unlike anything I had ever read. I honestly don't think I'd be able to explain what this book is about to anyone. It's different and complex, and it takes a lot of background and explaining to get the reader where they need to be, but the journey is completely worth it.

Above all else, the thing that blew me away with this book was the writing. One night, as I was reading the first half of the book, I had stayed up until about 3:30 in the morning. When I finally stopped and put the book down, I let out this huge exhale. I hadn't even realized that I was holding my breath. I wanted to run out into the streets and find every person who claims that YA is "dumb" or "simplistic" or "inferior" or "below them" and push a copy of this book into their hands. The writing is just THAT good. The story had a very Gothic feel, and at times, the writing became eerie and creepy. It was perfect--totally put me in the proper mood for this story. Garcia and Stohl painted this excellent picture of the South. I wasthere. Even the dialect was spot on. I think it's completely amazing how, for being a book written by two people, the writing was seamless. There was never a point when I thought that I was reading two separate voices. It's hard to believe that this was written by two people.

I also particularly loved that this story was narrated by a guy. Maybe I just haven't read enough YA to know, but I feel like this is something that's sort of unique. I thought it was really cool. I loved Ethan. He's just this average guy who feels stuck in a small town. He reads. I mean, that won me over from the start. I think having Ethan narrate the story just worked so well, for the same reason why the first Harry Potter novel worked so well. We are learning about this other world at the same pace as Ethan, which makes it so much more believable.

The characterization is completely strong in this novel, too. This is a cast of characters that I won't soon forget. Poor Lena can't catch a break, but I really felt for her. I mean, who hasn't been there? The outsider wanting to fit in. I loved that she was this intelligent girl in a sea of bimbos, and I was so glad that Ethan finally had someone on his level. Link was another good character. I loved how goofy and yet loyal he was. Uncle Macon and Amma. Oh, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. There is one scene towards the latter half of the novel (during the Disciplinary Committee) where I wanted so badly to jump into the novel's pages and give Uncle Macon a big ole hug. Even some of the minor characters like the vile Mrs. Lincoln and the lovely Marian had distinct personalities.

For those of you who love the plot of a novel, Beautiful Creatures fails to disappoint. I was hooked into this storyline. To be honest, at first, I wasn't sure where the story was going. The beginning contains a lot of background info on the story of Gatlin and how the people in the town interact, which sounds kind of boring (but isn't). It's essential to understanding the story. For being a chunkster of a novel (at close to 600 pages), I felt like I flew through it. I definitely could have read this in a whole day, if I didn't need to sleep. Or eat. Or do anything else. There were times when I couldn't tear my eyes away from the pages, and then there were times when I could put the book down for a little bit. There were lulls in the story line, but they weren't bad. It was more like reading along knowing that even though nothing big was happening at the moment, it was bound to sooner or later, so it was still a hard time putting the book down.

Overall, this was an incredible book, and one I know I won't soon forget. This is Young Adult fiction at it's best, and for all the nay-sayers out there, I recommend giving this a try. For those who love and cherish the genre, you need to read this if you haven't already. I am dying for my library to get a copy of the next book so that I can keep reading!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reena's Top Ten Books I Wish I'd Read As a Kid

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week we will post a new Top Ten list complete with one of our bloggers’ answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All we ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND post a comment on our post with a link to your Top Ten Tuesday post to share with us and all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. If you can't come up with ten, don't worry about it---post as many as you can!

NEXT WEEK THE TOPIC IS:  Top Ten Best Debut Books (of any year..just your favorite debut/"first from an author" books. If you want, you can focus on debuts of a specific year but it's open to debuts of any year). Click HERE for a list of future Top Ten Tuesday topics.

 As I've grown older, I've realized that there are a number of "children's classics" that I'd never read as a kid. Some of them I wish I could go back in time and read as a child, some of them I still want to seek out as an adult, and for all of them I simply don't understand why I never read them at the time.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
I read this only very recently, and I really enjoyed it. I'd quite honestly never even heard of it until the movie came out.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
I've read some of Shel Silverstein's poetry and I think it's brilliant. As a child I was always obsessed about this kind of silly, whimsical verse. In fact I have a soft spot for it even now.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss
I have no idea why I haven't read this. I mean, I've read The Cat in the Hat and all, and I've certainly known of Dr Seuss for as long as I can remember. But somehow I've only ever known Green Eggs and Ham by reputation and have never read it before!

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I read this last year. I hated it. Even the silly verse failed to make me enjoy it as an adult. I think I might have enjoyed it more as a child. Or maybe not.

The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
When I think of the United States, I think of the East Coast, the West Coast and the South. For some reason, I never read anything about the Midwest as a child.

The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner
When I was about ten I had a friend who was obsessed with these books. It's shame I never read them, because I might have been obsessed too. When I was that age I always loved it when characters improvised their own dwellings. I'd have loved the idea of living in a boxcar.

The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
They were mentioned in Matilda by Roald Dahl and I told myself I ought to read the Just So Stories. But at the time I didn't know how to borrow things from the library, so I never did.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
This is another book I've known of for as long as I can remember, but have never actually read. It sounds kind of adorable.

Jumanji by Chris VanAllsburg
I mean, it's Jumanji. I watched the movie at least half a dozen times as a kid but I only found out very recently that it was a book first.

The Happy Prince and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde
I think I read a version of the titular story when I was around four. Thinking about it sometimes still makes me cry. I wish I'd read the other stories as well.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kelly's Review of "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham

Title: The Hours
Author: Michael Cunningham
Published: Picador, 1998
Where I Got It: Library

Do you like Virginia Woolf? If so, you'll probably like this one, especially if you've read Mrs. Dalloway.

The Hours is told from the perspective of three different women: Virginia Woolf, the author, living in 1920s London; Laura Brown, a housewife in suburban Los Angeles in the 1950s; and Clarissa Vaughan, a woman living in modern day Manhattan (well, modern as in the 90s). Each of these three women, though separated by time and distance, are all connected through the story Mrs. Dalloway.

If I correctly recall, Mrs. D took place during the span of one day; so does this book. Virginia Woolf, obviously, is writing the book. As she is planning a visit from her sister, she muses aloud, some of which will make it into her novel. She tries to juggle her writing with being a wife and entertainer to friends and family. Laura Brown, pregnant and dealing with a small child, is actually reading the book. She wishes she could stay in bed all day and finish the book (don't we all!), but her wifely duties call. Laura struggles with running away from her life with her book in tow, and doing the right thing and staying with her family when they need her. Clarissa Vaughan, affectionately called 'Mrs. Dalloway' by her closet friend, is for all practical purposes, is living the story. When we first meet her, she is leaving to buy flowers for a party later that evening.

A favorite technique of mine in books are separate timelines somehow merging together: this one definitely qualifies! The ending is completely unexpected (at least I didn't see it coming), and all the timelines conclude nicely. All the struggles that the three women were dealing with contrasted nicely with their time period. Before you think this is a nice, light read, let me say a few things. A lot of the characters are either gay or are leaning towards it. AIDS also plays a big part. There are several suicides and some other tough subjects come into play. Everyone seems to be struggling with doing the right thing, not the selfish things.

Overall, this was pretty interesting. It's not perfect, but gets 4 stars for being pretty entertaining. I do seem to be in the minority for liking it though. It gets ripped apart on goodreads!

The novel was also adapted into a movie in 2002. It won some awards, but looks a lot more dramatic that the book....which is usually the case.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jessi's Review of "Behind the Mist"

Title/Author: Behind the Mist by M.J. Evans
Publisher/Year: Langdon Street Press, 2011
How I Got This: The publisher kindly sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review
Why I Read It: I love fantasy!
Rating: 3.5 Stars 

Quick Synopsis: 

"There exists a land filled with power and magic...behind the mist." 

Nick and his family spend their summers in the Colorado mountains where he first meets and exceptional horse named Jazz. What begins as an increasingly strong bond between a horse and hist young rider goes beyond extraordinary when an unexpected tragedy launches them on a thrilling journey tot he land behind the mist. 

Celestia is the immortal home to noble and great horses that, based upon the virtues they developed on earth, earned the privilege to be given the power and status of a unicorn, and receive their horns. Under the guidance and direction provided by Lord Urijah and his Council of the Twelve Ancients, the unicorns serve as the guardian angels to the animals on earth. 

Nick is the only human in Celestia--or so it first appears. As they learn more about this magical land, Nick and Jazz are compelled to embark on a rescue mission into the Dark Kingdom that is ruled by the evil unicorn, Hasbadana. Though aided on their journey by special skills and unusual allies, the boy and horse confront powers that threaten to destroy them in their attempt to save a lost soul. 

Join Nick and Jazz as they battle the forces of evil and demonstrate the transcendent power of loyalty and love. 

Okay, so this was a 3.5 for me. It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but I will say that it is a strong debut from M.J. Evans, nevertheless. Even though I wasn't flying through the pages, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I think it's important to slow down sometimes and just enjoy being transported to a different place, and Evans' first book definitely did that for me. 

There were a lot of things that I really enjoyed about Behind the Mist. First and foremost, I have to say that I loved the emphasis Evans places on the power of love. Throughout the novel, love reigns, and it made me all warm and fuzzy and happy inside. It was really refreshing to see the good guys fight the bad guys with love instead of just fighting back with violence. I also enjoyed the other virtues that appear within these pages; off the top of my head, I remember that at one point, Nick has to learn patience and Jazz has to learn to acknowledge and embrace his own strengths. There are some great morals within this book that would lend themselves wonderfully to younger readers. 

Going off of that thought, I liked how this was a clean and quaint fantasy. I could definitely recommend this to younger readers with no qualms.  

Another thing that stood out to me about this novel was that you can really tell that Evans loves horses, and I especially loved that. There are times when a person is so passionate about something and you can just feel it in their words or what they say. Evans' passion absolutely shines through the pages, much in the same way that the power of love shines through Nick and Jazz. If you love horses, you will love this book, without a doubt. 

The only problem I had with this book is that I wasn't quite sure of the audience. Nick is 17, but it read more like middle grade to me. Like I said before, this book is chock-full of morals that would speak nicely to a middle grade crowd, but would be overdone or preachy for YA. Plus, the writing itself seems more geared toward a younger audience. I kept thinking as I read this that it would be a good book for my 9-year-old brother to read because it would be something that he could understand easily. Now, this whole issue isn't too much of a problem. Once I had settled in and prepared myself for middle grade, the reading became much easier for me. 

Not only that, but Evans picks up her stride as the story moves along. The writing becomes more confident, and the flow becomes more...well, flowing. 

Overall, I am looking forward to book #2. There weren't any frustrating cliffhangers or any completely open-ended questions, but I was left wondering a few things. Like what's the deal with Portlas? And what is Hasbadana going to pull next? And I really want to see how Bethany develops. Besides that, I really enjoyed Nick and Jazz as a team, and I'll be looking forward to more! 

This book was graciously sent to me by the author's publishing company in exchange for an honest review. It was just officially released the other day (January 3rd, in fact). It can be purchased from Langdon Street Press' website ( or from the author's websites ( and

Friday, January 21, 2011

Regarding Jana and "Matched"

Title and Author: Matched, by Ally Condie (Book #1 of Matched trilogy)

Publishing Info: Dutton Juvenile, 2010

How I got this book: I bought it.

Why I read this book: I’m on quite a dystopia kick right now! Can’t get enough of them!

Stars: 4

I loved this book! I’m addicted to the entire dystopian genre these days, and this one certainly did not disappoint me.  It really made me think. The people of this world live in a time where everything they do is governed and decided by the Officials of the Society. People are matched up with their spouse, their job, their extra-curricular activities, and even the day they will die. All the literature, music, and art have been paired down to the best 100 pieces of each. The Officials have destroyed everything else. The people are not allowed to write. Everything they do is monitored—even their dreams are recorded. They are only allowed to exercise a certain amount. If they go over that time, or do it too vigorously, they are marked as a person with body image issues. They are only allowed to eat a certain amount of food, which is delivered to them three times a day. Pills control their emotions. Their possessions are regulated. What kind of life would that be? What purpose do the humans even serve anymore? If they go against the rules, they are marked and are no longer a respected part of society. They are pulled out of the Matching Pool, no longer allowed to be married, and are given menial jobs that lead to an early death. Choices are against the law. This is the world Cassia lives in, only she’s not happy about it.

“Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one… until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow — between perfection and passion.”
(From the official Matched website)

The Officials messed up. A glitch in the system showed Cassia the corruption behind the decisions these Officials made, and now she’s rebelling—hoping that she can somehow beat the system. Sure, the guy chosen for her might be the most ideal, most compatible, and most practical Match for her, but what about the one she’s fallen in love with? Love doesn’t matter anymore.  What if she doesn’t want the job they assigned her? Too bad. She can’t even choose the clothes she wears. The only time she was ever even allowed to wear a color was for her Matching Banquet, where she was assigned a mate while wearing her beautiful green dress (hence the symbolic cover of a girl in a green dress, trapped in a glass ball of dictatorship)—a green dress she chose from a catalog of approved choices. Of course, she could not keep this dress. She was sent a small piece of the dress fabric mounted between two pieces of glass after the Banquet was over.  This is the control these Officials have. The people are being drugged to forget things. They are all lost in a world of conformity. They are being brainwashed into thinking this is all ok. Cassia finds a person who remembers the past. He has access to old “destroyed” writings. He knows how to write. He knows the history of humankind, and it’s a whole lot better than what they’re going through now. The more Cassia rebels and learns about the past, the more corruption she notices. She's also falling deeper and deeper in love—with the wrong person. She’s going to do something about it. She’s going to change her destiny.

I really loved this book. Many of the passages are extremely poetic, and somewhat lyrical. The descriptions of the scenery make you feel as though you were there. The emotions and feelings are easy to understand. The situations are easy to relate to. The characters are real people. I connected so well to the entire storyline. Cassia is a great heroine. She is not the rule-breaking rebel to the extent of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, but this IS only book one. We might see more rebellion in the future books. She was weak in the beginning, but learned more as the book went on. She grew a backbone! I liked her character development. I really enjoyed the love triangle, which I think ultimately symbolizes rebellion vs. submission. She was told to do one thing, but really wanted the forbidden. It’s a relatable dilemma on many levels. I enjoyed the relationship she had with each of the two boys in this triangle. One was very sweet and innocent—two childhood friends realizing they’re going to get married and exploring the new feelings the Society says they should be developing. The other one was forbidden but equally, if not more, sweet. They snuck around and tried to stifle the underlying tension of wanting, but not being allowed to have. I love this relationship more than the other. It seems more real to me. There could have been a bit more chemistry between them, but I understand that it had to be very hidden in order to protect both of them. With the rebellion I expect to see in the coming books, I expect to see more chemistry as well. All in all, this was a great book, and I really enjoyed it! I’m eagerly awaiting the second book, Crossed, which comes out in the Fall of this year.

So… discussion time! I love a book that makes me think. At the very beginning I enjoyed the idea of being matched with my ideal man. I wouldn’t have to date a bunch of jerks to find him. He’d just be delivered to me, and we wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not it was going to work out. I would have never been dumped, and I wouldn't have had to dump anyone! Wonderful! But… then I thought about the what-ifs. What if I fell in love with the wrong person? What if I did not love the guy I was paired with? Then the what-ifs started spiraling out to encompass everything. Part of the wonderfulness of life is that we CAN choose who we marry, what we do for a job, what we read, what we listen to, what we eat, when we eat, what we wear, etc. I think life would be pointless without decisions. It made me grateful for the life I have. Next time a really crummy date goes down in flames, I’ll remind myself that at least I had the opportunity to choose! Haha. So tell me. What do you think about Cassia’s world? Would you enjoy having your entire life planned out for you, or would you fight back too?

Happy reading!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Where Bookishness and Thespianism Collide

It all started off as a discussion of what movies would make the best musicals, the topic then moved to movies would make the worst musicals (Star Wars the Musical anyone?). Then of course, being bookishly inclined I started thinking of what books would make good musicals.

I'll warn you right now, I am an English Major and one of my minors is Theatre, so this entire post with be a theatre/book geek fest. Just so you know and are fairly warned ahead of time.

This was originally going to be a Top Ten Tuesday, until I realized (i. e. I was told) that not many people are as geeky as I am in this respect and it would make a difficult list for others to duplicate. (We will, however, be doing a Top Ten Tuesday about books that SHOULD be movies).

We already know there are several books that have been made into successful musicals, Wicked for example. It made an excellent musical. (In my opinion anyway, but it happens to be my favorite musical. When I finally got to see it performed, I started crying when I heard the opening song.... I digress.) The Secret Garden has also been made into a musical, I'd venture to say it's better than both the book and the movie.

Here are a few of the books I thought might make a good musical.

The Outsiders- If this was done properly, it could be very powerful. I'm thinking a rock type of music. Something similar to West Side Story, without the cheesy dance-fight. (Which I'll admit, is kinda cool. But I'm a geek like that.)

Tuck Everlasting- Loved this book. The movie was good too, though. The style and storyline of the book already feel like a musical, minus the music. I really think that a great musical score could emphasize the magic and the story and give more depth to the characters if they were given the right songs to perform.

Pride and Prejudice
- This has already been turned into a musical-- twice. Both of them flopped. I still hope to see this as a successful musical I think it could be great!

Secret Life of Bees- I think this would make a powerful musical. Maybe something similar to The Color Purple?

Anne of Green Gables
- (This has already been done as well, but badly.) Love the books and I love the first two parts of the TV version. Can't you just picture this as a musical? Imagine Rachel Lynde with some kind of song that shows off her rather prickly personality and her way of knowing everything that happens? Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more. Oops. Wrong musical.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy- This is such a wacky novel, why not turn it into a musical? I think it would be hilarious. Something similar to Monty Python's Spamalot.

To Kill a Mocking Bird - I could see this being incredibly powerful if it was well done. Something similar to Les Miserable.

Memoirs of a Geisha I could see this being not only very powerful, but beautiful. The imagery in the book was gorgeous, can you imagine how wonderful it would look on stage? Pair that with an great score and you've got yourself a pretty amazing musical.

So those are just a few books I thought would make good musicals, I also thought of a few that would make terrible musicals.

Such as...

The Hunger Games- It would be terrible! I mean, really, could you see any of these characters suddenly bursting into song?

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- Do I really have to say anything? It would be... well bad. Just bad.

The Abhorson Trilogy- Those who have read it will understand.

Anything by John Grisham.

Ender's Game- Uh, it's not going to happen. Not only would the weightlessness for most of the novel be difficult to replicate on stage, I just can't imagine the characters singing. Ever.

Any book by Steinbeck.

So those are just a few of my ideas. It gives you a glimpse into how my mind works (which might have been a frightening experience for some). When I read a novel I think would work as a musical I immediately switch into actor/director mode. I can see how I'd lay out the stage, the type of music I'd want, how I'd block (block meaning the movements the actors make) the scenes, the costumes, everything.

So what about you? Any books you think would be great musicals? Or have a few in mind that would be terrible?

Tell me what you think!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Natanya's Ramblings on The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner Trilogy, Book 1)Title/Author: The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Publisher/Year: Delacorte Press, 2009
Where I got it: Library
Why I read it: It sounded like something I’d like, and I was looking for a quick read

From Goodreads:
Imagine waking up one day in total darkness, unsure of where you are and unable to remember anything about yourself except your first name. You're in a bizarre place devoid of adults called the Glade. The Glade is an enclosed structure with a jail, a graveyard, a slaughterhouse, living quarters, and gardens. And no way out. Outside the Glade is the Maze, and every day some of the kids -- the Runners -- venture into the labyrinth, trying to map the ever-changing pattern of walls in an attempt to find an exit from this hellish place. So far, no one has figured it out. And not all of the Runners return from their daily exertions, victims of the maniacal Grievers, part animal, part mechanical killing machines.

Thomas is the newest arrival to the Glade in this Truman-meets-Lord of the Flies tale. A motley crew of half a dozen kids is all he has to guide him in this strange world. As soon as he arrives, unusual things begin to happen, and the others grow suspicious of him. Though the Maze seems somehow familiar to Thomas, he's unable to make sense of the place, despite his extraordinary abilities as a Runner. What is this place, and does Thomas hold the key to finding a way out?

I do not read a lot of YA these days, but I started The Maze Runner because I was in the middle of a very good, but pretty slow, novel and wanted something I could easily read on the airplane. Suffice it to say, I got exactly what I was looking for. I read the whole novel in the 5ish I hours I was on the plane, spending little time bored. With the YA genre exploding with dystopian novels (Uglies, The Hunger Games, et cetera et cetera), I was glad to find Dashner’s maze unique and appealing, constantly stirring my curiosity and making me wonder what he was going to throw at these kids next.

What the novel lacks, however, is development. The simplicity of the writing and the story indicate that it is written for a younger audience, perhaps of the 11-14 range (Amazon labels it as grades 6-10), but the plot still appeals to older teenagers, and Dashner unfortunately opened a lot of doorways through which he never stepped. I spent the first half of the novel wanting to yell at Thomas because he kept stating the obvious and acting like a whiny brat. I know his situation certainly validated the whininess, but I had a hard time feeling sympathetic. Aside from the final major battle, most of the problems in the novel are solved too easily and quickly—for example, nights which would logically feel to go on forever to the boys end very quickly. I suppose Dashner was trying to keep the story from lagging, but it ended up too simple and unrealistic. This attempt to keep the story moving resulted in a lack of character development and kept him from taking advantage of all of the opportunities his compelling environment offered. In addition, the novel’s ending, which itself was abrupt and clearly thrown in just to pave the way for the sequel, is a bit too much like all of the other dystopian novels I’ve read. However, there is still time for Dashner to make it more distinctive, and I do think I’ll read the next book at some point (maybe on the plane back to school) to see where he goes with the story.

Although I took little away from The Maze Runner, it had a great premise and moved at a quick pace, allowing minimal time for boredom. It was a good choice for reading on an airplane, and also worked well as a break from a slower but more thought-provoking book.

3 stars

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Anna's Top Ten Most Inspirational Characters.

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week we will post a new Top Ten list complete with one of our bloggers answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All we ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND post a comment on our post with a link to your Top Ten Tuesday post to share with us and all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. If you can't come up with ten, don't worry about it---post as many as you can!
THE TOPIC FOR NEXT WEEK IS:  Top Ten Books I Wished I Read as a Kid. Check out future TTT topics.

***Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers about the characters Severus Snape and Sirius Black from the Harry Potter series.***

1. Jane Eyre in 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte- Despite the hideous clothes and the awful taste in men (I've never really gotten the appeal of Mr. Rochester) Jane Eyre is an incredibly inspirational woman. She is honest, hot-tempered, full of integrity and she always follows her conscience, even when doing so causes her a great deal of distress. She defies authority and lives life on her own terms. One speech of hers said in a moment of passion in has always inspired me: "Do you think I am an automaton?-a machine without feelings?..Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!" It echoes Shylock's famous speech in 'The Merchant of Venice'. I think Jane Eyre is one of the most inspirational characters in English literature, and fictional though she is, she has had quite an influence on me.

2. Albus Dumbledore from the 'Harry Potter' series. It's too bad people like Albus Dumbledore don't exist in real life (or if they do, I've certainly never met them). Albus Dumbledore has to be one of the most inspirational characters ever written. I find him inspirational because he's incredibly intelligent, wise and brave, yet just like any other person, he is deeply flawed. I've learned a lot from him.

3. 'Atticus Finch' in 'To Kill A Mockingbird' by Harper Lee. I would hazard a guess and say if you asked people what fictional character they find most inspiratonal, Atticus Finch would come up a lot and it's not difficult to understand why. A lawyer and widower, Atticus Finch is an incredibly wise and humane character. As a father he tries to lead by example and teach his children right from wrong. Atticus ignores the predjudice that existed towards black people, choosing to follow his own conscience instead. So much of what he says I find inspirational. For example: "..before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience". He truly is an inspirational character.

4. Ursula Riggs in 'Big Mouth and Ugly Girl' by Joyce Carol Oates. I love reading books that have simple plots (in this case, girl befriends boy who has been wrongly accused of threatening to blow up his high-school) and well-rounded, quirky characters. This book is a great example of this. Ursula is the first character I've ever come across in a book who completely embraces being unattractive. She calls herself 'Ugly Girl' and sees it as a positive thing. She is also brave, honest and a loyal friend. In a world where people, especially women are constantly told the importance of being attractive, I found her to be very inspirational.

5. Laura Byrne in 'Is Anybody Listening?' by Larry O'Loughlin. Whoa. This book makes for tough reading but despite all the doom and gloom, the protagonist Laura remains a beacon of inspiration. Laura becomes friends two young children whose lives are in grave danger and does everything she can to try and save them. I find her inspirational because she's smart, funny, brave and she stands up for what she believes in.

6. Heidi in 'Heidi' by Johanna Spri. *Sigh*... this book has remained a constant favourite ever since I first read it when I seven. It's funny, although I'm now an athiest, and a lot of the book deals with Heidi's relationship with god, I still find her incredibly inspirational. I think it's beacause she forces me to change my perspective on life, to remember that joy can be found in the smallest of things. Heidi is wonderful. She revels in nature, she appreciates the simple things in life like gusts of wind and drinking a nice glass of milk. I've always found her inspirational.

7. Sirius Black from the 'Harry Potter' series. *Spoiler alert* For those who don't already know, Sirius Black is Harry's godfather and the former best friend of Harry's dad. I find him inspirational because of his courage and compassion. Black's life was filled with hardship and tragedy yet despite all the tragic things that have happened to him (eg his best friend being betrayed and murdered, being sent to Azkaban for a crime he never committed) he remains courageous, kind and loyal. I admire people who stand up and fight against others who commit evil deeds, thus I find Sirius to be very inspirational. Sirius fights Death Eaters, he is a committed member of the Order of the Phoenix and he is a kind and loyal friend and godfather to Harry. PS- damn you Bellatrix Lestrange!

8. Sever
us Snape from the 'Harry Potter' series. *Spoiler Alert* I think Snape is by far the most complex, interesting character in the 'Harry Potter' series. He's inspirational because he shows that one can make a mistake, a major mistake that one will spend the rest of one's life regretting but ultimately redemption is possible. Once Snape realizes the consequences of reporting the prophecy to Lord Voldemort, he immediately leaves the Death Eaters and spends the rest of his life trying to make up for what he has done. He dedicates his life to protecting Harry and fighting Lord Voldemort. The courage that this involves, and the way he completely changed his life around I think is highly inspirational.

9. Stargirl in 'Stargirl' by Jerri Spinelli. Who could be failed to be inspired by Stargirl? 'Stargirl' tells the tale of teenager called Leo who falls for Stargirl Caraway, a young woman who refuses to conform to the demands of high-school. Stargirl is one of the most unique, inspirational characters ever seen in literature. Stargirl strums the ukulule at lunch, carries around a pet rat, and in her spare time does selfless deeds for others. I find her inspirational because of this, and also because I can appreciate how difficult it often is for people to stand out in secondary school and I respect anyone who does it.

10. Rachel Walsh in 'Rachel's Holiday' by Marian Keyes. 'Rachel's Holiday' tells the story of Rachel Walsh who is furiously angry when her family send her to rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. While Rachel is in rehab, we get flashbacks into the drug and alchohol-fuelled life that Rachel led in New York and we get to witness Rachel's slow transformation. I find Rachel really inspiring partly because I can relate to her a lot. She's inspiring because she ultimately begins to accept who she is and to rid herself of all of her insecurities. She struggles to overcome her addictions and ultimately, after much hard work, she succeeds. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tahleen reviews: "Delirium" by Lauren Oliver

Title: Delirium
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperTeen, Feb. 1, 2011
Where I got it: I received this as an eGalley from NetGalley.

Rating: ★★★★

This book will be released by HarperTeen on February 1, 2011.

Imagine a world where the pain of remembrance and love does not exist. Heartbreak, romance and even simple love does not exist, cannot exist past your eighteenth birthday. At least, not since the cure. This is the world of Lauren Oliver's Delirium, a dystopia where love and hatred are replaced by indifference.

For 17-year-old Lena, this is the only world she has ever known. With a mother who killed herself because of the disease, she is extra careful to watch out for any of the signs of the illness—she is not her mother. But things change when she meets Alex, who seems so different from all the other cureds (or, those who have gone through the procedure to remove the ability to love from the brain). With her friend Hana, Lena begins to see that the government might not be telling them everything about the cure, how they operate, and about love.

Oliver has created a fairly original premise for a novel in Delirium. Love is a disease, and it must be eradicated for the sake of the human race. Yet as we read farther into the novel, we realize that the communities are all fairly closed off from each other. There is never any news from other states, or even other parts of Maine, where the book is set. It's just Portland, and that's all we or the characters know.

What is truly terrifying is how I see why love is considered a disease in this world. Each chapter begins with a quote from a government pamphlet or book, or a common rhyme that explains what the disease is, why it must be destroyed, and just other insights into this culture. Oliver does a wonderful job at listing the symptoms and phases of the disease (preoccupation, difficulty focusing; perspiration, sweaty palms; periods of despair, lethargy; obsessive thoughts and actions; pain in chest, throat and stomach; etc), making it sound as if it is, indeed, something to avoid at all costs, much like pneumonia or something. The worst outcome of the disease is death, as in the case of Lena's mother (suicide). Lena hears horror stories of people who have "contracted the deliria" and throwing themselves off buildings or dying in other horrible ways.

Lena herself is an interesting character to watch through the story. She is at first very careful with her activities, taking no risks, and her more outgoing, engaging friend Hana is much more fun to pay attention to. I kept on wondering what made Oliver choose Lena as her narrator, but after reading it I can see it was a very deliberate choice—we see how this world can be perceived as normal, and have the satisfaction of seeing Lena start to rebel as well.

As far as plot goes, I thought it started off a little slow. It was necessary for the exposition, but it just seemed a little languid for a while, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; it contributed to the tone. Plus, as always, Oliver's prose is something to be savored. Lovely and flowing, it is one of the novel's greatest achievements.

I am looking forward to the sequel, as the ending was a wicked cliffhanger.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2011 Non-Fiction Challenge

If you've read my personal blog post regarding challenges you'll find that I'm all about learning new things this year, finding new interests and building on the interests I've already made. I thought it might be fun to do a non-fiction reading challenge with different categories to really broaden your non-fiction reading.

So, I decided to create a fun Non-Fiction Challenge!


- The challenge runs from January 17th to December 31st 2011.
-  Anyone who links a review up is eligible to be entered to win a book of their choice (under $15). How many reviews you link up determines how many entries you get. Additional prizes may be added once I organize this more and depending on how many people sign up. (International readers welcome if Book Depository ships to you).
- Anyone can join. If you don't have a blog, you can link reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever you have your reviews.
- You can join the challenge at any point throughout the year.

Here's the challenge:

Culture: Non-fiction books about different cultures, religions and foreign lands; memoirs & biographies count.

Art: Non-fiction books about anything art related (painters, music, architecture, photography, dance, literature, film, etc.). Memoirs/biographies of any people related to the arts count.

Food: Food memoirs, anything related to food industry, food lifestyles

Medical: anything related to the medical field--industry memoirs, memoirs about illnesses (mental included) /diseases, etc.

Travel: travelogues, industry memoirs, travel guides, etc.

Memoir/Biography: Self explanatory

Money: Anything related to finances, economics, history of money, financial improvement etc.

Science/Nature: Anything related to any scientific field, memoirs count.

History: Anything history related-- events, biographies of historic figures, etc.

Sample Challenge Plan (this is just to give some ideas; you can pick your own titles):

Culture: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi or Geisha: A Life by Mineko Iwasaki
Art:  Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash or The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
Food: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer or Waiter Rants by Steve Dublanica
Medical: Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science or Madness: A Bipolar Life
Travel:  In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson or Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo
Memoir/Biography: The Color of Water by James MacBride or Washington: A Life
Money: Freakanomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything or The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke by Suze Orman
Science/Nature: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot or Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
History: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson or The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough


1-3 books from different categories: Master of Trivial Pursuit
4-6 books from different categories: Apply For Who Wants to Be A Millionaire
7-9 books from different categories: Future Jeopardy Champion

Better explanation of the levels: So let's say you read a book from science, medical and art, you would be on the trivial pursuit level and then if you read from the history one you’d be moved up to the Millionaire category. But if you read another book from science, it wouldn’t count.

Put your link in Mr. Linky if you are wanting to participate. The link should be of a blog post that you did declaring your intent to participate. It doesn't have to be its own blog post--feel free to put it with any challenge post, weekly wrap-up, or meme. Each month I'll make a new post to link up your reviews. Your entry should look like this (Science) Name of Book and should be linked to your review.

AUTHORS/PUBLISHERS: Have a non-fiction book you'd like to donate as a prize for the non-fiction reading challenge? Email me at brokeandbookish (at) gmail (dot) com !

Jamie Wants a New Bookshelf!!

Guys, I'm in the market for a new bookshelf. I need one that will fit in my overly crowded room and that is also affordable.

I've been looking at some local thrift shops but the majority of those seem to be bulky and won't fit in the space I have.

I've found some uber-expensive ones that are really modern looking but I can't afford them. I've also been checking out CSN after seeing some giveaways and product reviews and they have some really awesome bookshelves that are in my budget. Have you heard of CSN? Bought anything from them before?  It seems that they sell just about everything -- bookshelves, really cute leather messenger bags (I need one for BEA in May) or an Eames Lounge Chair (perks of working at a design magazine (Modernism) is that I get to drool over Charles Eames furniture all day long!).  Let me know if you've bought anything from them before and whether or not you were satisfied with the quality of the products!

EDIT: I'm pretty sure I found the one I'm going to get on CSN. If I end up choosing this one, be on the lookout for a review!

Playwrights in an Hour Giveaway Winner Announced

Our winner of the second Plawrights in an Hour giveaway is Lisa at BaffledBooks.  Lisa, please email me your shipping information at and I'll pass that along to my contact.  Congratulations.

There will be another giveaway in a couple of weeks.

Stephany Reads Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Night RoadTitle/Author: Night Road by Kristin Hannah
Publisher/year: March 29th, 2011/St. Martin's Press
How I  got this book: I was on good reads doing those free book entries, and came across this. And I won!!! =-D 
Why I read it: Because I'm a new fan of Kristin Hannah 
Rating: 5 stars


Description from Goodreads: Jude Farraday is a happily married, stay-at-home mom who puts everyone’s needs above her own. Her twins, Mia and Zach, are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill enters their lives, no one is more supportive than Jude. A former foster child with a dark past, Lexi quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable. But senior year of high school brings unexpected dangers and one night, Jude’s worst fears are confirmed: there is an accident. In an instant, her idyllic life is shattered and her close-knit community is torn apart. People— and Jude —demand justice, and when the finger of blame is pointed, it lands solely on eighteen-year-old Lexi Baill. In a heartbeat, their love for each other will be shattered, the family broken. Lexi gives up everything that matters to her to —the boy she loves, her place in the family, the best friend she ever had— while Jude loses even more. When Lexi returns, older and wiser, she demands a reckoning. Long buried feelings will rise again, and Jude will finally have to face the woman she has become. She must decide whether to remain broken or try to forgive both Lexi …and herself. Night Road is a vivid, emotionally complex novel that raises profound questions about motherhood, loss, identity, and forgiveness. It is an exquisite, heartbreaking novel that speaks to women everywhere about the things that matter most.

This book is absolutely amazing!! The story line is so intense and so a part of what can happen in real life that you find yourself questioning whether or not you've done the right things through out your own life. I absolutely loved every single character in the book, even though at times I found myself disgusted by the way they were acting or by the choices they were making. Kristin Hannah brought out the characters in a way that I don't think another author could. They had enough background, detail, and time in the story line, that you felt like you knew them in real life. I felt like I was apart of the Farraday family. 
The only complaint I have about the book is that in the very beginning, up until about the middle-ish part of the book, it's kind of jumpy. You'll be reading one part, then it'll have a place where you can stop (which I love that in books), and then you'll read onto the next part and it's something completely different. Which, don't get me wrong, this happens in almost all books. But this jumps to a whole different event, occurance, etc. and the book never goes back to the other stuff that was said. However, that doesn't make the book bad and it doesn't make it hard to follow. I just wish it wouldn't have been so jumpy, or choppy, in the beginning. As I kept reading, that was happening less and less and it was becoming very hard to put the book down. 

I think what I enjoyed most about the book is that it was about younger teenagers, who turned into young adults, and how the story line showed that life can change in a split second. It's scary how that can happen, but it's so true. And this story line was not far fetched, and it didn't make you wonder "Yeah right. This would never happen." I felt like Kristin Hannah was bringing the book to life, as if something like this happened to her, which I don't think it did. 

You'll find yourself getting so engrossed into the book that you won't know how much times has gone by, you'll read 100 pages in an hour, and you'll be rooting for every single character. You'll feel like you're one of the characters or one of their friends. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll get excited, and you'll yell at the characters.
It was probably the best book I've read from Kristin Hannah thus far. I highly suggest you go out on March 29, 2011 and get this book!! 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

R holds forth on The Battle for God

The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
Knopf, 2000
Where I got this book: The library.
Why I read this book: I've always been fairly interested in the topic.

The Battle for God is a historical overview of fundamentalism in the Abrahamic traditions, with a focus on American Protestant fundamentalism, Israeli/Zionist fundamentalism, and Muslim fundamentalism in Egypt (Sunni) and Iran (Shii). It explores the circumstances through which fundamentalism arose as a uniting force in each of these cases, the conditions that led to the development of these four movements that play such important roles in the international arena today.

To describe this book as merely a factual overview, however, would be to misrepresent it - Armstrong does in fact put forth some of her opinions on the theological, political and social implications of the various veins of fundamentalism.

The main thrusts of Armstrong's argument are as follows:
  1. The dawn of religious thought saw the development of two different but mutually reconcilable methods of perception, mythos (myth abstraction, metaphysics, religion and so on) and logos (rational thought, the scientific method, you get the drift), both deemed integral to a holistic existence, but also two distinct realms that were not to encroach upon each other (i.e. mythos was not considered a "blueprint for practical action");
  2. The incidence of fundamentalist movements are reactionary in nature, emerging as they do in response to the participants' perception of undesirable or overly rapid modernization;
  3. While the stated aims of these movements are often purportedly conservative, to espouse a continuation of or reversion "to the wellsprings", their interpretations of theological principles as well as the manner in which they go about furthering their causes are often modern and in alignment with the contemporary zeitgeist;
  4. The modern world has moved away from its previous balance of mythos and logos, and is now almost entirely reliant on logos to the detriment of mythos; and
  5. Much of the religious unrest of the modern world is a result of fundamentalists who choose mythos as a means of practical action in response to the overwhelmingly logos-driven world, a plan of action that is incongruent with traditional religious principles.

Now, I can agree with points 2, 3, 4 and the first half of 5. However, I find it difficult to believe that, as Armstrong asserts, the earliest generations of humanity thought of mythos as entirely metaphorical, not at all seeing religion as a literal explanation for things happening in the physical world. Surely such abstract ideas as creation myths were passed down because they were actually believed, not merely because they were known to people as allegorical manifestations of the lack of human understanding. Certainly, whether these ideas are literal, allegorical or indeed totally redundant is always an issue that is hotly debated. But considering the spectrum of opinions today, is it not possible that this spectrum existed even as our main monotheistic religions were taking shape? There really is no solid, documented evidence of whether or not religion had been understood metaphorically by its practitioners all those years ago, hence the fact that Armstrong took such a leap with her main thesis really undermines the book.

That said, the exhaustive chronological landscape drawn by Armstrong is a strong point. I must say that I feel like I learnt a lot about a number of related topics - from the difference between Sunni and Shii Islam (in my ignorance, I used to think it was just some kind of family feud ... well, it kind of was, but there's so much more to it than that) to the dispersion of the Jewish diaspora (which I'd known even less about).

What I appreciated most about the book is its overriding message of religious tolerance. A recurring theme that is brought up in various scenarios is that the use of oppression and force against a religious group tends to have a contrary effect. In her capacity as a former Catholic nun and recipient of the 1999 Muslim Public Affairs Council Media Award who teaches at Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism, Armstrong herself is apparently a beacon of interfaith understanding. As one whose natural inclinations tend in this direction, I was as such particularly well-disposed to the book on this count, even in spite of my aforementioned scepticism of its main argument.

It is because of this that I give The Battle for God 4 stars; the readability and meticulousness of its factual overview trumps the lack of veracity of its mythos/logos thesis. Regardless of its flaws, I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in the topic that it covers; ultimately it does a pretty decent job.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Julia Reviews "Phraseology" by Barbara Ann Kipfer

Title/Author: Phraseology:Thousands of Bizarre Origins, Unexpected Connections and Fascinating Facts about English's Best Expressions
Publisher/Year Published:2008 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
How I got this book: eBook for my Nook, then in book form from the library.
Why I read this book: I love learning trivia about language, yet I know little English language trivia
Rating: 3.5 stars

If you recall from the Top Ten Tuesday featuring Books I Hope to Santa Brings I had my pick be Phraseology. Here is what I had to say:
I normally do not like to own books unless I know I am going to read them over and over, but in this case if this book is what I think it is (a font of awesome knowledge of English) I would want it on my shelf. One of my more recent pastimes has been filling myself with Jeopardy like information. This book would not only add to that store, but give me more fun facts about a language that I've spoken my whole life. Because seriously, who the hell doesn't want to know where some of those bizarre phrases came from? I mean I just learned from reading the back that "best man" is an allusion to the best man to help capture you a wife. How interesting.
Well now that I've perused the book, I've come to realize the dictionary-esque reality of the book. This wasn't really what I was expecting. I thought it would be a little less... alphabetical and a little more topic organized. Still it is occasionally the font of some interesting tidbits. For instance, let me just open the book to a random page. Ah! Fell into the I's. We have these following entries:
iceburg lettuce got its name from the fact that California growers started shipping it covered with heaps of crushed ice in the 1920s; it had previously been called crisphead lettuce.

iced tea is the correct form and will probably not change the way iced cream and iced water did.

an idiot card is another name for a cue card

if I were is the correct form when one is referring to a conditional future event
This give you a taste of what you can find approximately 20 per page on 300 pages. It's really interesting trivia, but not something you can sit down and read. Saying as much, I've not actually finished it, but am enjoying reading it in small bites.

I especially like having this on my Nook so I can read this when I don't have too much time to commit to reading; in line at the store, for example. If I get pulled away from what I am reading, it doesn't matter because it's a short sentence of knowledge and I can pick up right where I left off without feeling as if I've left the world I was involved.

In conclusion, a great trivia book filled to the brim with random knowledge. I really think this would make a great coffee table book!
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