Thursday, April 30, 2009

Buku bagus, selasa 28-04-2009

Judul Buku: Kisah langit merah (keberanian untuk terus melangkah)

Pengarang: Bubin Lantang

Penerbit : Gagas Media

Sinopsis : Petualangan bukanlah sekadar pergi dari satu tempat ke tempat lain, mengunjungi tempat-tempat jauh dan menyaksikan hal-hal baru. Petualangan bukan sekadar mengajak derap langkahmu menuju tempat-tempat asing yang kau idamkan. Petualangan adalah pergi tanpa titik tujuan, membiarkan dirimu tersesat, mencari, dan memilih; dan kamu tak tahu kapan harus pulang.

Jangan bertualang. Cukupkan dirimu pada pelesir ke tempat-tempat indah yang belum pernah kau kunjungi, dan tetapkan sebelum pergi kapan kamu harus pulang….

Kisah Langit Merah adalah cermin tentang mimpi, benci, sakit hati, pengkhianatan, sekaligus mengajarkan keberanian untuk terus melangkah.

Bermimpilah selama kita masih diberi kesempatan untuk hidup. Jangan takut untuk merasakan emosi, meski itu emosi yang menyakitkan sekalipun. Jangan takut untuk memulai hal-hal baru, bahkan jika itu bisa membawa kita ke tempat yang tidak kita ketahui. Tapi satu hal yang harus kita ingat, selalu tetapkan, kapan saatnya kita pulang. Inilah hal-hal yang berusaha disampaikan Bubin Lantang dalam bukunya.

Judul Buku: Opera orang kaya

Pengarang: Ita sembiring

Penerbit : Gagas media

Sinopsis : Dari judulnya aja udah kebayang dong kalo tokoh-tokoh yang ada di dalam cerita ini adalah orang-orang kaya. Cerita ini akan membawa kita berjalan ke negeri kincir angin, Belanda dan sekitarnya seperti Inggris, New York, dan Paris. Kita juga bisa sdikit blajar bahasa Belanda di sini. Alur cerita yang flashback ini mengisahkan kejadian-kejadian lucu bin konyol pada saat Gre, sang leader summer course, memimpin anak-anak didiknya itu.

Soooo….. Segera ambil kursi nyaman kita, sediakan teh hangat, dan baca bukunya. Nice to try,, ^_^

Salam, Andluna.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lori Handeland - Doomsday Can Wait

Book two in the Phoenix Chronicles

I have been waiting for this book with baited breath, (luckily for me I only read the first one a month ago, so didn’t have to wait too long) and I am very glad to say it didn’t disappoint me!

The series hooked me by the fact that it has for the basis of its mytholgoy one of the  ’missing books’ from the bible, the Book of Enoch.  Working as I do in a bookshop with a large Christian/religious section and having a sister who has a theology degree, it peaked my interest.

The series is almost a biblical end of times book with a twist, its got vampires, shifters and demons as well as angels, seers and witches.  There are many books out there that focus on the Book of Revelations and its end times prophecies but this one takes its prophecies from Enoch a set of texts, along with others, that were excluded from the books that we now call the bible in about  364 A.D. by the council of Laodicea (don’t quote me I’m no expert).

I love the way Ms Handeland has used this text to create her story, and the story is very good one to boot!  Lizzie Phoenix used to be a cop but her psychic abilities cost her the life of her partner, so now shes a bartender.  Only shes just found out shes all that’s stopping doomsday, well that and her ex/not ex lover Jimmy, his ex lover Summer and her new lover Sawyer and a few other people we meet along the way, including the dead spirit of her foster mother Ruthie.

I have to admit I was a little worried that this was going to be an Anita Blake nightmare, but it is far from it, in fact in my opinion if Ms Hamilton had handled the sex situation in a similar manner as Ms Handeland, I would still be reading her books.

I loved this book, I have the bleary eyes from staying up till 4am to finish it to prove it!  The world building is great, and although its based on a religious text, it in no way preaches, they aren’t fighting good and evil but light and dark.  The characters are very believable and I really engaged with them, I felt for them, rooted for them and wanted to slap them up the side of the head when they needed it.  In other worlds I was able to connect to them and submerge myself in their world, something that for me is important when reading and something that I am sure is not always easy to do as a writer.

I will now just have to sit back and wait for the next book to come out, but in the mean time I will finish reading the Book of Enoch that my sister kindly bought me to shut me up!


  1. Any Given Doomsday
  2. Doomsday Can Wait
  3. Apocolypse happens (November 2009)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

<i>The Graveyard Book</i> by Neil Gaiman

This YA book is a classic coming of age tale, except the central character, Nobody Owens, is coming of age in a graveyard. Rescued by the inhabitants when his family is brutally murdered by a mysterious figure known as Jack, Nobody is raised by the ghosts and a guardian vampire, making friends and having adventures. The Jacks never stop looking for him, and he, as he grows up, wants answers about what happened to his family and why.

The Graveyard Book is Gaiman’s usual good work: by turns funny, dark, and poignant (growing up means losing things and people we love), well-written, and well plotted. For example, the adventures Nobody has when he is a child turn into his weapons against the Jacks when he is a teen - they are both entertaining interludes in the book and also set-up for later action, in perfect genre form. The characters are sparsely drawn and solid, with Nobody as the observer-actor in the middle.

If you like Gaiman, you’ll like this. If you haven’t tried him, what are you waiting for. Great for children, good for adults.

Monday, April 27, 2009

All Saints All the Time

The Saints-a-Day Guide

By Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers

(Random House, $14.95, paperback)

 Quick, name the patron saint of choir boys and juvenile delinquents. And which saints were killed by “crazed” cows?

The Saints-a-Day Guide bills itself as “a lighthearted but accurate (and not too irreverent) compendium.” It originally was published in 2001 by Villard Books as The Birthday Book of Saints. This Random House paperback edition was published in 2003 and is an entertaining and enlightening reference work for “all of us, Catholic or not.”

If you didn’t name Saint Dominic Savio, “the youngest (nonmartyr) Saint ever officially canonized,” and Saints Perpetua and Felicity, you obviously don’t know your saints and need this book.

Indeed, whether we are boatwrights, linguists or just somebody with a headache or a hernia, we have Saints looking out for us and can invoke them if we happen to know their names.

Also, with this handy book, we may never again miss the “Feast of Saint Godeleva,” celebrating the “miserably married martyr, 1070″ (July 5) or the “Feast of Saint Theodard,” the “assassinated Frankish abbot, 669,” who is considered the patron saint of cattle dealers (September 10). 

And don’t forget Nov. 5, the “Feast of Saint Kay.” The name of the 7th century monk in Brittany often is “invoked against toothache,” according to this book’s co-authors.

Sean Kelly is a book author, television writer and National Lampoon editor. Rosemary Rogers is the author of several books about saints, the Irish and movies.




Sunday, April 26, 2009

Peppermint-Filled Pinatas

Eric Bryant’s Peppermint-Filled Pinatas at 211 pages is a surprisingly easy read with a powerful punch! Eric’s conversational style makes this book feel like sitting down to a conversation with Eric himself over coffee (or like my experience, over Chik-Fil-A!). At first, his non-threatening, conversational style lured me in and finally hit me between the eyes with the reality that I have failed to love those different from me, and has helped to birth a desire deep inside to see others as God sees them. This book is a call to a radical kind of lifestyle that is ignorant of the ethnic, racial, social, or economic backgrounds of those we meet. Eric advocates for a type of discipleship that begins at meeting people, regardless of who they are, or where they are, and showing them the kind of love that Christ would. Peppermint-Filled Pinatas advocates moving beyond simply tolerating people who are different to engaging them, loving them as an expression of the love of Jesus.  

This book is divided into two sections. Part 1: People Matter Most, is a call to get out of the house and find ways to engage people. It essentially is a framework for why people matter and deserve our attention. Part 2: Love Is The New Apologetic, spells out the how. While Part 1 is the why, Part 2 explains that through practice and engaging others, we truly can have a positive influence on those far from Christ. Since Eric is based in the diverse city of Los Angeles, he realizes that most people will not decide to follow Jesus simply based on intellectual arguments alone. Rather, actions are necessary to break through the stereotypes that non-Christians often have of Christians. He advocates for building relationships that allow for belonging before believing.

Here are a few great quotes from the book:

  • Our personal relationships often betray our feelings for the world as well. Rather than befriending and loving those who do not yet follow Christ, it seems that the longer we follow Christ, the fewer people we actually know who believe differently than the way we believe. (21)
  • Some of our churches have so consistently become a refuge for Christians from the world that we fail to become communities that go out into the world, or even communities where seekers feel free to come and explore the possibility of a God who loves them and has a plan for their lives. (22)
  • The greatest apologetic (argument for the truth of Christianity) is love. (32)
  • We think others are willing to connect with us, even though what we offer is cheap and unsatisfying. We offer peppermints when the world wants Gobstoppers, Airheads, and Reese’s Peanut butter cups. We offer something sweet to believe; they want a new life that helps change the world.
  • Throughout history, Christians have been at the forefront of caring for the marginalized and overlooked… sadly, at the same time, many churches have moved away from poverty-stricken neighborhoods and especially out of the cities. Most of evangelical america tends to be hunkered down in the suburbs, just beyond the reach of the city. (139)

I could go on and on with challenging and thought-provoking quotes, but suffice it to say that this book is a call to love blacks, whites, hispanics, gays, straight people, Muslims, Hindus, and any other type of person you could even imagine. God has used Eric’s words through this book to challenge me to stop playing safe Christianity in my little bubble and get out and meet people where they are. It’s going to require some big changes in my heart and life, but reading Eric’s journey as a true practicioner of what he preaches gives me hope. I encourage you to read Peppermint-Filled Pinatas and take the journey toward an exciting, scary, engaging, loving life yourself!

As an aside, Eric is an encouraging leader, and his blog contains tons of resources, and his site even has audio interviews with a bunch of people that will challenge and inspire you.  If you’re really bored, you can even watch Eric do stand up comedy (just kidding about the really bored part, Eric!)!  His site is here…

Friday, April 24, 2009

WOMEN IN ISLAM (Submission to One God): Essay

WOMEN IN ISLAM (Submission to One God)  (April 24, 2009)



Note 1:  I published 8 posts on Women in Islam and I decided to join them under a comprehensive essay.


Note 2: It interesting to differentiate between the original message of the Prophet Muhammad and the subsequent political applications and practises by the various Moslem sects that do not necessarily correspond to the intention of the message.  The fact remains that the official Koran issued by the third Caliphate Othman bin Affan was emasculated, tampered with, and many verses ommitied and burned  to satisfy political interests in the de facto domination of Islam to vast conquered Empires such as Byzantium and Persia by the time the Koran (of Medina) was officially transcribed.


Note 3: Parson Warkat bin Nawfal, the patriarch of the Christian-Jew sect of the Epyionites in Mecca and an older relative of Muhammad, taught the Prophet reading, writing, and transcribing the Arab version of  the Old and New Testaments that were written in Aramaic. Parson Warkat also chaperoned Muhammad in contemplation, meditation, and fasting one month a year.


Note 4:   In Mecca and for 13 years, Khadija, the first wife of Muhammad and 15 years older than the Prophet and the richest among her clan, aided the Prophet in transcribing revelations and verses during his epileptic fits. In Medina, Aicha bint Abu Bakr, the youngest, educated, and most beloved wife of the Prophet, was almost exclusively in charge of recording the revelations when the Prophet Mohammad had his bouts of seizures. She would cover him with warm blankets and write down the verses until he falls asleep.  Aicha has dedicated her life into gathering, organizing the revelations and meeting with scholars and close friends of the Prophet to keep a complete record.




It is still applicable that women are in permanent struggle for equal rights in laws and in daily practices.  Even in the most advanced State of Sweden, women are far behind in equal work conditions and pay; they are beaten and raped by their relative on a wide scale. In most religions, women have had to fight for their rights and dues, and their struggle is ongoing. Christian women have gone to the extreme of changing the text of the Bible to make it less “sexist” and more “acceptable” to women.


In a previous post “The unpublished Book” I stated that the Prophet Muhammad was crystal clear in his message: making the religion easy, light, acceptable to most sects, and readable by the language of every nation since a prophet is sent to every nation.  The Koran was focused on the value of life and uniting as many sects as possible satisfying common denominators in belief, stories, and myths.  The Prophet Muhammad did not regard with keen eyes the abstract theological concepts that were limiting and restrictive for particular religious sects (these abstract theological structures were the result of urban cultures prevalent in Byzantium and the Persian Empires that generated schisms to the benefit of the few power mongers of the various sacerdotal castes).


The social conditions of women in Mecca and Yathreb before Islam were different. In Mecca, a strict patriarchal structure was instituted; the powerful Christian-Jew sects in Mecca had contributed in transmitting the customs and traditions of the Hebraic laws that suited desert life style.  In Yathreb, a six-day journey north by camels, the independent minded women of Yathrib could divorce their husbands by just turning the entrance of their tents around; the husbands settled in and were attached to the wives’ clans.  Muhammad had a hell of a time submitting the women of Yathrib to what his men followers from Mecca were used to. The many wives of the Prophet (numbering 12 and not counting favorites and concubines) were frequent sources of calumnies and hot stories: situations that forced the Prophet to resume his month long of fasting and isolation until rumors calmed down; these meditation periods were used to re-read the Bibles for wisdoms and appropriate regulations. The Prophet had to issue many verses, as Islam gained strength around Medina, to reduce the women of Yathreb into submission and follow the customs of Mecca and obey their husbands and seclude themselves in their homes and wear the veil when out. In the early period of the message, 13 years in Mecca, women and men were no different in the eyes of God and they enjoyed spiritual equality of the sexes.


.           For example, in the sourat Al Ahzab (religious sects) it is said “For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise - for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward”.   In the sourat Al Imran (dedicated to the Virgin Mary and her parents haneh and Joachim) it is read “And their Lord has accepted of them, and answered them: Never shall I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: you are members, one of another…”   In the sourat Al Natal it is read: “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, and life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their action.”


1) On Infanticide 


In Mecca before Islam, infanticide of born girls was prevalent.  The attitude of the pagan Arabian society (Jahiliyyah as opposed to Islam for historical differentiation) buried female babies alive.  This practice is nowaday widespread in India and in China and millions of girls are aborted every year and newborn girls are left to die of hunger and neglect as boys are born. The populous States are experiencing an epidemic of enfanticide under its strict population control laws that prohibit families to procreate more than one child; as most parents want sons, so girls are abandoned and allowed to die, or are killed, so that the parents may eventually have a boy. The laws for infanticide are lenient; the legal system and the administrators turn blind eyes in cases of girl’s killing. Girls are married as early as 8 of age and they are sold as slaves. Even today, many societies view the birth of a girl as bad news and negative omen.



        The Qur’an expressively forbids killing babies, whether by infanticide or abortion, on gounds of fear of poverty or losing face in the community.  In sourat al Anaam it is read: “Say: Come, I will rehearse what Allah has (really) prohibited you from: join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of want - We provide sustenance for you and for them - come not nigh to shameful deeds, whether open or secret; take not life, which Allah has made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that you may learn wisdom.”  Thus, Islam gives glad tidings to a woman regardless of the gender of the foetus from the time a child is conceived,. The pregnant woman is held in the highest esteem, and her patience in bearing the discomforts of pregnancy is regarded as an act of virtue which brings her closer to Paradise. If the baby is a girl, this opens up further opportunities for the parents to attain Paradise. The Prophet gave the glad tidings of Paradise as the reward for the parents who welcomes a daughter, brings her up properly, provides a sound education and arranges a good marriage for her. In another hadith, it is stated that the fire of Hell will not be permitted to touch one who goes through trials and tribulations because of a daughter, who does not hate her for society’s prejudice but treats her well against all odds.


            In the sourat al Takwir it is read ” When the female (infant) is buried alive then the  question is raised- for what crime she was killed?” Consequently, the Koran says that the parents of innocent girls, who were slain for no other reason than that they were female, will be asked on the Day of Judgement for what sin they were slain.  The crime is that of the parents, not of the child. Parents should not think that they are at liberty to do whatever they like with regard to their children.


            Not only does the Koran protect the female infant from being murdered by ruthless parents, but it describes girls’ birth as good news, and grants her the right of inheritance from her father, husband and brother, and gives her the right to own property and conduct business transactions independently and in her own right.  In the sourat al Natal it is said: ” When news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the news that he has had! Shall he retain it (and suffer contempt), or bury it in the dusts.  Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on.”


2) On Education 


Islam has given rights to women in all aspects of life. The spiritual equality of the sexes in Islam extends to equal value quality education for both sexes. The Prophet said: “Seeking knowledge is a duty for every Muslim male and female. Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”. In the sourat Fatir it is read: “Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, who have knowledge.”  Women had to be educated in order to shoulder their rights guaranteed by the message from consent to mariage, to setting the mariage contracts of conditions in writing, to equal inheritance, to managing her household, and to raising her offspring.


In sourat Al Nisaa (Women) it is said “Do not covet those things in which Allah has bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others: to men is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn: but ask Allah of His bounty. For Allah has full knowledge of all things.”  Islam bestowed upon women a legal economic entity. A woman could now own, manage, inherit, distribute and sell her own property as she wished and in her own right. Her assets remained hers, and marriage or divorce did not alter her rights. Islam brought these rights to women fourteen hundred years ago, long before equal rights were thought of or campaigned for in other lands.


Women’s emergence into the economic arena in the West took hold during the First World War to fill production gaps vacated by the conscripted men for the war effort.  However, it has taken much heartache and a great deal of struggle and striving to bring women anywhere near a position of equal economic status. Even today, the Western woman is economically bound to her husband, who can demand a share from her earnings for ongoing domestic expenses and, in the case of divorce, can claim a share of her savings. In general, the Muslim wife is entitled to be supported by her husband, no matter how rich she may be in her own right; whilst she is a child, she is entitled to be supported by her father and in old age she is entitled to be supported by her children. The Muslim woman is relieved of the burden of having to earn a living, and she is allowed to dispose of her earnings in whatever manner she chooses.


In the sourat al Nisaa it is read “From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large -a determinate share.” Islam offers a “ready-made will” that no written will or local tradition can bypass for not allotting women at least half what the males inherit.


The reason for men being given a portion twice as much as that given to women if no writen testiminy is left is that men are responsible for taking care of their womenfolk: A man may be required to spend on his mother, sisters or other female relatives. A woman is entitled to dispose of her share of the inheritance as she wishes, and is under no obligation to support anyone, even herself. When these facts are borne in mind, the just and equitable position of Islam becomes reasonable.


3) On Polygamy


Polygamy in Islam is restricted and may be practiced theoretically only when certain strict conditions are met. It is also the exception rather than the norm in Muslim societies throughout the World. A World Health Organisation census has shown that less than 5% of Muslim men practice polygyny. This is in contrast to other groups in countries such as India, where 15.25% of men from tribal religious groups practise polygyny; 8% of Buddhists, 6.77% of Jains and 6% of Hincus have plural marriages. The percentage of polygynous marriages in India is lowest among Muslims, at 5.7%.


The fact that Islam permits a man to have more than one wife has been the cause of much ridicule and misinformation. The fact is that the Mormons, “the pseudo Christian sect in Utah, USA) are still practising polygamy and the blind eye of the State of Utah is functioning though a recent Federal Law has prohibited this practice.


Prior to the advent of Islam, women were treated as chattels and objects for the gratification of men; it was the same prejudice of the Jews in Judea and in poor agricultural lands. In the modern world, this practice continues under the guise of frequent divorces, affairs, mistresses and prostitution. Women are left alone to fend for themselves and their children, whilst divorce is so common that there exist groups such as “Single Again”, which cater for people who have been divorced for the second (or subsequent) times.


Islam did not abolish polygyny, as it recognised that in some cases, polygyny would be necessary and even preferable to the alternatives of leaving unmarried widows. However, it strictly limited it, to a maximum of four wives at any one time; there are also stringent conditions to be met by a man who wishes to take a second wife.


The initial intention of this law was to bring some order to the people of Arabia and neighbouring societies, who had been accustomed to unlimited numbers of wives, and to inaugurate a civil system that would take care of the needs of women; it sought to solve the problem of the existence of large numbers of widows and orphans who were left to fend for themselves after the many raids and warfare among the tribes.


 In the sourat Al Nissa it is said: “If you fear that you will not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.”


Thus, any man who wishes to take a second wife has to meet the important condition of fair treatment of all his wives; he is commanded to treat wives equally, and anyone who is unable to do so should marry only one wife. Equal treatment includes all social, economical and physical needs. It is very difficult for human beings to be completely fair, a fact which is recognised by the Koran  In Al Nissa you read: “You are never able to be fair and just with even two women, even if it is your ardent desire: but turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air)” and  “A man who marries more than one woman and then does not deal justly with them will be resurrected with half his faculties paralysed”.’  In the case of men who had more than four wives when they embraced Islam, such as Ghaylan ibn Umayyah al-Thaqafi, the Prophet asked them to keep four wives and to release the others.       


The topic of polygyny cannot be considered complete without some discussion on the Prophet’s Id practice and the historical context in which he and his wives lived. This is a topic which has received much attention from the West, and about which many Muslims are confused.        It should be noted that in seventh-century Arabia, adultery, rape and fornication were the norm. The Prophet remained chaste from the age of 25 when he married Khadijah , who was twice a widower 40 years of age. Their marriage remained harmonious until Khadijah passed away some 25 years later. The Prophet was 50 years of age and started his exile to yathreb (Medina) in 633.


The Prophet’s second wife was Sawdah. She and her husband had been among the earliest converts to Islam. They suffered great hardship at the hands of Quraysh(inhabitants of Mecca), so the Prophet had instructed them to migrate to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). There, her husband passed away, and Sawdah suffered much hardship as a widow in a foreign land. The Prophet He knew that he was responsible for the welfare of his followers, so he proposed marriage to Sawdah. This marriage brought relief, respect and status to her, and provided the Prophet with companionship and assistance in raising his children from his marriage to Khadijah. At the time of her marriage to the Pronhet, Sawdah was around 55 vears old.


In order to create blood ties and to show his love and respect to his closest Companions who had given up this world for the sake of Islam, the Prophet gave two of his daughters in marriage to Ali and ‘Uthman’; he also accepted in marriage ‘A’ishah and Hafsah , the daughters of Abu Bakr and Umar, respectively. His marriage to these two noble women not only enhanced his close ties with his Companions, but these women were later to offer deep insight into the Prophet’s life. They were responsible for narrating over half of the ahadith which now form the basis of the Islamic code of conduct. ‘A’ishah alone is known to have narrated over two thousand ahadith.


Zaynab was a cousin of the Prophet. She had previously been married to Zayd , the freed slave and adopted son of the Prophet Hi. This marriage had been arranged by the Prophet , but the couple were never happy in their marriage and it became apparent that they were not compatible. At the Prophet’s insistence, they had stayed together for several years, but in the end Zayd could not tolerate it any longer, and decided to set Zaynab free from the marriage contract. The fact that an enslave had divorced a woman of the noble Quraysh tribe became the subject of much gossip among the pagans and the weaker members of the Muslim community. Not surprisingly, Zaynab confined herself to her quarters and it fell to the Prophet to relieve her of her misery. He married her, and she was around 38 years of age at the time. This action achieved two ends. One was to demonstrate that Islam makes no distinction between class, race or status, as the Qur’an teaches that the noblest person in the sight of Allah is the one who is most pious. The second was to indicate that adopted sons were not to be counted as blood relatives, as had previously been the custom in Arabia.


             It was the custom to have blood ties with the various large tribes for unification purposes. Hence some of the Prophet’s marriages were arranged to establish inter-tribal ties and to further the cause of unity. The Prophet’s marriage to Juwayriyah led her tribe of Banu Mustaliq, who had been among the fiercest enemies of Islam, freeing all their Muslim prisoners. The whole tribe later entered into Islam. Maymunah came from the tribe of Najd, who had murdered the emissaries sent to them by the Prophet. After his marriage to Maymunah, however, their attitude changed and Najd became favourable towards Islam.


            All In all, the Prophet had eleven wives, of whom two - Khadijah and Zaynab - passed away in his own lifetime. After the ayah restricting the number of wives to four was revealed, he contracted no further marriages, but his nine remaining wives were regarded as “mothers of the faithful” and as no other man would be permitted to marry them if he divorced them he kept all his wives on the grounds of compassion.


With the exception of ‘A’ishah, all of his wives were widows or divorcees. His marriages were all for political reasons or were contracted in order to set an example of compassion, as in the cases of Zaynab and Sawdah. His polygynous marriage all took place rather late in his life, from the age of 55. The prophet Muhammad was in a position of great political power to be choosy but he marry widowers and older women - a sure indication of his upright moral character and desire to set the highest example to his followers.


4) On Marriage


Mariage is encouraged in Islam at an early age.  This tradition is widespread in underdeveloped countries regardless of religions.  Islam considers sexuality to be a natural part of life, which is to be channeled into a healthy marriage life to avoid exploitation of women through prostitution, pornography, and rape.


The Prophet Muhammad advised Muslims: “Whoever is able to marry should marry; that institution will help the Moslem lower his gaze and guard his modesty”. Islam regards marriage as necessary and has raised it to the level of being a positive virtue and described it as being half the faith.


Marriage is a consented contract between two equal parties; neither male nor female should be forced into a marriage. Islam clearly states that a marriage contracted without the free consent of the woman is null and void. The Prophet said: “No widow should be married without consulting her, and no virgin should be married without her consent.” Allah said: “When one of you seeks to marry a woman, if he is able to have a look at the one he desires to marry, let him do so”.


As an equal partner, the Muslim woman may stipulate conditions in the marriage. The woman may stipulate, prior to marriage, the transfer of divorce power to herself, restricting the husband to one wife only, and clearly defining the conditions of maintenance. Muslim wives have always been allowed and expected to keep their maiden names after marriage.


The wife is a spiritual and moral being who is brought into union with a man on the basis of a solemn pledge which Allah is called upon to witness. The Prophet said: “You have seen nothing like marriage for increasing the love of two people”. In sourat Al-Rum (Byzantium) it is read: “And among His Signs is this; that He created mates from among yourselves; that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.”  In sourat al-Aaraf (customs) it is read: “It is He Who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love).


In Islam, there is no notion of woman being responsible for the “Fall” or of being the first sinner and therefore responsible for all of mankind’s woes. There is no idea of man being created out of superior material and woman out of base matter. Woman is made equal, both men and women are the progeny of Adam, so both have similar souls. In sourat al Shura (counsel) it is read: “(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves”.  In sourat al Nissaa (women) it is read: “Mankind! Reverence your Guardian - Lord Who created you from a single Person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women - fear Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights).”


Islam does not view woman as the instrument of the devil or evil creature. The Koran describes woman as muhsanah (charitable), a fortress against evil, because a good woman helps her husband maintain the path of righteousness.  Muslim men are continually admonished to treat their wives kindly. To those men who oppress their wives then the sourat al Nissaa said: “O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dower you have given them - except when they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary, live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.”



 Men are commanded by Allah to consort with women amicably and honourably. They should refrain from harshness in speaking to and dealing with them. Behaviour that goes against standards of morality and common courtesy is prohibited. Such wicked and brutal conduct is the sign of ignorance (jahidyyah) which Islam came to abolish.


The Prophet Muhammad attended to his own personal needs; he helped his wives in the house, he stitched and mended his own clothes, and kept a cheerful climate when he entered the house.  He demonstrated that a man is never too great to clean and look after himself, and he imparted the following advice:  “The best among you is the one who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to his family”.  “The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and the best of you are those who are best to their wives. By assisting your wives in their household duties, you will receive the reward of sadaqah (charity)”   In his famous speech given during his Farewell Pilgrimage, the Prophet reminded the Muslims of the importance of treating women equitably: “O people, fear Allah with regard to women..”


            Islam regards men and women as equal partners who should cooperate in making the home, be loyal, considerate and dependent upon one another. They should work together to overcome any problems and obstacles, work together to overcome the shortcomings of each partner, and present a united front to the outside world. They should also provide companionship and comfort to one another.  Islam clearly recognises the equal potential and ability of the sexes, but Allah has created human beings in a manner whereby men and women are better suited for complementary tasks.


5) On Motherhood


The Prophet indicated that a woman’s status is further enhanced when she becomes a mother. A man once asked him, “Who deserves the best care from me?” He replied, “Your mother”. The man asked, “Then who?” He replied, “Your mother”. The man asked, “Then who?” He replied, “Your mother”. The man asked, “Then who?” He replied, “Then your father”.


The Koran reads: ‘”Believer must not hate a believing woman; if he dislikes one of her characteristics, he should be pleased with another.  When a woman breast feeds, for every gulp of milk she will receive a reward as if she had granted life to being, and when she weans her child, the angels pat her on the hack saying, ‘Congratulations! All your past sins have been forgiven, now start all over again”:  “O women! Remember that the pious among you will enter Jannah before the pious men”  “During pregnancy until the time of childbirth, and until the end of the suckling period, a woman earns reward similar to that of the person who is guarding the borders of Islam”


            The Koran orders are to be kind and just to women, as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. Muslim who seek to make their womenfolk happy may expect to earn the pleasure of Allah, and pleasing Allah is the key to Paradise.  The sourat Luqman says: “And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command), ‘Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) Goal.



Although Islam tells us to respect both parents, the mother is given precedence. For months she bears the burden in her womb, sufferings the trials of pregnancy. After the exertion of labour, she suckles the baby for up to two years. She sacrifices her own comforts for the sake of her child. So a man has to recognise, first, the rights that Allah has over him, and then the rights of his parents, especially the mother; he must worship Allah, and occupy himself in obeying and serving his parents to the best of his ability.


Miqdam reported that the Prophet said: “O people, listen: Allah the Most High commands you to treat your mothers well. Allah the Most High commands you to be good to your mothers, and thereafter to your fathers”. Anas reported that the Prophet said: “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers”. What is meant by this is that a believer may attain the pleasure of Allah, and hence Paradise, by pleasing his mother and attending to her needs. Even if one’s mother is not a Muslim, one is obliged to treat her well and take care of her, so long as this does not entail any disobedience to Allah.


6) On Divorce


The Prophet said: “Divorce is the most hateful of all lawful things in the sight of Allah”. Divorce is allowed as a last resort.  If divorce were forbidden, then animosity and adultery may become rampant. To save individuals and society from the greater evils, divorce has been permitted. However, it is not a step to be taken lightly or hastily. Sincere attempts at reconciliation are to be made first and - as in the case of marriage - the rights and wellfare of women are to be upheld.


Imam al Ghazzali (b.1058 CE) who is honoured with the title of Hujjat al Islam ‘The Proof of Islam’ states, the greatest care should be taken to avoid divorce, for, though divorce is permitted, yet Allah disapproves of it. If divorce becomes essential then the woman should be divorced kindly, not through anger or contempt, and not without a valid reason. After divorce a man should give his former wife a present and not announce to others any of her shortcomings.


The Koran advises a couple who are facing difficulties in their marriage to appoint arbiters.  In sourat al Nissaa it is read:” If you fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation…But if they disagree (and must part), Allah will provide abundance for all from His All-Reaching bounty.”


In order to dissolve a marriage, it is essential to pronounce a declaration of “talaq”. There are three types of talaq (divorce) that are practiced among Muslims.

First, talaq ahssan - (the preferable type of divorce): After issuing one pronouncement of divorce, the couple wait for the ‘iddah (waiting period, which consists of three menstrual cycles of the wife, usually three months). During this time, all possible attempts at reconciliation should be made. The husband may take his wife back at any time during the ‘iddah period. During the period of iddah the man must oblige to either keep the woman in the same home or at least furnish her with a comfortable apartment, which is easily accessible to him. Further, the man must provide for her as if no divorce has taken place. At the end of the iddah or waiting period if reconciliation has failed then the marriage is broken. In sourat al-Talaq it is read: “And fear Allah, your Lord: and turn them not out of their houses, nor shall they (themselves) leave, except in case they are guilty of some open lewdness, those are limits set by Allah: and any who transgresses the limits of Allah, does verily wrong his (own) soul: you know not if perchance Allah will bring about thereafter some new situation.”

            Second, talaq hassan - is a divorce where a man pronounces talaq to his wife in three consecutive state of purity. Third, talaq bid’i where the husband issues three pronouncements of divorce at one time. According to the majority of jurists, this talaq is valid but it is against the spirit of the Shari’ah and so the man is an offender in the eyes of the law.  The last Talaq bid’i is considered a serious act against the Islamic teachings. The second Caliphate Umar, a close companion of the Prophet, used to whip the husband who pronounced divorce thrice at once and in the same sitting.


The sourat al-Baqarah (virginity) it is read: ” When you divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their (’Iddah), either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; but do not take them back to injure them, (or) to take undue advantage; if any one does that, he wrongs his own soul. Do not treat Allah’s Signs as a jest, but solemnly rehearse Allah’s favours on you, and the fact that He sent down to you the Book and Wisdom, for your instruction. And fear Allah, and know that Allah is well-acquainted with all things.”


             Islam treads the middle ground in the divorce concept, and safeguards the rights of women. It neither prohibits divorce, thereby imprisoning women, nor does it regard divorce as an insignificant decision. The right to divorce is not restricted to the husband. The woman may also seek a dissolution of the marriage by means of a process known as faskh, whereby she applies to the Qadi (Judge) for an annulment of the marriage. The wife may seek faskh in several cases, including: apostasy (renunciation of Islam) by the husband; lack of equality of status (kafi’ah); lack of compatibility; spoiling of marriage (fasad); incurable impotence on the part of the husband and if the husband ill treats the woman (nushuz). The above cases present valid grounds for a woman to seek divorce from her husband. If the couple come to a mutual agreement for separation and get divorced then this is called khul.  In sourat al Nissaa it is read: “If the wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best…”


               Islam has decreed justice for both sexes in the case of divorce. Although the act of divorce is disliked, it is permitted for the sake of weak human souls who cannot always find comfort and solace in the marriage relationship. This is mainly due to lower tolerance levels, high expectations in others and needless desires.


7) On Modesty



Modesty, in the broadest sense, means humility, restraint in manner and conduct, avoiding excess and presenting an unpretentious appearance. In sourat al Nur (light) it is read: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments”


            Abdullah ibn Mass’ud reported, “I asked the Messenger of Allah , ‘What is the greatest sin?’ He replied, ‘To set up rivals with Allah by worshipping others although He alone has created you’. I asked, ‘What next?’ He said, ‘To kill your child lest it should share your food’. I asked, ‘What next?’ He said, ‘To commit adultery with the wife of your neighbour’ (zina)”  The Koran warns in sourat al Israa “Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils)”.


The first step on the road to zina is sight. It is only after a person has had a glance that his desire are inflamed. The believing men and women are restricted from gazing at one another, as this is the gateway to greater sin. The Prophet said: “the zina of the legs is walking towards an unlawful act, the zina of the hands is touching and patting, and the zina of the eyes is casting passionate “lances at those who are forbidden to you”


It is the second glance which is punishable. The Prophet advised Ali “O Ali, do not allow your first glance to be followed by a second, because the first glance is permitted for you but the second is not”.  And “Let no male stranger sit in privacy with a female stranger, for the third among them is Satan”‘. And “Do not go to the houses of women whose husbands are absent”.


            There are exceptions to this prohibition on looking at members of the opposite sex. In the case of medical examinations or treatment, deciding on a marriage partner, recording evidence or carrying out criminal investigations, the rulings are relaxed somewhat, but proper conduct and modesty must still be adhered to.

            Appearing modestly in public does not correspond to prudism.  Erotism has always been encouraged in Arab traditions and Islam had to frequently turn a blind eye on erotic literatures because initiation to sexuality was transmitted early on for both genders.  Moslem theologians discussed freely on erotical matters, and most open was the most sought after in religious doctrines.  Sexsuality was taught in Mosques as part of education.  You may refer to “The garden of Lovers” by Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyya, or “The Perfumed Garden” by Nafzawi, or the various sexual positions by Tifachi.

In fact, Youssef Seddik claimed that Islam was a counter-revolution to the absolute independence of women in Arabia.  Women were the matriach in that tribal society and their effronteries would have surprised today’s feminists.  For example, during the yearly pilgrimage celebration in Mecca women would erect tents and receive lovers.  The next year, the woman would select one of her lovers to be her child’s father.

            A husband who realized that his wife’s passion for him waned would search for another male that might intice the desires of his mate.  During the month long fasting season sexual intercourse was prohibited then quickly rescinded.  By emulating the modesty of the wives of the Prophet the women communities learned new customs that religion could not supplant.


On Dress Codes


            Practically, the free mixing of men and women from the time they become sexually aware to the time they are no longer sexually active is prohibited. Muslims are required to dress modestly and conceal their private parts (awrah).  In the case of men awrah extends from the navel to the knee; in the case of women awrah includes the whole body except the face, hands and (according to some Hanafi scholars) feet. Muslims should wear clothes that are loose fitting, thick (non-transparent) and simple (not ostentatious or gaudy).


In sourat al Nur it is read: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O Believers! Turn all together towards Allah, that you may attain Bliss.” In sourat al Ahzab (sects) it is said: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful.


Umm Salamah reported that she and Maymunah (who were both wives of the Prophet ) were with the Prophet when the blind son of Umm Maktumcame to speak with him. The Prophet told his wives to observe hijab in front of the visitor Umm Salamah said, “O Messenger of Allah, he is a blind man and will not see us”. The Prophet said, “He may be blind but you are not, and do you not see him”? The Prophet issued a warning: “Those women who appear naked even though they are wearing clothes, who allure and are allured by others, and who walk in a provocative manner, will never enter Paradise, or even smell its fragrance”.


Since antiquity, noble women wore the veil to be distinguished from the working women; the veil was a symbol of ranking because the sun did not alter the freshness of the face since whitness of the skin was very praised.  In Europe, women used to have a veil attached to their hats and they would lower the veil when outside their homes. 

In Mecca, the wives and girls of the rich traders wore the veil when out of their homes.  In Yathreb or Medina women were practically running a martriarchal system and thus, were mostly woking women.  Whe the Prophet Muhamad had to flee to Medina his folowers from Mecca were subjected to a cultural shock.  The Prophet had to be biased toward his followers because they were the backbone of his power.  Gradually but steadily the tradition and customs in Medina were altered. The Prophet took advantage of golden opportunities. After the inevitable rumors and flapps over his many wives behaviors the Prophet edicted that his wives would wear veil when on the streets and be accompanied by relatives.  The society followed the fashion of the famous.


The “Chador” and the dress codes of totally covering the body in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, and where extra-conservative Moslem sects are predominant are not dictated by the Koran.  They are simply patriarchal political acts meant to humiliate women and relegate them to non-individual class.  The Moslem clerics would like you to understand that the main aim of hijab is to allow Muslim women to enjoy the ability to express their personality and their intellect independently of men’s whims and desires.  It would be interesting to get the opinion of the concerned women on that concept.


Note 5: Aicha, the most beloved wife of the Prophet, saved her copies very jealously until the third Caliphate Othman bin Affan ordered the archive to be handed over to him. Aicha didn’t trust Othman and she kept copies of all her documents.  At the time, only rich people could afford to write down documents because they were recorded on special leather in the Arab Peninsula. Thus, rich educated people had the task of transcribing the verses for better retention, memorizations, and an act of devotion.


Note 6: By the time Othman decided to issue an official Book for Islam (The Koran of Medina) most of the Byzantium and Sassanide Empires were conquered; Egypt was part of the Arab Moslem Empire. The formal or official Book had to take these political realities into accounts, realities of victors and vanquished.  The Caliphate Othman sorted out the verses and selected what suited the political interest of the new Islamic Empire; many verses were burned and disappeared, others were tampered with such as adding “nassara” (Christian) after Jews though the sentence would break the rime (sajaa).  Othman arranged verses by order of length and the gathered book was considered the official Koran. For example, the shortest revelations or verses are the first chronologically and represent the message of Islam in the first 13 years (The Koran of Mecca) before the relocation to Medina or Yathreb in 633.  The longest verses came afterward and dealt mostly with civil management, daily routine, penal codes, and organization of the converts to Islam.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith: Part 2

Laird, in a helpful comment, suggests that the “brand” of mysticism of which Gregory is a part (or which he began) was a mysticism of faith. As neo-platonic as Gregory sounds (and certainly is to some degree), Laird helpful notes that, “Gregory’s concerns for development and transformation as a result of union, in which the soul could never become identical with the One, distinguish him definitely from the non-Christian Neoplatonist” (129).

In the same vein, Laird acknowledges and laments the apophatic characterization of Gregory in the secondary material, noting that everywhere it is assumed but rarely is it tempered. In his words,

Indeed for all Gregory’s apophaticism he values at the same time positive knowledge of God. For whilst the mind does not grasp God in comprehension, God ‘puts down roots in the depths of the mind’ and waters it with teaching; beyond the grasp of comprehension through the divine nature is, something of God has the capacity to make itself cognitively useful” (132).

Therefore, while we may not grasp the divine nature, we still have knowledge of the divine; “our understanding of the divine nature bears a resemblance to what we seek” (133). This knowledge truly “corresponds” to God (it is accurate), to use a loaded and modern concept, but does not grasp God - only faith can do that. Interestingly, Gregory also allows for knowledge of God to come through God’s works. While this knowledge is accurate, broadly speaking, it is still only flawed and partial. In a helpful metaphor paraphrased by Laird, we are told,

The interaction of the root (Bridegroom), the fertile earth (the depths of the mind), and irrigation (divine lessons) causes the vine to blossom and bear fruit in which the vinedresser (God) can be seen” (135).

Laird notes that Gregory often uses the image of flowing water to speak of God, his emanation, his presence, etc. Again, the parallel with later spiritual writers is interesting, using the wound of love, the garden, flow of water, bridegroom, fountain, etc. These are all biblical images, for the most part, but it is interesting how different traditions have picked them up and utilized them as cornerstones in their work. As Laird notes, in the images of flow, of which they are many, two concerns are at play: the divine presence and epistemology. These seem to be the guiding concerns of the imagery Gregory employs, seeking to navigate carefully the finite’s grasp of the infinite - and that, through faith alone.

Laird argues for the interpretive key “logophatic” to describe Gregory’s thought. He explains, “The union is apophatic, but the effect is logophatic; for the Word fills the mouth of the bride ‘with words of eternal life.’” And likewise, the logophatic, “as a fruit of the apophatic union with the Word (logos), the Word expresses (phasis) itself through the deeds and discourse of the one whom the Word indwells” (155). For Gregory therefore, knowing God is non-discursive and non-comprehending, but is not fully negative in content; it is a coming to know the Word beyond the understanding. [As a side note, by favorite quote in this book is: "Paul is a bowl of spice" p.160.] In a helpful summary from Laird he states:

By virtue of her (apophatic) union, the bride yet speaks. Indeed she must speak, for in this union she takes on the incarnational dynamic of the Word. The Word penetrated her heart like an arrow, and her desire was enflamed. She herself becomes this arrow, and as a characteristic of this arrow is to elicit desire, so the words of exhortation of this bride-become-arrow instruct, guide, and elicit from those around her a burning desire for the Beloved” (169).

Coupled with the logophatic orientation of union in Gregory’s thought, he also invokes a pneumatology of illumination which should temper the straightforward apophaticism many claim him to be positing. The divinizing light of the Holy Spirit is never overcome, Laird suggests, by the darkness of negation. While this may seem contradictory, there are, in fact, two issues at play - one has to do with epistemological issues and the other with divinization. Gregory’s darknesss is epistemologically oriented, and not, cautions Laird, the emotional darkness of divine absence found in John of the Cross and later spiritual writers.

Gregory, as is now obvious, is a highly nuanced theologian of faith and union, darkness and light. Laird’s volume reads surprisingly well for a revised dissertation, and is clearly a major advance in the field. Special thanks again to Oxford University Press for sending out a review copy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy

 ”Intimacy every day is trying. It requires stamina, patience, personal grooming and a work ethic I didn’t know I possessed.” - Charla Muller - 

I’ve seen this woman make the rounds on various talk-shows and I’ve read several interviews (here at the Guardian), and I’m very much put off by her notion of intimacy. Maybe I’m off a bit, but shouldn’t sex/intimacy be something you enjoy and are passionate about, not a chore that you “force” yourself to get through. 

Her husband I believe demonstrates one of the problems of making intimacy a “deal”:

It wasn’t always that good. For instance, in her book Muller recalls the moment Brad said to his wife during what she calls, significantly, “the final stretch”, “Could you stop grimacing? Could you at least pretend you’re enjoying it?” And she replied, “How about you close your eyes?” He sighed (the brute!) and did just that. - Guardian

How about instead of turning your lagging sex life into a bet and subsequent publishing deal, you work on your communication. I believe that is what this “deal” ended up  focusing on anyways. I would assume that because of this “deal” to have sex every day, she ended up spending more time with her partner and communicating her needs (physical & emotional) and he also did the same.

Why make this completely about sex, if the two of them had been more open about their relationship, they would probably have sex more often to begin with, and this also ceases to be a “chore” and something that the partners are both into.

I’m also not sure if I’m good with airing the personals of the bed out in public in such a way. A bit crass. Sure, we all crack the occasional joke at another couple’s expense, but to write a whole book, a bit weird. 

How would you feel if your partner came to you for your birthday and said: “This year, for your birthday I’ve decided that I’m going to have sex wtih you every day and then write about it and tell everyone about the intimate details of our bedroom life, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR!”

Oh and the best part of this article, enjoy:

This is hardly the first time that a woman (and it usually is a woman) has devised a project to revivify a long-term couple’s sex life, and then written a book about it. The delightfully surnamed Esther Perel wrote a book called Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic; the less delightfully surnamed David Schnarch wrote Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships. In The Surrendered Wife, Laura Doyle argued that women should stop telling men what to do and how to do it. “When I surrendered control, something magical happened,” wrote Doyle. “The union I had always dreamed of appeared. The man who had wooed me was back. The underlying principle is simple: the control women wield at work and with children must be left at the front door of any marriage to revitalise intimacy.”

People just need to communicate more, be open and honest about how they feel, and that also includes the risk of sometimes hurting another person’s feelings. These types of books seem so stupid to me. Ah well, if you write it, they will read.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is ‘The Glory of Their Times’ the ‘Best Baseball Book Ever’?

Jonathan Yardley wrote recently in the Washington Post that Lawrence S. Ritter’s 1966 collection of interviews with early 20th-century baseball players, The Glory of Their Times (Harper, 384 pp., $14.95, paperback), “may well be the best baseball book ever.” How can I not have heard about that one until now? I thought it was generally agreed among critics who know more about the sport than I do that “the best baseball book ever” was Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rewiew - The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd

A fantastic and unputdownable book for teenagers!

The story takes place in the near future,  2015.  Due to an increase in severe weather, global warming and pollution the government  decide to  impose carbon rations on the people of Britain. This means that people are allocated a certain amount of carbon dioxide a month (which basically means electricity and fuel). Once people go over that amount they are not allowed any more until the next month. This new lifestyle causes many problems as people are forced to change almost everything about their lives. The story is told by teenager Laura Brown who Chronicles everything in her diary. She is an extremely funny and endearing narrator and her opinions on her family and friend’s reactions to the crisis are fascinating to read. It really makes you think about what life would be like if you HAD to cut down on your energy use . For example, the family in the book are only allowed heating for 3 hours a day and can only watch TV for a very short time. Electricity for washing machines and showers must be carefully rationed. Cars become useless as fuel costs rise and no one can afford to drive them on their rations.

I actually found this book quite scarey. In some ways it is simelar to the excellent “Life as we knew it” by Susan Pfeffer but in other ways it is  much scarier than that book. “Life as we knew it” chronicles a catastrophic but freak disaster from which earth may never recover. “The carbon diaries” chronicles something much closer to home, something that could easily happen and may happen sooner than we think. Setting the diary so close to our own time really makes you think about the impact of  environmental changes on our way of  life. In the book there is a large storm and a huge flood on a scale not usually seen in Britain. The book makes you question whether things like this could happen if we don’t try to do something about global warming.

I really enjoyed reading this book and I am now going to try even harder to be kinder to the environment!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Under the Persimmon Tree

Under the Persimmon Tree came to me via my 11-year old daughter, who read it earlier this academic year for school. She has recommended the book many times as a choice for the Rock-n-Roll book club, to which we finally acquiesced last month. Written in 2005 by journalist Suzanne Fisher Staples, Under the Persimmon Tree tells the story of two people—an Afghani child named Najmah and a United States (U.S.) born woman named Nusrat —and how they become connected at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. Both characters have dealt with the horrors of war and attempt to deal with the effects of those horrors at the book’s end.

Since we are all connected on Facebook and Goodreads, I was not surprised when my daughter became aghast that I only gave the book three out of five stars. In her world, the horrors and tribulations experienced by Najmah must have been upsetting. Staples did a fine job at showing children my daughter’s age the disgusting effects of war. The three stars I gave the book are my nod to Staples’ ability to connect with young readers about war, the cultures of Afghanistan & this particular area of Pakistan, and the religion of Islam.

My reluctance to this book a higher rating comes in with the choice to make Nusrat a U.S. citizen. I am not sure why Staples felt the need to do this. Why was it not enough to make this woman either an Afghan or a Pakistani? Why was it necessary to inject a U.S. presence into a situation that was already (and still is today) made difficult by U.S. bombs and policy? It didn’t help my view of the book when Staples forced Nusrat to be some sort of savior to Najmah by offering an ethnocentric U.S. rescue program: Nusrat bringing Najmah back to the U.S. to save her from going back to a devastated homeland.

The long arm of U.S. colonialism and greed extends far into many areas of the world. In my opinion, this book would have done just fine telling this important story without making Nusrat a sort of U.S. savior figure. It would be nice for a change to have our children read stories and histories that are not tainted by the pro-U.S. agenda. Wouldn’t it be something for schools to allow our children to consider, just for a moment, other ways to live, govern, and believe that are not based solely on the notion that the U.S. model is the only viable solution?

The book’s ending did have a redeeming quality because it did not tie up everything into a neat and artificial package. There are questions that remain unanswered and a philosophical quandary put forth by the author at the very end. I am happy that books like this are being considered by schools and read by the children, my issues notwithstanding.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


…and ready to get back in the ring. I had a few good days.  We all got back today early enough to go to the Family Fun Fair at Hampsire Hills and it was nice.  I got some free treats and entered a couple of free drawings. We all saw our local weather guy. It’s really, really wierd seeing people from T.V. in person - I always underestimate their height.  This happened to me when I met Bill Clinton too - he was really tall and I always thought he was like average height.  Whatever. Nate had a great time too. There was a skateboard demonstration area set up because one of the vendors was for a local skate park.  There were a bunch of boarders there too doing their thing and Nate could have watched them all day - he was absolutely mesmerized.

We then pretty much hung around for the rest of the day!  I do have a few new reviews up, for your reading pleasure.

The first new review that I have up is the following:

This review can be found here. This was, perhaps, the most surprising read of the year to date. Enjoy!

I also reviewed the following movie:

The review is here. Enjoy!

I am embarassed to say that I have also reviewed this book:

This smut is reviewed here. Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Guest Book Review: Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

Way back when I was but a wee Book Girl, I had this great friend named Kristen. We attended a gifted program together throughout middle school and had tons in common, especially our love of reading. And then middle school happened, and I acted like a total snot, and Kristen and I lost touch.  But a decade later, when I moved from Chicago back to Kansas to attend graduate school, we reconnected. Kristen was finishing her degree at the same school, and her boyfriend was in my department. So we saw each other a bit and chatted briefly. Don’t you love it when life does that for you?

In the years since, I’ve moved to Richmond, and Kristen is in San Diego, but we’ve stayed in touch through Facebook, shared book recommendations, and an appreciation of each other’s blogs. Hers is hilarious, and you’re welcome to visit it, as long as you don’t mind liberal use of the F word. A while back, I invited Kristen to write guest reviews here, and I’m happy to present her debut today.

Without further ado, here’s Kristen.

Set for publication May 5, 2009 from Doubleday (a division of RandomHouse)

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is not about the “bad mothers” that have become household names- the Susan Smiths, Andrea Yates, or Mary Kay LeTourneaus of the world. In Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, Ayelet Waldman, mother of four, recounts the highs, lows, and in-betweens of motherhood.


Struggling to meet the expectations of her own mother, other moms, strangers, and herself, Waldman shares her stories with brutal honesty and no excuses. The specifics of Waldman’s stories- being ridiculed by a complete stranger for giving her baby a bottle, her anxiety about passing down her mental illness to her children, or the potential implications of the results of her amniocentesis- are unique to her family. However, many of the essays read as parables, with morals and life lessons spelled out in the final sentences.


Waldman intertwines a bit of social commentary into her personal accounts, addressing society’s fascination with Bad Mothers (thank you, Susan Smith, for making the rest of look good), the increasingly high expectations parents put on their young children, and the struggle to instill hope in children amidst a rocky time in our nation’s history. Without regret, she recounts becoming infamous for once writing in an essay that she loves her husband more than her kids. Backlash from mommy blogs ensued. Waldman even appeared on Oprah. Maybe this is old news? I wouldn’t know. I’ve never read a mommy blog and I can’t recall ever hearing the name Ayelet Waldman before the ARC of this book arrived in my mailbox. But despite being 25, unmarried, and childless (probably a safe assumption that I’m outside the target demographic of this book), I highly enjoyed the stories and the candor in which Waldman shares them.


Visit the author’s website to learn more, and leave some bloggy lovin’ here to welcome Kristen.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Best Books: A Trip to Port William

Over the past few weeks I have reread the first two books in Wendell Berry’s Port William series — Nathan Coulter and A Place on Earth.  If you have never had the pleasure of a visit, both these books introduce the reader to one of the most wonderful places on earth — Port William — and the colorful and memorable characters who live there.  For a more complete review, check out the Best Books page.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Cookbooks

Yesterday at the book sale I bought two new cookbooks. They are not low carb cookbooks but they have a large number of recipes that I can make or alter to fit my Diabetic needs. I absolutely love trying new recipes. So far I have not put a recipe on my blog that I have not personally made and liked. I have tried many other recipes that were a disappointment and never made the blog.

One of my absolute favorite cookbooks is a grilling cookbook so when I found the Taste of Home Grilling Cookbook I had to get it. I am very excited to give the recipes a try. I am very blessed to have a husband and family members that don’t mind being my Guinea pig. My son has always been willing to try anything but my poor daughter-in-law is too polite to refuse but I can tell she is terrified at times. More times than not she has liked it. I always try it first.

This is the front of my new grilling book. Doesn’t that grilled onion look delicious?

The next cookbook is Taste of Home Guilt Free Cooking. Now I won’t be able to get as many recipes from this book because it tends to focus more on low fat than low carb but I can still get several and alter many to get a usable recipe. This is the front of that cookbook.

Last year at another hospital book sale I found a Taste of Home Appetizer cookbook that I deeply love. Over the weekend I pulled it out and put post-it notes (gift from Donna- Aren’t I spoiled?) on the recipes that I wanted to try. I had more than 30 that could easily be low carb. Now I need to have a party to try these recipes out. Hmmmmmmmmmmm I wonder who I could invite?

Can you tell that I am southern girl and love southern recipes? I never really thought of myself as southern but my son-in-law, the lovable geek Yankee keeps reminding me that I am.  He had better do some serious sucking up or when I see him next month I won’t be bringing him any cookies. He pretends that he is eating healthy but he has never seen a cookie that he didn’t like. It is our little secret but I have been collecting low carb cookie recipes and intend to trick him into eating them. bwahahaha

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

3 12 120

Rating 5/5

I’ve finished Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, and I’m still just as fascinated with it as the last time I blogged it. I’m always afraid about halfway through a book like this that it’ll end with me being entertained and enlightened, but having no earthly idea what in the world to do about it. Fortunately, Crouch doesn’t disappoint, moving from broad, sweeping propositions to the specifics of application.

Grace and vocation

My new favorite question for discerning call and vocation is Where do you experience grace - divine multiplication that far exceeds your efforts? Where is it that after toiling work and every effort, you still end with a sense of awe and gratitude at what was produced?

Finding grace is not a matter of taking an aptitude test, discovering our gifts, and happily restricting our activities only to those things we find pleasant. Rather, over and over in the lives of God’s people we see a pattern: abundance alongside suffering, growing fruit but also dying seeds, grace and the cross

This isn’t a one time event. You don’t take the test and be done. Though there is consistency in who you are and what God is doing in and through you, you will find that the specific incarnations of that will change. We are to spend our lives led by grace.

3, 12, 120

Fortunately, you will not be called to experience this grace alone. There is always a 3, a 12, and a 120 before any cultural artifact reaches and shapes the rest of the world.

Three is the perfect number. Three people can fit in a Mini Cooper (barely) with room for luggage. Three people can talk on a conference call, convene around a table in a meeting room, or chat online without anyone getting bored or distracted or feeling superfluous. Three people can sit in a single booth at a restaurant and hatch plans.

In culture making, size matters - in revers. Only a small group can sustain the attention, energy and perseverance to create something that genuinely moves the horizons of possibility - because to create that good requires an ability to suspend, at least for a time, the very horizons within which everyone else is operating. Such “suspension of impossibility” is tiring and taxing . . . To create a new cultural good, a small group is essential. And yet, the almost uncanny thing about culture making is that a small group is enough.

Jesus, of course, had a 3 (James, John, and Peter), a 12 (apostles), and a 120 (larger group of disciples). The same is true of almost every cultural innovation. After you’ve identified the places where you most experience grace, the next thing to do is to look around you and find others with whom you can partner in doing good. 2 is enough. I find this to be incredibly hopeful, especially for a new and small group of Jesus followers dreaming big things for the UofC. In the last 3 semesters Jef and I have proposed discipleship as a cultural artifact, and have watched BSM grow to the 12, and now, I hope, are moving towards the 120, as the 12 work hard to be and make disciples.

Shared power and a new world order

Power as the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good, and almost everyone knows someone with more and someone with less than they have. A sure sign of God’s work in the world, of Kingdom coming, is the cooperation of the powerful and powerless.

When God acts in culture, he uses both the powerful and the powerless alongside one another rather than using one against the other. To mobilize the powerless against the powerful would be revolution; to mobilize the powerful against the powerless would simply confirm “the way of the world.” But to bring them into partnership is the true sign of God’s paradoxical and graceful intervention into the human story.

If Jesus is Lord then we all come together, working with those who have more and less power than we do, to accomplish something good in the world, valuing one another regardless of the power we or others have.


This short TED talk is a great example of someone who is obviously awed by the grace that has met his best efforts, and at the same time proves the power of a small contingent to change culture if they produce the very best artifact they possibly can. The existing power distribution is changed by this. Western companies had bought up eastern newspapers without making them good. He worked within one of these to produce something that both his small country and the rest of Europe agree is valuable.

Part one of the review is here.

Scat by Carl Hiassen

I feel a little strange admitting this, but I have never read a Carl Hiaasen book before. Hoot did come out the year my son was born (the first of three years of getting up with him a minimum of three times a night), so that probably has something to do with it. It’s not that I didn’t think his books looked or sounded interesting, but there was always something else that kept coming up that would bump Hoot further down in the stack. That of course, was until Scat.  

I commited to reading Scat when it was the title my daughter selected for the first meeting of The Mother-Daughter Book Club.  This book has guaranteed I will read both of Hoot and Flush, and think I’ll try some of his adult fiction as well!

Scat is a book that pulled me on one level and then kept me thinking on different levels all the way through.  

The characters of Nick, Marta, Duane Jr. are well developed and feel like people you can relate to. Many of the other characters, are just as well-developed. Mrs. Starch, the mean, missing teacher; Mr. Wendall Waxmo the sub who wore tuxedos and always taught page 160 on Tuesday, no matter the day or subject; Twilly; the detective; Duane’s grandmother.

The environmental theme is woven throughout the story and arrives in surprising packages. Part mystery, part comedy, this book kept me thinking long after I closed the cover. The timely, yet unfortunate, issue of soldiers coming home wounded from Iraq is also handled in way that makes the issue very accessible to younger/middle aged readers. Nick’s determination to become a lefty like his dad really struck a nerve in my heart. 

Interestingly, when we went to get it from the library, it was in the YA section, which I found initially surprising. There are a couple “dumb ass” comments, and the danger/mystery might be too much for some intermediate readers. Nonetheless, it kept my daughter and her friends turning page after page through all 384 pages!

A must-read that would also make a terrific read-aloud. Maybe some science teachers might be brave enough to try it as a read-aloud in their content area!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Aamer Hussein to publish his nouvelle, "The Gulmohar Tree", in May 2009

Aamer Hussein, the Pakistani writer who has published five collections of short stories, including “Turquoise” (2002) and “Insomnia” (2007), who writes regularly for “The Independent”, and who contributed an example of his prose to Issue 2 of “The International Literary Quarterly”, will be publishing his nouvelle, “Another Gulmohar Tree” in early May, 2009. Amit Chaudhuri, a contributor to Issue 5 of “The International Literary Quarterly” writes, “We are lucky to have Hussein among us, telling us stories as few can, with his particular mixture of deep love, understanding, and sadness”.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Amor and Summer Secrets

Title: Amor and Summer Secrets

Author: Diana Rodriguez Wallach

Category: Young adult

Worth It? Eh, don’t break your neck to buy this. 

The Nitty Gritty: Mariana Ruiz is half Polish, half Puerto Rican. But 15-year old Mariana sees herself as just an all around privileged American white girl—and definitely not someone of Latino descent. With her red hair and fair skin, it’s easy to do. That is, until, her parents send her and her brother to a small, mountainside town in Puerto Rico to visit her father’s estranged family. It’s there that Mariana comes to know who she really is and the value of blood relatives.

The Good: Mariana’s introduction her Puerto Rican culture and heritage. Her lovable, unpretentious PR family and boy crush Alex.

The Bad: Mariana allowing her BFFs to nickname her ‘spic’—it was hard to believe she didn’t realize her friends were insulting her. It was also hard to believe much of the conflict between Mariana and her friends back home.

The Ugly: This story failed to dig deep into the seriousness and impact of realizing one’s cultural identity. Its one dimensional characters and uni-layered content is better suited for light and fluffy book topics/themes. There are two follow-up books, which might be fare better since each focuses on more light-hearted subject matter.

Sample Chapter: Read chapter one of Amor and Summer Secrets.

Mariana’s Saga Continues With: Amigas and School Scandals and Adios to All The Drama

Thursday, April 9, 2009

<i>The Reader</i> by Bernhard Schlink

Maybe it’s because I’ve just read One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I found to be an amazing read, but I didn’t find The Reader to be anywhere near as good as all the hype suggests. 

Unlike most of the people I’ve talked to about this book, my problem wasn’t with the relationship between Hanna and Michael.  Sure, I wouldn’t get involved with a mere boy, and I don’t understand why any woman would, but I know that it happens.  My problem was with Hanna’s big secret.  Not the reason for the trial, but the reason she was unprepared for it.   It just stretches my credulity that someone would allow themselves to be at that much of a disadvantage when being tried for that particular crime when admitting the problem would have gotten them some leniency.  Or, at the very least, some assistance.  Sorry if that last bit was convoluted, but I’m trying to be cryptic enough not to spoil it for everyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie.

The Reader is an okay book, and I plan on watching the movie when it comes out on DVD, but it isn’t great.

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Review: Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

Sundays at Tiffany’s

By James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

Hachette Book Group, January 2009

Buy Link:


As a child I enjoyed fairy tales as much as the next girl. They were happy, pretty stories that made me feel good inside for having heard them. Even so, the small details that didn’t quite ring true always left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied. The charming prince who climbed to Rapunzel’s rescue, using her hair as a ladder (ouch!) The busy mice that helped to sew Cinderella’s gown (oh, please!) Such was the case with James Patterson’s latest effort, Sundays at Tiffany’s. A nice, happy story. But …


For eight-year-old Jane Margaux, childhood is a lonely time spent living in the shadow of her successful, controlling mother, Vivienne. The pain and confusion of being a little girl living in a grown-up world is softened only by the presence of Michael, Jane’s imaginary friend. Their time together includes Sunday afternoons at New York’s St. Regis Hotel, where the pair shares sundaes and secrets while Vivienne conducts business. When he leaves Jane on her ninth birthday for a new assignment, Michael softens the blow by promising her she will forget him by the next day. But Jane never forgets. Twenty-plus years later, Michael returns to Jane’s life, the perfect man, and the friend she needs more desperately than ever.


This charming story has a lot going for it. I found the characters to be extremely likeable, especially Jane. Despite her high-power job and posh lifestyle, Jane is as short on self-confidence as she is long on human kindness. Though he has his flaws, Michael possesses the sort of kindness that restores one’s faith in humanity. The author’s descriptions of New York are spot-on, transporting the reader into the beauty and chaos of the Big Apple, allowing them to alternately experience a night at the Metropolitan Museum, and an afternoon at a Spanish Harlem homeless shelter, without missing a beat.


Unfortunately, Patterson/Charbonnet’s story line was not quite as believable as their chosen setting. I had a hard time accepting the premise of a child’s imaginary friend returning to her adult life, and that skepticism made it tough for me to really connect with this story. I found the shifting viewpoints (first-person for the Jane chapters, and third-person for the Michael chapters) to be slightly irritating. Even so, the story was written with a nice blend of humor and touches of poignancy that tugged at the heart strings. It ended on a positive note, with a message of hope that left me feeling good, if somewhat skeptical.


– Honeybee  


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

book review, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, pt. 2

Did I mention you should read this book?

I want to pick up in chapter 8 because when I saw the title, “Jesus, Seen Differently,” I knew it would be interesting.  Perkins quotes a few hard questions about American citizen innocence from his journal written during his time in Indonesia, ubt I like his dream about Jesus best:

I had seen Christ in front of me.  He seemed like the same Jesus I had talked with every night…as a young boy…[e]xcept…this one had curly black hair and a dark complexion.  He bent down and heaved something up to his shoulder.  I expected a cross.  I saw the axle of a car with the attached wheel rim protruding above his head, forming a metallic halo.  Grease dripped like blood down his forehead.  He straightened, peered into my eyes, and said, “If I were to come now, you would see me differently.”  I asked him why.  “Because,” he answered, “the world has changed.”

We support modern day slavery, as long as we don’t see it or get our hands dirty.  At what point do we see that while we may not be holding a gun to some poor Indian’s head to work 14 hour days in Dubai or a Filipino slaving away in the Saudi oil fields, we still benefit from someone holding the gun.  Oh, it may not be a gun, but peek behind the curtain of the oil industry and see how disturbing the industry’s underbelly is.

Take a look at the dark side of Dubai, courtesy of The Independent.

And see what the Independent was saying in 2006 about Migrants and the Middle East:

But what about the citizens of Dubai? How do they see this influx of foreigners - many of whom, especially from the West, bring with them an alien culture which jars with Muslim customs. Jamal, who sells real estate, said he has done well out of the commercial boom. But, in the back of his mind, he said, there is a feeling of uneasiness.

“Our leaders want to turn us into a modern, first-world country, and that is good. But the place has become all about money. Do you know, there wasn’t any real protest here about the Danish cartoons of the prophet - Dubai was the only place in the Muslim world where there was no outcry. What does that say about us?”

John Perkins makes an excellent point about all of this on pages 63 and 64.  He talks about his co-workers and other EHMs believing they were doing the right thing and fulfilling “a duty to their country, to their offspring, and to God to convert the world to capitalism.”  His comparison of these people to “plantation owners of the pre-Civil War South” is cutting yet does a good job of debunking the idea of a conspiracy.

Page 65 is full of important lines about slave labor.  Allow me to quote Perkins’ summary of one of his professors:

…all successful capitalist systems involve hierarchies with rigid chains of command, including a handful at the very top who control descending orders of subordinates, and a massive army of workers at the bottom, who in relative economic terms truly can be classified as slaves.

Perkins goes on to say (emphasis mine):

Of course we are not the first to do this.  The list of practitioners stretches back to the ancient empires of North Africa, the Middle East… Asia… Persia, Greece, Rome, the Christian Crusades, and all the European empire builders of the post-Colombian era.  This imperialist drive has been and continues to be the cause of most wars, pollution, starvation, species extinctions, and genocides.

At some point the oppressed always becomes the oppressors, even if not in outright empire.  I think this idea is the entire premise of Rob Bell’s book, Jesus Wants To Save Christians.

 Some final quotes and thoughts:

In the final analysis, [globalization] was not solely about the United States.  The global empire had become just that; it reached across all borders.  …U.S. corporations were now truly international… they could pick and choose from an assortment of rules and regulations under which to conduct to conduct their activities… (pg. 218)

What is so important about this quote is that as companies move into beholden nations, they can control the government to create rules that benefit them exclusively.  I recommend Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston to see how this happens right here in America.

In November 2001, Perkins went to see NYC and the aftermath of 9/11 while walking around he:

…came face-to-face with the world headquarters of Chase… …a bank seeded with oil money and harvested by men like me.  This bank, an institution that served EHMs and that was a master at promoting global empire, was in many ways the very symbol of the corporatocracy. (pg. 228)

And Chase is one of how many that is recieving billions of dollars to continue its ruinous practices.  Ruinous for Americans and countless others around the world, but not the few who will profit wildly from the free influx of capital they will use to greedily suck up other banks and companies.  Take a look at this article on The Consumerist.

Perkins talks about the CIA’s attempt to overthrow Chavez in Venezuela saying:

In Venezuela, the Bush administration was bringing Kermit Roosevelt’s Iranian model into play… This was exactly how the CIA brought down Mossadegh and replaced him with the shah.  The analogy could not have been stronger.  It seemed history was uncannily repeating itself, fifty years later.(pgs. 234, 235)

Problem is, it didn’t work and now Chavez is a hero to many.  More importantly, if the CIA’s overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran was a new way of bringing nations to heel instead of invasion, it didn’t work in Venezuela.  Does that mean a new way of creating empire is necessary, or is America’s empire on decline as Kevin Phillips’ argues in his book American Theocracy?

I’ll end on this final quote from the book,

Our own government, in alliance with the big corporations and banks, has created an empire that brings servitude, misery, and death to millions of people.  As a result, we who reside within the walls of the empire find ourselves living in constant fear of those who claim the right to defend themselves against what they view as tyranny…”

- mike

The Day of the Locust

“Scattered among these masquerades were people of a different type. Their clothing was somber and badly cut, bought from mail-order houses. While the others moved rapidly, darting into stores and cocktail bars, they loitered on the corners or stood with their backs to the show windows and stared at everyone who passed. When their stare was returned, their eyes filled with hatred. At this time Tod knew very little about them except that they had come to California to die.” - The Day of the Locust - Nathanael West -

The story centers around a group of misfit individuals who work on the outside of the Hollywood Film Industry. The real sadness is that these individuals seem to be unaware, if not unaware, then at least willfully blind of their condition.  The artist, the fading vaudevillian, the starlet, the everyman, the gangster, the cowboy, the child star/prima donna, and the doting mother.

Set in the late 1930’s, just before WWII. What this book presents is the exact opposite of what Hollywood is touted to be for so much of the time. B-Movie stars stuck in a land that only privileges the A.

Despite these sad figures that dominate the landscape of the novel, there is something beautiful, beautiful and vulgar about the way that these characters insist on living their life, in fighting for their dream. I am not sure if that is a hopeful image or a tragic one.

It’s a quick read and well worth your time. There was a definite Hemingway The Sun Also Rises feel to this novel. Some of that same bleak sit around and wander, not really sure where to go. The pacing of the novel was a bit slow but I found it allowed for a more in depth exploration of the characters. The ending of the novel is quite disturbing and presents an image that will not go away anytime soon. Check it out at the library or bookstore. Worth it and as I said, a fairly quick read. I finished this in one day. Penguin: 183 pp.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Graceling by Kristen Cashore

In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are both feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises:the Grace of killing.

As a Graced killer who has been able to kill a man with her bare hands from the age of eight, she’s forced to work as the king’s thug.  Feared by the court and shunned by those her own age, the darkness of her Grace casts a heavy shadow over Katsa’s life.

Yet Katsa remains defiant, and when the King of Liend’s father is kidnapped she investigates, and stumbles across a mystery.  Who would want to kidnap the old man, and why?  And who was the extraordinary Graced man whose fighting abilities rivalled her own?

The only thing Katsa is sure of is that she no longer wants to kill.  The intrigue surronding the kidnapping offers her a way out - and little does she realise, when she takes it, that something insidious and dark lurks behind the mystery, something spreading form the shadowy figure of a one eyed king…

Graceling is the debut novel by Kristin Cashore, and  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  Katsa is an intriguing character; because people have been afraid of her for her entire life, she has few friends, and a lack of understanding of  people.  As she investigates the kidnapping and begins to defy her uncle, Katsa becomes more open to people and she is better able to relate to them.

Katsa’s relationship with her uncle was problematic for me.  Cashore did not show me how he was able to control Katsa, to force her to kill and torture on his word, I am told this instead.  As Katsa defies her uncle, she thinks this is the hardest thing she has done, and how close she was to turning back, but I don’t feel this with her.  I know it only because I was told, and this lessens the power of the scene.

Katsa’s new-found independence and sense of self is thrown when she realises her attraction to Po and his to her.  This romance is one of the most touching and sincere I have read.  I loved that he was not bothered about her superior fighting and hunting abilities, that it was Katsa instead who was unused to being protected and relying on someone for help.

At first I thought Po was a perhaps a little too understanding and supportive, but his upbringing has forced him to be more perceptive and understanding than normal.  Near the end of the book, Katsa gets a chance to support Po through his trials, which showed me the depth and solidity of their relationship.

I highly recommend Graceling to anybody who enjoys YA fantasy.

Fire, a companion/prequel novel to Graceling, will be published in October 2009.

<i>Anathem</i> by Neal Stephenson

“Our opponent is a [very powerful entity],” I said. “We have a protractor.”

Since it’s some 200 pages before you find out exactly what the opponent is, I won’t spoil it by quoting the line in full, but it’s a funny line, as is the follow-up.

The book opens in what amounts to a monastery (concent, rather than convent - one of many lovely word-plays in this book) that keeps mathematicians and physicists isolated from the secular world, rather than religious folk.

The concents have a shaky relationship with the outside world, something hinted at in the timeline at the start, which unerringly follows great new discoveries with sackings of the concents and massacres of the avouts (equivalent to monk). The avouts still have permission to use these discoveries, and there’s a hint that the oldest of them have gone even further with their research into that old saying about sufficiently advanced science being indistinguishable from magic…or multi-verse theory, anyway.

Erasmas is a young avout, and we are introduced to the concent, its layout, functions and politics, through his observer eyes. In between all this description (and there’s a lot of it, and it’s hypocritical of me to say I didn’t mind it given how much I dislike info-dumps normally, but I am justified by how interesting and different the world being described is - make no mistake, this is not a alternate history of Earth), the plotline slowly peeks out: Erasmas’s teacher Orolo is up to something, and is thrown out of the concent in quick order.

His devoted students, Erasmas among them, in turn seek the same heresy that got him thrown out…meanwhile avouts are being summoned out into the secular world where they are normally, except at set times, excluded. This is a sure sign that something world-shaking is going on out there. When Erasmas’s turn finally comes, he breaks orders to seek Orolo, and the story rolls on from there.

Don’t be put off by the thickness of Anathem; it’s, as is typical with Stephenson, both a cerebral tour de force and an adventure novel, especially in the second half.

If you choose to pay attention to the long socratic dialogues, you will end up with a recapitulation of the history of scientific philosophic thought. You can, however, skim through these discussions and still easily follow the core adventure yarn as our cerebral heroes work out how to take on their enemy with a protractor.

Stephenson is not an easy read; Anathem is dense and wordy, but it’s rewarding and memorable.