22 March 2011

20. Running With Scissors

Running With Scissors - Augusten Burroughs


OK, maybe that is a little strong. It had a few humorous moments, but for the most part I felt like I was recounting the whinnings of a bratty little boy.

Go sit on Mommy's lap and suck your thumb you cry-baby.

Didn't get it. Didn't enjoy reading it. Don't understand what the good reviews are about. Don't care what I am missing.

OK, Yes... I hated it! Whatever.

19. Shepherding A Child's Heart

Shepherding A Child's Heart - Tedd Tripp

A good guide to raising young children biblically.

I think the books ideas were great. I also think the author rambled a bit and made some assumptions concerning the dialog between parents a children, but overall he has good ideas.

At times I felt like I was reading parts of Steven Covey's Seven habits of Highly Effective People.  :-)

I wish there was a book like this for raising teenagers adopted from Eastern European institutions or for teenagers with Aspergers.

I'll give it a shot.

21 March 2011

18. The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence Teacher - Tom Perrotta

I liked this book very much. It was a very interesting story with some outstanding interaction between the characters. I am also surprised that I liked it considering it was full of stereotypes and flagrant bias.

This is a story about a high school health teacher (includes sex education) and her interactions with members of an evangelical Christian church. Imagine the stereotypical liberated woman facing off against the stereotypical "fundamentalist" Christians.

After writing this blog post I will go see what I can learn about the author on the internet. I will let you know if it is anything interesting. I am expecting a left wing guy who went to liberal schools and embraced the whole deal. I am sure this book is an atheistic political statement masquerading as a fiction novel.

I find that to be annoying, but must admit that it created a desire within me to read on and see how far it would go. I enjoyed predicting, or trying to predict what would happen, and then seeing if I was right. I was correct in general. Probably about 80% of what I thought would happen actually was written into the story in one form or another. What I learned was that there is a pretty good book within the bias writing.

The American "culture war" has been waged in these pages, and the lefties won.
Some of the things I saw that bugged me:

The main character is Ruth, the health teacher who believes "pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power." Ruth never compromised her position. She wrangled with everyday issues much like every human being, but she always sided and acted in accordance with her beliefs. She lost her job, friends moved away, lost her own children to Jesus...and all the while she was true to the cause. She is the undaunting liberal warrior. Our hero!?

Her counterpart is Tim. He was a rock and roll band member and fan of the Grateful Dead. He is a recovered addict and alcoholic who, after hitting rock bottom, getting divorced and losing everything that ever meant anything to him, sought out something more in his life. He found Jesus and was saved. He is now a member of the Tabernacle. That is the evangelical church which Ruth has a problem with. Tim just so happens to be Ruth's daughters soccer coach. Uh ohhh!
     The problem with Tim's character? He is constantly wrestling with and at odds with his faith. He is fearful that his beliefs will cost him his job, his relationship with his daughter, his ability to coach the soccer team, his friends, his work relationships. His faith causes nothing but conflict in his life! That is not what real faith is like. That is what a person who has no faith thinks faith is like and wishes others to think also.
     Tim is also constantly wrestling with the past. He still loves his ex-wife. He misses the rock and roll lifestyle, hanging in bars and poker night. he even vandalizes Billy's truck by scratching the name "Jesus" into the paint after getting stoned and then crawls back to Ruth's house to "talk".
     This is what a Christian man does? This is how he thinks and acts? Sure, if you want the character to look like an imbecile who's faith is in something that is not real. If you want to portray him as weak and ungrounded so you can show how much of a loser he is compared to the wonderful Ruth.

Where Ruth succeeds, Tim always fails. So predictable.

There is also a Pastor Dennis. This is the founder and leader of The tabernacle. This is supposedly the new church that is growing rapidly and has massive influence at town board meetings and within the high school. This Pastor is seriously over the top. His way of living would not create a church that grows. It would alienate people. His church would not grow. He is far to involved in his own flock's lives to be anything like the "mentor" and spiritual guide that he is supposed to be. People typically would not willfully flock to follow a theocratic dictator who meddles in the minutia of their private lives.
     Who would follow a man like this? Stupid weak sheep, of course, just like all Christians are accused of being by the atheistic secular-centered people today.

Want more? How about two characters that are not major to the story, but have strong statements about what atheists think about Christians.
    Tim's second and current wife for one. She is a mousy and submissive woman who has no desires of her own. When Tim asks what she wants her only answers are to try and please him and fulfill his needs. She has no life outside of that. I found that to be a ridiculous portrayal of what Christians mean when they say the man is the spiritual leader and that the woman should submit to her husband. This character is written from a point of view that only mocks and belittles someones faith.
    The other guy who is not that big a deal to the story, but really mattered to me, is Jay. Jay met Pastor Dennis at a wedding. Jay was a young loud rude womanizing drunk who punched the Pastor in the eye in the men's room when Dennis tried to stuff Jesus down his throat. Then Jay had a spiritual experience and came to accept Jesus with Pastor Dennis. A few weeks passed and Dennis declares that the Pastor LIED to him about that experience. It was not Jesus at all. Jay decided the experience was just Jay being in touch with his own inner spirit. There is no God...it is just whatever makes you feel good or what fulfills your needs at the moment. So, the Pastor is a liar who tricks people into believing, Jay is his own savior, it is all just stupid.

What causes the controversy between Ruth and Tim? Tim says a prayer after a soccer game where he thanks God. From there we go into all the junk spouted in society today about separation of church and state. Blah blah blah. The coach thanked God that his own daughter was OK after a bad collision on the field and then for the last minute victory against a tough opponent to get into the championship game. Big deal! Unless of course you have a chip on your shoulder and feel it is your duty to strike at Christians at the mere mention of anything related to faith.

Something that was very interesting was an opinion pointed out during a refresher training course Ruth was forced to attend. When health teachers had the curriculum altered to include abstinence in sex education, well, Ruth didn't do it so well. She had to go to a training class to learn how to teach abstinence.
     There were four folks in that class. One was a lesbian. What I found to be interesting was an opinion on why abstinence teaching will not always work. See, if you are gay and are taught to not have a sexual relationship until marriage...but marriage for gays is illegal...well, I understand why they lesson would not make much sense. Again, it worked in another liberal subject of contention by bringing in the whole gay marriage thing. But, if I look at it strictly from the high school curriculum of abstinence teaching then it made sense to me that there is a problem.

At the end of the book Tim is standing in his underwear in Ruth's bedroom staring out the window as his Pastor is outside making a fool of himself and his wife is at home pining away for her man. Tim is afraid to even speak to the pastor...but, of course, Ruth has no fear. She is the strong modern woman taking a stand against the oppressive religious types that are just haters.

So, you would think with all the blatant liberal bias and incessant jabs at Christians I would have hated the book. I didn't. I think Tom Perrotta is a talented writer who told a good story in an excellent manner. I may not like what happened, but what happened was portrayed in an outstanding way. It is good writing.

So now that I finished writing this blog post, I will go see what I can learn about Mr. Perrotta himself. What are his political and religious beliefs? I'll let you know if I find anything credible about that, but I am pretty sure I already know what I will find.

PS...I was right.

15 March 2011

17. The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives - Ira Levin

This book is exactly what I expected from it. The darned thing has been sitting on my shelf for longer than I can remember. Actually, longer than I have had a shelf. So, I finally read it.

I got precisely the story I thought it would be. I loved it.

I especially love that there is no happy ending or last minute reprieve. It is what it is...and we really never know exactly what it is anyway.

12 March 2011

16. Second Treatise of Government

Second Treatise of Government - John Locke

Many moons ago I took part in an online discussion about the intent of the founding fathers of The United States of America. What was the reasoning behind some of the institutions they created? Why did they not mention certain things and clearly define others.

What I learned from that discussion was that nobody, not one person who had anything to say, knew anything. It was all opinion and conjecture. All the arguments were formed in order to bolster each persons desire for the "truth" to support the way they wanted it to be.

The biggest arguements, as usual, centered around religion. What exactly was the intent of "seperation of church and state"? Once again, as usual, it was Christian opinion against everyone else. All the non-Christians swear that there was never any intent for God to have any place within our society other than "quietly over there". I didn't agree with that opinion and I still don't.

What I did learn from those conversations is that I needed to go find out what the frame of reference the founding fathers had really was. Where to start? Why not begin with the works that they themselves said were their influences. This book is the first in a long line of them that I will be reading. It will also include works by Plato, Russeau, Kant and the Federalist Papers among numerous others.

I will form my own opinions by reading what they read and then try to empathize with what life was like in thier time.

I will dismiss the politics and social selling points of the modern day manipulators. Where were THIER heads...not where are OUR heads. That is what I want to know.

What did I learn from this book? A TON! This thing is outstanding. It is not easy to read. I had to read many sections more than twice to understand what the intent of the words was.

It is pretty obvious after a while that it is one long line of reason. It starts with an individual and what that actually means. From there the book creates a bigger and bigger snowball of rights and liberties of those individuals and how that relates to small groups, society and governments. It was quite fascinating to read and watch it build upon the foundation layed earlier in the book.

Next book in this little project of mine: The Basic Political Writings - Jean-Jaques Russeau

08 March 2011

15. Gunslinger Girl (Vol 1)

Gunslinger Girl (Volume 1) - Hiroshi Aida

A dude gave me a pile of manga books last year. I ditched most of them. I kept this one because it was volume one in a series. I also kept the first five or six in the Chobits and Cowboy Bebop series books. I finally picked one up to give them a try.

I read what was supposed to be manga two years ago and hated it. I later found out that it was not truly manga but was more of a graphic novel. There is no doubt this one is manga. It is written by a Japanese guy. It uses anime looking art. It reads back to front. My kids even said it was manga and they are some kind of experts in the field, or think they are at least.

So, this series is about a secret government agency that takes crippled children and turns them into cyborgs that are controlled through ingestion of some kind of chemicals. Each child is assigned a "trainer" or fratello (brother) whom they will protect with their lives.

The cyborg kids are super strong and fast and big time weapons experts.

It is all very predictable. The characters are emotionless. The story is pointless. I still don't get it.

Oh, wait, the point is to have cute little school girls drawn wearing cute little uniforms, make them subservient to some dude give them guns and make them fight bad guys a lot... ahhh... yet again... fodder for a teen age boy's wet dream. That is all this garbage is for.

Maybe in Japan manga is used on a broader scale, but here in America it seems to be the sole reason for it's popularity. Perhaps I will find that to be incorrect eventually.

Still not a manga fan.

14. Playing For Pizza

Playing For Pizza - John Grisham

There I was standing a the bookshelves in the thrift store with my Dad. There were lots of books by the same old authors. We had a discussion about how some authors wrote the same stories over and over with different characters in different locations. Sometimes the stories were good, but how could you know which ones were good and which were just pumped out to put something on the shelves to sell?

There are plenty of authors like this. I pointed to a few on the shelves. John Grisham was one. I know he has written a ton of legal thrillers. The Firm, The Client, The Pelican Brief, Runaway Jury. They are all good, but what about the others of the same ilk? How would I know?

Dad picked up Playing For Pizza and handed it to me. He said it was nothing like the others. If I wanted to read John Grisham and read something different I should read this one.

I did not buy it that day, but I also did not forget that he recommended it. I found the unabridged audio CD version and decided to go with it. I listen to audio books driving to and from work. I found it better for my disposition than listening to talk radio. (Mike will understand)

The book, oh yeah, this is a review of the book. It is not a legal thriller. This is a sports book. Rick Dockery is a third string NFL quarterback who has played for eight teams in his six year career. An unfortunate string of events happen that bring him into the AFC championship game while playing for Cleveland. Rick blows a 17 point lead with only minutes left in the game and then suffers a concussion that hospitalizes him.

He becomes the laughing stock of the league as is run out of town and the NFL. Nobody will hire Rick. All he knows is football. He still wants to play. He thinks he can still contribute, but nobody will give him that chance.

His agent finds him a starting quarterback spot on an Italian team. He is to earn a few thousand euros each month, but most of the team plays because they enjoy the game and make no money. They are judges and bricklayers and policement and teachers and accountants and businessmen and auto mechanics and just regular guys who play American football because they love the game.

The story is interesting. We travel along with Rick as he sheds his self-centered American ways and learns to enjoy the game and become part of a real team. A team that plays to win because they want to win the game, not to make more money or pad their statistics.

The tour of Italy and Italian culture was fun.

Thanks Dad. You were right. The book was different and it was fun.

06 March 2011

13. Dead City

Dead City - Joe McKinney

ZOMBIES! Lots and lots and lots of zombies!

I love a good zombie book. This one was very good. Me like.

There were two things worth mentioning, other than it is a book about ZOMBIES!

1. There was a sentence that said "Nothing is as protean as a woman." I did not know what that meant. I looked it up. Protean means "readily assuming different forms or characters; extremely variable." When read in the context used in this book it is an excellent word. It was not referring to a woman changing from person to zombie. It was referring to how a woman reacted differently to different people in different situations. I will try to remember that word for use later in life.

2. My children will be glad to know that, on page 192, it stated "There are no zombie cows. Haven't you wondered if anything else besides people gets turned into zombies? Apparently, it's a big question in zombie studies."
This is good news because we live in the country. There are cows around. it is very dark at night. When the kids have to go outside for something at night I always remind them to beware of the zombie cows in the woods. It kind of freaks them out a little and gives them the heebie-jeebies.
I showed them the line from this book that said there are no zombie cows. They were very happy. Soon, I will remind them that this book was a work of fiction and that zombie cows are real. Muu ha ha ha ha!

I am sorry that so many of the characters I liked and thought were cool had to die. Especially in such horendous ways. But, alas, it is a zombie story. Many a great person has been defeated by the undead horde.

01 March 2011

12. Raditzer

Raditzer - Peter Mathiessen

This was an interesting novel about a few navy recruits in the Pacific during World War II. They are stationed in Hawaii and none are on sea-duty. They all have goofy jobs doing things like landry detail or working in the mess hall. Nothing glamorous. Nothing important. Definately nothing in a combat role. There is a war going on, but this book is not so much about that war as it is about the relationships between the men.

Raditzer is one of those guys who has been alone all his life and has no sense of worth. He compensates for this by being a jerk. He latches onto one or two others and then uses situations to cause strife between them and others. He has no idea what friendship is and definately will never fit in with a military unit where camaraderie and trust are needed.

Needless to say, Raditzer gets a blanket party. He is lucky that is all he got. He was going to be tossed into the ocean by some combat hardened veterans, but his "friend" managed to keep that from happening.

I spent 21 years in the military. I met two or three guys that I remember that reminded me a little of Raditzer. They just didn't seem to fit. They were always on the fringe never quite trusted to be one of the guys who would have your back. They seemed to try and get along and then would do or say something that would destroy all the headway they had made. None of those guys was anywhere near as bad as the Raditzer character in this novel.