Friday Afternoon Blues

Friday Afternoon Blues

“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”
“Yes.”
“All like ours?”
“I don’t know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound – a few blighted.”
“Which do we live on – a splendid one or a blighted one?”
“A blighted one.”
Thomas Hardy

Am I just in a bad mood, or has it been kind of an awful year so far?

Working loosely backwards, there’s Ebola, which while it hasn’t killed anywhere near as many people as more prosaic diseases like malaria and the flu, is wreaking serious havoc in West Africa, and is nowhere near containment or control.

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“It was the most beautiful, the most civilized city in the world . . . “

I spent a restless night last night, and every time I fell asleep I dreamed of Syria. I suppose it was because every time I turned on the radio yesterday, they were talking about Syria, much in the vein of this Onion article. And over and over in my head, I keep hearing the opening line of a sci fi story set in the Balkans that I read when I was a teenager:  “It was the most beautiful, the most civilized city in the world . . . ”

Damascus is neither, really. Except at certain times, and in certain lights. But maybe I wouldn’t even know it anymore now, as it slowly grinds itself into rubble and blood. As gut-wrenching as it is to watch Syria tearing itself apart from the inside, imagining missile strikes and escalation, regime change and a sectarian bloodbath is hardly more palatable.

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The God Who Weeps, River of Stars, Mirrors of the Unseen, and Project Conversion

You know your life is boring when every other blog post is a book review. Fortunately, my literary life is wildly interesting, and I’m happy to share it with you. I usually reserve five-star ratings for practically perfect books, but sometimes I give them out to books I love, in spite of their flaws. Your mileage may vary, but if you feel the same, we might be long-lost kindred spirits.

The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life by Terryl L. Givens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The God Who Weeps tops the list of my favorite books about my faith. I found this both a thought-provoking and a faith-provoking book. Terryl and Fiona Givens have distilled some of the most powerful core doctrines of the Mormon faith into a slim volume brimming with hope, philosophy, and divine compassion.

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Safe in the United States

I’ll start out this post with a story from when we were living in Ireland a couple of years ago. We had taken the children to the park down the street, and while we were watching them play, we struck up a conversation with a fellow parent. We never did get down the Irish accent, so as always, it came up pretty quickly that we were American. He remarked that he had considered visiting the United States. We smiled and nodded, since most people responded to our nationality with either an account of their visit to America, or an expressed desire for such a visit. But our new acquaintance went on to say that he’d decided against a trip to the United States, because he was worried about how dangerous it was.

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Yemen, The Kite Runner, Toni Morrison, and Can You Forgive Her?

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky by Jennifer Steil

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t read a book that made me laugh so much in a long time. Jennifer Steil left behind her New York life to spend a year in Yemen, editing a Yemeni newspaper. I’ve never been to Yemen (and what we hear about it in the American press is generally not good), so I was interested to hear a firsthand account. Steil had her share of trials and tribulations in Yemen, as well as a lot of fascinating and wonderful experiences, and writes about it all hilariously.

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Strange & Norrell, Wine to Water, The Egyptian Revolution, and The Dream of the Celt

This week’s book reviews (with the exception of #1, which is just an irresistible indulgence) are dedicated to people who want to save the world.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an absolute delight: witty, intelligent, exciting, and original.

I am addicted to footnotes (I even like reading annotated critical editions of novels), so I adored the abundant tongue-in-cheek scholarly footnotes in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I also appreciated the length. No matter how quickly you read, you won’t be finishing it in an afternoon. At over 1000 pages, there is just so much of this book to love.

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Israel, Birds, Math Mysteries, and The British Museum

As usual, I’ve been reading books. Unfortunately, Tintin: The Complete Companion got taken back to the library before I could finish it (horror of horrors!), so that will have to wait for another day. But in the meantime, here’s some history, math, poetry, and political science to brighten up your day.

The Unmaking of Israel by Gershom Gorenberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a valuable book for anyone seeking deeper insight into what makes Israel tick. The author, an Israeli by choice who immigrated there from the U.S. at the age of thirty, gives us a well-researched and cogent explanation of how Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Occupied Territories has developed. Even more valuable, he helps the reader understand how this crucial and contentious issue overshadows and shapes internal policy, leading to unintended and disastrous consequences in many areas of Israeli civil life.

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Narnia, Iraq, and the Moors of Al-Andalus

The Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens by Michael Ward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I went into this book pretty sceptically, because really, in the post-The Da Vinci Code era, who could possibly take seriously a book with a title like this? However, forty pages or so into the book, I found myself wishing that the author had written a real, scholarly book, since his theory was sounding fairly plausible. And then a few pages later he admitted that The Narnia Code is actually the popularized version of his published phD thesis, Planet Narnia The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis. So now I’m dying to get my hands on the “grownup” version.

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Chanticleer, A Line in the Sand, and The Mormon People

Today I have only awesome books to review for you.

Chanticleer and the Fox by Barbara Cooney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a treasure of a book! This made it to our house because it is on the Ambleside Online Year 2 free reading list. I can’t think of a better way to introduce my seven-year-old to a bit of Chaucer. Maybe it’s just that I remember my own foray into chicken-keeping so fondly, but I was enchanted by this story of a proud, beautiful rooster who learns a lesson about trusting to flattery. The lovely illustrations really make the book. They are charming, evocative, and reminiscent of the art of the time period. I hope my children like it as much as I did.

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Looks Like There’s Still Room in Tunisia for One Last Dictator

Can I tell you again how awesome Tunisia is? At the Friends of Syria meeting on Monday, Moncef Marzouki, Tunisia’s interim president (chosen just recently in December by the Constituent Assembly, the interim parliament) played an active role. He suggested only half ironically that Russia back up its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by offering him asylum should he choose to abdicate. And today Marzouki put his money where his mouth is, and offered President Assad and his family political asylum in Tunisia itself.

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