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Russ Mayes (Glen Allen, VA United States)

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Food and Flavors of Haute Provence
Food and Flavors of Haute Provence
Edition: Hardcover
36 used & new from CDN$ 6.27

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful kitchen companion, Dec 27 2003
This is really a wonderful cookbook. The recipes are delicious, and whenever ingredients would be hard to find in the U.S., Brennan talks about more-readily available options and how they change preparation. Even better, though, are the descriptive essays that precede each section in the book. Brennan describes how the food fits into the culture of Haute Provence. It's not only pleasant reading, but you learn how the natives mix flavors, so you can begin to develop recipes on your own that have provencal flavors. I'm sorry to see it currently unavailable, so snap it up used if you see it!

Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity
Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity
by Kenneth Boa
Edition: Hardcover
12 used & new from CDN$ 35.09

4.0 out of 5 stars A good metapologetic, but not great for beginners, Feb. 21 2003
This book bills itself as a handbook of apologetics, and at times it seems like a textbook. In the end, though, I think the authors would agree that it is (to use a word from the book) a metapologetic: it is about apologetics rather than an example or even a summary of apologetics.
The authors divide apologetics into 4 broad classes: The classical (which uses deductive logic); the Evidential (which uses inductive proofs); the Reformed (which relies on Transcendental arguments; and the Fideist (which uses indirect arguments and may not be an apologetic at all). The authors are quick to point out that few people fit neatly into any one category. In the final section of the book, they attempt to move toward an integrated approach that capitalizes on the strength of each model.
I would have gotten more out of the book if they had given more thorough examples of how these various apologetic systems work. How do evidentialists use history to argue for the probability of Christ's Resurrection? How do writers like Van Til avoid logic in making the Transcendental argument? These are questions that aren't addressed directly in the book. This isn't a criticism, but I make the point in case others are looking for a more descriptive approach to various apologetic systems.
To my mind, the end of the book is the weakest part. The attempt to integrate the approaches is interesting, and I agree that different apologetics will resonate better with different people. However, I think the authors go too far in trying to pinpoint which method--even which Gospel account--will best apply to certain types of people. I was surprised to discover the NFs (in the famous personality test) respond better to Mark's Gospel--I'm an NF, and I find Mark the account that resonates least with me. Maybe I'm an unusual NF, or maybe the authors were just pushing their theories a bit too far. I think it's probably the latter.
In any case, I think this is a good book, but it's probably more useful to people who have some background in apologetic thought than to beginners.

Small World
Small World
by David Lodge
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.01
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4.0 out of 5 stars More than an academic satire, Jan. 15 2003
This review is from: Small World (Paperback)
I approached this book with a bit of trepidation, which I ought to explain before my review. Small World is sort of a sequel to Nice Work (it has some of the same characters and locations, but doesn't rely on knowledge of its predecessor). I read Nice Work a few years ago and was put off by it. It wasn't that I didn't find the satire on academia to be humorous. Rather, I thought it was a bit tasteless for someone who had spent most of his adult life employed by universities to turn around and write a satire that was (IMO) often bitter to the point of being unfair.
So, I wasn't sure I wanted to read Small World, though I had been assured it was a better book. I am glad I finally overcame my resistance and read it, because it is a much better book; indeed I think it is a very good book.
Small World is also a satire on academia, and while all the jacket blurbs talk about how biting the satire is, I didn't find that to be the case. Lodge seemed much more in tune and sympathetic with his characters, even as he skewers their antics. Also, the attacks in this novel seem less personal and more on literary studies as a profession.
I actually think Lodge has much bigger ambitions in this novel than writing an academic satire. His goal, it seems to me, is to package the history of the novel into a story in the form of an academic satire. So instead of a relatively simple, satirical plot (as in Nice Work), Lodge gives us a multitude of interwoven plots. He has a standard comic plot, but he also has a thriller plot, several varieties of romantic plots, a few mistaken identity plots, a foundling plot, a reunion plot and probably several others I'm forgetting. As the characters move around the world, they move in and out of the various plots. Some of the great moments in the book are watching how the characters react and change as they move from the comic plot to the thriller plot to one of the romance plots.
Because Lodge is writing about Literature academics and has designed the novel to borrow from many different genres and eras, he gets to show off his extensive literary knowledge as well. The novel is littered with quotations (attributed and unattributed) and allusions (acknowledge and unacknowledged). I had fun trying to pick out these bits as I was reading, but you don't need to catch the allusions to enjoy the book. Overall, I highly recommend the book.

by Christine Brooke-Rose
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.48
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4.0 out of 5 stars A virtuoso monologue, Jan. 9 2003
This review is from: Amalgamemnon (Paperback)
To give a plot synopsis of this novel would be almost pointless because the book is all about voice. The narrator spills out words and puns and jams them together (as in the title) to make new words, thus forcing the reader to think in new ways about how the words relate. It is also a novel of ideas, and in many ways, a novel about power. The narrator posits herself as Cassandra to the various Agamemnon's (thus amalgamemnon) that ignore her. Technnology, capitalism, and Wester, male-dominated society are all forces that she struggles with. Interestingly, Brooke-Rose also foresees the power of terrorism and the threat of fundamentalism that responds to these same sources of powers. To be sure, though, this is mostly a novel about language, and if you don't enjoy playful, postmodern punning, then skip this one.

The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats Volume I: The Poems: Revised Second Edition
The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats Volume I: The Poems: Revised Second Edition
by William Butler Yeats
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.26
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good edition of a great poet, Oct. 4 2002
There isn't much question whether Yeats was a great poet, just where on the all time great list he falls. Whether you call him the greatest poet of the 20th century, or the greatest since Wordsworth, Milton or Shakespeare, his accomplishments are clear.
Beyond that, why should anyone buy this edition as opposed to any of the other available? First, the collected poems gives you a sense of his development and interests, not just the highlights of his greates poems. Second, and more importantly, this edition is well-annotated. The notes are thorough without being unduly interpretive--they tell you what an allusion refers to, not how it affects the meaning of the poem. The notes aim to be useful to any reader, regardless of background. As a result, western readers will come across odd sounding notes such as "Jesus Christ is the founder of Christianity" or "Hamlet is the hero of William Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name." Still, you'll be thankful for such prosaic entries as they explain Irish myth and locate historical allusions. All in all, it's an edition that belongs on any poetry lover's shelf.

by Jose Saramago
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars Painful but Worthwhile Reading, Oct. 2 2002
This review is from: Blindness (Paperback)
"Blindness" is a gut-wrenching, draining read, but it is worth every bit of time spent, every wince at painful details. The plot is fairly simple: a mysterious, trasmittable disease that causes blindness suddenly appears in a city. It spreads quickly, and the authorities attempt to stop it by placing a quarantine on the initial cases and those who had contact with them. Society is understandably paranoid about the cases, and there is some hysteria. The novel follows a small group of the initial cases as they go blind and then deal with that blindness.
In a sense, the novel is like a work of science fiction in that it lays out a premise (contagious blindness plagues a city) and then follows it logically. The difference between this novel and most works of science fiction is the ruthlessness with which Saramago follows his premise. The "society" that evolves among the blind in quarantine is savage, though it isn't clear that it's much better on the outside. Conditions quickly degenerate into unimaginable horror--dirt, illness, human waste, human cruelty all multiply as quickly as the cases of violence. Saramago adopts a very spare prose style with a matter of fact tone to describe the conditions. It would have been easy for his narratorial voice to get emotionally involved in the plight of the characters, but by resisting that temptation, he has made the novel all the more powerful. Similarly, by leaving the characters and location nameless, he allows the novel a more universal feel and yet allows the characters to distinguish themselves through their responses (rather than their backgrounds). There are times when the narrative voice takes on a "post-modernist" point of view (questioning how it could know certain things, etc.) which I did not think were necessary, though they didn't detract from the novel. Based solely on this work, it is little wonder that Saramago has such a good international reputation; if he has other works of this quality, one would have to include him among the best writers of the 20th century.

Operation Wandering Soul
Operation Wandering Soul
by Richard Powers
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.79
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4.0 out of 5 stars One of our Best Living Authors, Sept. 19 2002
The more I read of Powers' work, the more I believe that he is a writer people will be studying a century from now. While I don't think this novel is quite as good as Plowing the Dark, it is still better than most contemporary novels I read by several orders of magnitude.
The plot follows a doctor named Kraft who is in rotations and serving as a surgeon in a children's ward in a poor section of Los Angeles. Most of the action concerns him and his interactions with Linda--a physical therapist and his love interest--and several patients, including mostly Joy Stepaneevong, a refugee on whom he operates. Kraft is as mentally wounded as his patients are physically, and is near a breakdown through most of the novel. His psychological situation is partly explained by his surroundings and partly by extended flashbacks into his childhood. He was raised in several different countries where his father was apparently part of raising instabilities for the U.S. government. As a result, Kraft has almost no sense of connectedness to anything. Amid all this, Powers weaves allusions to virtually every story involving children--from historical events like the Children's Crusade and the evacuation of London to fictional works like Peter Pan and the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
Stylistically, Powers writes lush, vivid prose. If your ideal prose writer is Hemingway, with his spare and well-honed sentences, then Powers isn't for you. He is more like John Barth or even Sir Philip Sidney than plain style authors. Here's a representative passage, in which Powers describes Kraft and how someone who likes post-modern fiction has latched on to him:
Something about him must emanate this Mr. Potato Head plasticity. Chief of Surgery Burgess, dying a slow, half-century death in this city where reading span is sorely stretched by the instructions on microwave popcorn, instantly imagines that in Kraft he has found a kindred literate spirit, a simile son. Dr. Purgative, as Plummer rechristens him, keeps farming out these convoluted, epistemological novels by Kraft's obscure, young contemporaries. Plow through and report on, over sherry this afternoon, a postmodernist mystery thicker than the Index Medicus where the butler kills the author and kidnaps the narration. Damn thing includes its own explanatory Cliffs Notes halfway through, although the gloss is even more opaque than the story...
That combination of stylistic virtuosity and dead-on humor is Powers' signature, and to my mind he writes this brand of fiction as well or better than anyone writing today.

Calling And Character
Calling And Character
by William H. Willimon
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.08
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5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and Concise view of the Ethical Life, Sept. 12 2002
This review is from: Calling And Character (Paperback)
This is a book about clergy ethics, but Willimon does not take the normal path of ethical discussion, trying to determine right and wrong actions, setting up situations and discussing the ethical choices involved. Instead, for Willimon, ethics in general and clergy ethics in particular are all about one's relationship with the Lord. Rather than asking "what should I do?" in a given situation, Willimon argues that we need to ask "Who am I to be?" This doesn't seem like an earth-shatteringly original thesis, but in the legalistic world in which we live, it's refreshing to see someone focussing on the Big Picture rather than on the quotidian minutiae of finely split hairs.
For Willimon, an ethical life comes from habits of biblical study, submission to the will of God and the church, living in community with one's flock and one's colleagues, bearing the crosses of ministry faithfully and patiently, and developing a humble sense of humor in one's ministry. This last one is interesting, because he isn't calling on ministers to be entertaining (though that might come through the use of humor); instead he encourages ministers to develop a sense of irony and satire that serves the counter-cultural calling of the church. In other words, we should develop a sense of humor like Jesus'. After all, if the Church cannot highlight the foibles and follies of modern life, then what institution can?

Whats So Amazing About Grace
Whats So Amazing About Grace
by Philip Yancey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars Choosing a Life of Grace, Sept. 4 2001
It has long been amazing to me that you can hear Christians talk for hours and never hear the word "grace." Yancey's book is an important tonic to our tendancy to ignore grace and gracefulness in our own lives. He reminds us how astonishing it is that God loves us no matter what, and that "there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make God love us less."
The book would be worth reading if all Yancey did was remind us of this fact. Instead, though, he goes on to encourage us to live graciously to look at life as an abject sinner who needs God's forgiveness, and to treat others the same way. Rather than condemning both sin and sinner, he reminds us to love. Grace and love: what could be more important?

Electric Light
Electric Light
by S Heaney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.95
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Turn to Literary History, June 14 2001
This review is from: Electric Light (Hardcover)
Like any collection, there are highs and lows, but there are a few poems that would rank among Heaney's best in this collection. Moreso than his other collections, this one seems heavily weighted with the literary past. Heaney has always been interested in Irish history, but in this collection, he changes his focus to literary history and the immediate poetic past. In the last section of the book, 5 of the 9 poems are explicitly addressed to poets of Heaney's generation who have passed away. In that sense, the book is a bit pensive in tone, but it is enlivened by anecdote and word play. For Heaney fans, I recommend it, but if you are new to his work, you'd be better off with one of his Selected Works (I think he's published 3), or an early to mid-career book.

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