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Sverre Svendsen "Uni" (Canada)
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Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did
Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did
Price: CDN$ 9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Resolving biblical violence, Aug. 31 2015
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
I admire Derek Flood for attempting to bring about a new Christian reformation of sorts by launching Scripture on a new trajectory of non-violence. But I found great irony in his solution which amounts to retrofitting biblical references which literally or metaphorically refer to violence by God, or obedience to divine edicts, with humanistic/secular methodologies and neurosciene. OK, that may be an unfair estimation on my part. The methodologies he refers to have proven to resolve or ameliorate issues of confrontation, anger and conflict. They have been a means to reconcile people and nations with vastly different ideologies.

He repeatedly advocates for applying a principle of ‘faithful questioning’ to replace the fundamentalist ‘unquestioning obedience’ to Scripture. He points out how Jesus sought to shake up the old religious order with his legalistically non-conforming but spiritually liberating pronouncements and perplex proverbs in which he used subtleties of hyperbole and irony, sometimes provocatively. Flood asks Christians to try to interpret Scripture as Jesus would have, putting love before law. If the outcome of what the Bible teaches is violent and hurtful then it no longer can apply to modern sensibilities which must be based on compassion, grace and forgiveness. Christianity must divest itself of teachings that biblical writers wrote in conformity to the social norms of their times (e.g. in regard to acceptance of slavery, genocide of rival tribespeople, physical punishment of children, stoning of homosexuals and patriarchal autocracy). The author presents a number of interpretative approaches to assist with the literal, rational and spiritual challenges that confront open-minded Bible readers.

Why are there some forty thousand different Christian denominations, sect and cults? Why are tens of thousands of books published every year to guide and illuminate Christians to understand the “real truth” of the biblical Scripture? The obvious frank answer is that the Bible is a book that has the ability to cause great division. But parts of it also has the ability to bring about accord and unity. It contains dozens of books, letters and collections of poetry and sayings. It was written by at least forty-four authors. There are even two different versions of the Bible (with or without the Apocrypha). Flood, like most others Christians, struggles to reconcile different parts of the Bible. Although it is an admirable objective I do not think it can ever succeed; it hasn’t for two thousand years. Perhaps I am a ‘smorgasbord’ believer. I pick and choose from Scriptures’ different books (including books that were never canonized). My philosophy is: “Truth is where you find it.”

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
by Alison Bechdel
Edition: Paperback
63 used & new from CDN$ 12.70

3.0 out of 5 stars Growing up in an emotionally distant and fractured family, Aug. 15 2015
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
This graphic novel is a monumental autobiographical exposé by a talented artist and writer. There is no doubt about that. But I struggled to find it worth reading to its end, but I did. The author had an interesting childhood, being raised by a father and mother who were emotionally distant. Both were teachers who communicated their introverted personalities and subversive motivations vicariously through restoration of architecture and studying classical literature (her father’s pursuits) and dramatic theatre and acting on stage (her mother’s). From the paternal influence Alison found solace in literature from a young age. There seems to have been little maternal influence so this book deals mostly with the father-daughter relationship. Alison, her parents and her two younger brothers were emotionally a fractured family, each being primarily preoccupied with their own interests. Affection and heart-to-heart conversations were lacking.

The book is mostly interesting for its tell-all character—literally and graphically. Don’t be fooled by the title “Fun Home” or the “comic” element in the subtitle. Fun House is a cynical allusion to the family’s ancillary source of income: a funeral home. Alison had an early and frank introduction to naked dead bodies and the technicalities of embalming. She gradually realizes her father’s secret attraction to young boys, including underage ones. When she attends college she discovers her own sexual same gender attraction and has a lesbian relationship. Her father gets caught providing alcohol to a minor. When he dies after being hit by a truck she surmises that it was no accident but suicide. That he no longer could face living a charade.

This is definitely not a book for preadolescents (due to mature subjects) or anyone ignorant of Greek mythology, classical literature or nineteenth century writers á la Marcel Proust or James Joyce. Discussion of literary theory and references is the author’s hobby horse that she rides on the highways and byways of her thoughtstreams. Consequently her work has been endorsed by academia and included as assigned reading for students by lecturers, to the chagrin of some.

No doubt the author needed to write a memoir to get her childhood sorted about her attraction and repulsion towards her father. Hopefully she was rewarded by a personal catharsis. Personally, as a reader, I found this book tragic and depressing with very little humour to be found. Compositionally it is a staccato performance, the flow continually being interrupted by retrospective incidentals. However, it should be said that the art is good, excellent in detail. It is a tale of Alison’s self-discovery and coming out. But the shadow of her father’s controlling influence and deceptively counterfeit lifestyle looms darkly throughout.

The Water's Edge
The Water's Edge
by Karin Fossum
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.99
13 used & new from CDN$ 1.15

4.0 out of 5 stars Fossum gets into the head of the criminals and the victims, Aug. 13 2015
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
Chronologically this was Fossum’s eight Inspector Seijer mystery. But in English the books have not been published in that order due to delays in translation. As of this review (08/15) there are twelve books which have been translated into twenty-five languages. That would just not happen if the books were not popular. More than one publisher has issued the books and not always with the same title. The Fossum Wikipedia page helps to sort that out. I have liked her books well enough to acquire them all.

Most of the Seijer mysteries involve the reader with the perpetrators of the crimes as much as the victims and their families. The suspense is not so often about who-done-it than how he/she will be found out and caught. Konrad Seijer and his young sidekick Jacob Skarre are the sleuths who piece together the evidence and follow the leads. In this book there are two victims, boys of ten, with very different characteristics. They are both being raised by single mothers. A couple in their thirties, the Rises, are out on a hike in the bush and come upon the body of a dead boy. They also seen a man emerging from that location who drives off in a white sedan spinning his tires. But as Seijer interviews them the husband and wife disagree on a number of points. These became important clues for Seijer and Skarre to sort out. Soon afterwards a second boy disappears and the assumption is that the same perpetrator was involved with both boys.

Fossum’s books are psychological dramas. The readers gets into the heads of everyone and may find him/herself commiserating as much with the criminals as the victims of the crime. ‘The Water’s Edge’ focuses on paedophilia, parental neglect and abuse and marital strife. Readers may be eerily educated as well as entertained by this novel. My only complaint is that Fossum seemed to be in too much of a hurry to end the book. She could have given some of the characters a few more pages of narrative to provide more perspective and lengthen this short volume. As in many Seijer books, Fossum leaves the reader with a puzzle piece to solve at the very end. But thankfully this one is not as cryptic as some of their predecessors.

To the Far Blue Mountains: The Sacketts: A Novel
To the Far Blue Mountains: The Sacketts: A Novel
by Louis L'Amour
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.63
80 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Could have had some more ambiance, Aug. 10 2015
Louis L’Amour was a remarkable storyteller and jack-of-everything. He took pride in making his historical novels as true to the circumstances of time and place as possible. This, the second of the Sacketts novels, portrays the perilous conditions facing the white man’s ventures to the New World. The seas abounded with smugglers and pirates. The land was home to numerous tribes of natives who subsisted in a warrior culture. England, France and Spain claimed large territories in league with the Church. The occupiers had the fire power to obliterate the native population. But the natives had superiority of numbers and stealth. They pushed the newcomers off their land with arrows, spears and burning fire.

This book continues to follow Barnabas Sackett as he escapes the Queen’s warrant for his arrest. He is wrongfully charged for theft of royal treasure. His new wife Abigail is waiting for his return to America where he and his friends had built a fort on a river by the ocean. The obstacles to becoming established in the New World are numerous. Barnabas has to overcome all the odds that await him. I found the constant state of conflict a bit tedious. Why not include more of the relatively peaceful years when they are settled and the children are growing up? Did Barnabas and Abigail have a passionate relationship? Did they contend with each other, having different objectives? Instead those years are skipped over. This is a good book but for me there is too much frantic action and not enough ambiance.

The Aspern Papers
The Aspern Papers
by Henry James
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 4.75
24 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A novella about deceit, July 21 2015
Ce commentaire est de: The Aspern Papers (Paperback)
This novella is James ‘light,’ easy to read and follow. This is not a typical thriller but it has most of the characteristics of that genre. The unnamed narrator, an American, is a biographer of the deceased Jeffrey Aspern, a renowned poet, who in his young days had a passionate relationship with a Juliana Borderaeu. Now Juliana is old and feeble. She and her niece Tita, expatriate Americans, have lived reclusive lives in a Venetian castle for more than twenty years. Juliana has a store of mementos from her lover, including much sought after letters, poetry and writings of Aspern. Those treasures seem to be all that gives Juliana a purpose for living. Her niece, now middle-aged, has lived a forlorn existence as her much older aunt’s companion.

Others had previously made attempts to get access to the Aspern papers but were rebuffed. The narrator schemes to succeed where others failed. By subterfuge, a false name and bogus identity as a student and writer, with a passion for gardens and cultivating flowers, he is able to rent space in the castle, hoping to inveigle himself into the Bordereaus’ confidence to get his hands on the Aspern papers. He overcomes their suspicion and reluctance by daily donations of flowers and stealthy courting of Miss Tita. He sees his way to acquire the prized papers by ingratiating himself with her. As their relationship develops he reveals his true identity and objective to her. Eventually Tita, having become enamored, realizes that she has the ace up her sleeve: She offers to provide the papers if the narrator accepts herself in marriage—a bribe to become the bride. Then follows an excellent unexpected ending.

Gunnar's Daughter
Gunnar's Daughter
by Sigrid Undset
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.15
44 used & new from CDN$ 9.21

5.0 out of 5 stars An emotional and suspenseful yarn, July 16 2015
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
Ce commentaire est de: Gunnar's Daughter (Paperback)
This was Undset’s third novel, published in 1909, when she was twenty-seven. It was a precursor of sorts to the ‘Sigrid Lavransdatter’ trilogy (1920) and the four volume ‘The Master of Hestviken’ (1925), all set in medieval Norway. ‘Gunnar’s Daughter’ is historically set in Norway and Iceland at the turn of the millennium, 1000 AD. It is written to mimic the descriptive narrative style of the Viking sagas. The phrasing is succinct and the words chosen in this translation are lyrically expressive. The Introduction and Explanatory Notes in this Penguin edition provide the reader with accurate historical background.

Viking women were known for their self-reliant confidence. Vigdis, the heroine of the story, is one such woman. Although the northern culture was patriarchal, women were generally allowed a great deal more authority and respect than in other parts of Europe. The time period Unset selected for the novel is one in which the impact of Christianity was having an increasing influence on the pagan beliefs and traditions. But most disputes continued to be resolved by violence. The cost of dishonoring someone’s pride or besmirching their reputation was often maiming or death. Scores are settled by vengeance, even from one generation to the next.

An Icelandic trader, Ljot, visiting Norway, is smitten by Vigdis’ beauty, intelligence and confidence. But she is reluctant to accept his proposal although she has become enamoured of him. He seals his own fate when he forces himself on her. To avoid the vengeance he knows will come his way he returns to Iceland in ignorance of the fact that his rape has conceived a child. Year after year he languishes. He cannot forget Vigdis. He worships the memory of her like an icon. Even though he marries a dutiful wife and has children he is never happy. Meanwhile Vigdis harbors no forgiveness and she lives in fear for Ljot’s return to Norway. Their son Ulvar has grown up to be a proud warrior. To him she expresses the desire to one day possess his father’s decapitated head.

Undset does not gloss over the brutal ways of the medieval Norse culture. But she skillfully weaves the tale with loving relationships, fateful coincidences and tragic occurrences that emotionally and suspensefully involve the reader in the eventful lives of Vigdis and Ljot.

Cream of the Jest
Cream of the Jest
by James Branch Cabell
Edition: Paperback
8 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars The cream curdles, the jest jabs, July 12 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Cream of the Jest (Paperback)
Just as a good cup of coffee should have a good aroma, a good fantasy novel should have a good fantasy motif. But I found this novel’s motif to be too incongruous to support a pretension of fantasy. The only elements of fantasy are to be found in time-traveling dreams in which the main character meets the woman of his romantic reveries in various settings associated with famous people in historical settings. Those enigmatic episodes could have been fleshed out and lengthened to provide credence to a fantasy motif. But they were not. Instead this novel is a pastiche of critiques about social customs and beliefs, about power and politics, about religion and philosophy, and perhaps about the futility of reaching a meaningful conclusion in the pursuit of happiness. It seems farcically cynical. It highlights an author’s grandiose assumption to literary greatness. Cabell had a great reputation for literary creativity in the fantasy genre. If so, this book is an anomaly and not representative of his better works.

Lost Christiantiy
Lost Christiantiy
by Jacob Needleman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.00
31 used & new from CDN$ 9.51

2.0 out of 5 stars A book for academics, philosophers and theologians, July 8 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Lost Christiantiy (Paperback)
I bought this book many years ago. I read a dozen or so pages but decided to put it away for another time. Now was the time. I took it out of storage because I have an ongoing interest in Christianity. In the meantime I have read a lot of other books about religions and spirituality. The author, Jacob Needleman, is an esteemed academic specializing in philosophy and spiritual psychology. Obviously, he is a man who deserves to be taken seriously.

I only completed one third of the book therefore my criticisms may be unfair, but after reading that much I had a premonition that if I succeeded in completing the book I would be no closer to finding out what “Lost Christianity” was all about or how it might practically be of benefit to myself and mankind. Actually, there seemed to be a case for arguing that at the outset Needleman had a strong assumption about a ‘lost’ Christianity. He could not describe it. He could not define it. But if he traveled the globe, interviewed x number of people and immersed himself in the works of other academics, he would eventually ‘find’ the ‘lost’ Christianity. I asked myself ‘is the author lost?’ or ‘is Christianity lost?’

This is a biography by a man on the search for answers. His writing style is cerebral, the vocabulary scholarly. Meanings are frequently obscure. He tosses into his narrative various references to people, books and beliefs to enhance his arguments. Instead I was distracted and befuddled. I failed to flow with his rambling stream of consciousness. I found myself having to go back to reread the previous sentence or paragraph, to, for example, connect which ‘the latter’ he was referring to. I resigned myself to admit that the book was written for academics, philosophers and theologians. Who was I, trying to make sense of it?

Invisible Worlds: Annie Besant on Psychic and Spiritual Development
Invisible Worlds: Annie Besant on Psychic and Spiritual Development
by Kurt Leland
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 38.95
18 used & new from CDN$ 32.40

4.0 out of 5 stars Good collection of a prominent esotericist’s lectures and essays, July 5 2015
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
The Theosophical Society [TS] continues to exist, almost 150 years after its founding. Many like to credit the organization with, directly or indirectly, planting the seeds that flowered with the popularization in the West of New Age, New Thought, Ascended Masters, psychic channeling, and Eastern religious thought (Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen, Hare Krishna, Yoga, meditation). In that sense theosophy has helped to transform the spiritual and religious beliefs and mindset of millions of people. But, the Society itself, since its founding, has experienced division, controversy and stagnation. A book such as this, containing the writings of Annie Besant (1847-1933), a social activist and esotericist, who served four terms as president of TS, provides an overview of the society itself as well as its main teachings which have endured.

The organization’s three aims and ideals are admirable: 1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color. 2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science. 3. To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man. Other than believing in the aims and ideals there are no requirements for membership. The third ideal is really what most theosophical literature and study material is all about and this book has a good sampling of it. Besant was a very astute and intelligent woman, a true genius, and her writings and lectures reflect those attributes.

I am no stranger to most theosophical concepts, as my list of books will attest, and did not get much new information from this compilation. But it did provide an excellent comprehensive review of what the TS represented for the serious student of metaphysics at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, and how it has evolved into the 21st. Besant set the bar very high for novices. It seems that only the purest of the pure could hope to have any hope of making progress on the winding path to higher consciousness. And she warns repeatedly about the dangers of skipping over the basics, making shortcuts that could enmesh the aspirant in illusory confusion and darkness.

Except for her English compatriot Alice Bailey (1880-1949), Annie Besant, was probably the most prominent esotericist who sincerely attempted to reconcile biblical and Christian doctrines and themes with theosophical philosophy and spiritual wisdom. There are many biblical references in these articles which shed light on universalistic religious interpretations, bridging the religious East and West. The book includes an appendix of over fifty pages of Kurt Leland’s clarifying notes which by itself makes the book a valuable reference resource. The index is also an excellent resource to assist the student to consolidate scattered references into a coherence.

Meeting at the Milestone
Meeting at the Milestone
by Sigurd Hoel
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful psychological and analytical wartime drama, June 20 2015
Ce commentaire est de: Meeting at the Milestone (Paperback)
Sigurd Hoel (1890-1960) was a prolific acclaimed Norwegian writer of about thirty novels and collections of short stories and articles published in the span of four decades from the 1920s to the 60s. He spent some years in his mid-thirties (during the 1920s) in Germany and France studying and writing. During the German occupation (1940-45) he became active in the Resistance and had to escape to Sweden in 1943. Besides writing, and translating foreign authors’ works to Norwegian, he had an ongoing interest in psychology, politics, governance and languages (English and German, but especially the two official Norwegian languages, landsmål and riksmål).

‘Møte ved Milepelen’ (‘Meeting at the Milestone’ is the English translation) was published in 1947, soon after the war, when Norway was preoccupied with the trials of traitors and the meting out of fines and punishments to those who had in some way assisted and collaborated with the Nazi occupiers and the Quisling puppet regime. The novel became a significant part of the private and public debate about what caused about two percent of the Norwegian population to swear allegiance to Hitler’s political megalomania and as much as another five percent to cooperate with, and financially benefit from, dealing with the Nazis. Hoel drew on his own experiences from his Norwegian pre-war environment, active wartime resistance to the occupiers, and his Swedish exile to write this book.

The novel, which is narrated anonymously by ‘The Spotless One’, as he was called by his Resistance compatriots, is comprised of four parts. The first is made up from notes made in 1947 about events from 1943. He is renting a property in the capital Oslo which is part of the underground network to temporarily hide and shield resistance workers from being caught, interrogated, tortured, imprisoned and/or executed. Those who have found shelter there will be helped to escape to Sweden. The second part contains the notes he made in 1943 about friends and acquaintances from his youth in which he analyzes the occurrences which might have contributed early on to some of them becoming members of the Norwegian Nazi party. He details his conflicts and confrontations with some of them.

He also relates his personal experiences in the early 20s that include two relationships with young women. These are events that have a large bearing on what happens twenty years later, related in the third part of the book from notes made during his Swedish sojourn in 1944. In this part we learn what happened when he went on a mission to a southern town to meet with a Resistance cell to try to discover which one of its members was leaking information to the enemy. He makes dramatic discoveries and is caught and subjected to torture but escapes with the assistance of an unlikely rescuer. The fourth part is an introspective postscript written in Norway in 1947 in which he tries to make sense of his life’s failures, his guilt and the role responsibility plays in keeping personal honor. He weaves a mental picture of how each person is assigned a grid on which to weave the fabric of life, the emotions, griefs and joys, accidents and coincidences providing the colors and patterns of the material.

This novel asks more questions than it provides answers to about how and why people make the critical choices they do. It is a wonderful psychological and analytical wartime drama which has become a classic of Norwegian literature.

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