book reports
August 2012


Richard Ford
Usually I don't finish short stories collections but I finished this one so that must mean it's pretty good. Part of what helped is that the first story, more than it reminded me of any other book or writer, reminded me of BADLANDS, that Terrence Malick movie. I don't watch many movies but I like his movies better than I like most movies, and I've often wondered what it would be like if he wrote a book. Probably not a whole lot like this. It's just that there was a narrator and a stolen car.


Tove Jansson
Tove Jansson is a little bit famous for drawing the Moomins, if you know what those are. I didn't; I don't know how I heard of her, but I read THE TRUE DECEIVER a while ago. I liked it okay but I could tell she was someone I should read more books by. Last summer I read THE SUMMER BOOK, and this summer I wanted to read it again already. It's about a little girl and her grandma and an island, and it's funny and sometimes wise and sometimes lonely. I told my mom to read it and she liked it too. Tove's also got a WINTER BOOK that I'm gonna read in January and I wouldn't be surprised if I read this one for a third time a year from now.


Par Lagerkvist
A couple years ago I was spending the night at my aunt and uncle's house in Kansas City, and I was looking for something to read in my cousin Holly's room. Most of her books seemed very... nice: Narnia, Laura Ingalls Wilder, etc. I'm not being dismissive, I love both of those series. But then I found a book called BARABBAS, about some minor characters from the New Testament. It was angry and grimey and gloomy; I called it Bible fanfic, but Lagerkvist is obviously more freaked out by the Bible than he is a fan of it. This AHASUERUS book isn't as weird or good as the BARABBAS one, or maybe it just wasn't as startling for me. It's set in the middle ages and is about some pilgrims trying to get to Jerusalem but they aren't really sure why. I liked the parts where they wander around feeling weird about Jesus, but the rest is a little boring. What's good about Lagerkvist's characters is that they take Jesus seriously but they aren't convinced of anything about him, so Lagerkvist gets to let them say things that most atheists would be embarrassed to try to talk about but that most christians seem scared to even consider. "It could not be the most difficult thing of all to walk up a hill and let oneself be crucified. They say that his suffering and death are the greatest events ever to have come to pass in the world, and the most significant. Perhaps; that may be so. But how many there are who must suffer without their suffering having any significance at all!"



Reza Aslan
I read NO GOD BUT GOD, Aslan's history of Islam a year or so ago, and I learned a lot. I was excited to read this one, which for some reason I had assumed was a comparison of the history of violence and beliefs about violence across Judaism, Christianity and Islam. That's not what it is exactly, and I would still like someone to write that book so that I can read it. What it is is a look at how nationalism, globalization, the internet, and especially religion influence and exploit people in their search for an identity. I liked it a lot.

"The intersection of religion and violence over time and across cultures has less to do with the logic or substance of religion itself than with the fact that both religion and violence function as durable markers of collective identity: the simplest, most effective means of saying who is us and who is them."

I was reading this last month when everyone suddenly became incensed about chicken sandwiches, and the only options that people thought were available were to either hate people who ate chicken sandwiches or to hate people who didn't eat chicken sandwiches. Aslan says repeatedly that the only way to win a cosmic war is to refuse to fight it in it. Sounds like he might be saying love yr enemies, yall.

other stuff I read:
IT IS DAYLIGHT - Arda Collins
HARMONIUM - Wallace Stevens