Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WWW / New Beginnings Wednesday

To keep the momentum for the week going, I'm doing both of MizB's memes today!

  • What are you currently reading? I'm about to start reading Brian Jacques' Mossflower for the Goodreads College Students Spring/Summer Challenge! I loved the Redwall series when I was younger, and I can't wait to reread this classic.
  • What did you recently finish reading? I just finished Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire, which was unbelievable. This trilogy is absolutely amazing, and I can't wait until Mockingjay comes out in August! I also just recently finished rereading both Linda Howard's Duncan's Bride and John Steinbeck's East of Eden, both of which are phenomenal books in their own way.
  • What do you think you'll read next? After I finish Mossflower, I'll probably start reading Dana Haynes' Crashers, an ARC I received on Goodreads that I will be reviewing here at Spine Creases!
How about you? What are you reading lately? Post a link to your blog in the comments, or just list them!

The second meme of the day is a non-book related one...

Basically you list your New Year's resolutions, and then every Wednesday you check in to see how you've progressed. Click here for more details on how it works!

My New Year's resolutions this year were pretty simple:
  1. Yoga three times per week. I was pretty consistent with this through April, often times doing yoga 5-6 times per week. That has dropped off considerably since I've started running (at the end of April). I do want to roll out my yoga mat more often, so this will be good motivation to do so. However, I also think it's good that I've picked up a new favorite sport—running! I've never been more fit in my life.
  2. Live simply. This is kind of a silly resolution because it's more of a life motto pertaining to simple living, minimalism, and happiness. However, I have to say that I live this every day.
  3. Go somewhere new (by plane, preferably). The only new place I've traveled to this year (so far) has been Columbus, Ohio. More about that...
  4. Get a job or get into grad school. I did both! I have a summer job at my alma mater, working as a project assistant for a department I worked for as a student. I also got into grad school at Ohio State and I have a paid internship lined up there as well.
  5. Read 50 books. I blew this resolution out of the water. I'm at something like 90 some-odd books right now!
How are you doing on your New Year's resolutions?

Review: The Crisis of Islam (Bernard Lewis)

Image from Amazon

Author: Bernard Lewis (Web site)
Publisher: Random House, 2004
Notes: I checked this book out of the library.

A brief summary: "After the terrorist attacks of September 11, many Americans yearned to understand why Muslim extremists felt such passionate animosity toward the Western world, particularly the United States." (Quote from Goodreads.) This book aims to explore the historical bases for this animosity.

My thoughts:I read Bernard Lewis' The Crisis of Islam as part of a seasonal challenge at the College Students group on Goodreads. I have never embraced Lewis' approach to the Middle East—or more specifically, the Arab World—or Islam, thinking that he often takes a reductionist point-of-view that serves to reify Westerners' beliefs about Arabs and Muslims. I would not recommend this book to anyone who does not already know some basics about Islam or the Middle East. Lewis confirms American suspicions of the region and the religion instead of breaking down barriers to understanding.

Lewis starts out by stating that former President Bush was involved in a fight against terror, but not Arabs or Muslims, yet Osama bin Laden was in a fight against the United States. While this is true to an extent, it ignores the historical and political realities. Bin Laden utilized religious rhetoric to create an "us" versus "them" dynamic, but ultimately he is concerned with geopolitical issues like invasion and occupation, which one could read in his writings, Messages to the World.

Moreover, Lewis spends a good portion of his book relating Christianity and Islam before stating that there are, despite these similarities, profound differences. I start first by saying that Christianity is a faith-based religion (not practice-oriented, with the exception of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, to some extent). Islam is both orthodox and orthoprax, meaning that there's emphasis on both "right faith" and "right practice." Judaism tends more toward orthopraxy. Given the elements that Lewis focuses on—religious authorities' perspectives on justice and morality, apostasy, etc.—it would probably have made more sense to compare and contrast Judaism and Islam.

Lewis also spends an enormous amount of time talking about jihad. Jihad is a word that loosely means "struggle," and for religious Arabic speakers, it usually refers to a personal struggle (sinfulness, indulgence—the same sorts of things that plague "us normal Christians"). However, Lewis discounts this, saying that progressive Muslims like to say that jihad means a personal struggle, but that throughout Muslim history it refers to holy war. But what, you might ask, does he think about the Crusades? He argues that while jihad is embedded in early Muslim history, the Crusades are a departure from good Christian society and behavior. I am flummoxed by this conclusion. Additionally, Lewis discusses apostasy; he cites that the penalty for apostasy in Islam is death, which is harsher than any other religion. I cannot be sure that this is in the Qur'an or not, but my guess is that some Muslim leader or scholar once said this. However, these pronouncements need more evidence to be compelling, at least for me. I think that the uneducated reader or one looking to reaffirm his beliefs in the evil of Islam will take this at face value, which is quite unfortunate.

To be fair, Lewis is well-read in the area of Middle East and world history, and employs this knowledge in his argument. He even recognizes the importance of jizyah (a tax installed for recognized non-Muslim communities in Muhammad's time and in the early years of Islam) for the dhimmi (recognized non-Muslim communities).

Rating: 1 star

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Want on a Desert Island

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish, a blog to which I contribute. Everyone is welcome to join in!

This week's 'top ten' topic is, Top Ten Books I'd Want on a Desert Island!

Here's my list...

1. The Harry Potter series: I count this because there's a paperback set that fits in one box. There is nothing about this series that is old to me. I've re-read each book countless times, and I would be hard-pressed to get sick of this series.

2. The Qur'an: I'm a (former) Religion major, and my concentration was on Islam. However, I've never read the Qur'an straight through, and I really want to! I keep putting it off, reading only chapters at a time. A desert island would give me the opportunity to work through the entire volume. As an added bonus, almost all Qur'an have the Arabic calligraphy, so if I get really bored I can continue my efforts to speak Arabic aloud!

East of Eden (John Steinbeck): This is one of my favorite books of all time, with rich characters, a beautiful setting, and fantastic themes and symbols. This book is chillingly good.

The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas): I read this last summer—the unabridged version—and I loved it. I really savored it, and enjoyed Edmond Dantes as the hero of the book. I also like the theme of prevailing despite the circumstances! Plus, long books like The Count of Monte Cristo and East of Eden would keep me sane.

The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand): When else but on a desert island would it be a fantastic idea to read a book about the individuality of self and Objectivism? Well, actually, maybe that's not the best idea. But it's a long book, and a thought-provoking one—so I'm told—so it sounds like a good idea.

The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein): I would bring this book because it's a contemporary novel—unlike many of the others on my list so far—and it covers almost every human emotion. This book made me simultaneously sad and happy, and I absolutely loved it.

Why I Wake Early (Mary Oliver): A volume of poetry is never a bad thing. Oliver's poetry would remind me of the beauty around me.

8. Any of the
Little House on the Prairie books: I cannot define my youth without thinking of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. Perfect for keeping me sane.

Redwall (Brian Jacques): I almost forgot about this series. I used to read this series religiously. Who doesn't love warrior mice, royal badgers, and evil villains?

Season of Migration to the North (Tayeb Salih): I would bring this book to remind me of history and imperialism. I read this book for a class two years ago (and actually plan to read it later this summer—watch for my review!), but I would definitely want a stimulating, brutal novel to read like this one.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Musing Mondays: Hyped-Up Books?

This week's musing from Should Be Reading asks...

What do you think of books that receive a lot of hype? (think of the Twilight saga, or Harry Potter, or The Da Vinci Code). Do you read them? Why, or why not?

I actually like a lot of the books that are "hyped-up." With the exception of the Harry Potter series, I used to hate them. I thought popularity meant that they were simple, for simple people who didn't know good literature when they saw it. (This is also how I felt about music.)

A note on Harry: The Harry Potter series is one that I grew up with. I had just turned 10 when I received Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for my birthday, and I devoured it—only to read it several more times before realizing I should move onto other books. There is something really incredible about that series that I will not stop loving.

What's changed? I think that the appeal of these books is more broad. They have themes that appeal to people's understanding of humanity, their capacity for love, and their ability to change. More recently, I've read all three of the Stieg Larsson novels (which were unexpected favorites), the Flavia de Luce books (ditto), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and The Help—all of which I loved and would gladly pick up again. I also hesitated on reading Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, but I was so happy that I finally did; Walls' writing is beautiful, evocative, and particularly heart-wrenching at times.

However, there are some books that received a lot of hype that I'm tired of. Twilight is like poorly written fanfiction in my mind. I thought the characters' names and plot to be especially trite, and wouldn't waste my time reading any future novels in that series. It's also given way to that atrocious vampire trend. I also feel that Khaled Hosseini's books are good, but depict one facet of Afghanistan that popular culture and media have obsessed over. Time to move on and find something fresher.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sneak Peek: Crashers (Dana Haynes)

I had something excellent in my mailbox today—a book, of course! I finally received Dana Haynes' Crashers, which I had won on Goodreads.

Since the book was released on June 22, 2010, I thought I would provide the cover image and summary (courtesy of Goodreads). My review will be up in the next couple of weeks.

Synopsis: Whenever a plane goes down in the U.S., a “Go Team” made up of experts is assembled by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate. Those people—each of them a leading expert in a specific area—are known informally as “Crashers.” When a passenger plane, a Vermeer One Eleven, slams into the ground outside Portland, Oregon, “The Crashers” quickly assemble to investigate the cause. Under the leadership of the IIC (Investigator in Charge), Leonard “Tommy” Tomzak—a pathologist who recently quit the NTSB—the team gets to work as fast as possible. Usually the team has months to determine the cause of a crash. But this time it’s different. This time, the plane was brought down deliberately, without leaving a trace, and this was only a trial run. In L. A., Daria Gibron—a former Shin Bet agent, now under the protection of the FBI—spots a group of suspicious-looking men. Missing her former life of action, she attaches herself to them only to learn that, somehow, they were responsible for the plane crash and are preparing for another action. While her FBI handler tries to find her and save her, Daria risks her life to try to get close enough to learn what’s going on and thwart the coming terrorist action. But time is running out and her cover story is running thin. A fresh and utterly compelling thriller, an original mix of action, investigation, and a brilliant cast of characters that grabs the reader in the way few novels can and fewer do.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review: The Simple Dollar (Trent Hamm)

Image found here

Author: Trent Hamm (Web site)
Publisher: Financial Times Press, 2010
Notes: I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from the publisher, Financial Times Press. I have reviewed it honestly and personally. As part of this opportunity, I was also asked to apply one chapter from Trent's book to my life, which you can read about here.

A brief summary: Trent Hamm is best known on the Web as the man behind The Simple Dollar, a popular personal finance blog. In The Simple Dollar, Trent explores personal finance in his own life, offering many personal narratives, as well as constructive, useful techniques for readers to apply to their own lives.

My thoughts: I am a long-time reader of The Simple Dollar, and so when the opportunity came about to receive an ARC from the publisher, I jumped on it. I was curious to see how this combination memoir/self-help book differed from others, and if Trent's fantastic blogging personality would come through in the book.

Trent's book is well-written and to-the-point, which is consistent with his blog style. I like the personalized anecdotes and interesting tidbits. One thing I'm curious to see is if the aesthetic nature of the book changes with publication; it seems very textbook-like in paper, font, and plain book style. (The book is published by a subsidiary of Financial Times Press.) Most memoirs or books similar to this are published with a more reader-focused, audience-oriented feel. This is not so (though I do recognize that my copy is an ARC, so I'll have to compare after publication).

As much as I liked the book, I think it repeats a lot of what Trent already discusses on his blog. I also think that his writing is especially well-suited for blogging because he proposes questions and is able to engage the audience in a different way. Much of the same material is covered in his blog, but in fact the blog posts cover it at much greater length and with a greater number of resources.

Overall I think Trent's book is a worthy, wonderful read. It has given me new perspective on where his writing comes from, and where the motivation to get financially fit, originates. I especially think that people who have not yet read Trent's blog will benefit from the book in a major way.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: The Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall)

Image found here.

Title: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
Author: Jeanne Birdsall (Web site)
Publisher: Yearling, 2007
Notes: I found this book at the library. I decided to check it out because someone on the Goodreads'
College Students group had mentioned it.

A brief summary: Mr. Penderwick (the father) and his daughters Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty take a vacation, thinking of a rundown cottage. They come to a small cottage on an estate property called Arundel, owned by Mrs. Tifton, with whom the four girls battle. The four Penderwick girls, along with Mrs. Tilton's son Jeffrey, a dog (Hound), two rabbits, and a gardener, have many exciting adventures in three weeks.

My thoughts: If you liked Little Women but wished there was a more contemporary version, this book is definitely for you! I found all four girls delightful in their separate ways, and they had very complimentary personalities. Rosalind is the oldest and seems to view life with a more serious lens, especially since she remembers their deceased mother the best. That being said, Rosalind's life certainly gets more interesting at Arundel. Skye is the second-oldest; she's a bit more fiesty and tomboyish, though she adores math and minimalism. Then there's Jane, who is a romantic, and dreams of becoming a published author. She writes her own book series, featuring a character named Sabrina Starr, and persists in her writing. Finally, there is four-year-old Batty (short for Elizabeth) who is so delightful and charming you can't help but love her. I felt, as I was reading, that each girl needed her sisters. This book is full of adventure, love, and loads of youthful fun. Mrs. Tifton, the property owner, makes the perfect childhood enemy. She is unfriendly, near obsessive about her gardens, and rigid. You will grow to both dread and anticipate the Penderwicks' interactions with her!

Mr. Penderwick is an interesting character. A plant-lover, he spends quite a bit of time speaking in Latin or wandering off into the fields to research plants. He's certainly not a neglectful father, but his parenting approach (and strange interests) reminded me of Haviland de Luce, Flavia de Luce's father, in the mystery series.

Because of this, as well as the character names, it was difficult to remember that this is a contemporary book. It certainly doesn't have the same feel as
Little Women, but I could easily see this being prim-and-proper England during the mid-20th century. Perhaps modernity has tainted my perception of children; it's hard to imagine inventive games, physical activity, and technology-less families anymore. This book certainly recaptured that experience for me, though. However, the scenario seemed at times slightly improbable for modern-day Massachusetts.

Despite the dichotomy between the setting and the plot, I adored the characters in this book, and I'm planning to check out the next installment of the Penderwick adventures when I'm at the library. The Penderwicks is a lovely, heartfelt novel that children and adults alike will love.

Rating: 4 stars

2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge

I figured I would start my new blog off with a challenge! I stumbled across the perfect one:

Timeline: 01 Jan 2010 - 31 Dec 2010
Rules: To read TWELVE (12) thrillers in 2010

For more information, click on the image above!

1. Crashers (Dana Haynes)
2. A Morbid Taste for Bones (Ellis Peters)

I will update this page as I read and review books for this challenge, and link back to it frequently.

Review: 52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust (William Alexander)

Image found here.

Title: 52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust (Web site)
Author: William Alexander (Web site)
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2010
Notes: I found this book at the library. It appealed to me because I've always been interested in baking my own bread, and the cover jacket had an excellent, humorous summary.

A brief summary: William Alexander once tasted delicious peasant bread and committed himself to replicating it. Dedicating himself to one loaf per week in the calendar year, Alexander aims to bake his peasant loaf from scratch. This includes growing wheat, harvesting it, and milling it. It takes him to Morocco and to France. He breaks two ovens.

My thoughts: This book definitely makes me want to get back in the kitchen and attempt making bread again. Alexander's memoir is utterly hilarious—the true example of laugh-out-loud funny. (There were times I dropped the book, laughing.) I can't give any hints as to what entertained me so much without giving away crucial points of Alexander's journey. Part of the humor lay in his ability to set his life so open to us readers, as well as his relationship with his wife. But it's not all simple laughter and humor in this book; Alexander's experiences at Abbaye Saint-Wandrille left me feeling peaceful and recharged, much like the film Die gro├če Stille left me.

I did select a quote to share with you, from the end of the book. It appropriately and accurately conveys, I think, Alexander's mindset as to this entire journey:
"Choose one thing you care about and resolve to do it well. Whether you succeed or not, you will be better for the effort." —323

I highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for an excellent summer read. It's a well-written, funny food memoir that also encompasses the meaning of long-term commitment and persistence. Make sure you have some delicious bread nearby, as you will most likely feel munchy as you read!

Rating: 5 stars