Friday, May 26, 2017

The Long Run, by Catriona Menzies-Pike

Catriona Menzies-Pike loves to run.  She hasn't always. . . . In her memoir The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion she tells her story of transition from a typical club-hopping, self-absorbed 20-something academic into a committed recreational runner.  I think a lot of runners will be able to relate to her and her transition.  She readily admits that she's not particularly athletic, and that she'll never be a fast finisher.  Like many runners, especially those of us who start running when we are past our physical prime, Menzies-Pike celebrates the joys of running, of training, and of sometimes participating in those festivals of running surrounding a marathon or half-marathon.

Menzies-Pike doesn't spend a lot of time in The Long Run talking about gear, training plans, diet, or race strategy.  In fact, she leaves the reader with the impression that she doesn't spend much time thinking about such things when she runs or races.  I can relate to that!  Just run!

What she does spend a lot of time talking about is the history of running for women.  She writes about the irrational prohibitions against women competing in running races, and the barriers they have faced along the way.  In today's atmosphere of equality, it's hard to imagine that women didn't compete in the marathon at the Olympics until 1984, and it hasn't been that long ago that women were prevented from entering the Boston and New York Marathons.

The perception of women still bothers Menzies-Pike.  The fact that her body is openly evaluated for its running fitness, that women are judged by their running attire, that women are sexualized in running all point to the sexism of society.  I appreciated her historical analysis; we can certainly celebrate the progress that has been made.  However, her strident feminism turned my off.  She views everything through the lens of gender discrimination.  She comes across unnecessarily as a bitter feminist.  (I know, I'm a male, of course I represent the patriarchy against which she has struggled these many decades. . . .)

My measure for books about running is, After reading, do I want to get out and run?  With The Long Run, the answer is no.  Her feminism aside, the whole book is really a downer.  She redeems herself a bit at the end with some passages about enjoying running for running's sake, but overall, I just didn't enjoy it, nor was I inspired to run.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow has a brilliant and insightful view of the future.  His new novel Walkaway echos some of the themes from his prior novels--maker culture, wide-spread net technology and accompanying surveillance, growing disparities between cultural strata--while creating a future history that might be believable.

In this near-future North America, many people have chosen to become walkaways, turning their backs on default society, living in open and deserted land, creating communal living communities.  It's a culture of abundance, where needs can be met by manufacturing plants and 3D printers fed by scavenged raw materials.  The economy of the walkaways relies on gifts, plenty, and voluntary participation.

Doctorow makes some interesting economic and philosophical points about capitalism, meritocracy, and society.  When the daughter of a very wealthy family decides to walkaway and embraces the walkaway culture, the flip sides of society come into contact and inevitable conflict.  Their family squabble becomes emblematic of and central to a larger global conflict. 

With Doctorow's style and thoughtfulness, there was enough in Walkaway to keep me interested and reading.  But overall, I didn't love the story.  The motives and actions of the big war against the walkaways were not compelling to me.  The manufacturing tech was contrived.  The explicit sex scenes were gratuitous and did not add to the story.  The homosexual coupling and transgenderism seemed out of place, a blatant attempt to push a cultural agenda.

Walkaway is not Doctorow's worst book, but, unlike some of his other fiction, it's not one I think I'd like to read again.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton

The late Michael Crichton was one of the most prolific and entertaining writers of the 20th century.  He remains the only writer to have the #1 book (Disclosure), #1 movie (Jurassic Park), and #1 TV show (ER) in the same year (1994).  After Crichton's death in 2008, his wife discovered an unpublished novel among his papers: Dragon Teeth.

In a way, Dragon Teeth doesn't fit with the bulk of Crichton's work.  Set in 1876, Crichton centers the story around the famous "Bone Wars" between paleontologists Othniel Marsh and Edwin Cope.  A Yale freshman, William Johnson, sets out with Marsh to experience the West.  He accompanies Marsh on a summer expedition to dig dinosaur bones.  After Marsh abandons him en route, Johnson falls in with Cope, and experiences first-hand the bitter rivalry between the two fossil hunters.  The conflict and some of the events Crichton depicts are real; Johnson and his adventures are fictional.

Johnson, an heir to a Philadelphia family fortune, is out of place in the rough and tumble world of dinosaur bone hunting.  But throw in some Indian attacks, gunfights in Deadwood, ambushes along the trail, and buddying up with the famous gunfighter Wyatt Earp, Johnson is a changed man.  While the setting seems out of character for Crichton (actually, The Great Train Robbery was an early bestseller for him . . .), the story is familiar: a team sets out on a scientific expedition, things go terribly wrong, a few people die, and the hero has to rely on new-found skills to survive and protect the scientific discoveries.

Dragon Teeth was a real pleasure to read.  Crichton ratchets up the interest level to a high point, then maintains it to a satisfying conclusion.  The blending of real characters, places, and events with fictional characters keeps things interesting.  It's too real to be totally made up, but not so wacky that it couldn't have been real.  For Crichton fans, this is a must-read, but any reader looking for a fun story will enjoy Dragon Teeth.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Trump's War, by Michael Savage

Without a hint of irony, Michael Savage writes that he had a huge hand in Donald Trump's getting elected.  Trump was on Savage's radio show, and Trump "heeded the advice I gave him and now his is the president of the United States."  Who can measure the influence of radio host?  It's really impossible, but there's no question Savage was rallying the troops for Trump, so it's not a stretch to conclude that at least some of his listeners pulled the lever for Trump as a result of Savage's influence.

You might think a book called Trump's War: His Battle for America, published so quickly after Trump's election, would be nothing but a cheerleading celebration of Trump.  Admittedly, Savage does some of that; his various uncomplimentary nicknames and descriptions of Obama and Hillary leave no question in anyone's mind how he feels about the Democrat leaders.  While he does laud Trump for some of his positions and early actions, his larger purpose is to hold Trump accountable.

We have already seen how political pressures and reality have forced Trump to moderate his positions in some cases.  Are we going to build a wall?  A fence?  Nothing?  Are we going to repeal Obamacare?  Replace it with something just as bad?  Are we going to defund Planned Parenthood?  On some of these issues, whether he wanted to or not, Trump has wavered from the key campaign promises that got him elected.

Savage breaks down some of the policy challenges that Trump is already facing or will face and lays out a plan of action.  His solutions make sense, at least to someone with a conservative bent.  He's not a hard-line conservative though.  He's sympathetic to a minimum wage and reasonable level of regulations on business.

Even though Trump has been beaten down by Democrats (of course), the press (of course), and plenty of Republicans (unfortunately), he has managed to accomplish some of his stated goals.  If he will heed Savage's advice from Trump's War, perhaps Savage can help him successfully accomplish more.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Within Walking Distance, by Philip Langdon

In my suburban Texas neighborhood, to get to the closest restaurant is a mile walk on a street with no sidewalk.  The nearest grocery store is closer to two miles.  Don't get me wrong; I like our quiet street, the lake across the street, and the woods behind us.  But it sure would be nice to have some shopping and dining options within a few minute's walk from my front door.

That is the dream that Philip Langdon writes about in Within Walking Distance: Creating Livable Communities for All.  Better said, that is the reality that he writes about, leading people like me to dream about living in a walkable neighborhood.  Langdon gives a detailed case study of 6 walkable communities around the United States, examining what makes them unique and what other communities might learn to become more walkable.

He defines the reference point of walkability as follows: "Building a city or town at the scale of the pedestrian meant that any able-bodied person could navigate the full range of local businesses, homes, institutions, and attractions without relying on anything more than his or her own power."  That's the ideal, and some of the homes in some of the neighborhoods he surveyed fit this description. 

Walkability is a wonderful ideal, and can be a factor for many people looking to relocate.  While the communities he profiles--and countless others--are walkable, Langdon doesn't sufficiently address some of the questions and barriers that prevent neighborhoods from being walkable.  Each of his profiled communities arguably have factors that predispose them to being or becoming walkable: proximity to a major city center and the jobs found there, proximity to a major university, a location that draws tourism and seasonal residents, or ethnic roots that presume deep community ties.

It also seemed that he communities he describes are destination locations.  While residential space is there, specialty stores, restaurants, street fairs and other entertainment, open-air markets, parks and the like draw many non-residents.  So, yes, it's walkable for the residents, but the viability of the area depends on attracting non-residents to patronize local establishments.  I don't see this as a problem, but I think it's worth pointing out that the walkable communities Langdon describes and promotes are not necessarily self-sustaining communities.  They are surrounded by more common suburban tracts or dispersed homes, whose residents hop in their cars to go to a walkable neighborhood for shopping, dining, entertainment, or recreation.

What would it take for my neighborhood and others like it to become walkable?  Lots of little stores and restaurants popping up in close proximity to one another.  Why doesn't that happen?  Because little stores and restaurants tucked away in walkable neighborhoods have great difficulty making a profit.  Does it happen?  Yes, happily, sometimes they survive.  But the reality is larger stores and restaurants on prominent thoroughfares draw more traffic and make more money.  Economies of scale are hard realities.

One other thing: with the population density of a walkable neighborhood, homes tend to be much smaller and much more expensive.  In my city, I can live in a $200,000, 1875 sq. foot home and drive everywhere, or I can move downtown to some more walkable neighborhoods and pay that for a one bedroom with 1/3 the square feet.  I am not willing to make that trade off.

I enjoyed reading about the neighborhoods in Within Walking Distance.  Someday if I don't have kids at home and have a lot more money, living in a neighborhood like that would be nice.  For now, it's a model for a select demographic.  Thankfully we live in a country that is diverse enough geographically and economically that highly concentrated, walkable neighborhoods can exist alongside their more spacious, less densely populated neighbors, sometimes in the same city.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, by Paula Poundstone

Paula Poundstone is a stand-up comedian who I know from her appearances on NPR's Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me! quiz show.  For several years, she conducted her own investigation into happiness.  She developed an informal measure of happiness.  A "small amount of happiness could be a 'hep.' . . . If you're lucky enough to amass four of those, you've got yourself a whole 'balou' of happiness."  (These measures are named after her cats.)

In The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, she experiments with a variety of activities to test the level of happiness she can achieve.  Her adventures and foibles are, as you might expect, more entertaining than particularly insightful.  She tries exercise: "While doing push-ups I don't worry much about the state of the world so much.  It's hard to be concerned about war in the Middle East while you can't breathe."  She tries computers: "Someday science will prove that a phone call is about a hundred times more efficient for a back-and-forth exchange than e-mail."  She tries social media: "Leave it to computers to destroy the meaning of one of the most valuable words in the human language." (This refers, of course, to "friendship" on social media.")

Getting her house in order, taking dance classes, renting a Lamborghini, volunteering, going to a meditation class, making it a practice to hug people she meets and other experiences contribute to her research.  Most of her stories gave me a hep or two of happiness, but, to be honest, the whole thing got a little tiresome.  Maybe I just don't fully appreciate her humor.  Maybe I just need to take her in small doses.

Woven throughout the book are stories of her life with her children.  She is an adoptive single mom, so there is plenty of craziness and busy-ness in their house.  For parents of children with disabilities, the sections on dealing with teachers, ARD meetings, and transitioning out of the home are particularly instructive and insightful.

I especially appreciated what ended up being one of her conclusive thoughts.  "I've long been familiar with the idea that true happiness is found in helping others, and I've always meant to get around to it."  By volunteering at a nursing home, she found that serving others selflessly produces plenty of "heps" of happiness.  She writes, "People need each other.  Our well-being is tightly tethered to the well-being of people we do not know, most of whom look nothing like ourselves.  Happiness . . . requires engagement."

The Totally Unscientific Study was intermittently funny, seemingly over-long, and occasionally insightful.  But I found no argument with Poundstone's conclusions and her attitude.  It's worth a read for a few heps of happiness.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Poetry for Kids: Walt Whitman, edited by Karen Karbiener, illustrated by Kate Evans

Was Walt Whitman the greatest American poet?  I don't know if you can pick a single greatest, but there is no question he is one of the greatest and most influential American poets.  In Poetry for Kids: Walt Whitman, Karen Karbiener has collected selections and excerpts from Whitman's poems, illustrated by Kate Evans, to introduce young readers to Whitman's memorable poetry.

Whitman's 19th century English may be off-putting to 21st century readers, but I don't believe it's inaccessible.  Karbiener helps with the language by providing brief glossaries for each poem, defining words that are more obscure or out of common usage.  Whether a child reads these on her own, or listens as a parent or older reader reads aloud, the beauty and rhythms of Whitman's work will come through.

The spare but colorful illustrations capture the time period of Whitman's writing, and support the poems without upstaging them.  This is a beautiful book which should encourage kids to read and reread Whitman's poetry.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Secret Knowledge, by David Mamet

For years I--like many others--have enjoyed David Mamet's entertaining and sometimes brilliant movies and plays.  Little did I know that this liberal Jewish writer had a conversion of sorts, becoming a solid conservative thinker.  In his 2011 book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, Mamet writes broadly and incisively on culture, politics, education, and economics, displaying a deep conservatism that breaks with his past and upbringing but which, he believes, is crucial to the American experience.

He has contempt for the Left and their version of modern Puritanism.  "The left proceeds, from day to day, in a sort of sad, wistful fury at all the things of life not recognized in its cosmogony.  To them, in an inversion of the truly, historically, Liberal philosophy, everything not permitted is forbidden."  In a form of groupthink, "the Left functions, primarily, through its power as a primitive society or religion, dedicated above all to solidarity, and not only to acceptance but to constant promulgation of its principles, however inchoate, as 'self-evident' and therefore beyond question."

Writing shortly after Obama was elected, I think he hits on a key feature of modern American politics.  The Left marches in lock-step.  Nary a Democrat opposed a word out of Obama's mouth.  By contrast, Trump, who, granted, has plenty of flaws, faces vehement opposition from prominent members of his own party every time he turns around.

One of Mamet's targets is that great bastion of the Left, higher education.  University liberal arts departments have become indoctrination camps, where children of privilege go to learn "to be shrill, and that their indictment, on the economy, on sex, on race, on the environment, though based on no experience other than hearsay, must trump any discourse, let alone opposition."  Far be it from them to learn a useful skill that will help them contribute to society.

He sees his own ungrateful generation (he's a baby boomer, born in 1947) as "destructive of that very world which . . . is a wonderful place to live in, and has given us a great country."  They have been "living off a trust fund; the productivity of our parents, and of the two hundred and more years work of those who preceded them."

Mamet writes broadly but with depth and clarity.  He states that he had never read or listened to any conservative thought until late in his life.  It's interesting to hear his perspective, coming from one who spent most of his life as a liberal, but gaining revelation that moved him toward deeply conservative thinking.  Reading this in the early days of the Trump presidency, I am reminded of the principles which guide us in the voting booth.  Trump obviously was an imperfect candidate and is an imperfect president, but as Mamet lays out the case against the Left, I am once again thankful that a Democrat is not in the White House.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson

Per Petterson is an award-winning Norwegian novelist.  His 2003 novel Out Stealing Horses (published in Norwegian in 2003 as Ut og stjæle hester, published in English translation in 2005) has received the most praise of any of his work, including the €100,000 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.  So if I don't like the book I must be a literary ignoramus.

I didn't totally not like the book.  I just found it to be dull and aimless.  Parts were beautifully written.  (Speaking of ignorant, I admit I read it in English.  My Norwegian is a bit rusten.)  This is the story of a man named Trond, flipping between a summer in his teen years and his 60s.  It's a mix of coming of age, a family tragedy involving a neighbor's family, his own family's dissolution, and a bit about the Nazi occupation of Norway. 

If you're into pastoral novels, with lots of reflective passages, which switches between time periods while slowly drawing the events together, developing a character arc but not much more, this could be one you'd love.  Out Stealing Horses is a good book, maybe even great literature, but I simply didn't enjoy reading it very much.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson

I have wanted to read O.T. Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City for a long time.  It was nominated last year for the Libertarian Futurist Society's Prometheus Hall of Fame, after all.  Key word there is nominated.  It didn't win, or even make the finals, which seems reasonable to me.  It's neither a very good book nor a particularly libertarian story.

In this future world, a plague has killed everyone over the age of 12.  Why?  Who knows.  Doesn't matter.  Lisa lives with her little brother in their family's home.  She seeks out food and supplies in nearby houses, but the sources are running thin.  She decides to organize the kids in her neighborhood to defend themselves against roving gangs, eventually leading them to relocate to the local high school, of which she declares herself the owner.

Nelson showed some early promise, as Lisa tried to get the children to work for incentives rather than mere communal ownership and reliance on the older children.  When they begin to organize their defense, I thought she might forge alliances for trade, like a good libertarian would.  But no, it's just might versus might.  And with her self-declared ownership, she sets herself up as the dictator of her city.  The other kids have little option for self-direction or self-governance, other than leaving to live somewhere else.

More disappointing than the lack of principles was the plot and story telling.  The story is rather shallow and predictable.  I know a post-apocalyptic world of all children would be chaotic, but I just don't see the scenarios Nelson lays out happening.  Besides, why is Lisa the only kid in the world who can figure out how to drive a car?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Questions Asked, by Jostein Gaarder, illustrated by Akin Düzakin

Jostein Gaarder has questions.  In Questions Asked, the Norwegian author asks many of those questions that bug all of us.

  • Where does the world come from?
  • Can anyone know what I think?
  • How do my legs go where I want them to go while my mind is elsewhere?
  • What is time?
  • Why am I alive?
  • What happens when I die?

Jostein Gaarder does not have any answers.  At least not in this book.  What he does have is some beautiful illustrations by Akin Düzakin, which follow a little boy's adventures and ponderings.

Questions Asked can be a great conversation starter.  I can imagine reading this with my own child, or in a therapy session, or, if a teacher is brave, in a classroom.  Be prepared for some lengthy discussions.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Forging a President, by William Hazelgrove

Teddy Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, has an aura about him--the Rough Rider who spoke softly but carried a big stick.  That persona was not shaped by his elite New York society upbringing, nor by his time at Harvard or his early years in the New York state legislature.  As William Hazelgrove tells the story, Roosevelt's years in the West shaped him into the man history remembers as president.  Forging a President: How the Wild West Created Teddy Roosevelt traces Roosevelt's life in the 1880s, from his first buffalo hunt to the end of his ranching career.

Drawing on Roosevelt's own writing as a well as a wide variety of biographical sources, Hazelgrove crafts a readable narrative that celebrates Roosevelt and his rough and tumble time in the West.  While on a buffalo hunt, the young Roosevelt decides he wants to be a rancher.  Pulling out his checkbook, he forks over a sizable chunk of his recently inherited wealth and enlists a couple of cowboys to get a herd started for him.

When Roosevelt's mother and wife pass away on the same night, Roosevelt moves more permanently to the West.  Over the course of three years, he builds his reputation, facing down drunk cowboys, capturing outlaws, standing up to Indians, holding his own on cattle drives, and organizing cowboys.  The asthmatic young man whose doctor told him he should lead a sedentary lifestyle was transformed into a broad shouldered cowboy, a man's man and a leader of men. 

Hazelgrove, clearly a Roosevelt admirer, made me a fan as well.  He builds the narrative, paints the picture, fills in the historical setting, and makes the case for the influence of Roosevelt's years in the West on his later years.  A child of privilege and wealth, Roosevelt did not simply rest on his position, but made a way for himself.  In a way it's tragic, as a response to the deaths of his wife and mother.  But ultimately, he--and the United States--are better off as a result.  Forging a President is an enjoyable read about a remarkable man.

Thanks to the author for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nothing to Lose, by Lee Child

Jack Reacher: drifter, ex-MP, vigilante, and vagrant.  At least that's what the police of Despair, Colorado call him.  They pick him up for vagrancy and deliver him to the town line, returning him to Hope, where he spent the previous night.  But he's curious, doesn't like to be told what he can or can't do, and has a dogged determination to find out the truth.  In Nothing to Lose, Reacher is traveling cross country, on his way, eventually, to San Diego.  After a night in the small town of hope, he heads to despair, where he finds even stopping in for a cup of coffee is unwelcome.

After being told he should never come back to Despair, he does.  Again and again.  He single-handedly takes down the whole police department.  And he gets to the bottom of a scandalous plot that includes and end-times nut case preacher, the cover up of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, a company town whose company's contracts are questionable, an operation smuggling AWOL soldiers out of the country, and a beautiful police woman who may or may not be available.

Child does not disappoint with his detailed descriptions of Reacher's fighting prowess, his ability to put the pieces together in the mysterious puzzle, and the ease with which he attracts the beautiful woman without becoming tied down.  Once he suspects something is fishy, he won't quit until he figures it out.  The police woman observes that he can't be a one-man Department of Justice; Reacher disagrees.  I wasn't comfortable with some of the unanswered questions Child leaves hanging, but Reacher was comfortable enough to keep on moving. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Truth, by Randy Alcorn

Truth.  Sometimes it seems like a fluid concept.  We might hear about "alternative truth."  A politician's spokesperson might respond to criticism of her boss by talking about "her truth."  Randy Alcorn not only wants to make the case that truth is unchangeable and discoverable, but also that it is rooted in "the eternal, all-powerful, and unchangeable God."  In Truth: A Bigger View of God's Word, Alcorn gives us 200 short selections to help us understand and apply God's truth.

Following the pattern of his earlier book Grace, each selection includes a scripture, a couple of paragraphs of Alcorn's insights, and a quotation from another writer or pastor.  He covers a wide gamut of the Christian life, and draws quotes from a wide variety of the Christian tradition. 

The strength of these selections is two-fold.  First of all, Alcorn reminds us that God and his word are arbiters of truth, not us.  Christians should be looking to the authority of scripture, not their own feelings.  He writes, "The test of whether Scripture is my authority is this: Do I allow God's Word to convince me to believe what I don't like, what's contrary to what I've always believed and wanted to believe?  Do I believe it even when it offends me?"  We should believe what the Bible teaches, not "whatever makes us feel better about ourselves or justifies our actions."

Second, the truth of scripture should guide our lives.  Christians ignore or are ignorant of so much of what scripture teaches about the Christian life.  The Christian is a new creation.  We are saved by grace.  The gospel is good news.  (How about this quote: "A good test of whether you believe the true gospel is if it makes you happy.")  So much truth in the gospel, so many Christians who live like they don't believe it.

This is not a book to read straight through.  If you do, like I did, you will be frustrated by the lack of continuity or structure.  Take these short chapters a bite at a time, chew on them, and let God's truth inform your life and transform your thinking.  Truth is unchanging.  That is important to acknowledge.  But even more importantly, Christians need to acknowledge the power of truth to change them.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, May 1, 2017

The BFG, by Roald Dahl

What a delightful, fun book!  Perhaps I can be excused for not reading Roald Dahl's The BFG when it was published in 1982, since I was 13, and probably thought I was too old for children's stories.  My loss.  I saw Disney's recent Stephen Spielberg adaptation, was smitten, and decided to read the book, too.  The movie was quite faithful to the book, and both are worth reading or watching again.

Young Sophie, who lives in an orphanage, sees the BFG (big, friendly giant) sneaking around one night.  He picks her up and takes her to his home, where he says she will have to stay forever.  He can't risk her telling other people about him.  He is one of many giants, the rest of which eat "human beans" that they capture in distant lands on their nightly forays.  The BFG doesn't eat humans, and does approve of his fellow giants doing so.  He and Sophie concoct an elaborate plan to prevent them from eating any more people.

The story is great, with enough silliness mixed with insight to make it immensely entertaining while being multilayered enough to make it enduring.  The BFG's distinctive bungling of words kept me smiling throughout.  "Giants is all cannybully and murderful!  And they does gobble up human beans!"  When giants drink "frobscottle" the bubbles go down instead of up (like our soft drinks), resulting in "a whizzpopper."  "Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time!  Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness.  It is music in our ears!"

Dahl, who flew in the Royal Air Force in World War 2, finds a place for a bit of anti-war commentary.  Sophie asks the BFG about the other giants' habit of eating people.  She is appalled, but the BFG counters, "Do not forget that human beans is disappearing everywhere all the time even without the giants is guzzling them up.  Human beans is killing each other much quicker than the giants is doing it."   He points out that other animals don't kill their own kind, "but human beans is squishing each other all the time. . . . They is shooting guns and going up in aerioplanes to drop their bombs on each other's heads every week.  Human beans is always killing other human beans." 

The BFG is perfect bedtime reading for boys and girls.  Due to the subject matter, that is, giants eating people, the very youngest among them might not enjoy it, but it's a classic that should be enjoyed for generations to come.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Topography of Tears, by Rose-Lynn Fisher

Rose-Lynn Fisher's The Topography of Tears is one of the strangest, oddly beautiful coffee table books I've seen in a while.  The concept is simple: it is "a study of tears photographed through an optical microscope."  The simple, black-and-white extreme close-ups of tears are reminiscent of satellite landscape photos, microscopic photos of leaves or rocks, or ice crystals on a window pain.  Like snow, I guess you can conclude no two tear drops look alike.

She gives commentary or captions to some of the tears, like "Tears for those who yearn for liberation," or "Mom happy tears," or "Catharsis."  But I'm not sure there is any correlation between the look of tears and the kinds of emotions they evoke.

The pictures are oddly captivating, in an abstract art sort of way, but I'm not sure what inspiration or insight one might draw from them.  Maybe all Fisher is going for is to portray in an original way the universally shared experience of emotional tears.  Mission accomplished.  Grab a hanky.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

General Relativity for Babies, by Chris Ferrie

Chris Ferrie has accomplished what, I feel sure, no one else has ever before accomplished.  He has written a baby book that presents a reasonably accurate description of relativity.  General Relativity for Babies introduces the concept of mass, the curvature of space, and black holes.  Using simple illustrations and even simpler sentences, he describes general relativity in a nutshell.

The back cover reads, "It only takes a small spark to ignite a child's mind."  Will this book inspire your newborn to be an astrophysicist?  Maybe not.  But there's not a thing wrong with introducing complex ideas at an early age.  Maybe if my parents had this book to read to me I would be a bit smarter. . . .

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Little Book of Big Ideas for Dads and Daughters, by Jay Payleitner

Jay Payleitner, father of four boys, had to shift his mode of parenting when his daughter came along.  As any parent knows, daughters are different.  But the father-daughter bond is precious.  To help us dads cultivate that bond, Payleitner has written The Little Book of Big Ideas for Dads and Daughters.

Payleitner has lots of great ideas, some of which you probably can think of yourself.  Date your daughter, pray for her future husband, support her in her sports, art, and academic endeavors.  Participate in her tea parties.  Some of his advice might raise some dads' eyebrows.  Payleitner encourages dads to embrace all of their daughters' interests, taking them to terrible pop music concerts and financing their faddish toy or clothing desires.  I bristled at first to some of these ideas, but he provides convincing rationales.

Here are a couple of nuggets that I found to be especially worth remembering:

  • Go ahead and treat her like a princess, telling her she's the most precious and beautiful girl in the world, "but in relationship to every other person on the planet, raise her as a pioneer woman" who takes responsibility for herself.
  • Don't be afraid to spoil her a bit, but "in a way that has her best interest in mind."  Sure, some will say she's got you wrapped around her finger, but remember "another way to say, 'She has me wrapped around her little finger' is 'We're holding hands.'"
  • "Make your home a comfortable and inviting place for all kids."  If your house is the hang out place, you will get to know her friends and be able to look out for her safety.
  • As you pray for her future husband, and as you evaluate potential suitors, keep your expectations high, but "ask yourself if you are living up to those same high expectations right now in your marriage."

Obviously, much of The Little Book can apply to dads and sons and mothers and their children.  His focus, though, is on dads and daughters, and I was challenged, encouraged, and inspired to be a better parent and to take more time to spend with my daughter.  All parents, no matter who they are, can use these reminders and encouragement from time to time.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Giving It All Away . . . and Getting It All Back Again, by David Green

David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby, is one of the richest men in America.  What separates him from most billionaires is the acknowledgement that everything he has belongs to God.  In Giving It All Away . . . and Getting It All Back Again, Green tells his story of giving, and encourages all of us to join him on a journey of generosity.

I love the fact that Green doesn't give because he's wealthy, but he gives because he loves to give.  His parents provided the example.  His father was a pastor, always in very small, rural churches.  When church members brought gifts in kind, such as a basket of produce, his mother would carefully estimate the monetary value of the basket and tithe accordingly.  David and his siblings discovered late in his father's life that he gave much of his salary right back to the church.

As Green's business found more and more success, he heard very clearly from God that the business belongs to God.  Green's goal, then, is to honor God in the way the business is run, and to use the profits to spread the gospel.  He writes, "If we don't use Hobby Lobby's earnings to touch people for the Lord, I really don't see the reason for me to be in business at all."

Green writes about his passion for the business, and it's clear that he delights in making Hobby Lobby profitable, in providing products that people want, and in providing jobs for thousands of people.  But his passion for the gospel is even greater.  He sees every ministry contribution as an investment in eternity.  Anticipating the impact that the works he supports will have, he says, "I think the most satisfied and joyful person in heaven will be Jesus as he looks around at all those who have been saved from a life of misery."

Clearly very few of his readers will ever be able to give like Green and his family can and do.  But whether you are blessed with a fortune or get by week to week, the principles he presents and models are worth emulating.  He gets inspiration from the British missionary C.T. Studd, who had great inherited wealth but gave his money and his life toward the spreading of the gospel.  Studd wrote a famous poem which says, in part, "Only one life, 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last."

I'm pretty sure I'll never share a spot with Green on Forbes's billionaire list.  But he and I can stand side by side as stewards of our resources for God's glory.  I appreciate his example and inspiration.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Opening Atlantis, by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turteldove is the master of the "what if" novel.  What if the South won the Civil War?  What if Hitler prevailed in WW2?  What if the Korean War developed into a full-fledged global nuclear war?  Turtledove's 2007 novel Opening Atlantis is built around the question, What if there were a continent called Atlantis between Europe and what we now know as North America?

An English fisherman follows his Breton counterpart and competitor to new fishing grounds, where the cod are larger than any he's ever seen.  The fishing is great, and the land is even greater, fertile and untouched by human habitation.  So begins his quest to settle this new, rich, and wondrous land.  I enjoyed the story of the early settlers as they established towns and adapted the land to suit their needs.  Their independent streak and quest for self-determination parallels our own nation's history.  Their revolt against the English nobleman who decides to make Atlantis a kingdom of his own, their defeat of the pirates who raided the sea trade, and their cooperation with the British navy to defeat the French, resembled U.S. history (with, of course, lots of key differences).

As is always the case with alternative history stories like this, the deeper the divergence from actual history, the more I tend to lose interest.  I enjoyed the early parts of the book more than the latter parts.  I would like to have heard more about what was going on in Terra Nova, the land the the west of Atlantis.  Turtledove alludes to the Spanish, but barely.  I would like to know what happened to Columbus.  The English came to Atlantis decades before Columbus came to the New World.  Did he end up as a trader?  An explorer?  What about the conquistadors?  Perhaps those are novels for another time.

I would also like to know why Atlantis has such unusual flora and fauna.  Turtledove spends a lot of time talking about the unusual animals that are unlike any the settlers have ever seen, and trees and plants that grow larger and look different than any others.  Terra Nova has the same sorts of animals and vegetation that the Europeans are accustomed to, so how did Atlantis develop so differently?  I kept thinking that Turtledove would come up with some explanation, but he leaves this piece of the puzzle hanging.

Turtledove develops memorable characters.  In Opening Atlantis, he follows a couple of families over many generations.  This makes it an enjoyable novel with an epic feel, but I didn't love it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Natural Wonders of Assateague Island, by Mark Hendricks

If you're like me, you may have heard of this island on the east coast where wild horses run free, but that's about all you know  about it.  My curiosity was piqued when I saw Mark Hendricks's new book, Natural Wonders of Assateague Island.  I learned that there is much more to this little barrier island than I imagined.

Hendricks, a seasoned nature photographer, captures the wide array of flora and fauna on Assateague Island, especially the fauna.  The most well-known feature of the island, the horses, may have been washed up in a shipwreck, but probably are descended from horses brought to the island to graze.  Other non-native species are nevertheless highlights of a visit to the island, like the sika, a small East Asian elk.  As you might expect, the variety shore life and bird species is vast.  Hendricks's love for life on the island comes through in his pictures.  As his narrative explains, many of the photos represent hours or even days of patiently seeking out and waiting for the animals' elusive appearance.  To read about his encounters with a river otter and a snowy owl is to read the joy and passion Hendricks brings to his work.

I couldn't help wanting to pay Assateague Island a visit after reading this book and enjoying Hendricks's photographs.  Maybe the reality is that I wouldn't see many animals; he alludes to crowds and a huge number of visitors to the island.  Hendricks's work is a reminder to slow down, take time to get away from the madding crowd, and patiently find opportunities to look nature in the eye.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Always with Us?, by Liz Theoharis

When Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you," did he mean that poverty will always be an issue no matter what?  According to many Christians from across the ideological and theological spectrum, the answer is yes.  According to Liz Theoharis, the answer is definitively no.  In Always with Us? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor, she argues that Jesus did not teach that poverty was inevitable, and that, in fact, the eradication of poverty is possible.

Her work and life have been built around this hope.  As a pastor and activist, she has worked with and on behalf of poor people, addressing structural poverty and developing solutions for poverty in the U.S.  The stories she tells and hope that she offers are encouraging, inspiring, and challenging.  Her focus is not so much on charity or redistribution of wealth, but on the unacceptability of poverty and the structures of society.  She writes that "God hates poverty and wills it upon no on.  We understand that it is not enough to affirm that God loves the poor, but it is the collective responsibility of Christians and all people of faith and conscience to eliminate poverty."  The elimination of poverty is Theoharis's driving theme.

I had to part ways with Theoharis for much of the book.  She is very clearly a liberation theologian, and embraces all that entails with her view of structural sin.  First of all, she asserts that poverty is a sin.  The existence of a poverty is a result of structural sin in society.  No doubt this is sometimes true, but this view rejects the fact that in a fallen world, poverty is arguably a normal state.  Without labor and organization, all of us would fall into poverty.  Throughout human history, most people have been what we would consider poor.  To Theoharis, the causes of poverty are structural.  She rejects a view of poverty that places its cause on personal volition (or lack thereof).  She spends lots of time with poor people.  Surely she can recognize that poverty in many cases results from the choices that individuals make.  I don't accept her all-in for structural poverty position.  To address the problem of poverty, societal structures and individual choices have to be addressed.

Part of the structure of society that she doesn't spend enough time developing is the market.  The most effective anti-poverty program is a job.  When people can get and keep a job, the way out of poverty is much clearer.  In any given geographical area, the availability of a wide variety of jobs is the best measure of the elimination of gravity.  Again, jobs and a thriving economy alone don't guarantee the elimination of poverty.  But not to focus on the job market is a blind spot in the fight against poverty.

I don't know if poverty can be eliminated.  I agree that when Jesus declared "the poor you will always have with you," he did not mean, in that context, that poverty is inevitable and ineradicable.  I especially admire Theoharis's work among the poor.  She is critical of charity--throwing money at the problem of poverty is no way to eliminate the larger issue--and advocates for people in poor communities banding together to address their communities' larger issues.  Theoharis and I would find plenty to disagree about theologically, politically, and economically, but I appreciated her portrayal of Jesus as one who has a preferential option for the poor, and I enjoyed reading about her work alongside the poor.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible, by Eric Bargerhuff

Much like he did in The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, pastor and professor Eric Bargerhuff brings clarity and interpretive assistance in The Most Misused Stories in the Bible: Surprising Ways Popular Bible Stories are Misunderstood.  Like a dedicated pastor, Dr. Bargerhuff writes what could be read as a sermon series on stories you probably know, if you have read the Bible or sat through church services and Sunday school.  But if you've been around long enough, you have probably heard some not-so-great teaching on these familiar stories.

Bargerhuff writes from a solidly evangelical, biblical perspective, as you might expect from someone with a Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  If your perspective is different, e.g. if you are a Catholic or Pentecostal, you might have some differences with Dr. Bargerhuff, especially in his chapters on the Lord's supper and the Samaritan Pentecost.  For the most part, his take is non-controversial.  For instance, he points out that we don't have any idea how many wise man came to visit Jesus, and that however many came, their visit was closer to Jesus' toddlerhood than to his infancy.

The larger point that Bargerhoff makes throughout the book is that the focus of these stories should be on God, not on the human actors.  The story of David and Goliath is "not about overcoming fear and facing your giants as much as it is about the power and character of God to deliver."  The story of Jonah isn't about Jonah's rebellion as God's rescuing and redeeming Jonah.  The parable of the sower isn't about monetary contributions and financial rewards (as "health and wealth" preachers might teach) but about preaching the gospel and the fruit it bears or fails to bear in the hearers.  The story of Zacchaeus is not primarily about his seeking out Jesus, but about Jesus seeking out Zacchaeus.

Bargerhuff is refreshingly straightforward in his presentation.  He has the tone of an earnest pastor whose heart is for his flock to have a proper understanding of scripture.  He concludes, "Let us never miss the main point God wants us to get lest we make the Bible into a practical how-to guide instead of a book that highlights the glory and character of God and his saving plan for us. . . . Remember that the Bible is primarily a book about God."  I'll buy that.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Words from the Hill, by Stu Garrard

For many years, I have loved the worship music of Delerious!  So I figured if their guitar player and song writer Stu Garrard had written a book, I ought to check it out.  Stu has been working on The Beatitudes Project, which includes a film, some new music, and his book Words from the Hill: An Invitation to the Unexpected.

Stu takes each of the Beatitudes and tells stories of his friends and others he has met whose lives reflect each one.  The Beatitudes, he writes, "are predominantly blessings of God's presence for people in bad situations, and not a list of spiritual virtues to attain. . . . they're about being, not doing."  He personalizes the Beatitudes in a way that leads you to see others with Jesus' eyes and to see your own life through God's eyes.  The message is that you are blessed, and God is on your side, no matter what you're going through.

Stu's work is less Bible study than life study.  He does have some illuminating thoughts about the meaning of each Beatitude.  More than that, he tells the stories of people for whom God's blessing and mercy have been vital and real.  His exposition is, frankly, a bit disjointed, and he seemed pretty loose theologically.  A good bit of the narrative involves his friendships with Jewish and Muslim friends.  All that to say the stories bring the Beatitudes to life and will call you to reflect on your own response to Jesus' teachings.

As he points out, we Christians have historically focused on our creeds, careful to get our beliefs right but sometimes neglecting application to life and relationships.  "What if," he asks, "like the earliest Jesus followers, we began to see the Beatitudes as the Jesus Creed?"  Words from the Hill can begin to give us a vision of what a Jesus Creed would look like.  I like Stu's music more than I like his book, but his book, like his music, points me to Jesus.  That's worth the price of admission.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Resurrection Perverts: Hunter's Point, by Danny Hellman

Danny Hellman's Resurrection Perverts: Hunter's Point tells the story of Harry Homburg, "America's last porn mogul," trying to resurrect his career by publishing compromising photographs of the president.  Things don't work out so well for him.  Hellman is making some commentary on fame, sex, politics, the media, but don't worry, it's nothing too profound.  Actually, not profound at all.

The art is pretty cool.  But the story didn't grab me, and the cliffhanger left me with a yawn, not a hankering for more.  I'll skip whatever the next installment is.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers introduced the world of the Wayfarer, a long-haul spaceship, in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.  The story of some of the characters from that novel continues in A Closed and Common Orbit.  We don't see or hear from the Wayfarer in this second installment.  Pepper, a friend of the Wayfarer's crew, returns, along with Lovey, the Wayfarer's ship AI who is embarking on a new life in a body.

The story jumps back and forth between Pepper's childhood and Lovey's acclimating to her body.  Pepper escaped from a labor camp and spent her formative years being taught and cared for by the AI in an abandoned ship.  I enjoyed the parallels of the two lives, a ship AI learning to live in a body, and another ship AI teaching a body how to live.

I kept wondering how these parallel threads would converge, and when they finally did, it made perfect sense.  As in The Long Way, Chambers spends a lot of time developing the alien species and cultures.  A Closed and Common Orbit has stronger emphasis on the story, as we see these two characters develop.  The scope of Common Orbit is smaller than that of The Long Way.  I think that helps Chambers tell a better story.  She also leaves me wanting to read more of her stories and to learn more about the Wayfarer and Pepper and Lovey's futures.  I hope Chambers continues this series.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Void Star, by Zachary Mason

I rarely start a book without finishing it.  Unfortunately, I didn't get all the way through Void Star by Zachary Mason.  I should have followed the clues on Amazon.  "The best and most beautiful book about computers since Neuromancer."  I really didn't like Neuromancer.  "Void Star utilizes a deliberate, predatory pace more common to the most exquisite horror novels."  I am no fan of horror novels.  "The hallucinatory beauty of the prose . . ."  Yeah, those hallucinatory sequences unmoored my mind from the book . . . and got me hallucinating about reading something else.  "His language delights . . ."  True, he does have some nice language and colorful prose (plus some vocabulary I had to look up).  I just didn't get into his style.  Or the story.

I know it may not be fair to review a book I didn't read all of.  I just felt like moving on to something else.  I'm giving this a middle-of-the-road 3 out of 5, recognizing that readers who like this genre will probably like the book.  It just wasn't for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Sex Effect, by Ross Benes

Similar to the way the authors of Freakonomics offer insights into life by looking at the world through an economic lens, Ross Benes looks through the lens of sex.  In The Sex Effect: Baring Our Complicated Relationship with Sex, Benes examines the relationships of sex with culture, economics, politics, religion, and life.  He writes that "many of the ideas our society holds to be self-evident about monogamy, affairs, divorce, rape, porn, abstinence, STDs, contraception, fertility rates, and reproductive technologies are often far from empirical truth."  In ten topical chapters, Benes draws from a wide array of sources to get to the truth and clarify misconceptions.  His writing is entertaining and informative.

Depending on your feelings and beliefs about sex and sexuality, you may not be comfortable with Benes's conclusions.  He does like to be a provocateur.  For example, he argues that monogamy was introduced for political and martial reasons; religious preferences toward monogamy are cultural responses.  He makes an interesting point, but Christians and Jews, who tend to think of monogamy as God's plan from the dawn of time, might want to add something to the argument.

Some other interesting conclusions he draws:
  • We shouldn't give presidents grief about their sexual liaisons; they are powerful men, and men with the disposition to be in a powerful role want/need/deserve outlets for their desires.  
  • The policy of prohibiting homosexuals from serving in the armed forces had the unintended consequences of solidifying gay identity, creating gay-friendly areas in port cities like San Francisco, and introducing young people to the concept of homosexuality.
  • Struggling urban centers like Detroit should look to the success of other cities' gay neighborhoods and actively recruit homosexuals to move in and lead urban renewal.
  • We may not want to admit it, but as porn has proliferated, rape has declined.  ("For every ten-percentage-point increase in Internet access, reported rape declined 7.3 percent.")
The most powerful chapter, in my estimation, dealt with the AIDS epidemic in Africa.  As you might have gathered, Benes does not harbor puritanical views about sex.  The tone of most of the book is "anything goes."  But in the AIDS chapter, he points out that biomedical solutions--condoms and drugs--have either worsened or at least not improved AIDS rates.  What solution does he recommend?  The tried and tested "ABC" method: Abstain, Be faithful, or use a Condom (in that order).  Education campaigns with this model were by far less expensive and more effective at reducing AIDS rates in African countries.  But when the U.S. groups came in, backed by pharmaceutical firms and condom manufacturers, the ABC campaigns were jettisoned.  So profit motives and ideology ("The condom coalition condemns anyone advocating for anything resembling a sexual restriction.") trumped what actually worked better, costing lives in the fight against AIDS. 

Benes's arguments are thoughtful and thought-provoking.  He leans toward a pragmatic sexual ethic.  Actually, he might balk at my even referring to a sexual ethic.  Benes's concern is what impact sexual behaviors have, what economic ties sexuality invokes, and what policy decisions impact sexual behavior and vice versa.  He's more of an observer than an ethicist.  He definitely gets some conversations started.

(On a technical note, I read The Sex Effect on my Kindle.  Benes uses tons of footnotes and endnotes, many of them quite lengthy.  Most are informative and/or entertaining, but the flow of the text on the Kindle was disrupted terribly.  I hope the publisher has fixed this for the final version.  One word: hyperlink.)

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Brave New Girl, by Lou Hamilton

"Big dreams start in play."
Lou Hamilton has a message for girls and women everywhere: Be brave.  In her new book of inspiration, Brave New Girl: How to Be Fearless, she wants you to "start to imagine being anything you want to be."  With her simple pen-and-ink drawings and brief words of wisdom, encouragement, and inspiration, she spreads positivity and confidence.

Some of the quotes are tried and true ("Reach for the stars."  "Take the road less travelled.")  Others, if not original, are less commonly heard.  ("Step out from your hiding place."  "Embrace the loop-the-loop.")  By the way, I know many of the challenges girls and women face in the world are different from those that men and boys face, but there's not a thing in here that couldn't inspire a guy.

Brave New Girl is cute and inspiring.  Give it to a girl you know who could use a pick-me-up.
"Spread the love."

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Robota, by Doug Chiang and Orson Scott Card

Doug Chiang has worked on some great movies as an artist and production designer, most notably some of the Star Wars movies.  His book Robota features his original art, paired with a story by Orson Scott Card.  The art ranges from stunning and beautiful to interesting.  Among the larger-format concept paintings, he included pen-and-ink sketches and concept art.

None of the art in Robota is from Chiang's Star Wars work.  The similarities in style are unmistakable; at times you might think, "Did I see that in The Phantom Menace?"  The story takes place on the planet Robota, which was developed by a robot race before conflict with the humans led society into disarray.  Now the robots hunt humans and animals, and enhanced, sentient animals work with the humans.

Card's story is decent, but is really second-rate, compared to his major works and compared to the first-rate illustrations.  My recommendation is to soak in the art, but don't worry about the story.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Big Agenda, by David Horowitz

If you know David Horowitz,  you know he is no fan of Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.  It will also come as no surprise to you that in Big Agenda: President's Trump Plan to Save America, he touts President Donald Trump, and holds him out as a beacon of hope to right much that is awry in the United States.  To be clear, Horowitz is not writing as Trump's mouthpiece.  Rather, he is writing as one who hopes Trump will listen and will fulfill the promises that he made during his campaign.

Horowitz paints a bleak picture of the impact that Obama's administration had on the U.S.  He reminds us that, in spite of the heroic efforts by the mainstream media to get Clinton elected, the American people, at least enough of them in key states, showed that they were fed up with the direction Obama and Clinton wanted to take our country and they were ready for someone to take our country back.

Just when you think Horowitz is hard on the Democrats, he jumps onto the Republicans.  This is really the core of Horowitz's argument.  Republicans need to show that they are sick of Democrats setting the agenda, show some fortitude, and bring the fight to the Democrats.  During the Obama administration, the Republicans capitulated and played nice, failing to stop his liberal agenda, even when they had a majority in the legislature.  And do Democrats care?  As we can see now, no.  Capitulation by the Republicans under Obama is met with obstructionism by the Democrats under Trump.

I don't mean to make Horowitz sound like nothing more than a loudmouth.  He has substantive chapters and specific talking points that Trump and Republicans in the legislature should consider.  Don't let Democrats have the upper hand on race.  How about pointing out that under Obama, the economic status of black Americans declined?  How about pointing out that under half a century or more of black leadership in some of our largest cities, those cities have been crumbling?  How about pointing out ways, as Trump did during the campaign, that a Republican agenda produces more hope and change for minorities and the poor than Obama ever could?

Don't let Democrats continue to drive a liberal agenda in universities and local schools around the country.  Don't let them limit school choice, barring poor Americans in failing school districts from educational success.  Republicans control the federal legislature and most state legislatures around the country.  How about they systematically reverse the exclusion of conservative ideas from campuses?  How about they expand school choice so more kids will have opportunities to learn?

Democrats have a greater tendency to march in lockstep than Republicans.  I don't recall Democratic congressmen blocking Obama's agenda during his first 100 days in office.  Yet some Republicans are doing their best to oppose everything Trump proposes.  Republicans need to bring the fight to the Democrats, not to each other.  Horowitz's agenda should be read by Trump's aids and put into practice.  Republicans have the White House and both houses of congress (and soon, probably, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court).  Now DON'T SQUANDER THIS OPPORTUNITY!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Unwanted Advances, by Laura Kipnis

If you follow college news, you might think that there is a rape epidemic on American college campuses.  Large gangs of men, mostly athletes and frat boys, are stalking young women, willfully forcing them to have sex with them.  Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis is no fan of rape, but in her book Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus she exposes the anti-feminist, police-state attitudes and tactics that reveal what she sees as backwards progress for feminism and academic freedom.

Kipnis was drawn into this issue when a philosophy professor on her campus came under Title IX investigation due to an allegedly inappropriate relationship with an undergraduate student.  Note that the allegations surrounded a night on the town; the pair did not have sex.  Kipnis responded with an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she argued that adult students should be treated like adults.  She subsequently came under a new Title IX investigation because she offended some of the women alluded to in the article.  Most of the book details the case against the philosophy professor and Kipnis's subsequent case.  It left me in disbelief that a campus bureaucracy could be so . . . for lack of a better word, stupid!

She writes, "rampant accusation is the new norm on today's campus; the place is a secret cornucopia of accusation, especially when it comes to sex."  Kipnis is especially offended by the anti-feminist attitudes behind campus sex codes and the ineffectiveness in preventing violence against women.  "Policies and codes that bolster traditional femininity . . . are the last thing in the world that's going to reduce sexual assault."  Title IX is being used by women to "remedy sexual ambivalences or awkward sexual experiences, and to adjudicate relationship disputes post-breakup."

Since Kipnis's offense was writing an essay, her case was a bit different from others.  But she studied the philosopher's case extensively.  After the essay was published, she became an outlet for people all over the country who sent her stories of their own Title IX investigations.  In the course of these interactions, she became an expert on Title IX procedures--or the lack of them--and in the many ways Title IX is abused.  The process is heavily weighted against the accusee.  "Typically the accusee doesn't know the precise charges, doesn't know what the evidence is, and can't confront witnesses."  Accusations are encouraged for encounters that happened months before, and that, at the time, seemed to be consensual.  Kipnis states that Title IX has created "an accusation machinery so vast and indiscriminate that it becomes a magnet for neurotic schemes, emotional knife play, and monstrously self-exonerating agendas."

She never denies the reality of rape, but bemoans a system in which virtually any sexual act can be considered rape.  The definition of rape, under Title IX, has become broader and broader.  A Title IX case doesn't even have to include physical contact.  It could include gestures, words, or, as in her case, an essay.  And universities are often happy to settle with the accusers.  In a passage that is sure to make her even less popular among Title IX activists, she writes, "the premise that accusers don't lie turns out to be mythical.  By sentimentalizing women in such preposterous ways, aren't Title IX officials setting schools up as cash cows for some of our more creatively inclined women students?"  I've seen this happen at my own alma mater, which has been writing some big checks and, as a result, attracting lawyers like ants to honey.

In another more extended discussion that will make Title IX activists apoplectic, she addresses drinking by college students.  College women want to show their equality with men by drinking like them and partying with them.  She tells stories of frat parties (that make me want to be sure my kids never get near one) that inevitably lead to, in fact are designed to lead to, women passed out drunk and readily available for sex.  But "anyone who suggests that women should drink less to avoid sexual assault will be 'disemboweled upon arrival into the gladiator arena of public discourse.'"  Title IX training programs steer clear of addressing this important element of women's safety.  She again reflects on the anti-feminist attitudes that Title IX espouses, which says that "Women don't drink; men get them drunk.  Women don't have sex; sex is done to them."  She argues, "This isn't feminism, it's a return to the most traditional conceptions of female sexuality."

Don't misunderstand.  In case you haven't figured it out, Kipnis is no male chauvinist right-winger.  She's a liberal feminist whose sexual morals are far from Puritanical.  ("I don't have anything against escapism and irresponsibility, and you certainly won't hear me arguing against drunken hookups.  'F--- all the guys you want' would be my motto.  Just don't f--- the ones you don't want . . .")  What Kipnis does have something against is kangaroo courts, people being accused of things and not being permitted to defend themselves, accusees suffering consequences without even an opportunity to respond to accusations, the rights of some people being sacrificed for an illusory, deceitful goal of women's safety.

Unwanted Advances should be required reading for any faculty member or administrator who is responsible for Title IX implementation.  Of course we want students on campus to be safe, and we want a means for them to seek justice if they are victims of a crime.  But before college administrations double down on Title IX, as my alma mater has done, they should take Kipnis's perspective and concerns into consideration.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

How to Lose a Marathon, by Joel Cohen

Joel Cohen was an out of shape, lazy guy who got winded climbing the stairs.  In How to Lose a Marathon: A Starter's Guide to Finishing in 26.2 Chapters, he tells the story of becoming an out of shape, lazy guy who successfully finished a marathon.  Cohen, a writer for The Simpsons, fills every chapter with lots of laughs, but he actually gives a pretty decent guide to training for and running a marathon.

I relate to him on so many levels.  He's a guy who couldn't imagine getting up at five something to run.  ("Wait there's actually a 5 in the morning?")  He loves his junk food.  He doesn't have much patience for pretentious runners and their pretentious gear.  He'd rather run alone.  Knowing how hard it would be to find "the perfect match in pace, distance, and disposition," he (like me) chose to "run on my own, lonely and ignorant."

He says he wrote this book because he couldn't find any books for the "beginner grinder runner."  I'm pretty sure if he'd spent ten minutes at he would have found a few dozen.  Nevertheless, Cohen's book is unique.  It's hilarious to read, yet provides actual informative content.  Short of giving a detailed daily running plan and meal plan, Cohen's book is a great starting point for training for a marathon.

The humor is solid and wide-spread.  It's even clean; I wouldn't have problem with kids reading it.  Some pages had as many as three laugh-out-loud lines.  Some just had a chuckle or two.  On average, there were about two chuckles or one laugh-out-loud per page.  But the important measure is the one I use for any running book I read: Does How to Lose a Marathon inspire me to get out and run?  Yes, it does.  Let's go!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!