Book Reviews: Two for the Price of One!

I started to break these two reviews into two entries but then decided it was more entertaining seeing them together. It shows how much broader my reading habits have become over the past couple of years.

Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses
by Bruce Feiler

I finished Walking the Bible a while back and at the end, it was mostly a testament of my persistence. The book was long and while it started out and ended strong as with the actual bible, we got lost in the desert for a while in the middle.

For me there are two highlights in this book. One is watching Bruce come to terms with his faith struggle. I had never given much thought to folks of religions other than mine dealing with the same sort of struggles that I do. I didn’t think that people couldn’t have those struggles in other religions, I just grew up in the fairly homogenous south so (until pretty recently) didn’t know people of other faiths to see it first hand. There seems to me to be something unifying for all of us to be struggling with some of the same questions and interestingly enough, occasionally coming up with the same answers.

The other interesting bit for me was watching him try to come to terms with being Jewish and sharing the same holy land with Muslims. He talks about the uneasy cohabitation of Hebron early in the book but is very detached and able to explain it away with a nice metaphor.

After 300 pages of walking in Moses footsteps, he’s not nearly so detached. Bruce and his guide, Avner Goren, have dinner in the desert with some bedouin after a long day of travel and they all start comparing notes on the Bible and the Koran. Bruce gets frustrated with the Koran’s telling of a particular story and has to get up and walk away from the conversation.

For so much of this trip, I realized, I had allowed myself to get caught up in the emotional awaking I had been experiencing. If I could feel a growing openness in myself, if I could sense a similar feeling in Rami, Ofer, Father Justin, and countless other people we met, if I could picture a world full of ecumenical desert people, in touch with their inner selves, riding a wave of sand-hewn memories to international peace and togetherness, then surely it could happen. Surely we could forget the centuries of wars that have been fought over these stories. Surely we could overlook the millennia of bad faith that have been engendered by these stories. Surely we could remove these stories form politics, religion, and geography, and view them instead as a universal sourcebook offering readers a guide to spiritual emancipation and personal fulfillment. Surely, in other words, we could forget the things that drew me into this project—the archaeology and history that firmly anchor them in a time and place—and focus instead on the more universal qualities of reading the book—the internal growth and reaching toward God. Couldn’t we?

After this internal soliloquy, Avner steps out to check on him and offers his two cents.

“Mahmoud said, ‘God created everything,’ and I agreed. So in the end, they are the people of God, and so are we. He said it, and I said it, too: ‘It’s the same God.'”

Were it that the world could be wrapped up so easily as the plot line in books.

Spin
by Robert Charles Wilson

Stephen had already bought and read a copy of this book when it won the Hugo at the end of August. I asked him if he thought I’d like it and he said, “Um, maybe?” Which is to say that after ten years he still can’t peg what I will like short of a bodice buster. So I put it to the Paul test. Our friend, Paul, from college had a habit of reading the first line of the book and deciding from that if he would like it and continue to read it.

Everybody falls, and we all land somewhere.

I decided that I’d read that. And was immediately sucked into the spin. Part mystery, part ill-fated love story, mostly sci-fi, it’s a rocking good time that once you’ve read it, it’ll will have you looking toward the sky in a whole new way.

I am often amazed by the ideas writers come up with. Perhaps it’s because I’ve such limited storytelling capabilities that I become amazed at the simplest of yarns. I’ve decided that I really enjoy novel sci-fi, mostly because even the tired ideas from the genre are new and exciting to me.

Unfortunately, I can’t really talk too much about plot because I don’t want to unravel it if you haven’t read it already. Go read it and then call me!

So I’ll just say: It’s good. I enjoyed it. It won the Hugo this year. Eli can look at the cover, spell out the letters and say, “Spin!” triumphantly. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

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7 Comments

  1. May
    on September 23, 2006 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your assessment of Walking the Bible. I enjoyed it so very much and my feelings mirror yours. The second one I can’t comment on since I haven’t read it. Maybe I will one day after I finish The World is Flat. May

  2. katre
    on September 24, 2006 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    The description of Walking The Bible seems really interesting. My first thought, based on what you describe, is that his trip sounds like he’s trying to do the Hajj, the pilrimage to Mecca that all Muslims should do (and I’ll go someday!). Talking to F. (who went before we married), there’s a lot of walking in the desert, sitting with the rocks and sands, and just thinking a lot about your connection to Allah, the world, and the Muslim religion. It’s probably un-PC for me to say that all religions could use something similar, but I hope you’ll take that the right way. 🙂

  3. on September 24, 2006 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I think most of us who are spiritually seeking should do some hajj-like travel. I know there are several places in the holy lands that I would like to visit.

    I hesitated to post about this book because I didn’t know what sort of mess it would stir up. However, I decided to go ahead simply because I knew that there were reasonable people of all three faiths who read this site. I don’t have the answers to the divisions in our world, what you were expecting a Nobel Peace Prize Winner? What I do know though is that caring communication is always a good place to start. Talking about our similarities is more helpful than talking about our differences. I had wondered? hoped? that you would get the ball rolling, John.

  4. duchess
    on September 25, 2006 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    When I was still a consultant, (about three years ago) my co-worker was reading _Walking the Bible_ and the title intrigued me. I love books about understanding religion (whether or not it is mine doesn’t matter) without preaching dogma. It’s still on my Amazon wishlist, and reading your review, I am even more intrigued. I hadn’t thought about it in context with Hajj, but it’s a great comparison since the pilgrimage is *literally* walking in the footsteps of Adam, Eve, Hagar, Abraham, Ishmael, and finally, Mohammad.

    Now I really want to read it. Off to Amazon, I go.

  5. Sean
    on October 9, 2006 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    On Spin, Kat and I just read the same book over in Hawaii. I happened to get a hold of it first and when asked if she would like it, I had to tell her I was not sure. Funny how across the country, you two still seem to have little ways of being alike.

  6. on October 10, 2006 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Sean,

    Obviously we were meant to be friends. Now if you two would only move back over here so we could actually spend time with you…

    Was that hint not so subtle?

  7. on October 10, 2006 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Misty: Could have used a little more brick-to-the-face action, dear.