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.

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.