Monday, 8 September 2008

A Monday Musing on a Summer's Reading

I enjoyed lots of interesting reading over the summer. I've been on a non-fiction jag for the most part.

Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995)

I laughed out loud...frequently. And he touched in to my Somerset-Maugham-dream:
I was appalled to think that never in my life would I have an opportunity to stride down a gangplank in a panama hat and a white suit and go looking for a bar with a revolving ceiling fan. How crushingly unfair life can sometimes be. 191
Maugham's characters did that all the time in his short stories. White suits and gin pahits on the verandah. Alas.

Steve Martin, Born Standing Up (Scribner, 2007)

It reminded me of a biography I read about Jerry Seinfeld. He seems not to have lived in the real world, at least not the world I inhabit.

Interesting that all of a sudden near the end of the book he mentions his divorce without ever having mentioned a marriage earlier.

William P Young, The Shack (Windblown Media, 2007)

A bit of a ChristianLit phenom at moment. Mark Driscoll speaks darkly of heresy. I was aware you could take the ideas there without to much trouble. But it didn't bother me too much (perhaps my Anglican history has dulled my senses). A couple of bits that dinged for me:
...since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside. 11
McKenzie, the Truth has a name; … Everything is about him. And freedom is a process that happens inside a relationship with him. Then all that stuff you feel churning around inside will start to work its way out. 95

Robertson Davies, The Cunning Man (McClellend & Stewart, 1994)

And something I found in one of my journals, a lovely bit I read years ago on the religious scene in Toronto between the wars—the religious scene:
Baptist zeal, Methodist self-satisfaction, Presbyterian Scots certainty about everything, Anglican social superiority, … The imperceptive, unselfconscious city prospered under its soggy blanket of shallow middle-class morality and accepted prosperity as evidence of God’s approval. 143
That's our present Anglican Church of Canada thing I reckon. Birks, labarinths and self-righteous tolerance.

Gavin Menzies, 1434 (HarperCollins)

Another one on China. Fascinating sequel to his 1421.

Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War (New York: GP Putnam’s Sons, 2004)

Wright is a journalist who was imbedded with a Marine Recon company during the Iraq invasion. Disturbing. It ends like this (beware! language! and I've added a couple of explanations in italics):
   “War doesn’t change anything,” Doc Bryan (the platoon medic) says, “This place was fucked up before we came, and it’s fucked up now. I personally don’t believe we ‘liberated’ the Iraqis. Time will tell.”
   “The American people ought to know the price we pay to maintain their standard of living,” Espera says. Despite his avowals of being a complete cynic, he continually turns back to the incident at Al Hayy, where he shot and killed three unarmed men fleeing a truck at the Marines’ roadblock. “I wish I could go back in time and see if they were enemy, or just confused civilians,” he says.
   “It could have been a truckload of babies, and with our Rules of Engagement you did the right thing,” Fick (an officer) says.
   “I’m not saying I care,” Espera says. “I don’t give a fuck. But I keep thinking about what the priest said. It’s not a sin to kill with a purpose, as long as you don’t enjoy it. My question is, is indifference the same as enjoyment.”
   “All religious stuff aside,” Colbert (the Iceman in the title) cuts in. “The fact is people who can’t kill will be subject to those who can.”
   Despite their moral qualms—or lack thereof—about killing, most Marines unabashedly love the action. “You really can’t top it,” Redman says. “Combat is the supreme adrenaline rush. You take rounds. Shoot back, shit starts blowing up. It’s sensory overload. It’s the one thing that’s not overrated in the military.”
   “The fucked thing,” Doc Bryan says, “is the men we’ve been fighting probably came here for the same reasons we did, to test themselves, to feel what war is like. In my view it doesn’t matter if you oppose or support war. The machine goes on.” 348-349
And finally,

Philip Pan, Out of Mao's Shadow: the Struggle for the Soul of a New China (Simon & Schuster, 2008)

Moving. Disturbing. What an awful system and government. What courageous people.

Fascinating reading this summer.