Several of you were kind enough to ask for a repeat of this postÂ concept. Unfortunately, even if you now wish to take that request back, it is too late.
I've been fortunate enough to have time to read, lately. And so I've been paying attention to book reviews I come across, many of which are about religion. Here's a sampling of books that intrigue me.
#1. On Religion Dispatches, Nathan Schneider has a fairly negative review of a new book by Stephen Fuller called Science. Fuller argues (according to Schneider) that what you might call "the religious stance" (with apologies to Daniel Dennet) would be useful for scientists because it would -- somehow? -- make them better scientists. I'm tempted to at least download the sample from Amazon, just to see what the tone of this book is like. Is he a total cynic, a crypto-Christian, or what?
#2 and #3. Stephen Prothero was good enough to tweet a link to his review of two interesting books: On Evil, by Terry Eagleton and Absence of Mind by Marilynne Robinson. I am halfway through Eagleton's book, despite Prothero's rather lukewarm review. I recommend it highly if you want a dazzling kaleidoscope of ideas about evil and literature, written in a style that... well, let me quote.
"Fifteen years ago, two ten-year-old boys tortured and killed a toddler in the north of England. There was an outcry of public horror, though why the public found this particular murder especially shocking is not especially clear. Children, after all, are only semi-socialized creatures who can be expected to behave pretty savagely from time to time. If Freud is to be credited, they have a weaker superego or moral sense than their elders. In this sense, it is surprising that such grisly events do not occur more often. Perhaps children murder each other all the time and are smply keeping quiet about it. ... we are ready to believe all kinds of sinister things about children, since they seem like a half alien race in our midst. Since they do not work, it is not clear what they are for. They do not have sex, though perhaps they are keeping quiet about this too. They have the uncanniness of things which resemble us in some ways but not in others. ..."
The man is an astonishingly brilliant writer -- by turns cynical, scholarly, thoughtful, insightful and ridiculous. He clearly has one of those Western-classics educations that allows him to skip from Great Idea to Great Idea, leaving me to limp along behind him at times. And then he drops in a comment like this: "Acts that we and others have performed freely in the past may merge into an opaque process which appears without an author, confronting us in the present with all the intractable force of fate. In this sense, we are the creatures of our own deeds." Look, this guy is not even a little bit Buddhist, but I don't know where I've seen a better statement of the law of karma.
The second book in Prothero's review looks extremely interesting, and I plan to get around to it next. Ms. Robinson was recently a guest on Jon Stewart's show. Those who wish can watch that interview to get a sense of her thought. I've only read a bit of it so far, but I admire her lucid style. I think I may not agree with her views about the true natures of science and religion, but I expect to respect her reasoning.
I recommend both these books.
#4. With a hat-tip to Killing the Buddha, may I make you acquainted with David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and fiction writer. To be fair, his book(s) (a series of quite short speculative stories called Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, a not-yet-finished book about being a "posibilian") are not the focus of this interview. But I bought Sum anyway, and it's a fun read. (And it's also a great place to rest my brain after spending some time with Terry Eagleton.) And hey, the interview is well worth a read, I think.
#5. OK, finally some fun. This next book isn't even a LITTLE serious, ok?
NPR's "Books" email recently pointed me at Kraken by China Mieville, aÂ rollicking fantasy novel suitable for summer reading. (Oh, you did NOT just give me an attitude about my reading fantasy novels, did you?????) Look, you can call this urban fantasy, but, it's actually a tour de force of the apocalypse, which in case you wonder, will in fact take place in a near-future dystopic version of London. The book begins with a squidnapping (don't blame ME for that term!) and proceeds like a hellish, cultic acid trip toward -- well, I'm 3/4 of the way through, and I'm not sure WHERE it'sÂ going, but I'm enjoying the ride. This author seems to have somehow leashed whatever brain quirk it is that feeds religiously-themed schizophrenia. If your brain is sufficiently unhinged, I predict you will love this brilliantly strange book.
That's it for this time. Enjoy your summer, and hey, read a good book!