Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Bible Unearthed, by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman (LentBooks 2010 #2)

This is why I shun fiction during Lent — so I can finally get around to all those serious, important nonfiction books that have been gathering virtual dust in my e-reader while I skip through fun and easy novels instead.  I’ve been meaning to read The Bible Unearthed for quite awhile, and now I finally have.

It’s a look at Biblical archeology, another subject I know far too little about.  Specifically, it’s a look at Biblical archeology that pushes the boundaries of “how much of the Old Testament is historically accurate” even farther, making conservative Christians (and I presume conservative Jews who have a vested interest in believing in the concept of a Promised Land) even more uncomfortable than we already are.

We already know that most people outside conservative Christianity read the first eleven chapters of Genesis as mythology rather than history, and we’re well aware, I think, that historians and archeologists also have some difficulty substantiating the stories of the patriarchs, the Exodus, and even Joshua’s conquest of Canaan.  But surely by the time we get to the  united monarchy under David and Solomon, we’re on fairly firm historical ground that is supported by archeological discoveries?

Not so, argue Finkelstein and Silberman. 

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Enough, by Will Samson (LentBooks 2010 #1)

To begin this year’s non-fiction reading journey through Lent, I picked up a book I’d looked at a couple of times before: Will Samson’s Enough.  Ironically, since it’s a book that talks about escaping consumerism and being content with “enough stuff,” I actually bought a paper copy of it.  Oops.

I’ve enjoyed Will’s previous book, Justice in the Burbs, co-authored with his wife Lisa who explored the same ideas about Christians and social justice in fictional form in Quaker Summer.  Having read those books (and many others with similar themes), I wasn’t surprised by anything in Enough, although I was, as always, challenged to try to do more about having less.

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Away from Everywhere, by Chad Pelley

Away from Everywhere is the first novel from Newfoundland author Chad Pelley.  The story begins with a bang — a man and a woman are in a serious car accident.  She dies; he lives.  Grief is complicated by guilt: she was his brother’s wife, and they were having an affair — an affair that only comes to light after the accident.  Owen, the survivor, a writer and recovering alcoholic, retreats into a world of grief and memory as he reads through his lover Hannah’s journals and recalls the scenes from his life that led him to this tragic moment.  How did he, growing up so close to his twin brother, his fellow survivor of a family that’s had its own share of tragedies, come to the point where he could commit such an unimaginable betrayal?

Away from Everywhere is the story of the life that led to the accident, and of what happens afterwards.  At its heart is the relationship between twins Owen and Alex, who survive both their father’s mental illness and their mother’s violent death.  They are close, but their lives are set on trajectories that will send them in different directions.  There are wonderful details in this novel, and vividly realized scenes, some of which linger with me long after finishing the story.  The story is intricate enough to pull the reader forward, wanting to know how it will all be resolved, even while dreading that this can’t end well.

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Dragon Keeper, by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is one of my favourite fantasy writers, and she rarely lets me down.  In this first installment of a new series, she returns to the rich and sprawling world she created in three previous trilogies: the Farseer, Liveship Traders, and Tawny Man trilogies. (The Soldier Son trilogy was a break from that series which appears — as far as readers know at this point, anyway — to be set in an entirely different world with no links to the other three series).  While the stories told in those three trilogies are different from one another, they share common links.  The enigmatic character of the Fool appears in all of them (though under a different name in the Liveship Traders), and the return of dragons to the world is an important underlying theme in all of them.

In this newest series, as the title indicates, the dragons take centre stage. Dragon Keeper is set in the mysterious world of the Rain Wilds, where the world’s only living dragon, Tintaglia, is keeping watch over a group of sea serpents who are encased in cocoons, ready to hatch into dragons.  Various groups of humans have keen and contradictory interests in the fate of these young dragons, which gives the story its conflict.  Underlying all the dragon-related efforts — to protect them, to get rid of them, to profit from them — is the unspoken but vital question: do humans really want to share a world with dragons? What would such a world be like?

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Growing in Circles, by Bonnie Casey

As you probably know if you frequent this site, I’m an avid fiction reader, but the only genre of non-fiction that I devour with the same urgency is the memoir. And among memoirs, the ones I’m most likely to seek out are memoirs by women about their spiritual journeys.

Sometimes these are about journeys toward faith (like Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, or Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God), but just as often they are about traveling away from traditional religion towards a more personal, eclectic vision of spirituality. I can now add Bonnie L. Casey’s Growing in Circles to the list of books I’ve enjoyed in this latter category, books such as Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints and Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter.

Growing in Circles brings Bonnie Casey out of the “Where Are They Now?” file in my head where she’s been residing for several years. My personal “Where Are They Now?” file doesn’t contain questions about the biographies of failed pop stars and former movie actors, but rather curiosity about Adventists who shaped my faith from a distance when I was young and impressionable.

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Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

This is another of those occasions where I read a book in January and predict with great confidence that it will be on my Top Ten list at the end of the year.  A lot of unexpected things may happen to me in 2010, but the chances that I’d read 10 books better than Wolf Hall? Never gonna happen, my friend.

You all know I love historical fiction.  If I had to name the best historical novels I’ve ever read in my life, I’d list Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour, Margaret George’s The Autobiography of Henry VIII … and now, Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall has achieved something that rarely happens to big, blockbuster historical novels: it won the Man Booker prize.  It’s a novel that has managed to transcend the conventions of the historical fiction genre and the lack of respect that genre often gets in literary circles, to win arguably the most significant prize in English literature.  Now, just because a book won the Booker doesn’t guarantee I’m going to love it.  One year I tried to read every book on the Booker longlist and didn’t exactly emerge with a new list of favourites. But Wolf Hall combines all the best of historical and literary fiction — it’s a huge, sprawling, completely engrossing novel where brilliant, finely tuned language is used to build characterization in a way few other novels I’ve ever read can equal.

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