Posts By Adam Shields

Call for the Dead by John Le Carré

Reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle version is on sale for $1.99. If you like to start at the beginning of a series, this is the first of the George Smiley novels.

Call for the Dead by John Le CarreSummary: John Le Carré’s first novel and the introduction to George Smiley.

I really hate reading books out of order.  When I decided to read a Le Carré novel, Call for the Dead was not available as an audiobook or kindle book.  But with the publicity from the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy movie, many of Le Carré’s novels are coming back into print or moving to digital formats.

Over Christmas I picked up the first two novels in the series from an Audible.com sale.  I knew going in that the reputation of these books is that while they are interesting back story to George Smiley, they are not Le Carré’s best work.  He originally wrote them while working as a real spy and it was only after his third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, took off that Le Carré became a full time author.

This is the third of Le Carré’s novels that I have read.  In the series I started with the third book, which only has George Smiley as a marginal character.  Then I read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which brings Smiley back to the center stage (and re-sets the timeline from the first two books making Smiley about 10 years younger).

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Reposting this late 2013 review. The Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99 for the month of February. The Audiobook is $3.49 with purchase of the Kindle Edition. Or the Audible.com Audiobook is the Deal of the Day today at Audible and it is on sale for $3.95 if you only want the audiobook.

Kindred by Octavia ButlerSummary: A 26 year old newlywed African American woman from 1976 somehow gets sent back in time to save the life of a young Maryland plantation owners son, in 1815.

A bit over a year ago I picked up Octavia Butler’s book Fledgling more by mistake than anything else.  I knew the late Octavia Butler was a well known science fiction author, but I had not read anything she had written.

Fledgling, her last book, was about vampires, but was far different from either the young adult Twilight books, the Anne Rice books, or the traditional Bram Stoker book.

I was reluctant to pick up Kindred because of the subject matter.  An African American woman gets sent back in time to Antebellum South.  I expected a depressing or superficial book.  Instead I found one of the best fiction books I have read this year.

I am a bit allergic to nostalgia, wishing to be back at some mythical point in history is great, for those that were privileged at that point in time.

Dana, both a woman and African American, was not privileged to in 1815 or the later points where she goes back. It is this voice, of the African American and female, that Butler is known for. But what could be a simplistic (slavery was bad) book was a nuanced look at how culture affect the person.

Lost History of Christianity by Philip Jenkins

Reposting this 2015 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99. The Audible.com Audiobook is $3.99 with purchase of the Kindle Edition.

The Lost History of Christianity by Philip Jenkins Book Review

Summary: At one point the church of the East was as strong, or stronger than the Church of the West, but then it started a slow decline under persecution.

Once again, with the recent comments by President Obama and the violence of ISIS, the crusades are back in the news. And it is again popular for the average person to pontificate about the history of something that they have not actually spent any time studying. Philip Jenkins is trying to solve that, or at least the problem of a lack of information.

The main focus of the The Lost History of Christianity is of the 1000 year history of the church of Asia and Africa from approximately the 4th to the 14th century.

The image on the cover is a stylized map of Jerusalem in the middle with the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa proceeding from it. At one point, there was far more balance in Christianity between the three continents than what is commonly understood today.

In the 4th century the great councils ruled on how to understand the divinity of Christ. The ‘winners’ of that fight we now call orthodox and the losers we call ‘heretics’.  But everyone did not simply adopt the creed. Much (but not all) of the Eastern church continued to identify with what we now call the Monophysite heresy. These Christians are now called Oriental Orthodox (as opposed to Eastern Orthodox who did accept Nicaea) or Nestorians. They believe that Jesus Christ has one nature, not two, and was wholly divine. Modern scholars do not find as much difference between the two camps as might be assumed and so Jenkins wants to keep the understanding of them as Christian on the table.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti by Nnedi OkoraforSummary: An African teen in the future leaves her (traditional) home to attend a university on another planet.

A couple days ago I was describing Octavia Butler as the only female African American science fiction author that I could think of. The next day I received an email from Amazon about a book they thought I would like. I tend to ignore most of those emails, but I opened this one. I read a few reviews and picked up Binti. (Binti won both Hugo and Nebula awards for best novella in 2015.)

Binti is a 96 page novella. It was cheap and I was looking for something quick and different. Once I was on Goodreads, I saw that a couple of friends had read and liked Binti. And Friday evening John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars) tweeted about reading the follow up book, Binti: Home.

Binti is the name of the main character. She is a 16 year old that has been accepted (and given full scholarships) to Oomza University, the best university in the galaxy. Binti’s family is from a traditional African village. While they trade with outsiders (her father is a skilled craftsman), they do not leave. Binti decides to accept the offer to study at Oomza University. She leaves without telling her family.

Dream With Me- Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win by John Perkins

Dream With Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win by John PerkinsSummary: Thoughts from an elder as he reflects on his life, the church and the world.

I have read just about everything that John Perkins has written. So I pre-ordered Dream with Me months ago on kindle and picked up the audiobook as well. I have followed John Perkins’ work since I first became aware of the Christian Community Development Association in 1991 and attended their annual meeting in 1992.

Since then I have attended two or three additional annual meetings and read widely books that have been written by others associated with CCDA. I wrote my Masters thesis for my Masters in Social Service Administration on the different ways that Christian Churches and their church based non-profit arms related to one another using three Chicago based CCDA member organizations as examples.

If you do not know the name John Perkins or anything about CCDA, this probably isn’t the first book I would recommend. I would suggest starting with Perkins’ earlier memoir Let Justice Roll Down or Stephen Berk’s now out of print biography on Perkins, A Time to Heal, both give a much larger context to Perkins’ work and thoughts and would help you to understand why we should listen to Perkins in the first place.

Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis

I am reposting this 2014 review because today only (Sunday Feb 12), Till We Have Faces is on sale for $2.95 on audiobook.
Takeaway: A story of regret and complaint, joy and pain. Much like the story of many of us.

As regular readers of this blog well know, I have been intentionally reading a lot of CS Lewis for about 18 months. Lewis is an icon of Christian literature. And there are few that can compete with the breadth of his work, from apologetics, to memoir, to children’s literature, to serious adult fiction, to serious academic work, to contemporary essays.

I first read Till We Have Faces nearly three years ago before this most recent reading. I liked it much more this time. I think I both understand Lewis and have more context than the previous reading and I think I probably read the book better.

Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche from the perspective of one of Psyche’s sisters. I didn’t really know the story of Cupid and Psyche before, and so I intentionally read several things about it before I re-read this to make sure I have the basics of the story in my head.

Books and Cuture had a good review by John McWhorter of a book on the history of jazz. The thing that has really stuck with me is McWhorter’s comments about a 1957 Looney Tune cartoon that riffed off of the three little pigs story with jazz musicians.

What McWhorter notes is that in order to understand the ‘Three Little Bops’ cartoon, the audience had to understand the original story of the three little pigs. And similarly, when jazz was popular music, the jazz solo was riffing off of a known melody and song. But as jazz has become a more ‘classical form’ it has taken more work to understand the original musical stories that are currently being riffed off of.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura

Silence and Beauty- Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto FukimuraSummary: Thoughts on faith, art, Japan and the novel Silence.

Despite the movie Silence bombing at the box office (I didn’t have a chance to see it before it was gone), critics have mostly given positive reviews. And that seems to be similar to what I have heard from people that seen the movie. There were many that have previously read the book and have looked forward to the movie for years. But more than a few did not like the movie or the basic theme of the book. Bishop Barron, who regularly reviews movies as part of his video podcast and who I have usually found very sympathetic to attempts to portray faith in popular culture media really did not like it.

But I can’t help but feel like there is something missing in between those that have been raving about it and those that suggest it is missing between those that really like the film and those that are suggesting it is only marginally Christian theologically.

There is a pretty good discussion between Fujimura, Martin Scorsese and Kutter Callaway at Fuller Seminary. When I hear Scorsese talk about his intent behind the film or Fujimura’s discussion in Beauty and Silence or his many other places, it seems to be exactly the type of art that Christians need to be making. It has hard questions, no particularly easy or pat answers and it is technically superb.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen

I am reposting this 2015 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99.
Takeaway: The downfall of greatness seems to be written in advance by the weaknesses that are inverse to the greatness.

John Wilson, the editor of Books and Culture, at some point listed Ron Hansen as one of the best living Catholic novelists. About a year or so ago I read Hansen’s Margarete in Ecstasy. It was hard for me to think about an author that wrote that story of a young devout nun also writing a story of the thief and murderer Jesse James.

Prior to reading the book, I really did not know anything about Jesse James or Robert (Bob) Ford. Hansen is writing historical fiction, but this is very historical, almost biography in feel. The difference between straight biography and historical fiction is blurred here, but it seems to be mostly accurate but with imagined dialogue.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Book Review of Go Set a Watchman by Harper LeeSummary: Scout (now Jean Louise) returns home to Atticus as an old man and her view of the world is shaken.

Reading this nearly two years after it came out, and after I have read many reviews, it is hard to be objective. I knew the basic story before I started. I knew why so many people really didn’t like the book and why many others thought that it was an important sequel. And I basically agree with both sides.

Go Set a Watchman is the story of Jean Louise’s return back to visit her family as a 26 year old. She has been living in New York City and her distance from her family and the culture causes a culture shock. Her hero worship of her father is crushed when she see him (and his now law partner and her current love interest Henry) at a Citizen’s Council meeting.

The Late Monsieur Gallet by George Simenon

Summary: Overworked and understaffed, Inspector Maigret has an obscure murder that doesn’t seem to make sense.

I keep hearing about the brilliance of Georges Simenon and his Inspector Maigret series. The first couple (realize that there are over 100 of these) were fine but nothing special. And even this one, which I think has been the best so far, isn’t really good enough to be top level. But I can see the glimpses of where Simenon can really shine.

Inspector Maigret does not really want to investigate this seemingly standard murder himself. It is the summer and other inspectors are on vacation and really no one else can do it except himself. But something seems off. Maigret’s image of the man does not really match the descriptions that others give of him. And then the facade starts to crumble. But was it murder or revenge, was the victim a crook, was the victim even who he said he was?