Book Reviews

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?

The Master Musician- Meditations on Jesus by John Michael Talbot

The Master Musician Meditations on Jesus by John Michael Talbot Book ReviewSummary: A short devotional using music to to think about Jesus and our role as Christians.

John Michael Talbot was a popular musician in his teens in the 1970s. He became a Christian through the Jesus People movement and then through his reading about the early church fathers found his way into the Catholic church, eventually founding a monastic community (with both Protestants and Catholics, married and celebrate, clergy and lay people.)

While John Michael Talbot continued to be musician, he has also written a number of books: devotionals, memoir, prayer and a number about different aspects of monasticism. I have appreciated that he has intentionally continued to write as a Catholic, but in an inclusive way. Intervarsity Press has published a number of his books.

The Master Musician (from Intervarsity) is short, easily read in less than two hours. As someone that was a musician at a Christian college (I was briefly a music major and then played in the Wind Ensemble for two years), I have heard a number of devotionals about music. So many of the ideas of this book were not particularly new.

Talbot talks about the crafting of an instrument and compares that to our spiritual growth as a Christian. He talks about the different styles of music or different ways people gather together as musicians to play are related to the body of Christ. He talks about Jesus as conductor and musician.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Goblet of Fire Book Review Summary: If you really need a summary, you probably aren’t going to read the review.

I have been craving some comfort reading lately. So I picked up the Stephen Fry narrated version of The Goblet of Fire that a friend loaned me. (It is the narrator for the British edition; Jim Dale is the narrator for the US edition). I don’t think there is any way for someone in the US to get the UK edition without importing the CDs or off of the internet.

The new narrator did help give a fresh gloss to a story that I have read at least five times and listened to at least once. Stephen Fry is best known to me as the narrator of Pocayo, a kids TV show. I think I prefer him to Jim Dale. I need to listen to another one or two books to be sure.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

News of the World Book ReviewSummary: An elderly man (former newspaper man, former military courier, current newspaper reader) gets roped into transporting an orphaned girl that was kidnapped 4 years previous by Indians to her extended family.

I picked News of the World up when it was on sale because it was on John Wilson’s list of best books of the year. It is short, just over 200 pages, but a complete story.

I do not read a lot of westerns because there are not that many being written these days. But my teen years were full of Louis L’Amour and other western authors. The rugged individualist that lives by their code of honor and saves those that are weak against the evil powerful is not necessarily a bad theme for a teen boy. That theme today does not really interest me.

This will have to be inevitably compared to True Grit, which I really liked. Both have the old man that doesn’t really want to help. Both have the young girl in need of help, but surprisingly capable for their age. Both have the reluctant affection that develops between them.

But News of the World is a different story. There is no revenge here. There is just a struggle to survive in a land that is fairly lawless and where ‘the law’ is as dangerous as the blatant thieves. The Civil War is over, but its ramifications are still widespread. The Mexican rule over Texas is over, but the integration into the US is far from complete.

Johanna, the girl, has spent the last four years living with the Kiowa Indians after they kidnapped her and killed her immediate family. She knows nothing else. She has forgotten her language (which was German, not English). And she has adopted the Kiowa culture. As the story makes clear, she was ripped from her family, not once, but twice. And the family she is being brought to is completely unknown.