Posted by: Dan | December 3, 2010

November Books

Well, November was a heavy writing month, so not a lot of reading was done.  Here’s what I got:

1. Criticism of Heaven: On Marxism and Theology by Roland Boer.

Roland was kind enough to send me a copy of this book after this post prompted this exchange over on his blog.  He has also continued to extend that kindness and has agreed to be interviewed about this book on my blog, so hopefully that will be posted in the (near-ish) future.

In this book — the first in a series of five — Boer looks at the ways in which theological themes or biblical reflections impact the writings of eight prominent “Marxist” scholars: Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Louis Althusser, Henri Lefebvre, Antonio Gramsci, Terry Eagleton, Slavoj Zizek, and Theodor Adorno.  The first two he refers to as “biblical Marxists,” the next four as “catholic Marxists” and the final two as Marxists who exhibit a “Protestant turn.”

As with any book exhibiting this kind of scope, some chapters are better or more exciting than others.  With some (notably Althusser and Lefebvre) it seems as though Boer is digging pretty hard to meet the demands of his project.  With others, however (notably the chapters on Bloch and Gramsci), the writing really is quite captivating.  I also found the chapter on Zizek to be of quite a bit of interest.  I’ve read a lot of Zizek but not a lot of what has been written about him, and so it is interesting to read what others are saying who have stepped back and taken the time to study his entire project.  Boer is also quite critical, probably more so of this author than any of the others mentioned, to it is interesting to see Zizek’s praise for Boer’s work on the back cover.

All in all, quite a good read.  I would like to pick up the other volumes in the series (or maybe Roland could mail them to me, along with that case of beer and carton of smokes he still owes me…), and would recommend them to others who are interested in this sort of thing.

2. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.

This is the first volume of McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and it is fantastic–right up there with my other McCarthy favourites (Blood Meridian, The Road and Suttree, although it feels deceptively gentler than each of those novels).  It is something like a coming of age story, something like a love story, and something like Scripture.  Recommended reading (if you want a detailed plot overview, see here, but I would suggest just jumping in blind).

3. The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy.

This is the second volume of the Border Trilogy.  It is not as good as the first — it lags for about the first 100pp, but then it gets back up to McCarthy’s standard for story-telling (the first part of the book has been compared to Moby-Dick so that may be why I found it slow!).  Oddly enough, it was in this book that I encountered one of the better possible descriptions of my own “apocalyptic” life experiences that led me to the faith I live.  Here’s the quote, with some context thrown in to make sense of it:

He carried within himself a great reverence for the world, this priest.  He heard the voice of the Deity in the murmur of the wind in the trees.  Even the stones were sacred.  He was a reasonable man and he believed that there was love in his heart.

There was not.  Nor does God whisper through the trees.  His voice is not to be mistaken.  When men hear it they fall to their knees and their souls are riven and they cry out to Him and there is no fear in them but only that wildness of heart that springs from such longing and they cry out to stay in his presence for they know at once that while godless men may live well enough in their exile those to whom He has spoken contemplate no life without Him but only darkness and despair.

That, I reckon, sums up a lot of my journey.  Also recommended reading.  (Aside: there are a lot of quotable passages in this book.  As I was looking back through it to write this, I came across several that could inspire posts of their own.)

4. As I crossed a Bridge of Dreams by Lady Sarashina.

Since I was having a lot of fun reading the Norse and Icelandic sagas, I thought I would try something different and so I decided to read this book, which was written by a woman who lived in Japan during the 11th century (which means it dates to around the same time as the sagas).  I have concluded that it is far, far more exciting to read about Vikings than ancient Japanese women who write poems to each other, or to trees, or who get excited to go on a trip to nowhere to do nothing.  So, while this book is interested just for the glimpse it provides into a world that is dead and gone, the woman who lived in that world sure lived one helluva boring life.

5. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald.

I grabbed this play out of a free book bin and read it at the bar one night after I got too tipsy to read anything heavier.  It is a pretty clever feminist reading of Othello and Romeo and Juliet.  Lots of wordplay, lots of innuendo, mimicking the bard and all that.  However, I was never a big Shakespeare fan (although I did once send my wife to a sketchy hotel to buy a $10 leather-bound complete works of Shakespeare from a big sketchy dude… sorry, wife!), and I never was really able to get into reading plays, so I feel pretty ho-hum about all this.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the reviews, Dan. I always look forward to them. I’ve been meaning to take a look at Criticism of Heaven for a while, and may finally do so as I’m taking a Marxism course in the spring.

  2. Thanks, Dave. Everyone now and again I wonder if I’m writing these for anybody but myself, so the encouragement is nice.

  3. I started the Border Trilogy but gave up. Might pick it up again. Currently into My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok for the second time


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