6-10 75 Book Challenge Austen, the Bible, and Steven Russell

To finish 75 books in a year, I need to be reading a book an a half a week.  It’s currently week six, and I’ve finished 10, so I’m slightly faster than pace, but not much.

6. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

This is actually the first book I read this year.  For free, on my Kindle!  I’d never actually read any Austen before because I find the concept of reading Romance Novels embarrassing.  Unless they are Twilight and I’m reading them to have ammunition to mock the fans.  But I really like Jane Austen movies and the period and the stories, so I’ve decided to try not to be too embarrassed by it.  Anyway, I enjoyed this and am amazed at how contemporary and snarky it is.  Hard to believe it was written by someone so long ago. A

7. Emma – Jane Austen

This is my favorite Austen story because I find it really funny.  Pride and Prejudice is relatively serious and there are some genuine perils and Sense and Sensibility I have issues with, but Emma is just a bunch of idiots being ridiculous and a bored smart girl being snakry and kind of awful.  I really identify with Emma, which is probably weird because she’s really quite unlikeable.  But there it is.  A+ 

8. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

I don’t dislike this story, but I hate all the characters in it.  Marianne is gag-inducingly over-emotional, Elinor is boring, Lucy is irritating, Colonel Brandon is shallow and insipid, Willoughby is a complete douche, and Edward is self-effacing and masochistic to the point that you simply don’t believe he is real.  B-

9. Biblical Nonsense: A Review of the Bible for Doubting Christians – Jason Long

I was surprised by this book, I didn’t have high expectations, and I thought it was very thorough without being dull.  Contradictions, evil actions on the part of the deity and translation errors are all covered.  While far less confrontational than Dawkins or Hitchens, I have a hard time seeing this as actually aimed at Doubting Christians.  My research of glancing at Amazon reviews doesn’t reveal any Christian who have actually read the book before protesting, though, so I can’t say for sure.  The book highlights two questions I’ve never gotten satisfactory answers to: How do people actually believe that the Bible is true and How do they think that the god presented isn’t evil?  A-

10. I Love You, Phillip Morris – Steve McVicker

I saw this movie last weekend and it was BRILLIANT.  I loved it.  I have a fondness for slightly ridiculous dark comedies that other people are indifferent at best to (see Death to Smoochy) and I love conmen and capers, and this story offers both.  It’s definitely competing with The King’s Speech for my favorite movie of the year.  It is delightful.  Sorry, this is the book review.  I got the book from the library on Monday, passed it to my mother on Tuesday because I’d finished it and couldn’t wait to force someone else to read it too.  I liked the movie slightly more than the book, but I cannot recommend either of them highly enough.  It’s essentially a true gay love story between a conman and the boy who he met in prison.  The cons he pulls are unbelievably awesome and he is currently serving 144 years in Texas for white collar crimes, which seems a bit excessive to me.  But he did escape prison something like 14 times, so…  <3 so bad you guys.  A

1-5 75 Book Challenge – Cressida Cowell

These aren’t strictly the first five books I read this year but I thought it made more sense to group them all together.  These are the first five books in the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell (who is, interestingly enough, married to a Simon Cowell, but not THE Simon Cowell).  I decided to read these because I saw the movie – I think that about 97% of my new book reading is based on either seeing the movie or seeing the author on TV.

The Books are very different from the movie, but they’re both good in different ways.  The book does things in ways that aren’t cinematic enough because it is focused on language and reading – hard to portray entertainingly in films, especially for the kiddies.  Here’s the rundown of the first five – there are several more that I haven’t gotten copies of.  I read these all on my new Kindle.  It was awesome.

1. How to Train Your Dragon – Cressida Cowell 

Hiccup is a Viking but sucks at it because he’s skinny, nerdy and kind-hearted.  That’d be difficult enough but he’s also the heir to the Chief.  Being loud and violent doesn’t really suit him or his best friend, the aptly named Fishlegs.  In their universe, the coming-of-age ritual is stealing a sleeping dragon to raise as your hunting partner.  Thanks to some mishaps, Hiccup ends up with a boring, tiny, common dragon who doesn’t have any teeth.  Toothless is also a smart ass.  Hiccup is the only Viking that speaks Dragonese, which makes him an outcast but ends up ultimately saving the day from some giant sea dragons, with Toothless’ help.  Basically the lesson of these books is that intelligence and kindness beat brute force and ignorance every time.  A

2. How to be a Pirate – Cressida Cowell

This book introduces the arch-nemesis Alvin the Treacherous, who I don’t really find interesting.  Hiccup’s grandpa was a crazy awesome Viking with a hidden treasure that only his heir could find.  So Alvin kidnaps Hiccup, finds the treasure and nearly kills Hiccup.  Hiccup discovers that he’s secretly been left-handed his whole life and is a sword-fighting prodigy, in a scene reminiscent of The Princess Bride, and defeats Alvin, leading to his apparent but not actual demise.  B-

3. How to Speak Dragonese – Cressida Cowell

This book introduces Camicazi, the heir of rival Viking tribe of Big Boobied Bertha (I know, right?).  She’s a tiny, tenacious escape artist.  The Romans, under the command of Alvin, who survived the previous demise but lost all of his hair, kidnaps Camicazi, Fishlegs and Hiccup who have to escape and keep their tribes from killing each other.  B

4. How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse – Cressida Cowell

This is my favorite of the series.  Hiccup thinks Fishlegs has been poisoned by a dragon, and the cure is the potato, a mysterious vegetable thought to be only a myth.  A nearby, particularly violent Viking tribe is rumored to have one of these under close guard and so Hiccup, Camicazi and Toothless cleverly steal the frozen vegetable.  It has an arrow stuck in it and it is rumored that whoever removes the arrow will save the tribe from the big sea dragon that stays in their bay.  Well, when it thaws in Hiccups hands, he easily pulls the arrow out, only to have the giant dragon steal the potato, leaving him without a cure for his friend, but a hero to the tribe.  When he returns to his village, it turns out that Fishlegs is fine, it is in fact Hiccup who is dying.  Fortunately, the arrow has enough potato to save him.  In the epilogue, it turns out the Sea Dragon had been dying from the same poison and he becomes Hiccups guardian angel.  A

5. How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Cressida Cowell

I thought this was intended to be the last of the series and it has that sort of finality to it’s ending, but it turns out I was wrong and there are at least three more so far.  So, I’ll have to seek them out.  This book is about a super epic stopping of a volcano from erupting, with histories and dastardly past lives revealed.  It seems bigger in scope than the earlier ones, but is just as fun.  I didn’t find it quite as engaging as the one immediately previous. B

Forgive me iPhone, for I have sinned

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The Catholic Church has had a rough time lately, between sex scandals and dwindling interest in church and the constant onslaught of the New Atheist movement, they haven’t had much good PR in the last decade.  Always a relic from older, simpler times, the Catholic Church is usually half a century behind the rest of the world in adopting any sort of new technology or public opinion.  Despite the AIDS crisis, it took them thirty years to decide that condoms were OK for preventing the spread of HIV, so I was shocked to find that they are trying to keep it real with a new iPhone app for confessions.

I admit that I laughed when I read that.  I did.  I’m not a Catholic, and I’m not sure how mundane one can make the sacred and profound, but from the perspective of marketing the church to younger members, which is what they so desperately need, making it easier to participate on social media platforms is a smart move.  Earlier this year, the Pope said he wanted to reach out with new media, and I think this has to be a step in the right direction.  Although they have a YouTube channel and a Facebook page that lets users send online postcards, this is a major step to creating an interactive relationship through social media.

There are already several apps available that are religious, most of them centered around quotes and full copies of the Bible, but this is thought to be the first app officially approved by the Vatican.  It is, of course, not free, but costs $1.99 to download.  I think it speaks volumes about the importance of social media as a marketing tool that even the Holy See is getting in on the act.  Here’s hoping the Pope starts tweeting.

I seriously can’t believe they’re charging for it, I feel like that’s the most crass thing about it.