75 Books 51-55: Ronson, Hines, Heimlich, Beal, and Pilkington

deesillustration of bohemian grove

Bohemian Grove

51. The Rise and Fall of the Bible – Timothy K. Beal

I didn’t enjoy this book. I only finished reading it because it was short and I’m trying to read a lot of books, otherwise I just would have stopped. It’s subtitle is “the unexpected history of an accidental book”. That sounded pretty intriguing. I thought it would be a lot more like a Bart Ehrman book, and it was not that scholarly and was pretty milquetoast on putting out opinions. Beal is a Christian despite thinking that Biblical literalism is silly, and he spends too much of the book reminding you that he is NOT an atheist.

It feels really unfocused, and what I was expecting (a concise history of the Bible) was really more a sort of meandering story that occasionally focused on moments in time, and occasionally on metaphors about grapefruit trees, and occasionally on how to make paper. Learning about the current bible business was interesting, but it felt all over the map. I think it would have been better if it was at all chronological. C+

52. The Stepsister Scheme – Jim C. Hines

In a bold move, I decided to read something by Hines that wasn’t a goblin book. It’s a weird premise — the heroines of fairy tales, after their tales have taken place, team up in the face of adversity. There have been lots of comparisons to Charlie’s Angels, though I would argue it’s slightly deeper than that. Hines’ humor is there, but it is not nearly as bouyant as in the first Jig book. I enjoyed it, his books are very easy to picture, very visual without being overly descriptive. And his characters have quirks that are not actually endearing, which I love, most authors won’t have characters that are not all that likable. B+

53. Breaking their Will – Janet Heimlich

This is a book about religious child abuse, and it’s very well-written. I hesitate to say it’s an easy read, because it’s very disturbing, but it was a quick read nonetheless. Religious (or cult, if you prefer) child abuse is particularly scary to me because it happens on the part of parents who are convinced that they are doing the best for their children. These people think, I cannot treat my child’s cancer, that would be against my religion; I must beat the devil out of my child, even if it kills them; I must have sex with this underage girl (Warren Jeffs)/I must let my underage children have sex with this priest; I must not complain to legal authorities about child rape; I must not go to the authorities about abuse within my closed community. It is disturbing and I agree very much with her premise that children have rights that aren’t enumerated or particularly respected by adults — you see this particularly in the public school system. Anyway, I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned with the way religions treat children. A

54. Them, Adventures with Extremists – Jon Ronson

I don’t find conspiracy theories that interesting, so I started reading this book with a little reluctance. But it ended up being fascinating to see him fall down this rabbit hole of conspiracy, to the point that he became a little paranoid. What I found interesting was that most Christian, Domestic, Muslim, and International Terrorism has its roots in the same basic Conspiracy Theory mindset. Namely that the Western World has a small group of capitalists (this often means Jews) who are trying to control the world. Of course, the world is controlled by capitalists, just not very well.

What I found most disturbing was the story of Ruby Ridge, something I’d never heard of, that happened right before Waco. Basically, the FBI murdered a little boy (who was armed) and an unarmed woman who was holding a baby because they were kooks who lived in the woods and maybe were associated with white supremacists. Like the attack on Waco, it was just not the way to go about solving the problem they thought they had. It’s sort of mind-boggling.

And I learned about the Bilderberg group and this ritual that they do in Bohemian Grove every year, which convinces me more than ever that the political elite are a bunch of immature frat boys obsessed with being cool. So embarassing to be a human sometimes. A

55. Rabbit-Proof Fence – Doris Pilkington

I saw the movie version of this sometime earlier this year — Kenneth Branagh plays the bad guy, so that always is interesting because I have an irrational extreme dislike of Kenneth Branagh that makes him a very effective person if I’m supposed to hate him. (See: Gilderoy Lockhart)

The story is the true story of three half-caste girls in Australia who were basically abducted from their aborigine families to be put in “schools” to be educated on how to be servants. The school was basically not much better than a prison. It reminds me of the school in Jane Eyre. The eldest girl immediately decides that they are going home, and they walk through the wilderness for 1500 miles, eventually finding the rabbit-proof fence which runs the entire height of Western Australia and following it to their home. It’s amazing because it’s so horrifically racist and the girls are so resourceful. A

75 Books: 46-50 Hines, Ronson, George, and Bronte

46. Goblin Tales – Jim C. Hines
 
This is a collection of short stories based on the character Jig from the other Goblin books by Hines.  I’m not sure where in the series you’re “supposed” to read it, but I really enjoyed it.  A lot more than I thought I would, because I am not usually that big a fan of short stories.  But this was really fun.  Even the sort of ridiculous story about the bibliomancer was clever.  I’ve been surprised by the Hines books, because while I like a lot of fantasy, I really hate most fantasy, so I’m always really reticent to start a new series. A-
 
47. The Men Who Stare at Goats – Jon Ronson
 
What a creepy and weird book.  I guess, knowing the average skepticism and intelligence of Americans, it’s not really that surprising that the military would put resources behind paranormal crap, it’s just really embarrassing.  I haven’t seen the movie and I can’t imagine how you make a movie from this.  Ronson is sort of a gonzo journalist, but instead of taking drugs he just hangs out with people who are so completely insane that you feel like you’re taking drugs when you read it. B
 
48. Princess of Glass – Jessica Day George
 
This is the sequel to the dancing princesses book, and I was pleasantly surprised.  She does something clever here and has almost nothing from the first book in the second, except for as background to character development.  Admittedly, having 12 princesses with futures to explore, it is very easy to have a completely unconnected storyline.  It was a very clever spin on Cinderella, in that it had a lot of similar elements, but they were totally twisted around.  Evil Godmother, Cinderella isn’t the main character, etc. A
 
49. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
 
I know it is shocking that I’ve never read this book.  I hadn’t even seen a movie version of the story until this year, despite the fact that it is apparently the most adapted novel ever.  Like my aversion to Austen, I felt like I should just avoid the Bronte’s because I think they’re all going to be sappy romances.  And they are romances, but they aren’t *that* sappy.  I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would — I liked the movies, but I just thought the writing style would be overwrought.  And it wasn’t, it was very easy to read.  I still have a hard time imagining I will ever willingly read Wuthering Heights. A
 
50. Goblin War – Jim C. Hines
 
This is the final book in the Jig trilogy, and it is the one that is most epic in scope.  It was a good close to the story, but I really liked the first one best.  This one lost a lot of the humor of previous installments in favor of a more complex plot, but I think it was well-done, I just didn’t like the tone as much.  B

75 Books 41-45: George, Adams, Hines, and Tyson

Bitch, I will cut you

41. Dragon Slippers – Jessica Day George

Having read her version of 12 Dancing Princesses and liked it, I thought I’d find some of her other work. This is her first novel, and it is quite different than the Princesses, in a good way. It reminds me very much of Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons series, but is slightly less flip. I enjoyed it. A

42. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

I had read this a long, long time ago, probably when I was 15 or so. I love Douglas Adams. It was interesting to go back and read this after having read all of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s work. It’s amazing how much they remind me of one another. It also reminds me of Dr. Who/Torchwood, now that I’ve seen a bit of that. I love it all. A

43. Goblin Hero – Jim C. Hines

I actually had to buy this book because the library only has the first and last in the series. This one was not as good as the first one, but I admire the fact that Hines added new characters and didn’t continue to focus solely on Jig. The thing is that when you write a book that has a complete character arc, it’s very difficult to follow it up with another book about the same character and also have a complete character arc. He cleverly kept the same character, but added someone else to support the arc thing. I didn’t like it as much as Goblin Tales (see 46), but it was good. B

44. Dragon Flight – Jessica Day George

This is the sequel to Dragon Slippers and it was quite good. I’m not sure if she wrote the first one with the intention of following it up, but it is a very natural continuation of the story, I thought she handled it quite well. The dragon characters are surprisingly complex, as are the intercontinental politics. B

45. The Pluto Files – NdGT

I am in love with Neil deGrasse Tyson. He is so hysterically funny and bombastic and snarky.  But he killed Pluto, and that was so sad.  But today they discovered a fourth moon for Pluto, so maybe Pluto’s going to be OK.  This just tells the story of the downfall of Pluto, it’s very good.  A-

75 Books 36-40: Meyer, George, Sharlet, Chabris and Simons, Hines

I have just finished book 41, which puts me a bit ahead of the game for the year.  Which is good since TAM will be a non-reading sort of a place.  Though the flights will be good reading time.

 

36. The Tudors – GJ Meyer

This is a history of the entirety of the Tudors, which in reality isn’t that big —  just over 100 years.  Henry 7, 8, Edward 6, Mary, and Elizabeth.  Unfortunately, despite claiming to be a history of all the Tudors, it was probably 3/4ths devoted to Henry VIII.  There was almost nothing about Henry VII, and not nearly enough on Edward, Mary, or Elizabeth.  I appreciate that there’s a lot written about all of them elsewhere, but the comprehensive claim the book makes is absurd.  It should have been called Henry VIII and Family.

One thing I really liked about the book was that between each chapter about the Tudors, there was a chapter giving background on general life in England or Europe at the time.  It was very helpful.  I also liked the fact that, unlike most writers, Meyer had a fairly negative view of the Tudors — a very interesting shift in perspective.

B-

37. Princess of the Midnight Ball – Jessica Day George

I have two favorite fairy tales: Donkey Skin and The Twelve Dancing Princesses.  This is based on the latter.  The book is fairly similar to the original telling, just much expanded.  I enjoyed George’s writing style, and I particularly liked how much she weaved knitting into the story.  Seriously, the book has knitting patterns in the back for the knitting that took place within the story.  Goofy?  Yes.  Awesome?  Probably.

B+

38. The Family – Jeff Sharlet

I have been reading this for like 4 months.  It is a slog, and incredibly depressing.  Not bad, mind you, just dense.  The book follows three basic stories: the rise of fundamentalism, the power the family has in American and World Politics, and the importance of political power to Christianity.  I particularly enjoyed the parts about Ted Haggard, who was an even bigger player behind the scenes than I had realized, and Hillary Clinton, who I am horrified to know actually has worked with the Family on numerous occasions.  As Sharlet says, in the US there is only one party, they just are smart enough to pretend like people have choices.  The information is important, but not terribly well-organized, and it can be difficult to read at times.  It seems to flop back and forth between third and first person too much.

B

39. The Invisible Gorilla – Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

Non-fiction usually takes me a long time to get through.  I guess because there’s no plot, or maybe because writers don’t think they have to be entertaining or provide forward motion for a book that’s mostly about facts.  This book was the first non-fiction book I’ve read in a while that was easy to get through.  It’s a fascinating exploration of how terrible our minds are at a lot of different things.  We’re bad at noticing unexpected things we aren’t paying attention to, we’re bad at remembering things accurately, we’re bad at differentiating between confidence and skill — our intuition about our brains is usually wrong.

They talk about film editing and continuity, which I found very interesting because we know we can get away with a lot.  When you’re editing, particularly non-scripted, you use a lot of stuff that has horrible continuity errors.  Have people talking to each other when they’re not even in the same room, cut to a different day and pretend it’s the same one because the shirts look close enough, cut from the exterior of one car to the interior of a different car.  We do some blatant crap in the editing room, and it’s almost always missed.

Another interesting thing about this book is that, during this whole Elevatorgate thing, Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear has come up a few times.  I was required to read the book for a self-defense class I took in college.  It was, I thought, fairly useful — though depressing, since it was basically aimed at women because women need to be vigilant at all times.  It is truly a gripping book, but it talks a lot about relying on intuition, which is sort of funny next to a book that says how wrong our intuitions are.  I suppose when in a situation where you feel threatened, it’s better to get out of it than to try to clinically dissect whether you’re being reasonable or not.

Not that The Invisible Gorilla really addresses anything like that, it’s just fairly anti-intuition.  Anyway, the book was a fantastic read, and I recommend it highly.  Particularly to anyone who thinks they’ve got an accurate memory.

A

40. Goblin Quest – Jim C Hines

This book is like reading a Dungeons & Dragons game play out, except it doesn’t suck.  I know, that’s very confusing to you, it was confusing for me too.  Basically, in a sort of Pratchett-esque way, it tells a very good adventure quest story while making fun of all of the conventions of adventure quest stories.  Sort of meta like that.  It was very entertaining, easy to read, and my only real disappointment with it was the ending, which I felt was abrupt and unnecessarily got rid of interesting characters.  The interesting characters only matters because there are sequels.  I did like that the end sort of emphasized how miserable it is to return to your small life after living a larger than life adventure.  It’s difficult to grow and change and have everyone you know stay the same.  I’m upset that my library has only the first and last in the series.  I’m going to have to buy the middle one.

A-