Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Quotes: One Reason for Refuges

From Tea with Hezbollah by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis (pages 75-76):

But all signs of Chili's restaurants and Internet cafes soon disappeared as we made our way south, toward the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp [in Lebanon], a ghetto of sorts that had been established for Palestinian refugees who'd been displaced from Israel during the 1948 war, sixty years ago. ... Looking into the haunting eyes of Palestinians still trapped in the camp after three generations sent my imagination scurrying after their story.

I asked our driver, Mohammed, why the Lebanese government didn't just make the Palestinian refugees citizens like they did everyone else born in Beirut. He shrugged. "Refugees make a better story for the world."

They live in absolute squalor, and they proudly display large banners with the face of their savior, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Hezbollah. It is Hezbollah that brings free blankets in the winters. It's Hezbollah that brings toys for the children and food for their parents. While American bombers leave white vapor ribbons high overhead on their way to kill more children, Hezbollah hands out candy to these children.

At least that's the impression on the streets, where young minds observe and form lasting opinions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Who Owns the World by Kevin Cahill, Rob McMahon

book cover

Who Owns the World:
The Surprising Truth About Every Piece of Land on the Planet
by Kevin Cahill with Rob McMahon

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First Released: 2010

Source: Free review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
In our modern world, you can IM someone in New Zealand, purchase coffee beans from Timor-Leste, or shop for homes in Dubai on the Internet. But what do we really know about the land in these countries? And what do we know about our own? Now this unique compilation reveals the hidden secrets about landownership in all fifty states and every country and territory on Earth. Fascinating, eye-opening, and sometimes shocking, this informative guide will change the way you look at the world. You'll discover that:

*Two of the largest landowners in the U.S. are the federal government and Ted Turner. The Federal Government owns about 31.4% of the land in the country. Ted Turner owns 1,800,000 acres in America.

*80% of the American population lives in urban areas

*The least crowded state is Alaska, with 670 acres per person. The most crowded is New Jersey, with 0.7 acres per person

*60% of America's population are property owners. That's behind the U.K. (69% homeownership).

*Queen Elizabeth II owns 1/6 of the entire land surface on Earth (if you count both her personal property and the government-owned property held in her name). She personally owns about 637,000 acres.

*Only 15% of the world's population lays claim to landownership many more incredible facts!

Who Owns the World was mainly a statistical reference book, though definitely one with an agenda behind it. I found the actual statistics very interesting. I've heard things like "China is terribly crowded" but now I know how it compares to other countries in terms of population in urban areas versus rural areas and so on.

I wasn't very impressed with Part One, which was only 52 pages long. The author's premise was that poverty can be wiped out if everyone in the world was given ownership of even a small piece of land. He then shows how rich people (who, ironically, made their riches from ideas and businesses) own a lot of land. The problem is that not every piece of land is created equal. Giving someone a remote bit of wasteland wouldn't be helpful. Not to mention that I've known a millionaire who owned an old house on a small bit of urban property (as in, he didn't own a lot of land), poor people (including farmers) who owned land, and poor people who inherited land and sold it for quick money (which they promptly wasted) or had to sell it due to debts. Land ownership doesn't automatically lead to riches.

Another problem I had with Part One was that he tended to compare apples to oranges to pears. I realize the difficulty he had in getting precise numbers, and I appreciate that he did usually state what, precisely, he was including in his numbers. However, he had a whole section comparing monarchs to each other with some numbers being what the monarch owned privately plus what the government owned "in their name," others with only government-owned lands credited to them, and others credited with all of the land they ruled over whether they technically own it or not. The various religions were also compared as to total wealth (based on the value of the land containing churches, religious hospitals, etc.) irregardless of the religion's different administrative structures. A religion can't own land, only people, so I didn't get what the comparison was supposed to prove.

I found Part Two very interesting though I was still occasionally exasperated by comments the author made. Part Two covered the statistics on United States in detail, state by state, and then gave the statistics for each country in the world. The statistics for the states included: population, population of the capital, size in acres, acres per person, number of houses, houses owned, houses rented, and acres of developed land. The statistics for countries included: population, size in acres, population, acres per person, GNI, World Bank ranking, and percentage urban population. It also gave the background history and how the state/country is owned (including urban vs farmland vs forestland statistics for the USA states) in a text description. It would have been helpful to have some graphs for each state or country to put everything in perspective, but the information was still interesting.

The book was easy to read. If you like statistical comparison books and are interested in this topic, then you'll probably enjoy this book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Pages 110-111
Population: 2,673,400. Capital, and population of capital: Little Rock, 552,194. Became: 25th state in 1836. Size: 34,034,670 acres. Acres per person: 12.7. Country closest in size: Greece, 32,607,360 acres. Houses/dwellings: 1,173,043. Owned: 814,091. Rented/leased: 358,952. Developed land: 1,409,100 acres.

Arkansas was one of a number of states formed from the territory gained in the Louisiana Purchase. The state served as a stopping ground for Native American tribes as they mover out to the west. Bill Clinton, the 42nd President, was born in Arkansas and his presidential library is located in the state capital of Little Rock.

How the state is owned
The Federal Government owns 3,102,800 acres of land--the equivalent of 9.1% of the state.

The state's rural land is divided into 5.3 million acres of pastureland, 7.6 million acres of cropland, 18.7 acres of forest land, 1.4 million acres of developed land and 1.2 million acres of land classified as "other."

There are 45,170 farms in Arkansas, standing on 14,364,955 acres of land. 27,699 farms are wholly owned, 12,596 are partly owned and 4,875 are tenanted. There are 1,613 farms of between 1,000 and 2,000 acres in the state, and 707 farms of over 2,000 acres.

The total forest area of the state is 18,778,600 acres. Of this forest land, the public owns 3,198,400 acres (17%), the forest industry owns 4,531,600 acres (24%) and non-industrial private owners own 10,652,100 acres (56.7%).

The largest landowners are the state with an estimated 1.6 million acres, International Paper (a forestry company) with 1.2 million acres, the Deltic Timber Company (31,000 acres), the John Ed Anthony family (150,000 acres, mainly forests), Anthony Forest Products (32,000 acres), the Carter Jones family (65,000 acres), Rex Timber (20,000-plus acres), the Lee Wilson family (20,000-plus acres), the Calion Lumber Company (20,000-plus acres), and Plum Creek with 773,000 acres.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Quotes: To Seats Prepared Above

From A Woman's Civil War by Cornelia Peake McDonald (page 78):

The girls have had some amusing adventures. While boarding in Lynchburg with a party of refugees, they began to perceive that the people were not as kindly disposed to refugees as they were in other places, and even displayed their disapproval when the wanderers ventured to occupy their pews in church.

One Sunday in the Rev. Mr. Kimble's church a party of these girls had seated themselves when the pastor rose and said that the congregation were incommoded by having their seats occupied by strangers, and that for the future the refugees would find seats in the galley. On this they all rose and went to the gallery.

After they were seated the pastor gave out the hymn. His selection proved a very unfortunate one, being "Rise my soul and stretch thy wings," when the two last lines of the first stanza were read.

"Haste my soul; Oh! haste away
To seats prepared above."

There was a titter in the gallery, and the faces of pastor and congregation reddened perceptibly.

The next Sunday a church warden met the refugees at the door and invited them into the pews, but the girls told them they preferred "The seats prepared above."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Harry Potter's Bookshelf by John Granger

book cover

Harry Potter's Bookshelf:
The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures
by John Granger

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Berkley
First Released: 2009

Source: Unrequested review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
Harry Potter. The name conjures up J.K. Rowling's wondrous world of magic that has captured the imaginations of millions on both the printed page and the silver screen with bestselling novels and blockbuster films. The true magic found in this children's fantasy series lies not only in its appeal to people of all ages but in its connection to the greater world of classic literature.

Harry Potter's Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures explores the literary landscape of themes and genres J.K. Rowling artfully wove throughout her novels-and the influential authors and stories that inspired her. From Jane Austen's Emma and Charles Dickens's class struggles, through the gothic romances of Dracula and Frankenstein and the detective mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers, to the dramatic alchemy of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and William Shakespeare, Rowling cast a powerful spell with the great books of English literature that transformed the story of a young wizard into a worldwide pop culture phenomenon.

I've never read the Harry Potter novels. However, I've read "dissect famous English literature to see how they work" books before and found them fascinating, so I was interested when I got this unrequested review copy in the mail. The author based his selection of comparison books on books mentioned by J.K. Rowling in interviews or simply by their strong similarities to her novels on certain points. He didn't get his information directly from Rowling and sometimes even argued against her claims that certain books didn't influence her novels.

You don't need to have read Harry Potter or any of the other books mentioned to get a lot out of this book. The author explained enough about each scene or overall story in question that the reader could follow his point. In fact, the focus in the first half was primarily on other books followed by an explanation of how the technique just explored was used in Harry Potter. The last half of the book focused more on the Harry Potter novels, though, and I probably would have more deeply grasped his points if I had read the series.

Harry Potter's Bookshelf had four parts. Part One explored "the surface meaning"--the genre of the Harry Potter series, why that setting, etc. Part Two explored "the moral meaning"--what books were similar in how the moral message was delivered and what that message was. Part Thee explored "the allegorical meaning"--the satire and allegory in the Harry Potter novels. Part Four explored "the mythic or anagogical meaning"--the hero's journey, the alchemical formula to the story structure, etc.

Part Four was, er, weird. I've never even heard of some of the things he claimed are traditional Christian symbols or beliefs. In fact, the author completely misrepresented what the Bible (and C.S. Lewis) says about Logos by quoting only part of the whole (which would have clearly shown his conclusion was wrong). If you decide to read this book, I'd recommend skipping Part Four or at least reading the author's claims with a large dose of skepticism.

The author assumed the reader had read all of the Harry Potter books and so revealed some major spoilers (though little I hadn't already overheard other people say about the novels). Overall, Harry Potter's Bookshelf was an easy read and, except for the last section, easy to follow. If you're interested in exploring genre rules, point of view tricks, symbolism, etc. in English literature, you'll probably find this book interesting.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Narrative Drive and Genre: Why We Keep Turning the Pages
Harry Potter as a Dickens Orphan and the Hero in a Sayers Mystery

In this literary companion to Harry Potter I'm attempting Olympian multitasking, as we descend layer by layer from the surface meaning down to the more profound depths of Harry Potter. Starting at the surface, we're obliged to be clear about what specific tools Ms. Rowling chose to tell her story because her decisions about how to move the plot along, the voice in which to tell the story, as well as the stage setting for the drama determine in large part how much any reader will be engaged enough to read the book. As counterpoint to that discussion, I'll talk about other authors and the books in which they made similar decisions, immersing us in English literature via Harry Potter.

To begin, let's talk about what genre the Potter novels fall into. It turns out they don't have one. Believe it or not, there are at least ten different types of stories being told in the Harry Potter novels. If it hadn't been confirmed by reporters and biographers, I would suspect Ms. Rowling's surname was a cryptonym, as are so many of her characters' names. Her books are a gathering together of schoolboy stories, hero's journey epics, alchemical drama, manners-and-morals fiction, satire, gothic romance, detective mysteries, adventure tales, coming-of-age novels, and Christian fantasy.

So how do we know where to start? Well, one easy way is to figure out what keeps you turning the pages. Literature professors call this the narrative drive, but you can think of it as the novel's conveyor belt. When we think about Harry and his adventures, what is it that moves us along from page to page to learn how the story turns out?

Despite our fascination with Hermione's love choices (Ron or Harry?), the Potter epic is not the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, lovers-unite romance formula. It's also not a hero's epic: We are not caught up in mythic history, as we are in the Aeneid and The Lord of the Rings, in which we travel along to learn Aeneas's and Frodo's fates and their ultimate destinations.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Quotes: Social Work

From A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Huffman Rockness (page 87):

We do know that her choice to work as she did, among the most despised of society, had the effect of separating her and her mother from friends who held to a more moderate (and fashionable) view of "social work." Indeed, philanthropic enterprises and charitable volunteer organizations were not only an acceptable pasttime for women of leisure but also the main service institutions in a society that had not yet developed the mechanics of law and government to deal with its social problems.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of The Culture of the Book in Tibet by Kurtis R. Schaeffer. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always join in the fun by buying a copy of this book from your favorite bookstore.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Too Soon to Say Goodbye by Osborn, Kosman, Gordon

book cover

Too Soon to Say Goodbye
Susan Titus Osborn, MA;
Karen L. Kosman;
Jeenie Gordon, MS, MA, LMFT

Trade Paperback: 207 pages
Publisher: New Hope Press
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
Suicide touches too many.

You may have lost a loved one or friend to suicide. Maybe at some time in your life you were suicidal, or you know someone who is depressed. In these pages, you'll find stories shared by people who have walked where you are now. They are ordinary people who have overcome the darkness that invaded their lives. Light shines for them once again, and it can for you, too.

*Real-life stories of hope and redemption
*Questions for reflection
*Inspiring Scripture
*Insights from a counseling professional
*Uplifting poetry

Too Soon to Say Goodbye is a book of hope and healing for those whose lives have been touched by suicide or who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. The book was mainly made up of stories a page or two long written by people who have lost a loved one or friend to suicide, who have considered suicide, or who have helped people who are suicidal. There was some connecting commentary, and the two counseling professionals drew out the important points made in these stories.

This was a Christian book, so Scripture was used to help people find or hold on to the hope they have in Christ. I liked the biblical points they brought out. (For those wanting to know, the authors don't think that someone who commits suicide automatically goes to hell, and they gave biblical reasons to support their position.)

Chapters one through five were about the various stages of grief that the loved ones and friends of someone who committed suicide go through and how to find healing when people around you don't know how to react or offer comfort. This section is also useful for those who want to know how to best help and comfort someone who has lost a loved one to suicide.

Chapters six through ten touched on the main causes of suicide (depression, divorce, bi-polar disorder, etc.). The stories were mainly by those who almost committed suicide but pulled back from the edge (and how that occurred and what their life is like today) and by those who helped save someone from suicide (either before they tried it or when they were in the middle of the act).

The last two chapters were stories of those whose loved one committed suicide and covered how they dealt with the grief long-term and how they've healed.

If you're looking for a clinical book of facts about suicide, then this is not the right book for you. The focus of this book is to let those who are struggling know that there are others out there who have gone through the exact same things and how they made it--that there is hope. Some of the facts about suicide come out, by they weren't the focus of the book.

I'd recommend this book to anyone dealing with a suicide of a loved one or who wants to comfort those who have lost a loved one to suicide. While this book would be beneficial for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, this book alone probably isn't enough. (If you're looking for additional books, What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do is a quick, practical book that has a good section on depression.)

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Seven (page 109)
I Almost Took My Life
Kathy Collard Miller

As the train rumbled past the East Coast countryside, my thoughts were as piercing as the screeching wheels of the train. Why did Greg kill himself? He was a distant relative whom I rarely saw, yet the news of Greg's suicide made tears fill my eyes. Oh, to be that full of despair.

In the past I'd struggled with suicidal feelings. I glanced over at my 28-year-old sleeping daughter. If I had acted on those feelings, I wouldn't have the fabulous mother-daughter relationship I now enjoyed with Darcy.

But 26 years earlier, my depression and life had careened out of control. Larry and I had celebrated our seventh anniversary, but it wasn't a happy occasion. Unwisely, I asked again, "Larry, why do you work so many hours? Having a two-year-old and a newborn is hard work. I need you to help me."

"Kathy, I try to help you. Being a policeman is demanding. I'm working all those hours to secure our financial future."

I knew I'd spoiled our time together. Silence again surrounded us, and a fog of hopelessness encircled me. My thoughts turned inward. Kathy, you never do anything right. Larry hates you. Then in my own defense, I mentally screamed, I hate him too. Doubts and fear haunted me. Will we get a divorce? Why can't we talk? We used to be in love. Then I prayed silently, Lord, we're Christians. We're not supposed to act like this. What's wrong?

Often I prayed for my marriage and my angry reactions to our 2-year-old daughter. My anger toward Darcy escalated when I felt rejected by Larry. Her strong-willed nature resisted toilet training and resulted in constant temper tantrums that wore me down. Constantly I yelled at her. But that wasn't all. My reactions had deteriorated into angry spanking, kicking, and pushing, and I felt totally powerless to stop my behaviors.

[The rest of the story is in the book.]

Friday, February 5, 2010

Book Quotes: Working as if for Jesus

From The Male Factor by Shaunti Feldhahn (p. 297-298):

Mallory has spent her career in corporate training. She has worked in nurturing environments and in difficult ones, and the one thing she most wanted to advise young women is this:

Treat everything you do as if you're doing it for Jesus. That's not just your boss. If the person you're working with were Jesus, would you be talking to him that way? Dressing like that? When I tackle something that is frustrating or I think is beneath me, and I start to wonder, "Why am I doing this?" I will literally think, "Wait a second, I'm doing this for Jesus."

Also, if you really think of it as if you were working for Jesus, not for man, would you start crying if someone says something petty or critical at work? When you have that vantage point, then certain things just aren't as gripping, so you won't be as thrown.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Giveaway: The Culture of the Book in Tibet

book cover


I've decided to do a giveaway for my copy of The Culture of the Book in Tibet by Kurtis R. Schaeffer.

To learn more about the book, you can read my review.

One copy is being given away. This giveaway is for USA residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer Please enter me to win THE CULTURE OF THE BOOK IN TIBET. Another book by @ColumbiaUP is __________." (Include another title published by Columbia University Press. Hint: Look here.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and giving another title published by Columbia University Press. Please leave some way for me to contact you if you win.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time) on February 11, 2010 on this blog. If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your shipping address.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

The Culture of the Book in Tibet by Kurtis R. Schaeffer

book cover

The Culture of the Book in Tibet
by Kurtis R. Schaeffer

Hardback: 264 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press
First Released: 2009

Publisher's Book Page

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
The history of the book in Tibet involves more than literary trends and trade routes. Functioning as material, intellectual, and symbolic object, the book has been an instrumental tool in the construction of Tibetan power and authority, and its history opens a crucial window onto the cultural, intellectual, and economic life of an immensely influential Buddhist society.

Spanning the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, Kurtis R. Schaeffer envisions the scholars and hermits, madmen and ministers, kings and queens who produced Tibet's massive canons. He describes how Tibetan scholars edited and printed works of religion, literature, art, and science and what this indicates about the interrelation of material and cultural practices. The Tibetan book is at once the embodiment of the Buddha's voice, a principal means of education, a source of tradition and authority, an economic product, a finely crafted aesthetic object, a medium of Buddhist written culture, and a symbol of the religion itself. Books stood at the center of debates on the role of libraries in religious institutions, the relative merits of oral and written teachings, and the economy of religion in Tibet.

A meticulous study that draws on more than 150 understudied Tibetan sources, The Culture of the Book in Tibet is the first volume to trace this singular history. Through a single object, Schaeffer accesses a greater understanding of the cultural and social history of the Tibetan plateau.

The Culture of the Book took a detailed look at book-making and the place of books in society in Tibet--a culture in which religious books are literally worshiped--during the 14th-18th centuries. While the books used in the examples were mainly Buddhist texts, the author only touched on Buddhist teachings as they related to the making, ownership, and value of the book. He covered several specific case studies where letters or texts were available which spoke about the process of making books (getting a patron, gathering materials, editing, translating, writing or cutting blocks and block printing the book, etc.) during the different centuries and in different areas of Tibet.

He also covered the social issues surrounding books, like how books were passed on after a person died, how donations were gathered to fund the expensive book-making project, and so on. The appendices contained the full text of a letter quoted in part in the book, a section explaining the contents of the Buddhist Canons for those of us who didn't know, and a chart showing the cost of making the Canon in his Degé example.

The wording used was formal but not technical, so it was easy to understand. I found the book interesting, though I felt at times like I would have gotten even more out of it if I was somewhat familiar with Tibetan Buddhism and the history during the time period covered. But maybe not. Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in how Tibetan Buddhism influenced book making in Tibet during the 14th-18th centuries.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
In the conclusion to one of his many works on esoteric Buddhist practice, Büton Rinchendrup, the great fourteenth-century scholar of Shalu monastery in west-central Tibet, recounts a story that one of his masters, Lama Pakpa O, had related to him. It was a cautionary tale about books. When Pakpa O was himself a student, his master, having grown quite old, had become unable to memorize teachings correctly. The master ordered Pakpa O to write down a certain text for him so he might read the work that now lay beyond his mnemonic abilities. Pakpa O had been explicitly ordered by another master never to write these teachings down, so this placed him in the difficult position of having to break one command in order to fulfill another. He resolved the dilemma by writing only an outline of the teachings for his aging mentor.

As Pakpa O related the tale, Büton asked that such a ban not be placed upon him, for he wished to compose a more extensive treatise on the practice. Pakpa O, seeing that he had not impressed upon his disciple the gravity of this ban on recording the teachings on paper, then offered a sort of commentary on the episode. "Writing down the instructions of an oral lineage," he began allegorically, "is like the king descending to the common people or wandering about a village. The negative consequences are manifold." And he listed the harmful costs: "The power and benefit of the instruction become vitiated. After the text exists, the practical instructions will not be sought after, and people will come to know the instruction only by obtaining the text. In the end it will become merely a reading transmission and thus the lineage of the real instruction will be severed."

Yet despite these concerns, Pakpa O consented to let Büton write "If [you] wish to do so, by all means do." But, he cautioned, "do not let the profound instructions become merely a reading transmission." The problem was not the act of putting the oral instructions down on paper, per se, but rather the danger that the transformation to a more permanent and portable communication medium might render direct master-disciple relationships unnecessary in the minds of those seeking instruction.

[From p. 142, a look at how things changed over time:]

At the beginning of a lengthy passage on the virtues of writing books [Shuchen] lists a set of ten scholarly practices that, as he says, "constitute the heart of the practice." As Shuchen himself relates, the following list is based upon the well-known work by Maitreya, Mahyantavibhaga. These practices are: 1) writing down texts of the holy teachings; 2) making offerings to books; 3) giving them to others; 4) hearing them being read by others; 5) reading them for oneself; 6) acquiring books; 7) explaining both the words and the meaning without error; 8) reciting them; 9) contemplating their meaning; and finally 10) meditating in accordance with what is explained in books. In contrast with the importance placed on orally transmitted teachings, often held in Tibetan literature to be integral to the authoritative transmission of Buddhist teachings, Shuchen uses this scripturally sanctioned outline for religious scholarly method as a support for the enterprise of printing.