Book Review 16: Home Is The Sailor by Jorge Amado

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“Will my readers now, with their learning and their experience, tell me what is the truth, the whole truth?

Does truth lie in the everyday events, the daily incidents, in the pettiness and vulgarity most people’s lives are compounded of, or does the truth have its abode in the dream it is given us to dream to flee our sad human condition?”   {pp.297-298}

The narrator of this novel asks the reader one of the ultimate issues in being human.

What is truth?

Home Is The Sailor tells the story of Captain Vasco Moscoso de Aragao who comes to retire in the Brazilian beach town of Periperi.

Once he arrives, the sea-captain captures the community with tales of his great adventures at sea, romances with numerous women, and prowess as leader of one of Brazil’s great ships.

However, the town’s resident storyteller and gossiper, Chico Pacheco, believes the sailor has been lying about his status as a captain and sets out to prove his tales are nothing but a figment of his wild and hyperactive imagination.

As the story unfolds for the reader, you begin to see his colorful and interesting life reveal the truth about his status as a captain.

If you have never read a Jorge Amado novel before, I will highly recommend Home is the Sailor as an introduction to his works.  Even though this novel is considered a minor work in his bibliography, Amado deals with a major theme in a colorful, playful, lusty way that will put a smile on your face and make you laugh out loud as you are reading it.

I read this novel about 12 years ago (when I was in my 20’s) and decided to read it again now that I’m a few more years down the road. I enjoyed it the second time as much as I did reading the novel previously.

Well, Home is the Sailor has made my top five novels list and I will enthusiastically recommended it to anyone as such.

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Book Review 15: The Islar by Mark Saxton (Islandia Quartet Book #2)

Have you ever read a sequel that is better than the original?

Well, The Islar by Mark Saxton, I feel is such a book. It is sequel to the underground utopian classic novel, Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright.

For those who don’t know, Austin Tappan Wright was a Harvard-educated
lawyer, who in is his free time created an imaginative world, Islandia, that
is as detailed as Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Wright died in a car accident at the age of 48 with his work unpublished.
However his daughter, Sylvia, got an editor to look over what her
father wrote to see if it was publishable.

Well,  the editor for the novel that became Islandia was Mark
Saxton and he got it published in 1942.  Islandia has never got the
recognition like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of
Narnia but has had a small, devoted following over the years and the writer
of this review is a member of that group.

I found out that Saxton got permission from Wright’s daughter to
write sequels in Islandian universe.

So what is The Islar about?

The Islar tells the story of John Lang III, who is the grandson of John
Lang, the protagonist from Islandia. John Lang was the first American to
travel to Islandia and live amongst the natives and learn about the culture.
Well, Lang decides to stay in Islandia.  He gets married and becomes the
American connection for the leaders of that country.

In The Islar, Lang III has become a prominent member of the current
government and their attempts for Islandia to become a member of the United
Nations. However, for the UN to accept Islandia as a member they have
requested the country to become modernized.

Because of that, there is a coup to take back Islandia before it can come a
member of the UN. Islandia is a primitive, arcadian culture and the leaders
of the coup want the country to remain that way.

Since Lang III has an American heritage, the current Islandia leaders have
asked him to go America to seek their help in order to defeat the coup.

The novel is written in first-person from Lang III’s viewpoint and I got a
real sense of the history of Islandia and his reluctance to get totally
involved with the country being at crossroads in its history.

Should Islandia modernize in order to be accepted into the UN?  Or should it remain the same and hang on to its culture as long as it can?

That question is answered in the novel with a surprising outcome.

The Islar is an excellent sequel and enjoyable to read. You can read this novel
without reading Islandia.

This novel deserves a wider audience and should be recognized as one of the major works of fantasy and utopian literature.

Book Review 14: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

I was asked recently what’s my favorite novel.  I must admit I didn’t have to think long or hard about it.

I told this person it was David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.

Oddly enough, I had to read Dickens in Middle School and absolutely hated it.  But as an adult, I really enjoyed reading David Copperfield.

David Copperfield is the story of his journey from boyhood to manhood. Everything David goes through in his life strengthens his character as he is trying to develop a disciplined heart.

He has to deal with the death of his mother, an abusive stepfather, a best friend who turns on him, a love lost, and eventually discovers true love and happiness from an unexpected person.

Through all these experiences, David grows and matures into a man. But, realizes the heart can’t be tamed.  While I would disagree with that somewhat…the power of Dickens’ story and the cast of characters (like the evil Uriah Heep, and the good-hearted, but financially challenged Mr. Micawber) pulled me into the novel immediately.

Dickens admit in his preface to the novel, “Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.

After reading it, I could see why this novel was his favorite and that’s one of the reasons it has become my favorite too.

Book Review 13: Imagine by Steve Turner

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After the Bible, I will declare that Imagine by Steve Turner has been the third most important book I’ve read since I became a Christian almost 10 years ago.  I will include this book along with Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey and Word Pictures by Brian Godawa as the books that has shown me Christianity and the Arts are not on the separate ends of the spectrum.

“Positively, the world is all that God made and Christ came to redeem. This includes culture because humans have never lived in isolation from each other, and when they get together they automatically create culture. It would be impossible to think of loving humans and yet hating human culture, of loving individuals and yet hating their music, songs, stories, paintings, games, rituals, decorations, clothes, languages and hairstyles. God made us cultural beings.

Therefore, Christians should be worldly in this positive sense. They should be lovers of life because God is the giver of life. No one is more worldly than God—he made the world, upholds the world and sent his Son to die for the world. Christianity doesn’t teach that the world is an illusion that will trap us or a hell that prevents us from attaining our true purpose.” {pp. 44}

In that quote from Steve Turner’s book, he gives us a view that God is cultural and we as human beings who are made in his image are cultural as well.

He writes in Imagine that the Christian Artist should be embraced by the Church and the artist should also embrace the Church even though he or she may feel isolated from it.

Turner gives a historical perspective on the relationship between Art and Christianity.  Also, he writes about his own transformation as a Christian Artist from his studies at L’Abri in Switzerland to being a writer, journalist, and poet in current day London.

What made this book so important and relevant to me is that how sound Christian Theology and Art are intertwined.  Art is not meant to be look at with skepticism and even hostility by the Church.  Art is not necessarily meant to be a ministry.  And Art is also not meant to just shock people.

Art is meant show God’s ability in giving human beings creativity like he has (but on a much smaller scale) and ultimately glorifying him. If we keep a solid Christian foundation and grow in our relationship with Him, the art will reveal who He is more than any sermon, bible study, or theological discussion could ever do.

Also, Turner talks about how Artists are easily open to new forms and ideas because of their artistic nature and they must be mindful of the dark side of Art.  He gives a warning to artists not to become “Lone Ranger Christians” just because the regular Christian doesn’t understand your need to be artistic. If Artists love God like they declare in their work, then you must love his Church.

For me (who is an artist)…this book is so liberating. It has shown me that God is God in every aspect of our lives not just what the Church deems acceptable. Moreover, I can enjoy various forms of Art without having to categorize one as “Christian” and the other  as “Secular.”

I will give this book my highest recommendation for Christians who are artists.  Also, for Christians who love the arts. And for Christians who want to get a better understanding of how Art is truly something from God and not meant to be separated from the rest of Christianity.

Book Review 12: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

“One of the questions that I’ve been asked over and over since Blink came out is, When should we trust our instincts, and when should we consciously think things through.” {pp.267}

I wanted to start this review by using a quote from Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting and fascinating book, Blink.

Mr. Gladwell has become a pop culture phenomenon with this book and his previous bestseller, The Tipping Point. Moreover, I received this book as a gift last Christmas and it had been sitting on my shelf since that time.  Now, I thought it was right time to read it.

I should have read this book sooner!

Anyway, the quote I used for the opening describes Mr. Gladwell’s theory for the book. Can we make better decisions from our snap judgements? If so, when it is the appropriate time or situation to use our snap judgment ability? Or should use a rational, well thought out analysis approach in our decision-making?

Mr. Gladwell shows both the pro and con in using snap judgments in making decisions from examples like Coke vs. Pepsi, an Art Dealer discovering a rare painting to being a fake, Speed Dating, a musician named Kenna, whom everyone loves when they hear him sing but has not become a pop sensation.

Moreover, one of the more fascinating parts of the book when he writes about bias.  One example reveals how a Chicago Car Dealership sold cars to White Men, White Women, Black Men, and Black Women differently.  Another example deals with police brutality with the Amadou Diallo case in New York from a few years ago.

However, Gladwell doesn’t use stereotypical arguments about the issue of bias.  But, believes there is a deeper, unconscious element to our biases vis-a-vis our snap judgments.  And when the senses are heightened, we inevitably fall back on our deepest images and views of what we learned about people even if we don’t believe it in our conscious mind.

Gladwell writes in an accessible style that doesn’t make Blink feel scholarly or a book that came from the Ivory Tower.

I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about how to make better decisions, noticing the smallest details around you, and the amazing power of the brain and the unconscious.

Book Review 11: A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church by Warren Cole Smith

“My name is Warren and I’m a recovering evangelical.”

With that provocative opening, Warren Cole Smith delivers an unflinching and honest look at the Evangelical Church, in his book, “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church.”

I heard about this book from World Magazine (highly recommended to be read) where he has written articles for on numerous occasions.

Smith wonders if the Megachurch and Parachurch Movement that has dominated American Christianity for the last 30 years or so have really built disciples of Christ or succumb to the dictates of American secular culture.

With chapter titles like Body-Count Evangelism, The Triumph of Sentimentality, and The Christian-Industrial Complex, Smith makes a strong and convincing argument that the Evangelical Church has succumb to secular culture and is not distinct as God intended the Church to be.

However, Smith doesn’t just give criticism (which he does and he goes after prominent pastors like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and even the venerable Billy Graham), but offers solutions towards the end of the book that really shows that the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 is alive, real, and life-changing around the world.

I must admit after reading this book and being a member of a Megachurch, I have thought a lot about what has Church become.

It is another social club with some spiritual language and culture to make me feel safe from the big, bad secular world outside its walls?

Is it a place where I can go to get a free concert and entertainment each week?

Is it a place where I only hear that God is love and non-judgmental and that if I follow Him perfectly, I will bless with wealth, materialism, and the perfect marriage?

Or can the Church become truly authentic and people begin to learn that Christianity can speak into every area of our lives?  Even in the areas we don’t want to let God into?

Smith’s book is one that should read by every Christian who cares about the direction of the Church and how it can become truly authentic and be that distinct place unlike anything in our culture.

Highly recommended.

Book Review 10: Leviathan by Paul Auster

What is friendship?  Especially what is male friendship?

Paul Auster gives us an answer in his novel, Leviathan.

Leviathan is an Old Testament reference meaning a dragon-like monster, serpent or even a crocodile that represents evil. While, Auster’s novel is not biblical or religious on the surface, there is definitely a strong philosophical underpinning that made it interesting to read.

The novel begins with a man blowing himself up on the side of the highway in Northern Wisconsin. And we find out immediately that man was Ben Sachs and his story will be told by the novel’s narrator, Peter Aaron.

Peter was Ben’s best friend and he decided to tell the story of their friendship right up to the point of Ben’s tragic end. While reading Peter’s version of their friendship, I’ve learned that friendship can have a tighter bond even than with siblings. But, what appears to the outside world of a person’s life is definitely not what’s going on behind close doors.

One of the most fascinating scenes in the novel is where Ben finds out that Peter had sex with his wife and that conversation between them(Ben reveals his own adultery as well) was the saddest and most authentic I’ve read in modern fiction.  It made me read Proverbs 5, where Solomon gives a stark warning against adultery and how one must steer clear of that temptation or it will definitely pull you in.

I got the sense the author felt the random events and coincidences are things that could shaped a person’s life in one direction or another.  While, I disagree with his premise. I did find those coincidences in the story make me think about those things that happened in my life.  Where they coincidences?  Or orchestrated by something beyond myself?

Leviathan was the smoothest novel I’ve read in the past few years.  The pace and flow of the first 100-150 pages was nearly perfect.  Auster is a very talented writer.  However, the last 100 pages or so, I’ve felt a little let down and thought the random events and coincidences became too convenient in order to finish the novel.

I don’t think this is a novel for everyone but it does reveal the real nature of friendship and how self-deception and idealism can cause self-destruction.  An interesting read and recommended.