Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

I read a really interesting nonfiction book recently.  I'm discovering something interesting about myself. My whole life, I've never really felt the need to read nonfiction.  Nonfiction just never spoke to my reading self.  However, recently, my reading tastes have broadened.  I am enjoying pretty much any nonfiction book.  In fact, my nonfiction reading tastes are much broader than my fiction reading tastes.  I credit my inner sociologist.  I have always been fascinated by people and why people do what they do and what they think and how they behave.  Nonfiction accounts of people's thoughts and inner workings perfectly feed that inner sociologist.

So anyway, my latest nonfiction book was The Language of God by Francis S. Collins.  It was recommended to me some time ago and I picked it up at the library the other week.  This book is written by the head of the Human Genome Project.  He also happens to be a devout Christian who was deeply inspired by C.S. Lewis's writings.  In fact, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was what brought him to Christianity.

In this book, Collins argues that Christianity and science are actually compatible, that the two do not need to have the discordant relationship that they have historically had, particularly in regards to evolution.  He starts the book by giving his personal journey of faith.  He grew up with two hippie, back-to-the-land, adamantly atheist parents who homeschooled him and his brothers.  He went to college and studied physics, before eventually meandering over to the field of medicine.  After talking to a dying patient who asked him about what he believed, he began to rethink everything he'd ever been taught, culminating in his reading of Mere Christianity.

Collins goes on to talk about the arguments that scientists/atheists pose against Christianity, from the argument that so much wrong has been done in the name of Christianity, to the argument that Christianity is not "smart" or "logical".  All of the common arguments were addressed very well.

Next, he talks about the warring viewpoints- creationism, atheism/agnosticism, intelligent design, and his own viewpoint, which he calls biologos, or theistic evolution.  I think that this was probably my favorite section.

I'll leave the rest of the book for you to explore, though.  You really must read it for yourself to get a true idea of what this book is about.

I think that Collins's most powerful argument is that we weaken God when we argue that God would not be real to us if the earth was not created in a literal 7 days, etc.  He talks about how we place this ridiculously human limitations on God.  Collins makes the point that God can, indeed be the master over all areas of science, that science is yet another language of God.  I found this to be a beautiful and poignant message.

This is probably the most controversial book that I've ever reviewed and it feels a little funny writing about something that is a rather tense issue right now.  But, I enjoyed this book and found it to be a thought provoking piece of writing.   If you're interested in this, Collins has also headed up a whole organization/website called BioLogos, or faith and science in harmony.   Here's the link:
http://biologos.org.

This book is for anybody who has ever thought about the rather fraught with tension issue of science and faith.  I think that this book perfectly addressed this issue, if only as a presentation of another position.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

A couple months back, Girl with her Head in a Book reviewed the two books that have been written so far in the Jane Austen Project series.  She wrote quite favorably of Northanger Abbey (which I have on hold at the library), but was quite tepid about Sense and Sensibility.  Well, I ignored her wise advice and grabbed Sense and Sensibility on a whim, thinking, "What the heck.  How much can you mess up Sense and Sensibility?"
People, note the earbuds coming out of the sides of their heads.   

I must preface this review by saying that I don't really approve of Jane Austen re-writes.   I mean, come on people, just read the real thing!  Are we really so pathetic that we can't pick up and understand the originals?  That said, I like what the Jane Austen project is doing and I think that, in the right hands, these books have the potential to be an interesting offshoot of the Austenite movement.  But Joanna Trollope was not the right person to handle this book.

I started the book yesterday and at first quite enjoyed it.  It is definitely not deep writing.  It's rather chick-litish, but I stuck with it and read until about halfway through.  And then I stopped.  Here was the main problem- the story just wasn't believable and it wasn't just an unbelievable scenario, it was a poorly written unbelievable scenario.  And so I quit.

Trollope set this story in modern England. Elinor, Marianne, Margaret, their mother (named Belle in this version) are left penniless and homeless after their father/husband (but not really), Henry Dashwood, dies of asthma.  Their father's son-from-a-previous-marriage comes with his unbearably awful wife (I hate her in every version I have ever watched/read of this book) and claims their old house, since he is the rightful heir to his father's possessions.  See, Belle and Henry Dashwood never really got around to getting married, which, according to Trollope, means that Belle and her daughters couldn't inherit anything from Henry.  I have my doubts about this, but I'm not a lawyer, so we'll let that drop.  But really, Joanna?  It is 2014.

Marianne is the sensibility half and Elinor is the sense half.  Margaret is the rebellious little sister who, it appears, spends the whole book listening to her iPod.  Belle is drifty and incapable of getting anything done and Marianne has inherited her father's asthma and her mother's personality, so the two of them completely lean on Elinor, much as they did in the actual book by Jane Austen.  Of course, there are the love interests- Edward, the attractive, but obviously bad-choice John Willoughby, and whoever Marianne ends up with (I didn't finish the book, so I have no idea who it is).  I actually liked Edward in this book.  He was an attractively-written man and he was the only character that Trollope semi-successfully pulled into the 21st century.

The story was very poorly written.  Of course, there were the problems of settings and such, but some of the sentences were just laughably bad.   Take this quote, for example,
"Marianne was in her favorite playing chair by the window in her bedroom, her right foot on a small pile of books-a French dictionary and two volumes of Shakespeare's history plays came to just the right height-and the guitar resting comfortably across her thigh.  She was playing a song of Taylor Swift's that she had played a good deal since Dad died, even though-or maybe even because-everyone had told her that a player of her level could surely express themselves better with something more serious."  Isn't that just the oddest, most full of unnecessary detail paragraph that you ever read?

Now here was my main complaint about the book.  I felt like Trollope was completely incapable of pulling this into the 21st century successfully.  She basically re-wrote Sense and Sensibility by Austen with a little side-addition of some shocking drug-trading going on in the background and plenty of social media stirred in.   Seriously, the fact that everybody had an iPod and a Twitter account was the only way that you could tell that this was set nowadays.  Trollope very awkwardly kept drawing attention to the fact that, "See?  See?  Isn't this new and hip and relevant?  Everybody has an iPhone!  Didn't you just notice the fact that Marianne just played a song on her guitar by Taylor Swift??!!!!!"
It just didn't fit.

I think that, for this book to work, it needed to be completely rewritten in such a way that it only held very slight ties to the original.  If these books are supposed to be new and original re-imaginings of Austen's writing, then I'd like to see it.  Trollope just did not manage to do this.  And maybe part of the problem is this story line.  Maybe there are just too many archaic references and settings and plot lines to make this a successful modern story.

After I smacked this book shut, I pulled the Real Sense and Sensibility off the shelf.  Ahhh...what a breath of fresh air!  Nobody writes like Jane Austen and I kind of doubt that anybody ever will.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Oh, readers.  I have fallen head over heels for this ice cream book.  Seriously.  I think it's the world's best ever ice cream book.  Ice cream books are definitely not a new phenomenon- from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop to People's Pops (a hipster ice cream/popsicle cookbook).  But this cookbook is brilliant in a different way.

The thing that stands out to me is the fact that every single recipe I see in this cookbook sounds delicious.  I would happily eat any of the (sometimes unexpected and strange) flavors of ice cream enclosed in this book.  But here's the thing, these recipes aren't just bizarre for the sake of being bizarre.  Oh, no.  You know those recipes that are written simply for the sake of shocking and grossing out a large portion of the population?  While this cookbook has some interesting combinations, they are well-thought out and inspired, not just weird.

This cookbook is written by Jeni Britton Bauer, who started a small collection of ice cream stores all across Ohio.  As the restaurants grew in fame, Bauer began trying more and more combinations of flavors and found that the public was actually thrilled with this new, inspired flavors.  Bauer is a strong supporter of the local food movement and so the recipes are very conveniently arranged by season.  So you're not going to be making a roasted strawberry ice cream in January.

The photography is breath-taking.  I am completely in awe of people who can photograph food well.  The pictures are all beautiful and well-lighted and make the food look even better than I ever could.  Now that I think about it, it's probably because they don't just shove the random bits of household junk to one side of the table and then forget to turn on any lights while they take a few dimly lit pictures of a bowl of food.  Ahem.  But back to the book.  Each recipe is accompanied by a beautiful picture of a spoon full of ice cream.

As I mentioned earlier, the flavors are genius- things that would never cross my head.  Take this list that I made of a few of the ice cream flavors in this book:
-Wild Berry Lavender Ice Cream
-Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream (peanut butter ice cream with cayenne pepper, coconut milk, and honey)
-Gucci Muu Muu (a chocolate ice cream with curry powder)
-Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry Ice Cream

I'm currently waiting for a small, 1-quart ice cream maker to come in the mail.  We have the big gallon crank that you pull out for family gatherings and make a whole bunch of vanilla ice cream.  But, honestly, you don't want a gallon of celery ice cream with candied ginger.  But if a family of four each gets a small bowlful?  Perfect!  So once that comes, I will be celebrating the end of summer with lots of ice cream.

I sat drooling over this ice cream.  You simply must read this.  It doesn't involve turning on an oven.  All you need is a pile of dairy products, a couple other ingredients and an ice cream crank.  I know that you'll like this book.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Library Loot- 9/12/14

I'm participating in Library Loot from The Captive Reader this week!
"Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries."

I haven't done a Library Loot post in a long time, but, unlike my recent library trips, I actually got a good pile of loot.  Yippee!

1. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home- This cookbook is one that I have heard rave reviews of and I think I'm going to love it.

2.  Adventures in Yarn Farming- Just a pretty book about raising sheep for wool.  Since we do this, this book holds a special interest.

3.  Longbourn by Jo Baker- A book about life downstairs of Longbourn, the fictional house of Jane Austen's Bennet family.

4.  Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther- The story of three women on board a ship in 1921.

5.  The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin- A woman's yearlong journey of returning home to create a warm, happy life with her family.

6.  The Language of God by Francis S. Collins- I think this book is going to be fascinating.  It's written by a scientist who's head of the Human Genome project.  He's also a serious Christian.  It's his defense of why Christianity and science need to have a harmonious relationship, and how they can go about that.

7. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid- I have this on interlibrary loan right now, so I'm waiting for it to come to my library.  I'm including this, though, because it's practically on my library loot pile!  This book is part of a new project called The Austen Project.



What's on your library loot pile?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain

My latest read was Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain.  Of course, I laughed my head off because it's dear Mark Twain.  I do love Mark Twain's writing style.  I'm in a bit of a dry spot, reading-wise and I've been aimlessly wandering around both my personal library and the public library feeling sorry for my book-less self.  Mark Twain stepped in and is helping me through this little bump and, oh, am I grateful to him.

This book is just a compilation of shorter writings that Twain wrote over the years.  In it is Letter from Carson City, A Dog's Tale, Story of the Bad Little Boy, and more.  The writings are contemplative, sarcastic, witty, biting...pretty much any descriptor that you could use for a book you could mention here.  And that's why his writing is so brilliant.  The skill of being able to effortlessly change tones and settings is something that few authors have mastered.

I have been reading Mark Twain since a little girl, but I never read this book.  Actually I was unfamiliar with a great number of the writings within this.  A lot of these writings are more obscure things that are not handed out to the average reader very frequently.  I felt like I got to know Twain in a new way as I read through this book.  My favorite was An Encounter with an Interviewer.  Twain managed to portray himself and the young interviewer in a sarcastic, hilariously funny light.  I have never read a piece of writing quite like this.  In this story, Twain is interview by a, "nervous, dapper,'peart' young man" who proceeds to assist him in holding a completely botched up interview.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  Take this excerpt:

"Q. How old are you?
A. Nineteen, in June
Q. Indeed!  I would have taken you to be thirty-five or six.  Where were you born?
A. In Missouri.
Q. When did you begin to write?
A. In 1836.
Q. Why, how could that be, if you are only nineteen now?
A. I don't know.  It does seem curious somehow.
Q. It does, indeed.  Who do you consider the most remarkable man you ever met?
A. Aaron Burr.
Q. But you never could have met Aaron Burr, if you are only nineteen years-
A. Now, if you know more about me than I do, what do you ask me for?"

When you're done reading that (and have spent a good 5 minutes laughing), flip back a few pages and turn to The Story of a Bad Little Boy That Bore a Charmed Life.  And you will have had your amusement for the day.  I guarantee it.

Go read this book, dear readers.  You will quite enjoy it and you will be left feeling refreshed and ready to conquer any book.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Great Divorce

My latest read has been The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  I grew up with C.S. Lewis (particularly the Chronicles of Narnia, but other things as well, such as Screwtape Letters), so his writing is not new to me, but for some reason I had skipped this book.

The Great Divorce refers to a book called The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  C.S. Lewis is replying to the assertion that parts of Heaven and Hell should be combined to make earth and instead calls for "a great divorce between heaven and hell," a return to an either/or stance rather than a both/and stance.  The story is an allegory, a sort of reflection on the nature of heaven and hell and how people participate in both realms on earth.  The story starts when the narrator boards a bus in a strange land where it is always grey and drizzly.  He goes on an incredible journey through heaven and hell with his complaining, griping, unsatisfied fellow travelers.  Lewis sums up the moral of the story in the introduction, "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven; if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."

It is no secret that Lewis is a highly revered writer and thinker, but this was especially impressed upon me in this book.  The way that important truths are presented in an unassuming, yet poignant way is impressive.  And it isn't every writer that can write a pressing allegory without it become a diatribe or a long-winded sermon.  I was encourage in my own faith by this book, but I was also challenged and convicted by it.  I think it's a good idea to read a book that makes one ever so slightly uncomfortable (in a good, spurring-on kind of way, of course) every once in a while.

I'm going to include a quote from the introduction of the book (which really was a sort of interpretation for the whole allegory).

"You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind."

I really enjoyed this book.  As you long-time readers know, I read a lot of lighter-end fiction and so it was quite refreshing to get out of a bit of a reading grove.  This book also has the advantage of not being a tome-like book.  It's something that can be read over a quiet weekend and the reader will be left with a refreshed, thoughtful feeling.  Of course, this is a Christianity-geared book, however, if you are a thinker and enjoy contemplating, I would highly recommend this book.  I really liked it.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The 100 Foot Journey

I'm taking a little break from book blogging to write about a movie that I saw recently-The Hundred Foot Journey.  I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.  Oh!  And there's a book by the same name on which the movie was based, so I'm excited to look for that book.  As a basic summary, The Hundred Foot Journey is about an Indian family who runs a restaurant in Mumbai.  After a group storms through their village and sets fire to their restaurant, killing their mother, the 4 children and their father flee to Europe.  They end up in a small French village, where a young sous-chef takes them under her wing.  However, things become slightly tense when the family decides to buy a restaurant just 100 feet across the street from a Michelin-star-winning French restaurant run by the town matriarch, Madame Mallory.  Things become even more complicated when it turns out that Marguerite, the sous-chef, works at this restaurant.  Meanwhile, after much conflict, the Indian restaurant begins to draw people and it becomes apparent that the one son, Hassan, is a very gifted chef.  Of course, there is the requisite romance between Hassan and Marguerite, which I quite enjoyed, but the real focus of the movie was food.

As many of you know, I quite love food and I love cooking.  I am by no means at a chef-level of cooking, but I think I am fairly skilled in the kitchen.  When I saw this movie, I was completely inspired by the gorgeous scenes of knives flying across cutting boards full of onions, spices spread liberally, and perfect omelets concocted. There was also the side-interest of the gorgeous clothes and the beautiful French countryside was, of course, perfectly gorgeous.   Marguerite wore lovely dresses that I coveted and had a bob that I am seriously considering.  However, the main interest of the movie was the food.

Now here are the things that I scoffed at:


  • The produce-There are so many scenes where markets and people's tables are shown and they are, of course, beautiful.  But the produce obviously came from a California greenhouse and were shipped to some supermarket in a Sysco truck.  Since the feeling of the movie is supposed to be one of farm-to-table eating and uber localness, this was not a good move on the filmmakers' part.  The tomatoes were the fakest looking things and the peppers were all these huge, flawless, bright red bell peppers.  No heirloom produce there.
  • There was this side-story about this chest of Indian spices that were bequeathed to Hassan.  Now this is nit-picky, but spices that are at least 20 years old should not be put into a curry.  Actually, those spices shouldn't go anywhere.  Not even a very mild dish.  I'm sorry, Hassan, they may be Mama's old spices, but they need to be lovingly put in a trunk somewhere and then you can go out and get some new spices.  Trust me, your food's going to be soooo much more flavorful.
  • They could have talked more about food.  No, I think for the average viewer, the food focus was just about at capacity.  But I want to know more!  I want to know just exactly how he was making that gorgeous looking vegetable jalfrezzi.  Heck, I want that guy to come give me some cooking lessons.  
But, really, I was able to overlook these picky things.  The movie was beautiful and the filmmakers did a wonderful job.  The movie was one of those where you feel like you've been in a different place when you emerge blinking from the theater.  I was also inspired by a great many cooking details from the movie.  After seeing Madame Mallory make the world's most perfect omelet, I am determined to master that skill.  Also, in every cooking scene, there was a cup that was full of spoons.  The cooks all pulled out a clean spoon to taste at every step.  I'm going to look for some spoons at the thrift store and do this.  I think it's a great idea!  But the thing that most inspired me the fact that nobody cooked with a cookbook.  Now, I understand that these are chefs, not lay-cooks, but I was still impressed.  

After the movie, as we drove home, I contemplated food and realized that nothing else would please me except a big bowl of curry.  When I got home, I instinctively reached for a cookbook and then pulled back my hand.  No, I was going to make curry by taste.  I've always been too afraid of a complete cooking failure if I don't follow a recipe, but I finally did it!  And it was wonderful to smell the heavenly scent of curry and see the piles of steam and feel the ingredients in my hands after seeing all those things in a movie.  Here's the rough recipe of what I did:

Lamb Curry

I pulled out a 1 lb. packet of lamb cubes (we raise sheep and therefore always have a good supply of lamb in the freezer) and set that to defrost while I chopped onions and garlic and sauteed them in olive oil.  Then I added the lamb, cooked until brown, and then began to add the most important thing- the spices.  I found a little jar of curry paste at the back of the pantry and then I added garam masala, coriander, and I can't remember what else, just adding by taste and smell.  Next, I added a quart of tomatoes, half a can of coconut milk, about half of a container of yogurt, and cooked until thick.  I served it with yogurt swirled at the top and sprigs of cilantro on top of the whole thing.  And you know what?  It turned out fantastically!  I will definitely be cooking curry without a book again!  And I've become inspired to try more non-cookbook cooking, using smells and tastes to cook.  

So anyway, this is definitely a must-see if you like pretty movies or good food.  I really loved it and it was a huge inspiration.