Book Review—Muhammad, Critical Lives

Muhammad, Critical Lives by Yahiya Emerick (2002)

About four years ago, I belonged to a men’s non-fiction book club, and given the events facing the world involving radical Islam, it was agreed that we would try to understand more about the origins of Islam by reading this biography. The club didn’t last long, as eventually there were only two people interested—the organizer and me. My review:

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Gravity’s Rainbow Appears

From Today in Literature: “On this day in 1973 Thomas Pynchon’s third novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, entered American bookstores and split the literary world. Pulitzer Prize jurors unanimously recommended it, but Pulitzer advisory board members called it ‘unreadable’ and ‘obscene.’ The novel seduced many critics but found few readers who would finish its 760 pages on the first attempt. Meanwhile, but for appearing on The Simpsons with a bag over his head, the author stayed out of the public eye, just as he had at the publication of his first two books.”

Read the whole thing at the above link.

Bookstore Dilemma

Philosophy professor Keith Burgess-Jackson posted a February 17, 2011 letter to the New York Times by Bruce Weinstein who bemoaned Borders’ financial difficulties. Mr. Weinstein states, in part: “But if Borders does fail, many readers like me will have no one to blame but ourselves. After all, it is our decision to buy books from online retailers that is largely responsible for booksellers’ woes.”

Professor Burgess-Jackson offers a succinct editorial comment under Note from KBJ. He’s right, of course. I call it a dilemma because I often buy online for the efficiency of it—I live in the mountains a good ways from the large bookstores and it’s less expensive; but I still like to browse bookstores and I often buy there because the book I want is in my hand. Even worse, for the bookstores, I extensively use the public library.

I’ve been checking out bookstores most of my life, favorites being The Tattered Cover in Denver, Powell’s in Portland, and The Bookworm, a small eclectic store in West Yellowstone, Montana. These are all independents, of course, The Tattered Cover being the only one reasonably close; and they are not immune to the changing dynamics in the book trade any more than the large chains. But what happens if their numbers (big chains and independents) are significantly reduced because of the competition from online sources and the growth of e-books? There will be fewer bookstores to visit and we’ll have to learn to live with it—the ordeal of change occurs in book markets just like any other business.


Famous Canadian Writers

The introduction to this list states: “Great writers come from every corner of the world. Their experiences come to life on paper as they create an adventure or tale that stays on the reader’s mind long after it is finished. These writer’s are truly admirable and have a way of making a world come alive. Some writers are known internationally and others only in pockets of society. Canada has many writers who are known for their politically motivated literature or their stories that span the test of time. If you are looking for a good read told with a Canadian flare, try looking up some of these authors.”

And, as I was hoping, the first one they list is Margaret Atwood.

Philip K. Dick, Sci-fi Writer & Hollywood Favorite

This article from The Washington Post describes Philip K. Dick “as a pulp science fiction writer with a drug-influenced, paranoid worldview,” whose “literary reputation has not only risen but his books and short stories also have become filmmaker favorites. “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,”“Minority Report,” “A Scanner Darkly,” and a dozen other movies, TV shows and video games have been adapted from Dick’s works.”

The article also states, “One thing Dick is not admired for is fine prose. His stuff tends to be lumpily written, obviously produced on the quick for sci-fi magazines and the pulp paperback market…” Although I am concentrating on reading as a study in writing styles—my goal is 50 books this year—I may sample his “lumpily written” work because the article also states that his books are “character-driven, featuring a small group of people in confined settings and environments” and they “concentrate on average Joes” who are placed into situations where they learn things aren’t what they seem. Sounds interesting; and I liked the movie, Blade Runner.

Here you go—The 2nd best sex scene!

The 2nd best sex scene is from the biggest novel of 2010, Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. The excerpt was found at Salon under the heading, good sex—the year’s best writing in fiction. They apparently felt the need to add to our cultural awareness that many people have good sex by publishing their “first-ever Good Sex Awards.” (Or they wanted to sell advertising space.)

Book Review—Freedom, a novel by Jonathan Franzen

I am generally not sucked in by hype. I have no great need to see the latest movies as soon as they premier or view all the films nominated for best picture. I don’t have to read the hottest book on the market, right away, so I can talk about it, appearing “with it” to those into the latest books (particularly a book that our dear leader, Prince Fluffy Bunny, selected as something to read). Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the subject title—how freedom would be treated—and in recognition that Franzen has built a celebrated reputation in literary circles, I got into the queue at the public library, some 260 down on the list, and waited.

It was worth the wait…sort of.

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15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will

The title of this 2007 article (hat tip mental-floss blog) seems a bit over the top, but if you’re a Kurt Vonnegut fan, I suppose it holds some attraction. I liked number 13:

13. “So it goes.”

Unlike many of these quotes, the repeated refrain from Vonnegut’s classic Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t notable for its unique wording so much as for how much emotion—and dismissal of emotion—it packs into three simple, world-weary words that simultaneously accept and dismiss everything. There’s a reason this quote graced practically every elegy written for Vonnegut over the past two weeks (yes, including ours): It neatly encompasses a whole way of life. More crudely put: “Shit happens, and it’s awful, but it’s also okay. We deal with it because we have to.”

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Phony Phrases

Richard Nordquist offers some common phrases and their real meaning. An excerpt:

Sixty years ago, columnist Sydney J. Harris began compiling a Dictionary of Pharisaical Phrases–expressions that mean the opposite of what they say. “Whenever people want to hurt others, and gratify themselves,” Harris observed, “they begin with a mealy-mouthed phrase.”

Harris’s work was left unfinished, and, unfortunately, there’s no evidence that verbal hypocrisies have diminished over the years. Therefore, I’m sure you won’t mind if I pick up this project where Harris left off–with ten examples adapted from essays in his collection Strictly Personal (1953).

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Valley Girl Talk

From City Journal, an article on “The decline and fall of American English.” (Hat tip Arts & Letters Daily) An excerpt:

I recently watched a television program in which a woman described a baby squirrel that she had found in her yard. “And he was like, you know, ‘Helloooo, what are you looking at?’ and stuff, and I’m like, you know, ‘Can I, like, pick you up?,’ and he goes, like, ‘Brrrp brrrp brrrp,’ and I’m like, you know, ‘Whoa, that is so wow!’ ” She rambled on, speaking in self-quotations, sound effects, and other vocabulary substitutes, punctuating her sentences with facial tics and lateral eye shifts. All the while, however, she never said anything specific about her encounter with the squirrel.

Uh-oh. It was a classic case of Vagueness, the linguistic virus that infected spoken language in the late twentieth century. Squirrel Woman sounded like a high school junior, but she appeared to be in her mid-forties, old enough to have been an early carrier of the contagion. She might even have been a college intern in the days when Vagueness emerged from the shadows of slang and mounted an all-out assault on American English.

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