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Search tags: 2018-book-riot-read-harder-challenge
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review 2018-09-10 17:15
Pagans / James J. O'Donnell
Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity - James J. O'Donnell

A provocative and contrarian religious history that charts the rise of Christianity from the point of view of "traditional" religion from the religious scholar and critically acclaimed author of Augustine.

Pagans explores the rise of Christianity from a surprising and unique viewpoint: that of the people who witnessed their ways of life destroyed by what seemed then a powerful religious cult. These “pagans” were actually pious Greeks, Romans, Syrians, and Gauls who observed the traditions of their ancestors. To these devout polytheists, Christians who worshipped only one deity were immoral atheists who believed that a splash of water on the deathbed could erase a lifetime of sin.

 

This was a great history of the late Roman/early Christian time period. It wasn’t quite what I thought I was getting, but it was still very interesting and written in an easy-to-read style. I thought I was going to get more about the pagan religions of the time. Instead, I learned that the whole idea of being pagan, as opposed to being Christian, was a creation of the Christians once they found themselves in the position to be able to form public opinion. As the author puts it, “Outside Christian imaginations, there was no such thing as paganism, only people doing what they were in the habit of doing.” Like those of us now who don’t really espouse a religion, but still celebrate Easter and Christmas.

The main points to know about the traditional, pre-Christian religions? ①Their gods weren’t perfect. ②The gods weren’t very nice. ③The gods didn’t care whether or not human beings did the right thing. ④The gods hadn’t created the world, either. ⑤They could help you, if you were nice to them.

The relationship between gods and humanity was much more businesslike in traditional religions. If you wanted something badly, you made a sacrifice to the god/goddess of your choice and if they liked your offering, you might get some divine help. But there were no guarantees.

If I have learned nothing else from reading this book, I realize now how completely current European and North American societies are shaped by Christianity. It is the underlying assumption of all our societal structures. Even atheism is completely shaped by its reaction against Christianity.


Also, Christianity has changed greatly since its early days, but some things never change. It’s still split into numerous denominations because its followers are prone to outrage at discovering that someone else dares to have a different opinion. That judginess and tendency towards schisms/excommunication started early and continues on to present day.

The author doesn’t talk about Neo-Pagans (except in one footnote), but the Modern Pagan movement, just by using the word ‘pagan,’ is defining itself in relation to Christianity. Christians created the concept of paganism after all. These Modern Pagans are much more self-conscious about their ‘faith’ than the original worshippers of Zeus or Thor were. (The whole concept of having faith in a god being a Christian innovation).

Amusingly, one of the ‘pagan’ concepts that has hung on is the title of “Pontiff” for the Pope. It was originally the title of the Roman official in charge of all religious occasions, regardless of deity, held in Rome under the Emperors.

The author has also written a book on St. Augustine which might also be an interesting read, although there’s a good summary about him in the last half of this book.

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review 2018-09-07 16:48
The Body in the Library / Agatha Christie
The Body in the Library - Agatha Christie

Colonel Bantry has found the strangled body of an exotic blonde bombshell lying on his library hearth - and the neighbors are beginning to talk! When Miss Marple takes an interest, though, things begin to move along nicely, and its all far more convoluted - and sordid - than the genteel Bantrys could have imagined.

A curmudgeonly financier, his self-absorbed adult children, a couple of pragmatic and clever hotel workers, tons of money and influence, a wild local lad, some smitten girls, the film business, mix into a classic Christie plot filled with twists, turns, and double-backs galore. Plus the glorious settings of A Great House, a fancy Hotel, and an excessively genteel little village, and let's not forget Miss Marple...

 

 

I read this book for the Terror in a Small Town square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

Another Miss Marple mystery, which Dame Agatha crafted carefully to deceive the reader. One mystery author quoted on the cover claims that no matter what twisty thing you think up, you soon find that Christie did it first. This is why she is still the Queen.

Miss Marple knows human nature—she’s an observant woman who has lived in a small village all of her life and has taken note of the goings on. She’s been an employer too, having hired and fired maids and other assistants over the years. There’s nothing like job interviews to teach you about paying attention to details of human behaviour.

I loved Dolly Bantry, who states that if a murder is going to be committed in her house, she’s going to enjoy it. She summons Jane Marple and they begin their investigations by bullying a young copper into letting them have a good look at the body. A reminder of how strong class differences still were at this point in history. Inspector Slack is obviously on the forefront of the change in respect for the gentry and is viewed with some distaste by his boss, Colonel Melchett, as a result.

I had to laugh when one of the young men in this story bragged about having autographs from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie! I enjoy the work of both of these women and I don’t blame him for his excitement.

So was is Colonel Bantry in the library with a rope? No need to play the game of Clue to find out, just enjoy this compact little mystery. It is a fabulous way to spend an evening.

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review 2018-07-13 15:47
Bog Child / Siobhan Dowd
Bog Child - Siobhan Dowd

Digging for peat in the mountain with his Uncle Tally, Fergus finds the body of a child, and it looks like she’s been murdered. As Fergus tries to make sense of the mad world around him—his brother on hunger-strike in prison, his growing feelings for Cora, his parents arguing over the Troubles, and him in it up to the neck, blackmailed into acting as courier to God knows what—a little voice comes to him in his dreams, and the mystery of the bog child unfurls.

Bog Child is an astonishing novel exploring the sacrifices made in the name of peace, and the unflinching strength of the human spirit.

 

A charming YA novel. It combined two things that I love to read about—Ireland and those archaeological wonders, the bog bodies. Fergus, the main character, is out early one morning surreptitiously digging peat with his Uncle Tally when they discover the peat-stained body of a young girl. When it is determined that she is an Iron Age body, not a modern murder victim, Fergus is encouraged by the archaeologist in charge of the dig to stay interested & involved. As she has a charming daughter, Fergus is only too happy to assist them.

There are some interesting juxtapositions—Fergus’ brother is on hunger strike in prison and Cora, the archaeologist’s daughter, is struggling with an eating disorder. [As an aside, I remember listening to the news regularly in 1981 to hear about the fates of those Irish hunger strikers, especially Bobby Sands.] Fergus is a runner and is pressured into moving envelopes during his runs which presumably have something to do with IRA explosions, but he has also befriended a young Welshman stationed at the village to guard against such things. Both are seeking escape, Fergus from rural Ireland and the young solider from the coal mines of Wales. During all these pushes and pulls, between family and community, law and anarchy, Fergus must pass his final exams with at least three B marks in order to enter University at the end of the summer, to achieve his way out.

We also get some flashbacks to the life of the Bog Child, with some choices of her own to make. I went to a museum display of Bog Bodies that visited my city years ago—there was a large photo of Tollund Man who was found in Denmark and my sister & I both thought that he looked very much like our Danish grandfather, also from Jutland. What a link to the past!

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review 2018-07-05 20:15
Casino Royale / Ian Fleming
Casino Royale - Ian Fleming

In the novel that introduced James Bond to the world, Ian Fleming’s agent 007 is dispatched to a French casino in Royale-les-Eaux. His mission? Bankrupt a ruthless Russian agent who’s been on a bad luck streak at the baccarat table.

One of SMERSH’s most deadly operatives, the man known only as “Le Chiffre,” has been a prime target of the British Secret Service for years. If Bond can wipe out his bankroll, Le Chiffre will likely be “retired” by his paymasters in Moscow. But what if the cards won’t cooperate? After a brutal night at the gaming tables, Bond soon finds himself dodging would-be assassins, fighting off brutal torturers, and going all-in to save the life of his beautiful female counterpart, Vesper Lynd.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Two things about this book surprised me—first that Fleming was a pretty good writer, second that the book was so short! I’ve never attempted any of Fleming’s fiction before, partly because I saw some of the films of these works back about 30 years ago. You can’t live in a co-ed residence in university without at least having some of these movies on the lounge television set and I think I may have been dragged to the movie theatre as well (back when a movie only cost $5 and a person could afford to go).

Bond in the book is much less charming than Bond on the screen. He’s rougher around the edges and the racism & misogyny of earlier times are very apparent. It’s difficult for me to judge—how much of this is the fictional character, how much is just the zeitgeist of the 1950s, and how much of this is Ian Fleming himself?

I’ve requested a biography of Fleming from the library, to help me try to sort this matter. I’m also intrigued by how much he was influenced by the work of Agatha Christie. One of the very first scenes in Casino Royale involves Bond checking to see if his room has been searched, using exactly the same stratagem as a character in Christie’s They Came to Baghdad (the use of precisely placed, unobtrusive hairs). Undoubtedly Fleming read Christie, so I’m interested in that angle as well.

One can’t claim to have read spy fiction without reading Fleming, so I will pick up Live and Let Die in the near future and continue on during my Summer of Spies.

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text 2018-06-29 21:58
Reading progress update: I've read 40 out of 178 pages.
Casino Royale - Ian Fleming

 

I complete see the scene that Broken Tune pointed out as very, very similar to one in They Came To Baghdad.  It would be really hard to miss!

 

The chapters are short & snappy.  I'm having a good time, despite Bond's attitude toward women.

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