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review 2018-04-20 15:58
Bleaker Island, by Nell Stevens
Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World - Nell Stevens

Going to the ends of the earth (in this case, the Falklands) to write a novel in isolation, with no distractions, sounded like the kind of thing I might do (except for the novel part), which is why I was interested in reading Bleaker Island. Despite a charming start and some genuinely laugh out loud moments, I wasn't consistently invested in Stevens's account of her writing (and romantic) life. I don't read many contemporary memoirs because they can feel self-indulgent, and there's been such a boom in them that it makes me wonder whose lives warrant a whole book. Though Stevens is, in the end, self-aware about her self-indulgence, it doesn't make the book more appealing to me. 

 

In addition, I didn't understand why she included a few of her short stories. The novel excerpts made more sense, though I felt they might have been integrated better, perhaps in smaller chunks?

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review 2018-04-17 01:42
William Miller and the Rise of Adventism
William Miller and the Rise of Adventism - George R. Knight

The Great Disappointment in October 1844 appeared to have brought the end of Millerism and Adventism; however it proved to be just the end of the movement’s initial rise.  William Miller and the Rise of Adventism by George R. Knight follows the life of William Miller and then the development of the movement that sprang up from his preaching of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus in ‘about the year 1843’, including the men who helped shape the movement with him and then influenced the believers after October 22, 1844.

 

Knight begins the history by placing the Christian theological background that influenced the rise of Biblical prophetic study as well as revivalism, including showing that Millerism was the last gasp of the Second Great Awakening.  He then delves into the life of William Miller, the events of which would later influence his abandonment and later rediscovery of his Christian belief before his studies brought him to his monumental belief that Jesus’ Second Coming would occur ‘about 1843’.  While Miller’s message was engaging from the start, his preaching was only in rural New York and Vermont until chance brought him in connection with younger men who found the truth of his words but knew how to use the day’s modern methods to spread it farther than Miller ever knew possible.  Knight relates the growth of the movement among believers in numerous denominations which later leads to a reaction from those same denominations as well as the Millerite leaders attempt to keep down fanaticism amongst believers.  The meat of the book covers the “Year of the End” from March 1843 to October 1844 with all the internal and external tension that occurred during that time as the expectation of Jesus return was a daily hope until the date of October 22 was accepted.  The final section of the book relates the histories of the Millerites that kept their Adventist hope after the Great Disappointment.

 

Given the subject matter and Knight being the most prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian today, one could have expected prominence of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church.  However, save for Joseph Bates who was a prominent Millerite in his own right, the future Seventh-day Adventists are kept until the last two chapters of the book.  If anything this was a story of the Millerites and Adventists who didn’t become Seventh-day Adventists, which is important for both those within and without the SDA denomination to learn about and especially for the former to learn lessons from history.  For the general Church history reader, this book reveals the last big gasp of the Second Great Awakening that occurred in the United States as well as the ramifications of it over the past 170+ years.

 

I had expected this book to be a pure biography of William Miller; however the history of the movement named after him turned out to be a far better surprise.  William Miller and the Rise of Adventism is for numerous audiences for those interested in Adventist history, American religious history, Christian history, and many more.  While George R. Knight is a prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian, his scholarly approach gives the reader a full, unbiased picture of this time.

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review 2018-04-09 22:13
The Return of the Firebird: Evgeny Plushenko, an Image of the New Russia (Tuncay)
The Return of the Firebird: Evgeny Plushenko, an Image of the New Russia - Vildan Bahar Tuncay

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, very young well-off university men who indulged in "poetical effusions" could get them published with subscriptions from indulgent and equally well-off friends. I have read some of this innocently awful rubbish.

 

Innocently awful rubbish is also how I would describe this self-published fan biography of Evgeny Plushenko. Mercifully slight, it is the product of someone for whom English is clearly not the first language, and whose style has been further corrupted by academia. There are a few minor insights, though they are likely born of reading rather than experience; I think Ms Tuncay is likely correct in linking Plushenko's arrogance and flamboyance to the rapid emergence of materialistic culture in post-glasnost Russia generally, for instance. Not ever having been a fan of Plushenko - I found him technically gifted, but without any sort of interpretive merit, and repulsively narcissistic - I am not inclined to forgive the faults of the writer (and the non-existent proofreader) for the sake of the subject.

 

Plushenko fans may want the book to complete their collections, particularly since there is so little written about him in English; I cannot otherwise recommend it at all.

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review 2018-04-09 03:19
Wild
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - Cheryl Strayed

I did not like Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail very much.  I just couldn’t get past Cheryl Strayed’s unpreparedness for long-distance hiking and found her a distasteful person who I didn’t particularly want to spend time with.  I also found the narrative disorganized and the insights she gained from her journey pedestrian. If Wild hadn’t been the selection for my office book club, I probably would not have finished the book.  As it was, partway through I stopped reading and started skimming.

 

Several of my co-workers also didn’t like Wild very much either, including one person who said that she expected much more from the author of Tiny Beautiful Things (which I have not read).  A number of others hadn’t finished, but had seen the movie, so we spent as much time comparing the book to the movie and discussing other wilderness journey movies as discussing the book itself.

 

In other news, the office book club appears to be turning into a book-to-movie club, which isn’t actually such a bad thing. Our first selection was Room, our second was Wild, and our next choice is The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a re-read for me (I listened to the audiobook a few years ago). I’m looking forward to re-reading it and  I’m interested to hear what the others think. And we’ll see how the scheduling goes, but we’re also starting to kick around the idea of a movie night where we watch the movies and talk some more.

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review 2018-04-06 17:10
Girl in the Dark, by Anna Lyndsey
Girl in the Dark: A Memoir - Anna Lyndsey

I became interested in this book because as a migraine sufferer who hasn't always had my headaches under control or been able to reliably treat them, I would be shut up in my apartment, in the dark (or as dark as possible when I lived in Arizona), for up to 24 hours. I couldn't read or watch television or go online. I'd sleep but couldn't do so all day. I was bored and felt alone. The next day, when the pain was gone, it was like a first day out of prison or after a long illness. I'd be almost euphoric but also feel vulnerable, as sometimes I'd get rebound headaches. Thankfully, I now have medications both to reduce my headache days and to stop them before they become agonizing.

 

"Anna" has an extreme sensitivity to light that keeps her inside, in a light-tight room, not for a day but months (even years) at a time. Certain wavelengths affect her more than others, but she can't read, watch television, or use a computer. She listens to audio books, talks on the phone with others who share debilitating chronic conditions, plays mental logic games alone or with her partner or other loved ones. She understandably feels depressed and experiences suicidal ideation.

 

Yet the book itself is not depressing. There is a humor to her writing, and her strength in dealing with this condition is impressive, encouraging, and inspiring without being maudlin. She's candid about her frustrations, as when she talks with others with chronic conditions that don't limit them in all the ways she is limited and finds herself angry.

 

She's also a terrific writer; the book feels literary in its prose and structure, which includes shorter chapters ordered thematically and achronologically (in one chapter she goes through the alphabet--one of her mental games--to list all the therapies she's tried and their results). At the end of the book she explains her decisions about how to structure it and even includes a chart indicating periods when she could not leave her home at all and periods of remission when she could go out around dawn and dusk.

 

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Girl in the Dark to read about is the fact that doctors refused to come to her when she could not leave her home. She corresponded with some, but knowing that house calls have been part of the medical profession in the past (and still are in some places--or for the right price) demonstrates their reluctance--not inability--to engage with patients with rare conditions like Anna's. To me, that's inexcusable and shameful.

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