Ellis Peters, One Corpse Too Many
This is one of those books that I’m sure is a very different experience reading for the first time unspoiled, because it’s the first appearance of Hugh! Hugh Beringar, sheriff’s deputy, is Cadfael’s best friend for most of the series (and is played delightfully by Sean Pertwee in the first few TV adaptations), and watching Cadfael trying to decide whether or not to trust him is great fun when you know he’s entirely trustworthy. Hugh and Cadfael have a glorious battle of wits – mostly involving sneaking around the countryside – and at the end they become fast friends. I loved every minute of it. Oh yeah, and there was a murder or something too, I dunno.
Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
So the story goes that Jones was in the hospital, and working on the Encyclopedia of Fantasy at the same time, and she said, “I swear, all these books are so similar I could write the travel guide for the world they’re set in.” So she did. I was actually surprised to find that at least half of the clichés in the book were not straight out of Lord of the Rings. But still, after twenty-six years of a fondness for epic fantasy novels, there was not a damn one I was not familiar with. (Why in god’s name would you cook STEW on the road, anyway?)
Stephen Prothero, God is Not One
The sequel to his Religious Literacy which I read and reviewed here not too long ago, in God is Not One Prothero offers a brief introduction to eight of the world’s most influential religions. He calls them “the world’s rival religions,” which I’m not too fond of — I don’t think Daoism, for instance, is particularly the rival of anything — but I liked the book very much overall. He treats, in a self-defined order of importance, Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba religions, Judaism, and Daoism, with a short section on atheism in the back. The insight that I found particularly helpful, and one I thought supported Prothero’s position that the major religions are really very different from one another, was the way he described what each religion sees as the central human problem and the solution to that problem. Looking at it this way, you can really see a difference between, say, Christianity (which sees the problem as sin and salvation the solution) and Islam (where the problem is pride and the solution submission to God’s will) in a way that you can’t when looking only at history and practice. Also, he talks about Yoruba religions, including the facets of it still based in Africa and the Catholic syncretism in the Americas, and that’s just awesome.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
So in October I started reading The Lord of the Rings out loud to my roommate, who’d never read it before. We’d finished Fellowship and started on Two Towers — got just about to where the second movie starts, actually — when a couple of our friends came up to visit and we told them about it, and it came out that the roomie had never read The Hobbit. Friends were suitably appalled, and I protested that I didn’t know, what kind of a crazy person has never read The Hobbit, and the upshot is, we started trading round the paperback, alternating reading chapters aloud all afternoon. We got through about half of the book that day, and just the other day I finally finished it. You know, I always forget how much I like Balin. He’s a decent fellow, for a dwarf. And although I was leery of it when I first heard the casting news, I cannot wait to see Richard Armitage playing Thorin Oakenshield.
I haven’t been reading as much this month due to NaNoWriMo, but I have finally finished another stack. Woo!
Stephen King, On Writing
I reread this in the leadup to NaNoWriMo, hoping to be inspired, since I couldn’t get ahold of the NaNo book in time. Alas, I seemed to like this book much more the last time I read it. Possibly because I’ve discovered the problems with seat-of-the-pants writing, namely that it leads to long, convoluted drafts with lots of confusion. (Like, say, recent Stephen King novels.) Oh, well.
Daniel J. Carlat, Unhinged
Carlat is a psychiatrist, writing about the problems with psychiatry as a field — namely that it’s extremely vulnerable to manipulation by pharmaceutical companies, largely because it’s the field of medicine with the least tangible research to back it up with, so anybody who suggests that they have a Real Medical Solution to a problem, as opposed to just talking about feelings and stuff.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
In fact I read this out loud to my roommate, who had never read Lord of the Rings before, in order to expand her cultural education. And then, two chapters into The Two Towers, it turns out she’s never read The Hobbit either. So now we’re back in Thranduil’s palace, and soon we shall get caught up again.
Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us
I wanted this book to be so much longer, but alas it was only three substantial case studies. Excellent case studies, though. Watters is examining the principles of cross-cultural psychology: the fact that, no matter what Western psychiatry may think, all human psychologies are not the same. He discusses the spread of Western-style anorexia in Hong Kong, the dangers of PTSD counseling in Indonesia, and the marketing of depression in Japan in the 1990s. Note 11/24/10 – the author dropped by to remind me that I’m forgetting the fourth case study, on schizophrenia in Zanzibar. end edit If this book had any flaws, it was in a certain amount of essentializing the cultures he discussed. He tends to talk about Western culture as though there’s a consensus about what mental illness is and how it should be treated, which isn’t true (as anyone living with a mental illness in Western culture can tell you), so I’d probably take any other broad statements about cultural attitudes with a grain of salt, too. But the discussion of how mental illnesses come into and out of existence was fascinating, and extremely thought-provoking.