Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Summer Reading, Part I

I read a lot this summer, though still not as much as I would have liked to, given the time that I had available. That said, I still think I have too many to put into one post. If you have one in your area, I highly recommend Half Price Books (which we stumbled upon in Ohio) for their excellent selection. Here's a brief rundown of books read in alphabetical order:

A Separate Peace
This was a gift from a very well-read friend. She gave it to me when I asked for something short, compelling, and not greatly taxing to read on the flight back. It's a beautifully written and thought-provoking coming-of-age story that deals with love, hate, war, and jealousy (even if you can guess the ending from about the fifth page onwards). It's something I'd like to give to a mature teen. Thanks for the recommendation, Alison.

The Bear and the Dragon
I had read a Tom Clancy book a long time ago and remembered enjoying it. Since this one was about China, I picked it up. I don't know if I had just forgotten about all of the objectionable stuff in the other book or if there was a lot more of it this time around, but I heaved it into a trash can after about two chapters. Now I'll never know if they meant to kill Golokov or not.

Beyond Suffering
Started on Dr. Talbert's (Uncle Layton to certain of us) study of Job entitled Beyond Suffering, and greatly enjoying it so far. I plan to finish this one up as my next reading project. If you haven't read his work on providence (Not By Chance) it's worth picking up. And I promise that's not just nepotism.

In Complete Armour
Still chipping away at William Gurnall's monolithic Puritan classic. I'm not quite "in comlete armour" yet; I'd say I only have about one glove on, though I think some of the credit for my slow progress has to go to Gurnall's exhaustiveness. At about page 200, I'm on the phrase "we wrestle not against flesh and blood." He's just spent 10 pages expounding on the word "wrestle." Although I certainly am finding it worthwhile, at my current rate I will finish it in approximately 2050.

The City of Light
I read an interesting book that I just stumbled across entitled The City of Light, which is apparently an account of a 13th-century Jewish Italian merchant's journey to the Chinese port city of Zaitun. I say "apparently" because there is some controversy about the genuineness of the manuscript, but the evidence for it being a fake is (in my mind) not at all convincing. Worth reading, especially for the shockingly modern philosophical perspectives that he encountered (and, in some cases, espoused). Truly, there's nothing new under the sun. If you do pick it up, skip chapter 5. I didn't, and wish I had.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I'd read the first three Harry Potter books about five years ago in undergrad (got 'em from Mack Library, as a matter of fact), and since we were staying with a Harry Potter-crazed family during the time surrounding the release of the last book, I thought I might as well see what all the fuss was about, especially since I recalled enjoying the first three. The books were entertaining; I especially liked her characters (Hagrid, Luna, and Neville being my favourites). The weakest part of the books, in my humble opinion, is Harry himself. He generally comes off as a whiny, selfish, demanding teenager. An accurate portrayal of the modern teen mindset? I suppose. Fun to read? Not so much. He grows up quite a bit in the last book, thankfully. Overall, I could take them or leave them.

A History of Asia
I started in on volume one of Samuel Moffat's history, which was recommended by a professor in a history course I took. I'm liking it so far and looking forward especially to his discussions of the revival in the Tang dynasty and to the rapid modern expansion in South Korea.

In the Presence of My Enemies
I read Gracia Burnham's autobiography, which I recommend (if you don't remember her, she and her husband were kidnapped by terrorists in the Philippenes a few years ago). I remember her being given an honor during the commencement exercises in 2003 (a medal, if memory serves); her account of the time she spent in captivity is moving and prompted a healthy amount of introspection.

The Writings of John
Since I'm teaching through John, I decided to take my study time during this vacation to read all of the works of John over and over. His emphasis on love made a particular impact on me, and has formed the basis for some of our group discussions here already.


A retrospective

This morning I woke up in Shanghai. It's a nice feeling to be home and to have a semester of work ahead of you. Here's what I was doing in the US instead of posting on this blog:

Learning Chinese: Des and I are working on Pimsleur's Conversational Mandarin (thanks in part to the persuasion of our good friend Elijah Wilcott, who's probably in classes in Chengdu right now; he is sorely missed). It's a great audio program (I impressed our administrator Mr. Wang last night with a few phrases in Mandarin), but I feel like a total dope trying to make it come out right. When nearly all of your skillsets rely on your mastery of language, starting over again can be disheartening.

Reading: For this, I'll probably post something in greater detail next week. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed a great deal of reading during the vacation.

Playing: If you know me, you know that I like to play games. I gave Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword a thorough playing and loved every minute of conquering the Germans (and the Incans, and the Romans, and everyone else) right off of the planet. Benson Quattlebaum (my very oldest friend; we've been hanging out for like 22 years) and I made the world safe for democracy in Battlefield 2, and Adam Dierking (my great college buddy) and I defeated the alien menace in Unreal Tournament 2004. Carrie Sapp, Des, my sister Laura, and a bunch of Carrie's friends (including her mother) tested our kung-fu moves on one another and quested for treasure long into the night. The Snyder brothers and I combated terrorists at some arcade and tested our moves in DDR (at which venture I utterly triumphed). It was all grand. Games can definitely be fun by themselves, but games + friends = great.

Working: We had the unexpected opportunity to go up to Ohio and help my mother clear out my grandfather's house in order get his affairs in order and prepare his house for rental. Grandpa is living in Texas right now with my aunt, and he's no longer being treated for his cancer. Since my parents were in the US, he asked Mom to take care of things there in Ohio for him. The three of us (and my sister Laura later on) spent a week cleaning his house, organizing his belongings, and selling many of them in a giant garage sale. I reflected at length on the truth of Solomon's words when he says that it's better (when confronted with death) to go to a funderal than a party, since "that is the end of every man, and the living should take it to heart." I also decided that, from this point on, I am pursuing a minimum-stuff approach to life. Grandpa's house was crammed to the gills, mostly with stuff that wasn't worth saving, and I don't want anyone to have to try and organize all that on my behalf someday.

Visiting: I was particularly happy to be able to visit Mt. Calvary while we were in Greenville. There's nothing like old friends. While we were in the States, we were greatly impressed by the generosity of our friends and family in insisting on putting us up. I was reminded many times of what John recorded about love for others being the cardinal distinctive of our lives. We spent time staying with the inestimable Sapp family in Greenville, my wife's parents in the Chicago area, and our great friends the Snyders in Detroit. Since words cannot express how I feel about these people, I won't even try. These are the best of the "good things" that he fills my life with.

There's more, but this post is already too long. I'll probably write more about the vacation later. For now, I'm going to be trying to get things in order for my first semester teaching the sophomores. That's enough for me.