Monday, 30 September 2013

Max Brooks, "World War Z" (2006)

Full title: "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War."

Not particularly compelling. Not particularly cohesive narrative.

More someday.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Matthew Bowman, "The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith" (2012)

Bowman offers a generally 'soft' but not unreservedly sympathetic record of the evolution of the Latter Day Saints.

The New York Times has already run a review of this book that pretty much sums up my take.

In short, Bowman details the stories of the early years of the church, examining accounts of how Joseph Smith came to present himself as a prophet and recipient of the updated Word of God. The author offers a general account of the theological pillars of 'Mormonism', giving close attention to the emergence of values such as communalism, polygamy, and the importance of genealogical research to the faith. The book pays attention to a number of challenges that adherents to the religion encountered during the late 19th and early 20th-centuries, from state persecution of polygamy, rejection of communal ownership, and concerns regarding anti-feminist and racist positions regarding the hierarchy of the church.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Gregory Fremont-Barnes, "The Soviet-Afghan War, 1979-1989" (2012)

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Jenna Miscavige Hill, "Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology..." (2013)

The full title of this book is "Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape." It is co-authored with Lisa Pulitzer.

Although Hill's book has received voluminous attention, likely reflecting current high-profile scandals in the 'Church', it is certainly nowhere near the best-written or most informative text available regarding Scientology. Written by someone who was 'bred into' the organization (by which I mean she was a member from a young age, with a long-family tradition of belonging to Scientology) her perspective is derived from her own experiences. She makes no to little effort to contextualize her observations and understandings outside of her own life. This is understandable, and does not come as a surprise given the book's title.

What I found most disappointing in Beyond Belief is that it is exactly what it claims to be. The recollected childhood memories of someone who grew up in a repressive, alienating environment based on confusing, illogical precepts. There is little deeper reflection on the philosophical values of the experience, analysis of the events, or an effort to establish a more profound message than 'this organization did bad things to me.' I have no quibble with Hill's right (and perhaps need) to publicize these reflections. I'm just not sure what I might take away from reading them other than to be grateful that I didn't share her experience.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Tim Reiterman, "Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People" (1982)

A compelling and detailed examination of a strangely overlooked event in recent American social history.

I've finished the book, but have yet to write a summary. Sorry!

John Holmes, "Porn King: The Autobiography..." (2012)

The book was written/dictated by Holmes before his death, but Holmes added a preface and published the work posthumously.

As with many autobiographies by former porn stars, Holmes tells a tale of degradation and depredation. While he first enjoyed the opportunity to have sex for money (both the physical pleasure and economic perks), the opportunities being a porn actor opened up for him - both positive and negative - eventually led Holmes down paths of consumption and behaviour that would eventually lead to his demise from AIDS-related causes.

His story is simple and compelling. He makes little effort to glorify his work, or to romanticize the life it led him into. He also does not vilify his work or personal associates. Instead, his autobiography seems like a quiet reflection offered by a man who knows the end of his days are near, and merely want to leave some more meaningful or fuller record of his experience than pictures of himself having sex.