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The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins

The God DelusionI suppose a warning should precede this review that if you are highly religious and offended by viewpoints that might undermine or discredit your beliefs, you probably want to bypass this review.  On the other hand, I do wish that you will read it anyway and that it will prompt you to read the book for yourself.  Not because I would destroy the faith and belief people have in their gods (though I don’t see a lot of harm in that and feel the world would be a better place), but because maybe it would help you understand how many of us are skeptics and non-believers and really not so demonic as we are thought to be.  Which I suppose is just my own form of delusional thinking.

I must say that I am very glad that I listened to this as an audio book.  It made it far more fun listening to Richard and Lalla share the reading of the text than I would have had simply reading it.  And as often as I have read bits and clips of Dawkins’ writing, this is the first time I have put a voice to his words.  Oh, I am sure that I have heard him speak.  I just have never registered the voice with the name.  So, I was more than a bit surprised to discover that he has such a soft, friendly voice.  I am sure this fact has worked in his favor through the years, keeping him from being even more demonized than he already is by the words he speaks.

I would have to say that I agree with probably 95% of what Dawkins says in the book as he discusses the mind boggling biblical passages, statements from religious leaders and the sheer lack of true knowledge of what is in the scriptures that most people have.  And the book explores all of this and more.

The book is primarily read by Dawkins for his thoughts, beliefs, analysis.  Lala Ward generally gives voice to the quotes of others, conversations and reference offerings of others.  The two voices makes the listening nice in that it often feels more like listening to a conversation rather than the reading of a non-fiction book.

Dawkins spares no sympathy in his dismantling of religious dogma and belief, using pure logic and backing them with historical examples of the abuses that have been done in the name of religion.  His disgust at the recent trend of replacing evolution science being taught with creationism (which I learned is also called old world science vs. new world science) is apparent, particularly when  government funds are used to support schools that teach such nonsense.  Though, I believe his greatest target is the recent influx of fundamentalism in American politics.  An influx that has grown ever more substantial since the publication of the book.

There is no doubt that he knows his bible and probably a good many other “sacred” texts.  Throughout the book, he cites mistranslations, cherry picking and historical references about the various books.  Much of the more common favored themes of the fundamentalists I was already familiar with, but he did open my eyes to a few things that I had not made the connection on.  One example was the fact that Jesus demanded that his disciples had to abandon everything in their life in order to follow him.  This included their families.  I’m not quite sure why I never really did the math on that one before, other than I wanted to at least find some merit in the figure of Jesus.

He beautifully covers the scientific arguments, including evolution, often citing information that I only partially understand, but enough so that I have filled in further gaps on the subject.  I think what I like most about his discussions regarding science is that science actually likes to find holes and gaps in their theories as it gives them a new problem to solve.  Unlike Christianity that wants to use it as a reason to bring things back to “See, you can’t explain this, therefore creationism wins.”  Not because they can explain it, but because it is a default.  For science, it is just a new territory to explore.  I have far more appreciation for the theory of exploration rather than blindly accepting.

Another one that I don’t remember was the one about Jepthah’s daughter and that she was sacrificed as payment for an oath he swore to god if he won a battle with the Ammonites.    Most of the other stories he listed, I was already familiar with.  I was a bit fascinated with the bit about loving one’s neighbor refers to kinship and tribe.  And he doesn’t hesitate to remind all that Jesus’ tribe was that of the Jewish people.  And no other.

Dawkins spares nothing in his repeated assaults on the cherry picking that takes place in the religious community on when to take the bible literally and when to read it allegorically.  Nor does he hesitate to draw the comparison between the extremists that exist in both the Muslim and Christian communities.  Actually, he is a bit more ruthless than I generally am in these regards as he doesn’t feel the need to draw a line between extremists and the faith in general.  For, he calls out the passages in each that shows that if taken as a guide, its merely a matter of whether you follow the dictates or not.

I suppose the areas where I step away from Dawkins is that I am perfectly capable of allowing people their “beliefs” or faith, so long as they don’t impose it on others.  What a person chooses as a guidebook for their life and what they want to believe is their business.  What applies to the rest of the world must be inclusive of differences of belief.  Also, I do understand that Dawkins has 0 belief in the possibility of there being anything else beyond this life.  I am not willing to draw that line.  Not that I believe in a god, certainly not the one of the Christians.  I had plenty of reasons before reading The God Delusion to reject that god.  I cannot but see him as a misogynistic god of hate, cruelty and double standards.   But a single supreme being?  Probably not.   I am not sure that there is something beyond this life.  I’m not banking on it.  But, I would really love to find a What Dreams May Come where I can paint my own universe when I am done here.  Even if its in a cloud of star stuff.  But, that comes from wanting new playgrounds to romp in.

The reality is that Dawkins is a beautiful, lyrical writer.  He leaves you with a dream of the beauty of life without religion that wraps around you like a blanket of many colors, drawing you into its threads and lifting you up to the heavens.  And he shows you, even those people of faith who can open their minds to see a vision different than their’s, that you don’t need faith to have a beautiful soul and live a meaningful and moral life.

February 2015


The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefI actually saw the movie before I read the book on this one.  The movie was quite good, and I realize that a movie can never do justice to a book, but the movie but scratched the surface of the book.

The Book Thief is a story told from the viewpoint of Death as he follows her through her life from where she loses her brother in a train accident when they were on the way to live with foster parents till their mother could get on her feet.  At her brother’s funeral, she steals her first book, The Gravedigger’s Manual and keeps it hidden.  Liesel can’t read or write, but she holds the book as a thing of value, a connection to her brother.

Her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, are an odd pair.  Rosa is loud, harsh and often vulgar with her tongue, admonishing as swiftly with her words as she is with her wooden spoon.  Hans is gentle and quiet, sitting by Liesel’s bed till she falls to sleep at night.

Hans discovers Liesel’s book and so begins her journey to learn to read under his gentle tutelage.  Chapter by chapter, they work their way slowly through the pages of the book and day by day, their life becomes more strained as the war begins to take more and more from them.

Hans brings in his friend Max one night, a Jewish man, half starved and looking as if he won’t make it through the night.  He is moved to the cellar where they make a room for him.  At first, Liesel is afraid of this strange man, but in time they begin to talk and form a friendship.

All the while, you listen to the voice of Death as he speaks of what he sees, the people he takes in his arms.  He speaks of his life and what he has seen.  Though he gives special notice to what he sees in this war where there are days when he takes hundreds of souls into his arms.  Most, he is relatively disinterested in.  Its just what he does, what he has always done.  But, there are a few people he has come across that have left a mark.  And Liesel is one of them.

I have read a few of the reviews on this book.  One said that not enough horror was given to what was done at this time. I will disagree with that.  I don’t think all books about Nazi occupied Europe need to be filled with all those horrors.  There are enough books already that have more than covered it.  The horrors are covered just enough so that you don’t forget what was going on while the story of the lives of these people unfolds.  So, you realize how people made do with less and still found ways to make life.

How sometimes the horror was forgotten for a brief few moments while a young girl named Liesel read to you the pages from a book while the bombs were exploding overhead.  How a simple gesture like that distracted you till the shelling stopped and took you to another place where there were no bombs and life had normal desires and fears.  Where starving Jews weren’t marched down your main street on the way to their death.

It’s a brilliant, wonderful, heartbreaking and uplifting story.  It tears your heart out of you and then hands it back to you with a smile again and again.  The lyrical prose of it will tickle you memory for a very long time after you close the book.

February 2015


The Book of You – Claire Kendal

The Book Of You - Claire KendalI can’t remember a time when a book has so disturbed me as much as “The Book of You” by Clair Kendal.  I listened to the audio version of it so I am not sure how much of the credit I can give to the writing and how much to the reader.  (Orlagh Cassidy).  Admittedly, her slow, methodical voice in the beginning almost made me lose interest, but I gave it a bit more time and then I was hooked.

Clarissa is chosen to serve on a jury for a trial about a young prostitute that was gang raped by some street thugs.  At the same time she is being stalked by a man in the building she works, Raif.  She learns that she had spent a night with him after he had slipped a drug into her drink.  She begins to put this together initially from little comments and notes from Raif.  At one point she attempts to call emergency to complain about it and though the woman on the other end is sympathetic, she realizes that there isn’t any help for her.  She has no proof of a crime committed, only her knowledge.

Serving on the jury shows her how little protection a woman has when she brings charges against an abuser/abusers as she witnesses the woman seeming to be the one on trial.  That the burden of proof is on her that she was in fact a victim and not a wiling participant.    Serving on the jury shows her that she must have so much proof that there is no choice in their need to believe her.

Raif somehow seems to know everything about her.  Even the fact that she had wanted a child with her former husband and his near infertility, their attempts to increase the chances medically and the eventual failure which also ended in the failure of their marriage.  He feeds her these bits of information through notes, in her ear as she is waiting for the train home, on the phone.

She keeps a journal of these interactions, her days, her feelings.  And it is mostly through these journal entries that the story unfolds.  It is through these journal entries that you get into the head of what it is to be stalked, to be the subject of someone’s unwanted obsession.  Raif has seeped into everything, every thought, every moment.  She looks for him around every corner, in every room, on every street.  He leaves her packages, presents.  She realizes that she cannot send them back, that she needs to keep them.  They are evidence that she can one day provide to prove his obsession.  They are evidence to prove that it is not her imagination.

She begins to take sleeping pills to help her sleep and they become a nightly ritual.  She knows there is a real fear that if this knowledge ever gets out, it could harm her case against Raif.  It can be used to make her look like she is unstable.  She realizes that almost every thing she does can be used to make her look bad.  She sees this fact each day in court as the attorneys do this to the young prostitute.

Her only relief through all of this is a man she meet on the jury, Robert, a fireman.  They become attracted to each other and it provides her with something positive to provide moments of relief from the ever present thoughts of Raif.

As you move through the book, you become tied into the fear, the terror that has become Clarissa as she writes “The Book of You”, the name she has given the book she keeps her notes in.  The terror of this novel is particularly close to many women, given how many have been on the receiving end of a stalker.  The truth in the story that most know their stalker, most have had some form of personal relationship with the stalker, even a romantic relationship.  For those that have been on the receiving end of such a situation, this book is even more terrifying because it pulls you deeply into the emotional disintegration you succumb to the longer the stalker comes at you.  It reminds you how vulnerable you are, how little real help is out there.

Its easy to become Clarissa as you read the pages.  Or listen to the pages being read.  Orlagh gives a haunted voice to Clarissa.  You feel the helplessness and terror.  You feel  the grasping for answers, the desire to protect those you love from this man’s abuse.  The isolation that comes from stepping away from them to protect them.  The fear of disbelief if you tell your story.  The pain that comes when you actually meet that disbelief with someone that you love.

I don’t know if Claire was ever herself a victim.  If she was not, she at least must have known someone intimately who had been.  This is not a happy story.  Though there is a love story woven in its pages, it is a story of terror and one that is so very common.  It is told with a beautiful haunted voice.  It is told with words that seep into your heart, into your soul and into your mind.  It is a story that will haunt your dreams for a very long time after.  And it is a story that should be read so more people might understand how devastating it is to be a victim.  It should be read so that people believe that person when they say they are being stalked.  It should be read so that they are not alone.  And it should be read so the stalker receives no pity and is seen for what he truly is.  It just plain should be read.



Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

Dark PlacesHaving read the other two books by Gillian, the last one (though I think this is actually her second book) was a given.  Gillian Flynn has rapidly soared to my top list of authors.  I bow deeply to any mind twisted enough to create some of the characters and story lines that she does.

That said, I have to say that Dark Places was probably my least favorite of her books.  Not that it wasn’t good.  I don’t know if this woman could write a bad novel.  Only that it didn’t seem to twist and sneak up on you quite the same way the other two did.  But, it was chock full of creep factor and seriously demented and tortured souls.

LIbby Day, whose family was murdered when she was seven, supposedly by her brother Ben, possibly while she watched.  Her brother, reputed to have been deeply immersed in a satanic cult with demons instructing him to do the killing.  Who has spent his life in prison for the “satanic ritualistic” murders, murders so violent, they have made the annals and history books of mass murders.  And Libby, who has spent her life living off the charity of donations of those who felt sorry for her after the tragedy, whose luck is running out and is no longer the sweetheart of the bleeding hearts club, now finds herself in the position that she will soon have to begin to fend for herself for the first time in her life.  This brings her into contact with “The Kill Club”.

The Kill Club is a group that are fans of murder stories.  Sometimes of the condemned, often believing them innocent.  Some are amateur sleuths, trying to solve or re-solve what the police did not.

Libby begins a journey initially to make a few extra buck to eventually try and learn the truth of what happened that night and whether her brother is really the monster that killed her family or was it someone else.

It is an excellent book.  I guess I just liked the twists in the other two books a bit more than this one.  Not that this doesn’t have its share of surprises and scenes that make you gasp.  Her explorations into the psyche of her characters always sets her heads above most writers in her genre.

January 2015


All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See is a novel that words such as “breathtaking”, “lyrical”, “mesmerizing” are inadequate.  The story is set between Germany and Nazi occupied France.  Maurie-Laure is a young blind girl that lives with her father who works for the museum where a legendary diamond is kept hidden under 13 locks to protect from the curse that surrounds it.  Maurie-Laure’s father builds her a perfect replica of her town so she can learn to navigate it, gives her puzzle boxes with presents inside, training her mind to be deft and analytical and her spirit to be independent, observant and resourceful.  They have to flee their home town when it is invaded and flee to the home of her eccentric uncle and his housekeeper where they find refuge in his huge mansion.

Werner is a young orphaned German boy who can fix any radio put before him.  He listens weekly to a broadcast from an unknown area that teaches him much of what he knows and he soaks it all up like a sponge.  He should be slated to work in the mines with the rest of the children in his town, but is recognized for his gift with electronics and sent to the German youth schools, a brutal place where he is slowly brought into the Nazi way of “selection.”

The story itself is not overwhelmingly original.  Stories about Germany and invaded countries during WWII could feel whole rooms of libraries and a large percentage being devoted to the merging of the lives of two characters from opposite sides of the war.  What sets this novel apart is the way it is prepared.  For just as chicken is one of the more common meats that people eat, it is in the preparation and presentation that determine if it is a simple dull fare or a gourmet feast for the senses.  “All The Light We Cannot See” is a gourmet fare of the highest caliber.

With his deft prose, we are given brief glimpses into the windows of his characters and he takes us into their minds to become one with them, flitting between them and tasting, smelling, breathing and being this capsule of moments of their lives.  Too many stories of the Occupation period focus entirely on the horror of that time.  And Anthony doesn’t ignore that horror.  For one cannot fully tell a story of then without including it.  But, he does so without the anger, without dwelling on the savagery.  By simply weaving fragments into the story, you are never far from the reminder of the stark stripping of what life was like, the cruelty that can take over even the gentlest of souls, you feel even stronger the triumph, the beauty, the incredible strength of the human heart and spirit to survive.  And not just survive, but to also be able to find moments to live, to savor, to laugh.

It is not a happy story.  Nor is it a sad one.  It is a real story that is a mixture of both.  It is full of humanness, compassion, cruelty and an unfiltered view of the stripping of color of the world that way brings in its wake.  It is a story told in dream fragments, thoughts, wishes, fears and perceptions.  It is slow and melodic and breathtakingly intricate, often bringing you to tears as well as filling your chest with hope and joy.

I bow deeply to the word painting of this master artist.  I will keep my eye open for my own copy of this book, as this was a library book, for the words are ones I want to be able to re-savor again and again. I shall look for the rest of his body of work and pray that he has many, many, many more tales in his soul that need to come out and be shared with the world.  The tapestry he has created in the pages make the jewel within them pale by comparison.



The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The MiniaturistI think The Miniaturist was another book I found from a Good Reads recommendation.  Either that, or it came from an author recommend.  At any rate, my thanks to whoever in the universe it was that brought it to my attention.  It was a very interesting read.

Now, before I go into my thoughts on the book itself, I do need to tell the little story on how the book almost didn’t get finished.  The Miniaturist was one that I listened to on audio.  I became very frustrated with the book as it wasn’t making any sense whatsoever!  Just as I was about to give up on it (though I was being held back from that because there were areas that were very interesting, I just could see how they tied into anything)  It turns out that my Ipod was set to shuffle.  So, it was shuffling the chapters.  Took it off of shuffle, started the book over.  Problem solved.  And got a good laugh at my own expense over it as well.

So, on to the story itself, once it all got put in good order and was then able to make sense!

The Miniaturist is about a young woman, Petranella, who is married to a wealthy Dutch merchant, Johannes Brandt.  When she travels to his home, he gives her a gift of a miniature house to the one that is to be her new home.  She is at first insulted by the gift, thinking that it is a gift for a child.  This is even more reinforced with the treatment she receives from his sister, Marin, the matriarch of the home.  Johannes, aloof, distant, keeping either to himself or away on business.

Nella employs the services of a miniaturist to furnish her cabinet, and the pieces begin to arrive quickly.  The odd thing is that she is getting pieces she didn’t order and some of the pieces seem to be telling her of events that there should be no way for the miniaturist to have knowledge of.

Slowly, as the story moves forward, the lives of the members of the household begin to unweave before Nella, their secrets, their weaknesses, their demons.  And with each turn, the miniaturist always seems to be one step ahead and Nella begins to think of her as a “prophetess”.

Its a wonderful historically rich and complex story that draws you into a time and place where simply being an unmarried woman could mark you for trial, a black servant an object of arrogant eccentricity, and a housemaid listens to keyholes.

The problem I found with the novel, though, was when the author seemed to cut her miniaturist loose and push her to the dusty sidelines with her creations.  What had become an intriguing original aspect of the story was discarded and the continuation of the story as merely a well written mystery.  This does not fall under the canopy of killing off your characters, your darlings.  For the miniaturist was never killed off.  She was simply swept into the corner.

For all its charm and beautiful prose, the book does lose some in its loose closures in the book and the sweeping under the rug of what the main premise/dynamic of the book was.  Though, given that this seems to be Jessie’s first book, and the promise her writing style holds, I would gladly keep my eyes open for her next offering.  The Miniaturist is a good book, but just wasn’t sure what it wanted to be and lost its footing as a result.  But, it is also good enough to stand on its own even in light of its flaws.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelo

I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsYet another book that you have to take a deep breath before writing a review about.    If for no other reason that what can be said about it that has not already been said?

I have been meaning to read this book for many years.  Looked for it when I could remember (I often forget to bring my notebook that has books I am supposed to look for that I think I want to read).  I finally came across it in a used bookstore and its been sitting on my shelf for about a year.

All I can say is, if you have not read this book, you are missing out!  The book, the woman, is as amazing as everything you have heard about her and it.  The prose is lyrical, haunting, like dripping honey infused with lavender highlights that seep into your soul and speaks directly to it.

For those that are not familiar with the story, its an autobiography of her younger life where she and her brother were left in the care of their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, life there in their country store, the racism and hatred that was part of the time, and even more so in a small Southern town.  Through her words, we are drawn into the little store, the home her and her brother share with their grandmother, her simple words, so perfect, you can smell the smells of the fires, taste the sugar lumps on their fingertips and smart at the harsh words of the white people who treat them as less than human.

When her mother shows up and carts them off to California, she shows you a new world.  One that is changing fast with a new breed of colored that are finding a place in the world, a place where there is money and property.  Where, if like her mother, you are light enough to almost pass for one of the white women, doors open for you.  It is in this world that Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

One of the most striking things of the novel is the lack of anger in the voice of the author.  The story is told in the gentle voice of a storyteller who is passing along a tale of how things were.  It is story to be savored by any willing to open its pages and promises sadness and tears, joy and laughter and an empowerment of the spirit.  It is the story of a child who rose from the dust of the South to become one of the greatest and most loved voices in American Literature.