Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Atheism by Kerry Walters

Atheism: A Guide for the Perplexed by Kerry Walters. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2010. Paperback, 195 pps., incl. Works Cited and Index.

I had two professors who used a book they'd written for the textbook of college courses they were teaching. One was a man who taught Phonetics. I loved everything about that book, from the soft red leather cover to the typeset used on the pages to the subject matter. The other was a creative writing instructor. I did not find his book to be as worthy. I judged that book to be as stilted as the writer-- not terribly creative and more concerned with pumping up his false ego. It was with these past experiences that I picked up Atheism: A Guide for the Perplexed written by a college professor who also uses it in undergrad courses that he teaches.

Atheism: A Guide for the Perplexed is designed to make atheism accessible to the average intellectual. On that level it succeeds admirably. It is an easier read than Richard Dawkins, cites numerous philosophers and theologians in its' pages, is careful to define what is meant by key words, and distills the framework of both worldviews into easy-to-follow ideas.

Where the book fails is in Kerry Walters' constant apologies for the outspokeness and brashness of Dawkins and other "New" Atheists. Those theists who are turned off by Richard Dawkins' take no prisoners style are unlikely to convert to atheism anyway. I see no reason to apologize for Dawkins just as I also see no reason for a theist at an A.A. meeting to apologize to the sole atheist in the room before sharing her spiritual experiences.

Apart from the constant mention of Dawkin's presentation, I enjoyed this slender volume. I came away with a deeper understanding of Aquinas' Five Proofs for the existence of God. I also gleaned from its' pages the multifactorial nature of a decision to believe or not to believe. And finally, I was able to identify the commonality vs. causality concerns inherent in a naturalistic historical narrative of religion itself.

Atheism: A Guide for the Perplexed is unlikely to win any converts from the fundamentalist crowd to non-theism. Nor will it suit the reader who possesses only a rudimentary understanding of logic and discourse. Although I do not agree with Kerry Walters' final supposition of where the atheists and believers may begin a constructive dialogue, there was much in this book I found to be informative.

sapphoq reviews says: cautiously recommended.

Drowning Anna by Sue Mayfield

Drowning Anna, Sue Mayfield. New York: Hyperion, 2001. Small size hardbound, 316 pps.

Set in England, Anna is a new arrival at school where she is befriended and then shunned by most of the other girls in her class. She is outright bullied. No one lifts a finger to help. Hints of anorexia and then a full-fledged suicide attempt take place before Anna's mother determines that her daughter needs her intervention.

sapphoq reviews says: It may be that anorexia and self-injury express themselves differently in England than they do in the U.S. Stateside, anorexia is usually attributed to a sick rebellion against controlling parents; and cutting to trauma whose purpose is to make the cutter feel more or go numb. I give this one a clear miss.

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti. New York: Random House, 2008. Paperback, 345 pps., inc. reader's guide.

Ren is stuck in a Roman Catholic orphanage for boys run by some priests. With one hand amputated, he is passed by when the boys are lined up as prospective parents drop by to bring home a kid. He is almost at the age where he will be sold to the Army. Then a mysterious relative shows up.

Ren leaves behind the only home he has ever known and joins his "uncle" on various escapades involving thievery and trickery. There is grave robbing also. Eventually he finds out who his parents are and he finds a true home.

The Good Thief is set in New England sometime in the 1800s. The author's familiarity with New England and its' history moves the story along to a successful conclusion. There are a couple of drunks in the story who never do quite sober up, a doctor, some nuns, local villagers, and a murderer. This book has an unusual take on the orphan-finds-love theme. Blood and guts also abound. The story is well-told and enjoyable.

sapphoq reviews says: recommended.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

White Oleander, Janet Fitch. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1999. hardcover, 390 pps.

White Oleander is a real gem of a book. Ingrid is a poet of some note in the coffeehouse crowd who becomes a cause celebrite after poisoning an ex-boyfriend and landing in prison. Astrid, the narrator, is her teenaged daughter and an artist in her own right. Astrid lands in the foster care system. She suffers through a variety of placements. She makes it out through to young adulthood with her muse intact.

I don't have experience with the foster care system myself but I have a couple of friends that do. They were foster mothers in Vermont-- mostly to boys-- over the space of several years. White Oleander caused me to question my own perspective of the boys' experiences as foster kids.

In spite of being an Oprah's Book Club book (sorry, fans-- I'm not), I liked this book. The language was lyrical and colorful. The dialogues and the characters were believable and well-rendered. The author tackled a tough subject and came out shining. Additionally, White Oleander the book cleared up a few things that I had missed in my prior viewing of White Oleander the movie. The book was not a fictionalized collection of morose reflections on the temporal relationships experienced by foster kids nor was it a catalogue of traumatic events that foster kids can experience. There is both heartbreak and true joy in this book.

sapphoq reviews says: highly recommended.

Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks

Italian Neighbors, Tim Parks. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1992. Hardbound, 272 pps.

Tim Parks and wife moved to Montecchio near Verona in Italy. Native Londoners, they had never encountered fog like that in their adopted town. From the lizards who enter their living space via French windows to the lemon trees and continuously barking dog outside, Tim Parks and wife adapt to their new landscape. Now they are three, as wife has given birth to a baby boy.

radical sapphoq says: This is a dull book. Not recommended.

Secrets of the Talking Jaguar by Martin Prechtel

Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, Martin Prechtel. Boston: Element books, 1998. Hardbound, 283 pps.

Secrets of the Talking Jaguar was a captivating book. The author was lead to a Mayan tribe where he lived for the next 13 years. The local shaman taught him the ways of the tribe as well as old folk medicine. This book is full of fantastic stories about Prechtel's adventures. He married a native 17 year old who produced a baby boy. At the end of the book, the family had to migrate to the States, as the local Guatamalan regime was against anything that could be construed as communistic interest.

sapphoq reviews says: Mr. Prectel's claim of special shamanistic knowedge was troublesome. Still, the book sucked me in and I'd read the whole thing in one sitting. Secrets of the Talking Jaguar is full of unverifiable claims and this bothered me greatly. Not recommended.

The House on mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. Small hardcover, 110 pps.

The young narrator of The House on Mango Street has much to say and a cool style of saying it. This book made me feel like I was instantaneously in on Esperanza's intimate thoughts. She tells about how it is to live in a small brick house on Mango Street. The rhythms of everyday living come alive under the author's craft. I felt like I was there.

radical sapphoq says: Written in an easy to read style, any Hispanophile is bound to appreciate The House on Mango Street. I read it in one sitting. Highly recommended.

Freedom's Landing by Anne McCafferty

Freedom's Landing, Anne McCaffrey. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995. Hardbound, 277 pps.

A University of Denver student is captured along with a bunch of other people and taken to another planet. She, other earthlings, and aliens from other places are held as slaves. When Kris escapes, she is rounded up along with other troublemakers and dumped on a different planet thought to be uninhabitated. Folks keep getting dumped there, some go rogue, and some die. Freedom's Landing concerns itself with the initial setting up of the colony which the settler-slaves have named Botany. There is of course a swank alien dude with whom Kris becomes enamoured and a few troublemakers on the side.

Place plays an important role in this particular book. The place settings are integral to the plot and I like that in a story. Interspecies love is also something that I like (and something that Anne McCaffrey explores in other books of hers as well as in this one).

sapphoq reviews says: Folks looking for either fuzzy science or hard science in a science fiction novel are not going to find it here. Folks who are interested in the building of relationships during hard times will. Highly recommended for science fic afficiandos who appreciate well done interspecies romance born in the middle of the hardship of settling in a hostile environment.