Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On the Nightstand

Lolita - Vladimir Nabakov
This was pretty much a "I should read a classic, haven't done that in a while" read, and a worthy one. I've read from many, many sources over the years what a gifted, effortless prose stylist Nabakov is and the hype was well-deserved. Dude can write. It's not a new observation, but it's impressive how creepy and disturbing the book is given that Nabakov never gets dirty or explicit at all; there are no cheap sex scenes, no "erotic" writing, just the eminently believable and horrifying story of a pedophile. What's really amazing is how well Nabakov manages to straddle the line between making Humbert sympathetic and downright evil. While we understand him, we don't really sympathize with him either; Nabakov never lets him off the hook for his actions but at the same time makes sure we understand them well. A neat trick.

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
As an atheist, I apreciated much of Dawkins' methodical, reasoned, and passionate arguments for reason and enjoyed the book, although I do feel he gets a little, well, too evangelical in spots - especially where he likens the teaching of religion to a child as abuse. His near-hysterical insisitence that it's the height of horror to refer to a child as a "Christian" or "Jewish" child, when of course a child has no real conception of what those words mean, has a core of reason to it, but he blithely ignores the fact that religion is deeply cultural as well. Parents who teach their children about the Christmas story, for example, do so for many reasons, and the idea that the literal truth of the story is to be accepted as the basis for their belief system is, at least for many, pretty far down the list (or not on it at all). Dawkins pretty much ignores the fact that cultural identities and traditions and religious beliefs are so irrevocably tangled together, and treats religion only as a rigid belief system, which is why his arguments can sometimes ride off the rails. Still, I appreciated much of what he’s put forth here and recommend the book.

Until Whenever

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