21 Following


Vulcan! - Kathleen Sky

This particular Star Trek novel is obviously a case of a self-indulgent fan-turned-amateur-author (presumably one of the first generation of Trekkies during and after the original series) using a Star Trek novel to publicly display her sexual fantasies about Spock, and must be understood in that context. As such, it's obnoxious and irritating, and I regret reading it (having had no idea). Doctor Who novels did the same thing at least once: in Kate Orman's Unnatural History, the Eighth Doctor's companion Sam attempts to seduce him (which, regrettably, was later duplicated on television with Amy Pond and the Eleventh Doctor).


What happens is basically that the Enterprise takes on a very attractive mission specialist who irrationally hates Vulcans for no obvious reason (McCoy eventually discovers that it's a psychological reaction to her Vulcan husband dying); she and Spock become trapped on a planet populated by hostile giant ants, and while defending themselves alone, mate (thereby positing that Vulcan mating is not restricted to the pon farr cycle).


Although I disdain this book for the above reason, I did find a character naming her cat "Fuzzybutt" highly amusing.

The killer instinct - Bob Cousy, John Devaney

This isn't a book I've ever heard discussed--it's probably obscure now--but both my high school library and local public library did have a copy, and the title and caption on the cover (which shows a picture of Cousy looking very troubled, and says "Mr. Basketball thought winning was the only thing, until [something] on the edge of moral and physical collapse." I was intrigued, and although probably ten years passed of me seeing the book on and off before I decided to read it, I eventually did.

A number of NBA legends I know of were known to be absolutely ruthless, focused, and obsessed with winning their games--Michael Jordan was hardly the only one of them, just the most notorious and popular. Cousy was probably the first with this "Killer Instinct," and the book is about how it affected him as a player, coach and person.

I certainly admit that I haven't read many biographies of NBA players (in fact, Cousy's is probably the only one), but of these players with the Killer Instinct--these players who take winning so seriously that they will work up feelings of rage to motivate themselves and treat opposing players as enemies to be destroyed--Cousy is the only one I know of who wasn't corrupted by being hypercompetitive. As a player, Cousy had an extreme fear of failure (apparently the cause of his hypercompetitiveness, not the effect of it); it led to nightmares, sleepwalking, intense emotional reactions to losing, and eventual visits to a psychiatrist (who diagnosed him with panic attacks). After his playing career ends, he becomes a coach at both the college and NBA level, and his drive and intensity tempt him to cheat by making promises to his college recruits that he can't keep. He resists, but eventually tires of it and the strain his hypercompetitiveness puts on his health, and leaves coaching. For this, Cousy is one of the very few basketball players I know anything about that I respect. And did I mention that he strongly opposed racism in basketball in the 1960s?

OFF-TOPIC: The Story of an Internet Revolt by G.R. Reader - G.R. Reader I feel deeply ambivalent about this book. I am less interested in the details of either Goodreads's acquisition by Amazon, or the policy dispute between Goodreads and many users, than in what I'm finding out about the attitudes of the Goodreads "community" and its prominent individual members. (Although I'm trying not to skim over too much of the business details; they can be interesting. I hadn't realized Amazon's motive in buying Goodreads was specifically to data-mine it for marketing purposes.)

Let's get this out of the way: I do not support Goodreads' tighter controls on reviews that led the site to apparently censor. I was very upset to learn who controlled Goodreads and why, because my late best friend introduced me to this site five years ago; and because it fed my obsession with books and encouraged me to find more and to write meaningfully about them, it's almost certainly the best gift she ever gave me or the best thing she ever did.
You couldn't know this either unless you had been on my friend list, but within a few days of being told the situation (I had no idea), I took a chainsaw to my Goodreads lists. I would join the many who have deleted their accounts, but I can't--I'm willing to delete only books I haven't reviewed. Besides that I put great time, effort and thought into my reviews, I'm too vain to delete them. (Why don't I move them? I could try, but I haven't found a book site I like very much. Most or all of them are corporate-owned, anyway.) I have settled on the compromise of keeping my account but refusing to ever again write a review for the site after this one.

But I also don't fully share the attitude of this writer and her Goodreads contributors. I have found the book's commentary self-indulgent and a little sanctimonious--typical of an "internet community", even if for a righteous cause. For that reason, I would not care to participate in the community's protests more closely than generally agreeing with them.

An observation. Most probably fully realize this, but it is impossible to discuss a book without commenting on the author; therefore, of course Goodreads's policy against commenting on the author is impracticable and probably ridiculous. A work can never be considered completely apart from its author, despite the interesting claims of the literary theory New Criticism.

Medical Billing 101

Medical Billing 101 - Michelle M. Rimmer I've only started reading this book, but it appears to be a strong training manual for billing and coding; it includes a software CD with a billing/coding simulator. I would not be surprised to see it in college/trade school classrooms.
The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure - Kevin D. Williamson Interesting, but relatively disappointing. Kevin Williamson's thoughts on the state of America and the possible future are much more analytical than prescriptive or predictive; that is, his explanation of what politics really is about is much substantive and deep than the ideas he offers on what the future American society, economy and governmental structures will be like after--as he obviously accepts as a given--the American economy and government collapse after going broke.

Very quotable.

The book very obviously speaks from a naturalistic perspective throughout. That is, its analyses and prescriptions for the future operate from the implicit assumption that our world is all there is (or, perhaps, all that Williamson is interested in) and our world has as much of a future as we give it. Since I don't believe this at all, I found the book interesting but hardly inspiring or emotionally resonant (which was already hard enough considering that, as I said, Williamson actually spends relatively little time discussing what the title of the book suggests).
Phantastes - George MacDonald I had noted that many passages in Phantastes are mostly poetry, but I didn't realize this until I approached the end: the reason many (even most) passages are poetry is because Phantastes is a poem. Yes, the entire book is a long and meandering poem, and will make more sense (and seem less poorly written) if viewed as poetry rather than novel. It also probably explains why I had enormous difficulty getting through it--I was attempting to read it as a novel.

This quotation from chapter 16 refers to a character the protagonist meets, but arguably describes the entire story: "[S]he seemed removed into that region of phantasy where all is intensely vivid, but nothing clearly defined."

More than with Lilith, there's something Bradburyesque about Phantastes; if none of it evokes the feeling of Bradbury's overall body of work, then specifically Dandelion Wine--there's something of that here. I strongly felt that Dandelion Wine was poetry (in substance if not form), sung to the memory of youth; Phantastes is definitely poetry, more so because unlike Bradbury, MacDonald is evidently an actual poet. That becomes much more evident in the later chapters of Phantastes, where MacDonald creates little poems of his own in addition to the German Romantic poetry that he has quoted at times throughout the book.

Because of this, the book is much more challenging than its length (about 190 pages in my edition) suggest. It took me roughly two months to read, although that was partly for being distracted by other books.

Like Lilith, Phantastes is highly impressionistic. Dreamlike quality? I'm not sure I would say it feels dreamlike overall, but MacDonald's way of describing physical setting is extremely similar to what someone with a good memory might write down in a dream notebook. Writers wanting to evoke the surreal or, more generally, to describe imaginatively rather than photographically, should probably study Phantastes.

Electronic Health Records For Dummies

Electronic Health Records For Dummies - Trenor Williams, Anita Samarth This book explains how to implement an EHR system, but not really how to use the system on the micro level day-to-day. It's written only for an audience of providers--doctors and executives. If you are a student studying for EHR specialist certification like me, you won't get that much out of it, because such decisions as what a medical practice's exact needs are, and what hardware and software to purchase, are beyond an EHR specialist's responsibility.
Kant in 90 Minutes - Paul Strathern What many reviewers say about this book is true: it offers limited details about Kant's philosophy. But there are clearly reasons for that. Author Paul Strathern's ability to discuss the philosophies in detail is severely restricted by the extremely short length of the books, and this becomes more of a problem when he discusses philosophies written in philosophical jargon by intellectuals who didn't write concisely and comprehensibly (and didn't care). Kant and several other major German philosophers, such as Hegel (who also receives a volume in the 90 Minutes series) wrote this way, and how is Strathern supposed to explain poorly written manuals of complex philosophies in ninety minutes? He makes clear that even other philosophers found Kant's writing incomprehensible. He gives one passage from Kant's Critique of Pure Reason by way of illustration, and it verges on being parody of bad writing:
The apodictical proposition cogitates the assertorical as determined by these very laws of the understanding, consequently affirming as a priori, and in this manner it expresses...

And Critique of Pure Reason is widely considered Kant's masterwork. Kant's unfinished final work in philosophy (Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations of the Natural Sciences to Physics) is apparently even more incomprehensible, so incomprehensible in fact that, according to Strathern, no other philosophers have ever understood it. In more practical scientific and business fields, this problem is why the professionals have technical writers; unfortunately, philosophers don't have tech writers and probably don't want them. However, Strathern adequately explains key points of Kant's philosophy, such as the categorical imperative everyone hears about.

Strathern mentions something my Philosophy 101 prof didn't see fit to mention about Kant's personal life--the only thing of interest, as he really had no life whatsoever. Throughout his adult life, Kant was absolutely repressed emotionally and sexually. It's not clear how this influenced his philosophy (if at all), but there are subtle hints of his repressed emotions behind the philosophies that interested him, such as the Romanticism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Also the fact that he mocked emotional writing like poetic-sounding prose (one of his early works is a satire of it) and advised his students not to read novels (claiming they "fragmented the memory") or listen to music. But Strathern bluntly says "beneath the facade of the prim academic beat the heart of a closet romantic" ; and when I read two other details--that Kant loved attending concerts and, most importantly, that he regularly worshiped in the local church despite his philosophical system denying the existence of God (on the grounds that it's unverifiable)--I made my own conclusion that Strathern doesn't suggest: that Kant was in many ways a blatant (if unintentional) hypocrite.
The Iceman Cometh - Eugene O'Neill, Harold Bloom A nightmare of the wasted lives of alcoholics who fear life and love drink so much that they can't even leave their bar. Makes me glad I find the taste of alcohol unpleasant.

The format and the progression of this play is generally similar to Long Day's Journey Into Night, although with about three times as many characters. Most of the characters are introduced immediately at the beginning of act one: the bartender, about eight alcoholics--various types with various former careers--who are down on their luck, and the owner (who is also an alcoholic). Three or more of their alcoholic friends and one young stranger come in over time. Almost entirely through dialogue, the first half of the play explores their various miseries and lets them interact, displaying their camaraderie (which they always have when they're drinking freely or waiting to drink) and the tensions between them (which always occur the closer they come to trying to reclaim the lives they had before they hit the bottle or before the misfortune that drove them to drink). The third act introduces the only non-alcoholic character, an allegedly reformed alcoholic friend of the others who urges them to stop drinking and reclaim their lives. The rest of the play revolves around this character, and why he quit drinking, and how the other characters react to him. Act Four brings a climax shocking and revelatory, if not as sudden and explosive as that in Long Day's Journey Into Night.

The title refers to an joke the barflies heard from the central character long ago and mention to each other repeatedly. The central character used to tell the barflies a story about his wife cheating with the iceman (which, until the climax, is not taken seriously nor believed true). Its significance is this: the play's climax reveals that the central character's wife did indeed cheat (with an iceman, apparently), but the central character had provoked his wife to cheat by his incorrigibly sottish behavior; he blames himself entirely; so "the iceman" is the misfortune and misery the characters have brought on themselves in one way or another.

I initially preferred Long Day's Journey Into Night slightly, but that was probably a knee-jerk reaction to the last act of that play being more intense and startling. The Iceman Cometh is actually more interesting, just because there are more characters, more events happen and more secrets are revealed (and other secrets of the characters receive only subtle explanations that force the reader to study them more closely).
Islamic Imperialism: A History - Efraim Karsh If you want to know either the history of Islam in general, and especially if you want to know about Islamic theology, Islamic Imperialism is not the book you want. It's what its title describes--a history of empires and imperialist ideologies under the banner of Islam--and discussion of theology other Islam-related subjects is incidental and given only to support the thesis. You largely can't learn from this book what Muslims believe.

That said, it fully explains how for Muslims (especially Arab Muslims), dreams of regional and even world domination are inseparably tied to Islamic beliefs. The key is that unlike Christianity, Islam makes no distinction between sacred and secular government, and so notwithstanding that there is currently no Islamic caliphate (it ended with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I), Muslims believe that Islam must politically govern the entire temporal world.

Although quite short (under 250 pages) and concise in style, this book is written in a very academic (if concise) style. It expects the reader to already know basic details of Islamic political history (such as the difference between a "caliph" and a "sultan"), and it occasionally uses obscure terms without bothering to explain them.
Wicca: Satan's Little White Lie - William Schnoebelen I saw this in my favorite used bookstore and looked through it. Though I didn't finish it, I probably should have (will find it again next time I'm in the store); and I'm amused that the only reviews are from enraged fellow Wiccans claiming that the author somehow doesn't know what he's talking about despite having been a Wiccan himself. But he says in the book that there are multiple Wiccan groups and different levels of knowledge, and the reviewers may or may not be in the same position he was in.
Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's - Frederick L. Allen This history of the 1920s was unpleasant reading, and quickly became a chore: partly because I'm already familiar with much of what happened in the 1920s, and consider it banal; partly because author Frederick Allan's attitude toward 1920s Americans and their culture is arrogant and snide throughout. He very obviously casts his lot with the 1920s intellectuals, whom he says openly and ardently hated American society; and when the history introduced H.L. Mencken and described his total contempt for middle-class Americana, more than once mentioning that Mencken likened his work to watching animals in a zoo, I perceived that Allan clearly sympathized. I don't, because I can acknowledge people's stupidity and superficiality without despising them for it.

Speaking of superficiality: despite being a classic, Only Yesterday well demonstrates the limitations of books of popular history, in that it's actually quite superficial in most ways. It largely ignores Calvin Coolidge and completely misses how unusual he was among American presidents; and, more to its detriment, it displays a total lack of interest in religion's influence in 1920s America, except when forced to (as by discussion of the Scopes trial).

Factual information presented in the book seems to be quite accurate--I can say that much. I want to own a copy for its informational value, but I'm glad to be finished reading it.
The Merry Wives of Windsor - William Shakespeare Before anything, one interested in reading The Merry Wives of Windsor for the first time might want to to note that Sir John Falstaff appears in multiple plays (none of which are related to The Merry Wives) and to note where this Falstaff play falls in their mini-chronology.
Falstaff appears in Merry Wives and Henry IV (parts I and II), and is mentioned in Henry V; and several characters associated with Falstaff appear in Henry V. In Henry V, Falstaff is said to have died; but in Merry Wives, Falstaff is the central character and is very much alive.


I notice that many call The Merry Wives of Windsor Shakespeare's most "bourgeois" play. That's probably true, because it's a play about middle-class life that is steeped in the values of Christendom; but it's also true that "bourgeois" is an insult that snotty critics use in scoffing at the play for not being avant-garde. So it's a play mostly about two married women wanting to punish a sleazy nobleman for making a pathetic attempt to seduce them, with a subplot about whether a young woman with multiple suitors should marry for money or for love. How "bourgeois"--right? If critics don't like the play mainly for that reason, I've no sympathy.
In reading this play, I felt definite similarities between and another (obviously superior) Shakespearean play--The Merchant of Venice. But I also notice how diverse Shakespeare's comedies are: the last Shakespearean comedy I read was Love's Labour's Lost, and Love's Labour's Lost is so completely different from Merry Wives in every way that it feels like different people wrote them.

I was amused by the last two acts, but I can see the weaknesses and limitations of this play as well as anyone:

-Many gratuitious--and, frankly, stupid--puns and malapropisms that accomplish nothing but to confuse the reader.

-Linguistic and possibly ethnic stereotypes. I'm not familiar with the Welsh accent, but Shakespeare continually stereotypes it (in Hugh Evans) for humor. It's not funny. Much more annoying is Caius, allegedly a French doctor. His accent, a combination of stereotypes of French, German and Italian accents, is so absurd that I wonder whether Shakespeare had ever met a Frenchman or knew much about their accents. I can only suppose Caius is meant to be a stereotype, generating humor from audiences' possible disdain for the French. He might have entertained them, but not me.

-Falstaff. I have not read Henry IV yet, but I understand that the John Falstaff there is a famously witty and much-loved Shakespearean character. In The Merry Wives...not. This Falstaff, much older, is a sleazy satyr with a tendency to casually observe how fat he is (which probably made sense then because people saw obesity as indicating prosperity). There's nothing entertaining about him, only in the repeated humiliating pranks the two married women visit on him to teach him a lesson. (There are three incidents. There really should have been more, not so much because I like to see Falstaff humiliated as that punishing Falstaff for his lust toward married women is supposed to be the play's main focus.) Falstaff is even less entertaining than Caius, whom the reader can laugh at for being absurd.

Baptist Ways: A History

Baptist Ways: A History - Bill J. Leonard, Edwin S. Gaustad This is a very informative survey-level history of Baptist churches, associations, missionary groups, etc. through the end of the twentieth century.

The weakness is that the editing and the publication quality are unacceptably poor. With the extreme number and degree of typos that reduce entire paragraphs to near-gibberish, it's probably not the author's (a history professor) fault and possibly not even the editor's; someone or something probably screwed up in the printing process. If author Bill Leonard publishes a revised version, hopefully he uses another publisher, because this edition's publisher, a Judson Press, looks amateurish.
Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows - Jay Bakker This book tells several stories:

-Jim Bakker's Praise the Lord ministry and its downfall, from his son Jay Bakker's viewpoint.

-Jay's life after the end of PTL, which was tortured enough due to his father's imprisonment but made much worse by most other Christians' giving the Bakkers the cold shoulder.

-His discovery of God's love and grace, which he knew nothing about due to having been neither taught about it nor shown it by any Christians he had known. His learning process continued even after he started a ministry for young people from subcultures that are typically shunned by conservative churches.

I appreciated the inside story of what happened with PTL, because I was too young to know anything about it (being about five years younger than Jay Bakker). He insists his father never had any intention of defrauding anyone, and explains that the Bakkers and PTL had another side besides the wealth and materialism everyone decries: Jim Bakker also proclaimed God's unconditional love and fervently wished to serve members of PTL.

Jay also makes clear that certain other Christian evangelists--mostly Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart--were obviously out to get his father and PTL. When Jim's scandal broke, Swaggart publicly called Bakker "a cancer on the body of Christ"; and while he somewhat made up for it later by agreeing to write a letter urging that Jim Bakker be paroled (when other prominent Christian leaders refused to), Falwell behaved even worse, taking over not only PTL and Heritage USA (the Christian theme park Jim Bakker built) but confiscating even some of the family's personal possessions and crassly auctioning them off on his own television program. (Jay states that Swaggart wanted to engineer a corporate takeover, but does not adequately explain how Falwell got involved. I can only guess Falwell used the same method--corporate takeover.)

Assuming Jay didn't exaggerate, this is some of the most ridiculous behavior I've ever heard of from a Christian evangelist. I have no idea why one would use his pulpit to sell other people's personal property; and Falwell's audience should have promptly and permanently left him. If that doesn't clinch that Falwell was not a nice man and not a great witness for Jesus Christ, this might: Falwell apparently also used his TV program to call Jim Bakker a homosexual, with no evidence whatsoever. What a creep.
Swaggart's position toward PTL might have been a little more complex: Jay initially suggests that Swaggart was simply jealous of Jim Bakker's wealth and popularity and considered Jim Bakker a "rival" (they were both Assembly of God ministers and were both on TV); but Jay later mentions that Swaggart had some sort of theological disagreements with Jim Bakker.

I agree completely with Jay Bakker's emphasis on God's grace and love and his insistence that churches must demonstrate God's grace by welcoming all individuals regardless of condition or appearance. I can't say much more than that, because I wasn't raised in church and I haven't really witnessed firsthand church members behaving judgmentally or as though they can earn salvation by behaving well. (Although I know people who have been in that kind of church environment and had their Christianity damaged by it. My best friend would probably still be alive but for the hypocrisy, intolerance and bad behavior of the Christians she knew.)

I should mention that a reader who has heard anything secondhand about Jay Bakker's ministry and views might suspect him of being both a political liberal and a theological liberal. He has said (not in this book) that he's "more [socially] liberal than most," but it's unlikely that he's a theological liberal, for several reasons. First, there's nothing theologically liberal about saying God is a God of grace and love; the Bible says that. Second, Jay says until he started his ministry to youth subculture kids, he had never really read the Bible, at least not thoroughly. (His father has said the same thing in his own book--that he never read the Bible all the way through until he went to prison.) That could affect his ministry either way, but my interpretation is that it's hard to interpret the Bible from a theologically liberal viewpoint if you haven't read the Bible much anyway. Third, he explicitly states that his belief in God's grace and boundless love doesn't mean he as a pastor gives anyone a license to sin, only that he welcomes people of any appearance and outward behavior in his church. As for the other kind of liberalism...Baker says nothing more specific about his social views and nothing whatsoever about his political views if he has any. (I would imagine he doesn't care much; besides that he's busy trying to serve people and show them the grace and love of Christ, he's not an intellectual. He says he did very poorly in school and dropped out, partly because the trauma of his father's downfall messed him up and partly because he's dyslexic.)

The above was true at the time Jay Bakker wrote this book, but that was over ten years ago, and if you research him now you'll find that his exact views are apparently in flux. Among other things, he now cites Paul Tillich as an influence and seems to share such an existentialist viewpoint, downplaying the idea that the Bible has all the truth. I'm dismayed: he's gone from doubting the church to doubting the Bible.
The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe I'm reading an abridged version of The Mysteries of Udolpho, having been warned that it's unnecessarily long (and poorly written); but I think I'll have to switch to the unabridged version. My abridged version chopped out so much content that I have no idea how Emily got into Montoni's castle and wouldn't have known Aubert had died if I hadn't seen it beforehand.

I don't know if this was Ann Radcliffe's first work, but I think she simply had no idea how to write prose. The entire text up to the point I'm at is too much poetry and not enough prose content; and the pleasant but extremely vague descriptions of all physical surroundings make it painfully obvious that Radcliffe had never visited France and probably knew nothing about it, and had probably only read about Italy. She more or less created some foreign places out of her imagination and slapped the names "France" and "Italy" onto them; they would have been better as fictional lands, because as depicted by Radcliffe, that's what they are. (I should mention that I haven't visited France or Italy myself, and don't know from experience that the environments in France and Italy don't resemble what Radcliffe claims.)

I have abandoned this book. It's boring and I had gotten so far only because I don't like not finishing what I start.