In the past few days, I've really been thinking about my global perspective. There was the news about the factory fire in Bangladesh (read about it here) and, on a more positive note, the story of the British man who visited every country in the world without flying anywhere (read about it here). Then I took an online quiz to name every country in the world, and I could only name 101/196. How sad is it that I know so little of the world I live in that I can only name half of the countries? And most of those places are nothing more than names to me--St. Lucia, Belize, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Togo, Kiribati? I know nothing about these countries but their names!
All this has just made me more determined to read two books from every country in the world, and to start branching out from countries that I already know a fair bit about. I can't wait to learn more about all the diversity of God's children on this earth!
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Book: The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory C. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams
Description: With more than 400,000 copies now in print, The Craft of Research is the unrivaled resource for researchers at every level, from first-year undergraduates to research reporters at corporations and government offices.
Seasoned researchers and educators Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams present an updated third edition of their classic handbook, whose first and second editions were written in collaboration with the late Wayne C. Booth. The Craft of Research explains how to build an argument that motivates readers to accept a claim; how to anticipate the reservations of readers and to respond to them appropriately; and how to create introductions and conclusions that answer that most demanding question, “So what?”
The third edition includes an expanded discussion of the essential early stages of a research task: planning and drafting a paper. The authors have revised and fully updated their section on electronic research, emphasizing the need to distinguish between trustworthy sources (such as those found in libraries) and less reliable sources found with a quick Web search. A chapter on warrants has also been thoroughly reviewed to make this difficult subject easier for researchers
Throughout, the authors have preserved the amiable tone, the reliable voice, and the sense of directness that have made this book indispensable for anyone undertaking a research project. (from Amazon.com)
For a book with such an uninteresting-sounding title (although I do love research), this was a very interesting read. The authors' passion for research, especially well-done research, really shines through. They also point how vital research is to society--I've never seen the earth from space, so I don't know that it's round, but I trust the reliable people who've done research on the topic and tell me that it is. If people blatantly deceive with their research, society will suffer.
Their work also very much influenced by the that everything we do is really standing on work that others have done before us. Just really cool admission, and something I love to think about.
Probably the thing that I enjoyed the most about this book was that the authors' characters really came through--it wasn't just a bland "An introduction should have..." kind of book, but rather an engaging, witty work about how to really think about your own and others' research.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Book: Parzival by Sir Wolfram von Eschenbach
Written: around 1197-1215
Description: Composed in the early thirteenth century, Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival is the re-creation and completion of the story left unfinished by its initiator Chretien de Troyes. It follows Parzival from his boyhood and career as a knight in the court of King Arthur to his ultimate achievement as King of the Temple of the Grail, which Wolfram describes as a life-giving Stone. As a knight serving the German nobility in the imperial Hohenstauffen period, the author was uniquely placed to describe the zest and colour of his hero's world, with dazzling depictions of courtly luxury, jousting and adventure. Yet this is not simply a tale of chivalry, but an epic quest for spiritual education, as Parzival must conquer his ignorance and pride and learn humility before he can finally win the Holy Grail. (from Amazon.com)
This was a really wonderful poem. Parzival's story is a great story of someone growing from an ignorant boy to an arrogant young man to a humble Christian. There were several scenes that I absolutely loved: when Parzival was so love-sick for his wife that he couldn't fight (there was a beautiful description of love!), and when Parzival went to the hermit and talked with him about God and ultimately gave his life to Him. Many of the objections Parzival raised to the existence of God are questions that people still have. It was good to hear these questions in a story written almost 1,000 years ago. We are not alone in the questions we have. Parzival's story is the story of many of us.
This may be silly, but one of the things that surprised me in reading this was how much this epic was like more modern works of fiction. The descriptions were very detailed at times, and they definitely conjured up a world for me. There was also an amazing, and unexpected, emotional depth in this story. Perhaps they resonated with me so well because so many of these emotions were being ultimately constrained and dealt with in the context of the overarching Christianity of most of the characters.
There were a few aspects of Parzival that I didn't like. For some reason, however, less than half of this epic is actually about Parzival. There are two chapters about his father, Gachmuret, and the rest is about Gawain--who was cool and all, but Parzival was better. Also, most of the characters see baptism as the ultimate sign of a relationship with God, which obviously isn't true. So do just keep that in mind.
Overall, however, this was a wonderful epic poem, with an inspiring plot and realistic Christian characters.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Book: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Description: Shy, awkward Bastian is amazed to discover that he has become a character in the mysterious book he is reading and that he has an important mission to fulfill. (from Amazon.com)
I really enjoyed this story. In many ways it felt like reality-- the fact that the narrator acknowledged all the other stories that were woven into Bastian's, the emotional turmoil that Bastian especially went through, and the emotional truths that were woven into the story. Ende did a fantastic job with the world-building--Fantasia felt like a real place, even though it was a fantasy world (something that even the story acknowledged), I really enjoyed all the small details like the hint that Shakespeare came to Fantasia, and all the peoples and places that he created were very cool. Overall, I think that feel of Fantasia was the feel of a world in an epic poem like Parsival--people are either good or bad, people do great deeds, the world seems magical and the main character must go through some trial of character (although it also acknowledged the real world through Bastian's early experiences, and really played with the idea of books versus reality. In that regard it really reminded me of Inkheart). The play between fiction and reality was very well-done and mind-boggling.
Although I didn't realize this until almost the last page of the book, I think that the main reason I enjoyed it so much was because The Neverending Story is an allegory for the Christian life and a Christian's relationship with fantasy and fiction in general. The main themes are the invasion of the (fantasy) world with nothingness and staying true to your self. Here I don't mean the stereoytpical sort of "stay true to yourself" advice that people give at graduations or whatever. Throughout the story Bastian wishes that he could be more and more like his idea of a 'perfect' boy (i.e. handsome, without fear, physically strong, etc.), but as his wishes are fulfilled he forgets about how he was before his wish and becomes more and more arrogant and self-centered. You do not stay true to yourself by seeking to fulfill your shallow, often societally-driven wishes, but when you realize who you truly are--a child of God, created to love others and God and be His hands and feet--and seek to stay true to who you are. Ende is not so explicit, and God is never mentioned, nor is there an obvious God figure such as Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. Perhaps that is why this book isn't a widely-acknowledged Christian allegory, like some other novels, and still read and enjoyed by plenty of non-Christians.