Thumbs up for All Things Shining: Reading Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. Philosophy.

This was a very, very strange book. Imagine this: an attempt at constructing a careful, anti-nihilist, (self-named) polytheist, pro-craftsmanship life philosophy that can be practical in the modern age. Okay, that would be an interesting essay and I would read it.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan. Literary criticism.

I will laugh gently over the world “crucial” in the title. Crucial, no. Some of the topics touched upon in these essays are rather silly. But most are illuminating in some way, and when they are good they are very interesting indeed. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of “What Games do Characters Play?” (which refers to cards, not psychological games).… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather. Science Fiction.

In this quick novella, the Sisters (as in nuns) who crew the Our Lady of Impossible Constellations provide ministry to the outer systems. Unfortunately, their Mother Superior is suffering cognitive decline, and their liveship has fixated on a mate. The situation gets vastly (*pun intended*) more complicated as they are pulled into larger events.… >> Read more

Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Identity Thief by Alex Bryant. All ages fantasy.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I read it pretty much in one sitting, so certainly I found it engaging. And I laughed quite a few times. But did I really find it enjoyable? I’m not sure. What I was thinking, as I read, was: This is a book I would give to a kid as a bang-up fictional example of how discrimination spreads throughout a populace, and what role the media plays in shifting public opinion.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary by Brian Doyle.

Plain-language ecumenical prayers in gratitude for everyday ordinary things. Hard to review, because I think you will either love it or hate it. Test paragraph: the first half of “Prayer for Cashiers and Checkout-Counter Folks”:

Who endure the cold swirls of winter from the sliding doors that are opening and closing every forty seconds; and who endure pomposity and buffoonery and minor madness in their customers; and who gently help the shuffling old lady in the ancient camel coat count out the right change for her load of bread and single sad can of cat food; and cheerfully also disburse stamps and cash along with bagging the groceries and even occasionally carting them out swiftly for the customers they know are frail and wobble; and who must sometimes silently want to scream and shriek in weariness and wondering how it is that they are here for eight hours at a stretch; and who do their jobs with patience and diligence, knowing the price of every single blessed thing in the store;…

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Thumbs up for Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris.

A portrait of a place – the Dakotas – interwoven with the changing religious life of the author. I am tempted to say that I can’t write a review of this book because too long has passed between my reading and my writing. Which is true. However, the time passed because I didn’t know how to review it right after I read the last page, either.… >> Read more


Thumbs up for Offshore and The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. Literature.

Two short masterpieces, but I think I am unequal to describing either of them; to begin with, they were so easy to read I vanquished each in a few gulps. The Blue Flower is based on the life of a real German Romantic poet and philosopher, Fritz von Hardenberg, later known as Novalis.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik. Science.

Once I picked this book up, I couldn’t put it down. There’s no guarantee that a scientist passionately obsessed with their subject will be able to convey the beauty of the topic to a lay audience. Miodownik succeeds with ease. In chapters focused around everything from concrete to aerogel, chocolate to porcelain, he touches upon every level of the material, from the Why (does it act like it does) to the How (do we make it) to the What (do we use it for).… >> Read more