mini book reviews, part 1 (of 3)

Pygmy, by Chuck Palahniuk
an uneasy 4 stars

i’ve been on a little chuck palahniuk kick lately. but, after this one, i need a break. pygmy is the fictitious autobiography (written as journal entries) of a foreign exchange student from an unmentioned totalitarian country, who, along with a dozen or so others, arrive in the u.s. for what appears to be a wonderful cultural exchange. but their presence is actually part of an intricate master terrorist plan to lay waste to this decadent nation. brutal, over-the-top dark, and chock-full of horribly distasteful observations and situations, pygmy comes to live in a world of (intentionally) two-dimmensional idiots, full of every excess and stereotype one can imagine. as with other palahniuk narratives, the book is more about commentary than it is about story. it’s a painful dismantling of whatever middle class american life would be if all the extremes of media stereotypes were actually true. everyone is perverse and ugly in some way, including the narrator. however, as easy as it is, most of the time, to sidestep the commentary by distancing oneself from the horrible characters, there are regular kernels of “ooh, there’s some veracity to that” that are both sobering and startling.

180: Stories of People Who Changed Their Lives by Changing Their Minds, by multiple authors
3 stars

full disclosure: i wrote a chapter in this book. it’s a collection of many (a few too many) voices, writing short chapters on one way they changed their minds (in the best chapters, you see the actual process of how and why they changed their minds). multi-author collections like this rarely do well in publishing; and, about a third of the way through this book, you’ll get a sense why: there’s just not enough of a directional thread to take the reader somewhere. some of the chapters are fantastic, some are a significant misfire (and should have been cut), and many are good enough. that said, by the time i got to the end, i was digging the book. i got past the tedium of “one more…,” one more…,” and grew to appreciate the point of the whole thing: changing our minds, lives, beliefs, and realities is necessary, as is holding loosely to those things we’re so confident of (even waiting with anticipation of what god’s spirit will reveal to us next about what or how we need to change). reading sample after sample of that process had a cumulative affect of readying me for whatever change might be around the corner.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou (Authors), Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna (Illustrators)
5 stars

ok, seriously — who would have thought that a graphic novel about the life and ideas of bertrand russell could be so good? c’mon! this is no comic book, kiddies; but the illustrations are still awesome, and the graphic approach made me not want to put down a book on a subject i otherwise wouldn’t have picked up. a bit of math history, a fairly complete history of the study of logic, and an exploration into the relationship between the pursuit of certainty and the (shouldn’t be) surprising commonality of madness in those who pursue it, all wrapped up in a real life story. the authors throw in a few very inventive devices — like, pulling back the curtain on their own discussion during the development of the book, with pages given to those “but wait” and “where should we go next” conversations. all in all, i felt like i learned some stuff about math, logic, history, philosophy, and bertrand russell — and i liked it. what more could one ask of a book about the history of logic?

3 thoughts on “mini book reviews, part 1 (of 3)”

  1. It was great to see a graphic novel in the reviews here! If you haven’t read it yet you absolutely MUST read Blankets by Craig Thompson. It is an autobiography of a young artist growing up in a youth group in Wisconsin.It is heart breaking and beautiful, and should be required reading for every youth pastor.

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