Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tennyson - Crossing the Bar

Alfred Lord Tennyson's Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.

But such tide as moving falls asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home!

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from our our bourn of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
when I have crost the bar.

Such great poetry.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Thoughts: Twilight & New Moon

I've had a good friend in the recent weeks persist in persuading me to read the Twilight series from Stephanie Meyer. As the book, from the random things you hear about it due to its popularity, seemed primarily geared towards teenagers, I never considered it. As my friend tried to convince me, I initially demurred as I learned it was somewhat of a romantic story, and I have never really read nor been interested in those types of story lines. But my friend persisted, and because I never wish to consider myself "too good" to read a book, or any other form of pretentious, and made the offhand comment that maybe if it was free, I would read it, thinking I could randomly pick it from a library at some point. Well, a couple days later, I received a used copy of the book (Twilight), and was thus out of any reason not to give the book a shot. Again, I never want to reject a book because I think its beneath me (or anything similar), so I now had to read the book. And due to continued persuasion from my friend, I also read the second installment, New Moon.

Its a fairly simple book and plot, and I don't mean that in any demeaning way. I tend to break books down into broad categories, one of which I always refer to as glorified movie scripts. I would put Twilight and New Moon into this category, but I also put The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, that I am currently reading, into that category, as well as the many books I've read by Steve Berry, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, etc. The books are all action/mystery/suspense, and provide entertainment, but often don't provide much beyond that. Which is fine, I believe they are intended for entertainment, so they serve their purpose, and I enjoy them. These two books are the same for the most part, there's not particularly great depth to the plot or the vast majority of the characters, but it tells a story that is intended to be entertaining, and does so.

Two primary things I noticed while reading them deal primarily in comparing them to these other books I've read. The Brown/Grisham/Berry books tend to be very action/suspense based, meaning the pace of the novel quickens to resolve the primary crisis of the book, and its easy to see the plot always moving forward because of the necessary action taking place. With Twilight and New Moon, because I was generally more interested in how the world of the vampire/werewolf characters were structured, I felt that at times, the plot was slow. Reflecting now, I think it has more to do that the book is truly centered on the relationship of its two main characters, so it is necessary for it continue to examine that; which is moving the story forward, but doesn't provide the action I tend to be used to when reading these types of books.

Second, its been several books since I've read a piece of fiction that was written from the first person perspective. Most of them are from the third person omniscient point of view, and it took awhile for me to adjust to that storytelling aspect. I needed to remind myself that the story that I get when reading, therefore, is filtered based on the one character; thus, the view of other characters may not be reality, thereby allowing their future decisions to be more surprising than normal. Truly, I have been so used to the third person in fiction that it was a bit jarring to read something through such a limited filter. Its neither positive or negative, but it made reading the books a bit different.

I mentioned that book is fairly simple in its plot; I think the focus on it is in the relationship of the two primary characters, and then the "other" interest that comes in as a source of tension; think Romeo, Juliet, and Paris; or King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. The relationships also have additional sources of tension due to some being humans, others vampires, and others werewolves. But unlike Harry Potter where the world of magic is so detailed that it becomes its own character in a way, in these books the fantasy is not as detailed, and is truly secondary to the relationships themselves; they are more personality traits of the particular character than a focus of the books.

With all this said, I did enjoy reading the had been a couple months since I'd read a more light-hearted/easier read, and it reminds me that its nice to sprinkle those in a bit more frequently. As I've read the first two, I imagine I will read the last two at some point (can't leave a story unfinished). I continue to believe that I should never refuse to read a book; if I start it and don't like after a quarter of the way in, perhaps that's a different story. But part of what I enjoy about the Book Club at the local library that I participate in, and when I get random recommendations (or books in the mail) from friends, is that I end up reading things I would never have picked out on my own; and I love the expansion of my horizons, the goal of reading a wide variety of books is constant. After all, there is a lot of good books out there, and if I only read ones that I find, I'm missing a whole lot.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Thoughts: Walking the Bible

Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler

I actually finished this book a few weeks ago, but just haven't had the time to sit down and really compose my thoughts about it. I have already had several posts from various reflections reading the book, which can be found here, here, here, and here. Needless to say, I found book to provide great material for reflection.

The book itself follows the author's Bruce Feiler journey as he seeks to retrace the steps of the first five books of the Old Testament/The Torah/Bible. Thus, his journey starts in Turkey discussing Noak and the Ark, and then journeys to various locales in the modern Middle East that correspond to historical places believed to be traveled by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. Thus, the journeys range from ancient Mesopotamia down to Egypt, and then across the desert to modern day Jordan and Israel. As one learns about the scriptures related to this place, you also read about the modern culture and politics that affect any such venture into the Middle East. As such, the book is not only is thought provoking regarding the Bible, its history, and the relationships between the human and divine as well as religion and land, but it is also revealing into the modern issues facing the region today.

The book, as evidenced from the many posts I shared as I was reading, invoked many personal reflections. It continues to give me a sense of amazement the level of faith expressed by the individuals in the Bible, from Abraham to Joseph to Moses. But the lasting impact I take from the book is the sense of relationship that permeates all of its discussion. The author frequently talks of the journey as exploring the relationship between the religion of Judaism and the land; and what that discussion leads to is an exploration into the relationship between the Israelites and their God, and by extension, between us and our God. Many books that I have read about religion and faith, and the history and development of the same, eventually evolves into a review of the central tenets of the particular faith. This books stands out for the absence of such a discussion, and the focus on relationships. You leave the book viewing the relationship between the Israelites and their God, as described as the Bible, as very much of a familial relationship. While it seems that a parent-child relationship is an oft used analogy to describe such a relationship, it often seems to me to be an oversimplification. By not putting such specific roles into the relationship, simply noting it as a family relationship, I think it captures the complexities involved in the relationship.

I found the book incredibly thought provoking, and would encourage it for anyone interested in understanding the the journey discussed in Genesis through Numbers a little better. In addition, the focus of the book in viewing the relationship rather than the concepts or ideas of a particular faith, I found to be particularly helpful to my own personal reflections.

Camping Trip 2010

As it is somewhat of an annual tradition with my family, this past week Jackie and I headed up to Pentwater, Michigan for my family's camping excursion. Neither or us are particularly "fond" of camping (specifically, sleeping in a tent, at times, questionable washroom facilities), but its an excellent opportunity to spend with family; which for us, as we live a couple hours away, is always nice. The campground we stay at has good facilities, and by going during the week it cuts down on the people traffic, making those facilities nicer. However, there is no such control over what Mother Nature decides to brew up, as we would find out. This year was a bit different, as my sister and brother-in-law were unable to make it due to my sister being on bedrest (due in July, been a long road for her, but soon a little baby girl will be joining the family). But we were joined by not only my parents but our 2 year old nephew, Gavin.

There are kind of three things/themes I take away from the week. First, is how nice it was to spend the extra time with Gavin. We had the whole week, and discovered how much energy the little guy has. We went for many walks with him, some when he was walking and some when he was riding his little bike. We also had fun swimming with him on the final day at the campground. It was nice to get to know the little guy better, from blowing bubbles to reading Curious George (which was more of playing "Where's Waldo/George", but still lots of fun).

Second, is how, after a year of saying it can't happen two years in a row (referring to being washed out of our tent by the rain, see this post), it happened again. The second night of the trip, it started raining at around 7 and then continued all night until about 3 or so in the morning. And raining hard. When it started, we looked at our tent and could see the water already leaking in; so, in an improvement from last year, I was able to rearrange all the stuff packed in our Sportage so that we could put the seats down and least have a place to lay down. So we accomplished that and caught a few winks before morning. The tent again had standing water, but unlike the previous year, we did not have particularly sunny weather, making drying out the tent more difficult. We managed in the tent for the next night, although we did have to deal with the zipper breaking and attempting to fix it by flashlight in the middle of the night so we could ge
t out. The final night of the trip a small storm rolled through and brought some more rain. The tent once again started leaking, and brought us to the end of our rope for that particular tent. It now resides (or did) in the campground dumpster. It will be a new tent for next year. And for next year, we will be saying that it can't possibly happen three years in a row.

In any event, on the final day of the trip, we had the gorgeous weather a vacation deserves, and packed a ton into that day. We ate at our favorite Pentwater spot, The Village Cafe; we walked along the pier on Lake Michigan with Ellie; did much swimming at the campground; and then headed up to a small beach that allows dogs right on Lake Michigan to watch the sunset. Its these memories that must be remembered as opposed to the rain, or at least remembered with it to always remind us of how wonderful the annual trip to Pentwater can be.

So, despite the second straight year of a rain disaster and the trashing of our tent, the time with family, and some of the rituals we have associated with the trip make it a worthwhile trip.