Thursday, January 27, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

This classic novel about slavery first published in 1852 is our February book club pick. But because we think of it as "classic" now, it's so easy to forget that publishing it was, quite simpy, an act of complete heroism during that time. While the flowery, abundant language of the time period was a bit difficult to get through compared to the brisk, no-nonsense style of writing of today, Uncle Tom's story is one that all Americans can learn from and keep in their hearts for all time.

While Uncle Tom's story is the center-point of the book, the stories of other slaves in many different kinds of circumstances are intermingled with his, giving the reader a sense that while everyone has a story, the basic, horrifying truth about slavery was universal. While some slaves may have been treated in a way that the "white folks" called "good" or "humane" the mission of all slaves, regardless of how they were treated, was simply to be free.

It was still shocking to me to read dialog between whites where they discussed how Africans didn't have souls; that they weren't really people at all. I know this is a novel, but I also know that it was based on cultural fact.  It's so difficult to believe that anyone could really believe such things, even if they did grow up that way, living in the South. How could you look at another human and say they are a dog instead? How could you observe the strong spirit of a person who was willing to endure anything just to live and keep their family, and say there really is no spirit there? 
Another interesting aspect of the book, which is very blatantly a plea by the author to put an end to slavery, is how much the Bible is quoted, and how much the issue is debated in terms of its relation to religion. Stowe pointed out that slavery in America was not the economic issue that farmers in the South wanted eveyone to believe, but a moral issue, and an issue that would affect your very salvation.

I have to say that reading the book, while not exactly enjoyable because of its length and wordiness, was well worth it because of its beautiful and moving story. It was a wonderful reminder to me to keep fighting for what I believe in. I know that I need to work to remove any prejudices that may remain within myself, and I also need to continue to try to help others see the blatant bigotry and unfairness that they impose on others and which they justify to themselves in various ways, especially through scripture. At the risk of sounding "preachy" here, I'm going to put myself out there with Harriet Beecher Stowe in her belief that to become a truly free America, we, if we are a religious people, need to stop interpreting the Bible to mean whatever we want it to mean in order to justify our prejudices. We need to look to the story of Uncle Tom and gain from it the knowledge that there are truly good people in the world, in all different circumstances, races, and lifestyles. Uncle Tom's message is that if you believe in and love God,  He will include you in His love no matter who you are; He does not discriminate.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

In looking for the above picture for the blog, I ran across a film article that states that the director of the first Twilight movie, Catherine Hardwicke, will direct the film version of The Maze Runner! This is fantastic news, as many Twilight fans will tell you that there's just a great feel and indescribable addictiveness to that first Twilight that the others, while very good movies also, did not have. The other really great thing is that The Maze Runner is a wonderful young adult novel that will make a very exciting movie.

The Maze Runner is mostly the story of a boy named Thomas who arrives in some kind of mysterious elevator called "the box" and is dropped into a place called "The Glade." Thomas, like all the other boys who have been brought to the Glade in the past two years, cannot remember anything but his first name. But Thomas is a bit special, because he does have a feeling that he knows some of the boys and the single girl who shows up. He also has an strong, inner calling to become one of the maze runners, who daily go out to find a solution or way out of the huge stone maze that surrounds the Glade. The Maze walls move around at night, and lurking around every corner are bulbous, monster-creatures they call a "Grievers" who have horrible, half animal, half machine appendages to kill anything that come near them.  

The boys in the Glade also talk a bit differently, and this, to me was the only real weakness in the book. We are introduced to the idea that the boys have formed their own "slang" and dialect, but really all it is is a way for Rashner to include a lot of swearing and cussing without actually saying all those words that parents would object to. I call it "pseudo-swearing," and while I appreciate the idea of eliminating bad language in young adult books, it was used so much in The Maze Runner that it became distracting and felt unnecessary.

However, all the wonderful details about The Glade and the Maze make for an exciting book that really is about many ideas that are so important for people to develop for the survival of a community and a world:  the power of hope, the strength of the individual, and the even greater strength of working together to solve problems and having the courage to attack them at any cost. All-in-all what you get here is an exciting, easy-to-read novel that will appeal to a wide range of young people. Strong male and female characters abound, exciting action is throughout, and those messages about how we can train ourselves to overcome anything make for a fun read. For those of you who loved The Hunger Games, this book is for you! And luckily, there is also a sequel that I'm putting on my reading list called The Scorch Trials.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Twelfth Imam by Joel C. Rosenberg

     This is maybe one of the most difficult reviews I've done on my blog for various reasons. I started reading this book thinking it was a thriller - which I guess it is. I liked it in the beginning because it read like a thriller - which I suppose it is. Then, toward the middle or end, it started to get weird. It was kind of a weird that I personally laugh at, so it was kind of entertaining, but then when you think about other people reading it, it kind of scared me a little.
     It tells the story of a young man and his parents who escapes Iran with the help of an American embassy worker. They never tell their son of their perilous escape, and he goes on to live the American dream. He is an Iranian/American, living a mostly typical life. His father is a doctor, and he is a good student, but he always feels the pull of some darker past and gets in  trouble, despite his high intelligence. Wow - the making of a spy.
     And that is what David becomes. He is the master of many languages and infiltrates the Iranian "government" to try to stop the enriching of uranium which the US fears (and is right) will be used against Israel and then the states. It's a good plot with some great twists and good, engaging characters. And then it just gets weird, as I said.
     The reason for the title is that all the Iranians are waiting for the coming of the 12th Imam, which is like their Christ, who will come at the end of the world to save all devoted muslims and kill all infidels, namely the Israelis and Americans. And then he, who they also call the "mahdi" appears. Yup, he appears to some people, doing miracles and performing wonderful acts. So the muslim leaders who are in charge of the nuclear program in Iran, finally have him as a guest at their meeting, and he tells them to start annhilating the "infidels" as quickly as possible, and Allah will reward them. Yes, they think he just stands before them, a man, speaking at their meeting.
     If that's not weird enough, one of the  workers in the Iranian plant, a nonviolent muslim, has a car crash, and as he fumbles from his car, who does he come upon but . . .  yes, wait for it . . .  Jesus Christ. Whup, there  he is. Jesus himself appears to the man and tells him to not be afraid but there are false prophets around, and he needs to basically convert, and he'll be alright.
     Now, while I don't usually tell the ending in my reviews, I'd love to make an exception for this book. Oh, whoops, excuse me! There is no ending! No, nothing, nadda, no ending. And it's not even like, "ok, here's the ending that you have to fill in and wonder how to interpret it until you go to book club and discuss it" ending. This is an actual, and most dispised by Lisa, nonending. A more blatant set-up for the sequel has never existed. And that makes me mad. It's kind of like movies that in the end are like "Whoops! Just kidding- it was all a dream!" aka "Vanilla Sky" style. Ugh. GIVE ME A BREAK!
    Well, I'm almost done with my rant about how disappointing this book is before I start talking about religion and how disapointed I am in many people of my own Christian religion of late, and how this book actually should teach some people something about how we need to watch for false prophets and that each religion's Bible must be interpreted by many in order to get a handle on its meaning otherwise chaos in the form of world domination and extreme bigotry may occur. So, I'll get to the point of my mistake in reading this book. In the back it was recommmended highly by Rush Limbaugh, and on Amazon I REALLY should have read this disclaimer in a review - "Rosenberg laces his political speculation with evangelical Christian themes, which will bother those who like their thrillers unencumbered by the author’s political and religious beliefs." Yeah, that would be me.
   So, while I love people coming to check out books in our library, please pass this one up. But I love a good debate, and I believe everyone's opinion is valid. How about you?