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Category Archives: book review

Melting Pot or Civil War?

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Well, that’s a loaded question, isn’t it?

Actually, it’s also the title of Reihan Salam’s recent book on immigration and the full title is Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders Many might feel the title says it all and there’s no reason to read the book. Well, if all you’re interested in is swapping opinions then, yes, you don’t have to read the book.

However, Salam offers a lot of facts and expert analysis, his own and others, that deepened my understanding of U.S. immigration trends and demographic data that I hadn’t known.

In general, I tend to prefer the golden mean and to extreme solutions. I took out this book hoping to find new solutions, and Salam provides some. He often uses his own family’s experiences in addition to research data to differentiate various kinds of immigrants and outcomes. Immigrants who’re among the first to come to a country tend to assimilate well. It makes sense as they must learn the language and customs since there aren’t many people to talk with and living out the past lifestyle is tough because small numbers don’t make running a business geared to a very tiny subculture profitable.  As the numbers from a country increase it’s easy to live in an enclave where you can speak your own language, eat your homeland’s food, etc.

Because Salam’s parents came to the US when few other Bangladeshi’s lived her, the family soon assimilated. Those who came later, arrived in a New York that had plenty of shops, social opportunities and Bangladeshi influence, that it was possible to live comfortably within an enclave. (Now I see assimilation as a personal choice, but it does have costs in terms of opportunities. For example, Americans can go to Asia and teach English and get by, but if they want more career opportunities, they need to speak the local language at a high level.)

(My own experiences bear this out. When I worked in Japan, I was the only non-Japanese person in my workplace who only spoke English. I had to learn Japanese and I did. I also adapted more to Japanese culture. In other countries there were more people who spoke English and hence my proficiency in Korean or Chinese never got to the level of my Japanese.)

Salam examines the need for low skilled labor and the economic results of various ways of getting such labor as used in the US, South Korea, Sweden and elsewhere. He also does a good job of considering how the increase of automated labor will impact low skilled workers. He explains how the influx of low skilled labor impacts the current workers who are on par with them.

What is the solution — or solutions? Salam proposes a few including the development of charter cities and new ways of supporting poor children.

Yes, Salam is a conservative, but his tone is rational and his ideas, for me were new. He sympathizes with immigrants and acknowledges people’s desire to find a solution that is kind and fair.

A good summary of with more details is here.

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Posted by on October 26, 2018 in book review, fiction, non-fiction

 

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Perelandra

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The second book in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Perelandra chronicles Edwin Ransom’s journey to Venus, a.k.a. Perelandra. Ransom settled back into life in Cambridge after his trip to Mars. Suddenly, Oyarsa (God) calls on Ransom to go to Perelandra. Excited for more space travel, Ransom accepts the mission.

After his trip in a ship that’s like a frozen coffin. Ransom’s told to travel in the nude and that clothes aren’t needed on Perelandra, a planet with land that moves like waves and the flora is a wide range of vivid colors. I can’t do Lewis’ descriptions justice.

Ransom soon meets the green-skinned Queen, one of the planets two inhabitants. The Queen has the innocence of a child because on the new planet she is one. Perelandra is like Eden with its sole pair of inhabitants, its sole prohibition, i.e. “Don’t sleep on the ‘Fixed Lands'” and its serpent, i.e Weston, Ransom’s nemesis who plays the serpent in this tale.

Maelidil is the creator who teaches the Queen all about life, but he disappears once Ransom arrives. The Queen also never sees the King and the story’s almost over by the time Ransom finds him.

Most stories feature a young, strong hero who lacks wisdom, which he acquires by the end. Here our hero is educated and wise, but lacks the usual brawn. Ransom battles Weston with wits trying to prevent Perelandra’s Fall, but he realizes that one day Weston will wear the Queen down. He figures out that he must beat Weston physically. Thus Lewis takes gives us a middle aged scholar as a hero who must win by a great physical test. How original!

I found the story compelling and clever. Lewis gives us a setting similar to Eden, but not quite. We may expect a certain outcome, but Lewis shows us that things could have been different. Perelandra was a fun read that made me think.

 

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2018 in book review, British Lit, British literature, Christianity, classic, fiction

 

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Out of the Silent Planet

In fact, I’ve Out-of-the-Silent-Planet-9780684833644I’m not a big science-fi fan. I rarely read the genre, but I loved C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet. I’ve already ordered book two in this tragedy.

In Out of the Silent Planet, average Joe, Dr. Ransom, happens upon and old schoolmate Devine and Devine’s new evil scientist buddy Weston. Ransom had been tramping around the countryside and, as a favor to a woman he met, went to this house to see why her son, a servant there was late and her mother was apprehensive. It turns out that she had good cause. When Ransom arrived, the two men were fighting, physically, with the boy. In the end Weston and Devine were in the process of abducting the boy. In the end the boy is freed and Ransom, when he comes to after being knocked unconscious. Ransom realizes he’s hurtling through space kidnapped by Weston and Devine.

Ransom overhears Weston and Devine. They’ve been to Malacandria, the planet they’re heading to, before and were returning to offer up Ransom to the aliens there. They’re hoping to load up on valuable resources and hand over Ransom to the sorns, a species of aliens on Malacandria.

Ransom’s forewarned and planned to escape. He manages to run off though a bizarre environment with pink sticky earth, odd food, three homo sapien species that can see angels and that get along with each other. As a philologist, Ransom is quickly able to learn the aliens’ language. (Well, one of them, as it turns out each species has its own language and one shared language.)

As Ransom evades and eventually is captured by the aliens, he learns to look at life in a completely different and wise way.

This is a book I relished. Lewis has such a gift for language and made me want to improve the book I’m working on currently. The themes are related to Christianity, but even if that’s not your faith, it makes you think about human life and our foibles.

I read that C.S. Lewis once criticized sci-fi because in most stories the writer takes you to the end of the universe, but everything is basically the same with the substitutions being basically the same as what we now have. For example, here we have guns while in outer space in most stories they just use lasers and use them in the same instances we  would. In Out of the Silent Planet, the aliens’ philosophy and approach to life is just about completely different from humans. They’re quite impressive on the whole.

Good Quotations

“And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back–if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?”

“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmán, as if pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing.”

“But Ransom, as time wore on, became aware of another and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening and exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of ‘Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now-now that the very name ‘Space’ seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it ‘dead’; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean all the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he now saw that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes-and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name.”

 

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2018 in book review, British Lit, British literature, Christianity, classic, contemporary, fiction, novel, postaweek

 

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Fantastic Fiction

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I just learned about a phenomenal website for readers who love fiction. It’s Fantastic Fiction and it’s a treasure trove containing an exhaustive amount of content on authors and books of all genres. Genres featured include everything from mysteries and sagas to urban literature and paranormal romance.

You can find new books by looking at books your favorite authors have suggested or by looking at what other users viewed that view one of your favorite books.

Librarians use is extensively when they suggest books.

Fantastic Fiction was started as a hobby and now a full time business for Dave Wand and his small crew.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2018 in book lovers, book review, fiction, historical fiction, novel, postaweek

 

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The Screwtape Letters

screwtape-lettersC.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters has been on my mental list of books I should read for years. Boy, do I regret not getting to this witty, wise book sooner.

Written from the point of view of a modern devil, Lewis’ book is a collection of letters between Screwtape, an uncle mentoring Wormwood, a young tempter as he tries to win a human over to the side of evil. The letters are clever as well as perceptive. Screwtape must make his thoughts on temptation and salvation clear to Wormwood, who’s something of a blockhead. Screwtape makes it crystal clear that for the Devil to win, he doesn’t care about the “quality” of the fallen as much as about the quantity and the modern world where people’s thinking have become sloppy and morality fuzzy, allows for evil to win boatloads of souls. The book takes you on an interesting journey as Wormwood bungles his mission.

Reading from Screwtape’s point of view was tricky. I had to constantly remind myself that for him the “Enemy” was God and that he flipped his opinion of Above (heaven) and Below (hell). I’m used to seeing as the Above being the home of the good guys.

Much of the book examines modern British society’s failings but Lewis’ criticisms are still true, at least they fit in the US where morals have been shrugged aside as irrelevant, education’s been watered down and the word “democracy” is misunderstood.

Here are a few quotations:

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

“When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy – if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this easily managed.”

 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2018 in book review, fiction, postaweek, Spirituality

 

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The Adventures of Sally

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When Sally Nichols inherits a fortune and leaves New York for a much dreamed of trip to France. She’s finally come of age and can use her inheritance. She’s the sort of girl every man falls for, through no fault of her own.

Soon she winds up in in London and gets roped into helping her hapless brother Philmore, who’s constantly bungling into financial difficulty whether it’s through a disastrous theatrical production or some hare-brained business venture. She meets red-haired Ginger, who falls for her, but whom she keeps at a distance prior to discovering that her fiancé has married. Shortly after unconsciously winning Ginger’s love, she meets his grouchy uncle on a train and he’s soon smitten. The story goes on to follow the ups and downs of Sally’s financial and romantic life. It’s a pleasant, witty story that had me laughing out loud.

I was a worried that I wouldn’t enjoy a P.G. Wodehouse book without Jeeves, but while I think the Jeeves stories are of a higher order, I did enjoy The Adventures of Sally.

I listened to the Jonathan Cecil’s narration and highly recommend that audiobook.

Quotable Quotes:

“And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

“Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious.”

“It seems to be one of Nature’s laws that the most attractive girls should have the least attractive brothers. Fillmore Nicholas had not worn well. At the age of seven he had been an extraordinarily beautiful child, but after that he had gone all to pieces; and now, at the age of twenty-five, it would be idle to deny that he was something of a mess.”

 

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2018 in book review, British Lit, British literature, fiction, humor, postaweek

 

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The Wings of the Dove

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It seems like I’ve been grudging through The Wings of the Dove by Henry James forever. Every summer and winter my friend Bill and I read a classic novel and discuss it online. Our last book was Zola’s Germinal, which was full of blood, sweat and tears. James’ writing is the opposite in every way imaginable. Zola was earthy and real. James is ethereal and intellectual. Zola crafted characters with whom I sympathized, even his villains had their reasons and adversity. I don’t like a single character in The Wings of the Dove.

I haven’t finished and though I’m just 30 pages from the finish line and have now given myself permission to skim, I dread my daily reading. The situation in Wings of the Dove is that Kate Croy can’t marry her love Merton Densher because he’s too poor. She lives with a rich aunt who’s going to marry her off well. When Milly, an orphaned American heiress with a terminal mystery disease arrives, Kate plots to get her lover to cozy up to Milly. She figures if Milly leaves Densher her fortune, then after Milly dies, which hopefully will be soon, Kate and Densher can marry. How charming.

It bugged me that we never know what Milly has. If it’s in the book it’s hidden amongst the long-winded writing that includes few concrete description. James wanted to convey the psychology of his vapid characters. I could not care less about what they thought. Also, I don’t think he succeeded in conveying true consciousness since most the time when I’m thinking, my mind is wandering. I may think about a work situation when I’m bored in a conversation or unable to listen at church. Whenever we’re privy to Kate or Milly or some other characters’ thoughts, they’re in the situation.

I thought Densher was weak, and hence unattractive, for buying into this insipid plot. I’d say the same for Kate, who didn’t realize her plan might not go as she figured. Had she never heard the cliché, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? Evidently not. Milly seemed like a will o’the wisp who floats through the story allowing herself to naively be taken advantage of.

I thought watching the movie would make reading easier or the characters more sympathetic, but it didn’t. I didn’t like the movie much either. While I read, I often just plowed through content to miss a lot. Sometimes I’d consult a reference on the story to see if I was missing something, but my take on the chapters captured all the key events.

I can’t wait to read something else. I know some people must love James or his work  wouldn’t be considered classic, but I don’t care for him at all.

Zzzzzzzz.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2018 in American Lit, book review, classic, novel

 

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