Auld Lang Syne

I have only a single new year's resolution. I was inspired to make it while ruminating for this earlier post. I'm not going to go into any detail because, as superstitious as this is, I believe one should keep resolutions and birthday wishes to themselves or they are bound to fail.

That having been said, I'm going to monitor the progress of my resolution on the unique page for this post. Every other blogger out there posts reviews of books or movies so I'm not going to expect anyone to actually read or heed any of this but it'll be here if anyone's interested.

Here goes.

1. Paganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered Religions.
by Joyce & River Higginbotham
ISBN-13: 978-0738702223

My Catholic girlfriend read this book to help her understand my faith. For the sake of discussion, I read it as well. This is the only book I've ever read on the subject that really drives home the breadth of belief in the Pagan community, properly emphasizing that we are not one religion but a family of dozens of religions that share a scant few common traits. For someone unfamilliar with Paganism or the Pagan community, this book is an excellent primer thought it really should be followed up with further reading about specific traditions. I would advise skipping the chapter on "the living universe" entirely it's full over with the kind of poorly researched, pseudo-scientific, new age mumbo-jumbo that makes anyone with a degree of skepticism roll their eyes.

2. The Year of Living Biblically
by A.J. Jacobs
ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-9147-7

She'd never say so, but I often get the feeling that my girlfriend's Catholic mother doesn't approve of my Paganism. I had thought that she bought this book for me, not fully understanding it, because it was the only thing on my Xmas list that seemed even vaguely pious. In fact, I was the one that failed to understand the book. I had assumed it would be irreverent, a send up of biblical literalism and an indictment of religious orthodoxy that would confirm my liberal prejudices and give me a long giggle at the expense of the followers of Abraham. Instead I was treated to an enlightening and endearing series of meditations on the nature of spirituality. While often funny, the book is much more about understanding religion than about mocking it. Sadly, the constant pop culture references may relegate the book to irrelevance long before it's time; perhaps A.J. Jacobs will be prompted to update them for later editions. That aside, this has proven one of the most informative and insightful popular books I've ever read on mainstream religion. I haven't been prompted to convert and neither was Jacobs but I have been admonished to understand and that is a holy gift, indeed.

I also understand that A.J. Jacobs routinely Googles himself so maybe he'll comment here. I can hope, can't I?

3. Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
by Michael Shermer
ISBN-10 0-8050-7708-1
A collection of essays by the founder of Skeptic magazine. There are a handful of interesting insights about prominent scientists like Stephen J. Gould and and some interesting musings about the nature of inquiry.

4. Coraline
by Neil Gaiman
ISBN-13 978-0-06-113937-6
In theory, this is a children's book. It's not very long. The language is basic. The story is fairly simple and not much is left to be inferred. Despite all that, this is the creepiest book I've read in years. Perhaps it is because the language is so simple, because it reads like a children's book. Perhaps because the imagery invokes some powerful memories of my family's old house in England. Either way, this book made my skin crawl.

5. The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right
by Rabbi Michael Lerner
ISBN-10: 0060842474
Wise but wordy, this book addresses the political left's consistent failure to acknowledge a spiritual aspect to the modern American experience. The template for reconciliation, almost a manifesto for liberal theological politics, is, after careful scrutiny, as ambitious as it, at first, seems naive. Very enlightening and provocative but could have been about a hundred pages shorter.

6. You Suck
by Christopher Moore
ISBN-13: 978-0060590307
Exceptionally funny, especially given my history in goth culture. The handful of chapters told from the perspective of Abby Normal are particularly hilarious, combining adult jadedness with the worldview of a snotty teenager. Definitely a novel take on the vampire craze.

7. The Execution Channel
by Ken MacLeod
ISBN-13: 978-0765313324
A near future extrapolation regarding the The War on Terror[TM]. Eerie in it's plausibility and thought provoking in it's alternative take on modern history, Gore wins in 2k and invades the middle east to drive up the price of oil in order to further his militant environmentalism, for instance. The twist ending is pretty obvious and the stylistic device of ending each chapter with a list of execution victims peters out midway through the book for no obvious reason but, on the whole, well worth the read.

8. Crooked Little Vein
by Warren Ellis
ISBN-13: 978-0060723934
This was one of the most profoundly disturbing books I've read in the 21st century. It is a catalog of perversions, a laundry list of psycho-sexual and chemical adventures with a cast of characters so strange and so obviously mentally ill that I'm really troubled by the reflections of my actual friends and family that I see in them. I want to use the White House Chief of Staff's expository on his heroin habit as an audition monologue. I loved this book.

9. How Doctors Think
by Jerome Groopman, M.D.
ISBN-13: 978-0618610037
Informative and very clearly written. Though I've not spent a day in hospital my entire life and have never found myself at odds with my doctor, I feel this book has well prepared me for any major medical episode. The central theme seems dual, first, that doctors make professional mistakes, just like anyone in a highly specialized field. They are prone to confirmation bias and to rest on the findings of others. They can be impatient with the medically uneducated and can jump to unfair conclusions about their charges. This is not a failing of doctors, specifically, but the inevitable outgrowth of any discipline as complex as modern medicine. These intellectual biases and professional heuristics can be confronted or avoided by informed patients who are aware of these "cascades of cognitive pitfalls" that actively engage and help their doctor in the act of treating them. Secondly, Dr. Groopman, though not harshly critical, has little good to say about managed care or business influence in medical science. He blames insurance companies, drug manufacturers, hospital managers and even the greed of some doctors for the witholding, misapplication and corruption of the healing arts. Definitely a worthy and informative read.

10. Myron
by Gore Vidal
ISBN-10: 0-934-49477-6
How is it that I had never before read Gore Vidal? Sure, I'd seen his bit part in Gattaca and knew that he was a writer and social critic of some standing but, as is the case with too many great authors, I'd never actually read anything by him. Myron, a schizophrenic former gay hustler turned crusading transvestite film obsessive turned suburban everyman Chinese caterer finds himself sucked into a late night movie. Living in the back lot limbo of Metro studios in '48, he battles with his other personality, Myra who is secretly trying to remake the world in her image by manipulating the film Siren of Babylon and by stealthily castrating extras. This bizarre and unique book kept me laughing at it's pure audacity. My favorite touch is Gore's response to the Supreme Court's decision to base obscenity charges on "local standards." He replaces all curses and all references to sexual anatomy with the names of Supreme Court justices. Myron, for instance, is often cited for having a huge, if artificially augmented Rehnquist. One character gets handcuffed to a bed and Burgered in his Blackmum. Wish I had thought of it.

11. Why People Buy
by John O'Shaughnessy
ISBN-13: 9780195040876
Hugely anachronistic, this book, written in '89 details a concept of consumer behavior ultimately based on the assumptions of classical economics. The meat of the work is an algorithmic model of purchasing behavior that presumes a rational consumer deliberately evaluating the details of each purchase. It relies mostly on extended statements made by consumers, themselves. The past two decades of branding and buying psychology have shown us that most purchasing behaviors are emotional, not rational and are rarely based on the constructive merits of the products. This book is mostly interesting as a glimpse into the thinking of it's era.

12. Dinosaur in a Haystack
by Stephen Jay Gould

13. Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs
by Chuck Klosterman

14. jPod
by Douglas Coupland

15. I Love You, Beth Cooper
by Larry Doyle

16. W.A.R: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose
by Mick Wall

17. Asimov on Science: A 30 Year Retrospective
by Issac Asimov
ISBN-13: 9780385263450

18. The Tao of Pooh
by Benjamin Hoff, Illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard

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