Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: The Shield of Achilles

The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden
Random House, 1955 (first edition); 84 pages

I love W. H. Auden.

And that is all.

(No, really, I could get into why he wrote these poems (some in response to the rise of the modern state and others for Good Friday), and the symbolism, and so on and so forth, but really, he just has an amazing way with words and you should read some Auden. Preferably today.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Picador, n.d. (originally published 1994); 346 pages

The first book in a series, The Beekeeper's Apprentice documents how Anglo-American Jewish orphan Mary Russell came to be the apprentice (and later partner) of the ostensibly retired Sherlock Holmes.

I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan for a very long time, and when I ran out of Holmes canon, I naturally moved on to Holmesiana. Of what I've read (which really isn't much), Laurie R. King has done the best job at recreating Holmes. Beekeeper's Apprentice is a great book, not just because it is about Sherlock Holmes, but because it's a good mystery with a great female protagonist as well. I highly recommend the Mary Russell series to everybody (seriously, just ask my friends, since I hound them until they read it), although the first ten are better than the later books.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Word Study: alexipharmic

alexipharmic: (uh-lek-suh-far-mik) (noun) an antidote to poison

< Ancient Greek alexein "to ward off" + pharmakon "drug"

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: The Cat of Bubastes

The Cat of Bubastes: A Tale of Ancient Egypt by G. A. Henty
Preston Speed Publications, 1998 (originally published 1889); 339 pages

I'm continuing my reread of childhood favorites (dangerous move, that) with a Henty novel. George Alfred Henty wrote children's historical fiction in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and his books are now somewhat popular in the homeschooling community (which is why I read them as a child). Personally, I thought some books were far superior to others, and The Cat of Bubastes was one that I loved.

This is the story of Amuba, Prince of the Rebu, who is captured in war by the Egyptians and made the slave of the high priest of Osiris. The priest is a kind man, and Amuba becomes a companion to the priest's son. The first half of the book moves slowly, introducing the main characters and describing various aspects of Egyptian culture. The story picks up when the priest's son accidentally kills a cat that is intended to become the sacred cat of Bubastes. The high priest is killed, and his son and Amuba, along with the high priest's daughter and Hebrew servant must flee Egypt. They decided to return to the home of the Rebu and to try to establish Amuba as king. Crazy adventures follow, including a rather forced and out-of-place cameo by Moses, who is still living as an Egyptian prince at the time of the story.

I can see why I loved this book as a child--it has high adventure and lots of big, old-fashioned words. (I was such a nerdy child.) But as an adult, I also see some flaws. I think Henty made up the Rebu people, as I haven't been able to find any reference to them, at least not on the internet. According to Henty, the Rebu live on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, which would place them in modern-day Iran, Azerbaijan, or Russia. The book speaks of Persians, but makes it clear that the Rebu are not Persian. Did the Egyptians conquer as far northeast of their own land as the Caspian Sea? I'm not sure that they did, but I'm no expert in Egyptian history, either.

Another problem I have with the book pertains to religion. Several of the characters come to the conclusion that there is one true God, but that He can be worshipped through the Egyptian gods, because each of these gods represents an attribute of the true God. If this is the case, then why did God prohibit idol worship throughout the Old Testament?

Finally, the Moses character says that he is called "Moses" because that name was found pinned to his basket when the princess found him floating down the Nile. According to the Bible, Moses is so-named because he was drawn out of the water. Historical and biblical accuracy is important, Mr. Henty.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sunday Word Study: quiddity

(Sorry this is a day late. It didn't seem to want to post correctly.)

quiddity: the essential quality of a thing; a trifling distinction, quibble

< Middle French quiddité < Late Latin quidditas < Latin quid "what" + -itas "-ness"

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book Review: The Inheritance

The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott
Dutton Books, 1997 (first edition; posthumous); 188 pages

I first read The Inheritance in 1997 or 1998, when I was about twelve. I loved it--forbidden love, secret inheritance, unknown heirs, and conniving rivals. If you're a pre-teen girl, what's not to like? Since I'm currently trying to read through my personal library (not every book, just the unread and the unrated, plus anything that catches my eye), I thought I'd reread this one.

It's not a terrible book. You can tell that Alcott had talent, even at 17. However, it's not a great book, either. The plot is so simplistic that I can't provide too much of a summary without revealing everything, and it's very melodramatic. The characters are mostly too good to live and the bad guys aren't really bad.

Assuming you're not a pre-teen girl, an Alcott scholar, or an Alcott completest, you can probably skip this one.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Word Study: grimoire

grimoire: (greem-WAHR)(noun) a textbook of sorcery and magic

< Old French gramaire "grammar" < Ancient Greek grammatikos "knowing how to read and write"

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Calvin's Institutes, Chapter Four

I suppose I should take a minute to say that these posts on John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion are intended to be an unbiased summary of what Calvin says, and not a wholesale endorsement of his theology, philosophy, worldview, or thought processes. Calvin's work is quite dense, and his vocabulary is impressive, and he often refers to previous chapters in a sort of shorthand, as if the reader is supposed to remember all of his arguments as well as he does. I started writing bulleted summaries so that I did not have to do as much rereading, then decided to share these summaries, in case anyone else out there ever started Calvin and got bogged down in his style. I do, however, sometimes provide my own commentary in bracketed italics, particularly if I think Calvin is wrong or if he is making too many assumptions. For example, in the early chapters, I'm noticing that Calvin had no conception of life outside a society where more or less everybody was Catholic or Protestant (aka some kind of Christian), and it shows in his arguments concerning what "everybody" knows about the existence of God.

Anyway, on to the summary:

Section One

  • Although everyone has some innate grasp of religion, few cherish this knowledge, and fewer still mature in it
  • There is no true godliness anywhere in the world; everyone is degenerate
  • Vanity and pride lead men into superstitious belief, as well as into perceiving God by their own ideas of what He is like
  • When they worship God according to the dictates of their own hearts rather than according to His standards, their worship has no value in God's sight

Section Two

  • Those who become hardened against God often forget Him entirely
  • They believe in a God who exists, but who is powerless to act in the world, for punishment or for good gifts

Section Three

  • They say that it is enough to have some sort of religion, ignoring God’s will in matters of worship and belief
  • God cannot be changed to fit the whims of each individual; to attempt to do so is to mock Him
  • Those who seek to worship God according to their own standards are actually worshipping themselves—they would not even attempt such a thing if they had not already redefined God according to their whims
  • At that point, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in one God or many; false worship is false worship, idolatry is idolatry

Section Four

  • When they do think of God, it is because of fear of punishment, not because of reverence
  • They turn to meaningless religious rituals as a means to propitiate God
  • They do end up seeking God when tough times come, but laugh at Him in the good times