Zealot yields a fresh perspective on one of the greatest stories ever told even as it affirms the radical and transformative nature of Jesus’ life and mission.
#ReadingIsResistance to conventional wisdom, and “truths” which fly in the face of established facts.
Let me just say I’ve had a tough time writing a meaningful review. It’s so well-researched and well- written I’m sure a third reading is on the horizon. Ancient religions and the intersection with politics is a favorite topic, and I’ve read so much over the years it’s hard to not stray into tangents. The short version, is that I loved Reza Aslan’s Zealot more on the second reading than I did on the first.
Aslan puts the story of Jesus into context of the socio-economic-political-religious times during which he lived and preached. He frames Jesus as a zealot. “Zeal implied a strict adherence to the Torah and the Law, a refusal to serve any foreign master – to serve any human master at all – and an uncompromising devotion to the sovereignty of God.” (p. 40) In the three years of his ministry, Jesus was plainly, and simply, a rabble rouser.
That’s the Jesus I learned about in church. He cared for the poor, defied authority and made promises of a kingdom for everyone who believed. That last one marked him as a failure. As with any good story, it’s more complex than that.
Aslan cautions, “For every well-attested, heavily researched, and eminently authoritative argument made about the historical Jesus, there is an equally well-attested, equally researched, and equally authoritative argument opposing it.” (p. xx)
Zealot reflects a methodology towards history and story telling about the world’s most famous character which makes it a great read. It isn’t about proving faith, it’s about taking an evidence-based approach to discuss why Jesus came to matter so much, and still matters over 2,000 years after his death. Reza Aslan has done an excellent job of that, and makes me hunger to know even more.
#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.
The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics—and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities.
Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon came to embody the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement devoted to communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery’s powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee. Admired for both her exceptional charm and her dazzling effects, Margery was the best hope for the psychic practice to be empirically verified. Her supernatural gifts beguiled four of the judges. There was only one left to convince…the acclaimed escape artist, Harry Houdini.
Thank you to the publisher for sending a review copy
#ReadingIsResistance to the rigid rules of defining the inexplicable.
We all want answers to what our lives mean. We want to know where the dead go when they leave us. We have trouble letting go, and most of all, we just want things to make sense.
In The Witch of Lime Street, David Jaher writes about the rivalry between science, seances, Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a woman named Mina.
Spiritualism after World War I is a fascinating pocket of history. It’s about the search for meaning after a meaningless war in a time of great chaos. How do people make sense of the enormous changes happening around them?
Jaher’s overly-detailed, too long book does an adequate job of telling the story of the search for meaning and Truth. It’s a great discussion about the need for contact with loved ones who are gone from the lives of many, including Houdini and Doyle, far too early.
It becomes political as Houdini sets out to prove once and for all that all those who hold seances are frauds. In this book, he isn’t really a nice man. His belligerence about proving Mina Crandon wrong, while at the same time longing to talk to his dearly departed mother, is off-putting in Jaher’s hands.
More sympathetic, to a point, is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lost his teenaged son to the trenches of war and grieves deeply. Doyle becomes convinced there should be a way for all grieving for those the war took to communicate with them in Summerland.
Enter Scientific America and its prize money offered to the person who could prove to a committee of judges they were genuine in their abilities. For over a year, the search covered the US and Britain. Each time, the psychic was uncovered as fraudulent.
Then Mina (aka Margery) Crandon, with the right social credentials, comes to the attention of all parties involved. Of course, nothing could be proven and the prize money was never awarded.
The story of Mina’s seances is one of strong personalities determined to prove themselves RIGHT at all costs. Houdini insists she’s a fraud but only talks about how Mina could do her “tricks,” including manifesting her frolicking dead brother, Walter, and ectoplasm. Doyle is intent on proving that communication with dead is not only possible but can become commonplace.
The other judges on the panel get caught between these two strong personalities and Mina Crandon’s gentle, witty personality. They also get swept up in the grandeur of the Crandon’s upper crust credentials. It must have been an emotional whipsaw for these poor judges who are portrayed as hardly up to the task.
There is so much detail it’s easy to get lost. Yet, the more salacious stuff is hidden behind innuendo. There are many portrayals of the searches Mina had to go through before every seance, including examining her vagina to make sure she wasn’t hiding any number of icky things in there. I was creeped out by this. The poor woman. I kept thinking, “You wanna put your hands where?” Alarming.
There were slight hints of sexual impropriety between Mina and some of the judges, including Houdini. But only hints. I suppose, given the times, slight hints were all the original sources would provide.
I’m skittish of the paranormal, so am at a disadvantage in understanding the fascination with heavy tables rising under their own power, ectoplasmic projections, and all the other attendant activities which seem to attend seances. I’m not at all convinced we should be messing with paranormal things we can’t possibly understand. Things just seem to go wrong all the time.
After all the buildup, the logical conclusion of no conclusion was an anti-climax. Of course there was no way to ever prove Mina Crandon’s veracity. Houdini died from the infamous punches to his stomach shortly after the Scientific American contest was called to a draw and officially disbanded. Mina Crandon lived on, complimenting Houdini gently.
It is a fascinating story but sadly, Jaher’s skills were not up to the task of making it a fascinating read. To give him credit, it’s a complicated story, one I’m sure he grappled with in trying to bring it into shape.
Isaac Rubenstein has no choice but to kill himself.
He’s in love with Rudolf Valentino, and now Valentino is dead. His acolytes are committing suicide all over the city. The window to definitively display his devotion is closing, and for once the New York tenement apartment he shares with his mother, his grandmother, and his siblings is quiet. It has to be now.
Unless he doesn’t, because his grandmother calls out for him right before the blade touches his skin. Unless he does, and the cuts bleed away his heart’s blood.
In Karen M. Vaughn’s romantic and darkly funny melodrama, Isaac Rubinstein does both. Dies, and is united with his beautiful Valentino. Lives, and finds a reason to live.
A Kiss for a Dead Film Star is a astonishing debut collection of stories that inspire weird love and uncover surprising caches of eroticism. Psycho-medical-magical realism intertwine with old and new New York City, epic love stories, and tales best told in the smoky alleys behind bars or beneath the covers. Karen Vaughn’s capacious imagination and remarkable voice glitter—this collection is a comet that comes around rarely.
#ReadingIsResistance to lack of imagination. Karen Vaughan’s short story collection, A Kiss for a Dead Film Star, is filled with characters who are, well … characters.
Take, for instance, the histrionic Isaac Rubinstein in the title story, who grieves the way only a star struck teenager can. Rudolph Valentino has died, and Isaac must make the perfect symbolic gesture to show both Valentino, and the world, just how much Isaac adored his movie star. The breathlessness of Isaac’s panic and need to make this gesture, is there. Vaughn’s writing makes the reader feel great anxiety for the fate of this wistful teenager.
In “Still Life With Fossils,” dinosaurs talk to each other from the afterlife, welcoming them to a tribe only they can experience. This story takes the question, “Is there life after death,” in a very unexpected direction. It’s my favorite in the collection.
The spooky story “Limbs,” takes being different from everyone else to a new level. Take a family of migrant Mexican farm workers and then give them a secret they have to hide at all costs. Frightening.
I’m glad to have read this little collection of stories. Each has a different voice with intriguing themes. Months after reading, they still haunt me. Especially the dinosaurs.
Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is an enchantingly original and deeply affecting book that juxtaposes two tales about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Mikage, the heroine of “Kitchen,” is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikaga is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart. In a whimsical style that recalls the early Marguerite Duras, “Kitchen” and its companion story, “Moonlight Shadow,” are elegant tales whose seeming simplicity is the ruse of a very special writer whose voice echoes in the mind and the soul.
#ReadingIsResistance to the mundane and mainstream. To the idea that love, death, and everything inbetween follows rules. And to the idea family is constrained by blood lines.
I’m finding the more broadly I read authors who are less like me, the more entertaining my world becomes. And I’m finding Japanese authors have wriggled into my readers’ heart.
Enter new (to me) author Banana Yoshimoto, who says on her website she chose the nom de plume because she liked banana flowers. Which is so completely different from the racist term I had most often heard regarding Asian Americans. And while Banana Yoshimoto is not Asian American, but Japanese, that racist epithet is what I immediately thought of. I worry about what that might say about me.
Kitchen is a tenderly written book about death, love in many forms, and what family comes to mean. The title symbolizes the place Yoshimoto’s narrator, Mikaga, becomes most comfortable. The kitchen is what becomes home, regardless of circumstance. A well kept, well stocked kitchen is balm to jangled nerves and the problems which plague every human being.
I came to Japanese writing through Haruki Murakami, the voice of Japanese magical realism. Yoshimoto’s book has hints of magical realism, but it’s grounded in the realities of lives filled with grief from mutual loss, and happiness from mutual kinship. And just under the surface are the oblique references to what can only be referred to as … otherworldly. I’m not sure that’s the right word, but it will have to do because those are the themes touching on the indescribable. It’s the evanescence we all chase after as we seek answers which are bigger than we are.
Mikaga finds comfort in her kitchens, which ground her and give her space to deal with the just on the tip of the brain/heart/lips thoughts of heavier concerns. Kitchen may be about love, and death, and family; it’s also about finding a resting place among the chaos.
The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It’s lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, or any of the other giants—rather than the BFG—she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that the giants are flush-bunking off to England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!
Such delightful word play. And a story about unlikely friends who join forces to save the children of the word from those nasty bone-crunching children of the world. There’s nothing more to say other than don’t deprive yourself of this wonderful little story.