New York Times Notable Book Review: The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín


2012 Notable Book Score 3/100

Something called The Catholic World Report had this to say in a byline about this book: “Colm Tóibín’s book won’t tell you anything about Mary. It will tell you plenty about its very sad and very angry author.” 

Tóibín’s Mary is definitely not your average Mary.  There is bitterness, fear, and deep regret.  Her son was the Messiah, some say predicted by the prophets, and she doesn’t think it was worth it. Instead of the ancient God of Israel, Mary finds comfort in Artemis, the many-breasted Greek God of fertility.  Late in her life, near the time that she could taste her own death, Mary was becoming a polytheist.  

She loved her son Jesus and craved to be around him.  But, Jesus, the radical son, always had other plans, plans she didn’t quite get.  

My son gathered misfits, although he himself, despite everything was not a misfit, he could have done anything….  he was grateful, good-mannered, intelligent.  And he used all of it.  I said, so he could lead a group of men who trusted him from place to place. I have no time for misfits….

I probably owe this book–a novella really–a rereading. But if I am going to get through my 100 book reviews I probably won’t get to it anytime soon.  Before it became a novella, the Testament of Mary was a one women play.  I hope I get to see it in Indy sometime. 




2012 Notable New York Times Book: A Land More Kind Than Home

W. R. Tinker
2012 New York Times Notable Book Score: 2/100

“A Land More Kind Than Home”
By Wiley Cash

And these signs will follow those who believe. In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. Mark, Chapter 17/18

Apparently, a few Christian preachers still handle venomous snakes to prove their faith in the good Lord.  Like this preacher man who died in West Virginia in May 2012.  I guess that is better than guy in Florida who died after winning a cockroach eating contest.  Thanks be to God that the bible is silent on the matter of testing your faith via cockroach diet.

Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home (New York Times book review here) centers on a secretive church were snake handling, among other things, is a normal Sunday experience.  The church is smallish and the windows are covered in newspaper.  The congregation never really did a background check on their pastor but an old church matriarch is smart enough to keep the kids away from the snake handling fun.  Moral of this story: always do a background check.

The novel takes place in Cash’s home turf, the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina just over the border from Tennessee.  It is a  place that truly is not that kind.  Marshall, North Carolina and surrounding areas are full of bored kids and broke down dreams.  A place where a snake handling church with some suspicious activity  is ignored instead of confronted and people mainly keep to themselves.

Problems fester until they become too big and a few too many sons die of easily avoidable accidents.

In A Land More Kind than Home, things go terribly wrong when a miracle really isn’t a miracle and the believers want to believe.

I go to church a lot.  I know a lot of pastors and church people.  I wanted to read this book as a bit of a warning, even though about everybody I know is scared of snakes and wouldn’t want them anywhere near their church or kids.  I spent a good part of my late 20s and early 30s being part of a small church.  This was a progressive place, on paper anyways.  I started attending there on a Martin Luther King Day nearly seven years ago.  The church bulletin read “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

There was a young pastor and we were going to turn this run down, forgotten church into a place full of life.  Good art, fair trade coffee, and social justice galore.  Skip ahead a few years and things were changing. The young pastor was gone–too many snakes–and most of the congregation.  Anyway, we kept going, led by volunteers, and the snakes for the most part disappeared. We got voted the best church in Indianapolis by NUVO newsweekly, our film series got mentioned in Indianapolis Monthly. We had an event where probably 800 people showed up, and then it was not common for the church to be a beehive of activity.

Things started to change when people wanted to play the role of “pastor” and “executive director.”  These became unaccountable positions.  The (metaphorical) newspapers went up so nobody could see in. (Metaphorical) Dead bodies started to pile up .  Nobody really talked to each other about the bodies.  Instead of confronting problems and figuring out what was wrong, most people left, including myself and I had been a leader in this community.

When things look and feel wrong, they probably are.  Do something about it.  Demand answers. Talk to others.  Don’t let your community be hijacked.


(Audio)Book Review: Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers

Notable Book Score:  1/100

I posted last week that I was going to try to read/listen to each  of  the New York Times 2012 Notable Book of Year. There are a 100 of them and this is my first review.

Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers.  Experienced via Audiobook via

If you are looking for a work of fiction that does a good job describing the realities of our current economic system as it relates to actual human happiness or the lack of it, Dave Egger’s Hologram for the King does a good job.   

The book is sorta about jobs–and it is the hope of a job, well a commission anyway, that sends business consultant Alan Clay to Saudi Arabia to try and sell a Hologram communication system to King Abdullah and the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), a 86 billion dollar project, which basically involves building a 2 million person city by 2025.

Alan, himself, is a mess and kinda of a jackass.  He is alienated from his father who hasn’t forgiven Alan for his past work at  SchwinnBicycles where he closed down American factories and sent the jobs to the third world.  The move, in the book anyways, didn’t pay off for Schwinn.  His ex-wife is crazy and his daughter is about to drop out of college because he can’t pay the hefty tuition fees. He also owes friends a bunch of money that he can’t repay.   Going to KAEC and trying to sell the Hologram thingee is a last chance shot for Alan.

I recently read another book about Saudi Arabia,  The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade by Andrew Feinstein.  That book, which heavily features the kingdom and its involvement with some of the shadiest and saddest arm deals.   Of course, England, the United States, and Germany, are all involved too. It feels that Hologram bumps up against Shadow World; a global economy that only creates human misery, whether it is through terrible working conditions for migrant laborers, the proliferation of small and large arms to the highest paying dictator, or the gross opulence of places like Dubai and the yet to be realized KAEC.

Is this the world that we want?

Anyways, as it looks like the hologram deal is fading, Alan develops friendships and relationships with some of the everyday people who live in Saudi.  It is through these relationships–even though Alan seems to screw most of them up–where Alan experiences something stronger, more beautiful, and more powerful, than the bullshit world of “economic cities” and holograms.

It’s not just clear what side Alan will land on.


My 2012 Notable Book Score is 0. Can I get it to 100 in 2013? Maybe there will be a book deal.

Walk into our house and you will see books. Lots of them.

We got a crate and Barrel cabinet full of theology books and a big five shelver that holds our fiction books.

We built another bookcase in our living room that holds our history and current events/sociology/politics/etc books.  I guess that is one of the dangers when two liberal arts majors from Earlham College get married.

Mostly though all these books just confound people who visit us.  Do you really read all of these books? Sorta

I always wanted to live in a house full of books since I discovered them sometime late in high school.  Now that that’s the case I hope our kids will think how badass their parents are because they have  a couple of Al Franken best sellers (yep, Limbaugh is still a big fat idiot) from the late 1990s and early 2000s, way too many Kurt Vonnegut books, and the penguin classic edition of  W.E.B. Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folks.   Oh yeah, the kids.  We have three of them now.  Lorelei, age 4, Phoebe, age 2, Tabitha, age 10 days.  They also love books and we do our best to read to them even if it is the same Dora the Explorer book for the millionth time. Ever read  Dora and the Crystal Kingdom? It’s weird.

I get excited when the New York Time’s Notable Books list comes out the first week of December.  In recent years, I normally am able to get through a few.   From the 2011 list I have read, mostly read, flipped through a few page of, or at least own copy of:

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. By Erik Larson. (Crown, $26.) The experiences of the ambassador William E. Dodd and his lusty daughter, Martha.

AND SO IT GOES. Kurt Vonnegut: A Life. By Charles J. Shields. (Holt, $30.) From Dresden to his mother’s suicide, the early death of a beloved sister, serial unhappy marriages and literary anxiety, Vonnegut earned his status as Man of Sorrows, as this diligent and often heartbreaking biography shows.

JERUSALEM: The Biography. By Simon Sebag Montefiore. (Knopf, $35.) Three thousand years, packed with telling detail, in the life of the holy city.

MALCOLM X: A Life of Reinvention. By Manning Marable. (Viking, $30.) This careful biography presents a more complete and unvarnished version of its subject’s life than the one found in “The Autobiography.”

TO END ALL WARS: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. By Adam Hochschild. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28.) This stirring account concentrates on the appalling losses in the ranks and on the courage of those who decided the war in Europe was not a just one.

5/100 is not great.  But, it is probably pretty good on the curve  for my 46112 zip code.

As this past weekend approached and the excitement built up in our house for the new notable books list I had a thought for a blog, and who knows, a potential book deal.   Can a normal working guy like me read all 100 books from the list before the next list comes out?  100 books seems like a crazy man’s game but through the wonders of audiobook, kindle, ibooks, the public library, could it get done? I work alot. I have a very active family.  I really need to go to the gym.  Can I be like the guy that  lived biblically for a year or the woman who lived like a biblical woman for a year or like the no impact guy?  Probably not.  But why not try?  At  the least I can build off of my 5% score from last year, snag a book deal,  and maybe document a bit about what it was like to be alive  between the release of the 2012 notable book list and the 2013 list.

An Open Letter to Friends and Family who might be voting for Richard Mourdock

Friends and Family,

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock stated the following at a debate tonight:  “I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”

There are obvious political points to be scored here and Mourdock has also issued a statement trying to clarify his remarks.  It doesn’t matter. This statement and attitude is a gross misrepresentation of the Christian faith and the values shared by my fellow Hoosiers.

1 out of 6 women in America have been or will be a victim of sexual assault.  44% of victims are 18 or younger. You can read the disturbing numbers here.  I will be a father to three girls when our third daughter is born in December. Unless something dramatically changes, there is a coin toss’ chance that one of my daughters will experience sexual assault.

I would like Richard Mourdock to meet my friends who work in eastern Congo who told me that almost every woman she met had experienced sexual trauma.  This is how a filmmaker described the situation last year:

Like so many women survivors, she too was rejected when she and her two teenage daughters were raped by militia men. Her husband was murdered in front of her….

Her two daughters Rachel and Yvette were 15 and 13 years old, and both of them conceived children. Masika’s husband’s family rejected them and she brought her daughters and their babies to a market town hugging the shore of Lake Kivu to try and rebuild their lives.

These women are definitely brave and their children are children of God and they should be fully supported in facing such an uncertain future and violent past, but their rape and subsequent pregnancies were not part of God’s plan.  That is crazy talk.

In Indiana, our state’s female high school students have one of the highest rates of reported rapes and sexual assaults.  (17.3% in Indiana/10.5 nationally.) In Indiana, nearly 20%-3% above the national average of all women have been sexually assaulted or raped. Even scarier, half of sexual assaults go unreported.

These are just the stats, not the personal stories of friends and loved ones who have gone through this hell.

If you plan to still vote for Mr. Mourdock, you will be voting for someone who believes that rape, as horrible as it is, is part of God’s plan.    That is a voice and theology that we can’t afford to have in our Senate.