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27 April 2017

Book Review: Inferno

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Inferno by Dan Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I am glad Brown aimed in a different direction than the Catholic Church and the Masons, but, still, this one was a little annoying.

But, still, one moment of clarity that summarizes a lot of what I've learned over the past eight months living in a Muslim majority country; "Both Christianity and Islam are logocentric, meaning they are focused on The Word. In Christian tradition, the Word became flesh in the book of John: 'And the Word was made flesh, and He dwelt among us.' Therefore, it was acceptable to depict the Word as having a human form. In Islamic tradition, however, the Word did not become flesh, and therefore the Word needs to remain in the form of a word...in most cases, calligraphic renderings of the names of the holy figures of Islam."

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Book Review: The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, #3)The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My kid went on a Robert Langdon binge during a week's vacation. This book was the first one he read. He then slammed through the other three, also in the wrong order. He didn't seem to care.

I've said in other reviews that Dan Brown takes a lot of flak for his work. And though he is a one-trick pony (or, rather, a 50 trick pony) his tricks are intriguing. And, with this book, new to me.

I'm living in north Africa right now for a couple of years, mostly so my kid can experience a non-US frame of mind. We live near all the amazing must-see European places; Rome, Venice, Florence, London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, etc.

But now I'm trying to figure out how I can get my kid to Washington D.C. before he's too old to want to travel with us anymore. Maybe next summer? Maybe not as much history as those other great European capitals, but certainly as much symbolism.

Things I learned reading this book;

ABC - the three prerequisites for an ideology to be considered a religion; Assure, Believe, Convert. Assure salvation, believe in a precise theology, and convert non-believers.

Magic squares.

All spiritual rituals can be frightening when taken out of context; "crucifixion reenactments, Jewish circumcisions, Mormon baptisms of the dead, Catholic exorcisms, Islamic niqab, shamanic trance healing, the Jewish Kaparot ceremony, even the eating of the figurative body and blood of Christ."

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Book Review: The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Revisiting Dan Brown in the wake of my 13 year old plowing through all four Robert Langdon books in less than a week.

This one was, of course, less of a page-turner the second time through. What seems crazy-clever 15 years ago now seems old-news and old-school.

And the mystery is thin. Thinner than it was before I knew Brown's style and the fact that he has 25 points of interesting trivia that he's spun into several best-selling books.

But there were still trivia tidbits that made me raise my eyebrows and think, "Hmmm!" Even on second reading. One imagines 15 years ago, I raised my eyebrows at the same thing. Old age is a wonder. Everything old is new again because we can't remember learning it the first time.

Pagans were originally simple country folk who kept their tradition of nature worship but the church was so fearful of their faith that anyone who lived in a ville or village, was worthy the church's disdain. Hence, our current term "villain."

The planet Venus traces a pentagram in the night sky every eight years. A pentagram used to be a symbol of perfection and was almost a part of the Olympic seal (the Olympics every four years followed the half-cycle of Venus) but, at the last minute, they exchanged the symbol for the rings. Five rings. Hmmm.

PHI. 1.68. The Divine Proportion.

Yeah. We can make fun of Dan Brown. But he's smarter than I am. He's figured out how to make 100 points of arcane trivia into millions of dollars.

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Book Review: Angels and Demons

Angels & Demons  (Robert Langdon, #1)Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I just revisited this book after having read it in the early 2000s, before my son was born.

Now my son is 13. We live in Morocco, where there aren't very many available books for purchase. No one in the family likes to read on a screen, so whenever we travel, we hunt down English language bookstores and stock up.

My husband picked up Lost Symbol, oddly on sale at our own Virgin store in Casablanca. My son read it quickly and devotedly. So when we went to Barcelona for a vacation, we found a great used bookstore and snapped up the other three Robert Langdon mysteries.

My son read them out of order. But as I noticed how intrigued he was by the adventures, I thought I ought to re-read and give myself a refresher course.

On second reading, the flaws are more apparent. But Brown, despite all the derogatory opinions about him, is a good story-teller. He uses the same 12 tricks, cliches and ideas over and over and over, but they are pretty darn good ones, especially for someone who grew up not questioning organized religion. The young me thought, "Holy shit! Really?!?!?!" The older me thinks, "Yeah. Prt. Dammit."

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Book Review: A Short History of England

A Short History of EnglandA Short History of England by Simon Jenkins

One of the blurbs on the back of my paperback edition calls this a "wry gallop through English history." Gallop is the key word.

For the history I already had more intimate knowledge of, the gallop made sense; driving by Henry VIII and the Tudors and the Stuarts and Charles I and William and Mary at 90 miles an hour was easy to do because I had the background information.

But for the many, MANY, eras of English history with which I'm not so familiar, the gallop became a blur. Often I would turn my horse around, canter back, and gallop by again, just to see if I could gather any more insight the second time. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't.

But what I did gain was a better understanding of the breadth and depth of English history. I also gained several points of poignant trivia:

Parliament comes from when England was more French than English; "parlement" means "talk about it;" a discussion. A conversation.

All English monarchs are descended from the wives of a man named John of Gaunt. Ever heard of him? Me either. He was the third son of Edward III. A nobody, really. But imagine the world had he, and his seed via several wives, not existed.

If Shakespeare had been writing in any other country, we might not have his plays. Anywhere else in Europe, his work would only have been shared with the elite. In Elizabethan England, his work was shared with everyone who could get to a theater.

Roundheads (Civil War era parliamentarians) were called such because they had dumbass haircuts.

Royal Oak, the ubiquitous name of pubs and American suburbs, derives from the Civil War era when Charles II hid for a night in an oak tree in Staffordshire before escaping to France, dressed as a servant.

The word "cabal" comes from the initials of a group of high-ranking men who supported Charles II during the Restoration; Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale.

The Seven Years War (1765-1763) was the first true "world" war.

The word "jingoism" comes from the late 19th century, during the age of imperialism and colonization, at which time there was a popular music hall song with the lyrics, "We don't want to fight but by jingo if we do, We've got the ships, we've got the men, and we've got the money too."

In 1910, when King Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria, died, his funeral was a moment in history that Barbara Tuchman, the famous historian, described as "...the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last." Soon all of those gathered would be at war with one another.

And regarding WWI, the historian A.J.P. Taylor wrote, "Great armies, accumulated to provide security and preserve peace, carried nations to war by their own weight."

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