Repost: Filling in the Gaps, update 2012

This is reposted from my old blog.  I’ve imported the whole post, comments and all, into a single space here.  I’ve listed it here under its original date.

Filling in the Gaps, update Feb 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

I started participating in the Fill in the Gaps 100 Books reading project in 2010.  The idea is to come up with a list of 100 books that will “fill in the gaps” between the reading you “have” to do for one reason or another (like work or studies) until 2015.  I have continued to post my list on the right edge of each entry I’ve made at this blog ever since I started on my Fill in the Gaps list, updating it as I go along.

So far, I’ve found that I tend to make good progress on the list for a while, then lag for a while, then make good progress again.  For some reason, it just seems to go in spurts for me.

From late last year until the beginning of this, I hit a real slow period.  It took me more than three months to read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I think.  After that, though, it sort of took off, and I’ve read a couple more titles on my list since I got back to Shanghai at the beginning of this month.  (A long delay at the airport on the way here helped me finish Crime and Punishment.)

I thought it might be fun to post some thoughts (not reviews, just ramblings, really) about the titles I’ve read recently.  It might also motivate me to keep moving ahead with the list.

Crime and Punishment, for some reason, didn’t work well for me.  I’ve read other works by Dostoyevsky and generally like reading him.  While The Brothers Karamazov is a favorite of mine that really engaged me as I read, Crime and Punishment had exactly the opposite effect.  I labored through it, and found my mind wandering as I read.  I was disappointed with that, because it was one of the titles from my list that I’d really looked forward to tackling.

The Truth About Jesus (M. M. Mangasarian) was another title that didn’t do much for me.  Unlike Crime and Punishment, I know exactly why this book didn’t work for me.  It comes from a time and a mindset that always seems to rub me the wrong way, a time when everything seemed to be expressed in such black and white terms, and when everyone seemed so certain of everything they thought they knew.  (Yes, I am exaggerating.)  I don’t have any problem reading books that express views opposed to Christianity, or that present good arguments that are meant to demonstrate that Jesus was not who Christians claim he was.  Mangasarian’s approach, however, seems to me to meander across too broad a range of things that he considers “Christian” to be of any real value (at least to me).  He conflates issues of what church fathers, church practice, the Bible’s writers, the copyists, and Jesus himself have all done, lumping them together as if they are one organism.  (In fact, reading texts written to address religious debates from an Enlightenment perspective, it starts to feel a lot like the contemporary political arena in America.  Yawn.)  No matter which side of the debate the writer stands on, it’s just too easy to find holes in all that he says, especially because the tendency in these texts is to take what one representative of “the other side” (which is defined in its broadest possible terms) has said and then tear it to pieces.  It’s easy to make a case against a movement if you choose one of the crackpots within that movement as the spokesman for it.  And really…. what movement doesn’t have its crackpots?  Anyway, just to be fair, I’ve read plenty of debates from the Christian perspective that were written during this same era and from the same perspective, and I find them equally irritating and demeaning of “the other side.”  Every now and then, I convince myself that reading another book from this paradigm will somehow be good for me, maybe even challenge my own thinking in some way.  Upon finishing those texts, I usually end up wishing I hadn’t bothered.

Crime of the Heart was the definite highlight of this batch of titles from my Fill in the Gaps list.  I really enjoyed reading the play, and would like to see it performed.  It was funny, and it was poignant too.  I liked the characters, and I liked the way the tension unfolded.  There is much in Crimes of the Heart that scratches the reader in me just where she itches.  I have never had the pleasure of seeing it onstage, but if I get the chance to, I will jump at the opportunity.

Tarzan of the Apes is what I am working on now.  I’m about a third of the way through it.  There’s a lot in the book I enjoy.  I like Tarzan, and it’s fun to see his story play itself out.  There are other things in the book, however, that grate on my nerves.  I’ve had my fill of the superior attitudes of colonialism in recent months, but here I am reading Tarzan of the Apes, which just oozes with that exact attitude.  It’s not even presented subtlety.  The book just blatantly says that Tarzan is endowed with an extra (I’m tempted to call it superhuman) measure of intellectual prowess and moral virtue because he is, by blood, an English lord.  He’s so innately clever that he teaches himself to read English — which he’s never heard spoken — simply by poring over the English primer he finds in the hut where his parents had settled when they were abandoned in the coastal jungle by the pirates.  Oh. Brother.  But still… I have to admit that the story is rather fun, if you can ignore the pompous superiority.  Burroughs always writes a good, action-packed tale, and there’s a reason Tarzan has been such a well-loved character ever since he appeared on the page.

That about does it for my recent burst of energy in pursuing the titles on my Fill in the Gaps list.  If things carry on as they have in recent weeks, I should finishTarzan of the Apes in the next few days, and then I’ll decide what I want to move onto next.


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