alyson_m: That's my face, in case you're wondering (Default)
The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien
1990

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Tim O'Brien's work knows that the author is a Vietnam vet who frequently revisits his war experiences in his writing. This piece starts with the title, literally enumerating the things, both tangible and intangible but mostly of the material, measurable type, that the combatants carry around. This could be incredibly dull in a less nuanced writer's hands, but the literalness of listing all those items, and their respective weights, gives the piece its initial grounding in the quotidian reality of the soldiers' lives. I didn't bother with the arithmetic--I'm almost afraid to break out the calculator and tally up the sheer poundage pressing on any particular combatant's back on a given day. It's the kind of weight where the author will list the ounces of each item, because when you're talking about that kind of weight, every ounce counts. The litany of concrete things, ounces and pounds makes its point to such an extent that the "weight of the world on his shoulders" cliche doesn't need to be voiced and might not even be relevant. The immediate picture it paints is no less valid for its literalness: a picture of young men in varying degrees of innocence and cynicism, carrying untold tens of pounds of armor, weapons, ammo, tools, rations and other supplies around on their persons in all weather, over all kinds of terrain, in the execution of a war they didn't start and in most cases had no choice but to fight.

But actually that's not the point. )
alyson_m: That's my face, in case you're wondering (Default)
The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
by Richard Dawkins
Free Press
2009

If I were involved in designing the book jacket for this tome, I would not have put "Bestselling author of THE GOD DELUSION" at the top of the front cover. Not because Prof. Dawkins should feel ashamed of having written that book--he shouldn't--but because it's not an appropriate comparison for TGSOE. He is also the author of The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, and other biologically inclined works. In TGSOE, he honestly intends to speak to people who don't already agree with him, which means he doesn't touch the question of God's existence. He certainly doesn't pretend to be a believer, but he says, at the beginning, in so many words, that he is not writing as one of the Four Horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse: "This is a book about the positive evidence that evolution is a fact. Is is not intended as an anti-religious book. I've done that, it's another t-shirt, this is not the place to wear it again." With that in mind, I don't agree with the publisher's sticking "THE GOD DELUSION" on the front cover, and I hope it didn't scare away any readers who are ambivalent about the validity of evolutionary theory but would otherwise be curious about Prof. Dawkins's case for it, because it's an immensely helpful book and I would highly recommend that they read it.
The Tree of Life is a big sprawling organism )

March 2012

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