Book Review: Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle

Author: Gregory Boyle
Title: Tattoos on the Heart
Publication Info: New York : Free Press, 2010.
ISBN:  9781439153024

Not really a memoir, but more illustrative vignettes from Fr. Greg’s work with gang members in Los Angeles.  This beautifully written book is both inspiring and heartbreaking.  Inspiring because of the wonderful humanity of the “homies” the comes to its fullest when they are given some love and dignity.  Heartbreaking because so many of the people we come to while reading are cut down by gunfire and die too young.  This is a book I highly recommend.  Learn more about Fr. Greg and his homies at the Homeboy Industries website.

Favorite Passages:

We all just want to be called by the name our mom uses when she’s not pissed off at us. p. 54

Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it. p. 67

Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified — whichever came first. p. 172

Recommended books: Respect: An Exploration by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists by Courtney E. Martin and The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw by Michael Sokolive
Rating: *****

Book Review: Sixty Feet, Six Inches by Bob Gibson & Reggie Jackson

Author:Bob Gibson & Reggie Jackson
Title: Sixty Feet, Six Inches
Publication Info: New York : Doubleday, c2009.
ISBN: 9780385528696

One of baseball’s greatest pitchers and one of baseball’s greatest hitters – and ones known as great baseball thinkers – sit down and talk about baseball and you have a front row seat.  Sounds like a great concept and Gibson and Jackson do tell a lot of great stories and offer some great insight and analysis of the game.  Gibson even admits he used a spitball once in a game against the Mets (like he really needed too!).  I found the book disappointing though because they seemed to fall back on old cliches and baseball accepted wisdom than really offering a unique perspective.  And don’t get me started on all the Yankees glurge and Jeter-love (especially from Jackson).  I think this book would be better if there was a third person there – someone from outside the game, say, Bill James – to stir things up and keep Gibson & Jackson  honest.  Good but not great baseball writing, and baseball fans should enjoy reading it and enjoy critiquing it.

Recommended books: The Game From Where I Stand by Doug Glanvile, Watching Baseball by Jerry Remy, and Why Time Begins on Opening Day by Thomas Boswell.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: One Thousand White Womenby Jim Fergus

Author: Jim Fergus
Title: One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd
Publication Info: New York : St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.
ISBN: 0312199430
Summary/Review: This novel is built on the premise that in 1875 the Cheyenne tribe made an agreement with the Grant administration to bring 1000 white women to their lands as sort of mail-order brides in order to promote amity and civilization of the natives.  The government finds some volunteers and fills out the allotment of 1000 women with inmates from prisons and insane asylums.  The book is written as diary entries and letters from one of the latter, a woman named May Dodd placed in an asylum by her well-off family because she lived out of wedlock and bore children to a man of a lower class.

The positive aspects of this book is that it while May and her compatriots find love and much to admire in their new home, they Cheyenne are not idealized (a la Dances With Wolves).   May while appreciating  her new husband and free lifestyle never stops referring to the Indians as savages.  The book comes to a sad but inevitable end as the Americans lust for land leads to the conquest of the Cheyenne, white women included.

This book was better than I expected as I thought it would be a more flippant farce.  I did find that Fergus as a male author failed to write convincingly in the female voice.  For example, May suffers some traumatic experiences that are rather casually put behind her.  Still, it’s a unique framing for a historical novel and an enjoyable read.

Recommended books: The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth, Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.

Book Review: The Far Side of the World by Patrick O’Brian

Author: Patrick O’Brian
Title: The Far Side of the World
Publication Info: Prince Frederick, MD : Recorded Books ; [United States : Distributed by] Borders, [2003], p1994.
Summary/Review:  The tenth book of the Aubrey/Matrin series finds the HMS Surprise rounding Cape Horn and sailing the Pacific in search of an American ship harassing whalers, the Norfolk.  This book is one of the main sources for the film Master and Commander: Far Side of the World although there are some huge differences.  I have to say I liked the movie better although I usually like the one I saw/read first.

Rating: **

Book Review: Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

Author: L.M. Montgomery
Title: Anne of the Island
Publication Info: Books in Motion (1993)
ISBN: 1556864612
Summary/Review:  The third book of the Anne Shirley series sees Anne off to college on Nova Scotia, studying, making new friends, and setting up a new home.  Letters and visits to home emphasize Anne’s growth and change as she spends time away from her beloved home.  There’s also continuing intrigue regarding her relationship with Gilbert Blythe.  Enjoyable, but lacking the magic of the first book.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan

Author: Fred Kaplan
Title: Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers, c2008.
ISBN:  9780060773342

A different approach Abraham Lincoln, focusing on his life and legacy through the lens of his writing.  Kaplan contends that Lincoln may be of few Presidents to write his own speeches and probably the last one. In addition to his oratory Kaplan analyzes Lincoln’s political writings, poetry, and even his raunchy jokes and puns.  As a self-taught man, writing played an important role in Lincoln’s education as well.  This book provides a unique take on the life of the great leader.

Recommended books: Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills and The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie.
Rating: ****

Retropost: Book Review: Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth A. Johnson (via Panorama of the Mountains)

According to NCR:

Thanks to the U.S. bishops’ doctrinal committee …

… Quest for the Living God, by Elizabeth Johnson, has shot to the top of Amazon’s best selling “general theology” book list today.

Pretty good  book if I say so myself.  Here’s my review from when I read it two years ago for lent.

Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J. explores the many ideas of God that have emerged in the past century in Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (2007).  The book functions as a quick summary of these many “new” theologies of God – albeit rooted in ancient tradition and faithful to scripture. They include: the modern, secular world with a focus on Karl Rahner the suffering of the Holocaust and three post-war German theologi … Read More

via Panorama of the Mountains