Bite-sized book reviews

I haven’t published a book review for a while, and the Personal Book Reviews page is very well visited. So this month sees me posting some ‘bite-sized’ reviews from my ongoing, sometimes scrappy pencil-written “Books I have read” notebook. Sometimes I only write a couple of sentences. Hopefully that should be enough to stimulate you to check out the books below which I have really enjoyed and appreciated: and maybe, even, to buy them yourself.

By the way, the writers involved don’t know about these recommendations, and do not provide me with any incentive to promote them – apart from the high quality of their work! I really appreciate positive feedback on my own writing, and it’s just nice to be in a position to be able to put out a good word for others.

Mediaeval Bookworm....
Mediaeval Bookworm....

“The Spell of the Sensuous” by David Abram

A wonderfully written, erudite exploration of our human embodiment in the natural world and our journey of alienation from it. Very stimulating and thought-provoking: full of good quotes, eg:

“ Direct sensuous reality, in all its more-than-human mystery, remains the sole solid touchstone for an experiential world now inundated with electronically-generated vistas and engineered pleasures; only in regular contact with the tangible ground and sky can we learn how to orient and to navigate in the multiple dimensions that now claim us.”

( Preface, p x )

Novels : “Judgement Day” and “Passing On” by Penelope Lively.

“Judgement Day”, set in an English village, is centered on fund-raising for the church and the dramas arising therein. “Passing On” deals with the unfolding lives of two emotionally squashed middle-aged children on their domineering mother’s demise.

Penelope Lively regards the human condition with compassion, detachment, lack of any sentimentality, dry mordant wit, and forensic observation. Brilliant writing and highly enjoyable reading.

“Science and the Akashic Field” by Ervin Laszlo

It seems that the ancient idea of Akasha, and the Akashic Record which records everything everywhere for all time, is being borne out by current understandings in physics and cosmology. This is an ‘integral theory of everything’ book, bringing insights of contemporary science and ancient wisdom together. Very clearly written and (mostly!) comprehensible by someone like me, whose lifelong fascination with matters scientific is forever hampered by a lack of formal scientific education.

“Let your life speak” by Parker J. Palmer

A jewel of a book by an American Quaker, on the subject of the vocational quest which arises from within, and from the promptings of Spirit, rather than being adopted from the thrustings of Ego allied with social ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’. I found his writing very honest, and movingly personal without being at all self-indulgent. Just the right book for those of us whose vocational path has been varied and tortuous but feels, in mid-life, as though it could not have been otherwise!

“Belief” by Joan Bakewell

A very enjoyable selection of interviews from her Radio 3 (BBC, UK ) series: religious writer Karen Armstrong; monk, writer and poet John O’Donohue; writer of sacred music John Tavener; scientist Richard Dawkins (whose shallow and limited perspective on matters spiritual was very obvious here); composer James Macmillan; and many other thoughtful and able people. I especially appreciated the depth, range and balance of scientist Paul Davies’ views. This is, mostly, a stimulating and inspiring collection.

Favourite Quote: from an interview with scientist Paul Davies in “Devout Sceptics”

” The older I get, the more I find that I am returning to those deep questions, and asking ‘Why?’ I don’t think it’s enough to shrug this question aside. My scientific colleagues will often say, ‘Scientists shouldn’t ask “why?’ questions’. Well, that response reminds me of my school days: ‘Sit down, Davies, and shut up!’ I’m afraid I’m not going to sit down, and I’m not going to shut up. I’m going to go on asking these ‘why?’ questions. We do want to know why the world is as it is. Why did it come to exist 13.7 billion years ago in a Big Bang? Why are the laws of electromagnetism and gravitation as they are? Why those laws? What are we doing here? And, in particular, how come we are able to understand the world? Why is it that we’re equipped with intellects that can unpick all this wonderful cosmic order and make sense of it? It’s truly astonishing.”(from a 2002 conversation)

The Big Why ?
The Big Why ?

from – (p57) – Devout Sceptics conversations on faith and doubt with Bel Mooney (2004) If you are preoccupied – as I always have been – with The Big Why?, and find it intriguing and stimulating to browse the musings of other people regarding how we got here, why we are here, and what is the point of it all, then the above book is definitely for you. Mooney’s edited transcripts from the popular BBC Radio 4 series, Devout Sceptics, feature well-known people as diverse as authors Phillip Pullman, Joanna Trollope and Jeanette Winterson, broadcasters Kate Adie and John Humphries, scientists James Lovelock and Paul Davies: 20 in all. These interviews will make you think. Do check this book out.