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The Next Story

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The book is framed as a pragmatic discussion promising the reader suggestions on more faith-filled and deliberate way of living in the digital world, but the reason I recommend it is that the reader gets more than that. In his discussions about distractions, mediated reality, and wikis Challies gives great teachings on the purpose of the Christian life, the personal nature of Christ and his community, and the nature of Truth. Essentially, because of the book’s context, i.e., living in a digital world, he’s able to explain spiritual truths in a way that probably much easier for non-philosophers to grasp their significance. Doctrinally, it’s solid and appropriate for Western Christians from any tradition.
The Art of Fielding

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If Art Imitates Life, Art of Fielding Imitates the Art of HarbachNever before had Mike Schwartz seen a player as naturally gifted as Henry Skrimshander. Through meticulously crafted prose, readers of The Art of Fielding are immediately brought into Mike's world as he stands in awe of the talent that plays shortstop before him. With each at batter that steps up to the plate, "the Skrimmer" embodies a deftness in fielding that was formally unseen as he aptly handles the ball and directs his teammates to where they need to be. Henry has talent, in abundance. He transcends the game. Sure he's a little green, but the potential he embodies overwhelms Mike Schwartz.Schwartz, a freshman at Westish College, unilaterally recruits Henry to play ball at his fictional Wisconsin school and through Mike's dedicated cultivation of a person, within three years Henry becomes a world-class ball player. It's not easy. Henry's college life is filled with pitfalls, distractions, and colorfully named people like Guert Affenlight and Adam Starblind. In Chad Harbach's novel, Henry's college experience is as rich, exciting, and humorous as one should expect. As someone who went to college on the western shores of Lake Michigan, Harbach brought me home.Through the capable hands of team captain, Mike Schwartz, Henry becomes a big league prospect with contracts worth hundreds of thousands thrown at him. Henry's giftedness makes him an unstoppable force that makes him irresistible to scouts. He's destined for greatness, but then something goes horribly awry.What happens? Let's just say life dramatically gets more complicated. Henry loses direction--loses focus. He descends into self-destructive behavior as the reader spends the second half of the novel shouting at the pages hoping to shake Henry out of his stupor. Henry's talent isn't gone; in fact, it remains ever-present. The problem is Henry can't bring his life around to a point where he can marshall his talents when they're needed most.Chad Harbach, err, I mean Henry Skrimshander--wait, no, I did mean Chad Harbach--has tons of talent, but it is wasted during the second half of The Art of Fielding. Henry's story is Harbach's story. A phenomenally gifted writer who starts out stunningly strong. It's no wonder the literary scouts at Little, Brown, and Co awarded him hundreds of thousands of dollars for this first novel. Like his character Mike Schwartz, they found talent that is so rare in this world, but also, like Henry, Harbach's talent is utterly wasted during the second half of the novel.As Henry's life loses focus, so does Harbach's writing. Secondary characters are elevated to primacy, relationships go off in trajectories that are completely unbelievable--only a naïve college senior can honestly think life resolves itself this way. Just as the Skrimmer can't figure out what he wants to do with his life, Harbach seems to have the same problem with his novel. Does he want his tome to be the great 21st Century baseball novel or just another well-written (and slightly too tawdry) entry into LGBT mainstream literature? I don't know; I'm not sure Harbach knows either.There was a weird sense of symmetry I sensed as Henry's life came to an unbelievable conclusion. The novel not only ended somewhere very different than where it seemed to be headed, Henry's resolution to his new station in life was as unsatisfactory as Harbach's novel was. Just as I felt bad for Henry that his giftedness was ill-fated to be wasted due to his destination, I also felt a sense of loss for Harbach because he apparently couldn't envision a destination worthy of both Henry and his novel. Both Chad Harbach and his character Henry Skrimshander deserved much better.Fortunately, Chad can do something about it--hopefully, his next novel's story is worthy of his of his giftedness.
Super Sad True Love Story

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Although the book’s pop tone and frequent raunch culture references gives the impression that Shteyngart’s work lacks the seriousness of dystopian classics like Brave New World or Fahrenheit 491, that impression fades near the book’s midpoint as the reader realizes that the author’s insights into our technological and cultural trajectories are accurate enough to make you believe that the word “true” belongs in the title. The narrative’s power comes primarily from the characters and their interaction with their world. Shteyngart creates a world where people interact with technology much the same why we do today, the only difference is in his world people don’t feel ashamed by interacting with others through their digital devices. It’s the culture’s lack of shame—for it is a culture which was breed on the notion that our ID’s desires should not be hidden, but rather broadcasted--that seems the only distinction between the Super Sad America and our own. It is also, I believe, Shteyngart’s justification for the vulgarity and pervasive sexuality, one that, in the end, I can’t argue with given the truth of it all.The truth is on display in nearly every word, especially in the sections composed by the young heroine. I found myself adopting the vocabulary of the book not only in my internal monologue but in my speech. Again, Shteyngart anticipates what hip and efficient world that is to come by creating vocabulary which could be well utilized in our world, if only our shame didn’t prevent us from being so blunt.The primacy given to relationships and the importance of physical place function as a phenomenal critique of our Gnostic world, which, in the end, doesn’t bring the reader to a redemptive place, but to be fair, it never claims to be anything but a sad story. The only significant criticism I have of the work is its epilogue. Part two of this section was particularly offensive--like having DaVinci writing analysis of the Mona Lisa on the work’s canvas. (I apologize, that last metaphor is horribly obtuse, and certainly unworthy in a review of writing that is so unlike that.)
The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community

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Any reader of The Great Turning must remember one key fact: You're not reading this book because Korten is a noteworthy psychologist or theologian or anthropologist. Korten has some keen insights and his experience with international NGOs and in academia ensure that the telling of his vision is effective, grounded in reality, and at times inspiring. He finds great metaphors to convey concepts that otherwise might hover just above true comprehension. Korten not only defines and describes a new economy, he does so in ways that help you see that you never really thought logically about our contemporary system—even if you considered yourself knowledgeable in economics before. Korten is right in that instituting his community-focused system would change everything—but he’s also right that our current system is inherently based on change and therefore everything will change anyway, so why not work to ensure that future changes are improvements and not just helping consolidate the power of the already powerful. In short, Korten is at his best when he stays focused on undoing the conventional wisdom he characterizes as “[Trusting] in the magic of the unregulated market to convert your unrestrained greed and self-indulgence into a better life for all.”He reaches too far in his vision. His vision replaces an unsustainable global economy driven by conglomerates with a global sense of spirituality which is basically Gnostic garbage, often citing Borg and Fox—nothing new here, what he promotes has been commonplace theology since the dawn of Empires. It’s ironic, since Korten seems to really understand the importance of love and community but doesn’t seem to understand that the spiritual worldview he’s embracing won’t support his vision of loving local economies any better than the greed-centered worldview of crony capitalism. He equates love with tolerance, elevates the feminine above the masculine, and believes that knowledge is power. The economy he envisions requires love that doesn’t tolerate abuse of power, puts men and women on equal footings, and understands that wisdom comes from outside yourself and is marked by humility.He gets tripped up on this last point because of his reliance on conventional psychological models which are essentially repackaged Gnosticism that encourages intelligent people to believe that they are at the top of a five-step scale of human development. Instead of recognizing that people are a mix of good and bad, he prefers models which basically categorize people as either enlightened or unenlightened—inherently belittling the humanity of children and mentally disabled.Fortunately, the system Korten promotes would better serve the people his theological and psychological models would exclude. If his economic ideas start taking hold, hopefully theologians whose theology is better equipped to bolster his communities will have more of an impact on his thinking.
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Robopocalypse

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There are glimpses of real insight here, especially at the outset, but ultimately this World War Z rip-off fails to reach the heights or depth of its predecessor. The author restrains himself, but then doesn’t bother to play within those boundaries (e.g., all the information for the stories contained in the book were captured on video cameras, but are written with internal monologues). Events occur to the central characters to move the plot in the direction the author means to move them—not where humanity demands them. Finally, what was set up to be the ultimate lesson of the book, man’s overdependence on technology, is undercut as victory triumphantly comes at the by innovative implementation of technology.
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Foundation

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There's a lot of insight here, but the writing is very didactic, filled with exposition instead of action. Event timing feels convenient and forced while the heroes’ confident are embolden by their seeming knowledge that their beloved author will tip events in their favor—the book is a great example of how close you can get to deus ex machine without technically falling into it. His description of society moving through cycles of religion and trade and helpful, but dry and lack sophistication. His notion of a god-like study of psychohistory is nearly laughable, especially when set aside his critique/portrayal of religion. The characters aren't interesting and show little depth—mostly because they’re simply mouthpieces of the author’s preaching (I suspect if you take the same leap of faith the author does, it's all very rousing). Women are virtually absent or, when they do appear, merely insignificant--which isn't surprising given its Draconian worldview.
Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

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Essentially, semi-Pelagianism on steroids, so if you define the purpose of Gospel as the divine reality meant to convict the church and spur it on to good work through guilt-inducing commands, this is your book. If you, however, believe Gal 5:1, avoid this book.Platt takes his much-needed and refreshing Evangelical social critique and instead of using it to inspire Christians to work for the common good (1 Cor 12:7), he uses it as a truly effective hammer of Law. Guilt reigns as the author details how the American church has lost sight of the Gospel and in some sense become an organization antithetical to the bloody cross. He rightly calls the church back to its roots: radical service to the poor and a mission to all nations. The author, however, seems unable to do so without making readers second-guess own their fruits and validity of their faith claims. Ultimately, without any room for a Christian brotherhood containing any who are broken in ways he is not, Platt fills his book with speculative exegesis that based on assumptions he brings to the table. The book works well for Christians who prioritize Matt 7:16-23 over Eph 2:8-9, giving the Arminian reader many more imperatives for their arsenal, and therefore, an even higher standard to 1) be convicted of, and 2) judge others by. No one in the book hears the plight of the poor and believes they’re truly free to ignore them. Instead, every example contains someone who wrestles with whether to be faithful or disobedient, ultimately motivated not by love but by obligation, obedience, and guilt. Sadly, the book does a disservice to the poor since Platt never calls people to help the poor for the sake of the poor. Rather, Platt's logic usually goes 1. There are many poor with desparate needs.2. Christians are called to help the poor.3. Are you helping the poor?4. Maybe your lack of helping the poor is a sign of your spiritual emptiness.Although I agree with Platt's conclusions, since he always presents service thusly, the reader motivated by his writing is often not motivated out of love but rather out of a sense of duty and a desire for evidence of the Spirit in their life. He always brings in the issue of personal piety to confuse people's motives, undercutting the even more central command to love.Finally, and ironically, his critique of the American Dream is lightweight. Sanitized for the American Christian, Platt never prods deep enough to ask questions that get to the real heart of consumerism, which is sad.
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