Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reflections: Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture

One of my favorite quotes regarding culture comes from an ecclesiastical leader named David R. Stone.  He said:

"Our culture tends to determine what foods we like, how we dress, what constitutes polite behavior, what sports we should follow, what our taste in music should be, the importance of education, and our attitudes toward honesty. It also influences men as to the importance of recreation or religion, influences women about the priority of career or childbearing, and has a powerful effect on how we approach procreation and moral issues. All too often, we are like puppets on a string, as our culture determines what is 'cool.'"

I am fascinated by culture, the own I am a part of and the various ones around the world and throughout history.  Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches by Marvin Harris is a book written just for me.  All of the books I have read that have dealt with culture in one way or another, whether that be The Hero with a Thousand Faces or People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, has had enough interesting things to say that I felt they were worth reading, even if I didn't agree with some portions of them.  Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches falls in that same category--interesting, thoughtful, sometimes right, and sometimes wrong, in my opinion.

 Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches selectively explains, but the author purposefully mentions his intent is not to explain everything, a few cultural attributes that existed in the world at different periods of time and attempts to give a reasonable and rational reason for their being a part of the culture.  Harris does this with a fine academic mind and from a secular perspective.  More often than thought, I was able to follow the author's reasoning and understand, at least, the conclusions he came to and how he got there.  At other times, such as his explanation of the true character and history of Jesus Christ, left me scratching my head.  I have read the New Testament four times, and I was highly skeptical of some of Harris's interpretations and conjectures.  There is plenty here to discuss and debate.

The book ends with a commentary on the culture of Harris's time, which was several decades ago, that took some of the momentum away from the book since it was so topical for the time it was written but no so much today.  I enjoyed Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches because it gave me plenty to think about.  It also proved to me, once again, how much we don't know as opposed to how much we do.  Culture is deviously complicated, but Marvin Harris's attempt to explain it is interesting enough to be read.

Other Topics of Interest:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Reflections: The Rising Tide

Jeff Shaara can write; I know he can.  Gods and Generals was a great book.  I also know now that he can' write, not very well at least.  The Rising Tide, the first in a series of historical novels set during World War 2, is so bland and uninteresting it's not worth reading.

There's a part of me that believes this book was written by a ghost-writer and the publisher simply slapped Jeff Shaara's name on it.  Shaara is an important name in the historical novel genre because Michael Shaara, Jeff's father, won a Pulitzer Prize for The Killer AngelsThe Rising Tide feels so disinctly different from Gods and Generals it's hard to believe they were written by the same person.  (I've had similar feelings when reading some of Leon Uris's books). 

The Rising Tide's narrative structure is an absolute mess.  Shaara introduces us to some historical characters, allows the reader to begin to understand them, and then never returns to them throughout the duration of the book.  The dialogue between the characters feels the same on every page.  There is nothing terribly creative about Shaara's insight into any of the several fascinating historical personalities that were key players during this instrumental and pivotal time.  It's wasted material.  I often thought about the excellent film Patton and how much I wished this book could have been more like it.  But it's just not. 

The Rising Tide is not worth reading.  There are plenty more historical novels to enjoy.  Although Jeff Shaara has written at least one good book, Gods and Generals, The Rising Tide was so poor, in my opinion, I don't have much reason to ever go back to his other works. 

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Gods and Generals
Writing History I can't Forget: Leon Uris

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Play of the Month: March

Thousanders have voted and Othello will be the Play of the Month for March.  William Shakespeare wrote Othello circa 1603.  Due to its themes of love, jealously, racism, and betrayal, Othello continues to be performed in community and professional theaters.  There have been several film adaptations of Othello, the most recent being 2001 called simply "O".

“How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees."

“This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven."

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Play of the Month: March

Seeing as how we have the Ides of March this month, I thought it would be fun to read a play by everyone's favorite playwright, William Shakespeare.  Make your selection below.  Voting will only take place today.

"If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"-The Merchant of Venice

"It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock"-Othello

 "Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps."-Much Ado About Nothing

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reflections: Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys

I'm a Latter-day Saint, and I come from a certain culture.  I was married at 22 and now at 28 I have three daughters.  There are certain cultural and sub-cultural attributes found within the American experience that I simply do not understand.  Reading Manning Up was an eye-opening, enlightening, and, at times, disturbing glimpse into a culture that I have never belonged to and am glad I never did.

I heard about Kay Hymowitz's book while listening to the October 2012 General Conference—oddly enough, a Latter-day Saint semi-annual gathering.  Elder D. Todd Christofferson quoted the book several times, which I found terribly intriguing since Apostles of the LDS Church choose their sources and quotations very, very carefully during something as public as General Conference.  The title and especially the subtitle of the book—How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys—captured my attention, and I decided to give the book a go.

Manning Up's subtitle—How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys—doesn't, of course, do the book's nuances justice, and might have been a little too polemical just to get attention.  Hymowitz does address in detail how women's changing role(s) in society has affected men within that same society, but there are a lot of details and variables involved in any cultural change, especially in one as consequential as this one.  The author's arguments, theories, and suggestions in the book should not be ignored.  There is very valuable commentary to be found here, and I feel even more interested in this important topic now that I've read Manning Up.  Regardless of whether or not you agree with Hymowitz in her central thesis, Manning Up does provide an insight into the preadult culture that is both educational and shocking (at least for me).  Society has changed, and Manning Up delineates a few of the ways in which it has.

I would recommend Manning Up.  (To a certain extent, I think the book was tacitly recommended by someone far more influential than me).  Regardless of your ideological and sociological viewpoints, you will find a lot to hate or a lot to love in Manning Up.  I was more on the love side of things, but I understand how difficult it is to truly define culture and explain its many variables.  For what it's worth, Manning Up is a valuable contribution to the discussion.

Other Topics of Interest:
A World Without Heroes: The Modern Tragedy
People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture