Sunday 7 September 2008

Strange bedfellows

Here's another double book post for yer - I'm trying to catch up on my posting so my reviews of these 2 books, as unlikely a pair as you can imagine, must go together. Also, this post will be very short. I'm knackered and this rainy weather is making me want to curl up for a 7-hour nap.

The Enlightened Mind: An Anthology of Sacred Prose ed. by Stephen Mitchell. I've been reading this book almost forever (i.e., since the very beginning of Blog Year 2, a.k.a and henceforth to be referred to as 2 B.Y.) and was beginning to wonder if I'd ever finish it. It's not exactly bus reading.

As an anthology of selected passages, The Enlightened Mind is good insofar as it gives (I think) a fair and generally compelling overview of sacred writings from the 8th c. BCE to the 20th c., and from across a wide variety of cultures. It was kind of like taking a first-year university introduction to world religions without ever going to class.

The disadvantage of not going to class is, of course, that you don't get any contextual information surrounding the texts and this anthology didn't really attempt to fill in those gaps. In fact, I found the lack of information (there was one paragraph per author, at the back of the book) providing significant context a bit irritating at points, but that irritation was in no way overwhelming.

Many of the texts and authors Mitchell chose just didn't grab me but a number did, especially The Upanishads, Dogen, Rumi, Michel de Montaigne, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Traherne, and Shmelke of Nikolsburg.

And as I already have the complete Essais of Montaigne (courtesy of my bro), I think that's where I'll next pick up my Mitchell-inspired reading (one of these days - I'm beginning to see that making public pronouncements about what I'll read next seems to ensure that I'll read something else next).

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. I chose Un Lun Dun to serve as a pick-me-up/damned relief read after Swift's The Light of Day, and it definitely fulfilled its intended purpose.

Un Lun Dun (recommended by A.C. - thanks, sir!) is some sweet YA fantasy fiction in which, as is often the case with YA fantasy, the fate of the world (or in this case, UnLondon and its much less fascinating mirror image, London) is in the hands of an adolescent. As is the case with such tales, in no way mentally deficient adults place their entire trust in a child and then do whatever they're told.

Described this way, YA fantasy sounds very silly, but with good YA fantasy (and Mieville's novel certainly must be included in this category), the story is really about the fantasy world in which everything takes place and the details of the plot itself, rather than the main character.

Indeed, in my experience with this stuff, the supporting characters tend to be much more interesting than the central/saviour one and make the ridiculousness of the premise fade a bit into the neat twists and turns of the plot. And hey, it's fantasy, so who cares? - reality's not the name of the game anyway. Mmmmm, unreality.

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