Friday, February 28, 2014

Best Books of February

Here are the best books that I read this month. The summaries come from Goodreads; the reviews are mine.



Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy – Jon R. Stone (editor)

The expectation of an end to time and the yearning for a millennial paradise have been recurring themes in Western religious thought. But when we speak of "expectation" of the world's end we are mindful of the fact that generation after generation of millenarians have been disappointed. Their endtime hopes and prophecies have not come true. What happens, one might ask, when prophecies fail? Does failure spell the end of the very movements that embrace such expectations?

The aim of this anthology is to gather together in one volume the essential research from the fields of sociology and psychology that seeks to answer this intriguing question as first raised by Festinger in his 1956 work, "When Prophecy Fails." Cross-cultural and comparative, this collection chronicles forty years of research into failed prophecy and response to the attending cognitive dissonance it produces that is at once timely and informative.

Review: I loved Festinger's When Prophecy Fails, but I was skeptical of his hypothesis that groups respond to the cognitive dissonance caused by a disconfirmed prophecy by increasing proselytizing activity. Based on my own reading, increased proselytizing after a disconfirmed prophecy is fairly unusual. This book examines the other ways that groups respond to disconfirmed prophecy. The essays in this book are a lot dryer and more scientific-sounding than most of the Festinger book, but if you found that book interesting, you might like this one.



Close Range: Wyoming Stories – Annie Proulx

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling author of The Shipping News and Accordion Crimes comes one of the most celebrated short-story collections of our time.
Annie Proulx's masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in these breathtaking tales of loneliness, quick violence, and the wrong kinds of love. Each of the stunning portraits in Close Range reveals characters fiercely wrought with precision and grace.
These are stories of desperation and unlikely elation, set in a landscape both stark and magnificent -- by an author writing at the peak of her craft.

Review: These stories are realistic, gritty, beautiful, and amazing. Having grown up in Colorado, I was familiar with the setting of this book, but I've never seen it described this well. Annie Proulx has a gift for using language precisely. I can see why she has won so many literary prizes.

All of these stories are about tough Wyoming ranchers. None of the characters are likable, but most of them are fascinating because of their flaws. The most well-known stories in the collection are "The Half-Skinned Steer," which was featured in the anthology Best American Short Stories of the Century, and "Brokeback Mountain," which became a movie.

"Brokeback Mountain" is the strongest story in the collection. I also liked "The Mud Below" because it seemed more straightforward and less sparsely-written than the other stories. I liked the humor in "The Blood Bay." I had a hard time picking favorite stories because I liked them all. This is one of the best short story collections I've read in a long time.



Divergent – Veronica Roth

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Review: This book was entertaining. I stayed up way too late over the last few nights to read it. It's quickly paced with a ton of action, and I was pulled into the plot right away.

While I liked the action, the majority of the book was action and not much else. The characters spent most of the story training for battle, and then they got to put their skills to the test at the end of the book. The pulse-pounding action scenes will keep you reading, but the number of action scenes doesn't leave much room for character development. You can only learn so much about the characters by watching them fight. It took me a really long time to get a sense of Tris's personality. Four is an intriguing character and has a lot of potential, but I don't feel like I know enough about him to care about his relationship with Tris. Most of the other characters seemed like cardboard cutouts who were created just to die. I didn't feel anything for them when they died because I didn't feel like I knew them.

There are similarities between this book and The Hunger Games, especially in the beginning. I didn't like this book as much as I liked The Hunger Games, but I'm still looking forward to reading the next one. I have to know what happens.


All The Things = 16 books with many more on the way.
I’m currently reading Insurgent by Veronica Roth.

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