Book notes

Notes on some recent reading:

  • It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I’m still reading J.D.G. Dunn’s excellent book Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans, 2003), a long book I started during the summer. It’s become one of those books I read between tasks at work and think about when I’m not reading it. Dunn argues that a historian cannot get back to what Jesus actually said and did, but the historian can notice what impact Jesus had on his first followers. Dunn falls into the something-must-have-happened school of thought: Something must have happened in the real world to leave Jesus’ followers believing he was a healer. Something must have happened  to convince Jesus’ followers that he rose from the dead, and so on. I suspect Dunn believes a lot more than he thinks he can prove historically.
  • A while back I read “The Summer Isles,” an alternate-history novella by Ian McLeod (Asimov’s 22/10, Oct/Nov 1998).  In this world the Allies lose World War I, and a kind of fascism arises in Britain by the 1940s.  The story’s narrator knows a secret about the dictatorial Prime Minister and decides to assassinate him.  The writer evokes a dark, depressing world in which totalitarian rule seems inevitable.
  • I probably never would have read Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Pantheon, 2010), if a friend hadn’t given it to me–thanks, Brian!  The book operates at two levels.  Yes, it’s science fiction: the narrator is a time machine repairman who gets stuck in a time loop along with his imaginary dog and the operating system of his time machine, who loves him.  But the writer also uses science fiction as a metaphor for life in all its absurdity/ surreality.  I don’t normally enjoy meditations on the meaning of life, but Yu’s engaging style kept me right with him.
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