Mainspring

I’ve been reading again, and I have some catching up to do with titles I’ve already finished.

First up: Mainspring by Jay Lake. This is in a strange, small category. It’s kind of Steampunk, but it’s also theology or fantasy. The closest thing to it I’ve read before are J. Gregory Keyes’s alchemical Ben Franklin and Newton books (which I read back in 2001).

In Mainspring, the protagonist is visited by an angel and sent on a quest to rewind the clockwork mainspring of the earth. I enjoyed it. Some interesting twists. I look forward to reading more of him. (Ooh—it looks like there may be a sequel.)

Survey of new food criticism

The Columbia Journalism review has an article about recent books that look at modern food production:

Organic food presently accounts for only 2.5 percent of all food sold in the United States–and that counts all the “industrial organic” food Pollan scorns. Are, then, these debates about the ethics and politics of food largely a pastime of a tiny elite–grist for editors’ dinner parties but of tiny relevance to most consumers, who rush to the nearest market and grab what they need?

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

The Children of Húrin

J.R.R. Tolkien, decades after his death, has published a new book, The Children of Húrin. If you’re a fan of The Silmarillion and the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, as I am, then you will love this book. If The Hobbit is your favorite Tolkien work, then this may not be so much to your taste.

The Children of Húrin is tragedy on a grand scale. Think Greek tragedy. Christopher Tolkien has done a masterful job of cadging together the various unfinished parts of his father’s writing into a coherent, complete narrative.

Steampunk

Because of my Second Life, I decided to dip into steampunk (a subdivision of science fiction). So over the weekend I finished a novel, something I haven’t done in quite some time. It’s been interesting to note that I just haven’t been interested in reading for a good six to eight months.

The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter was recommended to me as a good example of steampunk. It continues the story of the inventor told by H.G. Wells in The Time Machine. I’m almost too embarrassed to admit that I enjoyed it so much more than the Wells.

And this morning I found R2-S2 (R2 Steam Too) via Brass Goggles.

Zen Master Who?

James Ishmael Ford’s Zen Master Who? is a quick run through the major schools of Zen represented in the United States. (There’s a lot of territory to cover, so it has to be at running speed.)

Starting with an outline of the origins of Buddhism, Ford moves on to some of the notable characters in the development of Zen–and they are characters, in the senses of both their semi-historical status and their quirky individuality. He is careful and comprehensive in describing the predominantly Japanese founders of contemporary, Western Zen, some of whom originally came to the United States to serve Asian communities.

I learned more about those early Zen masters in America that I already knew of, and also learned of a few more. But the most interesting parts of the book were where Ford gives short biographies of major contemporary Zen masters, describing how they came to Buddhism and who they studied with, placing them in the context of their Buddhist lineages; and where Ford considers the current state and direction of liberal, Western Zen.

One thing I was hoping for, which was not a focus of the book, was a deeper explanation of the titles and names used in Buddhism. The book has a glossary, and Ford does acknowledge the titling and naming conventions, but he doesn’t really explain them–and he certainly doesn’t break down names of individuals to clear up which words are titles, which are birth names, and which are names given during Buddhist transitions. (I kept imagining a book titled Queen Who?, which might detail the origins of the British monarchy, describe major monarchs, and briefly outline the genealogy of the current and recent generations, but fail to help the reader understand why Princess Michael of Kent is called Princess Michael of Kent.)

My only other complaint is poor editing. The book uses stock phrases (i.e., “(about whom, more below)”) to excess, and there are a few places where better copyediting was called for.