07 July 2007

Four Books

Lots of books lately (much time on planes == many books read). In order from worst to best...

The bad: "Death of a Salaryman" by Fiona Campbell.
I guess I should have been suspicious of a book concerning Japan written by someone with an Irish name, but I was in an airport bookstore so... As a premise, it's intriguing: a salaryman is fired from what he thought was his job-for-life, and goes through various complication before reinventing himself. In practice, it's just not well-written. The protagonist isn't a protagonist: throughout the book, it's luck and the competence of others that saves him, not his own actions; and I still don't know who he is to any detail. It also feels way too much like the author, with a few trips to Japan, connecting all of the things she happened to do while here into a (none too coherent) plot.

The pretty good: "The Assault on Reason" by Al Gore
Unsurprisingly, I'm pretty lined with Al Gore's view of the world (can you imagine what a better place the world would be if a few thousand more people in Florida had voted for Al Gore in 2000?), but I can't say this is a great book. While I strongly agree with his premise that the reason and bipartianship are draining out of politics, this book is more aptly titled "The Assault on Bush" or more accurately, "The Assault on the Bush Administration's Attempts to Make America an Authoritarian Government." I totally agree! But I fear this book is more about exhorting the faithful than making any new converts.

The good: "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
Whereas in Gore's book I completely agree with his conclusion but didn't get a lot out of the ride, this book is more-or-less the opposite: while I don't favor the total abandonment of traditional religion Dawkins is advocating, I appreciate every bit of the thought and intellect that went into the argument. If you have ever had moments of doubt about religion, this book will magnify them, and on the basis of good arguments to boot.

Mild Spoilers:
However, Dawkins misses for me on two fundamental points. One is that he cannot, as the enlightment philosophers could not, prove the non-existence of God. He freely owns up to this, but tries to show why God is unlikely instead, which I don't think will really be a rallying point. However, I'll concede that Dawkins doesn't necessarily expect the book to convert the faithful. A more puzzling question to me concerns his argument that we should remove religious matters from what he calls the 'sanctity of religion': the idea that we must respect another's religious beliefs, whether we personally follow that religion or not. Dawkins never treats in the book the clear reason for sanctity of religion: having everyone observe that rule enables people of multiple religions to form a civil society. It's not just that he argues against this (he would probably be able to talk about it quite clearly), it's that he omit the question entirely.

And finally, the good but shallow: "In the Miso Soup" by Ryu Murakami
This is a thin, non-philosophical bit of adventure/thriller writing that follows a young marginally-employed Japanese man who works as a guide to Tokyo's water trade, and his increasingly worrisome American client. I won't say it's great literature, but it's fun to read! (and definitely written by someone who's spent more time in Tokyo than Ms. Campbell).

No comments: