May 3, 2016

Book Review: Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders

My Rating:  5 Stars
Goodread's Average Rating:  3.78 Stars

Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders 

Here's how I use the five star rating feature on Goodreads:

1 star = I seriously disliked this book.  I may not have even finished it.

2 stars = Eh. This book left me feeling rather ambivalent and I'm not even sure why I read it.

3 stars = While I may not have liked everything about this book, I still found a good deal of pleasure in reading it.  I might even recommend it to a friend or family member if I think they'd enjoy it.

4 stars = Sure, there may be a few things that I found problematic, but there's so much I loved about this book that it just didn't matter!  It's characters were interesting, the plot was sound, and/or it offered me a welcome escape from reality.  I am already thinking about who else should read this book and how I can convince them of it.  It's also being added to the keeper shelf.

5 stars = I love this book.  It's heading directly to the keeper shelf and likely will not be loaned out because I am a stingy book hoarder. It will also become well-worn from numerous re-reads.

Basically, the stars are reflective of my emotional response to a text. 

Why did Thomas Jeffer's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders get five stars?

This wasn't a fun and easy read.  It offered little in terms of entertainment, although I must admit my interested was piqued during the bits surrounding the Barbary pirates.  That could be a Pavlovian response, though, created by years of romanticizing pirates. Of course, I know the pirates showcased in historical romance novels and on the big screen shared little in common with those that plagued merchant ships during Jefferson's lifetime and Spellberg's work helped me to put aside my romantic notions and focus on some less-than-glamorous facts. Furthermore, she challenged me to press beyond what I assumed I knew about Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries.  She asked me to consider America's founding years in the milieu of world religions and politics that extended beyond our break with Britain.

As someone who appreciates history and what it can teach mankind, I already knew a great deal about the religious persecution our forefathers and -mothers were escaping as they set out to colonize America.  I knew our country was shaped just as much by the desire of its citizenry to follow their own religious leanings as it was to avoid paying an unfair tax and being beholden to a distant king. What I hadn't really stopped to consider until I read Spellberg's work was how the world's religious landscape beyond Christianity influenced some of our most celebrated founders.  I certainly never considered Islam's role.

Spellberg's work has re-framed my understanding of the debate surrounding our country's most influential political documents, namely the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  I better understand the two opposing forces, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, that battled with words and sentiments to create a nation they could envision succeeding in the distant future.  I understand now, in a way that I did not previously fully grasp, how a segment of our founding citizenry feared and reviled Catholics more than they did Jews, Pagans, and Muslims.  (Think about that for minute!  The mind boggles!)  Likewise, I understand the opposition to any type of religious oppression made men like Jefferson put aside their personal prejudices to uphold the notion of complete and total religious autonomy free of any sort of government influence.

I learned.  A lot.  That, in combination with an relatively pleasing writing style, earned this book a five star rating.

But how do I know what I learned isn't more left-leaning propaganda?  

While I have no way of knowing this for sure, I think it's a safe bet that Spellberg put a lot of time and effort into exploring this critical piece of America's founding history.  I say it's a safe bet because Spellberg is quick to provide her source material, of which there is a great deal.  There is a rather extensive index and supplementary note section to be found at the end of the work.  By providing information on how and where this gathered evidence can be found, she invites the reader to explore the evidence themselves and draw their own conclusions.

I must admit I didn't follow the evidence, but some what I read in Spellberg's work I had read elsewhere and knew the National Archives housed some of the very letters and treaties that were discussed.  I also did a quick search for any negative academic reviews. While Goodreads provides me with the opinion of other readers, some of who are very intelligent and amazingly articulate, having been a part of academia for so long I knew the most damning contradictory opinions would be found among her peers.  Other historians, especially those interested in religious studies or early American history, seemed the most logical voices to be raised in protest if she had misrepresented Jefferson or his contemporaries.  I found nothing of note, certainly nothing that undermined her premise or conclusion.

So, yes, I believe her when she suggests that Jefferson did not initiate military involvement with the Barbary states because the pirates were Muslim.  The evidence presented seems to support her contention that Jefferson engaged the pirates because they were interfering with America's economy. If the merchants fell prey to the pirates, trade was interrupted.  If ransoms were paid for captured sailors or if America agreed to pay for protection from the rulers of the African countries involved, money was still being hemorrhaged by a fledgling country that could little afford the financial hit. Military action seemed the most logical way to protect America's economic interest.

Further, I also believe that Jefferson was a critical voice in the fight for freedom of religion and that he meant to be wholly inclusive of all religions.

I've highlighted so many passages in this book, I fear I will never be able to find the exact quote I am looking for when and if I ever feel the need to do so.

March 22, 2016

What Happens in Vegas...Ends Up in My Camera Roll

The last time Ken and I went with another group of people to Vegas it was back in 2005.  We arrived that year on Ken's birthday, which means he did considerable liver damage that day as everyone kept buying him drinks.  It all started with a champagne tower as soon as the plane touched down.

That was a great trip.  We had so much fun and made memories that will last a lifetime.  We saw a pair of amazing Prince impersonators.  We found out taking the cheapest of the public transportation options could result in being stranded on a bus that had the unfortunate luck to be the victim of beer bottle projectiles; luckily, we had our very own medical professional who professed that someone in our group was having a medical emergency and needed to be let off the bus immediately.  We learned that Terrible's (or was it Horrible's) was not as close as the map made it appear - we should have worn hiking boots for that little excursion!  

Yes, it was fun.  There are so many memories from that trip, memories I treasure not only for their hilarity, but because someone very special had not yet left this earthly plane for a more spiritual existence. 

Having come to terms, as much as anyone really can, with the fact that life is too short and oh, so very fragile, I'm so grateful to have a husband who is eager to create new memories with the friends and family we love so much.  Although, I have to say, I'm just as grateful for the memories we create with just each other.

Most recently, we just spent a week in Las Vegas with a bunch of Ken's high school friends.  I'm not 100% positive that I was the only non-Mayville person in attendance, but if I wasn't, I was certainly in the minority.

Let's see...

My hubby, Laura, Ken B., and Gina were not only from the same school, they were in the same grade.  Jeff, Laura's husband, was a few years older, as was Laura's sister, Chris.  Chris's husband, Mark, is really the only one I'm not certain was a Mayville original.  Like me, he may have married into the community.  (Now I'm going to have to ask...not knowing will bother me to no end!)

I have to say that for being an "outsider", I certainly never felt like one.  This is probably due to the fact that while they may have been Ken's friends first, I've known these people for a long time and consider them just as much my friends as they are his.  

The time we spent together went by much too fast.  This was probably due to jet lag and shenanigans. I took a bunch of pictures but some of them I just can't bring myself to share, not even here on the blog that gets hardly any traffic.  

Those seemed safe enough to share.  I spared you the bared asses, banana hammocks, and barely-there nip covers.  You're welcome.

Now I just wish I could go back in time and tell my inebriated self to avoid the more disturbing brands of crazy populating Freemont Street.  I should have stuck to my geeky kind of fun instead.

Of course, I can't close this post without mentioning the motivating force behind this trip.  In the very early planning stages this wasn't just an excuse to get together and drink too much while losing heavily at the slot machines and tables.  Laura proposed the trip as part of her and Jeff's 25th wedding anniversary celebration.  Early on there was talk about renewing vows.  In the end, Jeff bought her a new ring and did a little proposal on the waters inside the Venetian.

How sweet was that! 

February 18, 2016

A Brief Book Review

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent start

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. I think Atwood is a genius storyteller who is able to take modern concerns and see them through to their darkest ends. The world of Snowman (Jimmy), Oryx, and Crake is frightening and fascinating, a place of marvels and unimaginable horrors.

View all my reviews

February 17, 2016

Too Many Reading Commitments?

Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love books.  I am never without one.  At home, I have shelves of to-be-read titles.  On my Kindle I have an ever-growing multitude - so many freebies! With the Kindle Cloud Reader, I can access my e-books from my phone or iPad, which are always within arms reach.

To say I read a lot is not an exaggeration.  If I had to provide a very unscientific average of the number of books I read in a year, I'd say it's somewhere around 50.  That's something like four books a month.  And that's in a slow year.  There have been years when I've read closer to 75 books.  

Imagine how many books would be read if I'd give up television!

Last night, for example, I might have caught up to my co-readers of the MaddAddam trilogy if I hadn't decided to watch the X-Files and then Castle with the family.  My decision to veg on the couch for those two hours seriously cut into my reading, which left me conflicted because Oryx and Crake, the first book in the trilogy, is simply fabulous.  I really wanted to keep reading! 

If this was the only book I had committed to read this month, I would still be feeling pretty confident about catching up in a timely manner.  Unfortunately, I think I may be pushing even my reading limits this dreary February. 

I'm committed to reading four books this month, three of which are book club choices. 

The first, as I've mentioned, is Oryx and Crake.

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)

I'm reading this book with my friends and co-workers, Katie and Emily.  This isn't really a book club in the official sense of the word, it's more of a co-reading experience.  When I saw Katie add this to her Goodreads "currently reading" shelf, I got overly excited and decided I wanted to read it with her. When I told her I already owned the book but had yet to read it, she mentioned that Emily was also picking it up.  Just like that, we had a book in common that we could discuss and analyze.

I'm delighted that it's as wonderful as I had hoped it would be.  At least, it is so far.  Fully informed opinion yet to come as there's still a lot of reading to do!

The second book I've committed myself to reading this month is a Penguin First to Read title.  As a participant in this program, I get early access to read books that are scheduled to be released in the near future.  I believe this one will hit bookshelves on April 5, 2016.   


The next book I am supposed to finish before March 1st is for my hometown book club.  Last month I got to pick the Paper Magician.  This month, Amanda, our founder's twin sister, selected this little gem.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

I was so excited to see this book selected for our February read.  I am hoping to go pick it up today at the university library; I'm fairly confident I've seen it on the shelves.  Malala's memoir is something I've considered reading a few times.

And that brings me to the last book I'm supposed to read this month. I promised myself that this year I would really make an effort to read more Kindle freebies.  After all, if I'm going to overwhelm my Kindle Cloud Reader with these titles, I should read at least some of the books that have caught my eye over the years.  That I'm doing so with two of my favorite people is just an added bonus.  Or maybe the book is the bonus because the excuse to meet up and talk books with my baby sister, Chrissy, and her mom (my former step-mom) is really the thing that gets me excited to read these freebies.

Last month we read Nefertiti's Heart.  This month we're supposed to read this eye-catching werewolf story.  Given the cover, I'm assuming it's a paranormal romance.

By the Light of the Moon (Rise of the Arkansas Werewolves, #1)

So there are the four books I'm supposed to read before month's end.  The problem is that I know Oryx and Crake is the first in a trilogy that I am going to want to immediately finish.  This could make fitting in the other three books very difficult.

Wish me luck!