Banned Books Week

As I start a new month of reading, I came across this list of most frequently banned books in the news. It amazes me that a good number of them were required reading when I was in High School! A few others have been made into blockbuster films Many of the choices, while yes they should definitely have an age restriction, I don’t think should be banned.

At least Fahrenheit 451 isn’t on the list, that would be the irony of ironies.

Part of me almost wants to focus on reading all the ones I haven’t this month. But alas, it is time for my favorite subject – Travel, History and Food! However, I thought as a good segue from my religious readings to my history readings, I will start with The Book Thief – another book a little bit about banned books.

Posted in Reading, World Religions

September Reading: Religion

*Disclaimers*: (1)If you just want the reading list, please scroll to the bottom now. (2)All ideas presented below represent my own interpretations and a respectful inquisitiveness regarding various texts and histories. I fully support everyone’s freedom to believe as they wish (so long as it doesn’t directly inflict pain or death on others).

Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, openness – an act of trust in the unknown.

– Alan Wilson Watts, The Book: on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

This month’s reading was hard – I ended up only finishing three books, and am currently half way through two others which I will try to finish in the next couple days (fat chance, but hey).

There is a plethora of both fiction and non-fiction books on religion (and other such books that fall into either category, depending on your point of view). To be fair, who is to judge that the Bible is non-fiction but a book of Greek mythology is fiction? I think all religion should be one or the other, though I would probably classify it more like “magical realism”.

Many common themes came up across all of my readings both in books of scripture, and books about scriptures, and the history of religion.

The first, and most obvious, theme is how Islam and Christianity both sprang from Judaism. This is not so unbelievable given that the Jewish Torah is the first part of the Bible, and the beginning of the Quran also recounts the same stories of Adam and Eve and of Moses. The Quran then goes on to say that Christian, Jewish, or otherwise, will go to their heaven if they are faithful ̶ if only more people quoted this verse instead of all the ones about prejudice and violence. (Another common theme is that God/Yahweh/Allah seems to get more violent and less accepting as the scriptures go on…)

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.

Quran 2:62

The second idea is that spoken scripture has a different effect than written. Some would even say more powerful. This is a traditional still found in Hindu Vedic chants, prayers in both Judaism and Islam, and, to a lesser extent, Christian prayers and hymns. The Lost Art of Scripture, Evolution of God, and A History of God mention Hindu vedas being chanted because spoken word is more powerful than written (also Jewish and Muslim prayer chants) – I wonder if this is why we seek news and entertainment nowadays in the form of videos and podcasts over reading print?

It is form this idea that the third idea springs – Scripture is a living thing, and it was never meant to be the final word.

Today we tend to regard a scriptural canon as irrevocably closed and its texts sacrosanct, but we shall find that in all cultures, scripture was essentially a work in progress, constantly changing to meet new conditions. […] But we will see that scriptural narratives never claimed to be accurate descriptions of the creation of the world or the evolution of species. […] Instead of attempting a factual account of the past, “history” described the meaning of an event.

Karen Armstrong – The Lost Art of Scripture

I’m glad that scripture is not meant to be wholly accurate, because there is a whole lot of deception, bloodshed and violent sexuality in the scriptures! The fourth overarching theme is what I call the naughtiness of mankind. Abraham seems to have been the first pimp ̶ he not once but twice gives his wife away (as his “sister”), only to later receive riches from the ones which almost took her. His son, Isaac then does the same. Jacob (Israel) deceived his father and tricked his brother Esau (father of the Edomites, modern-day Jordan) and was rewarded by becoming father of the chosen people. Which could imply that the on-going conflicts between Israel and Jordan is essentially the worlds oldest sibling rivalry (I’m not saying this is true, just how I interpreted the story!) Does God really reward so much deceit? And, did God/Yahweh/Allah really tell his people to slaughter all the other peoples? Or did the men writing the story add that later to use that as their justification? Scripture may be the “word of God”, but it is still written by man (and with all his human prejudices). Again, another age-long debate between the believers and their critics.

13Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you. … 15And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

Genesis 12: 13-16, Bible (NIV)

The fifth and final theme is the idea of God within us or that we are God (as is everything else in the Universe).

This will be an important theme in the story of scripture: Yahweh was not simply experienced as a “Being” external to the self; he was, rather, an omnipresent reality, immanent in the human psyche as well as in the natural world and historical events.

Karen Armstrong – The Lost Art of Scripture

“Every individual is a unique manifestation of the Whole, as every branch is a particular outreaching of the tree.”

– Alan Wilson Watts, The Book: on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

Coupled with this is the idea of religion being the bridge between creativity and logic. The Lost Art of Scripture and The Book both also discuss the idea that religion is a way to bridge right and lef-brain activities. (Similar with this TED Talk, which also compares religion to sex – and there is indeed a lot of sex in the scriptures!).

The two hemispheres of the frontal brain work in tandem. The Brahmanas’ ritual science, which explained, systematised and analysed the right hemisphere’s intuitive grasp of the inter-relatedness of all things, was a left-brain project. But the drama and sensory experience of the ritual, … returned this analytical account of the bandhus to the right brain, so that the patron experienced these “connections” physically and emotionally.

Karen Armstrong – The Lost Art of Scripture

Educated and A Burning both examples of extremism in different religions and also how ones choices affect the lives of others. Definitely two great reads for a different perspective.

Got Religion? focuses on problems facing actual organized religions these days – and the ultimate trouble facing Millennials on a whole – the paradox of choice. Too many choices of religion, and too many choices of religious institutions.

It has become cliché to point out that the array of choices we have today often leaves us more unhappy than a limited spectrum might have. […] Books on the millennial generation tend to go on at length about the so-called paradox of choice and the related phenomenon of decision fatigue. […] “The god of open options is also a liar. He promises you that by keeping your options open, you can have everything and everyone. But in the end, you get nothing and no one.”

Naomi Schaefer Riley, Got Religion?: How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back

This may be the longest post I’ve ever written, and kudos to you if you read all the way through, but I feel I’ve only just touched the surface. One could write a thesis on these things; and in fact, in high school, I kind of did.

Religion is not something you can finish in a month, but something you study for a lifetime. In fact, any subject is. I’m starting to realize that there will never really be an “end” to such a project as this, but rather a means to develop good habits of lifelong learning.

Finally, I leave you with some Recommended Reading for your Religious Studies (just a small sample, feel free to add more on Mythology, Eastern Religions, Comparative Religions or anything else you find interesting!) Also, I recommend downloading the Quran and Torah / Bible as a handy app – the you can bookmark verses and get daily recommended verses.

Another Language Challenge

I’ve been participating in a new language challenge this month (as you may recall, I was participating in the 30 Day Speaking Challenge back in July). This challenge is focused more on writing, and really just interacting with the language everyday. It is the Language Diary Challenge.

In it, I write my thoughts about languages and language learning and just life in general. I’ve been writing my entries on my old personal blog, and you can find them here 🙂

September Update: Religious Studies

As you may recall, this month reading has been focused on religion. I have been trying to read a variety of fiction and non-fiction from various religious backgrounds, as well as some scripture — though I realize it was silly to attempt to try and read the entire Torah and Qur’an in one month! Still, I will read as much as I can. I also realize that reading scriptures is a bit like playing “telephone” with them – they were translated from their original languages into Ancient Greek or Latin, and then into languages like French or Anglo-Saxon, and then eventually into English. Even in modern translations, there are vast differences. Therefore, I am forced to build my interpretations on the basis of someone else’s possible bias in interpretation. Still, I think there is some merit in learning what you can. For instance, the Qur’an lists extensive details for widows and divorcés to remarry, but it is interesting to me that it acknowledges divorce at all! I consider this very forward thinking of it.

I previously mentioned the podcast Pindrop by TED as a method of travelling virtually with a cause. The last episode of this season, “Rewriting the Script(ure)”, discusses how a town play born of a pandemic in a small German town, under a new director, combats centuries of antisemitism, to bring people of many faiths together into the story of Jesus.

My other endeavours this month, courses and languages, have continued on without much intersection into my religious reading (there’s not much philosophical guidance from Data Analytics, though I suppose, at it’s core, it too is a basis for decision-making…).

Ever Changing Politics…

Why memorize world leaders when they are always changing?

Task Number 2 of the original Alternative Graduate Program was to memorize every country, its capital and its leader. Country names and capitals are mostly pretty stable these days, but world leaders will forever be changing, so what use is it to memorize? Most political articles will tell you somewhere who they are talking about.

Fewer political leaders, it would seem, are more internationally debated than that of the United States of America. Whether for better or worse. This article in today’s edition of GZERO (the politics newsletter I follow) discusses how much, or how little, other nations are watching the upcoming US elections, which goes to show that we are never as independent as we think.

I like Mexico’s quote the best.

Kanban / Multitasking

Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. Contrary to what we usually think, the researchers discovered that people that are bombarded with information can’t pay attention, recall information, or even switch from one task to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

This came via my online class on remote working an collaboration (a new workplace skill becoming so much more necessary).

My mom will do things like read a book, while watching TV and exercising her arms from her chair. I cannot do this. I cannot focus on what I am reading and what is on the TV show. If people start talking to me while reading I will have o re-read the page five times to process it.

At work, I often struggle when many new tasks appear in my inbox while I am trying to complete one task. So many employers require “multi-tasking” as a soft skill, but this Kanban method offers an alternative – focusing on one small part at a time. I like this method, I should seek a job that uses it.

Now I wonder what would they say about trying to learn four languages at once (I can see how this is working a bit detrimentally…)

Posted in Grammar, Reading

August Reading: English and Language Arts

Earlier this month, I decided to focus on different topics in my reading and other endeavors each month. August became the Language Arts month, in which I read, among others, two of the required course books, studied Linguistics online, and also began learning Greek.

It is interesting to have everything come together. Both my Applied Linguistics and TESOL classes touched upon the myriad of inconsistencies in the English language, while in The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson attempted to explain why and how those inconsistencies got there. Bryson also touches upon how unregulated English is­­­­—a point covered more thoroughly in Dreyer’s English—compared to, say, the heavily regulated French language (a fact that was also discussed in a few of my French lessons). Both The Mother Tongue and Lingo note that Lithuanian is the closest living relative to the original Proto-Indo-European language, from whence the majority of Western languages developed. Icelandic, however, is one of the least changed languages.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, explains the actual process of writing, while Writers and Lovers explores, in a story, how writing affects the overall life of the writer. Both provide excellent advice not just for writing, but for life. Namely: follow your dreams, don’t give up, take everything little by little, and have good friends.

I always learned that if a piece of information appearing in three or more resources is general knowledge, or at least it carries more clout. So indeed reading the same tidbits over and over has ingrained them in my memory for at least the near future!

List of August Books on English, Grammar, Writing and Languages

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  • Writers & Lovers, the only fiction on this month’s list, is an addictive novel that basically says you can make it as writer if you just stick with it, just like anything in life and love.

  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is well, just that. It was required reading in the original Alternative Graduate Program. In it Lamott explains what it takes to be a writer, based on her years of experience. In the book, she also provides handy tips that can be applied to other tasks in your life as well, including the namesake tip to take any task “bird by bird”.
  • Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style is the grammar book you wished your teacher used in school! Written by and from the viewpoint of a copy editor. It is written very humorously and matter-of-fact, with a slight obsession for footnotes (so be prepared to do a lot of flipping back and forth!) The book includes excellent and comprehensive practical grammar and writing tips, so I decided to add as required reading to the program (in place of the Grammar Girl podcast). The book also taught me that I use a lot more British spellings than I thought, and despite Dreyer’s claim that “No American can get away with calling a z a “zed”, I can.
  • The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way is mostly a history of the English language, brought to you by the man who also wrote a history of nearly everything else. The book is interesting but can get a bit dry, particularly the second half of most chapters. As a learner of Dutch, I found the similarities to Anglo-Saxon and Old English interesting. The most entertaining chapters cover the differences between British and American English and, of course, swearing. Bryson’s discussion on the future of English as an international language (a topic also covered in my Applied Linguistics course) is also interesting, though a bit outdated given that the book was published 30 years ago!
  • Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages sounds like my kind of book! Unfortunately, I was only able to finish about twenty percent of it before the month ended. What I do like though is how the chapters are short and each one describes a language like a member of a family (which I suppose they are). It also includes, at the end of each chapter, a note on which words were most shared from that language to English or other major languages, and one really cool and useful word from that language. I do intend to revisit and finish this book eventually.
  • Words on the Move: Why English Won’t – and Can’t – Sit Still (Like, Literally) is another book I ran out of time to finish. But like the other books in this list, it takes a very humorous approach to the English language, its history, and its future. I only read the first couple of chapters, but it mentions twice in the first three pages the use of “literally”—is it incorrectness or evolution? I say it’s just plain annoying.


I hope you enjoyed August’s English lesson!
September will cover major world religions and religious texts.