Monday, August 31, 2009

Don't Strain Your Brain

I judge whether I've had a relaxing holiday by the amount of reading I've done. If it all happens on the plane, then it's not relaxing; one needs to spend rather decadent amounts of time by the pool / in the hot tub / on the beach / wherever reading for it to constitute a seriously restful time. Luckily, our hols were just that and I got to read an array of books that really did cover the gamut - Jeeves & Wooster, spy novels (the excellent Alan Furst, whose entire collection I am now queuing up in my library account), P&P&Z, the new Mark Haddon (having loved A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time), the new Sarah Waters plus TTV.*

When I came back I knew I had to return a book to the library, but having waited ages for it, decided to brave the fine and finally plough through Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh. I'd heard great things about it from the RH Reality Check podcast, but I have to confess, I was expecting something different. I was expecting something that, frankly, was far less classy than the final product: more mocking, more jeering, more generally making-fun-of-the-crazies. Not that he doesn't occasionally, but it's more the hypocrisy and cruelty that he gently takes apart and mocks. Indeed, most of the book shows his utter fascination as a highly secular Jewish humanist from Brooklyn with this "parallel universe" - which itself is a pretty apt description. I remember hearing a Christian version of I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly in the south, because R. Kelly hasn't been saved, so you couldn't listen to his version if you were a good Christian. There is just this parallel world, that most people don't realise exists.

This was a thoroughly engrossing look at the people who purvey the alternative culture, and their motivations, their passions, and, yes, their hypocrisy. But, more often than not, Radosh (and the reader) is surprised by the generosity, warmth and compassion shown by some, as well as horrified by others' cruelty and intolerance and, indeed, sheer thoughtlessness. There's a harrowing bit where he engages with a "youth" about IVF, which for Radosh hits a raw nerve, and the discussion in which Radosh engages with the young man shows the problem with sloganeering generally, and needing to think through one's positions thoroughly - this lack of logic and compassion pains Radosh and the reader as much as the abhorrence of his views.

Particularly striking is Radosh's probing of the acceptance (or not) of Jews by the people he meets. People's reactions to him are very interesting, and he explores his discomfort and intrigue at the range of opinions he encounters.

I really cannot recommend this book highly enough.

* Conclusion: interesting, good romps/reads, but really, nothing touches Fingersmith, which I maintain is one of my favourite books, ever. Also, The Little Stranger is nowhere near as sad or creepy as another of hers, Affinity.

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