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I disliked this book. It presented the way that I experience and think of the Divine in such an irritating manner that it half convinced me that my hard-won understanding of God is New Age woowoo. Some of this book was New Age woowoo. Some of it was potentially very useful, but I am not sure that I care to wade back in to sort out the wheat from the chaff. The author is addicted to exclamation marks and gender essentialism, and, while projecting a (probably genuine) aura of love and tolerance, conveys the idea that anyone who disagrees with him is unenlightened.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8017707/
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I do like Bill Bryson - he has such a vivid anecdotal style, such a keen eye for detail, and such unerring taste for the interesting. This, an account of a number of trips to Australia, is no exception, and is making me go, simultaneously, 'plan trip! now!' and 'twelve-foot earthworms?'. Scrupulously honest about how much he's missing out, endearingly enthusiastic about the wildlife and plantlife, at times downright inspirational (usually on geology), quietly furious about the plight of the Aborigines - this is a very good book, and now I want to go to Australia.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/11767935/
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An informative and readable, if necessarily somewhat ghoulish, tour around the history of British executions, by a former Yeoman Warder. Geoffrey Abbot has an engaging style, and slotted the various case histories into their historical context neatly and efficiently.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7877305
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The book of the blog. Hilarious pictures, and a plentiful dose of snark. An enjoyable half hour. More, if you then go back to the blog, as I may be doing at this very moment...

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10008237
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A collection of short comedy pieces by the US talk show host. I think I'd probably have enjoyed this more if I'd been a particular fan (rather than just knowing the name from afterellen.com, I mean). This was a fun read, but felt very shallow - mostly a series of very obvious jokes.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10440050
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A series of case studies of women facing various challenges, written from a Christian/healing perspective. Not the sort of thing I'd usually read, but I was pleasantly surprised by the general common sense and pro-woman thinking, and impressed by the courageous way that Littauer tackles the abuse faced by women within the Church.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7087445
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A resource book for an age that has, thank God, passed. This dates from when AIDS was the gay plague, and before antiretrovirals. I found myself thinking of it as a sort of appendix to The End of Innocence: Britain in the Time of AIDS. This is a book for a particular time and place, for (I assume) British churches and ministries that acknowledged gay men as part of their cure of souls. I found it therefore tremendously moving, encouraging (in that there were people who actually could come up with a truly Christian response) and largely irrelevant. Because I am not convinced that this would translate well to the way that AIDS is a problem now.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7567228
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I'm no particular fan of the Lake poets, but I rather found that this didn't matter. (In fact, had I been a passionate devotee of W. Wordsworth, for example, I'd have found some idols to have feet of clay.) This is a fascinating biography of the women of the Lakes circle - Sarah Coleridge, Dorothy Wordsworth, Mary Wordsworth, Edith Southey, Sara Hutchinson in the elder generation and, in the younger, Sara Coleridge, Dora Wordsworth and Edith May Southey. Drawing extensively on the women's own writings (correspondence, poetry, journals etc) and letting them speak for themselves where possible, Jones has brought together a sympathetic, convincing and very readable biography.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10056780
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The autobiography of a missionary nun in Thailand. I was expecting this to be terrible in all sorts of ways, based on the cover art and the choice of 'Siam' over 'Thailand' in the title - not to mention the tagline 'She faced the cruelty and squalor of a backward land with courage and devotion torn between obedience to her vows and the convictions of her heart' - but actually found myself drawn in by an honest and sympathetic account of vocation and charity. This makes sense, I suppose: the author had actually been there, and the copywriter hadn't.

In actual fact, Lightwood describes the challenges she faced with humanity and humour, be they poisonous frogs in the bathroom or learning the language. She rarely generalises about the people she works with, and I certainly came away with the impression that the overarching problem is not culture but poverty. She treats other religions with respect.

Teresa Lightwood gives a whistle-stop tour of her life, touching lightly on the parts that are less relevant to the story of her work in the Far East, but giving just enough background context. Particularly in the early chapters, where the realities of convent life were explored, I could not help remembering Karen Armstrong's 'Through The Narrow Gate' - though Lightwood seems to have found the experience less oppressive than Armstrong.

All in all, I'm glad I didn't pass this one on without reading it. It's good to be surprised sometimes.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10065535
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The Church in question is the Anglican communion. The war is the bloody mess it has got itself into over homosexuality. And this book is a useful overview of said bloody mess. I learned quite a lot that I didn't know before - I first became aware of the issue at the age of 13, when Lambeth 1998 blew up. O, days of blissful ignorance! This proved very helpful in filling in the gaps.

Bates reaches back into the origins of the debate, fitting it into the context of a changing society - or rather, several different societies, changing at different rates - summarising the opposing theological views, and nobly doing his best to take seriously what must seem to be a huge fuss about nothing to those who are not stuck in the middle of it.

Leavened as this is by a healthy dose of humour (if you didn't laugh, you'd cry, etc), I still found it incredibly painful reading at times, and - usually at about the same times - angering. If it fell down, it was in the relative lack of acknowledgement of the pain caused to the average gay Christian in the pews by all the muscle-flexing higher up. But I'm hardly an uninterested party in this, so...
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Memories of, and reflections on the early years of the Metropolitan Community Church, and some of the people involved in it. Sylvia Pennington was straight, but (eventually) a staunch ally of the queer Christian community. The first section of the book deals with her own personal experiences, getting to know gay people and separating homophobia from faith. Some of that made rather painful reading, though I get the feeling that she must have been as embarrassed writing it as anybody reading it. The second section was a number of case studies, if you like - gay men (and one lesbian) and their journeys to reconciling sexuality and faith. Often moving; sometimes utterly devastating.

I will be honest and admit that the style didn't do much for me. Some of this is probably just down to different Christian and cultural backgrounds - I am not the arm-wavy type, and Pennington, by her own admission, was, so there were some assumptions and turns-of-phrase that felt very alien. The other thing that set my teeth on edge was the way that after each case study she would present the subject as a worthy example of 'God's gays'. And... I can sort of see where she is coming from, assuming an intended audience of devout and homophobic Christians, but it did feel terribly patronising.

I didn't learn anything new from this book, but then I didn't really expect to. Its two main messages - that it is perfectly possible to be simultaneously a person of sincere faith and actively other-than-straight, and that the Church can do its best to make it bloody difficult to practise that sincere faith - are ones that I have been hearing, repeating, and to some extent experiencing for a long time.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10202188
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I picked this one up on a whim from a library discard stall some time ago, and have only just got round to reading it. While I'm not really the target audience (Linney often talks about 'we evangelicals') this resonated very much with how my faith has developed, both intuitively and through learning, over the past few years.

Linney stresses above all the importance of engagement with the world and with the people in it. He rejects the idea that the 'world' and non-believers are inherently corrupting, and also the notion that the Christian's first priority upon meeting a non-Christian should be to convert them to Christianity. Instead, he advocates meeting people where they are and trying to understand where they are coming from. (Not rocket science, you'd think, but there you go...)

On the whole, this is pretty sensible stuff, and there's very little that I'd disagree with. Obviously I would prefer a little less namby-pambying around in the homosexuality chapter; and it does feel very odd to see masculine pronouns used of the Holy Spirit. Those are minor complaints, though; there was nothing that made me want to hurl the book out of a window, and that's very good going for an evangelical work.

Nothing new here, but a reassuring affirmation of where I've got to so far.
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Very obviously a spin-off from the Eden project, but (speaking as someone who's never actually visited it) an engaging and informative book in its own right. Gorgeous pictures, and readable and interesting text, dealing with botanical, historical and social details with a light touch.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10262819/
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I have seen this recommended around the Harry Potter Britpicking communities as a way of getting one's head around the Malfoys, and the vexed question of whether Rowling meant to write them as nouveau riche. Well-observed, though rather dated now (try Kate Fox's Watching the English for something more immediately relevant) and one comes away feeling rather nastier than one did before.

[personal profile] countertony read the last chapter over my shoulder and immediately pounced when I put it down.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9896829
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Oh, this was lovely. It reminded me slightly of Katherine Mansfield on the German Pension, and somewhat of some of my LJ friends, and was an altogether delicious mixture of gardening (but nothing too composty and detailed) and bitching. The diary of an introvert, I suppose, with generally happy details (though it was very sad that she couldn't do her own gardening, except in secret).

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10056883
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A book about being a geisha written by a geisha - the reality is, it seems a lot more interesting and a lot less titillating than one would imagine from having read the blurbs on books about being a geisha written by people who aren't geishas. For a start, the word 'geisha' (artist) itself isn't used much; Iwasaki prfers 'geiko' (woman of art) or 'maiko' (woman of dance), according to age.

And actually, this is as much about dance as it is about anything, dance and the dancer's passion for her work, her frustration with a rigid system, and a detailed (but not heavy-handed) description of the industry in general. (Because it is an industry, supporting probably thousands of people.) I found it absolutely fascinating. I couldn't help comparing it to Shanghai Tango, which I read a while back; both deal honestly with the tension between innovation and tradition, not to mention the sheer hard work.

Iwasaki addresses with commendable restraint the (erroneous) assumption that geisha are sex workers, highlighting the areas where confusion may arise, but firmly rebuffing the notion that a necessarily equals b. I would likely have been much more vehement about it.

Oh yes, and I was much amused by which member of the British Royal Family evoked the most authorial approval. You wouldn't have thought it, would you?

One minor niggle: I really could have done with a glossary. Iwasaki is very good at defining her terms when they first come up, but I tend to find that once isn't enough for me, and I kept having to flip back to where I thought the term had been introduced, only to find that I'd misremembered.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10065542
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Another book chosen purely by size, I'm afraid, though I come away from it knowing more than I did before, so that's a general plus. I rather suspect that it was written to be read within sight of Stonehenge, or at least at a pub in Salisbury after the visit; it's not entirely clear to the reader who is unfamiliar with the layout of Stonehenge what the author is talking about at any given time. The artist's impression of the original view would be more useful towards the front of the book. Generally informative, though, and covers a lot in a small space, while not getting too deep into the woo woo.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9948335
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A Quick Read edition, featuring about a dozen true life stories of life at work, written by the workers. I enjoyed this - by turns funny, sad and thought-provoking. The title story in particular was very skilfully written, with a devastating twist. Forword by Val McDermid, too, which is always good.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9946170
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I bought this entirely because of its size (less than 50 pages) - it is a sample of Marianne Faithfull's autobiography and is going in my Short and Sweet bookbox. Having now read it, I know more about the Rolling Stones than I did before, but since I knew practically nothing about them before that's not saying much, and of course one can only fit so much into 46 pages. This is not to say that these 46 pages are not worth reading. This sample at least is very witty, and if I ever feel that I need to know more about the swinging sixties I know where to start.

'There were lots of things I could have done at the age of nineteen that would have been more healthy than becoming Mick Jagger's inamorata.'

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9946164
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Part autobiography, part introduction to Buddhism, and actually a very useful little book, I found. I began reading it a while back, found the deconstruction of the 'faith=belief' assumption very convincing (not that it was new to me, you understand, but it's nice to see other people thinking the same way in print), put it down for several months, and finished it off the other night. Salzberg is very honest about her own failings, open about what has brought her to where she is, and actually very helpful in illustrating what she means. A lot of this book is anecdotal, but I found it worked very nicely. I still don't know much detail about Buddhism, but I feel that I've now got a better grasp of the fundamental ideas. It also describes a model of spirituality that is relevant to my own experience, and she's not at all One True Way-ist about it. Maybe a little bit American and touchy-feely, but I don't know - it seems to work here.

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