Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Da Vinci Code: Coteaux du Languedoc

As I mentioned earlier, this was the first book I read in the Robert Langdon series. I was interested by all the hype and controversy surrounding the book. I like a nice scandal every now and again, especially one related to a book.

Again I think we find ourselves following the equation that Dan Brown uses for these novels:
  1. There's a major crisis that will shake the foundation of a powerful world religion or government.
  2. There's a limited amount of time to solve the puzzle that will lead to the root of the crisis and it's solution. 
  3. There's a beautiful but slightly damaged female lead who needs to rediscover her faith in mankind and/or herself. 
  4. The criminal mastermind behind the crisis has a deep understanding of and appreciation for classical works of art, using references and actual works in their clues.
  5. Only Robert Langdon can pull all the pieces together to solve the crisis, save humanity, win the girl over, and still be back in time for his next lecture.
The way that's written makes it seem like I didn't enjoy the books. I did, I really liked The Da Vinci Code. I found it to be extremely entertaining and thought provoking. I was more than a little intrigued by the ideas presented about the relationships Christ had with those who followed him and supported him most closely during his time on Earth. Do I believe them, not necessarily. Do I think they made for some excellent fiction, absolutely.

I think that a lot of people are afraid of what it might mean to find out that there was a romantic aspect of His life, that there could have been children born of that romance and love. I don't know that I think there would be anything to be afraid of in that scenario. If anything, doesn't it make it more likely that He would understand the myriad of emotions and motives that play into our decision making? We've all made decisions that were to better the people we love or to protect our children. Would it not be possible that seeing the sacrifices people make for their children first-hand better mirrors the sacrifice God made for all of us, His children to protect us and keep us safe for all of eternity? I think it's possible.

Whether you agree with the scenario presented in the book, it probably made you think. I like a book that can do that. It's not easy to push people into a new view of something held very dear to our hearts and fundamental way of thinking and doing things. Some people were shaken, some people were mad, some people were enlightened, some people were simply entertained. Some people probably needed a glass of wine (or two) to get them through the book or to help them process the thoughts that it raised.

For this installment of the Top Shelf Bookshelf, I've decided to go for that glass of wine instead of a heavy cocktail. To recognize the time the characters spend in Paris, I've even gone with a French wine.

I poured myself a glass of this 2009 Coteaux du Languedoc from Chemin des Olivette. It's a deep red color, really rich looking, but surprisingly light. It was very crisp with some very subtle fruity notes. I'm actually having a second glass as I type this out to make sure I don't miss anything. I'm committed to you guys like that.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Around the World in 80 Books

I frequently like to set up reading challenges for myself. Sometimes they're as simple as reading all of the books in a particular series or finishing one very challenging book- I'm looking at the copy of Salt: A World History that sat on my night stand and was read sporadically over 5 years and the copy of Anna Karenina that is quickly heading for the same fate. More often than not, it's about reading books that fit a certain set of criteria.

I came across this link the other day on promoting their summer reading challenge to go around the world in 80 books, and this totally sounds like fun. I'd love to do this in a single summer, but I think it's going to take just a little longer than that.

Here's a list of the countries I'll be using as reference. Where I've already read a book for that country, I've listed it. I'll link back to the reviews I do as I go through the challenge.

For this challenge, I'll be looking at books that are primarily set in these countries, or that might be about these countries. If the country is mentioned or briefly visited in the story that won't be enough for it to count towards the total. Some of these will be easy to do, some others will need some creativity or at least some research. Of course, I'm thinking some traditional cocktails or spirits from those areas will be in order as well. Maybe this will help me finish Anna Karenina in less than 5 years.

Costa Rica
Czech Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Great Britain
North Korea
Papua New Guinea
Puerto Rico
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Korea
Sri Lanka

I'll set up this post as a separate page on the blog so it'll be easier to see my progress. Which means I'll have to make progress because it'll be really obvious if I don't.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Angels and Demons: Diablo

Even though this is the first of the Robert Langdon books, it was the second one I read. Like many people, I read The Da Vinci Code first and was introduced to the character and the formula that goes along with the stories that way. Even though I read it second, Angels & Demons has been my favorite of the Robert Langdon series.

Now, not everyone likes Dan Brown's style. I definitely see that lots of the action is implausible, the characters are predictable and there is absolutely a formula that they follow. None of that detracts from the entertainment of the book for me. Some of those things might even help with its translation into a movie. Although I don't really like Tom Hanks, but that's a whole other topic that we don't need to get into today. I do find it a bit surprising that a Harvard symbologist is able to uncover secrets that have been hidden for hundreds of years in a matter of a few hours, but it's fiction.  Even with the flaws that some readers find, there were several things that I liked about this first book in the series.

First, it pretty much goes without saying that reading these books makes me want to travel to whatever city is their setting and experience the art and architecture for myself. I love the history and the symbolism, and even the references and ties to religion. I know that can be a hot button for a lot of people, but at the end of the day it's a novel, and there has to be some tension and something that causes stress for the characters. Religion can be a very stressful subject.

That's actually the second thing I enjoyed about the book. I was more interested in the struggle between science and religion than I was in some of the characters. That may have made it easier for me to overlook some of their flaws. I'm not someone who believes that science and religion are mutually exclusive. I think that while one can exist without the other, they exist more fully when they exist together. There's a need that we all have to define not only our world, but our place in it. This frequently leads to crises of both the faith and identity varieties. Throughout history we have struggled to find answers to the questions of why we're here and what it all means. Faith and science have served to answer those questions to varying degrees; depending upon the time and the individual asking the questions.

All of the lines and passages that I highlighted and notes I wrote in the margins were linked back to this topic and my own thoughts and struggles at the time. (I've put some of those lines at the end of this post, after the recipe.) I've had points in my life where I question my faith, and faith in general, and based on what stood out to me at the time I was in one these points when I read this book. It's funny to me now that I would have picked up this book during one of those times because it seems to be in line with what I needed to think through to get back to where I want to be with my faith, to be stronger in it for having worked through the doubts for myself. I'm sure it's not entirely coincidental that it happened that way.

The drink for this book is a variation on one that I came across last week actually in an online magazine- it's called the Diablo. The original Diablo came from Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide, published in 1972 written by Victor Jules Bergeron. I pulled most of my inspiration for the cocktail directly from the title of the book, though I like the duality of the drink for the primary topic of the story as well- the salty, tangy aspects of the tequila play well off of the sweetness from the ginger beer. Balance is always a good thing.

2 oz tequila
1 oz ginger beer
.5oz lemon juice
(The original recipe calls for Creme de Cassis, which we didn't have, so I left it out. I am interested in adding it in and seeing what type of difference it makes.)

Combine ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel and candied ginger.

Overall the drink was light and refreshing, almost completely disguising the boozy quality of the tequila. I could see getting into some serious trouble with this drink over the summer.

p5: The most dangerous enemy is that which no one fears.
p21: I'm undecided on miracles.
p57: Sometimes to find truth, one must move mountains
p61: The laws of physics are the canvas God laid down on which to paint his masterpiece.
p 108: -I want to believe. - So why don't you?
p155: Why change the world if the world is not watching?
p 243: Modern religion is a collage... an assimilated historical record of man's quest to understand the divine.
p332: Science can heal, or science can kill. It depends on the soul of the man using the science. It is the soul that interests me.
p484: Sometimes, divine revelation simply means adjusting your brain to hear what your heart already knows.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Keeping Track with Goodreads

If you read as much as I do, it can be difficult to keep track of what you've already read. I've actually gotten three chapters in to a book before I realized that I'd already read it. Oops.

To help me keep track, and to keep a feel for what's coming and what's new, I use Goodreads. Think about it like a combination of Netflix and Facebook for books. With this website you are able to track books that you've read, books that you want to read, and to compare those books with your friends on the site. It's almost too easy to build up a ridiculously long to-be-read (TBR) list. Mine is 340 books long at the time I'm typing this. I'm almost embarassed by that, but then I remember that I have this blog, so in theory I'm going to be able to get to them. Honestly, I just want to read all of the books. All of them.

Once you manage to move a book off of your TBR list and actually read it, the website allows you to rate the books that you've read anywhere from 1-5 stars. The ratings are then used to create recommendations based on what you liked. Recommendations are also made based on the things you want to read. Because I need another way to get suggestions for more books to read. If I can get my read list to be longer than my TBR list I will count that as a huge accomplishment for 2013. Huge.

There are multiple groups to join, if you're interested in that sort of thing. You can add people as friends and see what they're reading. You can also compare the ratings you've given various books to what your friends thought of them.

If you're interested I highly recommend checking out the site.

You can see more about the books I've read here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June '13 Book of the Month: Inferno

A new month, a new book. Does anybody else get excited just before starting a new book? I definitely do, especially when it's written by an author I know I like.

For June, I've chosen a book that's not only by an author that I like, but that also features a character I like. I don't have to like the main characters to like the book, as evidenced by my feelings towards Gatsby, but it does helps. This month I'm going to be reading the latest in the Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown, Inferno. It was just released last month, so it's still pretty new to the shelves.

To tie in to this one, throughout the month I'll be revisiting the first three books featuring Langdon: Angels & Demons, The DaVinci Code, and The Lost Symbol. I may even try to tackle Dante's Inferno, but we'll see how that turns out. It's easy to say things at the beginning of the month and then run out of time later.

Happy Reading!