This week’s reading

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Going Clear Going Clear by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright is an expose of the Church of Scientology. Fascinating, scary stuff and it makes you want to keep looking back over your shoulder to see if someone is watching you.

A great read, though, and a real eye-opener if you’ve ever wanted to know the inner workings of this group (they hate to be called a cult but it’s hard to think of a better name as you’re reading this). The New York Times called it “essential” reading.

It’s also the inspiration for an HBO documentary of that name, apparently not (yet?) available in Canada. However, you can watch the BBC’s Panorama series on Scientology on YouTube, which, while a bit older, is still worth seeing. This isn’t the only book I’ve tread about Scientology, but it is both the most impressive and the most thorough. My only quibble might be that Wright sometimes seems too accommodating to the church, especially when he recounts the details of their bizarre teachings.

I plan to review this more thoroughly, but I’m only about three-quarters of the way through it now. Another few days and I’ll be done. I found the hardcover as Chapters at a discounted price, since the paperback has since been released.

Morning Noon and NightMorning Noon and Night: Finding the Meaning of Life’s Stages Through Books was another discounted title that caught my eye at Chapters. It’s about how guidance through and explanation for our rites of passage can be found throughout literature. Kirkus Reviews called it a “beautifully, tenderly conceived work.”

It’s part of the ongoing discussion about the value of literature and storytelling to our lives, a subject that has intrigued me ever since I read Joseph Campbell’s works on mythology, back in the 1970s. I have several books on this subject including some recent ones on the value of storytelling in public relations (which I referred to in my own book, Buzz, Brands and Going Viral). This is, however, more personal than the rest.

It is also a guide through some of the writing that has inspired Weinstein himself, and I’m always keen to learn what works have awakened passion or the intellect in others. I delight in discovering an author or a work I didn’t or overlooked because it opens up a path to follow I had not trod before.

The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, by Christopher Booker. Not simply a book for aspiring writers looking for help in developing plots, this intertwines the core elements of literature from Gilgamesh to the present and breaks everything down into seven archetypal threads. When analysed like this, literature takes ona  whole new aspect.

Like Weinstein’s book, above, it’s also about why literature matters and what stories can teach us and affirm in our own rites of passage.

The Lost Empire of Atlantis by Gavin Menzies. Menzies is a very entertaining writer. He researches well, he ploughs through historical texts for source material, he travels the world looking for clues and proofs and puts together some marvellous ideas that challenge the accepted view of history. He also makes some leaps of faith in his assumptions, which are not entirely backed up by the facts. They may be right, but they certainly need more research to convince me.

Atlantis is about the rise and fall of the Minoan empire and its vast trading empire that reached from India to North America. Most of this is not new, and the link between the myths of Atlantis and the Minoans were touted in popular books decades ago. Menzies just takes it all a few steps further with some pretty fascinating material. Not all of it is convincing, but there are some coincidences that are not easy to explain otherwise.

This is not, however, about the New Age Atlantis and the codswallop that surrounds the Edgar Cayce hoax and the addle-brained followers how have carried his message since. Menzies is a hard-nosed ex-submariner and he knows more about the ocean and navigation than a legion of New Age drizzle-heads. But I still fee there’s a gap between his hypothesis and the legend that has not been adequately filled.

Normally, I avoid books about Atlantis because of their New Age stigma, but Menzies’ name made me look twice and I’m glad I got it (albeit from a local used book store).

The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman. Easily one of the best books on how WWI happened. Certainly one of the most readable by the non-scholarly. Tuchman paints a vivid picture of a world poised, even eager, for war. She ties her tale back to the events and relationships between nations, royal houses and personalities in the generations prior to the war, but not as deeply as, say, Fall of the House of Hapsburg, Nonetheless, it’s a fully-fleshed story that demands you read just one more page, one more chapter as it marches towards the inevitable conclusion.

A re-read for me, since I first read it 20 years ago. I also intend to re-read her book, A Distant Mirror, about life in the 14th century. She was a superb writer who could draw readers into her subjects with ease.

Word Court, by Barbara Wallraff. Wallraff is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and this is based on her columns in that publication about language, word use, style and grammar. It is peppered with correspondence from readers about her advice, often challenges to it, and her responses to them.

I love reading this sort of book (my downstairs bathroom reading is David Crystal’s The Stories of English). English is so delightfully complex, fluid and zany that you have to constantly sharpen your skills by reading about it. Everyone worth their salt in the areas of writing, reporting, editing or communications reads books like this regularly. Never trust anyone who claims to be a writer who does not admit to re-reading The Elements of Style at least every few years. Word Court is not quite as disciplinarian – it’s a lot more fun. But it raises some thorny issues about style and usage that are worth noting by anyone who braves putting pen to paper (virtual or otherwise).

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Just some notes on a few of the books I’m reading right now. I’m also working through Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo, a cyber-scifi called Rim, two books by Andre Comte-Sponville (both mentioned in recent blog posts), a book explaining Karl Marx’s Capital, and a biography of “the unknown” Chairman Mao. Plus a few others including four recent additions on making artisianal pasta. I usually have a dozen books or so on the go at any one time, but these are the titles at the top of the pile that get read most frequently. This week. Next week, who knows?

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