#BookReview: Reorganized Religion by Bob Smietana

Mostly Solid Examination – If From A Single Worldview. This is one of those examinations of an issue where the examination seems mostly solid, but is also clear that it is from a particular worldview – and the reader’s own feelings about that worldview will likely determine how much the reader enjoys or agrees with the author’s reasonings and recommendations. Specifically, Smeitana’s ultimate point is that older white churches are out, and younger multi-ethnic churches are in. Mostly using a more case study approach with a few more general facts thrown in (and with a scant bibliography of just about 12% of the text, rather than the 25-33% or so that is more typical of more scholarly based examinations in my experience), this book tells the tale of where the American Church finds itself now, what Smietana thinks got it here, and how he believes it can adapt into the future. And again, all of this seems objectively pretty reasonable, and how you view his particular slant will likely determine whether you agree more or less with it.

Ultimately the two stars deducted here – while I considered a third star deduction for the scant bibliography, I ultimately leaned against it due to the power of the case studies and clear direct investigations – were for proof texting and for large discussions of COVID. The proof texting was a complete brain fart, as he really only does it twice (vs other “Christian Living” books doing it *far* more often), but it is an automatic star deduction *every* time I see it, in my own personal war against the practice. The discussions of COVID largely couldn’t be avoided for anyone writing a book about where the American Church is in 2022, with the COVID disruptions of the past couple of years shifting the landscape in this arena at least as much as within any other, and objectively I can acknowledge this. However, *I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID*. Period. And therefore I wage a one man war against any and every book that mentions it as well.

Ultimately this is a book that I think it is important for anyone interesting in American Christianity and where it is and can go to consider, as there really are a lot of interesting and compelling discussions within it and points to consider, no matter your own religious or political persuasions. For this reason, it is very much recommended.

This review of Reorganized Religion by Bob Smietana was originally written on August 31, 2022.

#BookReview: Escape From Model Land by Erica Thompson

Astrology == Mathematics. For Sufficiently Large Values Of 2 While Imagining Spherical Cows. Thompson does a truly excellent job here of showing how and where mathematical models of real-world systems can be useful, and where they can lead us astray – perhaps a bit *too* good, as at times she has to jump through a few mental hoops to excuse the inadequacies of preferred models such as those related to climate change and the spread of COVID. On climate models in particular, she actually raises one of the several points Steven Koonin did in 2021’s Unsettled – namely, just how wide each cell of the model is by necessity and how much variation there is within these cells in reality yet models must – again by necessity – use simply an average value throughout the cell. But she discusses a wide variety of models in addition to climate, and again, she truly does an excellent job of showing their benefits and how they can harm us. One star is lost due to the extremely short “future reading” section in place of a more standard bibliography (20% or so is fairly standard in similar nonfiction titles). The other star is lost because this book does have a robust discussion of the numerous COVID models and *I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID*. I am waging a one-man war on any book that references this for any reason at all, and the single star deduction is truly the only tool I have in that war. Still, again, this book really is quite good – as a narrative alone, indeed better than the three star ranking would seem to indicate. Very much recommended.

This review of Escape From Model Land by Erica Thompson was originally written on July 15, 2022.

#BookReview: Deep Green by Rick Chesler

Breathless Adventure With A Ripped-From-The-Headlines Hook. This is one of those adventure tales that doesn’t sound like it would be an adventure tale… until you read it and realize it is an adventure tale. 😀 Ostensibly, this is a near-future tale of the race to find a full-on *cure* for COVID-19. Not just a drug or vaccine to alleviate some symptoms, but an actual cure for the disease. Along the way, we get quite a bit of real-world commentary smoothly rolled into the overall plot so that even while it really *is* kind of preachy… it doesn’t actually *feel* like it is kind of preachy. There is quite a bit within these sections that some readers will be more familiar with than others, but which anyone outside of academia generally and Big Pharma specifically will likely learn a touch about how things actually work. Which is always interesting to see in fiction. Ultimately the single star deduction here was not for the quality of the tale – it really was excellent – but instead because Chesler uses the race for a *COVID-19* cure, rather than literally any other disease. It is an excellent attempt to tap into the current zeitgeist (though one might argue a race for a cure would have been even more buzzworthy in 2021, prior to full vaccine rollouts), but I am waging a personal war against any book that mentions COVID for any reason at all, and the automatic one star deduction is really the only tool at my disposal in this war. Very much recommended.

This review of Deep Green by Rick Chesler was originally written on May 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID!!!!!!!

A note to any and all authors and publishers, up front: I ABSOLUTELY, 10000%, DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID!!!!! I READ FICTION TO *ESCAPE* THE “REAL” WORLD!!!!! Write the stories if you feel you must. Maybe for your own mental health, you *need* to write COVID stories. For the rest of us, PLEASE do NOT publish them for a while. It is still *TOO* real, no matter what one thinks about the virus or any of the politics around it. (And remember, no matter your own thoughts on it, there are large segments of your potential customers who will disagree with you.)

All of the above noted, the actual story here is well crafted and well told. Picoult manages to bring in, from a more mysticism side, one of the aspects of Bill Myers’ Eli that made that book one of the most influential of my own life – even as he approached the concept from a more science/ science fiction side. The scenes in the Galapagos in particular are truly viscerally stunning. You feel yourself being there as much as our lead character is, in all of the messy situations she finds herself trapped in on this paradise as the world falls apart. Indeed, had the entire book been based there, to me it would have been a much better book overall – even though I objectively rated this story as a 5*, I must admit the latter third of the book, while still strong and compelling storytelling objectively, was less interesting to me (other than the mysticism mentioned above, as this is where those aspects come into play).

At the end of the day, I write this review roughly six weeks before publication and this book has nearly 600 reviews on Goodreads – at the time I began writing this, it looked as though this one will be number 569. Which speaks to the marketing reach and prowess of its publisher, and Picoult’s own status as, as I described her on Facebook earlier this morning “a grocery store book section level author that seems to occupy half of said grocery store book section”. And the mystic hook being so rarely used is perhaps reason to rate this book as more compelling than others, but overall the tale here and the level of the writing… as I mentioned on my review of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising: there is absolutely *no* doubt that this is a strong tale strongly crafted. But I really have read oh so many authors from less powerful publishers that are at least as good, and thus I truly don’t understand the hype.

For those that *do* want a “real” look at COVID in their fiction, whether that be in 2021 or later, this book is absolutely must read. For those that want island escapism and don’t mind COVID being a central part of the tale, you’re definetly going to want to read this one, even if you’ve never read Picoult (as I had never before this book). But for those who, for any reason at all, just can’t deal with COVID “realism” in their escapism/ fiction… maybe hold off on this one until you’re at a point where you can. And then read it, because it really is a great story overall. Recommended.

This review of Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult was originally written on October 15, 2021.

#BookReview: Running From COVID In Our RV Cocoon by Gerri Almand

Real Life Disaster Movie Memoir. This is one of those memoirs from someone who was “on the ground” at an event that so very many of us have lived through and with, and thus someone whose experiences are at least worth exploring. That noted, Almand and her husband are both 70 ish yr old seniors with comorbidities (including Type 1 Diabetes in her husband) that make them more susceptible to COVID-19, and this does in fact inform much of her own thoughts on the issue. Still, as a memoir of a sort of Gilligan’s Island – where they went out expecting one thing and got something dramatically different that cast them into a survival situation – this is quite remarkable. From being at Mardi Gras 2020 to being at some of the last NBA games to be played outside the “bubbles” to piecing together where to go in light of confusing, conflicting, and scant data to the various experiences of coming to terms with the new life and reality, this is truly an interesting memoir. Recommended.

This review of Running From COVID In Our RV Cocoon by Gerri Almand was originally written on May 20, 2021.