Friday, March 29, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 24 -- Homosexuality in Renaissance England

by Alan Bray

Started: March 25
Finished: March 29

Notes: While perusing a used book store, I was drawn to this book by its the uncommon subject and its focus upon a relatively narrow region and period of time in history. Originally published in 1982, perhaps it will escape the more-modern political trappings of both left and right. Either way, I expect to find this one interesting and eye opening.

Mini review: This book leans toward the scholarly, but it's written straight enough for a broader audience to understand it. That being said, there are still historical and philosophical references the common reader is probably not going to understand without hitting wikipedia. The writing itself aside, this does prove to be an interesting look at mainly male homosexuality at one particular time and place in history. Apparently until the end of the Renaissance period, homosexuality in England (and possibly Europe and other parts of the world) was quite different than modern notions of homosexuality. Homosexual acts, as we would understand them, did indeed occur, as can be expected, but there really wasn't a homosexual culture or society as we would know it. Homosexual acts were almost a random thing, to some extent even accidental in a manner of speaking. There were no groups of homosexual men, at least none in numbers, who associated with one another, who met in public or private, at least not with their homosexuality being at the forefront of their thought and agendas. Establishments did not exist where homosexuals as individuals or groups could frequent clubs and taverns and the like which catered to them, relatively safe places where they could carouse and find friendship and yes, sex. However, such places did come into existence right after the Renaissance period. Also, the law and even violence visited upon homosexuals became much more strong at about the same time. Why? Perhaps because homosexual men had literally been hidden before but now had places to call their own. At least that's how this book seems to present things. But what brought about all these changes right after the Renaissance? The author here suggests it was more of a philosophical change that was affecting all of society. Names like Locke and Hume are brought up, and with no little reason. What was that change? Individualism.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 23 -- The Medieval Machine

by Jean Gimpel

Started: March 19
Finished: March 25

Notes: This book is an example of why I love used book stores so much, especially antiquarian book stores. It's highly unlikely I would have ever discovered this book in a regular book store. And that's part of the fun of used book stores, the discovery, finding an interest in a book you didn't even know existed. This book was originally published in 1976, so it's probably outdated concerning historical research, but it should still have some interesting historical information, at least interesting to me.

Mini review: This book was written quite well, the style of writing not boring at all despite the fact some might find the subject matter not overly exciting. I, however, did find a lot of enjoyment in the subject matter, and it opened my eyes more than before about how the supposed Dark Ages were really more of a time of scientific, economic, and even psychological growth than the period is generally credited. Here are covered such devices as water mills, wind mills, bridges and the like, but these are really just the basics. Military armaments aren't covered intensively, but they are brought up, especially cannons. The second half of this book leans away from the technological aspects of the period and turns its focus more towards the general attitudes and to some extent the economics of the times. Anyone who still believes the Middle Ages were a dull, dark period of stupidity and barbarity alone should read this book to catch a glimpse of a more complex time than is generally believed.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Beer of the week: Blue Eyed Blonde

Beer score: 7.8

Company: Black Creek Brewery

ABV: 5.6
IBU: Not reported

So recently I took a trip to a small town near me with the intent of trying out their brewery, a place that's only been there a year or two. To tell the truth, I wasn't expecting much. In my experience, the vast majority of little breweries and brewpubs throughout North Carolina are nothing exceptional; they're not necessarily bad, but they tend to be nothing great, one ale from a brewpub tasting pretty much like any other.

However, I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the Blue Eyed Blonde from Black Creek Brewery in Roxboro, North Carolina.

It had a light, almost fluffy texture to it that was just right for my mood. Those who want something heavier and stronger will have plenty of options at Black Creek, so don't let the lightness of this one beer draw you away.

The taste was also light with more than a touch of citrus, though not enough to be annoying, really just the right amount. There was the barest hint of a little sourness reminiscent of an IPA, which is nothing to sneeze at, and the rest was a light honey swallow that would go great with many a meal or even just by itself. This reminded me more than a little of some of the lighter Belgian beers.

Now that I've tried one Black Creek beer, I'll have to head back for others. If their other beers are anywhere near as good as this one, then I should have something fun and tasty to look forward to.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 22 -- An Account of the Voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

from the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation

Started: March 18
Finished: March 19

Notes: This past Summer I visited San Diego for the first time, and being unfamiliar with any of the area's local history, while I was visiting the Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center I decided I should check out a few pamphlets and books on that local history. This is one such book.

Mini review: This book is a bit basic, but it's not meant to be an exhaustive look at the events concerning the exploration of the coast of southern California and region. Though it's not overly long, barely half this book, there is an English translation of the actual account of Cabrillo's journey, though this account was most likely not written by Cabrillo himself, at least not in its entirety, but by one of the men aboard his sailing vessels. This book might open some eyes to history of the region in the 16th Century, as it did for me.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 21 -- Kahiki Supper Club

by David Meyers, Elise Meyers Walker, Jeff Chenault and Doug Motz

Started: March 15
Finished: March 18

Notes: I lived most of the '90s in Ohio and while there became acquainted with a fantastic restaurant in Columbus called "Kahiki." It was a Polynesian place that was visually wild. Walking into the restaurant, it was like entering a set for Gilligan's Island, but even wilder. The food was great and the drinks were not only tasty but humongous and colorful. I realize this might sound tacky to some, but I found it fun. Unfortunately, Kahiki is no longer with us. However, I was visiting Columbus a couple of years ago and visiting my favorite bookstore there when I found this book about the famed restaurant. Though I can't visit the Kahiki today, it lives on in literature, and I'm glad of it. The name "Kahiki" also lives on in frozen foods you might be able to find in your local grocery store.

Mini review: This was simply a fun read that took me down memory lane. The book is mainly a history of Kahiki's creation along with a few stories from over the decades of its existence, as well as some about the end of the restaurant and the beginnings of the Kahiki frozen food business which followed. There were also a few food and drink recipes from the restaurant. It's too bad this fantastic place no longer stands, but at least now I've got this book with its ton of stories and photos. A very pleasant read for me.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 20 -- An Experiment in Criticism

by C.S. Lewis

Started: March 14
Finished: March 15

Notes: This is C.S. Lewis' take on literary criticism, so it should be pretty good.

Mini review: I hate to say it, but this is my least favorite of all Lewis' writings I've read, which is not everything but is still quite a lot. His premise isn't bad. He begins by separating types of readers into the literary and what he calls the "unliterary," and this last term he does not mean in a negative fashion. Then he spends more than a hundred pages boring me with various thoughts on music and poetry and other forms of art, sort of commenting upon how all this is similar but also not similar to literature. Finally he gets down to his real premise and it's a long, slow, boring, pedantic mess that really tells the reader nothing. Only in the epilogue does he finally spout some kind of theory about literature, and it's basically that we transcend ourselves by experiencing the thoughts and emotions and lives of others. Not a bad premise, but he could have said it in a few paragraphs instead of rambling on forever and ever. Glad I didn't read this one earlier or it might have turned me off Lewis. I'll read more of his works, but I'll be more wary from now on.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 19 -- Why I am Not a Christian

by Bertrand Russell

Started: March 13
Finished: March 14

Notes: Thought I'd see what famed liberal philosopher Bertrand Russell had to say about religion, Christianity specifically. Published in 1927.

Mini review: It turns out "Why I Am Not a Christian" is only a small part of this book, the rest being made up of lectures and writings from Russell, all pertaining to religion and his thoughts on the matter. "Why I Am Not a Christian" was indeed originally published in 1927, but the rest of this book dates from 1903 to about 1961 as far as I can tell. In fairness to Russell, he was writing during an earlier time and philosophy and theology have grown since then, but I must say I found most of his argument fairly weak, at least by modern standards. Most of his issues with religion in general and Christianity in particular were based off personal feelings about the lack of morals in people who are religious and/or Christian. I'm sure many an atheist or agnostic feels that way today, but I'd argue it's not a logical reason to disavow religion especially considering Christianity takes such things into account. I'm not opposed to strong arguments against religion, but they have to be strong in the first place. Also, Russell is still under the liberal notion that education alone can solve all the world's problems, and personally I believe the modern world has shown this not to be the case, especially as no small number of supposedly educated people have proven it otherwise.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 18 -- The Purpose Driven Life

by Rick Warren

Started: March 5
Finished: March 13

Notes: I go to a lot of used book stores and check out a lot of Little Free Libraries, and in those locales I often find this book, sometimes several of them, which tells me two things, that a lot of people have read this book but that many of them didn't think the book worth keeping. Will it help me with my own drive in life? I don't know, but I suppose I'll find out. I'm not normally into what I think of as self-help/feel-good religious books, but I've been gifted this one twice now, so I'll give it a try. Another funny thing, when I opened this book, I found a rather extensive outline of it handwritten on a sheet of paper inside.

Mini review: I was disappointed by this one. For one thing, I had hope for specifics on how to discover or kindle your natural talents (in this case for God), but there was none of that. Instead, you are handed five purposes for life, all of which are basic Christian beliefs, so I felt there was nothing new here whatsoever. That being said, those looking to boost their faith might find this book of use, but it was not for me.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Beer of the Week: Saison Dupont

Beer score: 7.9

Company: Brasserie Dupont

ABV: 6.5
IBU: 30

This beer from Belgium almost always draws high marks on various brew review websites, and while I give it fairly high marks myself, I didn't feel it was unique. Don't get me wrong, this is a solid beer. Your Budweiser friends will be at a loss if they try a Saison Dupont, but the flavor and texture here was nothing unexpected and nothing all that complex or unusual. If you like a traditional Belgian ale, you can't get more traditional or normal than this. On the plus side, several people have told me this beer has a skunky odor to it (which is common among beers in green bottles), but I have to say I did not experience any of that. Very earthy overtones without being thick on the tongue, with early hints of fruitiness that die away swiftly to be replaced by a cool bitterness. Has a nice head. This is a bottle-fermented brew and a top-fermented brew. By the way, a "saison" traditionally is a beer somewhat similar to a pale ale but with a low-alcohol level; historically this beer was brewed and fermented in farmhouses in Belgium and possibly some parts of France and served to farm workers.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Beer of the Week: Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55

Beer score: 8.5

Company: Brooklyn Brewery

ABV: 5.0
IBU: 24

This beer has a slightly dark, almost burnt blonde color to it in the glass, and a perfect quality beer scent. The Scottish Maris Otter malt brings a solid, almost cake-like sweetness, but it’s a soft sweetness, not overpowering but obviously there. The bitterness is strong at first taste, then fades away a little but returns on the way down. This is one of the most well-balanced beers I’ve tasted, with a perfect mix of hops and malt, and one of the better pale ales from the U.S. The name of this brew comes from the 1955 World Series when the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the Yankees. Also, I've had a number of Brooklyn Brewery beers over the years and I can't ever remember having a bad one, so check them out.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Books read in 2019: No. 17 -- The Case for Christ

by Lee Strobel

Started: Feb. 28
Finished: March 4

Notes: Of my Christian readings, the apologists are by far my favorites, so it's a natural for me to turn to the author who is arguably the best known of the modern apologists. Strobel was apparently a journalist who initially set out to do an investigation to disprove Christianity when researching this book, but instead he became a believer.

Mini review: Nearly all of this book is a collection of interviews done by the author with various professionals in philosophy, psychology, history, theology, etc., all of those experts being Christian, which in a way harms the authors approach but is to some extent understandable considering he had apparently done other research with non-believing sources and the main focus of this book is as the title suggests, The Case for Christ. Strobel's writing is strong enough, but I felt his journalistic approach a little disingenuous, and though I understand he had become a Christian by the time he wrote this book, I felt he went a little overboard in trying to convince the reader he had been a skeptic and something of an atheist before logically exploring Christianity. Much of the information provided here, the logic put forth for believing in the Resurrection and that Jesus was the Son of God, was not new to me, but I did appreciate the final chapter in which Strobel outlined his own becoming a Christian because his approach has been somewhat similar to my own over the years. However, when it comes down to it, Christian belief truly is a matter of faith, of having faith, of making that leap of faith, and while the information presented here might sway some, it also isn't likely to convince those who are determined against it and who can come up with their own counterarguments however well thought out or not they might be.