Category Archives: Books

“Winged Victory”

V. M. Yeates

The fact that it was written by an actual WW I combat pilot makes this book about the air war over France especially interesting. It’s not — quite — an anti-war book like “All Quiet on the Western Front”, but it’s not an entirely heroic tale of aces, either. The focus is more on the effects of war on the protagonist rather than on adventure and there’s more in it about life on the ground, friendship, and leadership than there is about aerial combat. Which is not to say the combat parts aren’t interesting, becuase they are, especially in light of the author’s experience.

“The Life of Hinduism”

John Stratton Hawley and Vasudha Narayanan

My recent trip to India left me with a curiosity about Hinduism as it’s lived, probably because religion is lived very publicly in India. This book — a collection of mostly academic pieces by various authors — helped me satisfy that curiosity a little. It is less personal than I had hoped it would be (I was hoping for something more journalistic, like ““Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India”“). Also, some of the pieces are surprisingly old, given the book’s 2006 publication date.

“Avalon: The Return of King Arthur”

Stephen R. Lawhead

This is the fifth and final book in Lawhead’s “Pendragon Cycle”. It takes place in a modern Britain that’s on the verge of getting rid of royalty and becoming a republic. Merlin is still alive and has identified a young Scotsman as the next rightful king of England and as the not-quite-reincarnation of Arthur himself. It’s a mix of political thriller and Arthurian tale, entertaining if you don’t look too closely.

“Grail”

This is the fifth book in Lawhead’s “Pendragon Cycle“. It’s entertaining enough, but the story in this and “Pendragon” is meant to be stuck in between, as Lawhead puts it, “the first two parts of “Arthur“” and “the last part of “Arthur“”. It’s all very confusing, especially if you don’t know about the sequence — as I didn’t — beforehand. The result of this out-or-order story telling is that the latter two books feel superfluous and, since you know how the story will end, are relatively uninteresting.

“Arthur”

This, the third book of Lawhead’s “Pendragon Cycle” concludes the tale of King Arthur. What? Aren’t there three more books in the series? Well, it’s complicated. As Lawhead puts it:

To get a chronological reading of the Pendragon Cycle, first read Taliesin. Then read Merlin. Next, read the first two parts of Arthur, followed by Pendragon and Grail in order. Finally, read the last part of Arthur, and, if you’re keen to complete the marathon, finish with Avalon, which recapitulates the themes in a modern setting.

Naively, I read them in sequence. That’s not a problem since “Taliesin“, “Merlin“, and “Arthur” make a fine trilogy all by themselves.

I liked this re-imagination of the “Matter of Britain“. In Lawhead’s treatment the “Fair Folk” (fairies, get it?) are the nearly immortal survivors of Atlantis and their descendants. The Fisher King was a king in Atlantis. Merlin is the son of the bard Taliesin is and an Atlantean princess, a princess whose half sister it the villain of the series. And so on. It’s all very clever and occasionally moving.

Obviously it’s not an attempt to tell a “realistic” version of the Arthur story. For that see Bernard Cornwell’s “The Winter King“, “Enemy of God“, and “Excalibur“. But despite the fantastic elements, magic is restrained and suitably mysterious and the growth of Christianity is treated sympathetically.

Overall, I enjoyed the three books. They’re a little uneven, but the good bits are very good and the less good ones aren’t half bad.

“Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India”

William Dalrymple

Dalrymple profiles nine Indians who participate in the several religions — Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, etc. — of India in different ways. It’s an interesting peek into the colorful but opaque-to-oustsiders worlds of Indian faith and practices.

I read this before my recent trip to India, and I may reread parts now that I’ve experienced the country.