Audio Blog Post 2: Why We Read

Well friends, here we go again. Due to educational obligations I made another one of these audio blog posts. While they are very fun to make, I must confess I’m glad this one is over. Working with new tech always puts pressure on me, lol. In this weeks audio blog post We discuss why people ready. I also am joined by two guests, who tell us about the first adult books they read, what books they’ve disliked and why they think reading is important. I hope you enjoy. Happy Reading!

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

Ian Kenny is a senior psychology major, tutor, and bookstore lurker. He listens to a shitload of music, reads ravenously, and is teaching himself several languages and musical instruments when he can tear himself away from Khan Academy. He recently founded a religion with the sole intent of messing with the future.

Reza Aslan’s “Zealot” recounts the life, exploits, and impact of the homeless, illiterate, reactionary, rabble-rouser, known to history as Jesus of Nazareth, and how he was gradually transformed over a period of several hundred years into the ethereal, divine, pacifistic religious figure known to billions of Christians today as Jesus Christ. While very little definite information exists about Jesus of Nazareth, “Zealot” summarizes an exhaustive quantity of historical analysis, documentation, and biblical research in an effort to clarify and describe the man Jesus actually was to the best of our modern ability (because, surprise, surprise, he is almost nothing like Jesus Christ).

The book is divided into three parts, the first of which establishes the historical and political context in which Jesus lived. But fear not, loathers of history, there is more than enough rioting, protesting, civilian slaughter, bloodshed, beheadings, crucifixions, mass suicides, roving assassin gangs, wandering prophets (dozens), political drama, warring armies, insurrections, widespread destruction, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and religious zealotry to make you think you’re reading Game of Thrones. Rome occupies the Jewish homeland and uses the center of the Jewish cult’s faith (the Temple of Jerusalem) to maintain hegemony over the Jewish masses, many of whom are royally resentful of Rome for daring to occupy the land their God said they could have (the same land that their God also told them to keep free of non-Jewish foreigner scum). In a cycle that repeats many times over, prophets decry the heathen hegemony emanating from the Temple of Jerusalem, then declare the Temple, the priests, and the rule of Rome invalid, then try to inspire an organized Jewish revolt before they are killed by Rome. Jesus was one of several illiterate, homeless, acetic peasant leaders (the book mentions another 5 or 6 by name who are known to history) claiming to be the one prophesized to liberate the Jews from Roman rule and set up the Kingdom of God on Earth who were killed without fulfilling a single one of these prophesies.

It isn’t until the second part of the book that we abandon the macro-historical analysis of the time period and focus in on the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the impact he made in this period of time in the world. Details are sketchy, but Jesus of Nazareth was very much interested in resorting to organized revolt and employing violence to free the Jews from Roman rule. The book casts doubt upon the historical accuracy of many of the more famous tales associated with Jesus Christ the religious figure, including the born-of-a-perpetual-virgin claim (Jesus had several brothers, one of whom, James, is a fairly well known Jewish historical figure, who was instrumental in preserving Jesus’s teachings after the death of his brother), or his discussion with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate before his execution. The book clarifies the context of many of his more famous sayings, for example, his “love thy neighbor as yourself” line was intended to tell Jews how to treat other Jews, not how to treat everybody. The books suggests that Jesus did actually ride into Jerusalem and trash the Temple in a badass fit of rage, and was executed (though he likely had no touching conversation with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, a cold and cruel man who hated Jews with a passion and had executed many thousands of Jews for protest or sedition, and would have had no reason to personally see Jesus for anything beyond signing his execution paperwork). The book frequently emphasizes that none of the famous biblical accounts of Jesus were written during Jesus’s lifetime, nor were any of them written by people who knew Jesus when he was alive.

This brings us to the third part of the book, which describes how Jesus of Nazareth, unlike the many dozens of other failed Messiahs, came to be remembered for thousands of years after his death and spawn one of the most popular religious movements in the world. The reasons mostly boil down to his followers being scattered and dispersed throughout Rome after Rome finally lost its patience and leveled Jerusalem. Jesus of Nazareth, having been a reactionary protester, was not nearly as popular after the failed Jewish revolt, and was thus recast as Jesus Christ the pacifist, an otherworldly vessel of God incarnate who was above caring about worldly affairs. The third part of “Zealot” describes how little by little, over the course of decades after Jesus’s death and the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth was re-invented as Jesus Christ, and all traces of Jesus of Nazareth’s roots in the Jewish independence movement were obscured and forgotten. It was in this period when the Jesus Christ we know of today was formed, and huge religious trends associated with mainstream Christianity were set in motion that still effect our lives today on a massive scale. One of the most disturbing revelations for me was the fact that Jesus’s famous talk with Pontius Pilate, in which he explicitly blames the Jews for killing him, was added to the gospels during this time to take the blame of his death off of Rome (for these books were being written by Christians trying to convert Romans). Images of the Holocaust and of Mel Gibson’s drunken ramblings flew through my head at this point, and I marveled with loathing at how such inconsequential editing choices made today can contribute to massive waves of racism, ignorance, hatred and death thousands of years in the future.

Zealot” is relatively short (216 pages, followed by 60 pages of copious notes) and would be a great read for anyone interested in getting an introduction to the obscure, surprising history behind one of the world’s most beloved religious figures. To anyone who heavily relies on the Bible being an infallible historically accurate account of the life of Jesus, this book will likely piss you off beyond measure. To accomplished religious scholars, this book will likely come off as a brief summary that could have gone into much more detail and analysis, but there is plenty of information on historical accounts, historical and religious documents, and translation discussions in the vast notes section of the book. This book humanized Jesus in a way the gospels never could (which is understandable, considering the point of the gospels is to convince you that Jesus is God and perfection incarnate). To any who feel that I’ve included too much plot summary in the book, I assure you I have barely scratched the surface; there is far more information, drama, and intrigue beyond what I have told. In addition to recommending this book, I also recommend you check out the absurd and unintentionally hilarious Fox News “interview” with Reza Aslan on the topic of this book.

Underneath by Dan Dewitt

It is a pleasure to introduce our second Guest Reviewer, Jackie Keller. She is currently a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and her major is Psychology. She hopes to attain her B.S. in said science by the end of the year. When she is not delving into the minds of murderers and lunatics she can be found either either reading horror literature and exploring the underlying emotional processes behind them or sewing the skin from her victims into a human skin suit. We hope to have many more reviews from her in the coming weeks!

Just in time for Halloween, it is my pleasure to present you ravishing readers with my review for the short story collection, Underneath. Underneath is a collection of unique horror tales by author Dan Dewitt. The stories presented are “true” short story length, ranging from 1500 – 4000 words, making it very quick and easy to read. They draw on many themes such as family, marriage, technology, and of course, zombies.

Dewitt switches between first and third person for his different stories, but has an overall realistic style. That is to say, even in third person, the writing style clearly and directly conveys the thoughts and emotions of the characters, even the more “coarse” ones. It’s a good choice for short horror, in my opinion, because it allows the reader to more easily sympathize and empathize with the characters as the tension rises in their respective plots.

That said, the “thought style” presented for nearly all the main characters, as well as many of the supporting ones, tends to be very masculine. I realize that authors tend to write characters more along the lines of their own gender identity, and since Dewitt is male, it is more probable that many of his characters are going to be more masculine. However, this style in which he portrays many of the characters almost makes them blend together – nearly all of them drink and smoke cigars, are tough, even if unsuspecting heroes, protective fathers, etc. Seriously, this guy seems to have a cigar fetish or something, the characters smoke them in at least two or three different stories.
I can’t completely dump on gender representation in Dewitt’s work, though. The only female protagonist in any of the stories is an intriguingly dark character, though here I am mentioning that she is the only female main character. As for the supporting female characters, however, the vast majority of them are smart, strong, definitely capable, and have at least some backstory of their own. One of the only possible exceptions being the character Dahlia in the Father-Daughter Dance story, but let’s just say that she has a… certain physical condition that we can cut her some slack for.

Gender issues aside, I greatly enjoy Dewitt’s style for the way that it plants you right in the character’s heads and hearts. He even still does it well with multiple character perspectives in the book’s final story, Orpheus which is DeWitt’s unique take on the traditional post-zombie-apocalypse tale (and has actually been created into a full-length novel).

Allow me to get back to the Father-Daughter Dance tale for a moment. This story follows one of many emotional trials of a father grieving over his lost daughter. Though Dahlia is arguably presented as a weak female character, the story itself is a strong parable of a parent’s love for a child, and how far a parent can and will go to try to save their child. This story is also one of the only stories that tap into more of a fantasy or “mystical” element. The only other story being How Many Years of Bad Luck Am I Up to, Anyway?. The occult themes in this story are a great style change from many of the more “realist” and contemporary styles of his other stories. It’s also pretty action-packed, and does keep you on the edge of your seat, but in my opinion, the ending falls a little flat. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t skip this one.

Speaking of contemporary style, allow me to finally introduce to you my favorite story in this book, Terror by Text. Yes, it’s a monstrously cheesy title, and the author admits it himself, but don’t let that turn you away! The protagonist of this story is a sort of horror blogger who tells the story of his trip to an abandoned hospital entirely through a series of Tweets. You’re probably thinking, “Oh God, a story out of Tweets? What trend is this guy trying to latch onto?” And hell, even one reviewer on Amazon was reduced to bibliophilic tears, bemoaning what literature has become. Ignore your initial inclinations, and definitely ignore bibliophile snobs. Anyway, our protagonist uses Tweets to document his haunting hospital tour, as well as an encounter with a strange, evil online figure who isn’t exactly a welcome commentator. What is it about the Tweet-style that makes this story the scariest, in my opinion? I’ll be honest, I’m not certain. It probably does have to do with the fact that I am a generation Y kid, and this story is written in a bite-by-bite style that appeals to my attention span-deficit young mind – or so the elders might tell you. I’ll go ahead and tell you that it’s to do with the fact that it creates a “pace” for the reader to follow. We know where the protagonist is going, how he’s feeling, and how fast the story is going, even at only 140 characters at a time. And yet, that text line length creates not only an “out-of-breath” tone that seems to match the trekking on of the protagonist, it leaves us enough mystery as is necessary in a ghost story, for us to wonder what exactly happened in that particular ward…

Underneath is free for the Kindle on Amazon, and the paperback price is also extremely affordable, so if my review hasn’t piqued your interest enough in Dan Dewitt’s work, the price may as well! Obviously, if you aren’t a horror fan, it’s probably not going to be up your alley no matter what. But if you like mystery, a bit of the occult, contemporary drama, or even just zombies, I highly recommend getting this book, especially now that we’re entering the haunting season.