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Book reviews

The Next Level by David Gregory

I am either generous in giving author’s the benefit of the doubt or I am a glutton for punishment. After two rather inconclusive takes on David Gregory’s books I decided to give it one more shot. This time with The Next Level. This is labeled “A Parable of Finding Your Place in Life.” Having recently gone through considerable chaos in my professional life I thought this book might strike a chord. I have to say I was disappointed.

It isn’t that The Next Level is horrible or unreadable or something, it is a quick read, but rather it just left me uninspired and with no real insights.

Here is the publishers description:

Business degree in hand, Logan enters the immense Universal Systems building and is hired as an organizational analyst — a trouble-shooter. His job: evaluate the company’s five divisions, each on a separate level and each operating on startlingly unique principles. Which set of principles is successful? Why is most of the company’s profit generated by one tiny division? What is real profit, anyway? And who is the enigmatic executive that Logan ends up reporting to?

Logan engages in a life-changing pursuit for The Next Level–a fascinating parable that will help you answer some of life’s most perplexing and vital questions. Joining Logan in evaluating each level’s approach, you’ll be inspired to consider the big picture of your own life from an entirely different perspective — one that holds the key to life’s ultimate purpose. No matter where you are now, get ready to embark on your own passionate pursuit of The Next Level.

As I noted above, the book is a quick read and Gregory keeps things move at a good pace. There is a mystery involved as Logan proceeds through the levels and that keeps the readers interest as well. Gregory’s conception of the stages of Christian faith as a corporation is an interesting one. The process of Logan evaluating each level does provide some thought provoking ideas about how you approach your faith.

But as with the other books, this one just feels thin. Not in terms of length, although that is obviously true, but in terms of depth. In reading the book nothing jumped out as me as particularly insightful or interesting. It has too much of a paint-by-numbers feel to it; a rout translation of an idea into a fictional setting.

In order for a parable or fable to work it needs to bring something in the telling that can’t be communicated through a straightforward explanation; it is supposed to explore the issue from a fresh direction. I just didn’t get that from The Next Level.

The Deal by Adam Gittlin


When I first heard about the new novel from Adam Gittlin, The Deal, I thought it had an interesting hook: big time commercial real estate in New York City. Seemed like an interesting backdrop to a thriller. That turned out to be true, but the heart of The Deal isn’t real estate but trust and priorities. Who can you trust and what is most important to you.

The Deal is an fast paced thriller with an interesting setting and a creative twisting plot. But I will confess that the main character turned me off and this hampered my enjoyment of the book.

Here is the publishers tease that sets up the plot:

Everything about Jonah Gray screams success movie-star good looks, expensive clothes, a Park Avenue penthouse, and a seven-figure income. A cutthroat, rainmaking New York city commercial real estate broker, Jonah craves opulence and power. He beds models, romps the globe on the weekends and sees the world as his for the taking. Jonah Gray has it all. Or at least he had it all.

When a friend presents Jonah with the deal of a lifetime, Jonah jumps at the chance. All Jonah has to do is act quickly, invest half a billion dollars in prime NY office buildings, and collect a huge payoff.

But this golden opportunity is anything but. Within days of signing on, Jonah is mysteriously thrust into the epicenter of an international and personal scandal.

Forced to explore a whole new territory where he can trust no one, and where danger, death and deception lurk at every corner, Jonah will learn some painfully hard lessons about the quest for easy money.

Closing this deal could mean losing everything.

The commercial real estate business in New York provides the setting for the novel and it also helps introduce us to the central character Jonah Gray. Jonah not only works in the business but grew up around it as his father is a mover and shaker in the same field. Jonah’s life and career is centered on this world. And a central aspect of the plot is focused on a real estate deal.

But once the plot really picks up steam the real estate aspect begins to fade away. At this point the traditional thriller aspects take over and the setting is just background. In some ways this is natural, and the setting provides a creative way to kick the plot off. But the author, who works in the business, also spends time having the character talk shop in ways that cause the plot to drag and may not interest readers.

I realize there is a fine line between a realistic setting and too much background, and the shop talk involved wasn’t that distracting, but Gittlin might find the industry more fascinating than the average reader. For me, the book took a while to really get in a rhythm. Once it hit its stride it was a fast paced story and quick read, but it dragged a bit in setting the stage.

For more click the link:

Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg

When I was a graduate student at George Washington’s Graduate School of Political Management the following exchange happened in one of my classes:

Professor: Does everyone know who Robert Bork is?

Student: Yes, he is a fascist!

Why do I bring this up? It came to mind while watching Jonah Goldberg discuss his book Liberal Fascism at Denison University Monday night. This sort of exchange has been witnessed by nearly every conservative in America. If they haven’t been called a fascist of some sort they have had one of their intellectual heroes (Reagan, William F. Buckley, etc.) called one.

Tired of constantly hearing about how the threat of fascism, if not its actual existence, was from conservatism Jonah decided to write a book to correct this glaring popular misconception. And Monday night he outlined his arguments for a gathering of college students and what seemed to me like a number of adult Goldberg fans (they actually ran out of books to be signed).

Long time readers will be aware that I am not exactly an unbiased observer in the controversies that have erupted surrounding Jonah’s book. Jonah helped me get my start in online Journalism at National Review Online and I had the opportunity to read Liberal Fascism in galley form.

So feel free to take my opinion with whatever grains of salt you feel are appropriate, but I think Liberal Fascism (LF) is a fascinating, timely, and important book. I meant to write about the book, the controversy surrounding its publication, and even interview Jonah but a variety of factors led to that not happening. Hearing Jonah’s talk Monday night made me feel a little guilty for not having put my thoughts down on paper when the book came out.

So I am belatedly attempting to remedy that today. More after the jump.

A Day with a Perfect Stranger by David Gregory

I struggled with what I thought about David Gregory’s first book, Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, so when I saw he had a sort of companion book, focused on a female character’s interaction with Jesus, I thought I would check it out. Unfortunately, A Day with a Perfect Stranger didn’t clarify my thoughts much.

Here is a basic synopsis:

What if a fascinating stranger knew you better than you know yourself?

When her husband comes home with a farfetched story about eating dinner with someone he believes to be Jesus, Mattie Cominsky thinks this may signal the end of her shaky marriage. Convinced that Nick is, at best, turning into a religious nut, the self-described agnostic hopes that a quick business trip will give her time to think things through.

On board the plane, Mattie strikes up a conversation with a fellow passenger. When she discovers their shared scorn for religion, she confides her frustration over her husband’s recent conversion. The stranger suggests that perhaps her husband isn’t seeking religion but true spiritual connection, an idea that prompts her to reflect on her own search for fulfillment.

As their conversation turns to issues of spiritual longing and deeper questions about the nature of God, Mattie finds herself increasingly drawn to this insightful stranger. But when the discussion unexpectedly turns personal, touching on things she’s never told anyone, Mattie is startled and disturbed. Who is this man who seems to peer straight into her soul?

The story here is basically the flip side of the previous book. Dinner covered the husband and Day follows the wife. Dinner dealt with a workaholic who had drifted away from faith as his adult life got to busy. Day deals with his wife’s reaction to having a religious nut as a husband and her reluctance to accept his faith.

One thing that got under my skin about this book is the whole “I hate religion” refrain. This is very popular with certain types of evangelicals. They decry religion and talk only about a “personal relationship” with God. This is all well and good on some level. After all religion, like everything else, faces the temptation of becoming route and rule bound and ceasing to function as it was intended. One can mistake the practice of faith with faith itself.

But on the other hand this is really quite silly. Because no one practices their faith in some sort of free flowing non-religious manner. Religion develops from belief because man is a creature of habit and structure. We gather together and begin to worship and serve; develop and defend theology, etc. This is natural and inevitable. After all God imbued the Israelites with a religion and the structure of Christianity came from people living out their faith and building on what they had experienced.

In other words, it is easy to say “I hate religion” far harder to practically live out your faith without it.

More below.

Quicksilver by Stephanie Spinner

Quicksilver.jpgMuch like Quiver, Quicksilver by Stephanie Spinner is a retelling of various Greek Myths in the form of a young adult novel. This time the central character is Hermes.

Quicksilver starts out rather lightheartedly as Hermes runs various errands for his father Zeus and cracks jokes along the way. It takes a darker turn when discussing the Trojan war, but soon returns to happier times as it tells of his falling in love with Calypso.

As I noted with Quiver, these books are interesting and entertaining as sort of fictional tour guides through the world of Greek mythology. Spinner has crafted a very accessible way to become familiar with the characters and stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece.

But for me, the stories never quite take on a life of their own. Quiver at least had a strong heroine and the plot surrounding her marriage suitors, but Quicksilver’s plot is less focused because Hermes is not a central character in the myths. The result is story line that jumps from one episode to another without a central plot.

But these books are not likely to be read for their action or suspenseful plot. Rather, what Spinner does well is imagine the gods and goddess as people with all the emotions and challenges that involves. For example, Hermes desperately wants to please his father and misses his brother Apollo when they are separated for extended periods. He feels guilt and jealousy, love and desire, despite having supernatural powers. Spinner does a good job of brining the pantheon to life.

I don’t mean to be to harsh here. Not every book you read can be in the “wow” category. All in all, these books are well done re-tellings of classic myths in an accessible – if unsophisticated – format.

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