What did you recently finish reading? Reza Aslan’s Zealot was the last thing I finished, and before that it was Fables vol. 3: Storybook Love, by Bill Willingham et al. I’m really ambivalent about the Fables series, somehow: I’m interested and I want to see where it goes, but when I read other people’s criticism, I can’t help but agree. It uses some tired old tropes, and the stories often feel banal. Still, there’s something in the sheer interest of watching characters from fables navigate the “real” world, and in recognising them and guessing ahead how their unique properties will affect the story.
What are you currently reading?
I’m mostly trying to work on ARCs that I still owe reviews for, so I’m currently reading David Hoffman’s Seven Markets. The structure is a little awkward, but it remains to be seen whether that ends up working for the story or not. I still have my “book prescription” to read, too, Christine Ingham’s Panic Attacks; I think I’ve barely started it. There’s a lot of other books I’m technically partway through… Oh, I did start The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman, which is fun enough but not really keeping my attention.
What do you think you’ll read next?
I think I’ll be trying to finish Seven Forges (James A. Moore), from my ARCs list. Although I just got a couple of new ones, and I’m very tempted by Strange Chemistry’s The Almost Girl (Amalie Howard)…
I think it might be none. I got the latest issue of Young Avengers in the last week, I’m sure, but other than that, I really think it might be none. My most recent ARCs were The Almost Girl, The Cormorant (Chuck Wendig), Iron Wolves (Andy Remic), and Shadowplay (Laura Lam).
I got access to Zealot from Netgalley before the now famous interview on Fox (which you can view here), though that interview did make me more interested in reading the book. There have been responses to that interview since that somewhat cast doubt on Reza Aslan’s integrity in that interview, stating that he doesn’t have the qualifications and background he claims to have, etc. I’m not really going to refer to those, but here’s a link to one of them in case you’re interested.
It might also be helpful to note that I’m not a Christian, I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and I think that the gospels are for the most part a beautiful story which can help teach us how to live. The “real” Jesus needn’t even have existed to be an example. I have a fairly literary take on scriptures of all stripes, so Reza Aslan isn’t stepping on my toes here.
I approached Zealot with some doubt, in any case, because it sounded too wonderfully inflammatory to be really an unbiased scholarly attempt. I actually liked Aslan’s writing style, and this felt less like a scholarly work, closer to a semi-fictionalised biography or something of that sort. If it was a story, it was somewhat dry; if it was a scholarly work, it was too informal. I also very much missed the presence of footnotes: there are some notes at the end of the book, but in the ebook they’re not easy to access and they seem to contain almost as much commentary as the original chapters!
There is a separate bibliography which is extensive and clearly laid out, but… overall, I can’t shake the feeling that we are being presented Reza Aslan’s personal convictions about what research he has done, not meticulous careful and, what’s more, original research. The actual areas where he quoted something and explained why it helped form his views seem actually quite few and far between, and his judgements on their reliability a bit patchy.
An interesting read, and a well-written book, but not something I can place too much faith in.