Book Review: The Divine Secret

The Divine Secret:  The Awesome And Untold Truth About Your Phenomenal Destiny, by Joe Kovacs

Having previously read and reviewed the author’s previous book Shocked By The Bible [1], a friend of mine from church loaned the book to me so that I could read and review this one, and like its previous volume I have to say that this book appears to be written by someone who is aware of both the contemporary fondness for divine “secrets” as well as the doctrines of the Church of God.  Indeed, this book appears like the central point of The Incredible Human Potential rewritten with a more contemporary voice.  Other than that, the central point and argument of the book appears very similar with a wide variety of writings from the Church of God culture as a whole that point out the biblical statements that believers will be sons and daughters in the family of God with all that entails.  The fact that this is what the Bible says concerning the future of humanity (at least those who do not persist in rebellion against God) makes this book easy to endorse as far as its message is, and it was certainly a pleasant and enjoyable book to read with solid interpretation of key scriptures and skillful organization and structure.

This book is a relatively short one at less than 200 pages and it is divided into three chapters.  After a short introduction, the first chapter discusses the “secret” of mankind being promised to become the children of God, pointing out that this is in fact not a particularly hidden secret in the Bible but is something that is openly mentioned quite frequently in scripture (1).  After that the author discusses the quickening, and what it means to be born of the spirit, when flesh and blood is transformed into the spirit and we will become like Jesus Christ, and possessed of the same form and nature, something that is admittedly hard to understand but also something the author does a good job at describing (2).  After that the rest of the book focuses on the kingdom of God, where the author discusses such matters as its being paradise, the reality of the government of God, and the good news that a fair chance offers to people in the great white throne judgment that is to take place before those who are changed enjoy the new heavens and new earth, and the author even comments on the likely 100-year length of this particular judgment.

For me, the biggest question in this book is one that the author does not even develop, but which comes obviously from the material itself.  If the destiny of mankind is to become sons and daughters united into the family of God and part of God’s kingdom, ruling over the universe and engaged in who knows what business, what implications does that have for the here and now?  The author himself makes it clear that he does not belong to any particular organization, but yet he reads the Bible and understands that in the world to come all who God calls and who heed that call and walk according to God’s ways will be part of the same family.  What obligations are placed on our present conduct by our belief that we will all be united as one family?  How is the unity of the spirit and of the faith to be shown by us in our conduct with other believers?  To be sure, God’s people have not done a very good job at demonstrating our unity among those who share our basic beliefs as well as our shared history.  Quite the contrary.  What is to be done about this?


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Book Review: Children Of Earth And Sky

Children Of Earth And Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay

In many ways this is a deeply interesting novel, and it illustrates the author openly seeking to pursue a variety of agendas.  Some of these agendas are ones I can wholeheartedly support, such as the value of wit and cleverness in a world where one is frequently in a variety of danger, or the agenda of recognizing the historical sacrifices of an unpopular and even piratical culture, showing how it is that cultures on the edges of civilizational battles do not always behave in ways that are approved by their more cultured fellows.  Some of the agendas the author supports, though, especially as it relates to matters of religion and morality, are not ones that I am supportive of, and this book is certainly full of a great deal of awkwardness in how it demonstrates people and their behavior with a blase sense of tolerance or even approval of their wicked behavior even as it notes religious disapproval of certain things, especially in that it makes a great many immoral people seemingly heroic figures despite (or maybe even because of) their irregular conduct.  I must admit that this book did not leave me to identify with as many people as the usual one by this author because of these matters.

This particular book can be said to be another one of the author’s Italian series of novels (like A Brightness Long Ago), in that it focuses on a motley group of people centered around the relationship between port cities like Venice and Ragusa with the Holy Roman and Ottoman Empires who seek to dominate the Balkans and whose affairs and warfare must be navigated.  Through various eyes and in various locales we see ambassadors and spies operating, we see a painter struggling to fulfill a commission without getting himself killed, we see an old dowager Byzantine Empress struggling with the loss of power that came about when her city was sacked by the Ottomans decades before, and we see the lives that are caught in the continual conflict among formal armies on the sides of Christians and Muslims as well as various bandit groups and militia forces that are imperfectly under the control of either side.  The end result is a combustible tale of bravery and the struggle to build one’s own life in the face of heavy pressures from outside and a difficulty in understanding how or why things happen and by what design we exist.

Indeed, this sort of book is likely a test of what an author can identify.  Do you identify with the Venetian artist sent far from home and put in danger in order to gratify the artistic desires of a bloodthirsty Ottoman sultan?  Do you identify with the piratical young woman who sleeps around and casually kills others with a desire to avenge the losses suffered by her family due to Balkan wars between Christians and Muslims?  Do you identify with the Italian noblewoman who is rescued from a nunnery in order to pretend to be the wife of a doctor and then seeks to find her own way that does not involve returning home to her cruel and bullying father?  Do you identify with the young man taken from his family and village and trained to be a brutal and bloodthirsty Muslim warrior for the Ottomans only to find himself torn by memories of his old life and the realization that his sister is miraculously alive instead of having been killed at his own hand?  Or do you identify with various minor characters, such as an urbane ambassador who hates his posting in frigid Prague or the merchant seeking a good wife and profit while maintaining his honor?  There are a great deal of choices here, but most of them are not really good, they are just choices among various types of ordinary and flawed people.

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Book Review: The Last Light Of The Sun

The Last Light Of The Sun, by Guy Gavriel Kay

By the time one has read five novels by the same author, one can understand pretty easily if one is going to like them or not, considering that authors tend to work with the same sorts of patterns and have a certain emotional range in their works.  Although this book is certainly different in what it focuses on compared to the other novels by the author I have read, it has a great deal of similarity with most of the novels and exists in the same shared universe and thus has the virtues and flaws that Kay’s other novels do, more virtues than flaws to be sure, but some of both it must be admitted.  A great deal of this work depends for its emotional resonance on the relationship between fathers and sons, and that is a subject that I can deeply relate to in terms of my own life, and it is fascinating to see the two main father and son relationships that we see in this book, between a Viking hero turned murderer and exile on the one hand and his son, a servant who stole a horse and escaped death to seek his own way as a mercenary, as well as a lightly fictionalized King Alfred and his heir, burdened by having such a saintly father.

This particular book of about 500 pages takes place during the reign of King Alfred when the building of fortified cities in Wessex and the establishment of the settlement of Vikings in the Danelaw made England a less attractive target for Viking raids.  Throughout the course of this novel we see how Alfred deals with the Welsh kingdoms to his west, vikings who continue to attempt to raid and cause trouble, including by killing his officials, and also his own family drama and his struggle with his faith.  Meanwhile, the viking leaders themselves are seeking to consolidate their power and facing the pull of religious reform even as some people long for the social mobility of the good old days.  One sees a consistent pattern of people trying to recover from earlier mistakes and struggle over faith and how to live life in the face of a numinous world and also deal with how to achieve their goals and repair relationships that have been broken through error and folly.  It is a novel with a high degree of heaviness in how it portrays its characters and their struggles.

While the author’s emotional power and his ability to create an epic novel in terms of its scope while remaining deeply personal in its discussion of relationships and little incidents of great power is impressive, this book is by no means perfect.  One of the consistent aspects of the author’s writings that I find irritating and problematic even is the way that the author handles the matter of religion.  Here, as is common in the author’s writings, there is a great deal of unhealthy interested shown by the author and by some of the characters into mystical aspects of Celtic and other heathen religions, and the author himself seeks to show a common humanity without showing a coherent monotheistic faith to provide an overarching and universal morality.  This incoherence between the author’s desire to defend humanity on universalist grounds and his total inability to reflect a universal rule in heaven that could lead to universal peace and respect on earth is a consistent tonal misfire that one reads over and over again in the author’s novels.  The author clearly has a high degree of fondness for polytheism and a corresponding lack of ability to really understand Christianity for what it is, which is troublesome when he tries to write about Christianity so often and misunderstands it so deliberately and so lamentably.

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Death Race For Love

Do celebrity deaths matter?  Today, as I write this, I have two celebrity deaths in my mind.  The first is of rapper JuiceWRLD, a 21-year old who had made two reasonably successful pop albums and had achieved some chart success with emo rap music aimed at depressed young people like himself.  His life was cut way too short when he apparently died of a seizure in an airport.  Like many people, I was not a particular fan of his music but at the same time he died way too young, before he had the chance to grow up and make some much better music.  He was snuffed out way before his time in an alarming trend among emo rappers to die even younger than most musicians do, which is too young already.  The second death is of Rene Auberjonois, a talented European-American author who was in his late 70’s and who had achieved a great deal of success as a character actor in a great many television shows and films.  Speaking personally, I most appreciate his work as Constable Odo in Star Trek:  Deep Space 9, as well as his voice work in Disney’s A Little Mermaid, but he also acted in memorable turns in such series as Boston Legal as well as Benson, among many other projects.

While I must admit I feel no emotional tie to either of these men, they do represent two very different types of celebrity deaths.  On the one hand, one of these people lived a full and long life and was able to accomplish much, while the other was cut short before he really had a chance to grow beyond angsty and melodramatic teen poetry, and thus never had a chance to reveal his talent, however far it extended.  Surprisingly enough, both of these men were praised by those who worked with them as good souls, gentle people who were great to work with.  And that is greatly to be praised.  While I must admit I knew neither of these people personally, it is clear that both of them received a lot of goodwill for the way that they worked with others and that is something to be praised.  It is good to be missed, whether one does young or old or anywhere in between.  Death always means a loss of talent, a loss of potential, and a reminder that none of us knows how long we will live or how much we will be able to accomplish in our all-too-short time on this earth.

Yet in many ways I find it hard to feel emotional about the deaths of celebrities.  As people, I do not rejoice in the death of anyone, but in terms of one’s works, death marks a spot by which one’s works can no longer be added to and one will be judged by one’s deeds up to that point.  May they be judged with mercy, for the sake of all of us.  A great many people attach a high degree of emotional resonance with celebrities, which is deeply unfortunate as a great many live all kinds of disordered and dishonorable lives which are shortened by physical ailments brought on by their stressful lifestyles and tendency for drug and alcohol abuse as well as violence and the general demented celebrity culture of self-destruction.  At their best, we are left with a body of work that we can watch or listen to with a high degree of respect and a melancholy feeling of loss for not having had more, or at other times we are left with cautionary tales that may prompt us all to change our behavior if we are living in ways that might lead us to an untimely grave ourselves.  And yet because we see celebrities and appreciate the culture that they bring to us, we tend to feel a greater sense of loss than we do at the death of all the roughly 150,000 or so other people who die on average every day, or a rate of roughly 1.8 deaths per second, most of whom are entirely unknown to us and so do not affect us all, however decent and honorable their lives may be.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I think it is unwise if we allow ourselves to become emotionally attached to people who we cannot influence and who do not know us and who, ultimately, we do not know.  Artists in general have a hard time with intimacy and a great many artistic works of great power and resonance are the result of one’s struggles with frustrated longings and a lack of ability in being able to get along with others and communicate with others and be at peace in our world.  We may read what others write or listen to what others sing or play or watch what others act, and we may delude ourselves into thinking that we know their souls or that they are speaking to us, and as a result we may very often find ourselves in the sad position of being attached to people who do not know our existence and who might not be the sort of people we think them to be.  We will be led to put down other people because they appreciate other actors or other series or other artists or because they think poorly of the art that our chosen celebrity has helped create.  And this is a great problem, in that we allow our imaginary and fictive bonds with celebrities to make us worse people to others than we would otherwise be if we simply were patient and longsuffering with their awkwardness as we would hope they would be to ours.  And surely the celebrities themselves are real people, sometimes people who even show aspects of themselves in the art that they help create, but unless we are a part of their worlds, we are limited in how much of them we really are connected to and really understand.  Does it make us better people to mourn them when they die, even if they never knew us or interacted with us at all?

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Book Review: A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago, by Guy Gavriel Kay

This book is clearly part of a larger set of novels.  Although this is the first of the novels by the author that I have read that has focused in his fictionalized universe in Europe–the first two novels I read of his were in his fictionalized version of China and the third was based on the real world–it is clear that this book has a larger context that is deeply interesting.  And Kay’s interest in looking at decisive hinges in history does not fail him here, as a great deal of the power of this novel comes from the portrayal of condottiere quarrels in Italy during the Renaissance as well as the dramatic catastrophe that was the fall of Sarantium (Constantinople) for the Christians of the Balkans in particular.  For the most part this book is a retrospective memoir of a man who was able to rise a great deal due to his pluck and his intellect and his loyal service to his city, and that makes it certainly a very appealing way to discuss the fragmentary but definitely interesting materials that the book contains, while also exploring young love and the nature of memory and grudges, all of which are deeply fascinating matters.

This novel is told in generally chronological fashion with a fair amount of foreshadowing by the book’s narrator, Guidanio Cerra, who is a merchant’s son schooled with elites who ends up finding work with a beastly duke who is soon killed by a beautiful young assassin who is part of another ducal family while working for her uncle.  The young man finds his way in the world through his wits and pluck and meets up with her again later on, bedding her and then meeting her angry father, who later tries to have him killed.  The young man works as a bookseller for a bit and then finds himself serving his state of Seressa (Venice) in the diplomatic corps, involved in Italy’s complex politics, including a struggle between two mercenary lords who hate each other because of various lies that have been spread around for decades, which result in a tragic act of violence and retribution while the two are negotiating while news comes that Sarantium has fallen, putting everyone off balance and allowing for the possibility of ordinary healers and the sons of merchants and mercenary bands and the second sons of dukes to act in ways that can shape the destiny of nations.

Overall, this book really has an Italian feel to it, which is for the best.  Kay’s novels have occasionally looked at the rise of people even in very conservative social systems and this book is no different.  There are the usual strong feminist themes of women who try to rise above the restrictions of their sex, even if it sometimes ends up badly, as it does for the young woman here who finds herself a victim of urban rioting in her family’s duchy.  Likewise, there is little in the way of magic here except insofar as it relates to the author’s interests in ghosts and in the boundary between death and life and the way that some people have the power to speak with the dead and receive some sort of insight from them.  The author also deals with the question of how it is that city states sought to preserve a rough balance of power and how it was that people grew up and grew into their responsibilities.  Like a sparkling and witty tell-most memoir, this book shows Italy in a period of transition as its republics were about to face the foreign influence of Spain, France, and Austria as well as the religious wars that ended the Renaissance.

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What Makes You Basic

Last night at our congregation’s annual variety show, I was among three people chosen to embarrass ourselves answering questions Jeopardy-style for the amusement of the people in our congregation.  As it happens, the last category to be chosen involved postmodern slang, and thus I was able to demonstrate to my fellow congregants for their amusement that I had some knowledge of words like lit, ghosting, and basic.  Indeed, I must admit that I had not thought to call others basic before as it is not something that I tend to view necessarily as an insult.  Of course, I have seen plenty of memes about “basic white girls” and the like, and so I knew what the term was, making fun of people whose interests are all mainstream and don’t like anything that is unusual.  I am not the sort of person who would ever be accused of being basic given my own interest in obscure and odd subjects, even if I keep aware of what is in the mainstream even if I do not necessarily approve of it.

That said, it is worthwhile to talk at least a little bit about the subject, because as I thought about being basic, I reflected on the importance of avoiding being basic and why that might be a good thing.  A lot of mainstream trends are not very good.  Those which are not immoral are often silly and unimportant and will be embarrassing to people later on.  One of the reason why few adults bother to learn the slang of young people is that it does not tend to last and as soon as it becomes known by adults, it becomes uncool simply because it is widely known.  In a similar fashion, those who become popular in the mainstream become uncool to the hipster elite on precisely those grounds as well–it is not as if hipsters prefer superior culture, but they generally prefer obscure culture because it is less commonly known and hence more exclusive.  And I don’t happen to like either of those approaches myself.  Something isn’t worth liking because a lot of other people like it, nor is something not worth liking because it is worth appreciating by the mainstream.

What we should do instead is to cultivate our own sense of taste that is as independent as possible from the taste of either cultural elites or the masses.  If something resonates with us and it happens to be popular, that’s great.  If hardly anyone knows about it or likes it, that’s fine as well.  What we like doesn’t have to be either some great secret or popular everywhere.  It is not, after all, like the people whose art we appreciate are going to know us or care about us anyway.  If they are unpopular they are going to have their own lives and their own search for a living given the lack of support their art would give them as far as a living was concerned.  And if someone was popular in the mainstream they are going to have too many other people to worry about in their lives to care about what one fan or reviewer has to say about them.  We are immensely foolish if we tie any aspect of our own happiness in life to the fate of any contemporary artist with their dissolute and disordered ways, to say nothing about their lack of knowledge of our personal life and the lack of influence we would have on anything they decided to do.  Given the alarming rate at which celebrities die young through some kind of self-destruction, any sort of personal investment in people who do not know or care about us is rather unwise.

Yet part of being basic is being unwise, I assume, in thinking that one will be popular or at least popular enough because one happens to like popular things.  We live in such a fragmented and deeply divided culture that every choice to like (or disapprove of) something leads to being disliked by a particular audience.  After all, stan culture is not always just about what to like, but also what to dislike, and every artist and every genre has, it seems, some sort of disregard for others.  Things cannot simply be enjoyed, but we must pit high and low culture against each other, different genres against each other, different artists within the same genre against each other, and so on and so forth.  That is part of what it means to be basic, after all, whether one is a basic hipster or basic white girl or anything else.  In such an age as our own we need to be offended and bothered about something, lest we feel we are not alive.  And sadly, I am no different than anyone else as far as that goes.

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Book Review: Marcus Aurelius: A Guide For The Perplexed

Marcus Aurelius:  A Guide For The Perplexed, by William D. Stephens

It is a good thing that a book like this exists, but in reading it I can’t help but think that anyone who can appreciate this particular book is going to find it unnecessary.  Is the writing of Marcus Aurelius so hard to understand?  I don’t happen to think that his writing is too difficult to understand for those who approach his work with some knowledge of Stoicism and some degree of skepticism for the overheated claims that people make for Marcus’ wisdom as a sage emperor.  This book certainly is more clear-eyed than most about Marcus, recognizing his philosophical interests but at the same time not being blind to his logical fallacies as well.  And this certainly makes the book a more enjoyable read than it would otherwise have been.  In fact, I liked this book a great deal.  Indeed, this book did a very good job at putting Marcus Aurelius in a larger context and pointing out what he was referring to in some of his statements, all of which helps indicate what it is that he had read and appreciated, and that is something worth knowing for any good author.

This book is a relatively short one at just over 150 pages of reading material.  The book begins with a list of illustrations and acknowledgements and then moves on to discuss Marcus Aurelius as a man, an emperor, and as a thinker (1), viewing his performance of different roles over the course of a long and complex life.  After that the author looks at the importance of Heraclitus and Epicetetus on the thinking of Aurelius (2), starting with Heraclitus’ views on the logos, sleeping, the harmony of opposites, the river, as well as fluxes and fortitude and then moving on to Epicetetus’ views on Socrates as a stoic hero, dualism, being at death’s door, and the theater of life.  After that the author looks at the matter of wholes an parts in Aurelius’ thinking (3), including the question of the role of the citizen in the state.  After this comes a discussion of time, transience, and eternity (4) as it relates to Aurelius’ writing and thinking as we know it, as well as a final chapter on virtues, vices, and junk (5).  The book ends with an epilogue on the soul of a stoic and then contains an appendix that discusses the portrayal of stoicism in the film Gladiator, as well as notes, a glossary, suggestions for further reading, and a subject and name index.

In reading this book, does one get the sense of knowing Marcus Aurelius better?  I must admit, this book does not answer the sort of questions I would most have about him, but that is by no means a bad thing.  Who can know a Roman emperor personally almost two thousand years in the future, and who would want to anyway?  To be sure, there are some people who draw a great deal of insight and encouragement from his writing and thinking and that is something that we can recognize even if we do not necessarily understand or approve of it entirely.  Those who read this book will certainly understand Marcus Aurelius’ writings better and may find something in the many roles the man undertook to be an inspiration for one’s own life.  To be sure, the emperor and I have very different views of virtue and vice and junk, for example, but one can respect those one disagrees with, and that is certainly worth something.  In times such as our own where people routinely disregard any sort of insight from those that they disagree with, it is especially important for us to be otherwise, and this book certainly helps with that.

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Book Review: The Essential Marcus Aurelius

The Essential Marcus Aurelius, edited by Jacob Needleman and John P. Piazza

You know how it is when a musician who only had an album or two of material starts to look less impressive than otherwise when one has an essential greatest hits collection that makes a sketchy career look even sketchier?  That is what we are dealing with here.  I have mixed feelings about Marcus Aurelius and the way that so many people try to paint him as a particularly insightful ruler and moral exemplar when he was definitely someone far more questionable than is often seen as the case.  When one is dealing with a writer who really only has two known works–namely his Meditations and the far lesser correspondence he kept up with one of his old instructors, Fronto, it is rather telling and unfortunate that this book only focuses on Aurelius’ fragmentary meditations even though the editors themselves say that the reader would be remiss to miss reading his correspondence as well, a task that would have been much easier had the editors included any of the more important passages from those letters as part of the “essential” writings of a thoughtful Roman emperor, which would have been an easy thing to do.

This slim volume is barely over 100 pages if one includes the glossary and suggestions for further reading, presenting a selection of some of Marcus Aurelius’ thoughts, more of the first few books than the latter ones.  The editors begin this book with a discussion of Marcus Aurelius’ life and philosophy in such a way that it tries to present the emperor as not being as anti-Christian as he likely was while also giving a high deal of praise to his stoic philosophy, also more than he probably deserves.  The various selections included a fair amount of the first six books or so of Aurelius’ meditations but fewer of the later ones, likely because such materials are far more tied into the personal history of the author and the editors only want to include material that has the timeless sort of quality that they would think that self-help reading audiences are looking for.  And it should be noted that this book is far more notable for what it does not contain than what it does contain, in that nothing that is not a part of the Meditations is deemed by the editors as essential writings from Marcus Aurelius, which is likely mistaken.

It is not that this book is bad, because it is not.  Truly, Marcus Aurelius is not a bad author and any book that contains his writing or a thoughtful discussion of his writing is going to be at least okay.  Nevertheless, in a world where there are a great many books (quite a few of which I have read) that meet this standard, is this book truly essential?  No, in fact I can safely say that this book is not even in the top 5 books of and about Marcus Aurelius that I have read in the past month.  And I am sure that there are books that I have not read that would be very good as well.  Given that kind of competition, this book is like a second-rate compilation of a writer with a very limited body of work, and as ambivalently as I feel about Marcus Aurelius, I think he deserve better than that.  Whether or not that is a bad thing, this is the sort of book that only includes obvious high points that some readers (myself included) have read quite a few times already, without the inclusion of anything other than the most obvious material.

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Book Review: How To Think Like A Roman Emperor

How To Think Like A Roman Emperor:  The Stoic Philosophy Of Marcus Aurelius, by Donald Robertson

A more accurate title for this book would have been:  The Stoic Philosophy Of Donald Robertson.  Very often in life we find that people who profess to express the reality of some person or even in history only end up telling us about themselves.  That is the case here.  The more you come to this book knowing the biography and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, the less you will be impressed by the author’s phony stoicism and his attempts to bolster the respect that others have for his inhuman heathen philosophical views by slanting and skewing the life and writing of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.  The reader of this book should be prepared for the fact that they will be reading the author’s personal philosophy that only occasionally and in passing resembles the life and behavior of the titular Roman Emperor that is being written about.  Of course, that is the hazard of reading a book written by someone who is in charge of a contemporary stoic society that they would seek to promote a particular view of a philosophy rather than seek to honestly and openly discuss the subject at hand.

This book is a bit less than 300 pages and it is divided into eight chapters.  After a personal introduction, the book begins rather strangely with the discussion of Marcus Aurelius’ death and the story of stoicism, which the author is keen to promote (1).  There is then a discussion of Marcus’ youth and how he learned to speak wisely (2).  There is an exploration on how contemplates wisdom and learns from sages and follows one’s values, which is the sort of vague pablum that the author promotes as opposed to godly virtue (3).  The author talks about Marcus’ attempts to conquer desire (even though he had many kids) (4), and there is in general a strong Cognitive-Behavioral bias that comes from the author’s professional experience.  The author then discusses the tolerance of pain that stoicism encourages (5).  After that the author talks about overcoming ear and anxiety through cultivating the inner citadel of internal strength (6).  The author discusses some of the political matters of the empire at the time and the problem of temporary madness and anger (7).  Finally, the author ends with a discussion of the death that comes to us all, ending where it began (8), after which the book ends with various supplementary indices and bibliographies.

This book is certainly biased and partial.  What is not mentioned about Marcus Aurelius includes the rampant homosexuality of Hadrian, the fact that the emperor was viewed as a prig, the fact that his wife was viewed as unfaithful, the fact that his son was an absolute disaster as an emperor, and the fact that Marcus Aurelius was himself a persecutor of Christians who was fond of phonies.  All of this the author omits to mention or talks about only obliquely so as to avoid making Marcus Aurelius look bad.  To be sure, he was not a perfect person and this book does not present him as such, but all the same the author is seeking to borrow laurels from the emperor and so he is presented as being a bit better than he was.  This is lamentable but not all that uncommon.  This book is best for those who come into it with knowledge about Marcus Aurelius and can use the insights they gain from the author and his own life experience and not be led astray by the author and his own particular (and very obvious) bias.  Readers who lack this context may be more subject to be fooled, though.

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A Review Of The 2019 YE Hot 100: Part One

Having several times looked at the YE charts [1], I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect upon the most popular music of 2019.  While 2019 was certainly a better year for music than 2016 or 2018, there was definitely a lack of songs at the very top of the rankings.  It was hard to figure out songs to view as either the best or worst, as I didn’t feel particularly passionate about either the top or bottom of the charts.  A lot of songs on here simply exist.  I have heard them, I acknowledge their existence, and I don’t really have strong feelings about them.  I don’t think this year’s music will really stand out in the future aside from a few songs for both good and bad, and nothing on this year end chart is something that I think I will go out of my way to listen to the way I have felt about favorite songs in years past that I still listen to today.  With that said, I will go backwards from 100 to 1 and give a score from 1 to 10 along with some thoughts if I have them about the songs on this year’s end chart for your amusement.

#100:  Robbery – Juice WRLD – 0/10 – This song is laughably bad, not only one of the worst songs of the year but one that I couldn’t take seriously in the slightest.  Every time I heard this song I couldn’t keep myself from laughing at the angsty high school lyrics or the ridiculous framing of the song.  I’m almost glad this song made the YE chart simply to mock it.

#99:  Walk Me Home – P!nk – 9/10 – This song was one of the best songs of the year for me, a passionate reflection of someone with too many thoughts in one’s mind and the longing not to be alone, things I can defintely relate with.  This was probably my favorite hit song of the year, actually.

#98:  Boyfriend – Ariana Grande & Social House – 6/10 – This song is pleasant radio filler in a year where Ariana Grande released a lot of filler.  I don’t really have any strong feelings about it, but it exists and is at least decent.

#97:  All To Myself – Dan + Shay – 6/10 – The first of three songs on this YE chart by this country duo, it was a modest hit and I enjoy it modestly.  It’s not a song that I really like but it’s one I can listen to without being irritated.

#96:  Eyes On You – Chase Rice – 3/10 – This song could have been much better, and is really dragged down by the framing, where the singer/songwriter portrays himself as a lunkhead who only has leering eyes for his girl and has completely missed the enjoyment of the places where they go.

#95:  Beautiful – Bazzi f/Camila Cabello – 7/10 – I enjoyed this particular song and was glad that it gave Bazzi a second hit, if a minor one.  My feelings about this song aren’t particularly profound but it was a pleasant tune.

#94:  Talk You Out Of It – Florida Georgia Line – 5/10 – This song exists, and is actually the lowest charting song to ever make a YE Billboard List (it peaked at #57).  I’m not the biggest fan of the band as a whole but this song is average enough.

#93:  Hot Girl Summer – Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign – 5/10 – It exists, and it isn’t as loathsome a song as it could have been.  About the most noteworthy part of this song is that it didn’t peak until fall and fell of the charts far faster than expected because of the delay to get a Nicki Minaj feature, so that it missed capitalizing on, you know, being a summer song.

#92:  Shotta Flow – NLE Choppa – 4/10 – It exists?  I mean, this is the sort of song that I don’t find myself enjoying at all but I wasn’t upset by it either, so there’s that.

#91:  Tequila – Dan + Shay – 6/10 – This song was a holdover from last year’s charts and managed to have enough longevity to make the YE for 2019 as well.  It’s a moody breakup song but by no means a bad one.  By the way, moody breakup songs are going to be a theme here, so be prepared.

#90:  Cash S*** – Megan Thee Stallion f/DaBaby – 5/10 – DaBaby was a thing this year, and this song and Hot Girl Summer kept Megan Thee Stallion from being a one-hit wonder.  This song exists, and while I’m not very fond of it myself I can understand the appeal of seeing a woman flex about her wealth and so on and so forth.

#89:  One Thing Right – Marshmello & Kane Brown – 6/10 – I like this song more than most people do, thanks to the fact that I can get Kane Brown’s delivery, but this song was really hampered by the production.  Marshmello does not do a good job here, it must be admitted.

#88:  Love Lies – Khalid & Normani – 7/10 – This song was another holdover from last year’s YE chart and it was pleasant enough.  I still enjoy this song moderately even if I don’t seek it out, and Khalid & Normani have a low-key energy, even if Khalid has a lot of low-key in his musical approach.  This won’t be the last time I talk about it either.

#87:  Clout – Offset f/Cardi B – 7/10 – I enjoyed this song at least somewhat, and thought that it expressed a good reason for the existence of the marriage between the two of them, namely that both of them will do anything for the clout, and that they see being together as helping out each other’s clout.  There are worse reasons for being with someone, it must be admitted.

#85:  Good As You – Kane Brown – 6/10 – This song doesn’t leave a strong impression with me, but Kane Brown’s singing is certainly pleasant and the sentiment isn’t a bad one.

#85:  Look What God Gave Her – Thomas Rhett – 4/10 – I mean, I’m not as bothered by this song as some people are going to be, but it’s not a really great sentiment to use tropes from early 2000’s rap to brag about how hot a girl is.  One needs a bit more.

#84:  Baby – Lil Baby & DaBaby – 6/10 – This song is probably the most inevitable song in existence, where two rappers with baby in their names sing a song called baby, but at least DaBaby is moderately enjoyable here, so there’s that.

#83: How Do You Sleep? – Sam Smith – 6/10 – This song is more angsty melodrama from a man who provides plenty of that, but it’s not a bad listen and the singer certainly sings this song with conviction.

#82:  Swervin – A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie f/6ix 9ine – 3/10 – This isn’t a very good song, although it would admittedly have been a bit better without Snitch Nine in it.  This was the second and definitely the worse of the songs we got from the Spiderman animated film soundtrack.

#81:  Rumor – Lee Brice – 5/10 – This song is okay but I don’t really tend to have any strong feelings or any resonance at all when I listen to it.  It exists and was popular enough to make the charts, so there’s that.

#80:  Trip – Ella Mai – 8/10 – This song was certainly a pleasant and enjoyable holdover from last year and was one of the best R&B songs of the year.  Ella Mai is certainly a performer I would like to hear more from and this song did a good job of showcasing her vocals over an amazing DJ Mustard beat.

#79:  Knockin’ Boots – Luke Bryan – 7/10 – Although my enjoyment of this song wasn’t particularly deep it was at least an enjoyable song and I found myself nodding my head to it and that is pleasant enough.

#78:  Only Human – Jonas Brothers – 7/10 – One of two Jonas Brothers songs on the YE charts, this one has a cheap sort of 80’s feel, but it’s one that the band leans into, even if the song’s sentiments aren’t one I can wholeheartedly endorse.

#77:  Worth It – YK Osiris – 3/10 – This song is unpleasant to listen to and YK’s caterwauling certainly isn’t pleasant to hear.

#76:  My Type – Saweetie – 6/10 – This song exists and didn’t actively offend me, even if it’s sentiments aren’t really those I enjoy.  I can get the appeal of a song like this for some people but it wasn’t aimed at me.

#75:  Baby Shark – Pirnkfong – 0/10 – This song is one of the most annoying songs I have ever heard and it’s baffling that it became a big hit, but it is precisely the sort of song that children like because of its annoying qualities.

#74:  Close Friends – Lil Baby – 1/10 – Why does Lil Baby have a career?  This song is unpleasant to listen to and Lil Baby’s voice is a monotonus drone here.  I just can’t get the appeal of this.

#73:  Bury A Friend – Billie Eilish – 8/10 – The first of three Billie Eilish songs on this year’s YE chart, this is a song whose creepiness I can really enjoy.  It’s not a scary song, but its darkness is pretty clear.

#72:  Breathin – Ariana Grande – 8/10 – This song is my favorite of the Ariana Grande songs that appeared on the YE charts, and the one whose appeal most resonates with me.  Dealing with her efforts to keep moving after the Manchester terrorist bombing at a concert of hers, it is a song whose resolution to power through PTSD is something I can definitely endorse.

#71:  Leave Me Alone – Flipp Dinero – 5/10 – This song exists, and I’m surprised it leaves so little a trace.  I really can’t think of much that is distinctive about this song to me or any reason to look for something.

#70:  Trampoline – SHAED – 8/10 – I really dig the moody and atmospheric nature of this particular song, with its dreamlike feel.  I don’t think this band will necessarily have another big hit, but there are far worse things to be remembered for than this.

#69:  I Like It – Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin – 3/10 – I don’t really like this song, and the only parts of the song I even find tolerable are from the sample.  Cardi B and her associates don’t add anything to this song that pleases me at all.

#68:  Act Up – City Girls – 5/10 – I mean, this song exists, and it’s nice that City Girls have a career, but this isn’t a song that I really enjoy at all.

#67:  When The Party’s Over – Billie Eilish – 8/10 – This song is another enjoyable and very melancholy song from Billie Eilish, and even though it never became a big hit, it stuck around on the charts long enough to make the YE, and I’m happy for this.  You can really get a sense of genuine pathos here.

#66:  Murder On My Mind – YNW Melly – 6/10 – Although I don’t have very good feelings about the rapper who made this, this is the sort of melancholy reflection of urban violence that I can understand.  The fact that the song seems to mirror the real life of the rapper only makes it more poignant a reflection of waste.

#65:  Con Calma – Daddy Yankee & Katy Perry f/Snow – 4/10 – I’m glad that Snow has another hit but Katy Perry really drags this remix down.  I’d give a 6/10 to the original (?) song, which is itself a pleasant enough remix of Snow’s early 90’s cod raggae smash.

#64:  The London – Young Thug, J. Cole & Travis Scott – 5/10 – This song exists.  I don’t feel much about it, but I’m not bothered by it either.

#63:  Beer Never Broke My Heart – Luke Combs – 6/10 – I’m not much of a drinker but the sentiment of this song is certainly one I can understand and Luke Combs is an emotive country singer, so the appeal here is easy enough to see even if it’s not his best work.

#62:  Circles – Post Malone – 8/10 – This song is enjoyable adult alternative music for me at least, moody song about the winding down of a relationship that is easy enough to appreciate.  I’m glad it hit #1 for Posty.

#61:  Hey Look Ma, I Made It – Panic! At The Disco – 4/10 – My feelings about this song are conflicted.  On the one hand, I appreciate this song’s effort to portray the seedy underbelly and nothingness of pop glory, but this is a pop sellout that tries to gain credibility by attacking pop sellouts, and everything about this song appears cheap and cynical.

#60:  You Say – Lauren Daigle – 9/10 – If Lauren Daigle is a bit uncanny in being a Christian Contemporary Adele clone and even if it is unlikely that she will crossover again with massive pop success, this was a song whose message is one I can definitely endorse and the song held up despite massive overplay, and that’s worth a lot.

#59:  Envy Me – Calboy – 4/10 – I don’t really feel much of anything about this song and I can’t really envy the empty flexing from someone who was a no-name before this song and hasn’t done anything since then.

#58:  Close To Me – Ellie Goulding X Diplo f/Swae Lee – 7/10 – I actually enjoyed this song, in large part because of the bracing singing of Ellie Goulding.  Swae Lee, of course, will be talked about later, and he does his usual thing.  This song has a memorable hook, to be sure.

#57:  Taki Taki – DJ Snake f/Selena Gomez, Ozuna & Cardi B – 5/10 – The melody is okay, but I really didn’t like the singing on this song very much.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to listen to it much either.

#56:  The Git Up – Blanco Brown – 6/10 – If this song is a rip-off of Old Town Road (more on that later), and if it is slower than dance songs are, this was at least an enjoyable song as far as shameless cash grabs are concerned.  The fact that Blanco Brown appears likable as far as corporate plants go certainly helps as well.

#55:  Pure Water – Mustard & Migos – 6/10 – I must say that 2018 and 2019 have given me a much better appreciation of DJ Mustard as a DJ and artist, and if this song isn’t as good as some of his other work it’s certainly decent at least.

#54:  Be Alright – Dean Lewis – 7/10 – This song is a moody breakup song (no shortage of those this year), and there is a considerable gap between the platitudes the lyrics express and the downbeat nature of the song’s singing and framing, but honestly, that’s what I like most about the song.

#53:  God’s Country – Blake Shelton – 9/10 – I really appreciated this song, with its bombast and dark tone about the struggles of farming and Blake Shelton’s flinty and combative faith.  This was the third of the hits of this year that most resonated with me, and we’ve already talked about all of them.

#52:  Whiskey Glasses – Morgan Wallen – 6/10 – I’m not a huge fan of this song or the drinking that it celebrates, but it is certainly an honest and vulnerable wallowing in post-breakup sorrow, and I can respect that.

#51:  Wake Up In The Sky – Gucci Mane X Bruno Mars X Kodak Black – 4/10 – Why have we given Kodak Black more hits?  This song is pretty tired and awfully complacent about itself and none of the singers do a great job here.  Bruno Mars is a lot better than this and his 2019 hits were a big disappointment (more on that later).

To Be Continued…

[1] See, for example:

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