Pearls of Juggling Review

Pearls of JugglingPearls of Juggling by Anthony Trahair
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pearls of Juggling is the distillation of 20 years of practicing, teaching and performing the art of juggling. Without teaching a single trick, this book will improve your juggling. How is that? Well, by inspiring you to get out and try something new, to push yourself, to make you think about your physicality as you juggle, and to engage better with your audience. Jugglers of almost all abilities can dip in a pick a section to take into their practice session. To pick a few at random, Developing a training plan, Keep a juggler’s log book, Juggling with emotions, Getting a laugh and Adrenaline. With most books focusing on technique, it is refreshing to find one that steps back and looks at the whole juggler, bringing the fun and play back into juggling while at the same time learning how to improve posture, movement, develop character as a performer.

This is also a beautiful book to own and occupy pride of place on the juggler’s coffee table. It is richly illustrated with cartoons, indian-style characters, and abstract images from a number of talented artists.

I highly recommend this to all jugglers and those interested in juggling. It’s an entertaining read which will inspire you to improve your juggling.

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Dawkins or Dork-ins?

Under pressure to add some new content to my blog! I’ve been so busy enjoying cultural activities this week that I haven’t had any time to reflect on them.

Since several people have asked me what I thought of Richard Dawkins’s lecture (The God Delusion, Birmingham Library Theatre, Weds. 11th Oct.) – part of the Birmingham Book Festival, I thought I would answer their question first.

Richard Dawkins began his lecture as little more than a farce. He took easy shots at organised religion (naturally in it Judaeo-Christian form), by quoting from the King James Version, which would make anything sound archaic. Of course, he quotes portions of the Old Testament that show it in the worst possible light, and he delights in the laughter of the audience.

It gradually becomes clear that Dawkins is trying to show that all human beings, including religious ones, decide their morality on other grounds than their holy book. Christians simply cherry-pick quotations that support their chosen morality, ignoring anything that seems to contradict it (including much of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy). The point is that we do not need the Bible to decide what is right and wrong.

(Interestingly from my point of view, Dawkins does not address the more fundamental question of how we can have right and wrong in a world without God and without meaning. Nor does he suggest what meaning might mean in a world without meaning… Sadly, I did not feel empowered enough to stand up and ask either of these questions.)

However, even without my intervention, Dawkins singularly failed to disprove the existence of God. In fact, he actually admitted that this cannot be done. He passed over chapters on the arguments for and against the existence of God, which I thought was odd for a lecture entitled ‘The God Delusion’.

Dawkins’s central premise is that consciousness (and therefore intelligence) has necessarily arisen late in the evolutionary process, and so it is impossible that intelligence could have designed the process – not having yet evolved. The complexity of the universe only has the appearance of intelligent design because it is the product of a process (natural selection) that weeds out less elegant mutations because they fail to survive.

(All of which still leaves the question undecided for me: whether an intelligent God from outside the universe may have set in motion this very elegant natural system within it. The evidence of the mechanism is not enough to prove or disprove God’s existence. That is the job of faith…)

I have not given you a very full account of the event, yet I already feel I’ve gone on for long enough! I would just add that Dawkins speaks very articulately and draws fine logical distinctions. For these abilities he is to be praised.

The heading for this entry comes from my friend Tim, by the way…

Look out for the Birmingham Book Festival!

Coming in October is the annual Birmingham Book Festival

In previous years, I have seen Douglas Coupland and other well-known writers. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to hear readings from new work again this year, as well as taking part in some cafe-style discussion sessions.

Who knows? Perhaps I’ll meet some interesting people while I’m at it!

Book Review – The Handbook of the Christian Soldier

EnchiridionDespite its militaristic title, the ‘Enchiridion’ of Erasmus is actually a book of lofty – and peaceful – ideals.

The Latin title is ambiguous, as it can mean ‘dagger’ or ‘handbook’. Erasmus intended it as a handy little book of virtue that could be kept in the pocket and drawn out in order to do battle with temptation (hence the military metaphors).

First published in 1503, the Enchiridion was a huge success in its time. It is perhaps the clearest statement of Erasmus’ Christian Humanism as it relates to individual morality. The particular focus is on avoiding vice, and there are 22 tips on how to do this.

‘enter upon the road of salvation […] with resolute purpose’ (from the 2nd rule)

‘place Christ before you as the only goal of your life’ (4th rule)

‘attempt to progress always from visible things, which are usually imperfect or indifferent, to invisible’ (5th rule)

The problem is that Erasmus draws too sharp a distinction between the physical and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible. In emphasising the purity of the Spirit, he denigrates the body. This process reaches its worst excesses in his discussion of lust and pride.

In a section entitled ‘Remedies against certain special vices, and first against lust’, he talks about kissing ‘the stinking flesh of a harlot’ and handling ‘loathsome filth’ (p. 116). I cannot help but compare the attitude of Jesus, who treated prostitutes with respect and allowed his feet to be washed with the tears of a sex-worker.

‘Against haughtiness and arrogance of mind’, Erasmus writes that one of the principal deterrents to pride is ‘the thought of what you are of yourself, putrefaction in your birth, a mere bubble in your lifetime, the food of worms in your death’ (p. 123). Surely this is going too far?

Book Review – So Many Ways to Begin

so many waysThis is Jon McGregor’s second novel. The first was If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (London: Bloomsbury, 2003).

So Many Ways to Begin focusses on David, a man in his fifties or sixties, as he tries to find make sense of his life. A dedicated museum curator, David lovingly collects and catalogues artifacts from every stage of his life. The story is told through these items.

The use of physical objects, often worn or marked by the passage of time, gives this novel a lived-in feel. The characters feel real, physical, and worn like the objects they handle, keep or discard.

The result is a kind of ‘sentimental realism’; the events of everyday life are described in all their messiness (including some very honest sex-scenes), but this honesty feels tender rather than detached. McGregor is able to convey a lot of information with subtlety and emotional authenticity.