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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

С Новым 2012 Годом, Russian airlines, book clubs on Skype, and more...!

I am a little late, but still I'd like to wish you all a Happy New Year, once again from Russia. About a month ago, I flew into St. Petersburg for a geology conference and to meet with potential collaborators on future projects. In short, I was overwhelmed by their hospitality and eagerness to work together in studying Russian paleoclimate. Things are looking up, and I see myself returning soon for a more permanent stay.

The conference included a field trip (i.e. at the very least, walking around a bit in the snow), for which I came over-prepared. At the sound of "December", "59.5 degrees latitude", and "outside" in the same sentence, I packed heavily. Winter so far has been incredibly mild for St. Petersburg, however, and we scarcely saw the temperature drop below freezing (notwithstanding a chilling breeze on the plateau outside of town). For those interested (all 2 or 3 of you, I'm sure!), the mild winter here is a result of a strong, positive-phase North Atlantic Oscillation, which prevailed throughout December and shifted relatively warm cloud masses northward from the subtropical Atlantic. Emphasis on 'oscillation', of course; this weather won't keep for long.

On the bank of the Izhora River, late December.
After the field trip, and a day of collecting lake-sediment samples in the field, my wife and I spent nearly a week walking the streets of downtown St. Petersburg. To be sure, this modern tourist attraction was built for summer, but I was still taken back by the unique blend of European architectural styles, variegated historical imprints from Tsarist and Soviet empires, sampling of local cuisines served in cozy cafes, and the basic inability of residents to park their cars in a manner even broadly consistent with common decency and/or traffic school. Yes, I loved it all, including the morning service at this monument to geometry, less than a block from our hotel:

Kazanskiy Sobor; a prime example of 'blended architecture'.
After a long week, and perturbed by common colds, we opted to fly to Samara rather than spend 20 to 30 hours on the train. As much as I like the Russian railroad system, I love Russian airlines. We were able to buy the tickets the same day as the flight at normal prices. When one of our bags was too heavy to carry on, we were charged a whopping $12 to check it as a second bag (the first ones were free, of course). The planes all have ample overhead storage space and leg room (i.e. compared to American domestic services). Since we had to make a connection in Moscow, we had two flights around an hour each, but both served full dinners, dessert, choice of cold drink, and choice of tea/coffee. When I flew more than 4 hours to Washington D.C., I received a ginger ale and some pretzels.

Church of the Resurrection of Christ, aka Church of the 'Savior in Spilled Blood' (Спас на Крове).
Every New Year, I am reminded of the fact that I have never in my life made a New Year's Resolution (on the other hand, I've never broken one). That being said, I want to share my plans to continue a weekly book club and encourage you to indulge in the same. Over the past year, a couple friends and I have met via Skype for two hours every week to discuss the latest reading assignment. Do you have a list of books you need to read this year, but lack the motivation to do it yourself? Skype is the perfect tool to accomplish this for several reasons. First, you can make the club as big as comfortable, with members from around the country (or world, for that matter). It's a great way to keep in touch with old friends. Secondly, you need not travel to some central location. Even when all are in the same city, scheduled meetings can feel like an inconvenience, in my opinion. On a similar note, you can wear whatever you'd like to the book club (and I do mean anything!) and sit anywhere with internet access. Finally, meetings are easy to reschedule and offer little inconvenience when canceled.

However you wish to accomplish your annual reading, I strongly encourage you to do it in a group. The best way to learn any subject is to teach it, and book clubs allow you to reiterate what you read, argue for or against the author's message, and of course receive feedback from trusted friends. Book clubs are also the ideal setting to work through more 'controversial' readings--that is, books that challenge your worldview, social setting/background, or academic ideology--or publications that are beyond your normal comprehension/expertise. Since January 2011, for example, we made it through the following works:

New Testament and the People of God (N.T. Wright)
Inspiration and Incarnation (Peter Enns)
Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Richard Hays)
A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Helmut Thielicke)
Jesus and the Victory of God (N.T. Wright)
Covenant and Eschatology (Michael Horton)
Resurrection of the Son of God (N.T. Wright)

Along with several published articles (complementary or critical responses, etc. from journals and blogs), the list totals just under 3,000 pages--far more than I would have read on my own had I drawn it up at the beginning of the year. Though admittedly I missed a handful of reading assignments (20-30 pages here and there), the advantage of having a book club is that you can review the missed content with or without reading it later. New Year's Resolutions are easy to break, but where two or three are gathered, you have no choice but to keep up. So give it a shot; see what you think. Organize a book club or study group online through Skype--with friends or enemies, acquaintances or strangers--and reclaim your lost efforts.

Дом Книги - "House of Books", St. Petersburg
I suppose I will end my ramblings here. Though I've been quiet recently (as per last post), I have kept up on the latest efforts of AiG and ICR (including the outlandish claim that 126,000-year-old sediments found by the Dead Sea Drilling Project confirmed the historicity of the Abrahamic narrative?!). Perhaps next week, after I return to the states, I'll find the time to interact with those efforts properly. Until then, feel free to leave feedback or suggestions regarding my update and exhortation to read more in 2012.

До свидания!


  1. Thanks for the update.

    We have had an abnormally mild winter here in Montana as well. I wonder if we are affected by the same weather pattern. (I went for a bike ride the other day and it was about 55 degrees!)

    I love your book list. I think that is a great idea to a book club on Skype.


  2. Hello! Thank you for your article. I’d like to try your service to compare it to my previous experience of learning Russian over Skype. I did 10 lessons by Skype with a native speaker from http://preply.com/en/russian-by-skype. And I was pretty satisfied with their quality. I think they provide top tutors, but I want to try another option.