Thursday, August 2, 2007

This Week at the Library (2/8)

Last week's reading was primarily nonfiction, as half my reading pertained to the classes I'm going to be taking. The other two books -- Theories for Everything and The Mammoth Hunters -- were unrelated to my classes. The first book I read was The Mammoth Hunters, which is third in the Earth's Children series. The author, Jean M. Auel, continues to tell the story of Ayla to us. This book concentrates on character development primarily because there's little else to concentrate on; the first book had to explain the culture of the Clan to the readers, and the second had to introduce and explain the "Others" by way of telling Jondolar's backstory. Jondolar's people -- the Zelandonii -- are not that different from the people Ayla and Jondolar live with in this book, the Mamutoi. Because of this, the book focuses on how Ayla fits in with the Mamutoi. Their camp is quite different from the camp of the Clan, as they are a completely foreign culture to her. Throughout the book she adapts and picks up an additional love interest. The conflict between her and her two suitors builds throughout the book. The effect for me was ruined because I accidentally read the first page of this book's sequel and knew how the conflict was resolved. This book series has more romance than I am accustomed to reading through, but given that most of my reading is nonfiction and science fiction, that's not all together suprising. I thought the book's ending was rushed, though -- and very anticlimactic. I was expecting a bit more drama, but…nothing. The book just ends in a sort of a "bythewaythisistheend" fashion. I knew what was coming, though, and I suppose it was wise of the author to not bother dragging the conclusion out out.

Theories for Everything would constitute the bulk of my reading for last week, and would be the reason I didn't finish The German Empire on time. Theories is an overview and history of science. It isn't dull, but there is a lot of material to be covered and it took me a while. Theoriesis one of those books I wish I had in my private library, because it's a handy resource that I'd like to return to again. It's a bit like a popular science book and a bit like a science textbook. The book has multiple authors, experts in their respective fields. I found the book to be most enlightening, especially the chapter on medicine. I didn't know much about medicinal history, and had no idea that there were competing theories in that field as well that caused contention throughout the course of history. The book increased my appreciation for Hippocrates, which is saying something since I already liked him a good deal. The book does a good job of informing the reader, and no technical knowledge in any of these fields is required. The only chapter that didn't hold my attention was the one on brains, which is interesting given how much I loved reading Phantoms in the Brain a month or so ago.

The Middle Ages by Dorothy Mills is a splendid little history of the medieval era in Europe. Mills tells the story of history as if she's telling a story, and I enjoyed it considerably. The use of "Mohammedan" caught my eye; like "coloureds", it's one of those words that betrays the time in which the book was written. I checked out the book's copyright, and it was written in 1935. That makes it the oldest first-print edition book I've ever read; before this it was The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. "Mohammedan" is used to describe members of the Islamic faith, and they don't like it because it implies they worship Mohammed. Considering how some Muslims acted last year during the Danish cartoon controversy, I'd say the implication is justified -- but I would only use it to describe those Muslims who go apeshit when their prophet's image is depicted. Mills doesn't use the word pejoratively.

The last book I read this week -- and the one I didn't finish until this week -- was Michael Stürmer's The German Empire. It's not a long book; in fact it's small, short, and thin. It took me longer than expected to finish Theories, though, so I didn't finish the book until early this week. I need more background in German history to really appreciate this book; that the reader would have some knowledge about Germany's history is implied. I do have some background into German history (through The Complete Idiot's Guide to Nazi Germany, which had to establish how Nazism managed to take hold in an "enlightened" country), and the parts of this book that I was able to understand built upon that background. There were some parts of this little book that I didn't quite understand, but I'll keep reading on German history and one day return to this book and it will be old stuff.

Pick of the Week: Theories for Everything

That ends last week. This week I came to the library with a short list of promising titles. I like it when I can come with a list, because wandering around the library waiting for books to catch my eye is fairly hit-and-miss. Generally, books arrive on my list through shows like This American Life and friends' recommendations. This week's list:

[*]Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter. I heard an interview with President Carter and when he was asked a few difficult questions, he deferred to the book. I can understand that, because the questions he was asked were the kind that need explanations; explanations you don't want to leave at the mercy of an audio engineer who to produce an hour-long show. I decided to pick the book up; I've been meaning to read some of Carter's books for a while now.

[*]The Plains of Passage. This is fourth in the Earth's Children series.

[*]A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut is a name I heard a bit about after he died, and apparently he was this century's Mark Twain. I checked out one of his books a few weeks back -- Cat's Cradle -- but didn't really get into it because it was a bad week for reading and I wanted to be reading about history and science anyway. A Man Without a Country is one of his nonfictional works.

[*]The Truth (with Jokes) by Al Franken. I've forgotten how I came to want to read this book. I've never watched his show, as I grew up in a home without television. When I went to the library, I was able to find all of these except for The Truth (with Jokes). The library's webcat said that the book was there and checked in, but I searched and couldn't find it. I suppose it was on the reshelve cart or that some patron had it and was walking around with it. I wanted to read something by Franken, though, and so found myself looking for Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them. The book's cover featured Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, George Bush, and Dick Cheney. I knew then that it was promising. I didn't like Coulter and O'Reilly when I was a conservative back in high school and I don't like `em now.

While at a computer terminal accessing the library's webcat, I noticed a familiar face in the Featured Books section. The Featured Books section of the library in my hometown is near the main desk, and they put books there every two weeks (I think that's the schedule) that relate to a particular theme. One week the theme is local history, another week it's the paranormal (kudos to my library for including Carl Sagan's A Demon-Haunted World among the books about alien abductions and such; gotta keep the voice of reason in there); the theme varies. I don't know what the theme was this week, but I saw a face I recognized from The Late Show with David Letterman. It was this guy named Don Rickles, and I remember him because he has a unique face and insulted Letterman throughout the course of the interview. I remember that he was supposed to have palled around with Frank Sinatra and that he included some stories in the book -- so I check it out. My reading for this week, therefore, is as follows.

  1. A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
  2. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken
  3. The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel
  4. Rickles' Book by Don Rickles.
  5. Our Endangered Values by President Jimmy Carter.

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