Wednesday, October 29, 2008

This Week at the Library (29/10)

Books this Update:
(Click titles for individual comments.)

I began this week with A Life of Her Own by Emilie Carles, the autobiography of an extraordinary woman who is born into an ultraconservative farming village in the French alps, but who develops into a strong-minded woman who thinks freely and offers her insightful commentary about social, historical, and political changes in France during the first half of the twentieth century. I found her personality to be exquisite, for lack of a better word. It is astonishing that someone of her background -- discouraged from thinking or feeling freely, raised in a society where loyalty to the king and to the church are paramount, where education is suspect -- could develop into such a humanistic intellectual.

Next I finished Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, which did not end quite the way I thought but in a way that wasn't all that surprising. The Worldwar series depicts what might have happened had a race of short lizards invaded Earth in May 1942. Unprepared for lengthy resistance, the Lizards grow more and more desperate as they begin to run out of surprise. The industrialized societies, paralyzed by the damage to their infrastructure, are not that much better off. The reader is led to wonder what will become of Earth: will the Lizards abandon it to the nuclear pyre? Will they seek a truce? Will they continue the war, somehow?

Although my reading since this summer has been dominated by fiction, I'm still a student at heart and it was enjoyable to return to history this week. I read Life in a Medieval Castle by Frances and Joseph Gies, a short but quite interesting book about what life was like for castle-dwellers. That part you may have surmised, but the authors explain what it was like to live in the society that castle-dwellers found themselves in. They explain feudalism, manorialism, the making of knights, the role of women, village life, the castle's role in military and political history, and various other medieval topics. On the whole I found the book to be very interesting, and I definitely recommend it.

Lastly, I read a bit of Star Wars fiction. Death Star concerns the late-stage construction and service of the Death Star. The book is divided into two parts: "Construction" and "Shakedown". Construction introduces a wide range of richly-developed characters whose life stories bring them all to the Death Star. As they interact with one another and begin to adjust themselves to life on the Station, the station itself is completed and undergoes a shakedown. In the subsequent part of the book, the stories of those on the ship are connected to that of A New Hope. Through the eyes and mind of Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, we are told that particular story -- and the authors successfully weave the stories of their own characters and their own plots into the plot of A New Hope. It was a quick read and quite interesting.

Quotation of the Week: A Life of Her Own. Yes, the entire book. I cannot possibly choose a single line to do justice to the book, but I'll go with a short one: "I believe it is splendid to leave life with the thought that you have done the maximum possible to defend the ideas you believe just and human, and to help those who need to be helped without discrimination. For me, that is a wonderful feeling."

Pick of the Week
: Frankly, this week generated three favorites. I have to go with A Life of Her Own, though.

Next Week:
  • Nemesis, Isaac Asimov.
  • Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages, Frances and Joseph Gies.
  • Wampeters, Foma, and Granfallons, Kurt Vonnegut.

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