Thursday, July 19, 2007

This Week at the Library (19/7)

Last week's reading consisted of The Stand by Stephen King and The Associate by Philip Margolin. I also checked out The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel, thinking that it was third in the series, but found out that night that it was not. I returned the book and focused on reading The Stand. I finished it yesterday, and it was quite a read. It was reccommended to me by a number of friends, and a blog I like to read mentioned the book in one of its articles on the Left Behind series. I've been meaning to read it for several months now, but I seem to always forget. Last week I checked it out, though, and I read it. The book is a end-of-the-world horror thriller. A virus called the "Superflu" or "Captain Trips" escapes a military lab and gives western civilization a firm kick in the 'nards. Military officials pass it on to China, the Soviet Union (the book was set in th 1980s at first), and western Europe. The book doesn't mention what happens to the rest of the world, but if what happens in the U.S. is any indicator, nearly everyone dies.

Not everyone dies, though, and the survivors in North America are drawn toward two cities through their dreams. Some people are drawn toward Las Vegas by a man who seems to embody the Devil, and others are drawn toward Boulder, to a very long-lived old woman named "Mother Abagail". The two societies begin to rebuild themselves. As the book's plot unfolds, we see that it's a good/evil struggle with severe religious overtones. That annoyed me, as I had been sold on the book because of the idea that this is a plot that could actually happen -- and some magic floating cowboy is farfetched. Good wins, of course. I don't know that I'll read any more Stephen King since horror isn't my preferred genre, but The Stand was enjoyable. I thought to compare it to two series of books. First is the Left Behind series. However far-fetched the character of Randal Flagg is, he's more believable than the oafish Nicolae Carpathia of Left Behind. Carpatha has a better name, though, so I'll give him that.

The second series that this book reminded me of is Countdown. The Countdown books were written in 1998. They were set in 1999. The first book, January, was set in January of 1999. The second book was February, and the series continued as such until the conclusion of the book at the "beginning" of the Millenium in 2000. The books were meant to cash in on the end of the world hysteria around that time. Some people thought Jesus was going to come back (as they did in in 999), and some thought that Y2K was going to destroy society. I don't know what happened in 2000 in the books, because I didn't get that far. In the beginning, though, society was dealt a grevious blow. On 1 January, 1999, all adults and all children turned into black goo and died. This left the teenagers in charge; scary. The teenagers do as the survivors in The Stand do, although it takes them a bit longer to "rebuild society". They're more concerned with partying . I recall enjoying the books, but as they progressed they included a lot of mystical prophecy, and that annoyed me. I like my apocalypses secular -- religious apocalypses are always silly. I doubt these books are still around, although I did see used copies being sold on Amazon a couple of years ago. I stopped reading around "August", because by that point the "prophecies" were everywhere. The cause of the spontaneous gooification of adults and children was a virus -- this one engineered by the Russians, I think. I never read the end of the book, so I can't be sure -- but I've read synopses of the series.

The second book I read was Philip Margolin's The Associate. It concerns an associate of a big Portland law firm who begins to think that his firm is trying to protect a big pharmaceutical that wants to sell baby-deforming drugs. I enjoyed the book, although I figured out who the "bad guy" was fairly early on. I'll be reading more Margolin in the future.

Pick of the Week: The Stand by Stephen King.

That finishes last week's reading.The third book I selected -- The Plains of Passage -- was actually fourth in the Earth's Children series, so I returned it unread. This week, I picked up:
  1. The Middle Ages by Dorothy Mills.
  2. Theories for Everything by John Langone, Bruce Stutz, and Andrea Gianopoulos.
  3. The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel.
  4. The German Empire by Michael Stürmer.
As always, I have high hopes.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

This Week At the Library (12/7)

The first book I read last week was Jean M. Auel's The Valley of Horses. It is the second in Auel's Earth's Children series, and I found it immensely entertaining if a bit too fantastic to be believable. In the first book, a young Cro-Magnon girl named Ayla is orphaned by an earthquake. She is found and adopted by a emigrating band of people who call themselves "Clan"; they are Neanderthals and have also been displaced by the earthquake. The Clan of the Cave Bear is set during her growing-up period from childhood to adult hood She is physically and mentally different from the Clan, and her many differences and superior abilities earn her the ill will of the tribe's chieftan's son. At the end of the book, Ayla is exiled from the tribe when the son becomes the ruler. In this second book, she follows a river north hoping to find people that are more like her. She ends up settling in a cave in the middle of a valley occupied by horses. While in the valley, she begins to learn more about herself and her abilities. Her abilities are entertaining, if a bit far-fetched. For instance, she successfully tames a horse and uses it and a cave lion that she rears from a cub to help her hunt. The image of a young woman riding bareback on a horse flanked by a cave lion is interesting, but hard to believe. The book also focuses on another main character; a man named Jondolar. Jondolar is a Cro-Magnon man, and half of the book follows he and his brother Thonolan as they embark on a journey together.As the plot progresses, Jondolar is injured and falls under Ayla's care. As she takes care of them, they learn about one another and fall in love. Eventually the two of them decide to leave the valley together.

The Tribe of Tiger was a look at cats -- both domesticated and wild. It explores why they act the way they do. Tiger is a short but informing read, and I was never bored once. I checked this book out mainly because of a a lifelong fascination with big cats (my bedroom walls through my lifetime have been filled with pictures of lions, cheetahs, and especially tigers), but I think cat owners are the ones who would enjoy this book the most. I may own a cat in the future (once I'm done with university), so I thought it a wonderful read. The author is Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.

Dolphin Days was a similarly-themed book. The book was written by a marine biologist ( Kenneth S. Norris) who records what he learned through years of research into spinner dolphins. I enjoyed the book, but given my love for cetaceans I'm a bit biased. The last book I read this week was the second half of Asimov's Nightfall and other Stories. Asimov is a wonderful writer, although that's like saying Beethoven had an ear for music. I found every single one of the stories in this book to be entertaining. The settings of these various stories vary, but only three of them take a bit of getting used to. The others happen right here on Earth, and many of them not that far in the future. While I loved reading the short stories, I liked the introductions that he prefaced them with best. Asimov's wonderful personality really comes through in them.

Pick of the Week: Nightfall and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov.

Now to determine my reading for this week: I came to the library with four books in mind. The first two were by Philip Margolin. Margolin writes legal thrillers. I have read two of his books; Gone, but Not Forgotten and Proof Positive. The latter could have practically been a CSI episode. Today I aimed to pick up After Dark and The Associate. I found these two books when I searched the library's catalog for information on Portland, Oregon. Margolin lives in Portland, and sets many of his books in that city. I checked out The Associate, which is the story of a young lawyer who finds that his law firm may be defending a company that has committed horrific crimes. I planned to check out After Dark, but was compelled to leave it there until next week.

I made this decision based on the length of the second book I checked out this week; Stephen King's The Stand. Given my inherent disdain for supernaturalism, I do not do much reading in the horror genre. The last horror books I read, in fact, were the Goosebumps and Fear Street books of my childhood. Those are aimed at middle-school and high school students respectively. I have always wanted to read something by King, given his reputation in fiction. The Stand's plot deals with a virus that is accidentally developed and then sweeps across the globe and destroying civilization. It spanned several inches on the shelf, so I decided that three books would suffice for this week.

The third book I checked out was the third in the Earth's Children series. I don't know what Ayla and Jondolar will do, but I look forward to finding out and would bet money that I'll enjoy the read. So, here is my selection for the week:
  1. The Stand by Stephen King
  2. The Associate by Philip Margolin
  3. The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

This Week at the Library (3/7)

I've had a lot of good reading the last few weeks, which is not suprising given how heavily steeped my library selections were in science. I began with Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade. The cover of the book is of a mature acacia tree, silhouetted by a beautiful African sunset. Before the Dawn is a work of anthropology, and it focuses on humanity as we became human and began to populate the globe. All aspects of human society at that time are brought into focus -- race, religion, and so forth. It reminded me a bit of Guns, Germs, and Steel. If you're interested in anthropology, I think this book is worth checking into. While reading it, I couldn't get a certain Johnny Clegg tune out of my head.

We are scatterlings of Africa, both you and I...
We're on the road to Phelamanga, beneath a coppy sky
And we are scatterlings of Africa, on a journey to the stars..
Far below we leave forever dreams of what we were....

I then read two related books about neurology. The first was Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, which dealt with the biological origins of belief. I found it interesting, but I enjoyed Phantoms in the Brain far more. It was a genuine pageturner. I enjoyed every moment I spent reading it. Phantoms deals with mysteries of the human mind -- phantom limbs, stroke oddities, delusions, hallucinations, and so on. Technical knowledge about the field may help in better understanding some of the biology mentioned, but you need nothing to appreciate the weirdness that the brain is capable of generating.

The next book I read was Jacques-Yves Cousteau's The Whale, and it was interesting enough. It isn't exactly an informative book about whales; it chronicles some of Cousteau's trips and a lot of the material is his logs. There are many pictures, but I was looking more for information. I changed genres for my next book when I read The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. It is a work of poetry, and rather than read it straight through like a novel, I read the chapters one at a time and savored them. I've posted some of my favorite quotations here.

After this, I read Isaac Asimov's Extraterrestial Civilizations, whereupon Mr. Asmiov explains the requirements for life to arise in the universe, and speculates on what kind of organisms might form in varying atmospheres. He also writes about human colonization efforts. I read this mainly because of the author. On a similar note, I read Space Station: Base Camps to the Stars, which was a history of human efforts to establish a space station in orbit. I found it to be highly interesting.

My next book was a history book titled Hitler's Shadow War, and it put forth the idea that the second world war was really just a farce -- something Hitler did to draw attention away from his genocidal policies. While it failed to prove this to me, it did offer a lot of information on the Holocaust. The last book I read was a work of fiction by Jean M. Auel, called The Clan of the Cave Bear. I ran across this while reading about Neanderthals. The book is about a young Cro-Magnon girl who is adopted by a tribe of Neanderthals. The "Clan", as they call themselves, are very different humans than we are, and the girl -- Ayla -- must struggle to fit in. As she does, we learn about how these humans might have lived. I loved this book and decided to read more of the series.

So that concludes my last two weeks of reading. As I said, highly enjoyable. Next week:
  1. The Valley of Horses, the sequel to The Clan of the Cave Bear.
  2. Nightfall and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov.
  3. Dolphin Days by Kenneth S. Norris.
  4. The Tribe of Tiger by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
  5. Jewish Wisdom by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.
That should make for a lovely week of reading.