Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaser Tuesday (31 May)

Last teaser of the month -- here we go.

"But for the most part I'm bound up in ideology the same as everyone else. Yet knowing that it's there grants us some small power over ideology, and if you squint you can see a little more clearly than most." 

p. 89, The Ethical Assassin. David Liss.

"Isn't it kind of beneath your dignity to let Columbia have you as sloppy seconds?"
"That's so far beyond stupid that I don't even know the word for it."
"If you had a better vocabulary, maybe Harvard would have let you in."

p. 110, The Ethical Assassin.

Top Ten Beach Reads

Road trip! Vacation! Quick, I need ten books to pass the time with.  (From the Broke and the Bookish.)

1. The Rainmaker, John Grisham.
A favorite hen I'm going anyplace, Rainmaker is thick yet small enough to fit easily in my jeans pocket. Its central story of a young lawyer taking on a great big evil insurance company, defended by soulless guns-for-hire attorneys, is always compelling.

2. Blood Memory, Greg Iles. I bought this for my sister on her birthday,  and after reading it she wanted me to try it out myself. Haven't gotten around to it, though she has my copy of Echo Park by Michael Connelly so we're kinda even on the lent/borrowed balance.

3. Any Black Widowers collection, Isaac Asimov. It doesn't matter which,  but I am fond of reading a story with lunch or supper from time to time -- useful when grabbing a bite to eat on the road.

4. Any Harry Potter novel, J.K. Rowling  They're all fantastically charming, though I think I'd go with one of the first four given their more lighthearted bent.

5. Most anything by Carl Sagan (because a book on nuclear winter doesn't make for good beach reading, unless of course it's On the Beach.)   Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors would work splendidly.

6 & 7: A couple of Star Trek novels, preferably ones I've not yet read. (The last titles in Vanguard and Titan would do nicely, as would Federation by the Reeves-Stevens.

8. The Complete Stories of Isaac Asimov, volume II.

9. Another entry in the Harry Bosch mysteries by Michael Connelly

10. Perhaps one of Alison Weir's English history works/.

Monday, May 30, 2011

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
© 1960 Harper Lee
376 pages

Mark Twain once opined that a classic is a book which everyone praises and no one reads. That cannot be the case with To Kill a Mockingbird, a classic coming-of-age story set in the fictional county of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. The story told by Jean-Louise "Scout" Finch is once of growing up -- not only in the literal sense of advancing in age, but in learning to grapple with adult questions of conscience and courage. Scout and her brother Jem are guided in this endeavor by their father, the remarkable Atticus Finch; a man of deep, quiet courage and unpracticed kindness.

Atticus is a lawyer in the noble sense of the word, who hopes to use his office to see that justice is done. When he takes a stand against the prejudices of his fellow citizens and defends a black man accused of rape, Atticus and his children must learn to persevere with dignity.  Though Atticus is regarded by everyone I know who's read the book as a pillar of moral strength,  the understated nature of that strength impresses me the most. Atticus is not a Puritan proclaiming morality from the pulpit, reveling in righteousness: he simply does what he thinks is best and is content to let that stand. His strength of character is not a pillar: it is a foundation,  deep, wide, and ever-steady. I think I would  go mad living in Maycomb during the trial, just as Jem nearly did -- but Atticus is possessed by the serenity of Martin Luther King, this faith that the moral arc of the universe is long but bends toward justice. Perhaps that peace comes from the deep affection he has for the community of Maycomb, which carried great appeal to me before the trial started. I live not far from the real-life inspiration for Maycomb, and I know what kind of city the Finches hail from. I delighted in meeting their neighbors,  felt their fear and wonder as Scout and Jem  explored the world around them.

While the story of Atticus Finch must have been dynamite in its time and continues to inspire today -- continues to earn the title 'classic' --  this book a fantastic novel despite the reputation classics have for being wise but unreadable. I did not read To Kill a Mockingbird as a classic. I began in that vein, but I soon became enraptured by the humor and gentle spirit of Atticus, the self-willed pugnacity of Scout, and the passion of her brother Jem. I was too busy soaking in this wonderful story to realize -- "Oh, yes, this is a Classic".   I've been remembering it with great affection for the past week and a half, reluctant to finish the review because then I knew part of me would move on. I will be revisiting this book in the future: it has become an instant favorite.

Absolutely wonderful If you've not read this, or if you're only experienced it as a classroom text,  it is well worth your while to visit it on your own.

The Ethical Assassin

The Ethical Assassin
© 2006 David Liss
336 pages

Lem's just a kid selling encyclopedias so he can go to college, that's all. He never meant to get involved in a criminal conspiracy, but circumstances spiraled out of his control. He went into a trailer to sell books to two suspicious rednecks, and then -- bang, bang -- he's witness to a double homicide and utterly confused when the assassin apologizes to him.  The killer -- Melford Kean -- is an altogether pleasant fellow, once you get past the assassination bit, but he's got a job to do, evil to fight,  and now Lem has become his unwitting ally.  Lem would like nothing more than to close his eyes and walk away, but circumstances continue to force him to rely upon this bizaarely compelling stranger. Thus, for a ltitle while at least, both Lem and Melford are destined to walk the same path.

So begins one of the most fascinating novels I've ever read. The criminal conspiracy itself is rather tame -- involving encyclopedias, drug labs, and hog farms -- but Melford makes for an irresistible story. Who is this affable stranger who shoots people and then treats people enveloped his actions with such kind regard? Why did he shoot two seemingly harmless rednecks?  As the story progresses, Melford emerges as a highly principled and motivated man who is interested in swaying Lem to his point of view -- engaging with him in conversations about ideology, the influence of culture, and the basis of ethics.  As Melford and Lem's mutual problem reaches crisis levels, the method behind Melford's madness becomes increasingly clear to both Lem and -- I assume the author hopes as much -- the reader.  While I don't know enough about the author's beliefs to speculate on his intent with The Ethical Assassin, it reads in parts like an author tract.  I delighted in the way Melford constantly teases Lem, engaging with him and drawing out a discussion.  While I don't agree with Melford ultimately,  the unfolding of his arguments complemented the story's pace smartly.

With intriguing characters, philosophical ideas to grapple with, and the kind of quirky humor I like in a novel, I'd say The Ethical Assassin is a solid hit.  While I chose to avoid mentioning Melford's cause in the review (possibly a spoiler),  it's strongly hinted at early on so I will link to two subjects of discussion. Your choice in hovering over them.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Angels and Demons

Angels and Demons
© 2000 Dan Brown
572 pages

There's a dead body bearing the mark of an ancient conspiracy lying in the halls of Europe's foremost scientific laboratory. Robert Langdon, who apparently makes a living commenting on corpses with symbolic importance, is whisked away by space-plane to CERN, where he descends into the bowels of the Earth and realizes there is something rotten in the state of Denmark Switzerland.  Someone has stolen enough antimatter to take out half a city, and that someone might be working for a secretive organization with powerful ambitions and a burning hatred for the Catholic church -- the Illuminati, the 'enlightened ones'.  Driven underground by the Catholic church centuries before, they intend to strike a killing blow at their enemy through the ages...by blowing them to Kingdom Come. If Langdon can't track the Illuminati down before midnight, the Catholic church's day in history may be at end.

Although that sounds like a great setup, this book was a labor to read. I groaned throughout the first one hundred pages, and near the climax I pondered giving it a good throw across the room. It's a library book, though, so I didn't. I just set it gently on the floor until my eyes had stopped rolling long enough for me to read it. I understand this to be Dan Brown's first novel, and that shows. The characters are insultingly simplistic, exposition utterly contrived. From the start Brown had his imbecilic characters blabbering on about the ancient war between science and religion, and I was very relieved when the chase began in full -- a chase through the Vatican City, with settings drawn from Rome's rich background of monuments from the Empire through more modern Baroque churches. Unfortunately, the science/religion discussion came back with a vengeance, and it was there that I wondered, ever so briefly, if seeing the book sail through the air might make me feel a bit better about subjecting myself to it.

The painfully forced discussions about the  respective worth of science and religion, and the relationship and tension between then  just wouldn't go away, because the Illuminati were supposedly a society formed to protect and advance science from the dogmatic Church. Maybe if you don't give a rip about science, the novel would be as benign to you as The DaVinci Code was to me -- but I  like science, I like history, I like comparative religion, and seeing all three subjects flayed alive throughout the book made my brain weep. The torture reaches its climax when one of the book's then-most sympathetic character denounces the God of Science for page after page,  simpering about his blessed Church's contributions to the human race and how awfully tired  the Church was of being constantly slighted.  Well! I'm sorry a millennium and a half of interrupted power over the entire western world wasn't enough for you!  Perhaps if you'd managed to do anything in those fifteen hundred years we'd be a little bit more impressed, but from where I sit all I can see is the palaces you built. I'd say science has earned bragging rights.

The book does have redeeming qualities -- the clue chase through Rome, for instance. Not only do the settings fascinate me, but I liked the little historical nuances that would send Langton on a false trail ever so briefly. The ending is also more interesting than I'd imagined after despairing over the Chamberlain's speech. Unfortunately, these are the only redeeming attributes --   the characters are simplistic, the dialogue and exposition fall flat (when they're not insulting), and a lot of the research...

(deep breath)

...is atrocious beyond words. I  now understand the phrase "Dan Browned".  I cannot fathom how this book managed to get past the editing process with historical and scientific mistakes so numerous. Robert Langdon may known a awful lot of art history, but otherwise he's a moron. That's a word I don't use often, and I hesitate to use it against a character Tom Hanks has portrayed -- but book-Langton is..terrible. Case in point: he tells one of his classes that the Catholic church borrowed Communion from...wait for it...

The Aztecs. The Aztecs! Whom the Church did not encounter for 1500 years!  For fifteen centuries, the people of Europe took Communion never knowing they'd artlessly stolen it from a people who lived an ocean away.  The fools!

I really don't know what to add to that. I don't write negative reviews often, so this is one for the books.  Angels and Demons is as bad a novel as I've ever read, rivaling only the Left Behind novels for their simplicity and unbelievable 'messages'.  Caveat lector.

...and I only say that because I don't know the Latin for "Run away really quickly".

The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

This Week at the Library (25 May)

I've yet to write my review of To Kill a Mockingbird (past the first paragraph, anyway), but I loved it. I'm still enjoying The Ethical Assassin: if what I've read so far is an indication of what is to come, I will be enjoying the author further.

Today at the library I picked up:

  • Biology Made Simple, following up on last week's Physical Science Made Simple. Like it, I will probably devote an hour a night to reading Biology, as though I am in class. 
  • Angels and Demons, Dan Brown. I'm in the mood for some historical silliness. 
  • The Age of Faith, Will Durant. Yep, I am getting back on the horse. Let's do this, corrupt aristocrats, cruel churchmen, and fanatic holy warriors! 
  • Walter Lord's The Miracle at Dunkirk is still on the table, or more accurately, 'on the couch'. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Top Ten Books I May Have Or May Not Been Not Entirely Honest About

From the Broke and the Bookish:

May 24: Top Ten Books You Lied About (lied about reading, lied about NOT reading, lied about liking/disliking, etc....dish your dirty secrets!!)

1. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel DeFoe and 2. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne.

Crusoe? Read it? Sure! You bet! I even got in trouble with my father because I read it while walking down the street. ..only it was a Great Illustrated Classics version, for children, with lots of pictures. I checked it out in high school to read it proper, but I never got around to it. I will, though.

3. Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes: the Underside of Modern Japan, Mikiso Hane;  The Peoples of the British Isles: from Prehistoric Times to 1688, Standford E. Lehmberg; 5. A Modern History of Japan; Andrew Gordon; and 6. Victorian America, Thomas J. Schlereth.

These were all books which I was supposed to have read in class, but didn't...mostly. That is, I'd do the assigned readings for the first few weeks of the semester, then start missing every other one, and by the end of the semester not realize how incredibly behind I am.  I never endured any penalties for this because I listened attentively in lectures. I passed my English History Since Elizabeth and Renaissance and Reformation classes without even buying the books, because I had to save costs those semesters.

7. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Yes, I read it. And I made complimentary noises at it, because it's a Classic and it's hard to make hissy noises at Classics unless they really deserve it. But truth be told...

...I didn't really enjoy it. 

8. The Ascent of Science, Brian Silver
This is an excellent book. The first part of it changed the way I viewed the world. I've never finished it, but I think I've commented on it here twice.  I keep meaning to go back and finish climbing the mountain, but it hasn't quite happened yet.

9. Something by Faulker
My English composition instructor favored southern literature and relished the idea of springing Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner on we naive youths fresh from high school. Faulker's stream-of-consciousness approach, and the general weirdness of southern gothic novels in general,  did not strike a chord with me -- and so I forgot or didn't bother to read one of his works for our final exam,  one which involved a creepy house and a dead person. I was excused from taking the exam, though, by my instructor: she said that based on the term's coursework, I was in excellent shape.

You'd better believe that was a gift horse I didn't look in the mouth!

10. Something Related to Martin Guerre
My favorite professor's approach to Historical Methodology involved class debates. Near the middle of term we were to watch a movie based on The Return of Martin Guerre over a course of two weeks, during which time we were to read articles defending or attacking the book's scholarship. We were sorted into teams and would debate the merits of the work following the movie. I thought he meant the class following the movie sessions. I didn't realize we were having the debate immediately after the movie,  so I came to class with nothing more than a bottle of water and some pretzels to enjoy during the movie. I hadn't even read the articles my side was supposed to cover,  and to this day I have no idea what position we were to have taken.  Normally active in class discussion, I retreated into the background like a snake, murmuring assent and nodding gravely during our discussion but contributing nothing.   I felt like such a creep!   At the end of term we did a similar project, a debate about the merits of the United States' decision to attack Japan with nuclear bombs,  and there I applied myself properly and even steered our group's discussion. I hope that makes up for my previous parasitism.


Despite what this post may lead you to believe, I really am a serious student!

Teaser Tuesday (24 May)

Grief, where does the time go? Is it truly the last TT of May?  From Should be Reading, as ever.

...well, no, we've one more. But just one more.

I can sense the grumbling. How, are you wondering, do I know all this? Am I secretly Jim Doe in addition to being Lem Altick? Is this a multiple-personality story?

p. 24, The Ethical Assassin. David Liss.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sharpe's Tiger

Sharpe's Tiger
© 1997 Bernard Cornwell
385 pages

Until the birth of modern India in 1947, there existed  for many centuries upon the southern tip of the Indian peninsula a kingdom known as Mysore. In the year 1799, the British Empire -- whose commercial interests made it increasingly interested in the affairs of the peninsula -- opted to remove Mysore's king, the Tippo (or Tipu) Sultan, from the throne, for he was far too fond of the French, and the French far too interested in India, for the situation to be tolerated. And so Private Richard Sharpe,  redcoat soldier in the 33rd Foot under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, advanced upon the Sultan's capital.

Sharpe's general attitude being what it is, in no time at all he's broken the nose of a sergeant who is out to kill him, and is rescued from death-by-flogging only when a lieutenant given an important mission requests Sharpe's assistance. The two men are to infiltrate the Sultan's army, then find and rescue a captured British colonel who has information vital to the campaign. Time is of the essence, for the clever sultan has arranged a bloody trap for the army advancing upon his city.

Sharpe's Tiger must be one of this series' more significant books, for Sharpe -- most famous for his skills as a riflemen -- picks up a rifle for the first time here, and begins a career as an 19th century action hero. It establishes his early history and reason for joining the army,  and as the tension builds Sharpe grows from a rogue on the point of deserting into a genuine soldier. The future Duke of Wellington is also here -- young, and with a legacy to begin building.  The Tippoo sultan ranks among Sharpe's more memorable enemies: he is a man obsessed by tigers, to the point of having his soldiers wear tiger-striped uniforms, employ tiger-shaped cannons, and fire muskets decorated by tigers.  Though a enemy of England and in Sharpe's eyes a 'bastard', the man's bravery, wiliness, and leadership skills earn him the grudging praise of the book's various British officers, including Sharpe.  I especially appreciated Cornwell's pacing here: the whole of the book ramps the tension as the British move toward attack. There are also some unique characters who I hope to see again, like Lieutenant Lawford.

Excellent as always.


  • Sharpe's Challenge appears to have been baldly borrowed from Sharpe's Tiger

Cave Paintings to Picasso

Cave Paintings to Picasso: The Inside Scoop on 50 Art Masterpieces
© 2004 Henry Sayre
93 pages

I found this book while looking for something else (books on wolves, strangely enough), and its title grabbed my attention immediately. Upon arriving at the library I found it to be a different book than I'd imagined, but still amply useful. Cave Paintings to Picasso contains information about fifty works of art from around the world, ranging in medium from the predictable (paintings and sculptures) to the more esoteric (tapestries and medieval books).  I'm reasonably sure that the book was written for children or younger readers, given its shortness and 'wacky' font arrangements, but the author manages to cram in a surprising amount of detail in one-page descriptions, explaining the work's significance in more florid language than I would have expected for a children's book: the author positively waxes poetic in some sections. Most of the fifty sections are divided into two pages: a full-page print and a page of explanation. A few works were only given a quarter of a page, but they are in the minority. While the full-page representations allowed me to soak in the artists' detail and gifts, Sayre's explanations increased my appreciation: he pointed out, for instance, how one particular Chinese work blended calligraphy with the picture, depicting a mountainside in the same general shame as the Chinese symbol for 'mountain'.  Most interesting (for me) was the presence of a painting depicting Muhammad, since I thought Islamic rules forbade the depiction of human forms in art.  Sayre does not mention who the author was, though.

Artworks covered:

  • Woman from Brassembouy
  • Hall of Bulls
  • Toreador Fresco
  • Nebamun Hunting Birds
  • Nefertiti
  • Burial Container for the Organs of Tutankhamen
  • Colossal Olmec Head
  • Achilles and Ajax Playing a Board Game, Exekias
  • She-Wolf
  • Nike of Samothrace
  • Moche Lord with a Feline
  • The Horses of San Marco
  • Book of Kells
  • Easter Island Ancestor Figures
  • The Bayeux Tapestry
  • Early-Spring, Guo Xi
  • Romance of Lancelot
  • Muhammad Placing the Black Stone Upon His Cloak
  • The Effects of Good Government, Ambrogio Lorenzetti
  • Bamboo, Wu Chen
  • January, Les Très Riches Heures, Limbourg brothers
  • Camera Picta, Andrea Mantegna
  • Hundreds of Birds Admiring the Peacocks, Yin Hong
  • Sight
  • Primavera, Sandro Botticelli
  • David, Michaelangelo
  • Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci
  • The Small Cowper Madonna, Raphael
  • Still Life with Flowers, Goblet, Dried Fruit, and Pretzels, Clara Peeters
  • Jahangir in Darbar, Abul Hasan and Manohar
  • Head of an Oba
  • Mandan Battle Scene Hide Painting
  • The Great Wve off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai 
  • Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, George Caleb Bingham
  • The Railroad, Edouard Manet
  • Dance Glass, Edgar Degas
  • Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, Mary Cassatt
  • The Umbrellas, Auguste Renoir
  • Irises, Vincent van Gogh
  • Mahana no atua, Paul Gauguin
  • Water Lily Pond, Claud Monet
  • Improvisation 30 (Cannons), Wassily Kandinsky
  • Man with a Pipe, Pablo Piasso
  • Sugar Cane, José Diego Maria Rivera
  • The Migration of the Negro, No. 32, Jacob Lawrence
  • Nighthawks, Edward Hopper
  • Convergence, Jackson Pollock
  • Ladder to the Moon, George O'Keeffe
  • Big Campbell's Soup Can, 19c, Andy Warhol
  • The Son of Man, René Magritte

Friday, May 20, 2011

Earth Science Made Simple

Earth Science Made Simple
© 2004 Edward F. Albin
224 pages

Earth science! Fun!  I enjoy reading these little guides as introductions to a subject or refreshers on it, and Earth Science Made Simple fits the bill.  Four separate sections cover Geology, Oceanography, Meteorology, and Planetary Science, the last of which applies the principles observed on Earth to understand  the other planets in the solar system.  The book begins with the basics, introducing geology with a primer on atoms and elements. The authors frequently remind readers of material they've surveyed already, when new material is building upon it, mitigating the occasional need to thumb back through the book. The introductions serve the text well, connecting sections together, and the text is replete with illustrations, most of which are helpful. Only one, a list of the planets, seemed more distracting than helpful: while the authors make it clear the planets are not drawn to scale,  they do depict the planets as varying in size (Jupiter being large compared to the rest, Pluto being tiny) -- which will throw readers off when they see Venus (almost as large as Earth) as being drawn slightly smaller than Mercury!

Because this is an introduction to the subject,  more detailed explanations are rare. Were they present, the book would be much larger.  While there are no end-of-chapter quizzes for the reader to test comprehension, the sections open with a glossary of terms that you should be able to identify at section's end, and there are numerous little practical experiments suggested in sidebars that readers can use to see principles at work for themselves -- like witnessing crystal growth after  introducing distilled Epsom salt into a pie pan coated in black construction paper, then leaving it in direct sunlight.  This lives up to the strong expectations I have of the Made Simple series.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

This Week at the Library (18 May)

I'm still waist-deep in last week's reading (3/4s done with Earth Science Made Simple, halfway done with To Kill a Mockingbird, which is very readable, 'classic' status aside), but over the weekend I took care of some housekeeping business -- removing dead labels, and diversifying the science tags.  While I did have some specific tags (evolution, anthropology), most of my science reading before now has been lumped together. Now you can choose from astronomy, biology,  biochemistry, cosmology, physics, natural history, and other sundry labels. They've all been added to the drop-box, so have at it. I also changed all author tags into a first-name last-name format, instead of just sticking on "Zinn" or "Postman" and expecting readers to be psychic.  Also, the cumulative reading list, BnB nonfiction challenge list, and Shelfari have been fully updated.

Before my library visit, I walked over to City Hall to inquire about that lampost I mentioned last week.  This was the first time I'd ever been inside City Hall, and the receptionist directed me into the Mayor's office. I was impressed, given that my only mayoral experience comes from SimCity3000.  He wasn't around, but I spoke with his secretary or chief of staff, and she told me the story. A few years ago a family lost a child to senseless violence, so they put  up a sign -- with the city's permission -- in memoriam. When a murder has been committed within a certain time frame, the murder bulb is lit up in memory of them.  The statue of Vulcan  in Birmingham used to have a light which turned red when there had been an automobile-accident-induced death that day. We got around to talking about the photo project I'm doing (in the summer, I take walks around the historic downtown district), and she may share some select photos on the Selma City website. I've been thinking about making a photo blog, or posting my albums on Flicker or some related site given that right now they're only on facebook.

Vulcan. He lost the lantern during a recent renovation, though.

Today at the library, I picked up a couple of books, seeing as I'll be done with last week's reading shortly:

  • The Ethical Assassin, David Liss. The title caught my attention: apparently it stars a "post-Marxist sociopath". 
  • Cave Paintings to Picasso: The Inside Scoop on 50 Masterpieces
  • And Miracle at Dunkirk, because it's by Walter Lord and I like his Titanic books. Looking forward to seeing the return of Lighttoller, the only officer aboard the Titanic to live and who was present at Dunkirk.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Sea-Wolf

The Sea-Wolf
© 1906 Jack London
Reprinted in Tales of the North, © 1979.
pp. 183-330

Humphrey van Weyden never imagined that a simple ferry ride across the San Francisco Bay would take him so far. Following a collision at sea, he is rescued by one Wolf Larsen, the dread lord and master of the sealing schooner Ghost -- a man quite unlike any other van Weyden has ever encountered. The Wolf is the embodiment of brute strength, wild cunning, and savage brutality who dominates his ship, striking fear into the hearts of all aboard her. Wolf is inescapable -- but to obtain his freedom, van Weyden must somehow find the strength to do so.

While The Sea-Wolf follows the Ghost on a sealing expedition from San Francisco to Japan on peril-fraught seas, the adventure and struggle here is between two men --  one impotent if morally courageous, and the other gloriously strong but bankrupt as a man. Each fascinates the other: they circle one another like Buck and his counterparts in The Call of the Wild. While van Weyden attempts to make a life for himself aboard the Ghost, determined to survive, the two grapple over their respective worldviews -- treating the reader to a philosophical discussion about morality, the meaning of life, and the measure of a man.

The Wolf is a fascinating character, ferociously strong in both body and in spirit. He is almost 'the unfettered', the Nietzschean superman, but he lacks something to strive for. He lives for nothing, only exists, and so he languishes for all his strength. In the end it is what fate they create for themselves as the plot tests them which proves which is the better man -- for while van Weyden can develop the strength and cunning he needs to stand on his own two feet, independent of others, the Wolf is capable of growing beyond himself -- to live as a man, and not simply exist as a beast.

The Sea-Wolf enthralled me, not just for the wild energy London's characters and plotting seem to possess, but to witness the triumph of the human spirit -- not just van Weyden's growth, but his ability to maintain the nobility of humanity while at same time harnessing the beautiful, wild strength inside.

A note about this version of the story: the publishers printed the novel in four magazline-like columns and supplemented the text with stunning artwork by W.J. Aylward. Tales of the North collects The Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Cruise of the Dazzler, The Sea-Wolf, and fifteen short stories. I received it for Christmas years ago but never realized what a tremendous boon it was until I opened the book to see if it contained The Sea-Wolf: I'd been planning on checking that out from the library.


  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The strong but bitter Captain Nemo reminded me much of the Wolf. 
  • The Iron Heel, Jack London
  • The Call of the Wild, Jack London.
  • The Fountainhead/Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand. While I've never read them,  the Wolf uses the objectivist arguments for selfishness against van Weyden in the course of their discussions.

Teaser Tuesday (17 May)

I fell asleep reading a book, and when I awoke...it was Teaser Tuesday!

The Haverfords had dispatched Maycomb's leading blacksmith in a misunderstanding arising from the alleged wrongful detention of a mare, were imprudent enough to do it in the presence of three witnesses, and insisted that the-son-of-a-bitch-had-it-coming-to-him was a good enough defense for  anybody. 

p. 5, To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee

"I did it! I did it! With my own hands I did it!" I wanted to cry aloud.

p. 326, The Sea Wolf. From Tales of the North. Jack London.

Top Ten Miner Characters

This week, the Broke and the Bookish are covering...Top Ten Miner Characters!

1. Des, Darth Bane: Path of Destruction (Drew Karpyshyn)

It's a hard life being an abused miner's son, forever trying to work off your father's debt  and getting nowhere. But when he kills a man in self-defense and joins the armies of the Sith to escape, Des' path changes completely, and --

"Minors, not miners!"

...oh. Whoops!


Top Ten Minor Characters in Literature
1. Athena (Percy Jackson series, Rick Riordian)

Although the mother of one of the series' lead characters, Athena doesn't make many appearances beyond glowering at Percy because he's getting her daughter into trouble. She intimates that foul things will befall him if Annabeth is hurt.  But I like the goddess Athena in general, so I looked forward to her every (marginal) scene. She stands for wisdom, justice, and civilization in general, so she's hard not to appreciate that. Add the influence of her patron city Athens upon history, and the fact that she's a lady-of-war, and you've got a deity worth reading about.

2. Young Mister Leach, The Sea Wolf. Jack London.

I haven't actually finished The Sea Wolf, but barring supernatural intervention I'm sure Mr. Leach's time has passed. Mr. Leach is a boy, perhaps one on the cusp of adolescence. He signs on the sealing schooner Ghost as a cabin boy, not realizing what a tyrannous and brutal monster its captain is. While all the grown men he ships with cower in fear of the ship's master, Leach stands trembling in anger and defiance, refusing to submit -- displaying the manly courage that the narrator, despite his age and size, yet lacks.

3. Fred, A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens.
"What right have you to be merry? You're poor!"
"What right have you to miserable? You're rich!"

Fred is Ebeneezer Scrooge's nephew, the only child of his beloved sister Fran. Fred -- Scrooge grudgingly admits -- reminds him much of Fran, in kindly temperament and cheerful disposition. Fred cajoles his uncle to find the meaning in the season, and refuses to regard his grumpy uncle with anything less than affection...even though Scrooge is often insulting toward him.

4. Professor Binns, Harry Potter series.
As a student of history, the all-too-brief mentions of Harry's history classes always intrigued me, as did the idea of a professor who was a ghost. Pity he made the subject dull for his listeners, though.

5. Mr. Bush, Horatio Hornblower. C.S. Forester
In the first three Captain Hornblower stories, Bush serves as Hornblower's faithful first lieutenant, though later stories indicated that the two gentlemen had a storied earlier career when they were both lieutenants. The books' version of Mr. Bush and the movies' vary a bit in personality (the movies are all set during their earlier days), but I like them both the same. Every time Lieutenant, then Captain Bush appeared by Hornblower's side I smiled with inexplicable pleasure.

6.Two-Bit, The Outsiders. S.E. Hinton
Two-Bit is one of the most memorable characters in Hinton's novels for me, though I don't know if my mental impression of him fits with that which she put forth in fiction. I see a man with luxurious, frizzy red sideburns and a purple-flannel shirt.  Two-Bit is notable for his charm and theatric talents: at the novel's midpoint, he breaks the tension by going into an act that reminds me of "Gee, Officer Krupke" from West Side Story.

7. The Turtle, The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck.
Remember reading The Grapes of Wrath and witnessing Steinbeck cut away from the action every chapter or so to follow a turtle walking up the highway?   There aren't many scenes I remember from the book, but that's one of them.

8.Polly Espey, "Love is a Fallacy". Max Shulman
This short story is one of my favorites from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Essentially, Dobie teaches her to think logically, in hopes of turning her into an intellectual giant worthy of his romantic affection, and she turns it against him.

9. Lucien Wilbanks, multiple John Grisham novels. (A Time to Kill, The Last Juror)
Wilbanks is an interesting character. If I recall correctly, he served as an iconoclastic mentor in Grisham's original work, but in The Last Juror -- set in the seventies -- cast him in a more despicable, almost villainous light.

10. Nova Stihl, Death Star. Michael Reaves.

Death Star is the story of A New Hope from the viewpoint of soldiers and civilians aboard the Death Star, and Stihl is one of the more interesting characters in the varied cast. He's a student of philosophy -- the kind who would be studying Stoicism or Zen Buddhism were this novel set in our universe. He's such an interesting character that I'd like to see more of him.

Friday, May 13, 2011


© 1976 Ed McBain (Evan Hunter)
213 pages

Summer. It's too hot for a job like this. Day like this, anything could go wrong. Doesn't help that this is the thirteenth job Colley has done with this crew.  They don't have any hold-ups about the job though, a raid on a liquor store. Should be an easy mark. So he has to do it. But something'll go wrong. Day like this, it has to. 

"POLICE!" A guy with a shield and a gun, charging toward Colley as he stands watch in the store. He sees the gun and follows his instincts: he shoots. Bang.  The guy drops to the ground. Colley just killed a man. He's a murderer -- a cop-killer, and now  all bets are off.

Guns is the riveting story of Colley Donato, a career hood whose fortunes are reversed when a simple armed robbery goes southward, fast. After the firefight that ensues,  two cops are injured, possibly dead, and Colley's own partner is bleeding out. While he and his third man -- a driver -- get the injured gunman to safety,  their lives are forfeit in the city. Colley has to get out fast, but he's motivated by desperation. Live by the gun, die by the gun -- and he can't seem to shake off the bad luck.  

As Colley runs through the city, he ruminates. The novel is told entirely from his head,  almost in the form of his thoughts -- an approach which has worked well for Michael Shaara and his son.  This tack carries the faint risk of seeming disjointed, but McBain does it grandly. Colley's reflections on the past flow perfectly with his actions in the present, so readers are treated both to the fascinating story of his life as a hood and his thrilling flight from justice -- or revenge, depending on how sympathetic you find Colley and the police.   I stayed up entirely too late trying to finish this novel, and am still suffering from it now,  but it had me. There's a brutal authenticity here, great pacing, and compelling characters. I can't wait to read more of Ed McBain. I understand he has a long-running series of detective stories, so I've a lot to look forward to. 

  • Rumble Fish, S.E. Hinton

City of Bones

City of Bones
© 2002 Michael Conelly
464 pages

High in the Hollywood hills lies the body of  a young boy, buried for two decades, whose bones bear the scars of a lifetime of abuse. When a dog finds the bones, Hieryonymous Bosch and the LAPD are drawn into a disturbing case that will haunt their minds and cost the men and women in blue the lives of one of their own. While a twenty-year old murder seems a tough prospect to resolve, Harry has two leads: a convicted child molester living nearby, and the boy's own broken family.

I keep returning to Connelly's series out of affection for the main character (who, in my head, takes the form of Liam Neeson in Taken), the loose-cannon detective who lives to make a difference and piss off as many politicians as he can in the process. Connelly spins a good yarn, but City of Bones is more emotionally intense than any of the other Bosch novels I've read. The story of the victim and his family are disturbing enough, but as the case wears on, more innocent lives are lost and Bosch is faced with a personal crisis. The case reveals that everyone has skeletons  waiting in their own closets...and some are not pleasant to unearth.  I'm hoping my library carries Lost Light, the next novel in the series, so I can see what will come of Harry's unprecedented and unexpected decision in the novel's endgame.


The past couple of days have been a little strange, not being able to read any blogs. While I don't post every day,  there are a number of blogs (book-related and otherwise) I visit several times a day. Since Blogger's status page also inaccessible, I received updates from their twitter page. I only lost one post (which has since been restored), though there were a couple of comments lost as well. I don't think an outage like this has happened before, at least not in my years (late 2006) using it.  I am not too disgruntled: accidents happen.

I forgot to mention yesterday that I'll also be finishing The Sea Wolf by Jack London, which I started a few days ago.  Now that blogger is back up and running there are a couple of book reviews I hope to publish tonight or tomorrow. I'm also going to look into backing the blog up on my hard drive. Since I already have a wordpress address reserved (mostly to prevent another blogger from using the name and thus getting people confused -- that has happened), I may use it as a mirror one day. Currently they are no posts there -- I have not developed it at all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

This Week at the Library (11 May)

My home library sits next door to City Hall on Selma's downtown thoroughfare of Broad Street. Today I parked closer to City Hall than I usually do, and looked up at a lamp post to see a peculiar sign hanging on it. I'd first spotted the sign back in December, when taking photos of Selma during Christmastime, and it baffled me. Was murder sanctioned to one side, and forbidden on the other?   I decided to ask the librarian, who had heard inquiries before. To the best of her memory, a mourning father had put it up after the death of one of his children -- but she wasn't sure. I suppose City Hall would have more information. I wonder if every city is littered with objects like this with strange stories to them?

Today I returned a few books unread -- Catholics and the Holy Bible, since I've gotten tired of the subject:  The Middle East and The First Salute because I wasn't as interested in them as I thought I was (I'll probably return to Salute in July, as part of my usual Independence Day reading), and Evolution and Society. While a collection of essays from scientists applying the idea of evolution -- change through time -- to their various disciplines appealed to me, the first few essays were very dry and I never got into it. For some reason I'm in the mood to read stories, so most of this week looks to be fiction.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. I'm not sure how I managed to get out of high school without ever reading this, a classic of southern literature, but I did and so I have no idea why people keep praising Atticus Finch. But I'm going to find out.
  • Guns, Ed McBain. For some reason I've been enjoying cop stories, and this fellow is apparantly famous for his 87th precinct series. I don't know if this is connected or not, but it had a fairly straightforward title.
  • Sharpe's Tiger,  Bernard Cornwell. I think this is where Sharpe saves Wellesley's life and begins to rise in the ranks.

And because all play and no work makes smellincoffee a vacuous boy,...

  • Earth Science Made Simple, Edward F. Albin. This series is usually pretty good, so I'm hoping to bone up on my rocks and weather.

The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country
© 1992 J.M. Dillard
Adapted from the movie, © 1991. Screenplay and story by Leonard Nimoy, Denny Martin, and Nicholas Meyer.

"I give you a toast: to the undiscovered country -- the future."

Some nights I ignore the bed for the floor, and a few mornings ago I awoke resting in front of one of my bookcases, having scattered some of its contents across the floor during the night. The Undiscovered Country was laying beneath my pillow,  and I decided to see how J.M. Dillard treated my uncontested favorite trek movie. Dillard has done Trek movie novelizations before, to good effect, and my fondness for this movie saw me tuck in rather greedily . The Undiscovered Country is the last movie to feature the whole of the original-series cast, and it gave them a proper send-off with a topical plot, focusing strongly on the characters and providing viewers with adventure, action, mystery, humor, and meaningful reflection in bounds.

The plot, topical for the early 1990s when the Soviet Union had finally collapsed and put an end to the decades-old Cold War,  is primarily one of politics. A devastating environmental disaster threatens to destroy the Klingon empire unless they divert their resources from the military, and thus end the long-running 'cold war' between themselves and the Federation. This is the perfect opportunity for two idealists (Spock and the new Klingon chancellor, Gorkon) to propose a radical initiative: peace.  Spock volunteers his friend and captain James T. Kirk for the duty of escorting Gorkon to Earth to work toward peace and disarmament, but things go awry.  There are those on both sides who balk at the idea of sudden change, and then Gorkon is assassinated at the hands of individuals in Starfleet uniforms, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy are imprisoned. Spock must endeavor to unravel a conspiracy before the fragile opportunity for peace is destroyed.

Dillard is an old hand at Trek novelizations, and here she presents the story of The Undiscovered Country near-flawlessly, ironing out a few wrinkles from the movie and enriching the overall experience by fleshing out characters who the movie ignored for the sake of time and giving various scenes additional depth. While movies have to be expedient in choosing which characters to develop and which scenes to incorporate into the plot, a story in novel form is allowed to be more deliberate. The novel  is supportive of the movie, allowing readers to see more into the story -- to see into Kirk's emotional conflict, as he struggles against bitter hatred against the Klingons who killed his son.  Dillard also tells the story of the Klingon's point of view and puts the spotlight on Valeris,  Spock's protégé and potential successor. Her background and point-of-view chapters make her an especially intriguing character to experience.  I imagine it's a tricky thing to depict a conspiracy from the conspirator's point of view without giving too much of the plot away for the reader, but Dillard walks the line impressively: there's only one odd little inconsistency when a character appears to be oblivious to something he had to have known.   This is scarcely noticeable overall, though, and I'd declare this novelization a triumph, fulfilling my high expectations.

"Course heading, captain?"
"Second star to the right -- and straight on, til' morning."

Tor.com recently did a Star Trek movie marathon, featuring reviews and comments of the Trek movies by Trek authors. A.C. Crispin, author of Sarek, covers The Undiscovered Country here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Teaser Tuesday (10 May)

Teaser Tuesday again, from Should Be Reading.

The past had a way of coming back up out of the ground. Always right below your feet.

p. 199, City of Bones.  Michael Connelly

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Coming

The Coming
© 2000 Joe Haldeman
217 pages

2054. Earth. The future isn't what it used to be. The seas are rising -- Florida cities are frantically trying to build seawalls for protection -- and the outlook is deteriorating.  The United States is led by a perky but depressingly imbecilic woman named Carlie (who may or may not be able to see Russia from her house),  the eastern hemisphere is increasingly dominated by large, hostile alliances like "The Eastern Bloc", and Germany and France are on the brink of war. And then down in Gainsville Florida,  astronomer Aurora Bell picks up a signal. Confirming its existence with Japan's station on the Moon, she realizes to her shock that it's in English.

"We're coming".  Repeated sixty times.  Something from outside the solar system, using an unbelievable amount of energy, is coming -- and Earth has three months to be prepared. What is it? Aliens? Jesus? The revolt of the urban proletariat?  While the potential for contact with alien lifeforms would seem to take precedence,  it recedes into the background after an initial surge of interest. While the clock ticks down, people live out their lives.  In Gainsville,  a man is being blackmailed by the Mafia, who threaten to make public his homosexuality --  now a crime in the United States. His wife, meanwhile, tries to keep the president from leading the entire world into oblivion. No, Madame President, it may not be the best time to launch supernukes into orbit at a time when France and Germany are blowing up each other's parliaments and playing chicken with their tanks on the border.  As the date of the coming approaches, tension reaches crisis level, and then --

Have you ever witnessed a small child trying to blow bubbles? Clutching a slippery bottle filled with the soapy fluid in one hand, and grasping the plastic bubble-blower in another, she carefully fills a pocket of the solution with air. It grows bigger and bigger, and you know it's going to be a beautiful, big bubble when it escapes, and then -- it pops.

If you haven't, then read this novel and maybe you'll experience that feeling. While the premise fascinated me, my enthusiasm never caught. There was nothing for it to catch on. Haldeman employs an interesting style of writing here: the novel is presented in a relatively seamless succession of viewpoint characters. They're a diverse lot, with varying roles to play in the story. Some don't even play a role in the story, they just exist because, hey -- wouldn't you want to know how pornography is filmed in 2054?  This viewpoint succession threw me off at first, until I realized that the new character was someone already in-scene, and all I had to do was make a slight jump -- switch trains of thought, as it were. The problem, though, is that the trains of thought speed up and slow down at random, and often arrive at the station in rapid succession. At one point there were three jumps in two pages, and one character only had a paragraph, leaving me feeling very disoriented.

It doesn't help that all this jumping has little bearing on the plot, if there is one. While this is advertised as a science fiction novel and bookended by the announcement and arrival of The Coming,  what science there is in here is limited to technology -- three-dimensional television, interactive pornography, and semen-based  drugs. The plot consists of the announcement, people living their lives for three months, and the ending. It's not coherent. It left me wondering, "This is it?"   There are five-star reviews for this book on Amazon, and most of them focus on the characterization and presentation of how the world might look in fifty years. I found the people and predictions to be bleak, though there were a couple of characters who I hoped would make it out all right. While the off-beat ending was unexpected (and a little disappointing), and the writing took some getting used to, the book's central weakness for me is that so much of it is utterly relevant to the presumed plot. This is not about The Coming. This is about people living in 2054.  That may be of interest to you -- it was in part to me -- but don't pick this book up expecting Contact.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

These Weeks at the Library (20 April - 4 May)

The last two weeks have been rather enjoyable, reading-wise. I've been reading from the lost books of the Septuagint -- books which were in the original Jewish and Christian canons, but discarded by Martin Luther --  and  finding them interesting looks into the Jewish mind as it grew through the centuries.  I also continued in Asimov's Empire series and returned to the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell, but the most memorable book from this period has been Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine,  which borders on absurdist science fiction. Haldeman is an SF author whose work I'm just starting to explore.

Those enamored of the good doctor Isaac Asimov may be interested in reading a series of posts by literary agent and author Frederik Pohl, who knew Asimov growing up and remained friends with him throughout his life.

Selected Quotations:
Late in the cruise I discovered that Carl Sagan (the well-known astronomer from Cornell) did not take kindly to the swaying of the ship. At once I told him, in full and moving detail, of the exact matter in which the various ship's motions failed to affect me, attributing my immunity to nausea to superior genes and a ready intelligence.
Carl showed no signs of gratitude. 

p. 206, The Tragedy of the Moon (Isaac Asimov)

Do not let your passions be your guide, but restrain your desires.  If you indulge yourself with all that passion fancies, it will make you the butt of your enemies. (Ecclesiasticus 18: 30-31)        
A hasty argument kindles a fire, and a hasty quarrel leads to bloodshed. Blow on a spark to make it glow, or spit on it to put it out; both results come from the one mouth. (27: 11-12)

This next week..

  • Michael Connelly's City of Bones
  • Joe Haldeman's The Coming, which opens with the discovery of a signal from space
  • Possibly reading The First Salute by Barbara Tuchman, which is not -- as I thought -- a story of naval warfare during the American Revolution, but one addressing the political influence of the Revolution in Europe. She seems have written a fair bit about the Dutch, which pleases me given how little I know about them and how significant a role they played in European history in the age of enlightenment and discovery.
I also have Bernard Lewis' The Middle East, which I might explore at some point in the week.

The Tragedy of the Moon

The Tragedy of the Moon
© Isaac Asimov 1978
224 pages

The Tragedy of the Moon collects seventeen sundry Asimovian essays  which will prove a delight to most Asimov fans.  The essays were originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction, but have been edited and arranged specially for the book. This is one of his more diverse collections: while science is a common element of most of the essays, only two are pure or 'hard' science. The rest combine science and culture, as when Asimov writes on the history of calenders and the week in western culture. I'd never really wondered why the week has seven days, at least not enough to look up the answer.  As Asimov deftly explains in "Moon over Babylon", it comes from lunar festivities which occurred every seventh day. This also has some bearing on the Jewish 'Sabbath', and this essay is rich in history and etymology. While the good doctor's nonfiction output is generally fascinating, I liked this collection most for including more of Asimov's informality:  some collections tend to be staid and to the point, but Asimov's winsome personality shines through the pages here as he constantly kids and charms the reader, both in-text and in footnotes.

If "It's by Asimov!" isn't enough for you, the list of essays follows.
  1. "The Tragedy of the Moon" Asimov reflects on how the absence of a moon rotating the earth may have sped up humanity's acceptance of heliocentrism and hastened the growth of scientific progress in general.
  2. "The Triumph of the Moon" examines how the moon has been a boon to humanity, though his three triumphs listed are more indirect than I'd imagined. 
  3. "Moon Over Babylon" concerns the history of the week as a timekeeping period, and is one of my favorites.
  4. "The Week Excuse" sees Asimov argue for a more sensible calender (and make a terrible pun, for he is "not ashamed of myself in the slightest").
  5. "The World Ceres" is both explanatory and speculative, as Asimov ponders how humanity might use Ceres for mining and tourism
  6. "The Clock in the Sky" regales the reader with the story of how humanity figured out the speed of light.
  7. "The One and Only" focuses on carbon's unique suitability for becoming the backbone of life.
  8. "The Unlikely Twins" tackle two very different manifestations of carbon: graphite and diamond, and explain how they can be so different and yet consist solely of the same element.
  9. "Through the Microglass" focuses on the discovery of microscopic beings like bacteria and their importance in the fields of medicine and biology.
  10. "Down from the Amoeba" struggles with the concept of "life": are viruses, sperm,  and red bloodcells 'alive'?
  11. "The Cinderalla Compound" builds on this and addresses the discovery of nucleic acid and DNA. 
  12. "Doctor, Doctor, Cut my Throat" features Asimov reducing his surgeon into a laughing fit and lecturing on hormones.
  13. "Lost in Translation", which also appears either Gold or Magic, is an interesting departure from the rest of the book,  stressing the importance of social and cultural context when translating or reading literature from eras past. He uses the Book of Ruth as his prime example, seeing it as not just a love story, but a triumphant endorsement of universal brotherhood. 
  14. "The Ancient and the Ultimate" sees Asimov slyly defend books while pretending to lecture on the supremacy of cassettes (heh) in the future of communication. 
  15. "By the Numbers" addresses both hypocrisy -- people complaining about technological societies and taxes while freely enjoying the benefits of both -- and the need for a society in which computers manage things. (Such societies often appear in Asimov's works, often using a global computer  called  MULTIVAC.)
  16. "The Cruise and I" relates the story of Asimov's cruise off the Florida coast, where he watched the last Apollo takeoff -- which happened to be the first nighttime launch. Asimov usually avoided travel, so I relished this humorous take which ended in splendor as humanity reached out for the moon yet one more time.  Carl Sagan was on that very same cruise, and he appears in the essay twice.
  17. "Academe and I" sees Asimov look back on his careers as an author and professor of biochemistry, giving a minibiography of himself along the way.

I for one enjoyed myself tremendously reading this.

My own copy, purchased in used condition (obviously so) last week. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Teaser Tuesday (3 May)

April showers (and tornadoes) bring May flowers (and Teaser Tuesdays).

The stranded Riflemen might call him the new Lieutenant, and they might invest the word 'new' with all the scorn of old soldiers, but that was because they did not know their man. They thought of him as nothing more than a jumped-up sergeant, and they were wrong. He was a soldier, and his name was Richard Sharpe. 

p. 31, Sharpe's Rifles. Bernard Cornwell

It was a neat column of words: WE'RE COMING, repeated sixty times.
"Well.....by itself, it doesn't exactly make one --"
"Norman. The signal came from a tenth of a light-year away. In English."

p. 2-3, The Coming. Joe Haldeman

And the reward for "Most Embarrassing Reason I'm at the Doctor's" is...

I lay down to sleep by the courtyard wall, leaving my face uncovered because of the heat. I did not know that there were sparrows in the wall above me; and their droppings fell, still warm, right into my eyes and produced white patches. I went to the doctors to be cured, but the more they treated me with their ointments, the more my eyes were blinded by the white patches, until I lost my sight.

From book two of Tobit (The New English Bible).

Top Ten Favorite Reccommendations

This week The Broke and the Bookish are dicussing their favorite books they found through recommendations. Happily I have a 'reccommended' label just for an occasion such as this.

1. Redwall, Brian Jacques (Librarian)

My home librarian suggested this book to me many years ago, and I remember fording the marsh behind my house and finding a quiet place in the woods to read it. As I've mentioned before, it was the first time I'd ever read an epic novel, or a work of fantasy, and the idea of exploring this world with its massive history excited me.

2. Sharpe's Eagle, Bernard Cornwell (Seeking a Little Truth)
While I haven't yet read most of or even much of the Sharpe series, this book introduced me to Bernard Cornwell. He's become a favorite of mine the last year: I'm positively wild for his Saxon Stories series which are about politics, friendship, family, and war  during the 800s in England, where Anglo-Saxons and Danes fought to rule Britain.

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J. K. Rowling
This book wasn't just recommended to me, I had a pack of friends who followed me around like ducks, pecking me on the legs and quacking "Read it!"  I avoided it for years because the books were too popular, but in August 2007 I picked up the first novel. I'd read the series through by the end of September, and I re-read them that December. Since then Potterdom has entered into the Holy Trinity of things I am geeky about, along with Star Trek and Star Wars. (Though I guess becoming a Firefly fan has made it a quad...)

4. The Quiet Game, Greg Iles (Sister)
I've never read anyone who does thrillers like Greg Iles,  and his usual southern gothic setting is a delight. The Quiet Game started me on Iles, and introduced his oft-used character Penn Gage, a lawyer-novelist turned mayor of his hometown. The Penn Gage mysteries tend to involve criminal mysteries and discussion of social and cultural issues set inside the steamy historic town of Natchez, Mississippi.

5. The Destiny Trilogy, David Mack (Everyone at the TrekBBS)
(Mere Mortals, Gods of Night, Lost Souls)
 I have heard about these Star Trek novels for years.  Ever since their release, every book thread at TrekBBS has mentioned the Destiny trilogy reverently.  Last year I picked them up, and I figured -- no way will this live up to the hype. I put it off for a few weeks because I dreaded being disappointed, but once I began to read....they're glorious.

7. Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman (Sociology Professor)

An incredible look at the ever-increasing domination of society by entertainment, and what that is doing to political commentary, the news, and our worldviews.

8. How Few Remain, Harry Turtledove (University Acquaintance)

How Few Remain is the start of a large alternate-history series which begins with the success of the southern rebellion in the United States, and the establishment of a Confederacy protected by Britain and France. Turtledove follows this new geopolitical scheme 'til the end of the second world war.  While versions of the Great War and World War 2 both feature prominently, they play out very differently. The two American states are on opposite sides of the conflict, which is why I spent twelve+ books cheering on the Prussians and American socialists in their fight against Confederate Nazis,  the Canadian resistance, and Mormon terrorists.

...it's a fun series.

9. No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin (Friend)
The story of the Roosevelt White House, in which FDR fights the Great Depression, racism, and corporate selfishness in an attempt to righten the American economy, make it a more democratic nation, and fight the Nazi's

10. Persian Fire, Tom Holland (The Resolute Reader)
The story of the conflict between Greece and Persia. The book is especially helpful for those wishing to understand the Persian mind and that which followed, for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have a bloodline that makes them partially related to Persia's Zoroastrianism.

Honorable Mention: The Know-It-All, A.J. Jacobs...a humorous account of a man who tried to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.