Well, after at least of month of effort, I finally finished David Copperfield (just in time, too, given the start of cycling season, which has put a rather sizeable dent in my available reading time), and I must say, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long long time. Of course, this probably shouldn’t be surprising, Dickens being considered one of the greatest English language authors… ever, really. But, given my general aversion to “classics” (despite my constant effort to read them), the language often being difficult to digest, and the comprehension of the subject matter often reliant on knowledge about the period the work was written in, I was skeptical. Victorian period pieces? How enjoyable a read could that possibly be?
Turns out, very enjoyable! Dickens is considered a great master of characterization, and I never really understood what that meant until I read this book. Unlike most books, where my drive to read is fueled by a desire to find out “what happens next”, aided by little breadcrumbs the author sprinkles along the way, when reading David Copperfield, I found it was the characters I cared about. Would Mr. Micawber ever sort out his financial woes? Would Uriah Heep’s hold on Mr. Wickfield be loosed, and would he get his comeuppance? Would Traddles finally get married? Would Mr. Dick finally exorcise King Charles I from his mind? It really was a unique reading experience, sad and serious at times, uproariously funny at others (every time I read the closing on one of Mr. Micawber’s letters, I quite literally laughed out loud).
So, if you can handle a slightly more challenging read (the language isn’t difficult, just different in style), I’d suggest checking out David Copperfield. Meanwhile, I can now dig into Nicholas Nickleby… expect another review in, say, three months time.
Over the years, I’ve read a reasonably wide range of stuff, running the gamut from comedy and drama to horror and science fiction, both classic and contemporary. But for some reason, whenever I get tired of finding new things to read, or just need to dig into something familiar and light hearted (yet still weighty and thoughtful, if I wish), I return to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. There’s something about Mr. Adams’ brilliant, canted, quirky take on humanity that I just can’t get enough of. Heck, the very title of this blog is an homage to his wonderful work.
Well, today, I came across a previously unpublished interview with the man (appeared on Slashdot, originally) from back in 1978, before HHGTG really took off, and I am once again reminded of why I enjoy his work so much, and why his loss was such a sad event. One of my favorite quotes is this:
If The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy makes money, I shall enjoy that. But what I'll enjoy most is having proved that you don't have to underestimate people. I don't like the notion that you set yourself up as saying "This is what people like, therefore this is what we'll do." That's patronizing.
So for any fans of Adams’ work, or HHGTG, check it out. It’s an interesting read about a man that is sorely missed (a phrase I rarely turn in reference to celebrities).
Well, trip number two has come to a close, this time a jaunt out to Regina for some mom-time with Linda! As usual, food was abundant, as was amusement (and slightly hurt feelings :) with the copy of Ticket To Ride that we purchased and hauled along. Among other things that were accomplished, I:
- Proved to myself that my knitting needles (as previously mentioned) would easily get through airport security (they didn’t even register on the X-Ray, so far as I know).
- As a result of 1, half-finished Lenore’s new hat. Unfortunately, I ran out of yarn, as I neglected to bring a second ball.
- Finished reading “Red_Mars”, a rather largish tome by Kim Stanley Robinson which details the terraforming of Mars.
- Learned how to make Cabbage Rolls! Linda is an excellent tutor. :)
- Started reading “Robots and Empire”, by the legendary Isaac Asimov.
And on the topic of Red Mars, a mini review. In short, it’s a massive vision, incredibly detailed and realistic. Characterization is good, though the dialog a little unbelievable at times. The plot can be a bit ponderous, and Robinson seems to relish showing off his knowledge of Mars topography, going on for pages describing the Martian landscape. The discussion of the sociological impacts of Martian colonization are quite fascinating, particularly in conjunction with new technologies that are invented in the course of the story.
In short, highly recommended for anyone into hard science fiction and who can stand a healthy dose of Tolkein-esque verbosity.
You can probably guess what this entry is about. Yes, it’s another book review, of a sort. This time, it’s about Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s dystopic graphic novel “V for Vendetta” (Now A Major Motion Picture! (tm)). This whole graphic novel kick I’ve been on was really inspired by the movie adaptation of this book (which is an excellent film, by the way), and so it stands to reason that I would tackle it at some point. My conclusion? It’s good. But I think “Watchmen” is better.
The book itself is set in a near-future Britain following world wide nuclear war, in which a fascist government has taken power, and now controls the populace through a combination of propaganda, surveillance, and force. The plot sets this government against the main character, “V”, who identifies himself as a force of anarchy, and who’s goal is to tear down the existing system such that the people can be left free to build up a new one.
Additionally, we are introduced to Evey, who begins the book as a desperate young woman on the virge of resorting to prostitution to survive (interestingly, this is very different from movie, in which Evey is portrayed as a relatively self-sufficient, gainfully employed woman), and who, under the tutelage of “V”, ultimately transforms into a revolutionary, thus acting as a metaphor for the people.
Visually, the novel is quite a departure from the last two books I’ve read, employing an almost water coloured style, rather than crisp ink lines. The result is rather striking, and I think fits will with the dystopian setting being portrayed.
So, why don’t I think it’s as good as “Watchmen”? Honestly… I’m not too sure. Upon reflection, I think it may be in part due to the characterization. “V” himself is quite interesting, portrayed more as an idea than an individual, however the remaining characters are somehow flat and difficult to sympathize with. Additionally, the plot seemed somewhat less focused than that of “Watchmen”. Of course, with that said, it’s still an excellent novel, and worth the read.
And now the inevitable question: what’s next? Well, I decided I needed a break. After reading “Watchmen”, “Maus”, and “V” back-to-back, none of which I would describe as “light reading”, I figured it was about time for some pure entertainment! So I’m finally going to read “The Princess Bride”.
So, as I mentioned in my entry on the graphic novel Watchmen, I chose Maus (and Maus 2) as the next step in my foray into the graphic novel medium. Maus is, first and foremost, the tale of a holocaust survivor. Written by Art Spiegelman, the core narrative surrounds his father, Vladek, and his life in Poland before, during, and shortly after the holocaust. In an unusual twist, the story is told from a sort of metabiographical perspective, in that the reader is presented with a depiction, not only of Vladek’s tale, but also of the author’s experiences as he goes through the process of interviewing his father and writing the book. The result is that we not only learn of Vladek’s experiences surviving the unthinkable, but also the effect these events have on his present day life and the individuals connected to him.
What I find most remarkable about the work, aside from the incredible and often disturbing depiction of the events Vladek managed to live through, is how completely honest and forthright Spiegelman is. As a metabiography, we are allowed to observe as the author attempts to come to grips with his relationship with his father and the things he faced. It is this tale which is often lost when discussing the holocaust, but it is an equally important one, as it reminds us that those horrible events not only shaped the lives of the people who lived through it, but also the lives of their friends and family as well.
So, in summary, if you’re at all interested in graphic novels, this really is a must-read. It’s an excellent example of how to exploit the graphic novel medium in order to tell the story. In a way, it’s brevity (just shy of 300 pages) is a testament to how powerful the graphic story telling medium can be, as it allows the author to present in a single frame what would take paragraphs to express (poorly) in words.
In order to reward me for a job well done surviving yet another year on this remarkable little spheroid we call Earth, my lovely wife Lenore came up with the terrific idea of fulfilling a little whim I’ve had recently, that being to go on a minor exploration of the graphic novel medium.
Like many before me, I had always assumed that graphic novels were, in the end, nothing more than extended comic books, replete with your standard super heros and caped crusaders. And while they were certainly entertaining, I would’ve hardly described them as potential sources of real intellectual stimulation. That is, until, I saw the movie adaptation of V_for_Vendetta. “V” demonstrated to me, in dramatic fashion, that graphic novels may also explore complex issues, with interesting, multi-faceted characters. Since then, I’ve been rather curious about the medium and the potential that it holds. Thus, I thought the most natural thing would be to pick up the original “V” and Sin_City graphic novels, so I could enjoy them in their original forms. Unfortunately, a trip to the local book store demonstrated that, following the release of their associated movies, these works have become rather difficult to find. But, not wanting to leave the book store without something, I decided to pick up another work by Alan Moore which I’d heard about: Watchmen.
Now, I should start off by saying I haven’t yet reached the end of this frankly remarkable work. However, to say I’ve been impressed would be an understatement. The only graphic novel to make it on the “Time” list of 100 all-time best novels, “Watchmen” is considered one of the first attempts at a graphic novel as a form of literature. Ironically, “Watchmen” is best described as a superhero story. However, the heros of this story are, with few exceptions, nothing more than regular men and women, with remarkably complex psyches, who’s motivations for donning their costumes and fighting crime are varied and complex. Plotwise, the reader is presented with an intriguingly complex murder mystery, who’s victims are the aforementioned superheros, now retired, forced out of business by a law enacted to quell riots following a police strike protesting the actions of these perceived vigilantes.
If a compelling plot and deep, varied characters aren’t enough, the use of art and dialog in “Watchmen” is wonderful. While not particularly cutting edge, it’s the use of the visuals as a storytelling device that is truly impressive, making it vital for the reader to fully study the panels in order to take in all the details.
So, as I near the end of “Watchmen”, I’ve been trying to decide what to read next. I think I have it narrowed down to three titles:
“Maus”, a work for which it’s author, Art Spiegelman, won a Pulitzer, presents the story of Artie and his father’s experiences surviving the holocaust. “Blankets”, a memoir by Craig Thompson, explores the issues of an adolescent growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home. And lastly, we have “From Hell”, another work authored by Alan Moore, which presents a conspiracy theory involving Jack the Ripper. Intrigued? Perhaps you should check out a graphic novel… you never know, you might like it.
Well, last night I finally finished reading 20000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne (author of The Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in 80 Days, among many others). This book, depicted in the 1954 Disney film of the same name, details the adventures of Professor Pierre Arronax, an oceanographer, and his companions Ned Land, a Canadian whaler and Conseil, the professor’s manservant, as they travel aboard the Nautilus, an advanced submarine designed and built by the infamous Captain Nemo.
In terms of historical context, Jules Verne is considered, along with a number of his contemporaries, as early examples of science fiction authors. Often compared with H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds), who used science fiction as a medium for making points about society, Verne focused on providing depictions of realistic technology that was logically extrapolated from that of the present day, and used that technology as a basis for more adventure-oriented works.
20000 Leagues most certainly fits this mold. The Nautilus and it’s attendant technology are carefully detailed by Verne, who attempts to very clearly describe the workings of the ship and it’s scientific underpinnings. This ship then becomes the vehicle (if you’ll pardon the pun) for an adventure story which carries the crew to nearly all points of the compass, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, Antartica to the North Sea, and into the deepest parts of the ocean. Along the way, the reader is introduced to countless species, running the gamut from coral to fish to whales, as well as various birds and semi-aquatic mammals.
Unfortunately, to this reader, much of the book devolves into a cataloging of the various creatures encountered by the Nautilus, resulting in a frankly dry, uninteresting read at times. Amusingly, at one point, even the narrator states that “Conseil kept especially busy observing mollusks and articulates, and although his catalog is a little dry, I wouldn’t want to wrong the gallant lad by leaving out his personal observations.”, at which point he dives right in as follows:
“From the branch Mollusca, he mentions numerous comb-shaped scallops, hooflike spiny oysters piled on top of each other, triangular coquina, three-pronged glass snails with yellow fins and transparent shells, orange snails from the genus Pleurobranchus that looked like eggs spotted or speckled with greenish dots, members of the genus Aplysia also known by the name sea hares, other sea hares from the genus Dolabella, plump paper-bubble shells, umbrella shells exclusive to the Mediterranean, abalone whose shell produces a mother-of-pearl much in demand, pilgrim scallops, saddle shells that diners in the French province of Languedoc are said to like better than oysters, some of those cockleshells so dear to the citizens of Marseilles…”
I think you get the point. Of course, the Nautilus does have many far more interesting encounters which, to some extent, make up for these drier moments, however I can’t help but wonder if the novel suffers from some amount of padding… strange, I know.
The characters themselves are wonderfully depicted. The enigmatic Captain Nemo. The overly excitable Ned Land and the unflappable Conseil, who make an interesting contrast. And Professor Arronax, who is sympathetic to Captain Nemo, excited by the scientific discoveries made possible by the Nautilus, and torn by the desires of his companions to return to the surface and their previous lives. However, it is clear this is no character study: we learn very little of the Captain’s motives (the details of which are reserved for the sequel, The Mysterious Island), and the other characters remain portraits, developing little over the course of the novel.
So, the verdict? A six. I think. The adventures of the Nautilus, combined with the interesting characters described by Verne, provide many exciting, humourous, entertaining moments. However, those dry moments really take away from the novel, damaging the pacing and causing the reader to lose interest.
Okay, calling this a review is probably a silly idea, considering “Frankenstein”, by Mary Shelley, was written, according to Frankenstein, in 1818. Still, having finished the book (which I grabbed from Project Gutenberg and read on my Palm), I felt it worth the time to put together a little write up about my impressions about the work.
Now, to say this book is a classic is stating the obvious. Mary Shelley’s story about the bright young scientist Frankenstein and his creation has become a fixture in our culture, influencing countless subsequent works. Being the origin of the modern “mad scientist” archetype, it’s hard to underestimate how much this work has permeated our collective consciousness. And yet despite this, I was surprised to discover that the modern representations of the story are, to say the least, a departure from the original work.
Yes, despite the fact that this book is freely available (being long out of copyright), and that it’s a remarkably easy read, belying it’s age, pop culture has (with only a few exceptions) still managed to heavily distort Mary Shelley’s original work. Not the least of which is the fact that Frankestein is the name of the doctor, and not his creation. Oh, and the fact that the monster wasn’t fundamentally evil.
Indeed, what makes Mary Shelley’s work so fascinating, in my mind, is that the monster, when it first comes into being, is innocent. Despite his horrible appearance, he is a moral creature who only craves love and companionship. However, due to being initially abandoned by Victor Frankenstein, who feared what he had created, and encounters with other human beings, the monster becomes bitter and twisted, ultimately bent on inflicting a terrible revenge on his creator. In this way, Shelley’s work has often been considered a metaphor for the process of child birth. Much like the monster, a child enters this world an innocent, and it is only through interactions with that world, and the individuals in it, that the child may become an immoral creature.
As for the doctor, his primary fault is in pursuing his science without fully considering the consequences of his actions. Thus, Shelley’s work is also a cautionary tale about the dangers of modern science. At the time of it’s writing, the industrial revolution was just beginning to sweep over the world, and this book serves as a warning against the pursuit of science in the absence of morality, and the over-reaching of man into areas perceived as the sole domain of God.
So, in closing, I recommend you read this book! Not only is it historically significant, it’s also thought provoking, entertaining, and serves as an excellent introduction to older literature.
Well, I finally finished reading The Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov… in a word, surprising. The translation from Russian to English is, to say the least, rough at times; I’m sure there are many Russian cultural jokes and references that I simply have no hope of understanding. But overall it was fairly entertaining, as long as you’re happy reading the odd passage with the knowledge that you’ll never really understand it’s meaning.
The story revolves around the two main characters, Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, a former nobleman, and Ostap Bender, who is essentially a crook. The setup is simple: just before Vorobyaninov’s mother-in-law dies she reveals that she has hidden a cache of jewels in one of her twelve dining room chairs, which has been taken by Soviet authorities. Vorobyaninov is then joined by Bender, and the two of them go on a cross-country search to find the chairs and recover the jewels. Along the way, in order to fund their journey, Bender comes up with some rather ridiculous schemes in order to con people out of their money.
Overall, I rather enjoyed the story. The lengths to which the characters went, and the schemes that Bender came up with in order to fund their treasure hunt, provided some great comedy. And along the way, the reader is given glimpses of Soviet Russian life that we in the west have rarely been exposed to. But I gotta say, it’s the ending that surprised me the most. Generally speaking, I’d describe the narrative as fairly light. The story bares some vague similarity to classic movies like “8 Heads in a Duffle Bag”. But the ending I would describe as exceedingly dark, almost tragic. It’s really quite bizarre.
So, for those interested in a somewhat difficult, but unique read, give “The Twelve Chairs” a chance. If anything, the ending is worth the journey… which is something I can’t say about, say, a Neil Stephenson book.
So we went to visit my Granda Kosinski on the Easter weekend… first time in, like, 5 months, much to my chagrin. Anyway, she lives down in Camrose, so we did the drive down there and visited for a couple hours and did the usual… talked talked talked. Well, during the course of discussions, we some how landed on the topic of books, and I discovered a rather interesting little factoid: apparently my great-grandma’s, and hence also my grandma’s, favourite book was/is “The Count of Monte Cristo”! Heck, my grandma owns two copies of the book, and while we were chatting about it, proceeded to describe some of the major plot points, something I can barely do with any book I’ve read. Now, this in and of itself is interesting, particularly since my great-grandma, when first introduced to the book, couldn’t actually read, and so only knew it because she heard other people reading it out loud. But the other thing that makes this all rather ironic, at least to me, is that TCMC is one of a small handful of books that I consciously chose not to finish (one of the others being “The Plague”, by Albert Camus, but I think I can hardly be blamed for that one).
Anyway, I think I can do nothing but make another attempt at the book, so back into the queue it goes. Which means I should get to it sometime… next year, maybe.
Hmm… what can I say. Well, first off, it was better than Decipher. ‘course, that’s not really saying much, now is it?
It’s not actually that bad of a book, as far as pulply action stuff goes. At least, unlike Decipher, it was actually written like a book, as opposed to feeling like a screenplay that got rejected and then converted. The pacing is pretty decent, the language middling, the plot not terrible, although I have to admit that I always expect stories like this to involve some amount of globe trotting, something this book certainly lacks… there are probably 6 major locations (as in, places the characters tarried for some period) in the entire novel, three in France, three in the UK.
The plot itself is decent enough… like I say, it’s not the most ambitious work of it’s type, but it keeps the reader entertained, and there is a reasonable twist at the end when you discover who The Teacher is. OTOH, I’m not the type to try and guess at plot twists while I’m reading, so I’m easily impressed when I get the answer. ;)
As far as controversy goes, I can certainly see how the book would piss off devout Christians. The plot basically outlines a Catholic-church-lead conspiracy to cover up large portions of Jesus’ life. As a result, the book, if one were dumb enough to take it as a work of non-fiction, attempts to refute fairly notable portions of Christian mythology. Of course, this all assumes you really are that dumb. While I’m sure there are many interesting little historical facts stated in the book (Robert Langdon’s various speeches on symbology are likely rooted in some amount of academic truth), the overarching conspiracy theory is just that, a conspiracy theory, and one outlined in what the author himself deems is a work of fiction.
So, in the end, I give the book a six. But I am left with one remaining question: Is Land Rover paying off authors to mention their products in the books? Because this is the second time now, Decipher being the first, that I felt like I was being exposed to a literary product spot…
Update: On the topic of “academic truth” apparently even very large portions of that are probably false: Criticisms_of_The_Da_Vinci_Code. Yay for crappy research. :)
So, in my on-going search for ways to justify the purchase of my PDA, I’ve decided to try and read my first e-book on the thing, specifically “The Da Vinci Code”.
Okay, quit laughing. I’m entitled to read a little pulp from time to time, too, ya know. So piss off! And, hey, it can’t be as bad as Decipher. No, seriously, it really can’t. If an author tried to write a book worse than that, I’m pretty sure his/her own lower intestine would reach up and strangle him/her, Douglas-Adams-style.
Anyway, surprisingly enough, the experience has been remarkably positive. I absolutely love real, physical books as much as the next guy (actually, probably more… I have this really nasty habit of “stopping in” to book stores and walking out with two or three new items to add to my collection. Which would be fine if paperbacks still cost $5, rather than the current going rate which is upwards of $10… frickin’ wallet rapists), and still think that the classic paper book provides a superior overall reading experience, although that’s probably at least in part due to nostalgia. But I have to admit, this whole e-book thing might not be so crazy after all.
Now, going in, I knew that e-books have some problems:
- Eye fatigue.
- Difficult to see in bright-light conditions.
- Poorer “random access” facilities.
- Less durable (for obvious reason).
In my case, the first two were my major concerns, especially given my poorer vision. But, as it turns out, it’s not as bad as I thought. The screen on my TX is clear and readable. The brightness controls make it pretty usable in a variety of light levels (though reflection is an issue). And as for the other issues, well, I can deal with them. Plus, e-books have a few advantages:
- Smaller pocket-print, thus easier to carry around.
- Easy to read one-handed, or even no-handed with autoscroll.
- Ability to adjust fonts, colours, etc, to suit the reader.
- Can carry around a whole collection of books easily.
- Very easy to just power on and read. The reader automatically remembers where I was and opens directly to where I left off.
- Works in dark environs. I could read while Lenore’s sleeping, if I wanted.
- Allows me to easily read material from resources like Project Gutenberg without having to print stuff off.
As for actual software, I really can’t say enough good things about PalmFiction. Unfortunately, the only things the author can say are in Russian, so you kinda have to fumble a bit with it. But once you do, wow! The feature set is incredible!
- Reads txt, PalmDoc, Word files, RTF, and others, and can even read compressed files.
- Can display the text using anti-aliased fonts converted from TTF sources.
- Supports any screen orientation, so you can read left- or right-handed.
- Can display in true full screen on hi-res devices. No wasted screen space!
- Does a great job of word wrapping and hyphenation.
- It’s FREE.
And there’s probably many more features I neglected to mention. Truely an awesome program, and far better than trying to read PDFs using PalmPDF.
On a separate but related note, the next e-book on my list is a Russian work called The Twelve Chairs, by Ilf and Petrov. ‘course, I was originally planning to read The Golden Calf by the same authors, as recommended by Arkadi, our resident Syberian. However, the folks at that site haven’t completed the translation, and the last thing I want is to be left hanging halfway through. ;)