Oct 25

[Review] Blindness by Jose Saramago

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. — Erasmus

Erasmus’ quote above is usually used in an allegorical way, usually after somebody says something like “Well, you know more about it than anybody else.” However, it applies quite literally to Blindness by Jose Saramago, a book that challenges its readers, but leaves them ultimately hopeful even though it is filled with darkness.

The Story

The story begins when a man waiting for a red light is suddenly struck blind. Within a few pages we find out that the sudden blindness is also highly contagious as the man manages to give it to the person who helps him home as well as the eye doctor he goes to see. The nature of the blindness is also strange, in that the person affected sees only a bright white light.

It doesn’t take long before a large group of people is affected by the blindness and the government steps in to take action against the quick-spreading plague. The people going blind are rounded up and taken to an old mental health asylum where they are quarantined. In a noble act of love for her husband, the eye doctor’s wife pretends to be blind so that she can be taken away with him.

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Oct 20

[Review] The Perks of Being a Wallflower

As a frequent visitor to bookstores, I have often taken the risk of picking up a book that I’ve never heard anything about. Many times, this results in an average, run-of-the-mill book. But on very rare occassions, you can stumble on a book that blows you away. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is one of those of books. In fact, I would venture to say that it’s the best book you’ve never read.

The Story

The story of the book follows a young man, Charlie, whose best friend, Michael Dobson, recently committed suicide. The book is written as a series of letters from Charlie to a friend (whose identity is never revealed). At the start of the book, you get the impression that most of the book is going to be about Charlie dealing with the death of his friend, but the story soon becomes more about Charlie himself and his own pursuits to fit in at high school. Charlie is the wallflower described in the title of the book. He is socially awkward, but very caring. Sensitive to everything around him, but not fully aware of what it all means.

We are quickly introduced to Patrick, a friendly football player, and Sam, a girl who Charlie is immediately attracted to. These two take Charlie under their wings and introduce him to all manner of different social events, including trips to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The remainder of the book follows the friendships’ ups and downs as Charlie tries to figure out where he belongs.

The Writing

The refreshing thing about this book is its writing. As I mentioned, it’s written as letters from Charlie. At the beginning, the letters are short and factual. As the story develops, though, and Charlie gets advice from his English teacher, the writing becomes more profound and interesting. I can’t put my finger on what makes the writing great, but the simplicity of it is part of it. Take the following quote for example,

I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss somebody someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.

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Oct 14

[Review] Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

When I was in junior high school, we were assigned The Communist Manifesto. I can’t remember why we read it, or in what class, but I do remember thinking that the philosophy detailed in the book made some bit of sense. Something about it tickled the back of my head, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was my father who made me see the flaw in the whole theory. I told him I thought it was an interesting way to live, and he simply said, “It will never work. Every man wants to have something that is his, something that he owns and has worked for. Communism doesn’t allow for that.” That stuck with me, and at the heart of Atlas Shrugged is a story that aims to prove that statement out. I don’t want to get too political with just a book review, but with this book it’s kind of difficult. Just saying you like it is a form of political statement.

The Story

The story follows Dagny Taggert, operating directory of Taggart Transcontinental, a locomotive empire created by her father. At the beginning of the book, which takes place somewhere in the 1950s, things with the empire are starting to crumble. Small chinks at first, but as the book moves on, we realize that the men of industry, the greatest people that Dagny needs to fix things, are disappearing. Just went she needs them the most, they drop everything they are doing, abandon their factories and their businesses and disappear.

Dagny doesn’t understand what’s going on with the men who are disappearing, and she takes strength from her friendship with Hank Reardon, the creator of Reardon metal, and the other character that the narrative follows. Together, they do their best to combat the crumbling of all things good around them, fighting against incompetence, apathy, and a government that wants to tie their hands and claim everything good they’ve created.

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Oct 09

[Review] Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg

As readers, my wife and I take it as an almost moral duty to make sure that our daughter is exposed to books. We try not to force it down her throat, but we also try hard to make reading a part of her life. Story time is an every day thing. In fact, with naps, it’s often something that happens multiple times in a day. Needless to say, when reading with your children, the discovery of a book that pulls you along as well is a welcome find.

Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg by Gail Carson Levine is just such a book. The story follows Prilla, a “newborn” fairy in Neverland, and one that has the unique misfortune of being born without a talent. She immediately befriends Tinkerbell and other fairies of Fairy Haven while trying to discover her talent. When misfortune comes to Neverland, Prilla along with the fairies Rani (a water talent fairy) and Vidia (a fast flying talent fairy) must take on a quest to find three rare items to fix Neverland.

If Only My Daughter Could Write this Review

There are very few books that get a physical reaction from my daughter. While I’m constantly surprised about how much she remembers when it comes to the stories we read together, it’s still rare when I see her emotionally invested in a book while we’re reading it. Not the case with Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg. Many times during the story she looked tense or excited, and by the end of the book she was participating fully in the storyline. I won’t say much, but the bedroom was full of the sound of a little girl clapping as hard as she could.

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Oct 07

[Review] Geeks by Jon Katz

Can one person really make a difference in another person’s life? Just by showing a bit of caring in what happens to another person, can you change a life’s direction? Does the simple act of taking an interest in someone really mean anything?

Those are the questions that are really at the heart of Geeks by Jon Katz. You wouldn’t know this from looking at the book, or really from reading the introduction. From that, you would think it was an essay on geeks living in the world today. I figured it would start with a good definition of what a geek was, which it did in a way, but from that point on this book became something I really wasn’t expecting at all.

What’s a Geek?

The defining aspect of geek-hood given within this book was a feeling of being outside the mainstream. The definition didn’t revolve too much around technology. Many of the people interviewed within the book talked about being geeks, and what it meant to them, and it wasn’t all about how they lived their life through a computer.

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Oct 04

[Review] The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Every once in a great while, you come across a book that affects you at such a deep level that it alters how you see the world around you. The Road is one of those books, but I still can’t bring myself to recommend it to everyone.

The story of The Road follows a father and his son as they try to make their way through a world that has been ravaged by some apocalyptic event. We’re never told exactly what happened, but whatever it was has burned the world and made it into a gray expanse of charred everything. Nothing new grows, and the few people that survived now live in a world where the weak take from the strong and where the most inhuman things are done in the name of survival.

Cormac McCarthy’s writing wraps itself around you in a way I’ve never experienced before. Many times I found myself looking up from the book and realizing the coffee house I was reading in wasn’t in the midst of a charred and gray world. Sometimes this realization physically shocked me, and sometimes I needed to look up to remind myself that the world still had color.

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Sep 28

[Review] A Salty Piece Of Land by Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy Buffett’s music has been a friend of mine for quite some time. The mood that the majority of his melodies create in me is one of relaxation and feeling that everything is right with the world, if only for a moment. They are the ultimate in escapism, which is why I return to them time and again.

“A Salty Piece of Land” is similar in this regard. It is a form of escapism, which Mr. Buffett clearly admits to in his author’s note at the end of the book. The book was published in 2004, but was being worked during September of 2001. From the author’s note:

“The world also changed forever in the middle of this literary journal after 9/11, which made me realize that now, more than ever, we don’t just enjoy our escapism — we NEED it.”

This book certainly delivers on that. It follows the adventures of Tully Mars, a character who was introduced to us in Jimmy Buffett’s “Tales From Margaritaville”. He’s a cowboy from Wyoming who finds himself on the run from an ex employer and ends up finding various rest stops in and around the Caribbean. Along the way, he meets various characters and they have have the laid back adventures that remind you of Jimmy Buffett’s songs and in many ways, the adventures affect your mood in much the same way. You feel relaxed, and you start to think that all could be right with the world if you could just hop a boat to the Caribbean (and stop being a Gringo).

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Sep 28

[Review] Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game is definitely one of my favorite books. I’ve read it multiple times, and it’s become like an old friend. When reading becomes tiresome and I’ve just dredged my way through some 1700 page tome that I couldn’t hold up while I was trying to read it in bed, I grab Ender’s Game and I can motor through it in a day or two, enjoying the trip every time.

At the heart of the book is the character of Ender Wiggin, a young boy who is essentially the end result of a government breeding program to produce the ultimate soldiers. Earth is at war with a rage of ant-like creatures called Buggers. It’s Ender Wiggin’s purpose in life to train and be ready to take on the Buggers.

To do so, he’s sent to a training facility where almost all of the training revolves around games. Ender is the best at every game he tries, and he soon becomes the best in the training facility, too. However, in order to be come the best he is isolated and challenged on so many levels that at times he questions his own abilities and his own sanity.

The trappings of the story are exciting and wonderful. The main game that the soldiers play is a type of laser tag in space. The different strategies that are detailed in the stories and the competitions between the groups of soldiers carries the story forward at a quick pace.

But at the heart of the story is the character of Ender Wiggin himself. He is a boy afraid of what he is capable of becoming. His bother, Peter, was rejected for the school because he was too cruel, while his sister Valentine, was rejected because she was too willing to empathize with others. Ender is in the middle of this, and his internal fight is to be more like Valentine while all the outside forces on him want him to be like Peter. This struggle, and it’s eventual resolution, are what make Ender’s Game a book that is compelling and so re-readable.

As you can tell, I would highly recommend this book. As for it’s cons, I would mention a couple of things. The children in the book are quite young, and while they are bred for the military, it’s hard to reconcile what they do with their ages. I would be hard-pressed to find an actual five year old that could focus and understand the depth of what they were doing. When my wife read it, she had a very hard time with the fact that they were forcing children into this life.