Jan 18

[Review] Ralphina the Roly-Poly

I’ll start this review with a bit of a disclaimer. Ralphina, the Roly-poly by Claudia Chandler is the first real children’s book that I’ve reviewed, so it will probably take a bit of a different approach as intricate discussions of the plot line and character development won’t really come into play.

Also, I must disclose that this review, while not being written by her, was heavily influenced by the reactions of my 5-1/2 year old daughter, Amanda. She has helped out by giving me full access to her own critical reactions to the work.

So we’ll start with overall critical reaction: “I really liked it, Daddy.” Continue reading

Jan 05

Moby Dick – Pre-Ahab

Okay, so I’ve read through the first part of the book. The boys are on the boat, but they haven’t yet met the elusive Captain Ahab. At this point, I thought I’d jot down some first impressions.

First off, I have to say I’m enjoying the story quite a bit. The narrator has a unique way of putting his own flavor on everything, but seems to be a level-headed guy. Queequeg is an incredibly entertaining and curious character, and the initial meeting between Queequeg and Ishmael had me laughing to myself.

Secondly, there’s quite a bit of build-up in this first section. Almost too much, in my opinion. There are portents and prophecies and allusions to the dark, dangerous trip our narrator is about the embark on. It’s good, that it sets the mood, but I’m starting to think it’s a bit much. At some of the points, I found myself saying, “Okay, we get it, these guys are probably not making the best decision. Enough, let’s get on with it.”

There was also an interesting line in chapter 11 that keeps coming back to me as the book progresses. It’s when Ishmael is laying in bed, and he’s commenting on how the only way to really enjoy your body is being warm is when there’s a bit of it that is cold. The part that stands out is this:

… for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.

This leads me to think that the book itself will present us with quite a few points of contrast. We already have one going between the educated and Presbyterian Ishmael and the uneducated “savage” heathen that is Queequeg. I’m curious to see if we might see more contrasts such as this present themselves throughout the work.

Overall, though, a pretty encouraging start to the book.

Questions/Comments

  • So far the narrator has made some decisions. The most important one being the boat that he and Queequeg got on. However, he also got pushed into making a decision by Queequeg and his idol. Will he continue to be a factor in the direction of the book or more of an observer?
  • It looks like Ahab has already had his run-in with the whale before we met him. It’s been mentioned that he’s “sick”, is this sickness his need for vengeance or something else?
  • I’m curious to see what the first meeting of Ahab and Queequeg is like. We know something of the character of Queequeg, will Ahab’s reaction to him tell us something about Ahab’s character?
Jan 03

[Review] Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is one of those authors that has made enough of a name for himself that he scares people away. I’ve encountered many people who have never read Vonnegut because they thought he was too “heavy” and “literary” to read.

The funny thing about this, is that Vonnegut generally writes books that are very readable. Granted, there is a depth to his work and usually some kind of humanitarian message, but it’s usually presented in a very readable, and oftentimes humorous, fashion.

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut is one of those eminently readable books, and in my opinion, one of the best of Vonnegut’s works.

Continue reading

Jan 01

Moby Dick – For the first time

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m kind of an anomaly. I’m a graduate with an degree in English Literature, but I’ve never once read Moby Dick.

It’s one of those strange books that everyone just assumes you’ve read, so it seems that it very rarely gets added to any reading lists any more. Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t know something about the book. I know how it starts (“Call me Ishmael.”). I know the basic story line, and that a couple of the themes in the book revolve around obsession and revenge. I believe I’ve even referenced in it in some of my papers in college. I’ve just never actually read it.

Well, that’s about to change. With a much appreciated gift card I received for Christmas, I’ve now purchased a copy of Moby Dick and plan on taking it on as my next “To be read” book.

I thought I’d do something a bit different for this one, since I do know something about the book, and since it’s one that is more of the “literary” persuasion. I thought before I started reading it, I would come up with some questions to answer during my read of the book.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to put it out there for anyone else who hasn’t read this book. As I go along, I’ll note my observations and thoughts, and if you’re reading along at the same time I would encourage you to do the same. The depth of books like this often are only understood when the book is discussed, so I’d like to take this post as the start of a kind of virtual book club. There won’t be any reading assignments or schedules — nothing that concrete — but let’s see what we find out as we go.

Here are some initial questions that I have going into the book:

  • Who is Ishmael? The start of the book is with his name, so is he important to the story, or is he just the narrator and sitting on the sidelines?
  • Are there early indications of obsession on the part of Captain Ahab? Is he already obsessed with the white whale a the beginning of the work, or does that develop during the story?
  • What factors make the book a classic? It seems like kind of a niche story — why has it stood the test of time?
  • How much of the book requires knowledge of whaling? How much is given to us? It was written in 1851, so life was different, but not everyone was knowledgeable about boats and whaling, so how much are we spoon fed on that?
  • I know of Ishmael, Captain Ahab and the White Whale. A book this size and depth can’t contain only three characters, so what other characters play an important role in the book, and which ones do we find ourselves rooting for or against?

Well, that’s my first list of questions. Please, if you would like to play along at home, leave a comment. It’s all an experiment, so let’s see what we can figure out.

Dec 30

The Lost Book Club (and a theory)

I stumbled upon a unique book club the other day and thought many of you might be interested in it. It’s from ABC’s show Lost, which is a show that I’ve really come to enjoy for all its strangeness. The Lost Book Club is a book club hosted by the show that includes all of the many books that have appeared in the background (and the foreground) of the episodes.

Now, before you start thinking, “Oh, yeah, that’s worth something — a book club based on a television show”, take a look at a sample of some of the books included in the list:

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding

As you can see, it reads almost like a high school English class reading list, and that’s just a few of the books in the club. It would be a challenge to read all of the books in the list, and you’d have some classic works under your belt if you did. Not to mention, it may give some insight into the twist and tangles of the show.

Speaking of which:

My Island Theory

I have a theory about the island of Lost, and with finding this book club, I find that there is a book missing from the list. While I don’t think it ever appeared on an episode of the show, I believe that Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie should be on the list.

My theory is that the island that is the center of Lost is actually Neverland.

Here are some of my reasons behind this:

  • Neverland can move. In Peter Pan (and in other related works that I’ve read), the island of Neverland moves about quite frequently. It does so in order to catch children’s laughter (so fairies can be born), and it does so to catch lost children. At the end of the last season, we also found out that the island in Lost can move.
  • Inhabitants of Neverland don’t get older. Peter Pan is known as the boy who refuses to grow up. On the Lost island, there is at least one person (Richard) who doesn’t seem to age. We’ve seen him in flashbacks where the main characters were children and he looked the same as he looks now. It’s possible that other “natives” of the island also don’t age.
  • Neverland is a character in itself. In Peter Pan, Neverland is often talked about as if it were a character in the book (not a location). It does things in order to protect itself, and it feels good or bad depending on what is happening. Throughout Lost the island has been it’s own character. The characters talk about it as if it’s controlling actions. It has the power to heal, but has shown that it only heals those people that believe in it.
  • Neverland is difficult to find. The directions to Neverland are notoriously fickle, “First star on the right, and straight on ’till morning”. The Lost island is just as difficult to find, as we know that even people who have been there have a difficult time getting to it.
  • Neverland feeds on belief. The fairies that live on Neverland feed on the belief of children. When a child stops believing in fairies, a fairy will die. Belief is a strong theme in all the episodes of Lost and when the characters believe in the power of the island they are usually rewarded. When they stop believing in the island, they are punished.
  • The Lost Boys that live on Neverland are all orphans. The Lost Boys who live on Neverland are boys who were lost by their nannies and went unclaimed for seven days. When this happened, they were whisked off to Neverland. On the Lost island, when both Locke and Benjamin wanted to take over the leadership of the island, they needed to kill their fathers in order to do so, thus making them “orphans.”
  • There are seven entrances to the underground hideaway of The Lost Boys. On Neverland, the Lost Boys enter their underground hideaway through seven entrances scattered around the island. According to the map that appeared to Locke, there are seven Dharma stations on the Lost island.

Well, that’s my theory. Take it as you will. The great thing about the show Lost is that you can have tons of theories and watch them come crashing down and still enjoy the show.

Any comments, thoughts, or other theories? Let us know in the comments.

Dec 13

[Review] Anathem by Neal Stephenson

There’s a phrase that gets used very often: “to stop and think.”

But ask yourself, when was the last time that you really did that? When was the last time you really stopped and focused all of mental efforts on one thing?

Anathem by Neal Stephenson, is about just that. What happens when you take the thinkers of the world and allow them to seclude themselves from all other worldly distractions and really focus on thinking?

The Blurb from the Back

Fraa Erasmus is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathemeticians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside “saecular” world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent’s walls. Three times during history’s darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmus has no fear of the outside – the Extramuros – for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

Continue reading

Dec 04

Life, Site Changes, and Great Big Books

Okay, so I haven’t been writing too many articles or reviews in the last week, so I thought I’d at least make a small entry so everyone knows I’m still around.

Right now, there are a few things encroaching on my “web site time”. First, is just life in general. At work we’re trying to get out a new release of software, so there’s all the craziness that goes along with that. At home, it’s the holidays, so there’s always more to do around this time.

I’ve also been working on figuring out the tools that run this web site and how to change things around. I have some ideas about how to make the site easier to navigate and just plain nicer to look at. I’m learning, though, so some of that work is taking a while. I sit for an hour trying to figure something out, and end up only knowing a lot of ways how not to do something. It is coming along, though, and soon you’ll see the results.

On top of that, I’m in the middle of Anathem by Neil Stephenson, which is just one monster of a big book.

These aren’t excuses, mind you, I just wanted to let everyone know I hadn’t fallen off the face of the planet.

Hope your holidays are going great!

Nov 23

[Review] Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

I have a nasty habit.

When something new comes out that I’m excited about, I build up my expectations to the point the that the actual thing could never meet those expectations.

My friends still ridicule me over my hatred for the Mission: Impossible movie. I had expected so much out of this movie, that when it didn’t deliver, I was extremely disappointed. Many people have told me that the movie wasn’t great, but that it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be either.

I was excited for Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I thoroughly enjoyed Ender’s Game and was hoping this book would be a worthy sequel.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. In any case, this book did not meet them.

Continue reading