Posts Tagged ‘Books’

My Updates

December 6, 2012

I’m currently reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which is absolutely fantastic. I might get into that in more detail when it’s done, as the critics have done quite enough already. It really may turn out to be the most perfect newer novel I’ve read in a few years.

A couple of Terry Pratchett books, Guards, Guards, then The Light Fantastic were good for a change of pace. Then I started collecting a few more of his books, so it looks like a more permanent pace adjustment is afoot. I thought it would be too silly for me, but he’s so consistently clever and creative that the silly is not enough. Whatever is the term for that most majestic and dignified chord of silly in which waves of undiscovered colors emanate from the sage author’s ears as he clobbers your feeble mind with smoosh after smoosh of deftly presented, groan inducing plot twists, that is the word to describe Terry Pratchett. Someone should invent that word someday, and I’ll use it while I’m reading more of his books. I think he’s pretty alright. He does serious well, too, as his recent Emmy attests.

I read The Solary System and Back by Isaac Asimov, collection of science essays, good if you like Asimov.

Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was a book I wish I’d had when I was growing up. 

There may have been a few others since the last time I posted. Oh, I’m ready The Silmarillion for the first time. That was the one I couldn’t get into when I was little, but it’s good this time around. And I’m reading Honore de Balzac’s Father Goriot. Better stop or I’ll just keep thinking of bookmarks I have out there.


Got my copy of The Hobbit signed yesterday.

December 6, 2012

I now have a 2012/75th Anniversary Edition of The Hobbit, signed by Garrison Keillor. You can’t explain that. 

Actually, it’s just that I was at his bookstore in Saint Paul and he signed some Christmas presents for me. And then he signed this, making it pretty much the coolest book ever.

My updates

October 13, 2012

I couldn’t put down the Archipelago Gulag, and I can’t recommend the book enough. After that, I read Solzhenitsyn’s much shorter novelization of similar territory, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It is much too late in my life for me to be discovering these books. If Solzhenitsyn hadn’t risked his life to bring utter horror into the open… we might never have truly found out. Sure, people have told their personal stories about the political imprisonment and unbearable conditions of Soviet prisons in the 1930s-50s. But there was no reporter on the ground, no journalistic voice inside the Siberian work camps. One person might tell of being forced to dig a grave-shaped pit and sit in it for a month with only a few daily ounces of bread and water, that person might even say it was common practice. Regardless, the outside world was in denial. Solzhenitsyn did a detailed analysis, telling the story based on what little data escaped destruction, on laws and their interprtations, on court cases, and on the hundreds of political prisoners he interviewed. Required reading.

I’m through with the current five George R.R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones books and am now patiently waiting for the next two. The first season of the show wasn’t nearly so good as the book, but I will still have to see the second season whenever that’s available (I don’t have TV and I’m not one to steal shows).

It might not seem possible, seeing as Heart of Darkness is less than 100 pages long, but I’m in the middle of Heart of Darkness. For some reason, while some passages are pure art on par with Kipling, I have to have complete concentration to get through it. There’s no difficulty to the reading, but if I read with anything else going on, I find myself focusing on language and unique turns of phrasing. It doesn’t help that I’m also somewhere in the middle of four or five other books.

I’m reading Brothers Karamosov, which would be the first Dostoevsky book I’ll complete if I make it through. I read anything by Tolstoy, Gogol, Turgenev, Chekov, Lermontov, Goncharov… but Dostoevsky just hasn’t captured my attention until now. So far, I enjoy the imperfect narrator’s storytelling style. I think I’ll like this one.

For the past few years there’s been at least one Asimov book in the cycle. I’ll finally get to finish The Atom–I had lost it for a while, just found it. I just started The Currents of Space, which is a much earlier pure sci-fi book.

And, because these books were not around while I was on the bus, I’m re-reading one of my favorites: Benoit Mandelbrot’s The (Mis)Behavior of Markets.

All of this is, of course, terribly unimportant to anyone but me. Anyway.

Have a happy Second Breakfast!

September 21, 2012

Happy 75th Anniversary to The Hobbit, and may all enjoy their 11 am (sharp) second breakfast. I’d like to see this become an annual thing.

I bought a few …

September 18, 2012

I bought a few more Russian books this weekend and just started Solzhenitzyn’s The Gulag Archipelago; part journalistic history, part first-hand account of the horrors of Soviet imprisonment. The fact that he wrote this book while still living in the country, hiding chapters at different friends’ houses, brings such a tenseness to the reading. It’s one thing to throw anonymous missives from far outside reach (this being something we in the United States are particularly great at). It’s another thing entirely to risk additional imprisonment during a time when the government could easily track the author. I have a lot to learn about more recent Russian authors, and I’ve yet to figure out the love/hate relationship the Russian government has had with Solzhenitzyn in the past. 

In case you missed it: George R R on Wait Wait

September 18, 2012

Mr. Martin Himself was on Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me this weekend. Click here for a listen.

They went over the usual things you’ve heard (turtles, friends becoming characters in the books). It was pretty funny though, especially this part:

P. J. O’ROURKE: George, this is P. J. I have a question. Did this proceed from a personal fantasy of your own?

MARTIN: Well, you know, if you go back to my childhood again…

O’ROURKE: Yeah, that’s what I actually meant, from a childhood fantasy.

MARTIN: The only pets that I could have were turtles. And I had this castle, this toy castle made of tin. And it was just big enough for two of those turtle bowls that you bought in…

O’ROURKE: Yeah, in the five and dime, yeah.

MARTIN: …Woolworth’s store. And so I kept all my turtles inside the castle. And since they lived in a castle, I decided they were all knights and kings and I started making up stories where they betrayed each other.


MARTIN: And they would die.

O’ROURKE: Wonderful.

MARTIN: You know, these knights were turtles, like die if you looked if you look at them crooked.

O’ROURKE: Right, yeah, I remember.

SAGAL: Wait a minute. Are you telling me that the original model for the warring houses of Stark and Lannister were two turtles?



MARTIN: So Turtle Castle, that was the root of the whole thing, yes.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: Well let me ask one question here, because what I’m hearing is that there’s a lot of sex in this and I’m not sure…

PIERCE: How did you get there from turtles?


MARTIN: Yeah, the turtles didn’t have sex.

ROBERTS: No, no, no, but…

MARTIN: I was not into turtle sex.

ROBERTS: But is there more sex in your world than in other fantasies? I’m the impression that there’s this whole…

PIERCE: It is a fantasy, Roxanne.

Reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

March 11, 2012

I’m slowly working through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and outside of that just happened upon a quote:

We know now that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning. -George Steiner, professor and writer (b. 1929)

While true, I think the quote is somewhat incomplete. The Nazi beliefs and values that lead to such horrible actions did not just occur in spite of a cultured life. While it was incorrect to do so, Nazi leaders read into the works of prior authors, musicians and artists a historical cultural backdrop–one that effectively condoned dictatorship, war and mass violence as a means to control and destroy “lesser” people. It’s a little complex to explain, but the mere fact that one listens to Bach or Wagner does not indicate what one hears in it. In the end, mass murder does not seem to be an animalistic tendency–when a wolf looks at a flock of sheep, it does not think “delete all.” It looks for the weak and easy to kill, for its own survival. Animal turf wars end when one side gives in and–usually–is allowed to leave. Auschwitz is a cultural phenomenon–a ruthless domination based on feelings of inherent superiority coupled with a philosophical tendency toward war over peace as the propagator of nations. Those idiotic beliefs came from a twisted reading of civilized culture, not in spite of it. 

Anyway, enough of that. 

Tolkien’s Letter to German publisher, 1938

March 7, 2012

From Letters of Note: J.R.R. Tolkien’s response to a German publishing company’s request for proof of his Aryan descent. This was written in 1938, during talks of translating his new book, The Hobbit.

I’ll just post a blip of it, go to Letters of Note for the rest (it’s a great site).

Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. 

I’m currently reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and have had a hard time handling the racism that passed not just as Nazi policy, but as a cultural philosophy preceding Hitler’s rabid nationalism. It’s an important book to get through. I’ll do it… others had to actually live it. Tolkien, at least to a small extent, registered his dissent. 

February 24, 2012

This The Hobbit book cover-derived mug is sufficient. From Etsy

The Hobbit book cover by J.R.R. Tolkien 11 ounce mug, Lord of the Rings

Passage of the Day

February 24, 2012

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932):

The scent organ was playing a delightfully refreshing Herbal Capriccio–rippling arpeggios of thyme an lavender, of rosemary, basil, myrtle, tarragon; a series of daring modulations through the spice keys into ambergris; and a slow return through sandalwood, camphor, cedar and new-mown hay (with occasional subtle touches of discord–a whiff of kidney pudding, the faintest suspicion of pig’s dung) back to the simple aromatics with which the piece began. The final blast of thyme died away; there was a round of applause; the lights went up. In the synthetic music machine the sound-track roll began to unwind. It was a trio for hyper-violin, super-cello and oboe-surrogate that now filled the air with its agreeable langour. Thirty or fourty bars–and then, against this instrumental background, a much more than human voice began to warble; now throaty, now from the head, now hollow as a flute, now charged with yearning harmonics, it effortlessly passed from Gaspard’s Forster’s low record on the very frontiers of musical tone to a trilled bat-note high above the highest C to which (in 1770, at the Ducal opera of Parma , and to the astonishment of Mozart) Lucrezia Ajugari, alone of all the singers in history, once piercingly gave utterance.

Sunk in their pneumatic stalls, Lenina and the Savage sniffed and listened. It was now the turn also for eyes and skin.

The house lights went down; fiery letters stood out solid and as though self-supported in the darkness. THREE WEEKS IN A HELICOPTER. AN ALL-SUPER-SINGING, SYNTHETIC-TALKING, COLOURED, STEREOSCOPIC FEELY. WITH SYNCHRONIZED SCENT-ORGAN ACCOMPANIMENT.

“Take hold of those metal knobs on the arms of your chair,” whispered Lenina. “Otherwise you won’t get any of the feely effects.”

The Savage did as he was told.

NYT: Amazon pulls 4000 e-books

February 24, 2012

Amazon removes 4000+ e-books in pricing disagreement (NY Times)

Also, “With each side unwilling to yield, Amazon pulled the plug, and all of I.P.G.’s books for Kindle disappeared. The physical books were not affected.”

Comic book Kickstarter project crosses $1 million raised

February 20, 2012

Rich Burlew’s The Order of the Stick project is currently sitting at $1,112,480 raised from 13,261 backers. This, to republish a book that went out of print less than ten years ago. Burlew’s goal was less than $58,000.

Bands have also been doing well on Kickstarter: Last week I saw that Five Iron Frenzy raised $207,000 on a $30,000 goal. Their more expensive prizes included a goofy song written for the pledger. Even as a fan of the group, I was totally surprised to see this amount of success for a band that was not a household name even in its heyday. (Personal plug since it’s my blog–I got to open for them once and it was awesome!). 

If nothing had yet happened inre its cancellation, Futurama could have been a candidate for an utterly massive Kickstarter campaign. The money and coordination it would take to buy the rights and produce the show, not to mention to manage the money, would take a new kind of entrepreneurial MBA. But it could happen, and with the number of unfairly discarded shows out there, I’d say it’s bound to happen.

I also wonder if Axe Cop could have pulled this off had Ethan Nicolle gone the self-publishing route. Axe Cop was a similar success story, but one ending in a publishing deal with (I think) Darkhorse Comics. Axe Cop was probably one year too early. But after this Order of the Stick business, semi-established authors might as well consider self-publishing as a viable and possibly sustainable alternative.

Two losses

October 18, 2010

Wow, two big losses while I was away from the blogging. Both made their marks as outsiders, and both excelled at making complexity simple. Many would be upset with my mentioning Eyedea in the same sentence as Benoit Mandelbrot, but he was a mindblowing MC and a Twin Cities native. That said, Mandelbrot was perhaps the most important mathematician of the last half-century.

Benoit Mandelbrot has been a major influence on the way I view the world. For the record, he’s a lot more than fractals. He used his unique ability to visualize and conceptualize mathematical concepts to create connections throughout fields from biology to finance. Along with behavioral finance, Hindu philosophy and existentialism, his ideas spoke to me at basic levels: With everything I believed and disbelieved as I grew up, the ideas made much more sense than some of the “all-encompassing” answers I was being taught in finance classes. In my opinion, a finance-heavy MBA program is a waste of money without serious study of the objections posed by Mandelbrot. The (Mis)behavior of Markets is required reading–the first half, knocking down established theories of finance, is much more important than the second half. Anyway, read that, and go from there. If you want to stay away from numbers, James Gleick’s book Chaos is an incredibly well-written second read.

“In a different era, I would have called myself a natural philosopher. All my life, I have enjoyed the reputation of being someone who disrupted prevailing ideas. Now that I’m in my 80th year, I can play on my age and provoke people even more.” – Benoit Mandelbrot

Mandelbrot’s now officially retired from the business of disrupting others, and has departed onward through the fractal.

Real good moments in journalism

October 14, 2010

The Savannah Morning Herald gives up on headline:

A defferent kind of book tour

Musicians, storytellers launch tour of Georgia to call attention to importance of independent bookstores

It’s about the creator of The Moth, but I don’t think the headline writer knows that.

Book and journalism news

October 2, 2010

Coming next month: The Tea Party Coloring Book for Adults

September 29, 2010

For now, you’ll have to make do with The Tea Party Coloring Book for Kids. Really.

CBS reported that the publisher claims to have received death threats over this. (Fox News and its outlets were also all over that little tidbit). Do I believe the “very liberal” publisher when he says he has received death threats over this coloring book? Yes, sure. I also know customer service reps receive death threats from wackos… Celebrities know they’ve hit the B or A lists when the threats start flowing… Paul the Octopus handled death threats with poise… And, wait, weren’t the Tea Party DC protests full of not-so-veiled threats to come back with guns next time? But back then that was patriotic ’cause 2nd Amendment and God-given and shooting people and such. A real Tea Party coloring book would have a page dedicated to threats and an extra white crayon for when yours runs out by page four. Instead, this one shows 50 percent minority Tea Party members on the cover!? Please.

I’m willing to bet the coloring book threats came from people who also write daily diatribes to Clifford the Dog. Also, I’m joking about the adult version… unless I make one myself.

News and links

September 29, 2010

France’s bookseller protectionism and eBooks (WSJ)

September 25, 2010
From the WSJ:
In France a 1981 law prohibits the sale of books for less than 5% below the cover price, a move to protect independent booksellers from the narrow profit margins that big chains could absorb if they discounted books heavily. But e-books, not covered by the 1981 law because it refers to “printed volumes,” typically sell for 25% less than printed works.
I doubt a law comes out of this.

Yossarian would be proud

September 22, 2010

Some unnecessary government censorship of a book could confound those not familiar with Wikipedia. The NY Times bought one of the few uncensored advance copies of Anthony Shaffer’s Operation Dark Heart, and compared it to the new, redacted version. The Pentagon apparently saw the book late in the process, after the Army had already approved it. Those uncesored copies are likely to be legendary collector’s items someday, so long as you don’t mind the government banging on your door offering to buy and burn your book every once in a while.

Yossarian blacked out many things, but he would never have thought to redact a testimonial back cover quote calling it “one terrific book.” That is twisted genius. And it is apparently among the 250 or so items the Pentagon decided held classified information. I don’t know, I’m not saying they really could have thought “terrific” is classified… but the NY Times appears to think so.

I know I’m late on this one, but I’ve been spending my time applying for jobs to afford the cat food and pretty things one must have. Totally randomly, I had Catch-22 on in the background today.

Guillermo del Toro on Colbert Report

September 22, 2010

The video’s not up yet, but tonight’s Guillermo del Toro interview on Colbert was one of my favorites in a long time. They talked about del Toro’s new anti-sparkling vampire book, The Fall (“Is there any sex?” “Not in the book.”) and about the uncensored gore of Latin American Catholic art. Del Toro, apparently, was a really weird kid… who knew?

Perhaps Colbert’s congressional testimony tomorrow will be fun too. Whatever happens, he had better stick to the Truthiness. You and I and Roger all know how Congress hates lies.