Monday, July 29, 2013

The Time Machine

I did not care for The Time Machine. I generally do not like stories about time travel. This was my first time reading the book, although I was familiar with the basic plot before reading it. The Time Machine was also my first H.G. Wells book.

There was too much description that was not necessary to the story. Having less than a hundred pages, the ratio of detail to plot was unbalanced. All the details, that were often repetitive, inhibited the flow of the tale. Another issue with the amount of detail he included was that they were not the details you wanted. The characters were left undeveloped.

I did appreciate the vocabulary Wells uses. Often when reading novels there is a lack of variation in the words, as if the authors are afraid the audience will not understand, and consequently not like their books. Wells does a great job using a variety of words. I like feeling the author assumes I'm smart enough to understand their book. I don't want it dumbed down for me. I am quite willing to use a dictionary if I don't know a word. Reading should increase your vocabulary.

I also liked reading some of the world views that crept into the story. Some of the assumptions the Time Traveler makes about the societies he visits, are quite revealing. He believes that whatever society he visits will be more advanced than his own. It surprised me that he didn't seem to think that as a stranger appearing in a different time, he would be viewed as a potential threat. He neglects to bring supplies or weapons because he assumes he will be able to obtain them. He concludes the Morlocks that live below ground must have been from the working class, and the Eloi from the surface are aristocratic. These are just some of the views that are in this book. Many of the points in the book are about evolution, industrialization, science, and class issues that would reflect some of the major concerns people had when this book was written.

Wells is very important to the Science-Fiction genre, so you should read this book at least once for that reason. I think I will try some of his other work, and see if I like those better. Any thoughts about which book of his I should read next?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fahrenheit 451

In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury writes about one of my ideas of hell. A world with no books. In this society books are banned, and burned on discovery. The tragedy is, that the situation is the result of people's enthrallment with the media, and indifference to just about everything. It is not a scheme by an evil government out to suppress the people.

This book is generally thought to be about censorship. There certainly are parts of the book that could be viewed as a commentary about that. For me, it seemed more a commentary on people. People want to feel happy, which is not a bad thing. It is how they go about it that causes problems. In Fahrenheit 451 to achieve happiness people distract themselves with various things such as: television covering all the walls in a room, seashells(for us ipods), and fast driving(the minimum speed is 55mph). Anything that can occupy your thoughts without having to truly think. People equate not being troubled with happiness.

Characters in the book stop reading because it makes them unhappy. If they read they learn about inequality, hardships, and unjust government. They realize their lives aren't perfect. Some are offended by what they read, while others are offended because they don't understand what they are reading. The solution? Stop reading. The government takes advantage of the lack of thought to do what they will.

This was my first time reading this book. The style of writing takes some getting used to, but it is a quick read. I think everyone should read it at least once. It is a reminder to think about what is happening in your life. A reminder to stay involved.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Knight And Chivalry

I found this book in a used bookstore in Michigan. I like reading medieval tales and history, so I thought it would be fun to learn more about the ideas involved in many of these stories. This text follows the ideals of chivalry and how it influenced society. Barber writes that chivalry was not a static concept, but one that evolved over time. He uses popular tales to show what was expected of knights to be considered chivalric, and the different meanings chivalry had. The various texts referenced in this book reflect how chivalry was viewed by people at the time they were written.

I liked the references to different stories. It provides a great list of literature if you like reading about this topic. Some of the books referenced are:

  • Arthurian Romances by: Chretien de Troyes
  • Tristan by: Gottfried von Strassburg
  • Parzival by: Wolfram von Eschenbach
  • Orlando Furioso by: Ludovico Ariosto
  • The Adventures of Don Quixote by: Miguel de Cervantes
  • The Canterbury Tales by: Geoffrey Chaucer 
  • The Works by: Sir Thomas Mallory
  • Inferno by: Dante
  • Orlando Innamorato by: Boirado
  • The Song of Roland
  • Song of the Cid
  • History of the Kings of Britain by: Geoffrey of Monmouth
  • Alexiad by: Anna Comnena
  • The Niebelungenlied
  • The Faerie Queen by: Edmund Spenser

I found this book to be a fascinating history about where the concept of chivalry came from, and how it changed overtime. To discover how jousting tournaments and later on, duels were influenced by chivalry, made the section on tournaments more engaging. I enjoyed learning about what it meant to be a chivalric knight. I also liked that there was a section included on how chivalry could get in the way during war. For example, knights would not always fight as a cohesive army, despite plans to do so. Eager for honor and glory, they would lead small groups of soldiers against a much larger force. Such actions would often cause them to lose many more men than necessary. This could be detrimental to the overarching battle plan.

There is also discussion about kings being less enthusiastic about the chivalric actions of their knights. They wanted their knights to be alive and available for them to use as they saw fit. Having your knights die in a joust, leave on a personal pilgrimage, or leaving the country to fight in someone else's crusade gives little benefit to the rulers. Eventually, kings decided to use chivalry to their advantage. Making knighthood a selective court honor limited who could be a knight, and gave a more personal connection between the knight and his king. The vows made at knighthood started to include more of a patriotic theme to reinforce where their loyalty should be.

There was also some interesting sections on the Templar Knights, Tuetonic Knights, and Spanish Orders with their codes of conduct. There is a brief overview of each group's history. It was interesting to read how chivalry influenced the behavior of these groups.

Barber provides an engaging combination of the history of chivalry, and the perspective people held about it. I would recommend this book to people who are interested in medieval history, and those interested in learning about knights. It was a well researched book, and the material was presented in a clear manner.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Harvest For Hope

My husband and I read this book together. We try to have one book that we read aloud with each other. We began doing this when we were dating, and have continued over the years. We found this book in a used bookstore, and it is a topic we are both interested in, so we decided to give it a try.

This is the perfect book if you care about your health, and if you are curious about eating organic. Jane Goodall covers topics such as: eating food in season, fisheries, school lunches, farming practices, and factory farms. Each chapter is a clear argument why it matters how your food is grown, where it comes from, and how it was prepared. The clarity of the book makes it easy to decide what you want to change about your eating habits, and it provides some ways to get started. There is a great reference section that provides information on books, websites, dvds, periodicals, etc. where she gets information, and where you can explore these topics further.

One of the biggest take aways for me from this book, was the section about eating locally. I had already decided several years ago to go organic whenever possible. I would often get food locally at a Farmer's Market, but not always. This book was a reminder about the importance of getting your food from local sources. A few of those reasons are:

  1. The food is in season. 
  2. The food does not travel as far. This saves on fossil fuels, which is better for the environment, and your food is fresher.
  3. Your money stays in your community. Your money goes to small farms, and not big corporations.

As a result, I have joined a CSA(Community Supported Agriculture) with a local farmer that I had bought from several times at the Farmer's Market. After only a few weeks being part of the CSA, I love it! The price is comparable if not slightly cheaper than the grocery store. The farmer we buy from is organic, so we don't have to worry about GMOs, or what pesticides have been sprayed on our food. I have already cooked with new vegetables, and have enjoyed cooking new dishes. Being part of the CSA has put more variety in the vegetables we eat. This is much better for our health. I am very pleased that this book gave encouragement to join a CSA.

Another important section is about the different factory farms for animals. This is a must read for anyone that does not know where their meat comes from. Not only are these farms cruel to the animals, they are unhealthy for anyone eating the meat that comes from them. Goodall writes about the use of antibiotics in the animals, the space, or lack thereof the animals are kept in, slaughtering methods, the impact these farms have on the environment, and how far the meat travels. There are plenty of options for meat that do not come from factory farms.

I would encourage everyone to read this book. I only covered a couple of topics from this book. There is so much more information contained in this book. Her arguments make it easy to understand that it is important for us as individuals and communities to comprehend the impact of how the foods that we eat affects us all. For all these reasons, and many more this book has a place on My Favorite Books List.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Sagas Of The Icelanders

I found this in a used bookstore in Durham, and after reading Njal's Saga, I had to get it. I was eager to read more stories like Njal's, and this is an awesome edition. It is the Penguin Deluxe edition. Translated from the Icelandic five volume set, the stories included are carefully selected pieces from this set. There are plenty of maps, timelines, references, and explanations which are always great, but are particularly useful to people new to the Icelandic tales. I would recommend perusing the description of the political system, boats, farms etc. in the back before reading this book. The political system is different than many reading it are probably used to, and is mentioned frequently. It does not have a few of the more popular sagas such as: Njal, King Hrolf Kraki, or the Volsungs, but I am alright with that as they are easier to find as stand alone pieces. Here is a list of stories that are included in the book:

  1. Egil's Saga
  2. The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal
  3. The Saga of the People of Laxardal
  4. Bolli Bollason's Tale
  5. The Saga of the Confederates
  6. Gisli Sursson's Saga
  7. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue
  8. The Saga of Ref the Sly
  9. The Vinland Sagas
  10. The Saga of the Greenlanders
  11. Erik the Red's Saga    
  1. The Tale of Thorstein Staff-struck
  2. The Tale of Halldor Snorrason II
  3. The Tale of Sarcastic Halli
  4. The Tale of Thorstein Shiver
  5. The Tale of Audun from West Fjords
  6. The Tale of the Story-wise Icelander
The epic battle scenes that the different sagas contain read not as history, but as great scenes in any fantasy novel. I became absorbed in the different stories. I was excited to discover the actual source for the book Hush by Donna Jo Napoli. It is based on The Saga of the People of Laxardal. It is about an Irish princess who is abducted and sold into slavery by Vikings. She doesn't speak for several years to fool her captors. They catch her speaking with the child she has with her master. The truth is revealed. When reading a retelling of a tale I like to have the original to compare it to, so this was a great find.

I also appreciated that, for each story, there is a date given for when it was supposed to have taken place, and a date when it was written down. I like to discover how myths change over time and why that might be. The inclusion of both dates made this easier for me. The two dates give a better idea on how much the tale might have been changed, or what those changes might have been(e.g. the inclusion of christianity in some tales that took place before the area converted to christianity).

I really enjoyed reading the Icelandic tales. This collection of sagas is on My Favorite Books list because I had so much fun reading it. I would recommend them to people who enjoy reading fantasy and history. They are tales about real people, but are full of battles and intrigue as good as any novel.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Leamas is an agent working for the British in Berlin during the Cold War. He is preparing for the end of his career. He is offered one last mission. He accepts to get his revenge on Mundt who works for the other side. I will avoid going into anymore detail because this is a book you do not want spoiled for you.

As previously discussed, I'm not a big fan of the spy novel genre. I read this novel because I won it in a contest. This does not affect my review, but it does provide me with a book I normally wouldn't have picked out. I did enjoy The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I was surprised to find myself liking it as I read. I honestly did not anticipate the ending, which is awesome when you read a mystery novel. This was also my first Le Carre novel. I would be interested in reading more of his work, if the others are as good as this one.

One of the things I liked most about this novel is the time the author took in setting up the scenario. Often with spy novels, it seems everything happens within a couple of days. Very unrealistic. I don't need everything to be real, but I like when a scenario is plausible. Leamas actually takes the time to develop, and live his cover story.

This book shows the brutality involved with espionage. It is not all brave and glorious. Sometimes it is making decisions that don't sit well. The realization that things aren't black and white. There is not always a feeling that you are doing the right thing. I liked that this book showed a darker side to the spy scenario. It is usually glorified as a dangerous, exciting, and necessary job that anyone would envy. I appreciate a different perspective. Don't worry, the book is still full of danger and excitement. It is just viewed differently.

Here is a spy novel I can recommend. Read it, and tell me if you enjoyed this novel, and how it compares to Le Carre's other books, or other spy novels you have read.