The real test of this book will be when I actually use it to complete some projects around the house, which I haven't done yet. Still, it's packed wit...moreThe real test of this book will be when I actually use it to complete some projects around the house, which I haven't done yet. Still, it's packed with good info - even if I never get together the DIY mojo to replace my own grout or paint a room, I'll know what to expect when hiring a professional to do it. And the list of seasonal household maintenance tasks is worth the purchase price alone. (less)
I've embarked on a re-read of The Culture novels, starting at the beginning and going all the way through to the end.
It's been quite a long time since...moreI've embarked on a re-read of The Culture novels, starting at the beginning and going all the way through to the end.
It's been quite a long time since I last read Consider Phlebas, and I was a bit wary of rereading it, for fear of that it wouldn't hold up to the passage of time. After all, intelligent, literate space opera is no longer a rare or surprising thing, and the Culture isn't the startlingly new idea it was back when I first read these books either. Does Consider Phlebas still hold up?
It does, although I think some of its flaws are more obvious now. This novel has a very large cast of characters, many of whom never rise above being a collection of miscellaneous tics and traits before they're unceremoniously dispatched in the course of some giant set piece action scene. And I don't remember being quite so thoroughly annoyed by the book's protagonist, Horza, on my first read. Although given that he is an anti-hero who's fighting the Culture, maybe that's not a flaw.
Of course, the things I loved about the book the first time are here as well: the outsized futuristic settings - the megaships, orbitals, and underground rail-systems filled with ancient nuclear-powered steam trains; the action sequences in which these feats of futuristic engineering are often spectacularly demolished; and the slightly twisted sense of humor.
It's interesting that in this first Culture novel, we don't see that much of the Culture - and a large chunk of what we do see is through the eyes of their enemies. It's also a very early version of the Culture - both in series chronological order and, of course, in publication order, so what we do see is much less developed than in the other books which are set hundreds of years later. We don't see any banter between Ship Minds; characters don't have the ability to back up their personalities and download them casually into new bodies; even things like the drones and the Culture's genetic modification technologies seem a bit more primitive than what we see later on. Even the trademark "wacky ship names" seem subdued compared to what we'll see later - the main text features ships called "Nervous Energy", "Eschatologist", "The Ends of Invention", "Trade Surplus", and "Revisionist". Unusual names, to be sure, but hardly on a par with "Size Isn't Everything", "Anticipation of a New Lover's Arrival, The" or "Just the Washing Instruction Chip in Life's Rich Tapestry".
It'll be interesting to watch how the Culture develops through the subsequent novels, and to see how much looks like deliberate cultural evolution on Banks's part and how much is just him throwing in cool stuff as he thought of it. (less)
This is a good introduction to mindfulness and meditation practice, especially for absolute beginners or people who are curious about exploring medita...moreThis is a good introduction to mindfulness and meditation practice, especially for absolute beginners or people who are curious about exploring meditation without getting heavily into any associated religious practice. If you've read or listened to much other material on Buddhism or meditation practice, a lot of the concepts in the first half are going to seem pretty basic and familiar, although you might still get value out of the meditation exercises in the second half.
From reading other reviews, I know that Kabat-Zinn's voice puts some people on edge. Basically, he sounds like a nerdy New England physician. He reminds me of my pediatrician when I was a kid, so personally, I find his voice kind of reassuring, but he's not going to most people's idea of the most relaxing voice. Nor does he have the most perfectly smooth vocal delivery - he sounds a bit stilted in places, as if he's reading from a script. If you can, listen to a sound sample first to get a feel for whether you can listen to 2+ hours of this guy. (less)
I think I really need to have another crack at this in a different translation. (I read the Charles T. Brooks translation.) And/or possibly in a criti...moreI think I really need to have another crack at this in a different translation. (I read the Charles T. Brooks translation.) And/or possibly in a critical edition with lots of notes and explanatory essays. Because I'm left feeling that I largely missed the point.
I largely enjoyed the opening - Faust's dissatisfaction with his life, his frustration at not being able to find the answers he seeks, his temptation by Mephistopheles are all the stuff of a gripping tale. However, after Faust teams up with Mephistopheles, what does he do? Goes out drinking with some random dudes, visits a witch, seduces a girl, kills her brother, runs off to a strange witches' dance in the mountains, and returns to find his beloved in prison. She spurns his attempt to rescue her and is thus Saved. And I just find myself thinking, "Yes. And?"
For the moment, I'm willing to give the work the benefit of the doubt, and assume that the problem is either with me or with the translation. (less)
Readable and provides lots of food for thought, but ultimately comes across more like a brief academic survey of social network analysis than a practi...moreReadable and provides lots of food for thought, but ultimately comes across more like a brief academic survey of social network analysis than a practical guide. Still, it does offer a few exercises for analyzing one's own networks, which I'll probably give a try. (less)
If you're not a Marlowe completist, you might want to read only his high points, which in my estimation are The...moreA good collection of Marlowe's plays.
If you're not a Marlowe completist, you might want to read only his high points, which in my estimation are The Jew of Malta, Doctor Faustus, and Edward II. Dido, Queen of Carthage feels like a fairly slight exercise in riffing on the Aeneid. Tamburlaine the Great parts 1 and 2 has some very impressive poetry and some colorful action but didn't ultimately satisfy. The Massacre at Paris is very difficult to follow if you don't already know who the characters are. (Though if you do, it's kind of funny to see Marlowe give the newly crowned Henri IV a stirringly anti-Catholic speech to deliver.)
The Jew of Malta was really the surprise favorite here. It's anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and just generally rude, but it's got a plot full of intrigues, and has some of Marlowe's most vividly drawn characters. (less)
Catron has an interestingly top-down approach to playwriting- he actually suggests that a playwright begin by writing a manifesto about what they beli...moreCatron has an interestingly top-down approach to playwriting- he actually suggests that a playwright begin by writing a manifesto about what they believe is important in life. Next one should write an essay on what qualities one believes are admirable or heroic, and what actions exemplify these qualities. And so on. Eventually, one ends up with a play.
I suppose I shouldn't knock it until I've tried it, but I've never produced any other piece of fiction in this way, and I'm not sure why a play should be different.
Setting aside that methodological peculiarity, there's a lot of advice in this book that applies pretty well to writing any kind of fiction. It's presented well, but not particularly better than in many other writing books. The information specific to plays in particular was more interesting - there's a particularly good discussion of the differences between writing for the stage and writing for film or television.
My favorite thing in this book were the examples - snippets from actual plays chosen to illustrate particular points, with analysis of what the playwright was doing. I would have liked more of the examples, or indeed longer examples. (less)
I enjoyed this anthology quite a bit, though it wasn't quite what I was hoping for. What I was really looking for was an anthology about times when th...moreI enjoyed this anthology quite a bit, though it wasn't quite what I was hoping for. What I was really looking for was an anthology about times when the Doctor screwed up, when he (with the best of intentions and motives) genuinely made things worse rather than better, or mangled the time stream in ways that he later had to correct.
Some of the stories in this volume fit that bill pretty well. However, a lot of the stories run up against a problem that Doctor Who has had nearly from the beginning: there's no clear-cut way of telling which of the Doctor's interventions in history are permissible or not. Over the years, there's been plenty of handwaving about the Web of Time, or fixed points in history, or whatever. But short of really blatant paradox creators like travelling back in time to talk yourself out of doing something, or introducing a technology that won't be invented for another few centuries, who's to say whether a particular action shreds the Web of Time or not? In too many cases, these stories seem like perfectly ordinary Doctor Who stories, except with "...and then the Web of Time was broken." tacked on the end.
Still, there are some really good stories in this volume. I particularly liked Eddie Robson's tale about the jury in an unusual murder trial, Peter Anghelides's 3rd Doctor and Jo story, and a story featuring Sarah and the 4th Doctor during the Great Fire of London. (less)
Not all of this will be new information if you've read Marion Nestle's Food Politics or if you keep up on food policy news generally. Simon's book is...moreNot all of this will be new information if you've read Marion Nestle's Food Politics or if you keep up on food policy news generally. Simon's book is particularly illuminating on the many ways that food companies fight attempts to regulate them, from fake consumer interest groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom to adopting voluntary guidelines that can be disregarded as soon as the political heat is off. (See recent reports about soda vending machines being ubiquitous in elementary schools, despite voluntary soda industry guidelines about not marketing to children.) Simon analyzes how, just as companies engage in greenwashing to make themselves seem more environmentally friendly than they are, food companies engage in "nutriwashing" to make their products seem more nutritious than they really are. It will definitely make you read the next feel-good press release from Pepsi or McDonalds about how they are encouraging "balanced lifestyles" with more skepticism. (less)
A fascinating book that tackles a huge subject and occasionally threatens to escape from the author's control.
I'll admit that I was a bit nonplussed...moreA fascinating book that tackles a huge subject and occasionally threatens to escape from the author's control.
I'll admit that I was a bit nonplussed when, after a short introduction, this book plunged into a survey of the state of American medicine and of the general scientific knowledge of disease and its causes in the mid-1800s. However, this actually turns out to be one of the best parts of the book. In some ways, what Barry is writing here is a history of how medicine and public health actually put themselves on a scientific footing, and began to effectively tackle infectious disease. To some extent, the influenza epidemic of 1918 merely serves to illustrate how far they'd come, and how much progress had yet to be made.
While following this core storyline, Barry looks at a lot of other parts of the story: what it was like to live in cities in the grip of the epidemic, and how the virus travelled around the world. He even theorizes that the Treaty of Versailles might not have been so punitive towards Germany if President Wilson hadn't come down with influenza during negotiations, and thereafter capitulated to the French demands. It's an endless kaleidoscope of stories, facts, figures, and personalities, and it can be a challenge to keep it all straight.
And then there's kind of an odd epilogue, following up on the scientists who would eventually prove, in 1933, that influenza is a virus. Again, scientific biography is one of Barry's strong points, but it's an odd transition. Barry here raises the tantalizing question of why some scientists make great breakthroughs, while others who seem equally smart and equipped with opportunities never seem to get anywhere. It's an interesting question, but it almost seems to belong to a different book - a book in which Barry could treat it in greater length and detail.
This is a book that to some extent sacrifices telling a coherent narrative for being as comprehensive as possible. If you can cope with that, it's a great read. (less)
This book is largely a transcription of the 1984 television series, Playing Shakespeare. It's really best read as a companion to the series, which has...moreThis book is largely a transcription of the 1984 television series, Playing Shakespeare. It's really best read as a companion to the series, which has recently been released on DVD. In the book form, you get all of the analysis and instruction, but don't actually get the experience of seeing and hearing the actors playing the lines. Experiencing the actual performances makes the points that Barton makes so much more vivid. (Really, I think the DVDs are essential viewing for anyone who is interested in Shakespeare, or even in acting in general.)
However, there are some advantages to having the material in book form - if you want to read the Shakespearean passages yourself at leisure, and think about the discussion at greater length, the book lends itself to that much more than the DVDs do. (less)
This book would have been fascinating even if it were just a chronicle of the lives of the English aristocracy, and how they changed over the course o...moreThis book would have been fascinating even if it were just a chronicle of the lives of the English aristocracy, and how they changed over the course of the 20th century. When you add to that the Mitford sisters' impressive talents in their own right and the way they interacted with such a cross-section of world events, it becomes a really engrossing read.
One thing about this book that I suspect differentiates this from other Mitford books is that Lovell is fairly politically even-handed (and in some ways just not very interested in politics). This lets her write with equal sympathy about all of the sisters across the political spectrum, which is a very admirable trait for a biographer, but will probably make most readers uncomfortable at one point or another. (less)
A very solidly-plotted police procedural that held my interest, but I don't think it will go down as one of my favorites in the Dalziel and Pascoe ser...moreA very solidly-plotted police procedural that held my interest, but I don't think it will go down as one of my favorites in the Dalziel and Pascoe series. The subject matter is pretty dark and grim, and the book is largely lacking in the humorous banter or little bits of character interplay that lighten up the atmosphere of the other books even when horrible crimes are being committed. Not a bad book, by any means, but it doesn't have the charm of the best books in this series. (less)
I actually debated a bit whether to give this book three stars or four, because while it's very good in a lot of ways, it's also very frustrating in s...moreI actually debated a bit whether to give this book three stars or four, because while it's very good in a lot of ways, it's also very frustrating in some.
First, the good bits. Gene Wolfe provides a fascinating depiction of the ancient world (primarily Egypt and Nubia), and a very interesting narrator: Latro, because of an old head wound and/or a god's curse, has no long term memory. He forgets everything while he sleeps, and so he keeps a scroll with him in which he jots down accounts of events. His periodic re-reading of this scroll has to serve him in place of a memory. The novel takes the form of the text of his scroll.
This makes for a fascinating and challenging read. We, as readers, have memories of things that Latro doesn't. It's often up to us to make connections between events. If something prevents Latro from writing in the scroll, there's no record of it, and we have to puzzle things out from any available clues. There are several such small gaps in the story, and one quite substantial gap, where I'm still not sure I've put everything together correctly. Not an easy read, but if you've got any taste for solving puzzles, you'll probably enjoy it.
Now, on to the frustrating parts. To a reader who has read a lot of Wolfe, some aspects of the book start to seem familiar. With his interesting memory problem set aside, here is Latro's story in a nutshell: a somewhat directionless but basically goodhearted man goes on a long journey. He becomes the protector of a prostitute with a heart of gold, meets an old man with mysterious powers who pretends to be his friend but seems to have ulterior motives, and receives messages and instructions from a bunch of gods, most of whom can only be seen by him. I get the feeling that I've read this one before. Was it The Knight? Or maybe The Book of the Long Sun? Or maybe The Book of the New Sun? Or maybe all of them?
Second frustration - this is the third book in Latro's story (after Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete). Fans of the earlier books had to wait over a decade for this installment. Personally, I was hoping for some resolution, but at the end of the book, we don't seem much closer to finding the key to Latro's memory loss than we were before.
Despite these frustrations, I gave it four stars because I had a hard time putting it down, and I'll buy the sequel in a heartbeat when/if it comes out.
A good spooky story that takes advantage of the atmospheric potential of audio. And it has a hilarious over-literal robot. Overshadowed by the adjacen...moreA good spooky story that takes advantage of the atmospheric potential of audio. And it has a hilarious over-literal robot. Overshadowed by the adjacent stories in this story arc, it's nevertheless a solid little story. (less)
I'm too skeptical (or, possibly, too hung up) to fully embrace all of the ideas presented here. Nevertheless, I found much to amuse, intrigue, and ins...moreI'm too skeptical (or, possibly, too hung up) to fully embrace all of the ideas presented here. Nevertheless, I found much to amuse, intrigue, and inspire in these lectures. And I definitely gained a better understanding of Buddhist and Hindu philosophy. If you can get past a bit of dated sixties lingo, you'll certainly gain some knowledge from these lectures, even if you don't attain Enlightenment. (less)