This was an impulse buy. I was at the Smithsonian, the Native American, American Indian, museum, and this was in the bookstore. And since I get like...more This was an impulse buy. I was at the Smithsonian, the Native American, American Indian, museum, and this was in the bookstore. And since I get like 20% off because I’m a supporter and the cover was interesting, and the start sounded good.
And I had a really nice lunch.
So I figured what the hell.
And it was one of those times where it worked out. Go figure. Horowitz travels to discover the discovery of America (at least discovery by white folks, but he’s honest about that part of it). Some of what he covers, a reader of history will now, but his writing makes up for the lapses. Part travelogue, the book also covers people’s reactions to history or to a changing view of history.
While the focus is largely on the land that makes the US, other parts of the Americas do get the spotlight shown on them. Additionally, the book is not simply the repeating of facts, but also a study of how facts and myths switch places.
It’s quite a fun read and you will learn quite a bit. (less)
Terence Jenkins’s short eBook is about strange or little visited facts and places around London. This includes the...moreDisclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.
Terence Jenkins’s short eBook is about strange or little visited facts and places around London. This includes the area where you can sit with Keats as well as several places connected to tragedies that occurred during the Blitz. The book is filled with humor (including a football joke or two. A real football joke or two) and history. Pictures are included. The only thing missing a map showing the locations of the places he writes about. Jenkins’s descriptions, however, are well done that finding them should be easy enough. While the writing may not be up to the level of Peter Ackroyd in his poems to London, Jenkins's love for the city is just as real and palpable, making the book a joy as well as a quick read. If you have ever been to London or are planning to visit this book is worth picking up. (less)
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. The greatest invention in the world is freedom of speech.
Joel Simon’s New Censorship looks at censorship in the modern...moreDisclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. The greatest invention in the world is freedom of speech.
Joel Simon’s New Censorship looks at censorship in the modern age and how it is used by various governments in various ways as well as the changing state of journalism and online information. Simon is, of course, bias because he belongs to an organization that cares deeply about the safety of journalists. It is this one sidedness, intentional or otherwise, that weakens what is a thought provoking and discussion worthy book.
Simon looks closely at countries such as Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, and China as well as hotspots such as Afghanistan and Iraq, and the focus is on journalism and the control or attempted control of journalists. Simon considers not just imprisonment by the government, but also the threat of kidnapping and death that many journalists face as they report from the more dangerous areas. Assange, Wikileaks, and Snowden are also considered to various degrees.
Simon is a passionate, if mostly even handed, writer about the dangers and importance of journalists. His detailing of various cases considers both the pros and cons of reporting on kidnapping. His detailed description about his group’s decision to support Assange as a journalist (note, that Simon does not support Assange’s decisions and actions in regards to the rape accusations; if anything, Simon seems to be of the mind that Assange should face those charges).
The most interesting chapters are the detailed studies of Russia, Venezuela, and Turkey. By placing each of the countries into a context that takes into account not only the current situation but also how Putin and Chavez, for example, would have learned from and adapted those governments that surrounded or preceded them. In detailing such issues, Simon is aware of how some news sources may be seen, and he presents the reader with the charges that various governments may make against such news outlets, such as the view that Kurdish freedom group in Turkey might be tied to a newspaper that the Turkish government tries to censor. He draws a distinction between Dictators and Demotators, an insightful contrast.
At times the stories are shocking even if the reader is aware of them prior to reading the book. The massacre and mass murder of a political family in the Philippines is related in great detail and renews the feeling of horror as does the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. However, not only the big attention stories are dealt with. There are several examples of stories that did not make big American news outlets (if any), such as the imprisonment of a journalist in Iran, the vast numbers of Iraqi journalists who were killed in Iraq for a variety of reasons.
But that also raises other questions, ones that in fairness this book doesn’t seem to have the scope to answer but that should be considered long side protections and the rights of journalists. It is important that journalists be able to report with freedom and with a lack of free. It is important that government does not stick its fingers into journalist work. But there are questions. While a free press is vitally important, no government can (or even should) make all its secrets known. At some level, the government is not going to tell the journalist everything and might even actively try to stop the journalist from discovering information. The question is what does actively mean. Furthermore, while the detainment of Iraqi journalists in particular, and journalist in general (as well as the shooting of a freed journalist’s rescuer) at the hands of the US Armed Forces is frightening, Simon could have presented the Armed Forces side in more detail. Simon acknowledges that part of the reason for the detainment is the fear that the reporters might in fact be terrorist or insurgent groups filming an attack. The problem is that this is given in a vacuum. The fear is logical, Simon makes sure to present that as such, but how often does this occur, rates and statistics or perhaps even a story where the forces are under attack.
Additionally there is the question of what exactly news is or who exactly is a journalist. This is largely dealt with in the section about Assange (Snowden is mentioned but not in the same level detail, not surprising considering the difference in the stories as well as the more recent time frame). In discussing the Wikileaks story, Simon mentions that Wikileaks post Sarah Palin’s personal emails. He also points out that Wikileaks did not redact names of sources, and condoms Wikileaks for this. The other question that rises, in part, is what is the difference between Wikileaks and paparazzi? Are paparazzi also journalists? It’s true that Palin is a political figure, but the release of personal emails even with such a political figure seems rather intrusive. Is it is something that would be protected if it was a public, but not political, figure, say like Brad Pitt? I’m not quite sure what the answer is, but if Simon goes to great lengths to tell us what a journalist is, couldn’t he also tell us what a journalist is not? Do journalists have carte blanche, as the section almost suggests? The answering of such a question would have given the book a little more depth and flesh.
It is interesting, as well, that the British phone tapping scandal doesn’t come under scrutiny in this book. Are British tabloids journalistic?
But those quibbles aside, this is an important book about the important not only of freedom of speech and press but also of the importance of information and reporting. The suggestions and plan spelled out towards the end of the book are worthy of consideration. (less)
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. Well, it’s cute. But a bit too busy for me. Jedi Academy is about a young Jedi as he returns to school from vacation. B...moreDisclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. Well, it’s cute. But a bit too busy for me. Jedi Academy is about a young Jedi as he returns to school from vacation. Basically, it is every boarding school funny book meets Yoda. Not as funny as it could be because it tries to do too much. The best parts of the story are not the panel strips, but the letters or newsflashes (as in Yoda shutting down the Jedi version of Facebook). It’s cute, but there really isn’t much, and the Darth Vader and kiddo books are better. (less)
Pickin Peas is the beautiful retelling of folktale that originally appeared, according to MacDonald, in Southern Workma...moreDisclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
Pickin Peas is the beautiful retelling of folktale that originally appeared, according to MacDonald, in Southern Workman. A girl is out picking peas in her garden and confronts a rabbit who, like most rabbits, starts to take the remaining peas.
The story and the accompanying illustrations are absolutely charming.
The retelling is very much in the tradition of the Joel Chandler Harris collected tales – the Brer Rabbit tales (tales in which the hunter animals, such as the wolf, are the slave owners and the weaker but more cunning animals, like rabbits and pigs, are the slaves. The best version of the Three Little Pigs is from Chandler’s collection), and there is even a reference to the Brer stories in the details of the pictures.
There is much to recommend the story from the use of an African-American girl who deals with problems on her own and comes to terms with what she cannot change to the beautiful drawings. MacDonald also includes an afterword which gives suggests about how to perform the story either to an individual child or to a group of children. She also includes musical notation for the song in the story.
The story is a wonderful surprise in how lovely it is - for the narration to the illustrations.
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley and Open Road Media.
Certain places enter the imagination, and for whatever reason Ireland is one of those places....more Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley and Open Road Media.
Certain places enter the imagination, and for whatever reason Ireland is one of those places. Perhaps more recently, those views have been influenced by such shows as Ballykissangel, or movies such as Undine. Who knows? Perhaps Yeats had something to do with it. Or perhaps, most likely, it is because of the Diaspora that occurred in the country.
O’Connor’s short stories speak to the reader because while they are Ireland, they are also everywhere. Take for instance, “Even if there were only two men in the world and both of them saints they wouldn’t be happy. One of them would be bound to try and improve the other. That is the nature of things.” The story, “Song Without Words” might be describing two Irish men, but everyone knows the truth of the statement.
O’Connor’s stories focus on the everyday people, lower middle class, not upper class and not really those living below the poverty. They exist in a time that is at once secure and fluid. There is a priest who attempts to confront a girl about her wayward ways, though it isn’t so much those ways not annoy him. There is the struggle to get something for Christmas, young boys adjusting to the arrival of younger brothers, there is a marriage (or is it), men who don’t understand their women, women who want their men to own up, and women who run with the man’s money. The class of characters is board and sure, the oldest daughter stepping up as mother just as believable as the man with his circus animals.
The choices and hardships that the characters face are not those that will change society or the world, but they are those choices and hardships that can change a life, can make or break a person. For all that, they become far more dangerous and humorous than slaying the dragon or saving the prime minster.
Yeats called O’Connor the Irish Chekov, but in many ways he is also like Joyce in the power and resonance of his short stories. If you enjoyed Dubliners, give O’Connor a try. (less)
Everyone should know the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. It’s a wonderful story; largely because of the s...moreDisclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.
Everyone should know the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. It’s a wonderful story; largely because of the servant woman who saves her master though her intelligence. This short novel is a steampunk version of a tale, which means that Ali is an inventor who as the story opens is apprenticed to Charles Babbage.
And there are airships.
Which are cool because some of the scenes with Babbage and the pilot of an airship are quite good.
The novel is good, enjoyable if not great. What stops it from being truly outstanding are the cliché types (or almost cliché types). Perhaps it is unfair to criticize a fairy tale retelling for the overuse theme of bad older brother, Kassim, picking on his saintly younger sibling, Ali but retellings should bring something more to the tale than just set it in a different setting. It is true that there is some redemptive feeling in the relationship between brothers, but having Kassim even strike his wife feels too much like a cliché. Kassim doesn’t truly have a redeeming feature, and though his character is given some shading Dirk Dastardly, strangely, is who springs to mind when picturing Kassim.
The other issue is the relationship between Ali and Morgiana which is more complicated than a simple master/servant relationship. There is more a slave/master aspect so it makes the love story seem a bit, well, controlling. It is a problem that many retellings of such tales would have, many historical fiction works as well. If there is a master/slave relationship, how equal are the lovers to modern sensibilities. A master/servant relationship has more of a sense of, if not equality, of choice to it. In fairness, there is some adjustment of Morgiana’s character to adjust for this change in status. Morgiana is very much like her original in terms of intelligence, and like the original tale, is the more fascinating character than Ali Baba.
The setting is wonderfully described and a sense of place is conveyed by the word choices, actually using correct technical words to describe Eastern dress and custom (with a glossary at the book if a reader needs it). (less)
Disclaimer: Okay, this is a wordy disclaimer. Technically, I read an ARC. It says ARC on the cover. I did buy however, even though the book isn’t rele...moreDisclaimer: Okay, this is a wordy disclaimer. Technically, I read an ARC. It says ARC on the cover. I did buy however, even though the book isn’t released yet. See, I was at the International Spy Museum, and this book was on sale early because one of the authors, Peter Earnest, is the Executive Director of the Museum. The Museum is only place selling the book until mid-September.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first. This book has way too many exclamation points. Way too many. It needs to lose a few. There also is a bit too much of a running gag (though the politics part of the gag was funny). There also is a bit too much blow by blow.
Okay, that’s done.
Harry Potter and the Art of Spying is pretty much what the title says. It is about Harry and the gang and how they use spy craft in the series, though the book focuses largely on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The first half of the book is the blow by blow section where Phoenix is described chapter by chapter. The analysis is good, but at times the summery, though infused with humor at times, is a bit much.
Like the Harry Potter series, however, there is something charming about this book. Perhaps it is because the reader gets the impression that it should be Hermione Granger and the Art of Spying because she is singled out more than Harry as the good spy. Ron, not so much. Perhaps it is because the book can easily be read by almost anyone. If a child has tackled the longer Potter books, she should be able to tackle this 600 page critical view.
The best thing about the book, however, is how much knowledge about real world spy craft and history is packed into the book. Earnest and Boughey not only dissect Harry and the Order’s use of spy techniques in terms of gadgets but also in terms of gathering interesting questions and the process that goes in verifying information. Furthermore, throughout the book the authors make connections to real world events, in some cases from their personal experiences and in some cases from current events. The reader might read the book simply because of a Harry Potter interest, but the authors make sure that the reader will leave with more knowledge that a list of spells. Additionally, there is an appendix that offers an overview of intelligence and other real world issues, such as diplomacy. There is also a glossary.
The book is actually an excellent and well thought way to get people, but especially children, interested in wider forms of history and current events. For an adult reader of Potter, the book is interesting for some of the observations, but also for the connections to modern issues. (Sadly, it might also make you wonder about Ron)
Dumbledore, in other words, would approve of this book. So would McGonagall.