Max and Lili are hanging out one day at home when they overhear their mother talking with someone on the phone.
"Oh, I know!" says Mom. "Adoption's noMax and Lili are hanging out one day at home when they overhear their mother talking with someone on the phone.
"Oh, I know!" says Mom. "Adoption's not easy! But it's so incredible when the paperwork finally goes through! A real present from life!"
Then she realizes the kids are listening and closes the door. Lili's imagination goes into overdrive.
"OMG Max!" she says. "We're adopted! And they never told us!"
"Not me!" says Max. "I look just like Grandma. But I bet they found you in a dumpster."
Lili gets even more worried and starts seeing signs everywhere. Mom sounded kinda weird when she came up to say goodnight. And she forgot Max's name next morning and called him "Paul". That must mean something, right?
Fortunately, Lili's a practical girl with good networking skills. At recess, she goes over to Nina, who's known to be adopted, and asks for the skinny. Nina's happy to oblige. She explains how her real mom was some woman in Poland who gave her up for adoption as soon as she was born. She was too young to be able to look after her. Then Nina's parents-to-be turned up, and Nina tells Lili exactly how it worked out.
"The first day, they just looked at me. The second day, they got to pick me up and hold me. The third day, they gave me a bath and I started to smile at them. And the fourth day, I held out my arms when they arrived!"
"WOW!!" says Lili. "So you adopted them! It's incredible!! A real love story!!!"
She suddenly feels so much better about things. Particularly after she learns that Teacher was also adopted.
When the kids get home, there's an unexpected development. Aunt Claire's come over for dinner, and it rapidly turns out that the kids have misunderstood the phone call. She's the one who's going to adopt a child, and Mom was just congratulating her.
"So I'm not adopted then?" says Lili.
"Of course not!" says Mom, surprised. But Lili's overromanticized the idea so much that she can't let go of it.
"You love me as much as you would have if I had been adopted?" she asks anxiously.
We tend to forget that everything we do in the adult world, seven year olds also do on a smaller scale. (I think this is the basic message of films liWe tend to forget that everything we do in the adult world, seven year olds also do on a smaller scale. (I think this is the basic message of films like The Rescuers and Basil the Great Mouse Detective). Having read several dozen books in this great series, I was thoroughly used to the idea that third graders' lives are filled with sex, violence, angst, heartbreak and money problems, but somehow it hadn't occurred to me that politics had to be in there too. Surely these kids were too small for wheelin' and dealin'?
Dream on, Manny. Teacher says that they're going to have to choose two class delegates for the next school board meeting, and by early afternoon the election is in full swing. Max is lucky enough to have a good campaign manager - big sister Lili, who else? - and her well-crafted poster carries the day. During the following week, Max learns that power is an aphrodisiac (Juliette can barely keep her hands off him), power distances you from other people (Jérome and the other guys rapidly decide he's turned into a complete dickhead), and power involves agonizing responsibility (there are so many tricky moral angles involved in deciding whether or not to tattle). Things don't look good for our young hero.
But Max is born lucky, and it all works out. He and Fathia turn up at the big meeting with an outrageous list of demands, which are politely refused. However, Max has negotiating skills - common in younger siblings - and he can think on his feet. He manages to score a good compromise deal on upgrading the soccer pitch, which ends up pleasing everyone. Even his parents, when news gets back to them about his diplomatic triumph.
Max is walking on air! At least until Dad winces at the horrible noise coming from the next door garden. "Can't you go and tell them to keep it down a bit, Max?" he asks. "You're good at that kind of thing..." ...more
If you have some kind of rosy-spectacled view of kids as sweet, angelic little creatures, this series will soon remind you how they really are. As KurIf you have some kind of rosy-spectacled view of kids as sweet, angelic little creatures, this series will soon remind you how they really are. As Kurt Vonnegut so perceptively said, children are the cruelest, most selfish people in the world, except for adults. Here, Max screws up one day, and everyone in the class suddenly turns against him. They are indeed horrible, and if you're wondering how anyone could go into a school and shoot 20 children, Dominique de Saint-Mars will rapidly make it more comprehensible. At the end of just one day of bullying, Max, a pretty normal kid who's generally full of confidence, is a quivering wreck. Imagine what it might be like if you're already a bit weird and unstable, you have no supporting family (Max's big sister Lili's got his back as usual), and it goes on for years. Very easy to see how that could tip some unlucky person over the edge.
The only thing I can say against the book is that it isn't as good as the truly terrifying Lili est harcelée à l'école. Saint-Mars cares passionately about the issue of bullying, and it looks to me like she wasn't satisfied with this one; she wanted to get it right, and in the later book she nailed it. But this one is well worth it if you want to increase your French taunting vocabulary: you'll rapidly learn how call someone a nul, a ringard, an haleine de phoque, a poule mouillée, or a nain. If you're willing to take the trouble, you might even feel like learning this little poem:
Et toi, toi en face, t'as pas vu la tête que t'as tu fais peur a Dracula, pif, peuf, tête de boeuf, va te faire cuire un oeuf!
But the very worst thing you can call someone, the thing that really hurts, is S.A. - for sans amis, kid with no friends. They keep calling Max an S.A., and it's shocking to see how effective it is. Adam Lanza didn't seem to have had any friends. I wonder if he was called an S.A., or its American equivalent. ...more
For reasons too complicated to explain, Not recently received a French DVD of The Rescuers as a birthday present. She was somewhat nonplussed, and I t
For reasons too complicated to explain, Not recently received a French DVD of The Rescuers as a birthday present. She was somewhat nonplussed, and I tried to explain that it was a treat for anyone who had an ounce of romance in their soul, worth it just for the flying scene with "Tomorrow is Another Day". I told her that the lovely Miss Bianca - surely the sexiest mouse in movie history - was voiced by the late, great Eva Gabor, and showed her pictures. But Not was still very sceptical.
This morning, my alarm woke me at 8 am; annoyingly early, since I had just reached a point in my dream where I was about to enjoy a threesome with two extremely hot women, who had already taken off their clothes. As usual, most of the details had disappeared within seconds, but I could still remember their names: Eva and Bianca.
Well, if that won't convince you, nothing will. Though I'm afraid I can't definitely promise that The Rescuers will always have the above effect....more
Before I'd read Ulysses, I must admit I was sceptical about claims that every novel written since can do little more than recapitulate it in one formBefore I'd read Ulysses, I must admit I was sceptical about claims that every novel written since can do little more than recapitulate it in one form or another. But now my eyes have been opened: at a glance, it is obvious that Where's Spot? is in essence no more than an abbreviated, non-sexist, non-speciesist version, retold in a manner suitable for three year olds who like lift-the-flap books.
Penelope (Spot's mother) has evicted Ulysses (Spot's father) from Ithaca. Traumatized, Telemachus (Spot) reenacts his progenitor's wanderings in symbolic form; reversing the roles, Penelope goes in search of him. After unsuccessfully looking among the Lestrygonians (the hat box) and Nausicaa's island (behind the sofa), she eventually finds him in Circe's palace, engaged in an S&M orgy with three soft toys. [Surely some mistake? - Ed.]...more
Canichon dit à la Souris, Qu'il rencontra dans le logis : "Je crois le moment fort propice De te faire aller en justice. Je ne doute pas du succès
Canichon dit à la Souris, Qu'il rencontra dans le logis : "Je crois le moment fort propice De te faire aller en justice. Je ne doute pas du succès Que doit avoir notre procès. Vite, allons, commençons l'affaire Ce matin je n'ai rien à faire" La souris dit à Canichon : "Sans juge et sans jurés mon bon !" Mais Canichon plein de malice Dit : "C'est moi qui suis la justice Et que tu aies raison ou tort Je vais te condamner à mort !"
The five stars are for the series as a whole, which is vraiment magnifiTHE 100TH AINSI VA LA VIE IS NOW OUT.
FÉLICITATIONS, DOMINIQUE DE SAINT-MARS!!!
The five stars are for the series as a whole, which is vraiment magnifique. _______________________________________
I suppose I should say something about #100. Unfortunately, it's not one of the very best ones, though it's perfectly okay. Max and Lili are once again bitchin' and moanin' about how tough life is as a French primary school kid. You have to work your butt off preparing for tests, other kids are mean and snotty, and then you get home and the rents make you do chores. If only you could just say a magic word and fix it all immediately!
Lili's been philosophizing along these lines, and then discovers to her amazement that her wish has come true. She can just say a magic word and get what she wants! She hasn't done her homework, but when she's put on the spot and asked to recite her poem, the bell rings! Valentine is being nasty as usual, but when Lili wishes that something would put her in her place her pants split, revealing her underwear! A few minutes later, Max and Lili discover that they can fly!
They start using their magic powers all over the place. By evening, Dad's won the big prize on Powerball. He takes them out to dinner at a swanky restaurant and tells them he's bought a huge chateau with a butler. And he's going to go off on a round-the-world cruise with Mom... they never had a real honeymoon.
"But who's going to take care of us?" asks Lili, hurt. Dad's fixed a babysitter, but it's hard to feel very enthusiastic. Even if Lili was the person who wished that he'd win.
Before the kids know what's happened, they're living in a huge, desolate house, being looked after by servants they don't even know. They're miserable. Lili wishes that they didn't have any magic powers after all, and, thank goodness! they wake up and it was all a dream. They understand that you only feel really happy for things you've worked to get.
Okay... a bit preachy, but it also reminded me a little of E. Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle, probably my all-time favorite children's story. I wonder if Saint-Mars knows the book? And, more to the point, I also wonder if it's the end of Ainsi va la vie? If this is her final message to her millions of loyal fans, she hasn't picked a bad one. ...more
Ungerer loves outsiders: Crictor is about a kind snake, and Flix is a dog born to a pair of cats. Orlando, which I found today at Librairie du BoulevaUngerer loves outsiders: Crictor is about a kind snake, and Flix is a dog born to a pair of cats. Orlando, which I found today at Librairie du Boulevard while looking for something else, shows that even vultures can be heroes. The eponymous bird comes across an American gold prospector dying of thirst in the Mexican desert. He's scrawled something on a bit of paper and put a handful of gold nuggets on top next to a picture of his wife and son. Orlando cleverly wraps it all up in the prospector's bandana, picks up the bundle, tracks down someone who can read English, and conveys the letter to the prospector's home in Vermont.
After further adventures, including a fight with some dastardly bandits, it all ends happily! The newly rich prospector is reunited with his family and Orlando becomes the only popular vulture in Mexico. Ungerer tells the story in his usual deadpan style. Here's the opening scene...
Unlike his big sister Lili, who's a serious, reflective girl, Max is frivolous. He's always goofing around when he should be working. He gets bored whUnlike his big sister Lili, who's a serious, reflective girl, Max is frivolous. He's always goofing around when he should be working. He gets bored when no one will play with him. His parents feel kind of worried, but most of the time they just have to give in to his charm. My first reaction was that this wasn't one of the best episodes in the series, but then realisation dawned: shit, this is me! I don't take life seriously enough either. Even though it's far from being all bad - the book makes this clear - you can have too much of anything.
Damn you, Dominique de Saint-Mars, and your two female projections in the books! I feel just like Max after he's been given his regular dose of free psychoanalysis by Mom and Sis. Girls. Bloody girls. Sometimes they're too smart and insightful for their own good.
Well, I suppose I'd better get back to work, that is if I can't find a way to waste more time playing with my Internet friends... ...more
Not one of the best ones - the story is rather flat - but a scary message. Max, about 9, has serious problems. He can't control his video game habit aNot one of the best ones - the story is rather flat - but a scary message. Max, about 9, has serious problems. He can't control his video game habit and it's interfering with his ability to do his schoolwork. His parents are worried. He only just passed last year. Maybe he'll flunk this time?
Max knows his career is on the line; maybe his relationship too, since it's repeatedly made clear in the series that girls prefer boys who get decent grades. (Doesn't anyone like sexy losers any more? Even at primary school?) Max thinks carefully about it. It's not like he lacks ability to concentrate. When they went on vacation, he taught himself to windsurf even though it was hard. Can spelling be so much harder? But he just has to stop spending all his time playing video games. It's ruining his life.
There are other kids with similar issues, and they set up a self-help group which might as well have been called Video Gamers Anonymous. I'm surprised they don't have a twelve-point program. It works fairly well, though Max's parents have no idea what's going on and give him zero support. Luckily, big sister Lili is there for him when it counts.
Bloody hell. All the books in the series are supposed to be based on interviews with real French children and reflect common concerns. Things surely weren't this bad when I was 9. ...more
Tired of being picked on by literary snobs? Unable to hold your head up on Goodreads? Now, with an investment of only ten minutes of your time* you wiTired of being picked on by literary snobs? Unable to hold your head up on Goodreads? Now, with an investment of only ten minutes of your time* you will be able to say you have read Proust in the original!† Can you afford to ignore this amazing offer?
* Exact time may depend on reading level in French.
† Portions of text may be edited or simplified for presentational purposes. No representation explicit or implicit is made that other kids will believe your claim, take you more seriously as a result, or refrain from beating you up and throwing your dumb book in the bushes. ...more
Max is about 6, and Koffi is his best friend. They both love soccer. They both love video games. They sit next to each other in class and always managMax is about 6, and Koffi is his best friend. They both love soccer. They both love video games. They sit next to each other in class and always manage to get exactly the same answers on the math tests. Teacher turns a blind eye. But one day at recess, an aggressive-looking boy with red hair comes up to Koffi and says some very rude things. He even uses the N-word.
Koffi's heard it all before. He uses the H-word back. But that's not enough, and the kid is a total asshole. Max and Koffi vow to get even. Max goes over to Koffi's place that evening to meet his cool African family. Koffi's father gives them a little lecture on human evolution, race and racism. [This bit is rather boring]
Next day, the red-headed kid's there again and looks like he's going to start more trouble. But before anything can happen, two older boys come up making territorial claims. They want this part of the yard! Little kids, beat it!
"What can we do?" asks the red-head disconsolately. "They're bigger."
"But there's more of us!" say Max and Koffi. Under their competent generalship, the little kids successfully evict the two bullies from their corner. The red-head is impressed. He humbly asks Koffi if they can be friends. He's sorry about what he said the other day.
Teacher comes out with his whistle. Everyone line up in pairs! With a glow of satisfaction, Max sees Koffi and Red-Head line up with their arms around each other's shoulders in the classic pose of solidarity. But he hasn't been paying attention. He turns around and discovers that he's standing next to... OMG... A GIRL!!! He instinctively backs away in horror.
Yllacaspia, who shares my passion for bizarre French books, gave me this one earlier today. I've been thinking about it ever since. When it was firstYllacaspia, who shares my passion for bizarre French books, gave me this one earlier today. I've been thinking about it ever since. When it was first published in 1952, it may have been a simple, harmless little story. But in these dark, post-E.L.-James days, nothing is as it was.
The hero, a kitten, is bored. He is an unusually attractive kitten, he is constantly given little treats by his human owner, yet he has no animal companions with whom to share his life. He decided he wants to play with a bird and a mouse. "Play"? I hear you ask. Now what does that mean? What kind of play is likely between these particular species? Indeed. But the bird and mouse, no fools, tell the kitten they're not interested.
Undeterred, the kitten sets out to disguise his essentially kitten-like nature. He jumps into a pot of blue paint. Is this some kind of attention-getting suicide bid? No, he just wants to look blue. He thinks the bird and the mouse will fall for it. And that's precisely what happens! They all play happily together. No one gets killed, eaten, raped or even addressed in a harsh tone. It is Eden before the Fall. But then it starts raining. The paint (evidently he has used water-colours) washes off. The implausibly myopic bird and mouse suddenly recognise Pouf. They abandon him.
Pouf seeks advice from the elderly Noiraud. "You have to be careful with your claws and share your treats," says the older cat. This is an utter non-sequitur. I have searched the text carefully, and there is no mention of the other animals complaining about prior rough treatment or lack of treats. Noiraud's comments, at least on the surface, could not be more irrelevant. But Pouf follows his advice, and it works! Soon he is sleeping with the mouse on a regular basis. You can see them blissfully curled up together on the last page, while the bird, apparently more a voyeur than a participant, watches.
We are told, in a rather sinister parting remark, that Pouf now knows how to keep his friends. I am not sure this is knowledge I wish to acquire, but maybe I am still too naive and idealistic. ...more
In nearly all the books in the Ainsi va la vie series, the advice is stunningly well thought-out and responsible. Ask what to do if your mother is driIn nearly all the books in the Ainsi va la vie series, the advice is stunningly well thought-out and responsible. Ask what to do if your mother is drinking or your father has lost his job, if you're being bullied at school, if your best friend has cancer, if your older cousin is doing drugs - and you'll get a wise, sensible answer. Dominique de Saint-Mars knows French-speaking children trust her, and she does her best to live up to that.
But every now and then you get a startling exception to the rule. Max, about seven, has just moved to a new part of town. He doesn't know anyone. He's too frightened and shy to talk to any of his new neighbors. He'd love to get to know them, but he doesn't even dare say hello. The reader can see how difficult it is for him. Most of the time, he can barely hold back the tears. The kids on the block completely misinterpret his silence. They think he's a snob and won't talk to them because they aren't in the same social class. Things get worse.
What's Max going to do? He has to break the deadlock somehow, but then he gets an idea! He scribbles a little note, "This cat belongs to...", and ties it to Pluche's collar. Then he takes her out in the street. Pluche doesn't like it much, but Max tells her to beat it. After twenty minutes, he starts going around asking if anyone's seen his cat. No one has, and Max feels pretty worried. But then a boy his own age turns up with the conveniently lost animal. Max is genuinely happy! And within half an hour, he's made his first friend in the neighborhood.
Look John look! See the pop science bestseller. See the glossy paper. See the large font. See the wide margins. See the world-famous physicist. See the ghosLook John look! See the pop science bestseller. See the glossy paper. See the large font. See the wide margins. See the world-famous physicist. See the ghostwriter.
See the double slit experiment! Maybe you have seen it before. But you can never see the double slit experiment too many times. See the theory of everything. It is free of infinities. Probably. Anyway, never mind that.
See the quantum multiverse! See the strong anthropic principle. See them explain the mystery of being. They are science. They make predictions. What are the predictions? We don't have space for that. But here's another glossy picture.
See God! We don't need God. Science has made Him irrelevant. Why is God laughing? I don't know. I guess He just found something funny. ...more
We were at the children's section of the local English-language bookshop earlier today. An American woman was reading this book aloud to her son, appaWe were at the children's section of the local English-language bookshop earlier today. An American woman was reading this book aloud to her son, apparently about four but already hooked on books, and they were somewhere near the end.
Mom: So his daddy's boss is a DINOSAUR!
Mom: Do you know who YOUR daddy's boss is?
Mom: Well, it's JUSTINE! You've met her, remember?
I might need to know some Arabic for a project we're currently discussing, and I thought a good first step would be the alphabet; hence this book. ItI might need to know some Arabic for a project we're currently discussing, and I thought a good first step would be the alphabet; hence this book. It contains several hundred pictures, each one labelled with one or two Arabic words presented both in Arabic and Roman script. So far, I am not really trying to learn the words themselves, just the letters.
Out of the scripts I have previously tried to learn, Korean is definitely the easiest. As everyone who's studied Korean will attest, it is in fact a miracle of simplicity and logic, completely phonetic and arranged so that the appearances of the letters are based on the shapes your mouth makes while pronouncing them. At the other extreme, Japanese is generally agreed to have the most irrational writing system ever devised. Not only do you have to memorize thousands of kanji, as in Chinese; you also have two different phonetic alphabets, and you never know how any spoken word will be written or how any written word will be pronounced. It says a lot about the good qualities of the Japanese people that nearly everyone is literate.
Arabic script is nowhere near as messy as Japanese, but it is towards the unforgiving end of the spectrum. Every letter can be written in three different ways, depending on where it appears in the word, and short vowels are either omitted or added as accent-like characters above or below the line. I am also surprised to see how similar many of the letters are, especially in the reduced forms that occur in the middle of a word. But I am definitely beginning to recognize most of them. Later this week, I think I'm going to make a start on the grammar. ...more
I can never go into the children's bookshop off Route de Carouge without buying something, and today it was Gilles Brulet's charming and original littI can never go into the children's bookshop off Route de Carouge without buying something, and today it was Gilles Brulet's charming and original little book of verse. Freely adapting the classical haiku form to French, Brulet has written a collection of short poems about a teddy bear, seen through the eyes of its very young owner and with accompanying translations in Japanese. Both the French and the Japanese are at about three year old level. Here's a sample page with literal translations:
quand je rentre de l'école mon nounours à la fenêtre
(when i come home from school my teddy at the window)
gakkou kara kaeru to madobe de matteru watashi no kumachan
(when from school return waiting at window my teddy)
This is one of the most frightening children's books I can remember reading. Dominique de Saint-Mars is well known for her painstaking background reseThis is one of the most frightening children's books I can remember reading. Dominique de Saint-Mars is well known for her painstaking background research, and prides herself on basing all the volumes in this series on numerous interviews with real French children. Here, she wants to paint as realistic a picture as she can of what bullying in school is like, and try to offer advice to victims that might actually help them. It's not easy: I can see why she stayed away from the subject so long.
When the book opens, term has just started, and Valentine, the class's Queen Bee, is talking with her two lieutenants. One of the things that makes the book so scary is that Valentine isn't an impersonal symbol of evil. She's a character who's been in many of the books, and Lili has a kind of edgy friendship with her. Even though they frequently fall out, they always manage to make it up in the end. But Valentine is vain, she's easily bored, and we've seen many times (for example in Lili a un chagrin d'amour) that she has a malicious streak. Now she asks her two henchwomen who they're going to get next.
The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)...more
I start reading a book called Diary of a Nobody. It is boring and not much happens, also Mr. Pooter is pretty dim. I don't get it. Why would aApril 25
I start reading a book called Diary of a Nobody. It is boring and not much happens, also Mr. Pooter is pretty dim. I don't get it. Why would anyone want to write a book about a nobody who takes himself far too seriously?
I decide that I will write a book about myself that will be quite different, it will be full of important things I do and extremely interesting. Perhaps I will call it Diary of a Somebody. But then people won't know which somebody it is, since everyone is somebody. I decide that a better title will be Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 and 3/4. I am just about to start writing some important things when my mother reminds me that I said I would tidy up my room. I will write about them when I have finished tidying.
I have received letters from two people I don't know, called MJ Nicholls and Knig-o-lass. They both want to be in my diary. This is a bit strange, since my diary is secret, but I write back to say I will put them in if they do some silly things with yoga, teddy bears and toffee apples. I think this is very original, and shows I am a Somebody.
I have received another letter from MJ. He says he wants his own days in my diary, so I will not mention anyone else today. I had not understood that keeping a diary was so complicated.
I am trying to imagine what Miss Knig-o-lass looks like. I see her as a beautiful, treacle-haired temptress, like Pandora at school. I am hoping that she will also send me a request.
Miss Knig-o-lass does not seem as demanding as MJ. Perhaps this is because she is a nicer person, or perhaps it is just because she hasn't noticed me. It's often hard to tell with girls.
Miss Knig-o-lass has also sent me a request! I don't really understand it, but there is a card with a stretched-out picture of a lady and something about how chocolate can't get you pregnant. I must make sure that Pandora does not find out about my friendship with this sophisticated older woman.
MJ has sent me another message! He says he might be jealous. I think he must be Miss Knig-o-lass's regular boyfriend. He used a Latin word I didn't know, I wish I had been paying more attention in biology yesterday when we were doing Human Reproduction.
Since I started keeping this diary my life has become more and more interesting. I am definitely a Somebody. ...more
Yesterday afternoon, we were walking past the children's bookstore just off the route de Carouge when my eye was caught by Le petit livre du caca. IYesterday afternoon, we were walking past the children's bookstore just off the route de Carouge when my eye was caught by Le petit livre du caca. I had to go in and buy it; the assistant tried to persuade me that I also wanted Le petit livre de l'amour, and while I waited for her to go and get a copy I picked up this charming little volume and started leafing through it. I eventually walked out with both the book I'd originally come in for and the one I picked up by accident. The shit and the stars: whether by accident or design, a remarkably balanced selection.
Hubert Reeves turns out to be a distinguished Québécois astrophysicist, who, if I am reconstructing the chronology right, spent several evenings during the summer and autumn of 2009 sitting out on the lawn with his 13 year old granddaughter, looking at the stars and talking about science. He comes across as a good scientist and a terrific grandpa. I don't get as clear an impression of the girl, but she asks smart questions. After a while, word seems to have got round, and she often begins a chapter by saying that this is something one of her friends wanted to know.
Some of the topics he covers are the following: what stars and planets are; what scientific method is, and why it's a sensible way to answer questions about the world; why science is useful, but not in any way infallible; how we know the universe is expanding; how people came to believe that the universe started with the Big Bang; how old the universe is; what dark matter and dark energy are; how the universe will end; what evidence there is that there are many universes; how life began; whether there is life elsewhere in the universe; and what we should be worrying about right now on Earth.
Reeves answers the questions honestly and well, and I'm touched that he went to the trouble of writing it all up. When there is an answer that's generally agreed on by the scientific community, he gives a clear and succinct summary; when there isn't, he is not ashamed to admit that he doesn't know. Sometimes he speculates a little, but he always gives a warning when he's speculating. He provides just the right amount of detail to satisfy a smart but not excessively geeky young teen.
Every now and then you get a nice anecdote. My favorite was the one about George Gamow, one of the author's professors when he was a young man. Gamow was asked if there was any possibility that protons and neutrons might not be truly elementary particles. "I am quite sure they aren't!" said the always-outspoken Gamow. "I would bet half my fortune on it!" Gamow was known to be very rich, so Reeves and his fellow students were convinced. But, a few years later, evidence began accumulating for the new quark theory, and pretty soon it turned out that Gamow had been wrong. Remember grandpa's words: maintain a skeptical attitude, and don't believe everything that famous scientists tell you.
The book is a delight to read, and if there isn't already an English-language edition I hope there soon will be. Should you happen to be the grandparent of a French-speaking teen, you may just have found the right birthday present. _________________________________________________
The English translation is now out - I saw it the other day in a local bookshop, though I unfortunately didn't have time to take a look at it. Given that the author is Canadian and presumably bilingual, I'm guessing though that it should be well done. ...more
For the benefit of those people unfortunate enough never to have read Let Stalk Strine, may I take this opportunity to bring you:
Snow White and theFor the benefit of those people unfortunate enough never to have read Let Stalk Strine, may I take this opportunity to bring you:
Snow White and the Severed Wharves
Snow White was a beautiful young Strine secret service agent. In private life she was a doctor of philosophy and a connoisseur of immersion heating. As a counter spy (officially known as 004), she was noted for her dexterity with the hypodermic syringe and for her unswerving promiscuity in the service of her country.
Her most remarkable attributes, however, were her extraordinary powerful lungs, which she used to great advantage whenever mouth-to-mouth anti-resuscitation was the only way to escape from the embraces of a no longer useful admirer. This high-pressure method was rather frowned on by her more conservative colleagues but it was undeniably effective; her victim just dilated like a sunfish and became entangled in the chandeliers, or drifted over the horizon in whatever direction the wind happened to be blowing.
It was a dull, grey autumn afternoon when Snow White left the Colonel's office. She stepped into her roller skates, and picked her way carefully through the traffic to the middle of the road. Skating along the centre line of a main highway usually calmed her turbulent spirit and gave her a sense of purpose and fulfilment. But today, somehow, she felt troubled and uneasy.
The Colonel's warning was still ringing in her ears. `No more lust, Buster, I trust you. It's a must,' he had said, putting down the rhyming dictionary and lighting her cigar. `Carry two Mausers in your trousers, and pack a new Luger with the nougat.'
Snow White knew what lay behind that friendly half-smile which contrasted so oddly with his grey, intelligent eyes, obscured now by the large empty prune can with which he always concealed his face from his subordinates. Poor James, she thought, how sensitive he still is about having no nose. His voice droned on, `... and your teeth will be sharpened before you leave. That is all.' He paused and spoke a few words into the intercom.
He had briefed her well, she thought to herself as she overtook a large black sedan filled with Asians carrying cameras. Her mission was simple, but dangerous. She was to make her way undetected into `their' territory, destroy the fleet of mini-submarines, and cut loose the floating wharves at Vitamin Bay. That was all. Simple enough, heaven knows - yet her uneasiness persisted.
Suddenly she threw away her cigar, put out her right arm and pulled sharply into the kerb at the left. She made her way thoughtfully towards a small, unobtrusive building which bore a large sign: `Day Old Pullets - Hot Water - Ears bashed Wile-U-Wate - Cocker Puppies - Clean Toilets - Devonshire Teas'. She rapped on the boarded-up window with a roller skate. `Are you there, James?' she called softly. There was no answer. She went round to the locked door, put her lips to the keyhole and blew out the lock. She stepped quietly inside. The Colonel was already there. She took him in her strong arms and kissed him fiercely on the prune can immediately above the words, `Contains no preservatives'. He snuggled close to her and gurgled tinnily. She took his hand and together they walked along the narrow catwalk towards the submarines.
Snow White patted the Luger inside her armpit, and sniffed cautiously at the outgoing tide. There wouldn't be much time, she thought. She bent down and bit throught the first cable with her powerful teeth and watched the grey hull sink slowly out of sight into the mud.
She looked around her. It was almost dark now, and the Colonel appeared to be asleep. She smiled grimly as she scrabbled among the barnacles, searching for the second cable. Suddenly, without warning, a blinding light flashed into her eyes, and a suave, unctuous voice broke the silence: `Weaner rup this sprogram to bring you an important annancement from the Sinny Cricket Grand. New South Wiles are arlat for three unren twen yite.' The menacing voice chilled her, and her hand gripped the Luger. `The forecast for tomorrow is for scadded shares and Sathie's twins. An now we return you to this chewdio.' There was a click, then silence. Once more she was in darkness.
She was alone now; the Colonel had disappeared. At last she found the second cable and sank her teeth into the steel. The oily water closed over the last of the wharves. Her mission was completed.
Through a little window in the wrist of her black rubber frogwoman's suit she saw that it was only two hours since she had left the Colonel's office. She felt her way through the dark hut to the doorway, and out into the chill, mountain air. She carefully adjusted her skates, pulled out from the kerb and made for the centre-line of the road.
She smiled gently in the darkness, and switched on her tail-light. It was, she thought as she spat out a few shreds of cable, good - she paused and lit a cigar - to be - as James would say - alive....more
Today when I arrived at school everyone was very excited because there were two new kids called Max and Lili. My friend AlMax And Lili Visit My School
Today when I arrived at school everyone was very excited because there were two new kids called Max and Lili. My friend Alceste told me they had come from the year 2012 in a time machine, I asked Alceste what a time machine was but he was eating a sandwich, Alceste eats all the time and his mouth is always full so he pointed at Agnan and told me to ask him. Agnan is top of the class and the teacher's pet, he's no fun because he wears glasses so you can't hit him when you want to. He started to tell me what a time machine was but it was kind of boring so I went to look at the new kids.
Max is cool, he's really good at soccer and he also likes fighting, I said he could join our gang and he said sure so now he's in my gang too. At break I went to talk to his sister, usually I don't talk to girls because they're dumb and just play with dolls and stuff but Lili looked a bit like my cousin Louisette who is cool so I thought why not. Lili told me all about life in 2012, it was really interesting, she got chased by a pedophile and her uncle got put in jail and her dad lost his job and she hangs out a lot on the Internet, I didn't know what the Internet was but Lili says it's like a TV with a typewriter and she met another pedophile there. Lili meets a lot of pedophiles, I asked her what they were and she told me, it's kind of gross but really interesting. After lunch, we had show and tell and teacher asked me to talk about something and I explained about pedophiles but teacher wasn't happy, she looked really tired and she told me to stand in the corner. I don't know why.
Anyway it was Lili's fault because she explained it to me, maybe she didn't do it right and that's why teacher got mad. So at afternoon break I said she shouldn't tell me any more stuff and why didn't I tell her about life in 1960. Lili said fine and I said we fight a lot and we play soccer and I had just learned how to smoke. I had a cigar I got from my friend and I said would she like to try and she said yes please, so we went behind the bike shed and we tried smoking it. I coughed a lot and I felt a bit sick, but Lili was great and she could blow smoke out through her nose it was just like in the movies.
We had almost finished smoking the cigar when Eudes came looking for us, Eudes is my friend he's a good kid and very strong and likes hitting everyone and he said Lili's mom was there with the time machine and they had to go back to 2012. So we came out and Lili's mom was talking to my mom, and they asked us if we had had fun and learned useful stuff, and I said I had learned what a pedophile was and Lili said she had learned to smoke, and my mom didn't look happy and Lili's mom didn't look happy either, and Lili's mom said they had to go right now and my mom said that was a good idea.
I hope Lili comes back tomorrow, she is almost as cool as Louisette, if Louisette doesn't want to marry me when I grow up then I will marry Lili instead. ...more
In response to innumerable queries from MJ and other people, this cheap, tacky PDF edition is now available to people who want to post sarcastic revieIn response to innumerable queries from MJ and other people, this cheap, tacky PDF edition is now available to people who want to post sarcastic reviews without substantially affecting their bank balance.
"... a waste of time... you can read all that stuff for free online" - Paul B
"The future is an endless oneupmanship to see who can write the wittiest, most popular 200-word capsule review on fuck-all. This is Manny’s fault." - MJ
"... call it Rue Vomitorium" - David C
"... good if you read it in the original failboatese" - Vote Whore
"... almost... funny" - Traveller
"Will you enjoy this? In a word, no, unless you are a masochist" - Sean D
"Never in my life I seen a more desperate attempt to get votes" - Alfonso
"... advertising..." - Esteban
"If I'd been drinking I think it could have made me seasick" - Tabitha
"The thing about Manny... he almost never throws feces at random strangers." - Kat
"... explicit ... the author has failed ..." - Scribble
"... rattling a virtual tip jar at every opportunity ..." - Jason P
"Manny, you sure are fascinated with Stephenie Meyer" - Rowena M
"GoodReads in-jokes ... off-putting ..." - Cecily
"... book snob ... insecurity ... stupid ..." - midnightfaerie
"... sexist garbage ... if you ask me, he is off his onion ..." - Nandakishore
"... ridiculous ... dilettante ..." - Rlotz
"... pompous ..." - Heep
"... silly ..." - Stian
"... enough..." - Alan B __________________________________
Over the last couple of years, several kind people have asked whether I'd considered publishing a collection of my best reviews. I always replied that I appreciated the suggestion, but it didn't seem like a sensible thing to do. But, a few weeks ago, I started wondering whether I shouldn't give it a shot after all. If Goodreads unexpectedly folded up - these things happen - it would be so annoying to lose my writing. Self-publishing has become cheap and easy. And I've got a fair amount of experience with type-setting. How much work could it be to implement a few scripts to turn HTML into LaTeX and then upload a PDF file to Lulu?
Well, it's never quite as straightforward as you think, but here is the result. For the benefit of other people who may feel tempted to do the same thing, let me give you the key lessons I've learned from this little adventure:
1. Sign up an editor and some readers. No author can be objective about their own work; they need keen external eyes to tell them both what's good and what's bad about it. It was fortunate for me that notgettingenough, who has long-term experience with publishing, took an early interest in the project and was willing to act as editor. She ruthlessly corrected several of my dumber ideas, forced me to think about issues I'd happily have ignored, and made sure that the book was produced to professional standards. My advisory committee - BirdBrian, Mariel and Ian - read through the manuscript and gave me encouragement and helpful suggestions. They convinced me that it was worth continuing and taking the time required to make it look good. Thank you, guys! You have all been so thoughtful and patient, and I greatly appreciate it!
2. Think carefully about which reviews to include. Not groaned over my initial selection, which probably took an hour to do and had no structure whatsoever. She encouraged me to group the reviews by style and type of book, after which I saw that some things were grossly overrepresented. Even if bashing Twilight is the Goodreads national sport, I didn't need this many examples of the genre. And much as I love writing about Flaubert, Proust, Wittgenstein and Kasparov, it's likely that the average reader will not share my enthusiasms to the same degree.
3. Acquire at least a smattering of knowledge regarding copyright. As I now understand it, most quoted text that might appear in a Goodreads review should be covered by the rules on Fair Use. I found the following passage from this page helpful:
Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.
The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: "quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied..."
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that copyrighted images are generally not easy to include: the problem is that you'll be using the whole image, rather than just an illustrative part of it. Martha, my talented cover artist, had put together the following very attractive cover:
But, alas, the Estate of E.H. Shepherd thought this was an "inappropriate" use of Pooh Bear's image and politely but firmly refused to grant me permission. I didn't even get that far with Penguin (Jemima Puddle-Duck) or Gallimard (the Little Prince), who still haven't given me any clear answers. Not, in her capacity as excutive editor, made the sensible but painful decision to go for a simpler solution.
So there have been a few rough moments, but all in all I found this an interesting and rewarding experience. And now, I hardly need add, I'm curious to see if anyone is going to buy it! It's available from this Lulu page....more