The Rooman Empire still holds quite a sway in modern imaginations and culture. Gladiator and the tv show Rome are only two examples of its pop cultureThe Rooman Empire still holds quite a sway in modern imaginations and culture. Gladiator and the tv show Rome are only two examples of its pop culture hold, and we still quote what may, or may not be, actual Roman lines. Rome is still important to us, and in this book, covering the beginnings of the empire up to the death (roughly) of Commodus, Beard shows the reader what it was like to live in Rome. This is a book about Rome the empire, but also Rome the people. What did it mean to be a Roman citizen?
SPQR: A History of Ancient RomeIt is an overview of the period, and it covers a huge swath of time, so don’t expect to be reading about every detail in the life of Augustus, or Claudius. And I think it works well if you have some familiarity with the history. Its been years and years since I studied anything about Rome, but that knowledge, hiding somewhere in my brain, certainly helped with my reading of this book.
Which isn’t to say that it is an overly academic book, it isn’t, it is a popular history book. And it is very readable. Almost too readable in parts, because, I don’t know about you, but for me, sometimes have a complex read forces me to slow down and take in the facts better than something that doesn’t need to be translated into words my brain understands.
It is also a book that is full of quotable lines, such as
It is a dangerous myth that we are better historians than our predecessors. We are not.
If you have an interest in Roman history, then this is a very good place to start, or even to continue. Although a word of warning, if you are anything like me when you are reading about good old Augustus you’ll be picturing the TV version, not to mention James Purefoy when Beard is talking about Marc Antony.
That is actually one of the things I really enjoyed about the book, how Beard shows us that all we think we know about Rome may not be true. And this goes double when talking about their enemies, or indeed the Romans that ended up on the wrong side of history themselves. That line about victors writing the history certainly comes into play....more
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a name that has floated around me for a while now. Often in discussions on Metafilter about racism and America and what it is to be black, or what it is to think yourself white in the US. But I've never really read his work before, so this year's Diversiverse seemed the perfect place to start. And Between the world and me just came out this year to huge amounts of praise, so I ordered it.
It is a heart-rending book.
Told, in letter form, to Coates' teenage son, it is how Coates grew up in America. It is how racism has impacted his life in so many ways. It is how racism is so embedded in American life that to pursue the "American Dream" is to condone, encourage, and collaborate with racism. It is a personal narrative and a sociological text. It is so worth reading. I quoted liberally from it on tumblr, my only problem was picking what to quote. I could have quoted the entire book [ref]this quote about slavery being one person's life not a lesson for others in particular is so important. Along side Mad Max's "We are not things" slogan should be added "We are not here to help you learn"[/ref]. And some passages I just couldn't stop reading in order to quote. Really, I'm going to repeat myself, you should read this book.
Of course not being American there is a certain amount of distance between the book and me. Also, it is a letter to a young male black teenager. I am non of those things. I am not the intended audience. It still speaks to me, so loudly.
And I cannot help but think of how Irish society is also a racist one. Okay, we don't have a huge non-Irish population, and we never enslaved entire races, but look at the Traveller population in Ireland, how is that not racism in action? And yet people will argue about personal responsibility and if they just behaved like settled people they'd be fine. Ignoring completely the fact that non of us live in a vacuum. Personal responsibility is important, but if society is biased against you then, in the grand scheme of things, you have very little choice in life.
But I'm not going to this post about me. That isn't what this book is about. This book is about African-Americans in the United States of America. And it is such a huge book that I really don't understand how Coates fitted it all into 152 pages. And it means that I will certainly be reading his Black Panther when that gets released.
If you get the chance to pick up this book, please do so and read it. If you don't get the change, then make the chance....more
Don't you just love it when you pick up a book at random thinking it looks vaguely interesting and then you devour it? That is what happened me with tDon't you just love it when you pick up a book at random thinking it looks vaguely interesting and then you devour it? That is what happened me with this book. I spotted it among the new books at the library and almost didn’t pick it up, mainly because I haven’t been into non-fiction all that much this year, and also non-fiction literary criticism can be very dry and academic and, to put it bluntly, boring.
But it was talking about the heroine’s journey in literature and sure, if I didn’t take to it, I could always toss it.
There was no need to toss it. In fact I think I might have to buy a copy for myself because it is the sort of book that I could return to, even if just for a chapter every now and then. Plus there are notes and further reading, you know, because I don’t have enough to read as is.
Jane Eyre’s Sisters is a book all about women in literature, and sometimes in real life, and in pop culture. So you have, obviously Jane Eyre mentioned herself, but we also get mentions of BSG’s Starbuck and Buffy the vampire slayer and A Game of ThronesGame of Thrones.
And there is so much in this book that struck a cord with me that I was hard-pressed not to write down everything, as it is I have a fair few quotes on my tumblr i
Bower focuses on the idea of the Aletis as the female archetype in literature. She is the wandering heroine who often sees herself as an outsider in her own home or community and so at some point she leaves home. She wanders from place to place. Often she goes to another woman, a witch or learned woman, and learns from her. When her lessons are complete, she moves on. Often she wanders. Sometimes she returns home. But always she is changed by her experiences.
Bower contrasts that with the hero’s journey. Yes, he leaves home too, but more often he is almost forced into leaving by the appearance of a mentor/wizard, whereas the Aletis chooses herself to go. A mentor looks for the hero whereas the Aletis is the one to search out the mentor and she is the one to decide to leave, unlike the hero who often loses his mentor through death, at a time when he still wants that mentor along.
The hero goes on to complete his quest, win the girl, and the kingdom. In contrast, the Aletis wins self knowledge and confidence rather than any wider recognition.
And straight away I thought about how in The Eye of the Worldthe Wheel of Time series you can see both the Aletis and the Hero begin their journey in the Emond Fielders. Male and female alike leave, but the boys are urged, the girls (Egwene and Nyneave) chose to leave. They then travel on to learn from the powerful females and again, leave of their own choosing ii whereas Rand, Perrin, and Mat are forced away from their respective mentors. Perrin is taken away from Elyas and the wolves by the Whitecloaks. Mat & Rand are taken under Thom’s wing but lose him to a Fade. And later Rand loses Moraine to the rings. iii
I’m not so sure about the ending of the journey and how it fits. But still, that certainly struck me.
I also loved how Bower talks about a woman’s right to be selfish. No one thinks it strange if a man is career driven, but for a woman to be so is almost an affront to other people. She is cold and unnatural. And not only does Bower point this out, but she also says that this is a bad thing for men as well as women. And that it is terrible for those people who are truly devoted to being parents; that devotion is not recognised because it is a role that everyone is just expected to fall into.
I could probably talk about this book forever. And I’m sure I’ll think about it as I read other books in the future. You should read it, it may be literary criticism with a sociological/feminist slant, but give it a try. It is very accessible and easy to read. Highly recommended....more
A week or two before Terry Pratchett died A slip of the keyboard and A blink of the screen arrived for me from amazon. I added them to the bookshelvesA week or two before Terry Pratchett died A slip of the keyboard and A blink of the screen arrived for me from amazon. I added them to the bookshelves, thinking I’ll get to them in a bit. And then came the news that Pterry had died. It was strange how surprising that news was. RIP Terry Pratchett.
So I picked up this, a collection of Pratchett’s non-fiction. It is a collection of various essays and articles and bits’n’bobs that Pratchett has written over the years. Some of his talks at events and cons, a wide variety of subject matter. There is some repetition of ideas, but that is only to be expected, especially with the speeches, but that didn’t lesson my enjoyment of this book.
The first section mainly covers writing and fans and the world of fantasy fiction. Pratchett’s thoughts on a wide range of fantasy-related subjects.
The last section, Days of Rage, cover his thoughts on Alzheimer’s and assisted dying and all that anger.
The introduction by Neil Gaiman is well worth a read if you haven’t already.
If you are a Pratchett fan then this is well worth reading, I think it is a book that you dip in and out of, read an essay here, an essay there. Some are quite short, you’d read them in a few minutes.
I think that it is time to begin a Discworld reread at some point very soon....more
Earlier this year I read The Owl Service by Alan Garner, and I had many many thoughts about it, and I enjoyed it a huge amount even if I wasn’t sure iEarlier this year I read The Owl Service by Alan Garner, and I had many many thoughts about it, and I enjoyed it a huge amount even if I wasn’t sure if I got everything that was going on. I will reread it at some point. But then I was ordering books at work and spotted The voice that thunders by Garner and said, ah sure lets give it a go. I’m sure some author recommended it somewhere, but I can’t for the life of me recall who or where.
And when it came in it sat on my trolley for many many months, but eventually I figured it was time for a bit of non-fiction. I’ve read very little that wasn’t fiction this year.
The Voice that Thunders was a great bit of non-fiction, and if you follow me on tumblr you probably have some indication that I enjoyed it, given how much I was quoting from it. The book is basically a collection of essays and lectures that Garner has given over the years. Writing, life, history, language, people, place, mental health, all these feature in various essays, and I have to say that I loved this book.
I didn’t always agree with exactly what Garner was saying, but he writes so well that I just couldn’t help but admire him. He writes about truth and fiction, about life and living, and about how he always tries to be honest and sometimes that means making things up. If you have any interest in writing I would recommend you read something by Garner, preferably this book as well as some of his fiction.
There is one chapter where he describes getting letter after letter from school children, obviously at the urging of their teacher. One class in particular that the teacher had described as enjoying the book so much damn it utterly, telling Garner that he shouldn’t have written the book, that it was boring, that there was no action, no humour. He doesn’t relate this in order to give out about the children, but rather to point out this disconnect between the teacher and the pupils. He has many other letters that praise his books, that reveal how Garner’s work has touched people’s lives, so you don’t need to feel sorry for reading a series of such horrible feedback.
Another major theme of many of the essays is the importance of language and a sense of place to Garner’s writing and to his sense of himself as a person. He describes having his mouth washed out with carbolic soap for speaking with his natural accent/dialect. And how all through his education he was taught the “correct” way to speak English, only when grown and studying Old English did he realise that that “correct” English wasn’t any more correct that any other form of English, it was simply the dialect and accent of the winners.
And of course we know that colonising powers often stamp out indigenous languages, people are backwards for not learning English, but it stuck me then that the English did that first of all in their own country, before beginning to work their way around the world.
One other little thing that I really liked about Garner’s essays was the way he uses the term Australians. Usually if you read about Australians you are reading about the white Australians, but Garner uses it when discussing the original Australians, which only makes sense, they were there first after all.
I borrowed this book from the library but I really think I need to own a copy at some stage. I also need to read a whole heap more of Garner’s work, whether that is his fiction or his non-fiction I don’t mind....more
While serving during World War I serviceman Lee Duncan came across a little of new born German Shepherd puppies. He took two for himself and gave theWhile serving during World War I serviceman Lee Duncan came across a little of new born German Shepherd puppies. He took two for himself and gave the others to other soldiers. The two he kept he named Nannette and Rintintin. Unfortunately the little female Nannette died, but Rintintin grew up to be a star.
Orlean’s traces Rin Tin Tin’s development from his first roles as a stand-in for a wolf in motion pictures to his staring role in blockbuster films, and then his decline in popularity as the years go by.
Of course the film star of Rin Tin Tin was not just one dog. Or at least, not for long. At first Rinty was the star and did his own stunts and everything. Later he had stand-ins, and different dogs would play different versions of Rin Tin Tin, from playful to ferocious. And after the death of Rin Tin Tin a variety of his descendants took on his mantel, and even other dogs pretending to be Rinty while the “real” Rin Tin Tin descendant stayed at home playing the role of ranch dog.
But it is more than simply a look at a dog family. It is, rather, an examination of the role these German shepherds played in the lives of the men and women they touched. Duncan seems to have focused all his attentions and passions on the dog and promoting Rinty as a premier example of dogness.
She looks at how society changed over the years of Rin Tin Tin’s popularity and what he seemed to have represented to Americans, and other people whereever his films and later his television show played. But it isn’t a sociological examination either. Instead it is an examination of an obsession. Duncan’s obsession with his dog. America’s obsession with this canine hero. And all the others since then who have devoted their lives to keeping the memory of Rin Tin Tin alive.
I’m not so sure his memory is alive any longer, not over here anyway, I’d say very few children today would recognise the name, although I might be wrong.
All in all I found this a fairly entertaining book. I don’t think I’d be rushing out to buy it, or recommending that many people read it though. Solid would be an apt description, and that isn’t really a ringing endorsement, is it?...more
In Fauna Sanctuary Gloria Grow rescues animals. There are dogs, horses, swans, a donkey, and of course the chimpanzees. Most were retired from researcIn Fauna Sanctuary Gloria Grow rescues animals. There are dogs, horses, swans, a donkey, and of course the chimpanzees. Most were retired from research facilities where they were the subjects of medical research into Hepatitis, HIV, and the like. There are a few who were circus chimps. Some of them started life as pets, cute little chimps to dress up and play with, until they grew too big and strong and dangerous. Anyone who heard of Travis and his attack on Charla Nash knows that a chimp is not to be taken lightly. And yet people continue to try and keep them as domestic pets.
In this book Westoll spent a year working in the Fauna Sanctuary. He gets to know not only the people who work there but also the chimpanzees themselves, and their horrific lives spent as test subjects, being knocked out, biopsied, infected, and isolated.
chimps of fauna sanctuary
This is a heart-breaking story. Made all the worse because it is true.
The chimps Andrew meets, from bully boy Yoko to peace-maker Jethro to Rachel with her love for human clothes, all have huge issues and problems. They have been so mistreated that many can never fully recover. All Gloria can offer them is the chance for some respite and the hope that they can find some peace. But they are so damaged, physically and phychologically, that they are almost beyond hope.
Westoll paints a very readable tale of a year in the life of these chimps and people. He also fills us in on the backstories of the chimps, what they were through in their years as research animals. Being torn away from their mothers when only a few days old, and, in many cases isolated for years. He tells us of the research that proves that chimps and other primates need love and contact in their formative years, just as any human child does. How it is becoming more and more accepted that they can suffer from PTSD, just as people do, and yet that they are so dissimilar from us in other ways. All that HIV research they endured did nothing to help people, chimpanzee’s never develop AIDS, the disease affects them in a totally different manner. Likewise the Hepatitis research can be done now with artificially grown human tissue, much more beneficial than testing treatments on a chimp.
And even if it was of some benefit Westoll argues that it is ethically and morally wrong to use chimps in such a way. He compares it to the medical research performed on African-American men who were not given treatment for their syphillus in prison in the past. We wouldn’t do that now, someday will people look back with the same horror as what we are doing to chimpanzees today?
The United States is the only country in the world that still experiments on primates. And much of Gloria Grow’s work is involved in lobbying for legislation to protect the chimps. If you would like to donate to her, or other chimp sanctuaries you can find details here: http://www.faunafoundation.org/
I found this a fascinating book, hard to read in places, and maybe a little biased, but I think we can excuse Westoll that, he did live in the sanctuary for a year, and to be honest, I think I’d be on the chimps side too....more
It is hard to blurb this book. On the one hand it is about Vesuvius and volcanic explosions and disasters both natural and man-made. But it is also aIt is hard to blurb this book. On the one hand it is about Vesuvius and volcanic explosions and disasters both natural and man-made. But it is also a book about the origins of the earth, of the universe, and about how precarious our existence is. How so much of what we are today is dependent on natural events a thousand years ago, or a millennia ago, or so long ago that it is almost pointless to count the time because it is so difficult to grasp those sort of numbers. It is hard to blurb this book. On the one hand it is about Vesuvius and volcanic explosions and disasters both natural and man-made. But it is also a book about the origins of the earth, of the universe, and about how precarious our existence is. How so much of what we are today is dependent on natural events a thousand years ago, or a millennia ago, or so long ago that it is almost pointless to count the time because it is so difficult to grasp those sort of numbers.
I have seen it called a Metalogue and I have to agree with that definition, a text or conversation in which the form resembles the content.
I’m not sure what I expected of this book. I picked up based on the recommendation of someone or other on a library-related work “how to” forum. The cover made me assume it was about Pompeii. But then I read “a new look at the last days of Pompeii, how towers fall, and other strange connections” and I figured that the best thing to do was just start reading and hope it was entertaining.
Well, I’m not sure if entertaining is the right word. When talking about disasters on such a huge scale it seems wrong somehow to describe a book as entertaining. But it was certainly informative. It is a narrative history, with science and religion and philosophy all mixed in there as well. It is extremely well-written, but it has a style all of its own. In a way it is sort of stream of consciousness. And on occasions it is slightly repetitive, but that is a deliberate decision, or at least, that is how it comes across. Some readers might say it rambles all over the place, and it does, but at the same time it has a very important message at its heart. We have very little control over our lives, over the world, and for all our scientific achievement and progress, we are still dependent on the earth’s stability and that cannot be guaranteed, because, over the long-haul the earth is not static. It is a constantly changing, constantly shifting entity.
It is a personal account as well, and for that reason I cannot be too critical of what I found was too much time spent covering individual tales of survival at the World Trade Centre attacks. Some of it was incredibly well told and moving, but reading one story after another in such a manner made these extraordinary events somehow mundane, in my opinion....more
The back of this book tells me that “award-winning scientist Marc Bekoff” has spent years studying social animal communication. And that amid the storThe back of this book tells me that “award-winning scientist Marc Bekoff” has spent years studying social animal communication. And that amid the stories of animal joy, grief, and empathy the reader will find the “latest scientific research”. Unfortunately there are just too many anecdotes in this book, and not enough science.
I agree with much of Bekoff’s argument; that animals feel emotions. I just disagree with the manner in which this book writes about them. It simply feels like a collection of “he said she said”.
Which is disappointing.
However, it has provided me with a list of other books to check out. So it isn’t all negative....more
It has taken me quite a while to finish this book. Usually that isn’t a very good sign, it means I’ve not really being all that interested in it, butIt has taken me quite a while to finish this book. Usually that isn’t a very good sign, it means I’ve not really being all that interested in it, but usually I don’t read non-fiction. Whenever I do it always takes me longer to get through.
This is the story of Harriette Wilson who grew up to become a courtesan in Regency London. The woman whose Memoirs caused a scandal, and raised her quite a bit of cash, as those named began to buy her silence. But as well as that it is a story of how few options there were available to women at that time. It was a case of be married or be damned. Harriette seems to have chosen the damned option. It was her book that led to the, now famous, if incorrect line by Wellington, “publish and be damned”.
I think maybe I’m just not in the mood for studious type books. At least, that’s the excuse I’m making for not really enjoying this book. Then again iI think maybe I’m just not in the mood for studious type books. At least, that’s the excuse I’m making for not really enjoying this book. Then again it may simply be that we’re all aware of these great themes that so many myths and fictions retell over and over again. Back in 1949 it was all original and new and so of course deserved all that attention. Now? Well the writing style is a little on the ponderous side and I think I’ve read most of these arguments before.
That being said, I’m still glad I read it. I simply don’t have a lot to say about it....more
Around a month ago I read an entry on Omaniblog about this book, up until then I hadn’t even known that George Hook had a book out. But that post caugAround a month ago I read an entry on Omaniblog about this book, up until then I hadn’t even known that George Hook had a book out. But that post caught my attention. George Hook is probably best known in Ireland for his rugby punditry. Together with Brent Pope and Tom McGurk, he analyses rugby for RTE in an entertaining, honest, blunt manner. He also has a radio show, but I’m not big on the radio so haven’t heard him enough to comment on that. In many ways I suppose he is the Eamonn Dunphy of the rugby world.