Friday, August 26, 2011

Sighing as She Passes By . . .

Saying so long to Irene with a sigh of relief and a prayer for those in the path--especially family members and Jane

A poem

Monday, August 22, 2011

Beach Reading in Boston and Beyond--Part II--Ready Player One--Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is light science fiction romp through the pop culture--movies, games, and music of the 1980's.  It seems that in the post energy crisis world, the only way to get away from the poverty and nastiness that is living in the "stacks"  (think trailer park piled vertically) is to slip into the OASIS--an immersive virtual reality experience that is the place most kids get their education.  Our hero, 18 at the start of the story is about to graduate virutal high school and spends most of his life wrapped up in the realities created by the OASIS mastermind.

But the mastermind has died and he has left behind a fortune to go to the lucky gamer who can find the "easter egg" embedded in his most elaborate game.  The world is full of skilled gamers, all of whom work toward the prize.  And among these gamers are a group of corporate stooges who want to seize the OASIS and start charging a monthly fee for its use--a fee most present users can't afford to pay.  "It's never been properly monetized," is the explanation.

From there on it is a race through the games, music, and movies of the 1980s.  Filled with Geekdom's favorite pass-times from D and D and Zork! through to the Plimsouls and War Games.  Many reviews have claimed that the story doesn't really go anywhere and that the character arc is either not pronounced or non-existant.  But then, to those poor lost souls, I would politely suggest, read the cover copy--it's clear you're not entering the world of Dostoevsky with this novel.

For fun, fast, light, exciting, interesting reading this is your book.  For deep, thoughtful insights on the human condition, you might want to consider Henry James.

Highly recommended to Geeks and SF freaks.  *****

Beach Reading in Boston and Beyond--Part I--Hammered--Kevin Hearne

Hammered is the third in the Iron Druid series, and as with others in the series presents a lively fast-paced story featuring everyone's favorite druid, his disciple, a vampire, a wereworld, and the Russian Thunder-god.  Yep--Russian thunder God, along with the Finnish national hero and several others.

The story this time around.  Well, there was this werewolf and this vampire see and they had a thing about the Norse Thunder god and wanted to get back at him for having been wronged so very many years ago so they got together with this druid who rode on the back of the squirrel that runs up and down the world tree. . .

No, you just have to read it.  A light, bright, quick afternoon indulgence.

****

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In Boston

A Week in Boston--and it appears I am in luck.  The Isabel Stewart Gardner museum has extended hours on the third Thursday of each Month, so I may be able to get there this trip.  We're heading out for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts after work this evening.

Washington's Lady--Nancy Moser


I must start by admitting a terrible prejudice.  I came to this book half in dread--part of which was caused by the cover--which, as you can see bears the mark of a period romance.  And I suppose that there is that element of the book as we shall discover.  But a further, and far more terrible strike against it (in my fevered imagination) is its publisher Bethany House--renowned as a Christian press and purveyor of the most vapid and terrible fiction imaginable--all in the name of Christian art.

Well, yes, I did read one bad book from Bethany House before I picked up this one.  And yes, it was so terrible that I picked this one up three times before I committed to it.  But the subject matter of this one was so compelling, so utterly interesting and involving, that I was compelled to pick it up.  No matter how terrible, no matter how fierce-bad, I had to read it because it is about one of those fascinating figure in history--half hidden and fully revealed--a person about whom there is more myth than reality--Martha Washington.

I'm glad my compulsion to read all things colonial/revolutionary America overcame the hesitation caused by my misinformed prejudice, because overall, this is a really fine historical novel.  Are there elements of romance?  Absolutely--but they are few and far between and mostly center around Martha's perfervid language regarding the troops that she visits in several winter camps.  There is also the brief courtship and romance before she marries George Washington.  But that, dear reader, is really all.  None of the purple language, none of the impassioned heartstrings and throbbing interiors so dear to the writer of the second-rate romance.  Indeed, Ms. Moser's book struck me as much more like Georgette Heyer than it did Barbara Cartland.  And even the Heyer comparison does justice to neither author because this book is emphatically NOT a romance in any defined sense--it is the story of a person.

Told in the first person, the book traces the life of Martha Washington from the death of her first husband Daniel Custis (or thereabouts) to her own death, two years after that of the General.  There is a certain risk in this--for while the book is told in the first person, there are definitely elements of the telling that have a modern twang as modern vernacular is used to convey some of the thoughts.  (I'm thinking particularly here of an intrusion of the word "norm" in one passage.)  But overall, the telling is effective. More than that, Ms. Moser looks admiringly, but unsparingly at the career of George Washington from the travesty of Ft. Necessity to the decidedly skewed win/loss record of George Washington's military career.

While much of the book gazes lovingly and admiringly upon the General, as one hopes that Martha may have done in real life, there is much here that is Martha's alone--from her defense of her son Jackie from the disciplinary measures that George wished to administer, resulting in making Jackie a largely useless person and afflicting the entire family line with the same sort of self-indulgent/self-destructive streak, to taking care of the countless guests who dropped into Mount Vernon without so much as a by-your-leave.

What is particularly heartening is the frequency with which Ms. Moser gets everything right.  Indeed the minor downgrading of the rating below is based on the repetition of an error that so annoyed me the first time that I thought perhaps Ms. Moser was merely reporting an error of the paper of the times.  But unfortunately, the error--saying that Mr. John Adams was a Continental Congress representative from Pennsylvania--is later repeated.  That all of the details around the Washington family should be so carefully and lovingly reported and this is allowed to sneak in is somewhat dismaying.

In sum, if you tend to like history, and if you like fiction, and if you like fiction that hews close to historical fact and yet remains sprightly and lively, and if you like to see truly admirable historical figures take on life and be fallible and frail, and yet remain truly admirable--then you will find this book much to your liking.

Highly recommended--****

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Free University of Chicago Book

This month's free book promises to be quite interesting:

Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip through the Land Art of the America WestEric Hogan


I stopped at one tourist attraction, Hole n” the Rock, about fifteen miles south of Moab. Though its curious punctuation might suggest that it boasts both a hole and a rock, the site is actually a hole in a rock, excavated by its owner in the 1940s and 1950s. Albert Christensen—painter, sculptor, taxidermist—sandblasted and carved his way into the rock, eventually building a five-thousand-square-foot home for himself, his wife Gladys, her doll collection, and his taxidermy menagerie. It took him twelve years, from 1945 to 1957, to move about fifty thousand cubic feet of sandstone for their cozy lair. The result is an appealing—albeit dark—suite of rooms that stay cool during the summer and warm during the winter. Albert also found the time to carve the smiling face of fdr into the side of their home (visible in the photo, outlined in white beneath the o and c of “rock”). 
I found myself captivated by the entire venture. Walking through the dank and faintly musty rooms, I pondered the bemused complicity of a wife living with and in her husband’s grand dreams. I saw that peculiar American insanity that holds that anything goes as long as you don’t hurt anybody. I saw a quiet couple living far from anywhere, slowly building their cave, populating it with dolls and frozen, bucking, wild-eyed donkeys, yet still maintaining a bourgeois domestic front with guest towels and shaped soaps and, next to the seizing donkey, Albert’s dresser.

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