Thursday, February 25, 2010

Of boats, cathedrals, and small currency.

In addition to the reading categories, I would like to announce the coming of audio book reader-categories, which correspond to reading category ratings, and are as follows:

“A must-read” – “A heavenly soloist, doused in chocolate”
“Read if bored” – “Well-read.”
“Read when there’s nothing else around” – “Plausible vocal range with some minor grammatical…

Oh, what’s the use. Folks who perform audio books can be stuffed into three simple groups: good readers, good readers who need to pay more attention to punctuation, and horrible readers. These lie on a nice bell curve, with maybe a slight lump towards the ‘good readers’. And speaking of bell curves, that’s one more book I need to read.

On a completely off-topic note, I came across a site for a multidisciplinary conference, TED (technology, entertainment, design), and this site’s got some pretty entertaining lectures.

Also off-topically, this little nugget provides read-if-bored content for some of your psychological needs.

One Small Boat
By Kathy Harrison


“Never home alone”
“Kid issues”

Rating: Read if bored, a must-read if you enjoy case study-like writings.

A tale of foster mom, and her flock, both natural, and passing through. In particular, it zeroes in on the effect a girl, “Daisy” on the author and her family, and talks great deal about the challenges and rewards of being a foster parent. Most books written from the first person point of view aim to elicit at least some emotional response, and this one’s definitely done it for me. (Closer to the end, a strong case of RO, or recreational outrage).

As I’ve never before read much on the particulars of foster system (a system more bureaucratic than even the public school one) within the United states, this proved to be an interesting read.

Nickel and Dimed
By Barbara Ehrenreich


“How I failed to thrive on a minimum wage”
“Abrupt relocation with a car, a laptop, and 1000$ in cash: a social experiment”

Rating: A must-read, conditionally.

"Nickel and Dimed" was practically a classic when I was in high school, which is where I’ve first read it. Its contents are basically a summary of a middle-upper class female writer, trying to start from scratch, and on a minimum wage. Her jobs, taken throughout a period of a few months in a variety of cities/towns, range from waitress to a maid. Ultimately, she does not manage to make the ends meet.

When I first read it, I was utterly flabbergasted at how drastic of a situation she put herself in, and how millions of people had to do on less. This reception spoke more of me being a clueless kid who hasn’t had a job in her life, than the actual quality of the book. Still, it’s what I’d call well-written. If you can avoid dwelling on the fact that Barbara’s entire social experiment was flawed from the starting point, and the numerous slip-ups/going over the budget that she’s made, you should read this book. It’s got a lot of positive things going for it, though many of those things (such as the relationship between housing costs and poverty) do not come until the conclusion.

Don’t take me wrong, it was pretty darn courageous of her to go out of her comfort zone and try to make ends meet. Yet, as the author herself mentioned, it was more like ‘playing’ at being poor.

This book came up, because I’ve heard of a different take on the subject, called “Scratch Beginnings: me, 25$, and the search for the American dream”. These two would’ve made good companion-reads. Sadly, the local library’s copy of Scratch Beginnings was checked out, which means more waiting.

Come to think of it, I’ve read Ehrenreich’s “Bait and Switch” shortly after “Nickel and Dimed” the first time around, and was a lot less fond of it.. Will have to see if there’s “Bright-sided: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America” can be found locally. If so, perhaps now would be the time to see is Ehrenreich’s gotten better with time.

The Pillars of The Earth

By Ken Follett
Read by: John Lee


“George R.R. Martin’s long-lost twin brother turns to historical fiction”
“The lawless joys of middle ages.”

Rating: A must-read.
Reader rating: Good. Very good. His impression of a pissed-off Prior Phillip made me go "SQUEEE!!!".

I hesitate to term this book a must-read, because I’m only on disk 16 out of 32 (easily the longest single book ‘ve ever listened to), but I’m liking it so far.

Ken Follett was a thriller writer before turning to this extraordinary long novel, and it really shows. There are a few vivid scenes of both sexual and violent nature, which is either refreshing or mildly disturbing, depending on ones’ mood. Either disk 11 or disk 12 holds a particularly bad one.

During Wednesday morning painters this week, I’ve talked to another woman about Follett’s works, and she mentioned that his later books get even more graphic. The local library’s got a sequel in audio book form. There goes the next two weeks. It’s kind of like seeing someone with their pants low enough to show boxers: once you notice, you’ve got to keep sneaking peeks. For the record, boys: this style does not make you look more attractive. But at least –try- to select reasonably patterned underwear, eh?

As I was saying!

The book follows a sizable amount of characters, connected by the overarching theme of the building of a new cathedral in Kingsbury, England. The main characters include the prior of the church in Kingsbury, his master builder, an adjacent bishop, a rather uppity feudal lord, and a number of others. All of their stories weave and interweave within the actual historic events of the time. The conditions in which they live and sometimes die are appropriately ‘realistic’. It’s definitely an engaging bit of literature.

One can’t help but compare it to Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire work, as it’s got similar web of character movements/interactions. Oh, and Follett’s got absolutely nothing against making his people suffer. This is good. Not enough people in the modern world of fiction manage to portray drudgery of everyday life convincingly.