Sunday, March 21, 2010

A number of (long overdue) books.

It is to be noted that this past Saturday, Mina, myself, and two other people drove over to Biltmore estate. It was a stunning day that shall be described on Tuesday, because 4 pages of a blog-post is too much as is.

It is also to be noted that Elrin surprised me with two newly installed shelves (positioned low for Errant's short-person convenience -_-) upon my return. And fresh flowers. Can I say "SQUEE!"?

And now, for the recent books..

World without End
By Ken Follett
Read by John Lee


“Women’s liberation movement in 12th century Europe”
“The day when everyone had everyone else’s kid, and got away with it”

Summary: A sequel to “The Pillars of the Earth”, this book picks up the events of the fictional town of Kingsbridge some 200 years later. Rather than a conflict between the priory and the earl of Shiring, it focuses on the conflict between the traders’ guild and the priory, with the former clearly being the good guys.

Rating: A definitely-must-read, if you liked “The Pillars of the Earth”.
Rating for the reader: Still lovely. Lee’s a great reader, and manages to pull off both character voices and intonations appropriate to the moment.

(Spoilers ahead).

The first thing that comes to mind, when I think of this book, is the amount of violence. There’s a certain amount of sadism that is slightly difficult for me to stomach (ironically, it’s not the rape scenes that’re the problem.. it’s the cruelty to animals). Nevertheless, it’s a well-written piece of work, with five main characters, and a rather large number of secondaries.

I’m not sure how well this one would do, if read through in a paper version, as it’s just over a thousand pages. This might scare off some people, or might mean that those who are slow readers might not pick it up to begin with. (Elrin’s been plowing through Thomas Jefferson’s biography.. and that’s half as long. Not sure what he’s going to do with the most recent Wheel of Time book, which he’s checked out, renewed once already, and has yet to open.)

The author tries to focus a bit more on female characters, which is mildly amusing, as he insists on giving most/all of them a rather unrealistic sex drive. And then there is the mandatory lesbian nun coupling… To give him full credit, Follett does put in a gay monk coupling, as well, though in a lot less detail. One thing that he avoids is bestiality, which, with any luck, we will have in the sequel to this one.

The story follows a similar pattern to “The Pillars of the Earth”, namely “Main character is faced with a problem-> main character tries to resolve the problem-> main character fails-> main character eventually succeeds-> rewind, repeat”. The bad guy (one of the two, anyway) is shown to have a bit more heart/motivations, but ends up dying in the end, as does the secondary bad guy, who dies half-way through.

Also to the author’s credit is a well-written bit on the Black Plague, which serves as a frequent visitor and a rabid axe-man, allowing for disposal of many more secondary characters than otherwise would’ve been possible.

Overall, I liked this book, and would listen to it again, given the chance.

… Now all that’s left is to finish “Scratch Beginnings” and the “Bell curve”..

Scratch Beginnings: Me, 25$, and the Search for the American Dream
By Adam Shepard


“The best 25$ I’ve ever spent”
“Optimist’s guide to poverty”

Summary: Can be read as a rebuke to "Nickel and Dimed". A guy takes 25$, a sleeping bag and a backpack, gets dropped off in a middle of an unknown city (Charleston, South Carolina) and has a goal to have a car/apartment/2k in savings by the end of the year.

Rating: A must-read. In caps, and underlined. This book made my day.

This is a book written by an optimist. The author does have a lot of things going for him, such as his age, gender, level of fitness, and level of motivation (high). He is not in a relationship, and does not have family to take care of. Still, such ‘lack of fetters’ isn’t what you’d find yourself thinking of, while reading it.

“Scratch Beginnings” is written in a freehand, loose style of a recent college graduate, peppered with anecdotes from Adam’s experiences, and ending in an upbeat, moralistic note. Positively moralistic, mind you.

The outlook of the author reminds me greatly of Elrin’s own life philosophy, a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps”, “work hard, enjoy life” sort of deal. It’s an outlook somewhat different from the “education is everything” and “it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know” sort, that my family’s long been trying to instill into me. The first of these sunk in, the last haven’t. It takes all sorts of people to make up a society, after all.

The book ends prematurely, with the author moving closer to home to support his mother. Still, its original goal is achieved, and the author admits to learning something in the process.

The Gingerbread Girl
By Stephen King
Read by Mare Winningham


“Run, M, RUN!”
“A month from a life of potential divorcee, knife-wielding murderers included”

Summary: A woman gets some mental issues (or possibly starts off on a quest for self-discovery) after the death of her newborn child. She proceeds to find fulfillment in running, and moves out to her father’s property on an island to pursue this style of life. TGDFT (things go downhill from there).

Rating: Read if very bored.

Audio rating: What can I say.. it’s well-read. Female narration’s entirely appropriate, and the intonation does keep you on the edge of your seat at times.

Typical Stephen King drivel. I’m not sure why I keep reading his stories. Wait. Yes, I am. Some of them are actually good. Such as Salem’s Lot, or The Walk. Sadly, the main character in this short story is developed nowhere near enough for us to care about her on a level above that of a cardboard cut-out.

The Plague of Doves

By Louise Erdrich
Read by Peter Francis James and Kathleen McInerney


“The promising book I had to put down”

Summary: It begins to talk about the family and family history of a certain girl on a reservation in North Dakota.

Rating: Undetermined.

Audio rating: I propose that anything containing the voice of Kathleen McInerney is collected, melted down into a human-shaped block of plastic, and subsequently burnt at stake.

The book was promising, very promising. It was peppered with those short, anecdotal stories that make semi-fictional reading worthwhile. It was also read by the singularly most annoying voice I’ve encountered so far. Too high-pitched. Too gushy. Too squeaky. Maybe Peter Francis James is better, but after one disk of grinding my teeth, I’m not about to find out.

The book, if I find time for it in the non-audio form, is probably actually worth the read. Sadly, until I do, this remains the only book put down due to irritating voice acting.