Tag Archives: Scott

Re-Reading Dune

Dune_cover  Like the swallows’ annual return to Capistrano, it must be time for me to read Frank Herbert’s Dune again.  This time around I am reading the ePub version.  Once I am done I just may move on to read one or more of the much maligned Brian Herbert prequel novels.  I’ve heard and read bad things about them.  Anyone care to chime in with something positive about them?  I am drawn to the Butlerian Jihad because I find human computer concept of Mentats very interesting.  I can be sold on these if anyone is willing to try!

Meanwhile, NoveList counts Ursula K. Le Guin as a possible read-alike for Dune.  I confess that the novella “Nine Lives” is the only Le Guin I have read.  You can find that story here.  Would she be a good follow-up to try after polishing off Dune sometime in the next week or so?  Dune‘s tone is tough to match.  It feels like hard sci-fi, but it possesses hazy borders that allow in all sorts of fantastic stuff like mental powers, transformational mutations, and the fulfillment of Paul’s terrible purpose.  If this post moves you to share an author whose work flows along the same wave lengths as Mr. Herbert’s, I’ll be much obliged!

–Scott

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Behold: Our Bêtes Noires

bête noire. Noun. Something that is particularly disliked. A person or thing that one particularly dislikes or dreads.  

Collins English Dictionary

Admit it: somewhere out there, there’s a book you tried to read and just…couldn’t. Even people who force themselves to finish every book they pick up meet their Waterloo somewhere. Thankfully, you’re not alone. One of our regular readers, Valerie, had this to say about her experience of reading Proust:

It started out as a noble effort. I was trying to be cultured and well-read: I was going to read In Search of Lost Time and I was going to read the whole thing. I was so confident that I didn’t even consider aiming just to read Swann’s Way. I ordered the entire set–seven volumes of Proust, in all his glory, 4,211 pages of beautiful, enchanting, intellect-affirming prose. Boy, was I going to feel good about myself when I was done. After all, Edmund White called In Search of Lost Time “the most respected novel of the twentieth century.” Harold Bloom agreed with him. For heaven’s sake, Michael Chabon said it was his favorite book, and he’s a cool dude.

As it turns out, Edmund, Harold, and Michael are all crazy. The main character starts off a sniveling, whiny little brat who won’t stop bugging his mother about coming to kiss him goodnight. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s about the experience of love and memory and anxiety, but still, I wanted to kick that kid. And he really doesn’t get less annoying from there. Then there’s that thing where he goes on and on about the cookie, and again, yes, I know: this is a beautiful, iconic scene. But the fact of the matter is that it’s a little sponge cake. It isn’t even warm and gooey and full of chocolate chips, so really, who cares?

Proust may not be your bugbear, but many of us on the Eleventh Stack team have felt Valerie’s pain via one book or another. We’re guessing you have, too. In today’s post, our team members reveal the books they simply couldn’t bring themselves to finish (though some are still open to trying again).

Behold: our bêtes noires.

*****

Aisha- It’s Not Me, It’s You

Best book ever? I will never know.

Best book ever? I will never know.

I didn’t start reading Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum novels until 2006 so I was late to the party. And it was a party. I loved them. They were amusing and a quick read. I read them rapidly until I was caught up, then waited for the new ones to come out. And then something happened: I stopped enjoying them. I still read them, but it felt like an obligation. I had read 14 of them, 15 of them, 16 of them; I had to keep going, right? When Notorious Nineteen came out, I started to read it and then realized I didn’t want or have to finish it. What was the point? It seemed to be the same story over and over. Stephanie accidentally shoots her gun. Grandma Mazur goes to the funeral home. Lula wears brightly colored spandex and eats a lot. Stephanie thinks about Morelli. Stephanie thinks about Ranger. A car blows up. And? It felt like breaking up with someone I’d been with a long time. Maybe Notorious Nineteen was the best of the series, but I’ll never know. When it’s over, it’s over. And it’s over, Janet.

Don

There was a time, when I was younger, that I finished every book I picked up. Part of the reason was, I remembered reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Up to about page 100, I thought it was one of the worst things I ever read. At page 100 it took off, and, amazingly, it is, to this day, one of my favorite novels. So, there’s the cautionary tale of giving up too soon.

I wish I could say the same thing about Salman Rushdie‘s Midnight’s Children, a book that, three quarters of the way through, I literally threw across the room with a resounding thump on the bungalow wall. Why? Well, the man’s ego was so large that he, in my estimation, had literally crowded the remaining 200 or so pages of the book, so I was done anyway.

Amy

Middlemarch, by George EliotMiddlemarch. Oh, how I hate you, Middlemarch. This weighty and terrible tome was forced upon me when I was a freshman in college. That very same year, one week into my first semester of college, I was in a rather nasty car accident. I was GRATEFUL for that car accident because it gave me an excuse to drop that particular English class and cast aside the epic preachy tediousness of this book.

Alas, I was forced back into its pages as a junior, but even then I still never managed to get more than two-thirds of the way through the damn thing. I just could not feel any sympathy for that chick (Dorothea something?) when she married the old preacher dude (cause she thought she was being all noble and shit) and then fell for his hot cousin (the only interesting person in the book). HEY LADY, YOU MADE YOUR CHOICE. YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO MARRY THE OLD DUDE. DEAL WITH IT.

P.S. I also hate Charles Dickens. Sorry, Don.

Holly

My history of unfinished books is long and sordid.  It is an occupational hazard.  A book that seems so promising when it arrives at the library is left behind, mid-page,  for a new, shiny book, and soon forgotten. A recent title that has been returned to the library, swearing that I would one day pick back up, is New Jersey NoirThis series covers all kinds of cities and places, from Pittsburgh to Kingston.  I love the idea of this noir series!  And how perfectly campy is a New Jersey collection?!?!  Sadly, I had to stop reading it after the story of a murder in Hoboken gave me nightmares.  Horror stories tend to do that to me. I promised myself one day I’ll go back and finish the other stories, but that was books and books ago…

Leigh Anne

Dear David Foster Wallace, wherever you are:

I wish you were still with us here, and still writing. From what I’ve read about you thus far, you were a genius, the kind of person who makes some people uncomfortable and gives others hope. But I hope that, wherever you are, you can forgive me for just not being smart enough to understand what you were trying to do in Infinite Jest. The joke is clearly on me, because I just don’t get it. At all. There’s a movie that cracks people up, quite literally, and tennis, and addiction, and satire, and and and. It’s just all too much. Mind you, I’ve read Finnegans Wake cover to cover, on purpose, so it’s not like I can’t handle a good mental workout. Still. Everybody’s brain has a limit.

You’ll have to forgive me. I really appreciate your genius, from a distance. But nobody likes to feel stupid. So I’m just going to acknowledge that you were smarter than I will ever be, and walk away slowly…

Jess

Like Leigh Anne, I put the tiniest of dents in Infinite Jest before wanting to hurl the book across the room. But that book is heavy (1079 pages!), so I just set it down gently and gave it the stink-eye… I’m really here to talk about World War Z, though. I get why this book works for some folks, but the things that didn’t work for me – non-linear plot told through vignettes, no true central character to provide an emotional core – were enough that I couldn’t finish it. The lack of connection and jumping around so much you feel worn out very much serve a purpose, however I almost wish Brooks had focused on just a few locations and spent longer chapters exploring how they were affected.

Joelle

Great GatsbyI am so ashamed to admit that I cannot bring myself to read The Great Gatsby. I have picked it up three or four times in the past 30 years, the latest being right before the Leonardo DiCaprio movie came out. I read just a little beyond the first chapter every time. It is on quite a few lists of books that people read more than once. I already know the whole plot, and I grew up on Long Island so I know the area that the story is set. Maybe knowing too much about it is the very reason I just can’t bring myself to stick with it. My expectation is too high and I’m not enthralled at the outset. I will watch the movie anyway.

Maria:

englishpatient

When I was in my twenties, I tried to read all the widely reviewed books that appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list. But now, twenty years later, I’m somewhat ruthless when it comes to giving books a chance. I usually aim for one chapter but I can usually tell if a book is for me just from reading a few paragraphs. The one book that comes to mind that I just could not finish is an older book that was a huge bestseller (and was also made into a movie): The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I tried so hard to get into this book but it  didn’t work for me as the author’s voice just didn’t speak to me. And, while I understand that there are different books for different times for different people, I still have no desire to try this one again.

Melissa

(who fancies herself to be the little red-haired girl, when she’s actually probably more of a Marcie!)

peanutsSchulz and Peanuts: A Biography, David Michaelis. I love biographies. I love Peanuts. This book’s cover looked like Charlie Brown’s shirt, which I also love. What I didn’t love was this book. 566 pages of biography + 6 pages of acknowledgements + 58 pages of source notes + a 22 page index = a comprehensive tome about this iconic cartoonist. But as we all know, quantity does not always equal quality.

But maybe it is a high-quality work. Anyone looking for background information on Charles Schulz, minutiae even, will find this a fabulous read, I’m sure. If you’ve ever wanted to know why Charlie Brown could never seem to get ahead in the game of life, knowing Schulz’s history will help you figure out exactly where he was coming from. But when I got to page 200 and and the Peanuts gang had not yet made an appearance, I got fed up with Schulz’s self-centered, self-deprecating (and not in the endearing way), dopey personality and gave up!

As I skim through the book now, I think that if I had made it just a little bit further–closer to page 260–I would have seen the Peanuts characters come to life and even found out who the inspirations were for each one. I did appreciate the family photographs and comic strips scattered throughout. They were a welcome break from all that text!

Richard

Damascus Countdown / Joel C. Rosenberg

damascus

Synopsis: Israel has launched a first strike on Iran, taking out all of their nuclear sites and six of their nuclear warheads. The Twelfth Imam has ordered a full-scale retaliation. CIA operative David Shirazi has infiltrated the Iranian regime and intercepted information indicating that two Iranian nuclear warheads survived and have been moved to a secure and undisclosed location. David and his team are in a race against time to find the remaining nuclear warheads before disaster strikes.

Rosenberg does a credible job with the raw material he has – it’s today, it’s the headlines and it’s ripe for a Tom Clancy like techno-thriller follow through, which is what I thought this was.  It is to a good degree, but like the TV huckster says “but wait, there’s more.”  I had no inkling that this Rosenberg writes Christian fiction, which I didn’t discover until I started reading.  Not my cup-o-tea to begin with, but this isn’t just inspirational, this is in-your-face Messianic Fiction.  Where Rosenberg lost me, to the point I stopped reading, are the overt Messianic references and placement.  As good as the rest of the story components are, the messianic references are so unsubtle and out of place / out of character, they failed to hold the story together for me; especially the wishfully thought-out Iranian Shiite converts who seamlessly can include the Gospels in their principal conversations about reactors and radiation levels.

The Decameron / Giovanni Boccaccio

decameron

Synopsis: In the early summer of 1348, as a terrible plague ravages the city, ten charming young Florentines take refuge in country villa to tell each other stories—a hundred stories of love, adventure and surprising twists of fortune. Boccaccio has little time for chastity, pokes fun at crafty, hypocritical clerics and celebrates the power of passion to overcome obstacles and social divisions.

Maybe I’m just not enamored of pre-Renaissance literature, but I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. It felt contrived and forced.  The story concept is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s forward.  It think my problem is I don’t feel comfortable around translations; I already know that nuances and intent get lost from the original language so I’m already leery.  As easily as I can visualize Napoleon, Alexander or Hannibal in their milieus, I have as hard a time visualizing and believing the 14th Century setting – puffy sleeves and leggings. I can’t say I read enough of this work it to criticize the writing, but Boccaccio and Nichols (the translator) didn’t make it interesting enough to keep me reading on.  

Scott

Why I failed to love Glen Cook’s Black Company novels, and why I will try to love them again:

Glen Cook’s expertly written fantasy fiction should’ve been right up my alley. He adroitly blends powerful magic and other fantastic elements with gritty military themes to tell the story of the eponymous Black Company a mercenary unit with a 500 year history of war and conquest. While others have compared Cook’s style to the spartan prose of Elmore Leonard, I find that some of his descriptions–or lack thereof–act as barriers to my understanding of the action.

While I like flawed characters as much as the next post-modern reader, I also found it hard to settle on a character to focus on and root for. Cook’s employment of an odd, first-person present tense narrative perspective also presents a challenge to someone more comfortable with third person omniscient perspective. While I don’t mind first person stories, the strange immediacy of Cook’s narrator just feels weird to me. Read this excerpt from his publisher’s website to better see what I am trying to explain here.

All of my misgivings and bad experiences aside, there remains gold in those hills. I fully plan to return to The Black Company saga for a second go-round. It took me two tries to fully love Frank Herbert’s Dune and now I re-read that every two years or so, so I will not hesitate to climb back into the saddle with the grizzled vets of Cook’s Black Company.

Suzy

DickensClassic I can’t and won’t finish: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I had to read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens for my 9th grade English class. Keep in mind, I have always been an avid reader and I usually read whatever was assigned to me. However, due to my general dislike of overdramatic behavior (even as a teenager), I hated every single character in Great Expectations from the door. I read the first two “Stages of Pip’s Expectations.” I never started the third. In fact, to this day over twenty years later, I have no idea how it ends. Never bothered to find out, don’t care; even for this post I still haven’t looked it up, still don’t care.

I thought Pip was an idealistic dipstick with unrealistic expectations. Then he got money and acted like a jerk. I was completely unsympathetic to his plight because he should have known better. Done with Pip. Then there is the cruel Estella, with her whole “I don’t have a heart” thing. Hyperbole much? Give a rest, lady. But it was Miss Havisham that really rubbed the 14-year-old me the wrong way. Is there anyone in the history of literature more self-indulgent and frankly, hysterical than that old bat? You got jilted at the alter so your entire life stopped and you never took off the wedding dress? That is too ridiculous for words and also totally unhygienic. (Seriously. Gross.) There is no man on earth worth that nonsense. Then, crazypants, you raise an orphan to exact vengeance? No. Just no. And if you see me, don’t tell me the ending. I like a little mystery in my life.

FranzenContemporary Novel I can’t and won’t finish: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I think this was book club book, but I can’t remember because of the PTSD the first two hundred pages of this book caused me. Freedom actually made me dislike Jonathan Franzen. (I later saw him speak at the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Monday night lecture series and he was fantastic; engaging, funny, and not at all the intellectual snob I was expecting.) As with Great Expectations, I hated all the characters and also found them and the entire story completely unbelievable. (And I completely swallowed whole books like A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. So I can suspend my disbelief.)

Tedium abounds in Freedom. I found the dialogue artificial and even odd. I can’t imagine anyone in a relationship talking like Walt and Patty. And Patty’s autobiography, ugh. (If you want to see how an autobiography/diary can be worked into a novel well, read I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb.) As to the plot: Really, uber-liberal couple, you’d let your teenage son move in with a bunch of hardcore Republicans? Or a talented athlete snowed by a weird fan? With its shallow and unlikeable characters and tiresome plot; I believe I can live a full and happy life without finishing this novel.

*****

For more abandoned books, and why they were put down, see The Paris Review and Barnes and Noble blogs.  We’re truly sorry if we’ve carved up one of your sacred cows, but we’re also curious about you: which books have you broken up with, flung across the room in anger, shunned, or simply just couldn’t finish?

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CLP Business Research Tools Have You Covered From A to Z

CLP now has you covered from A to Z when it comes to online business and company resources.  Twice.  That’s right, we now subscribe to two database products featuring the catchy name A to ZA to Z Databases and A to Z World Business.   Let’s first spend a moment on the latter product,  A to Z World Business.  Here’s the summary from our web site:

Gauge the risks and rewards of potential investments by using this resource to locate detailed country data on business and trade, current economic climate, statistical rankings, and taxation. Discover whether to kiss, bow, or shake hands during key cross-cultural negotiations. Import or export with confidence after securing detailed trade-compliance information. Find data from the best international organizations-Ernst & Young, The World Bank, World Trade Organization, and others.

If you travel for your business, or are looking to import or export goods, then this product will be worth a look.

If you’re familiar with our two longtime business search products Reference USA and Dun & Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Database, then you’ll love A to Z Databases!  This exciting new company search product combines the higher download capacity of D&B with an easy to use search interface that allows you to access vital data on 47 million U.S. businesses, 220 million individuals, and 2.3 million available jobs.  The product also allows you to easily isolate lists of healthcare professionals (1.1 million included) and new businesses (2 million at the time of this posting).

Both of these products will appear in our Alphabetical Listing of databases from our Articles, Databases, & More link on the front page of the CLP site.  They’ll also show up in the appropriate Business & Investing sub-lists.   If you find yourself getting confused about which is which, just try to remember that A to Z World Business deals with international business stuff (think “world” = international) and A to Z Databases provides you comprehensive company and other listings (think “Databases” = companies).

Should you encounter any issues with using either of these products, or any other database, you can always Ask A Librarian, and we’ll get you sorted and searching in no time!

–Scott

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Modern Magic Casts A Spell

While at a meeting last week a colleague of mine (thanks, Wes!) put me on to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.   Much more than a Harry Potter redux, Mr. Grossman’s novel smoothly represents the urban fantasy genre with characters who feel very real.

A couple of years ago I did a Potter-centric post on this blog, and also touched on a few other popular urban fantasy writers.  Back in that post I neglected to mention one of my favorite urban magic tales, Clive Barker’s ImajicaLike Grossman, Mr. Barker presents smart characters who retain their verisimilitude even when placed in the most exotic fantasy locales.  While Grossman and Barker do not really fall into the “Young Adult” category of this genre, the Yalsa Hub’s definition of it fits both of them nicely:

Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy. For a novel to be an urban
fantasy, fantastical elements exist in an urban setting. However, this
can be a broad interpretation. Really, an urban fantasy is such where
fantastical elements are in play in a real-world setting and not in a
fantastical world.

You can also find these elements at play in Bill Willingham’s wildly successful graphic novel series, FablesAlthough it clocks in at around 400 pages, The Magicians presents an easy read, and could be an excellent entry point into urban fantasy stories for someone looking for a new genre to explore.

–Scott

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Happy Birthday To A Cookie Goddess

Chocolate_chip_cookies Ruth Graves Wakefield came into the world on this day in 1903, and twenty-seven years later she accidentally invented the chocolate chip cookie.  Take a moment to let that sink in.  Someone had to invent one of the greatest bakery items in the history of civilization.  When you eat things like chocolate chip cookies you never think of where they first come from, do you?  You can read about this and other food related discoveries in Deborah Kops’ Were Potato Chips Really Invented By An Angry Chef? : And Other Questions About Food.

In addition to making you hungry, you’ll learn that Mrs. Graves Wakefield developed her amazing recipe for chocolate chip cookies while baking at the Toll House Inn.  More proof that truth trumps fiction.  So a date like this gives us a chance to share the titles of three well loved baking cookbooks from CLP’s double-stuffed shelves.

Betty Crocker Baking Basics : Recipes And Tips To Bake With Confidence  / Betty Crocker

Packed with practical advice and dozens of basic recipes for baked good staples,  this spiral bound book is likely a staple in many kitchens (15 checkouts, 6 renewals, and more than a couple of chocolate smudges indicate this little book has seen some kitchen action).

500 Cookies : The Only Cookie Compendium You’ll Ever Need / Philippa Vanstone

Perhaps a trifle frou-frou, but any cookbook that offers 500 recipes for cookies will surely include at least a few that tickle your fancy, and this one will certainly do that (37 checkouts and 17 renewals tells me that this item has received much love from other library borrowers).

The Art And Soul Of Baking / Sur La Table with Cindy Mushet

This thick, glossy hardcover book features hundreds of fantastic recipes, including, you guessed it, a very solid chocolate chip cookie recipe (17 checkouts and 10 renewals between two copies at Main and Downtown).

If I asked folks to share where their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes came from, I am certain I would get a lot of origin stories that included inheritances from family and friends.  So instead I will ask folks to share the title of a favorite library cookbook that supplied a key dessert recipe–one that they go back to again and again.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for an excuse to eat a cookie today, consider this post to be your hall pass.

–Scott

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Reading Room At Market Square Offers Library Sans Walls

Market_Square Librarians love outreach.  We love taking our show on the road and hawking our wares where you might not expect to find us.  Case in point, the Reading Room At Market Square.  This annual and ongoing CLP program runs every Tuesday from 11:00 – 2:00, covering dates from late May all the way through September 24.

So what can you do there?  Learn about services like eCLP, find out what’s new and happening at the Downtown & Business library, partake in our awesome book sale (softcovers are $1.00 and hardcovers are $2.00–what a steal!), and much more!  We love being at Market Square because we get to share in the good feelings engendered by its renewed vibrancy.  Market Square’s revitalization makes it the place to be at lunchtime in Downtown Pittsburgh, and we at CLP love being a part of it!

–Scott

P.S. Not that you needed any further inducements, but make sure you stop by the Reading Room and find out if you may eligible for an iPad Mini!

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Gadgets A-Go-Go

eclp Librarians here at CLP enjoy opportunities to do some pretty amazing work.  We educate, inform, and often end up learning right along side the customers and patrons we so happily serve.  One of my great pleasures in my work remains my role on CLP’s Technology Training Team.  This relatively small sub-group of CLP staffers principally goes about the business of teaching customers and fellow employees how to use CLP’s eResources.

We most often help the public in this capacity through our regularly scheduled Gadget Labs.  You can also find listings for imminent Gadget Labs on our Upcoming Events page here.  So exactly what can you learn about at one of these Gadget Labs?  Not surprisingly, gadgets of course!  When we speak of gadgets at CLP we generally mean any handheld device that allows a person access to our eResources.  This most often includes eBooks, audiobooks, music, and magazines from the eNewsstand.  Gadget Labs offer you the chance to test and handle a number of sample devices from some of the most popular manufacturers, but more often we find ourselves helping customers with their own gadgets that they have brought along, and therein lies the real beauty of these ongoing programs.  You get hands-on, in person help with sorting out any issues you’re having accessing our content.

So if you want to figure out how to download three totally free songs per week from Freegal, we’ve got you covered.  If you want to learn how to sign up for Zinio and subscribe to hundreds of popular magazines and read them on your computer, iPad, or tablet device, we can make that happen.  If you’re into audiobooks and you want to learn how to get them on your smart phone, we’ve got two great options we can show you.  Or if you want to sort out how to get some eBooks on your new eReader, we’ve got well over 20,000 titles we’re very excited about showing you how to access!

While just about everyone at CLP recognizes that print books and other physical resources will not be going away anytime soon, we have also made a commitment to staying on the cutting edge of these new and emerging technologies.  We demonstrate this commitment and excitement at every Gadget Lab, and we invite you to come and join us in the process!

–Scott

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ANZAC Day: Remembering The Fallen

Gallipoli_cover April 25th marks ANZAC Day, a widely observed holiday in Australia and New Zealand which began as a way to remember the soldiers who fell in the famous WWI battle of Gallipoli. The ANZAC acronym stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the troops who fought within their ranks earned the name Anzacs. They wore it proudly and served with distinction even in the most desperate of times.

No battle typifies the horrible waste of life that was WWI better than Gallipoli. With thousands of young soldiers being mowed down by Ottoman Turkish fire, the Allied commanders continued to order these brave men into certain, pointless death. You can read more about it in Peter Hart’s superb book, Gallipoli.

Gallipoli_movie_cover  For a stunning, Hollywood-style visual interpretation of the battle check out the 1981 feature film starring a young Mel Gibson.  The film also stars talented character actor Peter Weir.
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Shattering_cover  Folks interested in the Turkish (re: Ottoman) perspective on the battle should check out Michael Reynolds’ book, Shattering Empires : The Clash And Collapse Of The Ottoman And Russian Empires, 1908-1918.
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Since being officially named in 1916, ANZAC Day has come to signify a time of reflection on and thanks to all those soldiers who have served and given their lives defending the interests of Australia and New Zealand.

–Scott

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Fools Rule

9715808-masks-with-the-theatre-concept No character comes better equipped to speak truth to power than a fool.  It’s been a hallmark of great literature for hundreds of years.  In honor of April Fool’s Day, I humbly submit a short, somewhat unfocused list of literature and film’s notable fools.

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?”  Hamlet, after taking up the exhumed skull of the court jester, Yorick, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act V, Scene 1.

“I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”  Daisy Buchanan (speaking about her young daughter, Pammy) in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

“Fool’s blood, king’s blood, blood on the maiden’s thigh, but chains for the guests and chains for the bridegroom, aye aye aye.” Patchface, in A Clash Of Kings, one of three notable fools from George R. R. Martin’s Song Of Ice And Fire series. This quote seems to predict the events of the infamous Red Wedding.

“He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a boy’s love, or a whore’s oath.”  The Fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear, from Act III, Scene 6.  Perhaps the greatest archetype of the madman who speaks truth to power, Lear’s Fool mysteriously disappears after Act III, but the stinging truth of his seemingly crazed yammering lives on throughout the rest of tragedy.

“I am ignorant, but I read books. You won’t believe it, everything is useful… this pebble for instance.”  Il Matto from La Strada. Journeyman actor Richard Basehart delivers a deeply affecting performance in Federico Fellini’s 1954 classic film about a traveling circus troop. Basehart plays the circus clown Il Matto, whose jibes and wit both enchant and enrage, ultimately driving the action toward its tragic conclusion.

So that’s my very incomplete list. As with many of my posts, I encourage you to pile on dear readers. Send in the fools!

–Scott (hat tip to Dandy Don and Dan the Man)

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A Steampunk Diversion

Retribution_Falls_Cover I am a fairly regular consumer of science fiction and fantasy stuff, but I have not spent a lot of time reading within the Steampunk sub-genre.  This changed recently when the writer of a gaming blog I follow recommended Chris Wooding’s Retribution Falls.  When someone tries to sell me on a book, I have often found myself most easily swayed when the “seller” employs a handy comparison to something I already know. So when this blogger casually compared Retribution Falls to a Steampunk version of Firefly, I immediately opened a new window in the catalog and placed a hold on it!  I consider Firefly and the universe Joss Whedon built around it to be some of the best sci-fi I’ve ever encountered.

The action in Retribution Falls takes place on the planet of Atalon, a world not unlike our own in the late 19th century. Technology and warfare benefit greatly from steam-powered engines, crude electricity, and a lighter-than-air gas called Aerium, a substance so precious two wars have been fought over it. Trade relies upon airships to move goods between the rugged lands that separate the various major cities of Vardia, the home country of our intrepid heroes rogues.

Mr. Wooding’s characters in Retribution Falls all share one critical element with the crew of Whedon’s  Firefly–they’re all broken in one way or another.  Like Captain Mal Reynolds in Firefly, Captain Darian Frey in Retribution Falls will do whatever it takes to keep his ship flying, but in the latter case the environment is terrestrial versus the deep space of the Whedon’s ‘Verse. If Wooding falls down anywhere in this book the lapses occur in making some of his characters too flawed. The crew of Wooding’s Ketty Jay wind up a lot less likable than the gallant rogues of Whedon’s Serenity. This does not spoil the book however, which expertly combines steampunk, military sci-fi, and a dash of political intrigue into a pleasing brew that makes me eager to finish the final few pages and move on to its sequel, The Black Lung Captain.

Beyond that the steampunk genre remains a bit of mystery to me. I will most certainly dive into the NoveList database for some recommendations, but I would also be curious what folks reading this blog might recommend. Got any great steampunk suggestions? Is William Gibson’s The Difference Engine worth a checkout?  What else?

Thanks for any feedback!

–Scott

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