DATE: 1/16/18 – Well, what do you know? I’m on time.
Titles Finished (Totals To Date):
- Books: 1,250
- Poetry: 78
- Short stories: 55
- Plays: 2
Titles Finished: Totals for 2018:
- Books: 131
- Poetry: 3
- Short stories: 3
- Plays: 2
- Early Reviews: 10
All titles left to go for Challenge: 4,324
Next count: 2/1/2018
Standage, Tom. The Turk: the Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess Playing Machine. New York: Walker & Company, 2002
Reason read: Wolfgang von Kempelen was born in January. Read in his memory.
Picture a bygone era ripe with new inventions. This was the industrial revolution. Everyone is coming up with something practical to make life easier or something clever to wow the public’s imagination. Wolfgang von Kempelen’s creativity was sparked when he attended a conjuring show at the court of Austria-Hungary’s empress, Maria Theresa. Kempelen felt he could impress the empress further with his own ingenuity. She gave him six months to prepare a show of his own and at the end of the six months a mechanical Turkish dressed chess player was born. Outfitted with a high turban and a long smoking pipe, the automaton appeared to be capable of thought as he singlehandedly beat even the most skilled chess player at his own game. Kempelen allowed his audience to peer into the machine’s inner workings and yet they still couldn’t figure it out. the automaton became even more lifelike and mysterious when his second owner, Johann Maezel, introduced speech. The Turk, as the mechanical chess player became known, could talk! Instead of nodding three times, the automaton could tell his opponents, “check” in French further adding to his mystique. Like the boy who came to life in Pinocchio, the Turk was pure magic.
For eighty-seven years the Turk wowed audiences all across Europe and the eastern United States (Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston primarily) before a raging fire extinguished his career. The mystery was not the how the automaton worked. Not really. The bigger and better mystery was how, for all those years and kept by multiple owners, the secret did not get out.
It is sad to think the Turk is not squirreled away in some fantastic museum. I fantasize about turning a corner, coming into a dusty room and standing face to face with the mechanical man in a turban who could say, “echec.”
Author fact: Standage also wrote a book called The Victorian Internet and even though it sounds fantastic, it is not on my list.
Book trivia: There are some interesting and revealing illustrations.
Nancy said: Pearl said Turk is “a most entertaining account of a marvelous invention” (Book Lust p 150).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mechanical Men, Robots, Automatons, and Deep Blue” (p 150).
Elphick, Chris, John Dunning and David Allen Sibley, eds. The Sibley Guide to Brid Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Reason read: January is Adopt a Bird month…or something like that.
I have to say this right off the bat, because I think it is funny and potentially points to my birding ignorance. At the end of this Sibley guide there is a “Species Checklist” which makes a lot of sense until you consider the size and weight of the book. Surely Elphrick, Dunning and Sibley don’t want you carrying this behemoth into the field!
What you need to know about this guide is that it is unique in its voice. In addition to its glossary there is a section on author biographies because each chapter is an essay written by a variety of folks. Not just ornithologists and other types of bird experts contributed an essay or two. Students, biologists, naturalists, ecologists, writers, museum curators, photographers, and even a B&B owner. In the introduction it is noted that the whole purpose of this book is to be an introduction to the great variety and complexity of bird life. What I failed to notice is that the essays are written by and for birders.
Additionally, the illustrations and maps are stunning.
I don’t have a favorite quote or line from this book, but I do have a favorite bird. On page 485 is the chapter on Waxwings. The Bohemian is my all time favorite.
Author Editor facts: Elphick is a birder since childhood. Dunning is an associate professor at Purdue. Sibley is not only an editor but he is the illustrated and technical consultant on the project.
Book trivia: All of the illustrations were done by David Allen Sibley and are beautiful.
Nancy said: Pearl calls The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior “indispensable” (Book Lust p 40).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the funny chapter “Bird Brains” (p 39).
Asimov, Isaac. Foundation. Read by Scott Brick. Santa Ana, CA: Book on Tape, 2004.
Reason read: Asimov’s birth month is in January.
The premise of Foundation is thus: Hari Seldon is a psychohistorian (a person who uses a scientific way of predicting the future through history). His mathematical sociology tells him the Dark Ages are fast approaching. In order to curate humanity’s integrity he establishes two foundations, one at either end of the universe. Each foundation is comprised of creative and engineering people capable of preserving the characteristics of the current universe.
As an aside, Fred Pohl saved the Foundation series. Because of conversations with him, Asimov worked on the series for the next decade. It was only supposed to be a trilogy. Thirty years passed between the trilogy and subsequent novels. Asimov, according to his introduction to Foundation, said he needed to reread the series to really remember where he left off.
Author fact: “The Mule” is Asimov’s favorite part of the series (according to the introduction).
Book trivia: Foundation went up against The Lord of the Rings Trilogy for the Hugo award for best three connected novels and won.
Nancy said: Besides describing the plot, Pearl said the only “must-read” is Foundation (Book Lust p 214).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).
Greer, Germain. The Female Eunuch. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1971.
Reason read: Women’s Suffrage Law was passed in December.
In the 1970s this was a landmark book supporting feminist ideals. While the statistical data might be a little out of date, the rest of the narrative is sharp, funny, and in some cases, spot on. Even today. Through her seminal work Greer will take you through a sometimes sarcastic, sometimes sad, and always intelligent journey regarding every aspect of a woman’s world in the 1970s. She begins with the obvious, the female body and moves onto soul, love and hate. She ends with a powerful chapter on rebellion and revolution.
There were lots and lots of quotations to chose from. Here are some of my favorites, “In any case brain weight is irrelevant, as was swiftly admitted when it was found to operate to male disadvantage” (p 93), “Most likely a sued Other Woman would have to ask her husband undertake payments for her” (p 118), and “Genuine chaos is more fruitful than the chaos of conflicting systems which are mutually destructive” (p 234).
Author fact: Greer is extremely funny. However, when she admitted to being groped in Female Eunuch it prompted me to do a little more digging about her life. I was a little surprised by her 2018 thoughts regarding punishment for convicted rapists. It’s an example of how Greer thinks, always pushing boundaries.
Book trivia: Female Eunuch is chock full of various quotations, the most being from Mary Wollstonecraft’s oft-quoted work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (also on my list).
Nancy said: Pearl called The Female Eunuch an influential political book from the early ’70’s” (p More Book Lust p 121).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “I am Woman – Hear Me Roar” (p 121).
Adler. Jr., Bill. Time Machines: the Greatest Time Travel Stories Ever Written. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998.
Reason read: December is Star Man month and that makes me think of time travel.
Time Machines is made up of twenty-two really diverse short science fiction stories all centered on time travel or time machines.
- A Shape in Time by Anthony Boucher – Agent L-3H is hired to prevent marriages until she fails to seduce her man. This story has one of my favorite quotes, “Temporal Agent L-3H is always delectable in any shape; that’s why the bureau employs her on marriage-prevention assignments” (p 1).
- Who’s Cribbin’ by Jack Lewis – someone from the past is stealing a young sci-fi writer’s work. Who is the plagiarist?
- The Business, As Usual by Mack Reynolds – a 20th century souvenir hunter visits the 30th century.
- The Third Level by Jack Finney – Somewhere in the bowels of Grand Central Station there is another level which will take you to 1894 New York.
- A Touch of Petulance by Ray Bradbury – what happens when you meet your future self and he tells you you will murder your wife.
- The History of Temporal Express by Wayne Freeze – what if you could go back in time to meet a deadline you previously missed?
- Star, Bright by Mark Clifton – a widower’s child, abnormally bright, learns how to transport herself through time but her father isn’t as smart. Interestingly enough, someone drew a Mobius slip in the book possibly to illustrate the phenomenon of a one-sided plane.
- The Last Two Days of Larry Joseph’s Life – In This Time, Anyway by Bill Adler, Jr. – Two roommates watch as their third roommate quietly disappears.
- Three Sundays in a Week by Edgar Allan Poe – Two lovers get around the stipulation they can only marry when there are three Sundays in the same week.
- Bad Timing by Molly Brown – an archivist in the 24th century falls in love with a woman from the 20th century but he’s a bumbling idiot when it comes to time travel. As an aside, this story reminded me of the movie, “Lake House.”
- Night by John W. Campbell – a pilot testing out an anti-gravity coil has an accident and he needs the help of aliens to get home.
- Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt – a crazy story about a man who has two deaths.
- Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation by Larry Niven – what if time travel doesn’t work?
- What Goes Around by Derryl Murphy – a ghost from the future comes to help a washed up actor.
- You See, But You Do Not Observe by Robert Sawyer – Sherlock Holmes visits the future to find alien life.
- Ripples in the Dirac Sea by Geoffrey A. Landis – a man tries to flee his own destiny by using a time machine but keeps returning to the same moment when he is to die.
- The Odyssey of Flight 33 by Rod Serling – an airplane en route to New York curiously picks up speed and somehow lands 200 million years ahead of schedule.
- Fire Watch by Connie Willis – not read (on Challenge list elsewhere)
- What If by Isaac Asimov – not read
- There and Then by Steven Utley – not read
- Wireless by Rudyard Kipling – not read
- The Last Article by Harry Turtledove – a sad tale about the nonviolence moment being unsuccessful against the Nazis of World War II.
Author Editor fact: Adler has written a few books of his own (including a short story in Time Machines.
Nancy said: Time Machines was in a list of other books about time travel the reader might enjoy.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Time Travel” (p 220).
Ben Jelloun, Tahar. This Blinding Absence of Light. Translated by Linda Coverdale. New York: New Press, 2002.
Reason read: This one was chosen a little off schedule. I needed something for the Portland Public Library 2018 Reading Challenge for the category of a book that has won an International Dublin Literary Award.
This book was a hard, hard , hard read. Based upon true events, it is the story of an inmate of the Tazmamart Prison. Aziz was a soldier who took part in a failed assassination attempt on King Hassan II of Morocco. Hassan ordered his political enemies to be held in an underground desert concentration camp where they were kept in 6 x 3′ cells devoid of light or proper ventilation. Aziz and twenty-one other prisoners locked away without proper food or sanitary conditions. Many men went insane or died from uncontrolled illnesses and starvation. After nearly two decades in captivity, only four survived their experience. Because Ben Jelloun takes Aziz’s experiences and fictionalizes it with a first person narrative the story becomes even more intimate and heartbreaking.
If you are ever wallowing in your own pathetic cesspool of pity, try barricading yourself in a darkened room with only a hole to piss and crap in, a ceiling less than five feet from the floor, no heat or air conditioning with only a bucket of water too filthy to drink and starchy food too filled with maggots to eat. Or, if you are short on time just read this book. Your little life can’t be as bad.
Here is the heart of the story, “The hardest, most unbearable silence was that of light” (p 51).
Lines that stopped me short (and there were a lot of them), “What does a man think when the blood of other men runs down his face?” (p 6), “I felt death making itself at home in his eyes” (p 12), “Strangely enough, becoming time’s slave had set him free” (p 29), “It was a question of chance: you tell yourself you have plenty of time, you save a few books for later…and forget to read them” (p 68), “That night I tried again to sleep on the bed. It was just too comfortable for me” (p 181).
Author fact: Ben Jelloun has also won the Prix Maghreb award in 1994.
Book trivia: This Blinding Absence of Light won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2004.
Nancy said: Pearl said This Blinding Absence of Light is “a difficult, soul-destroying read” (p 162). Interestingly enough, someone on Wikipedia said prisoners were not “actively” tortured. I find this really interesting. The decision to withhold light and food IS a form of active torture. True, these people were not tortured with acts resulting in pain but they faced starvation to the point of eminent death. I’m guessing the author of the Wiki page has never been hungry to the point of starvation; has never gone without light; has never experienced confining and unsanitary conditions for an extended period of time or faced the threat of scorpions stinging them in the dark. As Ben Jelloun said, “the entire body had to suffer, every part, without exception” (p 3).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes: Morocco” (p 162).
Burgess, Anthony. Any Old Iron. New York: Washington Square Press, 1989.
Reason read: the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December. We remember the event every December 7th.
If you are familiar with A Clockwork Orange please put that out of your head when you read Any Old Iron. This is a completely different style of book (and somewhat easier to read; less cringe-worthy). Having said all that, you will need to hang onto your seats because in Any Old Iron Burgess will take you on a fifty year journey through history at breakneck speed. Along this journey you will travel with two families, one Welsh-Russian (told in third person), the other Jewish (told in vague and ghostly first person). You will careen through World War I, the founding of Israel, the sinking of the Titanic, and World War II, just to name a few historic events. All the while you are submersed in the Welsh, Russian, and Jewish cultures of these two larger than life families.
The title comes from word play as King Arthur’s sword also factors into the plot (as an aside, there is an old British music hall song of the same name of which I admit, I was less familiar).
Maybe I am making a generalization, but the thing about multi-generational sagas than span fifty years is that you tend to get attached to certain characters as you watch them age. I know I did.
Confessional: I had a “Natalie” moment when the aunt says of some illustrations they were “pornography in the manner of Alma-Tadema” (p 96). Thanks to the poem “If No One Ever Marries Me” I knew exactly what family the aunt (and Burgess) was referencing. Although Burgess could have meant Pre-Raphaelite Lawrence or his second daughter, Anna, who was also an artist.
Lines I liked, “I am no metallurgist, merely a retired terrorist and teacher of philosophy” (p 3), “Perhaps everybody was mad and war was the great sanitizer” (p 96), and “None had been taught to look at a map as a picture of human pain” (p 188).
Author fact: Burgess is probably most famous for A Clockwork Orange. As an aside, I had to watch ACO for a film class. It haunted me for
weeks months. I couldn’t get the fear of not being able to close my eyes out of my psyche.
Book trivia: Any Old Iron has been categorized as historical fantasy.
Nancy said: Pearl said “there are some moving sections about World War II” in Any Old Iron (Book Lust p 253).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Fiction” (p 253).