28 January 2007

4. The Ship that Sailed the Time Stream by GC Edmonson

Published in 1965 this little gem would make a great movie!

Joe Rate is a young, ex-history professor who is fed up with academics. He joins the Navy and is appointed skipper of one of the Navy's last sailing vessels, the Alice. While returning from a training exercise off the coast of San Diego the ship is struck by lightning, and they find themselves off the coast of Ireland and under attack by Vikings.

While trying to extricate themselves from the fight with the Viking they wind up saving Raquel, a beautiful, voluptuous brunette who was taken into slavery. She and Rate dance around romance for the remainder of the book.

They try to find a safe harbor but come under another attack. Hit by lightning again they find that they have been sent back in time another 1000 years. But now they are in the Aegean. They find a safe cove and stumble across a harem of nubile blondes, led by Ma Trimble, a bootlegging American from the Prohibition days who found herself in a similar situation as the crew of the Alice. She had a still set up on a houseboat on Lake Michigan that was hit by lightning. As they try to escape from the cove, the Alice is captured by a Roman war galley and the crew (and passengers) are put to work as galley slaves. Through some quick thinking and luck, Joe is able to free the entire lot.

As Joe discovers how the time travel works a plan develops. And that is where I will leave it.

A fast read at about 185 pages. Recommended. And it has a cool cover.

23 January 2007

3. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I do love some of Mark Twain's writing, but I'll be fixed if I can figure why this load of tripe is a masterpiece. I found it powerful boring and I feel bad forcing my 11th graders to read it. This is why they don't like to read.

Not recommended.

21 January 2007

2. The System of the World by Neal Stephenson

Clocking in at nealry 1000 pages, this book took me about six months to finish. And I am glad I am done. In all, the trilogy was about 3000 pages. Quite a tale.

This is the conclusion to the Baroque Cycle, chronicling the adventures of the natural philosopher Daniel Waterhouse, the Vagabond King Jack Shaftoe, and their various satellites. I posted on Book 1 and Book 2 in September.

The story spans about 80 years - from the mid 1600s to the early 1700s.

The writing was great and the plot details were, uh, many and various. Sometimes it was difficult to keep up with the sheer number of characters as we plodded along with the machinations of the Royal Society (of Natural Philosophers) and the various Vagabonds and vagabond deals. It became especially difficult as some of the characters became Landed or Titled or came into their Lands and Titles, the Earl of that and the Duke of this and so on became burdensome.

I quite enjoyed the Jack Shaftoe sections of the book and where the philospher stuff overlapped I submitted patiently. But when it was exclusively the infighting between, say, Isaac newton and Gottfried Liebniz, well, I just didn't really care.

Glad I read it, happy to be done, and I look forward to Cryptonomicon.

1. My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir

I have been interested in reading some Muir for a good long time. I had stumbled across references in magazine articles and other books about his travels, his books, his ideas for years. It's somewhat difficult to find copies of his books in used books hops here in the Northeast for some reason. I thought it was because so few were produced. I mean, I couldn't really find that many in big chain bookshops either.

Well, when I was in Colorado for the December break I stumbled upon pounds and pounds of his books. I grabbed this one for $5. And there were plenty more copies where that came from, too. I also grabbed a copy of The Mountains of California.

I should also admit here that my mind, philosophy, worldview, whatever you want to call it, is already sympathetic to Muir's. While I have no idea what the Sierra Club's politics or tactics are, I support any sort of nature preserving. I find the British Romantic poets compelling for the same reason, and on this side of the pond, Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Melville. Deep in my heart's core I feel like there really is little we see in nature that is ours, that truly we ARE out of tune, and if I had my druthers I would be a pagan suckled in a creed outworn standing by a small cabin of clay and wattles made.

This book is about Muir's first summer in the Sierra where he gets a job helping a shepherd herd a 2000-head flock of sheep. Delaney, the overseer, is a Fellow Traveller (he's not a Communist, I just mean he is sympathetic to Muir's goals) and allows Muir to have few responsibilities as possible to allow for notebook writing and sketching.

The descriptive powers of Muir (remember, I warned you that I am predisposed) are beautiful. He seems to sense the ephemeral and seductive powers of Nature without commodifying it in any way. Each mountain pass, mountain flower, every variety of pine is unique to Muir - "every tree calls for special admiration." What's more, he describes them in a way that suggests that Muir recognizes that we (animals, mountains, bugs and vegetables) are all linked in a complicated relationship. I imagine most people, especially capitalists, think it's hokey to think of a waterfall singing to a person. Or that the mountains would extend an invitation to the explorer.

"Our flesh and bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun, - a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal."

His descriptions of trees and flowers were particularly compelling. I have always half-thought of trees as sentient beings. Ridiculous, I guess, and perhaps I read The Giving Tree too many times, or took the Ents too much to heart.

"Here we are camped for the night, our big fire, heaped high with rosiny branches, is blazing like a sunrise, gladly giving back the light slowly sifted from sunbeams of centuries of summers; and in the glow of that old sunlight how impressively surrounding objects are brought forward in relief against the outer darkness!"

I mean, I could quote passages that seduced me all day here, but suffice it to say, the book moved me. I was reminded of the feeling I get when I am at the beach or sailing - that I am in and with Nature, like I have just landed the canoe on Innisfree. I do find mountain and hiking stories compelling for their man-and-nature quality, and I feel like that's why I like so much of Thoreau and Wordsworth and, now, Muir.

I will leave you with one more quote:

"Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day: whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever."

15 January 2007

a lil' Bobby Burns fir ye

from Epistle to Davie, A Brother Poet. I strongly recommend you read the whole thing.


What tho’, like commoners of air,
We wander out, we know not where,
But either house or hal’,        45
Yet nature’s charms, the hills and woods,
The sweeping vales, and foaming floods,
Are free alike to all.
In days when daisies deck the ground,
And blackbirds whistle clear,        50
With honest joy our hearts will bound,
To see the coming year:
On braes when we please, then,
We’ll sit an’ sowth a tune;
Syne rhyme till’t we’ll time till’t,        55
An’ sing’t when we hae done.

11 January 2007

Where My Books Go by WB Yeats

Stumbled across this little Yeats poem while I was looking for something for Olman...

ALL the words that I utter,
And all the words that I write,
Must spread out their wings untiring,
And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
And sing to you in the night,
Beyond where the waters are moving,
Storm-darken'd or starry bright.

And check this out, Librivox, whose "volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books. We are a totally volunteer, open source, free content, public domain project."

03 January 2007

Kona Brewing's Pipeline Porter

If you like beer, and I know you do, and if you like coffee, and I know you do, you'll absolutely love Kona Brewing's Pipeline Porter. We had a bottle of it while vacationing and it was quite excellent - like drinking a beer and a coffee at the same time. Not too heavy, not too malty, and not too Portery, if you know what I mean. If you see some, get some.

2005 v 2006: fight!

I read 23 books in 2005, among them Olman's and Mustapha's.
I read 18 books in 2006, among them Paul N's (the art teacher at my old school).

My goal for 2007 is 25 books.

18. Othello by William Shakespeare

Ah, the green-eyed monster!

Iago is mad (at his boss Othello) that he has been passed over for a promotion (in favor of Cassio) to a position he feels he was more qualified for (he makes a strong case) vows to destroy Othello. Iago is also mad because he thinks his wife, Emilia, has slept with Othello, so he vows to match him "wife for wife" or create a situation that ruins Othello and Desdemona's marriage.

And he does. Of course, Desdemona is innocent of any extra-marital hijinks, but pays a high price for Othello's suspicions, as does Emilia and Othello himself.

(I finished this in December, hence a 2006 book entry.)