Sunday, June 5, 2011

Project 50 Restart: May

“Bagombo Snuff Box” by Kurt Vonnegut
This is a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s short stories which had previously been released in various magazines. The introduction, an ode to the bygone days of magazine fiction, is as worth reading as the stories themselves. It’s a good variety, with some stories ending quite pleasantly, but most ending in that state of fallen discontent that is the common experience of being human. There were three stories about the same man, a self-centered band teacher who cared about his own goals rather than the lives of his students, and got his comeuppance every time. A+

“Les Miserables, Volume 1” by Victor Hugo
Although Hugo can get a bit wordy, this was a wonderful book. He really takes the time to craft characters and events, waiting for just the right moment for it to all come together. I knew enough about the story to watch him build up the life of the priest, then use him for one moment of grace. It’s a short moment of biblical proportions, and the theme of redemption and turning from evil keeps coming up. Hugo describes Paris with such affection that I’m considering going there again, even though it didn’t treat me right the first two times. Here’s hoping I can find the second rest of the book. I think there’s a British conspiracy against it on account of Waterloo… A-

“The Two Towers” by J.R.R. Tolkien
It took me a long time to get through the second book in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. It reminded me of Harry Potter and the Extended Camping Trip, I mean Deathly Hallows. How many times can you describe the troupe bedding down for the night and trading off on watch? The fellowship is thoroughly separated now: Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs, Aragon, Gimli, and Legolas meet up with the Riders of Rohan, and Sam Gamgee faithfully follows Mr. Frodo on the trek to Mordor. There were a couple of highlights in the long, dense, repetitive text. My favorite part was where we get to meet the Ents, a tree-like race that drink with their feet and care for Merry and Pippin after their escape from the orcs. And of course, anything with Gollum tends to liven the story up a bit. C+

“The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss
This book was recommended by the president of the Harry Potter Alliance as the next big thing in fantasy. It starts in an inn where the barkeeper is a famous magician in hiding, so depressed by his losses in life that he refuses to claim his identity. A traveling scribe recognizes him, and convinces to tell his real life’s story, the truth as opposed to the fables that everyone tells about Kvothe the Bloodless. Kote (Kvothe) finally consents, and most of the rest of the book is told from his point of view, starting with his childhood as part of a kind of traveling gypsy family. He learns a bit of magic (and shows a lot of talent) from an old arcanist who joins their troop, whose last advice before leaving the troop is that Kvothe to go to the University to become a real arcanist. Kvothe longs to know the names of things, the secret names that put them under his control. Terrible events take Kvothe’s family from him, and he spends several years roughing it in the big city before pulling himself together and attending University, which reminded me a bit of Harry Potter and a bit of the Edge Chronicles. The story carries on to the point where Kvothe is apprenticed to the Master Namer of the University. There is a love story throughout, which was as frustrating to me as a reader as it was to Kvothe, who can’t manage to keep her. I just don’t see what could have been so special about this woman who clearly didn’t give a care about him. I would like to read the rest of the trilogy, but I’m afraid that I won’t be able to find the other books. This one was hard enough to find in a bookstore. A-

“Dambuster” by Robert Radcliffe
The title of this book stood out to me, because my grandpa, a Lancaster bomber pilot, mentioned it as the title of a movie when he was telling me all he remembered about Lancs. Dam busters are the popular title of the RAF crews who flew special missions to destroy key dams in Germany during WWII. This book is a novel, but features a lot of technical explanations about just how difficult this kind of mission was, from the size, shape, and casing of the bomb that they needed to use, to the extremely low, straight flying they had to master in order to get just the right angle. If the wings tipped just a tiny bit, the plane would skim the water and the whole crew could perish in a crash. Despite my hardline stance against war, I was interested in finding out about the planes that my grandpa flew. I had a couple of problems with the storytelling though. Periodically, Radcliffe will stop the story and give a running total of who had died and how they died and how many crews were left, which got repetitive. The story centered around a pilot who had had a tryst with a girl as a teenager, who had his child and disappeared from his life at the pressure of her family. They reunite just as the dam buster mission is getting ready. The thing is, their story is never finished. The pilot is captured, then escapes, and his love interest knows that he’s alive, but the novel ends with another list of the dead rather than their reunion. Could have been better. C+

“Relative Experience” by various authors
This book is a collection of essays by Quaker parents about parenting and Quakerism and where the two meet. It was published in 1994, so it is a bit odd to read about parents raising their children to support nuclear disarmament… it seemed a little bit 1960s, but I guess the Quaker peace witness is that important that the message carries on. It’s good to read how the Quaker view of peace and non-violenve forms the discipline of Quaker parents, an internal battle that I’m sure most parents experience, but these had a clear doctrine to keep them at peace. I got it from the Quaker Center library where I’ve been attending because I had been thinking a lot about being a parent and just wanted to read something by parents. B

“The Book of Rubbish Ideas”
I’m trying to read books which will get me into an Earth-saving mindset, so I won’t have to keep reading the same things over and over, that they will just be second nature. This book encourages readers to think about the waste that comes from the things that they buy, where it came from, where it goes, and how long it takes for it to go away. Plastic is bad, people. The author goes through the house room by room and gives tips on how to reduce household waste in each. She has some pretty creative ideas on what to do with the rubbish as well. B

“How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything” by Mike Berners-Lee
This is a list, from smallest to largest, of the carbon footprint of our choices for electronics, food, transportation, clothing, and recycling. Some things were obvious, like that locally grown organic food in season was low-impact. Air-freighted out of season produce can have the impact of several transatlantic flights. Heavy stuff. His statistics are not always exact. Tracing and measuring all the ways that a product can impact the environment can be difficult, and there are several places where the author says that he just couldn’t be bothered to track everything, which was a bit off-putting. But I think he achieves his goal to give readers a “carbon instinct,” figuring out just how much their extra effort to make eco-changes matters in the big scheme of things. B+