Book reviews and other interesting goodies.
TITLE: Nutcracker and Mouse King and the Tale of the Nutcracker [Penguin Classics]
AUTHORS: E.T.A. Hoffmann, Alexandre Dumas
TRANSLATION: Joachim Neugroschel
PUBLICATION DATE: 2007
"The original stories behind everyone's favorite Christmas ballet
It wasn't until the 1950s that seeing The Nutcracker at Christmastime became an American tradition. But the story itself is much older and its original intent more complex. This eye-opening new volume presents two of the tale's earliest versions, both in new translations: E.T.A. Hoffmann's Nutcracker and Mouse King (1816), in which a young girl is whisked away to the Land of Toys to help her animated nutcracker defeat the Mouse King, and Alexandre Dumas's 1845 adaptation, The Tale of the Nutcracker, based on Hoffmann's popular work. Irresistible tales of magic, mystery, and childhood adventure, these timeless delights and fresh interpretations about the importance of imagination will captivate readers of all ages."
An entertaining and cute story about a girl and her Nutcracker. More extensive than the ballet based on this story.
PS: This story has a scary 7-headed Rat King if anyone is still looking for Halloween Bingo Creepy Crawlies? Terry Pratchett's Maurice and his Educated Rodents also has rats and multiheaded rat king.
TITLE: The Complete Novels of Jane Austen
AUTHOR: Jane Austen
EDITION: Chartwell Classics
"Jane Austen revolutionized the literary romance, using it as a platform from which to address issues of gender politics and class consciousness among the British middle-class of the late eighteenth century. The novels included in the collection - Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Lady Susan - represent all of Austen's complete novels, and provide the reader with an entrance into the world she and her memorable characters inhabited.
With witty, unflinching morality, Austen portrays English middle-class life as the eighteenth century came to a close and the nineteenth century began. Austen's heroines find happiness in many forms, each of the novels is a story of love and marriage -- marriage for love, financial security and for social status.
In a publishing career that spanned less than ten years her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime. It wasn't until the 1940s that she became widely accepted in academia as a great English writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a fan culture. Austen's works continue to influence the course of the novel even as they charm readers today."
Notes on the Physical Book
The physical hardcover book is quite large, fat and heavy with a pretty dust jacket. The paper is bright white and of good quality. The text is standard sized, similar in size to the Oxford World's Classics series. The book includes an introduction by Jennifer C. Garlen, a section on the life and times of Jane Austen, reviews and notices, and a section of suggested reading.
Sense & Sensibility
Jane Austen originally published this novel, in 1811, anonymously - "By A Lady" appeared on the title page in place of the author's name. Sense and Sensibility is the coming of age story of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood; two sisters with different personalities (one sensible and one emotional) who each experience romance and heartbreak.
Personally, I found the main characters and the majority of the secondary characters to be overly nice and for the most part terribly bland and more similar than different. The majority of the men also appear overly spineless since they can't seem to do anything without mommy's permission or they might loose their inheritance [this is ridiculous - go find something useful to do and make your own fortune!] Despite all the courting drama and descriptions of hysterics in the novel, I found that the story lacked passion. It was all very proper and civilized... and bland. I also couldn't help the mental image of everyone going about their business with huge, florescent price tags stuck to their shirts.
I'm not quite sure why this is such a lauded classic, unless whole generations of impressionable girls were forced to read this and then inflicted it on their own children.
Pride & Prejudice
To be read
To be read
To be read
To be read
To be read
To be read
TITLE: Boom!: The Violent Supernovas, Galactic Explosions, and Earthly Mayhem that Shook our Universe [Paperback]
ALTERNATE TITLE: Earth-Shattering: Violent Supernovas, Galactic Explosions, Biological Mayhem, Nuclear Meltdowns, and Other Hazards to Life in Our Universe [Hardcover]
AUTHOR: Bob Berman
"Looking at the night sky, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all quiet up there in space. But you’d be wrong. Extreme events are forever unfolding: galaxies explode, cosmic debris hurtles through the heavens and our own Milky Way is on a collision course with the giant Andromeda galaxy.
Mayhem moulded the cosmos, shaped life on Earth and at times threatened to end it. With an enduring sense of wonder, through cataclysms great and small, Bob Berman presents a destructive history of our universe."
Boom! is a popular science book for people who know nothing about the cosmos. Berman's focus is on galactic "catastrophes" (e.g. supernovas and colliding galaxies), with a minor detour into Earth specific and man-made catastrophes (e.g. the Great Oxygen Event and the Chernobyl nuclear accident). The chapters are generally short, somewhat interesting, and rather superficial in contents; the writing style informal and "popular". An easy read for an uninformed adult or something interesting to give to a teenager as a gift.
TITLE: The Unkindest Tide
SERIES: October Daye, #13
AUTHOR: Seanan McGuire
"Hundreds of years ago, the Selkies made a deal with the sea witch: they would have the sea for as long as she allowed it, and when the time came, she would call in all their debts at once. Many people assumed that day would never come. Those people were wrong.
When the Luidaeg—October "Toby" Daye's oldest and most dangerous ally—tells her the time has come for the Selkies to fulfill their side of the bargain, and that Toby must be a part of the process, Toby can't refuse. Literally. The Selkies aren't the only ones in debt to the Luidaeg, and Toby has to pay what she owes like anyone else. They will travel to the fabled Duchy of Ships and call a convocation of the Selkies, telling them to come and meet the Luidaeg's price...or face the consequences.
Of course, nothing is that simple. When Dianda Lorden's brother appears to arrest Dianda for treason against the Undersea, when a Selkie woman is stripped of her skin and then murdered, when everything is falling apart, that's when Toby will have to answer the real question of the hour.
Is she going to sink? Or is she going to swim?"
A nice, action packed addition to the series. This novel involves the Luidaeg and her selkies, as well as new characters, which is always great. The mayhem was a bit toned down, and I felt one of the most important sections that occured at the end of the novel was a bit too brief, but this still made for an enjoyable read. This novel also includes a nice little short story about Raj.
PS: I wish Toby would hurry up and get married before there is more murder, mayhem and disaster, though I suspect any wedding of Toby's is likely to be a blood bath anyway.
I have never read Wuthering Heights before, or seen any of the movie adaptations. I was vaguely expecting some sort of romance novel. This is definately not a romance novel. It's a tale of revenge, tragedy, and human psychology. Very few of the characters are likeable, but I don't think you have to like the characters to understand something of what Emily Brontë was trying to convey.
TITLE: In Search of the Immortals: Mummies, Death and the Afterlife
AUTHOR: Howard Reid
DATE PUBLISHED: 1999
"Everyone knows that the ancient Egyptians were great mummifiers, and their sarcophagi and bandage-wrapped corpses are familiar images to us all. Yet across the vast sweep of history, we finid many other great cultures iin which the bodies of the dead were preserved as a matter of course.
In coastal Peru were the Chinchorros, whose mummifying culture flowered several millennia before Egypt's, and in the Andes were the Chachapoyas, the 'Cloud People', a lost civilisation which has only recently begun to be understood. In China's Taklamakan desert, the oddly Caucasian-looking people who established the Silk Route, which made possible the first trade between East and West, have left behind stunningly lifelike mummies. The ritually sacrificed bodies preserved in the peat bogs of northern Europe give us an extraordinary insight into life in the Dark Ages. And in the Canary Islands, perhaps most surprisingly of all, lived the Guanches, whose sophisticated mummification techniques - and whose cultural links with the Egyptians - Howard Reid explores here for the first time.
Taking his extraordinary first-hand experiences of discovering and filming mummies all over the world as his starting point, Howard Reid brings these ancient cultures vividly to life. And in so doing, In Search of the Immortals comes to represent his personal quest to find an answer to that most epic and timeless of human problems: the meaning of death."
This is a nicely written, and somewhat personal, book (with colour photographs) about the author's quest to discover the meaning of death by taking a look at the cultures that preserved the bodies of their dead. Reid starts off in the Old World with the mummies of the Taklamakan desert, Siberia,the bog people of northern Europe, the mummies of Ancient Egypt and the Canary Islands. He then moves on to the mummy cultures of South America - the Chinchorros, the 'Cloud People' and what remains of the Inca mummies. The author provides a description of the preserved bodies, how the mummies were created, some information about the cultures that produced them and a fair amount of speculation (where information is completely absent) about the religious views of these peoples and why they preserved their dead in this fashion. This book is an overview of the various mummy cultures - not an extensive text on the subject. I found this book to provide an fascinating glimpse into ancient civilizations and their view of the afterlife.
AUTHOR: Marcus Aurelius
DATE PUBLISHED: 2014 [First published 180]
PUBLICATION/IMPRINT: Penguin Classics
FORMAT: Hardcover [Penguin Pocket Hardbacks]
"Originally written only for his personal consumption, Marcus Aurelius's Meditations has become a key text in the understanding of Roman Stoic philosophy. This Penguin Classics edition is translated with notes by Martin Hammond and an introduction by Diskin Clay.
Written in Greek by an intellectual Roman emperor without any intention of publication, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius offer a wide range of fascinating spiritual reflections and exercises developed as the leader struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe. Spanning from doubt and despair to conviction and exaltation, they cover such diverse topics as the question of virtue, human rationality, the nature of the gods and Aurelius's own emotions. But while the Meditations were composed to provide personal consolation, in developing his beliefs Marcus also created one of the greatest of all works of philosophy: a series of wise and practical aphorisms that have been consulted and admired by statesmen, thinkers and ordinary readers for almost two thousand years.
Martin Hammond's new translation fully expresses the intimacy and eloquence of the original work, with detailed notes elucidating the text. This edition also includes an introduction by Diskin Clay, exploring the nature and development of the Meditations, a chronology, further reading and full indexes.
Marcus Aelius Aurelius Antoninus (121-80) was adopted by the emperor Antoninus Pius and succeeded him in 161, (as joint emperor with adoptive brother Lucius Verus). He ruled alone from 169, and spent much of his reign in putting down various rebellions, and was a persecutor of Christians. His fame rest, above all, on his Meditations, a series of reflections, strongly influenced by Epictetus, which represent a Stoic outlook on life. He was succeeded by his natural son, thus ending the period of the adoptive emperors."
This is a complilation of the private musings of a Roman emperor. A great deal of these musings and pithy observations are still relevant today. Some observations are profound and others provide inspiration. The writing is direct with none of the obscurity of The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Interesting and something to chew on, over a lenth of time.
"Do not waste the remaining part of your life in thoughts about other people, when you are not htinking with reference to some aspect of the common good. Why deprive yourself of the time for some other task? I mean, thinking about what so-and-so is doing, and why, what he is saying or contemplating or plotting, and all that line of thought, makes you stray from the close watch on your own directing mind."
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations [Book 3, Section 4]
"Think always of the universe as one living creature, comprising one substance and one soul: how all is absorbed into this one consciousness; how a single impulse governs all its actions; how all things collaborate in all that happens; the very web and mesh of it all."
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations [Book 4, Section 40]
"Think constantly how many doctors have died, after knitting their brows oer their own patients; how many astrologers, after predicting the deaths of others, as if death were something important; how many philosophers, after endless deliberation on death or immortality; how many heroes, after the many others they killed; how many tyrants, after using their power over men's lives with monstrous insolence, as if they themselves were immortal. Think too how many whole cities have 'died' - Helice, Pompeii, Herculaneium, innumerable others. Go over now all those you have known yourself, one after the other: one man follows a friend's funteral and is then laid out himself, then another follows him - and all in a brief space of time. The conclusion of this? You should always look on human life as short and cheap. Yesterday sperm: tomorrow a mummy or ashes.
So one should pass through this tiny gragment of time in tune with nature, and leave it gladly, as an olive might fall when ripe, blessing the earth which bore it and grateful to the tree which gave ti growth."
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations [Book 4, Section 48]
"The best revenge is not to be like your enemy."
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations [Book 6, Section 6]
"Dig inside yourself. Inside there is a spring of goodness ready to gush at any moment, if you keep digging."
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations [Book 7, Section 59]
"Constantly reflect that ll the things which happen now have happened before: reflect too that they will happen again in the future. Have in your mind's eye whole dramas with similar settings, all that you know of from your own experience or earlier history - for example, the whole court of Hadrian, the whole court of Antoninus, the whole court of Philip, Alexander, Croesus. All the same as now: just a different cast."
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations [Book 10, Section 27]
"Practise even what you have despaired of mastering. For lack of practice the left hand is awkward for most tasks, but has a stronger grip on the bridle than the right - it is practised in this."
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations [Book 12, Section 6]
An entertaining variation on a favourite classic. This is a very nicely written Choose Your Own Adventure/Path adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula novel, which closely follows (more or less) the original story. There are many bad endings and only one successful path to the end of the novel. A fun read.
This is a retelling of all the Greek Myths that involve Circe, from her perspective. There are some beautiful and poignant passages, some entertaining interpretations or inclusions of other myths (like Daedalus) but also a lot of bland sections. I'm not particularly convinced by the author's interpretation of Circe as a naive, ignorant and stigmatized goddess. The author also seems to cast almost every beautiful woman as a vapid or cruel slut. However, I did enjoy this book despite my few gripes.
TITLE: The Mind's Eye
AUTHOR: Oliver Sacks
DATE PUBLISHED: 2010
"In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks explored music and the brain; now, in The Mind's Eye, he writes about the myriad ways in which we experience the visual world: how we see in three dimensions; how we recognize individual faces or places; how we use language to communicate verbally; how we translate marks on paper into words and paragraphs; and, even how we represent the world internally when our eyes are closed. Alongside remarkable stories of people who have lost these abilities but adapted with courage, resilience and ingenuity, there is an added, personal element: one day in late 2005, Sacks became aware of a dazzling, flashing light in one part of his visual field; it was not the familiar migraine aura he had experienced since childhood, and just two days later a malignant tumor in one eye was diagnosed. In subsequent journal entries - some of which are included in The Mind's Eye - he chronicled the experience of living with cancer, recording both the effects of the tumor itself, and radiation therapy. In turning himself into a case history, Sacks has given us perhaps his most intimate, impressive and insightful (no pun intended) book yet."
A collection of interesting case studies.