Tag Archives: books

Following Egeria

A few days ago, I finished a book that I got for Christmas but had only recently gotten around to reading, “Following Egeria” by Lawrence Farley.

The gist is, there was a 4th-century nun who went and visited the Holy Land, and she wrote to the folks back home the things she saw and experienced.

Her writings were known about, then lost for a time, then reappeared in the 18th Century… but missing the beginning and the end. Still, the extant part is quite informative, about Christianity that had recently emerged from the shadows of persecution, of an Israel that has been somewhat buried over the centuries.

Father Lawrence (Orthodox priest) is treated to a trip to Israel by his deacon, and is familiar with Egeria’s writings, and also familiar with the scholarly research as to the authenticity of sites.

Fr Lawrence quotes Egeria where their travels overlap, and comments on which sites have the better claim as to Where Something Actually Happened, and why, and also expresses how he was impacted by each site.

This book made my wish list about as soon as I heard about it, so it was obviously a book I was expecting to enjoy, and enjoy it I did.

Egeria herself isn’t really quoted at length, so I was definitely left wanting to hear more from her.

Also, the scholarly research into the sites, mentioned fairly frequently, is only lightly touched upon, and I was left wanting more of that, too.

Also, after reading the book, I really wanted to go back and visit the places again (there were quite a few “been there!” moments). The thing is, I knew rather a lot less then than I do now. Was completely ignorant about Orthodoxy, and nearly-completely ignorant about Catholicism (as a Protestant, oftentimes one just has an unsympathetic view that Catholics Are Wrong, with perhaps a few specifics). Unfortunately, this ignorance doesn’t really help when the majority of sites are Roman Catholic or Orthodox. And then, one of the places I’d been to, that Fr Lawrence talks about, he’s not interested in what’s obviously there, he’s interested in looking at the remains of something that was there before. And for some reason I can’t jump back into myself-of-10-ish-years-ago.

That said, the book is partly aimed at people who haven’t been over there, so they might perhaps experience it second-hand, so I won’t moan too much (or dwell on being jealous of myself-from-around-a-decade-ago).

So, thumbs up, but definitely wanting more (not that that’s a bad thing).

Yertle The Turtle, and other stories (not necessarily the ones you’re expecting)

Spent a bunch of time today wrestling with a format change over at History Basics. As the gathering of all the possible resources, writing a bit about them, and formatting all the links, was a time-consuming part of the old process, and the long full-format entries that I aspired to were a bit too much to read (according to some feedback), it seemed a good idea to split different segments out. Hopefully the Research Guide, containing the gathered resources, will be a manageable format to sustain in the future.

As my friend Rob feedbacked yesterday that he’d like me to discuss a book that I mentioned I’d read to my kids, I thought I would do it. I’m not sure whether or not he meant it as a serious suggestion, but it sounded like a fun idea to me, so I’ll do it.

Yertle The Turtle, by Dr. Seuss.

Yertle is the King of all he surveys, which at the start of the story consists pretty much of just the pond. He orders some of his subjects to climb on each other, to create a living pedestal which would allow him to see further, and thus have more to be King over.

Unsatisfied, he orders the pile higher and higher, until he spies the moon and becomes jealous of its height.

Meanwhile, one of his underlings towards the bottom of the stack is getting rather uncomfortable. Mentioning this, and receiving no sympathy, eventually he burps, which wobbles the top of the stack so much that Yertle falls off.

There’s an obvious moral here, don’t make things unbearably hard on those you’re in charge of, it could be your downfall.

Historically, we can see this bear out: it wasn’t for nothing that the American colonies split from Britain, similar with India and South Africa. The list goes on, it’s easy to single out Britain as imposing its will on the rest of the world, the same could be said for America through the latter half of the twentieth century through to the present.

It was probably from watching Gandhi that I really got the concept of “home rule”. I think with how unstable the West has made the Middle East, that we could really use that lesson.

So I didn’t really understand Welsh “devolution” at the time, but more recently have been in favour of Scottish independence, and would rather Britain left the EU.

I think that those that govern should be accountable to those they govern, and the further removed that people are from their overlords, the worse it is.

About the only “Remain” meme that I like, is “Help! I don’t want to be stuck on an island with the Tories!”. Though I find the Labour Party equally as distasteful as the Conservative Party.

I think it does show, though, that politicians on a national level are too far removed from the people they are supposed to represent. It bugs me, both in the UK and the US, where election winners are declared before all the votes are counted. Even though mathematically it may be impossible for another candidate to win. All the time, you’re told how important your vote is. The thought that anyone might not actually vote fills people with horror. And then, if you happen to live in the wrong area, your vote literally doesn’t count. If the vote is such a sacred responsibility, and really that important, you should be absolutely ashamed that peoples votes (and in hard numbers, not a small number of votes) are disrespected so.

Switching to the US, government on a State level can be pretty bad. And while several states are more populous than Scotland, no state is as populous as England (source: Wikipedia and Wikipedia). Several States have ludicrous laws like those forbidding farmers from selling raw milk to those that would like to buy it. See Joel Salatin’s book Everything I Want To Is Illegal. But still, there are States that have declared that there are certain Federal laws that they won’t enforce.

So let’s get smaller. County? Still seems too big to me. City and surrounding area? Well, you know how you hear all the time about how bad it is that the politicians dictating on education have no experience with teaching. You may have heard about city folk with no farming experience passing laws about farming.

Just keep going smaller.

Neighbourhood could work. Although some Home Owners Associations are pretty bad, micromanaging the height of your grass, or what you’re allowed to keep visible to the street, at least you can move out.

Onorous neighbourhood-local government could lead to the ultimate literal application of “home rule”.

In a strangely converse manner, Yertle is toppled when he has many people under him, in reality it’s easier to depose someone when there’s fewer other people he’s accountable to.

Anarchy is not the absence of rules, but the absence of rulers. You can have equal-to-equal agreements, without delegating it all to those that crave power (aka, those least suited to having power).

And that’s where a Remain argument falls apart (I can’t say it makes all of Remain’s points fall apart, though most Remain arguments have nothing to do with my points). It assumes a cutting Britain off from the rest of the world, whereas it is perfectly possible to be friendly with many other countries, without a slow uniformity being imposed. Independence does not necessitate isolation. In fact, some Remain treatises get very close to this point, that immigration won’t stop if we vote Leave.And yet they poke the Panic button that trade will stop if we vote Leave. There may be some cheese we don’t get from the trap, but it doesn’t mean that all opportunity will suddenly dry up.

I could probably elaborate more on some of those points, but this is eating up too much of my sleep time.

As I’m not planning to be there to suffer the consequences of either a Leave or a Remain vote, I don’t think it’s my place to vote in the referendum, though Facebook has been advertising to me for weeks to register. I voted with my feet to leave the nanny state a few years ago. The US is, of course, far from utopia, just in some (but not all) important regards, the eye of Sauron Big Brother doesn’t seem very interested in my corner. And long may it remain so.

Reading Program Starts

Yesterday the Summer Reading Program started up. I signed myself and my kids up. I thought this might make a good point to resurrect the writing here.

So much I could have written about in the break: some books, some movies (including the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies, Captain America: Civil War), even games (bought and have started Final Fantasy X). Depressing political stuff, UK and US. Soul-destroying lack of progress on so many things. And then a bit of progress on a few things. The garden’s doing well.

For now? I’m going to start by talking about books and audiobooks, and other entertainmenty things, it’s easier writing about those. Be sure to holler if you want me to opine on anything, mentioned above or otherwise.

I start the reading program partway through the following books:
Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot screenplay
In Search Of The Trojan War, by Michael Wood

I have loaded up the MP3 player with audiobooks, the first one I am listening to is:
Infected, by Scott Sigler.

Sitting around near the computer, on the radar to be read during the Program:
Infected, by Scott Sigler
Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion

And of course, plenty more on shelves in my room.

Also today, I read to kids, which included Yertle The Turtle And Other Stories.

Encyclopedia Brown

On the basis of an off-topic recommendation on a podcast, I ordered the first book in the Encyclopedia Brown series from the library, for Oldest.

He enjoyed it, then I read it. Call it an “after-the-horse-has-bolted what’s-my-kid-actually-reading” check.

The format is straightforward. Encyclopedia Brown (“Encyclopedia” isn’t his real name, but everyone except his parents call him that because he’s so smart) is the son of the police chief, and is actually the secret weapon reason so many crimes get solved.

There are a bunch of short chapters, set around Encyclopedia, his friends, enemies, and clients, and each time there’s some sort of puzzle, which Encyclopedia works out from the information presented. The answer and explanation are given in the back of the book, to give you a better opportunity to really think about it and work it out.

Oldest enjoyed the book, but he said he didn’t try and figure the answers out, he just looked at the back. I enjoyed it, and did manage to figure the answers to most of them out, and the explanations for most of those answers.

Recommended, I’ll probably look for more in the series, for Oldest, at some point. Not yet, still giving prime time to the new books from Christmas.

I’m A Published Author, I Am

A bunch of years ago, I frequented a rather busy message board. The site proper was billed as “The magazine of Christian unrest”, and would feature articles on the front page. But far more of the content was in the message board. The site is called Ship Of Fools, and the message board attracted discussion from many different varieties of Christianity, and so there were some quite varying beliefs on there. Very interesting, and very time-consuming.

There are different boards which invite different styles of discussion, and some of the content would invoke the infamous reaction, “But I thought this was a Christian website!”

Once upon a time, the site had a contest, inviting readers to contribute Bible passages condensed to text-message length. Some entries would be chosen to be in a book.

The resulting book was “R Father N Hvn”, and the site owner is listed as the author, on the cover. All the contributors from the contest, are credited next to their submissions

Two of my submissions made it into the book. And thus I stake my claim to being a published author.

On Amazon UK // on Amazon.com

Zero Day by David Baldacci

John Puller is a top-notch criminal investigator for the military. He has combat experience under his belt, and resists transfer and promotion to stay in his preferred line of work. He’s assigned to a case, investigating the brutal murder of a Defense Intelligence Agency worker, and his family.

Normally, investigating the suspicious death of someone who deals with sensitive material, would call for a team, but Puller’s sent in solo, with a lot of eyes from higher-up, keeping tabs on his work. He soon finds that those murders were the tip of a rather substantial iceberg.

Zero Day is Baldacci’s first John Puller novel, followed by The Forgotten and The Escape.

I finished reading this one today. Funny story: I ended up with two copies of it. Both looked well-read, one had a slightly ripped cover, I read half of that one. Then I offered it to a couple of people, and finished up the book with the other copy. Which turned out to have been visited by water at some point, but no pages were stuck together or unreadable.

I tend to choose to read books I think I’ll like (SHOCKER!), and I’ve enjoyed other books by Baldacci, so it ought not to be a surprise that I enjoyed this one. I don’t think I really thought that the semi-romantic thread in the story was a good idea, but it didn’t bug me enough to spoil anything.

Baldacci does use some pretty vivid imagery, and there were some particularly notable moments in this book. Speaking as vaguely as I can, the building in an egg, a motorcycle incident.

It’s never made explicitly clear why the book is called “Zero Day”. It’s nothing to do with patches to software released the same day as the software it patches. This is probably a bit spoiler-y, but the nearest I can make out, is it has to do with the term Ground Zero, in its traditional, pre-9/11 meaning. and didn’t that term being applied to the Twin Towers site, help fuel part of the conspiracy mill.

Anyway, thumbs up for this one.

Mockingjay, Part 2

I hadn’t expected to see this film anytime soon. I saw the first movie in the cinema, the second on an ex-rental DVD we picked up, and the third on Amazon Prime streaming. Getting out to see anything can be awkward. But a friend was going to see it tonight, and invited our household along. Well, the grown-ups, at least. I think only my wife and I had seen Part 1, and she knew I wanted to see this one, so she suggested I take the opportunity.

I will aim to be as spoiler-free as possible, in talking about parts of the movie

We talked through the trailers (including Allegiant, Creed, and a new Julia Roberts movie), and settled down for the movie. I don’t think there were more than a couple of other people watching.

We had fun. Most of the time we were completely engaged with the movie, but there were a few points where we quietly commented to each other.

There was a point where a bunch of characters are sneaking around, and they hear some strange noises. One of the noises may have been a kind of whispered “Katnissss….” which did invite a “My Precious….” comment.

As far as I recall the book, the movie followed the book pretty well. There was a part of the book that I read a few times, not succeeding in following it very well. As the books follow Katniss’s perspective, I think the scene was intentionally confusing, it’s pretty chaotic and a lot of things were happening, so it wouldn’t be surprising for the character to find it difficult to follow all that’s going on. Still, it was nice to see it a lot more clearly in the movie. The scene in question is outside the presidential gates.

I found the movie as well-paced as Part 1. I thought Catching Fire was a bit squeezed into the movie, and rather a lot happens in the Mockingjay book, both movies based on it seemed to give the scenes enough room to breathe. I didn’t think anything seemed dragged-out. There were some characters who could have used a bit more time to help the audience get to care about them, but that’s a pretty minor nitpick.

The last few scenes were especially important to get right, and I think the filmmakers did well enough.

Creature design was interesting. Shades of Alien, but it’s kind of hard to not evoke that, with that combination of head shape and posture. Different colour, evoking more the Alien/human hybrid from Alien Resurrection. Maybe Venom from the Spider-Man cartoons, minus the tongue.

Having read the book, there were definitely some moments of anticipation for things I knew were coming up. And I didn’t feel disappointed by anything.

All in all, I think the movie series treated the books pretty well. I’d still say the books are worth the time to read, but wouldn’t turn my nose up at the movies.

Sat nine rows back in a pretty small cinema, which was good for the most part. Only one actiony sequence was hard to watch. Not enough to make me wish the director had been forced to watch the movie from the front row at a big cinema screen.

Many years ago, I started collecting the MPAA numbers that are (usually) at the end of movies. I’d noticed them for a while, and it has kind of been an on-again off-again project. Complications with making them out, in the VHS days, and scrapping the project one time when I encountered some major inconsistencies between the number and the movie’s copyright date for a chunk of movies. Now I get screen grabs off the DVDs, when I can. Anyway, for a while now, I’ve been expecting each movie I see to break 50000. Mockingjay  2’s number was 49995. Maybe Star Wars?

Musings On the Hunger Games: The Books And The First Three Movies

When The Hunger Games was pretty new in the cinema, I was treated to go and see it. My sister-in-law took my wife and me. I knew next to nothing about it.

I enjoyed it. Then I went and enjoyed all three books.

Watching a movie before reading the book is one thing, watching the movie after reading the book is another.

Seeing Catching Fire, then, was a different experience. It fairly faithfully depicted the events of the book, point-by-point, but the movie was stuffed to bursting with these things, and there wasn’t really the space to flesh things out that needed fleshing out, or to enrich the environments or the story. I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t really seem to bring anything new to the table.

Of course, it already had the odds stacked against it in that regard, as the story of Catching Fire isn’t terribly different from the book/movie before it.

Ultimately, it wsn’t a bad film, let’s say it achieved a rating of Adequate rather than Great.

Last night, I finally got around to watching Mockingjay, Part 1. Saw the Hunger Games at the cinema, and Catching fire on DVD (ex-rental). I put the DVD/Blu-Ray combo of Mockingjay Part 1 on hold at the library a few months ago, but I guess the queue’s moving really slowly on that one, it hasn’t come through yet. It’s been on sale a couple of times on Amazon, but I haven’t bit the mullet and bought it yet (usually saving up for birthdays and Christmas). Who knows, Black Friday is soon and we usually pick up some DVDs cheap that day.

Mockingjay 1 has been free on Amazon Prime streaming, and so my wife and I watched it last night, during the eternal wait for Youngest to go to sleep. Who knows when it will disappear, I fairly often hear of things disappearing from Netflix.

Again, I enjoyed it. The movie was well-paced, it didn’t drag. This one had room to breathe. It’s been a long time since reading the book, and so there were things I remembered, things that were familiar, and things that weren’t. I don’t know that this means they added anything, but I felt a lot better about this movie than the previous one.

I liked some of the music in this one. The tune of The Hanging Tree starts a bit before Jennifer Lawrence sings it, and it’s introduced as a violin piece that to me was reminiscent of “One Will Fall By The Way”, a tune from the miniseries of the Stand. As originally broadcast, the violin kicks in at the end of The Stand Part 3, as the four heroes leave on their walk to Vegas.

There’s still rather a lot that needs to fit into Part 2, so I hope they manage to maintain the pacing, and the space needed for the story.

A big theme running through the stories, is Agenda.

The Capitol’s agenda for enslaving the Districts, and living a pampered lifestyle off the backs of their productivity.

The Capitol’s agendas for oppression and entertainment, putting the Districts’ children in the lottery for The Hunger Games.

Getting more personal to Katniss, who has been affected by all of the above impersonally until her sister was selected, and she volunteered in her place, Katniss becomes subject to the agendas of the production staff, particularly Effie, who want to put on a good show.

In the arena, first time round, Katniss is largely free from the pressure to act a certain way (she’s a bit busy fighting for her life), but she does still get some notes.

As a Victor, there’s a public face she is compelled to put on. Peeta’s quick thinking forced her into a certain role, President Snow makes threats for what might happen if she doesn’t comply, and of course the production staff like Effie are still trying to put on a good show.

By this time, Katniss is thoroughly allergic to being subject to other peoples’ whims. Her friends forge alliances for her, to help her, and the others, to survive. She’s likely to resist the plan if they just explain it to her, so they try to break it to her gently. and, naturally, she doesn’t appreciate being manipulated.

And she’s none too happy when she finds out why she was saved: her friends and supporters want her to be the face of the rebellion against the Capitol, be the symbolic mockingjay that will galvanise people to the cause. Her attempts at the scripted promos betray her dislike of being manipulated, even when she’s consented to it.

Haymitch is very astute when he asks which Katniss moments made the others in the room feel something, and the answers reveal it’s when she’s free, undirected.

Assuming the next film follows the book, there’s some more we see of how Katniss reacts to being subject to someone else’s agenda, and what she does when she’s finally able to go her own way.

President Snow is also very astute, and though he sucks at trying to control her, he knows very well how to get under her skin. He asks if she can trust the people she’s working for, and it’s clear she doesn’t really.

I heard a talk a while ago about youth work, and among other things it mentioned the popularity of The Hunger Games series. It resonates so well with kids and teens, because they similarly feel subject to the agendas of so many other people.

That talk is downloadable and streamable here.

Comparison: Schindler’s List vs Schindler’s Ark

Sometimes there are things you read or watch, that just stick with you. Or some particular story or anecdote that you always have associated with a particular type of feeling or experience, that it becomes your go-to example for the rest of your life.

Schindler’s List the movie at came out at just the right time, that when I was doing World War 2 in school, was encouraged to watch. Or possibly made, I have memory of seeing a “Schools Edition”. Needless to say, I appreciated it more, later. It’s full of good people, it’s not a bad story, some of the imagery is quite clever and haunting. The actors alongside the people they played at the end.

Spielberg’s pretty good at sentimentality, and the film does rather reflect that. The feel of the film is, these people are living through this time that’s very bleak, and oh, it’s so hard and dangerous, and oh no this new situation is even direr.

I read the book the film was based on. My copy is called “Schindler’s Ark”, although I think because of the movie it got renamed to “Schindler’s List”. It’s by Thomas Keneally. The tone is very different.

Rather than the melancholy tone of the movie, the book is much more adventurous. Much more in the way of “previously he’s used his stores of wine to bribe the guards, but now he’s out and has to get across this bridge, which is guarded by two Nazi soldiers. Technically he’s not supposed to go across. How’s he going to get through this?” and so on. Much more enthusiastic and vibrant. More of a sense of just how many times Oskar stuck his neck out for his workers, tried to use the bureaucracy against itself, getting into serious trouble, and how almost unbelievable it is that he got out of trouble again.

I’d almost like to see a movie of the book, one that retains the tone, style and flair.

The only drawback to the book, is that some of those Polish street names are HARD. I thought about asking some Polish co-workers at one point about the pronunciations, but in the end, I didn’t. There were points I just pigeonholed some of the names, recognising the shape of the name and saying, “ok, it’s that one”, rather than forcing my brain to butcher the language each time I came across it. So that’s more to do with my own inadequacies (which, who knows, you might share) than any actual problem with the book.

So Schindler’s List is my go-to reference for difference in tone between book and film.

The film’s not bad. I read a Rabbi’s article saying that everyone told him he should see the movie but he didn’t, because he had certain expectations about the Hollywood-isation of the Holocaust, and other things along those lines, then he read about the movie later, which was apparently enough to confirm his suspicions. For that sort of reason I wouldn’t say the film was a “must-see”, and although the UK ratings certificate says it’s for 15-year-olds and older, I think that might be too young to really appreciate it. And I say this as someone who’s still pretty pleased to have got the Collector’s Edition DVD, with the film cel, little booklet and soundtrack.

On the other hand, the book is much more recommendable, if it were fiction it might be classified with seat-of-the-pants thrillers. So if that kind of book is your kind of thing, and/or if history is your kind of thing, this book’s a winner.

Review: True Blue, by David Baldacci

Mason “Mace” Perry was a cop. At the end of serving 2 years in jail for a crime she was framed for, she’s determined to get back on the force. Inspired by someone else who blazed a trail out of a similar situation, she intends to solve a major crime on her own, and earn her way back onto the force.

At about the time of her release, a big case comes up. a US Attorney is found dead in a dumpster, and then a high-flying attorney dealing with large international transactions, is found dead in a fridge in her office. The latter is found by her colleague, Roy Kingman, whom Mace latches onto as a way into the case. The former, the Chief of Police, and the FBI, get shut out of the investigation.

That Chief of Police is Mace’s sister, Beth. She tries in her own way to help Mace, and sets her up with a job, although not in the Police Department. The US Attorney for DC, Mona Danforth, has it in for both Perry sisters, and threatens both their careers if Beth helps Mace back onto the force.

Baldacci writes great thrillers, and this was another good’un. What’s nice is that everyone- good, bad, and otherwise, all are given believable motivations, and there comes a point where some of the bad guy muscle is given some depth, that you wouldn’t go in to a novel like this, expecting.

Towards the end of the book, one wonders if there’s enough space left to round out the story in a satisfying way, but in the end it was. The way it was wrapped up left a few threads that could be picked up on, were Baldacci to want to write a sequel, and one kind of wants him to (he hasn’t, yet). But life’s stories rarely wrap up all the loose threads at one time, and the loose ends weren’t a disappointment.

Yep, I enjoyed True Blue.