Subscribe: Canon Fodder
Preview: Canon Fodder

Canon Fodder

Reading the Classics

Updated: 2013-08-26T19:03:55.329-07:00


Don Juan, Canto I, by Lord Byron


I listened to an excellent reading of the first Canto of Byron's Don Juan that I downloaded free from Librivox. Byron (a dissolute, corrupt, romantically brooding fellow) completed 16 cantos before his death, becoming more famous and more beloved of his publisher which each volume.

Byron took earlier versions of the legend of Don Juan and remade the character into a light-hearted amorous adventurer who is forever falling in and out of love with women. This first Canto introduces his family and traces his introduction into the arts of love by the beautiful Julia, who is 'married, charming, chaste, and twenty-three'.

There's as much amorous play, though slightly fewer farts, in Don Juan as in Canterbury. It was a pleasure to listen to these rolling verses, larded with editorial asides and commentaries. I've read so much about Byron, but this is the first time I've read any of his longer workss, the ones that made him a celebrity. He was scandalous! A darkly brooding figure who debauched maidens and youths and obsessed about his half-sister. One of his lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb, called him 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know.'

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

The Canterbury Tales, by Goeffrey Chaucer


The Canterbury Tales is a great example of the kind of work that is best enjoyed by listening to it instead of reading it. First, it's poetry, and for most of its existence poetry was meant to be read aloud. Second, it's riddled with archaic spelling and vocabulary that can be difficult to understand when you are looking at words on a page, but (for me at least) is much easier to understand when you're listening to it. Third, it's full of humor. Sometimes if I'm reading something the humor in it sails right past me. Listening to the various readers in this LibriVox recording (free!) bring the humor and irony of the Tales to life is really a joy.

I've tried to read The Canterbury Tales before, only to give up after a few pages because the effort was too great. And I've got quite a few advantages over the average reader - I've actually studied Old and Middle English, and I speak French and Italian, which allows me to understand most of the Latin words thrown into the verse and figure out from the roots what most of the other unusual words mean. Listening was much easier - I could almost always figure out what an unusual word meant.

I had read that the Tales were similar to The Decameron, but I still didn't expect it to be so.... bawdy. There's farting and adultery and oh so much more! Because the pilgrims come from all walks of life I really feel like I got a good cross-section of life at the time in all its vulgar splendor. At the same time I was surprised by the amount of religiousity. References to Christianity and a concern with moral action pervaded almost all of the stories to an extreme extent. The last tale in particular kind of blew my mind; the Parson's Tale is a seemingly unending litany of sins to be avoided itemized in excruciating detail.

Wikiepedia seems to think that the Parson's Tale is straightforward and not ironic, but listening to the below made me wonder if this wasn't an exercise in irony:

Upon the other side, to speak of
the horrible disordinate scantness of clothing, as be these cutted
slops or hanselines [breeches] , that through their shortness
cover not the shameful member of man, to wicked intent alas!
some of them shew the boss and the shape of the horrible
swollen members, that seem like to the malady of hernia, in the
wrapping of their hosen, and eke the buttocks of them, that fare
as it were the hinder part of a she-ape in the full of the moon.
And more over the wretched swollen members that they shew
through disguising, in departing [dividing] of their hosen in
white and red, seemeth that half their shameful privy members
were flain [flayed]. And if so be that they depart their hosen in
other colours, as is white and blue, or white and black, or black
and red, and so forth; then seemeth it, by variance of colour,
that the half part of their privy members be corrupt by the fire
of Saint Anthony, or by canker, or other such mischance. And
of the hinder part of their buttocks it is full horrible to see, for
certes, in that part of their body where they purge their stinking
ordure, that foul part shew they to the people proudly in despite
of honesty [decency], which honesty Jesus Christ and his friends
observed to shew in his life.

I mean, come on. This can't be serious.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen


What a delight to discover a 'new' Jane Austen novel!

Lady Susan is an epistolary novel, and Jane's first work. It's funny and naughty and about as far from Mansfield Park as I could imagine. Lady Susan, the wretchedly amoral titular corespondent, pulls everyone she meets into a chaotic whirlpool in the best and most recognizable tradition of drama queens throughout the ages. I can't believe I didn't read this earlier, and I strongly recommend it.

I listened to a free audio version performed by multiple readers from All LibriVox recordings are in the public domain - they are read by volunteers (some of them professional-quality) and available for free download. I love listening to audiobooks so I was very excited to discover it - right now I'm working my way through The Canterbury Tales, and I have several more books lined up after that.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">



A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony SnicketI love these books. I've almost finished the series - I just need to read the very last one and then I'll be done. I honestly think they are better than the Harry Potter books.I am lusting after this fantastic complete set. src="<1=_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">Zodiac, by Neal StephensonOne of his earlier works, a fun eco-thriller. src="<1=_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">Under Orders, by Dick FrancisA chocolate bon-bon of a book. Not his best work, but good enough to eat. src="<1=_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">Deathnote vol. 1 and 2A manga (Japanese comics) about a teenage student who finds a magic notebook that he can use to kill people with. Interesting concept, but a bit slow-moving. src="<1=_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">The Mislaid Magician, by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermere.I love me a good epistolary fantasy novel set in Regency England! src="<1=_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad, by Christina Henry de TessanA collection of essay about an experience close to my own. Enjoyable. src="<1=_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">For God and Country, by James YeeA pretty good book about a horrible story. Not that I'm objective about this one. src="<1=_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">1001 Nights of Snowfall, by Bill WillinghamA Fables graphic novel inspired by the stories of 1001 nights. There are some gems here, but it was surprisingly uneven. Fans of the monthly comic will want to read it for the backstory. src="<1=_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">Shanghai Diary, by Ursula BaconA book club selection about the Jewish expatriate community in Shanghai during WWII. Clumsily written, but a great story. src="<1=_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="[...]

Beloved, by Toni Morrison


I finally read Beloved, by Toni Morrison, which was da winner of the NY Times survey seeking to crown the best American novel published in the past 25 years.

I had been avoiding it for a while, like I avoid reading many great books. I procrastinate as if they are homework I don't want to complete or movies I can never see for the first time again. In January, while I was 'on vacation' from blogging, the Seattle Public Library sent me an email telling me there was a copy waiting for me on my special shelf, and it was time.

I read it, but I didn't feel I could write about it. I don't feel qualified. In fact I feel grossly inadequate. When the New York Times reviewed it, they asked Margaret Atwood. That's about right.

I am too tired to talk about pain so deep. Having written that sentence, I reread it and realize that my reaction to this book is all about me. Inevitable, perhaps, but disappointingly egoistic.

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells


The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells is one of the first science fiction books. Aliens from Mars invade suburban England riding scary tripod machines.

The scariest thing about this book is that it was written in 1898, 16 years before World War I, yet it contains realistic depictions of the use of poison gas.

I saw the Spielberg movie when it came out in 2005, and I was surprised by how closely the plot elements were drawn from the book. The red vegetation, the mad 'curate' in the cellar, and of course the final downfall of the Martians are all the same.

But what worked in 1898 for H. G. Wells didn't work in 2005 for Spielberg. The ending frustrated me. How could alien beings with the technology to cross vacuum be defeated by something as common as microorganisms?

Enter the insightful husband. When War of the Worlds was first published, he points out, germ theory was only a few years old. It was still cutting-edge science, so it seemed reasonable to people that other technologically advanced people might not know about it. Now germ theory is 100 years old so it seems obvious. The newness of computer viruses made the defeat of the aliens in Indepdence Day seem credible ten years ago. Would it be believable today?

What technology of today would be a good choice for bringing down invading aliens? Nanotech? And in twenty years it will seem run-of-the-mill.

The Prince, by Machiavelli


I first read The Prince in high school, and I was tremendously disappointed. It's a small little thing and I was expecting the secrets of the ages. Or at least something that would help me deal with the cool kids who were making my life hell.This time I decided to use my high school education to understand it better. No, not the mean-halls type of education, actual classroom instruction. That included a detailed history of Florence, where Machiavelli lived, because that was the city my high school was in.No, I'm not Italian, although I speak it fluently. My parents moved there for work and sent us kids to the International School of Florence. Sounds nice, eh?I hated it.13 years later I've gotten over the hating and realized, damn, it WAS nice. I loved Florence, though I didn't love living there.Machiavelli lived in Florence and grew to adulthood under Lorenzo Medici, who was a shrewed ruler of the city for many years until his death at a comparatively young age in 1492. Lorenzo Medici inherited the rule of Florence, after his father Piero and grandfather Cosimo. Before Cosimo, Florence had been a Republic. Lorenzo was 'Il Magnifico'. After he died, his son Piero was dubbed 'the Unfortunate' for messing everything up and getting the family temporarily kicked out of power.Machiavelli served as part of the Free Republic of Florence, and when the Medici returned to power, he was tortured and exiled. He wrote The Prince and other political works during this period of exile, but it wasn't published until after his death.The Prince refers to a surprising amount of chaos. Machiavelli is able to illustrate all of his theories with concrete contemporary examples of war, conquest, betrayal, and error. Italy didn't become a united country until the late 1800's. During Machiavelli's life, it was a boiling pot of different political parties and sovreignties. There was the Pope, who ruled large territories. There were the city-states. There were the neighboring rulers - France, Spain, etc. who had their eyes on plump prizes like Venice. And there was internal warfare as well. Florence tossed the Medici out, then they came back, then they got thrown out again, etc.The Prince is more of a classification system than a how-to manual. Machiavelli divides the types of Princes into broad categories and outlines the best ways that each must use to hold on to his possessions. He seems to think that the way the Medici came to power was pretty good, because it's not easy for a foreign conqueror to get a Republic to give up its institutions. But of course, the Medici couldn't hold on to power during his lifetime. The book is dedicated to Lorenzo di Piero di Medici, son of Piero the Unfortunate, who is mostly remembered today for the magnificent tomb Michelango carved for him and for being the father of Caterina de Medici.Why? Was he hoping to gain his favor, or was it some kind of ironic joke?My theory (tentative and amateurish) is that the dedication is not ironic, and not an attempt at flattery, but made with an honest desire that the person in charge of Florence use his powers for the benefit of the people of Florence. Florentines are intensely loyal to their city.[...]

Middlemarch, by George Eliot


Middlemarch was hefty and glorious and absorbing, the perfect book to read on vacation. Well, the perfect book for me, at least. It's not your James Patterson. It's the literary equivalent of a chocolate layer cake. Delicious, worth savoring, but maybe not the kind of thing you take on an airplane.Maxine pointed out to me that Middlemarch was a 'community read' at the Reading Middlemarch blog (which has now moved on to Tolstoy and Stendahl), and I poked around there a bit. Rachel claims that There are Dodo people and Lydgate people.Dodo, Dorothea, is a higher-class young woman with spiritual aspirations. She marries Casaubon, an older man and a scholar, hoping to expand her intellectual horizons by helping him with his work. Too late, she realizes that Casaubon is more closed than open, his work is meaningless, and he is as incapable of entering into her goals as he is of consciously realizing his own deficits.Lydgate is the tentpole of the second main plotline and Dorothea's mirror. A young doctor with great goals for reform, he is drawn into a bad marriage and political machinations that destroy him.I am neither a Dodo person or a Lydgate person. I found both of them a teeny bit annoying. Dodo in her unrepentent idealism was going to come to grief inevitably; it's only by authorial grace that she get s ahcnace at a happy ending after her husband's death. Lydgate waltzes serenely toward disaster on every front.The character who I felt the most sympathy for was Casaubon. Poor guy. He is as trapped by his character faults as all the other inhabitants of Middlemarch, but since his are intellectual and emotional he gets less sympathy and has less fun.Casaubon is my personal nightmare. This description of him rung in my head for days:He had not had much foretaste of happiness in his previous life.To know intense joy without a strong bodily frame, one must have anenthusiastic soul. Mr. Casaubon had never had a strong bodily frame,and his soul was sensitive without being enthusiastic: it was toolanguid to thrill out of self-consciousness into passionate delight;it went on fluttering in the swampy ground where it was hatched,thinking of its wings and never flying. His experience was ofthat pitiable kind which shrinks from pity, and fears most of allthat it should be known: it was that proud narrow sensitivenesswhich has not mass enough to spare for transformation into sympathy,and quivers thread-like in small currents of self-preoccupationor at best of an egoistic scrupulosity. And Mr. Casaubonhad many scruples: he was capable of a severe self-restraint;he was resolute in being a man of honor according to the code;he would be unimpeachable by any recognized opinion. In conductthese ends had been attained; but the difficulty of making his Keyto all Mythologies unimpeachable weighed like lead upon his mind;and the pamphlets--or "Parerga" as he called them--by which he testedhis public and deposited small monumental records of his march,were far from having been seen in all their significance.He suspected the Archdeacon of not having read them; he wasin painful doubt as to what was really thought of them by theleading minds of Brasenose, and bitterly convinced that his oldacquaintance Carp had been the writer of that depreciatory recensionwhich was kept locked in a small drawer of Mr. Casaubon's desk,and also in a dark closet of his verbal memory. These were heavyimpressions to struggle against, and brought that melancholyembitterment which is the consequence of all excessive claim:even his religious faith wavered with his wavering trust in hisown authorship, and the consolations of the Christian hope inimmortality seemed to lean on the immortality of the still unwrittenKey to all Mythologies. For my part I am very sorry for him.It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught andyet not to enjoy: to be presen[...]



Given that I can't read five books a week any more, I've decided to refocus the blog on reading the classic works that I originally got into this for. Hence the new title. New year, new business, new blog name. I'm on a roll.

Books I read while on vacation


Here are some of the books I've read over the past two months.Beguilement: The Sharing Knife, by Lois McMaster BujoldThis was a bit disappointing - only because I have such high expectations for Bujold's work. It was fun, but lighweight. I will read the sequels.Outwitting History, by Aaron LanskyThe story of the founding of the National Yiddish Book Center. This was a book club selection, and everyone loved it! That never happens! Lansky took a dry story and made it funny and charming. Very good.The Three Sisters, by Rebecca LocksleyAnother lightweight fantasy, marred by typographical errors.What Came Before He Shot Her, by Elizabeth GeorgeThis is a sequel, or prequel, to the frustrating With No One As Witness. Unfortunately, reading it was a complete waste of time. The plot converges with 'Witness' only at the end of the book. What Came is the story of the disintegration of a lower-class family, dis-spiriting and, what's worse, uninteresting. This can safely be skipped.A Conspiracy of Paper, by David LissAnother book club selection. A seventeenth-century detective story featuring a Jewish boxer. I loved it.The Great Influenza, by John M. BarryA riveting non-fiction account of the Infuenza epidemic. Very well-done.The Machine's Child, by Kage BakerKage Baker returns to the best time travel series ever, The Company, and this time, she advances the plot. Yay! I thought she had lost her way in The Children of the Company. The Machine's Child made up for it. The narrative was sometimes overly complex, but there is plenty of (ehem) internal drama. Very enjoyable. Guests of the Ayatollah, by Mark BowdenVery good non-fiction account of the Iran hostage crisis. Fragile Things, by Neil GaimanSo good it made me want to cry. From envy.The Areas of my Expertise, by John HodgmanHilarious. I almost bought it for myself, because it's one of those books that I want to keep and leaf through every other day or so. Instead I bought it for someone else as a gift.The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge, by Vernor VingeVinge is a very imaginative author. I've loved his novel-length works. These stories were not always as ground-breaking, but there are enough gems to make it worthwhile.[...]

breaking radio silence


I'm still here.

I'm just trying to figure out what to do.

I realized in November that my reading habits had become negative. I was arranging my life around reading five books a week, and I didn't have time to enjoy them thoroughly or think about them thoroughly when writing a review.

Reading was becoming a chore. And I was putting off reading the classics that I wanted to read because they were too long and would mess up my schedule.

This is not consistent with my goals. Since I will be starting a new business, I will have less free time to read anyhow.

I don't think I will keep on reviewing a book every weekday. That means I need a new blog name. And raison d'etre.

I'll think fo one shortly. Meanwhile, I am reading Middlemarch and enjoying it very much.

Blue Hair


A celebration.




Book of the Day will be on hiatus for the month of November for National Novel Writing Month.

And in completely unrelated news.

Recently I have not been averaging a post a day. I have had some personal and professional stresses eating up my time.

Well, on the last day of October (Happy Halloween!) I quit my job. I'm going to take a short vacation and then start my own lecture agency. Wish me luck! I'm very excited.

I hope I will continue to have time to devote to reading. If it becomes a problem, I'll evaluate my time management and make a decision. But as of this moment I intend to get going again at the beginning of December.

Books I read but didn't blog this week


The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran.

I can see why this became a cult classic in the sixties. It was like drinking a glass of cool water.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

The Anti-Death League, by Kingsley Amis

This goes into the Catch-22 category of desperately funny and sad at the same time.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich

New verse, same as the first.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Reading Journal Entry: Diary of Lady Murasaki


Lady Murasaki is the author of one of the Great Books on my list, the Tale of Genji, which is one of the earliest works of Japanese literature, as well as one of the earliest novels in all of global literature.

I haven't gotten to the Tale of Genji yet, but I hear that Genji is a handsome and naughty boy who gets up to lots of amorous escapades.

Murakasi Shikibo lived around the turn of the first millenium, one of the court ladies attendant on the Empress in Kyoto. This 'diary' seems to be a combination of personal recollections and letters edited together at a later date. It records several significant events in court life, beginning with the birth of the Empress's first son and including several elaborate and involved religious ceremonies.

Personal reflections and observations of extreme delicacy make this a surprising record. There is subtlety here. It's a fascinating window onto a world that seems very alien. I was very glad to have the introductory historical materials. It's amazing that people were living like this in Japan while Europeans hadn't even started building cathedrals yet.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Deep thoughts


That's what I've been having.

I misjudged my reading schedule this week because I expected Magic for Beginners to be a quick read, because it's short stories.

I was wrong, it's very complex. I'm still collecting my thoughts.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Thoughts collected. Thanks Richard. I agree with some of the comments in your review. 'The Faery Handbag' was the most traditional inclusion and possibly the most enjoyable (although not necessarily the best). Other entries were more or less, well, difficult. I liked 'Some Zombie Contingency Plans' very much. But man, this stuff is hard. Post-modern isn't the word.

One of the characters requests a story in 'Lull' that should be 'about good and evil and true love, and it should also be funny. No talking animals. Not too much fooling around with the narrative structure. The ending should be happy but still realistic, believable, you know, and there shouldn't be a moral although we should be able to think back later and have some sort of revelation."

I couldn't tell if it was excess trust in the readership or a desire for obscurity that pushes her away from this goal.

Reading Journal Entry: Finding Home by Jill Culiner


The title is Finding Home: Following in the footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, by Jill Culiner. The Fusgeyers are brave Romanian Jews who walked across Europe atthe turnd of the nineteenth century in order to emigrate to the US and other locations. Their story is interesting.

Jill Culiner is a stuck-up Canadian pseudo-historian who walks across Romania sneering at the tourists, the buildings, and the locals. Her story is not interesting.

Skip this and find a real history book instead.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Reading Journal Entry: A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer


Wen Spencer's Tinker and Wolf Who Rules were pretty good as self-indulgent mind candy goes. I decided to check out the rest of her oevre.

A Brother's Price is alternate history that plays with gender roles. We've got late 17th century levels and men are far and few between. It's never made quite clear.

Men are scarce and family structure has changed to reflect the fact that one man can sire children on multiple women. Sisters live together and share a husband; sons are traded for a husband for the next generation or sold to other families.

Men are so valuable they are often stolen and must be protected, rarely appearing in public and always guarded. Women fulfill all of the public roles in society, and raising babies and cooking is considered 'men's work'.

Jerin is the oldest son in a large family of landed gentry about to come of age and afraid of being traded to the hickseed girls next door. He's a sweet guy, loves kids, cooks well, and was taught expert sexual techniques handed down by his grandfather the kidnapped prince (even though he's still a virgin). He's breathtakingly beautiful. Luckily for Jerin, his family is pulled into involvement with the Royal Family (and my, it is a whole family of women sharing power) and the Eldest Princess just happens to develop a huge crush on him after he lets her touch his naughty bits in the farmhouse kitchen.

Spencer is able to even build in a 'virginity' clause for men by including a rabid fear of disease.

While this is well-constructed to foreshadow plot points and explore some of the male-female issues, there are times when it seems a little mechanical. I got the feeling Spencer had a checklist about sexual stereotypes and was checking off items as she went along. 'Men have long hair - check. Jerin is described as beautiful instead of handsome - check. Female whores with dildos - check.' Etc.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Reading Journal Entry: The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss


Neil Strauss goes from AFC(Average Frustrated Chump) to PUA (Pickup Artist) able to pick up the hottest girls in any location, and joins a weird community of manipulative sex-crazed males. This is his story.

I assummed this was one big piece of fiction. Not that I disbelieved the pickup techniques Strauss describes. I just didn't believe in the characters and drama he creates around the set piece that becomes known as 'Project Hollywood'. I didn't believe Mystery, Papa, Herbal, or even in Style (his own moniker). I didn't particularly believe in any of the women he describes or that he actually interviewed Courtney Love, Britney Spears, or Tom Cruise.

I was wrong. I can't think that The Times of London would publish an interview backing up multiple aspects of the story unless it were true.

It's true.

It's awful.

Strauss is a geek who can't get laid. He apprentices himself to the master PUA (encountered online, of course) and learns how to pick up women. They refine their techniques and get better and better. They recruit more disciples, charging for workshops and running seminars in the wild at clubs and bars. They create 'Project Hollywood' a house in LA that they share with other PUAs with the goal of reversing the equation and getting attractive women to come to them.

Drama and chaos ensues, as it so often does in internet-related groups. Strauss allegedly realizes the emptiness of this life and hooks up with an alpha female (who dumped him about six months after the book ends according to wikipedia) and moves out of the house. End of story.

Morality: Strauss defends his chosen path quite vigorously several times. It's about bringing people together. Women want sex just as much as men, they just don't like to admit it as much. Turning other men into PUAs helps their self-esteem and gives them the opportunity to have relationships they otherwise might never have.

I'm a pretty judgmental gal. I have some guidelines I use when I need to decide if something is moral or not. Here's the first one: does it require lying? Answer: yes. Almost all the techniques and lines are flat out lies.

Strauss lies to women in order to manipulate them into having sex with them. And then he teaches other people how to do this. It's not just one lie. Everything is a lie. The PUAS construct entire personas and entire conversations ahead of time until Strauss admits they become 'social robots' reciting preprogrammed dialogue.

That's not a genuine connection. That's not a relationship. It's Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

It's scary and unhealthy and frankly a bit disgusting.

I can only hope that guys who pick this up looking for a how-to manual instead of memoir read through to the end and the spectacular crash and burn.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width: 120px; height: 240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

Great Book: Has Man a Future? by Bertrand Russell


An examination of the consequences of the development of nuclear weapons, by Bertrand Russell.

I don't have memories of the Cold War. I was alive, sure, but I was just a kid, and by the time I started paying attention to politics the fear was moderated. I don't remember experiencing anything like the peril and fear that Russell conveys about the international situation in the decades immediately following World War II.

One thing struck me the most about this treatise, and that's were Russell's criteria for success. The ways that humanity might manage to destroy itself in a nuclear holocause are not so interesting or varied. Russell's condition for permanently aavoiding such destruction were novel. He posits a world government, federal in nature, which would take control of all military power monolithically. Freedom of speech would be curtailed to reduce nationalistic sentiment and avoid uprisings. Can't have people praising military leaders or talking about how great their country is.

Other than that little weirdness, it all seemed quite reasonable (if hair-raisingly scary). It's amazing that we survived, really.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Reading Journal Entry:A Woman's Liberation, edited by Connie Willis and Sheila Williams


An anthology of female-themed science fiction stories. This collection includes several wonderful classics. Connie Willis' 'Even the Queen' won the Hugo and Nebula Awards. "Rachel in Love' by Pat Murphy won the Nebula. McIntyre's 'Of Mist, and Gress, and Sand' won the Nebula. 'Speech Sounds' won Octavia Butler her first Hugo Award and reads surprisingly modern for something first published in 1983.

Most entries will be familiar to the well-read genre fan, but this would make a great gift for the new reader or even for your generic hippie female.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Great Book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker


Summer is now truly over. I'm back to reading Great Books.

So I decided to read Alice Walker's The Color Purple because I read her daughter's book Black ,White, and Jewish.

All this time I thought The Color Purple would be a bad book because it was made into a movie with Oprah Winfrey in it. How stupid! It's wonderful.

It's an epistolary novel, beginning with letters from Celie, a young black woman in pre WWII Georgia, to God, asking Him to explain what is happening to her and help her.

And what letters. Celie is raped by her father, who takes the two children that she bears away from her. Her mother dies and she is left to protect her younger sister alone. That's the first three pages.

Her father gives her in marriage to a man who needs a wife to care for his children, who despises her and abuses her. She loses her younger sister Nettie. Celie almost succeeds in rubbing herself out completely. But then her husband brings his sick lover into their home. Shug Avery is a singer with a long black body. She knows who she is and what she wants. She changes Celie's life.

Walker conveys the drudgery and poverty of farm life that James Agee described in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, but adds the emotion and drama of an entire beautiful life, Celie's life from the beginning to the end of adulthood.

The dialect could have seemed trite, but it doesn't. Celie is real as pain can be on a page. I wanted to cry when she finally got her first little bit of happiness.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Darfur Diaries


You should all buy this book. It is a project very close to my heart. It's an important story, and it deserves to become an international bestseller.

I only wish it hadn't had to be written.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Back to Business


Work had me swamped and exhausted this week. Plus I've been dealing with some mildly inconvenient health problems. I've been reading, not haven't found time to review.

Here's what I read this week:

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Irresistible Forces, edited by Catherine Asaro
A short story collection of spec fic/romance with some big name contributors. This will mainly be of interest to Bujold fans interested in 'Winterfair Gifts', a short set of Barrayar during preparations for a wedding featuring a romance between minor characters from her Vorkosigan saga. The concluding story, Jennifer Roberson's 'Shadows in the Wood' was also decent, but the three middle entries left me cold.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Foundation's Friends, edited by Martin H. Greenberg
Stories in honor of Isaac Asimov, written by stars in the field: Bradbury, Bova, Silverberg, Turtledove, Willis, Resnick, etc ., etc. There were a lot of gems in this collection, and a wide variety among the stories - appropriate given Asimov's prolific output. There was a nod to all of my favorite Asimov works, even some rather obscure ones. Very much worth reading.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Inside Job, by Connie Willis
This is a novella rather than a novel, but I'll take it. I don't know how Willis did it, but she managed to write a paranormal fantasy that is sure to become a beloved classic among skeptics and rationalists everywhere. What happens when the editor of a skeptical magazine encounters the returning spirit of H. L. Mencken? Willis treats her characters with love and respect that just shines through the page.

src="<1=_blank&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
Husband has started to read A Game of Thrones for the second or third time - he keeps giving up 150 pages in. Meanwhile I picked this earlier work up at the library. It's about vampires and steamboats, not a combination I would have thought of myself. Martin does a wonderful job of evoking the richness and complexity of life on the Mississippi, which makes this worth reading even though it does fall apart a bit at the end. Warty Captain Abner is a wonderful creation. Good for fans suffering withdrawal from Ice and Fire and fans of Twain's river tales.

Reading Journal Entry: Dark Mondays by Kage Baker


Today's Yom Kippur, so I was going to only do four reviews this week. But I forgot to post one on Friday so, it all evens outs anyhow.

The last read of the week is a short story collection, Dark Mondays: Stories by Kage Baker. Kage Baker is one of my favorite authors. The time travel Company series is her best-known work, but she's also a wonderful short story writer. Mother Aegypt collected some of her earlier work, including some Company stories. Dark Mondays collects nine stories and doesn't contain any sops for the Company fanatics who are so eagerly awaiting the next installment (in my case, eagerly awaiting the right place in the hold queue at the local library). That doesn't make it less fun, though. Baker has a wonderful trick of making the fantastic seem believable and historical fiction come alive. The standout is the last story in the volume, The Maid on the Shore, which is a rolicking adventure story set in Jamacia featuring pirate and privateer Captain Henry Morgan.