Friday, 23 December 2011

#77 and #78

I decided it is coming close to the new year and I am so far away from 100 that I will shoot for 80.  My reading has been tragically slack these last 3 months.  I account this to playing video games and watching TV.  Though now I have stopped watching TV, I am still playing video games, which I will probably stop shortly.

My latest entries are two plays, both from the book titled, Jacobean Sex Tragedies.  Who can see that title and at least not take a look inside?

#77 First up is the second play I've read by Thomas Middleton, and by no means the last as I am finding in him a skilled craftsmen comparable to Shakespeare in language, but not quite in dramatic construction.  In his "The Maiden's Tragedy" the focus is on the good woman who kills herself rather than be a forced wife to the Tyrant (actual name in the play).  Of course in all renaissance drama there must be a foil.  And her name is the Wife, and she sleeps around and is tricked into killing her paramour.  There are so many foils in this play it almost feels like two different plays, with real world characters and bizarro world characters.

I do love when a play goes into the weird and unexpected, which this play almost certainly does.  Just after the good woman kills herself the king takes her body back to his quarters and starts the first instance of necrophilia I have read about from Renaissance drama.  As if necrophilia was not enough, the lady's ghost visits her true love and lets him know that her body is currently being defiled.  So of course he must now kill the king for sleeping with the corpse of his love.  And in the process the bad Wife accidentally kills her lover, then her husband comes home and kills the servant, then his wife, and then the servant's lover.  It is a bloodbath at the end.  I must say that I quite liked this play.

#78  This play I chose because the name was so similar to the first one.  The Maid's Tragedy, by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher is about a woman that is sleeping with the king and then is married to another who she refuses to sleep with because of a tryst she made with the king.  And of course complications arise, foils are set, and tragedy ensues.  This play is not as well made as the first one.  Some of the action is unbelievable, the characters at times are flat, and some scenes just do not make sense.  For example one female is dressed as a man and there is no explanation whatsoever for this wardrobe change??!!!!!  People die and the play ends.  I guess this play was more for the masses than a regular Shakespeare play would have been.  You can tell this was a crowd pleaser with constant sexual innuendo and on stage antics that somehow did not go with the tone of the play.  It wanted to be comedy and tragedy and ended up being farce.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

#76 King John

W. L. Warren, 259 pages.

This is an amazing biography, even though it was written decades ago.  I just watched Ironclad, which is what happens in the latter half of 2015, just months after signing the Magna Carta of June 15.  The movie portrayed John as an evil ruler willing to kill anyone who disagreed with him, or just for malicious fun, which isn't what John was about.  I think Warren summed him up perfectly in the last sentence of the book.  "He had the mind to be an intelligent king, but the inclinations of a fickle tyrant."  No monarch had kept better records of the going on of the kingdom before him, he is the start of comprehensive records in England, making him a favorite start of English history.  Granted, he was a terrible king, but his portrayal seems to be over the top bad in movies like Ironclad, Robin Hood, and Men in Tights.  I look forward to reading Shakespeare's portrayal of John when I get back to Yellowstone in 10 days.

#75 Bees, Ants and Wasps

Eric Grissell, 254 pages.

My latest reading of the amazing order Hymenoptera.  This book had a broader scope of the order which showed the life cycles of predatory wasps, which is something I really haven't read much about before.  One of the more disgusting things wasps do is lay eggs on living caterpillars, then egg hatches into a larva which enters the caterpillar and proceeds to eat the caterpillar from the inside while the caterpillar is alive and eating as normal.  Eventually the caterpillar dies because too many vital organs had been eating and the larva pupates and sometimes overwinters in the carcass and emerges in the spring as an adult.  This is just one of the ways wasps reproduce.  Another is they dig a hole in the ground and then fill it with dead spiders or butterflies and then lays an egg on top, and then close the hole.  The larva hatches and eats its way through the proffered food and then pupates.  The life of a wasp is shockingly cruel, and makes me recollect the classic film Alien.  There were other good stuff in this book which is really an argument for sparing wasps ants and bees as being essential to a healthy garden.  After all caterpillars, though they metamorphose into beautiful butterflies, damage many plants and even kill some plants during their voracious feeding frenzy, and wasps are an excellent pest control for these beautiful ravagers.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

#74 The Lais of Marie de France

A collection of 12 short stories that seem derived from Breton folklore.  She beat the Grimm's Brothers by 700 years in gathering fairy tales.  The tales were sometimes well constructed and other times they had no real ending.  Written in the early 1200s these stories had elements of postmodernism.  One story was written by the protagonist writing about the protagonist.  It doesn't really look that cool when written down, I guess it was something a person had to be there.

This was my second time reading this, and I imagine it would be a good source for investigating allegories, but I'm on vacation.  Maybe some other time.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

#73 The Walking Dead Volume 7

One of my all-time favorite comic series, and I finished reading it for another year.  Looks like I will have to wait another 12 months to see what happens next.  I really wish I could savor this series more, but once I get the volume in my hands I devour it.  At least I have the TV show to give me a slightly different take on the series.  I would really love to see on the screen what I just read, but will probably have to wait another six seasons.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

#72 The Wyrd Sisters

265 pages.

It has been a long while since my last post.  October has been a terrible month for reading.  Not that the opportunities were missing, I had all the time to read.  Rather, I just played games and watched TV.  I'm hoping November proves a better month.  But I am starting to fear that I will not reach 100, but will at least reach 80, maybe even 90.

Anyways...Another fine book by Pratchett that is a cross between Hamlet, Macbeth, and every other Shakespeare play and their conventions.  I wouldn't say it was a parody, and parody has taken on such terrible association as Date Movie, Scary Movie 3 and 5, and Disaster Movie, which shamelessly call themselves parody or even (gasp) satire.  Pratchett weaves a nice story where the characters manage to be loveable and also eschew dramatical conventions.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

#71 The immoralist

171 pages.

So this is the last book I read for the Yellowstone summer, a short, almost novelette, book.  This is only the second book I have read by Andre Gide, and this is slightly better that Straight is the Gate.  Having said that, I found the book slightly scintillating and mostly boring.  The main character was strange and acted sometimes in a way I would act, but at other times his behavior was foreign to me, so relating to the protagonist was difficult.  And to be honest I found the narrator/protagonist annoying.  One thing I will say is that the translation was very good, and this may owe something to Gide's way of writing fluid sentences.  Not once did a sentence feel out of place, or was any word jarring.  Other than that I look at this book as some fluff at the end of the season.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Books read at Yellowstone - 2011

So here are the books I read this summer.  April 28-October 10 2011.  Not pictured: Chaucer and Shakespeare.  The majority of the books were read on the job, actually probably around 85% were read on the the job.  It would appear that I was intellectually lazy off the clock.  I didn't read nearly as many as I wanted to, but this is definitely more than I managed to read in the last two years.

I'm hoping the three months in the winter are more productive.  I plan on reading more Renaissance plays and I'm going to get to Faulkner, which I never got around to this summer to my regret.  Also, I plan on reading at least one Oregon writer a month in the winter: Kesey, Paluhniak, Le Guinn, and maybe Raymond Carver.

#70 The River Why

310 pages, by David James Duncan

I've read about 40 or so books this summer and I can easily say that this one is in the top 3, but undecided among them.  The other two contenders this summer are Mind of a Raven and Holy Wars.

What makes this book so good is the humor, which was quite good at times, and the amazing prose of Duncan.  Few wcontemporary writers can compare to the ease of his writing, and so fluid.  The themes in this novel are easily understood and appreciated.  The character of Gus Orviston is easy to sympathize with, and makes for a rather funny narrator.

And another reason this is an amazing book is the author is one of those rare breeds, an Oregonian.  The novel is set in Oregon, and many of the place names are real, and the made up Tamanawis River feels real.  Maybe I liked this because it was set in Oregon, and not too far from where I lived and the characters that people the book seem very Oregonian.

Maybe I should do the Oregonian challenge and read 5 books a year by an Oregonian native or transplant.  At least this way I will have an excuse to move One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to the top of my list.

#69 The Dancing Plague

231 pages.

A strange case of a plague (mental) disturbing Strasbourg in 1518.  This was an easy read and fun too, if strange suffering and compelling dance can be fun.

Life sucked for the peasants in 1518.  They were being oppressed on all sides and the only comfort they could have was through the occasional revel.  And then St. Vitus, the dancing saint, was introduced to Strasbourg.  And his saint-cult was the suggestion that started the dancing plague, which was an uncontrollable urge to dance until either the person died, and hundreds died, or the person eventually recovered.

Disgusting details:  The dancers would dance until their feet were bloody and then would continue to dance.  Many dancers, because they could not stop, relieved themselves while dancing.  So they were covered in urine and feces and kept going.  Apparently many of the dancers would scream out in agony as they danced, and yet could not stop.  Others would tear leg muscles and still keep dancing.  This is a terrible affliction, and the writer concludes that it was a mental condition created through extreme stress and unhappiness.

I enjoyed reading about something I had no idea even existed.

#68 The Atheist's Tragedy

This is the final play in my short anthology of Renaissance Revenge Tragedies, and it wasn't the best, nor was it the worst.  The play was written by Cyril Tourneur, whom I have not heard of before reading this play.  I was hoping for a gruesome revenge play where death was everywhere reaping various criminals, but I was sorely displeased.  There was some death, and the most notable is of course to the atheist who does himself in by striking an axe into his own skull.  And with this axe in his skull he confesses all of his crimes as his brains oozed out, at least I imagined the brains oozing out.  The lack of detail allowed my mind to embellish the death.

Other than that this play seemed more of a play about lust than revenge/greed, and the lust in the play seemed out of place.  Like it wasn't part of the original idea but thrown in to complicate matters and bring about some death.  For a revenge play, or even any play this one did not fit the normal structure of straight revenge but had digressions and other themes going on.  The play's structure seemed original to me, but that may mean the writer was disorganized, because the originality did not make the play an better, just more surprising.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

#67 Jimmy Corrigan: The World's Smartest Kid

380 pages, by Chris Ware

I have no idea what to make of this extremely complex graphic novel.  It has elements of postmodernism, stream of consciousness, and sometimes just unexplainable events.  At first I had a troubling time reading this book, but after a couple of hours I began to get the hang of it.

There were moments of pure humor, and other times (most of the time) the book was depressing.  The main protagonist is Jimmy Corrigan, a 37 year old who has no friends, no prospects for romance, overweight, homely, and is socially uncomfortable.  I hesitate to even refer to him as a protagonist as the story happens to him while he remains passive to the world around him.  Another parallel story is of his grandfather who suffered under a terrible father.  If there was one main theme in the book it would be issues concerning fathers, as the two fathers were both negligent and for the most part missing.  The story is about an awkward reconnection with a missing father that ends in the father's death through an automobile accident on Thanksgiving.  But from what I understand this book is partly autobiographical.

Monday, 26 September 2011

#66 John Muir: The YNP

This is the first time I have read John Muir, and this is a short book, or a long essay on Yellowstone National Park.  Though the book is a short one, 64 pages, there is much in here that makes it an object of interest to any Yellowstone denizen, such as myself.  Written in 1901, much has changed in the park and much is still the same, and it is these differences which really makes this a worthwhile read.

This short book is thematically divided into three parts, even if the editors kept it as one long whole.  The first part is written as a prosaic idyll in the style of Theokritos, or one of the more picturesque of Virgil's Eclogues.  He wastes no time with his material, and begins his description starting with his second sentence, "[Yellowstone] is a big, wholesome wilderness on the broad summit of the Rocky Mountains, favored with abundance of rain and snow, -a place of fountains where the greatest of the American rivers take their rise" (3).  Now imagine reading sentences of similar tone for a further 20 pages, and that is the first part of the book.  Occasionally he will include a bit of tension by invoking enemies of his eden, "In pleasing contrast to  the noisy, ever changing management, or mismanagement, of blundering, plundering, money-making vote-sellers who receive their places from boss politicians as purchased goods, the soldiers do their duty so quietly that the traveler is scarce aware of their presence" (9).  Themes like this appear randomly in the book, and it seems that Muir was sensitive to any threat to what he felt should be wilderness.  At times he laments the destruction in adjacent areas (9) and sometimes the ignorant tourist.

The second part of the book focuses more on the geologic and thermal features the park has to offer.  This is more of a catalogue that describes wonders and beauty with a limited language that can only approximate the beauty.  There is one part of this section that I did find of peculiar interest, and that was questions that tourists asked in 1901.  "Where is the umbrella? What is the name of that blue flower over there? Are you sure the little bag is aboard?  Is that hollow yonder a crater?  How is your throat this morning?  How high did you say the geysers spout?  How does the elevation affect your head?" (30).  These are a nice collection of questions, some of which I've heard and others, not so much.  I mainly hear, where is a good place to see animals?  What time does the sunrise?  Do you have air conditioning, wifi, complimentary coffee, and where can I park?

At one point there is a digression on rattlesnakes and 'civilized' man's fear and hatred of them.  Muir makes a plaintive and pitiful plea to do no harm to these creatures.  He cites a common question often directed at the most noisome of pests, "What are rattlesnakes good for?" (37).  His rejoinder is, "As if nothing that does not obviously make for the benefit of man had any right to exist" (37).  His case is lacking in any scientific points, but strictly moral.  Had the question been asked today to a knowledgeable person the answer would involve the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and the rattlesnakes small part to play.  I am unsure of the snakes role on the ecosystem, but removing it could have unforeseen results.

The third part of the book is more of a written tour guide as well as offering some historical anecdotes of the area.  This book, though never explicitly stated, is a voice for the wilderness trying desperately to make a case for preservation and enjoyment.  The reserve of this land for the people is an argument that has to be continually made, and Muir is doing his best to appeal to the pastoral side of his readers by invoking a place of simple soulful beauty.

Friday, 23 September 2011

#65 How the Irish Saved Civilization

218 pages.

I was recommended this book by James Hallman, the same James Hallman that did not visit me in Yellowstone.

Anyways when he mentioned the book numerous jokes swelled in my mind.  "That must be a short book."  "Is it science-fiction?"  But to my pleasant surprise it was a pleasing book on history and mostly early Irish culture and how it came about to evangelize Europe in the Dark Ages.  I kind of ruined the mystery of the book, but they saved civilization by reintroducing ancient literature and Christianity to Europe.  Many of the early monasteries were the direct result of a group of Irish monks going abroad.

The title of the book has a light case of hyperbole.  How would we be different if not for the Irish?  That is something hard to tell.  Questions like that are never posed by Thomas Cahill, instead he goes about gently elucidating certain cultural traits of the Irish that made them Europe's great redeemers.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

#64 The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois

I purchased a collection of Renaissance "Revenge Tragedies" with such notable writers as Thomas Kyd and George Chapman.  Of them, I was most eager to read George Chapman, whom is famous for translating Homer, commonly referred to as Chapman's Homer.  I was excited to see how Chapman was as a playwright, and I was dismally disappointed.  His play was the worst play I have ever read, and that list includes: The Skin of Our Teeth (Wilder), Pericles: The Prince of Tyre (Shakespeare), Oedipus (Seneca's version), and the novelization of The Phantom Menace.

I will begin with the language.  Chapman cannot write a realistic dialogue, I fear he has read too many Greek dramas.  The protagonist moralizes on everything and is constantly referencing Greeks for no reason at all.  Should I also mention that the diction was confusing, and the reader/audience has to strain to understand what the characters are talking about as their sentiments are obfuscated with unnecessary erudition.  This play is like watching a treatise by Aristotle acted onstage -- this would be both unwatchable and completely terrible.

I have a hard time criticizing the rest of the play as I found my mind drifting for too much while reading to play.  So as the the majority of the action of the play I have no idea what was happening.  I must repeat, this was the most atrociously written play I have ever read.  Chapman has failed to make a single lyrical passage in the entire play, his language was clumsy and forced.  It took me almost a week to finish this play, and I feel none the better for having reached the end of it.  I have one more play in the book of revenge tragedies and I can say confidently that it will be at least readable.

#63 The Hairy Ape

This is the fourth play by Eugene O'Neill, and I think the best I've read of him this summer.  It may be that nothing happy or optimistic happens in this play.  This play, more than the others I read, address the class system in America with the proletariat losing in a frustrated battle where the wealthy will not even take to the battlefield.  This is a short play where the frustration of the "hairy ape" climaxes near the end in an impotent rage that lands him in jail, where he is further ridiculed by the other inmates.  The ending is surreal in that the "hairy ape" meats a gorilla which crushes him and leaves him for dead.  Maybe I liked it because I can see its relevance today.  It was written in 1922, when class disparity was reaching an all-time high, and the play was an echo of the trials of millions of workers in America under an apparent plutocracy.  I'm not sure much has changed since then.

Monday, 19 September 2011

#62 Warriors of God

383 pages.

I'm reading a lot of history now.  Mainly medieval, and this is my latest and probably greatest discovery this summer.  I have to admit that my understanding of the Crusades before this summer was extremely poor.  I was under the delusion that I knew more about the Crusades than I really did, after all I did read Tasso's, Jerusalemme, but apparently epic poems on history rarely relate to facts.  Four weeks ago if you were to ask me about Saladin I could maybe say he was a part of the Crusades and that may have been it.  My lack of knowledge is embarrassing.  As I am going through the Crusades I am finding certain "pilgrimages" that contain more human drama than others, and the Third Crusade is probably one of the best dramas, if I can be so terrible as to suggest one of histories tragic events as entertaining.  The characters in this tragedy are Richard III and Saladin.  Each of them has qualities that are worth praising.  Saladin I feel has many more virtues than the warlike Richard, mainly because I feel more akin to Saladin than the intrusive Crusaders.  The struggle between the two knights is a worthwhile read, especially as James Reston does all he can to create tension, and to create a 'novellistic' narrative that reads in the penumbra between history, analysis, and novels.

Next up for history is either the Life of St. Louis or King John.

Friday, 16 September 2011

#61 Journey to the Ants

224 pages.

This is just my second book on Formica (ants) but my third on the order of Hymenoptera this summer.  I'm starting to get the feeling that Hymenoptera is the most fascinating order in the animal kingdom.  It is made all the more so by the writing of Holldobler and especially E. O. Wilson, whom I will definitely be reading more of in the future.  I'm looking forward to Sociobiology, which will be read in the winter.

Here are some fascinating facts about ants.

*One queen ant lived 29 years in a laboratory.
*In the northern latitudes ants that build mounds make the south facing slope more gradual so as to receive more sunlight.  This is also an easy way to determine which way is south in a country like Finland.
*Ants were the first agriculturalists, beating humans by around 60 million years.
*Males do no work, and their only function is to reproduce and then die.
*If you put oleac acid on a living ant the other ants will think it is dead and so throw it from the colony like trash.  If the ant doesn't clean itself enough it will get thrown out again until it is clean of the smell.
*Ants communicate mainly by pheromones, and they have a variety of different pheromones to communicate different messages, such as where food is, that the queen is still alive, and where an enemy is.  There is one pheromone which the authors called a Propaganda pheromone that gets the army excited and energized before a battle.
*Some ants rely on aphids for nourishment by eating their excrement which is sweet water.  They transport and protect the aphids like cattle.

These are some the interesting little things about ants that I gathered from this book, and this is not an exhaustive list.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

#60 Empire of the Beetle

202 pages, by Andrew Nikiforuk

       I happened upon this book in my last saunter around a Barnes and Noble.  The subject was intriguing, so I purchased it without prior knowledge of the book or having read one review.  It was about the Mountain Pine Beetles that are decimating spruce, lodgepole pines, and whitebark pines all over western North America.  This must have been the first printing, as at times the grammar was awkward, and sentence fragments appeared here and there.  For example, here is one of my favorite fragments: For some species, that includes keeping the gallery free of frass, chewed-up wood mixed with beetle shit (35).  Other places articles were missing.  At one point information was wrong, such as "the Great Yellowstone Fire of 1994" (114), which was actually in 1988.  And most grievous of all were the terrible similes throughout the book that were like a group of fatties converging on free ice cream.  The similes never stopped.  One must wonder how long the vacation was for the editor to allow such an egregious crime against literature to happen.

Despite the poor presentation, the substance of the book was quite good.  The little Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) has been destroying trees on an epic scale since the 70s, starting in Kenai, Alaska and then moving to BC, Cananda.  What I did not know is that the beetle uses certain fungi to accomplish this task.  It holds these fungi in its mouth and when the swarm finds an acceptable pine tree it uses the fungi to break down the phloem in the tree and then eats a nice little path underneath the bark.  It takes about 600 MPBs to kill one tree by effectively eating around the whole phloem and girdling the tree.

Climate change is suspected of aiding this tiny beetle (the size of a grain of rice) in becoming more voracious.  Normally there would be one mating a year, but with higher temperatures and longer seasons the MPB can mate twice a year creating bigger swarms more often.  These swarms descend on a lodgepole forest and kill everything.  Normally they act as nature's method of thinning the forest by eating mature trees whose defenses are not as robust as younger trees, but recently the MPB has been known to kill young trees as well.  This is scary as no tree is safe.  Canada and the US have tried to stop these beetles repeatedly but nothing they've done has worked, including letting logging industries come in and clear cut huge swathes of land.  The message in the book is to allow the beetle to come through and renew the forest, as this is a natural part of the forest cycle.  The main reason it is so bad now is because of fire suppression has created an unnatural old forest growth throughout the northwest area.

Yeah it is aggravating watching a beautiful whitebark pine forest getting eaten, but it will be back in another 200 years for future generations to enjoy.  This is just part of the natural cycle.

Monday, 12 September 2011

#59 In the Wake of the Plague

220 pages.  By Norman F. Cantor

So I see this Cantor name all over the medieval history section all of the time and I finally decided to buy one of his books.  I didn't wholly regret it because I did get it 35% off at the closing Borders in Billings, but it wasn't a great book.  I was expecting a book about the Black Death, but I believe the title was misleading.  It was more of a buffet of different aspects of medieval life, with no clear thesis.

He jumped from topic to topic, sometimes without warning.  I felt this book was a collection of random lectures he gave on a set of different topics.  Another troubling aspect of the book was that there were no footnotes or reference notes.  How can you read this as a book of scholarship without these certain notes.  The answer it is not a book of scholarship.  This is just another entry into the genre of popular history for those who only want to hear about some interesting things that went on back then.  I feel at this point in my learning I have progressed beyond popular history and need to read more serious fare.  Sorry Norman F. Cantor, I gave you a shot, and I can only assume your middle initial stands for FAIL.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

#58 Anna Christie

This is a four act play by Eugene O'Neill about the reformed prostitute Anna Christie.  Reading this play I started to see Anna as a strong female character that would take no crap from any man.  She seemed independent and an able person to make something strong of herself after her life as a sex object.  She was no longer going to be some pleasure object for men, and she wouldn't do what a man wanted unless she too wanted the same for herself.  And I felt that she especially wouldn't let a man control her and change her...that is until the end.  O'Neill had one of those unpredictable endings, and not in a good way.  Here is part of the exchange between Mat Burke, the man Anna loves, and Anna.

Burke: For I've a power of strength in me to lead me the way I want, and women too, maybe,  and I'm thinking I'd change you to a new woman entirely, so I'd never know,  or you either, what kind of woman you'd been in the past at all.

Anna: Yes, you could Mat! I know you could!

Burke: And II'm thinking 'twasn't your fault, maybe, but having that old ape for a father that left you to grow up alone, made you what you was.  And if I could be believing 'tis only me you-

Anna: You got to believe it, Mat!  What can I do?  I'll do anything, anything to want to prove I'm not lying!

Well so much for a strong female, this play was obviously written by a male for males.  And apparently the Pullitzer committee also thought it was a good play.  I felt the little exchange was terrible and ruined the play, but maybe it is just me.  Maybe I found more problems with how she became weak at the end of the play than the troublesome past of hers.

Up next of O'Neill's is The Hairy Ape.

#57 God Emperor of Dune

423 pages.

Its been over a week since I lost my internet and I have some catching up to do.   To begin with, Dune.  This is the fourth book in the Frank herbert written series, and so far this may be the most confusing.  I could not understand the motives of the characters.  How do you convincingly write a character that is godlike in intelligence and prescience?  The answer is: you can't.  At least not convincingly and in a comprehensible way.

Other than the batshit crazy plot, it had moments of pleasurable reading.  Here's hoping the 5h book in the series is more memorable.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

#56 The Book of the Duchess

I haven't read this dream/vision poem of Chaucer's for a long long time.  And to be honest I can't remember anything but the end, where Chaucer wakes up with his head in a book.  This book was about a woman who was pining away for her lost husband.  So Chaucer dreams of a man who has lost his woman and tries to console him.  The death of his lady is shrouded in a metaphor of chess, so is uncertain.  The imagery at the beginning of the dream is extremely idyllic, and may be the best moment of Chaucer writing something buccolic.  The poem was about 1330 lines long, but I imagine in about a year I will forget this poem again and have to re-read it.  It wasn't a bad poem, far from it.   As a dream poem it exceeds other poems of this genre by giving a Freudian clue as to why the dream was happening, his book he was reading.  I will always concede that Chaucer is a clever fellow.

Monday, 29 August 2011

#55 The Leafcutter Ants

127 pages.

This is just another book that contains the elements of sociobiology that E. O. Wilson has been carefully explaining for decades, and I am only now scraping the surface.

I enjoyed this book because on each page I was presented with something completely new to me.  This was a very fruitful learning experience, as it turns out I didn't really know much about ants to begin with.  I remember watching documentaries of ants carrying leaves to their anthill, but I just assumed they ate them, but it turns out it is much more complicated than that.  They are actively culturing fungi with bio detritas.  The harvesters carry the bits of leaves to smaller worker ants who chop the harvest into smaller chunks and then they take those chunks to a fungus garden chamber and then place a fecal drop on the leave with promotes the growth of a certain type of fungus enjoyed by the colony.  I had no idea ants harvested and grew their own food, it is quite amazing.  And the life cycle of the colony is also amazing.  There is but one queen, who can live over a decade and lay between 150-200 million eggs in her lifetime!  Move over Hecuba!  All of the workers are females and do all of the work.  The only thing the males are good for is inseminating the queen, who will store their sperm her entire life.  After impregnating the queen the male dies.  The male never works or does anything other than go on a nuptial flight and dies!

This book was a little frustrating though, but I guess it was in a good way.  This was a short book at just over a hundred pages, I wished it were at least three times as long.  Every page would open my mind to wonder and raised all sorts of questions that were left unspoken in this little book.  Another frustrating aspect was that the authors would occasionally mention that scientists do not have the answer to this or that.  I had all of these questions and most of them can't even be answered.  Like, how does the queen know if she needs more workers or supersoldiers?  Do ants have different pheremones for different types of communication?  Basically I wanted to know more about communication.  I wanted to know the social structure of the superorganism.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

#54 Honeybee Democracy

by Thomas D. Seeley, 235 pages.

After reading Mind of a Raven I have been on a sociobiology trip.  I discovered some new way to understand nature and superorganisms and this is the first book where I get to explore this relatively new science, both to me and the world.  Its intent is to study the social relationships of eusocial organisms through observing them and by biology.  E. O. Wilson posited the theory that societies can be explored partly from biology.  It is an interesting theory and makes for some very interesting reading.

In Honeybee Democracy, the author goes over the various stages that a swarm of honeybees moves, decides, and goes to a new hive site.  Seeley discusses each step and goes over his sometimes ingenious tests to determine how the swarm acts as a whole.  He basically compared the 3lb swarm to a primate brain and how it works.  It was a convincing comparison.  Though the book was over 200 pages, I felt it could have been at least twice as long.  It was a fairly comprehensive book, but so much of the life of honeybees was necessarily left out to avoid making a giant tome of a book.  I would have liked to see a larger book, but what I got was extremely readable in the way Bernd Heinrich is readable.  This book was an easy read for a layman, such as I am.

#53 Holy War: The Crusades and their Impact on Today's World

by Karen Armstrong, 541 pages.

I love Karen Armstrong.  As far as I can tell there is no one writer today that I trust more to write about modern and medieval conceptions of religion than her. Her breadth of knowledge and her understanding of the three major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) is amazing.  I am humbled when I read her books, and am always impressed.

I never really understood the Crusades, I just knew at some point in history a bunch of Europeans went to Jerusalem and started killing people, but having read this book my understanding is much more concrete.  I know the heroes and villains of the major crusades as well as the mindset of the participants.  I loved this book.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

#52 The Conquest of Constantinople

The Conquest of Constantinople by Geoffrey de Villehardouin

This is a chronicle of he 4th crusade, which was an epic failure.  The chronicler was an actual eyewitness and also a player in the whole crusade that went extremely off course.  Pope Innocent called for another crusade to the holy land, and all was set in motion.  THe gang showed up in Venice without the proper amount of travel fare so they had to pay their way by taking Zara, a Christian town.  Then they were about to go do some holy land crusading when they took a detour to Byzantium and sacked one of the most wonderful cities of the time.  Does it need to be mentioned that the Eastern church was also Christian?  Not a single crusader from the 4th crusade sets foot in the holy land.  So how does the writer not consider this crusade a total and complete failure?  Even though the original goals were not met, the updated goals of bringing the eastern church more in line with the western church were met.  This seems vaguely like the Iraq war and how the goals were always changing.

I remember hearing only a brief history of this crusade, but it really helps to actually know the whole reason for the crusade and how it became so sidetracked.  I feel a little more enlightened having learned of this rather stupid episode in history.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

#51 The Emperor Jones

by Eugene O'neill.

Here is my second entry by the great American playwright.  This is the second play of a book with four plays in it, so I will be making at least two more O'neill entries before October 10 (contract ends).

This was a short play that consisted of an African American from the south who has installed himself as an emperor in  the West Indies.  That is the part of the play that makes the most sense, the rest consists of a man paying for his crimes by witnessing his past sins paraded in front of him as a voodoo induced hallucination.  This was a supernatural play that I imagine would be fun to watch, either on stage or on the screen.  I enjoyed it for what it was, and once again the stage direction dwarfs the actual dialogue, which was written in the vernacular of the south and cockney.  And having read it I realized that no one in this play was either loveable, kind, decent, or honest.  What you got to see was a man get dethroned and then suffer in his own sin until he died.  It felt fairly close to a Greek tragedy!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

#50 Ender's Game


imgres.jpeg324 pages.

This was apparently a YA book, but I couldn't tell.  This was one of the better SF novels I have read, and that includes some PKD.  This appeals to all those kids that played video games and enjoy strategizing.  So this child, Ender Wiggins, is recruited to play games and he is really good at them.  They keep promoting him and then he is really challenged with a realistic game machine...I would say more but I don't want to ruin the book.  Its a good book, an easy read, and nothing that is going to be very challenging.

This marks my halfway point in my 100 challenge for the year.  I'm not sure I will reach 100, but I think I can at least reach 90.

#49 The Legend of Good Women

This is my second Chaucer entry, and is a proper follow up to Troilus and Criseyde.  In the prologue Chaucer is visited by Alcestis who commands him to write a compilation of honest women, as opposed to the harlot Criseyde.  So as a good poet he gets to it, telling the stories of all the most famous women than anyone with a cursory knowledge of Ovid and Greek Mythology will immediately know.  The women are: Hippolyta, Medea, Dido, Cleopatra, Lucrece, Procne, Leander, and I am forgetting someone.  So he sets about in his task, and it becomes almost immediately clear he is not happy as a poet.  He constantly takes the women's words away with some flippant remark like, "It is too long to write, so I won't".  Watching him dredge through this ultimately incomplete work is rather funny.  Here the author has no creativity but to summarize and translate tales that are but common tales.  This is not Chaucer at his peak, except the prologue.  But at nearly 3,000 lines it is a rather lengthy work of trial.

#48 The Merchant of Venice

This is the second Shakespeare I have seen gratis thanks to the Montana Shakespeare Company.  Unfortunately it is one of the more ambivalent plays by Shakespeare.  I've never really been a fan of The Merchant of Venice, and reading it first and then watching this production only reaffirmed my attitude towards this play.  Am I the only one that tries to sympathize with Shylock and his treatment?  Does anyone else want to see him carve a chunk from the Jew-spitting and kicking Antonio?

Reading Harold Bloom, apparently this play is nearly impossible to perform in the way Shakespeare had intended in 16th century England except in Nazi Germany and Japan.  Bloom resigns himself to admitting that this is one of the moments when Shakespeare was writing in his own time.

Despite the play itself, it was a nice night out.  Performed in the lawn of Chico Hot Springs in Paradise Valley, Montana.  I'm glad I went for the outdoor experience alone.  A small stage next to a hot spring spa hedged in between to jagged and amazing mountain ranges.  Hopefully next summer they choose a better play.  I don't think many people laughed during this play, at least not like they did for Much Ado About Nothing, which I saw about a month ago.

Friday, 12 August 2011

#47 Sourcery

So I picked up an easy job for just 3 hours a week selling firewood.  I get to read nearly 2.5 hours on the job, while selling about 10 things of firewood.  Easy enough, so I'm reading light material for this job. and the first completed book on this job is Terry Pratchett's little book, Sourcery.  Like all Pratchett material, this is funny and reminds me a lot of Douglas Adams.  Or does Adams remind me of Pratchett?  In any case at 260 pages, this made for a few shifts of selling wood a quick read.

A note to future campers at YNP.  Bring a saw.  You can cut, shop, saw, break any fallen tree in the park and burn it at the campsites.  It helps clean the park of debris and you also won't have to spend $7.28 for a box of wood imported from Idaho.     Your welcome.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

#46 Troilus and Criseyde

I've finally gotten to my Riverside Chaucer with the hopes of completing the complete Chaucer this summer.  So I began by reading what is considered one of his finest works, with the exception of the Canterbury Tales.

Just over 8,000 lines of poetry, Troilus and Criseyde was long, but methinks it should have been longer.  I read this poem before, but this is the first time I read it in Chaucer's original english, and I was pleased.  The poem is broken into 5 books, and at the slow pace of storytelling there could easily have been 2 additional ones.  I felt the ending happened too suddenly, like Chaucer got bored and quickly finished it.  THe abrupt ending did not make Criseyde appear as bad as I remembered her as being.  Somehow I remembered her being even more fickle and that Dionedes Killed Troilus on the battlefield, both of which did not happen.  Maybe Shakespeare's play of the same name is confusing me.  By the way, Shakespeare's play seems like a Michael Bay adaptation of the poem.  "How many fight scenes can I have in this play?"

I enjoyed Chaucer's subtle humor whenever Pandarus was on the scene.  He was the best character, and his name shall live in infamy as a funny go-between.  His take on love is shallow, deceitful, and without emotion.  His advice to the two young lovers was anti-thetical to love.  At one point as he is wooing Criseyde on behalf of Troilus he tells her, in essence, "If you say no Troilus shall die of love, and I do love that man that I too shall die.  So you would be the cause of both of our deaths.  Don't be so wicked as to say no."  What a woo!

Of course this is a poem about love on this world set in the ancient times.  Chaucer reminds the reader at the end, in what made me laugh, that we are all Christian readers, so this isn't really a tragedy.  He has Troilus die, or was it Achilles?, go to heaven and look at how insignificant love on earth is.  So this poem I was reading for 8,000+ lines was insignificant.  I think this was Chaucer using some irony.  Who couldn't read this and laugh?  Though at the same time this small print was his way of getting around the church censers.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

#45 The Revenger's Tragedy

Author Unknown, but probably Thomas Middleton.

I decided to read a Jacobean revenge play at random and was well rewarded.  I have never before read a play where almost every character of importance wanted to kill all of the other characters.  It seemed like everyone in this play had a taste for blood for some reason or other, and they were all trying to fulfill their individual vendettas with murder.  I have to say this was a satisfying play for its wanton violence and no seeming moral drive.  None of the characters are honorable, decent, or virtuous, with the exception of Castiza and the venerable old Antonio who has maybe 25 lines.  Even those without revenge on the mind can easily be corrupted with either lust or gold.  now that I think about it, the overriding moral could be the very simple one of lust and gold, intertwined and individual, are corrupting influences on almost everyone.

Basically, this is a play where everyone dies and no one wins.  And throw in some gruesome scenes involving the Duke's corpse.  Also, the main character Vindice made a lot of sarcastic asides which were sometimes funny.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

#44 Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds

imgres.jpegby Bernd Heinrich, 356 pages.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly.  Every page was on ravens and the things that they do.  The writer, an animal behaviorist, describes and comes up with plausible explanations of these rather intelligent birds.  Going so far as to say they may even have a consciousness and that they are all individuals.  Nothing about their behavior seems programmed.  They learn most of what they do through experiments and opportunity.  Reading Heinrich's descriptions makes me want to be there with him watching the ravens do their thing.

Also in this book are the ravens in Yellowstone, which may explain why this book was on the visitor's center bookshelf for purchase.  Another explanation ma be that this is a well-written study n ravens without scientific jargon getting in the way of a good read.  One anecdote in the book is of a Yellowstone bison stuck in mud and a couple of enterprising ravens came along and ate his eyeballs.  Other stories are of ravens leading wolves to a carcass so that they can all feed together.  This is beneficial as ravens do not have he abilities to open a carcass and are naturally limited to the eyes and the tongue (the only exposed pieces of meat).

I must say that my admiration and awe of this bird has greatly increased since reading this book.  The reason I picked up this book in the first is after watching a raven swoop down and catch a whistlepig.  It placed its foot on the whistlepig and gave 4-5 sharp jabs with its beak until it was dead and then flew off with it.  I didn't know ravens ate whistlepigs, but apparently they eat almost anything, including bison eyeballs.

#43 The Inner Reaches of Outer Space

imgres.jpeg118 pages.

I borrowed this short book from a friend so I had to resist the urge to underline and highlight.  And there is always something to underline, but the margins were small, so my temptation to write notes and comments was at least smothered.

In July I had read volume one of Masks of God, and after starting this book one of my more immediate thoughts was, "oo soon."  I should have waited another month before starting another book by Campbell.  Some of the ideas in here are repeats from Primitive Mythology.  Not that that is bad, it is not, but it made my interest in the book wane slightly.  But it was an easy read, and a short one at that.  I don't much feel like going into the details of the book, so I won't.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

#42 Much Ado About Nothing

Its that time of the summer where the Montana Shakespeare Company comes to Gardiner.  They put up their makeshift stage and perform a comedy or on of the lighter tragedies.  Like every sumer, they performed in Arch Park, just outside the entrance to Yellowstone.  This particular scene is Benedict running after Beatrice, the two main funny characters in the play.  The funniest is of course Dogberry.  This performance decided to change the locale from Messina, Italy to Charleston, SC during the Civil War.  OK, it works with the spirit of the play, but it does take some getting used to the affected accents. I did manage to get a little burned by the intense sun as I sat out on the park lawn for just over two hours.  I enjoyed the performance and I am going to try and make an effort to watch Merchant of Venice at Chico Hot Springs in a couple of weeks.  Which means I am going to have to read that play too, as I do before I watch any Shakespeare play.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

#41 The Civil War by Caesar

imgres.jpegCivil War by Julius Caesar, 151 pages.

I was hoping this book would be as readable as the Gallic War, but it was more boring.  I don't understand, dramatically there is more at stake here, and the players are much grander than a loose confederation of Gallic tribes.  But this did not read good.  The rendering of Pompei as incompetent and at times merciless really did not make for compelling drama.  Of course Caesar is the hero in this book.  he is full of mercy, reason, and magnanimity.  He can do no wrong, though he does mention some of his defeats, but as a true statesmen they were not his faults.  Trying to get the reality of the Civil War by reading Caesar's book is similar to getting factual and unbiased news from FoxNews.  Still, it was an interesting book if only to see how Caesar views himself in the Civil War.  He is the victim of overreaching politicians spurred by the malignant Pompei, so nothing is his fault.  Not the countless dead romans, the exploding roman economy, the weakening of the republic, nothing.  I have to admit I am not a huge fan of Caesar's, so I read his book with that bias coming into it.  My bad.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

#40 The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology

Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell, 472 pages.

This was a long book on the early societies and the sorts of mythology they created.  I think it could have been several hundred pages shorter, and near the end I started daydreaming as I read.  Sometimes it is really easy to read Campbell, but this book just seemed to drag on a little too much.  But despite that, there were a lot of interesting points mentioned here, especially the contrast between the mythologies created by agricultural and hunter societies.

This book also explored the archetypes between mythologies and these were attributed to infantile impressions every person has, and the type of society they grew up in.

I really do not have much to say on the book, and much prefer A Hero with a Thousand Faces, as it is much more instructive and also shorter.  I may, in the distant future read volume two, but am undecided right now.

#39 The Spanish Tragedy

I have finally read a play I had intended to read years ago, The Spanish Tragedy (Hieronimo) by Thomas Kyd.  A playwright whose name occasionally pops up in Shakespearean studies.  And now I have read his finest play, and though his style of writing is extremely enjoyable to read, I did have some problems with certain characters and scenes.  At one point in the play I had to write in the margin, "Are these characters retarded!"  I rarely do that.  Here is hat led me to such a point...

The character Viluppo and his sub-plot.

The main plot: Hieronimo loses his son through treachery and does not have the power to prosecute, so performs revenge himself.

The sub-plot: The Portuguese Viceroy is told his son died through treachery, and condemns the supposed villain to being burned.

These two plots show the difference of the the fathers and having and not-having power.  It is a nice foil, only it feels really forced in this play, thanks to the uber-retard that is Viluppo.

Here is how his villainous plan works.  He tells the Portuguese Viceroy that his son has been treacherously slain by another Portuguese nobleman.  The king accepts the report as true and imprisons the nobleman.  Viluppo, being the solid idiot that he is, did not think out his plan.  He knew the son had been captured by the Spanish, and any day now a messenger would be along to demand a ransom.  Or to let the Viceroy know that his son was alive and well.  So what happens, a messenger does indeed show up, the nobleman is released and Viluppo is beheaded.  I can't say it was much of a loss for him, as his brain was mostly non-functioning.  This is one of the most forced sub-plots I have read in Renaissance drama.  The villainous plan was so poorly thought out, at its first mention the audience had to realize it was going to fail easily.

Despite the poor sub-plot, the main plot was for the most part engaging, though at times it too suffered from some forced situations and actions.  But this doesn't matter, I enjoy the language that Kyd uses, and his references and the thoughts he puts into his otherwise incompetent characters.  Even after this, I have to admit that I enjoyed reading the play.  (I know, I'm confused too.)

Monday, 11 July 2011

#38 Beyond the Horizon

This was my first foray into Eugene O'Neill, and I thought i should start with one of his early Pullitzer winning plays.    O'Neill sets the play up in a most obvious way.  Beyond the Horizon is the play about two brothers, Andrew and Robert. one brother is more poetic and the other is more earthly.  While gathering this most simple distinction from the copious amounts of stage description and direction notes, which may have actually exceeded the dialogue in length, I almost regretted starting the play.  "Oh no, not another play where poetry and earthly man conflict".  But I was a little surprised when O'Neill, playing with dramatic conventions, decided to switch the roles of the protagonists.  The poet was stuck married at the farm and had to eek out his existence through manual labor.  And the farmer was thrust into the world to have his Byronic adventures.  And both failed miserably.  The play was simplistic in language and the ideas were somewhat heavy-handed.  Despite the flaws, this play still worked on the basic level of getting his somewhat pedestrian ideas out there, wherever 'there' is.

The one thing I noticed almost immediately was the amount of stage direction in the play.  There was nothing left unsaid by O'Neill.  he apparently had a vision of who the stage should look, and even how the actors should act and appear.  He leaves no room for dramatic interpretation.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

My goal to 100

It is already July.  I can't believe the year is half over, which means I should be halfway to my goal of 100 books.  I'm looking at the books I have read so far and am only at 37.  37!!  Just 37!  I am 13 books behind, and am going to have to catch up somehow.  I have six months to read 63 more books.  I think I can do it if I do not get a job immediately after Yellowstone.

#37 Where Angels Fear to Tread

imgres.jpg181 pages.

This was Forster's first novel, or at least that is what I managed to gather from the back cover.  I never knew he could be humorous, I was expecting a somewhat somber tale that explored class and social differences.  Of course the class differences were everywhere apparent here, but there was a playful humor also, which was definitely enjoyed.  But the humor only goes so far once a certain point in the novel is reached and the humor is replaced with Forster's more somber storytelling voice.  I always enjoy reading his novels as he writes in a very fluid way.  I never have problems with his prose, nor am I distracted by unwanted rhetorical flourishes that seem to plague a lot of other writers.  Forster's is a simple and direct prose, at least this is my estimation of him.

As for the novel, I enjoyed it greatly.  It takes place in England and Italy and involves a baby.  That is all I will say.  It was a quick read and was over too soon.  I guess next up from Forster will be A Room with a View, which I have never even read a synopsis of.

Friday, 1 July 2011

#36 Le Morte Darthur

imgres.jpgby Sir Thomas Malory, 696 pages.

I did it.  I finally read the complete Le Morte Darthur in the original middle English.  It took a long time, but I did it.  I loved some parts of it, but I can safely say I am not impressed with reading about jousting tournaments and jousts.  It felt like there was a new jousting tournament every twenty pages.  Oh, please not another joust.  These jousts were brief but then they were followed by a swordfight that lasted for over three hours and blood was everywhere.  I want to know if they took restroom breaks.  Did they stop and have a civil lunch and then get back to the fighting?  Who fights and bleeds all over the place for three hours.  Thats like having a fist fight (less blood--maybe) for the duration of Gone with the Wind.  It doesn't seem possible.  Besides some of the jousts, which i viewed as fillers, the book had some very interesting stories and characters.  I have to say I found Sir Kay and amusing character, what with his over the top pride.  And Sir Gawaine was also a well developed character with anger issues and staying on his saddle.  Every other page some sturdier knight would knock him off his saddle and ride away.  It was comical.  And Dagonet was funny, and Sir Gareth had a funny story involving a shrewish woman.  There is much to recommend in this giant tome of a book, you just have to be patient.



Sunday, 26 June 2011

#35 Henry IV Part II

A lot of what I said for Part I holds true for this one, with the exception of Hotspur, who is dead.  Falstaff is still here, and has his funny moments. His best moment is at the coronation where he shows up dressed as a peasant, sweating, and covered in grime and interprets his poor dress as his devotion to Henry V.  It was a fairly comic moment.  But as a play I felt it did not equal the first part in action or comedy.  It was a disappointing sequel.  There was even an apology at the end, it could have been some faux humility, but it also may have been sincere.  Shakespeare wrote a less than amazing play here.  It seems the message in Part II was the moral growth of Henry V and how he was leaving his riotous childhood behind him when he became the king.  Its a nice peaceful message.  There was no onstage fighting.  But the play ends with someone saying that the future has swords in France.  Hooray for the patriotic propaganda that is the play Henry V.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

#34 One Hundred Years of Solitude

imgres.jpgGabriel Garcia Marquez, 417 pages.

This was a large book that took me a month to complete.  I love the way Marquez tells stories, except for this one.  This book was a frustrating book to read, mainly because every character has nearly identical names.  The Buendia family, as they are the central family, name all of the children Jose Arcadio, Ursula, and Aureliano.  After the fifth person named Aureliano appears I began to get confused as to who was related to who, especially as there was incest and one character ended up giving birth to three different generations of Buendias.  I could not keep the geneology of the family straight.  There was a family tree at the beginning of the book, but it was only partial as though it was mocking the reader.  By the time I finished the family tree was  labyrinth of similar sounding names and people.  You can never truly tell how old a character is as one character lives until 146, and is still birthing in her hundreds.

Having finished the last chapter I believe the confusion was intentional, as even the characters do not know their own lineage and begin having carefree incest and have a child born with a tail.  They even actively search their family tree but to no avail and frustration.  At least I wasn't the only one frustrated with knowing who was begat from which character.  I know not...and neither did the characters.  If I had the patience, and right now I don't, I would read this tome again and pay special attention to the character names.  But since it was a rather lengthy book  I will pass on any re-read.

This was an Oprah book selection.  Part of me wants to visit her site and see the comments left my dedicated Oprah-ites and see the praise her followers heap on her for such a sage selection.  But I've already read 417 pages of tiring narrative, I don't think my constitution could bear to read encomiums directed at the genius of Oprah's selection.

Friday, 24 June 2011

#33 Travels in the Greater Yellowstone

imgres.jpgby Jack Turner, 263 pages.

This is a collection of essays on the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.  The word "essays" doesn't accurately describe the buccolic nature of Turner's writing.  They are a cross between personal, narrative, and well founded ecological arguments.    A lot of the essays are lamentations on the way the ecosystem has changed over the years since Turner first arrived in the area.  He waxes philosophic on the idea of wildlife management and how its role seems to be the killing of animals in order to preserve them.  His whole approach is that Yellowstone is an artificial wilderness.  Though he lamented himself through the pages, he never seemed the curmudgeon, but a thoughtful old man watching the world around him change in a way that wasn't natural.

The real power in his book comes through in his ability to show how the ecosystem is interconnected.  He does this with ease by showing small examples, like the relation of the pine bark beetle and the lack of pine cones for bears.  Changing climate and invasive species are changing the ecosystem, and to try and manage this change is also in a way creating different changes.  For him there is no clear answer.  But he was always quick to point out that some of the villains are slow acting government organizations, and big oil trying to use the reserved lands for profit.  We can all have fun villainizing the gas companies, it is easy to do.  Overall this book lets you appreciate what is preserved in the park, and also to let you know that as wild as you may think it is, it is a controlled wildness.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

#32 Henry IV Part 1

Yet another Shakespeare History Play that follows on the heels of Richard II.  With Richard, the play was all in iambic pentameter and the humor was scarce, that is if you don't find the character of Richard II amusing in his whiney ways.  Henry IV Part 1 was full of humor, in fact the best parts was when John Falstaff was on stage.  Henry IV the king is an imminently forgettable character, especially as this play has given us two amazing charaters, Falstaff and Hotspur.  One is a bumbling rogue and the other is a hot headed rebel.  Both controlled the stage.

I would almost recommend just reading the scenes with Falstaff and leaving the rest of the play unread.  You don't really need context when Falstaff is making fun of Bardolph's pimples.  Or when the future Henry V and Falstaff swap insults.  Or when Falstaff is constantly lying through his teeth in order to excuse his own shortcomings.  The play was memorable for Falstaff, otherwise the royal intrigue and unrest just wasn't gripping enough.  Maybe Shakespeare also saw that his historical material wasn't enough so he created a marvellous character in Falstaff to compensate.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

#31 Edward III

Here is another Shakespeare History, which I read out of order.  I should have read this one first and then Richard II, but this one was buried at the back of my Riverside Shakespeare.  And it may not have actually been written by the Bard, or maybe only pieces of it was written by him.  Either way it was a historical play that had its good moments and its irrelevant moments (Act II).

This play starts off, as many do, with the king of England deciding that he is the true heir of France.  So he decides to take it by force.  I suppose force is heir to everything.  After all up to then all the heirs to the throne of England are there because they were heir to William the Conqueror, who took the land by force.  So that was Act I, which was basically, "I own France, here I go."

Act II  This entire act is irrelevant to the first act.  It is Edward III wooing the wife of Salisbury.  Both are already married, and this episode feels like something torn from the middle ages.  Edward goes up to the father of Salisbury's wife and says, as his king, "grant me one boon".  "OK".  "Woo your daughter for me".  Of course this is awkward for the father of his married daughter. Anyways this is Act II, which ultimately has the king change his mind because of the honor of the daughter.

The other three acts are war and negotiation.  There is one part that I find a little stupid.  It is this, Edward III's son, Edward the Black Prince is in a difficult spot and looks to have certain death.  What does his father do?  Does he offer aid for his son to save him?  No!  He says something historical like, "If he can fight through this it will further increase his glory.  Otherwise he will have an honorable burial."  At this point it threw up my arms in bewilderment.  What father speaks thus?  Sometimes its ok not to follow the medieval accounts closely, as many of them are innacurate.  Especially when it comes to an anecdote that has a moral purpose, such as Edward III's response to his son being in danger.  It sounds cool, but is really unrealistic/unbelievable.  I may have changed that part.  But then again this adds to the glory of England.

Overall this play seemed episodic and lacked an overall cohesion.  The introduction said that its overall structure was one of lessons for a prince, which when you read it is somewhat apparent.  I didn't really enjoy it that much.  The characters all felt the same.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

#30 The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

imgres.jpg326 pages.
This is one of the books I purchased from the closing Borders in Fremont, CA.  The good thing is I got it for 70% off.  I did not like this book.  I think the poor relationship started with one of the opening paragraphs. I don't usually like to quote at length, but here is the opening paragraph which I found frustrating to read.  Maybe I was imagining an annoying patronizing tone as I read it, maybe I was just angry that day I opened Alain de Botton's book, or maybe his book made me angry.  Well, here is the opening paragraph in all its impotent glory.

"Imagine a journey across one of the great cities of the modern world.  Take London on a particularly grey Monday at the end of October.  Fly over its distribution centres, reserviors, parks and mortuaries.  Consider its criminals and South Korean tourists.  See the sandwich-making plant at Park Royal, the airline contract-catering facility in Hounslow, the DHL delivery depot in Battersea, the Gulfstreams at City airport and the cleaning trolleys in the Holiday Inn Express on Smuggler's Way.  Listen to the screaming in the refectory of Southwark Park primary school and the silenced guns at the Imperial War Museum.  Think of driving nstructors, meter readers and hesitant adulterers.  Stand in the maternity ward of St. Mary's Hospital.  Watch Aashritha, three and a half months too early for existence, enemshed in tubes, sleeping in a plastic box manufactured in the Swiss Canton of Obwalden.  Look into the State Room on the west side of Buckingham Palace.  Admire the Queen, having lunch with two hundred disabled athletes, then over coffee, making a speech in praise of determination.  In Parliament, follow the government minister introducing a bill regulating the height of elctrical sockets in public buildings.  Consider the trustees of the National Gallery voting to acquire a painting by the eighteenth-century Italian artist Giovanni Panini.  Scan the faces of the prospective Father Christmasas being interviewed in the basement of Selfridges in Oxford Street and wonder at the diction of the Hungarian psychoanalyst delivering a lecture on paranoia and breastfeeding at the Freud Museum in Hampstead."

It pained me to copy that paragraph, which is a good example of literary masturbation, and it annoyed me to no ends.  This is how his "philosophy" book started, and I have to say the remainder of the book was not nearly as annoying as the beginning.  I don't understand the reason for writing this book.  If was watered down philosophies that even the most unread person has grasped by the time they are 20.  Here let me sum up his intent, as I saw his intent.   I will here try and sound as Botton.

Consider that carpet you are standing on.  Someone made that tightly-knit carpet.  In some corner of Bristol a man has developed the principles to create that carpet.  In offices he has sat with clients negotiating deals while drinking black coffee until late in the evening.  Some man...

I can't write more, but that is the intent of the book.  To let the reader know that people make stuff and spend their whole working lives making stuff.  Maybe my thinking is so infantile I didn't grasp his finer points.  Maybe I found it too hard to concentrate on a text whose author I wouldn't mind slapping.  It pained me to keep coming back to this book, but I will let no book beat me, no matter how simpering it is.  I think I can safely I will not be reading any more of Botton's popular philosophy books in the near future, or any future.  I hope this is the last bad book I read all summer.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

#29 Richard II

I don't know if counting a Shakespeare play as a book is legit in my quest to 100 books this year...I don't care.  I'm counting it and any other Shakespeare play I happen to read, which will be quite a few now that I have the Riverside Shakespeare in Yellowstone.  After about ten years I have finally re-read Richard II, not because I heard it was a good play, but because of a historical interest in the time period.  I cannot remember one line, or even one part of this play from my first reading so many years ago, which is a truth that holds for the majority of Shakespeare's Histories, the exceptions being Henry V and Richard III.

It wasn't an exceptional play, but it wasn't bad either.  King Richard may be the whiniest Shakespeare character of all the plays.  He is a simpering, do-nothing, loser who laments that he is unpopular and no one likes him.  He is pretty pathetic, and to be regarded as some person who is King, but not in any way to regarded as a divinely ordained king, which brings into question the whole idea the divine right of kings.  He is more a laughing stock than a personage of awe.  And the audience does not feel sympathy for the king since he also does idiotic acts and brings about his own downfall through stupidity, greed, and the base desire to be flattered.  As a character, I liked that he was a fumbling loser, it was interesting.  As if King Richard wasn't the only flawed personage, this play makes it difficult at times to really believe some of the things any of the other people say.  You believe Richard's crying, which he does a lot of, but I felt that the protagonist, Henry Bullingbrook, at times was lying through his teeth.  There really isn't a very honorable character in this play.  The nearest is the Duke of York who is willing to send his own son to the gallows in the name of some over-weaning honor and honesty.  The players in this tragedy are a pathetic collection of whiners, liars, and idiots.  That being the case, I enjoyed it, and the next time I play a role-playing game I think I shall be King Richard for the laughs of it.

Monday, 30 May 2011

MY Yellowstone Education

So my first full month of Yellowstone has come to a close.  I've noticed the books I have read this month and am somewhat upset.  I realize I am not reading the "copious amount of books" that I was in 2008.  Not even close.  I hope that June will allow much more reading time and that my job will become less about work and more about reading.  I can't wait to see what June will bring.  Right now I only have somewhere between 3-4 hours nightly to read at work, which is a sharp drop from 2008s 5-6 hours.  Hopefully this will change and the tourons will let me be.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

#28 Children of Dune

ref=sr_1_1.jpgChildren of Dune, Frank Herbert 408 pages.

I have read few science fiction books that are as complicated and at times confusing as this book.  I think Herbert has amazing ideas and at times strange plots.  I haven't really sat down and thought about the motivations of the characters, but while reading this they were unpredictable.  I'm not even sure if this book works, but couldn't tell you why I felt that way.  How do you understand a book when the two main characters are children who were born with the life experiences of millions of people already in their mind?  I think Herbert wrote the two "children" convincingly, but not sure.  His approach would have been different than mine.  Having all that life experience I would have the children walk away from the world and leave it all behind.  But he had them become integral parts of the active world.  So a little confused with what was going on, but at least I could never guess the next plot point.  Who could've guessed if you let a bunch of sand trout crawl all over you and eat you that you will not only become superhuman strong, but will live for 4000 years.  I think he just makes this shit up as he writes.  Sometimes its hard to believe.

Maybe I will be able to better follow the next novel: God Emperor of Dune.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

#27 Malory: The Knight Who Became King Arthur's Chronicler

malory.jpg
I read this biography hoping to learn something about Malory not discussed in the brief bios at the beginning of most versions of Le Morte Darthur.  There isn't really much to be known about this man.  Hardyment was very ambitious with this work, hoping to illuminate something about Malory, but there is really nothing more to learn about him unless someone finds a cache of letters written by him.  But short of that miracle the best we can do is make literary connections to the man through his main surviving work.  Hardyment places Malory throughout the time in armies, places, jails, and battles.  But his mere presence alone in France during Henry V's famous offensive does not really tell us who Malory is as a person.  He is assumed to be Knightly, and to follow the rules of being a knight, but still this is only a code of ethics.  What he was as a person is only through conjecture and assumptions.

As a biography this work has limitations due to records of Malory being scant.  But as a historical overview of Malory's age it is very useful.  malory lived during the beginning of the War of the Roses, between the Lancastrians and Plantagenets.  This biography is better at explicating the times than the writer.  I would recommend this as a history book that dwells too much on a writer, than as a biography that almost only covers history.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

#26 1215: The Year of the Magna Carta

ref=sr_1_1.jpgby Danny Danziger and John Gillingham.  290 pages.

I tore through this popular history.  Immensely informative and enjoyable.  Though there were times when it just seemed like review.  That at some point popular histories begin to overlap.  This one, like other histories showed what medieval life was like back then. Covering the politics, religion, economics, and also relations within the European world.  Each history will have new information depending on the inclinations of its authors, but the overlap is always going to be there.  The charm of medieval history are the anecdotes.  Here is one of my favorites from this book:

"Since the fifth century leprosy had often been interpreted as the reward for sexual excess.  One of the early Norman bishops of London, Hugh d'Orival, chose to be castrated in the hope of obtaining a cure but, according to William of Malmesbury, the only result was that he spent the rest of his life a eunuch as well as a leper" (206).

At first this was a delightful little anecdote of a man doing something ludicrous.  I laughed heartily at his error, knowing full well that castration is never a cure for leprosy.  After I caught my breath I felt sorry for the bishop.  He used his faith and failed, and had the rest of his tragic life to meditate on that fact.  This is one of those times that it is and it isn't funny.

Monday, 2 May 2011

#25 The Dying Animal

The Dying Animal, Philip Roth, 156 pages.

I just finished this book no more than a minute ago, so my reactions are fresh and lack any serious thought. having said that, his writing is smooth and read really well.  There is not much in there to confuse or confound.  It was an engaging book to read, and at times enjoyable.  This is my first Philip Roth experience, and I wonder if all of his books are as such.

To begin with I'm not sure what age group or demographic this book is aimed at.  It is a confessional of a 70 year old male pervert.  Maybe pervert is wrong--maybe an older gentleman that sleeps with his students who are about a third his age on a regular basis.  I guess this book is meant to challenge the readers idea of what is acceptable.   The narrator is a semi-known aesthetician and criticism teacher who narrates as though he is writing a treatise on love/marriage/freedom.  All three go together for him.  This does not read as a traditional novel, nor do I think it is supposed to.  I feel the narrator is speaking for dual purposes.  It is part cathartic and part argument for his lifestyle.  It is both persuasive and apologetic.  I have very little sympathy for the narrator, but I don't hate him, I just disagree on some points.

I'm not sure I was the age group the book was destined for.  Maybe if I was twenty years older I would have found more of myself in the narrator, or not.  The sexual exploits of a 70 year old are not things I often ruminate on.  I don't regret the book, though I'm not sure it was a useful book for me.

These are my initial reactions.  This book also marks a milestone for this year.  I am exactly 25% of the way to reading 100 books.  Though I am roughly a month behind.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

#24 True Grit

This is the first of my many books to be read in Yellowstone National Park.  So I decided to start off with an entirely enjoyable western that was funny and also a great story.

True Grit, Charles Portis, 224 pages.

I don't know where to begin.  While reading the Coen Brothers adaptation so dominated my mind while reading it was near impossible to imagine LeBouef as anyone other than Matt Damon, who embodied that role.  Rooster was a little easier to read as Bridges and Wayne both handled that character with varying degrees of success.  Mattie Ross looked just like the little girl from the recent movie.  I pictured the movie and not the images that Charles Portis took care to describe.  I read each scene anticipating each move and dialogue, and was not disappointed.  This is by no means a bad thing, it was like singing along to your favorite song.  You enjoy it, and so did I.

One thing though that was added to the movie was the Jeremiah Johnson frontiersman who was lugging around a toothless corpse.  Portis did not have this short scene.

The one thing that was more visible in the novel was that Mattie was more inclined to her religion and money, saying so much at the close of the novel.  I think this is a nice little bit of information about her and shows that her accusers were wrong about her.  She does love things other than religion and her bank, she loved her father.  It played out like a business transaction, but the motive was not business.  She hired Rooster, a drunk, but followed him years later to Memphis, not for business, but for love.  I guess I'm trying to say she was a slightly more developed character in the novel.  She may not have intended being developed in her narrative, it came out despite herself.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Powell's

Just about to leave for Powell's.  I've been working out so I can carry my books.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

#23 Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

What can I say?  This was a funny book on the life and observations of Patton Oswalt.  I'm not sure what I expected from this book, which seemed to be a series of disjointed biography with stuff that was funny insetrted.  The biography read like a series of short stories, and the funny stuff served its purpose well.  I liked it.  I was surprised at how well Oswalt wrote, and that he could make me laugh with high frequency and without it feeling like he was forcing it or trying too hard.  I liked the book, and probably because I have similarities to the protagonist in that he played Dungeons nad Dragons, read comics, had terrible jobs and knew wierd characters in his daily life.  The sense of a shared experience goes a lonf way in sympathising with a character.  I keep talking about this book as though it was a novel, which it felt like despite its biographical pretext.  Much better than I expected.  The first book I read from my great Borders Boon.

Friday, 15 April 2011

A Borders Boon

So I took a leisurely stroll this morning hoping to do some shopping (its been 14 months since I've been to America).  I stopped at Jamba Juice, got myself an orange dream, and had difficulty finishing the beverage.  I proceeded to Ross and bout a towel and some comfortable shoes.  I restrained from buying more.  I am not an avid shopper, but after not shopping for the better part of 27 months, the urge is stronger.  Next I went to the local Borders hoping to buy a Terry Pratchett, when I discovered the Borders was closing down, which is always a sad site.  It is my second favorite bookstore, Powell's being my favorite.  Having gotten over the initial reaction of sadness, I read the signs which claimed that all inventory was 70% off.  Half an hour later I was stooping over so as not to drop my prodigious load.  I was balancing books on one another, placing the firmer ones lower and the smaller ones at non-Euclidian positions.  I purchased 18 brand-new paperbacks for the low low price of $74.52.  My receipt says I saved $158.57.  That sounds about right.  I'll probably read most of the books this summer.  I just wished I would have gotten here a week earlier when the inventory was greater.  The selection was pretty slim, unless you wanted Glen Beck's new book, there were a lot of those.  Even at 70% off, a Californian won't buy that abortion of a book.