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.