Monthly Archives: April 2015

Guest post – Brian

Today I’m pleased to post an interview with Brian, who blogs at Babbling Books. He loves the classics, Shakespeare in particular, and what I love about his reviews is that they reflect not only his opinion, but a desire to go beyond the words and into the heart of the writing itself.

Final Book Shot 1. Who are you?

First, I am a person who is all about relationships with people in my life. My wife, my family and my friends mean everything to me. They come before everything else.
Second, I am about morality and ethics. Trying to do what is right and absolutely essential to who I am. I do not look to a divine power for guidance here, instead it is based upon my own reason and feeling.
Next, I am a conscious being who strives to understand the Universe and humanity’s place in it. This means I am always curious and always learning about science, especially the “big questions”, as well as history, art, literature, philosophy and lots of other stuff.
All of the above sounds very serious. I am also a person who likes to enjoy life, including some of life’s material aspects. I really like having fun!

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I started a blog because I wanted to be heard. I love to share my ideas. As reading is my primary life’s hobby, and because I can relate reading to just about all my three interests, I choose book blogging. Of course it is not all about me; the interactions with others relating to my blog, and to reading, are an essential reason for my blogging. I do this via my comments section, through email, twitter, etc. This communication with others is so valuable and rewarding, it alone would make blogging worth it.

3. Who are your 3 favorite authors?

My favorite authors are:
William Shakespeare who is incomparably great. His characters, themes, language and humanity are so rich and unequaled by anyone else.

Hermann Hesse is admittedly a flawed writer who probably does not belong in an objective list of all time great authors. Yet his explorations of the human personality as they relate to history, art and human existence are right up my alley. He pushes all the right buttons for me. Thus for personal reasons he is among my favorites.

Albert Camus depicts a secular and gloomy view of existence that is infused with compassion and caring for other humans. This odd mix just does it for me.
Honorable mention to Anthony Trollope – I am tempted to add him as a fourth name. I find that his depictions of people and their interactions may be the most realistic out of all the authors that I have ever read. I really need to read more of his books before I actually put him on the list.

4. Kindle or paper book?

This is an enormously controversial subject! Though this confession may vex some of my friends, I must sheepishly admit that I love e-readers. When using one, I take a lot of notes and highlight text. I would never do this with a real book, as this would damage the tome. In addition the cutting and pasting feature is invaluable when including quotes in blog posts. Of course being able to order or download a book whenever I want it is so very advantageous.
Folks often mention that they lose the aesthetic feel of a book when using an e-reader. I confess that I find it difficult to appreciate the aesthetics of a paperback or even a low cost hardcover. I do appreciate aesthetics of higher quality hardcovers. However I really cannot afford to collect those anyway.

Though I know that sales of old fashioned books have stabilized, I am not sure that low cost physical books will survive indefinitely in the digital age. I do foresee a possible future where people mostly read digital books but where some people maintain collections of high quality hard bound books. I am thinking of something similar to the way that some folks have gone back to collecting vinyl records with high quality packaging.

5. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

I tried to come up with something intellectually rich and comprehensive. Obviously I would want my choice to be long so I choose “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”.

6. Best book to use as a doorstop.

Though I think that there are a lot of bad books out there, I would contend that the worst books champion ideas that are detrimental to people and society. I must first note that I am not in favor of censorship or the suppression of ideas. I am in favor of criticizing certain ideas however.

I choose two Ayn Rand Novels as doorstops. They are “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead”. In certain quarters, particularly in the United States, these books, as well as Rand’s ideology, exemplified by these novels, are all the rage. The books simplistically categorize all group efforts, particularly efforts initiated by the government, as “collectivism”. Furthermore such group efforts are depicted as harmful to human well-being. Furthermore the books espouse an extremely narcissistic and cold form of individuality, over all other human values. Rand goes even further and tends to demonize characters – those who do not adhere to her dogma. These days this ideology is having an extremely strong influence in American government and politics and is helping to drive really bad and extreme political and social decisions. Though occasionally insightful, the ideas here are more often sophomoric. As final word on these books, I must mention that I find Rand’s storytelling skills to be downright awful.

7. Favorite quotes

Carl Sagan from “Pale Blue Dot”.
The below quote refers to a picture of the earth taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft when it was four billion miles from Earth. In the picture the Earth is just a speck.

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The below quote is from William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. I am not always so nihilistic about life as this quote implies, but I do think it does put some things into perspective.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

8. Three tips for book bloggers.

1. Write as much or as little as you want. It is your blog.
2. Even if you are blogging about a limited subject, strive to express something about your beliefs and feelings about life and other important ideas into your blog. This is your chance to be heard.
3. Reach out. There is a dynamic and friendly blogging community out there. Engage with others. Comment on the blogs of others. Consider guest blogging or inviting others to write posts on your site. Join in on reading events, read along events, etc.

9. What are you most passionate about?

I tend to be passionate about social and political issues. These are the things that affect the most people. It is in these areas where much of our morality is played out. Though I believe that my views are moderate and reasoned, I feel very strongly about them and I am not shy about expressing them.

10. Last book that made you cry.

Though it was not the last book that made me cry, there is a passage from a book that never fails to make me emotional when I think about it. This is true years after reading it. It comes from “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse. When the main character, Siddhartha, has sunk into the deepest depths of despair as a result of the vacuousness of the world and the hollow life that he has created for himself, he attempts suicide by drowning. As he nears the end he hears the sacred word “Om”, which at least in the context of this story, is symbolic of the harmony and balance inherent of the Universe. At this moment Siddhartha chooses not to die. Though I am not a believer in external spirituality, I do place a high value in finding meaning and strength in life based upon one’s own positive values as they interrelate to the Universe at large. I find this passage to be enormously impactful and affecting in a positive way. Thus, this scene never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I contemplate it.

11. Ask me a question.

What book has influenced you or affected you the most?

That is an easy question because this book is also my favorite – Don Juan by Josef Toman, a Czech author. I love the mix of history, religion, the battle between good and evil and the strong positive message in the second half of the book. I have never met a person who has heard of it or read it, although one or two people have done so at my recommendation. That makes me sad, because it’s an incredibly beautiful book who deserves to be out there next to the best historical fiction. I own a Romanian translation and thanks to a good friend I met in the blogosphere, an English translation from 1958. The book came out in 1944.






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Happy New Year – Thai style

SS1 Songkran, or Thai New Year, starts today. From the 13th to 15th of April, there will scarcely be a dry spot or person in the entire kingdom.
Originally, I was told by various Thai people, Songkran was celebrated by pouring water over the elders’ hands, a gesture meant to convey paying respects. Also, people would gently splash water on their family, neighbors and friends. This was, and still is, a good time to make merit at a temple, either through donations or simply by praying for one’s ancestors. These days, however, things have gone full on crazy.

While I enjoy a holiday just as much as the next person, it’s not fun to walk down the street just to be drenched head to toe in ice water, some of it mixed with baby powder. I have been splashed while in a bus that had open widows, on the street, and once a guy armed with a water gun made a grab for the taxi I was in. Luckily the taxi driver locked the doors and I was safe but for a moment I saw myself forced to take an unwanted shower.

I get it, it’s the hottest month of the year, the water symbolizes washing away the old year, bringing good luck and leaving you clean for the upcoming one. For most people it’s fun and fun is good but with the risk of sounding like the Grinch, why should I be included? Why can’t people just splash others who look like they want to join in this kind of fun?
Last year I was on Koh Chang, an island on the eastern side of Thailand. Husband and I had rented a motorcycle and we were driving on the winding road, extremely steep in parts, much like a roller coaster. It was a great trip, and so far we had managed to elude the rain showers that broke every now and then. Until, in the afternoon, on our way back, we saw crowds waiting on both sides of the road and I knew then we had made the wrong assumption that we were going to get away dry. We didn’t. They were very thorough, and as other motorists slowed down to avoid running over people, we were forced to do the same and got a thorough washing down. Not even my phone and camera inside the backpack I was carrying between me and my husband got away. Ice water, powder, the whole package were poured down on us from buckets, sprayed from water guns and full on drenched from several water hoses. There was no way but to bear it and drive away as soon as we could on the only road. Nobody was splashing water on the beach.

The area we live in celebrates Songkran a week later, so there’s the added joy of having to go through this again. Last year when we ventured out by car, the only vehicle to use if you want to stay dry, we spent more than two hours driving at a snail’s pace through cars, motorcycles and pedestrians in various stages of undress walking the streets in various stages of sobriety. They were armed to the teeth with water containers, and all of them were drenched and painted with white powder.
This year I’m staying home. I have some great books to read, movies to watch, and enough food for a few days. There are enough things to occupy my time with while the city is waging its water war. Happy Thai New Year or Sawadee Pee Mai!

SS6

SS4

SS2






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The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb

I’ve wanted to read a really good fantasy series for a while but I knew most of them spanned several volumes and I wasn’t quite ready for something so epic. When I told a friend about my dilemma, she recommended The Farseer Trilogy and she even offered to lend me the books.
There are no words to express how much I love these books. But I can’t draw that well, or take a picture to capture the brilliant magic behind the story, and if I looked at you insisting that you must read this, that this is the most wonderful story I have read in a long time you’d probably just wave me away. So words will have to suffice, poor as they may be.

farseer-trilogy The story begins with a boy. Well, actually it starts with the man the boy has become, looking back on the events of his life. Brought to Buckkeep Castle when he was six, he is left there – Bastard, as his grandfather who abandoned him and many after will call the boy. Son of King-in-Waiting Chivalry, the boy whose name becomes FitzChivalry is given in the care of Burrich, the stable master. Then King Shrewd takes an interest in the boy and asks Chade, his old assassin, to train him. Fitz is also given lessons in combat, writing, learns how to take care of animals and follows various assignations given by the king. It is not long before he becomes a weapon, a royal assassin whose actions change the course of history. He is Changer, Catalyst, his missions known only to a handful of people. He makes enemies – Prince Regal being the one who will seek his death, and friends – Prince Verity, Burrich, and even King Shrewd’s Fool, an exotic man nobody knows much about.

Fitz is the main character – everything revolves around him, his actions, and the consequences those actions have on his friends’ lives and that of his own. There is so much detail but the story never becomes complicated. I could write a summary of each book but there are too many surprises and I don’t want to give them away. So instead I’m going to focus on a few things I found very interesting.

Forging

The Six Duchies Kingdom is raided every year by the Red Ships – fighters who burn everything and leave none alive. Except the prisoners they take and “forge”; when the people are released they are but empty shells of what they have been, very much like zombies. Everybody is baffled as to the raiders’ intentions until we get to find out the purpose of their actions. That was a shocker but in the context of the story not surprising.

The Mountain Kingdom

This made me remember that famous song by John Lennon – Imagine. The Mountain Kingdom is a place where everybody lives in harmony, where people respect nature and live peacefully, where bright colors abound, where the king and queen live to serve the people and call themselves “Sacrifice”, where there is no opulence but everybody has what they need and everybody can come and go to the royal palace as there are no guards. This was my favorite land in the book. If I could choose one place in the books to live in, that would be it.

The Wit and the Skilling

The Wit is the ability to communicate with animals but that’s just the short version. The Witted (people who possess this gift) can bond with a creature to the point where they become a single soul dwelling in two bodies. Fitz bonds in turn with some of Burrich’s hounds and ultimately with Nighteyes, a wolf cub he saves. They can share thoughts without speaking and call each other “brother”. It was quite funny following the thought process of the wolf who lives in the here and now and whose routine is hunt-eat-sleep, without a care for the future. In time, Fitz and Nighteyes begin to share in each other’s traits and ultimately the wolf saves the man’s life through a very supernatural method.

The Skilling is the ability to share in other people’s thoughts. It can be used to manipulate by putting thoughts in people’s heads, even switch bodies for a while. But it can also be addictive and too much skilling can bring about a monstrous headache and complete exhaustion. Members of the royal family can skill, and Fitz also tries although not being trained, as the custom is, he’s more prone to making some serious mistakes. Imagine someone being able to see inside your head and find out all your secrets and innermost thoughts and then use them against you. That’s where putting up walls come in handy – the ability to shield your thoughts, but this takes so much energy that in a combat you can’t both fight and keep your walls in place.

The names

The Farseer line who rules the Six Duchies has always had names that reflected their character – the first Farseer, Taker, was the one who claimed the land for his own. King Shrewd, like his name, is a great manipulator but everything he does is for his kingdom. His sons – Chivalry, Verity and Regal, all live up to their names. Regal, the youngest son, is good looking and vain, jealous of his half-brothers (his mother is King Shrewd’s second wife), scheming and plotting murder.

The Fool and the Catalyst

King Shrewd’s Fool is quite the entertaining character – true to his name he is witty, full of tricks and extremely agile. But behind his painted face and sharp tongue he’s fiercely loyal to his king and through his riddles he tries to help Fitz as much as he can. In the last book his role becomes crucial and his purpose revealed. He reveals part of his plan to Fitz and calls him Catalyst, “the wedge I must drive into the world to change its course”.

References to The Lord of the Rings

This is something that became obvious in the last book – Prince Verity’s quest to the mountains to find the Elderlings who can help him save the Six Duchies from the Red Ships. I couldn’t help but think of Aragon and the spirits of the long ago kings, trapped in the mountain.
It’s a long quest and Verity can’t achieve his goal without help from Fitz and a handful of others. What the Elderlings are is not clear until Fitz and his group literally stumble upon them. To bring the creatures back to life, the ultimate sacrifice is required – one of the most emotional scenes in the book.

Love

Fitz loves Molly the candle-maker, a girl he had known since childhood. He wants to marry her but his duty to the Farseer kings is above anything else and so he must suffer heartbreak, especially after he finds out Molly is pregnant.
Prince Chivalry married for love a lady named Patience, defying his father’s wishes. She cannot have children so when news of Fitz reaches her, she is heartbroken but ultimately learns to care for the boy and to protect him.
Prince Verity must marry Kettricken, daughter of the ruler of the Mountain Kingdom, in order to open up trade with the mountain folk. What seems but a cold alliance at first will gradually become a great love story.
Burrich finds love as well, and he is probably the only one truly happy, although his happiness means somebody else’s suffering. Thankfully he is innocent of that and is able to live his life in peace.

*

There are many things I love about this trilogy – how the author uses the beginning of each chapter to offer snippets of the history of the Six Duchies; how women have just as important a role as men – the weapon’s master was a woman, and so was a Skilling master and some of the castle guards. But the thing I liked the most was following Fitz on his adventures and seeing how his bond with Nighteyes became stronger with time. Their relationship provided most of the humor in the story and I couldn’t help but think of another famous creature – Oy the billy-bumbler from Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series. Oy could also talk but in a more limited way, not like the wolf who does it through thought sharing, and both creatures are fiercely loyal. I was surprised how natural Fitz’s connection with the wolf seemed until I read this on Robin Hobb’s website:

“Robin Hobb is one of the world’s finest writers of epic fiction. She was born in California in 1952 but raised in Alaska, where she learned how to raise a wolf cub, to skin a moose and to survive in the wilderness. When she married a fisherman who fished herring and the Kodiak salmon-run for half the year, these skills would stand her in good stead. She raised her family, ran a smallholding, delivered post to her remote community, all at the same time as writing stories and novels. She succeeded on all fronts, raising four children and becoming an internationally best-selling writer. She lives in Tacoma, Washington State.”

I’m always fascinated by details from writers’ lives and how these details make their way into a story. Reading Robin Hobb’s short bio after enjoying this trilogy made me appreciate it even more. I was also surprised to see this is only one of the author’s pen names. Her real name is Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden.

After finishing this trilogy I immediately started on the next one called “The Tawny Man”. This follows Fitz and the Fool as they once again try to change the course of history. I was also very happy to hear there is a third trilogy in the works, “Fitz and the Fool Trilogy”, of which the first book is already written. I can’t wait to read it.

oncetimenine250 While I was reading this, Once Upon a Time started – one of my favorite reading events of the year so I’m more than happy to bring my contribution. The beautiful drawing is by artist Kim Kincaid.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in March-April 2015






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