Monday, July 15, 2013

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books (Part 9)

My dad has a 1-pound coffee can full of wheat pennies, and after spending too much of the weekend meticulously going through them to see if we might get lucky, I can confirm that he and I are still not independently wealthy.  Oh well.

I've also been reading, and not all those words are ponyfics!  Click down below the break to see what I'm in the middle of just now.

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Fire and Ice vol. 3), by George RR Martin

What it is:  The third book from that "Game of Thrones" thing that everyone seems to be talking about.

How I'm liking it so far:  First things first: I'm officially far enough that I can stop covering my ears and whistling Hail to the Chief every time I hear the words "Red" and "Wedding" spoken in the same sentence.  I'll avoid spoilers for anyone who's behind me, so all I'll say on the matter is: good riddance.

In unrelated news: There's not enough Tyrion in this book, Jamie Lannister's a much more interesting character than I suspected (so far), Bran's a much less interesting character than I suspected (again, so far), and I never ever ever want to read Mr. Martin's descriptions of sex again.  Seriously.  I'm not asking for erotica (in many cases, depicting the sexual interactions between various characters would be even more disturbing if it was "erotic"), but the author has an incredible talent for making any sort of "romantic" contact between people sound vaguely nauseating.  That isn't just me, is it?  Because I'm skimming over everything sexual at this point--it's the only way I'm going to be able to finish this book.

Recommendation:  That notwithstanding, I'm still enjoying most everything else about the book, and plan to keep going in the series.  Start with A Game of Thrones if you want to get into this series, obviously--this is definitely not one you want to dive into the middle of.

Space Between Words: the Origins of Silent Reading, by Paul Saenger

What it is:  The author's contention (a contested but not radical one) is that, up until the middle ages, reading in the west was done entirely out loud--whether in the form of public oratory, or mumbling quietly to oneself as one read alone.

How I'm liking it so far:  The premise here is that scriptura continua--writing with no spaces between words--implies a lack of silent reading, and the author brings to bear an impressive array of historical accounts, cultural cross-comparisons, and scientific studies on how people process language to support his case.  It's also as dry as the desert in December (that analogy may break down, depending on when your desert's dry season is).  I made it through the first two chapters, but I think I'm going to skim the rest; I'm interested in the subject matter, but the presentation is unapologetically, relentlessly academic.

Recommendation:  This is definitely not something for casual reading; it's not terribly accessible to the "average reader."  Still, if you've got the education, mental fortitude, and/or patience to tackle the stolid, solid case which Saenger makes, it's a fascinating topic.

The Foie Gras Wars, by Mark Caro

What it is:  An account of how one Chicago chef's decision to strike the foie gras from his menu opened a new front in the omnipresent culture war, and the strange bedfellows it brought together.

How I'm liking it so far:  First, a primer: foie gras is the liver a goose or duck which has been force-fed massive amounts for a few weeks before being slaughtered, enlarging the liver and giving it a distinctively succulent, buttery flavor and texture (if you've never had any, trust me; it's delicious).  Along with things like veal, foie gras is a dish that many people comfortable with eating meat in principal feel is unethical to consume.

The basic question at the heart of this book is whether the treatment of the fowl used to make this delicacy is cruel, which necessarily spirals into asking whether it's cruel compared to how we treat other animals, and by what yardstick one measures animal cruelty... there are some broad issues at play here.  And, where Space Between Words is unabashedly academic in tone, Caro (a writer for The Chicago Tribune) aims for a much broader audience.  I found the book engaging and evenhanded, examining the issue of food while giving time to everyone from PETA protesters to foie gras factory farmers.

Recommendation:  Anyone interested in culinary ethics will find this to be an entertaining yet informative read.

Fatal Revenant (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant vol. 2), by Steven R. Donaldson

What it is:  The second of four books in the third and final series of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant sees Linden Avery traveling back 10,000 years into The Land's past (to before the first book was set, for those of you keeping track) to recover a long-lost artifact.

How I'm liking it so far:  It's been a while since I mentioned Covenant, but I'm still getting ready for the October release of the final book in the quadrilogy which Donaldson says will be the last he shares about The Land, its inhabitants, its larger world, and about Covenant and Avery themselves.  I've still got a bit more to re-read from this book, and then one more door-stopper to go, to refresh myself when it finally comes!

Okay, so I like it.  There's not a lot to say without spoiling too much, so let me just say that this is my favorite book of the quadrilogy so far, and is one of the best examples I've ever seen of a reveal that you simultaneously see coming a mile away, and yet which keeps you guessing until the very end.

Recommendation:  I do and will continue to recommend The Chronicles to anyone who can make it past chapter seven Lord Foul's Bane without throwing their hands up in the air and saying "That's it; I'm done."


  1. Am I the only person on the planet not reading/watching Game of Thrones?

    I can't imagine not reading in my head. I hate reading aloud, as it makes me sound practically illiterate

    Up until a couple years ago, I'd never seen foie gras written, only heard of it. As a result, I'd thought it was spelled "faux grass" (yes, I know that would be pronounced differently, but I'd thought others were getting it wrong or possibly trying to sound fancier), and assumed it must be some kind of garnish

    1. You are not. In general, I already have little interest in fantasy as it is, and I have utterly no interest whatsoever in Game of Thrones. After hearing an assessment from my sister (whose opinion I trust on matters such as this), I can not find it in me to care about it whatsoever.

    2. Ah, so it is fantasy then? I'd assumed it was more of a historical drama. What sort of fantasy is it?

      I've been meaning to get into more swords & sorcery stuff as research for my D&D project. I mostly grew up with high-fantasy Bildugsromans, such as Earthsea and The Chronicles of Prydain. Good stuff, but practically useless for my purposes

    3. It's a story of a King dying and every bastard with a claim starting their shenanigans to take the Iron Throne. First 2-3 books are genuinely excellent if you like a mix of political intruige and brutal murders, but after that it gets a bit same-old same-old. I'm hoping the TV series can spice it up a bit, because at this point I just want Arya to die in a fire, and she's *supposed* to be a heroine of sorts, and she's even more annoying in the books.

      Because it's about a plethora of characters spread across two continents, it jumps around a lot. By book four I was fairly sick of it. I mean, I get that Sansa Stark is a whiny, damp squid of a girl, but that doesn't mean I want to waste time reading about it. I suppose it's natural that out of such a wide cast you will find a few you don't like, but when it comes down to skipping whle sections of story to avoid wasting your precious time, that's an issue.

      Be warned: there are no heroes here, only agendas.

    4. Yeah, I gave up on the series after the first book because I couldn't stand to read anther word in Dany's PoV.

      It really bothers me that the books are so popular; since the series so long, there are people who only read them, and nothing else. There are other, better fantasy novels that you could be reading. Take a break between books at least.

    5. I've also never had an interest in Game of Thrones, or the books it's based on. I have little time for TV in general nowadays, so when I do follow a show, it's usually because it's a carry-over from when I did have time. I still follow Dexter, for example.

      Game of Thrones though is one that I considered following when I first started hearing about it, because apparently a lot of people were quite into the series. Yet I also heard lots of people complaining about it, saying they hate this character or that character, or that they were getting bored of this plot element or some other variant on that. This blog and its comments section provided the equivalent commentary on the books.

      I eventually just decided against it. Yeah, I've heard a lot of praise for the series, but I've heard just as much scorn, and I don't really want to waste my time on something that's only half good.

    6. Inquisitor, that last line has to be the greatest advertisement I've ever seen! I may have to nick that from ya ;)

    7. Azu's post just reminded me: I was really disappointed with how Danny's purchase of the Unsullied was resolved. Right up until her "brilliant plan" worked, I kept thinking to myself, "Martin's not going to resolve this the way I think he is, is he? No, that would be stupid! That's something a lazy author who doesn't have any respect for antagonistic characters would do, and he's shown that he's better than that!" Then it turned out that the slavers really were dumb enough not to have a contingency plan in place for such an obvious reverse (and apparently, so was every other slave-buyer in the history of the city, if it never occurred to anyone to try that). That made me sad.

  2. From QI (A British comedy show about knowledge. If you haven't watched it, you really should):

    What Quite Interesting thing could Saint Ambrose do without moving his lips?

    Read. Ambrose (338-397, Bishop of Milan) appears to have been the first person in Europe who could read without moving his lips, according to St Augustine of Hippo (ie not the Augustine who was the first Archbishop of Canterbury, the other one).

    One assumes that reading quietly but still lip-syncing was something of a transitional period. As far as I know there are several historical figures who could read silently but still mouthed the words, including Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

    On Game of Thrones:
    I gave up at Feast For Crows, so I'm interested to see what you make of the latter books. And as for Tyrion, he just gets better and better!


  3. I tried the Donaldson series, but at chapter seven of Lord Foul's Bane I threw my hands up in the air and said "That's it; I'm done."