Friday, November 1, 2013

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books (part 11)

I hope all of you have a Friday free of sugar crashes and/or hangovers, depending on your age (One Man's Pony Ramblings does not endorse underage drinking.  It does, however, advocate consuming candy and/or booze in safe, responsible, and legal ways).  And now that you've got the partying out of your system, how about discussing some books?  Down below the break, as always.

P.S.  There was totally a girl rocking a Fluttershy costume at work!  Made my day, it did.

A Feast for Crows (book 4 in the series), by George R. R. Martin

What it is:  A few hundred thousand more words about Westeros.

How I'm liking it so far:  I'm almost finished with this book, and... well, it sure feels to me like a step down from the previous installments.  I think I've finally gotten to the point where I've stopped caring about the new characters and places Martin keeps introducing, and just want a semi-coherent account of what's happening to the ones I've already met.  For the life of me, I just can't bring myself to care one whit about Dorne, or any of the people down there--I just wanna know what happened to Tyrion!  And Danny!  And heck, even Bran--I may not have been very interested in his story, but I don't think I've heard from him since the last book.

On the plus side, the Lannisters collectively continue to be great, both in their "fascinating, complex characters" and "Jesus, ____, why are you so stupid?" incarnations.

Recommendation:  Look, I've invested enough time in this series now that it would take something pretty serious to get me to abandon it.  But I can't say I've liked this book nearly as much as the previous three.

The Duck that Won the Lottery, and 99 Other Bad Arguments, by Julian Baggini

What it is:  A collection of 100 thought exercises based around common logical fallacies.

How I'm liking it so far:  The examples which fill this book, are all taken from real life, which is at once instructive and kind of depressing.  The author poses a few discussion questions at the end of each story, which I think is a nice touch.  All in all, I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

Recommendation:  This would be great for a discussion group, but I've been using it as my "five minutes of free time" book due to the short and independent segments into which it divides, and it's been pleasant reading in that context too.

Faeries, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin Greenberg, and Charles Waugh

What it is:  Part of the Isaac Asimov's Magical Worlds of Fantasy series, a collection of about twenty fey-themed short stories.

How I'm liking it so far:  I read this one... it must have been at least fifteen years ago.  Anyway, I found a copy at a used book store not long ago, picked it up in a wave of nostalgia, and have started reading a story (or half--some of these are fairly long) before bed.

The collection is a very mixed bag, both in terms of story type and quality.  Tales range from folktale-style to high mythology to comic (though not parodic--the collection is all sincere stories), and while I'm really enjoying it, part of that's tied up in the aforementioned nostalgia.  So far, my favorite story upon re-reading is Lafcadio Hearn's The Dream of Akinosuke, which is all the more effective for being a simple, straightforward tale which nonetheless raises more questions than it answers.

Recommendation:  As a short story collection, I'd rate this as above-average but not incredible.  Definitely one for folks with a specific interest in modern authors' takes on fairie, and perfectly adequate for readers with a more general interest in some short fiction.

Twisted Tales from Shakespeare, by Richard Armour

What it is:  Basically, an entire book of snarking at Shakespeare, Elizabethan England, and (mostly) five of his most famous plays.

How I'm liking it so far: I love snark!  So yeah, I'm enjoying this a lot.  Allow me to quote a bit from the Romeo and Juliet summary, where Tybalt and Mercutio fight while Romeo tries to intervene:

"I am for you!" cries Tybalt, trying to mix him up, really being against him. 
As they fight, Rome steps between them, his courage mached only by his stupidity.  Tybalt thrusts under Romeo's arm and stabs Mercutio and flies.  We are not told what happened to the flies, but Mercutio is in a bad way. 
"I am hurt," he groans, in one of the greatest understatements in all Shakespeare. 
"Courage, man, the hurt cannot be much," says Romeo, who fails to notice that his friend is standing up to his ankles in blood.
Recommendation:  This is definitely worth reading for anyone who wants a metric ton of puns and general irreverence at The Bard's expense.


  1. I really need to read the second and fourth ones. It's been a while since I delved into a good book.

  2. Wow. That snippet almost makes Shakespeare bearable.

  3. A Feast For Crows is definitely a step down from the first three books. It's a long, meandering journey to no place in particular. We do learn quite a lot about Jaime and Cersie, but it takes far too long for too little information. Book five is better, but still not on the level that the first three were at. It kinda feels like Martin is getting bored with the world that he's created and is shaking things around, hoping that something interesting rises to the surface.

    1. Oh, and Dorne. Yes, I completely agree. That is the exact point where I threw my hands up and declared that one too many factions had appeared. He still has yet to do anything through the end of book five that makes me the least bit interested in their story. I like their pragmatic ruler, but that's about it.

    2. I got about 5 chapters into it and stopped. I'd love to know what happens to Tyrion next, but I'm not willing to trudge through a bunch of characters I care nothing for to find out. I'd rather wait for the T.V. show to catch up!

      It's good to know I'm so critical of famous authors too :P

    3. It's my opinion that what happens to Tyrion dips into the ridiculous, so you might not be missing anything. I feel like Martin kind of lost his way in book four and is just wandering around in book five. There are some interesting things that happen, but he's never really gotten back what he was doing, story-wise in book three. I'm just hoping that he has something to really wow me with by the end, because he looks lost.

    4. I don't think he has a clue what the end is.

    5. I heard once that GRRM essentially writes towards wherever the characters are leading him. He probably has some idea of what the endgame will look like (I bet it involves Daenerys saving Westeros from the White Ones, uniting the country in the process), but that also everything is prone to change. Considering how things have happened so far, it wouldn't surprise me if the seventh book was a long, detailed description of Arya watching corpses decompose.

    6. Man, I could only dream of an entire book about Arya. Even if it was just her watching a corpse, it would STILL be more interesting than anything happening in Dorne.

      And if it helps, InquisitorM, I hate everything, too. I'm miserable to watch a movie with or to ask about books. I dislike nearly everything.

  4. I was disappointed that I didn't see a single trick-or-treater dressed up as a pony. I was also disappointed that at the state fair last weekend, none of the usual cheap knock-off prizes were pony. I'd have hoped ponies were that pervasive in popular culture by now.

    1. A friend of mine found this at a county fair recently

  5. #2 sounds like something I'd enjoy. Discussing logical fallacies, especially concrete examples one sees in real life, was my favorite part of college. When explaining sunk costs, an economics professor related to us a story about how his brother owned a Ford Pinto, which of course had many, many problems. Rather than buying a new car, he reasoned he should keep the Pinto as he had already spent quite a bit of money on repairs. Eventually, it became totally wrecked and his mechanic actually offered to buy him on new one! The brother was able to see past the feigned generosity and realize the mechanic was simply trying to continue making money off of him, and finally decided to buy a new vehicle. Pretty funny stuff, until you notice your own family making similarly idiotic decisions

  6. Oh, what I have I read recently in my very limited free time.

    The Long Shadow of Antiquity: What have the Greeks and Romans Done for Us? by Gregory and Alicia Aldrete

    Pretty much the subtitle, what about our culture is owned to the Greeks and Romans and adaptations of that (who knew the idea of tossing and catching the bridal bouquet started with the bride tossing away a lit torch that was to signify she had left her parents). Aside from some overly explanatory parts on etymology, this was one of the most fun nonfiction books I've read since I started this semester. I recommend it to everyone.

    Blood Sisters by Sarah Gritswood

    A historical book on the Cousin's War (better known as the War of the Roses), this time with greater emphasize on the women during it. It's a nice book, and it strips away the mythology of the era, but even if I learned quite a bit, I'm not sure I was really enthralled at the end. There's a little too much speculation on certain things (e.g. sometimes a single source is given greater credence than it reasonably should be) and some roles are probably inflated.

    The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World by Jack Zipes

    Part biography, part analysis of the Grimm Brother's collection. It's too early for me to talk about whether it's good or bad, but I like it so far.

    Born under Saturn by Margot and Rudolf Wittkower

    A study on the idea that artistic inspiration is the result of a madness, one owed to things like melancholy and aberrancy. From the aloof da Vinci to the miserly Heemskerck, the descriptions and quotations (they draw upon the writings of the contemporaries or soon after historians and biographers for many of these people) of these painters are some of the most vivid (and sometimes very droll) ever for a person that they make the characters of a Dickens novel look rather normal.

    English as She is Spoke by Pedro Carolino

    BEST! DAMN! BOOK! IN! THE! WORLD! To quote Twain, "it is perfect."

    And I just started The Handmaid's Tale by Margret Atwood and I'm finishing up Phoenix (not literature, but technically it is a book).

    1. Yeah, if you haven't read English as She is Spoke, you haven't experienced the English language properly.

    2. I've never read it, somehow. I've heard plenty about it, of course, but never read it.