Wednesday, February 26, 2014

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books (Part 12)

If I've done this twelve times, I suppose "for a change" is something of a misnomer, isn't it?  Still, it's been a few months since last time; I suppose that's what counts.  Click down below the break to see what my non-fanfic, for-fun reading time is currently being consumed by.

Bridge: Techniques and Tips from the Masters--4249 Diagrammed Hands and Plays, by Glorya Hale and Nancy Starr

What it is:  The title's pretty self-explanatory; it's a whole bunch of bridge problems, in sets prefaced by a unifying lesson (how to respond to partner's double, knowing when to try for a slam, etc.).  The techniques and suggestions are mostly general (i.e. not specific to a particular bidding system), but this isn't a book for beginners; it assumes a working knowledge of bridge play from the reader.

How I'm liking it so far:  Well, I like bridge despite not being very good at it (part of that is not having a consistent partner--part's just my tendency to figure out the right bid/play well after it's too late), and this book is proving very informative.  Plus, working through the bidding quizzes and hands is fun.  Well, for me it is.

Recommendation:  Definitely only a book for bridge players, this isn't the place to learn about the game.  But if you know the basics and are looking to clear up your play, this would be a good resource.

Thereby Hangs a Tale: Stories of Curious Word Origins, by Charles Earle Funk

What it is:  Essentially, a dictionary of word origins.

How I'm liking it so far:  I really love these kinds of books, so I'm really loving this one, no surprise.  When I say "dictionary," I'm not kidding--there are several thousand words collected here, and it's proving to be quite a romp through the evolution of the language.

Recommendation:  That said, this is far more academic in tone than something like, say, Bill Bryson.  I think it might be best to quote one of the shorter entries, the history of the word "book:"
In Rome, the inner bark of certain trees furnished the material that was used for paper.  This inner bark was called liber a word that furnishes the root of "library."  In England, and other Gothic countries, it was the inner, thin bark of the beech tree which the scribes used.  The word for this tree was, in Old English, boc; so the name of the writings upon the bark came to be known by the same word, which, after many centuries, became book.
If that looks like fun reading to you (and it does to me, but hey, your call), this is definitely worth checking out.

Old Peter's Russian Tales, by Arthur Ransome

What it is:  A collection of Russian folktales, as related by a turn-of-the-(19th)-century English author.

How I'm liking it so far:  This is a book from my childhood, which I happened to spot a free ebook edition of.  So, I grabbed it, and have been re-reading the stories.  I loved these stories when I was little, and re-reading them now is tremendous fun and packs quite the nostalgic punch.

Recommendation:  These are definitely children's stories; since these stories are themselves my primary familiarity with Russian folklore, I can't personally speak to the amount of bowdlerization here, but I'm going to go with "more than 'none,' but less than Andrew Lang."  If you like what me might call "classic British children's authors" (Ransome is better known for his Swallows and Amazons books; comparable authors would include the likes of A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh) and Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows)), or better yet, have a child to read them to, I highly recommend this book.

Issac Asimov's Caliban, by Rodger MacBride Allen

What it is:  The first book of a trilogy, based on notes from Asimov (or possibly just ideas; I'm not clear on the level of connection between the plot/writing and Asimov himself) concerning a new set of robot books set in his famous universe.

How I'm liking it so far:  To be honest, I'm not really on board with the concept here (that a new type of robot has been created which isn't bound by the Three Laws).  I mean, the Three Laws of Robotics are the defining feature of Asimov's robots, and... well, it doesn't feel right to me.  I'm only a few chapters in, though, and I'm not going to give this up unless a) I get well into it and still can't buy into the concept, or b) it does something else which actively annoys me (it hasn't, yet).  So, yeah; we'll see.

Recommendation:  The writing quality is a lot less mercenary than I expected; Allen doesn't try to write like Asimov (probably for the best), but this is very readable, and it's clear that at least some care was put into the final product.  To many posthumous continuations (I'm looking at you, Brian Herbert and Keven J. Anderson) seem content to ride their series' name and milk it with minimal effort.  So, if the whole "no Three Laws" thing doesn't bother you, this might be worth a look.


  1. "If you like what me might call..."

    Oh no, Chris has gone caveman on us!

    1. Unga Bunga. Me wonder if Chris ever see Captain Caveman as boy.

      And with regard to posthumous continuations, I'm also looking squarely at you, Todd McCaffrey.

      Also, Chris, based on your review above, I'm guessing you also like one of my old favorites, Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary.

  2. Wordgasming over that word book. Need.

    1. Amazon has several editions of Thereby Hangs a Tale... including a used one for a penny (plus shipping).

      As for liber being the root of "library", that's true, but it is more directly Latin for "book", and it is the plural form that gives us the word for "library."


  3. I'm always fascinated with the origins of words, especially colloquialisms.
    I'm also usually fascinated with folk tales.

    Word of the Day: Bowdlerization.