Wednesday, November 30, 2011

feedburner

I've just added RSS Feed capabilities via Feedburner. If you already pull a feed from this blog, and if it all works right, then nothing should change. If it has changed, or if you want some of this tasty content via your favorite feed reader, you can just clickety-click right here to get the new address.

You can also use the feed button in the right-hand column. It says "get yer feed on."

You may also notice that I'm trying a new template. I'm going for readability.

Let me know what you think! -Philo

Saturday, November 26, 2011

age of wonder i

So I'm going to have to break this one up into chunks; its a big boy. The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes, that is. I put this one on my list at some point a few months ago. I think I heard Holmes on a radio talk show, but I can't be sure.

Holmes has broken the story of this scientific era down into a series of stories focused on some of the larger movers in shakers in this age of wonder, as he calls it. That era of giddy exploration, and scientific discovery that took hold of the public imagination, and often drew the public in, creating countless amateur scientists, many of which ended up making significant discoveries or contributions to this explosion of knowledge.

The age of wonder Holmes is talking about runs from the mid- to late-1700s until the early-to mid-1800s. Holmes calls his story structure a 'relay race of scientific stories' that carries the reader through the heady, 'Romantic' science of the day with compelling stories (thus far, anyway) of the people who pushed the boundaries of science outward and upward, beginning at a time when the infant United States was just standing up, Franklin was spending time in Paris before Napoleon took France, and the monarchs of England, France, and Germany vied for scientific bragging rights.

Holmes really seems to love research, and it shows in his writing. The book is thick with both end notes (boring), and footnotes (riveting*). In fact the backmatter contains (in addition to the end notes) a bibliography, list of abbrevaitions, a cast of charaters (along with short biographies), and index and an epilogue.

There are also three little groups of illustrations tucked in at the quarter points, showing the players, big and small, diagrams, notes on discoveries, and images of scientific instruments.

* A few of the footnotes are mini stories, all their own. I can imagine Holmes spinning off on a tangent to find out more about some minor character, or cross checking some calculation and spending days doing the research for his footnote.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

guerilla library

Today's Boston Globe includes an article on the library that's been set up in the Occupy Boston camp at Dewey Square. Sorry about the link, but The Globe no longer supports the poor, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. You have to pay.

Its called the Audre Lorde to Howard Zinn Library, or the A-Z Library, for short. The Occupy Boston Wiki has a page for this, their tent city library, which has some helpful info, like what to do if there is no librarian on duty, where else you can find information, and how to ask a question.

According to the Globe article (print version) there was a library in New York's Occupy Wall Street encampment, which was discarded when the protestors were evicted by the city. The ALA apparently didn't like what they called the "dissolution of a library", and came out in a statement against the police action, calling it "unacceptable".

The A-Z Library at Occupy Boston is housed in an 11-foot-square military surplus tent, strung with a few reading lamps and a twinkling of Christmas lights. There are over 1000 volumes available to read and borrow, and help is available from volunteer librarians and library science students; folks like Radical Reference and the Simmons Progressive Librarians Guild.

According to the Globe, most Occupy movements have a library (there are some 900 ongoing or intermittent protests worldwide) and they start up organically. yeah! get some! The A-Z Library in Boston was started by John Ford, who owns an alternative bookstore called The Metacomet (pronounced metə 'kämit *) in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He brought the military tent, some old shelving and a few hundred volumes. The rest of the books come from donations.

Clearly, people have a visceral and unquenchable need for a library. The Audre Lorde to Howard Zinn Library is providing what the people need; not just books, but a place to go, to talk, to learn, to escape, to play. In their statement against the destruction of the Peoples Library at Occupy Wall Street library, the ALA stated that "Libraries serves as the cornerstone of our democracy and must be safeguarded."

The library is idea-cum-reality. People living in tent cities, trying to make the world a better place, create these places from the ether and raw will, because they need to.

That's guerrilla library.

* The Metacomet is named after a the war chief, or sachem of the Wampanoag. Metacomet was also known as Metacom or King Philip. He was the second son of Massasoit. After some manhandling by the Plymouth Colony folks, war broke out: King Philip's War.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

wrinkles

I just read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle; first published in 1962. I didn't know a lot about this story, other than it seems to have some legs, and I know there have been some movies made from it (probably for television, but I'm not sure.) And this is the first in a series of books about the same characters, and probably some related problems.

The version I read is a commemorative re-print from 1997, which is 35 years after the original publish date. I assume that what they're commemorating, or the Newbery Medal, rather than the cash. In the introduction, L'Engle is pretty psyched about the new artwork developed for the Time Quintet. Yeah, the picture is pretty cool, but I'm not sure how useful those wings are buddy. I wipe bigger wings than that off my windshield.

In any case, I'm not a big fan of this little story. Its obviously written for a slightly younger reader than me, but it was a little mushy, even for that. There were so many things that were just so gushingly, indescribably beautiful that they were usually just that: indescribably indescribable. I guess that's good for the budding imagination; what do I know. In contrast, the Christian preaching was a little heavy handed. Its almost as if L'Engle took a spin through Narnia i just used the books page to find this link. sweet! and said, 'Nope. Not in-your-face Christian preachy enough for today's kids. Forget lions, lets just get Jesus in there, fighting for the team.'

Sooo... the indescribable parts are left indescribed, because kids can imagine these things for themselves, but Jesus himself needs to be trotted right out there (along with a gaggle of old white guys*) rather than eluded to, because kids can't imagine these things for themselves.

Yeah, I think I got it.

If you like to bring it on strong when you're reading to the kids, and you like a quirky, good vs. evil story, you may enjoy this. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother.

* Gandhi and Buddha made an appearance as well. Whatever. The white guy thing was funny.**
** Everyone else on the list was an old white guy. 13 of them yo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

75 books - new page

The book you see reviewed directly below this post is my 75th book since starting this blog!

I was amazed when I counted them up. It usually takes me so long to read something, that I figured it would be less. When I told my wife, however, she said, 'That's it?' she can read a book in a day, yo!

So to celebrate, I've created a new page. You can see the link to it just above; in the white band between the blog entries in the incunabular illumination title bar. There are three of them now. The new page is called 'the books' and the link sits just between the links for the 'main page' (your there right now) and 'backmatter', which is more general info, and some links to other interesting things.

So what's this new page all about? Clickity-click and you'll see! Its a list of all 75 books, which link to my reviews.

So check it out and let me know what you think. It's link-rich, so let me know if you find any of them either broken or in error.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

sigurd and gudrún

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien) is Tolkien's take on some very old Norse epic poetry. If you've read any of Tolkien's other stuff, or certainly any of Christopher Tolkien's massive amount of published material about his father and his works, you may know that J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford who studied and lectured about literature and linguistics, in older forms of English and related languages. Tolkien brings his scholarly views to what is essentially the reconstruction of this group of poems that may date back over 1500 years.

Parts of the poems are missing--lost to time--but large portions of them were preserved in a volume called The Prose Edda by a dude named Snorri Sturluson, in the year 1200-something. In that volume Sturlson apparently has prose versions of some of the poetry along with the poetry fragments, which helps to infill the missing bits. According to the considerable discussion about Tolkien's versions of these poems (Lays), which Christopher Tolkien takes from his father's notes, lectures, letters, and marginalia, Tolkien did not believe that some of the story elements were original to the poems, but later additions or edits, added by later poets or bards, to fill in missing information or to make them more appealing.

Tolkien has essentially pulled the stories apart and tried to reassemble them in their original form, and when that's not possible, he tries to re-create the missing bits in a form more faithful to the original poet's style and intent. He then translates them into modern English, using that same Old Norse meter and alliterative verse scheme.

But why? Why would Tolkien bother?

What becomes clear from the time and effort he put into the study of these lays, Tolkien believed that the literature of what he called the 'North' was just as compelling, dramatic, and important as the Greco-Roman Classics, among others, that we've all grown up with. His discussions on the value of Beowulf, for example, changed the way that both scholars and readers approached this poem: as a work of art by a talented poet, not just an interesting historical document.

His study of this story, and stories like it, also inspired his writing in the Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. And not just Tolkien, the story of lost Rhine gold is the inspiration for Wagner's Ring Cycle, and other stories as well. The story is of heroism, love and love lost, war, Valkyries, Norse gods, rivalry and tragedy.

And Sigurd and Gudrún... they may love each other, but one gets the distinct feeling that they aren't fated to be together.
Yeah...kinda like that.

This book isn't just a compelling translation of some old Norse epic poetry, its a retelling of one of the most famous stories from the north. Its also a peek into the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien, and what inspired him. A little dry in places, but I feel like I'm learning something worthwhile. I may even look up old Snorri.

Read this book. Yeah, I said it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

three musketeers ii

Why am I writing about the The Three Musketeers again, when I finished reading it like... a year ago? Its because The Three Musketeers has always been one of the bigger hits on my blog. Month after month, that entry gets hits and I never really thought about it until today. But like ONE-HUNDRED FORTY hits in the last couple of days!? Weird, right?

Maybe not.

Here's what I'm thinking; I've got two teenagers in the high school, and so I happen to know that this is the last week of the semester. Now if you were a teenager who has a report or a test coming up on the book you were supposed to read, and you know, didn't, then where would you go to cram (by which I mean: cheat)? You'd go to the the internets baby, and do a google/yahoo/bing search for The Three Musketeers. And you might get a hit on this very blog entry that you are reading right now, if only because of the number of times that The Three Musketeers is actually written in here. But my guess is, if this entry does show up, it will be a lot further down the list, and my original The Three Musketeers entry will be higher, simply because its had so many hits.

OR...

This new movie is out right? It came out 2 weeks ago. Its got Orlando Bloom, Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Logan Lerman, and Milla Jovovich as Milady de Winter. The last time they filmed this was only in 1993, with Charlie Sheen! Keifer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Chris O'Donnell, and Rebecca De Mornay. IMDB lists no less than 48 film versions of The Three Musketeers, and rumors of another in 2013.

So maybe its that, and maybe its not. Maybe folks are just banging away on the search engines to find out about this story for some crazy reason I can't even guess at, but I'm not sure why so many of them (you?) are coming here.

If you've come to this blog in recent days, looking for The Three Musketeers, leave a comment and let me know why!

UPDATE! sort of
So my blog entry on The Three Musketeers is a big hit generator from Google (mainly) so I went to Google and did my own search, and this blog didn't show up in the the first, like, 8 pages.

BUT

If you do an image search, the image I used for my book review is right up there, near the top. Very popular. Why? Its big and clean, and has good color. Its actually the image of the paperback I read, which I bought used, and it shows the 1993 movie cast, so its clearly a mass market job printed up to take advantage of the interest generated by the movie.

So, nothing nefarious (unfortunately) and nothing new-movie related. I'm guessing its other folks who have read the book and are writing/blogging/book reporting about it, and need a clean jpg.

Anyho, I'm glad I can provide a service to the reading community.