The Great American Read

PBS is going all out this summer with a online voting thing to pick the best novel. They have revealed the America’s 100 most-loved books/series. This list is very diverse as it ranges from the classics like The Count of Monte Cristo to some of the modern classics like Harry Potter. Yet this is a strange list as it also contains books like Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight and even Ready Player One. Now I wouldn’t call any of these books “classics” or most loved by any shot.  Over in the United Kingdom they did a similar thing called The Big Read in 2003 where Lord of the Rings placed at the top of the chart. If it end like I assume it will either Lord of the Rings or The Great Gatsby will be ending up on top. To take a look at the complete list visit the website you can vote daily from the site or through Facebook or Twitter, so go vote for what you’d call the most popular book on this list.

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A Rumor of War

With Ken Burns and Lynn Novak’s new documentary miniseries The Vietnam War. I though it was the perfect time to re-read the seminal memoir of Vietnam. It was written by Phillip J. Caputo that came out at the time at the right time when America was turning the tide on how they thought about Vietnam. Rumor of War has been published in 15 languages and has sold over 2 million copies. When I first read it it was for school I took a class on the US in the 60s  each week we were to read and bring in a book review on the book for the week and we’d discuss what them in class. So when I first read it I mostly skimmed it so to get through it in a week and wrote up a book review on it that way. However this time I got around to actually going through and read it, it was a plus to have all the knowledge from the miniseries fresh in my mind as well as some of the things I didn’t understand as well when I first read it. If you were intrigued to go any deeper into The Vietnam War A Rumor of War is the classic solider memoir and provides a unique perspective to the conflict.

The Handmaid’s Tale

With all the hype around Atwood’s novel I decided to read it again. Now I “read” it for school back in over a decade ago, so it was a rushed job and I skipped around in the second half of the book reading the important chapters that we were discussing in class and whatnot. We analyzed that book up and down so my first go around wasn’t that enjoyable. So with the Trump Presidency, this has become one of the turn to dystopian books that has gotten a remarkable boost in readership. There is also the Hulu series which is going to have a second season. Now the book and television show are two completely different things, this is about the book.

The book which it all was inspired by is a decent read and if you haven’t had the chance to read it or were forced to read it in school perhaps now is the time to re-read it and give it a second look. The book is the recollections of a Handmaid- Offred living in a theocratic military dictatorship in the Republic of Gilead, although the book is set in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the Handmaid of The Commander, Fred and his wife Serena Joy. Offred is there to have children and that’s her role in the society. It is an interesting exploration of how people just go along like sheep, and not want to rock the boat. So when the Republic of Gilead was formed all women were fired from their jobs and all their assets were frozen and they were placed in one of four groups, Wives
(wore blue)/ and daughters (white), Marthas (green), Handmaids (red), and Econowives (all colors). Reading and writing for women was forbidden. These are extreme laws but it isn’t that far from some of the extreme laws that lawmakers already want. The book is a cautionary tale just like the film Idiocracy, so we need to care about women’s rights as well as work for the common good.

 

Perelandra

The second book in the Space Trilogy by CS Lewis. This book picks up several years after the last book (Out of the Silent Planet) ends and tells of the adventure that Edwin Ransom had when he went to Perlandra (Venus). It begins with how the first book ends with Lewis coming for a visit Ransom. The first two chapters are getting Ransom ready to go to Venus in his white coffin shaped vessel as well as what happened after he returned to Earth a year later. The rest of the book is Ransom recounting to Lewis and Humphrey what took place on Venus.

Once again it is wonderful to read of how Venus was seen in the past. Perlandra is a large ocean of a world that is dotted with rafts of vegetation like where most life on Venus lives. There is another place “Fixed Land” a regular island but it is a forbidden place to stay. Perlandra’s sky is golden and opaque it is dim during the day and you can’t see the stars at night. When Ransom arrives he splashes down into the large ocean and sort of can’t do anything although eventually he get onto a raft of vegetation. Then the story can begin. Ransom first meets a dragon-like creature who and it follows him around a couple of days or so later Ransom sees someone on another island waving. Eventually the rafts get closer and they can talk and Ransom meets the Queen of the planet. The Queen tells Ransom things about Maleldil (Jesus) and we learn that she and the King are the only inhabitants of this world.

One day while Ransom and the Queen are on Fixed Land the see a craft crash into the ocean of the planet and who is inside but Dr. Weston, if you remember him from the last book he was one of the antagonist, but here he is inhabited by the bent one. Weston tries to get the Queen to sleep on Fixed Land. It’s the Adam and Eve story told on Venus but this time it’s going to work out for the best at least that is the hope of the Oyarsa of Mars. According to the cosmology in the field of Arbor the inner planet are the newer ones and as you go out further the planets get older.

This book was a surprisingly great read for the season of Lent as it deal with a struggle with the devil. If you read the first book this one continues the story but it’s not like you need to read the first book to understand what all is going on. Once again it isn’t that overly religious and deals with the idea that the legends and myths of our world are things from other worlds and/or the past. It is a rather short read like the first book and now I’ve got to read the final book in the series.

Go Tell It on the Mountain

With that James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro in theaters now or just out of theaters and it being Black History month.  I’ve read, his short story, Sonny’s Blues many times and Go Tell It on the Mountain is one of those highly rated books on those list of best books of the 20th century, so I decided to read it.

Go Tell It on the Mountain was written in the 1950s and is a semi-autobiographical novel about an African American family living in Harlem in the 1930s and the role that the Pentecostal Church plays in their lives, specifically the lives of John Grimes, a 14 year old and his mother (Elizabeth), father (Gabriel) and aunt (Florence). The main conflict in the novel is between John and his father who hates him for unknown reasons according to John. We learn more about Florence, Elizabeth and Gabriel in flashbacks to how they got here. There is the constant struggle of what make a good person and can a person really change just by saying so. Florence seems to think that Gabriel is still the same person he was growing up even though he has become born again and a deacon in the Church. We get some racial issue sneaking in which seem to express the same concerns today as Black Lives Matter does but Baldwin only acknowledges it as racism existed then and still does today. Sure some progress has been made but not much and it still remains that all of us are held to the same standards by the same God.

The book doesn’t take any sides or point out flaws it just offers that we all are capable at doing good or bad but most of the time we live in between hoping that we do good.  It was a nice book to read and should be put on more high school reading lists.

Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet is the first book in C.S. Lewis’s Space or Cosmic Trilogy.  Lewis is best known for the Narnia series and his work in apologetics.  Now, I never got into the Narnia books growing up and have seen the live action movies but even so my first real introduction to Lewis came in college when I read the play Shadowlands, which is about the romance of Joy Gresham and Jack. I’ve read some of his apologetic works but not much else, so when I saw C.S. Lewis on a list of Great Science Fiction book I knew that I should get around to read it. Spoilers to follow, so please read with caution.

According to a biographer the book series came out of a conversation Lewis and his friend J.R.R. Tolkien had about the state of contemporary fantasy. They agreed that Lewis would write a space-travel story, and Tolkien would write a time-travel one. Lewis books came out and a fragment of a fourth eventually followed, while Tolkien’s time-travel story didn’t go far as only a rough draft exist which sort of linked the current world to that of Middle Earth. It sounds interesting and is found in The Lost Road and Other Writings.

Out of the Silent Planet is a book about space travel. We follow a brilliant philogist (linguist), Dr. Elwin Ransom, who get tricked into traveling to the planet Malacandra by Dr. Weston and Devine. Weston and Devine kidnap Ransom and bring him to Malacandra so as to give Ransom to the sorns as a sacrifice. When they land Ransom hearing their plan decides when they land to run off and escape his fate. Ransom runs off and gets lost on this strange world. He eventually befriends another species the hross, who Ransom learns about the planet as well as the language. The inhabitants of Malacandra (sorns, hross, pfifltrigg) also learn from Ransom about Earth or Thulcandra, the silent planet. Ransom is eventually summoned to see Oyarsa the ruler of Malacandra or Mars and his travel companions end up here as well.  The book has a wonderful ending, but you are going to have to read to find out what happens.

It is interesting to read about the wonders of the landscape of Mars as thought of in 1938. If you want a lesser know science fiction novel it is a great thing to pick up. There are some religious elements but it is not overly religious like the Narnia books. It is a quick and easy read, sure there are some words in Old Solar Language but there were quickly defined in English.

Stone Tables

Stone Tables is a novel by Orson Scott Card about Moses. I first heard about the book from reading the books in the Women of Genesis series, which Card profiles the life of one of the Matriarchs in Genesis (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah). We often times put Moses and other Biblical figures on a pedestal but Card’s book does a great job at making them feel real by fleshing out the character. If you are a fan of Orson Scott Card’s other works you might be interested in checking this out. The first Card book I read was Ender’s Game and his writing has grown on me over the years. Moses seems like the one Bible character that we can all identify with as he struggles throughout his life, he isn’t that great with word but he overcomes this to help lead the Israelites out of Egypt. It would be interesting in Card eventually got to Zipporah but then it would just be women of the Bible series. The book itself isn’t preachy about become Mormon or anything but it provides a nice Christian overtones throughout. If you are looking for a new book to read Stone Tables might be a good selection.

Star Wars News

A new Trailer for Rogue One has been released. We will be seeing the capturing of the plans to the original Death Star so it’s somewhat like the old PC game Dark Forces. If you haven’t played it before best to play it on the PC, and I’m sure there are legal ways to play it still. I played it growing up and it was one of those games that I play through several times. Only four months to wait for the movie to come out.

There are also rumors that in the Han Solo anthology film is going to have Lando Calrissian in it and Donald Driver is in running for the part. Perhaps we will see that game of Sabacc where Han won the Falcon from Lando and other elements from The Han Solo Trilogy of book and incorporate them in  the Han Solo movie. Kind of like what they’ve done with introducing Thrawn into the Canon with him appearing in season three of Rebels.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

For my birthday my sister got me a unique gift a trilogy of books which are Star Wars written in the style of Shakespeare. The plays were written by Ian Doescher and they offer a unique look at the world of Star Wars. Ian Doescher has written both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, I’ve only read the Originals but I first heard about this work from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s podcast, where Ian was interviewed.  I am a huge Star Wars fan and have a deep admiration of Shakespeare as well so these were a wonderful thing for me to read. Once I finished reading I found on Youtube that people have put on production based on the the scripts. These are pretty amazing to watch and it looks like it works well on stage as well.

 

Goosebumps (2015)

Growing up the Goosebumps book series along with the television series that followed were big things. So I was a little excited when I heard they were making a Goosebumps movie it was something that I wanted to see eventually. It’s on Netflix right now so take your time and watch it. Spoilers to follow.

Now this is a unique story as it takes all the Goosebumps monsters and brings them together in one story.  The story begins with Zach and his mother, Gale, moving from New York City to Madison, Delaware. While moving in Zach meets their neighbors Hannah and ‘Mr. Shivers’ (Jack Black). Hannah and Zach become fast friends but her father doesn’t approve and tells Zach to stay away. One day Zach hears some screaming next door and calls the police to investigate. Zach calls his new friend from school Champ to help investigate and they stumble upon a bookcase containing Goosebumps manuscripts that are all locked up. Zach opens one and out comes the monster, The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, Hannah finds them and tries to get the monster back in the book before her dad gets home but the monster escapes and eventually Mr. Shivers comes and saves the day recapturing the Abominable Snowman. On the way back home it is revealed that Mr. Shivers is really R.L. Stine. After they bring the book back it turns out that another book was opened and out came Slappy the Dummy, who decides that he is sick of sitting on a shelf and burns his manuscript takes the rest of them with him and unleashes all of them on the town. That’s only the first half of the film.

I though it was a fun film and it gives a nod to just about every Goosebumps book if your a long time fan it’s a decent film to watch. Jack Black does a great job and it seems like all of his films have been enjoyable. If you read or watched anything Goosebumps this is a nostalgia fest, pointing out things from the books.