Philosophical Musings of a Book Nerd

Another Colourful Book about Trains

The Romance of the Railways : The Question and Answer Encyclopedia Series - Harvey T. Grant

After reading a bunch of train books that my brother owned I started to realise that they pretty much all say the same thing. Well, not all the same things because some of them focus more on one area than on others, but they all tend to look at how trains were first developed, and then how they work, and then some of the record breakers that are around. The other problem is that these books were written quite some time ago, namely when we were kids, so a lot of the things in the book are out dated. Okay, not the history and details of the steam trains, but rather the more modern aspects of rail transport and the records that have been broken.

 

However, as I mentioned, they still make mention of things that haven’t changed. For instance the longest railway in the world is still the trans-Siberian railway (and I’m not entirely sure if it is actually possible to beat that record, unless you build one from Terra del Fuego to Alaska), and the longest, straightest railway is still the track that crosses the Nullabor Plain in Australia. The other thing worth mentioning is that in Australia most railways are still only used for freight, and in fact passenger rail has declined even further since this book was written, with the Overland between Adelaide and Melbourne only running twice a week.

 

The book itself was a rather fun read though, since it is structured as a series of questions and answers. The other thing is that it also has pretty pictures, and the kid in me still really enjoys non-Fiction books with pretty pictures. Okay, you get some books that have a collection of plates in the middle, but they aren’t anything like the pretty pictures that these children’s books have. Okay, maybe my ability to read the English language has increased substantially since I was a kid so I don’t actually need pretty pictures anymore, but on the other hand, I there is nothing stopping me from buying such books in French and German, though I suspect the way they teach French and German to adults is somewhat different to the way they teach communication skills to kids.

 

Anyway, here is a pretty picture of a steam train for your amusement:

 

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/82/58/fc/8258fc1dbc70677372874f98af1ec87a.jpg

 

 

The book was entertaining, and half the reason I read it was because I went on a ride on the steam train down at Victor Harbor, a seaside town near where I grew up. For those who are interested, here is a blog post on my travel blog on that little day trip, and another post on steam trains on my other blog. To round everything off, here is a link to a video of some rather extreme railways.


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1947079113

Not Everybody wants to Live in the Fast Lane

Mr. Slow - Roger Hargreaves

Can you believe it. I read Mr Busy, which is about how Mr Busy and Mr Slow go on a picnic and Mr Slow then decides to hide because he likes to take his time doing things and enjoying life, while Mr Busy, like me, tries to cram as much into a day as possible. Well, I go into my study and sure enough, the next Mr Men book sitting on the pile just happens to be Mr Busy. Actually, I'm not entirely sure which one comes first, though I suspect it is Mr Busy because Mr Slow actually talks about the time that he and Mr Busy went on a picnic. However, this story is about Mr Slow, and how he tries to find a place in this world.

 

Look, I won't go into details, but he does try out a lot of jobs, and the problem is that pretty much all of these jobs need him to be really fast. In fact this seems to be the case with the world in which we live – speed and accuracy are the two things that are valued the most in the business world. Actually, I note that the word business actually contains the word 'busy' (or 'busi'), which suggests that the whole purpose of business is to keep up busy, maybe because if we are busy then we are distracted, and if we are distracted then we aren't going to be in a position to rock the boat. Actually, for most of us we are either busy or poor because if we are rich, and don't have to work, we aren't going to rock the boat because that is going to work against us.

 

Anyway, the thing about Mr Slow is that he enjoys life, and in fact he has learnt that taking things slow has its benefits. The thing is that I wish I could take things slowly, like spend a lot more time taking in the beauty of the paintings and the sculptures at the Musee D'orsay, or be able to appreciate the weirdness of the art in the Tate Modern. However the problem is that time gets away from us, and before we know it we wake up, we are fifty, and we are wondering what happened to that time between when we were running amok as teenagers and now.

 

The same goes with books, but the thing with books is that there are so many out there that I simply don't have the time to not only read, but to enjoy, them all. Mind you, there is always the problem of finding a good book and finding a bad book, and with people like me, I simply cannot put a bad, or a boring, book down until I have finished it. It is the same with movies – I can't stop watching a movie until I get to the end, no matter how boring it happens to be. Mind you, that probably has a lot to do with me not being qualified to write a review until I have finished reading the book or watching the movie.

 

At least Mr Men books are short, sharp, and shiny. However, we should all be like Mr Slow and instead of burning through our dinners and our desert, that we should take our time and really savour the taste.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1945691945

You’re Never As Smart As You Think You Are

Mr. Clever (Mr. Men and Little Miss Series) - Roger Hargreaves

Well, this was a rather interesting little book. It starts off in a place called Cleverland where everybody is awfully clever, and it is about Mr Clever who happens to be really, really clever. In fact he is so clever that he loves to remind everybody of how clever he is. Mind you, the guy is pretty smart, and I suspect he happens to be an engineer because he has invented a multipurpose alarm clock, a toaster that toasts his bread, spreads butter and jam all over it, and then cuts off the crust. Oh, and he also invented a toothbrush that squeezes the toothpaste onto the brush. In fact the ideas make me want to go out and build them for myself (despite not being an engineer).

 

The problem is that while he is really clever when it comes to engineering projects, it turns out that he actually isn't as clever as he thinks he is (or he claims that he is). Sure, he can build a fancy house, and create fancy inventions, but when it comes to everyday things, like telling a joke, or baking a cake, or even offering some advice, he really doesn't know where to start. It sort of goes to show that while me may be clever in one area, there are no doubt areas where we really fall down.

 

It actually makes me think of the renaissance men, such as Leonardo da Vinci. Sure, he was an inventor, and he certainly had an ability a paint people, but I wonder if he knew how to tell a joke, or whether he knew how to bake a really delicious cake. The same goes with Michaelangelo – sure, he certainly had a knack when it came to painting ceilings, but I wonder if he could offer a bit of advice to a friend that was having problems with a rebellious teenager (not that they actually had teenagers back then).

 

It also reminds me of a story about the rich and famous. Apparently they don't know how to drive a car, namely because they are so used to having other people drive them around, and having their own maids and cooks, that when it came to actually cleaning their house and cooking a meal they are at a loss. In fact I wonder if they even know how to put a frozen meal into a microwave and heat it up? Probably not. I do remember watching a Micheal Moore episode where he was trying to get CEOs of various companies to actually do the job that the average worker in the front line of their business does – such as making a big mac. It turned out that the only person to take him up on the offer was the CEO of Ford, who proceeded to show Moore how to change the oil in a car.

 

Well, I guess the moral of the story is not to go around telling everybody how awfully clever you happen to be because sooner or later somebody is going to come around and basically show you up as a fool.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1945683228

Sometimes it's just best to relax

Mr. Busy - Roger Hargreaves

Well, this is a rather interesting Mr Men book because it pits two opposites up against each other: Mr Busy, who happens to be really, really fast and Mr Slow who, you guessed it, happens to be incredibly slow. Well, the book is focused on Mr Busy, but Mr Slow is also a major character in the book and it sort of goes to show how two opposites don't really need to be forced to do what the other wants to do. It seems as if they are both friends, but the problem is because Mr Busy is so fast Mr Slow just doesn't have enough time to catch up, in the end he looks for ways to get away from Mr Busy.

 

I guess the thing that I picked up with this book is that people aren't always the same, but also if we live life too fast we might end up missing a lot of it. Okay, that may not be the case because I am actually a lot like Mr Busy, I live life fast because there is so much to do, and no time to do it all in, that I want to cram as much of it in as possible. Actually, the invention of the digital camera and the smart phone is an absolute boon because I can rush through art galleries, take photos, and then when I wind down can actually appreciate the images I took. Okay, I do have to becareful because if I go too fast I end up taking photos that are basically crap, but fortunately quite a few of the museums around the world have digitised their art so if my photo is crap then I have a back up.

 

Like this Monet:

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/31/Claude_Monet_023.jpg/220px-Claude_Monet_023.jpg

 

Anyway, this isn't a book about living life fast but rather a book about how many of us are actually quite different, which is something that I have only recently discovered. While I like to try and see as much as possible, and will rush through a museum exhibit taking a multitude of photos, the person that sits next to me at work isn't necessarily like that. In fact while I might be counting down that days for my next trip to a place I have never been to before she is counting down to the day she goes to a place she has been to a multitude of times before because she knows that she loves that place and doesn't need to always to go some place new.

 

Further more, the guy that I speak to on the phone everyday has no intention of leaving the country because his idea of fun is sitting on a jetty with a fishing rod with his mates. In fact he may never actually catch a fish but he doesn't care because catching fish isn't the objective of the exercise, but rather sitting on the jetty with his mates. In fact, while I would not consider myself a fisherman, I have come to understand people's obsession with fishing – it has nothing to do with catching fish and everything to do with wasting your time with friends. Okay, I'm a traveller, and I love to travel (just like my brother does) but not everybody is like that – sometimes people simply love sitting on a jetty, with friends, attempting to catch fish that aren't even there.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1943135022

The Death of Determinism

Notes from Underground - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky

Honestly, I'm not really all that sure where to start with this story. I noticed that when I read it before I made a comment on how it can be pretty difficult to follow, but that is understandable considering it is written from the point of view of a man (which doesn't have a name by the way) looking back on his life and trying to understand the nature of existence – whether our fate is decided by us or whether we are masters of our own fate. Well, not really, though there are a number of elements in the story that explore the clash between determinism and existentialism, however the strong theme in my mind seems to be that while humanity desires a world in which there is no pain, for some reason they are not willing to make the steps necessarily to reach that world – in a sense humanity is addicted to suffering.

 

 

I have to admit that the narrator as a character isn't all that flattering. In fact I get the impression that he would fall into the category known as a 'homeless bum' (as well as the term an unreliable narrator). However, I feel a little uncomfortable using that term because it has the connotation of painting the homeless as being lazy, alcoholic, and basically responsible for the situation in which they have found themselves when in reality there are a lot of conflicting issues that drive them to that point. The interesting thing is that when we think of a 'homeless bum' we usually conjure up images of elderly people, usually always men, who are incredibly unkept, always drinking wine out of flasks (which in Australia is referred to as goon-juice), but ironically never begging. What is interesting is that we also tend to paint them with the image of being uneducated, and in a way illiterate because how could somebody who is educated willingly land up in such a situation.

 

I'm not really sure if this is the image that Dostoevsky is trying to instil into our mind, but then I come from the school of thought that suggests that a novel will take on its own meaning as time moves on. For instance Gulliver's Travels began as a writing of political satire which has morphed into a children's tale. While the nature of Notes from the Underground hasn't changed to that extent the nature of the narrator has, namely because the inference is that he is writing about his past, and about his existence, from the Underground. However, our immediate understanding of The Underground either has a political, or criminal, connotation. However my understanding is that the underground in which the narrator inhabits is neither political nor criminal, but rather outside of the social norm. In a sense our narrator, having realised that he is unable to exist in society, retreats from society and spends the rest of his life there.

 

The story is divided into two parts, with the first simply seeming to be a lot of incoherent ramblings, but in fact is the narrator attempting to understand the nature of the human condition. The second half is a story, or a thought experiment, were he looks back onto his past to a point in time that could be considered the turning point in his life. Here he meets up with some friends and immediately has an argument with them, and they leave him because, well, they have better things to do than argue with an irrational man – like going to a brothel. However he follows them but when he arrives at the brothel he discovers that they have already retired to their rooms, so instead he decides to spend some time with a prostitute named Liza.

 

This is where it gets pretty deep, or at least for Liza, namely because the narrator pretty much exposes the reality of the situation that she faces – she is young and has a commodity that she is able to sell, but there will come a time when that commodity will no longer have any real value, and she will find herself discarded on the proverbial trash heap. However, the narrator isn't some superhero that flies into the brothel to save Liza because when Liza tracks him down afterwards he basically tells her than he doesn't want anything to do with her and to get lost. He then has second thoughts but it is too late, and the book then ends.

 

This thought experiment, particularly the statements regarding prostitution, do bring about a reality of the profession. These days it is legal in a number of western countries, but legalisation of prostitution doesn't clean up the profession, it just exposes it to people that would not necessarily have gone down that road (and drives the illegal aspects much further underground, as well as opening up the truly desperate to much more violence than before legalisation). For instance, when it is a criminal offence, there are people that are unlikely to become prostitutes, however by legalising the profession it opens up another opportunity and they decide to take it up on that offer, only to discover that they have been tarred with the label of being a 'filthy prostitute' by the so called respectable members of society (who probably spend a fair amount of time in brothels themselves). I have spoken to a lot of people who have tried to defend the profession in that it is a legitimate business since if somebody loves sex why not work in a profession where they can have lots of sex. Well, that is all well and good, but the point isn't that they need to convince me because I work on the principle that if that is what they want to do then who am I to stop them, but rather that society still has a view on prostitutes, and unfortunately that view isn't all that nice. Further, there is also the question of the objectification of women, and the fact that it is really a profession that has have a limited shelf life because no matter how enlightened we are (or claim to be), when we go onto the dating sites we always look at the photos first and then go onto the description (if we even read it).

 

Let us then take this idea of suffering – this isn't the idea of if there is an all powerful and good God then why do we suffer, namely because Dostoevsky explores that in The Brothers Karamazov. Instead this is the idea that the main reason we do not move towards a utopia is because we, as humans, has this innate desire to suffer. It is like the idea that the hunt is actually more enjoyable than the kill, or the movie is more enjoyable than the ending. In a way we have this desire for a utopia without suffering, and while we want to get there, we drag our feet because there is something in us that wants to suffer, as if to be in pain actually gives us an identity. This isn't the concept that bad things happen because bad people make them happen, this is where we see an answer to the problem and then turn around and walk away because once we have found that answer the problem has been solved, and in a sense a part of us has now died.

 

 

This seems to have something to do with how the narrator fights with his friends, and also how he fights with Liza when she arrives at his apartment. In a sense, in speaking with Liza, he is not only offering her a way out, but he is also offering a way out for himself, yet in the intermediate time he begins to have second thoughts. In a sense it seems as if that empty part of him may be fulfilled, and to have that empty part filled, he ceases to be who he is, which is why he then proceeds to reject Liza. However, after she has left, he realises that the empty space is still there, and he wants it to be filled, and returns to his quest to fill it, only to discover that the opportunity has been lost, and has been lost forever. In a sense it is like the person who hates their job, but never does anything to change that position because of the belief of having any job is better than having no job, when in the end having a good job is much, much better than having a bad job. Still, the belief, in the end, is that there is no such thing as a good job so I might as well stick with this bad job than running the risk to getting a job that is even worse.

 

Finally, let us consider the nature of existentialism verses determinism. It was around this time that writers began to question the idea that we have a set place in the world that was determined by a higher power before we were born. Liza is a prostitute because it was decreed by God before time began that she would be a prostitute, and if she didn't like that then bully for her. However, existentialism effectively tells us not to blame God for what is in effect our life choices, which is why Liza decides to make the decision to leave the life of the prostitute and to strike off into a brave new world. This is the essence and that is the realisation that we have the ability to make a decision. In a sense it is that decision that we can make that moves us toward the utopia, though as Liza inadvertently discovered, while she has the power to make the decision, it does not necessarily mean that the decision is going to be plain sailing, or that she can easily cast off the shackles of her past.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1934760688

A Stellar Arms Race

Star Trek: Tests of Courage - Howard Weinstein

A part of me wanted to write about how this story deals with the issues of the nuclear arms race and also the conflicting nature of the Hippocratic Oath in the context of war, until I realised that this is basically Star Trek and I have to admit that I am really not a huge fan of Star Trek. Okay, I do watch the odd movie that makes its way to the screen (including the three reboots that have arisen over the last few years), and I have also watched all of Deep Space 9 and quite a few of The Next Generation (and Star Trek Voyager) but in the end it still comes down to the fact that it is Star Trek, which while it is a science-fiction adventure, it is set in this semi-utopian future that basically wants to make me sick.

 

Anyway, I found this comic book (I am not going to dignify this book with the title graphic novel, namely because in my mind graphic novels tend to be much more sophisticated than was is in effect a licensed form of fan fiction with pretty pictures that probably would never find themselves in an art gallery – well, that's probably being a little harsh because the Schirn in Frankfurt did have an exhibition on the beginnings of the comic strip, but then again we are talking about really, really early comics, not something that has appeared in 1994) when I was in Sydney and staying in a hotel across the road from a comic book store that looked like it was trying to clear out all of its stock. Anyway, after a brief scan of its contents the only things that caught my attention were a couple of Star Trek comics and a Judge Dredd annual.

 

This adventure is set sometime between Star Trek V and Star Trek VI and is around the time that Sulu (aka George Takai – the guy that posts all of those funny Twitter and Facebook posts) got his first command. Actually, the writer of the comic in the afterword spent three pages carrying on about how it was unfair that it took Sulu so long to actually become the captain of a star ship and that by the time he did the series had effectively come to an end. Well, I suspect the reason had more to do with Hollywood being Hollywood as opposed to any really deep character development – Star Trek has always been Star Trek, and of the seven years of the Next Generation series, Picard was always captain and Ryker was always XO. Well, maybe in some of the movies he did land up with a promotion, but as far as I am concerned, in the world of television bugetry constraints, cash flow, and ratings always seems to trump character development.

 

I did mention that this story does explore the issue of the arms race, but the arms race, especially in the modern era where we have developed weapons that have the capacity of destroying all life on Earth, is something on which lots and lots of ink has been spilt. The other subject was much more interesting and that is the nature of the Hippocratic Oath – does a doctor take sides in a war, and if a doctor treats an enemy soldier are they committing treason? The problem is that doctors (or at least those portrayed in literature) tend to hold the sanctity of human life above politics. Organisations like the Red Cross are facing these ethical dilemmas in places like Syria and Afghanistan – if they treat terrorists are they partaking in terrorism? Further, hospitals are being viewed as important pieces of infrastructure and modern belligerents are becoming more willing to target these institutions in an effort to disrupt the enemy's capacity to wage war. However, the thing with modern warfare is that the boundary between the enemy and the civilian is becoming ever more blurred, but then the concept of the guerrilla war is not necessarily something new – Napoleon and Hitler had to deal with insurgents, it is just that we in the west are beginning to find ourselves on the other side of the fence.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1933850052

An Enjoyable Adventure in Space and Time

Guardians of the Galaxy: Guardians of Infinity - Dan Abnett, Jason Latour, Carlo Barberi, Jim Cheung

I think I better be careful as I might end up reading more graphic novels that I originally intended to, but then again considering the price of some of these books (and the number of books on my TBR shelf), that is something that I probably don't need to stress all that much about. Actually, I have discovered that our local public libraries have quite a few graphic novels on their shelves, though due to budget constraints I suspect that they aren't the latest editions (and even then the selection available doesn't seem to be all that great). The other problem with graphic novels (or should I call them comics because for some reason I can't really see Marvel Superhero comic books are being anywhere near books like Tintin) is that they tend to be serialised, and even if you do only get the books as opposed to the individual comics, you can still get a little lost.

 

So, as you can tell from the title, this is one of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, though we only have Groot, Rocket Raccoon, and Drax in this story (I'm not really all that sure what happened to Star Lord and Gamora, but I suspect they are taking it easy after a rather hectic adventure the week, or month, before). Anyway, they stumble upon this massive spaceship and decide to go on board and investigate only to encounter the Guardians of the Galaxy (one of them carrying Captain America's iconic shield), and after a brief battle decide to team up and, well, encounter The Guardians of the Galaxy. It turns out that the teams that they have met have come from the past, and the future, and the ship that they happen to be on has gates into these various time streams (and I have also learnt that the original Guardians are actually the team from the year 3000).

 

Anyway, to cut a long story short, which doesn't take all that much effort because many of these stories tend to run along a similar plotline anyway, the Guardians encounter a big bad guy that is trying to take over the universe – or all of reality as the case may be because his massive spaceship happens to sit outside of the time stream – and the Guardians of the Galaxy, after getting locked up in his prison and Rocket Raccoon having the unfortunate experience of having some other guy placed into his body, escape, beat the bad guy, say farewell to everybody, and go on their merry ways. Yep, basically your typical Hollywood plot with no real twists, and a bunch of superheroes being, well, a bunch of superheroes. Okay, we also have a bunch of space fighters flying around doing what space fighters tend to do, but that is it.

 

So, I guess the question comes down to why I gave this comic book the rating I did (I was going to say seven, until I realised that Goodreads, which is the other site I post these reviews on, only lets you rate out of five, and you can't do half ratings either, which is something Booklikes allows you to do), and I have to admit that I don't really know. Okay, there are people out there that have some really sophisticated ways of actually determining what rating they are going to give a book, and I suspect that they might even go as far as creating some proprietary algorithm to assist them, and then you have me – I basically pick a random number (usually between one and ten namely because a rating out of five doesn't give me the flexibility of being able to say whether a book is any good or not) and leave it at that. Okay, if I enjoyed the book I am hardly going to give it a one, and if I hated the book I am hardly going to give it a ten (or a five as the case may be), but as for this story, well, it was entertaining, and falls into the science-fiction genre, oh and also had pretty pictures and a psychotic raccoon, so I guess I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't be looking for some deep, post-modernist meaning, in the text.

 

Oh, one other thing, it would be interesting reading this one in German because the person who takes over Rocket Raccoon's body has a German accent and I would love to see how the Germans do a character with a German accent when the entire comic is in German. I make mention of that because when I was in Germany I bought an edition of Guardians of the Galaxy that was in German, if only to practice my German, and then promptly gave it to a friend because I don't like marvel superhero comics cluttering up my house (though I believe he does speak a bit of German).

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1933078821

He's Back

The Return of Sherlock Holmes -  Arthur Conan Doyle

When we last left our fearsome detective he was plummeting to his death having cornered his arch-nemesis Dr Moriarty on the Reisenbarch Falls. Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (Arty to his friends, and me) had thought that he has seen the last of him and was planning on taking it easy having put the famous detective to rest. Unfortunately that wasn’t going to be the case because we now see the beginning of what has since become the term ‘back by popular demand’. Well, sure, the fans may not have been satisfied with the short stories and couple of novels that had been released, but it seems that Arty had pretty much become sick of Holmes and the only reason that Holmes managed to survive the fall is not just because of public pressure, but because the financial gain that no doubt was heading Arty’s way was quite alluring.

 

Anyway, in the first story we learn that not only had Holmes survived that fateful encounter, but that he had been lying low for quite a while because he wanted to make it appear that he was actually dead. The main reason for that is because Moriatey’s second in command had taken over the organisation and Holmes wanted to bring it to an end without alerting his enemies. Anyway, he manages to do so, and then solves a multitude of other cases and finishes us preventing a European wide war when he steps in and locates a note that the Prime Minister of England had believed that he has lost. Actually, the final adventure in this particular book has the Prime Minister of England coming to Holmes for his assistance.

 

Okay, this collection of short stories appeared around ten years after the previous one so there was no doubt a long time between drinks. Maybe the reason Doyle decided to bring Holmes back from the dead is the same reason that bands from the 80s and earlier do come back tours – they have run out of money. For instance, I saw John Cleese live a year ago and when I mentioned that to a friend he made mention that the only time John Cleese goes on tour is when he runs out of money. Maybe that is why Simon and Garfunkle put aside their differences and went on a world tour (though I suspect that even a rumour of a comeback tour would be enough to set them up for the rest of their lives).

 

The thing is that I really didn’t think all that much of this book. In a sense the things that I loved about Holmes were missing. His cocaine addiction and his brothel visiting habits (as well has being a prize fighter) actually made the character seem really really cool. However, come short story collection number three and all of the sudden he seems to be little more than a cardboard figure that seems to have no personality beyond being able to solve crimes. Okay, they are short stories, and the audience most likely wanted more of these short, easy to digest, crime stories, but I personally wanted something a little more. Further, the cleverness of some of the stories that appeared in the first couple of collections no longer seem to be the case here – they are just good old murder mysteries. Well, not all of them, but there is at least one dead body appearing in most of the stories.

 

Interestingly Inspector LeStrade makes an appearance now. The only reason that LeStrade comes to mind was because he appeared in an adventure game that I played as a kid called, not surprisingly, Sherlock Holmes. I was a bit baffled as to the significance of this character, but my Dad pointed out that he was a police officer that would always come to the wrong conclusions. Mind you, he didn’t come across as bumbling in that sense, rather lazy. Anyway, two more to go (and a re-read of Hounds of the Baskervilles), but I think I’ll put my next dose of Sherlock Holmes on hold for a little while.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/470322583

Use the Internet

HTML5 and CSS3 All-In-One for Dummies - Andy Harris

Well, I reckon it took me almost two years to actually get through this monstrosity and I don’t think I know any more about web programming than I did when I started. Well, okay, that’s a lie, I know quite a lot more, especially since when I started I claimed that being able to use the HTML tags in Goodreads counted as having a basic understanding of web programming. It turns out not to be the case, and in fact the HTML tags that Goodreads uses are woefully out to date. In fact the amount of HTML that you can use on your posts is minimal (though it is somewhat more than some other sites that I have visited). As for Booklikes, there is so much more scope in their posts that it actually leaves Goodreads for dead.

 

The question that I raise though is whether this book is actually useful. The problem with the development of software is that it is always on the move you may discover that a version that he uses in the book is no longer available – this was what happened when I tried to play around with MySQL and with AJAX – his versions are out of date which means that if you try to type his programs out then they don’t actually work. Mind you, I ended up getting MySQL to eventually work and even through together a basic PHP website (though it is pretty basic).

 

Interestingly ,I have noticed that there are a number of people claiming that if we go and learn the latest programming languages we can all go off and make heaps of money. Some dude on Youtube made this claim with PHP (and reckons that he even dropped out of university) while I get all of these spam emails trying to get me to part with my money so that I can learn Python or Agile. The catch is that even though you may know how to program those languages, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are suddenly going to make lots of money – if a stranger walked in off the road and made a claim that they were this hot shot computer programmer and had absolutely no references whatsoever, would you hire him? The thing with making your way in this world is to be able to sell yourself, and to get practical experience.

 

This is where I believe this book falls down. Sure, he has lots and lots of examples, but that is basically where it ends. Sure, it may work as a reference book but the problem is that pretty much everything is available on line these days. Further, while one may be able to show you how to do something that doesn’t necessarily make you a programmer – to be a good programmer you need to be able to solve problems, to be able to work on projects, and to be able to work as a part of a team. That last one is important because while one could program alone (you can tell be age since I still use the term programmer, which is an Eighties term), the scale of some of the programs out there, and the needs of businesses these days, generally means that the small scale projects are few and far between – everybody has a website these days, and if they don’t Wordpress and others are just a click away.

 

The other thing is that there are so many websites out there that offer tutorials that I am wondering whether actually purchasing this book was actually worth it. In fact, it has now been put back into my garage (where I store stuff that I don’t need ready access to) and I doubt I am going to be pulling it out again. The thing is that there are videos on Youtube, and the aforementioned tutorial sites such as CodeAcademy and W3Schools (among others). The other thing that I think this book lacked, which would have been something that would have gone a long way to actually helping me at least to learn, is the lack of exercises to do and problems to solve. Reading about something is all well and good, but the best way to learn is to actually get out there and do it.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1226977695

Is That It?

Mostly Harmless (Hitchhiker's Guide, #5) - Douglas Adams

I’m not really sure about this book. At first I was going to suggest that it didn’t have any point but then again this is a part of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, which basically means that the books aren’t going to have a plot, or a point. Well, I guess the lack of a plot, and a point, is a point in and of itself because it simply goes to demonstrate the absurdity of existance, and that is that there really seems to be no point to this whole thing we call reality and in the end we should probably all just go and jump in the sea and go for a swim.

 

The thing is that this particular book didn’t seem to even explore the absurdity of reality, which, in a way, was the whole purpose of the series anyway – it seemed as if Adams had simply reached a point where he was writing a Hitchhiker’s Guide novel simply for the sake of such a novel, and when he finished it sent it to his publisher and then went around the corner and had a pint at the local pub (most likely English Ale, but then he could have had a Stella, but from my visits to England my impression was that respectable people don’t drink Stella).

 

So, what can I say about the book – well, it is about Arthur, and Ford, and Trillian, but that is about it. Arthur has lost his one true love due to a freak hyperspace accident, and the one thing that gave him meaning in life – a partner – was suddenly gone. So, he basically travels the universe bored out of his brains, and then settles on a planet to become a sandwich maker, which is basically the only thing he is good at. As for Ford, well, he uncovers a conspiracy at the Hitchhiker’s Guide headquarters, but then heads off to find Arthur only to have his ship stolen by a daughter that Arthur never knew he had, and can’t for the life of him ever remember making her, at least with the mother that is (who happens to be Trillian).

 

Trillian is the odd thing with the book – is she a journalist or is she an astrophysicist? At first I was a little confused because it seemed as if Adams had completely forgotten what her original profession was, but then it turns out that she got a lucky break, or a not so lucky break as the case may be. Apparently an alternate version of Trillian gave up astrophysics because she missed out on the ride of a life time when she rushed off to get her bag and Zaphod left without her. Then she missed out on another job of a lifetime when she left her bag in her room only to discover that she wasn’t wearing her contact lenses. However, as it comes to light, even if one does get the scoop of a lifetime it doesn’t mean that the newscasters will run with it, especially if they some something much more interesting – we’ve been visited by aliens, well, that’s going to clash with the royal wedding, and the royal wedding is so much more important than aliens that we might as well leave the aliens for another time, maybe a slow news week.

 

Then again when does news cease to be news – well quite quickly so it happens. If one alien spacecraft lands that is a scoop, but when the next, and the next, and then the next, it ceases to be news and simply becomes part and parcel of everyday life – a politician is corrupt! Hey, all politicians are corrupt so why are we going to run with that story when a baby hippo has just been born in the London Zoo (why is it that, having only spent less than a month out of my entire life in London that I am starting to treat London as if it is my home town? ).

 

What about the absurdity of life? I find it interesting that this whole concept of absurdity came about when people decided that religion just wasn’t for them – it is as if religion actually gives people a sense of worth and purpose and when you throw that away that sense of worth and purpose suddenly vanishes. Well, not really, because we begin to define ourselves by our possessions, which includes our jobs, our families, and of course our stuff. Yet what happens when all of these things cease to give us pleasure, or even purpose. No wonder the divorce rate is so high because we are measuring our worth by our happiness and when our relationships cease to make us happy we simply discard them. Mind you, the media doesn’t help because they help us define our purpose through the constant bombardment of their propoganda. What if our job doesn’t satisfy, and we aren’t agile enough to get ourselves another job – I guess we are a failure them.

 

Yet defining ourselves, and defining life and purpose, are huge money spinners. Self help books, universities, and even religious institutions, make bucket loads of money off of people seeking purpose, and sometimes I wonder if they all sit down at their weekly meetings and laugh about our stupidity. Mind you, our purpose could actually be sitting there staring us right in our face yet we would pretty much ignore it because, well, it is too simple and finding out the meaning of our existance couldn’t actually be that easy (or even simply that), so we all wander off back into the misty streets, find the local bar, and return to our beer.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1916966581

South American Revolutions

Tintin and the Picaros - Hergé

This is the last of the completed Tintin books and in a way does finally tie everything up. Granted, nobody ever lives happily ever after, but I do feel that it does round off and complete what I consider to be a ground breaking series of books that are incredibly funny and very entertaining. This album seems to follow on after the Castafiore Emerald as there are a few connections with the events in the previous album, however it appears that Flight 714 occurred between the two albums. Now while this is possible (as Bianca Castafiore is on a tour of Latin America that she began at the end of the Castafiore Emerald) I feel that the events of Flight 714 should probably come afterwards.

 

As mentioned, Bianca Castafiore, with her entourage, are traveling through Latin America and arrive at the fictional country of San Theodoros (the same country from The Broken Ear) and she and her entourage (which includes Thompson and Thomson) are arrested immediately after the concert on the grounds of participating in a conspiracy to overthrow the leader General Tapioca. What drags Tintin and his friends into the fray (other than the fact that their friends are in danger) is that General Tapioca is aware that prior to her tour, she had stayed with Captain Haddock and Tintin at Marlinspike, and that it was while they were there that the conspiracy was hatched. This is a very clever plot device Herge uses, which creates continuity in the albums. However, the story of Alcazar and San Theodoros has been sitting in the background since The Broken Ear, and it is only resolved here, at the end.

 

Herge does deal with alcoholism, particularly among native populations, in this album. We once again meet the Arumbaya and the white anthropologist who has decided to live with them. However, as a way to keep the native populations and the rebels suppressed, General Tapioca has been parachuting crates of alcohol into the jungles. This is important, and shows how skillful a storyteller Herge is, because right from the beginning Captain Haddock has suddenly lost his taste for alcohol. In fact, it is very amusing watching the Captain swear that he is being fed poison while everybody else is amazed at how wonderful the whiskey is. I won't mention what is going on because it will destroy a very subtle plot device.

 

This story is much greyer than many of the others because we have Tintin being involved in an attempted coup, however true to his character, he refuses to allow anybody to be killed, despite tradition being that after every revolution, the previous ruler and his inner circle are supposed to be killed. This is not always the case though, since many go into self imposed exile. We are see the dichotomy of the South American countries, as they fly into Tapiocapolis, they fly over a modern central business district, and then over the slums being patrolled by disinterested police. However, the catch is that after all has been said and done, when they are leaving, the fly back over the same slums, however the only difference is that the sign, instead of saying 'Viva Tapioca' it says 'Viva Alcazar'.

 

Sometimes I wonder why Alcazar is really Tintin's friend. He is not really the type of person that Tintin would really throw his lot in with. In the Broken Ear he was made Aide-de-Camp, however this was to enable him to complete his mission in locating the stolen fetish. Other times Alcazar seems to be more interested in other things, and in particular, in the Red Sea Sharks, is involved in shady business dealings with Dawson, one of Herge's villains. It is clear in this album though that Tintin has not come over to San Theodoros to put his friend back in power, but rather to rescue friends who have been locked up on bogus charges. Unfortunately, what is required is a change of government, so true to Tintin, he looks for a plan that will succeed with little, and preferably no, bloodshed.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/285144499

The Secret World of the Moles

Duncton Wood (The Duncton Chronicles) - William Horwood

There are some books out there that it doesn’t matter how long they are, the story is really engrossing and I really don’t want to put them down. However there are other books that start off good but are so long that by the time I start getting close to the end my eyes start glasing over and I quickly begin to lose interest. Then there are books that are basically crap. Well, this isn’t one of the last type of books, and this certainly isn’t one of the first type of books so I guess it falls into the category of being too long. Actually, one of the major flaws that I did find in this book was not so much that it was too long but rather that it contained two distinct stories and thus it could have worked much better, and been much more interesting, if Horwood has divided it into two books. Mind you, I also have books two, three, and four on my bookshelves which makes me wonder if I am ever going to get around to reading them, or whether they are going to be tossed out at the next Church Fete – we will see.

 

Another thing about this book is that the author seems to be using the same method that was first used in Watership Downs, though I had no idea that this was going to be the case until I started reading the book. I don’t guess that is generally a problem but it does feel like somebody is simply trying to copy an idea that was originally quite successful. Actually, it does tend to be pretty hard to be original these days, especially when there are so many influences that are going to go into your writing. However, I guess the originality comes out in how you produce your writings, and if you let your own personality and style dictate your work as opposed to simply copying something else. In fact, it does become pretty obvious when a work is forced, particularly where the author isn’t writing for the love of writing, but simply writing because they see it as an easy way of making lots of money (hint: it isn’t).

 

So, Duncton Wood is a story about moles, though it is more than just a story it is more of an epic. However, as I suggested, it is actually two stories in one. The first half of the book is about this nation (or system as the book calls it) of moles who live in Duncton Wood (which apparently is somewhere around Oxford). It sets up our two main characters – Brachen and Rebecca – and tells us that it is a love story. Then it introduces the antagonist, a mole named Mandrake, who is actually a pretty big mole that came into the system from afar and pretty much took over. However, he didn’t just take over but he also destroyed the religion of the moles as well by preventing them from worshiping at the stone and killing anybody who knew the sacred chants. Except that Brachen was taught these chants and managed to survive and escaped into ancient tunnels to prepare and eventually emerge. So, the two stories are thus: defeating Mandrake and freeing the systems; and then going on a quest to restore the religious beliefs of the moles in Duncton Wood.

 

Religion actually plays a central role in the book, namely because we have Mandrake coming along and dominating the system by destroying the religion and then ruling through brute force. Then we have Brachen go off on a quest to restore the religious rites that Mandrake had destroyed. Furthermore, to emphasise the religious nature of the story, we even have the protagonists let one of the antagonists go free, namely because they do not see a reason to kill him, but also because the antagonist (who isn’t Mandrake by the way but one of his lieutenants), has become such a pathetic individual that killing him will simply make them no better than him.

 

The whole thing about Mandrake dominating the system is an interesting one and he does it namely because he can – he has the power and because he has the power he basically uses it. However, he has a weakness and that is that he hates all religion and actually goes out of his way to basically destroy all aspects of it. Okay, since the religion is based around a standing stone that is located in the middle of the forest, and even Mandrake isn’t that powerful to destroy the stone, there is always going to be a reminder of the religion to the moles, but since Mandrake has ordered the death of all the priests then memories of the specifics start to fade. Mind you, Mandrake also forbids moles from traveling outside, which means that even the sight of the stone becomes a myth.

 

This is another key theme of the story – how time creates myths. By destroying all semblance of the religion means that everybody (or everymole as it is written) forgets the tenants of the religion, which means that in the end Mandrake is the one that they all look up to – he is the biggest and the strongest. However, there must be some sort of issue with his self-esteem if he has to do all of this. Despite being the biggest, and the strongest, he has to destroy any rivals, and religion is a big rival to any dictator, and put himself to replace this. The other aspect of time creating myth is when Bracken goes off on his journey, and he is gone for so long that people begin to forget about him, not so much that they don’t believe he existed, but rather that he takes on some form of mythological aspect.

 

Mind you, we are looking at a fairly primitive society here where even the ability to write and record the past generally doesn’t exist (though we are told about scribe moles, and yes, while they are moles they are also written as if they were sentient beings). In such societies mythologies develop much more often than does one in a society like ours where pretty much everything is recorded. Even then, as time starts to intervene, the past does become more and more of a distant memory, though we are much more able to record those memories than the past. However, to me, a memory is much stronger, and more valuable, than a photograph ever will be because there are just things that a photograph simply cannot catch.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1900048001
SPOILER ALERT!

Birth of the Boy Book

Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson, Patrick Scott

Despite this book being the progenitor of pretty much all of the pirate books of the 20th Century, as well as being an influence of many of the adventure and 'boys' books that came afterwards, I found this book rather dull. Maybe it has a lot to do with my lack of enthusiasm for 19th Century English novels (which does not include [author:Jules Verne], since he is French). In fact, I can't really think of any 19th Century English novels that I would actually jump up and say 'this is brilliant'. Personally, I really don't know what it is that makes me find much of the literature of the 19th Century boring, but generally I do (though I probably should make a note of the fact that Stevenson is actually a Scot).

 

Anyway, this is a story of a boy, Jim Hawkins, who stumbles across a treasure map and then goes and shows it to a mutual acquaintance, Dr Liversey. Together they hire a crew and go and look for the treasure on Treasure Island. However, while they are hiring a crew, they bring on board a cook, Long John Silver, who then goes and hires the rest of the crew. As it turns out, Long John was the cook on the ship of Captain Flint, the pirate who buried the treasure originally, and the crew he hires were all pirates on that same vessel. So, when they arrive at Treasure Island, Long John and his men take over the ship, and those still loyal to Hawkins and Liversey, manage to escape. However, to cut a long story short (not that Treasure Island is really all that long), they outsmart the pirates, get the treasure, and all return to England happy men.

 

Now, this was Stevenson's first novel, he wrote travel narratives before that, but this book was his first foray into the realm of the imagination. Further, his adventure into this realm pretty much changed the scene of the novel ever since, and many of the 'boys books' of the 20th Century can all look back to Stevenson for inspiration. It is not that Stevenson wrote the first adventure novel. Such stories have been floating around for eons. What Stevenson did is that he constructed it so that that appealed to the modern reader. Not only is it supposed to be exciting (I didn't find it all that exciting) but it was also short and easy to read. It is aimed at a young audience, though many adults have read and come to appreciate it (me not being among them).

 

Now, the best character in the book by far is Long John Silver. I always expected him to be a pirate captain, but he is much more sneakier than that. The fact that he escapes at the end of the book goes a long way to show this character's shrewdness. However, he also has a sense of morality (one which almost gets him killed). When he had captured Hawkins, the other pirates wanted to kill him, but Silver intervenes (and in the process almost gets himself killed). Silver, while being the man with the plan, demonstrates that it is not easy to take charge of a gang of pirates. He planned on taking over the ship, but the pirates ended up jumping the gun, as they do most of the way through the book, which in the end sows the seeds of their failure.

 

However, the character that I found the most out of place would have been Jim Hawkins. He is a seven year old boy who is looking after his sick mother after his father dies, and he simply runs off on an adventure to find a lost treasure. Granted, one could argue that he went off after the treasure to support his mother, but considering the time it takes to travel, and the fact that the adventure would take at least a year, if he is lucky, then it really makes no sense. However, this is a 'boys' book which means that the character is one way to appeal to boys.

 

The other interesting thing is to notice all of the pirate jargon and paraphernalia in this book. Phrases such as 'pieces of eight' and 'shiver me timbers' as well as the Jolly Roger, all find their birthplace in this book. While I may consider the book, and the story, somewhat dull, one cannot help but admire the influence that Stevenson's writing has had upon the literary world.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/220453075
SPOILER ALERT!

Tintin's Final Adventure

Tintin and Alph-Art - Hergé

The version of this album that I read was the unauthorised completed version. I do offer my sincere apologies to the Herge estate, but I really could not read the published sketch version simply because it was clearly uncompleted. Herge began writing this in 1980 (his original idea of setting the final comic in an airport departure lounge was thankfully scrapped) but he unfortunately died before he could complete it. From reading what he originally wrote it is clear that there was a substantial amount of work needed to be done, particularly since parts of the completed version required substantial editing (for instance where did Tintin meet the informant?).

 

It appears that this was intended to be Tintin's final horah, and Herge had moved slightly in a new direction. In a way it is similar to Tintin and the Picaros, where Herge was attempting to wind up some of the unfinished plots, and also having a parade of all the characters (with the exception of Alcazar) through the story. This comic is also set in the world of Modern Art, something that I understand Herge was becoming ever more attracted to later in his life. It may be suggested that he was moving towards a post-modern viewpoint, but it appears that this is something that Herge rejected. While some of his comics are clearly modernist, and absurdist (such as The Castafiore Emerald) he was not a post-modernist author.

 

I will only deal with the completed parts here rather than look at the sections that other authors have written, particularly since it is glaringly obvious where somebody else has stepped in to complete the story. Herge and his estate made it clear that Tintin was not to continue after Herge's death. This, I believe, is a good thing, particularly since Tintin is Herge's creation, and Herge is really the only person who is able to get into the mind of Tintin and his companions.

 

Another change here is that Herge introduces a young, single, attractive female into the comic. While female characters have appeared (and Castafiore with regularity) in many cases they are thin on the ground and usually married (though the landlady also make appearances early on in the adventures). However, here we have a potential love interest for Tintin, which once again is moving away from Herge's norm. There is even a hint that both Tintin and the Captain may be attracted to her (as can be seen where the Captain takes her umbrella), however it is unclear where Herge was intending on taking this (and whether he was intending on actually making her a love interest). I did appreciate it that the completed comic did take it in that direction, however this was added after Herge's death.

 

One final thing that I discovered about unauthorised Tintin comics. There is one floating around (and available) called Tintin in Thailand. I have not read it (and have no intention of doing so) however I understand that this particular comic is actually quite obscene. The story is that this comic was going to be released as a 'recently discovered Herge manuscript' and was to be sold on the black market. However the police mounted a sting operation, arrested around 6 people involved in the production of the comic, and seized about 1000 copies of it. It appears that Herge's insistence that no Tintin be released after his death is taken very seriously in Belgium, particularly since copyright breeches generally do not attract sting operations. However I suspect also that there was more than just copyright issues with regards to this unauthorised comic (though I have since found it on the internet).

 

It also appears that Tintin fans also take this request very seriously, particularly since the Cult of Tintin aka Tintinologist, refuses to accept any fan based stories on their site, and other than a completed Tintin and Alpha-Art, and a number of speculative covers for other Tintin adventures, there is pretty much no other unauthorised comics available (with the exception of Tintin in Thailand, which, from what I understand, is an absolute travesty).

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/285672480

A Cat's Life

Tailchaser's Song - Tad Williams

I remember seeing this book at my friend's house years ago and borrowing it for a bit of a read. Mind you my friend is a bit of a booknerd like me, though these days our tastes in books have taken a bit (or a lot) of a divergence. The thing is that while he went on to study social work I went on to study an arts degree. The other thing is that I had an English teacher that would rile against what he considered to be airport trash, and books like those by [author:Stephen King], were basically off of his list. In fact I remember writing a play about a young adult named Brian Megadethhead who was ordered by a judge to either go back to school (and a Catholic school at that) or go to gaol – he decided to go back to school. Needless to say my English teacher wasn't all that impressed and spent the rest of the year decrying Megadeth as well as having a go at Stephen King novels, or whatever the current fad was at the time.

 

Mind you, whenever I am in an airport I do like to have a wander through the bookshop just to see what is actually sitting on the shelf and to see if there are actually any books that my teacher would actually approve, and while it has been years since I was in his class, and am not even sure if he is still teaching English, I still wonder whether [book:Life of Pi] would actually appear on his list of banned books, considering the last time I wondered through an airport bookshop that was the only book that I thought would be acceptable to him (though I suspect that Fifty Shades of Grey would). Anyway, most long haul international flights have a television in the back of the seat with more shows than one could even watch in a twelve hour period that the need to buy rubbish at airport bookshops is probably no longer necessary.

 

Anyway, on to this book, even though it has been quite a while since I have read it, but the fact that I have read it (albeit a long time ago) I feel that I should probably say a few things about it. Mind you, I should try to get my hands on it to read it again because it was, to put it bluntly, nothing short of awesome. Mind you, with all the other books out there, as well as the books on my shelf, reading this again might be a little lower on my list of priorities, though I'm sure if I see it in a bookshop I would probably buy it, and then proceed to read it again – that was how much I enjoyed it. In fact, I believe I have seen other books written by Tad Williams, and the name always rang a bell, it is just it wasn't until I looked this book up on Wikipedia as a bit of an aide de memoire that I suddenly connected him with this book.

 

So, Tailchaser's song is about a cat in the world where cats have a civilisation and communicate with each other. In fact they have their own mythology, and while humans exist, they tend to be these creatures that live in a mysterious world, a world that sometimes crosses with that of the cats, but not by much. In fact all of the animals have their own cultures and mythologies, it is just that the cats' world is the main focus of the book. The thing is that this book is about cats and about how these cats go on a quest and end up saving the world from a particularly evil and nasty cat, and honestly who doesn't love cats.

 

Well, cat haters of course, but then as they say haters are gonna hate. Mind you, there are people who are allergic to cats, so I can understand why they aren't particularly fond of them, but I have to admit that you got to love the rather eccentric nature of our feline companions, even though, as they say, dogs have masters and cats have staff. Actually, that is why my friend prefers cats over dogs – dogs tend to be dependent and incredibly clingy (I'm sure dog owners have discovered what happens when you bring a new dog home and then go to sleep only to be kept awake all night from howls of loneliness) while cats tend to be independent. Well, they are independent to an extent because when they want something (usually something to eat) you generally know about it. Unfortunately 'go catch a mouse' generally doesn't work.

 

The main reason that this book came to mind is because I started reading Duncton Wood, which I had picked up cheap from my Church's fate (though it turned out that I picked up books two, three, and four, but fortunately I found book one at a bookshop around the corner), which is similar, but about moles. The other interesting thing is that with these books everybody seems to make comments about the similarities between this book, Watership Down, and Lord of the Rings. The thing is that any book that happens to be a fantasy book is considered to be similar to Lord of the Rings, but that is not surprising because it is probably the most well known fantasy book out there. As for Watership Downs, I have to admit that I haven't read it yet, though I should make an effort to do so someday.

 

Oh, before I forget, apparently they will be releasing a movie based on this book in 2018 so I'm going to have to keep an eye out for it.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1910684742

Shakesperian Conundrums

Henry V, War Criminal?: And Other Shakespeare Puzzles - John Sutherland, Karl-Heinz Engel, Cedric Watts, Stephen Orgel

I recently reread this book with the purpose of rewriting this review, however instead I wrote a blog post instead.

 

This book is a collection of essays that explores some of the problems that arise from Shakespeare’s plays, though the conclusions of most of these essays tend to come down to the fact that there actually isn't a problem if only we understood the way the play was written and Shakespeare's original intention (and the fact that he is simply using poetic license). However, to me, this sounds like the authors seem to think that Shakespeare can do no wrong, and any problems that arise from his plays have more to do with our limited understanding than with any internal flaw. My response to this is simply that Shakespeare is human, albeit a very talented human, but still a human. In this review I won't so much comment on their essays but rather touch on some of the problems that appear to have arisen. The main reason for this is that it has been a while since I read this book, and with the bulk of books for me to read and to reread, unfortunately this book will not be one of them (though, obviously, I have since reread it).

 

The first topic is whether Henry V was a war criminal. This argument is flawed in so many ways that to even consider this is simply anachronistic. Look, in today's world, he mostly would be, but remember, he lived over 500 years ago at a time that England was still technically living in the Middle Ages. Many people do not attribute England's entry into the modern world until after the end of the Wars of the Roses. Further, we may label Henry V as a war criminal, but weren't all the other kings and generals the same at that time. While there was a basic understanding of the rule of law and of human rights, he did not have a Geneva convention, nor did we even have any rules for war until after the conclusion of the Thirty Years War. Anyway, remember that history is written by the winners, and in this particular period Henry V was the winner.

 

There is also a essay about the age of some of the characters, such as King Lear and Juliet. I actually wonder what the point and purpose of this essay is. Why should we concern ourselves with Lear's age or Juliet's youth. I suspect that Lear was probably quite old, and the character seems to play this out quite well. He has elements of depression (and I actually wanted to run a depression test over him to see if we could diagnose Lear as such). He also has elements of dementia, and spends most of the play wracked with insanity. As for Juliet, my immediate guess would be that she would be in her early to mid teens. The reason I say that is because that is the age where well heeled women would be married.

 

Then there is the essay on Hamlet, though from the title I am not sure whether they are referring to Hamlet as being stupid, or the ghost, however I would suggest that the stupidity is resting with Hamlet. This is actually a good aspect of the play to look at, and it is something that I have considered as well. In those days, though I suspect that the original Hamlet (Amleth) occured during a pre-christian period. However, it is clear that the play is set after Denmark became Christian, so the question is, why did Hamlet listen to the ghost despite Christian doctrine warning us away from such spiritual entities. My immediate response is simply that the ghost, demon or not, appeared to Hamlet as his father. Further, Hamlet doesn't immediately trust the ghost, and decides to test the truth of the Ghost's accusations. That is why he staged the play, and was also hesitant in killing Claudius. It is only when he overhear's Claudius confessing his sin that he knew that the ghost was telling the truth.

 

Finally, I will look at the question of whether Cleopatra was a dead-beat mum. I have just finished reading Antony and Cleopatra, and my immediate answer would be yes. As I suggested in my commentary on the play, Cleopatra seems to play the role of a serpent who wraps herself around Antony and tries to bring him into her power, to be her king and emperor, and to raise herself to the position of emperess of the world. tn was the battle between Ceaser and Antony outside Alexandria that set the course of the future empire, and it was Ceaser who won. I would not necessarily say that Cleopatra threw her lot in with the wrong person. No, Antony was maleable, and exposed to her wiry charms, and it seems that he defeat and failure was pretty much predestined.

 

Oh, an here is a pretty cool image I found on the internet last night:

 

https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-ChDiHdhRtCQ/WJ2yydzQK5I/AAAAAAAAgyg/xHh5xjES9J8GCXe_vsqJLmzxt8g8vIMmACLcB/s1600/%2528pic%2B-%2BStory%2529%2BShakespeare%2B-%2BInfo.jpg

 

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/333109261