SEVEN GOOD READS – Rich Paschall

Books I Remember, by Rich Paschall

Recently a friend posted this to my facebook feed:

I have accepted the challenge from (a friend) to post the cover of 7 books I love. The challenge is one cover a day for 7 days. No explanations, no reviews, just the cover. Let’s promote literacy! Each day I will ask one friend to take up the challenge. Today on day 7 I nominate Rich Paschall.

My first reaction was to take a pass. I was thinking that I did not have the time for it. After looking over my friend’s choices for the week, however, I decided to give it a go. After all, I did not have to read anything new. I just needed to copy the text above, post the cover of a book and move on. I resisted all temptation at any explanation or responses to comments.

My plan was to list books that were memorable to me. The first that popped into my head would do. There was to be no drawing up lists and then picking favorites. I just posted them as they came to me. This was a little harder as I got to the end, but not for reasons you might expect.

Of all the books you have read in a lifetime that you thought were memorable, which would you pick? Which ones do you love, really love? I will give you the choices I posted on facebook, but with a few lines on each. If you have not read them, you might want to give them a chance. You don’t have to buy any. If you can not find them for free online, there are those old buildings known as libraries. Ours even has digital versions of books you can “check out” online.

Day 1.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I likely read this as a teenager, or perhaps early twenties. It was popular for high school and college classes at one time. At its core, it is a coming of age story. It shows the conflict between two close friends who have very different personalities. Their differences would naturally lend to disputes, as one drags the other along on his adventures. There was a fine movie version in 1972 for which Knowles worked on the screenplay.

Day 2.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. You may be familiar with the excellent movie starring Gregory Peck. The American Film Institute ranks it as one of the best films ever made. Peck won the Oscar. Even though it is a faithful adaptation, the book will offer you even more. It is a fascinating read dealing with complex and socially charged issues. You likely will not be able to put it down, even if you know where the story is headed.

Day 3.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway. If you know anything about Hemingway’s life, you know you can find a bit of him in all his stories. That he would know and understand the toils of the old fisherman should be a given. The Pulitzer Prize-winning short novel will take you out to sea for the struggle. Like many great works of literature this also has a movie treatment.  Spencer Tracy gives a powerful performance as the aging fisherman.

Day 4.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The novel is long (760 pages) and rather complex. The political and social issues it tends to explore are likely best understood in light of his several earlier works. I had, in fact, read all of Pynchon’s work up to this point before venturing into the satiric novel regarding history and science.

Harry Potter library books

Day 5.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. You have to admit, it is the book that started the world reading books on paper again. If you are one of the few who skipped this fandom, I urge you to read it. The works are not just for young people, but for all who love fantasy and adventure. This is the first of 7 novels.

Here it got a little tricky. With only two left to post I started thinking of many possibilities. I wanted to go with “A Clockwork Orange” next. I found it a fascinating read in an uncomfortable sort of way. There was also “In The Flesh.” It’s the sensational Hollywood autobiography of poet Gavin Dillard that was also a bit uncomfortable. It named, or tried to avoid naming, some well-known celebrities on the seedy side of a sometimes seedy entertainment business. There were also a number of well-known classics to consider…but I digress. And that is oddly the point of the next choice.

Day 6.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. The amusing novel is told through a series of digressions and diversions. The reader must pay close attention in order to know exactly where he is at in the story. In the process, you learn little about Tristram as he goes off on tangents about family, friends, and others. The structure of the lengthy work may be due in part to being published in 9 volumes over an 8 year period.

Day 7.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The title refers to “the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns …” The novel deals with the issues of censorship and book burning and is set at some point in the future. In this story, the “fireman’s” job is to burn any books that are found. It is an effort to keep people from knowledge.

While some of these have excellent movie adaptations, no film treatment can match the magic of the books themselves.

See also: How Harry Potter Changed The World.”

 

THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY by JAMES ZERNDT – Marilyn Armstrong

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to headphones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

KoreanWordForButterfly

There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed through lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover, and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s the wrong in her life to have a baby and probably the worst possible place she could be.

She is far from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first-person narrators, both South Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy, and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end, the pain is personal and remarkably similar for each.

There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paperback and Kindle.

THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Surreal

This is the second of the two Dirk Gently books written by Douglas Adams, my time-twin except he’s dead and I’m not. Yet.  It’s an audiobook and it was written by Douglas Adams and is narrated by him, too.

There are not many of these original books written and narrated by the late, great Douglas Adams. There were original versions of all of his “Hitchhiker” books with him as the narrator, but no one has them anymore. It’s a pity because no one narrated Douglas Adams as well as Douglas Adams. He was, among other things, one of the Goon Show people and did a lot of work for the BBC. He also tended to do at least a small amount of editing and moving about of characters when he read. After all, who knew his books better than he did?

Of the many books Adams’ wrote, this is my all-time favorite. I start to cackle at the opening lines:

By Douglas Adams

I keep chortling, cackling, laughing all the way through. It’s not merely funny. It’s surreal and funny. It’s outlandish and funny. It’s bizarrely and weirdly true — and still funny.

Garry has never read the books, or rather he took a pass at “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but he didn’t get it. But he is definitely getting this. I did have to slow it down to 75% because Douglas Adams talks very fast and Garry doesn’t hear very fast.

Yes, you can read this in words and it is still funny, surreal, witty, and wonderful. To hear the author read it himself is special. The thing is, Adams wrote for radio.

This is part two of a series (it might be a series of three since “A Salmon of Doubt” was supposed to be Part I but somehow isn’t, exactly). It stands by itself and you don’t need to read the books in order.

Author: Douglas Adams

He worked with sound. Most of his material sounds beautiful to one’s ears. It’s an almost perfect counterpoint for the dreariness of current reality.

If by some chance you haven’t really read or listened to Douglas Adams — and especially if the world is getting to you (it certainly is getting to me!) — this will lighten the load. A little bit. A tingle.

A touch of the joy of a world we need to recover.

THE UNREALITY OF FINDING YOUR WAY HOME – BY TOM CURLEY

AND because this is absolutely relevant to the previous story … here’s one by Tom Curley.

I’m not a fan, I’m a zealot. I’ve read all his books. Listened to all the BBC radio series. And watched both movies of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.”  The first one done in the ’80s with the original BBC radio cast was actually a TV series. It was done on a budget of maybe 25 bucks, but it was great.

The Disney movie was okay. Mostly, because Douglas Adams was the producer. Unfortunately, he died before it was finished. Even if you didn’t like the movie, it was worth watching just for the opening musical number “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish”.

While Hitchhiker is my favorite Adams work, I also loved the Dirk Gently series.

One of the things in the book always stuck with me. Whenever Dirk was lost he would simply follow someone who looked like they knew where they were going. He found that he never got to where he was going but he always ended up where he needed to be.

I used that concept once. I was driving home from work one night and I was on the local road that leads to my house. I came upon a police barricade. The road was closed.

There were no detour signs. I only knew that one road. So, I did what Dirk did. I saw a car in front of me turn off the road. He/she seemed to know where he/she was going. So I followed him/her. For the next 20 minutes to a half-hour, we wound our way through twisty back roads in the bowels of Southern Connecticut. I had no idea where I was.

Suddenly, the car in front of me turns on to the main road again. Past the barricade. I couldn’t believe it! It actually worked! But here’s where it got weird. The car in front of me turned off the main road and on to the road I live on. OK, I thought. Makes sense. There are a lot of houses on my street. This person was obviously going home too. But then the car turned into my driveway! That’s when I realized it was my daughter. I should have recognized the car, but I didn’t put two and two together.

The really funny part was that my daughter had just spent the last 20 minutes or so completely freaking out because this mysterious black car had been following her, turn for turn and then followed her to her house! True story.

I know Douglas Adams was smiling.

POSTWAR: A HISTORY OF EUROPE SINCE 1945 – TONY JUDT – Marilyn Armstrong

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
by Tony Judt

Available in paperback, hardcover and as an audiobook

FOWC with Fandango — Previous

I have run this review a few times before because I think of all the reviews I’ve written, this one in its current and previous version, is probably the most important review I’ve written and I cannot street sufficiently how important a book I believe it is.

Every time I write about history, this book comes up. I know it’s long and I know it’s a serious read (or listen), but it changed the entire way I looked at World War 2 and to a degree, World War 1. I mostly read “light and fluffy” these days, life being stressful enough anyway, but this one, I cannot possibly encourage you enough to read it. Even if you read it in pieces, bit by bit over a long period, I guarantee you will understand everything about today’s world a lot better than you do.

Lying national leaders are not new to our world. They weren’t new in 1945 and they will never be new. National politicians lie to protect themselves, to protect their country, to protect their belief systems, to hide the shame of what they or their countrymen did.

Reading PostWar was a project, an immersion experience during which I first unlearned, then relearned everything I knew of modern European history. It was worth the effort.

This is a long book — 960 pages — crammed with so much information I had to read it twice before I felt I had a grip on the material.

Dr. Tony Judt was an historian with controversial opinions. He made no pretense of being a neutral observer. Not that any historian is really neutral. Every historian has an agenda. Whether or not he or she puts it out there for all to see is a matter of style, but there is no such thing as historical neutrality. If an historian is writing about an era, he or she has an opinion about it. All history is slanted, changed by the historians who write it.

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...

Dr. Tony Judt believed the role of an historian is to set the record straight. He undertakes the debunking and de-mythologizing of post World War II European history. He lays bare lies that comprise the myth of French resistance, the “neutral” Swiss, the open-minded anti-Nazi Dutch — exposing an ugly legacy of entrenched anti-Semitism, xenophobia and ethnocentricity.

Although Judt follows a more or less chronological path from World War II to the present, he doesn’t do it as a strict “timeline.” Instead of a linear progression, he follows threads of ideas and philosophy. Tracing cultural and social development, he takes you from news events through their political ramifications. You follow parallel developments in cinema, literature, theater, television, and arts, not just the typical political and economic occurrences on which most history focuses.

After two consecutive readings, I finally felt I’d gotten it. Postwar changed my view of the world, not just what happened, but what is happening.

Tony Judt and I were born in 1947. We grew up during the same years, but his Old World roots gave him an entirely different perspective. He forced me to question fundamental beliefs. What really happened? Was any of the stuff I believed true? Maybe not or at least, maybe only partially. It was hard to swallow, but he convinced me. I believe it.

If you are Jewish (I am and so was Judt), and lost family during the Holocaust, this will stir up painful issues. The depth and breadth of European anti-Semitism and collusion in the destruction of European Jewry is stomach-churning. Pretty lies are easier to deal with than ugly reality. It’snot hard to understand why so much of what we know is wrong but I think it’s important to recognize that it is wrong. Sometimes completely wrong.

Map of Nazi conquest of Europe as of 1940

Even though I knew history, I didn’t grasp the impact of these years until Postwar made it real. I assumed, having lived these decades and followed the news, I knew what happened.

I was wrong. What was reported by American media barely scratches the surface of “truth.” The transformation of Europe from the wreckage of the war to modern Europe is more extensive, complex and far-reaching than I had grasped. These changes affect all of us directly and personally.

I read Postwar on paper, then listened to the audio version. Available from Audible.com, I recommend it to anyone with easily-tired eyes. It has excellent narration and is a fine showcase for the author’s conversational (and controversial) writing style.

Postwar is analysis and criticism, not just “what happened.” The book is an eye-opener, totally worth your time and effort, an investment in understanding and historical perspective. It’s never dull. After reading it, you will never see Europe or World War II the same way.

Moreover, what is happening now will make a lot more sense, in an awful kind of way.

CAMP YESTERDAY, VAMPIRE TODAY. DO I SENSE A TREND? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Vampire

Yesterday, we discussed camp and today it is vampires? I feel a trend coming on! Shall we move on to robots tomorrow? If so, can we do the ones from Douglas Adams’ books? The ones who really wanted the wicket?

Anne Rice, having recovered from her fit of Christian evangelicalism, went back to writing vampire stories and I was delighted. I’d barely survived her Christian saga. Since the new one was about Lestat (who else?) again, I figured I was in for a hot (sort of) read.

But what was hot and sexy in 1972 wasn’t so hot and sexy in 2011. It was page after page of lecturing about … well … I’m not even sure what, exactly. It didn’t work for me and I abandoned the book more or less in the middle. I couldn’t get interested in the characters and Lestat seemed old. He might not have looked his age, but he was cranky and into the vampiric version of, “Get off my lawn, you twerp!”

I think maybe it’s a trend which came and went. Unless someone manages to give it a new burst of life, which is always possible. I live in hope.

I was disappointed on a number of levels. I had liked her writing for a long time. Granted it was unique in its original day but it didn’t age well. Or maybe she had lost her touch.

What had been fun and breezy seemed kind of leaden and tired.

I’m pretty sure the last two I tried to read was “Memnoch the Devil” and “The Vampire Lestat.” It was like being in a really dull literature class. Now that you bring it up maybe I’ll try it again and see if the past five years have changed my viewpoint.

ALL of her books carry five-star ratings, but all of her books are definitely not five stars of reading.

On a more philosophical view, I’ve always wondered whether eternal life was a blessing or a curse. To not know when you can die — human on some level or other, rather like the very long-lived people in Robert Heinlein’s stories — in one thing. But to know you will never die? That sounds almost as depressing as knowing you have two weeks to live.

Vegan witches

I’m not the first person to ponder this anomaly, either. Eternal life — especially lived in eternal darkness — doesn’t sound delightful. And the whole sucking blood thing? I’m not even sure how I feel about bacon, much less sucking the blood of living people.

Can one be a Vegan Vampire?

YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP – Marilyn Armstrong

When in 2012, Rob Reid wrote Year Zero, a science fiction novel about the music business and its impact on the universe, many people sat up and took notice. Who better to write about the Byzantine complexities of the music business than Rob Reid?

The author of Year Zero, Rob Reid doesn’t have the kind of bio one would expect of a science fiction author. In fact, he was and is an entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, the kind of self-made multi-millionaire who makes many of us realize what failures we truly are.

Born in New York City, raised in Darien, Connecticut, got his undergraduate degree at Stanford University in Arabic and International Relations. Earned an MBA from Harvard. In 1994 he moved to Silicon Valley where he managed Silicon Graphic’s relations with Netscape. In 1999 he became a founding member of IGN Entertainment which went public in 2000. IGN was acquired by News Corp in 2005 for $650 million.

File:RobReid.jpgReid was the sole founder of Listen.com for which he served as CEO and Executive Chairman. Listen.com launched Rhapsody, a music streaming service, the first legal service of its kind. Rhapsody was bought by RealNetworks in 2003 and Reid continued to serve as one of its vice presidents until MTV purchased it for $230 million.

Year Zero is one of the funniest, scariest, weirdest science fiction novels I’ve ever read — up there with Jasper Fforde and the great Douglas Adams and certainly the only book of its kind that includes footnotes. Which are hilarious too.

The scary part of the novel is not the story but how it mirrors the realities of the music business.

The music business is very scary.

It turns out that Earth is the only planet in the universe that can create music worth listening to. It is not merely the best music in the universe. For all practical purpose, it is the only music.

Other worlds have made something that had been called music, until the discovery of Earth’s music. From the moment our music was heard by the highly advanced sentient cosmos, there was no turning back. The year of the discovery of Earth’s music was Year Zero, the dawn of a new era for every planet in every galaxy everywhere. It also signaled the probable end of life on Earth unless some legal loophole could be found in our insanely punitive copyright laws.

If not, the combined amount of money owed to Earth’s music corporations would be so monumental it would bankrupt the universe. Unable to pay the bill yet obligated by inter-galactic law to pay it, the easier choice would be to destroy Earth, eliminating the problem and de facto, canceling the debt.

Whether or not you will find the book as fascinating and funny as I did is probably a matter of what you find funny, but it totally killed me. No one knows the intricacies of the law and the music biz better than Rob Reid.

Did I mention the footnotes? They are even funnier than the text.

Humans are oddly heroic, each in his or her own way. People rise to the occasion. The aliens are deliciously bizarre and some of them also rise … or fall … to the occasion. The combination of real law and the idiocy of the situation is the stuff that makes you read and laugh, then read and laugh some more.

Although Year Zero is every bit as weird as any of Douglas Adams’ books to which it has been compared, the strangeness of the story is based on real facts. The “facts” are so odd, you have to sit there and let your jaw flap a bit.

Taking into consideration the world in which we are living, this book makes more sense than it used to … if anything makes sense at all.

Douglas Adams created the Improbability Drive from his imagination. Rob Reid only has to quote laws that exist which are as crazy as whatever you might imagine. Right now, nothing seems as scary as life. But I digress.

I loved this book. I have read it half a dozen times and I think maybe I’ll read it again. Like, today maybe. I bought the audiobook too and listened to it a few times. I’ll probably read that more also. Some books are worth memorizing.

There is no sequel. It’s the only novel Rob Reid wrote (well, he recently wrote something else, but it was awful and I try not to mention it). He has written other non-fiction books including Architects of the Web about Silicon Valley, and Year One about life as a student at Harvard Business School.

This is a great, fun, science fiction book. Give it a read.

If nothing else, you’ll learn everything you never wanted to know about the music business. Right now, reading about music seems a great idea to me. A million percent better than the news.