Posts Tagged "books"

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Published on March 3, 2012

Last night, I finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, by Robert Pirsig. What a thought provoking book! It’s essentially an introduction to philosophy, by way of the story of a motorcycle trip that a father (the author) and his son take across the country. The narrative bounces between events of the actual trip and a series of Chautauquas on the author’s nagging question: “What is Quality?” His explorations of what Quality is and what it means for each of us is very intriguing, and has given me some new insights into what I should be striving for in my life.

That said, this book isn’t the easiest read. It’s clearly a volume that warrants a second (and perhaps, third) reading. So much food for thought is presented to the reader, that it becomes difficult to digest. Approach this work with an open mind and with an eagerness to learn. Anything less and you may find yourself bored from the start. If you’re willing to read through it, however, I can guarantee that this book will leave you pondering the same questions that have haunted philosophers all these years.

One other, similar book that I’d like to mention in passing is The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy Sayers. I read this particular title before reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and found it equally as intriguing. This title is an even more difficult work to get into, but there are such gems embedded within it that the work is worth the effort. Although Sayers’s work focuses primarily on creativity and the art of creating, it inevitably ends up treading over some of the same territory that Pirsig’s work does. Quality, it turns out, is at the root of everything; very intriguing stuff.

Two Towers and Return of the King

Published on June 7, 2010

Yesterday, I finally finished reading the Lord of the Rings series for the first time. I can finally scratch them off my list of shame! As I did for the previous two books, I thought I would provide some brief thoughts on each.

The Two Towers

I found it interesting how this volume told two stories in separate chunks (books 3 and 4), rather than interleaving them. The first book follows the adventures of Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry, Pippin, and Gandalf, from beginning to end. The second follows Sam, Frodo, and Gollum. In the movie adaptation of this book, the stories are intertwined, helping to remind the viewer that various events are happening in parallel. Telling each story in its entirety in the novel was much more rewarding from a reading perspective. I never lost track of what was going on during each story, and I found them that much more engaging. It’s interesting that Peter Jackson decided to move the scene with Shelob into the third movie, since it really happens at the end of the second novel. Again, this was a top notch novel, which I enjoyed cover to cover. Five Stars

The Return of the King

To me, this book differs more from its movie adaptation than the previous two. In the book, the army of the dead is used to gain ships for Aragorn and company: nothing more. They are released from service after helping the company obtain these ships. In the movie, the dead travel with them and fight Sauron’s army with the company. I think I prefer the novel’s version here. Likewise, I prefer the ending of the novel over the movie. How could the film’s writers have left out the scouring of the Shire? When Frodo and company return to the Shire, they find it in ruin. This was a key scene omitted from the movie, much to the movie’s detriment, in my opinion. Novel for the win! Five Stars

Now for a few final thoughts on the series as a whole:

  • It boggles my mind that Arwen is a bit character in the novels. Having seen the movies before reading the books, I guess my vision of her importance was tarnished. She barely has any speaking lines in the books, and is left out of the second story altogether.
  • While I enjoy Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of these books, the novels (as usual) far exceed them. Key elements were left out of the films: interacting with Tom Bombadil, several scenes with the Ents, and the scouring of the Shire (along with the deaths of both Saruman and Wormtongue). I guess it’s hard to beat a book.

Hobbit and Fellowship Mini-Reviews

Published on March 8, 2010

As shameful as it is for me to say, I had not, until just recently, ever read The Hobbit or The Fellowship of the Ring (or, for that matter, the other two volumes of The Lord of the Rings). I’m not sure why I never read them. Perhaps it’s because I heard from some people that the books were hard to read. Well, I’m finally getting around to reading them, and I must say that I’ve enjoyed them thoroughly. Here are some thoughts:

The Hobbit

Though technically not a part of the The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is clearly where it all starts. As such, I read this book first, and I’m glad I did. Reading this story first provides a great deal of context for things learned in Fellowship. I particularly loved the way the book was written: it always seemed to me like an old man was telling me the story as we sat around a camp fire. Often the narrator would go off on a tangent, then later realize that he had gotten onto a tangent, and would finally have to apologize to you, the reader. Very enjoyable. The one thing I didn’t like about this story was the abrupt ending. After the climax is a single chapter, wrapping up a number of threads in a short period of time. Such a jarring transition seems detrimental to the whole story on some level. Overall, however, a terrific story. Five Stars

The Fellowship of the Ring

This is by far one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Tolkien’s command of the English language is outstanding, as is his inventiveness. Every character feels alive and their interactions are wonderful to experience. My absolute favorite scene is at the parting of the Company with Galadriel and Celeborn from Lothlórien. Galadriel gives each member of the Fellowship a gift, and she asks Gimli, the dwarf, what he would like. At first he says he wants nothing, but she presses him, so he answers that a single hair from her head would be his heart’s desire. He then continues to assert that he doesn’t want this; he’s only saying so because she commanded him to speak. Here is her reply:

The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment, and Celeborn gazed at the Dwarf in wonder, but the Lady smiled. “It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,” she said; “yet that is not true of Gimli. For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous.”

She then asks Gimli what he would do with such a gift, and he replies that he would simply treasure it, in memory of her words to him at their first meeting. This pleases her, so she gives him not one hair, but three. Gimli takes them and vows to have them set in an imperishable crystal to be an heirloom in his house, and a token of goodwill between the Dwarves and the Elves until the end of time.

Scenes like this one are peppered throughout the text, and are truly wonderful to take part in. I’m greatly looking forward to the next two books, even though I know how the story plays out. Five Stars

Watchmen Review

Published on February 15, 2009

Reading Watchmen is, for me, akin to looking at the Mona Lisa. In my heart of hearts, I know it’s a masterpiece, but I just don’t like it. My main problem with Watchmen, and a problem I’m increasingly having with LOST (which I’m trying to catch up on), is that there’s no hope for the characters. I have absolutely no reason to root for the characters in Watchmen; they’re the saddest group of people in the world. The story is overly complex, the pacing erratic, and the tone is way too preachy for my liking.

I know lots of folks out there adore this story, but I say ‘skip it.’

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Published on September 7, 2008

I just completed the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Without a doubt, this final volume is the pinnacle of the series. The narrative is unlike any of the previous installments, and reads like a non-stop action movie. And while I’m on the topic of movies, I will go ahead and predict that the feature film for this story will not do it the appropriate justice. To fully appreciate this story, and the overall arc of the boy wizard, one must spend time with the books.

I’ll admit that I was apprehensive of going into this final story; a little scared, even. A great sense of foreboding precedes the reader into this final volume, and never once lets go. My nerves are pretty shot as a result (J. K. Rowling is truly a master of the cliffhanger). Thankfully, I can say that the finale is well worth the journey through seven years in the life of Harry Potter.

Completing this series is difficult. I’ve become friends with the characters in these books, and to know that their adventures are over is a little sad. But, as I mentioned in a recent post, the reading bug has bitten me once again, and I look forward to delving into other worlds.

If you haven’t read this series, pick it up. If you think the series is just for younger readers, think again. And if you’re persistent enough to read through all seven volumes, you will be rewarded. I feel safe enough to say that these books now rank among my favorites, and will hold a treasured spot on my book shelves.

Order of the Phoenix

Published on August 28, 2008

In order to properly describe my reading experience with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I’d like to talk briefly about another, unrelated book.

The seventh and final book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, entitled The Last Battle, is perhaps one of the most frustrating books I’ve ever read. Strangely enough, it’s also the most gratifying of the series. For what must be easily three quarters of the book, the reader is forced through one bad event after another. No hope ever presents itself and all seems lost. At one point, I seriously considered putting the book down for good. Thankfully, I didn’t do so. The final quarter of the book makes the difficulty of the first three quarters worthwhile.

The Order of the Phoenix has a similar resonance with me. Much darker than the previous volumes, the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series is a frustrating read at first. Bad fortune seems to follow Harry around, affecting everyone around him. This makes the reader’s job an unpleasant one. Thankfully, about two-thirds of the way through the book, things begin to turn around. As with the previous installment of the series (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), this book ends on a rather melancholy note. This makes me a little anxious about what’s to come in the final two volumes, especially the final one.

All in all, I’m really enjoying the series; much more than I thought I would originally. These books have rekindled my interest in reading, which I’m excited about. I used to read all the time when I was younger, but my efforts have been focused elsewhere for the past several years. Thankfully, that spark has been ignited again. I’m already thinking about what to read after I conclude the Potter series. Maybe I’ll take a stab at the Lord of the Rings books…

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Catching Up With Harry Potter

Published on August 23, 2008

A few weeks ago, I was in search of something new to read, so I decided to pick up the first six volumes of the Harry Potter series. Having only seen a couple of the movies (the first and third movies, I now recall), I wasn’t too familiar with the story line. What better way, then, to read the whole story from the beginning?

I just now completed the fourth book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), and will begin on the fifth (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) tonight. Without a doubt, J. K. Rowling is one of the great authors of our time. Every book I’ve read so far has been a delight, packed with action that runs the gamut of emotions. I’ve laughed out loud a number of times (there are some very funny scenes in each book), I’ve been tense with anticipation at the climax of each story, and there have even been a few sad moments, especially in the book I just finished (which is quite dark at the end).

I’m glad that I’ve finally gotten around to reading this series. If you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend doing so.

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The Reading Rainbow

Published on September 10, 2007

Last week I took some much needed vacation. During that time I happened to pick up a book to read, something I haven’t done in a long time (as sad as that is to say). My book of choice was Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories Vol. 1, which I received years and years ago from a family friend. I have never successfully read through all of the stories, though I have finished the odd one or two. My goal this time around is to complete the entire book. So far I have read through the two novel-length stories in the book: A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. Both are gripping reads, and I found that I could hardly put the book down once I started reading. I’m very excited about the rest of the short stories. And then it’s on to volume two!

What is everyone else here reading? Or are you even reading at all? It’s certainly such a 20th century thing to do… 😉

A Major Milestone

Published on July 17, 2006

Early this morning (at 1:03 AM to be exact), I bid and won on volume 35 (Doppelgänger) of the Prince Valiant series published by Fantagraphics Publishing. This volume completes my Prince Valiant library, a goal I have been trying to reach for some time now. Once the book arrives, I plan to read it and then go through them in order, beginning with volume 1. I can hardly wait!

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Into the Wardrobe

Published on May 14, 2006

I’m not much of a movie person, but tonight, thanks to a storm-related cable outage, I watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for the first time. What a great movie! I’ve always been a giant fan of the Chronicles of Narnia, and this movie was particularly well done. A few key details were left out, however. Aslan didn’t mention the deeper magic when the Stone Table was broken in two, He simply explained that the witch didn’t fully understand what would happen. Also, the professor never hints that he too has been to Narnia. Take, for instance, this passage from the book:

And the professor, who was a very remarkable man, didn’t tell them not to be silly or not to tell lies, but believed the whole story. “No,” he said, “I don’t think it will be any good trying to go back through the wardrobe door to get the coats. You won’t get into Narnia again by that route. Nor would the coats be much use by now if you did! Eh? What’s that? Yes, of course you’ll get back to Narnia again some day. Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia.”

Nowhere in the movie does the professor make such a statement (the last sentence in particular). That omission really took some of the surprise out of it (although anyone who’s read the books already knows the story). There were some interesting additions to the movie as well. Aslan says to the witch that he was present when the deep magic was written, a statement that isn’t in the book (I checked). It will be interesting to see what other movies they decide to make. I really enjoyed this one; hopefully they will stick to the books, and not alter the stories too much.

All hail the Highest of High Kings!

The Center of the Earth

Published on January 23, 2006

Not too long ago, I purchased Rick Wakeman’s phenomenal album Journey to the Centre of the Earth. And it has spurred within me an interest to re-read the masterpiece by Jules Verne. It has been quite some time since I read a novel (I believe the seven Chronicles of Narnia books were the last ones I read), and I feel it’s about time to pick up another one. I’ve always been a fan of Jules Verne works, and A Journey to the Center of the Earth is particularly excellent.

I’m slowly making my way through The Mythical Man Month, and so far it has been most excellent. The points that Dr. Brooks makes throughout the book are incredibly insightful. How sad that practically no one makes use of the suggestions he puts forth!

Does anyone have suggestions for books worth reading? Feel free to let me know what you like.

Drawing Valiant to a Close

Published on December 2, 2005

My collection of Prince Valiant comics is nearing its completion, as I have purchased the last of the books available at the Fantagraphics store. I have 13 remaining books to purchase, all of which (with the exception of volume 32) fetch incredibly high prices on eBay. Interestingly enough, volumes 38-40 are the more difficult books to find, and often sell for nearly $200 or $300 a piece! The earlier books (vols. 3-8) also command high prices, averaging anywhere from $60 to $200. So I expect that filling in these last few holes will cost me a pretty penny.

One of my more expensive purchases recently was a collection of 6 DVD’s, containing scans of the Valiant strips from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s (including the year 2000). These strips aren’t available in print, so I was willing to shell out big money to obtain them. And the scans are absolutely marvelous! So far, I have read up through the end of 1987, enjoying every strip along the way. The story lines are gripping and the artwork is, as always, stunning.

I plan to eventually update my Valiant library page, including more information on each book in the series. There are so many characters, that it would be interesting to note in which books they get introduced to the story. And a general summary of each book couldn’t hurt either.

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A Valiant Auction

Published on September 15, 2005

I just won 10 more Prince Valiant books at eBay, bringing my library to a total of 27 titles out of the available 50 (the auction I won was actually for 14 books, but I already have four of them). The price per book in this auction was fairly reasonable: only $11.75 each! I’ve found that buying the books in bulk is the only way to get them at a reasonable price.

Unfortunately, this lot of books was listed in “fair” condition and the picture provided didn’t fully show their actual state (at least the spines look to be in decent shape). I guess I’ll see what condition they are in when I get them. The beautiful thing about eBay is that I can always turn around and sell them to someone else if I don’t like them.

Interestingly enough, I’m still awaiting my order of volume #2 from Amazon. They apparently don’t have any, so they have delayed my order for some time (up to November if I recall correctly). But I’m willing to wait – the early volumes are hard to get, especially at the low price of just over $11.00!

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A Valiant Book Listing

Published on August 21, 2005

As I previously promised, I have created a web page that conveys my humble Prince Valiant book collection. (This page has been removed, since I now own the entire collection.) There are a total of 50 volumes in the Fantagraphics line, and I have but 11 of them (4 more should be arriving by mail in the next 2 or 3 weeks). Adding on to this sort of collection is part of the fun, and is a bit like hunting for Easter eggs. I’m just amazed at how much the early volumes sell for on eBay. I have seen several of the earliest volumes (1-7) go for as much as $70 a piece recently, so obtaining this entire collection will eventually cost me. However, I suppose it’s good for a man to have some sort of hobby, and these books have certainly been an enjoyable way for me to spend my time. And it’s a welcome departure from programming and computer gaming!

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Got My Prince Valiant Books

Published on August 16, 2005

I received my Prince Valiant books in the mail yesterday, and they are fantastic! The book paper is high quality, the colors are unbelievably vibrant, and each one is in surprisingly good condition (I bought them used on eBay). Being the geek that I am, I plan to create a little web page; a table listing all of the available books and the ones I currently own. Then I (and anyone else who takes a look) can keep track of the volumes which I still need to buy. Yes, these books are that good. 🙂

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Prince Valiant

Published on August 10, 2005

The Prince Valiant Sunday comic has recently become a favorite of mine. I sadly ignored the comic for a number of years, considering it too “wordy” a read. Had I known how elaborate the story lines are, I would have followed them much more closely. I recently came across a collection of Fantagraphics books, cataloguing the entire strip history. I was amazed to learn that the strip started in the late 1930s, and continues today (obviously not by the same artist). If you enjoy swashbuckling adventure and superb artwork, I highly recommend checking it out.

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Only One Lion

Published on June 21, 2005

This story over at CNN reminded me of the following passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy:

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and …”

“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

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