Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Inca Gold By Clive Cussler - Book Review

Inca Gold
By Clive Cussler
Originally Published 1994
This edition published Pocket Star books 2007

Another adventure book from one of my favourite authors. I first read this book around 12 or 13 years ago. I consider this book as well as Treasure and Sahara to be the best books in the Dirk Pitt series. Cussler has recently branched out and started several other new adventure series with different heroes, but I think I will always be partial to Dirk Pitt.

He's my ideal hero. 6 feet 4 inches tall, deep green opaline eyes and short wavy black hair. While I think Matthew McConaghey did a very good job as Dirk in the movie Sahara, Matthew does not fit that description.

This is the original 1994 cover. The story is of a treasure hunt and looting of Peruvian artifacts, and an ancient story of how the pre-Inca peoples (called Chachapoyan) took their gold treasures into hiding. They story was that they sailed north from Peru. So the hunt is on between the Crime family called Zolar International, and Dirk Pitt's employer - NUMA (National Underwater Marine Agency) to find and recover this vast amount of treasure before it disappears into the private collections of the extremely wealthy private collectors.

Eventually the treasure is located at the head of the Sea of Cortez better known as the Gulf of California. During the search, Dirk and his friends have various encounters with the Zolar family. They are kidnapped, bombed, left for dead and even an attempted drowning. But along with the help of the local Indians, Dirk and friends overpower the Zolar crime family, and recover the treasure for Peru and along the way they discover a large underground river big enough to re-cultivate the desert above.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Toronto library launches book challenge

In February, the Toronto Public Library is challenging Torontonians to read ONE book about Toronto. Specifically a book called CONSOLATION, by Michael Redhill.

Consolation, is a challenging, literary novel that shifts between 1850s Toronto and the present day, and is a winner of the Toronto Book Award and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2007

Photography figures prominently in Consolation, which was inspired by photographic images of Toronto in the 1850s. The novel, pivoting between the 19th century and the present, tells of a woman's efforts to confirm the existence of historical photos discovered by her late husband, a forensic geology professor.

There is also a photography contest as well. The Toronto Star, an official sponsor, is asking readers to submit personal photographs of images that capture the city, to be compiled for a March 2 photo spread.

I already have this book in my Library TBR pile. Probably overdue by now, but I guess I better renew it if I'm gonna read it.

Anne of Green Gables turns 100 this year

Megan Follows
as Anne Shirley
Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe.
Anne of Green Gables - The Sequel. CBC TV - 1987.
Books originally written by Lucy Maud Montgomery
First Published 1908.

Who amongst us booklovers have not heard of Anne of Green Gables? Who amongst us readers have not read the books? Who amongst us knows that Anne actually turns 100 years old this year? That's right the very first book Anne of Green Gables was published in June 1908.

Anne, who's about to celebrate her centennial birthday, has been captivating readers since June 13, 1908, when the Page Company of Boston, Mass., published her story, a first novel by Canada's Lucy Maud Montgomery. The book was an immediate bestseller, with more than 19,000 copies sold in the first five months. Since then, an estimated 50 million copies have been sold worldwide.

Who amongst us has NOT seen the very successful CBC produced TV series Anne of Green Gables, starring Megan Follows, Jonathan Crombie, Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth, which aired in 1985. (That's over 22 years ago - Gosh has it really been that long?) Anne of Green Gables, The Sequel was made in 1987, and a 3rd part aired in 2000.

Megan Follows, who set the standard for portraying Anne in the 1985 film produced by Sullivan Entertainment and its two sequels, says playing Anne opened doors around the world.

"I loved playing her," Follows says from Los Angeles. "I've pretty much found that wherever I go in the world ... people have been very touched and loved that character. So I've found a tremendous amount of generosity of spirit from people when I have travelled. And people I have met really just loved the story and that character."

Well, Guess what. Sullivan Entertainment are now making a remake of their own series. The NEW Anne Shirley is a young Canadian actess named Hannah Endicott-Douglas.

The new movie, set for broadcast later this year, comes on the 100th anniversary of the publication of the original novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which launched a century-old love affair with the pig-tailed orphan. But a century hasn't dimmed the relevance of the spunky Anne Shirley, Endicott-Douglas says.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

On the Origin of Species - 50 Greatest Books

Today's Top 50 Book by the Globe and Mail.

On the Origin of Species, By Charles Darwin, published in 1859.

Despite my eclectic range of interests, I actually have never read this book - at least not the whole thing. Although I certainly have made the attempt a few times.

But I do know a bit about Darwin. I do know that Darwin's much loved daughter died at age 12, I think, and Darwin's wife, Emma Darwin, wrote some diaries, and I even linked to them back when I first started blogging.

Whether or not people believe in evolution, this book certainly has created a divide. Between Science and Atheists who say that yes it happened, just as Darwin described. The scientists just have not yet found the "missing link". And the Christians who accept Creation, or the new phrase - Intelligent Design - where God created the Universe and everything in it. You only need to look to the complexity of the human body to know that it didnt come together by accident. God also created nature and the beautiful planet we live on - when it's not being destroyed by bombs.

I won't say anymore, I am just presenting the after effects that Darwin let loose when he wrote his book. I'm sure he would be horrified to know the chaos his book has unleashed.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I wish there was no tooth fairy, I wish there was no tooth fairy....

My 5 year old son lost another tooth today. He carefully preserved it and brought it home, and popped it under his pillow to wait for the tooth fairy. When it came bed time, he lifted up the pillow to show me, only to discover it wasn't there. He whipped the pillows off the bed, threw the blankets everywhere and lifted up the mattress to find this tooth. Naturally he started crying. "I'm very upset.I won't get any money now" he sobbed.

After 10 minutes of hysterics while Son and Dad searched the room, he finally calmed down. So I went in to read him his bed time stories. I glanced around and spotted a small white object stuck in the carpet. Upon picking it up, I discovered I had found the missing tooth. Suddenly he was smiling again.

So I decided to find out where the tooth fairy came from, how long had she been around. Guess what - she is barely 100 years old.

The tooth fairy as we now know her didn't make an appearance until the early 1900s, as a generalized "good fairy" with a professional specialization. The child loses a baby tooth, which is put under the pillow at night, and the tooth fairy exchanges it for a present, usually money but sometimes candy.

Belief in the Tooth Fairy is generally short-lived. Though the last baby teeth usually aren't lost till age 10 or 11, most children no longer believe by 7 or 8. Parents frequently play out the game anyway and their kids fully expect them to – there's money at stake.

And that's the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth.
When he finally discovers that there is no tooth fairy, I'm stopping the payouts.
Apologies for this post not being book related, but I had to vent.

Making books is fun - to watch - in 1947

As I was doing my rounds of the blogs, I came across an old video about Book Production. From Philiobiblos comes this comment. From 1947, a very interesting (and unintentionally amusing) short documentary (10 minutes) on the long, very involved process of creating a printed book.

The original video submitter wrote this - Back before inkjets, printing was a time-comsuming laborious process, that took teams of people working together to produce just one book. Nowadays, any crabby person can sit at home and crank out stuff on a blog or even make internet video. This movie will make you happy as you watch others toil for 'The Man' under primitive conditions.

As I was watching all these people doing the non-interesting tasks - like moving pages, covers and books from machine to machine, I was thinking - "This is make work for the people. The machines do the real work. This is communism". If I had been employed there, I think I would have been bored. I'm also thinking thats why communism failed. Because machines do all the work now - not the people.

Now of course you are going to tell me that America was never communist. Of course not, but that particlar publisher factory in 1947 sure looked like it. Now of course this is also after the War and at the end of the Great Depression. The economy needed to be ramped up. The way to ramp up an economy is to produce (consumer) goods that the people will buy. And people will buy books. So the more books you make, the more they will buy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Out of the Flames by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone - Book Review

Out of the Flames
By Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone
Broadway Books 2002

This is a very interesting book - but it is not for light reading. If you are religious, you do need to be very open minded. This book is about a medieval-era book that argued against the Trinity simply because the Trinity is NOT mentioned in the Bible. Just so you know where I am coming from, I hold myself to be Humanist. I was raised a Protestant, but no longer belong to any organized religion.

This book (Out of the Flames) turned out to be a lot more scholarly than I anticipated. Not that it was boring mind you, because it wasn't. But I am just warning you, that it is packed full of interesting and very well researched information about Reformation history. It has taken me a week to get through it.

Michael Servetus was born in Aragon, Spain in 1511. He grew up to become a theologian, physician, and a Humanist. In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg and sparked the Protestant Reformation. Miguel had an ear for languages and learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew as well as Spanish and French. He later also learned Arabic and German.

At age thirteen (1524), Servetus entered the service of a Franciscan friar by the name of Juan de Quintana,(who was a secret Humanist) and read the entire Bible in its original languages from the manuscripts that were available at that time. He later attended the University of Toulouse in 1527 where he studied law. There he came under suspicion for participating in secret meetings and activities of Protestant students.

Because Servetus had read the Bible in the original languages, he was disturbed to note that there was NO mention of the Trinity within its pages. In 1530 Servetus visited Johannes Oecolampadius in Basel, staying there for about ten months, and probably supported himself as a proofreader for a local printer. In 1531-32 Servetus wrote and published 3 books.

De trinitatis erroribus ("On the Errors of the Trinity").
Dialogorum de Trinitate ("Dialogues on the Trinity")
De Iustitia Regni Christi ("On the Justice of Christ's Reign").

In these books, Servetus built a theology which maintains that the belief of the Trinity is not based on biblical teachings but rather on what he saw as the false teachings of (Greek) philosophers. Servetus may also have hoped that the dismissal of the Trinitarian dogma would also make Christianity more appealing to Judaism and Islam, which had preserved the unity of God in their teachings, whereas trinitarians, according to Servetus, had turned Christianity into a form of "tritheism", or belief in three gods.

In 1533 Servetus enrolled at Paris university under the name of Michel de Villaneuve. Shortly after he left Paris and moved to Lyon where he worked as a proofreader and editor for a new edition of Ptolemy's Geography. In 1536 he enrolled again at Paris University and began studying medicine. After he graduated, Michel opened his own business as a Physician in the town of Vienne, not far from Lyon where he lived quietly for 15 years.

In January 1553 Servetus published yet another religious work with further Anti-Trinitarian views. It was entitled Christianismi Restitutio, a work that sharply rejected the idea of predestination and the idea that God had condemned souls to Hell regardless of worth or merit. Servetus insisted that God condemns no one who does not condemn himself through thought, word or deed.

In the middle of this book was a few short paragraphs describing the flow of blood through the heart and lungs. Prior to this, blood was beleived to enter the heart, cross the ventricle wall and then travel back out to the body. There was no explanation for the change in the blood colour. Servetus wrote that the blood goes from the heart up to the lungs and receives some sort of energy before going back to the heart and then out to the rest of the body. This was the FIRST correct explanation of the circulatory system. In 1628 Dr William Harvey, Physician to King Charles I of England, has always been credited with this discovery.

To John Calvin, who had written the fiery Institutes of the Christian Religion, Servetus' latest book was a slap in the face. In March 1553 Servetus was betrayed to Calvin as a heretic so he left Vienne and headed for Naples. Instead of taking route around the Alps (in Savoy) and down the coast of Italy, he headed north up the Rhone and then crossed into Geneva where John Calvin lived. There Servetus was arrested, and thrown into jail. In the summer of 1553,having spent several months in prison without any change of clothes and very little food, Servetus was brought to trial as a heretic. Mostly he was questioned about the Trinity.

Prior to the Council of Nicea (in 325 CE) no doctor of the church had used the word
Trinity. If the fathers did acknowledge a distinction in the Divine Essence, if it was not real, but formed...the persons were nothing more in truth than dispensations or modes, not distinct entitites or persons in the accepted meaning of that word.

On October 27, 1553 Michael Servetus was burned at the stake as a heretic. Calvin also demanded that every single copy of his latest book Christianismi Restitutio be destroyed.

Fortunately 3 copies of this book have survived. The Goldstones have tracked them down, and told the stories of the books travels from 1553 to the present day - the people who owned them, the places they went to, and where they are located now.

Today the last three copies of Christianismi Restitutio can be found at the Osterreichische National-bibliothek in Vienna, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and the Library of the University of Edinburgh.

Here are some websites about Michel Servetus and Humanism if you are interested in more information.
Michel Servetus Institute
The Humanist Institute

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cell Phone Novels - the Latest in Texting

This came in from the SHARP email list today.

Readers may be interested in the article in today's NY Times about
a fascinating new form of publishing in Japan: cell phone novels.
It's a dramatically fast-moving example of the interaction between a
new technology and a literary form. Large numbers of people who
hadn't read novels before are now not only reading but writing them,
while the form is different as well -- shorter sentences, less
character development. The article does hint that the new form is not
entirely technologically determined, but also owes its character to
the popularity of manga, etc.
It's a great bookend to Leah Price's recent article in the
NY Times book review that highlighted the different kinds of reading
Americans are now and have been engaged in, in response to the
anxiety that people just aren't READING.
Here's the link:
Cell Phone Novels

Forever Liesl by Charmian Carr - Book Review

Forever Liesl: A Memoir of The Sound of Music
by Charmian Carr and Jean A.S. Strauss
Viking Penguin Books 2000

Charmian Carr's Website
Charmian Carr - Wikipedia
IMDB Sound of Music

Like most people I love The Sound of Music, I know all the words to all (well most) of the songs and I have my favourite child. So when I found this book on the shelf yesterday at the Goodwill shop, I snapped it up. And like everyone else, I too want to know what it was REALLY like on the set of The Sound of Music while it was being filmed.

Charmian Carr was 21 when she was cast in the Sound of Music to play a 16 year old teenage girl.

The Sound of Music was filmed in Los Angeles and Salzburg, Austria during 1964. I was born in 1964. My favourite songs are So Long Farewell, Do-Re-Mi and The Sound of Music (The Hills are alive). This book is Charmian's memories of the year, she and the other children spent in Los Angeles and Austria making the movie.

Even today - 40 years later - Charmian still keeps in touch with her co-stars. It is unusual that none of the children from this movie have been involved with drugs or died (committed suicide) due to their fame as a "child actor". I think that says a lot for the "family" feeling that they developed amongst themselves, and that they could call on each other if they ever needed any personal help.

Charmian (pronounced Shar_me_an, NOT Shar_mane) answers a number of questions such as the following.

What was Julie Andrews really like? (she was wonderful, a good friend and still professional)

What was Christopher Plummer really like? (he was somewhat distant - he only agreed to do the movie so that he could sing - but his song Edelweiss eventually had to be dubbed.)

Did everyone do his or her own singing? (All the children did, yes, but several other childrens voices were added just to add strength. These extra children were uncredited. One of them was Darleen Carr - Charmian's younger sister)

Who gained so much weight that in one scene she required a body double? (Hint: It wasn't Charmian.) The youngest child Kym Karath who played Gretl. By the time the mountain scenes (at the end) were filmed, Kym had grown taller and weighed quite a bit more, so Christopher Plummer had trouble carrying her on his back while they were walking over the mountains to freedom. In the distance shots, the blonde girl on Christopher's back was a double who weighed a lot less).

Why did Charmian leave motherhood and start a new career in interior design? (After her marriage fell apart - because her husband of 24 years resented the fact that he was ignored and fans always only ever wanted to speak to "Liesl" - Charmian turned to interior design because they reminded her of the old architecture of Austria.).

What was Charmian's real surname? Farnon - her father was Canadian music conductor Brian Farnon. Darleen was also born Darleen Farnon, and later changed her name to Carr as well.

And Charmian also tells the REAL story of the Von Trapp family. Yes they were real singers, and yes the Captain did marry the Governess, but not right before the Anschluss. In fact Maria married the Captain in 1926, and they had 2 daughters born in Austria before the Anschluss occurred. The youngest von Trapp son (Johannes) was born in America in 1939 after the family fled Austria and arrived in USA. Did you know that the REAL eldest Von Trapp child was a boy? His name was Rupert. The second child was the eldest daughter Agathe.

I stayed up until 1 oclock this morning reading this book. I LOVED it. If you want to know the real story of the making of the Sound of Music, then this is the book to read. Oh yes, and I read this for the Memoirs "In their Shoes" Challenge.

One last trivia question - Do you know where the name Charmian comes from?
Charmian was a character in William Shakespeare's play - Anthony and Cleopatra. She was one of Cleopatra's servants.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Shopping for Old Books

While trying to keep my son occupied today, I promised him that I would take him up to the local Goodwill shop (similar to Salvation Army thrift shops) and see if I can buy him some new (second hand) books. He needs new ones as he is bored with his old ones. When we got there, he found the toy section, so he stopped to play. That kept him occupied for an hour, while I looked through the entire books section. I found some very interesting OLD books for me, as well as some good books for him.

Several years ago I found a book called Dragon Hunter, a biography by Charles Gallenkamp (2001). I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a biography about Roy Chapman Andrews, who some people claim to be the REAL Indiana Jones. He was famous for discovering Dinosaur eggs in Western China in the early 20th century. Andrews wrote several books and today I found a first edition of his 1921 book called Across Mongolian Plains. I can't wait to read it.

I also found a first edition of Charlie Chaplin's autobiography - called My Autobiography published by Simon & Schuster in 1964.

I grabbed a 1949 (expanded) edition of H.G.Wells book called The Outline of History first published in 1920. The expanded version means that it includes coverage of World War Two, and was published AFTER Wells died in 1946.

This book has a Canadian connection. I also happen to have on my TBR pile a book called The Spinster and the Prophet by A.B.McKillop. In 1927 a Canadian citizen, Florence Deeks, sued Wells for plagiarism, claiming that much of the Outline was lifted from her unpublished manuscript, "The Web of the World's Romance", which spent over a year in the hands of Wells' North American publisher, MacMillan & Company.

I also picked up a 1932 Modern Library edition of Eight Famous Elizabethan Plays. None of which are Shakespeare. Plays include -
Dr Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe
The Shoemakers Holiday by Thomas Dekker
A Woman killed with Kindness by Thomas Heywood
Volpone, or The Fox, A Comedy by Ben Jonson
The Maids Tragedy by Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher
The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster
A New Way to Pay Old Debts, by Philip Massinger
'Tis pity she's a Whore, by John Ford

Its about time I read other plays from Shakespeare's time. Especially Marlowe.

The last 2 books I picked up, had connections to World War Two. I don't usually read war stories, but these were personal stories, not actual war stories. One is the Diary of the Nuremberg Trials by GM Gilbert, a psychologist who was in charge of the prisoners mental health during the trials. The other book is called Forever Liesl, by Charmaine Carr. Yes that's right, she was the young actress who played Liesl in the famous 1964 movie Sound of Music.

I will write reviews of these books, whenever I get around to reading them. I spent about $25 total for my books, and another $15 on my sons books and toys. It was a good day today - for both of us.

In Search of Lost Time - 50 Greatest Books

This is the second book in the 50 Greatest Books list being assembled by the Globe and Mail this year.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

I personally have never heard of this book, let alone read it. I havent read this author either. I have however read several books by Frenchman Marcel Pagnol. `

Next week - The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson - Book Review

Three Cups of Tea
One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time
By Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
Penguin 2006
Book Website
Foundation website
Greg Mortenson Website
Northern Area of Pakistan
Parade Magazine Article 2003

Here (in Pakistan & Afghanistan) we drink three cups of tea to do business. The first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend and the third, you join our family. And for our family, we are prepared to do anything - even die.
Haji Ali, Korphe Village Chief, Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan.

This is a really good book. It tells the story of how ONE American climber in the Karakoram Mountains, has made a difference in a remote and very poor area. You learn the REAL details of how the poor Muslims live - especially those in the mountains. How they are usually neglected by their governments. And you also learn that they are simple people, with families, children, and desires, just like you and me. They are not terrorists. The biggest thing they want (for the most part) is an education.

In 1993, Greg Mortenson and his team had attempted to climb K2. Due to circumstances beyond their control (one of the team members becoming ill) it was imperative that the team return to a lower altitude ASAP if the ill member was to survive.

As the team descended down a glacier, Mortenson somehow made a wrong turn, found himself separated from his party, and in unfamiliar territory. After 24 hours of wandering, and avoiding the glacier crevasses, Mortenson was found by a Balti porter and taken to a nearby village (Korphe), where the village chief's family nursed him back to health.

While he was recovering, the chief showed him around the village. Mortenson saw the area of grass where the village children (mostly boys) sat on the dirt and tried to do their lessons, with no teacher. The village could not even afford $1 per day for a teacher. When he left the village, he promised that he would return to build them a school.

Mortenson spent several years trying to raise money in America, and eventually after selling his own belongings, and having an article written in a mountaineering newsletter, he received a large check from an elderly and wealthy industralist who wanted to leave a lasting legacy before he died. The industrialist willed one million dollars to a new foundation (Central Asia Institute) and named Mortenson as the Executive Director. The centre of operations for the CAI in the Baltistan area is the town of Skardu. The American headquarters is in Bozeman, Montana.

In the last 12 years (from 1994 to 2006) the Central Asia Institute have built 58 schools and 14 Women's Vocational Centres. The schools are currently educating a total of 24,000 children, of which 14,000 are girls. The area is constantly in a state of war - with the Taliban, with China, and most especially with India.

This success has not been without danger. Mortenson was kidnapped for 8 days, by the Waziri (an Eastern Pakistan tribal group associated with the Taliban). He has had several fatwas issued against him by enraged mullahs (who did not agree with girls being educated) and must endure constant separations from his wife and children who live in Montana.

The enemy is ignorance

As the US confronts Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Greg Mortenson is quietly waging his own campaign against Islamic fundamentalists, who often recruit members through religious schools called madrassas. Mortenson's approach hinges on a simple idea: that by building secular schools and helping to promote education - particularly for girls - in the world's most volatile war zone, support for the Taliban and other extremist sects will eventually dry up.
Kevin Ferko, Parade Cover Story, April 6, 2003

Mortenson was in Pakistan in 2001, when he was told "...the village of New York was bombed." He has since had to endure several interrogations by the American authorities for entering Pakistan and Afghanistan. All he wants to do is build schools for the children. The US Military requested that he write down locations of Wahabi madrassas. Madrassas are the Muslim schools that educate the boys and train them to be fanatic anti-western muslims. Most of the Madrassas are being built with Saudi money.

CAI schools are built entirely with donated funds, and teach only the basic education - the three Rs, science, history, geography and languages - with NO religion of any kind at all. The US Military also tried bribe him to build schools next to the madrassas, offering $2 million to do so. Mortenson refused on the grounds that he would either be killed or worse if the locals ever found out that the money came from the military. They may even destroy the CAI schools, and send their boys back to the madrassas. The only reason Mortenson is trusted, and can continue his work, is because he is NOT affiliated with any government, nor any religion.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. And I read it for the Memoirs (In their Shoes) Challenge.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rosenbach - The Unpublishable Memoirs

The Unpublishable Memoirs
By ASW Rosenbach
Mitchell Kennerly 1917
The Unpublishable Memoirs. (PDF file)

I have just spent the entire day reading this book online. I've never done that before, but this book was just so very interesting. These are not memoirs actually. But instead this book is a collection of short biblio-mystery stories written by ASW Rosenbach. The central character of these stories is a book collector named Robert Hooker. Every story is related to books, book collecting, and bibliography. I LOVED it. The PDF file is the first edition, the picture above is not.

Detours like this, plus the fact that I have started reading 3 different books over the weekend, and not finished any of them, AND taken time out today to read this book online. Well, I'm sort of stressing out right now. I am supposed to be looking for a job. I hate looking for jobs.

Huckleberry Finn - 50 Greatest Books

Last week I mentioned the 50 Greatest Books series being promoted by the Globe and Mail.
This weekend the first book reviewed for this series was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.
Next week: Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past.

Science Challenge

I just came across a new Book Challenge today. The Science Challenge. Read 3 non-fiction books about science between now and December 31st. I will need to check my TBR pile and find some books, but I might join this one as I do like reading about Science.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Nicholas Hoare Books

I finally ventured into my local Nick Hoares bookshop yeterday. I've been living in this area for over 6 years, and yesterday was the first time I had ever been inside. It was such heaven. Such a huge and excellent selection of books.

And even better - the NON-fiction was all at the front, with the fiction and childrens sections at the back. If I owned a bookstore, that is exactly the way I would arrange it. My favourites (non-fiction) at the front, and everyone else's choices at the back.

I ended up with 6 books in my arms. At the counter, I was ruthless. I went strictly on price, and only purchased the 3 books with prices below $20. I'll have to get the others at a later time, when I can afford them.

Banker to the Poor 2 - Book Review

Banker to the Poor
By Muhammed Yunas
Public Affairs Press (Perseus Books) 1999, 2003, 2006
Grameen Bank
Nobel Peace Prize 2006
National Geographic
Excerpt - Chapter 4
More on the Nobel Prize

I finished the book on Thursday, and I really enjoyed it. For those of you who have never heard of Micro-Credit, the idea is that very poor people can borrow small amounts of monrey to buy raw materials to make goods, and then sell their goods to whomever they choose, and for whatever they can get - thus making a profit. No credit check, no collateral, no down payments required.

In 1976, Muhammed Yunus (Ph.D) was an Economist Professor at Chittagong University in SE Bangladesh. Not far from the campus was a village called Jobra. He went to visit one day and asked the villagers how they were surviving. They said they were not, because the loansharks were not paying them enough to both live on and buy more raw materials. Yunus asked them how much they needed to survive. They gave small amounts - the equivalent to $2, $5, $7 and so on. Yunus said they could ask for more if they wanted it, but they only ever asked for what they absolutely needed to survive. So Yunus paid out (the equivalent of) $27 to several villagers, and in a matter of months, every villager had paid him back what he or she had been given.

In Bangladesh, before micro-credit came along, the poor villagers would have to borrow money from the loansharks, and this put them into vicious cycles, because they could never earn enough to live on or to buy more raw materials. The way it worked was like this. The villager asks the loansharks for money. The loansharks would lend the small amount of money, but only with the proviso that the applicant sells the finished items to the loanshark. The loanshark usually paid a pittance to the villager - barely enough for them to survive, let alone make a profit. The loanshark is then free to sell the item for whatever he can get.

So Yunus decided to start a "bank" that would loan these small amounts to the villagers. When he went to talk to commercial banks asking for "seed" money to start this idea, they laughed at him.

Villagers dont have any collateral.
Villagers will never repay what they borrow.
Villagers are too stupid to know what to do.
Villagers dont know how run a business.

The banks were discriminating against their own people. Which is why the poor people (anywhere) can never rise above poverty as long as the banks and government bureaucracy KEEP them there. Poverty will NEVER disappear as long as the discrimination and red-tape continues.

Yunus goes onto describe the battles he had with the Bengali government, and the religious leaders. When he started hiring female workers to work in his banks, he was told that he was doing a bad thing, because women in Islam do not work. Their families would get bad reputations if the girls started working. Good Muslim girls get married and have families. That is the Muslim way. That is what Yunus was told. Yunus is also a Muslim, but he was always secular, not religious.

The Grameen Bank now has 95% of their clients fully repaying their loans. A weekly repayment plan is set up, and every villager keeps to it, because they know that if they default, they will never have another chance to get ahead in life. This is their ONE chance to drag themselves out of exteme poverty.

The Grameen bank has now expanded to providing other services such as telephones, internet, education & health insurance. There is a Grameen Foundation based in Washington DC. The Grameen Foundation's mission is to empower the world's poorest people to lift themselves out of poverty with dignity through access to financial services and to information.

After I posted the brief review of this book on Thursday, I was very surprised to receive an email from the Grameen Foundation in USA telling me that Dr Yunus had recently published a new book.

Greetings! My colleague forwarded onto me your blog entry regarding Banker to the Poor. We are happy to see your interest in microfinance. We wanted to alert you and your readers that Dr. Yunus has recently released a new book, Creating a World without Poverty. This new book has been getting media attention worldwide, including his appearance Thursday night on the Colbert Report on the U.S. cable channel Comedy Central. In support of his book, Grameen Foundation, which was founded with his support and interest, has created a Web site for those interested in learning more about social business. We are in the final stages of launching a blog where those who have read the book can discuss the issues raised in this book. On behalf of Grameen Foundation, I invite you and your readers to explore Dr. Yunus new book, and leave your thoughts on our blog.

And as I said before, this book was read for the Around the World Challenge.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kiwi Colossus Sir Edmund Hillary Died Today

I know this doesn't have anything to do with books, but he is such a well known person, and the most famous Kiwi ever, that I have to mention it. It is with a sad heart that I report that Sir Edmund Hillary died today. (Actually in NZ it was Friday 11th January).

Today, where the top of Mt. Everest has become a regular tourist attraction (albeit still a hazardous one) it is hard to comprehend that when Sir Edmund Hillary reached the top of Mount Everest, it had the global impact of the first men landing on the Moon.

In the last Century, the map of the world still had bounds to it, lines to the north, south, altitude, and depth, past which humans had never gone. Everest represented the highest point on Earth man could walk to. Once conquered there was no place left to go. The line of altitude had been forever erased.

The great explorers are few in number, and today they number one less.


Photo Gallery

Banker to the Poor by Muhammed Yunas - Book Review

Banker to the Poor
By Muhammed Yunas
Public Affairs Press (Perseus Books) 1999, 2003, 2006

Grameen Bank
Monica Yunus Soprano Opera Singer
Nobel Peace Prize 2006
National Geographic
Excerpt - Chapter 4
More on the Nobel Prize

The founder of the Grameen Bank relates how he developed the system of micro-credit to help eradicate poverty in countries such as Bangladesh by providing financial education and small loans to rural families.

Muhammed Yunus and the Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

I am still reading this book. And am enjoying it very much. But I wanted to tell you all about it, because I think it's very good. I am reading this for the Books around the World Challenge. I will review it later once I have finished reading it. Hopefully tomorrow.

If any of you have heard of an Opera Singer named Monica Yunus, she is Muhammed Yunus's daughter. She lives in New York City.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Me and Shakespeare - Herman Gollob - Book Review

Me and Shakespeare
By Herman Gollob
Doubleday 2002

Herman Gollob was an editor for Doubleday when he retired in the mid 1990s. Just before he retired he went to see a Broadway play of Hamlet starring Ralph Fiennes. Gollob was blown away by Fiennes' performance, and immediately started a "love affair" with the Bard. He read anything he could find about Shakespeare, including the Plays and the Sonnets.

As a sort-of-practising Jew, Gollob was reading King Lear and sensed some Hebraic tones in the play. The more Gollob studied King Lear, the more he was convinced that King Lear had some origins in Judaism.

During his study of Shakespeare, Gollob began teaching Shakespeare to seniors at the local community college in New Jersey where he lives. He also went to Oxford University in England to study Shakespeare for three weeks. While he was there, he was required to write a paper on Shakespeare, so Gollob started writing about the Jewish themes in King Lear. He ended up forming a theory that Shakespeare had a "jewish spy". His teacher thought it was an excellent paper.

Later Gollob made another trip to England to see Hamlet being played the New Globe Theatre in London. He also visited the Folger Library in Washington DC - I really enjoyed that chapter. I enjoyed the book for the memoir narrative, the long list of books he found about Shakespeare (most of them concering Shakespeare and the Bible) and the things he learned about Shakespeare at Oxford, at the Folger Library, and in the chats he had with various directors and producers.

But in my opinion, he wrote too much about King Lear and the Jewish themes he saw in that play. I am not Jewish, and they didn't interest me. Also Gollob firmly believed that Shakespeare really was the author of the plays - unlike me.

So if you're Jewish or have an interest in the Jewish themes, as well in King Lear, I'm sure you'll find this book very interesting.

I read this book for the Memoirs and the Shakespeare Challenges.

Planet Earth 2008 Challenge

In case you're not aware, there is a PLANET EARTH reading challenge this year, in honour of the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth. Just case anyone might be interested. I haven't decided if I want to join this, although I do like reading books about Geology and other Planetary Sciences.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde - Book Review

Something Rotten
By Jasper Fforde
Hodder & Stoughton 2004
Jasper Fforde - Wikipedia

Well now, let me tell you, Jasper Fforde is back to his usual exciting writing. Remember a few days ago I reviewed The Well of Lost Plots, (Book Three) and said that I found it somewhat boring? Mostly because it was set in the world of fiction and nothing interesting seemed to happen there.

Now that Thursday Next has returned to the "real" world, Book Four is just as exciting as Book Two was. Thursday now has a 2 year old son named Friday. Her husband Landen is still eradicated, so Thursday and Friday must move back into her mothers home in Swindon. Thursday has also brought a visitor with her from the Book World - Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Thursday tries to settle back into her old job as a SpecOps Literary Detective. She has been gone for 2.5 years and everyone assumes she has been in prison. The year is now 1988.

When Thursday returns to the "real world" she finds some minor changes. One is a new Politician in the English Parliament named Yorick Kaine, who is intent on becoming a dictator. He is currently fomenting a war against Denmark, over the Danes invasion of England some 1100 years before (around 800AD). And he has also passed a law stating that anything written by a Danish author, must be burned.

Also a 13th century Saint wrote that the old President of England would die 2 days after the Swindon hoops (croquet) team lost the Superhoops match in 1988. Thursday's dad (the rogue Chronoguard) tells Thursday that this match is of vital importance because with the old president dead, that will leave Yorick Kaine in a position to become a dictator, and start the last and final war. The war that annihilates the human race.

So Thursday must stop Danish books being burned, help the Swindon hoops team to win, find out what book Yorick Kaine comes from, get her husband un-eradicated and keep the current President alive, and keep Hamlet from getting into trouble. That's all in a weeks work for Thursday. Oh yes, and she must also avoid several assassination attempts. The Goliath Corporation are very keen to eradicate her as well.

I found this book to be just as good as Book two. Again like all the books in this series, there are over-the-top events that can never happen in our world, but this is fiction. Anything can happen in a novel. And as long as you're having fun when you're reading, well then, the book has done its job.

The fifth book in the series was published just last year (2007), and it is called First in a Sequel. There is talk of a sixth book called One of our Thursdays is Missing, due out in 2009.

Toronto Star Book Reviewer Retires

There's a job vacancy opening up at the Toronto Star. The Star's Book Reviewer for the last 18 years (Philip Marchand) is retiring.

Our book critic says farewell

As book reviewer and general reader both, we can only be grateful for moments when we encounter certain writers – Margaret Atwood at her best, in her short stories, and Alice Munro, of course, and Barbara Gowdy and Wayne Johnston and Guy Vanderhaeghe, when they are at the top of their game. When they're not at the top of their game, it is also, needless to say, the duty of a critic to point that out.


As books columnist I was expected not only to review books but also to write about such things as the government's Baie Comeau policy. Don't ask me what that was. It had to do with foreign ownership of publishing companies and was considered very important at the time.

I also covered meetings of the Writers Union, where highly emotional debates over issues such as "appropriation of voice" raged. At the first such meeting, held in Kingston in the spring of 1990, I called in my story, over a pay phone, to the re-write desk – a practice, in those pre-BlackBerry days, that was already beginning to feel archaic and, in my case, would seldom be repeated.

One thing that has remained the same, however, is the never-ending debate over the art of book reviewing, particularly as practised in Canada. In a comprehensive article titled "Adventures in the Reviewing Trade," published in the Spring/Summer edition of Canadian Notes & Queries (CNQ), critic Alex Good points out certain constants in that debate – the tendency of reviewers generally to go easy on books, for example.

So which one of us addicts will be applying for this new job?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Top 50 Books of all time - according to the Globe and Mail for 2008.


The Globe & Mail Newspaper here in Toronto plans on doing a weekly series choosing the top 50 books of all time, starting next week.

As of next week, Globe Books begins a new series, The 50 Greatest Books...So why not simply 50 Great Books? In part, because we want readers to engage in the discussion - we plan to provide a forum for outraged advocates or critics, clever ripostes and tut-tutting over obvious oversights - and in part because in making distinctions, we implicitly reject the postmodern view that won't allow privileging (in the fashionable term) Anna Karenina over the James Bond books...The 50 will not be ranked in order. We figure just choosing them is adventurous enough. The entries will be derived from discussions among members of our panel of experts (as if anyone's really expert). Their carefully guarded identities will be revealed only at the end of the series, when readers will be invited to engage with them more directly. Each entry will be written by someone with knowledge, usually extensive knowledge, of the book in question...So many issues, so many books, so few of them great. Watch for our first choice in this space next week. And be prepared to argue.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Rene Angelil Unauthorised Biography - Book Review

Rene Angelil: The Making of Celine Dion: The Unauthorized Biography
by Jean Beaunoyer, Jean Beaulne, Don Wilson (Translator)
Publisher: Dundurn Press
Pub. Date: March 2004

For almost twelve years, Jean Beaulne was a member of the Baronets "the Beatles of Quebec" along with Rene Angelil. In this book, he has collaborated with writer and journalist Jean Beaunoyer to tell the untold story of Rene Angelil and Celine Dion.

Previously unknown details of Rene Angelil''s personal and professional life are
revealed in this unprecedented investigation into the man who orchestrated one of the foremost successes in the history of show business.

This bio covers Rene's childhood in Montreal, his gambling, his health problems, and
his perfectionism and absolute control over his clients. To me he seems to be a
Svengali. Even more so when he married his client. The gambling really put me off. That Rene chooses not to control or quit gambling. For Celine to marry a gambling man, that to me screams Svengali.

I realise that the above statement is harsh, but that's the feeling I got when I finished reading the book. There are some very good details, on his previous marriages, his kids, his family, his relationships with others in the music industry, his relationship with celine, and anything else you might want to know. The book is well written, but with a lot of details. Some personal opinions creep in by Beaunoyer occasionally. Beaulne wrote some small extra chapters on other big music industry names as they came up in the narrative.

I read this book for the Memoir (In their Shoes) and the Canadian Book Challenges.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Things you can do with Photographs

As promised yesterday there was more snow in Toronto. But we also had a very steep temperature drop. Woke up this morning to find ICE on the sidewalks and roads, and a windchill factor of Minus 24 degrees celcius. (the temperature was actually -14).

So I did my rounds of the blogs today, and came across a really cool place that make your photos look like they are in a museum. So here is yesterdays Snowmaze Photograph as it would look if it were on display in a Museum. I like it. Looks so cool.

Chunkster Challenge

I was late getting onto the Chunkster Challenge last year so this year it's on again. I cant make a list, but some of the books I plan on reading for this years other challenges (see side bar) will also qualify for the chunkster challenge. So once I've read them, I will list them. Here are the guidelines for the Chunkster Challenge 2008

To qualify the book must be 450 pps regular type OR 750 pps large text.
You must read FOUR chunksters (one each quarter), you OBVIOUSLY may read more
The Challenge will run Jan 7th, 2008 - Dec 20th, 2008
Oh yes and there will be Prizes - one a quarter. Prizes to be determined later

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year - Again

It snowed overnight here in Toronto, so I went out and took some photographs. The snow on the trees looks absolutely beautiful. I call this one SNOWMAZE. My Flickr account has more photos. More snow is forecast for tonight.