libraryhermit_1

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I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius

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First book I read by Robert Graves, and then followed right after with Claudius, the God.That was 25 years ago. Many years later, ended up reading Colleen McCullough and her Roman books, although I am not finished yet and they are far longer to get through. (Still am not finished yet.)But I still am only on page 15 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Some day. I also want to learn latin.I love to read stories about decadent eras in history like Rome, or the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance. It is so refreshing to see that life free from our current mania for political correctness is possible (or was possible.)But of course, the people in those other eras also had to suffer through political correctness, just in other forms.Oh, wait. ... Actually, they had slavery, oppression, epidemics, brutal wars, famine, and many other things to live through, so probably political correctness was the least of their worries.Now that I mention it, out of that list I just gave, all of the five things that I listed are happening in the world, just not right on my doorstep, at least not yet. That could change at any moment.P. S. When I was searching for this book, I came across one that had the title as "I Claudius, as seen in TV series" or something like that. I noticed that it had next to no members, and maybe just one review. In fact, I dumped it as soon as I saw "TV" and switched over to this one. Has any one else done the same?In a similar vein, I often notice how just after a movie adaptation comes out, a rash of reprints of a classic novel will hit the stores with the still photos of the big movie stars on the front.I don't like those photos. One time someone gave me a John Grisham book with that and I am still keeping it but I never look at the photos. (It is on the shelf with the spine facing out.)("Wow, sour grapes," you are thinking; "This guy is just jealous because he is not a movie star and is not as handsome as Brad Pitt or all the other movie stars." You are probably right, I am jealous, and yes you are right, I am not as handsome as those guys. So this whole discussion is just an idle pastime.)What I would like to do, besides reading these two books over again is to read [The White Goddess], [They Hanged My Saintly Billy].
The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son

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Ian Brown and his wife, Johanna, have a daughter, Hayley, and a just-born baby, Walker. Walker has a rare genetic deformity that makes it impossible for him to eat except through a tube. He will need diapering, even beyond the age when toilet training has normally taken place. He can't talk, nor can he respond to stimuli in the way that is expected of other children his age. Ian and Johanna are sleep-deprived and can barely keep up with their jobs as writers while trying to take turns having sleepless nights in order to give round-the-clock care to their infant son. As he grows older, he begins to bang his head on walls and tears at his ears, for unknown neurological reasons. At an age when most parents would have put teething pain and diapers behind them, there is no relief in sight for the beleaguered family. The parents have an especially supportive network of friends and extended family. Subsidies from government allow in-house workers and nannies. Due to the extremity of the challenge, the staff is constantly changing (revolving door) but nevertheless includes stellar individuals of much longer tenure such as Olga.(The book does jump back and forth between two periods: The first two or three years of Walker's life, and another one closer to when he is ten and over. The jumps are never gratuitous, and the thematic juxtapositions from different phases of Walker's growth are expertly rendered.) I reread pages 180-183 several times. This is in the second period, when the husband and wife have one of their most agonizing discussions about whether it was right to have sent their son to a group home, and the ensuing guilt. And whether, if they had had the type of pre-birth testing for genetic abnormalities later to become available, they might have decided to abort the fetus. Whether the decision to abstain from attempting a third pregnancy was a joint decision, or a contentious issue that went away without ever being resolved. In this discussion, the sentiments of one parent are by no means identical to the other. The union survived even up to the end of the book, but the reader can feel the strain on the relationship to be much different from that which would ensue from quick, and therefore, comparatively minor events like losing a job or having a car stolen or suffering from a bout of appendicitis.During one all-nighter when Johanna by mutual agreement has the night off, Ian is attending to Walker and his needs (pages 225-226): “One evening I was so exhausted I fell down the stairs with Walker in my arms: my heel slipped on the lip of the step, I fell backwards, the familiar bolt of terror sucking my breath out of my throat, that thought, Walker, flashing through my whole body, whereupon I curled my arms around him and made a sled of myself, and we shot down, Walkie on my chest, until we bumped to a stop at the bottom. He laughed. Loved it. And so, I did too. He took me into darkness but he was often the way out of it as well.”Especially poignant are the reflections of the author as he inspects the storage spaces containing inventories of toys. Some of them are the normal ones that everyone buys from the toy store for normal kids. The other ones are the diagnostic and remedial toys that came from the psychologists and doctors trying to help Walker catch up to all the other kids, which he will never be able to do. Fine, Walker will not be able to say that two plus two equals four. Neither will het be able to do calculus nor write an essay about Hamlet, but what about basic human communication and empathy? At this juncture, I believe it was particularly appropriate when the author described his visits to Jean Vanier (the leader of L’Arche) in France, where he saw that a community of abundant communication can exist where verbal language is weak or fails. Maybe to rely only on verbal communication is too facile. What are humans communicating to each other when they look at each other with a glance of empathy, or laugh together, or sigh together? It is beyond the scope of mere words.As an example, at the group home where Walker lives, his friend Colin has died. ( “Friend,” in this context, means Colin is the boy who, when he noticed that Walker would obscure his (Colin's) view of a video game, would in a friendly way abstain from asking Walker to get out of the way. ) One may ask if Walker is cognizant of the reason for the sudden absence of Colin. And if so, what are the ways that Walker could communicate his feelings about Colin? After you read pages 249-250, see if you believe whether Walker misses his friend or not. Every year I read thousands of pages and forget thousands of pages, but I can't ever forget these 2 pages. The average reader's experience of living in a family with a disabled individual is minimal to non-existent. We see an occasional news story or short magazine article, but here is a full-length book that gives a comprehensive view. I still do not know how anyone could live through this. But the book starts to give at least some idea about what it is all about.I have wrestled with what it means to be a parent. It's true that an infant human needs proportionately longer parental intervention to avoid certain death (18 years?) compared to many other species. What parent hasn't rued the day when activities of procreation created a life-long commitment, with uncertain guarantees of good health? The author checks in on the thoughts of Darwin, which are currently much brought to bear on arguments about palliative care and the expense of caring for disabled persons. But wait, maybe Darwin is not saying the cruel things that we always assumed he did:(Page 285):“We should ... bear in mind that an animal possessing great size, strength, and ferocity, and which, like the gorilla, could defend itself from all enemies, would not perhaps have become social: and this would most effectually have checked the acquirement of the higher mental facilities, such as sympathy and the love of his fellows. Hence it might have been an immense advantage to man to have sprung from some comparatively weak creature.”It was a gripping book. Once I started it, it was a one-day read. No boredom was felt from the first page to the last.
Stone Cold

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I have read 4 or 5 books by David Baldacci and I like his style very much because I can read a book in one day and never get bored. The Camel Club has an interesting mix of personalities. It does seem unbelievable that people could live a secret life that is not interfered with because they have no families that would make them tread the straight and narrow. I guess that is just highlighting my own personal fantasy which is to somehow escape from the constraints of being responsible for my own family. Of course, Oliver Stone is not happy at all because he lost his family, so the point I made above is kind of dumb. I would like to be free from my family but not by the means of some catastrophic loss. So for the present moment, reading a book like this just serves as pure escapism.
SS-GB

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My first books that I read by Len Deighton were Game Set and Match. I liked them much better than this one. I guess this just indicates that I like books that are purportedly about the real history rather than ones about the what-if type of hypothetical history. But all that does not matter because Len Deighton is one of the best spy novel writers that I know of. I have not delved into the works of all the big authors in this genre yet. So from a limited field of candidates, about the only other author that comes close to Deighton for quality--and I admit I do not know them all yet--is John le Carre.I guess it could have really happened that the Germans took over Britain, and it is easy for me to say that I can not believe the likelihood of it, since I was not there during the blitz and all of the privations of the war. So I should just hold my tongue and accept that this is a very realistic book about the war, even if it did not happen.The next section of this review might not be relevant to most of you, unless you are baffled by time the same way I am. Like all of us who are library visitors, I give the new acquisitions rack a careful scan every time I walk in the door. When I first saw this book, I assumed it was a brand new book from Len Deighton, and picked it up because Deighton is one of my favourites. Because of the fresh condition of the book, I made the mistaken assumption that it was freshly penned. It was not until quite a bit later that I found out that it was a reissue with a new cover of a work from earlier decades. It probably makes no difference, but I always try to see if a book about a remotely historical period has enough clues in it such that I could guess what year or decade it was written in. For example, does a book about the year 1941 written in 1980 read any differently text- and style- and diction-wise than one written in 2009?
Les Misérables

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One of my favourite books of all time. This Penguin that I bought in two separate volumes in the early 1980s had such small print, but so many pages. I remember in particular reading one section of it going down Highway 21 in South-Central Alberta, Canada, for those of you who know it. It is a small rural highway, just 2 lanes, where the level of traffic most of the time is passing a car only once every 1 or 2 minutes when at its most busy, and a car every 4 or 5 minutes when not busy, like the time I was on a Greyhound bus. I was going from Edmonton to Alix. The passenger beside me on that day said that I was sure reading a thick book with really small print. Of course I agreed with her. You might think the next part is really goofy. But when I was trying to teach my kids not to steal, I read to them the part about when Jean Valjean steals the candle sticks from the Monsigneur. Of course this is a part of the book that nobody can ever forget. Maybe some day my kids will read the book. They have seen one of the movie versions, I do not know which. Does not matter. I also read it later on in the original French. Want to go back and read it a third time some time in the future.I have read several of the other reviews posted about this book, and I can see their point about the book going on and on for too many pages. But on the other hand, I remember reading what someone else said or wrote somewhere, that novels were the Television of the 19th Century. This makes sense to me. If it is true as it is sometimes said, that there is a large part of the population that watches tv for 15 or 20 or more hours a week, then it seems trivial in comparison to spend 20 or 30 hours reading a massive French novel. I know which I prefer.When characters are called dolts or shallow, I can see on what basis this statement is made, but I do not adopt absolute standards on those questions, only relative observations. Victor Hugo could have selected other ways of writing that would have made the reviewers not say that the characters are dolts or shallow, but it does not matter. This is the choice he made. I will take the book for what it is and not ask it to be something else.But the above argument is contradictory and meaningless. Because if I think that the reviewers are dissing the book, that just means that I am dissing them and want to pick a fight with them, and therefore I am just as bad as them. Nothing is a contentious statement unless the passers-by who encounter it want it to be a contentious statement, and then they can contend about it all they want. You can want Jean Valjean to be a dolt, and he can be a dolt, or I can want you to be a dolt for saying that Jean Valjean is a dolt, but I could just hold it back and not worry about anybody being a dolt. Everybody is a dolt. But nobody is a dolt but thinking makes it so.I better go now, before I say anything else stupid. (I do not think that Jean Valjean is a dolt. He just wanted to eat some bread and get some bread for his family, and he was stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.)
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