Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Gatehouse moonlit

When you read his work, there is always some poetry and magic in his writing. And then you come across a passage that hits you in the heart and the head at the same time, evoking feelings and images as none other can.

From Banshee (1984)-

”She had a face of snow, cut from that same white cool marble that makes the finest Irish women; a long swan neck, a generous if quivering mouth, and eyes a soft and luminous green. So beautiful were those eyes and her profile against the blown tree branches, that something in me turned, agonized, and died. I felt that killing wrench men feel when beauty passes and will not pass again. You want to cry out: Stay, I love you. But you do not speak. And the summer walks away in her flesh, never to return”

“I tried to look through her eyes and thought: my God, has it always been this way, forever some man in that house, forty, eighty, a hundred years ago! Not the same man, no, but all dark twins, and this girl lost on the road, with snow in her arms for love, and frost in her heart for comfort, and nothing to do but whisper and croon and mourn and sob until the sound of her weeping stilled at sunrise but to start again with the rising of the moon.”

From The Toynbee Convector (1988)-

“Stiles touched another button and the machine lit up like a cavern of spider webs. It breathed in years and whispered forth remembrance. Ghosts were in its crystal veins. A great god spider had woven its tapestries in a single night. It was haunted and it was alive. Unseen tides came and went in its machinery. Suns burned and moons hid their seasons in it. Here, an autumn blew away in tatters; there, winters arrived in snows that drifted in spring blossoms to fall on summer fields.”

One of these stories shows how a lie can be salvation itself.


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Recently I found a copy of The Righteous by Martin Gilbert, who among other things is Winston Churchill’s official biographer and a world respected authority on Jewish history. This book is a collection of stories about those gentiles who aided the victims of the Holocaust, often risking their lives and that of their families to save others. The book is fascinating, uplifting, horrible, and sad, sometimes at the same time. One thing it does do is to show how great and humane ordinary people can be. Another thing it does is to show bravery, humour, and sheer chutzpah. The term used for such people is Righteous among the nations, and include ordinary citizens, religious figures, and even some German camp guards and S.S. members

While I was familiar with people such as Oskar Schindler and his List, Ambassador Wallenberg,  and Stanislaw Zelent, the Angel of Majdanek, I found some other stories that I had either forgotten or never read.

Rescue of the Danish Jews

There’s an apocryphal story that the Nazis ordered Danish Jews to wear yellow stars. King Christian, in response, started wearing one, followed by all the Danes. While this story is a myth (the Nazis didn’t dare to give the order), it is representative of how the Danish people felt. When the Danish people were warned about imminent deportations of the Jews, most were hidden away fairly quickly, and some were smuggled across to Sweden in small vessels and rowboats. Eventually this became so organised that about 8000 Jews were evacuated. The remaining 450 were captured and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Denmark somehow persuaded Germany to accept food and medicines for the prisoners, and furthermore to keep them out of the extermination camps in Poland. Both of these accomplishments are unique, at least to my knowledge. While about 50 people died in the camps (mostly the elderly), the rest were able to return home after the war.

They saved about 99% of their Jewish citizens, and lost fewer people than any other country in Occupied Europe.

Italy versus Germany

From previous reading I had known that a fair number of deaths had occurred in Italy. I also thought that, given the alliance between Italy and the Third Reich, as well as the Fascist government, that the Italians were enthusiastic collaborators in the extermination. Boy, was I wrong!

As Germany’s major Axis ally, Italy occupied part of France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Before the war Italy was fairly anti-Semitic and well integrated into Italian society. Under pressure from Germany, in 1938 some anti-Jewish legislation  was enacted, including relocating foreign Jews into internment camps. However, the camps included such amenities as schools, cultural activities, and social event; definitely not modeled on the Nazi model.

When Mussolini joined the War in 1940, there was increasing pressure on them to deport Jews from both Italy proper and the occupied territories to the Nazi concentration camps. Italians of all ranks either resisted or disobeyed all such efforts, refusing to give up Italian, French, Yugoslav, or Greek Jews to German authority. Even direct pressure on  the Duce was ignored. So until Mussolini fell in 1943, no Jewish person under their authority was sent to a camp, and lived fairly save lives. As well, refugees started to trickle into Italy from nearby regions in Southern Europe.

In late 1943, German forces occupied north and central Italy, where the majority of Jewish citizens and refugees were trapped by Nazi forces. Then they started the roundups, but citizens, government workers, resistance fighters, the Vatican and the Italian churches all resisted. By the end of the war, the Nazi’s had killed about 7600 people, but more than 40,000 were saved. Italy managed to save about 83% of its people.

The Vatican has been criticised  for its silence before and during the war, but Gilbert’s books was somewhat more charitable.  He mentions the Christmas message of 1942, which, while not specifically naming the Jews, was clear enough to incense the Nazis. When German forces tried to gather up the 5000 Jews in Rome,  “the Vatican clergy opened the sanctuaries of the Vatican City to all ‘non-Aryans’ in need of refuge”. False identification papers were handed out, and hundreds of children hid under St. Peter’s. They managed to hide 80% of the people targeted. The Vatican also supported, albeit somewhat erratically at times, resistance and assistance during much of the war, and the papacy and clergy contributed to saving hundreds of thousands of lives. The papacy also protested many of the Nazi abuses and behaviour before the war. Finally, the Vatican, via John Paul II, apologised for being too silent and ambiguous in its message during World War II.

Greek Chutzpah

There were two stories here that would make me proud to be a Greek.

First, on the island of Zanythos, Mayor Carrier was asked to give a list of Jews currently living there.  Bishop Chrysostomos returned with a list of two names; his and the mayor’s. Meanwhile the 275 Jews hid among their neighbors, and all the Jews survived.

Second,  Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens frequently clashed with the Quisling government and the Nazi occupiers. At one point he wrote an open letter protesting the deportation of Greek Jews to concentration camps. It was signed by many important citizens, and is considered unique in its courage, dignity, and respect for common humanity.  It also royally ticked off the Nazis, and is well worth reading.

SS Police Leader Stroop (in charge if the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto) was enraged by the letter and threatened the Archbishop with a firing squad. Damaskinos’ response was, “Greek religious leaders are not shot, they are hanged. I request that you respect this custom.” Stroop backed down.

He also did an amazing amount to help and protect the Jews, including inciting the Greek Orthodox church to aid and abet the Jews, signing thousands of birth certificates for the Jews, allowing them to be hidden in monasteries and convents, and working with Rabbis, local police, and the Greek Resistance to help the Jews.


Given that the Holocaust was one of the most inhumane acts in history, with 6 million dead Jews and 5-6 million others exterminated, Gilbert’s book about people like the above make you proud to be human.  While there are new holocausts occurring in the world, there are also people out there like the Danes, the Italians, and Demoskines.  Rwanda has produced its share of horror, but it also reminds us of decent people like Romeo_Dallaire, the hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, and BBC reporter Mark Doyle. As Rwanda was less deadly than the Shoah, may Darfur be less deadly than Rwanda, and may people start getting involved.

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Recently my best friend Heather told me a little about a children’s book called Bridge to Terabithia. I was home sick for much of this week, but today I ventured forth and bought a copy. When I was at page 57 I tried calling her to thank her for ever so gently hinting that it was worth reading, but she wasn’t at home. That was an hour ago.

I just finished it.

Thanks, Heather.

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Mumbling Monkey took this from JD2718. I took it from her.

Look at the list of (100) books below.
Bold the ones you’ve read.
Italicize the ones you want to read.
leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in.
Movies don’t count.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees(Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban(Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25 . Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie(Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible (and the Q’uran)
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo) (except half the chapter on Waterloo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

I’ve read 62 so far. I’d like to read about a dozen more of the list. I agree with Mumbling Monkey that this list probably isn’t reflective of great literature; it looks more like a combination of standard classics with some great modern literature and a heavy sprinkling of current pop literature a.k.a. the Times bestsellers list. Having said that, it is a reasonably good sample of what a well read person with fairly wide tastes would read (which is definitely not me).

Personally, for me SF&F is a kind of hobby and my primary interest for entertainment reading. However, I like good literature in general (I usually get it from the library whereas I buy SF&F books). I also like history, the history of technology and ways of thinking, military history, different cultures, physics, math, astronomy and astrophysics, and an eclectic mix of anything else. Most of the books on the list were read when I was much younger and had more time to read.

This was a great idea Sarai. Thanks.

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 Gone to the Dogs recently showed a meme on literature that she received from Mumbling Monkey. I thought it was kind of cool, and tried it on my own. Then I thought of a small variation. Some of my best friends like fantasy and science fiction, and I’m also somewhat fond of it. This list is from the Science Fiction Books Club.

Bold the ones you’ve read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put asterisks beside the ones you loved (the more asterisks, the more you liked it).

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien*****
  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov*****
  3. Dune, Frank Herbert*****
  4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein****
  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin****
  6. Neuromancer, William Gibson*****
  7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke*****
  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick****
  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley***
  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury****
  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe**
  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.*****
  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov****
  14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
  15. Cities in Flight, James Blish****
  16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison****
  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison*****
  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester***
  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
  22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card*****
  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman*****
  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl***
  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling**
  27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*****
  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice*
  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin**
  31. Little, Big, John Crowley
  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny***
  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick****
  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement*
  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon**
  36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute**
  38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke****
  39. Ringworld, Larry Niven*****
  40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys*
  41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien****
  42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut*****
  43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner**
  45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester*
  46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein*****
  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock*
  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer****

I’ve read 42 of the above, and of the remaining 8 there are 3 waiting on my shelves. From the list it seems my interests and likes are fairly broadly ranging, and I like hard SF and Fantasy about equally well.

Among those I like, one highly under-rated book is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. He only wrote a couple of books in his life, and this one has been in continuous publication for about 50 years. I first read it when I was 14. It is about the rebuilding of civilization from a nuclear holocaust, and discusses among other things the nature of humanity and its ability to learn from past mistakes. Parts of it are searing, and its take on how people react morally feels extremely real and insightful.  Finally, I guarantee you will be questioning some of your own views and beliefs before it is over.

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Last night I saw this new movie, based upon a novel by the great crime and mystery writer P.D. James. I came away moved, disturbed, and somewhat in awe. There was a lot to think about, and strong feeling were stirred and still need to be shaken out. Finally, this movie should be shortlisted for at least a few Oscars (and no, I’m not going to say which ones).

I don’t want to give too much away, and I personally think that many of the reviews I checked after watching Children of Men did just that. Here are a few comments that shouldn’t interfere with appreciating the movie.

P.D. James usually write mysteries and thrillers, and her characterization and dialogue are particularly noteworthy; of course, as a premiere mystery writer she is also good at plot elements, flow and suspense. In Children of Men she has shifted track significantly; the novel is science fiction of the near future, in which all women have become sterile, and the last child was born before 2010. It is “now” 2027, the world has gone to hell, and most people have lost hope for the future. As is usual in these situations, they don’t react well. Theo, played by Clive Owen, is a man who used to be politically active but who has lost all hope. He is then asked by an old friend to try and get someone out of Britain…

I’m not going to give any more details, but I will say that it moved me as strongly as, or more strongly than, movies like Schindler’s List or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is not to be taken likely, and parts are searing in their intensity; but it is great on more than one level. When I get up the courage, I’m going to see it again.

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Given the bad publicity Nantucket has endured because of the popularity of certain scurrilous poetry, I would like to help remedy the situation and to make Nantucketish poetry more family oriented. I hereby challenge all and sundry to compose a Nantucket limerick without overly suggestive or blatant negative content. However, if you can make puns while you are doing it, kudos to you. If you get Santa in there somehow, Nantucket children will adore you. If it is also funny, everyone will adore you.

This is my personal attempt, and all you have to do is as good or better (I’m pretty sure you won’t do worse). As I said, embedded puns are cool, and creativity is very welcome.

    There once was a man from Nantucket
    who went to sea in a bucket.
    With a crack and a creak
    the side sprang a leak.
    There once was a man from Nantucket.

See, how hard can it be?

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