Friday, 21 October 2011

A Storm of Swords: 1 - Steel and Snow

Okay I think these books are beginning to turn me into a bigger insomniac than I already am, judging by the amount of nights himself finishes reading and rolls over to sleep while I'm hanging on for "just one more chapter...".

I'm a bit sorry that I wasn't reading the all-in-one US version because the last few chapters of this book really ramp up the suspense and action and I found myself turning the pages faster and faster. Then suddenly, I turned over only to be confronted by the Appendices, which take up a rather hefty 50 pages or so. Although I really enjoyed the story, hitting this situation invoked an even bigger feeling of anti-climax than is usual when reading a good book. That said I'm sure my poor little wrists are probably quite thankful not to be holding on to a huge book every night, particularly considering my fall last week and the bone in my left wrist is now jutting out even more than it already was.

Tyrion Lannister remains a favourite of mine for his quick wit and self-deprecating humour. It also seems as  the books move on more and more characters find things to blame him for, no doubt by the end of the series Tyrion will be held to blame for all the world's woes if it keeps up. I'm always wary of saying that I like a character because Martin seems to have no qualm about killing off anybody and I do think the books would lose something if Tyrion were to die.

Sansa Stark become almost likable in this book also. She grows up and hones her wits. She has learned to trust nobody and knows that nothing is ever as it seems. While she will never be a patch on Arya and in no way could she survive the way the younger Stark girl has, she certainly is managing to survive the lion's den   though she does make her foolish girl mistakes every now and then (I don't entirely trust Ser Dontos, I don't know why. I think she should have left with The Hound).

The shock to me in this book is that I'm also starting to like Jamie Lannister, granted he's as power hungry and obnoxious as the rest of them but the addition of chapters from his point of view lend him some humanity. I was going to say that he lacked some of Cersai's ruthlessness but then I remembered how he chucked Bran Stark out the window in the first book. In other words you could probably enjoy a pint with Jamie provided you never turn your back on him.






Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Remember those faster than light neutrinos?

Great, now forget them! Turns out the neutrinos along with not mutating and heating up the planet are also not travelling faster than the speed of light, they're just travelling *close* to light speed. Boo! Hiss! A Dutch scientist has completely rained on CERN'S parade. It's all very complicated but essentially what it boils down to is that the GPS satellites used to measure the departure and arrival times of the racing neutrinos were themselves subject to Einsteinian effects, because they were in motion relative to the experiment. This relative motion wasn't properly taken into account, but it would have decreased the neutrinos' apparent journey time. Or something to that effect, basically they don't go faster than the speed of light until someone from CERN comes back to tell us otherwise (yes yes I know you're all waiting with baited breath).

My point anyway is that this is what I love about science. "Science knows it doesn't know everything, otherwise it would stop." We're not going to see a cataclysmic schism akin to the Reformation over this. The CERN scientists will turn around and go "Bugger, perhaps we should try this again." And someone else will be waiting in the wings to test and test again until they break their big giant Haydron Collider and have to rebuild that all over too. We do not have to rely on faith, the CERN scientists are not going to say that the Dutch scientist is wrong because "It is writ in the great book that the neutrinos have traveled faster than light, and those who believe may also travel at the speed of light. And those who lack faith will forever be condemned to travelling on Ryanair!" It doesn't work like that, the Dutch scientist is not going to be burned for being a heretic or turn into the Martin Luther of the neutrino world. All that's going to happen for the next while is that you'll have to cancel your E-Bay bid on that Delorean because you're stuck here for another while.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin

I've tried as much as possible not to include spoilers :)

The first book in this series set up a clear precedent in terms of Martin's writing style. This author likes to carry the reader through the action using the perspective of different characters, has no qualm in killing characters that would never die in most books, and enjoys shocking his audience with totally unforeseen events. In the end of "A Game of Throne" we find out that dragons have just returned to this world, a fact that left most readers eager to jump right into "A Clash of Kings" as soon as they could. Himself's copy disappeared so I was left longing for a couple of months!

Summer has ended after more than ten years, and everyone is getting ready for the long winter that is certainly coming. But there are other much more important things to consider, because after the death of King Robert, the Seven Kingdoms are divided once more. Joffrey was named King, but there are already people challenging his right to the throne on the basis that his mother, Cersei, has not borne any children by King Robert. All the kids are the result of Cersei's affair with her brother Jaime, and this is slowly becoming vox populi. Joffrey is the most dislikable character I have come across in a long time - seriously the kid is a little shit who has now become king. There's strong sociopathic tendencies to him where he likes people to die for his own entertainment and has no loyalty whatsoever to anyone except himself. Of course a lot of this is Cersai's doing, she put him on a pedestal for all his life and when it comes to sparing the rod someone should have kicked seven shades of shit out of Joffrey years ago. At least Tyrion manages to slap a little sense into him. There is a duality to most characters in the book but Joffrey is not one of them. He's an evil fool who thinks he's playing a game.

Joffrey is being challenged from multiple fronts, Stannis and Renly, King Robert's brothers, are both seeking to rule in the Seven Kingdoms. Meanwhile, Robb Stark is consolidating his power in the North and is ready to fight. Of course there are other layers that complicate matters even more, since Robb holds Jaime Lannister as a prisoner, while Cersei controls the destiny of Robb's sister, Sansa. The girl is betrothed to Joffrey, but now she does not want to be his wife anymore and is being held against her will.

Gendry, Robert's illegitimate child and real heir to the throne does not even know about his rights, and has been taken out of King's Landing by a company that is traveling towards the Wall to join the Black. Arya is also part of this group, traveling disguised as a boy and trying to escape unharmed from Cersei's reach. Another character that I feel must be mentioned is Tyrion, Cersei's brother, and new Hand of the King. The dwarf is my favorite character so far because of his intelligence and the way in which he compensates for his physical disabilities with his crafty schemes. I also like the fact that it is almost impossible to determine whether he is using his ploys to go about his evil ways or to find justice for those that deserve it. He is loyal to his family the Lannisters as a whole but he hates them all. I love the Tyrion chapters and can't wait for them to roll around.

This duality in most of the characters is one of the main factors that make this series so enjoyable. It is uplifting to find an author that has no fear from separating himself from the traditional good vs. bad pattern and presents the readers with more human characters, who possess both good and bad qualities. Even Cersai who is arguably one of the most 'evil' characters in the book has a back story to allow you some sympathy - after all lying under the fat sweaty Robert Baratheon from the age of girlhood while he pines for Lyanna and whores around would drive many a good woman to murder. In a way I could liken her to Sansa, Sansa has become a more likable character in this book because she's had to grow up. She's no longer the simpering little lovestruck fool that she was in the first book and if she were forced to marry Joffrey I could see her too turn out like Cersai.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

"Great" Works of Literature that you don't find all that great.

Mark Twain once said whenever he read Pride and Prejudice he wanted to dig up Jane Austen and beat her to death with her own shin bone (and this before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) So I am heartened that it is not just mere mortals like myself that struggle to see what is so great about some of the greats.

To my eternal shame I once bluffed an entire module on James Joyce using sparknotes (quite successfully I might add - I got a first in that module). Oh yes I could sit in Professor McGuinness' tutorials and earn his wan smiles as he gruffly committed "Good insight there Dalton" and then went to pick on the others. But in truth, despite being a voracious reader, I bought Ulysses, read the first chapter, and then placed it in my locker where it lived until the end of the academic year when I brought it home and it now lies abandoned I don't know where. Likewise with Portrait of an Artist and Dubliners (although I was a bit more successful with the latter and managed about four of the stories). And what's worse is I've met bloody loads of French and Germans and Italians who've read the whole bloody lot plus Finnegan's Wake cover to dusty bloody cover. Who, upon hearing that I'm Irish, and I love to read, and I have a degree in English want to sit down and enthusiastically talk Joyce with me. And then I have to rouse up that old knowledge from my sparknotes so they won't know.

On an episode of South Park a few years ago Cartman et. Al got all excited about reading The Catcher in The Rye, that (supposedly) most scandalous of novels that's been offending the older generation for years. They were, of course, horribly disappointed. As Kyle says, it's "just some whiny annoying teenager talking about how lame he is." Is there more to it than that? Lots of people seem to think so but it seems to have completely passed me by. But maybe coming from the 'South Park' generation swear words are not as provocative anymore. But still I can't buy into the myth that Caulfield is some sort of representative American teenager, even taken in his time. And that fantasy about catching children in a field of rye - what's all that about.

So since philistinism loves company feel free to align yourself with the likes of me, Twain and the South Park kids and tell of the Great works of literature that aren't all that great.





Friday, 7 October 2011

I like grumpy old men

Sometimes I think certain old people should be given a free pass to say what they want within reason because they've been on the planet for a lot longer than most of us. Like the way my Nana maintained that climate change was caused by Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and won't let me contradict her because I wasn't born and she was "so there!".

And I have a particular penchant for grumpy old men, mostly I'd love to give them a hug but they'd hate me for it. And I really want to give my latest favourite grumpy old man: Maurice Sendak a hug after reading his latest interview.

Sendak (author of Where the Wild Things Are) is 83, and he lost his partner of 50 years Eugene Glynn in 2007 so he gets a free pass. Not to mention some of his extended family being destroyed in the Holocaust. Something he quietly alludes to when his interviewer sees his German Shepard, Herman : "He doesn't know I'm Jewish"

He hates a lot of things, most of which I agree with (apart from the Roald Dahl thing, I love Dahl).

On E-books he says "I hate them. It's like making believe there's another kind of sex. There isn't another kind of sex. There isn't another kind of book! A book is a book is a book"
On the American Right: "These Republican schnooks would be comical if they weren't not funny."
On New York: "You get pushed and harassed and people grope you. It's too tumultuous, it's too crazy!"
On Rupert Murdoch:"His name should be what everything is called now." But he publishes you! "Yes!
Harpers. He owns Harpers and I guess the rest of the world, too. He represents how bad things have become. But I don't know a better house. They're all in trouble. They're all terrible."


He says his rage is only an echo of what it formally was when Eugene was alive, which makes me wonder what a crochety old character he must have been beforehand. But Maurice has the essence of what makes certain children's authors great. The capacity to tell the truth and show the darkness to children. Beyond a certain age children no longer want things sugarcoated. Childhood can be vicious and it can be lonely and it is wonderful men like Sendak (and Dahl) who provide the material for children who don't fit the Famous Five goody goody roll.

As for Maurice I hope he finishes his new book and above all I wish him what he calls a "yummy death", may he sing like a lark.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/oct/02/maurice-sendak-interview?newsfeed=true




Tuesday, 4 October 2011

In the Garden of Beasts - Love and Terror in Hitler's Berlin - Eric Larson

Being a fan of Larson since he wrote The Devil in the White City which followed the architect Daniel Burnham and the serial killer H.H. Holmes, I've been really looking forward to reading In the Garden of the Beasts. Also while I have a keen interest WWI II history I have not read as much as I would like about the preceding period
Larson follows Dodd, reluctant American Ambassador to Germany and his family, in particular his daughter Martha as they are situated in Berlin. Although a work of non-fiction, this like Devil reads like a novel, painting a vivid picture of life in pre-war Berlin, and using extracts written by Dodd and Martha. Dodd's lame and tame attitude means he does not see evidence of the growing anti-semitism around him for at least a year (although there is an interesting aside, in the want to save money he rents his embassy house from a Jewish Banker who insists on remaining to live in the 4th floor with his mother, knowing that the safest place for a Jew at this time is in the American Ambassador's house). Martha is more of a social animal than her father and quickly embraces the Berlin scene and becomes involved in a number of affairs with high ranking officials including the head of the Gestapo and an NKVD (KGB) agent.
While I still think the Devil in the White City is a greater achievement I loved the insight into pre-war Berlin from a personal aspect and it aided in seeing how easily war escalated when all parties involved at their heads firmly in the sand.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Carrots

Forgot to add my new favourite recipe to my most recent post but since I've told Linda about the recipe and my blog it's only fair I put it up now (because she'll probably check it tomorrow and she said she had lots of carrots.

Carrot and Lemon
Ingredients

  • Carrots (duh!)
  • Lemons (ditto)
  • Sugar 
  • Water
Method

  1. Put the carrots in a pot, grind the rind of a whole lemon over them.
  2. Juice one or two lemons (enough to cover the carrots)
  3. Add a quarter cupful of water to the juice and a spoon of sugar
  4. Pour over the carrots, place over  a low to medium heat and cook until soft

My Dad (inspired from a thread on boards)

Have been browsing The Gentleman's Club on boards (bold I know since I am of the XX Variety) about memories of your dad.
Now I am lucky enough to have both parents still living and hopefully will be for a longtime yet, but I was thinking of some favourite memories that I have of my dad.
Some of them I can't remember quite so clearly but I have the photos to prove they happened.
There's a lovely photo tucked away in my parents house of me when I was about two sitting on the kitchen table in a little blue fuzzy all in one babygro (fashionista oh yes!), holding a box of Johnson's Baby Powder (I'm guessing there had been a nappy change just previously and since my sister wasn't born at the time I'm going to have to own up to that one) and my Dad is standing behind me and we both have HUGE, MASSIVE,THE TYPE THAT CAN'T BE FAKED grins on our faces. This is one of the ones that I can't remember being taken but I look like I'm having a ball (probably because I've just had my nappy changed.
Another photo of me and my Dad and he's wearing a sparkly, tinsel, multi-coloured wig and grinning like a cheshire cat. I do remember this one. Dad rarely drank (Christmas and Weddings) and had just come in from a rare night out and my Mam and me did what we always did when Daddy was drunk - thought it was hilariously funny and took photos of him. In this one we had put the wig on him and he was either lauging too much or not sober enough to prevent it. It's looking back at times like that, that I'm always glad that my father was good natured and silly when drunk.
As I came into my late teens and early twenties on the (still rare) occasions that my Dad would come home from the pub I loved the nights we sat up and had our long talks about everything and anything. I really am lucky that I can talk to both my parents about anything and these talks were legendary and usually carried on until my Mam came down and ran us both up to bed.

I remember how proud he was when I finished college and when I did my H.Dip. and how happy he was when I got my first teaching job. He had driven me to lots of interviews and been there for the subsequent rejection letters and was brimming when I finally told him I had got the job.
My recent favourite memory is my Dad walking me up the aisle to Van Morrison's Days Like This, a thoroughly fitting song for my wedding day, hearing the love for me in his speech (behind the slagging of course!) and dancing a father-daughter waltz with him. I am thankful to my Dad for so much and I firmly believe that the reason I have so much respect for myself in relationships is because of the way that my Dad treats my Mam and through that he taught me that I deserve to be treated with love and respect too. 
My Daddy is one in a million and if I live to be a hundred I will never be ashamed to say that I am still a Daddy's Girl.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BteIwbKU_iQ