Top Ten Tuesday: Assigned Reading

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It’s time again for Top Ten Tuesday hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic is whatever you want it to be.

Moving around growing up (my dad was career military), I often found myself coming into or leaving a school curriculum just as certain books were being taught or right after they had been taught.  That means there were some of the accepted classics that I never read as part of my school curriculum.  This week, I thought I’d break down my list into a couple of sub-lists based on my moving about.

Classics I Never Had To Take a Quiz On: 

1.  To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee  One of my favorite books of all-time.   I often wonder if I’d had to read it for class if I’d have liked it as much as I do.   Odds are, I probably would.

2.  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.   I had to read Holden’s journey on my own.

3.  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.   My senior AP English class did a section on Hemingway, but my teacher assigned myself and a couple of other people A Farewell to Arms instead of The Old Man and the Sea.  Based on my later reading of this one, I’m glad that I was given the challenge of A Farewell to Arms.

4.  The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  I can recall the movie coming out but I never saw it.  I think this may have been taught during my school tenure, but I read it on my own.  I recently re-read it.

Books Not On the “Standard” Classics List:

growingupcover1.  Growing Up by Russell Baker.  I read this during my sophomore year of high school.  aker related stories of growing up in the Depression and World War II.  I recall that my quoting a passage from the book in a journal entry for class really impressed the teacher.  My fellow students were not as impressed.

2.  The Merlin trilogy by Mary Stewart.   I’m not quite sure how or why the Mary Stewart Merlin novels came into fashion in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but I know that several of my classmates and I were glad they did.  If only because we could read a series of fantasy novels as assigned reading.

3.  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.  I don’t recall the exact details on this one, but I read this one for my Western Civ class as extra credit.   I believe my assignment related to the ways the books was historically accurate and inaccurate.

4.  A Separate Peace by John Knowles.   After enduring Lord of the Flies, this was the next book we were assigned in my high school freshman English class.   I’m not sure it’s still on the list today.   It was an interesting story though all I really recall is that our narrator turns out to be the one who pushed Finney out of the tree.  I think a re-read of this one may be in order.

Assigned Books I Read and Enjoyed:

1.   My Antonia by Willa Cather.   Probably the most memorable book from my senior AP English class.  I remember reading ahead because I enjoyed it so much.

2.  1984 by George Orwell.   What can I say — it was the 80’s and we were all fascinated by living to and beyond the year of the title.   This is another one that I read well past what was assigned and got glaring looks for doing so.

I’ve got a lot more that I could include, but that’s my ten.   What books did you read during your educational career that maybe didn’t make the list?

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Musing Mondays: Special Editions

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Time again to start the week with Musing Mondays hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

This week’s random questions asks: What types of “special” books do you own? For example, do you have any really old books? Any collections based on your interests (eg. architecture, etc)?

I’ve got a small collection of special books that sit on my shelves.    I’ve got a couple of the leather bound, B&N editions of some favorite books — including To Kill A Mockingbird.   But I feel like these are more for show than for reading.  They look great sitting on the shelf!

I’ve also got a few signed favorite books from favorite authors.  I’ve met Garrison Keillor twice and he’s signed books for me each time.   The nice thing that Keillor does is he personalizes the autograph for you.  The times I’ve met him, he took a few moments to have a conversation with me and give me his attention.  It wasn’t just a quick signature and a thank you.

I’ve also got a few books that I really enjoyed or some special significance to me.  This includes a full run of the Target novels for the seventh (and my favorite) Doctor, some of the Star Trek novels I’ve enjoyed a great deal (including one or two with autographs by authors or the actors whose characters have a prominent role in the story) and some other books that were gifts from family and friends over the years that hold a special place in my memories.

I do have a few books that might be collectibles.  But for the most part, the special books I have all have an emotional connection for me.

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Kushiel’s Dart Read-A-Long, Week 2: Chapters 9-18

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Fan art of Phedre found at DeviantArt

Welcome to the second week of the Kushiel’s Dart Read-a-long.  This week covers chapters nine through eighteen in the epic story and is hosted by Tethyan Books.   If you want to see what others think about these questions or get their take on the events in Phedre’s life, you should surf on over there and check them out.  I know I will be doing that once I’ve completed my thoughts for the week.

1) In these chapters, Phèdre finally gets to have her own dedication ceremony. Were you surprised by what they did with the dove? Also, do you think it is fair to ask people to make a life decision about serving Naamah at such a young age?

For a little while, I figured the dove in Phedre’s world would used in a similar fashion to the way doves were used in the Old Testament — a pure sacrifice to atone for something.  So, it was intriguing to see that in this world, the dove is seen more as a sacrifice that is chosen and then set free.  In some ways, it felt a bit like the dove could be used to let go of the past, setting it free and then you’re “pure” as you head into the future.

As to whether or not it’s fair to ask someone as young as Phedre to make a life decision about serving Naamah, I’m not sure it’s fair to her in the long run, but it probably is in the short term.  Her decision gives her life some meaning, order and structure — as well as some type of status.   I can’t help but wonder what might have happened to her if she’d chosen not to pursue this life and the devotion. Would she be simply tossed back onto the streets or would Delaunay have found some other use for her — even if it’s just selling her contract to someone else so he can profit by it.

One thing I’ve noticed — or that was reinforced in these chapters — is that Delaunay is playing a long game and training his two young wards to do the same.   He seems to be willing to use anyone and anything to gain some type of advantage over others later.  What that advantage is remains to be seen and I wonder how long Phedre is going to be willing to be a pawn in is game and might not want to start playing her own game.  (Assuming that she is allowed to do so.   It could be interesting to see how her status as a servant and a female comes into play should she choose to act on her aspirations) Continue reading

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Review: Doctor Who: The Dalek Masterplan, Part 1 (Mission to the Unknown) and Part 2 (The Mutation of Time) by John Peel

Daleks: Mission to the Unknown (Dr. Who: The Daleks' Master Plan, Part 1)

Clocking it at 13 episodes, “The Dalek Masterplan” is one of the longest stories from the classic series and one that, for a long time, I had next to no exposure to. I’d read the synopsis of it in my well-worn and much-loved copy of The Doctor Who Program Guide but beyond that I had little or no awareness of how the story unfolded episode to episode until the early 90’s when Target finally worked out a contract with Terry Nation to adapt several of the Dalek stories from the 60’s.

And given the long running time for the story, Target wisely decided to split the story into two halves, thus insuring that the story was done justice and that fans could purchase two books instead of one to complete their collection. The author chosen for this undertaking with John Peel, who had earlier had success adapting “The Chase” for the printed page. At the time, I recall thinking Peel was an ideal choice for the role and eagerly reading both installments.

Now close to twenty years later, I have visited Peel’s two part adaptation of the saga again and found that it doesn’t quite stand up to the test of time or my memory. Part of this could be that the BBC released narrated soundtracks of the episodes years ago, thus allowing me to get as close as possible to experiencing the lost story as we’re ever likely to get (assuming they don’t turn up tomorrow and I have to buy the story on DVD). There is also the DVD release of the three orphaned episodes from this story that exist in the archives which serve only to whet the appetite for more (it’s probably for the best that the seventh installment which serves as the series first Christmas special isn’t one of them. I think the three episodes we have do a nice job of giving us a taste without necessarily overstaying their welcome). Continue reading

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Review: Trigger Warnings by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

What can you say about a collection of stories that includes everything from the disturbingly sublime to a tie-in story featuring the Matt Smith Doctor to poetry?

If it’s a collection from Neil Gaiman, you just say thank you and enjoy reading it.

In his introduction Gaiman notes that certain books these days comes with warnings about things that may be disturbing to certain readers. However, he notes that once you get beyond a certain age that good writing shouldn’t have to come with these “trigger warnings” but instead that readers should expect them. He then offers a wide variety of stories, including ones with a tie to previous novels and other universes and a lot of original material. And while not all of these stories triggered a response with me, there were some that connected with me more than other. Of course, the Doctor Who story to help celebrate the show’s fiftieth anniversary was a hit with this fan, if only to (once again) see Gaiman’s love of the long running show come through yet again.

Another hit was “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” in which Gaiman channels his inner Bradbury.

In the introduction, Gaiman admits that were it not for his reputation and name, many wouldn’t pick up a collection of short stories all by one author or see it as anything more than a vanity project. It’s kind of a shame to admit he may be more right than he knows — especially when you see just how good at the short story he can be. Like Bradbury, Gaiman works well in long and short form.

And while this may not be his best collection, it’s still got enough good and great stories to make it worth your reading time.

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Comic Book Friday: Justice League Volume I: Origin

Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin

My knowledge of the Justice League and some of the characters who comprise the epic team-up of powers come from watching various incarnations of DC heroes on television — most likely from the classic cartoon show The Superfriends.

So, I come to the New 52’s reboot of the team with a fresh palate, even though I’ve read around the epic team-up for a while now with various characters in their own collections. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the epic team-up and having read these six issues, I have to say that I’m not exactly excited by what I’ve seen. The story, such as it is, is an origin one of how the team got together. Apparently this happened due to an epic invasion from another dimension and the evil Darkseid sending wave after wave of various monsters to our dimension to (as near as I can tell) destroy every major city in sight.

Geoff Johns wisely uses the larger page count to give each hero on the team his or her own introduction to being part of the Justice League. In some cases, this works well such as with Aquaman who gets to be pretty all-around bad-ass when he emerges onto the scene. In other cases, it’s not quite as strong as it could be such as with Wonder Woman who we find out has never, ever had ice cream and thinks it’s the greatest thing ever. I have to admit this plot line made me stop and scratch my head a bit because it seemed so, well, pointless in comparison to all the other characters getting an epic debut in the story. I wonder if I hadn’t read the New 52 take on the character before this is it might have stood out quite as much.*

*I’m thinking it probably would, but I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt here.

The one new character whose origin we get to see is Cyborg. I don’t know much about his background or previous appearances so I can’t comment on whether this new take is better or worse than what has come before. It does establish some things well and overall it works.

The big problem I had with this collection (well, beyond the Wonder Woman stuff) is how it felt a bit like the last hour of Man of Steel. This is not a good thing in my book. It felt too much like a mindless excuse to have various characters bash on things and destroy large chunks of various cities and settings rather than an actual story or an exploration of these characters. If the only thing bringing these characters together is the potential to bash on things in new and interesting ways, I’m not sure if or how that can sustain a comic book series for any length of time. It also makes me a bit more wary than I already am of the upcoming Justice League movie. I’m hoping that someone over at DC realizes that fans want more than just cool CGI renderings of things getting destroyed and that maybe some character work and depth might be in order.

Looking at other reviews on various social media outlets, I have a feeling I’m a bit in the minority on not out and out loving this book. I don’t expect great literature from my comic book reading, but I do expect to enjoy it more than I did this collection.

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All Good Things, A Star Trek Podcast, Episode 39: The Archer Files

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Jonathan Archer — water polo champion, explorer, captain of the first warp five Starfleet vessel.   In this installment, Barry and discuss the pros and cons of Jonathan Archer and his place within the Star Trek canon.  We even delve a bit into whether or not actor Scott Bakula was the right guy to play Archer.

Skype wasn’t our friend during this recording, so you can play the “where did Skype cut off their conversation mid-thought?” game if you’re so inclined.

You can listen below or head over to the All Good Things site to download the episode directly.

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/xr5q6-55e33a

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