Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Toole only has 2 books published, having never published before his suicide. CoD only made it to light because his mother found the manuscripts and was persistent in getting it out to the world.

The title comes from a Jonathan Swift quote: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." Ironically, the main character, Ignatius Reilly, considers himself the true genius and everyone who opposes him as the dunces. In reality, while Ignatius may be intelligent, he's so socially backward and egocentric and, well, loathsome, that you feel sorry for anyone who has to come into contact with him.

Initially, Ignatius is taken care of hand and foot by his long suffering mother. He's 30, morbidly obese (his hands are frequently referred to as paws), doesn't work and stays locked in his room watching TV or writing in his Big Chief tablets. At the beginning of the novel, Ignatius almost gets arrested by the police for being a shady character (in New Orleans, this must mean a lot of arrests) but really was just 'studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste'. He and his mother then get in a minor car accident in which his mom, Irene, has to pay for the property damage. She finds her backbone and demands that Ignatius get a job and help out. And from there it really is as the cover blurb says "marvelous, madcap adventures in New Orleans".

The majority, if not all, of the characters in this book are annoying. But Ignatius is the one who would irritate the Dalai Lama. He's delusional, an incredibly self-involved liar who will do anything to get out of work. It's also quite possible that he's gay, with the hateful mockery of anything sexual, his very very strange masturbation .... uh, techniques, and his plan to have a political party made up of only homosexuals.

Dunces does have a great background in New Orleans and Toole's ability to capture the dialects are really a thing of beauty. Apparently there is a statue of Reilly on Canal Street. I'm sad to say I missed that when I was there but will go look for it when I go back.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking

Hawking is a genius. And a frequent Simpsons character. I am not a stupid person. And have never been a Simpsons character. Even though this book is supposed to explain physics to a general audience (ie. dumb it down), I do believe most of this went way over my head.

Don't get me wrong, it's a really excellent book for science geeks, minor or major. It even won a science book award in 2002. And Hawking does dumb stuff down the best that he can. The entire book didn't flummox me, just most of it.

Hawking went over everything from Einstein's Theory of Relativity to string theory to chaos theory to black holes to worm holes to time travel and star trek (he does have a sense of humor!). I really enjoyed his explanation of black holes and worm holes. He spoke about those in simpler terms that were pretty easy to understand. Time travel was confusing and mostly concluded to be impossible at a macro level but not impossible at a micro level.

With the star trek portion, we ventured into aliens and other forms of intelligent life. His take on that is pretty interesting. Along with this, I've been watching his show Into the Universe and he delves more on aliens there. And somehow makes it more interesting.

I think any form of science geek will enjoy this, even when it flies over their head.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Surviving The Dragon by Arjia Rinpoche

Firstly, this copy of the book is signed by Arjia Rinpoche ... in Tibetan, no less.

I've read the book from the Dalai Lama's perspective on the takeover of Tibet by China. Or the liberation of Tibet if you swing that way. Surviving the Dragon is Arjia Rinpoche's account of the same takeover from inside Tibet. He didn't manage to escape Chinese rule until the 90s, having survived 40 years under Chinese rule. China came into Tibet to "free" them in 1949. Arjia Rinpoche was 8 in 1958 when the Chinese came into his monastery and basically tore everyone's life apart under the guise of freeing them from feudal serfdom.

Arjia Rinpoche is the 8th incarnation and was found in his family's little nomadic hut and taken to Kumdum monastery to serve out his duties. This book starts there and takes us through all of the horrors of communist China and the humiliations and torture faced by many monks at that time. Arjia Rinpoche was lucky and rose higher in the political world, but many of his fellow monks, teachers and friends weren't so lucky.

Arjia Rinpoche now heads the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana and through his book, tells a fantastic story of surviving what couldn't even be imagined here in America.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Storm Prey by John Sandford

I am stupidly dedicated to the Prey series and I will probably always love me some Lucas Davenport. And Virgil Flowers. But I've been wondering: what happened?? Why is the Prey series now a run of the mill mystery?

Lucas is incredibly intelligent, shrewd and will kill you if he needs to. He used to go up against some intelligent, shrewd killers in previous books but the last few have been disappointing. He's having to go against some of the dumbest damn people ever. There's no mystery or challenge anymore.

The hospital that Weather works at is robbed with the pharmacy wiped clean. Someone dies in the process and everyone is up in arms. The Mack brothers and an inside doc are the criminals and they are all as dumb as bricks. And drug addicts to boot. Fabulous.

For a regular ol' mystery, this is good. For a Davenport book (with that Fuckin' Flowers even!!!) it's just not that good. Lucas needs better villians to go up against. No more stupid rednecks.