1764 Companions
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lono

What I am reading

this is the highly subjective way I read and interpret literature

(the emphasis lies on literature, so you'll only find a couply of trashy readings here and there)

Currently reading

Sauriergeschichten
Ray Bradbury, Fredy Köpsell, Andrea Kamphuis
Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury
Nong’s Thai Kitchen
Alexandra Greeley, Nongkran Daks
Progress: 20/160 pages
Fifty Egg Timer Short Stories
Richard Bunning

Job reloaded

The Undying Fire - H.G. Wells

This is H. G. Well’s version of the bet between Satan and God (Satan being the way more charismatic character by the way) for which „modern day“ Job Mr. Huss has to carry the can.

The undying Fire consists of very long and monologic dialogues, touching mainly on education or the controversy between a scientific and a moral world view and, of course, the big questions are dealt with: can there be good without evil? Is evil necessary to constantly challenge us, because this is the only way to unfold our full potential as human beings? Is there a god after all? If there is, can it be a good god considering all the horrible things going on in this world? If god isn’t good, is he/she/it bad or simply indifferent or incompetent? Is success in life a sign that you are on a morally correct path? And so on, and so on.

To be honest, the beginning was very promising, some bits and pieces were interesting, but for the most part, this is a long rigmarole.

Smokin’ basics

Box Like the Pros - William Dettloff, Joe Frazier

This book covers the basics, and when I say "basics", I mean the very hands up, chin down, eyes on your opponent and keeping the balance basics. So you’re for sure not going to be boxing like a Pro, but, I guess, you’ll be boxing after all, if you want to.

The fact that I enjoyed this one quite a bit despite it being targeted at absolute (probably pre-first boxing class) beginners shows, how much fun it is to read. Besides offering some helpful training advice, it gives good and clear explanations on why you are doing certain things the way you do them. And let’s all be honest, you can never be too advanced to work on your technique or too experienced to freshen up the basics every now and then.
Smokin’ Joe also includes a brief, but solid history on the sport itself (up to the time shortly before Tyson bit off a part of Holyfield’s ear). I highly value the fact, that he respects and treats all the weight classes evenly, so you get a balanced view beyond the prestigious heavyweight class.

But with all due respect, I absolutely disagree with one thing he emphasises: getting in shape before joining a gym. I mean, of course, you need a basic fitness level just to survive a training session, but the level Joe Frazier suggests having before even starting to box is way too ambitious, unless you are serious about it and want to turn pro asap.
Does it help to get in shape beforehand? Yes, definitely. Is it necessary? Absolutely not.

It was nonetheless reassuring to read, that even an iconic and successful boxer like Smokin’ Joe got nervous before fights (I wish I had known that before my first round of sparring), but neither Box like the Pros, nor any other book on the subject substitute going to the gym and training with a coach. Fighting is simply nothing a book can teach you, but I guess, people mostly read it for the same reason I did: curiosity about Joe Frazier and what he has to say.

Reading progress update: I've read 84 out of 240 pages.

Box Like the Pros - William Dettloff, Joe Frazier

So far so good. This is very basic, but easy and fun to read. Knowing how Smokin’ Joe talked during interviews, I highly suspect that either a ghostwriter was involved here, or this is one hell of an editing job. Either way, I love the sarcasm coming through here and there.

 

What if…

Der Große Weg hat kein Tor - Masanobu Fukuoka, Ronald Steinmeyer, Cecile Sprenger

Fukuoka is (or was) one of those people who are plagued by the two most troublesome words of mankind – what if
So he started asking himself, What if I stop doing this? What if I would not do that? And he wrote a book about it: The One Straw Revolution (with the strange German title Der Große Weg hat kein Tor).

 

He wrote this as early as 1975 and at that time, he had already spent over 30 years cultivating his own, pesticide-free, completely natural way of farming which turned out to not only produce healthier foods and fruits with better taste, but to also be way cheaper and less work. He demonstrates how most agricultural problems (barren earth, insects, pesticides, illness-prone plants,…) are only getting worse the more mankind is trying to artificially fix them – for instance, if a farmer uses pesticides against vermin, he will also kill all beneficial organisms on his fields, thus completely destroying the natural balance. The plants growing on such a field never develop any kind of healthy defence system against potential enemies, are therefore weaker than usual and in the long run even more prone to illnesses or other species of vermin which again have to be taken care of with different pesticides and the whole vicious circle starts from the beginning. Plus, they absorb at least some components of the pesticides which we in turn eat, so no one comes out of this as a winner.

Decades ago Fukuoka found a way to avoid all of this by simply working with and not against nature and in the course of that, he also explains how to compensate and repair the damage mankind already caused. He shows how he transformed the soil on one of his orchards from hard, dry clay into fertile earth in the course of some years - without the use of machinery, artificial fertiliser and without a lot of work in general. The quality of his soil is still improving on a year to year basis, because once this process is started, it continues and takes care of itself.

He also deeply opposes the capitalist notion (and practice) that naturally grown, biological food can be sold at higher prices. Fukuoka is convinced, that they should be the cheapest goods available, because it took the least amount of work and resources to grow and harvest them.

This mixture of an agricultural treatise, science bashing and philosophical (and even a bit religious) thinking shows, that he was an idealist who nonetheless knew exactly what he was talking about. I love how in his argumentation he does not limit himself to specific aspects, but keeps the big picture in mind, including everything from the soil, climate, insects, the appearance of the plants, bad weeds, sunshine, seasons, the size of the plants right up to the shape of their leaves.

Reading progress update: I've read 56 out of 180 pages.

Der Große Weg hat kein Tor - Masanobu Fukuoka, Ronald Steinmeyer, Cecile Sprenger

It’s spring, gardening season is starting (or has already started), so it’s the best possible timing to read Fukuoka’s book about natural, ecological farming.

And so far, it is beautiful!

Hermann, schieß dem Fenster!

Swastika Night - Katharine Burdekin, Daphne Patai

You really have to bear in mind that the date of origin is 1937 and for that, I am pleasantly surprised that it is not more preachy or propaganda-ish. Of course, there is a lot of inner-European nationalism and racism in the text (to be fair, if there was any time to be a racist nationalist, the 1930’s would have been it), of course, the protagonist is a smart Englishman and of course, the English will probably save the world from the homosexual Nazis – at least according to Burdekins novel.

 

I understand, why there is a lot of fuss about Swastika Night in feminist circles, but I would not claim the degenerated status of women to be the main focus of the text. As far as I am concerned, Burdekin’s novel deals mainly with the deliberate erasure of history and the consequent making up of your own stories by the people = men in power (yes, mayor 1984 flashback and although there is no being sure about it, it is very likely that Orwell borrowed heavily from Swastika Night). I am actually really sorry that only the feminist aspect stuck with it and Orwell snatched away the whole meddling with history discourse, because Burdekin not only brought this issue up 12 years prior to him, but she executed it in a much more elaborate way as well.

 

Oddly enough, I felt some very homophobic tendencies despite the central bromance between Alfred and Hermann. She highly propagates the Christian family model consisting explicitly of father, mother and children and once she even states that "normal" equals "not homosexual", but I guess it was the 1930’s after all.

 

Now about the whole language thing… well, her efforts of mixing in some German here and there are quite cute in the beginning, Burdekin obviously took pride in this, but soon it just made me cringe and I wished she would have abandoned the idea completely. We are talking the Die Hard German level of a Hans Gruber – no wonder, Karl didn’t have a clue what to do, after Hans yelled „Karl, schieß dem Fenster!“ at him.
But despite using some incorrect German, ignoring the existence of every single Umlaut and treating the article of der Führer as if it would be part of the name and needn’t to be grammatically altered (I get it, it is a tough language to learn, mistakes happen and I am still glad, people make the effort), her use of language in this setting is simply confusing. It was hardly ever clear to me, in what language the characters were conversing with each other (not that it matters much, but it felt very forced and strange sometimes), for example, in one of the earlier chapters, the Knight von Hess, Alfred and Hermann have a conversation about history and real life Hitler, so von Hess explicitly states in the beginning that he will speak English: "I think," he said, "that I will speak in English. […] I want to make absolutely certain that Alfred understands everything I have to tell." And just four pages later this happens: "it is certain, that he never married, but whether he had intercourse with women in a sexual sense or not, we do not know." "Married?" said Alfred. "I’m sorry, sir, that’s a German word I don’t know."
I might be picky here, but did I miss them switching the language somewhere along the way? Did Burdekin foresee the infamous Denglisch? The whole book was like watching Inglorious Basterds in translation, without all the linguistic nuances that make up the best part of the movie. Now, I know, she could never have written her novel in German, but it would have made so much more sense to just come up with any excuse to let her characters speak English! And why did she herself bring up this whole issue in the first place?

 

Overall, the book could have done without the Christian propaganda towards the end also, the democracy bashing really came as a surprise. But despite that, Swastika Night is a solid dystopian novel, unjustly reduced to its feminist content.

Reading progress update: I've read 16 out of 196 pages.

Swastika Night - Katharine Burdekin, Daphne Patai

Oh boy… One chapter in and I can already tell that this text has the potential to be good, but at the same time, there will definitely be some eye-rolling on my part.

Kallocain

Kallocain: Roman aus dem 21. Jahrhundert - Karin Boye, Helga Clemens

First published in 1940, Boye creates an uncanny and throughout above-average dystopian novel in which the protagonist Leo Kall invents the drug Kallocain, which, once injected, forces you to say the truth for eight minutes straight while being fully conscious and aware of it – all of this in a totalitarian, paranoid surveillance society.

 

And what happens? It turns out, that everyone, even the most faithful poster citizen is hiding something. Not necessarily a crime, but everyone has his or her personal skeleton in the closet he or she is trying to hide from the state, from their families and/or even from themselves. Of course, an invention like that is easily exploited, especially, after a law is passed according to which one can be convicted on the basis of their thoughts and intentions only, because with the help of a little Kallocain, you have no other choice than to tell it all (Minority Report problems, anyone?).

 

It is the old, but unfortunately still relevant tale of exchanging freedom for assumed security which in the end results in a state of terror, because the omnipresence of surveillance creates fear and paranoia instead of security. The novel starts a bit slow, but picks up speed quite soon and stays exciting throughout despite having a relatively predictable plot and mostly ok characters with the exception of the protagonist, his wife and the chief of police - those three are great, multifaceted figures.

 

Despite its flaws, Kallocain offers a number of strong scenes, ideas and images, many of them concerning human relations and let me tell you, that some of them really go deep. There is a gruelling forlornness lingering in this text, but Boye shows an amazing finesse in dealing with it.

Timeless classic

For Whom The Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway

Although I despise the overall smartass macho behaviour of Hemingways male protagonist, For Whom the Bell Tolls deserves every bit of praise it got since its publication.
Yet I am still a bit torn about what to write here, because with every aspect I want to highlight as being amazing and extraordinary, comes a ‘but’.

 

First of all, the writing is outstanding. Hemingways prose not only draws you in plot-wise, but reaches a level of awesomeness, only few other writers ever achieved. On so many instances, I paused and wondered how someone can write like this? Some sentences seem to be so simple and short at first glance, yet they contain an overwhelming amount of meaning, wisdom and emotion. While it doesn’t get much better than that, I’d rather have had some of the dialogues cut out completely, because many of them were so repetitive without adding anything relevant to neither the story nor any of the characters involved that the thought to just skip ahead crossed my mind more than once. For example, the whole back and forth between Jordan and Pilar about her refusal to tell him what she saw while reading in the palm of his hand took up two very tedious and unsatisfactory pages at one point.

 

Secondly, the language. Of course, this ties in with the writing style and, as already mentioned, some parts are just wonderful and a pleasure to read. Hemingway uses a pretty realistic and forward  way of expression (I guess, he himself would prefer using the term ‘honest’ in this context), here and there he randomly mixes in some Spanish sentences or throws a puta madre into the conversation from time to time, which are small contributions to the setting, but they enhance the atmosphere a lot.
But speaking of setting and of mixing in some Spanish, I have to admit, that in my opinion this is also the cause for the novel’s greatest weakness. In order to give the reader a better feeling of a book written in the midst of a Spanish guerilla group, Hemingway resorts to the use of archaisms and some odd expressions which did not really work out so well, because they sometimes read like a google translate version of a real Spanish text. Also, it is quite cute and annoying at the same time, that in order for his characters not to curse, all the swearwords are replaced, for example simply by ‘obscenity’ (except they do it in Spanish, because this is obviously ok). This might be the result of censorship or some form of modesty in the 40’s (I really don’t know), but, could you imagine this fearnaught dynamiter Robert Jordan look you straight in the eye and tell you to ‘go muck yourself’? Well, neither can I.

 

So I guess the bottom line here is, that I really, really liked and enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls, I binge-read great portions of this novel (and I would do it again), but other parts (especially the repetitive dialogue parts) bore the obscenity out of me.

Reading progress update: I've read 232 out of 505 pages.

For Whom The Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway

So far I really love some parts of it, but others feel redundant and quite boring to be earnest (sorry, Hemingway)

Aujourd'hui maman est morte

Inheritance from Mother - Minae Mizumura, Juliet Winters Carpenter
As a result of being an homage to the dying tradition of serial novels and therefore getting serialised in a Japanese Newspaper between 2010 and 2011 itself, Inheritance from Mother has very short chapters and no prologue, which is quite unusual for Mizumuras writing.
 
It is the simple yet complex story of two sisters in their fifties who wait for their old, but extremely demanding mother to die, so they are finally free and able to live their own lives independently. It is an honest and not far fetched account of the ugly and tragic sides of having ageing parents whom the children have to take care of, despite their past difficulties, fights and conflicts.
 
I loved the characters, even though the cheating husband felt quite stereotypical, but I have to admit, that Mizumura has an extremely elitist perspective on life which in this case felt a bit ridiculous, because I could not take the complaints of a character quite seriously, who lives in a 72,3 square metre flat in one of the best areas of Tokyo. Even the smaller apartment she moved to later on is still bigger than the flat my boyfriend and I are currently living in (not to mention, that living space in Tokyo is incredibly more expensive than where we live).
 
Anyway, Mizumura always loves to write about family history and she does it with great care and devotion, to this Inheritance from Mother is no exception. But due to the short chapters and the serialised publication of her novel, many of the family history pieces felt rushed and placed a bit at random. By this I mean that usually Mizumura would tell the story of the protagonist’s mother and grandmother as a whole (at least she did so in all her previous works I have read), but in this case you get some bits and pieces along the way, thus making the repeated coming back to the stories a bit repetitive.
 
As always, Juliet Winters Carpenter did a great job translating Japanese into English and apart from the above mentioned little annoyances, Inheritance from Mother was a very well written and touching read which always kept me wanting to read “just another chapter”.

 

I guess the word ‘Strange’ appears twice in the title for a reason

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein

As the cover informs me, this is "The most famous science fiction novel ever written". Well, I am no expert for science fiction literature, but I wouldn’t go this far. And even if it is the most famous sci-fi novel ever written, it certainly is not the best.

First of all, I disliked this initial will-they-won’t-they relationship between Jill and Ben so much, because it felt completely out of place and rather irrelevant (which it turned out to be, surprise), although I did like Jill from the very beginning. Secondly, Heinlein is bringing in a bunch of new characters in every new part of the book whom I personally didn’t care much about, could only distinguish from each other to a certain degree (until the very end) and who replace the well established characters as protagonists. Then in the third part, he finally starts to focus on the Man from Mars, letting the former main characters like Ben or Harshaw fall into almost complete oblivion. Also, while focusing more and more on Mike, Jill gets so incredibly one dimensional and stereotypical, that it was hard to bear at some points and last, but not least, the lack of storytelling quality became painfully apparent as the book carried on.

Starting from chapter three, the rest of the book basically becomes a treatise on sex and orgies – from a male and VERY heterosexual point of view – this goes as far as Ben, running out of a building, naked and in full panick mode, just because Mike tried to touch him while he was making out with Jill on the sofa or Harshaw explicitly stating (more than once) that being gay is without any doubt "a wrongness" for men, yet while being a lesbian is also wrong, it is somehow less wrong and therefore tolerable.

And if all of the above wouldn’t be bad enough on their own, the dialogues are so badly written, it hurt. They are not just stylistically bad, but most of the time they consist of nothing but tough talk, without anybody taking action or doing even a fraction of what they were saying for the last four pages (this especially concerns the character of Jubal Harshaw). I was not expecting high class literature when I picked up Stranger in a Strange Land, but the only other instance I can remember when I encountered dialogues written this bad was while watching The Expendables.

The last thing, that probably bothered me the most was the sexism. Sexism in the 60's was obviously an everyday thing and let us all take a moment to be thankful that what was considered "normal" fifty years ago would nowadays involve a nasty lawsuit. I could give you countless examples of passages that not only annoyed, but seriously upset or disgusted me, but I posted some of them here already and this review is getting way too long as it is.

I really tried to get into the story, but this book simply didn’t work for me, although the basic underlying problem of human expansion and exploitation (be it other countries or other planets) as well as the human ignorance when it comes to different believes, societies or species would be a super interesting topic to explore (not to mention the abuse of power and the government trying to produce a doppelgänger, putting out fake news and covering up their actions), but I don’t think that this was Heinleins goal. To be honest, I am not quite sure of what Heinlein wanted to get across here. Love thy neighbour, maybe?

The Rambling World

The Blazing World and Other Writings - Margaret Cavendish, Kate Lilley

This edition contains three Texts by Cavendish, but I skipped both The Contract and Assaulted and Pursued Chasity and only read The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World from 1666, the one and only text of its kind written by a 17th century authoress. It is a mixture of what I perceive as a fairy tale, utopian fiction, romance, „scientific“ speculation and a little bit of meta science fiction elements thrown into it with a very peculiar punctuation and way too few paragraph breaks.

 

The story itself was okay, the ramblings about natural philosophy and alchemy were extremely tedious and way too long, but the part where the protagonist Empress starts to hang out with the author of the book (her „platonic“ bestie) woke me up again. I would have loved the Empress to prefer the zombie army over the submarines to conquer the world she originally came from, but well, I guess the 17th century was a bit too early for a zombie hype.

Reading progress update: I've read 318 out of 438 pages.

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein

 

 

 

Only a male author in the 60's could let his female protagonist say some bullshit like this. Classic or not, but Stranger in a strange land really disgusts me from time to time, just take a look at this passage:

 

Y E S

Yes Man - Danny Wallace

It is not because I needed to read a book on how to get an optimistic perspective on life that I came across Danny Wallaces book, but a couple of weeks ago I rewatched the Jim Carrey movie Yes Man (recommended btw) and noticed for the first time, that it was based on a book – and that made me curious. Also, while the lot of you are reading Halloween-themed stuff and my timeline here is filled with stories about ghosts, murderers and/or spooky stuff of all sorts (not complaining, do your thing, guys and girls), I also wanted to bring in some fresh air and diversity to your timelines as well. You’re welcome.

 

So basically, this book is about Wallace’s experiment to „say Yes more“, which means, he started saying „yes“ to basically anything and everything which led to a lot of new experiences – good ones, bad ones, strange ones and really awkward ones. Of course, there’s the obligatory responding to email spam and scams (he wrote this in 2005), but despite doing obviously stupid things like that,  it is a very nice read. Not very demanding in an intellectual kind of way, but entertaining and even a bit inspirational nonetheless.

And it is very British indeed!

Reading progress update: I've read 178 out of 402 pages.

Yes Man - Danny Wallace

Super optimistic (and so very British) entertainment :)