Book Review – Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom

This is a VERY quick blog post! My family and I stayed in Kew, London last night as a treat between Christmas and New Year. Our hotel room had various nice things in it, including a basket of books 🙂 A quick look at its contents bought me to Tuesdays with Morrie by MitchAlbom. 6900I have previously read The five people you meet in heaven  also by Mitch and I really liked that and I knew that it wouldn’t take me too long to read. I was however maybe pushing it with a single night in the hotel and a Christmassy illuminated walk around Kew Gardens to fill my time. My kids were relaxing in front of the goggle box after a long day, so I had a first crack at the book. It was very good, in a similar way to ‘5 people’ without being too close. I cracked through it at that wonderful speed where you have a reason to finish a book quickly, but need to properly take in all of the info. My estimates of time take are:-

  • 45 mins first stab before dinner
  • 20 mins after dinner
  • An hour and a half sitting with a pint after the kids were in bed

So, that’s just over two and a half hours, and I was finished. I had achieved what I set out to, had snuck in an additional book between the ones I had planned and it was a really good read!

To give it a quick review, it is about Mitch who has allowed work and “things” to take over his life since leaving university. He was very close to one of his professors and they get back in touch after the prof (Morrie) is on TV having been diagnosed with ALS (a neurodegenerative disease.) After a first visit, they meet on Tuesdays and the various untangling of both lives with lots of meaning of life advice forms the main body of the book. Some reviews seem to find the book too saccharine sweet, but I think Mitch nailed it. It fitted particularly well with the Bill Hicks material that I am currently reading (reading slightly slower I might add!) If Bill had toned his act down a little, the message (and by Bill’s own request “listen to the message and not the words”) from Bill and Mitch is pretty similar. Look inside yourself to remove the blinkers of the world and understand what should drive you and how you should act. Obviously, I’m paraphrasing there, but you get the gist?

Rating 8/10

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Book Review – The Sword of Shannara – Terry Brooks

I suppose that it would be best to start this review by describing my decision to buy The Sword of Shannara in the first place. I have read a lot of fantasy in the past and quite a bit of what I still have in my bookshelves is fantasy based, this is a hangover from when fantasy was my staple genre, back in the day. I tended to read around a small number of authors. Two that spring straight to mind are R.A.Salvator who’s forgotten realms books were brilliant, and David Gemmell who produced some (IMHO) sublime fiction along with some pretty trashy hack and slash! I did read a few others, but I have a bit of a back log of David Eddings, Robert Jordan and Stephen Donaldson (among others) that all hail from that time in my life. Since then my taste has grown and expanded, but so too has fantasy with spectacular work from the likes of Joe Abercrombie (Did I mention I really really like the first law trilogy? If not, I have now. Brilliant books…)

I have, over many years, also dabbled with writing books. My best friend in school and I used to talk about books and writing constantly. He managed to write a whole book while he was doing his A-Levels, but although I thought it was great, he didn’t think it was good enough to send to any publishers, so it is still sitting in his metaphorical bottom drawer… In more recent years I have read a couple of books by successful authors about how they write and about writing theory in general. At least one of these mentioned that The Sword of Shannara was a pivotal book in the development of fantasy, being published at the start of (or being part of the initiation of?) a big rise in the popularity of the genre. This thought skipped gaily into my head one day while I was staring at a rack of books in a charity shop. “Coo,” said I, “there’s that book wot i dun read ’bout.” I bought it, stashed it in the book shelf and that was the end of that episode of my literary life.

With a back story like that it was with more than a little trepidation that I started The Sword of Shannara. Was I going to love it and understand how this book started a fantasy revolution? Or was I going to find it a bit sedentary, the first of a genre introduced with a dodgy basic plot and simple characterisation? The answer is actually a bit of both.

I cottoned on quite early that The Sword of Shannara was, shall we say, quite closely aligned to J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I was a bit miffed at this to be honest. Firstly, because you have a good idea of the main plot, and secondly, this was meant to be a seminal work (relatively speaking.) It helped launch the fantasy genre into the main stream, and it did it by almost completely nicking the main plot and characterisations from the grand master himself. I almost put the book down. Almost, but I didn’t. I had read to  a point just short of half way through the book. I managed to push through acceptance of the LOTR thing. My endurance was rewarded with some really great new characters and a post apocalyptic angle that was similar to the Jon Shannow books by David Gemmell. (did David G get the idea from here – The Sword of Shannow!) Linking Fantasy worlds to ours in any way is dangerous. You have to walk a tightrope to keep the integrity of the story without mixing styles too much. I was surprised to find this plot line in one of the first modern fantasy books, but pleasantly surprised. I was by this point really enjoying the story, it had that fantasy style, so that I saw parallels with the books that I have read, and the book was finding its own voice with the remaining plot. But. This book was still not in the bag for me. I was still finding the quality of the writing challenging. Not plot or direction or even the majority of general grammar! There were loads of niggly little writing inconsistencies. These ranged from descriptive issues (fire made by Gnomes was “man” made) to the way that characters sometimes acted (being quite quiet then suddenly angry for no reason.) It felt like Terry Brooks had tried a bit too hard with the description and in doing so, over-cooking it and managed to add the odd problem. But I didn’t put the book down, and I am glad I didn’t.

So, everything picked up. The story diverged somewhat from LOTR, I found less issue with the writing and everything evened out into a better second half. It appears that this change occurred when Pannamon Creed and Ketleset joined the story. I have a feeling that they really did work on the plot, and the author) in the way that strong characters should. They re-invigorated everything. They gave a fresh viewpoint on what was happening, and I am glad to say that they stayed true to what I hoped they would be, even to the end of the book.

In conclusion, The Sword of Shannara is a good book. There were some pretty big problems with it, but I can see why it was part of the spark that started much more wide spread expansion of the fantasy genre. The book was published in 1977, and the original Dungeons and Dragons came out in 1974, so I think Shannara was part of the push, and not the instigator. Either way, if you like Fantasy, this book is worth a read. Just be aware of the odd foible and you will be fine.

What the papers said at the time – Wikipedia

Rating: 7/10
The Sword of Shannara on Goodreads

Cook Books

One of my quick updates… I have been meaning to bring up the subject of cookery books for a while now. I cook quite a bit and I use cookery books at least as much as I use the interweb to get recipes. I also store some on evernote, this is a random selection including some I got from my dad and some I found more recently.

I own cookery books and I use them. I have just had some of them out to plan the last details of food for Christmas and I was compelled to get rid of some books that I never open, and re-affirm my love for others. So without further ado, here are some cookery books that I am going to give to charity.

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I bought the 3 River Cafe books all together many years ago when they first came out. I have used one or two of the recipes, but I think I liked the sentiment of their cooking style more than the actual recipes in these books. Jamie’s Naked Chef is a modern classic in my eyes. The roast chicken recipe in it is great, it also has bacon sandwiches as I remember and I think I can do those on my own! It is a good recipe book, but as you will see, I have other newer Jamie books and I think they match the types of things I cook a lot closer.

Just so you all know, here is a pic of the cookery books that I am keeping. I particularly like the Leith’s cookery course. It strongly promotes the use of good quality produce and is so well laid out that you can find a base recipe, modify it and add something else from page 548 without breaking a sweat.

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The River Cottage Cookbook as a great bolognese recipe in it, and I am currently in a mental battle between this version and the one in Leith’s. Leith also has a great Lasagne recipe that has a ragu base… River Cottage also has great cookies that my wife makes 🙂

The book without the spine is the good old Dairy Diary (UK based) That;s definitely seen a bit of use, I can tell you.

The results of the cook book outing this time? A good chunk of my work will come from Jamie at Home this year, centering around a lamb shoulder for one meal. I also have a curry from the green book on the list to use up the left over chicken from Christmas day. Whew 🙂

Have a good Christmas.

Quick Next Book – The Man in the Water by Ali Sparkes

I have a couple of friends (you know who you are) who are involved in a charity called friendsofpicu.org.uk. The group is raising funds for the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Southampton General Hospital in the UK. One of the ways that the group is raising funds for this very important facility is via the sale of a special book. Ahhh, a book, a book, ooooh, I see why your blogging about this now!!

41f9YtSdjbL._BO1,204,203,200_The book’s author, Ali Sparkes, became a patron of the charity and wrote the book for the winning bidder at one of the charity’s events. ALL proceeds from the book go directly to the charity. So I saw my friend out in the cold a couple of weekends ago, at a Christmas Fayre selling the book. I hadn’t even thought about it before, but I offered to introduce you (my multitude of loyal followers) to the book to see if we could push some sales and do some good for the charity. I also already own the book as my son bought it so I am allowed to read it under The Rules 🙂

The Man in the Water is a pretty short children’s or young adult book. I should be able to nip through it quite quickly. I will tweet as I go as per usual, and I will review at the end. It is a bit odd that I am crowbarring this book in just ahead of Bill Hicks, That may be one of the biggest divides between between two books that I have read back to back! Watch this space to see how I get on.

You can get The Man in the Water from Amazon as a paperback and there is still bags of time for this to get to you and be all wrapped up before Christmas.

So what are you waiting for?

Everything is sustainable

I read a tweet from Al Gore at the start of this week that ended “We must choose a sustainable path forward.” I followed this up with a look at some of the replies and was amazed to see a huge expunging of bile! Some of this was directed personally at Al, but a lot of the comments were, in my considered opinion mental. The replies also contained a link to simonscando’s post. This post is relatively well researched and begins by doing something that I still want to do; properly define the word “sustainable”. Unfortunately, Simon’s post then goes into some very detailed hair splitting about the definition of the word “sustainable” and misses the point of why it is being used. It does however reference BS-8900:2006 which I think I need to get to grips with at some point? From a correct etymological a grammatical perspective I’m sure Simon is correct, but here is at least part of my interpretation of sustainability and unstainability (which may not even be a word!)

Sustainability

With great power comes great responsibly – Voltaire and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben

We as individuals automatically assume that we don’t have “great power”, that super heroes, or in reality, a chosen few leaders hold the power and thus the responsibility. But the whole human race is accountable. Our intellect and grasp of the physical world means that we could easily crush nature and ourselves in so many varied ways. It has been said many times that the Earth would survive anything we can do. It would endure, would spin on. We are, after all, not THAT powerful. But we do have nuclear bombs, people who strip forests and frack the land as well as a multitude of other nasty practices that can and do severely damage the planet making it an environment that can’t sustain life like ours!

It is a sort of self harm to attack the world in this way and to use the resources we have in unsustainable ways. That’s our power. An ability to destroy, and for what? Fossil fuels are extracted because individuals drive petrol and diesel vehicles. Forests are felled because we want a nice table or burgers, and the list goes on.

On an individual level this behavior to consume has been borne from generation upon generation of people striving for comfort. For the majority of human history, we didn’t know these resources were as finite as they are. We didn’t know how to do things any other way, and there was far fewer people to use what resources the Earth has.

Everyone is powerful, everyone can make choices to change behavior and learn how we can live in a way that can continue indefinitely. The problem is that the issues are global and the solutions are individual and it is very hard to resolve the two. When I first started this blog I reasoned that one person can not change the world. I sort of asked the exact question of postconsumerlife. I have since discovered that I was very wrong. People are blogging, tweeting, getting off their bums and doing lots of good work. I now understand that this is a small person’s, infact every person’s fix to make. A crowd is made up of individuals, and individuals hold the power and responsibility to act correctly. The choices you make and the actions you take drive the world. Choose wisely.

BUT, Maybe we should reduce our interest in sustainability a little? Oh my god, this is my first proper sustainability blog post and I’m suggesting we don’t look at it. What is going on?

Unsustainability

It is easy to get confused and bogged down when trying to understand how sustainable a thing or a process is. People can argue that it might not be sustainable, that this positive status can be used to hide all manner bad practice and ambiguity by those just jumping on the band wagon. I suppose this relates a little to The Story of Stuff. People don’t naturally think of where things come from. If it’s not instantly obvious, everyone just presumes that employees are treated nicely, and no organisation would operate in a way that kills animals, produces toxic waste or is in any large way knowingly “bad”. But they are and they do.

A company that trades on sustainability is not a definite thing. It could do what it likes and buy carbon credits. It could look good in the first world and take advantage of workers in other countries. It could, for example, be a solar panel company (no specifics or axes to grind, honest) who’s advertising features green colours and pictures of flowers, while it is busy pouring chemicals out the back of its factory. Nothing is definite when you can spin it. I also have a feeling that my examples have just described an unfortunately large number of companies. Companies that are being described as sustainable, and that are therefore not all being encouraged to improve!

Why don’t we instead concentrate on stopping unsustainable things? If we were to concentrate on eradicating unsustainable practices we could be much more definite in our decision making. We could look at the world and what it has in it and make a prioritised list from the worst practices and the shortest resources. I imagine that this list would already be easy to create if it has not been in existence for a long time? So let us work to stop cutting down forests because we cut down more than we plant and we know trees are good. Let’s try to move away from fossil fuels not just because they release harmful gases into the atmosphere, but because it is now obvious that there isn’t enough of the stuff left for us to use it for much longer.  Sustainability then becomes the norm. Its not special to be thoughtful and ethical. Unsustainable things that hurt the planet can’t last. All the other arguments are irrelevant.

Farewell Raven and Altered Carbon

After my post last night, I have had a good sleep, and caught up with stuff. I still have lots of dreaded work to do this weekend, but that’s not now. Now is eating croissants, putting up Christmas trees, playing WII and wrapping stuff up. Oddly, this morning’s wrapping wasn’t for Christmas, but for a very special wedding book that is going to be presented my best friends tomorrow. Anyway, less of that. I had all the material out I decided to send Raven back to it’s rightful home. I am sure that I have mentioned the back story of Raven in a previous post, but I have just wasted 10 minutes trying to find it, and failed. Raven was lent to me about 20 years ago by my best friend of the time. I added it to my queue of books, and therefore my bookcase, and promptly left to go to University. My friend and I kept in touch, but the book was never mentioned and it has traveled with my mobile library as I have migrated from University into work and through two house moves!! Reading and reviewing Raven for the blog committed in my mind the need to return the book. It has sat on my windows sill with some of the other books I have read, not going back in the bookcase, not going in the loft, but in a sort of book limbo.

That was until today. Not only did I summon the herculean effort required to get off my arse and take action, I also added in a little extra fun at the same time. I will illustrate my morning with Photo’s in reverse order.

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My friend will receive Raven back sometime next week. With the obvious addition of an address and postage and stuff, this is the package he will get. Bit bigger than the slim dimensions of Raven isn’t it!!?

Why is that? What else is in there? oooh, this is fun 🙂 I realised that my friend is a big book reader (he also likes small books), and only sending him back a book he has already read is a bit unfair. All be it that it might be time for a re-read given he hasn’t seen the thing for 20 years!

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I have therefore also sent my friend my copy of Altered Carbon. The pic above is the pre-wrapped paper package. Naked books!! I also included an actual written letter with the books, just to explain things a bit. I think it is the first time in about 10 years that I have written a letter to someone.

I have also been re-distributing my books. The last *amazing* thing to tell you about this fun filled package is that Altered Carbon is being sent to my friend to start it on it’s journey like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Hopefully my friend will read, then share this great book?? When I left Captain Corelli in Swanage I knew that I wanted to do something different with the note that I stuck in the front cover. Firstly you couldn’t see anything to differentiate my books on adventures from any old book that someone could have left. As you can see, I am worried that this will just get shoved in a bookcase somewhere. Alternatively, it might go into a charity shop and still be set for a good old adventure??? 🙂

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Secondly, I had to actually stick the note in the book which I wasn’t too pleased about.

So here is Postconsumerbookclub book distribution technique version 2….

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It is a sleeve that fits over the cover. You can see it from the outside and it is also held in place. Not sure how long it will last, but it is better than the previous version by loads!

I will add Altered Carbon to the Books on the loose section of the site.

Next Book – Love all the People by Bill Hicks and John Lahr

Hello everyone. I am amazed that I have managed to go 2 weeks without blogging! It’s a real shame to say it, but work has properly stopped play recently. I have started travelling to work on the train, and I had been using that time to read, read, read. I have to say that it is a much better use of time than concentrating on driving, or at least it is when you get to read books. I have only read on a few days this week as I have had so much work to get done. But, reading keeps me sane so I have squeezed it in around other things as you do, and that is good. It is quite surprising, given my lack of time, that I have managed to get quite a way through The Sword of Shannara, but I did manage to get through a chunk last weekend. I have to say that I came very close to putting this book down, but now that I am into the buildup to the end I’m glad I didn’t.

Oddly, I have still been doing Twitter quite a bit. I think I identify with the quick nature of the medium, and it is something I can do as I walk from the train or between buildings that reading or blogging or other work can’t get in the way of. Suffice to say, I’m happy when my brain is busy, but I guess that is kinda obvious?

As a side note, I have a massive history of starting a book and stopping half way through. I found this happened with a book I was enjoying as much as one that I wasn’t. I think writing the blog is helping me to get over that particular deficiency. The read, blog cycle means that if I stopped I would have to ‘fess up, and that would be bad. I am bound by my own contract Rule number 5.

Right, time to get to the point. I’m tired, I am not in the mood for getting into the details of work or my mental deficiency regarding staying power (other deficiencies are in existence!) and I want to stare at something and not write. I may read my book, but my eyes are stinging a bit, so I might just shut them?? I haul my sorry A**e to the book case and pick the next book. I don’t want another fantasy as I need to spread them out a bit. I don’t really want a Sci-Fi as I read Altered Carbon and that has me topped up on the future for a while, but then again, I have a more limited array of other fiction. To be honest, that is partly because I read a lot of other stuff before I started the blog…

Got it 🙂 My next book is Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines by Bill Hicks and John Lahr. That is a bit of mouthful as titles go, so I will have to get creative with the hashtag on Twitter! I don’t usually do autobiographies or biographies, but I have a couple floating about. Bill Hicks was a big part of my formative years, and a chunk of his cynicism and world views rubbed off on me. The back cover uses words like genius, brave, brilliant and right. I don’t disagree with any of them and would probably add a few more that are along the same lines. I think I am going to enjoy reading this book. I also think that my twitter feed will have a few more swear words and some quality quotes when I get to start reading this 🙂

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Now that is done I’m either going to pass out or read a book? WooHoo, it’s the weekend.