27 August 2011

51. A Damned Fine War

A Damned Fine War - Bill Yenne

This is an alternate history based in World War II, or immediately after. What if the Russians took a short break and then invaded Europe? What if Patton had not died and was around to fight them?

Interesting concept for a story...but lacking in execution as far as I am concerned. I did not fall in love with the story as I had hoped.

The good guys were too heroic.
The bad guys were too evil.
The technical aspects were inaccurate too often to overlook.
Who cares about romance in a war novel? Not me!
The troop movements were too simplistic and immediate.
Time must have been compressed. I don't know why.
As the book drug on we got less battle and more personal story crap.

Anyway, what I was hoping for would be more of a realistic type of book. One where General Patton and Marshal Zhukov could duke it out in the European theater with much more reality. Both looking over their shoulder for a Nazi resurgence that was non-existent in this book.

That is not what I got.

25 August 2011

50. Johnny Got His Gun

Johnny Got His Gun - Dalton Trumbo

The only book I can recall reading where every word is written from the thoughts of a single person. No narrator. No additional perspective. Not one single external word. One man's thoughts and memories. That is all. He does not go anywhere or do anything other than attempt to communicate with the world...and think.

I saw this book every time I went to the bookshelf in the last two years to choose which book I would read next. Every time I would pull it down and put it into the "short-list" stack (usually 4-5 books). Every time I would put it back saying "next time".

A few weeks ago I was cranking "One" by Metallica and it reminded me of this book because the music video used a lot of scenes from the original movie starring Timothy Bottoms. I made a decision. I immediately went to the bookshelf and picked out this book. I began reading it right then.

The impact this book made on me was impressive. It made me cry. Literally. It made me shake and want to scream at times when I was being empathetic to what Joe was thinking or feeling. Those types of feelings from some written words do not come often.

I know a lot of military people. I am retired military myself. It took all I had not to put my friends faces, or my own, onto Joe Bonham's body in the novel. The problem was that Joe had no face. My friends had no faces. My friends were in this predicament.

Then, for those that know me, there was the "trapped" factor. One of my fears is being trapped in a cave, or under snow in an avalanche, or in a building after an earthquake...anywhere that I can not escape from and will just be there forever waiting to starve or suffocate. It is even worse if the confines are so tight that I cannot move. It causes sleepless nights when I have those dreams...but that is a different story.

Anyway, this book was like those dreams. This is a man who has no arms and legs. A paraplegic. That sucks, but it is not the end of the world. But, Joe also had head trauma. He lost his eyes, ears, nose and mouth. He lost his hearing, his sight, the ability to smell and taste. He could not speak. He lost the ability to communicate at all. He was stuck in a prison exactly the same size as his own mind and body. Imagine being fully aware of your predicament and being able to do nothing about it...for years on end. Imagine that you really can't be sure if you are awake or asleep and dreaming because it all feels the same. That freaked me out!

One of my favorite parts of the book is where Joe was talking to himself about why he went to war. He was drafted in WWI, but the sales pitch was about words like "liberty", "democracy", "freedom" and "patriotism". These words are used to inspire the little guys into doing their duty. Problem...Joe fought for all of them and has none of them despite still being alive and winning the war. These words are not concrete. They are abstract terms with different meanings to different people at different times. They can be tools used to manipulate.

A memorable quote: "What the hell does liberty mean anyhow? It's just a word like house or table or any other word. Only it's a special kind of word. A guy says house and he can point to a house to prove it. But a guy says come on let's fight for liberty and he can't show you liberty. He can't prove the thing he's talking about so how in the hell can he be telling you to fight for it?"

The book is obviously anti-war and does a great job of making it's point about the brutality and inhumanity or warfare. It also has a bit of class warfare going on. The upper-class ordering wars and the lower-class (little guys) fighting them and dying for the causes of the rich and powerful.

I am very impressed with this book and will be putting it back on the keeper shelf with other books I consider worthy of staying after being read. (Great Gatsby, Mother Night, The Kite Runner, True Grit, One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, Night, Without Remorse, Into The Wild, etc).

18 August 2011

49. God and the State

God and the State - Mikhail Bakunin

What a miserable fella Bakunin must have been. It seems that everything is either absurd, stupid or is enslaving mankind.

Christianity was especially hated throughout the text, though he made the same old arguments and rationalizations that have been tossed about repeatedly. Whatever dude. You don't want God to exist because you don't get to be omniscient yourself. For a long time I thought he was equating the Roman Catholic church with Christianity. In the end he meant Christianity and all kinds of religion. The eastern religions (Buddhism and Hinduism) did get a slight pass with some footnotes attached. Blah blah.

The thing is, I expected the book to be anti-christian, so none of that surprised me at all. What did surprise me was that Bakunin dislikes schools, governments, historians, scientists, Romans, Greeks, plumbers, carpenters, teachers, priests, anything at all that would be any kind of authority figure in even the minutest fashion.

Anarchy! It is obviously the only way for any reasonable human being to be free to make all his own decisions without external influences and therefore using only his own reasoning. Ban everything immediately! Wait, if I tell you to ban everything and you want it then I am infringing on your ability to choose and am therefore inflicting my own authority over you and must be banned myself.

I guess the only real solution would be to shoot myself dead in the face if I lived in Bakuninland.

I did enjoy hearing a different perspective on many subjects despite my disagreeing with much of it.

16 August 2011

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain

I can't do it. Despite this being about King Arthur, which is cool, and despite it being Mark Twain...it is like reading Shakespeare or the King James Bible. Too olde englishy for me to even consider continuing this book.

15 August 2011

48. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Washington Irving

It is a classic and is outstanding. You all know the story or Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. I won't review that other than to say, I loved it.

I have not done this for a while, and this is a worthy book...

SAT Word Alert:

INVETERATE: set or confirmed in a habit, practice, feeling, or the like

WITHE:  a tough, flexible twig or stem suitable for binding things together.

WHILOM: formerly

SUPERNUMERARY:  being in excess of the usual, proper, or prescribed number.

PERADVENTURE: chance, doubt or uncertainty

ERUDITION: knowledge acquired by study, research, etc.

PERAMBULATION: a walk, travel, journey, etc.

COQUETTE: a woman who flirts lightheartedly with men to win their admiration and affection; flirt

CHANTICLEER: a rooster

ANDIRONS: one of a pair of metal stands, usually of iron or brass, for holding logs in a fireplace

CAPRICES: sudden unpredictable changes, as of one's mind or the weather

GAINSAY: to deny, contradict or dispute

RANTIPOLE: a wild, romping young person

BREASTWORK: a temporary defensive fortification usually about breast high, a parapet

PILLIONS: a pad or cushion attached behind a saddle, especially as a seat for a woman

SWAINS: a male admirer or lover, a country gallant

PLASHY: marshy, wet

47. Adopted For Life

Adopted For Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches - Russell D. Moore

This was an very interesting book about the Christian perspective on adoption. Not only on adopting children into a family, but how it relates to us being adopted as the children of God. It was very interesting to see the parallels.

One thing that kept coming back while reflecting on what I had read was the idea the author had about an adopted child's culture. It is important to keep an adopted child aware of where they came from, isn't it?

We have adopted five children from Ukraine. Keeping them aware of Ukrainian culture has been something we have made half-hearted efforts at over the years. Ukrainian food is really good. We enjoy those meals where we go out of our way to prepare it. As far as the rest of Ukrainian culture, well, we have fallen well short of my own expectations. It seems like it is just a waste of time to keep them in tune with the motherland when they are Hills kids now. Know what I mean?

Well, this author did. He expressed that feeling in a way I had not been able to before. It made perfect sense when I read it. Once we are adopted into God's family and are his children, does he desire for us to keep current in cultural awareness of our previous sinful life? Does he desire to expose us to the way we were before we were adopted? Of course not. In a way that is exactly what I have been feeling about my own kids. They are MY children now. They are living here and are citizens here. If Ukraine was so great then why are they here in the first place? Why would I wish to push a culture on them that has caused them all heart-ache and pain?

Something else that struck me...as Christians we are called to care for orphans and widows...that does not mean we are all called to bring a child into our homes and be their parents. There are many other ways to "care".

14 August 2011

46. Biblical Ethics

Biblical Ethics - Oswald Chambers

How can I do what I ought to do?

Why should I do what I ought to do?

This was very heavy reading, very deep and meaningful. It was quite revealing and I will be thinking of this reading for some time.

08 August 2011

45. The Prayer of Jabez

The Prayer of Jabez - Bruce Wilkinson

My mother and father sent this book to my wife and I in 2007. I finally read it. :-)

I agree that God can do anything. Asking in prayer is great also. I liked the book up to a point, and then it felt like prosperity preaching. I am not into that at all. I agree with much of what the author wrote, but not always to the degree he took it.

I especially liked one section. Part of the prayer was "keep me from evil". The author writes;
"Jabez's last request is a brilliant but little-understood strategy for sustaining a blessed life. After all, as your life transcends the ordinary and starts to encroach on new territory for God, guess whose turf you're invading?"

03 August 2011

42. 43. & 44. Cowboy Bebop Vol 1, 2 and 3

Cowboy Bebop Volumes 1, 2 and 3 - Yutaka Nanten


Intergalactic bounty hunters.


Comic books with curses and skimpy clothing. Wow! Who cares?

Why do I even try to give this junk another shot?

02 August 2011

41. Altering the Blueprint: The Ethics of Genetics

Altering the Blueprint: The Ethics of Genetics - Alexander McCall Smith

This is actually a University level course taught by Professor Smith. It is a series of fourteen lectures on various subjects concerning the ethical choices we face in modern day reproduction and medical science.

The topics discussed included:

An Overview of Techniques for Creating Humans
When Does Life Begin?
Sex Selection
Screening for Abnormalities
Genetic Enhancement
Spare-Part Children
Population Control

I found this to be an extremely interesting course.