Books: And What Are You Reading?

ericwn

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Not sure I quite understand.

Actually, I'm quoting myself, but glad that you agree with me (on TLOTR, I assume).

You’re quoting me on vaccine mandates above which is a different topic altogether.

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ericwn

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Ah, okay.

I think the books flawed, and very uneven.

There re some superb sections (the Ents, the Mines of Moria), some terrific characters (Gandalf, Saruman, Gollum), some ideas - once original, now a somewhat tired cliché - the idea of weak kings, evil counsellors, fueding brothers, the Wise Mentor, kings who will be revealed by destiny, gorgoeus and impossibly attractive elves, grasping dwarves, bucolic bliss, and so on, and some absolutely awful characters (Tolkien couldn't write a credible female character to save his life, and Frodo and Samwise do not - remotely - appeal), and some sections that just drag interminably.

I far preferred Bilbo - wise, witty, humane, sane, brave but not reckless, with a perfectly understandble appetite for many of the good things that life has to offer, - to Frodo, and would have liked to have read about his quest, and what that journey would have done to him and how he would have coped with it.

Being unable to create credible characters of the opposite sex is - in my opinion - quite common and absolutely understandable, especially the older the material is.

I do agree on Frodo, as a friend of mine once suggested: the books would absolutely rock if every Frodo section would be replaced by a bad ass dragon.

Still, a masterpiece of the genre.
 

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You are once again quoting me from a totally different discussion.
Ah, yes.

Now, I see what you mean. That wasn't intentional. Apologies.

I have no idea how I did that; ever since the changes to how "likes" are registered in the system, I have found myself clicking on stuff - that reply or quote button - by accident.

Mea culpa.
 

lizkat

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Lately I've been going for a second time through some of Howard French's 2014 book China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa. A lot has changed in the world since then, including China's own focus and its economic achievements and challenges at home and abroad. But I wanted to look back at this book because French began it by noting that it was only around 2004 that China had intensified its effort to supplant a then languishing effort by western nations to bring along 21st century commerce and assorted innovations in their dealings in African nations. And he noted that China had only formally seemed to launch its own interests in Africa around the mid-1990s with an important speech by Jiang Zemin, who was then China's head of state.

In a ]1996] speech at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jiang proposed the creation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

This turned out to be an important first move in a momentous two-step. Upon his return to China, Jiang gave another speech in the city of Tangshan, in which he explicitly directed the country’s firms to “go out,” meaning go overseas in search of business. No Chinese leader had ever said anything like that before, and from the very start Africa was clearly a principal target.

By now, the processes and results of some of China's projects abroad have been broadly documented in news media from time to time as both controversial and expensive. But French's book is illustrative of aspects we don't usually read about in media accounts, focusing on the relationships of people, working either as independent merchants, as construction supervisors or as Chinese or African laborers working on the large projects. French had managed to round up some pretty outspoken people. Perhaps as a group, migrants from China to elsewhere -- whether indie merchants or construction bosses-- and maybe in particular to Africa, tend to be far more outspoken than the carefully scripted official line from Beijing about how things work in Chinese endeavors abroad... and how things were back home.

“Outsiders are awed by China’s extraordinary economic growth over the last thirty years [since 2014], during which time its GDP had increased tenfold. But along with that growth has come cutthroat competitiveness and grinding stress in daily life that many find unbearable, and which drove many Chinese to leave the country. Time and again, Chinese told me they did not fully realize how oppressive things were at home until after they had left. Living in Africa, they said, it felt as if a lid had been removed from a pressure cooker. Now they could breathe.

Hao was the first person I had met, however, who had chosen his destination in Africa because he believed there would be few Chinese there. He was a new kind of frontiersman, and I would meet many others like him. Collectively they challenged another common image about the Chinese, who were held to be a reflexively insular people who constitute self-enclosed communities wherever they go.”

From his age and from his references to “eating bitter” during the Cultural Revolution, I knew Hao to be a member of the Lost Generation, a group that included people in their late forties to early sixties who had grown up in the bygone era of the iron rice bowl, with its expectation of cradle-to-grave socialism. When China opened up and turned capitalist in the early 1980s, members of that group were too old to recover from the deprivations of the most radical period of Maoism, which had lasted from 1966 to 1976.

It was a time when higher education, and even secondary school for many, was interrupted and the country was plunged into political and social turmoil. Unlike the overwhelming majority of his age cohorts from undistinguished backgrounds, though, Hao had thrived in spite of his generation’s unlucky timing.

Turns out that Hao, whom the author met in Mozambique, was "sent down" during the Cultural Revolution and that his formal education had ended in junior high school.

I returned to the question of how he had chosen to settle in Mozambique in the first place.

“I went to an African trade fair in Fujian province and there were lots of Chinese businesspeople there,” he said. “I got excited by all the talk of business opportunities in Africa. Later, I figured my English is no good, though, so I got the idea that if I went to an English-speaking country, English being a popular language, Chinese people would be everywhere.

"Mozambique is a Portuguese-speaking country, though. This might bring me luck. I’ll be damned if I understood Portuguese, but damnit, I figured, neither do most Chinese people in general, so what the fuck? There must be great undiscovered opportunities there, and I won’t have to be constantly looking over my shoulder for other Chinese people coming to compete with me, cheat me out of my money, or steal my ideas.”

I told him I’d just been in Ethiopia, which produced a look of deep puzzlement, and that the next country I would visit was Namibia.
“What is Namibia?” he asked.

I drew him a crude map in my spiral notebook. “Ethiopia is up here,” I said, pointing to the continent’s northeastern shoulder. “Mozambique is here. And Namibia is over here. It’s on the Atlantic coast.” Hao wanted to know how far away that placed Namibia from where we were. Several hundred miles, I said. I started to fill in the map to show him some of the other countries I planned to visit. When I sketched Senegal’s position, at the continent’s furthest point west, I decided to give him a little more context and added Europe, tracing its downward slope toward Africa that culminates in the Iberian Peninsula.

“Here is Portugal,” I said, which produced another look of confusion. He asked me what Portugal was exactly. It was the colonial power that once controlled Mozambique, I told him. As he nodded, still looking uncertain, I added that it was the place where the Portuguese language came from. He knew that Mozambique had been a European colony, a zhimindi, but he had not known it had been Portugal’s colony. “I thought Portuguese came from Brazil,” he said.

I drew South America on the map for him, separated, as one would expect, by a large blank expanse for the Atlantic Ocean, and told him that Brazil, too, had been a Portuguese colony. Hao began making some connections, thinking of Macau, the tiny formerly Portuguese enclave near Hong Kong. “Son of a bitch,” he exclaimed. “You wonder how the fuck little countries like Portugal controlled so many big, faraway countries? It’s just like the way the Europeans carved up China, I suppose.”

After a pause, he asked: “Where is America?”

I sketched North America onto my crude and now crowded map, and Hao was astounded to learn that it was not of a piece with Europe, as he had always assumed.

Yah, the insights are fascinating. Most Chinese now know at least a little English language, but among some emigrants (just as among many Americans!) a grasp of global geography and the history of other nations' alliances may be pretty rudimentary. Still, it doesn't seem to prevent these enterprising adventurers from finding a niche in which to operate, particularly as itinerant merchants. They usually do end up networking with other Chinese expats from their own region of China for their re-ups and for transportation of the goods they sell.

Anyway this is usually the jumping off date for my annual exploration of what to focus on in my "deep dive" reading projects. Haven't decided yet for 2022 of course, but both China and a lot of countries in Africa are interesting to me now, because of ongoing and sometimes tumultuous changes, thanks in part to larger lower and middle class segments of their respective populations. So this book by Howard French, dealing with both regions at the intersection of commerce and investment (be it by small merchants or national treasuries) seemed like a great place to spend some time again before possibly having to flip a coin and start gathering up my 2022 "deep dive" readling list.

And yeah, no: I'm not a subscriber to the idea that "globalization is over". Not gonna happen, even if the roads get bumpy for awhile.
 

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I marvel at - and wonder at - how some eras (the Napoleonic Wars, WW1, Tudor England, for example) give rise (at the time and later) to a lot of excellent literature (both "high" literature, popular, and - indeed - fantasy works), whereas other eras are hardly touched, or appear to offer little to the world of the imagination.

Recently, I read Naomi Novik's superb Temeraire series (dragons in an alternative Napoleonic War world); that brought to mind the excellent Aubrey/Maturin series (Patrick O'Brian), Bernard Cornwell's impressive Richard Sharpe series, - both also set in the era of the Napoleonic Wars - and, of course, the original, the outstanding, Jane Austen.
 

Huntn

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The artist who created this series of covers, bravo!​


Just finished the Mistborn trilogy, 👍👍👍 and this story is epic, creative, intriguing, and exciting with a strong female character. I don’t know if using metals to produce magic is a common idea in fantasy stories or not, but if not, this author created a complete basis for a system of magic granting physical powers involving metal that are related to Gods. You have to read all 3 to get the complete story and the arc climax and resolution to the story.

Is there a movie in the works? Maybe, maybe not… this from 2015:
 

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View attachment 13520
The artist who created this series of covers, bravo!​


Just finished the Mistborn trilogy, 👍👍👍 and this story is epic, creative, intriguing, and exciting with a strong female character. I don’t know if using metals to produce magic is a common idea in fantasy stories or not, but if not, this author created a complete basis for a system of magic granting physical powers involving metal that are related to Gods. You have to read all 3 to get the complete story and the arc climax and resolution to the story.

Is there a movie in the works? Maybe, maybe not… this from 2015:
Delighted that you enjoyed it.

I must say that I also loved this series; I loved Vin (a seriously strong, female, protagonist, her arc was wonderful) and also loved her relationship with Elend and how it evolved over the course of the three books.

And Sazad just rocked (as, indeed, did TenSoon).

Moreover, the system of magic in the Mistborn trilogy was one of the best, most original, most credible (yet internally logical and narratively satisfying) that I have ever encountered in (fantasy) fiction.
 

Huntn

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Delighted that you enjoyed it.

I must say that I also loved this series; I loved Vin (a seriously strong, female, protagonist, her arc was wonderful) and also loved her relationship with Elend and how it evolved over the course of the three books.

And Sazad just rocked (as, indeed, did TenSoon).

Moreover, the system of magic in the Mistborn trilogy was one of the best, most original, most credible (yet internally logical and narratively satisfying) that I have ever encountered in (fantasy) fiction.
Re-Mistborn trilogy. It is quite impressive how each character, the protagonist at the start, the various members of Kelser’s crew, the on-going research by Sazed to reveal a lost history, the role of mists and metal, what these represent, and even how the classes of mythical creatures fit into their cohesive parts of the narrative, and especially the origin of these creatures and how mist and metal is involved from start to finish in not only their existence, but their actions, motivations, and control. And finally the revealed answer as to why this dying world is the way it is Is simply awesome. :D

If you like this genre of story, it is the best for these reasons: Besides a cohesive and compelling plot, with a bevy of interesting and likable characters, the magic wielded by mortals is not completely vague where anything goes. And although the realm of Gods and supreme but limited power is touched upon, (due to an initially unexplained status quo), instead for mortals and magic, although related to Gods, it is based on metals and is presented as a defined framework of abilities with rules and limitations. You don’t usually see this kind of effort in a story involving magic, where usually it’s power is not as well defined
 

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Re-Mistborn trilogy. It is quite impressive how each character, the protagonist at the start, the various members of Kelser’s crew, the on-going research by Sazed to reveal a lost history, the role of mists and metal, what these represent, and even how the classes of mythical creatures fit into their cohesive parts of the narrative, and especially the origin of these creatures and how mist and metal is involved from start to finish in not only their existence, but their actions, motivations, and control. And finally the revealed answer as to why this dying world is the way it is Is simply awesome. :D

If you like this genre of story, it is the best for these reasons: Besides a cohesive and compelling plot, with a bevy of interesting and likable characters, the magic wielded by mortals is not completely vague where anything goes. And although the realm of Gods and supreme but limited power is touched upon, (due to an initially unexplained status quo), instead for mortals and magic, although related to Gods, it is based on metals and is presented as a defined framework of abilities with rules and limitations. You don’t usually see this kind of effort in a story involving magic, where usually it’s power is not as well defined
Agreed.

Actually, I really liked that the system of magic (based on metals) had rules it was obliged to follow (similar to elements in the periodic table, or what one learned when studying science at school), that it had limits, (on its use, re time, potency, type of magic in question - not every metal had equal power), that it had costs (to the user as well as to the target), and that it was fully integrated into - and completely logical within - the world where it was used.
 

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Has anyone read The Bone People by Keri Hulme (it won the Booker Prize in 1985)?

Recently, I re-read it.

My (German) sister-in-law gave it as a gift to my mother in the early 1990s, - which is when I first read it (as did my mother, I recall our discussion about it - gosh, I must say that I do miss discussing and debating books with my parents, especially my mother, who was an avid reader, but, they both read extensively; growing up, I was amazed - and stunned, and disbelieving - to discover that there were houses and homes where there were no books, not on neatly shelved on shelves, not lying around, on coffee tables, or sofas, not found by beside a pillow or on a bedside locker, or, on the carpet beside a bed, and houses where nobody read anything); anyway, we both thought it an extraordinary, powerful, compelling - disturbing at times - and completely original work.
 

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Last week-end, I read the most recent book published by the almost invariably excellent Guy Gavriel Kay, an impressive writer of very well-crafted and beautifully written fantasy works: All The Seas Of The World.
 

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A Gambling Man, by Jenny Uglow about Charles II and the Restoration. Next up is Time Song: Searching for Doggerland, by Julia Blackburn. A couple of birthday books. Exquisite.
 

oldBCguy

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Wabi Sabi “wisdom in imperfection” … “beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest and mysterious” … “may be best understood as a feeling, rather than an idea”

Quotes from two books I recently purchased for my lady - a well-aged senior, and home artist / craftsperson - who encountered ‘Wabi Sabi’ via her online “research adventures”, and was seeking additional exposure to the subject.

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Two fantastic books on the subject, and she has been devouring them!!
 

Alli

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I am reading yet another series by John Ringo. When it comes to epic military space sagas, there’s no one better.
 
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Latest to be added to my to-read list:

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (just started this one--haven't started the others)

Runaway Horses by Yukio Mishima (the second in the tetralogy that marked the final works he wrote. I read Spring Snow last year and loved it).

Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World by Alec Ryrie
 

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I am reading yet another series by John Ringo. When it comes to epic military space sagas, there’s no one better.
Lois McMaster Bujold (with the brilliant Vorkosigan series) and Elizabeth Moon (the excellent Serrano-Suiza series) are both also exceptionally good on "epic military space sagas".
 
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Macky-Mac

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Runaway Horses by Yukio Mishima (the second in the tetralogy that marked the final works he wrote. I read Spring Snow last year and loved it).

Runaway Horses was probably my favorite of the four books in The Sea of Fertility tetralogy. It's worth making your way through all four, although there's a decided change in tone and outlook presented in each of them.

Have you read any of his other books?
 
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