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review 2020-02-16 22:18
Bush Runner / Mark Bourrie
Bush Runner : the Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson - Mark Bourrie

Murderer. Salesman. Pirate. Adventurer. Cannibal. Co-founder of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Known to some as the first European to explore the upper Mississippi, and widely as the namesake of ships and hotel chains, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is perhaps best described, writes Mark Bourrie, as “an eager hustler with no known scruples.” Kidnapped by Mohawk warriors at the age of fifteen, Radisson assimilated and was adopted by a powerful family, only to escape to New York City after less than a year. After being recaptured, he defected from a raiding party to the Dutch and crossed the Atlantic to Holland—thus beginning a lifetime of seized opportunities and frustrated ambitions.

A guest among First Nations communities, French fur traders, and royal courts; witness to London’s Great Plague and Great Fire; and unwitting agent of the Jesuits’ corporate espionage, Radisson double-crossed the English, French, Dutch, and his adoptive Mohawk family alike, found himself marooned by pirates in Spain, and lived through shipwreck on the reefs of Venezuela. His most lasting venture as an Artic fur trader led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which operates today, 350 years later, as North America’s oldest corporation.

 

I remember first hearing about Radisson and Groseilliers in about Grade 5, when I think they were called “explorers” or “fur traders.” I also recall my mother calling them Radishes and Gooseberries. Imagine my surprise to find that Groseilliers actually does mean gooseberries!

In many ways, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is a better and a worse man than you would expect from the few facts that I encountered in grade school. He seems to have been able to roll along with whatever situation he encountered, looking for an upside or an opportunity. He also seems to have had a natural aptitude for languages which stood him in good stead. On the poor side, he seemed to be motivated almost entirely by profit and was willing to abandon or double-cross his friends and business partners whenever it was convenient for him.

Why should we be interested in the man? As the author states in his introduction: He’s living with Indigenous people in North America. He’s with Charles II of England and his court of scoundrels, traitors, and ex-pirates. He’s in England during the Great Plague. He’s in London during the Great Fire. He’s set upon by spies. He’s in the Arctic. Then he’s with pirates in the Caribbean. After that, he’s at Versailles. And then the Arctic again. Along the way, he crosses paths with the most interesting people of his day. He’s the Forrest Gump of his time.

I can’t help but think that Radisson could have achieved a lot more if he hadn’t been quite so fixated on the fur trade. He could have lived a good life among the Iroquois or the Mohawk, but his restless nature wouldn’t let him settle. A bit of a conman, he couldn’t happily just live a normal life.

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text 2020-02-08 01:50
Reading progress update: I've read 72%.
Unspeakable: The Autobiography - John Bercow

I had more time to listen to this than I expected today and find myself glued to my phone -- this is riveting (even the bits about his early parliamentary career; and definitely his take on the role of Speaker: to be an advocate for Parliament and enable it to hold Government to account -- as well as the chapter the reforms he introduced, particularly those behind the scenes). And, of course, a large part of the pleasure is due to having Mr. Bercow read the book to me himself; he really does a stellar job.  Listening to him, even more so than as a result of his performance in the Speaker's chair (spontaneous quips and all), it is easy to imagine how he was capable of holding an audience captive from early on in his career -- if he hadn't chosen a path in politics, he'd easily also have done well in any other job requiring an ease at public performance (e.g., broadcast journalism or the stage).

 

There's less of an explicit analysis of his shift in view from the Thatcherism of his younger days to his decidedly more left-leaning present stance -- it comes across as a gradual progression in views, influenced in part (but apparently not exclusively) by his wife, a long-time member of the Labour Party.  However, while he stands by his earlier views and the manner in which he chose to express them at the time (his attitude seems to be "it was what it was and it's part of my history -- simple as that"), he doesn't shy away from characterizing his early political performance as "shrill" and in similarly unflattering terms.

 

Mostly, though, I'm loving his incisive (and insightful) analysis of the various governments, PMs, ministers, party whips, and other politicians he has witnessed in office over the course of the past 2+ decades, all the way to David Cameron

("I am reminded of the verdict of the man he worked for and considered a friend, Norman Lamont: 'Cameron was clever, but not profound.'  That is true.  In the pantheon of great leaders, the name of David Cameron will never feature.  In a list of opportunist lightweights, it will be at the top")

and Theresa May

(who "is not a bad person -- she wants the best for her country, without a clear sense of what that is: rudderless, without imagination and with few real friends at the highest level she stumbled on day to day, lacking clarity, vision, and the capacity to forge a better Britain.  In a contest as to who has been the worst Prime Minister since 1945, it is hard to choose between Anthony Eden and Theresa May"). 

Bojo and his cronies have already collected a few authorial broadsides as well, beginning with the takedown of Geoffrey Cox, Bojo himself and the prorogation diaster in the book's "Prorogue" (talk about an appropriately-titled opener) -- I have no doubt there is much more of the same to follow when we get to the actual Brexit chapter.  That said, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Bercow is singing the praises of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown -- as well as of the likes of Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin, Ken Clark, Anna Soubry, Yvette Cooper, Caroline Lucas and, interestingly, also JRM and Bill Cash (though he has little sympathy for their politics and none for their ERG / right-wing Tory cronies, particularly not Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom).  Similarly unsurprisingly, the entire clique of moneyed, entitled, public school / establishment figures within the Tory party are getting their much-deserved and well-argued kicks in the shins both individually and collectively ... he really has come a long way from his early days in the party.  Yet, he insists that he has always felt he was in a better place remaining a Tory and holding the party to account from inside, than by changing his political affiliation -- which, given how much those now calling the shots in the party have come to hate him, can't be an easy stance to take.  (No wonder they tried several times, though always unsuccessfully, to get rid of him as Speaker.)

 

I'm stopping now for the night but will probably finish this tomorrow.  Thanks to BT for yesterday's nudge!

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review 2020-01-31 18:22
If only there had been a plot...
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub - Stanisław Lem,Christine Rose

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub caught my eye simply for the novelty of the title and that bizarre cover. This book is difficult to sum up or even to rate as it truly has no discernible plot. Lest you dismiss it immediately because of this fact, let me assure you that there's much to recommend this title. The word play and circuitous path of our main character (who remains nameless) is satire at its finest. Espionage, counterespionage, and counter-counterespionage abound in The Building where our character has been given a very important Mission...if only he knew what it was. He is continually beset by obstacles in the form of bureaucrats, winding halls with nondescript doors, and instructions that keep vanishing. What would happen if humanity was forced to abandon its cities and move into an underground bunker? Would society, culture, and technology survive and continue to advance?  Lem weaves a provocative tale of paranoia, confusion, and ultimately betrayal. 5/10 but would have been higher had there been a plot to follow. 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2020-01-31 18:19
Stanislaw Lem: A Masterpost
Solaris - Stanisław Lem,Steve Cox,Joanna Kilmartin
The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age - Stanisław Lem
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub - Stanisław Lem,Christine Rose

The premise is that a scientist is sent to Solaris (a planet with a space station) only to discover that the 3 inhabitants which he was meant to meet have been reduced to two. Our main character, Kris Kelvin, arrives hoping to crack the enigma of the alien ocean which comprises the whole of the planet (and which is sentient). Once he arrives, strange and disturbing things start to happen such as resurrection of the dead into corporeal beings. Is the entity aware of its cruelty? Is it conducting an experiment on the scientists like the ones that it has been subjected to over the years? Have they actually gone mad?! The overarching message that Lem seems to be making is that humanity continually seeks out new worlds and beings only to impose their own values and agendas to further their reach. (Think colonialism of other cultures and peoples.) He likens it to religion and the search for redemption. (Sci-fi and philosophy go hand-in-hand more often than not as most lovers of the genre will know.) For me it's a 4/10 as I found myself putting it down and grabbing other things to read instead.

 

Now The Cyberiad completely got me back on board the Stanislaw Lem fan train. It was absolutely hysterical. This is a collection of short stories all about the adventures (or rather misadventures) of 2 (in)famous constructors as they make their way across the universe. (These journeys are called sallies which is a detail I adore.) Our heroes, Klapaucius and Trurl, are constantly trying to one-up each other not only with their creations but also with their status as constructors and benefactors to the cosmos. These robots are constructed for all kinds of constructive and inane reasons like storytelling, poetry, making war, etc. And the words that Lem makes up! I'm trying to think of a better word than delightful to describe my reading experience but honestly it was a treat to read a bit of this every night before bed. (If you don't laugh at the depiction of 'palefaces' i.e. humans then you have no sense of humor at all.) An absolute 10/10 for me. (And wait til you read the twist. O_O)

 

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub caught my eye simply for the novelty of the title and that bizarre cover. This book is difficult to sum up or even to rate as it truly has no discernible plot. Lest you dismiss it immediately because of this fact, let me assure you that there's much to recommend this title. The word play and circuitous path of our main character (who remains nameless) is satire at its finest. Espionage, counterespionage, and counter-counterespionage abound in The Building where our character has been given a very important Mission...if only he knew what it was. He is continually beset by obstacles in the form of bureaucrats, winding halls with nondescript doors, and instructions that keep vanishing. What would happen if humanity was forced to abandon its cities and move into an underground bunker? Would society, culture, and technology survive and continue to advance?  Lem weaves a provocative tale of paranoia, confusion, and ultimately betrayal. 5/10 but would have been higher had there been a plot to follow. 

 

What's Up Next: Exhalation by Ted Chiang

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

 

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2020-01-15 23:21
We Are the Weather / Jonathan Safran Foer
We Are the Weather - Jonathan Safran Foer

Some people reject the fact, overwhelmingly supported by scientists, that our planet is warming because of human activity. But do those of us who accept the reality of human-caused climate change truly believe it? If we did, surely we would be roused to act on what we know. Will future generations distinguish between those who didn’t believe in the science of global warming and those who said they accepted the science but failed to change their lives in response?

In We Are the Weather, Jonathan Safran Foer explores the central global dilemma of our time in a surprising, deeply personal, and urgent new way. The task of saving the planet will involve a great reckoning with ourselves—with our all-too-human reluctance to sacrifice immediate comfort for the sake of the future. We have, he reveals, turned our planet into a farm for growing animal products, and the consequences are catastrophic. Only collective action will save our home and way of life. And it all starts with what we eat—and don’t eat—for breakfast.

 

This is not a bad book--it is just not what I thought I was getting. I heard the author interviewed on CBC radio, which prompted me to put a hold on it at the public library and I had to wait for quite a while to get a hold of it. I hadn’t realized that it was mostly a memoir, detailing the author’s struggle to adhere to his own beliefs about what he could personally do about climate change.

I struggle with knowing what I can do about such a huge issue and I was hoping for advice. Most recommendations are either nebulous or on a higher level (i.e. governmental) than I am capable of influencing. This sounded like it had practical strategies.

I don’t disagree with the author, I will try to reduce my dietary impact on the environment. I just felt that he had already covered this in a previous book and that the contents of this book could have been expressed in an essay, rather than an entire hardcover book.

My disappointment is my own and your experience of the book may be entirely different. In fact, I hope your experience is entirely different.

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