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review 2018-11-19 19:46
A Fatal Inversion / Barbara Vine
A Fatal Inversion - Barbara Vine

In the long, hot summer of 1976, a group of young people is camping in Wyvis Hall. Adam, Rufus, Shiva, Vivien and Zosie hardly ask why they are there or how they are to live; they scavenge, steal and sell the family heirlooms.

 

Ten years later, the bodies of a woman and child are discovered in the Hall's animal cemetery. Which woman? And whose child?

 

Probably not the best Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell book to get started with. For me, it didn’t flow as well as I could have hoped. Plus, although I certainly don’t require likeable characters to keep me engaged, I have to care about who did what and why. I found all of the characters in this novel to be unpleasant (to say the least) and I couldn’t care much about how they ended up.

It was odd—gathering the details gradually and making assumptions about who the woman and the child found in the pet cemetery could be and how they got there. I’ve read books where I’ve known the perpetrator from the beginning, but still was intrigued by the story, but this book didn’t grab me the same way. It wasn’t until the very last pages that I found myself engaged. That’s a long time to wait.

I was reading AFI largely on my work coffee breaks. It helped to have no alternative reading available, as I found myself reluctant to pick up the book and yet anxious to get finished and move on to something more rewarding. Truly, cognitive dissonance.

Perhaps I was just in the wrong mood for this mystery—I’m a bit off of mysteries right now, I think perhaps I’ve read a few too many of them in the last while. But it was one of the books that I chose for my 2018 reading list and so I forged ahead with it. Your mileage may vary.

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text 2018-10-23 17:37
Reading progress update: I've read 221 out of 317 pages.
A Fatal Inversion - Barbara Vine

 

All of these people, but especially Adam and Rufous, are horrible!

 

 

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review 2018-01-16 19:49
In the Land of Invented Languages / Arika Okrent
In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language - Arika Okrent

Here is the captivating story of humankind’s enduring quest to build a better language—and overcome the curse of Babel. Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon. But few people have heard of Babm, Blissymbolics, Loglan (not to be confused with Lojban), and the nearly nine hundred other invented languages that represent the hard work, high hopes, and full-blown delusions of so many misguided souls over the centuries. With intelligence and humor, Arika Okrent has written a truly original and enlightening book for all word freaks, grammar geeks, and plain old language lovers.

 

  I think I would really enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee and a discussion with this author! She is a linguist and linguistics is a favourite subject of mine. She knows a thing or two about the Library of Congress classification schedules too (or at least the P section of them, linguistics & languages), which appeals to my inner cataloguing nerd. Plus, she is just interested in words and their history and in the psychology of people who strive to build better languages.

I was absolutely gobsmacked at how many artificial languages are lurking out there and how often that particular bee seems to get into someone’s bonnet! Mostly, the creators seems to be altruists—Esperanto was going to be the language that allowed us all to understand one another and prevent future wars. Many of these language developers were hoping to express “pure” concepts and keep prejudice and politics out of things. Unfortunately for them, language just doesn’t work that way! One of the best uses of language is politicking! Also unfortunate is the tendency of these men (and I think we can say that it’s mostly men who attempt this) to be unable to let go and let their languages run free, to change during regular use. Their rigid attempts to control the people using their languages seemed to negate any positive uses for their creations.

I was amused as the author’s type-A, gung-ho attempt to learn Klingon. If I had been at that particular conference, I would have been right at her side competing to my heart’s content! I loved that in her author note at the end of the volume, she listed both PhDs and her Klingon 1st level pin as her accomplishments.

What I found a bit freaky: I returned to work on Monday (having read the book on the weekend) and the very first volume that I picked up to catalogue was written in Esperanto! (I’ve been working on a big collection of materials by and about H.G. Wells and am busy with translations right now.) That little piece of synchronicity was amusing.

 

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review 2017-12-18 22:15
Among Penguins / Noah Strycker
Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica - Noah Strycker

The year he graduated from college, 22-year-old Noah Strycker was dropped by helicopter in a remote Antarctic field camp with two bird scientists and a three months’ supply of frozen food. His subjects: more than a quarter million penguins.

Compact, industrious, and approachable, the Adélie Penguins who call Antarctica home visit their breeding grounds each Antarctic summer to nest and rear their young before returning to sea. Because of long-term studies, scientists may know more about how these penguins will adjust to climate change than about any other creature in the world.

Bird scientists like Noah are less well known. Like the intrepid early explorers of Antarctica, modern scientists drawn to the frozen continent face an utterly inhospitable landscape, one that inspires, isolates, and punishes.

 

  If you have enjoyed Ron Naveen’s Waiting to Fly or Gavin Francis’ Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins, you will likely also enjoy this book. In many ways, Among Penguins is like an update of Naveen’s work, documenting just how far research in Antarctica has come in 20 years. I also found the book somewhat reminiscent of Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder.

Like Kaufman, Strycker is a young man obsessed with birds. Unlike Kaufman, he chooses to find research positions to facilitate his quest for a larger, more exotic life list (a list of all the species of birds that one has seen during one’s life, for those who are not members of the birding cult). Although Strycker isn’t sleeping in ditches or hitch-hiking his way to his next birding destination, he does still endure some hardships during his Antarctic sojourn—his tent is destroyed in hurricane force winds, his boots (when outfitted with crampons) wound his ankles, he is unable to shower for 3 months. Nevertheless, he seems a cheerful and willing researcher, completely under the spell of the penguin.

There is a fair bit of interesting penguin info in this slim volume and some insights into the research process, but there is also an awful lot about Noah Stryker! If you are looking for penguin facts and statistics, this may not be the best reference for you. However, if you are interested in the lives of researchers in far flung parts of the planet, it will scratch that itch.

Stryker’s tale also convinces me that biological field work is not for me! In my life, roughing it is a cheap motel and my knees long ago betrayed me, making me far too unstable on my feet for the type of terrain that he takes in stride. However, I can admire and enjoy his hard work and tenacity.

On the main point, I agree fully with the author: there is absolutely nothing like watching a wild penguin go about its business! I have spent many happy hours doing just that and hope to still clock a few more before I’m physically forced to give up such pursuits.

 

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review 2017-12-18 22:13
The Green Man / Kingsley Amis
The Green Man - Kingsley Amis

A ghost story for adults. Like all good coaching inns, the Green Man is said to boast a resident ghost: Dr Thomas Underhill, a notorious seventeenth-century practitioner of black arts and sexual deviancy, rumoured to have killed his wife. However, the landlord, Maurice Allington, is the solewitness to the renaissance of the malevolent Underhill. Led by an anxious desire to vindicate his sanity, Allington strives to uncover the key to Underhill's satanic powers. All the while, the skeletons in the cupboard of Allington's own domestic affairs rattle to get out too.

 

Maurice Allington is not the kind of guy you want to get mixed up with—he may be the well-known proprietor of the inn The Green Man, but he drinks far too much, ignores his wife and daughter, and spends his free time propositioning his friend’s wife. When he starts seeing things around the inn, we have to wonder if his drinking has finally addled his wits, for Maurice certainly doesn’t believe in the ghosts that he advertises to lure guests.

I remember a TV show based on this book, which I skipped based on how much the ads for it disturbed my peace of mind. Maybe I should have watched, because the book didn’t bother me a bit! I found Maurice to be completely unreliable as a narrator of his own experience—too alcohol impaired to be trusted—and since no one else shares in his visions/delusions, I was able to control my imaginative faculties and remain calm. As Maurice reflects a one point, “I thought to myself how much more welcome a faculty the imagination would be if we could tell when it was at work and when not.” But mine doesn’t work that way—it is often overactive when I would like it to mind its own business.

A good ghost story for people who normally don’t care for them.

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