Tuesday, April 28, 2015

New post series: Which is better?

I came up with this idea when I chose to read the "John Carter of Mars" series when I remembered that I watched the movie with BAE a year or two ago when they were trying to make Tim Riggins a big star.

Poor Tim Riggins. So cute and endearing but... maybe not so much a huge action star. If it was a better everything, I would have supported him as Gambit. But alas, that movie was such a disappointment...


Right now, I am posting 2 reviews a week on books. I am an avid reader, but eventually, I think the posts are going to catch up with me. To even out my reviews, I am going to write reviews on books that have been made into movies (and there are a lot of them out there). I am also going to answer the question, which is better, the book or the movie?

Some of them will be no brainers, but I suspect that there will be some hot takes!

What movies and/or books should I start with? Comment below!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Princess of Mars by Edger Rice Burroughs

So I originally watched "John Carter of Mars" starring Tim Riggins first, which is the only way I knew to pick up the series at Barnes and Nobles. The first book is titled, "Princess of Mars" and it is the first installment of the series "John Carter of Mars" by E.R.B. Apparently this is part of the pulp fiction movement in the 1960s.

John Carter is a confederate soldier, who after the war, ventured to Arizona to mine for gold. His associate travels back to the town to get supplies, but when John watches him leave, he notices other "spots" in the distance where his partner is traveling too. At first he leaves it be, but his guts propels him to go after his associate. He finds his associate dead and himself surrounded by Apache Indians. He runs away, finds a cave and hides.

Something, like an invisible force, comes over him and he is transported to Mars, or as the Green and Red men of Mars call it, Barsoom. It is a dying planet (mysterious machines provides the atmosphere), and Green men and Red men are all at war with each other.

John discovers that he can jump higher and hit harder due to the gravity on Mars, or, I'm sorry, on Barsoom. The Green men find him in an incubator full of just hatched Green babies, and takes him back to the Tharks.

Carter quickly rises from a prisoner to a chieftain after he demonstrates his prowess to the horde of Green men. He kills a few Green men, and he earns "metal" and titles. However, things abruptly changes when the Tharks shoot down the ships of Helium, and they capture the Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris.

John Carter falls into, what do my students call it? A thirst trap. Dejah is also thirsty for Mr. Carter.

Ah, after looking up "thirst trap" in urban dictionary, I don't think I used "thirst trap" correctly. Ah well. Let's just say they are both single and ready to mingle. More action, more running around, and finally, every one ends up with their happy ending... until Edger Rice Burroughs realized that he should write more "Of Mars" books and get more money.

The first book in the John Carter of Mars series isn't the worst thing I ever read. One can definitely tell it was written in the 1960s, because there is some racist shit in there (where, you know, as of now, it's just subliminal racism so that white people can't pick up on it). First of all, John Carter is a confederate soldier. I wouldn't be so alarmed by this fact except Burroughs also threw in there that he was a Virginia Gentleman and that when he went to visit his relatives, everyone adored him and the slaves worshipped him. 

Uh, what? He doesn't go that far to say that Carter owned slaves himself, but having slaves worship the guy as an example to show how awesome he is some racist shit.

THEN, when Carter is in the desert, Burroughs proceeds to characterized the Indians as "Braves" and to also revisit how violent they all were. When Carter escapes up the mountain into the cave, the Native Americans followed him. John Carter is held still on the ground by an invisible entity, and when the Natives venture into the cave, something scares them off.

Now, it could have been a huge scary monster and it would be natural for anyone to run away, but... Burroughs described it as some dumb brown person who wasn't brave enough to seek what was in the cave. Some more racist shit.

There is some sexist shit in that book too. There are two prominent women in the book: Sola and Dejah. Dejah is legit naked when John first meets her, except for the metal she is wearing covering her naughty bits. Sola, who grows up in a different way than the rest of the Tharks and is an outcast, is meek and loyal. Dejah and Sola need to be commanded for much of the book, and every time one of them makes a decision that is apart from John, John has to save them.

Finally, John Carter of Mars is the white motherfucking savior of both the Green and Red men of Barsoom. He teaches the Green men new fighting skills, how to tame animals (yes, really) and above all, about friendship (you read that right).

He ends the war between Red and Green men, and he gets the Princess in the end and becomes a Prince. He is highly regarded and in every scenario he is in, he figures a way out and saves the day.

I was bothered by the blatant racism, sexism and white male savior parts of the book. I did buy the entire series (don't worry, for a small price), so I will chug on to read the rest of the novels. I would invent a drinking game with how many racist things Burroughs wedges in there and how many times Carter bestows his superior whiteness over all others, but I'll be stinking drunk every night I read before going to bed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Stiff by Mary Roach

The cover art for this book are feet tagged. I've seen enough Law and Order to know what that means. Side note, I had a friend in high school whose last name was Roach. Now she's married and has a different last name. 

This book is allllll about dead bodies/cadavers. What we do with them and the history of cadavers. I'm not sure if anyone else does this, but since my job is very rough right now, I have been playing this game more and more lately: Alternative careers to teaching. The idea of a mortician definitely entered my mind. I mean, humans have strong ties to funerals and people will always die. People are always going to need morticians and funeral directors. However, there is a website titled "Onet" for students in high school (and anyone really) that shows the skills, interests and outlooks for jobs. Mortician, apparently, and funeral directors, do not have a bright outlook for jobs in the future. That idea is trashed, not to mention that I'm quite sure biology, and lots of it is involved. I have went down the biological science route twice and ran the other way. I have to keep on dreaming... 

However, I remember reading an article about an ecological funeral and how either the ashes or the coffin transforms into a tree. That would be baller--a cemetery forrest. Tiny plaques with the person's name on it and it's a tree. Way better than the cemeteries we have now. 

So, Stiff.  This books makes you think a lot about death, and dying, and whether your body should be donated to science... and how could families just refuse organ donation. I would like to make an obligatory joke here about how one shouldn't donate my pancreas, but that would make any sense. If you're pancreas doesn't work, you just inject insulin. So even my autoimmune disease doesn't even lend itself to a good organ donation joke. 

Roach discusses how much it makes sense that automobile testers would use cadavers to crash test their cars and even an eye opening chapter on experiments of the religious nature on the Shroud of Turin. Say, whaaa? 

Would I purchase this book to read? Probably not. I found this book in the school book closet and I figured, why the heck not? Initially I thought this book is not in my normal repetoire but I have come to think that I just choose weird books to read. This book is also good to read right before going to bed, because I fought to stay awake while reading this book. Dawn by Octavia Butler however.... 

Roach's research takes her to interesting places and that includes cannibalism and the crucifixion. The cannibalism chapter is not what you think; she doesn't dive into Hannibal Lector wannabes. Crucifixion freaks me out, which I correlate directly to evangelical youth groups that not only harped on the idea that JESUS DIED FOR OUR SINS, but to also DESCRIBE AND WATCH THE HORRIBLENESS THAT IS CRUCIFIXION EVERY CHANCE THEY GOT. There is a scene on Vikings where a character is crucified. They even had a first person shot. Wigged. Me. Out. 

Finally, this book also made me super glad to have 21st century medical care. I would not want to be a person who is sick and goes to a doctor who wants to try new surgeries. Geez, anyone could have been a doctor back then. The thought is scary. However, in my game of "Alternative Careers to Teaching and If I lived in another Time Period," I would tots be a body snatcher. Apparently you get paid the big bucks. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Current Book Stack

Here is my literal book stack. I referred to a "book stack" in other posts, but I didn't really have one until I started this blog. I knew I purchased a lot of books, but I was placing them all over my house and even started forgetting which books I hadn't read yet! So now, I actually have a book stack on one shelf in my den. 

They aren't in any particular order, though John Carter of Mars is the next series that I will start. Barnes and Noble, though over price, sometimes have gems. John Carter and the HP Lovecraft book further down the stack were series of books I picked up there for $8.00 a piece. $8.00 for 10 books! Say, what?! I got a similar deal quite a few years ago with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. It was a completed series for the same price. Good deal if I say so myself. 

I don't think I will read John Carter straight through. I will probably space them out with other books in between. I mean, it's not guaranteed though. What if I really like the series? I do have a habit of binge reading the same author. 

Have any of you read any of the books pictured above? What are your opinions of them? Have any books or authors that you would like to recommend? Comment below! 

This is Beans, our newest cat. I have been trying to take pictures of the energetic kitten for a few weeks now but he just won't stay still! However, as soon as I put the books down on my dining room table, here comes Beans, ready to pose! What a scumbag! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Thank goodness for the book closet of Independence School Local 1. I have borrowed so many books that otherwise I wouldn't have read. 

The Old Man and the Sea is one of those books. When I was first year teacher, one of the science teachers I worked with selected this book to read with his advisory. At first it was a desperate solution to the broken down air conditioner in the room (yaaaay Baltimore City), but then the students continued to read the book. When the teacher told me they finished, he said they got into the book. Now, that teacher has a Ph.D in Chemistry and spoke fluent Spanish. He was wicked smart but on another planet, "I can't relate to normal people" smart. Would this recommendation be solid? 

It is a classic, but I never had to read this book when I was in high school. Before reading, I wondered why. It would tie into Latin American culture and it was a novella. It was by a famous author. 

After reading it, I can totally see why English teachers didn't choose this book, or rather, why the curriculum veered from it. It's kind of, sort of... 

ALRIGHT, I'LL SAY IT. IT'S PRETTY BORING. IT'S LITERALLY ABOUT AN OLD MAN, AND THE SEA. I probably should have taken Dr. Young's recommendation with a grain of salt. 

So, in the book, There is also an apprentice who is forbidden to fish with him because the old man has not caught a fish for a long while. One day, the old man decides to travel out further than he normally does to catch a fish. 

And oh man, he catches the biggest fish of all. The big fish is apparently a legend, and the old man and the fish lock horns to see who has the biggest dick of all. The Old man holds the line for like, a week, it seems, and finally, he is able to kill the fish. 

It doesn't stop there. The sharks smell the blood and go after the fish who is strapped to the boat. I guess I don't know anything about fishing, but wouldn't it make sense to just pull the fish into the boat? Is the fish that big that the boat would sink? 

Sadly, the dirty moochers eat the entire fish before the old man could make it back. He comes back to his sleepy town exhausted and his apprentice takes him to bed. The town admires the skeleton that was once the big fish. 

As I perused some reviews of the book, big claims were made like allegories of the evils of capitalism (or is it good?) and themes like death and dying and the race against time. Whereas I cannot see the allegory, I can see the theme of "racing against time." 

I was going argue why that would be a good theme towards the book. HOWEVER, it's quite possible that we should take this book literally. 

HEAR ME OUT. (Stop screaming at your computer.) 

What if it's simply a story about the old man and the sea and... that's it? Hemingway simply chose an old man for the protagonist because he likes to mix it up a little? What if he wrote the sad ending because he felt gloomy? 

Upon further searching, I found this quote!

"There isn't any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The shark are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know." 

-Ernest Hemingway

I knew it! 

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

So like Anthem, I chose to read The Pearl by John Steinbeck because it was a novella and I thought it would be a simple book to teach word choice, diction and style. Of Mice and Men is a staple in English curriculum in Maryland and I figured that The Pearl would be on the same level as Of Mice and Men. I also chose it because of its indigenous Latin American people and I thought it would relate nicely to Spanish that 9th graders are taking this year.

The book is about a man, named Kino and his family. They live on meager substance and Kino, like his father before him, is a pearl diver. The dark skinned people are kept poor and uneducated, a fact that is personified when Kino finds the most perfect pearl when he goes fishing. The pearl incites much attention from the village, and Kino dreams of a good life for his family and for his son. However, the white people in the area are hell bent on abusing Kino's naivety and aim to take the Pearl from Kino every chance they get. 

There is one catch, however, the pearl has made Kino very greedy, untrustworthy and impulsive. He knows what the white people, like the doctor and the merchants are trying to do, and he goes to great lengths to make sure that the pearl yields good results for him and his family. Which is noble, but it all goes horribly wrong. 

To put it bluntly, the book is kind of boring. The story itself is not boring, but Steinbeck writes in a very straight forward manner, which doesn't lend itself to much imagination. The Pearl is a fable and for me at least, I would like my fables to be full of colorful language and interesting prose. Steinbeck describes the songs that Kino's people sing and refer too, but there was nothing about the songs that stood out. I couldn't even tell you what they sounded like. I know Steinbeck actively chose to write this way due to the nature of how Kino's people interacted with each other (I think the same sort of straightforwardness) but... I didn't enjoy it. 

Good lessons but bad set up. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

I read Blink a few years ago and enjoyed it. I normally am not into nonfiction books, but Malcolm Gladwell does a good job of presenting his research in a easily readable way. I acquired The Tipping Point from a teacher who is going to retire at the end of the school year. He has lots of books in his classroom he is trying to give away, and The Tipping Point was one of them.

Side note. His classroom is a mix between Narnia for history geeks and a mad scientist's laboratory. I'm also quite sure there is a family of racoons living in that room. Maybe even a student...

Back to the book. Now, do I know that Gladwell's theories are true? Heck no! I have no idea if his theories are true and if I wanted to read a scientific journal, I would be more concerned with the research presented to actually prove his points. But the last thing I want to do in my free time is read scientific journals.

As I read up on how other people felt about the book, the major criticism was that Gladwell's book ties loosely together. This book came out an article he wrote, and there are some that feels that it should have remained an article. Now, Gladwell, I think is first a writer and a storyteller. His major aim to appeal to the masses and write something that is easily understood.

Now, do I remember everything from the book? No. Do I even remember each trend he refers to in order to prove the theory of The Tipping Point? (See what I did there?) No. But I enjoyed reading it and I feel smarter after reading it. So as long as my ego is soothed, then everything is A-OK.

So on with the book. The Tipping Point is about how an idea becomes a trend. He analyzes the way an idea becomes a trend and then looks the sort of people that carry the idea into a well known trend. He discusses the "stickiness factor" and looks at the following people that the idea "sticks" too: The mavens, connectors and salespeople. He looks at hushpuppies, the midnight ride of Paul Revere and television among other trends that occurred. It was interesting to read about the children's television and the shift between Sesame Street and Blue's Clues. There is also a chapter on The Tipping Point of The NYC subways and how the smaller actions lent itself to the drastic change of the subways.

If I acquire another Gladwell book, I will happily read it. I find him easy to understand and an enjoyable read.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Red Queen By Philippa Gregory

This is the companion book to The White Queen, a book that I practically stumbled upon a few years ago when I bought a few things at Mina's on the avenue. They offered a free book with every purchase. For the most part, I found the book selection to be lacking, but this time around, I found The White Queen by Philippa Gregory and enjoyed it immensely.
When I went to Ohio, my friend Abbe took us to The Book Loft, a crazy book store in the German Village that had 32 rooms full of books. I was disappointed in the prices of Octavia Butler's books (though no doubt I would have bought them if I lived in the area) and went on my merry way. Philippa Gregory's books resided on a shelf down a long hallway, and The Red Queen caught my eye. It was on super sale for $6.00. DONE. 
Margaret Beaufort, a Lancaster lady and the closest to royal title, is the polar opposite of Elizabeth Woodville, who is the star of The White Queen. Margie (imma call her Margie), throughout her whole life is convinced that God speaks to her and even fancies herself as a English Joan of Arc. She prays on the reg and believes so strongly that God wants her line to succeed.
But let me back up. Margie, at the age of 14, marries Edmund Tudor. This strengthens any future children's claim to the throne. She and Edmund, who is 15 years her senior, do their duty, and about a year later, she gives birth to Henry (Henry the VII). 
You do feel sorry for her in the beginning. She desperately wants to go to convent, pray and study, but her family will not allow it. They call her to be a "brood mare" for the house of Lancaster, something she bitterly hates. Even when she gives birth to her son at the tender age of 15, her mother declares that if it was a choice between the mother and the son, save the son. I think this moment turned Margie Beaufort into hardened lady because really, what else is there to become? 
However, the War of the Roses fucks everything up. The York sons kick the Mad King to the curb and George obtains the throne with Woodville at his side. Margie is pissed, to say the least, and much of the book is her griping about how everyone else has what she deserves. The house of York messes with Margie Beaufort's shit for most of the book. 
Margie, through the book is insanely jealous of Elizabeth Woodville and despite eventually aligning her house with hers, she is not above throwing shade and making alliances to overthrow the house of York. Even though her dreams of becoming a nun are dashed, she still rides the "Yo. God talks to only me and he says Lancasters are here to stay," sort of vibe.
Oh, and she is desperately in love with Jasper Tudor, her first husband's brother. Buuuuut like how all important people are, he loves her from afar and they can never be together. She goes on to have 2 more loveless marriages and she even serves as a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth Woodville. She's a conniving bitch and I love her. She is victorious in the end. Huzzah!
It was cool to read the companion book years later. I remember some of The White Queen, and it makes me want to read it again. No, there is no sarcasm there. I just, you know, have other books to read first.
Oh apparently there are a whole bunch of issues with Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor's relationship. Apparently it's not based on truth? Well, I can't blame my home girl Philly for artistic license. She has to make money somehow. I guess I'll have to find out when I acquire The White Princess.