Monday, February 28, 2022

February 2022

  Had a good second month of 2022.

So here are the February reads:

  • Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum. Great book. Read this with Audible. Scary what Stalin and his cronies did to their own people. And to other people. Twice a mention of the Esperantists thrown into the gulag to die. Based on this one, I'll probably read more from her. 
  • Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory, by Martha Wells. A Murderbot short story, and yes, I'm going to count it. Fills in from where Murderbot saves a team that he ends up liking and to when he disappears. Next up: Network Effect. Will probably read that one in March.
  • Embassytown, by China Mieville. Another great one by this master of world building. I hope he's got more Embassytown in the future. Loved the characters and his idea of what constitutes an ambassador. 
  • Who Killed Homer? by Victor Davis Hanson, et al. Read this in the '90s. Reread it with Audible. Still great. Expect to see many classics in my reading future!
  • The Good Soldier, by Ford Maddox Ford. Wasn't what I thought it would be. Quite good, but strangely written. 
  • Frankenstein, by (the genius) Mary Shelley. Picked by my wife for our family book club based on our youngest having to read it for her freshman English class in university. I love this book. So unlike any of the movies. 
  • The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy. Had no idea till the end this was a true story. Movie pales in comparison. This is one helluva book. 
And here are my purchases for February:

  • Carry On, Jeeves, by PG Wodehouse. This'll be the March read for the PG Wodehouse Book Club on FB. Collector's Wodehouse version. 
  • Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. This book is on my 50 Classics list, and look at that! It showed up as a Kindle deal for two bucks!
  • Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson. Read the trilogy decades ago and loved it. We already have Green Mars in our Kindle. Couldn't pass this up for two bucks.
  • Pandora's Star, by Peter Hamilton. Heard he's a great author, so why not? Again, two bucks.
  • The Classical World, by Robin Lane Fox. You had to expect this after my reading of Who Killed Homer.
  • Napoleon's Symphony, by Anthony Burgess. Can you pass up a Burgess novel for, you guessed it, two bucks?!
  • The Omen, by David Seltzer. See the pattern yet? Two dollars!
  • Frankenstein, by Shelley. Hey, look at that?! A book I bought and read in the same month!
  • The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Heard he (she?) was good. Three dollars!
  • Greene on Capri, by Hazzard. Nice little bio on Graham Greene. Hardback with good dj. 
  • Something Light, by Margery Sharp. Read a great review of Margery Sharp so thought I'd try one of hers. 
  • Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh. I've got a permanent search in Abebooks for 1st ed. Waugh books, from Chapman in London. This one came up for 20 clams and I couldn't resist. Pretty good dj. Added to the collection. (This is his best work, best comedic work. Read it, dear reader!)
Not so bad, seven books read. And practically done with Rabbit, Run; maybe 50 pages left. 

Language-wise, I did my Russian DLPT and OPI, earning a 3/3 and 2+ OPI again. I've gone back to the Middle Egyptian course I started back in November. I'm catching up to the class, since I stopped submitting homework in December. I've caught up so far to around the first week of February. A couple more exercises then some reading and I should be with the class again. 

Also reading/listening Esperanto. I've got the advanced class coming up first week of July. So slowly getting back up to snuff in the language. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy

 Great book! Yes, I'm military. Yes, I like military books. This is different. This is about a horrible school that people to choose to attend, and then are proud of attending. I had a boss who was so Citadel he installed an image of it above the door to his office and he tapped it (with his ring, of course). He was so Citadel that the Air Force wasn't tough enough for him so he left the Air Force and went Army!

For those not in the know, the Citadel is one of six Senior Military Colleges in America. These are not the service academies. These are colleges with special status in U.S. legal code. In order to be a SMC, the school must have a Corps of Cadets. This is different from ROTC. Every student in the Corps of Cadets are required to wear military uniform, be physically fit, and be subject to military discipline. Additionally, cadets at SMC do not have to commission into the service upon completion of their four years. Finally, unlike other ROTC programs throughout the U.S., if there is a full or total mobilization of forces, the services are prohibited from closing or reducing personnel at SMCs. Second finally, all graduates of a SMC who desire a commission are guaranteed an active duty commission. 

That's a big deal. There are folks out there who went through four years of ROTC at another school and at the end of their academic career, turns out the services were full, so these cadets couldn't get a commission or were pushed to the Reserves or Guard. 

For those interested, the six SMCs in the U.S. are: University of North Georgia; Norwich University; Texas A&M; The Citadel; Virginia Military Institute; and Virginia Tech. 

And there is The Citadel. In The Lords of Discipline, "the Institute" is The Citadel. I read through this book not knowing it was a true story. Until I got to the end (a particular line by the narrator) and read the author's speech to the graduating class of 2001 from The Citadel. 

I don't want to provide you any spoilers. It's just too good of a book. If you haven't seen the movie, good. It won't reveal anything. If you have, and it's been a while, you're still good. Frankly, all I could remember from the movie were the actors who played three of the characters. And a tiny bit of the story. So the book was still very suspenseful. I will read more from this author, probably The Great Santini next. 

Next up, watching the movie. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Another year, another Russian test done

 This week was full of Russian testing. I took the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) on Tuesday afternoon; results pending, but praying I didn't blow it down my leg. Wednesday and Thursday mornings were the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) listening and reading, respectively. I got a 3/3 on them, the highest you can get on the lower range DLPT. I got that last year, too, while I was deployed to Africa. Frankly, I thought it was a fluke, so getting those scores again made me feel better about my proficiency. 

Then I thought: why not take the upper range reading? So that's what I did today. First off, dear reader(s), you must know that you have to have scored a 3 on the lower range before you can take the upper, as the upper only tests you from 3 to 4. For a review of what those scores mean:

R-3:  Reading 3 (General Professional Proficiency) Able to read within a normal range of speed and with almost complete comprehension a variety of authentic prose material on unfamiliar subjects. Reading ability is not dependent on subject matter knowledge, although it is not expected that the individual can comprehend thoroughly subject matter which is highly dependent on cultural knowledge or which is outside his/her general experience and not accompanied by explanation. Text-types include news stories similar to wire service reports or international news items in major periodicals, routine correspondence, general reports, and technical material in his/her professional field; all of these may include hypothesis, argumentation and supported opinions. Misreading rare. Almost always able to interpret material correctly, relate ideas and "read between the lines," (that is, understand the writers' implicit intents in text of the above types). Can get the gist of more sophisticated texts, but may be unable to detect or understand subtlety and nuance. Rarely has to pause over or reread general vocabulary. However, may experience some difficulty with unusually complex structure and low frequency idioms.

R-3+:  Reading 3+ (General Professional Proficiency, Plus) Can comprehend a variety of styles and forms pertinent to professional needs. Rarely misinterprets such texts or rarely experiences difficulty relating ideas or making inferences. Able to comprehend many sociolinguistic and cultural references. However, may miss some nuances and subtleties. Able to comprehend a considerable range of intentionally complex structures, low frequency idioms, and uncommon connotative intentions, however, accuracy is not complete. The individual is typically able to read with facility, understand, and appreciate contemporary expository, technical or literary texts which do not rely heavily on slang and unusual items.

R-4:  Reading 4 (Advanced Professional Proficiency) Able to read fluently and accurately all styles and forms of the language pertinent to professional needs. The individual's experience with the written language is extensive enough that he/she is able to relate inferences in the text to real-world knowledge and understand almost all sociolinguistic and cultural references. Able to "read beyond the lines" (that is, to understand the full ramifications of texts as they are situated in the wider cultural, political, or social environment). Able to read and understand the intent of writers' use of nuance and subtlety. The individual can discern relationships among sophisticated written materials in the context of broad experience. Can follow unpredictable turns of thought readily in, for example, editorial, conjectural, and literary texts in any subject matter area directed to the general reader. Can read essentially all materials in his/her special field, including official and professional documents and correspondence. Recognizes all professionally relevant vocabulary known to the educated non-professional native, although may have some difficulty with slang. Can read reasonably legible handwriting without difficulty. Accuracy is often nearly that of a well-educated native reader.

So...pretty hard! I'm happy with the 3s in reading and listening. Especially two years in a row. But why not try for a 3+? I had been reading a lot.

The lower range Russian reading DLPT is, IIRC, 38 or so passages and 60-ish total questions. You have 3 hours to finish it. Had no idea how the upper range was set up, but now I do: 13 passages and around 38 questions. And the same 180 minutes to finish it. And wow, certainly started out hard: it took me an hour to do the first 4 passages! 

I finished all of the passages, but I was quite lost near the end. I won't get into the specifics as I shouldn't, but if I try this again next year, I'll be reading harder and harder stuff in preparation.

Oh, I guess I should let you know what I got. You can miss every single question in the upper range and you get a 3. Because, of course, you already got a 3 in the lower range test. Let's just say I recertified my 3 today. 

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

 Unlike almost all movies I've seen. Not that big a fan of 19c lit, but this story is good. Especially considering the age of the author when she wrote it. Wowsa.

Spoilers follow:

My goodness. How did Frankenstein not see that coming? We all knew the Monster meant Elizabeth. Good God, man, wake up! You shudda made the bride for him. 

Spoilers end.

Read this on Audible, which was great. The narrator was Dan Stevens and damn he was great. Managed different accents, his Irish was especially good. 

We read this as my wife's choice in the family book club, based on our youngest reading it in her freshman English lit class. We all liked it. Now we have to (force our youngest to) watch Young Frankenstein!

Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Good Soldier

 This was my first Ford Maddox Ford. I have Parade's End on my 5-year classics list. This one was...interesting. 

Was he a good soldier? Not too sure. But is adultery okay if your spouse isn't "into" the marriage act? If the marriage was pre-arranged? And if the wife wasn't all that against it? I don't know. But what is it about Brits that there are constantly affairs? You can't watch a Midsomer Murder episode with, yes, a murder, but also a married couple breaking the vows?

FMF sure could describe characters. Probably the best descriptions I'd ever read in a book. Do I like this book? Meh! I'll still read, or start to read, Parade's End

Friday, February 11, 2022

Who Killed Homer

 I read Who Killed Homer years ago after it came out in the 1990s, and I still love it. When I was a youth, back in the days when colleges would print up catalogs and supply them to high school seniors and juniors simply for the asking, I'd go through notebooks filling them with 4-year plans based on different majors. My one requirement before I grabbed any college's dead-tree catalog was, Does this school have a Classics Department?

My father squashed my dream of majoring in Classics with 'Yes, I see job ads in the classifieds all the time for Classics majors.' Well, as it turned out he had nothing to hold over me with respect to what I studied in college, seeing how he was out of work the year I went and could offer me no financial support. Even more final, I proved in my first, glorious semester of college that I wasn't ready. (You have to work hard to earn a 1.43 GPA while on an academic scholarship.)

As an adult, especially in the last 20 years, classics have shown up more and more in my reading. And in my language study (I toyed with Wheelock's Latin for a few months years much fun). Euripides, Aristophanes, love them all. The Iliad, read over a decade ago, enthralled me. Even more surprising, a retelling, full of anachronisms, by the genius Christopher Logue (War Music) was so incredibly moving and readable that I am pulled in its direction again, despite only reading it for the first (and only) time in August of last year. 

Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath, God bless 'em, were somewhat hopeful way back in the mid-90s. I think for nought. I don't think Classics Departments are thriving now and except for possibly Hillsdale, their plan for a proper university has not come to fruition. 

Next up sometime in the next month or so, Bonfire of the Humanities...because why not. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Reading Randomizer -- February 2022

 February is well upon us and I almost forgot my two books for the Reading Randomizer. I pulled The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian. February will include a classic too as my wife picked Frankenstein for the family book club. 

Right now I'm reading Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier, which is incredible. The man can write; his descriptions are the most detailed and best written I've ever read. Simply wow.

I'm also re-reading Who Killed Homer? I read it decades ago and loved it. Still do. Reading this on Audible. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

January 2022

 Had a good first month of 2022.

So here are the January reads:

  • Rogue Protocol, by Martha Wells. Yep, kept up Murderbot. 
  • Three Novels, by Nina Berberova. Can't remember who reviewed this (Neglected Books, maybe?) but it sounded great so bought it. Great cover, too. The three novels are really novellas. I think my favorite was The Resurrection of Mozart.
  • Slaughterhouse-5, by Kurt Vonnegut. Out-freaking-standing. Will watch the film, someday. But the clips I saw...boy oh boy, so '70s.
  • Exit Strategy, by M. Wells. Murderbot continued.
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk. I started to get annoyed at it and then the ending. Really good book.
  • The Gallery, by John Horne Burns. Can't decide if I like this one or one of two others this month. This one is in my favorite genre of war novels. This one is unique and wonderful.
  • Campusland, by Scott Johnston. Great satire on our current state of universities. I unfortunately have experience, through two of my kids, with at least two of the situations that Johnston brings up in this book.
  • Ten Years in a Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books, by Nick Hornby. This one took me a while, but because I'd just read a few of his articles every few days.
  • Player Piano, by K. Vonnegut. Strange. His first novel (?). One of the best scenes which explains today.
  • Peter Pan, by J.M Barrie. Why did I wait this long to read this great book?
  • The Falcon and the Snowman, by Robert Lindsey. Crazy story. Surprised me when I realized near the end that the story was real!
Speaking of Murderbot, yes, I'm planning on reading more. But when I finished #4 I learned that there is a #4.5, a short story written by Wells. And I've had it on a library hold for weeks, but it just came in a few days ago. It's only 19 pages long, but you'll be damn sure I'm going to count it. ;)

Now, for the January buys:

  • The Children of Men, by PD James. Read this decades ago and loved it. Looking forward to reading it again.
  • Whiteout, by Ragnar Jonasson. 99 cents, can't pass it up. 
  • People of the Book, by Geraldrine Brooks. Haven't read a bad review of any Brooks book. Can't pass this one up.
  • Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson. Any chance I get to buy a Stephenson book for two bucks or less, I do it. Love his writing.
  • Slaughterhouse-5. So here's the deal. I chose this for our family book club. I read it from a library eBook loan. Then it expired. Then my wife wanted to read it, and it was on a weeks-long hold at the library. So I bought this in Kindle version. This is the only book in January I bought at full price ($8).
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, by Vonnegut. This is the next recommended Vonnegut book after Player Piano.
  • PG Wodehouse Collection v.2: The Blandings Collection. One Audible credit for all the Blandings books read by Stephen Fry?! Hell yeah, sign me up!
  • Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum. THE history of the Soviet's gulag system. 
Not bad, considering. 

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab

 Great book. I'm on a roll.  Spoilers : Adeline "Addie" LaRue has a problem. She's being forced to marry. This is 1600s Fr...