Book 230: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

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Finished reading on May 7 th, 2017

Rating: 8/10

I feel like I’ve been slogging through “The Fountainhead” forever. I approached it with curiosity and excitement as I had rather liked “Atlas Shrugged“.

In case of this book however, I made steady progress with it for a while, then hit a roadblock and almost decided to not get back to it at all and left it for months. Until a few weeks ago when I felt like I’ve made my peace with the character’s actions and can go back to it having pretty much forgotten what had driven me away.

But now to the plot and characters and the rest…

We first meet Howard Roark, the main character of the book when he gets thrown out of college, where he has been studying architecture, which remains his calling throughout the book. Another character we meet at the same time is Peter Keating who graduates successfully, already has a great job offer, but really he would rather have studied painting instead of architecture.

Now we get to the main part – one has a passion for architecture, for creating something original and functional and not following in the footsteps of anyone else and trying to reproduce ancient buildings etc. The other wants to be though as a great architect, follow the demands that anyone places on him and steal from historical buildings whenever necessary.

Roark has very high principles whilst Keating doesn’t seem to have any – Keating doesn’t really have the talent to get where he wants to get with his job, but does have a knack for weaselling his way into the good job, making the right connections etc.

At first I felt sad for Roark, because as he wants to follow his ideas and not conform to others in any way, he gets trampled under everyone’s feet with modern buildings that are ahead of their time, and doesn’t appear to be getting anywhere. At the same time Peter Keating is climbing the career ladder.

There are more characters connected to arcitecture in the book, but I’m going to skip over them.

Media and general public play an important role in the book in helping Keating gain what he wants and to keep Roark’s genius at bay by not giving him any slack. The media and general public are however controlled by some powerful and despotic people, whose activities seem to be at the border of insane and quirky. We have Ellsworth Toohey, an expert on architecture, who has a large influence on many successful businesspeople when it comes to choosing someone to design a building for them.

Then there’ Dominique Francon – a columnist at the New york Banner, the daughter of the architect Guy Francon for whose firm Peter Keating starts working for. She is one of the few female characters in the book, another one being Catherine Halsey, and then there’s Peter Keating’s mother…

Dominique Francon comes through as a strong, independent and very intelligent woman. She plays quite a big role in the book, but despite her part as a smart woman I didn’t really take a liking to her at first. There’s a relationship between her and Roark eventually, that drove me away from the book altogether. I had just started to see her as an interesting and relatable character, when something happened that to me seemed ultimately stereotypical taming of the shrew… (I think that I might possibly have been so disturbed by it exactly because I had found Dominique so relatable) and I took a break from reading it.

However eventually I got back to it to read some more of rather strange and illogical actions, that seemed to lead to a real dystopia, where the public’s opinion can be easily molded to a certain limit to accept rubbish as great masterpieces (The Gallant Gallstone and The Skin Off Our Noses), which seem so riddiculous, but scarily possible…

Enough of that though… I felt as if Rand could have been quoting Einstein: “How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.” in the whole of the book.

At first it isn’t as obvious, but it does seem to end up with few great geniuses against the easily affected mob of common people. I wonder what was she trying to say with that…

I could almost hear a maniacal lauch when Toohey is explaining to Keating ” If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind”. And “kill his  capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it”. I can see how that is just around the corner… A world full of mediocre people who don’t want things to change or anyone to be different or better…

Toohey’s a real menace. A really scary person, especially if they’re after power and against individualism.

I did end up liking and enjoying the book, and I think I will read it again in the future, since there are so many actions that are undertaken for a variety of reasons that I’d like to ponder on… Like the general lack of female characters, and how all three that are mentioned the most are connected to Peter Keating… Or how Peter Keating searches for Roark’s validation on his paintings… or capturing the spirit of someone or something in a work of art or in a building etc,

 

Book 229: The Guide by R. K. Narayan

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The Guide by R. K. Narayan

Rating: 8/10

“The Guide” follows Raju, who we meet at different times of his life, learning about how he becomes known as Railway Raju, how he works as a guide and meets various people, and how he ends up being called Swami and fasting in hope of bringing down rain on a drought-stricken area.

The characters in the book are fascinating and full of life and very well thought out. I really like how there’s barely any physical descriptions of people or places, but I could imagine the situations and people vividly.

What happens to Raju is all quite unexpected. To me the most interesting part was about Raju’s changing attitude throughout the book.

Sinec I’ve been a guide I found his attitudes towards that great -the excitement and enthusiasm and meeting new people who you only see once, and then there are the few exceptions that might stay in your life for a long time. And the eventual (though maybe not inevitable) decline into pessimism and boredom of having seen it all and talked about it to people who have been more interested in it.

Another bit that just made me chucklewas ofcourse the things that really do come up a lot when you’re a guide – someone’s asking about something you don’t know, you try and guess at the answer, and they obviously know better, or when they’re the one doing all the talking and you’re just learning about what you should have known before.

In general it’s a great Narayan book to read.

Book 224: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Finished reading on August 22nd, 2016

Rating: 8/10

What would happen if a 19th century industrious person from America were to travel back in time to 6th century England? Soon enough you’d have telegraph lines, newspapers etc. getting mixed up with characters from Arthurian legends.

This is another book that I’ve recently read, that I’ve picked up before, read maybe a chapter or two, and put down thinking it’s rather boring…. But that was about ten years ago.

My motivation in picking this book for reading was my project in getting through as many books based on Arthurian legends as possible (one book at a time), the previous one having been the enormous T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King” (which I sadly forgot to review here, all I can say is that I preferred Malory to White, and found the first book better and more interesting than the rest).

I think that I appreciated the story as told by Twain more knowing what Malory had written. And I certainly enjoyed reading about the quite ludicrous story. If you’re looking for something hilarious to read, then this novel would be a great pick (there are parts that might not be too funny, but just you wait….)

I loved how Twain had brought to life his own characters, that were in the foreground and the legendary people were mentioned, had tiny but important parts to play, but were essentially the same as anywhere else.

I liked how the protagonist is seen as a wonderful wizard and how he competes with Merlin; how he changes the world and people around him, and especially the part where he and King Arthur go for an adventure in peasant’s clothes, and Arthur keeps thinking of plans to conquer Gaul :).

So in general a nice easy read with a story that will get a lot funnier as you get into it.

Book 222: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Finished reading on July 31st, 2016

Today I woke up with the knowing that I have to go to the bookstore as soon as possible to get this book. I went there, and got back in less than twenty minutes, took this picture with my cup of very creamy coffee and got on the way to get to know my childhood heroes’ kids.

It’s been a very long time since I reread any of the books, so picking up this play, I didn’t really have much of a connection to the characters although I’d been quite obsessed with them as a teen. And ofcourse the new generation is something totally different.

In order to keep this post spoiler free I’m not going to go into much detail about anything except just random thoughts.

The plot was interesting and the twists were as unexpected as they have been before in Harry Potter series.

I liked the choice of characters that the play is mainly following. I wish I could see the play on stage though, because a play gives you more of just plain bones of the characters.

There are some interesting themes in the play, but mostly it’s about family relationships and friendship, a bit of teen angst and famous fathers.

 

 

Book 221: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Finished reading on July 8th, 2016
Rating: 8/10

This is the story of the young Lily Bart who is a bit naive and definitely a follower of the fashionable crowd, and gets in some trouble because of it.

From the beginning of the book I really liked Wharton’s style of writing.

In this book we follow Lily Bart, a young woman, whose only close relative is an aunt Mrs Peniston, whom she lives with.

Lily has grown up appreciating good and expensive things in life and her plan is to marry a rich man. She spends time with rich people and takes part in their entertainments, that also include playing bridge, which lands Lily in a bit of a trouble to begin with – her allowance isn’t big, and she gets into debt playing cards.

Lily also gets in trouble because she’s naive and believes what people tell her – so when the rich Mr Trenor says that he could help Lily by speculating with her money and making some profit for her, she believes him – and why shouldn’t she? I believed him too.

However it turns out that the married (and lousy) Mt Trenor is instead just giving Lily money, which is the main problem in the book – Lily is poor and once she realizes where the money is coming from, she sees that she’s in dept to Trenor.

And other problems ensue.

The book has a quite unsatisfying ending in my opinion, but there’s some forewarning to it, so the last few chapter I knew what was coming, I was just hoping that maybe I’d be wrong. The conclusion does solve everything, but it’s sad.

I think one of my favorite characters was Miss Gerty Farish, who lives in a small flat and helps out Lily on occasion. She seems o be independent, not rich, but also not out to find a rich guy to marry like Lily.

The book reminded me a bit of Dostoevsky’s writing by the end – a bit of a depressing character, debts, sickness, but not as harsh as Dostoevsky.

Have you read anything by Edith Wharton? What would you recommend?

Book 219: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Finished on July 6th, 2016

Rating: 6/10

I picked this book up on a whim after seeing that a friend had recommended it to me on Goodreads. The description of it seemed fine and rating on Goodreads was great, so I gave it a chance.

It was good for two days’ entertainment, although I didn’t expect to read a book like that. I’m not going to give any spoilers here, since that’s a major part of the book why anyone would have to read it.

The book is about a few summers in the lives of Cadence Sinclair Eastman and her extended family – you get very few details about the family and Cadence – just enough to know that they’re rich and they spend summers on a private island.

Then something unexpected happens – and for the longest time we get the impression that something only happened to Cadence – she has amnesia and migraines and has bits of memories that she can’t really put together.

And you start finding out more as Cadence gets back on the island for another summer just hanging out with her three friends – Gat, Mirren and Johnny.

It all starts out fine, but then it gets darker and darker until it all concludes in a flash of lightning and everything becomes clear.

I liked the style of writing – the glib descriptions of characters and the bits of fairy tales around the theme of three sisters. What I didn’t like were the actual characters, and how they don’t seem to ever do anything (besides eating, drinking and sleeping with the occasional swimming here and there), and I really didn’t like Cadence’s and Gat’s relationship – she’s obsessed with him in a way that to me seems unnatural.

We Were Liars was an interesting book, it does keep your attention, and it sucks you in until it’s too late to get out before you find out what has happened.

It was a good book to read, but I didn’t really like it…if it makes any sense.

 

Book 217: Le Morte D’Arthur, Volume II by Sir Thomas Malory

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Le Morte D’Arthur, Volume II by Sir Thomas Malory

Finished reading on June 17th, 2016

Rating: 8/10

It took me almost exactly two months to finish reading the second volume after finishing first one. I didn’t start reading it right after, and had time to finish six other books in-between.

So I’m almost certain that anyone who’d read this review would already know quite a bit about Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur”, so I wouldn’t really need to write what it is about.

Still – it’s about King Arthur and his “Knights of the Table Round” – of Sir Launcelot and Sir Gawain and others, their jousts and quarrels and saving damosels in distress, their search for the Holy Grail and other adventures perilous. (You’ll end up using strange words by the end of it.)

I found that in this volume the most interesting part was the one about the Holy Grail – it felt like the pace of it was a lot faster than in other parts. Also it was quite eyeopening, as I didn’t know much of Sangrail and of it’s details, so that was fun – how and when and to whom it would appear etc.

So what actually happens?

First off there are some characters with quite difficult family relations – Sir Mordred for example – King Arthur is his father and his uncle, and their relationship is not passing good at all. And then there’s Galahad and Sir Launcelot, the latter names Galahad a knight, whilst neither yet knows that Galahad is Launcelot’s son.

Then we have the women – not many in all of it, but they’re not really sensible people at all (although maybe a knight in shining armor riding on a white horse is simply irresistible?) and always end up in some kind of trouble – take for example Queen Guenever who hosts a dinner for 24 knights after she’s told Sir Launcelot to leave Camelot. A knight is poisoned and although her reason for holding the dinner was to show that she’s just as friendly with other knights, it backfires, no-one likes her and Sir Launcelot has to rush in to save her (or otherwise King Arthur had asked Sir Bors to fight for her honor, so that might have worked too).

The things I found surprising – how much religion, fainting and weeping is in Le Morte D’Arthur. Also that you can find a hermit pretty much wherever you go…

I like the idea of the Arthurian Legends, but the characters all have some kind of mortal flaw.

My favorite quote comes from King Arthur:

“Wit you well my heart was never so heavy as it is now, and much more I am sorrier for my good knights’ loss than for the loss of my fair queen; for queens I might have enow, but such a fellowship of good knights shall never be together in no company.

… because he just likes to hang out and watch sports with his buddies…

I am slightly worried that having read this and not having had enough of chivalry and knights I might get too much into medieval literature and Arthurian legends… I did enjoy reading it although the characters lacked something.

Whilst reading the second volume of Malory’s book I found myself thinking back on the time when I was learning about medieval literature at school (was it 8th and 10th grade maybe?) and I remember thinking that that time period in literature was the most boring of all – I just liked literature from the beginning of 19th century up to 20th century and stopping just before the Second World War – later and earlier writing was not to my taste.

I think maybe even when I did read some excerpts from some medieval literature in class, maybe I just couldn’t have appreciated it anyway? Or maybe had I had enough motivation I would have found it fascinating as I do now?

I’m starting to see all literature as something that I want to get better acquainted with and not just stick to my comfort zone.

Another thing I realized while reading this, second volume (hadn’t thought of it while reading first volume at all), was that I want to find out more about the history and any other related literature (which I certainly will do at some point), that’s quite different from having watched BBC’s Merlin on Netflix and thinking “oh it would be cool to read something that the characters are based on or inspired from”.

I would recommend reading all of it, if you feel like it would be something interesting for you, otherwise some chapters would be sufficient.

Not much of a review, but I’m just glad I wasn’t forced to read it, I can see how that would have made reading it awful.

Book 215: Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali

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Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali

Finished reading on May 31st, 2016
Rating: 10/10

A small village near Granada, Spain around the year 1500. A Muslim family living happily in peace with everything despite some secrets in their past. Now their peace and for some of them, their lives are at an end. Although several years before the setting of the book, there was a understanding between the Catholics and the Muslims about their future – the Muslims could keep their religion, their feasts and traditions, but now Cardinal Ximenes de Cisneros has arrived and deals with the problem of Moors swiftly and cruelly, having Arabic books burnt, keeping only some dealing with medicine, converting some, but having many of the Moors killed.

The first book in Tariq Ali’s Islamic Quintet follows a family is it is torn apart, you can follow the short love-story of the eldest daughter Hind, the beginning of the eldest son’s “political” career etc. The family is fascinating and characters are very vivid, and the events in this book remind me ultimately of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” – without magic to be sure, but all the other components are there – lovely characters and awful ones, food and other pleasures, heads on pikes and books and villages on fire.

The book took me about three days to finish and I’ll be starting the next book in the quintet soon enough.

I think it would be beneficial for many people to read this book.

The book’s author is a British Pakistani writer. Go watch an interesting talk by him on youtube, where he talks about Cervantes and don Quixote and Spain of the time of Cervantes (and of his own Islamic Quintet) .

Book 214: My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad

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My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad

Finished reading on May 27th, 2016

Rating: 10/10

Tehran, 1940s, a young boy falls in love with his uncle’s daughter, who lives in the same area with a large extended family. For the girl however, a better suitor has been found.

The story of the girl and the boy go through the book as a sort of foreground, as it’s narrated by the boy.

Most of the book is taken up by various humorous incidents and quarrels between the family members and their servants etc, with one of the running jokes being the patriarch of the family, who is called Dear Uncle Napoleon by everyone behind his back.

The nickname comes from the uncle’s tales of his time fighting the English, that remind everyone of Napoleon’s achievements. Now however, Dear Uncle Napoleon seems to be getting more and more paranoid by the day, being certain that the English are out to get him. That causes trouble for the boy, since Dear Uncle wants to leave with his family, and the boy and his other uncle – Asadollah Mirza, come up with ways to keep Uncle Napoleon around. That seems to agitate Uncle Napoleon even more.

And then there is the relationship between the boy’s father and Dear Uncle Napoleon, the first keeps fighting with him and causing problems between them (apparently just for fun).

The book has very colourful characters and unexpected situations that are almost tragic, but are more funny at the same time. There are also some unexpected twists in the story.

I enjoyed the book a lot, it is in a way a situation comedy, where the characters have access to guns and firecrackers and one might be threatened by a leg of mutton.
Also it’s interesting to see the family’s behavior towards Indians, the English and Arabs – the latter seem to be in the roles of ‘the guy who gets the girl’, the English are a threat and the Indians are probably spies.

What’s interesting in comparison to some other books that I’ve read (that is partly probably because of the time-period) is almost total absence of religion.
Also, although there are some female characters named, they have very minor parts, even the narrators love interest, Layli doesn’t seem to be really that much part of the story.

Book 213: The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson

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The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson

Finished reading on May 27th, 2016

Rating: 5/10

I had never heard of this book or the writer when someone I’d only met once before handed me this book and said I should read it and give it back to him when I’m done.

The cover caught my attention first because it had Europa on it and I had just mentioned Europa in a presentation half an hour earlier. After the initial reaction of ‘oh, that’s cool’ the thought in my head was that it didn’t look like a book I would pick up if there hadn’t been Europa on the cover.

So obviously, Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has a part to play in this book – there’re teams of people working on Europa after they’ve discovered life there.

Initially I found the plot quite difficult to follow, because of how it begins out (in order not to give any spoilers I’ll be general) – something happens and then you kind of return to the past and after you get to the point with what the book began with, you continue on with the story.

In the book artificial intelligence has quite a big role to play, it’s 22nd century, nanotechnology can heal people etc.

The main problem in the book is the lifeforms – are they intelligent or not and how to prove it one way or another and how people on Earth might benefit from either option. So it kind of goes into ethics.

It’s very much a plot-driven novel, you find out minimal information about the characters, but it didn’t really bother me, as all I really wanted to find out was whether the life there is intelligent or not.

I do think I would have liked to have more details – just in general, because I found only being able to imagine what was going on with the alien life under the ice, bot not what went on with the people, what their landers looked like etc, and I also didn’t imagine any generic people around, so in that sense the book could have been better (or I could have just imagined the details myself – duh!).

So was it even necessary to have everything happen on Europa? It could have been on any icy moon that could have an ocean under the ice – you don’t learn anything more about Europa, the characters never mention having a good view of Jupiter or the other moons or anything (I do get that they’re all really interested in what’s under their feet, but seriously? ) Nothing really wrong though, the smaller gravity was mentioned, but didn’t seem to play much of a part in anything the humans did.

In a way I feel now that it was good that I knew nothing at all about the book and I just read it in a bit over a week, I feel that now anything I read where the setting is Europa, I have high expectations.

It’s not a funny book, it’s not really too dramatic either, not romantic, although there seems to be a couple forming, and the sci-fi aspects are being set in the future and on Europa, a bit more advanced computers,and alien life. I’d classify it as a bit of light reading (light gravitation wise 🙂 ).