jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
A satirical retrospect of the life in the GDR. Lots of jargon and detail that are probably best appreciated if you have lived through that time yourself; while I have not, I have apparently learned enough about it from friends and acquaintances to still enjoy it. Not outrageously funny, but entertaining.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
This book is about nothing but regular and irregular forms of nouns and verbs. It is amazing what can be learned about the human mind from this duality. While this book is not an easy read as "The Language Instinct", it is much more detailed. Where "The Language Instinct" is an overview over modern psycholinguistics and presents lots of different facts in a kind of anecdotal way, this one meticulously examines a single feature of human language, much closer to the actual science, giving lots of detail about the experiments that are the basis of the presented results. Certainly less entertaining, but also offering deeper understanding of its subject than the "Language Instinct".
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
Several years ago a friend lent me this book and said something to the effect of "this will be the funniest book you'll ever have read", so I read it with very high expectations and was disappointed. A few years ago I thought the book hadn't been that bad after all, and I should read it again. Now I read a review mentioning this and that from the book, and I couldn't remember these things. So I thought it was time to read it again, and I did, with fun and pleasure. So much for the disappointment.

No, it is not that funny, but funny nevertheless, and really interesting. Feynman does not appear as the most likeable in all of the stories (he must have been a bit of a prick sometimes), but his thoughts are always interesting.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
After Jan Weiler's "Maria, ihm schmeckt's nicht" (german man marries italian woman) and Asli Sevindim's "Candlelight Döner" (turkish woman marries german man), two light-hearted, humorous firsthand accounts of intercultural marriages in Germany, I thought "Neulich in Neukölln" from the same series would be vaguely similar.

Neukölln is the prototypical one of Berlin's poor districts. Neukölln is multi-cultural, with all related problems, but also some successes; being poor and perhaps unemployed is the usual thing for a large part of the populace and a threat for most others; living off welfare is the reality for more people here than elsewhere. Still Neukölln has its charms and its pride, and I have liked living there for nearly 20 years. Recently, though, I hear that more than before ghettoization has progressed and resignation is increasing among people living there.

Still I expected this would be a book poking fun at all this, one that would be fun to read, reminding me of the neighbourhoods I once knew so well.

Instead it tries to be funny with gross exaggeration of the weird and icky aspects. Yes, there are alcoholics sitting in the parks, drinking away their welfare checks and their health, but is it really necessary to deride them? I find that cheap, not funny, and not entertaining at all. Still I read the whole book, hoping to find a few nice reminiscences. But there is only bitterness that I could not laugh about. This is not a book the world would have missed.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
Birthday present from my parents. Like Marten t'Haart in at least one book, this is a pamphlet against a narrow-minded, bigot, self-righteous understanding of religion. Which is overcome at last, confrontational where necessary, but with open hands, by the imagination and unshakable sense of justice of children. Quite impressive.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
This reading journal is not complete anyway, and not intended to be. But I have skipped a few things from the recent months that I just do not completely remember any more, I'm afraid.

I continued a bit with Poe's "Selected Tales", mentioned before; started with Pinker's "Words and Rules", which is, in the beginning at least, less entertaining than the "Language Instinct"; read about various types of musical instruments in "Reclam's Musikinstrumentenführer". And other things, probably.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
This is Strunk's story of his years playing the flute and the saxophone in a really pathetic dance band, playing on diverse gigs in the country. His caustic sarcasm makes this story pleasant, even funny to read, although it is actually quite depressing. Man, I had no idea dance bands could be so incompetent and still make money. Strunk himself is a good musician, but not all of the others are, and the band leader is especially bad. Still they get gigs every weekend, mainly because the organizers of small-town festivities often care more for the price of the music than anything else, and after a few beers nobody cares for more than having a ball anyway.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
For some reason this book does not really grab my interest, despite a quite positive review by Russ Allbery. There is good writing, and there seems to be a good story behind it, but why is it loaded with so many other things, like that technology stuff, the probability manipulation, and stuff? I don't know, but then I am far from through. I picked it up a number of times, but so often something else was more interesting or just alluring that I have not come very far yet.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
This is such a classic that I have known the title since I was a child, of course, but had never read the book or even seen the Disney film. I really had to change that.

Having animals talk and think like humans has fallen out of fashion for a while now. In this book from the 1920s they still do that, and while this anthropomorphization is a bit unnerving, the book still works to some degree and could not have worked in any other way.

The book is interesting and entertaining, with less saccharine than I had feared.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
König is one of the most successful german comic book authors of the last few decades. He began as a genre author of the gay community, but since his audience enlarged, he has also been making books that do not have the gay lifestyle and community as their primary focus.

This is one of them, the story of a young man from the country who wants to meet his Internet date in the big city. Of course this does not go as planned.

As always, König is never derisive about his characters. They are really human in all of their greatness and weak moments alike.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
Crichton about genetic engineering, again. Other than in Jurassic Park, this is about humans. Not a single story, but a number of partly interwoven strands. Some of these represent more or less the current state of the art, some are extrapolated. As usual, fast-paced, gripping, page-turning. In any case, he raises a number of important questions about the handling of new technology and the related ethical issues. And to my surprise, he even gives substantial answers at the end of the book.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
Of course I know several of these stories: The Fall of the House Usher, The Murders of the Rue Morgue, Maelstrom, to name a few. But it was so long ago I had read them, and most in german translation only. So it was interesting to discover them anew. Great stuff. There are other, less well-known, and rightly so, in parts. Poe can be just pompous and a bit boring.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
Gekoski, former literature professor, is an antiquarian and rare book dealer by trade. He has a few very interesting anecdotes to relate. Interesting and great fun to read.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
After I had enjoyed Forester's Hornblower books so much again on the second reading, it was a natural choice to try the Patrick O'Brian books on more or less the same subject. Now I have read the first one.

It is quite different from Hornblower, which is no big surprise. I have no doubt that O'Brian knew Hornblower, but obviously he did not want to just follow Forester in his footsteps. Given his equally obvious literary capacity, he also did not have to.

His protagonists Aubrey and Maturin are quite different from Hornblower, and so is the whole tone of the book. The Hornblower books paint a somewhat idealistic picture of the Royal Navy in the napoleonic era. Aubrey and Maturin are much more flesh and blood, Jack Aubrey even more than Stephen Maturin, at least in this book. (I have not read any of the following yet.)

Aubrey sometimes sweats and is dirty and unshaven, not only after a day-long combat action, but also from simple neglect. Aubrey is really human. He is hung over, petty, vain, and jealous in places, where Hornblower has only the noblest of motives and self-doubt.

People dying in action is a bloody, messy, and awful affair in this book, not heroic -- although sometimes arbitrary and senseless, too -- as with Hornblower, where the really, really painful duty of notifying the relatives does not even occur.

Having a second protagonist is a very useful device to transport opinions and thoughts without resorting to the inner voice of the hero. And as Maturin is ignorant of all matters nautical in the beginning, one of the midshipmen can introduce him and the reader to the most necessary terms of sailing in the beginning. This is a nice and very useful idea.

Although only 15 years younger, O'Brian is clearly a later generation than Forester. Glory and honor of the Empire and the Royal Navy step back for the benefit of a more modern and realistic picture of the naval warfare of the era. Quite different from Hornblower, and not quite as immediately gripping, this book is also great fun to read, mainly due to the more life-like portrayal of the persons. This fun may, I suspect, increase with reading more of the 20(!) volumes.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
After seeing the film recently, I remembered I had once bought the book, but had never read it. Another excellent John le Carré book. What more is to say?

The book is, to no surprise, less optimistic than the film. As usual with John le Carré, the efforts of the secret service are depicted as eventually inhuman and to a large degree futile.

Sean Connery is in the film, although different from the Scott Blair in the book, very believable and a pleasure to see. He playing a book publisher who drinks too much and plays the saxophone is so good I could squeak for joy.

I am not quite as happy with Michelle Pfeiffer for Katja. In my eyes she is not a believable russian woman, because she is too well-known american. And while I like her looks and her charisma, she is far from being in that way beautiful that Katja is described. And in this film she speaks English with russian accent, which is the opposite of Katja's impeccable, although a little artificial-sounding English in the book.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
A book mainly about Chicago in the 1980s. The book begins nice and entertaining, and in the middle it gets even interesting. At first I did not know where the author wants to go, because while his protagonists are in high school, things do happen, but mostly don't lead anywhere. This changes when the main characters leave school and go to college, form new relationships and remodel existing ones, including the ones in their families, of which we then learn quite a bit. That is the point where it gets interesting, and stays so until the end. Birthday present from my wife.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
The Harry Potter series tends to divide people -- at least those that let themselves be divided -- into lovers and haters. I can vaguely remember the time when I was, while not a hater, skeptic in an uninterested way. There was much too much brouhaha about these books for my taste, as mentioned in a previous entry, but I was converted very easily.

Since then, I am not necessarily an ardent lover of the Harry Potter books, but I do really like them. This includes the last volume of the series. Of course, Rowling has to work hard to pick up all the loose threads dangling since, in some examples, the first volume. But she manages to do that without too much visible effort.

I found the book gripping and fun to read, as always. Even moving, in parts.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
As mentioned before, I have read the ten Hornblower novels about 20 years ago, although in German. For quite a while I wanted to read them again in the original version, among other reasons for learning the nautical jargon. I am nearly through with the ninth book now. (Bonaparte has just come to power again, and Hornblower builds a partisan army together with his french hosts.)

These books are significantly better than I remembered them. That may be due to weaknesses in the german translation, but I think it is just too long ago. The characters are quite believable, and, while clichéd in parts, less so than I had in mind. Forester draws much from depicting the war and heroism, but -- and I had forgotten that -- he does nowhere omit the horrors of war. And he is always entertaining, and often really suspenseful, captivating; and there is more humour in these books than I remembered. And that is a good thing, since the darling wife still is not yet done with the new Harry Potter.

Addendum: I think I'll just have to try Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. It should be quite interesting to see a different approach to the same nautical theme, and a more modern one at that: Forester wrote Hornblower, except for the unfinished Hornblower and the Crisis, from the late 1930s to the early 1960s, while the Aubrey-Maturins were written over three decades from 1970 on.

Wikipedia writes that O'Brian employs a narrative voice in style with the early 19th century he writes about, which sounds particularly interesting. This should be a style nearly a century older than that of Stevenson's Kidnapped and Catriona, which I found not difficult to read, but those were the oldest books I have read so far in English. Let's see.
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
Except for the webcomics list I have mentioned only books here, not stuff I read on the net. This is an exception, and a worthy one.

This is a blog of Ali Davis's part-time work as a clerk in a video store that also rents out porn. While they have other selections as well, the porn dominates in a way because it gives a lot to think about, and it attracts the weirder part of the customers. Consequently her blog entries are a mix of stories about specific customers and incidents at the store and more general musings about the nature of porn in general and her own ideas and feelings about it.

I read these stories first about three years ago, found them great fun in parts, very insightful, well-written, and interesting. Now I saw them mentioned somewhere again, had another look, and could -- again -- not stop until I was through for the second time.

The really great thing is that they hit on a curiosity that is usually not satisfied, namely the "how is it to deal with that stuff on a daily basis, and the customers it attracts?" Of course, as a man and -- rather occasional -- porn user myself I can to some degree identify with the customers. Of course I hope -- if I'd go to the video store for it, which I haven't -- of being closer to "Mr. Gentle" than to the creepier ones, and there were quite a few really creepy ones.

Her ideas about porn in general and why people want it are plausible. I have thought about it myself a bit, if not as thoroughly as she has. I am in general agreement with her ideas, and found them quite insightful in areas I had not given much thought previously.

Real fun, well-written, interesting to read. Highly recommended. (I don't post the link here as the name servers of the domain seem to be having a problem right now, but they can easily be read from Google's cache, for instance.)
jyrgenn: Blurred head shot from 2007 (Default)
Like her other books one that is puzzling in places, but fun to read.

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