Category Archives: Words

Reading of Books #32

So welcome to another bit of book reading by myself with works by Alastair Bonnett, Eric H. Cline, Joanna Harris and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. From Viking myths to forgotten cities, lost civilizations and the world of Dragonlance.

Alastair Bonnett – Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies

source: goodreads.com

Think of places that are special to you. You might be thinking in a lot of manners now, but probably you’ve got some ideas that are more feeling than geographic location. That’s just one example of how a place works for us and what place can mean. In this amazing book the author Alastair Bonnett explores a series of places with various characteristics. Imagine for example an island that you see on a map every day. Suddenly it turns out that this island never existed. What does that do and mean to us? What is it like when we notice weird corners in our own daily meanderings, which seem to be forgotten and owned by no-one in particular. And what about places that move, are they still places?

Keeping these questions low-brow and fun, Bonnett writes a surprisingly elaborate story that explores all these questions and more. You’ll never think of that weird patch of grass you pass by daily in between two roads in the same manner. Maybe you have this magical door you remember from childhood or a mythical location you’ve read about. These are all themes for this book, which are woven into a tapestry of theory together. The style of Bonnett is one of an eager explorer, who takes you along on his path. Asking questions, but not always answering them completely, the reader engages with this book and that alone makes this a treasure map.

Eric H. Cline – 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

source: goodreads.com

Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, Cypriots, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Assyrians and Babylonians… Maybe you know all of them from something like Age of Empires, but all these civilisations at some point in history collapsed only to be rediscovered thousands of years later by us. In this book, Eric Cline investigates the findings of archaeologists to first create a reconstruction of this forgotten past and analyse what possible events could have let up to the year 1177 B.C. when everything collapsed. The disclaimer is that obviously, not everything fell apart in one go at that time, but its a markable point in history around which these events must have occurred and radically change the face of the world as we’ve come to know it all these years later.

It’s a peculiar question, how things would have been if there was something like a continuity. Cline spins a tale that offers a lot of suggestions and hints, but never actually goes into speculation. What this book brings to the table in a low-level manner is the facts and what sort of past they reconstruct. It’s a captivating tale with a lot of what ifs and food for thought about the way we live in our own times. Sure, the world was much bigger back then, but parallels can be drawn with current times and that is what makes this book fascinating, relevant and maybe even urgent with regard to current day events. A captivating read.

Joanne Harris – The Gospel of Loki

source: goodreads.com

We’ve all heard the tales of Loki the Trickster. But did you ever hear them from the horse’s mouth? How would the story look when it is told by the man himself? That must have been the question that Joanna Harris asked herself because this is exactly what we get here. True to the olden tales of the Edda, we follow Loki through his times in Asgard as an unwanted runt in the family of the Aesir and Vanir. The origins of the trickster, his attempts at finding a home among the gods and his chaotic nature all are part of a story that is strangely touching but also often flat-out hilarious. Apparently, there are more parts, but this book on its own is already a worthy read and a treat.

The story is told from the perspective of Loki, who also happens to be the storyteller. That means you have vivid depictions of what transpired when Loki and the oaf Thor went to see the giants for example. Loki also comments on the story and breaks that fourth wall multiple times. It just feels so right, with all the fitting epic bombast of a Marvel movie as well as the metaphoric aspects that are so much what the original stories are all about. It makes for such a fun read and I hated that it ended. So maybe I should read the whole series.

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – Kender, Gully Dwarves, and Gnomes

source: goodreads.com

Another collection from Krynn, the world of the Dungeons & Dragons Dragonlance setting. This is a collection of stories with Weis and Hickman as glorious editors. Their names are well known in the fantasy universe and you can be sure to get something good out of them. This book follows similar adventures as the previous one did. It focusses on the well-known adventurers from the setting. These consist of humans, elves, dwarves, and kender. The tone and presentation are quite old-fashioned. That gives them a specific charm and atmosphere. That in turn really works with the material and because of that also serves the reader in his experience of these stories.

What is so enjoyable about these stories, is that they have a mature tone to it. There are some definite sexual references in this book, but done in such a way that probably only adult readers will pick up on them. That is an art in itself by the various writers. Richard A. Knaak, who I like for his Warcraft stories, has a peculiar tale about a Minotaur who shows the futility of strife to a human knight. Weis and Hickman themselves take up the bulk with a story about a gambling god and the heroes who suffer because of that. Though I enjoy these stories, the Dragonlance setting lacks a certain charm for me. It seems as if the outline of the world is too simple at times, too much a predecessor for better-balanced universes like that of Warcraft or the Forgotten Realms. That gives the stories a  lot of advantage because then the story essence needs to be much better. That’s what these writers succeed in with glory.

The Reading of Books #31

I’ve been really picking up the pace and the pile of books appears to be dwindling at times. But there’s so much more to read. I enjoyed books by Mo Daviau, Bruce Chatwin, Ernest Hemingway and Nathan Gray these past few weeks, so here’s a bit about those.

Mo Daviau – Every Anxious Wave

source: Goodreads.com

So imagine a setting where an ageing rocker of the nineties indie kind and his failed-at-life computer programmer buddy find a way to exploit a wormhole in the first one’s closet to send people back to the past. Only to see rock concerts though, because of a sense of morality concerning the past. Then the second one by accident gets send back in time to the island of Manhattan in 980 AD, where the means for traveling back don’t work. Well, that is the mistake Karl makes when his friend Wayne wants to stop the murder of John Lennon.  So there’s the plot of this novel. Karl has to right his wrong (he forgot a number when plotting Wayne’s destination, so he finds an astrophysicist to help him. That would be Lena, who likes the Melvins. She also likes The Axis, which was Karl’s band. And then everything goes horribly wrong/right/what?.

Mo Daviau wrote this as a first novel and I for one am impressed by the way this novel unfolds. There’s romance, rock’n’roll (a lot of names get mentioned). I think Mo Daviau might have an Elliot Smith tattoo somewhere actually. Time travel, with all the moral questions that come with looking at such a concept in our time and age. The way Daviau writes is very matter-of-fact and the style feels so natural as if this was taken out of daily conversations. The eye for detail, including the unpleasant little bits that we deal with in daily life, makes the novel very lively and easy to become a part of as a reader. I like that the characters are very human, not picture perfect characters. They become very real and very tangible very soon for you as a reader and that makes this book so captivating. The time traveling is pretty cool too though.

Bruce Chatwin – In Patagonia

I don’t know how, but reading the book by Andrea Wulf about Alexander Von Humboldt has triggered a wish to read more books about travels. Pretty soon the book ‘In Patagonia’ came up. Bruce Chatwin tells the story of his youth, where his grandmother had a piece of ‘Brontosaurus skin’ that she received from cousin Charles Milward. Milward was a captain that had sailed to South-America and found the remains of a Mylodon. Later Chatwin met with architect and furniture designer Eilleen Gray, who has a map of Patagonia. He tells her he always wanted to go there. So did she, but at 93 years of age it’s a bit late for that, so she asks him to go instead of her. So a miraculous story starts from there.

Chatwin travels but doesn’t just describe his experiences, but stories from Patagonia of other bold travelers who went there like Butch Cassidy and Charly Milward himself. Through these stories, bits of history and anecdotes from people he meets, he paints a remarkable picture of the realm. Patagonia becomes one of the last places of true and thorough mistery and wildness. A place where the world is still wild and untamed. From the atrocities against the Indians to their violent revolts to missionaries and daring criminals, Chatwin puts them together in a remarkable book. Even the story of the book is remarkable and daring. Chatwin is a master storyteller and this book will make you yearn for the untamed places in the world.

Nathan Gray – Until The Darkness Takes Us

source: goodreads.com

The boysetsfire frontman Nathan Gray has had an interesting life and one well worth documenting in writing. Also, the restless soul of this converted Satanist is eager to explore new forms of expression. And so this biography was unleashed together with new steps in his artistic life; the Nathan Gray Collective (live review here). The story of Gray starts in a strongly religious community, which shaped him with the doom and gloom outlook. From that departure point, Gray takes us through is life. Finding liberation outside of the community, struggling with the self and eventually finding punkrock music.

Eventually Gray finds himself amidst failed relations, years of party life, creating meaningful music and shouting defiance at God, government, and fate. About struggling as artists to find their way and looking for new creative outlets. Gray ends his story with the discovery of Satanism. He attempts to explain this, but notes that misunderstanding is always there. He expressed this also in the project I AM HERESY. Gray has an interesting writing style, rich with words and expressions with an almost academic or theological tone at times. I guess it’s the poet in Gray that shines through in the pages. Gray writes noteworthily vague sections about very personal issues. The phrasing gets to an almost prophetic doomsayers rantings at times, filled with quotes, and lyrics. It makes for a daunting read with clear personal struggles, but also a great insight into the process of this fascinating artist becoming himself and offering that wisdom to you as a fan. This book is brave writing, if you enjoyed the music of Nathan Gray as I do, check it out.

Ernest Hemingway – The White Snows of Kilimanjaro

Mind, this is not a well-known bundle of work by Hemingway. It’s a Russian readers collection (English with Russian annotations), that I picked up in Vilnius. In this book, the reader receives the stories that taek take place in Africa. They are set during safari’s or otherwise in these wild and untamed lands where Hemingway went in the thirties. The title refers to one of the stories in this little bundle. This is not the first book of short stories by Hemingway that I’ve read, but definitely not the one I enjoyed most. Perhaps because I find the whole business of a safari harder to relate to. That makes sense. Regardless of the fact that they are merely the setting for the sparse narratives of Hemingway, this is a thing we simply no longer appreciate in western society.

What I love about the work of Hemingway, particularly this one, is the sense of suspense it leaves you with. The fact that a lot of the story is somehow omitted is the art. This makes it even more impressive and captivating, due to the mental engagement in the writing. On the other hand, Hemingway throws images at you in rapid succession, drawing upon your imagination to shape and color the story to the max. It’s a joyous experience, but it also makes that reading the stories in succession might be a bit tiresome. Every story reads as a good film and that is the absolute charm of this fabulous author.

Reading of Books #30

So here we go again with a series of brief book reviews. This time we have Jack Kerouac, Herman Melville, Alex Honnold & David Roberts and Andrea Wulf on the shelves. A series of brave, bold books

Jack Kerouac – The Dharma Bums

source: goodreads.com

Though Kerouac is mostly known for his ‘On The Road’. I personally felt more attracted to ‘The Dharma Bums’. Anyone with a love for rock climbing and hiking has to read it apparently. I think it would be good for anyone to read about a cleaner, greener America where there still was hope for a rucksack revolution. Replace America with a European state and the same story makes sense. The protagonist of this story is the Kerouac alter-ego, Ray Smith. Smith is a bum most of the time, traveling around with other poet friends, spreading the word of Buddha and trying to find enlightenment in a world that is rapidly changing into convenience, commodities, and capital-driven. It’s the last attempt at finding beauty in the untarnished nature and simple pleasures that life offers.

To me, most of the book revolves around the climb of a specific mountain, named the Matterhorn Peak in Yosemite. The ascent and descent of the mountain seem to form the pinnacle of the story. Here Smith finds absolute beauty and spiritual joy in the climbing and hiking. The simplicity of it all is the message and the book travels on like the descent is everything that comes after, just as everything before was part of the ascent. It’s at the peak where we find joy, where we are closest to the gods. The original intent behind this book might have passed me by.  Regardless, I believe in the rucksack revolution. I believe that we all should pack our bags and travel into nature, into the wild now and then to find our true selves and the simple beauty that is life. That to me tells that this book can still bring that spirituality to readers far in the future.

Alex Honnold en David Roberts – Alone on the Wall

source: goodreads.com

Alex Honnold has become something of a legend in recent years for free-soloing mountainsides. Free-soloing means going up there without a rope, just with climbing shoes and a chalk bag. That’s some hardcore stuff, so reading his first book is well worth your time regardless if you love climbing, know about climbing or are just fascinated. Though hardly a biography, the book offers a glimpse into the mind of a man who climbs with the ultimate risk and still earned the nickname Alex ‘No Big Deal’ Honnold. The book follows him through a series of expeditions and extreme climbs that were undertaken during his career.

We get a glimpse into the person that is Honnold, from his own perspective and from people around him. It’s weird that Roberts manages to pull out a lot of really personal stuff out of the climber. An example is Honnold’s relationship in the past that seems to really have been an emotional rollercoaster at times, without every bearing the man’s soul to the world. The explanation is simple. Honnold, like an artist, shows his soul when he climbs the big walls. When he speaks of climbing it’s not super exciting, it’s his action that is that of a true poet and monk at the same time. The spirituality of climbing you glance from his eyes in some of the videos and interviews, but rarely from his words and that is perfectly fine.

Herman Melville – Bartleby the Scrivener

source: goodreads.com

“I prefer not to” is what Bartleby responds to his boss and benefactor when he is asked to review his work. Bartleby is a scrivener, basically a copyist in the era when duplication of documents was work by hand. The simple, though not forceful, negation holds a message for today. Melville wrote this in protest, in frustration about the lack of success of his writing, but it’s that voice of dissent that still rings true today. I read this on the airplane, coming home to a situation I was not entirely happy within the work sphere. The simple story in this book felt strangely powerful.

So Bartleby refuses to do work that doesn’t appear to him. He starts negating more and more and protests in an almost Buddhist-like non-action way. This inevitably leads to his death in the end of this strange story. The simple words keep ringing: “I prefer not to”. Melville wrote a story worth reading, even if only consisting of 50 pages. It has a power of its own, like any good short story and should be read more widely.

Andrea Wulf – The Invention of Nature

Source: goodreads.com

It is a strange thing, the way time obscures certain people. Andrea Wulf illuminates the figure of Alexander Von Humboldt in this biography, an explorer, scientist and thinker of the 18th and 19th century with a profound effect on the way we think and look at nature. Wulf names him in the title already the forgotten hero of science and nothing seems to fit better than this. The book follows the life of Von Humboldt in all its imperfections, creating storylines that sometimes overlap and revisit each other. It reads like one of those adventure novels I loved to read when I was a little boy and Von Humboldt soon becomes your hero when you’re reading these pages. Through it all, the figure takes shape and form and becomes real to the reader.

But Wulf does more than just telling the story. She also explores the how and why of Von Humboldt’s emission from our history books took place. After connecting his work and influence to some of the most pivotal thinkers of their time, from Charles Darwin to Símon Bolivar, she explains that part. Germany has lost a lot of popularity due to the two world wars in the 20th century and this simply lead to omitting the German from street signs, libraries and the like. Only in South-America, his name seems to be as revered as it was back in the day. This is a huge shame, but it is the way of things. Thanks to Andrea Wulf this great man of the sciences, arts and the inventor of nature as we know it now has the biography that brings him back to us.

Reading of Books #29

I’ve been reading some books and they were good. I read work by Duff McKagan, Peter Criss, Roddy Doyle and Robert B. Cialdini. A bit of music, a bit of thinkers work and a bit of literature, it was a good and inspirational series of titles. Check them out.

Books!

Duff McKagan – How To Be A Man (And Other Illusions)

source: goodreads.com

Duff McKagan managed to grab my heart with his first book It’s So Easy (And Other Lies). That book deals with the glory days in Guns’n’Roses, drug- and alcohol abuse and getting on your feet again. It ends on a high note, with the little family and new projects in place. By writing a follow-up, McKagan shows himself to be a true story teller. We find the man back in the van again with the Walking Papers a new project (and brilliant music), picking up where he left. It’s interesting, because it takes you to a place you wouldn’t imagine to find the sober Duff to be at again, but he is and it immediately becomes glorious.

Where the previous book had something cathartic to it, something confessional while remaining light, this one is flat-out funny at times. Duff has a miraculous amount of self deflating jokes lined up and keeps tricking the readers. He takes you into one direction, only to baffle you by switching it all around on you. This book could actually count as an inspirational book, it gives good advice for people trying to find out what to do is right. As long as you take things with a grain of salt. A great read for music fans and allround humans.

Roddy Doyle – The Commitments

source: goodreads.com

You might have seen the film. I think I have, but I’m not sure so I’ll rewatch it. This writing debut of Roddy Doyle takes Irish English to new hights in a street-talking music adventure with the rowdy youngsters from Dublin getting into soul music. Jimmy Rabbite is approached by some of his mates to help them set up a band. He agrees but only if he can manage them. This turns into an interesting journey for the young folks, who actually do what most bands do: break up before they make it. It’s a great story, written in a language that every reader can easily relate to, with a lot of cool references to music.

Doyle is Dublin through and through and you can read that in the manner of detail and local references. This could not have been written by a thorough study. There’s a raw realism to the writing, to the story as well. Nothing is overblown or overly hefty, it’s all normal stories but told in such a natural way that you’ll be captivated. I’m not even sure if that’s the language, but maybe simply the form of a continuous narrative. I’ve really enjoyed reading this, though I went through it so fast that it was over before I knew it. The story of The Commitments, bringing soul to soul-starved Dublin.

Peter Criss – Makeup to Breakup: My Life in and out of Kiss

source: goodreads.com

Peter Criss succeeds in the one thing, that no other Kiss biography did. His former bandmates all managed to end it on a high note, where they were sort of the good guys (except for Gene, because he doesn’t care). Peter Criss manages to make himself look like an even bigger dick than any of the others put him down as. His book reads as that of a man, who contradicts himself every step of the way (sometimes with only a few lines between them). Everything is the fault of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and Criss goes at them with a vengeance. At the same time he never shies away from giving his piece of mind about other people surrounding the band, apart from the ones he likes. Those are all cool with him it seems (some people just escape his wrath).

At the same time, Criss constantly laments the bad luck that befell him throughout his career. It makes him sound bitter and sad about things. He reveals stuff about people, that are just not done (particularly the sexual skills of his wife were not necessary). In thaqt way he tries to legitimize the weirdest stuff, like with Lydia the fact that he couldn’t get her to do weird stuff in bed made cheating, drinking and drugging fine. That being said, Peter Criss’s biography has a rawness to it, the others lack. There’s an honesty that makes you doubt the three other books. Yet again, he seems to say conflicting things with all three other books and sometimes his theories are so far out that it makes no sense at all anymore.  A great read though.

Robert B. Cialdini – Pre-Suasion

source: goodreads.com

Sometimes you find these marketing books that are inspirational at the same time. This book by Robert Cialdini is a tome focussed on the act of pre-suasion, of priming your target to the persuasive message that is to come. It’s a gentle nudge in the direction that you wish to take the reader in. It makes for a fascinating read and Cialdini has a way of writing that is very engaging and accesible. Honestly, to read this book you don’t need to be a marketing genius. There’s advice that can help you in daily situations you might be struggling with.

Cialdini uses plenty of examples to clarify the point he is making, which is not too complex. The dense amount of data that the author produces to support the theory is though, which is what makes this books so singularly powerful and convincing. There’s something there for sales people, marketeer, policy pushers and project planners, but also for teachers, managers, coaches and people that simply wish to get more done. It’s really well worth your time to check out this highly enjoyable book. Revolution only needs the right nudge.

Reading of Books #27

There’s just too much material that I would want to read, so these are the latest books I enjoyed reading. Magnus Magnusson, Nick Hornby, Marc Eglinton and Lars Brownworth were my reading victims this time.

Adam Nergal Darski/Marc Eglinton – Confessions of a Heretic: The Sacred and the Profane: Behemoth and Beyond

source: goodreads.com

Let’s get one thing straight, I’ve read many books by musicians, but listing Nergal as an author on this is not correct. He’s the subject of the book and most of the words are his, but he’s an interviewee here, not the writer. This is highly suggested in the promo surrounding the book, but as he himself would say “people should be more critical”. Originally the book was published in Polish, but Eglinton rewrote it in English. In a dense collection of interviews, Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski talks about his life, his views and his music. Nergal likes to shape his own image, which is that of a hedonist, a liberal thinker, a freedom fighter and more often than you think an alpha male. There’s a certain arrogance in this book, but it’s the right sort of arrogance.

As a fan of Behemoth, I found that reading this book made me like Nergal less. Maybe it’s breaking down the hero status, maybe it’s realizing there’s not that many connecting points. I did find my respect for the man growing with every page. The book humanizes him, but also shows that his whole iconoclastic attitude is just an expression. Nergal is no basement dwelling, goat sacrificing mad men, but a thinking, reading, reasoning man trying to find his own way in the world. It’s hard to imagine how his celebrity status works alongside his carreer as a black metal singer, but this book gives you an image. This book is a pleasant read and a lot of fun, but its just that for those interested in the man Nergal. If that is not interesting to you, this book will not make your knowlegde of metal any bigger. No need to pick it up for that reason.

Nick Hornby – Fever Pitch

source: goodreads.com

I love football. I tried to deny it for many, many years, but I have a profound love for the football game. The culture and all its aspects fascinate me. What I lack is  true fandom of one team, but once upon a time I had my room walls plastered with posters. That team was Arsenal from London. This is what attracted me to the book by Nick Hornby, an author I have not read that much from this far. This story is his personal recounting of how football had an impact on his life. On him and the way he turned out. From the day his father took him to see Arsenal his fate was sealed. The most boring team in the world defeated Stoke with a boring 1-0 win. It was enough to get hooked. Not even a visit to Tottenham could shake his allegiance.

Hornby uses certain games to illustrate phases of his life. He connects them to where he was at as a person and how it all made him feel. He describes a relationship between his personal well being and the clubs performance through the years, the cynicism that comes with being a football fan and the joy of a championship, It’s  a story of becoming an adult, becoming a person and growing up with a passion for football. No one, as far as I know, has ever put the place football has in peoples lives to words as good as Hornby does in this pleasant and enjoyable book.

Magnus Magnusson – Tales from Viking Times

source: goodreads.com

Many know Magnus Magnusson  as a Brittish tv-host of certain quizzes. This puzzling fact I found rather interesting about the man who has written extensively about the viking era of the past. Magnusson worked for most of his life as a journalist and translator, but the bulk of what he left behind comes from his origins. The writer was born in the Kingdom of Iceland. His birth was in the time when Denmark and Iceland were struggling to find a solution for the wish for independence. Magnusson grew up in Schotland, but writes about the ancient tales with a special kind of passion in this book.

Ths book deals with the traditional Northern stories and folk tales and is not just a collection of those works. In a fragmentary way Magnusson delivers segments of stories. Accompanying those stories are brief explanations about their roots and settings. This makes this book highly educatonal. The world view of the Northerners was strongly defined by these stories and really are a product of those. Magnusson takes ample time to give the right attention to this. It’s a pleasant collection presented as an audiobook, which is fitting. The saga’s work best when spoken. Even better around a fire.

Lars Brownworth – The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings

source: goodreads.com

Writing a history of the Vikings is a dense and complex task. Where to start and what directions to go in? Vikings travelled in all directions and there are many stories to be told. Do you wish to focus on their ferocity and the lasting stamp of fear or on their exploring and progressive nature? It’s a struggle for writers, but Brownworth chose to start somewhere at the start of their written history. In England and in France, where post Roman Empire some sort of civilization is arising. The sails they see at the horizon will test their mettle. Fierce plunderers and raiders arrive, who come from a shrouded history. The roots of the vikings are in the north, in their land that spawned them forth. What really starts the history we want to know, is their first raids.

Brownworth takes the reader down a  history that is part fact and part probably fiction, but how else do you tell the tales of Ragnar Lodbrok and his sons? How to speak of Ivar the Boneless and King Rurik of the Rus? The Viking age is an age of dragons and monsters, of  worlds unknown and undiscovered land like Iceland, Greenland and Vinland. The story of reconnecting the old empires and finding glory in Constantinopel and Kiev. Brownworth writes in different directions and picks up on other branches in following chapters. This allows him to create a story that is as diverse and spread out as the Viking influence. To really close the story, we end at Stamford Bridge, with the dead of the legendary Harold Hardrada. The sun then sets on the viking age in a beautiful history, really worth your time to read.

Reading of Books #28

Another edition of my book bit, with a lot of new books read. R.A. Salvatore is very present with the last two trilogies of Drizzt, Paul Stanley from Kiss and Duff McKagan from Guns’n’Roses. Totally not geek + music geek edition.

Books!

R.A. Salvatore – The Companion Codex (Night of the Hunter, Rise of the King, Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf)

source: Goodreads.com

In this series of books, we pick up the dark road that the party of heroes seemed to have ahead of them in the inbetween book ‘The Companions’. Drizzt is reunited with his Catti-Bri, his friends Bruenor, Regis and Wulfgar. It seems however, that war is brewing everywhere and the Orcs are marching with support of the drow. The Silver Marches are besieged by the thousands and cities fall. The dwarves are locked in their underground citadels and no one seems to be able to push them forward. That changes when Bruenor Battlehammer picks up his plight as king among dwarfs. When he starts listening to the whispers of the old dwarven gods and the counsel of his friends and fellow Dwarf kings.

In the most desperate situations the united dwarfs of the Forgotten Realms find their brightest moment. They unearth their greatest treasures after millennia. It is not an easy fight though and much will be lot and much must be sacrificed to get there. In these novels, the world turns a bit more dark and grim and many mechanisms seem to be at work. The wheels are turning and Drizzt and the companions of the hall find themselves in the middle of it all, but also in the middle of their own turmoil and demons. Salvatore creates the profound story that looks at a world, where good and evil are not such simple concepts anymore. What is war if one loses all that holds value? What is a war if you forget the values that you fight for?

Paul Stanley – Face the Music: A Life Exposed

source: goodreads.com

Paul Stanley has always been the most mysterious member of Kiss. His biography is one of the most anticipated ones among fans of the band. The singer has always been a bit of a puzzle for most people, but in this biography he is very open about himself. Even though at times it isn’t pretty and some band experiences come out, he manages to touch his readers. Paul Stanley is the first Kiss member to write a biography that leaves him standing as a victor in the end. The book is also not as filled with spite and dislike. I can’t say that for the other ones by Kiss members and that is a pleasant thing to be sure.

Paul Stanley describes his life from his early days onward. Being born with only one ear intact (and working), turns out to be the source of most angst and insecurity in his life. It’s the red threat through his whole carreer and experiences. Reading this, it outshines even all the fame and fortune. Everything related to the ear problems seems to be key in his development. The surgery to reconstruct it, the way he positions himself on the stage and in the end how he starts working for a childrens organisation. Sure, there’s the necessary amount of rock’n’roll extravagance going on as well. You’ll get some good stories about the women, sustance abuse (of others, since Stanley never really was the crazy one on that front) and quite some Gene Simmons. Pauls story is touching and captivating, never free of a good critical look at himself, but at times blissfully unaware of his own being and impression. A joyful read for sure.

R.A. Salvatore – Homecoming (Archmage, Maestro, Hero)

That was the respons I got from mr. Salvatore himself about my earlier thoughts on the series. Now, I did get here and after 33 books I was fearful for quite a few pages that all would end horribly in tears. For the characters, but also for me since after all this time I had become quite attached to the figures in the book. This whole series has the vibe of an endgame. Things are getting serious in here and that makes for some really daunting reads. Some surprising developments and character innovations take place and we all somehow get them together for a final push.

source: goodreads.com

We find Mithril Hall at peace for once, but things are always stirring in the Forgotten Realms. The drow in Menzoberranzan have not finished with their prodigal son. Internal power struggles literally open the gates to hell and demons flood into the realm. They happen to be causing more havoc to the drow themselves than to their enemies. The primordial under Gauntlgrym stirs and Yvonnel the Eternal is reborn. Facing these great enemies are our heroes; Drizzt, Catti-bri and Bruenor. Their other two friends are on a quest of their own, where Regis and Wulfgar will find great challenges and old companions on their road. Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxl site with the heroes…  but things get really interesting when a runaway archmage joins them and a very important priestess of Lolth. But what if your real enemy is within your own mind?

There’s a promise of more to come though. This is good, because I love these books. Unfortunately, mister Salvatore has announced he will not answer any questions on the matter for now.

Duff McKagan – It’s So Easy (And Other Lies)

source: goodreads.com

I’ve never really been a fan of Guns’n’Roses, but when I heard their bass player talk on the Danko Jones podcast about his book. I knew I had to read it. Duff McKagan is the epitome of cool, the laid back voice, the self awareness and self depricating jokes… In his book he is telling the world his story including all the stupid decisions, bad choices and all about the rampant drug and alcohol abuse that brought him to his knees and made him rise up again a new man. The book starts with the McKagan of now. He is walking out of the backdoor of his house during his daughters birthday party and finding two kids making out. He goes through a mental checklist of drugs, sex, alcohol and other things… it’s a funny opener and shows how comfortable McKagan is in writing about himself. Then the good stuff starts.

Duff McKagan is a Seattle-born musician. People sometimes forget that he was in a bunch of bands in the past. It’s good to get some info on that too with his early bands. Also a near death experience at an early eage seems to have contributed to his personality. The writing style is casual, almost off handed as if things just emerge and happened, but sometimes we get back to the internal monologue from the start. Especially when bad things happen. A rock’n’roll book with drugs and alcohol has a lot of grief in it. McKagan never makes light of that. He is funny when he talks about himself, jovial when it concerns weird things that happened to a bunch of guys and cordial when he writes about problems in the band. He always seems  to have the right tone for all situations, never goes down avenues of boring thoughts and just keeps this easy to read. One of the best rock’n’roll bio’s I’ve seen this far.

Reading of Books #26

I enjoyed another pile of books, this time including Thoreau, Snyder, Thieme and Murakami. I’ve really been reading a lot and that is never a bad thing.

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

For some reason I didn’t get through it the first time, but I’ve finished and enjoyed Thoreau’s influential book Walden. Walden deals with the 2 years Thoreau lived in the woods to test himself and see what he needed to have meaning in his life. It’s a fascinating read full of contemplation and admiration for that which surrounds the author on his time in the forest next to Walden pond. From describing catching a fighting set of ants under a jar, feeding the squirrels and watching the fish to his outlook on society at its time and further thoughts. All written in the eloquent style of a philosopher that is still searching for his truths, not willing to force them onto the reader.

Thoreau has many insights while staying in his self-build cabin, which are highly influential to wanderers and lovers of nature still. Not only his thoughts and appreciation for nature, but as well his thoughts on eating meat. Vegetarians will like this book for those insights early in time. Thoreau laments the fact that a hunter takes away his chance to enjoy the encounter with a deer on his path. This simple but concrete description is very throught provoking, even for the most staunch opponents to such ideas. The book is also a testament to declaring the strenght, ingenuity and skill of humans to fend for themselves. It’s a plea for a specific anarchism, also illustrated by the encounters Thoreau has with a woodsman, who has no interest in money. This book can change your life, truly.

Marianne Thieme – De Eeuw van het Dier

Recently I converted to the Dutch ‘Animal Party’ as my political choice, I realized  I knew very little about the movement and the history of that movement. I thought it’d be a good idea to read up. While waiting for the arrival of party leader Marianne Thieme’s latest book, I purchased an earlier write-up from the earlier days of the party. I read this book and was instantly captivated by the factual descriptions, numbers and huge amount of information. Sure, this book was a couple of years old, but I can hardly imagine that much has changed as yet. Part of the book is also personal, about the history of Thieme as an animal fan and how she got to the point in life she is at now.

The numbers are staggering. The amount of unnecesary cruelty against animals is shocking and I’m amazed at how long I managed to push this knowledge away from myself. Sure, deep down you’re always aware at some level of what’s happening in those massive stables, but we love imagining that it’s not that bit of meat on my plate. A furthr section of the book contains letters from famous supporters of the party, with their own wit and insight into matters. It’s a joy to read, it offers so many connecting points for any reader. The last part are recipes. I’m keen to  try those out in my new vegetarian lifestyle.

Haruki Murakami – The Elephant Vanishes

Every once in a while I crave the work of Murakami. His clean descriptions, the strange magics in reality, the puzzling encounters and endless trivialities are always a joy for me to read. It’s pleasing me in both content and form. This far I’ve read the longer works of him and really could immerse myself in there and learn about the characters but this time I chose a different book. The title is ‘The Elephant Vanishes’, it’s the title of the final short story in this book of short stories. Short stories are an art form in itself. To tell your story in a 700 page book is in a way much easier, because you can expand and work around things as much as you like. The short story requires a focussed, condensed amount of information that still packs the right punch.

The stories gathered in this book have been published over a span of years in various magazines and periodicals. I have the feeling that Murakami has used these short stories to really experiment with storytelling and fiction. You can recognize elements of these stories from titles like ‘IQ84’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’. The plesure was in that I listened to parts of this book and hearing different narrators tell the stories helps to really distinguish between the stories and put them in seperate time frames and settings. For example the story ‘Little Green Monster’, that is particularly weird and felt very un-Murakami-like. Still the sentient being, the craving for contact, loneliness and merciless human character are all too familiar aspects. ‘The Dancing Dwarf’ is an adult fairy tale by Murakami, where everything has consequences. Other stories find the magic in every day life. In that way, another beautifull piece of writing by the author.

Timothy Snyder – On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

For some reason we never learn from our history and nothing proves it so convincingly as this book by Timothy Snyder. Snyder is a university teacher and researcher, who specializes in Eastern-Europe and the Holocaust. This is not an immense book, but a rather quick read, dense with information that I think everyone should learn for its obvious relativity to todays events and occurences. Unfortunately, not many will probably read it and specially not those who really should be reading it. So if you are politically ambivalent and reading this, if you feel that the current day right wing politics from populist fronts makes sense, take your time to read or listen to this book. It takes two hours of your time I suppose and I think it’ll bring a wealth to you.

Snyder outlines 20 lessons, which he then one by one fills in with actual knowledge of last centuries misery and malpractices. How willingly did we let fascism get a hold of us in the thirties, how smoothly did the transition take place. It’s a remarkable story of how the silent majority truly enables totalitarianism, what the tools are of tyranny. Criticism killed, press silence and dissidents removed, that’s when tyranny takes hold. It’s frightening how real this is. It’s frightening how the actuality of this books strikes me.

Reading of Books #25

I’ve been reading a lot again, so theres a list of the books of this month with writings by Salvatore, Houellebecq, Kinna and Reynolds. Really good stuff, so yeah.

R.A. Salvatore – The Sundering: The Companions

source: goodreads.com

I am not yet certain what my thoughts are on the tragic deaths of the companions of the hall, the long journey of Drizzt Do’Urden to find peace in Irruladoon in the following books and then the strange turn of events where they are all revived. Certainly, I hated saying goodbye to this group of characters from the D&D universe, but the story had ended after the Neverwinter Saga, a journey I started ironically here where it all ended. So this is the book where we start again, once more onto the breach! The characters start their journeys in new body’s after a gift from Miellikki to adulthood for a new and greater challenge at the sides of Drizzt. A fascinating look into the soul of these figures.

The Sundering is a series of novels, preparing the world for the next edition of D&D, which has become the 5th edition. Since that is the one I play, I did really enjoy this shift in the realms. The great part is that the foundations are layed for the 5th edition campaigns, where the companions play a minor role in the shaping of the world. It’s a well written story, and again Salvatore shows to be more than just a bread writer when he delves into the characters of Catti-Brie, Bruenor and Regis. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and now I’m keen to start my first great campaign.

Michel Houellebecq – Whatever

source: goodreads.com

Somewhere in the past I might have read this descent into madness by French writer Hoellebecq. What I like about his writing is the dark edges, the grimy worldview and the inhumanity of humanity. In this book, his debut I should add, he really displays all of that. The book is mostly written in a monologue of the main character, who is experiencing… well… Very little perhaps? Life is a drag filled with mediocrity and the cynicism of the protagonist is all that keeps him afloat. No other human really seems to touch him or get involved with him on any real level. Life becomes very, very gray.

It all changes when the protagonist becomes ill and has to drop out of the tour of France, to train people in the new software the company sells. After a short introspective period in the hospital he joins his colleague again, who desperately tries to seduce some girl in a disco. In a brutal, sick plan he tries to convince his colleague to murder the girl. The colleague fails and dies on his way home in a car crash. The protagonist sinks away even deeper after this. The defeatist story illustrates the view that the sexual revolution has not brought us more freedom on that front, but a system of capitalism. Of offer and demand, where some win and some lose in the tragical desire for contact.

Ruth Kinna – Anarchism: A Beginner’s Guide

source: goodreads.com

Anarchism is a vast political movement, stretching years, but rarely properly analysed. Usually the concept is simply translated into ‘chaos’ or ‘rebellion’. Anarchism is so much more though, but surprisingly hard to understand thanks to our connotations with it ánd our rather brainwashed state of mind. I use that term lightly, because the brainwashing is simply the state of the world we live in. What you know is easily the normal thing, what is new is harder to grasp. In this book Kinna captures the history of anarchism as a political idea, it’s development and its core principles in an elaborate but very clear cut way.

Tracing a route from Proudhon andThoreau to  Tolstoj, Bakunin and Kropotkin, Kinna outlines the great thinkers in the context of their time, moving on to the likes of Nestor Makhhno, Errico Malatesta, Emma Goldman and so fort all the way to Chomsky. Illuminating is the successtory’s of early anarchism in the period from the 1850’s to the 1930’s, where it was fighting over heavily contested terrain with the communists. All in all, this is a great read to get yourself acquainted with anarchism and what it means, can be and how it it shapes the world. That’s a whole lot more informed than posting Rote Armee Fraction pictures on your facebook timeline and calling yourself a rebel…

Simon Reynolds – Bring The Noise

source: goodreads.com

I’ve really enjoyed the book Reynolds made his debut with, ‘Rip it up and start again’. The powerful title really sums up the postpunk movement. In this book Reynolds sort of picks up at the end of that book, but instead of steady chapters we find a collection of the journalistic writings of Reynolds, who lived through the described period as a music journalist. The pieces are journalistic pieces on certain key moments, albums and movements as Reynolds perceived them. The articles also have some current-day commentary added to them, allowing the author to add a modern day look to the equasion.

To me the fascinating thing is how Reynolds weaves together articles about rock music, grunge, hiphop and the growing techno/drum’n’bass scene. The need for noise, rebellion and urban narrative is woven through all these aspects, which Reynolds translates to cultural terms and clarifiers. The link between hiphops lyrical matter, beat and ideology is related to punk, but also to the roots of the movement, it’s location and predecessors in a clear and complete manner. It’s interesting how the author really writes as if he’s the chronicler of the music scene. A worthy read

The Reading of Books # 24

So, another series of books devoured, this time Bernie Sanders, Matt Taibbi, John Scalzi and Dayal Patterson’s work was in my sights.

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In

source: Goodreads

I became aware of Bernie Sanders quite late during the campaign, but something about this Vermont senator struck me quite soon. It’s that unabashed honesty, hard-working mentality and no crap attitude of the man that truly humbles anyone who follows what he does. Bernie is not for sale and Bernie genuinely worries about the people he represents. This book is therefor not some hollow rhetoric by an establishment politician. I would even argue that Bernie might nog have even put his face on the cover if he could avoid it. Sanders wanted to talk about issues, about change and about a grassroots movement that was looking for something new. This is something rather close to my own politics and I felt strong affinity to the Sanders campaign after reading this.

The book is part diary, where Sanders really describes his own experiences and life in a rather sober manner, the way the man is when asked about himself. Sanders focusses on his politics, even when its persona and that makes him such a specific specimen. He rarely pats himself on the shoulder and when he does, he always includes others. It’s  a pleasant read of a straight talk politician. The other half is his politicas and vision, so a more manifesto like article. In this part Sanders also takes all the time to really explain those views in detail. I’ve had bad hopes for the future, but the succes of Bernie’s campaign, the grassroots movement and these good ideas make me feel that we can sort it all out. A great book for those interested in finding out more about what is happening in the United States among real people. Worth your time for sure.

source: goodreads.com

John Scalzi – Redshirts

Imagine that you are living your life the way you feel it should go, only to realise that all of it was leading up to the inevitable and horrible death of you in a situation that screams irrationality. Imagine that you realise that going on a mission with the officers of your star ship leads to an almost certain death. Well, that’s pretty much the world that the characters of Redshirts live in. It is surprising that when officers come in looking for members to go on a ‘away team’, a lot of the crew disappears. That is not even the weirdest stuff that happens, There’s even a box that goes ping and solves complex, scientific mysteries. It only works in the nick of time though, as if to provide Dramatic effect. A very peculiar situation indeed.

This is an interesting and highly entertaining read by Scalzi. A group of redshirts realise that they are… redshirts. It creates a strange series of stories, where reality becomes the most trivial part. Real or not real, people are dying because of bad script writing. That is the main theme of the book, but the way Scalzi takes that and runs with it is just amazing. The characters really become real and every cliché is present in a hilarious journey. What I liked best about this book is actually the added parts, where characters from the story reiterate their experiences from their perspectives. It leads to philosophical, but also very human passages, that show science fiction is more than just fun and still holds interesting aspects for our reality. This is by far one of the most fun books I’ve read in a while, so this is indeed highly recommended.

Dayal Patterson – Cult Never Dies: The Mega Zine

source: goodreads.com

I was a bit puzzled by this choice to do a Mega Zine, for a bunch of reasons. First of, the word magazine always makes something more contemporary, more fleeting and less urgent, where I like that Patterson works on a continuous series of works on documenting extreme metal. Secondly, it results in a cover that looks less fitting in my  collection. Now, after having read it I also have to say that it really downplays the fact that is is very close related to the previous titles. Actually it’s a great addition with bands that simply don’t fit the regular categories you imagine with the black metal genre. In this book Patterson interviews some of the most peculiar groups from the grand and intriguing black metal scene.

Interesting fact is that the author adds other interviewers to this book, doing the work he’s pursuing with more knowledge and experience with certain bands. It makes the titanic work of documenting the scene more managable, but creating a matching format and form of expression does become more daunting. There are no problems with that though in this book, with bands lik Reverend Bizarre and Slegest to the strange organ sounds of Lychgate. The includees in this book do feel slightly random, but it’s what you get with the strange and the weird. Another great book for the lovers of the dark and heavy music genre.

Matt Taibbi – Insane Clown President

source: goodreads.com

It seems like an easy title, but Matt Taibbi really followed the tornado of madness that ravaged America in 2016. Taibbi is a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine, who has indeed been on the bus during the elections in the United States. Watching the burning car wreck of a result that this created, Taibbi looks back at those elections and gives his critique, but not without taking part of the blame himself as member of the writing press, who are definitely part of the rise of Trump thanks to their hungry camera lenses and continuous interest in the most maddening campaign the elections in the States have ever seen. Taibbi looks at the history of writing in the political business, of media attention and previous campaigns to find out about a disturbing path that all of this has been following for a long, long time.

It was never jus about Trump, it was about the victory of the spectacle over content. Outrage triumphing over decency and one-liners before truth. It’s a monumental power switch from the elite to the uneducated, the disenfranchised… People picking instead of a sort of semi-decent system, a completely abyssal insanity as their future. Why the fuck did Trump appeal to these people? Well, he definitely didn’t charm them alone, he was the most remorseless, insane and outrages candidate of 16 terrible options.  This book is filled with great essays about different stages in the electoral proces, which are filled with venom and wit from experienced writer Taibbi. It’s the postmortem of the American dream, the end of equality and the start of the  white nationalist dark ages. God save us all from the clown car’s master… but worse, from ourselves. This book is really for you, if you like the black humor of the time and age we live in. Enjoy.

The Reading of Books #23

Ah, books… I’ve been reading books on D&D and more, so I’ve had happy times. Michael Witwer wrote  a great biography of Gary Gygax,  Another bit of Drizzt reading by R.A. Salvatore, high fantasy by Weiss and Hickman and a treatise on bullshit by Frankfurt. Good times!

Michael Witwer – Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons

source: Goodreads.com

Gary Gygax is the undisputed king of the nerds (sorry Chris Hardwick), but who was this Emperor of Imagination? That must have been what Michael Witwer thought, before he embarked on his quest to write this book about the creator of Dungeons & Dragons. The book features episodes out of the life of Gygax. It starts with aregular kid falling in love with comic books, Conan and games. The chapters are usually started with a D&D referring intro, offering a teaser for the life experience discussed in the following chapter. It’s a pleasant book, with a strong feel good atmosphere. The rise of a new idea that no one believed in, a shady period of darkness and then the moment of redemption. Witwer doesn’t eschew the darker periods of Gygax’s life. He also adresses his marriage, his departure from TSR (his company, that he was booted out of) and his drug abuse while staying in California.

Thoug this book is largely written from a pro-Gary standpoint, it is not always as mercyful to the original Dungeons & Dragons game master. The figure of Dave Arneson is greatly trivialized and in this version of the story. His contribution is described as a rambling set of ideas and incoherent notes, which were pretty much useless. This for example is stuff that is left out. Gary remains the sympathetic guy, even though at some time he really must have een a complete ass. His business dealings with TSR were also not a highlight of his carreer. All in all, this is a great book though, demonstrating story telling without really chosing sides as much, more a perspective. A really cool way to learn more about the creation and originins of the great game of D&D and the man who made it happen.

R.A. Salvatore – Transitions (The Orc King, The Pirate King, The Ghost King)

source: goodreads.com

Another series of books by R.A. Salvatore I read as a part of the ‘Legend of Drizzt’. I have to admit that I read these with a heavy heart, having had a good look at the follow-up already and knowing fully well what doom and gloom awaited me. Fortunately I was happy to first read some great story telling, before the unfortune hits me. In these books the world around the heroes of the hall is changing significantly. The world is morphing into the chaotic realm of the later books ánd the world Drizzt will be facing.

It starts with ‘The Orc King’, which is an interesting tale about the tentative peace between the Dwarves and Orcs. A group of conspirators wish to destabilize the already difficult situation to perpetuate the war. In the Pirate King we meet Deudermont again, the heroic pirate hunter from Waterdeep. This time he intends to take on the corruption in Luskan and fight the Lych Arklem Greeth. Worse still is to come when in The Ghost King a creature emerges with the combined forces of various old enemies. We also meet Cadderly again, the human servant of Deneir and his family. Oh, this well known drow drops by too.

The stories are exceptionally dense and well written, but give less space to the characters. Most of them have been fully developed, but the enemies are really very flat. That is not so surprising, since this is really a series of transition stories. What else do you need to know after reading all previous books, one could argue. That would be right, the world is changing and that means you have to shift the players to that setting. Salvatore does that with three touching, great and magical books. I really enjoyed reading these.

Margaret Weiss & Tracy Hickman – The Magic of Krynn

source: wikipedia

As it is, I’m a Forgotten Realms fan. I’ve not learned much about the Dungeons & Dragons universe beyond the Sword Coast and I’m not very familiar with the past. Reading this masterpiece by Weiss & Hickman, two of the most appreciated writers in the scif-fi/fantasy. I’ve gotten my first taste of their work with the ‘Death Gate Cycle’, so their skill were known to me. I learned that they had started out as TSR writers, D&D’s company. This is the first Dragonlance book with short stories from the wildly popular Dragonlance setting, which probably helpt put D&D on the map even more firmly. The stories are sort of brief and vary between short and funny, fairytales with hidden wisdom and more complex stories that fit in with the bigger story arch.

The characters seem a bit flat at first, which makes them really pieces that help progress the story. It feels very typical for the more traditional fairy tales, where the characters are fairly simple. Soon you start recognizing them and reading their personalities through the stories. For example the character Tasslehoff Burrfoot is a continuous source of entertainment for the reader. There’s really the sense of dark forests and mystery of a world you barely know anything about here. I think that is part of the allure and probably the close connection to classical fantasy worlds, where figures embody deity like essences. Tasslehoff would be a bit of a trickster, a Loki if you will. Though it’s not my setting of preference, I look forward to revisiting it in future reading endeavours.

Harry Frankfurt – On Bullshit

source: Princeton press

Yes, there is a philosophical article about bullshit available, though much like the makers of ‘Idiocracy’, I doubt that Frankfurt thought he’d ever be known to publish something so particular to the current state of the world. Yes, Trump immediately comes to mind when we discuss the difference between lying, not saying something and speaking absolute bullshit. Bullshit is more than just talking out of your ass, it’s more than willingly mislead your audience, it supposes an almost non-caring attitude towards whatever story you’re spinnin.

On Bullshit is an essential bit of reading for the post-factual age that we live in.