Monday, November 23, 2015

The Oxford History of the Biblical World

The Oxford History of the Biblical World
edited by Michael D. Coogan

In this impressive volume, leading scholars offer compelling glimpses into the biblical world, the world in which prophets, poets, sages, and historians created one of our most important texts--the Bible.
For more than a century, archaeologists have been unearthing the tombs, temples, texts, and artifacts of the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean world. Using new approaches, contemporary scholars have begun to synthesize this material with the biblical traditions. The Oxford History of the Biblical World incorporates the best of this scholarship, and in chronologically ordered chapters presents the reader with a readable and integrated study of the history, art, architecture, languages, literatures, and religion of biblical Israel and early Judaism and Christianity in their larger cultural contexts. The authors also examine such issues as the roles of women, the tensions between urban and rural settings, royal and kinship social structures, and official and popular religions of the region.

Understanding the biblical world is a vital part of understanding the Bible. Broad, authoritative, and engaging, The Oxford History of the Biblical World will illuminate for any reader the ancient world from which the Bible emerged.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


by Stephen King

While riding home from work with his friend Dennis, nerdy teen Arnold "Arnie" Cunningham spots a dilapidated red and white 1958 Plymouth Fury parked in front of a house. Arnie makes Dennis stop so he can examine the car, despite Dennis' attempts to talk Arnie out of it. The car's owner, Roland D. LeBay, an elderly gentleman wearing a back supporter, sells the car—named "Christine"—to Arnie for $250. While waiting for Arnie to finish the paperwork, Dennis sits inside Christine. He has a vision of the car and the surroundings as they were 20 years ago, when the car was new. Frightened, Dennis gets out of Christine, deciding he dislikes Arnie's new car.

Arnie brings Christine to a do-it-yourself auto repair facility run by Will Darnell, who is suspected of using the garage as a front for illicit operations. As Arnie restores the automobile he becomes withdrawn, humorless and cynical, yet more confident and self-assured. Dennis is puzzled by the changes in both his friend and Christine; the repair work proceeds haphazardly and the more extensive repairs do not appear to be done by Arnie. Arnie's appearance improves in tandem with Christine's. When LeBay dies, Dennis meets his younger brother, George, who reveals Roland's history of violent behavior. George also reveals that LeBay's small daughter choked to death on a hamburger in the back seat of the car, LeBay's wife was so traumatized that she apparently committed suicide in its front seat by carbon monoxide poisoning. As time passes, Dennis observes that Arnie is taking on many of LeBay's personality traits. He also notices that Arnie has become close to Darnell, even acting as a courier in Darnell's interstate smuggling operations.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Shadow Divers

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II
by Robert Kurson

In the tradition of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm comes a true tale of riveting adventure in which two weekend scuba divers risk everything to solve a great historical mystery–and make history themselves.

For John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, deep wreck diving was more than a sport. Testing themselves against treacherous currents, braving depths that induced hallucinatory effects, navigating through wreckage as perilous as a minefield, they pushed themselves to their limits and beyond, brushing against death more than once in the rusting hulks of sunken ships.
But in the fall of 1991, not even these courageous divers were prepared for what they found 230 feet below the surface, in the frigid Atlantic waters sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey: a World War II German U-boat, its ruined interior a macabre wasteland of twisted metal, tangled wires, and human bones–all buried under decades of accumulated sediment.
No identifying marks were visible on the submarine or the few artifacts brought to the surface. No historian, expert, or government had a clue as to which U-boat the men had found. In fact, the official records all agreed that there simply could not be a sunken U-boat and crew at that location.

Over the next six years, an elite team of divers embarked on a quest to solve the mystery. Some of them would not live to see its end. Chatterton and Kohler, at first bitter rivals, would be drawn into a friendship that deepened to an almost mystical sense of brotherhood with each other and with the drowned U-boat sailors–former enemies of their country. As the men’s marriages frayed under the pressure of a shared obsession, their dives grew more daring, and each realized that he was hunting more than the identities of a lost U-boat and its nameless crew.

Author Robert Kurson’s account of this quest is at once thrilling and emotionally complex, and it is written with a vivid sense of what divers actually experience when they meet the dangers of the ocean’s underworld. The story of Shadow Divers often seems too amazing to be true, but it all happened, two hundred thirty feet down, in the deep blue sea.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Scribal Culture

Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible
by Karel van der Toorn

We think of the Hebrew Bible as the Book--and yet it was produced by a largely nonliterate culture in which writing, editing, copying, interpretation, and public reading were the work of a professional elite. The scribes of ancient Israel are indeed the main figures behind the Hebrew Bible, and in this book Karel van der Toorn tells their story for the first time. His book considers the Bible in very specific historical terms, as the output of the scribal workshop of the Second Temple active in the period 500-200 BCE. Drawing comparisons with the scribal practices of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, van der Toorn clearly details the methods, the assumptions, and the material means of production that gave rise to biblical texts; then he brings his observations to bear on two important texts, Deuteronomy and Jeremiah.

Traditionally seen as the copycats of antiquity, the scribes emerge here as the literate elite who held the key to the production as well as the transmission of texts. Van der Toorn's account of scribal culture opens a new perspective on the origins of the Hebrew Bible, revealing how the individual books of the Bible and the authors associated with them were products of the social and intellectual world of the scribes. By taking us inside that world, this book yields a new and arresting appreciation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the Wake of the Goddesses

In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth
by Tivka Frymer-Kensky

The current return to spiritual values has spawned a surge of interest in the ancient goddess-based religions as a remedy to a long tradition of misogyny in the Western religions.

But how accurate are these current representations of the goddess in polytheism? And did Judeo-Christian religion really turn its back on women? These are some of the questions that scholar and feminist Tivka Frymer-Kensky sets out to answer in this iconoclastic study of gender in religions past and present. Her argument, illustrated with fascinating accounts of myth and ritual dating back to the early days of Sumer, Assyria, and Greece, is that although polytheism did accord females an important role, the strict division between male and female actually served to keep women in a subordinate position. The goddesses were progressively "ghettoized": their sphere was eventually relegated to home and hearth, while male gods took over as patrons of wisdom and learning. This dualism was displaced by the Bible, which embraced a surprisingly egalitarian view of human nature in which women were not considered to be inherently inferior.

In a provocative work of biblical scholarship on gender and sexuality, Frymer-Kensky shows that the ideal of monotheism may offer far more to us today than a return to the gender-based worldview of the goddess religions.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Different Seasons

Different Seasons
by Stephen King

Different Seasons (1982) is a collection of four Stephen King novellas with a more serious dramatic bent than the horror fiction for which King is famous. The four novellas are tied together via subtitles that relate to each of the four seasons. The collection is notable for having had three of its four novellas turned into Hollywood films, one of which, The Shawshank Redemption, was nominated for the 1994 Academy Award for Best Picture.

At the ending of the book, there is also a brief afterword, which King wrote on January 4, 1982. In it, he explains why he had not previously submitted the novellas (each written at a different time) for publication. Early in his career, his agents and editors expressed concern that he would be "written off" as someone who only wrote horror. However, his horror novels turned out to be quite popular and made him much in demand as a novelist. Conversely, the novellas, which did not deal (primarily) with the supernatural, were very difficult to publish as there was not a mass market for "straight" fiction stories in the 25,000 to 35,000 word format. Thus, King and his editor conceived the idea of publishing the novellas together as "something different", hence the title of the book.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Body

The Body
by Stephen King

The Body is a novella by American writer Stephen King, originally published in his 1982 collection Different Seasons and adapted into the 1986 film Stand by Me. Some changes were made to the plot of the film, including changing the setting date from 1960 to 1959 and the location of Castle Rock from Maine to Oregon.

The story takes place during the summer of 1960 in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. After a boy from Chamberlain, Maine, named Ray Brower disappears and is presumed dead, Gordie Lachance and his three friends, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp and Vern Tessio set out to find his body after telling their parents they will be camping out. During the course of their journey, the boys, who all come from abusive, dysfunctional families, come to grips with some of the harsh truths of growing up in a small factory town that does not seem to offer them much in the way of a future.

In comparison to King's prior works, the narrative of The Body is complicated in that it is told in first person point of view by the now adult Gordon Lachance. Most of the story is a straight retrospective of what happened, but comments, or entire chapters that relate to the present time, are interspersed throughout. Although he is only 12 at the time of the story, Gordie's favorite diversion is writing and storytelling. During the narrative, he tells stories to his friends, and two stories are presented in the text as short stories by Gordon Lachance, complete with attribution to the magazines in which they were published.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Apt Pupil

Apt Pupil 
by Stephen King

Apt Pupil consists of 29 chapters, many of which are headed by a month. Set in a fictional suburb of southern California called "Santo Donato", the story unfolds over a period of about four years, with most of the action taking place during the first year and the last months. It is the only novella in Different Seasons to be narrated in the third person.

Kurt Dussander remembers using a "bank in the State of Maine" to purchase stocks under an assumed name. He goes on to say that the banker who bought them for Dussander went to jail for murdering his wife a year after he purchased them. He even references Andy Dufresne by name — he remembers the name because "it sounds a little like mine." Andy Dufresne is a central character in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the novella preceding Apt Pupil in Different Seasons.

When confronting Todd about his murders, Dussander mentions a serial killer named "Springheel Jack". This killer is the focus of "Strawberry Spring", a short story published in the King collection Night Shift (1978).

The guidance counselor Ed French mentions his hotel room is number 217, the same as the famous Overlook Hotel room in The Shining. Furthermore, in The Shining, Jack Torrance is working on a novel that includes a character named Denker, the same name as Dussander's alter ego. This has led some fans to speculate that Apt Pupil is Torrance's novel.[1] In the afterword to Different Seasons, King mentions having written Apt Pupil immediately after The Shining

Monday, October 5, 2015

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
by Stephen King

Andy Dufresne, a banker from Maine, is arrested for the double murder of his wife and her lover, a crime he did not commit. He is sent to Shawshank Prison for life. At the prison, he meets Red, a prisoner who specializes in procuring items from the outside world.

As a free man, Andy had been an amateur geologist, so he asks Red to get him a rock hammer, a tool he uses to shape the rocks he finds in the exercise yard into small sculptures. One of the next items he orders from Red is a large poster of Rita Hayworth. Over the ensuing years, Andy regularly requests more posters from Red, including pin-ups of Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch. When asked, Andy tells Red that he likes to imagine he can step through the pictures and be with the actresses.

One day, Andy and other prisoners are tarring a roof when Andy overhears a guard complaining about the amount of tax he will have to pay on a sum of money bequeathed to him. Andy approaches the guard, and tells him a way that he can legally shelter the money from taxation.

A gang of predatory prisoners called "The Sisters," led by Bogs Diamond, rapes any prisoner they can, and Andy is no exception. However, when Andy makes himself useful to the guards, they protect him from "The Sisters." One night, Bogs is found in his cell unconscious and severely beaten. Andy is also allowed to stay alone in his cell instead of having a cellmate like most other prisoners.

Andy's work assignment is later shifted from the laundry to the prison's library. The new assignment also allows Andy to spend more time doing financial paperwork for the staff. Andy applies to the Maine State Senate for funding to expand the library. For years he gets no response to his weekly letters until the Senate finally sends him $200, thinking Andy will stop requesting funds. Instead of ceasing his letter writing, he starts writing twice as often. His diligent work results in a major expansion of the library's collection, and he also helps a number of prisoners earn equivalency diplomas.

The warden of Shawshank, Norton, also realizes that a man of Andy's skills is useful. He has started a program called "Inside-Out" where convicts do work outside the prison for slave wages. Normal companies outside cannot compete with the cost of Inside-Out workers, so they offer Norton bribes not to bid for contracts. This cash has to be laundered somehow, and Andy makes himself useful here as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


by Robert Bloch

Norman Bates is a middle-aged bachelor who is dominated by his mother, a mean-tempered, puritanical old woman who forbids him to have a life outside of her. They run a small motel together in the town of Fairvale, but business has floundered since the state relocated the highway. In the middle of a heated argument between them, a customer arrives, a young woman named Mary Crane.

In November 1957 — two years before Psycho was first published — Ed Gein was arrested in his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin for the murders of two women. When police searched his home, they found furniture, silverware, and even clothing made of human skin and body parts. Psychiatrists examining him theorized that he was trying to make a "woman suit" to wear so he could pretend to be his dead mother, whom neighbors described as a puritan who dominated her son.

At the time of Gein's arrest, Bloch was living 35 miles (56 km) away from Plainfield in Weyauwega. Though Bloch did not look into the details of the Gein case at that time, it gave him an idea, and he began writing with "the notion that the man next door may be a monster unsuspected even in the gossip-ridden microcosm of small-town life." Bloch was surprised years later when he "discovered how closely the imaginary character I'd created resembled the real Ed Gein both in overt act and apparent motivation."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality

The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality 
by James Barr

In this book, Professor Barr presents a reading of the story of the Garden of Eden, not as a tale of the origins of sin and death, but as a tale of a chance of immortality, briefly accessible to humanity but quickly lost. Old Testament scholars have long been aware that the traditional reading of the story of Adam and Eve as the 'Fall of Man', though hallowed by St Paul's use of it, cannot stand up to close examination of the text. However, they have not succeeded in formulating an alternative interpretation which rivals the force of this traditional reading or is relevant to such a wide range of biblical and theological issues. Professor Barr's new interpretation has such force, and with its challenges to many conventional views it is likely to cause a considerable stir among traditionalists and to excite those dissatisfied with aspects of traditional thought. Central to the book is its stress on the role and prevalence of the idea of immortality, commonly thought to be a later Greek and un-biblical import into Christian thinking. Reflection on immortality also leads to a reconsideration of ideas about death in the Hebrew Bible; about Sheol. the Hebrew underworld; and about the soul. Professor Barr brings out the importance of time for the Hebrew Bible and the concept of length of days, showing that the threat is not so much death as such, but the manner and time of death. His study of chronology leads to a reconsideration of the story of Noah's ark, and the book ends by seeing resurrection and immortality as complementary, rather than conflicting, ideas.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Last Train to Zona Verde

The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari
by Paul Theroux

“Happy again, back in the kingdom of light,” writes Paul Theroux as he sets out on a new journey through the continent he knows and loves best. Theroux first came to Africa as a twenty-two-year-old Peace Corps volunteer, and the pull of the vast land never left him. Now he returns, after fifty years on the road, to explore the little-traveled territory of western Africa and to take stock both of the place and of himself.

His odyssey takes him northward from Cape Town, through South Africa and Namibia, then on into Angola, wishing to head farther still until he reaches the end of the line. Journeying alone through the greenest continent, Theroux encounters a world increasingly removed from both the itineraries of tourists and the hopes of postcolonial independence movements. Leaving the Cape Town townships, traversing the Namibian bush, passing the browsing cattle of the great sunbaked heartland of the savanna, Theroux crosses “the Red Line” into a different Africa: “the improvised, slapped-together Africa of tumbled fences and cooking fires, of mud and thatch,” of heat and poverty, and of roadblocks, mobs, and anarchy. After 2,500 arduous miles, he comes to the end of his journey in more ways than one, a decision he chronicles with typically unsparing honesty in a chapter called “What Am I Doing Here?”

Vivid, witty, and beautifully evocative, The Last Train to Zona Verde is a fitting final African adventure from the writer whose gimlet eye and effortless prose have brought the world to generations of readers.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The World Until Yesterday

The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?
by Jared Diamond

Most of us take for granted the features of our modern society, from air travel and telecommunications to literacy and obesity. Yet for nearly all of its six million years of existence, human society had none of these things. While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgeably wide, we can glimpse much of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies still or recently in existence. Societies like those of the New Guinea Highlanders remind us that it was only yesterday—in evolutionary time—when everything changed and that we moderns still possess bodies and social practices often better adapted to traditional than to modern conditions.The World Until Yesterday provides a mesmerizing firsthand picture of the human past as it had been for millions of years—a past that has mostly vanished—and considers what the differences between that past and our present mean for our lives today.

This is Jared Diamond’s most personal book to date, as he draws extensively from his decades of field work in the Pacific islands, as well as evidence from Inuit, Amazonian Indians, Kalahari San people, and others. Diamond doesn’t romanticize traditional societies—after all, we are shocked by some of their practices—but he finds that their solutions to universal human problems such as child rearing, elder care, dispute resolution, risk, and physical fitness have much to teach us.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
by Jared Diamond

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is a 2005 book by academic and popular science author Jared M. Diamond, which reviews the causes of historical and pre-historical instances of societal collapse—particularly those involving significant influences from environmental changes, the effects of climate change, hostile neighbors, and trade partners—and considers the responses different societies have had to such threats. While the bulk of the book is concerned with the demise of these historical civilizations, Diamond also argues that humanity collectively faces, on a much larger scale, many of the same issues, with possibly catastrophic near-future consequences to many of the world's populations.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies
by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is a 1997 transdisciplinary nonfiction book by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1998, it won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and the Aventis Prize for Best Science Book. A documentary based on the book, and produced by the National Geographic Society, was broadcast on PBS in July 2005.

The book attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations (including North Africa) have survived and conquered others, while arguing against the idea that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent genetic superiority. Diamond argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate in environmental differences, which are amplified by various positive feedback loops. When cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians (for example, written language or the development among Eurasians of resistance to endemic diseases), he asserts that these advantages occurred because of the influence of geography on societies and cultures, and were not inherent in the Eurasian genomes.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger
by Stephen King

The Gunslinger is a novel by American author Stephen King and is the first volume in the Dark Tower series, which King considers his magnum opus. Initially a fix-up novel that strung together five short stories published between 1978 and 1981, it was first published in book form in 1982. King substantially revised the novel in 2003, which version is in print today. The story centers upon Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, who has been chasing after his adversary, "the man in black", for many years. The novel follows Roland's trek through a vast desert and beyond in search of the man in black. Roland meets several people along his journey, including a boy named Jake Chambers who travels with him part of the way.


Stephen King's Creepshow
by Stephen King and Bernie Wrightson

Creepshow is a graphic novella published by Penguin imprint Plume in July 1982, based on the movie Creepshow (also from 1982). The movie, directed by George A. Romero and written by Stephen King, consists of five short films, two of which are based on earlier prose stories by King, while the remaining three were written specifically for the movie.

The book's interior art is by Bernie Wrightson with Michele Wrightson, with a cover by Jack Kamen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Running Man

The Running Man
by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

The Running Man is a science fiction novel by Stephen King, first published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1982 as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the omnibus The Bachman Books. The novel is set in a dystopian United States during the year 2025, in which the nation's economy is in ruins and world violence is rising.

The story follows protagonist Ben Richards as he participates in the game show The Running Man in which contestants, allowed to go anywhere in the world, are chased by "Hunters" employed to kill them.

The book has a total of 101 chapters, laid out in a "countdown" format. The first is titled "Minus 100 and Counting ..." with the numbers decreasing, until the last chapter, "Minus 000 and Counting" (or, in some versions, merely "000").

The Running Man was loosely adapted into a film with the same name, which was released five years after the book in 1987. The film starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Richards. The film was later made into a video game released on several home computers.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Treasure Island

Treasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island is an adventure novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, narrating a tale of "buccaneers and buried gold". First published as a book on 14 November 1883 by Cassell & Co., it was originally serialized in the children's magazine Young Folks between 1881 and 1882 under the title Treasure Island or, the mutiny of the Hispaniola with Stevenson adopting the pseudonym Captain George North.

Traditionally considered a coming-of-age story, Treasure Island is a tale noted for its atmosphere, characters and action, and also as a wry commentary on the ambiguity of morality – as seen in Long John Silver – unusual for children's literature. It is one of the most frequently dramatized of all novels. The influence of Treasure Island on popular perceptions of pirates is enormous, including such elements as treasure maps marked with an "X", schooners, the Black Spot, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen bearing parrots on their shoulders.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Enchantress of Florence

The Enchantress of Florence
by Salman Rushdie

The Enchantress of Florence is the story of a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess the powers of enchantment and sorcery, attempting to command her own destiny in a man’s world. It is the story of two cities at the height of their powers–the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor Akbar the Great wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire, and the treachery of his sons, and the equally sensual city of Florence during the High Renaissance, where Niccolò Machiavelli takes a starring role as he learns, the hard way, about the true brutality of power. Profoundly moving and completely absorbing, The Enchantress of Florence is a dazzling book full of wonders by one of the world’s most important living writers.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Lower River

The Lower River
by Paul Theroux

With his new novel, Paul Theroux returns to the Africa of Dark Star Safari and his early novels; but The Lower River, the story of an American who goes back to Africa where he was once happy, is in many ways even more remarkable.

Ellis Hock is a man so out of luck that even his family name is a mistake. His Italian grandfather, who set up a tailor's shop in a small town in Massachusetts, once tried to make his name more suitably American by changing it from Falcone to Hawk. But he was misunderstood, and the family had to live with Hock for ever after. The Lower River is all about being misunderstood: madly, wildly and very nearly fatally.

The sad yet bitterly funny opening chapters are a beautifully taut portrait of a man at the end of his tether. After a lifetime on duty behind the counter of Hock's Menswear – which, like its owner, is out of tune with the times – Ellis Hock's life is one day ruined. His wife discovers a cache of love-letters on his phone and decides he is a wild philanderer, when he is really just a serial emailer. Hock's private life has been not erotic but merely electronic, and exists only in the affectionate text messages he has exchanged with kindly wives of his customers over the years.

When his wife divorces him and his daughter claims her share of his money and turns her back on him, Ellis Hock flees Boston for the only place in his life where he once knew who he was: the obscure village of Malabo, in the far south of Malawi.

Malabo, as he remembers it, in what was then Nyasaland before independence, was a desolate place: malarial, appallingly hot, poor, proud, dangerous, superstitious, and infested with snakes. Fresh out of college with a biology degree, Hock went there as a young Peace Corps teacher. He helped to build a school, learnt the Sena language and fell in love with Gala, a local woman.

Like most of Hock's dreams, it did not end well. Gala was engaged to a villager and to lose her virginity would mean that her fiancé would disown her. Yet in Malabo, Hock had been in his element. He doubled his volunteer stint from two years to four, and was renowned in the village as the man who was not afraid of snakes. His reluctant return to the States – because his father was dying – has haunted him ever since.

Theroux's account of a young man's first enchanted experience of Africa, with its evident autobiographical underpinnings, rings exactly right. It is a masterly, moving portrait of how Africa ensnares and enchants and plays merry hell with sentimentalities.

Hock, who remembers so lovingly the country of Nyasaland, is utterly unprepared for what he finds there 40 years on. What he wants is to go back to "a simpler, older world", where he was called, with respect and affection, "the mzungu at Malabo". What he gets is the new Malawi, where a disenchanted official at the American consulate tells him that "everyone wants a ticket out". And where, when he arrives in Malabo, he finds the school, the store and the spirit of the villagers wrecked beyond repair.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


by James Joyce

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories by James Joyce, first published in 1914. They form a naturalistic depiction of Irish middle class life in and around Dublin in the early years of the 20th century.

The stories were written when Irish nationalism was at its peak, and a search for a national identity and purpose was raging; at a crossroads of history and culture, Ireland was jolted by various converging ideas and influences. They centre on Joyce's idea of an epiphany: a moment where a character experiences a life-changing self-understanding or illumination. Many of the characters in Dubliners later appear in minor roles in Joyce's novel Ulysses. The initial stories in the collection are narrated by child protagonists, and as the stories continue, they deal with the lives and concerns of progressively older people. This is in line with Joyce's tripartite division of the collection into childhood, adolescence and maturity.

The stories

  1. "The Sisters" – After the priest Father Flynn dies, a young boy who was close to him and his family deal with his death superficially.
  2. "An Encounter" – Two schoolboys playing truant encounter an elderly man.
  3. "Araby" – A boy falls in love with the sister of his friend, but fails in his quest to buy her a worthy gift from the Araby bazaar.
  4. "Eveline" – A young woman weighs her decision to flee Ireland with a sailor.
  5. "After the Race" – College student Jimmy Doyle tries to fit in with his wealthy friends.
  6. "Two Gallants" – Two con men, Lenehan and Corley, find a maid who is willing to steal from her employer.
  7. "The Boarding House" – Mrs Mooney successfully manoeuvres her daughter Polly into an upwardly mobile marriage with her lodger Mr Doran.
  8. "A Little Cloud" – Little Chandler's dinner with his old friend Ignatius Gallaher casts fresh light on his own failed literary dreams. The story also reflects on Chandler's mood upon realising that his baby son has replaced him as the centre of his wife's affections.
  9. "Counterparts" – Farrington, a lumbering alcoholic scrivener, takes out his frustration in pubs and on his son Tom.
  10. "Clay" – The old maid Maria, a laundress, celebrates Halloween with her former foster child Joe Donnelly and his family.
  11. "A Painful Case" – Mr Duffy rebuffs Mrs Sinico, then, four years later, realises that he has condemned her to loneliness and death.
  12. "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" – Minor politicians fail to live up to the memory of Charles Stewart Parnell.
  13. "A Mother" – Mrs Kearney tries to win a place of pride for her daughter, Kathleen, in the Irish cultural movement, by starring her in a series of concerts, but ultimately fails.
  14. "Grace" – After Mr Kernan injures himself falling down the stairs in a bar, his friends try to reform him through Catholicism.
  15. "The Dead" – Gabriel Conroy attends a party, and later, as he speaks with his wife, has an epiphany about the nature of life and death. At 15–16,000 words this story has also been classified as a novella. The Dead was adapted into a film by John Huston, written for the screen by his son Tony and starring his daughter Anjelica as Mrs. Conroy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Half A Life

Half A Life
by V.S. Naipaul

Willie Somerset Chandran is the son of a Brahmin father and a Dalit mother. His father gave him his middle name as a homage to the English writer Somerset Maugham who had visited the father in the temple where the father was living under a vow of silence. Having come to despise his father, Willie leaves India to go to 1950s London to study. There he leads a life as a poor immigrant and later he writes a book of short stories and manages to publish it.

Willie receives a letter from Ana, a mixed Portuguese and black African girl, who admires his book, and they arrange to meet. They fall in love and Willie follows her to her country (an unnamed Portuguese colony in Africa, presumably Mozambique). Meanwhile Willie's sister Sarojini marries a German and moves to Berlin. The novel ends with Willie having moved to his sister's place in Berlin after his 18 year stay in Africa.

Half a Life is a precursor to Naipaul's 2004 novel Magic Seeds which starts with Willie in Berlin.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Exorcist

The Exorcist
by William Peter Blatty

The Exorcist is a horror novel written by William Peter Blatty. It is based on a 1949 exorcism of Robbie Mannheim that Blatty heard about while he was a student in the class of 1950 at Georgetown University, a Jesuit and Catholic school. Aspects of the novel are based upon an exorcism performed by the Jesuit priest, Fr. William S. Bowdern, who formerly taught at both St. Louis University and St. Louis University High School.

Barcelona: The Civic Stage

Barcelona: The Civic Stage
by Robert Goldston

Mr. Goldston is enormously sensitive to the look and feel and life style of Barcelona and his first few pages are tantalizing. But his purpose is not simply to exalt "a congeniality, satisfaction and inner order which is to be found in practically none of the world's other large cities"; he intends that its past should be a lesson to it, that its near-present should be a lesson to us, that its future should be a universal concern--and along the way the argument falters. After surveying the history of the city, he focuses on the amenities of each historic quarter and the factors which together distinguished Barcelona--which is all well and good if hardly novel (the terms of analysis are as old as Lewis Mumford's 1938 The Culture of Cities and some go back to Camillo Sitte [1889]) or unique--as he concedes later, similar conditions existed elsewhere. The late arrival of Barcelona to the modern world is his strongest point but now that it has arrived, the bulwarks of a humane existence are crumbling (as they have elsewhere), which he also acknowledges: "Religious forms and influence. . . are facing disintegration"; "the economic 'stand-off' between those eager to exploit the city for their profit and those who have seen in the city's preservation their principal means of protecting themselves against exploitation is coming to an end too"; "and Catalan apartness, the sense of Barcelona's civic independence which has preserved so many cultural forms and activities. . . is also vanishing." What is the remedy? The book's greatest weakness is that Mr. Goldston not only evinces no acquaintance with the more sophisticated solutions of modern city planning (decrying the encroachment of the car, he offers no alternatives) but also that he holds to the "villain" theory of urban development; if capitalist exploitation is to be countered, the city will need to adapt as well as preserve. Mr. Goldston knows the good life when he sees it but he doesn't show how Barcelona can hold on to it or how the rest of us can attain it. And of course there may be some people who prefer punctuality and supermarkets. . . but this review is too long already.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Barcelona: A Thousand Years of the City's Past
by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

Barcelona, like Spain itself, has in recent years attracted the gaze and fascination of the world. Chosen as the host city for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, the international spotlight will soon focus on this beautiful, two thousand year-old city, furthering Barcelona's hopes for a lasting place on the world stage. But success has never come easily to this Spanish metropolis. Not blessed with a natural port, and checked throughout history by a series of natural disasters and military defeats, Barcelona has struggled hard to become the industrial and commercial first city of Spain, and the biggest urban center on the Mediterranean seaboard. And Barcelona's relationship with the rest of Spain has always been strained by its status as the capital of the separatist Catalonian state.

As this comprehensive and vividly written history makes clear, all of Barcelona's fluctuating fortunes are mapped out in its remarkably rich architectural and artistic heritage. While many associate the city with the distinctive, fin-de-siecle signature of the architect Gaudi, Fernandez-Armesto reveals Barcelona's many other faces. Tracing the legacies of the Roman occupation, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the modern age, he illuminates the inherent tension that makes Barcelona one of the most vibrant, beautiful, and misunderstood cities of Western Europe.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


by Stephen King

Cujo's name was based on the nom de guerre of Willie Wolfe, one of the men responsible for orchestrating Patty Hearst's kidnapping and indoctrination into the Symbionese Liberation Army. Stephen King discusses Cujo in On Writing, referring to it as a novel he "barely remembers writing at all". The book was written during a period when King was drinking heavily. Somewhat wistfully, King goes on to say that he likes the book and that he wishes he could remember enjoying the good parts as he put them down on the page.

The story takes place in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, the setting of numerous King works, and revolves around two local families. The narrative is interspersed with vignettes from the seemingly mundane lives of various other residents. There are no chapter headings, but rather breaks in between passages, which indicate when the narration switches to a different point of view.

The principal characters are the Trenton and the Camber families. The middle-class Trentons have recently moved to Castle Rock from New York, bringing with them their four-year-old son, Tad. Father Vic discovers that his wife Donna has recently concluded an affair. In the midst of this household tension, Vic's fledgling advertising agency is failing, and he is forced to travel out of town, leaving Tad and Donna at home. The blue-collar Cambers are longtime residents; Joe is a shade-tree mechanic who dominates and abuses his wife Charity and their ten-year-old son Brett. Charity wins a $5,000 lottery prize, and uses the proceeds to inveigle Joe into allowing her to take Brett on a trip to visit Charity's sister, Holly, in Connecticut. Joe acquiesces, secretly planning to use the time to take a pleasure trip to Boston.

Cujo, the Cambers' large, good-natured St. Bernard, chases a wild rabbit in the fields around their house and inserts his head in the entrance to a small limestone cave, where a rabid bat bites him on the nose and turns him mad. Soon after Charity and Brett leave town, Cujo attacks and kills their alcoholic neighbor, Gary Pervier. When Joe calls on Gary, Cujo also kills him.

Donna, home alone with Tad, takes their failing Ford Pinto to the Cambers' for repairs. The car breaks down in Camber's dooryard and as Donna attempts to find Joe, Cujo appears and is ready to pounce. She climbs back in the car and Cujo starts to attack. Donna and Tad are trapped in their vehicle, the interior of which becomes increasingly hot in the sun. During one escape attempt, Donna is bitten in the stomach and leg, but manages to survive and escape back into the car. She plans to run for the Cambers' home, but abandons the idea due to her fears that the door will be locked and she will be subsequently killed by Cujo, leaving her son alone.

Vic returns to Castle Rock after several failed attempts to contact Donna and learns from the police that Steve Kemp, the man with whom Donna was having an affair, is suspected of ransacking his home and possibly kidnapping Donna and Tad. In an effort to explore all leads, the state police send Castle Rock Sheriff George Bannerman out to the Cambers' house, but Cujo attacks and kills him. Donna, after witnessing the attack and realizing Tad is in danger of dying of dehydration, battles Cujo and kills him. Vic arrives on the scene with the authorities soon after, but Tad has already died from exposure. Donna is rushed to the hospital, and Cujo's head is removed for a biopsy prior to cremation of his remains.

The novel ends several months later with both the Trenton and Camber families trying to go on with their lives: Donna has completed her treatment for rabies, her marriage with Vic has survived, and Charity gives Brett a new, vaccinated puppy named Willie. A postscript reminds the reader that Cujo was a good dog who always tried to keep his owners happy, but the ravage of rabies drove him to violence.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Post Captain

Post Captain (Aubrey-Maturin #2)
by Patrick O'Brian

Post Captain is the second historical novel in the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, first published in 1972. It features the characters of Captain Jack Aubrey and naval surgeon Stephen Maturin in the early 19th century.

The naval captain is put on land with the brief Peace of Amiens, allowing both him and his friend to meet the women they love, then have life turned upside down by decisions of the prize court, a dishonest prize-agent and Napoleon.

With the Peace of Amiens, Jack Aubrey returns to England and rents a house with Stephen Maturin, with shipmates running the household, spending time in the hunt. He meets the Williams family, and their cousin Diana Villiers. Aubrey courts Sophia Williams (the eldest daughter), while Stephen Maturin pursues Diana. Aubrey wants to marry Sophia Williams, but she delays making a firm engagement. His fortune abruptly disappears when his prize-agent absconds with his funds and the prize court finds his capture of two merchant ships not valid. The court demands he repay the prize money, a sum beyond his means. Mrs Williams takes her daughters away to Bath on this news. Aubrey dallies with Diana, straining his friendship with Maturin and showing himself indecisive on land, compared to his ways at sea. Aubrey and Maturin flee England to avoid Aubrey being taken by the bailiffs.

In Toulon to visit the affable and hospitable Christy Pallière, the French captain who had captured Aubrey's first command Sophie before the peace, they learn from him that war is imminent. French authorities round up all English subjects. Aubrey and Maturin escape over the Pyrenees to Catalonia with Maturin disguised as an itinerant trainer and his dancing bear (Aubrey in a bear suit). After reaching Catalonia, where Maturin has property, they make their way to Gibraltar where Aubrey and Maturin take passage aboard a British East India Company ship. The ship is captured by the privateer Bellone, but a British squadron overtakes them and rescues Aubrey, Maturin and the other passengers.

In England, Aubrey is offered a letter of marque by Mr. Canning, a wealthy Jewish merchant. At the same gathering at Queeney's, Mrs Williams and Cecilia are among the guests; Sophia did not realize he would be there, so she stayed home with Frances. Mrs Williams learns of Maturin's castle in Spain and his training as a physician, raising his status in her eyes. An inadequate thief approaches Aubrey as he walks outdoors; Mr. Scriven proves to be a useful friend, knowing the law of debt and where Aubrey can be safe from bailiffs. He and Maturin move to The Grapes, safe in the Liberty of the Savoy.

Aubrey is given command of HMS Polychrest, so he turns Canning down. He is allowed a request, that Tom Pullings get his step to lieutenant, which delights Pullings. Polychrest is an odd ship that was purpose-built to launch a secret rocket weapon whose development was abandoned when its designer was killed during a test firing. The ship is structurally weak and sails poorly, and first lieutenant Parker is free with punishment. Under the command of Admiral Harte, Aubrey is given a free hand, to enrich the Admiral. His luck does not prevail; Aubrey drives the privateer Bellone aground outside a Spanish port, gaining no money but much approval from merchants. Having disappointed Admiral Harte, Aubrey is assigned to escort convoys up and down the English Channel. He gains a reputation for lingering in port as he carries on a furtive affair with Diana. Maturin is sent on an intelligence gathering mission in Spain. Upon return, Maturin is advised by Heneage Dundas to warn Aubrey about his reputation with the Admiralty. When Maturin does so, Aubrey gets angry. Soon they challenge each other to a duel. While in port, Aubrey calls on Diana, but finds her with Canning. Aubrey is ordered to raid the French port of Chaulieu to sink the assembled French troopships and gunboats and to destroy the corvette Fanciulla. The crew plans to mutiny because of the harsh treatment from Parker. Maturin overhears their plans and warns Aubrey - the first time they speak since the challenge. Aubrey quashes the mutiny by putting the instigators and some loyal crew in a ship's boat and then begins the attack on the moment. He rues his angry words with Maturin and his inability to take them all back in that moment. During the engagement in Chaulieu, Polychrest runs aground. Aubrey leads three of the ship's boats to board and capture Fanciulla. The successful Polychrests refloat Polychrest, which founders soon after leaving Chaulieu, as the crew transfer to Fanciulla. After the battle, Aubrey and Maturin resume their friendship, and the challenge is forgotten by both.

Aubrey returns to England in Fanciulla and is promoted to Post-captain. Not wanting to be ashore, he asks for any command. He is assigned as temporary captain for HMS Lively whose Captain, Sir Graham Hamond, has taken leave to sit in Parliament. Returning from Spain, Maturin tells Sir Joseph that the Spanish will declare war as soon as four ships full of bullion from Montevideo are safely in Cadiz. At Maturin's urging, Sophia asks Jack Aubrey to transport her and Cecilia to the Downs. While on board, they come to an agreement not to marry anyone else; Aubrey is too poor to propose a satisfactory marriage settlement to Mrs Williams. Maturin is close friends with Sophia, but does not take up her advice to propose to Diana. While attending an opera, he sees that Diana is being kept by Canning; his pain is deep.

Maturin takes no pay for his intelligence work; he does ask a favor, that Lively be included in the squadron sent to intercept the Spanish. The Admiralty grants this request, and tasks Maturin to negotiate the treasure fleet's surrender. Because of Maturin's temporary rank and his connection to the Admiralty, Aubrey realizes that Maturin has been involved in intelligence work for Britain. This other side of Maturin, along with Maturin's practice on board with pistols and with swords, reveals more in a man he thought he knew totally. The Spanish convoy refuses to surrender by negotiation and a battle breaks out. One Spanish frigate (the Mercedes) explodes and the other three (Fama, Clara, Medea) surrender to the chase. Clara, carrying the treasure, strikes her colours to Lively, greatly pleasing its captain. Then he chases Fama, having two Spanish captains to dinner, along with Dr Maturin, when they all toast Sophia.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Guns, Gentlemen"

"Guns, Gentlemen"
by Cornell Woolrich

"Guns, Gentlemen" was first published in Argosy in the December 18 issue of 1937. According to Francis Nevins it was the last story that Woolrich published that year with Argosy. It was submitted by Woolrich to the magazine under the title "Twice-Trod Path" and was later published again in a collection of stories under a third title, "The Lamp of Memory."

The story centers around Stephen Botiller, the son of a wealthy family with a historic and heroic past. Stephen is obsessed by a portrait in his home of his great-grand uncle, who caries the same name as Stephen and died abroad under strange and mysterious circumstances at the age of twenty-five.
Now twenty-five himself and a college graduate, the current day Stephen finds himself traveling overseas and, in a strangely familiar surrounding, fighting a duel with a local nobleman over the affections of a beautiful woman.

It's a rare story where Woolrich deals with the subject of death in such a gentle, romantic manner.

Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich (4 December 1903 – 25 September 1968) is one of America's best crime and noir writers who sometimes wrote under the pseudonyms William Irish and George Hopley. He's often compared to other celebrated crime writers of his day, Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler.

Woolrich is considered the godfather of film noir and is often referred to as the Edgar Allen Poe of the 20th century, writing well over 250 works including novels, novelettes, novellas and short stories.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"The Colour Out of Space"

"The Colour Out of Space"
by H.P. Lovecraft

"The Colour Out of Space" is a short story written by American horror author H. P. Lovecraft in March 1927. In the tale, an unnamed narrator pieces together the story of an area known by the locals as the "blasted heath" in the wild hills west of Arkham, Massachusetts. The narrator discovers that many years ago a meteorite crashed there, draining the life force from anything living nearby; vegetation grows large, but tasteless, animals are driven mad and deformed into grotesque shapes, and the people go insane or die one by one.

Lovecraft began writing "The Colour Out of Space" immediately after finishing his previous short novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and in the midst of final revision on his horror fiction essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature". Seeking to create a form of life that was truly alien, he drew his inspiration from numerous fiction and nonfiction sources. First appearing in the September 1927 edition of Hugo Gernsback's science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, "The Colour Out of Space" became one of Lovecraft's most popular works and remained his personal favorite short story. It was adapted into feature film versions in 1965 and 1987.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Danse Macabre

Stephen King's Danse Macabre
by Stephen King

Danse Macabre (1981) is a non-fiction book by Stephen King, about horror fiction in print, radio, film and comics, and the influence of contemporary societal fears and anxieties on the genre. It was republished on February 23, 2010 with an additional new essay entitled "What's Scary".

Danse Macabre examines the various influences on King's own writing, and important genre texts of the 19th and 20th centuries. Danse Macabre explores the history of the genre as far back as the Victorian era, but primarily focuses on the 1950s to the 1970s (roughly the era covering King's own life). King peppers his book with informal academic insight, discussing archetypes, important authors, common narrative devices, "the psychology of terror", and his key theory of "Dionysian horror".

Monday, May 11, 2015


Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson
by Jeff Guinn

More than forty years ago Charles Manson and his mostly female commune killed nine people, among them the pregnant actress Sharon Tate. It was the culmination of a criminal career that author Jeff Guinn traces back to Manson’s childhood. Guinn interviewed Manson’s sister and cousin, neither of whom had ever previously cooperated with an author. Childhood friends, cellmates, and even some members of the Manson family have provided new information about Manson’s life. Guinn has made discoveries about the night of the Tate murders, answering unresolved questions, such as why one person near the scene of the crime was spared.

Manson puts the killer in the context of the turbulent late sixties, an era of race riots and street protests when authority in all its forms was under siege. Guinn shows us how Manson created and refined his message to fit the times, persuading confused young women (and a few men) that he had the solutions to their problems. At the same time he used them to pursue his long-standing musical ambitions. His frustrated ambitions, combined with his bizarre race-war obsession, would have lethal consequences.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Robinson Crusoe

The Life and Strange Suffering Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
by Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published on 25 April 1719. This first edition credited the work's fictional protagonist Robinson Crusoe as its author, leading many readers to believe he was a real person and the book a travelogue of true incidents. It was published under the considerably longer original title The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates. Epistolary, confessional, and didactic in form, the book is a fictional autobiography of the title character (whose birth name is Robinson Kreutznaer)—a castaway who spends years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers before being rescued.

The story is widely perceived to have been influenced by the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived for four years on the Pacific island called "Más a Tierra", now part of Chile, which was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966. Other possible sources for the primary narrative have also been suggested. For example, Defoe might have been inspired by the Latin or English translations of Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, an earlier novel also set on a desert island. Another source for Defoe's novel could have been the Robert Knox account of his abduction by the King of Ceylon in 1659 in "An Historical Account of the Island Ceylon".

In his 2003 book In Search of Robinson Crusoe, Tim Severin contends that the account of Henry Pitman in a short book chronicling his escape from a Caribbean penal colony and subsequent shipwrecking and desert island misadventures is the inspiration for the story. Arthur Wellesley Secord in his Studies in the narrative method of Defoe (1963: 21–111) painstakingly analyses the composition of Robinson Crusoe and gives a list of possible sources of the story, rejecting the common theory that the story of Selkirk is Defoe's only source.

Despite its simple narrative style, Robinson Crusoe was well received in the literary world and is often credited as marking the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. Before the end of 1719, the book had already run through four editions, and it has gone on to become one of the most widely published books in history, spawning numerous sequels and adaptations for stage, film, and television.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

Roadwork is a novel by Stephen King, published in 1981 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the hardcover omnibus The Bachman Books, which is no longer in print. However, three of the four novels in that collection - Roadwork, The Long Walk, and The Running Man - have since been reprinted as standalone titles.

The story takes place in an unnamed Midwestern city in 1973–1974. Grieving over the death of his son and the disintegration of his marriage, a man is driven to mental instability when he learns that both his home and his workplace will be demolished to make way for an extension to an interstate highway.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Last Dive

The Last Dive: A Father and Son's Fatal Descent Into the Ocean's Depths
by Bernie Chowdhury

Chris and Chrissy Rouse, an experienced father-and-son scuba diving team, hoped to achieve widespread recognition for their outstanding but controversial diving skills. Obsessed and ambitious, they sought to solve the secrets of a mysterious, undocumented World War II German U-boat that lay under 230 feet of water, only a half-day's mission from New York Harbor. In doing so, they paid the ultimate price in their quest for fame.

Bernie Chowdhury, himself an expert diver and a close friend of the Rouses', explores the thrill-seeking world of deep-sea diving, including its legendary figures, most celebrated triumphs, and gruesome tragedies. By examining the diver's psychology through the complex father-and-son dynamic, Chowdhury illuminates the extreme sport diver's push toward—and sometimes beyond—the limits of human endurance.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans

The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
by Sir Arthur Canon Doyle

First published in: The Strand Magazine, and in Collier’s Weekly, both December 1908.

Time frame of story (known/surmised): November 21, 1895. (One of the few instances where Watson’s statement of the date was totally clear.)
H&W living arrangements: Sharing quarters at 221B Baker St.
Opening scene: November, and a dense yellow fog had enveloped London. The greasy, heavy brown swirl condensed in oily drops upon the windowpanes, and instilled a feeling of lethagy in H&W. Holmes had on his mouse-coloured dressing-gown. Then, a telegram. Mycroft was planning a visit. Coming at once, regarding Cadogan West, a young man who was found dead on the Underground on Tuesday morning.
Client: The British Government, represented by Mycroft Holmes.
Crime or concern: West’s body found with skull crushed, alongside the tracks near the Aldgate Station on the Underground. West was a junior clerk at the Woolwich Arsenal, and upon his body was found some of the missing plans (but not the most crucial portions) for a top-secret submarine of a radically new and important type. Enemy naval warfare would become impossible within the radius of a Bruce-Partington’s operation.
Villain: Col. Valentine Walter, brother of the head of the Submarine Department at the arsenal, Sir James Walter.
Motive: Sell the plans to a foreign agent to cover a Stock Exchange debt that had to be paid.
Logic used to solve: The key point was that West was killed elsewhere, and his body fell from the roof of the train. Deduced by SH from the fact that there was very little blood on the body even though there was a considerable wound. There was no ticket in West’s pockets. There were points (switches, to Americans) on a curve of the tracks, so the carriage would pitch and sway as it came round.
Policemen: Lestrade of Scotland Yard arrived at 221B accompanying Mycroft.
Holmes’ fees: “I play the game for the game’s own sake,” said Holmes. “But the problem certainly presents some points of interest, and I shall be very pleased to look into it.” After solving the case and returning the submarine plans, Holmes got a fancy tie-pin from the Queen. No mention of a monetary reward.
Transport: After inspecting the location where the body was found, H&W took their seats in the Woolwich train. Then a cab to & from Sir James Walter’s house, having learned Sir James had died. He was the government expert in charge of the plans and the arsenal. His decorations and sub-titles would fill two lines of a book of reference. He had grown gray in the service, was a gentleman, a had been a favoured guest in the most exalted houses, and, above all, a man whose patriotism was beyond suspicion.
Food: Holmes ate at Goldini’s garish Italian restaurant. Watson joined him there. H&W had breakfast the next day, and a light dinner that evening. The day after H&W burgled the spy’s lodgings. Mycroft Holmes and Lestrade had come round by appointment after breakfast.
Drink: At Goldini’s H&W had coffee and curacao.
Vices: H&W tried one of the proprietor’s cigars, which were less poisonous than one would expect.
Other cases mentioned: GREE, and also mention of Brooks and Woodhouse, who had good reason for wanting to take Holmes’ life.
Notable Quotables: “Act, Sherlock — act!” cried Mycroft, springing to his feet. Use your powers! Go to the scene of the crime! See the people concerned! Leave no stone unturned! In all your career you have never had so great a chance of serving your country.”
“It was one of my friend’s most obvious weaknesses that he was impatient with less alert intelligences than his own.” – Watson, describing Holmes.
“See the foxhound with hanging ears and drooping tail as it lolls about the kennels, and compare it with the same hound as, with gleaming eyes and straining muscles, it runs upon a breast-high scent — such was the change in Holmes after he came up with the idea about the body falling off the train.” – Watson, describing Holmes.
It is fortunate for this community that I am not a criminal.” – SH
Other interestings: Having had some personal experience as a draughtsman, we wonder how much space is taken up by the plans for a submarine. We would guess closer to a truckload than a pocketful. But in this story, they were probably talking about the plans of some unique and important feature, not the whole thing. In any event, we at McMurdo’s Camp do not view our role as questioning the premises of a story as related by the author.
Mycroft’s salary in his government position was £450/year.
In this story, SH developed a new hobby, music of the Middle Ages. In his spare moments, he had undertaken a monograph upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus. It was later printed for private circulation, and was said by experts to be the last word upon the subject.
When all was said and done: Once SH figured out the body had been placed upon the top of the carriage, he looked at the living quarters of known international spies, and quickly found the one whose rooms abutted upon the Underground (in a spot where the tracks were not under ground). He then lured the suspect to an appointment with a fake message in the agonies and captured the crooked colonel.
After the case was solved, Holmes spent a day at Windsor, whence he returned with a remarkably fine emerald tie-pin. When asked him if he had bought it, he answered that it was a present from a certain gracious lady in whose interests he had once been fortunate enough to carry out a small commission.
Colonel Walter died in prison two years later.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Innocents Abroad

The Innocents Abroad
by Mark Twain

The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress is a travel book by American author Mark Twain published in 1869 which humorously chronicles what Twain called his "Great Pleasure Excursion" on board the chartered vessel Quaker City (formerly USS Quaker City) through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers in 1867. It was the best-selling of Twain's works during his lifetime, as well as being one of the best-selling travel books of all time.

 Innocents Abroad presents itself as an ordinary travel book. It is based on an actual event, in a retired Civil War ship (the USS Quaker City). The excursion upon which the book is based was billed as a Holy Land expedition, with numerous stops and side trips along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, notably:

  • train excursion from Marseilles, France to Paris for the 1867 Paris Exhibition during the reign of Napoleon III and the Second French Empire. 
  • journey through the Papal States to Rome. 
  • side trip through the Black Sea to Odessa. 

All before the ultimate pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

 Twain recorded his observations and critiques of the various aspects of culture and society he encountered on the journey, some more serious than others, which gradually turned from witty and comedic to biting and bitter as he drew closer to the Holy Land. Once in the Holy Land proper, his tone shifted again, this time to a combination of light-hearted comedy and a reverence not unlike what he had previously mocked in his traveling companions.

 Many of Twain's criticisms were based on the contrast between his own experiences and the often grandiose accounts in contemporary travelogues, which were regarded in their own time as indispensable aids for traveling in the region. Above all others, Twain lampooned William Cowper Prime's Tent Life in the Holy Land for its overly sentimental prose and its often violent encounters with native inhabitants. Twain also made light of his fellow travelers and the natives of the countries and regions he visited, as well as his own expectations and reactions.

Friday, February 20, 2015


by Stephen King

Andy and Charlene "Charlie" McGee are a father-daughter pair on the run from a government agency known as The Shop. During his college years, Andy had participated in a Shop experiment dealing with "Lot 6", a drug with hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD. The drug gave his future wife, Victoria Tomlinson, minor telekinetic abilities, and him an autohypnotic mind domination ability he refers to as "the push". They both also developed telepathic abilities. Andy's and Vicky's powers were physiologically limited; in his case, overuse of the push gives him crippling migraine headaches and minute brain hemorrhages, but their daughter Charlie developed a frightening pyrokinetic ability, with the full extent of her power unknown. (Although much later in the novel, Charlie develops an inner conviction that she will eventually be powerful enough to "change the sun" in some way.) The novel begins in medias res with Charlie and Andy on the run from Shop agents in New York City. We learn through a combination of flashbacks and current narration that this is the latest in a series of attempts by the Shop to capture Andy and Charlie following an initial disastrous raid on the McGee family's quiet life in suburban Ohio. After years of Shop surveillance, a botched operation to take Charlie leaves her mother dead; Andy, receiving a psychic flash while having lunch with work colleagues, rushes home to discover his wife murdered and his daughter kidnapped. He then uses his push ability to track the slightly-cold trail of Charlie and the Shop agents, catching up to them at a rest stop on the Interstate. He uses the push to incapacitate the Shop agents, leaving one blind and the other comatose. Charlie and Andy flee and begin a life of running and hiding, using assumed identities. They move several times to avoid discovery before the Shop catches up to them in New York.

Using a combination of the push, Charlie's power, and hitchhiking, the pair escape through Albany, New York and are taken in by a farmer named Irv Manders near the fictional town of Hastings Glen, NY; however, they are tracked down by Shop agents, who attempt to kill Andy and take Charlie at the Manders farm. At Andy's instruction, Charlie unleashes her power, incinerating the entire farm and fending off the agents, killing a few of them. With nowhere else to turn, the pair flee to Vermont and take refuge in a cabin that had once belonged to Andy's grandfather.

With the Manders farm operation disastrously botched, the director of the Shop, Captain James Hollister, or "Cap", calls in a Shop hitman named John Rainbird to capture the fugitives. Rainbird, a Cherokee and Vietnam veteran, is intrigued by Charlie's power and eventually becomes obsessed with her, determined to befriend her and eventually kill her. This time the operation is successful, and both Andy and Charlie are taken by the Shop.

The pair is separated and imprisoned at the Shop headquarters, located in the fictional D.C. suburb of Longmont, Virginia. With his spirit broken, Andy becomes an overweight drug addict and seemingly loses his power, and is eventually deemed useless by the Shop. Charlie, however, defiantly refuses to cooperate with the Shop, and does not demonstrate her power for them. Six months pass until a power failure provides a turning point for the two: Andy, sick with fear and self-pity, somehow regains the push - subconsciously pushing himself to overcome his addiction - and Rainbird, masquerading as a simple janitor, befriends Charlie and gains her trust.

By pretending to still be powerless and addicted, Andy manages to gain crucial information by pushing his psychiatrist. Under Rainbird's guidance, Charlie begins to demonstrate her power, which has grown to fearsome levels. After the suicide of his psychiatrist, Andy is able to meet and push Cap, using him to plan his and Charlie's escape from the facility, as well as finally communicating with Charlie. Rainbird discovers Andy's plan, however, and decides to use it to his advantage.

Andy's plan succeeds, and he and Charlie are reunited for the first time in six months. Rainbird then interrupts the meeting at a barn, planning to kill them both. A crucial distraction is provided by Cap, who is losing his mind from a side effect of being pushed. Andy pushes Rainbird into leaping from the upper level of the barn, breaking his leg. Rainbird then shoots Andy in the neck. Rainbird then fires another shot at Charlie, but she uses her power to melt the bullet in midair and then sets Rainbird and Cap on fire. A mortally wounded Andy then instructs Charlie to take revenge with her power and inform the public, to make sure the government cannot do anything like this ever again, and dies. A grief-stricken and furious Charlie then sets the barn on fire. She exits the barn and people start going after her. She uses her pyrokinesis to kill the employees and blow up their getaway vehicles. People try to flee and some do. Military men are called, but Charlie blows up their vehicles and when they fire at her she melts their bullets. Charlie blows up the building, shooting it sky-high. She leaves the Longmont facility burning, with almost all of its workers dead.

The event is covered up by the government, and released to the papers as a terrorist firebomb attack. The Shop quickly reforms, under new leadership, and begins a manhunt for Charlie, who has returned to the Manders farm. After some deliberation, she comes up with a plan and leaves the Manders', just ahead of Shop operatives, and heads to New York City. She decides on Rolling Stone magazine as an unbiased, honest media source with no ties to the government, and the book ends as she arrives to tell them her story.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Final Blackout

Final Blackout
by L. Ron Hubbard

Final Blackout is a dystopic science fiction novel by author L. Ron Hubbard. The novel is set in the future and follows a man known as "the Lieutenant" as he restores order to England after a world war. First published in serialized format in 1940 in the science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction, Final Blackout was published in book form in 1948 by The Hadley Publishing Co.. Author Services Inc. published a hardcover edition of the book in 1988, and in 1989 the Church of Scientology-affiliated organization Bridge Publications said that a film director named Christopher Cain had signed a contract to write and direct a movie version based on the book. The novel was generally well received by literature critics, and is seen as an early classic of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. It has received positive mention in the Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily News of Los Angeles, and has been used in a science-fiction writing class at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

"All You Zombies"

"--All You Zombies--"
by Robert Heinlein

" '—All You Zombies—' " is a science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein. It was written in one day, July 11, 1958, and first published in the March 1959 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine after being rejected by Playboy.

The story involves a number of paradoxes caused by time travel. In 1980, it was nominated for the Balrog Award for short fiction.[1]

"'—All You Zombies—'" further develops themes explored by the author in a previous work: "By His Bootstraps", published some 18 years earlier. Some of the same elements also appear later in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1988), including the Circle of Ouroboros and the Temporal Corps.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Long Walk

The Long Walk
by Stephen King (As Richard Bachman)

The Long Walk is a dystopian novel by Stephen King published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1979 as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the hardcover omnibus The Bachman Books, and has seen several reprints since, as both paperback and hardback. Set in a dystopian present, the plot revolves around the contestants of a grueling walking contest, held annually by a totalitarian version of the United States of America. In 2000, the American Library Association listed The Long Walk as one of the 100 best books for teenage readers published between 1966 and 2000. According to Stephen King, it is the first novel he wrote, begun eight years before his novel Carrie was published in 1974, when he was a freshman at the University of Maine in 1966–1967.