Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today by Kate Bornstein

A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today by Kate Bornstein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading reviews of this book online, I find few reviews by men. I think it’s difficult for gay men to accept female sexuality, at least it is for me. I am not a woman, I am not attracted to women, and the idea of female sexuality is one I’d rather not explore. Not to say I’m against it, not in the least. I am a staunch feminist, through and through. It’s just difficult for me.
Some other things difficult for me include religion, S & M, and the concept of people not putting labels on themselves. I was able to be happy being a gay man when I was able to fully accept the label, to be the label, to wear it and live it. So the idea of rejecting labels is not something I’m familiar with.
There’s many things though I’m not familiar with in this warm and open memoir by Kate Bornstein. I wanted to read this as I heard it was good and I want to know more about transgendered people. I don’t feel its enough to be supportive of the trans community, I feel you need to learn a bit about them and try going for a walk in their shoes.
Kate is so DIFFERENT from me, with her tattoos and cutting and religion and everything, the book was always interesting. I felt it got a bit too much into the Scientology in parts, but I was able to get though it. What I wasn’t able to get through was the sex, the cutting, the S & M, the blood, I couldn’t take it. What was nice is that in the ebook version Kate included a link so you could skip over the worst of it, which I happily did without a glance back. Still, I really could have skipped more. I realize you can’t write a memoir without talking about what you do in the bedroom, but I honestly didn’t need to know. I may have nightmares.
All this being said, the book was enjoyable, Kate writes well and you can tell it’s from the heart. I was glad to read a person’s experience that’s so different from mine, but I feel like parts were read looking between my fingers out of fear, which kept me a little detached.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Touched by Scott Campbell

Touched by Scott C.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't know what to expect going in to this book. Was it a thriller, a drama, was the guy guilty, didn't know. Turns out the book is a very straight-forward and believable portrait of a man and boy relationship.
What I liked about the book is that it was well-rounded, all the sides were presented and the four sides were presented unslanted. Everyone in the story did something wrong, and there was no attempt to hide that, but at the same time it wasn't glorified. People do things that are wrong all the time.
The interesting thing for me was the grey area of the whole situation. I feel that pedophilia has become the witch hunt of our times, and the witch hunt is doing more harm than good. I was dating a guy who lived in a different country from his daughter and missed her very much. He inquired about a job at a day care and was told no single man was ever going to get that job, and it’s a shame. These kids are missing out on something and so is he. There seems to be an attitude of men all being sex-fiends and women having to clutch them to their bosom for protection 24/7 and that is not good.
The boy in this story was 12, still a child, but also capable of having sexual feelings, like most kids do. I know I did. So is this relationship with the man the worst thing that could happen? More to the point, is it worse than the aftermath of the trial and the whole town knowing?
At the same time, there were holes in the perpetrators judgment you could drive a truck through. How could you “love” someone only at a certain age? What happens when they get older? And how do you “love” someone who isn’t fully developed, who is so pliable that you can mold them with the slightest contact? And there is a responsibility with that power.
I’m reminded of The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault and the boy-love practiced in ancient Greece. It’s something that’s been around for at least thousands of years, and I don’t know that moral outrage is the key to stopping it. There seems to be a reluctance with this topic to talk about actualities instead of ideals.
This all being said, I felt the book was slow in parts. I felt the plot other than the touching was nonexistent, that the part from the wife’s perspective was the weakest and went on too long. I didn’t care about her time in the moonlight with the perpetrator. The guys three daughters were so stiff they could have been called cardboard one, two and three. Also I read the author on Amazon say this was made into a play, I don’t know who the audience for that would be. I don’t know who the audience for this book would be really, there’s such a moral outcry against this topic that any slightly impartial viewpoint would be crucified.
Good enough book, didn’t change my life.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good book that I enjoyed.
The best part was the historical aspects of the Falls and the photos in the book, I really enjoyed those.
It was a little too romancey for me and a little too slow starting. The book talks about the old schoolmarm going over the falls and I felt like I would rather have read her story. Also the author says the person Tom is based on shot the rapids a few times, and I kind of would have liked that kept in, more of the daring do and a little less of the heaving busom.
Still the story was a quick read and kept me entertained, I started the book on the train home from Niagara Falls and I'm glad I read it.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Yellow Vengeance by Liz Bugg

Yellow Vengeance by Liz Bugg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wish Liz Bugg would be nicer to her characters. I just finished this, her third book, and I’m upset.
When you read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, you know the really bad stuff can’t get in. You’re swept up in the author’s world and love the journey. I felt the same way about this book. In some ways this is the best in the series. I was about halfway through and wondering why this hasn’t been made into a TV show or a series of movies on the CBC, I’d love it, and I think a lot of people would too.
That being said, I didn’t like the end of the book. I feel like Bugg wrote it knowing people would be coming up to her for the rest of her life saying “WHY DID YOU WRITE THAT???” and that’s what I’m saying. All three books in the series I feel like Bugg takes things too far at the end, puts our heroine through too much, and this time was really too much.
I wish Liz Bugg would be nicer to her characters. I want to sit back and have a cup of coffee with them in Kensington Market, not have my foundation rocked to the core.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

These Things Happen by Richard Kramer

These Things Happen by Richard Kramer
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I didn't like this book and didn't finish it. I didn't care. I got to 65% and it just got worse.
The writing style was unusual and annoying, I suggest trying a sample before buying the book.

“Why isn’t it okay, Wes?”
“Well,” Wesley says, with the sad-for-us laugh I sometimes think should be his ring tone, “because it’s school!”
We all laugh, which feels “nice,” which is a word I hate, but hate a little less when it’s the right word, as it is now. Then Wesley cuts our laughter short.

If you're looking for a book where nothing happens and they discuss the meaning of the word "nice" at length, pick this up.

There's too many characters narrating and they all sound the same. The story is slow, few people are likable. I thought I could at least finish it but the mother said something stupid and I stopped caring at all.


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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Oranges and Lemons by Liz Bugg

Oranges and Lemons by Liz Bugg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great book, as good as the first in the series. Calli is becoming like an old pair of shoes you feel great slipping into.

The book starts again with Calli meeting a new client she's intimidated by and again reluctant to accept the case. How does this woman get any business?

We see Calli go undercover, which is brilliant and provides some comic relief even before her drag queen sidekick arrives to liven up the party.

I liked that we got to see more of Calli's girlfriend, she wasn't really in the first book. I also like all the minorities in the book, from people's ethnicities to people in wheelchairs, although the wheelchair was never mentioned again and I forgot who was the one in it.

The only slight, very slight, negative is the ending. I like Calli and to put her in such a terrible situation for the last 20 percent of the book, it felt too long. I wanted her to get away sooner.

That being said everything works here in this second book and I can't wait to read the third.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War by James Loney

Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War by James Loney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting, well-rounded story of life in captivity in Iraq.
I liked the format of the book, the kidnapping happens very early on throwing you right into the action and the 118 day countdown begins. I appreciated the numbering of the days, so I knew when the release was coming, it made it easier to read the book knowing the end. I think it may have been too over-whelming going in blind.
I identified a lot with Loney, he was always examining both sides of things. The kidnappers were kidnapped as well, they couldn’t leave and had only very slightly more options. Everything down to manners is explored:

“I am aghast when the others lick marmalade off their foil. Proper manners apply even in captivity.”

There’s also a great sense of “What would I do?” that really pushes the book along. I went from 40% to the end in one four or five hour sitting, I couldn’t put it down.
Do you cooperate and hope for the best in the end? Do you fight back? Do you try to escape?

“Release me or kill me, you must decide. Until you do, I am taking my clothes off and I am going to sit here, naked, refusing everything—your food, your chains, your instructions. I would rather die than co-operate with murder. Perhaps if I were stronger, more courageous, had more faith, this is what I would do. But I don’t.”

There’s a great parable in the book that I don’t want to spoil about God helping those that help themselves.
I don’t know what I’d do and I’m very glad I don’t have to make the decision.
I enjoyed also learning about CPT and the peace-making movement, something I knew nothing about.
Ultimately an excellent book that hooked me and made me cry, but one star off for the fact that he put himself in the situation. I can’t say I agree with his purpose of being in Iraq in the first place, which set these events in motion. I’m less against it than I was, but a part of me was still at the end saying he did this to himself.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dog Sled in Alaska, July 2013

Edmonton - Day Only

 Got to Edmonton very late, around 11 pm. This is possibly the only city in the world where the taxis don't come to meet the train.  The train arrives every 2nd day at 11 pm and nothing. There's no bus, no taxis, nothing.  So I called for a taxi and about 20 minutes later one came, for the 10 people that wanted one, one came.  These people are slow.
I shared a taxi with a girl and got to my hostel and checked in. Edmonton is very spread out, and my hostel was not downtown, but in a separate trendy shopping kind of area. I checked in around midnight, I'm only sharing a room with one other person, but as I get closer to my room I hear this loud music. My roommate has fallen asleep piss drunk and left his music blaring. Alcohol is all over the room.  Good times.
I shut off his music, get into bed, it's very hot, no A/C, no fan, and I'm thinking I'm about done. In the morning I got up and took the bus to the West Edmonton Mall:
But my arms are covered with mosquito bites:
And I'm kind of done.  I decide to head home.
I took the bus back to the hostel, called Air Canada, and for $200 I got an indirect flight home that landed late at 2 am.  It was nice to be home. Calgary was my lay-over instead of a destination, but it's all good, great trip.

Atlas Shrugged by Ann Rand

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have never before heard an argument against socialism put coherently. I recently went to Alaska on a cruise, and when I returned, in the parking lot of the cruise terminal in Seattle was someone’s pick-up truck with a large hand-made sign in the back with huge red writing, along the lines of “Keep your Marxist Obama-loving socialism and give me my tax money and my guns.” This sign could only belong to an American.
I have heard this kind of argument against Socialism previously, but I wouldn’t call it coherent. Rand herself isn’t always coherent – another reviewer said you would either have to skip the John Galt speech or commit suicide, and it’s true – but she is the closest I’ve come and for that reason alone I was interested in reading this book.
I enjoyed learning the arguments against Socialism, again such as they were, and I enjoyed the parts with the railroad. The train system fits heavily into these stories and I read a section of this book on the cross-Canada train through the Rocky Mountains from Vancouver to Edmonton, about a 23-hour trip.
The less good is the writing. Rand really puts the ‘B’ in subtle with her heavy-handed portrayal of absolute good and absolute bad.

“In this world, either you’re virtuous or you enjoy yourself. Not both, lady, not both.”

There’s a step, well several, missing in Rand’s portrayal of a world driven to the brink by Socialism. Advocating personal responsibility is fine, but ultimately if you don’t give the poor enough to eat, they are going to break into your house and take it, which I believe happened to Rand, causing her exile from Europe. Rand seemingly learned nothing from this, and this book is really her fashioning a utopia where this kind of responsibility to the lowest of the low has the option to be abdicated.

“Haven’t you any desire to be of service to humanity?”
“I don’t talk that kind of language, Miss Taggart. I don’t think you do, either.”
She laughed. “I think we’ll get along together, you and I.”

Throughout it all, profit is the watch-word, as the novel details the current state of the socialized affairs:

“The newspapers are yelling that coal is now the most crucial commodity in the country. They are also yelling that the coal operators are profiteering on the oil shortage. One gang in Washington is yelling that I am expanding too much and something should be done to stop me, because I am becoming a monopoly. Another gang in Washington is yelling that I am not expanding enough and something should be done to let the government seize my mines, because I am greedy for profits and unwilling to satisfy the public’s need of fuel.”

Along the way, there’s more than a smattering of misogyny, such as when one man wants to divorce the wife he is cheating on, and he says to his lawyer:

“But there is to be no alimony and no property settlement.”

I really believe Rand sees this as reasonable, the woman is a leech and the man is a capitalist and shouldn’t have to support her. The fact that the woman is a homemaker in 1950 doesn’t carry much sway in the no alimony, no sympathy world of this book. The heroine herself has learned to play the man’s game, why can’t everyone else?

“I’m Mrs. Taggart. I’m the woman in this family now.”
“That’s quite all right,” said Dagny. “I’m the man.”

So where do women fit in this man’s world?

“He had a son in high school and a daughter, nineteen, of whom he was fiercely, painfully proud, because she was recognized as the most beautiful girl in town.”

The main problem with the book is that it’s so heavy-handed it becomes comical, I don’t think it can be taken seriously. That really dilutes the message. When Rand decides to kill a train full of people, she goes car by car, listing the faults of each person and the reason each should die:

“The man in Roomette 3, Car No. 11, was a sniveling little neurotic who wrote cheap little plays into which, as a social message, he inserted cowardly little obscenities to the effect that all businessmen were scoundrels.”

I did like some aspects of the book—I don’t believe advocating for personal responsibility is bad. Really the finer points though were so hard to find among the hammering that is the rest of the book.
For example, what moral right have some of us to seconds until every one in the world has had firsts?

“To work—with no chance for an extra ration, till the Cambodians have been fed and the Patagonians have been sent through college. To work—on a blank check held by every creature born, by men whom you’ll never see, whose needs you’ll never know, whose ability or laziness or sloppiness or fraud you have no way to learn and no right to question—just to work and work and work—and leave it up to the Ivys and the Geralds of the world to decide whose stomach will consume the effort, the dreams and the days of your life. And this is the moral law to accept? This—a moral ideal?”

Rand goes toO far in her all or nothing ways, arguing here against socialized medicine:

“I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything—except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the ‘welfare’ of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter, was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, only ‘to serve...’ That a man who’s willing to work under compulsion is too dangerous a brute to entrust with a job in the stockyards—never occurred to those who proposed to help the sick by making life impossible for the healthy. I have often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind—yet what is it that they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands? Their moral code has taught them to believe that it is safe to rely on the virtue of their victims. Well, that is the virtue I have withdrawn. Let them discover the kind of doctors that their system will now produce. Let them discover, in their operating rooms and hospital wards, that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it—and still less safe, if he is the sort who doesn’t.”

I don’t believe people should die for their inability to pay a bill. I don’t think medicine is a privilege. Even Rand’s arguments, they’re not refutable, they’re just a rant. Does socializing medicine “violate” a doctor’s conscience and “stifle” their minds? I’m voting no. They have mothers and friends and spouses they want to keep healthy, is that not motivation?

Another aspect of this book I disliked, that scared me, brings me back to the start of this review. When I saw the guy with the pickup truck and the sign, my initial thought was “I hope they searched his car for bombs.”

“Oh yes, I would have killed—but whom was there to kill? It was everyone and no one, there was no single enemy, no center and no villain, it was not the simpering social worker incapable of earning a penny or the thieving bureaucrat scared of his own shadow, it was the whole of the earth rolling into an obscenity of horror, pushed by the hand of every would-be decent man who believed that need is holier than ability, and pity is holier than justice.”

At times this book seems to be outright advocating blood-in-the-streets justice, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen that mentioned her in these reviews. One problem with an all-or-nothing approach is what is the nothing? Mostly it’s a strike, but sometimes it gets into a grey area. I can see quotes from this book on a mass bomber's manifesto.

Another problem with this book is the love. The heroine starts an affair with a married man, and justifies it by saying:

“I am proud that he had chosen me to give him pleasure and that it was he who had been my choice. It was not—as it is for most of you—an act of casual indulgence and mutual contempt.”

This really pisses me off. Who is Ann Rand to tell me my sex life is casual indulgence and mutual contempt? Actually, now that you mention it…. But seriously, this is one of the major problems with conservatives, they extol the virtues of the self, but they do it while tearing down everyone else. The Galt relationship is also as flat as a pancake.

Back to another relevant, not overly dramatized point:

“What will happen if I put you there and you ruin a heat of steel for me?”
“What’s more important, that your damn steel gets poured or that I eat?”
“How do you propose to eat if the steel doesn’t get poured?”

This review may seem long, get ready for the 1100 pages of the book.

The book really stalls in the last third. The book on realism delves into fantasy territory when the characters fly to a magic place in the sky, literally. A romance begins with John Galt that feels completely unnecessary and out of left field. Then a 60 page speech grounds the earth and your brain to a halt, with such wisdom as:

“If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.”

The edition I read has an anniversary introduction at the beginning, which I read at the end. Why do they put these intros that give away the whole plot at the start of the book? From the intro:

“Father Amadeus was Taggart’s priest, to whom he confessed his sins. The priest was supposed to be a positive character, honestly devoted to the good but practicing consistently the morality of mercy. Miss Rand dropped him, she told me, when she found that it was impossible to make such a character convincing.”

Here’s my surprise face that Rand couldn’t write someone merciful convincingly. Really, none of her characters are. There’s 50 shades of grey, and this is zero shades of grey. Rand describes them as not supposed to be real, that they are only meant to embody her ideal. That is an understatement.

Ultimately the book is very difficult to get through with little payoff, I would not recommend. There’s room for a book with this subject matter among the best of the all-time books, but I would argue this isn’t it.

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