Book review: Ice Station by Matthew Reilly

Ice Station (Shane Schofield, #1)Ice Station by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Suddenly I have a sudden urge to suddenly write a review of this book. Very sudden.

Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield has been dispatched to Wilkes Station after receiving their distress call. Some of the Wilkes science team have mysteriously disappeared after finding an unidentified “alien” craft deep under the ice. His crack team of Marines arrive to find they aren’t the only ones who responded. Clearly, more than one nation are interested in securing the craft, less so rescuing the scientists. With no support, and enemies coming from everywhere, Scarecrow will have to stay alive long enough to be in even more danger.

I can’t remember exactly when I first read Ice Station, but it must have been roughly a decade ago. It has been interesting to revisit a novel I enjoyed from an author who reinvigorated my love of reading. Some books lose their magic the second time around, and Ice Station, despite its fun and fast-paced narrative, wasn’t the novel I remembered.

Ice Station was still entertaining but the flaws stuck out this time. I found myself laughing a little bit everytime Reilly used the word sudden or suddenly. I’m not sure if I’m being too harsh or too forgiving – I derided a book for using a phrase I saw in this book – so I’ll have to revisit all of Reilly’s novels to check.

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Book vs Movie: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix covers Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This month I’m just sharing.

Yep, that means I’ve neither read the book nor watched the movie.

Feel superior in the comments.

20 years ago a new generation was introduced to the peak of Gonzo Journalism with Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Really great filmmakers have tried and failed to bring the savage journey into the American Dream, so what makes Terry Gilliam’s version so successful? Time to get cracking and ask What’s the Difference?!

Book review: Zen in the Age of Anxiety by Tim Burkett

Zen in the Age of AnxietyZen in the Age of Anxiety by Tim Burkett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clear your mind, relax, and read this review.

Zen in the Age of Anxiety is a guidebook and teaching manual that focuses on how to deal with stress, anxiety, and address the underlying mental behaviours that cause them. Burkett lays out the teachings and key points with easy to follow explanations and a series of anecdotes from his +50 years as a Zen practitioner and draws on his background in psychology.

This was a very interesting book. I originally borrowed a copy from the library because I’d previously read Lao Tzu’s Dao De Jing. Okay, a bit of a leap between the two, but Zen teachings have their roots in Buddhism, which in turn has roots in the Dao (Tao), something Burkett mentions in passing. There are a lot of helpful insights and practices in this book that could help most people in their lives. At the very least, it was interesting to read something with such a different perspective on life.

My only gripe was a minor one. A lot of practices and philosophies, especially those with “Eastern” origins, tend to be tied up with spiritualism and mysticism. As a result, there tends to be a blending of nonsense (both ancient and modern) with the good stuff. As an example, in a later chapter, there is an example given that involves an analogy with how vaccines and homoeopathy work. Except that it incorrectly describes how vaccines work, and incorrectly describes homoeopathy as working at all. So best to use a critical eye when reading.

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How Is Tech Changing the Way We Read?

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With the rise of social media and smartphone use, we are all reading fewer books than we once did. All, not just those pesky millennials. Some people are worried about what this means for the future of literature and, well, our brains. But is it true that we are really reading less? And should I care?

Above The Noise recently did a video in which Myles covers some of the research on reading.

I always appreciate it when a Youtuber or Journalist manages to discuss a topic without devolving into head-shaking admonishment, especially when it comes to the topic of reading and books. Too often these sorts of videos and articles cite bad research or buy into industry propaganda.

I’ve previously discussed the misrepresentations made about reading ebooks, the overstating of the benefits of reading – when there are some well-researched benefits documented –  and even the way we write. And the Pew Research into reading was one of several references I’ve used in my discussion of Who Reads, something I cover quite a bit here.

And yet, there were still some things in the video that I hadn’t been aware of. So I think it is worth sharing. Enjoy.

From the video:

Reading has been an important part of the human experience for thousands of years, but believe it or not, that’s not a long time on the evolutionary timescale. Before the internet, it made sense to read long texts in a linear fashion, but that’s now changing as people are adapting to skimming shorter texts on their computers or phones. But what does this mean for the future of books?

What is literary reading?

Literary reading is, quite simply, the reading of any literature. This includes novels, short stories, poetry, and plays.

Are we reading less?

The rate at which Americans are reading literature for fun is down around 14% from the early 1980s. This doesn’t necessarily mean we are reading less, however. Many people still have to read for school or work. Then there are all the words, sentences, and messages we read on the internet from emails to texts to tweets. Some people believe that this means we are possibly reading more individual words than ever. It’s just being done in a different way. I’ve also discussed the decline of literature.

And this is changing our brains?

Some neuroscientists believe that scanning shorter texts the way we do on the internet, often jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink, is actually changing the wiring in our brains. We are becoming better at searching for key terms and scanning for information, but this means it can become more difficult to read a longer text all the way through without missing major points.

SOURCES:
Children, Teens, and Reading
The long, steady decline of literary reading
Who doesn’t read books in America?
Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

Book review: American Assassin by Vince Flynn

American Assassin (Mitch Rapp, #1)American Assassin by Vince Flynn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently, covert operations groups keep an eye out for future killers on lacrosse teams.*

Mitch Rapp lost his high school sweetheart in the Pan Am Lockerbie terrorist attack. He then dedicates himself to becoming a covert operative to kill terrorists rather than grieve and move on to a professional sports career. For some reason, the government decide Rapp is totally mentally stable and they should train him to become an assassin and hope that decision doesn’t backfire.**

Okay, so I’m being a little unkind in my review of American Assassin. Flynn’s book is a pretty solid thriller with plenty of action. It avoids the common flaw of these sorts of thrillers by not painting the terrorists as one-dimensional zealots. Even the decidedly gauche flag-waving moments that any book with “American” in the title is obliged to have are well handled. As long as you accept the basic premise – that Rapp is awesome because everyone around him says so, despite Rapp himself being a rather bland character – you have a good time.

But ultimately this book fails to actually put a character arc in for Rapp. College athlete turns into an assassin should involve some sort of an arc, but Rapp just kinda glides through. At some points, Rapp is even described as not pushing himself, because this gruelling training is just that easy for him. That makes American Assassin all feel a bit flat.

*Think how many school shootings they’d be preventing if they were keeping an eye out for budding killers!

**Which it kinda does. I don’t know what happens in later books in this series, but you’d have to conclude from this one that Rapp will be a loose cannon.

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Book review: Hombre by Elmore Leonard

HombreHombre by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So now you want to ride with me. I’m sure I won’t regret this…

John Russell is headed back to “civilisation”* on the last stagecoach headed north. Some of the folks onboard think Russell is an “Indian”* and don’t want to ride with him. But when bandits come for the stolen money one of the other passengers has with him, suddenly they want to ride with Russell.

Since this is an Elmore Leonard story, I really expected more from it. There isn’t anything bad about it, but this is far from Leonard’s best. It reminded me of a collection of Leonard’s short stories I own and how his best stories were immediately memorable, while the rest feel like just so many words in comparison.

It surprised me to learn that this story was turned into a Paul Newman film in the 60s. Given the positive reviews the movie has, it may be better than the book.

*I’ve used these terms as they relate to the text despite them being inaccurate.

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Why did I have to read that book in high school?

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This month Lindsay Ellis discusses the Literary Cannon, or how books become “worthy“, in It’s Lit.

I swear that when I started posting these videos that I didn’t know the series would cover one of my pet topics. Worthiness, important books, snobbery, guilty pleasures, are all things I love to bang on about. This video feels like a worthy addition to my posts on the topic.*

Let’s explore what makes a book “important.”

Literary critics, writers, philosophers, bloggers–all have tried to tackle where and why and how an author may strike such lightning in a bottle that their works enter the pantheon of “Classical Literature”. Why this book is required reading in high school, why other books are lost to history.

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. This all leads to a nationwide vote of America’s favourite novel. Learn More Here: https://to.pbs.org/2IXQuZE

*Pardon the pun, it was father’s day recently.