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The Long Mars: A Review

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This book is the third in the Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.  It’s probably best to read the first two before reading this one, since there are a lot of references to earlier events.

If you come to this book through a love of Terry Pratchett, it’s important to know going in that this is a very different kind of book.  It has a few humorous moments, but definitely not the comedy of the Discworld books.  This is a decidedly serious book.  All the same, I must read this series as part of my obsession with all things Pratchett.  I don’t know how it compares with other books by Stephen Baxter, but I suppose I’ll get around to those sooner or later.

Some readers have criticized this series as boring and without much action.  It’s true that not a lot happens in this book.  It reminds me of early sci-fi novels, such as those by H.G. Wells.  Instead of being action-packed with exciting events, this book is more of an exploration of ideas.

The characters encounter all sorts of exotic environments and life forms in the exploration of the Long Earth and the Long Mars.  Those chapters are a thought experiment in the types of life that might be possible.  This book also explores what might happen if mankind continues to evolve.  What will those people be like?  How will the less-evolved people react to them?

All in all, I enjoyed the book, though it is a bit of a slow-starter.  But there is what seems to me a glaring oversight, and it really bugs me.

 

************** SPOILER ALERT**************

What really bothered me was the treatment of the “Next.” Everyone was arguing that they are a danger to humanity because of their high intellect. The danger isn’t from their intellect. It’s because they are psychopaths. They have no consciences. The five who murdered civilians in Happy Landings in a coup and murdered naval personnel on the Armstrong had no remorse for their actions. That is plenty of proof that the Next are indeed dangerous. But the human characters just argue about them like they’re harmless puppies that humanity hates just because they’re “different.”

It’s not like Pratchett to overlook something like that. He’s usually much more perceptive. So, I blame his coauthor.

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The Book Was Better

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Of course most book-lovers know that the book is better than the movie.

To be fair, there is only so much you can put into a movie.  Movie-makers can show an entire scene in one amazing visual, but they can’t beat the amount of character development a book can have when the author can reveal all of a character’s innermost thoughts.  An author can also withhold information for a dramatic reveal later, when a movie can’t.

Occasionally, though, I must admit, the movie is better.  (Yes, blasphemy, I know.)  The list below has four categories, which are pretty self-explanatory.  I haven’t included any book for which I’ve only seen the movie or only read the book.  I also haven’t included any books that were made into musicals, since I love musicals regardless of how accurate an interpretation it might be of the book.  All are listed in no particular order, except for the order in which they occurred to me.

I may have missed some, so please point them out in the comments.

The Book Was Better

  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams – It was simply magical to hear “So, long, and thanks for all the fish” set to music.  The movie is funny and charming, and captures the spirit of Adams’ novel well.  The book is still better, but I’m glad that in the movie Arthur got a happy ending.
  • Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard – The 2000 movie with John Travolta was absolutely panned, and I’ve seen it on lists of all-time bad movies.  I liked it, but that’s just me.  The movie actually only covers about the first third of the book, which is quite a saga, and, I think, very interesting.
  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury – The 1966 movie was bland and lackluster, not doing justice to this excellent novel.
  • The Maze Runner, by James Dashner – I’d say this one’s close.  In both the movie and the novel, no one ever gives a straight answer, and information is given with an eye dropper, which is infuriating, but some things in the novel make more sense than they do in the movie.
  • The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau – The movie was a bit disappointing.  It didn’t capture the menace of the setting and the build up of excitement in the book.
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card – The book is brilliant and amazing.  No movie could hope to live up to it.  But the movie was all right.
  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry – Thanks to the movie, I discovered that The Giver is actually the first of a series, which of course I purchased and devoured immediately upon seeing the display in a bookstore.  The movie is a solid adaptation, making changes for the sake of the movie but staying true to the spirit of the original (mostly).
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien – Peter Jackson did not need to stretch this out into three movies.  That was an unapologetic money grab.  (I still went to all three of them, of course.)
  • Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis – I get that movie makers want to create tension between the characters, but they went too far and didn’t remain true to the characters in the book.
  • Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis – This movie did not stay true to the spirit of the book.  The scriptwriters obviously need to work on reading comprehension, because they changed the Island Where Dreams Come True into a sea serpent.
  • The Hunger Games, trilogy, by Suzanne Collins – All three books are solidly better than the movies, though I enjoyed both.  My main complaints are that the first movie spent too much time on world-building and not enough time on character-building, and the third book did not need to be two movies.
  • Harry Potter, series, by J.K. Rowling – The Harry Potter series was a phenomenon.  I, too, was caught up in it, and would obsessively read each new installment as soon as I could get my hands on it.
  • Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer – Yes, I’ve actually read this book.  And seen all the movies.  Honestly, the book really is better than the movie.  It’s not great literature, but I genuinely enjoyed it.
  • The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells – The book was 100,000% better than that bizarre travesty of a movie directed by Simon Wells (2002), whose last name didn’t help him make a better adaptation.
  • Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen – I’ve only seen the movie with Keira Knightley, and not the other film adaptations.  I actually like that movie, but, of course, the book is still better.  This movie is charming, but didn’t capture all the nuances of the characters and their development.
  • The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown – Awesome movie, even better book.
  • The Color of Magic and Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett- To be fair, these are made-for-t.v. movies, so we can’t hold them to the same standards.  These movies are cute but just okay as adaptations of the brilliant works of Terry Pratchett.

The Movie Was On-Par With the Book

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis – I’ve loved this series since I was a kid, but, I will admit, the movie did a good job.
  • The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern – er – William Goldman – You have to have a certain kind of sense of humor to enjoy the book.  If you really like Douglas Adams and Monty Python, give this novel a shot.
  • Insurgent, by Veronica Roth – The book and the movie are of about the same quality.

The Movie Was Better (sorry)

  • The Fellowship of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien – I’m going to get a lot of crap for this one.  But, honestly, Tolkien just takes so long to get anywhere.  It’s kind of tedious.  And, I have a confession to make that will probably have you demanding my nerd card: I only got about half-way through The Two Towers and I haven’t read Return of the King at all.  In my defense, I’ve read The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.
  • Stardust, by Neil Gaiman – This one of of Gaiman’s weaker novels.  It’s whimsical and charming, but the movie makes it into a much more powerful story.
  • Divergent, by Veronica Roth – This one was close.  The movie just barely edges out the book.  The movie follows the book pretty closely, and the changes the movie made were for the better.
  • Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown – There’s a reason this book didn’t become well known until after Da Vinci Code.  It’s because this one kind of sucks.  It has these awful recurring dream segments that that have nothing to do with the rest of the story thankfully were not in the movie, and, overall, the writing isn’t as good.  The movie was better.  By quite a bit.

Both Were Terrible

  • Twilight series (everything after the first one) by Stephanie Meyer – okay, so I’ve only read through New Moon, but after that one I gave up and I can’t imagine it gets better.
  • Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini – I gave up after the second one.  It’s a poorly-written rehashing of Star Wars with Anne Mccaffrey’s dragon riders instead of Jedi.

So what do you think?  What’s better – the book or the movie?

One For the Money: A review

I just finished reading One For the Money by Janet Evanovich.  I give it three out of five stars.  I don’t think I’ll read any more of the series (there are several more books about the main character, Stephanie Plum), but since Evanovich is a popular author, I’m glad I tried it out.

I decided to read this book because I really liked the movie. The movie actually followed the story line pretty well. I like the chemistry between Stephanie and Morelli, which is present both in the book and the movie.

Stephanie Plum is native to New Jersey, lives in a crappy apartment, and is desperate for cash.  This leads her to her cousin Vinnie, who owns a bail bond business, asking him for a job.  She decides to embark on the adventure of being a bounty hunter, which is pretty hilarious, since her previous job was in lingerie.  She decides to go after Joseph Morelli, a vice cop accused of murder who failed to appear in court.  It also just so happens that she lost her virginity to him in high school.  I’ll leave the summary there, so as not to give any spoilers.

The book is fun, but there is a lot of swearing (some people don’t mind it, of course, but I do), and there are a few scenes in the book that are much more graphic than I was expecting (violence wise).

It’s a light and quick read (I read it in two days), and pretty compelling. It’s also, I must admit, a trashy sort of book. It’s very light on intellectual content, the main character dresses like a trashy teenager, and there’s lots of swearing. It is, however, very, very funny.

The King James Bible and the Restoration

The King James Bible and the Restoration

On a recent trip to Utah, I went to Deseret Book, since there are none where I live.  Deseret Book is an LDS bookstore that publishes books primarily for an LDS audience (well, yeah) in a variety of genres.  I went in looking for some church history.

Once I laid my eyes on this book, I knew what I wanted.

2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the King James Bible.  In commemoration, the Religious Studies Center at BYU held a symposium with lectures on a variety of topics concerning the KJV, particularly in how it relates to Latter Day Saints.  Several of the contributors also wrote in essay form for publication in this book.

The essays, according to my own grouping, cover roughly three main topics:

  1. The importance of the Bible to Latter Day Saints
  2. The history of the Bible, and the King James version in particular, and its influence
  3. Why the church uses the King James version, and how we came to get the Latter Day Saint edition

I will go over each of these main topics:

  1. Latter Day Saints do sometimes tend to de-emphasize the Bible in favor of our other books of scripture.  This is a mistake.  The scriptures were all meant to work as one, as indicated in
    1. Ezekiel 37:19: “Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph [the Book of Mormon], which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be in mine hand.”
    2. 2 Nephi 3:12: “Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of fall doctrines and laying down contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to a knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the acknowledging of my covenants, saith the Lord.”
  2. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press truly was miraculous.  He must have been inspired to make the leaps that he did.  It just so happens that a big push to translate the Bible into vernacular languages happened at around the same time…Translating the Bible into English ended up being particularly problematic, as the Catholic clergy wanted to maintain control over holy writ and, consequently, their followers.  William Tyndale was martyred for his efforts to translate the Bible into English.  Eventually, there were several competing Bibles in English, the Geneva Bible being the favored translation of the Protestants.  The Geneva Bible also had extensive commentary that was very anti-authority, which was problematic for the church and the crown of England.  At the instigation of the Puritans, King James I (VI of Scotland) commissioned a re-translation with no commentary allowed.  Although not initially popular, the King James version became the Bible in America, to the point that it was referred to as the “common Bible.”  Much of the language that we see as so beautiful largely came from Tyndale’s translation.
  3. There are problems with the King James version.  It was translated from the Hebrew and Greek, but the Greek version used was not especially old compared to other New Testament manuscripts, particularly ones found later than 1611.  We do not have the original texts, only copies of copies of copies.  These texts do not agree in many places, and there really is no way of knowing (without inspiration from God) which is correct.  In spite of many translations of the Bible made from older manuscripts than that of the KJV, the Latter Day Saint church continues to use the KJV in preference to others, with our own edition published in 1979, which includes a Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, and the Joseph Smith Translation (inspired changes and editions made to the Bible by Joseph Smith).  Scholarly analysis of ancient manuscripts can only take us so far.  Which is why we needed the Restoration, begun with Joseph Smith in 1820. Latter Day Saints are not lacking anything from imperfect transmission of the Bible because we have modern day revelation.

This book is marvelous.  It has so much information and so many wonderful insights, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the King James Bible.  It might be a bit dense for someone without much background in the topic, but still a worthwhile read.

 

 

 

Winter Garden: A Review

For my book club, I read Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah.

This book was too long. Not that I don’t like long books. Rather, there was not enough story for 391 pages. It didn’t feel like it was really getting started until around page 200. And for goodness sake, I do not need to know the contents of every meal and what every character is wearing and you only need to tell me our suffering women feel like they are going to fall apart one or two times, not one or two times every few pages.

The last 100 pages do a pretty good job of redeeming this book, so I don’t really know how many stars to give it. I’m wavering between three and four, so I guess I’d rate it 3.5.

I’ll admit, there were a few parts of the Russia story that had me tearing up a bit. And the ending was, though improbable, still beautiful. I think the author should have just written a historical fiction novel and left out most of the family drama. It’s the Russian story that makes this book.

In fact, in the interview with the author at the back, she said that when she was drafting, she began with alternating chapters of family drama and the Russian story, but the Russian story was more compelling, so she changed it up.

I think she should have taken it as a sign and gone the other way with it.

Misquoting Jesus: A Review

Recently I read Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman.

I’m ambivalent about this book. On the one hand, Ehrman has clearly studied and researched his topic extensively, presents many interesting examples, and attempts to make dense research accessible to the layman. On the other hand, he is very repetitive (especially in the first few chapters), sometimes tedious (as in the chapter on early textual analysis), and is decidedly atheist at this point in his life. (Of course, some readers may like that, but I feel it’s important for a Bible scholar to disclose, which he only does obliquely.)

The pathos in the introduction describing his own experiences pulled me in; I sympathize with him while disagreeing with his conclusions. The early chapters rather sensationalized the idea that the Bible has mistakes in it. (Yeah? And? Not exactly news.)

In the last few pages, he goes off on a strange tangent, asserting that there is never any such thing as a “right” interpretation of any text whatsoever, that all meaning is created by the reader. As a teacher, I can say with certainty that there are such things as wrong answers when it comes to reading comprehension.

All in all, it was an interesting book, and thought-provoking. I understand now how difficult it is to discover what the Bible originally said. Which shows why we so desperately need inspiration, rather than relying solely on our own faculties.

Throughout the book I found myself earnestly wishing that the Latter Day Saint missionaries had only found Ehrman while he was in college.  I think his faith would have taken quite a different direction!

Not-Words That Should Be Words

What follows is a collection of words that are either considered improper English, or words that were coined but never really used (nonce words), as well as a couple of Old English words that should seriously be revived.  These are my personal favorites, that I feel really ought to be part of standard English.  They’re pretty amazing, so I think you’ll see why.

Conversate  con•ver•sate

verb

1. To make light-hearted conversation, as at a party.

Yes, I know we already have “converse.”  However, “converse” is a much more serious sounding word, while “conversate” sounds much lighter.  Therefore, “conversate” should mean banter and chatter, while “converse” refers to discourse on serious topics.

Origin: a back-formation from the word “conversation.”

Frindle  frin•dle

noun

1. Pen

Origin: An extremely fun and darling kid’s book of the same name by Andrew Clements.  The protagonist Nicholas Allen invents a new word, frindle, and gets all his friends to use it, much the the chagrin of his teacher.  Excellent book for grades 2-5 (depending on your kid’s reading level).

Grody  gro•dy

adjective

1. Really gross, especially when describing an object covered in a possibly unknown substance.

Origin: Possibly the Americanization of the British slang term “grotty,” meaning of poor quality.

Listicle  lis•ti•cle

noun

1. An article that is really more of a list with paragraphs describing each item on the list.  Kind of like this blog post.  Buzzfeed is also an excellent example of the listicle.

Origin: Portmanteau of “list” and “article.”

Meep  meep

exclamation

1. The word you say when you boop (another word that ought to be a real word) someone on the nose.

Origin: Back in high school, my two friends and I started to use this word because we were silly and weird.  After I started working with kids, it just popped out when I booped one of them on the nose, and now it’s a thing.  At least with my students and my nephews.

Sameheart  same•heart

noun

1. Soul mate

Origin: An Old English compound word of “same” and “heart.”  Compound words were very common in Old English, as they are in German.

Snackage  snack•age

noun

1. Snacks for a road trip, game night with friends, and similar events

Origin: Basically, it’s more fun to say “snackage” than it is to say “snacks.”

Snarf  snarf

verb

1. To eat really quickly

Origin: Portmanteau of “snack” and “scarf.”  It’s also really fun to say.

It’s also the name of a character from Thundercats, which is incidental, but the association seems fitting.

Wordhord  word•hord

noun

1. One’s vocabulary

Origin: An Old English word meaning “treasury of words.”  A compound of “word” and “hord” (in modern English as “hoard.”)