"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Sunday, January 23, 2022

SPIDER-MAN: MAYHEM in MANHATTAN (audiobook) by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman

 



Originally published as a paperback book by Pocket Books in 1978.
Published by Marvel as an audiobook in 2019.
Read by Tristan Wright.
Duration: 4 hours, 9 minutes.
Unabridged.

Spider-Man is busy being "your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" when he encounters a dead body thrown out of a New York City luxury high-rise apartment onto the street below. While he is investigating, two beat cops stumble upon them and a rookie cop on his first night shift tour takes a shot at Spider-Man. Worse than that, they make Spider-Man the prime suspect for the murder and Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson starts yet another media campaign against Spider-Man. 

Can things get worse? 

Spidey finds out that they certainly can as he begins an investigation to clear his name...

******


This book was kind of a tedious listen. Clearly, this book re-published as an audiobook in response to the Spider-Man craze that has come along since Spider-Man was added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and not on its own merits as a piece of literature. Note: this book is not a part of the MCU, since it was published 30 years before the release of the first MCU movie. This was the first paperback in a short-lived series of books that Pocket Books published.

I am going to be tough on this audiobook because both Marvel and DC have done some nice work with their novels in the last few years - books that really dive deep into the character, something that Spider-Man actually helped to pioneer in the comics. This audiobook feels like more of a money grab - just publishing something that Marvel already owns rather than creating a new book written to higher standards. 

In this book the fight scenes are quite good, but the dialogue sounds stiff and like my grandparents would have spoken in 1978 rather than a college student (Yes, I was alive in 1978 - I am pretty old).

My biggest pet peeve is that there is a big reveal scene where Spider-Man finally figures out who is behind everything and the reader is supposed to be shocked who the bad guy is. Any casual fan of Spider-Man knows who it was from the little bit we saw of the character from the opening scene where the victim was thrown from the building. It was so anti-climactic when the big reveal officially happens. It would have been better to have just seen everything from Spider-Man's point of view and let it be a mystery to everyone.

The reader, Tristan Wright did a nice job.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: SPIDER-MAN: MAYHEM in MANHATTAN (audiobook) by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.

Note: This book is also published under these alternate titles: The Amazing Spider-Man: Mayhem in Manhattan and Stan Lee Presents The Amazing Spider-Man: Mayhem in Manhattan.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

THE PRESIDENT'S BRAIN IS MISSING (audiobook) by John Scalzi

 


Published by Macmillan Audio in 2019.
Originally published by Tor Books in 2011.
Read by P.J. Ochlan.
Duration: 47 minutes.
Unabridged.


When the President notices that he can't force his head to go underwater during his morning swim and he complains of being lightheaded, his aides take him off for a medical checkup. 

The author, John Scalzi

During the checkup, the President's doctor determines that the President does indeed have a major medical problem - his brain is missing but he continues to walk and talk like normal. His aides scramble to try to figure out what may have caused this and what they should do.

******

First things first in this hyper-political time: This audiobook is not a commentary on either President Trump or President Biden since the story was originally published during the first term of the Obama's presidency.

In a way, this is very much a piece of throwback science fiction, like a Twilight Zone story. It takes a weird premise and runs with it for a while.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE PRESIDENT'S BRAIN IS MISSING (audiobook) by John Scalzi.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

THE DAWN of EVERYTHING: A NEW HISTORY of HUMANITY (audiobook) by David Graeber and David Wengrow

 


Published by Macmillan Audio in 2021.
Read by Mark Williams.
Duration: 24 hours, 2 minutes.
Unabridged
.

In my professional life I am a high school teacher. I don't teach it now, but in the past when I taught world history I taught that the origins of civilization in the traditional way and it always goes something like this:

-At first there were wandering groups of people, probably based around 1 or 2 families. Things were fairly democratic because these groups had to talk things out to make decisions.

-Somebody along the way figured out how to domesticate a few animals.

-Somebody along the way figured out how to domesticate plants. Some small fields were started and left mostly on their own while the wandering continued with scheduled returns to the fields.

-Eventually, the fields were so productive that it made no sense to leave them.

-Populations grew, towns were developed and simple authoritarian government led by almost always by a man who served as an all-powerful king of some sort always sprang up to manage the resources, resolve property disputes, etc.

-With the exception of Athens and a few other Greek city-states, democracy was non-existent. 

The classic case for this was Egypt. The way we taught it is that it has always gone this way, pretty much without fail - like it was a law of human behavior.

These authors come at this with a different perspective. They've done a lot of research and have come to the conclusion that what happened in Egypt was not only not the norm but may have been a fairly unique exception. 

The authors look at the roots for our the official history of how it had to have happened (we really have no idea how, when you think about it). They then proceed to take a long look at why it is wrong to say that all or even most civilizations followed that pattern when they adopted agriculture. 

The authors spend 24 hours of audiobook telling us something that we all should have known to begin with without being told - there is no law to human behavior in any area. Human beings continue to come up with a multitude of familial, work, governmental and religious arrangements. Is that a feature of modern man or has that been the situation all along? My vote goes to "all along."

Monks Mound at Cahokia in Illinois. It is the largest
pyramid structure in the Americas north of Mexico
and one of the largest pyramids in the world.
This audiobook is interesting and makes a serious, well-considered argument. It looks at ancient Egypt, Crete, ancient Pakistan, Turkey, Stonehenge, Ukraine, China, Japan, Cahokia near the Mississippi River in Illinois, Poverty Point, the Aztecs, the Mayas, the Inca and more. Sometimes it gets a little too detailed, especially in the first one-third of the book, but it did bring a different perspective to my view of ancient history and was well worth listening to.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: THE DAWN of EVERYTHING: A NEW HISTORY of HUMANITY (audiobook) by David Graeber and David Wengrow.



Thursday, January 13, 2022

JESUS LAND: A MEMOIR (Kindle) by Julia Scheeres

 



Published in 2005.
Winner of the 2006 Alex Award from the American Library Association.
Winner of the 2006 New Visions Nonfiction Book Award from the Quality Paperback Book Club.

Note: I read because it is on a list of books that Republicans have asked to be banned in one way or another. I call it the GOP Censorship List. More about that down below. 

Julia Scheeres grew up in around Lafayette, Indiana. She grew up in a fundamentalist household. When she begins this memoir, she has older brothers and sisters who have moved out of the house and lives with her parents and two adopted brothers out in the country outside of Lafayette. Her family is unique in that her two adopted brothers are black and the rest of the family is white.

The first part of the book deals with her horrible home and school life. At home, her father is mostly a distant figure. He returns home from work and dispenses discipline - often with great physical violence. These are not spankings - these are beatings with a 2x4. 

Her mother is a distant woman - more concerned with expressing love and support to missionaries she has never met in distant lands than in her own children. Her older adopted brother sexually abuses her for years.

Her younger adopted brother, however, is the closest to her in age and in spirit. His name is David. They are best friends and truly brother and sister. They are almost inseparable.

I say almost inseparable because when they go to school, Julia finds the racist pressure too much and often separates from her brother at school just to protect herself.

Halfway through the book, Julia and her younger brother get into trouble and are shipped off to a Christian Academy in the Dominican Republic called Escuela Caribe. Escuela Caribe advertises that it will help students free themselves from the influences of popular culture and maintain their education.


The school is really a lockdown facility. It is a reform school that is staffed with people with little or no training. All that is required of the staff is a high school diploma (or a GED) and faithful zeal.The students are in the Dominican Republic because it is on an island. They can't run away from the school because they don't know the language and the school holds their passports so they cannot go back to the United States.

The school is a model of brainwashing. Psychological abuse, cruelty, and even physical abuse runs rampant. Even straight out physical violence is used in an effort to show the campers the love of Jesus.

If that sounds wrong - well, that's because it is wrong. Very wrong.

I read this book because it was on a list of books that an angry parent group wanted to ban at a school corporation because it is anti-Christian and has sexual content (more on that later). I don't think of this book as "anti-Christian". All Scheeres did was point out that she and her brothers were physically beaten in their own homes by Christians and the violence continued at Escuela Caribe by Christians who hit them in the name of Jesus. My take as a lifelong Christian is that the book is not "anti-Christian". The behavior of the supposed Christians in this book is anti-Christian. Those "Christians" literally abused the author so much in the name of Jesus that she wants nothing to do with Jesus. 

Is there sexual content? Yes.

Is it glorified? No. 

It's actually pretty sad. 

More about Escuela Caribe here in a Newsweek article. Escuela Caribe is now closed but it was bought out by a group with lots and lots of ties to Mike Pence. The new school kept some of the same employees as the old school and has the exact same qualifications to be a staff member.

This was a profound and disturbing memoir. I was not disturbed by the actions of a girl trying to find her way. I was disturbed by adult Christians who psychologically and physically abuse people so they can show them the love of Jesus. It angered me like few books have ever angered me.

I rate this memoir 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres

Friday, December 31, 2021

FATES WORSE THAN DEATH: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL COLLAGE by Kurt Vonnegut

 



Originally published in 1991.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
This collection of essays is basically Vonnegut's commentary on the 1980's. It was interesting to note how many of his essays (or parts thereof) address current day problems. I don't know if that means there are some problems that are timeless or if it simply means that we have just ignored the problems and they have festered. I know what Vonnegut would say:


"We probably could have saved ourselves, but were too damned lazy to try very hard...and too damn cheap." (p. 116, Essay XI)

There are 21 essays (some are actually transcribed speeches), a preface and a lengthy Appendix with multiple essays. Like any collection, there are good ones, mediocre ones and even a couple of terrible essays here. But, I found this collection to be pretty good, especially if you space them out.

I rate this collection 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: FATES WORSE THAN DEATH: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL COLLAGE by Kurt Vonnegut.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

REDSHIRTS: A NOVEL with THREE CODAS (Kindle) by John Scalzi

 


Winner of 2012 RT Reviewers Choice Award.
Winner of the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Winner of the 2013 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

Published in 2012 by Tor Books.

This book is considered a modern classic and I absolutely jumped at the chance to download it for free thanks to Tor Publishing's e-mail newsletter and their monthly free e-book offer. I don't take every e-book they offer, but this is a book I've been considering for a while and you can't beat the price of free.

The title of the books tells you that there is a Star Trek tie-in with this novel. As every Star Trek fan knows, on the original series the joke is that the character wearing red shirts (except for Scotty and Uhura) are expendable characters that die in a number of weird and sometimes horrible ways. 

This book features a universe similar to that of Star Trek. The characters are based on the flagship of the Universal Union fleet - the Intrepid. The fate of the redshirts on the Intrepid is much like that of the redshirts on the Enterprise on Star Trek

And...that's all I can really say without going into spoilers and I really don't want to do that. Suffice it to say - if you are a Star Trek fan, you will enjoy this book.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. I would have made it 5 stars but the first of the three codas at the end was so padded with repetitive information that I literally skimmed several pages of it.