Video Sparknotes: Brave New World

I recently discovered Video Sparknotes. These videos, which can all be found on YouTube, are much like the regular Sparknotes in that they give simplified summaries of numerous famous books as well as explanations to their themes and other aspects of their novels. These videos are a good chance for a quick way to brush up on books for class work as well as preliminary to future reading.

Vampire Nation by Thomas Sipos

Spoilers!

It is said by many Conservatives that Communism is an ideal in which the government lives off the lifeblood of the people. To simplify, the state is a parasite, sucking the blood of its host till there is nothing left. One author took this idea and took it to the next level, both in scope as well as in satire. In Thomas Sipos’s Vampire Nation the Communists are in fact vampires, drinking the blood of the populace to survive. This book is a rich mixture of Ayn Rand, Van Helsing, and documentary on life in a communist country.

The book takes place during the Regan Era just before the fall of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. It tells the story of an American sent to Communist Romania to scout future locations for a movie about witches he has written. He isn’t in the Romanian capital of Bucharest for long before he discovers that he is not only being constantly watched and bugged, but also that his hosts are more interested in what’s running through his veins rather than helping him make his movie. He falls in with a supposed CIA agent/vampire hunter, who brings him along in her independent mission to kill the king of Romania’s vampires: Nicolae Ceausescu. During their mad dash across the broken and lifeless city of Bucharest they encounter many of the real horrors that were Romanian Communism. They see scores of orphans starving in the streets, numerous attempts by the government to hide the level of poverty the country is experiencing (in one case plants are painted green to look fresh, even though it’s winter), and horrific abuses of power by the upper echelons of the Romanian government.

It should be mentioned that while the vampire aspect of the book is completely false the other aspects and descriptions of starving masses and abuses of power are not. Much of what is described by the Sipos actually happened or, in the case of the orphans, is continuing to happen to this day. Much of the historical facts about Ceausescu and his regime, are taken from the book Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescus’ Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption by I.M.Pacepa. Pacepa was a foreign intelligence chief for the Romanian government during the fall who defected. His work helped to document many of the abuses of power that took place in the Ceausescu Regime as well as many of the problems that regular people experienced every day. When one looks at Communist Romania it is easy to see a parallel with what is happening in North Korea today.

This books is exceedingly well written and it’s a very easy read. One should take note, however, that many Conservatives views are expressed by the characters. If you like your books politically neutral this book may be a bit of a hard sell for you. As an action and horror story, though, it is quite amazing. It may also appeal to history buffs who enjoy a comical twist on the usual historical events.

Banned Books Week

It’s important for us to remember our national values, such as Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression and how important they are for us to function as a society. Banned Book Week is good time to reflect on these and how all print should not be kept from the eyes of the public.

A Little Blog of Books

This year, Banned Books Week runs from 22nd to 28th September.  Founded in 1982 and sponsored by the American Library Association, the campaign celebrates open access to information and aims to raise awareness of intellectual freedom.

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Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

It is a privileged to introduce Interesting Book’s first Guest Reviewer, Lydia Stedeford! She is a recent graduate of Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, her major being Public Relations and Graphic Arts. She is a writer in her own right and pursues it as a hobby, she is also a graphic designer which she also does freelance. If you would like to get into contact with Miss Stedeford you can reach her at her e-mail address: lstedeford@gmail.com or contact her through her blog at http://theinkwriter.blogspot.com/

Spoilers!

Inkheart is the first novel in what would become the Inkworld Trilogy by German author Cornelia Funke. Funke has written several novels but the most notable one published before Inkheart was The Thief Lord. In fact, it was after reading The Thief Lord that I became interested in Funke’s work. Inkheart was published in 2003, and it was the perfect book for a thirteen year-old fantasy genre loving teenager like me. Since then, however, I have read Inkheart and the subsequent sequels more than ten times. It is an addicting story- due to its complete ability to bring innovation into a rarely-explored theme. Inkheart features the story of Mortimer Folchart, a bookbinder, who one night accidentally reads three characters from a book called Inkheart in the novel. The three characters he reads into “our” or the “real world” are two villains, Basta and Capricorn and a fire-eater named Dustfinger, while three characters from “our” world disappear into Inkheart, Resa, Maggie’s mother and two of their cats. The story follows Mortimer or Mo as he is referred, his daughter Maggie, and the Inkheart characters. Inkheart begins one night when Dustfinger shows up out of the blue, to inform that Capricorn and Basta were looking for his copy of Inkheart. Mo takes Maggie to her aunt’s house to evade them, but Dustfinger later on betrays their location, as Capricorn has promised Dustfinger will be able to be read back into the book, something that Mo has denied and proven that he cannot pick and choose who or what comes out of a book and who or what goes into a book.

Mo goes freely with what he believes is his copy of Inkheart, leaving Maggie and her aunt Elinor behind. But Maggie does not accept the kidnapping of her father and realizes that her father took the wrong book, she and Elinor and Dustfinger plan a way into Capricorn’s village to return the book in hopes of getting her father back. Mo soon demonstrates his abilities by reading gold out of Treasure Island and a young boy named Farid out of 1001 night’s version of Aladdin and The Wonderful Lamp. The story really changes however, when Dustfinger sets Mo and Maggie free after Capricorn’s men have burned all the known copies of Inkheart to avoid being read back into the book as Capricorn has found the evil in the “real” world as easy as the Inkworld. Dustfinger helps them escape along with Farid, and they search for the original author of Inkheart, named Fenolio, Mo desperately wanted to keep a copy of Inkheart as he feels it is his only tie to Resa, his only hope or chance of being reunited with her. Maggie finds out that Resa has already been read out of Inkheart by another reader by the name of Darius after she gets captured again by Basta one day while Mo is away. Fenolio was also imprisoned and together, they try an experiment out of curiosity while she waits for Mo to come for her. They discovers that she also has the power to read characters aloud from books. Soon Capricorn tells Maggie that she will be reading another evil character in from Inkheart, the Shadow, a hound that can devour any living thing and only comes when Capricorn calls him. However, with Fenolio’s experimentation, he and Maggie have found that they can change the way things happen, read characters back into their worlds, but all has to be done with the “right words”. Fenolio gives Maggie an alternative script to read and when the Shadow does come- it turns on Capricorn and kills him. The book is very interesting and has many twists and turns.

Inkheart is a very rich story that continues to develop and change in the following books, Inkspell and Inkdeath and provides a new concept of bringing books to life. It is one of those books that gets better every time it is read and invites you in as much as it invites other characters from other worlds into “the real” world. I definitely recommend it as something to read if you like fantasy and love Harry Potter, it will change the way you look at books.

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Every once in a while everyone comes across a book that fundamentally changes how the reader sees the world and their place in it. For me that time came when I was 17 years old, and that book was Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. Never before had I read a book as fascinating before, and never had a book asked me about my place in society and my purpose along with it.

The high action movie version that seems to be more well-known these days is nothing like the book. While much of the movie takes place through action scenes with little character development, the book takes place largely in flashbacks and in classrooms. Of course there are scenes of action, but these are few and far between.

The story is about a young man named Juan “Johnny” Rico and his training for and eventual participation in a war to protect humanity from a race of insect like creatures known as Arachnids. While this war rages, however, we see through several flash backs how the man at the beginning of the story came to be, first through images of philosophical debates presented to him in school and second through his intense training for the Mobile Infantry. The Mobile Infantry is the name of the military force of the Terran Federation, the super national government which controls Earth and her colonies in other solar systems.

The Terran Federation is a limited democracy, which means that only a select few can vote. The population is divided into two sections: Citizens and Civilians. Citizens earn the right to vote through some type of service to the state (usually a two year term in the Mobile Infantry) while civilians are ordinary people. Other than voting rights there are no real differences between citizens and civilians. Other than voting both groups enjoy the same freedoms and protections by the state. The rationale behind this divide is that only those who are willing to sacrifice their individuality for the greater whole can be properly trusted to vote in the best interests of civilization rather than for their own personal gains.

The book makes the argument that every person must come together to help make the larger world better for all. While this sounds communist in nature it surprisingly isn’t. Heinlein makes the point that all jobs, no matter how petty or unimportant they may seem are always important to the larger picture. A doctor who cures patients is just as important as the janitor who keeps areas clean and sanitary for all to enjoy.

The book also gives a good description of a future military force. All soldiers wear a type of mech-suit which increases strength, maneuverability, and the gathering of battlefield intelligence. Each soldier can do the entire workload of a squad of normal soldiers, thus increasing the capabilities of large armies. Another interesting aspect of the Mobile Infantry is that EVERYONE fights, not just the normal grunts. This includes chaplains and commanding generals. The rationale behind this is that it builds up a greater sense of brotherhood amongst the troops, fostering a higher level of trust in the chain of command.

In conclusion this book is a Sci-Fi classic, while at the same time being a philosophical novel at the same time. I believe that it can interest a whole score of readers, even if they aren’t interested in Sci-Fi or military based fiction.

Top Ten Books for 2013 (So Far)

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Now I know that the year is not yet at end and that there is still plenty of time for finding new even better books to read, but I felt that now would be a good time to review some of the gems I have found this year. Not all of these books have been reviewed yet, but rest assured that I shall get to them all eventually!

1.The Diamond Age : Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
-This is on the number one spot for a number of reasons. The first is that I have never read anything quite like it before or since reading it. Neal Stephenson manages to craft a startlingly wild yet beautiful future for his characters to live in. It becomes more realistic every year with the massive advancements in nanotechnology and 3-D printing that have been occurring as of late. The story presented in this masterpiece of the Cyberpunk Genre is that of a young girl named Nell, growing up in the slums of Shanghai, who comes across a computerized book. This book bonds with its owner and helps to “raise” its owner to thrive in whatever environment the owner lives in. Through this book and other events both around her and around the world she manages to become something great.

2. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
-Long considered the Bible of the Hippie Movement of the 1960’s, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is a milestone of early Science Fiction. This novel taught us how to grok in life and how hard it can be to understand new things when first experiencing them. This novel tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, the only survivor of the first Human expedition to Mars. He is only a child when his parents and their fellow crewmates die and is raised by the indigenous Martians of the planet. Several years later he is “rescued” by a second expedition and comes back to Earth. Here in becomes something of a celebrity as he tries to figure out not only his fellow humans, but also strives to bring what he learned on Mars back to Earth.

3. Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen
-Picture a world far into the future where combustion engines and electricity are banned, where librarians fight duels with flintlock pistols for honor and wind trains are the main means of getting from one destination to another. If you can adequately do this than you have only a part of the picture that Sean McMullen created in this amazingly well written book about Australia more than 2000 years into the future. This book is also the first in what is known as the Great Winter Trilogy. I am only on the second book and I am constantly surprised with how well thought out the premise and execution of the story in both books are.

4. Confederacy of Dunces by John K. Toole
-Before I read this book I had never actually believed that a comedy novel was possible. What is usually labeled “Comedy” in book stores and libraries are more often memoirs of famous comedians like Chelsea Handler or Tina Faye or very old joke books. John Toole was able to accomplish what I at first thought was impossible. He was able to create a very silly story, make the characters both larger than life, yet quite believable, and to write it in a very enjoyable style. This novel tells the story of Ignatius Reilly, a good for nothing mama’s boy with a History degree of Medieval History. He only has two delights: criticizing the world around him and eating. Set in the little used (outside of vampire stories) setting of New Orleans, it gives a charming portrayal of life there in the 1950s.

5. Child 44 by Tom R. Smith
-This was one of the more chilling books I’ve ever read. It takes place in the Soviet Union during the final days of Stalin, a place that is so “utopian” that murders don’t take place. Enter MGB agent Leo Demidov. Disgraced by a jealous comrade he is banished to a small dirty city east of Moscow. Here he comes across numerous murders of children. In a nation where murders are swept under the rug by those who swear to protect the citizens only he can solve the crime. This novel is also the first in a series and is exceedingly well researched. The crimes portrayed are based on the murders committed by famous Russian serial killer, Andre Chikatilo. Extensive detail also goes into describing life under Stalin and how literally millions of people lived in fear every day.

6. LZR-1143: Infection by Bryan James
-While this is an action packed story of zombies and the terror that always accompanies them it is all somewhat comedic in tone. Mike McKnight is an action star condemned to a high security mental ward for the murder of his beloved wife. One day he wakes up from the daze of “calming” medications to find his cell unlocked and the orderlies gone. This novel is full of the normal gore we find in other zombie stories, but I found the idea of an action star in the zombie apocalypse quite interesting. It turns out that someone like that may be better equipped for it than anyone else. There are numerous instances that Mr. McKnight has to use something he learned from covering people for his roles to get out of a tight spot. The character developments as well as the description of a broken America are also quite entertaining to read.

Courtesy of Texas Public Radio

Courtesy of Texas Public Radio

7. Rest in Pieces by Bess Lovejoy
-I previously reviewed this book in July (the review can be read here: http://wp.me/p3mys6-2K). It is a collection of true stories as to the eventually fates of the corpses of famous people. Some of the corpses profiled are that of Einstein, Columbus, and Hunter S. Thompson. This book was good fun to read. It was entertaining and informative. At times it got kind of disgusting and hard to read, but those parts never lasted too long and in the end they were worth the read.

8. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
-This book is one of the hallmarks of Civil War Literature. It is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg from the viewpoints of many of the famous generals and soldiers involved. Much like Child 44 and Rest in Pieces this book is also well researched and this fact adds to the veracity and entertainment value of the story. Many parts of the book are accompanied with maps which helps the reader top better understand the full scope of the battle.

9. War Trash by Hai Jin
-This book twists the POW-theme we are all used to from such movies and novels as the Great Escape or Bridge on the River Kwai and turns the theme on its head. War Trash portrays the experience of being a POW from the enemy’s point of view. In this case a Chinese POW during the Korean War. The book portrays camp life under the Allies as being no less tough than it was for American POWs in other wars. The main difference is that while American POWs were tortured and harassed by their captors in this story the captives are harassed by their own fellows. The prisoners are divided by their allegiance to either the People’s Republic of China on the mainland and that of the Republic of China in Taiwan. While most just want to be left alone, these two sides soon drive them to one side or the other through a mixture of fear tactics and outright torture. This book gives a very unsettling, yet poignant view of the Korean War.

10. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
This book will stick out in the mind of any reader. It the most famous written source about the Rwandan Genocide of the early 1990s. It is hard to put this book into words as it is so ambitious in its scope and so brutal in its descriptions of the mass murders that took place in the small African nation. While this book describes the violence of the event it also attempts to explain how and why such a terrible event happened in the first place.