Wednesday, January 30, 2013



This is one of those books that keeps popping up. Sometimes as a pop culture or literary reference in a book you are reading. Or, it comes up on some literary list of banned books or books that revolutionized the industry (at the time). It's often touted as a 'must read', on the same level as say 1984. So, when it is sitting on your living room bookshelf it is bound to be read at some point. That is what happened in our humble abode. It was taken from the shelf, read by my wife, then passed onto me.
The actual book we have is ancient. As pictured above, it has the price of 50 cents listed on the front, it has the edges of the pages dyed that strange green colour, and according to the inside cover was printed in the late 50s. Our copy is also falling apart at the seams - literally. After my wife read through it, the book broke into three pieces, strangely, almost matching the three sections of the book. But, the best part is the smell. It's that smell of old paper, like a used bookstore with too many paperback romance novels sitting on the twirly rack near the door. Mmmm.
It is hard to fathom why this book was banned at one point. I guess the book does have frequent, if brief, discussions on the topic of sex. Most of it is theoretical, but, I guess just the fact that it is sometimes the centre of a dialogue between character was pretty taboo back in '58. My how things have changed. Fifty Shades is now front and centre on the display case at my local library, which not only discusses sex in the theoretical but is what one might almost call a how-to or play-by-play narrative.
I can see why this book launched a soap opera with the same title. Everything in it is over the moon dramatic, which would be great for daytime tv. For eg. when a young girl becomes pregnant, it's her drunken Step Father's baby! When someone commits suicide, they hang themselves in the closet of a hormonal teenager that was rude to her earlier that day! And so on, and so on. There are many stories lines in this book and they all seem to be this extreme and dramatic. You really never know what is going to happen, but, you desperately want to find out.
As you read, the dirty little secrets of this town start to spiral out of control. Big things, like murder, start happening.
But, in the end the town takes on being a character in its own right and forgives any unlawful murder.
It was very well written and kept me turning pages (even if they did fall out). Considering it was written in the 50's most of it was still very relevant. On a warm June night, I might even agree that this is one of those books you should read before you die.


Monday, January 21, 2013


A Journey to the Centre of the Internet

Following that cord from your computer to the 'internet' is the general idea behind this book. What would it look like? How does it actually work? Good idea, me thinks. Andrew Blum does a great job at describing it all. But, (yes, a big but)...this would have made a lovely magazine article. As it turns out making a book about it was taking it just a few steps too far.
Overall, there is very little to the 'internet'; little variety that is. The internet is huge and spreads across the entire globe, but, as it turns out there is really only wire and a surprisingly low number of routers. This books shows us that...from a dozen different angles.
Turns out if you send an email from your computer it goes through your home router, down a wire, to the local provider's router, down some more wire, to an 'exchange' (code for another router), where it goes along some more wire, to another exchange (aka router), along even more wire, to the last router, where it is pushed up a wire to its destination. So, let me sum it up in easy-speak-chant : 

*clears throat* wire, router, wire, router, wire, router, wire, router...

There. That is pretty much the bones of this book. 

Blum tries to add some interesting guts to these bones, but, he doesn't have much to work with. He describes the uniform routers and wire that make up the internet in extreme detail and poetic prose, but, again I can sum it up in easy-speak-chant:

*clears throat* black cable, blinky router lights, yellow cable, blinky router lights, thick cable, blinky router lights, underwater cable, blinky router lights...

Even when he starts to describe the people who work on the 'internet', they are surprisingly bland - computer nerds in hoodies leaning over a laptop (they all seem to have very little social skills as well). There is one spark of life when Blum goes on an overnight shift with some blue collar cable layers under the streets of NYC. But, for the most part the IT people sounded very boring.

I was left hoping for more. Again, Blum does a great job at describing the limited parts of the internet, I can picture how beautiful a refrigerator sized router can look bathed in the soft glow of fluorescent lights, but, you can only read so much of the same thing. It wasn't his words that were repetitive, it was the content. I'd say read Andrew Blum, but, just not this book.


Monday, January 7, 2013



When you think, John Grisham, most likely humour writing does not come to mind. You probably think more along the lines of thrillers about lawyers from down south. If I'm right, now is the time to change that. Do it with this book. This one is not about lawyers, it's about an accountant.  

Luther, the accountant I mentioned, and his wife decide to 'skip Christmas'. Their daughter is going to be out of the country and they've decided instead of feeling sad they'd go on a cruise instead. Makes sense right? Christmas, and all the events surrounding it, cost a lot of money, time, effort, and are really stressful. Just skip it all and save enough to go on a fabulous vacation.
Sounds like a dream when you read it while in the midst of the Christmas season.
I love how Grisham brings up all the pain points that drive you mad. The excessive presents. The work parties. The charities upping their pressure for handouts. The decorating. The guilt, the costs, the stress...
The book brings to light how difficult it would be to miss this event. When you actually stand back and think about it the social pressures we have put on us, they are immense. Luther's brilliant plan is tested over and over. With a stubborn, almost superhuman, will he manages to squeak through all the situations that pop up from the neighbors and coworkers...with only small pangs of guilt and shame. Until Xmas eve when his daughter busts his little bubble. She has managed to get a flight and will be home in hours...and is expecting the usual Xmas events.
I will spoil it and let you know that it all works out. Maybe not in the ideal way, but, being a Christmas tale it has to end happy...right?
This is one of those books I recommend over and over. It is quick and easy to read. So easy to relate to and makes you feel good. Lots of laughs too. It may also change the way you think about John Grisham.


This book led to the wonderful movie Christmas with the Kranks. Even though it stars Tim Allen, whom I don't particularly like, I found the movie really funny. I would say the book is better, especially in the explanation on why they are skipping Xmas, but, the mad scramble at the end is better in the movie.



I listed to this as an audiobook - all 24 discs! Over 24 hours worth of epic novel. It took weeks...and I still wanted more!
Follett put together a masterpiece here. The size and scale of this story was immense. It could easily have been broken down into five books and still made for lengthy indepth reading. But, his skill at putting them all together made for a much more rewarding read. He weaved the stories of five different families together to give us a fictional account of the huge changes that were going on at the beginning of the twentieth century and how they effected the entire globe. A welsh coal mining family, a British Earl, an American diplomat, a cosmopolitan German family, and a lowly Russian factory labourer are the pieces Follett uses to assemble his puzzle.
World War one is an event that is hard to decipher; why did it start, why did it last so long, why was it so bloody? Taking a look through all the different pieces, Ken gave us a glimpse of the varied interpretations of how the war began, how it was fought, and how desperate things became after years and years of destruction.
It was very interesting to read about the rigid social structure of the early 1900's and see how quickly it changed. I kept picturing Downton Abbey while reading, mostly because of the Earl and the maids. The storyline in this book and the storylines in Downton Abbey were strangely very similar.
The book took us right through to the 1920's where it just kind of ended. Typically series books end with a cliffhanger of some sort, but, there was nothing like that here. Just a kind of, uh, I don't Follett went for a bathroom break and never came back to the ol' typewriter? You know the stories are not done, you know there is going to be a World War was just unexpected when the book ended - just like that!
I do have one small criticism of the story. All of the characters rose to a level of importance that seemed a bit unrealistic, seeing as the story took place in the real world. For eg, at many points during the book characters were advising Prime Ministers, Presidents, and Kaisers. They were in positions that, in the real world, would have made a giant impact on how things really worked out. It  felt a bit too far fetched, but, just a bit. It was easy to overlook until you finished the book and took out your critical pair or eye glasses (from that special radioactive-proof case you keep in the cabinet under the sink in the downstairs bathroom) and looked the book over again.
I'm looking forward to book two - Winter of the World - which I will mostly likely listen to. To save time. I can do it while I'm inputting data, mindlessly, into the computer system at work. It would take me months to read the entire 900 and some odd pages...I have other big books to read. Plus, the reader of these books does a great Cockney accent, and a fair Russian one as well...his American accent is a bit too 'Texan' for my liking though.