Monday, December 31, 2018

Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut: Book Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2004/01/book-recommendations-i-know-it-is-kind.html

For a more intelligent review, see:
Aliens, Time Travel, and Dresden -Slaughterhouse-Five Part I: Crash Course Literature 212 https://youtu.be/F6g7S2W27Kc

Finished: A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood....Review Coming Soon...Hopefully


Sunday, December 23, 2018

So, this popped up in my twitter feed this morning:



The tweet is new, but apparently the news is old.  I Googled it just now, and it looks like the quote is from years ago.  But it also looks legit.  This really is a real Trump quote.


And actually, a search through my own archives indicates I've used this before.  It was in the context of an IELTS lesson, so I just prompted my students to discuss the issue, and didn't editorialize about it myself.
But, for some reason I never went on a rant about this before.  So I'm probably overdue for a rant.

I complained way back in 2008 that the fact that this Bible verse keeps popping up as a conservative talking point indicates that conservative Christians aren't actually reading their Bibles.  To quote myself from 2008:
Back in my Calvin days, I can’t tell you the number of times a conservative Christian would try and justify the death penalty to me by quoting from the Bible “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” It used to drive me crazy because (as anyone whose actually read the bible knows) Jesus specifically repudiates this in Matthew 6:43 “You have heard that it was said ‘Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, Don not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also….”
I’m digressing here I know, but this is one of my pet peeves. 
Makes me absolutely furious how little Christians know about their own doctrines. I'd rant about itt more, but what can you do?  We are living in times when things have gotten so stupid that it's almost a waste of energy to get outraged about things like this.

I guess we'll I'm on the subject, I might as well through in a link to GOP Jesus.  Even though I know you've probably seen it already.



The joke has of course been done before.  Al Franken riffed on this same theme with "The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus" in his book: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

Al Franken's "Supply Side Jesus" comic - animated

Teacher-Pupil Conflict in Secondary Schools by K. A. Cronk: Book Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://papersiwrote.blogspot.com/2005/12/teacher-pupil-conflict-in-secondary.html

Friday, December 21, 2018

Walking in Chiang Mai

(Travelogues)
I didn't have time to see any sights when I was doing the DELTA, So I just took out the camera to shoot some scenery around the school.
Apologies for this--this really should be one video.  In the old days, I used to be able to combine these short videos together.  But I lost my video editing software when the old computer died, and the current digital camera I'm using doesn't have editing software.  So whenever I turn the camera off and on again, it becomes a separate video.

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5



Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie Jr.: Book Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://papersiwrote.blogspot.com/2005/12/the-big-sky-by-ab-guthrie-book-report.html

Coming Up for Air by George Orwell

(Book Review)

Started: December 15, 2018
Finished: December 17, 2018

I have some time ago decided that George Orwell is my favorite author of all time.
I suppose then it's a little bit odd that I've been so slow to tackle his collected works.  But I figure, there's no great hurry with these things.  And why spoil it by rushing?  Better to savor it by just reading a little bit of Orwell every so often.
At any rate, I've now read almost everything.
1984 and Animal Farm (these two in my youth, before I was blogging, so no review to link to).
Keep the Aspidistra Flying,
Homage to Catalonia,
Collected Essays,
Burmese Days, and
Down and Out in Paris and London.  
There are only a couple of books left actually.

Recently, I found Coming Up for Air at a used book sale, and grabbed it.

The Review
This is a short little book (247 pages).  But there's a lot of themes in here to comment on.  I'll try to divide my comments into sections, although there is some overlap.

Style and Narration
I've always loved Orwell's readable prose, that seems to just effortlessly carry the reader along.  Even when Orwell is writing about something boring, his prose style makes me interested.  This is true right from the beginning of the book, in which the main character is describing himself in the bath.  Orwell can pull it off because he writes so well.
The style is first person narration.
Given how many of Orwell's books and essays are autobiographical (Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out)  I thought for the first page or so that this was actually Orwell narrating.  But although the narration style is 1st person point of view, the narrator is not Orwell himself, but the fictional character George "Fatty" Bowling.  (Although he does share the same first name as Orwell--or at least he would, if George Orwell weren't actually a pseudonym for Eric Blair).
According to Wikipedia:

 A recent biographer, Michael Shelden, praised the "many passages of lyrical beauty, not unbecoming a novelist who once aspired to be a poet. The one serious defect in the novel is Orwell's attempt to be the voice of his narrator-protagonist. He does not make a convincing middle-aged, overweight, suburban-dwelling, low-brow insurance salesman, and the book is at its best when Orwell is 'out-of-character', speaking in a voice which is recognisably his rather than an imitation of 'Fatty' Bowling's."
I actually thought it worked.  Mostly.  Certainly Fatty Bowling is more intelligent than our stereotype of suburban insurance salesman, but then, maybe our stereotype is prejudiced.  The book also explains that Fatty Bowling has had a literary background.  (He had always been a reader, and had had a couple of years during the war when he was stationed out in the country with nothing to do, and educated himself by reading the classics.)
The only real problem is the problem with all first-person narration novels--separating Orwell's views from Fatty Bowling's.  Mostly  I assumed that Fatty Bowling's thoughts were also the thoughts of Orwell, but this can be dangerous.
There are a lot of serious and frankly depressing themes in this book (more on that below).  But the narration style is frequently humorous or sarcastic.  There's a lot of great sarcastic one-liners in this book.  I couldn't possibly quote them all, but I'll give one below just to give you a taste:
Funny how we keep thinking about bombs.  Of course there's no question that it's [the war] coming soon.  You can tell how close it is by the cheer-up stuff they're talking about in the newspapers.  I was reading a piece in the News Chronicle the other day where it said the bombing planes can't do any damage nowadays.  The anti-aircraft guns have got so good that the bombers have to stay at twenty thousand feet.  The chap thinks, you notice, that if an aeroplane's high enough the bombs don't reach the ground.  Or more likely what he meant was that they'll miss Woolwich Arsenal and only hit hit places like Ellesmere Road [the street where the narrator lives]. (p.19)
That's typical of most of the book--Serious stuff, but the point is still made in a humorous way.
You'll also notice from the quote above that the narrator is already anticipating the outbreak of World War II.  That's also another theme throughout the book.

Anticipating World War II
The book was published in 1939, right before World War II, and is an interesting time piece providing a glimpse of what people were thinking right before the war.  According to this book, everyone knew the war was coming.  Fatty Bowling narrates his thoughts while riding on a train and noticing a bomber airplane flying overhead.
One of the commercials cocked his eye at it for just a second. I knew what he was thinking. For that matter it's what everybody else is thinking. You don't have to be a highbrow to think such thoughts nowadays. In two years time, one year's time, what shall we be doing when we see one of those things? Making a dive for the cellar, wetting our bags with fright? (p17)
Passages like this, in which the narrator asserts over and over again that everyone knows the war is coming, are all throughout the book.  Orwell (or Fatty Bowling) usually predicts the war will come in 1941, which struck me as prescient, until I remembered that 1941 was only the American entry.  England actually entered the war in 1939, so it actually came sooner than Orwell thought.

The book also provides an interesting insight into the politics of England on the eve of the war.
Sometimes you read articles complaining that people weren't sufficiently outraged about what was going on in Germany before the war.  But Orwell paints a picture of a society pretty worked up about it.
Orwell's narrator describes a lecture he attended:
...Of course he was pitching into Hitler and the Nazis. I wasn't particularly keen to hear what he was saying--get the same stuff in the News Chronicle ever morning--but his voice came across to me as a kind of burr-burr-burr, with now and again a phrase that stuck out and caught my attention.
"Bestial atrocities.... Hideous outbursts of sadism. ... Rubber truncheons. ... Concentration camps. ... Iniquitous persecution of Jews. ... Back to the Dark Ages. ... European civilisation. ... Act before it is too late. ... Indignation of all decent peoples. ... Alliance of the democratic nations. ... Firm stand. Defence of democracy. ... Democracy. ... Fascism. ... Democracy. ... Fascism. ... Democracy... ."(p.153)
What's interesting though (and this comes through a little bit in the passage I just quoted above) is that instead of being sympathetic to the anti-fascists, Orwell is mocking them.  He views the whole thing as a type of group-think, where people just get together to mindlessly hate.  Orwell even views the title "anti-fascist" as being ridiculous.  To quote from the same page:
What's he doing? Quite deliberately, and quite openly, he's stirring up hatred.  Doing his damnedest to make you hate certain foreigners called Fascists. It's a queer thing, I thought, to be known  as "Mr. So-and-so, the well-known anti-Fascist." A queer trade, anti-Fascism.  This fellow, I suppose, makes his living by writing books against Hitler. But what did he do before Hitler came along?  ... But the grating voice went on and on, and another thought struck me. He means it.  Not faking at all--feels every word he's saying.  He's trying to work up hatred in the audience, but that's nothing to the hatred he feels himself. Every slogan's gospel truth to him.  If you cut him open all you'd find inside would be Democracy-Fascism-Democracy (p.153-154)
 If you've read 1984, these themes should be sounding familiar.  (More on that below).  Although I was surprised to find these critiques applied to the anti-fascists instead of to the totalitarian regimes themselves.
The meeting Orwell's narrator is describing is a meeting of the Left Book Club (W), and from reading Orwell's collected essays, I know the Left Book Club was a frequent target of his ire.  Although I believe he was also a member, and they did publish a lot of his works.  So I don't know what his exact relationship with them was.  Maybe familiarity had breed contempt.  Orwell had just grown contemptuous of the kind of mindless groupthink that occurred at these anti-fascist meetings, even if he knew they were on the right side of history.
(That's me being charitable, of course.  The uncharitable explanation is that at this point in time Orwell wasn't taking the fascist threat seriously enough.  But I got the sense from his collected essays--not to mention his own personal history fighting in Spain--that Orwell was always a committed anti-fascist.)

At the same time, however, Orwell's narrator does feel nervous about Hitler and Stalin.
He goes to talk to a classicist friend of his.  (Classicist in the sense of someone obsessed with ancient Rome and Greece.).  Orwell's narrator says that Hitler and Stalin are something that the world has never seen before, and expresses his fear for the future.  The classicist says that nothing is new under the sun, and points out that ancient Greece had tyrants just like Hitler. 
Orwell's narrator thinks to himself:
It's funny.  I'm not a fool, but I'm not a highbrow either, and God knows at normal times I don't have many interests that you wouldn't expect a middle-aged seven-pound-a-weeker with two kids to have. And yet I've enough sense to see that the old life we're used to is being sawn off at the roots.  I can feel it happening. I can see the war that's coming and I can see the after-war, the food-queues and the secret police and the loudspeakers telling you what to think. (p.166)
Orwell was right enough about the war coming of course.  But what about the other stuff?  Did life ever return to the way it was before the war?  I'm not sure because I have no memory of what life was like before the war.  Nor do most people nowadays.  We certainly have some level of organized propaganda and government surveillance nowadays, but is this a change from before the war, or has it always been like this?

I suppose this gets into a larger debate--the debate people are always having about whether or not 1984 ended up coming true, and how much of it came true. 
Which brings me to my next section...

Connections with 1984
Critic John Carey said of this book: "Nineteen-Eighty-Four is here in embryo. So is Animal Farm."   (As quoted on the back cover of my paperback edition).  Certainly a lot of the same ideas that would later pop-up in 1984 are in this book.  Actually I've already referenced most of them.
The two-minutes hate, the empty slogan, and the duck-like men who give speeches in which they rhythmically quack empty slogans can be seen in the sections describing the anti-fascist meeting I described above.  (Although, as I also noted above, it's ironic that all of this is being used to describe the anti-fascists instead of the fascists.) 
The fear of a new world in which you're constantly being exposed to propaganda is in this book as well.
The protagonist in this book is middle-aged, just like Winston Smith.   (Fatty Bowling is 45.  Winston Smith was 39.  Although Winston Smith's body was falling apart a lot more than Fatty Bowling who, aside from his false teeth, is relatively healthy for his age.)

The Nostalgia for Pre-War Small Town England
So, I haven't even gotten to it yet, but none of what I've been talking about so far are the main themes of the book.
The main theme is a comparison between the modern world, and the pre-war world that the character grew up in.  (That's pre-war as in pre-World War I.)
A chance newspaper headline causes the narrator to start remembering his childhood, and a large section of the book is an extended flashback to him describing his childhood, and his childhood town.
There is an assertion that before the war, people lived a certain way, and that way of life is now gone forever.  And that it's somewhat of a pity.
There's a lot of stuff in here, and it's probably no good me trying to summarize it.  You really want to read the book to get the whole flavor of it.  Orwell does a beautiful job of describing what it was like to be a boy in a small town before the modern world.  He talks about fishing in the river, finding toads and birds nests, fighting with the other boys, playing tricks at school, et cetera.
It made me feel nostalgic for that life even though I never lived in England before the war. 
What's interesting is that Orwell was lamenting the loss of childhood already in 1939--before air conditioning, before television, before ipads, before smart phones, and before Facebook. 
I'm not sure what the lesson is.  Perhaps the advancement of technology has now really ruined childhood in a way Orwell only vaguely saw coming.
Or, perhaps the lesson is that every generation is afraid modern technology will ruin childhood, and we should take these fears with a grain of salt.  I don't know.

Orwell's character goes back to his small town to try to escape from modern life and regain some of the peace of his youth.  Only to find that his small town has been destroyed by urban sprawl, the natural areas and fields have turned into suburbs, and there are too many people everywhere.

Here, I was immediately reminded of The Intellectuals and the Masses by John Carey.  (Thank you again Whisky). 
The premise of The Intellectuals and the Masses was that in the early 20th century, there were a lot of English writers complaining about how population explosion and urban expansion was ruining the English countryside.  (Lady Chatterley's Lover , published 10 years earlier, also had a lot of passages talking about how the old town was being transformed by urbanization.).
In fact, I thought large parts of Coming Up for Air were sounding familiar, so I picked up my copy of The Intellectuals and the Masses, and sure enough, John Carey had summarized large sections of the plot in support of his thesis.

John Carey raised some interesting questions in his book about how fears of population explosion can lead (and did lead) to philosophies of population control or extermination.  So there's obviously a dangerous edge here to all this.  And yet, I find myself sympathizing with Orwell's lament about the loss of the small town.
The whole thing is a complex topic.  I won't attempt to get into it all here.

Actually there's a lot of complex conversations that could be had.  How much of the pre-war way of life was lost?  And should it be lamented, or are we better off in the modern world?  How much of this was unique to Orwell's generation, and how much of this sense of loss and childhood nostalgia is common to every generation?  

Other Stuff
There's a lot of stuff in this book:  Orwell's somewhat misogynistic portrayal of women, Orwell's narrator talking about how horrible World War I was, and trying to talk some men out of enlisting for World War II (different than the view you get in Orwell's essays, in which he views fighting against Hitler a necessity).  Orwell's description of aging, and encountering his old girlfriend who is now middle-aged. Et cetera, et cetera.
This is one of those books that if I tried to write about everything in it, I'd be here all day.
And besides, what is the point of me spoiling everything?  You'd be much better off picking up the book and reading it yourself.  So I'll just end things here.

Video Review HERE and embedded below


Part 2 HERE


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit

(Book Review)

Started: October 6, 2018
Finished: December 15, 2018

Background/ Why I Read This Book
So, I never heard of Edith Nesbit before.  Maybe she's more well known in her native England than she is in America?  Or is it just me?  Did I just miss out, and everyone else knows about her?

I read her because I stumbled across her in a bookstore.
As usual, a lot of my reading list is dictated just by the  limited selection of English books in Saigon.  The bookstore doesn't have a lot of new releases, but it is stocked with cheap editions of Wordsworth Classics.  And there's a whole row of them by E. Nesbit.
You can read about E. Nesbit (Edith Nesbit) on Wikipedia HERE.  She lived from 1858 to 1924, and was a very popular children's author in her day.  And also seems to have been a general all around interesting person.  (co-founded the Socialist Fabian society, personal friends with Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin).
She was a children's author, so presumably these books are not great literature in the sense of The Brothers Karamazov .  But they are definitely old enough to be classics.  Most of her books were published before World War 1.
I was looking for some light reading, and I figured I could justify reading a children's author if it also happened to be a classic book.  There were several books by E. Nesbit on the shelves, but out of all the titles, The Enchanted Castle  seemed to promise a magical immersive fantasy story, so I went with it.

The Review
The title is slightly misleading.  I was expecting a fairy-tale esque medieval story about knights, princesses, dragons, fairy godmothers, and goblins.  But it was nothing of the sort.
There are some magical elements to the story, but it is much more a "children getting into mischief" type story than it is a fantasy genre.
And the plot of the book revolves around the magic ring, not the castle.  Really the book should have been called "The Magic Ring".  (I actually strongly suspect that this was actually the working title, but then someone at the publishing house decided "The Enchanted Castle" would sell more books.)
Anyways, the book takes place during modern times.  (Or what was modern times when this book was published in 1907. Nowadays I guess we'd call it Edwardian times.)
3 children are away from home on summer holidays, and with nothing else to do, they start exploring.  (Shades of Narnia here.)  This being England, there's an old castle in every town, and they soon stumble upon one on the outskirts of the town.
Throughout the book, there are some wonderful descriptive passages about the beauty of the castle gardens, both during the daytime and in the moonlight.. (If you, like me, tend to read these kind of books to vicariously escape from the oppressiveness of city life, than you'll appreciate these sections.)  But once the children remove the magic ring from the castle, much of the story actually takes place in their home or in the town.  And in that respect, the setting is quite ordinary.
The plot of the book is episodic.  The ring will create some sort of magic effect.  The children will panic that their governess will find out about the magic, and work very hard to hide the magic from their governess.  And then the magic will go away, and then something else magical will happen, and a new crisis will kick in.
The stakes are very low.  Most of the time, the only danger is that the governess might find out about the magic ring.  Very rarely are any of the characters in real danger.
At first, the ring turns the children invisible.  There is considerable panic about how to become visible again.  And then, eventually, the spell wears off.  And then another child will put on the ring, and become invisible, and the panic will restart.
Later, the ring becomes a wishing ring.  Although if you've read any of these types of stories before, you'll know that the magic wishing ring can't distinguish between real wishes and metaphorical uses of the words "I wish".  And so the children are constantly creating problems for themselves by accidentally wishing for things they don't really want.  This goes on for several chapters.  (The children never really do gain control over their metaphoric speech, and are still accidentally wishing for things long after they should have learned not to.)
Again, all of this is episodic.  The children will accidentally wish for something, panic that their governess will find out about the magic, work to hide the magic until the spell wears off, and then that's one crisis resolved, and another chapter ended.  Until someone else will wish for something else stupid in the next chapter.
Because of the episodic nature of the book, and because of the low stakes throughout, it's hard to really get immersed in this story.  But it is readable enough if you take it in small doses.  And I was able to slowly chip away at it over multiple lunch breaks.

It wasn't a great book, but it had just enough charm for me to give it a cautious recommendation.

Video Review
Video review HERE and embedded below:



Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky 2013 Rosa Luxemburg and Spiritual Transformation

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Started: Coming Up for Air by George Orwell

Finished: The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit...Review coming at some point in the future, but a bit busy this week


Monday, December 10, 2018

Today in Hey! I know that Guy!  Although in this since I'm stretching the definition of "know" to include "cyber-know".
Stephan Hurtubise is one of the authors of The Ling SpaceAnd he is a sometimes commentator on this blog, occasionally helping me work through my: Grammar Questions I Couldn't Answer series--see HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE.

Fascinating video.  Very worth watching.

What the bleep is language? A conversation with linguist, Stephan Hurtubise



A lot of the issues these guys touch on are also covered in The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Vlog: Scripted Book Reviews


I ramble on and get incoherent in this video, so perhaps I should supplement this with a written statement.
I've been experimenting with video reviewing the past couple years.  At first my original idea was that the video reviews would act as a supplement to the written reviews on this blog.

I've been finding, however, that the Youtube videos are getting more views and comments than the written reviews on this blog.  I'm gradually coming to the realization that no one really reads blogs anymore, but everyone is on Youtube all the time.  
It's nice getting a lot of engagement with my reviews, but I've been feeling guilty for some time about how lazy my Youtube videos are.  I just turn on the camera, ramble, and then turn the camera off and upload the raw footage directly.  But that doesn't mean I can't get better in the future, right?

I've been thinking for some time about scripting out my video reviews more carefully--I mentioned that back in this vlog post-- but I never got around to it, and instead I've been focusing my energy on making ESL Listening materials.  
But then, it occurred to me, I already had a scripted review already in the form of the written review I write for this blog.  It wasn't a video script per se, but it was perhaps better than nothing.

My original thought was that for each new book review, I would film two videos--one in my normal free flowing rambling style, one reading out from the blogpost script, and see which one got more engagement.  I was originally thinking I would do this going forward for all new videos, but then I got the idea to go back and do it for all the video reviews I've already done.  After all, the blogpost is still there waiting to be used.
And then I got the idea to take all the book and movie reviews I've done over the years, and make videos out of them. Most of these old reviews are languishing in obscurity in my archives, so maybe I could breathe fresh life into them by putting them up on Youtube.
Initially I was thinking to go back to the start of the book review project in 2006.  But then I thought about it, and I also have several book and movie reviews on this blog from 2003 to 2005, before I made an official project out of it.  I could put up those as well.  And then I thought some more, and I have several book reviews from high school and college on my Papers I Wrote Blog.  

Now, not all of  this old stuff is good.  Many of my reviews in the early days were junk.  But, for better or for worse, I tend to be a completist in these things.  (Those of you who know me well already know about this personality quirk).  Once I start a project, I don't like to leave anything out.
So, I'm going to go through and make videos out of everything.  I'll start back with my high school reports, and then work forward in chronological order through college, and then through my early blogging days.  
I'll also be posting the Youtube videos on this blog as I do them, which is why I'm writing a long explanation here.  (To explain what is coming in the future).  I've got hundreds of old reviews, so this project will take a long time.  Plus, I'm anticipating that I'm going to be very busy this year, and won't have time to post regularly.  So maybe it will take me a few years to work through my backlog.  But that's okay.  No hurry.  This is just a hobby after all.  

Playlist HERE.  

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

(Book Review)

Started: December 1, 2018
Finished: The Same

Why I Read This Book
So, I was in Chiang Mai airport (flying back from the DELTA) and the only  - books I had with me were heavy reads.  I usually get a headache on planes, so I wanted a light little read that wouldn't be too demanding for the journey.
The selection of English books at Chiang Mai airport was limited.  There were a couple history books that caught my eye, but the price was a bit intimidating (1000 Baht.  Roughly 30 dollars!)  I decided to look for something cheaper.
There were several fantasy books.  I've always had a soft spot for fantasy books, but one of the reasons I read so little of them is that it's almost impossible to pick up a fantasy book in bookstore that's not in the middle of an ongoing series.  Sure enough, all the fantasy books I picked up and flipped through looked like they were part of a larger series.
...Except for this one, which as far as I could tell (by flipping through it in the bookstore) was a standalone book.  I've never read anything by Robin Hobb before (although I vaguely recognized the name as an author I've seen on bookstore shelves before).  There were references on the back cover to the Farseer Trilogy (which I've never read), but it seemed like an independent story.
(After having read the whole thing, I can confirm it does stand as an independent story.  Although, after having done my Internet research--see Goodreads-- it appears that the Piebald Prince was first mentioned as a legend in one of Robin Hobbs early books.  So this apparently is fleshing out a bit of  backstory in the mythos of her fantasy world.  But it can totally be read by someone like me who has no knowledge of any of her other books.)

The Review
So... this is a short little book.  Only 159 pages.  More of a novella really.  I finished it before I arrived home.

There's not a lot to say about a short book like this, so I'll just make a few brief comments, and then call it a day.

This is a fantasy story, but that doesn't quite describe it, because fantasy stories can vary widely in tone from each other.  I'd describe this one as "fairy-tale-esque".  The basic beats of the plot, if you stripped it down, is actually very similar to something that would pop up in the Brothers Grimm.  Robin Hobb isn't quite as bare-bones in her storytelling as the Brothers Grimm.  Hobb's write more like a modern day novelist than  a 19th century folklorist.  And yet, there is an element of minimalism to her narration.  Events are recounted from the perspective of a narrator remembering the distant past, not from the perspective of an omniscient author.  So you don't feel like you're actually in the scene with the characters (as you do with most novels) you feel like you're listening to an old tale, and that helps gives it a fairy tale-esque quality.

It's probably best read without any spoilers, so you can enjoy the twists and turns of the story as they unfold.  So probably best to stop reading here if you think you might read this book someday.  I'd give it a mild recommendation.  I wouldn't recommend anyone go out of their way to track down this book, but if it falls into your lap, it's an easy and pleasant enough story.

**** SPOILER ALERT ****
The book starts out with a romance between a strong-willed princess, and a shy stable boy.  I'll admit to being a bit bored with the whole romance thing.  It seemed sappy, and cliched.  (This was the plot of The Princess Bride as well, wasn't it?  Falling in love with the stable boy?)

But, the part with the princess and the stable boy only lasts for half the book.  The rest of the book is what happens to their offspring, the Piebald prince.  And I found this story interesting.

Other notes:
* There are some echoes of real history in here.  The whole part about the Queen-in-Waiting refusing to marry, and the politics around this, reminded me of Elizabeth I.  In fact, I suspect the echos are deliberate.

* There's some interesting elements of ambiguity in the narration.  The narrator admits she doesn't know things.  Some parts are speculation.  Some parts are left up to the reader's imagination.
It never gets to the point where it is frustrating.  (I dislike authors who don't provide emotional closure to the readers.  But this isn't one of them.  All the major plot points pay-off.  There's just some mystery around the edge of it.)

* I like the way the conflict between King Charger and Lord Canny was set up.  Robin Hobb did a good job of showing that neither one was responsible for the fighting between their men, but that the conflict just naturally escalated as one event just cascaded into another, and got out of their control.  I think a lot of events in real history can be like that as well.

* None of the characters really get fleshed out in this book.  Which is both a positive and a negative.  I felt like I would have liked to know some of them better.  But then, that's kind of the point.  The book has a minimalist narration style.  And it's really short and sweet.  It's over before you know it.

Video Review
Video review HERE and embedded below:



Link of the Day
After Visiting Brazil's Lula in Prison, Noam Chomsky Warns Against "Disaster" Under Jair Bolsonaro
Started...and Finished  The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hood (A short little book.  Bought it in the airport, and finished it before I got back home.  Review coming soon.)