Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Challengers of the Unknown by Ron Goulart: Book Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/07/challengers-of-unknown-by-ron-goulart.html
Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King: Book Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/07/hearts-in-atlantis-by-stephen-king.html

Speaking: Small Talk

(TESOL Worksheets--Speaking)
Google: docs, pub

This is a list of common small talk questions, with possible responses.  I've been using these for a high-beginner student of mine who wants to improve have conversations with his co-workers.  The intention is to keep adding and practicing more topics and more questions every class, so I will probably be adding to the google document in the weeks ahead.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

I Finally Listen to Hamilton

So, who out there has heard of this musical called Hamilton.
It seems like the kind of thing I would like, right?  I like history.  I've got a huge - soft spot for musicals.  And yet, when Hamilton first started getting popular, I viewed it with disdain and suspicion.  I couldn't exactly tell you why--it was more of a gut feeling than something I consciously reasoned out.  But I think I just didn't like the kind of people who I perceived as liking Hamilton--those suburban bourgeois liberals who think they're intellectuals but who get all their information from NPR, popular history books and TV miniseries.  And now, they were getting their history from Broadway.
They say that most forms of irrational prejudice are just a form of self-contempt in disguise.  And boy, is this ever true in this case.  I'm exactly the sort of person I despise.  I like to think I'm an intellectual, and I'm a self-styled history nerd.  But I get almost all of my historical information from TV miniseries, NPR, and popular history books.  And this is as true about the founding fathers as anything else.  A look over my reading list from the past 14 years reveals that I've only read 3 books on the founding fathers--2 popular histories (The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik, For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette and Their Revolutions by James R. Gaines) and 1 book written for schoolchildren (Paine by John Vail).  And there was also the John Adams HBO miniseries (W), which I saw in 2010, but didn't review on this blog at the time.

I did, however, know vaguely who Hamilton was.  That infamous Hamilton-Burr duel (W) had always fascinated me, and I did spend an afternoon reading all about it on Wikipedia once when I was in my 20s.
I think most people know about the Hamilton-Burr duel, and yet its bizarreness doesn't get talked about enough.  I mean, The Vice-President of the United States killed one of the Founding Fathers in an illegal duel.  And then nothing happened to him.  He just kept on being Vice-President.  How bizarre is that?  Why don't we talk about that more?
I don't recall either my middle school history teacher or my high school history teacher making a big deal about this duel at all.  If it got mentioned at all, it was only in passing.  Nor was it featured in the textbooks, if I recall.  In fact, I think the first place I heard about this duel was the famous Got Milk commercial.  And even that commercial framed the fact as some sort of obscure trivia that only a nerd stuck in a museum would know about.

Got Milk? Aaron Burr Commercial (1993)



I don't know, what was your experience?  Was this something you remember being talked about at school?

Beyond that, I also knew that Alexander Hamilton was Thomas Jefferson's rival.  And Thomas Jefferson is usually thought of as the father of the American liberal tradition, which I identified with.  So in my 20s, when I was prone to view history as a conflict between the good guys and the bad guys, I thought Thomas Jefferson was the good guy, and Alexander Hamilton was the bad guy.  And that has been largely my view of Alexander Hamilton since then.

This view was also confirmed by the John Adams HBO miniseries in which Alexander Hamilton came off looking like a bit of an ass.

John Adams rips Alexander Hamilton a new one



...so it struck me as a bit strange when I first heard that there was this new hit Broadway musical celebrating the life of Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton?  I mean, Hamilton wasn't one of the idealistic founding fathers. He isn't famous for writing about liberty or the rights of man.  He was the guy who started the central bank.  He was the squarest, most uncool of all the founding fathers!  Why make a musical about him?  Was this something ironic?  Was there a hidden joke in there somewhere?

Anyways, after ignoring Hamilton for the past several years, a couple of things pushed it to my attention recently.
(1)  I was having a conversation with a couple of co-workers about Jesus Christ Superstar.  The gentlemen in question were older than me--in their early 60s and early 70s respectively.  But it interested me to hear them talk about how popular the album was when it first came out.  "Everyone had that album back then," they said.
This was interesting to me.  I have long been a huge fan of this album, but I had believed, as the AVclub once said, that it was "Always somewhat culturally marginal , even at the height of its original popularity."  So it is interesting to hear their reminiscences about how popular the album was.  And then we talked about how awesome the songs were.
So there we were, 3 kindred spirits in spite of our age differences, talking about how much we loved Jesus Christ Superstar, and then one of the guys said that he thought that there were two modern musicals--Chicago and Hamilton--that equaled the brilliance of Jesus Christ Superstar.  Me and the other guy had never listened to Hamilton, so he recommended it to us strongly.  "I think it and Chicago are the only other musicals that are as exciting as Jesus Christ Superstar" he said.
Well, that's strong praise as far as I was concerned.  So this was the first thing that made me curious to check out Hamilton.

(2)  The other thing was the Some Good News video  that was circulating around the Internet a couple weeks ago, and which you've probably already seen.  And because everyone was sharing this on Facebook, I watched it as well.

Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Zoom Performance "Alexander Hamilton"


...it's quite a catchy song, isn't it?  And it also seems to promise an epic story to follow.
So, I found myself getting sucked in more and more.  I started reading up about Hamilton on Wikipedia, and looking up clips on Youtube.  
As I mentioned above, I had always been interested in Hamilton's rivalry with Thomas Jefferson. So I started looking up those songs on Youtube first.  And boy, are those rap battles of Hamilton versus Thomas Jefferson fun to watch.  It's exciting to see the ideological differences of the founding fathers set to rap music.  And the verbal dexterity that is going on in these back and forths is truly amazing.  So many rhymes dropping so fast.  And that guy who plays Thomas Jefferson in the Broadway play is just oozing charisma.  So fun to watch.





And at this point I was hooked.  So then I was looking to listen to the whole album.  
A good place to start is this video here--the whole Hamilton album, illustrated by fan art.



The deeper you dive into Hamilton on Youtube, the more you discover that most of the fans seem to be in their mid to early teens.  (Evident by a lot of the fan anime, and also in the comment section.)  This is contrary to my expectation of the average Hamilton fan being a 40 year old Broadway-loving yuppie.  It took me a little bit off-guard at first (teenagers like Alexander Hamilton?), but it makes sense when you think about it.  That's precisely the age when you are most moved by cheesy musicals.  

Moving on from the animated version is the full album, including the songs that were cut from the Broadway version, but which actually help to connect the story together more.



The Review
So, if it wasn't apparent already, there's a lot of stuff I like about this musical.
After listening to it a few times over, however, I'm not sure I'm wild about the whole thing from beginning to end.  I mean, it's got a lot of really cool and upbeat songs.  But man!  Does it ever have a lot of depressing songs.  The end of the second act especially is just one depressing song after another.

The tragic death of Hamilton's son is unfortunate.  It's unfortunate obviously because it was an actual tragedy.  But it's also unfortunate from a dramatic standpoint.  I mean, I get that the writer Lin-Manuel Miranda couldn't skip over this event.  It's too big to cut out.  But it's unfortunate, because it's an emotional downbeat that the musical can't recover from.  
Dramatically speaking, the final dual between Burr and Hamilton should be the emotional climax of the second act.  And the swelling music does try to make this an emotional moment.  But it fails, because there's just too little emotion left to give at this point.  After Hamilton already lost his son, that was the big tragedy of his life.  Being shot by Burr just seems superfluous now.
This is the problem with doing biography as drama.  Biography doesn't care about pacing out the emotional beats so that it fits the needs of the theater.  It's not Lin-Manuel Miranda's fault, he's doing the best he can with the messy story that he's got.  But it does nonetheless have an effect on the listener.

But not only that, the whole second act is loaded with sappy weepy songs.  Burr and Hamilton singing about how much they love their children, Burr singing about the death of his wife, Hamilton's wife singing about her heart being broken by the Reynolds affair-- and then the death of Hamilton's son on top of that.  And then there's that long sappy epilogue where they sing about Hamilton's death and legacy.  Enough.  I had to stop playing the album in my apartment because it was just making me depressed and melancholy.

But on the other hand, when it's good, it's really really good.  The rap battles linked to above were really good.  The song about The Election of 1800 was really good.  The Adam's Administration song was good.  The Room Where it Happens song was really good.

As for the historical inaccuracies... whoa boy, where to start with this one?
Well there's definitely no point trying to list all the things that this musical didn't accurately portray.  We'd be here all day.  And you don't need me to.  A lot of these inaccuracies you'll be able to catch on your own.  For example, in my case, even without going to Wikipedia, I knew that the Burr-Hamilton dual wasn't directly about the election of 1800.  And I also knew that Thomas Jefferson was not able to prevent Burr from assuming the Vice-President's office (as is implied in the musical).  And I was fairly sure that Burr and Hamilton were never close friends.
And for everything else, there's Wikipedia.
Frequently as I was listening to this musical, I would think to myself, "Wow! That's really interesting! I had no idea!" And then I would look the incident up on Wikipedia, and realize that what actually happened had very little resemblance to what was portrayed in the musical.
Basically, if you're watching this musical (or listening to the album), a good rule of thumb is that most of the things in the musical are loosely based on a historical event, but nothing is accurately portrayed.
But I think most people are willing to forgive this.  After all, we all understand that Hollywood movies can't be expected to be historically accurate.  There's just not enough time.  You have to compress events and create composite characters in order to fit everything into 2 hours.
So if a Hollywood film can't be expected to be historically accurate, how much lower must our expectations be for a Broadway musical, in which the entire runtime is taken up by the characters singing about their feelings.  You couldn't possibly get into the real history.
Perhaps the most egregious example of over-simplifying history is making King George III into an evil cartoon villain.  As history, it's appalling.  But as theater, it works brilliantly.  One of the best moments of the musical is when King George finds out that John Adams is going to be the next president.  "That little guy? That poor man, they're gonna eat him alive!!  They will tear each other into pieces. Jesus Christ, this will be fun!"
Hopefully, everyone understands that this isn't real history.  If this musical serves to get people interested in the real history, and causes them to do their own research, then it will be a positive.  If, on the other hand, people go around quoting this musical as if it were real history, then we'll all be in real trouble.  But I'm optimistic it will be the former.

As for me, I think I'm going to add to my TBR the Alexander Hamilton biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda in the first place: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (W).  (Although I've got a long TBR, so it could be a while before I get around to this.)

One last note...
There's a Youtube clip of Lin-Manuel Miranda talking about the Reynolds Affair on Drunk History:

Alexander Hamilton’s Salacious Sex Scandal (feat. Lin-Manuel Miranda) - Drunk History


I'm posting this here for two reasons: One, I really love Drunk History, and this clip is really funny.  But two, it's interesting to see all the differences between this and the musical.  
James Monroe is not in the musical at all, but again, I understand that they had to make composite characters, so in the musical Jefferson, Madison, and Burr have to stand in for Hamilton's antagonists at every historical juncture.
But also, it's interesting to see in the Drunk History clip how aware Lin-Manuel Miranda appears to be about all of Hamilton's faults.  Much different than the figure he romanticized in the Broadway musical, and he knows it.
(Wait... did I just use an episode of Drunk History to fact check the historical accuracy of a Broadway musical?  Truly,  I need to give up all my pretensions of being a serious intellectual historian, and just accept myself for the low-brow dabbler that I am.)

Final verdict: I definitely like some of the songs on the Hamilton album.  And I found it very entertaining the first couple times listening through.  Upon repeat listenings, I've decided I'm not wild about the album as a whole.  Too many depressing songs.  But if you haven't checked it out yet, it's worth checking out.  And there are a few really bopping songs on the album that I still really like.

Addendums:
* I mentioned above that my co-worker also mentioned Chicago as the other musical he really liked.  I actually had some frustrations with Chicago.  I liked the music well enough, but it was so frustrating to watch the movie the first time.  I was involved with the story, and kept wanting the story to move forward.  But they kept stopping the story to do more songs.
Well, that's the problem with musicals, right?
To Hamilton's credit, though, they rarely stop the story to do a song.  The songs are the story.  Each song advances the story.  (Mostly--until we get to the second act, and then there are a lot of sappy songs that stop the story.)

* I don't really have a project for reviewing music on this blog, so I'm going to classify this one half under "Sharing Music I like"...even though I've decided I'm not wild about all of the songs on the album.  But I at least like most of it.  And also I'll classify it under my reviews of Youtube series, because it has been entirely through the Youtube videos linked to above that I've been able to experience this musical.

Video Review
Video review HERE and embedded below:



Link of the Day
“Gangster in the White House”: Noam Chomsky on COVID-19, WHO, China, Gaza and Global Capitalism

Friday, April 24, 2020

Delexicalised Verbs in the Context of Daily Routines: Online Lesson

(TESOL Worksheets--Vocabulary, Online Lesson)

Google Slideshow: slides, pub

Justice League of America: Superman--The Never-Ending Battle by Roger Stern: Book Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/07/justice-league-of-america-superman.html

Life Beginner: 8D One Moment Please p.100



Google Drive Folder HERE
[Notes: Another lesson which I prepared for delivering online, but I believe it can be used for either online teaching or for studying in person.  It is mostly adapted from the material in Life Beginner: 8D One Moment Please p.100, but supplemented by one of my speaking warm-ups on movies--in this case the warm-up is completely unrelated to the main lesson aims, and is purely here for a fun warmer/padding.]

Google slideshow: slides, pub
Knowledge gap (to review the previous lesson): docs, pub
Listening transcript: docs, pub

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Suggested Professional Development Actions for Teachers

(TESOL Worksheets--Workshops and Teacher Development)
Google: docs, pub
[Note: This one comes under my manager hat.  At my school, after we observe teachers, we are supposed to suggest a professional development action for them.  This often can take the form of watching a short video, or reading a short article.  Recently I was thinking that I was spending a lot of time tracking down appropriate videos or articles, and that it might be useful for me to start indexing the material that I was using.  This is a work in progress, so my plan is to keep adding to this index as I find new materials.  I'm going to keep editing and updating the google doc, but I might not keep updating this blog post.  For for the most recent edition, check the Google doc linked to  above]

General Classroom Management

Giving Instructions
Problem
Teacher uses unsimplified language when giving instructions
Or, teacher repeats instructions several times instead of using Instruction Checking Questions
Professional Development Action
Watch Youtube video on Giving clear instructions
If it’s a problem with low-level students, then also watch: Teaching English to Beginners


Language Lessons (Grammar and Vocabulary)

Staging
Problem
The lesson consists of just a series of controlled practice exercises, without the teacher ever attempting to clarify the meaning or form of the target language
Professional Development Action
Teacher is given this lesson plan flowchart.  They then plan out their next lesson using this table, and share it with their manager.


Clarification Stage
Problem
Teacher attempts to convey the meaning of grammar to students using decontextualized sentences instead of establishing a situation
Professional Development Action
Watch Youtube video: A few tips on presenting grammar

Problem
Teacher explains the grammar or vocabulary by lecture, without eliciting from the students.
Professional Development Action
For grammar: Read this article: TEACHING GRAMMAR: HOW TO ELICIT FUNCTION AND FORM
For vocabulary: Watch this Youtube video: Eliciting and Concept Checking at Transworld Schools

Problem
Teacher conveys the meaning of grammar or vocabulary, but forgets to use Concept Checking Questions to check it
Professional Development Action
Watch Youtube Video: Concept checking - an introduction

Problem
Teacher does not drill pronunciation of new language.
Professional Development Action
If the class is low-level, portions of this Youtube video, Teaching English to Beginners, deal with the importance of drilling with low-level students.

Controlled Practice
Problem
The student makes a grammar mistake.  The teacher corrects it by supplying the correct answer themselves, but does not provide the students any guidance as to why it was a mistake.
Solution
Teacher looks at a list of possible ways to correct an error.  Then the teacher decides which ways would work best in their situation. Follow-up with a brief discussion with their manager.

Receptive Skills
Staging
Problem
Teacher is confused about the basic staging of a receptive skills lesson.
Professional Development Action
Read this blog post: CELTA Lesson Frameworks: Receptive skills lessons


Reading Comprehension Questions
Problem
Teacher gives out reading comprehension questions, and then immediately calls on students for the answers without allowing students time to first work through the questions themselves
Professional Development Action
Have the teacher read about the Task Feedback Cycle in Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener.  (Pages 174-176 in the 2nd edition.  Pages 254-256 in the 3rd edition--online HERE)

Problem
The teacher gets very frustrated with students when they can’t answer a reading comprehension question, but doesn’t attempt to support or guide the students
Professional Development Action
Read this article: Helping ESL students understand written texts
Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy: Movie Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/07/barbarella-queen-of-universe.html

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Lucky Number Slevin: Movie Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/06/lucky-number-slevin.html

Life Beginner: 8C Cats in Crisis p.98-99



Google Drive Folder HERE
[Notes: Another lesson which I prepared for delivering online, but I believe it can be used for either online teaching or for studying in person.  It is mostly adapted from the material in Life Beginner: 8C Cats in Crisis p.98-99, but supplemented by my other material: How Question Practice with Partner and How Questions: Matching Words.]

Slideshow: slides, pub
Reading Worksheet: docs, pub

Monday, April 20, 2020

Ain't: Daily Vocabulary

(TESOL Worksheets--Daily Vocabulary)

Youtube Video--Google: docspub-- Slideshow (slides, pub), Playlist--Songsheets: Ain't Got No I Got Life, Ain't No Sunshine, Ain't no Mountain High Enough, I ain't Marching Anymore
(Recycling some material from a previous lesson.  Also recycling previous TESOL songsheets from HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE).



Ain’t
Youtube: https://youtu.be/_WkJ9oyR9sM

Today's vocabulary is: ain't. Ain't is a very useful word to know because it is so common in everyday English conversation. It's so common. You can hear it all the time, and yet in my experience, many students of English don't know this word. At least that's been my experience. And I think this is because, even though this word is very common in conversational English, it's considered informal and so teachers don't teach this word in the classroom. But let me know what your experience has been. Did you learn this word? If so, where did you learn it? Did you learn it in the classroom?
Ain’t is used to mean “not”. More specifically, it can be used instead of “am not”. “is not”,  or “are not”.
For example:
“I am not a doctor”, can become “I ain't a doctor”.
“He is not a teacher” can become “He ain't a teacher”.
“You aren't a policeman” could become “You ain't a policeman” et cetera.
Now, notice that ain't does not inflect. For example: I am not, you are not, he is not, they are not, et cetera, becomes: I ain't, you ain't, they ain't, he ain't. It's always ain't. Ain’t doesn't change.
Ain’t can also be used instead of has not or have not.
For example:
“I haven't got any money”, can become “I ain't got no money”.
Or “You haven't seen anything yet,”  can become “You ain't seen nothing yet.”
Somewhat less commonly, ain't can be used instead of don't, doesn't or didn't, but this isn't as common. Most commonly it's used instead of am not, is not, are not, has not, and haven't.
When I was at school, I was taught by teachers not to use ain't. The teachers told us that ain't isn't a word, and so we shouldn't use it.
When we were children, we used to say a rhyme or a chant: “Ain't ain't a word, so I ain't going to say ain’t anymore”, which translated into standard English would be: “ain’t isn't a word so I'm not going to say ain’t anymore.” But as children we thought it was funny to use the word ain't in the same sentence saying that we weren't going to use ain't. We thought we were quite clever when we were children. It was usually said with a chant or a singsong type voice, for example: “Ain't ain’t a word so I ain't going to say ain't anymore.” Or something like that.
But in fact, ain't is a word. In fact it’s a very old word and is a perfectly fine word. It is in a lot of English songs and music. It's in a lot of English movies and TV, and it's even in a lot of very respected English literature, for example The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn also by Mark Twain. These are some of the most famous and some of the most well-respected works of American literature, and the characters in these books use ain’t all the time.  So it is a word, and it is something that you will hear in conversation a lot and you will also hear it in English movies and TV shows and music.
However some people think that the word is associated with uneducated people or that it's low-class, and for that reason some parents or teachers will tell their children not to use it. In my opinion it’s a perfectly fine word, but you should be aware that there are some situations where you can use it, and some situations where you shouldn't use it. It's informal, English, so you shouldn't use it in any formal situations. For example if you are writing a business letter, you shouldn't use ain’t and if you are writing a report for your school, you shouldn't use ain’t and if you are taking any kind of standardized English speaking test like the TOEIC or the TOEFL or the IELTS, you shouldn't use ain’t. However if you're in conversation with your friends, it's perfectly fine to use this word in friendly conversation.
This word is very common in a lot of English music. A lot of famous songs use this word. In fact you may have already heard this word while listening to English pop songs.  I'll give you the titles of some of the more famous songs that have this word, and it may be useful to find these songs on YouTube and listen to the-- just to get some idea of how common the word can be. For example “Ain't no Sunshine” or sometimes “Ain't no Sunshine When She's Gone” or “Ain't Got No--I got Life” or “Ain't No Mountain High Enough”.   I’ll write the names of these songs in the description to this video down below so you can see the titles and search for these songs on YouTube. If you can find a copy of the song, it may be useful to listen to it, just to see how the word ain't is used in real songs.
One more thing about the word ain’t is it's often used in what we call double negative sentences. So a double negative sentence could be something like: “I don't have no money.” So don't is a negative marker and no is a negative, so we have two negatives in this sentence. So we call it a double negative. Now, in formal English it is usually thought that the two negatives can cancel each other out. For example, “I don't have no money” would mean actually I do have some money. But in informal English, double negatives are often used for emphasis--to make the phrase stronger. So, for example, “I ain't got no money” means I don't have any money and it's a stronger way of saying it, or “Ain't no sunshine when she's gone,” means there isn't any sunshine when she's gone, and it's just a stronger form, or “Ain't no mountain high enough,” means there isn't any mountain high enough. Et cetera. So, be aware that quite often when you see ain't used in conversation or in sentences it may have two negative markers in the sentence, but that's often used in informal English to make the negative stronger.
So let me know in the comments what your experience has been learning ain't in schools, if you study English as a second language, and also if you would like some practice, try using ain’t in a sentence in the comments below, and I can give you some feedback about how natural or unnatural the sentence sounds.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Lesson on Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous

(TESOL Worksheets--Present Perfect, Present Perfect Continuous, Delta Lessons)

Google Drive Folder HERE
Lesson Plan: drive, docs, pub
Handouts: docs, pub
Picture: drive, docs, pub ,
Essay on Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous
[Note, the section on the regular past participle pronunciation was adapted from an earlier lesson I did on regular past tense pronunciation.]



Mutiny on the Bounty (1935): Movie Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/06/mutiny-on-bounty.html

Life Beginner: 8B A Typical Day p.96-97



Google Drive Folder HERE
[Notes: Another lesson which I prepared for delivering online, but I believe it can be used for either online teaching or for studying in person.  It is mostly adapted from the material in Life Beginner: 8B A Typical Day p.96-97, but supplemented by my other material: guessing game for adverbs of frequency, some of us/none of us/ all of us/ one of us game, and Present Simple Formation slides.]

Slideshow: slides, pub
Listening Transcript: docs, pub

How are you doing? : Daily Vocabulary

(TESOL Worksheets--Daily Vocabulary)

Youtube Video--Google: docspub



How are you doing?
Youtube: https://youtu.be/8biVkJQ94AU

Today's vocabulary is: How are you doing?
I wanted to make this video because I've noticed students often get confused when I use this phrase. If I meet a student for the first time, I might say “Oh, hey, how are you doing?” And then the student will often panic and not know how to answer, and they may something-- they may say something like “I'm talking to you” or “I'm studying English”. Quite often the students are unfamiliar with the phrase “How are you doing?” and they think it means “What are you doing?” But it doesn't mean “What are you doing?”  “How are you doing?” is the same as “How are you?” The grammar is a little bit different, but the meaning is the same, and it's used in the same situation.
Now I've discovered this problem in many different countries I have been teaching in: in Japan, in Cambodia, in Vietnam. And I believe the problem is the students, when they study English in school, they only learn: “How are you?” But actually, in real conversation, we have a lot of different phrases which have the same meaning, and in fact “How are you?” is not used so often in natural conversation. It sounds a little bit stiff, a little bit formal.  People will often use more conversational expressions, for example:
“How are you doing?”
“How's it going?”
“How have you been?” and
“What's up?”
There are others, of course, but these are some of the more common ones you will hear instead of “How are you?”  They all have the same meaning and the answer to all of these can be the same. You can just say, “I'm fine”.
Now, if you want to get technical, the grammar could be a little bit different. For example:
“How are you doing?” “I'm doing fine.”
“How's it going?” “It's going fine.”
“How have you been?” “I've been fine.”
“What's up?” ...I don't know. “I'm fine.”  “What's up?” is a strange one.
But the answer is usually just, “I'm fine”. So technically the grammar could be different, but in real conversation this is one of those cases where nobody cares too much about the grammar. In this case. So the answer to all of these could just be: “I'm fine”.
“How are you doing?” “I'm fine.”
“How's it going?” “I'm fine.”
“How have you been?” “I'm fine.”
It's okay.
 It's also useful to remember that in English, this is just used as a greeting. It's most often used as a greeting. So the person asking you is usually not really concerned with how you're really feeling., They just want to say hello. So the appropriate answer is usually “I'm fine”. Even if you're not fine, it's probably best just to say “I'm fine”. Unless this is a real close friend who really cares about your feelings.
I've noticed that often students will give honest answers to this question,  for example:
“How are you doing?” “Oh I'm sad because my grandfather died.”
Now I've been teaching English for a long time, so if a student says this to me I don't get annoyed, I don't get upset. I understand that the student has misunderstood the question. But it is useful to remember if you're going to an English speaking country, or if you have a lot of English speaking friends, that most commonly, this is just used as a way to say hello, and the person asking you just expects you to say “I'm fine”. And then the conversation can move on after that. If you have any problems you want to talk about, those usually will come up later in the conversation.
So, to sum up, if somebody says to you,  “How are you doing?”, don't panic. It means the same as “How are you?”

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Life Beginner: 8A Day and Night p.94-95



Google Drive Folder HERE
[Notes: This is a revision of my lesson on daily routines, which I adjusted to incorporate the material from Life Beginner: 8A Day and Night p.94-95.  I did this lesson as an online lesson.  (For the various google docs involved, this involved making copies and giving the students editing permission in order to do it online).  However I believe this lesson can function either in person or online]

Slideshow: slides, pub
Warmer: docs, pub
Match the words to the picture: docs, pub
Final Production Mingle: docs, pub
Writing: docs, pub

All roads lead to Rome: Daily Vocabulary

(TESOL Worksheets--Daily Vocabulary)

Youtube Video--Google: docspub



All roads lead to Rome
Youtube: https://youtu.be/xQWMYByxXtk

Today's vocabulary is a proverb. A proverb is a wise saying which gives you advice about how to live your life. Today's proverb is: All roads lead to Rome. Now this is an older proverb. It comes from the days when Rome was the most important city in Europe. In fact, I've been told that this proverb exists in many European languages, although I don't know that for myself. So if you speak another European language, please let me know if you have this same proverb in your language.
So in the days when Rome was the most important city in Europe, all of the main roads would go to Rome. So if you were on one main road, you could get to Rome, but if you were on another main road, you could get to Rome just as easily.
You can still hear this proverb used nowadays in the context of roads and directions. For example, if you're going to any big city, New York or Los Angeles or Chicago or any big city, you will often find that all of the main roads around that city lead into the city. So it doesn't really matter which road you're on, they will all go into the city. So you might hear a conversation like this:
“You're going the wrong way. That's not the road to Chicago.”
“Relax, this road also goes to Chicago. Remember, all roads lead to Rome.”
However the proverb also has a more metaphorical meaning, and this more metaphorical meaning is the way it's more commonly used. The metaphorical meaning is there are many different ways to do something. So you can do a task using one way, or you can do a task using the other way and as long as the result is the same, it doesn't matter. So, for example you might hear this conversation:
“No, you're doing the project all wrong! We have to do it like this.”
“Relax. This way is perfectly fine. As long as the project is finished in the end, nobody cares how you do it. Remember: All roads lead to Rome.”
So let me know whether you agree or disagree with this proverb and also let me know if you have any other similar proverbs in your own language.
Casino Royale: Movie Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/06/casino-royale-2006.html

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Little Miss Sunshine: Movie Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/06/little-miss-sunshine.html

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones: Daily Vocabulary

(TESOL Worksheets--Daily Vocabulary)

Youtube Video--Google: docspub-- Slideshow (slidespub)
(This is re-purposed from my lesson on proverbs).



People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones
Youtube: https://youtu.be/2JLWbOktfdE

Today's vocabulary is a proverb. A proverb is a wise saying which gives you advice about how to live your life. Today's proverb is: People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. So, in reality nobody lives in glass houses, but there's a metaphor going on in this proverb, so we have to imagine that there are some people who live in a house completely made out of glass. Just imagine.  I know it's not real. If they live in a house that's completely made out of glass, they shouldn't throw stones at other people, because what will happen is somebody else will pick up a stone and throw it back at them, and because their house is made of glass, one stone can easily shatter their whole house. So if you live in a glass house, you shouldn't make enemies, and you shouldn't throw stones.
So, what does this mean in real life? It means that people who have weak points shouldn't criticize other people.  I think it can be used in two ways: one way is in which someone has a lot of bad points themselves. For example, if somebody is very fat or if somebody eats unhealthily, they shouldn't criticize how somebody else eats, because their own eating habits are very bad. But the other way it could be used is people who are sensitive to criticism. So some people, you can say bad things about them and they don't really care. But some people, if you say bad things about them, it really hurts their feelings. They get really upset or really sad. So those people, who are very sensitive to bad things being said about them, shouldn't say bad things about other people, according to the proverb.
Let me give you a situation. Imagine this conversation between two co-workers:
“Tom is so lazy and he never does any work around here. I think I'm going to complain to the boss.”
“Careful, you're not a perfect worker either. Remember, you were late to work twice last week. You know what they say: people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.”
So let me know if you have any similar proverbs in your own language and also let me know whether you agree or disagree with this proverb.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Too many cooks spoil the broth: Daily Vocabulary

(TESOL Worksheets--Daily Vocabulary)

Youtube Video--Google: docspub--Slideshow (slidespub)
(This is re-purposed from my lesson on proverbs).



Too many cooks spoil the broth
Youtube: https://youtu.be/DwEmOubKjck

Today's vocabulary is a proverb. A proverb is a wise saying which gives you advice about how to live your life. Today's proverb is: Too many cooks spoil the broth. So, cooks. Cook has two meanings in English. It can be a verb or a noun. As a verb, it means to make food. For example: he cooked dinner. As a noun, it refers to somebody who makes food, usually as a job. So, for example: he works as a cook. So a cook is a person. Sometimes we say chef and sometimes we say cook. They are pretty much the same. So too many cooks means too many people making the food. Oh, and by the way, too many means more than you need or more than is good, more than enough. Broth. Broth is a kind of soup. It usually has meat in it. So think of broth meaning soup. And spoil. Spoil means to ruin something--to make it not nice or not useable. In this case, when we talk about spoil the broth it means make the broth not delicious. So the proverb means: If there are too many people making the soup, the soup won't be delicious.
So the imagery behind this proverb is that there are many people in the kitchen and they are all making the same soup, and each person has different things they want to add. For example, one cook really likes garlic, so they will put in a lot of garlic. But one person likes cinnamon, so they'll put in some cinnamon. One person likes chili peppers, et cetera. Now, as you know, when you are making soup, a little seasoning is very good but a lot of seasoning is not delicious. So because there are too many cooks and each cook is putting in their own seasoning, the soup is not delicious.
I'll give you an example: the king was going to have a big dinner for his guests, so he hired all the best cooks in the land to make a special broth. But each cook had a different idea of how to make the best broth.
“We should put more peppers in to make it spicy,” one cook said.
“No the best broths are sweet. Put in more sugar,” said another.
“More garlic,” said a third.
“No more onions,” said another.
“More fish.”
“More fruit.”
“More sauce.”
Each cook could make a delicious broth by himself, but together they made a terrible broth.
So, that is the literal meaning of this proverb. But what does it mean in everyday use? Well, as you can imagine, it means if you have too many people working on a project, the project will fail--it will not be good. So here is another example:
It was a team project at work, but everyone had different opinions. Michael and Sue couldn't agree on the report. Sam and David both argued about the budget. Jim and Lisa didn't like the PowerPoint presentation that Adam had made. And pretty soon they were all fighting with each other and the project was a disaster.
Now interestingly, we actually have two proverbs in English with different meanings. Many sorry Too many cooks spoil the broth but also Many hands make light work. Many hands make light work means if you have many people, the work will be easier. Too many cooks spoil the broth means if you have many people, the work will be more difficult, and it will fail. These two proverbs have completely different meanings. So, some people think Too many cooks spoil the broth, some people think Many hands make light work.
But some people think that actually these two proverbs are not contradictory, but rather they apply to different situations. So if you have some sort of work which requires a lot of strength or a lot of muscle, for example building a house or cleaning up the litter from the beach, then you need many people and many hands make light work.  But if you have any sort of work which requires artistry or requires creativity, or any kind of artistic work, for example: writing a story, painting a picture, writing a poem, making a movie, then in this case too many cooks spoil the broth. That's just one opinion.
Let me know what you think. Do you agree with too many cooks spoil the--spoil the broth or do you agree with many hands make light work and also let me know if you have any similar proverbs in your own language.
Death Note 2: The Last Name: Movie Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/06/death-note-last-name.html

Monday, April 13, 2020

Many hands make light work: Daily Vocabulary

(TESOL Worksheets--Daily Vocabulary)

Youtube Video--Google: docspub--Slideshow (slidespub)
(This is re-purposed from my lesson on proverbs).



Many hands make light work
Youtube: https://youtu.be/8-0a9mts7as

Today's vocabulary is a proverb. A proverb is a wise saying which gives you advice about how to live your life. Today's proverb is: Many hands make light work. So, hands, these are hands of course. In the proverb, hands symbolizes people,  so many hands means many people. Light work, light in this case means easy or not difficult. So many hands make light work means if there's many people, the work is easy. Or it can mean a job may seem very difficult at first, but if you divide the job up among many people, then it becomes much easier.
For example imagine this conversation:
“Oh no, there's too much work. I'll never be able to do it all.”
“Don't worry. Everyone will help and then the work won't be so much. You know what they say: many hands make light work.”
Many hands make light work is probably the most common form of this proverb. Occasionally you may hear a variant: Many hands make work light. So instead of light work it becomes work light. Either way is okay.
So let me know whether you agree or disagree with this proverb, and also let me know if you have any other similar proverbs in your own language.
The Golem's Eye (The Bartimaeus Trilogy) by Jonathon Stroud: Book Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/05/golems-eye-by-jonathon-stroud.html

You can't have your cake and eat it too: Daily Vocabulary

(TESOL Worksheets--Daily Vocabulary)

Youtube Video--Google: docspub--Slideshow (slidespub)
(This is re-purposed from my lesson on proverbs).



You can't have your cake and eat it too
Youtube: https://youtu.be/vgncXbjKcWk

Today's vocabulary is a proverb. A proverb is a wise saying which gives you advice about how to live your life. Today's proverb is: You can't have your cake and eat it too.
So, this is somewhat of a humorous proverb. In this situation, you have to imagine that somebody goes to the bakery shop and buys a very beautiful cake.  So the decorations on the cake are very beautiful. Maybe there's a design made of frosting or the pattern looks very beautiful. Whatever it is, the cake looks very beautiful. So the person is very enamored -- they really like the beautiful design of the cake and they want to keep the cake so they can admire the beautiful design. But of course, cakes are delicious. Cakes are made to be eaten.  So they also want to eat the cake, but if they eat the cake, then they can't admire the beautiful design anymore. And this is the problem: You can't have your cake and eat it too. If you eat the cake, then you don't have it anymore. So that's the imagery behind this proverb. It's used to describe situations in which somebody wants to do two things that are contradictory--two things that go in opposite directions.
For example, imagine this conversation between two friends:
“I've decided I'm going to start saving my money. I want to buy a new house.”
“What a great idea!”
“ I've also decided my life is too boring. I need to take more vacations. I'm going to Hawaii, Italy, and Indonesia this year.”
“Wait, you can't do both. You can't take lots of vacations and save money. I mean, you can't have your cake and eat it too, right?”
You will--you may often hear this proverb said in different ways it can be said as a statement: “You can't have your cake and eat it too”. It can also be said as a description of someone, for example: “he wants to have his cake and eat it too”. It can be used as an accusation, you can say to somebody: “You're trying to have your cake and eat it too”. It can be used as a question: “Wait a minute, are you trying to have your cake and eat it too?” et cerera.  It can be used in many different forms, but it all has basic elements of: have a cake and eat it too.
So let me know if you agree or disagree with this proverb, and also let me know if you have any similar proverbs in your own language.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Death Note: Movie Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/05/death-note.html
The Alphabet Soup Book Tag: E Is for Ending



I was tagged by Dane Reads: https://youtu.be/cjRehSV9biM

1. E is for Ending: a book with a great one, and one whose ending sucked (avoid spoilers—or at least warn us if you can’t)
 Great- I am Legend by Richard Matheson 
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2008/01/i-am-legend-by-richard-matheson.html
 Sucked: Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2014/07/podkayne-of-mars-by-robert-heinlein.html

2. E is for Elderly: a favorite or memorable elderly character
 Flashman in Mr American by George MacDonald Fraser
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2013/09/mr-american-by-george-macdonald-fraser.html

3. E is for EU: your favorite contemporary writer (post-WWII to now) from the European Union, and/or one you’d like to try
Andre Malraux
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-way-of-kings-by-andre-malraux.html
Alfred Döblin
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/06/japan-e-mails-aug-16-2001.html

4. E is for E: a writer you’d recommend whose first and/or last name begins with E
 Bart Ehrman
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2013/06/jesus-interrupted-by-bart-d-ehrman.html

5. E is for Exploration: a new writer, theme, or genre you’d like to try
 Hilary Mantel

6. E is for Et Tu, Brute?: a book in which betrayal plays a central role
 Funeral Games by Mary Renault
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2015/05/funeral-games-by-mary-renault.html

7. E is for Exception: a book that you loved or really liked in spite of it containing what you almost always consider a fatal flaw
 Tom Sawyer Abroad  by Mark Twain
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2015/11/tom-sawyer-abroad-by-mark-twain.html

8. E is for EEEE: a book title with lots of E’s
 East of Eden by John Steinbeck
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2006/04/east-of-eden-by-john-steinbeck.html

9. E is for Ever-present: a book you read a long time ago that has really stuck with you
   Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2014/03/treasure-island-by-robert-louis.html

10. E is for Eliminate: a group of books you got rid of, or want to, and why?
    all the time

11. E is for Everyone: tag extensively!
Written in Blood
The Archive Graham Quigley
Jay Shay
Elizabeth Tyree

Tag playlist HERE:

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Pirates of the Caribbean 3: Movie Review (Scripted)



Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
http://joelswagman.blogspot.com/2007/05/pirates-of-caribbean-3-dead-mans-chest.html
Started: The Guns of Avalon (The Chronicles of Amber #2) by Roger Zelazny
Video HERE

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

(Book Review)

Started: March 15, 2020
Finished: April 2, 2020

Right, since everyone is desperate for distractions during this time of self-isolation, let me start right out with the audio drama link.
Some kind soul has uploaded a fan made audio drama of this book.  I've been listening to it, and it's good quality.  So if you're in need of some distraction these days, I can recommend it.

Chronicles of AMBER Audioplay - Book 1 - Omnibus



...and now, on with the rest of the review.

Why I Read This Book
I mentioned in a previous post that I've become addicted to Steve Donoghue's booktube channel.  And this book comes from Steve Donoghue.  In one of his Q&A videos (1), someone asked Steve Donoghue about his thoughts on "The Chronicles of Amber" series.  Steve made some sort of comment about how not everyone will recognize this series (it's apparently a cult classic--well beloved by its fans, but not well-known by the masses).  But then Steve Donoghue said that he liked the first 5 books in the series, but he thought the series took a massive dip in quality after the 5th book. (2)

This was all the information I had to go on, but the title sounded appealing to me.  A name like "The Chronicles of Amber" seemed to promise something epic, and yet magical.
I went to the Wikipedia page, and learned that this was a fantasy series first published in the 1970s.  It looked interesting.
I mentally filed it away in my mind in my "list of books to track down someday if I'm ever living in an English speaking country again".  Because, I thought, there was no way I was ever going to find this series here in the bookstores of Saigon.

...and then, wouldn't you know it, I was browsing through book street in Saigon, and on one of the used book tables, I found Fantasy Masterworks 6: The Chronicles of Amber. (3)
...after flipping through it, I discovered that this was the first 5 books in The Chronicle of Amber series collected into one volume (4). Well, this was fortuitous.  I guess I would be able to read this series after all.

The next question was whether to review each book within the binding separately, or to wait until I finished the series, and then review it as a whole.
Simon over on goodreads is absolutely appalled by the idea of anyone trying to review these books separately:
Looking at the other reviews of this book, I am surprised at how many people have reviewed each book separately. That really is a pointless exercise; in my opinion these books should be read as a whole or not at all. They do not stand alone and there is no point in reading any of them individually or out-of-order. It is one continuous story arc.
In spite of this advice, I've decided to go ahead and review these books separately.  I'm a slow reader, and my track record with finishing books has not been good lately.  If I don't start making notes as I go, there's a good chance I'm going to get stalled in the middle, and then have to restart the whole thing. (5)

Brief Background
Nine Princes in Amber is the first book in The Chronicles of Amber series.  It was originally published in 1970.  
It's a very short book.  It takes up only 155 pages in my edition.
I was initially worried that perhaps the publishers had abridged the book in order to fit all 5 books of The Chronicles of Amber series within the same Fantasy Masterworks binding.  But I've looked it up online, and it appears no matter which edition of this book you buy, the page count is very low.  (Amazon kindle edition is only 146 pages).(6)

The Review
Right, so I'll do my best, but this is one of those books that's hard to review without giving away the plot.  So, some spoilers are going to be inevitable.  I recommend you read this book (or listen to the audioplay linked above) before continuing on with this review.

Although this is a fantasy novel, the story opens in a present day New York (7).  The protagonist is waking up in a hospital.  He can't remember who he is, or how he got into the hospital.

...(sigh), yes, it's another amnesia story.  Cliche alert.

Amnesia plots always used to confuse me as a kid, because invariably whenever amnesia shows up in fiction, the protagonist's identity is completely erased, but their general knowledge of the world (how money works, basic grammar, sociolinguistic conventions) is always left intact., How could a trauma wipe out your entire memory of your identity, but leave your memory of everything else intact?
And then, like everyone else, at some point when I was going up, I learned that amnesia doesn't really exist.  It's something completely invented by modern fiction writers.  (Wikipedia article here).  And I've never been able to take it seriously in fiction ever since.

Now, granted, it's a cliche for a reason.  It's a plot device that has immediate built-in suspense and mystery.  (Who is this person?  What happened to him?  Why can't he remember?) And it has immediate built-in conflict (the protagonist's struggle to regain his memory).  So it's useful, particularly at the beginning of a story, when you need to do all the work of introducing the characters and the setting.  All that set-up would otherwise be boring, but throw in some amnesia drama, and it makes the boring set-up turn into a suspenseful mystery.

The other advantage, in this story in particular, is it allows the protagonist to view himself as an outsider.  As the novel progresses, we start to get hints that the protagonist isn't always a nice guy--he can be arrogant, vengeful, and callous.  And yet, as the protagonist discovers these things about himself, he's just as surprised as the reader.  And this gives an unusual point of entry for the reader to view an unlikable protagonist.

...and yet, for all that, I had a hard time going along with this amnesia plot.  I kept thinking to myself, "Yes, but how come he remembers how to do this, but not how to do that?"  I just couldn't shut that part of my brain off, and it prevented me from fully getting into that part of the book.

Other reviewers have described the beginning of this book as almost a hard-boiled detective novel in the style of Raymond Chandler (8).  The last (and only) Raymond Chandler book I read was over 10 years ago now, so it's not fresh enough in my memory for me to talk intelligently about it.  But I thought I did notice some parallels.  The dialogue style seemed similar.  And also Raymond Chandler's habit of constantly mentioning food and drink--a couple sandwiches washed down with a glass of beer, a few cups of coffee after waking up from a nap, etc--is similar in this book. (9)

The narration style is mostly readable, but every so often I can get completely thrown off by a strange sentence:
The woman behind the desk wore a wide-collared, V-necked dress of blue green, had long hair and low bangs, all of a cross between sunset clouds and the outer edge of a candle flame in an otherwise dark room, and natural I somehow knew, and her eyes behind glasses I didn't think she needed were as blue as Lake Erie at at three o'clock on a cloudless summer afternoon; and the color of her compressed smile matched her hair.
...wait, what?  What was a cross between the sunset clouds and a candle flame?  Was that her dress or her hair?  And what color was her smile?
So, obviously the author likes to indulge in some poetic descriptions from time to time that make you work a bit as a reader, and this slowed me down occasionally as I read it.  But while the above example is not atypical, it's not all the time either.  Other sections can be quite readable.

Then, the fantasy part of the book starts to kick in.  And it is wonderfully bizarre.  The characters travel through several parallel universes, and encounter all kinds of bizarre civilizations.
The randomness of all the different worlds they encountered reminded me a of the wonderful randomness of Rick and Morty jumping through parallel universes.
We moved through a canyon or rocks, then passed through a city which seemed to be made entirely of glass, or glass-like substance, of tall buildings, thin and fragile-appearing, and of people through whom the pink sun shone, revealing their internal organs and the remains of their last meals. They stared at us as we drove by. They mobbed the corners of their streets, but no one attempted to halt us or pass in front of us.
"The Charles Forts of his place will doubtless quote this happening for many years," said my brother.
And there's also this wonderfully bizarre underwater world.  There's a city under the ocean, that's a complete mirror of the city of Amber above the ocean--everything the same as Amber, but underwater and in reverse.  And they have to travel down this underwater staircase to get there.  And while they're walking down the underwater staircase, they get pursued by these men on horses who are chasing them down the stairway underwater.  And if all of that sounds wonderfully bizarre and fantastical, then this is the book for you.  (If, on the other hand, you hate these kind of weird fantasy books, well, consider yourself forewarned then.)

The description style is minimalist.  There's just enough information given so that you have some vague idea, and then you have to fill the rest in with your imagination.
Ordinarily, I tend to tire of long boring literary descriptions in novels, so I was mostly glad for the bare-bones style.  And yet, there were several times I wanted more information about what was going on, and did not get it.  I occasionally felt like my imagination had to do too much work to fill in the gaps.  For example, in chapter 8, they're attacked by some sort of fire creature but a complete description is never given:
After a time, we smelled smoke.
After another time, we saw it, flapping skyward all about us.
Then the sheets of flame began to rise and fall. They moved toward us, with their crunching, constant footsteps; and as they came nearer, we began to feel the heat, and somewhere, way back along the lines, a panic arouse. There were cries, and the columns swelled and welled forward.
We began to run.
Flakes of ash were falling about us now and the smoke grew thicker...
...etc.  The scene goes on for a bit longer, but there's no further description of the creatures than what I quoted above.
So, what was it that attacked? "it" or "they"?  Something that flapped skyward, or something that had crunching footsteps?  I give up.  They got attacked by some sort of fire, that's all I can work out.

Again, I should emphasize that the book is readable for the most part.  But there were definitely passages like this that left me scratching my head.

The middle part of the book describes a long journey and then a big battle to try to retake the throne of Amber.  As with the rest of the book, it is imaginative and wonderfully bizarre (weird creatures, strange parallel earths). 

But, I also did begin to get battle fatigue in this section.  So many pages of fighting, and I wasn't quite sure why I was reading this.  I wasn't even sure that I liked these characters, which made it all the harder to get invested in so many pages of them fighting each other.
The main character, Corwin, is somewhat charismatic (brave, brash, dashing).  So I didn't hate him completely.  But he and his brother don't make any attempts to gloss over the fact that they are sacrificing thousands of lives of their soldiers in order to try to gain the throne.  So I could  never sympathize with him completely.  And that lack of sympathy made it hard to get invested in the battle.

The book then takes a dark turn, as one of the characters is cruelly blinded and imprisoned.  "What am I reading?" I asked myself.  "I thought I had picked up this book for some light escapist fantasy entertainment?  When did my escapist entertainment get so dark?"

The book then takes on shades of the prison scenes from The Count of Monte Cristo (10).

And then, escape, and the book ends on a cliffhanger.
So, I guess on to the next book in the series to find out what happens next.

Addendum
Most of the huge fans of this book seem to have discovered it in their adolescence or early teens.  No doubt, this would be the perfect time to read a story like this.  I regret that I never got big into strange fantasy literature when I was that age.

Notes
(1) I can't find the link.  Sorry. Steve posts so many videos that if you're trying to locate one particular quote from a video you watched months ago, it's a very daunting task.

(2) I'm quoting from memory, but I think that's right.

(3) Fantasy Masterworks is a series of paperback books which have as their goal to re-print the classics of the modern fantasy paperback genre.  According to the back cover:
Fantasy Masterworks is a library of some of the greatest, most original, and most influential fantasy ever written.  These are the books which, along with Tolkien, Peake and others, shaped modern fantasy.
The Chronicles of Amber is number 6 in their series.  The Chronicles of Amber series was only just published in the 1970s, but I guess by the standards of paperback fantasy, that's old enough to be considered a classic now.  According to Wikipedia, Fantasy Masterworks is a British publication, so I'm not sure if they'd be in American bookstores or not.  The used copy I picked up in Saigon was most likely brought over to Vietnam by a British backpacker.
Looking at their Wikipedia page, it looks like their are some really interesting titles in the Fantasy Masterworks series.  I'd love to track down and read all of these someday.
That being said, if I had to make a complaint: there's nothing in my volume in the way of any extras from the publisher.  There's no publisher's introduction explaining why they've chosen to reprint "Chronicles of Amber" or why they think it's one of the "most influential fantasy series ever written".  There's just the titles of the original books, and their original publication date, and then the text, and that's it.
I was away from my computer when I first encountered this book on a used-book table, and I felt like I could have used some more guidance from the publisher about whether or not these 5 books were a complete story arc when I was weighing up whether to buy the book or not.

(4) There are 10 books in the series, but I've been told that the first 5 books make up one coherent narrative arc.  So if this book only contains the first 5 books of the series, that's probably good enough for me.  Plus Steve Donoghue (and apparently a number of other people) think that the quality drops off after book 5 anyway.

(5) This is, after all, exactly what happened to me with The Complete Stories of Oz.

(6)Although, the audio play on youtube does contain some lines that are not found in my print edition.  What to make of that?  It's never much (a few lines of dialogue or exposition here or there), but just to make sure I'm not missing anything, I listened to the audio play as well.  (I put it on in the background while I was working on the computer.)

(7) Or, that is, what was present day when this book was originally published in 1970.  You know what I mean.

(8) See, for example, this excellent review from Tor.com: Hard-Boiled Fantasy: Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny.

(9)  I would constantly get hungry as I read this book.  "Boy, I could really go for a couple of sandwiches and some beer right now," I would think to myself.

(10)  The narrator himself explicitly draws the comparison to The Count of Monte Cristo, so I don't get any extra points for noticing the parallel. And yet, as somebody who has read through The Count of Monte Cristo, I thought the comparison was apt.  The same sense of claustrophobia.  The same brooding on revenge.  The same suspenseful scenes plotting escape.

Video Review
Video review HERE and embedded below:



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