Historical Fiction

So I’ve already admitted my fondness/weakness for post apocalyptic fiction in a previous post, but another weakness of mine is historical fiction. I think it gets a bit of a short shrift because while there’s some amazing writers and books in the genre, there’s also a lot of lackluster ones. I’d imagine most “literary” critics and literary snobs probably look down on the genre, which I think is a bit unfair. For instance, some “classics” such as War and Peace and A Tale of Two Cities, both of which I’ve read, are basically historical fiction and I’m sure there’s plenty of others that I’m missing.

My point is, while there’s probably plenty of drivel in the historical fiction genre, and while genres as a whole are looked down upon often, there’s some amazing books and writers in it. I would probably say that a few of my favorite books and some of the most moving I’ve read are historical fiction. Now I will admit that I have a bias towards this genre having been a history major in college and still read a lot of non fiction history books on a regular basis. But a good historical fiction book can sometimes do a better job of making you feel how things really were than a dry textbook could ever hope to. Not to mention that some people that couldn’t care less about history might be drawn to research a particular period that they’ve read about in a good historical fiction book.

So anyway, having written my defense and praise of the genre, I’d like to mention a few that to me are simply amazing and that I highly recommend even if you don’t like history at all. Rather than just listing some and giving a brief synopsis like I did with the post apocalyptic stuff, I feel the need to give some of these books a bit more time and space, so this will probably be a recurring series rather than just a list. I will warn you, most of these books are on the long side, which to me is a plus: if a book is good, I don’t want it to end. I’ve read most in print and also own many of then in audio form and a lot of the audio versions are over 40 hours long.

When I thought about writing this, the first book that came to mind for me was Shōgun by James Clavell. It was first published in 1975 so if you’re my age or younger you may have never heard of it, but at the time it was a huge bestseller. They even made a primetime miniseries of it in the 80s that was successful and according to Wikipedia it had sold 15 million copies worldwide by 1990.

Anyhow, this book is based on the feudal age of Japan. If you don’t know much about Japanese history, it was basically not that different from feudal Europe. There was originally an Emperor who was supposed to be divine and descended from the Gods, but after a time the emperor became more of a figurehead as powerful lords called daimyos, basically the same as powerful lords in Europe, took over lands, built up armies of retainers(samurai), built castles, and basically ruled their own parts of the country. Every now and then one of the more powerful lords would have the strength or prowess in battle to subdue the other ones and have himself declared Shogun by the emperor, meaning he ruled the country supposedly in place of the powerless emperor.

At the beginning of the book though, there is a different situation: in the preceding years a peasant general had been so great in battle and strongwilled that he had either beaten or won over all of the powerful lords. He couldn’t proclaim himself Shogun because he was originally a peasant and only those of the samurai class could be Shogun, so he basically created a title for himself, Taiko, and ruled the country. Unfortunately for him, he died with a young heir and while the great lords all claimed that they would rule the country together until his heir came of age, anyone that has studied history could see how that would work out.

Anyway, the book starts in 1600 amid this turmoil and is told from the point of view of an English navigator on a Dutch ship that is wrecked in a storm. He’s actually called a pilot and his name is Blackthorne. He’s washed up with some of the crew on the lands of a vassal of one of the most powerful daimyos named Toranaga. The Japanese can’t speak his name in their language so for the rest of the book he is known as Anjin, pilot in Japanese. This shipwreck isn’t a great thing for him or his crew because at this point only the Spanish and Portuguese are allowed to trade in Japan and them both being Catholic countries they hate the English and Dutch for being protestants and also don’t want any other countries to hone in on their monopoly.

Blackthorne and his men are also looked upon as smelly barbarians by the local japanese villagers and the minor lord whose land they washed up on. Things aren’t looking good between the Catholics calling for them to be burned and the local lord thinking they are barbarians, but after a bit, word travels up the feudal ladder to Toranaga who is the ultimate overlord of the area, and also the one person that the other lords suspect might try to seize power in the vacuum. Blackthorne/Anjin knows about navigation, knows how to build ships, and there are cannon and guns recovered from the wreck of his ship, so he might be useful to Toranaga.

And that’s basically where the story really starts. It’s semi based on the real historical Shogun Tokugawa and is frankly amazing in how well it presents the Japanese psyche and way of life at this time. There’s treachery, love, revenge, death, battles, and some simply moving scenes, a few that actually can still bring tears to my eyes. Honestly, it’s one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read in how it truly brings to life a past time and way of life, and like I said it has plenty of action and intrigue.

I recommend the audio version as it’s quite well done but it might be a bit pricey. I’m sure there are cheap used paperback copies on Amazon to be found so if this sounds at all interesting to you, I suggest you find some way to get it. It’s probably in my top five books I’ve ever read, and that says a lot as I’ve read probably thousands of books by this point in my life.

Anyway, that’s enough for today’s historical fiction rec…there’s a few other really good ones that I’ll probably suggest in the future and feel free to let me know if there’s any I miss or if you like or dislike my selections.

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Friday night ramblings

Thank god the weekend is here. Another night of staying up too late and being tired as hell all day. I think I might sleep til 1 tomorrow. I went to the store tonight and bought tons of food, including a nice looking rack of ribs, so I’m going to fire up the smoker tomorrow. UGA game isn’t until tomorrow night which is cool with me, I enjoy night games really. It’s only Vanderbilt but at least it’s on a decent network(ESPN2) so I won’t have to stream it like last weekend.

I’ve been tired all day but now’s right around the time where I’ll probably start to feel wide awake. Planning on drinking a couple of beers tonight so we’ll see how that affects my level of tiredness. I went to the Redbox in town and was going to rent a couple of movies but there wasn’t shit that I wanted to see. I don’t get how I never go to the movies but always seem to see previews of stuff that looks good, but when I want to rent a movie there’s never anything out that I feel like watching.

I haven’t been able to find any books that I wanted to buy to listen to in the car this week so I’ve been re-listening to an old one that I highly recommend: “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. If you’ve never read anything by Bryson before I recommend several of his books, but particularly this one. It’s a mixture of popular science and the history of science. You’ll learn a bit about almost every branch of science: geology, physics, chemistry, biology, and the history of some of the literally crazy people that pioneered all these fields.

It’s interesting and actually pretty funny at times. It’s educational without being overly dense or at all boring and you’ll learn a lot of random stuff that you probably never thought about. For instance, the same chemist both came up the idea of putting lead into gas and invented CFCs. So one guy poisoned the atmosphere with lead for many years and also depleted the ozone layer. It’s full of colorful but actually real characters from the history of science. I’ve been accused by a friend of reading boring books because of my tendency to read history books, but this book is not at all boring and you don’t need to be a nerd like me to enjoy it.

Anyway, I’m going to sit down and relax for a bit but I might write something else later. And of course this weekend I’ll warn anyone that I will be focused on UGA and college football most of tomorrow. Hope everyone’s having a good Friday night so far.

Tuesday rants and raves

Start off with a rant: When did automatic dishwashers stop actually drying dishes? I’m sure it’s some kind of energy saving thing and I’ve tried using different detergents and even rinsing aids, whatever the fuck that is, and even though the little light on the dishwasher says it’s finishing with the dry cycle, my dishes are not dry. Now maybe I just have a shitty dishwasher but I seem to have noticed the same thing at my mom’s house. Between the loading it, the cycle running 2 hours, and then having to dry half the shit when I empty it, not sure how much of a “labor saving” device this really is…

Rave: my previously mentioned mancrush UGA freshman running back Todd Gurley has been named the starter(yes, I know noone but me cares but it’s my blog damnit!!).

Rant: People that work in a position where dealing with customers is the major part of their job yet use what I call the “1000 yard stare”, meaning they pretend not to see you when you’re standing in their line of vision when you need something from them, usually because they are too busy talking to their friends or doing something else they aren’t getting paid for.

This can be waiters/waitresses, people in retail stores, really any position where you have to deal with the public. I’m all for slacking off on the job when noone’s around but when I’m standing at your window, sitting at your table, etc..I shouldn’t have to pull out a red flag and wave it in the air to get your attention.

Early rave: I started listening to a new audiobook yesterday and am liking it so far. It’s called “The Messenger” by Stephen Miller. I’m not really sure where I found it, I browse Amazon and a lot of other sites looking for new books, but the premise sounded pretty interesting to me so I bought it in audio form. The basic story is a young Iraqi woman has been exposed to and had her hair and clothing and even skin exposed to a weaponized form of super smallpox, and then hopped on a flight to NYC.

The point of view alternates between her and a former US bioweapons scientist who was disgraced during the anthrax attacks after 9/11, and who’s now been brought back to help the government find her and others sent with basically the same mission. So far, it’s pretty interesting, especially the woman’s thoughts on America and her sometimes conflicted thoughts on what she’s doing. I’ll write a more informed opinion on whether nor not it’s worth a look once I’ve finished it.

I’ll finish off with an extra rave, of a sort. A friend of mine chided me a bit about my post last night about how I’m not a big fan of politics and how people shouldn’t post political stuff on Facebook or other social media sites. I don’t really disagree with what I said, and I’m still very cynical when it comes to American politics, but talking to someone with the passion to still believe that things can change and that it’s better to participate than just throw your hands up made me think at least. And on today of all days, I will say that no matter my reservations about our political system and my cynicism, I can’t think of a better system and I certainly consider myself lucky and proud to be an American.

PS. a last rant directed towards myself. I had written this whole post and read it a couple of times looking for mistakes before I realized that I had put Monday in the title rather than Tuesday. I guess it’s been that kinda day so far.

Happy Monday Ramblings

Well, after a weekend of me doing nothing but watching football and laying around, and a busy day of work/school, it’s time for me to get back to writing the golden content that you’ve come to expect. I do apologize to anyone that hates or is indifferent towards football, but my weekends are mostly consumed by it during the season. The stuff I wrote Saturday night was probably a bit weak since I was involved in the game and drinking a few beers: though I’ll stand by my dissertations on why I love college football and why I love sports that I wrote earlier in the day.

Now that I’m huge in Australia, it’s time for me to start getting into the hard hitting subjects, such as what I’m going to have for dinner, which book I’m going to read next, and the other hotbutton issues of the day.

Quick rant: everyone already knows about my feelings on and ambivalence towards Facebook, but during political season it’s becoming quickly insufferable. I don’t EVER want to talk about politics on this blog because I find them depressing at best, and infuriating at worst. I don’t subscribe to any party because I’m smart enough to make up my own mind on issues; I don’t need to follow a pre-formed platform of views. I’m probably conservative on some things and liberal about others, so I can’t belong to either party because I don’t agree with either in a wholesale manner.

I’m also incredibly cynical about politics, particurally in America. I think presidential candidates are two sides of the same coin: they both take massive amounts of money from people that they are then beholden to, they both say they’ll do things that they won’t, and nothing ever really changes.

So anyway, back to Facebook: I don’t care which candidate you pull for. I don’t want to hear about it, don’t want to see links to such and such’s campaign or be prompted to like so and so. I just don’t care. I only keep Facebook to keep up with my friends’ lives that I’m not in regular contact with. Luckily I don’t have THAT many people on my Facebook so it’s not that common an occurence, but if I could ignore all politics until this election is done, I’d be fine with that. Sorry, /end rant.

It’s kinda funny to me that as a kid, the fall sucked because that’s when you had to go back to school, but now it’s my favorite time of the year. Obviously it’s beautiful up here when the leaves change, and I enjoy cooler temps over hot ones. But now it’s the start of the football season, when new shows come out and old ones come back; can’t wait for Homeland to come back later this month. There’s also a number of books coming out in the next month or two that I’m really looking forward to: particularly Justin Cronin’s followup to “The Passage” which I have previously mentioned was one of my favorite books of the last couple of years.

So it still feels like summer up here mostly, but I’m ready for the fall. Anyhow, enough ramblings for now. I need to find some dinner but will post more later. Thanks for reading and hope everyone has a great night.

My exciting Friday night!!

Well, as I said earlier, my dinner with a friend was called off, so I’ve been just having an amazingly exciting night. Went grocery shopping for the weekend so I can stay home and watch football all day tomorrow.

Got some decent looking steaks for one night…I wanted to roast some bone-in chicken breasts but couldn’t find any that weren’t tyson or perdue so I ended up buying a whole chicken and breaking it down. Not as easy as you’d think and pretty messy but I got it done. Definitely a different experience than pulling out the prepackaged boneless skinless breasts so many of us are used to.

I’ve been cooking some boiled peanuts all day too. If you’re not from the south you probably are wondering why someone would boil a perfectly good peanut when you could roast it, but I guess it’s like grits, something you just have to grow up with to understand. It’s been really hard to find the green, raw peanuts that you use to make them this summer. I think there was a bad harvest or something because Georgia grows a hell of a lot of peanuts and they are usually abundant and cheap.

After cleaning up all that stuff I’m just sitting down for a few mins, comtemplating a nice, hot bath.

Well, that’s kind of embarrasing, I misspelled deity in the title of one of my earlier posts and just now noticed it. I have a rather odd method of self editing: for the most part I just write whatever I’m thinking and hit publish. Then I’ll go back later and notice spelling or grammatical errors and correct them. I’m actually kind of a stickler for grammar and spelling so it’s odd that this is how I write.

Sadly or amusingly, depending on your point of view, I remember a girl I used to chat with ages ago that said she hated people with bad grammer: it wasn’t until she said something that pissed me off that I pointed out that she should probably learn to spell grammar properly before she judged others…obviously it didn’t go over too well..lol.

I’m also trying to slightly regain my ability to write with something at least resembling proper structure. Years of texting, IMing, chatting, and emails have definitely given me some bad habits. I’m trying to rid myself of the overuse of “….” but it’s harder than I’d have thought. And sadly I don’t think that lol is ever going to completely go away.

I’m almost done with “The Kitchen House”. As I said it has perhaps a tiny bit too much romance in it for a big, strong man like me(not really), but it’s been pretty enjoyable. It is though one of those books where you spend half of it annoyed at the main character and how stupid or clueless they are, but that’s not always a bad thing. And as I had previously mentioned, as historical fiction it has some interesting portrayals and tidbits in it. I’d say it’s been worth the $6.95 I spent on it.

I really need to sit down and watch some tv tonight. I’m several episodes behind on Breaking Bad, one of my favorite shows, and I’m amazed I haven’t had something big spoiled for me yet. I think the only show I’ve really recommended on here was Homeland, but if you haven’t watched Breaking Bad I highly suggest you find the previous seasons on dvd somewhere cheap and watch them, it’s really a great show, and this is the final season of it.

Anyway, I think I’m off to take a bath. I might post some more later. I hope everyone has a great weekend, thanks for reading, and Go Dawgs!!

Book series

So I was thinking about this while I was browsing books on Amazon to see which will be my next read after I finish “The Kitchen House”. I was struck by the number of authors that seemingly spit out books one after another with the same main character for years and years. I generally find that if I see under a novel’s title: a Jack Reacher, or Dirk Pitt, or Sookie Stackhouse novel; or any number of other long running series, I tend to pass it by.

I’ve actually read a couple of the “Jack Reacher” novels by Lee Child, and they weren’t bad reads really, but knowing how many of them there are, and how each one is going to be Reacher getting into a bad situation and having to use his considerable skills to get out of it, I had/have no real desire to read anymore of them.

I guess it’s similar to watching a serialized drama on television, but there’s a difference between watching 1 hour blocks of a season that generally has a resolution of some sort at the end of it, and spending hours reading a Jack Reacher book, knowing that in 6 months a new one will be out that won’t be dramatically different.

By the way, I don’t mean to pick on Lee Child or Jack Reacher novels here, they are honestly one of the few long running series of which I have read a couple of, and I have friends that enjoy the series, so I tend to come back to them.

I actually do really enjoy trilogies. If I’m loving a book I want it to go on as long as possible, so two more books is awesome, and I even like longer series like George RR Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series. I just prefer a trilogy or series to continue the same narrative, to simply have a story that the author wanted to tell that couldn’t be put down all in one book, as opposed to my suspicions of authors just spitting out one boilerplate book after another until they decide they have enough money or people get tired of the character and stop buying them.

I guess I’m being a bit harsh on the Lee Childs and Clive Cusslers of the world, and I don’t mean to be. And to be honest I’ve not read a lot of or any of the works in most of these series, so maybe I’m underestimating their complexity and quality. I don’t know.

To conclude, the one thing that I will say is that I love people that read and people that write, so if you like either of those things, you’re cool in my book, whether you’re reading/writing pulp romance or the “great modern novel”. So keep doing what you like to do and I’ll keep doing what I like to do, and we’ll both get something out of reading/writing that people that don’t do either just can’t understand.

And if you happen to like some of these series and think I’m giving them short shrift, feel free to let me know. I’m always open to people that don’t agree with me and willing to be swayed by a good argument…and will admit when I’m wrong.

Post dinner ramblings

Well, after my food manifesto of earlier I had a nice dinner of grilled chicken tenderloins(organic of course :P) with a mustard bbq sauce, some saffron yellow rice, and a nice spinach/spring mix salad. I’m trying to eat a bit healthier these days in terms of fat intake so less red meat unfortunately, although I’m pretty sure this weekend that will go out the window when I’m watching football.

Somehow after my house being spotless last weekend, it’s already in need of cleaning again, and I need to wash just about every piece of clothing I have..ugh. I don’t really mind doing laundry per se, I just hate folding it. Sadly I’m one of those single men that often hunts through the dryer to pick out what he’s going to wear that day. It’s actually kinda funny because I’m really a pretty domesticated guy for being single. Having a single mom that works when you’re growing up tends to do that for ya. I’ve been doing my own laundry for years and years, learned to cook at a pretty young age, can even iron a shirt in a pinch. You’d think I’d be a catch for some lucky woman..lol.

I’m a bit over halfway through “The Kitchen House” and I’m actually enjoying it. It’s a tad bit romancey for my liking but it has a lot of really interesting portrayals of life on a Virginia plantation in the late 1700’s.

I’ve been listening to The Hold Steady pretty much all afternoon and I honestly think they are the best rock band of the last 10 years. You might not agree with me and think that’s sacrilege, but I don’t think anyone in the rock genre can tell a story like Craig Finn. I’ve been listening to them since Separation Sunday in ’05, which was almost a rock opera of an album: introducing and following characters through the seedy underbelly of life. Since then they’ve gone a bit more conventional album route, but they still tell great stories. From the lapsed Catholic Holly(short for Hallelujah), to all the drunks and hookers and addicts of the streets, to poet John Berryman talking to the devil before he jumps off a bridge, to the poor boyfriend and his painkiller addicted girl that can always pick the winning horse at the track…just so many great characters, lyrics, and of course great rock music. I might post a few more of my favorite songs of theirs, but if you haven’t heard them before, check out the Weekenders vid in my music section.

Well, I need to go get some laundry started. I’ll try to write some more later..I seem to get the most views when I post at night so people can have something to read the next day. And before I go, I don’t usually shamelessly plug stuff on here, but a friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous but has given me a lot of support on this blog has started a blog that some of you might find interesting. As you can tell from the name, it’s adult oriented so click at your own risk, but she’s a good writer and it’s definitely a titillating subject, even more so since it’s true: http://swingwithusmaybe.wordpress.com/

Anyway, like I said, off to laundry and I’ll try to write some more later…and I promise no more plugs.