1000 Books You Should Read Before You Die

My father-in-law gave us this “great books” compendium, and as a list-monger, I’m attending to it now.

Books posted here are books from that book.

Some lyrics that got past my filter

Amarok playlist
I listen to music when I’m working, usually not paying attention to it.  Sometimes, however, little moments of the music will squeak past and draw my attention.  Today it was from James McMurtry’s “Rachel’s Song,” which I first interpreted as being about a man whose wife had left, but on reading the full lyrics realize it goes the other way.

He used to ask about you
About a million times a day
I got so tired of trying to answer
I just turned my head away

These lines made me immeasurably sad.  I think it comes with having a child — the immense joy that they bring everyday is haunted by the fear of the immense sadness that could come any moment from the whimsy of fate or accident.

Experimenting on my coffee

I added some cinnamon to the coffee grounds when I made coffee this morning.  Delicious!

Feel free to use that helpful tip.

World War Z

An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks
ISBN: 0307346609

I reread this book a third time in preparing for my zombie course. Man it’s a good book.  I’m having my students read it for the course, but I haven’t completely decided how it fits into the schedule of the course.  It will take some maneuvering.

As a third reading, the book feels more familiar this time around.  I looked forward to my favorite parts and skimmed or skipped my least favorite ones (such as the downed pilot stuck in the swamp).  Most importantly, I noticed the parallels between one aspect of the book and lessons I’ve taken out of a couple films recently: the need to make hard decisions for the good of the species, particularly the ability to make the hard decision.  In the movies, it was the ability to follow hard and fast rules; in the book, it was the decisions to leave or kill large numbers of uninfected in securing things against the zombies.

Perhaps the problem from the beginning of War Games would still haunt survivors in the zombie war.  The inability to close the door when healthy people were outside would mean the destruction of all people.  Hrm.

Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge

An amusing tale of intrigue, chases on the train, and gunplay. Among the more amusing moments:

  • Drummond’s tired butler gets settled into bed, only to be woken and asked to guard a cabin. Poor butler.
  • Algy (pronounced like the water moss) gets stuck on the train and, in his continual attempts to contact his fiance (whom he accidentally abandoned on the train platform), he moans “Hugh, hugh!”
  • The fiance who keeps telling Drummond he has to give up his exciting life finally backs down at the last minute: “I kinda like the adventure.”

Worth my thirty-eight cents:

When the scientist’s assistant betrays the scientist in order to steal the ‘hexonite,’ he rigs the plane to crash and then prepares to parachute to safety. Preparing to hide his own escape, he pulls a severed hand from his pocket or something and slips his wedding ring onto it. Upon finding the plane, Drummond remarks to his pals that there’s a severed hand lying there, and it’s been dead for hours. Foiled!

I couldn’t help but think of the Big Lebowski and Walter’s declaration that “Hell, I can get you a toe by 3 o’clock this afternoon… with nail polish.”

Liveblogging 28 Weeks Later, part 2

Second half of my awesome Liveblogging event.

Tunnel Run

Spoilers below…

Continue reading Liveblogging 28 Weeks Later, part 2

A couple edifying comments about zombies

zombie silouettes
From The Undead and Philosophy

Zombies, whether they are the will-sapped slaves of Haitian voodoo lore, or the bloodthirsty ghouls of Romero’s living dead movies, are radically task-oriented beings.
– K. Silem Mohammad, “Zombies, Rest, and Motion,” page 96

It scares the pants off of us in the theater to watch these ghouls rampaging on the screen, just as it is meant to.  The point, dramatically, is to portray these unfortunates as a frightening life- and even civilization-threatening menace, and then to blow their heads off in interesting ways.
– Dale Jacquette, “Zombie Gladiators,” page 106

In The Bleak Midwinter

by Julia Spencer-Fleming

I thoroughly enjoyed this police procedural.  The story is told from the point of view of two detectives, a small town Sheriff (think Mort, not Amos) and an Episcopalian minister (who also happens to be a female ex-army helicopter pilot with survival training–she kicks ass for the Lord).  The mystery came together nicely, unfolding for the reader at a solid pace, with enough unexpected stuff to keep it interesting.

Like many amateur detectives, though, Rev. Claire’s regular and insistent risk-taking drove me nuts.  While some of the errors she makes are understandable, others are just downright loony.  My least favorite moment is when she finds a crucial clue to the police investigation and, instead of turning it over to the police, goes to talk with the family it implicates.  Sigh.  Oh well, without errors there wouldn’t be much tension.  Kinda like a Steven Seagal movie (have you ever noticed that he never loses a fight?–at least, he never did in the few films I saw of his that were worth watching prominent).

The book also reminded me to get a winter safety kit together for our car.  Be Prepared!

How do you OCR?

Santa Claus Annual

I’ve got an old book that I want to scan and put online.  It’s from the mid 1890s, so it’s definitely out of copyright, and I can’t find it online anywhere.  I was planning to take photos of each page to upload here, but I would also like to translate the words to text, so I can make the text of the book available and searchable.

So, what software should I use to OCR?  I need open source or free software, I think.  I’m pretty sure Acrobat has some sort of OCR engine in it, but I’m inclined away from that (if nothing else because it means I have to reboot and move to Windows to do it).

This just in!

The Associated Press reports, in a groundbreaking story, that students who pull all-nighters don’t usually do as well as students who get a full night’s sleep before a test.

I am flabbergasted.

Murder By Death

Jenny and I saw this film on AMC one time, but we missed the beginning. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the plot revolves around a group of famous detectives being lured to a mysterious mansion for “Dinner and a Murder.” We have amusing caricatures of Nick and Nora Charles, Monsieur Poirot, Sam Spade, Miss Marple, and Mr. Wong (played by David Niven, Maggie Smith, some guy, Peter Falk, some lady, and Peter Sellers). Also in the cast are Alec Guinness, Eileen Brennan, James Cromwell, and Truman Capote.

The film does a good job of spoofing the various famous detectives, as well as the genre itself– the villain’s main motivation is to discredit the detectives. Some key moments:

  • Alec Guinness as the blind butler giving instructions to the deaf/mute cook who can’t read English.
  • Truman Capote’s genius rant against Mr. Wong’s pidgin English: “Why can’t one of the most brilliant criminologists in the world say his articles? Where is the body! is the! is the!”
  • Poirot was played as a bit more of a goofy gourmand than was necessary.
  • Falk was awesome enough as Sam Spade that he got his own movie (The Cheap Detective).

Funny, but not as funny as Clue.

Audiobooks to read?

I haven’t been able to get to the library lately, so my supply of audiobooks is running dangerously low. After Native Son and The Scarlet Pimpernel, I’m out. I’ve been happily reading Librivox recordings, but I’m not sure what else to look for. What public domain novels do you think I should “read” next?

Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. Wodehouse; Librivox recording narrated by Mark Nelson

Once again, Wodehouse rips a corker of a book. The old bean hums with excitement at the amusing travails of the young master and his stalwart companion. This time, instead of bonging about with one short story and the next and all that rot, Wodehouse dins up a right corker that takes 23 full chapters to tell, tip top with bully names and madcap buffoonery.

And lets not leave out the jaunty vocal works of Master Mark Nelson This fine bloke dug in with the old pipes and banged out a reading that would rival Moses standing forth with the stone tablets and whatnot. The chappy who misses this one will be in the soup, for sure. He’ll be pipped.

Two ringing moments call for repetition here, and will be relayed after the break.

Continue reading Right Ho, Jeeves

I wonder what happened to the golden spike

Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad
By Stephen Ambrose; Narrated by Jeffrey DeMunn

I just finished reading this book (abridged, but that’s alright, it wasn’t stunning) about building the transcontinental railroad. A couple quick fun facts:

  • The government made it a race: the companies building the lines (Union Pacific and Central Pacific) got to collect government bonds and land grants based on how many miles they built, thus the faster they built, the more they got. Not surprising: shoddy construction reigned.
  • The Chinese workers on the Central Pacific were preferred by the bosses because they were less rowdy and, when they would strike for back wages, they just sat around instead of committing violence. Not like the feisty Irish. (Reminds me of the old quip from Blazing Saddles: “We’ll take the [[slur for Chinese]] and the [[slur for Blacks]], but NO IRISH.”)
  • Accidents were so common that they weren’t reported.
  • Hell-on-wheels towns would spring up around the railroad camps. Once, when the gamblers and ne’er-do-wells got too possessive of the land they were squatting, the railroad sent in its troops and killed indescriminantly.
  • The two attitudes regarding the Native Americans whose land the railroad was running through: 1) It would be nice if we didn’t have to kill so many of them; 2) We should kill all of them.
  • One 7,000 foot mountain tunnel came out only 2 inches off from its projected facing. The cost for such tunnels was estimated at $50/foot but ended up being $1000/foot. Oops.
  • Cow-catchers are named aptly.

And one more fun fact not in the book

  • According to Wikipedia, the ceremonial golden spike was removed immediately after it was driven. I think a story about a bumbling gold hunter has already been written, and should be written again.

Liveblogging 28 Weeks Later, part 1

Below the fold is the first part of my 28 Weeks Later liveblogging event.  I can’t promise insight, or even humor.  The best you can hope for is on the spot reactions.

Robert Carlyle runs for it
The liveblog will be posted in two parts to reflect the dismembered viewing habits my family life (wife who dislikes horror films, child who shouldn’t watch them) requires.

Note: spoilers below

Continue reading Liveblogging 28 Weeks Later, part 1