Monday, November 29, 2010

Artworks I'd Steal: Carl Spitzweg

Source: Wikipedia, the original can be found at the Museum of the State of Hessen.

Romanticism goes Gary Larson.
Carl Spitzweg is well known for his paintings that depict the bourgeois in his natural habitat as well as romantic landscapes and many people dismiss his work as kitsch. But if you look closely, you'll find that he was a keen observer of humans and their little follies and weaknesses. He had a way of painting them that makes his pictures idyllic at first glance, but he's very gently poking fun at the things he's showing without ever being rude or cruel about it.

As a librarian, I like his Bookworm of course, but Der Schmetterlingsjäger (The Butterfly Hunter) is my favourite. I just love the expression on the man's face - those butterflies would clearly be a gem in his collection. But I bet that in a second he will look at his tiny little net, realize that he will never catch them and that no-one will ever believe him (the butterflies are really enormous, it's not a matter of perspective). It's a scene that just screams for a Gary Larson-ish subtitle. "Gottlieb had a sneaking suspicion that he should have brought the shotgun".

Monday, November 22, 2010

100 SF books

Books I've read in italics. List shamelessly stolen from Jaquandor

The Postman – David Brin
The Uplift War – David Brin
Neuromancer – William Gibson - oooh, yes. I've always loved the concept of cyberpunk, so Neuromancer is a must for me.
Foundation – Isaac Asimov
Foundation and Empire – Isaac Asimov
Second Foundation – Isaac Asimov
I, Robot – Isaac Asimov - I love short stories, they are my favourite literary form and I, Robot contains some of the best stories I've ever read
The Long Tomorrow – Leigh Brackett
Rogue Moon – Algis Budrys
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury - I've read some in other collections of short stories, but for some reason never all of them
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury - this book speaks to my soul. Do yourself a favour and don't watch the movie.
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury - I didn't finish it, I just didn't like it much

Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke
The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke
2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke - I read it after seeing the movie. I still didn't get it. But it's still a cool book.
Armor – John Steakley
Imperial Stars – E. E. Smith
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley - a classic and I've read it many times. The first time after seeing Gothic, which I can only recommend.
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card
Dune – Frank Herbert - only the first book, which was cool, but I was bored by the time I had read about 1/3 of the second book
The Dosadi Experiment – Frank Herbert
Journey Beyond Tomorrow – Robert Sheckley
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams - *waves towel*
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick- Blade Runner is one of my favourite movies ever and I tried to read the book after seeing it for the first time, but I didn't like it. I suspect that this was the fault of the German translation, though, I should give it another try
Valis – Philip K. Dick
A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick

1984 – George Orwell- my favourite dystopian novel
Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut - this wasn't what I expected and I had so much fun reading it. For some reason. all the (short) reviews I had read concentrated on the WWII part and I had no idea that the story would involve aliens and so much weird stuff.
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells -
The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
The Island of Doctor Moreau – H. G. Wells
The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells hm, I didn't realize I had read so much by Wells. The Invisible Man is my favourite - see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for more of this fascinating character...the graphic novel, not the movie (it's fun, but for once I can understand Alan Moore's fit of rage). Take a look at the unintentionally hilarious Doctor Moreau movie, just for shits and giggles, but only AFTER reading the book.

A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess - I actually liked the movie better
A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne
From the Earth to the Moon – Jules Verne
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne - Jules Verne rules!
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

Nova Express – William S. Burroughs - I've read Naked Lunch, which was ... an experience (weird, but good)
Ringworld – Larry Niven
The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
The Unreasoning Mask – Philip Jose Farmer
To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip Jose Farmer
Eon – Greg Bear
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton - that was before Crichton started to really piss me off with his anti-science stuff
The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton
Lightning – Dean Koontz
The Stainless Steel Rat – Harry Harrison
The Fifth Head of Cerebus – Gene Wolfe
Nightside of the Long Sun – Gene Wolfe
A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson - this is embarassing, but no. I've been meanign to buy it for ages, I can't get the English version at any library
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
Solaris – Stanislaw Lem - not my favourite Lem novel, but still worth reading
Doomsday Book – Connie Wills
Beserker – Fred Saberhagen
Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K. LeGuin
The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin
Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
Dhalgren – Samuel R. Delany
Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
Star King – Jack Vance
The Killing Machine – Jack Vance
Trullion: Alastor 2262 – Jack Vance

Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein - so awesome.
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
A Time of Changes – Robert Silverberg
Gateway – Frederick Pohl
Man Plus - Frederick Pohl

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
The Execution Channel – Ken Macleod
Last and First Men – W. Olaf Stapledon
Slan – A. E. van Vogt
Out of the Silent Planet – C. S. Lewis
They Shall Have Stars – James Blish
Marooned in Realtime – Vernor Vinge
A Fire Upon the Deep – Vernor Vinge

The People Maker – Damon Knight
The Giver – Lois Lowry
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Contact – Carl Sagan - Sagan is one of the most inspirational writers I know and although I like his science books better, I still enjoyed Contact very much
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
Battlefield Earth – L. Ron Hubbard
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain ages ago, i need to re-read this
Little Brother – Cory Doctorow - Little Brother rocks. Read it. Go ahead, I'll wait. you can download it for free here It's one of the best books I've read in the last few years.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Jack Finney
Planet of the Apes – Pierre Boulle - that was actually much more enjoyable than the movies!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Artworks I'd Steal: William Blake

Source: Wikipedia, the original is at Tate Britain.

The body of Abel is discovered by Adam and Eve, Cain is fleeing from what he has done. Full of extreme poses and raw emotion, I find this the most touching depiction of the first murder I have ever seen. It's not mentioned in the Bible, but it must have happened. Imagine how horrible it must be not only to loose your child, but to loose it at the hands of your other child. Would Adam have killed Cain, if God hadn't intervened? Would Eve have wanted revenge? Cain is horror-struck by what he has done - he tried to bury Abel's body to hide it, but now all he can do is run. The painting makes them all come alive to me.

Like many of Blake's works, it's a watercolour and it's small, only 12 3/4 x 17 inches. He also made engravings, relief etchings and he was a poet, illustrating his own works and that of others (Dante's Divine Comedy for example). Blake was a deeply religious man, although he did not agree with many of the religious viewpoints of his time and in fact he created his own Christian mythology - which is why he was considered a rebel or even mad in his own time.
I first came across his work when I read Thomas Harris' "Red Dragon" in which one of his paintings plays an important role. As a starting point for learning more about his life, I would recommend Peter Ackroyd's biography. Some of Blake's literary works can be found at Project Gutenberg. My favourite is this one:


I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
and he knew that it was mine,—

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Artwork I'd steal: The Screaming Pope

Whenever I go to a museum or an art gallery, I make a list of the three artworks I would steal if I were so inclined. When I go with a friend, I usually ask them to do the same - it's interesting to compare lists when we're done.

source: Wikipedia
I still remember seeing this painting for the first time, I sat staring at it for five minutes at least - and that was on my computer screen. A few years later, the Kunsthalle in Hamburg hosted a Francis Bacon exhibition and luckily, the Screaming Pope was part of it. It's big, 60x46 inches, and even more powerful in real life. I can't decide whether the pope is screaming in fear or anger, but I'm sure he would try to take you down with him if you came too close.

It's not actually called the Screaming Pope of course, the real title is Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Here's the original. I always thought that it was just as disturbing as the Bacon version, but on a different level. When I look at it I see an intelligent, powerful and ruthless man who is absolutely not afraid to use his powers and he's comfortable in the knowledge that we are aware of it.

Bacon has led a fascinating life. There are tons of books about him, I would recommend Anatomy of an Enigma as a starting point. If you should ever find yourself in Dublin, you can visit Bacon's immensely chaotic study that has been moved from London to Dublin and was painstakingly reconstructed.
The Artchive has more images of his work, it's a great resource for all things art, by the way.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book of Choice: The Lady of Bayreuth

There are two families I can't get enough of: the Manns and the Wagners. There are just so many stories, intrigues and drama. "The Lady of Bayreuth" by Oliver Hilmes follows Cosima Wagner's live: daughter of Franz Liszt, wife of Richard Wagner and after his death, the personification of the Wagner cult.

Hilmes lets the people in his book really come alive and what a life it is. The Hans von Bülow-Cosima-Richard Wagner affair alone would be worth a book, but there's a lot more. We see how the Bayreuth festival is established, with many problems and financial troubles, and we're introduced to the connections of the festival to the German Nationalist movements and later to the Nazi party. Anti-Semitism was rampant in Bayreuth and Cosima was no exception, despite the fact that Jewish artists were employed - the relationship of Cosima and Herrmann Levi is explored in the book and gives a good example of the anti-Semitic climate.

Hilmes has had full access to the Bayreuth archives and he has made good use of this amazing source that had been only grudgingly opened to researchers before. The book also contains many photographs, something I very much enjoy when reading a biography. Whether you are interested in Wagner's music or not, I highly recommend this book to you if you like biographies and from what I've read, the English translation is excellent. The story of the Bayreuth festival is continued in the equally well-written "Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth" by Brigitte Hamann.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Killer Clam

I'm watching the old Doctor Who episodes at the moment, Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor to be exact. The first five minutes of the first episode I was thinking "gosh, it looks like it's 50 years old..." but then the story had me and it hasn't let go yet.
And speaking of not letting go: the killer clam in Genesis of the Daleks made me laugh out loud. I mean, who goes ahead and suggests that in a cave filled with unspeakable monsters, our heroes encounter ... a killer clam? It's so adorable, I can't think of a more inoffensive monster. Watch
I love how it waddles back into the shadow to wait for the next humanoid to stumble into it. Probably with a shellache after being wacked with that huge rock. Poor thing.

And because they are amazing creatures, take a look at this video of a real giant clam. And yes, they really are that big, but totally harmless. They don't snap shut and many big ones can't even close their shell completely.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Information Literacy

Sometimes students come into my library and brag about how many books they have read. That would be cool if it weren't for the fact that whoever has read the fewest books wins.
I would be less concerned about them not reading books if I knew that they at least were able to find whatever information they needed online. But many students are information illiterate. They don't know how to efficiently use a search engine, how to find other resources and most worrying of all, they don't know how to evaluate the sources they find. Often, they just choose the first Google hit and copy whatever's written there. Part of that is of course because it's the easy way out, but with some, I know that they really think that this is how finding good information online works.

No-one has taught them how to research things properly and no-one has taught them how to find out if a source is reliable. I dearly love Wikipedia and I don't see a problem with students using it, but please: check the sources, read the links and definitely read the Discussion site (the link is right at the top of every article - it can be very informative). Entering the exact question the teacher gave is not how you use Google or any other search engine. Come up with the most relevant phrase for what you search and use the Advanced Search, it's a great tool and you don't even need to know about Boolean operators.

And don't trust books, either. It's not true just because it's printed. People make mistakes, they copy things other authors have written and sometimes the author neglected his fact-checking. Often you can follow a mistake all the way through several books, articles ect. to it's original source. Do some research on the author. Or you may end up thinking that everything David Irving has written about Hitler is true. Peer-reviewing is not just something a bunch of geeky scientists do. Just because many journalists obviously don't bother with doing research it doesn't mean that it's not necessary. In short, look things up. I don't know of a better way to learn things.

Living in a sea of information is great, but you need to learn how to swim or better, learn hot to breathe underwater.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

99 book meme

- Bold the ones you’ve read
- Italicize the ones you want to read
- Leave unaltered the ones that you aren’t interested in or haven’t heard of

1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown) - yawn. And why, oh why is that top of the list?
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) - although I have to admit I'm not that much into Jane Austen
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee) - one of my favouite books ever. It's amazing.
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell) - well, at least half of it, then I got bored. I enjoy the movie, though.
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (JRR Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (JRR Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (JRR Tolkien)
- I have read the LotR 34 times. I never get bored by it.
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) - historical fiction gives me hives.
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (JK Rowling) I've read the whole series multiple times
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) - I read it against my better judgement (one a trip, it was the only book left) and I was amazed that nobody spotted that he had written the same book twice.
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (JK Rowling) see 11
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) I've read The World According to Garp and I tried other Irving novels, but it's just not my thing
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (JK Rowling) see 11
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King) - oh yes, love that book. Gary Sinise will always be Stu Redman for me, despite all the failings the movie had.
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (JK Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) I started it, but couldn't finish because the language was too difficult for me at the time
21. The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien) - of course. But I must admit that I don't like it as much as Lord of the Rings.
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) - I think I was already too old for that book. It should be read before you're 18 or 20 at the most, I think.
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) - I like the parts with uneven numbers much better for some reason. Anyway, it's genius.
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) - another book I gave up on because of the language. I may try again sometime, it's been years since I've read it.
28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis) - read it, but I don't like the Narnia series at all. It just doesn't have the same magic for me as Lord of the Rings or the Prydain chronicles.
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert) - I've read the first book, but I'm usually bored by book series and Dune was no exception
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) - I've been meaning to read this for ages, ever since I read Matt Ruff's Public Works Trilogy
34. 1984 (George Orwell) - a classic. Along with Fahrenheit 451 it's my favourite dystopian novel
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley) - I wish I hadn't and I didn't complete the book. So boring and so much pseudo-feministic crap.
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett) - one of the few historic novels I've read and liked.
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) - everyone is enthusing over Coelho, but I just don't get it.
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. The Bible - yes, actually. Not the whole book and not all in one go, but I've read it. As someone who lives in a mostly Christian country, with a history and culture so heavily influenced by Christianity, not knowing the Bible is ignoring something that's an important key to understand that history. Whether you believe in God or not (which I don't)
46. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) - I haven't finished it, though.
55. The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (JK Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice) - such a great book. Then Anne Rice went on and made all vampires into pussies. Yawn. But at least they didn't glitter.
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
68. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) - Javert is such a cool character.
69. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) - I've read and liked it, but I'm still annoyed by people who quote it all the time. Usually without having read it.
70. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
71. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) - a weird book, but I liked it.
72. Shogun (James Clavell) - definitely on my reading list
73. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
74. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
75. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
76. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
77. The World According to Garp (John Irving) - read it, wasn't that impressed by it
78. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
79. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
80. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
81. Of Mice And Men (John Steinbeck) - so sad.
82. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier) - one of the best opening sentences ever.
83. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
84. Emma (Jane Austen)
85. Watership Down (Richard Adams) - I saw the movie as a kid and then read the book, years later. I love both.
86. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) - I don't know, that book didn't really work for me
87. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
88. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
89. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
90. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
91. Lord of the Flies (Golding) - once in school and several times since
92. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
93. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
94. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
95. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
96. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
97. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
98. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
99. Ulysses (James Joyce) - not an easy read and I prefer Virginia Woolf

Obviously, I'm not that much into popular contemporary literature. I can live with that.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Walking Dead - here be spoilers

I got around to watching the pilot for The Walking Dead yesterday and I loved every minute. As a rule, I don't like zombie movies much, with the exception of Night of the Living Dead and of course Shaun of the Dead, but this is different. I like horror movies to tell a good story and The Walking Dead does just that.
There's more than enough guts and gore and it’s very well done, but this is the first time I ever found zombies frightening - because it was very clear that they used to be people, loved ones. The scene where Morgan Jones tries to shoot his wife who turned into a zombie had me squirming and I admit close to tears.
Lennie James seems to pop up on a lot of stuff I watch (Human Target, Lie to Me, State Within) and I always enjoy it, he's a fabulous actor.
The whole episode that an air of suspense, I kept thinking watch your back, watch your back every time Rick went out into the open. The scene with the huge zombie crowd at the end was powerful, precisely because of that.
I loved the comics (although I'm not up to date on it) and it the series will keep what the pilot promised, it will be just as awesome.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Meet the library

I just did a library introduction for some of the 11th graders in my Tuesday school. When I began working here, the library was a mess of books that had been bought decades ago or had apparently just wandered in and decided to stay. There were very few books more recent than let's say 1980. I threw out a ton of books and managed to acquire a decent budget for the library. Over the course of the year I bought a lot of study guides and other books the students will find useful (I hope) during the sixth form/twelfth grade.
Until now, many students weren't even aware that the school has a library and I asked all the 11th grade class teachers to stop by with their students for a library introduction to change that. It was a weird feeling, a bit like showing someone a painting or a poem for the first time - I invested a lot of time and passion into this and I really hope it will pay off.