Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Anime Granny

I rediscovered this video today

(click here to watch on Youtube)
and I realized that I do not own Ghost in the Shell or Akira on DVD. That's criminal. And then my brain went off on a tangent and I wondered, will I still love that stuff when I'm 64? Or 75? And if not, what kind of movies will I like?

I have that mental image of me as a tiny white-haired granny who pops the Watchmen or Ghost in the Shell DVD into her antique player. I'll probably go sentimental over Nightmare on Elm Street because it will remind me of my youth (I saw it first when I was 13). And I'll probably have the same crush on Johnny Depp my own grandmother had on Cary Grant.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Artworks I'd Steal: Carl Larsson


I came across this one in a book full of self-portraits by different artists and it made me laugh out loud. The look on the face of the clown is priceless, but the deadpan expression of Larsson makes it even better.
Larsson and his wife are pretty much the designers of what we now consider the Swedish look when it comes to interior design. He painted countless watercolour pictures of his family and home, although he himself considered his frescos more important.
Here's the website of the Carl Larsson Museum, situated at Lilla Hyttnäs, Carl and Karin Larsson's house.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book of Choice: Blacksad 4 - Silence of Hell

The Silence of Hell is the fourth part of the amazing Blacksad series by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, one of the best graphic novels I know. Don't let the fact that all persons are animals here deter you. The animal always fit the character perfectly and are beautifully drawn. It's also very definitely not for children, with very adult themes.

The drawings of the fourth novel are less detailed than the others and the story isn't quite as tightly woven. Of the four books, this is the weakest - but even so, it's well worth buying. There are magnificent pages that you can loose yourself in and it's a beautiful hommage to New Orleans and its music.

If you love graphic novels and hardboiled/noir detective stories, then go ahead and buy Blacksad. I promise you that you will buy all of them, never mind what I wrote here. Even a weak Blacksad novel is way above much of what is published in the comic genre and the first three books are very strong indeed.
I mean, come on, you know you want it:
(from the first Blacksad novel, by all means click for much bigger version)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Support Your Local Library Challenge

That is a challenge I cannot withstand: Support your local library hosted by Jamie at The Book Junkie's Bookshelf. Here are the rules:

1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate. Just create a post for the challenge and link to your challenge post in the linky below.

--Non-Bloggers: Post your list of books in the comment section of the wrap-up post.

2. There are four levels to this challenge...Pick your poison:

--The Mini – Check out and read 30 library books.

--"Fun" Size – Check out and read 40 library books.

--Jumbo Size – Check out and read 50 library books.

--Mega Size – Check out and read 51+ library books.
(Aim high. As long as you read 30 by the end of 2011, you are a winner.)

3. Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Young Reader – basically any book counts just as long as it is checked out from the library. Books MUST be checked out like with a library card, books purchased at a library DO NOT count.

4. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

5. Crossovers from other reading challenges count.

6. Challenge begins January 1st 2011 and goes thru December 31 2011.

Edit (August 9th 2011): well, another challenge that seems to be no longer supported. Sigh.

I should easily be able to meet the goal of this challenge and of course anything supporting libraries has my support!
I will add links to the posts about the books I have read here after the break.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Doctor Who: Leela and Science

So I'm watching the Tom Baker years of Doctor Who. I very much enjoyed Sarah Jane as a companion and I was a bit sceptical of Leela at first, but she's won me over. I like it that she doesn't need to be saved all the time and that she's capable of defending herself. It's true that she is quite violent at times, but after all she grew up in a violent society and even travelling with the Doctor won't change that overnight.

I just watched "The Horror of Fang Rock" and Leela dismisses talk about an astrologer, saying that she used to believe in that kind of stuff, but the Doctor taught her about science and "it's better to believe in science" instead. On the one hand, I love this, astrology can never be dismissed enough. But on the other hand: science doesn't need believe - that's what it's about. If you need to believe in it, it's not science.

Animated Movies

A list of every animated movie. Well, pretty much. Feel free to add if you can think of more.
Once again, I got this one from Jaquandor. I love animated movies, but I'm seriously behind on the old Disney movies.

The Rules:

- X what you saw
- O what you haven't finished/seen or saw sizable portions
- Bold what you loved
- Italicize what you disliked/hated
- Leave unchanged if neutral

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SciFi Challenge and Book of Choice: The Difference Engine

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is the first book I read as part of the Science Fiction challenge and it was a great way to start this challenge. I love steampunk and I love alternate histories and so The Difference Engine was hugely enjoyable for me.

At first I was a bit confused when the main character (or so I thought) of the story suddenly changed. If you expect a book to have one continuous story, then this book is not for you. It's more a series of interwoven short stories that all come together in the end to create a very different version of history.

Ada Lovelace has fascinated me ever since I saw the movie Conceiving Ada and she's a pivotal character here. I'm also fascinated by difference and analytical engines and the thought of a world that relies on them is intriguing to me. I do wonder how history would have developed if the analytical engine in particular would have been fully functional - it may have been slow, but it would have been very advanced.

Don't expect a straight story from this book, don't even expect all the mysteries to be solved. There are red herrings aplenty here, characters just drop out of the story and in the end you won't know everything. Imagine yourself as a historian instead, piecing together the events from eyewitness accounts, documents and old photos you found and in the process discovering a world long dead. If you think you would enjoy that, then I recommend the Difference Engine to you.

On a last note, I really need to read Benjamin Disraeli's "Sybil" now.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dice Superstitions

If you know someone who's into pen and paper role-playing and you want to see them freak out, touch their dice. It's guaranteed to work in at least 95% of all cases. You may get punched or have the friendship cancelled, though. Gamers can be a little special about their dice.

I have a set of d10 (ten-sided dice) that I never let anyone borrow or even touch. Those were the first dice I ever bought and they have rolled awesome results over the last decade. Most gamers I know have dice no-one is allowed to touch, but because dice accumulate over the years, most of us also have dice that we will let people borrow. Some gamers pride themselves of their ability to ruin any die that they touch.
Rule number 1: Never let anyone touch your dice.

I used to have a d20 that rolled only abysmal results for me, I gave it to a friend and he loves it.
Rule number 2: Some dice are out to kill you

Mr. Book Scorpion had a set of dice that he threatened to throw into the North Sea. They started to behave much better for the rest of the vacation there (it didn't last and he threw them out of the window).
Rule number 3: Dice have at least some intelligence and awareness.

A good friend had dice that almost never rolled anything usable and often got him into trouble, we used to make fun of him because of that - the dice really were reliably bad. I chose a set of new dice for him and they work a lot better. Same story with Mr. Book Scorpion's dice he got after throwing them out of the window, a female friend chose them and they work great.
Rule number 4: Dice should be chosen by a woman. It is unknown if dice for a female player should be chosen by a male.

The friend with the bad dice still has the old dice. He keeps the two sets apart and when he brings them both, they are carried in different pockets and must never be on the table at the same time.
Rule number 5: Bad dice are contagious. The virus may be airborne.

People have different dice for different desired results. If the gamemaster ask them to role a die, in 99% of all cases, the player will ask "High or low?" and choose a die according to the answer. Some people even have a special die in case the answer is "Just ROLL the goddamn die!"
Rule number 6: Dice specialize. Know your dice

Some point are controversial. Some people like to roll their dice a few times to get them warmed up. Others never do that so that they don't use up all the good results.
Some people put their dice with the highest number up (when playing a system that requires high numbers to succeed), some do it the other way around. The people who put the highest number on top do have a (vaguely) scientific explanation: due to gravity, the atoms in the die are pulled down, thus making it heavier at the bottom and it's more likely that the highest number is rolled.
The Rule of all Rules: If it sounds good, people will start to adopt it as their own. Have fun.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ireland Reading Challenge

I loved Ireland and I had been planning to re-read The Hounds of the Morrigan, so I decided to sign up for the Ireland Reading Challenge hosted by Carrie at Books and Movies. Click the badge to read the terms of the challenge and to join.

If I can get my hands on a decent edition (not the super-abridged one), "The Lair of the White Worm" by Bram Stoker will probably be my second book. I saw the movie ages ago and I still remember it vividly.

Links up for the Challenge book reviews is here!

1. The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer
2. The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O'Shea
3. Gulliver's Travels by Joanthan Swift
4. Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Quiz

Again, this quiz was shamelessly stolen from Jaquandor

Worst Books Ever, or Five Hours of My Life I’ll Never Get Back
Pope Joan - I don't like historical fiction in general, with a few exceptions, and Pope Joan has everything that makes me want to throw a book out of the window. And people actually believe that they are reading facts...I think that's what annoys me most of all. I had the same problem with Dan Brown's books.

Books I Have Lied About Reading
None, I think. I even read all the books I was supposed to read in school. I read very fast, even faster when I only skim a text, so I got lucky there.

Books I Have Lied About Liking
um, none. Not even books I was given as a gift - I can't remember a single book gift I didn't like.

Book-to-Movie Adaptations Where, Frankly, the Movie Was Better
Angels and Demons and DaVinci Code. The books are awful, but I had a lot of fun with the movies. The story is still stupid (antimatter, Priory of Sion..) but I don't have to put up with Brown's lack of writing skill and I can switch my brain off and enjoy the pretty pictures (plus, Ewan McGregor in a cassock is seriously droolworthy).

Books I Used to Love, of Which I Am Now Ashamed
I'm not ashamed of anything and I can see why I liked them even with books I now find unreadable. I used to love the Dolly series, which I now find way too girly.

Best Book Titles of All Time
Skullduggery Pleasant - that just sounds awesome
Thud! - best Discworld title ever
Der satanarchäolügenialalkohöllische Wunschpunsch by Michael Ende - try saying that three times in a row (no, it doesn't get much easier when you actually speak German). It's called the Night of Wishes in English.
I Shall Wear Midnight - all the Tiffany Aching novels have great titles, but I like this one best

Books That I Expected to Be Dirtier
Hm. I've been waylaid by some books that I didn't expect to involve sex (or so much sex or sex in that particular form), but so far not the other way around.

My Real Guilty-Pleasure Reads, and Not the Decoys I Talk About Openly
I read fan fiction. I can't say that I feel guilty about it, though.

Books You Must Read Before You Die, but Would Rather Die Than Read
Der Zauberberg by Thomas Mann. Thomas Mann had amazing talent and wrote the most elegant German - but I still can't get past the first two hundred pages or so of the Zauberberg (or his other books). It's weird, I can admire his style and I certainly agree that he's one of the best German authors ever, but I still can't finish his books.

Books I Refused to Read for a Long Time Because too Many (or the Wrong) People Recommended Them
Harry Potter. I was so annoyed by the hype and by the constant "you must read this" that I refused. I caved with the third book and then read all three in one weekend. I've loved the series ever since and I never again refused to read something for that reason.

Books I Read Only After Seeing the Movie
So many. Planet of the Apes, The Fly (highly recommended!), Welcome to Wellville, I read Neuromancer after seeing Johnny Mnemonic, I started reading Shakespeare after seeing Peter Greenaway's The Tempest ect. I often discover good books and authors through movies (and the other way around).

Books I Most Often Try to Persuade Other People to Read
The Demon-Hunted World - Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan ... critical thinking is important and I know no better book about it.
The Anno Dracula series by Kim Newman - the best vampire novels I know, except for Dracula of course and it's such a lot of fun to try and identify all the historical and fictional characters that appear in the books.
And lately Little Brother.

Authors I Wish Had Written More Books Already
Carl Sagan. You can never have too much Carl Sagan. William Somerset Maugham should have written even more short stories.

Overused Plot Points That Drive Me Nuts
The oh so emancipated woman who goes all housewifey over a man at the end of a book. Especially when used by female authors who wanted to create strong female characters.

Books in Which I Liked the Secondary Characters Better Than the Main Character, or Books in Which I Wanted to Beat the Main Character Senseless with a Tire Iron
Homo Faber by Max Frisch. The main character got on my nerves so much. Oh, and Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane.

Books I Lied About Reading and Then Wrote an A+ Term Paper On
Like I said, I read all the books I was supposed to read.

Books I Lied About Reading/Liking Solely to Look Smart/Pretentious
None. I AM that smart, sorry . Seriously, whenever I talk with people about books, I get the feeling that I'm something of a freak, either because of the sheer number of book I read or because I actually read classic literature or because I read about WWII (as a woman...gasp). I like that.

Books I Wish I Hadn’t Finished, or Worst. Ending. Ever.
nothing comes to mind, actually

Books I Read after Oprah Recommended Them
I will replace Oprah with Marcel Reich-Ranicki here, he's Germany's most influential critic. But I still don't read books just because he recommend them or because he hates them ... which is most of the time, the man really knows how to hate a book with style and aplomb. I just don't like book critics.

Books I Will Never Read Precisely Because Oprah Recommends Them
see above

Literary Characters I’ve Developed Crushes On
Charles Beauregard from the Anno Dracula series

Books I Only Read to Impress Other People

Best Books Not to Read from Start to Finish, or Best Bathroom Books
I tend to read non-fiction books like that if possible. I have a book about the First Ladies that I love to re-read because I can just pick a single chapter. Or a book on diseases called "Kulturgeschichte der Seuchen"...it's over 1000 pages long and while it can be read from start to finish, it's also great just to choose one particular disease. Not good for bathroom reading, though, it's a bit heavy. But I don't read in the bathroom anyway.

Books I Shouldn’t Admit Made Me Cry Like a Baby
And why exactly shouldn't I admit this? Astrid Lindgren can make me cry any time. The Brothers Lionheart is the book that makes me cry every time, but Ronja Robber's Daughter and Mio my Son are books I shouldn't read without having tissues handy. I also cry when Dumbledore dies, every fucking time (usually I make it to the funeral scene and then I loose it). When the Wind Blows is the only graphic novel that has ever made me cry, when Jim tries to phone his son and doesn't even notice that the phone has melted. Oh and Calvin and Hobbes has a storyline with a baby raccoon that dies in the end which makes me cry.

Books I Only Read for the Title
I can't think of an example now, but a good title is a great way to get me to at least take a closer look at a book. But when I don't like the style or the story, even the best title can't safe you

Books I Re-Read When I Have Nothing Else to Read
all the Discworld novels, Walter Moers Zamonia series, everything Tad Williams has ever written and of course The Lord of the Rings

Books People Keep Recommending That, Frankly, Sucked Ass
Twilight. I love vampires, but these vampires are even worse than Anne Rice's vampires. And most of those Scandinavian crime novels.

Books My Teacher Made Me Read That I Really, Really Liked
Lord of the Flies. I had to read a lot of Dürrenmatt in school and I took a solemn vow never to touch the books again. I broke that vow when I switched to a different teacher who actually knew how to make them interesting and these days, he's one of my favourite authors.

Books My Teacher Made Me read That Made Me Question the Value of My Education
Effi Briest. Oh, and ETA Hofmann's Mademoiselle de Scudéri. Hoffmann has written a ton of awesome books (try The Devil's Elixiers) and we had to read the most boring piece of fiction he ever created.

Books That Made Me Want to Have Sex with at Least One Character
Anno Dracula

Books I Actually Read but Got a Poorer Grade on the Paper I Wrote on the Subject Than My Best Friend Who Did Not Read the Book
none, I think. I remember a guy in my class getting an A on a paper on a novel he freely admitted he had never read. He just listened to some parts of the audio book

Books I Read Because the Author Looked Hot
Now that's a way to choose books that hadn't crossed my mind before. I have a slight crush on Neil Gaiman, but that developed only after I had read several of his books and seen him live at a reading.

Books I’ve Read Aloud
I've read to the two daughters of my ex, usually fairy tales (in the original, bloodthirsty version!) and re-tellings of classic legends (if you ever want a challenge, try reading Finnish legends from the Kalevala aloud...Väinämöinen will be the least of your problems). I also try to get my boyfriend to read the Zamonia series aloud and I've read books aloud to myself in parts (Discworld, Anansi Boys, Harry Potter, Osten Ard Saga ect.)

Books I Love Even Though the Last Twenty Pages Made No Damn Sense
If I can think of one, I'll let you know

Books I Have Written a Prequel/Sequel to in My Own Head
none that I can think of. But I often wish that the author hadn't written sequels/prequels to novels I like

Books I Keep Meaning to Read, but Then I See Something Shiny
just about anything Emile Zola and Gustave Flaubert have ever written. And Marcel Proust - somethign about French writers, I guess

Books I Will Go to the Mattresses for, Even Though I Hate the Writer
There are a few authors I recognize as excellent writers, but whose books I just can't read. I already mentioned Thomas Mann. Charles Dickens is another one.

Books You Must Read Because You Must Mock
I don't read books with the intention of making fun of them, but Twilight comes to mind.

Worst How-To Books Ever
Not really a how-to book, but almost all guides to keeping small animals that I know and that are older than two years or so are so full of factual mistakes, myths and bad advice that they are painful to read.

Books That Were on the ‘To Be Read’ List the Longest
too many, I guess

Books I Hated Having to Read in School, But Love Now
anything by Dürrenmatt

Books Whose References Have Worked Their Way into My Household Lexicon
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the Zamonia series.

Books I’ve Read Because I Liked Their Cover Design/Font
"Thirteen Reasons Why" - the German cover is red as blood with green tally markings (although the German title doesn't mention the thirteen reasons at all). It caught my eye and I loved the book. I bought it for my school library and the kids love it, too. The Septimus Heap series also has wonderful cover designs that drew me to the first book in the series.

Books Which, When It Comes Right Down to It, I Would Have No Problem Burning
There's this hilarious scene in one of Terry Prachett's Tiffany Aching novels where the travelling librarians (like tinkerers, only with books) are freezing to death and someone asks them why they haven't burned all those books and they just look at the person in total incomprehension. I'm like that. If I really were freezing to death in a library, I would burn the loose-leaf collections first, then books on esoterica and pseudo-science, self-help books and historical fiction. I would start with the furniture, though...something that has amused me to no end in The Day After Tomorrow: why burn books when there are all those wooden tables and chairs around?
I wouldn't burn a book because I don't like it, I can barely bring myself to throw it away. I prefer giving them away. With the possible exception of pseudo-science.

Books Which I Read Only for the Sex Scenes
None. If I want sex scenes, I read porn.

Books I Pretend to Like So People Won’t Think I’m a Snob, or Books I Pretend to Like So I Won’t Hurt Your Feelings

Books with Covers So Embarrassing You Can’t Read Them in Public
I like John Sinclair, a German horror pulp fiction series that has truly awful covers - 50s SciFi movies have nothing on those covers. But who cares, I read them in public anyway. I was highly amused when I found out that there are actually versions of the Harry Potter books with different covers for adults (they are more expensive,too).

Books You Are Sorry You Didn’t Read Decades Ago
I think I would have like to read "Catcher in the Rye" when I was a teenager. I read it a few years ago and I guess I was just too old.

Science Fiction Challenge

I've been meaning to read more Science Fiction for a while now, after doing this SciFi book meme. So when I came across the Science Fiction Challenge, it was THE opportunity to finally go ahead with the plan. I will need to check the library to see what I can find there, but I think I want to start with William Gibson.
1. book: The Difference Engine
2. book: The Robot's Tales
3. book: The Risen Empire
4. book: Earth Abides
5. book: Metro 2033
6. book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
7. In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Harry Turtledove

Update: the challenge seems pretty much dead, so I challenge myself to read at least 10 Science Fiction book this year.

Anachronistic fruit

I came across this interesting article a while ago while I was researching Osage-Oranges:
Anachronistic Fruit PDF

It's about fruit and their relation to animals, in particular when it comes to seed dispersal. Osage-Oranges for example may have relied on Giant Sloths or mammoths to eat their fruit or on an extinct horse species - these days, horses and mules will sometimes eat the fruit, too.
It seems that the Osage-Orange hasn't relied too much on those animals, so it's still around, but other plants are completely dependent on animals, like Yucca and Yucca moths. I find the relationships between plants and animals (including humans) fascinating and the article made a very interesting read.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Artworks I'd Steal: Félicien Rops

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:F%C3%A9licien_Rops_-_La_tentation_de_Saint_Antoine.jpg
source: Wikipedia
A while ago the Bucerius Kunst Forum, a small museum in Hamburg, hosted an exhibition about Anthony the Great and how artists have depicted him, in particular the temptation of Anthony. It was an amazing exhibition, with art from the Middle Ages to modern times and I fell in love with quite a few pieces (the one by Bosch for example or by Max Ernst). But Félicien Rops' work made my jaw drop. Usually, Anthony is shown tormented by monsters, but Rops didn't bother with metaphors and considering how hostile towards sexuality the church is, I'd say he has nailed it.

It was painted in 1878 and I can only imagine how shocked people were at the time. I spend some time watching the visitors at the exhibition and the painting almost always got a visible reaction, whether it was a shocked laugh, a frown or some sign of approval.
I love all the little details, like the pig (often associated with Anthony) that looks at the whole scene like it has seen it all or the skeleton putti. Anthony has been reading about Joseph and in the book illustration, Joseph is fleeing from Potiphar's wife. Everything in the picture is well within the tradition of depictions of Anthony's temptations, but I don't think anyone has ever been so direct about it and so tongue-in-cheek.

Rops certainly was unconcerned with morals and acceptable behaviour - he lived with two lovers (two sisters) for over thirty years, some of his works were censored due to a "breach of morality" and he illustrated many "decadent" artists such as Verlaine and Baudelaire. Despite all the scandal, he was a successful artists and even received the medal of the French Légion d'honneur. You can find more about him on the homepage of the Rops Museum and this website has an online collection of many of his paintings.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Book of Choice: The SS-State

"The SS-State – The System of the German Concentration Camp" by Eugen Kordon was first published in 1946 and it definitely was an inconvenient book for many Germans at that time - which makes it even more important. To this day, it's one of the most informative books on the SS and the concentration camps. Kordon was imprisoned in Buchenwald for six years and he was able to use the testimony of many other prisoners to write his book.

The book shows how the SS quickly grew into a state within a state and gives a very detailed view of life in a concentration camp. At times it's hard to read. Dying in horrible and random ways was always a possibilty, even if you knew all the unwritten rules. Kogon also shows how the prisoners were able to organize themselves and save lifes by sabotage, "losing" written orders and many other methods. Both the best and the worst side of human nature are visible here.

If you only read three books on the Third Reich, I recommend this one, Sebastian Haffner's "The Meaning of Hitler" and "The Yellow Star" by Gerhard Schoenberner.