Friday, May 10, 2013

Books Read: March

I'm a little behind on writing these.  Reading is a lot easier for me than writing (I expect that's true for most people).  Anyway, March shows how getting a Kindle has influenced my reading.  I did a lot more reading of old stuff that I can get for free and not so much new(er) stuff from the library.

Trails that Never End, Tim Kelley.
Endurance cross-country skiing in Alaska.  Everything I ever wanted and more.  I dropped $15 on this e-book as soon as I heard about it.  Usually I'd be reluctant to spend that much, but since I read Tim's blog frequently and I've learned a lot about skiing and camping from him I didn't hesitate.  Honestly I was a little worried that this would be a how-to manual and negate all the hard work and research I had put into learning how to ski like I do (maybe I'm beginning to understand Mike Curiak).  It's not.  There's a lot to glean from what he says, but mostly this is a record of Tim's early ('90s) ski trips across the Alaska backcountry.  He tells a great story and there are hundreds of great photos to go along with it.  I'd recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this type of skiing (which hardly anyone seems to). 

Farthest North Vol. I, Fridtjof Nansen.
Another book that the Kindle allowed me to read.  It's unavailable in print, but no charge on Project Gutenberg.  For anyone who doesn't know who Nansen is, well, you should and you should worship him as the mortal god that he is.  This book covers his arctic journey in the Fram from the planning stage until he and Johansen set out for the North Pole by dogsled and ski (that journey is covered in Vol. II).  While the book is a little repetitious at times (being on a ship for two years will do that) his thoughts about humanity and nature are well worth the read.  If I might be allowed to say so it is an inspiring story and makes one believe that anything is possible. 

Various stories, Jack Vance.
Along with The Chronicles of Narnia, The Matrix, and the band Rush, Jack Vance's science fiction is one of those things that I'm supposed to like (given my dispositions), but just can't.  I could give you a rundown of the reasons, from trite plots to rampant sexism that make me cringe about his stories, but I won't.   I don't think I'll be trying to read him again. 

Various stories, Fritz Leiber.
Lieber is perhaps the opposite of Vance in my opinion.  The stories I read are not his popular Lankhmar fantasy series, but a selection of sci-fi stories that were pretty obviously written quickly and for publication in pulp magazines.  But they're good.  In just a few pages he manages to create interesting characters in thought provoking situations.  The classic "twist" ending that characterizes most sci-fi short story writing is certainly there, but always alludes to a greater truth and isn't just a convenient hook on which to hang a story.  I may end up paying good money to finally read the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. 

The World Set Free, H. G. Wells. 
Published in 1914, this prescient novel introduced the concepts of aerial bombardment and the atomic bomb well ahead of their time (that sentence was not intended to sound like a "question" on Jeopardy).  While the first half of the novel focuses on a world war, the second is of more interest to me.  It's the opposite of the later 1984 by George Orwell.  Rather than describing a socialist dystopia, Wells describes a socialist utopia arising out of the ashes of a world changing war.  It's a sentiment (and perhaps a story) that inspired Orwell before he became disillusioned after the Spanish Civil War.  I have to admit that it is refreshing to read an optimistic novel that predicts a better world.  Whether or not it's realistic is debatable.  Also of interest is a chapter towards the end that discusses feminism.  I don't know enough to properly criticize it, but it's certainly fairer to women than Vance ever was.  

Not Always So, Shunryu Suzuki. 
Published posthumously, this book, along with his first, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, is a series of short lectures that Suzuki gave to his students.  The form suits the style of Zen much better than a lengthy and logically structured book.  It's tough to say much about it, but the message of single-tasking and constant surprise strikes a real chord with me.  It's too easy to get stuck in a rut and not realize that you're even in one.  Breaking those habits of mind are difficult, but I think that through reading (and practicing) this, along with some works by Thich Nhat Hanh, and David Foster Wallace, I am beginning to recognize my thoughts and stay more present. 

Pro Motocross and Off-Road Motorcycle Riding Techniques, Donnie Bales and Gary Semics.
I checked this out from the library in the hopes that I'd pick up some tips on riding bicycles off road.  I have never been able to find a good technique guide for mountain biking, but I had always heard that riding motorcycles helps biking skills and vise-versa.  That may be true, but this manual didn't have much to offer for me.  I did pick up some tips on braking, but cornering still eludes me and none of the advice in this book really seemed to apply.  It looks like I'll have to find a teacher somewhere else. 


Neve_r_est said...

You should check out Lee McCormacks books for bike handling stuff. Best I've found

As it goes I'm not finding half of your titles on Audible, guess I'll just have to find time to actually read some written words.


Matt Maxwell said...

I ordered his book just now. I'm not surprised half of the books I read aren't on Audible, half of them I had enough trouble finding in the first place.

wildknits said...

In the early 80's I read a lot of polar explorers, including Nansen (side effect of working for someone planning arctic trips). Inspiring stuff!