Books: Chariots of the Gods

Just finished this book, which was right up my conspiracy-theory alley. Here’s a synopsis. I just love thinking about¬† all the mysteries of the universe that we still don’t have the answers to, and possibly never will. Fascinating. As a kid, I had a giant Time Life book called “Mysteries of the Unknown” (I think) that examined this same type of stuff, including theories on how similar cultures popped up all over the world (think pyramids in Mexico and Egypt) in a time when they had no knowledge of each other. I wish I still had it. Love that stuff!

Books: Cabinet of Curiosities

B+. Good, but still only my third favorite of their books so far. Worth reading. Entertaining. Not as predictable as I had feared. I enjoy the fact that the main character’s first name is Aloysius. I still want to know more about him, which will keep me reading the series. Good job, guys.

Books: Wheel of Darkness


I really love these authors, and the whole concept of writing a book with a co-author. I can see how it would not be for everyone. If, as they say, all artists are a little bit crazy, then two crazy people spending a lot of time together is probably not good. But think of how useful it could be to have a partner with a fresh idea that completely counteracts your writer’s block!

This is pretty much the only popular fiction I read — stuff by these guys. I would call the theme of their books, “archaeological murder mysteries.” I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was a kid. There is probably a connection there. ūüôā I spent an entire summer trying to memorize Egyptian hieroglyphics after my 4th grade class visited the mummy of Ramesses II on exhibit in Charlotte. Recently I saw a documentary about a guy who was the first to crack the Mayan language (also glyphs) when he was a student at MIT. Too bad I have such trouble finishing anything.

Wheel of Darkness is the third book I’ve read by these authors, and it was my least favorite so far. The whole thing takes place on a cruise ship, and the plot involving a Tibetan painting that releases evil into its viewers’ souls was a little cheesy for me. I would recommend skipping this one if you’re going to tackle their bibliography. I read and loved Book of the Dead and The Codex, and I am currently about halfway through Cabinet of Curiosities, which is great so far. My mom also read Relic and Reliquary, which she loved. Now that spring is here, I’m going to be reading alfresco quite a lot — one of my true joys in life.

Books: Confessions of a Falling Woman

Just finished this collection of short stories. I’m not saying the writing was bad — it was an entertaining read.¬†The themes of the stories all seemed a little cliched to me. Overall it made me a little surprised that it got published…and hopeful that my writing will be someday as well. I mean, if you can do the opposite of what your best creative writing teacher said and still get a book deal, then I have hope for my future after all.

Books: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

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Just finished over the weekend. Highly recommended! Normally I’m not all that impressed with Oprah’s taste in literature, but this was a good pick.

Read the NY Times review here.

Books: The Lost Symbol

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You want a review? Here it is. This book is a total waste of time. I am not one of those people who bashes Dan Brown for his admittedly bad writing, because I generally like anything with a subversive plot. I loved the Da Vinci Code. This book read like someone else trying (and failing) to imitate Dan Brown. The story was uninteresting. He didn’t make me ponder any new concepts. The villain is RIDICULOUS. The whole thing is completely unrealistic and cheesy. For more on why I didn’t like it, read this review by Maureen Dowd at the New York Times. Sums it up completely.

Thoughtful Thursday: Gertrude

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Book number 3 on Swamp’s “Top 5” list. The other day I said I felt like I’d read it before, thinking it must have been in college for one of my many literature classes. I said, “I don’t remember much about it, so apparently it made a huge impression the first time around.” Swamp reminded me that he had made me read it when we were in Brazil. Well, no wonder I didn’t remember it, with so many wonderful distractions happening all around! I need light reading when on vacation so I can concentrate on appreciating my experience and adventures. The only book from that trip I do remember reading is Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. It made some good points. ūüôā Oh, and Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters. That one I was reading on a boat, and two ladies who befriended me wanted nothing more than to hold it and finger the pages and look at all the foreign words.

Gertrude was written in 1910, and you have to get used to the antiquated writing style to appreciate what’s happening in the story. This is a philosophical novel, and in fact, the story is much less interesting than the snippets of wisdom sprinkled throughout — observations¬†on the human condition. Plot-wise it can be summed up in just a couple sentences. A crippled composer falls in love with a woman.¬†But she falls in love with his best friend and marries him. But they’re totally wrong for each other, and it doesn’t work out. The husband dies, and the composer writes his magnum opus as a result of the failed relationship. Really, I think Hesse just needed a vehicle for his narrator to explain how his mind worked. The themes of isolation, desperation, and love in its many forms are what make this book worth reading.

I could go on in detail, but I just finished writing a 20-page report for Swamp, and I’m officially tired of talking about this book now.

Thoughtful Thursday: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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My friend Swamp and I are currently reading each other’s “Top 5” books. Actually, I’m having a hard time narrowing it down to just five. I’ve given him my first one, which he is reading now: 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. As for¬†my other four…right now it’s more like the other twenty.¬†Our lists are not in any particular order according to rank, but the second of his that I read was Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. You may remember his story being in the news a few years ago — he was hiking in Utah when a boulder fell and pinned his right arm. He survived for six days, but he ended up having to amputate his own arm with a pocket knife.

The story appeals to Swamp because he is also¬†the survivor of a near-death wilderness experience,¬†being lost for six days in the Amazon. (That story is one for another post.) I think on the surface he and Ralston have a lot in common — the outdoorsman personality, the near obsession with all things nature related and the very experience of nature. They even have the same favorite bands.¬†But when you go deeper, Aron Ralston’s got nothing on Swamp in terms of spiritual evolution and enlightenment.

Ralston’s personality really comes through in his writing, and at times I was¬†just as¬†fascinated¬†with learning about his¬†psychological make-up as I was the smallest details of his ordeal. From my reading, I thought he came across as motivated by “inferior” qualities, as the I-Ching would say. I thought it was¬†pretty admirable that he quit his high-paying job at Intel to move to Aspen, work in an outdoor¬†equipment shop,¬†and pursue his passion of mountain climbing. At the same time, though, Coocatchoo and I knew plenty of people back in Asheville and Boone like that, and we would call them “Trustafarians” or “Gear Heads.” I guess if I didn’t have to worry about money, I’d probably¬†live a similar existence, hanging around in cool hippie towns and seeing great music and playing outdoors. But it’s hard not to be bitter when you know you’ll never get the opportunity.¬†And you already had to abandon that life once because you couldn’t afford it.

The theme of¬†every damn story he tells about¬†his outdoor experiences is something to the effect of, “I could have died! And I almost did!” It seems that his pursuit¬†of these extreme experiences came more from an intense need to “have a great story to tell his friends,” or impress people with his daring and bravery, than a true¬†desire to¬†nurture his consciousness.

To be fair, he actually admits as much a little farther into the book. He does admit that he spent a lot of time in situations where it was highly likely something terrible might occur, because he wanted it to deep down. I think¬†it has to do with the larger concept of males in the modern, Western world having no real, accepted¬†“rite of passage” into adulthood, and as a result many of them seek out one¬†on their own. Add into that mix a natural proclivity towards thrill-seeking behavior, and you’ve got a great recipe for disaster.

He talks about a good friends’ response to one¬†of¬†his crazy¬†tales: “Aron, it’s not what you do. It’s who you are.” He didn’t¬†understand what¬†the friend meant by that at all.¬†He claims to have realized the true meaning of that statement while trapped in the canyon, fearing death was imminent, but¬†I have my doubts as to whether he¬†ever really¬†got it, especially¬†taking into account¬†what he has done in the last¬†six years since the accident — he’s become a motivational speaker and now makes his living by telling the story of his ultimate near-death experience, to a wider audience. He still doesn’t get it. It’s not about what you do or what you survived, Aron. It’s about who you are. I’m not sure about the extent of his spiritual development as a result of the accident. But we do know that he is¬†still telling his stories —¬†you just have to pay to hear them now.

I’ll end on a positive note with things I actually like about Aron. He loves Phish and got to meet Trey after his accident. He helped a prosthetics company design mountaineering attachments for amputees, and while that was undoubtedly¬†for personal gain primarily, others are also benefitting from¬†it. And he’s got a smoking body¬†from the neck down.

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Thoughtful Thursday: Boys of My Youth

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I have to admit, I wanted to read this book because the author and I share the same last name. Having aspirations of being published one day myself, I was just intrigued by the sight of¬†my name on the cover. I’m pretty sure we’re not related, although who knows? As it turns out, this was a really impressive collection of short stories — even more impressive¬†because it was her first published collection. This will go on my list of books with a writing style I aspire to mimick. She’s very conversational, with an amazing eye for detail and the past. A friend commented here recently that he was amazed I could remember such detail. I remember a few things in great detail, a few things in general, and most things not at all. It continually amazes me, the stories my oldest friends recount — events where I was present and involved — and I have no memory of¬†them left at all. I hate those moments. It makes me feel very guilty somehow. One of the reasons I enjoy writing so much is that it gives me a way to record things I want to remember, but probably won’t be able to years from now without some kind of documentation.

I like The Library Journal’s description of this book: twelve autobiographical sketches linked by the theme of romance and the author’s painful disillusionment with it.

“Beard often edges from serious laughter to high seriousness and back again. “The Fourth State of Matter” is perhaps the book’s standout, a narrative about space physicists; invading squirrels; a beautiful, dying dog; a “vanished husband”; and, alas, a seminar turned 12-minute massacre. On November 1, 1991, she leaves work early and passes by the disappointed graduate student who will later that day gun down eight members of the University of Iowa physics depart. Her piece is complex and heartbreaking, a master conduit of emotion and information. As always, Beard knows the rich value of the minor ritual. Earlier, she had recalled playing “Maserati” with her collie: “I’d grab her nose like a gearshift and put her through all the gears, firstsecondthirdfourth, until we were going a hundred miles an hour through town. She thought it was funny.” After “the newslady” finally confirms her colleagues’ deaths, “Maserati” again figures: “We sit by the tub. She lifts her long nose to my face and I take her muzzle and we move through the gears slowly; first second third fourth, all the way through town, until what has happened has happened and we know it has happened.”

Thoughtful Thursday: Into the Wild

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I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this story in the last week or so since finishing the book, even though I had seen the movie a long time ago. I strongly empathize with Chris McCandless’s need to escape from a society that by and large did not share his values. I wavered for a while, thinking he must have had some sort of psychological detachment issues on top of all that. And I don’t think it was as simple as a rebellious kid being unprepared and stupid.

But I don’t think at this point that he had mental issues. I think he was young and still had some¬†emotional maturing¬†to do —¬†even though he was pretty certain he had it all figured out, as young people tend to do. Towards the end of his life, he finally realizes what the reader sees¬†he was learning all along — true happiness is only real when shared with others. Solitude, in whatever form one prefers, is¬†a temporary, though sometimes very necessary¬†relief.

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A friend of mine used to say that life is all about balance. This thought always appeals to the Libra in me (illustrated by the scales of justice in my sign). It’s how I might describe the way I reason. And it affects my emotions — I am not a fan of “extreme” anything. Temperatures, opinions, volume levels. I think Chris McCandless was on his way to figuring out that idea about balance when he died. I mean, I love camping and hiking and traveling and being somewhat of a bum at times. But I would not give away my life savings or stop speaking to my family and friends in order to commit myself to experiencing those things. That would be…unbalanced.

And his last writings indicate that he did do some growing up in Alaska. The trip may well have been the “ultimate adventure” he needed and wanted in more ways than he thought it might be. It’s¬†unfortunate that a simple mistake prevented him from enjoying that new¬†wisdom in life. But perhaps he learned the lesson he was here to be taught, and he completed his purpose.

Have you read it? What were your thoughts?