Book Review

Four Books on the PCT

After visiting Stehekin and seeing groups of thru-hikers on the last segment of the PCT, a long desire to some day hike the PCT has again resurrected itself. This may be problematic, in that a) I’ll need to find somebody to do it with, b) I’ll need to get Betsy’s support, c) I’ll need to find 5-6 months from April through September to take off to do this. Possible? Yes. Probable? I don’t know. I also wish to do some long-distance bicycling in the near future. There is a bicycle route (called the Sierra Cascades route) that roughly parallels the PCT, which I would do first, and have already talked my kid brother into doing it with me. After that, we’ll have to see if I still have the flame for grand adventures. Let me know if you are interested in joining me!
The Pacific Crest Trail, by William Gray with the National Geographic Society, published in 1975 ★★
This book was read by me mostly out of historical interest in the trail. It was written when the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) was still under development, and many sections of the trail had not been fully carved out. I believe that the entire trail happens to now be intact, and often different from where Gray hiked. From reading the book, it sounds like he did not do a “thru-hike”, that is, a solid hike from Mexico to Canada, but hiked in sections, mostly to glean photographs and stories for the National Geographic Society. He also engages about ¾ of the book in detailing character sketches of people he met on of the trail, or in proximity to the trail. Thus, it fails as a description of the PCT itself, but is typical of the writing and journalism that one would find with National Geographic Society publications. It’s cute to see that the people in the photos are all typical for 1970’s hippies.
Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook 2016-2017, by Yogi (aka Jackie McDonnell) ★★★★★
This is the best book that I’ve read so far on the PCT, and is much a reference book (the entire last half of the book is intended to be torn out of the book to be taken with you on the hike) as it is a how-to book and book detailing what to expect on the trail. Yogi (her trail name) includes comments from other thru-hikers regarding how they did the PCT. Yogi covers diverse actions as to what to carry in your backpack, what to wear, how to do camp, how to plan, how to resupply, and how to stay out of trouble. Because she includes comments from other hikers, you realize that there will be no one set way to do the PCT. Most importantly, one learns what NOT to do, like overpack, under hydrate, or not be prepared. She writes well, and seems more connected than any of the other PCT advice books that I’ve seen. The reference section is absolutely invaluable, and is exactly what one needs to know. As an example, she has rough maps of the resupply towns, so that one doesn’t need to wander aimlessly to find where the local hotel, restaurant or grocery store might be located. Reading the book is almost like having Yogi actually there, giving you advice about how you might survive and succeed on your first thru-hike. Long-distance through-hiking has a completely different style than a 2-14 day backpacking trip, including what you eat, how you camp, and how you treat yourself. Yogi gives great advice on these differences, and how to have a comfortable and good time while doing that. Hopefully, I will meet Yogi on the PCT. She’s a real inspiration to get out there and just do it!
Trail Tested, A thru-hiker’s Guide to Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking, by Justin Lichter ★★★★
This book is very similar to a book I reviewed in 2013 by Andrew Skurka on ultralight backpacking. Similar to Skurka, Lichter is a “professional” hiker, i.e., he seems to spend more time hiking than working at a “job”, and has thru-hiked the Triple Crown (Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and PCT) with repeats of those listed, as well as other long distance hikes, foreign and domestic. Justin (Trail name “Trauma”) details style of thru-hiking, as well as offering equipment recommendations. Many of these recommendations seem to have a sponsor influence, but at least he lets you know that. The book is well written and well illustrated, with many personal anecdotes. I acquired it as a package deal from Yogi.
Ultralight Survival Kit, by Justin Lichter ★★★
This book repeated much of what was in the book Trail Tested. It is a small, short book on many of the problems and dangers one can encounter on the trail, and how to deal with them. Hopefully, one is moderately aware of everything in this book before they set out alone on the trail, as I’ve encountered many of the issues that this book brings up. If you own Trail Tested, this book is mildly superfluous. It was also part of the package deal from Yogi.

Four Views of the Historical Adam

Four Views on The Historical Adam; edited by Caneday, Barrett and Gundry; contributors Lamereux, Walton, Collins, Barrick, Boyd, and Ryken ★★★ Read on the iPad Kindle app.
This book addresses the issue as to whether there actually two real people, Adam and Eve, that once existed, were the very first human beings, and were responsible for producing the entire human race. Four views are provided, though, in reality, there were only two views, one being that there was not, and one being that there was a historical Adam. Two variants of that belief structure were discussed. Those that argued against a historical Adam held to theistic evolution in several different forms, and those who argued for a historical Adam held to either an old earth or young earth creationism. I read the book with the stance of old-earth creationist, and this book did nothing to either supplement nor dissuade my concept of what I take the Bible and science to be really saying, save to reinforce my thinking that theistic evolution is definitely on the wrong track. Though I personally know one of the contributors (C John “Jack” Collins), I’ve never discussed this topic with him, and so doubt the acquaintance influenced my personal belief structure (he took the stance of a real Adam in an old-earth creationist scheme).  The book has one fatal flaw, in that one’s belief regarding creation/evolution tends to influence one’s belief regarding Adam, and the two issues cannot be separated. Thus, the issue of creation/evolution is a primary issue, with the issue of Adam being secondary to one’s creation belief. It is impossible to separate the two, and so the book is as much an argument for a view of creation as a view of Adam’s existence.
Rather than to detail arguments for each position, I’d like to simply pick out a few high points and then offer my personal reflections. Lamereux was the first discussant, taking a view that there was no historical Adam, and providing an evolutionary creation view. Lamereux is desperate to persuade the reader that he indeed remains a devout “evangelical” Christian by starting with a lengthy recounting of his conversion and orthodox beliefs. Oddly, he is deeply offended by remote suggestion from the young earth creationist (Barrick) about the validity of his Christian faith, ending his rejoinder with some a off-handed and inappropriate response to Barrick. He seemed to be behaving like Shirley McClaine at the Oscars, desperate for others to show their approval of her performances by commenting how much some people really loved her. Collins was a delightful read, though he perhaps spends too much time trying to find contemporary movie quotes to drive his points home – they are entertaining and effective all the same. I am a little bit puzzled at everybody’s response to the young earther for not being “scientific” enough. Barrick approached the issue of Adam from a nearly strict biblical perspective, and why would somebody complain about that?
The last two contributors, Boyd and Ryken, provided a “pastoral” perspective of the issue, Boyd arguing that it really doesn’t matter, and Ryken arguing that is really DOES matter what we believe about Adam. These comments were probably unnecessary and did not contribute to the value of the book.
Reflections on the book
I read this book at a scientist (PhD in cell biology [Anatomy]) and a Christian, and only peripherally interested in the creation/evolution debates. From reading the reviews of this book, it seems that most reviewers did not change from pre-existing stances regarding this book. The quality of the discussion was measured by how vigorously a discussant agreed with the reviewer’s existing beliefs. As mentioned before,  I find it strange that Barrick came under fire for choosing to offer a solid biblical (though perhaps wrong) argument, without offering a biblical/exegetical rebuttal. This suggests to me that the fundamental problem is not the issue of who could make the best logical argument, but rather, whether the readers have all lost faith in the preeminence of Scripture as the only sure authority in life. Several contributors seemed to regard the scientific concordists as synonymous with morons and buffoons, using it as a derogatory insult if perhaps somebody actually had the naive notion that the bible lacked scientific error (i.e., that passages that had “scientific error” were automatically designated as “poetic” in genre and thus to not be taken literally).
As a scientist, I love science, and had great delight in working in a laboratory, and extracting new truths from the world. I have nothing against science, but never allowed science to trump Scripture. Science was always viewed through “scripture” colored lenses. My work in science also demonstrated how unreliable science can be. I am deeply troubled by how both Lamereux and Walton demonstrate a stronger, more unwavering faith in the scientific methodology than in Scripture itself. They express lofty confidence in the same science that I consider dismally weak. If my PhD thesis were based on the same strength of argument and evidence as most evolutionary theory, it would have been summarily rejected. Lamereux’s conversion to evolutionism seems to have equal eminence to his conversion to faith in Christ.
Schlossberg (Idols for Destruction) has noted that the greatest enemies of the church have come from within the church, by its own members. Thus, a testimony of faith in Christ only makes me a touch wary when the Christian seems to be talking biblical nonsense. I have heard and met Francis Collins at serious medical conferences, delighted in his scientific talks, and appreciated his witness for Christ, yet remain concerned as to how the BioLogos evolutionary theology concept is destroying the church. Two of the book editors quoted J.G. Machen in the opening preface. They did not mention that Machen was at one time a student at Tübingen in Wittenberg, Germany, and nearly persuaded to convert to liberal theology through the pious behavior of the extremely devout professors at the university. Devout they were, but their teaching has destroyed much of the church, and forced Machen to develop his stance against the theological liberalism of Germany. I suspect that (to my dismay)  theistic evolution will eventually gain a stronger stance in Christian circles, and the 21st century scientific believers will have completed the destruction of Scripture as begun by the redaction critics of Tübigen.
There are controversies within the realm of the strict Biblicists, and I’m not saying that all is totally clear. Was a flood a flood that involved the known world, or did it involve the entire earth? What exactly was the tower of Babel and what happened there? What was the time frame for the diversity of languages in the tower pericope? Were the days of Genesis “God days” or 24 hour periods (I prefer the God-day reading, based on Augustine’s argument for a philosophy of time that explains this [see Paul Helm Eternal God for a discussion of this issue]). There are many issues of controversy where the Hebrew or Greek isn’t perfectly clear, and I defer to the language scholars for a most plausible explanation, so long as the arguments remain Biblical in their substance.
Boyd foolishly argues that one does not need to believe in Adam to be saved. Nobody will disagree with that. Yet, he doesn’t offer what   fundamental quantity or quality of belief is required to be saved. To believe in Christ is to believe in his Word, and to trash Scripture is to then believe in a non-Scriptural christ that doesn’t exist. I can’t define where the edge of the cliff is which defines the dividing point of orthodoxy from heresy, and can only encourage Christians not to tempt the edge of the cliff by challenging the ultimate authority of Scripture. To not believe in Adam makes the garden pericope and fall pericope to be a fanciful fiction on the order of reading the Gilgamesh epic, which in turn makes it logically impossible to explain the need for “salvation” and for a “god-man” to die for man.
Lamereux does not express logical conclusions that could come from forcing “scientific” conformity to the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I have seen the argument that since God  MUST remain faithful to his own created laws of creation, that he would never interfere with the evolutionary process, or any other natural process that occurs in the created universe. This means that miracles (as we would call them) in Scripture could not have happened. So, how did things in Scripture occur? God used space aliens with advanced scientific knowledge to cause the so-called “miracles”. Even the virgin birth of Christ was a result of space aliens, who abducted Mary, harvested her DNA and excised the “sin-gene”, then impregnating Mary to create the Christ. If you are laughing your head off right now as to such preposterous claims, you might wish to wake up and realize that such claims are MORE believable than the Francis Collins Biologos theistic evolution claims. Once God (and his word, as found in Scripture) are demoted, and science and the “laws of nature” given preeminence, then many claims, regardless of their outlandish nature, acquire credibility. To this end is where I fear the 21st century church is going.

The Greatest Comeback

The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority, by Patrick Buchanan ★★★★
This is a delightful book to read, providing the reader with an inside view on the workings of politics in the circle of the presidency. Patrick Buchanan could provide that for Richard Nixon when he ran for president a second time in 1968, as Pat was one of the principle speechwriters and policy setters for Nixon during his campaign that led him to the White house in 1968. One gets the feel for the internal in-fighting among each of the two parties, and strategies that Nixon took to lead to his victorious campaign for the presidency. Principle tactics included taking great pains to  bring unity to the Republican party, avoid the radical fringes of the party, but to never ever bad mouth or speak thoughtlessly of other members of the Republican party. Pat provides a description of Nixon that is much different from that of the press, and even that of Chuck Colson in the books he wrote about his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Nixon, though occasionally moody, tended to be thoughtful, conciliatory, eager to seek and take advice from both his close confidants as well as liberals that he disagreed with. Patrick is a touch self-serving, in that he was probably as responsible as anybody for Nixon’s ultimate success. Contrary to the belief of some, there is not painted an internal conspiracy that pulled Nixon into the presidency, that is, unless Buchanan was lying through his teeth in this book. I trust Buchanan as having a high level of integrity, though perhaps unaware of the internal machinery that ultimately drives this country. At the very end of the book, Patrick Buchanan suggests that a sequel is in the works that details his knowledge of the ultimate downfall of Nixon—I will greet it with even more interest than this book.

County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital

County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital, by David Ansell ★★
David Ansell offers his personal reflections as a resident and then junior attending in internal medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. This book was to complement another recent read by Dr. Guinan et. al. titled The History of Surgery at Cook County Hospital. Having been a resident in surgery at CCH from 1982 to 1989, this book was of great interest to me. I do not recall ever having encountered Dr. Ansell, but there was minimal contact between the surgical and internal medicine residents at the County. Part of the reason for that was the highly inconsistent care that our patients received under the internists at CCH, necessitating that we as surgeons care for most diseases that would usually fall in the realm of needing an internist.
I have very mixed feelings about this book. I appreciated DR. Ansell’s candor and honesty, which was not always seen in the History of Surgery. Ansell was willing to speak at length about the wantonly corrupt Chicago politics and how CCH was considered by the politicians as a nuisance rather than a necessity for the county. He spoke at length about a system completely overwhelmed, and yet ignored by the powers in public office. He gives a nice feel about the frustrations of a doctor in that system trying to do the best to provide for the patients that come under his care.
Unfortunately, Ansell is over-burdened by his ideology, and this has controlled his behavior as a CCH physician to an extreme degree. Ansell is at least honest about how his was a public agitator, and often acted against his superiors to promote his vision of “the good”. Yet, he remains completely blind to how his personal politics and behaviors have perhaps made matters worse rather than better for the poor of Cook County. He labors hard to expose the corrupt Democratic machine that runs Chicago, yet offers no alternative to that Democratic machine, speaking very demeaningly of the other political party. His oft repeated delusion that “health care is a right” (i.e., and not a privilege) suggests that Ansell will not be happy until at health care in the US is reduced to the quality found at CCH, so that there is an equalization of care among the “rich” and the “poor”. I’m sure that even then Ansell would be a dis-satisfied character.
I was particularly annoyed when Ansell spoke so disparagingly of my mentor, Dr. G. Dr. G. happened to be Bangladeshi in origin, probably one of the finest surgeons I had ever met in my life, and a role model of acting in a thoughtful and non-discriminatory manner. The entire episode of his interaction with Dr. G. suggests to me that Ansell was more a blind ideologue than a brilliant innovator. This is not unusual for the Chicago system, and we are now having to suffer under a community activist but now national Führer from this same corrupt Chicago  system.
That Ansell now sits on the Cook Country Board for the hospital is testimony that Stroger Hospital will be the same failure that its predecessor was.  I wish that Ansell could spend a lengthy amount of time working in a truly destitute health care system, such as I have done in Extrem Nord Cameroon or in Bangladesh, to see that a bleeding heart doesn’t solve the problem of disparity in health care. Ingenuity does allow for solutions that Ansell (and for the most part, the entire American health care system) will not allow. This has nothing to do with financial reasons, but rather for legal, sociological, political and ideological obstructions to providing for the poor.
I’ll mention just one example. Ansell heavily criticizes the large open wards that once were at Cook County Hospital. I’ve never had a patient complain about that, and we as physicians would work hard to preserve the privacy of our patients. Yet, the large ward allowed a nurse to quickly assess in a few glances if everything was ok. I would frequently ask a patient to watch out for the patient in the bed next to them if they were doing poorly, and to report that immediately to the nurse. A little care was able to prevent the spread of infection from one patient to another. The total cost of care was vastly less for the same quality as the private rooms that we now have throughout the US.
I read this book a bit frustrated and with great disappointment–Ansell seemed to care for the indigent patient of CCH, but allowed his personal ideology and obnoxious behavior to dominate his stay at the County. For that reason, this book would  be most fittingly titled “Clueless at County”.

A History of Surgery at Cook County Hospital

A History of Surgery at Cook County Hospital, edited by Patrick Guinan, Kenneth Printen, James Stone, and James Yao ★★★
This book was of great interest to me, since I did my residency at Cook County Hospital during the years 1982 -1989. At that time, we were never given much of a history of the place. There was the operating amphitheater which was being used as a large storage area. There was Karl Meyer Hall, which was rarely used except as a place to grab some food at the 1st floor cafeteria, as we usually slept in unused beds at the hospital when on call. There was Karl Meyer’s residence, which was then being used as the trauma office. We were never really told much about Karl Meyer, or how Cook County Hospital created so many legends. Thus, I found the book of great interest, and since I prefer to read books on my iPad, that is how I purchased the book. I have mixed feelings about the book.
First, the book was exceptionally poorly edited. Spelling errors and other errors were everywhere. The organization of the book created multiple repetitions, and a clear linear timeline of history of CCH was never well developed. The most early history, being that before the 1915-2002 building was erected, are sketchy at best, and not well laid out. I don’t get a good feeling as to how surgery developed in Chicago, and since Cook County Hospital was so dependent on the rise and development of Northwestern, Rush, University of Illinois, and Loyola University, the history of those residency programs should have been better described. The book is written in a manner that if one never set foot in CCH, they would have no clue as to what was being talked about–the book’s value is primarily for former surgery residents of CCH.  I get the feeling that the book was haphazardly slopped together without much thought for the potential audience.
Secondly, I was left with the feeling that surgery training at CCH was rather haphazard and chaotic, that instruction came mostly from the chief resident, and that attendings were not often present, owing to the voluntary nature of the surgical leadership. To some extent, that actually was my experience at CCH, with a mixture of absolutely superb attendings (such as Dr. Abcarian and Dr. Jonasson) and absolutely horrid, possibly even incompetent attendings, whose names will go unmentioned, though some were mentioned with praise in the book. The attitude of the residents at the time of my residency was of pompous arrogance that the CCH residency in surgery was the greatest in the world, and  that it was one of the few that truly produced consistently great surgeons. I didn’t see that at all. Perhaps the punishment of the system led some residents into a minor form of Stockholm Syndrome, where the abused become attached and fall in love with the tormentor. This book hints at such a possibility. Unintentionally, the book does more to disparage the training one received at CCH rather than compliment it.
Thirdly, there were many historical inaccuracies (or, perhaps, incomplete truths) in the book, at least related to the years that I was a resident. The real reason for Dr. Baker’s departure goes (and should go) unmentioned. The cause for Dr. Jonasson’s departure was greatly misrepresented, since she was fired by the Cook County Board, as we were told at the time. I’m left wondering about the real cause for Freeark’s departure, since he never again set foot in CCH. The editors chose political correctness, rather than indicting the most politically corrupt city & county government in the United States for poor management of their hospital. The “dirty laundry” of Cook County Hospital was swept under the rug, leaving us only half a history of the place. Other details were minor errors. For instance,  I remember some of the windows of the operating room still being able to be opened, and battling flies in the operating room. (Even in the 1980’s, we still occasionally used the windows at X-Ray view boxes and as air-conditioning units!) There is a mention of contending with the AIDs problem in the 1970’s, yet it wasn’t until 1987 that we knew enough about the HIV epidemic to take any actions, such as actually wearing gloves in the trauma unit when doing procedures.
Fourth, there was much history that was glossed over. What about the county jail on the 8th floor of the A building? How did the A building come to be? How did the Fantus Clinic emerge to the place and character that it was throughout the 1970’s – 1990’s? Could one have elaborated more on Karl Meyer and his living arrangement in the hospital? Surely there were anecdotes about the highly quirky elevator operators and other employees of the hospital that formed a special characteristic of the place. Many people with great histories were glossed over, such as Dr. Lowe in trauma, and way-too-short  histories of certain individuals such as Dr. Abcarian, Dr. Walter Barker in thoracic surgery and Dr. Jonasson, all true giants in the world of surgery.
There was much good in the book that made it enjoyable to read. I appreciated the elaboration of the development of various departments of the hospital. Most relevant were the development of the trauma unit and blood bank, both being nation’s first. Having worked in many of the departments mentioned, such as the orthopedic, colon rectal, thoracic, pediatric, and burn services, I would have appreciated having a better understanding of the history of the department when I was still a resident. Thirty years later, it is still fascinating to read about how these departments came to be.
The personal stories at the end of the book were a total delight. These stories and vignettes of the old County hospital make for the best memories. When I started surgical residency, one of my first encounters was with Dr. Robert S., who had just graduated from the County residency, and was then doing a fellowship in Cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Illinois. He would spend countless hours with me, relating stories of the Greeks, of cases that he had done, and how things worked at CCH. I am sure that virtually every resident that graduated from CCH has a book full of stories, myself included, of unusual and interesting events that transpired while serving at CCH. For me, there were stories in the ER dealing with drug addicts and prostitutes, the trauma unit with famous (infamous) criminals, with survival tactics while working the floor or taking call, with various quirks of attendings (both good and bad), and with living an experience that nobody could ever repeat at this time, since there is no more CCH.
It was with great sadness that I learned that the old hospital was removed and a new, much smaller facility was built in its place. Many of the buildings needed to be removed or were completely obsolete, such as the nursing building and Karl Meyer hall, as well as the Children’s hospital and the “A” building. The Children’s hospital also held the burn unit, and was so run down during my time as a resident, that it was downright spooky to go into. The only thing good about that building were the elevators, which were fun to ride. But, it is only fitting that the new hospital be named Stroger Hospital, as it is no longer Cook County Hospital. Cook County Hospital has died, and a new beast has arisen in its place. It is unlikely that Stroger Hospital will generate any surgical giants, save for total happenstance. Thus, I am delighted that a history of the old Cook County Hospital, written by those that had a long experience with the place, has been produced. For all its faults, this is still a history worth reading by those who have spent a few years of their life within those halls.

Advice from Two Brass Players

Prelude to Brass Playing, by Rafael Méndez ★★★★★
Brass Playing is No Harder than Deep Breathing, by Claude Gordon ★★★★
These two books are very similar, in that they are written by the best of the best trumpeters of yesterday, offering advice to young (and older) students regarding improving their playing. Such topics as care of the horn, warming up, practice style, developing breath, developing embouchure and tone, increasing one’s range and speed are all covered. Mendez writes as though he was speaking directly to you, covers advice for the very young beginning trumpet player and their parents, and is more thorough than Gordon’s text on the nuances and discipline of trumpet playing. Both are worthwhile reads for trumpet players of any experience.

Bach Among the Theologians

Bach Among the Theologians, by Jaroslav Pelikan ★★★★★
This book explores the theology of Bach, written by an eminent conservative Lutheran theologian who taught church history at Yale University. It is a delightful easy read. JS Bach, while known as indubitably and unquestionably as the greatest composer to ever have walked terra firma, also had an interesting theological side to him. Bach was known to have an exceptionally large library of theological texts, and most of his texts were heavily annotated by him, as seen as column notes in all of his books in his own handwriting. An analysis of his musical output demonstrates that this interest in theology had a highly significant impact on the music that he wrote. In particular, Bach was caught in Germany during the struggles of Pietism (centered in Halle, not far from Leipzig), and the Aufklärung (Enlightenment) mentality. Pietism sought for a strong personal religion without the public sphere and without “fancy” music, which Bach strongly opposed, while in conjunct with the Pietists, pleaded in his music for a strong personal relationship with God. Contrary to the Aufklärung, which sought to “de-mythologize” the Scripture, Bach sought through his music to emphasize the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith in opposition to Aufklärung thinking. Thus, Pelikan would call each cantata of Bach also a sermon in music by Bach.
Pelikan provides marvelous insights into the theological culture of Bach’s time, and shows how Bach confronted culture with his music. Much of the second half of the book details Bach’s thinking in the two existing Passions and the H-moll Messe. With the H-moll Messe (B-minor mass), Pelikan shows how Bach thoroughly “Lutheran-izes” the mass, making it a more Catholic mass than just the confines of the Roman Catholic church. Pelikan’s final discussions counter a contemporary move to make Bach an essentially secular thinker, highlighting the much smaller volume of Bach’s secular works. Even here, Pelikan is able to show that Bach is thinking sacred in his secular music, and that it is impossible to strip Bach of a religious, theological context.
This book is a must read for anybody that enjoys Bach and delights in vast array of music that he produced. It also gives one a greater interest in not only listening to the cantatas, but following along the words of the cantatas to hear the “sermon” that Bach is preaching through music.

Andersen’s Märchen

Andersens Märchen, by HC Andersen ★★★
Continuing my relatively passive exposure to the German language, I read a German translation of Andersen’s Fairytales. This was supposedly a fairly complete version of Andersen’s works, and so was rather long. Though this edition was translated about 100 years ago, it contains a number of archaic words for which the book occasionally provided translations. There were many fairy tales that were familiar to me, like the Ugly Duckling, and the Little Mermaid. The little mermaid story has only a passing resemblance to the Walt Disney version of the story. Many of the stories were a touch wearisome, being somewhat unimaginative. Andersen loved to put a brain and animus into common plants and objects and would lead you through the adventures of their existence. So you follow the events that occur with a tin soldier, some plants like a fir tree, and various other objects. The book was wonderful reading, considering that it was not too complex of language for learning German.
Next on my German reading list is the 1001 nights or Arabian Nights. Already, it reads a little smoother than Andersens Märchen, even though most of the stories I’m not at all familiar with.

Life Is a Wheel

Life is a Wheel, by Bruce Weber ★★★
This book was given to me by my brother Gaylon in order to inspire us to bicycle across the USA someday (soon?).  Bruce Weber is a journalist for the NY Times, and spends most of his time writing the obituaries. He rode his bicycle across the USA in 1993 as a much younger kid, and now at age 58 has determined to attempt the task again. This time, he will be frequently visited by NY Times personnel to document his trip, and blow-by-blow accounts will be published in the Times.
He takes off from Astoria, riding south, then through the Columbia River valley, up through the Palouse, across Idaho, across Glacier National Park and then northern Montana and North Dakota, descending in Minnesota and Wisconsin into Chicago, boats across Lake Michigan, and rides through Michigan down into Indiana and Ohio, slowly weaving his way back to home in New York City.
This book has some strong merit. It definitely put the bug in me to do a Trans-America bicycle trip. He relates that as a limited cyclist, he was able to survive nicely during his three months on a bike on the road.
There is more that I disliked about the book than liked.
1. His choice of routes was often very strange, and much different from what I would have done. He spent much time backtracking and traveling in very uninteresting environments. The object of cycling is not to see if you could possibly put yourself to sleep while riding a bicycle.
2. I could tell within the first few pages that Weber was Jewish. I felt like I was reading a bicycling counterpart to Woody Allen, who constantly “somatacized” his problems, and used a shrink in order to resolve those matters. Bruce writes about his health and mental problems almost with a sense of indifference, which is liked by New Yorkers but deeply disliked by me.
3. The diversions from the bicycle-riding story were deeply annoying. I didn’t care to spend a whole chapter on his good friend that just died. I wasn’t interested in two chapters of a stupid ride in Viet Nam. I didn’t care about learning in-depth details of mother and father, which didn’t seem to relate at all to the bicycle riding experience. Fortunately, Weber avoids politics for the most part,  but can’t help but suggest that he is a flaming (and clueless) liberal.
The bottom line is that Weber has provided additional motivation for me to ride across the USA. He has also instructed me to avoid many of the paths that he has taken. He is not a person that I would wish to take a long trip with, or for that matter, even to become a close friend with him. I’m sure he feels the same way about me. Perhaps the book should have been titled “Life is all about me on a wheel”.

The Space Trilogy

The Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) by C. S. Lewis ★★★
This set of books was read on my iPad. Each book stands distinct from the other two but needs to be read in the order noted in order to make sense. Generally, I tend to give C. S. Lewis a 5-star rating for everything he writes. There is also a 5-star quality to much of what is contained within these stories, but the quality just doesn’t approximate what C.S. Lewis does elsewhere. In brief, Out of the Silent Planet is the most enjoyable read, and contains the most storytelling. In this book, the lead character who is found in all three stories, Ransom, is kidnapped by two academic types who figure out how to make a spaceship to fly to Mars. On Mars, Ransom escapes the grasp of the two kidnappers, and encounter many alien types until he finally encounters the answer as to why he was brought to Mars. Mars is a world where the creatures have not experienced the “fall” as Adam and Eve did on earth. Perelandra is the story of Ransom now traveling to Venus, only to encounter one of the two kidnappers from Mars. he also encounters a very distinctly different female, in what amounts to be a pre-fall Adam and Eve story, with the kidnapper as the satanic tempter. In the end, Ransom kills the professorial colleague and saves the planet. Throughout the first two books, Lewis would make lengthy divergences from the story to allow dialogue of a philosophical nature to transpire. Oftentimes, it is just not fitting, such as at the end of Perelandra. That Hideous Strength is over twice as long as the other two books and is a story about an academic center in England that sells itself out to outside concerns (N.I.C.E.) and eventually degenerates into auto-destruct mode. This is probably the story closest to reality, in that it seems to be exactly what is occurring today in academia. I’m sure Lewis was writing from personal experience, but turning the experience into a science fiction tale in order to point fingers at academia while not directing the criticism to any particular person or institution. This book was also the hardest to read, as it starts very slowly, and if you haven’t read it before, have a hard time determining where the story is leading you.
The philosophic statements in the three books are profound and make this trilogy a worthy read.  Lewis is especially hard on academia, but rightfully so, as he was able to predict where academia was heading and identify the driving factors that cause academia to fail in its mission.