Friday, February 5, 2016

Books 2, 3 and 4

It's euphemistically called "the creeping crud" and I got it in the middle of January. I thought it was just allergies; that all the new construction and paint in the office was finally getting to me. Hence, I treated it like an allergy. Yeah, well, about that...

It was nothing more than a heavy cold. Well, a heavy cold that knocked me out for a week. The great thing, if there is such a thing with a cold, is that it's conducive to reading. I can't breathe through my nose. I'm exhausted so I'll take a quick nap that devolves into a 3-4 hour sleep. That means, I'm wide awake at 2 a.m., glaring at the alarm clock. Oh well. Get out of bed, settle into the recliner and pick up my latest Discworld book. 

I finished the first 4 in January. Now, before you say, "Whoa, that's a lot of reading", understand that Discworld books are wonderfully quick reads. There are underlying meanings and commentaries, if you choose to look for them. Otherwise, they are whoppin' good yarns. Pratchett is great at telling stories and, superficially, you can knock off one of his books in 3-4 days, a week tops. The other thing you should know, I've read all of these before, not in order, other than the first two, but over the course of years, I've read them. I don't always remember them but I have read them because they were in the basement, in the stack. So, a second read goes a bit faster than a first read. 

This is the second book of the introduction to the Discworld. The first book ends in somewhat of a cliffhanger. You wonder what will happen to Rincewind, Twoflower and the Luggage. The book takes a bit of love to get into. It could be read as a stand alone book, but, in reality, 80% of the story comes from "The Colour of Magic", so I recommend you read that first. There are more topical references in this book than in "Colour of Magic", so someone looking for the Pratchett wit won't be disappointed. I thought it might not be as quotable, but, once it gets going, the quotable parts come fast and furious. "It is said that the opposite of noise is silence. This isn't true. Silence is only the absence of noise." "...darkness isn't the opposite of light, it is simply its absence."

The metaphorical Pratchett makes its first appearance here. Read those quotes. The opposite of [insert word] is its absence. I remember, when I was a junior in high school, we took a two week family vacation, which was a drive through the mid-south, following, sort of, the meander of the Mississippi River to the gulf. One of our stops was Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. There were a number of tours of the cave you could take. We took one which was 90 minutes underground. I remember, at one point, the ranger said, "Now, we're going to ask you to sit here (indicating a seating area) and we're going to turn off our lanterns and I'd like to ask you to be completely still for two minutes. I have a timer so you'll know when 2 minutes is up. Trust me. That will seem like an eternity." When Pratchett says the opposite is absence, that's what I remember. The black dark; total absence of light. It was creepy. Add to that, no noise. Where we were didn't have any water in it, although there are places in the cave which have running or dripping water. 

I remember the eerie silence. We sat there for 2 minutes and it did feel like an eternity. You started to hear your breathing and your heart beating. I think, as humans, we crave light and noise. Even now, quiet, for me, includes hearing Pilchard snore, or the tapping of computer keys or the crimple of the page of a book as it's turned. We could not live without light and sound. 

This is the third book. There are a lot of characters on the Discworld and Pratchett introduced them in a higgledy-piggledy fashion. I'm focused on reading the books in chronological order, which is far different, other than books 1 and 2, to how they were written. It might be fun, in 5 year's time, to read these in the order they were written, to see how that compares to the chronology. 

This book introduces Esme (Granny) Weatherwax, one of the more colorful characters on the Disc. I like her in later books where she is a character, but, in rereading this book, I don't like her here. The book attempts to lampoon the idea that there is "women's work" and "men's work". Women can't be wizards and men can't be witches, "...because of the lore". It's a feeble excuse and this is meant to highlight how limitations in what men and women can do are silly. 

Granny's purpose is to come to grips with the idea that Esk, the other female character in the book, can be a wizard because she's the 7th child of a 7th son. Technically, the 7th child should be a boy so when the wizard staff is given to the baby, the wizard magic is passed to a male. But that doesn't work out. Granny struggles against convention and, eventually, comes to see that Esk's training needs to be in wizarding and so she has to go where no woman has gone before; Unseen University and wizard training. The problem is how this message is transmitted. 

Granny comes across as a bully. When she's not mildly bullying Esk, she's openly bullying the adults she meets. This is, perhaps, meant to say that her age and wisdom give her an advantage to know that her opinion is the right one, if they would just go along with it without question. But, I felt, many times during the book, uncomfortable with how she was portrayed. She's generally, though not always, right, but this is depicted as only because she glares at people and makes them uncomfortable. That's not depth of character so much as bullying. I didn't see that the first reading through. I'm fairly certain she evens out in temperament in later books so I'm treating this as an introductory story where the character is here and let's see what other adventures she can have later. I don't remember if I've read of Esk after this book. I'm hopeful she will be further developed. I don't remember if she was successful in her studies. 

Finally, I finished this one on Sunday. It takes a bit for this tale to get going. A full 2/3rds of the book is setting up the last 1/3rd which sucks you in and makes you want to keep going, even though it's way past your bed time. 

The personality that is DEATH, i.e. "Mort", a pun of which everyone in the book seems to be aware, is more fully explained, but, again, I don't like him nearly as much in this book as in later books. I think DEATH was meant to be a major character all along but getting him to a point of continuity would be bumpy. 

The actual ending of the book, the last 3-4 pages, feels jerky. I didn't like the segue from the real climax to the end. Too much was left unsaid, unfinished and I don't think it ever gets tied up. In a way, it felt as if Pratchett had created a conflict he couldn't quite resolve in the direction the ending was going. Essentially, DEATH takes an apprentice and the story revolves around the growth of that apprentice into the job and DEATH's foray into the world of the living to figure out why we like life. 

Two characters of note show up; Rincewind, of the first two books, and Albert, DEATH's manservant. Albert becomes important again in a later book and I'd forgotten his backstory. Rincewind, however, feels like an afterthought. The person he is could have been named "Bob" and it would not have changed the story. And how Rincewind got to the position he's in is never explained and that, I feel, is a big oversight. Maybe it will come later, I don't know. Rincewind kind of disappears from the series, if I remember correctly. 

This isn't as much of a quotable Pratchett as his other books are. The musing on mortality, given Pratchett's death last year, was poignant. "Reality is not always what it seems," is probably the best. The book deals heavily with what is and is not real and how one person can change reality. Still this is worth picking up for a long plane ride. It will have you wondering, as DEATH does, "WHY IS THERE A CHERRY ON A STICK IN THIS DRINK. IT'S NOT AS IF IT DOES ANYTHING FOR THE FLAVOR. WHY DOES ANYONE TAKE A PERFECTLY GOOD DRINK AND THEN PUT A CHERRY ON A POLE?" (DEATH's name is always capitalized and everything he says is capitalized.) My friend, Pam, does not like maraschino cherries. I don't think I knew that when I read this book the first time. When I encountered this quote this time, I laughed so hard. She agreed with DEATH's sentiment. 

I'm about a third of the way through book #5, "Sourcery". It contains my all-time favorite Pratchett quote, but I'll leave that for the review. So, this is math, but, if I've done my math correctly, I'm reading #5 and there are 40-ish total books, so I'm 1/8th of the way through the series? That doesn't sound so intimidating. When this task is looked at as, there are 40 books and I've read 4 which means there are 36 more to go, it feels like I won't make it. I'm going to do this. This is my goal for 2016. 

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


Speaking of 16

The actual date was January 10th. It was a Sunday. The night before, we'd had our office holiday party. With the move and Gene expecting his first child in December, we decided it just wasn't prudent to have a holiday party that month. Gene's daughter was born a month early but we were so busy in December, that, as we sat around the table in the restaurant, we were very, very glad we hadn't tried to shoehorn an evening meal in on a Saturday night in December.

I happened to mention I was coming up on my work anniversary and was thinking of bringing food in. It kind of went over people's heads in the noise of the restaurant so I decided to just do it, rather than solicit what they might like. I went to Panera and got a dozen bagels.

*GASP! I know what you're thinking. This is not Dunkin Donuts. I thought about it, but, in the past, when I've brought in donuts for meetings, not all of them have been eaten. I got cream cheese; regular and honey walnut. It turned out that Matt wasn't in the office at all on Monday, having had to go service a machine in the hinterlands. Mike was thrilled with bagels, "except we don't have a toaster. I always toast my bagel." Three bagels didn't get eaten on Monday. The next day, Matt was in the office and didn't have time to grab breakfast before coming in. "Deb brought bagels yesterday," Tara said. "There are still some left in the fridge." So Matt ate the last three. "Thanks Deb! You saved me!"

16 years. That's a long time.

Beverage:  Raspberry Seltzer


Framed-Part 1

In spite of the fact that I have more things up on my new office walls than anyone else, I still have quite a few things sitting around. I'm working on painting a poster frame red for the Fantasia poster. That will be done next week. I can only do a bit at a time because I have to spray the red on just a part of the frame owing the the acetone in the can. I do one side and call it quits. Then, I can smell patches of acetone wafting up from the basement. I was sick the one weekend this year when I could have done some spraying outside.

I also have to purchase more of those 3M nailless picture hangers. I really like those. I have had a couple prints up in the house for over 5 years now and they have not fallen. I bought hangers for the posters but I need more for the actual photos I intend to hang.

And then there was the need to get frames for some photos.

Part of the adventure of having a character breakfast at Disneyland or Walt Disney World is having your photo taken with whomever the character is your breakfast is tied to. For Ashley, Liz and I, our breakfasts were with Goofy and Ariel, the Little Mermaid.

Once you check in, you're shepherded to a holding area (Disney does holding areas very, very well.) where you wait for people in front of you to have their photo taken. Cast members ask, as you walk up, if there are phones or other cameras you want to use for photos. Then, as you eat, someone comes around with the photos and you can buy a package. Each one was $35 and we got enough photos for us to have our own PLUS a code we could use to purchase other sizes.

In late December, I took advantage of after Christmas sales and coupons and got a bunch of frames for a variety of photos. These two are for the Disney photos. There is an issue with the aqua frame. the cardboard holding the glass into the frame is stuck. I need to bring a utility knife home from work or bring the frame to the office (which is probably the better thing since these are going in the office, but, you know, remembering) and score the back to get it out. I can tape the back into the frame since I'm not going to want to remove the photo once it's in the frame. The frame is the perfect color.

These sit on the printer next to my home computer. I look at them and remember the fun. The Goofy breakfast was absolutely amazing. It was huge and there was so much great food available. The Ariel breakfast, while limited in food, had an amazing view and all these princesses came through to say hello. Ashley was thrilled and that made Liz and I happy. Yeah, they get you with the photos, but for an event like this, I'm willing to shell out a few bucks for a lovely memento.

Beverage:  Raspberry Seltzer


So You Don't Have to

While out and about in December, I stumbled across these.

For sure, you know they would jump off the hanger and into my cart. I'm very skeptical of things which say they are Dr Pepper flavored. Witness Lip Smackers Dr Pepper flavored lip balm. It smells okay, but the actual flavor is not real close. You do have to use your imagination a bit to find the flavor. Still, it's important that I conduct a taste test so you don't have to.

I opened the package and was immediately struck by the aroma of warm, stale Dr Pepper. Well, I guess that's something to be said for them. There was a Dr Pepper scent.

Typical licorice strands. They were dark, almost black. In a grouping with black licorice, it would be difficult to tell them apart, although the Dr Pepper ones had a more glossy sheen and were not the coal black you're used to in black licorice.

Taste? My initial impression was not wrong. They tasted like warm, stale Dr Pepper-tinged paper. I love cherry licorice. If you buy Twizzlers cherry or even Red Vines licorice, the cherry is an intrinsic part of the candy. In a way, it felt as if the Dr Pepper licorice had been produced without flavor and then someone got the bright idea to soak them in the soda or spray the soda onto strips of unflavored candy. The Dr Pepper was gone after a couple bites.

Now, it can be argued, rightly, that "licorice" is an anise-flavored confection and anything other than what we identify as "black" is not "licorice" in the truest sense of the word. I think we have embraced the word to define things in this above shape or in the bite size, which is really just the above shape cut into pieces. As such, this really isn't "licorice" so much as a candy trying to tie in with Dr Pepper or Dr Pepper trying to tie in with a candy. As a novelty, it was okay. If I found this bag on sale for a buck, I might be tempted, but at the regular price of $2.69, it's too pricey for what I got.

If you like Dr Pepper, as I do, it's worth it to try it. Beyond that, save your change and buy a case of the real thing, sit it out on your deck in the winter and enjoy it ice cold. Partially frozen is even better.

Beverage:  Raspberry Seltzer (I'm out of Dr Pepper.)