Look who’s caving

I shook my head when I saw the lede in a USA Today article in this morning’s local daily: “The Western world stood up against Islamic terrorism Wednesday after 12 people, including four cartoonists, were assassinated in the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo outside Paris.” Fact is, akin to Sony and the movie The Interview, a variety of media outlets are bowing to the terrorists.

Organizations such as the Associated Press, the New York Daily News, the New York Times and CNN censored cartoons from the French magazine. To justify this on grounds of respecting religion ignores the facts. Nothing in the Qur’an prohibits images of Muhammad. Any such prohibitions came from the hadith, a record compiled by followeres of what Mohammad said and did. But those statetments aren’t about Muhammad in particular. Rather, they prohibit all pictures of people or animals. Moreover, Muhammad has been depicted in Islamic art throughout the centuries.

As for people who would commit such barbarous acts because of a satirical cartoon, another cartoon sums it up well:


It is a media outlet’s decision to censor images that Charlie Hebdo fought so valiantly for that sends the message that satire, art, and freedom of speech are only so free.

April Siese, Bustle.com, Jan. 8, 2015

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Weekend Edition: 1-3

Bulletin Board

  • The new year brings a new page to the blog: Curmudgeon’s Gallery. It’s a collection of items I’ve come across that resonate with my peculiar, and at times admittedly warped, sense of humor and perspective. I will note whenever it is updated.

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

  • Readability Is a Myth (“[Left Behind] made me hate life and hope to be transported mid-sentence to another, better realm, somewhere in the sky, beyond this world of sin and hardship and pulp Christian kitsch.”)

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage

I love mankind — it’s people I can’t stand.

“Linus,” Peanuts, Nov. 9, 2006

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2014 books by the numbers

In evaluating my reading this year, a blanket would be a useful tool. One would cover virtually all the differences between my reading statistics last year and this. The only perhaps notable difference was that my fiction v. nonfiction statistics are almost exactly flipped from last year. For the second year in a row, two-thirds of the books I read were ebooks. I read six more books but my total pages increased by only 670. Here’s a breakdown of how the year shaped up. The statistics don’t include graphic novels (I read a handful) or audiobooks.

Books Read: 138

Pages Read: 42,231

  • Average Pages per Book: 306.02
  • Average Pages per Day: 116
  • Average Number of Days per Book: 2.64
  • Longest Book: 624 pages (The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell)
  • Shortest Book: 104 pages (Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis Gould)

Fiction: 75 (54 percent)

  • Translated Works: 22 (19 fiction and three nonfiction)
  • Languages: French (4), German (4), Arabic (2), Italian (2), Chinese (1), Czech (1), Danish (1), Dutch (1), Finnish (1), Hungarian (1), Japanese (1), Norwegian (1), Russian (1) and Swedish (1)
  • Science Fiction: 13
  • Short Story Collections: 4

Non-fiction: 63 (46 percent)

  • Autobiography/Memoirs: 8
  • Biography: 4
  • History: 14 (22 percent of nonfiction)

Ebooks Read: 91 (65.9 percent)

Library materials: 15 (only 10.8 percent) (includes ebooks)

Books astound me and change me. Books enlarge my life. Not all of them, of course. Some books suck. But there’s only one way to find out what a book has to offer: Read it.

Lauren Myracle, “I’m With The Banned

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Favorite novels of 2014

I read more fiction than nonfiction this year so discussion of my favorite books is going to be limited to novels. In putting the list together I discovered something interesting: three of the five are about war. Not only that, they don’t share conflicts. One is set in World War I, another in World War II and the third in Iraq. I’m not sure what this fortuity might indicate about my reading habits this year but it does seem unusual.

That doesn’t mean I was ignoring what else was out there. For the first time in recent memory, I read half of the 10 novels appearing most often on 10 reputable best of lists. Two appear below (only one about war). So, in alphabetical order, here’s my favorite novels published in 2014:

Fear: A Novel of World War I, Gabriel Chevalier — Because of the attention focused on the centenary of World War I, I read several novels about it this year. Chevalier’s book was the best of them. Originally published in 1930, this is the first time it’s appeared in the U.S. The autobiographical novel is narrated by Jean Dartemont, a 19-year-old French infantryman. It takes us from the frenzy of support when the war breaks out to the limited training soldiers received to the trenches to a hospital and then back to the trenches. Its graphic descriptions illuminate the fear, chaos and horror created by war.

Fives and Twenty-Fives, Michael Pitre — Pitre’s debut novel joinis the increasing number of excellent works of fiction about the Iraq war. Pitre served two tours with the Marines in Iraq. His book centers around a raod repair crew tasked with repairing potholes — all caused by IEDs and likely to have another one in it or nearby. The storyline traces the current lives of three alternating narrators — the young lieutenant in charge of the repair crew, its medic and its Iraqi interpreter — although the critical core is told in memories and flashbacks. This gives Pitre the ability to examine the war and its effects from three different standpoints and their interactions in common and individual experiences. (Phil Klay’s Redeployment, a collection of short stories by another Marine Iraq war veteran that won the National Book Award deserves an honorable mention. For me, Pitre just presents a more unified story.)

Love Songs of the Revolution, Bronwyn Mauldin — Without a doubt this was the most creative book of the year.
Although the story starts with Lithuanian painter Martynas Kudirka coming home to discover his wife stabbed to death, it immerses the reader in the freedom movements in Eastern Europe in 1989. If, as I almost did, you stop at the end of the story and don’t pursue the “Extras” that follow, this would probably be a three star book. Thankfully, I didn’t because the “Extras” have a singular, even baffling, impact. If you’re slow like me, it might even take a bit for astonishment to set in. (WARNING: DO NOT jump ahead to the Extras at any point. To truly appreciate the book’s innovation you must read it sequentially.)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan — Not only did this novel about prisoners of war building the Thailand-Burma railway in World War II (which is the setting for The Bridge on the River Kwai) hit almost every best of list, it won the Man Booker Prize. Of course, when someone can tell that story as part of a half century love story, you deserve kudos. Being Australian, it isn’t surprising the story is told from the standpoint of Australian prisoners of war. The main character, Dorrigo Evans, is an Australian doctor who is the ranking officer of the Australian prisoners. While the love story revolves around him, he also is one of several prisoners providing an at times stomach-turning view of the brutality and horrendous living conditions in the prison camp.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris — This is the book on the list that unquestionably isn’t for everyone. It’s the story of an atheist Manhattan dentist plunged into an existential and theological crisis when someone assumes his identity on social media. Although one of the first two American novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the book’s philosophical explorations and humor will resound best with certain mindsets and likely offend others. Since it’s appearing on my list, it isn’t hard to tell which group I’m in.

Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

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Weekend Edition: 12-27

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

  • The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin (“The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established.”)
  • The Folly of Mars (“A half-century after the conclusion of the Apollo mission, we have entered a new age of space fantasy—one with Mars as its ruling hallucination.”)
  • Christmas Isn’t Just For Extroverts (“Allow your loved introvert to sit alone and quiet sometimes, give them the gift of leaving the gathering early, and know that we are relating to you in significant ways even when we are reading a book. In fact, especially when we are reading a book.”)
  • The giants of rock are leaving the stage: their music never will (“Be in no doubt: as they go, these people take an entire culture with them[.]”)

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

George Saunders, May 11, 2013

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A decade of heathen’s greetings

For whatever reason, I happened to check today and this will mark the 10th time my annual Christmas Eve post appears on the blog. I do it because I think it’s just one reflection on the fact that, to modify what we tell kids in a Christmas song, we need a reason or a season to be good for goodness’ sake. So, once again, my favorite part of Jackson Browne’s “The Rebel Jesus“:

And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgment
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” John Lennon

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