I’d Rather be Swallowed by a Whale – My Review of Moby Dick

Normally, when someone tells me they didn’t appreciate a classic book or a classic work of art, I tell them: “The book (or painting) is an established work of genius that has survived the test of time. The book is not on trial here, but you are. The very soul of our culture is reaching out to you and asking: Are you a deep and thoughtful person, or are you a brainless dodo?” However, when it comes to Melville’s 1851 ‘classic’ Moby Dick, I may have to revise my response. Gads, I didn’t like that book!

I started reading Moby Dick when I was twenty-five. I am now sixty-two and just finished it. And still I found it a tough slog! At twenty-five I whipped and beat myself into an intellectual Bataan Death March to within thirty pages of the end and then let the open book simply fall through my fingers to the floor. I simply couldn’t take it anymore even though the book was supposedly reaching its climax – the revenge of the great white whale, the death of Ahab, and the destruction of the Pequod. But, I eventually persevered on and finished the book on my Kindle just last night.

For those who don’t know, Moby Dick was based on two actual events: the sinking by a whale of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex in 1820 off the coast of South America, and a very angry albino sperm whale called Mocha Dick that was killed in the late 1830s. Apparently, the whale had twenty harpoons stuck in him and attacked many ships in his day. Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

“This renowned monster, who had come off victorious in a hundred fights with his pursuers, was an old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength. From the effect of age, or more probably from a freak of nature… a singular consequence had resulted – he was white as wool![8]”

I like the way Wikipedia described it. Why couldn’t Melville write that way? Instead, this is how he writes:

“And yet, I’ve sometimes thought my brain was very calm – frozen calm, this old skull cracks so, like a glass in which the contents turn to ice, and shiver it. And still this hair is growing now; this moment growing, and heat must breed it; but no, it’s like that sort of common grass that will grow anywhere between the earthy clefts of Greenland ice or in Vesuvius lava.”

I rest my case.

Now, for those of you who who care, here are a few Moby Dick facts you probably didn’t know:
1. Ahab didn’t lose his leg from Moby Dick. He pretends he did, but he really didn’t. Starbuck, his chief mate, knows this, and buried deep, deep in the book is a little exchange between the two that goes like this: “Captain Ahab, I have heard of Moby Dick—but it was not Moby Dick that took off thy leg?” Captain Ahab replies, “Who told thee that?”
2. Unlike the Gregory Peck movie, it was not Captain Ahab that got dangled in the harpoon lines around Moby Dick and was carried away to appear later lashed to the great white whale, it was Fedallah, one of the harpooners.
3. And finally, yes, Khan was quoting Ahab in Star Trek Two when he said, “…to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee…”

Okay, those last were good lines, but not good enough to make me like the book. Still, in fairness, maybe I’m a dodo.

John le Carre’s “A Delicate Truth”

I just finished reading John le Carre’s latest book A Delicate Truth. What a treat! Le Carre is 81 years old, and he’s not only written his best book in years, but in the process has fanned the coals of hope for my own flickering writing career. I have always admired Mr. le Carre’s writing style. Even in his books that I haven’t particularly enjoyed, the sheer quality of his writing always kept me reading on – intelligent, literary, and as deliciously multi-layered as a Strasbourg ice cream cone, i.e., from the little ice cream parlor on the left side of the street in front of the cathedral in Strasbourg, France.

But truth be told, I haven’t especially enjoyed the plot lines of his latest books, namely, Absolute Friends, The Mission Song, A Most Wanted Man, and Our Kind of Traitor. There were a variety of reasons: too depressing, too hopeless, too cynical, and in one of his books, Our Kind of Traitor, about the Russian Mafia, too much bad language, And sadly, at times even the writing seemed a little uneven – a little too obtuse. I had reached the conclusion that le Carre was past his prime, still more of a craftsman than all but a few of the current crop of thriller writers, but, dang it all, the man was getting old. And then comes along A Delicate Truth. Okay, le Carre does seem to have lately discovered one of our culture’s more popular swear words – which is annoying – but, I assume he feels this is how his characters would realistically speak – if so, I’d rather have the introspective, cultured, intellectual, well-read George Smiley back. But, oh well, these are the characters he chose to put in his book, and as the author he gets to decide what they say. I will add in his defense though: while the language jarred me in places, at least le Carre was writing an end-to-end realistic book. The authors that really irk me are the ones that have the bad language, thinking this makes the book realistic, while otherwise having the characters say and do the most unrealistic things in defiance of all the laws of man and nature. Le Carre is gritty, real, and authentic from first page to last. Even if you’ve never been set-up and warned-off by a member of the British foreign service, you can read the exchange between Kit and his two deceptively bland bureaucratic interrogators at the end of A Delicate Truth and know Yep, this is how it would be done.

Perhaps one reason the book was so good was that le Carre was back on firm ground again dealing with intrigue and machinations in the corridors of British power as the gears of government grind the innocent to dust. He even said in an interview that the two main characters, Trevor and Kit, were somewhat autobiographical. One interesting point I’ve noticed before is that le Carre despises how the Americans are conducting the war on terror. While I fully sympathize with his frustrations, and there is much to criticize, I wonder what he thinks the alternative is. What would the European heads of state have done? Most likely dithered. Or the Chinese? Think Tibet. Or the Russians? Think Checknya.

After I finished A Delicate Truth, I immediately downloaded le Carre’s The Constant Gardener about drug testing in Africa by global pharmaceuticals. But my wife warned me that it was very sad, so I’m putting off reading it for a while until I recharge emotionally. Instead I picked up a thriller by another very successful NYT best-selling writer. Wow! After reading le Carre it was like going back to ‘See Spot run. See Jane run with Spot.”

A Tale of Two Cities

The old classics. Are they still worth reading? As an author and a reader, I consider myself a fairly well-read person, but came to the sad realization some months ago that I have neglected many of the classics. Further, a lot of my recent reading has been devoted to thrillers written by NYT bestselling authors that turned out to be very badly written. So, hungry for good writing after having been disappointed by a succession of bland and trite thrillers, I downloaded Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. What a treat! – though in the case of Dickens, a hard-earned one.

Published in 1859, A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris during the time of the French Revolution. It is the story about the brutality and injustice of life in those days – the brutality of the rich and aristocratic towards the poor and disadvantaged, and, in the case of Paris, how the ignorant downtrodden rose up with the guillotine and the smug fervor of Maoist peasants against their former royalist masters.

I’ll be honest: for the first two thirds of the book, I struggled. The archaic language and intricate sentence structure was too hard a nut to crack for my brain used to the pabulum I’d been reading lately. At one point, I even set the book down. But eventually I came back to it and found the reading much easier. And that is when I began to appreciate what a great writer Dickens was. The writing was ingenious. The sentiments sublime. The insights into those terrible times completely convincing. What a wonderful experience to read a book by a truly great writer. Here it is, 154 years since its first publication as 31 weekly installments in Dickens’s own literary periodical called All the Year Round, and I am still gripped by the nobleness of Charles Darnay and the Christ-like sacrifice of Sydney Carton. Further, the book appealed to my nobler instincts. I felt a better person for having read it.

Just for kicks, I went to Amazon and Goodreads to see how A Tale of Two Cities was rated by my fellow readers. On Amazon it was rated 4.2 and on Goodreads, the ratings for the various editions generally hovered below 4.0. I am embarrassed to note that my book, A Thousand Suns, was rated higher on both websites. Ha! Clearly, thriller writers are judged by a different standard. So, let me state this loud and clear: Thank you everyone who loved my book and rated it so highly, but please read A Tale of Two Cities. You won’t be disappointed.

Jim
Zurich – June 21, 2013

Review of ‘Lair of the Serpent’

a Lair of the Serpent blog tour bannerLair of the Serpent is the third book in a young adult series by Terri Lynn Adams that Life of Pi co-producer Kevin Buxbaum said is ‘destined to become Hollywood’s next major motion picture trilogy.” And these were no idle words. He backed up his opinion by buying the motion picture rights! This is a series that has a real shot at greatness.

I hadn’t read the previous chapters – Tombs of Terror and The Lost Curse – but I still found it easy to pick up the backstory in Lair of the Serpent. The characters’ background and references to past events were interwoven clearly into the current plot without slowing the story down. Lair of the Serpent is the story of three teenage friends from different cultures: Jonathan, a seventeen year old American; Severino, a former member of the Peruvian rebel group Shining Path, and his sister Delia, a beautiful and intrepid young woman for whom Jonathan carries a brightly burning torch.

The story begins in Cambodia where altruistic youths Severino and Delia are serving as medical volunteers in a remote village called Preak Torl. There, Delia is kidnapped, and this immediately plunges the story into the dark and sinister world of human trafficking. Jonathan had previously arranged to fly into Phnom Penh to meet his friends, but instead of a happy reunion and a holiday, he and Severino set out on a quest to rescue Delia.

What happens next is a desperate search through the back alleys and backwashes of the seamier side of Cambodian life. The two boys find adventure, danger, misadventures, and an assortment of surprising allies and devious enemies. Through it all their friendship is tested and tried but never wavers. Friends to the last, through a combination of luck, courage, ingenuity, and sheer perseverance, they edge ever closer to the truth of what happened to Delia and what role she has to play in the Cambodian legend of the serpent and the Naga Mani.

Lair of the Serpent is targeted towards young adults, i.e., teenagers of about seventeen, the age of the story’s protagonists. For this audience, I believe the story hits a bulls-eye. Adams does a marvelous job of getting inside her characters’ psyche. Too many YA TV shows, books, and movies are written by adults who have forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. Teenagers are generally not more intelligent, more sophisticated, more confident, and more sexually experienced than the adults around them. They are generally highly emotional and struggling to find their place in an adult world, but capable of loyalty, love, and friendship that burns very brightly though it may not be particularly profound in its expression. Adams knows this and throughout the story, her characters stay true to who they are. They win the day while continuing to be teenagers. They sometimes have to rely on adults. They sometimes have to trust their instincts. They sometimes have no one to rely on but each other.

Another strong point is that the book does not condescend to its young audience. It tackles head-on the scourge of human trafficking. The loss of a loved one, taken, gone, disappeared forever, looms over the entire story. And while the reader is left to imagine all sorts of horrors, those horrors are never explicit. Adams handles it masterfully. It’s clear she’s done her homework on the subject. It’s never sordid and never steps over the line, but the premise is thought provoking and gut wrenching.

It’s an exciting story, not only in the search for Delia, but also in the real-life and well-researched Cambodian legends Adams brings to life that make the story more than an adventure, but also a mystery – and an educational one at that.

But in the end, Lair of the Serpent is about friendship. It’s about good kids making moral decisions motivated by friendship and love to do their duty to each other no matter what the risk. There was something noble, touching, and poignantly simple in their interactions. In many ways it was an inspirational read.

Goodreads Giveaway Winners

The A Thousand Suns giveway has ended with almost 600 avid readers participating. The free copies of ATS have already been mailed to the lucky winners. Thanks all for taking part. Here are the winners:

Kim Mcalpine and Melitta Cross from Canada, and Becci Boersema, Molly Grosbauer, and Kylie Tagg from the U.S. Congratulations.

Jim

Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I’m grateful for mothers and all women for the important role they play here on earth. We are surrounded on this planet by mothers and by other women who have an incredibly significant impact on our lives. Forgetting for a minute the role of women in bringing spirits into this world, imagine what earth life would be like if there were no women.

Women truly are the salt of the earth. Years ago I spent six years in the U.S. Marines and had ample opportunity to watch men spend extended periods of time together without the civilizing influence of women. And men under those conditions can be rough and violent and crude. And then I’ve seen those same men in the company of their wives and girlfriends, and they seemed to me as if totally different people. Calmer, more courteous, more solicitous of the welfare of others, and far more civilized.

Now I realize that Mother’s Day is not necessarily a happy day for a lot of women. Not every woman who wants to be married is married, and not every one that is married has children. And some women have lost children and for them Mother’s Day is a reminder of a child they once loved and served and wished with all their heart would find happiness and success in life. And this is the case in our home. Three years ago we lost a 26 year old son, so we too look at Mother’s Day a little differently now. And finally, for mothers who have children, these indeed are very perilous times, and many mothers carry wounds of children who started out so brightly and then made serious mistakes along the way, every one of which was like a sword through their mother’s heart. And even Mary, the Mother of God, when she and Joseph came to present the Christ Child at the temple, was told by Simeon “yea, a sword shall pass through thy own soul also.” So we see, even with a perfect child, mothers are not spared.

But nevertheless, for all this, Mother’s Day is still a happy day. Because if it wasn’t for mothers and the ‘spirit of motherhood’ and the talent for caring and tenderness found in every woman, this world would have been destroyed a long time ago – if not by God then certainly by men.

M Russell Ballard, speaking about mothers and daughters said in an April 2010 speech: “All women have within their divine nature both the inherent talent and the stewardship to mother, and most of what I will say applies equally to grandmothers, aunts, sisters, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, leaders, and other mentors who sometimes fill the gaps for these significant mother-daughter relationships.”

I take those words to be that women should never under estimate the incredible influence their natural God given talent for caring and tenderness has on the children, the men, and the other women that God brings into their life’s circle.

Now, in regards mothers: Neal A. Maxwell said in a speech in May 1978: “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time. The women of God know this.”

No one in our life has ever served us with more self-sacrifice than our mothers. No one will ever come close. Not even our spouse if we are married. Because with our spouses, we generally have a partnership. We both serve each other. But the relationship between a mother and a child is not a partnership. It is a one way street. Your mother serves you and gets back very little in proportion to what she gives. Think of all the meals, all the washed clothes, all the dried tears, all the diapers, all the baths, all the sicknesses, all the patience and love.

In Shakespeare’s King Lear there is a line that has become a proverb. It goes: How sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child. And so I say to all children including myself: Honor your mother. Never take for granted what she does for you. And remember, actions speak louder than words when it comes to expressing gratitude.

Throughout history, women have always been teachers of moral values. Where would we be today if it weren’t for our mothers and all the other women in our lives. How blessed we are to have them.

Happy Mother’s Day,

Jim
Zurich May 12, 2013

‘A Thousand Suns’ Giveaway on Goodreads

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Thousand Suns by Jim Haberkorn

A Thousand Suns

by Jim Haberkorn

Giveaway ends May 31, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

How One Popular Book Blogger Does Book Reviews

Shauna Wheelwright is the popular book reviewer blogging from: http://ilovetoreadandreviewbooks.blogspot.ch/ Over the next few days, she will be publishing a review of A Thousand Suns. I asked her about the process she goes through when reviewing books. Here is her reply.

From Shauna:
There is no right or wrong way to review a book…
Here is just what I do—
First, and foremost I must choose a book to review. I work in a bookstore and see what new books come in and choose a lot of those. I watch for “blog tours” and sign up for many of those. I also love it when authors contact me to review their books and I choose a lot of them that way—sometimes I get a little overwhelmed with request and have to say “not right now” along the way.

Second, I read the book. I choose to read every word often including the front and back of the book, the jacket flaps, the acknowledgments, the introduction, etc. I want to be able to stand by the book and not have any surprise words or scenes show up that I didn’t preview—this takes time.

Third, I have a high standard for what I read and for what I put on my blog. If I find the book has questionable material I will not post a review of it. That way you know that the books I post are safe to read…all of them!

Fourth, I write a positive review. If a book meets my standards it will be a good book and therefore it will be easy to find good things to say about it. Sometimes I will include a book description, a book excerpt, and/or quotes from other people and what they are saying about the book.

Fifth, I like to add a sidebar banner with a link to the review post. This gives the book more time on my main page in addition to the one time post. If a banner is not included, such as a blog tour banner, I create one myself.

Sixth, I try to find a blog or Facebook page that the author has and link it to their name on the blog post. This allows my readers to also find these author sites.

Seventh, I like to add author bios and pictures and sometimes I will add a “tens list” of some fun facts about the author.

Eighth, I am always open to book giveaways. I like to use the rafflecopter form and will include “likes” to author sites as entry requirements.

Finally, in addition to posting my review on my blog, I post reviews on Pinterest, GoodReads, LDSPublisher, DeseretBook, Amazon, Barnes&Nobel, The Book Depository, Twitter, and my Facebook page.
And that is the effort I put into each one of my reviews—
I am Shauna and I Love to Read and Review Books 🙂