a brief history of time

title: A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes

author: Stephen Hawking

genre: Non-fiction, physics, theories, space

suggested by: Nick H.

dates read: July 27th – July 31st

review: 4 out of 5 stars

summary: Hawking explains the history of theories of the cosmos, showing the evolution of the theories over time. He talks about theories of time, black holes, wormholes, and time travel. He talks about the Big Bang theory, the finite and yet boundless properties of the universe, and abstract ideas such as string theory. Simplistic, complex, and everything in between, Hawking encourages the exploration of how and why we’re here.

personal thoughts: It’s funny because when Nick suggested this to me, I heard “Stephen King,” and proceeded to ask if it was scary and talked about reading “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” He gave me a puzzled look and then I realized my mistake. We both had a laugh about it. As with the other science-y books that I’ve read this year, there were parts that went way over my head, but also parts that were extremely interesting and actually made sense (which was always exciting.) He went from simplistic concepts and descriptions, to very complex and mind-boggling theories (with things in-between). Some of the diagrams gave me a better understanding of what he was talking about, while others only served to further confuse me. I think I need my dad to break it down for me. Again, I’m always blown away by the ideas and discoveries that science has inspired, and it’s clear that Hawking has a passion for his work. I am in awe of the abstract thoughts and ideas that have come about over the years and wish that I had a better understanding of them.

favorite quotes:
“An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!” p. 11

“It is a matter of common experience that disorder will tend to increase if things are left to themselves.” p. 115

“if we do discover a complete theory. . .Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist.   If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.” p. 209, 210

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the count of monte cristo

title: The Count of Monte Cristo

author: Alexandre Dumas with Auguste Maquet

genre: Fiction, revenge, chesspieces

dates read: July 10th – July 27th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Edmond Dantès has just come home from being at sea, during which the captain unexpectedly died and he has been chosen to take his place.  He has a few months before his next voyage and so plans on marrying his beautiful fiancee Mercédès.  Unfortunately, there are a two in Edmond’s life who are jealous of his successes: Danglars, who wishes to be captain, and Fernand, Mercédès’ cousin who believes he should wed her instead. Together they form a plan to bring him down, to which his bumbling neighbor Caderousse becomes an accomplice.  Because of their treachery (along with the deputy crown prosecutor Villefort) Edmond spends 14 years in prison, where he befriends Abbé Faria, a fellow prisoner who teaches him about the world.  After his escape, and because of a secret fortune the Abbé Faria revealed to him, Edmond makes a name for himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, the name of the island where he got his wealth.  Unknown to those who brought him down, he becomes close with each of their families and sets in motion plans to bring them each down.  He does also reward those who were faithful to him during his imprisonment, but most of his energy is spent on exacting revenge.

personal thoughts: This was so different from the movie, which I love.  But I also love the depth of this story.  I was unprepared for the length and was sometimes confused by the cast of characters since Dumas would sometimes refer to the person by their last name, their first name, a nickname, or their title.  It was difficult to always keep everyone straight.  Dumas would also go off the main story to talk about the other characters, sometimes their stories meandered, but they always seemed to weave back into the main plot.  Now I want to go back and re-watch the movie.

favorite quotes:
“‘We are always in a hurry to be happy, M. Danglars; for when we have suffered a long time, we have great difficulty in believing in good fortune.'” p. 14

“‘Man does not appear to me to be intended to enjoy felicity so unmixed; happiness is like the enchanted palaces we read of in our childhood, where fierce, fiery dragons defend the entrance and approach; and monsters of all shapes and kinds, requiring to be overcome ere victory is ours.'” p. 21

“in prosperity prayers seem but a mere medley of words, until misfortune comes and the unhappy sufferer first understands the meaning of the sublime language in which he invokes the pity of heaven!” p. 70

“‘if you visit to discover the author of any bad action, seek first to discover the person to whom the perpetration of that bad action could be in any way advantageous.'” p. 85

“‘to learn is not to know; there are the learners and the learned.  Memory makes the one, philosophy the other.'” p. 89

“what solitude is more complete, or more poetical, then that of a ship floating in isolation, on the sea during the obscurity of the night, in the silence of immensity, and under the eye of heaven?” p. 117

“‘when they had…passed the day in building castles in the air, they separated their flocks, and descended from the elevation of their dreams to the reality of their humble position.'” p 179

“‘For all evils there are two remedies – time and silence.'” p. 275

“love lends wings to our desires.” p. 477

“Joy to hearts which have suffered long is like the dew on the ground after a long drought; both the heart and the ground absorb that beneficent moisture falling on them, and nothing is outwardly apparent.” p. 541

“‘Needless delays but increase the grief of parting.'” p. 634

howl’s moving castle

title: Howl’s Moving Castle

author: Diana Wynne Jones

genre: Fiction, fantasy, spells, curses, castles

suggested by: Sam B.

dates read: July 9th – 10th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Sophie Hatter is the oldest of three sisters, which on her world means that she has the least amount of luck. Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside of her control, she is forced to strike out on her own and take up residence with the Wizard Howl, known in her town as an eater of young women’s souls. Before she lives with Howl, she is cursed – by a witch – with the body of an old lady, so she’s safe from Howl’s soul eating ways. As she gets to know him, she finds that those rumors are false and finds herself pulled into the many misadventures of Howl, his apprentice Michael Fisher, and the fire demon Calcifer who controls Howl’s moving castle.

personal thoughts: What an imaginative story! I didn’t even realize it was a book (thanks again for the suggestion, Sam!) and was curious to see how similar the movie was to the book. It’s been some time since I’ve seen the movie but if seemed fairly faithful to the book. The dedication of the book explains that a boy suggested that Jones write a book called The Moving Castle, which is where the idea originated. I was enthralled from the beginning and loved the style of storytelling and the uniqueness of each character. Such imagination always inspires me. I was really excited to find that this is part of a trilogy and hope to return to the series next year.

favorite quotes:
“[the king] sat with one leg thrust out in a kingly sort of manner, and he was handsome in a plump, slightly vague way, but to Sophie he seemed quite youthful and just a touch too proud of being king. She felt he ought, with that face, to have been more unsure if himself.” p. 120

“Was it the curse pulling Howl toward the Witch? Or had Howl slithered out so hard that he had child out right behind himself and turned out what most people call honest?” p. 159

of mice and men

title: Of Mice and Men

author: John Steinbeck

genre: Fiction, dreams, heartbreak

dates read: July 8th – July 9th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: George and Lennie are best friends, George is the brains and Lennie’s the brawn. They’ve known each other since they were young, when Lennie was under the care of his aunt Clara. After Aunt Clara died, George started taking care of Lennie. Lennie has the mindset of a young child, though his large stature and strength are not to be trifled with. This combination is proven to be deadly and had caused them to lose their jobs and put them in the run. They are about to start a new job, with dreams of buying their own place and but having to answer to anyone.

personal thoughts: What a tragic story! My dad really likes Steinbeck so it’s a little sad that I’m only now reading this (I have read “Cannery Row”). I loved the descriptions of the environment, the way the story was laid out. The innocence of Lennie and the shrewdness of George made for an interesting and dynamic pair. I felt that this highlighted the cruelty of some people, the mistrust that is so prevalent in society. While not a happy story, I really enjoyed it. Sometimes life sucks, and but everything happens the way we want it to.

favorite quotes:
“At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beams flies shot like rushing stars.” p. 19

“His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer.” p. 37

to have and have not

title: To Have and Have Not

author: Ernest Hemingway

genre: Fiction, illegal trade, boating

suggested by: Will F.

dates read: July 6th – July 8th

review: 4 out of 5 stars

summary: Harry Morgan is trying to support his family, his wife and three girls.  He owns a boat that he’ll rent out and take people fishing.  As money gets tight he’s forced to take on illegal jobs that put him at greater and greater risk.  Among the cast is Albert Tracy, Richard Gordon, and Marie Morgan.  Each of them adds their voice to the community in Key West and the dysfunction they all live in.

personal thoughts: This was infinitely better than “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”  I was actually interested in the story and more engaged in what was happening.  It was a bit disjointed with the various characters sometimes having a third person perspective, and other times having a first person perspective.  I think Hemingway was trying to show the greater scope of the story, that it was not just about Harry and what he was going through, but it sometimes left me confused as to why I was reading about these people who were only marginally involved in the main plot.  He would sometimes have a stream of consciousness for a character that was very repetitive and didn’t always contribute to the story.  However, I can appreciate the realistic way he showed the character’s thought processes.  Still not a book that I would say I love, but definitely a better experience than last time.

favorite quote:
“Richard Gordon could hear the clock ticking and he felt as hollow as the room was quiet.” p. 190

the story of my life

title: The Story of My Life

author: Helen Keller

genre: Non-fiction, biography, education and life of Helen Keller

dates read: July 2nd – July 6th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Helen Keller (1880-1968) shares the first 22 years of her life, the darkness and silence that encased her life after an illness that almost took her life at 19 months old.  She was spoiled and willful but knew she was loved.  A few months before her 7th birthday Annie Sullivan became her teacher and through her love and persistence, Helen came out of the solitude and began to discover the wonderful world around her.  She tells of her travels and the many people she meets: Dr. Alexander Bell, Samuel Clemons, and the president, to name a few.  During her Sophomore year of college at Radcliffe she wrote her life story for the Ladies Home Journal, where the first half of this book was first published.  The last half consists of the many letters she writes from 1887-1901.

personal thoughts:  What an incredible story!  I was constantly amazed at the positive attitude and wonderful brightness that Helen exuded in her writings.  She liked to talk about things she saw and heard and I can only imagine how much Annie Sullivan worked to ensure she had a good enough picture to share those sensory experiences.  I was also amazed at how many people she met and the delight with which she lived.  I don’t want to assume that her lack of sight and hearing means that her life experiences were any less than mine, but it was still amazing to see how joyfully she lived.  Beautiful and inspiring, I recommend this read.

favorite quotes:
“It is with a kind of fear that I begin to write the history of my life. I have, as it were, a superstitious hesitation in lifting the veil that clings about my childhood like a golden mist.” p. 1

“a look is often the very soul of what one says.” p. 21

“It is an unspeakable boon to me to be able to speak in winged words that need no interpretation.” p. 42

“I used to have time to think, to reflect, my mind and I. We would sit together of an evening and listen to the inner melodies of the spirit, which one hears only in leisure moments when the words of some loved poet touch a deep, sweet chord in the soul that until then had been silent.” p. 69

“In a thousand ways [my friends] have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation.” p. 101

pegasus

title: Pegasus

author: Robin McKinley

genre: Fiction, fantasy, pegasi, friendship

dates read: June 27th – July 1st

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Princess Sylviianel is turning 12, which means she will be bound to her own pegasus.  The tradition of a human and a pegasus bonding started almost a thousand years ago with a treaty between the two peoples as a way to preserve the pegasi and allow the humans a place to reside.  Pegasi did not have the means to protect their lands from those who would overrun it, while the humans had the means and the power to do so.  Because their languages are so different, only through magic and specially appointed Speakers are the individuals able to communicate.  Sylvi meets her pegasus, Ebon, and they find that they are able to communicate directly through silent speech.  This makes some of those in power uncomfortable and sets in motion many changes for both peoples.

personal thoughts: I already know I love Robin McKinley, so when I saw this book I knew I had to add it to the list.  And I was not disappointed.  She’s created a beautiful world where two species live in harmony, or they’re trying to.  Sylvi’s whole family seems warm and loving, despite the obvious strains of ruling a country.  I love the relationship between Sylvi and Ebon and the close bond they share.  The world and culture of the pegasi is fascinating and I wish someone would make a [good] movie about this.  I did read a review that bemoaned the abrupt ending and I have to agree.  It looks like there will be two more books in the series, but the next one won’t be released until next year.  I will definitely be returning to this.

favorite quotes:
“‘Imagine learning to swim by being thrown into a lake of perfect darkness, never having seen water before.'” p. 7

“Why was there no…no feel to it, this great important thing? Why did it seem no more than a silken representation on a banner, this thing that Balsin had called the foundation upon which their country was built?” p. 126

“‘breaking tradition always comes with a noise like mountains falling.'” p. 177

“what was a glorious tale in the history books was grim and awful when it was happening to you.” p. 376