Book Review: Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind

Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind
Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind

I enjoyed the exercise in world building that this book seems to represent. The author laid out the history of Anderith and then used that foundation to give us a story about political intrigue and domination.

I also enjoyed how things played out at the end, though I’m not sure it made much sense. The common people would be the ones to suffer the most, while the elites who manipulated them in the first place would likely escape retribution, like Dalton. So, could that really satisfy Richard’s desire for vengeance? It does make his actions seem more juvenile. What he’s doing at the end of the story is pretty juvenile too. “They don’t like me so I’m going home!” Isn’t this guy supposed to be Lord Rahl? Wouldn’t his past experiences have hardened him up and made a man out of him by this point? Are his actions believable?

I feel like Goodkind spends a lot of time building new characters up and developing them in really creative ways, only to have them meet their ends in extremely anti-climactic situations that felt rushed and left me wondering what the point of learning about them was in the first place.

That rushed feeling permeates the last 60 pages or so of the book. One moment everything is fine, and then suddenly the enemy is there and everything quickly wraps up in catastrophe. It doesn’t feel measured. It doesn’t feel like good storytelling. It feels like the author put too much time into the build-up and then realized he only had 50 pages to find some sort of conclusion. The ending was choppy and unsatisfying. Goodkind also puts too much weight on weak storylines. The prime example is using Franka’s situation at the end of the book to explain Dalton’s change of heart, but for that to be believable Dalton’s relationship with Franka should have been more deeply examined.

The story could have been better if Goodkind had spent less time detailing characters and a culture that were disposable and had spent more time developing the main characters instead. Throughout the story, all of the main characters fail to work together. The actions they take aren’t believable given their situations. Kahlan doubting Richard and the mud people elder about the chicken is the most glaring example. Why would they lie about it, and if it had turned out to be untrue, so what? They’d have checked and maybe killed a few chickens and then they could have settled things. Instead, she gets portrayed as a doubting, whining bitch that slows down story progression, which isn’t fair to her considering who she is supposed to be. Richard has his turn to be an idiot when he doesn’t trust Kahlan’s opinion later on in the story.

The story just feels like a wasted opportunity, or like filler material.

The Fleeca Job: Complete - After-heist party screenshot

Trick Jumps in Grand Theft Auto V

I meant to spend most of my break between semesters catching up on reading like I did last year, but we’re about a week out from the first day of class and I’ve only read through some volumes of the comic book series Grimm Fairy Tales. It’s not bad, but it’s also not the intellectually stimulating experience I want from a book. I picked them up as digital comics a few years ago and never got around to reading them. Maybe they were part of a Humble Bundle, I don’t know. It’s hard to resist the book Humble Bundles.

I’m reading through some more interesting stuff, like Karen Armstrong’s book on Paul the Apostle, St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to HateThe End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I’m also playing Grand Theft Auto V pretty heavily. I picked it up on Steam’s winter sale a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, so I wanted to give this one a shot.

The story mode is good, but I enjoy the online play more, even though it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of load times. I also wish it had more of the story mode content, like items you can find and collect. One thing that did carry over is the trick jumps. Some of them are a headache to get right, mostly because you have to use the right vehicle and avoid killing yourself while pulling off the jumps, or you have to land in just the right spot to get credit for the jump. It’s fun, though. One of the more interesting ones to do are the jumps at the airport traffic circle off the billboards. I made the video below of the jumps, but I feel like I could probably pull off two backflips on the motorcycle before landing. I’m going to give it a shot.

The ABCs of Children’s Books Exhibit at the New York Public Library – 42nd Street/5th Ave

The ABC of it: why children's books matter

On the 6th of this month, my wife and I met up with friends of ours to check out an exhibit on children’s books at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. I love going to that library! Right now, it’s just a reference library, meaning you can’t check any books out to take home, though there’s a chance that could change soon. There are plans being made to move a lot of the reference works to a storage facility in New Jersey and open up the area that is now called “the stacks” to the public as an area with books that can be taken home, though these plans are meeting heavy opposition from scholars who have filed lawsuits to block the removal of reference materials from the site.

Lion Statue in front of 42nd Street New York Public Library

The Fifth Avenue library branch regularly shows exhibits with different themes. Last year, we went to see an exhibit on old Automat restaurants.  I think you’d call them restaurants anyway. The exhibit we saw this time was on children’s books.

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I wasn’t expecting much, but I was surprised by how well the exhibit was set up and the diversity of books on display.

Dick and Jane!
Dick and Jane!

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A Japanese Faerie Tale
A Japanese Faerie Tale

They had everything from traditional American textbooks to Hindu comic books to Japanese faerie tales.

Little Golden Books in a case shaped like a Giant Golden Box
Little Golden Books in a case shaped like a Giant Golden Box

A few of the books on display were books I remembered reading as a kid, like the Little Golden Books series. Most were older. Some were a lot newer, though, like the Harry Potter series. I’ve seen the movies and I’d like to read those books when I get a chance too. According to the display, Harry Potter books are the fastest selling of all time. My wife says it’s because the books appeal to kids, teens and adults, so the audience buying them is a lot bigger. Makes sense to me.

I’ve always been fascinated by books. I guess that’s a good thing, considering the field I chose to pursue in college. I just placed an order for 17 books for one master’s history class for this Fall semester. Woot woot! I have so many books I’ve run out of shelves to put them on. I’ve given away lots of books to charity in the past when my collection became too cumbersome to take with me when moving, but this time most of my books are history books or books on religion, politics, sociology and anthropology. In other words, they’re all books I’ll probably need in the future as a student and teacher. I suppose there are worse things to have too many of in your house!

Gallery of more photos from the children’s book exhibit:

Why I Love My Kindle, And Why I Don’t

A Kindle 3 in the box.

Last year in October, I was given a Kindle 3 by my aunt in return for doing what turned out to be a LOT of yard work.  Well, a lot more than I expected anyway.  It’d been quite a few years since I’d lived anywhere that required yard work, so I wasn’t able to judge it properly.

Since then, I’ve used my Kindle fairly regularly.  Whenever I commute here in the city, I keep it with me so I can spend my time doing something constructive, instead of staring blankly at the wall like so many of my fellow commuters.  I’ve come to rely on it for entertainment, something I was reminded of today when I realized I left the house with a dead battery.  My commute is about an hour both ways, so … ya, I was bored.  There’s no cell phone signal in the subways here, so that meant I really had nothing to do but stare at the walls.

The Kindle 3 is light, very easy on the eyes, and makes reading fun again, especially since there’s so much available for free, but some recent events have caused me to see a few shortcomings.

The first problem is that there are still plenty of books being published that don’t have Kindle versions.  Even worse, some books are published and the price of the Kindle version is higher than the price of the physical book.  I understand that there are some costs that can’t be negated by simply producing a book as an e-text, but there should never be a time when an eBook costs anything near what the physical book does, since you’re cutting out the cost of the paper, printing and distribution.  It’s obscene.  An insult even.

The kicker that made me write this post, though, was a visit to Barnes & Noble at Union Square.  I’ve been going there frequently looking for particular versions of books I need for classes I’m taking at CCNY.  I don’t know what it is about physical books, but every time I go in there I find myself wanting to hold and touch them, and maybe just ‘adopt’ them all and bring them home.  The cover art is something that can’t be reproduced well on a Kindle, or any eReader.  You can’t touch it.  You just can’t appreciate it the same way.  I’m reminded of something my art history teacher said in class yesterday.  He was talking about how people go to an art museum and instead of stopping to appreciate the art, they take a picture and move on quickly.  He said that if that’s what you’re going to do, you might as well have just looked the images up on Google.  It’s not the same experience.  It’s also not the same experience as holding the book in your hands, or putting it on your shelf when you’re done with it.  I suppose that desire to collect books is something that not everyone has, but I like to see my books sitting on a shelf, so I can be reminded of how good they are and maybe pick them up and leaf through them to my favorite parts again.  Speaking of that, it’s really hard to scan through books on a Kindle, going back to re-examine material you read the a few days ago.

My conclusion is that a Kindle is still an awesome device that will encourage more people to read more often, myself included, but it has drawbacks.  I think my Kindle is best suited for ‘light’ reading.  You know, those books that you read purely for entertainment, the ones that you’re not worried about looking at again, because when you’re done with a Kindle book it gets lost in the list of available books on the device.  For those books that I consider my favorites, or anything heavier that might require thought and retrospection, the books that I would want to flip back and forth through to better understand the ideas being expressed, a physical book can’t be beat.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in Real Life

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I don’t know how many of you have read this book, but it was required reading for me in high school.  Luckily, it was a book that I actually enjoyed, unlike quite a few Emily Bronte novels that I’d have happily thrown on Guy’s stack for burning.

The basic premise of Fahrenheit 451 is that, in the near future, books are illegal.  Firemen, once used to put out fires (though that’s not known to the general public) are now used to start fires, specifically at the homes of people who are found to be harboring books illegally.

The story goes into a lot of detail about the breakdown of the fabric of society, the slow disintegration of the bonds between family members that keep the world functioning.  It talks about ignorance and doing things just because that’s how they’ve ‘always’ been done.  Then it talks about hope and enlightenment, in the form of Guy realizing that things don’t have to stay the same and he can and should make a change.

I won’t ruin the book for you, but if you haven’t read it, you should.

I was flipping through articles in my RSS reader and I hit on two posts, nearly back-to-back from The Next Web that sounded like they were pages from the book.

The first article is titled: “This Could Be Massive: Interactive TV…

So, why did this stand out to me?  Well, one of the future technologies in Fahrenheit 451 is a television system that is installed in place of walls in the living room.  The television programs are completely 3D, completely immersive and completely interactive to the point that the show can not progress unless the viewer moves it along by saying the proper things at the proper times and interacting with what is known as “the family”.  The flaw that the author was trying to express here is that these fake people, this fake “family”, draws so much attention away from real life and real family that it causes a breakdown between people.  It’s almost like what’s happening now with so many women complaining that men spend more time with their computers and video game consoles than with them, but on a grander scale.  TNW’s article went on to detail what could be the first step towards the four-walled TV “family” that Bradbury imagined.  It’s both exciting and frightening, if you believe the potential consequences that Bradbury laid out in his book.

Just after that I saw another one of their articles titled “Love to read? Too busy? Brain Shots can help.”

The article goes on to discuss how Brain Shots has condensed books down to 10k words and they can be read via computer, e-reader and some mobile phones.  Some have even gone extra simple and are available as audio books.  In one part of Fahrenheit 451, when Guy starts questioning the established order and his Fire Chief figures out what’s going on in his head, the Chief tries to ‘save’ him by explaining to him how things became the way they were.  Long story short, he said that people did it to themselves.  People couldn’t be satisfied with reading real literature, books and stories with real value, or messages that explained deeper emotions and feelings.  He said that eventually people started reading things in digests, then as blurbs and snippets, and eventually as 30 second blasts over the four-walled TVs.  He asked how you could condense a classic work of literature into a 30 second blast and still retain it’s true meaning?  Everything became dumbed down to keep everyone happy.  To keep things exciting!  I think Twitter is sort of a first step towards what Bradbury had imagined.  How many of you that use Twitter know a Twitter wannabe pundit that tries to condense the feeling and emotion of a whole work of literature into 140 characters?  And then, of course, there’s this article talking about Brain Shots, which is literally taking a page from Bradbury’s book.  I wouldn’t be surprised if his book was their inspiration.

Technology is a beautiful thing, but I hope we keep using it wisely and effectively and don’t reduce our culture and our whole body of world literature into meaningless blasts of drivel that lose their true meaning.  Bradbury’s book may have been written half a century ago, but it’s becoming more and more meaningful as time goes on.

A few interesting quotes from the book:

“Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but its a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily. Can you dance faster than the White Clown, shout louder than ‘Mr. Gimmick’ and the parlor ‘families’? If you can, you’ll win your way, Montag. In any event, you’re a fool. People are having fun.”

“It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.”

This is definitely one of my favorite books.