Pride and Prejudice & The Great Gatsby: Books that someone else says you have to read, Part 3

Time always moves strangely to me.  You have an idea, you start it, you work on it, but it is a long term project and you allow it to sit and flow over time.

The last time I wrote about this was almost a year ago!  I promise I have since scratched some books off of the list, and there is more of this to come.

The premise here, again, is that like Denzel Washington’s character from The Equalizer, I am working my way through the list “100 books everyone has to read before they die.”  The list can be found here.

Today we examine Pride and Prejudice, and The Great Gatsby.  I am most likely going to make myself very unpopular here, but you do not have to read these.  Keep in mind all things said here are just my opinion, and I am heavily influenced by what I would consider the bigger historical issues.

That is right, I said it.  You do not have to read these, despite what the list says.

Let us tackle the Austen first.  This is an amazing story, but as a text, it is difficult to chew through.  I read the book.  I have listened to the book.  I have watched several versions of the movie, and an episode of ‘Wishbone.”  This book’s relevance is rapidly becoming lost, in my opinion.  Jane Austen wrote this during the Napoleonic Wars, and it is an excellent social commentary on the time.  However, we have since moved on.  We have moved far on.  I am not trying to just kill off classics that are outside of their time, but unless you are studying 19th Century English Literature, or maybe on a looser level just English history, then these social issues will not fall into place I feel.  As I said, I love the story, but I love it when it is acted out.  When I read it, I would have to take breaks, and by breaks I mean read other books, or the time it takes to move to other states.  People are going to hate me, and I will now watch my back for the members of the Austen Society, but I am scratching this off and replacing it with The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris.  Maybe the novel would have stayed on the list had it gone into the larger issues of the Napoleonic Wars, but again this is colored by my views on history, and how it effects the modern world.

When I say that I enjoy the story, just not the book, I cannot say that in any way for The Great Gatsby.  How this is considered “the great American novel,” I will never know.  The novel flopped hard, and Fitzgerald went to his grave feeling forgotten.  Later it was given to the soldiers who were going to WWII, and they connected with it, revitalizing the book.  (Wikipedia, The Great Gatsby)
There is the point.  The soldiers that connected with this novel, were the guys who had fathers and such who had been in WWI.  They understood the social issues this book represents, and the times in which it was set.  Just as soon as WWII was over, the depression era was dead and gone in America, we were in the post-war boom.  It was a new era.  The only thing stopping this book from being just as irrelevant as it began, was the brief moment it enjoyed.  Time does not make bad things better, sucked then, sucks now.  If this book was not as popular as it is, The Plaza would not have made a Fitzgerald Suite.  Let this die, I beg of you old sport, let this fade back to where it belongs.

In exchange I offer you something else.  Kids today need to understand how we got where we are, how the 20th Century culminated.  They need to understand the events that led us to the 1990s, the 2000s, the last election.  For your consideration, I give you, The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis.  It is not a novel, but it is relevant, entertaining, and coherent, all things that Gatsby is not.

Life is too short to read bad books.

Analog Savage

Brandon Bledsoe

Books that someone else says you have to read, part 2: going the library.

I try to break this up into bits so that each post does not turn into a small novel, but when I embarked on my reading list I almost bought To Kill A Mockingbird.  The problem is what if I didn’t want to keep it on my shelf? I refused to finish it fourteen years before.  I decided it was time to practice what I preach, and head for the library.  

Firstly, we have to establish my motivation.  I told the part about the movie where a character is tearing through a reading list, and I read quite a bit as well, but I was at Barnes & Noble performing one of my favorite summer rituals, looking at the wall of summer reading books from the lists.  I always like to see what the state says the youth should be reading for better or for worse.  However, it makes me happy and so I do it.  Some obvious winners are seen!!!The Scott Westerfield books are something I read when they were new, and am really happy to see them suggested to a new generation

Anyhow, that’s when it was time to start the list, and when I talked myself out of buying a book I was not sure I would like.  To the library.  This is the fun part though.  I went to the Marlborough Public Library…which I was sure I took pictures of…have to get one offline. 

Now knowing that To Kill A Mockingbird is THE American Classic, and knowing that the reading lists are out, I proudly marched into the library and asked for a copy.  To be laughed at by librarians is a new experience.  Of course I should have realized that every copy was checked out by the students who actually have to do summer reading…

Luckily libraries can now order copies from each other, and email you that your book is in! However I did feel rather silly…but I got to take the miniature me to the kid’s library!

Ganger-Bjorn

Books that someone else says you have to read, Part 1.

We have not done a book part of this whole books, brass, bears thing in a while.  For a while now I have been looking at the lists of “books everyone should read.”  I watched the movie The Equalizer in which Denzel Washington’s character is said to be reading through one of those lists.

Problem one is that there is definately more than one list, there are several that come up commonly in fact.  So it takes a little detective work.  I contacted my friend who is a librarian if there was a list to beat all lists that libraries and their secret societies know about.  According to Paula there is not, but she did tell me about a book that her library contained about this subject.  However, this grand tomb is a bit much.  It is 1001 Books You Must Read Before you Die, by over 100 international critics.

Technically this is the first review, this book is a fail.  This is exacly why college professors give you word limits on papers.  These guys did a wonderful job assembling and summarising 1001 books but, even given the total number of books in the world, this was not work.  They did not have to pick something but the Bronte sisters, everything they ever wrote is in here!  It does however have a break down by time frame, so there is a list of “pre 1700,” however there is still the horrid idea of buying a 35$ book…to tell you which books you need to read.

Back to the list.  My next piece of detective work was to say ok what was Denzel reading.  He mentions The Old Man and the Sea, and one of the two main lists had that, so that is what we are going to go with.  There is a Good Reads list, and an Amazon list.  I deduced it to be the Good Reads list and so that is what we are sticking with, you can find it here.

Much to my…utter horror To Kill A Mockingbird was top of the ranked list.  You see I was put up to reading this in highschool, except I did not do it.  I am not particularly proud of the story I am about to tell as, I look back and think I would want to beat a student senseless if they had done this.  I do not know why, I got thirty pages in, gave back my copy, and took a zero for the various assignments that went along with the book.  My teacher was a bit eccentric, and I feel like she protested her way through college, so I am guessing my lack of a few letter grade drop was due to some strange part of her being excited to watch me buck the institution.

So do I wish that I had read this back when?  Not really.  I do wish I could remember why I hated it so much back then, and perhaps not been a snot.  I do not believe though that I had the capacity to appreciate this book when I was fifteen.

I may not agree that this book is “the best novel of the Twentieth Century” as purportedly said about librarians across the country, and no I do not have an immediate contender outside of The Silence of the Lambs right now, but I am not sure this is the top.

I did enjoy it though.  I feel like this type of book is the equivalent to a blog back when, have story and a need to tell it.  It offered a nice insight into the brutal reality of a situation with no way out, and no happy ending.  The race issues portrayed in the 30s, were very relevant when Harper Lee wrote this book, and despite starting this grudgingly, and partly as a show of commitment to this list no matter what I found on it, I found myself wanting to know how it ended.  Tom Robinson’s troubles were devastating and told matter of factly, in a that is life kind of way.  The only thing that can be compared to a happy ending is the death of  Bob Ewell.  I believe in justice, even if it has to be taken, and Bob Ewell got taken out the way he was supposed to whether he did it or Arthur Radley handed it to him, but that is it.  It can be good to read this kind of reality, even if it is grounded in a fiction novel, I feel it was the reality in the world and mind of Harper Lee.

Do I believe that it should remain on the list?  Absolutely, everyone should read it.  My next trip to the bookstore will be to turn it into the next thing that lives on my shelf.

The other thing I will be doing at this time will be to at the same time create my own list, just to see how much work goes into this, and to see what I learn, and am willing to give up along the way.  It will all take years, and I hope some of you are along for the ride.  I suppose this calls for a new permanent notebook…we will see, but the first book on Bjorns list of everyone has to read it, is To Kill A Mockingbird.  I hope you all enjoy it, and if you read it back when that you will go back to it.

 

The Cold War: A New History,By John Lewis Gaddis

**REVIEW AFTER THIS LONG INTRO AND PICTURES**

This blog entry will be my first post in quite a while as I let all extra things drop off during a school semester.  As you can tell from my earlier posts, I enjoy book reviews, and since I had to do one for school this semester, I will post that here.  The book was The Cold War: A New History, By John Lewis Gaddis.  Gaddis is, in my opinion, the historian of the Cold War currently and this book should be required reading for anyone entering the modern American history or Cold War history fields.


My copy, as you will see has seen a little time in service.  I bought it for an assignment, we were told to pick a book dealing with the topics at hand; the class was U.S. history 1945 to present, and themes were plentiful, but the professor also had a list available for us.  I am a Cold War junkie, and at the top of the Cold War pile sat this gem.  Our second son was born during this semester, and the professors were all very understanding and accommodating, thank you Framingham State University.  However, you cannot stop all work for two weeks and still come out on top, so this book was my reading material while in the hospital.  Whether it is due to being an excellent work on my favorite topic, or because it is now sentimental, it will be found on my shelf.

 

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin Press, 2005.

 

In The Cold War: A New History, John Lewis Gaddis has created a concise history of the Cold War for a new generation of readers, synthesizing the already available work on the Cold War into a cohesive volume, incorporating updated and newly available information, arguing the need for the Cold War and the outcome of it, becoming an introduction to the subject, and expertly organized thematically to best cover the major events and themes of the Cold War.

John Lewis Gaddis intended for the title of this monograph to serve as the statement of purpose, in that it was a to be literal new work on the subject. He did not intend to reargue the entire history of the Cold War; he has already argued more than once over the course of his career; rather he was motivated to create a concise and updated account of the Cold War. His hope would be that this work could serve as an introduction to some, an overview of the subject of the Cold War at a basic level to new readers. This edition is what it should be, weighing in at 266 pages not including notes it is a detailed, but brief introduction to the cold war that will not intimidate the new reader. With many college students being people who have no memory of the Cold War an edition written with the new generation in mind was appropriate, even necessary. Gaddis is well informed as to the needs of students studying the Cold War as he is one of the professors who specialize in teaching it.

Gaddis does not intend for this work to replace any of the existing work on the Cold War, or to disagree even with any of these works. The author believes this monograph has a place at the front of the reading line about the Cold War, and could serve as the gateway to more challenging and in-depth texts once the reader has a grasp or interest in the topic. Gaddis himself being the author of several of the books that retain relevance in the academic classroom allows him to see the need for a brief and cohesive narrative. He openly informs the reader, and other historians, he has no intention of arguing against their works, in fact, he cites the established works of other historians often, as well as his own work.[1] This drives home the point that new readers should not look for this work to occupy a particular niche, and should feel open to using it as a basis for their Cold War knowledge at the beginning of their academic career, and can appeal to the casual reader for the same purpose of creating a firm foundation of knowledge on the general subject of the Cold War. Gaddis himself believes that the topic covers such a long timeline and took place in enough varied locations, with their own political arenas and motivations that a book could be written from any angle that you can imagine, even from the viewpoint of the smallest third world participant, and it would be relevant and occupy a prominent place within the narrative. This work represents the extraordinary challenge of creating a meaningful summary longer than an encyclopedia entry under the heading “Cold War.”

One of the reasons the author gives for having written this is the simple and justifiable release of new information from the archives of the former Soviet Union and the Chinese during the Cold War period. New data must be taken into account, to ignore such resources would be academically negligent. However, the sheer amount of new information available can be compared to money flooding a market and causing inflation. The volume made available is Akin to that which has been previously written in that it can be intimidating to attempt to digest. Gaddis has applied the seasoned judgment of an expert when selectively incorporating this information into his current and concise volume. This is clearly seen when he deftly includes official Soviet Missile counts during the Eisenhower years; not overwhelming the reader, but transforming the speculative argument that Khrushchev boasted about their power into a quantifiable piece of fact.[2]

This new evidence held in context with the work previously accomplished by historians, Gaddis included makes for a subtle, but compelling argument. Gaddis combines primary sources that are placed well within context. Rather than Reagan or Khrushchev being quoted on events that are similar to the instance being described, Gaddis has provided—when possible—the thoughts of the figure on events specifically. It is very convincing to have evidence pulled from a radio address Ronald Reagan gave, or even better Khrushchev’s thoughts on the bluster shown in regards to Soviet missile capabilities. Memoirs looking back—like those of Khrushchev and George Keenan—combined with evidence recorded at the time show the professional historian at work, giving insight into the minds of leaders during the Cold War, and where we are fortunate enough to have it, a look at what they thought of those same events looking back. It is wise to remember however that Gaddis wishes you to celebrate the United States victory in this conflict and will be using the words of Soviet memoirs to cast a light that makes it appear they accepted this outcome in the end.[3] Gaddis is fair when he quotes, as he balances his optimism with evidence against United States actions, such as pointing out (despite the argument) George Keenan’s regret in hindsight of the CIA black operations conducted during the Cold War.[4]

The reader should exercise a note of caution when reading this review. The idea of Gaddis not replacing or rearguing his work or the work of others may give the false impression that this work contains no argument at all. This is untrue, and if the reader is not careful, they may miss it entirely and absorb it as presupposed fact. The argument being made is the idea that the Cold War was inevitable and having occurred the world was made a better place. The world being better for the Cold War is contingent upon whom the author believes to have won it: the United States and her allies. Part of what makes this book such an easy read is that it is celebratory of the Cold War’s outcome, the argued victory of the United States. For many the idea of American victory is not an arguable point, the dissolution of the Soviet Union is a matter of historical fact. However, academics even beginning students understand the idea of objectivity, and Gaddis’s boldly un-objective argument may be perceived as biased by some studied readers, reducing the credibility of the entire work. It should not be the case that the work is impugned by this argument, but it is not unthinkable, and one could not blame anyone who described it as biased.[5]

Gaddis believes there is no way to create a single, simple chronological narrative of the Cold War, and has chosen to organize this work thematically. However, the work flows smoothly enough that the reader almost believes there is a chronological order at work. The author believes in attempting to only be thematic or chronological would fail to encompass the magnitude of the Cold War properly. With this in mind chapters are thematic, moving chronologically, but with some overlap between them. While this sounds like it is more complicated than needed, the idea came off well and made for a surprisingly easy read. Chapter one will set the stage for the Cold War, immediately following World War II, not merely the events, but why each side had fought the Second World War as well and how this contributed to their Cold War stance. Moving forward Gaddis will address conflicts between the first and second worlds while showing the factor everyone knows about the Cold War—the threat of atomic and nuclear war—and will explain not just how close we came, but why nuclear war never came. Having established the Soviet Union as a credible enemy, the reader must be shown when we feared them enough to be concerned, particularly in the context of such an optimistic outlook on America by the author. Superpowers having been explained Gaddis chooses chapter four to explain why these great powers had difficulties controlling their “allies” in the third world, which created some of the messiest conflicts of the age. This moves rather logically and quickly as each theme is explicitly addressed within the proper context and time frame.

Whether you are someone with mild curiosity, a seasoned Cold Warrior, or a student breaking ground on the subject for the first class, this book is a must have. Allow yourself to read it once easily and caught up in the celebratory tone it sets, and then look back a second time for a critical review. Whether you agree with Gaddis’s argument or not, this books should prove invaluable for the information it contains. The concise nature, updated information, and hindsight took in the fourteen years between the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the publication of this work, as well as it’s ability to be an entrance to weightier volumes on the Cold War make it indispensable.

[1] Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin Press, 2005, XI

[2] Gaddis, Cold War, 69.

[3] Gaddis, Cold War, 69.

[4] Gaddis, Cold War, 164.

[5] Greenstein, Fred I. “The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis.” Political Science Quarterly 121, no. 2 (2006): 321-322.

Brandon Bledsoe, “Hrolf The Ganger”

Aftermath: Journey to the Force Awakens: Star Wars

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This book by Chuck Wendig is a part of the new Star Wars canon.  As I have said before, I am glad that they are giving the new movies a newly ordered canon.  I know many people are angry that the novels that were perviously canon are now just classified as legends and are no longer a part of the official storyline.

This book takes place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.  It is part of a series that will lead to the new movies and clear up how the galaxy laid out after Return of the Jedi.

This book earns two and a half to three stars.  The characters are forgettable (perhaps further books will redeem them) and the plot is slow moving, but that is the point.  The books treasure lies in the fact that the main story is just a pretense for putting in all the details about the larger Star Wars universe.  The entire purpose of this book (and probably the others) is to lay out the state of the New Republic, The Empire, and The Alliance and how we passed the time between movies.

With that in mind it gets the three stars for appealing to information, canon, and lore junkies like myself, but still remains mediocre at best.  It is not supposed to tell a good small story–and with the exceptions of the escapades of the droid Mr. Bones–it does not tell a good small story, it is supposed to be filler material.  It does enrich the viewing of The Force Awakens if you thought the movie was just a copy of episode four, but beyond that it is a mediocre at best book.  I really only recommend it to true junkies.  2.5/3 stars.

Hrolf The Ganger

Tarken By: James Luceno ** Book Review **

 With the new Star Wars movie on the way a question quickly arose.  Since the movie is taking place after the original trilogy, what happens to all of the books and such that were written about that time period?  Well to the great anger of many, and my personal joy the answer was simple.  None of those books count any more.  Not even a little bit.  Unceremoniously booted out of the canon.  This makes me happy.  There are a ton of those books, and given that a lot of them came out when I was in elementary school or before, it simplifies my life to have a whole new canon that also reflect the newer movies.  Here is your canon now as I understand it.  All the movies, the clone wars, the Star Wars comics currently being published by Marvel (awesome if you wanted to know), Rebels, and when I started this there were four novels.  It is about one of those novels that I am here to review now.

Tarken is a story set before the events of Episode IV: A new hope.  It centers around a time when the Death Star (not yet named) is being constructed under the supervision of Moff Tarken.  James Luceno has done a splendid job of fleshing out the life of Wilhuff Tarken.  Taken bought the big chicken dinner at the end of Episode IV, so he has always been one of those great characters that there was just not enough of.  Taken crops back up in Clone Wars here and there, but with this novel we finally get the full dose of Moff We were hoping for.  If you account for the fact that he spends the book running around with Darth Vader, well to an Imperial fan thats just plain awesome.  As with all of the Star Wars novels (new ones) I’ve gotten through so far the story is really just filler.  The entire book is an excuse to tell Tarken’s life story and allow you to see it applied to a filler story.  I am more than a little ok with this.  Whoever Tarken applies the Imperial justice too is fine by me really, it is the history I am after.

Final words:  in no way does this book disappoint, Easy A+ for me.

Hrolf The Ganger

**Note** with school and such keeping tabs on my time, I listened to this on audio book from audible.  The Narrator Euan Morton was great.

The Billion Dollar Spy, By David E. Hoffman. **Book Review**

 This blog is called Books Brass and the Bear for a reason.  If you have seen the pictures of (or been inside of my home) you will know that, well…books.  All the books.  Books by the ton.  BOOKS.  There is obviously not a bear in my house, thats just my rather high opinion of myself (I’ve come to terms with it.)  Heaven help you when we get to the part of brass…

Anyhow lets talk books again.  Books.  I am sorry I just enjoy saying the word at this point.   BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKSSSSSSSSSSSS….

Here is your actual review.  Now that I am sitting here, it occurs to me that I am uncertain of how to write a general book review without giving it all away or just saying here read this.

While perusing the local Barnes and Noble history section recently I encountered this.  Here are a couple of facts about me.  I love first edition hard backs, my wallet is not as crazed about them.  It prefers to wait for a soft back, to buy used on eBay, or try a particularly shady book out with a free credit generated monthly by my audible account.  This book did not meet the criteria of “save money and do not take me home right this moment.”  This book was ripped from the shelf and taken home and I was not disappointed.

The book centers around Adolf Tolkachev, and the time he spent as a spy for the United States during the cold war in The Soviet Union.  This book was extremely well researched and not only covers the events described (and holy wow they have pictures) but does a marvelous job of setting the context for what it took to be a spy or an American intelligence operative inside of The Soviet Union.  There is not a single loose detail in this book and it was hands down one of the most satisfying reads I have had in a while.  Satisfying like a ham and cheese sandwich with a cup of coffee is supposed to be.  I do not want to give it away, but I will say that if you enjoy Tom Clancy, you will love this, and it is non fiction.  I will also say that this book should leave you believing the world to be a little less bright for the loss of some of the people in it and the contributions made for the fight against the red menace.  It details not just how Tolkachev turned and what he did, but his motivations, the lengths he went to, his great love for his family, with tidbits thrown in about actual spy gear, and the fact that every American combat aviator who ever had to fly against a piece of Soviet designed air power, owes their respect, and their lives to Adolf Tolkachev.

The Bear’s rating on this book, A+.

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