arkadi cloud

tech, teaching, and books

Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger

A story about a naked man washed ashore in a the tiny fishing village of St. Piran, and a whale.

This would be a great beach read! It's very easy to read, with funny characters...and um...features a whale. I won't spoil the plot of this story but it's very much a meaning of life, city vs. country folk, and fish out of water type of book.

Also, the cover art is whimsical, and beautiful.

Also 'bad thing coming' is a major theme of this story, so here are two good quotes about that.

Advice from Papa Mikkel...

'Give the crisis a score,' the old man would say. 'Mark it out of one hundred. Then look at the horizon as if nothing mattered, and ask yourself how much it would score tomorrow. And how much next week. And next year. Will they write about this matter in your obituary? Will anyone die? If not, you can turn to face it once again and recognise it for the imposter it is.'

A business man talking about oil to the main character of the book, Joe.

”...We've built the greatest society that mankind has ever known – a global society. We communicate across continents, we think nothing of jumping on an airline for a meeting in Zurich or Seattle or Shanghai. And yet all of this, everything we have created, rests upon a finite fluid resource that we're busy burning away. Did you ever think about this, Joe?”

“I'm thinking about it now, sir.”

#BookQuotes Not Forgetting the Whale

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #53 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

I've read many historical accounts of the Holocaust. I've watched movies. It's something so terrible to even imagine and yet as humans we are curious to 'experience' it through media.

The writing isn't especially amazing, but that story is quite interesting. It is a powerful love story of luck, determination, amidst the horror of the concentration camps of WWII. It doesn't have to be so well written because all the movies and books I've read (Schindler's List, Unbroken, Photographer of Mauthausen etc) give your mind adequate imagery to add to this story.

”...a man who lectures on taxation and interest rates can't help but get involved in the politics of his country. Politics will help you understand the world until you don't understand it anymore, and then it will get your thrown into a prison camp. Politics and religion both.”

Rating: ★★★ Book #52 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

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China Dream by Ma Jian

We all have regrets, it's hard to move on in life unless you make piece with them. You can't just pretend they didn't happen, but usually we learn from the mistakes in our past. What happens when a whole nation is made to forget though? What happens when a nation doesn't learn from their past mistakes? China is a nation built on forgetting the past and this novel explores this dichotomy of this forced 'forgetting' in China.

Being a Chinese official is a tough life between juggling the mistresses, hiding bribes, attending dinners, lieing and you still even have to do the job you were appointed to do. This story is about one official who keeps having flashbacks to the Culture Revolution as he sees parallels of the past in the present. He wishes he could just forget, but things aren't that easy. Can he carry on with suppressing the evil for the past, or will it tear him apart?

This booked reminded me of another ludicrous look at the insane world of Chinese politics, Party Members by Arthur Meursault.

If you want a non-fiction read about how one of the most pivotal moment's in China's recent history has been buried, then read The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited by Louisa Lim.

PS don't you love the cover art? It was made by another Chinese dissident, Ai Wei Wei.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #50 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #China

Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific by Robert D. Kaplan

First off, this book has wonderful cover art. I got the hardcover version, and although this book is slim, it packs a punch. It also has two very detailed maps of the South China Sea (SCS) region in the beginning of the book that shows the competing claims by all countries.

The book begins with an overview of the region and the current situation. Many nations are flexing their muscles to (re)gain control of 'islands' in the SCS. Some of these islands are very tiny and even covered by water most of the time. The countries in the region, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, want control of these islands because of the possibility of oil and gas hidden in the sea floor. Along with oil and gas, the fishing rights around these islands is very important.

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Using GoodReads.com

Yes, Amazon is evil. I don't like using their products but there is nothing else as good as GoodReads.com keeping track of books I read. They have the largest, most up-to-date book database and the most functional website compared to the alternatives.

What do you use GoodReads for?

  • Reading reviews of books
  • To remember books I want to read ('Want to Read' shelf)
  • Keeping track of what I've already read ('Read' shelf)
  • Seeing what my friends are reading
  • Participating in The GoodReads Reading Challenge
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The Doomed City by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

This is a sci-fi book that is actually a criticism of Communism. Published in 1972, it's about The Experiment, where people have volunteered from different countries, Nazi Germany, Russia, America, and are forced to live in a city whose rules are made by The Mentors but they make no sense.

“The Experiment is the Experiment,” said the Mentor. “It's not understanding that is required by you but something quite different.” “What?” “If one only knew...”

Now this book is a weird read. It's funny in its absolute absurdity at times, very Kafkaesque. I think that this book must've been more powerful if you read it in Russian and had lived in a Communist country. This book is still interesting, weird, and sometimes laugh out loud funny but it also doesn't make sense at times. I think some of the allusions went over my head.

I understand the historical importance of this book, which is well explained in the prologue and epilogue of this book, but it's still a weird book that was difficult to read and understand.

“Everything in the world is worth no more than shit,” said Izya.

3 stars for the book, 1 star for the historical importance.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #49 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

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21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

This book looks at 21 things the humankind has to consider, change, and contemplate so that we avoid extinction and irrelevance by the 22nd century and beyond. Harrari has a knack for making astute observations and predictions about the future in a humorous way. You wouldn't think this sort of book would elicit laughter, but at times it did. He tears down almost every religion, and ridicules the other self-destructive tendencies humans have to make his point.

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Reading the Classics

I want to start reading some more classic books. For my purposes, I will consider everything written from before the 20th century as a classic. I hope to read at least one classic book from every century from the 19th century, to before 0 CE. This project might take me a while, but I feel it's important to read the voices of our past, as it helps us understand the present.

Books with links to my reviews and/or check marks have been read.

20th Century CE (1900-1999) Ulysses by James Joyce (1922) ✓ The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (1938)

19th Century Frankenstein: The 1818 Text by Mary Shelley (1818) ✓ Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)

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The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of a Revolutionary Invention

by Alexander Monro

A super, detailed look at the paper in the way it influenced empires, their culture, and religion. This book reaches back to the Tang dynasty to the origins of paper. It stays with China for quite awhile because they were very important to paper in the beginning. Then it moves onto how Buddhist writings helped spread the acceptance of paper. Next, it moves into the Middle East. Finally, it moves into Europe and how the Renaissance, and religious writings there helped move the rest of the world to paper.

I really enjoyed this book. It doesn't delve much into the physical way that paper is made, and I wish it did a bit, but focused wholly on the culture of using paper in government and personal use. There is a lot of detail here. If you like little tidbits about how certain words came about like 'gazette' (a word derived from a Venetian monthly newspaper, published in 1556), you'll love this book. If not, move along.

The author has an extreme passion for books and the way they changed our lives. I would say the middle section of the book about the Middle East is not as strong as the parts about China, and Europe but that's to be expected I think from a non-Arabic speaking author. I also venture a guess that Middle East paper use is not as well researched as in the context of China and Europe.

I really liked this book and now have to make a decision, either to keep it as part of my reference books I collect on China/Taiwan, or sell it to make room for new books. It's certainly a dilemma I now face.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #47 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #History

Waiting by Ha Jin

Good things come to those who wait, or so we're told. This is a story of love in a difficult time, during the Cultural Revolution in China. A man has a wife, then falls for another, but how can one horse pull two carts?, as one character in the story puts it. He has to wait for a divorce but there are complications and he changes along the way too.

This novel is about the passing of time. It's about how people change. It's about how sometimes we don't know what we really want.

The setting is nice too as it puts it into the historical novel category and you get a feeling for what it was like to be working as a medical professional in the Chinese Army during the Mao era.

I enjoyed this novel. It doesn't have even a 4 star rating on GoodReads. It won both the National Book Award for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award. I think this novel has low ratings because people want novels that have excitement and a fast moving plot.

This book is neither fast, nor 'exciting'. It's about the main character, Lin Kong, the man who's juggling two women. It's about his character and how he navigates a difficult path: divorcing his wife with honor, while not cheating on his wife with a new woman, and also keeping work off his back about it all.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #46 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #TranslatedFiction