Jon (of the Dead)

I like books, mostly ones that I pick up from thrift stores. I have this problem of buying books faster than I read them.


I'm also working on an Android app named OpenBookLikes. If this blog description seems weird in any way, it's because I'm using it to test the app.



OpenBooklikes screenshot
OpenBooklikes screenshot

It's been a while in the works, but I've been working on an Android app for Booklikes, since the site isn't very...ahem...friendly, on small screens.


I originally wanted something to just do two tasks:

  1. Add books to my shelf
  2. Track my reading challenge


I never intended it to be anything more than that, but then....well, some technical stuff later and it's more. It will almost certainly never be something that goes on the App Store or anything of that nature, it's purely for my own personal use. However, if people show interest, I'd be willing to release it to the public too. (It is open source, meaning anyone can compile it, but I mean I'd release it and try to provide a limited amount of support.)


I like to keep Booklikes about books so I'm not going to write anything more about it here, if you're interested you can follow the OpenBooklikes tag on my blog, where I'll probably put anything related.



Illusion of Choice - Eric Ponvelle

I received this book for free on Booklikes in a giveaway, which pains me to say that I did not especially enjoy it.


My biggest problem was the writing style. It was very, very basic. "David did this thing. David thought this thought." Not much variation. The dialogue between characters was also often cringeworthy and most of the characters seemed like generic caricatures of what you'd expect in "dystopian future world".


I appreciate the world that the author was trying to create, but I found the way he got there lacking. The jumping back and forth between the two different timelines (I think they were different times? By the end I still was not sure) was a nice idea but poorly executed. The plot itself felt suspiciously close like Farenheit 451, only with more guns. While it's supposed to be a very large world, it felt incredibly small hyperfocusing on this one guy who apparently does so much crap in the matter of a week that it disrupts everything everywhere.


The ending is what completely turned me off. Not because of "wah, it's not what I wanted to happen", but because it just felt damned unfulfilling. The tone of the entire book felt like a video game, like Halo or something with this epic hero, but then the ending is just like *blurt*. I understand that it was supposed to be subversive, playing with your expectations, I just think it wasn't done well, especially since I wasn't given much motivation to care about the ultimate outcome.



It was an ok attempt and I hope the author keeps writing and honing his skill, because something along these lines could be really awesome. But for this one, I'd just have to say "meh".

I, Robot - Isaac Asimov

I was not expecting the format for this book, that it would be split up into multiple stories that are independent but tie together. But eventually I really grew to like them, especially as the book went on. It was almost always like a sci-fi mystery, "how is this robot subverting the 3 laws?" but with more complex scenarios, it got more and more intriguing.


That's all I really have to say about it. I did like how the story telling let it jump around from scenario to scenario but it left the end result of not really having a central character. In a sense, the robots were the central character in each story, which is all well and good if you like the idea of sentient robots. Which I do.


It's a neat way of looking at the potential future, how the robots will "evolve" and how humans might respond. Worth a read if you like sci-fi, without a doubt.

Guards! Guards!: A Novel of Discworld - Terry Pratchett

I read this after reading Thud last year, which -according to the internet- is the exact opposite of how I should be reading them - the last in the series and then the first. But honestly, I'm really glad I did so.


This time around I got to read about how the protagonist, Captain Vimes, was in the beginning. In the future he becomes this stoic leader of a large Watch and the last, he's a drunk with 3 underlings. Throughout the course of the book, you see him slowly transition from one to the other.


As I said with Thud, the main things I liked were the city of Ankh-Morpork, including the characters (and seeing familiar ones introduced), the dialog, and even the whole "perspective from the bad guy" was done much better in Guards! Guards!. The humor was spot on, especially the part about the Library; his rant about Library physics is, to me, up there with Douglas Adams' diner napkin mathematics.


The only thing I didn't like was the same as Thud: the ending. I found it to be somewhat of a letdown, though I liked Guards moreso than its successor, mostly because of the difference in Vimes by the end. But in both cases, the humor, characters, and world more than made up for what was IMO a weak climax.


Overall I had a really fun time. I really love Pratchett's writing style and humor, it's just his plots that I find somewhat weak, but I consistently find myself enjoying his books whenever I have them in my hands. This one pretty well cemented that I'm going to continue in Discworld, at very least for the remainder of the Watch's story.

It Exists

More Than a Carpenter - Josh McDowell, Sean McDowell

I really don't know how to feel about this book.


On the one hand, I really liked how everything is cited and sourced. It's definitely well researched (to an extent). But I found more problems than I found uses.



The biggest problem is that this book is basically one big Appeal to Authority fallacy. Some parts of chapters are literally just sentence after sentence of "person X in position Y said that this is really legit". And that's fine when it's in specific cases - like I said citation is good, but a lot of times it's just "this Bishop said that there is no more historically reliable text than the Bible." Ok, super convincing, I guess?


Like I said, it's great that it's sourced, but it's hard to take every reference at face value when every reference is noted as being a Christian. Christian historians say that the Bible is reliable, but what do historians as a whole say? The approach is always from an area of absolute ignorance and only covers dissent if it has an answer. This might be not so much with the book perhaps as it is with the content matter, but I had a hard time taking statements at face value, period. You can call that bias on my part, which is probably true to an extent, but MacDowell just presents things as fact that I find suspicious of being unquestionably true.



Which leads me to the conclusion: this book seems as though it was written by a Christian for Christians, mostly. It includes small quotes of particularly "powerful" sentences repeated randomly in the margins, it contains the aforementioned list of "so and so says", and it is just written in a way that feels as though it is targeted at someone who is reading it to boost what they already believe. Which is fine, there's not shortage of those types of Christian books, I just thought this book was more of a "these are the facts" deal.



However, having said all that, I have to admit my own bias; this book was "suggested" to me by family member from whom I may be projecting how it reads. And I certainly have to admit that I came into it with a certain predisposition: not attempting to be close-minded, but certainly already with a belief on the matter. But it's not like I'm a history or theology buff and as a novice in these areas entering in, I felt at a loss as to what is genuinely accepted in each field of study and what is MacDonald's "summarized" conclusion.


In the end I just have to say that I have nothing to say on this book. I feel that I don't have adequate space or maturity or whatever to say whether or not it's complete BS or if it's true and my repulsion is just not wanting to be wrong. I can say that I didn't find it particularly compelling, but then I suppose I'd like something that covers this subject matter on a far more detailed level. It felt like an over-summarized version of a massively complex issue which resulted in the inability to tell when and if corners were cut in the logical steps taken.


I got nothing.


Sickeningly Christian

Eyes Wide Open - Ted Dekker

I don't want this to come off the wrong way, as my intent is not to bash anyone's specific religious beliefs. I was actually a pretty big Ted Dekker fan when I was younger, but my own religious beliefs have since changed and this is the first Dekker book I've had a go at since then. And, to be blunt: I found it disappointing as a story. Almost to the point of being insulted.



The premise is somewhat interesting, even if the back is extremely misleading: the main character spends a chapter trapped in a "coffin", not the entirety of the book. The rest is the two main characters "trapped" in a mental hospital.


To Dekker's credit, I liked some of the intense existential stuff that he played out in the situation, such as the question of "would you rather be right, or at peace?" And I still like the man's writing style; he is good at writing thrillers. For the most part.


Where it starts to fall apart are the characters. Dekker -both in this and other books- tends to write very one-dimensional characters: this guy is very smart, this girl is insecure. Everything they think, do, and say is based off that one quirk. It's not a fatal flaw, but it certainly doesn't help one get invested in the story. The second problem is what I'd just call "lazy writing". Something will happen that seems to come out of nowhere, and you accept it thinking that eventually it will all tie together; weird things happen which makes it seem like a thrilling, creepy story is going on that will slowly be explained to you, but it never is. They're just weird things that happen out of the blue.



What absolutely killed and buried this book is the ending. Because it has no end. I refuse to say that it does. He takes what is a fairly compelling thriller about a mental hospital and then just stops, and proceeds to spout what is almost Christian propaganda. Things stop happening to the characters and the characters cease to be characters. They are mere vessels through which the obvious Jesus character can spout a monologue that is so thinly related to the story that I began to wonder if it was actually intended as fiction.


All of that may sound harsh, but here's the bottom line: it absolutely destroys whatever the story had going. Objectively. It's not "I don't like the words he's (Dekker via the Jesus character) saying" it's a "this is the laziest and most boring ending imaginable". The fact that it's not just poor writing but that Dekker is quite obviously trying to write it off as "but it's got a good message" is enough to make me gag.



I'm sorry, but I'm not going to excuse a book for being crap even if it's a "Christian" novel. If you're going to write fiction, write good fiction. Don't even start this mess; it starts out promising, but it spends the entire time building to a climax that never happens and then just stops when the author decides that you're invested enough that you'll read whatever message he wants to say just to finish the book.

Chariots of the Gods - Erich von Däniken

For some reason, after reading Gods From Outer Space first, I was not impressed with Von Daniken; I found the read to be disorganized, cluttered, and overall, cocky. But for some reason, I thought that the first book would be better. Maybe he just got cocky from the popularity of Chariots of the Gods. Maybe his success boosted his ego too much, and besides, Gods From Outer Space seemed more like a smattering of unfinished personal notes instead of an actual book.


Well, apparently, I was wrong. So, so very wrong. Von Daniken is perhaps even more cocky in this one, so far. That whole "conventional science dogma" thing is so wrong and close-minded, but because Von Daniken had an idea in the shower one day, it's "undoubtedly" true! Literally. It's not "here's a thought", it's "this is the one and only single logical conclusion that can be drawn".


The thing that shows this the most is how dated this text is. Which is funny, considering he's talking about events that took place thousands of years ago, so you'd think it'd be timeless. But no, most of his evidence is comparing descriptions of things in the past with technology in present day, i.e. 30 years ago. Obviously the alien astronauts would have antenna, even though nothing we use has them anymore. Obviously their propulsion systems would be rockets, despite the fact that this seems completely unreasonable for traveling interstellar distances. Obviously spacesuits would look like our suits. And it goes on, for everything. Nothing is merely left at "This seems strange, maybe it's something we don't know". It has to be exactly like what we have, then.


The thing I find most offensive is how hypocritical Von Daniken is. He repeatedly -almost bitterly- decries how dogmatic the normal scientific approach, because it approaches scenarios assuming that it knows everything. And yet that's exactly what he does. Obviously ancient people were savages (who therefore obviously believed the magic sky-people were gods), so if there was something that they did that we don't know how they did, it must have been aliens. "I completely reject archaeology's explanation for how this ancient civilization made this thing, yet I will use their expertise in saying that the civilization didn't have the technology to make it, ergo it must be aliens."



To be clear, I'm not against the theory. Not at all. I find it fascinating. But the amount of conviction that is held within this book for what is literally nothing other than mere speculation is quite revolting.

The Conquest of Happiness - Daniel C. Dennett, Bertrand Russell

This book was not what I was expecting. I guess I was thinking that I was in for a grand overview on just what happiness is and the nature of the human existence in chasing it. And while parts were like that, many others were just Russell's opinions on how to "solve" the happiness problem.


There were parts of this book that showed its age, both socially and scientifically, even far enough to the point that I'd disagree with the conclusion. The biggest example of this is that one can force themselves to believe a thought by "planting it in the subconscious" by repeated use. Throughout the rest of the book he continues this line of reasoning: that most hindrances to happiness can be solved by thought and intelligence and will. Personally I don't think this holds up as the same effective method that Russell presents it.


But there were parts that I intensely enjoyed and stirred me up if they touched on the idea of "what is the happiness that we should attain?", like the idea that one who enjoys sports is better off than someone who does not, and someone who reads (woot woot) is better off still because reading is always available. In any case, there were also times that I just enjoyed him skillfully expressing a very basic thought that I knew, but was always implied.



It's really more of an opinion piece than anything, which is ok, except that most of it was not remarkable. People who enjoy their jobs are generally happier. People in love are happier. Etc. And while it was discussed in an engaging way, it's not a "cure" that is new or groundbreaking. There were, however, some parts that out of nowhere hit home really hard and made me step back and think about it for a week, and I'm still thinking about them so I guess I can say the book was good.


After all, good philosophy isn't supposed to give you the answers, it's supposed to give you the questions.

Odd Apocalypse: An Odd Thomas Novel - Dean Koontz
"The best part of a Mr. Goodbar is not the wrapper, is it? No, and the best part of a Coke is not the can. On those nights when you lie awake, either man or boy, wondering about yourself, peeling away one layer of oddness after another, you should remember and always be grateful that the woefully imperfect person that you are, with all your contradictions and unworthy desires, is not the best of you, any more than the wrapper is the best part of a Mr. Goodbar."

Is this really even a book?

Men In Black: Personal Stories & Eerie Adventures - Nick Redfern

When reading books like these where the author is merely acting as an editor to supply the stories, I try not to judge it on the storys' validities. It's pretty standard that you'll get a mix: some that are genuinely interesting and others that are just off the wall crazy. Reading the crazy is at least entertaining so it has a point of being in the book.


The problems that I do have with this book are more along the lines of (a) how the stories were edited and (b) how some stories really didn't fit the topic matter.


Honestly much of this book felt much like Redfern just literally copied and pasted emails, character for character, from responses he received from prior books on MIB. That shows in several ways. First, the tone of each story is varying; some speak as though they are talking to Redfern, some speak about Redfern with mentions to the book, and some read as if they're articles that Redfern snagged from the web and pasted in. Any one of these is ok, but not all at once. Second, the various grammatical and punctuation errors. I don't understand how not only Redfern missed them, but the author of the article (hopefully) would have looked at several drafts. Lastly, the things that just shouldn't be in a book like emoticons and sentences ending in multiple explanation points!!!!!! :) Is this a book or am I holding a printout of an AIM log?


On top of that, saying that each chapter in the book is "about" MIB is generous at best. Again, the problem varies in form from chapter to chapter: sometimes MIB are only mentioned once as an example or a specific case of a larger topic; sometimes the encounter isn't really MIB but kind of vaguely related ("some guy called me on the phone and threatened me"/"one guy stared at me in the bar then left" - both of which, albeit with hyperbole, are actual stories in the book); or sometimes the chapter will be about an entirely different phenomena like BEK or shadow people or demons and then just say how maybe MIB is the same thing.


There are some awesome stories in here to be sure, and I actually really liked some of the comparisons given like to BEK and vampires, but beyond those small parts this book just seemed like a mess. The tone shifted from casual retelling to academic paper to newspaper article to email messages, and there were way too few stories actually about the MIB to satisfy my curiosity.



I actually got this book at a conference where Redfern spoke and he did an amazing job, so I can only hope the problems came from him being an editor instead of author (at least I hope; this is the first book by Redfern I've read). There were some good parts to be sure and so those alone may make this book worth it for some readers out there but I suppose after getting hyped from seeing Nick give a stellar talk on MIB, the book was a bit of a letdown for me.


Dracula - Bram Stoker

It felt somewhat weird reading this book, as everyone in today's society knows who Dracula is and the folklore behind vampires. I spent the entire book knowing more about what's going on than the characters (sans Van Helsing), which can be annoying at times. It makes me wonder what it would be like to experience the book afresh before vampires invaded popular culture and makes me wonder how much said exposure killed the horror of the book.


And yet I still found myself being spooked at certain parts. Any time the Count was doing something involving the main characters, I was glued to the pages. The downside is that much of the book is not this. It is just following around British people being very British. And while yes, that was boring -even tedious at times, I honestly felt that the "exciting" parts more than made up for them.



Overall I very much enjoyed it, especially the last part where the characters assemble the past diary entries into what is, essentially, the book; I love when a book can successfully carry out that kind of meta-thing. And Van Helsing might stick forever in my mind as an iconic literary figure.....or at least as one of the more amusing ones.


I think it's an interesting read on a variety of levels: as a spooky first-hand recording, as a piece of history for vampires and horror, and as....uh....British? British.

"They would always be after me and I would always be running away from them. The feeling they gave was not just one of pursuit, but it also had a sexual nature to it. I always felt that they were chasing me and were after my butt, as I remember having a strange tingling sensation in that area."
Men In Black: Personal Stories & Eerie Adventures - Nick Redfern

What the fuck am I reading?

Dracula - Bram Stoker
"It is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but the old, which pretend to be young—like the fine ladies at the opera."
Dracula - Bram Stoker

Never read this before, and what better time than October?

Essays on Contemporary Events - G. Adler, R.F.C. Hull, C.G. Jung
"Man in the mass sinks unconsciously to an inferior moral and intellectual level, to that level which is always there, below the threshold of consciousness, ready to break forth as soon as it is activated by the formation of a mass.
Since nobody is capable of recognizing just where and how much he himself is possessed and unconscious, he simply projects his own condition upon his neighbor, and thus it becomes a sacred duty to have the biggest guns and the most poisonous gas."
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  - J.K. Rowling

I didn't want to start this yet, to start another book and throw it on one of the many "Currently Reading" piles.


But I went to a concert recently with some friends, and to pass the time for the 2 hour roundtrip voyage, they decided to have the co-pilot read of Harry Potter as an "audio book" and they graciously picked the one I had next to read.

Currently reading

C.J. Cherryh
Progress: 148/428 pages
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
Tara Brach
Progress: 190/333 pages
In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness
Peter A. Levine, Gabor Maté
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Carl Sagan
Progress: 52/457 pages
A Feast for Crows
George R.R. Martin
Progress: 230/1060 pages
Three Times Carlin: An Orgy of George
George Carlin
Progress: 372/896 pages
Chariots of the Gods
Erich von Däniken
Progress: 100/150 pages
Tired of Being Tired: Overcoming Chronic Fatigue and Low Vitality
Michael A. Schmidt
Progress: 190/352 pages
Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales
H.P. Lovecraft, Les Edwards, Stephen Jones
Progress: 64/880 pages
The Egyptian Book of the Dead
E.A. Wallis Budge