Nov 22

Andersens Märchen, by HC Andersen ★★★
Continuing my relatively passive exposure to the German language, I read a German translation of Andersen’s Fairytales. This was supposedly a fairly complete version of Andersen’s works, and so was rather long. Though this edition was translated about 100 years ago, it contains a number of archaic words for which the book occasionally provided translations. There were many fairy tales that were familiar to me, like the Ugly Duckling, and the Little Mermaid. The little mermaid story has only a passing resemblance to the Walt Disney version of the story. Many of the stories were a touch wearisome, being somewhat unimaginative. Andersen loved to put a brain and animus into common plants and objects, and would lead you through the adventures of their existence. So you follow the events that occur with a tin soldier, some plants like a fir tree, and various other objects. The book was wonderful reading, considering that it was not too complex of language for learning German.
Next on my German reading list is the 1001 nights or Arabian Nights. Already, it reads a little smoother than Andersens Märchen, even though most of the stories I’m not at all familiar with.

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Jan 20

CuttingForStoneCutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese ★★★
This book is about two identical twin boys, Marion and Sheva, growing up at a mission hospital in Ethiopia, whose mother died at the time of birth and father disappeared at the time of birth. Verghese weaves a complex maze of incidences which lead to the ultimate fate of each of the two boys. The setting is quite historical, in that it speaks of the epoch of Haile Selassie and subsequent revolution, which influenced events of the two boys. Eventually, the father is identified as a world famous liver surgeon in Boston. The book is written in either third person form, transforming into first person form of Marion as time goes on.
Reading the first third of the book had me quite excited as to having discovered an excellent novel. It went downhill from there. Verghese elaborates on some coming-of-age scenes with the boys, and other sexual escapades which seemed to dominate the author’s thinking. Too many incidences occur which are beyond the realm of reason. The father, Thomas Stone, writes in Africa the leading textbook of tropical medicine, only to become the world’s authority on partial liver transplantation. Right. Shiva skips medical school, and becomes the world authority on urovaginal fistulae. Marion becomes the head trauma surgeon at a New England hospital. Marion’s youthful girlfriend leads a hijacking of an airliner, only to find herself wandering aimlessly in the US. The original realism which decorated the first half of the book is lost completely in the second half. It was as though Verghese had become bored with writing and had to create imaginative ways to end the book.
This is a book that is perhaps slightly autobiographical, in that the author was born in Ethopia, with Indian connections and finally moved to the US in order to become a doctor. Thus, much of what he describes about the life and land of Ethiopia in the first portion of the book was wonderful.  His description of third world hospitals is quite accurate and brought back many memories. His idea of god is one giant Hindu Ethiopian Mary-oriented Catholic Muslim god who works in a random fashion, and extracts punishment or delivers favor in a quid pro quo mixed with arbitrary manner. This book is best read by reading the first ⅓ to ½, and then skipping to the last several chapters to find out what happened to everybody.

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Jun 17

The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★
This book was recommended to me by Dr. WP as his favorite Dostoevsky work. The story revolves around a sickly, epileptic prince named Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin, but is often simply referred to as “the idiot”. An idiot he is not, but a kindly, reserved fellow. The story has him returning from Switzerland for recovery of his health, when he comes into encounters with multiple females. Ultimately, he becomes romantically engaged with several, though not be actively seeking them out, but rather by becoming an inheritor of a large sum of money. The story has a fascinating ending which I won’t reveal. Like most Dostoevsky novels, you won’t easily predict the ending until you get there. Worthy of reading, I should soon be reviewing the Russian “made for television” version of the book.

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Mar 25

The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★
This book was written soon after Dostoevsky finished a three year term in a Siberian prison for his alleged revolutionary activities. The story is written from the viewpoint of a nobleman for whom you are never told his crime, and owes the state 10 years of hard labor. Much of the book is oriented around the first few weeks in the prison, the description of the prison hospital, the celebration of Christmas, and various prisoner stories describing events in prison or the crime that bought their prison sentence. It is a dark read, though with jocular moments, and a prelude to the even darker writings of prison life by Alexander Solzhenitsin. The book does end well, with a brief description of the release of the story-teller from prison, though that was preceded by the tale of an attempted escape. Dostoevsky excels in his ability to do  character descriptions.
Again, this Mobile Reference version is filled with multiple typographical errors from the scanning of the originals. Usually, one may figure out the proper intended word, but sometimes it was not possible. I would discourage anybody from purchasing this set. It might be cheap, but you get what you pay for.

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Mar 18

The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoevsky ★★★★
This is one of Dostoevsky’s shorter novels, and follows a young student from Russia tutoring children of a Russian General while living in a small gambling town in Germany. The student inadvertently gets the gambling bug when asked to make bets at the local casino by a lady friend of his. This leads to a disasterous episode in the students’ life, characterized by moments of extreme wealth and extreme poverty leading to a short episode in prison. The extreme wealth dissipates quickly through either inability to control the irresistable gambling urge, or by squandering the wealth rapidly on friends and careless living. Perhaps Dostoevsky was writing this partially autobiographically, since he also had a period of compulsive gambling, which he managed to kick. The book generally has a dark, somber tone to it, though a middle section where rich grandmamma comes to visit and suddenly gets caught in the gambling craze offers a comic interlude.
I read this book on Kindle. I have seen the opera The Gambler (Der Spieler) by Prokofiev in the distant past, and so will have to dig the disc out of the memory vaults and watch it again. The book can easily be read in several nights, and doesn’t have periods of lengthy dialogue or monologue that are typical of the longer Dostoevsky novels. This edition of the works of Dostoevsky is VERY poorly edited, with numerous spelling mistakes. They obviously quick scanned a text, and offered no proof-reading. You get what you pay for. The edition itself should be only 1 star.

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Feb 22

A Prophet ont he Run: A Devotional Commentary on the Book of Jonah, by Baruch Maoz ★★★★★
Rev. Maoz is a Reformed pastor in Israel, growing up in USA but moving to Israel fairly early in life. This book is a set of sermons that he gave to his congregation in Israel and later translated from Hebrew into English.
I rarely ever read devotionals. Streams in the Desert, Our Daily Bread, and others are contentless pep-talks that get me nowhere. This book is totally different. Maoz does not labor over speculations or technical details, but simply expounds on the word before him. He doesn’t explain the chiastic structure of the book or delve into the factual basis of the whale but simply assumes it to be true. He doesn’t speculate on the change of appearance of Jonah while living inside a whale and how that might have affected the Ninevite audience. Moaz does spend much time at simply looking at the text and elaborating on what is speaking in the book of Jonah. Though I’ve had pastors preach on Jonah, I’ve never had them find the goldmines of truth in Jonah as Maoz is able to do. Maoz is able to show how Jonah closely matches our own personal lives of trying to give God instruction, and define who he should be merciful to. He shows the overwhelming graciousness of God, with both Jonah and Ninevites, in that neither of them desired God’s will, yet both in God’s sovereign grace were drawn to him.
After each chapter, Maoz includes a prayer, summary of the chapter, and then questions for reflection on the material just read. This short book shows how one can take an academic approach to the Scriptures, and yet glean a massive harvest of personal instruction for our daily lives. It is a pity that there are so few expositors of Maoz’s ability. I will soon be working on his book about Malachi, and hope that he translates many of his other sermons on books of Scripture.

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Feb 20

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Translated b y Andrew McAndrews ★★★★★
This book was read on the Kindle, downloaded from The Brothers Karamazov is the tale of three brothers and their eccentric father, living in a small town in Russia. Each of the three brothers turned out to be somewhat different from the others, and the first 1/3 of the book is a character development of each of the brothers in turn as well as the father. The second third of the book details events which lead up to the murder of the father, and the dilemma of deciding who did it. The final third is a detail of the courtroom drama and conviction of one of the brothers. The book has many long sections of prolonged narrative and tends to move very slowly, yet constantly manages to keep you on the edge of your chair. Dostoyevsky is a true master of suspense and development of the characters in his books. He spends much time describing the smallest, insignificant details, many of which become important much later in the novel. It’s a dark novel, and seems to be somewhat autobiographical. Dostoyevsky does not spare describing the human condition. The novel itself receives 5 stars.
The Kindle edition receives only 1 star. Oddly, the bargain basement Kindle version of this novel (which I have in the Complete Works of Dostoyevsky on Kindle) is better indexed than this version was. The individual sections (books) were indexed, but not the 10-14 chapters in each section. Kindle has the tendency of occasionally jump randomly to another portion of the book, and returning to where you were reading can be a challenge. Oddly, Kindle does not have a “reset the synch” function for the farthest page read, and so to re-synch will often put you in the last pages of the book, rather than where you were last reading. I’m not entirely convinced that the Kindle is ideal for book reading, save for when traveling.
I will now be reading “The Gambler” and “The Idiot”, after which I’ll retreat to the more somber works of Solzhenitsyn, “In the First Circle” and “The Gulag Archipelago” as well as Shirers’ “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”. This is my novel reading schedule for the next several months. You’ll have to wait for reviews for the  more serious reading that I do. I welcome reading recommendations.

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Aug 14

I have given up most of my coffee consumption and turned to tea. At first, I used tea bags, and had about 10-15 different varieties. I was always in amazement when Dr. Liao would decline having tea, as he commented that he just didn’t like the taste of the tea that I brewed up. So, I asked him to bring me back some good chinese tea on his next trip to China. He did, and brought me a box that had eight different flavors.
Since then, I’ve slowly evolved into using only tea leaves. You can see my tea cabinet. Only a portion of the teas I brew are visible, and some are actually just using old containers.
I brew the tea in a white ceramic pot or cast iron pot, kept warm over a tea candle apparatus.
I use a Finum strainer for the tea. These are very nice, since you can remove the tea leaves after the appropriate infusion time, and can reinfuse the leaves quite easily. The lid also serves as a convenient base to prevent tea from getting on the counter.

At the office, I use a larger ceramic pot, with a hot water pot to boil the water.
Learning how to properly brew tea takes practice, experience, but a good book also gives one an idea as to techniques for making the perfect pot of tea. The book below also discusses the various types of tea, their origin and their differences. Generally, there are Chinese vs. Indian teas. Africa does produce some teas like Rooibos, which I’ve found to be quite distasteful. The Chinese/Indian teas vary from black, Oolong, green, flavored (like Jasmine), mixed (like Earl Grey), or moldy (like Pu-Erh). Pu-Erh tea is actually quite interesting, in that the 2-5 infusions are all quite good. The tea smells like a barnyard, but the taste is very nice.
The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook, by M. Heiss and R. Heiss ???
This book is a good introductory summary for the tea lover. Happy brewing!!!

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Feb 23

Adobe InDesign Styles, by Michael Murphy ????
I got to know Michael Murphy on the Podcast called “The InDesigner” and appreciated his insights and comments on InDesign. InDesign is the typographer’s dream, giving the typographer undreamed of control over the page and how type appears on the page. In this short book (as well as the two supplemental chapters downloaded from the internet), one learns the proper use of character, paragraph, and object styles, as well as styles used for tables. Murphy also gives a cursory review of GREP, and touches briefly on styles in the interface between word processors such as Microsoft Word and XHTML/CSS. The book was a slow read, but very helpful in learning more about some of the power of InDesign. The biggest weakness of the book was the failure to use enough examples, especially in the area of object styles, which was too cursory. This is a worthy read for the person who wishes to move beyond InDesign basics to increased power use of the program.

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Feb 12

The Israel of God, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, by O. Palmer Robertson ?????
This short book addresses the issue of how the Christian should regard the nation of Israel, and what the Scriptures say about who the real Israel may be. The first chapter addresses the theology of “land”, discussing that the land of Israel what we now think of as Palestine as a type of land to come for the Christian.  Robertson then shows clearly that the Scriptures have always defined Israel in a broader sense than just being genetic descendants of Abraham. The next chapters contend with the shift of priesthoods from the Aaronic to the Melchizedechian lines, making sense to me for the first time by explaining the significance of this shift in priesthoods. Next is discussed a theme developed more fully in a previously reviewed book by Robertson on the thme of the wilderness church, that the church in the wilderness has always been largely apostate. Finally, Robertson addresses the kingdom and its King, showing how the nation of Israel had departed from the covenant, and that in replacement, the perfect King, Christ, is installed and now reigns. The status of the current nation of Israel is then returned to. Robertson discusses how the church is the new Israel of God, and that Jews must seek Christ and be permitted into the church in no different of matter than the Gentiles. This book is an easy and delightful read, highly recommended to all, especially those who are ruminanting over the current events of a return of the state of Israel.

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