Ty Johnston: life on the written page

Home to fantasy, horror and literary fiction author Ty Johnston

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 54 -- Baudolino

by Umberto Eco

Started: Oct. 12
Finished: Nov. 7

Notes: Though I don't approve of all of his ideas, I have always found Eco to be a genius of a writer, so it is with some relish I turn to this novel of his based during the Middle Ages.

Mini review: Here Umberto Eco has created something of a Forrest Gump character in the 12th Century, though the Baudolino character is no simpleton, having decent intelligence and a little rogue within him. In fact, Baudolino is an admitted liar, so much so almost everything he says is a lie, but it always come with success for him, sometimes comically but often simply because those he has been surrounded by find his lies useful politically. Coming from a quaint background, Baudolino early on stumbles from one historic even to another while meeting important people, here being the shades of Forrest Gump, but unlike Gump, Baudolino eventually finds himself taken in by perhaps the most important political figure of the day, at least within Europe. The first three-fifths of this novel are basically historical, but then it veers over into myth for a long while, and here I lost much interest, mainly because it did not fit with the rest of the book and seemed more than a little unbelievable. Most of this novel is Baudolino telling his life's story to another, and since he is an admitted liar, it's difficult to swallow the mythological portion of this book because it seems it simply can't be true, though Baudolino himself does act as if the events were true and even seems to believe it. Towards the end, the book gets back on a historical footing, and even has something of a melancholy finish. Like many of Eco's work, here one will find plenty of myth and occult references, especially pertaining to the Medieval period. Think the Holy Grail, Prester John, ikons, relics and the like, and you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about. These elements do play various roles within the story, sometimes important and sometimes not, but they are related to a central mystery in this novel, a mystery that is of course unveiled at the end, though to me it felt rather anti-climatic mostly because the mystery itself had been brushed aside for long periods of this book. A good book, and fans of Eco will enjoy it, as should those with interests in Medieval history and myth.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 53 -- Cup of Gold

by John Steinbeck

Started: Oct. 7
Finished: Oct. 12

Notes: It's time to turn back to some fiction, though I'm still in a mood for some history, thus I pick up this Steinbeck novel of adventure along the Spanish Main. Will it be more historical than fictional? Will it be any good? I don't know, which is why I'm reading it, plus the fact I've enjoyed Steinbeck's writing in the past though it's been decades since I've picked up anything by him.

Mini review: One would think a historical novel of the life of Henry Morgan would be loaded with swashbuckling action and adventure, but that's not the case here. Which isn't completely a bad thing, believe it or not. Ultimately, though it takes a long while to get to the point, this novel is about the inner workings of the man Henry Morgan, at least as Steinbeck portrays him. Though blandished with outward struggles, its ultimately the inner one that this book focuses upon, Morgan's successes and his failures. Published in 1929, this was Steinbeck's first book, and it's not his best, but it does show his promise.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 52 -- The Reformation 500 Years Later

by Benjamin Wiker

Started: Sept. 29
Finished: Oct. 6

Notes: Having just finished one book on the Reformation, and seeing this unread book on my shelves, I thought it appropriate I finally read it. This one is by a Catholic ethicist and purports to connect the world of the Reformation with the modern age, so it might be interesting.

Mini review: There was some good and some bad to this book. The good: There was a fair amount of not-so-common information about The Reformation here that went beyond the basics. However, I didn't exactly trust it all because of ... The bad: The author's political bent shines through, so much so he's obviously done so, probably in part because he's writing to a certain audience and probably because he thinks his particular opinions need to be heard, as if they haven't already a million times over. We get it, the Western Christian world today is facing lots of threats, yaddy, yaddy. We've heard it, we know it and either agree or don't, so how about something unique instead of rehashing the same old, same old? Regardless, this was a pretty good book, and though it doesn't come up often, I did think the author did a good job of drawing comparisons between the 15th through 17th Centuries (roughly) and the modern world.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 51 -- Great Ages of Man: The Reformation

from Time/Life Books

Started: Sept. 24
Finished: Sept. 29

Notes: I picked up a couple of these older Time/Life Books in a used book store a while back and thought I'd get back into them some as it has been a long while.

Mini review: As is usual with such books, this one is not overly indepth but it's also not overly basic, providing enough information for the serious student of history though maybe boring to the average reader. I generally enjoyed this book but was not blown away by it. However, I did find a lot of it quite related to the modern world, perhaps more than I felt comfortable admitting. For a basic, quick but fairly solid look at the historic break in Christianity, there are worse books.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 50 -- Great Ages of Man: Renaissance

from Time/Life Books

Started: Sept. 20
Finished: Sept. 24

Notes: When I was a teen I read a ton of Time/Life Books about history, the supernatural, whatever. However, I've not read any in a long while and I've not read this particular book. I always enjoyed these books even though they might be dated because plenty of research has been done since they were originally published (1965 in this case). I liked them because they weren't completely basic, but also didn't bog down the reader with lots of extraneous information.

Mini review: A bit basic but covers those basics well, name dropping quite a bit. The focus here is almost entirely upon Italy, but there is some information about the spread of the Renaissance to other parts of Europe. Anyone wanting to brush up on this period, or to be introduced to it, could do a lot worse than reading this book.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 49 -- The Gideons International Guide Book: 2017-2018

from The Gideons International

Started: Sept. 13
Finished: Sept. 20

Notes: Perhaps you've heard of The Gideons International, the organization known for placing Bibles in hotels and motels and other locations. Yes, I happen to be a member. The organization does much more than put Bibles in hotels, however, including jail ministries, missionary work, etc. Though I've been a member for a while now, and though I've thumbed through this book somewhat, I've not yet set down and read the book from beginning to end, and I thought it high time I did.

Mini review: Mostly operating procedures here which likely wouldn't be of interest to the average reader, but it definitely helped me to understanding the workings of this organization of which I'm a member. Glad to have read it.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 48 -- The King in Yellow

by Robert W. Chambers

Started: Sept. 6
Finished: Sept. 13

Notes: This 1895 collection of weird short stories apparently had a huge influence upon Lovecraft and others who penned such tales in the early 20th Century. I've been meaning to read it for years but never could find an actual copy in any book stores. Then a few months back I stumbled across this free e-book version for the Kindle and snagged it up.

Mini review: This was an odd little book. The first half of it is of tales most definitely of the weird, though slightly so, almost hinting at madness instead of some true supernatural terror. However, the second half of this book is of tales of Americans and the French in Paris either during war time or during more peaceful times, focusing mainly upon young artists and their love interests, somewhat like what would appear decades later in the works of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. For its time this is a decently written book, and I found the tales of madness and the macabre more interesting, but I'm not sure I could recommend this one for any but those who truly want to delve into the earliest tales of the weird and possibly Cthulu fans.