April 15th, 2012


Book #20: Safety in the Ceramics Studio

"Safety in the Ceramics Studio"
(how to handle ceramic materials safely)

By Jeff Zamek

Okay, you can't technically say I *READ* this book...

Because as I was skimming it in preparation to read it, I started to notice a trend...

This book is pretty much useless. Written in 2002, before many of the current labeling laws were put into effect, it really doesn't cover anything a person WITH a ceramics studio doesn't already know!!

Maybe, if you oh say, won the lottery, bought a ceramics studio, and were thinking, "Oh hey, I heard somewhere these places can be DANGEROUS... what kinds of things should one be careful of, in a ceramics studio..." THEN it might be useful.

It comes down to:

Fire is hot.

Dust is bad to breathe.

Stuff that is toxic is toxic.

Sharp edges are sharp.

Dangerous tools are dangerous.

Don't pile newspapers and magazines by the kiln vent.

Don't open the kiln and shove your face into it while it is at 2000 degrees.

You know... the stuff we ALREADY KNOW, if we have even read one label, or had an ounce of common sense.

It does have some fleeting, but terribly outdated, information about the toxicity levels of some materials, but really, you'd be better off googling it for newer, more accurate information.

Whatever you do, don't buy this book if you have even attended ONE Ceramics class... unless you REALLY didn't listen, it's not going to tell you anything at all.
  • Current Mood
    aggravated aggravated

Book #21: Run, Bong-Gu, Run! (Manga/manhwa)

"Run, Bong-Gu, Run!"

By Byun Byung-Jun

Is it possible for a Korean-drawn book to be racially offensive to Koreans? Because if it is, I bet this book offends them.

It's not the storyline, which is subtle, or anemic, depending on your point of view- it's the drawings.

There's something in them that glorifies 'american' and 'japanese' looks, but outright exaggerates and makes obscene the features of koreans.

Ya know, maybe it's just me... but there wasn't enough story in this book to keep me from repeatedly noticing the unflattering way this artist portrays korean characters.

I didn't care for this book much, though I wouldn't call it a waste of time either. It just... didn't speak to me.

At the end, there's far more information- in the form of blathering on about how great it is by people who've read it- than there was in the whole book's storyline!

Alas, I gave it two stars out of five. Not my favourite kind of book or author, it seems.
  • Current Mood
    annoyed annoyed

#17: Life finds a way

On a more pleasant note, I finished Rachel Carson's The Edge of the Sea, a portrait of the life found there.  The project began when a book editor and her friends stumbled across a rare crab during a beach party and accidentally ended up disrupting its reproductive cycle in a well-meaning attempt to help it (they thought it had beached itself and returned it to the sea before it could lay its eggs).  The editor thought it might be useful for Carson to pen a species-by-species handbook to the life found at the ocean's edge, but Carson is more focused on the big picture, how life interlocks; after trying the piecemeal approach, she instead opted for a zone-by-zone look at coastal life  -  life above the tide zone; life that exists between high and low tides; life that needs to be always submerged; etc.

One recurring theme in the book (and in all Carson's work, really) is the interdependence and tenacity (plus the paradoxical fragility) of life.  Along the coral reefs, for example, life's grip is very tenuous; coral can survive only above a certain temperature of water, in a very narrow band of sunlight.  But organisms band together, in some cases living in and anchored to each other, and adapt themselves to survive in a severely small niche and carve out their own islands of life.  Shrimps settle into sea sponges and survive on the bits of food left behind by the water the sponge filters; sea fans anchor themselves to coral, and snails anchor themselves to the sea fans; and the metaphor turns literal in the case of mangroves, whose seedlings settle down into the sea silt and, as their root systems mature, hold on to the soil well enough and attract enough soil-working organisms to build little islets around them in the ocean's midst. 

Carson is intent on sharing with the reader the beauty of even the most rudimentary or bizarre sea-dwellers; the great expanses of rockweed on rocks shores, for example, which lie flat at low tide only to billow expansively at the high, providing a hiding and dwelling place for countless small fish, snails, and crabs; "it is a fantastic jungle, mad in a Lewis Carroll sort of way."  Or the vermetid snail, which form long, spiraling, cornet-like shells; they live so closely intertwined that geologists call the lithified remnants of their shells "worm rock."  When something conventionally pretty like a sea horse enters the picture, it's actually a bit of a shock; it's odd to see a popular symbol of beauty in the ocean, when we've already been introduced to such strange beauty from its far less-appreciated residents.

Carson wrote three books on the sea, and it is a little overwhelming to read them all in a row.  The Edge of the Sea is probably the best-rounded one, though its focus is somewhat narrow and the from-species-to-species, zone-by-zone layout can be a bit monotonous (though this may be my familiarity with her writing talking).  Her first book, Under the Sea-Wind, offers a more lyrical look at ocean life, but her florid prose can be dense and hard-to-follow in spots.  The Sea Around Us, a physical history of the sea, is actually her clearest and most easily engaging work on the ocean  -  it's the clear forebearer of all the immensely readable Bill Bryson-esque popular science tomes  -  but it has the misfortune of being dated by pre-tectonic 1950s geology. All of Carson's sea books, though, are rife with painterly prose you too seldom see in science books nowadays and a love of the entire scope of life in the ocean.  It's a bit of a shame she's remembered for Silent Spring only in modern times, as she was another Jacques Cousteau in her day in how she gave the public a newfound appreciation of the sea.
book and cup

#41 To War with Whitaker - Countess Ranfurly (1994)

In August 2009 I read a childhood memoir by Hermione, Countess Ranfurly, called the ‘Ugly One”, a book I came across by chance. Having finished it I wanted to read about the next stage of her life, in her war time diaries published as To War with Whitaker. I bought a copy of it some time ago – and I am stunned it has taken me quite so long to read it.

In January 1939 Hermione Llewellyn became Countess Ranfurly when she married her Dan, that is Daniel Knox the 6th Earl of Ranfurly. Their lives together were beginning at a particularly tumultuous time in European history, and soon the happy young couple were thrust right into the fray. In September 1939 Dan reported to his yeomanry in Nottinghamshire. The Ranfurly’s cook/butler Whitaker went too. Hermione followed after them.

Dan Ranfurly was then posted to the Middle East, unlike regular army wives, yeomanry wives were forbidden from joining their husbands in the Middle East, however Hermione had no intention of listening. Coming up against many very grumpy old generals, and miles of red tape Countess Ranfurly was determined not to return to England without her husband. Travelling between Cairo, Jerusalem Beirut, via South Africa the young Countess eventually manages to secure her place in the Middle East as a secretary – working first for the SOE Cairo office and later as a civil servant in Jerusalem.
In April 1941 Dan Ranfurly is among a group of men captured in the dessert by the Italians. Hermione is devastated by his disappearance, but she is powerless to do anything but wait for news. The Countess and the ever faithful Whitaker decide to wait it out in the Middle East, and not to return home without him. Eventually Dan’s letters start to come through to her – although they often take weeks and even months to reach her, and he is allowed only a few lines to write on.

Later the countess and her husband are reunited, and after a brief spell in London they are back working separately but in the same country – this time Italy. Throughout the years of World War II the Countess Ranfurly worked hard, often enduring long hours – earning the respect of many soldiers and civilians, among them “General Jumbo” for whom she worked for over 2 years in both the Middle East and Italy.
The dairies that Hermione kept are remarkably detailed and well written. Enormously atmospheric, they are also hugely readable and provide a marvellous history of the war in the Middle East particularly. During these years the Countess met some incredible people including Churchill, Eisenhower and Marshal Tito, and became the proud owner of a parrot called Coco – who was often given bananas by the Countess’s guests. As I read, I was continually impressed by this aristocratic young woman’s way of dealing with what the war threw at her. The Countess’s love for her young husband never wavers, she is absolutely devoted to him, but not in an over emotional way, she sheds the occasional tear but then just gets on with what she has to do – works hard, is sensible intelligent and brilliantly unstoppable.


Book #21: Making Money by Terry Pratchett

This is the first Discworld book I have read in a while and I really need to start reading some more. While I’ve read all of the ones up to this one, except for the young adult books, I would really like to see another book centring around Death, Rincewind or Granny Weatherwax, who are my favourite Discworld characters. However, Moist Von Lipwig, the character who this story focuses on, is an enjoyable character, going from running the post office in this book to running the bank.

One of the first things I noticed about this book was that it was structured into chapters, which is unusual for the Discworld series, and I was slightly disappointed as the lack of footnotes (Terry Pratchett has often filled his Discworld books up with several hilarious footnotes, but they seem to be very few and far between here). The book has much of the trademark humour, and much of the best moments are where it deviates from the main plot, and a particular favourite part for me was the running joke about the sex of golems. The book also seems to be a decent satire on modern times, with the whole issue of how the bank will only lend to the rich, which leads to Moist’s attempts to improve the work processes.

This is definitely worth reading for any Discworld fan.

Next book: Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

Books 30-33

30. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, by Helen Grant. "My life might have been so different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded." That's the opening line in this book - this has got to be one of the best opening lines ever. The heroine Pia becomes a bit of a pariah in her small town, with only the other most unpopular child at her school left to serve as her sole remaining friend. Indeed, it it weren't for the fantastic stories of the elderly Herr Schiller, life would have been bleak and boring for Pia. But then, young girls start disappearing, starting with Katharina, who vanishes during the town's Karneval parade. Pia and Stefan take it on themselves to investigate the disappearances, which they believe might be supernatural in nature. This story neatly blends local lore into real-life day-to-day small town issues. I actually got the solution as to what/who made the girls disappear early on (curious if anyone else got it as quickly as I did) but the story was still very enjoyable. The story is bittersweet; as well as the larger, more shocking horror of the disappearances, Pia faces an increasingly tense household, as her parents' differences come out more and more through the story.

31. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. A coming-of-age story with a bit of a twist: Rose has an unsettling talent that presents itself shortly before her ninth birthday. She finds out that she can taste the emotions - the true emotions - of people in whatever food they've prepared. She finds out after eating a slice of her mother's lemon cake. Her mother, whom Rose had always viewed as happy, outgoing and talented mother is depressed and full of despair. Eating becomes a unique quandry for Rose, but she learns to fine-tune her talents and soon can detect where each ingredient came from. But she also must learn to deal with the deep-buried secrets in her family, which come out with each bit she eats in the house. A very interesting story, well told with a lot of warmth and feeling.

32. Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok. Kimberly Chang and her mother immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong. Once here, Kim must learn to navigate life at school and at the factory, where she and her mother work for her Aunt Paula (a real piece of work), who helped them get to America. After reading the author's brief bio, I wonder how much of the story is autobiographical. Regardless, this was an engaging story, with some unexpected twists (OK, a part of me would have really liked to have seen Aunt Paula get more of a comeuppance but...)

33. Social Media for Business, by Susan Sweeney and Randall Craig. A very handy guide overall to the various types of social media outlets out there. The book concentrates on the largest ones, such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and YouTube, but also goes over several lesser-known social media sites. It goes over the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to best utilize them. Also, at the end of each chapter, there is a list of books and websites which offer more information on the social media site in question. This is well laid out and organized, with occasional pull-out boxes with additional tips or "Watch Out" moments. It also outlines early how social media can be useful- and when, perhaps, it won't help. The authors stress having a social media plan and goals in place before delving in for the best result.

Currently reading: The Reapers are the Angels, by Alden Bell.