Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Discipline of Choice

Book Review – In Absence of the Sacred, by Jerry Mander, Readily available for $6.00 – $20.00

I acquired this book at one of those delightful moments provided by a friend of mine.  She was attending university at the time and, for my birthday, walked me into the university bookstore and said – pick something, anything.  When these rare moments arrive I like to make sure that my selection is not necessarily something I would purchase browsing the shelves with my own budget.  I will look for something intriguing, new to me, off my usual radar.  I find such treasurers that way!

Written in 1991 the book is an amazing critique of the place technology “owns” in our day to day lives.  Mander discusses just how much it permeates our very existence and homogenizes much of humanity into some large mass of consumerism.  This is not, however, a book about ditching technology.  What Mander does try to do is introduce a bit of thought into the choices we each make whether we, as an individual, are a consumer or a producer of the marvels of our age.

Mander uses the aboriginal societies of a number of continents to show that in the slower paced world, people tend to make decisions based on what the impact will be on future generations.  What will be the cost in resources, sustainability, survival and the opportunity for enjoyment of the world around us?  He does not, to my recollection, try to say we should ditch all technology.  What he does try to say is that more thought should be put into the consequences of our renovations and discoveries before they become common issue and possible problems.

Let’s take a known problem, something that there is not much controversy about: toxic waste.  For decades we have fought in court rooms, on barren fields, hospital rooms and community centers to try to get manufacturing and production companies to take more responsibility for the waste they generate.  The price in human suffering runs deep before someone, somewhere finally decides enough is enough and then the cost of cleanup, litigation, loss of viability and even livelihoods, becomes such a burden that nearly any advantage gained by the original thought process is destroyed.  Yes money is made, perhaps mountains of money.  But money is also lost.  Companies go bankrupt; people lose jobs, health and life.

Mander proposes that we try a different approach.  Instead of dealing with the consequences after that fact; try to anticipate the consequence before hand and weigh the benefits of a particular development or technology against its true costs.  Paper diapers are probably a marvelous convenience, but where do they all go when they are used?  There are some moves to use our volcanoes as rather efficient garbage dumps, but do we know what the impact of that might really be?

Throughout the book Mander addresses some of the beliefs and customs of various aboriginal peoples around the world.  Even pointing out that as efficient and earth friendly as thermal heat may be, in Hawaii it is an offense to the Hawaiian people as an affront to Pele, their main goddess.   The system works well, however, in Iceland.  The point is we should be listening to those who have managed to lead sustainable lifestyles for millennium and combine their wisdom with our ever increasing knowledge.

I did not get the impression that Mander wanted us all to return to loin cloths and some mythological pre-industrial Eden.  Nor did I get the impression that he was recommending that we should shun advances in medicine, science or technology.  What I took away from the book is that as rational beings with the capability of reason, we should take into account the full impact of our activities before we commit to a course of action.  Our point of view should be to treasure our resources, to count our home “sacred” in some form or other and to seek sustainability.   Avoid becoming an automated consumer, buying whatever is the latest and greatest.  Instead, try to build a life around conscientious choices for things which enrich your life; including some of our most advanced technology.  Learn to know the difference and choose.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Current times, My Journey with Job, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

Teaching the How With an Intriguing What

Book Review – The New Archaeology and the Ancient Maya by Jeremy A. Sabloff.  Available for around $30.00.

I am not certain if good teachers always make good writers, but there are books by teachers and professors that really make me want to sit in their classroom and practice osmosis.  This book happened to be a birthday gift from my husband a number of years ago.  It was a sure winner since it was not only about history, but the methods by which we reconstruct what we find and how we find it.

It was through Sabloff’s book that I realized something rather fundamental about western civilization’s first explorations into the field of “digging up bones and things.”  Archeology was funded by scientific societies formed by the wealthy.  The travelers to the far off and exotic places were either adventurer/scientists who could convince those societies to invest in their ideas, or those with enough wealth to enjoy the leisure to go themselves.  This doesn’t mean that the research was somehow substandard; it wasn’t.  Many of the drawings, maps, photographs and diaries of the early explorers contained an immense amount of information about civilizations the modern world had completely forgotten or never knew.

What did happen was that the observers went to the field with a point of view.  It may have been a particular scientist trying very hard to find answers to his own questions, or it may have been a member of the upper class with a bright and inquiring mind.  Thus, the results were produced with a bit of tunnel vision.  And, even though artifacts were a major goal in these trips, anthropology was not a priority, if it was thought of at all.  Dr. Sabloff tells the story of how the field of archeology moved from an adventure of the elite to the whole new science of the humanities.  With funding from universities, governments and private supporters, new technologies were applied to the field.  With a different point of view from the worker, the farmer, the doctor, the lawyer, the linguist, and oh so many other interested parties, the search for ancient civilizations grew to include all the supporting roles of the people who lived in these mysterious cities.  Information that came from the field was made available to an ever widening audience, who raised more questions, made more suggestions, and funded or went themselves to discover the pieces of our past.

That is only part of the story Dr. Sabloff tells in this book.  He uses this background of a changing science to show how our perception of the Mayans has changed.  How the techniques we can now apply show us how the every-day people lived and died.  Our new processes and thinking has given us better clues to unravel the mysteries of the disappearance and decline of so many great empires in the Americas.  We have learned to have a greater respect for the peoples that lived in these lands before the Asians and Europeans arrived.  Or, at least those that came here in the Current Era.  Who got here when is still a matter of intense academic controversy.

What Dr. Sabloff does with this particular volume is teach.  He teaches the reader how it’s done and what we learn as our abilities improve.  He also teaches a different perspective on this ancient empire, a civilization of pyramid builders in the deep jungles of Central America.  The book is full of illustrations, maps, photos and drawings from the records of the original explorers.

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And now there is an “Author Page”

An author page has now been created at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/author/readingalcove

This page will be listing all publications and includes a blog roll from here.

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Filed under Authored Works, Caregiving Backstage

Book Review – What a Tangled Web We Weave

The Visitant, The Summoning God, The Bone Walker, by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. Available for approximately $8.00-$15.00 each.

This week I am doing something a bit special – a triple hitter!  Actually a series written by the award-winning archaeological team Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear.  This couple has an incredible talent for bringing their field work on North American aboriginals into vivid focus.  They develop their characters with such style you become certain you would know them if you met them on the street.  Each book they have written draws a story around their own archaeological finds in such a way that they take you back to the fireside councils and the raging battle fields of peoples that lived on the continent nearly a millennia ago.

In this series, the Gears develop a modern day story around an archaeological team involved in trying to unravel the mysteries of sites known to have been inhabited by the Anasazi, including which ones might actually relate to the Anasazi, and the meaning behind their art and artifacts.  Rulers of an empire, there was a point in their history when drought drove them to despair so deep that they turned against their own gods and their own people.  This is not light-hearted reading.  As the modern day scientists try to fathom the disaster they have found in an ancient kiva, the past tugs at their reason and their emotions forcing them to reassess what they may or may not believe about the ancient gods they study.  The books are written using side-by-side story lines of the past and present.  The two interact to solve both central mysteries as well as several conflicts between the characters and their own past histories.

I found this series truly “devouring.”  It makes a statement about the assumptions and presumptions we take with us when we study those who came before us.  Through the study of those that preceded us, we may be able to understand a bit more about ourselves.  Sometimes it is easy to forget the power of belief and just how far it will drive the human spirit.  It is best to remember…

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

How to Get Published

CreateSpace

No more, “If you don’t hear from us in 8 weeks, sorry we’re not interested.”  Indie publishing is not what it used to be.  The old vanity presses charged you crazy prices to acquire inventories of your own work which often became very nice door stops.  CreateSpace is a print on demand publisher which allows you to do your own thing or hire their professionals.  You can pick and choose which services you wish to engage.  They provide newsletters every month that are very helpful.  And to top it off you have a direct pipeline to on-line marketing.  It’s a great way to take control of your own artistic endeavors.  Caution, if you don’t pay for professional editors then make sure you have a crew of “beta readers!”  There is a reason that Indie publications started out with a sub-standard reputation; make the effort to shoot for the same professionalism as a major NYC publisher would demand.

 

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New Amazon Author Page

So, now I have an author page on Amazon!  There is an RSS feed connection so all posts from here will post there as well.  Another profile to work on, sigh.

https://www.amazon.com/author/readingalcove

 

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Book Review – The Celtic Elite

Book Review – A Brief History of the Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis.
Available for less than $5.00.

While browsing my memory and my bookshelf for something to open the page on CE, I bumped into this little book about Celtic history and the Druids.  It too has a special story.  I found it one afternoon when I retreated to the bookstore for solace because, after maybe 4 or 5 different shoe stores, I couldn’t find something for my feet.  Thus, I looked for something for my head and, there it was, on the bargain shelf.

Mr. Ellis is described by some as a “popular historian”, which sounds somehow not quite, well, right with the world.  As it happens it simply means that it is not a technical article written under the authority of peer-reviewed research.  I find this interesting since Mr. Ellis, among other academic accomplishments, holds a degree from the University of East London in Celtic studies.  A review of his biography indicates a lifelong devotion to all things Celtic.  The book under discussion includes eleven pages of bibliography.  So, whether or not we wish to classify his prolific writing as popular history or academic history the fellow has enough background to grant some authority to his writings.  To set the tone I would like to quote from the Introduction:

“The French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, once said: ‘There are no final truths.  The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as to ask the right questions.’ In no field is it more necessary to ask the right questions than when attempting to discover the Druids.”

This is so very true.  Because we know so little of the Druids, and especially from the Druids themselves, they have become history’s fantasy dump taking on whatever roll someone wishes to assign to them.  Ellis’ book probes the record left through tradition, anti-Druid writings and cultural evidence to weave an interesting outlook on a segment of Celtic society that was peopled with not just priests, but the doctors, lawyers, statesmen and scientists of the Celtic age.  Seeking clues in traditions as old as Europe itself, Ellis builds the case for an elite within a culture that stretched from ancient Ireland to the farther reaches of Turkey and Iberia. It is a very interesting read.

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Book Review – Enjoying History as a Mystery

Book Review: The Charlemagne Pursuit by Steve Berry
Paperback readily available for around $10.00

Admittedly I love a good intrigue novel.  Sometimes I catch myself reading faster in hopes of letting the hero (or heroine) know about some lurking danger so, perhaps, I don’t always trust the author to protect him or her. I was introduced to Steve Berry by a used bookstore owner familiar with my tastes in history and intrigue.  I am grateful for his astute assessment of his clientele.

Steve Berry is the type of author that researches little known or unexplained aspects of history and builds a story around that piece that involves modern day villains and heroes chasing each other from continent to continent in a quest to find, or protect, the answer to some historical puzzle.  Some of the reviews I read before preparing mine indicated that there were far too many threads wrapped into this story line.  In part I might agree, and, as it happens, I don’t agree with his final conclusions on either the civilization his main character discovers or on the source of the primary key; the Voynich Manuscript. That issue aside, the book brings the non-historian into a world of tangled clues that academics in the humanities deal with on a daily basis: who knew what when and why did they pursue certain lines of investigation?  Berry’s version is, of course, far more exciting and dangerous than most researchers’ experience.  Mr. Berry always adds an “Author’s Note” to let you know what is “real” and what is part of his story.  Nice source of research for an historical addict such as myself.

I won’t go into plot details here; that is for the reader to discover.  The basic story line involves research into the life of Charlemagne through the writings of his traveling companion, Einhard.  In his journal, The Life of Charlemagne, Einhard describes events and, perhaps, thoughts of Charlemagne, that are not all that clear.  This provides plenty of source material for the historical mystery.  Berry ties a document known as the Voynich Manuscript to Charlemagne.  The copy that is now extant is dated to the early 15th century and has a rather interesting provenance. It is considered “the world’s most mysterious manuscript” and has defied translation by persons and organizations known for they ability to crack ciphers and ancient languages.  The manner in which Charlemagne acquires something like the manuscript is an interesting (and to me) plausible scenario.  It’s the interpretation of that event and the source of the manuscript on which Mr. Berry and I diverge.

I had run across the manuscript before.  Berry’s version of its history sent me back to the Internet for more information and I found a complete digital file of the actual manuscript.  Someday I will, hopefully, find a linguist to collaborate with me and, perhaps, my own version will get introduced to the world.  Let it suffice to say that finding fiction writers who really do their research and present us with a world of possibilities we had not at first considered is not that common.  Mr. Berry and his wife support the investigation of the lesser known aspects of our history on their website http://www.steveberry.org/.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

Book Review – A Different Side of History

Book Review – Answer to History by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran
Available new for over $40.00, used as low as $33.00

Some years ago, during a transitional time in my life, I worked in a book store.  This was a bit like living in Disney Land.  It was in the days before Internet book searches and online bookstores so finding treasurers was not so easy.  The store owners I worked for would often acquire book collections from desert inhabitants who had moved on, passed on or changed interests.  I would often stalk these titles, looking for the unusual, the different opinion, or the story as told by an observer rather than an interpreter.  This book was one such book.

I have a quirky view of current events; I tend not to think too deeply about what I find in common media.  When I was fairly young I was involved in a fatal accident.  The one newspaper article I was able to convince myself to read had so many errors it appeared as though it was a report on a different accident.  That instance only strengthened my belief that it is nearly impossible for someone to write a truly objective and accurate account of any event, even if the writer is not emotionally involved in some way.  Thus, I seek out different perspectives on ideas and events.  Answer to History brought me an amazing perspective on the “modernization of the Persian peoples.”

Most of what we hear of the Shah’s regime has to with secret service goons, torture, and a host of unsavory things supposedly, and perhaps probably, propped up by the western governments.  The point of view from inside the mind of this leader is quite different.  Few know of the balancing act he tried to master between the demands of the western world and the pressures of his northern neighbor.  He knew the geopolitical dynamics of his region of the world as few others did.  Even fewer know of the huge sums of money spent from his family’s trust to create housing, provide education and medical care and to give the people in the street a chance at learning what they needed to know to self-govern.  As much as he truly loved his country, and for all he tried to accomplish for it, the man just flat ran out of time.

This book is written in the last days of his life while he was in Exile in Egypt dying of cancer.  It is provocative and soul searching.  It also should give policy makers pause when they are thinking about involving themselves in another country’s affairs; or suddenly lose the political will to finish what they started.

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Book Review – Plain and Simple

Plain and Simple, By: Sue Bender
Readily available for less than $15.00

I decided before writing this review I would glance through a few of the reviews on Amazon to get some idea of what other people were saying.  My, my.  Sometimes I wonder if I have read the same book!

Perhaps it’s me, but my viewpoint on the book was 180 degrees from some of the input on the website.  I found the book some years ago when I, too, was looking for a different viewpoint, a different way of seeing things.  Since there is an artist hidden somewhere inside of me, I was drawn to the description on the dust jacket that indicated the author was first drawn to the “idea of the Amish” through their art.  Most markedly their quilts.  Her first introduction to the quilts was in 1967.  Sometime later she was struck by another art form of the Amish; faceless dolls.  She sought out an Amish woman that would make two dolls for her since they are not something on the open market.  By 1982 her personal haunting found an outlet and she arranged to spend some time with an Amish family.  It was sometime later that she was able to arrange a second visit in a different community with slightly different personalities and traditions.

This is not a book about the Amish per se.  It is about a particular person’s search to find whatever quality it is that creates this quiet eye of the storm represented by Amish communities and craftsmanship.  She chose the analogy of the quilts because she was able to “rearrange the pieces” of her mental quilt to find the pattern most fulfilling and intriguing to her.  The faceless dolls also gave her food for thought and a basis of inner reflection regarding the way she looked at life.  Yes, the book is her book, centered on her beliefs, her experiences and her interpretations.  That is the point of a personal journey.  It is the reader’s choice whether or not to join the author on the journey.  Her perspectives of the people she shared her time with bear an honest stamp of, “Could I do that?” And, yet she shows respect for the way they have shaped their lives around a central idea and body of beliefs.  I think her quest was to find some central idea or belief to support her life choices.  As it happens, she does find the tools.  A later book describes her struggle to implement those tools.  Conversion experiences are always uplifting but it is a different thing to take that feeling home and incorporate it in your day to day life.

I found the book special to my own thought processes and recognized the struggle she had between the life we usually lead and the one that lives quietly within us.

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