Category Archives: Uncategorized

Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth

the-pillars-of-the-earth

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I have finally gotten around to read the first of two books in the Kingsbridge series by Ken Follet; they were super popular and got great reviews at one stage. The two books themselves are quite extensive and from first glance they look like they have the potential for that “epic story” that many fantasy writers seem to manage. I’m still reading the second book, but they both focus on a town called Kingsbridge, in England, the site of a cathedral of some repute and revolving around the people who live there – from monks to merchants and from gentry to peasantry. Since I’m still busy reading the second book, this review only concerns the first book The Pillars of the Earth.

The story-line follows the building of the Kingsbridge cathedral, but first the book starts out in a very intriguing way – the hanging of a foreigner, the curse of a wronged woman and three powerful men fearful of what they had done. The significance of this opening impacts the story both on a superficial level (in that the woman becomes an important character) and on a layered level (in that secrets related to these events are revealed later on). However, the bulk of the story is a bit more down-to-earth: young romance, cruel nobility and sly clergy. In fact, the plot relied so heavily on these pop-culture tropes that I felt like I could guess at most new characters’ personalities even before they were introduced, just by their class description – the rich girl with curly brown hair is, of course, the sweetheart; the tall, handsome landowner is, wait for it, cruel and chauvinistic; and the poor, shy boy with red hair is, yep, an unappreciated genius. What’s more, the characters never changed, there was no development – they were born into the book a certain way and stayed that way for decades of plot. Nobody can boast that they are the same person, believe the same things or even talk the same all through their lives… but okay, maybe that’s difficult to write into a book without seeming too inconsistent… the characters just felt flat and unimaginative.

Honestly the story-line itself had the same feeling. Sure, all characters, good and bad, got a good dose of fortune and misfortune throughout, but the way it was administered was extremely predictable. Halfway into the book the recipe is terribly, consistently clear – the “good guys” win something, then lose something, the “bad guys” lose, then gain. It was like a rhyme you could recite “one for me, one for you, one for me…” and on and on, really, all the way to the end. Well, I finished the book not quite satisfied, but that’s life.

Then why am I reading the second book (World Without End), you may ask? The blurb promised more outside influence – plague, famine, war, prosperity. I’m almost halfway and there seems to be much more of a variety of characters, motivations and journeys. I’m hopeful. 🙂 Luckily you don’t need to read the first book in order to “get” the second. It plays out in the same town, around the same cathedral, but enough years have passed that the initial characters have very little influence on the plot and the context is completely new. Well, I wouldn’t say the first book was necessarily bad, but it was painfully average. Let’s see how the second one turns out 😉

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Uncategorized

South African travel obsession

I have been so fortunate to have parents who encourage curiosity and adventure! We rarely went to a holiday spot twice, and though we had our favourite spots to go eat out every now and again, we also had a lot of fun trying new things. A decade or so (*cough) later this drive still hasn’t left me. In the last 5 years I’ve spent more time outside my home country than in it, to the distress of family members and confusion of friends who are much more settled than me. I don’t blame them – as many times as I hear ‘I wish I could see other places in the world’, I think to myself ‘I wish I have a secure job, friends around me and I could attend my sister’s 21st birthday’.

Hmm, I digress… The point is, even when I go back home, to South Africa, I won’t stop looking around and discovering beautiful, new places. The next couple of posts will be all about the travels I want to engage in, in South Africa. The planning will take the shape of a road trip, with spots and stops along the way. 🙂

The first steps will be from Pretoria, to the Northeastern border of SA, across Mozambique to Ponta Malongane, back down to South Africa along the East coast; Durban, via Lesotho and Swaziland, down to Port Elizabeth… all along the coast to Cape Town, up the Western Cape, to Namibia, and back to SA via Botswana.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Guns, Germs and Steel (author Jared Diamond)

As a person living in the modern age, we look back at preceding societies and judge them or have expectations of them according to what we understand of the world today, forgetting that people of 10 000 or even 5 000 years ago saw and experienced the world very differently. In the same way we measure their progress and development by our current understanding of world resources. With such a shallow understanding of what it took to reach the point technological, medical or cultural evolution at which we are at right now, we may fault people for not “advancing” themselves the way other societies have. Jared Diamond’s curiosity about this has gifted the world with an extraordinary account of human history, looking through the microscope of cultural and societal evolution and what it took for man to become what we call “civilized” or “advanced” today.

A mere 20 pages into this book I was completely captivated! Diamond finds myriad explanations for specific trends in our prehistorical development, but doesn’t stop there. He imparts not a knowledge of developments, but an understanding of growth and transformation.
I’m amazed at what it took for food production and agriculture to take hold and how big of a snowball effect that creates in terms of technology, society and later, political organization! Similarly, animal domestication had a major impact on disease and our adapting immune systems. And that’s in societies that had access to domesticable, agriculturally viable plant & animal species.

From these building blocks Diamond continues to paint the picture of all the things we hold dear or take for granted in our own societies and shows how silly it is to seperate peoples based on our preconceived notions of “us vs them”.

This is an incredible book, absolutely worth it’s Pulitzer prize and other awards.
A good book to read in conjunction with Guns, Germs and Steel is Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael.

by Jared Diamond

by Jared Diamond

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

A perspective I haven’t come across before; exciting!

Paul Taylor

“We literally followed people around all day and timed every event [that happened in the office], to the second.

That meant telephone calls, working on documents, typing e-mails, or interacting with someone.

What we found is that the average amount of time that people spent on any single event before being interrupted

was about three minutes.” – Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California

waste-in-the-office_5227601e47658_w587

If you are working in an office today you will be interrupted – or you will interrupt yourself – every 3 minutes.

And what’s worse is it will take many of you up to 23 minutes to recover from that distraction.

If your boss lets you – go home. It’s the most productive decision you’ll make this year.

Here are four reasons why the office should have died by now:

  1. UK workers spend a year of their lives in meetings…

View original post 695 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Strangeness of language

Eclectic Explorations

People live consciously, in the context of their past (i.e. always aware of their past) and aware of the potential of their future… This is something fundamentally different from other creatures. There are definitely many things that separate us from the animal kingdom; most see this separation as a good thing – progressive – some see it as destructive, either way it’s inevitable.

All languages that I know of, have developed a way to express past & future. Most major languages have, anyway; certainly every language that is commonly used in more than one country. Why? Why is this concept, this perspective important to so many people? Ok… thinking about this on an individual level – we learn from our past and hope for our future, but why so profoundly? There are those absolutely slave to their past and those whose despair of their future is so devastating that it…

View original post 50 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Drinking with Men: A Memoir – Rosie Schaap

Eclectic Explorations

I am not a bar regular and I will probably never be one, though Rosie Schaap’s memoir has given me a yearning to find a tucked-away cozy joint somewhere, which could be a little getaway when I need it. In every chapter Rosie takes the reader to a different bar, where she spent a significant amount of time and which became the context for that part of her life. When I think of someone spending most of their free time in a bar, drinking, I do not picture something jovial and merry, but rather something wallowing in depression and stagnation, regretting misspent years and opportunities… This book tells an absolutely and pleasantly contradictory story!

Rosie’s book and her life may well be packed with bars (bright and dingy alike) and filled with drinking of all shapes and sizes (happy, celebratory drinking, desperate sorrowful drinking, drinking to cement friendships or to…

View original post 225 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized