A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book in what is sometimes called L’Engle’s Time Quartet, is a bit like Cloud Atlas in how people and their actions are connected across large expanses of time.

Charles Wallace Murray, a precocious child who is saved by his older sister Meg in A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door, is a teenager in this book. Watched over telepathically by his sister, he rides the unicorn Gaudior to different eras and mentally inhabits a series of people. By influencing their decisions for good, and using an ancient Irish Christian prayer taught to him by his sister’s mother-in-law, he hopes to avert the nuclear apocalypse that is likely to be kicked off by an insane South American dictator whose Welsh ancestors migrated from the American town where the Murrays live.

I remember being confused by A Swiftly Tilting Planet when I was younger, but even as an adult I found the plot hard to follow. The bits I remembered best were about the unicorn (which is invariably shown on the cover).

See below for a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book as well as specific comments on what I liked and didn’t like about the book.

Continue reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

In the first half of A Wind in the Door, the companion to the Newberry Medal–winner A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murray hones her powers of discernment with moral support from a somewhat conceited conglomeration of dragons (which is invariably shown on the cover). It’s memorably gratifying when Meg recognizes the inner goodness in her little brother’s mediocre school principal, but when she does, there’s still, alas, a whole third of the book left!

The finale takes place in a sub-microscopic realm that’s hard to picture and introduces a new character who’s hard to care about, even though he’s somehow the key to winning the climactic battle between good and evil. Good luck ever turning this one into a movie, Disney.

When and Why I Read A Wind in the Door

When I recently read A Wrinkle in Time, some scenes seemed missing. I assume they are in the sequel.

Genre: Fiction (children’s fantasy)
Date started / date finished: 29-May-2018 / 29-May-2018
Length: 203
ISBN: 044098761X
Originally published in: 1973
Amazon link: A Wind in the Door

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (again)

A Wrinkle in Time is undoubtedly a strange children’s novel, but well worth reading, no less now than fifty years ago.

When and Why I Read A Wrinkle in Time

I just read this book recently, but then I read a whole lot of other things before I had the chance to read the books that follow it, so I’m just starting over.

Genre: Fiction (children’s fantasy)
Date started / date finished: 27-May-2018 / 29-May-2018
Length: 198
ISBN: 0440998050
Originally published in: 1962
Amazon link: A Wrinkle in Time

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

When I bought The Good Earth from the Amazon Kindle store, I had to choose between buying it by itself for $7.50 or buying the whole trilogy for $15.39. I’m glad I only bought the first one. One was enough.

The style of writing is simple in a kind of old-fashioned, grand, Biblical way that grated on me long before I reached the end. Long compound sentences rolled along relentlessly, one after another, connecting each thought or action with the previous one. Never have I read a book that contained so many “and”s. Moreover, those “and”s didn’t seem to be building towards anything in a meaningful way. The novel had a straightforward timeline and virtually zero tension, zero plot.

See my Backlist books post on The Good Earth on Asian Books Blog for more thoughts on this Pulitzer Prize–winning historical novel set in 1920s China.

When and Why I Read The Good Earth

This book was chosen by Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club for June 2018.

Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished: 23-May-2018 / 27-May-2018
Length: 225
ISBN: ASIN B008F4NRA8
Originally published in: 1931
Amazon link: The Good Earth

Ant-man (2015)

Watching Ant-man was fun, but it would probably have been more fun in a theater where there would have been lots of people there to laugh at the absurdities scattered throughout.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/ant-man/id1012788984

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Ant-man (2015)

Deadpool 2 (2018)

This M18/R-rated movie carries a warning about “violence and coarse language”. You might think that’s standard boilerplate for any action movie, and maybe it is, but in this case, they’re really not kidding.

In case you missed the first Deadpool movie, Deadpool is a basically immortal, literally scarred super-anti-hero in a skin-tight red-and-black suit that, like Spider-Man’s, covers his whole head and eyes, and unlike Spider-Man’s, has two long swords attached to the back. Deadpool’s human name is Wade Wilson. The name “Deadpool” refers some kind of bet about who was going to die soonest, which turned out to be not Wade, obviously.

Deadpool spews a steady stream of pop-culture references, curses, and insults, often talking directly to the audience about how he’s in, like, the mother of all superhero movies. The Deadpool movies are thus not just violent, coarse fantasy/action movies, they’re parodies: each one is a sustained self-reference joke, complete with ironic use of 80s light-rock hits. (The 80s are so trendy these days!)

The second Deadpool movie, as Deadpool himself tells us, is not for kids, but is nevertheless “a family movie”. As becomes clear towards the end of the movie, he’s not talking about the genre of the movie, he’s talking about the theme of the movie. The movies in the Fast and Furious series were also “family movies” in this sense: the characters consider each other family because they derive their identity from their strong bonds with each other.

What group of people/mutants could Mr. Pool possibly belong to? Is he talking about starting a literal family with his girlfriend (who will never not look like Inara from Firefly to me)? Is he joining the largely but not entirely absent team of X-Men? Is he forming his own superpowered vigilante crew? How about all of the above? Yeah, kinda!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/deadpool-2/id1382445641

Here’s an article about the entirely irrelevant official plot summary. See below for my plot summary (with SPOILERS) in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Deadpool 2 (2018)

How We Learn by Benedict Carey

Some popular science books are dumbed-down echoes of what other popular science books have already said. At best, they’re mildly entertaining and informative, but at worst, they mislead, filling the world with oversimplified factoids. Ideas should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Benedict Carey is nobody’s fool. On page 5, after saying the brain’s modules are like a movie production crew, he takes a step back and says that actually they’re not, because metaphors are all inherently flawed.

What a relief, I thought. This was not going to be a book that would hand me an analogy in place of actual explanation. This was a book written by someone keenly conscious of the tools of writing and their limitations, an intelligent writer with respect for his readers’ intelligence.

How We Learn provides some general background in brain research, by (for example) summarizing some ground-breaking research on split-brain patients which is fascinating if you’ve never heard about it, but there’s a particular thrust to the book which is to apply brain science to the domain of education. The book relates the conclusions of several different kinds of studies designed to find out what circumstances and techniques lead to better learning.

The marketing text on the back of the book is click-baity: “What if almost everything we have been told about learning is wrong? And what if there is a way to achieve more with less effort?”

In fact, some of the conclusions are familiar: Cramming works for tests, but if you want to remember stuff longer, study a little bit, often. Sometimes, however, there’s a twist: Sleep is good, yeah, but if you have to cut some sleep, should you stay up later or wake up earlier? Well, it depends. Read the chapter on sleep to find out why.

Whether or not the advice in the book will help you put your laziness, ignorance, and distraction to work for you as the back cover seems to promise, it’s fun reading about scientific studies of memory and learning when someone has packaged them in an entertaining and articulate way, as Benedict Carey has done.

When and Why I Read How We Learn

I like books about how our brains work. Also, this one was printed with orange edges, which is pretty cool.

Genre: non-fiction (educational psychology)
Date started / date finished: 18-May-2018 / 23-May-2018
Length: 230
ISBN: 9781447286349
Originally published in: 2014
Amazon link: How We Learn

Five Kingdoms (Books 1 to 5) by Brandon Mull

In the fourth book in the excellent fantasy series Five Kingdoms by Brandon Mull, the main character decides that, even knowing what he knows at this point, he would go back in time and do it all again.

At a writing workshop I and some writer friends went to recently, we were told that, because a story always involves loss, the main character would always wish, at the end of the story, not to have experienced the events of the story.

Clearly there’s a disjuncture between commercial and literary fiction, and I prefer commercial fiction. See below for more on why.

Continue reading Five Kingdoms (Books 1 to 5) by Brandon Mull

Cold beer, wet air

People who sell drinks near where people work or relax outdoors in the heat have a technique for making their drinks look particularly cold: They put the bottles in the freezer for a while, which in addition to actually making the drinks a bit colder, makes the bottles look nice and frosty when they are taken out.

Food and drink photographers know that condensation on a drink makes it look cold even if it’s not, so to gain time to capture the perfect shot, they may use inedible glycerin to create “condensation” drops that last longer.

My Tiger beer frosted itself very thoroughly and automatically as soon as it came into contact with the steamy Singapore air.

big beer at Newton Food Centre

Side note: I imagine the stall owners at Newton want to smack whoever bought the first blinking LEDs. That first stall’s obvious advantage kicked off an arms race. The result is that almost all the stalls now have very flashy signs, and none of them stand out. Except maybe the one that has a programmable LED signboard… the arms race continues!