Friday, August 1, 2014

July 2014 Book Report

July was a ca-razy month for Dad. We're in the middle of a great book, but you'll have to wait until August for the report. Since July was full of vacations and cleaning, I have two audiobooks to report on. What a great thing to be able to listen to a story when there is no light to read by or when I need to move around. 
1. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

A stuffy, precise Englishmen, Phileas Fogg (dibs), is at his club one evening when he is drawn into a conversation about world travel. Specifically, how long it would take to travel around the world if nothing went wrong during the whole trip. After some calculations, the men decide on a number and Fogg contradicts them with a smaller number - 80 days. The men argue and Fogg puts his money (of which he has a lot) where his mouth is. He bets his acquaintances 20,000 pounds that he can travel around the world in 80 days. Fogg will meet these guys back here at the club at 8:00 pm on December the 21st. (It's the late 1800s.) What?! Doesn't he want to go home and pack and then start the clock? Nope. He just needs his servant and one bag.

From London Phileas Fogg and his man go east (important) to start their adventure. Nothing ever ruffles Fogg. Missed a boat? No big deal, we'll just pay this ship captain a bunch of money to get us to the port in time. A beautiful Indian maiden is about to be sacrificed to the gods? We have plenty of time to save her and catch an elephant to the next port. Verne includes descriptions of several cities in different countries, which made the story drag for me. The fun was definitely in catching the different modes of transportation in time and finding an alternative if they missed THE ONLY boat or train. On the train from Salt Lake to Omaha they meet a Mormon missionary who yells fire and damnation at them for a few hours. They get to ride a sled from Omaha to somewhere to meet the train they missed. Fogg becomes a pirate ship captain on their last leg, which is great fun. 

The character of Phileas Fogg is pretty one-dimensional - he's maddeningly self-composed in every situation. While they're riding on this crazy sled in freezing cold weather, he yells out that the tune of the squealing sled is in fifths and octaves. That made me laugh. This guy would be THE WORST travel companion. His poor servant is the one who tries to explore the cities and ends up joining a circus and getting drugged and left behind a couple of times. 

I absolutely recommend listening to Jim Dale read this book. He is brilliant. BRILLIANT. Around the World in 80 Days is a fun adventure. Great ending, too. (I read a review on Goodreads in which the reader was SHOCKED by all the racism/prejudices. I didn't think it was bad at all - and I'm Mormon. I mention that because the Mormons in Around the World in 80 Days were very coo coo for Cocoa Puffs. So, put away your 21st Century political correctness if you decide to read this book.)

2. The Martian by Andy Weir
Mark Watney is a botanist and astronaut who is left for dead on Mars when a mission has to be aborted during a dust storm. But he's not dead! When Watney realizes he isn't dead, he starts the process of surviving for four years on Mars. Because that's when the next mission will get there. Awesome, huh? Watney has to do all kinds of story problems to figure out how much food and water he has to survive and then how much food he'll need to create. He's left with a supply tent and food and water for six people (the crew that made it out) meant to last six months. They had real potatoes for a Thanksgiving dinner on Mars, so Watney becomes a potato farmer. On Mars.

For several months, everyone on Earth and the other members of the crew think Mark Watney is dead. One woman tracking photos from satellites back on earth notices that there are changes to the look of the wreckage from the mission's exit from Mars and figures out that Watney is alive.  My favorite section of the book was when Watney thought he was alone and that no one knew what he was doing juxtaposed with chapters about the NASA analysts watching him from satellite photos, trying to figure out what he was doing and how to communicate with him.

This book was addicting. There was a lot (A LOT) of technical talk, which I've never been a big fan of, but somehow it was interesting and compelling. Watney is faced with the grimmest picture, and yet he always tries. He always wants to survive. I really liked that. There is always a way through a problem. At the same time, I found myself waiting for something. Like maybe Mark Watney wasn't an astronaut and he was living in a parallel universe. Or his crew left him on purpose because of something that happened to him. Something. But, no. Belated spoiler alert - the story is what it is. This is not about characters, for sure. No way does a human being get stuck on a different planet and live every day wondering if he will survive and never see or talk to another human for almost two years and still be a sarcastic jerk. I get the idea that Andy Weir is not so observant of the human race, but very in tune with technology. The Martian is a tense ride and for me it was a great departure from what I normally read (it's a summer book!), but I was left wishing it had been more... There is a fair amount of swearing, but I would swear a lot if I found myself alone on a planet other than Earth. Free pass!

3. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
I distinctly remember reading Ramona books as a kid and thinking that Beezus was a huge killjoy and Ramona was the awesome one. As an adult, I am totally Team Beezus because Ramona is not just a pest, she is The Death of any sane mother and older sister. She rides a tricycle inside the house. She invites 14 preschoolers over for a party without telling her mother. She licks a sucker that someone else has been sucking on. Ramona Quimby is a sociopath.

The funny thing is that I was Beezus as a kid. I always wanted my teachers to like me and to do everything correctly. Maybe I envied Ramona the way Beezus envies Ramona's imagination. Bridget is also a rule-keeper, so Ramona's antics made her shake her head in disapproval.

The mini book club watched the Beezus and Ramona movie that came out in 2010 after we discussed the book. The movie includes stories from many of the Ramona books not just Beezus and Ramona, which disappointed Bridget. She liked the book better. "In the movie Ramona doesn't even ride her tricycle in the house." I guess that was something Bridget had to see to believe, so it's still in doubt. :)

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