Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Robert Page, "Canadian Imperialism and the Boer War" (1987)

Number 44 in the Canadian Historical Association's Historical Booklets.

Very informative, brief summary of the importance of Canada's participation in the Boer War, particular with regards to domestic discussions regarding the country's place in the British Empire, the effects of participation in the war on English/French relations, and Canadian militarism.

Monday, 28 July 2014

John Hagee, "Four Blood Moons" (2013)

Full title: "Four Blood Moons: Something is About to Change."

Hagee is one of those unique type of fire-and-brimstone tele-vangelists that only the United States can seem to create. Among his peers he is perhaps particularly noteworthy for his outspoken defence of Israel, and his calls for 'good Christians' to rise to advocate for and give active support to Israel. Tying his affection for Israel with numerology and a particularist reading of 'astronomical' symbolism (Hagee strives to clarify that his work is NOT astrology), he attempts to convince readers that the world is on the verge of a significant moment in Christian history that presages the return of 'the Saviour'.

Even as someone with a less-than-extensive knowledge of Biblical scripture, Hagee's book is rife with contradictions and questionable interpretations. Once I'm finished the book, I will strive to document these.

Here's a link to a related article by Hagee written for the Christian Post.

Hagee's interpretations are not only controversial among those who decry use of the Bible as prophetic (or fact), but among Christians as well. For instance, see the Beginning and End blog's and End Time blog's refutation of the 'four blood moons' interpretation by Hagee.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Gary Lachman, "Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World" (2014)

I liked this book much better than the other "reverential" (in the words of John Preston, a reviewer for the Telegraph) Crowley biography (by Tobias Churton) which I tried to tackle in February 2014.

Lachman approaches Crowley with just the right amount of gentility to make his judgements not seem like the type of potshots that are easy to level at such a character. He provides an informative survey of Crowley's life from birth to death, addresses the evolution of (and with) Crowley's philosophies, and ties these developments nicely to events in his life, whether use of drugs, fallout with a partner (sexual, financial, or spiritual), or financial (it seems Crowley was profligate with his money and perpetually running from debt to debt).

I think what was best about Lachman's book is that he did not exaggerate Crowley into something larger than he was. The man was a creation of his times - on the margins of those times, perhaps - but also exemplary of a number of trends: the turn to esoteric mysticism, wider publishing of 'fringe' ideas, challenging of Christianity, etc.

A final chapter explores Crowley's influence on contemporary culture, particularly in the realm of rock music.

You can read the introduction to the book here, via Lachman's publisher.
The author also maintains a blog: I've linked to the Crowley references.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

J. D'Agata, J. Fingal, "The Lifespan of a Fact" (2012)

Fascinating reading. An 'essayist' more than willing to take liberties with facts about the context of a teenager's suicide in Las Vegas, and a fact-checker hired to review his work battle over the nature of truth-telling and journalistic practice.

Even the layout of this book is intriguing, which allows the reader to follow the original piece, as submitted, with the conversations between the fact-checker, author, and editor.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Keith Richards, "Life" (2010)

Loved much of this book.
Witty without being maudlin, honest, and informative. The momentum waned for the last 20% or so, somewhat paralleling the decline in the Rolling Stones' performance, division between Keith and Mick Jagger, etc. The book is fleshed out with a bit of fluff in this section, including cooking advice and a recipe. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, and it does serve as a reminder that Keith is a human being who has to eat and all that.

You can read excerpts from Life here.

You can listen to a few interviews and Richards' speaking engagements here.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Sony e-readers - crashing issues

Hi there. I don't make a habit of reviewing products other than books on this site. I've heard from others, however, that using a blog to communicate recommendations or dis-satisfaction with a product can have positive results.

I have two Sony e-readers: a PRS T3 and an earlier model. Both of them suffer from terrible... and I do mean terrible... crashing issues. The older model will regularly (probably every third use or less) completely freeze up and require a reset restart. The PRS T3 crashes during most uses. As well, within a week or two of use, a critical section of the screen seems to have gone 'dead' (e.g., it shows images, but does not respond to touch). I contacted Sony about the problems, and their help person essentially told me I'd have to mail the reader(s) into a Sony repair facility. Now, even though Sony operates a retail store in my community, they won't look at/repair/replace the units. I'm expected to pay to ship the product to Sony, so they can fix something that is still under warranty. This seems silly to me. Now, if they'd pay shipping, or ship from their retail store, or offer... well.... anything better than incurring more costs to fix flawed product, I'd be happier. As it is, I can't recommend anyone purchasing Sony e-readers.

Now... if a Sony rep contacts me with a handy, cost-effective solution... well, I might have to rewrite this post. We'll see.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

"How Rob Ford Happened" (2013)

Subtitle: "A History of the Toronto Mayor From the Pages of the National Post."

For those not aware, Rob Ford is Toronto's mayor.

From the early 2000s, Ford represented one side in the polar divide of Toronto political life. Hailing from a somewhat dog-eared suburb, suffering from a distinct lack of social graces, and hailing himself as simultaneously "the peoples' mayor" and the "king of the regular people," Ford went from combative city counsellor with an eye on saving money and cutting government waste to the mayor known internationally for his corpulence, addictions, and his and his family's rather murky past with drug-related crimes.

This book smacks of opportunism. The content was all there in the National Post's files, and merely required some intern to cut-and-paste some articles referring to Ford into a chronological order. While some are quite interesting to read in retrospect, others - such as short debates between pundits - are of questionable value for gaining insight into Ford, or his history with Toronto. Particularly intriguing in this collection is the opportunity to read multiple articles by Christie Blatchford as her perspective on Ford evolves. Not being a fan of her writing, these articles served to affirm for me that her 'chippy', grouchy style of journalism doesn't really satisfy me.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Robert Greenfield, "Ain't It Time We Said Goodbye" (2014)

A former Rolling Stone journalist revisits material he has already written on several times before.

As a brief book devoted to about 10 dates on a tour (half in the UK, and the rest in USA and Canada), Ain't It Time We Said Goodbye is a snapshot of a foundational period in the history of the Stones. The ideas for Exile on Main Street were percolating, the band was still somewhat trigger-shy about touring the US after the disaster at Altamont, and the Stones had decided to leave the UK to evade heavy taxation.

Where the book was most interesting was not its commentary on the 'regular' members of the Stones, but in its profiles of their retinue. Whether discussing the various wives and girlfriends (as well as their relationships - particular Anita Pallenberg and Bianca later-to-be-Jagger), or the supporting musicians and tour workers, Ain't It Time ... offers a unique look into a rock institution in development.

Some of the profiles that help to 'flesh out' people often mentioned in passing with regard to the Stones include:
- Nicky Hopkins: pianist
- Chip Monck (tour operative): joining the Stones entourage for their 1969 American tour, he called lighting cues, selected pre- and post-gig house music, and cleaned up the house post-gig
- Ian Stewart ('Stu'): former member of the Stones, he now set up the drum kit, played piano on a few songs, and drove occasionally
- Bobby Keys: saxophone, 'bigger than life' Texan
- Jim Price: horn section,
- Rose Millar: Mick Taylor's future wife

For those with an eye for details, the book also provides a nice behind-the-scenes perspective on the venues the Stones were playing, and some of the logistical aspects of life on the road.

Kirkus Review pretty much sums it up with a less than laudatory assessment.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Mark Twain, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1884)

A classic work of American fiction, by an author of universal repute.
There really isn't much that I can add to the volumes of analysis that have been offered on this. It remains an enjoyable read over a century later. Racial characterizations of African-Americans - particularly Huck's compadre, Jim* - contrast significantly with contemporary values.

As a copyright-expired text, the full version is available through a number of online sources, such as

The Eric Kemble illustrations for the 1884/1885 edition are available via the University of Virginia.

* When I was about 7 years old, my public school performed Huckleberry Finn as our major play for the year. Despite having no African heritage (or at least not for centuries), I was cast as Jim - in full brown grease paint from head to toe - and I don't recall anyone raising a concern at all. Of course, our school community housed only a single child of what I presume was Caribbean heritage.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Stephen Leacock, "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town" (1912)

Classic Canadian humourous fiction.

This is gentle humour, poking fun at the pride, simplicity, and subtle competitiveness that likely runs through most North American small towns (just as much 100 years ago as it does today). Having spent my teenage years in just such a town as the one Leacock describes, I found much that resonated. The humour, however, was not as witty as another Leacock treasure, Arcadian Adventures of the Idle Rich, that pokes fun at the urban counterparts to those described in Sunshine Sketches....

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Peter C. Newman, "When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada" (2011)

Newman is a prolific, prominent, and long-standing commentator on Canadian political and corporate elites. He is a former editor of the Toronto Star and Maclean's magazine. He gets attention when he speaks, although is perhaps not seen as the most critical or academic of writer.

When the Gods Changed is really two small books in one. The first is a post-mortem on Michael Ignatieff's short, failed leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. By failed, I mean that he oversaw a reduction in the party's seats in Parliament, did not advance the party into the role of the official opposition, and did not take on the role of Prime Minister.

The second book is a brief history of the Liberal Party of Canada, focusing on the "glory days" of the mid-20th-century, and the establishment of the LPC as the 'natural governing party' of the country. One of the critical moments Newman points to is the 1961 Kingston Conference, wherein the LPC brought together thinkers and party members to envision the principles of what would take the party to the 21st-century.

The two halves do not entirely coalesce. They do suggest, however, that Ignatieff alone cannot be blamed for the LPC's fate. Newman suggests the decay began long before, during John Turner's reign, and might lie more with the party apparatus than any particular leader. He suggests that the party became managed by professional apparatchiks more intent on preserving their power than allowing the party membership and volunteers to advance challenging policy ideas that might provide some kind of long-term vision. He also indicates that the party's move away from social and nationalist principles to economic pragmatism gave ground to their opponents on the left and right.

A couple of related books that I've commented on include:
Michael Ignatieff, Fire and Ashes.
Brad Lavigne, Building the Orange Wave.
Brian Topp, How we almost gave the Tories the Boot.