Khadaji's Whatcha Readin' Thread - December 2015 Edition

Ahhh, sorry I have not been around as much lately. My work schedule changed so not as much time to read and NaNoWriMo in November. :stuck_out_tongue:

So Happy Holidays everyone! Merry Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Solstice and any other I can’t think of because the brain is fried.
I’m nearly finished with Graveyard of Memories by Barry Eisler. It has been an exciting read and as always I adore John Rain.

Khadaji was one of the earlier members of the SDMB, and he was well-known as a kindly person who always had something encouraging to say, particularly in the self-improvement threads. He was also a voracious, omnivorous reader, and he started these monthly book threads. Sadly, he passed away in January 2013, and we decided to rename these monthly threads in his honor.

Noveber thread: Turkeys and pumpkin pie!

As I just posted in last month’s thread:

Finished The Castle in the Forest, by Norman Mailer. His final novel, published in the year of his death at age 84, in 2007. Historical fiction detailing the family background and childhood of Adolf Hitler, as told by the devil in charge of shaping his influences. Very interesting.

Next up is A Delicate Truth, the most recent novel by John le Carre.

Just to mention too, December is a big holiday month in Thailand. There are three official holidays – the king’s birthday (December 5), Constitution Day (December 10, in honor of the first constitution following the 1932 revolution, which overthrew the absolute monarchy) and New Year’s Eve. (Unlike the rest of the world, both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are official holidays, so even though the latter is in the following month, it accentuates the-end-of-December festivities exponentially.)

And then there’s Christmas. This is a Buddhist nation, but Bangkok has a huge foreign-Christian population, and Christmas festivities dovetail nicely with those for New Year’s. The latter is a big gift-giving season for Thais, so department stores and shopping malls all have Christmas-gift themes. (Unfortunately, they also crank up endless renditions of “Frosty the Snowman” and “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” to 11.) It is not unheard-of for Western companies with Thai operations to give an extra company holiday for the occasion. And it’s toward the start of the “cool” season, which basically means you’re not sweating quite like a pig and so adds to a facsimile of winter. Sort of.

Thanks for the info! The more I hear about Thailand, the more I think I need to visit it.

I’m reading a science fiction novel written by someone who went to my school. So far, it’s very good.

I found a bunch of old Ballantine Books 1970s World War II books, and read Night of the Long Knives by Nikolai Tolstoy. It’s a topic I knew of, but not much about the details. I’m going on to The Reichstag Fire next.

On audio, I’m getting to the end of Edmund Fitzgerald’s translation of The Iliad. I’d read this translation when it first came out, having been introduced to the Odyssey in junior high, and loving it. I’ve read both translation so often I’ve lost count, but had never seen either in audiobook form before. It’s interesting, because Penguin audio published editions of Robert Fagles’ translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey (the former read by Derek Jacobi and the latter by Ian McKellen), but for some reason only issued a very heavily abridged version of the Iliad, so this is the first time I’m hearing the entire book.

My one complaint is that they didn’t follow Fitzgerald’s practice of rendering the names in proper Grek, instead of using the Lain forms. For most names, it doesn’t make any difference – “Hector” is pronounced the same as “Hektor”, after all. But it ought to be “Akhilleos”, not “Achilles”. And it’s supposed to be Aias, not Ajax, dammit. Fitzgerald’s translation was the first time I thought of him (well, them, considereing that there’s Telamonian and “the lesser”) as a warrior, rather than a cleanser. (Cartoonist J.B. Handelsman once drew a cartoon of the TRojan war, with a cylindrical canister of “Ajax” fighting for the Greeks.)

My big thing, though, is that I’ve slowly been working my way through the Koran. I’ve read it three times before, each time the N.J. Dawood translation published by Penguin. The Pickthall translation is supposed to be better, but I haven’t found a copy.

That’s not the issue, though. The problem is that this is a book in desperate need of an annotated edition for western folk like myself.The entire historical and social milieu is unfamiliar to most of us, and the Dawood translation – and just about every other one I’ve read – has hardly any notes to explain things. When I read the New Testament, I used the Pelican Bible Commentaries, or the Anchor Bible, each of whioh dissects the Book of the Bible sentence by sentence in minute detail. I need that sort of scrutiny and background a thousand times more for the Koran.

Finally, this summer, I found such a book. It’s The Holy Qur’an: Arabic Text, English Translation, and Commentary by Maulana Muhammad Ali, published in 1995. It runs for 1,250 pages of insanely detailed notes. I picked it up at a used book store at a resort, where I bought it cheap (Imagine that – incredibly dense and detailed Quranic interpretation for sale at a US resort city for a song. Who’da thunk it?)
I decided to read it in tandem with my other Korans. I went through my books, pulling out other ttranslations I’d picked up through the years, in the hope of finding a good commentary. I found that I had a total of FIVE different translations. That’s more different translation than I have of the Bible. Or any other religious text, for that matter. Every night that I read it, before going to sleep, I read one surah (or at least a section of one, for the earlier chapters). Here’s a brief rundown:

1.) M.H. Shakir translation – easily the toughest to read. It’s not a facile translation, although I like its practice of not “translating” the names of characters into their western equivalents, so you have to figure out who Jibril and Issa and Yunus are.

2.) M.A.S. Abdel Haleem translation (Oxford University Press). The word count almost matches up with the previous one, so I’m always at about the same page. A little easier going, and the translate the names. They also add several footnotes, but not nearly enough. Easier going than Shakir, but not by all that much.

3.) N.J. Dawood (Penguin) – easily te easiest to find. It’s also the easiest to read and the most comprehensible. Some people take issue with the choices in the translation. If it had more than only an occasional footnote, it’s be better.

4.) J.M. Rockwell (Dover) Like most Dover editions, this is a reprint of an old edition, in this case the 1909 translation originally published by Everyman/Dent. Fortunately, it’s not like the Dover editions of the Chinese sacred texts, which the Reverend Legge translated. I get the feeling that Legge was a missionary in China who felt that he had to translate accurately, but showed in his annotations that he hated the text. Rockwell doesn’t give that impression. He does, however, re-arrange the orders of the surahs, something no other translation I have does, so I have to go searching for the next chapter. This isn’t helped by the translations of the chapter titles often being different in different editions. Rockwell has quite a few footnotes.

5.) The Muhammad Ali translation is by far the most useful in its annotations. He explains things none of the other translations do, even things that obviously need explaining. He gleefully tells you why Rockwell’s translation is wrong ion various points. I get the feeling that he is an apologist for Islam, because sometimes he goes out of his way to say that, well, other translations might be correct in the literal meaning of the words, but they fail to convey the true intent of the text. One thing I admire is his commitment to literal correctness. I was amazed to find that one surah that every other translation gives as “Spoils of War” is translated by him as “Voluntary Gifts”. Muhammad Ali notes that “Spoils of War” is, indeed, the usual translation, but that “Voluntary Gifts” is the literal translation. It would be easy to make some snide remark at this point, but I assume that this is some military euphemism, and no more (“Where did you get those things from, sergeant?” “Uhh – the civilians game them to us, sir.”)
I’m about 1/4 - 1/3 of the way through. I don’t read evey night, but I’m determined to work my way through, reading all five translations at a time. “Better you than me,” says Pepper Mill, looking at the stack by my bedside.

Wow, CalMeacham. Interesting analysis and cool goal. I’ll try to tuck your notes away somewhere in case I want to pick up the Quran.

Worked my way through a few reads over the Thanksgiving break. My favorite: Tonke Dragt’s A Letter for the King. Young squire Tiuri, keeping vigil on the eve of his knighthood, is confronted with a difficult choice: To follow the rules, refuse aid to a mysterious stranger, and be knighted in the morning; or to provide aid, violate the vigil rules, and accept a quest to a faraway land with the possible consequence of giving up his knighthood. Not really a spoiler to say that Tiuri decides to help, and his quest to deliver a letter to faraway King Unauwen gives him a taste of knighthood that comes with some nasty surprises. It was a little slow and ended differently than I would have preferred, but mostly I enjoyed Tiuri’s quest, his world, and the people he met along the way.

For my nonfiction, I finished Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. I didn’t know beans about Lafayette, really, until I read this. What an amazing person he was and worthy of his accolades. I enjoyed the in-depth details of the Revolutionary War but found Vowell’s present-day musings more obtrusive than in previous works.

I finished one mystery, Ken Bruen’s The Guards. I enjoyed Jack’s dry humor, although his corrosive alcoholism makes me flinch. And I found Bruen’s list-making narrative interruptions maddening by about the 7th chapter. Does he keep on with that?!? Iain Glen plays him well in the television series.

Oh, and I finally read George McDonald Fraser’s Flashman after numerous recommendations by several on the SDMB. I do love how Flashman’s persistent cowardice, buffoonery, etc. always seems to land him in the best advantage to his reputation… but I can’t get over the fact that he’s a rapist (a few times over!). :eek: Did chuckle at times but will probably not read further in the series.

I suppose I shouldn’t tell you at one point he sells a lady into slavery. The lovable scamp.

I’ve tried Flashman a few times, especially since PG Wodehouse said he admired the books, but I can’t get past the basic point that Flashy is a cad. I don’t find him at all likeable and have no interest in spending time in his company.

Just yesterday I picked up an interesting book at the library: The Elusive Mr Pond. It’s a biography of Peter Pond, one of the major fur traders for the Nor’West fur trading company, operating out of Montreal. They were the major rivals to the Hudson Bay Company for the Canadian fur trade from the 1790s onwards.

Pond is a mysterious figure, as the title of the book suggests. He wasn’t very literate, and never was able to write about his exploits, unlike other trader/explorers like Alexander Mackenzie, so we don’t know much about him, other than is gleaned from other sources.

Pond was the leader in expanding the Montreal fur trade all the way to the Athabaska region, where the Athabaska River eventually flows into Lake Athabaska, located close to the 60th parallell (now just south of the border between the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan). Just skimming the book to start with, lots of references to him travelling in northern Saskatchewan, such as Lac La Ronge.

It is simply amazing to think that someone originally from Connecticut (he came north after the unpleasantness :slight_smile: ) could travel all the way from Montreal to the far north, just by canoe, depending heavily on the aid of the local First Nations.

Rough fellow; there were a couple of deaths along the way where there were suspicions he had a hand in them, but it was all far away from the courts of Montreal, and no witnesses, so que voulez-vous?

Just started today on Alias Hook as recommended by Hermione in a recent thread.

You might enjoy Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard” (Project Gutenberg link) which partially inspired the character of Flashman; he’s a fearless idiot instead of a smart coward, but the vanity and braggadocio is there. I read it a few months ago and I thought the stories were very amusing.

I’m reading Elizabeth George’s new Inspector Lynley book, A Banquet of Consequences. Glad I didn’t give up on her as I threatened to. This book is miles better than the last few. (So far.)

Slowly clearing away the backlog on my small couch, I just finished A Great and Glorious Adventure: A History of the Hundred Years War and the Birth of Renaissance England. It was…OK. The author, Gordon Corrigan, admitted to an English bias and it shows, and keeping track of the various families and leaders over the period of a century was a pain, but if you want a relatively short book (280 pages hardback) on this period of history, it’ll do…IMHO, it would have been better if it had been about 2-3 times as long, but that’s just the ex-history teacher in me talking.

Good to know! I’ve long admired Lafayette, who in many ways was like a son to Washington. I also enjoyed Vowell’s Assassination Vacation (despite some questions about her scholarship), so I expect I’ll read this book, too, someday.

I’m on the home stretch of The Battle of New Hope Church by Russell W. Blount Jr., about a portion of Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta campaign. As I mentioned in last month’s thread, it’s detailed but not particularly engrossing.

Still enjoying The Churchills in Love and War by Mary S. Lovell, which is more family gossip than political history, but good fun, with some interesting Downton Abbey-esque insights into life among British high society in the early 20th century.

I just started The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro. She also wrote The Art Forger. I really like how chapters are told from different characters point of view and in two different time frames. Although to enjoy a book like this you have to accept that the author is using historical figures in a fictional setting.

Thanks for the recommendation, hogarth! I’ll get cracking on it. And yeah, Siam Siam, selling a woman into slavery? :eek: Time for me and Flashman to part company.

I always took Flashman’s vile character as an authorial device. Flashman’s a very bad person, allegedly writing his memoirs, and he doesn’t disguise that fact in the slightest - rapist, coward, murderer, and all the rest (though he mellows somewhat as he ages). The implicit trade-off is that the cynical reporting on the world events he’s engaged in Zelig-like can be trusted - because if he won’t lie about his own rotten self, he certainly won’t lie about the rottenness he encounters. :wink: Also, the implication is that the great heroes of the Empire were more “Flashman-like” than they would care to have admitted! :smiley:

Your loss. Still a great series, one of the best. (And that incident actually ends up saving his life years later at the Battle of Little Bighorn.)

Re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series. Finishing up The Paris Wife since it is due at the library. Waiting to pick up Wolves in the Wall (?) by Neil Gaiman. I’ve never read him since I loathe sci-fi/fantasy, but my buddy has convinced me to try this. She loves every word he has written or spoken.

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemison. When that’s finished and goes back to the library I will resume reading Sherwood Smith’s Banner of the Damned. Both are very good so far.

I just started the monumental third and final volume of Mark Twain’s Autobiography, which just came out.
Not listening to any audiobooks right now.

I recently started reading David Baldacci’s The Forgotten (#2 in the John Puller series), after finishing Zero Day (first in the series). These are solid thrillers; good stuff. Unless something goes horribly wrong in this book, I’ll also read the next Puller story (so far there are only three).

I’m liking Baldacci a lot lately: in early October I read the first book in the Amos Decker series, Memory Man, and am eagerly anticipating the next one (The Last Mile, due out in April).

Also, in late October I read Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, which someone here recommended/mentioned a few months ago. I really enjoyed it, but couldn’t find another book in the Craft Sequence featuring the same characters – or one where the description interested me – so I haven’t read any other Gladstone yet.