Around the World for a Good Book selection for Austria
Author: Elfriede Jelinek
Title: The Piano Teacher
Translator: Joachim Neugroschel
Publication Info: Grove Atlantic, 2009 [originally published in 1983]
Erika Kohut is a woman in her mid-thirties who teaches piano at the prestigious Vienna Conservatory. She lives with her controlling mother in a very taught and unhealthy relationship. Erika rebels in various including buying clothing she never wears, self-harm, and deliberately injuring strangers. Over the course of the novel she also explores her repressed sexuality by going to pornographic movies, peep shows, and practicing voyeurism.
Walter Klemmer, a student over a decade younger than Erika, begins to show her attention. Their desire grows and when they finally acknowledge it, Erika requests a sadomasochistic relationship. Walter, who is an arrogant prick, really justs wants to have sex with an older woman and move on. Things go horribly, horribly wrong.
I saw this book described as “erotic” but there’s absolutely nothing sexy about it. In fact, it is quite repulsive. Jelinek seems to revel in using the most unpleasant description possible for the human condition and the human body. It just gets worse and worse and I really struggled to finish this book. I’ve also seen the book described as “satire,” but it reads to me as nothing more than caustic misanthropy.
Author: J. M. DeMatteis
Title: Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt
Penciler: Mike Zeck
Editor: Jeff Youngquist
Publication Info: Marvel Universe, February 3, 2021
This graphic novel collects a classic Spider-Man storyline where the villain Kraven the Hunter decides to take the ultimate revenge. Kraven buries Spider-Man alive while then becoming the Spider-Man to humiliate him with the public. Meanwhile, Vermin rises from the New York sewers to attack the populace.
The better part of the story is told with narration boxes showing the internal monologues of Spider-Man, Kraven, and Vermin. It is an interesting technique as what is on their minds often doesn’t match what’s happening in the illustration. It does give a depth to their characterization, although I think it also gets overused.
Apparently this book ties together artwork from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, although it all looks like one cohesive storyline and art style, so I’m a bit confused about that. Anyhow, if you’re like me and didn’t read comics much growing up, this collection is a good introduction to one of Marvel’s most famous stories.
Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2020)
Timothy Zahn introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn as the Imperial antagonist to the New Republic in his 1990s trilogy of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. A more recent trilogy gives us a Thrawn origin story of sorts as he is found by the Empire, presumably in exile, and then rising up the ranks of the Imperial navy in Thrawn, Alliances, and Treason. Chaos Rising begins a new trilogy of books that go even further back in Thrawn’s life to his rise in the military of his own people, the Chiss Ascendancy.
The novel tells two intertwined stories. The main narrative set in the “present day” deals with a new threat to the Chiss Ascendancy. Thrawn is tasked with rooting out the new enemy. His tactical genius is impeccable but Thrawn is not skilled in dealing with the internal politics of the isolationist Ascendancy and the infighting among and within its Nine Ruling Families.
Thrawn’s ventures into the mysterious region of space called the Chaos bring him in touch with the old Republic during the Clone Wars. In fact, a scene from Thrawn: Alliances is retold from a different perspective. Chiss ships navigate space with the help of force-sensitive girls who are known in the Chiss language as “sky-walkers” (a funny coincidence). This novel introduces former sky-walker, Thalias, now an adult, becomes the caregiver for the sky-walker on Thrawn’s ship. Thrawn sees Thalias’ talent and their collaboration on the mission is a central part of the story.
Chapters entitled “memories” tell the story of the early days in the military of Thrawn and his mentor Ar’alani. Both stories tie together in a captivating adventure and thriller, and Thrawn remains one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars universe.
Author: Eric H. Cline
Title: 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
Publication Info: Princeton University Press, 2014
The Late Bronze Age civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean met with a catastrophic collapse in the 12th century B.C.E. Historians commonly attribute this to an invasion of people called the “Sea People” overwhelming Egypt’s military in 1177 B.C.E. In Cline’s evaluation of the evidence, the Sea People may have actually been refugees of war, natural disasters, and/or a climate crisis. Evidence exists for a cluster of earthquakes, droughts, and internal rebellions at the time before the arrival of the Sea People. The combination of the multiple catastrophes could have lead to the collapse.
The book is sprawling in both time in place as Cline sums up several centuries of history leading up to the collapse of several civilizations including the Greeks, Myceneans, Minoans, Hittites, Assyrians, Cypriots, Canaanites, and Egyptians. Along the way Cline explores the historic origins of the famed stories of Exodus and the Trojan War. Cline is good at explaining what we can learn from written records and archaeological finds, and how both of these have to be interpreted. He’s also good at noting that there typically isn’t enough evidence to know what happened precisely and how historians develop theories based on the facts we know.
Other interesting facts I learned from this book:
- Hatshepsut, who ruled as Pharaoh upon the death of her husband, wore a Pharaonic false beard and men’s clothing and was addressed as “His Majesty.”
- Kings of different nations who were not related used kinship terms like “father” and “son” when addressing one another, creating an artificial family relationship.
- a new type of glue was invented for archaeologists recovering copper ingots from the Uluburun shipwreck to allow them to bring the artifacts up in one piece.
Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: The Last Command
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2012) [Originally published April 1, 1993]
The finale of “The Thrawn Trilogy” is an exciting culmination of the shaky New Republic’s stand against the cunning plans of Grand Admiral Thrawn to reestablish the Empire. It’s great to have Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, Artoo, and Threepio all working together. Then there are wild cards like Mara Jade, a tentative ally who is sworn to kill Luke for her former master Palpatine, and the mad Jedi clone C’baoth who believes that he rules the Empire instead of Thrawn. The book could be trimmed of some of the excessively talk parts, and I could do without all the subplots involving Talon Karrde and other smugglers, but it is a satisfying conclusion.
I still think this books could be the inspiration for movies set after the destruction of the Second Death Star. They would have to be animated movies, because of the age and deaths of the cast members. But I think you could make a good story with elements such as Thrawn, Mara Jade, and the Noghri. Things would have to be adjusted to fit into the Sequel Trilogy, such as Leia giving birth to one child instead of twins. I’d also dispense with C’baoth and anything to do with cloning since clones were already central to the Prequels and Rise of Skywalker. But there’s a good kernel here for a fun film trilogy or maybe a Disney+ series.
Author: Seth Kubersky
Title: Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2021
Publication Info: Unofficial Guides (2021),
My family is planning our first visit to Universal Orlando later this year. Since the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World proved useful in the past. Visiting a theme park these days is like planning a military offensive. These guides are helpful in cutting through the overwhelming options with strong opinions and tips for making the best of one’s time in the park. On the downside, almost all of the content of the guidebook is also available for free on the Touring Plans so there isn’t much value add to the book other than having all the information at your fingertips when you’re out of wifi range or your battery is running low.
Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Antigua and Barbuda
Author: Jamaica Kincaid
Title: Annie John
Publication Info: New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, c1985.
Annie John is a novel about a young girl growing to become a young woman. The story includes the deterioration of her relationship with her mother, her love for another girl named Gwen, and Annie John’s depression. Colonization weighs over the story in the conflict between traditional ways and English culture. I don’t know if this novel is autobiographical, but Kincaid writes with a sense of lived experience while also being timeless.
Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Last Olympian: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5
Publication Info: New York : Disney/Hyperion Books, 2011.
Previously Read by the Same Author: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth
The final book of the series leads to the culminating battle to save Olympus from the Titans in the streets of Manhattan. The book builds well to get to that point with a natural ebb and flow in the narrative between fightin’ and more contemplative stuff. Themes that have been building across all five books play out hre and Percy, Thalia, Grover, Annabeth, Tyson, Clarisse, and Nico all show great character development. I particularly like how Percy plays his reward from the gods.
Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Battle of the Labyrinth: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2008.
Previously Read by the Same Author: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse
The Battle of the Labyrinth is another great quest story, this time primarily underground in the mysterious labyrinthe. Annabeth leads the quest with Grover, Percy, and Tyson with an angry and dangerous Nico playing a part as well. The book is well constructed as each characters has a role to play that leads to a specific goal. The war with the Titans begins in earnest with a battle at Camp Half-Blood that concludes the novel.
Author: Rick Riordan
Title: The Titan’s Curse: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3
Narrator: Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: New York : Random House/Listening Library, 
Previously Read by the Same Author: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters
Book 3 of the series once again features a coast-to-coast quest (literally Bar Harbor, Maine to the Bay Area of California) as Percy Jackson seeks to find his friend Annabeth and the goddess Artemis. The book introduces half-bloods Nico and Bianca di Angelo, features Zeus’ daughter Thalia for the first time, and brings in Zoë Nightshade and the Hunters of Artemis. All of these characters will be significant to the course of the narrative in the ensuing novels. But I feel The Titan’s Curse doesn’t work as well as a stand-alone adventure and feels a bit formulaic. It’s still clever and fun, though.