Friday, May 25, 2018

Book review: "The Shadow of the Sun" by Ryszard Kapuscinski

This book was unending in how interesting it was and how incredibly readable and approachable it is. If you were like me and thought "I should know more about African history, I wonder what I can read that won't be 600 pages and overly specific to a time period/place/topic" I can't recommend this book fast enough. I can't recommend this book fast enough, period. The author is obviously a journalist, his writing is simple and high impact and I loved it. (He talks about crossings were sometimes just a burned out shack and a bullet riddled sign and said - "The kinds of borders for which blood is spilled were still to come into being". He would get much scarier crossings later in this time there).

So the author of this book is a Polish journalist who is sent by his Polish newspaper to chase stories all over Africa in 1957. This is a huge deal because no Polish newspaper has ever done this before and he really wanted to succeed.

An interesting thing about timing, in the late 50s that's when a lot of the white colonial powers - mainly Britain- were finally exiting the continent and a lot of folks were very bitter that their departure had taken so long. This rang true with our Polish author who tried to tell people that "You were colonized? We, Poles, were also! For 130 years we were the colony of three foreign powers, all of them white!" But no one he spoke to believed him.

He focuses on his interaction with people mostly, but I learned some about animals too. Especially what happens to male lions after the age of about 20 - they get a little slower, drop out of their packs and eventually starts to hunt and eat humans since we are (surprise surprise) easier to catch then gazelles. They are desperate, which makes them even more terrifying than normal lions.

He talks about witnessing violent coups and government takeovers and marvels at how life resumes to normal in a short-ish period of time. People have grown used to it. (In regards to a coup in Nigeria in 1966- "in a country with a surface area 3 times that of Poland, inhabited by 56 million people, the coup was executed by an army numbering barely 8,000 soldiers").  He talks about the places in Africa where the slave traders landed and took off with their human cargo and how those places still felt like cursed, haunted places all of those years later. He talks about Idi Amin in one chapter, who just holds a weird fascination for me. He was ruthless and terrifying and his secret police rained terror down on people....annnnnnnd he also like to coordinate his outfits to the car he was driving that day. Not that that should surprise me, dictators are VAIN AS HELL.

Towards the end of his time in Africa, the 80s, a new scourge was making it's way across the country, not a vain dictator, not a child soldier army, not colonial powers from abroad....AIDS.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book review: "Unbury Carol" by Josh Malerman

A few Dewey's 24 Hour Readathons ago (which the next one is coming up right quick, so go sign up) I read an awesome, terrifying, imaginative, terrifying, great, terrifying book called "Bird Box" by Josh Malerman. And then my mom read it. And I think something in us both still shrieks a little bit when we think about it. It's great. Anyway, so the author recently released the book we are going to talk about today so I took a chance that I might be so scared I cry a little while reading a picked up this book. It's not as good as Bird Box but it was creepy and made me HELLA NERVOUS a lot of the time. So, not bad!

You never specifically are told this in the book, but with all of the talk of The Trail and people riding horses and their being saloons, this book has a very Wild West feel. Carol is a vivacious,. kind woman who plays hostess in their small town often, with her husband Dwight at her side. But there is more to Carol then meets the eye, she has this strange illness like the worst type of narcolepsy ever. She suddenly falls into a coma like state where she can here everything happening around her but she can't move. After the death of a close friend, only two people in the world know about her condition - Dwight and James Moxie, the first man she ever loved but who was too scared of her condition to stay so he ran off and became an outlaw on The Trail. This becomes a problem when Dwight, sick of being in his wife's shadow and wanting all of her money to himself decides to bury her alive during one of her spells. It's. Always. The. Husband. When James finds out and hurries to be save her, Dwight hires a hitman to take out James.

So, the hitman is the best/ scariest part of this book. His name is Smoke because he loves to burn people and things. There are more people who are killed in fires in this book then I think any other book I've ever read. It's kind of a lot. I'm getting the heebeejeebies just thinking about him, if I'm honest.

What I liked about this book was the magical realism element. Carol's illness, the fact that Smoke is like the literal devil, and the fact that James is rumored to kill people without actually drawing his gun. The downside of the book for me is that the ending, which is supposed to be huge and climactic felt like a little bit of a let down. And the big twist is kind of a deus ex machina.

This book would translate well into a movie. (Why do I feel like when I say that it's a bad thing? It's not!)

A good, solid 3.2 out of 5 stars for this book.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

4 things I learned about monsters from "Medusa's Face and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters" by Matt Kaplan

1. Maybe the reason that some people believed in the cyclops is elephant skulls. When an elephant dies and their skin rots away the skull has a big hole where the trunk is connected, but without the flesh of the trunk it looks like a perfect whole for a big old eyeball.

2. The amount of native tribesman in the Philippine's who have terrifying, often deadly encounters with pythons is nightmare high.

3. So you might be familiar with the succubus, which is a female demon who bends men to her will through sex, which also slowly takes their souls. The male version of a succubus is an incubus. Incubus in Latin means "to lie on top" and succubus in Latin means "to lie under". Take that however you will.

4. Garlic is a super popular tool for warding off all kinds of monsters, not just vampires. Egyptians thought it could repel ghosts. In Asia you smear it on people to prevent them from being susceptible to charms and spells cast by witches and wizards.

There was a lot of talk about rabies in this book as well which is, of course a bonus for me because I'm more than a little nuts.

This book was okay. 2.5 out of 5 stars.