My Bookshelf – Late Summer 2015

I read a fair amount of non-fiction over the summer so for the first time have divided up my bookshelf post into fiction and non-fiction sections.

FICTION

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow

Another tech-head, conspiracy theory thriller in the vein of Homeland which I wrote about in my last bookshelf post. I enjoyed this one and again it offered a chance to think about different issues around emerging technologies such as privacy. This was all wrapped up in an interesting, not-too-distant-future scenario with Doctorow’s sharp, hip dialogue.

Treachery by S.J. Parris

Well I read another one in the Giordano Bruno series despite giving these a mediocre review in a previous blog. Why? Well they’re entertaining and pretty interesting to read if you’re a history nerd like me. This one centres on Portsmouth, the Spanish naval threat in 1585 and a rival English expedition to the New World to get some of those Spanish riches. Bruno and Sir Phillip Sidney get wrapped up in a murder and ensuing complicated plot which threatens to derail the expedition.

The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin

I picked this up from the library after reading the blurb. It is set in Prohibition era New Orleans and is based on a real life serial killer nicknamed the Axeman because, you guessed it, he killed with an axe. The novel explores race, poverty and class as we follow a mixed race teenage girl and Italian-American ex-cop who are both unofficially investigating the murders (a young Louis Armstrong also makes a semi-convincing appearance). Celestin’s style is very good and he paints a vivid if grim picture of a gritty, vibrant city.

Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel

After seeing the BBC series of this recently I decided to give the book another go. I’d been recommended Mantel before and leafed through this in the library but found the modern sounding dialogue a bit jarring coming from the mouth of Henry VIII. Well I really enjoyed it upon a full reading. Wolf Hall follows the rise of Thomas Cromwell from blacksmith’s son to Archbishop Wolsey’s fixer to Henry’s privy council. Mantel creates a contemplative atmosphere that still manages to be warm. I can’t quite put my finger on it, something to do with her use of first, that’s not quite first, person… Anyway, go and read.

NON-FICTION

Single, Married, Separated and Life After Divorce by Dr. Myles Munroe

Another recommendation that I read to support a family member going through a divorce. Munro talks a lot of sense and debunks many myths about relationships from our culture (you’re not complete if you’re single, marriage will solve all your problems). Probably the most radical concept was that you need to be single no matter what your relationship status. Go read it to find out more.

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

I was recommended this book and the following one in preparation for a seminar session I was doing for the Christian youth summer camp that we volunteer at in Wales. I’d read DeYoung’s Just Do Something which was excellent and I still reference it when people are dilly-dallying about decisions! Taking God at His Word is an evangelical exposition about the Bible and why we should believe and obey it. He goes into the theology and Christian doctrines about the Bible, but all in readable English. Highly recommend it.

Can I Really Trust the Bible? by Barry Cooper

Short, pocket-sized evangelical book that addresses the question of the title. Topics such as the manuscript evidence for the Bible, textual criticism, eyewitness evidence and how the Biblical canon we have was established are covered. Again a highly readable book that has the benefit of being very short and to the point.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Wow, what a powerful story. This is a memoir/autobiography telling the story of Malala Yousafzai, the girl’s education campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner (and also the life of a teenage girl in Pakistan). She weaves in the history of Pakistan and her native Swat Valley and gives an account of what life was like under the Taliban. Both depressing – because of the seeming political impotence against terrorism – and inspiring, I highly recommend this.

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Brief from the Sustainable Development Summit within the United Nations General Assembly

Loida Garcia-Febo

FullSizeRenderDuring these past weeks I’ve been advocating about libraries and access to information at events related to the Sustainable Development Summit which took place as part of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). I was able to have meaningful conversations with UN Member States, representatives from NGOs, civil society, private corporations and public agencies. All the Summit events including opening, statements from countries and adoption of the SDGs should be available on the UN Web TV.

I was fortunate to have been approved by the U.N. to attend the Sunday morning Summit plenary at the UNGA Hall where Presidents and Prime Ministers gave statements supporting the SDGs goals and targets and shared what their countries are doing to establish and implement the SDGs. A number of them included remarks about Goal 16. The President from Bosnia and Herzegovina mentioned that the world in 2030 should be a place where we respect human rights…

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British vs. American Driving – Part 2

Part two of a little series about driving in the UK and preparing for The Test (the British driving test). For the first post, click here.

I am currently studying for the theory part of The Test, since my driving lessons were put on hold in the summer due to my pending visa application. Since I didn’t want to give the government any more money, I have succeeded in finding many of the relevant theory prep documents free online or borrowed from friends. The Highway Code is ‘essential reading for everyone’ apparently so I started with that. It quickly proved to be a barrel of laughs and confusion because of the heavy use of jargon and (unintentional, we presume) deadpan humour. Hence the idea to compare it with American driving customs for a blog post. The British rules will be italicised and American customs in plain font.

The Highway Code is laudable for many things, such as its consideration of the environment (don’t leave your engine running, how to save fuel etc) but it does exemplify a nanny state type document to me. For example:

  • We are advised (Rule 94) not to wear tinted glasses at night or in poor visibility. Because you won’t be able to see, unless you’re a gangster.
  • Rule 206 – Drive carefully and slowly when passing parked vehicles, especially ice cream vans; children are more interested in ice cream than traffic.
  • Seriously I’m not making this up.
'The Highway Code (UK) - first edition, 1931' by Mikey. Flickr CC-A.

‘The Highway Code (UK) – first edition, 1931’ by Mikey. Flickr CC-A.

The DVSA (Driver & Vehicles Standards Agency) Theory Test prep book also occasionally slips into a vaguely Southern twang:

  • Slow your vehicle right down. You better slow down, Bubba.
  • Kick down (apparently a feature of automatics enabling quick acceleration). Similar to a beat down. Also possibly the name of a football play as in “reverse eagle kick down” or something.

Rule 114 – You MUST NOT use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users.

Americans always use their brights at night on country roads, otherwise you might miss the deer / racoon / possum / other wildlife trying to become roadkill. I really enjoyed the rather saucy use of dazzle throughout the Code and DVSA Theory Test book. Another good one, anti-dazzle, as in setting your rearview mirror to anti-dazzle if the car behind is dazzling, er, blinding you. Side note, wasn’t anti-dazzle that thing that you used to get out the plastic jewels you put in your hair with your BeDazzler when you were twelve?

Rule 123 – National speed limits. There is an entire flow chart/graph for speed limits depending on a) type of vehicle, and b) type of road.

Americans either a) look at the speed limit sign on the road or, b) ignore the speed limit sign on the road.

Rule 225 – Vehicles with flashing amber beacons. These warn of a slow moving or stationary vehicle or abnormal loads.

A beacon is something they have up north on lighthouses and such. Though Mississippi did have a lighthouse on its license plates for awhile. We are still trying to figure that out.

Rule 237 – Keep your vehicle well ventilated to avoid drowsiness.

Put the A/C on full blast, particularly in summer months, otherwise you might burn your butt on the seats which have been superheated by the sun.

Rule 18-30 – Pedestrian crossings. There are several types of pedestrian crossing: zebra, pelican, puffin and toucan. Most people will recognize a zebra crossing from the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover photo.

Zebras can be viewed at Baton Rouge Zoo. We love pelicans because they are the Louisiana state bird. What’s a puffin? Toucans can also be found at the zoo. We don’t have pedestrians.

'Zebra Crossing?' by K.J. Payne. Flickr CC-A.

‘Zebra Crossing?’ by K.J. Payne. Flickr CC-A.

A few final comments. The catchphrase “mirrors – signal – manoeuvre” was really helpful, but I kept on hearing it in a French accent “ma-NUV-ruh”… I still need to ask somebody what a “milk float” is, all I know is it’s some kind of electric vehicle, presumably used to deliver milk. Road markings and surfaces are elevated to an art form in the UK. There are different colour reflective studs for the different lanes on motorways, different length white lane lines when approaching a roundabout or hazard, all manner of markings for pedestrian crossings, ‘rumble’ features to make you slow down, ‘box junctions’ to tell you not to stop in the middle of an intersection, tactile paving to let disabled pedestrians know there’s a crossing…and that’s not even getting started on the signage.