Books I've read / 4

Dec 16, 2023

Some thoughts on books I’ve read in previous months.

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You can find previous related posts on the links below:

This is another post with my reviews of the books I read. It occurred to me that since I don’t write much on my blog, it is gradually turning into my reading diary. I don’t know if this is good or bad. Anyway. Here is what I have read since previous review:

  1. “Python Cookbook” by David Beazley & Brian Jones
  2. “The Terror” by Dan Simmons
  3. “1813” by Uladzimir Sadouski
  4. “The Fifth Elephant” by Terry Pratchett
  5. “The Truth” by Terry Pratchett
  6. “Hay on the Asphalt” by Mihas Straltsov
  7. “Clojure for the Brave and True” by Daniel Higginbotham
  8. “Thief of Time” by Terry Pratchett
  9. “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin

“Python Cookbook” by David Beazley & Brian Jones

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I decided to read this book because I’ve been programming mostly in Python for the past year and would like to understand it better. Overall, the book left quite contradictory impression - essentially it is a collection of recipes grouped by topic. Each recipe is a description of some problem related to programming and a detailed description of solutions of this problem in Python. If you know about Stackoverflow, this book is useless for you :)

But I read it anyway. Or rather, I simply skimmed some chapters diagonally because the topics presented there were irrelevant to me or were generally outdated. On the other hand, some chapters turned out to be quite interesting for me and I learned something new. But to sum it up, I would rather not recommend this book.

“The Terror” by Dan Simmons

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This is a pseudo-historical novel in the genre of a mystical thriller about the tragic fate of an Arctic expedition trying to find the Northwest Passage (a sea route through the Arctic Ocean along the northern coast of North America). The story is based on true events, although the author uses only the basic known facts of the present and generously adds many things of his own.

The book is written in excellent language and very well gives the opportunity to immerse in the life of people who have to survive in highly extreme conditions, risking their health, mind, and lives every day. The author perfectly shows the atmosphere of doom and fear. And though the tragic ending of the expedition is known in advance, the book still keeps you in suspense until the very end. I would also like to separately note the interesting characters and the excellent descriptions of the harsh nature of the Far North. Although the book is quite large, I was very captivated by it and had no desire to stop reading it. It’s probably worth noting that the author is not shy about describing scenes of cruelty, violence and suffering in quite colorful and detailed terms, so if you don’t like that, it’s better to pass by. But in common, I highly recommend it to everyone else!

“1813” by Uladzimir Sadouski

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This is also a fantastic pseudo-historical story. But this one is about how Michal Kleafas Aginski - a famous composer and politician - comes from the capital St. Petersburg to visit his uncle in Maladzechna, which was devastated by the recent war with Napoleon’s army. And, suddenly, he finds himself in the center of a local zombie apocalypse! We are all familiar with many stories about the walking dead, and nowadays it is difficult to surprise anyone in this genre with something new, but the author very skillfully uses elements of our national Belarusian history and culture in this essentially crazy story. I think this could be a cool graphic novel (aka comics), or maybe even a blockbuster movie in the style of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” or “President Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. In general, this short story became a real discovery for me, and I would like to see more such crazy things in Belarusian literature.

“The Fifth Elephant” by Terry Pratchett

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This is the next book in the the Discworld series (there will be three of them in this post), and it is part of the sub-cycle about the City Guard. This time the author tells us a story related to foreign policy. The heroes go to another country to establish diplomatic ties, investigate crimes and solve their personal problems. The book is filled with well-known Terry Pratchett’s humor. And this time he funny depicts the history, cultural features, and traditions of Eastern Europe and post-Soviet countries! The book shows Uberwald - the largest state on the Disc with harsh wild nature and a lot of natural resources. It was dominated by vampire aristocrats and werewolves, but later people and dwarves gained more influence.

Also, through the story of dwarven womens the author raises the problem of sexism, the traditional patriarchal way of society, and social equality. I think this is one of Terry Pratchett’s strengths - the ability to write about such rather complex topics. I could say, this is one of the best Discworld books I’ve read (so far).

“The Truth” by Terry Pratchett

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This is the 25th book in the Discworld series, which tells about the appearance of the first newspaper and the birth of journalism in this fantasy world. I was interested in reading it because the author himself was a professional reporter and editor and personally knew how this industry works. This is very noticeable in the passion and love with which the author describes the daily work of the characters. I would also like to note how skillfully the author raises the topic of xenophobia and sexism. Yes, this is now very popular in modern culture, but unfortunately very often it is presented in such a way that it seems it would be better they do not try at all.

The book is filled with Terry Pratchett’s satirical humor. I will also note that it is not included in any of the major sub-cycles and can be recommended to be read even by those who are not familiar with the Discworld at all.

“Hay on the Asphalt” by Mihas Straltsov

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In this work, the author contrasts urban and rural life and tries to find ways to reconcile these two lifestyles. The author very lyrically and figuratively describes both village and city life, and these descriptions evoked very pleasant feelings of nostalgia for me, because I lived in the village until I was 13 years old. Overall, the author is trying to convey the message that both lifestyles should be valued and that each has its own benefits.

But it seems to me it has also more important ideas - the author wanted to show that one must love the connection with one’s roots, do not forget it, and the places where one comes from. Remember the traditions and history of one’s people, and also respect other people’s work.

“Clojure for the Brave and True” by Daniel Higginbotham

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I was already a little familiar with Clojure, because I was interested in different Lisp dialects years ago, but my knowledge was rather superficial. I had almost no practical experience with this language. Since then, I had a desire to know more about this language, its ecosystem and capabilities, so I decided to read this book. As far as I know, this book is quite popular among the Clojure community, and many consider it a really good way to get started with the language.

Overall, I agree that it can be very useful for beginners because it explains in detail the basic concepts of language syntax and things from the world of functional programming. But if you are already familiar with other Lisps or some functional languages, the book may seem too simple or even useless for you. Also, if you are interested in learning how it can be used in real industrial programming, then this book is not for you - most of the examples still look artificial. But if you have no experience with functional languages at all, you might find this book really interesting and useful.

“Thief of Time” by Terry Pratchett

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This is another book in the Discworld series, and compared to the two previous books, I liked it the least. Although, I love Death (the character) and stories with him, and the Discworld in general, for some reason I’m not very interested in reading about Susan (Death’s granddaughter). And in this book she is one of the main characters! On the other hand, I really liked Lu-Tze and his Path, probably because I was once very interested in the philosophy of Taoism and Eastern teachings in common. This is probably the only thing I remember from this book. Otherwise, it seemed kind of “gray” and tasteless to me - it’s not bad and there’s still a lot of humor in it, but it doesn’t stand out at all from the other Discworld novels. So far, of all the 26 Pratchett books I’ve read, this one has impressed me the least.

“We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin

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I already read this book when I was a teenager, but in recent years, watching the strengthening of authoritarianism in different countries, I wanted to re-read it again. So, this is one of the “classic” dystopias, written back in the 20s of the last century in the USSR. Long before Orwell’s “1984” or Huxley’s “Brave New World” appeared (and I heard that they were inspired by this novel).

The book is written in the style of a personal diary of one of the inhabitants of a totalitarian state in the distant future, where human personality and individuality are reduced to a “number” and there is no separate “I”, there are only “we”. Some passages in the book can be quoted even today - this is still relevant. Separately, I really liked the style of speech of the characters, which reminded me very much of Soviet authors who extolled the Soviet socialist path. It is not surprising that this book was banned in the Soviet Union.

We should probably be sad that 100 years later this book still doesn’t lose its relevance. But I believe that if in this bookish world of totalitarianism and global control people continued to resist, then we all have hope for the best.

That’s all for now. I’ve already started reading some next things from my reading list, but I’ll talk about that next time.

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