Saturday, April 16, 2011

1421 by Gavin Menzies (GRADE: F)

A student of mine recommended (and lent me) this book.  And so I read it.  Many hours later, here I am wondering if I'll ever take another recommendation for a book from a student again.  (NOTE: I probably will but I may be more judicious in the future instead of accepting book recommendations haphazardly.)  I grade this book an F!

I feel like this book stole many hours of my life from me.  I know, I know.  I could have stopped the book at any time but I didn't.  Maybe I should reconsider my conviction to finish every book that I start...

So that I don't contribute much more time to the time that this book, I will just quote  some things that I read on wikipedia concerning this book that reflects how I feel:

Criticism of 1421

Within the academic world, the book (and Menzies "1421 hypothesis") is dismissed by sinologists and professional historians.[23][24][25] In 2004, historian Robert Finlay severely criticized Menzies in the Journal of World History for his "reckless manner of dealing with evidence" that led him to propose hypotheses "without a shred of proof".[6] Finlay wrote:
Unfortunately, this reckless manner of dealing with evidence is typical of 1421, vitiating all its extraordinary claims: the voyages it describes never took place, Chinese information never reached Prince Henry and Columbus, and there is no evidence of the Ming fleets in newly discovered lands. The fundamental assumption of the book—that Zhu Di dispatched the Ming fleets because he had a "grand plan", a vision of charting the world and creating a maritime empire spanning the oceans—is simply asserted by Menzies without a shred of proof ... The reasoning of 1421 is inexorably circular, its evidence spurious, its research derisory, its borrowings unacknowledged, its citations slipshod, and its assertions preposterous ... Examination of the book's central claims reveals they are uniformly without substance.[26]
A group of scholars and navigators, Su Ming Yang of the United States, Jin Guo-Ping of Portugal, Philip Rivers of Malaysia, Malhão Pereira and Geoff Wade of Singapore questioned Menzies' methods and findings in a joint message:[21]
His book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, is a work of sheer fiction presented as revisionist history. Not a single document or artifact has been found to support his new claims on the supposed Ming naval expeditions beyond Africa...Menzies' numerous claims and the hundreds of pieces of "evidence" he has assembled have been thoroughly and entirely discredited by historians, maritime experts and oceanographers from China, the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.[21]
It has also been pointed out that Menzies has no academic training and no command of the Chinese language, which would prevent him from understanding original source material relevant to his thesis.[27]

In conclusion, I do NOT recommend this book to anyone!  I feel damaged by this book.  Now, I have all this misinformation floating around in my head!  UGG!  I grade this book an F.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (GRADE: D)

I've just finished Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.  This is the third installment of the 'Hunger Games' trilogy.  I grade this book a D.

The first book, The Hunger Games, was good.

The second book, Catching Fire, overall was still good even though there were weaknesses in character development and plausibility.

The third book, Mockingjay, was not good.  I did not enjoy reading this book.

In summary, Mockingjay starts where Catching Fire leaves off.  Katniss is taken from the Hunger Games to District 13, which has actually survived after all these years.  Half of the book is about Katniss living in District 13 and the other half of the book is about how the rebels try to overthrow the Capitol.

One thing that is important about fiction is that it has to feel REAL.  Note: History does not have to deal with this problem.  History merely has to have occurred.  Fiction is harder, I feel.  In fiction, even in fantastic situations, the characters in the contrived situations have to act and feel REAL.  History does not; history just has to have occurred that way in that past.

Collins characters in Mockingjay, did not feel real.  They seemed like caricatures.  There were many dramatic moments but I don't feel like she spent enough time in character development earning those moments and so when they happened, they felt cheap, like a cheesy TV sitcom where all problems are solved in half an hour.

I think that a world view that Collins was trying to push was, "To thine own self be true", which is a great and very TRUE adage.  But the way that it comes off in Mockingjay is stupid and at time insulting.  Katniss goes against the grain and does what she wants to do but then when it is reveal to the others what she is doing, it turns out miraculously that everyone knew and they went along with her plans anyway.  If that happens once or twice, I would have felt okay with that happening in the story but when it happened over and over again, it was distracting.  I found it annoying.

Also, Katniss is SELFISH.  She was not a hero.  She was not a good character to follow and after all those pages of complaining and whining, I wanted to slap her.  (JK.  I actually didn't but I just wrote that for dramatic effect).  SELFISHNESS can be manifest in false humility which is the way that it comes off for Katniss.  SELFISHNESS merely means that one's focus is on one's self instead of others and Katniss only thinks about herself and how things effect her.  Her reactions may seem selfless but if you look at her reactions a second time, they are all centered around her and therefore SELFISH.  Even at the end when she wanted to commit suicide...COME ON!!!

The story was not so good either.  All I'll say is that it seemed like a Frankenstein of a story where, she took things that felt unconnected and just strung them together.  UGG.  Did not like the story development.

I did like how Coin and Snow parallel each other.  I did like Coin/Snow's ending.  But aside from that I was not happy with how things ended.  The end just seemed to fizzle out.

And when people died, people of significance, the narrative has to stop to describe how it affects the main character but the main characters felt like throw away no name characters.  I felt like she was pretty casual and careless about their deaths.

The writing was not so good.

The plot was not so good.

The pacing was not so good.

The character development was awful!

Overall, I would not recommend this book.  But there is the RUB!  If you read the first two books, I guess you have to read this one.  Maybe you can just skim this one.  I grade this book a D.