Archive for July, 2020

Review: James and the Giant Peach

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

Ah, Roald Dahl, you delightful ball of contradiction.

James and the Giant Peach holds a special spot in the hearts and memories of some friends – and my sweetie – and I’d never read it. No one ever articulated what they love about the book. I can see why.

Peach is a ramshackle meandering tale of magic entering a young boy’s life in inexplicable ways. Beyond that, it’s winningly free of convention or moralizing in ways that kids’ literature of the time is usually not.

Dahl’s world is full of both wonder and horror that is equally arbitrary and non-sensical. James’s life is turned upside down when a rhinoceros eats his parents (a patent impossibility) and the relatives who foster him are casually cruel in ways that rise to abuse, if not torture. Then a complete deus ex machina appears offering change. That James screws up. And we’re off to the races.

It never gets any more logical in theme or plot, but there’s something to like about the resulting story. The characters are lively in ways that simpler takes are not. The tone keeps the setbacks at arms length while letting the sun dapple the victories. I can see why no one can explain where their affection comes from, but I do feel it.


Review: What Is Art?

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

A friend pointed me at Tolstoy’s extended essay on the nature of art and I found it thought-provoking, though I didn’t agree with much of it. Primarily I enjoyed watching the result of a disciplined and deep intellect grappling with an abstract, important, and interesting question.

From the beginning he is careful to define and motivate the question. He’s not interested in a purely navel-gazing assessment of art as an activity, but as a societal investment. Taxes can be used to support it, for example, but beyond that larger works of art require societies to be structured to create the time and resources for artists to work on art. That implies them working less on pure survival so some people will have to shoulder that burden.

Considering the issue from that position – what artistic activities are worth paying for as a societal cost – puts many an interesting slant on it. His motivations tend away from the frivolous and toward the edifying. His ideas of edification are motivated from his religious convictions, so we have some disagreements.

Overall, this is a formidable work that I expect I will think much more about.


Review: The Grid

Thursday, July 16th, 2020

The Grid is a is a wide ranging introduction to the changing power industry. Gretchen Bakke covers the relevant technical and economic elements that shaped the power grid and the power industry at the right level for interested laypeople of many backgrounds. It is a timely and interesting topic as the grid itself has been almost static for so many years and is now being rattled by changing technology and regulation.

Bakke has a point of view and bias, for sure, but the book overall is not sensational or anything like it. It makes for a sound primer on a difficult area.

The writing is a bit dry and very clear. I don’t have a great passion for the book, but I think it’s rewarding.