Greek Mythology: Beyond Mount Olympus by in60learning

Greek Mythology: Beyond Mount OlympusGreek Mythology: Beyond Mount Olympus

by in60learning
Series: in60Learning
</brKindle Edition, 38 pg.
in60Learning, 2018

Read: March 10, 2018

“It’s not by chance what Americans say when in need of a specialized or precise term, that ‘the Greeks have the word for it’.” -Aikaterini Spanakaki-Kapetanopoulos

Let me start by saying that I still think that the in60Learning project is a great idea and I hope it puts out a lot of material. I just hope that in their rush for quantity, they don’t skimp on quality. From the typographical errors to the way this was written, I think that’s a real danger.

Still, let’s focus on this volume — they really did go beyond Mount Olympus in their coverage of Greek Mythology, let’s look at the contents of this book:
An Overview of Greek Mythology
The Creation
The Gods of Mount Olympus
Other Gods, Spirits and the Stars
The Underworld and Other Beings in Greek Mythology
The Human Race and the Gods
Greek Mythology in Today’s World
That’s a lot for anyone to tackle in a book much longer than this — it’s a Herculean effort to get that much into a book this small (pun fully intended). But they go for more than an overview of Greek Mythology, they try to suggest some deeper meanings, to tie their topic into philosophical discussions and the like. Some of that worked, some of that seemed like a stretch — and some fell flat (that last paragraph, in particular, was a complete mess). You’ve got to admire the effort, though.

Not only did they cover a wide range of topics, but they worked in a lot of detail — maybe too much in some instances (including the Roman equivalent names at some points felt like they were striving for word count rather than being thorough).

One of the main theses of the book is the impact that Greek Myth had on Western Culture/the English Language, as is seen in the quotation I borrowed above and they utilized to drive home the point. Not only did they prove this point (in case anyone thought it worthy of debating), but they overdid it. At a certain point, the sections along these lines just became lists:

From the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos, is derived the word hypnosis.
From the Greek legend of the King Tantalus, is derived the word tantalize. He was condemned for eternity to stand up to his chin in the middle of a river with a fruit tree above him. Whenever he tried to drink the water, it receded from him, or grab a fruit, it pulled away from him.
From the Greek god of love, Eros, is derived the word erotic.
From the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, is derived the word aphrodisiac. . . .
From the god of fire and blacksmithing, Vulcan (Greek: Hephaestus), is derived the words volcano and vulcanizing.
From the Roman goddess of grain and farming, Ceres (Greek: Demeter), is derived the word cereal.

That goes on for pages (depending how you have your text size set). The facts are good, they’re on point, but it’s not good reading.

The basic overview of the Olympian myths, the origin of the universe, the war with the Titans, etc. was pretty solid. Nothing remarkable, but decently executed. The writing as a whole, however, didn’t impress me — frequently, but particularly as the authors tried to wrap up each chapter, the writing felt like it was lifted from High School term papers. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but I got the impression that this series was supposed to be better than that.

This one didn’t work for me, but I bet there are people out there who will be helped by it. These people didn’t check out D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths so many times from 3rd to 6th grade that the library might as well have given me a copy (not counting the other books on the subject I read, reread, bought, etc. at that age) or haven’t had kids during the Riordan-era of publishing. Basically, I should’ve skipped this one, I think. This slim volume took some big swings — amount of material, range of material, a couple of the “Big Ideas” running through the book, and whiffed on them all (to stick with the metaphor, I do think it caught a piece of a couple of the pitches). A strong effort, but not one that worked for me.


2 1/2 Stars


Illinois Native Americans: A 9,000 Year Civilization by in60Learning

Illinois Native Americans: A 9,000 Year CivilizationIllinois Native Americans: A 9,000 Year Civilization

by in60learning
Series: in60Learning

ARC, 36 pg.
in60Learning, 2018

Read: February 27, 2018

Man, it’s hard to write about a book this short in a meaningful way. So I’m going to talk a little bit about this project as a whole — there’s this group, in60learning, who write very concise non-fiction (text and audiobooks) on historical topics/events or biographies (other topics are coming, apparently), so they can be read and digested in a brief matter of time. Great idea — I’m on board with this. I found the selection a little overwhelming, honestly, since I was going to try just one — I’m not sure I’d have been any more decisive if I’d had 6 to choose from. So I just told them to send me one at random. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, if you’re interested in this idea and want to get more information about the group and their releases, get yourself added to their LearningList.

Now, the title I got was Illinois Native Americans: A 9,000 Year Civilization. I know nothing about the Illinois, nada. You ask me about Native American tribes from the Idaho area, and I’m good; I know a little about the Delaware thanks to David Brainerd; and a bit about the Cheyenne thanks to Craig Johnson. I’m not sure how reliable a source Henry Standing Bear really is, though. So the Illinois? Fuhgeddaboudit. Making me a prime candidate for this book. The idea that this people group existed as a discernible culture for 9,000 years is mind-boggling.

The book covers all sorts of aspects of the Illinois — the politics, the religion, the familial roles, hunting, interaction with other Native American groups — and present state. It talked about changes that happened when Europeans showed up and altered the way of life for everyone in North America.

I appreciated the matter-of-fact way the book addressed cultural changes when the Illinois came into extended contact with Europeans — apparently, primarily the French. The book didn’t vilify the French (or English, etc.) for the changes they brought to the culture — nor did they act like this was the greatest thing for them. Instead, it took more of a “so this changed” approach, letting the readers draw their own conclusions.

The writing is crisp, clear, and (seemingly) comprehensive. It achieves this great balance of being brief and yet covering 9,000 years of history. Even better, it does this history in a few paragraphs in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re missing a lot.

A couple of short-comings that may or may not be addressed in actual editions of the books, not just the ARC version I received — footnotes/endnotes would be great, or at least a bibliography. Just so a reader could look into some of what’s covered a little more.

I really liked this book and plan on picking up more in the series soon. I think it’s just the kind of thing that could help my kids with some things in school, and yet it could also appeal to they busy adult who just feels like they should get better grounded in some part of history or just wants to read something quick. I don’t see why anyone from 12 on up couldn’t benefit from (or understand) this book, and assume the same is true for the rest of the series. Dive into these, folks, you’ll be glad you did.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion — thanks for this!


3 Stars

Timekeepers by Simon Garfield

TimekeepersTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

by Simon Garfield

eARC, 368 pg.
Canongate Books, 2018

Read: February 16 – 23, 2018

Time, once passive, is now aggressive. It dominates our lives in ways that the earliest clockmakers would have surely found unbearable. We believe that time is running away from us. Technology is making everything faster, and because we know that things will become faster in the future, it follows that nothing is fast enough now. . . But the strangest thing of all is this: if they were able, the earliest clockmakers would tell us that the pendulum swings at the same rate as it always has, and the calendars have been fixed for hundreds of years. We have brought this cauldron of rush upon ourselves. Time seems faster because we have made it so.

I remember a few books pretty distinctly from my childhood — particularly those I read that were my first forays into “grown up” books — Ian Fleming, Erle Stanley Gardner, Mario Puzo, Richard Hooker, and so on. The first non-fiction book that I remember trying along those lines was Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, which may have ruined me for a lot of the non-fiction that would follow (we can talk about my discernment later). It was funny, it taught me a lot, it made me think of the early US Space Program a little differently than what I’d been taught, and it was told in Tom Wolfe’s voice (which I love to this day). But it cemented the way I look at non-fiction books. Today, when it comes to non-fiction reads, there are a number of ways I tend to judge them (rightly or wrongly) — first (always first): Is it well-written? I’m not saying it has to sound like Wolfe, but does the writer know what he’s doing? Even if I end up learning a lot from a book, if it’s not well-written, I’m not going to like it. Secondly, is it informative? Do I actually learn something, or is it a re-hash of things that any number of books have said (do we really need that many biographies of Abraham Lincoln?)? Thirdly, does it make me think of something in a new way, or challenge my preconceptions (does this examination of Don DeLillo make me re-think White Noise? (I know of no book like this, but would love to read one)). Fourth, this is not essential — but is the book entertaining? It gets bonus points for that.

Simon Garfield’s Timekeepers, clears the bar for every one of these standards. Since he does it more succinctly than I could, I’ll let Garfield sum up the book:

This is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to beat it. . . The book has but two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.

He begins with telling the well-known (at least in brush strokes) story about the invention of time zones — but man, did I not understand really how this came about. Then he covers the experiments with the calendar, the clock, etc. tried following the French Revolution (and how some of those experiments live on). We get a couple of chapters on time and the cinema. Music (Beethoven, The Beatles, recording and more), photography, filibustering, the work day, and other sundry topics are covered as well. You can’t forget watch-making, watch-marketing, watch-design, watch-capabilities, watch-symbolism, and a few other watch-related notions that I can’t think of at the moment.

Let’s get to the writing itself. Garfield has a way with words — the number of sentences that I highlighted because of his use of the language is pretty high. If I quoted every one that I wanted to, this post would quickly move into the tl;dr range — and into the copyright infringement range not long after that. It wasn’t just his style, the book simply displays some well-crafted writing. It’s not perfect — but it’s good. I’ll freely admit that not every topic he covered really interested me, but his writing kept me reading — and I was rewarded pretty frequently. Even when my interest waned, his writing would stand out here and there so I could appreciate the how he said it, even if the what didn’t interest me. Rarely, the topics that did grab me would have a paragraph or so that didn’t rise to that level, however. I’m not going to go into specifics on this point, though — I didn’t bother to note those, and I bet that comes down to taste and others won’t think of those passages the same way, and they were brief moments, so they didn’t detract from the whole.

Did I learn something from the book? Much more than I expected to. The chapter on the French experiments alone probably taught me enough to justify the whole book. I didn’t/couldn’t stick with the details of watch-making (I have a hard time visualizing that kind of detail), but even that was fascinating and informative on the surface. Most topics broadened my understanding and taught me something. Also, the sheer amount of trivia that I picked up was great (the amount of time spent recording the first Beatles LP, why pop music tends to be about 3 minutes long, etc., etc.

But it’s not just about the information gained — it’s what that information means (both in terms of the book’s argument(s), but in how the reader considers that information in the light of what they already know and personal experience. Every time that Garfield moves from the “here’s what happened” or the “here’s how this works” bits to the “because this happened” or “because this works” bits, it was something I don’t know that I’d spent too much time thinking about previously. Sometimes those took the form of quick “huh,” moments — but occasionally he brushed against profundity, which I really appreciated.

And yes, Garfield picked up bonus points for entertainment. After the first paragraph in Chapter 1, my notes read “Between the Introduction and this paragraph, I’ve laughed four times. Am going to dig this book.” Later on, I wrote that I didn’t care about the content, really, I was having too much fun reading it to worry about it being right.

There’s room for improvement, I think. If there’s a design to the organization, I’m not sure I see it. He appears to hopscotch around between his topics. I’m honestly not sure how he could have arranged them to flow from one to another, but I do believe it could’ve been done. I think he could’ve lessened the detail occasionally (and increased it in a spot or two). But generally, this is me being nit-picky for the sake of not being a push over. There’s really almost nothing to complain about.

Garfield scores across the board with this one, however. I do think the survey hops around a bit too much without obvious connections between the ideas so that the cumulative punch is less than it could be. In his concluding thoughts, Garfield raises some issues and asks some pointed questions that could be more forceful, more pointed if the preceding chapters had been more clearly linked. Nevertheless, the points were made and I, like most readers (I suspect), had to give some serious thought about my relationship to time and what I actually value. I’ll have to continue this thinking for a while, actually — the fact that I have to — and want to — is because of this book forcing me to consider things I’ve taken for granted about time and how my life is governed. I suspect I am not alone in this.

Thought-provoking, interesting, educating, well-written and generally entertaining — Timekeepers really covers all the bases and covers them well. You’d do well to check it out.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the swell folks at Canongate Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. I’m very sorry this posted after the release date, my notes had that in March.


4 Stars

Golden Gremlin by Rod A. Walters

Golden GremlinGolden Gremlin: A Vigorous Push from Misanthropes and Geezers

by Rod A. Walters

Kindle Edition, 228 pg.
Omega Man Press, 2016

Read: February 1 – 2, 2018

Edmund Kean (1787 – 1833) — or someone else, it’s unclear — said “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Stand-ups, actors, and writers alike will testify to at least the latter. The downside is that those that do the hard work, those that are good at comedy make it look easy. Too often it seems that people (professional and amateur alike) go for the easy approach, and it’s never a good idea.

There’s also no accounting for taste.

I’ll accept either as the explanation for why this book left me underwhelmed.

Walters assumes a curmudgeonly tone, calling himself a misanthrope and taking shots at the foibles of the culture around him. The younger set is a particularly favorite target. Too often his pieces come across as angry Facebook rants, written by someone who spouts off against social media. Still, his points are occasionally clever and his jokes show promise. If he’d subject each of these two a few more revision passes, I could imagine myself enjoying many of these.

I’d strongly encourage reading this in small bursts — the essays don’t build on each other, there’s some references between the two, but nothing you won’t remember even after a few days. I wouldn’t do more than one or two in a sitting or Walters’ charm will wear thin.

Walters says that he wrote to make Dave Barry and Ben Stein laugh. If he’d invoked Andy Rooney, I might have agreed with him. I didn’t dislike the book, but I sure didn’t like it. Walters was frequently amusing — and I have no trouble thinking that many would find him funny. But not me. At least not without a few more drafts.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and participation in this book tour.


2 1/2 Stars

Guest Post by Rod A. Walters: Little-r-Slash-Big-R Has to be BIG Enough

[from “Captain [OF] America,” t.b. published August, 2018]

Size really does matter if you want a really dark partial solar eclipse. Having seen a spectacular annular solar eclipse—a “ring around the moon” thing—in upstate New York in 1994, I expected the Monday, August 21, 2017, predicted local 70%-partial solar eclipse to look spectacular, too. Wow, seventy percent! That sounds really dark!

During pre-Eclipse Morning, taking our usual walk around the neighborhood, I sensed all those neighborhood cats who came trotting up to us were worrying about the upcoming eclipse darkness. This many troubled cats didn’t happen often. They seemed to want extra head pats. Certain that they had primitive cat worries about the dangerous coming darkness, and needing fatherly attention, I gave them each a short lecture about how it’s only going to get sort of dark, but no wooba-monster dog-thing will be lurking in the shadows for them. A couple of reassuring pats each, we would go on our way. Cats love science lectures.

Later, wanting to make sure the Eclipse Day turned out special, I had much earlier set a lunch date with my wife, knowing that a romantic bayside restaurant table would make just the perfect afternoon. If clouds or rain had turned up instead, we still would have gone to an excellent lunch, and called it a Solar Ecrapse instead.

Armed with ISO 12312-2 certified eclipse-watching dark glasses, I treated my date to a running commentary about eclipses, about the ones I had seen before, and about the eerie darkness which would soon envelop us. Romantically. At about 30% eclipse, then at 40%, and later at 50%, it still looked just as bright as when we sat down an hour earlier.

At the maximum expected 70% eclipse, I could feel my date’s unspoken question, “Is it getting darker yet?” Wup.

Lunch was good, the company was good, but the 70% partial solar eclipse didn’t put on any show, except as viewed through the ISO 12312-2 eye glasses. How could that 1994 annular eclipse have looked so weirdly dark, and this 70% partial not be? Why! Why!

Time to whip out the old slide rule. A quickly jotted-up equation showed that for an annular eclipse to block the same 70% of the sun’s light, the so-called “apparent” moon’s radius today would be about 83% of the sun’s. All real engineers will yawn, bored with this simple equation: little-r-divided-by-big-R equals the square root of 70%. All non-engineers  would just yawn, neither group giving a rat’s eclipse about it. But the slide rule’s mocking answer: that 1994 annular eclipse hit 90%—a much, much bigger size than today’s event. No wonder 1994 got darker! I should have done the calculation before opening my blathering mouth. I can still hear the slide rule laughing.

I’d decided to make up for it next day by explaining this crucial little-r-slash-big-R mistake to all those neighborhood cats.  I just know they will all be interested, if they bother trotting out to me again.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Golden Gremlin by Rod A. Walters

Today we’re welcoming Rod A. Walters’ Golden Gremlin: A Vigorous Push from Misanthropes and Geezers to our humble abode. We’re starting things with this spotlight post (which includes a giveaway). In a little bit, we’ll have an Guest Post from Walters, and later, I’ll tell you what I thought of this book. But let’s start by learning a bit about it:

Book Details:

Book Title: Golden Gremlin: A Vigorous Push from Misanthropes and Geezers
Author: Rod A. Walters
Category: Adult Non-Fiction, 228 pages
Genre: Humor
Publisher: Omega Man Press
Release date: November 2016
Content Rating: PG-13 + M (Mild and indirect innuendo to both sex genitalia, a short essay about the fictional “AssBook,” an essay on current health-care talk, a teaser “is his cord long enough?” to get readers to choose a short piece on electric cars next, etc.)

Book Description:

Written to make Dave Barry, Lily Tomlin, and Ben Stein laugh, Golden Gremlin: A Vigorous Push from Misanthropes and Geezers delivers the experience of a balanced life, and the wisdom to like most of it, and then laugh at the rest of it. What the heck, Barry lives in Miami, habitat of geezers, and Ben Stein is one. The world really needs that push, vigorous or gentle, from misanthropes & geezers, the world’s most valuable golden gremlins. Misanthropes pretend to not like or need other people, but in reality they merely prefer their own company much of the time. Geezers, aside from that silly name, also like their own company quite well. Both share the virtue of seeing the world calmly. You get pointy bite-sized life pointers from these experienced gremlins, told in easy bite-size chunks. Laughter included in the price! Two out of three wouldn’t be bad either.
Life is good! So laugh a little at yourself on the way through these pointy essays, and that will buy your laughing at the world’s simpler parts, guilt free.

Golden Gremlin comprises about 70 short essays bundled into six topic areas:

NATURE: boys, ugly drivers, and coffee cups in the ‘fridge.
WORDS: the real meaning of Caucasian and Genre.
BUSINESS: deafness at the economics conference, and getting on AssBook.
KITCHENS: sushi chefs, and truth about manna.
HISTORY: when Hell froze, and Attila the Honey.

Golden boy gets to be GOLDEN GREMLIN: experience overcomes certainty.
What things could possibly be more important!

Buy the Book:




Meet the Author:

Rod Walters lives and writes in upstate New York to prove he can be an all-season writer. Since he wants everybody to be all-season persons no matter her or his circumstance, his writing aims sharply toward the practical—without turning into one of those godawful do it ma’ way authors. Life, after all, is practical hour by hour. Self-described as “old enough to know better, and he probably is,” his former life as Army officer, engineer, and administrative assistant could not have better prepared him to write both light and more serious short pieces pointing to creating a balanced life. Chuckling at yourself usually makes a good takeoff, he says. Giving up having to be certain makes for a good landing, especially for one’s friends! Then again, who the heck wants to live a balanced life? Mostly everybody does. That’s why he now writes. Although many friends nudge and badger him to be a Facebook and Twitter butterfly, he tries not to spend many numbing hours a day with circular keyboard tapping. Writing works better.

Connect with the author: Website

Enter the Giveaway!

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Ends March 3, 2018
(if that Rafflecopter widget didn’t show up, just click here)

Uber Diva by Charles St. Anthony

Uber DivaUber Diva: Hot Tips for Drivers and Passengers of Uber and Lyft

by Charles St. Anthony

Kindle Edition, 62 pg.

Read: February 2, 2018

This is a combination of memoir of a Lyft/Uber driver, and a guide to starting/surviving/thriving as one in a tough market. A memoir/guide written by a humorist, it should be stressed, so there’s plenty of humor infused throughout. That right there sounds like a winning book — and Uber Diva almost was one.

Sadly, it came across as a pretty good first draft or a series of short blog posts. Every chapter — almost every paragraph — could’ve used just a little more. A little more detail, a little more context. A few chapters read like a thorough outline rather than actual prose — just a series of bullet points along a theme. A little more expansion, a little more time spent with each idea and this would’ve been a whole lot of fun. As it is, Uber Diva is frequently worth a chuckle or wry smile to oneself, but it’s never enough to satisfy

I’m not crazy about St. Anthony’s organization, either — I’m not sure it ever made that much sense. Particularly, the jump from his opening to the rest just didn’t work for me, it was a jarring tonal shift. The first chapter would’ve fit better as a closing or penultimate chapter, if you ask me.

There’s a lot to like here, but it feels undercooked. It’s enjoyable enough — especially, I bet, for Lyft/Uber drivers — but it could’ve been so much better. A little more revision, a little expansion and I bet I’d be talking about a good read, rather than one that’s just good enough.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.


3 Stars