Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where spring has finally sprung and people are once again able to get outside. Let's hope they stay isolated so that our COVID cases don't spike in a couple weeks.
The week that was was long and repetitive, with double-digit meetings each work day. The reading was good, as was the guitar playing. If I thought the picture would be clear, I'd take a picture of my left fingertips to show the budding callouses.
The tl;dr for this week is: Two books finished, four beers drank (three from the previous week), a book discussion recorded and posted on YouTube, and a bunch of new words.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
It was a productive week for reading, with two books finished and a new one about one-quarter completed already.
Book #15 for 2020 was a young reader series mystery that I finished with my younger daughter. "Panda-Monium" by Stuart Gibbs is a first-person narrated story of a middle school sleuth who helps solve the mystery of a missing panda. Teddy Fitzroy is a bit like Encyclopedia Brown, but in a modern setting and in a full-length novel format. The book was really well done and had a couple absolutely hilarious scenes. If you are looking to hook a young reader on the mystery genre, this is a good choice.
Book #16 for 2020 was "Ancillary Justice" by Anne Leckie, a science fiction story revolving around a multi-millennium old AI hellbent on revenge. It was a great concept, and ultimately it came together really well, but I did lose interest for a while about two-thirds of the way through. To be fair, that might have been a symptom of mental fatigue and quarantine overload. It was definitely good enough to make me seek out the second book in the series.
Leckie wrote an excellent quote near the end of the novel that could have been equally applicable to today's world.
If you've got power and money and connections, some differences won't change anything. Or if you are resigned to dying in the near future ... It's the people without the money and the power, who desperately want to live, for those people small things aren't small at all. What you call no difference is life and death to them,
I mentioned above that I am already one-quarter through another book. That one is a historical account of some seriously interesting cyrpto work done over 200 years ago. I suspect I'll have a good summary of it done for next week's entry. In the meantime, here is a tweet related to that book.
Lastly, I have commented multiple times since mid-December about the War and Peace Reddit reading group that I am part of. I highly encourage you to read War and Peace, and if you do, a chapter-a-day reading habit is a great way to do it, especially if you augment it with Brian E. Denton's Daily Meditations on each chapter.
Denton has been actively lurking on the subreddit this year and invited myself and others to record a session where we talk about Book 1, Part 1. It was a really good discussion, and it was great to put faces to names of some of the most active contributors to the subreddit. The full video is linked below, and a few of my points are linked here [1, 2].
Four new beers for the past fortnight - I didn't feel like posting a beer update last week - and it was a fairly forgettable bunch unfortunately. It started out well with the Collective Arts Hazy State. Collective Arts do like their hazy IPAs. This one was very hazy and never did settle or clear in the slightest. There was a big waft of pine and a nice taste. (3.75 / 5). The next was also from Collective Arts, but this was a bit disappointing. It wasn't bad or poorly done, but just didn't live up to my expectations for a sour from Collective Arts. (3.25 / 5).
Next was the Wild Beer Company Millionaire Salted Caramel Chocolate Milk Stout. This had a nice boozy flavor without being overpowering, but I didn't taste much of the salted caramel or chocolate. (3.25 / 5).
Last up was the Lech Premium Pale Lager. When you are on a personal quest to drink one of every beer in the world like I am, you will eventually have to drink benign lagers from big macro breweries, and this was one of those times. This was decent, but wholly unremarkable. That's all I am going to say. (3.0 / 5)
Quite a few words this week, with a couple being repeat offenders.
[ˈnü-əl , ˈnyü- ]
There are those words that you say without thinking about, and then one day you think about them, and all you can think about is how weird that word is. "Hunker" is definitely in that category. We are definitely into the "hunker" phase of our global COVID response, in which we are, to use the North American use of the word, taking shelter in a defensive position. See the full definition in the "New Words" section at the end of this post.
With that, greetings from 53.5° north latitude, in a spot in the world where it is still solidly winter with cold temperatures, snow, and ice that can cause both the short of cycling mishaps that rip through two layers of pants and at least one layer of skin, and an intensely beautiful vistas.
The world zipped past 1,000,000 confirmed cases of COVID earlier this week, and passed 1.25 million this morning. There is a growing realization that we will be in this state of isolation until the end of June and that some form of public health measures will extend for some time beyond then.
Even with all of the news, the messages from public health officials, the pleas from celebrities, there are still people who just won't get it. The blistering editorial this week in the Thorsby Target from Thorsby Mayor Rod Raymond this past week was a welcome read. It seems Mayor Raymond does not mince words. Pin heads, indeed!
I talked about the economic impact in the last two weeks [here, and here]. The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce released some staggering survey results this week. Nearly half of Chamber members surveyed feared that their business would not survive, and a quarter surveyed do not have cash to meet their next payroll.
The world will change as a result of this. The world is changing as a result of this. It will be imperative to engage to do as much as possible to influence the changes to be positive and inclusive. If we fail to that, what we are living in now may be the real-world equivalent to the prequel to a haunting dystopian science-fiction story.
I had a good week as far as reading goes. I dove into "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" and should be caught up in the respective Reddit reading groups in a few days. Monte Cristo is revealing itself to be a beautiful book filled with evocative imagery and phrases. Below are two of my favourite from my readings this last week. The first one is strangely recursive, discussing how a heart can break and then itself causing hearts to break.
The heart breaks when it has swelled too much in the warm breath of hope, then finds itself enclosed in cold reality.
The second is darker, highlighting a fatalistic view on the world and the thoughts that maybe the world should just be burned down.
If only the sky would rain gunpowder for two days and fire for an hour, and we could have done with it all.
Beyond those two novels, I did finish another novel this week. Book #12 for 2020 was "Future Home of the Living God" by Louise Erdrich. This was a book that I thought was wonderful as I was in the act of reading it, but as I stepped away from it I reflect on a few flaws. There were a few plot points dropped in and not explored, such as the massively changed fauna (sabre-tooth cat, anyone?). I also would have liked to have the role of the theocratic church explained more, and how the monitoring and surveillance technology was a surprise and also so surprisingly effective. I still don't know with certainty which characters in the book were "good", but I suppose that is no different than real life, where every person we encounter is both wonderful and flawed.
But ignore that. You should read this book even with its flaws. The timeliness of a novel where the protagonist is locked away and isolated is certainly worth reading right now, as are the hints at how quickly and how completely our world could change for the worse. Don't take anything for granted, even those crummy gas station granola bars, and especially the rights of the individuals.
And since I am apparently big on quotes this week, here is one from this book that can hopefully remind us of all that exists that is worth fighting for.
I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful. I think it may be our strongest quality.
More reading this week, and therefore more new words as well. Plus leading off with that word that seems really weird when you really think about it.