Books I’ve read since Christmas

Since I stopped doing the really regular updates for Fading Memories the booklog, I’ve read the occasional book or two. The habit is kind of ingrained, and so’s the habit to make a short note of those books. Here are the notes — I might have forgotten some books, but well, those were apparently instantly forgettable.

Accelerated C++: Practical Programming by Example (Andrew Koenig and Barbara Moo)

Accelerated C++: Practical Programming by Example is a very good book. Written with absolute clarity and little or no semi-witty fat in the text, concise summaries at the end of every chapter and from a clearly authoritative knowledge of the language, this book should have been the book for to learn C++ from. And it helped, sure, but on the other hand, much of the book is intended to teach programming, instead of bringing the reader up to speed with a new language. It does an admirable job of its stated goals, employing a novel and very practical way of teaching (start with the high-level constructs, teach C++ as a coherent language, instead of C with add-ons), but it was perhaps not the best book for me.

C++ in a Nutshell, A Language and Library Reference (Ray Lischmer)

Perhaps the book I should have bought first: Practical C++ programming is too old to be of much use, and Accelerated C++ by Koenig and Moo is more a course that teaches you programming, than that it teaches C++. In fact, the stuff Koenig and Moo discuss seems much more suitable for Python. C++ in a Nutshell is concise, complete and clear. Can’t say any fairer than that.

Een Kerstvertelling (Charles Dickens)

I read this to the kids (who are 10, 8 and 8) in the few days before Christmas. We don’t own a television, so they had never seen one of the movie versions of this all too famous book. However, read aloud in a dated, but good, Dutch translation, the story really worked. It’s much more moral, much more comic, much more sentimental and at the same time much less soppy than any movie version I have ever seen. And it’s Christian with a naturalness that’s hard to find nowadays. I’m now reading Oliver Twist to the kids, and they love it. The language is even harder — even for me, the translation is old-fashioned, and I have to give footnotes, sometimes translate a paragraph into modern Dutch, and now and then we have to use a dictionary (something I haven’t needed for Dutch for years), but everyone has fun, and when I ask the children about what happened the day before, they clearly show that have understood and remembered what went before.

Man en Muis (Paul Biegel)

An allegorical story, but with a strong plot. Paul Biegel is a grand old man in Dutch children’s literature, and so famous he can write whatever he want, and it gets printed. This book is a gem, it reads well, you get to care about all the little mice, and at the same time, it’s clear what the underlying meaning of the book is.

De Idioot (Dostojevski)

I was pushed into reading this by a Russian friend of ours who compared Dostojevski to Dickens. Not finished yet, but the first hundred or so pages are eminently readable and a lot of fun in a soapy kind of way… More later.

Nicholas Nickleby (Charles Dickens)

Not finished either, and I doubt whether I shall. Nicholas Nickleby misses the freshness, vim and vigor of Oliver Twist, and the copy I have is, while old and beautiful, hard to read.

Over Eten en Koken (Harold McGee)

This book is so much fun! It’s a big, fat treatise on everything about the chemistry, biology and physics of food. The only problem is that I would have liked it better if it were twice as big.

The Scarab Murder Case (S.S. Van Dine)

Philo Vance is an arrogant idiot, and S.S. Van Dine is a stilted stylist who writes stories that are even more boring than those of Father Knox, and that’s saying some.

Beyond Fear (Bruce Schneier)

Essential reading, but not nearly technical enough. I think he could have scratched half the text and still got the message across, at least to me. Still, these are things that must be said, and must be said in as simple a manner as possible. Everyone should read Cryptogram, Bruce Scheier’s newsletter, too. Oh, and something that seems related: an interview with George Lakoff, of Women, Fire and Dangerous Things fame.

Olieverftechnieken (Jermey Galton)

Finally a decent book on oil painting, and it was really cheap,
too. His book on mixing colours with oils was really helpful, too.
Still no explanations of ‘stofuitdrukking’ (material expression?), though.

Les Sarcophages du 6e Continent (Sente, Juillard)

Another Blake and Mortimer comic, by another pair of artists/scenarists. Nicely rendered, story perhaps a bit iffy, even by the high-adventure standards of the series.