What I Read: Wheel of Time Series

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“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and we are only the thread of the Pattern.”

One of the reading challenges I set myself earlier this year was to start and complete the Wheel of Time fantasy series. There are 14 books in the series, which were started by Robert Jordan and after his death, were then finished by Brandon Sanderson.

I started reading the series at the beginning of this year, and it took me 14 weeks to read the complete series- albeit, 14 weeks in which I regularly turned down nights out or activities just so I could finish another book by the end of the week.

However, onto the actual books… I don’t want to actually review them as that could easily be material for at least 1000 words but what a brilliant series. It is actually impossible to summarise the plot line up in a few paragraphs but basically it follows Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, and his allies as they fight in an age-old battle against the evergrowing power of the Dark One.

The books switch between character viewpoints and really allows the reader to become very fond of some characters. The scope of imagination that went into writing this series is absolutely amazing, from millennia of history to multiple cultures and political systems as well as a complex magic system.

As this is such a long series, the quality of the writing and story does vary and I really struggled to get through Books 8-10 due to the storyline really dragging. I think this is a really common phenomenon with fantasy series where authors begin to ramble on and the quality drops, and you can really see this happening in the last two books in The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series.

Thankfully Book 11, the final book written by Robert Jordan, showed a major improvement in the quality of both writing and plot, and the final three books by Brandon Sanderson were nothing short of amazing.

Even though this is not strictly a review, I would highly recommend this fantasy series as one of the must-reads of the genre.

What I Read: Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement

Reclaiming the F Word The New Feminist Movement

Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern & Kristin Aune

Browsing around my local library a few weeks ago, I noticed that they have quite a small but rather concise feminist writings section, full of many of the books which I would recommend as introductory texts to any interested in feminism as well as the longer tracts from the well-known names. I had never read Reclaiming the F Word before so I added it to my check-out pile and threw it into my handbag for lunch-time reading.

Reclaiming the F Word draws on research done amongst 1000 people about their perspectives on feminism and what issues they think feminism should tackle. The writers take these insights from the research and use them to outline the direction that modern, Western feminism has been taking over the past year and neatly lays the issues out into the main topics of body rights, sexual rights, workplace equality, cultural equality, politics and religious, freedom from violence and equality in the home.

The interspersion of the comments made by those surveyed and interviewed added a layer of interest and insight to the chapters about why feminism is still relevant to many people in the 21st century. While some of the chapters maybe suffer for taking on too much in their analysis, there are other chapters which make me pause for thought and nod my head in agreement. In particular, the chapter on religion and whether it can be changed to include female perspectives in its structures and worship.

One of the biggest criticisms laid at feminist writings is its lack of inclusion of the male perspective, and this is where this book really works. When the authors discuss their main issues, they always acknowledge that men also suffer as well from rape, violence, stifling gender norms amongst many other issues, and that men can also be feminists.

So even if you’ve moved beyond Feminism 101, Reclaiming the F Word will probably be of interest, and this is a must-read for anyone interested in the state of the current feminist movement.

What I Read- Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar

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If you have wondered about the health consequences of the sugar-saturated Western diet, Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar by Dr Robert Lustig should be your next read. Most people already know that sugar is bad for us, but this book outlines the exact reasons why sugar is a toxin to our body and why the average weight of the population in America is steadily going upwards. If you’ve ever wondered about obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, this needs to go on your reading list.

The first few chapters open by blowing many of the myths about weight control out of the water; the assumption that obese people are greedy and lazy and the industry built around this assumption. These chapters are quickly followed by an outlining of the various biochemical issues which lead to weight gain, from misfiring hormones to how fructose is stored in our bodies. I have to admit that I did struggle through certain parts of these chapters but it does make sense eventually.

Fructose is seen as the real toxin in the obesity battle, as the liver processes it to be stored as fat. While fruit contains fructose, Lustig emphasises that eating fruit which is full of fibre, slowing down the rate at which the liver processes the fructose. It is fruit juice, high fructose corn syrup and fast food which is the focus of Lustig’s ire. At one point, Lustig defines fast food as fibreless food, and it is clear that fibre is championed as one of the solutions to the dietary ailments faced by many people.

There is a feeling throughout the book that people’s health and weight are at the mercy of their genetics and hormones, but Lustig is eager to emphasise that it is better to be healthy and overweight, than genetically blessed with a slim frame but many underlying health issues because of a high-sugar diet.

I do feel that there is a vital point missed in the book which maybe needs to be made to international readers whose soft drinks are flavoured with sucrose rather than HFCS. Sucrose is a disaccharide which breaks down into glucose (dealt with by insulin) and fructose. Just because it’s not HFCS doesn’t meant that it’s not bad for you as well.

What makes this book a really worthwhile read is that it’s not just about biochemistry, it also examines how the Western diet changed and the socioeconomic factors which have led to an obesity crisis in many Western countries. The writing is very approachable with the exception of a couple of chapters, and the book ends with many suggestions of the ways anyone can improve their diet regardless of the genetic and hormonal hand they were dealt at birth.

What I Read: Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong

Seven Deadly Sins David Walsh

To take off Miranda Priestly… another cycling book review from me, ground-breaking.

While everyone knows the story of Lance Armstrong and the doping charges brought against him, Seven Deadly Sins by David Walsh is one of the best books I have read about the doping scandal in cycling.

Seven Deadly Sins opens with sports journalist David Walsh’s first interview with Armstrong in 1993, and leads the reader through the various doping scandals in cycling during the 1990s, Armstrong’s seven year dominance in the Tour de France, and the many allegations and investigations against Armstrong for doping.

However it is not just about one cyclist’s doping, it also investigates the circumstances which allowed the doping culture in professional road cycling to thrive; from the UCI’s complicity of ignoring certain test results to journalists refusing to investigate doping allegations.

There is a quote in one of the earlier chapters of the book which really opened my eyes to how journalists were complicit in the creation of the omerta culture in cycling as well, by acting as fan boys rather than investigative journalists:

“I wanted to tell him that the problems of the more recent past were in part down to journalists being too gullible. And to remind him of the role journalists and newspapers had played in the creation of the Tour de France… Journalists are sentimental creatures and the success of the Tour is built on emotion and memory.”

Armstrong was capable of manipulating the media to his side, it is clear from Walsh’s account that a lack of thorough media scrutiny allowed Armstrong to be able to cast doubt on anyone who accused him of doping.

It is overall a powerful piece of writing, filled out with interviews with many of the people, like Betsey Adreau and Emma O’Reilly, who spoke out against Armstrong. Amongst the most shocking part of the book are the accounts about how these people were harassed and intimidated into silence and in some cases, had entire careers destroyed by threats and innuendoes.

Parts of Seven Deadly Sins feels rushed towards the end, given the short period between Armstrong’s acceptance of the charges and the book’s publication, but that is a small issue given that this book is possibly Walsh’s magnum opus on Armstrong’s cycling career. It is a fantastic read and one I would recommend for any sports fan.

March Round-Up & April Plans

March here was more of the same old, same old I experienced in February– not much going on and not enough motivation to make things happen either.

Books

Yup, I still haven’t finished the Wheel of Time series yet. I’m on Book 13 though so the end is in the sight, and I am avoiding any conversations about the series until I turn that last page. I’m excited, mostly because I have put the last three months into reading this series and want the conclusion to be amazing.

Photography

I spent a couple of afternoons in Gougane Barra and Garretstown Strand where I took loads of photos. I also attended a photography workshop about photo composition and started taking an online photography course, so I also have had so much to think about on the technique side of photography.

All in all, a great return to my favourite hobby, and I have some interesting projects planned for the coming weeks.

Food

I attended the Galway Food Festival over the Easter weekend and went to a very interesting talk about the impact of cheap food. I share more thoughts on that talk in my next post.

I also hope to start posting a few more recipes here in the coming weeks, now that there is decent light in the evening for taking photography.

Blogging

In the last month, I published a whopping 5 posts. My writers block prevented me from putting any words to paper and my lack of motivation compounded that, but participating in the NewFarmette’s April blogging challenge will hopefully help me overcome this in the next few months.

Any plans for April?