Planchard picked up the lantern. “I can tell you nothing more, my lord, for I have heard nothing that tells me the Grail is at Astarac, but I do know one thing and I know it as surely as I know that my bones wil soon rest with the brethren in this ossuary. The search for the Grail, my lord, drives men mad. It dazzles them, confuses them, and leaves them whimpering. It is a dangerous thing, my lord, and best left to the troubadours. Let them sing about it and make their poems about it, but for the love of God do not risk your soul by seeking it.”
I came across this passage from Bernard Cornwell's Heretic (aye, the third book) yesterday morning, nary a day after I'd read something somebody else had written about maladies. Now why would it seem that in the text above, the word “Grail” could very well be replaced by… something else… and all the rest would be just as true? And just as with the Grail quest, those other quests — and everything one finds along the way — are, in a way, their own great reward. However, unlike the Grail quest, there are times when one can actually judge and decide to leave off those other quests, and be glad, be very glad, for everything — and everyone — one has stumbled across along the way.
“And now,” he changed into execrable Latin, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I absolve you.” He made the sign of the cross. “Don't waste your life, Tom.”
“I think I already have, father.”
“You're just young. It seems like that when you're young. Life's nothing but joy or misery when you're young.” He helped Thomas up from his knees. “You're not hanging from a gibbet, are you? You're alive, Tom, and there's a deal of life in you yet.” He smiled. “I have a feeling we shall meet again.”
Nah, I'm not pointing this at anyone in particular — or, well, maybe I did think of several people when I read it, including myself. And that was just halfway through the first part of Harlequin — the first book of Bernard Cornwell's Grail Quest trilogy. The rest of Harlequin (almost through with the second part now) promises to be just as good, and full of sayings to remember.
So what if I quote yet another passage that… should I say "made an impression", or would that be quite the understatement — and you all are free to take with as big a pinch of salt and qualifications about personal opinion and taste as you wish :) Whether it is because of a whole lot of things that happened, might have happened, ought to have happened, weren't supposed to happen, were a great thing to have happened, are about to happen, just might possibly happen, or whether it is just like that… in the past couple of days I nourish a feeling that I understand perfectly what Father Brown meant — and then again, it's just possible that I'm oh so cunningly deluding myself too.
G. K. Chesterton, "The Honour of Israel Gow"
From "The Innocence of Father Brown", a short stories' collection
"Father," said Flambeau in that infantile and heavy voice he used very seldom, "what are we to do?"
His friend's reply came with the pent promptitude of a gun going off.
"Sleep!" cried Father Brown. "Sleep. We have come to the end of the ways. Do you know what sleep is? Do you know that every man who sleeps believes in God? It is a sacrament; for it is an act of faith and it is a food. And we need a sacrament, if only a natural one. Something has fallen on us that falls very seldom on men; perhaps the worst thing that can fall on them."
Carven's parted lips came together to say: "What do you mean?"
The priest turned his face to the castle as he answered:
"We have found the truth; and the truth makes no sense."
On Friday, a friend saw the two Stephenson books in my backpack; she immediately asked me if I never read anything of about, say, a hundred pages or so. Well, of course I do - I mean, the textbook for the Artificial Intelligence class at the Sofia University's Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics weighs in at a mere one hundred and fifty pages, and then you don't really have to read all of it ;) But the reason I'm writing this is that several hours later, just two minutes into Quicksilver, I came across this gem in Neil Stephenson's "Acknowledgements" section (italics are his own):
"Of particular note is Sir Winston Spencer Churchill's six-volume biography of Marlborough, which people who are really interested in this period of history should read, and people who think I am too long-winded should weigh."
For what it's worth, no, I don't think either the Cryptonomicon or Quicksilver are long-winded; but then, people have been known to accuse me of never knowing when to put a sentence/paragraph out of its misery, so maybe the reason I love this quote so much is that it finally provided me with an excuse :)
Yep, I've done it again. After Vasil helped me ruin my sleep by passing me a copy of the Cryptonomicon (the dead-tree edition, of course), and after I found out that I've reread my whole pterry collection over the last few months, I did a really, really stupid thing today: up and walked into a Knigomania bookstore, fully conscious and of my own free will.
...skip twenty minutes that flew by in a blur of hardcovers, paperbacks, calendars, art and photography collections and the like...
So, here's the tally:
Nope, not money... the last pitiful chance of getting any sleep in the next two weeks.
Accidental mission considered a success :)
 For our foreign readers, Knigomania is a chain of bookstores in Bulgaria largely known for carrying all manners of foreign literature - mainly English and Russian, but also French, German, Spanish, and more. The name "Knigomania" would translate to "Book-mania"... or something.
Robert Sheckley's Godshome is a quick, funny read - a witty satire on human religion, society, and people in general. While it does seem to occassionally lose focus and only lightly touch on original ideas that could be developed further, I still liked it a lot and I'll probably reread it a couple of times in the future.
I just realized that when I was talking about chimpanzees, what with them being the closest species to us humans, I plain forgot to draw the general public's attention to Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan's wonderful book Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. Yeah, it's just another book on the origin of the human species and life in general, but one that is really good at it. Puzzling trivia, meandering hypotheses (sometimes bordering on guesses), biographies of famous scholars showing their human sides, too - all this told in an easy-going manner that will just keep you turning the pages.
Update: Oh and, um, I almost forgot: of course it is available in Bulgarian too, from Bard :)
As part of the preparation for the Operating Systems university exam today (that's my version, and I'm stickin' to it! ;), I picked up a Bulgarian collection of three of Steven Brust's novels: Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla. A wonderful fantasy series, maybe even a sword-and-sorcery classic! Naturally, a medieval setting, two races - humans (called "Easterners") and Dragaerans, which are very similar to humans, although not quite enough for all purposes. Vlad Taltos, a hired assassin, and his friend Loiosh, a jhereg - something like a bird, something like a dragon, something like a killer. Of course there is magic, and there is also a somewhat uncommon approach to life, death, and revival (there are those who sneer at Brust's use of the word 'revivification', but IMHO, it's a writer's privilege) - leading, in its own way, to a different attitude to giving and taking life.
After I finish "Yendi" and "Teckla", I might as well try to lay my hands on Brust's other works. Of course, this is all IMHO, and YMMV, but doesn't it always? :)
Update: the friend who gave me the book pointed out a stupid, stupid mistake - I had misspelled Vlad Taltos's last name. D'oh!
It turns out a lot of people think that what Dan Brown presents as facts and history is, well, not really founded on fact as firmly as he'd have his readers believe. I guess I'll have to do some research on my own now...
To be honest, I did wonder at the way the book starts: there is a note named "Facts", which lists a couple of details about some of the events and organizations mentioned in the book. I wonder if this is actually the author's way of subtly suggesting that the rest of his writings may be opinions or simply fiction :)
Last night I did something moderately stupid, which I hadn't done for months: picked up Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and finished it in one sitting, 11:30pm to 4:30am. The reviews on that official page may be a bit over the board, but it is indeed a good gripping thriller, packed with lots and lots of interesting facts or opinions of comparative religion, depending on which way you look at them. The title of the Bulgarian translation is "Kodyt na Leonardo", and it also happens to be a good translation, right down to the several pieces of verse, some of them crucial to the plot.
I also managed to solve a couple of the riddles almost immediately on seeing them - and even spooked Iva a bit when I got up at 2am, looking for a mirror :) The funny thing is, I woke up quite easily at 7:30am and am not feeling sleepy at all even now - but ask me again in an hour or three :P
Update: Read more about the Da Vinci Code in a later post.