detailmuse-ing through 2011

KeskusteluClub Read 2011

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detailmuse-ing through 2011

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Muokkaaja: joulukuu 29, 2011, 12:42 pm

From last year, still fits this year: I read mainstream and literary fiction, memoir and science-related nonfiction. I’m drawn to debut novels, stories set in workplaces, and following my curiosity, especially into books with original styles, structures or premises.

In 2011, I want to read a little more history and a few more classics, to pull predominately from my TBRs*, and to log other (non-book) reading.

I'll keep an updated list of finished books (with ratings and links to reviews) in this message.

# denotes a book on my TBR shelves as of 12/31/10.
*See my Books off the Shelf Challenge thread -- exploring when/why I acquired a book, why I deferred reading it and why I'm reading it now.

For more about my recent reading, see my 888 (2008), 999 (2009), and Club Read 2010 threads.

96. The Fiction Class# by Susan Breen (2)
88. Further Interpretations of Real-life Events by Kevin Moffett (3.5) (See review)
87. Secret Letters from 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern (3)
86. The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick (3.5)
84. Little House on the Prairie# by Laura Ingalls Wilder (4)
83. Range of Motion by Elizabeth Berg (3.5)
80. A Farewell to Arms# by Ernest Hemingway (3)
76. One Amazing Thing# by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (3.5) (See review)
70. Speak# by Laurie Halse Anderson (3.5)
68. Number the Stars# by Lois Lowry (4)
65. Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary# by Joseph Conrad (3.5)
64. The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell (3) (See review)
62. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (4) (See review)
58. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (4) (See review)
55. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (4)
53. The Summer Book# by Tove Jansson (4) (See review)
52. American Salvage# by Bonnie Jo Campbell (3.5)
51. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
46. The Notebook# by Nicholas Sparks (1.5)
45. Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister (3.5) (See review)
42. Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach (4)
39. The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman (3) (See review)
37. Translation is a Love Affair by Jacques Poulin (4) (See review)
34. The Girls# by Lori Lansens (3)
32. Hope for the Flowers# by Trina Paulus (3)
31. Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog# by Mark Leyner (3)
26. We Need to Talk About Kevin# by Lionel Shriver (5) (See review)
18. In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard (3.5) (See review)
14. The Housekeeper and the Professor# by Yoko Ogawa (3.5)
11. Marcelo in the Real World# by Francisco X. Stork (4)
9. Room# by Emma Donoghue (4) (See review)
8. The Art of Racing in the Rain# by Garth Stein (3.5) (See review)
7. Machine# by Peter Adolphsen (3) (See review)
3. The Silent Land# by Graham Joyce (4) (See review)

94. Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher (2.5)
93. The End of Overeating# by David Kessler (3) (See review)
92. Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch (3.5)
90. Blue Nights by Joan Didion (4.5)
85. The Problem of Pain# by C. S. Lewis (3)
82. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (4)
77. My Own Country# by Abraham Verghese (4.5)
74. A Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross (5) (See review)
73. Bossypants by Tina Fey (4) (See review)
71. Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (3)
69. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn (4) (See review)
67. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You by Eli Pariser (4) (See review)
66. The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites (3.5) (See review)
61. County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago's Public Hospital by David Ansell (4) (See review)
60. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again# by David Foster Wallace (4) (See review)
57. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (4)
50. Bomboozled by Susan Roy (4) (See review)
49. Barefoot Gen: Life After the Bomb Vol 3 by Keiji Nakazawa (4.5) (See review)
48. I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish (3.5) (See review)
44. A Friend for Einstein, the Smallest Stallion by Charlie Cantrell (2)
43. Radioactive by Lauren Redniss (5) (See review)
41. Barefoot Gen: The Day After Vol 2 by Keiji Nakazawa (4)
40. The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha (3.5) (See review)
36. Barefoot Gen Volume 1 by Keiji Nakazawa (4) (See review)
35. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (3) (See review)
33. Fast Food Nation# by Eric Schlosser (4.5)
30. A Room of One's Own# by Virginia Woolf (3.5)
29. The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard (4.5) (See review)
27. The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke (3) (See review)
25. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (4)
24. Thinking in Pictures# by Temple Grandin (4)
23. Women Food and God# by Geneen Roth (3.5)
21. Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein (3) (See review)
20. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand (4.5)
17. Poke the Box by Seth Godin (3.5) (See review)
16. Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives by Arthur Plotnik (3.5) (See review)
15. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error# by Kathryn Schulz (4.5) (See review)
13. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (4.5) (See review)
12. Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything by Stephen Baker (3.5) (See review)
10. Persepolis# by Marjane Satrapi (4)
6. Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation# by Elissa Stein/Susan Kim (3.5) (See review)
5. Frank Lloyd Wright: American Master# by Alan Weintraub/Kathryn Smith (3) (See review)
4. Gracefully Insane# by Alex Beam (3.5) (See review)
2. Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson/Marina Budhos (3.5) (See review)
1. I Remember Nothing# by Nora Ephron (2.5) (See review)

95. Fodor's The Complete African Safari Planner (4.5) (See review)
91. What I Hate from A to Z by Roz Chast (3) (See review)
89. Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s by James Lileks (4)
81. The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks (4)
79. Alinea by Grant Achatz (6!) (See review)
78. The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (4) (See review)
75. The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2012 (5) (See review)
72. Ruin: Photographs of a Vanishing America by Brian Vanden Brink (3.5)
63. Paul Fusco: RFK by Paul Fusco (4) (See review)
59. Detroit Disassembled by Andrew Moore/Philip Levine (3.5) (See review)
56. Thoughts From the Seat of the Soul# by Gary Zukav (2.5)
54. Fodor's Essential India (4) (See review)
47. Mother Said by Hal Sirowitz (3.5)
38. Bellevue Literary Review Vol 10 No 2 (Fall 2010)# (4.5)
28. Insiders' Guide: Key West in Your Pocket by Nancy Toppino (4) (See review)
22. Bellevue Literary Review Vol 9 No 1 (Spring 2009)# (4)
19. Lonely Planet Discover Europe# (3) (See review)

MetaMaus by Art Spiegelman
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
The Map as Art by Katharine Harmon
Light & Healthy 2010 ed. by America's Test Kitchens
The Best Simple Recipes ed. by America's Test Kitchens
Bartleby and Co.# by Enrique Vila-Matas (See review)

joulukuu 29, 2010, 3:52 pm

My 2010 Top 10*:

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman -- linked short stories about an English-language newspaper in Rome and its employees

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley -- tender exploration of old age and race in 2006 south-central LA

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon -- linked short stories about contemporary life for deployed soldiers and their families at Fort Hood, Texas

American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen -- why certain locales grow certain animals and plants so well, and the attentive harvesting and processing that transform them into outstanding foods

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach -- quirky scientific exploration of human space travel

Pheromone: The Insect Artwork of Christopher Marley by Christopher Marley -- stunning mounted arrangements of insects

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean -- “a funny, or odd, or chilling tale” for every element in the periodic table

The Elements by Theodore Gray -- visually stunning coffee-table book that showcases physical samples and a “biography” of each element; pairs well with The Disappearing Spoon, and getting access to its enhanced e-version seems reason enough to purchase an iPad :)

The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand/Jacob Kenedy -- an anthropology of pasta shapes plus recipes and pairings of pastas and sauces

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte -- the bible of information graphics

*see all of my 2010 reads in library format here

joulukuu 29, 2010, 5:55 pm

>2 detailmuse:, I love that you mentioned the Tufte book. I got it for free in a class and didn't think much of it, brought it home, and my statistics-obsessed graduate student boyfriend flipped out like it was the awesome-est thing ever. :D

joulukuu 29, 2010, 9:26 pm

#2 - I had heard of most of these reads, but not The Last Days Of Ptolemy Grey, which is now firmly on my wishlist. Good luck for more excellent reading in 2011!

tammikuu 1, 2011, 12:46 pm

>3 fannyprice: w00t to the boyfriend! Someday I’ll get to Tufte’s follow-up, Envisioning Information.

>4 wandering_star: Mosley is a favorite -- an author whose whole list I want to tackle for the pleasure of his morally complicated characters and his perspective on American history and race relations.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 1, 2011, 3:07 pm

I'd like to read some of Mosley's books. Which ones are you going to read? I'm tempted to buy the The Elements for my iPad. It looks luscious. It's one of the reasons why I'm not that interested in a Kindle. (Oops! Not trying to start a fight here with those of you who love your Kindles. I just love color, plus I don't want to buy all my books on Amazon, and I love my local independent bookstores... OK, now I do sound like I'm itching for a debate, but I'm not really.)

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 1, 2011, 4:04 pm

>2 detailmuse:, You say that the hardcover of The Elements gives you access to the iPad app? hmmmm.... Methinks another book purchase might be in store.

>6 bonniebooks:, And Bonnie, I'm gonna be honest with you. I loved my Kindle when I first got it, but once I got an iPod touch and then an iPhone, I started doing all my reading on the Kindle app on that because it was so easy to just carry books on my phone. I love the idea of Kindle and I think that Amazon will still continue to sell ebooks, but I wonder if a single-purpose device can beat the convenience of a device that does multiple things and can fit in one's pocket.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 1, 2011, 5:04 pm

The e-version isn’t free or reduced (that I know of; my hard copy was from the library); see the iTunes listing here. Looks like it beats the $30 coffee-table book hands down and is getting a lot of press about how books can be enhanced electronically -- get a feel for the app from author Theodore Gray here. There's an iPad version of Martha Stewart Living magazine, and as graphics go, I say yum.

I have an iPod Touch and originally thought the book was going to be formatted for that, but no ... which makes sense; it needs the scale of the iPad. I love the tiny size of the iPod but am keeping an eye on the iPad upgrade due ~April. As for reading, I have a couple books on my iPod Kindle app but haven’t given it anything approaching a fair try yet.

tammikuu 1, 2011, 5:24 pm

>bonnie, I enjoyed Little Scarlet, a latter book in Mosley’s Ezekiel (“Easy”) Rawlins series, so would like to go back to Devil in a Blue Dress to begin the series. I’ve also read a few of his standalones and want to read more ... have to figure out which they are :)

tammikuu 2, 2011, 12:02 am

8 - Thanks for posting the video about the Elements ebook. Really interesting stuff even if I don't have an iPad.

tammikuu 3, 2011, 10:30 am

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron

A collection of essays, thoughts and lists, most or all previously published on The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker and Vogue. It’s featherlight -- 135 pages, lots of white space -- but I enjoyed Ephron’s explorations of journalism, writing, her mother and her marriages in the longer essays.

tammikuu 3, 2011, 7:31 pm

OK, I confess I read books like Ephron's in the bookstore. I feel a tad bit guilty, but always buy another book too, so I figure the store's happy--don't know about the authors/publishers though! ;-)

MJ, Devil in a Blue Dress was a movie, right? With Denzel Washington? I thought for sure I've read something by him, but only have him as a guest editor of a short story collection. How can that be? Funny how authors are just so familiar (through interviews and such) that you think you've read them, but haven't. I didn't like that movie (that may or may not be based on Mosely's book), so will pick another one to read. Any other suggestions?

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 15, 2011, 8:39 am

bonnie, my favorite Mosley is the one above, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, but you have to be game for a bit of what leans toward magical realism.

tammikuu 3, 2011, 8:50 pm

I'm really not fond of magical realism, but there are some outstanding exceptions, so wouldn't rule it out. It just depends on how it is used. I'll let you keep reading Mosley for awhile. ;-)

tammikuu 3, 2011, 9:09 pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 8, 2011, 6:04 pm

Mosley is a very versatile author. He writes mysteries (Easy Rawlins), science fiction The Wave, literary fiction Fortunate Son, and the uncategorizable The Man in My Basement. I've rarely been disappointed. I'll try to get to Ptolemy Grey when it's out in paperback.

tammikuu 11, 2011, 3:55 pm

>16 arubabookwoman: heh, I see Mosley's newest is in January's Early Reviewers but I'll pass. It looks like the third in his contemporary-NYC (LT McGill) series; I read the first and decided I'd rather explore the historical aspects of his Easy Rawlins series.

tammikuu 11, 2011, 4:02 pm

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

If, like me, you expect a book's title to reflect its contents, you may be frustrated that Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science is much more about slavery, indenture and freedom than about sugar. There are passages about sugar's origins and early adoption, but there's virtually no development of the Magic, Spice, and Science of the subtitle, and little of sugar's gastronomy, nutrition, and social history.

But if, also like me, you enjoy slicing a complex topic like world history in a way that gives a new perspective, you'll appreciate this book's use of the economics of sugar trading as a framing device to explore the expansion of slave trading, the growth of New World colonies and eventually the end of slavery.

It's written for a YA audience (ages 12+) and illustrated with dozens of maps, drawings and photographs, all extensively captioned. Appendices include a timeline, bibliography, endnotes, index and a note to teachers about classroom use. As an adult, I came to it out of interest not obligation; still, the sometimes-clumsy writing reminded me of books I'd plodded through as a kid while researching term papers. I most appreciated three aspects: seeing sugar plantations as forerunners of today's "factory farms," where the division of labor, standardized processes and economies of scale (at that time pre-Industrial Revolution) necessitated the importation of huge quantities of (slave) labor; exploring "Hell," the work of plantation slaves; and integrating the effects of contemporaneous world events (e.g. national revolutions and boycotts). And in the end, the book's title does capture its thesis: how the ballooning demand for Sugar Changed the World.

tammikuu 11, 2011, 7:14 pm

One of my TBR books is called Sweetness and Power: the place of sugar in modern history. According to the back cover, the book also looks at the production and consumption of sugar, and how it has altered eating habits and work patterns, as well as its role in slavery.

tammikuu 11, 2011, 7:58 pm

18 - I got excited when I saw the title. Too bad it sounds like not the best one to go to for a history of sugar.

19 - Maybe I'll wait for you to get to that one. :)

tammikuu 12, 2011, 2:58 pm

>19 wandering_star:, 20
The LT review for the book in >19 wandering_star: led me to think it'd be 600+ pages, but at fewer than 300 I might also take a look. I'm curious about sugar as a medicine, and a meat spice, eventually star of its own course (dessert!), and a way to keep early English factory workers alert through long shifts. I'd also like to find something in-depth about the past century of sugar substitutes.

tammikuu 12, 2011, 3:10 pm

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce opens in early morning atop a high mountain run at a ski resort in the French Alps. The "air prickle{s} with ice and the savor of pine resin" and a lone, young married couple push off on skis. Almost immediately, a rumble becomes a roar and an avalanche overtakes them. Amazingly, they emerge to their resort -- now evacuated, and with otherworldly aspects that bring The Shining to mind and a “Where are we and what is going on?” atmosphere reminiscent of Lost.

It's a quick and absorbing read although not strictly fast-paced; its twists are parsed leisurely and revealed effectively to evoke much surprise and intrigue. The winter setting is almost a character; the actual characters are relatively undeveloped -- it's more a mystery of ideas that compel reflection afterward. I came to this book through avaland's review -- it's my first exposure to Graham Joyce and I'll read more.

tammikuu 13, 2011, 12:35 pm

Gracefully Insane by Alex Beam is a history of the rise, decline and current struggle of McLean Hospital, the prestigious and luxurious psychiatric facility in suburban Boston whose tiny ads I’ve seen for decades in the side panels of The New Yorker.

There’s a little bit about the hospital's methods (lobotomy, hydro- and convulsive therapy, medication) and a little bit about the facility and operations. But it’s mostly about people: the early-1800s founders, the Freud-era psychiatrists, and always the patients, especially the celebrities -- Frederick Law Olmstead; Stanley McCormick; John Forbes Nash; Anne Sexton; Robert Lowell; Ray Charles; James Taylor and his siblings; Sylvia Plath; Susanna Kaysen; (David Foster Wallace is not mentioned) -- many who wrote songs, poems and novels based on their time at McLean. “Two future Pulitzer Prizes (Lowell’s) and a future Nobel {Forbes’} in one room. An ordinary day on the wards at McLean.”

It’s well-researched and readable and I liked the update about McLean re-energizing through a new ward, The Pavilion. But overall, it’s too celebrity-oriented and I didn’t learn much new or with anything near the punch I felt from Christopher Payne’s Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals -- a moving essay/photographic homage to the early days of state hospitals and highly recommended instead.

tammikuu 19, 2011, 3:56 pm

I’m in F.L.W. country* and Frank Lloyd Wright: American Master by Kathryn Smith/Alan Weintraub was a Christmas gift. It’s a dense book -- a dozen pages of erudite text provide (some) orientation and context for several hundred photographs that show the breadth of Wright’s residential and commercial work. There are exteriors and landscapes, interiors and furnishings; the dimly lit interiors seemed like poor photography until I’d seen enough that I began to feel I was actually in the rooms with their ambient lighting … so now I wonder if it was intentional? As for Wright, I’m more at the “primer” stage and need a lot more text and fewer photographs. This is a book to (maybe) add to a collection on Wright, not one to begin with.

*One of the best parts of the book is realizing how widespread F.L.W. country grew to be

tammikuu 19, 2011, 8:13 pm

If I've read your opening post correctly, it appears you have finished the Machine? If so I'll be anxiously awaiting your thoughts on this one. You are the 1st person I know who has actually finished it and it has been waiting on my wishlist for a yay or nay vote for awhile now.

tammikuu 20, 2011, 5:11 pm

>kevin, happy to oblige:

Machine by Peter Adolphsen, translated from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund
Death exists, but only in a practical, macroscopic sense. Biologically one cannot distinguish between life and death; the transition is a continuum. {…} The problem of defining death mirrors a corresponding difficulty with the definition of life: a living organism is formed of non-living material, organized so it can absorb energy to maintain its system, and death is thus the irreversible cessation of these functions.
My first ebook! I’ve had this in the Kindle* app on my iPod Touch since last summer and finally read it nearly straight-through during several prolonged waits a couple of days ago. It’s a short novella: an exploration of life, death and transformation via the path of a drop of crude oil -- from its origins 55-million years ago in the decaying heart of a tiny prehistoric horse, through refinement to gasoline and into the tank of a 1970s car with a man and woman, and then… well you’ll have to read it.

It’s a ping-pong of ideas, scientific and philosophical -- an essay (a tutorial at times) clothed in a fable-like story. I’m not a fan of fables but I am a fan of ideas and of short-form writing, and found Machine interesting to read. I would try more by Adolphsen.

*this was a free Kindle book last summer; a USA Kindle version isn’t available now but there’s a Nook edition for $2.99. Otherwise, I think I’d read a library copy of this very short book rather than spend $15.

tammikuu 20, 2011, 5:54 pm

I downloaded The Imperfectionist late one night based on a vague impression that some LT-er whose intelligence and reading tastes I admire liked it. Since then I've been noticing bad reviews of it here on LT. I hope I'm going to agree more with you, but it only cost me $5 so won't complain if it doesn't. Isn't it interesting, though, how strongly a book can impact someone one way or another?

FLW was an oft cited personage in my home, having been married to an architect for almost 30 years, as well as having boys who were interested in art and architecture. We probably had two-thirds of the books written about him and his work (and I was the only one who read them in full). I like some of the houses Wright designed, and recognize his importance in changing the direction of architecture in America, but the man? Not so much.

tammikuu 20, 2011, 8:25 pm

>bonnie, I like workplace-based stories and linked short stories so The Imperfectionists appealed right away. I think there's sometimes a wave of readers who are drawn to a popular book even though it's not a topic/style that appeals to them. (I'm wondering if that's me right now, with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo...) Rachman's characters (not just the women, btw) definitely fit the book's title, but I felt there was reason for it.

tammikuu 20, 2011, 10:37 pm

Thanks MJ! That's a very informative review, I think I'll pick it up at the library sometime. It still is begging me to read it. Now with a trusted review I know I want it to read it now.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 22, 2011, 9:31 am

haha, this prompts me to quote from Mr.Durick's thread last year: “Reading the book* is not a waste of time.”

*referring to Sum by David Eagleman, which you might also like

tammikuu 22, 2011, 12:27 pm

Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim

I love the premise of this book -- a social history of menstruation, although mostly USA and mostly late-1800s+. It explores menarche and menopause; PMS and hysteria; religion and society; products and advertising … each topic a mix of fun, nostalgia and shocking practices. I especially like the book’s design -- a larger hardcover whose smooth, heavy pages are filled with reproductions of easily a hundred vintage ads for femcare products.

But I’m disappointed with its superficiality -- more an exploratory collage than definitive information (despite teasers on the back cover); its lack of notes or documentation lends a chatty, hearsay quality. And I tired of its immature (“OMG!!!” in spirit if not in print), snarky tone that devolved multi-factored concerns into tirades against the femcare industry.

There’s a good bibliography, and the Hysteria chapter's mention of the “rest cure” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short (horror) story prompts me to reread The Yellow Wallpaper.

I’m keeping Flow for the ads, and I do recommend it (with reservations) to most anyone interested in a light treatment of the topic.

tammikuu 24, 2011, 10:30 am

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Enzo is an old dog, declining in health and uninterested in becoming a burden to his beloved Denny -- a man who’s had so many family burdens already. And there’s another reason Enzo is ready to move on: he’s a philosopher dog, versed in spirituality and aware that, ”when a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man.” Woot! having opposable thumbs and a tongue that can form words -- what could be better?

Using Denny’s excellence at auto racing as a guide for navigating life’s difficulties, Enzo narrates his life story with bachelor Denny and then wife Eve and daughter Zoë. Though the spirituality and racing metaphor grow heavy-handed, this is a tender and imaginative look at people and life from a dog’s perspective.

tammikuu 29, 2011, 5:50 pm

Room by Emma Donoghue is five-year-old Jack’s recounting of life with Ma in their 11x11-foot house. Readers soon discover that Room is actually a shed in the backyard of Old Nick, the man who kidnapped Jack’s mother at 19, still repeatedly rapes her, and now holds mother and son captive. But that violence is all off the page; Jack’s narrative is filled with the normality of daily life in Room, love for Ma, and the curiosity of a growing boy. It brings to mind The Truman Show, but instead of the world looking through a TV show to experience the life of one man, here one boy looks through TV shows to experience what he thinks are pretend-worlds -- until he discovers they’re actually parts of his own world … a real world outside of Room.

I was resistant to reading Room (I’d assumed a difficult and sensationalistic story) but was drawn by the child-narrator aspect. And while it’s not believable as a child’s literal voice, I found it imaginative and evocative of a child’s perspective. I would have bet against being engaged by a five-year-old for 300+ pages, but I’d have (mostly) lost that bet. In fact, instead of the usual muddy middle of a novel, this one has an incredibly riveting and suspenseful section, and it was Jack, not me, who seemed to disengage toward the end. I liked Room and think it will be memorable for its voice.

helmikuu 2, 2011, 10:54 pm

>31 detailmuse:, Love it!

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 3, 2011, 8:19 pm

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (translated from the French by Mattias Ripa) is a memoir, in graphic-novel format, of a young girl’s political awakening during Iran’s Islamic Revolution and 1980s war with Iraq. It’s very Maus-like, though the stakes and historical context are less well developed. And like Maus, half of the story is reserved for a second volume (which I eagerly pursued with Maus but probably will not here). Still, it felt like good timing to read this book alongside the current events in Egypt.

helmikuu 4, 2011, 7:52 am

>22 detailmuse: detailmuse, I see you have read the new Graham Joyce! I actually thought this one rather light for him in several ways—at least based on his previous books I read—but the mystery and idea of it was very interesting. My favorites have been The Tooth Fairy
and The Limits of Enchantment, but I've like most of his on some level or another.

helmikuu 8, 2011, 11:42 am

Thanks, I'm very happy to get these recommendations! I think The Limits of Enchantment might be first.

helmikuu 8, 2011, 4:58 pm

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo Sandoval is a 17-year-old Asperger-like autist who functions at a high level at Paterson, the special-needs high school he attends. He’s looking forward to his summer job there, taking care of the school’s ponies and their stables, and then to senior year, when he’ll help train the horses to the students’ special needs. But his father, a patent attorney concerned about Marcelo’s lack of mainstreaming, declares that Marcelo must either demonstrate proficiency in the “real world” of his law firm over the summer, or do so over his senior year at a public high school instead of Paterson and his beloved horses.

It’s an engaging and uplifting young-adult novel about being pulled out of one’s comfort zone into challenging terrain. Recommended! But for me, I think I’ve let a quibble get out of hand. Stork writes in the close-in perspective of Marcelo’s first-person narration, and an early passage is a glimpse into his unique mind:
To the left as you enter the long driveway is a set of one-story brick buildings that touch each other like a crossword puzzle that has only been partially completed. {…} To the right as you drive in are playing fields of various sizes and shapes. Large oaks and elms line the edge of these fields so that in the summer you can walk around the edge and never leave the shade.
Nice! But then there’s not much more of that. Instead, from this sheltered teen we get insight and a navigation through emotion and abstract concepts that strain credibility. And in so many passages, Marcelo laments along the lines of “I don’t know if I could find the right words to {speak} these thoughts” ... after he’s found the words to describe them perfectly to us in first-person present tense! I was able to suspend disbelief about the voice of a five-year-old in Room, and I don’t remember having a problem with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Here, I didn’t think Stork quite nailed an autist, but it's still a good coming-of-age story.

helmikuu 8, 2011, 5:23 pm

What a wonderfully eclectic group of books! I'm going to star your thread so I can see where you go next. I loved your comparison of Room with the Truman Show and how they are inverse POVs. I've added Asylum to the tottering TBR. Interesting final paragraph in your latest review about first person narratives. It must be so difficult to authentically represent the mind's of people with autism, Alzheimer's, etc. Temple Grandin is a animal behavioralist who has written about her experiences trying to communicate with others through the filter of her autism. Quite interesting, both in what she says, and how she says it.

helmikuu 8, 2011, 6:24 pm

>39 labfs39: glad to have you here! "Eclectic" may edge toward "weird" this year as I try to read from my TBRs and clear them out :)

John Elder Robison's memoir, Look Me in the Eye, is an interesting look at the Asperger mind. I have Thinking in Pictures in my TBRs -- did you see the HBO movie Temple Grandin (now on DVD)? -- you might be interested in its use of visual effects to show how she thinks.

helmikuu 8, 2011, 10:26 pm

I've shied away from Look Me in the Eye because I disliked his brother's book, Running With Scissors, so much. Is Robison's book more about autism than his disfunctional (and gross) family? I don't think I could handle more poop stories!

No, I haven't seen the Grandin movie, but a visual medium makes perfect sense. I thought Thinking in Pictures was quite interesting. I've been meaning to pick up her memoir of her early years, Emergence. Did you like the movie?

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 9, 2011, 9:02 am

Burroughs and James Frey struck me similarly and I’ve avoided both. But Robison’s Look Me in the Eye is a straightforward, low-ego focus on himself, his work in electronics and pyrotechnics, and his mid-life realization that there’s a name for his social difficulties: Asperger. I don’t think he more than mentions his brother, and I think his experience with his mother was different than Burroughs’. I see their mother's memoir, The Long Journey Home, is on this month's LTER list.

HBO’s Temple Grandin was excellent. Claire Danes won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Temple.

(It’s discouraging that society is still so enamored of fictionalized geeks and nerds as entertainment and still so unaccepting of their real selves ... the Golden Globes sat the Emmy and GG best-actor winner from The Big Bang Theory practically backstage, and the post-awards mocking of Temple was cruel. /end rant)

eta: touchstone

helmikuu 9, 2011, 9:04 am

MJ - I noticed I haven't posted here yet. De-lurking just to say I'm enjoying your thread.

helmikuu 9, 2011, 4:14 pm

Hmm, maybe I'll pick up Look Me in the Eye then. I'm glad the author isn't just trying to ride on his brother's mucky coat tails.

And I will definitely rent Temple Grandin. I didn't watch the Golden Globe ceremonies, and it sounds like I'm glad I didn't. Who was making fun of Temple? Surely even Ricky Gervais wouldn't go there.

helmikuu 11, 2011, 4:13 pm

>34 fannyprice: fannyprice
I keep forgetting to say that your use of the term "social history" (elsewhere, regarding WWI) resonated and makes me think it would be a good entry aspect for some of my own interests in history.

lisa, not Ricky (that I saw); it was radio and internet.

dan, yay for de-lurking. MUST do some of that myself!

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 2, 2011, 11:53 am

Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything by Stephen Baker is a documentary about IBM’s research into artificial intelligence and its Watson project -- a computer (actually, stacks of hundreds of computers with thousands of processors) developed to answer human questions by learning to play Jeopardy!, with the ultimate goal of winning a match against the game’s all-time best players: top money-winner Ken Jennings and undefeated Brad Rutter.

The physical book will be released after the February 14-16 broadcasts of the Watson/Jennings/Rutter challenge, but the publisher was innovative in releasing the digital version in January (except for the final chapter about the challenge, which will be downloaded after the programs air), so that the background was available before the challenge.

The book includes a short history of IBM and the origins of this project; short histories of Jeopardy, Jennings and Rutter; the need for computer algorithms and heuristics for gathering/evaluating information and playing the game; finding a name, face (avatar) and voice for the computer; the cycles of “learning” and tweaking; the concerns of both IBM (that Watson might look foolish and thus tarnish IBM’s reputation) and Jeopardy (that the game might bore or even scare the viewing audience, a la HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey); and negotiating and conducting the “com-pu-tition.”

Baker was a technology writer for Business Week so business and technology are the aspects emphasized here, albeit with less “insider” access than I'd expected. I was disappointed to find little about language and brain science. Overall, it reads like an extended magazine article -- light and interesting with lots of words and discussion but less depth.

fyi, an overview of the project is available from a PBS Nova program here.

eta: cover image

helmikuu 14, 2011, 4:37 pm

the Nova program was quite nice. And today's the day!!!

helmikuu 14, 2011, 4:41 pm

Yes! It's on right now in my area, I'm recording it, can't wait to watch.

helmikuu 14, 2011, 4:51 pm

Ah, I'm glad I read this thread when I did! It's prompted me to set my TiVo.

helmikuu 14, 2011, 7:22 pm

Hi, MJ! I'm TIVOing Jeopardy too--thanks! I enjoyed Room as well--at least most of it--though I think that much of what really pulled at my heart wouldn't have happened in real life. Look Me in the Eye was really interesting in terms of the author's talent combined with (or maybe because of?) his high-functioning autism. I wonder what he has to say about his brother's latest book about his father?

Temple Grandin's books have been so good at spotlighting the strengths in some people with Aspergers. Her excitement on the award shows reminded me of my sister who died at age 23 in 1971. My sister was labelled as "mentally retarded," not a term we use now, and one things I noticed at a very early age was how much we "normal" folks hide our feelings as we "mature."

helmikuu 14, 2011, 11:00 pm

#50 It makes me wonder what we could do/think/accomplish if we weren't always self-censoring both our emotions and our words.

I'm sorry to hear your sister died so young.

helmikuu 15, 2011, 1:05 pm

I’m sorry too, bonnie.
Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie (a former sketch artist at Hallmark, now deceased) is a wonderful message about individuality in society and the workplace and is easily in my all-time Top 10 books. This is from the opening chapter, where MacKenzie exhibits his metal sculptures at schools and talks to the kids about being an artist:
“I’m curious. How many artists are there in the room? Would you please raise your hands?”

The pattern of responses never varied.

First grade: en mass the children leapt from their chairs, arms waving wildly, eager hands trying to reach the ceiling. Every child was an artist.

Second grade: about half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The raised hands were still.

Third grade: at best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand. Tentatively. Self-consciously.

And so on up through the grades. The higher the grade, the fewer children raised their hands. By the time I reached sixth grade, only one or two did so and then only ever so slightly -- guardedly -- their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a “closet artist.”

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 15, 2011, 1:14 pm

Well Jeopardy Day 1 was interesting, glad to see our species rebound, I’m thinking about watching it again and pausing at every question to take a longer look at Watson’s top 3 answers.

Since they only got through the regular round yesterday, let me heighten the suspense: the game is often won and lost in Final Jeopardy, and Stephen Baker writes that it’s Watson’s greatest weakness. Players get Final Jeopardy answers right ~50% of the time, Watson just under 50% … Ken Jennings 68%. Plus there’s the whole strategy of setting the wager.

helmikuu 15, 2011, 2:35 pm

#52 That's a great quote. Not only is my daughter still in the "I'm an artist" phase, but she is simultaneously sure that she is good at playing goalie, singing, talking to animals, and knitting. She has not yet started to limit her possibilities. I wonder what it is that afflicts our confident, optimistic kids? Teachers, parents, society, peer pressure, some sort of internal maturation of their conformity gene?

helmikuu 15, 2011, 2:53 pm

Do you think Watson has the millisecond advantage in pressing the button at just the right time? I knew someone who was on Jeopardy and she said the problem was not that she didn't know the answer, but that she would either press too early or too late.

helmikuu 15, 2011, 8:38 pm

Watson used to have a sure advantage, buzzing in directly instead of through a signaling device. That changed last spring when Jeopardy decided he had to use a mechanical buzzer.

Players can't buzz until after Trebec finishes reading the clue and a staffer turns on a light that opens the option to buzz; buzz early and you get a quarter-second penalty. I bet Watson can respond to that light faster than humans and I bet he has some rule that keeps him from buzzing early.

helmikuu 15, 2011, 9:25 pm

Bob Harris in Prisoner of Trebekistan -- a book I highly recommend -- talks a lot about how the game is really won or lost to a large degree on buzzer skills, not just on what you know. I imagine the machine does have a huge advantage there. I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of the questions it rang in on correctly in the games that have aired so far, the other two players knew just as well. That having been said, of course, the fact that it knows the answers to ring in with at all is massively impressive.

helmikuu 15, 2011, 9:28 pm

Oh, and I am definitely adding Final Jeopardy to my wishlist. I'm really interested to learn more details about this machine than the IBM promotional videos they're showing have to offer.

helmikuu 16, 2011, 8:27 pm

IBM did get some promotional air time, didn't it. Until you get the book, take a look at the PBS Nova program linked at the bottom of msg#46. (Although -- I just went to watch it again and I guess they've taken it down, they're re-editing it to add clips from the games and will re-post it on Friday.)

helmikuu 28, 2011, 11:38 am

Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Slowly the meadow filled with people and fireflies and laughter -- just as my father had imagined -- and the lambs on their spits were hoisted off the pit onto the shoulders of men, like in a funeral procession, and set down on the makeshift plywood-on-sawhorse tables to be carved. Then the sun started to set and we lit the paper bag luminaria, which burned soft glowing amber, punctuating the meadow and the night, and the lamb was crisp-skinned and sticky from slow roasting, and the root beer was frigid and caught, like an emotion, in the back of my throat.
Gabrielle Hamilton looks back on her nine-year-old self in that passage -- over-the-moon infatuated with her older siblings, her mother’s way in the kitchen and her father’s way with setting a stage ... and unaware that divorce and neglect are just around the corner.

By 13, she’s drugging with an older crowd and lying about her age to get work in restaurant kitchens to support herself; before long she's participating in a felony-level employee theft racket. Yet she has a knack for stumbling onto cooking mentors and gradually learns enough to run the kitchen at a kids’ summer camp and freelance-cook at high-volume caterers for fancy Hamptons (NY) parties. She completes a fiction-writing MFA, but only because she simultaneously finds a wellspring of sanity and true creativity in a side cooking job that recalls the down-to-earth food and settings of her childhood. And it's with that "real food" perspective that she eventually opens a restaurant -- New York City’s acclaimed Prune.

There's evidence of that MFA in this memoir -- a beautiful mix of literary and culinary creativity. I marked evocative passages throughout, and especially recall Hamilton’s homage to the simplicity and humility of 75-year-old (chef extraordinaire) Andre Soltner preparing a perfect omelet. Although she settles into a more straightforward prose to tell the bulk of her story, and I don’t think she’s quite figured out her relationships with her parents or partners, these pages are fierce and vivid. And thus I also find myself over-the-moon infatuated -- with Hamilton’s writing and with her story of reclaiming family ... or at least an adult, work-centered facsimile of it.

helmikuu 28, 2011, 12:53 pm

Very evokative review. Nice.

helmikuu 28, 2011, 4:49 pm

Memories from childhood on, vivid writing, descriptions of food prepared and eaten--I'm salivating already!

maaliskuu 1, 2011, 3:20 pm

>61 labfs39:, 62
I liked it more than I guess I should have, technically. Have to ponder on why.

And the derivation of her restaurant’s name, Prune, brought a thought of you bonnie, and Ellen Foster, I won’t spoil it here. Actually, she’s scrappy like Ellen Foster, and it’s ironic that last year I was wishing I could see what kind of adult Ellen grew up to be :)

maaliskuu 1, 2011, 3:32 pm

Bartleby and Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Jonathan Dunne

I'm discouraged and also relieved to have abandoned this short novel.

Its premise is interesting metafiction -- a writer who stopped writing now undertakes a project to explore other writers who stopped writing* -- and its structure is clever -- a series of 86 footnotes (just the footnotes) to a non-existent text. Exactly to my taste!

Alas, my literary eyes are bigger than…; this is way over my head. Vila-Matas references dozens (hundreds?) of iconically erudite writers who span civilization’s geography and chronology. I knew enough about a few that I already had plans to read their work; I’d at least heard of others; but so, so many more were completely unfamiliar and there was so little space to get to know them in each one- or two-page “footnote.”

So I dug in deeper, Googleing the writers and trying to orient myself until that became too ambitious to keep up. Then I Googled just those who legitimately caught my interest, often to find (to my frustration and amusement) that their existence was fictitious! There’s Clement Cadou, for example, an aspiring writer who feels overlooked to the point of feeling like a piece of furniture, and so abandons writing to become a painter -- each painting featuring a piece of furniture and titled, “Self-Portrait.” Hilarious! (And deep -- isn't it what some writers do, continually re-working an aspect of self in their writing?) Or Felisberto Hernandez (apparently a real person), reputed for refusing to write endings to his stories and whose collection of such stories, Incomplete Narratives, intrigues me (but apparently isn’t real).

So I lightened up and then felt completely adrift in the book. I struggled to the halfway point where, even though I noticed an underlying narrative forming, I let it go.

* “writers of the No” a la Herman Melville’s story of Bartleby (the scrivener), a man who makes hand-written copies of documents in an 1850s Wall Street law office. Early on, Bartleby declines his boss’s assignment to proofread colleagues’ copies by responding, “I would prefer not to.” Before long, he also prefers not to write his own copies, or leave the office, or even eat, and events follow to the logical conclusion (which is way beyond his being fired).

maaliskuu 6, 2011, 4:44 pm

60 - I was just talking to someone about Prune the other day so this intrigued me.

maaliskuu 9, 2011, 1:57 pm

Much catching up to do...


I enjoyed The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder) -- about a reclusive mathematician whose short-term memory was profoundly impaired by a car accident, and his new housekeeper and her young son. Ogawa's use of number metaphors is skillful (eg primes, amicables), of formulas less skillful, and I was disappointed to feel very little evocation of Japan. Still, the math and locale aren’t needed to appreciate the gentle story and the possibility that the mind isn’t the only route to memory.


Imagine a travel guidebook to the planet -- how huge it would be and, by necessity, how broad and superficial its coverage would be. Then take about half of the European portion of it (sixteen countries from Ireland to Turkey) and you have a good idea of Lonely Planet’s 800-page Discover Europe. Very broad and busy; full review here.


Over a career, author and editor Arthur Plotnik has urged writers to be more exciting and engaging with words. Now regarding superlatives, he writes, “We find ourselves defaulting to such habitual choices as good, great, and terrific, or substituting the weary synonyms that tumble out of a thesaurus...” And then we have to plump them up by underlining, italicizing, CAPITALIZing and punc.tu.ating!

So in his upcoming Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives, he compiles 6000 acclamatory adjectives, adverbs and multi-word expressions. They’re lively and imaginative, with a palpable pop-culture influence and mostly suited to writing that’s energetic, not formal. As a reference work, its organization makes it difficult to use, but I agree that language needs freshness, and precision, so I'm going to try. (Heh, see "iconically erudite" in >64 detailmuse: above.) Full review here.

maaliskuu 9, 2011, 6:52 pm

I will be looking out for those superlatives on your excellent thread from now on

maaliskuu 10, 2011, 12:06 am

I so need Better than Great. It sounds, uh, really great! ;-) Thumbed your Discover Europe review. Even though it sounds like you didn't like it all that much, it may be a good first book for someone like me who hasn't ever been to Europe.

maaliskuu 11, 2011, 7:46 am

>67 baswood: welcome! First to find a book that inspires superlatives -- I think I finally have it in Lauren Hillenbrand's Unbroken. It's immersed me in a Japanese POW camp for days and so it felt like worlds colliding to wake up to news of the earthquake there this morning.

>68 bonniebooks: I've traveled a little in Europe and thought this might fill in some gaps and be interesting armchair travel. But it was nearly a list. I'd look at similar books from other publishers to see if they include more context/history.

maaliskuu 11, 2011, 2:16 pm

I was absolutely mesmerized by Unbroken. Any one of the episodes of his life (sea, camps, running) would make for good reading, but put together... Wow.

maaliskuu 15, 2011, 12:11 pm

>70 labfs39: exactly: Wow.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is the story of Louis Zamperini from his childhood of delinquincy through his success in running (including a spot in the 1936 Berlin Olympics) to his WWII service as a bombardier in the Pacific and then a Japanese POW. I had initially sketched a fuller recounting of his experiences but it just detracts from Hillenbrand’s gripping narrative. I highly recommend Edward Herrmann’s reading of it on audio -- brutal but never unbearable and in the end, exactly as LT friends promised: uplifting.

maaliskuu 15, 2011, 12:18 pm

Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein is a collection of biographical backstories about creative people -- 35 writers, artists, architects, musicians and filmmakers -- adapted from interviews that were broadcast during the first ten years of WNYC’s Studio 360 radio program.

They remind me of the introductory material in each of The Paris Review interviews. But here that's their entirety -- the background experiences that inspired artists' creative and occupational interests or specific projects. Only occasionally do they continue into creative processes, and never into the “how creativity works” of the subtitle. Burstein's writing is smooth and informative, but flat. It's interesting -- in an introduction to one section, she writes: “It was my tenth birthday; the package at the bottom of the stack of presents looked like it just contained a couple of books, so I opened it last.” Turns out it wasn’t books but rather a tape recorder, which she fell in love with and went on to a career in radio. Maybe the flatness here is a holdover from that “it's just books” mindset, or that live radio doesn’t translate well to print? I was interested but never engaged.

maaliskuu 15, 2011, 12:28 pm

Poke the Box by Seth Godin
The world is changing too fast. Without the spark of initiative, you have no choice but to simply react to the world. … {But t}he challenge, it turns out, isn’t in perfecting your ability to know when to start {i.e. initiate} and when to stand by. The challenge is getting into the habit of starting.
In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink argued that productivity has been largely optimized through automation, and now the key to business success is innovation. Here in Poke the Box, business/marketing guru Seth Godin says the critical part of innovation is initiative -- getting started -- and he packages his “manifesto” about it in this short, accessible book.

It’s the first release in The Domino Project, a partnership between Godin and Amazon to publish urgent and passionately felt messages with a speed and accessibility that will enable them to spread like ... well, like falling dominoes. It’s reminiscent of the viral 1980s One Minute Manager series, although this book is smaller, thinner, and written not as a fable but as what reads like 80+ pages of bullet points from a high-energy presentation about the benefits, obstacles and strategies of initiative. It's more affirmative than revelatory; still, I highlighted something on almost every page. The final section urges action (“Go Go Go”) and The Domino Project website offers a free Poke the Box workbook to help people do exactly that.

“Soon is not as good as now,” Godin says. Take an hour and read this book.

maaliskuu 15, 2011, 12:35 pm

Bellevue Literary Review Vol 9 No 1 (Spring 2009)

This is my favorite literary journal, published twice a year by NYU’s School of Medicine. The short stories, essays and poems all address illness or coping in some way; this issue especially seemed to reflect the stages of grief from denial through acceptance. It’s the definition of literary: that truths build quietly beneath the words and suddenly pop through in a sentence that stuns with its clarity.

From the tough-talking teen narrator who mocks the harpist on his hospice unit in “SUTHY* Syndrome” by Hollis Seamon: The harp makes all these sappy-sweet notes that glom themselves right onto your chest, no matter how hard you try to keep them off. (* Someone Up There Hates You)

From a writer in “Love Sick” by Dina Elenbogen, who’s enamored with his writing teacher: I realized that she was both my mother and my lover and that it didn’t matter if I never took off her clothes because my words already lived in her.

About a woman in “White Space” by Amanda McCormick who’s been unable to move on since 9/11, when her lover called from the Twin Towers and urged her not to proceed to her job in the financial district: Stay where you are, he said. And she had tried.

maaliskuu 26, 2011, 7:09 pm


Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth is about emotional eating -- the author’s personal experiences with it and the experiences of women who attend her seminars about it. Roth coaches mindfulness, and regarding food it's: eat when you’re hungry, eat what your body wants, stop when you’ve had enough. The “God” is of the spiritual sort, not the faith sort. It's okay; a beginner/superficial treatment of the mindfulness aspect.

Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin is part autism (Asperger’s) memoir, part study of animal psychology/emotionality, and part resource guide for other autistic persons and their families. All very good. My cover reflects Claire Danes in the HBO movie of the memoir aspect, which is available on DVD and highly recommended. (I'm interested to see that John Elder Robison's new book (Be Different: Adventures of a Free-range Aspergian) is also now out.)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is an important and universally relevant story of science, ethics and race told via the history of tissue (cell) culturing with the phenomenally prolific cell line called HeLa … and the gripping and emotional biography of the overlooked source of that cell line: Henrietta Lacks and her family. Loved it.

maaliskuu 27, 2011, 1:44 pm

It's interesting that you just read Thinking in Pictures, which I thought was fascinating, because last night I started reading her memoir of her childhood and adolescence, Emergence: Labeled Autistic. What I found so fascinating was her ability to describe her internal life so well. Her voice is so different. I heard her speak a couple of years ago and was surprised at how nervous she was.

If you liked Thinking in Pictures, you might try Born on a Blue Day. The author has Asberger's and synesthesia. He too is able to relate his inner life in a unique voice. His descriptions of how he sees numbers is fascinating.

maaliskuu 27, 2011, 5:07 pm

74: It’s the definition of literary: that truths build quietly beneath the words and suddenly pop through in a sentence that stuns with its clarity.

Ooh! I like this image too! MJ, each one of those quotes is so good. I'm such an emotional reader, but especially so when it comes to poetry. I'm such a lazy reader; I don't want to try to understand someone's words, and some poetry is way too precious to me. But I love the cleverness and sheer beauty of poetry when I can connect to it, and when just one line can bring forth a whole story, or even multiple experiences and feelings, in my head. And each of those quotes above does that for me.

You know, I'm interested in the topic in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but after reading so many excellent reviews as well as hearing a couple of great interviews with the author, I feel like I've had enough--that I don't need to read the whole book. I know I sound ridiculous! I would never say that about a novel, but with non-fiction, sometimes a few chapters will do.

maaliskuu 28, 2011, 11:33 am

>76 labfs39: lisa
I'm interested in Emergence and look forward to your comments. Is it more memoir or guide to autism? Does it add much (for a general reader) to Thinking in Pictures?

I heard her speak a couple of years ago and was surprised at how nervous she was.
That tells me how far she's come to get to that point -- my book is her updated 2006 edition, and she mentions numerous times how much she'd improved socially and as a speaker by then, through modeling and practicing other people's behaviors. On the DVD, her ability to take care of herself and her needs is inspiring.

Happy to see your nod to Born on a Blue Day, it’s in my wishlist. I’ve promised myself I’ll read The Man Who Tasted Shapes (about synesthesia) from my TBRs first...

maaliskuu 28, 2011, 11:50 am

>77 bonniebooks: bonnie
I'm such an emotional reader
This is exactly why you should read Henrietta Lacks!

Actually, I bet you've gotten most of the story and would be frustrated to get it again by reading the detail that Skloot provides.

But if you read all you did and didn't feel shock and outrage, or get teary, or feel smarter, then there's more to be gleaned from the book. Plus there's the practical information ... that you're mostly out of luck for controlling how anything removed from your body is used. I was interested to be in a hospital looking over a consent form for a relative while I was in the middle of the book ... and noticing the sections related to rights regarding use of tissues.

maaliskuu 28, 2011, 1:21 pm

#78 I just finished Emergence last night, and, no, I don't think it added much at all to Thinking in Pictures, which is the much better book, IMO. There was perhaps a little new info about her early years (the mention of a governess that never gave positive physical contact), but disappointingly little. Most of the book was high school and college, the salient points of which she covered in Thinking. I haven't read her book Animals in Translation. Have you?

She referred to herself as a "recovered autistic". I thought that was an interesting term, but wasn't sure if it was a mainstream idea.

maaliskuu 28, 2011, 4:08 pm

79: I'm sure I would feel all those feelings, since I felt them just listening to the interviews and reading everyone's reviews. And, uh, not sure where I want to think about where my left breast is. ;-(

80: Temple Grandin tends to repeat herself, and anyone who's seen her on TV lately can see that she still shows some autistic tendencies, but she sure is amazing in what she's accomplished, isn't she?

maaliskuu 29, 2011, 4:39 pm

>80 labfs39: lisa
thanks for your comments about Emergence. I have no plans for Animals in Translation. I'm surprised at her use of "recovered autistic." It doesn't exactly fit (either the syndrome or her, as bonnie said), and while I sense she fully realizes the difficulties of autism, I don't sense she wants to be free of it. Like you said, very interesting.

maaliskuu 29, 2011, 4:45 pm

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz turns the camera inward to our own personal experience of error. She writes that we relish being right: “Our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient. {…But of} all the things we are wrong about, {…} error might well top the list. It is our meta-mistake: we are wrong about what it means to be wrong. {…} it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.”

In a gentle narrative filled with curiosity and even humor, Schulz explores philosophy, psychology, history, and the personal experiences of people being wrong (lovers, explorers, crime victims and economists, among others). Over four sections, she 1) defines error; 2) investigates how we get there (e.g. our senses, memories, beliefs, the data at hand); 3) examines how we feel about being wrong; and 4) encourages us to embrace error. Extensive endnotes and an index complete the book.

She’s adamant that error isn’t an intellectual inferiority or moral flaw but rather something beneficial, a way of learning and becoming -- where, quoting the philosopher Foucault, “The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.” Schulz writes, “When you were a little kid, you were fabulously wrong about things all the time”; she suggests that when we seek new experiences it is a way of plunging ourselves back into the childhood experience of not-knowing, where error leads to rapid learning.

She also suggests that there is no actual state of “being” wrong -- we know we’re right and then we know we were wrong and we transition to a new state of being right. And it’s those “hinge moments” of awareness that provoke the revelatory shifts that change us; it’s also our reluctance to acknowledge error and complete those transitions that keeps us stuck in painful life situations.

It's an intelligent and deeply researched book, highly readable and highly recommended.

maaliskuu 29, 2011, 5:11 pm

Oh, I so want to read that book! Thanks for a lovely review.

maaliskuu 29, 2011, 5:14 pm

dm - the contrast between Being Wrong and Poke the Box quite appeals to me. The one on initiative and immediate action (go, go, go) the other on the benefits of being wrong. Are they mutually incompatible, or is there some sort of overlap?

maaliskuu 29, 2011, 5:31 pm

#83 I enjoyed your review of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, which sounds intriguing. I was wondering whether Schulz covered issues around people being unwilling to admit they have been wrong; to others and to themselves. You would not be able to learn anything until you could admit to wrongness and this is very difficult for some people to do. I do note however that you conclude your review by saying that Schulz claims there is no actual state of being wrong and yet there is a state of being right, does this mean you move from being less right to being more right. Hmmm perhaps I better read the book

maaliskuu 29, 2011, 7:16 pm

#85 - Z, great observation. Perhaps if your wrong quicker and more often...

#83 - MJ, excellent review, I'm ready to buy that book right now as that is what I do - I interpret, I'm wrong, and we learn from that. That being wrong is the only way to get a better answer. And then I'm wrong again...

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 30, 2011, 11:16 am

Much to respond to here, I'm so glad for the attention to this book.

>85 zenomax: zeno
The styles of the two books couldn't be more different but their messages are compatible. It's childhood: go go go, make mistakes, learn and grow*. I think the incompatibility is social -- families, schools and workplaces hate mistakes, and that backs up into stifling creativity and initiative (risk).

Everything I've read (and experienced) connects creativity with a willingess to accept mistakes and false starts. Two that often come to mind are Gordon MacKenzie's excellent Orbiting the Giant Hairball, about maintaining creativity and self in bureaucracies; and Michael Gelb's How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, with a section on dimostrazione that demands we stretch/test ourselves (go) and embrace mistakes. haha, I've signed on intellectually, still stumbling implementationally.

eta: *think exhilirating and illuminating, not painful

maaliskuu 30, 2011, 12:12 pm

>86 baswood: barry
Her premise is that we believe we’re right, not whether we’re actually right ... she says we exist in a general state of believing we’re right and that as soon as we discover we’re wrong, we transition to a new belief; our state of “being wrong” passes immediately (sometimes in a nice aha! moment) into the new state of being right again.

An example she chooses to illustrate denial/degree of wrongness is the Millerites who awaited the Rapture in 1844 -- but instead endured The Great Disappointment, then adapted aspects of those "wrong" beliefs into religions that exist today.

maaliskuu 30, 2011, 12:20 pm

In a similar vein to Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, my daughter's school is pushing a philosophy based on Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her idea is that there are two types of people: those with fixed mindsets, who think they already know x, and if they don't or are wrong, then they have failed; and those with a growth mindset, who see errors as an opportunity for practice and growth. An example is perfectionists who are prone to success, but then at their first failure, give up because they don't know how to cope. Their fixed mindset tells them that they are a failure, not that they made a mistake.

Ironically, I found Dweck to be so confident that she has found the breakthrough of the decade, that she's not willing to see that her idea has limited application and will be replaced by the next great breakthrough of the decade next year. Schulz's book sounds less rigid.

maaliskuu 30, 2011, 1:10 pm

>90 labfs39: Schulz is philosophy and exploration, unlikely to get anywhere near a breakthrough :) I hope Dweck's point is to emphasize the supporting strategies for each type. Since I have a growth mindset (a perfectionist one, btw), it's onto the wishlist.

maaliskuu 30, 2011, 7:19 pm

Didn't mean to imply that perfectionists can't have growth mindsets, although I think it is less common. Dweck's idea is helpful to a point, but I feel like it is one of those books that has its moment, and then fades into obscurity. I think your book sounds more interesting, but I could be wrong, and if I am I will recognize the error of my ways and be a better person as a result. ;-)

maaliskuu 31, 2011, 1:27 am

Everything I've read (and experienced) connects creativity with a willingess to accept mistakes and false starts.

Gotta read all these books. I remember reading this great article years ago (and I sooo wish I had kept it!) in which the author interviewed the coaches/teachers of the "Super-stars" of various fields (e.g., sports, music, dance) and asked them what the defining characteristics of those very special people were. The commonality was not talent, or even hard work and practice (because at that level--that Michael Jordan level--everybody's working hard, everyone is talented. The key, as I remember it, was that the "Superstars" showed more willingness to make mistakes, as well as being willing to learn from anybody who had something to teach them.

Some of you have compared adults to children, but interestingly (to me, anyway) there are many children who are just as cautious, just as perfectionistic as adults, and get way too upset about making mistakes, and it really gets in the way of their learning. I'm constantly thinking about how I can reinforce students' risk-taking and celebrating the positive power of mistakes--including the ones I make!

maaliskuu 31, 2011, 1:29 am

Everything I've read (and experienced) connects creativity with a willingess to accept mistakes and false starts.

Gotta read all these books. I remember reading this great article years ago (and I so wish I had kept it!) in which the author interviewed the coaches/teachers of the "Super-stars" of various fields (e.g., sports, music, dance) and asked them what the defining characteristics of those very special people were. The commonality was not talent, or even hard work and practice, because at that level--that Michael Jordan level--everybody's working hard, everyone is talented. The key, as I remember it, was that the "Superstars" showed more willingness to make mistakes, as well as being willing to learn from anybody who had something to teach them.

Some of you have compared adults to children, but interestingly (to me, anyway) there are many children who are just as cautious, just as perfectionistic as adults, and get way too upset about making mistakes, and it really gets in the way of their learning. I'm constantly thinking about how I can reinforce students' risk-taking and celebrating the positive power of mistakes--including the ones I make!

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 31, 2011, 3:28 pm

...there are many children who are just as cautious, just as perfectionistic as adults, and get way too upset about making mistakes, and it really gets in the way of their learning

It can be a real problem, for without risk-taking it is hard to be an enthusiastic self-motivated learner. And if by some chance the perfectionist child does do well for a long period of time, experiencing that first failure can be traumatic.

I'm wondering if the book you were thinking of is The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson. He writes that it is passion (along with the persistance and willingness to make mistakes that goes with it) that makes the difference, not IQ or solely talent or rote practice. He argues against the goal of a "well-rounded" student, saying instead that a child should be encouraged to find their passion and then pursue it whole-heartedly.

Edited to add "solely".

maaliskuu 31, 2011, 4:55 pm

Well, it was actually an article, but I'll read that book--thanks!

huhtikuu 1, 2011, 9:37 am

there are many children who are just as cautious, just as perfectionistic as adults
I'm thinking of really young kids, before schools and peers influence them, theoretically before parents influence them. I don't have much experience with that age group; maybe Dweck addresses it? An elderly friend was so mad at himself last winter after falling on some ice; it reminded me of a passage in How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci about how often we fell as kids -- we learned to run/play more safely, it didn't occur to us to yell at ourselves.

Of course I'm now in the middle of We Need to Talk About Kevin and flailing in nature vs nurture...

huhtikuu 1, 2011, 11:03 am

theoretically before parents influence them

I used to think that too and not wanted my daughter to suffer the angst of too much perfectionism, we followed all the advice: never say your child's work is perfect, instead compliment their effort; model mistake making; don't comment on quality, but ask questions (instead of "What a beautiful scribble" say "What colors did you use today"). In other words we tried our darndest. To absolutely no avail. She started showing signs before she was even talking well. Anyway, that's my little soap box speech against blaming parents' actions for their kids perfectionism--instead I blame the parents' genes. ;-)

I thought I had that whole nature vs nuture thing figured out...then I had a kid. Ye gods and little fishes, did that teach me a thing or two about humility.

huhtikuu 1, 2011, 5:10 pm

>64 detailmuse: I'm a bit behind, but thank you for chronicling your experience with this book. I enjoyed it!

huhtikuu 1, 2011, 7:11 pm

#98 - amen, Lisa. Two things i've learned as a parent are 1. They seem to be born with a certain personality and 2. Their parents have no influence on that whatsoever.

#95 - there is maybe an element of Montessori in Robinson's idea.

huhtikuu 2, 2011, 5:41 pm

98: Still laughing, still commiserating. That's why you have to have more than one child. Those inherent differences are so fascinating to observe right from the start. Hey, I read that peers and siblings have a lot more impact on our children than people realize. (We've got to eke out alternative explanations for those behaviors we don't like so much.) ;-)

huhtikuu 4, 2011, 9:39 am

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

The fictional biography of a family whose teen son carries out a school shooting, written as a series of letters from his mother to the husband she’s now separated from. It’s a perfect storm of nature (a boy who’s a seeming sociopath from birth) and nurture (an incongruent mother; a permissive father in denial) combining to create a nightmare. Fascinating, disturbing, outstanding.

huhtikuu 4, 2011, 10:21 am

#102 *shiver* Creepy book to review right after our discussion on parenting. I can't decide if I want to read this one or not...

huhtikuu 4, 2011, 10:32 am

>102 detailmuse: well and succinctly put!
>103 labfs39: it is indeed. When a friend and I read it back when, the first thing we both said (as parents of now grown children) is how little control we as parents really truly have...

huhtikuu 15, 2011, 12:28 pm

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard
We can’t believe the house is on fire. It’s so embarrassing first of all, and so dangerous second of all. Also, we’re supposed to be in charge here, so there’s a sense of somebody not doing their job.
Some books are written for children and adolescent readers, some are written about childhood and adolescence for adult readers. The first sentences (above) from the unnamed narrator who’s babysitting six kids with her best friend -- her self-deprecation and obviously mis-ordered priorities; her use of “tableau” and “sibilance” a few pages later -- predict a story about adolescence, circa 1970 but influenced by a wiser, reminiscing adult.

And I think that’s what Beard intended in this coming-of-age story about a girl’s summer before 9th grade. It’s full of friendship and small-town (“insanesville”) period detail, woven with a riveting family subplot full of tension and high stakes. And in Beard’s writing, there is so much good here. But at about the halfway point, the family subplot fades and the story becomes superficial YA, where everyday adolescent problems wreak melodramatic fallout and culminate in a quick, unearned ending.

I’ve had Beard’s The Boys of My Youth (memoirish essays) in my wishlist for a couple of years, and it’s good timing to get to it now, a la rebeccanyc’s quest for me in the Knights of the Roundtable Challenge: Think of an author whose book disappointed you for some reason (obviously not one you really hated) and read another book by the same author.

huhtikuu 19, 2011, 2:04 pm

The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke (an LT Early Reviewer)
“Unmothered is not a word in my dictionary, but I often find myself thinking it should be. The “real” word most like it -- it never escapes me -- is unmoored.”
The Long Goodbye recalls Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking but for a young-woman audience -- it chronicles a cancer diagnosis, decline and death (of a mother, not a husband) and the stunned grief that holds a daughter in a vortex over the next year.

O’Rourke is 32 years old here, living independently and working in New York City. But her primary emotional attachment is to her mother in Connecticut, thus her diagnosis and death create an enormous upheaval and loss. As an homage to her mother and chronicle of her own grief, it undoubtedly felt therapeutic to write; but as a published memoir, I’m solidly against the tide: meh. I witnessed O’Rourke’s grief more than sympathized; I found her arrogant in the early pages, selfish later, and her family confounding. It’s an easy read, gentle and journalistic, but without the language I anticipated from a published poet nor the insight of a memoirist. It’s probably a better fit for readers around her age, and I do recommend the bibliography for all readers and Chapter 8 (about how Western culture observes grief, with references to literature, psychology and philosophy) for anyone browsing in a bookstore or library.

huhtikuu 19, 2011, 8:13 pm

The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
My mother is sewing a button on my father’s shirt while he’s still wearing it. “I was having this terrible feeling,” she says, “that she’d be this forty-year-old woman, going around telling people that we took her d-o-l-l away from her.” She leans down to bite off the thread. My father tests his new button and it works perfectly. “In three days she won’t remember she even knew that d-o-l-l,” he predicts.
But of course Beard remembers, and tells, in this 1998 non-linear collection of linked personal essays. It’s been recommended to me many times, thus my surprise at being somewhat disappointed by Beard’s new novel (see msg #105). I’m glad that rebeccanyc’s Knights of the Roundtable Challenge (Think of an author whose book disappointed you for some reason (obviously not one you really hated) and read another book by the same author) was the prompt I needed to get to it.

They’re coming-of-age essays, where growing up is as likely to occur at thirty as at thirteen or three. Each age is rendered perfectly, as are the characters and the 1970s-80s period details of small-town Midwest. Among the boys of Beard’s youth are Hal, that beloved d-o-l-l her mother’s oldest sister bullies her mother into throwing away; teenage boys who mostly ignore her at backwoods parties; her father who drinks and disappears for weeks; Eric: boyfriend, husband, …; and a school-shooter who kills Beard’s colleagues in the University of Iowa physics department on a day she’s gone home early to care for her aging dog. There are girls, too -- aunts and cousins; her older, nemesis sister; her mother who smokes on every page; a lifelong best friend she consults while writing these essays.

I love these people and their settings, love Beard’s writing and want more. I wish I had that new novel still ahead to read because its first half feels exactly like these essays. I’m off to scour the Internet for something by Beard that I haven’t read.

huhtikuu 20, 2011, 4:21 pm

You've caught me with that description. I've just added it to my wishlist.

huhtikuu 20, 2011, 11:58 pm

I'm impressed that you could go from being so disappointed by the novel to really falling in love with her essays. Great endorsement! I'll add it.

huhtikuu 21, 2011, 9:34 am

Well I found my fix in rereading her moving essay, The Fourth State of Matter. Please to enjoy.

huhtikuu 27, 2011, 9:29 am

Key West in Your Pocket by Nancy Toppino

haha, the opposite of >66 detailmuse: Discover Europe has to be this pocket guidebook to just one city. From the Insiders’ Guide series, it’s about the size of a small stack of index cards and designed to be taken not just to Key West but along on your person 24/7 while out in Key West.

It details getting to and around the island, then describes and lists contact info for sites of interest, recreation, restaurants, bars and a few accommodations. But its gems are the two maps -- one of the whole island, one of downtown. They’re fold-out maps (pop-up actually; delightful), detailed and exceptionally readable. Great for locating yourself on the map and then seeing what’s nearby. I’m looking forward to using it during an upcoming trip for a wedding.

huhtikuu 28, 2011, 9:39 pm

I loved Boys of My Youth when I read it several years ago. The story about Hal the doll, and the one about watching Bonanza with her grandparents particularly have stuck with me. I'm glad you warned me off her new novel, though.

toukokuu 4, 2011, 9:43 am

>112 arubabookwoman: Fresh from The Boys of My Youth, I don't think I could have been warned off :) I feel addicted.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 4, 2011, 9:47 am

A Room of One's Own is Virginia Woolf’s 1929 manifesto urging women to write. And that to write well, women must have money (subsistence, intellectual development) and space (time) … in other words, a life of one’s own. It's philosophical, feminist, inspirational.

A couple passages I loved -- about the collective conscious and enduring writing:
For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.

…when one takes {a fine sentence} into the mind, it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual life.

toukokuu 4, 2011, 10:07 am

Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog by Mark Leyner

I’m especially satisfied to finish this collection of experimental, satirical stories -- started it in May 2002, restarted it a few years ago, finally finished it now. They reference the popular culture, circa 1994 but Leyner is shockingly prescient about which events and details would endure. They’re wacky -- always clever and imaginative, sometimes hilarious but sometimes just silly, reminiscent of Tom Robbins and maybe Christopher Moore. Since it took 9 years to read, I obviously didn’t love it; yet every time I read some, I thought ooh, there’s such good stuff here. I might even wishlist his novel, Et Tu, Babe.

toukokuu 4, 2011, 10:12 am

#115 - I'm impressed with your persistence. Also, interesting just above that, regarding Woolf.

toukokuu 4, 2011, 10:13 am

Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus

An allegory of mindfulness and being true to self. Told in graphic-novel format of a mass of caterpillars climbing dog-eat-dog over one another toward the top of a pillar that leads to who knows what … versus a few who separate themselves from the fracas and, in the quiet, realize their opportunity for metamorphosis into creatures with unique and critical value to the world. Very ‘70s; reminds me of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 4, 2011, 10:58 am

>116 dchaikin: I'm trying to finish a bunch of books I've started, here's another:

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser is an excellent expose on the history, sociology, agribusiness and politics of the fast-food industry, especially McDonalds. Published in 2001 and a forerunner to today’s shelves of food-industry books, it was revelatory when I started reading it in 2003 and is still substantial though begs for an update.

Schlosser's bottom line: McDonalds, not government, has the power to rapidly change food-industry practices ... so make yourself heard to McDonalds.

And his prediction:
Future historians, I hope, will consider the American fast food industry a relic of the twentieth century -- a set of attitudes, systems, and beliefs that emerged from postwar southern California, that embodied its limitless faith in technology, that quickly spread across the globe, flourished briefly, and then receded, once its true costs became clear and its thinking became obsolete.

eta: quote

toukokuu 4, 2011, 11:26 am

How wonderful it must feel to finish these long ago started books! I had a shelf of started but unfinished books, but looking at it made me feel guilty whenever I started something new. So I created a LT tag "bookmark stuck half way thru" and reintegrated them. Not nearly as satisfying as actually finishing them. Your example is almost enough to make me go back, but I just got these new books and I've got others due back at the library... :p

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 4, 2011, 12:07 pm

>114 detailmuse: - when you think about Woolf's book it is both sexist and elitist. Really what she is saying is that women like herself should have the time and money to spend writing. A truly ground-breaking statement would have been that poor woman and men should also have access to these resources but since Woolf ignored the lower classes and despised any writing with that engaged with politics that humanitarian view was closed to her.

toukokuu 4, 2011, 1:15 pm

>120 Jargoneer: I know little about Woolf so can’t speak to her. But her thesis isn’t “gimme,” it’s “don’t block me.” Determined women will find a way; for example she advocates bearing fewer children. Reminds me of how contemporary women have taken care of themselves by going outside systems that thwart their specific needs (e.g. funding for breast cancer research, career exposure through Take Your Daughter to Work Day) and then been accused of sexism.

toukokuu 4, 2011, 1:26 pm

#118 - I wish I could hope like Schlosser...somehow it surprises me how difficult it is to eat healthy when you don't do your own cooking.

#120 - Now, I want to read this (I own a copy) just to see if I agree with you. On the surface, it doesn't sound so elitist to takes sustenance and time to write. Not everyone has that, but still you need to find it before you can write.

toukokuu 5, 2011, 7:24 am

>121 detailmuse: - I'm not sure that's correct, she had very little time for female Victorian writers (Gaskell or Oliphant) who had shown determination (she said Oliphant 'prostituted her culture and enslaved her intellectual liberty in order that she might earn her living and educate her children'). Likewise "Woolf suggested as a solution that the daughters of educated women should be paid a government subsidy, so that they might create works of art - or do nothing at all - free of all sordid monetary conditions."
And of course there was her opinion that writers shouldn't deal with politics because it destroys the aesthetic (the only true value) of literature).

I admire Woolf's fiction (like could be too strong a word but I feel that way about much of modernist writing) but find her opinions well wide of the mark - on the other hand she always gets a good discussion going.

toukokuu 6, 2011, 9:36 am

>122 dchaikin: regarding the book, I didn't see elitism. But regarding the woman, jargoneer's comments certainly add context to a re-read.

Interesting thing, context; made buggier because the reader also brings it. I've had a little philosophical discussion in my head while writing just these few sentences and it's something I'd like to read more about.

toukokuu 6, 2011, 9:43 am

Woolf's title is frequently on my mind, as I debate retirement dates. Of course, I'm coming from the perspective of a long career, but also an ache to change the rhythm of my life and so something creative, at least in a different way. And writing, any serious writing, takes quiet time that's hard to get without that L50 and a room of one's own.

toukokuu 9, 2011, 7:05 pm

And Orwell had the opposite belief -- he thought that having money was an impediment to writing. Writing is painful and difficult, so why would you write if you didn't need to? Of course, he also thought that living in poverty made writing more difficult. He also thought that tea should seep for six minutes, making the resulting cup more of a thing to be endured than enjoyed.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 10, 2011, 9:41 am

>120 Jargoneer: That subject would be illuminated in Tillie Olsen's Silences much, much later.

>126 RidgewayGirl: "Of course, he also thought that living in poverty made writing more difficult" - well, duh, George. It's wonderful that he could have a choice.

toukokuu 13, 2011, 9:55 am

More to come but I'm posting now just to congratulate myself on finishing Erik Larson's new In the Garden of Beasts about the US ambassador to Germany during Hitler's early years as chancellor. Most tedious book I've read.

toukokuu 14, 2011, 7:34 pm

I'm curious why you stuck with it to the end if it was so dull? It would have become one of my books tagged "bookmark stuck". :-)

toukokuu 16, 2011, 9:28 am

Such a good question and I like your tag :)
A few reasons, in descending importance:
1) it's a review copy and I feel a responsibility (tho not an obligation) to read to the end
2) it's about the early and growing awareness of Hitler's evil and I wanted to get that information
3) I'm trying to decrease my TBRs and that includes more finishing-or-abandoning a book and less putting-it-aside
4) its high reviewer ratings made me think great things were still ahead

toukokuu 16, 2011, 9:39 am

I heard an interview about In the Garden of Beasts last week on NPR. Larson dind't really even seem that enthused about the book. From that interview I got the impression that this wasn't his favorite topic; got caught up emotionally in the horrors of the Nazi regime and wasn't able to maintian that detached journalistic view that made his other books work. I'll be interested in your thoughts on the book.

toukokuu 18, 2011, 11:32 am

>131 stretch: stretch, so interesting, I'll look in NPRs archives. His narrative feels very detached.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson documents William Dodd’s term as U.S. ambassador to Germany -- primarily his first year, beginning July 1933, and primarily as it relates to Hitler’s ascent from newly appointed chancellor under President Hindenburg to leader of the Nazi regime.

Like Larson’s other books, the story is presented via alternating threads -- one following Dodd, a quiet history professor and writer who was Roosevelt’s nth choice as ambassador; the other following Dodd’s 24-year-old daughter Martha, whose appetite for parties and, um, "romance" put her in the milieu of top German officials. Dodd’s frugal, intellectual personality make him uniquely unsuited to the lavish, schmoozing life of a diplomat, and his State Department colleagues’ disrespect for him led them to largely ignore his growing concerns about Hitler. Combine that with the Germans’ own frank disbelief; America’s desire for isolationism after WWI and its desire to not anger Germany before their war debt was paid; and the Depression’s damper on immigration (including Jews trying to flee Germany) and a picture develops about why Hitler’s growing menace was ignored until too late.

Larson provides excellent information, extracted from historical documents and primary sources (letters, diaries, memoirs), including close-ups that show the complexity of top Nazis and several one-on-ones with Hitler. He meticulously includes those excerpts directly in the text rather than in endnotes, which saves the reader having to flip back and forth and seems like a good idea. But, comprising perhaps a fourth of the entire text, the quotes become what is nearly a fatal flaw for the narrative; I have not read a more tedious book. Larson’s pattern is to open a paragraph in his own words, then splice in a supporting quote. At first it seemed riveting; by page 100 it seemed gossipy; thereafter it grew unbearably tiresome, like thousands of research notes on index cards that were printed in chronological order rather than smoothed into a narrative. My rating: a conflicted “recommended.”

toukokuu 18, 2011, 1:10 pm

Doesn't sound very appealing. Does he touch on other country's reactions? I once read some interesting things about a British ambassador who was convinced Hitler was a problem early on, but I don't recall the details...obviously Chamberlain didn't take any presented warnings seriously enough.

toukokuu 18, 2011, 6:07 pm

That really is unfortunate. I very much liked Larson's The Devil in the White City, and the subject matter of this one sure sounds interesting, but I don't think I've seen any truly positive responses to it yet.

toukokuu 19, 2011, 9:51 am

Does he touch on other country's reactions?
Minimally; it's mostly about the US, where Dodd's weren't the only warnings ignored. But it's safe to say every country in contact with Germany saw the danger of Hitler and ignored it for politics or economics. I'd still like to read a full exploration of the topic. I'd also like to read about Germany at the time -- Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories and (per bonniebooks) Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone and Hegi's Stones from the River.

toukokuu 19, 2011, 11:36 am

The Girls by Lori Lansens is the autobiography (-biographies) of Rose and Ruby Darlen, a fictional pair of conjoined* twins who live an unexpectedly (and intentionally) ordinary life -- they’re simply “the girls” in a small, southeastern Ontario town. I enjoyed Ruby’s sections -- fresh and often surprising -- but I grew bored by the voice and content of Rose’s sections, which are the majority of the book. My reaction is almost identical to how I felt about Lansens’ The Wife's Tale -- okay while reading, then resonating more in the days and weeks after finishing.

*“craniopagus” -- joined at the head. I hadn’t encountered the word before and was surprised to find it here and in Leyner’s book (msg #115, which I was reading at the same time: “I was born one of craniopagus quintuplets -- five infants connected at the head, our bodies extending radially like flower petals”). My empathy with “the girls” made me feel a bit guilty about smiling at Leyner’s sentence.

toukokuu 19, 2011, 12:40 pm

That's a wondeful word!

There are a set of twins so conjoined, one of them a singer. They are very different physically, one much smaller than the other. It's quite amazing, and a little disconcerting, to see them.

I will have to add Leyner's book to my wish list. Thanks.

kesäkuu 10, 2011, 9:35 am

The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman

Inspired by the early female-physician Maude Abbott, The Heart Specialist is the story of Agnes White: an orphan after her father, a prominent physician, disappears in mystery and disgrace and her mother dies; a budding anatomist at age 12, waiting for a squirrel to die so she can dissect it; a feminist med-school student in Quebec’s late-1800s male world of medicine. But unable to make a go of a clinical practice as a woman doctor, she finds her place as curator of anatomical specimens at McGill University’s medical museum and begins to unravel her father’s legacy and create her own.

The novel spans 1874 to 1919 and evokes the era (gender, WWI, and bits about smallpox and influenza). But Rothman tends to fast-forward past era-notable events (e.g. Alice is the first woman admitted to a medical school on one page, she's a practicing physician on the next, and her practice has failed a few pages later), while almost freeze-framing the more typical aspects (familial caregiving, romance and approval, the clerical features of Alice’s job). Overall, it’s an interesting read but compelling for only a few pages near the end; it sat untouched for many days when I was just 70 pages from the end.

kesäkuu 10, 2011, 9:37 am

Bellevue Literary Review Vol 10 No 2 (Fall 2010)
Terry was alone at the bar breaking in his kid sister’s kidney.
That opens this issue of poems, essays and short stories where broken people pop through their unlikeable selves to show a moment of vulnerability that breaks my reader heart. I love this literary journal and looked at the bio of almost every contributor here to find more of their work. I think first up will be the poems in Mother Said by Hal Sirowitz.

kesäkuu 10, 2011, 9:42 am

Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa (translated from the Japanese) is volume one of a 10-volume manga-format memoir of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Through 6-year-old Gen and his family and community, we see the effects on civilians of the late stages of war -- the nationalism alongside the growing disengagement with the war and the emperor, the impossible hunger and desperation that prompts both kindness and evil and is horribly sated by whole-family suicides. But we also see an optimistic and inventive young boy, whose story I must pursue further.

The most memorable single sentence (written in the 1970s and translated in the ‘80s but evocative again) occurs as Gen’s family greets the morning of August 6, 1945: “What a beautiful day -- the sky’s so blue!”

kesäkuu 10, 2011, 9:45 am

Translation is a Love Affair by Jacques Poulin, a novella translated from the French by Sheila Fischman, moves between Quebec City and a pastoral island nearby in the Saint Lawrence River. It develops a gentle mystery involving a middle-aged writer, a much-younger translator, a couple of cats, a quirky young girl and a troubled older girl.

In one passage, the writer is interviewed about novels and novelists, and defines the novel as a house built with materials from the past and future, which the novelist constructs using style. “House” is further examined to find meanings of shelter and refuge, and the translator goes to her dictionary:
Under the word refuge, I found this definition: “Small structure high in the mountains where climbers can spend the night.” In my opinion that was the best definition of a novel.
This little story is exactly that, and what I’ll come back for is Poulin’s immersion in the natural setting -- Spring Tides is now a must-read.

kesäkuu 10, 2011, 2:43 pm

Although the premise of The Heart Specialist sounds interesting, I think I'll pass based on your description of the writing. I have never read manga, but if I were to, Barefoot Gen sounds compelling. I'll look forward to hearing more about the series as you go along. I loved Translation is a Love Affair. It was one of my top reads for 2010. Spring Tides was good too. I'm now looking for Autumn Rounds, one of Poulin's earlier works, that Tad says is also good. Basically, I'm on the lookout for anything by him! Have you read The Waitress was New by Dominique Fabre? It was also translated and published by Archipelago Press, and I thought the tone was similar to Translation, and I enjoyed it very much too.

kesäkuu 14, 2011, 10:38 pm

141 - Sounds great. I added it to the wishlist if only for the 'house' quotes.

kesäkuu 14, 2011, 11:03 pm

Hi MJ, Thanks for sharing the passage from Translation is a Love Affair. I read it a year or so ago and now I'm tempted to read it again.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 24, 2011, 11:25 am

>142 labfs39: lisa
I've actually avoided manga, and stayed confused between manga vs anime, because I'm generally meh about the comic-strip panel format -- Calvin & Hobbes being the exception :) But just think of Barefoot Gen as a memoir along the visual lines of Persepolis or Maus (vs eg Stitches or Blankets, which are not panel format).

Loved The Waitress Was New!

kesäkuu 24, 2011, 11:28 am

Barefoot Gen: The Day After by Keiji Nakazawa (volume two of the series) explores 6-year-old Gen’s experience of the first couple of days in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. The focus is on the civic destruction, the mass human casualties, and the immediate effects of radiation on the still-living.

The illustrations are graphic, and equally shocking is this passage from the Foreword by Barbara Reynolds of the Hiroshima World Friendship Center:
{The book} was written for Japanese young people because {the author} was distressed to find that twenty years after the war most students knew nothing about the atomic bombs* and that many teachers were not sure how to teach their students about such subjects since they themselves had no experience of war.

*How can that be?
I want to know more.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 24, 2011, 12:20 pm


I was nth on the waiting list at my library for Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, but when I heard that Samuel L. Jackson reads the audio, I had to go audio. It’s available free from but I listened on YouTube, where I also saw the page views. A picture-book parody but obviously not a children’s book; very fun.

I’d heard of Einstein, a mini-miniature horse with a wild white mane that evokes the physicist. So I was interested to take a look at A Friend for Einstein, the Smallest Stallion, about the search for a playmate his size, by his owners Charlie Cantrell and Rachel Wagner. On the one hand, I think very young children will love it, on the other I found the photos boring (cover photo excluded) and the story underwhelming and short.

edited to fix touchstones and wonky links :(

kesäkuu 24, 2011, 11:50 am

#145 I'm still new to all this: so anime is animated (like a movie clip) and manga is a type of graphic novel? I tried just now to reserve Barefoot Gen at our library and... nada. Maybe I can browse it a little at the bookstore, just to get the flavor.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 24, 2011, 12:09 pm

>148 labfs39: I only know that they originated in Japan and are characterized by the big Kewpie-doll eyes ... which was actually a distraction in reading Barefoot Gen, for example it made Gen's dad look quite American.

btw I think the volumes are getting very hard to find except maybe on amazon. I have Volume 3 now but no library in my consortium has anything further.

kesäkuu 24, 2011, 3:46 pm

Lisa - Barefoot Gen is very hard to find, I don't know why. I only discovered it through fannyprice here in Club Read and found my copies on I recommend it first because of it's value - an account of Hiroshima by someone who experienced it first hand, at six years old. It's also very well done.

kesäkuu 24, 2011, 8:20 pm

Yes, I see that they are available on Amazon, and that there are movie versions of one and two available as well. I'm going to a bookstore tomorrow that carries unusual items; I'll check for it.

kesäkuu 24, 2011, 10:47 pm

Yes, manga = drawn on paper, anime = animated (the clue is in the name). I think people may have started to use them more interchangeably, but that's what they originally mean in Japanese.

kesäkuu 25, 2011, 10:32 am

In The Book of Awesome, Neil Pasricha draws a couple hundred simple pleasures from his blog, 1000 Awesome Things -- happy, comforting, sometimes nostalgic occurrences that are universally, well … awesome! For example:

Inter-generational dancing
The other side of the pillow
Fixing electronics by smacking them
When you’re right near the end of a book
The sound of ice cubes crackling in a drink
Watching your odometer click over a major milestone
Discovering those little tabs on the side of the aluminum foil box*
Seeing a cop on the side of the road and realizing you’re going the speed limit anyway
Peeling off your wet bathing suit and putting on warm clothes after swimming for a long time
The moment at a restaurant after you see your food coming from the kitchen but before it lands on your table

*and also on the ends of some boxes of plastic wraps -- poke the tab inward to create a lock that keeps the roll in the box no matter how sharply you pull out the wrap; haha, this was a life-changing revelation for me

I enjoyed the concept -- liked the titles but wasn’t as enamored by the write-ups (felt like drawing out a punch line and sometimes veered off-topic). Still, Pasricha seems like a genuinely nice, happy guy, so I just skipped what didn’t appeal and moved on to the next … a practice he’s probably already written up as awesome :)

kesäkuu 25, 2011, 5:55 pm

I can add this title to my "happy" book list. My favorite is "the other side of the pillow". How true!

Have to get up and look for foil and plastic wrap boxes. Cool!

kesäkuu 26, 2011, 11:58 am

There is a second book, The Book of Even More Awesome, that was just released. I assume it is more of the same, but fun nonetheless. My favourite - peeling that sticky plastic off of new electronics. I don't know why, but I get a deep satisfaction from doing this!

kesäkuu 27, 2011, 11:53 am

I know a woman who, when her new dishwasher was installed, was so surprised and disappointed that its controls touch-panel was accented in turquoise that she decided to return it. A friend's suggestion: peel off that turquoise plastic strip!!

kesäkuu 27, 2011, 12:22 pm

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister, from Early Reviewers
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? -- Mary Oliver
That question from the epigraph is pertinent to Kate, who was hit hard by breast cancer and, now recovered, is reluctant to accept her daughter’s celebratory challenge to go white-water rafting. But it’s also pertinent to Kate’s circle of close friends, who support her by agreeing that she also issue a challenge to each of them -- something that will ease a fear and increase the joy and living in their own lives.

I loved Bauermeister’s debut novel (The School of Essential Ingredients, a collection of linked stories about the students in a series of cooking classes) and remember ending my review by wishing I could read another set of stories about the next year’s class. Happily, Joy for Beginners is nearly that, with writing as sensual and lush and stories as tender and hopeful. But here they’re even sweeter, gentle to the point of lacking narrative tension, and they lack School’s sympathetic lead character and unifying story premise. Recommended for readers in the mood for very soft, comforting stories about women’s friendships.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 27, 2011, 1:20 pm

Mother Said (see the talking purse on the cover?) by Hal Sirowitz

When I read Sirowitz’s poems in the Bellevue Literary Review (msg #139 above), I figured him to be an old man. So the photo of a fortysomething (at that time) slacker on the back flap of this collection threw me and I wished I hadn’t seen it. Still, it fit a term I’d seen on the tag page -- “dikt,” which according to Urban Dictionary is a non-offensive version of “dumbass” (and according to more traditional dictionaries means “poems”). It all fits the short, darkly funny contents inside, about Sirowitz’s long-suffering Jewish mother, advice-giving father, and rejecting girlfriends.

I read through them in an hour. A favorite is included in SqueakyChu’s review so here’s another:
Don’t swing the umbrella in the store,
Mother said. There are all these glass jars
of spaghetti sauce above your head
that can fall on you, & you can die.
Then you won’t be able to go to tonight’s party,
or go to the bowling alley tomorrow.
And instead of celebrating your birthday
with soda & cake, we’ll have
anniversaries of your death with tea
& crackers. And your father & I won’t
be able to eat spaghetti anymore, because
the marinara sauce will remind us of you.
I’ll probably read a couple of his other volumes, Father Said and My Therapist Said.

kesäkuu 27, 2011, 4:16 pm

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

I don’t know how I came to have this novel (in hardcover!). Possibly its aging protagonist caught my attention when it was published in 1996.

I just know that I’d heard enough about author Nicholas Sparks to be discouraged by the ego that prompted him to group himself with Shakespeare, Austen, Hemingway and others in a 2010 USA Today interview. And then to be surprised when I looked at his LT author page and noticed the telling green checkmark next to The Notebook in his list of works.

So when a storm knocked out my electricity last week, and by the second night I was tense, tired and looking for some very light reading, I pulled this from my TBRs. It’s ultra-light, in fact -- a short story bloated into a novel; a love story with a wholly implausible ending; set mostly in 1946 North Carolina but evoking nothing of the era; the narrative told through a filter so softly focused I could hardly see. Not to my taste, plus it was hard to keep the author out of my reading.

kesäkuu 27, 2011, 6:44 pm

it was hard to keep the author out of my reading

This is exactly what happened to me with J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun and Orlando Figes in general. I'm not sure if that is what I "should" do as a reader, but I can't seem to separate the two.

kesäkuu 28, 2011, 11:48 am

I like the quote (attributed to Fenelon): Do not refuse the blessing because of the channel through which it comes. That's hard to do when it's hours spent with an author I don't like/respect. This brings me back to the comments about Virginia Woolf above, and how much "context" should figure into reading. I think context can hugely deepen the reading ... or, without resolve, spoil it.
*off to your thread*

kesäkuu 29, 2011, 7:58 pm

Barefoot Gen: Life After the Bomb (Vol 3) by Keiji Nakazawa

This volume covers young Gen’s experiences during the first weeks after the atomic bomb on Hiroshima -- terrible famine, fear and illness all around him still, but new human connections too, and a lovely reveal about how he came to be an artist. For me, it’s the best yet in the series.

kesäkuu 29, 2011, 9:11 pm

Oh, I forgot to mention that I did look for Barefoot Gen at our local Indie new and used bookstore. It did have several copies, but unfortunately they were volumes 4, 7, 9, and 10. Our library system doesn't carry them, so I guess if I really want to read them, I will have to go to Amazon.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 3, 2011, 1:32 pm

After a two-year hiatus while I was reading more books than magazines, I’m subscribing again to New Scientist -- a curious, playful weekly that touches on every flavor of science.

My first issue back was as clever as ever, including this letter to the editor from Tom Heydeman in Reading, Berkshire, UK:
I was impressed to see on the back cover advertisement (28May) that Mercedes-Benz is celebrating “125! years of innovation.” Factorial 125, the number of years claimed, is more than 10{200}*, so the company started to innovate unimaginable aeons before the big bang.

edited to remove image, poor resolution; fyi 125! campaign site here
anyone know an html code for superscript? "sup" doesn't work

heinäkuu 3, 2011, 3:08 pm

I've been reading New Scientist online for a few years now, as part of my work breaks. Somehow it doesn't feel like I'm avoiding work so much if I'm reading such intelligent, interesting articles! But I haven't read the letters to the editor. I'll have to look out for them next time.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 4, 2011, 12:13 am

We have a limited set of HTML codes available in messages here. You can use these codes for superscripts as in 0⁰.


heinäkuu 5, 2011, 9:00 am


Thanks Robert

heinäkuu 5, 2011, 9:14 am

>165 ffortsa: Judy
Online, you might also not notice "The Last Word," where readers bring up everyday curiosities and other readers (i.e. scientists) respond with answers/explanations. Very interesting, although there's some muck among the anwers on the website. But they pull the best responses into the magazine and they've compiled a bunch into science-trivia books like Does Anything Eat Wasps?.

heinäkuu 6, 2011, 1:50 pm

I Shall Not Hate is Izzeldin Abuelaish’s memoir of hope for peace between Palestinians and Jews.

We meet him late in 2008, on a beach near Gaza City as he and his eight children grieve the death of his wife/their mother to cancer. He writes of his childhood in the poverty of a Gazan refugee camp; the prejudices that were born there and the moments of awareness, later, wherein they dissolved; his education in Egypt and Europe; the area’s violence and the near impossibility of border crossings; and yet his willingness to cross them, continuously, in order to care for Israelis as an OB/Gyn physician in Tel Aviv. In early 2009, when his actions to develop a grass-roots sort of movement toward peace have grown into real optimism, his house is shelled by Israelis and three of his daughters and a niece are killed.* His response is the title of this book.
If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I could accept it.
I’m a bit neutral about the book itself; it feels self-published (but isn’t) and I suppose that contributes to its sense of authenticity. And Abuelaish is authentic, and admirable. His message of peace is inspiring and I gained a hugely better idea of life in the area.

*watching the TV coverage of his appeal for help for his wounded family members was a powerful companion to the reading

heinäkuu 8, 2011, 10:27 am

Radioactive by Lauren Redniss

This is the last book I read in the first half of 2011 that I haven’t yet talked about; I loved it and haven’t figured a way to do it justice. So I’ll just say that it uses art (primarily illustrations created through a process of “cyanotype printing” that evokes negative-images and glowing radiation) to present a biography of Marie Curie … and of radiation itself, from Roentgen to Hiroshima to Spider-man.

Even the words are art, in a font (developed by the author) that looks like delicate hand-printing and arranged interestingly on the pages. I enjoyed seeing the personal side of Marie Curie, loved learning that Roentgen “dubbed the invisible light an ‘X’ ray, X for unknown,” and can understand how, at the turn of the century, the piling-up of discoveries of so many invisible forces (electricity, radio, telegraph, x-ray, radioactivity) “blurred the boundary between science and magic.”

It’s a part linear, part segue-filled slideshow. More to come when I re-read, very likely very soon.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 8, 2011, 10:52 am

Did you notice that the cover of Radioactive glows in the dark? That really spooked me when I saw it from bed on my nightstand!

heinäkuu 8, 2011, 2:31 pm

I'd heard that, had even tried to look at it in dim light during the daytime to check it out. But not once in the six weeks I've had the book have I remembered to look at it at night!

So just now I took it to a very dark room in my basement ... and could see nothing :( I can see where it should glow, but either my copy hasn't gotten enough light to activate the glow or else it needs some light to get a reflection from the pigment. Fun idea for the cover!

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 8, 2011, 4:26 pm

Mid-year Summary
My main reading goal this year is to read at least 40 books from my “TBRs” (defined as acquired pre-2011) and to end the year with total TBRs (pre-2011 + 2011) closer to 250.
Beginning TBRs: 291
Books acquired: 53 (purchased, borrowed from library, plus some I owned but hadn’t entered into LT until now)
Books read: 49 (of those, 24 were pre-2011 “TBRs”)
Books abandoned (partly read), purged (unread), or retagged as not TBR (i.e. reference works): 28
Current TBRs: 267
My progress: good (24 read from my “TBRs” seems excellent progress toward my intended 40; but for the second part of my goal, I got a big, early boost from purging my shelves)

YTD books read: 49
Fiction: 16
Nonfiction: 30
Other (poetry, mixed): 3

Female authors: 23
Male authors: 21
Mixed: 5
Authors new-to-me: 37
Authors with more than one book in my 2011 reads: Keiji Nakazawa, Jo Ann Beard

Notable tags:
Atomic Bomb (4)
History (14)
Humor (6)
Illustrated (13)
LT Inspired (12)
Small-town Life (3)
Translated (7)
Workplace (6)

5-star - 3 books
4.5 - 8
4 - 10
3.5 - 16
3 - 9
2.5 - 2
2 - 0
1.5 - 1
1 - 0
0.5 - 0
My feelings: I’m not reading enough books I love. Yet 43% of my reads are 4-star or higher, so I wonder if it’s that I’m reading too little fiction, and too little good fiction? I’m going to concentrate there awhile.

heinäkuu 8, 2011, 5:41 pm

#172 How funny! I'm sitting at my computer giggling at the thought of you hiding in closets and basements trying to get a book to glow!

It is a very cool idea, and I'm sorry your copy seems to be out of gas.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 9, 2011, 5:40 pm

Hi, friend! I think I've got your last two reads already on my wish list, and especially want to read Radioactive, but I'm wanting to get through more of my TBR's too. I'm going to go look at your list to see if we have any in common. Probably not, though, since I seem to draw from your recs. So you recommend that science mag? I get my fix by reading "Science Daily" then exploring topics from there. Mostly I've been reading technology blogs related to iPad use and education, but I like to buy Scientific American every once in awhile. OK, jumping from one thought to another. I'll have to get the "Happy" book for my mom and the "What Mother Said" poetry book for my boys. Of course, I'll read it first. Off to look at your TBR's.

I'm back. Well, we have a few in common, but not ones I want to read right now either. So, your "To Reads" are books you actually have in your possession, right? I can't imagine you not having read Pride and Prejudice before. No judgement there; just wondering how you got past that one. Maybe you are wanting to reread it? I wonder what you'll think of it. That's a book I'm very fond of, but I wonder if I would like it as much if I hadn't read it when I was more idealistic and sentimental about love and possibilities when it comes to differing personality types.

heinäkuu 9, 2011, 7:43 pm

>173 detailmuse:: Detail love the mid-term summary, very neat and succinct. You mind if I borrow the format at the end of the year?

Aside from the misplaced excitement for a statistical roundup your review of Radioactive has finally put it on my wish list for good. If been on the fence abut that one for such a long time and now its there for good until I find it. Also, your review of I Shall not Hate was very good as well, I've been looking for something along these lines.

I've never found a science magazine that I could stick with over the long haul ever once in a while the New Scientist or Scientific America catches my eye for while I was reading Earth which was well put together but was always behind on a monthly subscription. I wish the newsstand had a better selection for Science publications.

heinäkuu 14, 2011, 10:14 am

Hi bonnie, stretch
sorry, I was visiting my mom for her 92nd birthday (haha she had me at 60) and when a storm knocked out power here at home again, I just stayed there.

I love the curiosity and playfulness of UK-based New Scientist. Plus, the features are short so I actually read it through rather than having issues accumulate.

My “To Read” collection is in my possession; I only keep a wishlist on amazon. heh bonnie, Pride and Prejudice isn’t a reread and it’ll shock you to know I only acquired it in 2008. Classic literature is a big gap for me, as is world history. I intend to read more of both but think I need to map a plan.

stretch, I love stats and am eager to see yours. I’m also tracking the acquisition and publication dates of my books, trying to read something other than the newest and shiniest. Not much pre-21st century reading over the first 6 mos, hopefully something better to report by year end.

heinäkuu 14, 2011, 11:58 am

You're not alone in your gaps. My sister, Ph.D, MLS, managing a college library, was aghast when I said I was rereading Moby Dick. She claims that through her whole undergraduate career, she consciously avoided all 19th century writers except Jane Austen. What??? No Hardy, no Dickens, no Wilde - I can barely believe she speaks English (although she writes very well).

It's nice to know that people here are interested in filling those gaps. Have fun!

heinäkuu 15, 2011, 11:16 am

"Fun" is the key, yes? For me, that's what it is. It likely wouldn't have been, as an undergrad, although my program didn't have any room to accomodate it if I'd wanted to. Fun but not necessarily easy, and lots of people aren't up for anything not easy.

heinäkuu 15, 2011, 12:02 pm

Bomboozled: How the U.S. Government Misled Itself and Its People into Believing They Could Survive a Nuclear Attack by Susan Roy

Inspired by the author’s thesis on family fallout shelters for her master’s degree in architectural history, Bomboozled presents the U.S. cold war civil-defense program as a smokescreen of “emotion management” where activities were used to distract Americans from the horrors of nuclear war. Specifically, it’s about selling the idea of domestic fallout shelters to Americans and the shelter’s evolution from simple concrete bunker to underground home (see below; note the HVAC vents in the “sky”). It calls to mind today’s program of terrorism preparedness, and the final two pages do directly make the comparison.

The book’s strengths are its coffee-table format, heavily illustrated with period images from ads, newspapers and government pamphlets, and its tight focus on home fallout shelters. This from a 1961 Chicago Tribune article gives hope to LTers:
Concrete or bricks, earth or sand, are some of the materials heavy enough to afford protection by absorbing radiation. There is about the same amount of shielding in eight inches of concrete, for instance, as in 12 inches of earth, 16 inches of books, or 30 inches of wood.
Slight weaknesses include areas of superficial research and few examples of actual shelters in people’s homes.

I read it on the heels of Radioactive and several volumes of Barefoot Gen, so I was hungry for more about the bomb and the cold-war period in general; that led to a lot of exploring online. I watched the 1951 Survival Under Atomic Attack, a short-film version of the official government pamphlet (obviously and necessarily sugar-coated; note the more likely speed and scale of destruction in the last minute of this BBC video). I watched the fascinating 1982 The Atomic Café, a documentary composed of archival propaganda, disturbing images, and unintentional humor. And in keeping with the pop-culture tone of Bomboozled, I watched the 1961 Twilight Zone episode, “The Shelter” (split into parts 1; 2; 3; and an interview with Rod Serling that contains episode spoilers).

A fascinating book, probably one to borrow from a library.

heinäkuu 15, 2011, 1:56 pm

Fascinating stuff on a nuclear attack. Lets hope we never have to find out if any of the stuff works.

Question: Did the US government mislead itself or was it a more cynical approach - an effort to demonstrate that the government was in control of the situation?

heinäkuu 16, 2011, 9:09 am

Barry, I think the latter -- control and confidence-giving.

The U.S. knew the (immediate and short-term) effects of the atomic bomb -- the military had specifically selected virgin bomb sites (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) in order to study the aftermath. But I learned that elsewhere; it’s an area of superficial research in the book. I recall one passage where the government consulted leading academics about how to protect the population, but I wanted much more inside information; I had the feeling the author didn’t probe past readily available information. Or perhaps the publisher changed the game on her -- I wrote but deleted from my review that the author didn’t prove the thesis of her subtitle, but really I suspect the author’s interest was in the shelters whereas the publisher’s was in conspiracy. Perhaps I’ll add that back in.

heinäkuu 18, 2011, 8:36 am

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

A recent Hot Review of this first collection of Watterson’s comic strip prompted me to pull it out and read it again. I love this comic, love the spirit of childhood and the conspiracy of adults and especially enjoy seeing Watterson shine a light on the logical internal motivations that prompt Calvin’s bizarre external behaviors. But I didn’t read as lightly as I have before; instead I wondered about Calvin and Barefoot Gen as playmates and honestly worried for Gen, and was sad that both the boy and the parents of We Need to Talk About Kevin came to mind. Ack. I’ll re-read another in the series and hope to get the funny back on track.

heinäkuu 18, 2011, 11:55 am

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal
One evening, Sophia wrote a letter and stuck it under {her grandmother’s} door. It said, “I hate you. With warm personal wishes, Sophia.”
This gentle novella is presented as vignettes about a petulant six-year-old girl and her grandmother as they reel from a trauma that goes nearly unmentioned. Set over the summer (one or many, it’s unclear) on an isolated island off the coast of Finland, I felt immersed in the subtext of nature -- island and water and weather -- and promptly added Jansson’s A Winter Book to my wishlist.

heinäkuu 18, 2011, 1:11 pm

Ouch, book bullet struck home that time. Onto the list it goes.

elokuu 3, 2011, 3:59 pm

When I get so far behind, it seems less daunting to just log some “comments” :)


I acquired American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell based on Club Read-ers’ recommendations and read it now for the group’s Hometown or Ancestry Challenge. It’s a collection of well-written, gristly short stories set in the rural addictions, crime, and poverty of southwestern Michigan, a couple hours from where I grew up. The settings feel authentic and I could likely open my high-school yearbook and find the characters in these stories.

When I read Gary Zukav’s The Seat of the Soul back in the ‘90s, its premise of love, fear, and intention changed my thinking. Thoughts from the Seat of the Soul, a spiral-bound collection of ~300 short thoughts/reminders/excerpts from the book, has been in my TBRs since then. There’s a lot of repetition among them, and one needs to have read Zukav’s book to get much from them. Not really recommended.

elokuu 3, 2011, 4:05 pm


I listened to two audiobooks from the library; liked them both and (as usual for me) may have loved them if I’d read them in print:

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson is a close-in biography of three African Americans who migrate from Jim-Crow Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida to Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. It’s an interesting and extremely well-researched trio of personal oral histories but, considering its subtitle, “The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” it was less informative about the big picture than I’d expected. Still, I did learn -- of the level of racism in early-1900s Florida; of the level of torture involved in some lynchings; that the top migration points in the north became the most severely (and enduringly) segregated U.S. cities. And it was immersive; I listened to its 19 CDs over weeks and weeks of morning walks and felt adrift when I finished.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is set in 1899 Texas and follows 11-year-old Callie (the only girl among six brothers) as she resists the assumptions and assignments of her gender and nurtures her scientific interests under a warm mentorship with her grandfather. It’s definitely a book for children; I liked it as an adult and would have loved it as a child.

elokuu 3, 2011, 4:12 pm


I skimmed three books from the library:

The Map as Art by Katharine Harmon is full of map-inspired art, for example ”Caspian Sea” (scroll to ninth image from top) by Maya Lin (who designed DC’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial and who has a fabulous website). There is much traditional art in the book but the eclectic works captured me more, such as Jeff Woodbury’s “City Hearts” (which I took to be urban expressways) and Alberto Duman’s ”View of the Tate Modern”.

And two cookbooks from America’s Test Kitchen, surprisingly different from one another. In The Best Simple Recipes, each recipe prompts a sidebar prep tip or product comparison/recommendation, and about half are accompanied by color photos showing the prepared food. I marked only a dozen or so recipes to copy, but then didn’t copy any after all because I already had similar recipes in my repertoire. Light & Healthy 2010 has fewer recipes, fewer photos, fewer product recommendations ... but lots of full-page text tutorials in the style of their magazine (Cook’s Illustrated), which are nearly science experiments and which I really enjoy. I might buy this volume to read thoroughly and keep.

elokuu 3, 2011, 5:25 pm

My daughter and I both loved The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. It was good to get her interested in a book that didn't feature dragons or magic. You've read some good books lately -- both American Salvage and The Warmth of Other Suns are books I plan to read soon.

elokuu 4, 2011, 4:55 pm

Added Warmth of Other Suns, The Map as Art (cool website, thanks for the link), and, to read aloud to my daughter, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

elokuu 7, 2011, 12:00 pm

The Warmth of Other Suns was already on the wishlist, but i appreciated your comments.

The Map as Art sounds awesome. I just love Maya Lin.

elokuu 9, 2011, 9:41 am

Another for the Hometown or Ancestry Challenge:

Detroit Disassembled by Andrew Moore, Philip Levine

I grew up on the western side of Michigan, all outdoorsy recreation and tourism, seemingly a world away from industrial Detroit and areas north along the eastern side of the state. Three of my siblings married spouses from Detroit and environs but it stayed impenetrable to me except for Tigers games. I finally got interested (and sympathetic) a few years ago when I read about the late-‘60s riot and white-flight to the suburbs in Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex. Now the economy has turned exodus into apocalypse.
What was once America’s fourth largest city, spread across 138 square miles, is now one-third empty land. Many of these empty stretches are now fields of high grass.
Detroit Disassembled is a collection of photographs taken by Andrew Moore in 2008-9 for an exhibit at the Akron Art Museum (and then national tour), illustrating the decay of Detroit’s civic and industrial buildings, with a general eye toward the “recycling of human construction by nature.” Moore’s images are powerful but perhaps objective, even in the selection of what content is covered; it’s the accompanying essay from poet (and former Detroit-er) Philip Levine that brought a personal connection to Detroit.

I also finally watched Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me”; Eminem’s “8 Mile” is up next.

elokuu 9, 2011, 10:14 am

Have you visited this site?

elokuu 9, 2011, 10:23 am

>192 detailmuse: & 193

thanks for the review and the link. Earlier this year I read Devil's Night, and other true tales of Detroit by Ze'ev Chafets which describes the demise of Detroit. It was hard to imagine how a big American city could come to ruins. I will probably not be able to find a copy of Detroit Disassembled, but some of the photographs on the website were illustrative. Hopefully, some of these buildings and areas in your hometown can be revived.

elokuu 9, 2011, 11:53 am

I became sympathetic to the plight of Detroit after reading Middlesex as well. It was interesting how the author wove that history into his story.

elokuu 9, 2011, 3:08 pm

>193 RidgewayGirl: RG - thanks for the link. I like his blog and hope for more posts.

>194 edwinbcn: Edwin - interested to take a look at Devil's Night. My #1 choice here was The Ruins of Detroit, but it's not in the collection of any library in my consortium; I still may pursue a loan from the Chicago system. I got started on photographs of modern ruins via Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, where, again, it was the context from the accompanying essays that made it fabulous. I have a couple more TBR but ack, they're packaged melancholy!

>195 labfs39: Lisa - fyi Eugenides has a new novel coming this fall, The Marriage Plot, sounds fun.

elokuu 9, 2011, 4:33 pm

Thanks for the heads up. Wow. How does he come up with these plots?

elokuu 9, 2011, 5:52 pm

Agree! Seems that Pride and Prejudice has jumped to the top of my TBRs...

elokuu 10, 2011, 2:00 pm

Huh! So glad I was exposed to Philip Levine in his essay in Detroit Disassembled -- he’s just been named Poet Laureate! Must read some of his workplace poems.

elokuu 15, 2011, 4:45 pm

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Knowing that women in the Amazon’s Lakashi tribe maintain fertility into old age, Minnesota-based Vogel Pharmaceuticals has funded the research of famed (and formidable) female physician Annick Swenson there for years, in hope of developing a drug that makes extended fertility available to women everywhere. So when Swenson cuts her communications with Vogel, corporate researcher Anders Eckman is dispatched to the Amazon to talk with her and determine the project’s status. And when Eckman is then reported dead under ambiguous circumstances, Marina Singh, his friend and laboratory colleague at Vogel, agrees to travel to Brazil to find out about the drug, Eckman, and Swenson.

Forty-two-year-old Marina has felt unmoored her whole life -- personally, as a bi-racial child of divorce with parents on two continents and with dark skin that feels out of place in Minnesota; and professionally, after an incident during OB-GYN training prompted her to switch from clinical medicine to laboratory pharmacology. The novel’s narration mimics Marina’s state of being -- taking time in Minnesota to decide and prepare for travel; experiencing the confused mental state that is a side effect of her antimalarial drug, Lariam; then lolling in Manaus, Brazil, waiting over weeks (and for me, weeks of intermittent reading) to be taken to Swenson’s research site deep in the jungle. And then Marina finally does board a boat and heads along the river into the Amazon.
…every insect in the Amazon lifted its head from the leaf it was masticating and turned a slender antenna in her direction.
With that, Marina’s interest comes alive and so did mine, for the whole second half of the novel -- the wonders and dangers of deep nature and indigenous peoples; the ethics of medical research and sociological interventions; the immediate threats to life and the possibility of recovery from past traumas. For me, Bel Canto remains Patchett’s best novel. But State of Wonder compares favorably to her others -- accessible, interesting and informative; a bit incredible and tidy. And it’s prompted me to (finally) get to Joseph Conrad’s Congo in Heart of Darkness.

elokuu 15, 2011, 5:10 pm

Despite the slow beginning, I think I will try this one. I loved Bel Canto, and thought Run was good. I seem to be bumping into interesting books set in the Amazon a lot lately. This spring I read River of Doubt, which I found to be a page-turner, and then Journey to the River Sea with my daughter. I have a mini-theme going. Thanks for the great review (and quote).

elokuu 15, 2011, 5:12 pm

Good review of State of Wonder and I note that you think Bel Canto is Ann Patchett's best novel. I think I have that one somewhere around and if so I will get to it.

elokuu 16, 2011, 4:12 pm

>201 labfs39:, 202 thanks!
not only Patchett's best but in my opinion, stunning! I so long for a film adaptation. Last year, Robert (Mr.Durick) read it and thought Patchett inserted a lot of comedy, which so surprised me! It's a novel I'd like to re-read, especially with that in mind.

I just listened to a podcast with Patchett, and she said she named the Amazon tribe "Lakashi" after her favorite breakfast cereal, "Kashi." Haha, Robert may be right!

elokuu 31, 2011, 10:37 am


The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell (from Early Reviewers) is a collection of short stories set on Saturday, 6/8/68 and linked around the train that transports Robert F. Kennedy’s family and remains from his funeral that morning in NYC to his burial that night in Washington DC.

The stories are more slice-of-life glimpses than full-arc narratives, each broken into vignettes and interwoven with the others in a way that builds tension in each story (some minimally, some excellently) while advancing the day. I liked the structure, but the book otherwise ... not so much. It’s a journalist’s debut novel and I was often bumped by dialogue that reads like narration; by heavy-handed reveals of character and period; and by an omniscient point of view that pulls beautifully close-in and then confuses when it jumps to another character. And RFK’s funeral train is relegated mostly to conceit -- a basis for stories that hinge on small mercies but have little to do with RFK or the day. The author uses a note at the end of the book to tell the history of the day; I wondered why he didn’t tell it via the stories?

Rowell says his stories were inspired by Paul Fusco’s photographs of the crowds lining the funeral train route (taken on assignment for Look Magazine), so I borrowed a library copy of the most recent collection of those photos, Paul Fusco: RFK. While the train’s motion blurs some of the pictures literally, most are profoundly moving, emotionally -- the abject shock on faces, the surprising mix of ages, the races standing elbow to elbow. They are inspiring, in their hint of outside lives and their riveting attention to the moment of RFK and country. The book also includes Ted Kennedy’s eulogy of his brother and several essays -- I read Norman Mailer’s “The Promise” twice (excerpted from The Time of Our Time) and then photocopied it to keep.

syyskuu 1, 2011, 1:57 pm

Thanks for tying these two books together for me. You description of Paul Fusco's book and your reaction to it gave me goosebumps.

syyskuu 1, 2011, 1:58 pm

Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary by Joseph Conrad

I acquired this after reading about the Congo in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, and got to it now after reading the quest toward a Kurtz-like character in Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. It’s a classic, with much to dissect about Conrad and history, for example this from Owen Knowles’s Introduction:
...Conrad’s wider belief that all creative literature of any lasting worth is, whatever its origins in the writer’s own life, essentially an imaginative re-entry into past experience in the quest for a more impersonal but human truth...
I found the novella dull and dense (e.g. 4-page paragraphs and lots of exposition) but am glad to have finally read it, including encountering “The horror! The horror!” which I’ve seen elsewhere, oddly often in humorous contexts. I look forward to watching its adaptation into Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”; to have read it earlier would have added a lot to my reading of Patchett’s novel.

syyskuu 1, 2011, 2:26 pm

>205 labfs39: lisa! welcome home
I got Fusco's book days before Rowell's arrived and didn't know which to read first. Finally decided to get sort of immersed via Fusco, just as Rowell apparently had; thus my reaction that the stories were less related to RFK than I'd expected. Now, to wish I'd read Heart of Darkness before State of Wonder ... how to know?!

syyskuu 1, 2011, 10:58 pm

Thank you. It's good to be back, although the jet lag is getting me. I'm sorry you missed reading Heart of Darkness first, but I'll take advantage of your advice and give it a reread before starting State of Wonder. I wonder if some epigraphs serve as hints to readers of what to read first. For instance, the epigraph to Matterhorn is from Parzival, and if I had paid attention, I would have researched Parzival before beginning. As it was, I only caught on after finishing. Does State of Wonder have a Conrad epigraph, by any chance?

syyskuu 2, 2011, 11:11 am

Great reminder about epigraphs. There wasn’t one in State of Wonder. Elsewhere, Patchett says Heart of Darkness came to mind only halfway through her writing of the book; she began more along the lines of Henry James’s The Ambassadors and Werner Herzog films (both of which I'm citing as if I have a clue).

The epigraph in The Train of Small Mercies --
"Is everybody all right?"
--Senator Robert F. Kennedy, moments after being shot, in the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel, June 5, 1968
-- seemed to speak of the man but in retrospect also serves as a hinge to turn the camera outward, as the stories do.

syyskuu 2, 2011, 11:32 am

Oh the Herzog film that comes to mind from the reviews is 'Aguirre, The Wrath of God'. Herzog at his best(?), weirdest, most punishing (at least to actors and crew).

syyskuu 2, 2011, 11:45 am

Yes that's one she mentioned, also Fitzcarraldo. Surprising, how long my list of DVDs-to-watch is getting...

syyskuu 5, 2011, 12:34 pm

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
“The flower you’re looking for is clearly the common thistle, which symbolizes misanthropy {...} hatred or mistrust of humankind. {...} Common thistle is everywhere.”
Victoria Jones knows flowers. She learned their emotional messages -- the Victorian language of flowers -- at age nine while placed with Elizabeth, a foster mother with whom she finally seemed to fit ... until she didn’t, horribly, and then spent the rest of her childhood in a group home. Now 18 and emancipated from the foster-care system into San Francisco, Victoria is prickly, tenacious; misanthropic. She squanders her months of subsidized housing, stealing plants to create a potted garden in her room and then, just before eviction, transplanting them to create a garden -- and a space to live, homeless -- in her favorite park. But it’s the language of flowers that resonates in Victoria, and in that need to communicate might she find a reality that is the opposite of misanthropy?

Through alternating first-person narratives, each filling in and foreshadowing the other, we watch the 9-year-old and adult Victorias on parallel paths of growth and regression, hope and implosion. Along the way we learn about foster care, florists, love, and the language of flowers -- there’s even an appendix listing hundreds of flowers and the emotional messages they carry. The actions of such a wounded girl are once or twice a bit facile, but it’s a very well-constructed novel with a lovely voice and pace and an enduring resonance.

syyskuu 7, 2011, 2:52 pm

The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites
Hello, my name is Thomas Thwaites, and I have made a toaster.
Well, even Thwaites concedes it’s a stretch to call his bread-warming (at best) thingy a toaster, and a stretch to say he made it from scratch (he quotes Carl Sagan: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”). It took him “nine months, involved travelling nineteen-hundred miles to some of the most remote places in the United Kingdom, {...} through civilisation’s history as well, from the Bronze age to today,” and at a cost 300 times the selling price of a cheap store toaster.

The book originated as documentation of his master’s-degree project at London’s Royal College of Art: “{Could} the technical and scientific expertise assembled by countless people over centuries {be} replicated by me in the nine months that I had available”? He begins by reverse engineering the cheapest toaster he could find (hoping it would also be the simplest) into 157 parts, then pares the materials to steel, mica, plastic, copper, nickel.
I’ll travel to a mine where iron ore is found, collect some ore, somehow extract the iron myself, and then somehow change it into steel. The same for the mica, copper, and nickel. I’ll need to get hold of some crude oil from which to refine the molecules for the plastic case.
Through text and photos and with curiosity, humor, and digressions (into chemistry, geology, and the history of mining, metallurgy and plastics technology), he records his failures and successes -- among them, smelting ore into iron in his mother’s microwave; considering (and wisely re-considering) polymerizing propylene gas into plastic using a pressure cooker bought on eBay; considering plastic bottles from a recycling dump -- after all, geologists are evaluating our time as the beginning of a new epoch (“Anthropocene”) and so a dump is a sort of mine, yes? Through it all, he comes to realize that “a methodology from the sixteenth century is about the level of technology we can manage when we’re working alone.”

Note his toaster, center-right:

Thwaites’ coverage is uneven (his thoroughness and perseverance decrease from the project’s early to late stages) and it feels like a book calls for a bit more flesh than a Master’s document. The final chapter (“Construction”) essentially abandons the toaster in favor of a cautionary essay on the environmental costs of cheap consumerism; it’s not an unwelcome segue, just completely jarring. But I enjoyed Thwaites’ concept and voice so much that I excuse what would be flaws in other books as quibbles here. It’s an exploratory, very fast, very fun read.

syyskuu 7, 2011, 7:35 pm

I think The Toaster Project is going on the wishlist. I saw his TED talk on the subject and found it interesting.

syyskuu 13, 2011, 8:25 pm

County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital is a memoir of David Ansell’s medical training and career at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital from 1978-95.

It’s also a glimpse into patronage politics; healthcare economics; 1910s-era hospital design and operation; and County’s patients and staff. I had been interested to read, in Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns (msg #187 above), that the most migrated-to cities during the African-American Great Migration became America’s most severely and enduring segregated cities; that is reinforced here in Ansell’s characterization of Chicago as “hypersegregated” -- even Blacks with health insurance went to County. I was aware of what a good place the hospital was to be a physician-in-training; until this book, I was less aware of what a sketchy place it was to be a patient. “Can healthcare be separate but equal?” seems an impossible question to be asking still, and Ansell makes the answer obvious.

syyskuu 13, 2011, 8:47 pm

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

A collection of seven essays about the popular culture written and previously published in the early-to-mid-‘90s in Harper’s, Esquire, and scholarly journals. Some are entertainingly observational, some are densely erudite, all are brilliant. Most include DFW’s signature styles of verbosity, footnotes and textual shorthand. There’s analysis of rural life via people gathering at a state fair; of pampered life via guests on a luxury cruise ship; of athletic excellence and sports, specifically tennis. And of film, television and literature, for example “Greatly Exaggerated,” which turned out to be literary criticism on authorial context, a topic on my to-pursue list. (I read the essay twice, at first nearly laughing at its over-the-top-ness in density and assuming it must be satire. But it’s not, and I’m drawn to explore it elsewhere to figure it out.) Though the essays are about pop culture, the setting is clearly DFW’s mind. Maybe he manipulates the reader’s attention toward it, but honestly, it feels gravitational. I have everything else of his still to read, yet I despair because eventually there will be no more.

Two quotes, both from his essay about filmmaker David Lynch (curious selections, since that essay was my least favorite of the collection) -- the first differentiates “art” from “commercial” film:
You could say that a commercial movie doesn’t try to wake people up but rather to make their sleep so comfortable and their dreams so pleasant that they will fork over money to experience it. ... An art film’s point is usually more intellectual or aesthetic, and you usually have to do some interpretive work to get it, so that when you pay to see an art film you’re actually paying to do work.
And the second, a footnote:
(And as an aside, but a true aside, I’ll add that I have had since 1986 a personal rule w/r/t dating, which is that any date where I go to a female’s residence to pick her up and have any kind of conversation with parents or roommates that’s an even remotely Lynchian conversation is automatically the only date I ever have with that female, regardless of her appeal in other areas. And that this rule, developed after seeing Blue Velvet, has served me remarkably well and kept me out of all kinds of hair-raising entanglements and jams, and that friends to whom I’ve promulgated the rule but who have willfully ignored it and have continued dating females with clear elements of Lynchianism* in their characters or associations have done so to their regret.)

* haha, from elsewhere, I also liked the adjective twice appended: “Nixonianly”

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 14, 2011, 11:17 am

216 - nice quotes detail. DFW is well thought of in Le Salon and consequently I have been minded to give him a try. This is another push in that direction.

Have you read any of his fiction?

syyskuu 14, 2011, 3:44 pm

Intriguing review of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I'm curious, in a nutshell, what does he have against David Lynch?

syyskuu 14, 2011, 7:27 pm

zeno, I'm 130 pages into Infinite Jest -- started it with Le Salon last year but the timing didn't fit. I’ve since abandoned any idea of understanding it as I read; I figure what’s meant to build and integrate will do so outside my control. It's physically heavy and I dislike reading at a table but otherwise I'm intrigued and in awe ... even as an introvert facing DFW’s digressive, "noisy" verbosity.

>what does he have against David Lynch?
lisa, I don’t know enough about DFW or Lynch to read between the lines, but DFW does write that he’s a “fanatical Lynch fan from way back” -- Lynch’s work was a life-changing (writer-changing) revelation to him during his MFA. He acknowledges that Lynch’s films are creepy, even sick; that Lynch doesn’t aim for art or commercialism but rather to get inside your head so that what’s in his will be in yours; and that the films’ lack of moral cause/effect makes people uncomfortable, even outraged. /nutshell

Here’s an excerpt from the section that prompted the footnote above (and zeno, another sample for you) -- his definition of “Lynchian”:
...a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.
Ted Bundy wasn’t particularly Lynchian, but good old Jeffrey Dahmer, with his victims’ various anatomies neatly separated and stored in his fridge alongside his chocolate milk and Shedd Spread, was thoroughgoingly Lynchian.
Some guy killing his wife in and of itself doesn’t have much of a Lynchian tang to it, though if it turns out the guy killed his wife over something like a persistent failure to refill the ice-cube tray after taking the last ice cube or an obdurate refusal to buy the particular brand of peanut butter the guy was devoted to, the homicide could be described as having Lynchian elements. And if the guy, sitting over the mutilated corpse of his wife (whose retrograde ‘50s bouffant is, however, weirdly unmussed) with the first cops on the scene as they all wait for the boys from Homicide and the M.E.’s office, begins defending his actions by giving an involved analysis of the comparative merits of Jif and Skippy, and if the beat cops, however repelled by the carnage on the floor, have to admit that the guy’s got a point, that if you’ve developed a sophisticated peanut-butter palate and that palate prefers Jif there’s simply no way Skippy’s going to be anything like an acceptable facsimile, and that a wife who fails repeatedly to grasp the importance of Jif is making some very significant and troubling statements about her empathy for and commitment to the sacrament of marriage as a bond between two bodies, minds, spirits, and palates … you get the idea.
Or we've all seen people assume sudden and grotesque facial expressions -- e.g. like when receiving shocking news, or biting into something that turns out to be foul, or around small kids for no particular reason other than to be weird -- but I've determined that a sudden grotesque facial expression won't qualify as a really Lynchian facial expression unless the expression is held for several moments longer than the circumstances could even possibly warrant, is just held there, fixed and grotesque, until it starts to signify about seventeen different things at once.

syyskuu 14, 2011, 8:02 pm

heh I had a creepy thing happen once and just realized it was Lynchian. I was in my 20s, I'd dated a guy a few times and we were going out that night or the next. I was in the shower, the phone rang (pre-answering machines), and then I listened to it ring ~30 times more. When I found out it had been him, I did a DFW and never saw him again. I still feel a little freaked.

syyskuu 15, 2011, 12:11 am

Fascinating. Thank you for typing in all those quotes, that was so nice. Lynchian is now a new word in my vocabulary. May I never have the opportunity to use it. *shudder*

P.S. I think I'll also avoid David Lynch films...

syyskuu 15, 2011, 3:22 am

>215 detailmuse: Nice review of County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital ; it's on my list of books to read next month, and I may read it next week. I'm very curious to see how Cook County Hospital compares with Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, the big inner city hospital where I spent roughly half of my time in residency. I suspect that the two have similar reputations, as the best places to go if your life is in imminent danger from severe trauma (gunshot wound, motor vehicle accident, stabbing, etc.), but ones you should avoid once you have been stabilized or are less seriously ill.

syyskuu 15, 2011, 11:35 am

...until it starts to signify about seventeen different things at once...

Ok you've sold me on its merits.

220 - how many rings would you have allowed him? Or in other words what was the cut off point between non Lynchian and Lynchian?

syyskuu 15, 2011, 1:33 pm

>222 kidzdoc: Look forward to your comments. I worked in Chicago healthcare and thought County's reputation was great in physician training and great in patient care ... and felt naive, embarrassed, angry to learn (per Ansell anyway) that it was pretty much a hellhole for patients. For so long, it was literally the only option for the poor, and pretty much the only option for Blacks. Even the county's new public hospital ("Stroger") is for patients without options, is Grady different in that way?

syyskuu 15, 2011, 1:41 pm

>223 zenomax: "back then" I think the convention was 6-8 rings, 10-12 would have been the outside ("Lynchian elements"). I remember not taking notice until it hit the usual number of rings, and then I started to count and got to 20-something. That's just messed up.

syyskuu 16, 2011, 3:02 am

Even the county's new public hospital ("Stroger") is for patients without options, is Grady different in that way?

Yes and no. I work in a large children's hospital just outside of Atlanta, and we take care of a large number of patients who have public insurance (Medicaid or PeachCare, Georgia's Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that covers families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but can't afford traditional private insurance), or no insurance at all. We don't turn anyone away, including patients who are known or later found to be illegal immigrants. And, we recently took over operations of the children's hospital that was affiliated with Grady, so our system's three hospitals provide the only inpatient pediatric care in the city.

I'm not completely certain of this, but I would suspect that inpatient care and outpatient services for adults with public or no insurance, or those who are here illegally, is limited to the public hospitals in metro Atlanta. The plight of 20 or more Atlanta area illegal immigrants who are dependent on hemodialysis for chronic renal failure has made national headlines over the past year, including an article in last week's New York Times announcing that an agreement had been made between Grady and a provider of dialysis care:

Deal Reached on Dialysis for Immigrants

These adults were only able to receive care at Grady, which wanted to stop treating them, in a measure to cut costs (Grady had been operating deeply in the red for years, until a new COO instituted badly needed reforms that saved it from the brink of collapse).

Some poorer residents of Atlanta continue to use Grady, even though they have private insurance, as they were born at Grady ("Grady babies"), and have a sense of loyalty toward the hospital. However, these patients are far outweighed by those who have no other place to receive care.

syyskuu 16, 2011, 9:41 am

The dialysis story is so scary. We need to straighten out our health care problems soon, otherwise it won't only be the uninsured illegal aliens who suffer from lack of care. But I guess that's true already.

syyskuu 16, 2011, 11:10 am

I'm growing pessimistic about this. Did you watch the audience in attendance at the recent Republican debate? They cheered the idea of letting people die in the street if they didn't have health insurance and they booed the policy of allowing the children of illegal immigrants, who had lived their entire lives in Texas, to receive in-state tuition. A significant number of Americans seem to have lost their compassion, and even their humanity.

I'd better go back to being outraged over this year's Booker shortlist before my head explodes.

syyskuu 16, 2011, 1:04 pm

Great stuff on David Foster Wallace, I am reading the posts with much interest. Infinite Jest is a must read, but there is no way I am gonna get to it soon and so in the meantime I will be following your thread. Can you read Infinite Jest by osmosis do you think?

syyskuu 16, 2011, 1:19 pm

#229 - Bas, I think it would still at least a month, even that way. Worth it though.

DM - Very excited to hear you're reading IJ. I have some links to share with you when you get to the end (you can find them in the Infinite Jesters group).

syyskuu 16, 2011, 1:53 pm

I'm not going to read DFW--I so don't like his style--so I love it when LT-ers give me good quotes to muse over. When I hear David Lynch, I immediately think Mulholland Drive (or however that's spelled). I don't remember directors' names, but that was the creepiest, weirdest, but still good movie I've ever seen. Shuddering as I think about it.

syyskuu 17, 2011, 12:33 pm

My head too, exploding. And pessimistic too -- of individuals, businesses and government. ack, is that misogynistic?

bas, reading DFW almost feels like osmosis, each sentence seeping in with an aha! or haha! and then circulating into something bigger in the subconscious.

syyskuu 17, 2011, 5:53 pm

misogynistic er, misanthropic. I can’t even blame it on auto-correct.

syyskuu 19, 2011, 5:51 am

syyskuu 20, 2011, 9:10 am

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Newbery Medal-winning children’s novella set in 1943 Denmark during the relocation of Jews. Food shortages, Nazi soldiers commanding 10-year-old best-girlfriends to “Halte!”, members of the Resistance and (extra)ordinary citizens. It’s a salve for pessimism.

syyskuu 30, 2011, 10:08 am

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I read this young-adult novel about date rape, high-school alienation and depression in recognition of Banned Books Week (ends tomorrow). Teens will love the realistic, first-person, present-tense teen voice; adults will support the excellent message against keeping traumas a secret.

The most powerful takeaways were from a Q&A with the author, who on book tour was shocked, over and over, by guys' sincere confusion about “why Melinda was so upset about being raped” and by adults who thought the topics inappropriate for teens despite “44 percent of rape victims {being} under the age of 18.”

lokakuu 1, 2011, 12:23 pm

I can't remember the exact percentages, but a large majority of college boys in one study I read didn't think it was rape to have sex with a girl who was drunk and had "blacked out" (or whatever one calls it). I remember a guy I met in college (who also happened to be a police officer) said a girl who was being raped should just lie back and enjoy it. Obviously I said, "No!" when asked for a date with him.

lokakuu 1, 2011, 2:50 pm

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You by Eli Pariser
If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.
Attributed to a commenter on the Internet and oft-quoted by LT’s Tim Spaulding, that line lays the foundation of half of this book (thematic half, not structural): that virtually every website you visit collects, compiles and integrates your personal data and then uses or sells it for commercial purpose. Google and Facebook are particularly vilified: Google captures your searches and result-link clicks; Facebook doesn’t have to capture data, users provide it voluminously.

The other half of the book is the stuff of the title -- that the Internet increasingly tailors itself to you, creating an online space that is your own little filtered bubble. Used to be, you could Google something and tell someone to click the third link on the first page -- those “Page rankings” (named after Google’s Larry Page) having been based on what was most relevant to the whole of Internet users. But since 2009, Google searches are individualized and ranked according to what’s most relevant to you, i.e. what you’re most likely to click on. Google yourself and you won’t get the results I get for you. Google a controversial topic and you’ll get results in line with what you already know; same with the prioritization of your Facebook feeds. Online (and increasingly offline), you are what you click on the web; you are what you share there or link to … did you know that your “real life” credit-worthiness is affected by the credit-worthiness of your Facebook friends?

Pariser acknowledges that media has always been filtered (network news and newspapers) and that at least with the Internet, you can go find what you don’t know … as long as you know you don’t know it; stumbling on “unknown unknowns” is harder. But he rails against the lack of transparency in data collection and cautions that Internet filtering puts techies in charge of the dialogue and discourse that create society. That reminds me of Edward Tufte’s caution in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information: “Allowing artist-illustrators to control the design and content of statistical graphics is almost like allowing typographers to control the content, style, and editing of prose.”

If I recall correctly (I listened via audiobook), Pariser suggests there is little solution other than regulation; he offers a couple suggestions to mitigate, for example setting your web browser to delete cookies/history each time it closes.

The book is revelatory. It or another book on the topic is required reading for every person who goes online.

lokakuu 1, 2011, 5:30 pm

#238 This is food for thought. Should I be worried ? Perhaps I had better read the book. At the end of the day most of us are bombarded by so much advertising of an indiscriminate kind, that advertising tailored to my on-line activity seems almost a positive.

lokakuu 1, 2011, 6:21 pm

bas -
Worried? Maybe.
Aware? Absolutely. More than ads, it’s information that’s being filtered.
Here’s the interview with the author that got me interested.

lokakuu 1, 2011, 6:24 pm

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

On a road trip last week, I listened to this memoir about a childhood among Old-Hollywood Royalty and an adulthood of more celebrity, addiction, bipolar disease … and living down having been Princess Leia. Read by the author, whose voice is annoyingly whiney and engagingly ballsy, it’s a short, light book that made the miles fly.

lokakuu 2, 2011, 11:08 am

Thanks for that excellent and useful review of The Filter Bubble; onto the wish list it goes.

lokakuu 3, 2011, 2:59 pm

The Filter Bubble sounds extremely relevant. Great review!

lokakuu 4, 2011, 8:39 am

#238 - very interesting. Your review (of The Filter Bubble) makes me feel like I need to find a search engine that doesn't give individualized searches and compare to google.
#241 - didn't know this (Wishful Drinking) existed. I'm so curious, on the wishlist.

lokakuu 4, 2011, 9:25 am

Carrie Fisher used the same title (and probably the same material) for a very funny autobiographical stage show that I saw last year.

lokakuu 4, 2011, 9:37 am

Thanks all. Pariser also writes that online anonymity is on its way out -- data integration is now connecting online usernames with real-life names and will likely become able to automatically attach names to unidentified photos.

>245 ffortsa: yes I think one came from the other. It was good to listen on audio, I loved when she took on her mother's voice.

lokakuu 12, 2011, 9:51 am

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

Flinn, a graduate of Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, was concerned: over the two generations since World War II, home cooks had grown dependent on the food industry’s offerings of processed foods, and despite their desire now to follow advice like Michael Pollan’s “eat things your grandmother would recognize as food,” they had grown utterly unfamiliar with whole foods and the techniques and utensils (especially knives) needed to prepare them. She declares, “Recipe writers don’t use certain words anymore, like braise. Instead, they write, ‘Cover and simmer in the oven,’ because people don’t know what braise means.” Food television has largely turned into entertainment -- a spectator sport -- versus the instruction of Julia Child’s day. And home cooks don’t know the reality of today’s media -- “that there is so much pressure to make recipes short that food writers have to cut out steps or ingredients to make them look simpler {or ...} less expensive”; they’ve thus lost their confidence, blaming themselves when magazine recipes fail, whereas when they “make stuff from a box, it always turns out right.”

So when Flinn happened upon an episode of TV’s What Not to Wear, she had the idea to adapt its makeovers of the fashion-clueless to a cooking project: recruit a group of struggling home cooks; observe their kitchens and meal preparations; offer hands-on instruction and coaching; and re-observe. This book documents that project in a way that gives readers helpful takeaways just as What Not to Wear benefits its viewers.

Following Flinn's earlier memoir about learning to cook (The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, which I have not read), this book is about her teaching others to cook: how to stock a pantry; how to hold and use a knife; how to taste, including comparative tastings and suggested seasonings; how to bake simple bread and prepare eggs, whole chickens, fish and meats. She writes well and accessibly, describing techniques in the preparation of a couple-dozen recipes. (Still, it was helpful to watch the video clips on her YouTube page.) She does digress into a couple memoir-ish chapters about teaching culinary techniques on a cruise ship and at dinner parties; these seem self-indulgent and out of place. Otherwise, Flinn is supportive, entertaining and informative; she inspires a respect for food and a desire to jump in. Her basic eggs, no-knead artisanal bread, and fish en papillote are easy essentials. Recommended for beginning -- and middling :) -- home cooks.

lokakuu 12, 2011, 12:57 pm

Sounds like just what I need. I think I've forgotten how to turn on the oven.

lokakuu 12, 2011, 4:49 pm

Good review of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Its a field that is getting over crowded with books. I can't believe people don't know how to cook - it's pretty essential really.

lokakuu 13, 2011, 12:06 pm

Much more than cooks, Americans seem to be meal-assemblers (or even food-warmers) of processed foods. It might have been through Flinn's book that I became aware of Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America, which delves into the origins and marketing of processed (convenience) food, and which is on its way to me now.

lokakuu 28, 2011, 3:13 pm

Ruin: Photographs of a Vanishing America, by architectural photographer Brian Vanden Brink, captures an "American pattern of leaving": settling a space, then abandoning it, then allowing nature to reclaim. I was struck by the lighting in some of the early photographs (of abandoned houses, factories, mills and malls, mostly in the rural South and East, taken in the 1990s and 2000s) but the compositions grew more repetitive than I've noticed in similar collections. I was happy to run into Howard Mansfield again in the Introduction (I’d read his Turn and Jump last year), whose earnestness about preservation captures me.

lokakuu 28, 2011, 3:14 pm

Bossypants is Tina Fey’s memoir of growing up (“how to raise an achievement-oriented, drug-free, adult virgin”), being a nerd, being a woman. It’s about writing comedy, being the boss, being Sarah Palin -- all with inside looks at Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. I listened on audio (read very fast by the author) -- clever, funny, I would listen again or maybe even read it, so as to be able to savor passages. I liked Tina Fey well enough before but I might be a fan now.

lokakuu 28, 2011, 3:23 pm

In One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, nine people are trapped in an Indian passport office somewhere in the U.S. after an earthquake. To distract themselves while they await rescue or death, they each tell a story from their lives.

I’m a big fan of CBS correspondent Steve Hartman, especially his “everybody has a story” segments years ago where he’d pick a random spot on a map or globe, travel there and open a local phone book, then blindly choose a name … and during a cold interview he’d invariably discover an amazing backstory.

So I’m onboard with the "amazing" nature of the stories in this short novel -- terrific, engaging explorations. I did find the premise (earthquake/survival/strangers-confiding) weaker, and that Divakaruni tends to leave her endings (of the stories and the novel) unfinished. But I’d read more by her.

lokakuu 28, 2011, 3:26 pm

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2012 (link; no touchstone for recent editions)

Speaking of “amazing,” I’ve seen lots of travel guidebooks but never one this helpful! It’s not for armchair travel; it’s nuts-and-bolts practical for planning and conducting an actual trip -- and then submitting feedback, which apparently a huge number of people do, and which is incorporated into future editions and makes the ratings extremely reliable. Contains an enormous amount of information, in useable form -- logistics; extensive descriptions of attractions, hotels and restaurants; comparison charts; tips. Best known for (very Type A) “touring plans” that minimize waiting in lines at Disney attractions. Contains maps but no photos. Printed on good-quality paper that makes a surprisingly lightweight 850-page book. There’s a 100% chance I’ll seek out another book in The Unofficial Guide series.

marraskuu 8, 2011, 8:52 am

The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs is a “crowd-sourced” book, the content coming from recipes submitted for weekly contests over the course of a year on the authors’ Food52 blog and judged best by readers of the blog.

The 140 winning recipes (two each week, plus extra “wild card” winners chosen by the authors) are presented seasonally, each introduced with a description of the dish and comments about why it won, followed by ingredients and preparation instructions; a full-color photo of the finished dish (those are Zucchini/Potato Pancakes on the cover) and sometimes extra photos that show interim steps or are just "art-y"; number of servings (but no nutritional information); a short bio of the winning contributor; and comments from the Food52 community. It concludes with two somewhat useful Indexes -- one organized seasonally by meal/type of food (e.g. Breakfast Dishes, Weeknight Suppers, Dinner Party Menus) and the other alphabetic by ingredient.

The book’s Introduction (“{H}ome cooks are both practical and inventive, and these qualities tend to lead to great recipes”) and subtitle (“140 winning recipes from exceptional home cooks”) combine to imply that this is a book of home cooking by home cooks. The reality is that the majority of recipes are from chefs, recipe developers, food writers and food bloggers. And while the techniques aren’t necessarily difficult nor the ingredients eccentric, the recipes tend more toward home-gourmet than everyday-home.

That said, it’s a visually lovely collection of exceptional recipes, presented with enthusiasm and positivity. “Daddy’s Carbonara” and “Sweet and Spicy Horseradish Dressing” are delicious, and I’m looking forward to numerous others, including three lemon recipes: a tart; a posset (like a custard); and cream-cheese/blueberry pancakes. I don’t know when I’m going to tackle “Norma’s Eggnog” (serves 30 and seems a heart-attack-in-a-glass) but until I do, reading the recipe and gazing at the photo is satisfying in itself.

marraskuu 8, 2011, 9:14 am

Alinea by Grant Achatz

Grant Achatz was a wunderkind-chef, now in his late thirties, and Alinea presents his debut restaurant, opened in Chicago in 2005 and now regarded one of the world’s best.

Alinea seats a mere 64 diners for its nightly tasting menu of “upward of 28 courses” -- some of which are a single bite and most of which are more likely to be plated using tweezers than tongs. It’s “molecular gastronomy,” which I’d associated with manufacturers’ artificially processed food-like substances, but which actually is just playing with the physical and chemical properties of food. Achatz focuses on a food’s flavor, then creates interest (and usually surprise) by manipulating its appearance, texture and temperature -- for example, reducing lettuces to an intensely flavored liquid that is frozen and served as a sort of sorbet and topped with a salad dressing that has been similarly transformed.

Like diners who enter his restaurant through a monochromatic hallway, so too readers open the black-and-white cover of this oversized, overweight coffee-table book and find themselves transported, Wizard-of-Oz style, into hundreds of stunning color photographs (see some in the restaurant’s gallery). The book opens with 50 pages of terrific get-acquainted essays about Achatz and Alinea, followed by 350 pages of recipes and detailed procedures for preparing the approximately 100 dishes from four seasonal tasting menus. It’s armchair reading, or kitchen-table reading -- but only to rest the book on the table, not because you’re going to prepare many (any) of the recipes. I would have liked Achatz to deconstruct a menu thematically, but perhaps theme, more than technique, is his trade secret.

I came to this book simultaneously impressed by Achatz’s originality and derisive of most culinary over-the-topness. I come away in awed respect and with a real desire to find the $400+ per-person for a proper evening at Alinea the restaurant. Meanwhile, Alinea the book exceeds 5 stars.

P.S. What’s the most ironic disease for a chef who puts flavor first? Take a look at his New Yorker profile.

marraskuu 8, 2011, 10:22 am

The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks

I have friends who laugh themselves silly at James Lileks’s blog, so after all these beautiful books on cooking I decided it was time to cleanse my palate. His food book* is a collection of photographs from 1950s-60s special-interest cookbooks and recipe pamphlets, annotated with his hilarious commentary. A dozen photos in, some aspic-y molded thing with a seeming spinal column turned the switch for me, and what I’ll remember most from this book is discovering how very similar gagging and giggling feel.

*sadly, published on 9/11/2001; happily, still in print ten years later

joulukuu 6, 2011, 6:01 pm

A long hiatus here. I’m in a writing project (which redirects my words) and then my mother died (which redirects everything). I’ll catch up with some comments about my recent reading, but first my quest for a comfort read --


Range of Motion by Elizabeth Berg, about a woman’s hope that her husband, in a coma following a head injury, will awaken. Too soft.

The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis, on the purpose of pain and suffering. Too philosophical.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion, on the loss of her daughter and her own fear of aging. Exactly right.

joulukuu 6, 2011, 8:26 pm

I'm so sorry to hear about your mother's passing. Are you doing okay? {hugs}

P.S. I listened to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate with my daughter and loved it. The audio version worked for me.

joulukuu 7, 2011, 9:01 am

I'm so sorry to hear about your loss, MJ, please accept my deepest sympathy.

joulukuu 7, 2011, 9:21 am

MJ, how sad. I'm really sorry to hear about your mother.

joulukuu 7, 2011, 9:55 am

Well this is comfort reading, thank you. A really long, really good life for Mom; a long time to enjoy it with her for me, born (relatively) late in her life. Lisa I love the mother-daughter reference in your post. (I liked the audio version also, though the reader's sharp ssssssssssss's got to me.)

joulukuu 7, 2011, 6:10 pm

Oh, so sorry to hear of your loss. But it is a good thing to remember a long, good life, one that was enjoyed by her and by you.

joulukuu 9, 2011, 8:44 pm

Hi Judy, thank you so much.

joulukuu 10, 2011, 9:28 am

Some nonfiction:


A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents -- and Ourselves by Jane Gross -- part memoir, part instruction manual, part expose on eldercare and financing, it’s an excellent documentary on the most common path to death: aging into frailty and dementia; see my review.

My Own Country by Abraham Verghese -- fascinating, moving memoir of a doctor treating (actually, devoting his life to) early AIDS patients in small-town Tennessee. A startling reminder of how much more closeted gays were in the late 1980s and how much a death sentence AIDS was then. The last hundred pages are just sad with loss, which is exactly how it was.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel -- deep, graphic-format memoir of a lesbian’s complicated coming-of-age with regard to herself and her distant, gay, probable-pedophile and probable-suicidal father. Includes many references to authors and characters from literature and myth; Bechdel explains their relevance but I look forward to familiarizing myself with them and then a reread with added nuance.

joulukuu 10, 2011, 10:19 am

Some fiction:


A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway -- classic novel about an American in the Italian army during WWI and the British nurse he loves. Includes a wonderful opening description of setting and a riveting final 20 pages, and I often thought of Steinbeck and Raymond Carver while reading. But Hemingway is far more spare and ambiguous (apparently intentionally so, to avoid charges of indecency and still the book suffered bans) -- too much so for me (“inane” came to mind on much of the dialogue). I have A Moveable Feast still to read and look forward to discovering Hemingway’s voice in memoir.

The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick -- a short story set during the Holocaust and a linked novella set in Florida decades later. Explores trauma by examining it in a moment and then its enduring effect. I listened on audio (nicely read with an evocative accent by Yelena Shmulenson) and would like to reread it in print.

Secret Letters from 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern, translated from the French by Gill Rosner -- about 10-year-old Ernest who lives a cautious, gray life with his grandmother … until he meets Victoria who, with her parents and 13 brothers, lives in vivid Technicolor. Sweet, engaging, somewhat convenient and slight.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder -- the story of the Ingalls’s move by covered wagon in the 1870s from Wisconsin to the Kansas prairie and their first year there. I read one or two volumes from this series as a kid but learned some things now about Indians, animals and why cowboys wear neckerchiefs. Makes me hungry for something by Willa Cather.

joulukuu 10, 2011, 12:53 pm

Lots of good stuff, MJ. I've added My Own Country to my TBR pile. I found Cutting for Stone very interesting, both his life in Ethiopia as a member of an extended community and his feelings about being a surgeon. I remain forever untouched by Ernest Hemingway. I seem to have an aversion to a certain period of American literature. Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Cather are meh; Faulkner is so-so, and Steinbeck the best of the lot. I guess American lit in general has never been my thing. I read The Shawl relatively recently and enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm intrigued by your comment: nicely read with an evocative accent by Yelena Shmulenson. I may have to look for the download at my library. Secret Letters sounds it might be a good book for my daughter and I to listen to. She and I have been through the Little House books many times, as I did in my childhood. there's just something about them. And the audio, read by Cherry Jones, is fantastic.

joulukuu 10, 2011, 10:33 pm

A fine list of books. I was struck by your review of A Bittersweet Season, something I've never really thought about before, at least not enough.

joulukuu 20, 2011, 2:30 pm

dan, she writes that parents tend to take care of each other; adult children don't typically enter caregiving until after one parent dies and the remaining parent declines. btw I cannot imagine what eldercare is going to look like in 20-30 years. (Well I can, and it's Michael Crichton material.)

joulukuu 20, 2011, 2:43 pm

lisa, I'm confident you'll like My Own Country -- Verghese writes about extended community and medicine there too, especially being Indian in small-town Tennessee and being an Infectious Diseases specialist (not prestigious nor lucrative) in contact with the equivalent of modern-day lepers.

You seem interested in the process of writing, have you read Steinbeck's journals alongside his novels? I did so with East of Eden and Journal of a Novel -- his letters to his editor about his process and progress -- and will do so again with The Grapes of Wrath and Working Days.

joulukuu 21, 2011, 12:33 am

That's a great idea to read Steinbeck's journals alongside the novels. Thanks for the tip!

joulukuu 27, 2011, 2:27 pm

Some humor:


Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible 70s by James Lileks -- a follow-up to The Gallery of Regrettable Food (#257 above), this anti-homage is a funny photographic look back at 1970s interior decorating. Looking at some of the pages felt like (as the author annotates one photo) “the visual equivalent of granulated glass in your eyes.”

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher -- a memoir (read on audiobook by the author) cobbled of disparate topics, the predominate ones being electroconvulsive therapy (the experience and after-effects, which Fisher deems infinitely more tolerable than the alternative, suicide); a dinner date with Senators Chris Dodd and an assholic Ted Kennedy; and Fisher’s father, Eddie -- her longing for this absent father and, after finally developing a relationship, her mourning following his death. Some smiles, but this follow-up is more melancholy and much more self-indulgent than Wishful Drinking.

Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch -- not actually funny at all, Lynch’s introspective memoir is of growing up, coming out, and making a successful acting career and family. I first noticed her as the pathologist with Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, I became a fan with Best in Show, and looked forward to her scenes as the therapist on Two and a Half Men. I may eventually catch up on Glee DVDs to see her. I listened here on audio, where Lynch pleasantly reads what is very straightforward writing.

What I Hate from A to Z by Roz Chast -- instead of counting sheep, cartoonist Roz Chast’s fall-asleep technique is to “pick a category with which you are at least slightly familiar and try to list one thing per letter in alphabetical order.”

Rather than “hates” as the title implies, here Chast picks “anxieties” -- a category with which she’s proven familiar :) -- and presents a full-page cartoon and a bit of explanatory text for each letter of the alphabet. Alas, the anxieties she presents are also quite familiar rather than her trademark quirky. And the text generally detracts, this from R for Rabies being the exception:
My rabies fear started with To Kill a Mockingbird, the same way my appendicitis fear started with Madeline, and my brain tumor fear started with Death Be Not Proud. On an ideal planet, children’s books wouldn’t be censored for references to sex, but for illnesses.
It’s cute for a quick read (and better when I re-read, avoiding the text), but it felt rushed-together and I kept wishing the cartoons were in color not black-and-white. More highly recommended is The Pop-up Book of Phobias.

Further Interpretations of Real-life Events by Kevin Moffett (no cover photo and, uh oh, it looks like the book has been postponed from a January 2012 release) -- a collection of nine short stories -- “pedigreed” stories you might say, since eight of them were previously published in literary journals like McSweeney’s, Tin House, and Harvard Review, and two of those were selected for volumes of The Best American Short Stories series.

They're quietly funny, mostly accessible but sometimes confounding, and often melancholy but in a comforting way that says we get through difficult times. I enjoyed the originality in premise or voice in most of the stories, especially the title story about a young writer, his writing mentor, and his father who in retirement "began writing trueish stories about fathers and sons"; and another that opens when an architecture student, on board a plane awaiting takeoff to Italy, receives a text that the terminally ill father he just visited has died ... the tension builds beautifully as he hesitates, deciding whether to go back or go on.

I gave up on one (curiously, the only unpublished) story and skimmed another. But I'll look for more by Kevin Moffett.

joulukuu 27, 2011, 2:37 pm

The End of Overeating by David Kessler

An expose on the food industry: how sugar, fat, salt, flavor and texture are deliberately and repeatedly layered, one upon another, to create hyper-palatable foods that stimulate appetite rather than satisfying it. People's resulting "conditioned hyper-eating" is compared to alcoholism, and Kessler provides suggestions for "food rehab" (basically: cognitive-behavioral tips to avoid hyper-palatable foods).

Good information but poorly written, including choppiness and extreme repetition (which made me set it aside for over two years), and very little science.

joulukuu 28, 2011, 10:02 am

95 books, that's pretty much it for the year. I may finish another one or two of meh-ish rating and add them to the list in msg#1 above. I'll be back with some stats and my top reads of the year, which will give some direction to my reading next year. What I know already is that I'm interested in more immersion -- some of the long books from my TBRs (defined as over 500pp, but I may lower that to 400pp).

joulukuu 30, 2011, 5:31 pm

Quite a range of types in that list. I'm noticing Infinite Jest.

joulukuu 30, 2011, 8:06 pm

Me too! I'm especially interested in ten of them, I'll post the list when I start a 2012 thread. Maybe I'll move them together on a shelf. Infinite Jest is definitely sparkling among them.

tammikuu 2, 2012, 1:29 pm

2011 Recap

Total books finished: 96

Fiction: 35
Nonfiction: 58
Other (poetry, mixed): 3

Female authors: 49
Male authors: 39
Mixed: 8
Authors new-to-me: 69
Authors with more than one book in my 2011 reads: Jo Ann Beard (2), Carrie Fisher (2), James Lileks (2), Keiji Nakazawa (3)

Date acquired
1980s: 2
1990s: 3
2000s: 12
2010s: 79

Original publication date
1800s: 1
1920s: 2
1930s: 1
1970s: 5
1980s: 3
1990s: 11
2000s: 25
2010s: 48

Notable tags:
Audiobook: 11 (more convenient but more difficult for me than reading)
{From}Library: 27 (many expensive illustrated books)
History or historical fiction: 26 (a goal, see below)
Humor: 14 (yay!)
Illustrated: 33 (a pleasure)
LT Inspired: 20 (and that’s while trying to resist inspiration :)
Novella: 7 (in 2012, it’s tomes)
Translated: 10 (an unwritten goal)
Workplace: 7 (my favorite setting)

5-star -- (6 books) ******
4.5 -- (10) **********
4 -- (31) *******************************
3.5 -- (26) **************************
3 -- (17) *****************
2.5 -- (3) ***
2 -- (2) **
1.5 -- (1) *
1 -- (0)
0.5 -- (0)
77% are 3- to 4-star (okay to good), which exactly describes my reading year. Next year, I want better.

From my opening to this thread:
“In 2011, I want to read a little more history
--success! read 26 books of history/historical fiction--
and a few more classics,
--marginal, with 4--
to pull predominately from my TBRs,
--success! read 38 of 40 I’d set as goal and decreased my TBRs from 291 to 263--
and to log other (non-book) reading.”
--fail, but I'm going at it again in 2012--

tammikuu 2, 2012, 1:39 pm

2011 Top 10

One novel:
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver -- the fictional biography of a family whose teen son carries out a school shooting; fascinating, disturbing, outstanding.

And nine nonfiction, in alphabetical order:
Alinea by Grant Achatz -- a tour of molecular gastronomy and a phenomenal restaurant; exceeds 5 stars

A Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross -- part memoir, part instruction manual, part expose on eldercare and financing

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace -- mix of entertaining and erudite 1990s essays on the popular culture

Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz -- exploration of why we err and how we feel about being wrong

Blood Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton -- memoir of a woman’s path to chef/restaurateur and writer

The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard -- collection of coming-of-age personal essays, where growing up is as likely to occur at thirty as at thirteen or three.

My Own Country by Abraham Verghese – memoir of a doctor treating early AIDS patients in small-town Tennessee

Radioactive by Lauren Redniss -- nonfiction vignettes that form a biography of Marie Curie and of radiation itself; generously illustrated with art created by “cyanotype printing” that evokes a sense of radiation

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand -- biography of Louis Zamperini: juvenile near-delinquent, Olympic runner, WWII prisoner of war, inspiring human

Honorable mentions:
-- for most comforting: Blue Nights by Joan Didion -- about the death of her daughter and her own aging
-- for most importantly informative: The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser -- how personal data is collected on the Internet and used to filter (i.e. include and exclude) what you then see on the Internet
-- for most interesting: Bomboozled by Susan Roy -- an illustrated history of cold-war fallout shelters in private homes
-- for most fun: Bossypants by Tina Fey, read very fast on audiobook by the author
-- for most purgative: Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, read on audiobook by Samuel L. Jackson
-- for best literary journal: the semiannual Bellevue Literary Review -- poems, essays and short stories about wellness, illness and caregiving

tammikuu 2, 2012, 1:41 pm

On to 2012 -- please join me!