Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Aaaaaaaand we're back to a book that I thought was OK, but felt was WAY too long - about twice as long as it should have been, in my opinion. I think there are two reasons for this trend: 1) a longer book just feels more important and serious to many people and 2) publishing companies can justify higher book prices. In any case, though, it gives me reading fatigue and makes me start questioning the point of the book in general, and the point of the details in particular. It seemed like so much of this book was repetitive, and there were so many details that didn't matter.

It all reminded me of this quote from Chekhov:

"Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

This book was like an enormous armory filled with minutely described armaments, none of which go off at any point.

Overall assessment: there are a lot of far better books if you're looking for books about World War II.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Neon Bible - John Kennedy Toole

Let's just cut to the chase - I really loved this book. It was a good story, well told, without the ridiculous "figurative language" that contemporary "literary fiction" is crammed full of. And what do you know, it wasn't overlong, either! What a shame it is that this author didn't live to see the fame and fortune he so richly deserved. I suspect that if he had been around in our era, he would be considered a genius. But then again, who knows; his writing is good and not pretentious, so maybe he would be overlooked by the "critics." 

I really need to stop overusing the "ironic quotes" thing. 

If you'd like to read my glowing review of the author's only published book, that can be found here. Maybe I'll get myself a copy of that book as a holiday gift this year (I had read it from a used Library Sale copy that I donated back because it wasn't in perfect condition). It would provide a wonderful antidote to what passes for prize-worthy writing in this day and age. 

Highly recommended. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Martian - Andy Weir

This book was enjoyable overall but at times it got a wee bit too scientific for my literature/languages brain. I liked how the author wove the overall story together. On the down side, I feel like it was just a little too long. I have no idea what could have been cut or shortened, but after a while I really just wanted to get to the end. So this is yet another mixed-feelings book. And if you're keeping score, this is yet another example of why I avoid things that are popular.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

Quick explanation time: You may have noticed that I am not a person who keeps their eye on and follows the latest, greatest, most popular things (whether they are books, clothes, music, accessories, etc.). I think I am reasonably aware of pop culture and etc., but I don't go out of my way to consume it. This is for many reasons: fads are short-lived, I'm too old to have crushes on 19 year old singers, etc. Another reason is that I just don't often like things that happen to be popular. Having said all that, I will say that there are times when things in pop culture seem to come around so often I finally get tired of hearing about them and I cave in and partake out of curiosity or whatever (this is true mainly of books).

This book falls under this category. For a while there, it was all over the book blogosphere and it seemed to get good reviews. I resisted it and resisted it and then finally decided I should just check it out and see what all the fuss was about.

I am happy to say I'm glad I did - this book was a charming, funny, and fast read that I enjoyed in a matter of hours. The narrator's voice worked well for me and I liked "seeing" the events through his eyes. Nice and light and a perfect weekday read.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers

Honestly, I don't know where to start with this book.

Would it help to write the review interview-style? 

Actually, maybe it would. Let's try it.

OK. So how did you come by this book? 

This is one of those books I feel like I have seen mentioned around a lot, but I knew nothing about it. So normally I shy away from these books; I mean, who, who, should, like, read all these so-called "popular" books, like, should I read it ironically? If I read it, does that make me a poseur? Am I just another sheep-like book blogger, tap-tap-tapping out my little words about the same half-dozen "buzz books," which I buy because, you know, they're so famous and talked about? Does it matter? When I was in third grade I had this teacher, we'll call her Mrs. Smith, although of course (of course!) her real name was different, and Mrs. Smith was one of those old battle-ax teachers who was like somewhere between 85 and like 10,000 years old, and she hated me, HATED me, and would have me leave the classroom and stand in the hall as punishment for any perceived infraction.

That sounds like it was hard, but what does it have to do with--

What does it have to do with this book? I don't know, what does anything have to do with this book? I always talk about the Library Sale shelves, and how much I love to find 50 cent paperbacks there, but then sometimes I get so wrapped up in wondering how these cast-off books, these castaways, these unwanted items, how they ended up on those shelves, and how their value has been lost --

-- lost --

how in the act of being given away (note to self: buy a thesaurus) they lose all value, all sense of self. So this book, this paperback, this culmination of the apex of the concatenation of the phalanges of one person, one soul, one singularity, and the synergy of the synthesis of the keyboard, and the act of...

Are you alright? You seem kind of all over the place.

I lost my train of thought, what was I saying? Oh yeah, so I knew nothing about this book but after reading it once again I am struck by an author's unreal privilege. I realize that this book was written in the past, the not-so-distant but distant-enough past, so it's hazy and all but not too far behind us, and now, as a reader in this post-post-modern, post-Tumblr world, we perceive privilege and racism differently. So like the whole unbelievably racist scene on the beach, is, like, not mentioned anywhere in any reviews I can see, but it knocked me back, made me wonder, is this what passes for Pulitzer Prize-worthy writing? There are these trees near my house that produce these beautiful blossoms each spring, and sometimes the blossoms don't necessarily change to leaves or fall off or whatever they're supposed to do, so come August you have these trees that have some kind of stubborn blossoms on them next to the leaves, and I wonder, is that a problem? Someone should call a botanist or something.

So you got this book for 50 cents and part of it was racist. Anything else? 

Am I allowed to think part of this book was horribly racist as long as it was a small part? Should I overlook it? Chalk it up to grief? What is a reader to do? Is it OK that there were a few parts that made me laugh? (Not the racist part) Does that make me a bad person? Is it wrong that I think Prince Charles Nelson Reilly is a great name for a band? Now am I a poseur? I'm so tired.

Sounds like you need a rest. 

I do. I really do.


TL/DR: it's neither


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August - This Month in Reading

At the end of July, my goals were:

-Clear up the NetGalley books I need to read/review
-Do 1 foreign language book
-Do 1 reread

Did I manage this? If you consider 1.5 out of 3 a success, I did - but I am not happy with my progress. I still have 1 review book that needs reading, and I never managed the foreign language book (sigh). On the plus side, I managed a re-read and a review book and got some other books from the TBR pile read.

OK, playtime is over. For September, I need to clear up my review book ASAP. So that's my goal. I will also try to work on challenge reading but the review book must get read. I should do an end-of-summer challenge recap but frankly I am feeling tired and lazy right now so I'll do a quarterly wrap-up at the end of September instead.

What are your goals for Fall/Autumn reading?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to YouTube - Trav. S.D.

Finally managed to read this wonderful book, a history of silent comedy perfectly described in its subtitle. I was always interested in silent movies, since they were made during the late 19th/early 20th century and I love the entertainment of that era, but to be honest, they are difficult to appreciate fully on a smaller (TV) screen at times. In the last few years have I been able to experience silent films on local "big screens" with live musical accompaniment, which is fabulous. The artistry of the best of these silent comedians is timeless and I have found myself captivated by such greats as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe Arbuckle, etc. etc. If you are at all a fan of slapstick/silent comedy in general and these comedians in particular, this book is a wonderful resource as a history of their filmmaking and a history of slapstick comedy. Having seen many Keaton, Lloyd, and Chaplin films relatively recently, I was able to picture many of the specific scenes the author describes and that really added to my enjoyment.

Trav S.D. also wrote the terrific vaudeville overview No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book that Made Vaudeville Famous (which I thought I had reread and reviewed on this blog, but I haven't [yet]; to sum up, it's a great book and you should read it immediately). He knows his stuff and is a great researcher, as well as an engaging writer. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets - Luke Dittrich

FTC Compliance Statement: I received a free, time-limited electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via in exchange for my honest review, which is provided below. I have not been otherwise compensated for this review in any way and my opinion is my own. 

This non-fiction book reminded me of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, in that both books examine the life of a person who became a source of medical knowledge in a way that may or may not have happened with their consent. Both books also explore what it means to be someone who can give consent, and the role of medical personnel who want to advance science and how that affects the way they approach patient care. One big difference is that the author of this book has a personal connection to the titular patient - his grandfather was a pioneer in surgical lobotomies, which were fairly commonly done at the beginning of the 20th century, mainly to people who had been committed to a mental hospital. 

I won't get into the more disturbing aspects of how many people were committed and subsequently lobotomized for things we generally consider to be normal today. I will say that the author does a nice job of discussing the history of neuroscience/neurology/psychiatry and detailing how these operations helped us to understand the workings of the brain in general. Much of our current knowledge of how memory works comes from the author's grandfather's work in general and the subsequent studies of Patient H.M. in particular. 

Ultimately though, like most stories about humans, many problems were created due to childish infighting and territorial behavior on the part of scientists. What a shame. Imagine how much we could learn and advance if we weren't always operating on an "Animal Farm" level. All in all, however, this was a fascinating book. If you liked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or the books of Oliver Sacks, this should be right up your street as well. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

August Reread - Rule No. 5: No Sex on the Bus - Brian Thacker

Rediscovered this book on my shelves when I was doing the minor shelf maintenance I mentioned in an earlier post. It's a Library Sale find of a paperback from Australia describing the misadventures of the author, who used to be a tour guide in Europe. I haven't been in the mood to read anything too "heavy" or "weighty" this summer for some reason, so I figured I'd have this as my latest reread.

The book is amusing and the writing is good. The stories are funny and I suspect the writer would be fun to have a nice cold adult beverage or three with. All in all this is a fun, fast, lighthearted read and I'm glad it made its way to me from the other side of the globe.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Mother's Secret - J.L. Witterick

As this book's subtitle helpfully explains, this book is A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story, the story of Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, Helena, who were able to save 15 Jewish people (and a defecting German soldier) by hiding them in and around their home in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. The writing is clear and easy to read, and the story is told Rashomon-style, so we see the events from differing points of view. This was a deceptively simple read that told an amazing story. Recommended.