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dchaikin's 2009 reading log

Club Read 2009

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Edited: Jul 10, 2009, 4:32am Top

I'm going listless this year. No goals either. I had reading lists planned the last two years. Each year I read about half the books, which I guess was OK. But, I'm just don't feel like making a list this year. I have a shelf piled up with books, and I'll start there and see what happens.

What I've read:

1. Europe Between the Oceans : Themes and Variations: 9000 BC-AD 1000 - Jan 06 - 4 stars
2. The Book of the Unknown : Tales of the Thirty-Six - Jan 12 - 3.5 stars (Early Reviewer)
3. Ellen Foster - Jan 14 - 4 stars
4. De Niro's Game - Jan 18 - 4.5 stars
5. Strangers in the Land of Egypt - Jan 22 - 2 stars (Early Reviewer)
6. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals - Feb 5 - 4.5 stars
7. Returning to Earth - Feb 10 - 3.5 stars
8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Feb 18 - 5 stars
9. Woman Hollering Creek: And Other Stories - Feb 23 - 3.5 stars
10. The Lizard Cage - Mar 6 - 4 stars
11. Possessed by Shadows - Mar 11 - 5 stars
12. Peace - Mar 16 - 4.5 stars
13. Travelling With Djinns - Mar 30 - 4 stars
14. Sorry - Apr 3 - 4 stars
15. The Shadow of the Wind - Apr 13 - 5 stars
16. Beyond the Horizon : The First Human-Powered Expedition to Circle the Globe - Apr 25 - 3 stars (Early Reviewer)
17. As A Palm Tree In The Desert : Part One - May 5 - 3.5 stars (Early Reviewer)
18. The Angel's Game - May 15 - 4 stars
19. Storyteller - May 21 - 4.25 stars
20. The Indifferent Stars Above : The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride - May 29 - 4.5 stars (Early Reviewer)
21. Brick Lane - June 10 - 3 stars
22. To Kill A Mockingbird - June 17 - 5 stars
23. In the Country of Men - June 22 - 4 stars
24. Home Game - June 26 - 4 stars
For more, go to my new thread here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/68641

note: Links go to my comments in this thread. Touchstones can be found within the comments.

Edited: Apr 25, 2009, 3:19pm Top

1. Europe Between the Oceans : Themes and Variations: 9000 BC-AD 1000 by Barry Cunliffe (c2008, 479 pages, finished Jan 6)

A really nice brief history of Europe focusing on geography and how it effected people migrations, trade and empires. I enjoyed this quite a bit, although it was slow in parts.

Jan 7, 2009, 1:04am Top

Welcome Dan! Really good to see you here. I've got your thread starred in anticipation of some great reads!

Edited: Jul 3, 2012, 3:31pm Top

Thanks akeela. The thread is expected to grow slowly. :)

Edited: Jan 9, 2009, 10:43pm Top

Just thinking out loud. I'm kind of in awe at the levels of dedication I've come across in this group, and in intensity members put into their reading. All the planning and the challenging books listed, the levels of analysis. The reviews are carefully thought out and nicely written. I've been hanging around LT for 2 1/2 years, and I haven't found anything quite like this elsewhere in the sight. Part of me finds this group a bit overwhelming, it just much richer than what I used to here, and what I've found elsewhere; and it's much more than I was planning in my log. I was just going to list books I read and 1-2 sentence blurbs. Another part of me finds this group very inspiring. I've enjoyed following along.

PS - I'm reading The Book of the Unknown by Jonathan Keats, and Early Reviewer book.

Jan 10, 2009, 8:32pm Top

>5 dchaikin: Dan, I think your journal should be what you want it to be and what it is able to be timewise. Sometimes a few lines is all that's necessary, don't you think? It's usually my preference

I also find a good many of the members here inspiring in some way or another, but I also like the path my reading has been taking so that inspiration becomes more of an energy rather than a list of books I should be reading (if that makes sense). haha, I was thinking when I read your first entry that sometime I should read a brief history of Europe!

Jan 10, 2009, 11:01pm Top

#6 avaland - I like this free-form journal idea quite a bit. I think the variety is quite interesting. Since each users has their own thread, they seem to have a lot more to say about what they are reading. Maybe that's just my imagination. Anyway, reading other users journals gives me different ideas on the types of things I might want to do here.

Also, I'm a bit surprised that other users might actually read this, and even post. Surprised in a good way, I didn't expecting these groups were working that way. That may also change what I post. My original idea was just to post a list of books and comment that I could quickly glance out and get a sense of what I was reading. I figured I would be the only one looking at it. But, now I might treat it a little differently.

Jan 11, 2009, 11:19am Top

Hi Dan:

I agree with your musing out loud and share your feelings. Originally I thought it would be a journal for my reference, where my Alzheimer-bound mind would return and be reminded of what I read and thought. But seeing the interaction, which I love, I am preparing my reactions more thoughtfully and sometimes rewriting and polishing the prose. A different vehicle now, but on the whole I think a better one.

And as avaland said, I am glad that someone is reading a huge history of Europe, and I am glad to read someone's reactions to it, and of course I know I should, too, but it just won't happen in this lifetime :-).

Jan 11, 2009, 10:34pm Top

polutropos - I think that extra care put into the posts is generally what were seeing in this, and related, groups. It's really nice, as long as it doesn't become a hindrance. Thanks for agreeing, by the way. Sometimes I re-read my posts and wonder why whether I should have shared that thought.

ps - it was only a brief history of Europe, under 500 picture filled, large print pages (Excluding notes, references, the index etc). :) It was also more fun than the typical hefty history book. Every now and then I pick up one of those and try to be patient enough to crawl my way through it. They're very rewarding, but they can be so slow, and really require me to get into the right kind of mental flow. I tried and quit very early on Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire last year... I made it about 50 pages beyond the introduction.

Edited: Apr 4, 2009, 12:28am Top

2. The Book of the Unknown : Tales of the Thirty-Six by Jonathon Keats (c2009, 221 pages, finished Jan 12) - An LT Early Reviewer Book

An interesting collection of short Jewish- shtetl-ish based folktales, sometimes really wonderful and thought provoking.

The premise is a researcher feels he might have come across a list (from an unspecified time in the past) of the Lamedh-Vov - 36 righteous people needed at any one time, according to the Talmud. He begins to visit their villages and discovers that each name is the center of a folktale the village has remembered to this day. The 36 are a mixed bag of thieves, gamblers and the like; even a false messiah. None of them know they are one of the 36, and they all seemed pretty innocent of their effects. The book is twelve of the stories he collected.

These are mostly simple stories filled with innocent and naive characters, with ambivalent meanings. Their simplicity is what allows these stories to become profound. They are commentaries on life in general, and love; or they are oblique modern commentaries. One thief demands, before he will return a stolen good, a fresh baked loaf of bread from a baker whose stopped baking and imports all his bread. Another character is hired to be the grim reaper, meeting each villager just before they die. A fallen angle looks for a way to avoid returning to heaven.

I found all the stories fun, some especially memorable. It's an easy quick read, with a lot to offer.

Jan 13, 2009, 12:39am Top

-->9 dchaikin:

The husband is REREADING Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire right now. lol I've always wondered about his taste in books.

Jan 13, 2009, 7:34am Top

I did try, years ago, but never got beyond page 10!

Jan 13, 2009, 9:00am Top

aluvalibri - See, you were a five times smarter than me :)

chrine, I'm curious how long it will take him. Last I checked, the friend who inspired me to pick up Decline and Fall had been reading it on and off for about 10 months.

Jan 13, 2009, 9:09am Top

Oh well....but I do mean to pick it up again in the future (which is a very vague time frame, isn't it). I used to like Roman history very much, in my Italian school days, when we had to study it in detail.

Jan 13, 2009, 9:13am Top

Actually, I would also like to give it another go. Maybe sometime.

Jan 13, 2009, 9:19am Top

An excerpt from The Book of the Unknown:

The forest was so vast that the demons spoke seven different dialects. Some lived in the trees, sailing on the winds, while others were subterranean and blind. Obviously, their cultures also differed. The largest were beasts of destruction, ground-dwelling brutes who'd fell whole civilizations and foul themselves when they were done. The slightest of them, airborne wisps as gentle as dust, thrived on deception, sweeping societies with rumor and prejudice, high on their own delusion. But neither of these demons concerned people much: The workings of natural disaster were too calamitous, and of human nature too ubiquitous, for folks to address. Theft and rape and murder, on the other hand, were demons of a scale that everybody could grasp, and in many counties bordering on the forest princes offered a bounty on such evils. Peasants would band together after dark, significantly decreasing the local crime rate, even if no demons were actually caught.

Jan 13, 2009, 11:12am Top

Gibbon is great for dipping in and out of and for cherry picking quotes - for instance (approp. for atheists) on the nature of belief in the supernatural and miracles...Gibbon's rather sarcastic take on the miracles of the first Christian era:

"But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan and philosophic world, to those evidences which were represented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, daemons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Roman empire, was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe. A distinct chapter of Pliny is designed for eclipses of an extraordinary nature and unusual duration; but he contents himself with describing the singular defect of light which followed the murder of Caesar, when, during the greatest part of a year, the orb of the sun appeared pale and without splendor. The season of obscurity, which cannot surely be compared with the preternatural darkness of the Passion, had been already celebrated by most of the poets and historians of that memorable age."

Of course Gibbon blamed the Jews too, more or less because Christianity emerged out of Judaism and shared Judaism's concept of "ONE" (count 'em) divine being (or maybe 3 in trinitarian Christianity) which is the only one, true God as opposed to the relatively tolerant religious pluralism of Rome at its peak..

Jan 13, 2009, 11:21am Top

Bob - The introduction in my copy of Decline and Fall, which was fascinating, covered some of this and the reactions of religious leaders. Gibbon wrote in a world where the church could be criticized in private, but openly only with a lot of delicacy. Gibbon pushed a bit. It's a great story. Thanks for the posting the passage.

Jan 13, 2009, 3:38pm Top

Hola Dchaikin

Let's see... I brought it for him for Christmas at his request. But I don't think he started reading it until sometime in January. I went and checked to see where he was, but he does not have a book mark in it. I'll have to ask him if he remember when he started it and how far he is in it.

He regularly devours these super long dry history books. He just flew thought two books telling the history of WWII from the German and Russian view point (they go together) in less than a month or so.

Jan 14, 2009, 1:35am Top

Spent the evening at a poetry reading. Here is excerpt from Larry Thomas - 2008 Texas Poet Laureate, also a friend.

From a poem titled Terlingua

X. Terlingua Graveyard

Though listed in the national register of historic places,
it's owned by the desert flaunting dominion
with creosote, mesquite, live ant beds and prickly pear.
The only care it receives is the footfall of visitors
between the pots. The older graves, of quicksilver miners
long devoid of names, are marked with crumbling stone
or collapsed, wooden crosses. Those of the recent dead
are testaments to the simple things they cherished:
a baseball cap; a little flag; a childhood doll; a paperweight
with swirling snow; desert-caked beer and liquor bottles;
remnants of books loosing flaking pages to the wind;
pinwheels and whirligigs fashioned from the tin of old cans.
The locals destined for their plots here love it,
opting for burial in a pine box, naked save their boots,
happy that their passing's just another party
for their loved ones, another chance to revel in their brief,
sweet lives and return to Mother Desert what was borrowed.

Jan 14, 2009, 1:52am Top

Hola Dchaikin

I asked the husband about it tonight. He hasn't started it yet. Apparently, it's just gone to work with him a few times and looks like it's been read. He said that he'll let me know when he starts it so I can keep track of how long it takes him to read it, that it's a lighter/easier/more narrative (can't remember what word he used) read than what he's currently reading, and that he doubts it will take him 10 months to read it. Perhaps you should try to race him, it would encourage you to get a decent chunk of it read at least. Me? I would never even try to read it.

Jan 14, 2009, 2:06am Top

Thanks chrine. For me, I might try some other time, I'm not ready to try again yet. :)

Edited: Jan 14, 2009, 2:15am Top

=) Best of luck to you when you do. I'm impressed by people who read history non-fic and learn from it. History wasn't one of my favorite subjects in school. Consequently, I took very little of it. I regret it now as an adult, feeling I should/could be better informed about things. But I know I'm not deciplined enough to read it on my own.

Jan 14, 2009, 2:51pm Top

I just finished Ellen Foster. I don't think I exhaled while I read it. I'll sit on it a bit and then post some comments later.

Edited: Feb 11, 2009, 8:31am Top

3. Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons (c1987, 146 pages, finished Jan 14) - Houston Public Library's 2008 selection for Books on the Bayou

from wikipedia: "Gibbons suffers from bipolar disorder and says she is extremely creative during her manic phases. Ellen Foster was written during one such phase."

"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my Daddy." - Says 11-year-old Ellen in the opening line. A white orphan from a very racist North Carolina, she narrates this short book in almost a single breath. The grammar is her own slang, and there is little punctuation as she switches from narration to dialog, from past to present, from descriptions to thoughts. This is her account of her experiences with her mother's death and all the uncomfortable bounces toward her present. Her spirit, instead of breaking, sharpens itself, becoming a fierce armor of confidence and independence.

This is a quick read, probably a great young adult book. It's actually a pretty charming story at least on the surface where, instead of crying, Ellen just keeps talking. But, it's also very intense; the natural tension of Ellen's experience amplified by her naivete, nonchalant confidence and her unintended humor. Each time I put the book down and exhaled, it felt like I had been holding my breathe through the entire passage.

an excerpt from the present:
"You don't need to see through walls here to know when my new mama is alone with one of her girls telling them about how to be strong or rubbing their backs. You can imagine it easy if it has happened to you.

And there have been more than a plenty days when she has put both my hands in hers and said if we relax and breathe slow together I can slow down shaking. And it always works.

And there was a day last year when she said if I didn't cry sooner or later I would bust. That is something I'm still working on. I think how good it would feel but there is always my moma's mama's voice telling me to cry so she can slap me. My new mama says that will be over soon. She said that with a guarantee."

Edited: Feb 11, 2009, 8:32am Top

4. De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage (c2006, 283 pages, finished Jan 18) - 2008 IMPAC Dublin Award winner

Bassam is a young man, maybe 18, in Christian east Beirut during the Lebanon Civil war circa 1982. Recruited by militias, he deals with bombs, death, love and his complex and wild childhood friend George, aka De Niro. The title refers to a game of Russian Roulette in the movie The Deer Hunter.

This is one of the most satisfying books I've read in awhile, and, IMO, a compliment to the IMPAC Dublin Award*. It begins with a powerful but also somewhat generic literary war tone describing a defeated corrupt civilian life in Beirut under constant bombing. But the story develops in its own way and the characters fascinate. An interesting plot twist perhaps makes this a heavier book.

memorable quote:
"Photography is about death, she said to me. It preserves the illusion of a past moment that can never be re-enacted."

*Side note - I completely fell in love the Out Stealing Horses, the 2007 winner.

Edited: Jan 18, 2009, 1:27pm Top

Thinking out loud again:
I have a complicated attitude towards Early Reviewer books. Yesterday I received an LT Early Reviewer book Strangers in a the Land of Egypt* about an American adolescent who vandalizes a temple, and is sentenced to community service with a Holocaust survivor. I have two problems with this book. The first is that I feel obligated to read it right now, which makes it work, which makes the book difficult to enjoy and confuses my response to it. The second problem is that, while the story could be really nice and thought provoking, it could also, very easily, become a cheesey Jewish-backslapping kind of novel - something that is remarkably common. I knew that when I requested it, but I looked up the publisher, The Permanent Press, and was intrigued. They are a one-book-a-month independent publisher that has been around for 30 years. Sometimes these small presses are a nice place to find hidden gems (like The Common Bond, a wonderful Early Reviewer book I read in December, published by Other Press.). These kinds of finds are, IMO, one the best potential benefits of the Early Reviewer. So, I requested, got it, it's here, I need to read it. Part of me wants to read it, part of me wonders if I should skip out on the ER programs in the future.

*no touchstone, link is here: http://www.librarything.com/work/6833505

Jan 19, 2009, 11:35am Top

>26 dchaikin: I came across the Impac Dublin Award a number of years ago, and now usually scan the nominations for titles which have repeat nominations (usually other country's nominations). This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun, another winner, is excellent, although exceedingly bleak.

Jan 19, 2009, 11:49am Top


After reading DeNiro's Game and seeing Hage at a reading in Toronto, I just read his latest, Cockroach and am pleased to report it is just as good. I will be posting my review very soon. And no, you don't have to read Kafka's Metamorphosis first :-).

Jan 19, 2009, 12:02pm Top

avaland - I might have to check out the This Blinding Absence of Light. The IMPAC Dublin and the Orange prize are maybe my favorite discoveries through LT. Once those awards come out, the books go on my TBR. The only other award I do that with is the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. But the IMPAC I think it particularly special because nomination process feels globally democratic, coming from libraries around the world.

Polutropos - Thanks for the note. De Niro's Game felt so biographical, I was curious what might be left for the next book. I'm excited to hear a good compliment of Cockroach. On a side note, I read Metamorphosis while in high school. When I finished I was so confused I had no clue what I'd just read!

Jan 19, 2009, 12:41pm Top

>30 dchaikin: The longlist is indeed LONG and there are always a few popular books which seem misplaced on the list, but if you check, for example, the nominations from all the Australian libraries, one tends to see a couple of the same titles repeatedly nominated (I believe the site has synopses, yes?). These usually have been interesting reads. I found White Earth by Andrew McGahan and Sixty Lights by Gail Jones that way. I think I may have posted some of what I gleaned from this year's lists over on the Prizes Group (my bookish eyes are always bigger than my literary stomach).

Edited: Jan 19, 2009, 2:32pm Top

Part of the charm of the IMPAC Dublin are the "bad" suggestions. Some libraries make some oddball choices. The last three years the Houston Public Library, local for me, has had at least one book off the beaten track. The last year it was Lost City Radio which I have sitting neglected on my bookshelf waiting for its return to the library, unread.

Oh, avaland, my bookish eyes are orders of magnitude bigger then what I can take in. And you've given me two more great ideas to check out. Actually Gail Jones is familiar because I have Sorry requested from by library. I'll check that one out first. Thanks for the ideas.

Edited: Feb 11, 2009, 8:33am Top

5. Strangers in the Land of Egypt* by Stephen March (c2009, 248 pages, finished Jan 22) - An LT Early Reviewer Book

I'm not sure how to respectfully review this one. It lost me in the opening scene, and never really recovered. I didn't like the style and felt it was dumbed down. Perhaps it was intended to target teenagers and I'm just the wrong audience. It reminded me of a book I read in high school when I spent a some time as a reading tutor - OK story, simplistic characters and language and clearly targeting troubled teens - apparently they are the ones presumed to have problems reading.

I don't know that this was the intention here. The overall story is, actually OK, maybe even good. But, it felt like there was a fundamental mismatch between the story and the characters. I found the narrator, a 17-yr-old troubled boy, unconvincingly simplified. And his voice is the novel, there isn't much beyond him. Other key characters also come across as underdeveloped. The book is marked by a lack of description. Atmosphere, emotions, smells etc are limited or completely missing.

This was clearly the wrong book for me. Perhaps it's a good book another audience. But I haven't a clue how to judge that.

*no touchstone, link is in message 27
ETA - I've now posted a review here: http://www.librarything.com/work/6833505/details/40605784

Feb 2, 2009, 10:13pm Top

Commercial break for children's books. We go through a lot of them; I’ve been keeping track. We’re averaging 203 books a month, 44 of those 1st time reads (for the kids, but usually for me too.). In the last seven months we’ve read 308 different children’s books. I have 438 in my catalogue: 391 are owned; 47 were borrowed, usually from the library. These are all picture books. My daughter is 4, and my son is 2.

Anyway, occasionally we come across some really wonderful books. Here are some of the best from January, all from the library.

My Favorites
If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty (illustrator Steven Kellogg) – a user’s guide for moon travel with a bit of a serious side as it explores what it means not to have an atmosphere. And what it means to be far away from home.
Me On the Map by Joan Sweeney (illustrator Annette Cable)– Just maps. First the girls room, then her house, then the street etc.
The Magic School Bus Lost In The Solar System by Joanna Cole – One of serious of Magic School Bus books. The bus becomes a rocket ship and goes planet hopping

Some other fun ones:
Time to pee! by Mo Willems – Hasn’t helped my son, but my daughter has memorized it, which is just cute.
In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck (illustrator Tricia Tusa)
The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum by Kate Bernheimer (illustrator Nicoletta Ceccoli)
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox (illustrator Helen Oxenbury)

Feb 2, 2009, 10:56pm Top

Dan, you're giving your kids such a wonderful start, as readers (and perhaps future LTers :))! Thanks for sharing.

Feb 3, 2009, 8:14am Top

There's also some terrific poetry for young kids, and parents of young kids:

William Blake's Inn
for Innocent and Experienced Travellers

- The Tiger asks Blake for a Bedtime Story

William, William writing late
by the chill and sooty grate,
what immortal story can
make your tiger roar again?

When I was sent to fetch our meat
I confess that i did eat.
half the roast and all the bread.
He will never know I said.

When i was sent to fetch your drink,
I confess that I did think
you would never miss the three
lumps of sugar by our tea.

Soon I saw my health decline
and i knew the fault was mine.
Only Wllliam Blake can tell
tales to make a tiger well.

Now I lay me down to sleep
with bear and rabbit, bird and sheep.
If I should dream before I wake,
may i dream of William Blake.

Nancy Willard

each of the poems follows the pattern of one of the poems from innocence or experience.

Feb 3, 2009, 8:16am Top

>34 dchaikin: my kids, now in their 20s, loved Steven Kellogg and the Magic School Bus series. I have a second account (avaland2) where I have been cataloguing their books. I gave a lot away years ago, but still have quite a bit (and a fair number still to catalog - it's not high priority). And yes, we were big library goers also. Your children are lucky to have a reader as a parent!

Feb 3, 2009, 9:58pm Top

akeela, avaland & Bob - Thanks each of you for the nice posts. It's fun reading to them almost every night. They love the books and I love telling them stories and attempting to answer their endless questions. It's such a great way for me to bond with them. I wonder, though...I'm not sure it's a good thing. Sometimes I worry that they'll rebel and turn their backs on all books for the rest of their lives; or that they might become English majors!

Bob - Love the poem. Too much for kids, my older one is still on Mother Goose. However, I might really like the book.

avaland - Thanks so much for pointing me to your other account. If you start rating, or tagging something like "favorites", please let me know. I'm always looking for suggestions.

Feb 4, 2009, 8:37am Top

>38 dchaikin: Sadly, none of my three became English majors. They have geology (2) & computer engineering degrees. They all do read but clearly not in the voracious way that I do, and it tends to way more nonfiction than fiction. How old are your kids?

Feb 4, 2009, 8:43am Top

There is hope!
Two of my three are voracious readers, especially the youngest who, at 14, is reading Tolstoy, Maugham, Tennessee Williams, and now wants to tackle Mafouz.
I always read to them, just like you are doing, and loved doing it. I remember how they enjoyed my reading to them before going to sleep, at night...it was great fun! And I remember their endless questions as well...how fun!
So, enjoy these very precious moments and treasure them for the future.

Feb 4, 2009, 9:29am Top

I'm an English major, Dan. It's not all bad! :)

I doubt they'll turn their back on books - not with the love you're clearly fostering for it!

Edited: Feb 4, 2009, 9:43am Top

#39 avaland - Two geologists! Your blessed! Well, I am a bit I'm biased being in geology myself. My daughter is 4 and my son is 2.

#40 aluvalibri - Thanks. They're so darn cute it's hard not to enjoy them, at least when they're not infuriating us. So, a non-book story. We're watching the Super Bowl. My kids don't get football, but they did understand that Mom and Dad were letting stay up and we not going to bother them much. So, upstairs, within sight of us, but not the TV, they made a table out of an upside down giant plastic container, covered it with a blanket, and made their own variation of a tea party. They found some chairs. My daughter got each of them a glass of water. They collected their stuffed animals and sat the big ones at their table, and the little ones at a little table made from a shoebox. This went on for a good half-hour plus.

#41 akeela - Oops :} LOL... See, that's probably part of the reason we all love your reviews so much. Don't get me wrong, I would love to go back to school and become an English major myself. And I wouldn't discourage my kids from doing that... I would cross my fingers that they didn't move back home after college.

It is such a mystery what they will be like when they get older. My wife's parents read to her all the time and early on set up a nightly reading time. By 3 she could read, and continued non-stop through at least high school. I have some vague recollections of a handful of books my mother occasionally read to me. And could count on one hand then number of non-picture books I read before I was 15 (Where the Red Fern Grows was really nice, though). Now I'm a book addict of sorts, although I'm a slow reader. My wife will read books, usually in bunches (and at insane speed), but then go months without picking one up.

Feb 4, 2009, 10:04am Top

Dan, your children sound ADORABLE!!!!
I can see them in my mind's eye, having a tea party with their stuffed animals....I wish I could give the a big hug. :-))

One of my nephews (soon to be 43) is a geologist and, just like you, he is a voracious reader. He also belongs to the category of children whose parents (namely my sister) read to them ever since they were very small.

Edited: Feb 4, 2009, 2:57pm Top

>42 dchaikin: Actually, two geology degrees = no geologists:-) Both girls there, btw.

Awww. They are so cute when they are that little. All of my children could read before they got to kindergarten. I used to play letter and word games with them, along with reading to them.

Feb 5, 2009, 10:01am Top

Thanks all for the replies. So many geology connections. I've noticed some kind of artistic-geology link, including literary. LT has a some collection of geology-leaning members.

#43 aluvalibri - Kids can be really adorable. They just have such interesting constructs of the world, such a mixture of sharp perceptions, misunderstandings and play.

#44 avaland - letter and word games...maybe I should try more of that. I honestly have no idea how to teach reading. I was hoping pre-school would help, but, while it has helped my daughter to write letters, she doesn't read more than a single word here or there. Apparently my daughter recently told me wife she doesn't want to learn to read because she likes us reading to her. (My wife tried to explain we would still read with her.)

Feb 5, 2009, 12:35pm Top

i bet if you just keep on reading to her, she'll pretty much learn to read on her own.

Feb 5, 2009, 5:07pm Top

#46 Bob - well, that's our current plan. A funny aside. Awhile back NPR covered a study on early reading. The report found the most significant factor in early reading was not whether the parents read to the childm but, instead, the types of dinnertime conversations. Children who read earlier tended to have parents who did a lot of talking and explaining over dinner.

Anyway, I finished Omnivore's Dilemma last night, I'll post some comments when I sort my thoughts out. (I highly recommend it, particularly to Americans). I've got Jim Harrison's Returning to Earth waiting for me to make some time to read. I briefly opened it up over a week ago, but decided I really needed to finished Omnivore's Dilemma before I got too into it. I'm a one-book-at-a-time person at the moment.

Feb 5, 2009, 6:46pm Top

>47 dchaikin:, what about children who didn't have a lot of chat at the table because they were always trying to read a book at dinner? :)

Edited: Feb 5, 2009, 7:43pm Top

Miss Price,

Are you talking about me again? What would Jane Austen say? *shudders and exits thread*

Feb 5, 2009, 9:15pm Top

#48/49 - lol - I think they've already solved their learning-to-read problem - but it leaves them highly susceptible to an LT addiction later on in life. :)

Feb 6, 2009, 8:38am Top

>49 urania1:, urania, I might have been talking about you, but I meant to be talking about me. :) I remember fondly many nights around the kitchen table being told "no books at the table" and then trying to put one open on my lap UNDER the table and sneak glances at it. That never really worked either.

Feb 6, 2009, 8:43am Top

>51 fannyprice: fannyprice, I know :-( It didn't work for me either :-( :-( :-(

Feb 6, 2009, 8:51am Top

I could only do it, and not always, when my father was away on a business trip. At times I managed to persuade my mother to let me read at the table....how blissful!!

Edited: Feb 11, 2009, 8:34am Top

6. Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (c2005, 411 pages, finished Feb 4)

Late in the book Pollan creates a philosophical debate between himself and PETA on the morality of eating animals. At this point I've already read the industrial and organic industrial food exposés. I've begun checking ingredient labels on everything looking out for High Fructose Corn Syrup. And I'm even convinced that spending a lot extra on grass-fed beef is worth it (if I can find it). The book has already won me over. But I found this debate quite fascinating. Pollan presents an argument for eating meat, and actually against vegetarianism, on moral grounds. It's an extra and perhaps unnecessary addition, but I think it highlights how much thought Pollan put into this book. He's not just out to make the American food industry look bad, he really wants to know what is the best way to provide food that is realistic, morally sound, environmentally sound and healthy. He then follows this up with a personal hunting & gathering story that mainly left me thinking that Pollan himself, as a topic, is, well, maybe wanting.

But forget those last hundred pages, this is a great and well-written book on food, specifically highlighting the American food industry, where it comes from, what the true costs seem to be, and what the alternatives are. There's a lot to think about here, and it might change the way you eat.

Feb 7, 2009, 2:32am Top

and then there's his prior book, the botany of desire, a fascinating history of man/plant interaction through case studies of the apple, potato, tulip and marijuana; and his sequel (and rather more of a polemic) in defense of food. Which he sums up @ the beginning - "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." - by food, meaning something that your grandmother (or, by now) great grandmother, would recognize as being food.

Feb 7, 2009, 12:37pm Top

Bob - I'm very interested in them both...someday...

Feb 11, 2009, 8:45am Top

I've added book covers above...how blingy of me :). I read Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison, but I'm waiting a bit to add comments because there are some lines I want to find and maybe quote, and because I'm not sure what I want to say about it. I have some conflicting opinions that won't resolve. I'm reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, which is notable, among many other reasons, because it's the third book in a row I'm reading that I actually own, and isn't an early reviewer book.

Edited: Apr 4, 2009, 12:30am Top

7. Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison (c2007, 280 pages, finished Feb 10)

At 45, Donald is dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He’s pretty far along when he begins to recite the stories of his life and his family’s history to his wife, who records them and adds her own comments. These are poignant stories involving mixtures of Native American and Western culture in the Michigan Upper Peninsula going back several generations.

Donald views his predicament largely through his personal Native American religion of sorts. He tells us he doesn’t want to talk about his religion, which I guess is a way of letting us know that his religion is the major theme in this book.

When Donald finishes, three others characters, each very close to Donald, take over, neatly dividing the book into four short-ish parts. These later sections don’t have the same power as Donald’s sections, but they do have their own appeal. David, Donald’s brother-in-law, stands out. “David is that rare type who on waking from a night’s sleep or his multiple daily naps has to reconstitute the world. Last year he told me that he has cognitive problems wherein on waking he’s not sure the world actually exists. He’s unsure until he consciously rehearses his senses.” And his section is brilliant.

All in all this is actually a feel good book. Its fun and thoughtful, a book about life. It’s also a book about religion, albeit a non-organized Native American religion; and, it’s manipulated to the religion's benefit, something that bothered me a bit and confuses my response to the book. But, I enjoyed reading it and would read another book by Harrison

Feb 12, 2009, 6:05am Top

Nice review, Dan! And some really great covers — they definitely make the books more appealing to me!

Feb 12, 2009, 8:37pm Top

Hi akeela, thanks so much for the compliment on my review.

Edited: Feb 20, 2009, 4:52pm Top

I've finished The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and for the moment I've given it five stars. I hope to comment soon, still processing. I'm now trying out Woman Hollering Creek: And Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros. It's a bunch of potent short sketches, which is a quite mental gearshift for me.

edited to fix silly typo

Feb 20, 2009, 11:01am Top

Just jumping back to Pollan's Omnivore's dilemma (which I can never spell without looking at the book) ... the big question which he raises but never really answers, is how to feed the cities. Or indeed the rest of the world, especially those bits that don't live where the terrain is suitable to have a fully inclusive farm. But it is a fascinating read, and also made me look seriously at my food purchases.

Feb 20, 2009, 11:51am Top

Hi RF - I have lots of thoughts on the same question too. The only self-sustaining farm he finds can't possibly work on a global scale. But, what happens when the petroleum-based fertilizers aren't available anymore?

Feb 20, 2009, 11:59am Top

Pollan has begun attempting to answer the problems of feeding cities (I think he had a long feature on Terry Gross' show last week about this major problem. - i'll have to ask patty to make sure of the show). If it's going to ever work, he envisions regional farming ecosystems - which, among other unamerican features, would involve protecting the extremely valuable land on the periphery of urbanized areas so that they'd remain in use as farmland and not become (as so much farmland has already done) yet more suburbs.

There's much more - but i actually need to do some work....sigh

Feb 20, 2009, 12:02pm Top

Bob - I'd be happy to hear more, if you get a chance.

Edited: Feb 21, 2009, 12:02am Top

8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (c2007, 335 pages, finished Feb 18)

This book has no business being enjoyable. It’s about girl-obsessed overweight Dominican kid from a screwed-up family who seems to translate his inability to be social into an obsession with science fiction, fantasy and roll-playing games. The story of his life, which we know ahead of time is brief, is mixed with a dark family history and a very disturbing picture of the Dominican Republic and its history of repression. I’m still bothered by the vivid tortures and other enforcement techniques described. Yet, using a handful of colorful voices, this was a remarkably fun book, very entertaining, and difficult to put down. Brilliantly done.

Feb 21, 2009, 9:10am Top

>66 dchaikin:, Thanks for the review. I've been hearing about this book everywhere - it sounds pretty good.

Feb 21, 2009, 10:06am Top

Dan -- Diaz came to our college a couple of years ago (before The Brief Wondrous Life came out and he won the Pulitzer). He was funny, profane, and great with the students. I picked up the book this summer, but it's still sitting on my TBR list -- I'll have to move it up on the pile. Thanks for the review.

Feb 21, 2009, 10:34am Top

There is a 'we are doomed' food book called, what else?, The End of Food. I liked Paul Robert's The End of Oil a bit more. He came to some optimistic conclusions. The End of food had some rather bleak outlooks on food and the future. Surviving on nutriloaf, actually served in some prisons, holds little appeal to this food lover.

I am somewhat encouraged by clicking through Amazon's Movers and Shakers of late and seeing how many 'grow, process, and store your own' books are selling. Even make your own butter books have shown up on the list at times. The Victory Garden is making a belated return. Rooftop gardening is becoming more well known. It's interesting that right now most commodities are falling in price but foodstuff prices are rising. Some wag came up with the slogan- Food is the new oil!

BTW, I looked for your thread in the 75 group. For about a month. No wonder I didn't find it there. Doh!

Feb 21, 2009, 10:35am Top


Jane, your comment about Diaz being "funny, profane and great with students" rings totally true. I saw him doing a reading and interview on a stage with Rawi Haage.

In the interview, Diaz became downright embarassing. F--- was his every other word. "Aaaah, man," began every utterance. It did not seem to be a performance but the real person who was just "so much into himself", so self-conscious, that even though he did have interesting things to say about immigration, about the Dominican Republic, about his childhood, it was the silly, embarrassing manner which sticks with me, rather than anything he had to say. I can see students lapping him up because of his outrageousness, but to the adults his act wore thin very quickly. It was too bad. His book is interesting. But his persona or his public manner were, at least in this particular instance, painful.

Feb 21, 2009, 10:47am Top

Dan -
i'll poke around NPR's site and see if i can point us both towards a podcast of Pollan's last stand..err talk. He drew a SRO crowd at UNC 2 yrs ago when we went to hear him. He may be a "just" a journalist but he really does his homework. His latest book, in defense of food has a lengthy section of the problems inherent in "nutritionism" - the epidemiology of diet which is very up to date, and justly scathing, in parts.
Since a lot of the studies our group works with involve lengthy, tedious and (in my mind) rather inexact dietary qx, i found his interview w/ Gladys Block (Berkeley nutritionist who developed the food freq. questionnaire that most of the studies you see reported in the newspaper about diet/health rely upon),
I got a moment of snarky glee when i told colleagues about her disavowal of HOW her tool was being used. (It's decent as a scaling device; silly as an interval measure).
I live in a small town in what was a v. rural county in which farm after farm is(was?) being swallowed up by the metastasizing of the RTP area. I've been on a committee that's supposed to come up w/ a "land use plan" for Pittsboro, and the bottom line is that the side w/ the most money and lawyers will get their way, regardless of the public good. ooops i got carried away and way off topic there.

Edited: Feb 21, 2009, 11:29am Top

>71 bobmcconnaughey:, Bob, I take it you've read In Defense of Food? I'd be interested in your thoughts. I remember being somewhat disappointed with it when I read it last year. The following musings are stolen verbatim from my own LT review:

It seemed so obvious - I know reviewers and Pollan himself have said the fact of its existence supposedly justifies its existence - i.e., that the fact that this book got published and that I am now reading it means there is a need for the information it contains - but I keep wondering why this book is necessary if the advice contained therein is really so self-evident. Perhaps its just because I have read other books and articles on this topic, including those by nutritionist Marion Nestle, who has written about these same topics (and whom he does credit), but most of this advice was completely obvious to me. And I really wondered if Pollan wasn't just feeding the flames of the nutrition advice problem that he criticizes by throwing his book into the ring.

I do appreciate many of the points he makes in the first section of the book on the rise of "nutritionism" (a term he admits did not originate with him), especially the idea that "natural" foods can never become anything other than what they are (a point that's not entirely true, what with GMOs and all) but that "artificial" foods can always be changed to incorporate the latest "hot" nutrition fad - Omega 3s, low-carb, etc, and therefore, the obsession with nutrients (as opposed to foods) means that we have moved away from eating natural foods to eating processed foods while believing that we are helping our health by doing so, even though there is really no solid evidence that any of these nutrients in isolation are good for us.

I was confused, however, by Pollan's use of studies regarding nutrition - sometimes I felt he was criticizing all studies that attempt to isolate individual "goods" and "bads", but other times I felt that he was suggesting that some of these studies were more valid than others. I didn't feel he was consistent in this respect. He also says again and again "To borrow the nutritionist's reductive vocabulary...." as a preface to an argument about something. I was confused - are things like nutrients and vitamins an important measure of nutrition, as Pollan seems to argue in the second half of the book (see his seemingly endless discussion of omega 3s versus omega 6s in the second part), or are they overemphasized, as he seemed to argue in the first half of the book? Or is it somewhere in between? In the final section, even Pollan admits that he gets dragged down into reductionistic nutritionism throughout the book.

I very much enjoyed the second section on the industrial food supply and the growth of weird "food products". I don't think Pollan really brought out anything new in the book, but his examination of the ways people "naturally" existed with their food sources serves as a sharp reminder of the oddities and general grossness of the current food supply system. I particularly loved the line "...our bodies have a long-standing and sustainable relationship to corn that they do not have to high-fructose corn syrup."

For me, the third section, humorously entitled "Getting Over Nutritionism", was by far the most valuable section of this book. While Pollan's advice is simple (its summarized in seven words on the cover graphic...."Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants."), I think it is helpful advice even for people who have read on this topic before because Pollan then goes on to provide a concrete list of guidelines as to how one should choose what to eat, based on his seven-word thesis. Note that he doesn't say - "You should eat more of this nutrient and less of this one" but instead provides a general philosophy about eating that is based on eating whole foods rather than food products.

I also think its great that in dispensing this advice, Pollan is really careful to point out that eating whole foods is not just enough - we need to look at how those whole foods are produced: a steak from a cow fed on corn, hormones, and parts of other cows is really just fast food and is itself eating a Western diet, Pollan argues. "Food comprises a set of social and ecological relationships, reaching back to the land and outward to other people." This is not just about eating well for yourself - its about considering both the small and large implications of what you put in your mouth; I really support that. Pollan's advice is not really difficult, but its not easy, either, especially if you're lazy like I am: invest more time, effort, and money into knowing, locating, and preparing your food.

A valuable book, if not a perfect one. I've heard a lot of this before, but it is always good to be reminded, I think. A book like Pollan's can inspire people to take an active and conscious role in deciding what they consume, rather than simply accepting the strange and often contradictory advice of the nutritionists and the bizarre-o "food products" that sometimes result from this advice like "whole wheat white bread" (which Pollan decries as "not a food") or, my personal (least) favorite product, Go-Gurt, which Pollan advises that no one should ever eat!

Feb 21, 2009, 1:02pm Top

Here's a link to the last time Pollan was on NPR - Terry Gross's Fresh Air Program. It last aired February 9th - the show was a repeat from October, 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100755362

>72 fannyprice: Kris ". . . but I keep wondering why this book is necessary if the advice contained therein is really so self-evident."

I remember thinking the same thing as I read In Defense of Food. Compared to The Omnivore's Dilemma, it was very simple, very obvious, very common sense. However, I do think that Pollan found himself at a unique crossroads where his book - even though common sense to some - could really do some good and shed more light on the issue. I think he and his work sort of became part of the zeitgeist there for a bit and he took advantage of it. IMHO, at least.

Feb 21, 2009, 3:05pm Top

i think you're both right - In Defense is pretty much a polemic, short and to the point; while "Omnivore's Dilemma" as well as the botany of desire (my favorite of all his books) were more thorough going journalistic investigations.

I think Pollan was trying two things in the section on nutritional epidemiology and you caught them both. He was showing how transient nutritional "conventional scientific" wisdom is - and the flaws that are inherent in many studies. But that there IS information available - it just isn't always as "obvious" as it's made out to be.

What i don't think was esp. obvious was that many different studies that have been all over the front pages over the last 20 yrs (and many of the ones Pollan cites both favorably and negatively) are all fallout from the Harvard Nurses Health study and a parallel longitudinal study carried out by Harvard School of Public Health on MDs. There's one nutritionist/epidemiologist who's been more or less in charge of those studies for ages now..Walter Willett - He's very influential; hell we have students of his who are PI's at the NIEHS and i've heard him speak.

If Pollan can be critiqued as a foodie "elitist" - the same goes double for St. Walter. He and his work are both subjects of a good deal of controversy w/in nutrition and epidemiology - though mostly he's regarded as a god. Ever since we heard him speak a few yrs ago, whenever we eat a "brown rice/veggie" sort of meal we ironically accept his (virtual) blessings at our dinner table..Likeways when we have our local, v. good, pizza for dinner, we just shake our heads remorsefully, wondering, out loud, "what would Walter say?" (he's much more of a moralist about personal habits than Pollan - who is very much aware of the precariousness of his position)

Feb 21, 2009, 4:20pm Top

I don'tknow what it's like in the US, but in the UK we have a had a massive influx of fad "nutrionists" which unfortunetly unliek dietician isn't a protected title. they advise all sorts of 'detox' diets without any evidence behind them at all, but lots and lots of glossy PR and media spin. They may work, but as nobody's tested them properly there is no way of knowing. BenGoldacre's website, forum and now book Bad Science does a great job of deconstructing their claims. But again doens't quite go inot what you are supposed ot replace it with when you live in the middle of city and have a hectic job/life. I suppose the first advice is don't have a hectic job/life and make more time for researching, buying and preparing food!

Feb 21, 2009, 7:22pm Top

Dan, did you see that we have an Oscar Wao thread in the group? I thought you might add your comments to it. While I've not been interested in the book, I have found reader's comments (including dukedom's) on it interesting.

Feb 21, 2009, 9:19pm Top

67 ,68 70 fannyprice, Jane & Andrew - RE: Oscar Wao - Thanks for the comments. Interesting that two of you have seen him read, and with somewhat different impressions. I had kind of guessed that the character "Yunior" was partially based on the author, and it sounds like Junot talks fairly similar to the way "Yunior" did.

76 avaland - thanks I'll head over there.

69: VisibleGhost - I've heard about The end of Oil but haven't read it. A friend loaned me Twilight in the Desert about the predicting the end of Ghawar. Hopefully I'll get there sometime.

Now I'm going to read all the Michael Pollan posts.

Edited: Feb 21, 2009, 9:49pm Top

64, 69, 71-75 - Bob, VisibleGhost, fannyprice, Talbin & reading_fox - I'm really enjoying the discussion on Pollan. Thanks for all your posts. I don't have much to add, just a few comments:

#71 Bob– “Since a lot of the studies our group works” – What kind of group are in that you work with dietary studies?

#72 fannyprice “but I keep wondering why this book is necessary if the advice contained therein is really so self-evident”

Talbin and Bob have already covered most of what I would have said in response to this. After reading "Ominvore" I think it's interesting, but not surprising that Pollan's next book was a Polemic. I'm not sure how comfortable I would be with that. Part of what I liked about The Omnivores Dilemma was that he doesn’t really have advice, only observations and ideas.

Feb 21, 2009, 11:34pm Top

#76 avaland - I surrender, I haven't been able to find the "Wao" thread. Can you point me there?

Feb 21, 2009, 11:43pm Top

Most of what i've done pertains to reproductive epidemiology - but for the last few years i've also been involved w/ analyses of folate intake and the risk of clefting. Fortunately the dietrary qx was only one portion of the data on folate, and we actually had the bottles/containers of all the prescription and OTC preparations (vitamins, included of course) that our cohort used..(the folate qx was only a small portion of the questions that other researchers are using the same cohort to explore; my other great relief in our particular findings was that the specific genes that were assumed, a priori, to have a possible effect because of their impact on folate metabolism, didn't pan out. Others were disappointed by this, but i have all kinds of doubts about results coming from these massive genetic associational studies. At least our study looked at SNPs that were assumed a priori to be possibly related to folate metabolism so it wasn't a fishing expedition.

But almost every new cohort study our group undertakes includes very detailed dietary questionnaire data - whether it's a study of the effects of pesticide application on the long term health of farmers or the links between genetics/behavior/environmental exposures and breast cancer in the Sisters breast cancer study (not one that i work on)

here's the one (and to my relief, only) study that has had to rely in some part on FFQuestionaires. *alcohol, caffeine, drug use etc have been a part of every epi study.
http://tinyurl.com/bduel3 for a tiny url and
for the whole BMJ link.

Allen J Wilcox, Rolv Terje Lie, Kari Solvoll, Jack Taylor, D Robert McConnaughey, Frank Åbyholm, Hallvard Vindenes, Stein Emil Vollset, and Christian A Drevon
Folic acid supplements and risk of facial clefts: national population based case-control study
BMJ Mar 2007; 334: 464; doi:10.1136/bmj.39079.618287.0B

Feb 25, 2009, 8:45am Top

#80 Bob - Thanks, I was curious where you were coming from with so much detailed info.

my other great relief in our particular findings was that the specific genes ... didn't pan out. Others were disappointed by this, but i have all kinds of doubts about results coming from these massive genetic associational studies. -- Interesting take. ;)

Feb 25, 2009, 10:41am Top

Actually I think Allen went about the genetic portion of the analysis in the correct fashion. That is, you had a relatively small selection of SNP's that were known a priore to have some relationship to folate metabolism and investigated those few snps, rather than taking 1000s of possible genes and seeing if anything catches

Feb 25, 2009, 9:48pm Top

Bob - I'll take your word for it. Sorry, you've gone beyond where I can understand.

Edited: Feb 25, 2009, 9:53pm Top

9. Woman Hollering Creek: And Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros (c1991, 165 pages, finished Feb 23)

“TEX-as! What are you going to do there?

Anyone familiar with US interstate 10 east of San Antonio may recognize the reference in the title to the actual creek called “Woman Hollering.”

This is a series of short potent sketches on Tex-Mex life and on Mexico. They are generally less than three pages, with a handful of rather lovely slightly longer stories mixed in. Most of these are quite somber, typically a woman’s point-of-view in a masculine culture. And there some oddball, but interesting things such as one piece that is a series of unrelated letters to various catholic saints and icons with sincere requests, demands and thanks.

The first few sketches went by very fast and I hardly took them in, but the tone seemed to build on itself, and the language eventually really drew me in. The last few stories are still lingering.

A few lines:

“Only now as a mother did she remember. Now, when she and Juan Pedrito sat by the creek’s edge. How when a man and a woman love each other, sometimes that love sours. But a parent’s love for a child, a child’s for its parents, is another thing entirely” - from the story "Woman Hollering Creek"

“And I see our future and our past, Miliano, one single thread already lived and nothing to be done about it” - from "Eyes of Zapata"

“Until death do us part, said your eyes, but not your heart. All, all illusion. A caprice of your flirtatious woman’s soul.” - from "Tin Tan Tan"

Edited: Feb 25, 2009, 9:59pm Top

sorry..all it really means is that if you look for correlations among 1000+ variables, there are going to be some that appear significant ( in a statistical sense), just by the nature of chance. Whereas if you limit your analysis to a few variables that you think (in advance) might have a relationship to the outcome, you are playing much more "fairly."

Feb 26, 2009, 5:45pm Top

Dan, forgive me, it seems I was mixing the idea of an Oscar Wao thread with the Bolano thread. Clearly, I've lost more brain cells recently.

Feb 26, 2009, 7:10pm Top

Hi avaland, I thought that might be the case. No worries.

Edited: Mar 7, 2009, 12:51pm Top

10. The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly (c2005, 434 pages, finished March 6)

Teza, a singer for a protest movement against the Burma/Myanmar government, was arrested in 1988 and sentenced to 20-years of solitary confinement as a high-profile political prisoner. When we meet Teza he has been in a windowless prison room alone for seven years, desperately trying to stay sane, and alive, and to philosophically, through Buddhism, come to terms with his life. And so the story begins.

This is a political book. Connelly, who has published poetry and a non-fiction book on Thailand, has spent at least 10 years studying Burma, first inside, and later on the Burma-Thai border. She has also become an activist against the repressive isolationist Burmese government. And this book is a statement about the condition of Burma. Political messages are often fatal to works of art. Certainly this book has some flaws, for example the jailers in general seemed too simplified, like stock characters. But despite that, it’s a beautiful work, elegantly constructed, with some memorable characters.

I edited this a bit this morning.

Mar 7, 2009, 6:35pm Top

Does the book focus on Teza entirely? Having just finished reading This Blinding Absence of Light, a fictionalized account of a political prisoner in Morocco under what seem to be similar circumstances, I'd be interested in reading The Lizard Cage to compare the two.

Mar 7, 2009, 9:13pm Top

Well, Aruba, having read both, I think the Jelloun is a better book, but the theme is somewhat the same. Teza wasn't in an underground prison, for one thing.

Mar 7, 2009, 11:44pm Top

#89 arubabookwoman - Well, that certainly wasn't a comprehensive review, since I skipped the entire plot. There are other characters who are explored in depth, including an interesting 12-year-old orphan who has grown up in the prison. Teza is the main focus, although it's worth noting he goes through a radical change as the story carries on. I don't know much about "This Blinding Absence of Light", but, I think a major difference is that the main character can talk to other prisoners. Teza is alone except for jailers and the guys who serve his meals.

I got the impression that Connelly was able to get a good sense of what is might actually be like to be Teza in the first part of the book. She mentions at least one real person he is partially based on and she likely interviewed a number of one-time prisoners over the years. I think she has something of real value in the character she creates - I mean specifically the Teza in the early part of the book. I think a comparison of how the different characters handle their imprisonment would be interesting.

Mar 8, 2009, 12:00am Top

arubabookwoman - I just looked at your thread and realized it's because of your review of "This Blinding Absence of Light" that I actually know anything about the book beyond the title. I've actually been thinking about your review of that book ever since I read it, including the entire time I read this book. What a striking story that must be.

Mar 8, 2009, 12:18am Top

Since I'm post happy tonight, I might as well continue on with my second commercial break for children's books.

My favorite recent find was an oldie - Richard Scarry's Great Big Air Book. I'm not always crazy about Richard Scary books, but this one is brilliant. He has all his nutty little things going, but he just happens to slide in the explanations of how birds fly, how lift works to make airplanes fly, how jet engines work and a detailed little bit on traveling to the moon and back.

We also been in a "Magic School Bus" overload. We just checked out our fifth and sixth book from the series from our library. See here: http://www.librarything.com/series/The+Magic+School+Bus+Classic

I'm still laughing just thinking about Five Little Gefiltes, a humorous take on "Five Little Ducklings" on Gefilte fish! Lots of Yiddish and it even includes a Yiddish glossary.

I lost my 2-yr-old at the library until he came up to me with holding a board book called Splish Splash, Baby Bundt : A Recipe for Bath Time. So, of course we checked it out, and it's been a big hit with both kids, and me. There are only two entries in LT.

Any finally, another oldy, Letters, Sounds, and Words : A Phonic Dictionary. Whenever my daughter picks this up we seem to have a reading breakthrough of sorts.

Mar 8, 2009, 4:49am Top

do look for the way underappreciated mercer mayer teep and beep books (aka TinyTink!Tonk!Tales. 2 of us on LT have the ur classic of the set: tink goes fishing. We had 5 of the set of 6 TinyTinkTonkTales, but loaned one out to a friend w/ 3 boys younger than adam...ergo MUCH more chance of a given book disappearing, although, as a whole Brad and Dorothy's house was far more organized than ours.

The characters look remarkably like lego creatures. Somewhere we have a tape of adam, age 2 singing the "tinktonk cantata" which somehow became a part of toilet training. Obviously memorable and easily memorizable material as the best very young kids books often are.

Mar 8, 2009, 10:58am Top

>93 dchaikin:, I am in love with the description of Five Little Gefiltes. That is hilarious. Does it have pictures?

Have you read The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming? Another humorous take on Jewish food.

Mar 8, 2009, 7:12pm Top

fannyprice - The "Latke" book sounds terrific. I've requested it from my library. Five Little Gefiltes is a children's picture book.

Bob - We were given a Mercer Mayer book called "A monster followed me to school", it's cute but it didn't inspire me to look for more. The Tink Tonk books do sound really nice, but they don't seem that easy to find. I'll keep my eye out for them.

Mar 8, 2009, 7:21pm Top

Dan -- my kids loved the Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer -- Just me and my dad, Just me and my mom. Just me and grandma, etc, etc -- definitely on the 2-4 year level -- they were pb and very cheap when they were little a couple of decades ago.

Mar 8, 2009, 9:49pm Top

Hi Jane, thanks. My library has a bunch. I requested a couple.

To everyone, thanks so much for the children's books suggestions. I've been running our of new ideas for books. :)

Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 9:23am Top

11. Possessed by Shadows* by Donigan Merritt (c2005, 239 pages, finished March 11)

Back in December I received an early reviewer book that I liked, the story was interesting. But, for whatever reason, the book didn't leave me when I put it down. It hung around for awhile, actually it still does. It's never clear to me why some books do this and some don't. It's worth noting that it had a lot of self-reflection in a clean and uncluttered manner. This book was The Common Bond by Donigan Merritt, published by a small press called Other Press. There are 20 copies on LT; 15 Early Reviewer copies were passed out.

Recently I picked up Possessed by Shadows, the author's previous book. I have the only copy on LT. I can't predict whether this book will stick in the same way, but it had me mesmerized throughout. The story is about a married couple who are obsessive rock climbers. A climbing accident leads to the discovery that the woman, Molly, has a terminal untreatable brain tumor and about a year to live. We hear Molly's story of her life from herself, and the story of her last year from her husband. The two narratives are intertwined. I wouldn't call this a tearjerker or oppressively depressing (as a review on amazon.com did), because we're given the bad news up front. Instead this book is more about exploring the characters and mortality, and about a lot of rock climbing (something I'm not personally familiar with). Like the previous book there is a lot of self-reflection, and again it's very cleanly drawn. There are other similarities between these two books, actually in some ways they are echoes of each other.

It's interesting how a book so obscure can have such a meaningful effect on us. I can't say whether or not this is truly a great book or whether it would effect anyone else as it has me. My reaction may be a very personal reaction. I could probably say it's well written, although I don't feel qualified to judge. Part of it's attraction to me may have been in the discovery, and in the lack of expectation. A nice surprise. I'm not sure.

*touchstones don't work, this is a link.

Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 9:35am Top

An excerpt from the book above:

I have always believed that the line between reason and senselessness is extraordinarily fragile and desperately tenuous. I have entertained enough incongruous - I could say insane - thoughts in my life that I understand how razor sharp, how thin the dividing line is. It is the loss of control that most frightens me, that some event I had not determined and could not manage would knock me over the line and I would not be able to recover. I studied philosophy, I realize now, solely as an attempt to understand and then maybe control the mysterious exegesis of fate. I see in the faces of my few serious students that they are looking for the same thing.

I have failed to find a god I could believe in. From the tragic Catholicism of Unamuno and the trembling leap of Kierkegaard to the deductions of Descartes and the practical realities of James, I have still not been able to find salvation from the condemnation of reason. The only gods I can find were obviously created from human need, having no other existence or purpose. This fact saddens me. It was this sadness that had me sitting on the steps of the St. Peter church like a penitent.

Mar 11, 2009, 12:46pm Top

Wow. That last paragraph really resonates with me.

Sounds like an amazing book, I'm going to see if I can find a copy here. Thanks for the review, dan.

Mar 11, 2009, 6:00pm Top

That sounds like a great book. I've added it to my wishlist. Thanks for the great review - and the excerpt.

Mar 12, 2009, 12:07am Top

tomcat & Talbin - Thanks for the nice comments. Tomcat, good luck finding a copy over there. There are copies available on Amazon.com (the USA version).

Mar 18, 2009, 2:31pm Top

#95: fannyprice & #97: janeajones

I picked up a few of those books.

I loved The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming It was a bit much for my daughter...but she'll grow into it, of course I will need to go out and buy a copy to make sure I have it on hand :)

Just me and My Dad was a hit with both kids, perfect for them. It really got my sons attention. I have one other Little Critter book coming from the library and I'll search out some more.

Again, Thanks!

Edited: Apr 4, 2009, 12:32am Top

12. Peace by Richard Bausch (c2008, 192 pages, finished March 16) - my first ebook

It's been a few days and I think it's time to admit I'm stumped on how to comment on this one. On the surface this is a World War II story with some moral ambiguity. The Allies are advancing through Italy, Italy has surrendered and the Germans are retreating. In the opening scene a group of nine US recon soldiers are marching in freezing rain ahead of the main US army . They are wet, cold, exhausted, and, as the first ones to come across any German resistance, and are getting picked off. When a German soldier and a woman fall out of cart they are searching, the German shoots two men dead before he is killed. The Sergeant looks at the dead men, walks up the woman, who is screaming, puts a gun to her head and shoots . "This is all one thing," he says. This is page 4.

I think that gives some flavor of what Peace has to offer. There is an authentic feeling war story here, it's brief, straightforward. Yet the reader has to pause, and check, and think "wait a minute, does that mean..." After finishing this book and finding myself unable to sleep that night for thinking about it, I know there is a lot more here than moral ambiguities of war. Bausch has very carefully sketched his characters, using some simple dialog, and some history, and then left quite a bit up to our imagination. He has intentionally led us to sit on this story and wonder about it. This is not wholly a compliment. In some ways there is some kind of impressive skill used to create and convey all this. In another way I feel a little worked over, and I'm a little annoyed at not being able to put the story to rest.

Mar 19, 2009, 11:38am Top

An impressive review, Dan, thanks.

The good ones are ones that make the unsuspecting reader with a mile-high TBR pile add another book to it, and you have just done that.

My current read is Joseph Roth's Radetzky March which deals with the Austro-Hungarian Empire 1850 to 1918 and questions of war and honor are central in it. And I am always recommending Hasek's Good Soldier Svejk, another key WWI novel. Both of them would make interesting comparisons with your read.

Mar 19, 2009, 1:40pm Top

Andrew - That's the best response I can hope for. Thanks, hope I haven't mislead you.

I have the NCAA tournament buzzing in my brain, so, this is kind of a distracted post, but both those books have come up here in this group as highly recommended. The Roth books sounds very interesting to me. I can't tell whether I would like Svejk or not. I stopped adding every interesting book I come across to a TBR list, otherwise they would be on there. At the moment they're on a mental list. Thanks for reinforcing them.

Mar 20, 2009, 9:23am Top

#105 - Thanks for the heads up vis-a-vis the review. Despite your confessed 'stumpedness' (is that a word?), I found the review intriguing to the point where I will make a real effort to find and read this book. I tried the first few pages through the Amazon "Look Inside" option and liked what I read. Thanks again!

I've just finished two more books since your last visit. Namely, The Black Hole War by Leonard Susskind, and Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq: A Soldier's Perspective by Paul Rieckhoff. I hope to post reviews during the coming week. No time this weekend - I'm sneaking in this repy while on a late-night baby bottle boiling!

I don't read that my novels, but I am about to start Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, as the synopsis sounds fascinating...

Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty? In this brilliant book rife with true gallows humor, Vonnegut turns black and white into a chilling shade of gray with a verdict that will haunt us all.

Mar 20, 2009, 10:13am Top

"I'm sneaking in this repy while on a late-night baby bottle boiling!" - :) I don't miss those days. My youngest is now 2 1/2. He still gets up in the middle of the night too often. But now all I do is go in and tell him to go back to sleep. He says "OK Daddy", and lies back down.

Thanks for the comment on my review. I certainly look forward to yours. As for the Vonnegut, it sounds interesting. I've read a couple Vonnegut's. I wouldn't hesitate to read more, but, for whatever reason, I'm also not searching them out.

Mar 20, 2009, 5:44pm Top

I read Peace last summer and it has lodged firmly in my memory. Bausch packed a lot into that slim little volume. It's much bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside. It makes me wonder if he wrote it quickly or if he spent serious time refining the simplicity of the story with the layered complexity.

Mar 21, 2009, 2:03pm Top

Hi VG, I might be mistaken but I'm pretty sure I remember your post on the "What are your reading the week of" threads, which was part of inspiration for reading Peace. I'm glad you posted here about it. It would be interesting to know how he went about writing this; and how much time and effort went into thinking it through and plotting it out. I wouldn't be surprised if he had worked it out on and off over a number of years.

Mar 21, 2009, 10:47pm Top

Great review Dan. On World War II, I'm wondering if you have read Elsa Morante's History (Touchstone not working), which is also about the Italian experience in the war, told through the eyes of a Roman woman and her handicapped son. I read it about three years ago and it has never left me.

Mar 21, 2009, 10:54pm Top

Murr - You got me interested. I was reading the LT reviews and found one that made the Morante book sound absolutely fascinating. I went to thumb and... then found out it was your review ;). On the list.

Mar 21, 2009, 11:02pm Top

Haha! Good, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Mar 24, 2009, 4:11am Top

A quick commercial break for a kiddies book from South Africa, if I may?!

I've just been totally charmed by Welcome to Zanzibar Road by Niki Daly and had to come over and share it on your thread, Dan. I was also pleased to find 9 copies on LT and a 4-star rating. I'd certainly give it 4 stars, as well :)

Mar 24, 2009, 10:24am Top

Thanks akeela - the library has it, and I've requested a copy. 4 stars from you means a bit more than from most other lters, quite a compliment!

Mar 24, 2009, 10:50am Top

:) It's just too cute! But honestly, I haven't read kiddies books in a while, so I'd be interested to know what you think, Dan!

Edited: Sep 11, 2009, 10:33am Top

13. Travelling with Djinns by Jamal Mahjoub (c2003, 346 pages, finished March 30)

I ordered this book specially from ABEbooks in the UK - it was the only place I could find a copy. I was inspired by comments in this group and elsewhere by akeela and kidzdoc. Too inspired. How do we get so excited about a book we haven't read, so much so that it ruins the reading experience? Sigh...I tried to let my brain normalize and take this one in naturally, but the brain was out-of-control, pumped with involuntary enthusiasm and my reading experience was sadly lost.

I think this is a good book, and I think I would have really enjoyed it had I been able to read it in a normal state of mind.

As plot summary, Yasin is a British citizen who was born and raised in Sudan. At a huge family gathering in Denmark his English wife announces they are getting a divorce, then she sends Yasin off home with their 7-year-old son. Yasin, in a very calm panic attack of sorts, instead tells his son they are going on an adventure, and begins a tour through western Europe. He spends the trip trying discover who he is while making it something of a father-son experience. And there is a sense he's on the verge of a break down.

There is an interesting pyschological exploration of statelessness. Driving through Germany Yasin is trying to explain to his son about the Crusades. He son asks, 'Who were the Saracens?' 'Well, they were...us.' Yasin feels like a foreigner in Britain, but has little attachment to a now politically warped Sudan. It gives him a driftless feeling that is echoed in his wandering travels. The author, Jamal Mahjoub, spent a lot of his childhood in Sudan. So presumably these feelings are somewhat autobiographical and authentic.

This is also a poignant father-son story, a look at some interesting characters, and something like philosophical musings.

An excerpt:

"We tend to think of our lives as following some kind of linear progression, from birth to death. We expect to continue to grow and learn, to keep rising. Time is a ticking clock, a counter that keeps running, and yet time is the greatest illusion of them all. We invented it, picked a convenient beginning and then divided it up into tiny increments. So we had weeks and months and bank holidays and Ramadan. And it made perfect sense, and so we assume that progress follows with the passage of time. We strive individually to better ourselves and we search for evidence of collective advancement, finding it in science and technology, wondrous advances in medicine. And from them we assume humanity is growing, learning, becoming more civilized. But the medical miracles are restricted, to the majority of people on the planet they are further away than a prayer. Time is not linear at all. It turns like the universe around a spiral we cannot hold onto. The answer is staring down at us from the stars above. The light which reaches us from those distant winking stars comes from gaseous clouds that burned out millions of light years ago. We look at the night sky and we see time flowing backwards. An illusion created by the speed of light and the enormous distances involved. But still we draw comfort from their constancy."

Apr 2, 2009, 9:35am Top

Other things I've been reading:

-The inaugural issue of the San Pedro River Review, a poetry journal edited & published by Jeffrey C. Alfier and Tobi R. Cogswell. It's the first poetry collection of any type I've read in a long time. I'm friendly with Jeffrey, who I met through LT. His username is southwestpoet (http://www.librarything.com/profile.php?view=southwestpoet ).

-I started may have abandoned When You Come Home by Nora Eisenberg. It's an LT Early Reviewer novel on Gulf War Syndrome, which I'm curious about. But the first 100 pages were very bland, just building up nice wholesome really dull characters presumably so that we'll feel really sad once the soldiers start getting sick. Yesterday was my birthday, and I couldn't stand reading a bland book, so I started:

-Sorry by Gail Jones, a very Orange-y feeling novel located in NW Australia. After the Early Reviewer, this one feels just so thick with complexity. Much better.

Apr 2, 2009, 3:45pm Top

#119 - Hey! Happy belated birthday for yesterday!

Just out of interest, does the title Sorry have any political connotations?

Apr 2, 2009, 4:44pm Top

Hi petermc, Thanks! It's not yet clear to me why that is the title. In some manner it must be a reference to abuse of Indigenous Australians.

Apr 2, 2009, 7:29pm Top

>119 dchaikin: Orange-y feeling novel... What's that?

I love Jones's writing - so lyrical. And her books have all be relatively short:-) >120 petermc: Yes. My copy had an afterward that explains the issue further. Since that time, with the new PM in OZ, the apology has, of course, been made.

Apr 2, 2009, 8:27pm Top

#122 avaland - Thanks for clearing that up, vis-a-vis the title!

As for "Orange-y", I was wondering the same thing. Is it a reference to that lovely country town of Orange in NSW? I spent a very happy 3 months in Orange on a university vacation, working at the Cadia Hill gold and copper mine gaining the necessary 3-months of practical experience needed to complete my degree.

Apr 2, 2009, 9:48pm Top

Orange-y... sorry, I guess that wasn't so clear. :) It's a reference to the Orange Prize. I just meant it's the kind of book you might find on the Orange Prize lists. (actually it was on the 2008 long list.)

Apr 3, 2009, 7:59am Top

kind of book you might find on the Orange Prize lists...

hmmm. Do you mean a book authored by a woman? :-)

Apr 3, 2009, 9:18am Top

I think I might have stepped into something I didn't intend. I guess I have a sense that literary awards tend toward vague themes of writing styles. So, if you follow the lists in each award, you can kind of group them. At least this seems true of the handful I've been paying attention to over the last...well only three years.

The Orange Prize seems to have its own vague grouping. Obviously all the winners are women, but that is not what I was getting at, at least not consciously. I was more thinking of the writing styles. Please don't ask me to define it, I couldn't possibly do it. It's just a sense.

Is this all...um...different than the conventional wisdom?

Apr 3, 2009, 9:33am Top

>126 dchaikin: That's interesting. I've never thought the OP lists could be generalized other than the obvious all written by women thing. They are a bit different than some of the other prizes in that they look for excellence, originality and accessibility in the books they chose (I don't know if that is noted on the website anymore, but it used to be). The OP, I imagine, has the same quirks in their selectioning that all the other prizes suffer from. There have been some real duds on the list and some reasonably light books; but some excellent ones also. I do think they have done a good job rewarding thoughtful reads that fall under some or all of those three things I mentioned. I suspect you don't mean writing styles, per se, but something else. Perhaps, they often, but not always, tell a story through a woman's experience? (I'm just speculating here).

Edited: Apr 6, 2009, 12:13pm Top

I had a response avaland posted here, but rereading ... I've decided to delete. I don't think anyone will miss the post. It's recoverable, if anyone wants it back.

Edited: Sep 11, 2009, 10:26am Top

14. Sorry by Gail Jones (c2007, 219 pages, finished Apr 3)

This was a bit of a random read for me, and a pleasant surprise. I'm now looking into Dreams of Speaking, another book by Gail Jones which came out just before this one.

I've struggled on how to review this one. Gail Jones has a wonderful prose which I find difficult to describe. If there is a line where prose goes from being really nice to just too far, she hugs that line, but she does it stunningly well...IMHO. Well enough that I found her writing is more memorable than the story.

The title "Sorry" refers to Australia's history of taking children away from indigenous families, a practice that continued into the 1970's.

The novel is the story of Perdita, the unwanted child of an abusive marriage who is raised in the Australian outback. Her father's highpoint seems to have been as a soldier in WWI. Her mother's escapes the world through memorized Shakespeare. Affection is absent from both parents. The novel centers around the bloody death of Perdita's father, the lead up to it, and what follows. Among other themes covered is of the Australian outback during WWII, and of Australian aboriginals, but only at a slight distance, from Perdita's perspective. The theme of stolen aboriginal children plays a critical, but arguably secondary part.

An excerpt. This doesn't fully capture Jone's prose, actually I think I picked it more for the Shakespeare:

"It is curious the way children come to understanding. I had circulated the words of sonnet LX around and around in my head, particularly the opening, the repetition of which I loved:

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

It had rested in me, ticking over like the relentless minutes it described, providing a bright, fluent space I could play my voice in. Then, all of a sudden, I realized Shakespeare was wrong. There was no forward incessancy, like waves meeting waves, but recursion, fold, things revisiting out of time. The narrator of Rebecca returned to Manderley in dreams and memory; my sense too was of the implicating dragnet of the past, the accumulated experiences to which I was somehow compelled to return, the again and again, one might say, of moments drastically mistaken."

ETA - an embarrassing typo I just found.

Apr 11, 2009, 10:12pm Top

Sounds like the author of this should check out our poetry memorization thread!

Apr 11, 2009, 10:23pm Top

ha! I hadn't thought of the connection. I think that thread started while I was reading this.

Edited: Apr 15, 2009, 8:49pm Top

15. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (c2001, 486 pages, finished Apr 13)

It's been awhile since I had so much fun reading a book. Despite being in the wrong mood at the get-go, for whatever reason my brain was craving information/nonfiction, this story of post-WWII Barcelona, highlighted by a handful of flamboyant characters and a lost book, quickly won me over, and by the end I was racing to see how it would finish. And now it seems to be quickly evaporating...oh well, I've still given it five stars for the moment.

Among the contents are an assortment of wonderful lines. For some reason it feels a touch criminal to post them out of context, because they just have a different meaning in the atmosphere of the book. But, I have one in mind which I might post later on.

Apr 15, 2009, 10:00pm Top

#132 - Good news indeed! I picked up this book a few months back, and it is slowly climbing Mount TBR. As are Child 44, Killing Rommel, The Welsh Girl, The Burning Blue, and so so so so many more; but like yourself, my mind also craves nonfiction - so much so that I find it very difficult to make much of a dent at all on my fiction list!

Apr 16, 2009, 9:05am Top

#133 Petermc - I'm not sure where you fiction tastes lie, but I think you will like 'Shadow'. I'd feel safe recommending it.

I think I'm going through a nonfiction withdrawal of sorts. I normally read a lot of NF, but since January I've only read 2 NF (vs 13 F). I was at the library recently looking at the new release shelf and felt compelled to pick up a book on the history of the Great Wall of China. (the "new release" actually has a copyright of 1990 - and it's originally in English. It's just a new reprint.). It's the book I was thinking about when I started 'Shadow'.

Apr 16, 2009, 8:04pm Top

Dan, glad you liked Sorry and Shadow of the Wind. I have an arc of Zafon's latest which, I'm told, is a bit darker than the previous. If I read it in the near future, I'll be happy to then send it on to you.

Apr 16, 2009, 10:21pm Top

#135 avaland - That's an incredibly nice offer. See my post on your profile.

Apr 19, 2009, 9:56am Top

I'm not reading at the moment, but cataloging. About 50 have books that arrived within the last three days. They include two Early Reviewers (one from January), some books my mother brought, 46 books purchased at the Friends of Houston Public Library Book Sale, and one last book that came in the mail yesterday from polutropos, part of an exchange. Perhaps I should add I also have a yet-unused $100 amazon gift certificate and no less than 11 books waiting for me at the library to pick up (six from the IMPAC Dublin short list). Oh, and maybe I should add that I haven't finished my reading my Early Reviewer from February...although I tried to pick that up again earlier this week...

So, highlights from the book sale:

Books I've really wanted to get a hold of:

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart by M. Glenn Taylor - an ARC
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo - an ARC
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Jim the Boy by Tony Earley
Atonement by Ian McEwan
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Animal's People by Indra Sinha - an ARC (2009 IMPAC Dublin short list)
Thud! by Terry Prachett

Books I kind of randomly picked up:

Music and Silence by Rose Tremain
Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo (based on comments about the author in this group, I think)
Love Marriage by V. V. Ganeshananthan - an ARC
All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka - an ARC
Fool by Christopher Moore - an ARC
The Sea by John Banville
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (based on recent review in this group, I think)
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (based on comments from this group)
Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Unbearable Lightness of being by Milan Kundera
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Books I had never heard of before, and know almost nothing about

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo - an ARC
Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier - an ARC
The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber
Wolves of the Crescent Moon by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Other books I've picked-up recently:
My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey - from Polutropos
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah
The Hungry Tide by Amtav Ghosh
The Mascot by Mark Kurzem - from my mother

Apr 19, 2009, 11:14am Top

Jeez Dan! That's an insane number of books. I am rather jealous. You have a lot of good-looking stuff in those piles.

Apr 19, 2009, 2:45pm Top


Apr 19, 2009, 3:49pm Top

I'm...a bit overwhelmed. It was just so cheap at the library book sale - $58 for 46 books.

Apr 19, 2009, 6:21pm Top

>don't you just looove library sales! I was at one Friday. I picked up 5 HCs, 18 paperbacks (mostly trade paper) for $28. Most of these are for a meetup in May with a group of reading friends, five were for ME. This is library sale season, people, go to www.booksalefinder.com!

You have some great stuff there, Dan. Of the 14 I've read, I'd say the Gurnah was my favorite. Still, Music and Silence, The Hungry Tide, Atonement, Kevin & Balzac were, of course, very good also... depressaholic probably has a review of Wolves...I remember he read that maybe last year?

Apr 19, 2009, 6:32pm Top

The Houston Public Library book sale was awesome. I got The Uncommon Reader, The Girl in Blue, Love Marriage, ARCs of Bowl of Cherries and Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other good ones. It seemed like they had a TON of ARCs this year--I wondered if they were from the library itself or donations.

Apr 19, 2009, 8:36pm Top

#137 - I've heard good things about Carpentaria by Alexis Wright. Look forward to seeing your thoughts on this one...

Apr 19, 2009, 9:18pm Top

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is one of my favorite books, and one of my favorite films as well.

Apr 19, 2009, 9:58pm Top

B****hell, Dan! You going to need some more shelf space for all those new books?

I was looking at the Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers yesterday in the book store. It looks very good. Balzac and the little Chinese Seamstress is a good read as well. There is some very interesting writing coming out of China, and these two writers are top of the wave in quality.

I, Claudius is a great classic as well.

Apr 19, 2009, 10:01pm Top

#141 Avaland, I'm a bit jealous you've read so many of there. Thanks for all the comments, it's nice to here Balzac might be winner.

#142 Hi carlym, nice to find a fellow Houstonian! I checked your profile and noticed your favorite book stores. I'm wondering if you've been to Brazos Bookstore on Bissonet, a few blocks East of Kirby (north of The Village). If not, I'd almost insist you stop by at least once.

As for the ARCs, I actually found quite a few in last year's sale, when I wasn't looking. This year I was looking them. Fiction trade paperbacks was my first and longest stop. I suspect the library gets a bunch of ARCs and dumps them.

#143 Hi petermc, Carpentaria got a lot of talk a long time ago on LT, I don't even remember why anymore. Supposedly a particularly well done, but difficult, book from the Aboriginal perspective. I've been looking for it every since, and it just now came available on amazon.com (USA).

#144 Hi Jane, Noted, thanks! From you it's a great recommendation.

Apr 19, 2009, 10:07pm Top

Hi Murr, your post came in while I was writing the other one. I think the problem is we added shelf space already. We had empty shelves! Right above the computer! The brain couldn't stand it. And there's still more of it! - although that space is a bit higher now...

A second positive comment for the Balzac, good deal. I need to actually read some of these Chinese authors I've begun picking up...Thanks for the comments.

Apr 20, 2009, 10:21pm Top

>146 dchaikin:: I have not been to Brazos Bookstore. I live entirely too close to Half-Price Books, and I usually end up there.

Apr 21, 2009, 12:49am Top

carlym - Half-Price is random, which isn't an insult. They also vary from place to place. With somewhat appropriate randomness, there is a really nice one on westheimer & Kirkwood. Brazos is very selective. When I walk into Borders or Barnes&Noble, I look around the front displays and then wonder where they are hiding all the good books. With Brazos everywhere I turn I linger. That's why I recommend it.

Apr 21, 2009, 5:05pm Top

Aren't ARC usually given to libraries for book sales by way of book stores? I know that McIntire's outside of Chapel Hill, donates most of the ARCs for the Pittsboro library booksales. But that's an N of 1.

Apr 21, 2009, 7:02pm Top

>150 bobmcconnaughey: we gave ours to the prison. A lot of libraries won't take them. They seem to be nervous about the not for sale warnings on books. Of course, we were the only bookstore for several communities and it wouldn't have been fair to give them to one library over another...

Edited: Apr 29, 2009, 8:49pm Top

16. Beyond the Horizon : The First Human-Powered Expedition to Circle the Globe by Colin Angus (c2007, 360 pages, finished Apr 25) - an LT Early Reviewer

I had a lot of trouble with this in concept because I just couldn't stop rolling my eyes. I know, it's snarky, but Colin makes such a big deal of how a great a thing this was, and yet he doesn't pause, even for an instant, to question whether it's really all that important. I mean it's kind of cool that someone has accomplished this. It's physically very impressive, and it took some remarkable ingenuity at times; and it's nice that he's the first one. But really, it's a bit obscure, no?

Despite at that, it's still a fun book. Colin covers some fascinating territory, including very obscure parts of Siberia in the winter, by bike; and also all of Europe, central America, and the a north-south path through the US by bike. He rows across the Bering Sea and across the Atlantic Ocean, the later taking half a year and including no less than three hurricanes in the offseason (or was it four?) - one came from the east.

His writing is uneven. At his best, he writes decently, but nothing special. There are no deep thoughts of any kind, and really very little reflection. At his worst the writing is stilted, just a summary of the facts and equipment. He splits with his original partner, adding some petty drama, and creating a race between the two at the end, and this seemed to effect his writing. The farther he got from his partner, the happier Colin was and the better his writing was.

Overall it was OK, interesting in parts, but I kind of wish I had been reading something else.

This post is different, and probably better, than my review, which you can find here: http://www.librarything.com/work/2848435/reviews

Apr 29, 2009, 9:47pm Top

Great thoughtful review. Now I know I don't need to read this one!

Apr 29, 2009, 11:00pm Top

#152 - I usually don't mind if someone embarks on and writes about an ultimately pointless journey such as this, as long as is undertaken in the spirit of adventure, and offers some insight into the human condition, or on the people and environments through which they pass. Looks like a miss on this one for me as well!

Apr 30, 2009, 1:59pm Top

#153 Murr, thanks so much for the compliment. By the a way, History: a Novel, by Elsa Morante found it's way to my house yesterday in a little box from amazon.

#154 petermc - Yes, I completely agree. And I want to know what the experience was like.

Glad I could save you both the trouble on this one.

Oh...Peter, I forgot to mention that The Himmler Brothers also landed my doorstep recently, inspired by the comments on your thread.

Apr 30, 2009, 10:52pm Top

I look forward to your comments re. The Himmler Brothers: A German Family History. After I finished that book I came across My Father's Country: The Story of a German Family by Wibke Bruhns, and was tossing and turning over whether to read that as well. In the end I decided to go with something else, and thought it would be a good idea to put some distance between the books anyway.

May 1, 2009, 12:27am Top

Oh good! That's a great book! I'm sure you will enjoy it.

May 4, 2009, 4:00pm Top

Dan, since my mind works in very odd associative ways :-), your mentioning of The Himmler Brothers: a German Family History brought to mind a book I picked up recently and have not had a chance to read yet, but may be interesting to you, too.

Magdalena and Balthasar: an intimate portrait of life in 16th century Europe revealed in the letters of a Nuremburg husband & wife.

May 5, 2009, 12:10pm Top

Magdalena and Balthasar by Steven Ozment is a wonderful look into a marriage of a travelling merchant and his stay-at-home wife who kept the business running for him. It's an amazingly loving and egalitarian partnership. Ozment is a wonderful commentator/historian as well. He was the keynote speaker at a conference I went to years ago.

May 6, 2009, 9:53am Top


I just came across a children's book I love. Perhaps not for a two-year old, but soon, I think.

It is called There's No Such Thing As A Dragon and is by Jack Kent. Lovely story, lovely illustrations.

Edited: May 6, 2009, 9:59am Top

#158-159 : Andrew & Jane - Thanks for the recommendation. I tend to read in mental states and letters from Nuremberg in the 1500's are a bit outside mental radar of the moment. Definitely noted for later.

May 6, 2009, 9:59am Top

and as long as we're onto dragons - the quite wonderful my father's dragon. Certainly fine for a 4 yr old kid. The rescue of a beleaguered baby dragon. Great, silly pictures.

May 6, 2009, 10:02am Top

#160 Andrew - This sounds wonderful, possibly for my 2-yr-old, but I suspect perfect for my 4-yr-old. I've requested a copy from library. Thanks!

May 6, 2009, 10:08am Top

#162 - Bob - I've requested that one two, although I'm on a waiting list for it.

I'm overdue for a another children's books post - we've come across some great stuff over the last few months. I'll try to post something soon-ish.

May 6, 2009, 4:41pm Top

My two are just a little older than yours (8 and 5) and their favorites have been the Pigeon books by Mo Willems and the Skippyjonjones books (although I like them a lot less than the children). For years now, after the picture books have been read, we tuck them in and read a chapter book just a little over their comprehension. The Sophie books by Dick King-Smith, and then the standards like The Wizard of Oz and the Prydain Chronicles were what we began with, and are now currently up to The Hobbit and Swallows and Amazons. I'm not sure that it helped with their ability to read, but their reading comprehension is excellent.

I read somewhere that seeing their parents read for pleasure has a huge impact on how children approach reading themselves. It's quite a nice justification for my own reading, so I'm going with it.

May 6, 2009, 11:59pm Top

Rwgirl - I am just so looking forward to reading longer books with them. My daughter is getting there, it fun and fascinating to watch her choices change along with her comprehension. I usually let her pick the books, although I make suggestions.

If you catalogue your kids books, piont me there. I'd love to take a look.

Edited: May 8, 2009, 9:33pm Top

17. As a Palm Tree In the Desert : Part One by Zvi Ankori (c2008, 443 pages, finished May 7) - an LT Early Reviewer

Zvi Ankori, a career historian, is an orphan of the Holocaust. He was born in 1920 in the Jewish community of Tarnow, in Polish Galicia. His father was a Talmudic scholar; and his mother, from the Ukraine, counterbalanced his father with an obsession for secular and Zionist literature. At 17 Zvi made an Aliyah to Palestine with an older sister. The British law forbid his parents from joining him for three years - this was 1937. In 1939 his sister returned to Tarnow to spend the summer with her parents and younger sister. Zvi refused to come home having vowed to never return to Poland. Germany invaded on September 1, 1939.

As a Palm Tree in the Desert is an autobiography as a novel, only Ankori's second foray into literature. Two things struck me in opening section where he describes his parents clashing personalities through the books on the families special wooden bookshelf. One is how cumbersome is Zvi's prose, slowly making it's way to his point, dragging out apparently for effect. The other is that this actually worked, maybe not perfectly or pleasantly, but with it's own effectiveness. And that is a good summary for the rest of the book - if you can get through the turgid prose there is a memorable, if imperfect, gem in here.

What makes this book special is that Zvi, as an historian, has done extensive research into the Tarnow Jewish community he lived in, as well as into other aspects of the Jewish Diaspora including into some of the fascinating Jewish communities (and Pogroms) in the Ukraine. What I think makes this a gem is how he structures the work. He doesn't spend much time on himself - who is always referred to in the third person, often as "the son." Instead he picks out key characters he remembers from his childhood: his parents, two very different booksellers and an outcast - the later a Catholic family friend with his own historical wounds, a craftsman of wooden coffins, and also the builder of the families memorable wooden bookshelf.

The overall effect here is a colorful and deeply felt re-creation of parts of the Jewish world between the wars, some far apart, and most on brink of unexpected Nazi extermination or different sorry fates under Soviet Russia.

edited quite a bit.

May 8, 2009, 8:39pm Top

I don't catalog the children's books. It would probably be a good idea, but I am pretty sure I will never get around to it!

And isn't letting young children pick their own books a mixed blessing? My youngest inevitably choosing the most treacly tale possible involving a lost teddy bear or a naughty bunny and insists on having it read to him each and every night.

Edited: May 9, 2009, 12:58am Top

RwGirl - Letting them pick is painful! Ok, it has it's good points too...but...

May 9, 2009, 12:27am Top

Sometimes gifts can be even worse. I once "accidently" lost one of those way under the couch - full of overly sweet rhymes about good children, and what not.
I would recommend anything by Sendak, and the Little Bear Books are good and have his illustrations, Goodnight Moon and the Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, Beatrice Potter's books, The Wuggly Ump by Edward Gorey, The Giving tree by Silverstein. When they are a little older, the Animal Family by Randall Jarrell.

May 9, 2009, 1:11am Top

solla, We freely censor, even gifts.

Edward Gorey? The artist? He has a children's books? I will have to check that out!

I actually have a library request in for Where the Wild Things Are (we don't own any Sendak). Margaret Wise Brown and Shel Silverstein are favorites. Beatrice Potter hasn't really caught on.

Thanks for the suggestions!

May 9, 2009, 8:39am Top

As a Palm Tree in the Desert sounds fascinating; thanks.

May 9, 2009, 10:46am Top

Sendak is my favorite contemporary children's author -- all his stuff is WONDERFUL and the illustrations are gorgeous.

May 9, 2009, 11:02am Top

We have a well-worn copy of Where the Wild Things Are, it being a perfect, perfect book. I could look at the illustrations a thousand times without getting bored. In The Night Kitchen is also lovely.

May 9, 2009, 11:30am Top

I am quite a fan of Chicken Soup with Rice, which I have convinced my mom to send me my childhood copy of.

May 9, 2009, 3:12pm Top

#172 rebeccanyc - It really is fascinating in it's own way. Thanks so much for the comment.

#173-175 - So much Sendak love. I have fond memories of Where the Wild Things Are from my childhood - and there aren't many books I remember. But, for whatever I hadn't really thought about it, and hadn't picking any of his books up. This will be corrected somewhat shortly.

May 10, 2009, 8:25am Top

Swallows and Amazons was mentioned! I have very happy memories of reading the whole series when I was a child. I adored them all. My favourite was 'Missy Lee', set in the Pescadores, if I remember rightly, and now I live here! Strange how life works out....

Edited: May 10, 2009, 11:15pm Top

I spent Saturday night in the theater* watching the Tom Stoppard play Rock 'n' Roll. This is a history of Czechoslovakia under Soviet control - ~1968 - ~1989 - partially through the history of Rock 'n' Roll, an especially referencing Syd Barrett (briefly the main creative mind in Pink Floyd until that mind kind of flared out in 1968.)

I loved it, but then I was a Pink Floyd junkie in high school (circa 1990). My wife was somewhat mixed.

I don't know much about Tom Stoppard, and certainly did not know that he was born in Czechoslovakia. His apparently Jewish family left on March 15, 1939, the day of Hitler's annexation and he only made it to England after WWII.

This by the way is my second look at Czechoslovakia this year - Possessed By Shadows visits the country in 1989 before and after the big change.

*For the record, in 2009 I've now seen more plays in theater, 3, than grown-up movies at home, 1...I'm not proud of this.

ETA - replaced "adult movies" with "grown-up movies" - just didn't sound right.

May 11, 2009, 9:12am Top

umm. my feelings in re Sendak are more mixed than most, i'd guess. I like him more generally as an illustrator than author (see the bat poet and fly by night - text and poems by Randall Jarrell, wonderful illustrations by Sendak.) The one Sendak i really like is outside over there in which Sendak recycles classic fairy story themes in a scary (but not TOO scary) fashion and just gorgeous, detailed illustrations. "When papa was away at sea and Momma in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still..but never watched and so the goblins came........" (more or less, that's from 20 yrs ago).

May 12, 2009, 1:35pm Top

ETA - replaced "adult movies" with "grown-up movies" - just didn't sound right.

That made me laugh. Like how I differentiate my "adult" books from the vast sea of children's literature. But look at how they permeate every aspect of your life -- you're trying to have an adult conversation about Tom Stoppard and the Czech Republic and we're all jumping up and down and yelling out the titles of our favorite picture books.

Edited: May 17, 2009, 9:57pm Top

RidgewayGirl - Children don't exactly permeate our lives as take them over in every way; they've rearranged every brain cell I have. But, I like the yelling out favorite picture books and whatnot, especially here. As for Stoppard, like all my posts here, it's just another log entry; a personal commentary. It's OK if no one else pays any attention. :)

Bob - thanks for the Sendak post (don't tell anyone but my wife isn't crazy about Sendak either.) I'll look up Outside over there.

#177 - Murr! I must have missed your post. Swallows and Amazons and the rest will have to wait until my kids are older.

Apologies for the late replies, we just go back from a Disney World visit.

Edited: May 19, 2009, 9:38am Top

18. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (c2009, 470 pages, finished May 15)

Like Shadow of the Wind this was a lot of fun, and won me over early with that wonderful atmosphere Ruiz Zafón creates of a Gothem-like 1930's-era Barcelona; that sense of dying wealth and elegance hovering over poverty; all those mysterious dreamlike women who drift through his stories; and, of course, all that talk of books.

Here we start with an interesting variation of Dickens' Great Expectations, move along to a story that hints a the supernatural, but doesn't seem to quite cross that line, than suddenly we're in a thriller and then an ending whose meaning I haven't quite figured out.

One thing I missed from Shadow was how deeply history was woven in that book. Here there was a time-period atmosphere, but little other historical links. I'm mixed on the thriller aspects. But, it's an interesting story and a lot of fun to read.

P.S - Avaland, thanks for the copy. I'll be passing it along as well.

May 19, 2009, 9:11am Top

OK, here's what I'm thinking.... I'm going to make June a non-fiction free month so I can concentrate on books like these!

Well, maybe just one (or two) non-fiction books....

...anyway - Great review!

May 19, 2009, 9:24am Top

Peter - If I had known your plans for June I would have sent it your way, but it's already committed elsewhere. On the other hand, if you get a chance, I think you would enjoy Shadow more.

Thanks so much for the compliment on the review.

May 20, 2009, 1:06am Top

I've been contemplating The Angel"s Game. Now you've talked me into it. I haven't read an oil book this year. Some of my reading has touched on it but only as a side issue. I have ordered from a local library, The Queen of the Oil Club, which looks to be an interesting biography. Hopefully it'll come in in the next month or so.

May 20, 2009, 8:33am Top

VG - I see you have a copy of the The Prize and Annals of the Former World - two of my favorite geology related books. I highly recommend both, although McPhee avoids oil (and politics) - at least he does in Annals. I had never heard of The Queen of the Oil Club - Wanda Jablonski sounds fascinating.

May 22, 2009, 8:39am Top

>182 dchaikin: Dan, if you remember, Shadow of the Wind also had some thriller-eske scenes, maybe not as many. I thought the new one had quite a lot about writing fiction in it (there were what? two authors and one wannabe in the story?)

Edited: May 22, 2009, 9:26am Top

Yeah, there was at least that one scene. I have very mixed thoughts on thriller-eske (I like that word) type stuff in books...actually I also still have some unworked-out mixed thoughts on Shadow.

I pondering the persistent crazy-unrealistic aspects in thrillers. Something always happens that is outside the reality of the book, or that reveals a failure in the authors logic. The good person is always too quick, too observant, too strong, too clever, too lucky or whatever - and the bad person the exact reverse. Something happens that simply shouldn't happen.

I mean, that's not their only aspect. They are also fun and pointless.

Perhaps thrillers originates in an authors need to create the impossible. The author needs a distraction, so he/she ups the tension and the craziness of the events, makes it exciting, and thereby distracts the reader from some critical bend in reality needed to make the plot work. Then, later the author realizes that the tension, craziness and excitement happen to have their own appeal.

Or maybe not.

Anyway, I don't search out thrillers simply because they undermine the stable logical world I look for in my reading. For me reading is largely therapeutic, a way of sort of calming down my mind and focusing*. Thrillers don't have that effect.

I agree in The Angel's Game there was some very interesting stuff on writing - and I thought a lot of it was commentary by CRZ on his own writing, including some light and entertaining self-criticism (see that first paragraph). There was also quite a bit on religion - but I didn't care for that. It wasn't worked out at any depth, just a few thoughts that, honestly, felt much shallower than things I've come across on LT groups that discuss religion and atheism and etc. But, my review of The Angel's Game was not meant to be comprehensive, none of my reviews are.

Any, back our regular program. I just finished a nice book that I think was self-published by the author - Storyteller by G. R. Grove - librarything member gwernin. I'm not sure yet how to review, I probably need a few days to think about it.

*That's said with much too much confidence. I'm not exactly sure why I read.

May 22, 2009, 9:37am Top


very quick response to your post. (I am swamped with work, am AT work, and have deadlines to meet I am not meeting because of distractions.)

I LOVE thrillers. Why? For exactly the reasons you set out above, which make you NOT want to read them.

"They are also fun and pointless"
"For me reading is largely therapeutic, a way of sort of calming down my mind and focusing"


For these reasons I swallow them whole when I can read nothing else, when my "real" world is tumbling out of control, when I cannot concentrate on serious reading. I have I think five works of terrific serious literature more than half way finished right now. In the last two months I have not been able to go back to any of them. I know they are excellent. I was enjoying them. But I CANNOT concentrate on them right now. Too much other stuff is going on in my life. But I have read three thrillers during that time period and LOVED them.

They have provided me with "craziness and excitement... (and)... their own appeal."

Interesting discussion.

(Oh, oh, oh, another thought. Last night while waiting for car repairs to be finished I reached into the back of the car and pulled out a book which is a retelling of a fairy tale. I was gripped. I love it. And I thought, immediately, this really is not all that different from the thrillers I have been reading.

A fairy tale. A thriller. Significant overlap between them, in my mind, anyway.)

Back to the salt mines now.

May 22, 2009, 12:23pm Top

Funny how that works. I think our minds look for different things. When reading a thriller I start thinking, "Is this really what I should be reading?" and I think it's that sense of doubt the kills me more than anything else in the book. :)

May 22, 2009, 12:43pm Top

I'm not much of a thriller person, although they are easy to listen to while driving:-) Even when listening to them it drives me nuts when a perfectly good mystery - characters working hard to find clues and put the puzzle together when suddenly the character in the detective role gets kidnapped (thus unveiling the whodunnit) and it becomes a breathless will-she/he be saved in time or can she escape before.. (the alternate would, of course, be the chase scene).
I guess it is like both of you say, personal preference. I prefer a good cerebral police procedural over any thriller (which I consider a sort of formulaic cheap thrill), which is not to say I don't like well done suspense and action.

Andrew, are you suggesting that the fairy tale might be the or a literary ancestor of the thriller? How interesting.

May 23, 2009, 2:25pm Top

Some time ago I read an interesting article about children who were reading good books (Newbery books, the kinds parents and librarians approved of) would sudden go through a stretch of reading things like the "Sweet Valley Twins" or the "Goosebumps" series. The lone argument for letting them just read what they want even when it was below their abilities was that it provided them a pause before they would, all on their own, move to the next level.

I think we all sometimes need a pause in the action, especially when real life becomes overly busy, stressful and emotionally draining. I know that when I am feeling spread a little thin, the last thing I want at that time is to be stretched in any way, including intellectually.

May 23, 2009, 3:09pm Top

1932> I couldn't agree more. I remember long stretches of summers when I devoured Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames and, to my mother's horror, any comic book I could get my hands on (I could also afford to buy those at 10 and 25 cents on my 50 cent weekly allowance -- shows you how old I am). But I also read all the classics and drove the librarians crazy because I refused to stay in the children's room. And how many of us now escape into mysteries and thrillers of one sort or another?

Edited: May 28, 2009, 9:31am Top

19. Storyteller : Being the Wanderings of Gwernin Kyuarwyd by G. R. Grove (c2007, 238 pages, finished May 21)

G. R. Grove is a self published author and LTer (username: gwernin). I generally hesitate to pick up self-published books because of the lack of quality control. But no worries here. Grove is a competent writer who can take simple tale and make a colorful story out of it.

Storyteller is a tour of Wales in the time of Athurian legends. The Romans have left, Anglo-Saxons are advancing and King Arthur has been dead 20 years when the sixteen-year-old orphan Gwernin Kyuarwyd sets out on his first summer circuit of the Briton towns in modern Wales. He pays his way telling stories. Early in the book Gwernin and his traveling partner Ieuen wake up from midday nap in the middle of nowhere to find themselves in an opaque fog. Disaster. Slowly they try to find their way. Gwernin later, having gotten lost, makes his way to “a tall figure standing silent in the moon-silvered mist ahead of me.” It turns out to be a massive black standing stone. Perched at the bottom he imagines he hears a legendary king of the Celtic “Other-world” on a hunt with his hounds.

“Distantly I saw the hunt come and pass, the wraith-like deer
and the white hounds gleaming in the darkness. Dimly I saw
the rider, gray-cloaked and gray-mounted, pass by, with his
followers streaming behind him and the moon striking sparks
of silver from their fittings and their horns. They came, and
passed like thunder, and dwindled into silence, and I was
alone with the moon, and the mist, and the coming dawn”

Instead of filling us with the blood and gore and passion we might expect with Athurian legends, Grove takes a more literary approach. She takes her time, keeping us entertained with Gwernin’s travels; each chapter is another story out of Gwernin’s travels. In the end she has created her version of 6th century Wales, infused with history and clashes of cultures, and a place where legends and stories mix with reality. This is the first of a trilogy. I look forward to the next book.

Note: On her profile Grove advertises that she is willing to provide a PDF copy of a book for a review. I took her up on the offer.

May 27, 2009, 11:33pm Top

Dan -- this one sounds like fun. As a not-quite-lapsed Arthurian nut, I'd like to read it. But I don't think I'm up for a PDF version. I'll opt for something on paper.

May 28, 2009, 9:06am Top

Jane - You just need a Kindle ;) ... I do recommend this one, especially to Arthurian nuts. I read The Mists of Avalon last fall, and while this book was not consistent with Bradley's, it was interesting to follow up Arthur's death with a post-Arthurian world.

May 28, 2009, 2:00pm Top

Dan -- I probably do need a Kindle, but they seem to be changing and updating so fast that I'm hesitant to invest. One of these days......

May 31, 2009, 7:06pm Top

Glad to hear you liked Storyteller. I will be starting it soon. I love the Arthurian legends, especially when they are not heavy handed - which sounds like the case here.

May 31, 2009, 9:16pm Top

#198 - JPS - I think you'll like it. I look forward to any comments you post.

May 31, 2009, 10:38pm Top

Dark is a way and light is a place,
Heaven that never was
Nor will be ever is always true

--from Poem on his Birthday by Dylan Thomas

I came across these lines at the beginning of The Glass Castle, which I was looking through just to update my catalogue.

I found the full poem here. I tried, but couldn't get through it: http://www.poetryconnection.net/poets/Dylan_Thomas/1135

May 31, 2009, 11:27pm Top

oh Dan oh oh I have been away for so long and this thread is soooo interesting! where shall I start? What shall I do first? oh god oh god oh god! * Murr pours a vodka and takes a deep breath*

>181 dchaikin: I will be happy to put children to one side and talk about Stoppard any time. I saw a performance of his brilliant play about A.E Houseman years ago just before I came to Taiwan. I bumped into the playwright in the bathroom during the interval. I wanted to shake his hand, but I was suddenly struck by how inappropriate or disgusting it might seem, given the surroundings.... I have been trying desperately to pick up a copy of his Russian trilogy The coast of Utopia for ages.

I will definitely read some Zafon in the future. your review made it sound very interesting. Re the whole discussion on thrillers, I agree with everything that was said, but don't turn to thrillers to relax: historical fiction does it for me, especially Dorothy Dunnet. Perhaps we should prevail upon Polutropos to start a thriller thread. What are the best thrillers you would recommend to a non-thriller reader?

THe Arthurian book sounds great, and the extract you posted was very well written. Have you read Mary Stewart's Arthur books? I had a phase of reading those, they are very entertaining.

The Dylan Thomas is great. I adore DT. Read it aloud, Dan, or better still, memorise it!

Jun 1, 2009, 12:18am Top

Murr, wow, your post really gives me a big boost of confidence here. Thanks!

That is just too funny about Stoppard...I mean where the last place you would choose to meet someone you admire for the first time. No idea how you would react to Ruiz Zafón. I think a thrillers-for-the-non-thriller-reader would be quite interesting, but it won't get me to read any of those books. If anyone had described Ruiz Zafón as a thriller writer, I never would have touched his books - it would have been my loss.

As for Mary Stewart, I'll keep her in mind. I'm actually not a Arthurian nut, and have never been. I did once see the movie Excalibur and read The Once and Future King in high school, which definitely left their marks on my then impressionable. But that actually wasn't what lead to Storyteller.

An finally for Dylan Thomas - the poetry memorization thread was one of the first things that came to mind when I saw that little excerpt... than I saw the poem - 633 words! Maybe I'll start with a different poem ;)

Jun 1, 2009, 1:40pm Top

I loved Mary Stewart's books when I read them about 30 years ago -- very Welsh, and centered more on Merlin as I recall -- my never-finished dissertation was on Malory, so I read EVERYTHING available on, about, or derived from Arthurian literature that I could put my hands on...

re Stoppard: We saw "Voyage" from The Coast of Utopia in London -- a fabulous, witty, wildly intellectual production, which my in-laws were entirely befuddled by, but then Russian history was entirely Greek to them. Many years ago saw John Wood in Travesties in NYC -- great satire on Joyce and Lenin et al in Switzerland. And way back in the 70s, when we were young and pretty, husband Doug played Rosencrantz in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at the Cleveland PlayHouse. This summer we're planning to catch a production of Arcadia at Chautauqua Institution in upstate NY. But I never ran into a playwright in the bathroom!

Jun 1, 2009, 7:42pm Top

oh Jane I do envy you! fabulous, witty, wildly intellectual production this is exactly why I love Stoppard. And his great skill in writing this kind of thing so that it is always dramatic and entertaining!

Edited: Jun 10, 2009, 12:19am Top

20. The Indifferent Stars Above : The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown (c2009, 330 pages, finished May 29) - an LT Early Reviewer

I think this book book might have made me sick. I'm not sure, and really it wasn't that gruesome - I mean despite that cannibalism part. But, I did go a few days with an upset stomach, and I got better right after I finished the book. Really.

What it did do was create a pioneer experience. It's 1846, on brink of the Mexican-American war manipulated by James K. Polk, when newly married Sarah Graves Fosdick leaves Illinois with the Graves family, including about 8 younger siblings, to travel over the plains, through South Pass and then over the Sierra Nevada into California. We follow her, or at least the various groups she travels with, all the way to the bitter end.

Did I mention this was an experience? This is a popular history that can fully brings us in. I felt I was able to really get a sense of how crazy these pioneers were, what they were up against, how young they were, how stubborn and resilient plowing through endless problems. The Donner Party gets extra-credit for their fateful mistake of following the "Hasting's Cut-off," a "short cut" that lead them across the Wasatch mountains where they literary had to cut the trees down to pass through, and then on to a walk across the salt plains without water for days. It cost them a full month, a delay which lead directly to their disturbing iconic fate.

Brown uses a large bags of tricks to make this book work, one of which is simply some exceptional nonfiction writing. He also brings in a various interesting ideas and facts on things like the causes of the anomalous weather that winter, the psychology associated with hypothermia/hunger/ etc. I would say the tricks kind of come apart at the end, after the drama has passed, where Brown doesn't quite manage to bring the story to a close...IMHO. But, by that point he had already fully captured my attention, and I'll forgive him.

Highly recommended to anyone curious about the plains or the early history of the American West. Gently recommended to about everyone else, because while I don't think anyone needs to know so much detail about the the Donner story, it's fun to learn it.

Jun 4, 2009, 11:00pm Top

Dan -- I'm just about to read The Donner Party by George Keithly -- a book length narrative poem about the expedition. I don't yet know how historically accurate it is, but it might be interesting to compare impressions....

Jun 5, 2009, 12:13am Top

That will interesting, look forward to your comments. I'd be interested to know how readable it is.

Jun 6, 2009, 4:06pm Top

Dan -- I really quite enjoyed Keithley's The Donner Party -- it's eminently readable and quite moving -- I recommend it if you're interested in another take on the incident. My review is here: http://www.librarything.com/work/272317 and on my Club Read thread.

It's told from George Donner's point of view.

Jun 6, 2009, 4:22pm Top

Jane, thanks. I read your post there before I saw this one. I'm not sure I want to go there again, at least not too soon. Maybe some time.

Jun 6, 2009, 6:48pm Top

Dan -- I do understand -- The Indifferent Stars Above sounds fascinating, but once over the Donner Pass may be enough for me too.

Jun 12, 2009, 1:02am Top

Jane - Thinking this through I think what really got to me was the children dying - just seeing these families do everything they could to keep them alive and then sending them on impossible marches in the snow...I'm just realizing how much that bothers me, still.

- oh, that was in response to post 210 just above, from 5 days ago.

Jun 12, 2009, 9:52am Top

21. Brick Lane by Monica Ali (c2003, 369 pages, finished June 10)

As a newborn, Nazneed hovered near death. Her mother chooses to not take her to a hospital, something she could have afforded, if just barely. Instead Nazneen is "left to her fate. " This experience imprints itself on her character and colors how she handles her arranged marriage to an older man in London.

This is a look at Bangladeshi immigrant culture in London, a culture Monica Ali is presumably part of. We follow Nazneen in London from the 1980's through about 2002. And we follow her sister Hasina, a contrast who ran away from home and eloped at about sixteen and never leaves Bangladesh. Hasina we meet through an entertaining series of letters she writes to Nazneen in broken grammar (which gets 'translated' to broken English).

An award winning book in 2003/2004, I picked it up because of some nice comments in the NYTimes Book Review a long time ago, and it has been sitting on my shelf for about a year. What I liked about it was the wonderful language, Ali's descriptions and commentaries both lovely and revealing. However, it's very subtle, and without a great deal of narrative pull and it never fully drew me in. So, I had a mixed response.

A excerpt from one of Hasina' letters:
"Baby Daisy always want her face to me and she sit on my hip all day if only no work to do. When she smile she put her head back and show all her teeth. All my life I look for one thing only for love for giving and getting and it seem such a thing full of danger can eat you alive and now I stop the looking it come right up to me and show me all it tiny little teeth"

Jun 17, 2009, 10:19pm Top

22. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (c1960, 323 pages, finished June 17)

Although I saw the movie in grade school and pretty much had the whole story down, this was the first time I read the book - actually I was pretty sure I had read it sometime in grade school and now I'm pretty sure I hadn't.

Er, anyway...

There are endless wonderful things I can say about this book, and hardly anything bad, and none of it would really be new to anyone. It's an enjoyable book, it almost brought me to tears sitting in a full van coming home from work.

Jun 18, 2009, 1:15am Top

Dan, To Kill a Mockingbird is indeed wonderful! I think I was able to appreciate it a lot more as an adult.

Jun 18, 2009, 8:48am Top

Hi akeela - I'm not sure I would have seen it the same way; I mean I think if I had read in while younger I might have appreciated more - in the sense that my childhood idealism would have drunk this in even deeper. Actually, that is what happened with movie. I was struck, while reading, at how influential the movie was in constructing my own sense of morality. Atticus Finch was and still is a pretty powerful roll model.

Certainly the way I see the book is different now, and more complex. But, I couldn't get over a sense of resistance, of not allowing myself to fully soak it in. I think this was at least partially because I wanted or needed to be able to be more critical.

Jun 18, 2009, 8:52am Top

I can't remember when I first came across TKaM certainly wasn't at school. But it is a perennial favourite, just wonderfulyl well told story with perfect balance, and a great grasp of how children see the world - rather than the more usual case of them being smaller adults.

Jun 18, 2009, 9:06am Top

I haven't looked at Mockingbird's details page for awhile. I just did. 4,085 five star ratings and 9 half-star ratings. I'm not sure, but I think you go to Hell for giving it a half-star rating.

Edited: Jun 18, 2009, 1:13pm Top

or maybe to Alabama...?

#216 - reading_fox - I think Harper Lee was largely writing about own childhood, and that is a large part of why her characters seemed so believable. I mean the story is fictional, but there are quite a few autobiographical elements in there. (which I discovered via wikipedia.)

Jun 18, 2009, 2:31pm Top

I can't remember if I saw the film first or read the book in the early 60s, but I do remember how riveting the story was during those times of Civil Rights struggles. I had an aunt who lived in Birmingham, AL, then; I remember going to visit her and being horrified at the separate drinking fountains and bathrooms.

Her relationship with Truman Capote is fascinating -- and the way they depict each other as children.

Jun 19, 2009, 6:02am Top

I agree. TKAMB is a very well written book, rich, complex and moving. I have taught it several times to advanced EFL students, and they have always enjoyed it. Harper Lee was a much better writer, and a much greater artist than Truman Capote, who is grotesquely overrated.

Jun 23, 2009, 9:05am Top

Murr & Jane - I had not known, before this reading, that Dill was essentially Truman Capote. That was fascinating. No comment on Capote's accomplishments/talents. I think I read In Cold Blood in 10th grade for extra credit (this was before I was actively reading books), and was pretty moved by it, but that was a long time ago and my only other impression of him is drunk in that famous interview. Certainly he was an interesting character.

Edited: Jul 7, 2009, 9:26pm Top

23. In The Country of Men by Hisham Matar (c2006, 246 pages, finished June 22)

There's a lot to like in this starkly vivid and too close to real novel about Libya circa 1979. The imagery in the first few paragraphs of the blindly white sunlight and the turquoise ocean in Tripoli is memorable in itself.

The author, Hisham Matar, is Libyan, but was born in New York, the son of a diplomat. His father later fled Libya to Egypt as a political dissident. But, in ~1990 he disappeared - apparently captured by Egyptian secret police and sent to a Libyan prison.

Here Matar writes about a political dissident during a crackdown in 1979 and his much younger wife, a mother at 15 - from the point-of-view of their 9-year old son. Matar's narrator is infused with early adolescent confusion; and, his complex reaction to his parents, whom he loves to the point that he almost innocently picks them apart exposing their flaws, is the main theme on the surface of the book.

I enjoyed this, but perhaps not as much as I should have. The imagery is beautiful, but the awkwardness of the 9-yr-old was a little challenging for me. Perhaps as the smoke clears and I see through the narrator I will have a stronger reaction to this book.

Edited the 3rd paragraph a bit.

Edited: Jul 7, 2009, 9:26pm Top

24. Home Game : An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis (c2009, 190 pages, finished June 26)

I've probably waited too long to comment on this one. It's fun, light, quick. It's printed on 190 pages, but could easily have fit on half that. It's also all from previously published articles from I think slate.

A modern father's perspective - without all the feelgood, author-superiority issues found in more formal parenting books. In other words, this one is really for fun, with some interesting insights - and he can make claims such as that fathers today are expected to do a lot more than fathers a generation ago, but don't actually get anything in return - not even appreciation. He has a story where he frets about all he has to go through to take care of his older daughter so he wife can focus on the new baby, and then he comes home proud of how much he has helped and how much he has gone through, and the first thing his wife says is something like "I can't take this anymore!" He own efforts becoming instantly pitiful and insignificant.

And he can argue that love from a father to child works differently than from a mother. The father has grow into the love.

But my favorite part is where he has the baby on a balcony and "seriously" considers throwing her over the edge - it's because we don't throw the baby over the balcony that we love them.

I enjoy Lewis' writing and it was really nice to read a parenting book where I could relate to stories and his kind of counter-intuitive feelings about them.

first impression 4/5

Jul 7, 2009, 2:20pm Top

PS - My next comment/review will be in a new thread, which I'll start when I have something else to post.

At the moment I'm (slowly) reading Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas, which was this years IMPAC Dublin award winner, which I think was a nice treat for American (USA) authors after the recent comments from the Nobel committee last year. Also, it's an entertaining end to an unintended "manly" trilogy that started with A Country of Men, then went to a book on fatherhood. ;)

Jul 8, 2009, 9:24am Top

Hi, Dan. Thanks for your comments on In the Country of Men - I'm adding it to my TBRs. Would you kindly add a link to your new thread here. I'd like to continue keeping up with your reading! :)

Jul 8, 2009, 10:13am Top

Thanks akeela. I will definitely post a link here.

Jul 10, 2009, 4:31am Top

The new thread is up: http://www.librarything.com/topic/68641


Group: Club Read 2009

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