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dchaikin's 2009 reading log 2

Club Read 2009

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Jul 10, 2009, 4:07am Top

My second thread. The books-read summary will be in my second post. I have some kind of need to see everything in the same place, so there a lot of past stuff in the next post...but please, start here on this thread. There's no need to visit the 200+ posts in my old thread.

Edited: Dec 1, 2009, 11:43pm Top

The info:

Link to old thread

Books from the last thread:
NOTE 1- the links go to my comments on the previous thread
NOTE 2 - my ratings seem to fluctuate over time

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

Books from this thread:
25. Man Gone Down - July 8 - 4 stars
26. The Simple Truth : Poems - July 11 - 3.5 stars
27. Flight of the Hawk : The Second Book in the Storyteller Series - July 22 - 4 stars
28. The Well and the Mine - July 26 - 3 stars
29. Aracoeli - Aug 9 - 3 stars (Early Reviewer)
30. Tales from Outer Suburbia - Aug 11 - 4.5 stars
31. My Life as a Fake - Aug 17 - 4 stars
32. Barefoot Gen, Volume One : A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima - Aug 19 - 5 stars
33. Waiting for God : The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist - Aug 28 - 4 stars
34. Stories in Stone : Travels Through Urban Geology - Sep 11 - 3 stars (Early Reviewer)
35. Barefoot Gen, Volume Two: The Day After - Sep 13 - 5 stars
36. You Inner Fish : A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body - Sep 19 - 4.5 stars
37. San Pedro River Review : Vol 1 No 2, Fall 2009 - Sep 21
38. Barefoot Gen, Volume Three : Life After the Bomb - Sep 25 - 5 stars
39. Everyone's Guide to Atoms, Einstein, and the Universe - Oct 5 - 4 stars
40. Stonehenge - Oct 10 - 4 stars
41. Home - Oct 16 - 4.5 stars
42. Gilead - Oct 25 - a re-read - 4 stars
43. Barefoot Gen, Volume Four : Out of the Ashes - Oct 26 - 5 stars
44. Across the Endless River - Nov 1 - 3 stars
45. Beowulf on the Beach : What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits - Nov 14 - 4 stars

Edited: Jul 10, 2009, 4:21am Top

Looking back: Sorry, I've gone blank. I would kind of like to summarize the first half of my year in books, but I don't actually have any coherent thoughts on it. My themes seemed have been more literary non-genre fiction and too many Early Reviewers - six of them, one of which I couldn't finish. What have I learned...I think too many consecutive literary books tend to blend together, or I'm just a little blurry headed at the moment.

Looking forward: On the front end of my TBR bookshelf there are several non-fiction books and some more fun/less literary fiction. The literary books are hiding elsewhere at the moment. But then, who knows if I will actually get to that bookshelf anyway. I do hope to read Home by Marilynne Robinson - this years Orange Prize winner.

ETA - One other thing, I'm going to try to add a "initial response" kind of rating. My feelings towards books changes over time (usually for the worse, hmm ) and I'm hesitant to post a rating where it's not easy to change. But, I like seeing the ratings on other peoples logs, so I decided I want some kind of rating there.

Jul 10, 2009, 4:25am Top

25. Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas (c2007, 428 pages, finished July 8)

I'm not sure how to respond or comment. In the early going, over about 100 pages or so, this book was an out and out wow. The narrators is broke, jobless, homeless but living in a wealthy friends house in Brooklyn, and alone having just watched his kids and wife leave town to stay with his mother-in-law. He begins to break down; as he does so he goes into trances pondering the consequences of being black, of a troubled childhood, of his white wife and mixed children, all of which are fascinating. But then the narrator starts to talk about his day and doesn't stop; it keeps on going and going. I had to change how I read it, actually I had to figure out how to read it. I think the book becomes something like a musical composition with long wandering passages that come to peaks and pauses when there is a dramatic twist or the scene changes. Anyway, that's how I read it, trying to find a flow, and following the narrator as he hovers on the brink of collapse. It's interesting and it works in it's own way. On the inspiration of the first 100 pages or so, I was able to carry on through and enjoy it.

initial response 4/5

Jul 10, 2009, 4:28am Top

Sounds like it was a challenging read. It's going on my wishlist.

Jul 10, 2009, 4:37am Top

Hi Charlotte, thanks for the comment. Actually I do highly recommend it, it just took me some getting used to.

Jul 10, 2009, 8:40am Top

In re "audio compositions" i highly recommend Glenn Gould's radio pastiches for CBC, done in the mid 60s. The famous one is the idea of north but there are two others - i esp. liked the one on the Mennonites in the Canadian plains. Gould structured the performances as "oral" orchestral works. Voices fade in and out, over and under each other, i imagine in some ways he was thinking about both fugues and symphonic works as models. But they are fascinating - if you can take the audio overlap. My wife couldn't listen to them while i thought them brilliant.
from Wikepedia:
"Less well-known is Gould's work in radio. This work was, in part, the result of Gould's long association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for which he produced numerous television and radio programs. Notable recordings include his Solitude Trilogy, consisting of The Idea of North, a meditation on Northern Canada and its people; The Latecomers, about Newfoundland; and The Quiet in the Land, on Mennonites in Manitoba. All three use a technique that Gould called "contrapuntal radio", in which several people are heard speaking at once—much like the voices in a fugue."

Jul 10, 2009, 9:03am Top

I just read the NYTimes review (from Feb 4, 2007) and there isn't a word about a audio composition or anything musical. I think that was just my own perception...

here : http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/04/books/review/Glover.t.html?pagewanted=1&_r...

Oh, but looking further, another article from nytimes about Man Gone Down winning the IMPAC Dublin award (June 22, 2009) has this line near the end " Though it contains echoes of the blues, a musical form..."

here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/books/23thomas.html?scp=3&sq=Man%20Gone%20...

Edited: Jul 23, 2009, 1:54pm Top

26. The Simple Truth : Poems by Philip Levine (c1994, 70 pages, finished July 11)

Winner of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, but I only just learned that. I picked it up because it has been sitting around my house for about six years, borrowed, and I thought it was a good time to try some kind of poetry.

Commenting of poetry is beyond me, I'm still trying to figure out what it's all about. This was interesting, but nothing really sunk in. I feel like I've read it's like before even though I know I haven't read much, if any, poetry that looked like this - longish poems, perfectly rectangular, that read like sketched essays. Moving on, I guess.

initial response 3.5/5

Jul 11, 2009, 7:04pm Top

I like your "initial response" idea. As I reviewed my reading for the first half of the year, there were several books I think I rated too high (none too low though). Enjoying following your reading.

Jul 11, 2009, 9:43pm Top

Thanks Aruba. Richard Bausch's Peace is one I upped the rating on because it just stuck around with me. Gail Jone's Sorry is one I've though about upping, actually that one is maybe worth a re-read (rare for me.)

Jul 15, 2009, 8:25am Top

I was reading The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips, but it wasn't quite working for me for reasons I can't quite explain. I felt I was forcing feeding myself, it that makes any sense. It's a library book that I had to wait about six weeks for, and I have a sense that I need to read it now or never, but I'm going to set it aside and try something else.

Jul 16, 2009, 7:25pm Top


I am continuing to enjoy your posts. Thanks.

I am particularly happy with the opening to your message 3: "Looking Back: Sorry I have gone blank."

I have been going blank for months now. If I do not immediately put down some thoughts about the book, I forget it. Last night I picked up a book on my dresser and looked and thought maybe I should read this. Then I took another look and realized I read it already about six weeks ago, and vaguely remembered it. Damn this Alzheimer's! LOL A little early to hit me at 53. So I have catching up to do for about 25 books, and most I remember pretty vaguely.

Maybe I will get some comments up about them over the summer and maybe...

Jul 16, 2009, 8:32pm Top

Andrew - That's too funny. You go through a lot more books and other stuff (like Czech poetry) than me, so you have a lot more to forget. ;) I look forward to your comments whatever they may be on.

Now if I only I could remember what I was doing before I checked LT...

Jul 17, 2009, 9:25pm Top

#4 -- re the musical quality of Man Gone Down -- the only book I've really had that kind of experience was Toni Morrison's Jazz, and I didn't get the musicality of it until I listened to her read it on an audiobook (I'm not very musical, failed miserably at 6 years of piano lessons and 3 of flute). But the book took on a completely different dimension listening to it than it had when I read it. I've since reread it and taught it a couple of times, and it continues to resonate with its repeated riffs and achey blues.

Jul 20, 2009, 9:21am Top

Jane - It's interesting to think about the relationship between literature and music. I think a good book generally does have a rhythm to it of some sort...not necessarily so direct one as you described, but something to set the book apart, and make it it's own experience. Reading is, in a sense, finding that rhythm...well I'm just thinking about loud, I hadn't really thought about it before.

And I different note, I have a lot of trouble accepting the limited amount of reading I've done. I know that worrying about this is 1.) counterproductive, as it takes the enjoyment out of reading I am doing, and 2.) missing some more, poorly defined, fundamental point of reading somehow; but still it bothers me. Like this weekend when I stood in children's part of a Barnes & Nobles and scanned their "classics" section, realizing I haven't actually read more than a handful of those books (where as my wife read pretty much all of them growing up). But nothing bothers so much as this 4-yr curriculum I came across last week from St. John's College (originally posted by bobmcconnaughey on some other LT thread)... sigh, another list of stuff I'll never read*:


*On the other hand, who reads War and Peace in a single week?

Jul 20, 2009, 11:25am Top

It took me an entire summer to read War and Peace (long ago) -- how else does one digest the pain and glory of it?

Edited: Jul 20, 2009, 5:28pm Top

Actually the students were warned to read the Russians over the summer. My nephew posted periodically on hisfacebook account field reports of his campaign against W&Peace a yr ago.

(i wasn't quite sure how literally to take his "campaign" - but he did enlist in the Army corps of Engineers after graduation this spring. St. John's has a pretty small incoming student body and is very self selecting - kids know what they're getting into - but still Pat said about 1/3 transfer out.)

In re kid's books - one's background, obviously, is pretty much a function of what one's parents made available - at least until jr. high.

Jul 21, 2009, 9:14am Top

In re kid's books - one's background, obviously, is pretty much a function of what one's parents made available - at least until jr. high.

I'd love to blame my parents, but I recall being resistant to books as kid and my older sister did a lot more reading than I did. I have a memory of reading 1984 in high school and being surprised to actually enjoy reading a book. I was fascinated, where as before that I had found most books painfully boring.

I'll have to give War and Peace a go sometime...not this year though.

Edited: Jul 21, 2009, 11:42am Top

>17 janeajones: Oh well said Jane!!!!!

how else does one digest the pain and glory of it?

There are so many books it's worth reading slowly and thoughtfully, really dwelling in them.

>18 bobmcconnaughey: Dan, I think you should go with this idea:
I think a good book generally does have a rhythm to it of some sort...not necessarily so direct one as you described, but something to set the book apart, and make it it's own experience. Reading is, in a sense, finding that rhythm..
I think this is exceptionally profound and wise.

I hear your reading funk, my man, and I share your pain, but I do recommend War and Peace unreservedly.

>18 bobmcconnaughey: Bob what were they campaigning against? I didn't really get your meaning..... (My cognitive skills are somewhat blurred this evening -must be the herring. )

Jul 21, 2009, 1:37pm Top

i was just using the term "campaign" metaphorically as a description of Pat's venture into the Russian novel last summer before the fall semester started.

Edited: Jul 21, 2009, 1:39pm Top

Hi Murr, Thanks for your comments. I don't think I'm in much a funk. Perhaps occasionally I need to overt parts of my brain from the rest while I'm reading.

As for Bob, I think he meant they were "campaigning against" not finishing in time for their class. :)

ETA - sorry, Bob's post wasn't there when I started typing...

Edited: Aug 12, 2009, 11:04pm Top

27. Flight of the Hawk : The Second Book in the Storyteller Series by G. R. Grove (c2007, 281 pages, finished July 22)

This was a pleasure to read; a recreation of a fascinating time through the traveling stories of a storyteller. G. R. Grove uses 17-yr-old Gwernin, our storyteller and an apprentice bard, to recreate 6th century Britain, "in some ways the darkest part of the European Dark Ages." She stays true to the facts, honoring the sparse surviving historical details and archeology, even keeping perfectly to the landscapes throughout England/Scotland/Wales.

We follow Gwernin, and his partner Neirin (a real historical figure and bard) as they wander across the small Briton and Pict kingdoms based in Roman constructions that are in various states of ruin and reincarnation. We pass through early manifestations of modern cities like Chester, Manchester and Edinburgh. The Briton kingdoms are all on brink of falling to Anglo-Saxon raiders and invaders, while as the same time the Druid knowledge base is fading away, and being replaced by the relentless expansion of Christianity. Gwernin introduces us to a whole spectrum of the time period as he deals with different dangers from the weather to manipulative kings to the Saxon raiders.

The stories are simple and straightforward. There isn't a great deal of gore and Arthurian dramatic romance, although all that is there. Each chapter is a different story and each is drawn along by a mostly subtle tension. And each is a wonderful recreation of the era. These stories are just really nice to wonder through. Their factual base is part of the charm, inspiring me to pick up an atlas and follow along. If nothing else this a cure for a reading funk, easy to get into, and rewarding.

This is book two of the Storyteller trilogy. In some ways book one was a better book, but this story fills out a more complex and interesting world. Book three can go any of several directions and I look forward to reading it.

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.

initial response 4/5

Edited: Aug 12, 2009, 11:04pm Top

28. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips (c2007, 238 pages, finished July 26)

A dramatic opening scene, where 9-yr-old Tess watches in the dark as an unknown woman drops a baby down her back-porch well, sets the mood. This is a recreation of a small mining town in rural Alabama during the Depression. A family of five depend mainly on the father's salary at the mine (and his surviving) and a farm they own; and, the amount of work it takes them to get through the day is staggering. But the family is actually prosperous, doing better than most, even owning car.

The book is maybe great in parts. After the opening scene we are left watching wide-eyed, along with Tess, as different members of the family swap taking over the narration. Her older sister Virgie gives a slightly more mature account of the children's tale. Her father brings us inside his mine as well as into his own quietly moral character. Tess's sacrificial mother reveals more than any other character just by telling about her day-to-day routines, how she works nonstop, how she can't stop and in some cases can't sleep, how she cares for everyone while skipping meals whenever she can get away without without anyone noticing. Finally, Jack, the younger brother, adds a twist by talking about events from hindsight as he sees it looking back 70 years later in 2004.

But eventually the book lost it's magic for me. The different narrator's break up the flow and then they began to feel forced. Historical descriptions are shoehorned in, as are aspects of racism; some characters become, painfully, a little too good. For about a hundred or so pages the book just felt very clunky to me. Then, right about page 200 I felt the book come back together, so to speak. I started to believe I was getting a sense of the time and place - just in time for end.

Overall, I was mixed on this one. It's a first novel, and, taking that into account, I might try the author again.

initial response 3/5

Jul 27, 2009, 9:01am Top

23> Dan, the Storyteller series sounds intriguing -- must take a look at it soon.

Jul 27, 2009, 1:39pm Top

Jane - I'd be curious to see your response, if you get there.

Aug 9, 2009, 1:12am Top

Another commercial break for children's books. I stopped keeping a detailed list of what we've been reading and I've somewhat lost track. On top of that, this list covers I think four months, back April. So, I'm pretty sure this will turn out long and disorganized. I've already planned multiple posts.

By far my favorite:

White Wave : A Chinese Tale retold by Diane Wolkstein (and Ed Young)

A Chinese fold tale retold. I picked it up at a library book sale because it had such an elegant cover. It is beautifully illustrated. But the reason why I love this book so much has to do with interesting tale and something about the way it told. It actually gives me chills.

Other favorites:

Flash, Crash, Rumble, and Roll by Franklyn Mansfield Branley, True Kelley (Illustrator)
- another great book from the Lets-Read-And-Find-Out Science books
Llama Llama Misses Mama Anna Dewdney
- A new Llama Llama book, I love them.
Nutmeg David Lucas
Whale David Lucas
- I found David Lucas by accident. These are strange yet somehow great stories.
Duck! Rabbit! Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Tom Lichtenheld (Illustrator)
Spoon Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Scott Magoon (Illustrator)
- I like Amy Krouse Rosenthal, but these two are exceptionally good, both new.
The House in the Night Susan Marie Swanson, Beth Krommes (Illustrator)
- this years Caldecott winner
Draw Me a Star Eric Carle
- Another library sale find. It also gives really nice 4-yr-old friendly instructions on how to draw to star.
I Love Boats Flora McDonnell
- Another library sale find the my (almost 3-yr-old) son has really taken too. Just different kinds of boats, but very well illustrated and done. In the end they all end up as actually being toys in a bathtub.
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story Lemony Snicket, Lisa Brown (Illustrator)
-from a fannyprice recommendation (thanks!). It's a very funny look at the comparing Hanukkah and Christmas; but, while my 3-yr-old likes the screaming latke, the humor is more for adults.

to be continued...

Aug 9, 2009, 1:24am Top

Some other really nice children's picture books and the like:

Mythology (Eyewitness Books) Neil Philip
- I just discovered these DK Eyewitness books. They are really cool.
A Birthday for Frances Russell Hoban, Lillian Hoban (Illustrator)
- I found this on fannyprice's thread. Terrific story, older.
Birds Kevin Henkes, Laura Dronzek (Illustrator)
- a new book with beautiful illustrations, and nicely written.
Tuesday David Wiesner
- I think this is a classic of sorts. A story-in-pictures type.
Welcome to Zanzibar Road Niki Daly
- from Akeela recommendation (thanks!). A reference to black South Africa. The main character uses a discarded 7-up advertisement to give their house the right street address label.

more coming...

Aug 9, 2009, 1:37am Top

And many more good ones to mention:

Skippyjon Jones Judy Schachner
Bugs Are Insects (Let's-Read-And-Find-Out Science; Stage 1) Anne F. Rockwell, Steve Jenkins (Illustrator)
Clouds (Let's-Read-And-Find-Out Science; Stage 1) Anne F. Rockwell, Frané Lessac (Illustrator)
Mr. Katapat's Incredible Adventures Stephane Barroux - odd and entertaining
Curious George Rides a Bike H. A. Rey
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak - an audience inclusive play in the mall inspired my kids about this one. My daughter got to be a wild thing.

Little Critter Books by Mercer Mayer
-from lots of recommendations. These are really cute. My only problem with Little Critter is that his Mom in offensively old fashion. The books are from the 1970's through the early 1990's.
Ones I liked
Just for You, Just Go to Bed, Just Me In the Tub, Just Me and My Dad
One I didn't like
Just My Friend and Me, Just me and my mom

The Red Shoes Gloria Fowler, Sun Young Yoo (Illustrator) - incredible illustrations, hence I'm posting the cover. Story is OK.
The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus Aliki Brandenburg - nice kid-friendly quick summary of Greek mythology
Let's Do Nothing Tony Fucile
Bird, Butterfly, Eel James Prosek
Outside Over There Maurice Sendak - the goblin babies were a little strange, though
When We Were Very Young A. A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard (Illustrator)
Now We Are Six A. A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard (Illustrator)

Harry the Dirty Dog is a big favorite. These others are fun, but not quite as good.
Harry by the Sea Gene Zion, Margaret Bloy Graham (Illustrator)
No Roses for Harry! Gene Zion, Margaret Bloy Graham (Illustrator)
Harry and the Lady Next Door Gene Zion, Margaret Bloy Graham (Illustrator)

Aug 9, 2009, 1:40am Top

OK, the commercial is over now. Typo's and other mistakes will have to stay - there is no way I'm going to try re-adjust all those touchstones again.

Aug 9, 2009, 2:11am Top

in my intrusive way i'll suggest:
Randall Jarrell/Sendak Illus, the bat poet & fly by night
a visit to william blake's inn nancy willard
Sendak - outside over there - (the ONLY really great text/drawings by Sendak (bob ducks..but it's true true truuuuuuuue) gets a massive second.
school of names goffstein. gorgeous poetry and illustrations a 3 year old and an adult can appreciate.
pussy willow margaret wise brown.
the cat who went to heaven if the whole family can keep from crying (it's a zen buddhist cat, fyiw...many layers of heavens in some schools of buddhism, tho they, too, are waystations.
my father's dragon ah..the illustrations! good adventure too.

King John was not a good man/he HAD his little ways/and sometimes no one spoke to him/for days and days and days!
James James morrison morrison weatherbee george dupree/ took good(?) care of his mother, tho he was only 3! James, james said to his mother, mother he said, said he, you must never go down to the end of the town without consulting me.(a cautionary tale)

When papa was away at sea/and momma in the arbor/Ida played her wonder horn/ to(?) rock the baby still.....uh oh...a little scary

"Anything that anyone would look for is USUALLY where they find it, said Pussywillow!" More than just a profound universal truth - a useful life lesson. (Now to be found in your kid's backpack (esp. if male), at least once school starts. Adam once thought he'd lost both his graphing TI calculator and then the one he borrowed from a girl/friend and freaked. (back in the day they were a little over $100) i came to his 12th grade dorm room in durham, dumped out his back pack and there both calculators were miraculously revealed on his unmade bed.

Bits and pieces will stay will you till the end of days!

Aug 9, 2009, 2:26am Top

Hi Bob, please intrude away. Thanks for the suggestions. Outside Over There is actually listed (but well hidden) in my post #29. I forgot to credit you for recommending it. Belatedly, Thanks!. I will check out a few more and hopefully give you feedback.

Aug 9, 2009, 8:00am Top

i actually saw outside over there on your list - that's why i seconded it ;-)

Also - Paul Fleischman's poems for two voices - easy but v. fun "dual" reading. I think my dad gave it to Adam soon after the arrival of grandchild #1

Fly by night is just a tiny bit scary, but much more "dreamy". But then for tucking into bed, Jarrell/Sendak the animal family
btw...not kid reading but ...
atomics for the millions - w/ illustrations by Sendak, his first job as illustrator
http://collectingchildrensbooks.blogspot.com/2009/03/arts-and-sciences.html LOTS of illustrations if you go down the post!@

Aug 9, 2009, 9:49am Top

Oh I miss reading picture books to kids -- my two grown-up ones seem far from having any of their own. I'm going to volunteer to help with 1st grade readers when I retire...... not soon enough I'm afraid.

Aug 9, 2009, 3:58pm Top

#33 - Atomics for the Millions - how entertaining! Bob, thanks for the further suggestions. I will slowly check them out.

#34 - Jane, I'll make you a deal. Stop by my place anytime and I'll let you read our kids bed time stories and put them to sleep. :)

Aug 9, 2009, 4:25pm Top

Dan - Love reading about your children's books! If you enjoyed A Birthday for Frances, you might also like Best Friends for Frances, which I think is actually my favorite. Also, Andrew Henry's Meadow is the best children's book ever, in my opinion.

Aug 9, 2009, 6:52pm Top

35> -- I'd love to Dan -- if you were around the corner or somewhere in the neighborhood. But Texas is a bit of a hike from FL...

Aug 9, 2009, 9:53pm Top

#37 Jane - yeah, likely excuse ;) ...I do go to Florida often, although not near Sarasota.

#36 fannyprice - Thanks! Sadly my library doesn't have Andrew Henry's Meadow; I'll have to break down and actually buy it.

Aug 10, 2009, 1:27am Top

>38 dchaikin:, Oh it is worth having. My mom just sent me the copy I owned as a kid. I am so happy.

Edited: Aug 16, 2009, 7:48pm Top

29. Aracoeli by Elsa Morante (c1982, translated 1984, 311 pages, finished August 9)- An LT Early Reviewer Book.

Immediately on starting this book I was struck by how exquisite the language is. It's really masterful, beautiful. But, it's a tough read. Our narrator is a broken hopeless middle aged man who has not emotionally recovered from the death of his parents in Rome during world war II, when he was not quite a teenager. He is haunted by memories of his cherished and unusual mother, Aracoeli. Now he has set out on a journey to try to find her; a journey in two senses. He literally travels to the rocky arid village of her childhood in Spain; and, also, along the way he revisits his childhood memories, telling us his story. It's not a hopeful journey, there is no light at the end. His view of himself as scarred and unlovable lays a fateful gloomy shadow over the entire book.

It's not clear to me what Elsa Morante set out to do here. I don't think it's an accident that this book spends long monotonous stretches detailing the narrators history with his mother. I'm guessing this was Morante's way of really imprinting this deep in the readers mind, giving the book some heft, a lot of heft. And that I think works. It was effective, rewarding to an extent. This is a carefully and deeply crafted book. But, for me, a casual reader, overall this was only OK.

Translation/publication note of interest: This re-release was published by Open Letter, a press out of the University of Rochester in New York that only publishes translated works. Their catalogue is fascinating.

Initial response: 3/5

edited for typos

Edited: Aug 16, 2009, 7:49pm Top

30. Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (c2008, 96 pages, finished August 11)

You don't need kids, or to be a Young Adult to appreciated Shaun Tan's graphic "novels". You don't even need to live in the suburbs. Tales From Outer Suburbia is at once playful, surreal, deep, and, throughout, wonderfully creative. I even had tears at the end of one tale ('Undertow').

Initial response: 4.5/5

Edited: Aug 13, 2009, 1:02pm Top

-->40 dchaikin:
Excellent review. Sounds like my kind of book. I'll keep an eye out for it.

Aug 13, 2009, 10:11am Top

#42 Andy, Thanks, although that's not the response I expected. This book certainly inspired to me to want to read more of Elsa Morante...but not to promote this particular book. :)

Edited: Aug 13, 2009, 10:16pm Top

"...but if I can trust anything it is my taste--or, to risk a vulgarity, my heart."

- a line from my current book, My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey.

edited for 2 typos (in a 17 word quote...sigh)

Aug 13, 2009, 10:29am Top

I recently read an excerpt from Aracoeli in New Italian Italian Women: A Collection of Short Fiction. I thought it was quite lovely. I was frustrated with the collection because many of the pieces were excerpts instead of short stories. I just obtained Morante's History. I am looking forward to reading it. And . . . let me put in a plug for The Silent Duchess by Dacia Maraini. This book is gorgeous. You'll love it Andy.

Aug 13, 2009, 10:36am Top

urania1 - I have History : a novel on The Shelf-addendum. It's all Murr's fault. Maraini is a new name for me, plug noted.

Aug 13, 2009, 11:09am Top

Yes Murr is one bad kitty.

P.S. Paola hates Maraini, but I have a suspicion it's the woman she doesn't like, not her fiction. She needs to read The Silent Duchess (if only to up me shut) ;-)

I hope she's listening.

Aug 14, 2009, 8:01pm Top


since you have a children's lit subtheme here, I thought you might like this link. It is a A Classic List Of Must-Read Children's Books


Aug 14, 2009, 8:08pm Top

And also as an illustration how different things appeal to different readers, I, too, like depressaholic, like the sound of that particular Morante book and will try to get it.

Aug 14, 2009, 11:32pm Top

My ears just pricked up....

Glad to know there is more Morante out there. History:A Novel is a fantastic book.

Aug 15, 2009, 9:55pm Top

Andrew (polutropos)- funny, my wife sent me that link recently too. As for my review of Aracoeli making the book sound appealing to you, and the other Andy, and possibly Murr...um...I didn't foresee that.

Murr - I think she only completed four novels. She also destroyed a lot of her work. She was an interesting character, and I have a biography of her on my wishilst - Woman of Rome : a life of Elsa Morante by Lily Tuck, published in 2008.

Aug 16, 2009, 5:16am Top

--> Your review of the Aracoeli in message 40 promise a fateful, gloomy book with long monotonous passages of exquisite language dealing with parent issues. As far as I (and, I suspect, Mr Polutropus) are concerned, all of these are usually good things. I know your review wasn't exactly glowing, but there was enough there for me to think I will enjoy it.

Edited: Aug 17, 2009, 10:10am Top

#52 - Andy, I can see that, and I certainly appreciate your interest in Aracoeli and similar books. Also, I'm happy my review was able to express those aspects. When I wrote it I was worried I was being too harsh and would scare prospective readers off. (In fear of being too harsh, I edited out my line "But, for me, a casual reader, overall this was only OK. " from my posted review on the work page.) But, instead I've had three lters (club read-ers?) express interest. It was an unexpected, but really nice response.

I meant to convey this in my post #51, but I couldn't get the wording right, what with the lack of tone in posts. Now I'm worried that what I posted was somehow dismissive or offensive (apologies if that were the case)...sigh

Edited: Aug 18, 2009, 6:53am Top

Dan, don't think too much, as they say here.

Your remark at the opening of the review about the beauty of the language was what sold it to me, as well as the fact of another Morante novel which I have not heard of. I look forward to your review of History when you get around to reading it and to her biography. I know nothing about her except that she was married to the famous Italian novelist, Alberto Moravia. We need to get Aluvalibri here to tell us more.

Aug 18, 2009, 10:33am Top

"don't think too much"- Today's Manta! Cheers Murr. :)

Andrew (polutropos) - I finished My Life as a Fake last night. Thanks for sending. It's a great book, a lot of fun to read. Peter Carey can really spin a story. I'll post more when I have time.

Aug 19, 2009, 8:26am Top

So I just finished Barefoot Gen, Volume 1 : A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, and I'm not quite sure what this graphic novel did to me, but it has left my brain in a state of formless mush - it's one of the most powerful things I've ever read. And I now I've picked up a book on religion... (I'm Jewish and atheist). It's called Waiting for God : The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist which includes this excerpt:

"In short, it is Marx's "soul of a heartless world" that I have come to associate with liberal religious life, far more than the opiatic or addictive qualities. Still, I remain an atheist, an outsider in the {generally Jewish} communities I serve, in my discomfort with prayer, in my wishful alienation from even the most metaphorical God concepts, and in my general disappointment with my own generation's endless search for self-actualization and a spiritual high...No matter how therapeutic religious faith might be for individuals, no matter how nurturing to a sense of dignity, community and responsibility, no matter how beguiling the symbols, metaphors and sancta, there is something in the surrender to God - something in the very idea of God - that simply offends my arrogant soul.

Aug 19, 2009, 9:15am Top

no matter how beguiling the symbols, metaphors and sancta, there is something in the surrender to God - something in the very idea of God - that simply offends my arrogant soul.

I hear you.

Aug 19, 2009, 1:04pm Top

which also explains, in part, Ram Dass/Richard Alpert's comment from decades ago pertaining to Americans who turned towards Eastern religions. He noted that those from protestant origins tended towards Hinduism where it's certainly pick and choose from a host of gods. And Jewish kids tended towards the various forms of Buddhism (some of which certainly integrated local deities into their belief systems; others of which can happily dispense w/ "gods" altogether; and others which put "gods" as being just another level of existence, usually "superior" to the earthly, but hardly the be all and end all of the spiritual quest). - Gross generalization - not getting into questions of Atman and nirvana and such - which transcend MY understanding, anyways and thereof i cannot speak ;-)

Aug 19, 2009, 1:43pm Top

Murr - I've only read about 10 pages - but so far that I'm sitting right beside the author and nodding my head and thinking that I never thought this through quite that way. It's a thoughtful book, exploring, among other things, what he sees as a decline in atheism in the USA, and how that may be related to a decline in a sort of unquestioned confidence in the progress of science.

Bob - My knowledge of both Hinduism and Buddhism hovers ever so slightly above zero, so I can't really respond to that. Interesting if true. I probably could at least appreciate the appeal of a godless Buddhism.

Aug 19, 2009, 4:16pm Top

#58, There's a book about Jews and Buddhism called The Jew in the Lotus -- I found it moderately interesting.

Edited: Aug 19, 2009, 4:22pm Top

#60 - that was about my take on the jew in the lotus too - moderately interesting. I'm not sure if i kept my copy or gave it to the library book sale.

Aug 19, 2009, 5:54pm Top

Waiting for God sounds interesting. As a non-reluctant atheist, I'm inclined think that the attractions of religion are often overestimated -- that it nurtures a sense of community, I'll definitely give it, but I'm not at all sure it does anything for dignity and responsibility that can't be found elsewhere (or, indeed, that it helps with those things more often than it hurts). I am interested, though, in the perspectives of people who hold the same beliefs that I do, but feel differently about them.

I'm also curious about the assertion that there is a decline in atheism in the US these days... Everything I've read on the subject seems to indicate the opposite, although, of course, a rise in atheism also tends to induce a rise in backlash against atheism.

Aug 19, 2009, 7:23pm Top

>56 dchaikin:, 57, I love that quote.

>56 dchaikin:, Dan, glad to hear you "enjoyed" Barefoot Gen. If the second volume is any indication, the series only gets harder to read and more overwhelming. Still, I'll keep at it.

Aug 19, 2009, 10:02pm Top

#63 Ms Price - Every idle moment my mind takes me straight to Barefoot Gen - it's like I'm possessed. I've requested v2-4 from my library. After that I'll have to purchase them.

#62 bragan - I'll see how it goes. Actually, I'm having trouble reading because I keep wanting to memorize the lines instead of read them. Lawrence Bush has an interesting point about the apparent decline in atheism - although I think he is referring specifically to his age group (baby boomers) and his crowd (Reform Judaism). At some point, circa 1950's, the "onward and upward" era, there was a crowd who believed so deeply that the progress of science would lead to a better world. Atheism was a natural step. I don't know how large that crowd was, but it's gone now. There is a fairly universal skepticism toward technological progress, or at least an awareness that there's a dangerous side to it. For example that nuclear bomb...have I told you about Barefoot Gen...

Aug 19, 2009, 10:19pm Top

Another excerpt from Waiting for God:

It was the splitting of the atom that first split my generation away from the humanistic faith in science and rationalism that our parents favored. For their generation, science was a Promethean quest that resulted in the polio vaccine and the eradication of smallpox, the refrigerator and the television, Albert Einstein's socialist humanism and Bertrand Russell's pacifism. For the baby boomers, by contrast, science was a Frankenstein-like overreaching that brought Mutually Assured Destruction and neutron bombs, Chernobyl and Bhopal, pesticide-poisoned foods and toxic waste sites.

Our parents' scientist was a word for world citizen, a messenger of prosperity and household ease, a crusader for truth against superstition, and a conqueror of hunger, disease and fascism, To the Woodstocker, the scientist appeared to be a corporate citizen, an idolater tampering with the very forces of creation for petty purposes, an amoral technician and, in anthropologist Loren Eiseley's words, an "extreme reductionist...so busy stripping things apart that they tremendous mystery has been reduced to a trifle..."

This shift in the perception of science can be encapsulated by comparing two science fiction movies, each popular and representative of its era. When Klaatu, an alien from an advanced civilization, comes to Earth to warn humanity about our militarism in Robert Wise's 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, he reveals his mission first to a man of science, an Einstein look-alike named Professor Barnhart. Our parents believed such a man of science would prove a contact superior to any president, military general, or simple man-on-the-street. When the alien E.T. is accidentally stranded on Earth in Steven Spielberg's 1982 sci-fi hit, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, her reveals himself first to a boy, innocent and full of wonder. My generation believed that such a choice would prove to be a contact superior to any president, military general...or scientist.

Aug 19, 2009, 10:27pm Top

yes, interesting. A decline in atheism is worrying indeed.

Aug 20, 2009, 12:09am Top

Ah, OK, I can believe that there's been a decline among that particular demographic. And I certainly can't disagree that people's faith in science has taken a beating since the 50s.

I really may have to check out this book. I don't think the insights in the extracts you've posted are necessarily all that original -- I've certainly seen science fiction movies analyzed in similar terms before -- but they are very well put. And Barefoot Gen sounds very much worth reading, too. (Of course, I look at the size of the TBR Pile now and sigh...)

Aug 20, 2009, 1:48pm Top

31. My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey (c2003, 266 pages, finished August 17)
Thanks polutropos for sending this to me.

A lesson in storytelling. There is a good story here, and some things to think about, especially about poetry, but what really stood out for me was how dynamic the storytelling was. It was fun to read from the very first page.

The inspiration of the story is a real hoax in poetry world of Australia during WWII, where an editor became enraptured with what turned out to be the fictional poet Ern Malley and his fictional life story. Carey's story calls into question the true value of poetry, and looks at the obsession to find a sort of pure poet, an outsider free of the modern prevailing poetry culture, but still a master.

What I admire here is that we aren't told what to think. The story on the pages stays light. It's serves more like a jumping off point for pondering the nature of modern poetry and of humanity. The implied questions are, perhaps, much deeper.

I should also mention this includes an interesting look at Malaysia during and after WWII.

Initial response: 4/5

Edited: Aug 21, 2009, 11:16am Top

32. Barefoot Gen, Volume One : A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa (1972-1973, 288 pages, finished August 19)
-2004 Transalition from Japanese by Project Gen

I picked this up after reading fannyprice's very thoughtful review on her thread. I'm tempted to limit my review to just "Holy f---". That combined with the title, and the knowledge this is a graphic novel written by a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb says about everything I need to say and might say it better than this commentary.

Keiji was 6 years old when the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, which he survived only thanks to a brick wall he was standing next to. His father, sister and younger brother were trapped under their collapsed house and burned alive, while his mother helplessly watched. I don't think I'm giving anything away here as we're told this up front, in the author's preface.

Barefoot Gen is a fictionalized Keiji, and the story is essentially his story. It's 10 volumes. The 10th volume is actually due out in English in November this year. Volume One covers the last few months in 1945 before the bomb was dropped, ending the day it was dropped. Remarkably, and perhaps unfortunately, it's not about vilifying the US. As he explores life before the bomb, and the constant starving and the cultural pressure to cooperate, the anger is mainly directed at the Japanese leadership and culture.

As a graphic novel, this is a quick read. There are no chapters, it's difficult to stop, especially when another half hour reading covers another 60 pages. Cartoons in Japan apparently don't have the juvenile connotations we have in west. They are taken very seriously, the images creating a kind of code that becomes more meaningful as the story progresses. Here the images aren't elegant artistic pictures, and there are no deep thoughts expressed. The drawing is rough, simple, not especially nice to look at, and yet very effective.

The only thing I can compare this to is Art Spiegelman's Maus I & Maus II. It's worth noting Spiegelman wrote the introduction, and he mentions having read this while writing this first Maus volume. Maus was perhaps similarly effective, but different. There is an elegance to Maus, and, in order to write it Spiegelman has to psychologically come to terms with himself and his own problems - all of which is expressed within. Not so here. Gen is merely a kid, and what happens is simply beyond any singular human's psychology.

Initial response: 5/5 - seems like the best thing I've read in years...

edited several types for numerous typo...apologies for all the ones I haven't caught yet

Aug 25, 2009, 6:35pm Top

#69 - "Cartoons in Japan apparently don't have the juvenile connotations we have in west."

I can say emphatically that "Cartoons in Japan don't have the juvenile connotations we have in west." You can get rid of that word 'apparently' :)

Manga (as it is called locally) is read by men and women of all ages, and covers almost every possible subject (thankfully superheroes in underwear are not included). For food and wine lovers, for history buffs, for economists, or for table tennis fanatics, there is something for everyone. Non-fiction (as well as fictional) manga are also used as teaching aids.

As a general rule I don't read much manga, but I'm intrigued by your review and will seek this title out.

Going back a few posts on the religious theme, I'll be reading and reviewing a number of books in this area next month I think. I'm currently reading How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James Kugel, which won the Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award by the Jewish Book Council, in 2007. This is a superbly written book on biblical scholarship, and is interesting on many levels.

I also plan on reading The Evolution of God by Robert Wright, and maybe a couple by Bart D. Ehrman - Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.

Thanks for the great reviews! Especially the kids books :)

Aug 25, 2009, 7:16pm Top

Hi Peter,

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the comments on Manga. I'm overly enthusiastic of Barefoot Gen and just yesterday purchased all 10 volumes (although the new translations of Volumes 9 & 10 don't come out on amazon.com until November - I pre-ordered them).

I have How to read the Bible on my wishlist, with a comment that says "It's petermc's fault" :). I typically haven't read up on religion, but I'll note the others as well.

On Children's books: If your interested, in my library I have a collection called "All Children's books", and a tag called "children's favorites" (linked here: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/dchaikin&tag=Children%2527s%2BFavorites ). I need update that tag, however.

Aug 26, 2009, 11:34am Top

>71 dchaikin:, "I'm overly enthusiastic of Barefoot Gen and just yesterday purchased all 10 volumes (although the new translations of Volumes 9 & 10 don't come out on amazon.com until November - I pre-ordered them)."

Wow, Dan, color me impressed. You're definitely going to get ahead of me - I need to take breaks in between reading these. Just one "episode" is totally overwhelming for me.

Aug 26, 2009, 12:05pm Top

#72 fanny - I think I'll just color you sane. Actually I probably won't read them one after the other, at least I don't typically do that. I just I feel a need to eventually read them all. Volume one had a much stronger impact on me than other books recently; and it's aligned with some of my background thinking on science, it's philosophy, it's limits and dangers, and, by some kind of unclear association, on religion and... well, and my thoughts are still working this out.

Aug 26, 2009, 12:47pm Top

Dan -- you might enjoy Christa Wolf's Accident: A Day's News about the Chernobyl accident -- it's low-key and almost lyrical, but certainly raises all those questions about science as a rather Faustian bargain.

Aug 26, 2009, 1:30pm Top

Thanks Jane. I'll definitely keep that one in mind.

Edited: Sep 18, 2009, 8:22am Top

33. Waiting for God : The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist by Lawrence Bush (c2007, 202 pages, finished August 28)

I picked this up to see where it would lead, and how it relates to my own feelings of atheism. It is both a very thought provoking and somewhat frustrating book.

Lawrence Bush is atheist, and grew up that way. However he has always been associated with Reformed Judaism having spent 12 years as a speech writer for a Reformed Rabbi and another 10+ years as an editor of a magazine about Reconstructionist Judaism. He has an affection for Jewish thought and Reformed Jewish ideas, and he has done a lot of exploration into religious concepts in general. He is not, however, a scholar in any of these fields.

His main thesis is that a in the 1940's-1950's there was a strong sense of scientific rationalism in the intellectual thought processes of times and that drove a lot of people into a humanist atheism, or just atheism. However, the nuclear age turned that upside down. The next "Woodstock" generation became skeptical of scientific rationalism and began to turn to alternate forms of religion - variations on Hinduism, Buddhism and pagan religions. Lawrence Bush stands in the middle, a skeptic of traditional religious belief and the "Woodstock" religions - he is also a skeptic of scientific rationalism and finds humanist atheism unsatisfactory.

It was concerns about scientific rationalism that really struck home. This excerpt, discussing his father's generation (born in the 1930's), has been spinning in my head over and over:

"To my knowledge, there was simply no analogy in the humanistic communities of his day to the Catholic sacrament of confession, the Jewish practice of prayer and teshuvah (repentance), the Buddhist discipline of meditation, or other religious traditions' regularly scheduled rituals of self-revelation, mental training and emotional expurgation. Psychotherapy, in all its variations, is the closest he might have had to a humanistic equivalent -- but unlike religious rituals, therapy has no context of communal bonding and social approval, no mystique of virtue and piety, no fixed place on the calendar, no formal, prescriptive structure, and little ideological imperative beyond "know thyself." Therapy, moreover, is expensive -- and, as a marketplace transaction, it lacks something in the way of dignity."

Alas, Lawrence Bush is a reluctant atheist who wants a religion, but can't find one. This was the source of frustration for me - he is inconclusive. There is really nothing here to justify his atheism, and yet no religious answer for the skeptic. I'm left stranded holding partially undermined atheistic ideas.

initial response: actually was 3.5/5 because I was a little annoyed, but more now it's more like a 4/5.

Edited: Sep 16, 2009, 1:38am Top

34. Stories in Stone : Travels Through Urban Geology by David B. Williams (c2009, 253 pages, finished September 11) - Early Reviewer, ARC

This was fine. I mean it is as advertised - fun, light, lots of interesting trivia especially for geologists. It's a book I've always wanted to read - about what stones are used as building stone, why they're used, what is the geology behind those stones and what geologic quirks makes them nice for building with. You just don't find books like that.

Williams covers Michelangelo's marble, the history of the New York brownstone, Boston granite, Indiana Limestone among others. He includes a chapter of travertine that links a geologic icon in my field, Robert Folk, with the discovery of evidence of Martian life on that meteor - you know the one. It happened to be my favorite chapter in the book. This is all good stuff and there was a lot to think about; really this is trivia candy for anyone with geologic interest.

It's just...somehow my response to the book is very bland. I have had the same reaction to other trivia filled popular nonfiction books. They are heavy on trivia, but somehow missing real heft.

Initial response: 3/5

Sep 16, 2009, 1:38am Top

35. Barefoot Gen, Volume Two: The Day After by Keiji Nakazawa (1972-1973, 234 pages, finished September 13)

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm totally won over by Barefoot Gen - fully taken. It's the most powerful thing I've come across in a long time. There is not much to add with volume two. I read most of the book in one sitting - it went by so fast I barely recall what was there, but yet it still left my head spinning. It's all about the immediate after effects of the bomb in Hiroshima - the people succumbing to radiation sickness without knowing what had happened.

This is generally not beautiful artwork, although very effective in it's own way. The images of the skin hanging off living bodies is - I can't even put the right adjective too it. There is one picture that stands out for me. It shows two pairs of hands touching a little above the finger tips - one the real hand of flesh, the other, so elegantly sketched, the skin that has fallen off and hangs limply like a glove.

Initial response: 5/5

Sep 18, 2009, 7:27am Top

well pooh...i was hoping Stories in Stone : Travels Through Urban Geology might be a good gift to my sister in law geologist. I admit to having the same negative reaction the the vast majority of the last couple of decades of books that try to "humanize" some particular facet of engineering, science or scientific discovery, whether Longitude, or bridge making or whatever. Most writers aren't John McPhee, and even he can get draggy. But i'm going to have to order the set of Barefoot Gen - i'm only miffed because the local comics store i patronize doesn't seem to carry it, so i'll probably go through Amazon. (i don't have anything against Amazon, but given a choice, i'd rather support my local store on "specialty" items).

Edited: Sep 18, 2009, 8:19am Top

Bob - I have more thoughts on Stories in Stone since posting, but McPhee brings in a whole different dimension. Some non-fiction books are written by experts in the field - the facts/ideas come first and the writing comes second. McPhee and the like are writers first, and the facts come second. McPhee in particular (at least in his geology books) add an extra fundamental in that he doesn't tell us the facts, he lets his sources do that talking. He interviews the experts, and then writes profiles about them. In the process we also learn about the subject. When I read a book by an expert I learn a lot, but the books isn't as enjoyable - which I'm OK with. With McPhee I'll get a fantastic book, but not quite as intimate with the facts/ideas themselves. This is not criticism of McPhee - he stays within what he knows, and those are his sources, the people he profiles. I have a lot of respect for that regardless of the books.

But Stories in Stone doesn't fall into these categories. David B. Williams is a geologist, but he is not an expert on building stones, or on the particular rocks used. So (like Simon Winchester) he did a ton of research, talked to a lot of people and tries to make himself expert on an interesting subject. Then - he has the info, so he writes the book. In a sense, he is really a writer first. But...he doesn't focus on the sources - which is what he truly knows - he focuses on the information he's acquired. And that, I think, is where the book goes from being really engaging to just being a collection of trivia.

This (way too long) thought process came from reading by current book, Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, which has really gotten my attention and which I'm thoroughly enjoying. Shubin is an expert in the subject covered, he's also a very good writer. But, it's his expertise and experience that makes his book truly work, IMO.

Of course, this all just thinking out loud, and really just me posting nonsense. Check out the other reviews on Stories in Stone, all of which are positive, and some are written by geologists (See username stretch, for example.)

Sep 18, 2009, 11:46am Top

77, 80 - Glad to hear your thoughts on Stories in Stone. I just picked this up and I think I shall move it up in the rotation. I'm interested to see how I'll react coming from an architectural perspective.

Edited: Sep 18, 2009, 11:59am Top

#81 Jane - There is some interesting trivia and history for the architect - all new to me. I'm curious how it will come across from your view point. That is one very thing I really like about the idea of the book - the mixing of such different fields as geology and architecture.

Edited: Oct 2, 2009, 8:05am Top

I have a few books to mention and I'll get there eventually. In the mean time this excerpt is just to show where my mind is at the moment.

In nature, for every yin there is a yang. For each type of particle of matter there is a corresponding type of particle of antimatter: an antiparticle. An antiparticle has the same mass as a particle, but all its other characteristics are the opposite of its partner’s.

The key point is that all the characteristics of a particle and its antiparticle exactly cancel one another. If a particle and antiparticle combine, they annihilate – they totally destroy one another and leave behind only energy.

The reverse process is also possible. Any particle-antiparticle pair can be created from pure energy. This is the bread-and-butter of experimental particle physics. By smashing two particles together often enough and hard enough, we eventually create every particle nature allows, with its antiparticle. We don’t even have to know what we are looking for – particles just appear.

In almost all cases, any interaction that can occur among a group of particles can also occur among the corresponding group of antiparticles. Nature does not favor either particles or antiparticles; this is called CP-symmetry. However, there is a very important exception. A number of experiments, including my PH.D. thesis, demonstrated that in certain special situations CP-symmetry is very slightly broken. Breaking CP-symmetry means certain processes can create more particles than antiparticles. This played a critical role in the evolution of our universe by allowing slightly more matter than antimatter to develop during the first one second of existence. The amount of excess matter was very slight indeed: for every one billion antielectrons there were one billion and one electrons.

After the universe was one second old, it was too cold for new particle-antiparticle pairs to be copiously created in collisions. Antimatter annihilated with matter, creating a tremendous number of photons and leaving behind the slight excess of matter that had developed earlier. The antimatter ran out before the matter did and today there is almost no antimatter left in the universe. Everything we see is made of that slight excess of matter.

-- from Everyone's Guide to Atoms, Einstein, and the Universe by Robert L. Piccioni

Edited: Oct 9, 2009, 8:27am Top

I seem to be in a variation on mindlessness. I'm reading only non-fiction, and seem unable to write reviews; but, moderately entertaining excerpts I can handle:

'Very few of the riddles which puzzled and perplexed our forefathers now remain,' the architectural historian James Fergusson remarked in the Quarterly Review in 1860, at the beginning of an article that went on to prove that Stonehenge was a a post-Roman Buddhist temple.

— from Stonehenge by Rosemary Hill (Wonders of the World series)

'it is all explained. But what is most interesting, is the way in which man has developed. You know all is development ... First there was nothing, then there was something; then, I forget the next, I think there were shells, then fishes; then we came, let me see, did we come next? Never mind that; we came at last ... it is all science, ... Everything is proved; by geology you know.

— Lady Constance speaking in Tancred, an 1847 Novel by Benjamin Disraeli; as quoted in Stonehenge.

Edited: Oct 9, 2009, 11:07am Top

36. Your Inner Fish : A Journey into the 3.5-billion-year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin (c2008, 218 pages, finished September 19)

I made at least two efforts abandoned at reviewing this...this is my third try.

Neil Shubin is a mixture of a paleontologist and some kind of a DNA researcher, which gives him a unique take as a professor of human anatomy. He brings these all together in an enjoyable and very accessible form here.

As this subtitle tells us, this is a look at why we humans are constructed the way we are from an evolutionary perspective. So we learn that the nerves which control our facial expressions follow crazy whirling paths through our heads, and also connect to our ears — and Shubin tells us why. Or he gives us an evolutionary explanation of why we lose our balance when we get drunk. (Our inner ears developed form little organs fish use to detect water movement. And the fluid they developed happens to mix poorly with alcohol.) In general he points out that we are kind of like a souped-up Volkswagen Beetle — we are a more primitive life form that has been awkwardly modified for each new evolutionary challenge — and that is the source of practically all our health problems.

Shubin spends the book tracing many of these modifications back as far down the evolutionary tree as he can get, and quite a few go all the way to the single-cell animals. It's a good story.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the book are his asides about his personal experience searching for fossils in the field. In one story he describes being a grad student and looking so carefully at an outcrop and failing to find a single fossil — while the rest of the group were filling bags with fossils. His problem was that he had to learn to tune his eyes to recognize the right kinds of patterns and textures. This was something I can relate to. I remember a day as grad student looking so carefully at a Kansas roadside outcrop, and seeing just a simple flat limestone bed of certain vague characteristics. After a while our professor walked up and starting pointing out all various features right in front of us — fossil root trails, discolored surfaces, textural changes. I had looked right at them without seeing them. These are fossil soil features on a marine rock unit. Suddenly I was able to get new a sense of the ocean rising and falling; an entire dynamic environment began to come alive.

Initial response: 4/5

Oct 9, 2009, 11:23am Top

Oh, man, I loved Your Inner Fish. It may even be one of my all-time favorite popular science books just because, while I was reading it, I kept stopping to stare in wonder at my own hands (and other bits of my anatomy) as if I were seeing them and understanding them for the first time. You gotta love a book that can do that for you!

Oct 9, 2009, 11:28am Top

bragan - Funny, I just read a book on physics that did the same thing to me...these hands — they're just empty space — clouds of electrons swirling around ever-so-tiny protons and neutrons...

Oct 9, 2009, 9:33pm Top

Your Inner Fish is now on my wish list. Enjoyed your comments about this book!

Oct 9, 2009, 9:39pm Top

On my wish list too -- I hardly ever read science books, but this one sounds fascinating.

Oct 9, 2009, 9:45pm Top

#84 - If you are interested in the latest findings vis-s-vis Stonehenge, check out the work being done by Prof. Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University, as part of the Stonehenge Riverside Project. Fascinating stuff...

Oct 10, 2009, 2:46pm Top

#88 Julia - Thanks! I think you'll enjoy.

#89 Jane - Thanks for the comments. This does seem like one off the beaten track for you. But, if you just read one science-ish book, this might be a good choice.

#90 Peter - Thanks, I'll certainly see what I can find about that. The book I'm reading is not so much about the structure as about the history of the British response to it - which is fascinating in itself.

Edited: Oct 12, 2009, 12:41am Top

37. San Pedro River Review : Vol 1 No 2, Fall 2009 (52 pages, finished Sep 21)
editors: Jeffrey Alfier & Tobi R. Cogswell

I'm counting this as a book...I really want to read 50 books this year, and this keeps me on pace. And counting poetry journals as books might just be enough to get me to read poetry journals.

Anyway, I subscribed because, through LT, I've become an internet friend of Jeffrey Alfier, the editor. Jeffrey is poet and poetry lover who retired from the US armed forces about a year ago and helped found this tiny and very pleasant journal out of Tuscon, Arizona this year. Although, honestly, I don't know anything about poetry. The best compliment I can give this journal is that, thanks to it, I'm actually reading a poetry journal.

one sample

A Sound Like Thunder
Walt McDonald

O how we ran
splashing on the Texas plains
thee times a year

when it rained.
We stomped
packed the sand to slime

and laughed at the lightning.
Children, we shook
when it thundered. Even now,

years after Da Nang,
I toss at night
under thunder,

drenched in dark rain,
the bright flashes
in our eyes.

Oct 12, 2009, 4:34pm Top

A collection of interesting and worthwhile links related to the books I've read recently.

Your Inner Fish pointed out the Tree of Life - a fantastic site for biological classification:

This is only related inside my head - a photographic Periodic Table of Elements:

Related to Everyone's Guide to Atoms, Einstein, and the Universe, here is a youtube on the Hubble Ultra-Deep Space images. It's 4+ minutes, but it's also super cool :

Mentioned by petermc above, also discussed in Stonehenge — these are related to the Stonehenge Riverside Project. They take some reading, but are quite interesting.

Main site: http://www.shef.ac.uk/archaeology/research/stonehenge
interview with Mike Parker: http://heritage-key.com/britain/interview-mike-parker-pearson-stonehenge-riversi...
Bluestonehenge - A major discovery that I think was just announced this past week: http://insciences.org/article.php?article_id=7076

None of these have nice aerial pictures of Stonehenge. But, any internet image surf will provide plenty.

Oct 12, 2009, 6:58pm Top

#93 - Also on Stonehenge and the Riverside Project, see if you can find a copy of the Channel 4 Time Team Special, The Secrets of Stonehenge, originally broadcast on June 1st, 2009, which followed Mike Parker Pearson's 6-season dig.

Time Team is a cult British archaeology television show that has been on-air for 16 consecutive years. I'm very fortunate to have friends and family in the UK who ensure that I have yet to miss an episode! (knock on wood)

On Your Inner Fish - picked up a copy of this recently, and look forward to reading it soon!

Oct 13, 2009, 11:52am Top

Thanks peter - no clue how to get a copy though. I'm jealous...

Oct 13, 2009, 3:02pm Top

Dan, I'm just stopping in to catch up on your reading. The Shubin sounds interesting, as does the Lawrence Bush. I might pick up the Shubin for my daughter's birthday (and carefully peek through it before it gets wrapped...). As far as the Bush volume, I think I will content myself to experience it through your reading of it.

Oct 15, 2009, 9:57pm Top

Avaland - Your welcome to stay awhile. I don't have pickled herring like some other threads offer, but maybe I can find you a nice cup of tea. Shubin's seems like a perfect gift for your daughter - the rock-oriented one. I'll take your comments on Lawrence Bush as a high complement.

Oct 16, 2009, 10:23am Top

>97 dchaikin: well, one is more rock/sedimentary-oriented and the other more into plate tectonics/weather/volcanoes...so, I'll have to decide between the two... :-)

Oct 16, 2009, 11:02am Top

Logic would insist on the sedimentary oriented one (my field, by the way) - but you'll have to decide how that applies.

Oct 17, 2009, 6:37pm Top

38. Barefoot Gen, Volume Three : Life After the Bomb by Keiji
(1972-1973, 260 pages, finished September 25)

I probably won't review this one individually.

Oct 17, 2009, 7:38pm Top

dchaikin, long time, no comment. This will show how far behind I am in reading some threads. You didn't like The Well and the Mine? What is up with that? ;)
I think the reason I liked it was because of the simplicity of the writing not necessarily the story. Maybe I was in a phase where I was tired of authors grandstanding.

You've talked me out of trying Stories in Stone. I was considering it but it doesn't sound like I'll miss much by skipping it. Your Inner Fish was a book I enjoyed also.

You've convinced me to try the Barefoot Gen books at some point in the future.
Continued good reading to you.

Oct 17, 2009, 11:08pm Top

Hi VG, Thanks for stopping by. The short explanation on The Well was that I found it too imitative of To Kill a Mockingbird, which I had just read about a month before. Once I started to see it that way, the book began to dissolve in a lot of different ways.

Do check out Gen. Time-wise it won't cost you anything. I'm feeling a little guilty about my comments on Stories in Stone. Please check out other reviews too. I think I have the only negative review on the book.

Edited: Oct 18, 2009, 12:37am Top

39. Everyone's Guide to Atoms, Einstein, and the Universe (Real Science for Real People) by Robert L. Piccioni (c2009, 320 pages, finished October 5)

This is a really nice, accessible introduction to post-Einstein physics. It’s well structured, clearly presented, and also thought provoking. It was able to take intimidating concepts and present them in a way I could make some sense out of. I think Piccioni did a good job of covering what he intended in the amount of detail he intended. If you want more, he provides a reading list to further study — classified by the complexity of the content.

The foundation is Einstein’s contributions to quantum mechanics. From there it expands to how this can be applied to the universe in general, to Einstein’s relativity and to what this means about our universe. For me this is a step towards some of those big questions – like how did our universe begin? Why did it begin? What’s its history? What’s in it? Why are we here? Or, anyway, what is time?

This is the first book I’ve read that was able to keep my interest and explain to me in a way I can understand what is significant about Einstein’s contributions to physics. It’s the first time I feel I understand the significance of e=mc^2, or anything about quantum mechanics and relativity in general. Do I understand these perfectly now? No. Worse this is essentially the conventional wisdom. The complexities, doubts, and mathematical efforts behind these ideas are not included. This is almost a math-free book. The math, where possible, is expressed as concepts. But, although I didn’t finish the book with a Ph.D. myself, I did come away with a completely new foundation toward understanding our world and our universe. And that says a lot.

Was it an easy read? For a science book with a lesson plan, it was a very quick read. But, it’s more difficult than most things I read. So, I had to take my time. I had to put the book down between chapters early on to let things sink in (Chapters are short, by the way.) So, no, it wasn’t easy. But, it was far easier than I expected, far more compelling too.

Recommended for anyone who has wanted to get a book on post-Einstein physics (specifically quantum mechanics and relativity) but was afraid the math and concepts would be too much trouble.

initial response: 4/5

Edited: Oct 18, 2009, 11:48pm Top

40. Stonehenge (Wonders of the World) by Rosemary Hill (c2009, 222 pages, finished October 10)

This is a little book that I just randomly picked up from my library’s new book shelf and then kind of randomly opened up, found interesting and found myself reading through. By little I mean it’s about 200 pages and, closed, almost, but not quite, fits in one hand, fingers outstretched. It’s cozy to hold.

It’s not a book about understanding the ancient structure and meaning of Stonehenge. Instead it’s a history of what Stonehenge has meant to the people who studied it. This really starts in the mid-17th century, and it’s really a British thing. So, studying that history is essentially studying the formalization of the English intellect from the wildly speculative antiquarians through to the over-rigid mid-20th century archeologists — who actually resented the intrusion of astronomical insight into the meaning of Stonehenge.

Of course, it’s an oblique view of this history, centering on only those individuals who thought a lot about Stonehenge. But, what a great and quirky group of characters? Antiquarians like John Aubrey, Aylett Sammes and William Stukeley, who I found the most interesting of them all. Stukeley was friend of Isaac Newton, visited Stonehenge, made a careful study, including doing the first excavations. He was the first to see Stonehenge as part of larger set of structures. But, like Newton, he had a spiritual streak that grew with age. When he published he contradicted his own measurements, and concluded the Stonehenge was a Druid structure – an idea that stuck until the first radio-carbon dating (although the lack of metal tools on site opened some eyes beforehand).

The book goes on to Romantics, especially Wordsworth, Blake, and, later on, Thomas Hardy. And it explores the whole era of Charles Lyell and Darwin, when the age of the earth was getting pushed beyond the biblical scope, and the sciences were being founded and formalized, including that of archeology. Finally it reaches the 20th-century where archeology becomes both enlightening and criminal, but somehow lacks the color of the eras that proceeded. On a cultural level the main recent influences seem to be a Spinal Tap documentary.

There is also a somewhat detailed history of mixed efforts at preservation — it’s necessary, important, depressing, but really not all that compelling.

This was a fun book, recommended to anyone with just a little extra time on your hands and some light curiosity about any of the topics mentioned above.

Initial response 4/5

Oct 19, 2009, 12:45am Top

On Aubrey... A book I recently added to my collection was The Trophies of Time: English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century by Graham Parry, which includes a chapter on this most interesting man. You've inspired me to dig it out :)

Oct 19, 2009, 12:53pm Top

Petermc - That is cited in the book and is on my wishlist because of it. :) It has great references. Others I added to my wishlist based on this book:

Victorian sensation : the extraordinary publication, reception, and secret authorship of Vestiges of the natural history of creation James A. Secord
William Stukeley : science, religion, and archaeology in eighteenth-century England David Boyd Haycock
Charles Darwin: A Biography, Vol. 1 - Voyaging Janet Browne
Charles Darwin: A Biography, Vol. 2 - The Power of Place Janet Browne
The amazing pop-up Stonehenge Julian C. Richards ==> A children's book, link here: http://www.librarything.com/work/5768314

Oct 19, 2009, 9:03pm Top

>99 dchaikin: Well, that decided it then. Into the holiday stocking it will go!

Edited: Nov 8, 2009, 11:09pm Top

Commercial Break for children's books - although that's an odd phrasing since I haven't posted in awhile. (I've been stuck pondering how to review Marilynne Robinson's Gilead books, or whether to review them.)

This list cover books we found in September and October, which happens to cover both birthdays. Ethan turned three in September, and Anna turned five in October. The main theme was science. First we went through several DK Eyewitness Books. Later we stumbled across First Discovery Books. And then others science books - at least with my Anna, my 5-yr-old.

Dolphins at Daybreak by Mary Pope Osborne -- This was our first real book, from the Magic Tree House series (series page: http://www.librarything.com/series/Magic%20Tree%20House%20%281%29 ). Actually my wife got to read it with my daughter, not me. So I can't really comment, only be very excited.

DK Eyewitness Books
I'm in awe of these, which worked with both kids and adults. Amazing pictures with descent text. My daughter loved paging through, picking out pictures and asking to read specifically about those pictures. Series pages: http://www.librarything.com/series/Eyewitness%20Books and http://www.librarything.com/series/DK%20Eyewitness%20Books
Human Body (Eyewitness Books) by Steve Parker - this is incredibly disturbing, my daughter LOVED it.
Whale (DK Eyewitness Books) by Vassili Papastavrou
Fish (DK Eyewitness Books) by Steve Parker -

First Discovery Books
We found these on accident. They're little spiral bound books with semi-transparent pages — and they do endless tricks with these. Maybe you open the hood of a car, or see the underside of a starfish, or move a crane etc. They're spectacular for my 3-yr-old, but also work for my 5-yr-old. And, thanks to our library we've gone through about a dozen of them. Series pages is here: http://www.librarything.com/series/First%20Discovery%20Books
Human Body : Hidden World by Claude Delafosse, Jeunesse Gallimard, & Pierre-Marie Valat (Illustrator) - The "hidden worlds" refers to the trick. You need a paper flashlight to see x-rays and what not on dark transparent pages. This makes the book, it's really cool.
The Seashore by Elisabeth Cohat, Pierre de Hugo (Illustrator), & Gallimard Jeunesse - I'd never seen the inside of a hermit crab before. Also great stuff showing the inside and outside of shells, how fish hide, etc.
Trains by James Prunier (Illustrator) and Gallimard Jeunesse - the first one we found, and one of the best.
And then there's Airplanes, Cars, Boats, Dogs, Cats...

Nov 8, 2009, 11:09pm Top

Dan -- I love your kids' book reviews -- it helps me find stuff for little nieces and nephews' birthdays and Christmases since I've been out of the loop for quite a while. Thanks.

Edited: Nov 8, 2009, 11:10pm Top

Jane, I'm not done yet... ;)

Edited: Nov 8, 2009, 11:35pm Top

More highlights:
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz - I found this awhile ago and finally bought it. It's wonderful - but see my old review for more.
Knockin' On Wood : Starring Peg Leg Bates - Lynne Barasch - Also nonfiction, brought up endless difficult questions from my 5-yr-old, such a why a critically injured black child couldn't go to a hospital and had to have his leg amputated at home.
Puff, the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow, Lenny Lipton, & Eric Puybaret (Illustrator) - OK, the CD was the highlight, but the illustrations are really nice.
Sergio Saves the Game! & Sergio Makes a Splash by Edel Rodriguez - Great for both kids. I found these from the library first, and bought them later when my daughter asked for them.
Roadwork by Sally Sutton & Brian Lovelock (Illusttrator) - the weakest one here, but still very well done.

Random science books we've come across
My daughter is finding anything like these fascinating. She simply likes flipping through the pages and choosing what we read. These seem great to me, but I don't really have anything to compare against. Mainly there just there in the house.

The Usborne First Encyclopedia of Science by Rachel Firth & David Hancock (Illustrator) - really nicely done.
Checkerboard Press Prehistoric Life Encyclopedia by Mark Lambert - Super detailed, but also very dry. Great for me, but I have no idea why my daughter seems to like me reading the text. The dinosaurs fighting are certainly of interest.
Mysteries of the Ocean Deep by Frances Dipper - which includes page on the Exxon Valdez, bringing up great conversations on...drinking alcohol.

I'm listing this even though my kids won't let me read it to them. It's beautifully illustrated, and a really nice collection; but perhaps not that kid-friendly.
The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems by Jackie Morris

Nov 8, 2009, 11:38pm Top

Ok, done now. Back to the regular thread.

Nov 9, 2009, 12:04am Top

I have a DK book called Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife filled with so many incredible color photos of so many animals. It came with software with several movie clips of animals in motion slowed down so you could see exactly how they moved. I was so sad when the the software didn't work with the next version of windows.

Nov 9, 2009, 1:25am Top

Solla, Too bad about the movie clips. Still definitely a book I'd like to check out... and our library has it.

Nov 9, 2009, 5:38pm Top

Thanks for all the wonderful children's books. I have both my husband's godchild and my (brand new) niece to shop for and I would love to get them some good books.

Nov 9, 2009, 10:08pm Top

Jane - ooh, I could give you so many suggestions...for the new baby see Sandra Boynton. (sigh... my son seems to have outgrown Boynton, which means we're done. No more Boynton. I can't tell you how sad that is...).

Nov 10, 2009, 2:45pm Top

Dan, my oldest daughter (who is nearly 30) is in the process of joining Roller Derby and has been brainstorming for Derby names. As you might know, these names are like: Eva Destruction or, my favorite, Apocalypse Frau. She's decided after a week or so contemplating all the different kinds of names, that she's like to be on the leading edge of a geeky trend in names, so we have been brainstorming geology and other natural forces based names (she's more geology, meterology...etc.). I thought you might have some suggestions.

The top contender, at the moment, is my brainchild of "Pyroclastic Flo". However, she has come up with "Athenas Fear" or "Athena Sphere" (I'm sure you'll get that one, I didn't), and Lava Bombshell. Ooo, maybe Wind Sheary or Seismic Sue.

Nov 10, 2009, 3:33pm Top

Very funny...but too clever for me. Personally, I like "Pyroclastic Flo."

Nov 10, 2009, 3:49pm Top

>118 dchaikin: what? no inclination towards bad puns and wordplay? Oh well, I thought I'd ask. Sorry to clutter up your thread... :-)

Nov 10, 2009, 5:20pm Top

No, it's OK. I fail miserably at wordplay... my poor little brain can't do it.

Nov 10, 2009, 7:04pm Top

I love DK Eyewitness books!

Nov 10, 2009, 7:19pm Top

Daniel - Thanks for the kiddy book reviews. Always of value! The bigger of my two just turned 3, but his Japanese is far better than his English. Note to self - buy more English children's books!

Nov 10, 2009, 10:31pm Top

#121 fannyprice - me too.

#122 Peter - My 3-yr-old son is obsessed with the First Discovery Books - especially ones on trains, planes, boats etc....in case you needed a suggestion. Thanks for the thanks.

Nov 14, 2009, 12:54am Top

41. Home by Marilynne Robinson (c2008, 325 pages, finished October 16)

The quick summary is that this is Reverend Robert Boughton’s story from Gilead. If you’re familiar with Gilead that, while not entirely accurate, makes sense. This book perfectly parallels Gilead, her previous novel, to the point of recreating conversations word-for-word. Actually, it seems that the essence of Home must have been composed as part of the process of making Gilead. And that is commentary on how much Robinson put into Gilead – which, by the way, was published about 24 years after her previous novel.

However, it’s not Robert Boughton’s story, it only takes place in his home. This is Jacks story again – he’s the complex and guarded character who took over the later part of Gilead. Jack is the prodigal-son of sorts – the one problem child of eight Boughton children, the one closest to his father’s heart, and his father’s biggest failure. The one who comes home after a 20-year absence, just as his father seems about at the end of life.

Gilead is Rev John Ames story, and there we only understand Jack at a distance in the few things Jack will tell Ames and no one else. Here we see Jack close up, through the eyes of his younger sister, Glory. It’s Glory’s voice who colors this novel, and gives it a very different feel from Gilead. Where Ames was a carefully expressive with a deeply refined theology, Glory is bottled emotions occasionally brimming with tears, but mostly held silent – conforming to the apparent general restraint of Robinson’s 1950’s era Gilead, Iowa. She also conforms to the selfless caretaking roll of single women in 1950’s Iowa. (It’s worth noting both Ames and Glory seem strikingly naive.)

Glory is home to take care of her aging father – who is reduced to secondary character in his own book – a somewhat skewered one at that. She sees Jack and Robert and their careful interactions, and she gives us a complex character study of her family – one of outward kindness, hidden emotions and unspoken tension. Over the course of the novel, she is able to develop an intimate relationship with Jack, and it’s this, I think, that makes the novel beautiful. But, she only can see so much. When we close the book, we still don’t understand Jack. He remains a mystery internally.

Overall I enjoyed Home immensely – although I had prep myself. Like Gilead, this isn’t a book that calls to you. It’s soft and subtle, and you need to come to it in the right state of mind. But it won me over, and left me curious enough that I immediately found myself re-reading Gilead. And, honestly, I didn’t love Gilead the first time.

Initial response - for whatever reason I couldn't figure out how to start this one. But at the moment I'm giving it 4.5/5.

Edited: Nov 14, 2009, 1:00am Top

For the record, that was really difficult to write. I'm not sure how good of a review it is, but it did actually turn out better than I expected.

Nov 14, 2009, 3:20am Top

It is a wonderful review of a book that it is very hard to write a review of since it isn't action packed or dramatic except in quiet ways. I think you describe very well what it is that makes the book powerful, the attempts not to hurt that hurt, and other subtle interactions. I loved this book.

Nov 14, 2009, 5:04pm Top

I went over to your review among reviews and thumbed it up. I'll be happy to point it out to anybody who asks me about the book.

The last time I was at the dentist's I think I turned my hygienist on to Marilynne Robinson. I'll find out in January.

I think I understood Jack because he is very much a reflection of me, but I'm not as good.


Nov 14, 2009, 10:46pm Top

#126 solla - Wow, thanks! I couldn't ask for a nicer response. It's a difficult book to pin down in a description. You can write endless plot, and the plot is kind of complicated with each character deserving their own explanation. But it's not a plot driven book; it's more of an atmosphere - and I stumble when trying to capture that in words.

#127 Robert - Thanks for the compliment. I'm trying to take what I know of you and fit it to a variation of Jack...

Nov 15, 2009, 9:07am Top

Very nice review, Dan.

Nov 15, 2009, 4:34pm Top

Avaland - thank you!

Nov 15, 2009, 5:24pm Top

Looks like its a hot review.

Nov 15, 2009, 10:43pm Top

#131 - That's a first for me. I feel somehow guilty about caring, but the thumbs and comments have put me in a good mood all day.

Nov 16, 2009, 1:05pm Top

Great work, Dan!

Nov 20, 2009, 12:27am Top

That was a very good review. I've been reluctant to try Home and Gilead, and your review gives me the sense that they are books I would like.

Nov 20, 2009, 9:17am Top

akeela - Thanks!

arubabookwoman - There are a lot of different reactions to them. If you get there, my advice is to avoid forcing yourself to read them. If it's not getting your attention that day, put it down. I did that for Home, but couldn't convince myself to do it for Gilead (either the first or second time).

I think Gilead takes more patience - especially after about page 100 when the theology seems to become more prominent - especially if your uncomfortable with religion, like me. I hope to post something on Gilead, but I'm not sure what to write and I haven't had the uninterrupted time to clear my head.

Edited: Dec 1, 2009, 11:47pm Top

42. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (c2004, 247 pages, finished October 25)

I read this originally in 2005 and enjoyed it, but mostly wondered what I had missed and then quickly forgot what I’d read. I re-read it after being won over by Home which left me with the feeling like I needed the whole story – and at only another 247 pages it’s not that difficult.

All-in-all I kind of missed the point - again. I went through the motions of reading it, but got disconnected half way through, and I should have put it down for a bit; but instead plunged ahead wastefully.

What I did get out of it this time was some better appreciation of the careful use language and of the overall complexity of the book's structure. In a sense this is three very different books in one. The first part is Reverend John Ames' background and life. He’s in his seventies with a 7-yr-old son and he has severe heart problems. This book is his message to the grown son he will never know. He starts by telling stories of his childhood. He’s a third generation minister and the stories of his grandfather and father’s philosophical battles color this story. At some point he begins to leave the back stories behind and wanders around his own theology and his own takes on life. Then Ames' interactions with Jack, a troubled man, begin to take over the narrative, making the third part of the book. Jack sends Ames into a theological crisis of sorts – or at least into some serious consideration on how the blend Jack into his lifelong-crafted thoughts on life. I’m tempted to characterize the structure as first a theological background, then theological thoughts, and then theology put into action – but that over simplifies and over-emphasizes the religious side, I think. Ames is not blindly religious, although he has his limits for dealing with atheism.

What amazed me in hindsight is that while Jack’s story is the center of this book, it’s not necessarily the best part. For me personally the early sections were wonderful – beginning with the trek Ames took with his father in 1892 on foot from Iowa to Kansas to find the grave of his grandfather who abandoned the family late in life. Ames was 12 at the time. As he digs into his father and grandfather, the color of these two comes out in a rawness of their differences. It’s Ames wild grandfather that left the deepest impression on me.

His grandfather came to Iowa from Maine during the era of bloody Kansas – and he came as a man possessed having had a vision of Christ. He fully invested himself in the violence of the anti-slavery movement while ministering. He supported John Brown and inspired a generation of Gilead, Iowa men to enlist and die in the Civil War; and then he continued preaching to his dwindling church of widows after the war. By Ames childhood, his grandfather was a something of a crazy man who still had conversations with God out loud, and constantly sacrificed himself – seeing himself only as a failure and disappointment of immense intensity. In one particularly riveting memory Ames’ grandfather says to Ames’ father, “Reverend, no words could be bitter enough, no day could be long enough. There is just no end to it. Disappointment. I eat it and drink it. I wake and sleep it.’’ In this deranged way he is somehow an inspiration. At some point in history President U. S. Grant characterized Iowa as a “the shining star of radicalism” – a concept so completely opposite of everything we think of in Iowa today that it mocks its modern counterpart. And Ames' grandfather is the symbol of this radicalism – he’s also based on a real character.

I should have closed the book after this opening section and taken a break. Somewhere around page 100 the book gently morphs into where Ames begins to work in his theology and … well, I didn’t take it in. By the time I got the dramatic final story of Jack I was simply reading to finish.

initial response was 4/5

Dec 2, 2009, 12:08am Top

43. Barefoot Gen, Volume Four : Out of the Ashes by Keiji Nakazawa (1972-1973, 281 pages, finished October 26)

I read through volume three so fast that I actively forced myself to slow down with this one – and forced myself to take three days to read instead of just a sitting or two. The main raw power of this series rests in the first two books. But this was still riveting in its own way. It’s mainly the story of Tomoko, Gen’s doomed baby sister who was born prematurely the day the atomic bomb fell. It also covers the American occupation and abuse and, quite vividly, the gangster culture that apparently dominated Japan in the post war. I’ve come across this gangster culture in fiction once before. The book, stylistically a bit too aggressive and forced, but still quite interesting, was Tokyo Zero by David Peace. This is really dark stuff on its own.

But, obviously even three days isn’t much to spend on a book, and, a month later I don’t have any profound thoughts left.

Initial response – 5/5

Dec 5, 2009, 12:23am Top

We had a little snow in Houston. Here a picture of Nutmeg, she's 10-years-old:

Dec 5, 2009, 3:10am Top

Nutmeg is a cutie! Was this her first encounter with snow? We lived in Houston Dec '96-June '99. There was an ice storm when we moved in and then no freezing for a couple of years. (Actually, we bought 2 of our dogs when we were in Houston and they've moved with us to Calif., Ohio, and Tokyo).

Your thread is one of my "stars"--enjoy your comments, esp. about Barefoot Gen and many other titles.

Thanks for sharing.

Dec 5, 2009, 8:56am Top

She is a cutie!

Dec 5, 2009, 10:10am Top

Ohhhhhh so cute! I just wanna squeeze her.

I really enjoyed your Gilead review above. You're not going to post it in the reviews section? I would've given it a green thumb.

Dec 5, 2009, 10:49am Top

Julia - I'm trying to remember if she has seen snow before. We had "snow" a few times in the not so distant past, but...honestly I'm not sure she noticed the snow this time. :) Despite the down-trodden look in the picture, she loves being outside on cold days.

Thanks for so much for the nice comments!

Darryl - I told her what you said and she wagged her tail...and then looked at me like I should give her a treat.

Dec 5, 2009, 10:58am Top

Medellia - really? Thanks. I was not going to post it since...well...for a number of reasons. But, now I'll definitely post it.

Dec 5, 2009, 12:29pm Top

Really! Thumbed! :)

Dec 5, 2009, 7:16pm Top

138 - Too, too cute. A friend of mine in Houston has been very excited about the snow. Tis a rare event for us southerners.

Dec 5, 2009, 10:17pm Top

#145 Jane - It was actually really cool. I was in Austin in the morning and drove three hours through the snow (which made me nervous, but there wasn't any ice the whole way and it was a safe drive.). And then, our preschool closed at 3:00, the kids came home, we took the dogs and played in it - although nothing really stuck to the ground. My kids loved it. I think it snowed briefly one-day last year, and then it snowed Christmas day in 2004 - but we were out of town and missed it.

Dec 7, 2009, 2:26am Top

Medellia - a drink for you. For the moment I'm on the hot review list. :)

Dec 7, 2009, 9:14am Top

Back to an earlier topic...

My kids (6 & 9) have enjoyed Math Curse and Science Verse, which are humorous and a good jumping off point for discussion.

And Shel Silverstein remains a family favorite.

Edited: Dec 7, 2009, 9:34am Top

Please, sir, I want some more. :)

Dec 7, 2009, 10:29am Top

#148 Alison - thanks, noted. Jon Scieszka does some great stuff. (see The Stinky Cheese Man). Product reviews on amazon say 7-yrs plus, but if my library has them, I'll check them out.

Medellia - Now, I wouldn't want you to over do it, you might end up something like this:

Dec 7, 2009, 10:54am Top

We should all be so skinny drinking wine and eating chocolates!

Jan 11, 2010, 10:11pm Top

Okay, so catching up on your thread - love Nutmeg! Those dogs have the best sad face in the world!

Feb 24, 2010, 2:39pm Top

I had just sort of abandoned this tread in Dec, so I never linked forward. The next thread for 2010 is here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/81181

Group: Club Read 2009

113 members

15,552 messages


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