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dchaikin stumbles through 2010

Club Read 2010

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Edited: Jun 29, 2010, 8:30am Top

I'm sort of waking up after a bit of an LT break. I've been pretty quiet of most of December, stuck in the middle of a very long book - Les Miserables. I don't have a plan yet this year - and I haven't actually finished last year out yet.

Vaguely I thinking of reading along with the big books in Les Solon, although I'm not quite sure how that will work for me. I want to do this quietly, but...

Last year I had a book shelf and slowly made my way through while being highly distracted by new books, library books and Early Reviewer books. So, I was going to clear the shelf and put up a set of new books...but I couldn't convince myself to clear it. It's mostly the same shelf and I'll see how far I get. I will try to cut out Early Reviewer books this year, as they haven't worked for me - unless I already knew the book.

Once I get organized I should have links and lists and that kind of stuff here.

2009 threads:
dchaikin's 2009 reading log
dchaikin's 2009 reading log 2

2009 reads on this thread:
44. Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart (Nov 1)
45. Beowulf on the Beach by Jack Murnighan (Nov 14)
46. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (Dec 2)

The 2010 list:
1. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Jan 6)
2. The Passport by Herta Müller (Jan 7)
3. The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, book 12) by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson (Jan 25)
4. Nadirs by Herta Müller (Jan 31)
5. Papa Sartre by Ali Bader (Feb 19)
6. Stitches : a memoir... by David Small (Feb 25)
7. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (Mar 8)
8. Destiny Disrupted : A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary (Mar 16)
- Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (started Feb 19)
- A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon by Neil Sheehan (started Mar 20)
- Paradise lost by John Milton (sampling - started Jan 7, read books 1-4 from Jan 31 to Feb 13, now on hold)

Jan 4, 2010, 1:12pm Top

Welcome back, and happy reading!

Jan 4, 2010, 1:23pm Top


Jan 4, 2010, 5:06pm Top

I agree about the early reviewer books. At first it seemed cool to get a book for free, but now I've got two hanging over my head with monthly reminders about reviews due.

Jan 4, 2010, 5:28pm Top

Happy New Year, Dan -- I was wondering where you had wandered off to. I've tried to be much more selective about my ER requests too, but I should have a couple of books arriving soon. We'll see....

Jan 4, 2010, 6:47pm Top

Aruba - two for me as well. I've read them, just haven't reviewed them. I got a reminder for one of them this month...sigh.

Jane - Thanks. I'll wander on back once I (slowly) make my way out of this Parisian barricade. It is quite interesting in here, I have to say - actually I'm finding the barricade the best part of les Mis - maybe.

Jan 4, 2010, 6:58pm Top

so, right after I posted the new Early Reviewers came out and...well, first of all I can't over the Dare books. Phew!... then I reflexively requested Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower - at least that one is on my wishlist.

Jan 4, 2010, 7:11pm Top

Good to see you back, Dan!

Jan 4, 2010, 7:22pm Top

Cheers Darryl, Thanks!

Jan 4, 2010, 10:40pm Top

Checking in on you for 2010.

Jan 5, 2010, 7:44am Top

Peeking in. You read Les Mis with young children in the house? I'm impressed.

Jan 5, 2010, 1:07pm Top

VG & Lois - welcome! (although not much to see here at the moment.)

(and Lois...psst...don't tell their mom, but I actually read more now than before the kids were born. I'm not sure why.)

Jan 5, 2010, 1:23pm Top

(I think it's the LT-factor. I have it too - reading a lot more than before... just a theory on my part ;-)

Jan 5, 2010, 1:48pm Top

Yes, LT has been a big inspiration. Also, finishing my master's thesis just before my daughter was born (the later inspiring the former). Thesis guilt is incredibly time-consuming.

Jan 8, 2010, 2:37pm Top

I'm starting to get organized. If you re-read my first post you will now find a link to my old threads and a list of 2010 reads.

At the moment I'm struggling to put together a 2009 favorites list. The problem is I'm just finding a lot of really good books far down the list.

So -

The Painfully Culled Top Ten
1. Barefoot Gen Volume One: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa
2. Barefoot Gen Volume Two: The Day After by Keiji Nakazawa
3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4. Home by Marilynne Robinson
5. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
6. Peace by Richard Bausch
7. Possessed by Shadows by Donigan Merritt
8. Sorry by Gail Jones
9. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
10. Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas

Jan 8, 2010, 3:41pm Top

My over-extended or distended 2009 favorites list

Beyond the top 10 - non-fiction-ish
Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits by Jack Murnighan - one the 2009 books I haven't commented on yet
Stonehenge (Wonders of the World) by Rosemary Hill - just fun - an oblique look at English intellectual culture through time, the 18th century being particularly fascinating.
Everyone's Guide to Atoms, Einstein, and the Universe by Robert L. Piccioni - gave me an understanding of the theory of Relativity - part of my "nuclear 2009"
Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin
Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 by Barry Cunliffe
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown - although I think it did get me sick.
Waiting for God: The Spiritual Reflections of a Reluctant Atheist by Lawrence Bush - part of my "nuclear 2009"
Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis - just fun
Barefoot Gen Volume Three: Life After the Bomb by Keiji Nakazawa
Barefoot Gen Volume Four: Out of the Ashes by Keiji Nakazawa
As A Palm Tree In The Desert Part One by Zvi Ankori - pain to read, but a good story.

Beyond the top 10 - semi-mainstream-contemporary-fiction-ish
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón - a favorite, just couldn't fit in that top ten
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz - fantastic
Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan - actually graphic novel-ish short takes
Travelling with Djinns by Mahjoub Jamal
Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison - easy to criticize, but still somehow memorable.
De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage - IMPAC Dublin winner
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar - a little slow, but memorable
Aracoeli by Elsa Morante - tough to read
My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Beyond the top 10 - Genre-ish
Storyteller by G. R. Grove
Flight of the Hawk by G. R. Grove

Grove's series is historical fiction, but it kind of has a fantasy feel to it - like all King Arthur related stuff. It's maybe more literary than typical fantasy, and certainly has a much lighter touch. I enjoyed it immensely.

Overall, 2009 was my nuclear year - colored heavily by Barefoot Gen, but also by the Lawrence Bush book and the Physics book by Piccioni. I mean this in the philosophical sense - what do those bomb do and what do they mean for human "progress"?

Jan 8, 2010, 3:58pm Top

Great list, Dan--quite a few are going on my wish list!

Jan 9, 2010, 12:17am Top

Hi Chris - Thanks. Happy to inflate the wish list.

Jan 10, 2010, 10:47pm Top

>4 arubabookwoman:, God, I am glad I'm not the only one feeling ambivalent about the ER program. I've somehow won a book every month for the last five months or so and now am feeling pretty overwhelmed. I still have not gotten anything through the program that I couldn't have lived without reading and I've busted my a** to read a bunch of stuff I wish I hadn't invested time in. I should probably quit, but its hard to do.

Anyhow, "hi Dan!"

Jan 11, 2010, 8:17am Top

Yes, it's tough. I have received 8, and pretty much hated the first 7. I was on the point of giving up... and then I loved the eighth. What to do?

Jan 11, 2010, 8:20am Top

>20 wandering_star:

Do you also hate every 7 of 8 books that you buy/read which are not ER books? If not - maybe you need to change the algorithm with which you decide which books to request... :)

Jan 11, 2010, 8:22am Top

Good point! And maybe I have become more discriminating over time. But I did genuinely think I would like reading all the ones I requested.

Jan 11, 2010, 12:10pm Top

Hi Dan,

I am slowly coming out of hibernation and beginning to reacquaint myself with old friends. I had a December to forget, did almost no posting, and did not keep up with anyone's thread. So "Hello, again!"

And I must second and third the comments above re ER books. I have three unreviewed, and have stopped looking at the lists. Maybe this year I will get to them but...

I am hoping to participate in the Light in August discussion in the Salon, followed by Infinite Jest. Perhaps even the Pamuk.

See ya.

Edited: Jan 11, 2010, 12:20pm Top

#19-23 - thanks for the comments.

After reading these I noticed:
10 - the number of 10 ER books I read last year
0 - the number of ER books in my top 10
4 - the number of ER books in my "Beyond the top 10" lists above (post 16)
46 - the number or books I read last year
10-12 - roughly the number of books I read last year that are NOT listed in my top 10 or "Beyond the top 10" lists.

So, half my "bad" books were from the ER's

#19 fanny - "hi" back.
#23 polutropos - I think I had the same December, lt-wise. Hello back.

Edited: Jan 13, 2010, 5:55pm Top

Finally a review, albeit from last year...

44 (from 2009). Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart (c2009, 308 pages, finished November 1, 2009 - an LT Early Reviewer)

If I had picked this book up at a book store and read the first few pages describing the birth of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, I would have quickly replaced it on the shelf and moved on. This is too bad, because the book changes and there’s some nice stuff here.

This is a fictional account of Charbonneau’s rather fascinating life. He was the son of Sacajawea and French trader Toussaint Charbonneau. He was born during the Lewis & Clark expedition, carried across the mountains, to the Pacific and back as an infant. Charbonneau then grew up in two separate societies, going to school in St. Louis under the custody of William Clark and spending his off time with the Mandan Indians. Then, in 1823, at the age of 18 he was hired by Duke Friedrich Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg, a naturalist and obsessive collector, to travel to Europe and help catalogue the Duke’s North American artifacts and specimens. He spent six years in Europe, traveling extensively and learning German & Spanish on top of the English, French and Mandan he already spoke.

Someone looking for an account of Lewis and Clark will be disappointed; it takes maybe 20 pages. I found this confusing until I realized the maybe subtle game Carhart is playing. Late in the book Charbonneau is working on cataloguing the Duke’s collection when some sensitive artifacts upset him. He stops working on the collection and instead goes around the Duke’s mansion selecting various sacred and everyday objects and begins cataloguing these instead. At this point in the book we’ve joined the Charbonneau on several travels throughout Europe, all to visit and attend various functions of nobility. We’ve met various figures of nobility in various positions. And, we’ve even watched a ritualistic “hunt.” Carhart has turned the Duke’s study around on itself and instead of giving us a study of Native Americans he’s given us a fictional study of the post-Napoleon Europe.

This is a neat trick that works toward Carhart’s apparent strengths as an author. He excels when writing a story at a distance, and when summarizing or describing. I can’t exactly explain it, but I found myself hypnotized, really lost in his descriptions. Unfortunately, he struggles when he gets close up – like in that opening scene is. He can’t quite bring his characters to life; instead they are stilted, some stereotypical. And his scenes can be clunky.

Overall this was OK, fun at times, interesting. But, it’s not resounding success.

Jan 13, 2010, 6:00pm Top

Dan -- despite your reservations, this sounds like an intriguing book. I'm really interested in the effects of American contacts on Europe -- we've gotten so little of that angle of vision in our education.

Jan 13, 2010, 8:12pm Top

#25 - I've got quite a few unwritten reviews from 2009 to do as well. In all probability I'll just quietly let them slide ;)

Out of interest, what do you think the author brings to the story by fictionalizing it, rather than writing a non-fictional account of what is already, as you say, a fascinating life?

Edited: Jan 13, 2010, 9:19pm Top

#26 Jane - I hadn't thought of it that way. Off the top of my head I think there is some stuff there, especially on the European interest in American nature and native cultures. Carhart also touches on the European response to a person of Charboneau's background, which was generally OK in Europe, whereas it was looked down upon in America. I'm not sure there is a lot there, however. I need to refresh my memory. Anyway, it's pleasant enough to read, I don't think you would have anything to lose by trying it out.

Jan 13, 2010, 9:17pm Top

#27 Peter - hmm... I think the fictional format gives the author more freedom to do what interests him. In nonfiction this would need to be Charboneau's life. I think Carhart was more interested in Europe than in Charboneau...well, I'm not sure about that. But there is definitely an effort to "explore" post-Napoleon Europe here.

Jan 13, 2010, 10:34pm Top

Peter, PS it's an Early Reviewer, so I had to review it. :)

Edited: Jan 14, 2010, 9:21am Top

Just wanted to stop by and compliment your review of Across the Endless River (I "thumbsed it up" :)). I had much the same reaction to the book. I was disappointed, as I loved Carhardt's earlier memoir.

Jan 14, 2010, 1:14pm Top

t - thanks! I just finished reading through the 15 reviews on LT, and there are some other good ones too. See, especially the short one by Cariola.

Jan 14, 2010, 1:44pm Top

45 (from 2009). Beowulf on the Beach : What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits by Jack Murnighan (c2009, 384 pages?, finished November 14, 2009)

Another from last year, but this deserves a mention. Murnighan wrote about 7-8 pages per classic, and tries to keep it lite; but it seems that he really put quite a lot of work into it. The book took him 8 years, or almost two months a classic. He comes across as in love with each and every one of these these books. I found him quite fun to read.

This is a big part of the reason why I'm trying to read Paradise Lost now, and considering starting In Search of Lost Time some time this year. And, if I finally get to The Brothers Karamazov, Murnighan will get some credit.

Here are the 50 he covered (no promises on touchstones):
1. The Iliad–Homer (circa 900 B.C.)
2. The Odyssey–Homer (circa 900 B.C.)
3. The Old Testament (15th- to 2nd-century B.C.)
4. The New Testament (1st-2nd century)
5. The Aeneid–Virgil (19 B.C.)
6. Metamorphoses-Ovid (A.D. 17)
7. Beowulf (10th century)
8. Inferno (Divine Comedy)-Dante Alighieri (1308)
9. Paradiso (Divine Comedy)-Dante Alighieri (1321)
10. The Decameron-Giovanni Boccaccio (1353)
11. The Canterbury Tales-Geoffrey Chaucer (1400)
12. The Faerie Queen-Edmund Spencer (1596)
13. Hamlet-William Shakespeare (1600)
14. King Lear-William Shakespeare (1605)
15. Macbeth-William Shakespeare (1605)
16. Don Quixote-Miguel de Cervantes (1615)
17. Paradise Lost-John Milton (1667)
18. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling-Henry Fielding (1749)
19. Pride and Prejudice-Jane Austen (1813)
20. Faust I+II-Johann Wofgang von Goethe (1832)
21. Eugene Onegin-Alexander Pushkin (1832)
22. Père Goriot-Honoré de Balzac (1835)
23. Jane Eyre-Charlotte Brontë (1847)
24. Wuthering Heights-Emily Brontë (1847)
25. Moby Dick-Herman Melville (1851)
26. Bleak House-Charles Dickens (1853)
27. Great Expectations-Charles Dickens (1861)
28. Madame Bovary-Gustave Flaubert (1856)
29. Crime and Punishment-Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
30. The Brothers Karamazov-Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880)
31. War and Peace-Leo Tolstoy (1869)
32. Anna Karenina-Leo Tolstoy (1877)
33. Middlemarch-George Eliot (1872)
34. The Wings of the Dove-Henry James (1902)
35. Remembrance of Things Past-Marcel Proust (1922)
36. Ulysses-James Joyce (1922)
37. The Magic Moutain-Thomas Mann (1924)
38. The Trial-Kafka (1925)
39. To the Lighthouse-Virginia Woolf (1927)
40. The Sound and the Fury-William Faulkner (1929)
41. A Farewell to Arms-Ernest Hemmingway (1929)
42. Tropic of Cancer-Henry Miller (1934)
43. Native Son-Richard Wright (1940)
44. The Man Without Qualities-Robert Musil (1942)
45. Lolita-Vladimir Nabakov (1955)
46. Giovanni’s Room-James Baldwin (1956)
47. One Hundred Years of Solitude-Gabriel García Marquez (1967)
48. Gravity’s Rainbow-Thomas Pynchon (1973)
49. Blood Meridian-Cormac McCarthy (1985)
50. Beloved-Toni Morrison (1987)

Jan 14, 2010, 7:55pm Top

Nice overview on Beowulf on the Beach. I think I can get by without reading it. I read a couple of similar books in the last year. As to the ER program, I don't think I have much to worry about. I haven't snagged a book since April 09. When the algorithm turns on you it really turns.

Jan 14, 2010, 7:59pm Top

I looked at Beowulf on the Beach at the bookstore a couple of months back, and I was entertained for a little while. But I ended up throwing it back on the shelf in disgust when he told the reader that you can skip about 50% of In Search of Lost Time. He even told you exactly which pages to skip in the Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation. Idiocy.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away, but my feelings on this point are strong. :)

Jan 14, 2010, 9:34pm Top

#34 VG - Thanks!

#35 Medallia - lol. And anyway, why bother reading 2000 pages just to read half a book? His skipping lists were silly, but they had some value because they also highlight the important parts of the books. I had to give this one back to the library, but I wish I had copies his what-to-skip in the bible list.

Jan 15, 2010, 2:55am Top

Thanks for the review. I've never heard of it but it sounds really interesting. Ill get this out from my public library :).

Jan 16, 2010, 3:14am Top

Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Paul...

Jan 16, 2010, 4:09am Top

Numbers - skimmed it - so I'm not 100% sure.

Jan 16, 2010, 9:49am Top

phaw - I've already read Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers...hmmm, maybe that is why I stopped. This was about ten years ago. I found Numbers disturbing.

Jan 16, 2010, 10:02am Top


you are skipping ALL of Paul?

I find him frustrating, exasperating, wrongheaded...and I would advocate skipping a lot, but ALL?

As much as Corinthians 13 is now a cliche at all weddings, I think it still continues to have power.

"Love is patient; love is kind
and envies no one.
Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude;
never selfish, not quick to take offense.
There is nothing love cannot face;
there is no limit to its faith,
its hope, and endurance.
In a word, there are three things
that last forever: faith, hope, and love;
but the greatest of them all is love."

Edited: Jan 16, 2010, 10:36am Top

This finishes 2009 and my last outstanding Early Reviewer.

46. (from 2009) Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (c2009, 500 pages, finished December 2, 2009- an LT Early Reviewer)

I’m incapable of summarizing this book. There is too much here. Yes, this is about the horrors of opium and poppy growing in India. Yes this is a book on India – specifically 19th century British dominated India at the brink of the 1st Chinese-English Opium War. It’s also a book about language – specifically the Calcutta/Indian/Indian Ocean warping of the English language. Instead of a glossary, the back of the book has a “Chrestomathy”. This is apparently a list of words which has, in place of the definition, a sort of biography or linguistic history of the word. The credit for this particular list is given to one of the book's characters whom, it’s noted, only entered the words he was interested in. It’s also a book about the wild complexity of cultures and peoples in and around the Indian Ocean and southeast China. It’s also a character driven novel. And, at some point, it becomes something like a suspense novel – perhaps somewhat undermining some of the more serious aspects of the book.

The characters in this book have a cacophony of backgrounds that is simply wild. Almost all have some kind of ethnic oddity, or, lacking that, some kind of distinct personal history oddity. They might be Indian, Bengali, Indian born Englishmen, American freed slaves, half Indian/half some sort of Chinese, or a “lascar” – the random collection of Indian Ocean seamen from who knows where. Or some other ethnicity. Each has their own collection of languages they speak; some, like the lascars, having their own sort of compiled language. Individually they are quite interesting, and memorable - although having all of them in the same place and interacting with each other pushes my suspense of disbelief.

Ghosh is doing a lot of things here. He’s being both serious and having fun. He’s created a memorable group of characters, an odd but profound view of part of the darkest side of the British rule in India, and a pretty wacky story. Personally this left me entertained, but a bit confused as to what his real point was.

ETA - I gave it four stars.

Jan 16, 2010, 12:25pm Top

>42 dchaikin: re Sea of Poppies--you know it is the first in a planned trilogy? I really liked this one, but if this were the whole story it would be a frustrating read. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out when the second book is likely to be released.

Jan 16, 2010, 2:48pm Top

Lisa - I had no idea.

Jan 16, 2010, 6:24pm Top

Lisa - PS : Thanks for letting me know that. I wish I had known upfront and I wish I had known before I wrote the review - which feels kind of misdirected now. I would have figured it out if I had read other reviews, but I have a habit of not reading reviews before I write one to, in a sense, keep to my own ideas. I'm seriously considering re-writing the review.

Jan 16, 2010, 9:03pm Top


I don't know if I would rewrite it--maybe add a postscript. Your comments are valid if one looks at the book on its own, and many people do just that.

Have you read any others by Ghosh? The Glass Palace was a favorite book for me.

Jan 16, 2010, 9:51pm Top

I added this to the beginning of the review: "Apparently this is the first book of a trilogy. I wasn't aware of this while I reading it or while writing the review below. The review was written assuming this book was the full story."

Lisa - I'll keep The Glass Palace in mind. I own The Hungry Tide, which I hope to get to eventually.

Jan 17, 2010, 8:38am Top

Sea of Poppies is on my reading radar but I might just wait until the trilogy is done. I'm not sure if the to-come volumes will be tightly connected or loosely connected SoP. Happy to hear it's good reading.

Jan 17, 2010, 8:56am Top

#41 I just got so mad at "better to marry than to burn" Paul that i just figured the world would have been better off without that particular saint.

Ghosh is one of my all time favorites - I've read almost everything, but NOT the sea of poppies. the Calcutta Chromosome and the Glass Palace are my two favorites. But you have to like SF and/or medical-epidemiological thrillers to enjoy the Calcutta Chromosome which is an alternative history of malaria.

Stumbling and slouching through the new year!

Jan 17, 2010, 6:00pm Top

#41 - Andrew - I missed your post. Part of me thinks that's beautiful, but the jaded side of me has other opinions.

I'm pretty sure I've come across people talking highly of Paul. Some day I'll open a New Testament - probably only because I'm bored in a hotel room. Instead of avoiding Paul, I'll likely search his sections out.

The Glass Palace will go on the wishlist, and I'll cite posts 46 & 49 above in the comments (most of my wish list books have a source cited there - generally LT posts.)

Jan 17, 2010, 6:05pm Top

There is a Norton Critical edition of the writings of Paul. The collection, notes, and commentary were helpful to me.

Paul is a complicated character. He says so much that is wise and does such stupid stuff. His context explains a lot of it, but he ad libs some really strange stuff.


Jan 17, 2010, 7:03pm Top

#51 Perfectly said, Robert.

I have feelings which are about 95% negative towards Paul, but there is that other 5% as well. And Dan, yes, I am as jaded as they come. And I still love that Corinthians passage.

Jan 17, 2010, 11:36pm Top

Is that the same love that prompted the Inquisition and the Crusades and the 100 years war in middle Europe, the love that motivated the missionaries who accompanied the conquistadors in South and Central America in their burning and pillaging, the love that says that it's ok to burn witches, homosexuals, black cats and anyone else you .... love?

just a question, you know. Coz, it's always confused me.

Jan 17, 2010, 11:38pm Top

Me too, Murr....

Jan 17, 2010, 11:43pm Top

Well, Paul died before the Inquisition and the Crusades, and so forth. International conquest was an old story by the time he came around, and his homeland had been overrun many times. So that charity might not be the same love that you mention, tomcat.

Paul was, however, an odd duck. He might have talked love and cut off Timothy's foreskin with a rusty hatchet. We don't know.

We do know that he expressed a notion of love that never failed and that outweighed every other sign of sanctity. That notion might be one that can serve us.


Jan 17, 2010, 11:51pm Top

He might have talked love and cut off Timothy's foreskin with a rusty hatchet.

mmm. sounds like a hypocrite to me.

Jan 17, 2010, 11:58pm Top

Hypocrisy or even more complicated. I have been told that the bris is sealed with a kiss. Anyway, we don't know. We do know what Paul said in his letters.

Perhaps we should unhijack Daniel's thread.


Edited: Jan 18, 2010, 12:21am Top

"Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind..." I think Ben Waugh has got that quote either on his profile page or on The Chapel of the Abyss.

Isn't that in Romans 12 somewhere? I actually like that, coming from a non-religious person: Me, myself. Perhaps that's in polutropos' 5% of "Paul's okay stuff"?

Yes indeed, Mr. Durick, no more hijacking of this thread. Damn thread-terrorists!


Jan 18, 2010, 9:59am Top

love, circumcision and the inquisition - I think the thread is doing just fine.

Anyway, I think I'm supposed to comment on les Mis next, and I haven't a clue on how to go about that, yet. So it might be awhile before I add anything reading related.

Jan 27, 2010, 12:31am Top

1. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862, 1463 pages, finished January 6)
Translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfree in 1989, based on C. E. Wilbour translation of 1862.

Read with the le Salon Litteraire group read. This is a tough one for me to review because le Salon loves it so much. Instead, I find myself on the attack. It was too long; the narrator was too arrogant, too confident. I feel bad for not loving it.

The only positive I felt as I closed the book a couple weeks ago was that I had managed to finish it. But, really I did gain positive things. I love the musical, which I saw in my early teens and fondly recall my older sister explaining the story to me ahead of time so I wouldn’t get lost, and telling me that it’s not about the French revolution, but some other later obscure uprising. I had the sound track in college and can pretty much sing along with it. So, this book was necessary, it filled the background, undermined the musical’s integrity, and just put more of the picture together. So, I needed this book.

What did I take from it? A Parisian view of France in the mid 19th-century. This was written in 1862, after the last the Parisian and French attempted revolutions (1848, ircc). For over 50 years, from Bastille Day in 1789 to the founding of Napoleon Bonaparte III, France was a turmoil of attempted revolutions, with the search for something like liberty and self-determination constantly undermined by Kings and emperors. And Hugo takes us to the heart of it, to an obscure pointless bloody rebellion in Paris in 1832. He takes us to the barricades, and highlights the purity of the young healthy revolutionaries on the brink of a noble but utterly pointless death. And, it’s the barricades that are the heart of the book, IMO. They are a painful but intense experience that gives the books its figurative heft.

Which makes me realize that this is a war book. And, I should have realized this from the section on the Battle of Waterloo, a riveting and brilliant section that brings the battle to life, and is even somewhat accurate. It just makes sense. Hugo was the son of one of Napoleon’s generals, it’s in his blood. And the barricades were about fighting.

What I didn’t like was Hugo’s ego. He’s knows he’s right even if he doesn’t have the evidence to back it up. This confidence in his assertions was just – it was like listening to a religious fanatic. The certainty that you can’t argue against but just know that the certainty itself is wrong.

And it’s this ego that leads Hugo into the constant diversions. The 1st 100 pages develop a character and then drop him. Then there’s Waterloo, a strange convent, his theory on King Louis Philippe, on the uprisings, Argot, the Paris sewer system and on and on. The convent is the dullest part of the book, but it was actually quite humbly written and memorable afterwards. But the parts on Louis Philippe and the the French uprisings – pure nonsense. It’s just Fox News . And the part on the sewers, useless. If Jean Valjean doesn’t know where he’s going, why do we need to know?

What I missed - the emotion. Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette all left me flat. Javert and Marius were fantastic. Gillenormand was brilliant too. But, this is Valjean’s book, and he’s a dolt. A immensely strong dolt, but if it doesn’t have to do with a little gimmick that led to his fortune, or towards something preserving his freedom so he can overprotect Cosette, Valjean’s brain simply stops working. There’s nothing there. A big tough dolt. He gave me nothing, or at least I didn’t feel it. Ditto Fantine and Cosette, both dolts. Somewhere on LT it was mentioned that Hugo was something of a womanizer. This doesn’t surprise me. I can’t imagine he thought much of women, while at the same time I’m pretty sure he felt he thought quite highly of them.

Considering how much the Valjean and Fantine of the musical meant to me – it was disappointing to not like them in the book.

I should mention Eponine was one of my favorite characters in the book, despite how she turned out. I love her in the musical too, but that’s a very different Eponine. Gavrouche is brilliant. The bishop was interesting. Thenardier – cliché. The Friends of the ABC – brilliant all of them. I still feel hollow from the scene where most of them suddenly disappear from the living – which Hugo mentions so simply, almost as an aside.

And, I should also mention Hugo was something of wordsmith and he is very quotable. And his 1463 pages can be read somewhat quickly, but also won’t disappoint on close reading.

And, I should conclude something. But, I don’t know what to conclude, so I’ll leave it here. Apologies for the long wondering post – although I have to mention, it does seem kind of appropriate.

Jan 27, 2010, 9:13am Top


I LOVE your review.

"This confidence in his assertions was just – it was like listening to a religious fanatic. The certainty that you can’t argue against but just know that the certainty itself is wrong."

"But the parts on Louis Philippe and the the French uprisings – pure nonsense. It’s just Fox News."

"Somewhere on LT it was mentioned that Hugo was something of a womanizer. This doesn’t surprise me. I can’t imagine he thought much of women, while at the same time I’m pretty sure he felt he thought quite highly of them."


It is for that kind of thought that I read reviews, and am usually let down.

Hats off, Monsieur,

your most admiring servant,


Edited: Jan 27, 2010, 9:40am Top

Andrew - Will you marry me? (although I'm not sure polygamous, same-sex marriage is legal in many places)

Thanks so much. I actually was frustrated with it, and even typed up a another "review" in the form of a Superbowl match-up where I took the novel and the musical an compared each major character and selected aspects. (It came out a tie.) But, I went back and re-wrote this again, and posted it instead. :)

Jan 27, 2010, 3:38pm Top

>62 dchaikin: but if you were both corporations—with your new civil rights here in the US—you could marry;-)

Jan 27, 2010, 4:26pm Top


I had written some very erudite comments about your erudite comments, but they were lost in the LT ether and of course now I cannot really capture my thoughts again.

Your criticisms and observations have great validity, despite the fact that not all will agree. I disagree with some, and think you are spot on with others. (I cared about Jean Valjean, and do not think he was a dolt. I thought Marius was a twit. Eponine and Gillenormand are the most real people in the entire tale. Gavroche was a little too precious, although he added humor at important times.)

The ideas you express are, I think, a good reason the book is still widely read (and loved by some) over 150 years after it was written. Bravo!

Jan 27, 2010, 6:28pm Top

Agreed about Marius, Lisa--I remember thinking to myself that no reader could possibly like Marius. Just goes to show ya, individual tastes, etc.

Jan 27, 2010, 7:24pm Top

Dan - Wonderful review! You're not alone in your dislike of the book, though. I finished it last weekend and had almost exactly the same response - and criticisms - you did. But my review was not nearly as good. ;-)

Edited: Jan 27, 2010, 7:52pm Top

#64 Lisa - thanks! And it's a good thing to disagree. Calling Valjean a dolt (or even using the word "dolt") was perhaps adolescent, but fit my mood. :)

#66 - Talbin you flatter me, but I'm one of those 7(!) thumbs on your review. ;)

I liked this:

"Here's the thing. The story itself could have probably been told in 300 pages or less. The other 1,162 pages were filled with the narrator's (Hugo's?) opinions about everything from the uselessness of convents, the history of riots in Paris, the greatness of the French people in general, the sanctity and purity of women and children, and even the worth of human excrement flowing through Paris's sewers. It seems as if Hugo decided that Les Miserables was his opportunity to discuss every fleeting idea or thought he'd ever had. In detail. With lots of name dropping. It drove this reader crazy."

On Marius ... I might have some thoughts, if I can work them out.

Jan 27, 2010, 8:57pm Top

Dan, "dolt" is a good word. Everyone knows what you mean. No more adolescent that "twit"! =D

Jan 27, 2010, 10:30pm Top

#68 - but Marius was a twit! I still liked him, but I can see why someone would find him utterly unlikable. He should have been something like a cheeseball (like he was in the musical), but I was entertained by his pathetic attempt at courting, and how his thinking lead him away from working to instead just sitting around doing nothing. And, how Enjolras could like him even though they didn't agree, because he was good at heart, and he was good at heart.

Hugo has this thing for purity in his characters. Of course, they aren't real, they're something like archetypes. But how many characters have that purity: The Bishop, Javert, Valjean, Fantine, Enjolras, Combeferre, Cosette, Mabeuf, Gavroche... I think the difference with Marius is that he isn't set, or predefined. He's able to change, explore different ways of being, and yet underneath he still stays a pretty good person.

Marius thought he had, and perhaps in fact he had, attained the truth of life and human philosophy, and in the end he had come to look at hardly anything but the sky, the only thing that truth can see from the bottom of her well. - p 693 in my Signet classic.

Jan 27, 2010, 10:43pm Top

fyi - I just posted it as a review. I wasn't going to, but comments here changed my mind. http://www.librarything.com/work/19485/reviews

Edited: Jan 27, 2010, 11:28pm Top

Bravo Dan. Re your quote above in 69, it seems to me that this could just as well apply to Hugo (or at least the narrator of LM) and how you described him in your review.

It's this aspect of Hugo's style that irks me too: the pomposity (hiding banality) of some of his utterances.

Jan 27, 2010, 11:34pm Top

Murr - Take a look at the "over the top" excerpts I posted over in le Salon: http://www.librarything.com/topic/78278#1741152 (post #75). Of course, I posted this one and those because I liked them.

Jan 27, 2010, 11:40pm Top

I will dan, thanks.

Jan 28, 2010, 12:09am Top

Dan--this is a great review. I've been stalled on about p. 900 for a month, but have been unable to express, even to myself, why I was so averse to reading on. Your review convinced me that I need fret no more--I'm going to officially abandon the book, and hopefully I will remain guilt-free about doing so.

Jan 28, 2010, 12:31am Top

Damn, you're getting good at this review thing. I haven't read Les Misérables, though I have an Everyman's Library edition sitting on the shelves.

Jan 28, 2010, 9:59am Top

#74 aruba - Thanks. I'm glad you aren't reading for guilt...it's too special a thing for that.

#75 VG - thanks! If you're thinking of reading it, and you want a really nice jump start, check out Medellia's comments on her thread in Club Read 2009 (and the Le Salon Litteraire threads).

Jan 28, 2010, 1:39pm Top

Dan - Your review just got one more thumb from me!

Jan 28, 2010, 1:50pm Top

Thanks Tracy!

Jan 28, 2010, 8:19pm Top

Great review, Dan!

Jan 28, 2010, 8:28pm Top


Jan 28, 2010, 11:34pm Top

Darryl, Thea - Thanks!

Jan 29, 2010, 10:27pm Top

A lot of book just arrived. Amazon sent me Infinite Jest and the In Search of Lost Time in six volumes (There are seven parts. Parts 5 & 6, The Captive & The Fugitive, are combined in one volume). This would be "The C. K. Scott Moncrief and Terence Kilmartin translation, revised by D. J. Enright with a new introduction by Richard Howard".

le Salon Lit - I'm committed to trying those two.

Then, since that wasn't enough, an Early Reviewer showed up from the November batch, one I'd forgotten about. It's Papa Sartre by Ali Bader.

Infinite Jest: 1079 (big) pages
ISOLT: 4211 pages
P. Sartre: 192 pages
Total: 5482 pages

Jan 30, 2010, 12:26am Top

Easy: 5,000+ pages ;-) I think you'll be surprised, possibly, how similar in so many surprising ways IJ and ISOLT are. As time and memory are key in both.

Jan 30, 2010, 10:08am Top

Dan - You're a good man. I keep picking up and putting down Infinite Jest when I go to Borders with my coupons. I haven't decided if I'm going to read it yet. After finishing Les Mis, and being committed to reading 2666 in February, I'm still wondering if another tome in March will be something I really want to do. I figure I can decide at the last minute, though.

Feb 1, 2010, 11:17pm Top

#83 Enrique - I'll keep that in mind. Parts of me are rearing to go, and parts are second guessing making these attempts. But, that makes me want to read one after the other.

#84 Talbin - Good call to wait and see, IMO. As for me, I'm pretty sure I'm too optimistic. I'm also planning on joining in The Brothers Karamazov in September(?)! (but, I'm not planning to read all of ISOLT this year. I hope to read the 1st volume, Swann's Way and then play it by ear.)

Feb 2, 2010, 11:19am Top

Papa Sartre sounds interesting. Looking forward to your views. The latest issue of NYRB has a review of a biography of Koestler in which Sartre and Beauvoir both play a role.

Feb 4, 2010, 8:50am Top

#82 Daniel - Hey, just been reading about your Proust purchase. I actually wrote something on that series recently on my thread, so I'll cut and paste it here, so you don't have to go searching...


After reading How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton, last year, I've been interested in reading the seven volumes that make up Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. Picking up the C. K. Scott Moncrieff translation of Swann's Way last year, I even (just secretly) gave it a go, but was unable to give it the right voice (if that makes any sense).

Well, a few days ago, a friend gave me his unabridged audiobook edition of Remembrance of Things Past: Swann's Way, Part 1 & 2 (Moncrieff translation), narrated by John Rowe, which run at 10h18m and 9h26m respectively. Last night, I gave it a quick lesson, and at last I've found the perfect voice - and it's not mine! Rowe brings something truly special to this book. The Audiofile Magazine Review perfectly expresses my thoughts...

"John Rowe's steady, even delivery captures the subtle shadings and the extended, overarching progress of the author's elaborate sentences.... His voice, pace, and intonations express perfectly not just the elegance and subtlety of Proust's style, but also its sureness of purpose.

I don't know when I'm going to get to this reading, but I'm looking forward to it when I do :)

Feb 4, 2010, 10:45am Top

Hi Peter - Thanks. I did see your original post about this (I've been quiet, but still lurking :) ). I don't do audiobooks since I really don't have a way to listen to them with any routine. However, I noted your struggles with the voice and it has me thinking about how to approach it.

Feb 4, 2010, 11:06am Top

Lol, Proust as an audiobook sounds a good deal more difficult to me than reading it on the page.

Dchaikin, the only bits of advice I have are to occasionally read it out loud (to enjoy the sound of the words & to help yourself sort out the sentences), and not to force it. If Proust isn't for you, now or ever, I think it's better to wait. I flipped through Proust on the bookstore shelves for a few years until one day he grabbed me and wouldn't let me alone.

'Rique!! Do not start comparing ISOLT & IJ. I cannot possibly get to IJ just now (I plan on joining the group reading, but a bit late, perhaps). Kindly restrain yourself.

Feb 4, 2010, 11:47pm Top

So I opened Swann's Way, out of curiosity...

page 4-5

"But for me it was not enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was, I could not even be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal's consciousness; I was more destitute than the cave-dweller; but then the memory - not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived and might now very possibly be - would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse centuries of civilization, and out of a blurred glimpse of oil-lamps, then of shirts with turned-down collars, would gradually piece together the original composition of my ego."

i just love that.

Edited: Feb 6, 2010, 9:18am Top

2. The Passport by Herta Müller (1986, 93 pages, finished January 7)
Translated from German by Martin Chalmers in 1989

There is a lot here in this little book. There is the whole dark 20th-century history of the Banat Swabians* hanging in the background, in the shadows, yet overshadowing everything. And there is the story, which involves a desperate effort for emigration passports, and bribery by whoring one’s daughter who is young enough to be bribed herself with a crystal vase. And there is Müller, and her ability to capture this all without exactly saying it.

The words are simple, the sentences are straight-forward except that taken together they are somewhat disjointed, forcing the reader the put things together and to think about the meaning within, between and beyond the text - where things are both profound and complex. There is some pleasure in trying to work this out, and that’s what really drew me in. This novel isn’t simply imagery, although there is a lot of that, but something like a picture emerges, like an image where something terrible is happening, but the victims don’t fully grasp the darkest part of it, and it’s their obliviousness that is maybe the real horror of the image. Although I’m quite sure that's it; Müller defies my ability to explain, but she’s thought provoking in ways that both fascinating and very dark.

*see Wikipedia for a decent summary of the Banat Swabians. In brief, they were Catholic Germans from various regions recruited to re-populate the Banat region by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in the 18th-century. In that last century, first Austria-Hungary collapsed, then the Banat Germans allied themselves with Nazi Germany. During later World War II they were heavily recruited to the SS where they gained enough notoriety for crimes against Jews and Serbians during World War II that they had alienated themselves from about everyone. The immediate post-war saw revenge taken against the Banat Swabians, with their property confiscated and with thousands being sent to Russian labor camps or dying in Yugoslavian “Village Camps”. The later 20th-century saw a continual Swabian exodus to Germany, and many dark years under Ceauşescu who turned Ultra-nationalist during his roughly 25-years in power. According the Wikipedia the German population in Romania fell from about roughly 750,000 to about 75,000 today.

edited to fix typo and touchstone.

Feb 6, 2010, 4:42am Top

Daniel, I have always been fascinated by the transposed peoples of Europe. German speaking groups are the most numerous (there were groups spread throughour the volga region for instance), but also Hungarians, Rumanians, Serbs, Croats all often intermixed in the 'wrong' country.

And I remember being fascinated when I found out that there was a Jewish autonomous region set aside in the Soviet Union - in the far East - where the Jewish population could live out a socialist lifestyle.

Re Swanns Way, if you like that passage you will like the book. The first section 'Combray' is in fact a long dreamlike sequence, in similar style to your passage quoted above.

Feb 6, 2010, 9:31am Top

#92 Hi Z - Jewish Communist left Russian for Palestine in large numbers, disproportionally to other Jewish groups. I have come across at least one extreme communist group that left Palestine, which wasn't extreme enough for them, and returned to Russia to set up their own autonomous commune. They were too much for Stalin's Soviet Union, who eliminated them somewhere along the line. It's a very sad story.

As for Proust - I'm looking forward to it.

Feb 8, 2010, 3:46pm Top

Dan--I've been reading Proust with an online non-Lt group since December. The intent is to read a book about every 2 months. We are now about 2/3 of the way through Within a Budding Grove. There is a moderator who provides useful and interesting commentary on the section we have read each day, and refers to and quotes various Proust experts. If you start Swann's Way soon, you might want to check out the site of this group read. I've found it invaluable.

I have posted this elsewhere, so sorry for repeating myself, but this is how I feel about Proust after a few months spent with him:

(From Andre Aciman's The Proust Project, quoting Alain de Botton)

"The Proust who has always most appealed to me is the 'intimate' Proust, by which I mean the Proust who describes small, unheroic aspects of experience that other authors rush past in their hurry to construct a plot: the sensation of linen against your cheek, the smell of hotel corridors, the appearance of the sky by the seashore Pages are lavished on these small moments....Going on a train is something all of us do, but that most novelists have sketched only in the broadest strokes. We've all heard the train wheels beat against the rails, but it takes Proust to rescue the sound from our customary inattention and to pin it down in words that carry over the emotional charge of the original experience....An effect of reading a book that has devoted attention to such faint but vital tremors is that once we've put the volume down and resumed our life, we may attend to precisely the things the author would have responded to had he or she been in our company. Our mind will be like a radar newly attuned to pick up certain objects floating through consciousness. The book will have sensitized us, stimulated our dormant antennae by evidence of its own developed sensitivity."

Love the image of our "dormant" radar antennae that have become newly attuned by reading Proust.

Edited: Feb 9, 2010, 2:02pm Top

I had this grand plan to read Paradise Lost in about three weeks at about 15 pages a day. Then I could go through Papa Sartre the last week of February and jump into infinite Jest on March 1 for the le Salon Lit group read. This has proven overly optimistic. I have to re-read PL so many times that only on good days do I even reach 15 pages. So, I'm terribly behind and won't finish in time. Once I come to terms with this and I'll put down for awhile.

PL has done two things for me. It's left my mind in terrible confusion as I'm used to reading and taking in information and/or ideas, instead I'm battling and taking in odd phrasings - like "the palpable obscure." I'm a bit incoherent. Re-reading my "review" above of The Passport, I'm not sure it makes a great deal of sense or gives much useful info about the book - this I'm attributing to PL. ;p (It did get one merciful thumb, and I'm grateful for it).

The other thing PL has done is to make anything else I read lately fly by at dizzying speed and with remarkable clarity.

#86: polutropos - There was a hot review of Papa Sartre recently. I won't read it until I read the book and write my review, but you might want to check it out. I will attack it in that last week of February as planned - assuming I can follow a plan.

#94 - Aruba - I recognize the quote from somewhere, but thanks for posting. I like it and it makes a nice reference here.

#93 - zenomax - I meant to say that the communist (or perhaps I should say socialist) aspects of Palestine were prominent post 1900 and pre-WWII - at least that's what I've heard - not read. I think this played a prominent roll in the Israeli Kibbutz - the first of which was founded in 1909. But - alas, fact-checking, the the soviet union cut down on Jewish emigration in the 1920's, the the pre-WWII Kibbutz were later run mostly by Jews from Eastern Europe outside the USSR. --- None of what I said here or above has anything to do with what you mentioned - the "Jewish Autonomous Oblast" which I just discovered here and had never heard of before: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Autonomous_Oblast ...

ETA lots of typo fixes...

Feb 9, 2010, 1:56pm Top

Daniel - firstly I have to say you make Paradise Lost sound very intriguing. I like odd phrasings, as you describe it, like 'the palpable obscure' - such phrases always get my imagination working overtime. Which, as you imply, is quite time consuming (and I find Proust does the same), but ultimately rewarding.

Secondly, the Israeli kibbutzim have always been of interest to me. I am not Jewish, but peoples and cultures, particularly those that are displaced or do things differently, have always been very interesting to me. So the Jews and the Roms, and even more mysteriously, the Klephts, have always been of intense interest to me.

I worked on a kibbutz many years back - one of the original socialist set ups. There had by then (the 1980s) been a splitting of the kibbutzim into several different groups, on a spectrum of left to right, and also other co operatives which had a higher degree of individual ownership within the overall group (and which tended to support Likud).

The whole was quite fascinating to me.

Feb 9, 2010, 2:11pm Top

#96 zenomax - I find interesting both your description of the kibbutz and that you worked on one - what a great experience.

Klephts - my lesson of the day. I'd never heard of them before (not that I really know anything about modern Greece.)

As for PL - I'm definitely finding it rewarding, just in a different way from what I'm used to.

Feb 9, 2010, 3:08pm Top

'the palpable obscure'

Or "darkness visible." My mind has been blown! :)

Daniel, for what it's worth, if you feel like sticking with Paradise Lost, I anticipate that I'll still be reading it in March. You won't be the only straggler in the Salon, if that's the issue. I suspect I won't get to Infinite Jest until sometime in April, maybe even May...

Edited: Feb 10, 2010, 9:27am Top

#98 - Medellia - My brain is set - IJ can't wait, because ISOLT starts in June and IJ just may take me to June! :) And, I know myself, with all these big books planned, if I don't stick then all chaos will break loose on my reading - which I now picture looking like this:

Before thir eyes in sudden view appear
The secrets of the hoary deep, a dark
Illimitable Ocean without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth, and highth,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal Anarchy, amidst noise
of endless wars, and by confusion stand.

But, no worries, I can pick up PL again.

Edited: Feb 9, 2010, 10:36pm Top

For post 100, another commercial break for children’s books, the first in 2010.

First, a moment of silence please. My 3-yr-old son is done with Sandra Boynton. That’s it, we’ll never again bark at them with Doggies, and put them to sleep with The Going to Bed Book, which we memorized. No more Hippos Go Berserk, or Snuggle Puppy. My favorite favorite author of board books has been out grown. :o(

And, it looks like Goodnight Moon is another casualty of age.

But, we had three great finds, the first two from the New York Times Book Review
1. When the Moon Forgot by Jimmy Liao, translated by Sarah L. Thomson
A little boy finds the moon in a pond and takes care of it while it tries to gain its confidence back. For one thing, it’s afraid of heights. In the meantime the rest of the world tries to deal without a moon, first by giving each person their own moon which everyone loves for awhile, but then forget about. This fascinated my 5-yr-old daughter, and is one of the best children’s books I’ve come across. I loved it. There are 11 copies on LT.

2. Moonshot : The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
A step-by-step look at how Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins got to the moon. Wonderfully detailed illustrations. My 3-yr-old son has a little toy moon orbiter and moon lander and they both come out as he obsesses over this. It reminded me a little of another favorite: If You Decide to Go to the Moon

3. My Little Red Fire Truck by Stephen T. Johnson
A made-for-your-3-year-old-boy-book. My wife found this in bookstore. It comes with reusable notepad, removable tools, keys, a steering wheel, an air gauge for the tires. Both my kids enjoy it, but my son LOVES it. When he’s bored he’ll pick this up and entertain himself. Stephen T. Johnson lives in Lawrence, KS, where I went to grad school, and his illustrations are based on the local fire department’s vehicles.

Since we’ve lost Boynton, I’ve begun recycling books my daughter loved when she was three. Some highlights (including some library books):

For touchstones: Llama Llama Red Pajama and Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Time to Pee by Mo Willems, Truck Stuck by Sallie Wolf, illustrated by Andy Robert Davies

And finally one more book:
Let's Do Nothing by Tony Fucile
Sal and Frankie try to stay absolutely still and do nothing, and fail miserably. Although I think this is a great book, it sat neglected on our book shelf for a long time. Trying to read it to my kids, I finally pointed at my daughter and said “You're Sal” , and to my son, “you’re Frankie” and they played the parts wonderfully, even taking over the lines.

Feb 10, 2010, 5:34am Top

You do say the most brilliant things, dan.

The other thing PL has done is to make anything else I read lately fly by at dizzying speed and with remarkable clarity.

Isn't this true of all really great literature, especially that which is often perceived as 'difficult'? It's like a mental workout, and makes one a better reader to read challenging stuff, I reckon. On the other hand, it also makes one more aware of the faults of other lesser writers.

I love your well chosen quotes from PL as well.

Feb 10, 2010, 8:24am Top

lol, whew! Thanks for msg100, finally an entry point for me in your reading :))

My 3-yr-old son is done with Sandra Boynton.
What a poignant life passage. How was it evidenced? -- did he refuse them?

Edited: Feb 10, 2010, 10:36am Top

>100 dchaikin: Am so sorry about Boynton passage in your household. Not even Philadelphia Chickens?! A moment of silence, indeed.

Edited: Feb 10, 2010, 2:07pm Top

#101 - Murr, you're too kind.

Reading "difficult" books is not the norm me. If it makes me a better reader, great, but that's not the main...well at I don't think it's a main thing I'm looking for. (*there's a long perplexed thought process here that goes well beyond what I've typed*)

#102 detailmuse - My kids more or less pick what books they'll read, although my wife and I make suggestions. Basically he stopped asking for them. My daugther did the same thing right about at three.

lol, whew! Thanks for msg100, finally an entry point for me in your reading :))

:) - Actually, this has so far been a different kind of year for me. I blame the Salon.

#103 thea - Thanks. (should I admit to you that I didn't like Philadelphia Chickens?? :} )

Feb 10, 2010, 2:26pm Top

>104 dchaikin: Oh, no! Actually, by the time my daughter had insisted we listen to it for hours on end, I wasn't too fond of it either. The mention of it does bring back fond memories, though. :-)

Feb 18, 2010, 12:45am Top

3. The Gathering Storm (Book Twelve of The Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (2009, 754p pages, finished January 25)

At one point our hero, Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon reborn, stands on a mountain top, on the edge of a sheer cliff and ponders the meaning of existence. It’s not the deepest thing you’ll ever read, it’s not going to lead to your philosophy books, or wow you about the author’s intellect. But it’s cool. And it’s unexpected.

When this series was hot, there was some devout enthusiasm and insane speculation justifying the website name wotmanian.com (which now points to dragonmount.com). I was never part of that, and fantasy as a genre never really caught on with me. But, yet the series means a great deal to me for the simple reason that it's what got me reading. Before WOT I didn't read books, afterward I kept a reading log and read what seemed to me to be voraciously, albeit slowly. Almost 20 years and 12 books later it has come to be what I guess is a comfort read.

If you don't know, the series has faded after suffering several poor books (books 7-10) and the death of the author, Robert Jordan. There are still devout fans, but it's not something anyone jumps up and down recommending without mentioning some reservations. It was nice that Book 11 was better, and it was nice that Brandon Sanderson, who is finishing the series, seems to be generally liked, so I suspect there was some hope and anticipation about this book - although I'm not part of that conversation, so I'm not sure.

Yeah, I loved it. It has almost every flaw of all the earlier Jordan books. Characters are painfully simplified - which is kind of necessary for our memory because there are so many - literary hundreds. They do stupid things. Silly stuff happens that doesn't really make any sense and demands some suspension of disbelief even with this fantasy world. I mean despite the immense complexity of the story line and foreshadowing, this is still genre. That all this is the same is really a credit to Sanderson. There were times I thought I could tell which parts he wrote and which parts Jordan wrote, but the flow never broke - it still felt like a WOT book. So, Kudos to Sanderson.

I loved it because Sanderson kept the pacing - which is tough to describe. Jordan takes his time. He doesn’t skip parts, but portrays every step along the way, and you hear at least one character’s thoughts about each and every thing that happens or is said, and then you see every other character’s reaction. And somehow this is all interesting. A very small amount of happening can take a lot pages, but there is also a sense of completeness, which I enjoy. Then, when something actually does happen of significance, the pace leaps forward, with several things happening in each sentence. Jordan's sort of winds the book up straining every piece in place, then throws in monkey wrench and everything comes apart in unpredictable ways.

And I loved it because things do happen. What killed books 7-10 was that nothing got concluded. In a sense they were really one book, each winding things up a little bit tighter, but with nothing in sight to release. Jordan got carried away.

And I loved it because of Rand’s amateur philosophizing – a new and nice twist.

This is fun if you like this stuff, and are willing to read a lot of volumes to get here.

Feb 19, 2010, 11:34pm Top

I'm ages behind everyone's posts, so apologies, hope I catch up sometime.

I put Paradise Lost down last weekend after finishing book 4. I started to force through it and wasn't getting much out of it, and every time I read about heaven I kept thinking Mark Twain's Letters from Earth instead of Milton's words. So, I'll give it a break.

I finished Papa Sartre last night, about a strangely idiotic Iraqi who somehow through dedication to philosophy, Sartre and existentialism lives a sort of pathetic lonely life of drinking, womanizing and not much else. And, the weird thing, I think it was fun to read. But, there's a message there, maybe about Iraq, that I'm not even close to understanding.

And Infinite Jest has been cracked open. I'm on page 17.

Feb 20, 2010, 8:43am Top

I'm so glad you're reading IJ. I'm on p9, which is how far I got in the bookstore before committing to buying it :) I'm looking forward to it but scared to "begin."

Feb 20, 2010, 8:48pm Top


I will be joining you in Infinite Jest, but I am waiting until March. I am going to try to finish a couple of other things first, and am going to start re-reading The Magic Mountain, too.

Feb 20, 2010, 9:54pm Top

108/109 - It looks like a great group going into IJ. I was going to wait until March to start, but I just felt a need get going and I think reading this is going to be quite an experience.

Lisa - The Magic Mountain is now on my wishlist and on my reading map somewhere in the future. Not this year, maybe not even next year, but sometime. You made it sound fantastic, and you're not the only one. Jack Murnighan raves about it in Beowulf on the Beach (the first place I'd heard of it). It sounds like a book I could plan a year's reading around.

Edited: Feb 22, 2010, 9:54pm Top

4. Nadirs* by Herta Müller (1982, 122 pages, finished January 31)
Translated by Sieglinde Lug in 1999, who also wrote an afterword.

I’m going to cheat and quote the afterword, by the translator Sieglinde Lug, which says it better than I’ve been able to put it:

“Nadirs deals with the bleak world of Müller’s childhood. The book does not have a plot in any conventional sense. It is a collection of a child’s often nightmarish impressions of life in her village. Reality and the fantastic, often dreamlike images are mixed in a seamless way to produce visions that present the inner life of the child rather than “realistic” descriptions. The title not only refers to the geographic location the lowlands, but also reflects the oppressive atmosphere that overwhelms the child.”

My impression was that, though short and accessible, it was difficult to read because of the lack of plot, the through-and-through bleakness, and some confusion as the chapters veer away from reality without informing the reading. But, it’s very powerful. Müller uses a chilld’s voice (apparently her own). The child senses the atmosphere, physically and mentally pays a toll for it, and yet describes things almost objectively, in a matter-of-fact. The emotions need to be teased out by the reader, who perhaps wonders what leads her to the delusional turns without even changing tone.

*This is a link, touchstones are wonky

Edited: Feb 23, 2010, 12:40am Top

5. Papa Sartre by Ali Bader (2001, 178 pages, finished February 14)
Translated by Translated by Aida Bamia in 2009.

I imagine this book might have some kind of deeper meaning, something that someone who is familiar with Jean Paul Sartre, especially his book Nausea, and has at least a working understanding of existentialism would understand. Or perhaps someone who knows what this might have meant to 1950’s era Baghdad would glean some appreciation I missed. On the other hand it’s quite possible that’s all superfluous to this somehow unexpectedly enjoyable read – since our philosopher doesn’t seem to know the first thing about any of this.

This doesn’t begin promising. The overall structure begins somewhat similar to Phillip Roth’s American Pastoral where we are given an entertaining description of how the narrator took on the story he’s about to tell us, and how he went about researching it. Then, he begins to tell us the story, and the life quickly leaves the book. We get stilted-feeling descriptions clearly manipulated to lead to the conclusions that were settled long before the writing began.

In this case we have what too all appearances is the story of a wealthy bum who lived convinced he was a serious philosopher, who drank and whored constantly as pretty much the only manifestation of his philosophy, and who didn’t really understand anything about philosophy, or human nature for that matter - except that he took himself completely seriously and managed to be regarded semiseriously by his contemporaries. Our story teller can’t come right out and say this because he’s getting paid to tell the story, and his sponsors believe the philosopher is someone special. So, every ridiculous and nonsensical aspect of the philosopher is told to us, showing clearly who he is (over and over) without outright saying so.

This should have been painful to read, but something happens along the way. Suddenly the philosopher becomes interesting, and suddenly I wanted to know more about his life and I was enjoying reading about it. It’s not clear to me what changed, when the apparent condemning polemic became apparent real curiosity into what this man and his relations were really like.

I’m not sure how well this book will stick, but it sparked my curiosity; it makes me want to look up Sartre and 1950’s era Baghdad. Now I’m thinking there must have been a deeper meaning in here, maybe about existentialism, or Iraq, but I’m not sure what it is.

Feb 23, 2010, 1:44am Top

Well, I put it on my waiting-for-the-paperback wish list. I happen to think that committing to a life of sex and booze is self-justifying. To philosophize beyond that would make the philosopher a poseur.

I am, off and on, a stoic instead, but not without respect for the debauched life.


Feb 23, 2010, 6:55am Top

I'd be interested in that just for the setting. Did it give you a sense of what 1950s Baghdad was like? (even just cosmopolitan, Europe-returned Baghdad)?

Edited: Feb 23, 2010, 8:42am Top

but you haven't lost Goodnight Moon..."In the great green room there was a telephone, a red balloon, and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon..." i have a pretty slack memory and it's been 22+ yrs since it was read aloud here.
In my usual know it all way*, i'll recommend a visit to william blake's inn: poems for innocent and experienced travelers by Nancy Willard.

The Tiger asks Blake for a Bedtime Story

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

When I was sent to fetch your meat/ I confess that I did eat
half the roast and all the bread,/ He will never know , I said.
Soon I saw my health decline/ and I knew the fault was mine./
Only William Blake can tell/ tales to make a tiger well.

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

(the book was on the shelf next to me..i only had the first and last verses embedded in memory)
* restricted to children's poetry or rather poetry for children. Try Coleridge's Kubla Khan as a read aloud.

Feb 23, 2010, 9:56am Top

#114 wandering_star - Yes, I think I got a sense of 1950's Baghdad, although it's so foreign too me it's hard to say. There is some interesting emphasis on Christian and Jewish neighborhoods (although the philosopher is neither). It seems like an interesting time period, a brief window. Iraq was independent, but still under a monarchy - the king was overthrown in 1958.

#113 - Robert - If you get to Papa Sartre, I'd like to hear your thoughts. And, if you don't like it, well, it's short and there's a fantastic list of Arabic-ish and surrounding area literature in back from the publisher : American University in Cairo Press. It's a small publisher, not sure how that works with hardback/paperback...just a thought.

Feb 23, 2010, 9:56am Top

#115 - Bob - That's funny about Goodnight Moon. We're getting closer with poetry - I mean my daughter, whose 5. Now, she will listen if she's in the right mood, although I can't tell what she makes out of it. I've learned sometimes she will listen to anything.

Edited: Feb 25, 2010, 1:39pm Top

6. Stitches : a memoir... by David Small (c2009, 320 pages, finished February 25)

I purchased this graphic memoir after LT raves last year and because I've become interested in graphic books as I've begun to see how powerful they can be. Yesterday my wife mentioned how she still thinks about it after reading it a couple months ago. So, I picked it up this morning, home sick (not terribly), and went through it in an hour and a half. It takes place in Detroit and covers the author's disturbing childhood. I guess I could say it's disturbing in an interesting way, touching on 1950's-era medicine. Recommended, highly.

Edited: Feb 25, 2010, 3:54pm Top

I loved this book. In the top two or three overall for me last year. It was my first graphic novel (memoir) ever and I'm learning this year that I prefer its high-graphic/low-text proportions ... its importance of visuals over words.

I'm reading Blankets by Craig Thompson now -- where the visuals also dominate -- and am liking it too, although so far it isn't quite as compelling.

eta: P.S. feel better soon!

Feb 25, 2010, 4:59pm Top

detailmuse - thanks, I'm feeling mostly better. I look forward to your comments on Blankets.

Feb 25, 2010, 6:29pm Top

Daniel, Sorry to hear you've been under the weather. A couple of weeks ago I collapsed at work myself and had to be carried away. Fighting fit again now however. Some very nice reviews of late. The other day, I was looking at the children's books you reviewed earlier, and was trying to place the name of the author of Time to Pee. Then, watching TV last night with my 3-year old, I suddenly realized why it was familiar - Mo Willems wrote for the children's animation KND (Kids Next Door)!

Feb 26, 2010, 1:36am Top

#115 That The Tiger asks Blake for a Bedtime Story is great.

Mar 6, 2010, 12:59pm Top

Dan, interesting comments on the Jordan/Sanderson book. I don't read them but my oldest daughter used to be a big fan having started them back in the mid-nineties. I think the not-so-good books that you mention may have killed the magic for her or it may be that she's just moved on (she's 30 now).

Edited: Mar 7, 2010, 11:59pm Top

Lois - Thanks for the comment. I was wondering who I was writing that review for. I mean, for one thing, this is the wrong group for fantasy. But also most readers either read a lot of fantasy or couldn't care less - to neither group would my comments apply. Anyway, I'm very happy someone found it interesting.

Mar 8, 2010, 9:21am Top

>124 dchaikin: it's nice to have readers who read a variety of books. I did read your review to my daughter over the phone and she was intrigued by some of what you mentioned - and agrees with your assessments otherwise. Who knows when she will read the book, she's joined roller derby and that seems to occupy her at the moment.

I have The Nadirs in my pile. After reading two Müller's back to back, I wanted a break before I picked up another.

Edited: Mar 8, 2010, 10:54am Top

#125 "I did read your review to my daughter over the phone" - see, that just puts me a great mood, thanks.

Nadirs is rough - just so you know. The Passport is beautiful*; Nadirs doesn't try to do that. I mean part of me regrets reading Nadirs just because of the kind of bad "taste" it left in my head, which I recall whenever I the title comes up. (I think kidzdoc had somewhat of a similar response. Last I saw he had put it down halfway through.)

*it's dark, but the writing and imagery and mysterious symbolism together is somehow beautiful, or left that impression with me.**

**I'm blaming the footnotes to DFW - and because it's easier to footnote then to re-write.***

***but foot notes can get carried away.

Mar 8, 2010, 11:03pm Top

7. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (c1970, 93 pages, finished March 8)

I just accidentally read this while trying to fix my catalogue info - it's only about 35 pages of text. If I have thoughts, I'll post later.

Mar 9, 2010, 12:18am Top

I used to love JLS once upon a time. Wonder what I'd make of it now.. Hope you post some thoughts, Dan! No pressure :)

Mar 9, 2010, 9:18am Top

>126 dchaikin: *

>127 dchaikin: makes me want to take a look again: why the phenomenon? I wondered about Love Story too, when Segal died last year, although it's less enigmatic than JLS. I suspect both require context of the times.


Edited: Mar 9, 2010, 10:53am Top

#128 akeela - we'll see, I just don't really know what to make of it. Part of thinks it's kind of silly, part of me sees a point, part of me thinks a bird should have actually gotten hurt somewhere along the line... Perhaps it's all about imagination, or even about writing - then maybe I can take it seriously. If it's all philosophy - well, maybe I just don't understand philosophy that well.

#129 - detailmuse - I'm not familiar with Love Story - I did catch a review that mentions it (JLS) as a response to what was happening in the late 1960's, which is interesting*

*thanks for humoring my bad humor ;)

ETA "(JLS)" to avoid some confusion.

Mar 9, 2010, 9:55am Top

>127 dchaikin: I'm having an early 70s flashback! (Siddhartha{which I got around to reading in this era}, The Winds of War, Rod McKuen...) JLS was the #1 bestselling book for 1972 & 73. I have to ask, Dan, were you even born then?

And get thee over to the novella thread to post, as JLS qualifies!

PS: I've actually forgotten what JLS is about...beyond the seagull, that is. And that it's a fable. I don't remember being bowled over by it, at least not like some.

Mar 9, 2010, 9:58am Top

Hmm, Dan,

I am not doing any posting on my own thread, and am just plowing through primarily light reads and am not commenting on them, but your thread is one of the very few I keep reading, so I will throw a thought out.

Two books I read recently are The Last Lecture and This Is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace. I would hazard a guess that Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which I also read in the early seventies and may look at very differently now, is trying to convey the same message as my two books: Live. Live Fully. Live Compassionately. Live So That You Make a Difference.

Mar 9, 2010, 10:53am Top

I think Andrew has it on the button with the messages it's meant to convey. At least that's the way I read it. I read JSL a lot more recently - maybe 6 years ago, but since discovering LT, my reading has changed (improved?) drastically. Thank goodness!

Edited: Mar 9, 2010, 11:11am Top

#131 Lois - Jonathan Livingston Seagull is about a seagull who refused to conform to the flock out of an almost involuntary sense of curiosity. He becomes an outcast, a super skilled flier and eventually finds some other outcast birds which leads some philosophical exploration on the theme of flying.

It's a fable and the seagull is heavily symbolic. I've come across the seagull as symbolic God or angels, but that really doesn't apply here, I don't think. But, spirituality applies. It's about breaking boundaries by trying new stuff ??

#132 - Andrew - Thanks for reading along, that means something to me. Those are two books I've heard about but haven't read. After IJ, I will want to read more on DFW - so I'll certainly keep that one in mind. The Last Lecture may be for a different time in my life...

I agree on the message - live fully, live compassionately...but I'm trying to combine that with the issue that JLS doesn't get physically hurt. Living means getting hurt, flying into rock walls has bad consequences. However, if we make this an exploration in imagination, then getting hurt has a different meaning... But, that takes us on a different path from living fully, maybe. Anyway, it's still a bit tangled for me.

#131 Lois again - yes, it looks like I've unconsciously followed your instructions to read a novella... :)

Mar 9, 2010, 12:35pm Top

>134 dchaikin:: 4: ooo, I have an unconscious effect....

>134 dchaikin: I had to do a quick refresher. Clearly it was not a book that impacted my life at all. According to wikipedia: "is a fable in novella form about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection." There's some other interesting bits under the "critical response" section, btw.

Edited: Mar 9, 2010, 1:14pm Top

#135 Lois - The wikipedia critical response doesn't do much for me, except to emphasize the spiritual - which perhaps is a better word than "imagination" but also bothers me on many levels.

<rant>If Bach is writing about spirituality and the various related themes, then he's given us a map with an end - but it's his end. I have trouble with the contradiction: be free, touch your spiritual side, AND if you do it right (and follow this nice path I've laid out for you) you'll end up exactly here. No no no!! It can't be free if there is only one place to end up...</rant>

Didn't someone say the author is dead, and doesn't that mean that I can translate this anyway I want (the Salon, maybe). I say "imagination" - where I don't have to jump over all these dogmatic traps. Imagination - where you can break through walls by going off the beaten path, where it can lead somewhere beautiful, new and even of value. </rant - for real this time>

(I think I've contradicted myself somehow here...)

Some quotes from the wiki:

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote1 that the book was "banal," and that "The Little Engine That Could is, by comparison, a work of some depth and ambition."

This book exemplifies the four commonalities of a stoic and/or ascetic spiritual path.citation needed The themes repeat and are in sequence: the protagonist is outcast, undertakes a journey, is taught by a mentor and eventually returns to teach others. - Ok...*shrug*

ETA to fix these: <'s

Mar 9, 2010, 1:17pm Top

#133 Akeela - :) My reading too. The options have expanded dramatically.

Mar 9, 2010, 2:30pm Top


In the David Foster Wallace book, which I suspect is a whole lot more thoughtful than the Bach, he frequently deals with the issue of cliches and by extension Ebert's "banality". Paraphrasing, (I do not have the book near me) I think he says "Yes, this is a cliche, but firstly a cliche is a cliche because it has some truth in it and secondly let's look at the cliche in a different way." And usually for DFW it works. Bach? I don't know.

Mar 9, 2010, 3:25pm Top

Great rant Daniel. Sometimes it could almost be me writing this (except your rants are more erudite).

But that is also a nice philosophical response from polutropos in 138.

Mar 9, 2010, 4:30pm Top

I read JLS when I was thirteen or so. That was about a century and a half ago. What has stuck in my mind was the mild rebellion and nonconformity. The spirituality aspect didn't stick. Even when I think hard nothing is coming to mind about that. It's probably the age I was and the fact that I was developing my own rebellious path at that time.

Edited: Mar 9, 2010, 8:05pm Top

Stitches sparked a greater interest in graphic novels for me last year. I used to read them as a teenager, but got away from them once I was in college. Stitches does a great job of showing how minimal images and words can tell such a powerful story. The image of David climbing into his drawing as child is worth pages of text in meaning.

Check out Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It is a graphic novel that examines the art and theory of comics. (Shameless self plug) I reviewed it here

Mar 9, 2010, 8:08pm Top

Wow, there's a blast from the past. I must have read JLS when I was but knee-high to a grasshopper. I liked the book, but I liked Neil Diamond's soundtrack to the 1973 movie adaptation even more (although I didn't think much of the movie itself).

Mar 9, 2010, 9:05pm Top

#141 - Wilson - thanks for stopping by. My wife has a copy of Understanding Comics and had a lot of fun reading it. I've thought about picking it up, maybe i will after your comment and review. I'm curious about McCloud's take on Japanese Manga. (see my 2009 obsession with Barefoot Gen.

#142 - Peter - I don't remember it very well myself - I was born in 1973.

Mar 9, 2010, 9:24pm Top

I read JLS ages ago--and remember very little about it--but I have a copy in French that I might pull off the shelf to read to see if the language makes any difference. I need the practice! :-)

Dan, born in 1973--you missed a lot of the good stuff. I bet you don't remember the pictures of the helicopters airlifting people from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Quite a show, it was.

Mar 10, 2010, 12:39pm Top

Thinking about this some more I have to give JSL some more respect. It's very simple, almost cut down to it's absolute essentials (but not quite) and yet leaves a lot to think about. It can be about rebellion, spirituality, living fully, or someone like me can warp it into imagination. So, while I closed it vaguely annoyed, now that I've cleaned my mental system out a bit (see post #136) I'm feeling a little warmer toward it. Maybe I'll even put together a review - if some free time magically appears.

I missed some posts yesterday:

#138 - Andrew - Interesting. Is banal just banal, but we can force it to be something else; or do we really need to sit down and re-examine the cliche? Anyway, maybe your post plus Zeno's lead me to re-think JSL.

#139 - Zeno, if I were giving out beers for good comments, I'd give you a six-pack for calling my rant "erudite." :)

#144 - Lisa - even worse, I missed the Dolphins perfect season! (well, I was in early fetal form - which makes watching football tough) - I'm just kidding of course. I have a horror/fascination with the myth of the late 1960's - admittedly, it's largely acquired through music.

Mar 10, 2010, 1:15pm Top

>145 dchaikin: simple, succinct - that's what most fables are, yes?

Interesting discussion, Dan.

Mar 10, 2010, 1:23pm Top

#146 - I think mentally I have trouble thinking about fables as other than Aesop or some other classical or ancient oral tale. (or in children's picture books) :)

Edited: Mar 15, 2010, 10:06am Top

Food for thought on Western feminism and the Islamic world:

'And yet, all across the world, in Europe as much as in the Islamic world, before industrialization, a great deal of manufacturing was actually in the hands of women, since almost everything of value was produced in or near the home. Women wove the cloth and made garments. Woman had a big role in animal husbandry. Women transformed the raw products of flocks and fields into useful products, and the practiced many other handicrafts as well. When these processes were mechanized, "cottage industries" went under and left countless women out of work.

In Europe, large numbers of these women then went to work in factories, shops, and eventually offices. Given the European social structure, they could do so: it caused some social and psychological disruption, to be sure, but women had already won access to the public realm, and so they could go work outside the home, and they did, and out of this great movement, which was going to happen anyway, came the philosophical musing, political theorizing, and social activism known today as feminism, a movement premised on the existence and sanctity of individual rights. (Only after a concept of "the individual" exists can one say, "Every individual has rights" and once that assertion is accepted, one can entertain the notion that women might have the same rights as men, since both are individuals.)

In the Islamic world, the pervasively embedded division of the world into a masculine public realm and a feminine private one made the move from cottage industries to industrial production much more problematic and produced social dislocations that were much more wrenching. It required, first of all, overturning that whole divided social system, which struck at the core of family life for every family and left unsettled questions of identity for both men and women at the deepest level of conscious and even subconscious life, as became more evident by the late twentieth century'

-- from Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary

I thought this, while sweeping and vague, and perhaps not startling, was an interesting explanation as to why feminism seems to have started so late in the west, as well as an interesting commentary on women's status in the Middle East (esp. Iran/Saudi Arabia).

Edited: Mar 15, 2010, 3:46am Top

Food for thought on Al Qaeda and whatnot:

'In the weeks immediately after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., President Bush rallied the United States for military action with rhetoric that evoked long-standing themes of American and Western history. He said the terrorists were out to destroy freedom and democracy and that these values must be defended with blood and treasure, the same rallying cray raised against Nazism in the thirties and communism in the fifties....

But did the perpetrators of 9/11 really see themselves as striking a blow against freedom and democracy? Is hatred of freedom the passion that drives militantly political Islamist extremist today? If so, you won't find it in jihadist discourse, which typically focuses, not on freedom and its opposite, nor on democracy and its opposite, but on discipline versus decadence, on moral purity versus moral corruption, terms that come out of centuries of Western dominance in Islamic societies and...' (several other things I'm a too lazy to type out)

-- from Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary

This happens to have a vague tie into Infinite Jest (pub 1996), where David Foster Wallace's fictional Quebec terrorists see the US in similar ways - morally corrupt, pleasure driven and soulless.

Mar 15, 2010, 10:01am Top

>148 dchaikin:,149 Very interesting stuff, Dan. It sounds just as you say, "sweeping and vague, and perhaps not startling..." It's always a good exercise, imo, to look at something from a different viewpoint.

Mar 15, 2010, 7:32pm Top

148> I wonder if the loss of cottage industries and the income they produced also led to resentment on the part of males in the public world that their females in the private world now became an economic liability rather than an economic asset?

Edited: Mar 25, 2010, 1:02am Top

First - an apology to all. I've been completely distracted by basketball (and fascinated, disturbed and depressed by number one overall seed Kansas's loss to the University of Northern Iowa). On top of that I'm in the middle of Infinite Jest*, and it's going really slowly and I don't have all that much to post here, and I really don't want to learn about other books right now - the blinders are on...anyway, I haven't been keeping with anyone's threads... :(... really, no one's. I feel bad about this. Apologies all, I will catch up eventually - I think.

Ok, now my latest commercial for children's books - Part I. While I haven't read many books, February and March have been incredible for children's books - I mean absolutely incredible. I have a long list, after cutting out a lot.

I couldn't come up with a single best, instead here is a list of four best of the best.
. . . .

The Sound of Colors & The Blue Stone : a journey through life by Jimmy Liao, translated by Sarah L.Thomson - I searched my library for everything written by Jimmy Liao available in English. He’s primarily an illustrator. But the books he writes – my daughter (5) enjoys them and asks for them, and my son (3) will listen to them, and I just adore them. They’re thought provoking, creative and they have that little emotional spark some children’s books can have.

Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey, Illusrated by Edwin Fotheringham – “The Spectacular True Story Of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way To Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History!” – that’s the sub title. Kellerman was an Australian who invented water ballet, and later defied Boston law about public decency – and won, opening the door to allowing American woman to wear swimsuits. It’s very well done. My daughter loves this book, and gets excited whenever we might read it.

The Monster Who Ate Darkness by Joyce Dunbar, Illustrated by Jimmy Liao – great story, did I mention I like the illustrator.

2010 Caldecotte Winner

. The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney – Aesop done wordless, beautifully illustrated. This I liked, and my son Loved. But I didn’t care for either of the Caldecotte honor books – which I won’t bother mentioning. In those, the illustrations are impressive; but the text and overall effect is meh – which is surprising considering how many great children’s books there are out there.

*I blame IJ for my lack for grammar throughout LT of late.

Edited: Mar 25, 2010, 12:54am Top

Part II - the others:

Juvenile-ish novels

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows – my wife tells me this is fantastic, but I haven’t read it.
Junie B, First Grader (At Last!) by Barbara Park – finally my daughter let me read a long book to her…

Good stuff found through the New York Times

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara –Better for Halloween then February…
When Stella was very, very small by Marie-Louise Gay

Good stuff randomly found at the library

Dirty Joe the pirate by Bill Harley – found this only because my son let me look at the H’s at the library for a minute. It actually deserves a review. Pirate Joe terrorized the sea stealing dirty socks until he overmatched by the pirate Annie who steals…his underpants. And, it’s all in rhyme.
Dogerella by Maribeth Boelts, Illustrated by Donald Wu

Non-fiction – the castle obsession – these two books with their violent fighting and, especially, their gruesome descriptions of dungeons were somehow huge hits for both kids.

The Big Golden Book of Knights and Castles by Barbara Weisberg, Illustrated by Gino D'Achille
Exploring a castle by Brian Davison, illustrated by Peter Dennis

Other non-fiction – Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science – a brilliant series

. . .
Earthquakes by Franklyn M. Branley, Illustrated by Megan Lloyd – between Haiti and Chile, this got a lot of use.
Volcanoes by Franklyn Mansfield Branley, illustrated by Megan Lloyd
Where does the Garbage Go by Paul Showers, illustrated by Randy Chewning
Digging Up Dinosaurs by Aliki

And (quietly) one more

The X-Men School* by Michael Teitelbaum – I am embarrassed to mention this one, but my son loves it, and, I have to admit, I kind of like it too. What’s nice is that it’s not a story, but just gives the background behind each character in the cartoon. It actually makes it sound interesting.

*touchstone goes to Spam :)

Mar 25, 2010, 3:30pm Top

For the Junie B. books, I suggest seeing if your library carries the audiobook versions. The actress reading the series is perfect and adds immensely to the stories. We listened to all the books over about a six month period and we were all sad when they were finished. They made long car rides peaceful as the kids sat very quietly throughout.

Mar 25, 2010, 9:16pm Top

Oh thanks, Dan -- I'm always looking for gift books for nieces and nephews and your reviews send me in the right direction. I used to haunt the children's sections of bookstores, but I just don't have time right now. If only my kids would start think about having kids I might get more inspired.... (yes, they're old enough and then some, but it would be nice if they got married first).

Mar 25, 2010, 10:17pm Top

I've been completely distracted by basketball (and fascinated, disturbed and depressed by number one overall seed Kansas's loss to the University of Northern Iowa).

Same here. That loss by Kansas completely destroyed whatever chance I had of winning my group's tournament pool, combined with the Villanova, Pitt and Wisconsin losses. The only Big East team left standing is West Virginia, our (Pitt's) hated rival (and the alma mater of one of my partners at work).

Cornell (Brains) is leading Kentucky (Bubbas) 10-2. I'd love nothing more at the moment than seeing the mighty Wildcats humbled by the Ivy League champs. Go Big Red!

Edited: Mar 25, 2010, 11:34pm Top

Yes, Go Big Red! But I don't even know whether the game is over yet.


Mar 26, 2010, 12:19am Top

So I went looking and found some live video to watch the end of the game. Maybe I shudda just waited for the morning paper.

In my time Cornell's strengths were in crew and in hockey. I wonder if this is a step up.


Edited: Mar 26, 2010, 11:54am Top

kidzdoc/Robert - but that K-state/Xavier game was amazing...

154: RidgewayGirl - what a great suggestion. Thanks!

155: janeajones - Thanks, or your welcome or something along those lines. I'm glad my posts can be useful. Good luck inspiring grandchildren. I remember a friend in grad school whose (long suffering?) parents at one point mentioned that he didn't have to be married to have kids...

ps - I like the new "author page" link on posts.

Mar 26, 2010, 11:06am Top

155 - Ditto. I'm very excited to report that my newly one year old niece's favorite activity is being read to. My mom says she takes after me. I tend to agree even though she's not technically a blood relation.

The Tournament has been quite strange so far it seems. My fallback team for the tourney is Kentucky so it's going well so far at least.

Mar 26, 2010, 2:25pm Top

#160 - Jane, Do you want suggestions for a 1-yr-old's? It's a tough age for books.

Mar 26, 2010, 3:19pm Top

161 - Definitely. We just sent her some of my favorite Little Golden Books from when I was a kid, but I don't really know what's going on with kid's books these days.

Edited: Mar 26, 2010, 6:03pm Top

162> Look for the hardcover pages -- at that age, they tear other books. My kids would listen to almost anything then -- it was all about about sitting on laps and turning pages and pointing out things they recognized. I was so thrilled when they finally made a hardcover page edition of Good Night Moon which was an almost every night bedtime story in our house: it's my staple babyshower gift.

Mar 26, 2010, 10:25pm Top

Those are some great kids books you've got listed there. Anything with volcanoes, earthquakes, dinosaurs, tornadoes, sharks, mummies and animals are perfect for kids.

May I pimp my Children's Library Collection for those interested?: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/EnriqueFreeque/childrenslibrary

My tag "baby book" would be good for one-year old's. Hope it's helpful.

Edited: Mar 26, 2010, 11:21pm Top

I should use that "baby book" tag - actually I do, it's just not very thorough. You can sort it by rating. I have thought about tagging our children's books by age, but haven't decided how to do it - too many books crossover. I think my basic age break down would be like this:

first books - books where your very expressive while reading. Singing is great too.
18 - 36 months - the Sandra Boynton period
3 & 4 year-olds - the good children's books, Caldecotte winner types. Also some accessible non-fiction.
5... that's as far we've gotten - not sure yet. A mixture of better children's books and early juvenile stuff.

Jane P. S. - for you I had "first books" in mind. Here is my short list of gems (with the warning that they were gems for our kids, and maybe not others):

Sandra Boynton - no surprise...
Start with Doggies - where you get to bark, and Moo Baa La La La!. Also The Going-to-Bed-Book was a huge hit, which we all memorized and would recite with the lights off. Snuggle Puppy is one you can sing to. Other early Boynton books we loved include Hippos Go Berserk, Oh My, Oh My Oh Dinosaurs and One Two Three
. . . . . . .

. . . .

Oh! by Josse Goffin - this was the first book my son would listen to, after many trials and errors. The pages flip open and the picture becomes a different picture.
Cows in the Kitchen by June Crebbin - a big favorite, this must be sung!
Books that target babies can be hits. We liked Windows to Color by Julie Aigner-Clark, a Baby Einstein book that worked with both kids, not sure why. The holes or windows in the pages. We also had some success with DK baby books. I really like their My First Colors Board Book

And I'll 2nd Good Night Moon - although that works better at closer to 2 years old.

One correction on JanesAJones post - skip the hard covers, I would only use board books for a one-year-old.

Rique - I'll be checking out your children's books.

ETA the pictures

Mar 27, 2010, 12:06am Top

I did mean board books -- shows you how far I've gone beyond the toddler stage vocab.

Mar 27, 2010, 12:19am Top

Hippos Go Berserk is great. I like that "My First..." series a lot too. And board books are so indestructible as well, which is good for the book's longevity once your rough handling, not-quite-fine-tuned-with-their-fine-motor-skills tots get their delicate (but destructive!--the paradox!) little hands on them.

Mar 27, 2010, 11:09am Top

Loving this discussion. I have a 6-week-old nephew, and my first gift to him, last week, was one of those touch-and-feel board books about wild animals. I'll have to stroll down to my local independent children's bookstore one of these days and look up all your suggestions. Very important that I start contributing to that library. :)

Edited: Apr 3, 2010, 1:27am Top

8. Destiny Disrupted : A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary (c2009, 371 pages, finished March 16)

I read this as a break while reading Infinite Jest (which I'm still working on), as my light book. It is actually light; it’s also very readable and entertaining. Ansary writes in the introduction, “Destiny Disrupted is neither a textbook nor a scholarly thesis. It’s more like what I’d tell you if we met in a coffeehouse and you said, ‘What’s all this about a parallel world history?’”

This is a history of the world from a “Middle World”, or Islamic perspective. Europe, including Rome, becomes peripheral – although it is granted its own chapter (17 pages, covering 1291 -1600). China gets an occasional mention. It’s Anasary’s response to world histories that essentially disregard the region as peripheral even though it’s huge and, over most of history, excluding far-off China, constituted the center of the civilized world.

The scale is very broad, covering all recorded history in about 350 pages. Anansary accomplishes this with sweeping summaries leading the many quotable comments. This was a fun book, filled with fascinating information and people I had not heard of before, and with many interesting interpretations.

An excerpt from the chapter on Europe:

Mercantilism was quite a simple concept, really. It was based on the notion that the economy of nations was like that of individual people. An individual person who earns a lot of money and spends very little become rich: guaranteed. For any individual person, the most desirable form that (incoming) money can take is gold. Accumulate lots of gold and you’re set. So people in western Europe easily fell into thinking that the wealth of their nations depended on bring in as much gold as they could and letting out as little as possible. And they saw how this could be done: by selling lots of products to their friends and neighbors for gold and buying—ideally—nothing.

To sell a lot you have to make a lot. To buy nothing, you have to be self-sufficient. But how could a nation sell and sell and never buy? Where would the raw materials come from? This is where mercantilism, which was intertwined with nationalism, which was intertwined with the Protestant Reformation, which was intertwined with the ethos of individualism, which was intertwined with Renaissance humanism—intersected with European sea prowess and the urge to explore the world—which came right out of the crusades.

All these synergistic, cross-fertilizing developments were beginning to peak in Europe just around 1600. At that moment, Europeans were master mariners. They were rapidly getting organized as compact nation-states. They were rethinking the world in scientific terms. They had the gold of the Americas burning holes in their pockets. And they were economically energized by protocapitalist entrepreneurs armed with a new ethos of individualism.

Incredibly enough, all of this development went virtually unnoticed by the Muslim world where, at that very moment, Moghul civilization was peaking in India, Safavid culture was peaking in Persia, and the Ottoman empire was only just past its peak period of efflorescence in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, the Levant, the Hijaz, Egypt and North Africa.

Apr 3, 2010, 8:51pm Top

Thanks for the review, Dan -- I've put this one on soon-to-buy list. It's exactly the kind of book I like to recommend to my Intercultural Humanities students -- anything to humanize the Islamic world and broaden their understanding of world history.

Apr 3, 2010, 10:22pm Top

Hi Jane - Thanks for the comment. It's exactly that kind of book.

I think that "review" is accurate in the impression it leaves, but there are so many more interesting aspects to the book which I could have mentioned.

Apr 4, 2010, 1:12pm Top

>169 dchaikin:, Destiny Disrupted sounds fascinating, Dan. I'm adding this one to the TBR pile.

Apr 5, 2010, 2:49pm Top

ms price - nice to see you here. If you get to it, I would love to read your response.

Apr 16, 2010, 3:10pm Top

Hmm, you've been awfully quiet...

Apr 16, 2010, 3:15pm Top

#174 - Infinite Jest...

Apr 16, 2010, 3:24pm Top

You Jest, surely....

Your presence is needed! Here! Now! Rescue us from the Slough of Despond!

Apr 16, 2010, 4:43pm Top

LOL! We are quiet, but the posts are still good, looking around. I think we'll pick up in the summer. I'll post more once I start reading more books.

Apr 18, 2010, 1:39pm Top

#169 - Having read a book about the history of the Spice Trade by Keay, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a short chapter on the English, Portuguese and Dutch pirating in the Arabian and Indian Oceans, describing them much as we might the Somali pirates today - except that I don't think the Somali pirates are as brutal as the English were to random Muslim merchants they ran into.

Apr 18, 2010, 2:02pm Top

Actually no, and I was looking for sea-related stuff from Europe - trading, pirating, naval battles. I imagine his reasoning was that this was just stuff on the periphery (like Somalia, vaguely). For example, Spain gets limited mention - it was just so far away.

Apr 24, 2010, 3:40am Top

A visit today (or yesterday now) to the Friends of Houston Public Library book sale left us with 50 new books. Here are the highlights:

newer books I've heard of
When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale (an ARC, from my wishlist)
Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong (from my wishlist)
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (from my wishlist)
The Gathering by Anne Enright
Leaving Tangier by Tahar Ben Jelloun
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

newer books I haven't heard of
By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño
The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
Dancer by Colum McCann

older books
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (from my wishlist)
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (from my wishlist)
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia by Rene Grousset
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter (from my wishlist)
China: A Macro History by Ray Huang
People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn
The Indians of Texas: From Prehistoric to Modern Times by W. W. Newcomb Jr.
The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton
Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner

Apr 24, 2010, 8:33am Top

Nice haul, Dan!

Apr 24, 2010, 4:17pm Top

The Greenville version of the Friends of the library book sale was this week-end. You make me feel virtuous, having only left with 29 books, not including books picked up for other people.

Apr 24, 2010, 11:22pm Top

Sheesh -- I haven't seen a library sale like this ever -- great pickings!

Apr 24, 2010, 11:37pm Top

Kd, RG & Jane - thanks for stopping by.

Virtuous? for less books? I don't follow, maybe because I don't have much of sense of book buying guilt. I had a blast searching - left with my head spinning and racing, couldn't bear going to be before about 4am (kids let me sleep till 8am).

I think had a better haul last year, actually, where I picked up 46 books (see #137 here). This year it was 49 (not 50, I had miss-counted), but only 44 are for us.

This is a really cool event. I'm not sure how other cities compare, as I've never tried one of these outside Houston. If anyone's in the area, Sunday is $10 a bag - fill it as much as you like.

Apr 26, 2010, 5:18pm Top

Great haul, Dan. The Englewood, NJ library sale in the fall sounds a lot like yours. I look forward to it every year. Often, large estates donate old Library of America, Folios, etc.

Edited: Apr 26, 2010, 11:44pm Top

Thea, I had to look up Englewood.

An update on me - I'm still reading Infinite Jest, which was sort of wrapped up at the end of March in le Salon. I reached page 850 today, which means I have roughly 150 pages to go. I've been cruising along at 20 pages a day - tearing it up really.So, I should finish next week, really.

Otherwise I have poetry books to try for the April challenge, but they're still waiting for me at the library, except for one purchase which arrived today (The Skin of Light* by Larry D. Thomas). And, I have all these new books. We went back to the booksale on Sunday, took the kids and filled a bag with about 25 books. Still cataloging and wondering how much I'll be able to read between IJ and Proust's Swann's Way, which I plan to start with (or without, if that were to somehow happen) le Salon in June.

Also, we've gone through tons of new children's books - that's to come.

an excerpt from Infinite Jest...this is all one sentence, by the way

"The wraith walks jerkily and overdeliberately across the floor and then up a wall, occasionally disappearing and then reappearing, sort of fluttering mistily, and ends up standing upside-down on the hospital room's drop ceiling, directly over Gately, and holds one knee to its sunken chest and starts doing what Gately would know were pirouettes if he'd ever once been exposed to ballet, pirouetting faster and faster and then so fast the wraith's nothing but a long stalk of sweatshirt-and-Coke-can-colored light that seems to extrude from the ceiling; and then, in a moment that rivals the Coke-can moment for unpleasantness, into Gately's personal mind, in Gately's own brain-voice but with roaring and unwilled force, comes the term PIROUETTE, in caps, which term Gately knows for a fact he doesn't have any idea what it means and no reason to be thinking it with roaring force, so the sensation is not only creepy but somehow violating, a sort of lexical rape." p.832

cheers all.

*no touchstone

Apr 27, 2010, 2:14am Top

180- Great haul. I'll be expecting your thoughts on all of them before the end of the year, yes? My eyes skimmed over the first sentence in the post and for a moment I thought that list was all recent reads. I thought, dchaikin has partaken of the the go-go reading juice.

Apr 27, 2010, 10:18am Top

#187 - LOL - no juice - I'm wondering if there are "reading steriods." I have so many other books to read, I probably won't get to any these until I reshuffle that reading shelf in the bed room - something I try to do at least once a year.

Edited: May 1, 2010, 10:58pm Top

9. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (c1996, 1079 pages, finished May 1)

No review yet, I'm going to have to sit on this one awhile, and work out my thoughts several times over. At some point I hope to be able to post a review here. Just a few minutes ago I posted elsewhere "I'm so ambivalent...I mean the book is amazing, a complete wow. It's embedding itself into my psyche. But, I have no idea how I feel about about it." I should add that it's taken me nine weeks to read, and that I don't regret any of that time. And I want to add that I feel this book so successfully captures our time (and, especially its time - circa 1990), and that it does so far better then I ever imagined possible in literature - so I am adding it and hoping I don't regret posting it.

May 2, 2010, 1:32am Top

Closing this thread - the new thread is here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/90167

Group: Club Read 2010

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