I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. The first part is good, the ending is fine, but in the middle the author loses his way and it gets way toI wanted to like this a lot more than I did. The first part is good, the ending is fine, but in the middle the author loses his way and it gets way too digressive and meta. He tries to make it part of the story, by frequently mentioning the writers block he suffered from while writing the book, but I'd have preferred if he skipped all that and just tightened the book up. It could probably be a third shorter without losing any actual story....more
It's hard to separate how I felt about this book while reading it from how I feel about it as a book, if that makes any sense. I found it difficult toIt's hard to separate how I felt about this book while reading it from how I feel about it as a book, if that makes any sense. I found it difficult to listen to -- so bleak and violent and, at times, deeply unsettling -- but it's beautifully written and I like how it meanders just a little...particularly, I think, because I listened to the audiobook, it was like listening to someone actually speak, with little asides and characters bouncing in and out of the narrative. When I got to about two-thirds of the way through I almost gave up on it -- I feel like it lost its way a bit, but then, that was at the very point in the narrative where Dubus himself is feeling the most directionless -- but I powered through (thanks to picking up the print version so I move a little faster) and am glad I did, as in the end the book is a brilliant example of the redemptive power of art and love and work....more
I want to give this 4.5 stars. It's not quite a 5, but 4 seems too low.
I'd read and loved Clint Hill's Mrs Kennedy and Me and this feels, in some wayI want to give this 4.5 stars. It's not quite a 5, but 4 seems too low.
I'd read and loved Clint Hill's Mrs Kennedy and Me and this feels, in some ways, like a companion piece to that. It's missing the backstory of the relationship between the President, the First Lady, and their Secret Service detail, which is part of what makes this recollection of those five days in 1963 all the more heartbreaking. ...more
Four stars for content (I'm a sucker for anything about the space program); three stars (if I'm feeling generous) for the writing. Very "this happenedFour stars for content (I'm a sucker for anything about the space program); three stars (if I'm feeling generous) for the writing. Very "this happened, and then this happened, and oh yeah, there was also this other thing." The author didn't delve into anything beyond the very shallow and superficial, with the result that this reads like a middle school research paper gone long....more
When I was a child, I had a brief children's biography of Nellie Bly. While it didn't go into great detail about her life, it did talk abou4.5 stars.
When I was a child, I had a brief children's biography of Nellie Bly. While it didn't go into great detail about her life, it did talk about how she got herself committed to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island and, especially, her later trip around the world. I read it over and over again and, when I got older, I was always surprised that there wasn't much written about her -- I never really sought anything out, to be fair, but a lot of books cross my path on a daily basis and I never saw one about her. I was thrilled when I saw the announcement for Eighty Days and the book shot right to the top of my to-read list.
Eighty Days not only tells the story of Nellie Bly, it also introduces us to Elizabeth Bisland -- while I knew about Bly's trip around the world for Joseph Pulitzer's World newspaper, I'd never known that Cosmopolitan (a much different magazine in those days), upon hearing of the stunt, sent Bisland, their own reporter, around the world in the opposite direction in the hopes that she would beat Bly.
Bly and Bisland were very different women, but both were largely self-made and well-known in their day, and the intersection of their stories is fascinating. Sections of the book detail the increasingly sensational stunts that the New York newspapers of the day attempted to pull off in an attempt to win readers; other sections; other parts read like a travelogue, as seen through the eyes of two women who were not seasoned travelers and yet set out to beat Phileas Fogg's fictional record for a circumnavigation of the globe. They traveled on the fastest steamships of their day, traversed the newly-built Suez Canal, took rickshaw rides in the Orient, and survived harrowingly fast trips through the Rockies on the newly-completed Transcontinental Railroad.
Following their return to New York, Bly found her life changed drastically, and never again found the fame and public adulation that she enjoyed during her trip. Bisland's star did not fall as far, but she, too, fell into relative obscurity.
I found Eighty Days to be a fascinating and absorbing read. At times it fell into some repetitiveness (due, no doubt, to the nature of Bly and Bisland's dueling trips) so it did drag a bit in places, but the content more than made up for its shortcomings.
Review copy received from the publisher via NetGalley....more
I took a lot of neuroscience/cognitive psychology classes in college so there wasn't anything new here for me, but it's a readable, fast, chatty introI took a lot of neuroscience/cognitive psychology classes in college so there wasn't anything new here for me, but it's a readable, fast, chatty introduction to the weird, wonderful world of the brain....more
The idea behind this book -- that one can tell a lot about a person by the books they read (or, in this case, edit) -- was a good one, and had such prThe idea behind this book -- that one can tell a lot about a person by the books they read (or, in this case, edit) -- was a good one, and had such promise. But, unfortunately, it just didn't work. My biggest gripe was simply that this book was just SO poorly written. It was arranged topically, rather than chronologically, which might have worked if it weren't constructed like a typical five-paragraph essay of the sort we all had to write in high school English class. I was going to jot down a few phrases that were just so laughably bad that they were worth sharing, but then I decided I didn't care enough. :-P
The topical organization of the book also makes everything very repetitive; the book probably could have been quite a bit shorter without actually losing any actual content.
Between the repetitiveness, the eye-rolling prose, and the amateur psychoanalysis, this book just fell completely flat for me. ...more
This was kind of a slog for me - definitely one of those books where the content was interesting, but the writing left a lot to be desired. I would loThis was kind of a slog for me - definitely one of those books where the content was interesting, but the writing left a lot to be desired. I would love to hear this story in the words of a different author -- I double majored in English and linguistics, and as such I've long been interested in the concept of prescriptive versus descriptive linguistics. This topic had such potential in that department -- but really fell flat. ...more
The fact that Thomas Jefferson introduced macaroni and cheese to America is relatively well-known -- maybe it's just the nerdy circles I travel in, buThe fact that Thomas Jefferson introduced macaroni and cheese to America is relatively well-known -- maybe it's just the nerdy circles I travel in, but it's one of those pieces of trivia that seems to be tossed around with some regularity. But did you know that Jefferson tried to smuggle rice out of Italy, or that he tried to establish olive-growing in South Carolina?
This thin volume touches on a number of different topics. Far from simply being a culinary history, it covers a lot of ground: Jefferson's experiences as a diplomat alongside Benjamin Franklin and John Adams (one of my takeaways from this section: "minister plenipotentiary," what we would now call an "ambassador," is one of the most impressive-sounding job titles around), the beginnings of the French Revolution, race relations in eighteenth-century France, Virginia plantation life, the Jefferson family, and more. The book provides an overview of a number of these subjects, but I was really left wanting more; I see more reading about several of these topics in my future.
The historical record of James Hemings's life is quite thin, but what little material there is provides a fascinating look at not only Jefferson's foray into French cuisine and entertaining styles, but also into the life of a man who was, as far as slaves go, quite privileged. James Hemings and his siblings were fathered by Jefferson's father-in-law, and of course by now everyone knows about the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, James's younger sister (though the events in this book predate that); the dynamic between the Jeffersons and the Hemingses sounded quite interesting to me. The book The Hemingses of Monticello has crossed my path several times; I may be compelled to pick it up now.
I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in early American history, or in pre-Revolution French life. Because the book just sort of scratches the surface of a number of different topics, it provides valuable context without getting bogged down -- and if you're at all like me, your interest will be piqued and you'll want to check out one or more of the books in the rather extensive bibliography that Craughwell provides.
And also, if you're at all like me, you'll come away from the book craving macaroni and cheese in the worst way.
Review copy provided by Quirk Books. Thank you!...more
This last week, I decided that I was getting way too stressed out, largely about external things (like politics). So I decided that, at least temporarThis last week, I decided that I was getting way too stressed out, largely about external things (like politics). So I decided that, at least temporarily, I am adopting a modified "head in the sand" approach to life -- I am trying very, very hard to avoid overloading myself with news and other negative things that were making me anxious, with the idea that there's a happy medium between "being informed" and "being so informed that you want to go live on a deserted island somewhere and become a hermit." So far, it's working quite well. I'm also trying to be better about keeping the dishes washed (we don't have a dishwasher, so it's VERY easy to let them pile up), the toys picked up, and the kitchen table cleared off -- and after a couple of weeks of working on that, I am feeling less stressed at home, too.
These are the sorts of things that Gretchen Rubin talks about in Happier at Home. The book is very similar to The Happiness Project (which I read some time ago) but with an emphasis on...wait for it...life at home. Rubin's theory is that, whether or not you are a generally happy person, there are still things you can do which will make you happier -- an idea that, I think, has a lot of merit.
I don't read Rubin's books as self-help so much as memoir and inspiration. Her life is very different from mine, and some of the things that make her happy are not at all on my radar (like her excitement at being able to do work on vacation --sorry, not for me!). But she makes me think about the sources of stress in my life, things I have guilt about, and ways to work on those things in an effort to make myself happier.
There's nothing earth-shattering here. Many of her ideas are ones that you might find in any number of books dealing with simplicity or mindfulness or decluttering: Start small. Do one thing at a time. Clear space in your schedule. But, at least for me, there is value in reading about how someone else tackled these things, and the successes (and difficulties) she had along the way.
While I appreciated the memoir-ish tone of the book, there were times when it felt like it veered into being a little too personal, in ways that didn't seem relevant to the ideas at hand (and, in many cases, were just redundant); I would have edited it a little differently.
In all, I found both this and The Happiness Project to be valuable reads. I don't necessarily want to have a full-on Happiness Project, and if I did, my goals would not be the same as Rubin's, but reading about her efforts to improve her own life gave me good ideas about how to improve mine. I don't know how long I'll be able to keep up the "don't read too many political stories" thing, but seeing how it has affected my mood has been really eye-opening -- and I have to thank Gretchen Rubin for even planting the thought in my head.
Advance copy received from the publisher --and signed by the author! -- at Book Expo America. Publication date 9/4/2012....more
Everyone's got their celebrity obsession, and I've confessed before that mine is the British royal family. On top of that, I'm definitely an AnglophilEveryone's got their celebrity obsession, and I've confessed before that mine is the British royal family. On top of that, I'm definitely an Anglophile, too. So as you can imagine, between the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, I've been enjoying 2012!
I found this to be an absorbing book. It really isn't a biography of the Queen, per se, though: it's more of a history of the House of Windsor and how the monarchy has changed since the reign of Elizabeth's grandfather George V. (I would imagine that most people who are close enough to the Queen to be able to provide an "intimate portrait" are also discreet enough to not spill her secrets. There is a discussion in the book of the Queen's governess, Marion Crawford, who wrote an affectionate memoir of her time with the then-Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret; she was never forgiven for her betrayal of the family confidence.) Marr makes it a point to talk about the Queen's relationships with her various prime ministers, which helps to illuminate the role, limited though it may be, that she plays in British politics and government.
There wasn't anything in the book that came as a surprise to me; I don't think there are any big revelations for anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the Queen's reign. But there was one passage which struck me because I read it the day after the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics, where the Queen was shown with a meme-worthy pout. Marr quotes Richard Crossman's diary:
"When she is deeply moved and tries to control it, she looks like an angry thunder-cloud. So, very often when she has been deeply touched by the plaudits of the crowd she merely looks terribly bad-tempered." (p. 179)
So there you have it. Let's all assume that Her Majesty enjoyed the pageantry of the opening ceremony more than the pictures of her might have suggested!...more