So the major thing to note here is that this is a history of the inhabitants of pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere... written by a feature journalist. ISo the major thing to note here is that this is a history of the inhabitants of pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere... written by a feature journalist. It has a lot of straight history, but also a lot of information gleaned from non-standard or new techniques, such as archaeology, forensic science, and linguistics. Oh, and actually talking to folks who identify as indigenous -- who are, lots of them, still around.
A fair amount of the material was familiar to me from taking Colonial Latin America (taught by the awesome Prof. Cope) in college and from reading Guns, Germs, and Steel [and it's clear that the author totally hearts Jared Diamond]. But even with that background, there was enough new/interesting stuff to keep me entertained.
The downside is also the upside: as a journalist, the author is prone to kind of florid prose, which I found distracting but others (I hear) find exciting.
He also jumps around a lot -- it was unclear from the chapter titles what themes would be covered, or where, or who. The thread within a given chapter can jump from maps of the Amazon Basin to a Short History of the Fall of the Inkan [sic] Empire to How to Make Tortillas in Oaxaca, Mexico. The lack of overall structure meant that the author has to keep explicitly stating his extremely general goal: "I just wanna write about these folks because the current history paradigm totally fails to." Because otherwise you might forget it or wonder why he's spending 10 pages discussing a somewhat arbitrarily-chosen Mayan civil war in extreme detail.
His intention is laudable, but having such a general goal means that there's no clear build-up to a conclusion. So it's very easy to flip or page through this book, but it's kind of boring to read it straight through....more
One of the reviews on this book already says "this is a good coming-of-age story for girls -- especially if you grew up in Connecticut in the mid-1970One of the reviews on this book already says "this is a good coming-of-age story for girls -- especially if you grew up in Connecticut in the mid-1970s." That is probably true. That is also the problem -- if you are not into girl coming-of-age stories, or perhaps DIDN'T grow up in CT in the 1970s, you may not get a whole lot out of this.
History Lesson for Girls is somewhat emotionally engrossing, and definitely a quick, engaging read, but I found that the really dramatic topics (parents who screw up their kids; the 1970s were a crazy time; drugs are bad, mmkay?) had been covered better elsewhere -- chiefly in Running with Scissors. I think Sheehan is a better straight-up writer than Augusten Burroughs -- in terms of plot structure and ability to string sentences together -- but that Burroughs had a better tale to tell. See also the movie The Ice Storm, and there are probably lots more examples out there of The 1970s Were Some Crazy Times, Boy Howdy. For good or ill, Sheehan is telling a story that has been told before, and the addition girl friendship as a theme is not quite enough to make this an important addition to the genre (not that I am an expert).
Digression 1: For the record, I found Running with Scissors to be good but horrifying, not hilarious as the book jackets would have you believe -- it's basically a story about child abuse. Or maybe I have no sense of humor.
Digression 2: Does anyone out there remember Mustang Wild Spirit of the West by Marguerite Henry (the author of Misty of Chincoteague)? That book also featured a young, atypical heroine who had back problems (in her case due to polio, because it was the '50s, not the '70s) and discovers horses as a route to fantasy escape from her crappy life. The horse thing rings kind of hollow in History Lesson for Girls but maybe that's because I went through a serious horse phase as a kid and know what real nerdy horse stories are like.
But back to this story in general. I guess I may not have the emotional attachment that some readers do to stories of close girl friendships in their teens, and scary coming-of-age narratives about their first smoke, first unfortunate make out session at age 14, blah blah. I didn't do those things because I was a very introverted Nerd Kid who prematurely identified strongly with adults (for better or worse). And the whole point of this book is that adults are quite alien to teens of a certain age -- especially when said adults are on drugs, having marital difficulties, and generally Not Getting It. So I guess the Average American Female Reader may find quite a lot to identify with, and this book could be pretty moving. But I found that I personally didn't have much of an emotional response, and since the book is about remembrance and personal narrative, the whole thing seemed kind of stale.
Overall: Better than chick lit (I imagine -- I've never read any except for Bridget Jones, but still kind of a girly beach read. The story, though moving in places and generally engaging, just doesn't have universal appeal....more
A lovely anthology of art by lots of really famous folks -- many of them famous for excellent reasons. This book is real purty. It's also neat to seeA lovely anthology of art by lots of really famous folks -- many of them famous for excellent reasons. This book is real purty. It's also neat to see non-comics folks like Paul Auster and David Sedaris try their hand at working with artists and telling a story visually, and to discover the gorgeous work of several underground, foreign (non-U.S.) artists.
Unfortunately the book isn't really sure what it is. The stories and activity pages are very narratively and thematically simple (in contrast to the very polished art) and thus are designed to appeal more to kids than to adults. But (and of course I am an adult) though I was gently amused by the stories, I wasn't enthralled enough by any individual story to want to read it over and over. (The story that most stuck with me is Paul Auster's -- it's about a man who dissociates -- and it was truly creepy and dealt with very adult themes. More of that, please!)
But the book isn't really for kids either -- the classy printing and binding and high price tag ($20) mean that parents may want to keep this high up on the shelf where it can't be scribbled in. I can't really see someone handing this to their child, with a magic marker, and saying "OK, find all the hidden objects!" I had lots of Tintin and Asterix and Donald Duck comics when I was a kid, and my brother and I read them so many times they were physically destroyed (we are still finding loose pages of Tintin and the Shooting Star in the attic). This book is too goshdarn nice, by too many nice famous adults, to let a kid destroy.
If Art Spiegelman really wants to make this project work, he could invite swanky famous non-comics people to write short stories for adults and collect those; OR he could invite swanky famous people to write stories for children on a monthly basis, print them on crappy paper, and sell them for $4.95. I suppose he could then collect the best and repackage those for $20. But right now the series is neither here nor there....more
I think I missed out on some of the connections because I haven't, historically, followed the DC universe all that closely (I'm much more in tune withI think I missed out on some of the connections because I haven't, historically, followed the DC universe all that closely (I'm much more in tune with Marvel). But I was able to follow the plot, which was pretty compelling. And the art is both technically amazing and constructed with attention to visual storytelling....more
[NB: I'm basically just reading all the books that have piled up in my room so I can give them to Goodwill before I move...]
Nifty premise: sometime in[NB: I'm basically just reading all the books that have piled up in my room so I can give them to Goodwill before I move...]
Nifty premise: sometime in the future, some dude invents a) immortality and b) time travel. So he goes back into the dawn of time and grabs young kids and confers immortality on them, and then they secretly work for him from their time up until the unknown murky future. Problem is that they themselves can't go forward in time, so they have to take on faith that their employer will one day appear and make all their work worthwhile.
This novel (clearly meant to be the first in a series) follows one of these immortals on her first adult mission out into the world, which for her is Elizabethan England.
Problem: Main character's story is pretty interesting for about the first third of the book, until it becomes clear that the major plot involves her romance with a totally emo Protestant Reformation mortal dude. Then the whole story descends into romantic schmoopiness. So. Much. Schmoopiness. By the end I was hoping both parties would die a tragic death, but of course the main character's immortal, ain't she? Sequels ahoy!
This is an excellent book. It is about loving animals, but NOT in a cute-widdle-wooda-wooda way. More in the sense of recognizing them as living beingThis is an excellent book. It is about loving animals, but NOT in a cute-widdle-wooda-wooda way. More in the sense of recognizing them as living beings. File under animal (and human) cognition, psychology, and philosophy; and maaaaybe animal training after that (but while it gives some excellent advice, this is in no way a how-to manual).
In fact the only reason I didn't give this book 5 stars is that I have absolutely zero grounding in philosophy, and some of the academic discussion (Stanley Cavell? doesn't ring a bell) was really heavy going and I skimmed more than processed the ideas. But that's my failure as a reader, not Hearne's failure -- she's writing heavy stuff, and expects the reader to keep up.
Read if you love, well, thinking. And own, or might ever own, a doggie or a kitty....more
Don't get me wrong -- I really enjoyed this book. But since City, also by Clifford Simak, is one of my favorite, favorite books of all time, I was unfDon't get me wrong -- I really enjoyed this book. But since City, also by Clifford Simak, is one of my favorite, favorite books of all time, I was unfortunately comparing it. And Way Station, though it has an awesome premise and a psychologically complex main character, unfortunately falters in the narrative department about halfway through the book and never quite recovers.
Short version: a soldier in the American Civil War comes home to Wisconsin and is randomly tapped to secretly run a transportation unit for a vast interstellar alien government. One upside is that he becomes effectively immortal -- so he's still doing it 100 years later, when the CIA catches up with him.
Good stuff: the premise! Is awesome. The portrait of Enoch as a tired soldier and lover of humanity, its strengths and foibles, is great. The description of rural Wisconsin, of all things, is very well written. The various alien beings are well described and interesting (and like most aliens, are often most interesting in their contrast with humans, and what that says about the author's view of humans). It was also nice to see that the themes developed in City -- artificial intelligence, immortality, what makes a human human, do we have a future as a species -- show up here as well. I hadn't read any other Simak except City, so the mirrored themes here help me better grasp Simak as a writer.
Not so good: I guess Simak was mostly a writer of short stories rather than novels. It shows: the main plot starts out strong, but is slowed and eventually derailed by a weird and unnecessary subplot involving manufactured ghosts and unrequited love (the rest of the book is pretty romance free, unless you count love of humanity which is a major theme) and an endless chapter detailing, basically, a hunting expedition on a Holodeck. I suppose when the book was published the hunting bit might have been mind-blowing. But maybe because it's been ripped off so much, the detailed description of a futuristic device that makes an empty room into an illusion of a danger-filled alien planet just seems like old news. The story also lacks a strong climax -- rather, the excitement builds and then kind of implodes, and then leaches away.
Overall: Pretty solid classic science fiction, but disappointingly not as awesome as City. Go read City right now....more
What happens when the voters of East St. Louis are disenfranchised and Bush steals the presidency? East St. Louis secedes from the U.S., of course. WaWhat happens when the voters of East St. Louis are disenfranchised and Bush steals the presidency? East St. Louis secedes from the U.S., of course. Wacky hijinks ensue.
This is solid political satire from talented guys ( Aaron McGruder, creator of the comic strip The Boondocks, and Reginald Hudlin, director of House Party). Kyle Baker's art is ideal for the work -- he's got an animator's heart, so he gives the characters real movement and facial expressions. The only reason this didn't get 5 stars from me is that I prefer Baker when he is both artist and author; he wrote one of my favorite, favorite comics of all time, The Cowboy Wally Show, and compared to that piece of total genius, this was only very good....more
Short version: it's like Friday Night Lights, only with marching band, not football. Kristen Laine follows the students and teachers of the Concord (IShort version: it's like Friday Night Lights, only with marching band, not football. Kristen Laine follows the students and teachers of the Concord (Indiana) Marching Minutemen for a calendar year and uses their experience to discuss the current state of “middle America.”
In theory, I love this book. I love sociological non-fiction and BOY HOWDY was I ever in marching band — a perfect fit! But the writing was overwrought and trite, and the band angle of this book left me cold (and bored, and even annoyed). Unexpectedly, it was the discussion of the students’ evangelical religion that kept me going. In fact, the completely unexpected discussion of teen experience with evangelical Christianity was the only thing that saved the book for me.
Laine tries to tie her subjects’ experience to a greater middle-American fall-from-grace, mentioning the loss of skilled blue-collar jobs, white flight, and new (Hispanic) immigration to this particular area of Indiana, but I can't help but compare her to Buzz Bissinger, who covered the socioeconomic and racial issues in his chosen town (Odessa, Texas) with more good research and a lot more insight. Or maybe Laine just chose a boring topic; it’s hard to feel particularly enthralled with the lives of a bunch of teenagers who are white, middle- or upper-middle-class, make good or great grades, and have parents who fall all over themselves being involved in their children’s lives. (One major character is an exception: a freshman girl who represents the new Hispanic population moving into the area. But the author neglects to use this important window on a life to make any sort of larger point about racial and economic tensions in Indiana, historically and currently. Meanwhile the almost completely white band spends the year working on a show about the African roots of American music, including a piece where the students pretend to dance at a New Orleans-style funeral.)
And the band stuff? Well... I already know about summer rehearsals, and Saturday rehearsals, and roll-step, and horns-to-the-box, and judges’ tapes, and GE scores. I know enough to critically compare the director (Max Jones)’s choices to those of my own high school band director, such that the seemingly dramatic outcomes of those choices seemed obvious. (Want a clean show? Don’t change the ending 5 days before the competition.) At times I found the author’s excitement cheesy and distracting; yeah, they WORK REAL HARD. Lots of people do. We did, in my high school band. Do they shit gold bricks?
So for me, the saving grace of this book was religion. It's useful, when you have fled to a very blue state, to keep yourself up-to-date on how the rest of the country works — and works on its own internal logic. Apparently a whole lot of people in this country, very smart people, analytic people, are WAY INTO JESUS. And when you take that as the foundation of your world, all kinds of assumptions follow. Like that you might actually vote for someone else who loves Jesus (George W. Bush) over someone (like, say, John Kerry) with whom you seemingly have absolutely nothing in common. Of course I’m being overly simplistic. But I have absolutely no relationship with Jesus, and continue to work on not automatically fleeing those who do. Reading about smart kids, with whom I identify (they are in band AND they play Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit, for gosh sakes), and trying to empathize with their struggles? That was truly enlightening....more
Another cheapo book from the used book store down the street.
This book is awesome for anyone who's interested in a) 20th century American history, b)Another cheapo book from the used book store down the street.
This book is awesome for anyone who's interested in a) 20th century American history, b) American women's history, or c) food politics. It has many excellent pictures of Meat Propaganda.
The only downside (for you all, as potential readers) is that it is intended as a scholarly work -- it would be great in a sociology or public health class -- so it can get kind of dry to read straight through. I enjoy that shit, though....more
Better than _Gathering Blue_. Same world as that and _The Giver_, but yet another pile of new elements without any real explanation by the end. Am I jBetter than _Gathering Blue_. Same world as that and _The Giver_, but yet another pile of new elements without any real explanation by the end. Am I just a cranky adult, or do actual YA readers see these problems, too?...more
Took me a while to get into this, because the visual style is very reminiscent of The Lion King, and most of the dialogue is over-dramatic and, well,Took me a while to get into this, because the visual style is very reminiscent of The Lion King, and most of the dialogue is over-dramatic and, well, comic-book-y. (Bryan K. Vaughan loves to use kvetching as a model of conversational style; cf. Y: The Last Man.) There's also a strong freedom-and-danger vs. slavery-and-safety theme presented that really never comes down one way or the other. But the ending took me by surprise, emotionally, and Vaughan uses that emotion to hit the reader with a second theme, completely obvious but completely necessary to reiterate again and again: war destroys lives. ...more
Oh John Irving. You are a twisted man, who writes about twisted sex and violence between twisted characters who are clearly very thinly veiled versionOh John Irving. You are a twisted man, who writes about twisted sex and violence between twisted characters who are clearly very thinly veiled versions of yourself. I hate you. The only reason I finished your book is that I am obsessive about finishing things.
But maybe I did this backwards -- I read A Widow for One Year first, and THEN WAtG. I think most folks do it the other way around. So all of the issues covered in Widow seemed re-hashed to me, or re-covered, or just basically more of the same: struggling writer (whose crappy stories you are forced to read), his explicit sexual needs and fetishes (I know I sound prudish, but seriously, one of the major themes is Man's Uncontrollable Lust and How It Hurts Ladies), his marital problems, and then, very graphically, the Terrible Things That Happen to His Kids. In Widow the kids are actually killed before the start of the book and the book is all about the main characters dealing with the tragedy. In Garp the book just kind of goes, and goes, and then you're like: Okay, John Irving. You have just spent the last 2 pages explaining your main character's fears that something will happen to his family and also that the car is malfunctioning in an odd way. I can't imagine what happens next. And then it does. And then it does some more. And then the book continues for like 1000 more pages. Damn this book was annoying.
Good parts: all the stuff about Garp's mom, Jenny. She is a complex, well-painted psychological portrait. (To be fair, I guess Garp himself is too -- but he's a complex, well-painted psychological portrait of John Irving... which I find boring.) Jenny, however, is written to be an odd duck, and it's neat to watch John Irving use her as a tool to discuss the early feminist movement. I wish the whole book were about her....more
Quick/easy/beach read. Not as good as Case Histories, which was the first to feature Jackson Brodie as a main character.
I do like books (and other meQuick/easy/beach read. Not as good as Case Histories, which was the first to feature Jackson Brodie as a main character.
I do like books (and other media) that feature interlocking storylines where connections only gradually become clear. But Jackson Brodie, as a main character, is pretty played out for me at this point. I might pick up future novels in this universe if they focused on one of the peripheral characters (the lady cop, for instance, shows promise)....more
This is my second favorite Narnia book, after The Magician's Nephew. It reads most like a novel (as opposed to a religious tract), has one of the strThis is my second favorite Narnia book, after The Magician's Nephew. It reads most like a novel (as opposed to a religious tract), has one of the strongest female characters of the series, and includes my favorite Narnian character, Puddleglum the Marshwiggle. The plot is a sort of mystery/puzzle for the characters to figure out -- Aslan appears at the beginning, gives them clues, and then he's basically gone for the rest of the story, leaving the characters some agency and personal growth of their own. (As compared with many of the other Narnia books, in which personal growth occurs by having Aslan breathe on you.)
Congratulations. In the last chapter of this book you totally destroyed my sympathy for your main character. You may write more novelsDear Greg Rucka,
Congratulations. In the last chapter of this book you totally destroyed my sympathy for your main character. You may write more novels and comics starring Tara Chase, but you've systematically destroyed everything in her life that made her interesting. Now she's just a (physically, emotionally, and ethically) damaged shell, and I don't really have any interest in her further adventures.
Also, I'm used to reading Rucka's Queen and Country comics, where events can be illustrated but it's up to the artist as much as the author to detail them. I don't read that many political/spy thrillers so I'm not sure what level of lurid sex and violence is commonly depicted -- but in a few instances in this book, the sex writing was pretty cartoonish and distractingly terrible. I guess it's weird to criticize a book based on a comic book for being "cartoonish," but I became a fan of Rucka specifically because of his well-researched, realistic point of view. *sigh*...more
Excellent: Core concept. The universe in which the story takes place, like ours but with some profound differences, is well-imagined and very compelliExcellent: Core concept. The universe in which the story takes place, like ours but with some profound differences, is well-imagined and very compelling. Also: great pacing (couldn't put it down).
Okay: Character development. Main character, Lyra, seems too pat... like many other YA heroines, she has a Special Birth and Odd Upbringing and Special Powers and, eventually, a Special Destiny. Am afraid she will grow tiresome by the end of the series. Baddies also seemed simplistic, though I'm sure More Will Be Revealed in the next two books.
Not good: Extremely abrupt ending. I get that this is the first book in a trilogy, and in theory the plot gets wrapped up, but there's no time for an emotional response on the part of the reader before BAM! the book is over. To Be Continued... whatever. Lame!...more
For the record, I am giving this book 5 stars even though I'm pretty mad at it right now... for ending. It was a pretty quick read. I would say perfecFor the record, I am giving this book 5 stars even though I'm pretty mad at it right now... for ending. It was a pretty quick read. I would say perfect for that business trip you're about to go on, but if you get to go on paid business trips you are perhaps not quite in the target audience.
I am a little annoyed that the plot crept up on me -- I was expecting events so mundane they would seem dark/depressing (I've heard And Then We Came to the End is like this, though I haven't read it) -- not actual "dark" plot elements. I kind of wish Ed Park had stuck with the former, though I guess that would have left him with less of a structured novel and more of a genius tone-poem about what the working world is like.
Recommended to anyone who has ever worked in an office. This means you. Go get a copy right now. I will lend you mine but you have to give it back so I can lend it to somebody else after you.