This is definitely one of the best books I've read this year; possibly one of the best books I've read in five or six years. Egan's Pulitzer-winning pThis is definitely one of the best books I've read this year; possibly one of the best books I've read in five or six years. Egan's Pulitzer-winning puzzle box of connected mini-narratives swirling around a few key figures working in the music business made me want to immediately re-read it, possibly constructing flowcharts and diagrams as I went. There is no single plot, no narrative through-line, but somehow the book didn't need it. Each new chapter is a new point of view, a new character, someone who follows along from a tenuous connection with the previous chapter, possibly in a totally different timeline. Egan never spoon-feeds you the temporal setting, forcing you to infer the date each vignette takes place on by contextual clues, occasionally interjecting nuggets that show you a character's fate twenty years down the road. My book club read this, and in discussing it we kept exclaiming over a little bit that we'd forgotten about, or one particular chapter that really spoke to us (the chapter told in flowchart graphics is particularly inspired), and we all agreed it was a fantastic read that we didn't want to end. My only gripe was that a few of the chapters set in the near future got a little preachy and obvious. But it's a very small gripe....more
Last fall I read a fairly comprehensive book about hoarding, "Stuff" by Randy Frost and Gail somebody (it's on my read shelf if you're interested), whLast fall I read a fairly comprehensive book about hoarding, "Stuff" by Randy Frost and Gail somebody (it's on my read shelf if you're interested), which was excellent and informative. This one is more how-to, more practical, and much more -- shall we say, casual? It's written by Matt Paxton, who became what passes for famous from being frequently featured with his company Clutter Cleaners on the A&E show "Hoarders." Matt is pretty awesome on the show, pragmatic and empathetic, and he knows whereof he speaks. His company specializes in cleanups for hoarders of all stages, so he brings a lot of from-the-trenches wisdom. He is careful to remind everyone that he isn't a therapist or a professional organizer, but he's been around the block with a lot of hoarders throughout their recovery process and he's gotten a lot of firsthand knowledge and insight as to how the problem works and how best to attack it.
Paxton uses specific case histories to illustrate how hoarding happens, how it progresses, and how best to approach a cleanup. The book is fairly simplistic and sometimes a little too happy-shiny. Paxton is careful to speak so positively about everything, it's almost impossible to imagine being able to actually be like that when confronted with the horrific conditions and behaviors he encounters day in and day out as we've seen him do on TV.
It was a passable, quick read. Not as informative as "Stuff" but with a certain practical appeal....more
Organic chemistry isn't known for its fascinating mass appeal. I ought to know, I am an organic chemist myself. But this book was rather fascinating,Organic chemistry isn't known for its fascinating mass appeal. I ought to know, I am an organic chemist myself. But this book was rather fascinating, and it was written by two organic chemists! Will wonders never cease.
The premise is to examine seventeen molecules (or really, more accurately, groups or classes of molecules) and their impact on history. That impact is sometimes rather extreme. We all know that salt has played a huge role in world history, but did you know that fabric dyes helped usher in the Industrial Revolution?
This was a fast read for me. The authors spend a not-insignificant amount of page space on quick tutorials to enable non-chemists to understand the chemical structures they present, which I could sort of skip over. But the history was mostly new to me. The writing was pretty pedestrian but served its purpose, and I learned a lot....more
I'm not entirely sure what I thought of this book. On the one hand I loved the world that Grossman built, how it wasn't simple, how it wasn't neat andI'm not entirely sure what I thought of this book. On the one hand I loved the world that Grossman built, how it wasn't simple, how it wasn't neat and tidy in the way that a lot of fantasy is. On the other hand, I felt that some narrative underpinning was missing. The whole plot felt a little scattershot, there were too many sudden-and-inexplicable mood swings on the part of the narrator, and it read too much like a pastiche. Grossman, who wrote the best article about fanfiction and its value I've ever read, is clearly a fanboy himself (it isn't just anybody who casually drops the word "cosplayer" into his prose) and probably a former fanfiction author; the book reads like a thinly veiled Narnia/Potter crossover, which isn't a problem for me, in fact I loved that about it. He clearly has more books planned since this was sort of the origin story, but this book itself lost its way a few times. I still really enjoyed it, though....more
Average. Average, average, average. I didn't dislike this book. I didn't like it. If the color beige could be a book, it'd be this book. This is the MAverage. Average, average, average. I didn't dislike this book. I didn't like it. If the color beige could be a book, it'd be this book. This is the Muzak of books.
Three sisters return home to the small college town where their professor father and housewife mother live because their mother has cancer. Well, two return, one never left. Cordelia, the flighty hippie, unexpectedly pregnant, and Bianca, New York urbanite fired for embezzlement, show up with tails between their legs while Rose, the overbearing One Who Handles Things, resists the chance to move to England with her fiancee. And throughout the book they bump up against each other's idiosyncracies, meet and interact with various men about the small town, deal with their parents, and Learn Important Life Lessons.
The "quirky" bit is that their father's an obsessive Shakespeare scholar who speaks to them in quotes from the Bard, as they also speak to each other. Um...yay? It doesn't mean much to the story. It might just as well have been quotes from Poe or the Bible or the movie "Fight Club." It's all fairly unobjectionable until about the last thirty pages when suddenly the author erupts into paroxysms of cliche as each sister has Meaningful Realizations about herself which are exhaustingly detailed in the internal monologue of the book. The parents are given little to no characterization and everyone else in the book are flat cookie cutouts, especially the men in the sisters' lives, who all seem to be saints (except one). There's nothing remotely "weird" about these sisters. Not even "slightly off."
I gave this three stars instead of two because of one thing: a unique point of view technique I've never seen before. The story is told in typical third-person-limited point of view (the most common one in modern fiction) but the point of view is multiple. It's as if the book is told from the point of view of The Sisters, as a unit, and treats them all equally. The book talks about "our mother" or "our childhood" even while all three sisters are in camera. It's interesting. Pity it wasn't used in the service of a more interesting storyline. It did hold some local interest for me in that the fictional Barnwell College, in Barnwell, Ohio, is described as being an hour from Columbus (where I live). Not that anything unique about Columbus is mentioned. Rose is spoken of as teaching as Columbus University (which doesn't exist)....more
I hated this book. I wouldn’t have finished it were it not for The Project and that I needed it for the tally.
I have a longtime fascination with forenI hated this book. I wouldn’t have finished it were it not for The Project and that I needed it for the tally.
I have a longtime fascination with forensic science (which I had way before it was cool and popular, I feel compelled to point out) and studied it for a short time in graduate school, so pop-science books about it are usually a fun read. One of my favorites of the genre is Dead Men Do Tell Tales, by the late William Maples, one of the founders of the science of forensic anthropology.
This book promised an inside look at the life of a real crime scene analyst and her adventures. What we got were some drawn-out, not terribly interesting anecdotes with no beginning, middle or end, related by an extremely unpleasant narrator who seems to have nothing but contempt and disdain for everyone who isn’t her. She writes her “adventures” as if she’s writing a sitcom script starring herself as the cleverest, most snarky ones, giving herself all the best smartass lines. I say “best” with tongue in cheek, but she isn’t very funny, but clearly thinks she is.
The book is also rife with egregious editing errors. Three times the word “hoards” is used when “hordes” is intended. The tone is offensive, there are long tangents into things I don’t care about (such as her mother’s superstitiousness and – no kidding – the toilet habits of pretty much everybody Kollman knows), and based on the slapdash way she seems to have gone about her job I’ll be amazed if she ever gets another one once people read this book.
There’s an old metaphor about frogs and boiling water. The saying goes that if you toss a frog into boiling water, it’ll jump right back out, but if yThere’s an old metaphor about frogs and boiling water. The saying goes that if you toss a frog into boiling water, it’ll jump right back out, but if you put a frog into cold water and gradually heat it up, the frog will let itself be boiled alive because it doesn’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late. Well, I am that frog, and this book was the water.
In a post about a week ago I said that this book wasn’t particularly compelling and that I was just getting through it to make it to Portnoy’s Complaint. And it starts out pretty innocuously. A girl named Lucy Nelson hates her alcoholic father, who can’t seem to be responsible, resents her mother for staying with him, and passes judgment on everyone around her including her beloved grandfather and grandmother, at whose house she and her parents live. The situation worsens as Lucy grows up, is impregnated by and marries Roy Brassart, and embarks on family life.
Lucy is for certain self-righteous all along, but as the story goes on and her personality becomes more and more polarized, I started to think damn, you cannot win with this woman. Her husband is batted around in the eddies of her anger and moral outrage. No one is safe from her judgment, and anyone who displeases her is unceremoniously cut off and declared an evil person. It isn’t until the final twenty or so explosive pages that we see how deranged Lucy has truly become.
Roth has been accused many times of misogyny. I don’t like to assign agendas to authors, I’d prefer for them just to show the characters they’re showing in all their flawed, crazy glory, but it bears mentioning that Lucy is Roth’s only female protagonist in thirty-nine novels, and his female characters rarely come off very well. Then again, not many of the male characters come off very well, either....more
This book was released in 1969. At the time, it was hugely controversial, and it’s not hard to see why as it is when one reads some formerly controverThis book was released in 1969. At the time, it was hugely controversial, and it’s not hard to see why as it is when one reads some formerly controversial novels with the eyes and sensibilities of today (ever read Peyton Place? Not so shocking). Some sections of this book definitely made me go “DAY-um.” Steeped in the sexual revolution, this is still Roth’s most famous book even given his forty years of acclaimed output that followed it. Reading his books in order as I am, I’m struck by this sudden shift in tone, as if Roth consciously sat down to write it with a “No More Mr. Nice Writer” attitude. He just let it fly, as does the narrator, with frequency (the frequent and vivid descriptions of masturbation were revolutionary at the time).
The book is a long monologue by the narrator, Alexander Portnoy, centered on his oppressively Jewish childhood and his current life of sexual disinhibition and the conflict that’s engendered in him between these two warring impulses. The book is very raunchy. I don’t like to use words like “filthy” or “dirty” to describe sexual themes because I dislike the equating of sexuality with dirtiness, but if I did use those words, they would be appropriate here. At the same time the book is funny, sometimes screamingly so, and paints such a vivid picture of Portnoy’s life, whipsawing back and forth in time, that one feels they’re living it with him. Portnoy’s parents, the overbearing Jewish mother and marytred father, approach caricature but skate the line with such finesse that one can’t help but believe in them. Made me grateful to have grown up in boring old Protestant Wisconsin, tell you what.
Roth is often accused of misogyny and I can see why. Portnoy’s girlfriend is portrayed as a sex-crazy none-too-bright shikse with ridiculous aspirations to respectability and family. I’m not sure this qualified as misogyny exactly, as there are no doubt women in the world like this. Her character is never blamed upon her, and Portnoy’s inability to deal with it is blamed on nobody but him. And Portnoy described two other women who were important in his life, speaking of them with respect and admiration – although the message is undercut when he all but rapes one of them in the only scene in the novel that made me really uncomfortable. No doubt as was its intent.
There are a lot of books that get banned or protested against that I don’t understand why. This is not one of those books. Doesn’t mean I agree. But I can understand why more buttoned-up people would object to its content....more
I’m a bit of a Titanic buff. I’ve read tons of books about it. It all started in the 8th grade when my advanced English class did a unit about it forI’m a bit of a Titanic buff. I’ve read tons of books about it. It all started in the 8th grade when my advanced English class did a unit about it for no reason I can discern. But I was fascinated, we all were, and that was just about the time that the wreck was discovered by Robert Ballard. And ever since, the Titaniacs (as they’re apparently called), both amateur and professional, have been arguing over how the ship broke up, what sunk it, why did it sink so fast, yadda yadda. When That Movie came out in 1997, Cameron’s depiction of the sinking (a high-angle break, big drama) was reflective of the best theory of the time. But that theory’s been cast into some doubt, largely because of the work described in this book which was done by the two wreck divers whose previous exploits were published in the Shadow Divers books and chronicled on TV on “Deep Sea Detectives.”
Their theory is that weaknesses in the hull caused by newly-designed expansion joints made the ship break in two at a much lower angle than the 45 degrees we tend to think of, as little as 11 degrees, which means the sinking would have occurred extremely fast when the ship was still pretty close to horizontal. Huge pieces of the bottom of the ship (which the divers found among the wreckage) ripped away and the whole thing flooded like gangbusters, taking most people on board by surprise. It’s a much more horrible situation than a high-angle break, wherein everyone could see what was happening.
The book is surprisingly heavy on history, but it’s a section of the ship’s history one doesn’t often see chronicled: its building and the politics around it, and the men who made it possible. I was fascinated by this although not everybody would be. I’d say only 40% of the book was about the current work and the dives to the wreck, and then the investigation. Most of it was history. Relatively little time is spent on the Titanic’s voyage and sinking (we know this ground pretty well already).
I love a book I can read in a day. I love it when I have a day that I can just devote to reading. Not terribly common these days. So thanks for the quick, interesting read, guys....more
I have a keen interest in forensic science and true crime. I studied forensic anthropology for a little while in grad school (and I feel compelled toI have a keen interest in forensic science and true crime. I studied forensic anthropology for a little while in grad school (and I feel compelled to add that I did this before it was The In Thing). My interest in the subject was sparked by a book by Dr. William Maples, one of the founders of the field, called Dead Men Do Tell Tales. Dr. Bass is another of the giants in the field, although Maples’ book is more artful and creative than this one, which is somewhat formless and meandering.
I felt like I’d heard some of these stories before. Given how many books in this field I’ve read, it’s entirely possible that I have, but the similarities between Bass’ career and Maples’ are sometimes striking. Bass is a friendlier narrator than Maples (at times Maples’ ego shines forth like a pair of neon green fuzzy dice hanging from a rearview mirror) but his voice wanders, and he inexplicable gives the same explanations several times in different chapters, almost as if the chapters were written as standalone articles and later compiled, resulting in some repetition of expository information.
His discussion of his work at the so-called Body Farm (actually the Anthropological Research Facility) is actually pretty minimal. Most of the book is about his other cases. I would have liked more insight about the work they’ve done at the facility. My enjoyment of the book (which I read very quickly) was probably impeded by my familiarity with the subject matter; a lot of things that would be interesting and new to a less prepared reader were old hat to me.
It’s an interesting read but at times wearying and repetitive. I’m surprised his co-author didn’t corrall the prose a bit more. Weak, Jefferson. Weak....more