Reading a book long after it's become a cultural touchstone is a mixed blessing. I wouldn't have picked this one up or stuck it out if I didn't have tReading a book long after it's become a cultural touchstone is a mixed blessing. I wouldn't have picked this one up or stuck it out if I didn't have the image of Lorelai Gilmore quietly mocking-yet-mimicking women talking about throwing their shoes over a cliff a la Reese Witherspoon in the movie version of this book. So it's fair to say that I had a lot of preconceptions about this autobiography and its fanbase, some of which were unfair and I'm glad that I read it to put them to rest.
Strayed does know how to turn a phrase. I love her descriptions of the trail, the people she meets, even her own thoughts. This is a very well written book.
It's just not the sort of story I can connect with very well. A woman walks eleven hundred miles to kick a heroin habit, mourn the death of her mother, deal with her abandonment issues, and find herself. With more than a few oblique references to Native American culture and a vague kind of questioning spirituality. That's great and I'm happy for her, but these kinds of books always read to me like the long life stories people tell at dinner parties. I'm left wanting an entry point about why this matters to anyone but her. She makes friends and has crushed, but she never seems to really connect with other people. In the end, even though she's dealt with her issues, she only really seems to change in exactly the ways she was planning to change.
This book wasn't my cup of tea, but it may very well be yours. I'd recommend it to readers who enjoy memoirs, particularly the kind that deal with personal struggles with addiction and cancer. ...more
Connors is at his best describing the natural world and arguing for conservation. He is tedious and often condescending when he describes his lookoutConnors is at his best describing the natural world and arguing for conservation. He is tedious and often condescending when he describes his lookout heroes, whisky related adventures, and dislike of modern convenience. I don't enjoy criticizing memoirs because his experiences and feelings are his own, but all the humble bragging about how little he has to live on out in the wilderness, how difficult most people find the solitude, and how his wife just doesn't understand comes off as extremely self indulgent.
It's unfortunate, because there are a few good passages about hiking and the natural world, but I would not recommend this book. ...more
Because this book centers around the question of conscious it feels more speculative than most nonfiction, but on examination it is just as factual asBecause this book centers around the question of conscious it feels more speculative than most nonfiction, but on examination it is just as factual as you would expect a popular book on octopus to be. Montgomery explores the animal in aquariums and the wild, even as she risks pain and permanent damage to her ears as an amateur scuba diver. The animals are just about as separated from humans on the phylogenetic continuum as it is possible to be, but they are problem solving tool users who like to play and when Montgomery talks about feeling a connection to them, I believe her.
The questions of reason, sentience, and consciousness are relatively subjective, but octopus psychology is fascinating nonetheless. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in nature, science, or marine biology. ...more
The introduction to this book is a great disappointment. Maybe others already knew that Travels With Charley was largely fictionalized, but I somehowThe introduction to this book is a great disappointment. Maybe others already knew that Travels With Charley was largely fictionalized, but I somehow missed that memo. Apparently Steinbeck made up large swaths of his trip across America. I double-checked and the New York Times agrees with Waters, but that's still a hell of a thing to dump on a girl in an introduction. John Waters is destroying America.
To avoid the pitfall of filling with fiction, Waters lets his imagination take the wheel right up front. He presents best and worst case scenarios of who might pick him up as he hitchhikes across the country. In a perfect world it's bank robbers, aliens, sideshow circuses, long dead friends, and drug dealing fans. The good rides are all love, drugs, and magic bums. In a terrible one it's obsessed fanatics, serial murderers, vegans, and convicted killers he once made fun of who want to tattoo him with his past mistakes. The bad rides are all rain, pain, and humiliation. Having given these two scenarios, the truth is more what you would expect. Long waits by the roadside are followed by bits of good luck. Some people are affected by the experience, like an indie band in a van or a kid in a corvette. Some people don't think anything more of it than a good daily deed, trying to give him money to go with the ride. The vast majority of people drive right on by.
So maybe John Waters is America, a shitty, corrupt, drug addled fantasy of freedom followed by dreary, rain-soaked reality. Still, there is something weird and wonderful about the contradictions in this book. The way he owns his privilege and is perfectly willing to phone a friend or his assistant, but is still so committed to his adventure is charming. And he does manage to make it across the country depending on the kindness of strangers.
This book has plenty to appeal to any fan of adventure journalism, but of course fans of the filmmaker are likely to get the most out of it. I've seen a few of his movies, but there were a number of references that went right past me. Waters' style makes it easy enough to follow the story around those sorts of details, and it's a journey worth taking. ...more
Of course I borrowed this book from the library only to reach the end and find out that it was a fund raiser for the organization. So now I feel awfulOf course I borrowed this book from the library only to reach the end and find out that it was a fund raiser for the organization. So now I feel awful and will probably look into buying a copy.
It is a very short travel diary, but it was a very short trip. There is no way to be as comprehensive as In A Sunburnt Country. Bryson is great at small doses, though, and it's an excellent short work. ...more
History isn't written by the victor, it's written by the most kick ass wife on the winning side. Seriously, just about the only name associated with tHistory isn't written by the victor, it's written by the most kick ass wife on the winning side. Seriously, just about the only name associated with the Northwest Passage that I knew before reading this book was John Franklin's. It turns out that he didn't travel the furthest or suffer the most in the arctic ice, while he was a great adventurer, there is no proof that he ever even found a Northwest Passage. At most, he died in the vicinity of one. Luckily, he had an incredible wife who ensured that he got plenty of posthumous credit and a lyric in a folk song or two.
As for Parry, Ross, and McClintock, they have their stories told as well. With far less shady cannibalism and Inuit abuse, I actually prefer their stories to Franklin's. Yet because of his disappearance, Franklin remains the most romantic character of all. From what I've read, I think that might have pleased him.
This is a very well put together history of the British exploration of the arctic. I recommend it for anyone who likes British Naval Histories. You know who you are. ...more
A series of accounts from North Korean refugees, this book is one of the best pictures of life inside the dictatorship that I have ever encountered. AA series of accounts from North Korean refugees, this book is one of the best pictures of life inside the dictatorship that I have ever encountered. At turns heartbreaking, funny, and fascinating the stories are intimately relatable.
While this book was about large waves--Tsunami, Freaks, and Rogues--it was more about the ways humans relate to these giants. Therefore, about half ofWhile this book was about large waves--Tsunami, Freaks, and Rogues--it was more about the ways humans relate to these giants. Therefore, about half of the book was about surfers and surf culture which I did not find anywhere near as interesting as the physics and oceanography attempting to explain the existence of these waves or the historical and economic impact of such beasts. Big waves are very interesting, and by association people who work impossibly hard to put themselves into life threatening situations with those waves are interesting, but I'm not sure every other chapter of the book needs to be a surfer story.
I do recommend this book for people interested in the ocean, but I wouldn't blame you if you felt like skipping every other chapter. The grisly injuries, inherent sexism, and brah-hood of the sport are a little tough to swallow. ...more
This beautiful book allows the reader to travel around all fifty states with Stephen Fry, friendly foreigner. Full of wit, history, points of scientifThis beautiful book allows the reader to travel around all fifty states with Stephen Fry, friendly foreigner. Full of wit, history, points of scientific interest, points of regional interest, and just generally interesting facts, this is so much more than the accompaniment for a television series. A few pages for each state may seem like too little, especially for places like Missouri where most is given over to the homeless of St Louis, but Fry finds something to love almost everywhere. Of course, it is almost more entertaining when he hates something and rends it with the rapier of his wit, but that happens surprisingly infrequently.
Happily, this book makes a point that I wish would be expressed in the media more often. Namely, that America is vast. In Fry's words, "it is almost as meaningless to call someone American without specifying their state as it is to call them European without specifying their country." Which is so very, very true, and something that I don't think people often appreciate. I like to hope that Americans are unlike enough that painting us with the same brush is a disservice. Here Fry makes that point without setting out to make any particular point and documenting as he goes. It is very entertaining. Excuse me, I need to try to find the television series now. ...more
A very basic history of warfare in Japan, what sets this book apart are the light historical examples of battles and great warriors. It is one thing tA very basic history of warfare in Japan, what sets this book apart are the light historical examples of battles and great warriors. It is one thing to mention the Cloud Cluster Sword, and it's another to tell the story of Susano-o rending it from the dragon's tail. This book gives the reader plenty of myth and just enough names and dates. I liked it. ...more
Every man is the hero of his own story, but Adelstein's tale is a fall from grace. He starts out as a very sympathetic young gaijin reporter who getsEvery man is the hero of his own story, but Adelstein's tale is a fall from grace. He starts out as a very sympathetic young gaijin reporter who gets a salary-man job from Yomiuri--one of the most prestigious newspapers in Japan. He ends up being compared to the Yakuza crime boss who tried multiple times to kill him by one of the Yakuza's mistresses with whom Adelstein is having an extramarital affair. Parts of this book physically disgusted me. Parts of this book were a fascinating depiction of aspects of Japanese culture, politics, and life that aren't usually available to foreign readers.
Read at your own risk, it's true-crime in a very Law and Order: Special Victims Unit kind of way. ...more
Africa, apparently, is not the easiest place to live. William Kamkwamba's story doesn't start out a unique one. There's poverty, good humor, culturalAfrica, apparently, is not the easiest place to live. William Kamkwamba's story doesn't start out a unique one. There's poverty, good humor, cultural descriptions, and a dictator I have never heard of. Malawi could be any country in Africa, and he could be any boy telling the story of his family. I am well aware that this feeling makes me one of the mass of moronic Americans, but IR is not a particular interest of mine and the first half of this book is not something I would normally pick up.
Of course, then he saves the day with Electrical Engineering.
A normal boy's response to a horrible famine is not to build a windmill generator. It takes a special kind of intellect to find a couple of physics books in a disorganized local library and realize that electric-powered irrigation would keep his father's farm from being so dependent on the weather. Kamkwamba's goals are so modest; he wants light and the ability to pump water. More than that, his obvious love of makeshift building is absolutely inspiring. Kamkwamba is a born tinkerer with a love of learning and a truly scientific approach to inventing.
The media attention his windmill earned is by no means an after thought. Being sponsored allowed Kamkwamba to go back to school, something his father could no longer afford after the 2002 famine. It also helped him get real building supplies and assist his family and friends in their own difficulties. However, the outside assistance seems unnecessary for his real triumph. He set out to build an electrical generator and, to quote his first TED talk which brought him international attention "I try, and I made it."
An awesome story of perseverance, intelligence, and adaptability for the inspiration of anyone who's ever wanted something. ...more
John Steinbeck is a great (the greatest?) American author, so it necessarily follows that his book about traveling around the United States thinking aJohn Steinbeck is a great (the greatest?) American author, so it necessarily follows that his book about traveling around the United States thinking about the notion of nation would be amazing. In fact, I find this book literally amazing when it comes to the nature of Steinbeck's America. This has been told to me before, but things were really, really different in 1960. I don't just mean the few short pages where he goes to Louisiana to see Ruby Bridges as a live reenactment. I mean that he is impressed/regretful of the development of the highway system. Like, highways are a shiny new idea. His description of 'progress' is something I so completely take for granted that I can hardly fathom his needing to adjust to it.
But of course the book is amazing for other reasons. The beautiful, resonant description of scenery; the friendly frankness with which other people are addressed; the excellent truck that carries him on his journey: any of these are enough to make the book well worth reading. Although the most astonishing part of the book is Charley. Charley is Steinbeck's dog. In a lesser way, this whole book is about Charley. And Charley lives to the end of the book.
That's right. It took Steinbeck to do it, but someone once wrote a book about a dog without killing it off. Excellent. ...more
The interwoven stories of two migrant workers and the family history of a Chinese-American journalist might be a very intimate tale; it is a very persThe interwoven stories of two migrant workers and the family history of a Chinese-American journalist might be a very intimate tale; it is a very personal narrative. Yet the scope of this book is as broad as the middle kingdom itself. Discussion of Chinese history plays off modern global economics which flows seamlessly into societal norms and the changing role of women in modern culture. Everything is discussed so easily within the much smaller story of the lives of three women.
Learning my family story also changed the way I saw the factory towns of the south. There was a lot to dislike about the migrant world of Min and Chunming: the materialism, the corruption, the coarsness of daily existence. But now there was an opportunity to leave your village and change your fate, to imagine a different life and make it real.
Perhaps China during the twentieth century had to go so terribly wrong so that people could start over, this time pursuing their individual courses and casting aside the weight of family, history, and the nation. For a long time I thought of Dongguan as a city with no past, but now I realize it isn't so. The past has been there all along, reminding us: This time--maybe, hopefully, against all odds--we will get it right.
Weighty without being forceful, detailed without getting bogged by minutia, and lyrical without pretension, this book is a beautiful discussion of a changing China. ...more
Ten things I learned from Generation Kill that I really should have known already:
10.) A shamal is a wind blowing over Iraq and the Persian Gulf thatTen things I learned from Generation Kill that I really should have known already:
10.) A shamal is a wind blowing over Iraq and the Persian Gulf that can cause horrible dust storms. The resulting weather can make things like driving, sleeping in the open, and not getting putrid, red eye infections difficult.
9.) Sabka is a geological phenomenon particular to the Middle East which appears to be plain desert, with a crust of sand about an inch thick, but beneath that crust is quicksand made of tar. This can make things like driving Humvees and not getting ambushed harder to accomplish.
8.) Recon Marines are the hard core--like Special Forces in the Army, or SEALs for the Navy. A Recon Marine can hold his breath for four minutes. He can run ten miles in 150lbs of gear. A Recon Marine doesn't do push ups, he pushes the earth down. He is swift, silent and deadly. Usually he operates in small autonomous groups away from senior officers. He is not, however, generally trained to drive a Humvee around playing cowboy with up to seventy other vehicles. He probably doesn't even have a military operators license for a Humvee.
7.) Light Armored Reconnaissance battalions are trained for just that type of mission. There were LAR battalions available at the time of the Iraqi invasion.
6.) Guess who was tasked with driving a caravan of Humvees into ambush after ambush as a distraction from the main invasion force. Hint: Mattis' radio call sign is "Chaos" because he's wily and unpredictable.
5.) Any number of the tragic civilian deaths that occurred during the invasion were probably in line with the ever shifting, rarely clear Rules of Engagement.
4.) Rumsfeld's idea of Maneuver Warfare--using speed and agility instead of overwhelming force--was completely contrary to the established military wisdom.
3.) Maneuver Warfare is a brilliant way to destroy a country as long as you don't care what happens next.
2.) The lack of supplies for troops wasn't just a matter of not having batteries for NVGs, no body armor, or the cammo for a MOPP suit being forest instead of desert. A company of reservists were actually forced to work for food--taking escort duty for other convoys in exchange for MREs and other basic supplies--in the middle of the invasion.
1.) All war is a crime, but that doesn't make every warrior a criminal.
And that's just the stuff I learned that I really, really should have known already. Even if you did pay more attention than I do to the war abroad and the invasion of Iraq, you should still read this book. It is a well told story, well detailed, human, and interesting. ...more