It did take me 4 months to read this book, mainly due to the fact that nothing made me want to pick it up for 3.5 of those months.
When I started readi...moreIt did take me 4 months to read this book, mainly due to the fact that nothing made me want to pick it up for 3.5 of those months.
When I started reading this book I was hoping for a rip roaring adventure of some kind, since this is the first in a highly acclaimed series. Well, this one seems to be the less loved of the series, and for good reason. Whatever ties this has to the rest of the series, it doesn't quite pull off the urgency required to keep this reader's attention rapt.
I liked the story fine, and the characters are all interesting (to a point), and the one nighttime chase scene is quite unnerving, but as a whole it all feels rather... underdone, like a pie that hasn't been cooked quite long enough. There's this feeling of the story going somewhere, going somewhere, going somewhere... oh, we're there and it's over? Well... that was... something. And the writing just feels labored and uninspired.
So while it may set up whatever follows in the next four books, it certainly is a bit of a letdown.(less)
Honestly I'm only just finishing up the last couple of stories in this book, a couple of years now after I had started the book. Only one was good eno...moreHonestly I'm only just finishing up the last couple of stories in this book, a couple of years now after I had started the book. Only one was good enough for me to want to reread, and the rest were quick enough to finish up easy enough. Since this is essentially an anthology, I'll do my thing and point out the stories that I think are worth pointing out!
The Mist I remember reading this in preparation of watching the movie (I have the need to read the book before watching the movie whenever possible). I remember liking the story for what it is: an increasingly tense standoff between people and mostly unseen creatures. It ends on quite the unsettling note. The movie ends on an equally devastating but more upbeat note. Go figure.
Mrs. Todd's Shortcut I really liked this one because it starts out so normal and then gets creepier and creepier. Sure, it's about a shortcut through the woods to shave off some time from a long drive but damn if it isn't the most skin-crawling kind of hidden world to drive through.
The Word Processor of the Gods The best in what-if scenarios: what if what you typed on the computer came true? Sure there are other versions of this, but it's still a fun little read.
The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands This is the story I reread. I really liked it the first time, and I liked it again the second time around. And the third! For some reason this story just captivates me. It's a story about a club that shares stories (they pop up again in Different Seasons) and the tale told here is an intriguing story that kind of sneaks up on you.
The rest of the stories vary, but like with any collection I'd suggest giving them all a spin. All except the 'Milkman' ones. Those are just kinda strange. (less)
Read this on a recommendation by a friend. A light, quick read, it's funny if you're not easily offended. Takes an alphabetical look at manliness (ex:...moreRead this on a recommendation by a friend. A light, quick read, it's funny if you're not easily offended. Takes an alphabetical look at manliness (ex: A is for Ass-kicking, P is for Pirates, etc.)It enjoys stomping on the fine line between politically incorrect satire and just flat out political incorrectness. (less)
Indispensable guide to Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose. It provides translations for the untranslated bits and pieces (and there are lots and...moreIndispensable guide to Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose. It provides translations for the untranslated bits and pieces (and there are lots and lots of untranslated bits and pieces), as well as giving brief paragraphs on the people, places, events, and/or allusions that are referred to throughout the novel.
It does get tiring after a while having to flip to the book so that you can understand yet another Latin or what-have-you phrase or sentence or paragraph, and reading the different paragraphs about different subjects can slow the momentum of the book, but for someone like me (who likes to delve into subjects in this thumbnail sized manner) it can be quite a lot of fun. Tiring and annoying after a while, but still fun.
I wish there were others of these guides for Eco's books, but this seems to be the only one of its kind.(less)
This is a great overview of the Transit of Venus phenomenon.
It's a slim book and a quick read but it more than ably covers the science and history beh...moreThis is a great overview of the Transit of Venus phenomenon.
It's a slim book and a quick read but it more than ably covers the science and history behind the twice-every-120-years event. I had planned to read at least 3 or 4 books about the Transit of Venus in time for this year’s (2012) happening but this one was so concise explaining everything that I got tripped up in the second book with its confusing explanations, so much so that I just put the other books aside until the transit occurred. I will get back to those other books someday but I highly recommend this one for the quick, clear, and entertaining read that it is.
Best takeaway fact: Edmond Halley, of Halley's comet fame? He basically invented actuarial tables, without which insurance companies wouldn't have been born. Why is that the best takeaway fact? Because it was a recent Jeopardy! answer, which I was able to correctly 'question' because I had read this book!
And really, isn't being right on Jeopardy! the sole reason for learning anything nowadays?(less)
I've enjoyed all the articles this series has had to offer because it gives me the chance to read about far ranging subjects that I normally wouldn't...moreI've enjoyed all the articles this series has had to offer because it gives me the chance to read about far ranging subjects that I normally wouldn't come across since I can't read all the science magazines out there. This collection includes 25 articles from 14 publications, the top contributor being Scientific American with 6. In place of reviewing the book as a whole, I'll point out the articles that interested me the most:
Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore by Natalie Angier A neurolinguistic look at why we cuss.
My Bionic Quest for Bolero by Michael Chorost A man who lost his hearing chronicles his quest to hear his favorite piece of music again, just as he remembers it, this time with the help of electronic aids.
Buried Answers by David Dobbs My favorite piece, a look at the decline of the autopsy and why they are vitally important to everyone.
The Mummy Doctor by Kevin Krajick Fascinating look at what happens to all those mummies that have been unearthed.
Are Antibiotics Killing Us? by Jessica Snyder Sachs A reminder that not all bacteria are bad for us.
Remembering Francis Crick by Oliver Sachs My first encounter reading anything about the famous scientist.
Buried Suns by David Samuels An interesting, if not entirely clearly written article about the roughly 1000 nuclear explosions that took place in the Nevada desert, and the people behind them.(less)
Slowly but surely I'm catching up on all the volumes I've missed in this series. This entry is a little on the lean side, which is also reflected in t...moreSlowly but surely I'm catching up on all the volumes I've missed in this series. This entry is a little on the lean side, which is also reflected in the shortness of a lot of the article collected here. I liked that almost every article was a relatively quick read but after quickly finishing the book I felt a little sad that it was over so soon. A small quibble to be sure since the articles are still as informative and entertaining as always.
And as always, I'll point out the articles that I found most interesting. A lot of the ones I don't point out are just as interesting but the topics they cover are of the usual suspects variety inherent to these anthologies.
Genesis of Suicide Terrorism by Scott Atran The Cousin Marriage Conundrum by Steve Sailer These two articles cover very different topics but they share a similar theme: the difficulty of defining seemingly simple concepts and how those concepts can be perceived in vastly different ways by different cultures.
We're All Gonna Die! by Gregg Easterbrook Funny yet realistic listing of the top ten ways the earth faces possible annihilation.
Far Out Television by Garrett G. Fagan Interesting look at how legitimate archaeology is being pushed aside by pseudoarchaeology in popular television programs for the sake of entertainment. Even more interesting is the fact that this article is nearly 10 years old and the number of these programs (and the channels to accommodate them) have exploded.
Desperate Measures by Atul Gawande Explores how common lifesaving medical procedures used today are rooted in an experimentally bold past that is no longer possible.
The Bloody Crossroads of Grammar by Geoffrey Nunberg Showcases how proscriptive grammar can lead the self-righteous to attack not only perfectly understandable sentences but also to further their own political agendas.
Ask the Bird Folks by Mike O'Connor This has to be the funniest article not just of this volume but of any in the entire series. These are pickings from the author's ongoing column answering questions about birds, and his answers are just as hilarious as they are informative. I especially like his answer to that old canard about rice being bad for pigeons.
Where Have All the Lisas Gone? by Peggy Orenstein This is a really interesting look at the strange cultural phenomenon of how baby names fall in and out of popularity.
Through the Eye of an Octopus by Eric Scigliano Octopuses (not octupi, as much as we'd like it to be that) are really very smart animals. Personally, I think they're a little creepy because of their beaks...
Parallel Universes by Max Tegmark Inevitably there's a physics article in these anthologies, and just as inevitably these articles fly way WAY over my head. They confuse, frustrate, and irritate me to no end but I never skip them because I can at least say I gave it a try. This one isn't as impenetrable as most but it still manages to boggle the mind. Suffice it to say: Other worlds aren't just possible, they're probable.
In Click Languages, an Echo of the Tongues of the Ancients by Nicholas Wade This taps right into my interest in language and language history. I know nothing about click languages so this was really interesting and informative. Also has quite the 'punny' final sentence.(less)
I could read 100 of these kinds of books precisely because of the information they contain, information that was certainly left out from what was requ...moreI could read 100 of these kinds of books precisely because of the information they contain, information that was certainly left out from what was required reading in high school and college.
I read this very quickly because the information itself was incredibly interesting, not to mention that the writing was smart enough to leave any rhetorical flourishes behind--it was straightforward but never boring.
I won't even try to summarize what the book says but everyone should read this as a correction or update to the many myths and misconceptions about what life was like in the Americas before the "Old World" came knocking on the door. The book gives you the facts (to replace the legends) and explores new (new in the sense that most people haven't heard about it yet even if some of it is 50 years old) theories and the data (scientific, archeological, biological, etc) that backs it up. At the very least this book proves that the large cultural assumptions that have taken hold in popular culture have been rooted in misinformation and distortion.(less)
This is a fascinating, if at times frustrating, history about the study and eventual decipherment of most of the ancient Maya writing system. This isn...moreThis is a fascinating, if at times frustrating, history about the study and eventual decipherment of most of the ancient Maya writing system. This isn't a negative review, but it is one that complains about some drawbacks to an otherwise informative and entertaining book.
Coe is the best and worst person to write this book: best because he is one of the experts in the field, and worst for the very same reason. The story is extremely interesting but he gets in the way too often to supply personal anecdotes or opinions that could have been relegated to footnotes or altogether cut out to streamline the narrative. The material is interesting in its own right so there's no risk that it would be bland without the color commentary.
Coe also tries to juggle a lot of history and fumbles a lot. He presents a lot of names, sketching out biographies when he deems it necessary which sometimes confuses things since he foreshadows or alludes back to people, dates, and events that he may or may not have detailed in full quite yet so that the reader may be confused about a sequence of events or whatnot.
I think the read is worth the effort, though, and if the subject calls to you, you will be able to brave the jungle of this particular text. This is the first book by Coe I have read, but it won't be the last.(less)