This audiobook grew repetitive, I thought, and I found that I really didn't care that much what happened to Mrs. Astor or her son. About a quarter way...moreThis audiobook grew repetitive, I thought, and I found that I really didn't care that much what happened to Mrs. Astor or her son. About a quarter way through, I gave up. (less)
Picked up in Cambridge. Nice light reading for plane trip home and by the bedside. Mostly in form of tidbits in brief sections. Some interesting secti...morePicked up in Cambridge. Nice light reading for plane trip home and by the bedside. Mostly in form of tidbits in brief sections. Some interesting sections on use of "you," naming conventions and kinship terms, and use of pronouns. Sociolinguistics light.(less)
I wasn't expecting much from this lightweight approach to travel, but surprisingly I found quite a bit to think about in Weiner's humorous travelogue....moreI wasn't expecting much from this lightweight approach to travel, but surprisingly I found quite a bit to think about in Weiner's humorous travelogue. Part wry philosophy lecture, part personal musing, Weiner sets off on a rather idiosyncratic quest: to visit the reputedly happiest (or unhappiest) places on earth to see if he can find what, exactly, makes people happy. His journey takes him to places as diverse as Iceland, Bhutan, and Dubai, and as he progresses, he delves ever more deeply into the scientific research on happiness but also explores his own persona (a self-admittedly grumpy one) and what happiness might mean for someone like him.
As the self-appointed president of the Royal Society for the Advancement of Curmudgeons, this grumpy approach went over well for me. Weiner seems like a man comfortable with his flaws, but not content to simply let things be, either. He probes and ponders, and the reader (or at least this one) begins to do the same. (less)
Douglas Preston and co-author Mario Spezi undertook their own investigation into an unsolved string of ser...moreThe Dark Side of ItalyorAn Innocent Abroad
Douglas Preston and co-author Mario Spezi undertook their own investigation into an unsolved string of serial killings -- seven couples brutally murdered in near-identical fashion in a period beginning in 1968 and stretching up to 1985. Spezi, a journalist who first caught wind of the case, is its most noted chronicler and was responsible for the appellation, "The Monster of Florence" to describe the killer.
The first half of the book reads like a straightforward true-crime novel, with descriptions of the seven ritualistic killings in all their gory detail. The killer stalked amorous young couples and would single out those parked or camping out in the countryside. Particularly striking were signature mutilations to the female victims.
The lovely Tuscan countryside thus became the scene of some of Italy's most brutal homocides, an irony not lost on Douglas Preston, who inadvertently rented a farmhouse near one of the sites of the earlier killings. Preston meets and befriends Spezi, ultimately becoming engrossed in the Monster Killings himself. It is through Spezi's eyes that the first half of the book is told -- though there are many forays into the numerous major criminal investigations undertaken by the Italian crime units.
The most notable aspect of the first half of the book is how vast the hunt for the Monster was -- and how often it obviously went off course. Thousands were involved in the investigation, and more than a dozen suspects arrested but eventually released. The plot twists and turns fantastically, and if it weren't true, it would almost seem too fantastic. By the time Preston met Spezi and became fascinated by the case, the trail seemed to have gone cold.
Despite the descriptions of the Monster's depraved killings in the first half of the book, it's the second half that is truly chilling. For here Preston and Spezi become victims of a sort themselves, as the investigation takes a truly bizarre turn. The Italian justice system, it seems, has peculiar characteristics, and in particular a judge involved in the case, Guiliano Mignini, goes on a (literal) witch-hunt. Mignini and a local investigator, Guittari, have their own pet theory about the monster: that the killings are the work of a secret group of satanists who have members in very high places.
At first Mignini and Guittari's theory seems laughable -- the "evidence" consists of little more than the rantings of a half-wit and a two liars -- but as Preston and Spezi find out, questioning the judge brings them within his sights, and they soon find themselves under suspicion.
As Preston notes, the surreal case built against them feels very much like something out of Kafka's The Trial, but it has the added horror of really happening. A campaign of wiretapping, home searches, arrest, and relentless inquisition ensues, with Spezi brought to trial and Preston forced to leave Italy or face indictment himself. Preston recounts in riveting first-person, for example, his interrogation by the relentless Mignini. This is a harrowing section, as Preston goes from fairly confident (we Americans are, it seems, programmed to assume the innocent will be freed) to the gradual realization that he could, indeed, end up in jail on the slimmest of evidence.
The motivation for this harassment was straight foward: the judge wanted to prevent Preston and Spezi from publishing their book. He had concocted "evidence" that their motive for writing it was to shield the Satanist cult. Ultimately, however, the book is published, and both Preston and Spezi are subsequently cleared. Spezi emerges as the hero of the moment as he single-handedly demolishes the corrupt judge's "case" in court.
Within the second half of the book, Preston and Spezi also come face-to-face with the man they believe is the actual Monster. This is a chilling scene, and, personally, if I'd been in their shoes, I'd have run for cover after the suspect made veiled threats during the interview rather than try to publish it.
All in all, this is an engrossing read, and one that I have to say was personally disillusioning, for I have (like many) a rather romantic view of Italy, bolstered by an idyllic summer I spent there studying in Perugia (Judge Mignini's very own home turf) back in the 70's. This book presents the dark side of Italian character. It explains why, for example, the Italian public was so willing to believe the fantastic "Satanist plot" theory and dismissed the obvious. Preston and Spezi make a very good case -- based on FBI profiling -- that one man was responsible for the killings. (I won't indulge in a spoiler, but will just say that their logic is impressive and has me convinced.) As the book went to press, the Monster was still out there... and Preston, in an interview done afterward for the audiobook, doesn't believe that it's likely he'll ever be brought to justice.
A word on the reader for this unabridged audiobook, Dennis Boutsikaris: on the whole, he did a good job, with one striking exception -- his "Italian" accent, which was so stereotyped and whining that I found myself mentally "erasing" it whenever he (frequently) spoke for one of the Italian characters. You know that goofy commericial, "Momma mia! That-sa spicy meatball!" Well, that was Boutsikaris' version of Italian exactly. Why the publishers let that pass is almost as much of a mystery as the monster. (less)
Good selection of brief articles and short stories. The thing I think I'll appreciate the most as I use this text in my RD 120 ("Reading in Content Ar...moreGood selection of brief articles and short stories. The thing I think I'll appreciate the most as I use this text in my RD 120 ("Reading in Content Areas") class is the way the editors have linked the entries through guided questions and the "Connecting Cultures" section at the end of each unit.
In constructing my syllabus, I elected to pair readings together for contrast or similarity of theme. This means I'm not teaching the text "in order," but it doesn't matter. Each article usually relates to several others elsewhere in the book.
Got this one at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and for the most part I really enjoyed it. This edition has terrific illustrations by Frederick...moreGot this one at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and for the most part I really enjoyed it. This edition has terrific illustrations by Frederick Remington, a TR contemporary.
From this book I got a much clearer sense of a formative part of Roosevelt's life as well as a better understanding of what the West was like some one hundred and twenty years ago, a time when it was still arguably the "Wild West." Roosevelt writes elegantly and admiringly of the people and lifestyle of the Dakota territory, most particularly the cowboys:
"Singly, or in twos or threes, they gallop their wiry little horses down the street, their lithe, supple figures erect or swaying slightly as they sit loosely in the saddle; while their stirrups are so long that their knees are hardly bent, the bridles not taut enough to keep the chains from clanking. They are smaller and less muscular than the wielders of ax and pick; but they are as hardy and self-reliant as any men who ever breathed -- with bronzed, set faces, and keen eyes that look all the world straight in the face without flinching as they flash out from under broad-brimmed hats. Peril and hardship, and years of long toil broken by weeks of brutal dissipation, draw haggard lines across their eager faces, but never dim their reckless eyes nor break their bearing of defiant self-confidence."
It's clear that TR thinks the American cowboy (save for those occasional lapses in "brutal dissipation") to be the embodiment of his ideal of the "strenuous life." He stops short of complete hero-worship, however, and maintains a factual tone when describing the very real dangers and hardships of cowboy life. His own adventures and exploits are related in an endearingly modest way, and he seems almost eager to relate how he falls short of the mark in his four years spent as a rancher.
There are glimpses of TR's understated trademark humor as well, such as when describing the local fauna:
"Of skunks, by the way, we had last year altogether too much; there was a perfect plague of them all along the river and they took to trying to get into the huts, with the stupid pertinacity of the species. At every ranch house dozens were killed, we ourselves bagging thirty-three, all slain near the house, and one, to our unspeakable sorrow, in it."
Which brings me to another aspect of this book: TR's passionate love of the hunt. Now, I have nothing against hunters and for my part only could wish there were more local hunters thinning the local over-abundant deer. Still, it's hard to read accounts of stalking antelope or big-horn sheep when in all my travels out West I've never caught a glimpse of either in the wild, so reduced are their numbers. While TR for the most part only hunted for the meat he needed to sustain himself and his ranch hands, his hunting accounts (which comprise roughly the last third of the book) reminded me of what has been lost -- the vast herds of bison, the massive flocks of passenger pigeons, and all the bounty of the plains, with the most wary of the predators and prey now existing in isolated pockets, their former habitat reduced by the onward march of civilization.
And, for the record, fifteen pages describing the habits of the white goat of the high peaks was really more than I cared to read, though I marveled at TR's powers of observation and his enthusiasm for tracking down this elusive creature. I only wished he'd been armed with a camera rather than a rifle.
Read this book as a key to understanding both TR's character and an iconic period of the United States. It does an excellent job of shedding light on both. (less)
I think it was this reading of The Rivals at age seventeen that disabused me of the notion that people several centuries back were not as fond of bein...moreI think it was this reading of The Rivals at age seventeen that disabused me of the notion that people several centuries back were not as fond of being entertained as we are today. Prior to that, I think I had lumped all things from earlier times into some great, depressing lump, sure that since our predecessors lacked modern conveniences that they must have found life a dreary affair indeed.
Sheridan's sparkling wit and exuberant language made short work of that notion. I've also retained a lifelong affection for Mrs. Malaprop (and, of course, for malapropisms - my own contribution to the genre being, "it is a mere fig newton of your imagination" - but I guess that can't really be a malapropism since it's self conscious. Needless to say, I'm blissfully unaware of any real malapropisms I have committed!)
I seem to have read this immediately after Hamlet. Now there's a contrast for you! (less)
I'm amazed at how much I remember of this novel after some thirty-five years! I think I must have reread it at least once, and I should probably rerea...moreI'm amazed at how much I remember of this novel after some thirty-five years! I think I must have reread it at least once, and I should probably reread it again. I suspect I'll find much more to relate to now than I did at seventeen. (less)
I went on a tear about a decade ago and read a dozen or so Angela Thirkell novels, one after another, something I can barely imagine having the time o...moreI went on a tear about a decade ago and read a dozen or so Angela Thirkell novels, one after another, something I can barely imagine having the time or single-mindedness to do these days. In retrospect, this is my favorite of the the bunch, probably because of its wartime setting. I've always been fascinated by the home front experience in Britain during WWII, the rationing, black-out regulations, children's relocation programs, and other civic programs that were the stuff of everyday life. Aside from that, one of the perennial characters in the series, a young woman, takes center stage and proves to be an engaging (and unexpected) heroine. (less)
Michael Pollan has gained a wide audience these days with his books on food, but long before that he wrote of his novice forays into gardening with gr...moreMichael Pollan has gained a wide audience these days with his books on food, but long before that he wrote of his novice forays into gardening with great humor, ranging over all manner of topics -- everything from why Americans favor lawns and fences, to what constitutes a weed (and why). Pollan is interested in our relationship to nature as revealed in how we garden. Thus, this is a social history as well as a gardening memoir. Pollan has impressive intellectual chops combined with a tart sense of humor. His essay, "Made Wild by Pompous Catalogs" is one of the funniest and on-target pieces of gardening writing I've had the pleasure to read. (less)
Those of us who live in once completely rural areas, or even those who are confirmed city dwellers with a sense of the need for clear boundaries betwe...moreThose of us who live in once completely rural areas, or even those who are confirmed city dwellers with a sense of the need for clear boundaries between rural and urban will find a lot to think about while reading this book. From the edges of her rural community, Holland watches the passage of a way of life as developers buy up local farms and transform them presto chango into "countryside estates," houses which look, as Holland notes, like they're "dropped from the sky." What I especially liked about this book was the way it chronicles on a very personal level the regrets the author feels as this process takes place. It's a sort of quiet requiem for a way of life she has never fully participated in, but admires. From where I sit, across the Potomac River, watching the suburbs creep into Montgomery County's "agricultural preserve", her musings are painfully familiar. But they aren't bleak, which is this book's saving grace. When I finished the book I had a clear, almost intimate feel for the author sitting in her little house on the mountainside, "still there."(less)
A singular quest to explore bath culture in a number of countries famed for their steam baths. At first the author was simply going to research baths...moreA singular quest to explore bath culture in a number of countries famed for their steam baths. At first the author was simply going to research baths prior to opening her own Turkish-style bath in New York, but soon the project took on a much broader scope as she traveled from Paris to Turkey to Greece to Russia to Finland and then on to Japan.
Using baths as a lens on each culture made for surprisingly interesting reading. My one disappointment was that having spent a fair amount of time in steam baths in Budapest, this wasn't one of the places on her itinerary. But her accounts of the "skinship" that women bathers feel in these places really rang true. Baths are indeed great social levellers, and they're also an interesting place to engage in a bit of social anthropology. I was surprised at how fascinating the information on bathing customs in different cultures could be.
Quite entertaining and perceptive. The author undertakes to learn traditional kaiseki, the refined cuisine of Japanese tea ceremonies. She takes the r...moreQuite entertaining and perceptive. The author undertakes to learn traditional kaiseki, the refined cuisine of Japanese tea ceremonies. She takes the reader along as she becomes immersed in Japanese culture. This is a highly personal account that reads like a memoir overlaid with cultural observations -- a nice blend.
I read this book before taking a two-week trip to Kyoto, and it provided some helpful insights into this very traditional city. In particular, it made me determined to seek out some of the food she described, such as the Buddhist vegetarian yudofu cuisine.
A history and social examination of Anglo-American alliances, including the fate of such heiresses as Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston'...moreA history and social examination of Anglo-American alliances, including the fate of such heiresses as Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston's mother), Consuelo Vanderbilt (Duchess of Marlborough), and Nancy Langhorne Astor, who later became the first woman to ever sit in Parliament.
In the manner of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, this book contains a wealth of information about what life was like for the American heiresses (many dubbed 'Buccaneers' after the Edith Wharton novel). Thus, the reader learns what they wore (where, when, designed by whom, costing how much), where they went (including all the details of the social calendar), and whom they met (at court, at the races, at balls, etc.). It's a terrific look at the top strata of the Gilded Age on both sides of the Atlantic, written in a saucy tone but containing some intriguing social observations.
Throughout are ample illustrations, including photos of Gilded Age mansions and many society-page portraits, as well as a "Registry of Heiresses" with pithy bios at the end of the book. My one complaint might be that the scope of the book is a bit scattershot -- it's pretty hard to keep track of all the comings and goings of the major players, which is where the "registry" comes in handy. (less)