**spoiler alert** I had Okey as my creative writing teacher many, many years ago, and enjoyed Arrows of Rain at the time. Maybe it's just that 12 year**spoiler alert** I had Okey as my creative writing teacher many, many years ago, and enjoyed Arrows of Rain at the time. Maybe it's just that 12 years have passed since then, but despite some good moments I didn't enjoy this one nearly as much.
To start with, I think the concept is intriguing, and there's a lot of great cultural exposition to be had. However, the plotting overall is pretty uneven; there are in particular some scenes near the beginning (the cab driving scenes) and when Ike is in the village near the middle/end that don't really move the plot forward and could have been tighter, especially any scene in which he interacts with people he used to know in the distant past. Ike's conflict with Pastor Uka is also unresolved despite a lot of extra exposition about Uka's past that seems to imply that something is going to happen. Maybe Ike's total passivity toward his former life and inability to change anything in the village was part of the point, but it left me slightly frustrated as a reader. Also, the "twist" at the end was pretty obvious. Though there were some very poignant moments throughout, especially near the end, I saw this book more as an educational resource for learning more about the Nigerian experience in America than as a novel in its own right. I also felt as though the style of writing was inconsistent; much of the opening chapters had Okey's unusual and evocative use of language the way he wrote Arrows of Rain, but the later chapters are much more flatly written by comparison; it seems like a manuscript that was worked on piecemeal over time and sat in a drawer for too long before it could be published. Overall, I'd say that Okey has a lot of great life experience that makes for some good stories, but the overall product isn't quite as good as his ambitions, I think. ...more
This is an adequate capsule history of America's most overlooked region, unfortunately written by someone who has never actually lived in the Dakotas,This is an adequate capsule history of America's most overlooked region, unfortunately written by someone who has never actually lived in the Dakotas, since people from the Dakotas with those sorts of academic credentials are few and far between.
Risjord obviously put *some* effort into this book, though after writing histories of Wisconsin and Minnesota he seems a bit tired and often overwhelmed as to how to approach the histories of a place he admits in the introduction to knowing nothing about before he started writing. However, the coverage, while comprehensive, is often incomplete and very uneven. Parts are really great, parts are rushed, and other parts are simply boring the way he covers them....but I think the biggest mistake he tried to make is discussing North Dakota and South Dakota in the same breath. These states are so different from each other that they really needed to be talked about entirely separately past a certain point in the early 20th century; South Dakota is basically a rectangular Wyoming with Mt. Rushmore, less oil, and more Indians, while North Dakota is a weird conservative Scandanavian/Russian German socialist experiment that's culturally more like Minnesota and structurally unlike any other state in the country (it has its own bank, lots of unusual socialist laws on the books from the 1940's, etc.). Though Risjord mentions these differences, I don't feel as though he fully understands them, and it's really to the detriment of the work.
The organization of this book is also very choppy apart from that issue. I feel as though he's jumping around between sources trying to weave a coherent narrative, but he's got a few pieces missing. Proofreading could also use some work. The text is fine, but every single one of his maps is missing the "c" in "Bismarck" - a common error for people who don't actually live in the Dakotas, but one that really wouldn't be hard to spot, or to correct, with a little more diligence. It's a bit embarrassing, really. I also wish he'd used sources beyond texts, which are fairly lacking in a culture founded by farmers, many of whom were illiterate or nearly so until the 20th century, and many of whom, especially in North Dakota, wouldn't have even spoken English at home until after World War II. He needed a lot more emphasis on oral history and travel to historical sites to pull off a comprehensive history of this region, and that's not work that he did.
There are some great stories here, or at least introductions to them; his coverage of things that are more "on the radar" nationally, such as Lewis and Clark and the history of Mount Rushmore, are very well covered; however, these are the things that are enough in the national consciousness that there are plenty of sources. The bits in the middle covering the more obscure or mundane history really degenerate quickly into "so and so explored such and such" or "such and such an election was decided in this way", and those parts really tend to be unmemorable. One gets the feeling that he found the one handful of North Dakota-related sources available at the University of Wisconsin library, drove through North Dakota on I-94 without really stopping much, popped down to Mount Rushmore, and fudged the rest.
Overall, this is a solid effort with scholarly sources, and currently the only history of the Dakotas that exists in-print anywhere. I'm grateful that Risjord tried. However, because conventional historical methods are not ever going to show a complete picture of either Dakota, but especially North Dakota (at least not without some in-person visits to local historical archives that are still very much in the last century), there's a lot of room for a better history to come along someday if someone has the motivation to write it. ...more
A relatively interesting book about the early days of id Software, focusing on the lives of the "two Johns", Romero and Carmack. The book focuses on tA relatively interesting book about the early days of id Software, focusing on the lives of the "two Johns", Romero and Carmack. The book focuses on their early collaborations from the "Softdisk era" of the late 80's and very early 90s through the bankruptcy of Ion Storm in the early 2000's. It does a masterful job of showing how Romero ("the ultimate gamer who could program") and Carmack ("the ultimate programmer who played games") initially worked very well together, but were driven apart by their personalities, resulting in professional disappointment for both once they became estranged. Throughout, it paints a slightly more hyperbolic picture of its subjects than is really appropriate, and Kushner is disproportionately focused on Carmack and Romero's relationship to the degree that some of the id team's early collaborators (especially Bobby Prince, often considered the John Williams of that era of game music composers) are barely mentioned at all. However, it's really the only "official" book that's been written about the early id Software, so for that reason it's still an invaluable read for anyone who grew up with id's games and wants to learn more about the guys behind them. It's a fast, easy read that's written in an engaging tone and full of information from Carmack and Romero themselves that's not available anywhere else. Just expect a little bit of journalistic slant for your trouble. ...more
I really wanted to like this book. Kohn's thesis is that American attitudes toward other peoples' children, and toward children in general, are unneceI really wanted to like this book. Kohn's thesis is that American attitudes toward other peoples' children, and toward children in general, are unnecessarily conservative and punitive. He argues that the media argument that the millennial generation is uniquely spoiled and narcissistic is basically bull; all older generations since Socrates have written negatively about the younger generation because peoples' viewpoints change as they age. He also argues that liberals and conservatives alike practice a very narrow and small-minded definition of parenting that focuses on Darwinian punitive measures "for their own good" instead of providing them with the support they need to be mentally healthy and successful. These are refreshing points. However, that's really as far as I could get in this book before he just started making those same points over and over again, chapter after chapter - this seems more suited to extended article form than to a book. The first two chapters are good, but then he's just stretching out variations of the same theme over and over again, with barely any new content moving the argument forward. I like where Kohn was going with this, but he gets stuck along the way. If he'd done a better job of being concise and stripping out a lot of the redundancy in the middle instead of following the same formula for every chapter, I'd have rated this a lot higher, but the way it is now I couldn't finish it. ...more
This is a book written by two senior faculty at the Arizona State University School of Education and their "associates" (Ph.D students). The profs getThis is a book written by two senior faculty at the Arizona State University School of Education and their "associates" (Ph.D students). The profs get about 10 "myths" each, and their stable of doc students handle the rest. As such, this is a book with close to 30 authors, and as a result it's a very inconsistent reading experience. The essays vary wildly in quality; the best are chiefly in the "general myths" and "myths about college and career readiness" sections, while the worst are undeniably the exclamation point-and-enthusiastically-bias-laden "myths about teachers", which read more like the talking points of an NEA publication than they do objective research. There are also a few examples of simply awful scholarship (e.g. an essay trying to make a point about the modern educational system by using an article written in the 1970's as its primary source); or essays that directly contradict each other (e.g. one of Berliner's early essays argues that PISA scores are bunk, but one of his students later cites them directly as evidence in his argument; which one is it?) Finally, there are instances where it seems as though the profs are just pushing their own opinions rather than citing balanced fact, such as Berliner's far-too-short and inadequately cited article about group work.
Overall, I thought some of this information was relatively useful scholarship, especially when it talks about corporate disinformation campaigns to change public education for the sake of making money (e.g. hyperbole about international competitiveness and STEM graduates). However, it also overall demonstrates the low quality of research that comes out of schools of education; I couldn't help regularly thinking back to Labaree's critiques of ed schools as I read this. The authors' decision to avoid citing all of their sources is also odd, and seems suspicious, as though they're hiding something. While the more solid essays paint a good picture of the 21st century American educational system that anyone with children or who works in education should know about, this is still very much a book that I can't take seriously past a certain point. ...more
This is the sort of novel that lit professors in the 90's liked to force their students to read because it was written by a lit professor in the 90's,This is the sort of novel that lit professors in the 90's liked to force their students to read because it was written by a lit professor in the 90's, ergo, they personally thought it was brilliant. And it's not a bad reading experience per se, but neither is it as amazing as those people seemed to think at the time. Parini is trying way too hard to go for the whole "English Patient" treatment that was en vogue back then: stilted, pseudo-technicolor, hyper-melodramatic arthouse depictions of World War II that all invariably reduced an actual war in which millions of real people died into a melodramatic archetype for generic human struggle......when in reality it was simply because every writer of a certain persuasion at the time produced books like this in the vain hope that Anthony Minghella and his ilk would swoop in and turn their derivative WWII-era period piece into an overrated movie just as was done for Ontdaatje.
However, this book, unlike those books, is based on the life of an actual person. And that's the problem. No matter how many people the author interviewed (and I do give him credit for at least being thorough there), it's still never going to be anything more than conjecture, and unnecessarily stylistic conjecture at that. He even has a note in the back of the book saying that the real Asja Lacis required him to write this disclaimer saying that his version of her was totally fictional and not representative of anyone. If you're not going to bother to be accurate with your characterizations of actual people who existed, why write the book at all? That those characterizations are empty, archetypal, and unnecessarily stylized just makes it worse. But worst of all is the premise itself: why write such an ego-driven work of admittedly speculative fiction about someone who died in horrible physical and mental anguish during one of the worst periods in recent human history, after being driven to suicide because he was about to be shipped off to a concentration camp? It's just exploitative. Leave the poor man in peace. If it were really only about glorifying Benjamin's work that would be one thing, but this book feels like on some level it's disingenuously hoping for Minghella to stop by with a film crew (glory to Jay in the highest)...and that's really just not right.
With that said, I wouldn't know who Walter Benjamin was at all without this book, so at least I learned something from the whole experience of reading it. The quotations of some of Benjamin's work make me want to actually read his philosophy more closely. But I'll skip straight to the source from now on. ...more
This is a book about the pivotal role that the Battle of Antietam played in American history. Like anything else about the Civil War written by McPherThis is a book about the pivotal role that the Battle of Antietam played in American history. Like anything else about the Civil War written by McPherson, the research is excellent and the subject presented engagingly. However, there were several issues in the presentation that kept me from rating it higher. The first and most obvious is that the publisher erroneously markets this book as being about the Battle of Antietam, when most of it is an extended essay detailing events leading up to the battle; the battle itself only gets 2 chapters near the end. It's also somewhat redundant for anyone who has already read McPherson's much longer Battle Cry of Freedom, especially the first half; the events leading up to Antietam are covered very similarly in both works, and it's really only the more detailed part concerning the battle itself that is new. But really what kept me from rating this more highly is the fact that the whole book is severely abbreviated. This is the sort of story that really requires a 900-page book to tell, yet it reads as though McPherson is being constantly hassled by the publisher to hurry up. The introduction by the usually brilliant David Hackett Fischer, really just a commercial for the rest of the series, is another low point, made worse by the fact that because this was the work of a mainstream publisher released in 2002, invariably there's an exasperatingly inappropriate comparison of 9/11 to the Civil War by one of the most eminent historians of our time that just feels absurd. It's things like this that really feel imposed by a publisher who wanted to "jazz up" "boring" history that make the work lose a lot of its appeal for me.
Overall, this book has some interesting information about the Battle of Antietam specifically that isn't in McPherson's longer book and the essay itself has high production values, but I found the publisher's obvious meddling in the presentation to be a major turn-off. You're not really missing much if you just read Battle Cry of Freedom and skip this one. ...more
This is a book that's not quite sure if it wants to be a travelogue, a scientific nature documentary, or a collection of quasi-poetic adjectives aboutThis is a book that's not quite sure if it wants to be a travelogue, a scientific nature documentary, or a collection of quasi-poetic adjectives about mundane experiences, and ultimately settles for being an airy and disjointed collection of flowery prose held together by some gorgeous photography and the author's own overbearing self-satisfaction. Attempts at describing the day to day experience of being on a tiger research expedition are mingled with history of the various species of tiger and more than a few snap judgments about people who happen to disagree with the author, yet none are particularly complete and the entire book feels unfinished and kind of vapid. Ironically, Matthiessen's observations about everyday backwoods Russians circa 2000 (and their disdain for democratic government, among other things) are probably more telling from a modern, "eternal reign of Putin"-era perspective than anything he has to say about tigers; of course, this book being so dated also makes anything he has to say about tigers, most of it taking place up to 25 years ago and all in the present-tense, all the more depressing today.
With that said, Maurice Hornocker's tiger photographs truly deserve praise, and anyone who likes nature photography might want to pick this book up for the right price just for the photos. As an actual reading experience, however, it's fairly marginal, and not for anyone who isn't already a smug, self-satisfied "haute environmentalist" in Matthiessen's mold. ...more
This is, as it says, a book about "recent" grizzly bear attacks and the author's appreciation of grizzlies in general.
On one hand, this book revealsThis is, as it says, a book about "recent" grizzly bear attacks and the author's appreciation of grizzlies in general.
On one hand, this book reveals a lot about grizzlies and their behavior, which makes for interesting reading. I appreciate that the author found and interviewed so many survivors, and his conclusion at the end, that most people who want bears dead have never been attacked by one themselves, is interesting, if unscientific. I certainly learned a lot about bears reading this book.
On the other, the stories are long, repetitive, and unnecessarily preachy. They follow the same formula of "Person went into the woods. Person did something stupid near a bear. Description of person's horrible injuries in excruciating detail after being attacked by a bear. Person's opinion of the whole experience. Author's heavy-handed opinion of conservation issues, often with an unnecessary political bent. Occasional bear puns throughout. Rinse, repeat, and so much for journalistic balance." Quality control is also inconsistent; there are a couple of stories that are very badly written and look as though they were rushed to print without any editorial intervention at all, as well as a couple of stories that don't really fit the formula of the rest. The book is also badly dated, having been released in 1998, and many of the issues discussed, while still relevant, aren't quite the same now as they were then. Worst, however, is the author's aforementioned tendency to go off on thin-skinned political rants about various Republican politicians who suck(ed) at nature; I don't disagree in principle, but in practice it's annoying, distracts from a purely factual argument, and ultimately puts me off because it's so incredibly unnecessary. Every time a liberal whines about something like this, it's just letting the bullies win. Again.
Overall, I'd recommend this book if you want to read more about grizzlies,and especially about what they can do to you if you make them angry (hiking safety in bear country), but otherwise it's not really worth making an effort to track down 15 years later. ...more
The basic gist of this book, written by a British Shakespeare scholar, is that Shakespeare's work is absolutely loaded with bawdy sleight-of-hand wordThe basic gist of this book, written by a British Shakespeare scholar, is that Shakespeare's work is absolutely loaded with bawdy sleight-of-hand wordplay that his audience understood but that modern audiences miss amid all of the other archaic language and the boring, Victorian way that Shakespeare is usually taught in schools. Accordingly, the book largely consists of obscene scene fragments from various plays "translated" into modern English.
First, let me say this: if this aspect of Shakespeare were taught in schools, I can guarantee that thousands of prudish parents would be outraged, outraged, I say!.....but what better way to hold the interest of a teenager than to point out the number of vagina jokes in Romeo and Juliet , probably Shakespeare's dirtiest play, and ironically the one that most often gets taught (incorrectly) in American high schools? (Well, except for maybe Hamlet, which is loaded with references to rape).
With that said, though, this book is seriously flawed in its execution. The scenes are presented out of context pertaining to a topic ("fornication", "balls", "dildos", etc.), so there's really no continuity between sections and finding all of the references for one particular play takes a lot of flipping around. The "translations" are also way too literal and unnecessarily lacking in subtlety, as though the author thinks she needs to spell out everything because we're morons - as such, it destroys any poetry existing in those passages for the sake of being as clearly vulgar as possible - ironic for someone who claims to idolize Shakespeare as much as the author does.
I appreciated that this book refuted all of the uptight political correctness and weird "Earl of Oxford" conspiracy theories that came out of my high school and collegiate Shakespeare education, and that it gives context of the period that's important for understanding the theatrical tradition of Shakespeare's time. If you've read Shakespeare and found it boring and are willing to keep an open mind, this guide to Shakespeare's smutty bits might be useful. Just be prepared for a lot of vulgarity all at once. ...more
In many ways, this book was fascinating, and I appreciate that Grisham used his celebrity to bring attention to this case. However, I think the way GrIn many ways, this book was fascinating, and I appreciate that Grisham used his celebrity to bring attention to this case. However, I think the way Grisham handles this whole story is a double-edged sword, because he compromises objectivity for publicity.
First, though his research is commendably thorough, he editorializes throughout, and the way he does it implies very skillfully that he is right and everyone who disagrees with him is wrong. No doubt most of the way that the case was handled on the part of the authorities was fundamentally in bad faith, but it is hypocritical for Grisham to accuse the authorities of bad faith when he himself writes in a way that is emotionally manipulative and doesn't really give the people in question a chance to tell their "side"....or at the very least seems to have trimmed more of their "side" to fit his narrative that the authorities were incompetent. It's his first nonfiction book, and it's obvious due to his total lack of objectivity.
Secondly, the whole "it could happen anywhere" trope is overwrought. It very clearly DID happen in Oklahoma, and even in the 90's and aughts when capital punishment was a prominent "hot button issue", Oklahoma and Texas were the bottom of the barrel that were just about all that anyone talked about (other than California, which was all politicians bloviating about the "three strikes law" and barely any actual executions). The rest of the country has been moving in the other direction: most other states with the death penalty still on the books haven't actually used it since the 1960's or earlier, and New York and Maryland have abolished theirs in the last decade, with California likely to follow soon. So yes, while all of the elements of this case could happen anywhere (and stupid local cops who think they're Bruce Willis are absolutely eternal), technically speaking it's insulting to Americans generally to claim that the average American of 2006 was likely to accept the same argument for capital punishment, even then, as the average Oklahoman from the 1980's. That's like eating a pack of Smarties and then declaring that all candy tastes terrible; it confuses the low bar with the norm in a way that is fundamentally disingenuous, or at least demands a certain level of ignorance.
Finally, because even Oklahoma had to suspend its executions in 2014 because the EU won't sell us lethal injection drugs anymore and every other method of execution has fallen out of vogue for being cruel and unusual, it's likely that capital punishment in practice is just something that won't happen much from now on, especially now that California's enormous death row has been declared unconstitutional. It's still important for us to document that it DID happen, and Grisham's book is useful history from that perspective, but I hope it will only ever be history. It's a horrifying and powerful story in so many ways, but ultimately the moral I derive as a modern reader is simply, "never live in Oklahoma". ...more
**spoiler alert** I was a philosophy-lit double major who took quite a few electives in South American literature, and I enjoyed Life of Pi, so you'd**spoiler alert** I was a philosophy-lit double major who took quite a few electives in South American literature, and I enjoyed Life of Pi, so you'd think I'd appreciate a book like this. I really didn't. It's mostly because the protagonist is such a self-centered ass. The end of the book gives a very obvious "alternate, realistic explanation" as to why that is, but it still doesn't justify the protagonist abandoning his entire family, especially his kids, to go have an affair with a "sphinx" in Morocco because he caught his wife cheating on him. It's not the kids' fault. The self-centered libertine as archetypal ideal in this kind of artistic, "European-style" fiction (literary or film) really just rubs me the wrong way generally. With that said, the "alternate, realistic explanation" device also really left me cold. I didn't mind it when Martel did it in Pi, but I think that's because he took a device that was essentially invented by Scliar and improved on it. When Scliar does it (version 1.0, if you will), it just comes off as awkward and a bit disappointing. Or perhaps it's because that sort of device can really only be used once before it's no longer novel, and given the "controversy" about Martel having "plagiarized" Scliar, only not, I was kind of expecting to see any device Martel had used in his much better book to show up in this one. In short, maybe it's who I am, but I really didn't find this book to be nearly as wonderful as the critics make it out to be. ...more