If ever you wanted to get a degree in British history, save yourself a few thousand in college tuition and indulge in a couple of Bryson’s tomes—speci...moreIf ever you wanted to get a degree in British history, save yourself a few thousand in college tuition and indulge in a couple of Bryson’s tomes—specifically At Home. Reading it might take the same time as it would to get your degree, but it will almost certainly be more entertaining. Bryson essentially relates the history of Britain, mainly from the Early Modern period, through the domestic lens of the home, examining the ways in which major shifts and events in politics, economy, nature, culture, arts, and sciences ended up influencing various material trends, from the emergence of the dining room as a dedicated eating space to the usage of the salt and pepper shaker.
Bryson bandies about a great many names of inventors, scientists, engineers, architects, artists, dilettantes, explorers, and gadabouts, all of whom played some influence on our modern concept of home and creature comforts. What is even more surprising than some of the inventors and their influence is the obscurity many of them fell into, even within their own lifetimes. Indeed, Bryson almost takes on a tone of somber schadenfreude (which, nonetheless, fails to disguise his vaguely gleeful tone) as he obligingly relates the many ways in which a great many of these famous personalities come to unsatisfactory, if not entirely ignominious, ends.
The strength of Bryson’s work—his ability to pack an astounding number of facts within 497 pages, and to do so in a vividly entertaining manner—is also the drawback: there is simply too much information. His writing is wonderfully, logically tangential—for example, his chapter on “The Study” becomes an extended musing of the rodent population of the world and the development of the mousetrap; “The Staircase” is little more than an absolutely chilling reflection on the number of falling fatalities taking place within a home (seriously, I’m never moving away from my 1-story ranch), and most notably, “The Nursery” briefly meanders into a paragraph that relays the titillating information that not one, but two 19th century prime ministers were “devoted flagellants.” (Melbourne and Gladstone, in case you were wondering.) While all of this makes for fascinating and amusing reading, it also means that, unless you have an eidetic memory, many of these facts will fall out of your mind the moment you move from one chapter to the next. My suggestion is this: if you really want to read it, take notes to remember the most important stuff. It’s the only way you’ll be able to keep it all straight. (less)
A quick summary: Jane Austen with a little sauce. In other words, this would be what Jane Austen's novels would be like if her characters were a littl...moreA quick summary: Jane Austen with a little sauce. In other words, this would be what Jane Austen's novels would be like if her characters were a little less prim and passive-aggressive, and a little more worldy-wise. A funny, entertaining read.(less)
There's not a lot of words I can use to sum up this book. But I think I can use a few to give you an idea: A delightful romp. This book is like a Pop-...moreThere's not a lot of words I can use to sum up this book. But I think I can use a few to give you an idea: A delightful romp. This book is like a Pop-tart: no nutritional value but so darned good, and lots of fun. At the beginning of the book, you can't help but to ask, "Do people actually live like this?" By the end of the book, it just doesn't matter.
The wives of Hunting Hills, a 'burb of Cleveland, OH, certainly know how to live the "well-maintained" life. Their husbands make money hand over fist, and these women exist to spend it. And it's not just about the outward trappings; there's a whole code of conduct. So, as they are wearing their Gucci and Manolo Blahniks, renovating their kitchens, carting their children to expensive private schools and rushing to meet their life coaches, they must also do certain things: Look, act, be busy, and complain about being busy. Eat voraciously on social occasions and starve yourself after. Spin everything into a positive light. Don't read serious books at your book club. Don't reveal where you got your gorgeous clothes. Make perfection your career. Cosmetic surgery is de rigeur.
And into this atmosphere of perfection walks the newest Hunting Hills wife: Claire, a 40-year-old Amazon from the hills of West Virginia, a well-traveled journalist who has made budgeting and independence a life form. She and her wealthy, intellectual Hunting Hills husband John are madly in love...but as it turns out, Marti, the leader of the Wives, is madly in love with John and has her target trained upon him.
But trouble comes in many forms, and as Claire gets to know these vapid, materialistic wives, she begins to appreciate that not all is as it should be. One husband makes his wife take a walk on the lesbian side; another is a habitual cheater; yet another is robbing his wife, and all of their friends, blind. As Claire gets more and more involved in their lives and ordeals, she somehow becomes one of them, yet also transfigures them into something more.
Best quote: "I don't like when women think. It usually costs me money."
Reminds me of Olivia Goldsmith's Switcheroo in terms of suburban setting, and descriptions of suburban domestic life and scarcely-believable domestic drama.(less)
Enzo is an old soul. He’s thoughtful and unselfish and loyal and compassionate and philosophical and filled with love and orneriness.
He’s also a dog,...moreEnzo is an old soul. He’s thoughtful and unselfish and loyal and compassionate and philosophical and filled with love and orneriness.
He’s also a dog, and quite frustrated with the limitations with which he is burdened. But he helps his owner, Denny, and Denny’s family as best as he can, through Denny’s advancing career as a race car driver, through birth and illness and death and legal troubles and the horribly flawed nature of humans. Enzo has learned much, and hopes to come back to this world as a human, but for now, he’s happy to share his wisdom and love, and the story of his family, along with a wide variety of valuable lessons.
Truly, this was a wonderful little gem of a novel, and the beauty and truth of it was not diminished—in fact, they were probably amplified—by the unusual narrative voice of Enzo. It’s a sweet and comforting book, perfect for when you’re needing encouragement or a refreshed belief in life and humanity. (less)
Named as one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People in 2012, Sheryl Sandberg is at the time of this review the Chief Operating Officer of...moreNamed as one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People in 2012, Sheryl Sandberg is at the time of this review the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. She has also worked with Google and served as the Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of the Treasury from 1996 to 2001. For several years in a row, she was listed as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business by Fortune Magazine.
You might think, Here’s a woman that has together. She has a flourishing career, she has power and respect, she even has a husband and children. She appears to be confident, capable, energetic…she is in charge.
And then her executive assistant scolded her.
Turns out Sandberg turned into a flustered shadow of herself whenever anyone congratulated her on making one of those lists. She called the list “ridiculous” and for a good long time, didn’t own up to the success and the perception of her own power. Yup—she denied her own success. She was in her own way, until her executive assistant called her into a private room and set her straight.
And this is, essentially, the thrust of Sandberg’s book—identifying the ways in which society AND females hold women back from claiming a place of true equality. I could totally see her starting something called “The Lean-In Movement” in which we help the females of this world lean into their careers, rather than detaching from them through various behaviors—disowning their successes, stepping away from their careers to raise families, choosing modest and self-effacing approaches in the workplace, being authentic; and in which the males of this world help the females by doing their part to equalize the load by leaning into their families.
Throughout this solid book of observations and advice, Sandberg is disarmingly honest, from admitting that she feels like a fraud all the way through to her desire to be liked by everyone and an unfortunate weakness—from time to time, she cries at work. That’s right, you read me: Sheryl Sandberg has cried at work. And for the ladies reading this review, let me assure you I had the following reaction: “OMG YOU MEAN I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE?????” And whenever I have this reaction, I immediately know I am not the only one. (Incidentally, Sandberg’s response to crying in the workplace is frank and comforting: “Research suggests that it is not a good idea to cry at work” (p. 88), but that “prominent thinkers in the field of leadership studies…” posit that “true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed.” (pp 90-91).
If you are at all interested in strengthening your leadership potential or your professional confidence—or if you are at all interested in making the professional world more equal—this is an invaluable book to add to your collection. (less)
Over the course of her research on her previous book on obituaries, the author noticed an interesting little quirk: of the many fascinating obituaries...moreOver the course of her research on her previous book on obituaries, the author noticed an interesting little quirk: of the many fascinating obituaries that she read, it seemed like librarians were more than usually the subject of the most lively, fascinating, and sometimes even odd obituaries. In true writerly fashion, the author made note of this and eventually returned to this subject. The product is this book, which is not just a study of librarians, but Library Culture as well.
It’s a great window onto the current library culture zeitgeist, poised as it is (as it always is?) of tremendous change. It’s a description of the bloggers and activists and zinesters and information professionals and geeks and hipsters who make up a vocal—if not large—portion of the profession. It’s a revelation about the continued tensions between the librarians and the technology and techies upon whom they depend. It’s a glimpse into libraries both big and less-big (rural libraries get only a little notice, but I suppose a book can only be so big) and it’s a celebration of the inherently subversive and democratic nature of the profession.
It should be required reading for first-semester Library Science students. They should read it, and if they do not agree with it, they should really re-think their chosen career. And if one is already a librarian, this is a great book for renewing one’s professional fervor. However, this book is almost wasted on librarians. I mean, most of us know, deep down, how awesome we are. But the tragedy of it is, I have to wonder how many non-librarians (or non-library-users) would read this book. I fear that it’s a classic case of “preaching to the choir.” And it’s a dang shame, because it’s really a rather inspiring book! Certainly interesting and informative, too. So, basically, everything a good nonfiction book should be. (less)
As you become involved in this hefty historical saga (a hit in Spain), you will be forgiven thinking you are reading the Spanish version of Pillars of...moreAs you become involved in this hefty historical saga (a hit in Spain), you will be forgiven thinking you are reading the Spanish version of Pillars of the Earth.
In this sometimes overly-dramatic story, set in medieval Spain, we follow the rise and fall and rise (again) of one man’s fortunes, steered by politics, plague, and popery. Arnau is the son of a luckless and self-sacrificing runaway serf, and as he grows into a man, he stumbles into equal amounts of ill luck, himself. But for the most part, his fortunes are on the upswing, often and fortuitously because as he’s a man of character, as demonstrated through his charity and unwillingness to condemn the hated Jewish population. But these traits make him many enemies, and in Inquisition-era Spain, this might end up being his doom as well.
The author succeeds mostly at the pacing and sense of place; both lend their weight to driving the story forward. Most of the female characters are one-dimensional—either victims or villains—until the last quarter of the book, and some grammatical omissions and/or errors (inevitable in a translation, even one as well-done as this) might catch the reader up every now and then, but overall, this is an entertaining and at times bordering on elegant historical novel.(less)
This may end up being my favorite book of the year.
It’s not often that I come across a historical novel that is also literary (whatever that means. M...moreThis may end up being my favorite book of the year.
It’s not often that I come across a historical novel that is also literary (whatever that means. My concept of it changes by the day and my mood), but it’s even less often that I come across a historical, literary novel that is as –I hate to use the term that other reviewers have, but nothing else quite fits--sophisticated as this book.
The main plot opens in New York City, as 1937 is about to turn into 1938, and as two young working women, Katey and Eve, are about to go have as much fun as they can on their tight budget of three dollars. A chance encounter with a wealthy young banker by name of Tinker opens up a world of opportunities and acquaintances of for both of the women, as well as a potential love triangle, but when a car accident badly injures Eve and sends her into Tinker’s arms, the results seem logical and foregone. But as it turns out—their relationship with each other and to Katey is only incidental; the real meat of this story lies with Katey and the ways in which she tries to alter her life over the course of the year, and the various people she encounters. By the novel’s end, Katey has left the reader quietly pondering the people who come into our lives for “a reason, a season, or a lifetime”, the ways that those people can impact us, and how sometimes we don’t realize it until years after the fact, when they (and our own heady youths) are distant memories.
While this assured novel is strong in all aspects, there are two aspects in which the author particularly excels: the strong sense of place, and the myriad historical details, are all so subtly woven into the story, that one scarcely realizes they are reading a historical novel. Most remarkable, however, are the characters within the story--every last one of them. Whether the characters are only present in one scene, or one chapter, or accompany us from beginning to end, Towles has an incredible way of packing a lot of walloping personality into each and every one of them. Even if, like Katey, we never encounter them again, we will remember them all. (less)
In the real world, twenty years have passed since John Grisham published his courtroom drama A Time to Kill, but in NoveLand, in the sleepy Southern t...moreIn the real world, twenty years have passed since John Grisham published his courtroom drama A Time to Kill, but in NoveLand, in the sleepy Southern town of Clanton, Mississippi, only three years have passed since the violent events occurred. Since then, the attorney Jake Brigance and his family have struggled to recover, financially and emotionally, from their defense of the vigilante killer Carl Lee Hailey. They’re living in rented digs, embroiled in lawsuits, struggling to make ends meet…and then Jake lucks out. Seth Hubbard, a wealthy, cantankerous man ,has killed himself and oddly, left all of his $24 million fortune to his (black) housekeeper, Letty, and has instructed Jake to defend his will. Of course, his children are enraged and willing to fight back…so once more, Jake’s in the courtroom, trying his hardest to follow Hubbard’s wishes and protect the dubious handwritten will. Jake’s nominal boss, the drunken Lucien, and his absurdly loyal and grotesque friend Harry Rex, are along for the ride, and so is Jake’s long-suffering wife Carla, and what they are all telling him is the one thing that may wreck his case: Jake’s ego might be his greatest asset, but it’s also his biggest liability, and it may just lose him the case.
It’s impossible to review this book without comparing it to its predecessor, which perhaps is not fair. However, them’s the brakes. While Grisham’s style has become quite assured and polished over the years, and while he is a gifted storyteller who can spin compulsively readable yarns that, if not literary and elegant, are still compelling, his latest lacks a certain heart that ran through A Time to Kill. This book is not as descriptive, nor as humorously snarky, and the stakes just aren’t the same. A darned good read, but not quite as spirited or genuine as the first Brigance novel. (less)
If you like The Hunger Games...blah blah blah. Actually, this is, in some ways, more violent than the THG. And there's more sexiness to it. And it som...moreIf you like The Hunger Games...blah blah blah. Actually, this is, in some ways, more violent than the THG. And there's more sexiness to it. And it sometimes feels more pulse-pounding.