I adore Neil Gaiman's work, so I jumped at the chance to review this new collection of his nonfiction. I've read bits and pieces of his graduation speI adore Neil Gaiman's work, so I jumped at the chance to review this new collection of his nonfiction. I've read bits and pieces of his graduation speeches and stuff like that and it always makes me stand up and cheer, "Yes! This! This man gets it!" And that should probably tell you where my expectations were.
The collection covers a ridiculous amount of ground. There are the graduation speeches, convention speeches, introductions he's written for books by other authors, articles he's written for magazines, and it goes on and on. The man sure does get around.
And while everything is written with Gaiman's own inimitable style, the book is so big and the territory so varied that there were inevitably sections I just didn't care about. I'm not a big fan of science fiction, so all of that didn't particularly interest me. I do read graphic novels but I'm not widely read in this area, so I was a little lost in that part. I was mildly interested in looking up some of the authors Gaiman raved about, but I never actually wrote any names down and now I've given the book away so I don't think I'll actually find any of them.
Even the parts that I was interested in, such as the fantasy and his articles and speeches about creativity and making art, got a bit repetitive for me when assembled like this. I do appreciate that Bradbury was a phenomenal author, and I appreciate that he was a big influence on Gaiman's work. But two or three introductions/essays in a row about him left my mind wandering, even though they did cover slightly different ground.
Still, Gaiman is such a fabulous, curious writer in his own right and so knowledgeable about so many things that I will always recommend reading any of his work, including this collection. Even though I didn't love it, I appreciated the glimpse inside his own passions and beliefs and thoughts.
Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review....more
In the 1870s, George De Long was bitten by the Arctic exploration bug after taking part in a rescue mission off the coast of Greenland. He wanted to fIn the 1870s, George De Long was bitten by the Arctic exploration bug after taking part in a rescue mission off the coast of Greenland. He wanted to find his way to the North Pole. He consulted with many experts, most of whom seemed to believe that the Pole itself was covered by an "Open Polar Sea." If a crew could just find its way through the outer ice pack, the rest of the trip would be smooth sailing, so to speak. Experts also mostly agreed that it was time to try this feat by traveling through the Bering Strait. Greenland had been tried and led to failure multiple times. The Kuro Siwo (Pacific equivalent of the Gulf Stream) should make the trip easier by warming the waters. With funding from newspaper tycoon James Gordon Bennett, Jr. and under the aegis of the US Navy, De Long and his crew set sail on July 8, 1879 to conquer the North Pole.
This is probably one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read. I've been reading about one nonfiction book a month for the past five years or so but I'm still a fiction reader in my heart of hearts. I generally read my nonfiction at night before bed because I don't worry too much about falling into the "one more chapter" trap with nonfiction.
This book caused me to lose sleep.
It started out a little slow. The prologue was fantastic and hooked me immediately. The ship De Long was on was looking for a group of Arctic explorers who had disappeared. They found a large group of survivors on an ice floe. They had been on that chunk of ice, living on whatever raw meat they could catch, for almost a year. Holy smokes. But then the narrative shifted to De Long's preparation for his own voyage, his research, and some background on Bennett and De Long himself. That part dragged a bit for me. I don't honestly think much could have been cut out. I needed the scientific background to understand how anyone could think this trip was possible and the personal details enriched the story. Nevertheless, I didn't stay hooked until the Jeannette finally launched.
It was an easy five stars from there.
I'd never heard of this ship and her crew so I won't say much about what happened in case you haven't either. They were trapped in the ice within a few months of setting sail. They were very well-supplied so life wasn't terribly difficult for them at first, considering the circumstances. One description left me with a haunting image of a ship, her crew of 33 men, some candles and lanterns, and nothing but hundreds of miles of unrelenting darkness and emptiness for months on end. It makes my chest tight just to think about it. Anyway, their circumstances did eventually change and they found themselves struggling against Nature herself for survival.
I can't even begin to imagine enduring what these men endured. I was ready to lie down and die just reading about it. I don't have one speck of whatever it is that causes someone to leave the comfort of hearth and home to travel to the farthest, harshest ends of the world just to see what's out there. I admire those who are brave enough to take on those adventures.
A crew of 33 sounds fairly small to me but that could have been an unmanageable number to write about effectively. The author wisely focuses on just a few and I was able to follow along easily. These men were incredibly loyal and well-disciplined, especially given the circumstances they found themselves in. There were some ill-tempered men but De Long was even able to keep them in line. He came across as a remarkably fair leader who put the needs of his men first. There were a couple of other standouts, Melville and Danenhower. The latter seemed to have been born for life in the Arctic. He could wade through icy water for hours and hours without seeming to suffer any ill effects. He often shouldered a large burden of messy duties simply because he was about the only person who could physically stand to do them. Melville was the guy you always want to have at your side. He could fix anything, find a solution to any problem, and he was stubborn and loyal. He ends up almost literally moving heaven and earth to accomplish what he wants at the end.
This is well-written, engaging nonfiction of the type I like best. I highly recommend it to anyone....more
This book does a good job with hotel and restaurant recommendations but I don't feel like I have a great idea about what to do anywhere, especially inThis book does a good job with hotel and restaurant recommendations but I don't feel like I have a great idea about what to do anywhere, especially in Acadia. I know there's a separate book for the national park, but only 8 pages in this one, most of it just about the Loop Road and the Jordan Pond House, makes it not worth the money. I know I can use Tripadvisor to figure out what I want to do, but I like my travel books. I want all the details at my fingertips. I don't know if there are better books about coastal Maine, but there are definitely travel books with better layouts that I've used religiously for other parts of the world....more
1960 was a turbulent year. The Cold War was getting serious, with Eisenhower and Khrushchev using the Olympic Games as a propaganda platform and tryin1960 was a turbulent year. The Cold War was getting serious, with Eisenhower and Khrushchev using the Olympic Games as a propaganda platform and trying to woo athletes into defecting. The Civil Rights movement was gaining traction. Definitions of "amateurism" and the direction of future Olympics were being determined. For the first time ever, a few competitions were being televised. South Africa was trying to fight apartheid. Women were being accepted into more and more events but were still woefully underrepresented. All of these external factors came to bear on the landmark Olympic games set in the Eternal City.
I don't know that I agree that these Olympics "changed the world" but I would definitely agree that they showcased changes that were happening in the world at large.
I'm not a sports fan but I read this for the "Eclectic Reader Challenge" as a sports book that I might be able to tolerate. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it. I can't say I particularly cared about all the details of every race and competition, but the personalities and the history were the driving force behind the book. I found myself taking away a series of striking mental pictures, some amazing, some that left me shaking my head.
Ethiopian Abebe Bikila running barefoot through the dark streets of Rome to win the Olympic gold medal in the marathon, becoming the first East African to win a medal.
South Africa arguing successfully that the reason there weren't any black athletes on their team was because they just weren't as talented as the white athletes.
Bing Crosby belting out "The Star-Spangled Banner" when an anti-American crowd was booing as it played for Eddie Crook, a gold-medal winning boxer.
Wilma Rudolph, who had polio as a child, gracefully running to a gold medal in the women's 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4 x 100 meter relay.
The shock and dismay of the old-school male committee members when women running the 800-meter (about half a mile) collapsed in exhaustion at the end. The event had been cancelled since 1928 for that reason.
Rafer Johnson hanging on through the final event, the 1500 m run, with grim determination to win the decathlon.
Weightlifter Yuri Vlasov marching into the Olympic stadium carrying the Soviet flag in one outstretched hand in the Opening Ceremony.
Rafer Johnson, the first African-American man to carry the flag for the United States in the Opening Ceremony.
Even though I really don't enjoy watching sports, I do love watching the Olympics. I think it's seeing these world-class athletes at the peaks of their careers that makes it special for me. But more than that, I'm a sucker for the background stories. I absolutely respect the hardship and sacrifice that the athletes endure to get where they are. If you enjoy these kinds of stories as well, you'll enjoy this book....more
When I have daydreams about packing up and moving to a new country, Spain is always the one that comes to mind. We visited in 2010 and just l2.5 Stars
When I have daydreams about packing up and moving to a new country, Spain is always the one that comes to mind. We visited in 2010 and just loved it. We felt welcome everywhere we went, the people seemed happy, and it just fit. Plus, my husband's bilingual. At least one of us could speak the language.
When I saw this as a free nook book, I had to download it. Here is a couple who did exactly what I would never be brave enough to do. And they aren't just moving to the city, which would probably be easier, but they're completely changing gears and buying a farm to breed alpacas. I'm not clear what the author's career was in England, but his wife was a dance teacher. Kudos to them!
I enjoyed the book well enough--it was cute--but I just felt that it needed to be edited a bit more. It is presented as a finished book, but it felt like pages from a journal. It was a bit disjointed with the flow being more along the lines of, "We did this, then we did that, then we did this other thing," with very little transition or filler.
And they have the worst luck with the alpacas! He kept saying that alpacas are supposed to be easy but I have to say, my grandparents and now my uncles have a small family farm with a few head of cattle. They have never had any kind of trouble like what I read about in here! I felt terrible for Alan and Lorna and the alpacas. They just had terrible luck.
Being so isolated out in the country, there's not a whole lot of commentary about how different things are. Well, there is, I just wanted more. Alan and Lorna are pretty self-sufficient with their farm and their animals, so it's not like they're making daily trips to the market or getting completely submersed in the culture. At least that's not what I took away from the book.
If you're looking for a cute enough read about some really cute animals and their brave owners, do go ahead and give this one a try. I personally just wanted a bit more depth and polish to the story....more
So, we all learned something about the Lewis & Clark expedition in school, right? They were the first official group to travel all the way to theSo, we all learned something about the Lewis & Clark expedition in school, right? They were the first official group to travel all the way to the Pacific coast and back, with brave Sacagawea leading the way, papoose strapped to her back. That's honestly pretty much all I knew. But there's got to be so much more to it than that. I wanted to know the real story so I grabbed this at the library.
Eh. I did learn a lot but this book is primarily a biography of Meriwether Lewis. I'm not clear how you separate Lewis from Clark when their names are so inextricably intertwined, but there you go. I was disappointed by that. I'm not being fair to the book--the subtitle does clearly state its about Captain Lewis--but I wanted more.
It read like hero worship. The author has retraced some of the routes the group followed many times, has obviously read a lot about Lewis and the rest of the Corps of Discovery and knows his stuff. But there were frequently statements that amounted to (NOT a direct quote; I've returned my copy to library already), "Can you imagine? He's practically an uneducated heathen but he discovered three new species on this day, eleven on this day, and stayed up late to take celestial observations that provided the most accurate maps known up to that time! And then wrote 2000 words about it! Holy smokes!" Am I exaggerating? Yes. But that's how it felt. Also, by focusing on Lewis so exclusively (again, that was the point of the book), it started to read like the rest of the men were just along for the ride. Lewis could have done it all by himself. I still couldn't name very many of the other men. Legendary Sacagawea is barely mentioned. Even when the Captain made some questionable decisions (granted, this did seem to be pretty rare), the author managed to explain them away with some sort of rationale. "Well, if he hadn't chased down those young Blackfeet, they might have run away and brought the rest of the tribe down on the group, and they all might have died!" Maybe, maybe not. But I wanted the facts, not the what ifs.
This book contained quite a bit of speculation for something that's nonfiction. I just wanted the facts in a readable format. Just in case the story of 30 or so men trekking across 7000 miles of uncharted wilderness wasn't dramatic enough, there would suddenly be something along the lines of (again, I'm paraphrasing), "It all worked out this time, but what if it hadn't? What if the trouble-making Sioux had decided to attack and kill the whole group? The expansion of the American West would have been delayed by years and years because Jefferson wouldn't have had time to mount another expedition and his successor thought the whole purchase was folly anyway." And then there was Lewis's moodiness. Maybe this is an accepted theory among historians but it bothered me to read (paraphrasing), "Perhaps Lewis was bipolar. His father suffered from terrible mood swings and Lewis did too. We'll never know. But if he was, the success of the expedition is an even bigger accomplishment!" That just bothered me. I think it was what I perceived as the lack of evidence to back such a claim up. He functioned admirably for a couple of years during this expedition. He got moody. Anyone living in such tight quarters with 30 other men would do the same. He either didn't keep journals for large chunks of time or they're lost to history. That doesn't add up to a bipolar diagnosis to me, but I can't claim to know very much about it. Had I known how Lewis died before reading this (I didn't), I might have bought it, but by the time I found out, it was too late and I was irritated.
I've dwelt too long on what I didn't like. Meriwether Lewis was truly an amazing man; a tireless, curious explorer; and a gifted leader. I did learn a lot about him and even the whole expedition. I just wanted so much more than what I found in these pages. If you're looking for a Lewis biography, by all means, grab this. If you want to know more about the Corps of Discovery in general, I'd recommend that you look elsewhere....more
Rick Bragg grew up poor in Alabama. His daddy was very rarely in the picture and his momma did the best she could at whatever job she could find to keRick Bragg grew up poor in Alabama. His daddy was very rarely in the picture and his momma did the best she could at whatever job she could find to keep her three sons fed. She mostly did the back-breaking work of picking cotton for very little pay. It wasn't easy to be a single mother in 1960ish Alabama but she did her best. In this memoir, Rick Bragg writes with deep love and hard truths about the sacrifices his momma made for him and his brothers and the life he was able to build because of her. He left the cotton fields of Alabama to become a Puliter-prize winning journalist for the New York Times. This is their story.
All of that up there sounds deadly serious but mostly what I took away from this book is humor and grace. Somehow Rick Bragg's first memoir is the last one I've read and I have literally laughed 'til I cried in every one. I've read my family members bits here and there and retold stories I remember and made everyone listening to me laugh too. Maybe they're just humoring me, but I don't think so.
Reading the other books first, I expected this one to be more about momma. (It's impossible to call her anything else. I went to an author signing and the first question anyone asked him was, "How's your momma doing'?" We were supposed to be there for his biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. Who wants to know about celebrities? We wanted to know about momma.) Which is stupid. They're all about momma. She is the heart of all these stories. So I guess what I mean is that I expected it to tell more of momma's own life story. It does but I still just want to know more about her. She probably doesn't want anything like that written about herself though. I can just imagine if I told my Mama that I was going to publish a book about her life. She'd pitch a fit. I imagine Rick's momma would feel the same.
I love the tales of Rick growing up and the old family stories but I also enjoyed reading chapters about Rick's career as a reporter. Those could be pretty harsh. The parts about Haiti were just awful. I read about riots in Miami and asked my husband how he ever made it out of there alive, only half joking. As much as I love the humorous stories, Rick Bragg can make you feel like you're in the middle of any scene he wants, and sometimes that leads to some terrifying places.
I love reading Rick Bragg's writing. I hear it more than I read it, even as my eyes are moving slowly across the printed page, savoring the language. I don't know how it reads to anyone else, but his Alabama words read like home to me. He writes the way I talk and I love it. Apparently it's more about the Appalachians than it is about the state we're from because I'm a North Carolina girl but it all rings true. I listened to the audio version of his second memoir, The Prince of Frogtown, read by the author, and I loved it. I can't say which format I enjoy more.
Just go read this. It's a book with a lot of heart and sometimes those feel like they're hard to find. You'll be glad you took the time to read this one....more
Mary Roach has a gift for making science accessible and--dare I say it?--even funny. In this book, she tackles the digestive system.
Covering topics raMary Roach has a gift for making science accessible and--dare I say it?--even funny. In this book, she tackles the digestive system.
Covering topics ranging from thorough chewing (as in 700+ chews for One. Freaking. Bite.) to the miraculous properties of spit, from being eaten alive to the possibility (or not) of chewing your way out if you are, from "The alimentary canal as criminal accomplice" to *ahem* flatus, and ending up with bacterial transplants to treat intractable digestive ailments, this book asks everything you might possibly have ever wanted to know on the topic but were afraid to ask.
I have a pretty juvenile sense of humor, so all of the fart jokes, and spit jokes, and *ahem* "criminal accomplice" jokes had me at least giggling. In the two chapters devoted to flatulence, I was quite honestly laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. Not that it was necessarily that funny but because "Oh my gosh, I can't believe she went there. And there. And there!" I'm almost ashamed of myself. Almost. Luckily my husband and I have the same sense of humor so he just kept playing whatever game on his phone as I laughed myself silly and waited for me to catch my breath and report so he could share in the joke too.
I've worked in healthcare for years, so I've developed a pretty strong stomach (though I'm not a nurse or CNA and haven't ever had to wade into the trenches, so to speak), so nothing in here bothered me. That will obviously not be the case for all of you. If you can stomach it (heehee!), I do recommend this. If it doesn't seem to be your kind of thing, it's probably not....more
In this graphic novel memoir, Alison Bechdel explores her relationship with her father, who later admitted to being homosexual; his suicide; her childIn this graphic novel memoir, Alison Bechdel explores her relationship with her father, who later admitted to being homosexual; his suicide; her childhood; and her early years after coming out as a lesbian.
I really kind of hate reviewing these kinds of books. They're so intensely personal. Who am I to judge the work of someone who has effectively bled his or her heart out on the page? Any negative comments feel like personal attacks when I write them. So here's the best I can do.
Let me first get what I didn't care for out of the way. The tone of the book is so very earnest and introspective and intellectual, ultimately drawing parallels between Joyce's Ulysses and her relationship with her father. Holy smokes. I only think that way in lit class. It's appropriate and relevant, I get that. It's just not my way of dealing with crap and so I don't really relate to it.
At the same time, I admire Bechdel for her bravery in putting her story out there. I'm sure it's a form of therapy for her, getting what she feels out on paper and working it out for herself. But it also help others who may be going through something similar.
I liked the artwork a lot. The stark black and whites matched the somber tone of the book perfectly. Some of them will be too graphic for some readers though.
I think that the summary alone will tell you whether this is a book for you or not. If you're interested, I do recommend it. ...more
Testimony covers a lot of ground, from the making of the movie, Schindler's List, to the idea of filming Holocaust survivor testimonies, to the actualTestimony covers a lot of ground, from the making of the movie, Schindler's List, to the idea of filming Holocaust survivor testimonies, to the actual project, and now sharing the testimonies and collecting new ones from ongoing genocides around the world.
The first half of the book kept my attention better than the second half. I love the movie so seeing the behind-the-scenes photos and reading about the actor's thoughts was fascinating. I also liked reading about the real people the characters were based on and how filming such harrowing scenes affected all the cast and crew. When the narrative moved on to the idea of the Shoah foundation and collecting the survivor/witness stories, I was still on board. I liked reading about how the USC Shoah Foundation is sharing their expertise with other groups around the world with similar goals. I was reading in bed wondering how you get a job collecting stories. I even searched StoryCorps to see if they were hiring (They were but I'm not bilingual). The idea of such a huge, important undertaking just appealed to me--no, it called to me.
The second half got more technical, focusing on ensuring that the testimonies are secure and stay in a format that is always relevant to the modern age. That started to lose me. I'm proficient with the technology that's relevant to my life. I don't really stay on the cutting edge of anything. And I definitely don't understand anything about movie editing, etc. I do understand that all of this is important but I didn't really follow it. I was back on slightly firmer footing when the narrative switched to sharing the testimonies with the world. Even at that, I quickly got to the point where I just wanted to know what website I could go to for myself.
What kept me going were the transcribed excerpts sprinkled throughout the book. I'm drawn to stories of the Holocaust so reading about what these survivors endured was a highlight of the book. I was glad that the editors chose to include narratives from not only Jewish survivors, but also a homosexual survivor, rescuers/witnesses, a Jewish woman active in the resistance, a Sinti and Roma survivor, and survivors from other genocides (Rwanda and Cambodia). I personally know very little about other genocides or even really other perspectives on the Holocaust. I especially like that all these excerpts included current photos of the speakers and photos from their past.
Anyone interested in the Holocaust and/or Schindler's List will find this book fascinating. Pick it up for yourself and bear witness. We must never forget.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review....more
Malala Yousafzai was only fifteen when she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban for speaking out for education for everyone around the worlMalala Yousafzai was only fifteen when she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban for speaking out for education for everyone around the world, but especially for girls, and especially in Muslim countries. She miraculously survived and now has an even larger audience for her message.
I think I'd heard a little bit about Malala before this book came out but only a little. Then I just happened to catch her on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart one night and I was blown away. This young lady is intelligent, well-spoken and seems to be fearless in speaking her mind. I can't remember if Jon Stewart asked if he could adopt her or vote for her (probably both) but I echo that sentiment. I knew I had to have this book after seeing her speak.
The Malala in these pages is everything I expected her to be. She makes it clear that she's not perfect but her conviction rings throughout the book. She knows it is one of her basic human rights to get an education. She has a brain and she wants to use it. She is disturbed by the spread of a version of Islam that she doesn't recognize. She doesn't want the Taliban keeping the populace in ignorance and gaining even more control. She thinks we should all make an educated choice in our beliefs, whether those beliefs are personal, political, or religious.
She begins by painting a picture of Pakistan as she saw it before the Taliban started gaining control. It sounds like a beautiful place with a troubled past. Then she tells about all the ways, both little and big, that the Taliban started to affect daily life. This was the scariest part for me. It felt like it could happen anywhere. It seemed to begin with a radio show and a man who slowly gained power by starting with small statements that a lot of people agreed with and then slowly getting more and more fanatical until he had too much power for anyone to stop him. It was scary. Then Malala's valley is evacuated as the Pakistan army and the Taliban finally fight for control.
Throughout all of this, Malala's father was an outspoken opponent of all the radical changes. As the owner of a school, he was especially outspoken about every child's right to receive an education. Malala wanted to join him in that fight since it directly affected her. Her father started receiving death threats and losing friends as they were murdered for similar beliefs. He carried on though and Malala did too.
As I read, I wondered what I would do in their shoes. I'll be honest: I'm more of a keep-my-mouth-shut-and-my-head-down-and-hope-I-make-it-through kind of person. But that's how these crazy agendas gain so much ground; they count on the majority of people having exactly that reaction. When we wonder how one person can ever make a difference, we can always find an example of one person who already has. To that list, we can add Malala Yousafzai. She's one of our bright hopes for the future. Pick up this book and find out why....more
Mariatu Kamara was twelve years old when she was caught up in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Most of her village was killed in a raid. Boy soldiers cuMariatu Kamara was twelve years old when she was caught up in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Most of her village was killed in a raid. Boy soldiers cut off both her hands but let her go. She shares the story of how she learned to cope in the new world she found herself in.
Holy cow. I just can't imagine living through the things this young woman has experienced. And she was so young when everything happened! I just shudder to think of it.
But she's a strong girl. She knows from the beginning that she must learn to live on her own. From the time she turns down the first helpful stranger's offer to feed her a bite of mango, she struggles to live her new life on her own terms.
Her story is inspiring and heart-breaking and important. I know I as an American sometimes forget that most of the world doesn't have it as good as I do. I get caught up in the day-to-day of "I can't believe I have to deal with this at work," or "Traffic is a nightmare, I hate this commute," and forget that in some places in the world, children are killing and maiming each other in wars they don't understand. I for one need a reality check like this from time to time.
Anyone who reads this should also read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. Mariatu avoids demonizing the boy soldiers but it's still a good idea to get their perspective as well. They were also victims in this terrible conflict.
This is by no means an easy read but I highly recommend it. ...more