A heartbreaking and beautiful history a set of wealthy Viennese Jewish families that runs from the turn of the century through the present day. The pa...moreA heartbreaking and beautiful history a set of wealthy Viennese Jewish families that runs from the turn of the century through the present day. The painting and Gustav Klimt play a rather minor part for most of the story, simply tying together the various characters and story lines. Definitely worth a read, although it can be hard to keep all of the players straight, and readers looking for more information about Klimt and the painting itself will be disappointed. (less)
A beautiful book with a plot that is simple on the surface, Sheep touches on some very difficult subjects in a way that is easy for kids to digest. Lo...moreA beautiful book with a plot that is simple on the surface, Sheep touches on some very difficult subjects in a way that is easy for kids to digest. Love, loss, growing up and finding your way, finding meaning and place in life (and death), and learning how to treat others - it is all here. The book is written from a dog's point of view, so the prose is very simple and sometimes feels a little stilted. This means, though, that it is a book a young reader could pick up and handle on his or her own without difficulty. That said, given the difficult themes in the book, it might be a better one to read together.
My oldest son, who is ten, found passages which contained brutal animal abuse very difficult to read. Those passages led to great discussions, though. My youngest son, who is seven, had only one complaint with the book - he wanted it to be longer. He wanted to hear more about Jack's adventures after the story ended. He and his brother made their own stories about what came next for Jack after the book ended. (less)
Most regular museum goers realize that they get to see only a portion of a museum's collection on display. Other items sit in storage, because the mus...moreMost regular museum goers realize that they get to see only a portion of a museum's collection on display. Other items sit in storage, because the museum does not have space to display them, or the item is too delicate to withstand the environmental stressors of the museum floor, or (perhaps most interestingly) because ownership of the item is disputed and the museum prefers not to draw attention to it.
Oldfield offers a fantastic opportunity to go behind the scenes of a couple dozen museums around the world and see a few of the items they do not display to guests. Ranging in size from items as small as Nabokov's collection of preserved butterfly genitalia (really)to an authentic blue whale skeleton, with books, costumes, bits of Mars and everything in between, the book is nothing if not eclectic. And it her best, as when she is describing how that butterfly genitalia collection came to be or how the crown jewels were once stolen from the Tower of London, Oldfield's storytelling abilities bring the items to life in a way that even seeing them in a museum would not.
Unfortunately, she's just as likely to get waylaid by an aside about her own likes and interests, which can make the book seem like a bit of a vanity project. The book would have been improved had passages like this one on the Tower of London, from page 235, been edited out:
"...I was taken up a winding staircase within the Tower. It wasn't really my kind of place: there were a lot of guns, some belonging to Henry VII, a jousting kit and a mummified cat that used to be kept inside the roof of the Tower. I found a pile of medieval castle decorations made entirely out of scraps of weapons - bullets, knives and swords. They aren't displayed anymore at the museum, as they are out of fashion at the moment with the curators. There was one I liked, a snake made solely from bullets, but I wouldn't put it up at home..."
I get that she was going for personalization, for bringing these historical items into the present with us, and it is interesting to think how current tastes affect the collections we see, but it ends up feeling a bit like a high school essay instead of a published work. Luckily, there weren't too many passages like this.
Many reviewers have complained about the lack of photographs of the items. Instead, Oldfield presents a referential collage at the beginning of each chapter, showing the central item she will cover. Within the chapter, tiny thumbnail photographs of the items (less than 2" across) and more little collages in the margins are used to illustrate the text. I get what she was going for. A book like this always runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a coffee table book, with text that is at best skimmed, at worst skipped altogether, as readers ogle the lovely photographs. Leaving the photographs out forces the reader to actually read the stories behind the items. That makes it all the more unforgivable, though, that the stories are often light on factual information about the items highlighted, and tend more towards the author's impressions. And in some cases, such as the chapter on the beautiful hand-painted dress of Margot Fonteyn which is illustrated with a tiny black and white photo of the dress, it feels almost like the author is gloating about the opportunity she had to see something beautiful that you, dear reader, will never get to see even by photograph. Perhaps that is a little harsh, but I don't think the decision not to include photographs was altogether successful. (less)
In the spirit of the Little House books, but so much more honest. Perhaps because Erdrich is not telling her own story, she doesn't fall into the trap...moreIn the spirit of the Little House books, but so much more honest. Perhaps because Erdrich is not telling her own story, she doesn't fall into the trap of being overly sentimental. Whereas the Little House books are all about independence and boot-strappiness, even to the point of playing down those moments when the Ingalls needed their neighbors, this book is all about the importance of community and connections with the world around. And, of course, the portrayal of Native Americans is positive and acts as a nice counterpoint to Ms. Ingalls Wilders savages. It is a beautiful book.
I read this book with my two children, 7 and 10. The seven year old loved it, asked for a chapter each night until the end. The 10 year old liked it, too, until we hit the point where there are two particularly difficult chapters in a row. He found them much too sad, and chose to stop reading with us shortly after. Although the following chapters are a bit easier, a sadness lingers until the end of the book, which can be difficult for children who are used to Disnified-happy endings.(less)