These essays covered a number of book-related topics that I'm interested in - how to care for a book, arranging books on a shelf, vocabulary, plagiariThese essays covered a number of book-related topics that I'm interested in - how to care for a book, arranging books on a shelf, vocabulary, plagiarism, etc. My favorite essay was "My Odd Shelf," about readers' collections of books on their pet topics, whether it be Arctic exploration, pornography or the Han Dynasty. For me the weakness of the book was the author's light touch, her upbeat, pleased-with-herself voice. She asks you to feel fondly about her literary family, frequently referring to them and herself in the third person plural as The Fadimans, or Fadiman U. (as in university). My admiration of modesty means I have an aversion to making presumptions, no matter how deserved. Thus the opening passage of the essay "You are There" and others like it put me off for their love-me cockiness and their down-homey language (the peas): "On November 12, 1838. Thomas Babington Macaulay set out by horse-drawn coach from Florence to Rome. 'My journey lay over the field of Thrasymenus,' he wrote in his journal, 'and as soon as the sun rose, I read Livy's description of the scene.' The moment I read that sentence, I knew that Macaulay and I were peas in a pod."...more
“All the evenness of life, the ‘light’ part of it, really stunned me,” Edison says. “It shocked me to see people walking around, living normally. It s“All the evenness of life, the ‘light’ part of it, really stunned me,” Edison says. “It shocked me to see people walking around, living normally. It shocked me because I would say ‘Hey, where I come from isn’t like that. I come from a place where we were fighting desperately to live.’ I came out and found this shit called peace. It threw me off.
That’s my favorite passage of the book. Of course, Edison Pena is the miner who falls apart most severely in the aftermath of rescue.
The story was well told, and sometimes moving, but overall it lacked oomph. As admirable as it is to try to tell the story of all the miners collectively, it’s inevitable that some emerge as stronger or more remarkable or insightful personalities, while the wallflowers fade into the dark stone of the mine. That made some of the mentions seem gratuitous, like the author had to get everyone’s name in somehow. I understand, yet it’s transparent.
Underground, there were squabbles and low spirits and fear, but there was no epic struggle. It was awful to be trapped, but it was also boring: long days of darkness and monotonous anxiety. At times I felt the writer was padding the book with whatever he could unearth – going through his notes for the best quotes and anecdotes, but some of them were short-lived conflicts or emotions that went out with a whimper rather than a bang, and then it was on to the next thing.
Of course, that’s how it was, so what was I expecting? I guess when you slap the dubious word “miracle” in the title you’re setting some readers up to be underwhelmed. ...more
This was a readable memoir of Freud in the last two years of his life. He flees Vienna reluctantly as the Nazis take power and relocates to England. IThis was a readable memoir of Freud in the last two years of his life. He flees Vienna reluctantly as the Nazis take power and relocates to England. I enjoyed the book for the glimpse it provided of Freud and his relationships with friends and family, his marvelous work ethic and bravery regarding his (not always spot-on) ideas. The author does a lot of "While Freud was ailing, Hitler was triumphing," and "As cancer ate Freud's face, Hitler was basking in high approval ratings." This struck a tin note sometimes, it being preposterous to compare Freud with Hitler in any way. Yes they were contemporaries, and yes Freud was an expert on authority figures and subconscious urges. I suppose the nature of this book made this parallelism difficult to avoid, but it was awkward. My other peeve was Edmundson's calling the superego the "over-I." Is this the fashion now? Make it go away. A quick, informative and occasionally fascinating read. 3.5 stars. ...more
Not Dear Abby, this collection of advice columns is wise and powerful and shattering. The editor of The Rumpus website, which published the columns, cNot Dear Abby, this collection of advice columns is wise and powerful and shattering. The editor of The Rumpus website, which published the columns, calls it “radical empathy.” The number of times I dissolved into sobs makes it a very bad book to read in public, but I want to go out and buy a bouquet of copies and give them away. It’s so apt that Strayed references Rilke a few times here, including his famous quote “You must change your life.” She could have altered it to “You must change your one life.” She shows why and even how.
The voice is understanding and compassionate but extremely upfront and frank and, best of all, wildly helpful. I especially loved when Strayed brought in anecdotes from her own life. Sometimes they seemed off-focus at first, only to become the most relevant lesson you could imagine. This is story-telling in the best way.
I admit that the honesty and voice are sometimes overwhelming. The book is like a very heavy cake – don’t eat the thing in one gulp. And like Alice’s “eat me” cake, it will make you bigger.
So, did this account of the long wind-up to 9/11 “read like fiction,” as one of the blurbs proclaims? Well, there was a plot and strong narrative. TheSo, did this account of the long wind-up to 9/11 “read like fiction,” as one of the blurbs proclaims? Well, there was a plot and strong narrative. There was intrigue. Far-flung settings, yes, and a list of characters long enough to rival "War and Peace." But at the same time, as engaging as it was, this book was above all informative, and I doubt there’s anyone who turns to fiction to be informed about events and historic developments. In no way to knock it, but “David Copperfield” it ain’t.
I really did appreciate this book, and (unlike fiction) it’s because I learned a lot, without getting bored in the bargain.The author has done some exhaustive homework and smoothly weaved together the story of how al-Qaeda came to be. I'd recommend this to anyone who can read.
Say what you like about motivation, political betrayal, greed, poverty, how religious fundamentalism borders on insanity, I am going to stand firmly on the side that says mass murder is wrong, no matter how justified you think you are and no matter which side you’re on. ...more
This is not an amazing story; it is the telling of it that is. Michael Hainey lost his father, a copy editor at a Chicago newspaper, when he was six,This is not an amazing story; it is the telling of it that is. Michael Hainey lost his father, a copy editor at a Chicago newspaper, when he was six, and, like a lot of families, his didn't discuss it further. They took the official version at face value and got on with it. But a boy who loses his father can never really just get on with it. Using his skills a journalist, Hainey goes on to find out the story of who is father was and how he died. While Hainey doggedly follows his need to know, he is also very sensitive and loyal to his mother, and that is the beauty of this book. I was glad to finish this book in the privacy of my room, where I could cry all over it....more
The best thing about this book, and all WWII books, is that WWII ends! It ends, and they string those evil mothers up from the lampposts and light theThe best thing about this book, and all WWII books, is that WWII ends! It ends, and they string those evil mothers up from the lampposts and light their sorry asses on fire! I love that part.
This was an interesting book focusing on the 1942 assassination of Heydrich, a true monster. It is quite detaily and somewhat slow through the first half, but finally the parachutists land and the story aspect of this history gains speed and drama.
A good book for anyone with more than a passing interest in WWII. ...more
What makes this book exceptionally interesting is the perspective, that of Ambassador Dodd, certainly not the best man for the job, and his daughter MWhat makes this book exceptionally interesting is the perspective, that of Ambassador Dodd, certainly not the best man for the job, and his daughter Martha, who spend four years in Berlin before the outbreak of WWII. They give the reader an anchor to the times, and it's interesting especially to read of Martha's changing opinion, at first impressed with fresh-faced Nazi Germany, and later disillusioned. Dodd himself comes off as a pedant and an academic bore, but decent and well-meaning. His fit in the foreign service is an awkward one. I found the insight on the foreign service fascinating and repulsive - basically a group of entitled Ivy League graduates who - once prep school and fraternities are over - still feel the need to belong to an exclusive club. I give the book four stars because of all the anecdotal insight it brings. We even get to meet Hans Fallada on his sad little farm. All the henchman are there, pretty much, as well as Roosevelt and various writers. Larson writes a very lively story. He has a talent there, but he isn't a great writer. In Chapter 18, for example, Martha invites guests to her nascent salon, but "the guests brought an unexpected companion." So you wonder who that could be only to find out two paragraphs later "the uninvited guest was fear." Eye-roller. There's a lot of tired phraseology like "the stuff of legend" and "on that topic history is silent." Still, I give him a pass - I wasn't expecting a literary genius. A very easy read and a good time period to look at, since most readers interested in WWII skip right to the actual war years. ...more
This has some gorgeous maps in it, which is the only reason I got it. I can't tell you anything about the prose within - I got this off the bargain raThis has some gorgeous maps in it, which is the only reason I got it. I can't tell you anything about the prose within - I got this off the bargain rack simply for the purpose of cutting it up collages. The colors and renderings are great....more
I was downtown today and decided to stop in the bookshop with a good English section and comfy chairs. I looked for the shortest book I could find, deI was downtown today and decided to stop in the bookshop with a good English section and comfy chairs. I looked for the shortest book I could find, determined to sit down and read. I found this, 93 pages, none of them full, and read it in an hour or so. It was serendipity, being not too heavy but also not too banal, a very managable lozenge of a book. In it Burroughs muses affectionately on his cats, and on cats in general as companions, 'familiars,' and life's company. He is a confirmed Cat Person, and considers cats superior to dogs, so that old, tedious, self-serving argument comes up a number of times. Burroughs thinks humans have made dogs in their image and thus sullied them and made them "self-righteous" and even into a "lynch mob." Ah yes, we all need a little justifying rant sometimes. (Whatever! I am neither Cat nor Dog Person.) Nevertheless, Burroughs himself transforms his cats into people, who represent to him particular lost lovers, friends and family. I found that kind of sad, and it seems to me he did, too, not because of the projection but because he just misses people. I enjoyed the format of this, which reads like journal entries on one topic. Some of it is very funny. I'm sure Cat People would like it more than I did. ...more
Some of these essays were funny but overall I felt I was going to o.d. on navel-gazing. I guess I shouldn’t have expected otherwise. There was too mucSome of these essays were funny but overall I felt I was going to o.d. on navel-gazing. I guess I shouldn’t have expected otherwise. There was too much “I was poor,” “I was young,” “I was a struggling writer,” “My kitchen was the size of a placemat.” I would have been more receptive if I were a foodie myself but I definitely am not. (The book was a present.) Reading about food doesn’t stoke my appetite: “I ate eggs,” “I ate mushrooms,” “I ate my boogers,” can’t elicit much more than a patient yawn from me. If I’m home alone for dinner (hallelujah!), there’ll be no dinner. I am a poor, struggling writer with a small kitchen who likes her solitude straight up.