If you haven't had the chance to indulge in one of Mary Roach's previous books, you're missing out. Don't even bother reading this review, go out andIf you haven't had the chance to indulge in one of Mary Roach's previous books, you're missing out. Don't even bother reading this review, go out and get Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, read that, and then come back here.
Packing for Mars is another notch in Roach's hilarious approach to scientific history. The book is supposedly about what it will take for a manned mission to Mars, but really it's just an excuse to delve into the weird world of preparing humans for space travel. Mostly, the book deals with the difficulties of testing our meat suits for interstellar travel when we're literally grounded to this planet. Things you never think about, such as the fact that the bladder relies on gravity to know that it needs to be emptied. Good stuff. And no real spoilers, but you'll never look at moon rocks the same way again.
With her usual personal approach to what is normally the driest of all reading, Roach dissects a scientific peer-reviewed journal study into something satisfyingly edible which, if you read the book is better than what the astronauts eat.
My only criticism might be that the book loses it's focus a few times. But like that time you took the "scenic route," to get somewhere, in the end you really don't mind. ...more
Oh yeah, I liked this book. A lot. Rarely does a book discussing what happens to your meat parts when you die make you giggle as much as this one. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers does not really delve into the spiritual aspect of death, with the exception of a few flawed experiments to find out if the soul leaves the body upon death, but it does deal with what happens with all the stuff (by that, I mean our corporeal remains) after we expire.
An interesting thing happened because I read this book. A while ago, I asked my husband what he'd like when he died. He told me that he wanted to donate his body to science. Ick I thought, and told him I wouldn't do it. Why? Because, well, the thought of a bunch of first year med students dissecting the love of my life seemed upsetting. "Why can't you just get cremated like everyone else?" I said.
Then I read this book, and donating your body can mean everything from crash test dummies, to compost and even educational art exhibits, suddenly, hanging out in a coffin six feet under, pumped full of formaldehyde seems, well, quaint. So with a hearty chuckle, I'm convinced that my meat suit will go on to science as well. Hopefully, though, not to end up in the FBI decomposition farm. That's still a little too icky for me....more
Anthony Bourdain is very much the punk rock rebel of celebrity chefs. The chef who isn't afraid to refer to Emeril as an Ewok, and poke fun of culinarAnthony Bourdain is very much the punk rock rebel of celebrity chefs. The chef who isn't afraid to refer to Emeril as an Ewok, and poke fun of culinary-school trained cooks, when at the same time, he is a celebrity chef, and a culinary school graduate. He knows this, and it's not a problem for him.
Kitchen Confidential is part memoir, part how-to, and mostly about sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. It's basically a history of Anthony's obsession with food and drugs from his days as a young boy, until he finally landed a steady job, and got off the heroin. This is not the book you should read if you don't want to know who is cooking your food. If you'd rather be ignorant about what exactly is being served at Sunday brunch, skip this book. You may never eat fish on a Monday again.
In his typical style, he speaks his mind, sometimes harshly about the food industry. His cynicism and sarky nature are evident on every page, sometimes, honestly, it gets annoying. That may be due in no small part to the fact that I was reading this book as the new season of No Reservations started, so I might have just been on Bourdain overload.
I wanted to enjoy this book more, but as much as it was full of great writing, excellent imagery, and unique insight into the world of restaurants, I just found myself more annoyed than excited by the book.
I guess part of it was the fact that Bourdain seems to think that working all hours, miscreant geniuses, machisimo, and locker room humor are the sole province of kitchens. I guess it's a blessing that he's never worked in technology--especially in break-fix arenas. It's another place where calling someone a "cocksucker" means you like them, where even if you're a woman, you need to have a dick, or talk like you do. I guess I just felt like he wasn't giving me any new information. Get a bunch of guys together in a high stress, service environment, and you have to be abrasive, just to survive the night.
Anyhow... It wasn't a bad read. I do know now I never plan to work in a kitchen (the book also made me realize just how many cooks/dishwashers etc. I have known over the years, maybe another reason this wasn't such a revelation for me).
Anyhow, I'm going back to fantasy fiction for a while....more
Firstly, the book is British. If you're not up on your British slang (heck, I didn't know what "rhyming slang" was), thankfully the American version oFirstly, the book is British. If you're not up on your British slang (heck, I didn't know what "rhyming slang" was), thankfully the American version of the book has a handy glossary of British slang, which should help when you're wondering what the heck a Millwall FC is.
Anyhow, the book basically takes several common nursery rhymes, and attempts to give a little bit of background on how they came about, or the story they tell. The forward explains it in acceptable and witty detail, but basically what we know as nursery rhymes were often how history was taught.
The book basically takes a rhyme, and then gives some historical context to it. Sometimes it seems that the connection couldn't be more obvious, other times the connection is a little more specious, sometimes Roberts just kinda wanders off into anecdote land, basically comparing some rhyme to a modern-day occurrence.
It is all done with an amazing amount of humor and wit, and there were several occasions where the book make me laugh out loud while reading, though if you're not a big fan of British humor, this might not be the laugh riot I'm making it out to be.
The book is also quick, niblet reading. I finished it in about a week and a half, and that's with only being able to read a little bit before bed, and on the bright side, I learned a whole lot about the Restoration, without really trying!
If you're interested in history, or just kinda want to know what you're telling your child before bed, this is a good book for you.
Unfortunately, although Roberts touches on some American rhymes (Yankee Doodle, for instance), the rhymes are the British versions, and several I've never heard. The ones that I did know were significantly different from the ones that I learned, which makes me wonder if we have different versions, or if he was using a more archaic version for the book.
To sum up this book quickly: it's good potty reading. In the forward Farquhar explains that he avoids the entire 20th century (with the exception of aTo sum up this book quickly: it's good potty reading. In the forward Farquhar explains that he avoids the entire 20th century (with the exception of a few stories about Wallis Simpson). He basically points out that the "scandals" of the 20th century are nothing compared to let's say ordering a small cache of boys to swim naked with you, so they can nip at the treat between your legs. Marrying a divorcee just seems milquetoast in comparison.
Anyhow, it was an enjoyable read. Sad at times, sometimes even disturbing, but for the most part is written with a witty dark humor that will make you laugh at even the most sickeningly, depraved noble. While Farquhar sticks to European royalty for the book, he does include an entire section on Roman Caesars, and early Popes, all of which easily out-deprave the nobles the rest of the book is about.
Each story is short, a sort of Cliff's Notes. This is especially true if you are familiar with some of the stories. For the stories I already knew, his facts were accurate, if a bit summary. This is good, because each tale is bite-sized, making the book good for niblet reading here and there.
The tales Farquhar chooses to tell are sometimes hits, and sometimes misses. I particularly did not see how the detailed accounting of the murder of the Romanov's really fit with some of the other stories, for example.
If you like a good scandal, need some quick reads for here and there, or have a fascination with the excesses that unbridled power brings, this is a book worth checking out at the library....more
This was a library pick, as I wasn't entirely sure if it would be a keeper. While not exactly something I'd read over and over, it was definitely a goThis was a library pick, as I wasn't entirely sure if it would be a keeper. While not exactly something I'd read over and over, it was definitely a good read, honestly, a perfect little book for your summer reading list, as it's light enough to be read in bits, but chock full of fun things that will prepare you to compete on Jeopardy.
The book is part history, part travelogue, part memoir, covering Vowell's various trips to locations around the United States that have links to three presidential assassinations. The book is witty, sarky, and full of dark humor. Honestly, I think she wanted an excuse to write about a trip to the Mütter Museum. In the book she covers the assassination of Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield. She does so by interspersing random bits of trivia (did you know that Robert Todd Lincoln was present or nearby all three assassinations?) She also manages to tie together such disparate things as a Victorian-era sex commune and America's newest national park.
She does it all in a quick-paced, rapid fire, seemingly random association of events. Sometimes they do click, sometimes they don't, but either way, you'll walk away from the particular topic going "Hrmm... I didn't know that."
This book should be particularly entertaining to people who live in DC or New York City, as a lot of her accounts involve locales in this area. I found the DC stuff particularly charming, as nearly everything she pointed out is familiar to me on some level. I half expected her to start blathering about the Roxy Owls, to be honest.
The low point for me, though, has to do with the fact that the book starts off with a sort of smug cosmopolitan egotism that really turned me off. The whole "I know what bubble tea is, and these backwater farmers I'm visiting don't." I was particularly annoyed with her commentary about Richmond, as she seemed to paint the entire place as full of racist hatemongers. She made this assumption based purely on the fact that the Confederacy based its capital here, and John Wilkes Booth spent a good deal of time here. Heck, she even goes so far as to conjecture that Booth and Poe are so fucked up because they lived here at some point.
I'm kinda offended by this, as I live here, and Richmond, honestly isn't that bad, especially in the racist hatemonger side of things. Sure, we don't have a decent place to get bubble tea anymore, but I live in a neighborhood where it's equally likely that your neighbor is a different race than the same one.
But honestly, that was my only sore point with the book.
I will also add, as a bonus to most of you on my friends list. She is one of us. You know what I mean. She drops the secret handshakes all over the book. From her giddiness at visiting the Müter Museum, to her amusement when a docent patted her gently to warn her that it might be a little "scary," to her pride in the fact that her three year old nephew has the word "crypt" in his limited vocabulary. I can assure you, that you are reading a book written by someone who has listened to Floodland.
Finally, if you consider yourself conservative, support the Iraq war, and think George Bush is the shit (which is honestly what she should have picked on in regards to Richmond), then this book will annoy you and piss you off. Avoid it. Otherwise, it's worth the few days to read it!...more