This is a book that couldn't quite make up its mind. Is it funny? Is it a memoir? Is it a travelogue? Is it going to give straight-up history of MormoThis is a book that couldn't quite make up its mind. Is it funny? Is it a memoir? Is it a travelogue? Is it going to give straight-up history of Mormonism or slyly poke fun at it? The answer to all of these questions is unfortunately "kind of."
Last month I saw the musical The Book of Mormon and so when I saw this book was out, I jumped on it. I had heard of the author (in fact I own his first book though I haven't gotten around to it yet.) And from the cover and the description, I thought it would be funny or at least give me a better idea of the history behind Mormonism. And it was funny in moments, but it also was serious in others. Sometimes the author seemed to think the religion was crazy, and at other times he was very respectful and straightforward. He also hinted in a memoir-style about his failing marriage, but we never find out why it was failing or what happened to it in the end. And the final segment of the book, when Avi was participating in the annual pageant performed in New York State where Joseph Smith claimed to have found the golden plates from which he transcribed and translated The Book of Mormon, was marred by the author's inexplicable use of another name, which was found out right before the performance and he was kicked out. If he'd at least had a good excuse for doing that, I could have excused the deflated ending to the book, but it just felt like he'd stupidly panicked, which is not the sort of behavior we expect from a professional writer being paid to research this book.
That said, I think the musical set my bar too high. The book was very readable, entertaining and light, and I did learn a little bit about Smith and Mormonism, even if not exactly what I'd wanted to learn (I'm not sure the book I want to read exists.) I really liked Steinberg's comparisons of Smith's writing trials to that of every author's struggles to write. And it was interesting how he pointed out that for decades, the story of how Smith wrote the book was much more important than what was in the book. (Possibly still true today although in the late 1980s Mormons were finally encouraged to actually read it.) Laypeople who want to find out a little bit about Mormonism likely will enjoy this book, if they don't expect an academic treatise or a laugh-out-loud farce....more
I heard about this book when Wild first came out. Also a young white woman of privilege, deciding to do a long solo hike in order to straighten out heI heard about this book when Wild first came out. Also a young white woman of privilege, deciding to do a long solo hike in order to straighten out her head. This one decides to cross the Australian desert alone, except for four camels.
Robyn doesn't really give us her background. She just shows up in Alice Springs with a few dollars and her dog. We do eventually learn that she has some family and a graduate degree, but what exactly inspired her is always vague. She isn't running away from a great loss or great regrets. She just wants to be alone and free, and do something extraordinary.
She can't just gather up some wild camels and go so she ends up spending more than a year in Alice, learning about camels and saving money. Finally, halfway through the book, she is ready for her journey (no longer entirely solo as she's gotten some funding from National Geographic, and the NG photographer will be joining her periodically.) An elderly aboriginal an joins her for part of her trip as well.
This trip is more pure in a way, without the benefit of REI and custom-fit boots and camelbacks (which would have been ironic.) Robyn mostly hikes in a skirt (sometimes naked) in old sandals, doesn't drink at all during the day, only in the morning and at night. She doesn't have any real epiphanies and she doesn't have any serious brushes with danger. It is an arduous and difficult trip, but not as life-changing. She seems afterwards to think it was life-changing in the way she views aloneness and the Aboriginals, but I think those parts of her were already there, just heightened by the trip (and perhaps would have been heightened regardless, just by any life experience.) It is interesting, as this took place in the 1970s, to see the differences in the racism and the treatment of Aboriginals, but it was already changing (I noticed her refer to Ayers Rock as Uluru--a name I'd never heard until my trip in 2012). I did enjoy the book but I didn't feel much connection to Robyn, She kept her readers at arms' length. She didn't really let us in to her thoughts, beyond the daily and the practical, and the lack of understanding her motivation did throw me. But it is perhaps one of the original stunt memoirs, although she wrote the memoir much later (it wasn't designed as something to do in order to write a memoir about it.) That might account for some of the distance, since there was distance when she was writing it. But overall, if you like stunt memoirs and books about crazy outdoors feats, this is a good one....more
I lived in New York City, in Astoria, Queens, for four and a half years, from January 2000-July 2004. I lived there through September 11 and through tI lived in New York City, in Astoria, Queens, for four and a half years, from January 2000-July 2004. I lived there through September 11 and through the blackout. I visited last summer. New York is a very special place and it's nice that it's our, as America is such a young country, and so many of the cities in the world that are real treasurers, are elsewhere.
I am a longtime fan of E.B. White and I like essays so I was really looking forward to this book. I was startled at how brief it was, though. It's not even a long essay. I think they really could have done more to beef it up--add a few more essays to round it out. It didn't even take me an hour to read it. However, it is a small gem. Nevermind that it ought to be titled "Here is Manhattan" as Brooklyn and Queens are only mentioned once each, and forget the two other boroughs. But it is interesting that this was written as a part of a travel series, as at this point in his life, the furthest anyone could get White to travel was NYC (from Maine). I do think a former city resident is the right person to give it a fresh look, as they will know the nooks and crannies where the real city lives, not just the large-brush tourist areas.
This edition was published in 1999, and has a frighteningly prescient moment at the end, where White imagines how much destruction a pane could do to the city. This wasn't intended to have shock value or shake readers to their core, like it does today, so I don't think it's a spoiler. In fact, I think warning readers about this is my duty, as White did not intend the current emotional reaction his words will have, and for those of us who did live through September 11 in New York City, it's good to be prepared for references to it.
It's mildly amusing that White himself writes a short foreword to the book being published, a year after the article was written, and already one business he mentioned had gone out of business. But that's part of the New York experience. Yes you can go to Delmonico's and eat at a restaurant that's been around for well over 100 years, but also your favorite restaurant can (and often does) just disappear one day. The city is constantly changing, and the essay is a now-nostalgic look at a New York that no longer exists, where the Third Avenue El has just recently been shut down and one could still eat at Schrafft's. Every resident of New York ought to have a copy of this book....more
As soon as I saw the title of this book, I knew I had to have it. I'd heard about Mr. Deck and TEAL (Typo Eradication Advancement League) a year or soAs soon as I saw the title of this book, I knew I had to have it. I'd heard about Mr. Deck and TEAL (Typo Eradication Advancement League) a year or so ago and heard the book was coming out, but there was a big gap. Now I know why! I had also heard about this in the news so I don't think I'd giving away any big spoilers, but the authors were cited for changing a sign at the Grand Canyon, and it's illegal to make any changes (aka, commit vandalism) on federal property. Understandably, the case (as well as the sentence which included a 1-year gag order) slowed down the book a little, but that doesn't hurt it at all, except possibly in publicity.
Pretty much as you'd expect, it's the story of two guys driving around the country correcting incorrect signs where they can. I was glad that they noticed it was mostly the mom-and-pop shops that are the offenders, and they concluded they were being helpful to these establishments who don't have the resources to have copyeditors like big chains (mostly) do. I worried they wouldn't ever mention that they were kind of picking on the little guys. But just because a store is independent, doesn't mean grammar doesn't count.
Mid-trip, Mr. Deck has a crisis of conscience, wondering if he ought to be the arbiter of grammar, and if he should just live-and-let-live. I was glad when Mr. Herson rejoined him and got him back on the grammar correction bandwagon. Sure, some things like the serial (or Oxford) comma are debatable (I am pro-serial comma), but other things (such as the correct position of the apostrophe in the phrase "Womens' clothes" are not. That is wrong. And yes, errors should be corrected when possible. Why? Because perpetuating poor grammar doesn't help anyone. It's not cute or quaint. It can be really funny (as fans of Apostrophe Catastrophes and the Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks can attest) but it's never a good thing. Kids learn to read from signs (my Mother figured out I could read at age 3 - where she'd previously thought I'd just memorized books I seemed to be reading at home - as I read street signs out of the car window when we drove around town.) As an admitted Grammar Nazi, I was completely on board with their plan. I sympathize with Mr. Deck's reluctance to confront store personnel about mistakes, but as well-proved by the National Park incident, that was always the best course of action.
It was a fun travel book, filled with absurd characters (the women in the educational store really infuriated me) and atrocious examples of spelling and punctuation. Initially I had the ARC of this book, but I just couldn't bring myself to read a book about typos that might itself have typos in it, so I waited until I got the finished book. I'm sure I'll think of them the next time I see "Todays Special's."...more
I was reluctant to read this book. The topic, caving, was enticing to me, but the bad title and ugly jacket made me hesitant, not to mention the compaI was reluctant to read this book. The topic, caving, was enticing to me, but the bad title and ugly jacket made me hesitant, not to mention the comparisons to Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. But I saw the author on "The Daily Show" last week and was won over.
This book tells, in two parts, the race to find the deepest supercave by American Bill Stone in Mexico, and Ukranian Alexander Klimchouk in The Republic of Georgia. Bill Stone is much more of a character, and so the bulk of the book does focus unevenly on him. A driven, obsessed explorer who is willing to sacrifice nearly everything for his quest, he is riveting and hard to take one's eyes off of, in the nature of a car wreck. Klimchouk on the other hand is organized, simpatico with his wife, and just not as interesting although he's just as driven. The descriptions of the explorations are occasionally confusing, but they're certainly exciting and frightening. Being in absolute pitch black darkness for weeks on end is nearly unimaginable but Tabor does a good job of conveying the oppression and danger of the caves. The geography and descriptions of the caves themselves was a little confusing, as was keeping up with all the names.
The book was a fun, fast read, but the writing was more effortful than inspired. Mr. Krakauer doesn't have anything to be worried about. But if you're looking for an exciting adventure story, you won't go wrong with Blind Descent. ...more
After A Voyage Strange and True, I was SO looking forward to this book! I love Mr. Horwitz's writing AND topics, so what could be better, and it prettAfter A Voyage Strange and True, I was SO looking forward to this book! I love Mr. Horwitz's writing AND topics, so what could be better, and it pretty much lived up to my expectations. In fact, in some ways it was even better. I really liked Mr. Horwitz's friend and travel companion Roger. Not only is it always better when your main character has someone to talk to as opposed to internal monologues, but Roger is hilarious: lazy, drunk, and laid-back. A perfect travel companion. While he does share Mr. Horwitz's fascination with Captain cook (to a point), he also has limits much more in line with the reader's (ie: sane.) He reminded me a bit of Stephen Katz, Bill Bryson's friend and occasional travel companion in A Walk in the Woods and Neither Here Nor There.
Tony Horwitz (and often Roger) retrace the 3 major exploration voyages of Captain Cook. He circumnavigated the world 3 times, got the closest to Antartica as anyone did for another 75 years, "discovered" scores of islands including New Zealand and Australia (although the natives and Aboriginals would argue that since they were already there, those places didn't need "discovering") and mapped thousands and thousands of miles of coastline, so accurately that some of his maps were being used until the 1990s. Mr. Horwitz sails in a replica Endeavor ship, travels all over the Pacific from New Zealand to Alaska (although he forgoes Antartica. Roger though goes, but there's only a couple of sentences about Roger's trip.) Filled with fascinating trivia and often-forgotten history, I enjoyed traveling the Blue Latitudes with Tony and Roger. Armchair travel has rarely been so entertaining....more
I waited to read this Tony Horwitz book because I so loved his other two, and I knew this one was his most popular. Maybe my expectations were too higI waited to read this Tony Horwitz book because I so loved his other two, and I knew this one was his most popular. Maybe my expectations were too high, as I did find it great but not as funny as the other two. Of course that might be partly because the Civil War simply doesn't lend itself to much humor. As Mr. Horwitz finds out, if you get even the tiniest bit below the surface, a lot of hurt and anger bubble up.
That said, Mr. Horwitz is a perfect host on this journey, largely because he had no relatives who fought in the war on either side (or were even in this country at the time). He has moved to the South with his Australian wife after living abroad for 20 years, and is intrigued with the South's continued obsession with the war. He travels all around the South (not in quite as organized a way as he does with the explorers in his later books) and looks into all Civil War and Confederate-related events and facts. He hooks up with a group of super reenactors, visits a lot of museums, meets with the Daughters and Sons of the Confederacy.
This book is filled with obscure facts, the truth behind various myths, and lots and lots of American history. Mr. Horwitz is an amiable companion for this trip. He laments the McDonaldsization of America, points out hypocrisies and discrepancies he comes across, and is even-handed and fair in his investigation. Personally, I was disappointed he didn't go to middle Tennessee at all where the last gasp of the Confederacy was fought, but that's a minor quibble and unlikely to both other non-Nashvillians. This book should be a...more
Very recently I had been lamenting to a friend that I was melancholy as I'd only read one 5-star book this year. And then I read A Voyage Long and StrVery recently I had been lamenting to a friend that I was melancholy as I'd only read one 5-star book this year. And then I read A Voyage Long and Strange! Yay! My second 5-star book this year! I ran across this book a couple of months ago at a friend's house in Chicago. I was just about to hide it in my suitcase when I noticed it was autographed. Argh. I couldn't even ask to borrow it since I live in another state. I looked at all the maps and other images throughout, read the first few pages, and lusted for it. I will admit to not having finished it in one day but it is longish (400 pp.) and has a ton of information, and also I was thrilled that it took so long to read as I got to enjoy it all the longer!
Mr. Horwitz was in Plymouth, MA, and saw the Plymouth Rock. If you've ever seen it, it's a big let-down. It's fairly small, has a big crack down the middle, and really doesn't hold up to its publicity. He thought it was a little silly to have so much hype for something not important in American history (and actually, whether it has any historic importance is even up for debate), as Plymouth was by far from the first place Europeans set foot on American soil. In fact, what happened between Plymouth and 1492? That's a good chunk of time. And of course the answer isn't "nothing." So Mr. Horwitz sets out to find out exactly what happened during that century that history class normally skips. Turns out, a lot, and it was pretty interesting (in my opinion history class always skips the interesting stuff.)
Did you know that Plymouth wouldn’t have been colonized if not for Syphilis? And the woman who successfully got Thanksgiving recognized as a national holiday is the same woman who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? And that St. Augustine, FL is 50 years older than Plymouth? And that Vikings (actually Greenlanders) visited Canada and Maine centuries before Columbus?
I thought this book was going to be a more straightforward history book, but instead it's also a memoir/travelogue. Mr. Horwitz literally follows in the footsteps of the explorers and conquistadors (and slaves and castaways) that traipse nearly all over the lower 48 prior to the landing of the Mayflower. He visits historic sites (many sadly difficult to find, neglected, and some even paved over or sunken), and talks with park rangers, tour guides, local historians, reenactors, and sometimes local kooks. I was impressed actually with the number of locals he talked to who do know who Coronado and Hernando de Soto are (in fact, I fear a quiz taken at my local suburban Wal-Mart would result in far worse answers than he gets in the back woods and rural communities of the South and Southwest.)
Although Mr. Horwitz is erudite and full of historical research, he manages to talk to otherwise reticent individuals who don't always want to share, and obviously doesn't come across as a snob. He's willing to go into a Florida swamp in summer, eat mysterious foods, and canoe across the Mississippi river. I imagine his willingness to try things goes a long way towards his ability to get strangers to talk to him. He's also fun and funny. He recognizes irony and the humor in futility. He doesn't treat these explorers with reverence, nor is he attempting to tear down all sacred cows with his research. He is trying to present realistic portrayals of men who today's society might find to be racist barbarians, and even occasionally crazy (I have read excerpts of Columbus's journals and Mr. Horwitz is very kind in his summary of them.) Mr. Horwitz goes into this project with an open mind, and a healthy dose of skepticism and determination. I occasionally laughed out loud, learned a vast amount (most of which is pretty darn useless, my favorite kind of information!), and immediately ordered his other books. To me, this book read a lot like Bill Bryson's travels around the U.S., but with a large dose of historical facts sprinkled in. I am thoroughly annoyed with myself that I had heard about his books when they came out, I even thought to myself that they sounded good and like I'd like them, and then I didn't do anything. Am rectifying that egregious oversight now. I absolutely loved this book. A perfect chaser to it would be Mayflower by Nathanial Philbrick, who takes over just where Tony Horwitz ends (although not with much humor or irreverance.)...more
Luckily I read this while visiting friends fluent in French becuase occasionally the book will have an important sentence in French with no translatioLuckily I read this while visiting friends fluent in French becuase occasionally the book will have an important sentence in French with no translation. Most single words were either not important to speficially understand, or I could get from context, but these others were lost on me until my friends could explain them. I'd have been highly annoyed if I wasn't with them while reading. Otherwise, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and fun memoir. Nothing shocking or out of character - especially if you're seen the movie "Julie & Julia" but very entertaining and makes Julia Child's career even more impressive. She led an unusual life, particularly for her generation and upbringing, and she enjoyed every minute of it. ...more
Quite fun! I can see the comparison but as usual, I think everyone else is a pale comparison to Bill Bryson. However, Maarten Troost might well be theQuite fun! I can see the comparison but as usual, I think everyone else is a pale comparison to Bill Bryson. However, Maarten Troost might well be the closest. This book managed to make me both really wish I could go to the South Pacific, and really glad I'm not there. Sylvia I didn't get much a feel for, but the glimpses of her were also funny as she seems to be a straightforward, no-crap kind of woman. The running theme of Mr. Maarten's novel (still unwritten to this day) was also amusing. The names of the locals were very difficult to decifer to the point where even at the end of the book I wasn't sure who was who, but that wasn't really important. I think the book could have used a glossary, for even when Mr. Troost explained what a lavalava was, it was 50 pages later when I had forgotten and was hunting for the explanation that I thought all these foreign words could have stood the glossary treatment. I loved the chapter headers, which were obviously an homage to 18th-century writing a la Stevenson. I was looking for a funny book where nothing bad happened that would make me laugh, and this fit the bill 100%....more