A wonderfully readable account of the early American Revolution which highlights the fragility of the patriot cause and the brilliance of George WashiA wonderfully readable account of the early American Revolution which highlights the fragility of the patriot cause and the brilliance of George Washington....more
The "Terrorist" that the title of John Updike's latest offering refers to is 18-year-old Ahmad, a young man in New Jersey who despises the Western culThe "Terrorist" that the title of John Updike's latest offering refers to is 18-year-old Ahmad, a young man in New Jersey who despises the Western culture around him and embraces Islam, the religion of his absent father but the book is really a story of two adults trying to influence Ahmad onto what they each consider a proper path. Mr. Levy, Ahmad's Jewish high school guidance counselor, attempts to sway Ahmad towards college while Ahmad's religious mentor is steering him (pun intended) into becoming a truck driver (with the obvious but unspoken intention of using him as a suicide bomber).
I had never read any Updike before this and it took me a while to get used to his long-windedness and lack of dialogue, but it's clear that Updike did his homework. Additionally, his observations on psychology and the motivations of each character flesh out the story and make it wholly believable. ...more
I became a fan of David Mitchell last year when I read "Cloud Atlas" (my review) so it was fortunate that I ran into his 2006 book "Black Swan Green"I became a fan of David Mitchell last year when I read "Cloud Atlas" (my review) so it was fortunate that I ran into his 2006 book "Black Swan Green" at the library. Since I had seen it on several year end lists I picked it up and was not disappointed. It's very different from "Cloud Atlas" but does keep the style of having separate stories in different chapters. The major difference this time is that the stories are all about one year in the life of Jason Taylor, an ordinary 13-year-old boy in the UK in the 1980s. In various chapters the boy deals with bullying, popularity, girls, poetry, stammering and his parents divorce, amongst other things. As with "Cloud Atlas", the writing is engaging but this book is more satisfying because there is a resolution to every story and a sense of fulfillment after finishing the 13 chapters - a sense that Jason's story has been told well and fully. I'm excited that Mitchell has two other older novels out there that I haven't yet read....more
Sarah Vowell, the mousey-voiced contributor to NPR's "This American Life" and voice of Violet in "The Incredibles" is a nerd when it comes to presidenSarah Vowell, the mousey-voiced contributor to NPR's "This American Life" and voice of Violet in "The Incredibles" is a nerd when it comes to presidential assassinations. "Assassination Vacation" is a collection of historical tidbits about the murders of presidents Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield. It's a fascinating read for history buffs and even for those who only have a casual interest in presidential history and forensics.
Vowell visits all sorts of crazy sites related to the assassinations including the National Museum of Health and Medicine which contains fragments of Lincoln's skull and the Museum of Funeral Customs which is just a short walk from Lincoln's tomb in Springfield, IL. Along the way, she tells the story of the assassinations and the characters that are involved in them. Lincoln's son Robert, for example, was in the vicinity of all three presidents when they were killed. It's such a weird coincidence that Vowell refers to him as Jinxy McDeath. Stranger still is the fact that John Wilkes Booth's brother Edwin saved Robert's life during the war when Robert fell off a train platform next to a slowly-moving train and was pulled out of the gap by Booth. The book is full of interesting stories like these and Vowell comes across as an expert in the telling.
Along the way, Vowell isn't afraid to criticize the current administration and make some connections between the present war in Iraq and McKinley's preemptive Spanish-American war. Later in the book she likens the squalid conditions that a Booth co-conspirator faced at a prison in Dry Tortugas, FL to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib (which isn't as far-fetched as it probably sounds).
Although Vowell wanders off-topic often, this humorous and entertaining book is a quick and enjoyable read for anyone who has even a slight interest in history. I just hope that she someday writes a sequel about the fourth (and still taboo?) presidential assassination of John F. Kennedy....more
"Cloud Atlas" is unlike any book I've ever read. The plot is a series of different pieces that span the globe and countless generations. The pieces at"Cloud Atlas" is unlike any book I've ever read. The plot is a series of different pieces that span the globe and countless generations. The pieces at first seem to have nothing to do with one another, but they all fit together when examined closely as a whole. It's quite hard to describe so it might be a good idea to explain how the story is structured.
The reader is first presented with "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing", which is not particularly exciting but strangely engaging nonetheless. It breaks off in mid-sentence and suddenly the confused reader is dropped into the next chapter and is reading the letters of Robert Frobisher, a con artist slash musician who is living with a semi-retired composer. The letters suddenly stop and it's the story of Luisa Rey, a wannabe investigative journalist who is trying to unlock the secrets of a nuclear power plant in California. As Rey is hot on the trail of the villainous power plant executives, the reader is dropped into the life of Timothy Cavendish who is tricked into a prison-like retirement home by his brother. By this point I was really starting to wonder what the deal was with this book, but I eagerly pressed on and was rewarded with the next chapter about a clone servant in 22nd century Korea. Just as I started to get the hang of the future, the chapter ends and the "final" chapter begins: the firsthand account of a woman in post-apocalyptic Hawaii. Mitchell rewards the faithful reader at the halfway point of the book by actually writing a full chapter. The Hawaii story actually has a conclusion but this final chapter is not the end of the book. Confused yet?
At this point Mitchell goes back through the chapters in reverse order, finally finishing what he began in the first half of the book. It's in this second half that the connections between the different stories become evident. It is also an intensely rewarding way to finish the book because the ending of each story is revealed. I found myself plowing through the second half nearly twice as fast as the first.
Laden with subtle commentary and symbolism, Mitchell's book shows the connectedness of the human race across time. At the end of the book I felt like he was trying to make some sort of grand point and although I ultimately was not able to figure out what that point was I was certainly entertained all the way through. The unique structure of the chapters is refreshing and I've rarely felt such expectation while turning the pages of a book. For me, this is the true measure of a great story....more
Max Tivoli begins life as a young man in an old man's body and his confessions tell what it is like to grow younger as he grows older. In other words,Max Tivoli begins life as a young man in an old man's body and his confessions tell what it is like to grow younger as he grows older. In other words, he gradually gets smaller, regressing from a man of 60-something to a young boy. It's an interesting way to frame a story, much less a love story, which is what this book is.
Max meets the love of his life, Alice, when he is about 16 but looks like an old man. This rather perverted situation ends with Alice and her mother moving away after Max declares his love. Later, he is lucky enough to find Alice again, and this time their ages are roughly the same. They get married but, despite the fact that he grows younger, she leaves him for another man, but not before getting pregnant with their child. Max then tries to reconnect with his family, finally catching up to them again when he is around 12 years old and that's the only bit of plot I will reveal here.
I will say however, that this story struck me as being the confessions of a selfish, pathetic man. Max is only ever concerned about himself and his great love of Alice. I found it sad that he caused so much pain to Alice and the others around him in the pursuit of his own personal happiness. ...more
I'm just going to come right out and admit it: I'm a sucker for classic 19th century novels. "Anna Karenina" is one of my favorites and I've read my sI'm just going to come right out and admit it: I'm a sucker for classic 19th century novels. "Anna Karenina" is one of my favorites and I've read my share of Jane Austen. When I saw the previews for "Vanity Fair" with the incredibly wicked-looking Reese Witherspoon a few months ago I immediately reserved the book at the library. I haven't seen the movie yet but the book was quite entertaining.
The novel revolves around Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley. Amelia is naive and is a tragic character through much of the story while Rebecca is basically a conniving social climber who I couldn't help but be intrigued by. In light of all the Alias I've been watching lately, I would say Rebecca is a sort of double agent who is very good at manipulating men to get what she wants.
Unfortunately the story bogs down towards the middle, which may be due to the fact that it was originally published chapter-by-chapter in serial form. Then, as if someone kicked Thackeray and told him to finish the book already, another burst of action and dialogue brings to the story to an unexciting but satisfying conclusion....more