This book could be summarized as the prototypical story of unlikely band members who share the ups and downs of life on the road and unforgettable advThis book could be summarized as the prototypical story of unlikely band members who share the ups and downs of life on the road and unforgettable adventures along the way. The principal characters, however, defy the prototype. They include a pair of fire-fighting Flathead Indian sisters, three Spokane Indians with conflicting personalities (to say the least) and an evil guitar with a mind of its own.
One of the Spokane Indians, Thomas, is a fabulous story teller, and although all of the characters have stories to tell, his stories are central, essentially weaving those of the other characters into a fine, literary tapestry.
Alexie is well known for creating stunning metaphors and ironic humor, and Reservation Blues provides fine examples of his talent. I found that while I cared very little about the plot, this novel had the appeal of a fast-paced page turner. ...more
I was excited to read this book after encountering E.B. White's introduction to it (in a collection of E.B. White's work), and still it managed to surI was excited to read this book after encountering E.B. White's introduction to it (in a collection of E.B. White's work), and still it managed to surpass my expectations.
The premise is that a cockroach is possessed by the transmigrated soul of a free verse poet named Archy, and Archy types poems every night in the office of a newspaper columnist (Don Marquis) by hopping and pounding each typewriter key with his head. Don Marquis first employed the Archy character in 1916. The column remained popular throughout the 1920s, and collections of the popular column entries began to appear in the 1930s.
Since he can't hold down the shift key, Archy's works are free of capitalization and punctuation. His sidekick is a dancing alley cat named Mehitabel (who claims to be possessed by the transmigrated soul of Cleopatra, among others). Together, they cover a broad number of subjects, including politics, the arts, economics, and alcohol...they have lots to say about alcohol.
These are a few of my favorite Archyisms:
an optimist is a guy that has never had much experience
* * *
prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer and denies you the beer to cry into...more
Inevitably, certain pleasures of life in Provence have been modernized out of existence since the book's first publishing in 1989. Its continued relevInevitably, certain pleasures of life in Provence have been modernized out of existence since the book's first publishing in 1989. Its continued relevance and success may be attributed to the intriguing nature of provençal arts described therein, such as the butchering of a fox, foraging for truffles, and gambling on goat races. Most importantly, any reader will relate to the truly timeless traditions of the region, known simply as eating, drinking and being merry....more
In this book, Michael Pollan recounts the incredible journey of modern apple, tulip, pot, and potato plants, which differ significantly from their wilIn this book, Michael Pollan recounts the incredible journey of modern apple, tulip, pot, and potato plants, which differ significantly from their wild ancestors due to their co-evolution with humans. Altering key characteristics over time, yielding to human desire, these plants have ensured their multiplication and the spread of their genes.
Pollan challenges us to view these botanical success stories from the opposite perspective, as well. In this line of reasoning, it is human culture which has yielded to the destiny of the plant...rafting down the Ohio river with the seeds of intoxication, risking fortunes on the prospect of producing a rare tulip, raising stinky plants without soil or sunlight in order to grow the perfect bud in secrecy, resorting to chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides and genetic engineering to craft a McDonald's French fry.
An analogy which resounds throughout the book is humankind's constant struggle between two classical desires: Apollonian order and Dionysian pleasure. In the garden, on the farm, and in the supermarket, the battle continues day by day. Tender fruit or pest resistance? Larger bloom or sweeter fragrance? Although anyone who buys fruit, vegetables, or flowers will find something to appreciate in this book, the ancient dilemma and its lack of resolution will be most satisfying to those who delight in their own backyard battles: gardeners....more
Although I've never been a big fan of Steve Martin's comedic acting, I've enjoyed examples of his writing, such as his novella "Shopgirl" and his playAlthough I've never been a big fan of Steve Martin's comedic acting, I've enjoyed examples of his writing, such as his novella "Shopgirl" and his play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Reading "Born Standing Up"--Martin's memoirs of his years as a stand-up comedian--allowed me to gain a broader perspective on both his methods and his madness. I doubt I'll ever fully appreciate "The Jerk" "or L.A. Story," but I can appreciate the creative spirit which produced them!...more
Full of fun facts beyond the name-sake of each featured bird, this book is sure to delight any bird lover. Here are a few of my favorite bits of triviFull of fun facts beyond the name-sake of each featured bird, this book is sure to delight any bird lover. Here are a few of my favorite bits of trivia from the book:
(1) "The cardinal was the first bird to be given official state recognition, when in 1926 it was designated the state bird of Kentucky."
(2) "Mozart bought his pet starling when he heard it in a shop, whistling the Allegretto from his G Major Concerto."
(3) "Egyptians mummified both the [ibis] birds and their eggs."...more
This work, which made its start decades ago as a paper for a scientific journal, has ended up as thin, must-read paperback volume for those engaged inThis work, which made its start decades ago as a paper for a scientific journal, has ended up as thin, must-read paperback volume for those engaged in scientific research and instruction, or the tracing of its history. As I cannot categorize myself within that audience, I found the book challenging to read, and perhaps I lack the background to fully appreciate the significance of the author's ideas. (Time might also diminish the accessibility and relevance of the book, as it was originally published in the 1960s.)
The central premise of the book is that scientific revolutions only emerge out of crisis--where numerous people working within a given field come to the consensus that a widely-accepted paradigm no longer meets the demands of their scientific community. Those individuals who are credited with discovering or successfully articulating the new paradigm always build upon the work of predecessors and contemporaries, who might have been equally brilliant, but often receive little or no credit. Timing--that is, being in a position to postulate an idea during a time of crisis--is extremely important; it is not enough to discover a weakness in a paradigm or even to propose a viable alternative, unless a state of crisis demands an alternative.
My two-star rating is more a reflection of the value of the book for a layperson, such as myself, but I can imagine that someone who works or studies within a scientific field may reap more value from it. ...more
Full title: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
Author: Robert M Pirsig
Part travel journal, part modern Bible, this bookFull title: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
Author: Robert M Pirsig
Part travel journal, part modern Bible, this book tackles one central question, "What is quality?" Maintaining his bike throughout his travels becomes a metaphor for maintaining all aspects of the author's life. Good stuff....more
This collection of "essays and recollections" by Archibald MacLeish is a mixed bag, but in a positive sense. It stretches the mind in all the right diThis collection of "essays and recollections" by Archibald MacLeish is a mixed bag, but in a positive sense. It stretches the mind in all the right directions, with bits of comic relief and fuzzy sentiments to keep the material from feeling to heavy.
The book is divided into three parts. Part I was the most difficult for me. In this section, he turns Absurdist movement on its ear, criticizes the pursuit of technology (when not directed towards the interests of humanity), laments the vocationalization of American education, and indulges in nostalgic sentiments about America's Greatest Generation. While I found many of his ideas interesting, and in some cases compelling, they essentially amounted to over-simplified views and narrow perspectives on what I perceive to be more complex issues.
But wait--there's more! Parts II and III were fantastic and immensely enjoyable, though no less enlightening. My favorite essays from Part II include his account of leaving the law profession to pursue poetry in Paris and his surprising lesson on the long-term benefits of having played football for Yale. In Part III, I appreciated his essays on Ezra Pound and Gerald Murphy....more
John Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven invites us to explore the murky waters of religion, from the safe and familiar appeal of community and mora John Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven invites us to explore the murky waters of religion, from the safe and familiar appeal of community and moral fortitude to the mysterious depths of fanaticism. Krakauer focuses on Mormonism, not because he wishes to portray the Mormon faith as more fanatical than competing religions, but for several practical reasons: it’s contemporary, it’s American, and its history is well documented.
Thoughtfully researched and presented, the history of the church is spun around horror stories, past and present, of those who have been victimized by violence and abuse at the hands of early Mormons and modern-day Mormon fundamentalists. Elizabeth Smart’s abduction is covered in one chapter, but the predominant story is that of a grizzly murder—a “blood atonement”—committed against a young mother and her infant. According to the murderers, the act was not a crime because it was commanded by God.
Polygamy is another common theme in the book, and the reversal of the LDS’s position on polygamy is identified as the most influential root of the Mormon fundamentalist movement. Cast out of the church and shunned by mainstream American society, polygamists continue to thrive in secluded areas of Canada, Mexico, and the American West. Krakauer describes the practice of polygamy in terms of rape, incest, neglect, and misogyny.
The book is a worthwhile read, offering a wealth of valuable insight in both historical and modern-day contexts, but I think the author—in spite of his stated intentions—is too easy on mainstream Christianity at the expense of Mormonism. For example, he suggests that Elizabeth Smart wouldn’t have been so easily abducted, had she been raised in a garden-variety Protestant household. On a similar line of criticism, I think the book gives the impression that abuse is integral to the practice of polygamy. Aside from ensuring that all parties to a marriage are consenting adults—an issue which is entirely independent of religion—abuse would be no more prevalent among polygamist families, I imagine, than it is in the average, all-too-revered, nuclear family of any religious persuasion....more
The authors make a fantastic case for the preservation of our secular government. It's too bad the title is apt to be interpreted at once as abrasiveThe authors make a fantastic case for the preservation of our secular government. It's too bad the title is apt to be interpreted at once as abrasive to religious conservatives. In fact, the book is very respectful towards religion.
At the core of the authors' argument is that our constitution came dangerously close to not being ratified over the issue of the separation of church and state. A significant number of delegates (although not quite a majority) thought the constitution should have a clear religious purpose, contain references to Jesus Christ, and require a "religious test" for those seeking public office. Upon losing every single demand, they renounced the document which was ultimately ratified as "godless." (Thus the title reflects not the authors' attitude towards our constitution, but rather the attitude of those delegates who renounced the constitution on the basis that it was not Christian.)
Furthermore, the authors point out that several times in the history of our country, religious zealots have tried to insert God into the constitution...and failed. One such instance occurred following the Civil War, which some believed to be a punishment from God for our failure to give our nation a religious purpose in the Constitution. Good ol' Abraham Lincoln refused to entertain the suggestion at all.
Contrary to the story that modern-day religious conservatives try to sell: that the country was founded by Christians with the intention of forming a Christian government, the authors remind us that although the founders of our country included many religious people and men who respected the role of religion in the community, they purposefully endeavored to create a secular government with no religious purpose.
The other religious-conservative myth busted by the authors is the one claiming that our Christian government has been under the assault of athiest liberals since the 1960s. In fact, the truth is almost the opposite: our secular government has been encroached upon by Christian propaganda since the Cold War (so as to distinguish us from the godless Communists).
Their Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering Poets and More Poets
U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall presents in this book fascinating essays about his encouTheir Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering Poets and More Poets
U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall presents in this book fascinating essays about his encounters and friendships with great poets. Some of them, such as Archibald MacLeish and Yvor Winters, were his teachers. Others he occasioned to meet in college, when he would serve as host to visiting poets. I found the most interesting chapters to be those about poets he came to know principally through interviews he conducted for literary magazines. Among these poets are T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, and Ezra Pound.
The passages about Eliot, Moore, and Pound stand out because they reveal personalities I can admire aside from the accomplishments associated with them. Hall interviewed them in their later years, when they knew their greatest achievements were well behind them, and I was amazed to discover the warmth, humility, and humor projected from these beautiful souls, otherwise known as icons of American poetry.
Hall's account of Ezra Pound's interview, in particular, was moving and inspiring. Pound, perhaps the most controversial figure in American poetry--accused (and sadly, at his worst, "actual") traitor, fascist, and anti-Semite--is revealed in his old age as physically and morally fatigued, paranoid, and riddled with self doubt. Throughout the book, Hall reminds us to judge a poet only by his best work--not by his shortcomings, and an adaptation of the maxim applies well to Pound: we are asked not to forgive the terrible words and actions produced out of poor judgment, but to appreciate the champion supporter and promoter of some of the greatest literary figures we know and love (Eliot, Moore, Frost, Hemingway, among others). We should also appreciate his efforts to produce translations of Chinese, Greek, and Latin poetry. And in the end, for all his triumphs and errors, we see an old man in a jaunty yellow scarf, eating gelato with a wooden spoon, and I find the beauty of that image nearly overwhelming....more
First published in 1958, this book has so many fantastic things going for it. An English vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana finds himself mixed up in aFirst published in 1958, this book has so many fantastic things going for it. An English vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana finds himself mixed up in a deadly charade after reluctantly agreeing to act as a spy for the British government. In want of the money, but not the grief, he decides to fabricate his reports. When the government takes his intelligence seriously, the regrets pile up rather quickly.
Thrilling plot, captivating characters, perpetually relevant conflicts related to family, religion, patriotism, and love--all of these elements come together splendidly in this, my favorite Graham Greene novel. Throw in a scene with allusions to Descartian philosophy, and I'm hooked! ...more
Set in 1950s Vietnam, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is startlingly (and sadly) relevant today. The novel’s title character is a well-meaning idea
Set in 1950s Vietnam, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is startlingly (and sadly) relevant today. The novel’s title character is a well-meaning idealist from Boston who plays the dangerous game of promoting a “Third Force” in the collapsing French colony. This “Third Force” would, of course, espouse American democratic principals, ensuring a safeguard against evil Communism—the otherwise obvious consequence of the colonialists’ defeat. (Of course, the reader knows this is scheme is doomed to end in terrible failure and violence, but the book is a page turner nonetheless; a catchy subplot with sex & drugs does the trick rather nicely.)
More than half a century later, we’re still creating and meddling in bloody conflicts with abstract justifications. Time may not have taught our leaders to act with greater prudence, but it has eroded America’s reputation for acting with the best of intentions. I wonder what Greene-esque novels we might someday read about events occurring today; I predict they’ll be less sympathetic towards our aggression. ...more
Over the past year, Graham Greene has become one of my favorite authors. The Lawless Roads is probably my least favorite among his books I've read, anOver the past year, Graham Greene has become one of my favorite authors. The Lawless Roads is probably my least favorite among his books I've read, and yet it's still full of brilliant narrative.
Set in Mexico in the late thirties, the book is an account of his travels through the country on a mission to document the effects of religious persecution. My biggest gripe has to do with his Catholic bias in approaching the topic. From the very beginning, it seems he's ready to forgive the atrocities of the Spanish colonialists on the grounds that they brought Christ to the heathen of Mexico, while there is no such forgiveness for the contemporary political revolutionaries on the basis of any of their altruistic contributions or ideals.
This pro-Catholic sympathy emerged strongly on the subject of the Indian. Greene gave the Spanish clergy extra brownie points for learning the Indian languages for the purpose of converting naitives, for whatever that's supposed to be worth. To me, this sounds like "another one of the white man's lies." (In modern times, it reminds me of the debate between Democrats and Republicans--which party really represents and defends hard-working, American families? Each would claim the honor, and politicians on both sides of the aisle would claim to espouse Christian family values. And yet Jesus abandoned his family and instructed his followers to do the same--not exactly the example of family values we should want to emulate, but I guess some stupid, religiously-idealized political debates die hard.)
Still, it was a worthwhile read--perfect for the Cinco de Mayo month. And as any good book should do, it reminded me of more reading I should undertake; I really should learn more about Mexican history....more