Somebody's Heart Is Burning is the memoir of a white American woman who spent a year in Africa, fleeing confusion over a relationship. ("It's my life,Somebody's Heart Is Burning is the memoir of a white American woman who spent a year in Africa, fleeing confusion over a relationship. ("It's my life, and if I want to run from it, I can," she asserts from the first page.) She begins as a work-camp volunteer in Ghana, and then visits Mali and East Africa as a tourist. I went into this book assuming I'd hate the narrator - given her circumstances for traveling, I figured she'd have a bit of an ego and would spend too much time implying that she is a Wonderful Person for having Taken Risks and Experienced Africa. And while she does have a bit of ego to her storytelling style, I was also reassured by how often she questioned her behavior and admitted that she didn't have all the answers. She admits when she acts wrongly, whether out of pride or selfishness or misplaced good intentions.
She travels so much and interacts with so many different people that a lot of the book is a blur. I feel like I picked up a lot of trivia but didn't leave the text with any real insights or understandings - not into Africa or into Tanya Shaffer. It's an enjoyable day's diversion for someone who enjoys reading memoirs or travel books, but that's about as much as it is. ...more
Complications deals with the mysteries and uncertanties of medicine, beginning with a reminder that doctors are (like the rest of us) fallible humans,Complications deals with the mysteries and uncertanties of medicine, beginning with a reminder that doctors are (like the rest of us) fallible humans, and ones who often have to pretend they know more than they really do. He brings up difficult questions, like the quandary of giving a patient full disclosure ("Hi, I'm Dr. Gawande, and this is the first time I've ever performed this complicated surgery. But don't worry! The other doctor in the room has done it plenty of times and will be here to take over if I start botching things too badly!") or accepting that new doctors will never learn how to perform complicated surgeries if someone isn't their first time.
Dr. Gawande's purpose in writing this book was certainly not to glorify doctors, but it was also not to belittle them in any way. He seems awed at the power given to doctors, and the way that doctors are routinely forced to make difficult decisions from inconclusive evidence. He notes that there is rarely a problem of good doctors vs. bad doctors, but more that every doctor has "on" moments and "off" moments - what time of day it is, how busy the shift has been, what sorts of patients s/he's seen that day, etc., etc., etc. Even the best of doctors make mistakes. (He provides examples from his own career as well as from others'.)
I've been skeptical of medicine for a long time, and I must admit this book didn't make me any more excited or reassured about the prospect of ever ending up on an operating table. I have quite a bit to think about, but most of what I'm taking from this book is more anecdotal than informative. It's a worthwhile read, and gives insight on what it's like to be on the other side of the doctor's table, but isn't focused or thesis-driven enough to leave the reader with any new revelations or convictions. ...more
This boo is a story, in diary form, about a remedial English class in impoverished Long Beach, California, and the teacher who inspired the class to tThis boo is a story, in diary form, about a remedial English class in impoverished Long Beach, California, and the teacher who inspired the class to turn their lives around. To protect the privacy of the students and to show unity, the diary entries don't have names or personal information associated with them (except where students chose to reveal personal information in the course of their entries).
For the most part, the book succeeds at being overwhelmingly inspiring. Many of the students in this school have horror stories to tell - friends dying from gang-related violence, absentee parents, homelessness, rape, drugs, pregnancy, disease - you name it. They start out hating each other and their teacher based almost entirely on racial assessments, but quickly become a supportive, familial group. Not only that, but they get national and international attention and have the opportunity to travel to Washington DC, New York City, and Europe; meet literary heroes such as Zlata Filipovic (who wrote a diary about her life in war-torn Bosnia) and Miep Gies (friend of Anne Frank); and be featured in newspapers and on Prime Time Live with Connie Chung. Obviously, this is not an ordinary high-school class, and you have to admire both the teacher and the students that made all this happen.
Sometimes I wished I could see a bit more of the teacher and her strategies - the book glosses over the first few months, when the students were hostile, and doesn't give a good sense of what really brought them around. But the book is the students' story, not the teacher's, so I understand that in a way, I'm asking this to be a different book. Also, it took me a long way into the book to realize that the Freedom Writers weren't just one class of students, that all the different classes Ms. Gruwell taught (presumably about five of them per year) were collectively a group called the Freedom Writers that contained about 150 students. At first I couldn't understand how Ms. Gruwell got off only teaching one high-school class, and then I couldn't understand how students in all of her different English classes ended up becoming this unified group in spite of not having class together.
The book serves mostly to be a snapshot of things turning out right in the face of adversity - an incredibly diverse group of students from an impoverished, gang-controlled urban area, students whom the rest of the system had already given up on, turns itself around, succeeds, and heads en masse to college. It does not serve much at all to be a manual on how to enact that kind of change in a classroom. So it's good to know that success stories really do exist, but I don't feel like I know much more about how to accomplish those successes, which I must admit was part of my own agenda in approaching this book. As far as being a feel-good, believe-in-humanity kind of book, though, The Freedom Writers Diary is a huge success....more
I've loved Oliver Sacks for a long time, but up until now I'd only read and re-read The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on MaI've loved Oliver Sacks for a long time, but up until now I'd only read and re-read The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars. The Island of the Colorblind seemed like a natural next choice for me, because it combines my interest in neuropsychology with my interest in island biogeography (the study of the way species on islands evolve to become very specialized, to the point where an extremely high percentage of the species on any given island may be endemic to that particular island). The Island of the Colorblind actually contains two separate but closely related books of about 100 pages each, the first being the titular story, and a second called "Cycad Island." (The book also contains nearly another 100 pages of endnotes.)
As Sacks says in the opening line of the Preface, "This book is really two books, independent narratives of two parallel but independent journeys to Micronesia." In "The Island of the Colorblind," he visits Pingelap and Pohnpei, two neighboring islands, to study the unusually high incidence of achromatopsia, or total colorblindness. As one comes to expect from Sacks, the text not only explores the condition and its effects on individuals and society, but also revels in the botany, zoology, and history of the islands themselves. Sacks is openly fascinated with so many facets of the world that it's hard not to share his excitement, and "The Island of the Colorblind" is a delight to read.
The first half of "Cycad Island" picks up where "The Island of the Colorblind" left off - this time Sacks is visiting Guam to study a mysterious disease known as lytico-bodig. While this disease shows similarities to a number of other diseases, including Parkinson's, it appears to be a separate condition which exists only on Guam and some of its surrounding islands (and its cause and treatment, at least to the time of Sacks's writing, remain unknown). However, mid-way through "Cycad Island", the focus of the text shifts abruptly from his previous admixture of medicine, biology, and history to a strict discussion of cycads (a kind of primitive plant resembling ferns and palm trees). While cycads are closely related to his discussion of lytico-bodig (it has been suggested that the disease could be caused by toxins in the plants, since cycads are favored foods of the Chamorros people of Guam), the change in focus is abrupt, and the singlemindedness of his discussion does not reflect the charm of Sacks's usual diversity of interests, and for the most part becomes quite dry.
I love Oliver Sacks and I'd heartily recommend reading anything of his. However, the sudden change in focus three-quarters of the way through The Island of the Colorblind kills the momentum of what is otherwise a delightful book. Also, the extensive use of notes in this text make it hard to follow the story well - either you ignore them (which I appear to be unable to do), or you stop every few paragraphs to read a full-page digression at the back of the book. It seems that Sacks was allowed to wax somewhat overindulgent in this book, and for this reason I wouldn't suggest it as the first place to visit Sacks's writing, although it's well worth a read if you already know and enjoy his other works....more
I hadn't heard of This Organic Life before receiving it as a Christmas gift from my sister, but it proved to be a delightful work of garden-inspired tI hadn't heard of This Organic Life before receiving it as a Christmas gift from my sister, but it proved to be a delightful work of garden-inspired thoughts on diet, life, and responsibility. I've already read a number of books in this genre (notably Deep in the Green and Home Ground) but this one took a much more overtly environmental stance than the others, which tend to focus more on the joy of gardening while only brushing against the cultural and societal significance of producing one's own food.
Dr. Gussow's main argument is that we are killing our planet by choosing to consume foods shipped halfway across the world and completely out of season, instead of producing our own food and supporting local farmers. She is most convincing and convicting, and the synchronicity of picking up this book right around the same time I discovered King's Hill Farm helped me decide to sign up for their community-supported agriculture program. We'll be eating lots of locally grown produce now, for cheaper than we'd pay to buy it (imported from all parts of the world) at the grocery store.
The only part of the book I found disappointing was her section on meat-eating, which she seems to justify entirely based on the fact that death is part of life, as if the fact that she has to kill the occasional groundhog or rabbit to keep them from ruining her crop supply means that it logically follows that eating animals (and not the ones she's killed, either, which she disposes of, but cattle and chickens raised by other people) is necessary. She doesn't even acknowledge the possibility that one can be vegetarian for environmental and ethical reasons and still agree that killing, when done responsibly and respectfully, is okay and maybe even required at times. Her section on why she eats meat is very short and dismissive, and I felt it really wasn't in keeping with the rest of the book, which is extremely well thought-out and sensitive. It seems as if she would rather skip over the topic entirely but knew people would expect her to explain her choice one way or the other.
As I said, though, that's really the book's only flaw. The rest of the text is a very compelling argument for growing one's own food and eating seasonally, as well as a joyful celebration of the act of gardening. It's the combination of the two - purpose and delight - that makes This Organic Life work so well.
It was Dillard's interest in Fabre that made me choose to read this book, a collection of excerpts from his other works (with titles such as The Life of the Scorpion, The Hunting Wasps, and The Glow-worm and Other Beetles). Fabre, like Dillard, writes about his observations of nature, although Fabre was much more singleminded in his interests: He was fascinated by instinct and by insects. Many of his experiments centered around the question of whether insects have a kind of rationality or whether they operate entirely on instinct (and he came to conclude that the latter is nearly always the case).
Fabre recounts caterpillars so reliant on their silk trails that they will walk until exhaustion following a circular path if they cannot find a piece of silk leading off of the circle; giant nocturnal moths that travel for miles following the scent of a single female; and scorpions that enact seemingly tender and loving rituals before mating, only to have the female consume the male after the act. Fabre's passion for his experiments and observations is so palpable that it is hard not to share his infatuation with creatures that otherwise might seem like singularly unpleasant material for leisure reading (dung-beetles, weevils, and grubs).
Although I wouldn't recommend this book to someone who didn't already have an interest in nature-writing and a certain love of the less cuddly aspects of creation, I enjoyed Fabre's fascinating insect world and his obvious love for his subjects....more
The Quality School owes its whole premise to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but unfortunately its author, Dr. William Glasser, is neitherThe Quality School owes its whole premise to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but unfortunately its author, Dr. William Glasser, is neither the philosopher nor the rhetorician that Robert Pirsig is. The Quality School suffers from bland writing and poorly explicated ideas, although the concepts themselves are for the most part worthwhile. Dr. Glasser makes no attempt to define quality (even to say, as Pirsig did initially, that Quality by its nature cannot be defined) until the end of chapter seven, roughly two-thirds of the way through the book; and even then he uses the word "quality" in his definition! I found the overuse of that term, undefined, immensely distracting, especially since he makes contradictory claims about quality, saying in one place that students can inherently recognize quality in schoolwork and in another place that students will not recognize quality unless it is pointed out to them.
His argument is that American schools are typically run by teachers and administrators who govern by coersion and punishments, rather than respecting that students will do work freely if they can see quality in the tasks they are asked to do. I agreed with many of his ideas, although the presentation (laden with business jargon) made me wince. It was doubly off-putting to realize that Dr. Glasser runs an organization that consults with schools to help them become Quality Schools (capital Q, capital S), and toward the end of the book he makes the claim that teachers and administrators cannot really understand how to become a Quality School without proper training (which is of course acquired by contracting with his organization). He also spends too much time hyping other books he has written, and often rather than explain a term or theory he refers the reader to one of his other books.
I saw this on a display rack at the library, Susan Orlean's name caught my eye because I really liked The Orchid Thief, and there turned out to be sevI saw this on a display rack at the library, Susan Orlean's name caught my eye because I really liked The Orchid Thief, and there turned out to be several writers in the collection whose names I recognized. I particularly wanted to read the Oliver Sacks essay, and was interested to check out the selections from David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, David Sedaris, and a few others. I enjoyed reading the collection, but it didn't really introduce me to any new writers I got especially excited about, and I was disappointed to find that the Oliver Sacks essay was just another revisitation of the Awakenings story of the post-encephalitic patients, with a slightly different angle (people's experience of time). David Foster Wallace's (predictably overlong and annotated) essay from Gourmet magazine may have been the most interesting one in spite of its length - he set out to review a lobster festival in Maine and ended up reflecting on animals' experience of pain and the need for the sort of people who read Gourmet magazine to reflect on the pain that goes into the food they eat. He doesn't make any judgment calls, just presents his research about what lobsters and other animals experience as they're boiled alive or otherwise killed, which I thought was a pretty interesting angle given the magazine it was published in. Overall, I don't regret reading this collection of essays, but there wasn't much that was exceptional about it, and it's not really worth seeking out to read when there are so many better books of essays out there....more
This nonfiction book purports to be the story of an epileptic Hmong child and her family's interactions with American medicine. However, it is actuallThis nonfiction book purports to be the story of an epileptic Hmong child and her family's interactions with American medicine. However, it is actually an introduction to the Hmong people and a tale of the path that brought them from China to Laos to Thailand to the United States, interspersed with occasional chapters about Lia Lee and her epilepsy. Lia's story was interesting, but there ultimately wasn't a lot to say, and after awhile I found myself wishing the author would have picked one story or the other (Lia or the Hmong people) and just told the one. I would say this is very informative as an introduction to the Hmong people, and well worth reading for that topic, but it's a disappointment as a story of shamanism vs. Western medicine. Someone probably should have just cut the parts about Lia out of the book, but I guess that's the big glitzy selling point of the book, even if that's not what it's primarily about....more
I read Durrell's The Aye-Aye and I a couple of years ago and LOVED it and always meant to read more of his books, but this is the first time I've retuI read Durrell's The Aye-Aye and I a couple of years ago and LOVED it and always meant to read more of his books, but this is the first time I've returned to him since then. I was under the mistaken impression that the "family" in this story would be Durrell and his wife and children, but it's actually a memoir about his childhood years on the Greek island of Corfu. Durrell's books focus on animals and travels, but he injects a lot of humor into his storytelling, too, and this book and its cast of human and animal characters is no exception. It was overall a very funny and fascinating story, but I have to admit that while The Aye-Aye and I practically read itself, I had to struggle to keep up momentum in My Family and Other Animals, although I can't really understand why. It's a good story, but dense and a little slow-moving. Worth a read, but maybe not the best introduction to Durrell if you've never read him before....more
Mutants is a study of many of the ways the human body can grow or develop differently. The book is fascinating, and there are some very well-chosen piMutants is a study of many of the ways the human body can grow or develop differently. The book is fascinating, and there are some very well-chosen pictures (although I would have liked more pictures, given the wealth of conditions he discusses in the book, some of which can be difficult to visualize in one's head), but it has a tendency to become overly scientific - the age-old problem of authors not being able to commit to one audience, and trying to write for laypeople and scientists alike. The discussions of gene sequences, etc., can become tiresome, but they are always mercifully short. Overall a fascinating book, but more of a survey than an in-depth study....more
I had never heard of Vowell before reading this book, although she's relatively well known as a writer and as a contributor to This American Life. TheI had never heard of Vowell before reading this book, although she's relatively well known as a writer and as a contributor to This American Life. The Partly Cloudy Patriot is a collection of humorous essays, most dealing in some way with American history and/or patriotism. Some of the essays I loved; others grated on me a bit, mostly during the times when Vowell's writing became overly self-aware in the manner of so many of the McSweeny's family of writers. However, whenever Vowell forgets herself and gets truly geeky about things she loves, she is such a convincing and engaging writer, and those essays are the ones that wrapped me up in Vowell's world so much that I wanted to learn about and do all the things she was geeking about....more
A friend recommended this awhile ago, and I found it at the DePaul library (it's not the easiest book to find, although Amazon seems to have it in stoA friend recommended this awhile ago, and I found it at the DePaul library (it's not the easiest book to find, although Amazon seems to have it in stock every once in a while). It's a collection of essays dating from 1845 to the present, all written about nonvoting (the subtitle is "those who refuse to vote and the legitimacy of their opposition"). Some of the essays are better than others, but overall it's excellent food for thought. The general theme is that voting is a means of perpetuating an unjust system wherein a small group of people impose their wills on the masses & that this is a form of violence. It's basically written by and for people with a libertarian/anarchist mindset - several of the essays are specifically directed toward libertarians who don't see a contradiction in the idea of a Libertarian Party - but it was very interesting to read & think about these issues and ideas....more
A very mixed bag of food essays. The book is more or less structured to alternate between longer (~6 page) essays by established food writers or chefsA very mixed bag of food essays. The book is more or less structured to alternate between longer (~6 page) essays by established food writers or chefs and shorter (~2 page) "In The Trenches" essays from Regular People. Each writer provides at least one recipe, and the writers of the longer essays also get a page or so to list a few of their favorite cookbooks.
The notable exception to the rule that the longer essays are by people working in the food industry is the inclusion of a piece from Stephen King, who phones in what is unquestionably the worst essay in the book and whose recipe offering is a cake recipe he got off allrecipes.com that features his suggestion that there's no point in making your own icing when frosting in a can tastes so good. I couldn't help feeling that this essay was included simply for the name recognition, though I think having essays from Mario Batali and Mark Bittman already lends more than enough weight to a book of food essays.
The book is subtitled "Culinary Adventures of Fathers Who Cook for Their Families," though I think that only means that the writers had to have children to be allowed to participate in this project, because while each essay is about food, only some talk about their families - maybe half the essays actually mentioned cooking for or with the writer's children. The writers are all men, most of them are from New York, and some of them enjoy name-dropping at irrelevant times ("I once cooked this for Bruce Springsteen and his mom"). None of the essays particularly struck me as being five-star pieces of writing, and I have to admit most of them were entertaining in the moment but quickly blurred together so that it's hard for me to say in retrospect which ones stood out (I think the Thomas Beller essay, told in storylike vignettes, may have been my favorite). This is the sort of book that I don't regret reading, but I can't imagine myself recommending to anyone.
I did get really excited about cookbooks while reading this, though, and may pick up a few new ones based on hearty endorsements from various writers in this book....more
This slender book is subtitled "A Memoir," but "A Meditation" might be more appropriate - it's a reflection very specifically on how one tragic incideThis slender book is subtitled "A Memoir," but "A Meditation" might be more appropriate - it's a reflection very specifically on how one tragic incident in a person's life can shape the rest of their days. Half a Life opens with Darin Strauss's tragedy: At age 18, while he was driving some friends to play miniature golf, a girl on a bicycle swerves in front of Darin and is struck before he has time to react. She is taken to the hospital, but dies soon after. At age 36, Darin writes a memoir that reflects on the ways the second 18 years of his life were impacted by the accident everyone agreed wasn't his fault but that nevertheless crippled him with guilt for years.
The title gets at several things. Most concretely, the book talks only about the half of Darin's life that followed the accident. However, the title also alludes to the demand the dead girl's mother made of Darin, that he promise to do everything twice as well because he was living for two people now - only half his life was his, because the other half was spent remembering Celine and hoping he was experiencing enough to fill two lives. Finally, there's the fact that Darin admits at the end that he's left a lot out of this "memoir" in order to focus on his struggle to come to terms with the accident; the book makes it feel like the accident was the singular event in Darin's life, and while I certainly don't mean to slight the significance of it, I do think that in the end this book only tells about half of Darin's post-accident life, the half that struggled to make sense of the fact that he had unwittingly killed a person before he'd even finished high school.
Half a Life definitely succeeds at being a meditation on the impact of tragedy on our lives, and it's worth a read from this perspective. However, as a memoir, it comes up a bit short - I still feel like I've only had half a glimpse at Darin's life, and honestly, I was relieved to learn at the end that he had plenty of life experiences that weren't completely fixated on the accident. You're really only getting half of Darin's life in this book, if that, but you do walk away with a much stronger understanding of how completely a tragedy can reshape a person's life....more
I love Oliver Sacks, but I don't think this is one of his stronger works. Mostly I feel like he didn't quite know what kind of book he wanted to writeI love Oliver Sacks, but I don't think this is one of his stronger works. Mostly I feel like he didn't quite know what kind of book he wanted to write here; it starts off with case studies of other people, then talks about some of his personal experiences with vision and quirks of visual processing, then reprints a journal he kept while he underwent treatment for ocular melanoma, then concludes with a theoretical essay about different ways that blind people understand the world and use the visual parts of their brains.
None of it was boring or dry, but nothing really drew me in either. Sacks at his finest keeps you marveling at all the strange and unique ways the human mind can function (or disfunction). This book is interesting, but I never really hit any "wow!" moments. I'll continue to point people toward The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat or An Anthropologist on Mars to introduce them to Sacks....more
This is not the book I expected or wanted it to be. I read it after The Fruit Hunters and wanted it to be more of the same - essays about weird foodsThis is not the book I expected or wanted it to be. I read it after The Fruit Hunters and wanted it to be more of the same - essays about weird foods - but this one is more of a travelogue that happens to deal with food, drink, and other substances. That would still be fine, but I found the author insufferable and wanted less of him and more of the things he was consuming. There was far too much bad-boy posturing (I'm flaunting the law in Singapore! I'm smuggling banned substances across borders!) and not enough content for this to be any kind of must-read....more
SUPER INTERESTING! Admittedly, some chapters work better than others, but I don't think you can read this book and not want to start getting more fruiSUPER INTERESTING! Admittedly, some chapters work better than others, but I don't think you can read this book and not want to start getting more fruit - and weirder fruit - in your diet. You'll learn a lot about exotic fruits and the people who love them; import laws; and a whole host of reasons why you'll never get a chance to taste most of these fruits if you don't travel. Related note: Does anyone want to go to Borneo with me?...more
It probably would have taken me the rest of my life to finish this book if I didn't have a library deadline hanging over my head. It's not that the stIt probably would have taken me the rest of my life to finish this book if I didn't have a library deadline hanging over my head. It's not that the story isn't interesting, and Bissinger is a good writer, but it's told in a very journalistic way that keeps the characters at arm's length so that you never really feel invested in them or even get to know them well enough to remember which one is which. I kept having to thumb back to figure out who people were because they'd be introduced, not mentioned again for fifty pages, and then mentioned by last name only without any clues to remind you of your earlier introduction to that person.
Friday Night Lights is the nonfiction account of the 1988 Permian Panthers, a high-school football team from Odessa, TX, an oil town that has so little going on that its residents have become completely obsessed with the nearly professional-caliber Panthers. Each of the players are introduced in turn, and the book starts with the preseason and follows the team as they chase their goal to become the 1988 state champions. I don't know the first thing about football, but most of the book is about people, both as individuals and as a society, so I didn't feel like my lack of knowledge made the book inaccessible.
I will say that I've only ever seen two episodes of the TV show based on this book, but I'm pretty sure it's only very, very loosely connected, so don't feel any obligation to read this just because you're a fan of the show. It's an interesting book for sure, but slow going because of the style....more
I'm never quite sure what to do with the book-with-interspersed-recipes genre. Am I actually supposed to read the recipes along with the rest of the bI'm never quite sure what to do with the book-with-interspersed-recipes genre. Am I actually supposed to read the recipes along with the rest of the book? And when I finish the book, does it go on my bookshelves or in the kitchen with my cookbooks?
Having tried a couple of recipes in this book, I think I'm going to classify it as a regular book and put it with all my other non-cookery books. Lebovitz is a smart, funny writer, who has a lot of great insights about life in Paris but manages to put a very David Sedaris-like humorous twist to everything he says. He's a professional chef, so much but not nearly all he has to talk about relates to food, and every chapter ends with recipes. Some of them sound delicious, but neither of the ones I tried impressed me that much (though I LOVE Lebovitz's ice cream cookbook, The Perfect Scoop), so I would definitely recommend reading this for the narrative and not so much for its kitchen potential....more
It took me two months to read this book and I think I only finally forced myself to finish it because I was on my last available renewal at the librarIt took me two months to read this book and I think I only finally forced myself to finish it because I was on my last available renewal at the library. I really liked Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Nafisi is a good writer, but somehow I just never really got drawn into her memoirs. She had an interesting family and lived through some very interesting times in Iran, but this book is definitely about her parents much more than it's about Nafisi or Iran - and maybe it's because her parents were so difficult for her to get to know that I never felt like I really knew them either. In the end I think this book was probably a very cathartic and necessary thing for Nafisi, but it didn't do much for me....more
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the memoir of the former editor-in-chief of the French Elle. He suffered a stroke in his 40s which caused his bodThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the memoir of the former editor-in-chief of the French Elle. He suffered a stroke in his 40s which caused his body to shut down almost completely while his mind stayed completely unaffected. Confined to a hospital bed, able to communicate only by blinking one eyelid, he dictated his thoughts for publication, letter by letter. It's a powerful book, and one that takes almost no time at all to read, but ultimately it seemed like the circumstances of the story were more compelling than the book itself. The excitement around this book certainly comes at least in part over the fascination of the author having spelled out each word by blinking his eye. Take that away, and it's a quick, meandering look at the ways that health and accidents can change our lives instantly and permanently. ...more
My problem with Musicophilia is that it's much more abstracted than what I've come to expect from Sacks; it summarizes information about many people Sacks has worked with or heard about but rarely brings those people into the text in any kind of significant way. Out of 29 chapters, there were I believe two that had a more "case study" feel to them, and unsurprisingly, those were the two that I found most engrossing and was saddest to move on from. The rest of the book, while interesting, felt like work to get through - not what I'm used to from Sacks. This book is all right, but it isn't the place to start with Sacks if you've never read any of his works before....more
I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn't work for me. I spent most of the MONTH it took me to get through it wondering why I didn't justI really wanted to like this book, but it just didn't work for me. I spent most of the MONTH it took me to get through it wondering why I didn't just give up and move on to something else. I'm still not sure why I stuck it out.
Notes from a Small Island deals with a walking tour Bill Bryson made of England shortly before he and his family left the country to move back to the US. There are all sorts of interesting anecdotes here, but it all feels quite obscure, like half the time he's trying to share an in-joke with people who have been to those same places.
I could have dealt with the in-joking. The thing that really put me off was how hard he seemed to be trying to get the reader to laugh. His jokes felt overdone, and I think his tale could have really benefited from a bit more subtlety in its humor.
I know a lot of people love Bryson, so I'm wondering if I just picked the wrong book to start with. This one just felt like a chore to get through, which I don't think is the intended "travel humor" experience. Oh well....more
This book is really good, but for some reason took me forever to get through. It's a quite funny and well-written look at different things that happenThis book is really good, but for some reason took me forever to get through. It's a quite funny and well-written look at different things that happen to people's bodies after they die (medical research, automotive safety testing, anatomy labs, studies about decomposition, types of funerary methods, etc., etc.). Roach was able to talk to an extremely wide range of people and managed to gain entrance into a lot of fascinating places and situations. I did feel that the book started to drag a bit by the end (that might be part of the reason it took me so long to finish), but on the whole it's very interesting and has just the right dose of humor to keep it from becoming too grotesque....more