After reading many of de Botton's books and enjoying his light and accessible takes on hefty topics (love, travel, love, life, death, learning, buildiAfter reading many of de Botton's books and enjoying his light and accessible takes on hefty topics (love, travel, love, life, death, learning, buildings, status, love--note a recurring theme to his books?), this is the one that has turned me off to him. The globe-trotting author looks over the shoulder of people in various lines of work--and scoffs at many of them and their lowly conditions. When describing the work of a career counselor, who has been writing his own book for job seekers, de Botton makes sure to emphasize that his home office stinks of cabbage and that, when he (de Botton) helps the fellow submit his book to agents, none at all like the fellow's writing. Yes, de Botton can craft a sentence. (His attempts at being a modern-day La Rochefoucauld writing aphorisms at @alaindebotton on Twitter are somewhat enlightening.) But if such a successful author--and, by the way, heir to billions of Swiss francs--is going to show such an unsympathetic eye in his writing, I'll pass on his philosophical ruminations....more
Her husband is a busy big-shot lawyer, her mother is an overbearing New York matron, her younger brother is an obnoxious doofus, her children are younHer husband is a busy big-shot lawyer, her mother is an overbearing New York matron, her younger brother is an obnoxious doofus, her children are young enough to need much of her time, all leaving Polly to live a life of cheerful and successful servility. She's a paragon of perfection, yet still relegated to the supporting cast. That is until Lincoln the outre painter enters her life...
Wait a minute--there is neither a swooning woman in a bodice or a muscle man in an undone shirt on this book's cover. Laurie Colwin writes with an attention to the details of everyday life that's more meaningful than the blurb on the back cover would have you know.
"Good manners can be a frightening thing, since one never knows what goes on underneath then," as Polly thinks to herself. Like Colwin's other fiction that I've read, "Family Happiness" delivers a novel of manners--of conversations and meals, of obligations and desires--satisfyingly modern and readable....more
If your desert island only allows for one Shakespeare comedy, leave "Much Ado About Nothing" at home. If instead there's room in the life raft for morIf your desert island only allows for one Shakespeare comedy, leave "Much Ado About Nothing" at home. If instead there's room in the life raft for more, throw this in. (Accept no substitutes and make sure your copy's an Arden Shakespeare edition, as you'll likely have time to read the footnotes that fill the lower half of every page.) You'll get a chuckle out of how Beatrice and Benedict hurl witty barbs at each other and everyone in their company. That is, until their rivalry turns to love. Hero and Claudio, the other pair of lovers, well, their courtship was likely written in Kansas City--at the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. Yet even for the flattest of characters in this play, I have a vivid image in my head. Shakespeare's ability to coin a descriptive phrase, of course, cannot be beat. What also helps is to slap on a pair of tights, night after night, wait in the wings for your cue to change the stage set; you'll have not only a mental image for each character/actor but also all the backstage gossip to flesh out their back stories....more
"I mutilated many of my most coherent thoughts by putting them into words" writes Jasper, the younger half of a father-son pair of blabber-mouthed Aus"I mutilated many of my most coherent thoughts by putting them into words" writes Jasper, the younger half of a father-son pair of blabber-mouthed Australian eccentrics. Martin, the father, may be older in years, yet he's no more mature, having never grown past the trauma of living his childhood in a coma, steering his sports star brother into a life of crime, editing a handbook for criminals, inadvertently burning down his entire hometown, and so on. Like any son, Jasper chafes at his father's parenting, although to a somewhat larger degree than normal, considering that Martin decides to buy a house out in the bush and build around it a giant labyrinth and to launch a financial scheme guaranteed to make everyone in Australia a millionaire. Yes, "madcap" is an apt description for this novel. Still, along with each cynically humorous suicide of a minor character and each episode of hilarious eccentricity by the leads, "A Fraction of the Whole" also delivers some deeper nuggets. As Emerson's quoted, "It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after your own ; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."...more
Now I understand why my sister goes as Greg Mortenson for dress-up parties: photographer's vest, loose-fitting Central Asian clothes. This mountaineerNow I understand why my sister goes as Greg Mortenson for dress-up parties: photographer's vest, loose-fitting Central Asian clothes. This mountaineer-turned-school-builder has such an inspiring story to tell about how he's been able to help the children of remote villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "Three Cups of Tea," written by Mortenson with a magazine freelancer, does verge on hagiography; it's written in the third person and focuses on his solo efforts, at times ignoring the broader context of Mortenson's adopted home in Central Asia and his crash pad in the SF Bay Area. Regardless, Mortenson has clearly accomplished an awful lot--constructing schools, building bridges (literally and figuratively), and demonstrating that the best way to further the values of a liberal and open society (what the U.S. stands for, presumably) is to help the next generation gain an education--and I can wholeheartedly recommend his book to you. Read it!
Ann Patchett (one of my favorite literary novelists to read on an airplane) offers up her experience--winding but successful--to recent college gradsAnn Patchett (one of my favorite literary novelists to read on an airplane) offers up her experience--winding but successful--to recent college grads and others uncertain about the way ahead. Thoughtful but light, meaningful but not overbearing. In other words, a nice little book to read in the basement of a Borders.
(Speaking of that behemoth chain from Ann Arbor, here's my bookstore rule of thumb: Browse globally, buy locally! For American independents check out www.booksense.com)...more
A hundred-fifty years ago, give or take, the Soho neighborhood in London is hit by a cholera outbreak. What'd'ya expect when human waste is carted outA hundred-fifty years ago, give or take, the Soho neighborhood in London is hit by a cholera outbreak. What'd'ya expect when human waste is carted out to the countryside by hand or, more likely, left to accumulate downstairs? Yet, this intestinal bug is no match for the epidemiological prowess of Dr. John Snow and Rev. Henry Whitehead...
That's the premise and the tone of "The Ghost Map," another one of those popular science books that claims all of world history--or at least all of modern urban life, in this case--can be captured and conveyed in one dramatic episode. Personalities take center stage, details that are tantalizing and fit the narrative make the cut (others don't), and cliched phrases (like "make the cut") are favored over plain-old writing.
All that said, this sort of book can be an engaging way to learn about a new field and pick up technical phrases--never know when I'll have reason to chat about Vibrio cholerae Pacini 1854, right?...more