The author previously wrote a non-fiction book about peak oil - perhaps you've heard about that in the news recently? This post-apocalyptic novel is (...moreThe author previously wrote a non-fiction book about peak oil - perhaps you've heard about that in the news recently? This post-apocalyptic novel is (so far) about Robert, a former business executive (in the "old" days) now living as a carpenter in a quiet town in the upper Hudson Valley.
In the post-oil world, no reliable long distance transportation exists. People live very locally and no one is really sure what is going on in the outside world but it is known there were nuclear bombs in DC and LA. Despite the circumstances, the setting is bright, sunny and full of purposeful activity.
Robert seems to feel guilty because he's not wistful for the old days - he's not particularly happy for the current circumstances (much of his family died in one of the post-bomb epidemics that take root due to limited medical care), but he does enjoy the peace and simplicity of making a living. He's not a whiner and that makes him a good character to tell the story.
What story, you ask? Not sure yet. I think there is plot coming, but so far, I have enjoyed the glimpses into daily life in this very well-considered and comprehensive world.
Edited to add: I wish I had stopped reading this book at about page 250. I was really enjoying it up to that point - it was an interesting, well-planned, thought-provoking idea about a possible future. Then it got preachy and odd.
The whole story involves a post-oil world and I never felt an explanation was needed about why there was no oil. It's an easy leap to make. Therefore, I think a condescending conversation between the narrator and a four year old about how the world made by hand (without cars) came to be was completely unnecessary and distracting:
Child - "What's an engine?"
"It's a machine that makes things go. You put the magic liquid in it and then the engine can do work. It can turn wheels and make the car go."
"What's the magic liquid?"
"It's called fuel."
Blah. Blah. Insulting blah.
The rest of the ending of this soberly practical, grounded book becomes supernatural and intangible, which I found annoying. This is sad because the bulk of the book is quiet good. Just skip the chapters between 50 and 64.(less)
I've been reading some reviews of people who loved or hated this book and those folks seem to read the book as a lesson for them -- sort of a self-hel...moreI've been reading some reviews of people who loved or hated this book and those folks seem to read the book as a lesson for them -- sort of a self-help book. I can see how, if you approach the book in that way, you could feel strongly about it. If, however, you just read it as the journey of one woman who does interesting things it becomes a bit less emotional. It doesn't seem to me that the book was written to change anyone's life. Mostly, I think the author wrote it because she got paid to travel for a year, and who wouldn't take up that offer?
Also, lots of reviewers remark that the author's friends are cool, but they seem like disparaging meanies to me.
The book cover describes the author, Elizabeth Gilbert as "likable" and I agree. She is a professional writer who took a year to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia after a divorce (and the breakup of her first post-marriage relationship) and while battling depression.
It is a testament to Gilbert's writing style and honesty that I'm enjoying this book. Yes, she whines about how hard her life was, but she puts it into context with the world she sees as she travels and doesn't want us to feel sorry for her. She seems honest and thoughtful.
I just finished the part on Italy (and I think I gained 5 pounds just reading about the food she ate). I'm loving travel books and Gilbert nicely describes the mood and atmosphere of the places she is.
I'm interested in how her description of an Ashram in India will be different from the last travel book I read - "The Geography of Bliss" written by a grumpy man.
****Additions (4/25)**** This book has totally stalled for me. I am finding the hours and hours and days and weeks of meditation in India rather uninteresting. Tough to believe it's boring to read about someone sitting still and not thinking for hours at a time, huh? (Eric Weiner's trip to an Ashram in "The Geography of Bliss" is far more fun.)
Amazing, amazing book. Lays out integrated ideas on advanced, failed socities. Great nuggets of info from many physical and social science disciplines...moreAmazing, amazing book. Lays out integrated ideas on advanced, failed socities. Great nuggets of info from many physical and social science disciplines and a solid, overarching worldview. I think most people who dismiss it as alarmist don't really get it. It's actually very hopeful in providing tools to mitigate environmental damage in modern society.
Could change the way you look at human conflicts and interactions. Is so much more than a book on environmental destruction.
Tiny Tim as a young adult. Great musings on being the little optimist. Fabulous moody setting - you can feel the fog and coldness as you read. A myste...moreTiny Tim as a young adult. Great musings on being the little optimist. Fabulous moody setting - you can feel the fog and coldness as you read. A mystery involving seedy men and little girls that are dissapearing. Great characters. (less)
Did not like this book. Predictable and cliche. Mostly I am mad at Picoult who spends the whole book pressuring Anna to make a decision, but gets out...moreDid not like this book. Predictable and cliche. Mostly I am mad at Picoult who spends the whole book pressuring Anna to make a decision, but gets out of making one herself by an improbable and lame LAME ending. (less)
A mystery involving Edgar Allen Poe during his years at West Point and the murder of cadets who have their hearts removed. Worth the read just for the...moreA mystery involving Edgar Allen Poe during his years at West Point and the murder of cadets who have their hearts removed. Worth the read just for the moodiness of the setting. Entertaining, sympathetic characters. (less)
Recommended by a friend. Very intense book about diverse relief workers in Sudan and their motivations. Might make you hate the UN if you don't alread...moreRecommended by a friend. Very intense book about diverse relief workers in Sudan and their motivations. Might make you hate the UN if you don't already. Fantastic, realistic characters and events. I got emotionally involved with some of them and the book really affected me. Helps you see political events from all different view points. It is about genocide and war, so can be very disturbing, but the drama of the people makes it worthwhile.
I don't know that it was the author's intent (or that of the friend who recommended it) but this book was one of many things that helped me decide to leave DC and the world of political activism. (less)
Four very different suicidal people meet on top of a tower block on New Years Eve in England. Not really morbid or sad, but depthy if you'd like it to...moreFour very different suicidal people meet on top of a tower block on New Years Eve in England. Not really morbid or sad, but depthy if you'd like it to be. Very funny - had me laughing out loud. Great characters that I still sometimes wonder about. (less)
Ethan Frome: The shitty version of It's a Wonderful Life.
Setting: Small New England town in winter. Check. Protagonist: Ambitious, intelligent young ma...moreEthan Frome: The shitty version of It's a Wonderful Life.
Setting: Small New England town in winter. Check. Protagonist: Ambitious, intelligent young man whose dreams of leaving said Small New England Town are consistently crushed by factors outside of his control. Check. Nemesis: Cranky invalid who derives joy in causing the misery of others. Check. Conclusion: Happy, life-affirming climax with Christmas trees, angels getting wings and exuberant outbursts of "Merry Christmas Movie House!" Erm...not so much.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton is the story of George Bailey without the good-intentioned (though probably drunk) guardian angel. Instead of hooking up with a hot Donna Reed, finding Zuzu's petals and reveling in a cheerful Hollywood ending, Ethan limps through life with a restrained stoicism that echoes the bleak winter in his hometown of Starkfield (yeah, seriously), Massachusetts.
As a young man, Ethan's escape from his Starkfield farm is made impossible by his father's sudden death and the resulting illness of his mother. His cousin Zeena comes to live with him and deftly attends to her aunt so Ethan can attend to the failing farm. When his mother dies, Ethan proposes to his cousin (it's an old book) to hold back the oppressive loneliness of the Starkfield winter. They attempt to sell the farm to finance a move to a larger town, but there are no buyers and within a year Zeena becomes "sickly."
Ethan has resigned to dying miserable in Starkfield when Mattie Silver, Zeena's cousin, comes to care for his ailing wife. Mattie is clearly an outsider. She smiles easily, has rosy cheeks and talks with exclamation points. She is a dramatic contrast to Zeena's grayish skin tone, flat whine and asthmatic breathing (Zeena also has false teeth and no boobs.)
Ethan, obviously, falls in love with Mattie, and much of the novella relates his sweetly awkward interactions with her. The lack of plot - or landscape - makes small moments incredibly powerful. When Ethan feels mocked by his family's gravestones or exalted at a brief touch from Mattie, you'll mourn or rejoice with him. When his modest house shivers in a winter storm, you'll swear someone just turned down the heat. So, in the end, when Mattie is to be sent away and Ethan realizes he doesn't have any means to keep her, you'll understand their fateful decision.
Unlike George Bailey, when Ethan attempts suicide there is no guardian angel to pull him out of the water, even though Ethan is arguably more worthy of heavenly intervention as he realized before he tried to kill himself that what he really wanted wasn't to escape Bedford Falls Starkfield, but to live a quiet, uneventful life with Mattie.
The result of Ethan's attempt (which I won't completely give away in case the book wasn't required reading in your crappy High School), is so hauntingly devastating it would give Shakespeare - or Joss Whedon - pause. The ending would easily piss me off in a contemporary best-seller (looking at you, Jodi Picoult), but it works here because Wharton isn't trying to make a book club of Botoxed suburbanites cry. She's saying that sometimes, if life keeps kicking you in the balls, maybe the prudent action is to stay down.
Also, that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. Or...not so much.(less)
Read a bit slowly - maybe because it is much longer than most McGee novels, and maybe because I didn't really care so much for focus characters (Nora...moreRead a bit slowly - maybe because it is much longer than most McGee novels, and maybe because I didn't really care so much for focus characters (Nora and Sam), the mission of finding ancient stolen gold figurines, or the setting of the sleepy, exclusive Mexican town. The pace picked up toward the end and it finished nicely.
Still, gotta love McGee's musings on life and the people he meets:
"I awoke into suffocating heat, to barbed needles of light which went through my eyes and into my brain, to a mouth dry as sand, clotted teeth, and a headache that seemed to expand and contract my forehead with each heartbeat as though it were a red balloon a child was trying to inflate. Tequila hangover, in a gagging density of perfume, under a tin roof, on the sweat-damp sheets of a village whore."
Mostly done. Reading outloud with Bill at night (and butchering the latin). This is a well-written book about a fascinating subject. Everitt does a gr...moreMostly done. Reading outloud with Bill at night (and butchering the latin). This is a well-written book about a fascinating subject. Everitt does a great job interjecting comments and info on daily Roman life to the story of Octavian. Very readable (except I don't like the geography parts...zzz) and easy to relate to the historical figures of 2000 years ago. Enjoying it lots.
(4/25 update) We're nearly done, and it's gotten a bit slow. I mean, after you conquer Rome and most of the known world and everyone loves you and is begging for you to destroy the last vestiges of the republic and just take over as emperor already, there isn't much drama left. Just a lot of temple building and calm planning for succession.
The studies mentioned are interesting to think about and the stories of the locals are revealing. Seems to be a very honest book. Very American-centri...moreThe studies mentioned are interesting to think about and the stories of the locals are revealing. Seems to be a very honest book. Very American-centric. The part about pigs on pot had me laughing out loud, but much of Weiner's humor is Dave Barry-esque - predictable but entertaining. If you like travel books and learning a little about unusual places, you might like this. As a generally happy person, I'm not finding any great epiphanies on life, but enjoyable nonetheless.(less)