I laughed, I cried...was it better than Cats? Possibly, although that would be a weird comparison. Seriously, though, here's what I wrote for the librI laughed, I cried...was it better than Cats? Possibly, although that would be a weird comparison. Seriously, though, here's what I wrote for the library's newsletter:
"Jonathan Mooney's moving road trip tale challenges our assumptions about what it means to be different in a world of diagnoses and disorders. It's also hilarious. Join the author as he drives around the country in an old "short bus", exorcising his demons and collecting the stories of other non-traditional learners."
All this is true, and I'll also say that it's refreshingly foul-mouthed. I really appreciated both the frank way Mooney treats his own shortcomings and blind spots, and the deep empathy he's able to acheive with the people he meets. His account of trying to hard to be authentically weird at Burning Man is priceless. Highly recommended for any square pegs in round holes (and we've all been that from time to time). ...more
One of those books that's like a reward for being a literature major, this terribly French little volume is either a fabulous piece of postmodern sophOne of those books that's like a reward for being a literature major, this terribly French little volume is either a fabulous piece of postmodern sophistry or a very elaborate joke. Really, it's the latter with a touch of the former. The author purports to be arguing against reading by illuminating all the ways in which we encounter books other than reading them cover to cover. Non-reading, by his argument, could be a richer and more beneficial approach to books than reading. What does it mean to say we have "read" a book? As a librarian who skims, catalogs, reads, dips into, and forgets hundreds (or thousands?) of books a year, this is a real question. I love Bayard's discussion of how we understand books in relation to each other and their place in a shared cultural library.
I wonder how many people picked this up thinking it would be a light, humorous guide to faking erudition and were totally puzzled. ...more
Extremely funny and intermittently insightful. The author sets out to reconcile his secular upbringing and the vague desire for a belief system he feeExtremely funny and intermittently insightful. The author sets out to reconcile his secular upbringing and the vague desire for a belief system he feels as a new father with the many arguing voices of religion in America. To get to the truth of the matter, Jacobs decides to spend a year living according to a literal interpretation of the Bible...his own literal interpretation. Most interestingly, he investigates other schools of Biblical literalism (Jewish and Christian) to try to understand what makes them tick. My principal complaint about the book is that its topics are endlessly fascinating, but can only receive brief anecdotal treatment in what's essentially a memoir.
Of course, Jacobs finds the experience unexpectedly powerful. It's fascinating to watch this young, workaholic, technology addict attempt to keep the sabbath. Can he even keep the sabbath, since keeping the sabbath could be interpreted as "work" for someone writing about Biblical living? I could have wished that Jacobs was a little more self-aware about his failures to adhere to the spirit of the law while he makes a show of following the letter...is it moral to lie about your age or profession, but to refuse to tell polite, social lies? (In one scene, Jacobs contradicts his wife's promise to an acquaintance that "we'll get together soon" because he feels they're unlikely to ever really socialize with the person). Maybe he is aware of it...self-examination is the memoir writer's stock in trade. Still, Jacobs shines in his interactions with people of faith and his clear-eyed but non-judgemental appreciation of the many "literal" interpretations he finds....more
I really want to sit around with Sarah Vowell, John Hodgeman, and Steven Johnson (whose new book The Invention of Air is also about American nationalI really want to sit around with Sarah Vowell, John Hodgeman, and Steven Johnson (whose new book The Invention of Air is also about American national origins) and shoot the shit about American history. Just like Assassination Vacation, this book reawakened my interest in the question of patriotism and the ideological origins of the U.S. Somehow my history eduction in school almost succeeded in stamping all the life out of history for me. Only now, with a new generation of erudite hipster writers, am I realizing how enjoyable it can really be. Does Vowell treat complex topics lightly? Yes. She doesn't claim to be anything other than an armchair historian, but that doesn't invalidate her treatment of the Puritans. The John Winthrop/Roger Williams story is riveting, Vowell's patriotism and liberal outrage are eloquently conveyed, and she makes the important point that the current anti-intellectual trend among those who claim to be the upholders of traditional values is totally at odds with the worldview of the Founding Fathers....more
So far, so hilarious. It's actually kind of wrong to classify this as nonfiction (or, as I call it here, "truth is stranger..."), but fake almanacs stSo far, so hilarious. It's actually kind of wrong to classify this as nonfiction (or, as I call it here, "truth is stranger..."), but fake almanacs still count as nonfiction in library-world. ...more
David Plotz is a very funny man. In what could be thought of as a companion piece to A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically, Plotz records his offDavid Plotz is a very funny man. In what could be thought of as a companion piece to A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically, Plotz records his off-the-cuff responses to reading the entire Hebrew Bible. Because he's a self-confessed Bible ignoramus, he has some surprising and wonderful insights (had you ever considered that Joseph's bad policy in Egypt lead directly to the enslavement of the Israelites a hundred years later? Or that Isaac never really does anything...in Plotz's words, he's the Harpo Marx of Biblical patriarchs?). Because it's a collection of observations, the book naturally lacks a certain depth and cohesiveness--but that's not really a criticism. Plotz's enthusiasm for the more narrative books is infectious; the book's energy flags a bit once it reaches the prophets and psalms. As he promises, it's perhaps the only Bible book designed for bathroom reading (a chapter here, a chapter there)....more
Laura Miller is an extremely skillful writer. Some of her phrases resonated with me so much it was like she'd plucked them right out of my head. She'sLaura Miller is an extremely skillful writer. Some of her phrases resonated with me so much it was like she'd plucked them right out of my head. She's absorbed some of C. S. Lewis' tone in this book, which is an appreciation and critical examination of the Narnia series that's both personal and extremely erudite. While Lewis would hate the semi-Freudian way in which Miller connects events in his life with his artistic choices, she never relies too much on any one critical approach (and she's careful to call attention to the fact that she's using critical tools to make the imaginative journey into Lewis' head--he didn't leave a lot of evidence as to his purpose in creating Narnia). This book proves that post-modern literary criticism doesn't have to be impenetrable. You might not expect a work of criticism to be so engaging and moving, but this one is. It also has timely and necessary things to say about the meaning and power of reading, especially for children. Essential reading for librarians and book lovers....more
This was fascinating, and perhaps the only truly accurate and scientific diet book ever written. I ding it a couple stars because of a certain lack ofThis was fascinating, and perhaps the only truly accurate and scientific diet book ever written. I ding it a couple stars because of a certain lack of style--the author is clearly a scientist trying hard to appeal to the layman--but the first half especially is a compelling look at what research actually tells us about our relationship with food. This book will also kill whatever desire you may have ever had to eat at a big chain restaurant. Would you like a nice grilled chicken breast? How about one that's been processed to the point where it's basically, as one industry person is quoted calling it, "adult baby food"? ...more