Books I Read in 2021:
- All’s Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare * * *
July 25, 2021
I did not think that it ended well. In this play The Countess of Rossillion is entrusted to care for Helena, who just lost her father, a gifted doctor. Helena is in love with her son, Bertram, Count of Rossillion. The king of France is ill and Helena goes to him and cures him of his disorder. In exchange, the king promises Helena that she can marry any man she wants. Helena selects Bertram but he is outraged because he considers her beneath him and he rejects her. They are married against his wishes and so he refuses to sleep with her and flees to Italy where he fights for Italy against France. Helena chases him into Italy where she befriends a widow and her daughter, Diana. Bertram falls for Diana but he tricks her and Bertram sleeps with Helena thinking she is Diana. They return to France where the whole unseemly plot is revealed to the king who forgives Bertram for everything. Bertram gives in and accepts Helena. Although Helena’s persistence and skills were impressive, it was perplexing that she would still pursue Bertram when he was so obviously a beef-witted mongrel and churlish, rascally knave. It was more than perplexing; it was disturbing. For that reason I only gave it three stars.
- History of Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare * * * *
July 21, 2021
This play finished right after Hamlet, is based on Homer’s famous play the Iliad and centers on the war between Greece and Troy caused by Paris running away with Helen. Troilus is a Trojan warrior in love with Cressida but just after they profess their love for each other, Troy agrees to trade Cressida to Greece in exchange for a Trojan prisoner of war. After she is handed over Troilus overhears the Greek warrior, Diomedes, wooing Cressida and becomes enraged. There are some skirmishes in which Patroclus is killed and this drives the heretofor unwilling fighter, Achilles, into a rage in which he with the assistance of his ruffians, the Mirmidons, kills Hector and then famously drags him tied to his horse’s tail through the shame fields and there the play mysteriously ends without resolving anything.
- Twelfth Night or What You Will by William Shakespeare * * *
July 5, 2021
I didn’t like this play, written in 1601, very much, not because again he uses the plot device of a woman dressing up like a man or again uses the two siblings separated at birth. I didn’t like it because it didn’t have nearly as many memorable quotes as some of his other plays. Also, I’m sorry but the clowns are just not funny. The plot involves a duke in love with a countess, Olivia, who is not interested. Viola dresses up like a man named Cesario and sets out to convince Olivia that she should love the duke but instead Olivia falls in love with Cesario.
- As You Like It by William Shakespeare * * * * *
May 31, 2021
Shakespeare wrote this play in 1599 and it again has women dressing up as men and addresses the themes of love and sibling rivalry. Sir Rowland de Boys has died and left his estate to his eldest son, Oliver, and instructed him to take care of his little brother, Orlando, but Oliver refuses to do so. Meanwhile Duke Senior has been dethroned by his brother Duke Ferdinand and taken to the forest with a band of followers. Duke F’s daughter loves her cousin, Rosalind, and so he allows Rosalind to stay in the kingdom to keep his daughter, Celia, company. Orlando shows up and challenges the Duke’s wrestler, Charles, to a match. Orlando defeats Charles as Rosalind and Celia watch and Rosalind falls in love with him. But then Duke F, the usurper banishes his daughter Celia and her cousin Rosalind. This is when Rosalind dresses up like a man in order to be safer while making their way to the forest. Oliver plots to kill Orlando so he also escapes to the forest. There he is taken in by Duke Senior. There is a clever clown Touchstone also hanging around and he falls in love with a country wench named Audrey. Celia falls in love with someone and eventually everyone gets married in a massive wedding and Duke F returns the throne to Duke Senior. Famous lines from the play abound including “dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wit.” And “pity fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.” And one of my favorites, “Oh how full of briers is this working day world.” Probably the most famous lines are: “This wide and universal theatre presents more woeful pageants than the scene wherein we play in. All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts. His acts being seven ages. At first the infant mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining school boy with his satchel and shining morning face creeping like a snail unwillingly to school. … That ends this strange eventful history is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Other famous lines are: “Most friendship is feigning; most loving mere folly,” “greatest fruit have sourest rind,” “the fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool,” “life was but a flower in springtime, and therefore, take the present time,” and “then there is mirth in heaven, when earthly things made even atone together.” You can see why Shakespeare remains one of the greatest writers of all time.
- The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham * * * *
May 30, 2021
I was reading Audubon Magazine the other day and came across an article written by a black birder from South Carolina. At the end of the article it mentioned that he had recently published a new book. So I decided to take a departure from my project to read the entire works of Shakespeare this year, to read it. Turns out that Mr. Lanham and I have quite a bit in common and I thoroughly enjoyed his book, a memoir mostly about growing up in South Carolina and the land that shaped who he is. Although we grew up quite differently, I am white and he is black, we are both South Carolinians who love nature. We went to the same high school, Schofield High School, in Aiken (I went when it was finally integrated 25 years after Brown v. Board of Education) and we both grew up loving the nature that surrounded us. In the book, Lanham explores his past and how his upbringing on a 200 acre farm in rural Edgefield County, yes the same county that gave us many famous racists such as Strom Thurmond and Pitchfork Ben Tillman, made him develop a deep appreciation for all that nature has to offer us and for the land that binds us and sustains us. Our upbringing while similar in many ways, departed in fundamental ways in that I couldn’t wait to get out of that hell hole state while Mr. Lanham felt bound to it. I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. I’m glad that people like Mr. Lanham stay in S.C. and try to bring conservation values to the people there. Hooray for people like him who are able to do so even while living in the state that started the Civil War and is still fighting the lost cause today and doing so while black.
- Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare * * * *
May 1, 2021
The daughter of the Prince, Hero, is falsely accused of infidelity to her fiancee by the Prince’s bastard brother, Don John, and the Friar suggests they pretend like Hero died in order to restore her reputation. They follow his advice and eventually her good standing is restored and she is able to marry her beloved in the end.
- Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare * * * * *
April 24, 2021
The fat louche villian, Falstaff, tries three times unsuccessfully to bed two different wives, Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page but they are far too clever and trick him three different times and foil his unrealistic whims and desires. In the meantime, Mr. Ford, who is extremely jealous of his wive, befriends Falstaff who unwittingly reveals to Mr. Ford whom he believes to be someone else of his salacious plans to cuckold Mr. Ford.
- Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare * * * * *
April 10, 2021
A merchant of Venice, Antonio, has all his wealth invested in some ships at sea he is counting on returning. His friend, Bassanio, would like to borrow some money from Antonio in order to marry a rich heiress, Portia. Since Antonio’s wealth is all tied up in his ships at sea, he agrees to borrow the money from a rich Jew, Shylock, but as part of the agreement he must give Shylock a pound of his flesh if he fails to repay Shylock. The ships ostensibly all sink and Shylock calls in his debt because he dislikes Antonio for lending money without interest and because Antonio has insulted him. Bassanio is horrified at his friend’s imminent death caused by his loan, and tells Portia about it. Portia tells Bassanio she will give Shylock triple what Antonio owes but Shylock refuses insisting on taking a pound of Antonio’s flesh instead. At the trial Portia appears disguised as a doctor. Through her wit and ingenuity she finds Shylock has violated the contract because he has threatened Antonio’s life, as the contract only called for flesh but no blood. Therefore, she deems that Shylock must give up half his estate and convert to Christianity. While modern audiences are appalled at this unfair and anti-Semitic condemnation of Shylock, I was more focused on the brilliant genius of a female character who suffer mightily in some other Shakespearean plays. Portia saves the life of Antonio through her brilliant disguise as the doctor and arranges for a beautiful ending for herself, Antonio, and her undeserving husband, Bassanio. While the harsh treatment of Shylock is appalling, he was appalling for wanting a pound of Antonio’s flesh instead of treble damages offered to him. The best part of the play is Portia. The best line was by Portia who said, “the quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” Second best was Lorenzo who said about music, “By the sweet power of music, therefore, the poet did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones, hard and full of rage. But music for the time doth change his nature. The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treason, stratagems, and spoils; the motions of his spirit are dull as night and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.” Yes, indeed!
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare * * * * *
March 16, 2021
I have read this play a couple of times, been to a live performance, and watched the movie. This comedy was written by Shakespeare in 1595 or 96. In it, Theseus, Duke of Athens, is about to marry Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, but before they do, Egeus barges in complaining that he disapproves of his daughter’s love of Lysander, instead wishing her to marry Demetrius. His daughter, Hermia, declares her love for Lysander despite dire consequences declared by the Duke and they sneak off into the woods. Helena is in love with Demetrius but he is in love with Hermia. The four of them go to a wood where they are drugged by a wild crazy fairy, Oberon, and his minion, Puck. Also in the woods is a band of laborers practicing a play they intend to perform for the Duke’s wedding. Puck drugs Titania, Queen of the Fairies, who has refused to give Oberon her Indian boy, causing her to fall hopelessly in love with one of the performers, Bottom, who is given an ass’s head by Puck. Puck also mistakenly drugs Lysander who falls in love with Helena. Eventually Puck gives all potions to undo his mischief and by morning all are in love with the right people and the play is performed hideously while the Duke and his train pan it viciously. In the movie Mendelssohn’s beautiful, Pomp and Circumstance is played during the wedding of the Duke and Queen forever becoming wedding music.
- Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare * * *
March 2, 2021
In this early comedy Shakespeare again explores the theme of love . The king of Navarre and his lords vow to forswear women for three years while they focus on study. One of the lords, Berowne, is hesitant to take this vow, and indeed soon falls in love with one of the ladies attending the Princess of France. Then the king himself and the others follow suit and also fall in love and eventually all abandon their vows in pursuit of the women. Costard the clown is enlisted to deliver a love letter from Berowne to one of the ladies in waiting and another from a dandy visiting Spaniard, Adriano de Armado, to a wench named Jacquenetta but he intentionally mixes them up. The king’s lords dress up as Russians in order to advance their pursuits but the women catch wind of their deceit and switch rolls to confuse the men. In the end they all concede but because the king has died they must wait a year and day. The dialogue is very witty and full of word play.
- Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare * * * *
February 4, 2021
In this play two friends from Verona, Valentine and Proteus, decide to take different paths in life. Valentine decides to go off to Milan to be educated at the Duke’s court while Proteus stays in Verona because he is ostensibly in love with Julia. In Milan Valentine falls in love with the Duke’s daughter, Silvia, one of the strongest and most venerable women characters in a Shakespearean play, but the Duke is having none of it. Meanwhile Proteus’s father ships him off to Milan against his will, to be educated. There Proteus ditches Julia and falls in love with Silvia. He abandons his friendship and oath to Julia for his new found love of Silvia but Silvia is having none of it. Meanwhile Julia dresses up as a boy in order to go off to Milan alone to find Proteus. The play explores the themes of friendship and how love makes us do the most inexplicable things. The ending was weak but tolerable.
- Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare * * * *
January 27, 2021
In this comedy a lord decides to play a trick on a drunk man, Christopher Sly, by making him think he is a lord when he awakes from his drunken stupor. In so deceiving him, the servants perform this play for him. In the play, a rich man in Padua, Baptista, has two daughters, the beautiful Bianca, and the shrew, Katherine, who is older and must be married before Bianca can be married. Petruchio, a gentleman from Verona, vows that he will marry Katherine because of her large dowry despite knowing she is a notorious shrew. He marries her and abuses her into submission with his stupidity. Basically he acts so beastly and makes her life so miserable that it is easier for Katherine to give in to him than defy him. In the meantime, Lucentio, the son of Vincentio, a gentleman in Pisa, plays a ridiculous trick on everyone including Baptista, in order to marry Bianca in which he nearly causes his father to be thrown into jail. His ruse is uncovered after he has managed to trick Baptista into giving his second daughter away to this knave but in the end no one is mad about it or sees anything wrong with his knavery. To me this was far more shocking than Petruchio’s villainous behavior toward Katherine. There are many famous quotes from this play; probably the most famous “no profit grows where is no pleasure taken.” But I liked all the insults, the best including “beetle-eared, flap-eared knave, heedless jolthead, loggerheaded and unpolished, peasant swain, malt horse drudge, rogues and villians, irksome, brawling, scold, crack hemp, notorious villian, and currish. I also liked the quote, “tis the mind that make the body rich.”
- Cherokee Voices Early Accounts of Cherokee Life in the East by Vicki Rozema * * *
January 24, 2021
In this slim volume Rozema puts together actual writings, journals, letters, treaties, and other documents to give the reader a look into the lives and culture of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia from about 1730 up to the Indian Removal in 1838 by President Jackson. This book does not deal with the Trail of Tears which would require an entire separate volume. It was interesting to learn some details about Cherokee life including that the Cherokee people invented the game of LaCrosse.
- Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare * * *
January 18, 2021
My 2021 new year’s resolution is to read the entire complete works of William Shakespeare this year. I started with this early work by Shakespeare. I know it’s harsh to give Shakespeare three stars when he was one of the greatest English writers of all time, but the plot was so ridiculous and absurd that I had to mitigate the high marks for the great writing with low marks for the idiotic plot. Basically Egeon has twin sons who are separated at birth in a shipwreck and they are both named Antipholus one of Syracuse and the other of Ephesus. Duke Solinus has a travel ban between the two cities on pain of death. Egeon is caught violating the travel ban and is given a day to come up with 1000 ducats to avoid death. While traveling the city he stumbles across Antipholus of Syracuse who has a bondsman named Dromio who it just so happens also has a twin brother named Dromio, who is bondsman to Antiphous of Ephesus but since they look identical he mistakes him for the other Antipholus and a series of mishaps ensue involving Antipholus of Ephesus’s wife Adriana. Eventually they discover that he is the long lost twin and everything is tidied up and resolved by the end of the play.
- All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr* * *
January 10, 2021
In this Pulitzer winning novel, a blind girl, Marie Laure, is living in Paris with her father who works at the Museum of Natural History when Germany invades France and they flee to a small island, Saint Malo, to live with her great-uncle in a tall house. At the same time a boy, Werner and his sister, Jutta, two orphans living in Germany discover an old radio and with it hear broadcasts by the great-uncle. Later Werner is enlisted into the German army where he becomes repulsed by the horrors of the war and disgusted by his failure to resist it in some way. He does his best to do good in the world despite the difficult circumstances and challenges of doing so while fighting for Germany. Eventually Marie Laure’s and Werner’s paths briefly cross but the ending is incredibly awful and unsatisfying just like life. Nevertheless, the book is hard to put down.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte * * * * *(Audiobook)
January 9, 2021
For my second free book from Audible I selected this classic, brilliantly narrated by Thandie Newton. I first read Jane Eyre when I was 10 years old. I wrote a book report about it for school using a picture of a fire from an old Time Magazine lying around the house for my book report. I loved the book as a child for the strong female character and read it again later in life. I’ve also watched a movie version that simply cannot compare to this great book, one of the greatest 100 books ever written. Ms. Eyre has a hard life as a child; she is an orphan raised by an uncaring and resentful aunt who soon ships her off to an unhealthy, abusive, and oppressive school for orphans, Lowood, where many children contract Typhoid fever and die including her best friend, Helen. She eventually escapes Lowood by securing a position as a governess for Mr. Rochester’s ward, Adele. Mr. Rochester is enigmatic and dark but speaks as if reading poetry and his colloquies with Jane Eyre are the most delicious, engaging, and memorable parts of the book. The book is a masterpiece not only for the sublime writing but the original page-turning story, compelling and memorable characters, and most of all for how it presents the societal challenges facing woman in England at that time and how they are dealt with by the independent and indefatigable, Jane Eyre.
Books I read in 2020:
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley * * * (Audiobook)
December 26, 2020
I read this book years ago but I was given two free books on my Audible account and as the choices were terrible, I selected this. This audiobook was narrated by Michael York. The topic of the book is horrifying; a future world where the people in control have decided that stability supercedes all else thus requiring all people to be raised in tightly controlled test tubes pre-destined as workers or the elite but by all means as conformists without any of the usual baseless instincts of humans of the old world of violence or jealousy or rage and where the least uncomfortable situations are alleviated by taking a drug, Soma, that doesn’t leave you hung over or they claim addicted (although in truth everyone is addicted to Soma). Apparently mistakes are occasionally made though and some people do still have some non-conformist ideas such as a need for solitude which is strictly forbidden. Also some who were impossible to make to conform were sent to reservations in New Mexico. One non-conformist, Bertrand Marx, goes on a holiday with the highly sought after, Lenina, there and discovers a half-breed, John, whom he brings back to London to show off and use as a pawn to get him out of some hot water he is in. The scheme back fires and he is shipped off to a remote island anyway but in the meantime, the poor half-breed, John Savage, is left alone in London to fend for himself with his quaint ideas of God and individualism which have all been rejected by the brave new world. He realizes he cannot fit in and escapes to the countryside where he meets a bad end. There is much philosophizing between John and the director about the benefits of the Brave New World without pain or baseless human emotions or the need for a God and John’s idea of an ideal world with pain and troubles and a God to pray to. So why did John meet a bad end? Does it mean that John was wrong and we were not meant to suffer? I guess Huxley meant for us to conclude otherwise. I rather like the idea of a harsh winter whilst dreaming of the coming spring and enduring hardship because of the possibility of the rewards to come from it. Whatever, it’s meaning, I loved the writing and all the forgotten big words in it especially “indefatigable” which comes up rather frequently and “sententious” which is used to refer to the proclamations of the elite when lecturing to the lower classes. I don’t think the book was depressing so much as thought-provoking.
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White * * *
December 12, 2020
At the end of the last book I read, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, the author, Kim Michele Richardson states that one of the authors she admires is E. B. White. So I re-read this children’s classic by him. I loved his knowledge and love of nature and how the book encourages in children the observation and immersion in it; something sorely lacking in today’s youth. It’s a bit outdated in its division of the sexes; the boy is excused for his youthful pranks and the girl is expected to be more proper and eventually loses her interest in the barnyard animals for her interest in boys but otherwise I liked the lessons in observation of nature and what we can learn from it.
- The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson * * * *
December 10, 2020
This 2019 book of historical fiction by Kim Michele Richardson concerns two bits of obscure American history: the last of the blue-skinned people and the Pack Horse Librarians. The heroin, Cussy Mary, is the last of the people suffering from methemogloblinemia, a rare genetic blood disorder in which the blood is unoxygenated, leaving her skin a blue color. As the novel opens it is 1936, the middle of the depression in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky and Cussy Mary has obtained a job as a pack horse librarian, a part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA, to bring books to poor hill people of Kentucky. Over 100 women actually served as pack horse librarians during the depression bringing books to patrons who would otherwise have absolutely nothing to read as books were hard to come by at that time. Cussy Mary is actually white but because of her blood disorder, the hill people of Kentucky treat her as a colored person. She is horribly discriminated against and treated cruelly by the townspeople. Her whole life is lacking in love and affection except for that of her loving father, a Kentucky coal miner. They live a very modest life in a shack in a holler of the Kentucky hills. A doctor in town begs her to allow him to study her and eventually discovers her blueness is due to a blood disorder. He gives her medicine that makes her white but causes severe reactions. She goes into town while white believing she will finally be accepted but the ignorant hillbillies assume she is sick and diseased and continue to mistreat and abuse her. Her life is full of sadness except for the joy her job of delivering books to Kentuckians living in the hollers, brings. She believes in the power of books and it is redemptive to both her and her patrons who are very grateful for what she does referring to her affectionately as the Book Woman. The book explores racism and the power of reading. I highly recommend this book. It is well researched and well written.
The Trail of Tears : Explore the Take Over of Nations from Beginning to End by Adrian Ramos * * *
November 24, 2020
This book is part of a series of history books called History Compacted that tell the story of a part of history in a straightforward factual way. Although this book was well researched and presented all the most salient facts of this tragic part of American history, it had numerous typographical errors and misspellings. Other than that I think it was well done and should be read by every American. It tells the story of the forced migration of thousands of Native American tribes out of their ancestral homelands in the southeast to west of the Mississippi over thousands of miles to a land with which they were not familiar and not well equipped to inhabit. Most people associate the Trail of Tears with the Cherokee Tribe because they were the last tribe to be forced out of the South but several other tribes were forced west as well, including the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole. Thousands of Indians died along the way of sickness, hunger, and exhaustion. As white settlers pushed into Georgia, Florida, and Alabama they clashed with the Indians who had already been living there for thousands of years cultivating the land and living peaceably. After the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson, known as Old Hickory, became a war hero and subsequently the seventh president of the US. He advocated for the forced migration of the Indians. He could not see a way for them to assimilate. Many people opposed his idea at first but it became more popular as more people flooded into the southeast with their slaves and also when gold was discovered in Georgia. Jackson was able to push through legislation forcing the Indians out and congress agreed with his plan in 1830. What followed was a shameful part of American History as thousands of Indians were pushed out, had their land stolen, and were marched to territory they were unfamiliar with to start new lives. Later treaties guaranteeing them this new Indian Territory was also stolen and inhabited by the ever encroaching white settlers.
- Uncommon Glory: The First Ascent of Huascaran by Annie Smith Peck * * * *
November 15, 2020
Annie Smith Peck not only had to overcome meager resources and inadequate equipment, but also constant belittling treatment by the men she hired to assist her in her multiple attempts to summit the highest peak in Peru– Huascaran. Despite incredible adversity, Peck finally ascended Huascaran, elevation 22, 205 feet, on September 2, 1908, at the age of 58, after six prior failed attempts and was acknowledged for doing so by the president of Peru, Senor Leguia, with a coin struck in her honor. She had hoped to measure the altitude of Huascaran in her ascent of the intimidating mountain, which was unknown at the time, but she was not able to light the instrument in the fierce wind near the summit when her paid Swiss guide, Rudolph, abandoned her in order to summit first in violation of protocols that the expedition leader be always allowed to summit first. Rudolph paid dearly for this insult, by developing frost bite and ultimately losing his right hand, fingers of his left hand, and part of one foot.
The determination of Peck was admirable if not a little crazy. The fact that she was able to summit the great mountain in the midst of the black plague, during a time that mountaineering gear was not nearly as sophisticated as today, during a time that women did not even have the right to vote much less any of the other rights and respect due them, and at an altitude well over 20,000 feet with no oxygen speaks to the incredible willpower and endurance of this amazing woman and of the second sex in general. Hurrah for Annie Smith Peck.
- Classic Krakauer by Jon Krakauer * * * 1/2
October 5, 2020
I have read two of Krakauer’s most famous books of non-fiction, Into the Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven previously but never read any of these previously published essays before. He is an excellent writer and I enjoyed almost all of them except the boring one about the architect. The most stunning essay was the last one, which if you don’t peak at the bottom and see the date the essay was written, you might well believe it was written just today. It’s uncannily prescient and topical. The most interesting essay concerned the corrupt wilderness therapy industry which is mostly run by unscrupulous Mormons who pray upon parents of out-of-control children.
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell * * * 1/2
September 24, 2020
With her eighth novel, O’Farrell brilliantly turns to historical fiction to confront a parent’s worst nightmare: the death of a child. Set in Stratford, England, in the late 16th century, Hamnet imagines the emotional, domestic, and artistic repercussions after the world’s most famous (though never named) playwright and his wife, Agnes, lose their only son, 11-year-old Hamnet, to the bubonic plague in 1596. Four years later, the boy’s father transposes his grief into his masterpiece — titled with a common variant of his son’s name — in which the father dies and the son lives to avenge him.
In this novel, O’Farrell switches between two timelines, one beginning on the day the plague first afflicts Hamnet’s twin sister Judith, the other returning to the beginning of their parents’ passionate relationship some 15 years earlier. I found it odd that O’Farrell chose to never state Shakespeare’s name in the novel. His wife, Agnes, is a very unorthodox character and it seemed improbable that the two, so unalike would end up together. The endless chapter on the parents’ grief was too grievous and had to be skimmed. Other than that, it was a delightful book and very well written and imagined.
- Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor Blakemore * * *
August 5, 2020
Two girls, one a pick pocket and the other a prostitute, are best friends trying to get out of their destitute lives and out of the Bowery.
- The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomalin
* * * *
August 1, 2020
Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 in a grubby textile town outside of London and died too young at 37 years old in 1797. She lived in a time that women had very few choices in how to survive in a male dominated world. When her grandfather died he left everything to his grandson, Ned, and two other male relatives and zero to his three granddaughters. While Ned went on to become well off, thanks to the largesse of his grandfather, Mary struggled to find a way to make a living, all of her life. She tried her hand at being a governess for the Kingsboroughs in Ireland but was dismissed after a year. She returned to England and befriended many free thinkers and dissenters and began developing her feminist views. She became friends with Johnson, a publisher, and he took her in and put her on board for his magazine, The Analytical, and also published her most famous book, Vindication of the Rights of Woman. For a while Mary Wollstonecraft was the most famous woman in England. She also wrote many articles for The Analytical and two novels but even today Vindication of the Rights of Woman remains her crowning achievement. She championed the reformation of marriage and divorce laws and promoted the idea that allowing women the right to an education would provide them more opportunities for making a living than becoming a governess or seamstress or marrying a man. For a while her views seemed to catch on. She left shortly after the publication of her book for France just after the Revolution and also wrote about Post-revolutionary France. She had an illegitimate daughter Fanny, who wrote a novel now long forgotten. Later she married William Godwin incurring the scorn of her peers for being a hypocrite but felt it necessary because of the public scorn she faced for having an illegitimate child. She became pregnant with her second child, Mary, but died shortly after her birth due to an infection caused by the doctor trying to remove the placenta by hand. Her daughter, Mary, went on to marry the famous poet, Shelley, is most well known for writing Frankenstein. Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas were well ahead of her time but unfortunately there was a public backlash against her after death and it was over a hundred years after her death before woman obtained the right to vote in the UK. Nevertheless she is still remembered today for her significant contribution to the advancement of the rights of women and for her high intellect, writing skills, and forward views. She was buried at St. Pancras which was a beautiful church at the time but fell into disrepair with the encroaching development and coming railway extension to Kings Cross. I visited St. Pancras in 2014 and the placard is still there but her body had been removed by Shelley long before to Bournemouth. The church has beautiful sculptures around it and it’s a shame it has not been restored and that the high place that Mary Wollstonecraft deserves for her contributions, ideas, and intellectual prowess, has not also been restored. Tomalin herself is a brilliant writer and this is an excellent biography of Wollstonecraft.
- Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for Bears Ears by Jacqueline Keller * * *
July 18, 2020
Ever since I first learned about the remote area of southern Utah known by all the Indian tribes in their native tongues, as the Bears Ears, I have been fascinated by it. Bears Ears was first proposed as a national park in 1935 and was recommended to be included when Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964 but the Utah delegation was opposed to it and in the end Canyonlands was a measly 68,000 acres and did not include the spectacular brick red buttes known as Bears Ears or the extraordinarily beautiful area surrounding the buttes nor the thousands of architectural sites in the area. The Bears Ears are considered sacred by the Indian tribes in the area and they have used this area for thousands of years. Finally, December 28, 2016, President Barack Obama declared 1.39 million acres the Bears Ears National Monument. These days when a president declares a national monument pursuant to the 1906 Antiquities Act, the monument is administered by the federal body who administered it before it became a national monument. (All national monuments are already federal land). Since the Bears Ears were BLM land, President Obama could have had BLM administer Bears Ears National Monument but at the request of a Five Tribe Intertribal Coalition, Bears Ears was to be administered by the Intertribal Council in conjunction with the federal government. A month later, Trump was elected and he reversed Obama’s Proclamation both reducing the size of Bears Ears to a mere 300,000 acres and also removing the administration of Bears Ears from the Intertribal Council and back to the BLM. This book was written before that happened and is mostly about how the Indians have always struggled to fight for protection of sacred areas from depredations such as pipelines, uranium mines, oil and gas extraction, and ecological disasters. Having just visited Bears Ears last month and being horrified at how many cattle grazing leases the BLM maintains there, I mainly wanted to find out how the Tribes felt about grazing leases on national monuments. There was only one mention in the whole book about grazing where one of the Indians interviewed by the author mentioned overgrazing being a problem. I would call that a vast understatement. Most of the interviewees talked about how Indians value land and protecting and preserving mother earth. I believe that but the book overlooked the many Indian tribes who have used their tribal lands for casinos which is not that less intrusive on an ecosystem than a pipeline for example. Also I would think that all Indians would be opposed to cattle grazing since cows are the very symbol of white European domination over indigenous tribes. Nevertheless, the book was instructive. I learned a lot and I commend Jacqueline Keller for taking the time to write it and put together a narrative of white suppression of indigenous people.
- Middlemarch by George Eliot * * * * *
July 9, 2020
I read this book years ago and decided to read it again. You can’t rush through a great book and that’s why it took me so long to read it. I had to linger over every carefully crafted and beautifully written sentence. Due to her idiosyncratic views and her fear of feminism, Mary Ann Evans felt compelled to hide her identity and published this book under the pseudonym, George Eliot. Middlemarch is a tour de force and Eliot’s masterpiece, though she published numerous other books and articles. Her psychological insights are formidable and her writing is sublime. If only people could write so well today. I loved the last sentence: “But the effect of her [Dorothea, the heroine of the novel] being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
- The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich * * * *
April 16, 2020
In this latest book by award winning author, Louise Erdrich, she gives a fictionalized account of the true story of how her grandfather fought to save the Turtle Mountain Tribe of Chippewa Indians from “termination” by an act of congress. The book gives a glimpse into life on an Indian Reservation in mid-20th Century American and gives an unflinching look into the crushing poverty of American Indians all over America while at the same time revealing lovingly the deep connection of Indians to each other and to the land they once dominated. It also takes a look into the dark side of Indian life in the side story about an Indian girl subjected to human trafficking.
- Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hamalainen * * * *
March 19, 2020
This is a superb book, incredibly well written and researched. I highly recommend it as an update and adjunct to the earlier Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Hamalainen does an excellent job of portraying life for the Indians as the white settlers arrived, invaded, and ultimately crushed the them and tried to eradicate their culture. I couldn’t help but think while reading the book how I might feel if some other people, Chinese perhaps, were to invade and take over the US and impose their way of life on us. I truly felt for the Indians and for their struggle. I will never visit Mount Rushmore; what a blight and disgrace. We stole the Black Hills, the Paha Sapa, from the Indians after signing treaties promising it would remain theirs, after discovering it contained gold. To then carve it up with giant facades of white people is in insult beyond comparison. Read this book!
- Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains by Douglas H. MacDonald * * *
February 3, 2020
I picked this book up at the airport during another United Flight delay out of Bozeman. It was very interesting and had an impressive catalog of all the important historical sites in and around Montana. Montana is unique among the states as in that its historical record is exclusively of hunter-gatherer populations before contact with the Europeans. Apparently the first people in Montana were the Clovis people but nobody knows exactly where they came from. The books gives you a lot to think about and it gave me a lot of ideas of places I would like to visit. Number one on the list is Pictograph Cave.
- All the Houses by Karen Olsson * * 1/2
January 4, 2020
This novel was written in the middle of the occupation of Iraq and is about a family in Washington, DC, whose father was implicated in the Iran-Contra Affair during the Reagan Administration. The novel is primarily about family interactions where they intersect around the father’s reaction to being caught up in Iran-Contra. Although Olsson tries to make the family drama more interesting by mixing it up with the political scandal, it failed to do so. I only finished the book because I was hoping the narrator, Karen, an aspiring writer who has moved to LA but come back after her father’s heart attack, would break up with the guy she is dating in DC and also find out why her sister was acting so mysterious after a basketball injury. They were only mildly enticing events. Her sister was taking pain pills for her ankle obtained from the same guy that Helen is currently dating all these years later. Helen tries hard to remain non-political throughout the novel but it is impossible to write about a political scandal without taking some kind of position. Her position is that the Iran-Contra Scandal was just good people doing what they thought was right even though Iran-Contra was really about questionable people breaking the law and selling guns to Iran with long-standing horrible consequences that are never brought up in the book even though we were occupying Iraq at the time and even though Iran is currently our enemy. I can’t recommend this book.
Books I read in 2019:
- A History of Montana, Volume Two: Priests and Prospectors by Greg Strandberg **
December 22, 2019
I had intended to read a new book I just bought about the Lakota Indians but I inadvertently left it in Montana and I was taking a five and a half hour flight. So I had no choice but to finish part two of Greg Strandberg’s poorly written history of Montana. Volume two was much better than volume one in terms of having far fewer typos and grammatical errors. Nevertheless, there was little difference between this book and reading a write up in Wikipedia of these years of the history of Montana. The blurb on the book jacket says that it is told through the lives of the people who made history there but it’s not. It’s told in this boring style like an outline for a history course. On the other hand, I learned a lot about this period of time in Montana’s history, a history of exploitation and lies told to the native inhabitants, and murderous prospectors, which explains a lot about why Montana is the way it is now. It was settled by prospectors who had little regard for the beautiful countryside they were digging up and destroying, and who were above all interested in getting rich quick. The state was populated by lawless criminals with little regard for the government or the rule of law. No wonder it went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. During the years covered by this book the state was largely democratic but that is because at that time the democratic party was people who sided with slavery and the southern states. Montana was declared a state in 1864 but the governor was appointed by the president and the residents were only allowed to vote for legislators and one member of the US House of Representatives. The state still have only one US Representatives and currently that position is held by a convicted criminal.
- Only Pack What You Can Carry: My path to inner strength, confidence, and true self-knowledge by Janice Holly Booth * * * 1/2
December 19, 2019
While vacationing in Galapagos Islands this year, I met Janice Holly Booth. I didn’t know anything about her or her book. In fact, her partner, TJ, is who even told me about her book. We got to be friends on this trip and so at the end of the trip after I sent them a copy of my video, they mailed me a signed copy of Janice’s book and I just finished it. I believe this is only the second self help book I have ever read (the only other one was about getting over a break up and was given to me in 2011 by a friend). I enjoyed reading this book very much admittedly, mostly because I have spent hours upon hours in the slot canyons of Utah and lost my heart to the Utah desert years ago, and have nearly died there more than once. The chapters on canyoneering and hiking captivated me most. I tried to think of something I am afraid of while reading the book to give it some practical application, but the only thing I came up with is my fear of needles. By necessity I must overcome that fear because I grind my teeth at night and this has lead to my seventh crown just today, the day I finished Janice’s book. Nevertheless, I can see applying the book’s recommendations to overcoming this fear. According to the book, fear of needles is one of the top five most common fears next to snakes and heights. I recommend this book to anyone looking to overcome any fear or anyone dissatisfied with his or her life, or needing help breaking out of limits we place on ourselves. If you are reading this, good job Janice! Thank you for the book and thank you for the inspiration to go after my dreams and break free from the chains of fear.
- A Job with Room & Board: Memories of an Early Montana Forester by John B. Taylor * * * 1/2
December 9, 2019
While in Barnes and Noble looking for something to read other than Volume Two of Greg Strandberg’s catastrophically and horribly written history of Montana, I came across this book and was fascinated by it. A friend who got me interested in Montana and encouraged me to buy property there was raised by a U.S. Forest Ranger. The author of this book was quite a bit older than her father but I’m sure he would have been able to relate to much of what Taylor wrote about being a Forest Service employee in Montana. Taylor started out at eighteen taking a summer job with the Forest Service where he had a million acres of free room and board, only the board was dried pork and hard crackers that mostly ran out before they could return from mapping the uncharted wilderness and counting timber, and the room was nothing more than a rolled up blanket. He supplemented his diet by catching Spruce Grouse with a stick. At that time in Montana the National Forests were roadless and wild. Despite the meager supplies given to the employees while carrying out the arduous task they were asked to do, Taylor fell in love with the wilderness and went on to work his way up the ranks of the Forest Service to personnel supervisor. Along the way he earned degrees in botany and forestry from the University of Michigan (University of Montana didn’t offer a degree in forestry). Taylor worked for the U.S. Forest Service from 1907 until the 1960s and saw many dramatic changes in Montana during that time. He would return to wild places he had mapped during his youth only to find them sliced up by roads and overrun by tourists and development. He was appalled at the development and lamented the building of dams for hydroelectric power and the bulldozers of the Army Corps of Engineers and their reckless destruction when he returned on backpacking trips with family and friends, and yet he said nothing about it while actually working for the Forest Service, and never saw anything wrong with the Forest Service clear cutting and selling our timber or other destructive activities of the Forest Service. Overall though his passion for the outdoors and all nature has to offer comes through clearly throughout the book. It was a joy to read and I recommend it.
- Tribes and Trappers: A History of Montana Volume One by Greg Strandberg **
November 26, 2019
I was looking for a history book about Montana and all I could find was this terrible, horribly written set of volumes by Greg Strandberg. Strandberg’s only qualification for writing a set of history books about Montana, apparently, is that he has a BA in history from the University of Montana and that he grew up in Missoula, Montana, where the University of Montana is located. The “About the Author” section at the end of the book states that Strandberg spent five years as a “slave for the English language industry” when he moved to China after the U.S. economy collapsed in 2008, to teach English as a second language and that he abandoned “this nonsense” after five years. After reading his terrible first volume of the history of Montana, I fear for all those poor souls in China who took English lessons from this idiot. His English is an embarrassment to the English language and he has no business teaching English or writing a book in the English language. The book had so many grammatical errors, typographical errors, and syntax errors that I had to just translate his sentences into proper English in my head as I read. The book is terribly, or not really, organized and not really about Montana at all for most of the chapters. It is mostly a more general history of the early years of the U.S. after independence. Please don’t read this book. It’s embarrassing. I enjoyed reading about famous mountain men like John Bridger and Jedidiah Smith but I am sure you can find a better written book about those two if you care to learn more about their lives. If you are interested in the history of Montana though I suggest taking a course at University of Montana or Montana State University, Montana’s two great universities.
- Educated by Tara Westover * * *
November 3, 2019
This memoir is about a girl who grew up in a small town in Idaho who never attended school and yet went on to graduate from BYU and receive graduate degrees from Harvard and Cambridge. Her parents were Mormons and had many unorthodox beliefs and practices. They didn’t believe in modern medicine and refused medical care despite several horrific accidents suffered by the father and two of Westover’s brothers. Her mother was a midwife and healer and Tara assisted her in mixing concoctions in the kitchen that she used to heal all maladies. These herbal mixtures ultimately lead to a successful business for the Westovers. Most of the time, though, they struggled to manage on the father’s scrapping business, scrapping metal from his junkyard using extremely dangerous methods to do so. The parents were survivalists and stockpiled food and fuel and the father raged against the “government.” Her brothers were cruel and violent and abusive. One brother had a serious psychological problem that went undiagnosed and untreated due to their disdain for modern medicine administered by “the government.” You couldn’t help but plow ahead with the book hoping Tara would escape her insane, abusive, sexist, violent, misguided family but again and again she returned to only be tormented and abused by her father and brothers and even by her mother who turned a blind eye to the violence over and over. It was frustrating to the very end when she finally decided to cut ties and you can just imagine the reaction of her family when this expose was finally published. Westover tries to explain in an epilogue that the book is not an indictment of Mormonism but you can’t help but notice how the Mormon beliefs shaped at least in part some of the more pernicious practices and beliefs of her parents. On the other hand, her father suffered from bipolar disorder and was clearly insane and at least one of her brothers was possibly psychotic or a sociopath, and this could be used to explain away their atrocious behavior aside from their ridiculous religious and political beliefs. Hurrah for Westover for escaping from this violent, misogynist, backward family and finding that an education is invaluable.
- Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil de Grasse Tyson * * * 1/2
October 24, 2019
This slim volume by one of the most famous living astrophysicists is really just a series of essays about chemistry, the earth, planets, galaxies, and the universe, as well as the latest theories and discoveries about the universe, the possibility of a multiverse, the discovery of numerous exoplanets, and other fascinating topics concerning astrophysics. It is by no means comprehensive but was interesting and easy and fun to read.
- Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield * * *
October 13, 2019
This book is a fictionalized and graphic account of the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC between a large Persian Army, historians estimate at anywhere from 100,000 to 1,000,000 soldiers, against a much smaller Greek army of only 7000. The Greek warriors were lead by King Leonidas of Sparta and the Persian Empire was led by Xerxes. The book is told through the main character, Xeones, whose family is murdered when his home town is overrun and burned down. He and his cousin, Diomache, escape to the mountains with their blind caretaker until he perishes in the mountains, and they descend and start a long march to Athens. Diomache is taken in by a family and forced into prostitution while Xeones joins the Spartans and is quickly recognized for his skills and fierce determination. Xeones is captured by the Persians during the battle of Thermopylae and later, after the Spartans are finally routed and defeated after seven days of battle, Xeones agrees to record the details of the battle and how the Spartans prepared for it, for the Persian King in a running dialogue recorded by the King’s recorder, for the King is anxious to understand how the Spartans were able to repel the Persians who were so severely outnumbered. The book is required reading for US Marines and is often used as a missive on the power of a patriotic army to defend its native soil and as a primer and symbol of courage.
The book was very historically accurate but I could have done without reading some of the more gory passages. There were far too many spears going through bodies and bloody hand to hand combat and the cursing in modern language was absurd and gratuitous and added nothing to the story. Other than that it was a good book and easy to read.
- Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich * * *
September 1, 2019
I don’t know how all these dystopian novels ended up in my Kindle. I don’t know how long it’s been in there waiting to be read but there is was. So not knowing a thing about the book, I started reading it this week and finished it today. The book is a long letter written by a 32 year old mother, Cedar Songmaker, to her unborn child. Cedar is raised by her liberal vegan adoptive parents but was the biological child of an Ojibwe Indian living in Minnesota. Cedar makes fun of her parents, Sera and Glen, but they turn out to be right about their fears of the coming de-evolution of human beings. Cedar becomes pregnant just as climate change is having devastating effects on humans to the extent that pregnancies are ending in stillborns at such an alarming rate that someone has taken over the government and it is capturing all pregnant women and imprisoning them to take away any viable babies. Cedar tries to hide inside her apartment once her pregnancy becomes obvious and she and her boyfriend, Phil, try to carry the child to term without being captured by whoever is in charge of things which is not explained very well. Many things are not explained but the novel tumbles along anyway leaving you wanting to believe Cedar’s baby will be born and will survive. I don’t know why I wanted this to happen when what I really believe is that humans are an awful species and the world would be better off if we did peacefully slip away unable to perpetuate the species. The novel seemed to mirror Handmaid’s Tale except that book was much darker and more sinister whereas Future Home tries to stay sanguine about the devolving human race and collapsing society. By the end of the novel I just wanted it and us over.
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens * * * *
August 7, 2019
I gave this book four stars because I couldn’t put it down and because how I have dreamed all my life of knowing all the flowers, all the trees, all the insects, all the birds, all living things all around me just like the Marsh Girl. This novel, the first from the previously only non-fiction writer, Delia Owens, is about a girl who is abandoned by her family to live on her own from age seven in a shack in a marsh in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She overcomes tremendous adversity to grow up into a living legend writing numerous books about the flora and fauna of the marsh but is haunted by her sad lonely life. She is accused of a murder and the ending is as murky as the marsh. That’s all I’m going to say because you should read this book.
- The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens * * * *
July 24, 2019
I have read this book before years ago and enjoyed it very much. Then recently I watched a BBC presentation of it which was very good and now I have read it again and it was just as enjoyable this time. It took me so long at over 600 pages but was worth every delicious word. A couple of the stories I skimmed over– the strange little dreamy stories– but most of the stories were hilarious and so well written. How did Dickens come up with some of this stuff? What a brilliant writer. Mr. Pickwick, a sweet gentleman beloved by all, starts a club with four of his friends and they set out to have adventures and adventures they have. Halfway through Pickwick meets the unique and lovable character, Sam Weller, whom he hires to be his manservant. Pickwick accidentally leads his housekeeper, Mrs. Bardell, to believe he is proposing to her when he is actually trying to tell her he is hiring Sam to be his manservant and she ends up suing him for false promise of marriage. She wins the lawsuit but Pickwick refuses to pay and is sent to Fleet Street debtors prison. In the end it all works out for all but not before many more amusing adventures told with such powerful good writing you cannot put it down.
- MacBeth by William Shakespeare * * * * *
June 1, 2019
What a great play but why are the female characters always harridans, vixens, and shrews? It’s amazing how many sayings in English come from Shakespeare. Even if the themes are horrible and some of the stories atrocious such as this one where lady MacBeth talks her husband into murdering Duncan, the king of Scotland, the language is timeless and eternal, quoteworthy, and fabulous. Re-read Macbeth again and again.
- Kudos by Rachel Cusk * * * 1/2
April 13, 2019
This book was in my Kindle. So I started reading it after I finished Lenin since I needed some fiction for a change. I had no idea what it was about or who the author was. As it turned out, Kudos is the last book in the Faye Trilogy. Unfortunately I have not read the first two books in the trilogy but they are also about the author, Faye. In Kudos, Faye goes to an European city to attend a literary conference and the book is about the strangers and acquaintances she meets and the things they tell her. She relates the stories in the third person which is somewhat boring but what comes across is a unique new kind of literature created by Cusk that attempts to be an inward looking novel that is both passive and impartial, searching and authentic or attempts to be anyway. As she relates the story some of their prologues seem improbably philosophical for the ordinary person. Nevertheless, the book was very enjoyable to read for its creativity and attempt to be the negative novel. Kudos to Cusk for this very different and refreshing take on the modern novel.
- Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror by Victor Sebestyen
* * * 1/2
March 30, 2019
In this engrossing biography of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the first in English in two decades, journalist, Victor Sebesten, tells not only the story of how Lenin came to power through the Bolshevik revolution but how Lenin grew up and the forces that lead this rather ordinary man to become an enduring legend in Russia 90 years later long after Communism has been roundly debunked, the Russian government he helped establish dissolved, and his life exposed as a dictatorship based on terrorizing the people and executing anyone opposed to his reign. Although Lenin was opposed to statues and memorials, and against his express wishes and those of his surviving and long-suffering wife, Nadya, his body was embalmed just after he died in 1924 and placed in a Mausoleum in Red Square. To this day people continue to line up outside the Mausoleum to see his embalmed body. The Mausoleum was refurbished in 2011 by Putin to signal to the world that then and now Russia needs a dominant, ruthless, autocratic ruler.
- Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb * * *
February 18, 2019
I never really thought of beavers as the potential saviors of the ecological disasters wrought by marauding hordes of humans until I read this book. Goldfarb makes a strong case for letting beavers co-exist with humans as a way of reinstating our devastated wetlands and restoring a more balanced ecosystem. At the same time, the book is just another example of how humans don’t really fit into the ecosystem. Wherever we are there is destruction and degradation. It’s not just restoring beavers that will make the ecosystem work more like mother nature intended it to but just preventing humans from overrunning every other species and tormenting the world into what must inevitably be an uninhabitable planet at some point. I enjoyed this book very much. It gave me an idea. Maybe I could introduce some beavers onto my property to turn my seasonal stream into a perennial one and cut off the water supply to my neighbor’s obnoxious cattle ranch!
- The Tangled Tree: Radical New History of Life by David Quammen * * * *
January 24, 2019
David Quammen is a talented science journalist who has written 15 books of fiction and non-fiction. This book tells the story of how exciting new discoveries have changed our thinking about where we came from and how we evolved. He starts with Charles Darwin’s revolutionary book Origin of Species which explained his theory that species evolved over time through genetic mutations and natural selection. Though Darwin’s work was startling and profound he had no way of knowing that there was such much more involved and that we did not evolve exactly like the tree portrayed in his book. Instead, as explained in the book, through ground breaking work of people like Carl Woese, a biologist working at University of Illinois-Urbana Champagne, discovered in 1977 that there was another life form, archea, that was neither bacteria nor plant, that had contributed to our genome. Lynn Margulis, former spouse of Carl Sagan, around the same time as Woese’s work realized that we are actually mosaic creatures. The tree of life was not as straight forward as we had previously thought. We now know that 8% of our human genome is made up of bacteria and virus. Our genes are not just transferred through our ancestors but horizontally from all the bacteria and viruses we come in contact with through horizontal gene transfer (HGT) and that this is what makes some part of the evolutionary process much faster than by mutations of millions of years. I’m not a scientist but I found this book fascinating and a great read. I highly recommend it. I will probably read one of Quammen’s other many books as well.
Books I read in 2018:
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery * * * *
December 16, 2018 (Audio book, although I also read it years ago in Spanish)
Saint-Exupery was a French aviator and author whose plane was shot down in World War II and landed in the desert of Libya. He published this book in 1943 in French and it has sold millions of copies since then and been translated into dozens of languages. The book is a fable about a pilot whose plane is shot down and lands in the desert 1000 miles from the closest person. While repairing his plane a boy appears out of nowhere. Over the next week he learns that the boy has come to earth from a far away asteroid the size of a house, that he left after tiring of watering his overly needy rose. During this brief encounter the little prince shows that actions speak louder than words and that most people are vain and superficial and finally that the best things in life are the simplest, such as the sunset and the stars.
- Crescent and Star: Turkey between Two Worlds by Stephen Kinzer * * *
December 8, 2018
This book tells the story of Turkey from its founding in 1922 by Ataturk after World War I when Great Britain was ready to divide it up between the victors, through its troubled history after his death crushing the Kurds, quieting dissenting voices through an overriding military, and numerous incidents of human rights abuses and abuses of power. Though Ataturk dreamed of Turkey becoming a modern nation and a part of the European tradition, it never quite gets there by the time the book ends in 2001. Ataturk was determined to drag Turkey into modernity by banning the ridiculous subservience of women bowing to men, the absurd veil, requiring that people wear western attire, and restricting the building of mosques or teaching of Islam in schools. He had many great ideas that prevented Turkey from becoming a backward like the rest of the surrounding Arabic countries but at a price. He basically became the dictator of Turkey. Although Turkey has come a long way toward modernization it still has a military that can overrule all else, a growing Muslim population pushing it closer and closer to a Muslim state, and it is not quite ready to embrace all that Democracy entails or that Ataturk envisioned for Turkey. Although invited to join the EU in 1999, it still has not met all of the requirements to be a part of the EU or even to be considered even close to a Democracy. To my reading it was in better shape when Ataturk was the dictator than it is now under the odious Erdogan.
- The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin * * * *
November 19, 2018
This well documented and well researched book about the famous Lakota Indian, Red Cloud, is a great read. It is written in a spell binding narrative that keeps you turning the pages to find out if Red Cloud will defeat the American Cavalry sent to Montana to protect white settlers wagon bound west for gold, fortune, a new life, a free 160 acres guaranteed by the Homestead Act, or just reckless adventure. Red Cloud is the only Indian who did actually defeat and repel the US Cavalry, however, as everyone knows, the story ends badly with Red Cloud and all the Native Americans herded onto less favorable lands, Reservations, while the White Americans took all the gold they could find, aimlessly slaughtered the American Bison, denuded the west, populated it, and in the process wiped out a way of life and a culture and a people. Red Cloud was able to live out his life peacefully on the Pine Ridge Reservation but most other Indians had their lives cut short by the repeating rifle, the encroaching mobs of white people, and the near extinction of the Bison brought about by the invading white people. It was a great book except for one jarring moment on page 346 when the authors referred to Indians as “half-man.” The sentence refers to Red Cloud’s most famous victory over the US Cavalry, known as the Fetterman Massacre, where the Indians killed 100 US Cavalry (not without reason: the US was once again reneging on its treaties with the Indians and invading promised territory in the Powder River Territory). After the Indians won the battle they referred to it as “Battle of the Hundred-in-the-Hands” and the authors say that the Indians calling it that is the “half-man’s augury.” This should have been removed from the book; it was needless and racist and had no place in this otherwise good book. I would say overlook this moral dereliction on the part of the authors and read this great book with a wealth of information about this sad part of American History and about a great Indian Warrior, Red Cloud. Everyone who reads it must ask his or herself why was the federal government spending tax dollars and endless resources and placing soldiers in harms way in remote areas of the west after promising those very same remote areas to the Indians and partially during a time those resources were desperately needed for the raging civil war. It’s mind boggling to think about that.
- Petra: The Art, the History, and the Nature by Mohammad Farhan with photos by Qasim Bdoul * * *
October 20, 2018
Petra means rock in Greek and is the incredible World Heritage Site in Jordan where the ancient tribe, the Nabateans, carved beautiful monuments out of the sandstone and this book gives a guide and brief history of the area and the people.
- A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin * * * 1/2
October 11, 2018
At times there were a bit too many intricate details of all the inner workings of all the many people involved inside Great Britain responsible for the mess that is now considered the Middle East. Basically as explained in the book Great Britain was alarmed at the growing Ottoman Empire which had been taken over by the young Turks, Kemal, Pasha, and Talaat. Great Britain under the leadership of the Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, attacked Gallipoli where they hoped to control the important harbor, the Dardanelles, but the British were repelled by the Ottomans under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal. This well researched and well documented books is highly informative of what lead up to and what motivated Great Britain to enter World War I and also what was behind the carving up and creation of what is now Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. I learned a lot of useful information from reading this book about the many mistakes Great Britain made both before, during, and after WW I. For example, the first battle won by Great Britain were in Basra and Baghdad where Great Britain ruled with protectorates. WW I did not end all wars. One reason for the failure of WW I to end all wars is that although Great Britain got into the war ostensibly to stop the Ottoman Empire, it inadvertently lead to the alliance between Germany and the Ottoman Empire and ultimately the rise in WW II of Germany. After winning the war, Great Britain sought to carve up not only the Middle East but what was Turkey. Then it allowed one of the leaders of the Ottoman Empire, Kemal, to establish a new empire in Anatolia, the heart of Turkey where he eventually pushed out the occupying forces of Italy, France, and even Greece and formed what is now modern day Turkey (Kemal is known throughout Turkey as Ataturk). The primary failure though was that through a series of blunders Great Britain forced the Ottoman Empire to ally itself with Germany. After defeating the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain also became very greedy and obsessed with depriving France of controlling parcels of the Middle East such as Syria and Lebanon and this was before they even realized these areas contained vast quantities of oil. Then to make matters worse the region was carved up desultorily without regard to regionalism and tribalism and handed over to sultans and kings. Then on top of that Great Britain signed the Balfour Declaration which established a Jewish State in the middle of a predominantly Arab area by making false promises of independence and autonomy to various leaders there and then reneging on those promises and trying to rule these distant lands through puppet governments. Although Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918 to end WW I, it really was just the beginning of far more serious and deadly consequences that ultimately brewed into WW II.
- Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship between American English and British English by Lynne Murphy * * *
September 1, 2018
I have to admit that I was a target audience for this book since I am a grammar maven and detest hearing people mangle the English language. In this book Ms. Murphy presents some compelling arguments why we should not care so much about whether one kind of English is invading and ruining another kind of English. About 30% of the book consists of the well documented footnotes that support her arguments through exhaustive research into the origins of words and how they got into British and American English and why. I know it sounds like a dry topic but the book was both interesting and funny. I highly recommend it.
- 1491 by Charles Mann *
August 4, 2018
I just finished this horrible book. I cannot recommend it. It’s terrible. He makes the most outrageous specious arguments and allegations based on the flimsiest evidence. I almost burned it in the trash after reading the premise of his book in the introduction in which he claims that Indians destroyed North, Central, and South America long before Columbus arrived and there is no true wilderness, and therefore it’s fine for us to now tear it up and ruin it again. What an idiot. He makes the outrageous claim that the old commercial of an Indian on the side of the road crying, when careless white people throw thrash out the window, was very effective and lead to many people abandoning their littering wasteful ways but that it was a false image because Indians destroyed the environment around them long before the white people arrived. What nonsense! I only gave this ridiculous book one star because if you can overlook his many fallacious arguments and outlandish claims, the book is an excellent compendium of all the latest discoveries and information gathered about the cultures in North, Central, and South America that preceded the invasions and subsequent ruination caused by white people. For example, I was not aware that there was one large settlement of Indians near modern day St. Louis, called Cahokia where they grew maize and had the only Indian “city” north of those in Central America. He estimates the population there at anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000. I also learned of giant geoglyphs in Beni, Brazil that were ancient mounds built by the Indians of South America. The rest of what he says about those is pure speculation though. He makes the outrageous claim that the Indians of North America numbered 25 million before Columbus, basing his number on the number of deaths caused by exposure to smallpox. I already knew about the massive cities built by the Maya in Central America and yes those have mostly been reclaimed by the jungle but in how many years? Mann claims that Indians were burning, building canals, raising fields, hunting bison, netting salmon and “managing the environment” for thousands of years on a scale never before known to the white people. Naturally the Indians had to find a way to eat and live to survive but for Mann to suggest the sheer scale and to equate it with modern day rapacious ways of North Americans is untenable and simply false. Today there are no doubt many more people living in North America than at any time in human history (currently 350,000 million) and there can be no doubt that we are destroying the planet on a scale unknown in human history and in unconscionable ways that are irreversible.
There were so many unsupportable claims by Mann in the book that I gave up marking the book up. He even went so far as to suggest that it was a mistake to pass the Wilderness Act in 1965 because there is no true wilderness. I guess he doesn’t understand the plain meaning of wilderness. It doesn’t mean it has to be like it was 1000 years ago or before Columbus arrived; wilderness means it’s wild now and that it is not now overrun by human habitation or buildings or machinery. Most irritating of all is his equating the Indian’s cultivating maize and hunting bison with modern day development. There is just no comparison. The Indians got by as they had to survive by hunting bison and in pre-historic times by growing maize, but that was absolutely nothing compared to today’s large scale agricultural practices and especially nothing compared to the hideous cattle industry of today. The Indians had a connection to earth and valued it. Modern North Americans seek only to do what will bring in an income and have no regard for the impact their activities have on Mother Earth. Just one small example is the exploitation and destruction of many areas of North America to extract gold, an intrinsically valueless object. Modern North Americans, most of them anyway, don’t consider the earth sacred, they don’t say prayers for the food it provides or praise it for how it nourishes and supports us all. Moreover, Mr. Mann fails to even mention that today’s practices are causing extinctions on a massive scale that are irreversible. He claims the Indians nearly hunted the bison to extinction which is completely false, and makes the completely unsupportable claim that there weren’t 62 million bison roaming North America, without any scientific support for his claims at all and yet mentions only one extinction caused by white people, the extinction of the Carrier Pigeon which he seemed to feel was justified because of their nasty ways of flying in flocks of millions and eating all the mast for miles and “thousands of acres.” Absurd. The white people who arrived caused the worst imbalance in the ecosystem in the history of the world by bringing their damn nasty ass cows and raising them in hideous feed lots that attract cow birds by the thousands, something unheard of before the arrival of white Europeans in North America. White people forced American Indians to raise cows instead of bison in order to rob them of their land. His book is just plain wrong. Don’t read it. horrible book.
- Let’s Drive by Ann King Reynolds * *
July 11, 2018
I saw this book in the Anasazi Indian Museum and State Park in Boulder, Utah and bought it because the author had grown up in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument before it was designated a national monument in 1996, and I wanted to read what she had to say about it. It’s another horrible book. The book provides interesting insight into why the people of Kane and Garfield Counties are so angry and opposed to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (but not apparently the more popular and overrun, Bryce Canyon National Park which by the way started out as a national monument!) . The author quotes a poem by a Mrs. Alvey at the beginning of the book that is telling. The poem speaks glowingly about the prospects of digging for coal in Grand Staircase while chastising backpackers who come and upset their solitude and are according to her, rude. The poem is so offensive that I almost threw the book away after reading that hideous poem but I continued to the end. Mostly the book is about the local people (mostly Mormons), who moved there when and how many cows they had. Some of the stories about her father yelling at them were funny and engaging but I was disheartened at her treatment, or lack thereof, of the first inhabitants, the Native Americans. She is constantly referring to some Mormon with 500 cows being the first settler in such and such area and this Mormon came and named this place. Almost everything in the area is named for some Mormon with cows. Nothing is named for the Indians, including the Indian Museum which incorrectly refers to the earliest inhabitants as Anasazi. On the other hand she expresses outrage in the book when the BLM renames the Pink Cliffs, Powell Point neither of which are their original Indian name. I was shocked to read that it is her family that owns the cattle permit in The Gulch which is off of the Burr Trail in Grand Staircase, and one of it premier hikes. We all hiked The Gulch for the first time this summer and were stunned by its incredible beauty, only to be dismayed near the apex of the hike, by coming upon a cattle lineman’s house about 2/3 down the canyon that was full of trash and partially burned beer cans and also had tacky orange mesh fence pulled across the wash to ostensibly stop the cattle from getting into the water. These cows are polluting the very water these people depend upon and yet there is no acknowledgement of the damage caused by the Mormons bringing all their damn cows to Southern Utah and using up all the water and resources by growing and eating useless alfalfa and by watering it with our precious resource, water. Ms. Reynolds tries to stay neutral throughout the book with the exception of the offensive poem at the beginning and attempts to avoid controversy by sticking to stories about the locals, but in reality the book cannot help but be controversial because by telling her story she is telling anyone willing to read this book wherein lies the problem– the cows have got to go. Ms. Reynolds has a point in opposing the change in the name of the Pink Cliffs to Powell Point. There are already three Powell Points in Utah, everything is named for men and nothing for women, and Pink Cliffs sounds better. However, she fails to show even the least remorse that the Mormons stole land from Indians and then renamed all their sites with white Anglican (probably Mormon) names. Shame on her and shame on the politicians and citizens of Kane and Garfield counties. Reynolds does acknowledge at the end of the book that visitors to southern Utah spend some $88 million a year visiting it, including Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and that is without any damn coal mine! I could go on. If you want to feel shame and outrage at Mormons in Utah read this book but more than that, I agree with her that you should go visit this wonderful spectacular place that should be a National Park and not a coal mine. Resist President Trump’s illegal attempt to reduce Grand Staircase National Monument!
- Tangerine by Christine Mangan * * *
June 25, 2018
This novel set in Tangier in the 50s, is Ms. Mangan’s first book. Two women, Alice and Lucy, are roommates in college and become close friends. Alice is scarred by the death of both parents and finds comfort in the fact that Lucy has also lost her parents or so she tells her. Lucy begins to engage in strange inexplicable behavior. For instance Alice comes home one day to find her wearing one of Alice’s outfits. Alice overlooks Lucy’s many quirks but begins to distance herself from Lucy by spending more and more time with a male acquaintance, Tom. Lucy is resentful of Tom and one day Tom dies under mysterious circumstances and Alice tells her to disappear. Lucy complies. Later in life Alice ends up married to John and they move to Tangier. One day Lucy shows up on their doorstep and things go terribly wrong for Alice from there. The book is an excellent exploration of two very damaged people and provides insights into how one can slide into socially unacceptable behavior based on circumstances in our formative years and one’s failure to acceptable means of coming to terms with traumatic events in our lives. This book was a tremendous first effort for Ms. Mangan.
- Secrets of the Oak Woodlands: Plants & Animals Among California’s Oaks by Kate Marianchild * * * *
May 31, 2018
I loved this book. Even though I have been walking California’s oak woodlands for over 25 years now, I still learned so much from this book about the unique and fascinating ecosystem of California’s oak woodlands. From the bizarre sexual mimicry of Acorn Woodpeckers just before dusk when they crowd sometimes fourteen at a time into their little tree cavity for the night to the delightful little Woodrat’s fabulous mansions, there is so much to learn from this book and make your oak woodland ramble so much more enjoyable. Read this book and treasure the ineffable joys of California’s oak woodlands.
- A Son of the Sun by Jack London * * *
May 8, 2018
I liked Call of the Wild and To Light a Match, also by Jack London much better. However, this swashbuckling adventure novel written in 1912 and set in the tumultuous south seas is full of pirates, scoundrels, and exotic people making it quite enjoyable to read. The novel follows eight separate adventures of the hero, Captain David Grief, as he travels the seas in his schooner.
- The Maya by Michael Coe & Stephen Houston 9th Edition * * *
April 17, 2018
This is the most authoritative, exhaustive, and up to date introduction to the ancient Maya from their beginnings to their present situation. It has many photos of important discoveries, sites, pottery, murals, and inscriptions. The end of the book has some recommendations on sites to visit to learn more about the Maya. I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about this fascinating people.
- Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize by John Hollander
* * * *
March 23, 2018
This compilation of fantastic poems was published in 1996. I bought the book years ago looking for some poems to memorize but I finally got around to reading the entire book cover to cover and really enjoyed it. I have already memorized three great poems in the book two by John Keats and one by Thomas Hardy. If you are interested in poetry but don’t know much about it, this book also makes are good starter.
- Poems of Shelley selected and arranged by Stopford Brooke * * * *
March 17, 2018
This is the first time I have ever sat down and read an entire book of one poet’s poems cover to cover. Just reading the preface alone which was very long, took hours. Shelley felt nature very deeply and his expressions of it are profound and make up his best poems such as Mont Blanc, Skylark, The Alps at Dawn, and The Cloud. His poems also combine his love of nature with his hopes for man as in the beautiful poem Ode to the West Wind which this book ends with. Shelley was very interested in time and its changes which is best expressed in probably his most famous poem Ozymandias, the one poem I was most familiar with before reading this book. I very much enjoyed Adonais, Shelley’s elegy on the death of John Keats and also Sensitive Plant. With every poem I had to keep the dictionary close by as almost all of them contained references to Greek Mythology and also to ancient poets. I would sometimes find myself lost in some discourse on other topics while researching some of the references. I still love Keats more and I’m not sure yet whether Shelley is better than Lord Byron or not, but after reading this I am sure I will return to it again and again. What a shame he died so young.
A note on the text of this book which I bought from Barnes and Noble; the book was a digital copy of someone else’s book which the guy had marked up vigorously in places rendering the text unreadable in many poems. If you are interested in reading Shelley, and I hope you are because he was a truly great poet, then I would recommend, Selected Poetry and Prose of Shelley or The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley instead.
- White Tears by Hari Kunzru * * *
March 3, 2018
In this novel Seth, an ordinary kid interested in recording sounds, meets a very rich kid named Carter who is interested in collecting old blues records. The two move to New York to set up a sound studio. Carter is in a serious accident which results in Seth discovering his family’s dark past with blacks in the south. The novel is a complex exploration of race, history, and white black relations in America today and in the past. It uses a narrative tool of weaving the past with the present and for this reason has been characterized a ghost story but I wouldn’t call it that. It’s a page turner with dark undertones.
- Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York by Francis Spofford * * * *
February 26, 2018
After several books of non-fiction, this is Francis Spofford’s first book of fiction but even it is a historical novel of sorts set in New York in 1746. The writing was fantastic but after awhile I began to feel that the book might merely be a swashbuckling copy of The Three Musketeers set in New York but as I continued to read I realized it was so much more. The novel opens with our hero, Mr. Smith, landing in New York with a thousand pound note. Who is Mr. Smith and how does he intend to use this vast sum of money is dangled imploring before the reader to lure you to the end of the novel. New York has a mere 7000 people at the time and is still very much a village that talks incessantly about liberty and virtue while black men and women are hustled through the streets in shackles. Mr. Smith notes at one point that New York has many more slaves than in London from whence he comes. Mr. Smith’s purse is stolen not long after landing in New York and this leads to one of many trial and tribulations he suffers along the way to accomplishing his unexplained goal which is only revealed at the end of the novel. Along the way Mr. Smith meets an enigmatic beauty named Tabitha, with whom he becomes enamored and a gay secretary to the governor. I will leave out the ending of this book so that you will go out and read this little gem.
- Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor * * *
February 5, 2018
This is a novel with no plot and no main character. It’s just a story with many characters as they move through life in a rural town in Ireland. As the book opens we learn that Rebecca Shaw has gone missing. What keeps you reading it is wondering if they will ever find Rebecca Shaw even though it is patently obvious after a few chapters that it is merely a novelistic tool. The writing was very fine and McGregor is a keen observer or nature; he knows a lot about birds and things which is rare these days and very refreshing. Other than that though, the book became tedious after a while.
- Montana’s Pioneer Naturalist: Morton J. Elrod by George Dennison * * * 1/2
January 6, 2018
I really enjoyed reading this biography of Morton Elrod. I had never even heard of him before reading the book. He was responsible for establishing the Research Station at Flathead Lake, a large lake near Glacier National Park, one of the top fresh water lake research stations in the world. He was also instrumental in establishing the University of Montana and was a professor of biology there, leading many field trips to study at Flathead Lake and also the Lake McDonald area. He played a vital role in establishing Glacier National Park and set up and lead a park naturalist program there for many years. He also established the Bison Range in Rivalli, still popular today. Sadly he suffered a paralytic stroke that left him unable to walk without assistance and hindered his ability to talk for the last 20 years of his distinguished life. There is a Morton Elrod School named for him in Kalispell. The University of Montana set up a sundial on campus in his honor. He left an abundant amount of photographs of Glacier National Park from the 20s and many articles and journals about the nature at Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park, Missoula, and other areas of Montana.
Books I read in 2017:
- Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance *
December 22, 2017
This is a really bad Memoir by a guy who grew up in a lower class poor area of Ohio and Kentucky among what he refers to lovingly as hillbillies. His circumstances being raised by a drug addicted mother and intermittently by his shotgun toting, foul mouthed, violent grandparents, and surrounded by ne-er-do-well losers who are ready to blame the government for all their problems did not win my heart over. The most shocking part was that this mediocre writer got into Yale Law School and published a book about his life when he is only 30 years old. I was amazed to learn that this self-described conservative lives in ultra-liberal San Francisco. His book propounds to provide an explanation for why hillbillies live the way they do but I failed to find an answer in this book. You are better off looking elsewhere for answers.
- Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy * * * *
December 17, 2017
Fleur Jaeggy’s prose is remarkable and beautiful. Although this novel is a sparse 100 pages, I wanted to savor every engrossing sentence and take my time enjoying each one re-reading them at times for the fun of it and even thinking while reading the book how I must read it again as soon as I finish it . The novel was originally written in Italian and this translation into English is by Tim Parks. The novel is about a young girl sent to a boarding school in Switzerland where she seeks the affections of the school’s new student, Frederique, who appears to be perfect but as the novel moves along becomes increasingly bizarre and ultimately mad. Great book that is hard to find but well worth the search and the read.
- We Shall Not All Sleep: A Novel by Estep Nagy * * * 1/2
December 13, 2017
This is a well written compelling and original story that takes place partly in New York during the Communist witch hunts but mostly on an island off the coast of Maine where two families go for refuse and solace. But there is conflict between the families, within the families, CIA intrigue and real Communist incursions into this idyllic place.
- Pure by Andrew Miller * * *
November 17, 2017
This is a work of historical fiction about the dismantling of les Innocents cemetery in the heart of Paris by an engineer from Belleme. The writing was brilliant and the story was a spell binder.
- The Mayan Prophecies by Adrian Gilbert & Maurice Cotterell * * *
October 10, 2017
Interesting book about the Mayan people who built their pyramids and temples in the depths of the rainforests of Central America two thousand years ago. The Mayans had two calendars and their own written language. In this book the author explores the main Mayan ruins and explains who the Mayans were, why they disappeared and his theories of why their culture so uncannily mirrors that of such far away places as Egypt. Some parts of the book were very hokey especially Gilbert’s theories about the Egyptians having potentially visited Central America before the European invasions.
- Route of the Mayas by Numerous Specialists and Academics * * *
September 25, 2017
This guidebook outlines the Mayan heritage through five countries, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. It is full of detailed pictures of many of the sites including Chichen Itza, Tikal, Copan, and the many steles, architecture, and figurines, and has a lot of useful and practical information on the plants, animals, jungles surrounding the sites, and history of the Maya culture. My biggest complaint is that the format of the writing in columns made it incredibly difficult to read and that along with the tiny type has caused my vision to fail. You need a very bright light to read this book but it’s an excellent primer and starter book for anyone wanting to visit the magnificent Mayan Ruins of Central America.
- The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel * * * *
September 13, 2017
This is an absorbing book about a man, Christopher Knight, who spent 27 years utterly alone in a tent in Maine, before he was finally caught by the local sheriff while raiding a summer camp that was near his campsite, of its food storage. The author, Michael Finkel, doggedly pursued Knight in order to tell his story. After a while I started to think Finkel was as crazy as Knight was. However, as it turns out neither was crazy at all; they both shared a love for solitude. Admittedly I started the book thinking it would be like some similar books I had read, A Year in the Maine Woods by Bernd Heinrich, and Diary of a Wilderness Dweller by Chris Czajkowski, about people who are completely self-reliant and alone. However, even after learning Knight actually survived his 27 years alone in the harsh environment of Maine by stealing food from cabin owners and the summer camp, I could not put the book down until finished. The issues raised by Knight and his story are as timeless as Socrates and Nietzsche, both quoted in the book for their references to the benefits of solitude. This is a very good book and I highly recommend it.
- The Crossing by Andrew Miller * * *
September 4, 2017
This is Andrew Miller’s fourth novel. While he writes very well, (his novel Pure won Book of the Year) he obviously has trouble getting inside of the head of the female character who also happens to be the protagonist of this book. Maud is quiet and competent and smart but has almost no emotions and is presented as an automaton even as tragedy strikes her family. It is only at the very end of the novel when Maud has landed on an island inhabited by children, after her boat barely survives a ferocious storm at sea, that she finally opens up about the gapping wound in her heart to the children there, and it is there that we find oh yes, she does actually have a heart and emotions.
- Conversations with Friends: A Novel by Sally Rooney * * * 1/2
August 12, 2017
Sally Rooney was a world champion debater before writing this, her first novel. The writing is good and has glimmers of greatness but is not dazzling. The novel follows the lives of two women, Frances, the narrator, and Bobbi, while they are attending college. At the beginning of the novel Bobbi has broken up with Frances but they still share an apartment and close friendship. They met a married couple, Melissa and Nick. Frances starts an affair with Nick right under Melissa’s nose and continues even after Melissa finds out. It is a dead end relationship with nowhere to go as Nick has no intention of leaving Melissa and yet Frances continues with a completely unfounded hope that it will go somewhere. Eventually it ends and she and Bobbi get back together although Bobbi insists they are not girlfriends. Then unforgivably the book ends with the outrageous and unconscionable when Frances agrees to meet Nick again. What a disappointing ending.
- Augustown by Kei Miller * * * 1/2
August 3, 2017
Augustown, Kei Miller’s third novel, is a fictionalized account of August Town, Jamaica. Though the town is inhabited by slaves freed after emancipation, the struggles continue in the daily encounters with Babylon which is their word for the system, the police, and all inequalities of society. The book is written in the Jamaican patois and includes such real life characters as the messianic preacher, Bedward, though presented in a much more sympathetic light, a hateful dunderheaded teacher who sets off a violent “autoclaps” (Jamaican for apocalypse) by cutting off the dreadlocks of an innocent child, and Ma Taffy, the ganja smoking matriarch of the boy’s family . Dreadlocks are considered to give power like the hair of Samson. The only bright light of the novel is Gina, a highly intelligent child who appears poised to rise out of the poverty and chaos of Augustown and the struggle against Babylon, only to be crushed down at the end of the novel. The struggle continues.
- Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and its Demons by Elizabeth Brown Pryor * * *
July 26, 2017
I thought I liked Lincoln until I read this book. Lincoln emerges from the history books as a benign and democratic figure, ultimately a champion of slave emancipation. After reading this book though, I see that he was actually not very concerned about slaves or the horror of slavery at all. His main concern was to keep the Union together at whatever cost. He not only had little regard for blacks or the blight of slavery, he had little regard for the most prominent women of the day either, at one point refusing to meet with the famous, Clara Barton, and dismissing other famous women fighting for women’s suffrage as well. He dressed frumpishly. His hair was like an abandoned stubble field and his face had an unfortunate simian cast. He was viewed by many as a country bumpkin. He was described by his peers as using indecorous language and hideously bad rhetoric. After reading this book he does come across as a yahoo and barbarian whose ambitions outweighed his intellect. He seemed to bumble through this hectic time in history and just by chance we remained one country after all.
- War, So Much War by Merce Rodoreda * * *
May 21, 2017
This is a highly symbolic novel about war. I don’t really enjoy symbolic novels and I’m not sure why I bought the book but it was in my Kindle so I read it. It was a highly praised novel written in Catalonian and translated into Spanish and later into English. According to the critics the language is beautiful. I found it frightening and upsetting. It is basically the story of a solider bungling his way through the embers of war.
- The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes * * *
May 6, 2017
This novel explores memory and how we shape our own memories of ourselves. It bogged down about 2/3 of the way through before the shocking conclusion.
- Days Without End by Sebastian Barry * * * 1/2
April 17, 2017
Our narrator, Thomas McNulty, escapes the Irish famine by boat to Canada and from there enters the US where he meets and falls in love with John Cole. They both join the cavalry and go west to slaughter Indians to clear the way for the white migration. During their travels, they are employed to dress as ladies for entertaining the white settlers and there Thomas gains a life long taste for cross-dressing. The book is told in a wonderful lilting prose filled with Irish brogue grammar mixed with beautiful insights and aphorisms. The two engage in bloody battle reluctantly and without judgment and in between live their lives peacefully. The peace is interrupted again though when they join the Union Army in the Civil War. The only weakness of the book is the unexplained past of an Indian girl they adopt and raise. While Thomas expresses his disgust with the dirty business of war and killing, nevertheless he engages in mindless slaughter of innocent Indians and then removes an Sioux girl from her Indian heritage. Other than that I enjoyed the book immensely and highly recommend it. It is original and well written.
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown * * * *
March 18, 2017
This outstanding, well written, and thoroughly researched book about the white man’s deadly attacks on Native Americans to take their land and herd them onto reservations in the American West in the late nineteenth century, is told from the Indian’s perspective. Although it will make you cry, it should be required reading for all U.S. History courses in this country. But you know who would really benefit from reading this book? Senator Orin Hatch and other like minded politicians from Utah, should read it. They were so upset at Obama for designating Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, that they have vowed to undo the national monument designation because they claim it contains Utah’s oil and gas. What they seem to forget is that Utah belonged to Indians before Mormons and other white usurpers arrived there and took it over. Bears Ears is considered sacred territory to the Native American tribes there. I highly recommend this book to all Americans who ignorantly continue to falsely state that they own oil and gas rights on any national lands. They seem to forget that there were Indians here for thousands of years before white settlers arrived, slaughtered them, and drove them out. You must read this book.
- South of the Clouds Travels in Southwest China by Bill Porter * * *
February 21, 2017
Interesting travel book about Bill Porter’s travels through southwest China in 1992. He starts out on a boat ride but travels by tractor, train, numerous buses and always on foot to find remote and interesting out of the way places in China. He drinks a lot of rice wine, meets interesting people, and intertwines myths and stories of the tribes he encounters along the way about their origins and always some references to the great flood. There are a few magnificent black and white photos interspersed. Overall a good book but the use of Wade Giles instead of the much more widely used Pinyin to name the towns and places was a big distraction as well as his insistence on annoyingly using serials connected by “and” instead of a comma which makes all sentences boring beyond belief in my opinion. Other than that a good read especially for anyone planning a trip to South China.
- Black Wave by Michelle Tea * *
February 4, 2017
Novel about a lesbian writer living in San Francisco. She drinks a lot, takes a lot drugs, has a lot of random sex, and has to escape to Los Angeles to try to reorder her life. In Los Angeles she stops taking heroin but starts drinking excessively every night. Her life is still a mess and the book ends messily.
- Endgame Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization by Derrick Jensen * * *
January 9, 2017
A comprehensive indictment of what is wrong with civilization. His conclusions that we are all doomed is pretty well documented and vindicated by the fact that our current president is a complete incompetent idiot.
Books I read in 2016:
- A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball * * *
December 23, 2016
A claimant has been given a drug that erases all memory of some past painful event in his life and now an examiner must rehabilitate him. He lives in a village where all the houses are alike and the examiner attempts to reintegrate him there. When it doesn’t work they move him during the night and start over giving him a random name each time because it really doesn’t matter what name he has just as the examiner explains to him cemeteries are no longer needed because they only prolong the suffering of those left behind. The book explores in this way to what extent pain informs our identity.
- The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Magnus Mills * * *
December 11, 2016
This novel is about a field bounded on the east, west, and south by water, that is inhabited by people living in tents. The book is an allegory about the numerous invasions of Great Britain over the centuries, first by the Romans and so on. It was very interesting and original if you could follow all the allusions. (Also it was short and easy to read and made a quick year end addition to my book list!)
- The Year of the Runaways: A Novel by Sunjeev Sahota * *
November 27, 2016
The author had the annoying habit of repeatedly using serials connected by “and” instead of commas, making the sentences clunky and boring. The story is about several poor Indians who are smuggled into England to look for work. The book was sprinkled with Punjabi words and delved into the culture and poverty of India. It was hard to feel sympathy though because all of the characters were morally bankrupt. The ending seemed hurried and implausible.
- Loner by Teddy Wayne * * * 1/2
October 25, 2016
A Harvard freshman, David becomes obsessed with a glamorous rich attractive co-ed, Veronica, living in his dorm. His obsession becomes darker and more sinister as the novel progresses. The novel explores the timely topics of assault on college campuses, class identity, and how our upbringing shapes who we are as adults.
- Letters Never Sent by Sandra Moran * * * 1/2
October 20, 2016
In 1997 Joan returns to Lawrence, Kansas to arrange the things left after the death of her mother, Katherine, with whom she had a very strained relationship. While there she learns that her mother was actually a lesbian who had a deep love for another woman and that her father was a rapist and a murderer. But what the book is really about is the struggle of all people, but especially gays, to reconcile the loyalties they have to their families with those they have to their significant others.
- The Sport of Kings: A Novel by C. E. Morgan * *
October 1, 2016
I didn’t care for this book at all. The book is a study of race relations in America but Morgan is incapable of writing succinctly and it was just too stretched out with her musings and ramblings for me. In addition, all of the characters were horrible people, the sole exception being Marie, the mother of the hopelessly lost Allmon. The book traces the Forge family, a rich white racist family in Kentucky, through several generations leading up to Henry, who is obsessed with raising a thoroughbred race horse. Henry has a daughter, Henrietta, whom he sexually abuses. Henrietta is a lost soul who retaliates against her father by having mindless sexual encounters with numerous men including Allmon, whom Henrietta hires to train the horses. She falls in love with him but he is obsessed with “winning” and accepts an offer from Henry to leave the horse farm in exchange for a percentage of the winnings of one of the thoroughbreds, and he abandons Henrietta who unbeknownst to Allmon is pregnant with his child. Things end badly for everyone and race relations are only slightly better at the end of the book than they were at the beginning.
- Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh * * *
August 21, 2016
“Heat and Light,” Jennifer Haigh’s latest book, covers many topics including fracking, drug addiction, and how relationships work, while exploring small town life in Bakerton, PA. As the book opens gangsters are paying house calls on the local farmers, offering them cash up front if they will sell the underground drilling rights on their beautiful property. The problem is that unbeknownst to them there will be noisy, disruptive, and in the end dangerous extraction of natural gas going on a mile underground. Along the way, Ms. Haigh creates a wide and completely believable cast of characters who lock antlers over Bakerton’s latest development and whose viewpoints are representative of those across the country regarding fracking.To the extent that “Heat and Light” has a main character, it is probably Rich Devlin, a prison guard and burgeoning farmer by day and bar tender by night. Through Rich the author evokes what goes wrong in Bakerton and sets the stage for his troubled marriage to the kooky hypochondriac, Shelby, who may or may not have Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. There are many things wrong with Bakerton including methamphetamine labs, drunks, bigots, idiots; in short the gambit of small town life.
While tending bar, which might as well be the Town Hall, Rich is able to observe the sexual habits of the town vamp and the new influx of Texas roughnecks, hired to do the fracking.
The town and Rich’s marriage go through tumultuous times as a result of the influx of fracking. There are no solutions but one thing is sure; as the fracking winds down and finally leaves Bakerton it leaves a path of pollution and destruction.
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen * * *
July 23, 2016
The narrator of this debut novel is an Americanized Vietnamese who sympathizes with the communists in the lead up to and aftermath of the Vietnam War. This leads him into taking some morally unsupportable actions most notably murdering two innocent people. Parts of the book were like reading the screenplay for Apocalypse Now and indeed in the afterword, Nguyen acknowledges its contributions to parts of the book. While interesting to read a fictionalized account of this horrific time from the perspective of a Vietnamese, the book was harrowing and difficult to read at times. I had a hard time sympathizing with the narrator most of the time.
- My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout * * *
June 10, 2016
The narrator, Lucy Barton was raised in abject poverty in a small town in Illinois. She has not seen her mother for many years when she suddenly appears at Lucy’s bedside after she is hospitalized for an extended period of time due to an infection. The novel explores how our upbringing and specifically poverty leave an indelible mark on us.
- The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien * * * 1/2
In acclaimed writer, Edna O’Brien’s, latest novel, war torn Bosnia intrudes on rural Ireland when a war criminal escaping prosecution and posing as a sex therapist wreaks havoc on the life of the town beauty.
- Widening Income Inequality: Poems by Frederick Seidel * * *
May 13, 2016
Frederick Seidel, the author of this latest collection of poetry, has been called many things: a “transgressive adventurer,” “a demonic gentleman,” “a “triumphant outsider,” “a great poet of innocence,” and “an example of the dangerous Male of the Species,” just to name a few. I would add to that, vulgar and offensive at times. The poems in this collection deal with many things including aging and decrepitude. It is a rhymed magnificence of sexual, historical and cultural exuberance, a sweet and bitter fever of Ted Cruz, Obamacare, Apollinaire, John F. Kennedy, jihadi terror, New York City, and Ducati motorcycles. The poems are at times uplifting and others dire but always poetic.
- Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth * * * 1/2
April 30, 2016
The narrator, Laura, is best friends with the wild, unstoppable, and hilarious, Tyler. Both of them are brilliant, witty, and loads of fun to be around. They both drink way too much and take way too many drugs in this wild tale before Laura finally settles down to write that novel she has been meaning to write.
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray * * * * *
March 31, 2016
This fantastic book, Thackeray’s masterpiece, is subtitled “book without a hero,” and although we are probably not supposed to in any way consider the scheming artful, little minx, Becky Sharp, the hero of this novel, I could not but help to pull for this dynamic, smart, inventive, resourceful woman to succeed. Her friend, the weak, pathetic, boring, Amelia, left me wanting her to pass away. The book, a satire of early 19th Century British society, dazzles with its incomparable writing which sent me time and again to the dictionary and my pad of paper to make notes of every witty and clever turn of phrase. It took me two delicious months to read it but what a pleasure. What a great book!
- Wallcreeper by Nell Zink * * * *
January 25, 2016
Our protagonist and narrator, Tiffany, spends the entire novel giving herself away to worthless men most notably her philandering bird watching husband, who in the opening scene crashes the car causing her to have a miscarriage while stalking a lifer woodcreeper. and then is more interested in the bird than in his bleeding wife Tiffany is both hilarious and irreverent but in the end it is sad that it is only in the final lines that she finally finds herself and pursues her own interests and dreams of becoming an environmental activist and not just a breeder and feeder. Zink is a gifted and unusual talent.
- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff * * *
January 16, 2016
A privileged white boy from Florida falls in love at first sight with a French girl in college. They marry and she sticks with him even though his mother disinherits him and refuses to have anything to do with his new wife, not even to meet her. He is blissfully unaware that she secretly makes him a world renowned playwright while he is asleep and she is rewriting his plays. Things end badly.
Books I read in 2015:
- Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins * * * *
December 29, 2015
This is another apocalyptic novel set at some unnamed date in the future after part of California has become a vast moving sand dune. A young woman meets a young man returned from war and they inhabit an abandoned mansion in the LA Hills before deciding to try to drive through the vast dune to get out of California. They run out of gas and he sets out for help while she waits in the car with their adopted child, Ig. He dies and she is rescued (abducted) by a Mormon charlatan thief.
- To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg * *
December 20, 2015
This book mostly focused on the history of the science of cosmology starting with Aristotle through Ptolemy, Copernicus and leading up to the pinnacle of modern scientific discovery with the publication of Newton’s Principia. It was very interesting but a bit too bogged down in the details of mathematical equations that went into many of the discoveries Mr. Weinberg was discussing making the book a bit inaccessible to the average person. The text was more at a level for a physics textbook than general non-fiction and then at the end of the text was another 45% of the book with detailed notes on mathematical equations, trigonometry, calculus, and such that I would imagine would go right over the heads of the average person.
- City on Fire by Garth Risk Halberg *
November 17, 2015
What a waste of time and at over 900 pages it was a lot of time to waste, finishing this tome. What did it all mean? I could find no deeper meaning other than to document NY in 1976. The plot revolved around a band of street urchins who murdered a girl and a drug addled painter who dabbles with an innocent young writer briefly before the lights go out.
- A Year in the Woods: The Diary of a Forest Ranger by Colin Elford * * * 1/2
October 27, 2015
Beautifully written diary of a forest ranger in the English Countryside, who spends his days alone except for the loads of deer, owls, birds, rabbits, trees, spectacular sunrises, cloud formations, and other nature that fill up his days. His job is to cull the deer population, a job that he approaches with a healthy balance of a love of nature and cold reality.
- The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens * * * 1/2
October 23, 2015
Whoa this book is long. It took me all month to read it. However, the writing was magnificent as usual and made the book, despite its convoluted story, well worth the read. The book contains some of literature’s greatest passages such as, “Day destroys an air built castle at the moment of its completion without the least ceremony or remorse.” On the other hand, it has some strange attributes such as that the story starts out told through a third person narrator who disappears without explanation around chapter three. Some of the characters such as the evil dwarf are unforgettable and others, such as the weak gambling addicted senile grandfather are better forgotten. Just for the superior writing alone I highly recommend this book
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens * * * 1/2
October 10, 2015 (audiobook)
It was very difficult to understand what Magwitch, the convict who provides Pip with the money to make him a gentleman, was saying because he had a thick British accent, was elderly, and talked like he had marbles in his mouth. Other than that it was a very good oral performance of the book. I have read the book too but never liked it nearly as much as David Copperfield or some of Dickens’s other great books. Still I would recommend it in audiobook or the written book which like all Dickens’s other books is brilliantly written.
- The Green Road by Anne Enright * * *
August 14, 2015
This novel is a family saga of the Madigan family spanning three decades and various continents. The book is organized around the lives of the children and then culminates with their reunion at a bad Christmas at the family home in Ireland.
- Mislaid by Nell Zink * * * 1/2
August 1, 2015
Hilarious novel by a bright new original voice in fiction.
Ms. Zink was born in Virginia and this gives her a license to poke fun at southern eccentricities. Our hero, Meg, who is a lesbian, marries a gay guy, Lee, who mistreats her so she leaves and takes her daughter but leaves her son. Then she decides to raise her blonde haired blue-eyed daughter as a black girl.
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan * *
July 25, 2015
The protagonist of this novel set during World War II, is a highly unlikable womanizer named Dorigo Evans, an Australian officer. After carrying on a torrid affair with a married woman at the first section of the novel, he is deployed and then captured by the Japanese. They are trying to build a railroad through the Burmese jungle using POWs as forced laborers. The jungle scenes go on interminably with frequent references to mud and cuss words that were not even invented yet. The war finally ends and he is released. There is not a single admirable or likable character in the entire novel.
- The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert * * * *
July 18, 2015 (Audio book)
Elizabeth Kolbert is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker. She writes science articles in lucid prose about the destruction of our planet’s ecology. In this book she explores what scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction, an explosion in the rapid loss of plants and animals that could ultimately eliminate 20-50% of all species on earth within this century. You could just read the book and walk away completely depressed about how humans harm and destroy wherever we are but she ends the book on a positive note, making the case that though what we are doing to our planet earth is wrong, we can make it a more sustainable world by doing what is clearly right. it remains to be seen whether we will make the right choice or be a part of the next great extinction.
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl * * *
June 25, 2015
Viktor Frankl was sent to the worst of the worst Concentration Camps during World War II and against all odds survived. Partly it was due to luck but also due to his ability to find meaning in the smallest things.
- Atomised by Michel Houellebecq * * *
June 18, 2015
As filthy, vile, and full of repulsive explicit sex as this novel was, I could not put it down. It’s a story about society falling apart told through the lives of two half brothers, Bruno, the sex addict, and Michel, the scientist, who is incapable of love or even a libido. At the beginning I thought the book was a joke when Houellebecq said that Kant was right when he said morals were fixed and immutable. There were some funny sections but mostly the book was depressing, depraved, and full of outrageous conclusions about society. Embarrassingly I actually read this book years ago but didn’t realize it until well into the book when I read that it was also known as Elementary Particles, the title it had when I read it the first time.
- H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald * * * 1/2
June 5, 2015
Helen Macdonald was in her third and final year as a research fellow at Cambridge, a prestigious postgraduate position, when her father, a professional photographer based in London, had gone out after a violent storm to take pictures of the damage down at Battersea, and suffered a heart attack and died suddenly. Ms. Macdonald was crestfallen. To help her cope with this sudden and deep loss she bought a Goshawk, a huge bird of prey, that is often trained like a falcon by a falconer. She intertwines her recovery with insights into another austringer (someone who trains hawks) and famous writer, T.H. White, who was a profound failure at training his Goshawk. By the end of the books she realizes that she has been escaping her grief over the loss of her father through immersion in her bird.
- The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy * * * *
May 10, 2015
Thomas Hardy’s ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey next to Charles Dickens–the two greatest English novelists side by side with Handel making a great trio. Hardy was an admirer of Schopenhauer and this novel could in a way be called a paean to him. Schopenhauer believed all human desire was futile, illogical, directionless, and, by extension, so was all human action in the world. The protagonist of Mayor of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard, bears this out throughout his life. The novel begins with Henchard selling his wife and daugther to a passing sailor while in a drunken stupor. Later he cannot find her and wanders aimlessly until landing in Casterbridge where he works so hard in the corn and hay fields that he becomes the town mayor. However, he cannot overcome his futile illogical desires and eventually comes to a ruinous end. The writing is examplary as always with a Hardy novel. His descriptions and philosophical insights make what would otherwise just be a bleak story an unforgettable novel that was hard to put down.
- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov * * * 1/2
April 14, 2015
Published posthumously, this brilliant novel was written during Stalin’s regime and deals with the power and evil of the Russian state as much as with good and evil in general. The plot alternates between 1930s Moscow and the death of Jesus at the hands of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem.
- The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller * * *
April 8, 2015 (audiobook)
Andy Miller spends a year reading 50 great books and one terrible one by Dan Brown and in the process re-discovers why he loves to read so much. Hilarious at times and also full of insights and wisdom garnered from some of the world’s greatest books.
- Hold the Dark: A Novel by William Giraldi * *
March 30, 2015
Well written sentences in a gripping but gory tale set in barren outbacks of Alaskan winter. I cannot for the life of me remember where or how this novel got on my Kindle but once I started I could not put it down. Other than that I cannot recommend it; there was too much killing and too much blood and guts.
- River Town by Peter Hessler * * * *
March 29, 2015
This book is about two years Peter Hessler spent in the Peace Corps in 1997 in Fuling, China on the Wu River. I was interested in the book because I was also in the Peace Corps in a remote village and I coud relate to many of Hessler’s early tribulations being the only white person in a remote isolated village. Hessler has a straight forward unadorned writing style but his observations are keen and insightful. He tells with great compassion how he comes to finally understand the culture and the lives of the people in isolated but changing China. The town, Fuling, was destined to be flooded upon completion of the Three Gorges Dam across the mighty Yangtze River.
- Against the Country: A Novel by Ben Metcalf * * * 1/2
March 11, 2015
This book is one long diatribe against the false American belief that all good comes from the rural pastoral life. Written in the first person, the book follows the life of our hero as his hippie parents move him from a town in Southern Illinois to some god forsaken rural outpost in Virginia named, impossibly, Goochland.
There he suffers all the indignities that rural life brings, such as fighting off attacking copperheads, being the victim of an attempted rape at the claws of an oversexed rooster, and swimming in a snake filled pond to escape the heat of a hot southern summer. There is the usual rabble of idiots, racists, and bigots among the squabbling chickens being attacked by snakes and dogs. This was no ordinary novel though. The writing was intelligent and sublime and even though there was no real plot it was the kind of book that was hard to put down until the final page.
- Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones * * *
March 1, 2015 (audiobook)
Nicole Mones”s first novel is about an American translator, Alice Mannegan, in China who is hired by an archaeologist to assist him in his quest to find the missing bones of Peking Man. Along the way Alice meets a Chinese man, Lin, and falls in love with him but both of them have issues from their past that they need to work out.
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell * * *
February 24, 2015
The first section of David Mitchell’s latest novel was brilliant. I thought it was going to be another bildungsroman much like Black Swan Green (2006)which I loved but then it veered off in a weird underground Night of the Living Dead, Wakling Zombies thriller. However, even during its weirdest sections Mitchell’s incomparable writing shines. I especially found the chapters about the author, Crispin Hershey very funny, despite the dark themes of betrayal and self-preservation. At the end I thought it would turn out to be a rather normal dystopian futuristic novel when the narration returned to our hero, Holly Sykes, in old age back in Ireland, but no it returned to the weird walking zombie plot in the end! Drat. I was about to give it another star but forget it. Who has David Mitchell been hanging out with to come up with these bizarre plot twists? Such a talented writer wasting his time on such nonsense was disheartening but not nearly as troubling as his twice bungling the meaning of “begs the question” which was unforgivable.
- The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald * * * 1/2
February 6, 2015
This is Penelope Fitzgerald’s first novel published in 1977 when she was already 60. It is set in Saxony in the late 1790s. The book is about Fritz, a German romantic poet, who falls in love with a 12 year old dolt. It is beautifully written and I highly recommend it.
- Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey * * *
January 29, 2015
This novel is written in the form of one long letter from the narrator, a middle-aged woman, to her absent friend, Butterfly. We learn that her former friend disappeared for years only to return and steal the narrator’s husband and marriage.
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel * * *
January 12, 2015
I don’t know why I always end up reading all these post-apocalyptic books. This one I would rate much better than Cormac McArthy’s Road and way way better than that trash novel Dog Stars by Peter Heller. The writing was good but not great. Some chapters were boring and others I couldn’t put the book down.It made me think a lot which is a reliable indicator of a good book.
Books I read in 2014:
- The Watchtower by Elizabeth Harrower * * *
December 27, 2014
Well written novel about two sisters who are abandoned by their mother just after their father dies and sent to live in Australia. Alone with no prospects the older daughter meets an older man who employs, her, marries her, and then ultimately imprisons her and her sister. We are rooting for the older sister, Laura, who is married to the beast to leave the bastard but she can never bring herself to do so and spends half the book convincing her more practical younger sister, Clare, not to leave either. You want to strangle Laura and her controlling husband by the end of the book.
- The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard * * * *
November 30, 2014
Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of the members of Robert Falcon Scott’s 1901–04,Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic, tells the harrowing story of the journey through his, Scott’s, and other’s journal entries kept during the trip. The journey took place during the cold winter months and involved incredible strength, will power, and perseveration to endure -75 degree temperatures, living off pemmican and biscuits for three months, and pulling a 500 pound sled over dangerous cravasses. After enduring this impossible arduous journey the party was able to retrieve three eggs from Emperor Penguins who live and breed there. Although they did not make it to the South Pole on the winter journey, the Emperor Penguin eggs they retrieved lead to important discoveries regarding the development of birds from pre-historic reptiles. Cherry-Garrard was invited to return for the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13. During the second venture, Cherry-Garrard was sent back with a return party while Scott led five others who reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that they had been preceded by Roald Amadsen’s Norweigen Expedition. On their return journey, Scott’s party, at a distance of 150 miles from their base camp and 11 miles from the next depot, died from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold. Cherry-Garrard and several others made a recovery journey to determine the fate of Scott, Wilson, and their companions. After finding their bodies frozen in their tent, Cherry-Garrard and the others buried them and erected a marker.
- 10:04 by Ben Lerner * * *
October 11, 2014
Though “10:04” is preoccupied by the narrator’s relationship to others, particularly the possibility of “co-constructing” a child with his best friend, Alex, his real compulsion is himself.
- Salmon without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis by Jim Lichatowich
* * * *
September 28, 2014
A very well researched and well written book explaining in great detail why our native salmon populations have crashed to near extinction.
- On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee * * *
September 6, 2014
In this dystopian fantasy, Earth has been contaminated years before the novel begins, by rampant industrial development. Chinese workers, eager to flee their dead cities, have been brought over to America to live in labor centers. There, they cultivate food products for the mostly white elite who dwell in heavily fortified “charter” villages that boast the climate controlled amenities of your average suburban mall and hospital center. Beyond the walls of these labor settlements and “charters” stretches a vast wasteland where depravity rules. In accordance with every coming-of-age narrative ever written, our girl Fan is destined to test herself in this wild zone.
- Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones * * *
August 9, 2014
In this well researched historical novel, Mones brings to life the Golden Years of Shanghai just before the outbreak of World War II, through the life of a black American classical pianist, Thomas, who is recruited by a jazz club owner in Shanghai to play in the city’s growing vibrant night life.
- In the Light of What We Know by Zia Hader Rahman * * *
July 22, 2014
The protagonist of this novel, Zafar, is a shattered figure and this is his story told by an anonymous narrator, his friend from college days. In between the tale are pages and pages of history, mathematics, politics, religion, alure of aristocracy and chilly manners, all intended to show off the authors erudition. It’s all very impressive but the best part of the book were the parts about Zafar’s heart breaking love story which reminded me of Of Human Bondage. The best part of the book was the last 100 pages or so. I could have written this 500 page novel in 100 pages.
- Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn * * * 1/2
July 6, 2014
Edward St. Aubyn who wrote the oh so depressing Patrick Melrose novels, has a sense of humor. In this scathing satire on the literary world St. Aubyn uses wit to also explore the difficult issues of what is art and what is literature. Good read from a great writer.
- Famous Writers I have Known by James Magnuson * * *
June 27, 2014
The premise was ridiculous but funny. Frankie Abandonato, a small time criminal, scams a family member of a major crime family into buying a fake lottery ticket and the book follows his downfall from there.
- Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng * * * *
May 30, 2014
This memoir tells the harrowing tale of Ms. Cheng’s ordeal as the victim of maurading crazed Red Guard’s at the start of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. She came from a well to do family and married a wealthy business man who worked for a foreign oil company in Shanghai making her an easy target as a despised imperialist “Capitalist Roader.” The brain washed thugs ransacked her house and threw her into prison in solitary confinement for six and a half years on trumped up charges of being a foreign spy, before she was finally released with no apologies.
- The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante * * * 1/2
April 30, 2014
This is part two of a trilogy narrated by Elena Greco and is about the divergence of her life and the life of her friend, Lila Cerullo, whom she meet at age 8 in early 1950s Naples. They bond over their love of books and their yearning for a life larger than what’s offered by their poor, working-class neighborhood that cruelly grinds down everyone, especially women. Where Elena is a bright, accommodating, and eager for approval her brilliant friend Lila is more gifted, sexier and utterly implacable. In a decision that alters their lives, Elena’s parents pay to let her continue beyond grade school, but Lila’s father refuses.
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt * * *
March 30, 2014 (audiobook)
Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer winning third novel tells the story of Theodore Decker, who is forced to grapple with the world alone after his mother dies in an explosion inside a museum. In the terrible wreckage of the building, Theo discovers the work of the sublime Dutch master Carel Fabritius, just before the fateful event that will carry his mother away. “All the rest of it is lost—everything he ever did,” his mother quietly laments of the little-known artist, and it is Theo’s mission as he moves through life to cling to this one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art. The book is an odyssey through present day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity.
- Alaska A Novel by James Michener * * * 1/2
February 28, 2014
In this well researched historical novel, James Michener, traces the history of Alaska from its inception as the result of the smashing of the tectonic platesthrough its inhabitation by people 12,000 years ago as they crossed the Bering Land Bridge, the arrival of the Russians, the European whalers, the Yukon and Nome Gold Rushes, statehood, up to the present. You will fall in love with the unforgettable inhabitants brought to life by Michener and with the place.
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson * * *
February 7, 2014 (audiobook)
“Steve Jobs,” begins with a portrait of the young Mr. Jobs, rebellious toward the parents who raised him and scornful of the ones who gave him up for adoption. (“They were my sperm and egg bank,” he says.) Steve Jobs, who founded Apple with Stephen Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976, began his career as a contradictory blend of hippie truth seeker and tech-savvy hothead. This is an essential Silicon Valley chronicle, compiling stories well known to tech aficionados but interesting to a broad audience. Some of it is already quaint: Jobs’s first job was at Atari, and it involved the game Pong. Some, like an account of the release of the iPad2, is so recent that it is hard to appreciate yet.Although not analytical about Jobs’s volatile personality,, Issacson at least raises the question of whether feelings of abandonment in childhood made Jobs controlling and manipulative as an adult.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak * * * *
January 12, 2014Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.
Books I read in 2013:
- Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists by Richard Wolfson
* * *
December 27, 2013 (Audiobook)
Excellent course for non-scientists about modern physics and relativity.
- Sky Burial by Xinran Xue * * * 1/2
November 30, 2013
“No one likes crying, but tears water our souls,” writes the author and if you read this book, you will cry by the end. Beautifully written by Xinran, a journalist from China.Sky Burial is the story of Shu Wen, a young woman from China whose doctor husband is assigned to Tibet during the Cultural Revolution. One day she receives word that he has been killed, but there is no further information. How did he die? Wasn’t the point of the Chinese mission to spread peace and knowledge to Tibetans? How, then, did Kejun–a gentle man of learning and a doctor committed to saving lives–come to die?Wen decides she must find the answers to her questions. She asks to be assigned to Tibet, and searches for her lost husband. This is the story of her journey, over 30 years, in search of the lover she has lost. It is also the story of the people of Tibet and how different they are from the people of China. Wen understands nothing of the Tibetan people at first, but gradually begins to speak their language, living as they do, learning how to survive in a harsh natural environment, and coming to understand that their religion is everywhere.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hossieni * * * *
Khaled Hosseini’s deeply moving fiction debut is about an illiterate Afghan boy with an uncanny instinct for predicting exactly where a downed kite will land. Set in the city of Kabul in the early 1970s. Hassan is narrator Amir’s closest friend even though the loyal 11-year-old with “a face like a Chinese doll” was the son of Amir’s father’s servant and a member of Afghanistan’s despised Hazara minority. In 1975, on the day of Kabul’s annual kite-fighting tournament, something unspeakable happens between the two boys which alters their worlds forever.
- The Iliad by Homer * * *
October 7, 2013
I hated this translation. It’s supposed to be a beautifully written poem and that is what is supposed to keep you reading a 476 page poem about an absurd and arbitrary war started by a Trojan, Paris, stealing a Greek woman, Helen. But this translation tries to attract a wider audience than those with a love of poetry by modernizing the poem with such modern verbal wonders as calling women bitches repeatedly. Please if people can’t understand Homer let them continue to read Nora Roberts romance novels.
- We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver * * *
September 25, 2013
The haunting story of the mother of a mass murderer. Told as an epistolary through a series of letters to her husband who consistently sided with the psychotic and deeply troubled killer as they tried to raise him.
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller * *
August 29, 2013
A post apocalyptic story reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, except in this one the dog dies. Hig, the narrator, is a man who has survived a flu pandemic, that has changed life in the United States as we know it, completely wiping out most of the population. He finds joy in the company of his dog. Like The Road he cares more about his dog than most of the surviving people.
- River God: A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Wilbur Smith * * *
August 7, 2013
In this book Wilbur Smith tells us the epic story of a great ancient nation on the verge of losing everything. What is unique in this book is that the hero and narrator is a castrated slave, Taita– someone who uses his intelligence much more than he uses his muscles. It is through his eyes that we see the story evolving. As a slave he has a duty to be historian of ancient Egypt: he also plays an active role in influencing the policy of the Pharaoh. Meanwhile, the love story between Taita, the Queen, Pharaoh, and the warrior Tanus is of unparalleled beauty. The blood and violence were a bit troubling to read. However, I believe that violence in River God is not exaggerated but rather a realistic depiction of the age and it is well integrated with the other ingredients of the story (e.g. romance, description of daily life in ancient Egypt etc.) Since the action of this book doesn’t take place in South Africa the readers won’t have to question themselves of whether Smith is in favor of Victorian imperialistic ideas. For those reasons River God can be appealing not only to committed fans of the historical novel but to a more general audience who appreciates a good read.
- The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson * * *
August 5, 2013
This is the story of a man in the grip of alcohol; it moves forward with speed, force, and heartbreaking truth. Don Birnam is someone you know and care about. His loneliness, his need to drink, his dangerous hangovers, his daydreams of himself as a genius and actual nightmares are unforgettable experiences. No matter how it shocks or upsets you, you will find, after reading The Lost Weekend, that you have acquired a knowledge you can never forget.
- The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham * * *
August 1, 2013
The Razor’s Edge is an unusual amalgam — three-quarters witty social commentary about American and European society, one-quarter Eastern philosophy — bound together by Maugham’s impeccable prose — almost as though Henry James and Hermann Hesse had collaborated. The book contrasts the adventures of Larry, a seeker who travels widely in search of life’s meaning, with that of his former fiancee, Isabelle, who sacrifices her love for Larry in favor of wealth and social standing. While the book is an odd literary chimera, the result is supremely satisfying. One gets to luxuriate in Maugham’s biting descriptions of the social milieu in Paris, the Riviera, and London, while simultaneously being exposed to some much bigger issues presented in the context of Larry’s intriguing quest for enlightenment. Along the way there is beauty, degradation, betrayal, forgiveness, art, fashion, turgid fascination with France’s demimonde, and lots of other juicy material. A great read.
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson * * *
July 7, 2013
Popular adventure tale of piracy, mysterious treasure map, and a host of sinister characters charged with diabolical intentions.
- Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt * * * *
July 6, 2013
Excellent philosophy book about why there is something rather than nothing.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain * * *
May 27, 2013
- The Sea by John Banville * * * *
May 26, 2013
Beautifully written novel about a man, Max Morden, recovering from the death of his wife by returning to a sea side town he visited as a youth.
- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan * * * 1/2
April 28, 2013
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That about sums it up.
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens * * * * *
April 24, 2013
This is the third time I have listened to this BBC presentation of the greatest novel ever written and every time is just as good as the first.
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles * * *
April 13, 2013
Two friends go to New York where they meet a rich guy and start hanging out with him. Then all kinds of improbable things start to unfold for all three of them.
- I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson * * *
March 20, 2013
The narator and protagonist of this novel, Arvid Jansen, deals with cancer, death, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
- Ahab’s Wife by Sena Naslund * * *
February 27, 2013
In ”Ahab’s Wife,” Sena Jeter Naslund has taken less than a paragraph’s worth of references to the captain’s young wife from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick‘ and fashioned from this slender rib not only a woman but an entire world. That world is a looking-glass version of Melville’s fictional seafaring one, ruled by compassion as the other is by obsession, with a heroine who is as much a believer in social justice as the famous hero is in vengeance. Naslund, Ahab-like, has taken on an overwhelming quarry in pursuing Melville, but, true to her maternal, liberal philosophy, she does not harpoon the master so much as harness his force to her own. That Naslund is unstintingly reasonable, empathetic and kind should not, however, blind one to the fact that she is, in the most nonaggressive way, rewriting American history, revising American literature and critiquing traditional masculinity. On the froth and foam and rage of ”Moby-Dick” Naslund lays a cool hand, as if to say: ”There, there. Such a fuss about a fish.”Melville probably would have found Naslund’s inversion of his work anathema.
- The Street: A Novel by Ann Petry * * * *
February 22, 2013
This book tells the poignant, often heartbreaking story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published in 1946 and hailed by critics as a masterwork, The Street was Ann Petry’s first novel, a beloved bestseller with more than a million copies in print. Its haunting tale still resonates today. As much a historical document as it is a novel, it was the 1946 winner of the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship .
- The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom * * * *
January 14, 2013
(Audiobook) In 1790, Lavinia, a seven-year-old Irish orphan with no memory of her past, arrives on a tobacco plantation where she is put to work as an indentured servant with the kitchen house slaves. Though she becomes deeply bonded to her new family, Lavinia is also slowly accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. As time passes she finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds and when loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare and lives are at risk. The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail.
Books I read in 2012:
- The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides * * *
December 10, 2012
Madeleine, dutiful English major meets Leonard, a charismatic loner, in Semiotics, and tragically marries him. He turns out to be a manic depressive lunatic she ends up taking care of until he leaves her abruptly.
- The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant (audiotape) * * * 1/2
November 13, 2012
Covers the lives and opinions of the greatest philosophers
- Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis * * *
October 28, 2012
Depraved novel about a depraved life. Lionel Asbo is a thug; the seventh child of a mother who had seven children by age 19. He weaves in and out of prison while trying to be a mentor to his nephew, Des, before he wins the lottery.
- Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple * * * * 1/2
September 23, 2012
The mark of a great book is missing the characters when you get to the end of the book: you will miss these characters. Maria Semple did a brilliant job building unforgettable characters in this hilarious book.Our hero, Bernadette, suffers from social phobia and is loath to leave the family manse, delegating most of the logistics of her life to a virtual assistant from India, Manjula Kapoor, while decrying the “gnats” who surround her in Seattle.A few fantastical and unlikely plot twists near the end feel perhaps too convenient, but they don’t compromise the final analysis: “Where’d You Go Bernadette,” outrageously funny and deceptively deep, is a rewarding read.
- Absolution by Patrick Flannery * * *
September 9, 2012
A journalist returns to his native South Africa to interview a famous writer for her autobiography. As he delicately unfolds her tragic life– a murdered sister and a murdered daughter– the two find that they are both seeking absolution, also the name of her upcoming book, and an uncanny connection.
- Dirt by David Vann * * *
August 12, 2012
Twenty year old Galen lives with his mother off of a trust fund in broiling Sacramento Valley. He is obsessed with transcending but can’t get past lusting after his cousin. Eventually he discovers the transcendental aspects of dirt.
- Canada by Richard Ford * *
August 2, 2012
Novel about twins whose parents rob a bank and go to jail and it changes their lives forever. The female characters were poorly drawn. Why did the mother have to commit suicide and why did the sister get cancer and die while his life turned out great? I didn’t care for this book that much.
- Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn * * *
July 15, 2012
Incest, domestic violence, pedophilia, drug addiction, abuse– this novel covers all areas of depravity as it follows three generations of a depraved upper class British family. The writing is exemplary but the topics covered are depressing and depraved.
- Winter Hours by Mary Oliver * * *
June 5, 2012
Book about three poets and about nature along with some poems.
The man who does not know nature
Who does not walk under the leaves as under
his own roof is partial and wounded
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed * * * 1/2
June 5, 2012
Lyrical and honest memoir of this woman’s 1100 mile solo trek on the Pacific Crest Trail that broke her down and then built her back up again after she was reeling from the death of her mother and other catastrophes. The book explores what it means to be fully alive even in the face of catastrophe.
- The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson * * * *
April 10, 2012
This is a novel worth getting excited about. I truly enjoyed reading this book which demonstrates how to paint a fictional world against a background of fact: the secret is research. It is this process of re-imagination that makes the fictional locale so real and gives the novel an impact you could never achieve by simply reading newspaper stories about North Korea. Johnson has painted in indelible colors the nightmare of Kim Jung Il’s North Korea. When English readers want to understand what it was about — how people lived and died inside a cult of personality that committed unspeakable crimes against its citizens — I hope they will turn to this carefully researched and well written novel.
- This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman * * *
March 9, 2012
Teenager sends a pornographic video of a young teenage girl who made a pass at him at a party at her parent’s house, over the internet to his friends. It goes viral and ultimately destroys the boy’s entire family and circle of friends.
- State of Wonder by Ann Patchett * * *
February 24, 2012
In this novel by Ann Patchett, our hero, Marina, goes to medical school to become an ob-gyn but cuts a baby’s eye during a C-section permanently blinding it and transfers to pharmacology where she becomes entangled in a very superficial relationship with the CEO of Big Pharma. She ultimately finds redemption in the jungles of Brazil. The story was very compelling but my god Ann Patchett needs to take remedial English! Her grammar was atrocious.
- Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese * * * 1/2
February 12, 2012
British doctor in Ethiopia impregnates a nun who delivers twins connected at the head. She dies and after the babies are successfully delivered by the Indian ob-gyn at the Catholic hospital, he flees to the US. The twins are raised by the Indian doctor. And this is their remarkable story.
Books I read in 2011:
- Stormy Weather by Carl Hiiasen * * *
December 23, 2011
Another eco-terrorist novel by the prolific Mr. Hiiasen. Only this one featured a mentally disturbed, drug addled, and confused ex-governor of Florida as the eco-terrorist.
- Nothing Daunted by Dorothy Wickenden * * *
November 20, 2011
Two women go off to a small cold western town in Colorado to teach.
- King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher * * *
November 16, 2011
A novel about the invasion of privacy. There were some very raunchy sections.
- A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute * * *
September 7, 2011
A group of women are taken prisoner in Malaya by the Japanese and then marched across the country for miles. Half of them die en route but the rest survive spurred on by a determined soul who takes over as unnamed leader, Jean Piaget. This amazing woman not only survives the ordeal but comes back after the war to build a well for the local Malayas and moves to Australia where she single-handedly builds a town from scratch.
- Irretrievable by Theodor Fontane * * * 1/2
August 21, 2011
This novel by one of Germany’s greatest novelists, is about a couple that slowly drifts apart. They live in a beautiful house overlooking the sea. Christine, the wife is brooding and far brighter while the husband, Helmut, is hedonistic and lighthearted.
- The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale * *
July 28, 2011
This book at over 700 pages has too many. It is an exploration of what makes us human as told by a chimpanzee who learns how to talk and lives as a human or tries to anyway until everything goes terribly wrong.
- Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante * * * 1/2
July 26, 2011
This psychological thriller is about the disintegration of a strong woman’s mind and the unraveling of her family. Dr. Jennifer White, an orthopedic surgeon, in the early stages of dementia, is the prime suspect in the murder of her best friend, Amanda, whose four fingers have been surgically removed after her death. Is Dr. White’s shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping hide i?
- The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester * * *
July 23, 2011
The compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857. It was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. The overseeing committee was lead by James Murray who set out to collect definitions from an army of volunteers. One person who submitted over 10,000 turned out to be a schizophrenic murderer living in an insane asylum, Dr. William Minor. The OED was completed New Year’s Eve 1927. This fascinating book chronicles its completion and the life and contributions of Dr. Minor.
- How to Survive the Loss of a Love by Melba Colgrove *
July 3, 2011
Self-explanatory self-help book. I guess it’s helping a little bit.
- In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard * * *
July 1, 2011
Novel about two teenagers growing up in a small town in a midwestern city in the 1970s– two awkward, overlooked, and undiscovered girls who friendship is tested and whose character is built as they go through harrowing and sometimes embarrassing experiences on their way to womanhood.
- The English Opium Eater by Robert Morrison * * * 1/2
June 17, 2011
This biography of the writer Thomas De Quincey was well written and well researched but very difficult to read without feeling immense sadness for the life of the addict. Mr. De Quincey was addicted to laudanum– opium– which he considered a poison and a cure. When he was able to rouse himself he was a great writer of English prose and his representation of himself and the complexities of his age influenced some of the major literary figures of the 19th & 20th centuries & continue to inform our understanding of autobiography, subjectivity, violence & of course addiction.
- So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman * * *
May 8, 2011
Page turner about violence against women in a small town– indeed everywhere.
- Black Swan Green by David Mitchell * * * *
April 29, 2011
This novel by my current favorite author is about a 13 year old growing up in tiny town in Cold War England in the 1980s. An elegant and moving portrait of a young man’s trials and tribulations. Brilliant novel.
- Annabel by Kathleen Winter * * * 1/2
March 31, 2011
Canadian author, Kathleen Winter’s debut novel centers around Wayne, a child born neither fully girl nor fully boy in a small town in Labrador and the struggles of Wayne, his family, and the people around him to deal with his differentness. Winter is a strong writer with great insight into people and a keen knowledge of the natural world as well. I loved all the references to the flora and fauna of Labrador. Great first book.
- Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx * * *
March 13, 2011
Bird Cloud is the name Annie Proulx gave to 650 acres of Wyoming land on a cliff overlooking the North Platte River, where she built what she thought would be her dream home. After the grueling ordeal of building the house in the Wyoming hinterland she tries to settle in for a year observing the many birds that course the river, a resident mountain lion among others but finally resigns herself to the fact that it is simply not possible to live in this remote, cold, windy, snowy outlier.
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard * * *
March 5, 2011
Annie Dillard spends a dramatic year in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Valley seeing what she can see. What she sees are astonishing works of mystery in ordinary works of nature.
- Anthill by E. O. Wilson * * *
February 8, 2011
The world’s pre-eminent biologist and naturalist writes his first novel. The book is about a boy from Alabama who develops a love of nature, goes on to excel at Florida State and then Harvard Law, then comes home to save the last old growth tract of long leaf pine from greedy developers.
- Standing in the Light My Life as a Pantheist by Sharman Apt Russell * * *
January 10, 2011
Memoir in which Russell alternates between her life in a rural setting in the Gila River Valley in New Mexico and her pantheistic beliefs. Included is a brief history of pantheism, the stoics, transcendentalists, and Quakers.
Books I read in 2010:
- The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell * * * *
December 28, 2010
Jacob de Zoet, a devout clerk in the Dutch East Indies Company, stationed in Nagasaki Harbor, Japan in 1799, has five years to earn enough money to win the hand of his fiancee back in Holland. But to do so he must fight rampant corruption, devious merchants, deceitful interpreters, and the oppressive presence of the Japanese Empire. His plans become waylaid after he meets and becomes obsessed with the brilliant but disfigured Japanese midwife, Orito Aibagawa.
- Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey * * *
December 7, 2010
Carey explores the experiment of American democracy through the eyes of a fictionalized Alexis de Tocqueville, Olivier, and the son of a printer who was involved with printing counterfeit money and had to flee France upon the uncovering of the operation, Parrot, who is sent to America with Olivier as his servant. The book is written in opposing chapters from the very different voice and perspectives of both.
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell * * * *
November 5, 2010
David Mitchell is a prodigious talent. In this tour de force, his third novel, he proves why. His writing is simply superb. The novel begins in 1850 with a notary from San Francisco traveling by ship from Australia to his home. Along the way he is befriended by an ostensible doctor who purports to treat him for a parasite. From there the novel jumps midsentence to 1931 Belguim where a brilliant bisexual composer gets into a pale of trouble while writing a sextet. From there the novel jumps to a naive investigative journalist exposing corporate greed and murder. From there we go far into the future when the world is run by corporations and finally to the final days of the world (the most unreadable chapter). Then the novel winds its way back in reverse revisiting each previous chapter and revealing its relationship to the others
- Pearl of China by Anchee Min * * * 1/2
September 10, 2010
Anchee Min is one of my favorite authors. In this book she tells the story of Nobel prize winning author, Pearl Buck, an American author who was raised by her zealous missionary parents in China. The book is a fictionalized account told through the narrator, her Chinese friend, Willow Yee.
- The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds * * *
August 7, 2010
This book based on real events tells the story of the great nature poet John Clare and his fall into madness. The writing is superb.
- Summertime by J. M. Coetzee * * *
July 26, 2010
An English biographer researches a book about the late South African writer Coetzee. He interviews five people who portray a very awkward person. The format for this novel was very interesting and readable
- Rosalie Edge Hawk of Mercy by Dyana Furmansky * *
Rosalie Edge was an environmentalist and agitator who confronted the Audubon Society regarding its cozy relationship with gun toting groups. She founded Hawk Hill in PA and had what should have been a very exciting life but the book was written in such a boring incoherent style that I could not even finish it.
- Ghosts & Lightning by Trevor Byrne * * *
July 19, 2010
I found myself speaking with an Irish brogue after reading this funny but troubling novel about Denny and his band of drug-addled party loving friends living on the dole in Dublin.
- The Stranger by Albert Camus * * *
July 2, 2010
Very readable and interesting look into the mind of a killer but it was like a mini and not nearly as good rendering of Crime and Punishment.
- The Eye of the Elephant by Delia & Mark Owens * * *
June 24, 2010
Wildlife biologists obtain backing to conduct research and move to a very remote and beautiful area of Zambia, North Luangwa National Park, to study lions but end up spending all their time fighting elephant poachers and intractable corruption and the usual enormous problems of Africa in general. I was captivated and behind them the whole way until the end of the book where I was disappointed to find Mark’s solution to be the importation of beef! Good grief, what a moron. Doesn’t he know half the world’s problems are caused by cows?
- All Things Reconsidered by Roger Tory Peterson * * * *
June 14, 2010
A series of essays about Peterson’s life. He, more than any other person, was responsible for popularizing bird watching. In addition to writing and drawing the pictures for the most accessible bird guide ever, he was an accomplished photographer and artist, and made videos of many of his travels. This would be a great read for anyone interested in nature in general.
- Life List by Olivia Gentile * * * *
May 27, 2010
This is the biography of Phoebe Snetsinger, one of the greatest birders of all time and certainly the most famous female birder. Before she died in a bus accident while looking for birds in Madagascar at age 67 she had seen an incredible 85% of all the birds known to exist in the world.
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame * * * * *
April 14, 2010
Scottish writer, Kenneth Grahame’s life was torn asunder when his mother died when he was only five and his alcoholic father sent him to be raised by his cold distant grandmother on the banks of the Thames River, the setting for this novel. The novel is written in lyrical prose and tells the adventures of the loyal friends, Badger, Mole, and Rat, and the incorrigible Mr. Toad. Although a children’s book, written for his son, Alistar, it delights children and adults alike with its irresistible substance and depth.
- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas * * * *
March 13, 2010
I read this book in French when I was in High School and then just re-read it in English. I didn’t remember a thing so it retained all of its enthralling fast paced plot which involves the adventures of the bold Gascony D’Artagnan in his quest to realize his dream of becoming a Musketeer of the Guard of the French King.
- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
January 25, 2010
I just could not finish this book. I made it to page 250 but the book is just too bizarre. It’s mostly about Tristram’s father and his weird uncle Toby.
Books I read in 2009:
- A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams * * *
December 30, 2009
Arthur’s house is about to be plowed over to make way for a by-pass when the whole world is obliterated by some aliens to make way for a galactic super-highway. Arthur is rescued by a travelling alien who was stranded on earth for 15 years while researching an update to the book “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.
- Raney by Clyde Edgerton * * * 1/2
December 30, 2009
Raney, a small town Baptist living in NC marries Charles, a liberal from Atlanta.
- An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oldest Town by David Farley * * 1/2
December 27, 2009
A funny book about a journalist’s search for Jesus’s foreskin, a relic which was stolen from a small quirky town in Italy outside of Rome.
- Fingersmith by Sarah Waters * * *
December 4, 2009
Set in mid-19th century England this is a page turning tale of deception and intrigue.
The spell-binding plot allows you to overlook the language spoken by the characters which is far too modern for Victorian England.
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding * * *
November 12, 2009
One of the first and most influential English novels. Tom, the hero, is a bastard taken in by a liberal squire. Tom means well and is very kind hearted but is a ne’er-do-well with a weakness for women. Many misfortunes befall him in his quest to betroth his beloved Sophia.
- Coaching Kids Flag Football by Danford Chamness * *
September 26, 2009
I needed a book to help me with my women’s flag football team. This was the only thing I could find. The grammar was bad and it was full of typographical errors. Also it was a little too basic for my skill set. However, it was helpful in pointing out some useful things to do on defense. Will see if it helps us to the championship this fall.
- It Will Come to Me by Emily Fox Gordon * *
August 9, 2009
Novel about a college professor and his wife, an author of two highly acclaimed novels who suffers from writer’s block and has not written anything for 20 years. The book would have been a good read but I simply couldn’t enjoy it due to Ms. Gordon’s refusal to use a comma between serials. I realize that using endless “ands” instead of the good ole comma is all the rage in contemporary writing especially in the New Yorker but that doesn’t mean it is pleasurable to read. Ms. Gordon used numerous serials all separated by and. Once in a while for effect would have been perfectly acceptable but to go on and on with one after another serial separated by “and” is so boring and idiotic that I just cannot recommend this book.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh by Unknown * * *
August 1, 2009
Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk, and his companion, Enkidu, are the greatest heroes of ancient Babylon immortalized in this epic poem from the third millennium BC.
- Field Notes from a Catastrophe Man, Nature, & Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert * * *
August 1, 2009
Journalist and science writer, Elizabeth Kolbert, asks what is it and what can be done to save the planet from global warming.
- Castle by J. Robert Lennon * * *
July 30, 2009
Eric Loesch returns to his home town after a disgraceful exit from a stint in Iraq and buys 612 acres on the edge of town. Ther woods surrounding the home contain may mysteries that serve as a metaphor for Loesch’s confused life and our failures in the invasion of Iraq.
- Life by Richard Fortey * * *
July 26, 2009
Senior Paleontologist at the London Museum of Natural History tells the history of the planet. The best part of the book was chapter one describing his experiences on a fossil finding expedition to the Arctic. The book got bogged down with too much academic wrangling over plant speciation but the book was very enjoyable nevertheless especially the early chapters on the evolution of the earth and the development of photosynthesis and the end regarding evolution of man.
- All the Living by C. E. Morgan * *
July 19, 2009
This orphan woman is raised by her aunt and uncle and when it gets too crowded shipped off to school where she meets a farmer. After his family dies in a crash she moves in with him and they have a lot of sex but little love but eventually they come around to each other.
- Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher * * * *
July 11, 2009
Travelogue of a 100 day adventure around the perimeter of America by famed ornithologist, author, and naturalist, Roger Tory Peterson, and his friend, James Fisher, British authority on seabirds. The drawings by Peterson are outstanding and the whole book is a fabulous natural history tour through America which would have been great if only told by the the famed Peterson but is all the better because we also get to see America through the eyes of Fisher, a first time visitor from Britain.
- The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty * * * *
June 14, 2009
Edna Earle Ponder tells the story of her eccentric uncle and small town southern living in speech peppered with southern sayings. The story culminates in a hilarious murder trial.
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain * * * *
June 13, 2009
I’m sure I read this when I was younger b ut since I couldn’t remember a thing it was like reading it for the first time and what a pleasure. Huckleberry Finn is kidnapped by his degenerate father but Huck escapes on a raft with a slave Jim, whom Huck eventually helps to his freedom. The book is all about their adventures but also about the transformation of Huck’s views about slavery and humanity.
- The New Rules of Lifting for Women by Lou Schuler * *
June 9, 2009
My brother recommended this book to me as a training guide. I like his ideas about working groups of muscles the way the body is intended to move in real life but his suggestions for dietary changes were to heavily weighted to cow products. The book also had a lot of fluff that could have been cut out. I just started the training program and I think it’s pretty good.
- The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty * * *
May 21, 2009
I loved all the southernisms in this book about a woman who after tragically losing her mother watches as her father dies while her step mother acts like a horse’s ass.
- Coming Up for Air by George Orwell * * * *
May 7, 2009
This book tells the story of George “Fatty” Bowling who grows up in a country village in England before going off to the First World War. After the war he settles down in boring marriage with an insipid wife and two brats but after winning some money in a race decides to take a journey back to his boyhood home only to find it vastly altered as if scraped by a blunt razor.
- Where Mountains Are Nameless by Jonathan Waterman * * *
April 30, 2009
Part travelogue and part political analysis of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Although I am a political science major and intrigued by politics, the nature lover in me was much more impressed with the sections of the book that described the author’s adventures in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after paddling there all alone for 400 miles in a kayak braving polar and grizzly bears as well as the harsh elements.
- The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey * *
April 9, 2009
Very strange book about the life of the disfigured son of two actors in Voorstander.
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard * * *
March 30, 2009
Very much in the style of Emerson’s Walden, this is the story of a dramatic year in Virginia’s Blue Ridge valley. Dillard tells of life’s mysteries and the astonishing natural world around us in this remarkable book of wonder.
- Collapse by Jared Diamond * * *
February 25, 2009
In this awarding winning book Diamond explores the reasons for the collapse of past civilizations such as the Maya, Anasazi, Easter Island, and the Norse in Greenland. The reasons are varied but always relate back in some way to the intentional or unintentional destruction of the very environment those civilizations depended upon. It is impossible to read the book and not worry about our own destruction of the environment which sustains and nurtures us and what the future may hold for our tenuous civilization.
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid * * *
January 24, 2009
It was difficult to read following so closely on the death of my good friend, Bonnie Hansen, whom I knew for 20 years but had not contacted since a little fight in September 2006. I have struggled since with the remorse and guilt of not contacting Bonnie before she died suddenly on December 19, 2008. In this book a young girl struggles with the fact that she accidentally killed her own mother. She finds solace through an unlikely source ultimately connecting with the feminine divine.
- Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation, Volume II by M.T. Anderson * * * 1/2
January 1, 2009
Excellent writing but not as good as part I with many dragging sections of the story line when the Ethiopian Army is trapped on a boat with Lord Dumore. Still a very good book.
Books I read in 2008:
- Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson * * * *
November 30, 2008
Very fine writing combined with a page turning story of a slave boy raised by philosophers makes for a very compelling book.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain * * * 1/2
November 18, 2008
The narrator meets a stranger while touring Warwick Castle who gives him a manuscript relating how a factory worker from Connecticut goes back in time to Camelot where he abolishes sixth century ideas and institutions.
- Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis * * 1/2
October 15, 2008
Babbitt is a prosperous real estate broker and social climber whose life is turned upside down by the turbulence of the roaring 20s. In the telling the deep hypocracy of the middle class is revealed.
- Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz * * * 1/2
August 31, 2008
Winner of the Nobel Prize for literature tells the story of an Egyptian family living in an alley in the shadow of a great mansion inhabited by the great ancestor and feudal landlord. Through tales of his progeny Mahfouz tells an allegory of all human suffering and striving.
- Case Histories by Kate Atkinson * * *
August 1, 2008
This is a sort of offbeat detective novel that is more compelling drama and dark psychological study of crimes. Detective Jackson Brodie doesn’t so much solve the crimes as become involved in the lives of the victims.
- Beijing Coma by Ma Jian * * *
July 29, 2008
Dai Wei, son of a counter-revolutionary, pro-democracy protester, and Beijing University student is put into a 10 year coma by a bullet to his head from a soldier while protesting at Tianamen Square in 1989. While in the coma he relives his past while China undergoes a transformation. He realizes he must emerge from the coma into death in life, that is life in China.
- Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens * * * *
July 24, 2008
This book tells the story of William Dorrit who is sent to the Marshalsea Debtors Prison where his daughter, Amy or Little Dorrit, is born and lives taking care of her father. She also sews for Mrs. Clennam. Her son, Arthur comes home from India, meets Little Dorrit, and they fall in love. Meanwhile the Dorrit’s fall into some unknown wealth uncovered by Arthur and get out of prison only to lose it all in the end to bad investments. Arthur too falls prey to a miscalculation on his investments and is sent to the Marshalsea. In the end he finds a way out of debt and marries Little Dorrit.
- White Fang by Jack London * * *
June 7, 2008
- To Build a Fire by Jack London * * *
Jun 7, 2008
This idiot ignores the advice of a local not to go out alone when it drops below 50 below degrees, falls in icy water and then dies when he can’t light a fire.
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London * * *
June 7, 2008
A dog is stolen from sunny Santa Clara Valley, CA and sold to drag a dog sled on the frozen tundra during the Klondike Gold Rush. The dog becomes a survivor dominating all other sled dogs but then returns to his primeval roots and becomes a wolf.
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson * * *
June 7, 2008
This adventure book about a boy who goes on a ship to search for hidden treasures on a deserted island, is considered a boy’s book but I liked it too.
- His Illegal Self by Peter Carey * * *
April 19, 2008
Precocious seven year old son of 60s radicals is kidnapped by the woman who raised him while his activist mother was blowing herself and others up. The rest of the book is a remarkable road book and adventure lovingly at times caustically others exploring the love between the boy and the woman.
- Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee * * *
April 10, 2008
Another very good book by one of our best contemporary fiction writers. This book is part novel, part political diatribe, and part philosophical discourse on the roll of the writer in contemporary life. It is the story of an aging novelist who enlists the help of a young Philipina to type his thoughts on the state of the world for a book requested by his publisher and the interesting interactions that ensue.
- Diary of a Wilderness Dweller by Chris Czajkowski * * * *
March 16, 2008
This is a fabulous book by an amazing woman who moves to an extremely remote area of British Columbia’s Coast Range to build two cabins by herself and ultimately a business catering to others seeking a wilderness experience. She is a very good writer and gifted artist capturing the essence of the wilderness experience in her lyrical writing interspersed with some of her drawings.
- Him Her Him Again The End of Him by Patricia Marx * *
March 8, 2008
It started out being a pretty humorous story about a woman suffering from extreme low self esteem who becomes enamored with an intellectual she meets while attending Cambridge but her obsession becomes so extreme by the end of the book that it becomes tedious, ridiculous and not very funny.
- Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens * * * *
March 2, 2008
This was a great book. It is one of only two historical novels written by our greatest English novelist of all time and has his usual cast of unforgettable characters, covers important social themes such as the death penalty, social revolt, and mob violence, all within the context of the Gordon Riots in London in 1790.
- Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris * * *
January 20, 2008
In this book the author of The End of Faith responds to the hateful letters he received from so called Christians in response to his first book, by roundly repudiating their complaints point by point. I doubt he changed any minds but at least he didn’t cower before the assault on his atheism which was forceful by its sheer numbers rather than any logic or reason.
- Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh * * *
January 19, 2008
Witty and funny satire on British social life in the period between World War I and World War II. The story involves the odious John Beaver and his fatal involvement with Tony and Brenda Last.
- The Red and the Black by Stendahl * * *
January 5, 2008
Though tedious at times this was a fascinating story about a peasant, Julien Sorel, who uses villiany and manipulation to obtain power and wealth but at the same time struggles with his uncontrollable passions and the forces of religion, Napoleonic fervor, and the class differences which work against him.
Books I read in 2007:
- Away by Amy Bloom * * *
December 31, 2007
Lillian’s family is destroyed in the Russian pogrom against the Jews but escapes to America only to embark on a long odyssey to leave when she learns that her daughter, Sophie, survived the massacre.
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi * * * *
December 24, 2007
Memoir of a young gril growing up in Iran during the repressive Islamic Revolution. Though written in black and white comic strips, the book is quite serious and powerful.
- Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche * * *
December 19, 2007
Combination novel and philosophy, this book uses the wanderings and teachings of the prophet, Zarathustra, who is based on Christ, to expound the philosophy that humans should revere nobility, pride, and victory and not humility and weakness. In the end his teachings are for everyone and no one.
- My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan * * *
November 25, 2007
Rian Malan is a South African journalist from a long line of famous Boers who fought the Zulus in the struggle to keep South Africa white. The book is a blindingly poignant and truthful account of his struggle to face his legacy and to understand this enigmatic country at once brutal, violent and race torn and yet a success story of sorts on the dark continent.
- Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner * * * * *
November 2, 2007
Staggering expose of the corruption, graft, lies, deception, lust for money and unbridled development, and burning desire to tame nature that led to the watering of the west and its concomitant explosive growth on borrowed time in a dry arid, mostly desert area that makes up the American West. This book should absolutely be read by all Californians but also by anyone interested in learning just what destruction we have unleashed on the environment in our quest to put water where it never was and never was meant to be.
- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner * * * *
October 17, 2007
In his fourth novel, the brilliant chronicler of post-civil war southern life, tells the tragic story of Caddy, the unloved daughter of a cold, self-absorbed, hypochondriac mother and a cynical father,
through the voice of her dim-witted brother, Benjy, her suicidal depressed brother, Quentin, her psychotic and mean-spirited brother, Jason, and finally an anonymous narrator.
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy * *
September 29, 2007
Some horrible catastrophe has stricken the US or possibly the world. Instead of being rid of the most dangerous mammal ever–humans, there are marauding gangs of them who have survived and become cannibals threatening the tenuous survival of the “good guys,” a man and his son, and a very precious few others who represent goodness. It was idiotic that though starving they would not eat a stray dog preferring to become cannibals instead.
- The Misanthrope by Molière * * * 1/2
September 18, 2007
In this masterpiece play by Moliere(1622-73) he portrays a man doomed to social wilderness due to his inability to concede to convention or compromise his principles.
- Seasons on the Pacific Coast: A Naturalist’s Notebook by Susan Tweit * * *
September 13, 2007
This book is a collection of elegantly written essays and beautifully drawn watercolor sketches of thirty-nine plants and animals that live along the rugged and intricately interwoven ecosystem that is the Pacific Coast.
- Ulysses by James Joyce * * *
August 18, 2007
OK, I cheated and listened to the audiobook as read by Jim Norton and Marcella Riordan but I tried to read it twice and just couldn’t understand what was going on. With the audiotape I was able to understand that most of what was happening were Bloom’s internal thoughts. This is a lively reading and I highly recommend it to anyone struggling with the book as I did. Maybe now I can pick up the book and read what has been called one of the greatest literary works in the English language.
- On Human Nature by Edward O. Wilson * * * 1/2
August 10, 2007
Our greatest living scientist, Edward O. Wilson, explains how the principle of natural selection acting on the genetically evolving material structure of the human brain helps us understand and explains much of human nature.
- Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud * * * 1/2
August 3, 2007
Published in 1930 when he was over 70 years old Freud explores the origins of civilization, aggression, the place of beauty in culture, and the reasons why we do the things we do in this his last book. He revises his theories slightly to include what he calls a death drive competing with the ego.
- Montana 1948 by Larry Watson * *
August 1, 2007
The writing style was extremely basic– no words over five letters and while the story was interesting it had no point.
- Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy * * *
July 31, 2007
Of the four Hardy novels I have read, this one is the weakest. It is expected in a Hardy novel that the characters will experience shattering griefs for no reason. However, the ill-fate of Bathsheba was not believable. I enjoyed reading about the strong character who takes the unprecedented step of running her own farm but her demise at the hands of the rogue cad Troy was out of character and unconvincing.
- Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America by Jim P. Brock and Kenn Kaufman * * *
June 30, 2007
The descriptions are not very informative, often having nothing to do with the little pointers on the butterfly pictures. Further confusing identification is the fact that he makes up many of the species in his book. There has to be something better than this.
- Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee * * *
June 6, 2007
Old guy loses his leg in a bicycle accident changing his reclusive life forever. He refuses a prosthesis and then falls inexplicably in love with his home health aide and has other struggles as he comes to terms with his new life.
- Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac * * * *
May 31, 2007
This book made a list of the 100 greatest books ever written. I don’t know about that but it was a page turning plot and intriguing look into the glittering greedy Paris of the 1820s.
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe * * * 1/2 May 20, 2007
This book written in 1959 has been translated into 50 languages. It is a simple story set in an African village of a man whose life is dominated by fear and anger.
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy * * * *
May 7, 2007
Another excellent book by the great English author, Thomas Hardy. As with all his books terrible things happen to the most undeserving people and Hardy does not disappoint here either. Beautiful good Tess stumbles through one harrowing experience after another in her tormented life until her final tragic end but her story still captivates readers after all these years due to Hardy’s great writing, compelling story, and interesting description of English country life.
- Future of Life by E.O. Wilson * * * *
April 13, 2007
Our greatest living scientist, E.O. Wilson, makes a compelling and cogent argument in this book as to why we must take all means necessary to preserve biodiversity by protecting and preserving our ecosystems. His writing style is engaging and lucid and his argument is ironclad. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
- The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin * * * * *
March 5, 2007
Charles Darwin, the greatest naturalist to ever live, in this monumental work, the most influential book in the natural sciences ever written, describes and documents in unassailable terms his theory of natural selection. The importance of this book on scientific thought cannot be overstated. Darwin’s writing style is elegant and engaging making the book highly enjoyable to read for scientists and lay people alike (he is buried next to Charles Dickens; need I say more?) It should be required reading for all school children.
- Birding North Carolina, Edited by Marshall Brooks and Mark Johns *
February 25, 2007
This is the worst state birding guide in the US. It has no maps at all and no bar graph of bird distribution. It is also paper thin even though it covers a fairly large state with a long coast and mountains. Come on, y’all can do better than that.
- Pigeons by Andrew Blechman *
February 12, 2007
Terrible book by a journalist who tries to glorify the unglorifiable.
- Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy * * * * *
February 7, 2007
In this, the great English novelist Thomas Hardy’s last novel (he gave up novels in disgust over the public’s negative reaction to it), he roundly condemns the idiotic institution of marriage and explores human passion through the tragic lives of the brick mason, Jude who aspires to university but whose ambitions are thwarted by his station in life, and the object of his passion, his brilliant and beloved cousin, Sue, a precursor to the modern day feminist.
- Incomplete & Utter History of Classical Music by Stephen Fry * * *
January 29, 2007
My favorite contemporary writer, Stephen Fry, in his usual brilliantly funny and engaging style gives us his version of a brief history of classical music starting with Gregorian chants and going all the way to the sound track to a Harry Potter movie. It’s highly subjective in its tastes and noticeably absent is any reference at all to John Adams; however, it is imminently readable and fun.
- The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits * * *
January 12, 2007
A teenage girl tries to come to terms with a cold distant mother by encouraging her own abduction by a stranger. Her mother sends her for psychotherapy with what is at first a very conscientious and careful therapist. The dialogue and psychological intrigue are an engaging read but the biggest flaw with the book was the completely unconvincing dissolution of character of the therapist into a self serving opportunist.
Books I read in 2006:
- A Birder’s Guide to the Texas Coast by Harold Holt * * * (January 20, 2006)
Though a bit outdated with the last printing in 1993 it is still a great book for anyone wanting to take a birding trip on the Texas coast with detailed maps and a really nice bird list and distribution bar graph.
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray * * * * (January 29, 2006)
This Incisive social satire exposes the greed, hypocrisy, and corruption raging in England during the Napoleonic wars. The book has no hero but instead focuses on the changing fortunes of two unforgettable women; the scheming opportunist Becky Sharp and her faithful, forgiving, naive life long friend, Amelia Sedley.
- The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai * * * (February 22, 2006)
Novel set in NE India at the confluence of several Himalayan states. A retired Cambridge educated judge lives there with his cook, granddaughter, and nasty dog whose company he prefers to that of humans. The novel explores nationhood, modernity, and class.
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck * * * * * (February 26, 2006)
In this powerful novel Steinbeck explores the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, son Toms’s fierce reaction to injustice and Ma’s stoical strength, the horrors of the Depression, and the nature of equality and justice in America.
- Why Birds Sing by David Rothenberg * * * (March 4, 2006)
An exploration of bird song through poetry, music, and scientific research that concludes birds not only sing to attract mates and defend their territory but also sing because they can.
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown * * 1/2 (March 14, 2006)
Two bit, second rate detective novel whose only redeeming quality was the wealth of information and research the book provided on the Catholic Church’s quest to stomp out any revelations regarding the truth about Mary Magdalene’s marriage to Jesus and the sacred feminine.
- Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens * * * * (April 24, 2006)
769 pages! Took me all month but an excellent read about a proud arrogant son of a bitch who is obsessed with having a son to carry on his family business to the detriment of his darling daughter. I loved the willful second wife who refused to give in to his ridiculous demands. The writing was sublime as usual.
- Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner * * * * * (May 23, 2006)
In this stream-of-consciousness novel, Faulkner gives us an unflinching look at the post-civil war south with all its racism in full throttle. The main character, Thomas Sutpen, is a despicable reprobate who gets his due in the end. Having grown up in and then abandoned the south I loved the ending of the book, “why do you hate the south?” “I don’t hate it… I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it. I don’t hate it!”
- The Way Out by Craig Childs * * * (May 25, 2006)
Two guys get permission from the Dine Indian tribe to hike around lost and nearly die in a remote routeless desert canyon in order to work out their issues.
- The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper * * 1/2 (June 1, 2006)
Joe wrote a scathing book about his hometown and then later had to return home after his father had a stroke, where he was beaten, harassed, and nearly murdered but reconnected with his old girlfriend.
- Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science– from the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi * * * (June 6, 2006)
In this fascinating book, science writer, Dick Teresi, did extensive research to trace the origins of contemporary science in the non-western world– China, Mesopotamia, Maya, Persia, Sumeria, India, etc.
- Yellowstone and Grand Teton, Must Do Hikes For Everyone * * *
(June 17, 2006)
Some of the recommended trails have no business in the book. However, it has excellent descriptions with detailed maps of each hike and details of what you might see and the difficulty of the trails.
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau * * * * * (June 25, 2006)
Vivid account of the time the author spent alone in a cabin he built himself in the woods at Walden Pond. Thoreau’s account is not just of his life as a hermit but expounds on themes of appreciating nature, eschewing consumerism, and exploring our world and ourselves.
- The Russian Debutante’s Handbook by Gary Shteyngart * * * 1/2 (July 22, 2006)
Very funny debut novel about a Russian immigrant trying to make it in the US.
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe * * * (July 26, 2006)
In this adventure novel, Daniel Defoe, considered the author of the English Novel, proselytizes about religion while following the life of a shipwrecked mariner on a deserted island.
- Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky * * * (July 27, 2006)
This incomplete novel published posthumously is a poignant portrayal of human drama on the eve of the German bombing of Paris and the German occupation. Nemirovsky planned three more chapters but she was unfortunately captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz where she died within 2 months.
- Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart * * * * (August 14, 2006)
Fat rapper Jewish son of the 1238th richest man in Russia gets exiled to his homeland, Absurdistan, where Halliburton has corrupted the politicians into starting a civil war so they can get cost plus contracts with the American department of defense.
- Billy Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow * * * * (September 15, 2006)
Brilliantly written book about a 15 year old street urchin who gets sucked into the mob by legendary mobster, Dutch Schultz, and enters a world of depravity and violence.
- A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by James Joyce * * * * (October 21, 2006)
A tour de force by the brilliant James Joyce. This book follows the life of Stephen from the Jesuit school, Clonglowes to college where he philosophizes on life with his friends and later finds himself as a writer.
- Theft by Peter Carey * * * * (November 12, 2006)
I must say that I was cursing as I muddled through all the haughty art talk in this latest novel from one of the greatest living novelists, the brilliant Peter Carey. Still this novel shocked me at the end after weaving a tale of suspense and constantly returning to the main themes of obsession and deception.
- The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin * * * * (December 16, 2006)
Charles Darwin, the most intelligent, observant, and thoughtful traveler of all time, spent five years aboard the HMS Beagle as the naturalist. This is his beautifully written travel book of his journey.
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe * * * (December 28, 2006)
Though a bit overly sentimental (the character of Tom was completely unbelievable) this book did a great job exposing the evils of slavery and helped bring about its demise in this country and for that alone it is worth reading.
Books I read in 2005:
- Holy War, The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World
by Karen Armstrong * * * + (January 1, 2005)
An excellent look at all 5 crusades from the perspective of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and how those wars have impacted current conflicts between the three religions today.
- The Librarian by Larry Beinhart * * * (January 11, 2005)
Innocent librarian is hired by an aging billionaire who is plotting to steal the election for the president who is running for a second term (he bears a striking resemblance to the current scum residing in the White House). The fictional president also uses scare tactics in his bid to win against his opponent, a democrat woman senator from Idaho. The librarian then attempts to foil the vicious plot.
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss * * * (February 18, 2005)
Instead of flying into a murderous rage upon encountering grammatical errors, as I do; Lynne Truss, a woman after my own heart, rails against misuses of English punctuation. You go girl!
- So You Want to Start a Nursery by Tony Avent * * * (February 25, 2005)
A well written, well researched, and interesting book on everything you need to know to start a nursery.
- Wildly Successful Plants Northern California by Pam Peirce * * 1/2 (March 25, 2005)
The history, care, control, propagation, and name etymology of 50 plants that grow well in local gardens, beautifully photographed by the author’s husband. Unfortunately almost all of the featured plants are vicious invasives that would be better eliminated from gardens.
- Beowulf by Author Unknown * * * (March 27, 2005)
Heroic-elegiac poem of humankind’s struggle with the monstrous.
- Ocean Birds of the Nearshore Pacific by Rich Stallcup * * * (March 31, 2005)
Though by no means a comprehensive guide to pelagic birding, star birder, Rich Stallcup, gives excellent insight into subtle field marks and behaviors of seabirds to help us identify and appreciate them.
- A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz * * * (May 10, 2005)
Memoir, family saga, self-portrait, and tale of the birth of Israel as lived through by the author, Israel’s current most popular.
- Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona by Tucson Audubon Society * * * * * (May 22, 2005)
Excellent guide to finding all the birds in Southeast Arizona with an excellent bar graph of the birds and index of all locations.
- California Master Gardener Handbook edited by Dennis Pittenger * * * * * (May 25, 2005)
Everything you need to know to become an expert gardener in California.
- Stone Desert A Naturalist’s Exploration of Canyonlands National Park
by Craig Leland Childs * * * (June 8, 2005)
Beautifully written short history of the geology, indigenous plants, animal life, and native peoples who once thrived in the area. Maddening though in its intentional omission of reference to the specific locations of his travels in the park.
- The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy * * * (July 7, 2005)
The book elegantly brought out the beauty and lure of Egdon Heath. However, unlike a truly great novel, I will not miss any of the sorry characters in this book.
- Lundy, Gem of the Eastern Sierra by Jim Hanna * * 1/2 (July 10, 2005)
This little booklet was written by the great-grandson of John Muir. It is poorly printed with many errors but is a nice little guide to the area history and hikes.
- Maximum City by Suketu Mehta * (July 17, 2005)
Very depressing book about the overwhelming problems of Bombay.
- Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis * * * 1/2 (July 24, 2005)
In this portrait of a 1920s gospel shark Lewis thoroughly exposes the hypocrisy of evangelists.
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding * * * (July 25, 2005)
Adventure story of boys on a desert island whose theme is that the defects of society trace back to defects in human nature and not the political system.
- What’s the Matter with Kansas by Thomas Frank * * * (July 27, 2005)
Using his home state of Kansas as an example Frank explains why many Americans vote for the Republican party against their own interests.
- The King of California by Mark Araz & Rick Wartzman * * * 1/2 (July 30, 2005)
Fascinating account of the modern day robber baron Boswell family, farmers from Georgia who came to California, drained a giant lake in the San Joaquin Valley and became the largest most powerful farmers in the state.
- The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux * * (August 24, 2005)
At first I was seduced by the main character’s iconoclasm and disappointment with this imperfect world. But later the book became a burden as Father’s iconoclasm gave way to paranoid delusions, idiotic ideas and even murder. I was very troubled by the way the book and the characters glossed over Father’s murdering some Indians.
- Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens * * * * (October 21, 2005)
Dickens’s sixth novel deals with the greed of Old Martin’s family, particularly the arch-hypocrite, Pecksniff, who is hoping to inherit his wealth. There is a very unflattering description of America in the chapter where young Martin visits the new colony. As with all Dickens novels there are unforgettable characters including the sodden old nurse, Mrs. Gamp.
- On Beauty by Zadie Smith * (November 10, 2005)
Don’t bother. Many plot lines are stolen whole cloth from Howards End but there is no theme to speak of. It claims to be about the meaning of beauty but I am still scratching my head.
- The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh * * * (November 29, 2005)
An interesting tale of love, romance, ecology set in the Sundarbans of east India. His writing is a little stiff but the story of the fate of a skilled cetologist studying a rare river dolphin, the dolphins, and the people living in this volatile tide country was very compelling.
- To See Every Bird on Earth by Dan Koeppel * * (December 2, 2005)
This book disturbed me and left more questions than answers about why people are obsessed with counting how many birds they have seen but care nothing about bird conservation and really don’t even care about birds.
- The March by E.L Doctorow * * * (December 19, 2005)
Riveting fictionalized account of Sherman’s march to the sea at the end of the US Civil war.
- The Life & Death of Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomalin * * *
(December 24, 2005)
The astonishing life of Mary Wollstonecraft, radical feminist, who published a vindication of the Rights of Women in 1798 is vividly portrayed in this biography.
Books I read in 2004:
- My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey * * * * * (January 2, 2004)
Best book of the year! Intriguing story of an author who submits fake poetry for publication which leads to the editor’s trial where the fictional poet appears and spends the rest of the novel torturing the fake poet.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson * * * + (January 6, 2004)
What more can you say.
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift * * * * (January 8, 2004)
Political satire on 17th Century England and spell binding adventure story.
- 1984 by George Orwell * * * * * (January 11, 2004)
Could be renamed 2004 and has very interesting parallels to the Bush administration but was actually written in 1939 about the evils of totalitarianism.
- The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem * * (January 16, 2004)
White boy grows up in black Brooklyn neighborhood in the 70s. Both do drugs, white boy succeeds, black boy goes to jail.
- Samuel Pepys by Claire Tomalin * * * + (January 20, 2004)
An excellent biography of Pepys, a naval clerk during 17th century England, president of The Royal Society, contemporary of Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, book collector and memoirist.
- Pompeii by Robert Harris * * * (January 24, 2004)
Fictional account of the explosion of Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii in 79 AD.
- Reefer Madness by Eric Schlosser * * * (January 30, 2004)
Three interesting essays on the black market in the US: marijuana, undocumented workers, and pornography.
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides * * * (February 6, 2004)
Traces three generations of an inbreeding Greek family that emigrates to Detroit. The narrator is a hermaphrodite. A coming of age story that explores the meaning of sexuality.
- True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey * * * * (February 15, 2004)
A story of the legendary outlaw, Ned Kelly, murderer and horse thief to some, but hero to the lowly classes of Australia, written in his own semi-literate hand, but brought to life by the dazzling prose of the author.
- Absolute Friends by John Le Carré * * * + (February 25, 2004)
Epic tale of two 1960s West Berlin lefties who become Cold War double agents for Europe, only to end up as victims of the fake U.S. war against terrorism.
- SIBLEY’S Birding Basics by David Allen Sibley * * * (March 1, 2004)
Using many illustrations David Sibley reviews all the basic concepts of bird identification.
- The Great Unraveling by Paul Krugman * * * + (March 10, 2004)
NY Times Columnist and Award winning economist, Paul Krugman, chronicles the failed and irresponsible and deceptive policies of the Bush Administration.
- Empress Orchid by Anchee Min * * * * (March 19, 2004)
The first volume in a trilogy about the life of Empress Orchid. A vivid portrait of a compelling woman who survived in the male dominated world of China’s Ch’ing dynasty.
- American Dynasty – Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush by Kevin Phillips * * * * (March 28, 2004)
Mordant political and economic commentator, Kevin Phillips, reveals how four generations of Bushes fomented war and deceived the public through arms scandals and impeachable offenses in furtherance of their dynasty and megalopolies in the fields of intelligence, energy and national security.
- The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler * * * (April 12, 2004)
A thinly veiled fictionalized account of the life of Butler himself. It wages war on all extremes, shams, and pretenses, is full of bitter irony, and gives a satiric picture of home life in mid-Victorian England.
- The Big Year by Mark Obmascik * (April 16, 2004)
Don’t bother. Utterly ridiculous, but true story of three fanatics, two of whom abandon their wives and one of whom depletes six credit card accounts, who set out in 1998 to see more species of birds than anyone else in one year. Each one works for a polluting industry and while obsessed with seeing the birds, shows not one iota of concern for conserving bird habitat.
- Bushwomen by Laura Flanders * * * (April 21, 2004)
Brilliant Liberal Radio Host, Laura Flanders, exposes how Bush conceals his ultra right wing policies under the skirts of some well placed women in his white house. While the Bush White House pretends that these women, Condaleeza Rice, Karen Hughes, Ann Veneman, Elaine Chao, Christy Todd Whitman, and Gale Norton, represent the “compassionate” side of his conservatism, Flanders outlines how truly ultra right wing these “women” are too.
- Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan * * * (April 26, 2004)
American woman accompanies Australian Aboriginal group called the Real People on a barefoot 1400 mile trek through the bush with no provisions. She learns a spiritual lesson to become one with nature.
- Waiting by Ha Jin * * * (May 6, 2004)
A Chinese Army doctor returns to his backward village every year to end an arranged, loveless marriage to his peasant wife. She refuses for 18 years, the required separation before the government will allow a divorce, causing his modern, educated nurse girlfriend in the city to wait.
- Illywhacker by Peter Carey * * * (June 7, 2004)
Novel about a 139 year old Australian charlatan and his wacky extended family.
- The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow * * * + (July 8, 2004)
The life story of Augie a poor boy who grew up depression era Chicago and spent his life wandering from one outlandish occupation to another. Bellow unfolds his hero’s tale with commanding prose and astonishing insight.
- Consilience by Edward O. Wilson * * * * + (July 22, 2004)
Brilliant book by arguably our greatest living scientist that lays out a plan for joining the sciences and the humanities with one unifying theory.
- City of God by E.L. Doctorow * * * (July 25, 2004)
Multiple narrators shift between modern New York City, the holocaust and World War I to weave a story of spiritual reflection centered around the idea of modern God.
- My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir * * * * (July 27, 2004)
Enchanting chronicle of John Muir’s experience herding a flock of sheep from the San Joaquin Valley to Yosemite’s majestic High Sierra.
- Drop City by T. C. Boyle * * * (July 29, 2004)
1970’s hippie commune in California moves to Alaska where some of the members befriend some locals who are communing with the harsh environment and living off the land of wild Alaska.
- Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America by Robert Reich * * * * (July 31, 2004)
Former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration offers a bold plan for taking back America from the Radcons (Radical Conservatives) and their corporate greed, preemptive war, and weakened civil liberty policies through the politics of reason.
- Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux * * * * (August 16, 2004)
Fascinating journey by taxi, overcrowded rickety bus, canoe, train, and ferry from Cairo to Cape Town. Part history, part culture, part politics and insightful look into the people of Africa.
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad * * * + (August 29, 2004)
Horrible tale of a madman in the Congo during Colonial expansion.
- Youth by Joseph Conrad * * * * (August 29, 2004)
Beautiful prose! Story of a youth at sea.
- Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros * * * (September 13, 2004)
Part Mexican history and part sprawling family history of the Reyes family as they criss cross the US-Mexican border and culture.
- Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer * * * + (September 20, 2004)
A shocking look at the history of Mormonism, its fraudulent foundations, and some of its most extreme and even criminal adherents. After reading this book I fear for my well being to ever visit Utah again!
- Introduction to California Plant Life by Robert Ornduff, Phyllis M. Faber, and Todd Keeler * * * *
(October 7, 2004)
A California Natural History Guide that introduces basic concepts of plant taxonomy, ecology, California soil, climate, and geography as well as evolution of the California landscape and changes in its flora.
- Living on the Wind Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds by Scott Weidensau * * * *
(October 24, 2004)
Beautifully written book about bird migration that weaves the latest science with the author’s personal experiences and his own contributions to understanding bird migration and saving it from human depredations.
- The Known World by Edward P. Jones * * (November 2, 2004)
Novel about blacks in antebellum Virginia who owned slaves.
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne * * * * (November 13, 2004)
A woman in colonial puritan Boston was convicted of adultery and condemned to wear a bold “A” on her clothes as her punishment. She refused to disclose her co-adulterer. He went on to become an eminently distinguished minister until he could no longer bear the burden and died. She and her daughter went on to become prodigiously wealthy. The moral of the story is ambiguous and the “A” may symbolize this ambiguity. The only clue is the summary near the end of the book, “Be true. Be true. Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred.”
- Snow by Orhan Pamuk * * * (December 3, 2004)
Poet, Ka, returns to his native Turkey to investigate suicides by girls banned from wearing scarves. While there, poetry bursts forth from our hero as he falls in love and develops a deep understanding of religious fervosity. The book explores faith, lack of it, love, and human contradictions.
- The Plot Against America by Philip Roth * * * * (December 15, 2004)
In this excellent anti-roman a clef, aviation hero and Nazi sympathizer, Charles Lindbergh, defeats Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election and leads American Jews and America into a living hell.