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For Book Butterflies Lifting
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Sat, June 01 2013 - 4:16 am

December 15, 2013

I cannot believe I haven't written about Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson yet.

I liked this book.  I am enthusiastic about this book!  I recommend it for book club reading, because it takes a lot of the conventional wisdom about what technology is doing to society today and stands it on its head.

Learn why technology is not going to take over the

world.  (Er, at least, not literally as in 2001's HAL.)  Or, at least, not yet!

What is your guess as to whether young people write more

or less now than they used to?  (Of course even the question educates

your guess - but I don't want to ruin this book for you!)

In fact, if I didn't need to run to the library today to get Candy Freak for a book club meeting next week, I'd be tempted to read Thompson's book again.

Alas, I forget so much these days.  Maybe I always did, but now I feel as if what I read gets immediately blown out of my mind by the rush of time's winged chariot!

A book I am glad to forget:

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

I checked it out because the title was cute and I didn't realize the whole damn thing (or, er, as much as I could stomach) was written from the point of view of the dog!  Imagine an animal meme gone beyond funny

into eternity....

Well, for me it didn't.  Actually I'm embarrassed by how far into the book I did get, but I assure you, it was not halfway.  Just too dumb in my I'm told unhumble opinion.

In the okay category are Guilt by G.H. Ephron and A Whisper to the Living by Stuart M. Kaminsky.  If I had to choose one or the other for a quick mystery fix I would pick the Kaminsky

But good grief, this Russian novel is so dang serious compared to his long-ago Hollywood one that I read decades ago.  Well, suffice it to say that at least I recognize his name and decided to read more.  Still will.

Hell, I'd probably pick up something by the Ephron team again, but I'd much rather pick up something by Jane Haddam

Her characters are just so much more endearing somehow.  Does that make my latest of reads by her a cozy?  But most cozies I cannot stomach. 

Of course, having drawn my line where I wanted, that was probably part of my definition.  Ha!

There is something about the good nature with which Gregor Demarkian almost lets other humans drive him crazy which is very attractive.  He mentally tears his hair on the inside while remaining stoic on the outside.  Can't help but love him!  I think the mysteries in her books are often pretty good, too!  Am I wrong?

Read Haddam's Hearts of Sand and see if you won't find yourself reaching for more.  After all, it's wintertime.  Maybe a cozy is the appropriate thing to read under a woolly throw.

November 1, 2013

The other day we discovered another bookstore in town while we were waiting for our car's brakes to be replaced.  Walking in the door, we were immediately engaged in coversation with an author who lives between here and Louisville.

At first we didn't know he was an author, but he suggested we read a particular book.  Kind of a "supernatural hard-boiled noir thriller."  Something like that.

We said, er, maybe not.  Not our type of reading.

The person manning the cash register spoke up.  "He's the author."

Well, that was another matter!  Always willing to support the local talent!  So I bought the book.  The author even signed it for me.

The next day, Halloween, I started to read The Hand of God by Tony Acree.

I got to page 44 or so.

Sorry, Tony.  I was really going to try to get through the book in spite of the spell-check homonymnic escapees which were merely annoying, but I didn't even make it to the appearance of the Hand of God.  Afraid it might have waited for the very end in a deus ex machina kind of move, maybe.

I just couldn't hack it.  The violence, mostly.  When you are subjected to it in film it is over quicker.

Maybe if I were forty years younger and still marginally and professedly a Believer I could have handled the characters.

There were some funny one-liners in it!

It just didn't interest me enough to keep going. 

So now I have a practically brand-new looks-unread author-signed novel for sale to someone who has room to store and sell later at a fabulous price a rather slender paperback which is rumored to possibly be the inspiration for the next blockbuster TV series!

Come one, come - someone!

October 19, 2013

Last month I went to the Library Book Sale and filled a plastic bag with books - a last day two dollar deal.

I've read two of them.

Admittedly, I got The Rake by William Buckley, Jr. because I was thinking about William Burroughs.  I thought it would be interesting to read another novel by the author of Naked Lunch.

No such luck.  This book is pretty much a bust, suitable for much younger readers, perhaps, but why bother when there is so much really good stuff out there?  It was a waste of the forty cents or so I spent, and worse, the time I spent reading it.

Another impulse buy, though (and these were pretty much all hurried impulse buys) turned out to be stellar.  The Periodic Table by Primo Levi is chock full of vivid descriptions of individuals and compassion as well as giving a picture of some of the tasks an actual chemist might be requested to undertake.

I expected it to be much different when I bought it.  I hoped it would meet a lively criteria for the subject of chemistry, but it was much more loosely about chemistry than I expected.  Nevertheless, it is my introduction to an amazing Italian writer, any of whose from-life prose (as opposed to his fiction, a couple stories of which he has also included) I would be glad to read.  Probably will.  Actually his fictional works were my least favorite part of this book.

Appreciation and a great deal of credit must be given to the translator of this edition, Raymond Rosenthal.  My list of favorite books is obviously quite expandable, but this book is now on it.  I only marvel that I have not been exposed to Levi's work before.

October 9, 2013

Elsewhere by Richard Russo is a wonderful book.  Anyone who has read Empire Falls suspects that there is a toxic female figure in his background, and this new book is about his mom.

Some parent-protective people may not think so, but especially younger people might be able to save themselves a world of grief by reading it and other works by those unconscious victims of family dysfunction, not to say mental illness.

As Robert Russo observes, many children accept their family situation as normal (especially if they are constantly told they have a normal family) when really it is far from true.

These impressions (delusions, if you will) of what their parents are really like can last, he maintains, well into adulthood.  That was certainly my experience.  I knew the childhood of me and my siblings was bad, but either my mother changed a lot over succeeding decades or it was worse than I knew.

Not only Russo but his troubled mother would have been better off if they had only known (which they certainly should have, if a few people had been thoughtfully honest with them.)  Well, on second thought, maybe not the mom - she thought the rest of the world was - but no, I wouldn't want to ruin it for you!

Congratulations to Russo for telling the tale he felt needed to be told.  This is our book for the next Madison Library Book Club discussion.  I think it will be a lively one!

In my opinion this man was an unbelievably good son, by the way.  Too good, maybe.  Too accepting.  Not many sons would endure what he did.

October 5, 2013

My three latest non-Wodehouse reads:

Why Men Fake It by Abraham Morgentaler.

(Hey, Abraham, spellcheck doesn't recognize your last name.  Sure you didn't misspell it?  Never mind me, I just like to make fun of spellcheck.  Gee, it doesn't recognize itself!  Or is it two words?  Hmmmm.)

The title was the hook - I, for one, have suspected a male of faking it from time to time.

This book is, however, about much more that we should know.  I would say that I should have read it years ago except that it was published this year, and scientists know so much more than they did years ago.

One of the most important messages this doctor is trying to deliver is that sexual problems in men are more often physical than emotional but at the same time emotions do affect men a good deal.  Sound confusing?  Well, then read the book.  You really should, if only for your own sake, whether you are male or female.

Fascinating stuff.

Gulp, by Mary Roach

Another really good book about a formerly taboo subject.  I already knew that the alimentary canal was not a simple tube from your mouth to your anus (you would be amazed at the number of people who do not know this) but there is plenty more to learns.  There are worlds within our bowels!

Heard rumors about life-saving fecal donations?  This book will expand on that subject for you as well as on a whole bunch of other wiggly, writhing, flexible parts of our bodies.

How could learning more about your body hurt you?  Just - don't try to have a snack while reading this.  Seriously.

Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George.

I'm biased.  I love Elizabeth George, even if it turns out that her real first name happens to be Susan.  (Sorry, all you Susans, the name was just ubiquitous while I was in college, and so many people have exes named Susan!) 

Anyway, this mystery is a good one.  Nice and long and published last year, so I have hopes of the next one soon.  Soon!  Soon!

This work does bring up a lot of ethical questions that I'm sure I cannot see from George's characters' points of view, but that is part of what these novels are all about, right?

The amazing environment in which her current fictional family resides adds to the drama and interest of this book.  In fact, I'm willing to bet that reading Elizabeth George might have inspired an interesting nature show I saw recently.

Stuff I never knew, and feel I should have known long ago.

Curious?  Well, read it!  Some might consider her books cosies but I do not.

Meanwhile at night I plug away (sometimes shaking the bed, laughing) at my Wodehouse novels.  Makes me think I should learn more about cricket,  Which bolsters the truth of the adage, "Involvement precedes interest."

September 18, 2013

The two best books I have read lately are Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali about her life growing up in Somalia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the area.  Honestly, even though these countries are very different from one another (especially in their treatment of women (although everywhere it is bad)) these folks moved around in them like we move state to state, borders notwithstanding.

Ali has experienced everything that you don't want to:  mutilation, trying to get relatives out of refugee camps teeming with starving people that she is unable to help, attempts to force her to marry men she didn't know.

Escaping to the Netherlands and her own prodigious intelligence saved her from all kinds of demons, some of whom she loved passionately - like her religion.

Want to know what is going on in some parts of the world little-known to most of us?  Read this book!  Although Infidel was published in 2008, you will feel, reading it, as if you have been transported back into Biblical times which clash anachronistically with modern times.

On a lighter note although not what I would call light reading by any means,  I finally got through The Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor.  It is full of delightful riffs, but the part in which the bear is jailed was hard to get through.  Competing reading for other purposes and a vacation on which I did not want to lug a heavy brand-new book also got in the way.  My bad.

I think Rafi Zabor is a wonderful writer!  I can't figure out why his name is not a household word!  This work reminds me of James Joyce and William Faulkner, if such a thing is possible.  The only false note it struck with me was the Bear's treatment of his girlfriend's - but no - I wouldn't want to spoil it for you.  Suffice it to say his objections to certain practices were not convincing.

If I had read the book when it was first published (or better yet, if it had been published 10 years sooner when I might have moved in the right circles to hear about it) I might have been enjoying jazz all these years.  The musical jazz talk certainly piques one's interest!

What's more Zabor drops literary allusions that are great fun.  I mean, who couldn't love such a cultured wildish being as a bear who plays the saxophone?

This author is very slow giving birth to his books.  I hope we won't have to wait too long to the book he promised to publish after I, Wabenzi.

I also read Sara Paretsky's Ghost Country.  My guess is that she wrote it to exorcise her own ghosts.  It is over the top.  But hey, there are still a few days of summer left!  And I cannot deny that I read it all, every hysterical page of it.  And I am not meaning hysterical as in ha-ha-ha.

August 19, 2013

Well, I've been reading.  Honest, I've been reading!  Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, and lots and lots of Wodehouse, both on my Kindle.  Tristram Shandy reminded me of its brilliance, and Wodehouse introduced to me in literary form the precursors (so far) of Jeeves and Wooster.  There are lots of other Wodehouse characters that are just wonderful.  The best are loving, good-natured psychopaths.  I use the term it the best sense of the word!  Mike, the novel I happen to be reading at the moment, is not one of these.  He is a public school student who is a crackerjack cricket player.  Sigh.  I don't understand the terminology, but one must widen one's world!  I guess.  The more beloved by me are Wodehouse's lovers - even the golf-playing ones.  Who knows, though.  I supposed Mike could fall in love.

Tristram Shandy was an eye-opener.  I think it may very well have inspired many literary geniuses such as James Joyce (with its Italian musical notations scribbled onto sermons) and its pre-Jungian mention of male parts in females' psyches and vice versa.  Not to mention the inspiration of the list-givers, the part of every famous author's work I can best do without.  (If you only have so much time, avoid their fattest novels!)

In addition to those two wonderful authors, I have recently read The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel about the space program's early superstars' wives lives.  (Ha, ha, so much for keeping rhymes out of prose!)  This book was, for me, a mixed bag.  There were a couple of times I was seriously tempted to put it down due to serious problems with descriptions of their life-style.  Call it envy if you must, but one can only consume so much soda-drink froth!  I must confess the book offers the difficult and tragic sides of these women's lives as well.  At any rate, chalk the experience up as another widening of my world.  I was too immature at the time of Life's coverage of the wives to take it either with a grain of salt or too seriously, so what I read in this book is hardly an expose of human frailty to me.  At any rate, it could hardly be more irrelevant to my life than the tale of Mike, the teen-age cricketeer (?) that keeps me company in the wee hours of the morning when I can't sleep!  Hardly a recommendation, I'm aware.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is our library book club selection for this Wednesday evening (Aug. 21 - come if you can!)  At first I was disbelieving of this character's initial inability to comfortably walk five miles in a day, then his refusal to make his journey less painful by buying proper walking shoes, but I did eventually get it.  The novel reveals it, at its own sweet walking-a-pilgrimage pace.  It is a form of mystery, and I loved it!  Even brought me to tears.  Well, don't we all love being led from skepticism to back to some kind of faith in something - even if it is only that we still have some kind of heart?

Last but not least, The Train Now Departing comprised of two novellas by Martha Grimes.  In the Madison, IN local library this volume is cataloged (I tried to spell catalogued like this with a "u" but spell check thought me too UK.  The American spelling looks wrong, wrong, wrong!) as a mystery.  Should not be.  Should be with the regular fiction.  This is classic melancholic Martha Grimes' fare except for the absence of - oops I don't want to ruin it for you!  Maybe it should be catalogued just the way it is.  I enjoyed these two novellas, in spite of the fact that I have absolutely no understanding of the protagonists' (or should I call them anti-protagonists?) personality types.  In other words, I enjoyed the works, not the main characters.  Well written, moody-brooding.

June 4, 2013

Last month's book club book was Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan.  My first response was, "Oh waaa!  Poor little rich people whose summer cottage had bad-smelling water."  I had a little trouble getting into it.  As a window into some of the thoughts of the (to me) younger generation, though, it engaged me enough to finish.

To tell the truth, though, I had trouble relating to any of these characters.  As a portrait of the spiritually impoverished, maybe.

I did read Emily Alone, a sequel, anyway.  It was shorter!  If it had not been I would not have - curiosity only takes me so far.

I'm happier to write about Shelley Emling's book Marie Curie and Her Daughters.  Although I was just as bored to read about all the dinners and social engagements as Marie was to live them, it did open up another world for me.

To the clueless (like me) as to the scientific and political involvements of succeeding generations, this book is really an eye-opener.

It even helped me understand something about how radio-active substances came to be used in medicine - something Marie Curie promoted way earlier in the history following her discovery of the element than I dreamed of.

Ever heard of "artificial radiology?"  Me neither.  Of course, if you are really interested in the science of it you might want to go to the source and read Marie Curie's work about Radioactivity.

I perforce pass over the graphic novel Last Days of an Immortal by Gwen De Bonneval and Fabien Vehlmann.  That I couldn't get through.  Just this instant, I looked at the back cover, which states this book is "a classic, cerebreal [sic] science fiction story...."


June 1, 2013

Been delaying writing about books because the space left in my last Book Butterflies article looked to be diminishing.  I'm always afraid I'll run out and everything will disappear into the aether.  (Spelled that way to avoid confusion with ether.)

I'm going to pick my reading of the last few weeks out of my memory at random - or in other words, what is most on my mind.

The Wisdom of Psychopaths
by Kevin Dutton has preyed on my mind the most.  Talk about having a traumatic event in childhood and feeling compelled to repeat it!  This man has turned a boyhood incident into a practically lifelong quest for psychological understanding, especially of psychopaths.

Is it a kind of acquaintance-level Stockholm syndrome attempt to justify his juvenile abuser?  He remained "friends" with him!

Evidently there are reasons psychopaths can't help being who they are.  There are, it seems, chemical reactions failing to happen in their brains that at least correlate with some of their attributes.

Dutton's analysis dispels the idea that all psychopaths are criminal.  He describes the constellation of attributes that make up a psychopath and maintains that saints and highly successful surgeons are also, sometimes, psychopaths.

He uses St. Paul as one example of a psychopathic saint.  (I have hated and despised this woman/hater since I was in high school, so I am delighted to put him in the psychopath bin.)

But of course, Kevin Dutton's point is that not all psychopaths deserve to be put into the category of Evil Ones.  The Wisdom of Psychopaths is an interesting book.  I recommend it for a conventional-wisdom-jolting read.

The portrait of the author on the back leaf of the flyjacket looks either angry or as if he is trying to look as if he has the focus of a psychopath.

Is his crack to his wife in the acknowledgements for real, or is it a joke?  (She's right, by the way, Kevin.  In my opinion, you do come off as a wannabe.)

This book and another I recently read, What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz, have really brought home to me that my anti-footnotes-in-the-back-of the-book strike against reading them is probably not going to work.  Neither, perhaps is the idea that I will get the most out of a book without looking up videos on utube which illustrate the authors' subject.

Daniel Chamovitz, however, brings up a whole constellation of difficulties about how we understand plants.

Even the title which talks about what a plant "knows" is problematical.  When I checked this book out of the library I assumed it was poetic language.  Now I am not so sure.  "Awareness" is an attribute he is willing to grant a plant where that is one I would not.

Would "senses" (as a verb) be a better word for the title of this book?  In my opinion, more accurate, but would it have sold as many books?  No.  I might have picked it up as an interesting read, but I like plants.  (Silly-sounding statement, huh?  We should all like, adore, worship plants!)

Anyway, I can't imagine the nightmare a translator would have trying to put Chamovitz ideas into other languages, since even English speakers could have a whole lot of freakout debates on this subject.  Could he be a little too literal-minded on this subject?

Using anthropomorphism when talking of the well-being of plants is not unscientific, it is poetic.  Not to be taken as biochemically correct.

Having said all that rant, I did learn about more plants and what they can sense (I myself am even afraid to use the word "perceive") and what they can't.

When he was writing about the ability of experiential learning to be passed through to succeeding generations, I thought of the Holocaust.  No wonder.  Chamovitz is an American-born resident of Israel.

Both of these books show me how much nonfiction writing has changed since I started reading it decades ago.  In ways for the better - it certainly is way more readable!  Nobody could call it dry!  But- but- damn, these authors come off as idiosyncratic and self-indulgent!

(Look who's talking, eh?)

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