By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Sun, November 23 2008 - 11:40 am
January 26, 2009
Wow, I wrote about a book just two days ago and here I am already writing about another - Lauren Weedman's A Woman Trapped in a Woman's Body.
I snagged it off the shelf in the biography section as part of my start-at-the-end-of-the-alphabet-so-as-not-to-get-hung-up-on-the-Adams family (don't remind me of Washington!) because I thought the title was funny. So is the book.
I didn't know until I was in the middle of it that Weedman is a Hoosier. No surprise there. There's so much nothing here that there is plenty of room for the imagination! (Sure, sure, I'm waaaay out of line, as Jay Leno would say!)
But Lauren Weedman really is out of line! I might almost say she is a weed except that she is so successful. (Even if I had not heard of her as far as I know, her face does look kind of familiar. Sorry. But really, that says more about how out-of-it I am than how not-"in" she is. And consider the Hoosier source (me) etc. etc.)
A lot of the laughs are gross-induced. But a lot of them aren't, and honestly, some of the best of them aren't.
As a biography - I don't know. At least some of her success must have been because of her hard work and she doesn't really involve us in the technical aspects of what she has done at all.
Overall, I'd say this book belongs in the comic section, not the biography sextion. (oops, Freudian slip, but it does kind of apply here....)
Hmmm... just out of curiosity I looked at the Library of Congress notes on the back of the title page. They call this book "Autobiographical fiction."
Where was that cataloguer from, I'd like to know? Small town Nebraska?
Just because a story is exaggerated doesn't make it fiction. I disagree with both cataloguers, I guess.
Comedy. Read it 'cause it's funny! Read it 'cause it's real!
Read it 'cause it's real funny!
January 24, 2009
Reread Rex Stout's The Doorbell Rang. I still love Nero Wolfe in spite of the improbability of it all. After working at a nursery, for example, I cannot believe that hefting - no, I can't tell you. Don't want to ruin it for you!
I love the precision of Wolfe's speech and thought. I love the social nicety and precision of Archie's. What a trip they are! What a colorful household Wolfe runs!
Short book, easy reading. Yeah, I love that former Quaker, Rex Stout.
January 22, 2009
Dorothy Canfield's collection of stories written over the course of fifty years A Harvest of Stories is a treasure. Abundant harvest!
Okay, call me sentimental if you like, but I don't really think these stories are sentimental. They are refreshing to me, used to post moderne post existential negativity and pessimism. They brought me close to tears a few times, touched my heart several times. They were uplifting, too.
In fact, I'm tempted to think I read this book (or a good many of the stories therein) many years ago in my youth and then forgot. I think they are part of what has formed me even though I forgot. (That happens to one of her characters, by the way.)
Set in France, set in Vermont, in peace, in war. Some are historical, some just fun. Loved 'em.
January 20, 2009
Good Lord, I've aged five years while I've been reading William Marshall's Faces in the Crowd. This guy likes exclamation points more than I do! The book is set in the 1880's and highlights the technology and some of the business ventures of the time. But mostly it is about the characters that populated New York City and the vast numbers of immigrants who hit the city in those days.
I suggest reading it if you are kind of bored and restless, not when you are overworked and stressed. But I do suggest reading it! As long as you realize that most of these characters are insane! Including the detective.
I found the attractive powers of the principal female character disturbing, though. Why would grown men - but no, I don't want to ruin it for you!
This book is about lawlessness we would like to believe doesn't exist today. It is shocking and violent. It almost brought me to tears once, though. Pathos as well as excitement, and a wonderful unpeeling of the mystery!
Next day: It occurred to me that some books feel that they are written with an eye to the movie industry. This novel seems like it wants to be a comic book!
January 16, 2009
Dang! I forgot to go to the book club meeting about the last book I wrote about so I have no further insights to convey from others. I started my book for today, Dennis Bloodworth's The Chinese Looking Glass before Christmas and finished it just yesterday.
Sure, my reading was kind of discontinuous, but don't blame the book! Honestly, it reads kind of like a slow, circuitous stream-of-consciousness. An old-river stream. Well, Chinese history and civilization is a very old river. Bloodworth tells lots of historical stories that read like fiction. He talks about contrary facets of the character of the Chinese: especially noteworthy is his contrast of the rapacious greedy would-be rulers and the conversely non-materialistic spiritual pursuits of several religions which manage to peacefully coexist in China.
This book was published in the mid-sixties, so if you want a more modern overview, look somewhere else. I myself love to read entertaining well-written history no matter when written. It's kind of interesting to see how people stood with regards to what they were writing about - in the case of this book, when Mao was still alive.
Bloodworth makes a curious observation about the attitude of the Chinese with regards to their government and religions as contrasted with ours. Definitely part of the looking-glass effect he is describing. Though he is not Chinese, Bloodworth married a Chinese woman and does not seem to be shy about quoting her!
Dramatic, melodramatic, humorous, and always lively and unexpected. (See his treatment of Taoism and his experience with the I Ching.)
Bloodworth says Lao Tsu (although spelled differently, I think) almost certainly never existed! Well, scatter my yarrow sticks!
Over 400 pages of educational entertainment, available in hard-cover on the internet for $1.99 plus shipping. What a deal!
January 9, 2009
The next book the Valparaiso Public Library will discuss is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It is set in a small town near Munich during World War II and shows the consequence to many people of Hitler's obsessions.
It has the same thesis as the first words of the Bible, "In the beginning was the Word," so you have here the self-contradictory feelings of someone who blames the existence of words for the evil that the Fuehrer was able to "accomplish" and at the same time loves words enough to write a book about the saving power of words. This grabbed me because in my youth I had similar conflicts about the uses of words.
The narrator is unique in my experience, too, I think. Well, hell no, I'm not going to tell you "who" the narrator is! I'll give you a hint, though. If you start reading the book you will soon find out! (However, in order to learn more about "his" nature and construction you will have to read much, much more. And don't expect too much from that statement!)
A real masterpiece of piecemeal suspense, as well as vivid, vivid, vivid. Not a book to read for fun or on dark winter days as I did. Oh well.
I bought this book at a used bookstore, so if you can't get a copy quick you can have mine. Just contact me.
January 6, 2008
My sister and I bought my mom Red Bird by Mary Oliver for Christmas. I thought it would be cool to give my poet mom a newly published book of poetry by a Pulitzer prize winner. The jacket told about Oliver's use of the natural world in her poetry. My mom would like that! I thought.
When I picked it up a few days after Christmas, my mom was looking at me reproachfully. No wonder! Oliver is seventy, it seems, and a wee bit obsessed with death. Natural enough, I suppose, if our life expectancy hadn't increased by decades. (Maybe she is caring for a mother in her nineties!)
I really enjoyed a couple of the light-hearted poems in the book, and wondered if they had been written recently or not. I noticed that several selections had been previously published, but didn't try to track which poems had been. After all, the book is in my mother's possession downstairs.
Upshot? A little dismal, perhaps, but interesting! And hey, this is poetry! I'm sure I would get much more out of it through repeated reading.
January 1, 2008
Extremes: Reflections on Human Behavior by A.J. Dunning (1992 in English translation) is a compendium of bizarre behavior. I picked it up, I suppose, hoping for some elucidation of the human psyche. That expectation was disappointed.
"The true abyss has turned out to be human beings" is the thesis of this book, offering the opposite of explanation of human behavior. It is kind of an expanded historical Ripley's Believe it or Not. My suspicion is that A.J. Dunning heard of grotesque or unusual behavior and, curious, researched it for its own sake. Then, after years of curiosity about extreme behavior, he decided he had enough material to write a book sellable because of its horrid fascination. Okay, okay, maybe that is unfair. Maybe he really does want to understand the human animal.
Even the extremes of behavior of "saints" is subject to objective interpretation by Dunning that can only be considered as negative. (That's okay by me!) The gaze he puts on his subjects is definitely enlightening at times. Self-starvation that we perceive as pathological, for instance, has been considered a step towards mystical enlightenment in other times and/or places.
Calling Dachau an example of cannibalism is a little far-fetched maybe, but Dunning is trying to use extreme human (or should I say anti-human?) behavior as a mirror for all of us.
This book provides us with a prism for analyzing our own behavior. What parts of our psyche are in the same range of the spectrum as Bluebeard?
At the very least, it provides entertainment of the ghost story type. Historically and scientifically accurate stories. Oooooo! Don't read this one if you are prone to nightmares. Maybe I'll give it to someone for Halloween!
December 16, 2008
My brother-in-law put Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of Kang-Hsi by Jonathan D. Spence into my hands a couple of days ago.
It is the experience,and thoughts of a seventeenth-eighteenth century Chinese emperor (in his own words!) who had an incredibly long reign. It is amazing how similar his thoughts are to those I have these days, feeling as if I have made a discovery all the time.
The world he lived in reminds me of the descriptions written by Lewis during his expedition - replete with abundant wildlife and interesting fruits.
He quotes the I Ching a good deal, interesting to me because I have a certain amount of familiarity and a good deal of respect for that ancient work.
The empire was much more organized than I would have thought. Of course, in the absence of information, you can think anything!
It took an amazing amount of work to compile this book about Kang-Hsi. I have never seen that kind of approach to a biography (letting the subject speak for himself) before, and I think it is wonderful! Hope to see more works like this!
December 11, 2008
When I was much younger I did some reading of Edgar Cayce and others with supernatural influences - for instance a book by Sybil Leek (a self-proclaimed witch) but I ended up being kind of turned off by it all. (Edgar Cayce, especially seemed to be acting as a medium for a spirit who maybe didn't deserve a voice! Ooops, sorry, just my unhumble opinion!)
When I saw a book by Allison Dubois in the biography section (although it is not really much of a biography except insofar as her gifts are concerned) I went for it. It is not a large book even in large type.
I've seen The Medium, the TV show based on Dubois' life, so it gave me a little bit of background for reading her book. Since I have had some psychic and rather otherworldly experiences of my own, I don't really need much convincing that there is a lot out there that we don't know about, but it is interesting to read about her own experiences and her ideas about how to relate to children with "the gift."
The title - Don't Kiss Them Goodbye - is not really explained in that she talks about saying goodbye to loved ones before they die. I assume she is not being literal - just letting us know from the outset that we should rather say, "See you later!"
Dubois writes matter-of-factly and directly. She makes scientists who are completely unwilling to consider that there is all kinds of stuff out there that doesn't meet the eye sound closed-minded and unreasonable. (Or am I just projecting? I think they are closed-minded and unreasonable! Oh yeah, and arrogant to boot!)
Personally, I admit the idea that there are beings hanging around watching what I do creepy. I like to think that there are more interesting thing things for spirits to do than hang around me.
On the other hand, the idea of trying to reassure folks, alive or dead, has appeal. So does the idea of rendering a bad guy powerless to commit more crimes.
Go for it, Allison Dubois!
December 10, 2008
Read Two for the Road by Jane and Michael Stern for the library book club. All but a few pages starting at page seventy, where some lame noodle cut out a recipe. Presumably this individual could neither get to a copier nor write, so this one must be pitied. I guess. What does Bob say to Michael and Jane after they take a whole bunch of... whoops! Better not say - don't want to ruin it for you!
Well, for me this book is more like an anthropological study than an inspiration. I do not eat as much of the kinds of food these folks ate in one day in a whole month! Not virtue on my part - heartburn.
Luckily the Sterns wrote a lot about people and different subcultures around the U.S. That made it bearable for me. Actually, I guess I can believe they could eat four meals of barbecued pork ribs in one day! Yummy as they are, there's not much meat on them! (Or have I just gone to the wrong restaurants? They have a different but eerily similar standard to William Least Heat Moon for choosing restaurants. Me, tell? No way!)
The picture of these folks looked eerily familiar to me. They have eaten at the San Marcos Cafe outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Maybe they have spent a lot of time in SF and I have seen them there - or even at the San Marcos Cafe itself!
At any rate, if you are afraid of reading a book about a lot of meaty fatty sugary cooking you might want to give this one a pass.
(On the other hand, you could always check out the copy I got at the public library. Maybe the person who stole the pages just got so hungry he ate them! There are lots of good recipes left to eat! Often garnished with the spitlls (mistake but I'll leave it!) of the meals he and possibly other readers were eating. Yum!)
December 1, 2008
Rita Mae Brown - Sour Puss. Oh, for God's sake. Two lists of characters, neither genuinely human (okay, okay by my definition!) Grapeshot didacticism. Not only cosy but cutesy (unless you don't think a character using the word "tanties" for tantrum isn't cutesy.) Author has an irritating habit of having a name identified tersely after the person (never to appear again) is mentioned, tending to throw you into an "Uh-oh. I don't remember that name! Should I go back and... " mode. She does this frequently.
Highly recommended for people who are not easily subject to nausea and eat no food other than mass-produced desserts. Cold ones.
November 30, 2008
I can't decide whether Ed McBain's The Last Best Hope would be better read on a cold winter's day in the North, or on a beach in sunny Florida. Either way the reader would have something to glory in.
Not a cosy, no not a cosy. Salacious and full of irony and flashbacks and fleshbecks and really weird people. It's set in Florida, for pity's sake! Where are all the nice little old ladies and gents that Florida is supposed to be full of? I miss them!
Just kidding! This book is kind of like a rollercoaster that warns you ahead of time what is coming next. Mostly. At least, it is as irrational as a rollercoaster. Or the desire to ride the rollercoaster. Or the desire to ride again once you have ridden the rollercoaster.
I'm not saying this Ed McBain book is like a rollercoaster that way. It is great beach or comfy (not cosy!) fireside reading (although why the diatribe against lawyer/writers?) Well, maybe I would understand if I were more of a literati (in the singular, whatever that would be.) But he's a mystery writer for God's sake! How many levels of snobbery do we have to keep track of?
Anyway, I have seen Ed McBain books on the library shelves forever, it seems, and it also seems there's a reason for that.
I'll read more!
November 28, 2008
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is another very unusual book from Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point. Maybe because I have experienced much of the stuff he talks about and tend to be introspective, this book is not quite as surprising to me as the former one.
He covers a good deal of ground here, though, and I learned a surprising amount of stuff about the world. The war games part is the only part I had a little bit of trouble getting through, but it sure held a lot of information that needed to be said. If you are anti-war like me you will enjoy the other worlds Gladwell consults: music, the art of tasting, law enforcement, car selling and politics are all considered in the light of Gladwell's subject.
Part of the reason some of this information came as no surprise to me is that I had already read The Gift of Fear (another book about intuition) which Gladwell cites more than once. The Gift of Fear should probably be required reading for all who want to be mentally well-armed to protect themselves from people with ill intent.
Blink should be required reading for everyone so society can be protected from them (us)! The unconscious is often our friend, but it can also be the worst enemy of ourselves and those around us in spite of how enlightened and well-intentioned we think we are. (An example of this is a news show I saw recently that showed a researcher of racial self-image among black children telling a very young black girl to choose a "bad" and "good" doll from the two dolls in front of her, one black and one white. The questioner was not asking the child to tell her about the dolls, which would have allowed her to describe the dolls with whatever attributes she chose, like maybe "this one plays the flute." She was leading her subject, who was obviously trying to figure out how her questioner wanted her to respond. It seemed to me this researcher was unintentionally committing a heinous crime upon that poor little girl, teaching her to think in a polarized way. Why on earth cannot both dolls be "good" or "bad?" And what child would spontaneously choose either of those adjectives to describe a doll? Experiments like this we do not need!)
Thank you, Malcolm Gladwell, for Blink! I can hardly wait to pick up Outliers, his most recent book!
(An amusing footnote to reading this book is a typo found in the Large Print edition I picked up at the library: "mind-blindnesss!" Ha ha!)
November 23, 2008
I plucked the new book Gimme an O off the shelves because of its title, of course. (I have an obsession/love thing for the letter "o".) I did read the first paragraph or so to see if it might be interesting, of course, but I still didn't zap.
It was only when my mom started reading the book and she said, "You do know what the "O" stands for," that I knew. "O. Er, I mean, oh."
She didn't like it much, she said. But she gobbled it down in one day.
Me, I feel like I got a romance snuck over on me. Oh, it was interesting (but very weird, psychologically - these people have no boundaries at all! and the "therapist" doesn't know how to communicate. Oh well.) At least one third of this book should have been cut out entirely, in my opinion. The long car trip was waaaay too long.
Funny how the last book I read and this one have almost (exactly) the same basic emotional story going on (in the "mystery" part of the plots, that is.)
Has Parker been idly picking up his wife's reading?
Okay, okay that was completely uncalled for. This story is really as old as the hills, I guess.
I read it to the end, so that says something. (Not as much as you might think, though. I'm more sensation-oriented than intuitive, in Jungian terms, and er maybe more perceptive than judgmental (though I'm not so sure of that!) so a book has to be reeeaaallly bad to make me put it down.)
Kayla Perrin is good antidote reading for people who believe in arranged marriages or marriages entered for.... whoops! Don't want to ruin it for you!
Go ahead, take a trip to sunny southern California! If you are a romance reader, that is.
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