Monday, October 1, 2012

Q3 Book List

Don't eat anything except plants and whole grains. They can be pretty good.

Coffee with Shakespeare, Stanley Wells, Joseph Fiennes
Slim volume (a birthday gift) imagines a modern interview with the Bard. Largely inoffensive, free of conjecture or controversy, which might have made it more interesting.

Adventure of an unlikely group of scientifically gifted children. A gift from a friend of WW, written by a woman we met in Cairo, the kids were well drawn, but two things--the intersection with history and the to--be-continued... resolution left me unsatisfied. But maybe that's the point.

The singular voice in American writing? Only Hemingway or Twain come to mind as rivals. 70s reports of the Democratic primaries and Nixon rants stand out. Later became a bit of a caricature of himself, but that seems unavoidable. No-one could live as he did without a little embellishment. Right?

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin
Rich and compelling medieval fantasy world, dripping with intrigue, liberally sprinkled with sex and violence. Writing a bit hackneyed at times, but impossible to put down nonetheless. Not sure I’m in for the remaining 4,000 pages of the series, but I do want to know how it turns out.

Schlesinger, Jr., Sean Wilentz
Lifelong bureaucrat from Virginia, settled in Ohio. In 1840, at 67, he somehow won the nomination and was recast by Whig handlers as an injun-killer from the frontier, and squeaked by Van Buren in a rollicking campaign. Got pneumonia after a 2 hour inaugural speech and died 31 days later. The end.

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
Picked this up on a recommendation that it was an insightful look at how people think. Are we really that petty and boring?

The Daydreamer, Ian McEwan
Invented stories from the mind of a very creative boy. Easy to see how he went on to become a famous writer.

The Numerati, Stephen Baker
People who want to sell you stuff know far more about you than you'd imagine. I don't mind this, as much as the way they make it difficult to understand how much things actually cost. What happens to insurance and medicine when the providers know everything about you?

Similar to Diamond's Collapse, but with much less data and more philosophy, though not as much as I'd hoped for. Did humans develop agriculture only because they ran out of animals to kill?

The Lacuna: A Novel, Barbara Kingsolver
Beautifully written story of a boy's life in Mexico and the US, his accidental entanglement with Rivera, Kahlo and Trotsky, success as a writer in Asheville and final undoing by the HUAC. Interesting throughout, less so after Mexico. Hard to believe the witch hunts of the 1940s were real.

From Evie's summer reading list. Nice collection of Chinese folk tales tied together by hey another plucky distaff heroine.

We're only human. But at least we know that, which, at times, can help

Sweeping story of African Americans moving north in search of opportunity and to escape life on the plantation; told through the stories of three people. Beautifully personal and contextually rich, but I would have preferred some more data.

Nice complement to Cod, particularly for its history of the European fishing industry and the development of techniques for salting and smoking. Industry driven by religious mandates and constant wars, but the book says little on these topics. Too bad, because I’d like to know more.

Not as much character development as the first story. Suffers as a result. The children finding themselves and each other was the strongest part of the story.

Fish Into Wine: The Newfoundland Plantation in the SeventeenthCentury, Peter Edward Pope, Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture
Thoroughgoing examination of the fishing industry in 17th century Newfoundland. More than I needed to know about the quotidian details and lacking much in the way of global perspective, which for me is the interesting part.

Few obvious boundaries or nations, under the heel of various empires throughout history. After David's conquest of Jerusalem in the 7th Century BC, no mention of the Jews until the zionist movement of the early 20th century.

Hard work and sticktoitveness are more important to success than talent. Treat every failure as a learning opportunity and you are bound to get better. Don't tell kids they're smart; reward hard work.

Comprehensive study of our use of energy and forecast of the future. Transition from coal to oil took a hundred years; move to oil's successor will take similar time. Depressing, but thoroughly enjoyable 700-odd pages.

Shipping News: A Novel, Annie Proulx
Beautifully written novel about a lummox who finds a life in Newfoundland. Full of implausible characters and set in a present day that nevertheless feels like 1920. And then it just sort of ends, with a small bang and a quiet whimper.

The Call of the Wild, Jack London
Some dog, that Buck. And Jack London really got into his head. Sheesh

Some Great Thing, Lawrence Hill
Enjoyable tale of ethnic, social, racial and language politics in 1980s Winnipeg, told through the eyes of an educated reporter. Implausible at times, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless

The latter is often a better predictor of our response than the former. Billed as psychology for the lay person, I found this to be overly academic and difficult to get through, despite its brevity.

More background about how certain heuristics direct our behavior. Less interesting after Kahnemann, but nonetheless enjoyable. Self-awareness is the key to manipulation, but it is frustratingly elusive.

Very enjoyable look at the craft of writing fiction interrupted by the horrible story of a crippling car accident. Honest and insightful throughout. I learned a great deal and remembered how much I enjoyed the Dead Zone when I read it in ninth grade.

Concise set of proven shortcuts to acquiring skills. There are no real shortcuts of course, but the optimal approach to learning is preferable nonetheless

 Daughter loved this so much that she was wary of my reading it, lest I say something negative. We read the second installment together last night, but I am not including it in my list. One graphic novel is sufficient.

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