Arubabookwoman's 2009 Challenge--Part II

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Arubabookwoman's 2009 Challenge--Part II

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Editado: Maio 24, 2009, 2:07 pm

My other thread was taking so long to load, I decided to open a new thread (and my daughter was here to make the links for me). Here is the link to my old thread:

Maio 24, 2009, 2:43 pm

My 2009 reading so far is:

1. Bleak House by Dickens 5 stars
2. A Thousand Splendid Suns 2 1/2 stars
3. Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe 4 1/2 stars
4. Life in the Cul-de-sac by Kuroi 3 1/2 stars
5. Deaf Sentence by David Lodge 3 stars
6. Sorrows of War (wrong touchstone) 3 1/2 stars
7. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George 2 1/2 stars
8. Poor People by Wm. Vollman 3 1/2 stars
9. Hester Lilly by Elizabeth Taylor 3 1/2 stars
10. The Slynx byTatian Tolstasya 3 1/2 stars
11. Boy A by Jonathon Trigell 3 stars
12. Train to Pakistan by Singh 4 stars
13. The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta 4 1/2 stars
14. Half a Yellow Sun 3 stars
15. This Blinding Absence of Light by Jelloun 4 1/2 stars

Editado: Jul 11, 2009, 8:13 pm

More 2009 reading:

16.Family of Secrets by Russ Baker 3 1/2 stars
17. 2666 by Bolano 4 1/2 stars
18. Dark Star Safari by Theroux 3 stars
19. The Burning Book by Maggie Gee 1 1/2 stars
20. The New York Trilogy by Auster 4 stars
21. Poor Folk by Doestoevsky
22. Hottentot Venus by Chase-Riboud 3 stars
23. Pale Fire by Nabokov 5 stars
24. Blackwater by Joyce Carol Oates3 stars
25. Headhunter by Timothy Findley 4 stars
26. A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker 3 1/2 stars
27. The Insulted and the Injured by Doestoevsky
28. The Living End by Stanley Elkins 2 1/2 stars
29. The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzatti 3 stars
30. Man in the Dark by Auster 3 1/2 stars
31. Timbuktu by Auster 3 1/2 stars
32. Confessions of a Thug by Philip Meadows Taylor 3 1/2 stars
33. Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather 3 1/2 stars
34. The Marrow of Tradition by Charles Chesnutt 3 1/2 stars
35. The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch
36. The Whisperers by Orlando Figes 4 1/2 stars
37. Property by Valerie Martin 4 stars
38. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett 3 stars
39. The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby 4 stars
40. The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters 2 1/2 stars
41. My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru 2 1/2 stars
42. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov 3 stars
43. The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey 3 1/2 stars
44. Pre-historic Art: The Symbolic Journey of Mankind by Randall White 4 star
45. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen 2 1/2 stars
46. Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan 3 1/2 stars
47. Shyness and Dignity by Dag Solstad 3 1/2 stars

See message 61 for a continuation of this year's list:

Maio 24, 2009, 4:21 pm

gotcha starred girl so I won't lose you. I hate when that happens.

Editado: Maio 24, 2009, 5:33 pm

42. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (1953) 191 pp

Poor Professor Timofey Pnin. He is socially clueless and academically incompentent. With a few exceptions, he is ridiculed by students and fellow staff. He is the perfect hero for a comedy of life in academia.

And the novel is just that--a short, engaging visit to Waindell University and environs--but it is also more than that. Unlike Professor Kinbote in Pale Fire, Pnin is a thoroughly likeable, sympathetic character. We really want his ex-wife and her son to love, or at least respect, him, and we don't want Waindell to dismiss him. He deserves much better than he, unfortunately, gets. I recommend this book.

3 stars

Maio 24, 2009, 5:50 pm

43. The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (2009) 372 pp

When this novel begins, Jacob, a 60-ish architect, has just been diagnosed with Alzheimers. Over the next four years, as his cognitive abilities decline, he visits and revisits the significant episodes and people of his life. On this journey with him, we wonder what the real story of his life is:
does he or does he not have a daughter?; what is the story of the "missing e?"; what does the shot ringing out over the moors mean?; who is this woman who has moved in with him and is telling him what to do?

I had a hard time getting into this book, but once I did, I loved it. When I finished it, I reread the beginning, and found that, despite my difficulties, it was the right way to begin.

My only quibble with the book is that I feel it unrealistically depicted the practice of architecture. My husband is an architect, so I have somewhat of an insider's view, and Jacob's professional experiences did not ring true. However, this fault was easy to overlook.

Highly recommended. 3 1/2 stars

Maio 24, 2009, 5:54 pm

Got you starred! Are you going to the NW Folklife Festival?

Maio 24, 2009, 6:08 pm

44.Prehistoric Art: The Symbolic Journey of Humankind by Randall White (2002) 239 pp

A group of 4 artist friends and I have decided to meet weekly to teach ourselves art history, loosely following Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, but with extensive related readings. Our first 4 meetings have been on paleolithic art, which is covered in Sister Wendy's book in 2 pages as Cave Art.

As this book states in an early chapter, "the study of prehistoric representation has been (and continues to be) a strange and eclectic enterprise. In part because it is international and cross-disciplinary in scope, it is composed, of researchers trained in domains as diverse as the Catholic priesthood, art history, history, anthropology, geology, psychology, and archaeology....In addition, it is a field that has been heavily influenced by the work of passionate amateurs with little or no relevant training. Nonetheless, the major intellectual contexts in which prehistoric representations are discussed are art history, anthroplogical archaeology and the art world."

This book covers the paleolithic period in these contexts (from 300,000 years ago to 20,000 years ago). It has a great selection of illustrations and is beautifully photographed. While the bulk of the book refers to European prehistoric art (primarily because there has been so much more investigation of it), there are chapters on the prehistoric art of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Australia.

In addition to detailed discussion and illustration of the cave paintings, I was also fascinated by the "Venus" figures found at Kosienko and other areas of Eastern Europe. As a textile artist, I was also interested in the discovery of the graves of a man and two children in which 13,000 ivory beads (thought possibly to have been attached to articles of clothing) were arranged around the bodies. Experimentation showed that each of these ivory beads took approximately an hour and a half to create!

Next week we start the mesolithic period, which is still part of Sister Wendy's first two pages.

Highly recommended if this sort of thing interests you.

4 stars

Maio 24, 2009, 6:54 pm

Nice reviews of Pnin and The Wilderness, arubabookwoman. I think I'll read the Harvey this coming week, and Scottsboro this weekend, in anticipation of the announcement of the Orange Prize winner on 3 June.

Editado: Maio 24, 2009, 10:02 pm

#8: do you mean Venus figures like the Venus of Willendorf? I hadn't realised that there were figures plural. Wow - 13,000 hours worth of beads! What a neat project, aruba. Eager to read where it takes you next.

Maio 24, 2009, 10:54 pm

Found your new thread, Aruba, and appreciate your insightful review of The Wilderness which is sitting patiently for me to read. I would like to get to it before the Orange Prize announcement too, but it looks unlikely.

Lucky you, married to an architect. Bet your house is lovely.

Maio 25, 2009, 4:42 am

I am adding Pnin and The Wilderness to the Continent. Thanks for the recommendations, Deborah!

Maio 25, 2009, 10:13 am

Of course we will follow......if you post it, they will will read.

Maio 25, 2009, 3:52 pm

>13 blackdogbooks::
"Is this heaven?"
"No, it's Librarything."

(cue inspirational music)

Maio 25, 2009, 6:33 pm

Interested that you'd recommend Pnin but 'only' give it 3 stars - ratings look so reassuringly statistical but are still a very personal thing, clearly! 3 stars for me means, "good, not amazing, probably won't re-read but don't regret the time spent reading it" and hence 3-star books don't tend to qualify for active 'recommendations'.

I've had Pnin on my list for ages though, to read in the occasional series of 'campus novels', so in this instance, I'll attach greater significance to the "recommendation" portion of your post :)

Maio 26, 2009, 1:03 am

Tiffin--yes--figures like the Venus of Willendorf. The Venus of Willendorf is made of limestone (and has traces that indicate it may have been painted at one time). There are at least a few hundred other "Venus" figures, most of them found on the Russian plains, Ukraine or Eastern Europe. They are carved from ivory or soft stones. Another famous one is just a head called the Dame a la Capuche, which is beautifully carved from a mammoth tusk, with clearly defined facial features and hair. In the picture I saw, it was luminescent.

Kiwi--You know the saying about the shoemaker's kids going without shoes--well our house is just bleh. It's a home though.

Flossie--I guess 3 stars does seem a bit stingy, although a 3 for me means it's a very satisfactory book that I have no hesitation in recommending. I think the reason I did not give it more stars was that I read (actually reread) Pale Fire earlier this year. It has similar themes, characters, setting etc., and was a 5 star book for me. Pnin suffered in comparison to Pale Fire, and is also the weakest of the other Nabokov books I've read (Lolita and Ada).

Thanks to all for visiting.

Maio 26, 2009, 11:30 am

#16: I googled la Dame à la Capuche and she is amazing - I wonder why she doesn't have a mouth when everything else is so detailed? Thanks, aruba.

Maio 29, 2009, 3:51 pm

45. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen (2008) 240 pp

Leo is a psychiatrist who decides that the woman who has come home one evening is not his wife, even though she looks exactly like his wife, speaks exactly like his wife, and knows everything his wife knows. Leo decides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his real wife, with the help of Harvey, one of his psychiatric patients who believes he is a secret agent whose purpose is to control the weather.

While its premise has a great deal of promise, this book does not live up to its potential. The characters are endearing; however, the plot is inconsistent and none of it made any sense internally. It simply did not feel real, and I never found any of the situations in which the characters found themselves particularly humorous.

I don't entirely discount the book. The author's writing style is good, and the book has received decent reviews--the blurb on the back describes the book as the "devinely hilarious, heartbreaking tale of Leo's search for his 'lost' wife funny as any episode of The Simpsons....The prose jumps with one astonishing observation, insight or description after another."

2 1/2 stars

Today is our 38th wedding anniversary. We're celebrating by going out to dinner, and tomorrow picking up two new kittens from the pound. :)

Maio 29, 2009, 4:19 pm

I was interested to read your review of Prehistoric Art because I read a beautiful and fascinating (but not illustrated) book called The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists by Gregory Curtis that was one of my favorite books of last year. This sounds like it has a broader scope and, of course, pictures. I'll look for it.

Also, I share your mixed feelings about Atmospheric Disturbances, which I wanted to like more than I did. I thought Rivka Galchen is very clever, but sometimes her cleverness showed too much and distracted from the characters and the story. On the other hand, I also thought I missed a lot of what she was trying to do.

Maio 29, 2009, 9:07 pm

Congratulations on your 38th wedding anniversary!

Maio 30, 2009, 6:36 am

#19 I've been wanting to read The Cave Painters:Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists for a very long time but had forgotten about it so I've added it to my wish list so I don't forget about it again. Thanks for reminding me.

Maio 30, 2009, 1:34 pm

Congratulations on your anniversary!~! And even bigger congrats on your two new babies!~! Saving lives is what we like to do. Yea!~! I love it. And **later at the litter box***. hehe I always loved getting two at a time because of all the antics. They are just so cute and funny.
You probably have them by now. Perhaps you are a little more computer savy than myself and can post a pic or two for us????

Maio 30, 2009, 7:47 pm

I'm simply stopping by to say hello. You added some very interesting books since I last checked your thread. Regarding message #8, I like the thought of a group of friends getting together to learn about art. Sister Wendy's videos are great.

Maio 30, 2009, 11:28 pm

Today is our 38th wedding anniversary. We're celebrating by going out to dinner, and tomorrow picking up two new kittens from the pound. :)

Awww! Lucky you--on both counts!

Maio 31, 2009, 7:36 am

Add my congratulations as well!

Jun 2, 2009, 4:06 pm

46. Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan (2008) 339 pp

This novel begins and ends with the departure of Chellam, the doomed and disgraced servant girl the wealthy Rajasekharan family of Ipoh, Malyasia had hired the previous year to care for the demanding Paati (grandmother). During the year of Chellam's stay we come to know and care for the family, and its flawed and damaged members.

Central is Aasha, the 6-year old daughter, who, having accepted her mother's rejection and disdain of her, now has to contend with her beloved older sister Uma's withdrawal of her affections and imminent departure for college in the US. Aasha watches and observes her family, with her only companions the ghosts that only she can see and hear. Suresh, Aasha's 11 year old brother, like 11 year old boys the world over, provides comic relief. Then there is Appa, the brilliant Oxford-educated attorney who, to his mother's (Paati's) dismay chose to marry a simple poorly-educated girl, rather than a more modern woman. The years pass, Appa regrets his decision, and is more and more absent from the home. Amma, the mother, has been transformed from a sweet, caring young woman to a social-climbing harridan, with no empathy for plights of her daughters, or for Chellam or Paati.

This beautiful, sad and hopeful book can be characterized by Tolstoy's line that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Samarasan brilliantly tells this family's story against the backdrop of newly-indpendent Malaysia.

Highly recommended
3 1/2 stars

Editado: Jun 2, 2009, 4:27 pm

Thanks, arubabookwoman; this was already on my TBR list, as it was selected for this year's Orange Prize longlist, but I either couldn't find it or didn't remember to look for it. What didn't you like about it (i.e., why "only" 3-1/2 stars)?

(BTW, the Orange Prize for Fiction will be awarded tomorrow, along with the Orange Award for New Writers.)

Jun 2, 2009, 4:44 pm

47. Shyness and Dignity by Dag Solstad (1996, tr. 2006) 150 pp

Elias Rukla has taught Norwegian literature to bored secondary school students for more than 25 years. One day while teaching Ibsen's The Wild Duck (which he recognizes his students are "not in a position to understand...To maintain anything else would be an insult to the old master...."), he experiences an epiphany. Later that day he breaks down into a public fit of rage, and realizes that his life has been irrevocably changed.

Elias Rukla spends the rest of the day wandering the city and reviewing his life in an attempt to understand how he has come to feel so alone and detached. In a moment of humor, he imagines, "turning up for an audition to be selected as a fictional character and being scrutinized by the novelists of the 1920s. He could see how they declined with thanks, one after another, he saw Marcel Proust barely raise an eyelid before casting a brief, meaningful, ironic glance at his colleagues....Only Thomas Mann would take the poor candidate aspiring to be a fictional character seriously. He would have looked at Elias Rukla and asked if he could, in a few words, say why he was of the opinion that precisely his fate was suitable as fictional material, either in the capacity of a central character or a minor figure, for, after all, if one has the ambition to be a central character, one must have a clear understanding that one can also be suitable as a minor character---that is a condition that must be agreed to before any author will take the slightest interest in ones fate, he thought, Thomas Mann would have said to him. And after Elias Rukal had given an account of his life...Thomas Mann would give him a reserved but friendly look and say, Well I can't promise you anything as there is no way I can fit you and your life into my present plans, as far as I can see...but there will be other times after this, and then we can possibly come back to the matter....(This) should be sufficient to keep you from being discouraged and make you continue your life as before, even if you should not be granted the privilege of entering one of my novels, as a character."

Elias is an iconic 20th century character--an alienated, isolated soul, "a socially aware individual who no longer has anything to say," and who doesn't know what to do next.

Highly recommended if you are in the mood for this sort of angst.

3 1/2 stars

Editado: Jun 2, 2009, 5:00 pm

Hi to Rebecca, Carmenere and Whisper--I'm glad you stopped by. Thank you lorrie, nanny, bonnie and alcottacre for the congrats. The kitties are a handful (very sharp claws and baby teeth that they don't quite know how to control of yet). I'll try to put up a picture when I can catch them being still (and my daughter is here to put it up for me).

Kidzdoc--3 1/2 stars for me means a very, very good book, (3 is a good book), and one that I would either recommend or highly recommend. I notice that you generally give higher stars than I do--and I'm guessing that if I were you this would have been a 4 or 4 1/2 star book. I think I only give a newly written book 4 or more stars when I feel like it's a GREAT book, and one that is likely to be around a long while.

Evening is the Whole Day may or may not meet that standard, but it's definitely worth a read. As you know, this rating business is very personal and somewhat inconsistent (at least for me). I rely more on what the description or the review says than the stars when I read other peoples' reviews.

Jun 2, 2009, 5:10 pm

I completely agree with you, arubabookwoman. When I read your review, I thought the same thing, that I would have given it at least 4 stars. However, I wanted to be sure that it wasn't a significantly flawed book, before I go looking for it on Thursday (when I'll visit NYC and will likely buy it from Book Culture or Strand Bookstore). A 3-1/2 star rating for me would correspond to a C+ grade, a book that I would only marginally recommend to the average reader, unless (s)he had a particular interest in the author or the topic.

Jun 3, 2009, 10:30 am

Adding Evening Is the Whole Day to the ever growing pile. ;)

Jun 3, 2009, 12:17 pm

I'm glad you reminded me of your starring system. I tend to think 3 stars = "average" when I read people's reviews even though people say differently in their profile or at the top of their thread.

Jun 6, 2009, 5:55 pm

It's not fair to look just at the books page and decide on a book based on just the stars. The threads I follow here each have their own idiosyncratic ways of using the stars system. For the arubabookwoman here, I have come to learn, 3 1/2 stars is actually pretty good. TadAD and PiyushChourAsia similarly use the stars. I think I am a little different, giving 3 to 3 1/2 for what I think are slightly above average. You have to get to know the reader a bit before you understand their rating system. That's easier to do here on the 75'er page.

Jun 7, 2009, 1:12 pm

I rely more on what the description or the review says than the stars when I read other peoples' reviews.

I do too. Actually, it's usually more what someone says in response to the book, rather than the summary of the book itself, that will make me want to put it on my list.

Jun 8, 2009, 2:27 am

>Me too Bonnie. Does that make us right brained or left brained? Guess it doesn't really matter as long as we get our books, right? But I, too, rely on the feeling a book leaves with a person more that the summary of the book. Generally one can read the summary off the jacket or on, but one doesn't get the gut nor the heart impression that the book leaves with the reader.

Editado: Jun 22, 2009, 6:36 pm

Well I think we all agree the star system is idiosyncratic and that it's good to read what the rater writes about the book. I just looked back over my reading for the year and saw that I only had 2 5 star books--Bleak House and Pale Fire. There were a few I rated 4 or 4 1/2 stars that after further reflection I might reduce the rating (i.e. The Polysyllabic Spree) even though I enjoyed them.

I think I'm blathering on because I've been putting off writing my review of Brain Surgeon, which was the first ER book I have received, and which I really wanted to be able to like but oh well:

48. Brain Surgeon: A Doctor's Inspiring Encounters with Mortality and Miracles by Keith Black (2009) 226 pp.

There is no doubt that Dr. Black is brilliant. He dissected frogs at the age of 7. During his 10th grade summer job in a research lab he did heart transplants on dogs. As a medical student, he made important medical discoveries.

He is now a world-reknowned brain surgeon, specializing in the removal of particularly difficult brain tumors. However, while the book is a compendium of his "encounters with mortality and miracles," I did not find the book particularly inspiring. It reads like a Reader's Digest adaptation of "My Most Memorable Character." There is no music in the prose.

And it may have just been me, but I found the tone of the book incredibly smug. This is not to say that Dr. Black is not justified in being proud of his accomplishments, and I certainly didn't wish any of his patients harm, but didn't he EVER make a wrong decision or a mistake?

His patients are for the most part inspiring, but Dr. Black seems to take at least some of the credit for their spirit and courage. For example, when the brother and family of a recuperating Irish patient who is despondent and despairing of life, are unable to brighten his spirits, Dr. Black saves the day: he tells the patient that he'll go get some whiskey and they'll have a drink together. Then the light came back into his patient's eyes. "Gerard Kelly was back. Behind me I could hear Thomas crying."

ETA Even so, if I had a brain tumor I might want Dr. Black to be the one to operate on me.

2 1/2 stars (Because it is interesting)

I read this book as a companion read to A Journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy, which is the true account of a brain tumor patient. I will review this next.

Jun 22, 2009, 3:37 pm

Oh, yuck! That may have been the perfect thing to say to that patient (sounds terribly stereotypical to me, not to mention blowing him off instead of taking the time to recognize the real feelings that a patient might appropriately have!), but I don't like the sound of Dr. Black or the book. Admittedly, based on one andecdote, but I remember someone else had more positive comments about the book, but there was something in his description of the book that niggled me.

It sounded like the doctor thought that patients who had more (and the right kind of) faith or spirit (along with adoring faith in his abilties?) did better. I'm sure there is some correlation, but it may also go in the other direction. Patients who are doing better have more positive attitudes. Anyway, it bothered me because I know many wonderful, courageous people full of positive spirit, determination, and faith in their doctors who have died (I used to be a part of a cancer support group) while other depressed, whiny, negative, non-trusting patients have lived on. I include myself in the latter group as case in point! ;-)

Jun 27, 2009, 5:53 pm

49. A Journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy (1939) 288 pp

In this book, Karinthy, a Hungarian writer, describes his diagnosis of and surgery to remove a brain tumor. Strangely enough, given the subject matter, it is a delightful read. Karinthy's sparkling personality and self-deprecating humor never desert him. He is a talented writer with an original way of saying things, and he never bores.

Poking a little fun at the world-reknowned surgeon who will operate on him he says, tongue in cheek: "I found it a little humiliating that he was not interested in my own views about my condition. He probably regarded me as a layman who had no opinions on such matters, or perhaps, having heard that I was some kind of poet, he was on his guard against the vagaries of an overheated imagination."

In fact, Karinthy tries to keep his imagination in check: "When I put my questions, I used medical terms....I did not ask her what the cowering, terrified Being that lurked somewhere behind my tumour was so plaintively asking below the threshold of consciousness. I did not ask whether the patient screamed like a wild beast and struggled to escape when they split her skull open, whether her blood and brains came pouring out of the wound or whether at last the victim fainted on the torture rack, gasping for breath, with mouth open and staring eyes. Instead, I questioned her about the operation as if it had been some delicate experiment in physics or a job of repairs by a watchmaker."
(This is about as gorey as the book gets, BTW).

As a writer, he came to realize that, "for the first time in my life, I was to observe not for the sake of recording that personal vision which the artist calls 'truth'...but for the sake of reality, which remains reality even if we have no means of communicating its message. Never had I been so far from a lyrical state of mind as in this, the most subjective phase of my life."

Highly recommended

4 stars

Jun 28, 2009, 12:07 am

I really enjoyed the Karinthy book, too, abw. I was one of the few who also liked Atmospheric Disturbances, possibly because it was so twisted. However, I agree that although her prose style was really excellent, her plot line a bit too distorted/'over-clever' for a really good reader connection.

Several of your other reads are flying onto my TBR pile (although not the Black book 'cos he sounds way too arrogant and it may end up flying again a wall instead).

Jun 28, 2009, 3:36 pm

50. Naoko by Keigo Higashino (2004) 282 pp

Naoko and her young daughter Monami are involved in a horrible bus accident, which kills Naoko. When she awakes from her coma, Monami believes she is Naoko, inhabiting Monami's body. Since she knows things only Naoko could know, Heisuke, her husband/father accepts this apparent impossibility.

The author could have chosen to treat this story as a farce, a la "Freaky Friday." Instead this book thoughtfully explores the meaning of marriage and gender roles. As Monami/Naoko matures, she decides she wants a way of life entirely different from the life Naoko had chosen. Instead of settling for a mediocre education and marriage at an early age, Monami/Naoko wants to excel academically and to go to medical school.

Highly recommended.
3 1/2 stars

Editado: Jun 29, 2009, 11:34 am

51. Nixonland by Rick Perlstein (2008) 881 pp

This book explores the turbulence in America during the 1960's and 1970's, as Richard Nixon reinvented himself politically and became president of the United States. I had difficulty getting into the book, since one is bombarded by facts and events at a furious pace from page 1. The style reminded me a bit of the old Billy Joel song "We Didn't Start the Fire." Once I got into the rhythm of the writing though, I couldn't put the book down.

Perlstein seems to have explored every nook and cranny of this era, and tells us everything that happens. This means that the book can only briefly mention many of the events, people, and places. However, the seminal events--the summer race riots in the cities, the Black Panthers, the 1968 Democratic convention riots, the trial of the Chicago Eight (then Seven), the Vietnam War, Spiro Agnew and the "silent majority" rising against the "nattering nabobs of negativism," the "dirty tricks" and Watergate break-in of the 1972 campaign are covered in depth.

Perlstein writes in an engaging, easy to read, conversational style. I do fear, however, that unless you have at least some familiarity with the people and events of this era (i.e. perhaps by being old enough to have been politically aware during that time), parts of the book may be difficult to follow or meaningless without further background information.

My one criticism of the book, and it is major one, is that it ended abruptly with Nixon's victory in the 1972 election. I cannot imagine why a book whose purpose is to definitively explore the Nixon era would omit the Watergate hearings and Nixon's resignation in disgrace. Maybe a sequel?

Highly recommended if you're interested in the subject.

3 1/2 stars

ETA--And how could I forget the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy as seminal events of the 1960's?

Jun 28, 2009, 5:23 pm

All the President's Men essentially did the same thing, breaking the story up in two books with the first stopping just as things were getting juicy. The second is The Final Days. I highly recommend both. And if you're interested in the subject, I could recommend a list of other interesting ones.

Jun 29, 2009, 9:39 am

Caught up with your last few reviews and have thoroughly enjoyed reading them, Aruba. Appreciated the discussion about stars..."Highly recommended 3 1/2 stars" puzzled me too and I was glad of the ensuing explanation.

Editado: Jun 29, 2009, 9:57 am

>43 tiffin:: I think the whole stars thing is a problem on LT (I hesitate to say mistake)—of course, they didn't ask me for my opinion. :-)

The problem with using such a system is that there are no inherent meanings to the ratings. You read her ratings and they puzzle you; I read them and they make perfect sense (3½ stars is a "recommend" for me). Unless someone provides a key for their ratings somewhere, it means you have to go to their library and review much of it to get a sense of what is going on. I was viewing one library the other day where a book got 4 stars and the comment "wasn't bad"! That made sense once I realized that everything in their 2000 book library had 3½ stars or more, with most in the 4½ to 5 range.

It might have been nicer if LT had used some kind of specific rating, e.g.: "Hated it!", "Loved it!", etc.

Of course, then people would have had a lot less flexibility in designing their own rating schemes and we'd have a completely different set of complaints!


Jun 29, 2009, 10:03 am

I solve the problem by seldom starring anything. ;)

Jun 29, 2009, 6:57 pm

#41 - Thanks for the excellent review on Nixonland. This has been on my wishlist for a while.

As for ratings....
I ignore other peoples ratings. I focus on what is written and gauge my interest on that. In my thread I never use them. However, I do use them when I attach the same review to the book on the LT system. But, that rating is for personal reference only.

Jun 30, 2009, 12:26 pm

Thanks to all for stopping by. The discussion about stars is interesting, and confirms for me that they are next to useless unless you also read the rater's comments, or are pretty familiar with the rater's system. Even familiarity may not work, given vagaries of mood, situation etc. I know that there are some of my ratings that I would have done differently at different times.

BDB--I read All the President's Men but didn't realize there was a sequel. Thanks for mentioning it--I'm going to look for it.

52. The House With the Blind Glass Windows by Herbjorg Wassmo (1981) 223 pp

This book by Herbjorg Wassmo, a Norwegian novelist who won the 1986 Nordic Prize, is on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. It is told from the point of view of Tora, a young girl who feels isolated within her family, and within the poor fishing village where she lives. She senses there is something shameful about her birth. She fears her abusive, alcoholic stepfather. And she yearns for the approval of her mother.

Her mother blames Tora for the circumstances in which the family finds itself: "If only you were able to take care of yourself at night, then I'd still have my job!" Her mother is distant, and try as she might, Tora is unable to win her mother's love: "It often happened that when Tora tried to talk to her mother, Ingrid hung a kind of curtain between them. Tora's words stopped, stuck in the curtain. Never got through."

Tora's inner life is tender and troubling, and Wassmo's creation of her social and physical environment (in the northernmost reaches of Norway) feels true and real.

I'm not sure that this should be a 1001 book, though. I have also read Wassmo's Dina's Book, which has somewhat similar themes, but is much more complex in its characterizations and more expansive in its scope and plot. While I recommend both books, if you are only going to read one, I recommend that you choose Dina's Book.

3 Stars

Jun 30, 2009, 12:33 pm

#44: I think you make valid points, Tad. I prefer the 'Highly Recommended', 'Recommended', and 'Guardedly Recommended' system I use on my thread to anything having to do with stars, although once I read the book, I will go back and add stars to the LT rating because they do not use my system, drat them, lol.

#47: I will look for Dina's Book, Deborah. Thanks for the recommendation. If I cannot find it, I will look for the other.

Jun 30, 2009, 9:41 pm

#43, 47, 48: On the stars. I am one of those people who you'd find only has books in the library with 3 stars and above, save a couple of exceptions. Up until the collections, I wasn't able to rate books which I banned from my library because I didn't like them. So, really anything below a 3 gets tossed out and didn't show up in my library. With the collections, I will have to go back and pick up books I read but don't own anymore to add. Some of those will definitely get below 3 stars. I figure if I finished them, they'll get 2 bones. Anything, I quit on will rate 1 bone or less depending on how far into the book I got.

For me 3 bones is about average, 4 bones is above average, and five bones is a book where I forgot I was reading altogther.

Editado: Jul 1, 2009, 1:22 am


I like tiffin's take on the whole star thingy. I do use it, but I know I am not consistent with the way in which I do use it. My 4 and 5 starred books I think I am consistent with but anything under that; eh.
Also as far as the "collections" thingy goes, (you cannot count my opinion because I haven't tried it) some of my library was "force issued" into the program, but I don't plan to use it at this time. To me, it just seems like something else to take up my time and I would rather be on here or reading.
That's just this girl's opinion.
just sayin'

Jul 1, 2009, 5:10 pm

Well, I put them all in my library--the great, the meh, and the truly awful--because I figure they all affected my reading choices. As an avid movie and theatre buff, reviews have been a part of my life since forever, and when I review, I use my own criteria. When I read reviews, I read a critic's work until I get a sense of the critical style as it relates to my style--and then read the ones where I have the most matches. Some choices I've made on LT reads have been based on negative reviews, but the reviewer explained his or her choice, thus giving me the options based on curiosity.

Okay, that's enough soapbox from me. I still "lurk: through as many posts to see what's being read and how it was received. A rating system doesn't really change that.

Jul 1, 2009, 7:13 pm

I use the star system too, but I guess I should add an explanation at the top of my thread. I tend to rate books based on how they compare to books in the same genre. So, while I may give the Charlaine Harris books 4 stars, I am in no way comparing it to Persuasion, which I think I also gave 4 stars. I figure that I read whatever I am in the mood for - sometimes you want a Jane Austen classic, and sometimes you just want to laugh over Sookie's man-troubles. If the book fulfills whatever reading void I needed filling, then I am going to give it a good rating. Five stars are, of course, reserved for books that I know I will read over and over again.

Jul 7, 2009, 9:18 pm

ABW, thanks for the great reviews and your comments to me on Nixonland over on the Reading Globally thread too. I broke my new book buying ban and ordered it from the Book Depository and it's here - looks fantastic!! I love American politics and history and did a project on Watergate at school (really, I suspect I understood about half of what I wrote...), so hopefully it'll be ok.

BDB I have the final days here - bought it secondhand at a bookfair, but had forgotten about it till your post. Thanks.

The stars discussion is interesting. I go on everyone's comments much more. I do stars, and like Cait I try to fit into the genre, but then I feel all weird about giving The eye of the needle 4 1/2 stars when that's what I gave Acheson by James Chace.... so I ding The Eye of the Needle because it's "only" a thriller, even though it had my heart rate through the roof at the end. Silly. Maybe I'll reinstate its lost star...

Jul 7, 2009, 9:45 pm

It's kind of an apples and oranges thing isn't it? I try not to even think about other books when I rate one because of that. I have found that it's simpler to just rate a book on it's own merit, without the comparisons.
However, having said that, once again what is so great about LT is that we can and do all use it however it benefits each one of us personally.
Thanks Tim and company!~!

Jul 8, 2009, 1:57 am

The stars thing isn't so bad... after reading someone's thread for a bit, I can usually remember if they are a hard grader or not and shift my expectations accordingly. Aruba and Tad are known for being stingy with their marks!

For my own thread, I put a little list in the first post to tell people how I feel each star rating means.

Jul 9, 2009, 5:39 pm

Great comments about the star system. I will say that even though I don't give many 4 1/2 or 5, I also don't give many low marks. I try to choose what I read pretty carefully--interest in the subject matter, interest in the author, reviews, recommendations etc., so I have high expectations of most books I read, and most of the time those expectations are met--these are the 3 star books. Very good books I don't hesitate to recommend. 3 1/2--it's very good with something a little extra in it that touched me. On the other hand, 2 1/2 stars may still be a good book, but it had some flaw that really bothered me.

I am so far behind on reviews so I'll try to do as many now as I can.

Jul 9, 2009, 6:07 pm

53. Iphigenia: The Diary by Teresa de la Parra (1924) 359 pp.

When this book was first published, it "hit patriarchal society like a bomb thrown by a revolutionary," according to its forward. Maria Eugenia has lived most of her life with her father in liberated, Bohemian France. After his death, she must return to Venezuela, where she finds that her uncle has swindled her out of her inheritance, and she must live in seclusion with her grandmother and maiden aunt.

This beautifully written, insightful and amusing novel perfectly captures the voice and inner life of Maria Eugenia, from when she is a self-assured, but naive, teenager until several years later when she must decide whether to bow to the strictures of her grandmother's society. Here, at the beginning of the novel, is Maria Eugenia as she justifies to herself her schemes to escape, at least for short periods of time, the dreariness of her grandmother's house:

"I note that it is truly stupendous how rapidly and deeply this habit of lying has taken root in me....I believe that in life lying plays a rather flexible and conciliatory role worthy of consideration. In contrast, truth, that victorious and shining antipode of the lie, in spite of its great splendour, in spite of its great sometimes rather indiscreet and usually falls upon the person who ennunciates it like a dynamite blast. Unquestionably it is also something of a wet blanket, and I consider it, on occasion, as the mother of pessimism and inaction. While the lie, the humble, denigrated lie, despite its universally wretched reputation, on the contrary often gives wings to the spirit...lifting the soul above the arid wasteland of reality..., and when we live in oppression then it smiles on us sweetly, presenting us with some shiney sparks of independence. Yes the lie stretches a protective wing over the oppressed, it discreetly reconciles despotism with liberty. And, if I were an artist, I would already have symbolized the figure of a snowy white dove, wings stretched in flight as a sign of independence and displaying an olive branch in its beak."

In short, she says of her duplicity: "I was as satisfied as a general must be after having mapped out his battle plan."

While the novel's theme of the social oppression of women could have been handled in a heavy-handed, humorless way, this is a delightful novel.

Highly recommended.
4 stars

Editado: Jul 9, 2009, 8:28 pm

54. City of Refuge by Tom Piazza (2008) 463 pp

I have been waiting for a well-written fictional exploration of the psychic trauma inflicted on New Orleanians by Katrina and its aftermath. Unfortunately, this is not that novel.

City of Refuge follows two New Orleans families before, during and after Katrina. S.J. Williams is widowed, and a neighborhood leader in the 9th Ward. He is responsible for his sister Lucy, an alcoholic, sometimes cocaine addict and her teenage son Wesley, who is flirting with gang membership and a life of crime.

Craig and Alice Donaldson and their two young children are transplanted Northerners. Craig is the editor of an alternative New Orleans music magazine who loves the New Orleans lifestyle--the food, the music, the parades. Alice not so much--she is concerned about schools for the kids and the pervasive violent crime. She is also fed up with packing up and leaving the city every so often during hurricane season to avoid the hurricane that never seems to strike.

The writing is amateurish--particularly during Craig's portion of the story. The author uses long lists in his attempt to convey Craig's love of New Orleans and its magic--long lists of musicians, long lists of clubs, long lists of restaurants. These names will mean nothing to many people, and even if you are familiar with some of them, the lists get boring to read after a while. They certainly don't explain Craig's obsession with New Orleans, an obsession so strong that he seems willing to give up his wife and children to remain in the city.

The Williams family's life in the 9th Ward is somewhat more believable. With their deep roots in New Orleans, their sense of belonging and love of the city, warts and all, is understandable. However, my sense of the Williams family members was that they were merely representative of certain character types, and I never felt the intrinsic truth of their characters or their experiences.

So, I continue to await a successful fictional treatment of Katrina. I know it's coming.

2 stars

Editado: Jul 9, 2009, 8:28 pm

55. Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum (2009) 326 pp

This nonfiction book about New Orleans and Katrina explores the subject through the view points of nine New Orleanians. It depicts their lives from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 through Katrina. Among the individuals with whom we become intimate: a streetcar track repairman, the transvestite owner of a bar and his ex-wife, a former Rex, King of Carnival, the wife of the most well-known Mardi Gras Indian, a cop, the New Orleans coronor, the bandmaster of one of New Orleans public schools famous marching bands, a criminal, a 9th ward woman seeking to better herself. Nine Lives does what City of Refuge did not do: it conveys what life was like in New Orleans pre-Katrina--how unique and varied it was, and why so many people would not live anywhere else in the world. For this it is well-worth the read.

I was particularly taken with some of the events disclosed by Frank Minyard the New Orleans coronor. He details the days of waiting in the makeshift morgue for the bodies of victims to be delivered. First the 82nd airborne volunteered to retrieve the bodies, but was denied authorization to do so by higher-ups. Then the National Guard volunteered. Same thing. Then the Louisiana State Patrol. Same story. When a representative of SCI, the largest funeral home operation in America, showed up, Minyard finally got it: "Let me see if I've got this straight. Dead people rot on the streets of New Orleans for a week and a half so the feds can sign a private contract?" Minyard also refused to let officials take the easy way out and list the cause of death as "drowning," as the deaths were initially classified. "A lot of these people died from heat exhaustion, dehydration, stress, from being without their medications--from neglect basically. They were abandoned out there."

Nine Lives is skillfully written--no long lists here. While, as in the case of Minyard, each of the individuals discusses their Katrina experiences, Katrina and its aftermath is not the focus of this book. It is a deft exploration of why New Orleans matters.

Highly recommended.

4 stars

Editado: Jul 9, 2009, 8:29 pm

56. The Majesty of St. Charles Avenue by Kerri McCaffety (2001) 224 pp

In Nine Lives, William Grace, the former Rex, King of Carnival, referred several times to the St. Charles Avenue mansion in which he lives. The tradition of the Rex krewe is that its parade will stop at the home of every former Rex on the parade route for a toast. Grace's home, which he and his wife shared with his wife's parents (her father had also been King of Carnival), is the only home remaining on St. Charles Avenue housing a former Rex, and so is called "the Rex Mansion."

I purchased this book several years ago on a visit to New Orleans as my "souveneir." I had never read it, and after reading Nine Lives I became curious about the Rex Mansion. This book features the history of the grand homes along St. Charles. It provides an interesting peek into the homes of the New Orleans's aristocracy. The photos are eyecandy, the opulence of the furnishings in some of the homes is humbling. Nevertheless, an interesting read.

3 stars

Editado: Dez 9, 2009, 4:10 pm

ETA I tried to add this in the first message to keep track of my reading for the second half of the year, but it somehow landed here, where I will leave it for want of skill to move it.

48. Brain Surgeon by Keith Black 2 1/2 stars
49. A journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy 4 stars
50. Naoko by Keigo Higashino 3 1/2 stars
51. Nixonland by Rick Perlstein 3 1/2 stars
52. House with the Blind Glass Windows by Herbjorg Wassmo 3 stars

July 2009

53. Iphigenia: The Diary by Teresa de la Parra 4 stars
54. City of Refuge by Tom Piazza 2 stars
55. Nine Lives by Dave Baum 4 stars
56. The Majesty of Saint Charles Avenue by Kerri McCaffety 3 stars
57. Alfred and Guinevere by James Schuyler 3 stars
58. The Unit by Nini Holmqvist 3 stars
59. A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal 4 stars
60. Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon 4 stars
61. No Longer Human by Ozamu Dazai 3 1/2 stars
62. Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya 3 1/2 stars
63. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese 3 stars

August 2009

64. Night Work by Thomas Glavinic 1 1/2 stars
65. Tales of Conjure and the Color Line by Charles Chesnutt 3 1/2 stars
66. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett 3 stars
67. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
68. Happy Days by Laurent Graf
69. The Sea and Poison by Shusako Endo
70. A Carnivore's Inquiry by Sabina Murray

September 2009

71. Little Dorritt by Charles Dickens
72. The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez
73. The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous by Ken Wells
74. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
75. In the Woods by Tana French
76. American Wife by Curtis Sutterfeld

October 2009

77. Diary of a Rapist by Evan Connell
78. Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano
79. Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt by Manfred Lurker
80. In the Kitchen by Monica Ali
81. Molo'kai by Alan Brennert
82. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
83. Inspector Wexford by Ruth Rendell
84. Xingu by Edith Wharton

November 2009

85. Life and Fate by Vasili Grossman
86. Six Days in Marapore by Paul Scott
87. I'm Gone Jean Echenoz
88. Hippolyte's Island by Barbara Hodgson

December 2009

89. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Arnah

Jul 10, 2009, 6:16 am

>59 arubabookwoman: Let me see if I've got this straight. Dead people rot on the streets of New Orleans for a week and a half so the feds can sign a private contract?

God bless America.... this kind of thing was one of the most appalling facts in Kabul in Winter: the bottom line comes before everything else.

Jul 10, 2009, 6:48 am

Sorry to hear that City of Refuge wasn't worth reading, aruba. I'm also waiting for a worthwhile post-Katrina novel. Andrei Codrescu would be my top choice to write that novel, since he is, IMO, an insightful observer into all elements of the city and has been there long enough (20+ years) to write about it. I loved his book New Orleans Mon Amour, which is a collection of his articles in Gambit and other essays.

Have you read The Great Deluge yet? I hope to get to it later this year, it's been on my shelf long enough.

Jul 10, 2009, 9:18 am

> 59 Great review and I'm adding Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans to the wishNotebook. I read The Great Deluge last year and was really pulled into the Katrina story.

Editado: Jul 10, 2009, 9:22 am

#59 - Thanks for the review on Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans, it reminded me that I have a book called The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous: Fighting to Save a Way of Life in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina by Ken Wells, that I've been meaning to read for some time. As I will finish my current read tonight (The State of Jones), I will make "The Good Pirates" my next book.

Jul 15, 2009, 3:26 pm

Kidzdoc and profilerSR--I did also read The Great Deluge, and I thought it was a fabulous, and, at least in terms of what was known at the time it was written, comprehensive book. Kidzdoc--I recommend you read it sooner rather than later, it was that good.

57. Alfred and Guinevere by James Schuyler (1958) 126 pp

This is the story of two young children spending the summer at their grandmother's. Schuyler was a poet, and critics were initially puzzled as to how to classify this book. The New York Times reviewed it as a children's book. The Poetry Magazine review thought it was a further expression of Schuyler's poetry.

The book is written entirely in dialogue or Guinevere's diary. Adults are shadowy nearly absent figures. The children are brilliantly imaginative, and the book is fun to read. Nothing much happens, except the children may have, or may not have, seen a dead black man in the park, and there may have been, or perhaps not, a rift in their parents' marriage.

Overall, I tend to agree with the New York Times's evaluation--it's a children's book--an intelligent children's book, such as Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad series, or books written by William Steig--without the pictures. (Although apparently an early edition of the book was published with pictures). It is a delight to read for adult and child alike.

3 stars

Jul 15, 2009, 3:48 pm

58. The Unit by Nini Holmqvist (2006/2008) 268 pp (Wrong touchstones)

Set in the near future in a society where "dispensables" (women over 50, men over 60, with certain exceptions) are moved to seemingly idyllic communities, where all their needs and wants are taken care of. The catch--they serve in these communities as mere guinea pigs for scientific research and as a source of organs for transplant to persons who have been declared "indispensable."

This book was a quick read. Its focus is on the relationships the dispensables develop among themselves, and how they cope with the knowledge that at any time their bodies or minds could be destroyed by an experiment gone wrong. Or the knowledge that after they've donated a kidney, a cornea, part of their liver, the next donation will be final. The characters are interesting and well-depicted. Almost all of them are artists of some sort--after all, what do artists contribute to society--and childless.

There are inconsistencies in the plot that bothered me. For example, why in an age of overpopulation were the childless almost always punished by being classified as dispensable. And, if the primary purpose of the dispensables is to be organ donors, isn't that purpose defeated by poisoning those organs with drugs, radiation etc. in the inhuman experiments they must participate in?

Nevertheless, I'm a sucker for the near-future, Dystopian future genre and I liked this book. It didn't have that something extra to make it special, but the characters were real individuals coping with unreal situations. I'll use Stasia's phrase: Guardedly recommended. (BTW this was an Early Reviewer book).

3 stars

Jul 15, 2009, 4:01 pm

I owe reviews on Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya and No Longer Human by Dazai Osamu. I'm continuing with the independent art history study my four artist friends and I started in May. We're up to Sumerian art, and I'm reading Art of the First Cities by Joan Aruz, which is an absolutely beautiful book. I'm also reading Cutting for Stone, and having some issues with it, even though so many LT'ers rated it so highly. I decided to join the group read of Pillars of the Earth on the 50 Book Challenge thread. I started it last night and got hooked immediately.

Speaking of art, I'm also taking a class called Stretching for Artists. Our assignment this month was to create something inspired by a 20th century artist with whom you feel an affinity. I'm inspired by Paul Klee, and using the cuneiform symbols I've learned as part of my study of Sumerian art to create a piece called From Then to Now.

Jul 15, 2009, 6:47 pm

I'll be interested to read your thoughts on No Longer Human. I had to read it for a class during my freshman year of college and I mostly just thought it was dreary and frustrating. I remember rooting for the main character to kill himself, which is never a pleasant feeling.

Jul 16, 2009, 7:49 am

> 68 very interesting, ABW. why is it called Stretching for Artists? can you please tell us something more about the piece you are creating?

> 69 i remember feeling exactly the same way about the main character in The Piano Teacher, and i found that quite morbid.

Jul 16, 2009, 10:46 am

ABW, Dave Eggers has a new nonfiction book out, Zeitoun, which is set in post-Katrina New Orleans. It is about a Syrian immigrant to the city who stays in town to protect his property after his family leaves in advance of the storm. After reading the following story that appeared in Salon magazine today, I am tempted to drop everything and pick it up ASAP:

Dave Eggers' heartbreaking work of staggering reality

Jul 20, 2009, 9:42 am

> 71 Thank you for providing us with the link, Darryl. The book does sound great! It really does sound like the "run, walk, or crawl to your nearest bookstore" type book.

Jul 26, 2009, 6:39 pm

Wow Darryl--Zeitoun sounds fantastic, and I'm going to get it as soon as possible to read.

As I get further behind on my reviews I find I remember less about the books, particularly the ones I did not get too excited about, so I'm really going to try to write more contemporaneous reviews.

First though, I'm going to include two early reviewer books I did actual reviews on, since I learned that you need to post your review to the review page to continute to get early reviewer books.

59. A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Child by Thomas Buergenthal (2009), 228 pp

Although originally written in English, this book was published in several other countries before a U.K. or U.S. publisher would issue it in English, the thought being that there are already "enough" Holocaust survivor stories. Buergenthal, a judge on the International Court of Justice at the Hague, feels that to speak in terms of numbers is to dehumanize the victims of the Holocaust and to trivialize the tragedy. Each Holocaust survivor has a story to tell, and each must be heard.

Buergenthal wrote his story more than 50 years after the events he describes occurred. However, he is able to capture his experiences and emotions through the eyes of a child. He was only 4 years old when Hitler invaded Poland, and just 10 when he was rescued, barely alive, from a concentration camp. At each of the camps he passed through, he was usually the youngest prisoner. He had no context in which to place the events he was witnessing--it was the only thing he knew.

His mother attributed his survival to luck, since a fortune-teller told her when he was an infant that he was a "lucky" child. His story, however, shows that his survival was more than a matter of luck: the quick-thinking and wits of his parents, the compassion of strangers, the support of friends all played a part in ensuring that he lived to tell his story.

Highly recommended.
4 stars

Jul 26, 2009, 6:48 pm

60. Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (2009) 320 pp

First sentence: "'We are on our way to the hospital,' Ryan's father says. 'Listen to me, Son: You are not going to bleed to death.'"

We abruptly leave Ryan to be introduced to Lucy, who skips town in the middle of the night a couple of days after her high school graduation with her high school history teacher, as they arrive at the deserted Lighthouse Motel in the middle of the Great Plains.

Cut to Mike, nearing the Arctic Circle on his so-far futile search for his schizophrenic (or not) brother who has been missing for years.

Now--could you stop reading after a beginning like that? I couldn't.

This book is literary fiction, but reads like a psychological thriller. Its characters, broadly varied, are each beautifully and believably depicted. The plot is compelling, the writing style crisp and clear. The novel explores the themes of identity, and what is real and what is imaginary, as its three story lines inexorably converge to an immensely satisfying ending, which made me want to go back to the beginning and start reading the book all over again.

Highly recommended.
4 stars.

Jul 26, 2009, 6:54 pm

Thumbed ya'. Sounds like a fun book to read.

Jul 26, 2009, 6:58 pm

deebee @ 70--I forgot to answer your question above-- Stretching for Artists is a class designed to help artists move beyond their comfort zone, and to grow. Each month, the instructor gives an assignment, usually a theme, for the artist to consider and interpret. We have water colorists, fiber artists, collageists, and beaders and jewelry makers in the class. I work in fiber. For my From Then to Now piece I dye-painted a piece a fabric, and have been hand embroidering cuneiform symbols on it in a composition similar to a Paul Klee composition. There are some open spaces where I will probably do some free-form beading. It's a lot of fun. I forgot that when I say I'm taking a Stretching for Artists class, most people think its some type of exercise or Yoga class :).

wunderkind @ 69 I agree with you about No Longer Human--the main character is despicable, and it's a very bleak book. I gave it 3 1/2 stars though because I think it's a well-written important book, even if I didn't find it a pleasant read. See review below.

Jul 26, 2009, 7:05 pm

#73 I've got 'A Lucky Child' on my tbr list and look forward to reading it. I'm currently reading Castles Burning by Magda Denes, another childhood holocaust survival story. It's been quite difficult to read as she writes from the child's perspective, so everything revolves around her and how she feels and she was quite a precocious forceful child.
Await your reply sounds good too! I have piles of books here awaiting reading, I cringe every time I read a good review.

Jul 26, 2009, 7:08 pm

61. No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai (1958) 177 pp

I'd read good things about Dazai's The Setting Sun, a novel about post-World War II Japan, so when I came across this book, I grabbed it. It is the story of a young man from a well-to-do family who squanders his life, and along the way destroys the lives of those who care for him.

As a child he realized that nothing was going to make him happy. Being loved makes him "uneasy." Although women are attracted to him, he finds it "more complicated, troublesome, and unpleasant to ascertain the feelings by which a woman lives than to plumb the inner thoughts of an earthworm." He is self-aware, however, and thus "disqualifies" himself from being human.

Dazai's writing style is precise, spare and spot-on. I found the book similar in tone to Soseki's Kokoro. The themes and subject matter of the book are not those I ordinarily would embrace. The book, however, is a thoughtful work by an important Japanese writer.

3 1/2 stars

(I'm still going to read The Setting Sun, which I have also picked up.

Jul 26, 2009, 7:28 pm

62. Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya (2004, 2008) 142 pp

The opening phrase of this short novel resonates through-out the book: "I am not complete in the mind...."

These words were spoken by a Cakchiquel man who had witnessed the massacre of his family, and were recorded in the 1,100 pages of testimony the narrator of the novel has been engaged to edit. Beyond concisely conveying the state of mind of one who has watched his children being drawn and quartered, the narrator muses, it also conveys the state of mind of those doing the drawing and quartering. And, the narrator concludes,"Only somebody completely out of his mind would be willing to move to a foreign country whose population was not complete in the mind to perform a task that consisted precisely of copy-editing an extensive report of one thousand one hundred pages that documents hundreds of massacres...."

The report is being compiled by the Catholic church, and the government/military is not entirely pleased. The narrator begins to fear that he is being watched, then begins to fear for his life.

The writing style is unique--with sentences that may run on for pages, and with very few breaks for paragraphs. It is conversational in tone, however, and is not difficult to follow. There are many stunning images. Here, for example, the narrator describes his job and conveys his fears: "what my work was all about {was} cleaning up and giving a manicure to the Catholic hands that were piously getting ready to squeeze the tiger's balls..."


3 1/2 stars

Jul 26, 2009, 11:48 pm

Message #73. This book is one of my top reads for 2009. The elegance was in the matter of fact way in which Thomas Buergenthal portrayed his story.

Thanks for your review.

Message #77. I'll look for your comments when you finish the book. I highly recommend it!

Jul 27, 2009, 1:00 am

You've been doing some good reading, Deborah. Thanks for all the great reviews!

Jul 27, 2009, 1:43 pm

I'm simply stopping by to say congratulations on your hot review listed on today's home page

Jul 27, 2009, 2:43 pm

Wow--I'm amazed. I wrote the review in hopes I'll have a better chance at ER books. Thanks to all who gave me a thumb up.

Jul 27, 2009, 7:42 pm

You are so more than welcome. We only give what is deserved.
Very well done.

Jul 27, 2009, 11:02 pm

I'm adding A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal but it looks like I'm going to have to wait awhile for it to come out in paperback. Darn you all who write such good reviews! ;-)

Jul 28, 2009, 8:46 am

Does your local library have a copy of this book. I cannot say enough great things about it!

Ago 5, 2009, 4:52 am

>74 arubabookwoman: this sounds like a great book! Putting it on the list. Damn.

A Lucky Child (hmm, can't get a touchstone for that for some reason) seems to have been doing the rounds here - I picked up a copy in the Oxford St Borders closing-down sale, but it was a victim of the self-restraint pre-till purge (reducing the stack from 12 books to 6...) and didn't make it on to my shelves. The more of these reviews I read the more I'm regretting it.

Ago 9, 2009, 7:42 pm

63. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009) 534 pp

This book has been highly praised all over LT, and for the first 100 pages or so (the time it took for the twin protagonists to get born), I was concerned that I wasn't going to be able to join the ranks of those who liked the book. It simply seemed inconceivable to me that in a hospital with doctors and nurses all around no one would notice for 9 months that a beautiful young nurse, even though she was a nun, was pregnant. Or that, the nurse would fail to seek help when she went into labor and developed complications. Or that when complications developed, the reknowned surgeon at the hospital would panic and be unable to perform a Ceasarian (even though he loved the nurse).

However, putting all this aside, the book becomes a beautiful story of the lives of the twins and their adoptive parents, both also doctors at the missionary hospital in Ethiopia where the twins were born. It is a book to become engrossed in, to engage with the characters and want to know more about them and their lives. Despite some highly coincidental plot developments (for example the manner in which one of the twins first meets his birth father), there is much to like in this novel. It's a modern-day Dickens novel, where the story is so good and the characters so dear, that you can overlook its faults.

3 stars

Ago 9, 2009, 7:51 pm

#63 sounds very good. Nice review, Deborah! I'm going to give you a thumbs up.

Ago 9, 2009, 8:08 pm

64. Night Work by Thomas Glavinic (2006, 2008) 375 pp

I have a weakness for post-apocalyptic fiction, so I was really looking forward to reading Night Work. One July morning, Jonas, a young Austrian, wakes to find that he is apparently the last living person on Earth. The actions he takes upon this discovery puzzle me. After wandering the city for a while and finding no one, he decides he wants to move back into the apartment he lived in as a child years ago with his parents. To accomplish the move, he chops up the furniture of the current occupants, throws it out the window, and begins to move the furniture from his father's apartment into the old apartment. In between he takes a few short overnight visits to places at which he and his parents had vacationed when he was a child. He leaves notes where ever he goes saying: Jonas was here.

For reasons unknown, he sets up a race course running through the city with strategically placed cameras, and films himself speeding the course in a sports car he has appropriated for that purpose. He suspects that something strange may be going on while he sleeps, so he begins to nightly videotape himself sleeping. He spends the following day watching the video of himself sleeping. When he sees himself occasionally awakening and disappearing from the view of the camera, he suspects this other being, "the Sleeper" will harm him.

Jonas is not a likeable character. He shows no curiosity about what has happened, and he doesn't really try to do anything about the situation in which he finds himself. This book is not about the clever ways in which the hero learns to survive on his own, or seeks the cause of the disaster, or sytematically tries to discover if there are other survivors. If I had to guess, I'd say the author may have been trying to say something about man's essential loneliness, or the search to discover the meaning of life. However, these are matters Jonas does not seem to contemplate. In my view the book fails either as a good old-fashioned adventure story and as thoughtful exploration of what it means to be human. I'd recommend you stay away from this one.

1 1/2 stars

Ago 9, 2009, 8:17 pm

65. Tales of Conjure and the Color Line by Charles Chesnutt (1998) 117 pp

I first became aware of Chesnutt when I read The Marrow of Tradition earlier this year. In these stories, the work for which Chesnutt is perhaps best known, a former slave narrates a series of curious events to the new owners of the former plantation on which they live. The stories usually involve magic worked by the conjure woman, and usually end with an ironic twist, or a lesson learned. While the horrors of slavery are ever-present--much of the conjure magic is undertaken to prevent the slave owners' various acts of cruelty, including separating families by selling its members to different owners--the stories are an engaging read, and often humorous. They are written in heavy dialect, however, and if that bothers you, you might find them tough to read. Recommended.

3 1/2 stars

Ago 10, 2009, 2:16 am

#91: Thanks for the recommendation on Chesnutt. I have come across his name several times in my reading, but had no idea where to start with him and this one looks like a good place. I will probably have trouble with the heavy dialect, but I appreciate the heads up.

Ago 10, 2009, 3:33 am

Nice and meaty reviews!

Ago 10, 2009, 4:39 am

>90 arubabookwoman: oh, I'm sorry this one was a disappointment. It had good reviews over here in the UK, and I've picked up a copy from BookMooch as it sounded like my kind of thing. Guess I'll move it down the stack a bit (or I would do, if doing so wasn't likely to cause a mini-landslide...)

Ago 11, 2009, 10:01 am

I hope I enjoy Cutting For Stone when I get to it.

As for Chesnutt, he's one of my favorite writers. My introduction to him was many moons ago and the book was The Wife of His Youth, a collection of shorts. It's since become one of my all time favorite books.

Ago 20, 2009, 6:44 pm

66. Pillars of the Earth (1989) 991 pp

There have been a lot of reviews of Pillars of the Earth on LT lately, probably because of the excellent group read organized by Mark of the 50 book challenge. (Thanks, Mark).

This huge book is not particularly well-written, and its characters seem to fit more in the 20th century than in the 12th century, when this book is set. The good characters are VERY VERY good, and the evil characters are VERY VERY evil. Every time the good characters seem to be making progress towards their goals, the evil characters come along to ruin things for them, to the point that it begins to seem that the disasters and rampages are repeating themselves. This can be forgiven I suppose, because Follet implied in an interview that he had difficulty in keeping the story going and interesting over the many years it would have taken to build a cathedral.

Nevertheless, Pillars of the Earth is one of those books that, while deeply flawed, you just can't put down. It held my interest for all 990 pages, and so I'm prepared to overlook its faults. It also had a lot of interesting information about cathedrals, the murder of Thomas Beckett, and the civil war--enough to prompt me to look into these matters further. For these reasons, I give the book

3 stars

Ago 20, 2009, 6:56 pm

67. Happy Days by Laurent Graff (2001) 99 pp

This book has been on my "watch for" list for several years, so when I saw it on Bookcloseouts I snapped it up. Its premise is simply: Antoine, a healthy 35 year old man, decides that he has done everything he wants to in his life, and that he will spend the rest of his life in a retirement/nursing home.

The book was disappointing. We are never really given any convincing reasons for Antoine's decision to abandon real life. He is not particularly fond of old people--he calls all the dementia patients in the home "Al", short for Alzheimers, and his attitude to the other residents is mostly condescending and fairly unempathetic.

Then Mireille, a new resident dying of cancer who has only a short time to live, moves in, and Antoine begins to develop a relationship with her. He wants to watch her die. His motivation: he wants "to understand what an individual's life is stripped of all diversions, seen in the light of its denouement."

Mireille recognizes him for what he is, and tells him, "You're a vulture." Nevertheless, Mireille and Antoine come to an agreement: she will let him watch her die if he will help her fulfill her dying wish.

This was a quick, short and unsatisfying read. The writing was competent, but not distinguished, and it didn't resonate with me.

2 1/2 stars

Ago 20, 2009, 6:57 pm

Hmmmm...sort of tempted, but not really.

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Editado: Ago 24, 2009, 4:38 pm

68. The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo (1972) 167 pp

(For some reason, LT decided to post the first couple of words of this review 7 times. Please ignore.)

This book focuses on a group of medical professionals--in particular a nurse and 2 interns--who participated in brutal and murderous experimentation on American prisoners of war during World War II. The life histories of these individuals are presented, and Endo seeks to bring the reader to an understanding (to the extent possible) of the psyches of these individuals, and what in their backgrounds allowed them to cave in to the pressure to participate. We also learn the post-war fate of one of the participants, as he had to live with these crimes on his conscience.

Endo writes in understated declarative prose. The despair of the characters as they are forced to recognize the horror of their crimes is brilliantly portrayed.

Highly recommended
4 stars

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Ago 24, 2009, 4:46 pm

69. A Carnivore's Inquiry by Sabina Murray (2004) 294 pp

This book opens when Katherine, a free-spirited, amoral 23-year old meets a middle-aged author on the subway on the day she has returned from Europe. She entrances him, and moves in with him that same day.

She soon convinces him to rent a cottage in Maine, where she will stay, and he will "visit" her. The plot thickens when dead and mutilated bodies start turning up wherever Katherine goes.

There are major problems with this book. Using Katherine as the first person unreliable narrator does not work at all. It is apparent that the author intended a shocking ending. However, a reader who is not half asleep will know immediately that something is not quite right with Katherine, and will have guessed the ending very near the beginning of the book.

A most unsatisfactory read.

1 1/2 stars

Ago 24, 2009, 5:08 pm

70. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (2009)

While I'm still waiting for a decent novel about Hurricane Katrina (see my notes regarding City of Refuge above), Zeitoun is an outstanding true account of one New Orleans family's Katrina experiences.

Adbulrahman Zeitoun, an emigrant from the Mid-East, and his wife Kathy, a native-born American who has converted to Islam, owned a successful and well-known painting contracting business, as well as several rental properties in New Orleans. As Katrina approaches, Kathy and their children evacuate. Abdulrahman stays behind to protect their business and properties.

He survived the hurricane and there was relatively little damage to their house until the flooding began. He immediately recognized the magnitude of the flooding disaster. Over the next few days he paddled his canoe around the city rescuing people and feeding abandoned pets. He kept in touch with Kathy every day.

Suddenly, the lines of communication between Kathy and him were broken. Abdulrahman seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. Kathy, watching media reports of lawlessness in New Orleans came to believe that her husband had been killed.

Abdulrahman did in fact experience a type of death. Because he was Arab and was "suspiciously" paddling around New Orleans, Homeland Security picked him up as a terrorist. He disappeared into Kafka-like black hole, where he was caged, imprisoned, treated brutally, and allowed no communication with the outside world, not even a phone call.

These two aspects of the book--the utter failure of the government's emergency response to Katrina, and the lawlessness of the government's post- 9/11 treatment of suspected terrorists, mesh surprising well. This is a compelling read--I read it in one sitting. According to Eggers, the story is for the most part told in the almost verbatim words of the Zeitouns and others with knowledge of their experiences.

Highly Recommended
4 1/2 stars

Editado: Ago 24, 2009, 6:56 pm

I'm reading Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens for my RL book club now, In the Kitchen by Monica Ali as my ER book, and A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o just because.

I've also decided to open a new category in Collections of books I've read a fair amount of and abandoned. This month and last month I began and abandoned The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry, The Arboghast Case by Thomas Hettche and Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes. Of these, I do intend to get back to Natasha's Dance someday.

Ago 24, 2009, 5:57 pm

#108 - You're making it very difficult to resist Zeitoun with a fantastic review like this. If it wasn't already on the wish list, it certainly would be now. Thanks for your other Katrina recommendations you made recently on my own humble thread :)

Ago 24, 2009, 6:39 pm

I like your idea of having a collection of the books you stopped reading--for whatever reason. I read a horrid book the other day and decided that I was just wasn't going to read junk anymore. And I'm not going to keep reading books that I'm not enjoying on some level--not even if they're classics and somebody says it's one of the books I need to read before I die. I'm getting too old to waste my time. (I'm really feeling my age with my 60th birthday coming up! Aack!)

Ago 24, 2009, 7:52 pm

WOW! What an incredible review of Zeitoun. As you know, you and I share a quest for knowledge re. Katrina. I highly recommend The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous by Ken Wells. I ordered a copy of City of Refuge from for a very reasonable price. I'm on the waiting list at my local library for Nine Lives:Death and Life in New Orleans. The Great Deluge sits on my bookshelf.

Ago 24, 2009, 8:06 pm

I just got a copy of City of Refuge to review. I'll have to compare notes with you.

Ago 24, 2009, 11:09 pm

#108 / #112 - All this Katrina talk has finally forced me to get off my butt and finally post a review of The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous: Fighting to Save a Way of Life in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina by Ken Wells. Please enjoy :)

Editado: Set 3, 2009, 1:28 am

Bonnie, Berly, Arubabookwoman,and Teelgee:
I no longer work. I do watch my grandsons but if you make the plans I can arrange for my daughter to make other plans for the boys after school that day if it is on a weekday. If on a week end, we rarely have plans that take us off our place. So I am yours whenever, pretty much. I could hook up with you at the junction of I-5 and Hwy 12 that cuts East to Yakima and just ride on down with you if that would be your pleasure. So those of you with commitments, let's work around your plans.
It would be so awesome to hook up with y'all.
Let's do it!~!

Set 3, 2009, 2:12 am

Great review of Zeitoun. Now I may have to rethink my lack of desire to read it. ;)

Set 3, 2009, 11:39 am


How I envy you. You met Stasia, now you will meet some more of my favorites of the 75 challenge group......

Set 3, 2009, 11:43 am

>115 rainpebble:: And here I just did a quick trip out to Seattle. :-(

Set 5, 2009, 3:02 am

I'm thinking about putting The Sea and Poison on my TBR list. Why I'm "thinking" about it has nothing to do with your great review, but the fact that I've been to Camp 731 in China. Did the book mention that place? It was the main facility where the Japanese did their experiments during WWII. I was really disturbed by what I saw there and the recreations and the knowledge that many responsible returned to Japan scot-free. It still gives me the heebie jeebies, so I'm not sure if I'm ready for a fictional account of what happened there. But I did want to mention that I liked your review of it and learning that there are people who are still trying to write about that atrocity.

Set 5, 2009, 2:58 pm

Regarding Pnin, it is a strange anomaly when compared to Nabokov's other books. I think it was originally meant to be a serial, or at least started as a short story in a magazine that he added to.

Apparently, there's a section that wasn't included in the final novel, something about Pnin teaching himself to drive as he's laid-up in traction, which sounds more like a Thurber short story than something Nabokov would have written.

Of all his books, it reads most like a straight ahead humor novel, and it is charming. Pnin is a ridiculously pathetic and sympathetic character... Nabokov really goes all out hitting the buttons with this one.

Set 14, 2009, 1:11 pm

Cauterize--The Sea and Poison does not mention Camp 731 in China. It took place at a university/medical school hospital in Japan. I can't remember the name at the moment, but it may even have been fictional.
The atrocities themselves are described in only a small portion of the book. The book was actually a character study of the participants--how they reached the point that they could accede to participate in such events, and the effects their participation had on their future life.

Gregmills--I agree the Pnin was very funny. My sympathies were certainly with Pnin, unlike the situation with Professor Kincaide in Pale Fire.

Set 14, 2009, 1:38 pm

A few more books to report on:

71. Little Dorritt by Charles Dickens (1857) 844 pp.

I loved Little Dorritt, but then I'm a Dickens fan. I find him incredibly funny, and, at least in Little Dorritt, surprisingly relevant to our time. I know there are many readers who are not fans so I hope to convince a few of you to give him a try.

Nick Hornby has an essay in The Polysyllabic Spree about Dickens and his amazing ability to create and bring to life so many minor characters (estimated to be 13,000 or so over his lifetime). So I thought I'd just parrot what Dickens had to say about a few of the characters in Little Dorrit.

One character appears only in a couple of paragraphs, for an afternoon tea with Arthur Clemans, the hero. Lord Lancaster Stiltstalking is described as a former British diplomat who had managed to "ice" several European courts in his time. He is a "noble refrigerator" who "was in the course of a couple of hours at no time less than a hundred years behind the times, got about 500 years in arrears and delivered solemn polical oracles suited to that period. He finished by freezing a cup of tea, and retiring at the lowest temperature."

Mrs Merdle (whose husband is eerily reminescent of Bernie Madoff) is described as "not young and fresh from the hand of nature, but young and fresh from the hand of her maid." She is described throughout as "the Bosom" because her bosom is a showcase for Mr. Merdle and the jewelers of London.

Ned Sparkle is described as not so much a young man, but "a swelled boy." He had "so few signs of reason that word went around among his friends that his brain had been frozen" at his birth. He is also "monomaniacal in offering marriage to all manner of unsuitable young ladies."

Old Mrs. Gowan--she must have had "something real about her or else she could not have existed--but it was certainly not her hair or her teeth or her figure or her complexion." Her son, Henry Gowan's "genious was of an exclusively agricultural nature--sowing wild oats."

My favorite name for a character is Tite Barnacle, who works for a government agency, The Department of Circumlocution, the purpose of which is to prevent anything from being done ever.

There are many, many more delightful characters, including all the main characters whom I have not even mentioned. This is a great novel.

Highly recommended
5 stars

Editado: Set 14, 2009, 1:53 pm

Hi, Deborah! I'm really glad you offered up some quotes because the other day your enthusiasm got me interested in Little Dorrit while these quotes send me in the opposite direction. Maybe in context, I would laugh, but presented as a group, I find myself disliking Dickens as much as he seems to dislike his characters. I really don't like hearing catty, sarcastic remarks about people in books or real life.

Set 14, 2009, 1:58 pm

When I walked into the library the other day, the display of "paperback picks" had several books that I had heard of on LT, and just had to pick up. One was another Katrina book, recommended by petermc and whisper1:

72. The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous by Ken Wells (2008) 244 pp

St. Bernard Parish, which adjoins Orleans Parish, suffered as much as New Orleans from the flooding caused by the broken levees. It also had to contend with the storm surge from the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (Mr. Go), and the fact that the eye passed near the lower, more rural part of the Parish. As a consequence that part of the Parish suffered from the effects of the actual storm to a much greater degree than did New Orleans.

This book certainly has the most exciting and vivid descriptions of the experience of the storm itself of any of the Katrina books I have read. Most of the book focuses on the people of lower St. Bernard, where many of the residents are shrimpers or other fisherman, and who have lived lives, usually by choice, mostly isolated from the rest of the world. One of the individuals we hear from was swept away by the flood waters, which seemed to rise almost instantaneously, and rode out much of the hurricane hanging on to the upper limbs of a tree as the storm surge rushed forward. Several characters rode out the storm on their shrimp boats. The wife of one of the shrimpers who tried to escape the flood waters with her invalid father in her van was unable to escape because of the rising water. She endured the storm in her car, parked on the top of one of the levees, which fortunately did not break.

The book is not as compelling once the storm and its immediate aftermath are no longer at the forefront. The author returned periodically to followup on some of the victims as they began to rebuild their lives, but it didn't seem like the author's heart was really in this part of the book. Neverthe less I still recommend this book, and I recommend that you read petermc's and whisper's excellent reviews.

3 1/2 stars

Set 14, 2009, 2:04 pm

Hi Bonnie--Sorry I turned you off Dickens. Maybe I should have added that these people were also selfish, self-important, pompous and thoroughly despicable characters, many of whom did very mean things to Little Dorritt and her family. There are many other characters in the book who are as vividly described, but who are "good" people we can tell Dickens likes or admires. I think a lot of people think of Dickens as saccharine, and maybe that's why I picked these somewhat sarcastic quotes.

Set 14, 2009, 2:20 pm

Deborah, I shouldn't be laughing, but...OK, so you're saying it's alright/understandable that Dickens is being sarcastic, because these people are so mean, but it's Dickens who created those selfish, self-important, pompous and thoroughly despicable characters in the first place. This conversation reminds me of why I didn't like Northanger Abbey inspite of loving Pride and Prejudice.

Set 14, 2009, 2:23 pm

I also heard of this on LT, but don't remember where.

73. The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez (2007) 207 pp

This Argentinian novel begins as a noir mystery, as a hysterical woman from the narrator's past, arrives with a tale of the murders of all her family over a 10 year period. The question is whether the man she accuses as the murderer is to be believed and she is mentally ill. This book is written in easy to read prose, but it is not a simple who-done-it. It is a psychological drama, with many literary allusions, and a probing philosophical examination. As the primary suspect says, comparing murder mysteries to Henry James: " shouldn't be concerned by trivia such as murders and marriages. What is it that counts in a crime novel? Definitely not the facts, or the succession of dead bodies. It's what you should read behind them, the conjectures, the possible explanations. And isn't James central theme precisely that: what every character conjectures? The possible reach of every action, the abyss of consequences and bifurcations."

The book ends with an ironic twist.

Highly recommended
3 1/2 stars

Set 16, 2009, 12:19 am

Well, I probably won't be on LT much the next 10 days, and I don't know how much reading I'll get done. We're off to Richmond, VA. and NYC to visit our son and daughter and their spouses. I'm very excited!

Set 16, 2009, 12:27 am

Have a great time!!!!!

Please be sure to tell us about your adventures when you return.

Safe travels to you!

Set 16, 2009, 8:15 am

Looking forward to talking to you when you get back! Have a fantastic trip--I'm thoroughly jealous! :-)

Set 16, 2009, 12:10 pm

Have a great trip! I hope that you make it to one or more of the NYC bookstores (Strand, St. Mark's Bookshop, Book Culture, etc.).

Set 16, 2009, 11:14 pm

Have a wonderful trip, Deborah! Travel safely.

Set 16, 2009, 11:50 pm

Travel safely and go with God.
Enjoy your family and we will be here when you return.

Set 17, 2009, 6:40 am

Have a lovely time :)

Set 18, 2009, 9:53 pm

stopping by to say I'm thinking of you and hoping you are having a lovely time away. And, I want to thank you for your recommendation of Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. I'm reading it now and enjoying it tremendously.

Editado: Set 29, 2009, 7:23 pm

I'm baaaack.

The trip was wonderful--it's always so good to visit adult children and be so proud of them as they step out into this world on their own. And Richmond is a beautiful town--where we mostly just hung out. NYC was a whirlwind--I didn't get to any bookstores, but bought some art books at the museums we visited: the Guggenheim (a special Kadinsky exhibit), the Whitney (a special Georgia O'Keefe exhibit), the Cooper-Hewitt, the Museum of Folk Art (which unfortunately was in the process of installing a new show, so there wasn't much to see), MOMA and 2 days at the Met. I was in 7th heaven.

I did get a little reading done:

74. In the Woods by Tana French (2007) 429 pp

I "stole" this from my daughter's library (she's a reader too). It's been around LT a while, and there have been many reviews. I liked the two detectives, and thought their relationship with each other was well-portrayed and was an important part of the story. I didn't like the fact that a major clue which shows up quite early was missed by the detectives. I'm not that smart and it sure jumped out at me--I was silently screaming 'Follow up! Follow up!', but they didn't hear me. I was also very annoyed that a major plot element was not resolved. Overall, however, it was a good read if you like psychological murder mysteries. I will probably read her next book, The Likeness.

Recommended 3 stars

Set 29, 2009, 7:22 pm

75. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008) 558 pp

I sure many of you have also heard of this book. It's a novelization of the life of Laura Bush (here Alice Blackwell), from childhood to the final days of her husband's (here Charlie Blackwell) presidency.

The plot follows the major outline of the lives of Laura and George Bush, and the author does a good job of making the reader feel--hey, that's probably what happened, or--that's probably how they felt. Alice/Laura is a goody two-shoes children's librarian who is swept off her feet by the spoiled but endearing scion of a wealthy political family. Alice's "perfection" sometimes gets annoying, but I could definitely hear Charlie's words uttered in George Bush's voice.

Most of the book is focused on their lives before Charlie became governor (in this case of the state of Wisconsin). The depiction of daily life in the White House is fascinating. The book ends tragically, as in life, with the country at war, hundreds of thousands of casualties, and Alice/Laura, despite her facade of perfection, dead inside.

Recommended 3 stars

Set 29, 2009, 7:41 pm

76. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (2008) 574 pp

This book is sui generis, and I'm not sure how to categorize it. I'm also not sure I "got it," especially at the end when things got wilder and wilder. However, I don't think I'm going to spend the time to reread it to see if I can better understand it. Even so I recommend this book if you want an original and provoking reading experience.

The unnamed narrator of this book is the life-long friend (or is he?) of Gonzo. After a somewhat idyllic childhood, they go off together to a war in a distant desert land. And they are together when the unthinkable happens: the "go-away" bomb is deployed.

The consequences of the go-away bomb are exponentially more horrifying than the scientists who developed it foresaw. Humans can survive only in small areas protected by "the Pipeline." Gonzo and the narrator work on the dangerous job of maintaining the pipeline that makes human survival possible.

The events leading to the destruction of the world as we know it, and the post-apocalyptic world are stunningly and originally portrayed. The strange and puzzling relationship between the narrator and Gonzo dominates much of the novel, with a huge and unexpected plot development after they have endured the Gone-Away War.

The author (son of novelist John LeCarre) is a wonderful writer, and every page yields a gem of description or insight. While I recommend this book to those to whom this brief outline appeals, for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I didn't fully enjoy this book. I give it somewhere between 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 stars. You decide.

Out 1, 2009, 12:48 pm


I like the sound of The Gone-Away World and so I'll take the risk and try it at some point!

Out 1, 2009, 10:03 pm

Ditto what Jenny said.

Out 2, 2009, 1:28 am

I have nothing to add and am just dropping by to say "Hello" arubawoman!~! I enjoyed your description of your trip. Wow------to see those museums and exhibits!~! I'll bet you love to go visit your children.
I am enjoying catching up on everyone's threads and I will chat with you later when I get all caught up. You take care.

Out 3, 2009, 11:55 pm

Welcome back, Deborah!!

Out 9, 2009, 6:03 am

Welcome back - and well done on the 75! Two books in your recent reading that I really liked. That massive hole in In the Woods REALLY upset me (I think "upset" is the right word). And The Gone-Away World is just insane. Personally, I *did* love it, despite its flaws: about 10 pages in, I thought the hectic style was going to really annoy me, but somehow I got to the end of the book and had totally slipped into the right 'pace' for reading it. I'm really looking forward to his next one.

Out 9, 2009, 10:22 am

Hi Deborah - lovely to hear about your trip. I have never been to NYC - one place I just crave to visit.

Out 10, 2009, 2:52 pm

Flossie--I think I remember your review of The Gone-Away World and that's why I grabbed it at the library when I saw it. As I said above, I thought the writing was brilliant, and the concept was novel. What I didn't like, I guess, was the ninja part, which I didn't really understand. (I also kept visualizing The Pipeline as a supersize stream of shaving cream). Anyway--I'm glad I read it, and will read his next book. Linda and Luna--definitely go for it.

Hi Belva, Stasia and Karen!

I'm off again tomorrow, world traveller that I am (Ha!). I'm going to Texas for the next two weeks or so, the first week to the International Quilt Festival and the second week to visit my mother. I'll actually be staying with my mother both weeks, just won't see her much during the quilt festival week. This year is exciting because two of my "quilt-lady" friends (as my daughter calls us) are coming with me and staying at my mother's house. So in addition to the quilt show stuff, it will be like a teenage slumber party at night--and we've all bought new pj's too.

My mom has a computer that sometimes works, so I might be able to check in. I know I won't be reading much the first week though. Here's what I've read in the brief interval I've been back (I also got to spend another delightful morning/afternoon with bonniebooks at a favorite bookstore gabbing away for hours one day):

77. The Diary of a Rapist by Evan Connell (1966) 252 pp

Connell is the author of a couple of favorite books of mine, Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge, which tell the story of a long-lasting marriage and day-to-day life of a Kansas City couple between the world wars, each book telling one spouse's point of view. These are books in which most of what happens is going on in the minds of the protagonist.

Most (most--not all) of what happens in Diary also takes place in the mind of the protagonist, but oh what a different book. Earl Summerfield is--no other way to put this--a 20-something loser. He's in a dead end job, married to a successful, older woman whom he alternately despises and admires. He begins his diary on January 1, with high hopes for what the new year will bring.

He soon becomes obsessed with news reports of violent crimes, and also starts tracking news about the executions of convicted criminals. As he slowly descends into a state of paranoia, he roams the streets at night, breaking into the homes of strangers for kicks. Then, he begins to stalk a beauty queen.

This novel is not a depiction of violence, but violence is always lurking in the background, waiting to burst onstage. The diary gives us a glimpse into the mind of a man whose sanity is disintegrating. His entries are all over the place--one moment he is dreaming of becoming a big shot, the next he is berating himself for his worthlessness. Earl is not self-aware or reflective, however, and makes no attempt to understand or change the way he acts.

This is not a pleasant book to read, but an interesting one.

3 stars.

Out 10, 2009, 3:02 pm

78. Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano (1996, 2008) 227 pp

Having read 2666 earlier this year, I was looking forward to another great book by Bolano. This was a disappointment. I am not sure what Bolano was attempting to accomplish with this book. It consists of a series of short chapters written in the form and style of encyclopedia entries, each describing the life of a fictional (i.e. non-existent) writer. Clever, perhaps, but that's it.

Other than the final entry there is no plot to speak of, nothing to engage the reader. The last entry which describes the attempt to track down a writer whose method of creating poetry involves real-life murder is somewhat longer than the other entries and resembles a short story. Bolano has even created an appendix, complete with secondary figures, publishing houses and magazines associated with the featured writers, and a bibliography of their books. If you're a fan of encyclopedias, read this.

2 stars.

Out 10, 2009, 3:08 pm

79. Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt by Manfred Lurker (1974) 135

I read this as part of my continuing art history study group. We've made it through pre-historic and Mesopotamian, and are now beginning ancient Egyptian art. This is an illustrated dictionary of the more important gods and symbols prevalent in ancient Egypt. It's a good introduction, and has many appropriate (black and white) illustrations. To reveal my ignorance, I now finally know the difference between Isis and Osiris (previously these were only Mardi Gras krewes to me). And what I thought was Cleopatra's eye is really the eye of Horus. LOL :).

Out 11, 2009, 12:28 am

#145: I may give the Connell book a try. It looks interesting.

#146: Skipping that one. I am still going to try and read 2666, though. I tried Bolano's The Savage Detectives last year and did not get too far, although I am game to give it another shot.

#147: I know the book probably did not cover all the gods of ancient Egypt, since there were around 1000 or so :) Your art history study group sounds interesting.

I hope you have a lovely time while you are down here in Texas!

Out 11, 2009, 1:58 am

Thanks, Deborah, for reminding of the Mr. and Mrs. Bridge books. I had heard of them years ago and wanted to read them, but then forgot the titles before I got a chance to check them out.

Out 12, 2009, 8:20 pm

#136- Glad you had a fun time here in NYC. Thanks for mentioning the O'Keefe exhibit at the Whitney. We went to two O'Keefe exhibits while in New Mexico. My sister was upset that some of her favorite paintings weren't on display. Perhaps they're at the Whitney. I'll have to check that out.
Have fun at the Quilt Festival!

Out 13, 2009, 2:16 am

A quilt festival sounds fun, but not as fun as a sleepover with friends!

An Art History study group would be just my cup of tea! How very fascinating!

Have great fun in Texas!

Out 13, 2009, 3:27 pm

Did you make it to the Shonibare exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum?

Out 15, 2009, 9:23 am

The O'Keefe museum in Santa Fe is kinda stingy about showing her most famous works they have in their collection. they like to give you more of a broader sense of her work. The strategy sometimes sends people away angry. On the other hand, I've been surprised at some of her lesser known work. We are going to go to the museum today because some of the Stieglitz photographs are on display right now. Plus, it's up the road from one of my favorite used bookstores.

Out 15, 2009, 5:23 pm

I did notice that about the O'Keefe Museum. I really liked her leaf paintings -- which I had never seen before. The Stieglitz photographs were very interesting. I had no idea they were so controversial. I hope you're enjoying your day at the museum.

Out 16, 2009, 9:07 am

I've been to exhibits before but am always struck by O'Keefe's diversity. This time, they had several of her New York City scenes on display and they were great. I wish there had been more of the Stieglitz photographs on display.

Out 21, 2009, 8:48 pm

Hi There! I believe you have a birthday next week...Is it Monday?

Out 21, 2009, 10:30 pm

Whisper1, are you saying that it's Deborah's birthday next week?

Out 22, 2009, 9:51 am

bonniebooks, Yes, I believe her birthday is October 26th. Hi Deb!

Nov 2, 2009, 1:07 pm

Thank you all for visiting, and thank you for the birthday wishes. I've been very lax about keeping up my thread lately--probably just the blahs from returning from all my travels, and the grey days that have now descended on Seattle. I hope to get some better reading done in November than I have been doing lately--I'm due for another knock-your-socks off book--it's been a while.

VioletBramble and blackdogbooks--the O'Keefe exhibit was decent, but for a show titled O'Keefe and Abstraction, I thought it concentrated too much on her floral images. I was expecting to see more of her luscious landscapes, stormy skies, city scapes etc.--the things she is not as well-known for, and the things of hers I prefer. What the show did was to show through exhibiting several series of her paintings how she would paint something (a flower) in a somewhat realistic manner, and through a progression of several paintings would abstract the flower, with each successive painting moving further from the original image, although still recognizably related to that first realistic image. This was interesting to me, since I, as a textile artist, and several of my artist friends, also work in series. The exhibit also included a room of Steiglitz's photographs of O'Keefe which were lovely.

Kidzdoc--we didn't get to the Brooklyn Museum, and I'm sorry I missed that exhibit, since his work prominently features textiles. Up until July, my son lived in walking distance to the Brooklyn Museum. They've now moved to Jersey City, where PATH makes NYC very accessible, but Brooklyn is more of an ordeal to get too (although my daughter-in-law still makes the trek to their Brooklyn neighborhood to get her nails done by her trusted pedicurist. LOL). Anyway we were still able to fill our days with museums.

The Quilt Festival was wonderful as usual. I noticed it seemed to be significantly less well-attended than past shows. Maybe it's the economy, or maybe because the show was held a few weeks earlier than its normal time. The Quilt Festival is Houston's largest convention, both in terms of $ spent and number of attendees, so it's very important to Houston's economy.

Nov 2, 2009, 1:22 pm

Wow! The quilt show is their biggest convention?! I didn't know that--amazing! When am I going to get to see the pictures, Deborah? ;-)

Nov 2, 2009, 1:28 pm

I'm just going to do a few brief remarks about the books I've been reading, so I can move on. I will be doing a review of In the Kitchen at some point since it's an ER book, and I've received a second nasty notice asking where the review is.

80. In the Kitchen by Monica Ali

This is the story of the chef at a prestigious London hotel restaurant who seems to have it all--success as a chef, about to open his own restaurant, and a wonderful girlfriend whom he is about to marry. When one of the kitchen employees is found dead in the basement of the kitchen, his life unravels. I learned some interesting cooking tips, but otherwise the book was all over the map: was it a love story? was it a murder mystery? was it an examination of the exploitation of illegal immigrant workers? was it the story of a man's quest to live up to his father's expectations, and ultimate reconciliation with his father? It was an interesting read, but Ali did not seem to have control of her story-lines, and there was a totally unbelievable ending.

81. Molo'kai by Alan Brennert

This is the story of a girl who was ripped from her loving family at age 6 and sent to the leper colony on Molo'kai, where she lived most of the rest of her life. The novel takes place over an extensive time period--from the late 1800's to the late 1900's, and historical events and characters are interwoven into the story of the girl's life. (For example, Father Damian makes an appearance, as does Jack London, who visited the colony, and wrote of it in his South Sea Tales. The book was interesting, and the characters engaging. My only complaint was that it tried to cover so much territory that its plot sometimes suffered a lack of convincing reality.

82. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

This is the delightful story of a woman seeking independence during the first half of the 20th century. Kiwidoc and others have posted excellent reviews praising the book, and, while this is not one of my favorite reads of the year, it is a quick and charming escape read. I've also read The Corner That Held Them by Warner, which is totally different in tone, mood, and subject matter. It tells the story of life in a medieval nunnery during the plague years. Between the two, I liked The Corner That Held Them better
83. Murder Being Once Done by

Nov 2, 2009, 1:33 pm

(LT wouldn't let me write anything more in the above post), so,

83. Murder Being Once Done by Ruth Rendell

This is an Inspector Wexford murder mystery. I love almost everything Ruth Rendell writes, and this was no exception. It kept me guessing til the end.

Nov 2, 2009, 3:36 pm

Welcome back! I'm sorry to learn that you missed the Shonibare exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, too. I imagine that it's no longer there. I'll be going to Jersey City, my original home town, for Thanksgiving later this month, but I probably won't have time to go to the city (NYC) during that brief trip (Thu-Sat), even if it is still there.

Nov 2, 2009, 4:15 pm

Daryll--I think I saw that it closed at the end of September. Since he's based in London, maybe on your next trip to London .....

Nov 2, 2009, 4:22 pm

I'm a fan of Ruth Rendell as well, one of my favourites is A sight for sore eyes. In the kitchen got very mediocre reviews here in New Zealand earlier this year, I haven't read any of her novels but did see the movie adaption of Brick Lane.

Nov 4, 2009, 2:44 am

I have just received Lolly Willowes in and hope to get to it soon, but I am adding The Corner that Held Them to the BlackHole, too.

Welcome back!

Nov 8, 2009, 4:22 pm

No books finished this week, and may not finish any for a while. I'm reading several books at once, which I rarely do, and they are all fairly long. I'm reading Life and Fate by Vasili Grossman for Group Reads--Literature. I'm reading Swann's Way, the first volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time for a year-long non-LT group read which is going very well so far. I've tried to read Proust before, but this time I've been captured. I hope I can stick with it. And I'm reading Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz for my art history group. I'm also reading Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali for Reading Globally. I'm also going to try to get to other Indian authors this month.

My husband has just bought me a Kindle, which should arrive sometime next week. He thinks that I will buy fewer (or at least less expensive) books with a Kindle. Little does he know. Hopefully, this non-technocrat (me) won't have too much difficulty in learning how to use it.

Nov 8, 2009, 5:59 pm

I just got a Kindle this week! Never had an ebook reader of any kind before. I'm putting together a list of pros and cons and was planning on putting a "kindle review" together to post in these challenge threads.

Hope you enjoy it. If you read a lot of classics or books that are in the public domain you can get a lot of free reading material for your Kindle. That's what I'm trying to do.

Nov 8, 2009, 6:42 pm

Very jealous of the kindles! They don't work here. Well, I think I'm jealous... am keen to see what you think.

ABW you're reading some great books! I've eyed Life and Fate on here but until I get past page 250 of W&P I'm not picking up any more Russians. (books...;) )

Nov 9, 2009, 12:10 am

#167: Wow, Deborah! Talk about a full plate!

I hope you got an updated copy of the Mertz book. She revised it a couple of years ago - the original was published in 1978 and some of the material is out of date.

I am looking forward to your reviews of all your current reads. I have never attempted Proust and am in awe of anyone who has.

Nov 9, 2009, 10:47 pm

I would like to TRY Proust. I have Swann's Way now, so maybe I will give it a try soon. I've heard wonderful things and not-so-wonderful things about Proust, so I'm curious to see where my opinion will fall.

Nov 15, 2009, 10:00 am

The exhibit you describe of O'Keefe sounds like the same one I visited in Santa Fe. Yes? If so, hope you enjoyed you visit to our sunny state. And, hope you found Nicholas Potter's bookstore just up the road from the museum. One of my favorite in the region.

It seems I am to visit your rainy state. Business in Seattle and I leave tomorrow. Forecast says cloudy and rainy all week.

Nov 15, 2009, 2:54 pm

That is pretty much our forecast weekly 365!~!
But in the foothills (NOT the Seattle area), we have been having snowfall (not sticking yet) all week.

Nov 15, 2009, 3:02 pm

Hello abw;
you have been running and gunning all summer and fall.
I finished People of the Book for that group read and really enjoyed it and all of the comments and the discussion. I, too, am reading Life and Fate along with War and Peace for group reads; am less than 300 pages into each. The former reads very quickly while the latter; not so much. But I like and am appreciating both of them. Am also filling in with Elizabeth von Arnims for "Author of the Month" reads. Had some books on India and authors of India set aside for the "Reading Globally" group but knew I was going to have to give up something so put them away.
It was good to catch up on your thread finally. I am just kind of working my way through.
Take care and I will talk with you soon.

Nov 24, 2009, 2:19 pm

Hello to all, and thanks for stopping by.

I'm still reading all the books I listed above, but the end is in sight. Hopefully I will finish at least 2 of them by the end of the month. Belva--I'm enjoying your comments on Life and Fate, which I love, on other threads.

bdb--Unfortunately, I wasn't in your lovely city of Santa Fe (though I hope to visit again someday). I saw the O'Keefe exhibit in NYC, but it must have been traveling from Santa Fe. Hope you enjoyed your time in (rainy) Seattle. It's still raining, by the way, in case you're back down south now. I hope your plane ride wasn't too bumpy in the wind storms we had either.

ammsw--Your review of the Kindle was excellent, and I agree with everything you said, of the things I've figured out about it so far. The book I describe below is the first book I've read on my Kindle, and I think the Kindle is a useful tool in a reader's arsenal. Did you know it has a feature that you can make it read the book to you? This probably wouldn't be your first choice since it is done by one of those computer programs that changes text to speech, but the small sample I listened to wasn't that bad.

I am loving Proust, though it is hard to get into, and I can only read 20-30 pages at a time. Here's Nabokov on Proust: " A tendency to fill in and stretch a sentence to its utmost breadth and length, to cram into the stocking of the sentence a miraculous number of clauses, parenthetic phrases, subordinate clauses. Indeed, in verbal generosity, he is a veritable Santa."

I've ordered from Amazon a book called Paintings in Proust which collects all the paintings Proust refers to in describing people or landscapes in the book. Apparently some of the paintings are quite obscure, and I think it will be interesting to see how Proust visualized his characters. I've just read a passage by him describing Odette as looking like Zipporah in a painting by Botticelli. I hope the book arrives soon.

Cushla--I'm waiting to see the books you decide to bring to Switzerland. Life and Fate is definitely worth it. BTW my sister lived in Basel for about 7 years and loved it.

Nov 24, 2009, 2:31 pm

84. Xingu by Edith Wharton (1916)

As noted above, this is the first book I read on Kindle, and I read it for my alphabet challenge for a book title beginning with--guess what--X.

The book is Wharton's gently satirical look at the ladies of a "Luncheon Club" in a provincial town as they prepare for and endure a visit from a famous author to one of their meetings. The book is light-hearted and amusing. Wharton's descriptions are very entertaining. For example:

"Her mind was a hotel where facts came and went like transient lodgers, without leaving their forwarding addresses...."

"It's in shocking taste to wear...last year's dress when there are reports that one's husband is on the wrong side of the market."

"It was as though her countenance has so long been set in an expression of unchallenged superiority that her muscles were stiffened, and refused to obey her orders."

(Can you tell I like the highlight/bookmark feature of Kindle?)

This is very short read, and recommended.

Nov 24, 2009, 3:10 pm

I'd probably go crazy with that highlight/bookmark feature (my textbooks had pretty much every line highlighted by the time I was through with them) but it would sure be nice to have. I'm j-e-a-l-o-u-s!

Editado: Nov 25, 2009, 11:37 am

Thanks for the compliments on my Kindle review! I just got an email today saying there's a free software update for the Kindle to enable it to read PDF's!!! YAY! That's a huge deal to me, as many ebooks come in PDF's. More free reading material...
Oh, and they've also extended the battery life with the software update. Now, with the wireless on, the battery will last a week.

I laughed at your Proust quote - verbal generosity of Santa - LOL! I still haven't tried Proust, but it's on my TBR...

Nov 28, 2009, 12:45 am

#176: I love the Wharton quotes! Thanks for sharing those, Deborah - the first one sounds like me, lol.

Nov 30, 2009, 7:00 pm

You were exactly right about Life and Fate. It is nothing like War and Peace and I got so into it that I left all else by the wayside and finished it a week or so ago. What a novel!~! I am so glad I read it and wanted to thank you for the encouragement.
So now I am back into War and Peace at page 598 and the scenes are wartime rather than the society scenes and I am liking it a lot now that it is moving along faster.
I feel like I've read nothing for so long because I have been reading these tomes. Vanity Fair was right in the midst, so at one point I was reading all three of those. And I've not been doing reviews; just tracking my reads. But that's enough for now, I guess.
will, catch you later. (the Wharton sounds good)

Dez 5, 2009, 7:38 pm

I got stuck a little while and didn't know what to do about reading because as I approached the end of Life and Fate, I lost it (the book, I mean). A hundred or so pages from the end, the book simply disappeared. I decided to wait for it to turn up and deferred starting something new. I finally decided I could delay no more, and started reading some other books. I'm going to count Life and Fate for now, and, maybe, return with a few more thoughts on it when the book turns up.

Dez 5, 2009, 7:53 pm

85. Life and Fate by Vasili Grossman

I've read about 7/8 of this book, enough to know that it's a 5 star book for me. It's the story of the Siege of Stalingrad, told on a grand scale, but focusing on the members of one large extended family. The fictional characters mingle with the historic.

What was of interest to me about the book was how closely it parallelled the circumstances described in the nonfiction The Whisperers by Orlando Figes, another 5 star book I read earlier this year. The scenes of familly gatherings where people were uncertain as to whether to toast to Stalin's portrait first or to the family honoree; the fear that certain academic or scientific theories or pursuits will fall afoul of Stalinist dogma; the presence of a "political officer" with all military units, even small enclaves cut off behind the front lines; the descriptions as to how food rations were distributed, with the largest amounts going to those who are most politically correct---all rang true.

This book is long, and there are dozens of important characters, which may make it difficult to get into or to keep track of who is who at first. (It was for me). But it is very rewarding, and highly recommended.

Dez 5, 2009, 8:08 pm

86. Six Days in Marapore by Paul Scott (1953) (284 pp)

Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet is on my list of desert island books. I thought I had read everything he had written, so when I saw this book, I grabbed it. It's been sitting on my shelves for a while, not because I wasn't expecting great things from it, but because I wanted to anticipate it for a whiloe,and then to savor it. I should have just left it on the shelf to be anticipated--like til after I died.

The book is charactered by all the stereotypes of colonial literature: the dilettante maharajah, the fat, drunken, sweaty British police official, the wise retired missionary/teacher, the dissatisfied memsahib, the despised and despairing young Anglo-Indian woman. Take these stereotypes and place them into a tritely unbelievable melodrama, written in school-boyish prose, and you get the gobbledygook that is Six Days In Marapore.

I never thought I'd say this about one of Paul Scott's books, but don't read this one.

1 1/2 stars

Dez 5, 2009, 8:18 pm

Making a note to look out for Life and Fate and to detour around Six Days in Marapore. I will eventually read his Raj Quartet - I have an omnibus edition here gathering dust.

Editado: Dez 6, 2009, 8:08 pm

87. Hippolyte's Island by Barbara Hodgson (2001) 282 pp

Hippolyte's Island more than makes up for Six Days in Marapore. It's a delightful, entertaining book, and I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner (it's one of the books I've had on my shelves for more than 5 years).

Hippolyte is an eccentric 30-something. He's the kind of guy who forgets to pay his phone bill, and when his phone service is cut off, adopts as "his" a nearby phone booth, from which he conducts all his business and personal affairs.

While perusing his collection of maps and globes, Hippolyte notices a group of islands in the south Atlantic that appear on some maps and not on others. He furiously begins to research this anomaly, and finds that there had been some dispute between various 16th and 17th century explorers as to the existence and location of the islands. Hippolyte feels he must solve this mystery. Overlooking the fact that he has never sailed in his life, he decides to locate the islands and prove their existence.

He takes a beginning sailing class, in which to the consternation of the instructor he insists on being taught to navigate with an ancient sextant he has devised from descriptions he found in his research, and heads for the Falkland Islands, the starting point for his search.

Before leaving, Hippolyte was able to arrange with a publisher a book deal for a book he intended to write about his quest. After his return from his adventures, Hippolyte must contend with a down-to-earth, no-nonsense editor, who does not believe a word of Hippolyte's written adventures, despite the fact that he has deposited boxes of sea shells, seaweed and other flora and fauna in her office.

In addition to being a very good read, the book is also a very beautiful book. Interspersed between chapters are reproductions of ancient maps, photos of birds and penguins that might have inhabited the islands, and Hippolyte's "field notes" and log book.

Highly recommended. (It's fiction, by the way, not a true-life adventure).

4 stars

eta "does not believe" I can't believe I said "does believe" I hope anyone who already read this knew what I meant.

Dez 5, 2009, 8:41 pm

88. I'm Gone by Jean Echenoz (1999, 2001) 195 pp

This novel, which won the Goncourt Prize in France, begins simply, as Felix, a Parisian art dealer, leaves his wife for a succession of girl friends. His divorce is not going well, and his gallery is faltering when he learns from his assistant of the location of a treasure trove of antique ethnic art of the North American Arctic peoples. Fortunately for Felix, his assistant dies, and after a quick trip to the Arctic to retreive the collection, he is reveling in the fact that he will soon be a multi-millionaire without having to share the proceeds with the assistant. Unfortunately for Felix, the collection is stolen before Felix can insure or sell it.

There follow alternating chapters, each focusing on either Felix or the thief, told by an omniscient narrator who is very opinionated and makes lots of humorous comments, as Felix tries to deal with his failing gallery and impending divorce, and the thief tries to evade detection.

This is a very witty book. Highly recommended.

3 1/2 stars

Dez 5, 2009, 8:50 pm

I am continuing the group read of Proust. I splurged and bought Paintings in Proust by Eric Karpeles. I don't know if I mentioned it before, so sorry if I'm repeating myself, but the Paintings by Proust book is an invaluable resource. It is so much fun to read Proust describing Odette as looking like one of the characters in a particular painting, and then seeing a reproduction of the painting itself. The author tracked down and the book reproduces all the paintings, some of which are pretty obscure, referred to by Proust in his seven volume work.

I'm also a few hundred pages into Les Miserables, which I also love. I read it in high school, and am so glad to read it again.

I've neglected my Egyptian art read Red Land, Black Land, and I need to get back into that, even though we've moved onto Aegean art.

Dez 5, 2009, 8:58 pm

Wow, lots of good stuff here! One of my work partners lent me Hippolyte's Island, so I'll read that soon. Jean Echenoz has become one of my favorite writers, so I'll add I'm Gone to my wish list. Life and Fate sounds interesting, too.

Dez 5, 2009, 9:28 pm

Thanks for saving me from Six Days in Marapore. I also loved The Raj Quartet and assumed the man could do no wrong!

Life and Fate definitely on the wishlist--growing up in the Cold War years, we did not learn much about the horrors of war in Russia/Soviet Union. It was not until I actually visited what was still the Soviet Union that I realized what happened there. Thanks for the review.

Dez 6, 2009, 1:41 am

I already had Life and Fate in the BlackHole, but am also adding Hippolyte's Island and I'm Gone as well. Thanks for the recommendations, Deborah!

Dez 6, 2009, 1:01 pm

So disappointing about Six Days in Marapore. The Raj Quartet is sheer genius, I could reread Raj instead of pursuing the Six Days book. Sounds like a plan!

Dez 6, 2009, 3:31 pm

>186 arubabookwoman:: How did you find out about that book, Deborah? It sounds good, although it would take a lot of good writing to get me to feel sympathetic towards the art dealer given what you've described. Is that intentional by the author? Are you meant to hate the guy at first?

Dez 6, 2009, 5:54 pm

Hippolyte's Island sounds great fun! Where did you hear about it?

Dez 6, 2009, 10:59 pm

Ditto >189 LisaCurcio:, 191 I'll be sticking to the Raj Quartet for now! :)

Dez 9, 2009, 2:10 pm

Hello to all who visited.

Bonnie--there was another book by Echenoz that I've had on my list for a long time (can't remember the title), but couldn't find, so I picked I'm Gone up instead. The guy wasn't particularly sympathetic, but he wasn't particularly slimey either--he just seemed liked a lot of guys you see in French movies. LOL. I think he was more unsympathetic for his shady art dealings, than for his womanizing, which was only a small part of the story. In fact, I think it could have been left out all together.

Flossie--I don't remember where I heard about Hippolyte's Island. I bought it more than 5 years ago, and it may have been just because it sounded interesting, and it's a "pretty" book (and it was cheap). I've had a lot of comments on other threads from people about how much they loved Hippolyte's Island, so it isn't just me who found it entrancing.

Dez 9, 2009, 2:31 pm

89. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah

Ghana was the first African colonial country to become independent (in 1957), and its first leader was Nkrumah. Nkrumah was at first a very idealist leader, and inspirational to independence efforts in other African countries. By the mid-60's, however, he and his government had become bloated and corrupt. Shortly thereafter, a military coup (probably aided by the US) deposed him (while he was en route to a meeting with Communist Chinese leaders).

This short novel is set in the few days immediately before and during that coup, and follows the life of an unnamed ordinary man. He is ordinary, but also extraordinary, in that he refuses to submit to corruption. As a railway clerk, he refuses bribes, although he and his children on occasion go hungry. His wife and her mother cannot understand why he can't be like everyone else, particularly a friend of theirs who has a big car, a big house, servants, a boat, etc., all on the backs of the people.

The strength of this book is its vivid description of the stench and stink of everyday life for most people in Ghana at that time. Alongside the honest man, you smell the stench, and feel the sweat trickling down your back to the crease in your butt. You see the mother who sucks the mucus from her baby's nostrils to help him breathe. and you don't want to touch the hand rails of any stairway, or most especially to use a bathroom (or latrine, which is all that is available to most people).

This is not a pleasant book to read, but it is an essential one. Highly recommended.

4 stars.

Editado: Dez 9, 2009, 2:56 pm

By the way, Branford Marsalis made both a song and a cd of the same title, spelled the same way in the 90's. The song's an interesting mash of several different jazz types. I think (but can't confirm) that he's referring to this book.

Dez 9, 2009, 3:07 pm

Ewww! If it weren't you recommending this book, Deborah, I'm not sure I would even put it on my wish list. You may still need to twist my arm the next time I see you if you want me to actually read it. ;-)

Dez 9, 2009, 4:04 pm

Bonnie--Just because I like you, I won't make you read it. LOL.

Drneutron--Thanks for the information. I'm not particularly a jazz fan, but I am going to try to track that down for a listen.

Dez 9, 2009, 4:06 pm

eta--Bonnie--I was assuming you were referring to The Beautyful Ones, not I'm Gone.

Dez 9, 2009, 8:04 pm

I'm definitely adding The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born to my wish list.

Thanks, doc! I thought that title was familiar.

Dez 10, 2009, 1:39 am

I am adding The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born to the BlackHole. Thanks for the recommendation, Deborah!

Dez 20, 2009, 7:24 pm

A few new books read:

90. Counter-Clock World by Philip K. Dick (1967) 235 pp

I'm an on-again, off-again sci-fi reader, but I don't think I've ever read anything by Philip K. Dick, who I know is one of the icons of the 20th century in this genre. The premise of this book sounded interesting: time has begun to run backwards, to rewind itself. Thus, people are born when dead people emerge from the grave. They grow through middle-age and childhood and are ultimately absorbed back into their mothers' wombs.

Unfortunately, the book's premise is all it has going for it; it is otherwise gimmicky and dated. After reading the first five or six descriptions of a character smoking a cigarette by picking up a butt and lighting it until it turned back into a full cigarette, and then returning the cigarette to the package, I'm thinking "Enough already!" (Or maybe that was after the second time). And there are several descriptions, (thankfully not graphic) of "victual momentum" whereby food returns from the body to the plate, to be repackaged and returned to the store. (The taste is enjoyed as it is disgorged. This is, however, an act people usually perform in private).

The plot is meaningless: bad guys chasing good guys and vice versa; good guys rescuing damsels from the bad guys; femme fatales enticing the good guys for the bad guys. People falling in love 5 minutes after they meet.

Read the book as a curiosity if you like. Otherwise leave it alone.

1 1/2 stars

P.S. I will still try another Philip K. Dick book and not judge him by this.

Dez 20, 2009, 7:40 pm

91. Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1895) 236 pp

This late 19th century novel, which is on the 1001 list, has been compared to Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. In 1919, Thomas Mann called it one of the 6 most significant novels ever written. (I wonder what the other 5 were). I wouldn't go that far, but it is a book I can recommend.

Effi is a delightful, naive 16 year old when her parents marry her off to a man more than twice her age. (In fact, the man had once courted Effi's mother). They move to a bleak coastal town where her husband is a high government official. There, the social conventions and moral restraints of late 19th century society begin to weigh on Effi. She has a brief adulterous affair which is so subtly and ambiguously described we are not even sure it occurred.

There are no romantic lovers here, no evil, overbearing husbands, no conniving women. No character is glorified, no one is vilified. The characters are mostly good people caught within the strict mores of their time, and seemingly unable to act of their own free will, with tragic results.

This book is not plot driven, and is slow, but slow in a good way. Highly recommended for those who like classics.

4 stars

Dez 20, 2009, 7:47 pm

92. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

I can't presume to review Swann's Way, volume one in Proust's massive In Search of Lost Time. I have tried several times to read this in the past, and failed. This time I am hooked, and I am hoping to read the remaining 6 volumes over 2010.

The best I can do is to quote Nabokov on Proust's style:

"A tendency to fill in and stretch a sentence to its utmost breadth and
length, to cram into the stocking of the sentence a miraculous number of clauses, parenthetic phrases, subordinate clauses. Indeed in verbal generosity he is a veritable Santa."

Very appropriate to the Season, no? And Happy Christmas to all.

Dez 20, 2009, 8:18 pm

Some interesting reading lately. So glad that you are succeeding with Proust this time round. I hope to try Philip K. Dick this coming year, it will be a first time for me as well.

Dez 20, 2009, 9:04 pm

Hey, Deborah! That Nabokov quote is quite snarky, but I can't help but laugh. By the way, I'm finally in permanent possession of Wild Swans and looking forward to finishing it over the New Year.

Dez 21, 2009, 1:25 am

#203: I think I can safely skip that one - especially since just the description of the eating thing made me nauseous.

#204: I do like classics, so Effi Briest is going into the BlackHole.

#205: I feel too illiterate to read Proust yet.

Dez 24, 2009, 12:08 pm

On P.K.Dick, may I recommend finding a collection of his shorter stories. I have one that I really enjoyed. It allows you to skip over the ones that you don't connect with, which were very few in my case. It'll give you a broad range of his style. It will also show you just how many of his stories have been made into movies over the years.

Dez 24, 2009, 7:06 pm

Hello! I'm dropping by to wish you a happy holiday and to say how much I've enjoyed your posts in 2009. I look forward to learning about your reading interests in 2010.

Dez 25, 2009, 12:11 am

Have a great Christmas Day, Deborah! See you in the New Year, friend! :-)

Dez 25, 2009, 12:56 am

Merry Christmas, Deborah!

Dez 27, 2009, 6:00 pm

bdb--I will definitely give Philip Dick's short stories a try.

A few more books before the end of the year.

93. Minoan and Mycenaean Art by Reynold Higgins (1997) 216 pp

I read this for my art history study group. We are going to start on Greek art next. This was the only book on Minoan and Mycenaean art I could find in the library. It has excellent illustrations. It is not particularly well-written, however, i.e. dry and boring.

Dez 27, 2009, 6:10 pm

94. Under Observation by Amalie Skram

Amalie Skram was a Norwegian writer working in the late 1800's, early 1900's. This book, which combines two of her novels into one volume, relates the story of an artist who, suffering from artist's block and inability to sleep, voluntarily agrees to a short stay in a sanatorium for a rest. Once she is there, however, the doctor and the institution deem her insane, and refuse to authorize her release. Her husband goes along with what the doctor says.

These novels are based on Skram's real life experience. When Skram finally obtained her real life release, she wrote the novels to expose the doctors who wrongfully detained her and many other helpless women she met in the mental institution while she was there, and whose stories she also tells.

3 stars

Dez 27, 2009, 6:22 pm

95. The Trial of Robert Mugabe by Chielo Zona Eze (2009) 158 pp

This novel depicts an imaginary confrontation before God between Robert Mugabe and his victims, some real, some fictional. Perhaps having just read The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born has prejudiced my evaluation of this book, but I was not as emotionally involved with this book as I was with The Beautyful Ones. The present novel is cast in the form of a trial at which witnesses give testimony. To a certain extent the witnesses seem detached from the events that occurred to them, and this also distances us from the characters. The accounts they relate are also somewhat abbreviated, and are often interrupted by Mugabe's sputtered excuses.

Having read the book, however, I was moved to read some more about the history of Zimbabwe and Mugabe's rule (he is still in power). I will also seek to read the writings of Yvonne Vera, an African writer who appears in the novel as a witness at Mugabe's trial--characters from her books are also witnesses against Mugabe.

3 stars

Dez 27, 2009, 6:33 pm

96. Genesis (wrong touchstone) by Eduardo Galeanos (1982, 1985) 282 pp

Genesis is the first volume of Eduardo Galeanos' Memories of Fire trilogy. The author describes this trilogy as an attempt to "rescue the kidnapped memory of all America." In the first volume he begins with pre-Columbian times and brings us through 1700.

The book is written as a series of vignettes based on historical documents as European explorers invaded the New World. We experience the destruction of Tenoctitlan through the eyes of both Cortes and Moctezuma. We read letters from crew members on Columbus's voyages describing rapes of young Indian girls. We follow the explorers from Michigan, through the Caribbean and Central America to the tip of South America. Fact and brilliant imagination combine to make this one of the most fascinating books I've read. I will definitely read the next two volumes, and I highly recommend that you put this book on your "must read" list.

5 stars.

Dez 27, 2009, 6:48 pm

97. The Shark Net by Robert Drewe (2000) 358 pp

This engrossing coming of age memoir is set in exotic (to me) Perth, self-billed as the world's most isolated city. For once we don't have an abusive, dysfunctional family. The most suffering his parents inflict on our boy is to change the tv channel when they think too much cleavage is being shown, or to make him wear nerdy shoes. Neverthless, the pains and travails of growing up are wonderfully depicted, and Perth and its beaches and environs are gloriously described.

The story of a serial killer stalking the suburbs during this time is seamlessly woven into the story of Drewe's youth: "The murders and their aftermath have both intrigued me and weighed heavily on me for three decades. To try to make sense of this time and place, and of my own childhood and adolescence, I had finally to write about it."

Drewe has written a number of novels and short story collections. This book won several Australian literary awards. Recommended.

4 stars

Dez 28, 2009, 1:45 am

#215: Deborah, regarding Mugabe, you might try Christina Lamb's House of Stone, in which he figures although somewhat tangentially. It is more a book on Zimbabwe.

#217: I will add that one to the BlackHole. Thanks for the recommendation.

Dez 28, 2009, 3:41 am

#216 - I have a copy of Genesis - Eduardo Galeano but haven't cracked it open, I'll have to now, you've made it sound fascinating. I read his Open Veins of Latin America years ago when I studied Spanish.

I'll have to look out for The Shark Net as well.

Dez 31, 2009, 2:07 pm

Peace, love and good will all coming your way from me abw. I wish you & yours the best in 2010.
big new year hug,

Dez 31, 2009, 4:00 pm

Thank you Belva.

And peace in the New Year to all who visit here (and all who don't).

Dez 31, 2009, 4:11 pm

This will be my last entry here for my 2009 books. I'm proud of myself for putting in writing my reactions to each of the books I read. I'm also proud of myself for expanding my reading horizons, and hope to continue to read more world literature and classics in the coming year. And I am so pleased to have met and become friends with so many kindred spirits. I feel I have gotten to know so many wonderful people this year; I love the camaraderie, the banter, and especially the book talk and recommendations. I hope this will continue in the new year. You all are the best!!

I managed to get to 100 with my final 3 reads:

98. Tzili by (Aharon Appelfeld)--This is the story of a young Jewish girl who survives the Holocaust by hiding in the woods during World War II. This was an interesting novel, but I never became fully engaged, and there are other books dealing with this subject matter which are much better.

99. Requiem (wrong touchstone) by Shizuko Go--The friendship of two teenage Japanese girls develops over the last year of World War II, as they undergo the horrors of war, both physical and mental. This is a very effective anti-war novel, and I recommend it highly.

Dez 31, 2009, 4:18 pm

100. The Fortune of the Rougons by Emile Zola--This is the first novel in Zola's 20 novel Rougon-Macquart series, which I have resolved to read. Some of the more famous novels in the series (which I have read out of order) are Germinal, La Terre, Nana,The Debacle.

In the first novel, many of the characters who appear in the later novels are introduced. I can see, however, why this is not one of the more frequently read of the novels. It reads more like a summary of things to come, and does not have the depth or focus of the other Zola novels I've read. Unless you want to say you've read the entire series, you can skip this one.

Dez 31, 2009, 6:35 pm

Deborah, yours is one of the threads I visit often. You read such incredibly interesting books.

I send all good wishes for a bright, Happy New Year!

And, congratulations on reading 100 books!

Jan 1, 2010, 3:44 am

Many congratulations on your 100! It's been great to follow your reading in 2009.

Jan 1, 2010, 3:45 am

Happy New Year, Deborah!

Jan 1, 2010, 5:41 am

Congratulations on reaching 100, Deborah! Will you read more Zola next year?

Jan 1, 2010, 5:18 pm

Thank you all.

Daryl, I will be reading more Zola. I have the second in the series, The Kill (wrong touchstone) and hope to read it in January or February. Very interesting to compare Zola to Proust--very, very different styles. I seem to be on a French literature kick, what with Proust, Zola and Les Miserables.

See you all on my 2010 thread.

Jan 3, 2010, 2:13 am

Yeah, Deborah! See you soon! :-)

Jan 5, 2010, 12:19 am

Congrats on reading 100 books! You always read such a wide variety of interesting things.