Friday, May 30, 2008

Born On A Blue Day

Born On A Blue Day by Daniel Tammet was originally published in 2006. My hardcover copy is 226 pages. Rating: 3.5

From Publishers Weekly at Amazon

This unique first-person account offers a window into the mind of a high-functioning, 27-year-old British autistic savant with Asperger's syndrome. Tammet's ability to think abstractly, deviate from routine, and empathize, interact and communicate with others is impaired, yet he's capable of incredible feats of memorization and mental calculation. Besides being able to effortlessly multiply and divide huge sums in his head with the speed and accuracy of a computer, Tammet, the subject of the 2005 documentary Brainman, learned Icelandic in a single week and recited the number pi up to the 22,514th digit, breaking the European record. He also experiences synesthesia, an unusual neurological syndrome that enables him to experience numbers and words as "shapes, colors, textures and motions." Tammet traces his life from a frustrating, withdrawn childhood and adolescence to his adult achievements, which include teaching in Lithuania, achieving financial independence with an educational Web site and sustaining a long-term romantic relationship. As one of only about 50 people living today with synesthesia and autism, Tammet's condition is intriguing to researchers; his ability to express himself clearly and with a surprisingly engaging tone (given his symptoms) makes for an account that will intrigue others as well. Copyright © Reed Business Information

"I have a rare condition known as savant syndrome, little known before its portrayal by actor Dustin Hoffman in....Rain Man.... I have an almost obsessive need for order and routine which affects virtually every aspect of my life." pg. 1

"Numbers are my friends and they are always around me. Each one is unique and has its own personality." pg. 2

"Scientists call my visual, emotional experience of numbers synesthesia, a rare neurological mixing of senses, which most commonly results in the ability to see alphabetical letters and/or numbers in color. Mine is an unusual and complex type, through which I see numbers as shapes, colors, textures, and motions." pg. 2

"I never write anything down when I'm calculating, because I've always been able to do the sums in my head, and it's much easier for me to visualize the answer using my synesthetic shapes than to try to follow the 'carry the one' techniques taught in the textbooks we were given at school." pg. 4

"People with Asperger's often have good language skills and are able to lead relatively normal lives. Many have above average IQs and excel in areas that involve logical or visual thinking.." pg. 6

"Single-mindedness is a defining characteristic, as is a strong drive to analyze detail and identify rules and patterns in systems. Specialized skills involving memory, numbers, and mathematics are common." pg. 7

"I find it almost impossible to 'read between the lines.' " pg. 76

Pg.'s 176-177, two sentences that help people memorize some of the digits of pi (3.14159265358979...):

"How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics."

"Sir, I send a rhyme excelling
In sacred truth and rigid spelling
Numerical sprites elucidate
For me the lexicon's dull weight
If nature gain
Not you complain,
Tho' Dr. Johnson fulminate."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

People of the Book

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks was originally published January 1, 2008 and is 372 pages. This is not a mystery per se, but it does take literary license to flesh out a historical mystery: how the Sarajevo Haggadah managed to survive during all the centuries of turmoil that has beset the Jewish people. Reviewing it as a mystery would be to do great disservice to the People of the Book. What Brooks does is alternate chapters set in the present (1996;2002) with chapters set in 1940 Sarajevo, 1894 Vienna, 1609 Venice, 1492 Tarragona, and 1480 Seville. The story is really the history and journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah and how it managed to survive all those centuries

I will have to agree with other reviewers in one minor point: I could have done with less of the story of Hanna. I would have enjoyed it more, I think, if Hanna stayed a minor character who simply found the clues - an insect wing, wine stain, salt crystals, and a white hair - during the present day documentation of the condition of the Haggadah that compelled her to try and unravel the mystery of where the Haggadah was and how it managed to survive. The clues that were then explained in the alternate chapters were the real treasures in this book. Rating: 4 Review:
One of the earliest Jewish religious volumes to be illuminated with images, the Sarajevo Haggadah survived centuries of purges and wars thanks to people of all faiths who risked their lives to safeguard it. Geraldine Brooks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, has turned the intriguing but sparely detailed history of this precious volume into an emotionally rich, thrilling fictionalization that retraces its turbulent journey. In the hands of Hanna Heath, an impassioned rare-book expert restoring the manuscript in 1996 Sarajevo, it yields clues to its guardians and whereabouts: an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals, and a white hair. While readers experience crucial moments in the book's history through a series of fascinating, fleshed-out short stories, Hanna pursues its secrets scientifically, and finds that some interests will still risk everything in the name of protecting this treasure. A complex love story, thrilling mystery, vivid history lesson, and celebration of the enduring power of ideas, People of the Book will surely be hailed as one of the best of 2008. --Mari Malcolm


"I might as well say, right from the jump: it wasn't my usual kind of job." pg. 1

"....I agreed to take this job. To be honest, it never occurred to me to not take it. You don't say no to the chance to work on one of the rarest and most mysterious volumes in the world." pg. 8

"For a start, most books like this, rich in such expensive pigments, had been made for palaces or cathedrals. But a haggadah is used only at home. The word is from the Hebrew root hgd, "to tell," and it comes from the biblical command that instructs parents to tell their children the story of the Exodus." pg. 19

"I hate driving in Boston, It's the traffic that drives me spare, and the absolutely terrible manners of the motorists. Other New Englanders refer to Massachusetts drivers as 'Massholes.' " pg. 134

"Even after thirty years in the city, he still loved the light and the air of Venice, its mingled scents of brine and moss, mold and moist plaster." pg. 149

"Think about it. You've got a society where people tolerate difference, like Spain in the Convivencia, and everything's humming along: creative, prosperous. Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize 'the other' - it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society. Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists...same old, same old. It seems to me the book, at this point, bears witness to all that." pg. 195

"The art world in England is an absolute magnet for the second sons of threadbare lords or women named Annabelle Something-hyphen-Something who dress in black leggings and burnt orange cashmeres and smell faintly of wet Labrador." pg. 262

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Holidays on Ice

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris was originally published in 1997. My hardcover copy is 137 pages. Most of the stories in this short collection have been included in other books by Sedaris. In certain stories, I find Sedaris' humor wildly hilarious and I picked up Holidays on Ice specifically for the SantaLand Diaries, but I enjoyed this whole collection.


"Situated in Raleigh's first shopping center, her cafeteria was a clubhouse for local senior citizens who might spend an entire afternoon huddled over a single serving of rice pudding." pg. 73

"In an effort to save money, my family had decided to try something new and draw names. This cruel lottery left my fate in the hands of Lisa, whose idea of a decent gift was a six-pack of batteries or a scented candle in the shape of a toadstool." pg. 78

"The only bright spot in the evening was the presence of Kevin 'Tubby' Matchwell, the eleven-year-old porker who tackled the role of Santa with a beguiling authenticity. The false beard tended to muffle his speech, but they could hear his chafing thighs all the way to the North Pole." pg. 97

"For those of you who don't know me, my name is Jim Timothy and, as you've probably gathered by my full set of God-given teeth, I'm not from around these parts." pg. 103-104

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Way the Crow Flies

The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald was originally published in 2003. My hardcover copy is 722 pages. After reading MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees and not enjoying it at all, I waited a long time before I picked up The Way the Crow Flies, despite the fact that it was receiving many strong recommendations. I must say that The Way the Crow Flies was a significantly better book. However, even though I'm going to highly recommend it, I am not going to be reading any more of MacDonald's books.

The Way the Crow Flies opens as the McCarthys, a Canadian Airforce family, are moving from Germany to their new home base in Ontario. The McCarthy family includes: Jack, an air force officer; Mimi, his Arcadian wife; and their children, Mike, twelve; and Madeleine, eight. As the family settles into their new home on the base, the secrets that Jack and Madeleine must keep hidden begin. Juxtaposed with what is perceived as a time of innocence, we know right at the beginning of the novel that there is going to be a murder. But this is much more than a murder mystery novel. It is a novel about the secrets that are being hidden and how one lie can lead to another.

MacDonald does set the tone for the times and her references through the first two thirds of the novel do reflect the early sixties. She is also quite a skilled writer. I was totally engrossed in the story and couldn't believe this was the same author who wrote Fall on Your Knees. The characters, their actions, their secrets, and their dilemmas were all encompassing. I stayed up way-too-late gulping down page after page when the secrets were concealed, the lies or half truths began, the murder happened, and the trial began. It was truly almost a flawless novel and worth a rating of 5, at least it was until around page 525. This is when the story jumps years in to the future.

The last third of the novel meanders about and loses it's intensity and focus. In many ways ending after the trial or coming up with some short conclusion that has no answers would have been a better ending than the one MacDonald gives the reader. It was hard to perceive it as the same book. With the first two thirds so adeptly written, the last third didn't even feel like it was written by the same author who penned the first part. The final conclusion did tie things up and gave us an ending, but it left me feeling like MacDonald could have gotten us to the same twist at the end much sooner and with a more dramatic effect if she had edited down the last 200 pages to 25 pages.

All of this leaves me with a dilemma. The first 520 pages of The Way the Crow Flies was right up there as one of the best novels I've read this year. The last 200 pages were so bad in comparison that they would have sent me packing if I didn't have a commitment to get to the end of the book. I'm rating The Way the Crow Flies a 4, but I'm done reading MacDonald.

"It is possible, in 1962, for a drive to be the highlight of a family week." pg. 3

"If your father is in the airforce, people ask you where you are from and it's difficult to answer. The answer becomes longer the older you get, because you move every few years." pg. 11

"You know, Peter Sellers had the right idea. We ought to declare war on the Americans. They'll come in and hammer us, then give us a whole bunch of aid and we'll be better off than ever." pg. 90

" 'I'm dying for a fag,' says Auriel, and Lisa Riddelle pulls out a pack of Popeye candy cigarettes. The three of them light up and inhale gratefully." pg. 101

"There is nothing so persuasive to deep recall as the hum of the slide projector in the dark. The audible fuzz that follows each colour slide as it sh-clinks into view." pg. 111

"Impressive, but not surprising in an American service wife. Their ability to march in and out on a dime and a blaze of home-baked, fully accessorized glory is legendary." pg. 151

"If you believe hard enough, is it possible to enter the world of a book?" pg. 219

"The way her parents behave whenever they do some crazy thing like this compounds her mortification and completes her happiness." pg. 271

"But he has no patience with young people who take their freedom for granted, whining about 'American imperialism.' Where do they think their 'free this' and 'free that' come from? We like to blame the Americans, but we like to spend the dividends too." pg. 521

"We all need to look under the rock from time to time. We are all afraid of the dark, and drawn to it too, because we know that we left something there, something just behind us. We can feel it now and then, but fear to turn lest we catch sight of what we long to see." pg. 543

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Terror

The Terror by Dan Simmons was originally published in 2007. My hardcover copy is 769 pages. This is not a history lesson or even a historical novel; it is a fictional novel loosely based on a few historical facts mixed with horror elements. While there are many historical facts and details woven into the story, it is basically a novel that combines mythology and gothic horror with historical facts. Based on the details Simmons has included in The Terror, it really needs it's own classification as a "historical horror novel." It is also a real chunkster, but the story is compelling enough that you will find yourself reading it quickly. A case could be made that portions of The Terror could have easily been edited out without causing the whole scope of the story to suffer. (There are some gratuitous sex scenes that don't really push the story forward and seem to be there simply for the titillation value.) While the ending is satisfying on some level, it's also feels a bit forced and contrived. All in all, I highly recommend The Terror. This could be a great summer vacation book. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
The men aboard the HMS Terror have every expectation of triumph. As part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage, they are as scientifically supported as enterprise as has ever set forth. As they enter a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, though, they are stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. Endlessly cold, with diminishing rations, 126 men fight to survive with poisonous food, a dwindling supply of coal, and ships buckling in the grip of crushing ice. But their real enemy is far more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror constantly clawing to get in.

When the expedition's leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. With them travels an Inuit woman who cannot speak and who may be the key to survival - or the harbinger of their deaths. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear that there is no escape.

The Terror swells with the heart-stopping suspense and heroic adventure that have won Dan Simmons praise as "a writer who not only makes big promises but keeps them" (Seattle Post-Intelligence). With a haunting and constantly surprising story based on actual historical events, The Terror is a novel that will chill you to your core.
First two sentences "Captain Crozier comes up on deck to find his ship under attack by celestial ghosts. Above him - above Terror - shimmering folds of light lunge but then quickly withdraw like the colorful arms of aggressive but ultimately uncertain spectres." pg. 1

"To go out on the frozen sea in the dark now with that...thing...waiting in the jumble of pressure ridges and tall sastrugi was certain death." pg. 6

"In this cold, teeth can shatter after two or three hours - actually explode - sending shrapnel of bone and enamel flying inside the cavern of one's clenched jaws." pg. 8-9

"While it remained a Mystery how the consumption or pneumonia or a combination of the two had been able to kill the able bodied seaman so quickly, it was at least obvious that we had nothing to fear from some Plaguelike Disease." pg. 68

"[B]ut he knew something that the men did not; namely that the Devil trying to kill them up here in the Devil's Kingdom was not just the white-furred thing killing and eating them one by one, but everything here - the unrelenting cold, the squeezing ice, the electrical storms, the uncanny lack of seals and whales and birds and walruses and land animals, the endless encroachment of the pack ice, the bergs that plowed their way through the solid white sea not even leaving a single ship's length lee of open water behind them, the sudden white-earthquake up-=eruption of pressure ridges, the dancing stars, the shoddily tinned cans of food now turned to poison, the summers that did not come, the leads that did not open - everything." pg. 189

"Death by starvation is a terrible thing, Goodsir, continued Stanley. Trust me. I've seen it in London and I've seen it with shipwreck. Death by scurvy is worse. It would be better if the Thing took us all tonight." pg. 236

"Maybe reading is a sort of curse is all I mean, concluded Fowler. Maybe it's better for a man to stay inside his own mind." pg. 340

"The problem with a student-teacher relationship was, he realized not for the first time, that it never changes while everything around it does." pg. 369

"Crozier....had seen this phenomenon many times before - false things in the sky....[I]n the spring of 1847, Crozier had come on deck to find black spheres floating in the southern sky." pg. 434

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Apex Hides the Hurt

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead was originally published in 2006. My hardcover copy has 212 pages. I really enjoyed this quirky little novel. Wonder Boy was assigned it in one of his college classes so I decided to read it before he sold it back to the book store. In many ways, I'm surprised at how much I appreciated this sharp, witty story. On the one hand it's a relatively simple plot about a nomenclature consultant who is called in to rename a town. But that simplifies the story too much because there are other less obvious themes involving duty, names, image, hidden hurt, identity, and marketing. There were some nice subtle surprises waiting at the end of the book. Whitehead is a very good writer and has a definite gift with words. I highly recommend Apex Hides the Hurt. Rating: 4.5

(*Note: I had originally given Apex Hides the Hurt a 4, but months later I'm still thinking about it, so I've upped it to a 4.5.)

Synopsis from Barnes and Noble:
The town of Winthrop has decided it needs a new name. The resident software millionaire wants to call it New Prospera; the mayor wants to return to the original choice of the founding black settlers; and the town’s aristocracy sees no reason to change the name at all. What they need, they realize, is a nomenclature consultant. And, it turns out, the consultant needs them. But in a culture overwhelmed by marketing, the name is everything and our hero’s efforts may result in not just a new name for the town but a new and subtler truth about it as well.

"A good name did not dry up and get old. It waited for its intended." pg. 4

"Roger Tipple did not have a weak chin so much as a very aggressive neck" pg. 5

"All the grass in the park was impossibly level. For community service drunk drivers probably knelt with scissors." pg. 9

"He took him for the brand of retiree who becomes a night watchman of the afternoon, patrolling the grounds, scribbling down license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles." pg. 10

"Writing your town's local history was the librarian version of climbing Everest, he figured." pg. 12

"He had found, in his life, that it was always a good policy to flee when white people felt compelled to inform you about their black friend, or black acquaintance, or black person they saw on the street that morning." pg. 80-81

Friday, May 16, 2008


Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is an enjoyable story that flows smoothly and kept my attention. I wouldn't say Gaiman exhibits the best writing ability under the sun in Neverwhere, but he is certainly able to move a story along. This isn't great literature, but it is a perfect novel to read for sheer entertaining escapism. As described on the back cover: "Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart - and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a young girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed - a dark subculture flourishing in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city - a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known..." Neverwhere was originally published in 1997. My paperback copy is 370 pages. I recommend it with a rating of 3.5


"You've a good heart....Sometimes that's enough to see you safe wherever you go....But mostly, it's not." pg. 4

"Can I ask a question?" said Richard.
"Certainly not....You don't ask any questions. You don't get any answers. You don't stray from the path. You don't even think about what's happening to you right now. got it?" pg. 47

"Whatever madness was happening that day was really happening. It was no joke, no trick or prank." pg. 61

"...Richard began to understand darkness: darkness as something solid and real, so much more than a simple absence of light. He felt it touch his skin, questing, moving, exploring: gliding through his mind. It slipped into his lung, behind his eyes, into his mouth..." pg. 102-103

"What a refreshing mind you have, young man....There really is nothing quite like total ignorance, is there?" pg. 143

Mr. Vandemar showed them his teeth, demonstrating his sunny and delightful disposition. It was unquestionably the most horrible thing that Richard had ever seen." pg. 176

"With cities, as with people...the condition of the bowels is all-important." pg. 259

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Amsterdam by Ian McEwan was originally published in 1998. My paperback copy is 193 pages long. Amsterdam won the Booker Prize for 1998. I enjoyed this little book very much. While not like Atonement, it is a well written tale. McEwan is in complete control of the streamlined plot and the story. It is both amusing and thought provoking. It is in equal parts comedy and tragedy. I highly recommend Amsterdam. Rating: 4

Synopsis from back cover:

On a chilly February day, two old friends meet in the throng outside a crematorium to pay their last respects to Molly Lane. Both Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday had been Molly's lovers in the days before they reached their current eminence: Clive is Britain's most successful modern composer; Vernon is editor of the newspaper The Judge. Gorgeous, feisty Molly had other lovers, too, notably Julian Garmony, Foreign Secretary, a notorious right-winger tipped to be the next prime minister. In the days that follow Molly's funeral, Clive and Vernon will make a pact with consequences neither has foreseen. Each will make a disastrous moral decision, their friendship will be tested to its limits, and Julian Garmony will be fighting for his political life. A sharp contemporary morality tale, cleverly disguised as a comic novel, Amsterdam is "as sheerly enjoyable a book as one is likely to pick up this year."

"As they strolled up and down, the two old friends resumed the conversation that had had in various forms a half-dozen times before but that gave them rather more comfort than signing 'Pilgrim'." pg. 4

"It had been awhile since he had met a politician close up, and what he had forgotten was the eye movements, the restless patrol for new listeners or defectors, or the proximity of some figure of higher status, or some other main chance that might slip by." pg. 15

"Understanding a line of melody was a complex mental act, but it was one that even an infant could perform; we were born into an inheritance, we were Homo musicus; defining beauty in music must therefore entail a definition of human nature, which brought us back to the humanities and communicativeness..." pg. 25

"Vernon sensed that the younger man had followed him in to talk, for a lifetime's experiences had taught him that a male journalist did not urinate easily, or by preference, in the presence of his editor." pg.. 41-42

"It was also useful to remember that his fortune, his publishing "empire," was rooted in an energetic exploitation of the weak-headed: hidden numerical codes in the Bible foretold the future, the Incas hailed from outer space, the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, the Second Coming, the Seventh Seal, Hitler was alive and well in Peru." pg. 56

"He wanted the anonymity of the city again, and the confinement of his studio, and - he had been thinking about this scrupulously - surely it was excitement that made him feel this way, not shame." pg. 97

"In a language as idiomatically stressed as English, opportunities for misreadings are bound to arise. By a mere backward movement of stress, a verb can become a noun, an act a thing." pg. 161

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Gathering

The Gathering by Anne Enright was originally published in 2007 and is the recipient of the Man Booker prize for 2007. My paperback copy has 261 pages. Where to begin... self-indulgent, disappointing, overwrought, and, well, annoying. Sorry, I enjoy reading about dysfunctional families as much as the next person but this wasn't worth my time. Prize winner or not, I can't recommend The Gathering. It's receiving a so-so rating of 2 simply because Enright can write and it seems the reviews are either like or dislike.

Synopsis from back cover:
A dazzling writer of international stature, Anne Enright is one of Ireland’s most singular voices. Now she delivers The Gathering, a moving, evocative portrait of a large Irish family haunted by the past. The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, who drowned in the sea. His sister, Veronica, collects the body and keeps the dead man company, guarding the secret she shares with him—something that happened in their grandmother’s house in the winter of 1968. As Enright traces the line of betrayal and redemption through three generations, she shows how memories warp and secrets fester. As in all of Enright's work, her distinctive intelligence twists the world a fraction and gives it back to us in a new and unforgettable light.

"I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother's house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure it really did happen. I need to bear witness to an uncertain event." pg. 1

"There is always one child who is able, not just to look, but also to see. The quiet one." pg. 4

"There is nothing as tentative as an old woman's touch; as loving or as horrible." pg. 17

"She did not realize that every choice is fatal. For a woman like Ada, every choice is an error, as soon as it is made." pg. 110

Monday, May 12, 2008

Auntie Mame

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis was originally published in 1955. My paperback copy was a 2001 re-release including an introduction by Paul Rudnick and Afterword by Michael Tanner and has 299 pages. This is the book the 1958 movie Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell was based on, as well as the play. It's a given that if you liked the movie, you'll enjoy the book. This is an easy, light read - perfect for a summer book.


"He said that my Auntie Mame was a very peculiar woman and that to be left in her hands was a fate that he wouldn't wish on a dog, but that beggars can't be choosers and Auntie Mame was my only living relative." pg. 3

"Morning, I soon discovered, was one o'clock for Auntie Mame. Early Morning was eleven, and the Middle of the Night was nine." pg. 18

"Come back here, you damned little hellion, I'm going to get you into St. Boniface and turn you into a decent, God-fearing Christian if I have to break every bone in your body" pg. 37

"He sprang from a fine, impoverished old Georgia family, but he was unique among general's descendants in that he didn't mope around Dixie talking about the carefree days before those damnyankees ravished its land and its women." pg. 64

"Why, Patrick, did you think for an instant that I, who've hammed my way through three Papal Audiences and a Court of St. James's presentation, wouldn't be able to conduct myself?" pg. 190

"And just to prove that Auntie Mame hadn't grown too realistic, one package [sent to Patrick during W.W.II] containing specially bottled strawberries bore these instructions" 'Marinate in champagne and thinly sliced limes in refrigerator. Delicious with pheasant.' " pg. 221

And finally, from the Afterword by Michael Tanner:

"I recently saw an outdoor screening of the Rosalind Russell film on a beautiful summer evening in Bryant Park. On the blanket next to me, a dozen really far-gone Mame lovers had brought props and worked out responses to the action on screen: cigarette holders, bottles of Dr. Pepper....etc. I was too shy to speak but...could one of you please contact me at Bellevue Hospital? I missed the whole Rocky Horror Picture Show thing and would like to get in on this." pg. 299

Personal note: I would like to get in on this too.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Microserfs by Douglas Coupland was originally published in 1995. My hardcover copy has 371 pages. Microserfs is written as if it is the diary of Dan, who, as the book opens, is a programmer for Microsoft. The book follows the adventure as he and his fellow friends/code monkeys leave Microsoft for a start up software company in Silicon Valley. The first half of the book is actually more enjoyable than the second half, but Coupland has a clever way with words so its a book worth finishing. I'm rating it a 3.9.

Synopsis from cover:
Microserfs: a hilarious, fanatically detailed, and oddly moving book about a handful of misfit Microsoft employees who realize they don't have lives and subsequently become determined to get lives inside the lightning-paced world of high-tech 1990's American geek culture.

Amid a Seattle backdrop of software corporate cultishness ("B-B_B_B_Bill!") and the financial terror of San Francisco and Silicon Valley tech startups, the members of Coupland's quirky ensemble, "stick a piece of dynamite inside themselves, like a cartoon cat, in the hopes that when they reassemble their exploded pieces they will be somebody different."

Coupland gives readers an intimate, deadly accurate, and very funny view of a way of life: friends, families, and lovers falling through the trapdoors of the new electronic order and becoming involved in an engaging, awkward scramble toward love and success in a brave new world.

"They mow the lawn every ten minutes at Microsoft. It looks like green Lego pads." pg. 2

"He often uses low-tech solutions to high-tech problems: Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and little strips of paper that turn on a bent coat hanger frame help him solve complex matrix problems. When he moved offices into his new window office (good coder, good office), he had to put Post-it notes reading "Not Art" on his devices so that the movers didn't stick them under the glass display cases out in the central atrium area." pg. 13

"This morning before heading to the office I read an in-depth story about Burt and Loni's divorce in People magazine. Thus, 1,474,819 brain cells that could have been used toward a formula for world peace were obliterated." pg. 14

"I sandpapered the roof of my mouth with three bowls of Cap'n Crunch - had raw gobbets of mouth-beef dangling onto my tongue all day. It hurt like crazy, and made me talk with a Cindy Brady lisp until late afternoon." pg. 25

"If you yourself are a vegetarian, but still dream of burgers, then all you really are is a cryptocarnivore." pg. 48

"The Fry's chain completely taps into MSE: Male Shopping Energy. This is to say that most guys have about 73 calories of shopping energy and once these calories are gone, they're gone for the day - if not the week - and can't be regenerated simply by having an Orange Julius at the Food Fair. Therefore, to get guys to shop, a store has to eat up all of their MSE calories in one crack-like burst. Thus, Fry's concentrates only on male-specific consumables inside their cavernous shopping arena, aisles replete with dandruff, bad outfits, and nerdacious mutterings full of buried Hobbit references." pg. 185

"He said that when future archaeolgists dig up the remains of California, they are going to find all of these gyms and all of this scary-looking gym equipment, and they're going to assume that we were a culture obsessed with torture." pg. 259

"They were just the sort of people who would have gone to Los Vegas, not Boulder, in The Stand, and here they were." pg 346

Thursday, May 8, 2008

more big bottom news

First, I discover fat bottomed women are smarter and have smarter children (see November 25, 2007) and now this:

"...Researchers have known for some time that fat that collects in the abdomen -- known as visceral fat -- can raise a person's risk of diabetes and heart disease, while people with pear-shaped bodies, with fat deposits in the buttocks and hips, are less prone to these disorders..."

Looks like I'm on a roll, baby!

How the Dead Live

How the Dead Live by Will Self was originally published in 2000. My hardcover copy has 404 pages. This is my first time reading anything by Self, and I'm unsure if I'll read him again. In some ways How the Dead Live could have been the brilliant book it's touted as being. In other ways its a plotless jumble of complaining and excessive swearing from a cranky, selfish woman. I think a strong case could be made that How the Dead Live could have benefited from some much more rigorous editing. While the idea of the book is intriguing, the 400 pages makes it somewhat painful to finish, but you will want to finish it. A so-so rating of 2.5

Synopsis from cover
Lily Bloom is an aging American transplanted to England who has lost her battle with cancer and lies wasting away at the Royal Ear Hospital. As her two daughters - lumpy Charlotte, who runs a hugely successful chain of stationery stores called Waste of Paper, and beautiful Natasha, a junkie - buzz around her, and the nurses pump her full of morphine, Lily slides in and out of the present, taking us on a surreal, opinionated trip through the stages of a lifetime of lust and rage. A career girl in the 1940s, a sexed -up, tippling adulteress in the 1950s, a divorced PR flak in the 1970s and '80s, Lily presents us with a portrait of America and England over sixty years of riotous and unreal change.

And then it's over. Lily catches a cab with the Aboriginal wizard Phar Lap Jones, her guide to the shockingly banal world of the dead. It's a world that is surreal but familiar, where she again works in PR and rediscovers how great smoking is, where her cohabitants include Rude Boy, the son who died at age nine, Lithy, a fetus that died before she ever knew it existed, and the Fats, huge formless shapes composed of all the weight she's ever gained or lost. As Lily settles into her nonexistence, the most difficult challenge for this staunchly difficult woman is how to understand that she's dead, and how to leave the rest behind.

How the Dead live is an unforgettable portrait of the human condition, the struggle with life and with death. It's a novel that will disturb and provoke, the work, in the words of one British Reviewer, "of a novelist at the height of his powers."

"The reason your son doesn't keep in touch is that you're dead - and he's dead too! He died in the early eighties." pg. 5

"I knew also that what terrified me about these casually ejaculated globs of race hatred was that they must be my own. My own dark truffles of prejudice, swollen beneath the forest's floor." pg. 10

"Funny how we dead never eat - yet still, some of us love to serve food." pg. 23

"Not that I really liked such food when I was well, it's just that now, now that I'm dying, I realize that this capacity certain foodstuffs exhibit of reappearing in your mouth spontaneously, hours after they've been consumed, is very much a sign of life. Life in its very repetitiousness." pg. 30

"Blue smoke goes well with white linen. We may all live soapy, light-musical lives, but every woman has the right to die as Bette Davis." pg. 40

"She's the sort of woman who wants the earth girdled with a sanitary strip - for the duration of her stay, which, as I believed I've mentioned, will be for ever." pg. 89

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Mothman Prophecies

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel was originally published in 1975. My paperback copy was re-released in 2001 with an additional Afterword from Keel and has 272 pages. This is the "nonfiction" account of a cluster of paranormal events that occurred in the mid-sixties. The account of the events does tend to jump around and doesn't read like a smooth, polished account of the strange events that occurred during a specific period of time. It's actually a rather odd book, but X-Files fans will find it very interesting and it ties into all sorts of other paranormal/UFO kind of movies, etc. No rating on this one as it was just for fun.

The Mothman Prophecies will now be passed on to Just Me. The squirrel girl is going to like it. Don't miss the selected quotes

Description from back cover:
West Virginia, 1966. For thirteen months the town of Point Pleasant is gripped by a real-life nightmare that culminates in a tragedy that makes headlines around the world. Strange occurrences and sightings, including a bizarre winged apparition that becomes known as the Mothman, trouble this ordinary American community. Mysterious lights are seen moving across the sky. Domestic animals are found slaughtered and mutilated. And journalist John Keel, arriving to investigate the freakish events, soon finds himself an integral part of an eerie and unfathomable mystery...

"Those of us who somewhat sheepishly spend our time chasing dinosaurs, sea serpents, and little green men in space suits are painfully aware that things are not what they seem; that sincere eye witnesses can and do grossly misinterpret what they have seen; that many extraordinary events can have disappointingly mundane explanations." pg. 4-5

"What puzzled me about Connie's case, however, was that she had not seen a splendid luminous flying saucer. She had seen a giant "winged man" in broad daylight." pg. 16

"Camera malfunctions are remarkably common among would-be UFO photographers, and even those who try to take pictures of the serpent at Loch Ness. It almost seems as if some outside force fouls up cameras when monsters and UFOs are around." pg. 37-38

"In a later age, these [mysterious lights] became fairy lights and were associated with the little people who actually plagued whole generations not only in Europe but also in North America..." pg. 46

"Men bristling with guns surrounded the old power plant, poking into every bush. There wasn't much to do in Point Pleasant, a town of six thousand people, twenty-two churches, and no barrooms, so Mothman was almost a welcome addition." pg. 61-62

"And I knew that UFOs often zero in on lovers in parked cars." pg. 104

"The phenomenon is dependent on belief, and as more and more people believe in flying saucers from other planets, the lower the force can manipulate more people through false illumination. I have been watching, with great consternation, the worldwide spread of UFO belief and its accompanying disease. If it continues unchecked we may face a time when universal acceptance of space people will lead us to a modern faith in extraterrestrial that will enable them to interfere overtly in our affairs..." pg. 168

"The airforce and the CIA did not have to try to disrupt the ufological movement. It is by its very nature a self-disrupting network of disoriented people." pg. 174

"When I interviewed her I found her to be a sweet, if somewhat homely, young lady, not bright, and certainly not imaginative enough to manufacture the things that were to happen later." pg. 230

"The FBI and CIA hate each other, and they both hate the telephone company. The telephone company, in turn, seems to hate everybody." pg. 253

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Maytrees

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard was originally published in 2007 and my hardcover copy is 216 pages long. The Maytrees took me much longer to read than a book normally takes me. You might ask, "Why?" I credit/blame this on Dillard's writing. Her use of language had me rereading sentences and whole passages simply for the mastery and beauty in the way she uses language. I found myself flagging way too many sentences to quote until I forced myself to stop trying to take note of every well crafted sentence and read the book.
This leaves me with a quandry. The plot and development of the characters is lacking in comparison to other books. I read that Dillard edited out 500 pages; perhaps that was too drastic. On the other hand the sparseness of the writing reflects the setting. This is a book where the writing itself will entrance some readers while others will be left cold. I'm rating The Maytrees a 4.

Synopsis from cover:
Toby Maytree first sees Lou Bigelow on her bicycle in postwar Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her laughter and loveliness catch his breath. Maytree is a Provincetown native, an educated poet of thirty. As he courts Lou, just out of college, her stillness draws him. Hands-off, he hides his serious wooing, and idly shows her his poems.

In spare, elegant prose, Dillard traces the Maytrees' decades of loving and longing. They live cheaply among the nonconformist artists and writers that the bare tip of Cape Cod attracts. Lou takes up painting. When their son Pete appears, their innocent Bohemian friend Deary helps care for him. But years later it is Deary who causes the town to talk.

In this moving novel, Dillard intimately depicts nature's vastness and nearness. She presents willed bonds of loyalty, friendship, and abiding love. Warm and hopeful, The Maytrees is the surprising capstone of Annie Dillard's original body of work.


"They acted in only two small events - three, if love counts. Falling in love, like having a baby, rubs against the current of our lives: separation, loss, and death. That is the joy of them." pg. 2

"What was she afraid of? Of her heartbeat, of his over-real eyes, of her breathing, everything." pg. 21

"After they married she learned to feel their skin as double-sided. They felt a pause. Theirs was too much feeling to push through the crack that led down to the dim world of time and stuff. That world was gone." pg. 32

"The process [house-moving] stimulated Maytree, and Lous, too - and children, and retired sailors, and off-duty coast gaurds, and neighbors - by its many routes to disaster." pg. 42

"Her mental energy and enduranced matched his. She neither competed nor rebelled. Her freedom strenghthened him, as did her immeasurable reserve." pg. 46

"He endorsed Edwin Arlington Robinson's view that anthologies preserved poems by pickling their corpses." pg. 55

"She did not know then that polishing this grudge would be her mother's lone project for the balance of her life." pg 58

"A woman's forgiveness weakened a man's arms and back. So did its sob sister, pity. It would not stand up to fight. Who could prevail against it? Conrad called pity a form of contempt." pg. 70

"Yet he never knew - connaitre, wissen - what she was in essence. On the Cape he had fancied her not quite of this world, Ariel asleep on the sand. Or was she of this earth, earthy?" pg 103

"After Maytree ran off, people imposed on her the unwelcome dignity they accord new widows or Nobel Prize winners. They blamed her for their own distance, fancying she caused their feeling by a vaunted opinion of herself." pg. 121

"She ignored whatever did not interest her. With those blows she opened her days like a pinata. A hundred freedoms fell on her. She hitched free years to her lifespan like a kite tail. Everyone envied her the time she had, not noticing that they had equal time." pg 131-132

The Wild Trees, update

For those of you who also liked The Wild Trees by Richard Preston but wished that there were photos, or if you like to look at big trees, you don't want to miss the link M. D. Vaden of Oregon included in his comment on my review of April 20th, 2008:

Grove of Titans & Atlas Grove Redwoods

Thank you M. D. Vaden for commenting and including this link to your photos! Your incredible photos were a wonderful and added to my enjoyment of The Wild Trees. This even furthers my resolve to get back out west and look at some more big trees.