Book Reviews

Virtues of Ben Franklin

“Either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” — Ben Franklin

Going Light with Backpack or Burro

Before I left on my trip to Patagonia, I came across this delightful little book at Recycled Reads. Written in 1951 by various members of the Sierra Club of San Francisco (the focus audience being people exploring the National Parks of the American West), the editor, David R. Brower, prefaces the sixth printing in 1962 with this message. “More than a decade later (and six printings later, each helped by

Retribution Falls

This was recommended to me as a fun bit of fluff, “Firefly in airships.” So I didn’t approach it with the bar set high. Even so, I apparently expect more from my fluff because I was disappointed. Reading it I spent most of my time wondering why it kept missing the mark. What sets a good book apart? What makes the beloved motley crew of Serenity beloved and the pale

Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress

Enchanted by the movie, I searched for a used copy of the book for about half a year. In my impatience, I finally bought the paperback edition new from Amazon. When it arrived, I read it in a night. After all my anticipation, I felt a little let down. The book is slight. In fact, without the movie to provide detail and context, it would not have had much of

Shirley

I snapped up an old Everyman’s Library copy of Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley at Recycled Reads for $2. Although worn and covered with library stamps, the little volume is sturdy. Physically, they are wonderful books, just the right size for the hand and well bound. Most of Shirley is written in a voice that sounds like Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester. I think it interesting to imagine that Charlotte Bronte identified more

Fuzzy Nation

I enjoyed John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. So, when I heard he had a new book out, I suggested that AJM buy it for me for my birthday as a “Homer buys Marge a bowling ball” type gift. Something we both can enjoy. We went all out to support John Scalzi and local business and plunked down the full $24.99 list price for the hardback at BookPeople. As it

Three Came Home

War stories that interest me have nothing to do with battle. Combat heroics are not something I’ve ever identified with despite being the images of war I grew up with, the images from TV and movies, books, and listening to my dad’s stories. With the exception of Anne Frank, who I first learned of when I was ten, it was not until I was an adult that I discovered the

At Her Majesty’s Request

Although the title sounds reminiscent of a James Bond thriller, At Her Majesty’s Request is actually a biography of an African princess who became a ward of sorts of Queen Victoria in the 1850s. Her christened name is Sarah Forbes Bonita. As a child, she is captured by another African nation who murders who family and destroys her village. She is kept for two years as a prisoner and then

Deceived with Kindness

I can’t but think that Angelica Garnett is a bit of a whiner. Maybe it’s the result of her growing up during the birth of Freudian psychoanalysis but her entire memoir seems focused on blaming her parents. Her mother, Vanessa Bell, smothered her with kindness. “When she was alive, I had seen her only as a stumbling block, as a monolithic figure who stood in my way, barring my development

With Respect to the Japanese

With Respect to the Japanese was published in 1984 as the Japanese economic juggernaut loomed over the US. At that time, Americans eyed Japan with the twin emotions of fear and wonder. What’s happened to American companies? Why don’t we have anything like Sony or Toyota? (This was before Apple, Amazon, and Google.) This is a cross-cultural guide to explain how our nations’ communication and management styles differ. This slim

The Last Colony

The saga continues. And we’re back to first person narrative and the voice of John Perry. Yay! I think John Scalzi finally gets the balance between dialog and description right. (Except between pages 199-203.) The Last Colony is a very satisfying tying up of story lines and themes. Quotes and Notes 2011-03-02. Added after reading all three books in the series. You never forget where you come from. — p

The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades opens with a rock. I didn’t find this the most promising of starts. If just finishing Old Man’s War hadn’t left me with the desire to explore more of John Scalzi’s universe, I would have been tempted to stop after the first page. Luckily, the importance of rocks pans out quickly so I didn’t feel too cranky having to sit through description. Contrast it with the opening

Old Man’s War

AJM encouraged me to read some science fiction that was written a bit more recently. After all, just because I started reading science fiction in the 1970s and stopped reading science fiction in the 1970s, doesn’t mean I should restrict myself to reading science fiction from the 1970s. He suggested Old Man’s War for two reasons; it is an alternative riff on the themes of brain transplant and identity that

I Will Fear No Evil

Spoilers Ahead The premise is much more intriguing than its execution. The brain of a dying rich old man is transplanted into the body of a young woman who has been murdered. The whole book could delve into the meaning of identity and gender but all it does is talk about sex. I don’t think it ever actually describes anyone having sex (current romance fiction is more explicit). But everyone

Life Among the Savages

Shirley Jackson is the original Mommy-blogger. Or would be today. In her day she sold her stories to women’s magazines. Life Among the Savages (four children and small town locals) is grimly comic. Her wry observations are delivered in a deadpan tone. You can sense that it wouldn’t take much to push her into setting the same scenes of domestic madness a bit more horrifically as she did in “The