Sandydog and Light Reading
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This year's resolutions? Well, even though the ol' TBR pile is humongous, I plan to lurk and read more of these 2014 Books Challenge posts. I may not read much, but I do love reading about reading!
I'd still like to return to at least a couple more titles from the Lifetime Reading Plan, as well as perhaps some shorter works, maybe some suggested by John Major and David C. Major?
I really would love to knock off a few from a moldering TBFinished pile.
Here's a carry-over from 2013. First tick!
1 Paperboy ***
An interesting memoir of the halcyon days of growing up in the 50s. Petroski was bit heavy on the inserting, folding, balancing, tossing of the daily paper, but otherwise it was an enjoyable read. I'm looking forward to reading some of his more "meaty', popular books about Engineering.
2. The Survivor's Club ***
A great book on the subject, but it's certainly not for the squeamish. Mr. Sherwood is a bit repetitive, and he uses an unusually large amount of very disturbing incidents (cougar attacks, sulfuric acid burns, unsuccessful suicide attempts, falls and ejections from airplanes, assaults, crashes, cancer) to get his point across.
'Speaking of cheery topics, I'm currently reading The Kite Runner.
You have to persist with a book. My first thoughts were, "Oh here we go, it's A Separate Peace with a bit more blood, dust and snow." The plot repetition was only a minor annoyance. The disturbing events were pure depression. This was not easy to read. Persist.
The historical context and culture was fascinating.
Beautifully written (I switched between reading and listening to the audio CD read by the author).
This was perhaps the saddest, most moving book I have ever read.
Hey, this is my book journal, my log, my only record! I have to include everything, even kids' books, a couple pages in length.
Short and simple, and here's the spoiler: birds are built like a house; they have a (digestive) furnace, (downy) insulation and semi-waterproof "shingles" (feathers).
Very detailed overview of recognition and evaluation of habits. Interesting examples from the lives of Alcoa's Paul ONeill, Coach Tony Dungy and gambling addict Angie Bachmann.
I love Teaching Company lectures. 'Perfect for the car. But this isn't the typical series of academic TC Lectures. Instead these are wonderful rambling sermons, full of corny anecdotes and digressions. Professor Fisher is a quaint old ham, and a pleasure to listen to.
The choice of authors is about as eclectic as you can get. Plutarch and US Grant. Beatrix Potter and Saint Augustine. Wilde, Menken, "Rabbie Burns", Hugo, Maeterlinck (with Menken and Potter, another pleasant surprise), Dickinson, Sam Johnson, and Tennyson.
Amis' first novel is Waugh with a little dash of Wodehouse. Very clever. Jim Dixon has many interesting traits: laziness, drunkenness, lust, dishonesty. 'You gotta love this wonderfully funny post war beta male.
An ok hiking memoir, with references to sustainability and environmental challenges. The author's rambling style first reminded me of William Burroughs, rather than John Burroughs, but I soon fell into stride.
14. Under the Volcano ****
I've read subject matter that is a helluva lot emotionally tougher. But this was tough reading, worthy of intense concentration and worthy of a re-read, some day. Lowry's stream of consciousness makes Faulkner look easy. Unlike Faulkner's simple Southern folk, we're dealing with a chronically drunk intellectual's rambling thoughts. The Joycean plot (all taking place on La dia de los muertos) is crammed in here and there, and in retrospect, at least the plot was fairly easy to follow.
Odd stories, brought to you by those quirky (Left? Right?) investigators over at Disinfo.com.
I've heard of some of these. For example a plane containing 2 atomic bombs crashed in NC. Rumor is that 3 out of the 4 safety arming devices were actually armed as a result of, or during, the incident. Instead of saying "kudos to the systems safety guy who insisted on 4 arming steps", the story is, "NC was nuked." Shrill, shrill, shrill.
Or, most Doctors DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW HIGH RADIATION LEVELS ARE, DURING A CT SCAN!" So? These levels are still usually within safety guidelines. I think most of us can avoid a few dozen CT scans per year.
Mildly fun and disturbing. Some of the more interesting included "Kent State wasn't the only College massacre", "the 10 Commandments we know are not the real 10 Commandments", and "The World's Museums Contain Innumerable Fakes".
Osborn, Brown, Andrews, Colbert and all the other New York City adventurers are featured in this beautiful book about the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Vertebrate Paleontology. 'Not (just) a picture book and certainly not a book for the little tykes. This fascinating history of exploration equals anything written about the Marsh vs Cope feuds or other stories about American paleontology.
Again, not a book. I record everything on LT (but I draw the line with movies).
This was magnificent. I learned more from these lectures than a college course on the subject of music appreciation.
Our favorite neuroscience author wrote a Mexican travelogue, with just enough technical botany to make it interesting.
Kapuscinski writes of his travels in the 1960s and 1970s, with a Polish translation of "The Histories." The book accompanied him in lands that were described by or at least referenced by, Herodotus. His travel memoirs were mildly interesting. Portions about Herodotus, even just long transcriptions of "The Histories", were magical.
This is an ideal book for a long plane trip.
A tiny but interesting ditty, allegory, folk tale, fable.
23. The Cat Inside ***1/2
Another tiny book. This one comprises 100% cat essays, each dream-like, sentimental and just a few sentences long.
The Burroughsian pederasty and heroin references are mild, but dogs get a real, real bad rep, and that's just tough to take.
I finished listening to Parts I and II of this excellent series of the old SuperStar Teachers (Teaching Company) lectures. I've listened to and read a number of more detailed histories; it's amazing how much one forgets! This is a perfect brief summary of many centuries of Western Civilization.
The professor's delivery is remarkably mellow and soft-spoken...
Most of these 1500 words were very basic. This book might be appropriate for a young student studying for the SATs.
For a more enjoyable exercise, check out this popular game, which has done a fine job categorizing words by level of difficulty:
How many times have I said TC lectures are great? This was perfect-length overview of modern Soviet political history.
I picked up this audiobook of dear old Saint Dawkins, and didn't know it was really meant for a YA audience (I think). This book is absolutely perfect for a Mormon 8th grader.
It is a good, solid overview of science. The mix of mythology followed by scientific explanations, works sometimes, but not all the time.
I was just thinking, this book was very similar to the previous one I'd finished. What does a home efficiency consultant share with the best evolutionary scientists of our time?
Dozens of famous and not-so-famous Greek myths. I'd already read Ovid, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, etc.,so this was a fun and familiar review. Suddenly in the last few pages, the gears switch to an extremely broad overview of Norse mythology.
Sometimes dry and always merely a rehash of story plots. But I think this would be a great overview for anyone interested in the original works.
Another wonderful pile of TC audio lectures.
A horrific tale of the indoctrination and rehab of a child soldier in Sierra Leone. Sometimes Ishmael seems to be like a "Forrest Gump" character; that is, the teenager always seems to be in the the wrong (or most historically significant) place at the wrong (or most historically significant) time. For example, he rounds the hill to finally greet his parents only to have a rebel attack occur at that very moment- very dramatic. There's apparently some controversy about this memoir, focused mostly on the very long stint as a soldier. Still, I'm sure most of this account is very true, and it is very disturbing story.
An amazing love quadrilateral, (or really a decagon, if one considers all the suitors). Wonderfully, developed characters, mostly of the unsavory sort, and several of which are intently focused on self destruction. The characters take great pains to develop one another! The narrative is sometimes Seinfeld-esque and often full of wild diversions and the expected but fascinating discourses on religion, life and death. Make sure you have a playbill nest to you. These Russian names are tough.
A Joycean day-in-the-life story. This time instead of a ruminating, Jewish Ad agent in Dublin, we have a hyper observant neurosurgeon in London. The surgeon's day-off moves along crisply, on schedule, as he interacts with his (other) self-actualized family members. But the day is punctuated by events of sheer terror as well.
The ol' eclectic meter is getting pegged.
39. The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed reading and Learning Program ***
Per the title, it's (only) about 30% speed reading technique. The remaining topics include taking lecture notes, studying for exams, writing reports, etc.
Elegant, eloquent, pastoral, peaceful, lyrical, spiritual.
'And sometimes boring-as-snot.
41. More Sex is Safer Sex ***1/2
Now this one was about economics and personal and societal choices. It really was. Some of Landsburg's examples are tough to take, (eg., looting of Baghdad museums wasn't so bad because those particular ancient artifacts have little value). But overall it is easily as interesting as Freakonomics and other similar works.
I've mucho ambivalence. Had I checked out the book or the online column, I probably wouldn't have lasted half as long as the finishing of this repetitive, sophomoric, 7 (7!) CD audiobook. I've some suggestions. Eliminate, the chapter on sexuality (I mean sex). I can only assume it has zero relevance about Mexicans. Double the length of the chapter on music. Cut the book in half by reducing the number of insults towards Guatemalans, to say, 200.
Three inflated, extraordinarily generous, estrellas.
Ask A Mexican is virtually a 100% transcription of this famous column:
44. David and Goliath ****1/2
Isn't Gladwell great? He writes fascinating, entertaining, mind-provoking pop-non-fiction. Move over Harlequin Romances, I'll take reading this accessible non-fiction any day of the week. Plenty of notes and references in case you want to dive deeper into these lives and events.
Spoiler alert: Goliath didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell...
Well, speaking of ancient times, it's finally happened, it's time. Enough fluff. I'm tackling my nemesis.
Almost 10 years ago, when I was a huge fan of Clifton Fadiman, I asked my son "What should I read next?" He pointed to the gap in the highlighted table of contents in The Lifetime Reading Plan, and replied, "THUCKY-DIDDIES!"
'Bogged down on page xii of The Landmark Thucydides.
I'll be back in a couple months...
I'm on page 13 of Thucydides - hoo-hoo!!! I've read the prologue, the introduction, listened to some Teaching Company lectures a while back, checked out Yale's Professor Keegan lecturing on You Tube. I feel like I've run a couple 5Ks, got a couple T-shirts, and am now ready for a marathon!
I still have some audiobooks going in the car, however.
45. Letters From Earth ***1/2
Typical Twain. Brilliance amid some blather. The opening essay was outstanding, the autobiography of Eve, was very familiar and often hilarious, and the last unfinished story was superb Sci Fi resembling The Fantastic Voyage.
Simple, lean, "common sensical", fun and useful, even if you've no intention of starting your own business.
(i read this faster than I could read 10 pages of Thucydides)
48. How to Talk to Anyone **1/2
I usually love these short, 90s ('sort of), campy, phony-get-ahead audiobooks. This one wasn't short and campy enough.
49. Born Among the Hills ***
The story of the history and conservation of that Hamden, CT traprock forest known as The Sleeping Giant.
The book starts with a couple chapters nonchalantly describing the genocide of the Kalahari Bushmen. Next is a long descriptive slog through the dusty trail of logistics and mis-matched expedition team members. Finally, at the very end our explorer finally finds a remnant band and makes interesting western-centric profoundly ignorant observations about this vanishing people.
Van der Post had set out to complete a film about the Kalahari and to fulfill a life-long dream of re-kindling a childhood fascination with the Bushmen. As for the former goal, the book is full of references to cinematic failures, and there is no mention of the outcome. (Apparently there was a BBC series on the subject.) And der Post was clearly successful with the latter goal.
A solid 3.76 stars, I'll round up.
I listened the old ISIS audio recording with John Nettleton, narrator. He had a wonderful voice, reminiscent of the "Fractured Fairy Tales" narrator, Edward Everett Horton.
There's some HG Wells comment about the writings of James are analogous to a hippopotamus laboriously trying to pick up a pea by pushing it around with his snout. I think I've only read The Ambassadors but was in total agreement with Mr. Wells.
Washington Square is actually very readable. The setting and especially the incredibly formal, stilted dialog, are reminiscent of a play. The four major characters (horrible people, wonderful characters) are especially fascinating.
In this case the Hippo is pushing around a cantaloupe.
How could you replicate a similar book? Subject both Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Bryson with a bad case of ADD. Join both of 'em up with David Foster Wallace and Charles Manson. Add Dr. Ian Malcolm (The Jeff Goldblum character from Jurassic Park). Find an editor - on acid.
Gonzales' second effort starts off as a lucid treatment of the psychological reasons why folks might execute stupid behaviors. But after a few chapters, all hell breaks loose, and the author goes on and on with the most bizarre similes and anecdotes. The sex life of Bonobos, the limbic system, Mexican Indios' archery prowess, fractals, trash and grocery product variety, environmental degradation, trilobites, North American archaeology, classic sociological studies from the 60s, the stock market, entropy, microcellular structures, the universe - all of these subjects are covered, and sometimes in the same paragraph. What most these "examples" specifically have to do with human behavior, is not made particularly clear.
The epilogue is about the death of his father - that is all.
The author would make an incredible guest at a cocktail party. But his writings are not for the structured thinker.
If this sometimes entertaining book had a different subtitle (How about, "An Incomplete Thesis on Stupid Behaviors and a Variety of Other Ramblings") -- I'd add another star in a heartbeat.
(When it wasn't frustrating the snot out of me, I kinda liked it.)
I'd read The Hot Zone years ago, and loved it. Why did I ever wait so long to read this terrible and terribly dramatic account of genetically engineered smallpox?
Scariest book of my 2014 reading.
Old Gentlemen, too.
The kind of book that you regret that it ends. Much funnier and enjoyable than other Dickens' titles.
Did Mark Twain read Dickens? Both were masters at character development.
More outstanding Gladwell, this time, a bunch of New Yorker Essays. A slow start about TV marketing, hair color and Ketchup, but many fascinating topics (the Pill, crime profiling, Interviewing, Enron, et multi al) follow.
Depressing. You'll never think the same way about American Foreign Policy.
An ok audio self-help book.
I'm a sucker for campy self-help books. This financial guide makes me want to be less like a grasshopper and more like an ant.
Choppy and too short (both for the obvious reasons) and, obviously brilliant.
Jon Ronson got me interested in this chilling subject. One in every 25 Westerners? (Shudder)
64. Desert Solitaire ****1/2
The curmudgeonly conservationist and "eartheist" writes about degradation of national parks, lyrical and sometimes deadly times in the Utah desert and great descriptions of some of the eccentric desert folk.
Great 5 star topic but this one jumped around chronologically and that made things a bit confusing.
What a great movie! Actually, I've never seen the movie, but the novel reads just like a movie.
Chronic angst, chronic cardiopulmonary disease, chronic longings, chronic nastiness. Give me Dostoyevsky any day. Crazy (poor) people are much more interesting than eccentric (rich) people.
When I was a junior or senior in High School, this was assigned reading, and I purposefully chose not to read it. Now, mind you, I was an A student and to me, this was the equivalent of say, joining Al Qaeda. I did it because I had this tremendous burst of rebelliousness, it was spring, and I actually had a girlfriend. Miss Burrell the English Teacher, caught my crime, by means of a couple test questions and class questions and I was red-faced for it. Well, for you, Miss Burrel I have read this American classic, some 40 years later.
And, to avoid the dreaded LT blue flag, here;'s my review: Cather's masterpiece was boring as snot.
I guess this is like Free Parking in Monopoly.
A simple, bitter, sarcastic tone throughout, but I simply could not put it down. Raw, shocking and torturous.
A 5-star, cult classic, that is, if you are a male, high school track star in 1978. Even if there was an easing of the horrific similes and metaphors, this feel-good, uber-predictable runner's story, still falls flat.