Townhouse Books

Friday, September 16, 2005

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation: Joseph J. Ellis

As it turns out, A People's History of the Supreme Court is becoming quite a long haul. But Founding Brothers is a fun and well-researched book, offering a great read plus historical accuracy. Fills my need for civics education without overwhelming me. The major premise of this book is that, although we see it as inevitable, the success of the American Revolution was by no means assured in the minds of its major players. The book gets into various arguments and personality clashes between Madison, Adams, Hamilton, Washington, and others, showing how this group of founders often had vastly different conceptions of what the Revolution really stood for. It's a deconstruction, to be sure, but done in a chatty style.

I have to admit, though, that the author's discussion of slavery made me uncomfortable. If anyone else has read it, let me know what you think -- I felt like he was being a little too understanding of the Constitutional Congress' inability to face the issue.

ETA: You know, like, author information.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Kafka on the Shore: Haruki Murakami

I read this book in two sessions -- one week where I read it consistently and thought I would never finish it, and one long lunch hour where I picked up right where I left off and yet it seemed much more fast paced and fascinating. During the 2 weeks in between these sessions I read an interview with Aimee Bender on Powells.com where she said of Murakami's earlier work, "(t)he complaints people have about The Wind Up Bird Chronicle are often what I love most. It's messiness, its hanging threads, its matter-of-fact surrealism."
I think the surrealism is the aspect of Murakami that you are either on board with or you won't enjoy the book. Kafka has a great structure, switching back between two main characters' experiences that are linked and yet don't connect. There are many moments that in TWoP language could be seen as "jumping the shark" and yet, they work. Good stuff.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Case Histories: Kate Atkinson

I got this book free from ALA, so there were a couple of typos which I'm sure Ms. Atkinson has fixed by now.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Each chapter represents a different thread that alternates between approximately 3 different stories about mysteries that are being solved by the main character. Jackson is the name of the Private Investigator who goes about solving the crimes in typical fashion. I enjoyed the fact that Jackson was actively thinking about his future, and wanting to break out of the business and retire happily in France. Although you definitely got the impression that never would happen. The individual stories themselves were interesting, and the author devoted the same amount of time to each.


-Jason

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Secret Life of Bees: by Sue Kidd


Jason and I listened to the cds on our way to Washington DC. Although
this isn't something I probably would have picked out for myself
(Niki's mom gave them to me), we both ended up really enjoying the
story itself and how it was narrated. I imagine the book would be a
really quick read. It is essentially about a young southern girl who
has had a rough life and is trying to find out about her dead mother.
I'm not going to say much else because I don't want to give anything
away--if you want to know more about it, just send me an email.

~adf

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers by Mary Roach


This was a great book, as entertaining as it was educational.
If you want to know what it means to donate your body to science or
are interested in medical and scientific history, you'll enjoy this book.
It is well-written and the author approaches her research with a
respect and a sense of humor that I imagine would keep even the
squeamish reading on.

~adf

p.s. Don't skip any of her footnotes.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Unused Audio Commentary for LOR: Fellowship of the Ring: JEFF ALEXANDER AND TOM BISSELL

This is a short story from a wonderful book that Amanda gave me (thanks Amanda!)
The Book is called Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeny's Humor Category:

This short story is such a gem. The authors have imagined a conversation between tow people picking apart the lord of the rings movie as if it would have been an extra on the DVD. You can bet that if this was real it would have been added on the Diamond Version of the DVD, along with in-depth interviews with every single orc.

Here is one great exchange, but read the story (see link above) for yourself!

"Chomsky: "Let's leave the most powerful object in all of Middle Earth with a weak little Hobbit, a race known for its chattering and intoxication, and tell him to keep it a secret."


Jason

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An Ocean in Iowa: Peter Hedges

Scotty Ocean is seven years old when his mother leaves the family. He thought that seven was going to be his year, and while it is definitely memorable, it is not what he pictured. Peter Hedges is a great writer, and does a good job (I think) of telling a story from the POV of a seven year old. For example, Scotty's father is a judge, a remote authority figure in the family. When Scotty draws a picture of him he makes him twice the size of his mother. His mother makes him erase it and redraw it to scale. Then she tells Scotty, "You see? You've cut him down to size."

The descriptions of life in a second grade classroom and in a neighborhood group of kids are excellent. The story takes place in 1969, and the Vietnam war influences the events somewhat.

I infer from the book jacket that the author (best known for What's Eating Gilbert Grape, a book that I liked infinitely more than this one) was probably seven years old around 1969. He also has two sons. This book feels to me like an exercise in fretfulness -- exorcising traumas of your childhood, imagining the inner life of your own children, wondering whether your relationship with your children will be better than your relationship with your parents. I recommend it, but only if you're in a certain "Wonder Years / Greek Tragedy" mood.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Oryx and Crake: Margret Atwood

Margret Atwood likes to say that she doesn't write science fiction, presumably because she sees science fiction stories as being something other than literature. I think she's wrong.

A good friend of mine once pointed out that most sci-fi stories are summarized by starting with the formulation "It's the future, and everything sucks." If that's the case, Oryx and Crake is about as sci-fi as it gets.

The story starts out with a character who is now called Snowman who is one of the few survivors of some sort of catastrophe in the near future. He jumps around a bit while relating the story of exactly what happened, who Oryx and Crake are, and his involvement with the whole mess.

Atwood deals with some very large ideas including gene manipulation, the role of corporations in modern society, and the growing difference between the very rich and the very poor, and addresses them in a literary rather than fantastical way. Her characters are fascinating people, and are both experiencing the radical changes that are going on around them, and are stand-ins for classic archetypes.

It's a great book, although not appropriate for the young or the easily shocked, as the levels of violence are sometimes excessive.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close : Jonathan Safran Foer

To my unborn child: I haven’t always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk and talk, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, the silence overtook me like a cancer, it was one of my first meals in America, I tried to tell the waiter, “The way you just handed me that knife, that reminds me of__” but I couldn’t finish the sentence, her name wouldn’t come, she was locked inside me, how frustrating, how pathetic, I took a pen from my pocket and wrote “Anna” on my napkin. “And” was the next word I lost, probably because it was so close to her name, what a simple word to say, what a profound word to lose, I had to say “ampersand” which sounded ridiculous, but there it is, “I’d like a coffee ampersand something sweet,” nobody would choose to be like that. “Want” was a word I lost early on, which is not to say I stopped wanting things -- I wanted things more -- I just stopped being able to express that want. I lost “come” one afternoon with the dogs in the park, I lost “fine” as the barber turned me toward the mirror, I lost “shame” -- the verb and the noun in the same moment, it was a shame. I went to a tattoo parlor and had YES written onto the palm of my left hand, and NO onto my right palm, what can I say it hasn’t made life wonderful, it’s made it possible. “I” was the last word I was able to speak aloud, which is a terrible thing, but there it is, I would walk around the neighborhood saying, “I I I I.” “You want a cup of coffee, Thomas?” “I.” I know I’m not alone, you hear the old people in the street and some of them are moaning, “Ay ya yay,” but some of them are clinging to their last word, “I,” they’re saying because they’re desperate, it’s not a complaint it’s a prayer, and then I lost “I” and my silence was complete.

I was stubbornly uncharmed by the overall story for almost half of it, but found myself carried along enough by these amazing mini-stories. And then suddenly it all clicked and I couldn't wait to finish.

So basically, if the above paragraph moves you, I highly recommend this book. If not, then you’ll probably want to pass on this one.

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Howl's Moving Castle : Diana Wynne Jones

Delightful! I am glad the movie is bringing it attention. I found the movie frustrating, but I see why they wanted to make a movie out of this lovely story. As bizarre as this moving castle looks onscreen, take up the book instead.

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