Friday, April 28, 2006

The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice

Written by Jason Tesauro and Phineas Mollod, this witty etiquette guide is both far-ranging and practically minded. The book is written more with a sense of fun than with an eye on truly gentlemanly behavior. There is a disproportionate amount of space devoted to the proper use of the hip flask, for example, while another section offers detailed instructions on gate-crashing. Still, the book does offer startlingly good advice on how to ditch high school reunions. It’s probably not the ideal book from which to pattern your behavior, but it’s certainly an entertaining read.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Librarian

A novel by Larry Beinhart, author of American Hero (filmed as Wag the Dog). I don't often read novels, but I couldn't resist this one, as it is a political thriller with a male librarian named David as the central character. Plus it takes place in and around Washington, D.C., which I visited while reading it.

While the story is set in the future, it's easy to link the characters to contemporary people. For instance, there's President Augustus Winthrop Scott, who's running for re-election. One of his major backers is Alan Stowe, an eccentric billionaire. Our librarian hero, David Goldberg, takes on the job of cataloging Stowe's personal library. Along the way he discovers secrets that could cause the President to lose the election.

Although the librarian's actions occasionally leap into the fantastic, it's fun to read as he uses his information skills and attempts to save the day.

Impostor: How George W. Bush bankrupted America and betrayed the Reagan legacy.

The author, Bruce Bartlett, is also the author of Reaganomics. He worked in the Reagan White House and in the first Bush Treasury Department. So he has pretty good conservative credentials. Bartlett says that while W ran as Reagan's heir, he has not governed like him. He attacks George W. Bush for his massive spending that, according to Bartlett, will result in the need for future tax increases.

Surprisingly, he commends Clinton for cutting spending and leaving a budget surplus. But he doesn't hold back from attacking liberals, either, saying that their greatest sin " their belief that it is possible for them to know everything necessary to manage the economy and society."

This book offers a good hard look at President Bush and our country's economic state. The overall tone is expressed in the first chapter: "I know conservatives, and George W. Bush is no conservative."

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Paul Auster’s City of Glass

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster’s acclaimed book, created by Paul Karsik and David Mazucchelli. In many ways, it’s a surprising choice for a graphic adaptation. While the book has a distinct noir feel to it, as is the case for many of the newer graphic novels, Auster’s book plays heavily with language, words and identity. It’s an ambitious undertaking for an artist to attempt visually. Karasik and Mazzzucchelli have made an engaging read, though, with a stripped-down artistic style and an inventive use of imagery. I confess I’ve never read the original version, but the story has me hooked and that original is now on my "to do" list.

Friday, April 21, 2006

How Opal Mehta got kissed, got wild and got a life: a novel

This debut novel by Kaavya Vishwanathan, currently a sophomore at Harvard reads like a script for the movie - Mean girls interacting with Asian immigrant parents. The plot seems slightly far fetched, but it’s such a breezy, lively book that you can easily read this book. A couple of years back, medicine & engineering were the only possible careers for pushy Asian parents with kids of a certain IQ, so compared to that, Opal’s parents are very innovative!.

This book has turned out to be very controversial!. It seems like there was nothing original in the book after charges of plagiarism were made against the author and the book removed from store shelves. It's not one, but 2 authors who claim she has copied passages from their books!.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Black Holes and Quantum Cats: Tales from the Annals of Physics

Jennifer Ouellette, a journalist specializing in science topics, has assembled a wonderful collection of essays highlighting some key points in the history of physics. There’s the development of the microscope, Nikolai Tesla’s work with wireless communications, and Benjamin Franklin’s infamous experiment involving a kite, a key, and an electrical storm. Ouellette does a wonderful job of explaining scientific concepts like Einstein’s theory of relativity in terms normal people can understand. In the process, she makes a topic many people have gone to lengths to avoid uniquely interesting.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Birth of Venus

Sarah Dunant mixes fact with fiction in this tale of late 15th century Florence. The tale centers on Alessandra Cecchi, a young girl changing into adulthood. She faces a loveless marriage to a much older man in exchange for the freedom to pursue an intellectual and artistic education. Florence is in chaos, as the artistic times of the de Medici Family are challenged by the fundamentalist monk, Savonarola, who wants to purge the city of its luxuries and change the "sinful" ways of its citizens. Meanwhile, the French are marching into the city and people are suffering from a plague. Dunant writes an interesting fictional story while supplying rich historical detail. Our Book Discussion Group discussed such relevant issues as religious fanaticism, torture and tatooing!

The Glass Castle

Non-fiction. This memoir by Jeannette Wells recounts her life growing up in a very unorthodox lifestyle in which the family is constantly moving from place to place. Her mother is an eccentric artist and her father is an alcoholic. What sets this book apart from the let me tell you all about my terrible childhood books that are overflowing the bookshelves (like Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors which I hated)is that Wells tells her story lovingly and with humor. Albeit she shares her frustrations with the selfishness of her ego-centric parents but she isn't out for revenge. I cheered for her at the end and recommend this book.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Brief History of the Dead

I listened to this book on CD (narrated by Richard Poe). I think it would be better read in printed form but there are so many books and so little time...
Written by Kevin Brockmeier, the book takes place after a pandemic has wiped out the human population except for one. Everyone who has died ends up in a city that is a sort of limbo. The one person who hasn't died is Laura Byrd who is at a research station in Antartica. The chapters alternate between those in the City and Laura Byrd; you soon learn what the connection there is between the two. It sounds like science fiction and I don't usually care for science fiction. But this is more about people, relationships and memory. It is quite thought provoking and would make a great book group selection.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Biblical Novella

I have just finished two biblical novellas from author Francine Rivers. They were wonderful,
easy to read and above all, inspiring. Francine Rivers has written novellas about five great men of the bible. The two I have just finished were about Aaron, the Priest and Jonathan, the Prince.

The Prince tells the story of Jonathan, his troubled relationship with his father King Saul: his deep friendship with the shepherd boy David (later King David) and the politics of Israel. It is also a story of a nation (Israel) tired of letting God be their King that turn from the One who loves them the most, to selfishness, greed, war bloodshed and murder. As the Prophet Samuel tells Jonathan, "God does not abandon men, my son. Men abandon God."

There are colorful details and great character discriptions. This book is worth reading just to find out more about Jonathan's life and trials and how God worked in ways that may not be clear in scripture

In Aaron, the Priest, Rivers tells the story of Moses, his younger brother Aaron, and the Israelites as they flee from Egypt and Pharaoh. It starts off as a rather slow read and is
redundant in spots but turns into excellent character development. It is refreshing to see the story of the Exodus through Aaron's eyes instead of Moses. It is only when God calls him to serve his brother, that Aaron finds love for Moses instead of the jelously that festered for years.
After becoming the first High Priest of Israel, Aaron confronts his own unworthiness and struggles with self doubt, sin and the blatant rebellion the people show toward God during
their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Abide with Me

Not to be confused with E. Lynn Harris' tome of the same name, this is Elizabeth Strout new book, and it is wonderful. It portrays the ugliness of gossip and the anatomy of love better than anything in recent memory. This is love in the broad, beautiful sense of true caring for all those who are put in our path, regardless of how unlovely they may be. And it is the love of parent for child and the hurt--or healing--that love can bring about. Strout also opens the question of love and euthanasia in a provocative a very gray area.

Monday, April 03, 2006


I listened to this one on CD(with a perfectly understated narration by Richard Morant).
This is Julian Fellowes' first novel. You may be familiar with him as a writer of the screenplay for the movie Gosford Park. If you liked that movie, you'll like this book. It's about uppercrust English society and how it reacts when a 'commoner' joins--or tries to join--its ranks. It's funny and clever. Think P.G. Wodehouse, E.M. Forester, Henry James, and even a bit of Fawlty Towers, in the 1990's. It's about snobs but makes you realize that everyone's a snob about something. Thus, you laugh at the characters as you also laugh at yourself. When Lady Uckfield shudders and says "I'm not a snob...," the writer tells us "she believed she was telling the truth." Don't we all want to believe that!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Marvel 1602

Neil Gaiman often turns to myth as a source of inspiration for his writing, and "Marvel 1602" is no exception. There is something peculiar about the United States and its comic book heroes. It seems unlikely, for example, that a character named Captain Belgium could have found a publisher in Europe. Yet in America, costumed heroes have worked their way into our national story.

Gaiman capitalizes on this, and treats it as a peculiar mythology. Taking characters from the pages of Marvel comics, Gaiman weaves together an American national creation myth that is thought-provoking and often touching. Popular characters such as Captain America, Daredevil and Dr. Strange are portrayed in the year 1602, when the New World was still mysterious and harbored as much threat as hope to those in Europe. It’s a fun story, and interesting to see how Gaiman interprets each character’s particular avatar.