Saturday, September 29, 2007

October Reader's Rants

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness /
by Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D.
Dr. Jamison is Chief of the Psychiatry Department at Johns Hopkins. She is also a life long manic-depressive making her a leading authority on this brand of bipolar disorder. Extreme despair and hyperactivity accompany Jamison from adolescence into her 40’s as she struggles through tattered relationships, spending spree manias, even a near fatal suicide attempt—all resulting from her condition. An acute perspective in the realm of depressive illnesses, her memoir is extremely insightful for anyone involved with someone suffering from a disease of this type.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid / by Bill Bryson
Think of Beaver Cleaver in his cuffed jeans and buzz cut eating dinner with his family. Now picture him sneaking in to a strip club. Such is the dichotomy of this authentic, humorous, and openly lascivious memoir by Bill Bryson who somehow embraces the 1950's America without censoring human nature. Bryson uproots his own Iowa childhood reminiscing on a wide spectrum of nuances like grade school drama, red scare follies, and Sunday morning TV. An easy read perhaps most aimed at baby boomers, this is for anyone wanting a laugh with a dose of nostalgia.

The Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million / by Daniel Mendolshon

All or most of Holocaust literature is retrospective in nature. And while this book deals heavily with the past, it closes the gap between living history and the present day via Mendelshon’s passionate journey of discovery. Almost like true crime or forensic literature, we see a heavily involved man—Mendolsohn—seeking the truth behind his holocaust era Jewish relatives who vanished during the final solution. Plodding at times, readers may get too bogged down with details to appreciate the mystery.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" (DVD)

Ever wanted to be on "Survivor"? What about "Big Brother"? Confined spaces, limited daily needs, strangers with shady motives; not to mention any unforeseen hazards . What if there was no house, no tropical vegetation, no land--just a boat on the ocean miles from anything? Such is life on Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) as 10 survivors from a bombed out cargo/transport ship end up stranded on the rickety vessel facing far greater troubles. Several of the boat's passengers are wounded, several sparsely clothed, some ill-tempered as all deal with their own personal shock from the ship's destruction. The motley crew (7 men, 3 women) must fight against the current, the hours, and each other to survive; dealing as they can with whatever they have hoping for a rescue that may never find them.

Hitchcock never fails to deliver in the suspense genre and this film is one his best combining the all-star talents of Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, and Hume Cronyn to create one of the best lost-at-sea movies of the 20th century.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart / by Alice Walker

Classic-contemporary author Alice Walker, she of The Color Purple fame, details a freethinking couple's vacation to separate locales in this surrealistic novel. Thrice-divorced Kate is a well-accomplished writer living with her current partner, Yolo, a successful painter when the couple decides to take a break from it all and re-evaluate their relationship, each on their own "spiritual" sabbatical. Kate's journey begins and stays rooted in nature first rafting the Colorado River and finally backpacking into Mexico with a group seeking spiritual enlightenment. Accompanied by a shaman spirit guide and complete with some organic hallucinogenic aids, Kate and her diverse companions attempt a mystical brand of spiritual revival. More conventional but no less unpredictable, Yolo escapes to Hawaii seeking peace and quiet after a rigorous period of painting only to discover some re-awakening of his own when he encounters a former lover.

Walker's easy style allows any reader to tap into her characters even during the most "out-there" episodes and the down-to-earth frankness in her delivery will relate well to any reader. Fans of Walker's poetry and non-fiction will recognize her own voice clearly realized in Kate's oft-given reflections on personal, social, political, and relational concerns. This is a great book for anyone seeking a bit of fantasy within realistic fiction and as well as some new vacation ideas. (FIC WALKER)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The House of Blue Mangoes / David Davidar

This book traces the story of a family in southern India, starting at the end of the last century until India’s birth as a nation. The author, David Davidar, is portraying a fictional family set in real history, and the book enables you to experience first hand the sights, sounds and even the smells of this part of India. As the story moves through the generations, your interest is skillfully carried over from the founding father, Soloman Dorai, to his son Daniel, who finds success in the apothecary trade and uses his wealth to rebuild the original family compound in their native village. The role of race and nationality in Indian culture is shown in all its complexity, both within their caste system and in their relations to the British, who are there administering colonial rule. Daniel’s son, Kannan, is the last major figure in the book. Actually employed by the British in their plantation system, he is a foil for the winds of social change which begin to make themselves felt at all levels of society. The characters are alive and the whole is a stirring and heartfelt realization of that time and that place.

Monday, September 10, 2007

September Reader's Rants

Our Endangered Values by Former President Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter is still active within many circles of social and political life in America. Indirectly, he supports and maintains several humanitarian missions like “Habitat for Humanity” and the “Carter Center” in his hometown of Atlanta. Here he analyzes some fundamental issues foreign and domestic, social and political that he feels threaten our current standard of living. Things such as religious fundamentalism, the growing economic divide between the upper and lower classes, global warming, and American military presence abroad are subjects which Carter evaluates and expresses with his own viewpoints. No matter what your political leaning, anyone should be able to appreciate someone as involved and influential as Carter speaking up on the existing state of the nation.

The Shame of a Nation: the Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America
by Jonathan Kozol

Kozol is a former Harvard graduate and veteran Civil Rights advocate who’s been engaged in American public schools in one way or another for over forty years. Stating that social reforms originally established to eliminate segregation of American public schools have backslidden, he argues that our nation’s public schools (particularly in highly diverse inner-city communities) are at a worse state now than they were in the pre-Civil Rights era. Using an abundance of personally observed conditions and interviews with politicians, administrators, teachers, and students (some as young as 4 or 5), Kozol makes no debate about what the problem is, the source of it, and who is to blame. This book is very “leftist” but not without validity concerning where the nation is headed if the educational system is not reformed. The book is a good read for anyone who is involved in some area of the public schools – be it directly as a parent/teacher or indirectly as a taxpayer.

The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank

Acclaimed author of The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing is back again with a new novel confronting young people’s difficulties and concerns as seen through one girl’s transition into womanhood. We meet Sophie Applebaum as an early teenager in suburban Pennsylvania struggling to cement an identity while encountering the issues of people in her life. Sophie emerges as a single New York woman more confident but still feeling around for confirmation and affection. This book is for individuals with a more sincere interest in chick lit rather than the over-the-top, Janet Evanovitch style. Personally I felt a little detached from Sophie’s character, perhaps due in part to Bank’s more laid back style of revelation. Purely seen as a story, however, The Wonder Spot won’t disappoint too many readers.

Encyclopedia of Juvenile Justice (see Reference Dept.)

This is a locally edited and published reference book dealing with the present day juvenile justice system. Topically indexed alphabetically, subjects like delinquency, petty vandalism, and misdemeanor or addressed in a well referenced and documented form. Cross-references to related subject headings make for a very solid syndetic scheme. This reference book is something we may not have a lot of “out-right” reference questions about. But it nonetheless provides some fluid information on the maintenance and operation of our nation’s juvenile justice system.

Cell by Stephen King

King’s latest macabre extaordinaire rewards the many long-time faithful readers of his horror classics with another solid, well-paced tale of conformity gone mad. Cell has just the right balance of drama, action, and curiosity along with--as always--blood and gore for most readers. A master storyteller who fashions literature anyone will gravitate toward, King modernizes this horror tale with a little ingenuity by creating a virus spread by cell phones. This virus or “pulse” is spread as a person holds their cell phone to his or her ear as radio waves are dispersed from the satellite signals. The immediate influx of literally millions of infected persons creates a frenzy of zombie-like maniacal beings reaking havoc through the streets. The plot for the story is almost immediately set down as we see the “normies” (people without cell phones and who haven’t used one since the virus began) are at war with the infected converts. King will never go wrong in appealing to the mass market readers. But anyone looking to graduate from overly-sympathetic characters and saccharin themes of good, evil, hypocrisy, and sentimentalism might need to look elsewhere.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Michael Chabon reading in Houston

For those of you who are Michael Chabon fans (or who may become Michael Chabon fans), you have a chance to hear him read from his newest novel in Houston on Monday, Sept. 10th. He's going to be in Houston as part of the Inprint Reading Series, which brings some amazing authors to Houston for your listening pleasure. More information about the Michael Chabon reading (and others by big names like Alice McDermott, Dave Eggers and Vikram Chandra) is available here.

Chabon's most recent book is The Yiddish Policmen's Union, which is a detective story set in a world in which Jews settled in Alaska instead of Israel after World War II. Chabon won a Pulitzer in 2001 for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. He also wrote The Wonder Boys, which was made into a movie starring Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The first wave by James R. Benn

Young Lt. Billy Boyle, a Boston beat cop working as a special investigator for his uncle Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, comes ashore in the first wave of the Allied invasion of Algeria during World War II. Hoping to help liberate Algeria from Vichy France and force the retreat of Rommel from North Africa, Billy quickly finds himself caught up in the middle of a nightmarish situation, where loyalties and power shift continuously. Caught between French Fascist militia, black market operators, Vichy French troops, Resistance fighters and Allied invasion forces, Billy tries to investigate the murders of several American soldiers, while safeguarding the shipment of the new miracle drug penicillin and saving the life of a beautiful British spy. The second mystery in the Billy Boyle series, this is an exciting story with memorable characters in a little-known historical setting