Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Readers who believe they know the story of how the oil spill only compounded the damage done to an already vanishing Louisiana wetlands will find their worst fears more than realized. As author Jacobsen states, the height of the BP spill roughly equaled the amount of dispersant that flows down the Mississippi from the Heartland's dishwashers and washing machines; acres of marsh destroyed by oil slicks can't compare to the amount that disappears in every hurricane and incrementally each year under natural soil erosion. In essence, nothing can stop the coast of Louisiana from disappearing as soon--Jacobsen sets the timetable at 40 years or so--New Orleans and the rest of South Louisiana will be washed away with the tides.
This is a really depressing book. So much so that the author's substantial sympathy and admiration for the Gulf region gets mired in the overwhelming and ongoing tragedy affecting the area. Shadows on the Gulf reveals the BP oil spill in its entirety, explains why it will affect quality of life for us all and then goes on to remonstrate on the further problems compounding the issue. Jacobsen, a longtime journalist and ecological advocate not only explains why the Gulf's wetlands are important, he bolsters his argument for its conservation with the data that the region provides the best oyster reefs and fish nurseries in the world and proves critical habitat to most of America's migratory songbirds and waterfowl as well as a home base for the energy and shipping industries. If the Gulf fails, the drastic effects will ripple across America and ultimately the world. That it will fail is inevitable unless a national effort is made to save it. (508.76 JACOBSEN)
Friday, May 27, 2011
Disturbed by his friend's mysterious epitaph and even more so when he discovers a sizeable golden nugget in his pack, Alexander sets off for Harold's home of Gadford to look for answers. He doesn't have to look far to find way more than he could have ever bargained for. When his search leads him to a small cottage where a woman named Magda lives, it is only the beginning as his life becomes ever more entwined with the life of a woman, a witch, and her dealings with the very peculiar yet very real "wee folk" of the forest. Matheson, known for his stellar horror novels like I Am Legend, Hell House and Stir of Echoes, merges into the world of fantasy in this sharply written tale of a man caught up in a world he could never have imagined. Much like more contemporary historical fantasy, near-history rather than ancient, Other Kingdoms weaves together a snapshot of twentieth century life, the ravages of the modern world with the ages old realm of myth and mysticism. Even readers only slightly familiar with fantasy will have no trouble grasping the plight and evolution of Alexander White, who recreates a time and a place certainly stranger and unfamiliar to our own, but which somehow seems very near and very recognizable all the same. (SF MATHESON)
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
In post-World War II America, Tom Rath is just another New York City businessman. His life revolves his job to which he commutes by train every morning, his wife Betsy and their three young children. As modest middle-class Americans, Tom and his family are just trying to make ends meet. So when an offer for a riskier but higher paying job comes his way, he takes it. The gamble pays off. Before long Tom catches the eye of his new boss Ralph Hopkins who wishes him to be his personal assistant, a prestigious but far more rigorous position meaning Tom will now have to choose between becoming a workaholic businessman or be just another 9-to-5-er who at least has time for his family. As he mulls his options, his homelife becomes more complicated. His only living relative, a grandmother, has died and left her estate home to Tom who now has to decide if he and his family should live on the property or accept the offer to sell the land as a potential housing project.
There's something else too. Even ten years later, the war is never far from Tom's thoughts. On his way to and from work, he reminisces about his harrowing combat experience as an Army paratrooper, the violence involved in killing enemy soldiers at close range and the loss of his best friend (partly of his own error). There's also a girl he knew in Rome, an Italian refugee named Maria, whom he'd had an affair with while on leave. When by chance he meets an old Army buddy and learns that Maria gave birth to his son after he left Italy, he must decide between keeping the love child a secret, hoping he can somehow forget about it, or letting his wife know and hope she'll understand. For Tom Rath, just another man on the street in a gray flannel suit, it seems like the entire world is held in the balance.
Penned in 1955, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is the quintissential 1950's story, one which entails the baby boom of the post war years, the suburbanization of American families, expanding American enterprise and the still lingering after effects of the war itself. Rath is a great character (Gregory Peck as Tom in the 1956 film version gave a sound performance). A man of admirable qualities, he's also plagued by many problems. Reading about Tom, the time and place he inhabits and the life which pulls him in so many different directions, creates intrigue about every aspect of the book right down to the peculiarly sad life of mega-mogul Ralph Hopkins. Here we see an individual feeling the grind of the corporate sinkhole, the decentralization of home and work, the burden of an ambitious wife and, not to be sold short, the first real problems confronting American veterans in quite some time. The book is a solid snapshot of an American decade more associated with conformity and standardization than indecision and uncertainty. Touching on the kind of America Updike would depict a decade later, it is one which brilliantly concentrates all of the trials and inadequacies, the ambiguity and suspicion inherent in post-war life into one identifiable character and condition. (FIC WILSON)
Monday, May 23, 2011
So what happens when the experts fail? If professionals can't get the job done, what's to become of the rest of us? In the past few years licensed psychotherapist Sharyn Wolf has been a media mainstay on shows like "Oprah", "The View" and the "Today Show Live". Her target area of expertise: advice for married couples. She's also authored a series of bestselling books offering advice on how to build a successful marriage and maintain cohesion between the spouses. So it came as something of a surprise to her many fans and millions of viewers that her own marriage of 15 years had ended in divorce. Even more disturbing was the fact that the union had been a failure for quite some time, practically a self-submerging pit from which the author never thought she'd get out of.
Things had been bad for nearly a decade for the two smart and talented people (both Wolf and her husband are professionals as well as performing musicians) who likened their marriage to being "locked together" in a prison. Wolf, ever the psychoanalyst, delves into why things went the way they did. Despite her husband's frequent sentiments of devotion, his fidelity and seemingly good health, it seems he just didn't get Sharyn. He never read her books, never escorted her to parties or her various speaking engagements, never quite displayed enough open affection; he took too long to make essentially mundane choices, carelessly made serious decisions without her input and, not necessarily his fault but damaging to their relaitionship all the same, experienced an unexpected and drastic drop-off in virility.
As much of the book muses on the effects of the author's shortcomings as her spouse's. "Girls like me stay in bad relationships because we don't want to upset anyone." (xvii). So she claims about her childhood-inspired desire to not be seen as a hassle. Her tentative behavior and frequent fear of comprimise helped her stay miserable as the marriage dragged on. Intermittently she offers anecdotes about clients and patients she's counseled over the years, weaving together their own private misgivings with her own sense of inferiority. Wolf can write well enough and authentically enough, but at times her insights, honest as they are, just seem a little too scattered to offer up a sound resolution or satisfying conclusion. The story of the doomed marriage becomes a little too bogged down amid Wolf's tangents and sidenotes. But this isn't a bad memoir and many readers will identify with the author's candid approach to her frankly humiliating circumstances. (306.893092 WOLF)
Saturday, May 21, 2011
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was originally written in 1983, and it is still funny. It is a crime fiction/spy fiction/caper/humor book. Dr. Henry Metzger of the title is clearly the smartest and most self-assured character in the book. He is the main character's cat, and yes, he does have his own dog. A giant, drooling, junkyard dog. The main character, Chinese Gordon, is the brains and leader of a group of good-hearted criminals who have decided, through a circuitous chain of events, to blackmail the CIA. While Chinese is the brains of his gang of crooks, his girlfriend, Margaret is clearly the brains behind Chinese. She is delightfully slinky and smart. There aren't too many brains to speak of on the CIA side, with the exception of one old-guard operative who isn't, unfortunately, at the top of the CIA food chain.
Perry's writing has that rollicking, noirish, tough-guy quality that you sometimes find in Elmore Leonard's dialogue. The plot is serpentine, the protagonists are unfailingly cool, and I was halfway through the book before it occurred to me that that technology was way outdated for this to be a contemporary book (I know, librarians are supposed to figure this stuff out faster -- duh). I was impressed that the book has stood the test of time so well. In the audiobook version, Carl Hiaasen provides an intro that I would advise skipping. I highly recommend the book in its original version, though, for a fun, irreverent read.
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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
John Elder Robison is Augusten Burroughs' older brother. While I didn't love Running with scissors, I was inspired to pick up this book after cataloging Robison's most recent effort, Be different: adventures of a free-range Aspergian, with practical advice for Aspergians, misfits, families & teachers. That one caught my interest because it is a book about Asperger's that is actually directed to folks with Asperger's (or Aspergians, in Robison's lingo). His memoir covers different ground than his brother's book. There is a significant age difference in the brothers, plus Robison's status as an Aspergian gives him a much different take on life and his surroundings than his non-Aspergian sibling.
The writing is a little choppy, but after a bit I got used to the flow of it and I think the funny rhythm actually ultimately helped me to understand how Robison thinks. He is surprisingly funny in an extremely deadpan way. Despite his unusual way of expressing himself, Robison is very self-aware. I found this book to be quite inspiring, in a very non-Lifetime television special kind of way. Robison had a rough time as a kid and an adolescent, between his crazy parents and his Aspergian personality. He did not succeed in the normal ways early in life, but he somehow didn't let that discourage him from pursuing his natural talents and he ended up becoming a successful human being anyway. He is not the same as most of the other folks in his life, but he seems to be okay with that. Very cool.
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Friday, May 20, 2011
Brent's high need for affirmation and bad practical joking (in front of a new employee he pretends to fire his secretary for supposedly stealing post-it notes bringing her to tears) is only eclipsed by the sycophantic, slightly neurotic habits of Gareth Keenan. A sales clerk and assistant (to the) regional manager who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with workplace rules, Gareth never fails to volunteer his services for generally thankless duties. Also a former soldier, Gareth believes (falsely) that his military background and self-assumed titles like being "team leader" give him authority over his coworkers, most notably Tim Canterbury his deskmate, who simply refuses to acknowledge any percieved authority Gareth claims to have. Disillusioned with life and bored at work, Tim, a sales rep, gets a kick out of poking fun at Gareth's eccentricities and juvenile hang-ups through equally juvenile hijinks like putting a stapler inside jello, prank-calling his gun-holstered cellphone and building a dividing wall out of cardboard boxes. One person who can't help laughing at Tim's little jokes and his all-around fun-loving nature is receptionist Dawn Tinsley who's only working a Wernham Hogg because her fiance Lee works in the warehouse. The other employees simply take things day by day, awkwardly enduring David Brent's incorrigible antics and hoping things get better.
There are several reasons why this is THE GREATEST TELEVISION SERIES EVER. The main one is Ricky Gervais, whose late 1990's vision to create a new type of anti-convention sitcom comedy was and remains something of an extraordinary triumph. Together with associate producer and writing partner Stephen Merchant, the pair held firmly to their goal of creating a TV series unlike any other--a show devoted to the wholly inconspicuous humor of the pathetic. The funniest jokes as well as the most poignant bits in "The Office" are never recognized as such on camera; not even so much as a hint of this-is-the-joke-we're-doing-now is ever conveyed for viewer enlightenment. Nor do the supporting scenes attempt to supply any context. The almost cinema verité approach to observing the monotonous drone of everyday life in the most accurate type of fly-on-the-wall, unobtrusive manner is sublimely one of the most rewarding aspects of the show (and something you would never see on American television). Another very crucial reason for the show's sustained notoriety is the talent. "The Office" would not have succeeded the way it did without the supporting cast--specifically and exclusively Martin Freeman and McKenzie Crook. Both virtual unknowns at the time of filming, they're no longer a secret--Freeman especially whose portrayal of Tim, the proverbial 'everyman', is one of the precious few gems of television acting done right. Providing an almost alter-ego to Gervais' David Brent, the character of Tim is masterfully illuminated as the piece's rational center, ultimately balancing the show's edgy humor with enough sincerity to realize every aspect of the series' intentions. The show's run, done entirely within 14 concise episodes, is truly a masterpiece (and if you have to ask why it didn't run longer, you've missed the point entirely). Never can it be duplicated; nor should it have been replicated or imitated with such watered-down, tasteless knock-offs. (DVD OFFICE)
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics / by John Pollack
The pun is more than just a lame (pun)ch line, something history testifies to. From the ancient Egyptians whose heiroglyphics attest to the humorous double-meaning symbols to the French wits of the 17th century, puns have always been at the forefront of exposition and repartee. In the English language particularly, the Norman Conquest diversified the vocabulary to a point that by Elizabethan times, "the play upon words was not merely an elegance of style and a display of wit; it was also an means of emphasis and an instrument of persuasion" (p. 63). The art of the pun is, even today, still a worthy tool for any wannabe wordsmythes, encouraging the broad and cross-cultural use of words to communicate intelligence. Because of its utility, puns are a universally acknowledged currency for any format of both oral and written correspondence and almost any type of social interaction, even texting. Pollack says that the pun will never die. Moreover, it will continue to proliferate as a low-brow gag and a device to be infused during the most proper of conversations. No matter what, it will always be more than just 'some antics'. (808.7 POLLACK)
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Now in the waining days of news print, as the internet threatens to bring about the end, the staff must face down the inevitable while dealing with their own individual concerns and problems. Editor-in-chief Kathleen, still dealing with her husband's recent infidelity, handles the task of managing her dwindling cast of employees who include Arthur, a lazy obituary writer dealing with his own very recent. personal loss. Meanwhile staff HR head and chief financial officer Abby discovers that some of the people she's having to fire include her secret lover and field correspondent Douglas still seeks more earth-shattering headlines, going to some pretty desperate lengths to get story. As the day of the print news coming to an end, this 'imperfect' crew of drifters and ex-pats, exiles and misfits, faces an uncertain future. As the paper's rich history is revealed, including the surprising truth about its founder's intentions, so to are its future plans inevitably played out as the successors of the Mr. Ott's once unique idea now caretake on his crumbling vision. Released to critical and public acclaim in 2010, The Imperfectionists is a really, really good book. (FIC RACHMAN)
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The DVD for this film will be released in the United States this coming July. The film is made in French, with English subtitles. It is based on the true story of a group of French Trappist monks at a monastery in Algeria, whose lives were threatened by Muslim extremists in 1996.
Massacres of civilians took place in Algeria, a former French colony, from 1994 to 1999. Intellectuals, journalists, foreigners and those exhibiting westernized conduct (such as women unveiled) – they were all included as targets in the war between Algeria’s military government and Islamic rebels. The majority of those killed, however, were simply villagers who were perceived as supporters of the hated regime, or as those who refused to join the rebel movement. Some testimony has emerged that the police and the army as well were infiltrated by the rebels, since both exhibited failure to protect citizens or to pursue the murderers and rapists. The possibility of government-instigated attacks has been raised as well, orchestrated to exonerate their own harsh tactics against civilians and to further tarnish the rebels’ reputation. While our press did not single out these events, it was a black time for Algeria and for France as well.
The film is not a violent one, although we witness the deaths of some foreign workers, and feel the danger posed by the rebels to the villagers and to the monks. There are seven monks at the monastery, joined at the film’s end by one more who returns from a journey. The first seven men we get to know slowly, seeing them at their tasks - gardening and harvesting, studying and reading, visiting the Muslim villagers and treating their sick. All these activities surround their religious occupation of prayer and celebrating mass. They sing the mass and the prayers, and this chanting is almost the only music in the film. Their lives are presented as a seamless whole – moving from work and study to the repose of contemplation, swiftly yet without haste donning their habit over their work clothes, ready to worship and to receive their God.
Caught between departing to save their skins and staying to be brutally murdered, the monks differ in how they see their situation and what they believe they ought to do. Acknowledging the risk of staying, their prior states that no outside authority has the right to make their decision for them, even though the government is begging them to leave. What becomes clear is how close they are to the villagers after so many years, and how abandoned the people would feel if the monks left. The monks’ fate is riveting as they wrestle with their decision, each in his own way struggling alone, yet bound with the others in the stillness and immensity of their shared vocation.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Aimlessly hitchhiking along the road until he's picked up by a trucker heading for the channel tunnel, the protagonist sets off on his journey not knowing (or caring) about his destination. The adventure gets along fine for a little while. But when the truck driver, an odd fellow who peddles his own brand of muddled philosophy to the protagonist, is pulled over in a former eastern bloc country, things suddenly get very strange. The truck is captured and set ablaze by armed guerilla-styled men who capture the protagonist and his driver, confiscate their belongings and actually accuse the protagonist of committing murder. But that's only the beginning as the plot deepens into an ever-widening story of faith, allegiance, conspiracy and complicit dealings.
Author William Nicholson, also the Oscar-winning screenwriter of the blockbuster movie Gladiator, brilliantly pulls off this interesting novel focusing on free will, individual choices and the lives we make for ourselves. With gentle humor, wonderfully wry aplomb and lucid candor, The Society of Others is a bit of an off-the-wall book, very Kafka-esque in its own way positioning individual reason against institutional irrationality and repressive politics. Cynical ramblings by the anonymous protagonist add surprising weight to the novel's dreamlike atmosphere and detached mood, altogether offering up an entertaining story on the importance of human connection and worthwhile relationships. Of course the oral narrative of this, the audiobook, is enhanced by reader Glen McCready who more than manages the narrator's dour, nihilistic complex and lends admirable credibility to the supporting characters. This book is definitely better than OK and firmly satisfactory right up until the end. (AD FIC NICHOLSO)
Friday, May 6, 2011
Attachments is an OK book, basically one that plays the cuteness factor all the way to the bank. The humor, or what the characters think is humor, gets sort of old after the first few chapters and some readers may grow impatient with both protagonists. There's also some unlikely coincidences which attempt to forward the plot but really just delay the inevitable. Very, very imitative of the You've Got Mail movie from that era (circa 1998), knowledgeable readers will be pretty much up to speed on what the end will look like well before the last third of the story. Rowell, a lifestyle columnist for the Omaha World-Herald, writes credible dialogue and description but her characters just aren't very believable and circumstances seem too fixed and manipulated for the story to be taken seriously. The book will find an audience with readers wanting another office-style/workplace comedy. (FIC ROWELL)
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Deep Freeze / by Thom Racina
Only the most unusual of natural disasters could disrupt the normally unremitting course of daily activity in Southern California, a place which is, after all, used to routine floods, mudslides, earthquakes, brush fires, even swarms of Africanized Honeybees. But a winter storm of mass proportions does that, making roads impassable, freezing swimming pools into blocks of ice and generally creating a frenzied atmosphere bordering on mayhem for all sectors of society. (FIC RACINA)
Avalanche: A Sheriff Bo Tully Mystery / by Patrick F. McManus
When luxury ski lodge owner Mike Wilson goes missing, Blight County (ID) Sheriff Bo Tully suspects that Wilson is probably just off on another fling. But, doing his duty, Tully drives up to the lodge anticipating an easy missing persons case only to meet an oncoming avalanche head-on. Now stuck at the lodge, after having just barely made it safe inside, Tully finds there may be more to Mike’s disappearance than he originally thought. (MYS MCMANUS)
Nine strangers are caught together in a passport and visa office one afternoon when a violent earthquake rips through area, trapping all of them inside. As the office begins to flood and the struggle for survival becomes intensified, all begin to share pieces of themselves, emotionally uplifting tidbits from their own lives to life morale. As their surprising stories of love, loss and self-revelation unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression helps them cope with time running out. (FIC DIVAKARU)
Acts of Nature / by Jonathon King
Private Eye Max Freeman and his girlfriend, Detective Sherry Richards have relocated to the Florida Everglades to be much needed R&R. It's the kind of life they've looked forward to for a while with no TV, no phones, no neighbors. But with the arrival of a devastating hurricane, more than just their little piece of paradise is uprooted as Sherry is severely injured and with no means of calling for help, the couple begins a treacherous trip back to civilization only to run in to some thoroughly undesirable characters who've been uprooted as well. (MYS KING)
Ark / by Stephen Baxter
In the not-so-distant future, life on planet earth lies on the brink of extinction after a massive flood submerged nearly everything. In a last ditch attempt to secure the survival of mankind, two specially designed space crafts, Ark One and Ark Two, have been designed to transport survivors to another life-sustaining planet many light years away. Holle Groundwater is one of the chosen few who've been trained since childhood for destiny and is finally ready to embark on her destiny when she uncovers a secret revealing that escaping earth may be a more dangerous task than remaining behing on a drowning planet. (SF BAXTER)