Monday, October 29, 2007

Trezza Azzopardi: Remember Me

This is an odd, startling book. I believe I've tried to read it before and couldn't get into it, but this time I coulnd't put it down. The story of a self-described "derelict," the narrative bounces back and forth between time the present and alternatively clear and foggy memories. These memories are often painful- the multi-named narrator has very few positive moments to share. A relatively fast read, don't be confused: it's not "lite"-this is a good book to curl up with under the covers and dwell on.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

John Ash: A Byzantine Journey

This book almost made me do two things: 1) stop my "get through all unread books from A-Z project. 2)Break my almost never unbroken rule of not finishing a book. even a bad one.

This book is mind-boggling, and not in the good sense. Mind boggling, like "how did he get a publisher?" Mind boggling, like "ok, he got a publisher, why didn't his editor help out?" Mid boggling like "uh, what is John Ash trying to do here?"

I was basically confused throughout 90-97% of this entire book, which was disappointing (and good reason for less obsessive people to stop reading the book). I can't exactly explain what this book is: in a way, it's a travel book, describing I *think* Greece and Turkey, as Ash travels around looking at ruins. In a way, it's a history book, describing the Byzantine empire. In a way, it's a revisionist history of the Byzantine empire and art, as Ash attempts to put both back on the map: some of his sources basically wrote of this empire as barbaric, decadent, and not worth second thought. Ash disagrees. I might agree with Ash if I had any idea what was going on in this book.

From the beginning- the maps- I was confused. They are beautiful, but poorly done. I had to look at them multiple times to even understand which lines were which, which was a blow-up, etc. It was downhill from there. The book talks about so many esoterica things, from architecture, art, geography, history, etc, that a glossary was definitely in order. There was no glossary. No footnotes, no endnotes, nothing. And definitely no terms described in the text. Simple (?) words like "capital" (I don't know what that means but it was repeated so often in context, that I take it it means something having to do with Byzantine architecture) to complex ones like "nartharux."

I was also totally boggled by geography/terminology. "Greeks": are we referring to the Greek Empire "Greeks" (sometimes Ash is) or modern day, or even century-ago Greeks? The map doesn't even include Greece, so I had no way of knowing. Similarly, though the Turks and the Turkmen (who I take it were different, but again, not defined) featured promininently in this book, I could rarely tell when we were discussing modern day people who lived in Turkey, Turks of an empire or Turkmen. Totally confusing.

I could have learned a lot from this book about subjects I know nothing about- Greece, Turkey, Byzantium, art, architecture. Instead I feel like I know less than I started with. I can't imagine who would enjoy this book- it's certainly not light reading, it's not a travel book if you're in this (which?) area. More pictures would help, certainly, since there is no glossary! And experts in any of these fields are already going to know all about the empires, the art and architecture, etc, and not need "fluff" of a travel book.

Definitely, skip it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Karen Delise: The Pit Bull Placebo

This is a must read for anybody in a variety of professional fields: journalism, law enforcement, medicine, dog training, dog walking, and animal sheltering.

The book itself reads like a text book, but this is as it should be. Karen Delise has provided us with the first study, case-by-case of fatal dog attacks that goes beyond the media version of the incident. She starts in the 1800s and reviews each incident up to the present day. Analyzing both the trend in the incident and in the media coverage of the incident, Delise leaves no stone unturned. The media has always been fascinated with dog attacks, we learn. However, up until the 1970s, media reporting of dog attacks included both entertainment value and information on what went wrong between the victim and man's best friend. Now, stories of dog attacks (and let's be clear- the only stories that make the news are stories that feature the magic words "pit bull," whether or not they are attacks) have severed all notion of a relationship between man and dog. This has the added benefit of ridding the humans involved of all responsibility. It must have been those "vicious" dogs (read: pit bulls).

Really? Suddenly in the last 30 years we've lost control of dogs? There are millions and millions of dogs in this country (Delise gives stats), but in a few dozen cases a year, there are unpredictable dogs who we have no control over? Hmmm.... Delise points out that we have lost all common sense and chosen to believe the hype. This is dangerous- we have chosen not to educate ourselves in order to prevent more serious bites and fatalities. It is also very depressing. Communities who are buying the hype are willing to sacrifice entire populations of dogs (read: pit bulls) rather than evaluating their personal responsibility in the fatalities that they are eager to blame on a handful of dogs.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kate Atkinson: Case Histories

Case Histories, Kate Atkinson. a good, fun read. so far the best book in my "unread 'A'" books. a interesting, keep-reader-involved vignettes that turn out to have a plot to connect them. which is a good thing, too, since i'm not a short story reader. the vignettes turn out to have a sort of predictable ending, if you manage to keep all 300 characters straight in you head. i would say i kept track of 250 of them. not bad, but not great, either. could have done with 200 to start with- i might have caught 180 that way.

this book was not good enough to make me go seek out atkinson's other books, but it was good enough that i would pass it along to a friend seeking a fun read. (not good enough to demand that they return it...)

reading my books

i have a lot of books. too many books. they don't all fit on my shelves, and i have a LOT of shelves. so i have a new project. i'm reading all of my books that i haven't read. i would say i've read 80% of the books on my shelves. that still leaves a shitload of books that i haven't read. i'm going to TRY to read all of these books before i buy any more books. i know that this will never happen, but it's a noble goal.

i tried to alphabatize my books, but i failed, because they don't all fit on the shelves. got to about the "m's" before i realized it was pointless to try and put them in order if there was nowhere to PUT them. so, i'm starting my reading the unread books project with the "A"'s. and i'm reviewing hte books i read on facebook, because i'm just that dorky. but since my blog is here, and i'm all over the internet shit, i think i'm going to put them here. because i'm just that cool. i mean, what is cooler than someone who is reading their unread books, reviewing them on one networking site, and blogging them on another? ok, pretty much eveything is cooler than that. i know. it's pathetic. seriously pathetic.

in good news- i have so far read 4 "A" books, and i'm getting rid of 2 of them. that is a GREAT improvement over my normal disposal rate. at this rate, i will be able to fit all the non-fitting books on my shelves. we'll see how many letters this project lasts....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anonymous: A Woman in Berlin

A Woman in Berlin, Anonymous. Fabulous, disturbing read. A quick read, but definitely don't skip the intro and foreword, to place the diary in context. If you're like me, you've read plenty of books about the horrors the Nazis perpetrated on all walks of humanity, but this is the first book I've read about what the Germans suffered right as WWII ended. The anonymous author is even-handed about it- at first she is shocked about the "Ivan's" behaviors, but it quickly dawns on her that the soldiers from her country probably behaved equally barbarically. Definitely an anti-war tract, whether intentionally or not. The author questions gender roles as she knows them, and survival, as she has known it. Puts (my) life into perspective.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Elizabeth Kostova: The Historian

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. wow, this book was terrible. i have a slight problem where once i start a book, i will not stop, almost without exception, even if they are this bad. seriously, this book is not good.

i have a soft spot for historical fiction, so i'm thinking, ok, maybe i will like it? no. the characters bop around from place to place so quickly that i can't even keep track of where they are. i don't like fantasy at all, or vampires, so that pretty much ruled out this book, but as i said above, once i open a book, i'm committed. plus, 700 pages? you've got to be kidding me. there might have been enough plot for 700 pages if kostova had actually told the story instead of using every possible literary device known to (wo)man to tell the story: letters, stories about letters, diaries, etc. come on! just tell the stinking story already.

anyway, i have nothing really nice to say about the book, except that, well, the ending was, ok? i guess? if you like that kind of ending? i won't spoil it. just avoid the book. oh, one more thing- if you like fast reads, and that's what you're looking for, this book also sucks, because it weighs, seriously, like 10 pounds. who wants to carry a 10 pound book around in their bag, while they're waiting for the bus, on the airplane, etc? not me.

yuck. skip it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dorothy Allison: Cavedwellers

Cavedwellers, by Dorothy Allison. This book was just OK. Too long, not enough plot, and what little drama there was all came in the last 20 pages. For a long book, the characters were not fully devloped and I wanted to know them better.

Maybe for a vacation/airplane/light reading book, if you're into that sort of thing, "Cavedweller" would be ok. If not, definitely skip it.