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“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Currently reading

The Heretic's Daughter
Kathleen Kent
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
Simone de Beauvoir, James Kirkup
Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre, Lloyd Alexander I have to admit that I read this book in the summer between finishing high school and starting college - a time when I felt sure everything I'd been taught was irrelevant. When I read Nausea, I thought and acted like I had discovered the holy grail! I told all my friends (all 3 of them) they HAD to read it. I fell in love with this book with the intensity only a young person in their late teens can. (Evidently not all young people feel this way. My best friend still blames me ruining her summer by insisting that she read it.)

It isn't necessarily that the book revealed all the secrets of the universe to me, but it did start a whole summer of revelations. In the process of having to explain why I thought this book was so great I starting Thinking (capital "t" not a mistype) rationally and realizing that a sound argument is not merely a matter of volume, wit and "touches!" I read more Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir along with other modern philosophers. I also began establishing my philosophy.

Philosophy itself was a new concept to me. Not because I didn't know about it, but because I had a vague idea that philosophy had pretty much began and ended with the Greeks. OK, maybe I would even add St. Augustine - but by then I was already "outgrowing" the Catholic Church. I was primed for new ideas.

Am I an existentialist or a Marxist now? The only way I can answer that is that once one has completed 10 or so years beyond 19, experience teaches you that life is too complicated to be able to define yourself by one or two words that are loaded with dynamite. All that I feel sure about is that I still conciser myself a feminist and I still have enough optimism to call myself a liberal.

I do recommend this book - if for nothing else to challenge your ideas. If for you, as for me, it turns out to be the middle of a wheel with many spokes, you are in for a lot of research. I give it 4 stars for being challenging and thought-provoking.
Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout - Lauren Redniss I loved this book - and by that I mean the physical book. The texture, the colors, the drawings and the fact that it glows in the dark are among the the things I enjoyed. Really, it GLOWS in the dark.

The information in the book reads like observations and fun facts distributed among the drawings. It does convey the story of Marie & Pierre Curie in a whimsical, almost lyrical prose. Sometimes it seems almost like a poem.

It does also talk science - clearly & without embellishment. One can't really talk about the Currie's without talking about radioactivity. It was both their triumph & their demise.

I'm not giving it four stars because it is great literature. I'm giving it four stars because it's charming and innovative in conveying a story of fairly ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary objectives. More that just the words, the art, the colors, and the choice of paper each have an important part in this "biography."

Read it, but don't forget to touch and feel the book. And, for haven's sake, do turn the light off so you can see it glow.
Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace I loved his books of essays. I wanted to like this book; I wanted to finish it. It's supposed to be a funny and experimental commentary on culture and a grim view of the world- a dystopia set in the near future. Yeah, I got the humor and irony - but I needed a hatchet to get through all complicated sentences. Other reviewers are head over heels in love with this book. Some even suggest that if you don't have the fortitude to get through the this book, you may not be as smart as you think. OK, so be it. Proving to the world that I am reasonably smart is just not enough of a challenge to keep reading this tome.

I found it too convoluted and a bit pretentious for my taste. Was David Foster Wallace so revered that an editor could not suggest changes and reign in all the extraneous and unnecessarily difficult language? I made it to page 115 but I just couldn't bear the thought of another 989 pages. And the footnotes, my God, the footnotes - nearly 100 pages of them (I think). Really? A book shouldn't be this hard to read.

I feel a little dumber given how important this work is supposed to be. Like James Joyce's Ulysses, which l also never finished (sorry, Mrs. Floyd), it was literally and figuratively too heavy for me. I feel guilty, and a bit shamed. Still, it's unlikely that I'll pick up either of these books again. Off they go to Half-Price Books. Maybe someone else will enjoy them.
Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay Not great, not terrible. Worth reading for a piece of history that has been hidden.

Julia's story of her crumbling marriage was shallow and predictable - it would probably make a good Lifetime movie. Her jetting back and forth between NY and Paris and her travel to Italy (including the renting of a story book villa) made it hard to identify or sympathize with her.

As a reporter, Julia seems pretty inadequate - certainly her research skills are weak - she didn't know how to look up a phone number via the internet? Many times she depended on her young daughter's advice. Also, her reluctance (or lack of curiosity?) to ask probing questions of people who have first-hand information was irritating. Perhaps it was done to add suspense to the story but it made her seem ineffective as a journalist.

The story that interested me was Sarah's story and the Vel'd'Hiv (the round up of Jews in Paris by the Nazis with the help of the French authorities). Kudos to Rosnay for bringing this to light. I had never heard of this part of history. I wish she had concentrated more on this than the over-dramatic and predictable sequence of events in her life. I had many unanswered questions about Sara which I think Julia could have satisfied were she less self-centered and a better reporter. In the real world his would have been a great coup for a reporter & her magazine - Neither Julia nor her publisher don't seem to grasp the significance of this. Instead, she turns in a lame story so she can return to her life story.

I give it 2 stars because the book irritated me. There was an interesting story here but it kept being interrupted by the predictable account of an insipid woman's life.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo One of those books that one really can't say "I liked it." It was a well written & compelling book but it was also depressing and ugly.

Coming from a third-world country (Bolivia), I have seen first hand the kind of poverty and misery that one seldom sees in the U.S. We humans are resilient and we do manage to survive in circumstances that are incredibly desperate. I think this books represents just about any third-world slum. Especially true is the poverty "tax" people pay in their daily life in the form of bribes - in addition to misery poor people have little power fight the system which oppresses them. Interestingly, the oppressed add to their misery by oppressing their own. India is not unique in having this problem and, perhaps, was used because the problem is literally magnified by it's large population.

Yeah, as a species we remarkable in our ingenuity & resilience. Our will to survive is amazing & our ability to create normalcy under the most dire circumstances is what has made us one of the most wide-spread animals in the planet. Having attended celebrations and family dinners in El Alto (a slum area near La Paz, Bolivia) I know first hand that there is joy even in places we see as hopeless.

We don't always have to read great literature - sometimes we can read something just for fun

I Know I Am, But What Are You? - Samantha Bee

I liked Samantha Bee's book. A lot. It was unexpectedly thoughtful and revealing. I did expect it to be funny and it did not disappoint. I laughed out loud in public.

I couldn't help comparing it to Tina Fey's Bossipants. I REALLY expected and WANTED to like Bossipants but I was disappointed. Fey's book was sold as autobiographical but it was not. It was more of a stand-up session & verged on the condescending. I learned very little about Tina that I couldn't Google.

On the other hand, Bee's book reads more like a mini autobiography. Her life is revealed in essays that felt both insightful and genuine - as well as hilarious. I learned a great deal about her eccentric upbringing and the people and experiences which led her to the choices she's made. It was sad, fun and informative. I finished it in two nights.

Why 3 stars? I loved the book but it is not great literature. That being said, we don't always have to read great literature. Sometimes we can read something because it's fun. I recommend it if you want to get to know this funny Daily Show woman better.

Final Analysis: The Untold Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case - Catherine Crier, Cole Thompson This book was soooo tedious & repetitive - I expected better from a journalist.
Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn creepy, unsettling yet compelling
El cuaderno de Maya - Isabel Allende Not my favorite Allende. Good but took me forever to finish. Not compelling, but interesting.
My Seinfeld Year - Fred Stoller Who would have guessed that a year of working for Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld would be such an alienating experience? We get to see the "real" Larry and Jerry - they are not as fun as I thought they would be. Comedy is a serious business - especially comedy that made both men multimillionaires.

A short book, it seems more like a spec chapter for a future book rather than a stand-alone-piece. It left me wanting more - not more Seinfeld, more Fred. Even though I enjoyed the behind the scenes Seinfeld info, I actually wanted to know more about Fred. What a quirky and eccentric character! The sad little character he portrays is both funny and tragic. His adventures in becoming a comedian/actor deserve a longer treatment. Mom deserves a whole section - and a psychiatric evaluation.

Please Fred, get going on your autobiography. I will be the first one to pre-order it on Amazon.

Murder of the century? Really? Which one?

The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars - Paul  Collins

Not well organized. It was so confusing that I was forever going back to see who/what the author was talking about.

Easy to put down. I read a little bit for short periods of time - not compelling enough to keep my attention.  One would think that the "Murder of the Century" would keep you intrigued.  It did do one thing well: I got a good night's rest every time I picked it up at bedtime.

Not sure how the title applies - It didn't convince me that the crime was "the murder of the century." Perhaps that description is so overused now that it has lost meaning. Certainly it did not have the impact of the Simpson trial or the Scopes Monkey Trial because I never heard of it before.

The story that interested me most was the war among the newspapers / publishers. Proving that FOX News did not invent sensationalism, news reporters of the day were shameless in their pursuit of a salable story.  Because the author tried to cram too much information about both the media and the crime, the book became a disjointed account of forensics & media reaction. This was a time during which police didn't secure crime scenes & news people had unlimited access-that in itself should have made compelling read. Perhaps The author could have used a little more sensationalism in his writing?

Lots of interesting information that should have created a compelling story. The author could focused on one subject and written two books: media sensationalism or crime/forensics.  If he wanted both subjects, he could have styled it more like Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City - which had had better continuity.

All is not lost if you trudge through this book. If you get through the labyrinth of information your reward will be information with which you can make impressive cocktail conversation.

The City and the City - China Miéville Could not put it down. Great thriller as well as interesting fantacy setting.
The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas - Paul Theroux Yes, he is a curmudgeon - but I still love his books.

This one in particular fed into my wish to " someday" travel. I was a poor student who thought travel was only for the rich. I didn't realize you could do it cheaply - if you don't mind a few discomforts. It gave the information I needed to take journeys that expanded my world view.

The book reads like a diary of his travel from Boston to Tierra del Fuego, most of the time by train. Along the way he meets both ordinary & famous people - most of whom he dislikes. At the beginning of his train trip he meets a self-centered young woman who gives him a rundown of her dietary needs and "sensitivities." She is a the first of many people who will annoy and confound him. He also manages to meet luminaries like Jorge Luis Borges. Even Borges doesn't distract him from train" schedules", breakdowns, people, and misunderstanding that - he thinks - exist only to thwart his enjoyment. He hates everyone and everything but manages to describe it all in hilarious prose.

I know many people dislike his grouchy persona - they wonder why he even travels. Give him a break - he is like one of those old - fashioned uncles (at least in literature) who fill your head with wonderful images of far away places while complaining about the most trivial problems. You know he's finicky, so all you take in is the wonder of discovering new places.

I will always love this book and Mr. Theroux for leading me out of small, Midwestern-town-USA. How else would I have found myself hitching a ride to Otoval market (ECUADOR) on top of a precarious truck carrying vegetables & chickens? Two Japanese sisters made the trip even more fun as we screamed & laughed all the way. A trip of a lifetime on a shoe string budget. Luckily I was young enough to ignore discomfort so that I could enjoy new vistas and people.

I will always keep my worn copy of this book. I give it 5 stars for inspiration, hilarity, and practical advice.
Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay The story is, supposedly, based on a "real" event - the author neither denies nor confirms this.

A group of girls, along with 2 chaperons, go on a Valentine's day picnic near a geological formation called Hanging Rock. There is eating, reading of poetry & conversation. A few girls and one chaperon decide to explore the rocky form. Mystery and tragedy ensue, There is mysticism, hints of lesbianism, disappearances and possible criminal activity. It should keep us on the edge of our seats - but it doesn't. The events move like molasses and culminates in an unsatisfying ending.

This is one of the few books which I found less interesting than the movie. It's short but I had a hard time reading it - a bit too melodramatic, characters were irritating and it moves at a snail's pace. It seemed like a short story which was drawn out to be published as a book. My advice? Read the Wikipedia narrative & watch the movie - both are much more interesting.