All posts tagged: Book Reviews

Resisting the Pressure of Reality

Labor Day is a time to refocus and rejuvenate. Facebook feeds are full of pictures of students heading off to the first day of school. Summer vacations are wrapped up and business activity picks up. After the news lull of the summer months . . . Wait . . there was no summer news lull? Unless you were disciplined enough to cut off your electronic devices and stop your newspaper deliveries, I suspect you know about Greenland and Denmark. The proposed nuclear (as in bomb) response to hurricanes. Our where-do-we-stand-this-hour trade war with China. Immigrant children dying in U.S. custody. Home-grown domestic terrorists killing men, women, and children in never-ending mass shootings. An unwillingness on the part of one of our political parties to protect our system of electing the country’s leaders. Dismantling of critical environmental protections. Selling off public land to the highest bidder. Disarray in the G-7. Staggering income inequality and a wildly fluctuating stock market. And that was just last week. I fear we are coming to a point where many will …

Obsessions

Obsessions come in all shapes and sizes. Some, let’s admit it, are just plain weird. Others can be transformative and life-changing. * Upon opening a book of confessions to find a first chapter entitled “Spelling is for Weirdos,” I realized that I had found a writer—a self-styled comma queen, no less—with an infectious take on her chosen obsession. This particular confession—which I recently read after it was recommended by another writer—makes for a delightful romp and a good reminder that some obsessions are worth the effort. In describing the manual How to Sharpen Pencils as “one of the very few books worthy of the dual category “Humor/Reference,” Mary Norris, The New Yorker’s long-time copy editor, could have been discussing her own 2015 work—Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Norris makes sure there is plenty of humor to go along with the useful information on grammar throughout this engaging and educational work. Between You and Me chronicles an obsession of the best kind. I’ve been on the lookout for books about clarity in writing since …

It Takes However Long It Takes

After his death, Stephen Jay Gould, the great paleontologist and scholar of evolutionary history, was still teaching about a subject he loved—through a posthumous book of essays about baseball. Gould and other famous scholars and writers—individuals such as historians David Halberstam and Doris Kearns Goodwin, novelist John Updike, financial journalist Michael Lewis, and New Yorker essayist Roger Angell—have all written with a special affinity for the game. Ken Burns found many of them for his 9-part PBS documentary Baseball. Yes, even poet Walt Whitman wrote about baseball in the mid-nineteenth century. I’m here to report that we have a candidate for the 2019 addition to the “smart people write about baseball” library. Let’s see what it might tell us about baseball, and life. Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark is a short and entertaining work written by Alva Noë, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a lifelong New York Mets fan. I went against my standing policy of rejecting books with jacket blurbs by George Will and took …

Toni Morrison, R.I.P.

Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning author and arguably our First Lady of Letters, passed away last evening, August 5th, at the age of 88. She left this earth as a new book of essays, The Source of Self-Regard, along with a recently released documentary entitled Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, introduced long-time fans and new readers alike to her towering intellect and broad vision. These works could not have come along at a better time. Now that she has died, we will have to rely on the power of Morrison’s words; the clarity of her vision for social justice; the love of art, music, and literature that permeates the meditations in The Source of Self-Regard and the interviews in The Pieces I Am more than ever. At the end of “Peril,” the very first offering in The Source of Self-Regard, Morrison makes the bold statement that, “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” And through 350 pages of speeches, essays, and meditations, she shows why. There are 43 pieces in The Source of Self-Regard, …

Summer Reading 2015

This has been a busy summer, full of travel, family changes, work, and good food!  During the past three months, I’ve also had a chance to read a few books – a couple just okay, one interesting, and one terrific.  So here’s a short summary, from mediocre to recommended. The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us, by Alison Lurie.  I picked up this 2014 book – with its promise to highlight how buildings speak to us in ways simple and complex, formal and informal – with great anticipation.  Written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, I expected great – or at least good – writing that would pull me along.  Unfortunately, I found it a simplistic and rather bland work that I had trouble finishing.  This is a topic that holds a great deal of promise.  Unfortunately, Lurie’s work doesn’t deliver. The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors:  A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship by Henry Petroski.  I bought  this quirky work in Seattle while on my cross-country trip with Claire in 2014.  …

From the Bookshelf

Despite a busy fall schedule of work and travel, I’ve managed to finish several books that have sat on my bookshelf for various periods of time. Some are hot off the press, others have been waiting for me to pick them  up for more months than I care to admit. All were worth reading, and two were terrific finds.  So here are a few thoughts on a season’s worth of reading – beginning with the one I finished earlier this week, and working backwards from there. Lawrence in Arabia:  War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson. This new work on the Middle East of World War I falls in the “terrific finds” category. Obviously much has been written about the exploits of T.E. Lawrence – the famous “Lawrence of Arabia.” In this book, however, the veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson weaves in Lawrence’s story with those of three spies from the era (German Curt Prüfer, American – and Standard Oil employee – William Yale, and Zionist Aaron …