Monday, November 28, 2011

November Reading List

  • Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin - The autor is Provost of the Field Museum and anatomy professor at the University of Chicago. He is also a paleontologist, who discovered an important transitional fish called Tiktaalik, an intermediate between water- and land-dwelling creatures. This book is an eloquent elucidation of the central tenet in modern biology, that of the origin of species by descent with modification. He examines human anatomy to explore our evolutionary links to reptiles, sharks, and even bacteria, and does so with wit, clarity and joy.
  • The Bangkok Sporting Club by David A Berger - I didn't particularly like this book, at least not for the characters--one insane, one manipulative and dirty, and one naive and boorish--or for the story; I did like the settig, which is that pearl of the Orient, Bangkok, and the author was accurate in his treatment of it. Anyway, Phoenix Systems has a front-end contract to set up a new computer system in the US Embassy, and Phoenix's programming guru has disappeared with the job half-done; so underling Eddie reluctantly comes to Bangkok to finish the job. Meanwhile, there are occasional hints, snippets of conversation the author decides to let us hear without any apparent rhyme or reason, to suggest that not all is as it seems...
  • Angel Time by Anne Rice - I have always been a serious fan of Anne Rice, but her last few offerings have been wanting. This tome is the story of a twenty-eight year old professional assassin who ruminates to the point of tedium about religious belief and his lack of it; at his point of moral crisis, he meets an angel who takes him back in time to use his "special skills" to save some medieval Jews from an angry mob. At no point do the protagonist's special skills come into play, the climax and denoument are telegraphed well in advance, and there's not even a good plot twist at the end, like one could once count on in an Anne Rice novel (there is a plot twist, it's just not all that good).
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  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros - Prose poetry about a Hispanic girl named Esperanza growing up somewhere on Chicago's south side. In brief vignette's we meet her friends and neighbors, and slowly get know her and her inner life. Imanginative yet truthful, lyrical but streetwise, this book was a pleasure to read, and I wish it had gone on much longer--it's only 109 pages.
  • And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life by Charles J Shields - I used to say that Kurt Vonnegut was the greatest living American writer, but he died in 2007, so I don't say that anymore. I was very sad when I heard of his death--but not as sad he was to have lived so long, according this book, the first pure Vonnegut bio to make it to market. He was old, and tired, and in failing health for about ten years after completing what he promised to be his last novel, Timequake in 1997. When a critic asked why he brought out another book (A Man Without A Country) he answered that he had expected to be dead by now. Death, suicide, gallows humor, were major themes in his work, and it is clear he was ambivalent about living, much less living to 85. I for one am grateful he decided to stick out as long as he did. Anyway, this book is a bit uneven, and since it tells the Vonnegut story as truthfully as possible it is at times a hard read, for he had troubles--wife troubles, children troubles, friendship, health troubles ... it was usually the case that the instant something went well in his writing career, something would go to hell in his personal life. And his writing career was for many long years a trouble of its own, especially in the critical world, where he is seen even today as a writer for "the young". But his works need no defending by me. Here are the words his character Mr Rosewater prepares for the neighbors' twins' baptism:
    Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—-God damn it, you've got to be kind.


Lalique said...

happy to be here again

happy week

Tanner Brown said...

Awesome reviews. You saved me a lot of time.