Book Corner 2019.38

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Still Life by Louise Penny

(Book Club selection)

Like science fiction, murder mysteries are a genre I rarely if ever read; so when I do, the novelty is very pleasant and I find myself thinking, “Why, this is so clever!” But the important thing for me is that the “genre-ness” not interfere with it being a well-written story. STILL LIFE is only occasionally cheesy; the gay characters were a little over-exaggerated, for example. I really wanted to get back to it every night, though; and no, I never did guess “whodunit.” ( )

Book Corner 2019.37

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Rose Wilder Lane: Her Story by Roger Lea MacBride

This is a “perfectly genuine fictional autobiography.” It was written not by Rose Wilder Lane, but by her protégée Roger Lea MacBride. It covers the period of Rose’s life beginning with her leaving Mansfield, Missouri for the west coast; through her stint as a telegraph operator; and her marriage to and divorce from Gillette Lane. Altogether it covers at least three years. It is factual that Rose did work as a telegraph operator in California, and that she married and divorced Lane. I am not sure anything else in the plot is true.

In particular, the figure of Paul Masters looms large – Paul is the boy who traveled south with his family in a wagon from Dakota to Missouri, along with the Wilders, when Rose and Paul were wee children. I am not sure that he grew up to be a genuine love interest of Rose at all; here they are informally engaged, indulging in passionate lovemaking several times. Paul appears constantly in her life out in California – I am not sure it is at all true, either, that he ever went West.

But what can I say – it’s a gripping yarn! I hardly wanted to put it down. MacBride writes a great little story… perhaps there is enough of Rose’s actual material here too, shining through enough to enamor me.

Oh, the cover has got to go, though – its illustration shows a behatted Rose and is obviously based on a famous photo of her, but in the background is a Conestoga wagon traversing an empty prairie. The Wilders were traveling in this style some 10 years or more before the book ever takes place. There are no prairies or covered wagons in the story. This isn’t LITTLE HOUSE, Garth Williams – or Garth Williams wanna-be, can’t tell. ( )

Book Corner 2019.36

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In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo

I love juicy biographies, and this was 29 delicious bit-size pieces! They run the gamut; Karbo tries to show them all as being “difficult” in one way or another. Difficult, whatever – they were all interesting and awesome. And I learned things.

Josephine Baker – how did I know next to nothing about this woman? What an amazing life!

Rachel Maddow – OK I shouldn’t admit that I didn’t know Rachel Maddow was gay, but I need to express the weird disappointment I felt at learning that. I always admired how she rocked short hair and glasses. I thought she was a really cool straight woman who rocked short hair and glasses. But she’s lesbian. So the look kind of goes with the territory. I’m sure this should be embarrassing for me not only because of my ignorance but because it surely comes off as not very homo-friendly of me, but I don’t mean anything bad by it!

Eva Peron – I didn’t know much about her either. It was worth having an earworm in my head all of the next day to read about her.

Vita Sackville-West – another learning experience.

Janis Joplin – OK, nothing new for me to learn in that department! Just always fun to read anything about her.

I could go on. Couldn’t wait to get back to this book every night. ( )

Book Corner 2019.35

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Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Nail Gaiman

A crazy slouch towards Armageddon. I’d say it was more Pratchett than Gaiman. The jokes just never stop.

It was long and rambly, with a cast of characters to match. There were some I loved every time they appeared (Crowley, Aziraphale, Anathema – her name alone has to make you love her). At the other end were some that I really found repulsive, and disliked whenever they got airtime (Shadwell). I wasn’t crazy about Newt. As for the kids, they were good kid characters, but being American with little exposure to Britain, I just couldn’t reconcile those heavy accents (and ideas) coming out of children’s mouths. E.g., “I don’t see what’s so triffic about creating people as people, and then gettin’ upset ‘cos they act like people…” This is the 11-year-old Antichrist speaking. To me it just sounds like Andy Capp or one of those dimwitted Python characters.

Yes, the Antichrist; so anyway – the purported plot of the book is that the Antichrist comes to earth but gets switched at birth, and grows up without the proper diabolical “training.” So he just turns out to be a boy with a few superpowers, and isn’t really evil at all.

Meanwhile what happened to the baby who got the training? I’m not sure. If he turned up again at all, it was extremely rarely. So I thought this was going to be a big “switched at birth”, “nature vs. nurture” kind of subplot, but it wasn’t so much.

Then there were the Four [Motorcycle] Riders of the apocalypse. I read in the afterward that this was Gaiman’s main contribution. Those portions are a little less jokey, but I don’t know, things just didn’t really come together. Everything was just kind of wacky.

If you like Terry Pratchett, I think you’ll love it. if you’re looking for more Gaiman, I don’t really see it. (A crazy slouch towards Armageddon. I’d say it was more Pratchett than Gaiman. The jokes just never stop.

It was long and rambly, with a cast of characters to match. There were some I loved every time they appeared (Crowley, Aziraphale, Anathema – her name alone has to make you love her). At the other end were some that I really found repulsive, and disliked whenever they got airtime (Shadwell). I wasn’t crazy about Newt. As for the kids, they were good kid characters, but being American with little exposure to Britain, I just couldn’t reconcile those heavy accents (and ideas) coming out of children’s mouths. E.g., “I don’t see what’s so triffic about creating people as people, and then gettin’ upset ‘cos they act like people…” This is the 11-year-old Antichrist speaking. To me it just sounds like Andy Capp or one of those dimwitted Python characters.

Yes, the Antichrist; so anyway – the purported plot of the book is that the Antichrist comes to earth but gets switched at birth, and grows up without the proper diabolical “training.” So he just turns out to be a boy with a few superpowers, and isn’t really evil at all.

Meanwhile what happened to the baby who got the training? I’m not sure. If he turned up again at all, it was extremely rarely. So I thought this was going to be a big “switched at birth”, “nature vs. nurture” kind of subplot, but it wasn’t so much.

Then there were the Four [Motorcycle] Riders of the apocalypse. I read in the afterward that this was Gaiman’s main contribution. Those portions are a little less jokey, but I don’t know, things just didn’t really come together. Everything was just kind of wacky.

If you like Terry Pratchett, I think you’ll love it. if you’re looking for more Gaiman, I don’t really see it. ( *** 1/2 )

 

Book Corner 2019.34

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This Fight Is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren

I don’t agree with Warren on all things. She doesn’t have a single good thing to say about business, ever; the Washington Post put it well in an editorial I just saw today about her latest proposed bill about regulating financial equity: that, typically, she was “overreaching” and “overwrought.”

For example, in the book she cites a commencement speech given by Michael Bloomberg where he criticizes the right for being too quick to demonize minorities, and the left for being too quick to demonize big business.

Her reaction is, well, overwrought. How dare he “equate” poor minorities with powerful big business? How come everyone else is not up in arms!

Because he didn’t “equate” them; not surprisingly, Warren fails to see she is a perfect example of what he’s talking about.

The book was big on elementary history lessons and rants. I wished there were more autobiography, and more of the informal case studies she starts off with. I really do like Senator Warren, respect her, and at the core of her message, agree with her – I would love to fix the system so that it works for the majority of Americans; that’s what the system is “for.” So, without overreaching or overreacting, let’s get to it! ( )

 

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Burn the Ice by Kevin Alexander

This book had a five-star introduction, which can stand on its own, about how we have to by now have reached Peak Foodieness – there are too many restaurants, too many products, too many trends moving too fast, all chasing too few dollars. He hopes his book will be a kind of “You heard it here first!”

But then, the body of the book is entirely different. He attempts to tell the story of this rise of the unsustainable fetishization of food, by means of the stories of various individuals – chefs, restauranteurs, bartenders. The individual stories don’t always go from start to finish, but are broken up in spots that feel random and scattered around. And they attempt to convey a mood of fever pitch by means of relentless lists and name-dropping, name-dropping, name-dropping. I found myself helplessly carried along in the hopes of reaching some satisfying climax and denouement, all the while saying, “I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t CARE about these people I’ve never heard of and the exact locations of their establishments, in cities I’ve barely been to! I don’t even LIKE cocktails!”

The two chapters I liked best were like the introduction in that they could easily stand on their own as essays – maybe Alexander should in fact stick to writing essays. They were the bits about Guy Fieri, which was written entirely in the form of questions; and the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. It helped that I actually know who these people are.

Ultimately there was no climax, I guess because the crash hasn’t happened yet. Why didn’t he at least have a final chapter conjecturing how it all might end? I really couldn’t help but feel ripped off. ( )

Book Corner 2019.32

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Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Brennan-Jobs is the first daughter of Steve Jobs, born out of wedlock in the 1970s and unacknowledged by him for the first years of her life. This book is about her childhood from birth through her entrance to Harvard with a small coda that takes place during her adulthood around the time of Jobs’ death.

The book feels like a brain dump of all her memories, interesting or not. Mixed emotions are part of virtually every paragraph – her mixed feelings towards her father, her mother, and theirs towards her. Nothing congeals. Steve is a weirdo*. Her mother tries but is overstressed by life as a single mother. Lisa bats from house to house, and nothing gets better. The story lacked “narrative arc.” her childhood wasn’t bad enough for this really to stand as a “victory over adversity” novel. It’s just an inside peek at someone’s childhood, someone who happened to be related to somebody famous. It got tiresome. ( )

* See the NYTimes profile at the link.  Lisa’s mother describes Steve as “on a slide whistle between human and inhuman.”